Bar Oussou fortnightly spoken word. (Photo: Thabani Tshuma)

Open mic nights a form of therapy

Mental health practices come in many different forms, from clinical therapy and medication to the more spiritual route of yoga and meditation. But art can also do wonders to promote wellbeing, connectivity and a sense of community.

In Melbourne, the ever-growing spoken word community provides an alternative avenue for a sort of ‘art therapy’, offering people the chance to be express their vulnerability and speak their truths.

original photo February 2019
Passionate Tongues 20 year Anniversary in Fitzron. (Photo: Thabani Tshuma)

With multiple venues across the city, every night throughout the week has the potential to be a night of poetic beauty and communication. The primary organizational board is Melbourne Spoken Word, founded and run by Benjamin Solah. Ben found his way to spoken word through a happenstance train ride in the northern suburbs almost a decade ago and has been in love ever since.

“Spoken word is the cure to the idea of the solitary writer, holed away,” he said.

Solah describes the most important aspect of the spoken word scene is community, at any given venue attendees are from all walks of life creating a social melting pot of intersectionality.

Categorically divided, there are three main types of events, open mics, feature showcases, and slam. The open mics such as Bar Oussou, Passionate tongues and The Dan, offer a poetic free for all in which anyone can get on stage and for five minutes express their truest emotions. It provides a space for vulnerability and the chance to share one’s truth without the fear of judgment.

Original photo April 2019
Hamish Danks Brown, Founder of Spoken word at Bar Oussou. (Photo: Thabani Tshuma)

Offering a more curated atmosphere are feature showcases which create professional opportunities for regular poets while also creating workshops and community events. Littlefoot and Company is one such collective, coordinated by sibling duo Josh and Eden, they create spaces with the focus of using art as a therapeutic tool.

An art therapist by trade, Eden translates her work into creating community-based workshops that use spoken word as a facilitator of expression and a cathartic release of difficult emotions.

Original photo March 2019
Littlefoot and Company spoken word open mic. (Photo: Thabani Tshuma)

For local poet Maja Amanita, poetry is where she finds empowerment. Coming from a corporate background, she often felt boxed in by not only the routine of the regular nine to five but also the limitations of traditional gender roles. She describes her poetry as “rabble-rousing”, which to her means it can be used to take a stand for what she believes in. Her content covers topics she feels she can only address on stage, while simultaneously raising awareness for topical issues such as equality and workplace harassment.

Original photo March 2019
Maja Amanita performs for International Women’s Day. (Photo: Thabani Tshuma)

Slamalamadingdong is a monthly PSI certified poetry slam, a competition which with its fast pace and high stakes is opening up poetry to a more mainstream audience. Founder Michelle Dabrowski is a poet, arts educator, wellness coach and social advocate who plays the role of a maternal figure in the slam community. Dabrowski knows that taking the stage is never an easy feat, it is challenging and uncomfortable.

“With a little trust, patience and persistence you’ll find it holds you and almost keeps you warm,” she said.

Slamalamadingdong, The Melba Spiegeltent. (Photo: Thabani Tshuma)

In early April of 2019, the Mind Over Matter collective did their first Melbourne show. Originally London-based, Mind Over Matter is a spoken word and hip-hop event aimed at addressing the stigma surrounding mental health.

While spoken word is by no means a substitute for professional medical treatment, it does offer benefits in mental health recovery.

Mind Over Matter founder Paul Fisk started the event as a way of channeling his own personal mental health struggle into something productive and positive.

“Rather than be bound by insecurities, here, we can listen to each other to better understand ourselves,” he said.

A major tool in common therapy in expression, and creating the safety necessary an individual to feel comfortable enough to speak their truth. Events like Mind Over Matter use poetry to give the voiceless a voice. No prior experience is needed. No formal training. Only the willingness to trust the space, put fear aside and leap into the vulnerability.

Spoken word in Melbourne can be considered a family, with the full range of personality types and backgrounds, everyone comes together in a common appreciation for words and the power they have to not only create but also to heal.