Help me help ASTI!

Last year I saw a documentary so heartbreaking it almost turned me inside out. It was about girls in India that were victims of acid attacks. The violent act of throwing acid, usually at the head and torso. Sounds like something from Batman but is horrifyingly real. The girls who receive these traumatising, abhorrent permanently disfiguring acts of heinous violence are destined for a life of pain and isolation. All because they didn't say 'hello' to a boy on their way to school or they rejected a marriage proposal or in one case an attacker deemed their veils 'too loose'. Acid attacks are spreading worldwide and it's GOT to stop. Andrew Watson and I have turned our track Dear All The Women Who Ever Existed into a downloadable mp3 on Bandcamp. If you download it 100% of the money (charging $5 but you can donate more) goes to ASTI (Acid Survivors Trust International) an organisation whose sole purpose is to prevent and help girls who have experienced acid attacks. http://www.acidviolence.orgThey are an amazing bunch and need all the help they can get. Please send some love their way. This is something that should only happen in comic books. 

Bandcamp have kindly waived their fee so all funds do go directly to ASTI!

Dear all the women Cover

Why it's absolutly, utterly essential to teach poetry to teenagers

In April this year I was invited by my favourite literary organisation in the whole world Women Of Letters to take part in their New York event 'People Of Letters' at the Bowery Electric. The theme was to write a letter 'To The Thing I Wish I'd Written'. My first thought was that I wanted to gush about the Breakfast Club screenplay cause not a day goes by where I don't wish I was John Hughes. However instead I addressed it to the high school curriculum. As someone who regularly visits schools around the world there's SO much that needs improving when it comes to creativity in the classroom. This is my passionate plea to influence the system  by the simple act of teaching poetry.



To the thing I wish I’d written.

I remember the exact moment I wanted to become a poet. I was 12 and the movie Mask had just come out, starring Cher, back when Cher was kinda cool and strong and not made of botox and emoticons. It was a story about a boy named Rocky – played by Eric Stoltz – who had this massive skull deformity that made it look like he was wearing a mask, hence the name of the movie.


Eric Stoltz falls in love with a blind girl, played by Laura Dern. She can’t see his ‘mask’, of course, but like, she SEE’S HIM, you know what I mean? Without judgement.  They fall madly in love. But her parents are upset because Eric Stoltz isn’t a normal boy, and his mum Cher gets all powerful in his defence, and it’s all teary and uplifting, and to my 12 year old heart, stupidly beautiful. Anyway, there’s this scene where Eric Stoltz is explaining colour to the blind Laura Dern. He demonstrates it. He hands her a hot meatball and says, ‘That’s red.’ Then he hands her an icecube, and says, ‘That’s blue’. Then he gets some cotton-wool balls and places them softly in her hand. ‘That’s white,’ he says, and she looks all Laura Dernie and gives this wow-you’re-teaching-me-about-the-world-and-it’s-so-beautiful smile, and something stirred in me. Twelve years old, I jolted upright and announced; ‘I WANT TO TEACH COLOURS TO BLIND GIRLS!’ I was inspired by words, and meaning, and understanding. I wanted to gift the world synaesthesia, to change music into food, food into music, to colour smells, to drink the sky, to paint the rain. I wanted to make poetry! But there wasn’t much opportunity for that at school. BbP_lLSCEAEPbOk

High school wasn’t a place to shake the trees and stir the sky.

High school didn’t ask, ‘What’s inside your crystal well of possibilities, you wondrous little being?’ It was about ticking boxes, results, scores and standing in straight lines. It didn’t want me to change ice-cream into jazz. It said: ‘Ice-cream can’t be jazz, Emilie! D Minus.’

And so, it happens that you are the thing, High School Curriculum, that I wish I’d written. If I had written you, I’d have included shitloads of poetry, because I believe poetry can help teenagers navigate this crazy-ass world.

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Now, I’m not talking soliloquies, sonnets and cinquains, as much as much as the poetry of life, the poetry of art, the art of living, the full Robin Williams smackdown. Think about what it’s like being a teenager: it’s tumultuous. Teens are bored and angry at the same time – they’re bangry!

Life is all over them, it’s itching at their skin. They’ve just shifted from being a kid, all coddled and lunchboxed, to not yet being treated like an adult, but somehow suddenly expected to know what they want to do for the rest of their lives, forever. It’s petrifying. When kids get to high school the band-aid is ripped off and out of the primary blue they’re presented with the fact that the world is full of abhorrent stuff. No one is cupping their ears any more when bad things happen. They’re shuffling into modern history class and finding out about how World War freaking 2 happened – that Nazis happened. That people became Nazis! They’ve gone from learning about founding fathers and explorers to learning about scalping, slavery, witch trials, the Cultural Revolution, ethnic cleansing, North Korea, political prisoners and Pol freakin’ Pot.

And then they go home there’s people screaming and pleading in foreign countries on their TVs, and they’re expected to sit on the couch and eat their schnitzel and act normal. While mum says, ‘What a shame that’s happening over there, now finish your dinner.’

And teenagers must learn that this squirming horrible sensation, this painful hopelessness, this gutting sickening empathy is something they MUST SIMPLY DEAL WITH.


The  world is in TATTERS and instead of going on a screaming rampage they have to finish their homework, brush their teeth and go to bed. All this as hormones burst and splutter inside them, like lava, as their skin spills all over itself, knees knobble, boys and girls try to work out how to talk to each other, relationships rise and crash, their facebook profiles jerk and stammer, their bodies swell and grow, chemicals align and they all fall in love so intensely their hearts push out of their chests like a Pépé le Pew cartoon.


And when they’re not learning about horrors, the good stuff is face-slappingly bewildering as well. They find out there are volcanoes at the bottom of the sea, that the northern lights shimmer and blaze across the sky, that Hubble’s trillion galaxies exist, that, Ladies and Gentlemen, we are floating in space! And the fact that the earth is on its perfect little angle is why there are seasons, polar bears, whales, and bees that make honey that tastes like GOD. They discover – bless their gawky, apprentice brains, hearts and bodies – that sometimes, all of the sudden they’re going to feel the entirety of humanity, they’re going to be standing in line at the cafeteria and their consciousness might suddenly open up like a huge magnolia, and they’ll realise their very existence is just a spore floating through time, and for that millisecond they are at one with the multiverse. They are as free as seaweed.

And amongst all this revelation and mind-blowing lifey-ness, they still have to do their chores. They still have to go to school, they have to be a functioning member of society. Even though their insides have turned hot like sun spits. They’re having ALL THE feelings! Aah!

And no-one is helping them deal with all this! We joke that those things ‘aren’t written in the guidebook’ – but they are! That powerful guide book is already written! By Maya Angelou, Charles Bukowski, Anni DiFranco,Tom Robbins, JD Salinger, Lorde and Eminem.

Poetry can feed young minds but also seed them to grow something unique. It’s the antidote, the solution, the serum, the no-more-gaps! It’s the radioactive spider bite to their impending sense of the mediocre, it’s their hidden ability, their secret power, their Hulk.


Teenagers are not trainee people, they’re people, learning on their feet. Instead of just pouring all of this information into them, and shutting the door while it swirls and bubbles in their hormonal hellfires, let’s give them a chance to speak back to it, let’s encourage them to process, discuss, socialise and analyse all this spluttering chaos and confusion. Let’s help them pause, consider, take stock, rather than simply learning things by rote and churning it through Wikipedia-stained essays. Don’t let them go numb, or use things to numb themselves Let’s use this energy, give them a moment to absorb that it is actually the world we’re talking about – their world – they’re in it, and they can feel it spin under the soles of their feet. If I’d written you, High School Curriculum, it would be emphasised that poetry is that pause, a stocktake of experience.

Poetry helps you bathe in the wonder, and it’s also a useful tool for dealing with the dark times. And I mean like having a sword-in-a-medieval-battle kinda useful. Properly, legitimately essentially, school curriculum-ly useful.



I’d make it so that every day after lunch, they’d learn the name of a new planet, or listen to the rings of Saturn, or feed each other fruit blindfolded. Make metaphors on Mondays, deal with the stupefying possibilities of technology Tuesdays, Wordsworth Wednesdays, philosophy Thursdays and on Friday’s I’d have teachers darken the room and play loud music while the kids could just scream! Scream until they empty themselves of their anxieties, scream until they feel their voices align with their hearts, or in the words of Whitman, sound their barbaric YAWPS from the rooftops of the world. I’d have them write pages and pages of these thoughts and discoveries.

Now, don’t worry – I’m not suggesting that we’d then have to read all this stuff. Jesus! Can you imagine? No, this is about teenagers rolling it around their minds, letting it out, chewing it over, being encouraged to examine their lives rather than just having lives heaped upon them.

A poetry-packed curriculum might help teenagers leave high school more excited to be alive,to be a part of the pulsating genius that is humanity, brimming with confidence, self assuredness and openness. With well balanced temperaments, without anger issues or a fear of authority or a fear of anything. Because school shouldn’t just be about ticking boxes – it should be about inventing circles, it should teach you how to be in this world. How to suck the marrow. Putting poetry in young minds is putting cottonwool balls in someone’s hands and saying, ‘That’s white’. It’s about meatballs for red, ice for blue. And then asking: ‘Okay – now show me what’s yellow, what’s green. And now, you wonderful bangry little soul, go find me a rainbow.


