Summer Slam 2020 (and other stuff)

“So it is better to speak
remembering
we were never meant to survive.” ~ Audre Lorde

I’m pretty sure at the start of 2020 I wrote down my goals for the year and a weekly blog post was included in said goal, yet HERE WE ARE. First blog post, already one month into the year. Kicking goals, I tell you. Kicking. Goals.

Even this, I’m not sure I could classify as an actual blog post, but for the sake of quietening my inadequacies, let’s just call it that. Really, it’s just an update. BUT.  A very cool update to let you know last night I competed in the Spoken Word SA 2020 Summer Slam Final and WON. Which, for those of you who have followed my poetry slam journey, you’re probably there going, “Yay, she mustn’t have been drawn first!”

Well, I’m here to tell you I DID IN FACT get drawn first again because let’s face it – it’s still mebut in spite of the curse of being drawn first, I made it through to the second round, and from there overall winner. Was a fantastic night with wonderful people and incredible poetry and I’m so thankful for the opportunity to compete and to be on stage with 10 other incredible poets who all deserved to be there.

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I don’t know why I was looking at my feet.
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First, Second and Third

Anyway, really the purpose of this update blog, is to share one of the poems I performed last night for those who’ve been asking – Ode To Audre Lorde (A Litany For Survival), to honour the Melbourne women in 2019 who lost their lives to sexual violence 💔

Watch it HERE

and if you haven’t already subscribed to my YouTube channel then do so while you’re there!

Also this weekend I performed as a feature for The Good Word at Mixed Creative who have a regular monthly open mic night down at Port Adelaide – it’s been on my bucket list for a while now to get down that way for a look (among all the other spoken word gigs on my list to get to!) and didn’t disappoint. Quirky, fun, brilliant venue and wonderful people, well worth getting there for a look on a Friday night!

Which also means after two HUGE nights of performing (on top of 8 hours of driving for said performances) I’m wrecked. Time to pour a wine and call it a weekend.

Much love x

PS. I’ll be back with regular blog posts soon, I promise.

 

Art Matters.

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It’s hard to write today.

It’s hard to not feel like my work is pointless. That anything I write at this time is futile. That I have nothing significant or relevant to add to the already overcrowded media sphere.

I am struggling to find meaning in what I write; instead I sit here finding ways to both avoid and appease my inadequacy.

Not wanting to read headlines yet not being able to look away.

With all that is transpiring in the world I feel heavy and burdened; and anxious. It is hard to focus, to find creativity and any kind of joy or satisfaction in my work.

It’s hard to believe it matters.

But it does.

And I think this is what we need to remember in the midst of such volatile and unsettling times. The best art comes from authentic truth-telling. People who can create from the depths of turmoil; who can both preserve the moment and make us see the beauty that still exists within in.

More than ever during these hard times, creatives need to create. We need to bear witness to the human spirit which radiates through these seemingly impossible times. It’s often difficult; we are the empaths who carry the suffering of the world too close to our hearts. We find it hard to confront such suffering; to not be affected to such a degree we can no longer function ourselves.

But if we can find a way to hold these moments; to feel them, to carry them, to create beauty from destruction, then we leave not just a memory, but a legacy that generations who follow will hold even closer.

It matters.

On Poetry Slam Heats, Cheese and Scarcity

A few of you have asked how the Australian Poetry Slam competition is going, so I thought I’d just post an update here.

First, for those who aren’t familiar with how a poetry slam works, here’s the low down. Twenty contestants per heat, five random judges are chosen from the audience to give scores out of ten, and poets are drawn out of a hat to determine the order of which they’ll compete. That’s the basic gist anyway. In this particular competition, there are five heats — the two highest scorers from each heat go through to the state finals — the two winners from there go on to compete at the national final in Sydney.

The thing I need to point out about random audience judging is firstly, the judges may never have been to a poetry slam in their life — like, they could have literally walked in off the street looking for a Friday night drink and the slam just happened to be at their favourite bar and they know nothing about poetry. Flawed, but consistent across all slams.

