(thanks to Liz Zaccara and Tracey Korsten)
I’ve had this poem in the back of my mind for nearly a year. Back in June 2013, I was in Ireland and caught up with an old mate, Paddy Walsh, whom I hadn’t seen for over 20 years. I mentioned to him that I write poetry these days, and he immediately cast his eyes up to the ceiling, and gave me a great rant about how he’s sick to death of poets, how useless they are, how they think they know everything and do nothing etc. etc. It was one of the great rants – he’s very good at them. (By the way, this was before the death of Seamus Heaney).
I had to tell him that there was more than a grain of truth in his views in my experience.
In an email to me later he continued in the same vein, much to my amusement:
Honest to Jaysus whenever poets get on to the radio ( like every day!!) here they really piss me off – they know it all – experts on the economy, political situation – you name it , they have the answer, and it always revolves around them and their writings and their fuckin egos!! Maybe it’s Ireland ( but from what you observed – not so!) – Heaney is NEVER out of the papers and other media. I’m sure even he’s pissed off being so adored!!
(I’ve removed a few of the expletives Paddy)
Then recently I came across a Kit Wright poem: “Everybody hates the English”. This prompted me to knock the two ideas together and I came up with “Everybody Hates Poets”. Soon after I wrote it, I performed it in the “Sixty Second Slam” at the Adelaide Fringe, put on by Paroxysm Press. And I won first prize, a cool $100 cash. Thanks Paroxysm.
A theatre reviewer in the audience said it was a “cheekily self-effacing piece”!
So here’s an audio of the poem. Language warning as usual:
Everybody Hates Poets (for Paddy Walsh)
(after Kit Wright)
Copyright Mike Hopkins 2014
Richard Thompson wrote the song “For Shame of Doing Wrong”. Sandy Denny (in my view one of the greatest ever female singers), turned it into “I wish I was a fool for you again”.
A few of my poet friends have written and talked recently about the feeling of shame, and its involvement in the writing process.
Marianne Musgrove wrote about it on her blog:
Shame can block us from being creative. Being creative exposes us to criticism, reveals our vulnerability, our fear of rejection. A lot of poets I know, especially women it seems, devalue their work and / or don’t like to promote themselves. Yet to me, they are clearly incredibly talented poets.
Last night I competed in, and won the World Poetry Day Poetry Slam in Adelaide. I’ve placed in slams before and won minor competitions. But this is the first serious slam I’ve actually won.
I have my lovely niece, Catherine Ford, and her best friend Kate Lang, staying with me for two weeks, visiting from Cambridge, England. They’d never been to a poetry slam before. We’d spent the day cycling, and then rushed into town to catch the slam.
I did everything you’re not meant to do. I didn’t learn my poem. I hardly prepared at all. And then, during the pre-slam announcements, I changed my mind about the poem I would perform. What could possibly go wrong?
I ended up being relaxed and enjoying myself, which of course is how you always want to feel when you’re competing.
The reason I changed poems at the last minute, was that the wonderful M.C., Daniel Watson, mentioned that one of the drivers for slams was that audiences often found poetry boring; that slams are a way of getting audiences more involved in poetry. “Audience Involvement”. Aha! I have a piece called “Selfish Bastards” (written for Tracey Korsten’s “Word Box” event, which also encourages audience participation). I quickly dug out the words for it, from the little spiral bound journal I had with me. The audience were very participative, and I quickly had them all shouting “Selfish Bastards!” after every stanza of my poem. It was great fun.
What’s this got to do with shame and Sandy Denny? Maybe not much, except that I ended up winning the slam. Two of the five judges gave me 10/10. I won $100. All for an unrehearsed, unprepared poem that I read from the page.
That’s when a sort of shame feeling can jump out and grab you. If you’re not careful, you can find yourself saying things like: “It was just luck”,”I didn’t deserve to win”, “The judges got it wrong”, “It was a fluke”, “He / She deserved it more than me” etc.