So, that’s why I wish I’d written you, High School Curriculum. Expressing yourself, whether it be with words, music or imagery, or all of the above, allows people to take off their mask – not Cher, she should probably leave hers on – but it allows people to take off their Eric Stoltz mask, and express themselves as a creature of the world, so we can really, you know, see them. In the words of WB Yeats: ‘Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.’ So what do you say school curriculum, I’ll get the kindling, you get the matches, lets do this. Yours in always abundant, optimistic enthusiasm,

Emilie Zoey Baker



Last week I wrote this little piece for the wonderful Writers Bloc (super cool literary website where you can get feedback on your work.) They have a section called Lit Cities where writers wax about what it's like to write in other cities. I chose to write about Banff, of course. Why? Cause OMFG. Banff. 10248859_10152411755819954_374021564_n You remember visiting that cool kid’s house when you were young? You know, the one who always had a nice lunch, a clean pencil case and textas with all the lids on them? Their hair was in braids while yours was in a loose plait, their uniform was ironed while you would smooth yours down with sweaty Vegemite palms. One day they’d invite you over to their house after school. Their place would be filled with light, there’d be artworks drying on the windowsill, books piled by the fireplace, a huge wooden table that fit lots of chairs. Where your mum would normally give you a frown, a dry biscuit and a ‘do your chores’, their mum would smile and offer you a warm treat from the oven and a sweet drink with bubbles. You’d sit in the garden, near a pond, swinging your legs, enjoying the sunshine and wondering why your life wasn’t like that. That’s what it’s like visiting Canada as a poet. Suddenly you’re in the nice house, where everyone is lovely and the snacks are way better. In Australia, if you tell someone you’re a poet you’re generally greeted with this face:

They cock their heads slightly and repeat the word to you, ‘A poet?’ BUT NOT IN CANADA! In Canada, it’s ‘What’s the name of your book?’ or ‘Where can I find you on YouTube?’ and ‘Come to my party!’ In Canada you’re at the big kids' table, eating with the adults. In fact Canada had poet Shane Koyczan open the Winter Olympics! A POET, YOU GUYS! WHERE THERE WAS SPORTS. Could you imagine Australia swapping Nikki Webster for Les Murray? Or inflatable kangaroos for Dorothy Porter? In Canada, there’s respect for writers, musicians, dance and theatre; for people who create stuff. And if Canada is heaven for artists, the Banff Centre is smack bang in God’s own loungeroom.

The Banff Centre is the largest arts and creativity incubator on the planet. Their mission is inspiring creativity. Through their multidisciplinary programming, the Banff Centre provides artists from all backgrounds with the support they need to create, to make the impossible possible. And they do it while offering a dessert buffet. There are music, dance and film studios, performance venues, 4 beautiful theatres, state of the art conference rooms, a swimming pool, an indoor climbing centre, cheap ski lessons and some of the most beautiful hikes in the world. In April 2014 I was invited to be core faculty for the annual Banff Centre spoken word program. It was a two-week contract that was one of the most wonderful, life-changing periods of my career as a writer and teacher so far. And afterwards I undertook a ‘self-directed residency’. By day I was to work on a new poetry collection about nature (focusing on mountains), and by night I would work on my screenplay. To help I was also reading Old Indian Trails Of The Canadian Rockies by Mary T.S Shaffer who was the first non-aboriginal woman to explore the area. Her descriptions of the Rockies in the early 1900’s set my heart on fire and my copy became so underlined, post-it-noted and dog-eared it was like a teenagers journal. Nestled Banff National Park, the centre is about two hours from Calgary. It’s surrounded by huge snow-capped mountains, has its own natural hot springs and some of the most iconic natural wonders of the world, including the perfectly turquoise glass-mirrored Lake Louise. And that was a problem. It was too damn beautiful in Banff to do any actual writing. For the first few days I just walked around with my mouth open at the wonder of the place. I’m surprised I didn’t form an icicle in the back of my throat. IMG_5211 I was there in April spring, so everything was slowly waking up. Buds were shyly making their way out from branches, ice was melting, bears were shaking the sleep out of their eyes, the huge sapphire river that bordered the town was sparkling and the sky was a mixed cocktail of late snow and sunshine. There was elk roaming the grounds of the campus, their little tails shaking in the morning frost as they pulled the newly exposed tufts of grass from the wet ground. I once pushed the ‘walk’ button in town for a small family of deer moseying across the street by the pub.

It was like Northern Exposure narrated by David Attenborough with a Walt Disney soundtrack – nature at its most storybook pure




Most of the time I felt like I was standing in a painting, and it was hard not to bubble over with O’s followed by exclamation points. O! CANADA! I wanted to bellow from the tops of the mountains I climbed (by climbed, I mean rode the gondola). I felt a swelling in my heart that almost hurt, like I’d swallowed a helium balloon and it was pushing against my chest trying to escape. Sometimes I would be walking and find a scene so dazzling it paralysed my vocabulary. What I wanted to say simply came out as air. I pride myself on being able to find words for situations where other people say ‘I have no words’ – that’s the job of a poet, to fill in those gaps, to express ineffable things, to bring comfort in moments of stern silence. That’s why we’re always called upon for weddings and funerals – we know how to make the unsayable say-able. But standing where three great rivers meet, surrounded by mountains as ancient as the sun, while water direct from glaciers raced underfoot and moose nuzzled the forest floor close by, and snowflakes as soft as fingerprints landed on my eyelashes… well, all I could do was try not to cry. To just experience it with all my self; to be present and hope to hell that when I got back to Australia I’d be able to recall the feelings, the chilly wind making notes in my hair, the valleys sculpting memories in my mind like snapshot shorthand, prompts of the perfection I had no way of describing. As Mary T.S Schaffer so beautifully described the overwhelming magnitude of the place “Perhaps the subject is too great, and the picture too vast for one small steel pen and one human brain to depict--at least it is a satisfaction to think the fault is not my own.” IMG_5500             logo

Dear All The Women Who Ever Existed Over The Entire Span Of Human History

A letter to a wish...

This letter was first performed as part of the 2013 Women Of Letters Indonesian Tour as part of the Ubud Writers festival.It has since gone on to star in it's own You Tube video!

In collaboration with The Man Who Wasn't There (Andrew Watson) and Semi Conductor Media This is my letter to a wish: Dear All The Women Who Ever Existed Over The Entire Span Of Human History.



Dear all the women who ever existed over the entire span of human history,

I wish I could say I’m sorry. I wish I could apologise for everything you have been through. Starting with the woman whose heart was painted black with an apple in her hand. I want to scoop you all up and whisper it into your ears. I wish I was an enormous giant so I could gather you all together, hold you close to my Kilamanjaro of a bosom, and give you all your secrets back.

To those ancient girls who were born under stars and hidden in caves, and those women who were ordered to keep their goddesses quiet, or whose icons were stuffed away, their ancestral eternal flames stubbed out like cigarettes – I wish I could have tattooed your words on the hemisphere of my giant back to keep your libraries safe.

To the first slave women, whose bodies were used to bear children they never got to see, whose language was ripped from their lips, whose spells were stomped on.

To those taken from their warm homes and put on the backs of horses, forced onto ships and passed around like toys for grown men, whose skin was the wrong shade of culture, who fought till their nails bled – I wish I could have reached down with my arms thick as the Milky Way and pulled you from the pain.

To all those who believed men when they said that women are wicked, evil creatures, or that they weren’t allowed to make decisions because they get their period, or it was their fault for what they were wearing, or they shouldn’t have been out alone, that they had it coming, or they can’t because they’re just a girl, or God didn’t love them if they didn’t bear sons, or that God didn’t love them at all – I wish you didn’t have to hear that. I wish my timeworn stone-pillar fingers, covered in moss,could muffle your ears.

To all those daughters who were born disappointments, to those mothers who hated themselves and cursed their own bellies as a result, to those little girls forced down the aisle to stand with an old man, a cruel man, a heartless man, a loveless man, a violent man – I wish I could calm your panicked hearts, lift your veils and kiss your brows with my shoreline lips.

To those who were punished for having miscarriages, to those who woke in the night screaming, their white sheets dyed red, their tears slapped from their faces – I wish you knew that it wasn’t your fault.

To those left for war, widowed and abandoned, to those who weren’t allowed an opinion, who believed themselves inferior, who were placed in the dark alone as an incubator for the heir of a king, for an heir with balls, for a billionaire businessman, for the man of the house, because it can’t be a house without one – I wish I could borrow the sun and light your darkened rooms.

To those whose love was called witchcraft, their hips told not to swing, their lips told not to part, their hands told not to hold, their tongues told to never be bold. To those who knew the ways of nature and were blamed for terrifying weather, wars, murder and chaos, who stupefied priests, who disobeyed and died screaming, shot with feathered pens, burnt with consecrated candles and hung with the string of their holy robes. To those whose ancestors couldn’t save them, whose prayers had no effect. To those whose stories were left untold on blank pages in history – I wish I could bundle you up in my mountain-range embrace, and fill my veined rivers with ink so you can correct these wrongs.


To those who gave birth without so much as a freakin’ Panadol, or who became ill and were told it was punishment, who were kept in dungeons and basements, or back rooms, or distant towns – I wish I could rock you softly in my crescent-moon cradle.

To those who were treated so badly they themselves became cruel and infected entire bloodlines – I wish you epiphanies.

To those little ones brought up in nunneries, who were told their natural desires were a disease, their menstruations the work of the devil, a monthly curse – I wish I could fill my giant salt-lake heart with your tears and use it to baptise the ignorant.

To those who betrayed their sisters and never pleaded forgiveness. To those whose husbands wandered into other bedrooms, leaving cold sheets behind. To those who lived in perpetual fear, whose eyes never once looked up, to those girls who were taken from a farmhouse to a palace against their will, whose fathers tried to hide them, their beauty their curse. To all those who lived as prisoners in paradise, their faces hot with outrage – I wish I could scoop you up in the crystal lakes of my palms and let you float there till you are cool.


To those who were ashamed, to any who were shamed, to anyone who ever shamed a girl for being attacked, raped or beaten – I wish I could forgive you.

To anyone who spoke up about freedom or feminism, who started a revolution, who rallied, changed, created or fought – I wish I could encircle you with meteorites to deflect the slings and arrows that come your way.

To those brave hearts who swelled with service and joined the army, only to be humiliated and belittled – I wish I could encase you in the strongest metals from the earth and furnish you with unbreakable swords.

To those who painted, sculpted wrote, designed or invented something spectacular only to have their husbands take credit.

To those who were told they shouldn’t drive a car because of hot flushes, and that new vacuum cleaners were a revolutionary kind of freedom, who received an ironing board for their birthday, who were given the Pill as a liberation but really just to make them more available, no strings attached, when free love turned out to be mostly about guys sleeping around, and the other pills were to keep you quiet and presentable, and by the way the boss is coming to dinner – I wish I could wake you from what turned out to be a dumb dream, so you could drive to work and take your seat at the boardroom table.


To those who felt the need to inject their faces with disease to feel young, to those who felt they were inadequate and put fake salt pillows in their breasts, broke their own noses, cut their own skin, or made themselves sick in the name of thin – I wish you already felt beautiful.

To those who were so scared of ageing they poured chemicals on their faces, terrifying their teenage children, who had always thought their mothers were the most magnificent creatures on earth – I wish I could swoop in with my mirror the size of the sky and show you what your children see.

To all the weak mothers who didn’t protect their daughters from leather belts, backs of hands or turning midnight doorknobs – I wish I could’ve strengthened you.

I wish I could have wielded Saturn’s rings to shield every woman who was ever Jill Meagher or any woman that was just taken from the street.

I wish I had that power.

