Luka Lesson has been writing raps for longer than he’s been writing poetry. And he’s been performing those poems since 2008. On the road to launch a new book, Antidote, we caught up with the national poetry champion ahead of a visit to the Gold Coast.
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“I didn’t become a full-time poet until after I won the Australian Poetry Slam in 2011,” he told our editor. “I’ve been writing raps for 12 years and poems for about eight.”
He said his first poetry performance wasn’t even really a poem.
“It was in Brisbane when I got up at an event called Speed Poets and competed in a slam competition there,” he recalled. “I didn’t have a ‘poem’ yet, I just had raps, so I performed one without any music, acapella for the first time. Hinemoana Baker, a great poet from New Zealand, was the judge and I ended up coming second. She has become a kind of a mentor and great friend since then.”
Luka has clocked up four years of touring. Not just throughout Australia but also Asia, New Zealand and North America. He’s performed at 13 Writers’ Festivals, has nine years of workshop experience and ten years of writing under his belt.
While he’s based in Byron Bay Luka’s notion of home extends a little further.
“I also call Brisbane home, Melbourne home, I’ve been to Beijing five times now so it has become a bit of a home,” he said. “People make places feel like homes.”
“I am lucky enough to have strong brothers and people I call family in Auckland, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Soweto, New York, Athens and all the villages in Greece that my family is from. I am very lucky with the people and connections in my life – there are homes all over the place.”
Antidote is the 32 year old’s second book and he is no stranger to writing – he’s written commissions and performed for The National Gallery of Victoria, Greece’s pioneer HipHop group Active Member, South Africa’s OneBlood Festival and China’s most celebrated living poet Xi Chuan in Beijing.
Luka says Antidote is not a book, rather “more like a hand made high quality zone that reads like a script to my life experience over the last few years.”
“Antidote is a collection of spoken word poems and verses that I’ve written with the idea that our words can be the antidote to the poisonous times we live in,” he said, adding that he learnt from his first publication that less is more. “People really love good poetry.”
It seems people love poets too. I asked Luka how folk respond when he tells them he’s a poet and he says most people are really happy to hear it.
“It’s like poetry has become a dying art and when they hear someone is taking a risk and doing it full time, they get encouraged in some way to do what they really want to as well,” he told Blank.
Luka is a regular visitor to the Gold Coast and a friend and mentor to poets here. He’ll stop in at both Bigger Than Poetry and The Dust Temple on his national tour. He says the Gold Coast definitely needs its performance poetry scene.
“I think the Gold Coast has a facade of mainstream culture that people are starting to see through, so there is a great desire to hear meaningful and entertaining poets rocks stages on a weekly basis – and say something real and honest. It is getting very big, very quickly,” he said.
“People used to tell me that no-one would want to buy a book of poetry. But people today are more than ever dying for a chance to have some real meaning in their lives, to read something that makes them really feel – not just reinforce the shallow nature of today’s consumer culture.”
I ask Luka what we can expect at his launch events.
“You can expect me,” he says simply. “Clearly, without facade or costume or hype. Me, being vulnerable and funny and angry and loving and powerful and the weakest man you know. A wordsmith on stage with no notes or props, pouring everything he has out and leaving nothing behind.”
Luka closes by sharing some advice for aspiring poets.
“Write everyday, be fearless, don’t mumble, speak loud, repeat.”
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Luka Lesson launches Antidote on Wednesday 14 October at Bigger than Poetry (Miami Marketta), Thursday 15 October at the Byron Theatre and Friday 16 October at Dust Temple’s Hinge Gallery. You can pre-order a signed copy of the book at lukalesson.com.au.