Ned Kelly

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
A coffin.

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,

Good.

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.

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