To those who burned with ambition only to be told their job is strictly to be mothers, wives, cooks and cleaners. To those who aren’t allowed to have an education, to those who had to read books in secret and undertake clandestine classes – I wish I could build you a castle for a school, complete with silver soldiers to protect your beautiful minds. I wish my brain was the size of the universe, able to store a billion solutions to a million problems.

To the women who were told not to try, to stick to being supportive, to swallow ambition, to those who tried and were laughed away, or who succeeded and were jeered and insulted, and held to different standards, hounded out of positions of power, or who were thought unsuitable for leadership because they had young children to take care of, or because they didn’t have young children to take care of – I wish I could arch my back and push up islands in the sea beneath your bobbing chaff bags, so you could climb out and start new and better worlds, or at least try and fail, like anyone else.

I wish I could stretch out my Amazon river of a spine, sail all of you to these islands, across cultures, lands, tribes, generations, religions and eons, so we could talk, share our stories, lace our hearts together to form a bridge so long that it reaches all the way to the next generation, so they know whatever happens they have us, they can tap into this giant pulsating suspended wisdom at any moment, they are never alone.

And when they hear people say that all girls are bitches and that women can’t work together, or that they shouldn’t speak, up, or that they’re too emotional to be CEOs, or that their life has no worth simply because they were born female, they’ll laugh. Because they know about this crazy ancient heart bridge.

I wish I could hurl myself back in time, to the first season, to the debut episode, to the pilot, and let the girl with the apple know that people are going to try and make out that she was an add-on accessory to Adam, that people will try and pretend she’s a slave and not a creator, that her job was to serve man not God, or the God that man decided.

I want her to be strong, tell the truth, and show her daughters there’s no need to ever be afraid.

I wish there was no need to ever be afraid.

To all the women who ever existed over the entire span of human history,

I wish you knew, I’m sorry.



This piece was written for all my lady-heroes who, if I started to count I'd need to tape together every episode of Sesame Street that ever aired, ever. You know who you are x

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This Letter was first published on the Ubud Writers Festival website and they are asking for more! Get cracking here!


My Life Story, In Three and a Half Bicycles




I was in Year Two and every day after school, at around 4pm, Tanya Johnson would ride past my house on a musk-stick pink big-girls bike. She was in Year Six, and ALWAYS had a chocolate bar or ice-cream as she rode along. I’d stare at her in wonderment. I was a hippie child and under any no circumstances was allowed to eat anything as exciting as a chocolate bar. In fact, I was one of those poor unfortunate children who was told carob was chocolate.

One day, Tanya applied the brakes on her musk-stick pink big-girls bike and stopped out the front of my house to say hi. I was so smitten with her – she always wore different coloured socks and had fluffy hair that looked like fairy floss blowing away. She started chatting. And she had a Bounty chocolate bar. Maybe it was the way I was staring at the Bounty in her hand like a cat following a laser pointer, or maybe it was the way my eyes widened whenever she’d gesture towards me with it, or maybe it was how, when she took a bite, I’d watch her mouth chewing, around and around  like a clothes in a dryer, but eventually she looked at me and said, ‘Um, do you want some?’ I made a face like a clown pulling out a bunch of surprise flowers from a hat and closed my mouth around the end of the Bounty. My tastebuds exploded like a sprinkler system in a department store. It was every colour I’d ever seen as a taste. Like there was a Cyndi Lauper concert on my tongue and all my teeth were the front-row seats. Tanya laughed at my obvious delight and sped off, yelling, ‘See ya round!’ It was THE most important day of my life, thus far.

From then on, I’d wait outside my house by the side of the road for the familiar flap of her plastic streamers, the rusty squirt of her bell, the small skid as she’d back-brake out the front of my house. I’d sing out to her, ‘Bouncy girl’, ’cause that’s what I thought a Bounty bar was called. And she let me taste everything. I mauled Milky Ways, chewed on Chico babies, slobbered on her sherbert and wet her White Knights. My favourite was Flake, the folded chocolate bar, which I’d place on my tongue daintily like the lady in the ad and say, ‘Mmm, delicious’, which killed Tanya with laughter.

Eventually we got caught. I must have accidentally given my mother a Snickers smirk or something . . .  And I had to watch Tanya and her musk-stick pink bike breeze by from then on. She’d ride past with an ‘I’m sorry’ expression on her face, and I’d wave sadly. And I’d never even found out what a musk stick tasted like.




[**Ding Di— ]

The first love of my life was a boy called Felix. He was an actor and a clown. I met him when I was still in high school. I’d left home when I was 16 and was living in a sharehouse auditioning for the big time. He was much older than me and he taught me all about the adult world, about responsibilities, credit cards, and so on – and how to make money being a professional tool. I learnt how to make balloon animals, face-paint, perform really shitty magic and... how to ride a unicycle. We each bought our first unicycle together. Learning how to ride one with him was the stupidest, hardest thing I have ever done and is probably best described with a  montage:

Balancing, wobbling, jester hats, falling off, shopping-mall car parks at night, holding hands for balance, accidentally running over an old person, skidding, practising going round in little circles in our tiny courtyard, clown pants, card tricks, falling down, how-to videos and a very sore vagina.

I was also working during the week at a crappy book barn where I’d practise balloon twisting under the counter.

One week I got really sick. I got a severe rash on my lips and eyes and they swelled up – I looked gross. I called in to work sick so I could seek medical attention. Felix accompanied me to the doctor and, naturally, we went by unicycle. We struggled, bumping and grinding through the rough-arse streets of Sydney – it was good training. Turns out I had a staph infection. When I got back home there was a message on my answering machine from my boss: ‘Hello Emilie … So I saw you today, holding hands and riding a one-wheeled bike along the street… You’re not sick, but you are FIRED!’ I called back and tried to explain that I was riding to the doctors.

But you just can’t explain a unicycle as a serious mode of transport.

Game over.



[**Ding Ding]

I was living in a share house in Fitzroy, Melbourne, with five New Zealander stoners. They used to spot on the stove. Spotting, for those who weren't living in a sharehouse in the 90s, is where you heat up two knives to red hot, get a piece of oily dope or hash, and sear it between the knives. Then you capture the smoke in a plastic bottle with the bottom cut off and suck it up. it’s pretty glamorous. There was always a permanent huddle around the fifth element on the stove, like wildebeest around a watering hole.

One of the New Zealanders, Ariel, had a vintage, metallic-green, 70s fold-up Raleigh bike, which was so many layers of awesome, it was a lasagne of awesome. It had dragster handlebars and a silver sprung seat, and it folded up neatly, like a pair of glasses round a nan’s neck.

One day I was wearing this glittery top that Ariel really liked, and she said, ‘Hey, swap you my bike for it?’ And I was like BOOYAH!, transaction complete.  It was true love, me and my vintage, metallic-green, 70s Raleigh fold-up bike spent very little time apart. I rode through the artery streets of Fitzroy every day, past palimpsest walls and newly converted warehouses. I was in my twenties, I was a poet, I was ratshit poor and had very few responsibilities, and I was unbelievably happy. I have never felt so utterly  free as I did then. I rode with the sun on my back and the wind in my hair, because back then you didn’t have to wear a helmet.

Once, while I was cruising down Brunswick St, a man poked his head out of his car window and said, ‘I’ll give you $200 for that if you wanna sell...’  And I smiled broadly and said, ‘Hell no, MOFO! (actually I probably didn't say that cause I wouldn't really have known what it meant) Sure, I could barely pay my rent, but I wasn’t going to part with my 70s, metallic-green, fold-up Raleigh bike for anything.

Until one day, after Ariel had spent some serious time around the old fifth element with her herd, she came into the loungeroom, sat next to me and said, ‘Um, Emilie I feel I need to say something to you... You’ve been using my bike a lot without even asking me, and I don’t mean to be a bitch, but, could you not? I was completely dumbfounded. Could she really have forgotten she gave it to me? She thought I was nicking off with it every day? She thought this relationship was an affair?

The next day, I saw her on the way to the kitchen wearing that glittery top I’d given her, and I said, ‘That’s nice. Where’d you get it?’ She paused, looked down at the top, looked up at me, and burst out laughing. Yeah, that’s right, transaction complete. It was my bike, mofo.



[***Ding Ding Ding]

The last bike I got was a silver mountain bike, an Apollo Altitude. I got it for my 30th birthday, from my boyfriend. He hid it in our roof and got it down in the night when I was asleep, so when I stumbled out in the morning, all bleary-eyed and 30 years of coffee-desperate, it was standing in the lounge room, proud, shiny and magnificent. It may as well have been my 11th birthday for how excited I was. A brand new bike! It was like every Christmas I’d ever experienced folded in upon itself and then duplicated, like gremlins. It was amazing – my first-ever adult bike. It said that my future was certain and I was going to ride into it, with gears.

But I think maybe my boyfriend just got it to taunt me with. So he could fire off ahead of me on his orange superbike, with his admirable but irritating athletic ease. We’d sometimes ride along Merri Creek to Clifton Hill, where a ludicrously steep hill takes you up to the park above the creek. We called it Arsehole Hill. You need to get a good run-up, slap your bike into first gear and pedal like mad – only, you never get a clean run-up, because it starts just around a sharp corner, so you can’t know for sure if someone was coming down. For a while, somewhere in 2008, someone had stencilled Arsehole Hill with markers at various intervals all the way to the top. It went:

No worries

Getting harder

This is stupid

Are you serious?

and just before the top,

Get Fucked.

By the ‘Are you serious’ mark I’d be red-faced and puffing wildly, standing on the pedals, wheels shaking, almost at a standstill, before I’d inevitably have to dismount and do ‘the push of shame’ to the top. My boyfriend would glide past in front of me, still sitting down, in fourth gear. He’d wait at the top for me to push my suddenly heavy, stupid silver Apollo bastard Altitude Death-wheeler with great patience. My face would be red as a lantern, my eyes bulging like Rodger Dangerfield in a sauna. My boyfriend would calmly offer me a bottle of cold water, which I’d grab and suck at like a koala in a bushfire.

I’ve had the Apollo for years now but have since moved to the hills, which is very adult but not very bike-friendly. The only cyclists you see there are in goggles and matching Lycra. So my Apollo lives mainly in the shed.  Behind it is my metallic green, Raleigh fold-up, vintage 70s bike, which now has cracked white tires and a bell that’s so rusty it’s turned solid. Above that hangs my unicycle, which I’ve now dragged through two cities,  and more that fifteen share-houses. I can’t let them go. How do you say goodbye to a bike? Caked in so many different kinds of mud from so many different moments. They’re a monument, a diary in chains, spokes and brake pads.

