Words by Camilla Patini, ACTWC Blogger in Residence
I met Raphael Kabo briefly at Narrabundah College (we both went to school there but he was in the year above me). Nearly five years on, I have the opportunity of sitting down with him and talking about his work. I have seen him performing at BAD!SLAM!NO!BISCUIT! and came across one of his poems in Canberra journal Burley a few years ago but am delighted to find out that since then, he has done many other things and has also been published in numerous places. He writes plays, collaborates with other artists and even publishes other people. Despite having such a great range of interests and pursuits, however, he likes to think of himself as a slam poet.
What he loves most about slam poetry is that it brings him together with other people who are eager to create and engage art in the public sphere. “Collaboration is at the heart of slam poetry”, he says. At slams, poets are often in dialogue with each other. It’s also more than just standing in front an audience and reading a poem; it’s about engaging the crowd and connecting with the audience. At BAD!SLAM! nights, the job is even harder—poets must work hard to please the crowd which might not even be there for the poetry.
I find out that narrative and myth are important to Kabo’s work. He is interested in “stories that existed from the beginning of time which you can change and subvert and play with”. He and Zoe Anderson are hoping to perform a performance poetry piece based on these ideas about narrative and myth at next year’s You Are Here Festival, which is about place; finding empty spaces and filing it with art (among other things). He describes it as “the story of the entire universe”: “Imagine an old Norse saga, where the whole world gets created in one room”.
Zoe and he also had the idea of publishing a book a few years ago, which they wanted to call The Lucubratory. It was going to be about an underground printing press in an alternative city where, culturally, writing is not considered important. This book never came into being so they turned it into a blog. Their friends write stories there: “it’s like an online journal but less focused”, says Kabo.
He has just finished writing his Honours thesis on edgelands, which he explains are “the spaces where the city ends but also where the rural fringe, the countryside, ends”. He looked at contemporary British fiction and at the edgelands as areas where there is resistance to normalisation and urban city mentality. Edgelands are “places where strange things can happen, strange beasts, (…) rave parties and countercultural things”.
Kabo has also been involved in the publication of an anthology of student writing called Squarely In The Read. “It was forged in a specific moment [amidst protests against the government’s cuts to university education and proposals to introduce fee deregulation]. There were so many voices I wanted to include but we simply didn’t have the time. Hannah McCann wrote a piece about the importance of anger, specifically a defence of the angry woman as a thing which has been sidelined in discourse. Louis Klee wrote a piece which was trying to balance this—it was a case of a classic Socratic dialogue”, said Kabo. The publication is “somewhere between a philosophical discussion on the nature of protest and a how-to manual on how to resist”.
Kabo talked about the publication’s purpose and about the aims of student protest: “How activist should we be? Should we be occupying? Breaking windows? Or should we be reading and creating?”, he asked. The read-in outside the ANU Chancelry was proof that reading can be a political act. “If the ANU administration is devaluing learning and education in favour of monetary gain and market forces then we will read because it’s being opened up as an avenue of resistance—doing something which they feel uncomfortable with you doing nowadays. If you’re subverting you’re immediately inside a dialogue. You’re part of a moving thing which has its own momentum”. Kabo stressed the importance of dialogue: a work driven by a single message is always dangerous and, historically, “has never had a good result”. Kabo elaborated further on his political views but stated that, thus far, they have not had so much of an impact on his creativity.
Back onto the topic of poetry, I asked Kabo about the poem he recently had published on Feminartsy, called ‘I Have Been Learning About People’. What inspired that poem? Its beauty took my breath away. I needed to know what it was about. Kabo explained that it was about finding out about being less egoistic. “When you are a single person it’s often easy to forget that there are many people around you and that your actions can hurt or influence them terribly. I was learning about the terrifying power that one person has sometimes over other people. We are all so caught in each other all the time. I was saying sorry, essentially, in that poem”.
Look out for another of Kabo’s works which is being published in Gargouille Literary Journal, a new Melbourne publication, on 11th December.