Newcastle Poetry Scene: David Graham and the Anti-slam


On the first Thursday of every month, you can find David Graham at the transcendental and dimly lit Terrace Bar. Even by candlelight, he’s easy to spot, with his big orange beard, long wavy hair and a beer in one hand and a signup sheet in the other. With nimble charisma, he passes around a clipboard encouraging all to sign up to perform something creative andor unique. He’s not pushy or demanding, though one Thursday night he did reveal to me he has Viking heritage. He’s got a big, albeit shy, smile. I’d like to spend a few days in his reality.

David outside a church in London.
David was reading a book called Poetry and Mysticism by Colin Wilson when we spoke quickly at Saluna café in Newcastle’s CBD in late February. I was keen to chat with David before he left Australia to go on a 3 month jaunt through Europe. If not evident from above, David’s the instigator and host for Word Hurl Anti-Slam, the group of thriving poet-performers locally.
Over coffee, he talked to me about his poetic evolution and his thoughts on creativity and judgement. He also shared with me the history of the Novocastrain Anti-slam. 

When David first went to Uni, he thought he’d get a BA in poetry and English-teaching, the latter being a slightly more practical route than poetry. But then he thought “you’re too young and idealistic for that shit”, so he just went for the poetry, focusing on 60s and 70s Beat Generation Australian poets. His thesis specifically highlights the year 1968 and the poets Michael Dransfield, Robert Adamson, Vicki Viidikas and Martin Johnston.

David regularly writes poetry, and he’s also working on a collection of stories. His protagonist and hero is an equine character and psychedelic warrior called Batman Jaundice Horse. His series is complete with illustrations by Tobias Miller and David’s partner, Genevieve Carr.

David currently makes his money working nights as a commercial cleaner. “Because the work’s not intellectually stimulating, it gives me time to think about creative things”, he told me.  

David played a role in  the beginnings of the Word Hurl Anti-slam. For David, the definition of an Anti-Slam is a performed event which allows creativity and expression without subscribing to poetry’s expectations. In the Word Hurl scene, David witnessed its beginnings as a participant, and then he organised the event alongside Barron Hinder(also known as Cluff Daddy). In the past year and a half, David’s been hosting. He’s watched the Anti-Slam grow; it started out as a handful of friends reciting and performing at the Croatian Club, and it slowly morphed into an eclectic community of poets coming together to celebrate creativity.

David now puts around five hours a week into organising the slam and also editing the new Word Hurl Times Zinethat publishes all submissions. David’s partner, Genevieve, is an artist and photographer, and she photographs each slam and each participant’s performance. David later shares the pictures on Facebook, bringing a great presence to the Anti-Slam Facebook group. Each slam is different, so it’s great the moments are documented for proof of the madness each one holds.
I’ve watched a man read entirely in German and win the poetry slam. (At every slam a random listener in the crowd is selected to be the judge.) Anti-slams welcome music, costumes, drunkenness and incoherence. I’ve heard people play the ukulele and people play the accordion. I’ve seen people disrobe and people dance. Word Hurl brings teens, 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and I believe even people in their 70’s. I’d say the evening brings 40-60 people each month, and over 200 people are on the Word Hurl Mailing List, and each slam brings a different night of experience.

David shared a few of his with me.

“There was the time Oliver Pink sat down and recited all of ‘The Raven’ by Edgar Allan Poe off the top of his head. Or the time when we did an anti-slam for the Terrace Bar’s first birthday where a young blokey-bloke got up and extolled how women don’t really know what they want in a man through a metaphor that involved going to your favourite kebab shop and they don’t have any chicken but you want a mixed kebab but in the end have to settle for beef. One of the best things is being wowed by the performance of a regular’s new poem. You get to observe a huge step forward in their writing”.

Thought and reflection back David’s direction, as he writes poetry and prose and leads Word Hurl. The concept David’s reading about right now is “duo consciousness”, feeling and perceptions of beauty in everyday life. All people experience this at some point. Duo consciousness moves us to be creative, but the feeling isn’t always with us; much of our lives are spent in “mono consciousness,” where we are blind to how beautiful and moving every aspect of living is. A great example of duo consciousness can be found in the 1999 hit film American Beauty.

“Art in its primary form is human expression. An initial aspect of being creative is a form of therapy. On a philosophical level, it’s coming to terms with this thing called reality,” David told me.