I’ve lingered over the eBay sell button, but could never bring myself to let them go.

Perhaps I’ll bury the three bikes together, like a time capsule. I’ll lay them down, one on top of the other – first, ironically, the Altitude, which saw me up Arsehole Hill to Clifton Hill on many inspirational jaunts. Then the Raleigh, folded carefully, closed like a book. Then the unicycle, that sweet cyclops, resting on top – like three kings in an ancient tomb, or a preserved testimony to one woman’s Critical Mass, a triple-decker Chariot of the Gods.

Then, maybe in 500 years, archaeologists would dig them up and wonder at their meaning. It represents evolution, they’ll say. ‘From the single-wheeled juvenile, to the one that unfolds to reveal a more mature two-wheeled form, to the fully formed adult.’ Oh yes, they’ll agree. It clearly represents the cycle of life.

Either that, or a lasagne of awesome.

Dr Who's Tom Baker is My Real Dad

I am not really Emilie Zoey Baker.

I was christened ‘Emma Moyle’

Moyle means Jewish circumciser, and although I do get a little bit Jewish when I’m drunk, or unexpectedly called upon to make a speech, that’s kinda where it begins and ends in terms of lineage. I got called ‘Emily Oil with a Boil’ when I was at school and I hated it. Moyle is the family name on my mother’s side. I never met my father by blood and I know nothing about him, so there were no alternative name options there – I had to stick with Moyle, all the way to the oily boily end of high school. By the time I turned twenty-one, I realised I could do whatever the hell I wanted, including taking myself off to deed poll, where I became . . . Emilie Zoey Baker.

So why did I choose Baker? It has absolutely no family connection. There’s nothing even remotely Baker-ish, no matter how many twigs you snap on my one-sided family tree.

No, I chose it instinctively. I chose it out of the air. But when I thought about it more later, I realised why it had resonated with me. Why? Well around 6pm every weeknight it felt like I’d definitely made the right choice of surname. It was because of Dr Who. I’d subconsciously chosen the name Baker because when I was a kid, I wanted Tom Baker to be my dad.

I even thought he looked a bit like me, with his mop of hair and, er . . . bold nose. I even thought that maybe it was possible, seeing as I didn’t know my real dad, with exquisite kid logic, I thought that maybe I could be related to him. I wanted to hang out with him. Be a jelly baby that he could put in his pocket, so I could bounce around as he strode about in that urgent way, scarf trailing. I dreamed of taking little naps in his curly hair. I wanted his soft pita-bread voice to wrap me up like a falafel. When I was little I imagined him stretching that scarf from his shoulders to mine, looking down, smiling and telling me everything was fine.

I felt safe when he was on screen. I loved the way he would joke with terrifying monsters: telling the evil Timelord legend Morbius that perhaps he should change his name to ‘Potpourri’, because that’s how lame he was. He’d mock the Master, wisecrack with the Wirryn, sneer at the Zygons and quip with the Krynoid. There wasn’t much that scared Tom Baker’s Doctor. He beamed fatherly confidence that won my 10-year-old heart like a giant toy elephant at a fair.

But I worried about him sometimes. When it came to encounters with the Daleks, those metallic hexagons of horror, I was frozen with concern. Their heartless-Nazi gliding approach, and Davros, that shriveled mung bean of malevolence, that black Goji berry in a bin. He was the most terrifying thing of all. Turns out I needn’t have been concerned. Tom Baker knew what he was doing. He knew how to deal with such a menace. I remember once he slung his hat over one of the Dalek’s eye stalks, and it wheeled around screaming, ‘Malfunction! Loss of visual Control! Vision impaired. Malfunction! Malfunction!’ And then it pretty much blew itself up. That was my first life lesson from a paternal figure.

At the time, chaos ruffled the carpeted floors of my family home, hard words were being fired about, insults lasered across the lounge room, and divorce papers bombed my mother and stepfather’s bedroom. Peace seemed a million parsecs away.  I desperately wanted to lie around on the floor of the Tardis, play chess with K9, and discuss black holes, the infinity of space and time, the fabric of existence. Talk about the thin line between good and evil with my broad-smiling, bug-eyed TV dad. If things got extra heated at home, I’d try and smile, try to make a joke, or ask the ol’ girl Tardis to deliver me from harm.

There’s a Tom Baker scene I remember really vividly. The Doctor is in a room alone with Davros and he asks the evil little scrotum – like Phillip Ruddock sitting on R2D2 – whether, if he had somehow managed to create a deadly, highly contagious virus, which could destroy all other forms of life . . . whether he would unleash it. Would he let loose an unstoppable universal pandemic?

And Davros says: ‘An interesting conjecture!’ Because, back then, before Michael Bay and CGI and 3D, things moved slowly enough for despicable alien villains to get down with philosophical hypotheticals. Davros says he would love to possess such power over life and death, to know that he could kill everyone with the press of a button. He says he’d do it. Suddenly Tom Baker – the dad I always wanted – grabs Davros’s tiny woollen sock of a hand and holds it over a switch on the control panel of Davros’s space wheelchair. Davros wobbles in terror and says, ‘Don’t touch that! It controls my life support systems, I’ll die in 30 seconds!’

Because that’s where you’d keep that switch, right? Right there at the front, where you might just accidently lean forward with a cup of tea. ‘Oh that’s an inter— ARGHHH!’ Is it just me or should it be maybe hidden away underneath, or something? And maybe not labeled ‘Critical Life Support’?

Anyway, Tom Baker looks into Davros’s fleshy eye sockets (or that third eye that was just stuck on) and he flips the switch! I gasped a 10-year-old’s gasp! Davros gasps like a guppy on the riverbank. Then Tom Baker flips the switch back on. Even though he had the chance to totally un-life Davros, he doesn’t. He lets him live.

I couldn’t believe it – Tom Baker could have destroyed the evil Davros simply and easily, and ended the multiverse’s problems with a flick of a switch. But he chose not to. Why? Somehow – probably well after the BBC Radiophonic Workshop had torn my mind a new one with that awesome scream sound effect that led into the throbbing glory of the Dr Who soundtrack – somehow, I absorbed that it had been a lesson in something important. Something more than just that, despite their zappy lasers, the Daleks and their little prune leader were stupidly vulnerable, to hats, to people just  standing behind them, and, of course, to stairs. No, there was a larger message from my Baker father.  He was displaying the truth that good and evil aren’t necessarily absolutes, easily determined. That you can see your enemies as victims of themselves. That instead of violence and force you should seek to solve problems with logic and kindness.

Subconsciously, I think those seeds were planted. Little tiny shoots sprouted in my 10-year-old heart. I knew after that day I’d be different, trying harder to understand why people, like my parents, found themselves fighting. And not hating them for it, but trying to find a jelly-baby-way to help them stop it. And so, many years later, as a grown adult making my way in the world, with a phase of flamboyant felt hats and over-long scarves (almost) behind me, when I determined to make my own way and change my name to something I felt I could inhabit wholeheartedly, consciously or not, I chose to become a Baker. A mop-headed force for reason and robot-taunting. And the fact that I later learned that Tom Baker married Lalla Ward, the blonde Romana, and they broke up after just 16 months of fighting, didn’t ruin anything. I’ll always be Emilie Zoey Baker, daughter of Tom – it’s Dr Who I am.

                                                                    Welcome to the family

Splendid Chaps logo hi-res
Splendid Chaps logo hi-res

This piece was  originally written for The Splendid Chaps a year-long celebration of Doctor Who‘s fiftieth anniversary: eleven live performances recorded as podcasts. This one was at the Toorak library as part of the Stonnington Libraries’ [untitled] Festival,  November 2013

The amazing central Australian Desert

Recently I  travelled deep into the Utopia Homeland in the middle of the Northern Territory to work in some of the most remote schools in Australia. Right inside the belly of this amazing country I wrote haiku, made zines and did slam workshops with the primary and high school students. While I was there it was around 39 degrees, there were wind storms, night screams, dead cars, piles of the strangest, most random rubbish I've ever seen (like pool cues sticking out of the sand) kids sleeping on feral dogs, wild donkeys, herds of Brumby's making maroon dust clouds, engines glinting on driveways, dusk fires, struggling air conditioning and on the last day and it rained! It smelt like aloe vera on sunburned skin, cold honey on hot toast, truffles, potatoes, dirt, sand and wet sunshine. Apparently it was the first time in about 6 months and it lasted exactly 2 mins. The next day the desert was covered in flowers. I'm ridiculously honoured, humbled, amazed and bewildered by some of the things I've seen. I'm also shaken, disturbed, confused and angry. Out here I felt ALL the emotions. The only thing I could do was accept them and try to be brave, bold and fearless. And full to the brim with good ol fashioned love. And a bit of poetry.

the middle of the day

at school in the desert

fighting about water


red sand

do you turn black

at night?


in the big wide desert

finding a Toyota

a scorpion sits on the drivers seat


 7.30pm in Ali Curung

fighting with the Yowie,

we make him cry


12 donkeys in a row

a man beeps his horn

hoofprints cloud the sand


haiku written by year 10 Ali Curung High

F%$* you, Glee.

So, I’ve had fake nails now for about six months. The reason I got them is I had this hot job interview and I wanted to get that not-on-the-dole look. My nails are like flakes of peeled house paint at best, but whenever I attempt do my own nail polish it looks like a five-year-old kid with ADD did them in a high-speed car chase with a monkey at the wheel. Plus, they were so soft you only had to touch them and they’d faint off my fingers, like a gay man at Liza Minnelli’s farewell concert. So I thought, fuck it, I’m going to be one of those people with fake nails. So I’d gone into a nail bar and had a Vietnamese woman work my nails away, filing at them like she was some kinda mad violinist from a Chekov play or something. Like this was the concerto she had to play to save the life of her doomed lover. My shit nails turned to white dust almost instantly and floated through the air, landing on her breasts like snow in a Meg Ryan movie. She polished them, buffed them and coated them in a hardening substance that was so strong I could open a can of beer just by looking at it. It was amazing. I had them for about six months and I loved it. I was scratching itches I didn’t even know I had. But underneath the acrylic armour, my real nails got even worse. They were dying a long, slow, painful death, softening to the point that they were about as useful as a vibrator made of processed cheese. The acrylic imposters had to go.

