May feature poet, Rowan Donovan was there at the inception of SpeedPoets way back in 2002, so I asked him about the significance of the initial gathering and to share a few memories of the early days…
RD: Ahh the early days, Graham. January twenty six, two thousand and two seems a long time ago when looked back on from here. That night. That gathering on the front porch deck of Fakie Wilde’s little house. Him with his feet in a kid’s paddling pool and a yellow plastic duck to boot. How did we all end up there? You, me, Fakie, Steph, Brentley, Adam, Robert and later on, the wonderfully late Paul Sanderson.
As I’m writing this I’m listening to one of the few existing taped recordings of that night. John Coltrane and Miles Davis playing the kind of jazz Fakie so loved, there in the background. And it being the perfect sound track. The perfect backdrop to what we were trying to give birth to. Trying to achieve without really knowing it.
What a special night that was. It was Fakie’s baby. His vision. He wanted players who could read their own work over music and keep it all under two minutes. He reasoned audiences in this age of instant self gratification get bored quickly. So keep it snappy. Keep it punchy. Keep each reading short. Keep revolving poets, one poet after the other and never letting go of the audience. Already we were in essence, Speed Poets, although we didn’t know it then. That name came quickly later when we needed flyers to advertise our arrival and a venue to celebrate the birth.
And what a venue we landed Graham? Belushi’s on the corner of Brunswick and Ann. You walk past it now you would never know we had been there. They have wrecked the place. All pastel coloured neon lights reflected in chrome and music pumping to a feral beat that is a long way away from Brian Eno’s ambient sounds we later read to, that night, on Fakie’s deck. Or Icon’s iconic sounds when they backed us in the pool room downstairs.
SpeedPoets became for me a collective of people with a need for writing and performing. Of belonging to a group of like minded people who, when you heard them read, just made you want to go home and stay up all night, every night, writing your heart out so you had something half decent to read when next month came around and it was your turn to front up to the mic and spruik your spoken word. Didn’t want to let anybody down with a piece that didn’t cut it.
God I loved it! Lived for it! Let myself be all consumed by it. We were such a wonderfully matched mismatch of wannabe eclectic talent. I look back and don’t regret a moment of all the insane, unslept hours I spent scribbling and scribbling and obsessively writing and shaping and reworking and rolling the words I had penned off my drunken tongue until I had found my voice and found I had something to say. All I needed was an audience.
And SpeedPoets did that too. First Sunday every month. Provided a ready made audience who were as supportive in their understanding as they were enthusiastic in their appreciation. Every month, getting up and trialing a poem or two over a live sound track and in doing so, you were honing your craft. Finding your voice. Putting together a body of credible work. If you couldn’t have been in San Francisco when the Beats did their first reading. Allen on stage and Jack handing around cheap jugs of wine and whooping the audience participation up, then downstairs at Belushi’s was the next best place to be!
And what a first time venue it proved to be. How that downstairs pub shaped the event. It was like walking down narrow stairs back in time. The place had atmosphere to die for. People crowded in and around over sized pool tables that took up so much of the space. A band of great musicians. At one time a DJ. A manned bar just outside of the door and another one upstairs. Chalked footpath blackboards to advertise the gig. And always good people. Very good people. It was the right mix. Words, poems, music, people and wine.
You know somewhere, someplace, there are video recordings of all of this. What a joy when those basement tapes get released. People will finally get to see what a seminal moment in Brisbane’s literary history SpeedPoets defined and propagated. I remember it all well now. It’s just like yesterday.