Enough Said About Miles Merrill?

by Amanda Craig

Enough Said have an excellent winter warmer event at Jane’s in Wollongong on June 29, with feature artist Miles Merrill.

A talented poet and performer from Chicago, Miles introduced poetry slam to Australia in 1996, giving us another reason to dig the 90s and follow our writing dreams!

Writing and performing poetry that is infused with theatre elements, hip-hop and stand-up, Miles says that spoken word poetry makes a writer the “presenter of their own work”.

Since making the land down under his home, Miles created the literary organisation, Word Travels, to support and inspire new artists; performed at the Sydney Opera House, founded The Australian Poetry Slam competition, and gave us The Night Words Festival – Australia’s first spoken-word event.

Talking to Miles, he defines poetry slam, reveals his favourite memory at the Sydney Opera House, and how he got into spoken word poetry.

P.S there is a lot of “love” in this article. 

Miles Performance Photo

Q: You introduced poetry slams into Australia in 1996 and expanded the form nationally via your literary organisation Word Travels by setting up the Australian Poetry Slam in 2007. What first inspired you to bring such an awesome expression of poetry to this country?

When I came here I had a notebook full of poems, songs and stories. My partner was a theatre director who encouraged me to get up at an open mic with my notebook. That led to a gig performing sets of spoken words at the Sandringham Hotel in Newtown in '96 with three other poets every Monday night. 

It's a lot of pressure to entertain a pub with the same four artists every week so we talked about an open mic but one of the other poets was also from Chicago so I threw the idea of a poetry slam into the mix and he understood what I was talking about. We got audience members on stage to perform and others were chosen as judges. It added another layer of drama to the event - first prize $20, second prize bottle of wine, and third prize things found on the street on the way to the gig. Poetry slams have come a long way since then.

Q: How did you discover your love for spoken word poetry?

Spoken word is the perfect combination of writing and theatre. It also makes you the presenter of your own work. You're not siphoning it off to an actor or a publisher. You're also not waiting to be cast in the right script. I love being able to use a wealth of creative expression. Movement, sound, text, characters, audience interaction. I love taking people on a journey sometimes literally getting them up and following me out of the venue. I also think as an African-Italian-American there aren't many people speaking from my perspective so I feel compelled to speak for myself.

Q: You also performed at the Sydney Opera House with UK DJ Billy Bizniz in 2010. Can you recall your favourite memories of the night?

That was a commission by Sydney Opera House to write and perform for three nights, a show I called Lamp-post Incantations. My best memory is a religious couple walking out because I performed a scene where God was on trial in a custody case and Mary, as a witness, was asked. "So, you had sex with this god fellow but you don't remember, you blacked out. Do you think you may have been drugged?" The couple sent in a complaint about the content. I wish I'd kept it.

Q: How would you describe your spoken word poetry – what do you like to write about?

I like controversy but I also like truth. I like people in the room to question their beliefs. I write about my own feelings of being a misfit in a mostly white country, about how we treat homeless people, about migration, how some forms of madness are glamourised, or I choose observational experiential topics like camping in a hurricane or my first night in Sydney.

Miles Colour Photo

Q: Being originally from Chicago, what is the slam poetry scene like over there?

Well first of all there is no such thing as slam poetry. It's a misnomer. There are poetry slams and within a poetry slam any form of writing can be performed. To say, "slam poetry" limits the opportunities for self-expression to a style that really only appears in clichés and stereotypes. Imagine a night of twenty performances that all had the same cadence and content. That would get pretty boring. The poetry slam and story slam scenes in Chicago are massive as you can imagine. Poetry slams began in Chicago. The story slam nights are even bigger than the poetry slams. But Chicago also has the world's largest youth slam called Louder than a Bomb.

Q: You also perform internationally at arts and writers’ festivals. What do you love about being immersed in different spoken word atmospheres?

I love the diversity of art-forms. As a spoken-word artist or performing writer, I love working with bands, talking with novelists, being immersed in a what feels like a family brought together by ideas and exploration.

Q: Lastly, what do you love about inspiring and supporting budding spoken word artists through World Travels?

There are a lot of "love" questions in this interview. I love bringing confidence to someone struggling with their self-expression. I also love seeing new artists get the rush of applause that propels them to write more, perform more and discover that maybe they can pursue a career as an artist.

Watch Miles Merrill perform at Bankstown Poetry Slam (2014) below, and then come check him out this Thursday at the Enough Said Poetry Slam at Jane's Wollongong:

Written by SCWC

Posted on June 27, 2017