He considers all forms of creativity valid. He introduced me to the idea of data absurdism, which is anti-art or art without judgement. I often witness data absurdism at the Anti-Slams.  Each Word Hurl displays the passion and intensity similar to most poetry slams, but Word Hurl is without competition and criticism. In fact, the word ‘Anti-Slam’ has been coined as a backlash to the poetry slam movement which harshly critiques poetry performances, rating every participant on a scale from one to ten.

It’s challenging to imagine a world of creativity without judgement. A place where interpretive dance in one’s bedroom is on par with Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, and there is no distinction between Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles and a local drunk singing karaoke and crying into his beer. The woman baking bread in her kitchen is no different from Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance in Doubt, and a Russian child pissing figure 8s in the snow puts Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans to shame.  

“You can’t discount someone else’s creativity just because they scribble in the sand,” David said.

David hosting an Anti-slam.

Included below is David’s classic Antis-slam piece called Cawk.


in the course of inventing catastrophe
this doctor recommends a steady destabilisation of your sense of truth
therefore stare into the warped eyes of your reflection in a metal kettle
stare until you see as the pot sees
watch as the skies sway from side-to-side and the stars and streetlights are indistinguishable
the windowsill dips and lets the ground come in
carpet and dirt make a dirty carpet

as a doctor i must warn you – in this state
when you go to spout beware
aware that when your tongue gleefully flaps
a seed will sprout underneath it, drawing-in saliva, growing limbs and leaves
and hopefully a flower that will, in time, become a fruit
and if you are prepared to share this fruit of your mouth
be prepared for someone else to eat it
but if you’ve spent your days staring at computer screens & newspapers
or worse, newspapers on computer screens
that fruit will come out like an unsavoury brown nut that not even birds will eat
but maybe, just maybe the warped eyes of a kettle will produce something interesting
a long red seeded chilli that will sear the tongues of those game enough to try it
and cause hot gusts of air to exhaust from their nostrils,
their eyes will glow with bloodshot and their intestines will recoil & squirm

a frontal attack on the bowels of reason
your mind is a spoon that can & should be bent
hang it up as an ornament and sell it at an art market
it’s better off there than counting dividends or watching commercials
(no matter how critically)
if anything the more savage you lie the better it would be for everyone
so spin great big green ones “
if a man fucks a pig you will get pig-babies”
“the cure for most problems is to masturbate more often”
“the labour & liberal party are two different things”
“the most nutritious way to eat mincemeat is raw after it’s been frozen”
such quips are drips in the pond but large ones fill bathtubs

it’s like sitting up in the middle of the night & releasing a thunderous “cawk”
with only the dull thrum of the refrigerator to answer
and as you stare into the darkness of your room you start to hear its words:
neither of you make any sense, no matter
that fridge – is a carbon criminal – and if you follow my prescriptions
you will be a cawker,

stand above the rooftops and cawk
freak flag flying, angel haired hipsters dying,
make friends with mosquitos, talk to parking metres
draw a perfect circle, never jump the hurdles
wondering where the days went? thinking ‘bout the environment?
holy, holy, holy smokes that rots your brains out
holy, holy, holy idols that knock ya teeths out
holy carlin, holy susannah, holy gormley
holy, pete, gina, saidition, cluff daddy
holy bethany reeves
holy elise jarvis
holy mark whitiker

they’ve chalked cawks braver than the toothpick sugar natzis
and the glamour rung bourgeois hicks hiding behind razorblade glasses
and the sit-com phonies hosting panels on the benefits of dry humping classes

they’ve chalked cawks when the heat haze glooped the sun on the sea
and when the jasmine shot its pollen in the eyes of magpies and bees
and when the salad tongs played a saxophone tune on top on the analogue tv

they’ve been cawking even though they’ve never heard the word,
sometimes not even cawking with words, but cawking absurd
little posies through prescription milk that comes from giant birds

cawking in the moonlight of streetlamps, cawking up the hunter river in a rune trance
cawking in their mother’s silks, cawking cawk cawking

cawking for a hot piece of leg on a warm summer’s day
cawking the vicissitudes of victimhood
cawking for when everything feels really real

for what’s in a cawk?
any other noise will sound as deep
so cawk you will & cawk you must
and in the end in cawk we trust

in the course of inventing catastrophe
this doctor recommends a steady destabilisation of your sense of truth
but i’m not a doctor

~David Graham