These days I can recognise those voices for what they are, but certainly it’s something to watch out for. My generation was brought up “to be seen not heard”, to not brag or stand out from the crowd. The teachers (mostly priests or ex-priests) at the Catholic Boys’ Grammar school I attended, mostly told us over and over that we would never amount to much. When you’re young and impressionable, those messages can sink deep into your subconscious.
Winning can take some getting used to.I’m sorry for the things I’ve said, the things I’ve done I’m sorry for the restless thief I’ve been
Please don’t make me pay for my deceiving heart
Just turn up your lamp and let me in
(Richard Thompson: "For Shame of Doing Wrong") copyright Mike Hopkins 2013
… is a smart looking, new, online arts journal, run by some very lovely and talented young Adelaide people.
On the front page at the moment is a nice article about the 2012 State slam final, including the incisive photography of Tanya Jane Brain.
They’ve also published the slam version of my “Adelaide is….” poem. Thanks.
Click below and read, regularly:
The State Slam final was last Friday night (November 2nd 2012), and I was one of 10 finalists, at a packed out Higher Ground, Light Square, Adelaide.
In case you don’t know how a slam works, here’s a quick summary:
– You’ve got 2 minutes only to present your poem.
– 5 Judges are picked at random from the audience. The judges score each poet out of 10, holding up a score card, just like they used to in the Olympics and Come Dancing.
– The top and bottom judge scores are excluded. So you score according to the other 3 judges scores. e.g. if the judges scored you 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 the 9 and the 5 are ignored and you score 6+7+8=21.
– For every 30 seconds or part thereof you go over 2 minutes you lose a point.
– Order of presentation is also random – 10 names go into a hat and the next contestant is picked out of the hat, usually by an audience member.
– the top 2 scorers win $500 and $250 respectively, and an expenses paid trip to compete in the National Final in Sydney in December.
So it’s all about tension and audience involvement and randomness and entertainment.
So on Friday night, I was up against the best in the State. I was convinced I would be picked first out of the hat, but as it turned out I was number 10, so I sat at the back of the packed venue right to the very end, nervously biding my time.
I did a much updated version of my “Adelaide is….” poem, which, in practice, I timed at about 1 minute 50 seconds give or take. I was very pleased with how I did it – definitely my best ever performance. I can’t remember the judges scores, because I was too relieved just to have ‘nailed it’, but there was a 10 in there and a 7.6, and the other scores were, I think in the 8s and 9s. Good scores, very pleasing. I got great audience response, so much so, that I had to wait a few times for the laughter to die down. I’m told that, as a result, I went ONE SECOND over time, which would have cost me a point. My friend Russ reckons I came 3rd overall, but wherever I came, I was up there with the leaders. And the two winners, who are off to Sydney to compete in the Nationals, Gemma Boyd and LaCole Foots, were worthy winners.
Amongst the many people I spoke to afterwards, one young bloke wants me to work with him in setting my poem to music – could be an interesting project.
So a great night, and the whole experience has made me lift my performing skills to a new level.
If you have Facebook, you can see pics at:
and here’s one of all the finalists:
(Photos courtesy, I think, Tanya Jane Brain)
I’m in the State final of the Australian Poetry Slam tomorrow (Friday 2nd November), 7:30 at Higher Ground, Light Square, Adelaide.
This morning I did an interview at Radio Adelaide, on the Breakfast Show.
The young interviewer, Angas, obviously didn’t know what to expect in terms of slam poetry. Sue Reece, who invited me along to do the interview, specifically requested that I do one of my poems called “Slam Poem”. The poem requires a fair bit of energy. It’s really written to be delivered to a rowdy pub audience.
So I put a bit of energy into it, and young Angas seemed to be caught a bit off guard. He said something like “Whoa that was pretty aggressive”, and said it had a fair bit of rap in it.
So now based on reaction from friends who listened in, I have a new identity: aggressive gangster hard core rapper.
You can hear the interview (about 10 mins, including that great character Jill Wherry), at
I did a gig at “the best dive in Adelaide” aka The Squatters Arms last month (September 23rd 2012), part of the very edgy “Spoke n Slurred” series, organised by Daniel Watson.
This is a pub where the soles of your shoes really do stick to the carpet. Just the place for poetry.