Secondly, it’s a well-known fact among slammers that the judging always begins conservatively and gets progressively better throughout the heat; either because judges are saving their best scores in anticipation of what the slam might bring, or because by the end of the slam they’ve had a few more drinks and OMG THIS POEM IS ABOUT CHEESE AND I LOVE CHEESE SO TENS ALL ROUND! So, everyone knows if you’re unlucky enough to be drawn first or second (and probably even third), it’s instant death. You’re not going to get through. You’re just not. At least, I know of not a single person who has been drawn first or second and made it through, ever.

So, with that in mind.

The first slam I ever competed in a couple of years ago now, I was drawn first. I’d never even been to a slam, let alone competed in one. I had no idea how they even worked or what was really expected of me, and yet, there I was. First on stage trying not to toss my cookies. Initiation at its finest. Also, apparently, the foretelling of my destiny.

Because I kid you not when I say EVERY. SINGLE. SLAM I have competed in since, I have been drawn first or second. Like, to the point it’s actually become a running joke. Like, to the point where I think there is actually no fucking way I could be drawn first again — only to sure enough, be drawn first again.

So you can imagine the devastation when having competed in two heats in the last two weeks, this exact thing has happened. It happened at the first heat. Disappointed, I turned up to the second heat this weekend thinking I just couldn’t be drawn at the start again — like, surely there are just no odds that atrocious. And yet. AND YET.

I was drawn first.

It would almost be laughable, if it weren’t so absolutely heartbreaking.

I have to say, it nearly crushed me this time, to the point I could have easily just walked out and not bothered with my performance. I can’t even explain how it feels to drive 800km to compete in a heat you know is over before it’s even begun. There was a moment of having to dig exceptionally deep and get on stage in spite of how I was feeling; where I literally had to remind myself of these words as I walked on stage:

“Real courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.” ~ Atticus Finch, To Kill A Mockingbird

So I saw it through and performed the best I could (although I struggled this time, I’ll admit), then sat back in my seat and wondered whether I would even bother staying for the rest of the heat. It would have been easy to justify leaving at that point, knowing I was already out of the competition. No-one else has driven 800km to be here. No-one else has a four hour drive home. No-one else won’t get home until 9pm to see their kids for the first time this weekend. No-one else here was drawn first.

And sure, all that was probably true. But I also knew every other person there had worked just as hard as me to be there. Every other person had poured all they had into their poem and performance; they had all shown just as much courage and vulnerability and determination. They were all sitting there, hearts thumping in their chest, nerves on edge, holding their breath with fear and anticipation waiting for their name to be drawn. They were all there, with a hope and a dream, just as I was.

And to me, that’s what it’s about.

It’s a competition, yes. But more than that, it’s a community. It’s a room full of like-minded people coming together to share an experience. And I can either be threatened, jealous and competitive of others, or I can show encouragement, support, and the willingness to uphold those around me knowing we’re all striving toward the same destination. We won’t all make it there together. But what a community we build when we can put aside our own pride and ego and cheer for those who get there before us.

In saying that, I can’t say I wasn’t completely gutted to have been drawn first again; I was. And I’m not for one second saying if I wasn’t drawn first then I’d have received one of the highest scores or made it through or whatever. There’s no predictability or guarantee of outcome at all with these events; the entire thing is subjective to so many different factors. But there is a devastation in being drawn first (or second) every time and never knowing if you could’ve made it through, given a fairer chance. It’s hard not to grapple with the what-if’s and if-only’s and would-it-have-made-any-difference-if’s.

There are still three more heats to go, but I’m not sure if I’ll continue at this point. Whilst I have put everything aside for the last six weeks and worked exceptionally hard on my pieces, there’s a point where I have to be realistic about what time, energy and money I can pour into what is essentially just a competition. 800km is a long way to drive each week just to get drawn first each time. Which you’d think would be unlikely. I walk in every time thinking there’s no way it could happen again. But it turns out it can, and does. At least, for me. Maybe the universe just knows best on this one.

