DANTE FLOREZ, much like his namesake, has grown into quite the poet. Unlike his namesake however, he’s also become a regular attendee at Enough Said Poetry Slam, where he’ll perform as support feature this month. The Enough Said team sat down with Dante to chat about his emerging poetry legacy.
How did you first find out about Enough Said Poetry Slam?
Through [ES organiser] Elliot. I didn’t actually know much about poetry slams. I usually mention this open day that I went to at high school that [ES organiser] Bella was at. She mentioned a poetry slam but I didn’t get her name let alone the actual slam name. So when I came to that workshop in the Museum of Contemporary Art with Phil [Wilcox], Elliot and Lizzie [Kelly], they pointed out there were actually slams that were running quite frequently all around the place. So that’s how I came to Enough Said. I think it’s my most frequent one, and it might be cheeky to say but it’d be my favourite.
Out of the feature artists you’ve seen, which ones have you enjoyed so much that you travelled to other gigs to see them again?
Bill [Moran] was amazing, I went to see Bill several times. I like seeing Phil perform. I like chasing a lot of the features around, to be honest. I want to see more of Emily [Crocker]’s gigs, I want to see more of Elliot’s gigs, I liked seeing Jesse [Oliver] go around and do his hosting and perform around as well.
I didn’t expect to encounter such a really supportive community, and it feels very comfortable. It feels very homely … it’s just easy to connect with people, it’s fun to connect with people, and it’s all this mutual thing that builds up together.
Outside of featured poets, just in terms of contestants that have entered slams; what has been the most memorable poem you’ve heard this year?
I have to say Marie McMillan. Her poem sort of showed me that there was a lot more to poetry than just the words itself. There’s a significant amount that you can achieve through performance. Although it is called performance poetry, it didn’t click for me until she really put them hand-in-hand that way.
Comparing your expectations of poetry slams from your first introduction to now, what has been the most surprising thing you’ve found?
Something I wasn’t expecting to find was how accessible it is. I suppose the first poetry I really saw before I started seeing all of this live was on YouTube, seeing Shane Koyczan and Harry Baker, and they perform at a level that felt very unattainable. And then seeing people perform locally that are quite comparable to those sort of levels, and actually being able to meet with them as people and see that it’s actually possible. You sort of see it as a distant thing, it doesn’t feel like you know the way to get there, it doesn’t feel like it’s exactly a level you know how to reach because you don’t know what the foundations are. But being able to speak to artists on my level, way above my level as well, it puts it a bit more in perspective. It makes me feel like “Ok, I can actually do this. Maybe not as well, but maybe in time if I practice and I keep writing and I keep getting better, then maybe.”
Dante wowing the Enough Said crowd for the first time back in March.
What are your three biggest artistic goals?
One of the bigger things I’m working on is this series of novels that I’m trying to write, which is science fiction mainly. I had that idea when I was 11 and I’ve been bulking it up and trying to put it down pen-to-paper … I feel personally that the idea that I have could be comparable to bigger names and very well selling things. The difficulty for me is: am I competent enough to take that idea and translate it so that people will see it in the same way that I see it? I don’t know. I’d like to get to that stage. I’ve definitely come to this idea that in order for me to do that I need to be a lot more experienced, and I don’t know if I can achieve that either today or in 10 years or in 20 years, but I would like to work towards that. I just think it’s a really imaginative and at times philosophical idea that people could share. It’s definitely something I would have enjoyed at the time when I was a kid … so I want to get that one out there into the world.
Secondly, as a poet, I feel that I have a lot of room to grow. There’s things all the time that I learn listening to other people, speaking to other people, watching other people perform … I’d say there’s only three poems that I feel are finished, and I think what that means to say “finished” is to have the idea behind it fully represented within it. I’d say that there’s a lot of poems I have that I might have felt that I got all my emotions out there on paper, but I don’t feel like it’s translated to any receiver of that poem in the same way that I’ve felt it. And I think I have a lot of room to accomplish that distance between trying to take that feeling that I’m feeling and give it to somebody else, even for a moment.
The third one is I’d like to meet a lot of people. That’s one of the things I enjoy the most about the events, it’s not just the performers but even the audience at times or the organisers—it’s such a good community. I wouldn’t say I came looking for it. When I went to that workshop I just sort of thought to myself “Ok , I want to get better. I’d like to see how I can improve.” But I didn’t expect to encounter such a really supportive community, and it feels very comfortable. It feels very homely. And I’d just sort of like to expand that. That’s probably one of the things I didn’t expect, for there to be so many amazing personalities that it’s just easy to connect with people, it’s fun to connect with people, and it’s all this mutual thing that builds up together.
