Sharing lives in poetic form: Amber Alley reflects on the Nimbin Poetry Evening and the Poetry World Cup

Gail M Clarke

In the last few years, the upsurge of interest and participation in poetry, writing, reading and performing, has been happily rising fast. One regular event which predates this new wave, is the monthly Nimbin Poetry Evening, now in its 20th year. Alongside it runs the annual Nimbin Poetry World Cup, now in its 15th year. The Cup boasts a creditable roll-call of participants. Even more impressive because Nimbin is a very small country town, hosting these events well before the Internet could claim credit for promotions.

The one constant driving force and sustaining figure to these events is Gail M Clarke. As a well know regular on many community volunteer organisations, Gail moves through the main street of Nimbin connecting with all and sundry. Her support for the community and the poetry evenings continues to this day and is legendary.

The monthly Poetry gatherings have resulted in three published anthologies containing work from poets all over the world. While these collections are now extremely hard to find, the fact that these evenings have been successfully held monthly for twenty years exalts them to iconic status. As a connection point, the evenings afforded those who suffered from strong levels of disenfranchisement a supportive, inclusive, encouraging audience. Drug crises and homelessness, violence and mental health problems are aspects of life we are becoming more accustomed to in these times. Nimbin has been caring for such circumstances for many decades. The poetry reflects this. One does not read these antholgies because they contain high-brow literature. The words are earthy, often simple, derived from everyday experience of life in the raw. They carry an authenticity of feeling and allow new poetic readers a place to share their life in poetic form.

Let’s turn to some presenters, often whose one and only place of presenting their poetry has been the Nimbin Oasis. As Gail M Clarke, the editor says of these performers: “Everyone who performs on the little stage at the Oasis, steps out of their personal comfort zone and dares to share”.

Poetry from the first anthology of Nimbin Poets was collected together in a volume simply titles Poetry of the Nimbin Oasis (2001). This was one year after the monthly readings began.

Biskit, in her poem: ‘I, Lilith’, gives a clear message to her man that her value is beyond what he sees and his treatment of her does not regard that value.

I, Lilith who will not lie beneath thee,
Thou has cast me out and asked for my life
Because thou wanted a slave and not a wife.
Would ask
To leave that which is mine to me
And tend well what lies in thine own hand.
And one day thou may understand
The difference that lies between what thou would take
And what I would give.

In ‘World Crime’  Peah Barryngez shares the ‘karma of mankind’ as we are all responsible for the things which happen in our world. She shows how she, and we, are both perpetrators and victims of crimes. By claiming to be acting on orders, some would attempt to negate any responsibility for their actions. In the end, we sometimes do not think about what we are doing, and do not realise our part to play is significant and must be accounted for.

I made the nails that were used to pin Jesus to the cross
Just doing what the boss told me.
I delivered Zyclon b to shower rooms
At Nazi concentration camps
Just doing what the boss told me
I switched Zyclon b for water
When I made the delivery
To the Nazi concentration camps
It felt good and right to do this.

Kim Gould has an insightful rummage in her poetic mind to find some gems about how writing poetry can be an act of ‘catching’ a poem, as it floats in the poetic universe, in her words:

A Poem for the Oasis

I noticed when I was quiet, or driving into town
A poem would slip into my head
And go round and round and round
By the time I’d found some paper
And something resembling a pen
The poem had flown into the ether
And I was left with that blank head again.

Giselle Galladriel brings a prismatic view of a young girls’ heart. She uses the word ‘glister’ in her poem. This word means sparkle and reflects the desire to portray the specialness of this time and state of being.

Girl of Glass

I see your shattered light filtering

The phantoms of fantasy in a shadow play
Of loves transparent and tender flight
And you hide dear girl of glass
In the cracked prisms of your crystal
When passion dare not shine
Or lovers glister past.

Although your tears lie frozen, unseen
Like moonbeams upon mirrors cast,
I too am splintered and delicate,
Delicately made of glass.

The second anthology, Poetry of the Nimbin Oasis (2003), contains works from 31 poets. In his poem ‘The short death of the Soul’ Biko reminds us of a deeper calling from those who suffer the ‘lives of quiet desperation’ 

you fear to reach and stretch the
Wings of your humanity
Chained to the rock of social inanity
Encircled by the vulture of mundanity
As they pluck holes in your creative sanity.
You never noticed you were bleeding
Nor the shrieking of the vultures in their feeding
In that small slow death of the soul.

Don’t worry
She whispered softly into my hand
There is really nothing to understand
It’s just the small death of the soul.

