The reason everyone’s going to Bankstown

Bankstown Poetry Slam is the largest regular poetry slam in the Southern Hemisphere with as many as 300 attendees each month.

This is despite the suburb’s reputation for its crime and unemployment rate in the media that can stir some folk away.

Project manager of Bankstown Poetry Slam, Yasmine Lewis, has seen people travel from far to participate in the slam.

“We have regulars from the Blue Mountains, from Wollongong, from the City, from North Sydney- absolutely everywhere,” she said.

Slam or spoken word poetry first made popularity in the 1960s by The Last Poets, a poetry and musical group born out of the African American Civil Rights Movement, along with Hip Hop Culture.

Unsurprisingly it holds a lot of similarities to rap.

Everyone getting to their seat before the start of the performances although more people pour in during the night. Photo by Jessica Guttridge.

A poetry slam is a performance competition – participants sign up on the day, perform an original work in three minutes and are judged by five randomly chosen members of the audience.

The audience click their fingers to phrases they feel strongly about.

Each judge gives a score out of ten and occasionally writes small comments like ‘#blessed’.

The highest and lowest score are dropped to prevent bias while the middle three are used to calculate an average.

Before Ms Lewis heard of BPS she had ‘never thought there was anything to do around Bankstown.’

Before Sarah Mansour and Ahmad Al Rady founded BPS, four years ago, most of the slams in New South Wales were in the city.

Now slam poetry is drawing people around the city to the West.

Ms Lewis said it is the result of creating a “safe and welcoming space.”

According to Ms Lewis, a lot of slams are late at night, restricted to over 18s, and are far for people to travel to, while Bankstown Poetry Slam is free and open to all ages.

Even co-founder Sarah Mansour’s grandmother got up on stage to perform a poem in Arabic about family.

Ms Lewis young people especially connect to slam because the form, “allow(s) people to tell their own narrative and tell their own story.”

“You’re always hearing about young people. You’re always hearing about Western Sydney. But you’re never hearing from young people,” Ms Lewis said.

The short rhythmic style of the form also makes slam digestible for short attention spans and easy to share on social media for young people.

“I think spoken word traditionally has been a practice that has been used for thousands of years before us. So, it’s a common thing in a lot of cultures in oral storytelling,” Ms Lewis said.

Feature poet of the night Erfan Daliri. Photo by Jessica Guttridge.

With technology changing all the time people in Western societies are spending time increasingly online. Poetry slam offers a warm intimate exchange of ideas in a community face to face.

“We still want that sense of community and I think physically that’s what’s bringing people together,” Ms Lewis said.

Bankstown’s next poetry slam will start at 6:45pm, on the 25th at the Bankstown Arts Centre.

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