So I get to ‘Harden the Fuck Up’ nail parlour (it’s so not called that, but I so think it should be), I sit down and the woman takes my horrible hands like she’s been presented with two retarded fish. And they’re playing Fleetwood Mac, and I think, well, this won’t be so bad, I’ve got Stevie Nicks to help rock me like a butterfly in a cotton-wool swing through the pain. Fleetwood Mac makes my heart turn to lace curtains flapping gently in a soft breeze, and I’m all calm and sanguine.

But then my ears scream to a halt, eject themselves from my head and yell – this isn’t Fleetwood Mac, this is fucking Glee! And my heart curtains get all tattered and haunted-house. And the girl next to me, who’s getting a French manicure with square tips, says ‘Haha! I’m such a gleek’, and starts singing along, and the portal to pure misery opens up and I’m sucked inside, as Jenny from Vietnam rips off each nail with a metal prong.  It’s the most pain I have ever experienced ever, my eyes start watering and getting as pink as Kardashian arseholes and I have trouble breathing and all the other Vietnamese ladies gather round and hold their stomachs, laughing and going ‘Hoo-hoo-hoo, she’s having  a baby!’ And I fucking am! Each finger is shooting off a tiny little baby of acrylic pain. My nails, now about as strong as Glad wrap, show through to my fingers underneath – you can see everything inside like a rice-paper roll, and it looks like I’m filled with prawns and  freakin’ vermicelli. And while all this is happening, that bowl of fuckslaw that is the cast of Glee dribbles mayonnaise-like out of the speakers. My fake nails peel away as fake-Fleetwood-Mac-arsehole remix pollutes the air like vegan farts.

French Manicure probably doesn’t even know who the real Fleetwood Mac is. When you hear the real Fleetwood Mac it should make you feel like you are riding a goddamned unicorn into a third eye made of rainbows and wolves, the leaves on all the trees should appear like silver tambourine bells, a centaur should show you your dreams, which are made of feathers and purple mist, and your vagina should turn into velvet. But this canned supermarket drivel makes me feel like I’m watching Lindsey Buckingham throw up artificial sweetener naked into a tub of not-butter.

Glee have never strapped on a nose-bag full of cocaine and made hot unbridled love on the mixing board, turning up and down the sound of the drums with every thrust until they’d mixed in their own orgasms. They haven’t done anything wilder than taking a Nurofen with a soluble Panadol and touching hands accidently, while turning up the Autotune.  Having sex with a cloud would be more satisfying than this. I hate this fake world full of fake smiles, fake tan, fake hair and fake nails. I belong in this nail bar like Fanta belongs in a martini.

The fact that this unholy, punishing experience of karmic intolerance is wallpapered with my favourite music through a Fake-o-nater rubs the irony salt into every wound I’ve ever had. I look over at French Manicure, humming and dancing. And I think, well, maybe hatin’ her / isn’t the right thing to do… She’s probably gonna go dancing later and have post-work drinks at a bar where everyone is wearing uncomfortable shoes. She’ll kiss Mike from the upstairs office, go home and dream in pink and poppy seeds. Then ‘Glee Your Own Way’ starts up, with its pert polished ponytails… and I think, no, fuck you guys!

There’s real maple syrup, then there’s imitation maple syrup; you can’t take the imitation after you’ve had the genuine beauty of the real thing, and music is the same. Once you’ve had the Mac, you can never go back. Real music stains you, runs through you, helps compose where your wrinkles are gonna go, your laugh lines, your missed lines, pick-up lines, coke lines, and until you’ve written actual song lines you’re never gonna be the real maple syrup. You’re gonna be a bowl of fuckslaw.  Jenny rips off the final plastic nugget of pain and my hands look like they have been put through a shedder and then glued back together with Clag by a toddler.

French Manicure skips off into the distance with her head full of Gleekwood Crap and I’m left with my real nails. Shitty, flaky real nails are what I’ve got to scratch out a name for myself. But hey, I’ll go my own way. Do my own ADD-kid-monkey-at-the-wheel nail polish from now on. Naturally, I choose black polish, ’cause black is a screw-you colour, black flips you the bird when you’re just pouring a cup of tea, it’s chipped within an hour and it doesn’t care. And neither do I. ’Cause, in the words of Stevie Nicks, where the fuck am I and what the hell am I doing here?

Fuck you, fake nails, and fuck you, Glee.


© Emilie Zoey Baker 2012

PS: Fuck You, Glee also appears on the latest Going Down Swinging CD as an ear treat, get it!

LINER NOTES 10: David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust

Wham bam, thank you, ma'am! Liner Notes #10

Ziggy Stardust at The Regal Ballroom

The much-loved literary cabaret Liner Notes returns to the Melbourne Writers Festival in 2012 with a celebration of the 40th anniversary of that intergalactic glittery gadfly, Ziggy Stardust.

Following sold-out shows dedicated to INXS’s Kick, Fleetwood Mac's Rumours and Michael Jackson's Thriller, Liner Notes have assembled a stellar cast for a spoken word tribute to David Bowie's 1972 stone-cold classic The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars. Special guests Tim Flannery, Benjamin Law, Deborah Conway, Joumana Haddad (Lebanon) and First Dog on the Moon will join Emilie Zoey Baker, Sean M Whelan, Yana Alana, Ben Pobjie, Omar Musa, Alicia Sometimes and host Michael Nolan to poetically re-interpret Bowie's masterpiece of Sturm und Drag, track by track.

The world's never been the same since Bowie introduced us to the leper Messiah from outer space. Ziggy came in peace and left in pieces, but not before delivering some of rock’s most celebrated riffs in grease paint and a knitted one-piece. Sure he took it all too far, but boy, could he play guitar. (He could fellate one, too.)

Side one

1. ‘Five Years’ YANA ALANA

2. ‘Soul Love’ OMAR MUSA

3. ‘Moonage Daydream’ SEAN M WHELAN

4. ‘Starman’ TIM FLANNERY

5. ‘It Ain't Easy’ FIRST DOG ON THE MOON


Side two

6. ‘Lady Stardust’ BENJAMIN LAW


8. ‘Hang On to Yourself'’ BEN POBJIE

9. ‘Ziggy Stardust’ DEBORAH CONWAY

10. ‘Suffragette City’ JOUMANA HADDAD

11. ‘Rock 'n' Roll Suicide’ EMILIE ZOEY BAKER

With a brilliant live band serving up the likes of Moonage Daydream and Suffragette City, a line-up of exciting guests joining some of Melbourne’s finest spoken word performers and comedians, and a beer light to guide us, Liner Notes: Ziggy Stardust will be a night to remember, in the beautiful surrounds of the Regal Ballroom.

Come celebrate a starman surely even Richard Dawkins believes in, and Let the children lose it, let the children use it, let all the children boogie...

Liner Notes: Ziggy Stardust Saturday 25 August Doors from 7.30 Regal Ballroom, 216 High Street Northcote Tickets: $25.00 from the MWF Webbie

THEN we are taking the show to The Brisbane Writers Festival! For the launch of the literary love-in, a 24 hour literary mega event. The cast makes me ALMOST FAINT WITH GLEE, THE GOOD GLEE NOT THE SHIT, TV GLEE.

Side one1. ‘Five Years’ DAVID "Ghostboy" STAVANGER


3. ‘Moonage Daydream’ SEAN M WHELAN

4. ‘Starman’ WILLIAM McINNES

5. ‘It Ain't Easy’ SHANE MALONEY


Side two

6. ‘Lady Stardust’ DENISE SCOTT

7. ‘Star’ NICK EARLS

8. ‘Ziggy Stardust’ DAVE GRANEY

9. ‘Suffragette City’ JEET THAYIL

10. ‘Rock 'n' Roll Suicide’ EMILIE ZOEY BAKER

Liner Notes: Ziggy Stardust Saturday 8 September Doors from: 7.30 The Powerhouse, New Farm Tickets:

Dark Matter

A few years ago my good friends and colleagues Alicia Sometimes, Sean M Whelan and Paul Mitchel formed Science in The Dark a collaborative directed by Alicia Sometimes to put on Elemental, Poetry At The Planetarium. It was a show as part of the Melb International Arts Festival in late 2009. Poets worked with filmakers and musicians including Nat Bates (Liquid Architecture) and Lawrence English (Room 40) to create one piece each on a scientific theory which was then projected onto the huge dome screens of the planetarium. It was pretty rad. We also commissioned an original composition from British experimental group Nurse With Wound to give us The Big Bang (which naturally opened the show.) Each poet chose a theory to work with, I chose Dark Matter, cause it was mysterious and no-one to this day knows what the hell it is. I did alot of reading and listened to interviews with this wild scientist Bernard Heishe (The God Theory) who suggested that Dark Matter lives here on earth and that it's the actual stuff of God.

I wrote this poem while I was travelling through the ancient ruins of Mexico, I looked right into the eyes of history which were so deep and dark they made the bottom of the ocean appear like a glass of water. There's still so much more to explore, but I had to start somewhere...

Dark Matter

There are 13 dimensions in the universe; four to be exact,

three plus one.

1. Dark matter woke up the day that light slipped into consciousness.

Travelling at the speed of time, entering through the god-beasts – Man.

In the beginning, when an ocean was just a glint in an asteroid’s eye.

2. In utter blackness the only thing that exists is possibility.

3. There can’t be possibility without imagination. There is no imagination without consciousness. There is no God without imagination.

4With our thoughts we make the world – Buddha

Once upon a time, a man accidently wandered into Paradise and fell asleep under a big oak tree. When he awoke he felt so hungry he wished for food, and in Paradise anything you desire appears, so magically a delicious meal came out of nowhere. The man ate. He was too hungry to question its origin. (When your stomach is empty, you are not too philosophical.) After his hunger abated he felt thirst and thought a drink would be nice. Suddenly, precious wine appeared before him and he grew suspicious – what was this place? Why are things materialising? It must be haunted! And instantly, ghosts appeared. Ghosts, he thought, are bad news. So the ghosts became ferocious and horrible. Surely I will die! he thought. And with that he was gone.

All that is, is the result of what we have thought – Buddha

The universe is expanding like a mind. Every idea breathes it just that little bit wider. Dark matter existed before anything went bang. Before a rock knew what it was, before time uncurled and opened its deep black mouth to yawn out the multiverse. In the beginning even nothingness was not: but that doesn’t Matter.

5. The god-beasts think it’s a coincidence that lungs resemble trees in autumn, that land has veins, that the sea looks like an aerial map of human skin,

an elephant detail, a thirsty universe of pathways as long as DNA.

They are clearly a consequence of the whole; everything in existence has no choice. We share the same mother, we spin around the same star.

