This is the poem which won me a spot at the 2010 finals of the Australian National Poetry Slam – something which still fills me with confusion. A slam, for those not in the know, is a type of performance poetry – you stand up at a microphone (in a pub, cafe, theatre, whatever) and read 2 minutes of whatever your soul wants to read. Slam poetry is the most exciting thing in the world. It doesn’t have to have the best words – what’s most important is connecting with the audience, making them feel what you feel when you’re up there. I’m not a very good slam poet but I’m getting better. There is a probably a slam in your city, go there and perform.
I didn’t do very well at the finals but it was an amazing experience and as far as I’m concerned, no prize is better than sitting in a pub with friends and Best Slam Poet In The World, Robin ‘Archie’ Archbold. He is phenomenal. Anyhow, this is the poem I wrote, inspired by Peter Carey’s strange and powerful book The True History of the Kelly Gang. If you don’t know who Ned Kelly is, let Wikipedia educate you (or alternatively, read Carey’s book.)
The dawn wakes cold as stones.
Here, in the dim, wet morning, the gum trees
Reach for the sky like crooked screams,
Here, in the dim, wet morning, on a verandah
Dark with dew and blood,
Stands Ned Kelly, in armour, huge.
The dawn wakes and it is vast,
Shoot, he says, shoot you Godless fuckers, shoot
They shoot, once, twice,
Six times they shoot, the bullets are lead
And soft and fast, they dent his sooty hide,
It is good armour Ned Kelly made
They shoot his legs, he buckles like a mountain
As hollow as a gallow-pit and falls,
Off the wet boards to the ground,
And all the birds scream once.
And I feel such heavy loss,
Such an empty useless loss,
About Ned Kelly.
Born here, not far away, to Russian parents
Who held no gun in outrage,
Who suffered but in silence,
Why do I find this passing
Leaves in me an emptiness as empty as the dawn
After Ned Kelly was taken from it?
None of us are rebels any longer,
None here have murdered a policeman
Because he raped their sister,
None have hidden in the dark of mountains
Eating shit and waiting for death,
None have said fine words at a gallows
None will say fine words at a gallows,
Such is life,
Kelly, you can hear us even if that empty suit
Your legend lives in
Traps your words:
We’re all the same now,
We protest meekly against death and taxes
By asking for less taxes
Or less death, not both,
We are toothless modern children
And I miss you.