JAMILLA DEMPSEY performed her first support feature spot at Enough Said’s Australian Poetry Slam heat in September last year. This year, now an APS state finalist herself, she returns as support feature once more. Enough Said sat down with Jamilla to discuss her emergence onto the slam poetry scene.
How were you introduced to Enough Said Poetry Slam?
My friend, who’s my writing teacher, had been telling me about different events and the community and said “Oh hey, there’s this poetry slam on!” So I decided to come along. That was a year ago now, I think. Maybe a bit less … the first time I came was I think either the May or June slam. I didn’t read on my first night … I just sat in the audience, and then I thought “Oh cool! I really, really want to do it.” So next month I got up … I got such a positive feeling from it.
How much awareness did you have of spoken word poetry and slam poetry before that experience?
Zero, pretty much. I’d seen a couple videos of it on the internet obviously. But … I didn’t actually know there was a community out there for it at all. And Enough Said was my first slam, so it was pretty interesting!
Who has been your most memorable or favourite feature at Enough Said?
Arielle [Cottingham]. She’s amazing … that was the first night I did a support feature, and she was absolutely so encouraging and really, really wonderful. Yeah, I love her.
How does it feel to be returning to Enough Said as a support feature? Has your approach changed since then?
I think I’ve definitely improved a little bit. Well, everyone thinks that their poems from a year ago are pure trash. So I think I’ve improved, but I also think my approach to it has changed in that I’m going to be a bit more authentic. Before it was just sort of trying to replicate my good poems that people liked me for, that had a big impact and that people liked. And just sort of [do] more what I want to do.
… mental illness is a really big one that’s kind of hard to write about specifically without being really vague … I’d totally like to see more people kind of come out about their struggles.
Tell us about the poem you performed at Enough Said’s March slam.
That’s really interesting, because that poem—I realised going back through my writing books—that was the first poem I ever wrote. Which was really cool … I started writing it a few years ago when I was still in school, and I finished it out of school after I workshopped it with Enough Said [at the March workshop]. So that was pretty awesome … I think in the beginning it was sort of a way for me to vent my frustrations with my education, and school learning and definitely especially HSC learning. But then after that it just kind of became more reflective, which was really lovely.
How did you find having that chance to workshop your piece?
In the past I’ve found it very, very difficult to take feedback on my work, because sometimes you just sort of take it personally. But actually, because I was at this workshop and I knew a few of the people anyway and I kind of had a sense of what their goals were and that they were trying to help me, it was so easy for me to take on that feedback and change my poem. Which was fantastic.
It’s all smiles at Enough Said Poetry Slams!
What are you reading at the moment?
I finally got down to reading Bill Moran’s book [Oh God Get Out Get Out], actually, which was fantastic … I got gifted that at a slam months and months and months ago, and sort of put off reading stuff until now … It was the August [Enough Said] slam, that’s how long it’s been sitting there! I’d flicked through the first pages and I was like “Oh man, this is really, really good. I’ve got to save this for a time where I can read it all.”
What would you like to see or hear more of at poetry slams?
I think that for a lot of people, including me, mental illness is a really big one that’s kind of hard to write about specifically without being really vague about it. One of the guys at the Granville Slam got up and did a poem that was quite explicitly about mental illness. I was really, really happy to see that. So I’d totally like to see more people kind of come out about their struggles.
Is that something you’ve attempted to go into with your own poetry?
Oh yeah. So many times I’ve sat down and tried to write a poem, and once I actually did—I wrote a whole poem and I performed that one at the [ACT] state final for APS. So that’s the one time, but I haven’t really gone into it that much after, because it’s a pretty hard thing to write about. It’s not even that it’s emotionally hard to write about, it’s like—even if you own it, putting it into words is quite difficult, I think.
… it’s pretty awesome because you’ve kind of already got this audience of people set up who can listen to you, rather than you trying to find a place to get your work published.
Your first slam was in May last year, and suddenly by October you’re competing in a state final in the ACT. Could you have imagined that six months earlier?
Oh, god no. Not at all. It was pretty crazy. Everything just kind of sped up. I just threw myself into it. I was like “Cool. Awesome. Let’s go!” This year, because now I’m living in NSW I’d be entering in NSW, I’m considering it [entering APS again]. I don’t know yet. I think now is very much a growth time for my poetry. So I’m trying to improve a lot at the moment and kind of look to others’ work. So I think I’ve got a little ways to go yet, so I’ll see if I want to enter this year or not.
What do you think is the role of young people at poetry slams engaging with political issues? How do you think those two combine?
I think it plays a fairly important role. It’s not that people have never talked about political issues in poetry before, but I think especially in spoken word—and definitely with slams—I think a lot of young people can treat it as a soapbox. And it’s pretty awesome because you’ve kind of already got this audience of people set up who can listen to you, rather than you trying to find a place to get your work published. So it’s pretty different to written poetry in that aspect, I think … for young poets who are starting out and anyone who is sort of starting to talk about these issues and think about what they want to say, I think it’s pretty important that they have that audience there.
If that slam community didn’t exist, how do you think you would express your own voice artistically?
Honestly, it would probably be just me making vent posts on Facebook at one o’clock in the morning like “Look what Turnbull’s done now!” I don’t think I’d found an outlet for it before, really. Or at least not one that I felt like people listened.
Jamilla learns to navigate a mic … by totally rejecting one in favour of the other!
Have you had the opportunity to engage with much of the slam community outside of Wollongong?
I have actually. I was living in the ACT for a bit, so I went to a couple slams in the ACT [and] kind of got to mix with that community a little bit, which was really cool. I’m just starting to sort of go up to Sydney and kind of have a look around there. So I’ve had a little bit but I’d like branch out a bit more I think.
From what you’ve seen so far, how does the Wollongong scene differ from others?
Enough Said is a very different slam, I think. It’s not that other slams aren’t supportive, because absolutely they 100% are. But I guess the idea of the “slamily” doesn’t translate as much to other slams I think. It’s a lot more intimate in Wollongong.
Tell us about your set coming up with Made from Scratch on April 22nd.
I’m still planning it at the moment, so I’m going to keep it hush-hush as to what poems I’m doing. But for this performance I’ve written a couple new poems that I’ve been slowly working on over the past few weeks, and I’m also going to try and improve on my previous performances. I’ve gotten a lot better at working with mics … which is something I definitely didn’t have before … I’m going to try and be more authentic, less nervous, a bit more relaxed. And because I’ve been experimenting with some of these new poems I’m quite excited for that as well, just to test some things out.
What is your favourite way to spend the last Thursday night of every month?
Where would I be? I wonder … pretty much every last Thursday of the month you’ll see me at Enough Said, or at least thinking about going if I can’t!
You can catch JAMILLA DEMPSEY, along with feature poet LEWIS-ALAN TRATHEN, at ENOUGH SAID at Wollongong’s Town Hall Chamber on April 26th. Click here for event details.