When a snake eats a deer, it becomes the deer, it becomes the grass it chewed, the mother it grew in, the water it drank, the river it traveled, the pink of its skin, the frost of its breath – all now sleep inside the snake.

6. When everything is so overwhelming you can’t breathe, when you feel genuinely astounded by a frog’s skeleton, or you are frozen by the grandeur of a moose, the breathtaking magnitude of Saturn, or the dizzying complications of a flower, and don’t know what your place is in this world is:

look to corn.

Its young seedlings poking out of the earth like a tongue. Unfolding into inevitability, a sculpture in reverse. It knows what it’s going to be, it just has to make its destined shape. It goes about its husky purpose; magical silk fingers move in night winds collecting wet powdered sex to make its tiny soft, sweet bumps. It dreams of nothing but the sun, it dreams in yellow. Corn knows what’s going to happen and its death is a thousand different afterlives, a universe of papery speckled seeds floating in the blue of its earthbound heaven.

Corn knows not to worry.

7. Man started off big, likening themselves to the earth, to the holy mountains, to the sky, till Copernicus stubbed a beautiful and unique snowflake out on their holy books, and Einstein showed them that space is as bendy as fishnet. It was the sun heaven revolved around, not them.

8. They found themselves small, smaller than an eyelash, so small they can slide on an amoeba’s skin gloss, swim the rivers on the palm of a child’s hand, sail the Nile of their lifeline. They found themselves as important as a tealeaf in a whale, a string inside an electron, a quantum haiku lost in the geometry of language.

But size doesn’t Matter.

Early on, just after the monkey wore off, Man asked: What is air? Then, What is water? What is space? What is the fractional dimension hiding the squirming neutrino particles traveling through your skin, breathing with you, swimming on your brainwaves like microscopic ducks? They built lakes to watch the stars, traced patterns, carved fortunes. Understood the nausea of prophesy, fought wars, drank blood straight from the hearts of their enemies, and eventually all had to ask: Who was this one god dripping with gold and gore hanging on the southern cross, with hazelnuts for eyes? He is a suffering mess and we are expected to worship him? You throw away the soul of fire, the essence of rain, the mother of the gods. You mutilate our idols, smash in each and every one of their faces and build a haunted church from the rubble where your god hangs like a curtain?

9. Time is squashed inside all of us like tobacco into a cigarette.

10. God laughed, a big white Santa laugh, and said: ‘It’s a whole Galileo of possibilities.’

11. It’s the thing that’s around you now, the one you don’t have a mouth for, the chianahkimanapranamaya-kosha. It’s the gap between the sun drinking a sacrifice off an altar, leaving behind soft crunchy flakes like garlic paper.

It’s underground sulphuric prayers, offerings of boiling black rain, the making of land, a billion-year heartbeat, a trillion primordial fireballs leaving space stains. It’s the clicking of a cursed skeleton in the back of an anthropologist’s car.

It’s a disappointed scientist’s heart collapsing like wet origami.

12. The man in Paradise didn’t know he was in Paradise. Had he known his thoughts could determine his fate, he may have thought of the hardest thing any man can ever think of: Nothing.

13. Man didn’t know time would determine God and God didn’t know man would take everything so literally.

Before you knew what you were, the sun had determined your shape, it pulled life out of the ocean and made it duplicate and writhe.

For everything that lives is holy, life delights in life – William Blake.

There can be no possibility without consciousness. In the beginning, even nothingness was not. It’s just a Matter of time.


See the video of  all the poems here

What's that? You feel like hearing a spoken word tribute to Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska? WELL YOU ARE IN LUCK!

For the latest edition of Cordite I stepped aside as spoken word editor for my comrade Sean M Whelan to take the curatational reins  (that's so not a word, I know) He made a special Liner Notes edition  bringing together some excellent writers *including me, blows on nails* who each responded to a track off Bruce Springsteen's  iconic album, Nebraska. It's got roads, coyote's, cowboys, grandma's, eagles and there's even a chicken in a car. It's definitely worth  pouring a hot cup of whiskey, finding  a highway somewhere (that preferably has a few tumbleweeds) and giving your ears a little poetic road trip... A note from the *ahem* liner notes of the Liner Notes

"Here’s how it works, choose a classic iconic album. For each track on that album, allocate a writer. Their task is to write and perform a response to their chosen track, anyway they choose. Over the years since Liner Notes began the works have been songs, stories, poems, non-fiction deeply personal accounts, raps, even experimental dance performances. Some pieces directly reference the songs they are responding to, some will just riff off a single line or image. The works are performed on the night in the order they appear on the album with a break taken between side A & side B (respect to vinyl). A tribute night with a very important difference, brand new original work is born from it."

-Sean M Whelan

Side A.

Nebraska - Neil Boyack Atlantic City - Josephine Rowe Mansion On The Hill - Omar Musa Johnny 99 - Gabriel Piras Highway Patrolman - Samuel Wagan Watson State Trooper - Eric Dando

Side B.

Used Cars - Jessica Alice Open All Night - Josh Earl My Father's House - Alicia Sometimes Reason To Believe - Emilie Zoey Baker Born in the USA* - Ben Pobjie

*Bonus track

Editors note: *Eleven writers? ‘But there’s only ten songs on Nebraska!’ I hear you indignant Bossaphiles shout! Well, at the time of the recording of Nebraska, Springsteen also recorded a bunch of demos, several of which would later appear more fleshed out on a little-known album called Born In The USA. So we decided to include a special Bonus Track to honour this.



The heat is ON!

The heat is on! Are you 'Stralian? Can you dazzle an audience for 2 mins with your words? Wanna win a trip to China and Bali? Well read on, friends, read on...

Imagine two minutes in the spotlight. No props. No music. Judged by the audience. Just you...and your poem.

The Australian Poetry Slam is not a poetry reading. It’s more like a howling literary campfire with verbal voodoo, breathless rhythms and sweat breaking nerves. Think Hilltop Hoods mashed with Obama, a line of Paul Kelly, a few pinches of Judith Lucy, and a test tube of Les Murray all vying for audience love.

Two finalists from each state and territory will meet in Sydney to battle with their words on the main stage of the Sydney Theatre for the 2011 APS National Final on 27th November. One will be crowned 2011 Australian Poetry Slam Champion!

The Australian Slam Champion gets to tour China as part of the Bookworm International Literary Festival and also gets a guest spot at the Ubud International Writers and Readers Festival in Bali. That is around $11k worth of flights, accommodation, expenses and performers fees. All that for one 2 min poem? Hell yeah!

For all the rules and regulations please check out

also, click on the 'Stralia to find heat times in your state.

Be good, be smart, be amazing, be enlightening, be funny, be hot, be a poet.

In Defence Of Slam Poetry

I recently did a Lunchbox/Soapbox talk at The Wheeler Centre for Books Writing and Ideas called 'In Defence of Slam' as a response to the Bantick Article in The Australian. It's live online and you can make your eyes go on it here.  A few people asked to read the transcript, so here it is below (with extra bits and a photo of a real life Douche-muffin) A few months ago, I was featured in The Age as part of  Michael Short’s series ‘The Zone’, where people from various backgrounds talk about an idea. It’s a one-page feature in Monday’s paper, written by Michael Short. For my moment in the publicity sun I decided to talk about the popularisation of poetry. My pitch was to put poetry on prime-time TV. Screw The X Factor – I want to see something that’s actually GOOD. I’m sick of hearing about the contents of Matt Preston’s stomach, at watching actual paint dry on the walls of The Renovators. I asked people to imagine having their souls unravelled like a ribbon at 7.30pm on a Thursday night. I asked people to imagine a world where young people perform original thoughts and words, instead of singing other people’s pop lyrics to douche-muffins like Kyle Sandilands. In my opinion, poetry has the power for prime-time. I’m talking specifically about performance poetry, slam poetry. Slam is short-form, usually only a few minutes long. It’s a light-hearted poetry battle, where poets perform their work individually or in teams. Generally, judges are picked at random from the audience and they hold up a score out of 10 for each performer. It works on the idea that poetry is for the people – that you don’t need a degree or a doctorate to judge poetry, it’s about what you like, what you feel, what inspires you to whoop and cheer. It got started in the US in the early ‘80s by a guy called Marc Smith, who wanted to add a bit of sizzle into a normal poetry reading. It’s since taken off and happens all around the world in tournaments drawing audiences to all kinds of venues, from small bars to stadiums. However, as Marc Smith famously said of the competition element, 'The point is not the point, the point is poetry'.  And this philosophy is what makes it such a strong growing community.

[Students from Rutherglen High performing as part of OutLoud 2011]

Slam uses living language to spark debate, propose amazing ideas, offer insight into generational thinking or explore deeply personal matters of identity, self-worth and ambition; it delves into controversial topics, hilarious, deep and brilliant observations about the world. And I believe that would make freakin’ great TV. The article went down well and got a few people talking about it being a possibility. A couple of weeks later, Christopher Bantick, a Melbourne writer and senior English teacher at Trinity Grammar, Kew, ‘responded’ with a piece in The Australian. He was appalled at me for suggesting such a thing. He finds the thought of poetry being on TV, aiming for a popular audience, is nothing short of horrifying. And sadly, Christopher represents a not uncommon view among some in the poetry world, that poetry is sacred and must be appreciated quietly in high towers, on the page, with time to pick apart its meaning and absorb it, to sup from its worthy benevolence… I hate this elitist idea of poetry, the way it dismisses slam and performance poetry as somehow lesser art, and I think it’s worth refuting some of its daft claims. Christopher Bantick starts off his article by offering me his deepest respect: “In case you didn’t know, Australian performance poet Emilie Zoey Baker is the international poetry slam champion.” Well, actually I’m not. He was referring to how The Age described me. It was an unfortunate overstatement of my success in a slam in Berlin, but hey, we get the point: as if anyone’s even heard of me, an 'international champion’ of nonsense. He continues: “To assume that slam is poetry is enough to make the muse mute.” Yep, he uses the term ‘muse’ without any irony, making him sound like Monty in Withnail and I.

“Still, it’s not Baker’s slam success we should be worried about.” Thanks, Chris! “It is her suggestion that poetry should be on prime-time television and replace programs such as MasterChef. What Baker and her fellow versifiers have failed to understand is that celebrity poets do more harm than good.” Ah, yes, celebrity poets, like, um… ahhh, oh, he’s probably thinking of… um… ...


