Poetry, first of all, was and still must be, a musical form. It is speech musicked. It, to be most powerful, must reach to where speech begins, as sound, and bring the sound into full focus as highly rhythmic communication. High Speech.
— Amiri Baraka
Jas H. Duke was going to be a chess champion but instead read every book he could possibly breathe in and became a champion of poetry. His performances were both explosive and moving, whether it was within the wordscape of the sound poem, the political, the visual, the satirical, the absurd or the sublime narrative. Jas had this way of bellowing beauty and whispering the profound. His words were powerful. He was the very essence of high speech.
Going Down Swinging No. 13 had the ‘beardy brilliance’ of Jas in the form of a spoken word CD. If you’ve never heard this recording, you must. It came out in 1993, the year after his death. I was fortunate enough to see Jas perform twice. This CD captures that kinetic and expansive feel he had when reading right in front of your face. It encapsulates his cheekiness as well. He was extremely funny and never seemed afraid. This recording was vital.
When I became the editor of Going Down Swinging in 1999, alongside my fine compadres Adam Ford and Steve Grimwade, we remembered how much this recording meant to us and we knew we had to continue documenting the gorgeous breadth of spoken word in Australia. The new Jas H. Dukes. Indeed, it is true that for a while we marketed Going Down Swinging as a “spoken word CD with a bonus literary anthology”. There were dozens of literary anthologies being produced in Australia at the time (and now). All of them important, all of them promoting new or emerging writers next to the established big guns. All of them had some of the very best in poetry, essays, short fiction and non-fiction. Some had the occasional CD but none regularly. We set out to change this.
For the three of us, a very small thing became important: the CD cover must be with CD. No transparent slip or lone CD would be slid into the back of the issue as an afterthought. The CD was not to be a bonus. We wanted the disc to be something that listeners filed with their music collection, took out and studied the sleeve notes. Who was the musician with this poet? Who is that amazing voice? Who wrote these elevated words? Damn cost and practicality – I am still passionate that a CD should come with a cover. Otherwise it becomes this undressed object that falls out of a journal and forever floats around a dreamy bedroom gathering dust. Or cracks.
As host and producer of Aural Text on 3RRR, I get many CDs sent to me with wonderful spoken word tracks. Too many come to me with a plain envelope, some scribbled texta marks and a quick note that says ‘hope you like this’. I often do like the pieces but these CDs are destined to be lost. I want the cover, the track notes and contacts. Simple pleasures. And before you can say, ‘CDs are so 2002’, this is not to say that downloading music and iTunes and the Clouds (in all their cloudy forms) and podcasts are not a treat too – they are. Listening to spoken word and poetry is paramount. How you do it is up to you.
One thing that was becoming prevalent in 1999 and is more so now, is the ease in which spoken word or poetry is being recorded. We can do this at home now. Decent microphones, software and hardware are the poet’s best friend. I like that recording our words can be in our hands and in our density (to quote George McFly). Some of the best stuff I’ve heard is home recorded. Studio recording will always have its own kiss on the mouth magic too.
What an amazing time this is. We have an abundance of dynamic and memorable spoken word to listen to in Australia. The world is producing some life changing oratory. I’m sure Going Down Swinging want the very best that you’re doing. To have a radio show that plays exclusively spoken word, I salute Going Down Swinging in its delicious efforts to bring you the recorded word in all its forms. I play their CDs constantly. They are documenting, they are capturing and captivating, they are great because you are great. Send your work. And while you’re at it, send me some stuff to play on air. I live for it.
Alicia Sometimes is an Australian writer, poet, musician, co-host of 3RRR’s Aural Text and a past editor and long-standing contributor of Going Down Swinging (co-editing issues No. 18-No. 23 and contributing to issues No. 14-No. 17 and No. 25-No. 29).
For details of submitting to 3RRR’s Aural Text click here.