The Brisbane scene today is vastly different to the one I entered almost ten years ago. I attended my first poetry event at the end of 1999, looking for something fresh and exciting, a change from the band scene that I had been part of since the early 1990’s. I had long been into spoken word – artists like Burroughs, Laurie Anderson, Steve Kilbey and Patricia Smith – and I was interested to see if there was anyone playing with soundscape and pushing poetic boundaries on the local scene. I went away from the event feeling both satisfaction and discontent. Satisfied that there were events and opportunities out there and some incredibly innovative artists, but I wanted more… something raw, something with sustained energy.
In 2000, I teamed up with another local poet, Rowan Donovan and together we started performing at Open Mic events, incorporating song, drama, costumes and cut-up techniques into our performances. The response was positive and by the end of the year we had developed a complete show and had featured at a couple of events. In 2001 we were invited to perform at the Queensland Poetry Festival and it was here that we met the nucleus of what would become SpeedPoets – Fakie Wilde, Stefanie Petrik, Brentley Frazer and Robert Lort. There was an immediate electricity between us and a unified desire to take the poetry scene by its ankles and give it a damn good shake. Emails and phone numbers were exchanged and before the end of the year, we got together on Fakie’s verandah, each of us armed with poetry and the thrill of something new. That night it was agreed that we would put on a live event that combined the best elements of the live music scene and poetry scene, an event that was inclusive, an event that created the sense of community we all craved, a community where all poets were welcome and encouraged to push the boundaries of their own work, to constantly question their voice, an event where no one person stood in the spotlight for more than two minutes, an event driven by spontaneity – hearing a piece of music and going with it, and we would call it SpeedPoets.
What we needed now was a venue and we found our first home upstairs at Belushi’s, a café/bar on the corner of Fortitude Valley’s (in)famous Brunswick St. Mall. Like most first gigs, ours was fairly underwhelming, performing to an enthusiastic crowd of 10 including girlfriends and family, but the spark was spreading and by the end of 2002 we moved downstairs, started releasing a monthly magazine showcasing the poets who were coming along to the event and had developed a rotating core of artists and a reputation for putting on events that were raw and unpredictable. The magic was working.
Belushi’s remained our home until the end of 2003, when the event outgrew the tiny basement where we had gathered to sweat, talk and read poetry. In 2004 we moved across the mall to a larger venue, The Royal George Hotel. SpeedPoets was evolving. The format changed to incorporate feature sets from local and touring artists and longer open mic sessions. Many of the core group that had driven the event from its inception had come and gone but the passion for the event was stronger than ever. The Royal George saw some of our best gigs ever, but with the installation of pokies and large screen TV’s that screened an endless stream of sport, we found the energy failing toward the end of 2005 and in need of a new home.
The Alibi Room came to the rescue and it was like we had come full circle. It was 2006, four years after we had established the event and here we were, back below the stairs in a tiny basement, eager to create a spark and a stir and put on some of the best poetry readings this city had ever seen. The format evolved again. There were now two distinct open mic sets – one backed by live music and one without, two feature artists each month – one poet and one musician and the magazine had taken on an international focus, featuring poets from all over the world. SpeedPoets had moved beyond its second coming and was embracing its third.
In 2010 we moved to InSpire Gallery Bar (71 Vulture Street, West End), a move which has seen SpeedPoets take on a new lease of life. The event, now in its tenth year, is part of the cultural landscape that makes up Brisbane’s vibrant poetry scene. Alongside events such as Words or Whatever, Kurilpa Poets and the annual QLD Poetry Festival, SpeedPoets showcases the best local and touring talent and continues to provide a much needed sense of community. Today, unlike the Brisbane of the late 1990’s, it is not unusual to read about poetry in the major papers and street press and to have new poetry events pop up regularly. SpeedPoets has been at the forefront of paving the way for this growth in the poetry scene.
Ten years on, SpeedPoets has maintained its sense of urgency and spontaneity and unique blend of live music and poetry/spoken word. So come along and check it out… become part of the history.