Robin Archbold, who co-founded the World Poetry Cup, wrote of his experiences with poetry performance at the Oasis: ‘When I first performed my poetry 6 months ago, I was a broken husk of a man, with a failed suicide attempt, a failed marriage, a cringing, fearful, fat, short, balding, socially inept cuddy, consigned to the compost toilet of human existence. The Oasis poetry night has made me what I am today..a cocky, swaggering, deluded, middle-aged know-it-all’. (See the great benefits of Poetry performance!). Tongue in cheek, pen in hand, he gives a back-handed thumbs up to the curative properties of sharing one’s inner struggles, demons and triumphs through the language of poetry and the venue of poetry readings.

His poem called ‘Small enormous Things’ shares the story of the eternal paradox of life, how it is that ‘from small things, big things grow’, and from brief moments, life can totally change.

It’s just one of those small enormous things
The telephone rings
A voice in the night
Eyes meet across a room
A bird in flight
A flower in bloom.
It’s just one of those small enormous things
A patch of blue in a leaden sky
A twinkle in an eye
A small ember begins to glow in the ashes of my heart.

Gail M. Clarke shows us the emergence of a once bruised being as she contemplates crossing the bridge to connection in ‘My fragile Heart’

Hidden beneath layers of frozen ice
The years of closure have forged
Thick ice-protecting, covering
My fragile heart.

Thick ice-thawing- gently
Exposing, freeing the source
Unique and beautiful
My heart- my true Being.

The poems of the following group can be found in the third anthology of Nimbin Poetry: Midflight at the Oasis’ published in 2006.

Carolyne Scott Brydgen in ‘Between Hello and Goodbye’, declares life and love to contain a fullness unto itself, which is not measured by time, but rather speaks through its own qualities.

Some have a lifetime, some just a day,
Love isn’t something you measure that way
Nothing’s forever, forever’s a lie
All we have is between hello and goodbye.
We never shared September,
Or watched autumn leaves fall,
In the time we had we knew we had it all.

Robert Bruce in ‘The Stars are Low Tonight’ says:

One with the liberating wind that
Makes the wheat dance up around me
One with the red moon rising up through the wheat
Pausing there a moment to lay with me.

Nathalie Buckland has had her poetry, haiku and other stories published both nationally and internationally. Her first book collection of poems was called Never Let the Ink Dry Out in Your Pen and internationally her poems appear in Poetic connections: Poetry from Australia and India. She shares her local vision in: ‘My Nimbin’

By the blind eyes of broken shop windows
They slump; the young and jobless,
sitting, squatting, drifting, dealing in-
Tawdry trivia.
Gigantic ashtrays
Sprout desiccated palms-
A long ago ‘beautification’
Doomed to failure.
The pub’s hot yeasty breath
And phoney camaraderie
While next door
Paintings and subtle delicate craft
Glow in poignant contrast.

One senses a brave and clear sight, in Jim Kelynack’s work. His raw experience of war makes him cynical of politician’s noble speeches. He references the Emperors new coat, and the blindness of the crowd following, through his poem: ‘Please Don’t Call me Hero’

And so it comes down to this
The emperor comes to gloat.
But only us wearied warriors can see his brand-new coat.In the last few years, the upsurge of interest and participation in poetry, writing, reading and performing, has been happily rising fast. One regular event which prIn the last few years, the upsurge of interest and participation in poetry, writing, reading and performing, has been happily rising fast. One regular event which pr
He’ll talk false noble sentiment of vulgar liberty,
And shroud himself in feel good garb,
For all the world to see
So, take your glib and oily art, the medal and the praise
You’re just the same old Caesar, the latest power phase.

There is a deep hearted reflection from Biskit in ‘The fate of Man’

For I have come and knelt
at the foot of the universe.
Exchanging crumbs in the shadows
that fall from fates hand

Many of the participants in the World Cup, cut their teeth in performance, at the monthly gatherings. Their chosen sentences reflect the overall shape and tone of the poem, which is often the way these poems are heard. Performance poetry is often recited so rapidly, it is common to only hear words ‘here and there’ (although younger people may be more adept at hearing full sentences). The full version of many of the recitals by the winners and runners-up are to be found at the You tube channel of Nimbin Poetry World Cup.

