Bellingen Readers & Writers Festival Poetry Slam 2019

Poetry Slam: Matt Spooner (sponsor Officeworks manager), winner Jason John, Craig Nelson Runner Up and Isi Ferguson People's Choice Award. Photo BRWF
Poetry Slam: Matt Spooner (sponsor Officeworks manager), winner Jason John, Craig Nelson Runner Up and Isi Ferguson People's Choice Award. Photo BRWF

Friday's Poetry Slam played to a packed house as usual, but this year instead of Elizabeth Routledge or one of her alter egos running the show, we had national Slam champion Zohab Zee Khan.

No stranger to the Bellingen stage, having compèred the event four years ago, Zohab kept things zipping along at a cracking pace while also encouraging the crowd to give free rein to their finger clicks, foot stomps and 'phwoars' of appreciation.

He also delighted the audience by reciting some of his own poetry in his inimitably deep, mellifluous voice while the final scores were being computed.

Poetry Slam MC Zohab Zee Khan. Photo Janene Carey

Poetry Slam MC Zohab Zee Khan. Photo Janene Carey

Seventeen competitors entered the fray for the first round, vying for the lucrative cheques donated by Officeworks: $500 for first prize and $250 each for the runner-up and the people's choice award.

The winning poets were all locals.

Jason John, who came first, and Craig Nelson, who came second, had contested the Slam before, but the people's choice went to a young woman who had never even seen the event live.

"I've never done a Slam before," Isi Ferguson said. "I've done poetry recitals but they're a bit different. You haven't written it yourself."

She said she doesn't normally get nervous, but on Friday night she felt "pretty freaked out".

"I didn't realise how big it was going to be. I looked at all the chairs they'd put out and thought, whoa, that's a lot of people."

Asked if she'd been in the audience for the Bello Slam in other years, Isi said she'd never attended a Slam before, but she'd loved the idea of doing one.

"I'd seen them on YouTube," she said.

"And they're incredible, super inspiring, and I thought, I'd love to give that a go."

The first poems recited by Jason and Isi are copied below.

Both are grounded in their strong Christian beliefs: Jason of course is Rev Dr Jason John, local eco-faith minister, and Isi attended the Coffs Harbour Christian Community School at Bonville, finishing in 2015.

Jason John's first poem

The C word


A while back I caused a little consternation,

leading to a touch of confrontation

When people heard

Me use the C word

I said it not just once, this was no accidental slip

I said it a whole bunch of times, I really let it rip.

I thought I'd get away with it,

I'm middle class and white

And anyone will tell you that I'm usually polite

That C word

It causes such offense

And so it should, after all, I guess.

Christ was very offensive

He left the temple in a mess

Kicking over tables and

whipping those who oppress

and I mean what else can you do

When you have to

Preach from the bible each week

And Christ - and his mother - just keep

Banging on about injustice, and hypocrisy and greed

And at Christmas time we read about their life as refugees!

It's not my fault the little child

Didn't grow up meek and mild

It's not my fault that Christ said we must forgive to be forgiven

(If we're self-righteous arseholes who assume we're off to heaven)

And that paradoxically, God sends rain on the wicked and ungrateful

So to be kids of the one in heaven we must all be merciful

Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

Christ wanted us to do things, or at least to try

And our leaders to lead us

In justice and in compassion

For this world of refugees

Then there'd be no rotting in detention

And we'd stick to 1.5 degrees-

If we only had a Christian prime minister!

I know, I know, we've already had a few.

We got lots of "thoughts and prayers"

And that's going to continue, if I had to take a punt

With our "pray for rain" prime minister

With his "coal won't hurt you" stunt.

Well neither will a cigarette-

Til you burn it

You smarmy... member

But we must remember,

That for every disappointing Prime Member

There's a Miriam, a Byron, a Jacqui, a Jess

And one i Lisa and two iis Liisa, and most of you i guess.

There's Toni and Rachel and there's Pia and Pete

And people all up and down your street

You've never heard of them

And they've never heard of you

There's Christians, Muslims, Atheists Jews

Straights, lgbs and tiqs

All us scraggly little mustard bushes

Getting up off our tushes!

So whether your c word is Christ or compassion

or Climate or community

or Country

say your c word loud and clear

live your c word and let's put the fear

of true democracy

right up the jacksie of the fossil fuel plutocracy

Isi Ferguson's first poem


Not without flaw are the locks on this door

Yet still I don't see the cause for all this mess

We might need a mild solution

A patent dilution at best

To patch up these holes

And hide the inconsistencies we all posses

Can we roll paint over our sins?

Can we quick-fix our anguish with DIY kits

Interior edition

Look the same as everybody else's heartwood kitchen

Can we staple the wounds

From which leak all our shame

Oozing up from the cracks in the Lino

Like the dead thing in the cellar

I can smell that rotting fillet under the grill

That toxic drink we spilt

From that mouthful of bitter grime, silt and grit

That we know we should have forced back down to the basement

All this guilt

These spirits of flesh

Weren't built to withstand so much decay

Yet it seems humanity is going there anyway

Test us with storms and we'll struggle till we bleed

All the while what we really need is rest

Just a break from these fake walls each of us erects

Our attempt to take control over the flames

But the nails of clamour we hammer, like splitting frames

Only make the whole house shatter and break

Leaving a little, unsheltered soul

Exposed, fragile, not much

Touch me, and I'll cry

Tell me a lie, and I'll swallow it

Like poison disguised as a pill

From the fragmented medicinal cabinet that just might kill me

However, tell me the truth

And you might as well drill away at all I've got left

Because until this moth-eaten, weatherbeaten dwelling

Finally crumbles into ruin

It's all downhill

And this ramshackle human heart can't stand it

Our minds see the message

But over time we tend to coat it in varnish

Reflecting a trend that's only skin deep

It's the one thing we were always taught

We ought to know, how to build a house

We thought freedom was a box, far away from everyone else

Without realising the ball has always been in our court

And this freedom we fought for so long

Is crushed into dry dust in our hand

Dust that we bought with our very own blood

What's it all worth in the end

The real estate of your soul

We'll never stop

We start from scratch, hoping to patch the old house

When in fact it's actual solid foundations we lack

So this time, build your house on the Rock

And all the horrors and terrors and humanity that

Flock to your home, don't hide them

Lay it all out under the sky, let the fresh air wash over

And dry out all this old stuff

Like mould dies under the sun

Clean out your cupboards, spring's barely begun

Then you won't be afraid to display your heart

Like the unique piece of art that it is

Here's a chance for the start to begin again

And make sure those doors stay wide, wide open