There’s some grief in considering not going back for another heat; already today I feel lost not knowing what to do with myself after investing so much into this to now walk away from it. But I know it’s not over, as such. There’s always next year. There’s always another slam. There’s always another open mic and festival and competition. We get so caught in fomo thinking these days — that feeling of HAVING TO BE DOING THE THING HERE AND NOW OR WE WILL MISS OUT AND DISAPPEAR INTO AN OBLIVION OF INVISIBILITY FOREVER.

It’s a scarcity thing; the fear there isn’t enough room for us all and we have to fight for our position and hustle to be seen and prove we are worthy of the space we inhabit. Like, feeling if I don’t get through to the state finals this year, I’ve failed. I’m insignificant. There won’t be another chance. I’ll get left behind. If I don’t make it through now I never will. Etc etc.

But sometimes our best laid plans don’t work out as we hope. Surrendering to that is a quiet rebellion against that mindset of scarcity; not forcing things to happen in our time and having to strive and hustle for fear of being left behind, but just embracing the surrender and letting our ideals go and accepting things will unfold as they do. Our season may not be now, but that doesn’t mean it won’t come at all.

So, I’m taking some days to regroup and refocus and decide if I’ll continue competing this year, or not. It isn’t defeat if I don’t. It’s surrender and acceptance of an outcome; it’s knowing the world hasn’t seen the best of me yet but by god, it sure as hell will. Sometime. Maybe. One elusive day when I don’t get drawn first.

There’s still plenty of time ahead for me yet.

On Burnout, Self-Care, Social Media And What I’ve Been Up To Lately

So, I realised it’s been aaaages since I’ve written a blog about where I’m at and what I’m up to, so thought I’d grab a few minutes now and do just that.

If I had to sum up my entire life in the last while, it would be with this one word: burnout.

Which is essentially why I’ve not written much, or been here much, or been on social media much of late – have needed to step back and catch my breath and get some perspective.

The biggest thing I’ve learned in the last while, is this: we are no less seasonal than nature.

It is imperative for us to surrender to our need for rest, stillness, non-productivity, recuperation, dormancy; essentially, we must allow ourselves a season of winter in order to grow and produce fruit in the spring.

I had a wonderfully busy six month period of poetry and performances and travelling and harvesting the many hours of unseen work that comes with being a spoken word performer; all the while continuing to write articles for 10 Daily, SA Life Magazine and other various platforms, writing flat out in February for #poemadayfeb, and trying to keep up with other life stuff, including the full-time job of raising four children.

Immediately after that busy period had finished, I wrote down my next set of goals and went about achieving them with barely a breath in between. Only to find I was struggling: with motivation, with enthusiasm, with creative energy, with feeling blocked and frustrated. I pushed through. Kept pushing. Got nowhere. Pushed harder. Struggled even more. Spent too much time on social media seeing everyone else kicking goals which spiralled me into a mindset of inadequacy and failure; eventually defeat. I was totally, totally ready to quit the writing thing and get a mindless 9-5’er where I would never have to look at a blank page again as long as I lived.

But then I read a couple of perfectly-timed articles, A New Way To Recover From Creative Burnout and You Are Doing Something Important When You Aren’t Doing Anything, both validating the importance of rest and recovery as a creative artist.

With that validation came permission to first accept I was suffering burnout, and secondly, surrender to it. For me, that has looked like much self-care: less writing and more reading, putting boundaries in place to protect my time and energy levels, early nights, staying off social media, good food and fresh air and sunshine and exercise , which is easy to do when you live in a place like this:

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I feel like social media especially places a huge amount of expectation for us to be seen to be achieving; to prove ourselves worthy occupants of our online place in the world. The pressure to produce regular content to grow our platforms is, I feel, one of the greatest blockers of creative energy. For writers especially, so much of our work is unseen and unmeasurable; the hours we spend planning and thinking and researching and dreaming and the fact that it literally took me ninety minutes to come up with one metaphor this week.

