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The biggest poetry slam in the Southern Hemisphere

What began as a humble grassroots initiative is now attracting 500 people a month to perform and listen to the spoken word and has become the biggest poetry slam in the Southern Hemisphere.

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The Bankstown Poetry Slam, a community-based initiative held at the Bankstown Arts Centre, aims to smash western Sydney stereotypes through spoken word and is now planning to increase the slam's footprint in schools.

“More than anything it’s the freedom of expression for individuals who break the typecast."

– Naveen Krishnasamy

Giving western Sydney a voice

Co-founder of the slam, Sarah Mansour, a 21-year-old psychology and law student, said it aims to provide a platform for young people to speak out.

“Often the Bankstown area is reported on in a negative light and when something good happens, no attention is paid to it. I guess part of the slam is to allow these young people to speak rather than be spoken about.”

“My co-founder, Ahmad Al Rady, and myself decided to do a local poetry slam... We were travelling to Newtown and other places to perform and watch others perform. Bankstown Youth and Development Services (BYDS) decided to take us on and it’s now the biggest slam in the country.”

She said many who attend the monthly gigs feel "a lot of disconnection" from society and are "seen to be on the fringe.”

Slamming stereotypes

On the night, performers are chosen randomly out of a hat and poems range from political statements and commentaries on personal struggles to more light-hearted performances on race, gender and culture.

A regular on the nights, Naveen Krishnasamy, said the slams have changed the lives of many young people.

“More than anything it’s the freedom of expression for individuals who break the typecast," he said.

Young people like him "have our own stories" and the slam “has opened people to an artistic expression they never knew they had.”

Speaking of a funky education

Mansour agreed that the slam attracts many people because it empowers them and now wants to take poetry workshops into schools.

“I want to try and change what’s being taught in schools, I feel like the poetry that’s taught is so irrelevant to youth today.”

Just last year as part of National Youth Week, the Lebanese Muslim Association teamed up with Bankstown Poetry Slam to run a school poetry competition program.

The ‘Stand Tall Speak Out’ program taught students how to write spoken word poetry and build self confidence to perform. Finalists competed at the NSW State Library for prizes.

Bankstown Poetry Slam has also published two books comprising of a collection of poems performed at the slam. The first book, ‘The Last Conversation’ featured in the 2014 Sydney Writers' Festival.

Bankstown Poetry Slam happens once a month on a Tuesday night.

Head to their Facebook page for more information.

Image credit: Wild Fire Images / Facebook 

The Point

The Bankstown Poetry Slam has grown in popularity by smashing stereotypes and empowering young people

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