I have heard Performance poetry described as sometimes rolling between stand-up comedy meets political satire, playing wordsmith games, all the while entertaining and throwing ideas into new realms. At the very least, the timbre of the words and their resonant flow differs greatly from classic poetry readings. The postulated ‘performance’ must be read into the words. The winners collect the prize of $2000. All 7 of the runners-up collect $350, and the winner of the People’s Choice collects $500. The prize money is donated by local Nimbin businesses.

David Hallett is a well-known Nimbin local of longstanding. He was the first winner of the Nimbin World Cup, in 2003, and continues to participate regularly. He twice won the Poetry Olympics at the Sydney Writers Festival and once at Byron Bay Writers Festival. Winner of the Nimbin World poetry Cup 2003, Woodford Poetry slam 2012, and Byron Writers Slam 2013. He has performed extensively at schools, cabarets, and festivals for 40 years, and convenes a monthly poetry reading event in Lismore, and quarterly event in Byron Bay.
David displays a wonderful sense of humour in the ‘This poem is not made in China, yet’

the city smouldering on the midday news
the big screen whispering icons:
‘to Volvo or not to Volvo
that is the croissant’-
and tonight’s viewing in deja vu-deja vu-deja,vu…

David Stavanger can be found in the third book of Nimbin Poets (2006). He was the Nimbin Poetry World Cup Champion in 2005 and the Qld Slam master captain in 2006. His words echo a free-minded approach to liaisons in ‘Friday, I’m in Love’

Love is a commodity
We hid in our trousers revealed within;
The zipper that would never open
The smear of lipstick going down.
I pissed your name in every direction,
East for the morning that rose to find us nameless
All awkward angles tangled in the sheets
West for the way we parted, all ‘m..mumbles
And come on your lips
You right; me left
South for the numbers we gave on crumpled scraps
Of our hearts.

Len Martin won the Cup in 2008. His recital gives focus to words, and the strange and wonderful ways they can sway our mood and thoughts.

The storm returns
With a maelstrom of words
Circling my brain; cutting, sharp, precise, they pierce, define, and then
Others swallow up with lust; great bulging words
Great gobbets of emotion
That I slobber on, feast on, snorting in my appetite;
Voluptuous words with massive breasts, huge buttocks,
I dress them, twist them
And engorge to spout them forth.
The mall of all
The supermarket of living words
The words that fornicate and breed.

Benna Zennabus, winner of the 2009 World Cup, reflects on the then growing internet syndrome.

Children no longer asking why?
Their wonder thieved
By a sly cyber-spider
Weave-webbing the sky
And still
The earth cried streams,
It’s five minutes to midnight
And we still don’t know
The stench of our own cleverness
Fossil fuels drooling
Messages; Great Barrier of Grief
Gathering of ideas
Suck the juice out of life(and)
Inflict the victim with the visions of hope.

Tug Dumbly is a two-time winner of the World Cup. His list of poetic accolades runs long and includes two-time winner of the Banjo Patterson prize for comic verse. He has been a regular poetry presenter on ABC radio and is well known far and wide. He was the winner in 2010 and co-winner of the 2011 Nimbin Poetry Cup:

The late, great Candy Royalle was the winner of the World Cup and the AIPF award to excellence in poetry 2014 and ‘15.  It is interesting to note that most of the uploaded You tubes of the finalists for the Cup each year average a viewership of a few hundred. This You tube of Candy Royalle winning the Cup in 2012, has had 7.7K views!

The 2013 winner of the Cup goes under the name Darkwing Dub. He helps us to enjoy the folly of statistics; how they click through our life, and dupe us into beliefs which maybe totally spurious.

The 2015 winner Josh Holmes told the audience:

I’m prepared to face rainy weather with a quill in my hand,
The lead is my ammunition
My tongue is my revolver.
How do I fight tyranny if that same tyranny is inside of me?
Every time I see a set of eyes, it’s myself I am meeting.
I’m on a journey to learn the difference between a poet and opinion;
I wanted to be a lion with the protection a zoo (but)
There’s a difference between wanting to save the world
And needing to save yourself;
There’s a difference between dying on the inside and hanging from a belt.

Sarah Temporal, who won in 2018, is a Poet, Performer and Teacher. Her rendition of ‘Rapunzel’ bears small resemblance to the original story, rather mirrors from that story, with a modern reply.

 – Amber Alley


Information about the Nimbin Poetry Evenings and the annual Nimbin Poetry World Cup can be found on their Facebook page

Amber Alley writes poems, short stories and articles, and has been published in The Alternative News, Eco Echo, Silver Chord, and Weekend Notes. She has studied Arts/ Creative Writing at Southern Cross University.

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