In a darkened room, a single microphone on a stand casts a peculiar shadow on the crimson curtains behind it.
There is a feeling of nervousness mixed with adrenaline in the air as poets new and old clutch pieces of paper covered in their work to their chests.
Without warning, a single figure stands before the microphone, its deep voice echoing, shaking the glassware and blowing every last ounce of nerve through the door.
It’s Allan Boyd, also known as The Antipoet, the WA coordinator of Perth Slam.
“Ladiesssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss and sex-benders, Are.
This is the world of Perth’s slam poetry stage, an underground oasis filled with diverse characters of all genres and backgrounds and walks of life.
And those responsible for creating this space since 2007? Allan and Tonja with their daughter Joni, also known as Checkout Chick.
Allan told PerthNow he met Miles Merrill, the founder of the Australian Poetry Slam, while performing in Perth in the early 2000s.
“He said ‘Antipoet, I saw you play and I want to start this national slam competition, can I contact you about this?'” Allan said.
“So working with the State Library at the time, Writing WA helped promote Perth Slam for the first two years when it was at PICA Bar and now it’s at Rosemount.
“We’ve been running it ever since – me and Joni hosting, with Tonja as timekeeper and scorer.
“We love it and we love doing it as a family.”
So what is the slam?
It’s like when Jonah Hill took the stage in the 2014 movie 22 Jump Street, spitting out words like “slam,” “hands-waving a lot,” and “Cynthia — Jesus died for our sins.”
Slam is a form of performance poetry where poets deliver a poem in a variety of ways, usually through bold delivery covering poetic techniques and body language.
Perth Slam takes place monthly at the Rosemount Hotel, giving poets two minutes and a microphone to slam whatever they want in front of five hand-picked judges from the audience.
Slam poet Scott-Patrick Mitchell, better known in the industry as “SPM”, won one of Perth’s first Poetry Slams in 2010.
Known today as one of Perth’s most successful slam poets, SPM told PerthNow the first time they slammed they ‘bombed so hard’ they placed last.
“But it’s such a supportive, adrenaline-filled environment, so I did my research, figured out what a slam poem should and could be, and came back for more,” SPM said.
“And within a year and a half I had won my first Perth Slam Cup.
“Slam is like watching a really good soccer game, just without the mud and sweat.”
SPM released their first book earlier this year and said “Clean” was shaped by their slam poetry, tackling topics such as addiction and recovery.
“He was so well received by the community and people really cheered him on,” they said.
“During a slam, we poets use language to heal ourselves and then share it with the audience.
“Slam has allowed me to speak about my pain and my struggle in a way that has nourished my spirit, and you see that so often with other poetry poets.
“They share something heavy on stage and when they finish they seem lighter, as if the burden has been lifted.”
Skylar J Wynter, who has been performing since 2020, said the slam was life changing after she developed PTSD following a traumatic episode.
She told PerthNow that the slam “gave her a voice” to share poems centered on injustice, which she had recently collected in a book called “Shine”.
“Through slam, it gives other people the opportunity to say ‘oh, I’m not alone, there’s someone else who’s been through a trauma and is still getting up every day,'” Skylar said.
“Someone came to me after a slam and said my poem saved him from killing himself, that’s why I’m doing it.
“The slam has been such a good thing for me in that it has given me a sense of family and I love Allan and Tonja for what they have done in providing a platform for us to can play.”
Allan and Tonja agreed that the thing they were most proud of was the feedback they received from the community for providing them with a place to share their most intimate poems, whatever the content.
“We had people who came to play just once just to get something off their chest,” Tonja said.
“It’s just a great opportunity, especially for people who are marginalized and neglected because they’re not part of the mainstream culture, because it helps them express themselves and more than that, it helps the public understand and hear their stories.”
“And at the end of a poetry slam, the real winner is the poetry. Performing a poem might be exactly what you need, but you don’t know what you’re giving the audience,” Allan added.
“We keep going because we don’t know what we’re going to get – at the end of a slam we might cry, laugh or click; it is always an unexpected experience.
“It’s a community that’s so willing to accept everyone. From the moment you step on stage, you are part of the Perth slam family.
The Australian Poetry Slam 2022 Perth Qualifiers will kick off on Saturday August 6th at the Rosemount Hotel and will feature returning and new poets.
The Perth leg of the competition will span three rounds and a final throughout August, with 14 places available per round.
The winner and runner-up from the Perth leg of the competition will both receive prize money and a chance to compete in Sydney for the Australian title on October 23.