Nigel Ford headlined the night with a fine set, and Dick Dale kicked it off with hilarious tales of his recent tribulations interstate.
I was in between the two. The crowd was well lubricated when I got on stage. When I was up there, I didn’t realise how much ‘crowd participation’ there was, but looking back at the video, the place was rocking.
Here’s the set: “Not yer typical performance f**kng poet”, “The Adelaide Taxi Driver’s Prayer”, “Adelaide is …”, “Evidently Friendly Street”, “Slam Poem”.
If you are of a sensitive disposition in relation to strong language, you are warned not to proceed.
I thought I’d posted this before, but apparently not, and my friend Russ asked to see it. So here it is.
An affectionate mickey stake of some of the slam / performance poets on the Adelaide scene. Pretty soon, someone will write a piece taking the mick out of me.
Recorded at RebelSlam in July 2011, when it was at the old Electra building in King William Street, Adelaide, with the ‘Tuxedo Cat’ brass plate outside.
The Adelaide Fringe came to a screaming conclusion at the weekend. My attention over the last week was focussed on the west end of the city, where the SPOKE mini-festival was going on.
Two events caught my eye, both involving a workshop, followed by a live performance.
1 . Improv Poetry
The first was Improv Poetry. Teri Louise Kelly and Daniel Watson gave an excellent morning workshop on how to improvise poetry. The idea is that a word is thrown at you from the audience. The challenge then is to speak for a minimum of 40 seconds, and maximum of two minutes. If you don’t like the first word, you can reject it, but then you HAVE to take the second word. You have 10 seconds maximum to gather your thoughts.
So, for instance, in the workshop I was given the word “face”. I managed to cobble together a passable two minute story about being able to order a new face from an internet site called “Faces ‘R’ Us”, and have it delivered to your door, so that you could be a new person whenever you wanted. Went down well with the workshop attendees. I was feeling good.
When it came to the live event however, on an open air stage at Shimmering West in the evening, faced with lights and an audience and traffic noise (and a few beers), it goes to another level of difficulty. Added to this is the extra pressure of a $500 prize for the winner! Thinking on your feet becomes a great deal harder.
This time, the word thrown to me from the audience was ‘garbage’. The trick with this sort of thing is to stay calm, think laterally, find a good entry point, make your mind up quickly, and keep talking. Easier said than done. I managed to burble on about rubbish bins for about a minute, before I dried up. I wasn’t alone. Very few competitors made it to the two minute mark. Even our most succesful slam poets were struggling by their own high standards.
Needless to say, I didn’t win. The winner was a nice young man called Kiefer Rodriguez, an Adelaide stencil artist, who was attempting this challenge for the first time and was given the word ‘nose’. He spoke about the pain of having a broken nose. He was convincing. I asked him afterwards when he broke his nose. “I’ve never had a broken nose” he replied. That’s the secret: spontaneous creativity. Good on him.
Full Results: 1st – Kiefer Rodriguez, 2nd Annie Fox, 3rd Nicki Bullock
An interesting event, and one I will have another go at. Well done to Teri Louise and Daniel for the workshop, and to the excellent MC-ing and organisational skills of Jenny Toune.
Part 2 on “Crossing Genres” will follow in my next post.
If you’re in Adelaide tomorrow (Wed 21st March), I’m MC-ing a great Friendly Street Poets event at the State Library of South Australia: Words@Wall with Mike Ladd (of ABC fame) and Rachael Mead, two of our very finest poets. 5:30-6:15. Followed by the Australian Poetry Slam at 6:30. Should be a great evening.
Thanks to Mirek Krejci, who filmed the Paroxysm Press 60 second slam event last weekend, the performances are now up on Youtube (some still to come).
Worth checking out.
This was my debut under the pseudonym of “Open Mike”, suggested by fellow football (round ball version) fanatic, poet and ironing champion of the U.K., Crispin Thomas.
Always interesting to see a video of a performance. Note to self: slow down a bit, enunciate a bit more clearly, do away with the notes.
This is my performance:
The rest can be found on the Paroxysm Press channel.