We are always achieving, we just don’t often have anything to show for that. So we find ourselves freaking out that we haven’t posted anything on Instagram for a few weeks and how many readers will lose interest and how many publishers will feel we aren’t engaged enough and HOW CAN I CALL MYSELF A WRITER WHEN I HAVE NOTHING TO SHOW FOR BEING A WRITER??!!

Anyway. Rant for another day. The point of this was to talk about what I’m currently up to.

So, my one major goal this year was to compete in the Australian Poetry Slam competition (preferably without woefully bombing out in the heats like I did last year), which I knew was going to be tough to write new material given my current state of burnout. In previous years, competitors have been able to use the one same poem throughout the entire competition – heats, state final, national final. So despite having such little creative energy, I knew I’d probably be able to pull off one good piece.

BUT THEN THEY CHANGED THE GODDAMN RULES.

Three poems are now required; a new one for each level of the competition. I don’t know how many of you have written slam poetry, but it’s hard. It’s fucking hard. So I read this, and cried. Literally sobbed. And threw some dramatics around just because that’s what we creative temperaments do. Sometimes. Often. Most days.

I seriously could not see for the life of me how on earth I could get three pieces written. Three winning pieces, at that, knowing how fierce the competition is. Again, I gave up. And then fell into the most depressed funk ever. Because sure, I might not get past the first heat anyway. I might mess it up like I did last year. I might never know what it feels like to win. But I sure as hell know what it feels like to give up. And the only thing worse than not winning, is not trying.

So, for the next couple of months, I’ll be around less. I’ll be writing more than ever, but will have little to show for that. I’ll be self-caring the hell out of myself to recover from burnout while I work hard to achieve the one goal that matters most to me. And I’ll be here as much as possible, soaking up winter sun and salty air.

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Much love,
K.

 

I Don’t Stand on Stage Because I Know How to be Brave, But Because I Got Tired of Being Afraid

There are these moments on stage where I have to close my eyes for a second and summon the courage to keep going.

Being vulnerable isn’t something that comes easily to me; sharing so much of myself with a room full of people I have just met.

Offering the things I am sometimes still scared of: my brokenness, my failures, my ugliness, my fragility, the messiest versions of who I have been and often still am.

It can be daunting, and terrifying, and sometimes more than I feel able to do.

I don’t stand on stage to perform; but to tell stories.

To share of blood shed on the battlefields of my healing and knees still scraped from the crawl and how I am made of wounds but still standing and how every scar etched on my skin reminds me what a goddamn warrior I am to have made it this far.

I don’t stand on stage to be set apart by a mic, but to be drawn together because of it.

To practice courage, knowing when I do, it offers that same courage to others. It gives permission. It creates space. It allows authenticity. It brings belonging and intimacy to a world overfed on information yet starved of connection.

I don’t stand on stage because I know how to be brave, but because I got tired of being afraid.

Our stories are our history. Our legacy. Our humanity. Our connection.

They matter.

Sharing them requires the courage to be vulnerable.

But what makes us most vulnerable is where we become most beautiful.

“The speaking will get easier. And you will find you have fallen in love with your own vision, which you may never have realised you had. And you will lose some friends and lovers and realise you don’t miss them. And new ones will find you and cherish you. And at last you’ll know with surpassing certainty that only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth. And that is not speaking.” – Audre Lorde

Photo credit: Brendan Bonsack

Day Three #PoemADayFeb – Beginning

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And this is what we’re left with,
but then, we never were complete –
only ever broken halves of a whole;
pages half open, clothes half open,
half-finished wine, half-begun touch.
A goodbye disguised as a tomorrow
we knew was not ours to believe in.
I write stories about leaving lovers,
you, about being left. The ocean still
longs for the shoreline even though
she knows if one thing does not end,
another cannot begin.

© Kathy Parker 2019

Day Three #PoemADayFeb – Beginning

Don’t Tell Me I Am Beautiful

Don’t tell me I am beautiful, for beauty only ever found me in the back seat of cars driven by boys who never knew my name.

Tell me instead that I am fierce and brave.

Tell me I am stronger than the house I once lived, where my skinny arms tried to stop the walls collapsing around me, and couldn’t.

