Luka Lesson’s reputation precedes him. On a Thursday night at Sydney’s new Work Shop venue in Ultimo, four young poets pay tribute to him as a mentor and comrade in Australia’s burgeoning slam poetry culture. He is the 2011 Australian Poetry Slam Champion, with seven years of poetry workshopping and a US tour under his belt. Among the audience are the old and already initiated fans of Lesson – family, friends, fellow poets and artists of all cultures – and those yet to experience the full force of his performance. And when he takes to the stage, with nothing more than a microphone, a leather-bound notebook and a plastic cup of water, he doesn’t disappoint.
He delivers a captivating ten pieces from his latest album Please Resist Me. Some offer political commentary, others an insight into his own personal struggles through racism and relationships. Each one is a testament to the power of the written and the spoken word. Each one dismantles the audience’s assumptions and prejudices and then welds them back together again.
Born Luke Haralampou, the son and grandson of Greek migrants in Brisbane, Luka taught indigenous studies at Monash University until 2011, when he became a full-time poet. He now tours and conducts workshops, mentoring a new generation of writers and performers. His life is a cultural melting pot. But Luka has managed to maintain a careful balance between forging his own identity as well as appreciating his Greek heritage and the rich culture of indigenous Australia.
For two of his poems, A to Z and a piece he wrote that day, he encourages audience participation, uncommon in beat poetry. This is an example of Luka’s success as a performer, forging relationships with his followers and treating even the youngest member of the audience – a thirteen-year-old girl – as his equals. What is remarkable about his stage presence is that he isn’t presumptuous, arrogant or overly didactic. He is humble, in spite of his success, and he has an easy, disarming charm that brings him down to the audience’s level.
As he continues on his June/July tour of the East Coast, Luka gave a few minutes of his time to The Daily Spread.
The Daily Spread: What first piqued your interest in Slam Poetry?
Luka: ‘Def Jam Poetry’. Lemon Anderson, Mayda del Valle, Taylor Mali, Black Ice, Saul Williams, Suheir Hammad… They turned my life inside out.
You have a unique system of mentoring and supporting other artists. Who has been a mentor to you?
I was lucky enough to tour with Lemon. So that was a good learning experience. He’s been a full time poet for over a decade. Otherwise poets like Ken Arkind, Hinemoana Baker, Omar Musa, Shane Koyczan, Neal Hall, B.D. Foxmoor & Bo Svoronos have all taught me different things about being a mentor.
Your work can be both political and personal. Which do you find the easiest to write about?
To be honest I find it easier to write the political. Personal work is so self-reflective. It involves other people and personalities. I have to be more precise, and more open at the same time. It’s vulnerable. It’s going to places most people avoid. It’s harder, but also more rewarding.
What is the method behind writing, honing and performing a poem?
I’ve never used the same process twice, I don’t think. It comes when it comes. Usually I go from start to finish over a few days or a week… But that doesn’t necessarily work. I also like to not have anything to edit, do try to write the entire poem exactly from start to finish. But other times I will write the equivalent of three poems and then trim it down to one. I like to let my passion dictate the process, not the other way around.
Where to next?
Bookstores. I am currently looking for publishers for my first collection of spoken word pieces.
If you had a cocktail named after you, what would be in it?
Raki, pimms, lime, mint and soda. Like a classy mojito but from a Greek village.