Performance poet Joel McKerrow shares his writing tips

And performs some of his latest work

Award-winning performance poet Joel McKerrow stopped by Eternity News today to perform a poem from his recently released third published work of poetry, Hollowed out Lungs a co-write with Zoe Boyle.

He’s in Sydney town for SPARC’s annual National Gathering which begins tonight (Friday) and extends throughout tomorrow (Saturday). This year’s line up features US rap artist Propaganda along with a host of Australian speakers and performers, including actor Anna McGahn, UNICEF photographer Simon Lister, Micah Challenge’s Tim Costello and Joel himself.

SPARC is an initiative of Christian Media & Arts Australia designed to foster a community of Christians creatives. Director Michael Laverty recently told Eternity News that  “SPARC exists for beauty and for glory. Our mission is to encourage creatives to enkindle the heart of Christ, by living expansive and gracious lives of freedom, for beauty and glory.”

Joel McKerrow is one of Australia’s most successful internationally touring performance poets, having performed for hundreds of thousands of people throughout the world for almost a decade. He’s also teaches poetry in schools and hosts poetry slam championships in his home state of Victoria.

Yet despite a full schedule, McKerrow continues to prioritise SPARC’s National Gathering in his calendar year after year because he believes it does more than just equip people within the creative industries.

“It gives them a community to belong to, a group of people to be inspired by, a place for Christian creatives to not feel as though they are the only ones seeking to bring about change in our world… there is a profound sense of a communal calling that comes with it, a bond that both unifies and sends people back out to keep using their artistry to bring hope to the world.”

“The thing that stops you writing good poetry, is trying to write good poetry.” – Joel McKerrow

It’s been a big 2018 for McKerrow so far, with getting his third poetic collection over the line proving quite a challenge.

“The last time I brought together a poetry book I had just travelled the globe for eighteen months. This time, I now have two children and roots that are somewhat more planted. Life is filled with schedule and routine and poetry-work and college lecturing and cleaning nappies and catching vomit and sleepless nights. Needless to say my creative practice had to learn to adapt.”

So what does that look like? McKerrow reckons it’s mostly about turning up and doing the work.

“For the past few years my poetic challenge, my creative discipline, even in the midst of the parenting life, has been to write a poem every single day. No matter what. Sometimes I have the space to write a few pages. Often though, it is a scribbled few lines as I sit on the toilet with my toddlers banging their fists on the door. I have to steal the brief moments in the midst of the chaos. Still, I discipline myself to write every day.

“The thing that stops you writing good poetry, is trying to write good poetry. The only way that I have found is to step aside from my ideas of what my poetry should be. And somehow, in this side-stepping act, the negative voice of the inner critic begins to soften and I just get to play with the words.”

And on those days when the poetry proves elusive, he just keeps on writing.

“As I tell my students, the only way to write good poetry is to write tons and tons of crap poetry. Just to show up and write and explore and not judge what I am doing. To hold it and save it for later, or save it for never. So much awful poetry. But the only way to get to the good stuff is to trudge through the sloppy.”