If he means the only  contemporary  Australian poet people have heard of – Les Murray – well, perhaps he has a point. Murray’s contribution to John Howard’s Constitutional preamble – “We’re a nation of mates” – didn’t do much good. Or maybe he means celebrity poets like Henry Lawson or Banjo Patterson? Very popular in the day, published widely and regularly, read by all and learnt by heart by many. Harmful! No? Well, Christopher, could you give us an example – any example – of a harmful celebrity poet? Or any celebrity poet at all? Nope? Well, touché.

He continues: “According to Baker, poetry needs to be slammed into us: Whether you like MasterChef isn’t the point here. [ Although I  am starting to get the feeling Christopher wears a bandana with little Matt Preston faces on it every night during MasterChef.] Poetry will not regain its place in the national conscience by our reducing it to a public mosh-pit. According to Baker, Australia rejects poetry [Er, no, I didn’t say that] and hence her evangelism for pop poetry extravaganzas. But the problem with poetry is not that it is overlooked. Rather, it depends what kind of poetry we’re talking about. Those who know what great poetry is covet its place in the culture. Pop poems may pull the punters to pubs, but that’s all…” So here we get to the nub of Christopher’s dismay – what I’ve proposed involves popular poetry, not great culture. People might like it, but it would have no value. What a dismal prospect a tour through Christopher’s record collection would be. From classical to classical, all the way through the classics to some classical. Great works, each pitched directly to the soul. But that’s probably not true... He’s probably got some Cat Stevens. Some James Taylor perhaps, and Miles Davis’s Some Kind of Blue, a cherished Dylan record or two from his youth, Paul Kelly’s hits compilation. He’s likely comfortable with the idea of ranging interests in music, with different material suited to different purpose, but each creative, valuable and rewarding.

Why should poetry be different? Why is the thought of a popular form of poetry so frightening? Why can’t poetry be loud and brash, delivered with passion and energy, readily understood, thought-provoking and entertaining all at once? There’s no threat in trying to popularise poetry, to give it new shapes and a new audience. I’m not suggesting slam poetry should somehow replace all other forms – any more than Christopher’s teen flirtation with The Beatles means he has to throw out his Brahms. No one is saying DROP THAT JUDITH WRIGHT ANTHOLOGY and meditate on these Kanye West lyrics. Burn volumes of TS Eliot and beat old people for reciting Wordsworth. Why can’t slam or other popular styles be added to the ways our culture expresses itself? Why can’t we enjoy Judith Wright as well as Brisbane performer Ghostboy, or Maya Angelou alongside Melbourne’s own Sean M Whelan?

“Poets such as Baker,” Christopher says, “who want to give us wham and slam, need to face this reality. Their poetry depends on personality and pyrotechnics, but as poetry it does not scan. Good poetry takes time to understand. It takes emotional and intellectual investment. The buy-in is something more enduring than a bright flare of words.” The argument is that ‘pop poetry’ can’t be taken seriously because it’s not any good. It most certainly cannot join the ranks of great art. Well, slam poems may not be likely to peer down imperiously from history’s marble plinths in the centuries to come, but sneering newspaper columns probably won’t be recounted with reverence either. Does that make it all worthless, or unworthy? Not all slam poetry is great, of course – I’ve seen some shocking crap. But I’ve also seen bad music, bad art, bad theatre, bad opera and bad journalism.

It’s clear to me that Christopher hasn’t ever been to a slam. He hasn’t seen a crowd leap to its feet as a coruscating critique of our modern lives ends with a redemptive cry to pull together to do better, as in Omar Musa’s ‘My Generation’  which was recently performed on ABC’s QandA, it stirs something in audiences of all ages. And he’s probably never seen Taylor Mali, whose poem ‘What Teachers Make’ has attracted 3,216,989 views on YouTube (which is disturbingly like bringing poetry to the masses on TV). A page on Taylor’s website called ‘1000 Teachers’ is a list of people that have been so moved by his poetry that they chose to become a teacher. But no, apparently pop poems only pull people to pubs, and that’s all. Just another celebrity poet doing more harm than good.

And despite being a senior teacher of English, it seems Christopher hasn’t witnessed young school kids thrilled to discover a voice and an ability to get up in front of a crowd and perform their own work – a huge boon to their self-confidence, as much as their creative talents. So not only can he not allow that some slam might actually be any good, he can’t see that it’s an electric way to get young people in particular interested in poetry, in a way they struggle to with traditional forms. As part of my work at Australian Poetry, I teach creative writing and performance poetry in schools, at different age levels. When I go into schools, I’m often greeted with a sigh and an eye-roll. Why? Because a lot of kids see poetry as boring, stale, girly, stupid, irrelevant and lame. I had a girl once say to me, ‘When I first heard we were doing poetry, I was gutted.’ By the end of the weeks that I spent with her class, showing her what poetry could be, asking her what she wanted to say, showing her examples of performances that made it feel like the top of her head was floating off, that same student turned around to me and said, ‘I want to make a career out of poetry now.’ Why the change of heart? Because I didn’t just make them read out Henry Lawson until they could recite a few verses by rote. I let them hear the amazing Saul Williams, alongside Jill Jones, alongside Keats, alongside, yes, Eminem. I asked them questions about their lives, their passions. I showed them clips of kids performing so well that other kids leapt out of their chairs to scream and cheer. I showed them a YouTube video of acclaimed American slam poet Andrea Gibson’s poem ‘Birthday' at 9.30am on a Monday morning, and had kids fighting back tears for things they didn’t even know they felt.

As part of the AP education program, I created The Superpoets, a team of professional performance poets who visit schools to teach kids slam poetry. I also coordinate Out Loud, a teen team poetry slam where teenagers get up and perform their own words to a crowd of their peers and professional judges, culminating in a slam final In Federation Square during the Melbourne Writers Festival. The students love it and teachers are constantly amazed at what their kids can do. I received this feedback from Anthony Young, head of English at Braemar College in Woodend:

“The opportunity to be involved in Out Loud was so instrumental in getting my students hooked on poetry, writing, performance and language in general. As a country school that only gets to come to the city very rarely it was really important to have the support of Australian Poetry and the Superpoets. The Superpoets’ visit to our school before hand was a great way to invigorate and enthuse the students and show them a different style of poetry that immediately tapped into their popular cultural interests and reversed some of their perceptions of what poetry was. For the students, the opportunity to perform in front of such a supportive and enthusiastic audience and feel that their creativity and enthusiasm for the arts was valued, was so important in their development as well-rounded people.”

[The students from Braemar performing as part of OutLoud 2011]

Sounds awful, doesn’t it? Well, the guardians of traditional forms of poetry don’t like it. They demand ‘something more enduring than a bright flare of words’. What snobbish critics are missing is that the next generation of wordsmiths, performers and readers are being inspired by slam poets who offer an immediately engaging, energetic style that speaks directly to them. Isn’t it possible that young people excited by slam are then becoming interested in poetry more generally, curious as to its roots and traditions? I know that’s how I came to appreciate poetry – through exposure to performance poetry. It certainly wasn’t through the dry lessons taught to me at school. In fact, it’s not only possible – that’s exactly what’s happening. At Braemer College, the teacher also told me that where once it was struggle to interest his students in poetry, after the Superpoets workshops and the school’s participation in the Out Loud slam, the kids came to learning about more traditional forms of poetry with greater enthusiasm.

I had to laugh when, to underscore just how frivolous all this slam nonsense is, Christopher sought to contrast my winning a slam title with Chris Wallace-Crabbe receiving the Order of Australia, ‘For service to the arts as a leading poet, critic and educator’. Well yes, it was wonderful news that an esteemed poet received such a recognition, and no one at ‘Slam TV’ wants to take that away from him. But unlike the columnist for The Australian, Chris Wallace-Crabbe is a supporter of innovative poetry in schools, and a supporter of slam. How do I know this? Because he’s on the Board of my employer Australian Poetry, and is a supporter of our teen team poetry slam Out Loud. Not at all snobby, Chris loves to see Australian students excited about poetry through performance. He might even make a great judge on slam poetry TV show. I’m being facetious, of course. Christopher Bantick agrees that the teaching of poetry in schools has been less than perfect. He writes of “a wet and miserable June night at the University of Melbourne’s Newman College oratory hall, packed as people came to listen to Peter Steele read and reflect on his verse. It was an evening of illumination and edification, but there were few young people.” Gee I can’t imagine why. “Part of this,” he says, “is due to education – even so, I defy any spotty 16-year-old not to be arrested by Sylvia Plath reading her poem ‘Daddy’.

Well, sure, I hear ya, C-Dog… a great poem, read well, performed you might say, they may be moved. Just as next week they might respond to something more direct and rhythmic, something less classical and more pop… Like Shayne Koyzan’s  This is my voice. [excerpt]

"This is for the homeless people sleeping on steam vents,

making makeshift tents out of cardboard and old trash,

trying to catch 40 winks in between the crash of car wrecks

risking their necks by surviving another day so that they can starve

so that famine can carve their body into a corpse before their heart stops beating

so that men in a boardroom meeting

can make it harder for them to get welfare, health care,

it’s no wonder some of them pawn off their own wheelchair

and every time I walk ‘em by, I can’t help but feel at fault,

that maybe I didn’t search myself hard enough

for the control alt “s” so that I could save the world.

Or at least this little girl curled up into a ball

I’ve spent most of my life throwing compassion back like a fish that’s too small.

Gotta cash in my reality checks. drop her some spare fantasies

cause I’ve got three separate degrees from different universities,

but the most valuable thing I ever learned

was to believe people when they say “Please.”

This is my voice, there are many like it, but this one is mine."

Why would this have any less relevance or be deemed of lesser poetic capability? How dare Chris disregard contemporary poets, performance poets and slam. And more horrifyingly, how dare he, a teacher of English in our schools, deliberately wish to deny our kids access to everything that poetry can be and that is? It’s like the white American radio stations banning the ‘devil’s music’ in the 50s or flailing about outraged when photography was introduced to galleries, or taking Allen Ginsberg to court for ‘Howl’. It’s anti-imagination, anti-creativity and a denial of the emergence of new art forms, styles and genres that will take their place alongside the traditional. And it’s futile. As shown by that great modern parable of the 80s, Footloose, you can only ban fun for so long. Kevin Bacon will eventually dance his  woolly little socks off. Poetry – in all its forms – is essentially a love letter to language, and a poet is someone who gets off on words. They can’t help it. I’ll spend whole days trying to think of a single simile to fit into a poem, because I respect, admire and adore words, every single one of those little buggers.

