Guest Blog – LAPKATOctober 10th, 2012 by Poejazzi
The spoken word is older than text. We were telling each other stories long before we were writing them down.
This might seem obvious, but I’ve always found myself explaining this whenever mainstream media asks questions about this “new form” of spoken word I’ve been involved in.
The media is always looking for something ‘new’ over and above truth, or authenticity, which to me is sad – tradition, culture, connection is so important, and we increasingly have to filter through so much noise to get at it. Artists working in the medium of spoken word are constantly having to find new ways of getting it out to their audiences, through the noise.
I’m a “broadcaster” at heart – my purpose has always been to share and connect.
Right back to my childhood I loved the sound of voices speaking. I don’t know where it comes from, but it’s always been there. My sister and I used to make pretend radio shows in her bedroom, using one of the first portable cassette recorders, those little ones with the satisfying ‘click’ when you pressed play and record down together. For years I collected old radio play recordings, speeches, audio books.
I was banging about in the performance poetry scene in Melbourne when a friend suggested I do a radio training course at community station Triple R in the early nineties. That was a revelation. Before long I was recording poet friends, improvised pieces and 20-minute ‘industrial spoken word symphonies’, and showing up at Melbourne’s poetry nights with a microphone and DAT recorder.
Joining with a bunch of friends including a brilliant producer we began making spoken word / music tracks that were broadcast on Triple R five times a week as “Howlings in the Head”, a time of great experimentation. From there, I began a weekly spoken word radio program “Subtext” playing all I could find from around the world – from Bogart/Bacall radio plays, through Malcolm X speeches to Henry Rollins, Laurie Anderson, Ursula Rucker, et al. Then I went to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation to learn sound engineering and production and get serious.
I’ve since co-produced spoken word/ music nights and slams, tampered with early internet radio, experimented with all kinds of word/music fusions. For five years I was lucky enough to co-edit the brilliant 30+ year old “Going Down Swinging” literary magazine which also publishes a spoken word CD. This opened me up to many more great international artists and fired my enthusiasm to make good on an early promise to myself, to seek out unknown storytellers and share their voices with the world through the prism of my deep love of music and sound.
Bringing this into a live DJ context happened quite recently, and naturally I think. Spurred by my “DJ guru” Cinco Cinco Cinco (Brendan Palmer, of Uber Lingua), I learned the technology to take it live, and I’ve found it’s massively enjoyable to play directly to people, to even see people dancing to poetry! I’m lucky to have friends who are great at this – DJs who are true artists, who respect their source material, who know how to entertain audiences. I’m learning from them every day.
Lapkat’s first live DJ gig was only in late 2010. Playing regular nights in Melbourne bars through 2011 was good training ground, and since then I’ve been exploring different settings – comedy festivals, music festivals, poetry and slam nights – searching for my audience, really, in both Australia and in Europe this year.
Personally I’m most interested in taking spoken word poetry in this format, to people who don’t normally get exposed to it. The best audiences are those who are not at a poetry reading or slam – it’s those who come up to me after the set in a bar or at a festival and ask who the voices were.
One of my favourite gigs so far has been a morning set at a little festival in the Yarra Ranges outside Melbourne, mixing the great Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish with gentle global beats, watching the sleepy festival goers slowly dancing into the tent gripping their cups of coffee / tea / liquid of choice. Talking to some of them afterwards, telling them how toget to more of his poetry, the translations, because of course he is a great teacher of the conflict in Palestine, and his message is enormously important to the future of human connection. And that’s also why I do this.
I have always believed that poets are our conscience, our timekeepers and our true historians. They are also our activists and our catalysts. Poets and writers project their minds into our present and our future – they can, they should, aim to tell us truths both small and big. Stories must teach – whether it’s teaching morality or history or love or simply laughter – what we seek from storytellers is some kind of truth.
I’ve always listened to other languages even though I may not understand the meaning – it is the rhythm, melody of the human voice that I am in love with. I also believe that in listening to another language a part of your mind is opened, a source of compassion and empathy is awakened. Language is an immensely personal thing and of course communication but it isalso music.
Recently I’ve been struggling with different languages, learning and travelling. I’ve found it interesting lately, sitting and listening to friends talk, that my mind – rather than attempting to interpret – is just enjoying the musicality of their voices. Whilst this has been troublesome in that I also need to be understanding and understood! it’s been a good kind of meditation. I hope that with Lapkat mixes I can give people a similar kind of open meditation.
I also work hard to contextualise whatever I use – via the blog at lapkat.com I write about the poets, link to them where I can, translate where I can. I hope that my mixes can be a catalyst for people to go searching, and learning.
Lapkat is a developing project. I am working towards deeper explorations of storytellers in culture as well as real collaborations with poets. Broadcast and podcast and production. It is not an ethnological or anthropological project, but a natural extension of what I have always done – to seek out, record, produce, broadcast the great stories and storytellers of our world. To entertain at the same time as enlighten (what the great storytellers do). To open my own mind and get at some greater truth and understanding.
In a world where the mass media working in concert with corporation/corporate government and advertisers are copyediting all of our news and in many cases writing and rewriting our histories, it is more important than ever to tell our own stories. I think that is why spoken word and performance poetry is gaining momentum around the world, particularly slam poetry.
We hunger for true stories, we hunger for real, visceral connections to culture and community, we need authenticity like we need clean water.
Storytellers are water for our souls.
About this author LAPKAT is Lisa Greenway, a super veteran in the Australian spoken word scene. She is also a radio DJ/producer, and spoken word publisher. Make sure you check out her new monthly podcast La Danza Poetica on Groovalizacion web radio 12:00 CET 1st Sunday of every month (each podcast will be available to download free after streaming)