About an hour ago I came off my bike while riding down the steep end of Bourke Street in the city. I did some serious damage to my left shoulder and grazed my arm something fierce.
If my life had paused in the second before that crash and a voice said to me “Simon, you can make a choice here. You can either: not come off your bike, but your day trip to compete in the The Australian Poetry Slam National Final in Sydney will be erased from your memory forever; or you can slam into the pavement right now and keep the memory.” I would have laughed in the voice’s not existent face.
Ha! Pavement please.
My journey to and from the A.P.S. National was pulsing with intellectual revelation and interpersonal enrichment. Big words weren’t the only things I learned. I discovered a strange new dimension of maturity in the form of embracing the experience of others.
I arrived at Melbourne airport on Sunday morning and met my fellow Victorian State Finalist, Luka Lesson at the gates. He’s one of those annoying ‘tall, dark and hansom’ dudes who doesn’t let his looks taint his endearing personality. Seriously, who wants to travel with THAT guy?
Prior to this, the only time I had interacted with Luka was at the State Final the week before. This is where I won first place, taking the Victorian title. Now to let you in on a little secret, Luka actually scored higher than me. He lost a point for going over time and thus was given second place, still qualifying him for the National Final. I was aware of this so Tweeted him that night:
“Don’t lose out over a technicality next time Mister. You’re exceptional and it’s a thrill to even be in the same league as you.”
I had full conviction behind this message. That night, I felt that I had seen more than just a two-minute poem from a 28-year-old writer. I witnessed a man who immersed himself in his art form and yearned for the title of champion as if it were his blood supply.
Cut to Sydney. Sunday the 27th of November, 2011. We travel together to the National Final showdown to meet with fourteen other poets from around the country. Luka and I had lunch before heading to the venue. We spoke about religion and how I didn’t like the last bit of my coconut juice. You know, deep stuff. Throughout the time we spent together, I noticed the dichotomy of our attitudes. I had the ‘well this will be fun, I like being on stage’ state of mind. Luka had ‘this means everything to me’ burning in his eyeballs.
By the time we arrived at The Sydney Theater to prepare for the event, I had become a fully fledged Luka Lesson fan-boy.
All the same, my personal achievement had already taken place two weeks earlier when I ran five kilometers on a thirty-five degree day just to make it to Caroline Springs Library in time to register to perform my two-minute poem in a competition I only heard about days earlier. I chose to make that a long sentence to emulate the experience. For me, the realisation that performing, in and of itself, gives my life meaning was like receiving my own self-awarded medallion to wear around my neck. I’m in a good place with my outlook on this creative life. Especially now that I know I made the decision to make that painful run that day.
So what I slowly realised during that day of the National was that being in Sydney wasn’t my journey. I was the auspicious spectator of the exhilarating talent that is Luka Lesson. It felt invigorating to be around him every step, leap and bound along the way to the conquering of his personal Everest. I’ve never experienced camaraderie of this dynamic before and I am grateful for it.
When it came to slam time, I certainly gave it my all. Being on stage in front of hundreds of people is totes my thing so I delivered the best performance I was capable of giving. When I missed out on being in the second round by 4/10s of a point, I didn’t mind. It allowed me to focus all my energy on screaming like a mad dog for Luka.
Like the legend that he is, he won the Australian Poetry Slam. I cried a little bit, but I’m still a man because I’m usually the one who says ‘hip hip’ when people sing Happy Birthday. That’s masculinity folks. Oh and never mind the heart-felt embrace I gave him afterwards either. I was just so damn happy for him.
So that’s the new grain of experience I’ve picked up off this beach we call life. Below is a video of me interviewing the man himself post-competition.
Thank you Luka for an adventure I didn’t expect to have.