Performance poet Joel McKerrow shares his writing tips


Award-winning performance poet Joel McKerrow stopped by Eternity News today to perform a poem from his recently released third book of poetry, Hollowed lungs a co-writing with Zoe Boyle.

He is in Sydney City for the annual SPARC National Gathering which begins tonight (Friday) and continues until tomorrow (Saturday). This year’s lineup features an American rap artist Propaganda as well as a host of Australian speakers and performers, including actress Anna McGahn, UNICEF photographer Simon Lister, Tim Costello of Micah Challenge and Joel himself.

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

Joel McKerrow is one of Australia’s most famous international touring poets, having performed for hundreds of thousands of people around the world for nearly a decade. He also teaches poetry in schools and organizes poetry slam championships in his home state of Victoria.

Yet despite a busy schedule, McKerrow continues to prioritize the SPARC National Gathering year after year because he believes it does more than just equip people in the creative industries.

“It gives them a community to belong to, a group of people to be inspired by, a place where creative Christians don’t feel like they’re the only ones looking to make changes in our world… there is a a deep sense of a community call that accompanies it, a bond that both unifies and directs people to continue to use their artistic talent to bring hope to the world.

“What keeps you from writing good poetry is trying to write good poetry.” – Joël McKerrow

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

“The last time I put together a book of poetry, I had just traveled the globe for eighteen months. This time I now have two children and a little more planted roots. Life is filled with schedules and routines, poetry, college classes, cleaning diapers and vomiting, and sleepless nights. Needless to say, my creative practice had to learn to adapt.

So what does it look like? McKerrow believes that it’s mostly about showing up and getting the job done.

“Over the past few years, my poetic challenge, my creative discipline, even in the midst of parenting, has been to write a poem every day. No matter what. Sometimes I have the space to write a few pages. Often times, however, it’s just a few scribbled lines as I sit on the toilet with my little ones banging their fists on the door. I have to steal the brief moments in the midst of the chaos. Yet I discipline myself to write every day.

“What keeps you from writing good poetry is trying to write good poetry. The only way I have found is to get away from my ideas of what my poetry should be. And somehow, in this act of bypassing, the negative voice of the inner critic starts to soften and I can just play with the words.

And on the days when poetry proves elusive, he continues to write.

“As I tell my students, the only way to write good poetry is to write tons and tons of poem poetry. Just to introduce myself and write and explore and not judge what I’m doing. To keep it and keep it for later, or keep it forever. So much horrible poetry. But the only way to get the right stuff is to trudge through the sloppy. “

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