Tell me my bones are made of steel rods and my body a leather wine skin; that I am toughened from the years yet still soft beneath your touch.

Tell me my teeth are sharp and jagged, and behind my eyes the spirit of my ancestors blaze the fury of their passion into my wildfire soul.

Tell me my heart is a grenade; that I am fragile and dangerous, a contradiction held safe inside the grasp of your fearless hands.

Tell me, as I come adrift in a world where I remain a girl with no name, that you see me.

Tell me I am more than beautiful.

Tell me I am more than I believe myself to be.

~ ©️ Kathy Parker ~

How Clickbait Killed The Creative Muse

UnknownToday I sat down and tried to write an article. It didn’t happen. This seems to be a regular occurrence of late, and while I can easily justify any number of reasons for it, the reality is, right now, I just have no desire to write an article.

There are many factors behind creative burnout – pressure, deadlines, expectation, exhaustion, perfectionism, the need to create with purpose rather than with joy, just to name a few. And while I can relate to all of these on some level, my current burnout can be summed up with one thing: I have simply lost heart.

I’ve considered the reasons for this of late as I’ve been journeying through this parched creative desert. For a brief moment, I contemplated the idea that staying up too late watching reruns of Grey’s Anatomy and drinking cheap red wine may be a factor but soon dissed this idea. Was it the busy demands of life with four children and a farm that has left little time and energy to write? Possibly. And yet, even with that I’ve always managed to carve out sacred and much-loved moments of creativity.

I made a cup of tea this afternoon and scrolled through various news feeds in search of well written, beautifully crafted articles that would inspire me. Instead, I was assailed with articles such as these: Want to Know His Penis Size? Look at His Fingers! 7 Best BDSM Sex Positions To Make Submissive Women Orgasm, What A Woman’s Chin Says About Her Sex Drive, 2 HELLA-HOT Sex Tips That’ll Make Your Man Crave Your Vagina, 10 Harsh Truths Your Husband’s Prostitute Wants You To Know, Is Anal The New Black?, 7 Ways To Make Him Want You For More Than Just Sex, Foods Your Man Should Avoid If He Wants A Blowjob Tonight – not to mention countless articles that informed me of how I will die, the type of man I should marry, how much sex I should be having, the type of orgasm I should be having, and what I should eat for dinner tonight, all based on my zodiac. Which, thank God for those or I might well have not had enough or too much sex this week and mistakenly eaten fish instead of steak tonight. Whew.

I sat and read the titles of these articles, and even dared to open a few of them hoping I was being all super Judgey McJudgerson and they actually contained quality writing. But the more I read, the more despair heaved itself upon me. That’s when I felt it. This is why I have lost heart. These are articles with hundreds of thousands of likes, comments, shares. These are articles I am forced to compete with, that I will never be able to. I don’t even want to.

Recently a well reputed magazine put a call out for two sex diaries that could be written about the fact that (a) you’re cheating, or (b) you’re into something kinky, with a note saying they want to know ALL the sordid, juicy details. What astounded me most about this call out was the rate of pay. It’s difficult for a freelance writer to be offered compensation in anything other than exposure, which, while all writers love trying to pay their weekly bills and child’s education in exposure, just doesn’t quite cut it all the time. At best, most writers are lucky to receive $20, $50, $100 per article that may have a required word length of 800-1500 words.

Yet here is a magazine offering $420 for 600 words. At that rate of pay, even I was tempted. In fact, I began to mentally compose some make-believe trash tale about doing something kinky while cheating in the hope that they’d offer to pay me $840 for covering both bases at once. I could even write it anonymously if I wanted to – oh what a delicious sell-out I could be just for once to make a decent income from an article.

This is what we as writers’ face when we sit at our desk. To want to write with meaning, with heart, with integrity; yet to do so means our voices will rarely be heard above the clatter and clang of garbage that is being dumped upon the busy superhighway of information where there is little interest to pick through our integrity with so much other unsavoury trash on the ground.

