Some time around 400 BC, when Athens was under attack from Sparta, there was a decline in community involvement of the people of Athens.
A god called Dionysus believed that he could save an ancient city from ruin and its apathy by bringing a dead poet, Euripides, back to life.
Just like the ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes, in his play The Frogs, thought a good poet would prick the conscience of the Athenians, now the need has arisen again.
Melbourne based composer, music director and arts writer Irene Vela thought it was Komninos Zervos who would save our city, our neighbourhood in need of poetry. To resurrect poetry again as a medium for young people, Komninos becomes like the Euripides figure. He is the old poet that Dionysus is craving for.
Poetic License is a cross-generational performance work about the power and limitations of words, produced and presented by a new company bursting with an authentic Melbourne voice, Outer Urban Projects, in association with Footscray Community Arts Centre and Melbourne Writers Festival.
“The play questions the old versus the new, what hurdles people have to go through to go to places. Outer Urban works with young people mainly from north western suburbs, and in that group of young people there are good writers and performers of rap, beat box and others. They are all on a journey too. We all are. We got together to try and reinterpret the play that would make sense in the modern society,” Komninos Zervos, poet and spoken word artist tells Neos Kosmos.
A mash up of young and old, ancient and contemporary, classical and street, Poetic License takes Aristophanes’ masterpiece The Frogs as its inspiration to ask the timeless question – can the spoken word really move and inspire?
The performance is underscored by the harp of Natalia Mann, while lovers of the spoken word are offered an impressive ensemble of writer-performers brought together by Outer Urban Project creative producer and director Irine Vela. There is an alternative jazz singer-poet Ileini Kabalan; the confronting and moving Mahmoud ‘Babz’ Samoun; virtuosic rapper and beat boxer Kevin ‘Y2K’ Nugara and Cypriot Australian performance poet Koraly Dimitriadis.
Having worked together back in 1986, when they did ‘Sophisticated Souvlaki’ at the Melbourne Arts Centre, bringing Komninos back is kind of paying homage to that era, Irene says.
“I was craving for an older poet, like Komninos, to relate to the younger ones who are into rap and pop culture. It was about exposing them to other forms of language beyond the American style of rap. They are very good at it, but at the same time you don’t necessarily hear the words as it relies on the beat. By bringing in older poets that aren’t hip hoppers, it enables the young ones to look at language more purely.”
For Komninos, as an older artist that brings a cross-generational mix into OUP’s work, working alongside youth teaches you a lot.
“Irene went to the underworld – the north western suburbs – and she found the closest thing she could find to a dead poet – it was me.
“She also went to the underworld again and found a 13-year-old rapper.”
Six decades separate two poets who feature in Poetic License – young in spirit 63-year-old Komninos Zervos, and 13-year-old Dante Soffra, who takes centre stage with a exuberant prologue.
“In between we have a hold of different people – different ages, different perspectives of life, different ethnic backgrounds,” Komninos says.
We live in a world where we constantly categorise things. In arts, there is music, ethnic art, youth theatre, bona fide theatre. The crew of Poetic License, Vela says, is trying to break down that division between young or emerging artists and mainstream or established work.
“Everybody has something to offer, no matter the age. A 13-year-old may not have the maturity to tackle issues that an experienced poet can. But at the same time it’s important that they absorb the wisdom of an older artist.”
At the end of the day, for Komninos, whether it’s rap, or slam, it all comes down to words and poetry.
“It’s poetry to me, it’s all people expressing themselves with words, the most immediate art form that anyone can have. You don’t need an arts studio, internet connection, nothing – a poem comes from you, it goes out of you and there it is – the most immediate form of art.”
For Irene, winner of the 2012 APRA Screen Music Award for Best Sound Track Album, whose film and television credits include Head On and The Slap, her work continues to emphasise the validity and necessity that diverse voices and forms are heard in the Australian arts.
“It’s essentially spoken word with a little bit of music, but it’s about poetry so every piece in the show is a poem or a prose poem or a meditation – on the world and also a meditation on the underworld, on ourselves, the struggles that are happening not only in the outer world but also in the inner world.
“We are taking the concept of Aristophanes’ Frogs, that culture can save the city in other words. That poetry still matters, that culture is perhaps the key to absorbing the problems and dealing with problems creatively,” Irene explains.
Poetic License will be performed on Wednesday 27 August at 12 noon, Thursday 28 August and Friday 29 August at 6.00 pm and 8.00 pm, at Footscray Community Arts Centre, Performance Space, 45 Moreland Street, Footscray. For bookings visit www.mwf.com.au/session/poetic-license-2/ or call 03 9999 1199