Tim Baker | SLAM POETRY DAD
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SLAM POETRY DAD

SLAM POETRY DAD

I recently made my public slam poetry debut at the Men of Letters event in Brisbane in the salubrious surrounds of one of Australia’s most iconic live music venues, the Zoo, in Fortitude Valley. Men of Letters is a spin off of the hugely successful Women of Letters events, in which female writers are invited to write a letter on a particular theme and read it in front of a live audience.

For the Men of Letters events, male writers are invited to pen a letter to a woman who changed their life. It was an eclectic group of men I found myself among – comedian Paul Livingston (AKA Flacco of Doug Anthony All-stars fame), journalist Andrew Stafford, actor Victor Parascos, playwright David Burton, poet Sachem Parkin-Owens, musician and teacher Eddie Ayres, academic Andrew Bartlett. How a lowly surf writer got lumped in with this illustrious lot remains a mystery but it was a pleasure to meet and mix with such a diverse and intriguing crew back stage, in a green room that’s been inhabited by many of Australia’s great bands, with a couple of bottles of wine and a cheese platter. Their offerings were all heart-felt, personal, eloquent and revealing  and it gave me heart to think a new manhood is emerging that allows for emotional candour and self-awareness.

I’d decided to deliver my letter to our daughter Vivi in the form of slam poetry, in honour of her own extraordinary command of the medium. Proud dad moment warning – Vivi recently won the Queensland poetry slam and travelled to Sydney for the national final at the Opera House. Her work was a passionate and angry protest about violence against women, inspired by a quote she’d read from Edgar Allen-Poe: “The death of a beautiful woman is the most romantic topic in the world.” She’d told me, “It made me really angry so I wrote a poem about it.”

Her performance of it is extraordinary and it is surreal watching your teenage daughter in such command on stage at the Opera House. For me, as a career writer, it was an interesting experience to attempt a whole new medium and feel like a complete novice, mentored by my 15-year-old. I’d recently returned from a work trip to Europe and, wide awake at three am with jet lag, I decided to get up and attempt to pen something worthy of the occasion. In the end it spilled out of me almost without my involvement – delving into her conception and birth, our initial bonding, how much she has taught and inspired me.

It was inspired in part by the outcry over the recent Hollywood sex scandals the #metoo and #howIwillchange social media campaigns, and the suggestion that men shouldn’t be bragging about having daughters as some kind of badge of honour that inoculates them against any accusations of misogyny. While I understand this point, I think it is a shame if men are discouraged from discussing the experience of being fathers of daughters and how it has changed them, that this is a conversation worth having, and that if we want men to be engaged on gender issues perhaps acceptable public discourse shouldn’t be too prescriptive.

Vivi critiqued the work for me thoughtfully. “It’s a  bit TMI,” she told me. TMI? “Too much information.” Then she grew more analytical. “It’s good, but some of it is more like prose than poetry. You might need to edit it a bit to get a consistent rhythm throughout,” she suggested. Did she want to come and watch me perform it? “Asking a teenage girl to sit through her father reading a poem about her conception and birth is a bit of a stretch, dad,” she explained gently.

I was as shaky as a new-born foal before I got up to make my slam poetry debut, but the atmosphere created at these events is so warm and accepting I soon felt at my ease. I’d asked Viv for any final words of advice before I drove up to Brisbane. “Own it, Dad” she coached keenly. With those words still ringing in my ears, I did my best to conjure the confident, emphatic delivery of the slam poet. The reception was enthusiastic and I sat down buzzing with adrenalin, with a new understanding of why my daughter is so swept up by the medium. Slam poetry is all about the delivery but a few friends have asked to read the work so here it is, for better or worse.

SLAM POETRY DAD

Dearest Vivi,

I keep reading lately

that it’s not okay

for dads to say

how having daughters changed their lives

I hear the cries

That it shouldn’t take the birth of a child to realise

Half the world’s population are people too

What about your wives?

So, let me be clear, your mother changed me too

Profoundly, irretrievably, infinitely for the good

She may have loosened me

But you

Came along and finished the job comprehensively

 

And so, when I read the heart-breaking hashtags #metoo

The shameful parade of how men have hurt women

Again and again, in a sad brutal conga line of betrayal

And men are encouraged to declare

#howIwillchange

I’m all aboard.

These inhuman crimes by so-called lovers, fathers, bosses, brothers,

Can’t be ignored

But somewhere amid the roar

I wish to implore

Some of us may have already begun to change

And if that change is inspired by the arrival of our female offspring

Is that such a bad thing?

And honestly how could I not be changed

From the moment your conception rearranged

Our world

And every stage along the way brought yet more change

 

Now I know this may be too much information

But I swear I felt the moment of your conception

In the glow of a Tuscan afternoon

After three weeks’ separation

From your mother

In the euphoria of reunion

I felt another coming through

From some great beyond I could not comprehend

 

To the moment at the kitchen table

Your mother’s exquisite belly swollen with your new life

Wide-eyed, surprised, a squeal of … what? Delight?

As a puddle of brine gathered at her feet

We locked eyes and realised

Shit just got real

 

The happy dance of choosing baby clothes and basinets

Car seats, prams, nappies (cloth or disposable?)

All narrowed to a point of shocking clarity

You were coming whether or not we were ready

 

I remember crouching in the hall

Supporting your mother in a determined squat

As she gave a guttural animal roar

Lunged forward

Pinned me to the floor

With her arms and knees

A force of nature far more powerful than me

A harbinger of the energy

About to be released

 

And you’ve heard this one before I know

But with my dying breath I want the record to show

That you slept on my chest the night you were born

All through that twilight morn

Sucking furiously on my little finger

Like a surrogate nipple that could never deliver

The nourishment you sought

And I awoke with a blister on my finger

That had nothing to do with playing guitar

Feeling like a little boy

Who’d smuggled a puppy into bed, safe and warm

As your mother lay beside us spent and exhausted

From the miracle she’d performed

 

They say skin to skin contact is essential

For the bond of the child and mother

But I was blessed with a mega-dose of this potent elixir

From which I have never fully recovered

 

And now you are this magnificent young woman

A social justice warrior

Of the highest order

A feminist, a poet,

And I’m sorry if this offends but I want the whole damn world to know it

You are the girl who transformed my world

I need to be a better man I’m happy to admit

Simply to be worthy of being in your orbit

 

To see you on stage

Delivering your inspired rhymes

Laying waste to one privileged old white dude at a time

I’m proud to have been the first privileged old white dude in that line

 

And so, to my sisters I say

I’ll join in the struggle

Link arms, call out misogyny,

Ruthlessly examine all the ways I might still unwittingly

Prop up the patriarchy

But please

Allow me

To joyfully proclaim

Again and again

All the ways my daughter

(Hashtag optional)

Helped me change

 

 

 

 

 

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