There’s further irony in the elitist kitbag. Bantick bemoans the loss of “the place of poetry in national memory”. “Poems,” he says, “can be a comfort and inspiration, not to mention sustaining when we hunger for meaning and solace. Gens X and Y are impoverished and have no storehouse of verse to call on. The art of committing great poems to memory is lost. Whether one likes ‘Banjo’ Paterson’s The Man from Snowy River is immaterial. Many of us can recite the first verse at least.” And that’s better, isn’t it? Poetry you don’t like that you’re forced to learn by rote like the multiplication tables, with a rap on the knuckles for a faltering memory. Wholesome. Cultural. Good for the soul.

You daft man!

If you want to hear someone leap to their feet and let rip glorious lines of rich, meaningful language, a slam is exactly where you want to be. And actually, while we’re here, traditional bush poetry and slam and hip hop styles are not that far apart, really. They’re written to be memorised and recited, using pronounced rhythm, meter and rhyme. But more importantly, while great poems of the ages speak to the human condition, surely we want to hear and engage with poetry that speaks to us of our lives right now. Luka Lesson along with Dorothy Porter, Henry Rollins, Les Murray, Indigenous hip hop artist Brothablack. That’s not to reject great works of the past, it’s to embrace contributions to the culture we live in now, and which will perhaps guide us in the future.

Christopher goes on, waxing lyrical about the virtues of great poetry, including the lasting impact of the like of TS Eliot, and so on. “Great poems live and last”, he sighs, like Rumpole of the Bailey delivering his final statement to the jury. Give us a chance, Chris, we might just deliver something future generations will revere. The high culture vaunted by the likes of Bantick is admirable, in the main, but why do these elitist Don Quixotes insist on tilting at windmills? None of the poetry they worship is harmed by the idea of presenting a different, popular style of poetry to the masses. No one is saying it’s to be rendered irrelevant, that it must be erased. Slam isn’t tearing down the temple – it’s building a dance floor next door. It’s offering a different gateway into the love of language, or expression and communication.

Why is that such a dire prospect? Why is the fact that it sometimes makes people jump to their feet and cheer so vulgar? Isn’t it, in fact, something to be celebrated? So let’s go back to where all this started. Why would anyone be so appalled by the idea of putting it on television? Of trying to reach people who would normally have no intention of attending a slam poetry event, but might flick on the latest reality TV show to see what it’s all about? Australian television audiences evidently relish competitions and reality settings. Why not see how they react to the breadth of talent this country has in spoken word performance and slam poetry? I think lots of people would react just as they do at a great live slam – it’s like being at a rock concert or a headline comedy gig. Wham and slam? Hell yeah! I think a live setting would be best, in fact, like RockWiz, or Australian Idol. And it’s not only for the young – the 2009 National Australian Poetry Slam was won by Sarah Taylor, a 60-year-old retired librarian from Newcastle. I’m confident people would find they love the chance to cheer on a bush poet, or get behind a hip hop word spinner, to get inspired by a politically engaged urban scenester, or to go on a rollercoaster ride with the brilliant and quirky mind of a normally quiet girl from the suburbs. In the US, a slam TV show, Def Poetry Jam, ran for five years on HBO, and in the last few years they’ve aired Brave New Voices, a teen slam competition. I’d love to be challenged, touched, moved, shaped  and have my soul unravelled at 7.30 pm on a Thursday night  by original and talented performers on TV. And if such a show gets on air, and Christopher Bantick’s students at Trinity College suddenly seem to show a greater interest when he drones on about Keats – no need to thank us, Chris. Thank the muse.

The St Kilda Climate Change slam

This is going to be the best slam in tha history of slams that ever did slam! And it's for charity, and there's a Pro-wrestler on the bill, and it's hosted by Ben Pobjie! First Dog on the Moon is in it and Greens Senator Scott Ludlum and the amazeballs Lou Sanz, Omar Musa and Helen Razor, I mean COME ON!

 Dog’s Bar Arts Hub In conjunction with Australian Poetry
Proudly Present Australia’s First Ever Climate Change Poetry Slam Friday 7th October 7pm@St Kilda MeMo Theatre

Come join us as we raise a toast to spring (while we still have distinct seasons)! Feel free to laugh, boo, cheer and celebrate the poetic as we contemplate the demise of our planet! Rhyming optional.

MC’ed by The Age’s TV apostle, Superchef author and twitter-philosopher BEN POBJIE, with Guests Crikey cartoonist FIRST DOG ON THE MOON, HELEN RAZER, SHANE MALONEY, LOU SANZ, RRR'S BEN BIRCHALL, Queen of the Spoken Word, EMILIE ZOEY BAKER, professional wrestling superstar KRACKERJAK THE MADBASTARD with special guests , Q&A guest poet and hip hop legend OMAR MUSA, MIGHTY JOE and many more including a surprise guest AUSTRALIAN GREENS SENATOR SCOTT LUDLUM who will be reading the poetry of Bob Brown!
Yes the poetry will be fast, funny, sexy, sad, slow, scintillating, even possibly dreadful, but it will never be boring. Brace yourself for surprise cartoons, magic tricks, juggling and potential nudity. The Slam will take place at the historic St Kilda MeMo theatre, a glorious throwback to the 1920’s with a rumoured resident ghost and two fully stocked bars.
When: Friday 7th October @7 pm
Where: St Kilda MeMo Theatre, 88 Acland St Kilda
Tickets: $15 Concession/Online Booking, $20 at the door
All net proceeds will go to the Sacred Heart Mission who work closely with our homeless community.

My Wheeler Centre talk is live!

My Lunchbox/soapbox talk at The Wheeler Centre for Books Writing and Ideas is live online, gonna work on my Bantick impression...

Here are some of the videos I mentioned in the talk

Taylor Mali's What Teachers make (now up to 3,207,495 views)


Andrea Gibson's Birthday


Saul Williams Black Stacey


Omar Musa, My Generation


and this, I didn't mention it but it's so damn good,  Gil Scott Heron, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised


This is a link to more information about Out Loud The Teen Team Poetry Slam

And this will take you to The Super Poets main page

Christopher Bantick Responds to my ideas...

As a result of the article in The Age (see below) Christopher Bantick wrote this 'response' in The Australian. I have since given a talk in 'response' to this article at The Wheeler Centre for books writing & ideas  during the Lunchbox/Soapbox series as well as delivering the same talk at The National Australian Poetry Symposium just a few days ago. I will publish the full transcript here shortly, but for a lookie of the talk you can watch  the live stream of the Symposium here for part 1 and here for part two...

Only greatness, not popular appeal, can restore poetry as the nation's memory

IN case you didn't know, Australian performance poet Emilie Zoey Baker is the international poetry slam champion. Slam is a form of spoken-word performance and competition. But to assume that slam is poetry is enough to make the muse mute

Still, it's not Baker's slam success we should be worried about. It is her suggestion that poetry should be on prime-time television and replace programs such as MasterChef. What Baker and her fellow versifiers have failed to understand is that celebrity poets do more harm than good.

According to Baker, poetry needs to be slammed into us: "I would love it to be on prime-time television. It is such a fantastic way to get into people's lounge rooms. Imagine having your soul unravelled like a ribbon at 7.30 on Thursday night, rather than learning the contents of Matt Preston's stomach."

Whether you like MasterChef isn't the point here. The Baker vision of a show, perhaps So You Think You're a Poet or Master Poet, is about celebrity, impact and not a lot more. But poetry will not regain its place in the national conscience by our reducing it to a public mosh pit.

According to Baker, Australia rejects poetry and hence her evangelism for pop poetry extravaganzas. But the problem with poetry is not that it is overlooked. Rather, it depends what kind of poetry we're talking about.

Those who know what great poetry is covet its place in the culture. Pop poems may pull the punters to pubs, but that's all.

In the same week that Baker was awarded her slam title, arguably one of Australia's finest living poets, Christopher Wallace Crabbe, was awarded an Order of Australia. This was, so the citation noted, "For service to the arts as a leading poet, critic and educator."

What needs to be grasped is that not all poetry has the capacity to move us. Great poetry does. To this end, American poet Randall Jarrell was right when he said: "A good poet is someone who manages, in a lifetime of standing out in thunderstorms, to be struck by lightning five or six times."

In his 1996 Boyer lectures, The View from the Bridge: Aspects of Culture, Pierre Ryckmans observed: "That a man may survive for quite a while without food, but cannot live one day without poetry, is a notion ... we tend to dismiss too lightly, as a sort of 19th-century romantic hyperbole."

How can we explain that, when the new app for T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land - which had Eliot reading the poem - was, according to the eBookNewser site, "The top-grossing iPad book app in the Apple App Store," earlier this month? What this tells us is that great poems live and last.

Poets such as Baker who want to give us wham and slam need to face this reality. Their poetry depends on personality pyrotechnics, but as poetry it does not scan. Good poetry takes time to understand. It takes emotional and intellectual investment. The buy-in is something more enduring than a bright flare of words.

This goes some way to explain why, on a wet and miserable June night, the University of Melbourne's Newman College oratory hall was packed as people came to listen to Peter Steele read and reflect on his verse. It was an evening of illumination and edification, but there were few young people. Part of this is due to education - even so, I defy any spotty 16-year-old not to be arrested by Sylvia Plath reading her poem Daddy - but part of it is also due to the poverty of the poetry post-baby boomers know. Gens X and Y are impoverished and have no storehouse of verse to call on.

The art of committing great poems to memory is lost. Whether one likes A.B. "Banjo" Paterson's The Man from Snowy River is immaterial. Many of us can recite the first verse at least. After the devastation of floods and fire this past summer, Dorothea Mackellar's My Country was suddenly entirely apt with her references to "flood and fire and famine". But who knew it?

There is more than a passing truth in the acerbic comment by poet Bruce Dawe in his essay Recent Trends in Australian Poetry. He notes: "If our poetry is indicative of the life-force of our country, then we're moribund."

What has been lost is the place of poetry in national memory. While Dawe may say that the Henry Lawson and Paterson bush tradition's "creek bed's panned out", where is the wellspring of our knowing the verse of James McAuley, A.D. Hope, Judith Wright and Les Murray, among others?

The loss of a once vibrant oral tradition of knowing poems in the heart, and not just by heart, has been devalued. Indigenous Australians can tell us much about the importance of knowing the song lines of a culture. Yes, it's education's role, but also a cultural responsibility.

Why should we know great poems? They can be a comfort and inspiration, not to mention sustaining when we hunger for meaning and solace.

Christopher Bantick is a Melbourne writer and senior English teacher at Trinity Grammar, Kew.