Interviewed by: Matthew Norman
Rahima Evelina is the inspiring woman behind Spoken Word Perth – a community of poets and performers who are leading a spoken word revival on Australia’s West Coast.
Rahima’s own rich background and her passion for making voices heard have motivated her to build an organization bringing together the spoken word artists of this city. I caught up with Rahima to chat about where her passion comes from, how Spoken Word Perth came about, and where the scene is headed.
How did you find poetry – or did it find you?
I have been writing in this format since I was 12. A particularly significant one was a piece about the Turkish government, and where the educator’s role is in relation to that. I performed in front of thousands of other students. That was very significant in the sense that it was the day I learned the place for my work in the world. Then life got in the way! Very recently I took an extended break and went back to Europe to reconnect. It was late in the evening on a rainy day in Haarlem in the Netherlands. At the place I was staying, an abandoned horse stable converted into a hostel, the owner told me the story of what it took her to make it to where she was that day. I still remember the corner of the room where I sat with the brown fountain pen I had been journalling with for months, and wrote two pages on what she had told me. When I read it, she was close to tears! She later identified it as “what Erykah Badu does; it is spoken word!”
A version of that poem is in their guest book – it goes like this;
‘You may have cried along the way
Sang or danced or even busted some balls to make some way
It all may have started from a suitcase…’
Tell me a story. How did Spoken Word Perth come about, from the beginning?
When I returned to Australia I searched for places to perform. I had been to all the regular public poetry events in Perth (there were 3 at the time) and did my first feature performance at the end of May at The Moon. At the same time I was looking at Melbourne, where my second home in Australia is! I was perplexed by the comparison. There, you would have a choice of events on the same night. But apart from the frequency of events there seemed to be a strong sense of community, and a few individuals who devoted their time to keep things known to the wider population and to reach further and further. That was what I wished for people to find in Perth.
Then I came across a crowd funding campaign that Melbourne Spoken Word was hosting to get the word even further and to get recognition for spoken word. The contribution I made to that campaign meant I could have my name on the website as a major sponsor! I would have no problem having my name as a major sponsor on the website of one of world’s most prolific spoken word cities – but if that was to be, it had to be as a result of my work and its impact, not a bought place! But I knew this was an indication of my passion and values, and it had to be utilised. One day during a morning run on Cottesloe beach the idea struck me; I literally saw the Spoken Word Perth logo as it is today on the Melbourne Spoken Word website! Spoken Word Perth appearing as a major sponsor for Australia’s spoken word capital was fitting in the sense that it served as a catalyst and symbol of our potential in Perth. Thanks to Benjamin Solah from Melbourne Spoken Word it has been up there assuring Perth is on the map of spoken word in Australia and the world!
A few days after I made that decision, I opened for the National Poetry Slam’s WA finals, alongside artists like David Vincent Smith and Scott Patrick Mitchell. That night affirmed the appreciation, talent and thirst for poetry in Perth.
Shortly after that I performed in Melbourne for the first time and instantly felt part of a very welcoming community. At two of the events (Slama Lama Ding Dong, a monthly slam style event, and Voices in the Attic, a fortnightly open mic), the buzz was like no other I had experienced to date! Those two events are led by Michelle Dabrowski and Ebony MonCrief respectively. Since the very beginning, they have been my guides in the live aspects of Spoken Word Perth.
As soon as I got back to Perth in early September we had our opening night at the Fremantle Prison where Jakson, one of the founders of Perth Poetry Club featured. We were 30 people strong and 9 poets rich. The first 9 were Alen, Shane, Joanna, Olivia, Jakson, Ron, Amy, Piri, and Craig.
We have been ‘we’ since then and always will be!
What do you think Spoken Word Perth provides that Perth didn’t already have?
In my personal experience what Spoken Word Perth has provided is very unique; it provides a platform for me to curate, host and dedicate aspects of my creative energy to. How it has provided for the art space in Perth, and injected energy into the spoken word form specifically, depends on two things. Firstly, on the number of people who have been inspired to write, perform and tell what needs to be said on a personal and larger societal scale knowing there is a platform they will be heard from. Secondly, on the volume of work that has passed through the Spoken Word Perth mics and stages.
Your events seem to draw a more diverse crowd than other spoken word gigs around town. Is promoting cultural diversity something that you’ve actively pursued, or do you think you just happen to have created a great environment for it?
Each story is unique but I have been consciously acknowledging and encouraging the differences in voices. I am one of the embodiments of the blend of different cultures in the sense that my name and accent (no-one has ever picked the blend yet!) signal diversity. This might have facilitated others identifying with speaking out their unique vision and stories.
What’s your favourite thing about Spoken Word Perth?
My favourite thing about it is the way we can get to know each other with and through poetry. It’s in the organisation’s anatomy! Spoken Word Perth consists of our stories; our nerves, the strongest punches, the bare truths, held together by poets who have been through its stages and those who held a space for their work to be received.
It is nowhere in tangible format, yet it is one of the most prominent pillars I personally rest on in Perth!
Slam poetry, and spoken word more broadly, has really found a home on the internet in recent years, with Youtube channels like Button Poetry drawing huge audiences. Are there any plans for Spoken Word Perth to start moving into a digital space?
This will grow into a digital space for sure. Soon we will be documenting more of our events and the spoken word journey in Perth. Also, soon you will be able to share and read about the Spoken Word experience on our blog.
At the same time our blog will feature what is happening around the Perth spoken word scene, from event guides to interviews with poets to reviews of events and experiences by the members of the Spoken Word Perth community.
What’s next for Spoken Word Perth? Do you have any major events in the works?
We certainly have some major events in works. Apart form our regular fortnightly open mic sessions, we will host a number of poetry slams. A slam is where 8 poets have 3 minutes, are judged by the audience, and go for the title and prizes! At each of these slams we will be joined by Australia’s most recent poetry slam champions.
The first one for the year is the March Slam on 18th March. We have local hip hop/spoken word fusion band The Sophists opening for Jesse John Brand and Abe Nouk. We will have the slam just after The Sophists and announce the winners after Jesse and Abe. Jesse John Brand held the Australian Poetry Slam Champion title through 2014 before Zohab Zee Khan took it into 2015. Zohab will be visiting us around July as well. Abe Nouk came to Australia as a refugee with seven of his siblings and less than ten years years he grew as an artist to perform at the National Slam finals in Sydney. There is an event page for the March Slam on the Spoken Word Perth Facebook page.
These will culminate in a Spoken Word Festival over 2-3 days later in the year! We have been talking to artists across Australia and will have their support for this event, which will include the 2015 Slam final, as well as workshops and performances from a number of spoken word artists from around Australia.
Other than that we are planning to start reaching out to marginalised communities, physically, economically or socially, in Perth and WA generally. We want to create a mobile open mic over the autumn and winter to hear their stories and open a platform to share their stories in the constructive and universal format that is spoken word.
If you had ten words of advice for an aspiring poet, what would they be?
You are an inspiration! Go, until you hear that again!
Be sure to get down to the March Slamon 18th March at The Hive in Northbridge to support Rahima’s incredible work and see Perth’s spoken word revival in action!