… whether or not you’re great at articulating things, sometimes even the best poet in the world could still appreciate other people’s poetry because it’s just a different perspective.
In your experience, what do you think is the biggest factor in effectively translating the idea of a poem to its audience?
Two things: I’d say performance and description. In terms of description sometimes it’s easier to say general things, which are useful. But, an allegory I heard recently from the poet Guante was “Don’t talk about the war, talk about walking into your brother’s empty bedroom.” That sort of thing, the detail about an event, the more specific it can be, the closer people understand it. And I think that’s a difficult thing because when you speak about an idea, you can’t always give a person that idea. But if you describe a situation or make an experience in their own eyes, you allow them to develop their own idea about it. I think for me sometimes I definitely need to specify what I’m feeling instead of just saying what I’m feeling … because it’s hard to look at something at face-value sometimes. There’s amazing metaphors you hear all over the place that really join those ideas together by comparing it to something you wouldn’t exactly realise by instinct but it just makes so much more sense that way. So that’s definitely something that I feel can improve it.
And then also the performance aspect of it. Seeing Marie, seeing Jesse, seeing Scott-Patrick Mitchell—they’re definitely very dynamic performers. So I feel there’s a certain physicality about expressing the emotion as well, and in that nature there’s other more accomplished and more experienced poets as well who have a very precise use for their voice and sort of share those emotions in particular ways, that I feel like I don’t really have down yet. I feel like sometimes I need to work on my pacing, I need to work on my volume, my pitch, all of those sort of things that allow not just the words to speak for itself as it would in written word, but in spoken word to have that element of performance that only really you can give it.
Why do you think people who aren’t poets attend poetry slams and open mic events?
Dante was runner-up behind Zoe Ridgway [pictured right] at Enough Said’s Australian Poetry Slam heat last month.
Even if you don’t like writing poetry, I definitely think there’s something there to appreciate. There’s common thoughts and feelings that we all have … at no matter what level we are. I’d say first is the ability to hear a different perspective on something that you feel. If you hear a poem about depression, it’s not a poem about depression, it’s that poet’s interpretation of depression. And hearing that compared to somebody else’s and then to somebody else’s and then comparing that to your own, you sort of uncover these little phrases, the articulations that describe your moment in particular, some that help you more broadly understand it. And that’s useful for everybody, whether or not you’re great at articulating things, sometimes even the best poet in the world could still appreciate other people’s poetry because it’s just a different perspective. … It’s not always about thoughts and feelings and dark stuff. There’s heaps of funny poems out there that are just entertaining to listen to and I think everybody sort of gets a kick out of how you can bend language to mean different things, so there’s so much there to explore. Poetry can sort of take language very seriously but it also can sort of twist it as well to uncover more meaning … so everyone can get an experience out of that.
If you were stuck on a deserted island and could have three poets perform to you for the rest of your life, who would they be?
Are they allowed to continue making work? They’re bored out of their minds enough that they want to spend the rest of their life on a deserted island making poetry for me, that’s a nice thought … He first came to mind so I’ll say it: Phil, because I feel like he can be a blend of funny and serious but also I feel like he could just make clever stuff out of nothing and just entertain, not only himself, but everyone else for a while.
I’d be happy to actually see Zoe [Ridgway], because I feel like Zoe’s also got an interesting perspective and it could raise a lot of things. And she’s growing quite quickly and I feel like that would continue to develop, despite the lack of prompts she’s got a talent that I think doesn’t seem to show any signs of stagnating for a long time.
And the third one … I’d probably go, for the same reason as Phil, because I’m entertained by his little poetic bends of language, I’d probably chose Harry Baker. I feel like the difficult thing is when do we run out of material? And then what poets can be resourceful to make something out of continual things? I know that I would run out of things to say eventually, so I would never choose myself … There’s topics that we love and then there’s people who make something out of nothing, and I think because there would be nothing there that’s happening I’d want to choose resourceful poets that bring prompts out of little things.
What is your favourite way to spend the last Thursday of every month?
I like to try to come to Enough Said, it’s something I’d be happy to go to more … I like the community there, it’s something I look forward to.
See Dante perform live at PROJECT CONTEMPORARY ARTSPACE on Thursday, October 25th at Enough Said’s Halloween Slam feat. Laurie May!