SPONSORED: It’s 2018, the Australian Poetry Slam National Final is on at Sydney Opera House.

Over 1,000 writers have been hurling verses across the nation for three months. Now the top 16 writers have to wow the audience with just two minutes of poetry. The prize – over $10k in paid national and international touring, a book deal and a two week writers’ retreat.

Melanie Mununggurr-Williams from Yirrkala, NT wins her heat in Darwin, makes it through the first round at Nationals and now, with her poem I Run, she takes out the title: Australian Poetry Slam Champion.

Within a week she’s talking to Penguin about her manuscript. Within a month, she’s booked to study spoken word at the Banff Art Centre in Canada. Within two months she’s got a six-week tour of Canada plus a feature spot at the Nuyorican Poets Café in New York City.

Melanie is spreading her ideas, emotions, imagination, cultural identity and language (the Djapu dialect of Yolngu Matha) around the globe.

This springboard catapults Australia’s national identity as one that is diverse and supportive of Indigenous stories.

Word Travels, the little literary arts organisation that runs poetry slams, wants more. They are on a mission to unearth, promote and professionalise new and emerging writers from diverse communities. Indigenous stories are a key focus.

Wait! What the … is a poetry slam? It’s an event. People sign up to perform their own writing — story, poem, monologue, lyrics — whatever you do with words.

The MC of the event chooses judges from the audience. Writers get two minutes on the mic. The judges hold up score cards and … boom! Your community elects two local poetry slam champions. They go on to the next round at State/Territory level then nationals in Sydney.

Why not just hold a poetry competition and get folks to send in their word doc?

Performance is immediate. You don’t need a publisher, director, cast or crew. You write it, say it and connect live with your neighbours, your community and eventually a worldwide audience through video, audio and publication.

2020 took a chunk out of us all. Australian Poetry Slam became an online program but 2021 is the year of return. The heats, the finals, the verses will all be live from small towns to major cities. Who knows what remote community is harbouring powerful stories just busting to be unleashed on the world?

You can enter a poetry slam, participate in a workshop, run a poetry slam in your community or help out behind the scenes. Word Travels is a not-for-profit with lots of opportunities for volunteering. They’ve also got some pretty awesome paid roles on their jobs page. They’re looking for a Creative Producer, a Marketing Manager and a Board Member.

Also check out Melanie Mununggurr-Williams’ award winning performances here: I Run and Double Threat.

How can we create more avenues for new Indigenous stories to leap past gatekeepers? Got some ideas? Word Travels wants to hear from you. www.wordtravels.info.