Part of my requirement as a writer is to spend numerous hours each week creating, building and nurturing my social media platform. And while I understand and agree with the necessity of this in our social media driven world, it’s time spent replying to comments, messages and emails at the expense of time I would rather use to write. I love my social media tribe and am thankful for their love and support, without them I wouldn’t be here, but lately I struggle with the motivation to spend time building numbers when I can’t help but wonder if all the numbers in the world even matter when they are unlikely to amount to actual readers because the titles of my articles don’t mention Sex, Orgasm, Blowjob, Vibrator, or How to Make Your Man Go Down on You in Three Easy Steps. As useful as that information may be. And while I believe good writing should confront and challenge the reader, there’s a difference between being prodded a little outside your comfort zone and having to double check that you didn’t just click a link to some amateur how-to porn site.

Last year I spoke at our local school during Literacy Week. My talk was based around this quote from the movie, Dead Poets Society, “No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.” I told those students these things: write about what matters, write with passion, and make your words count. That every word we write, we send into the world like a stone cast upon water; we have the power to create ripples that can either harm or heal, mend or break, sow love or sow hate. We have the power to change. To change minds, to change hearts. To change future generations. This is not just our privilege, this is our responsibility, and yet we prostitute ourselves for the sake of goddamn clickbait and our perverted, narcissistic fetish for numbers.

Maybe I sound like a jaded writer. Maybe I am one. Or maybe I’m just burnt out. Maybe I’m just tired of being part of a minority of writers who care. Who bust themselves to write with integrity and to maintain a standard of literature in our society. Who write with passion, with meaning, with desire for words to connect, for words to be music to the silent soul, to be the balm that heals the wounded, to pour light and warmth into the darkest corners, to bring change, to make a difference, to matter, only for those words to remain unseen, unheard, unnoticed.

Maybe I’ll just stop caring and stay off social media and go back to writing in journals that are kept in shoe boxes under the bed and hope one day when I’m no longer of this world someone will read those journals and think, huh, she had some good shit to say.

Or maybe I’ll just begin to speak a little louder from now on and pray one day my words will create a ripple strong enough that it will somehow change the world.

Names Carved In Flesh 


Today I stripped back my skin

And searched for the place 

Where your name was once carved 

Upon the rawness of my eager flesh  

You have fallen away from me 

Or have I fallen away from you?

Or maybe we are both misplaced 

Trapped beneath memories that collapsed

Under the weight of misunderstanding

I needed to know if you were still there

Below my skin where you used to live 

Where I had held you safe against my bones 

And you had held me safe against your chest

But the letters of your name were gone

Lost between the weather-worn gaps 

Of the bridges we never made

My flesh was blank; empty 

I was surprised to discover

I did not grieve the loss

Nor did I feel the despair 

Instead, I wrote my own name 

In the place your name once filled 

The letters aligned, side by side 

And I was breathless in their wake 

For I have never before noticed  

The way they looked like freedom 

And sounded like hope

I laid my skin down once more 

Upon the place you no longer exist

And in the beauty of that moment 

I am filled with promise

I am made new. 

~ © Kathy Parker ~ 

1.42am

You found me in the deep
My infinite soul untamed amongst wild oceans
I called to you, beckoned you beyond comfortable shores
“Shhhh,” you hushed my heart
“Come with me to the shallows, for there we will not drown”
I took your hand and followed you
To the place you felt safe
The place I felt alone
Ankle deep, we barely tasted salt upon our skin
Here, you were content
While I gazed upon ink-blue water
And yearned to immerse myself within its weather-beaten waves
“Come with me,” I whispered against the warmth of your flesh
“Come deeper, for there we will feel our passions, our emotions, our fire.
Come deeper, and let our souls discover these unchartered waters together”
But you did not move, did not follow as I stepped toward the horizon
Instead you stayed, skin deep
I dove into the cool water, surfaced, glanced back to where you had been
But no longer were
And in that moment, I knew
You were not afraid of the deep because you didn’t know how to swim
But because you didn’t know how to feel.

~ © Kathy Parker ~