RMIT Creative Writing Students and Alumni Reshape Melbourne’s Spoken Word Community

In spite of setbacks due to the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown, RMIT Creative Writing alumnus Bennie Solah will present the Melbourne Spoken Word Festival Online from 24 July to 9 August.

With unwavering interest in supporting spoken word and poetic performers and providing a platform to promote and host their events throughout Melbourne, Solah founded Melbourne Spoken Word (MSW) in 2012. MSW is a website and arts organisation, off the back of which Solah last year launched Melbourne Spoken Word and Poetry Festival (MSWPF).

This year, RMIT Creative Writing students will also contribute to the organisation of the festival through work integrated learning opportunities.

MSW’s work in Melbourne’s spoken word and poetry scene places a particular focus on inclusivity. ‘Solah was recently named by the performer, editor and producer David Stavanger on the podcast Poetry Says, as one of the great voluntary cultural producers in the Australian poetry scene,’ Bonny Cassidy, Lecturer in RMIT’s Creative Writing Program said. 

Solah graduated from RMIT’s Bachelor of Arts (Creative Writing) program in 2015 and has since maintained a relationship with the University via its Writing and Publishing team. To assist with the festival’s transition from face-to-face to digital delivery, Solah has created two work integrated learning internships for current Creative Writing students. Matilda Nguyen and Charlie Crowe will receive credit toward their own Creative Writing degrees in addition to invaluable, hands-on industry experience. 

Crowe said of the opportunity, ‘When I first got the email about an internship with MSWFO, I immediately knew it would be an incredible experience. I've been involved with spoken word for a few years now and organised a spoken word event last year in collaboration with RMIT for Pride Week. I'm really excited about this opportunity to learn new professional skills, to meet people in the industry, to witness and understand the progression of creating a big event, and of course, to hear the poets during the festival.’

Although MSWPF was set to soon announce its 2020 program, necessary restrictions on large gatherings and venue closures recently dampened Solah’s hopes of this year’s festival going ahead. 

Instead, MSW announced Melbourne Spoken Word Festival Online (MSWFO): a collation of live-streamed events and digital premieres taking place across a multitude of platforms and hosted both by MSW, and a cast of its partners and independent producers.

‘The Melbourne Spoken Word Festival Online was inspired by the desire to bring the spoken word community together during self-isolation and lockdown, and in turn, bring together different parts of the community that are rarely in the same room due to being on the other side of the city,’ Solah said. 

‘With airfares no longer being a barrier, we hope to bring our friends in spoken word scenes from overseas, and push the boundaries of presenting poetics online and in live streams.’

‘As for plenty of arts producers currently, this transition to digital requires courage, imagination and a skilled team,’ Cassidy added. ‘We reckon this is such a valuable opportunity for undergraduate writers to get involved in.’

MSWFO will also engage with Rabbit: a journal for nonfiction poetry, which operates out of RMIT’s student-led publishing house, Bowen Street Press. Students from the University’s Master of Writing and Publishing Program collaborate with editor-in-chief Jessica Wilkinson to collate and edit each issue of the journal; and this year, will assist in the production and delivery of a digital event as part of MSWFO’s program.

Wilkinson celebrated the reach that the festival had previously granted the poetry journal. “The festival has featured events for Rabbit: a journal for nonfiction poetry, which have allowed the journal and its featured poets to reach new and vital audiences.

Thabani Tshuma Thabani Tshuma

Rabbit looks forward to supporting and participating in this important festival in its digital iteration for 2020.”

Related stories

aboriginal flag
torres strait flag

Acknowledgement of country

RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business. - Artwork created by Louisa Bloomer