1. You’re the current Australian Poetry Slam Champion. How does that affect your work? Do you ever get sick of hearing it?
I don’t think I’ll ever let a title like that affect my work…but it is affecting how many people are watching me and expecting me to be good enough to back it up. So I’m respecting my own processes and getting ready to make my next album knowing that the title comes with a responsibility to represent for the poets back home and bring awareness to issues I believe in. I’m about halfway through the year of being the Aust champ…and no, I’m not sick of it yet.
2. What are you working on at the moment? Does it involve poetry? If not, why not?
At the moment I am working on videos for the “Please Resist Me” album singles. I think it is important to make my work as accessible as possible so I’m excited to put out videos for not only my songs but also my poetry. I’m also enjoying being involved in the process of making something visual rather than lyrical. It gives me a break from constantly writing but still lets me be involved with creatively producing more work.
3. Hip-hop is central to your identity as a performer. How did hip-hop influence your poetic development, and vice versa?
I don’t see a difference between rap and poetry. I started writing raps and then discovered def jam poetry on Youtube and took it from there…but I never really thought I was then becoming a ‘poet’. I was just doing the same as I always had, just without the beats. I love the freedom of performing without music, and the immediacy and rawness of it all. I think the biggest issue in the separation of poetry and hip-hop is that people don’t recognise rappers as exceptional poets…some of the best lines that I know are from rappers not poets. People aren’t seeing the artist behind the face or name or fashion and judging rappers before they listen to their work…and the same goes for hip-hop fans not listening or going to poetry shows because they’re not ‘cool enough’…both are missing out on the absolute skill and artistry of both genres…for me, at their essence, they are the same thing.
4. Your new album, Please Resist Me, includes a number of pieces which I have heard you perform solo set to music. Why the change? How do you think it influences the poems?
I decided to put some of the poems to music to make sure the album could sit as both a hip-hop album and poetry CD seamlessly. Also, as a listener myself, do not necessarily enjoy listening to poem after poem with no other element on the album. I get bored I think because I started making music before writing poetry, so I decided to mix it up. I think it gives the poems a extra something, I really enjoy all the intsrumentation on all of these…The piano on ‘May Your Pen Grace the Page’ is a great start to the album and lead in to the next track ‘Desire’ which is piano heavy, the guitar on ‘The Confluence’ is actually played by my brother Elias back in Brisbane, so that is special to me. And the Oud on ‘Athena’ is culturally appropriate for the piece and gives it more depth and atmosphere that can’t be created with just a flat a-cappella track.
5. Tell us a little about the Centre for Poetics and Justice. What’s going there that isn’t going on anywhere else?
As far as I’m concerned The Centre for Poetics and Justice is the best thing to happen to the poetry scene in Australia for a long time. I haven’t been around the scene forever but I know in Melbourne that we are leading the charge towards creating a community of writers and performers who are conscious about the way their words can be used to positively affect the society within which we live. We are sincere about our assisting people of all races, ages and creeds to find their truth and help them write work that is transformative not only for the community but also for themselves. I believe this is a rare thing for an organisation to engage with on a public level and our grounded way of working is gaining support and momentum exponentially at the moment.
6. What are you reading/hearing/experiencing that’s influencing your poems right now?
I’m not writing poetry at the moment, I’m still on tour until the end of May…I’m taking care of all the things that come with being on tour and an independent artist away from home base at the moment. But I know all the slams I have been attending throughout the USA and all the amazing things I saw in China while I was there will influence the next piece I write, if not thematically then at least aesthetically.
7. Why poetry?
This makes me smile. To tell the truth I don’t like ‘poetry’ and I never did growing up. I just seem to have a knack for words, and I enjoy making beautiful things. I also love photography, painting, colour, music, dance, nature, sounds, culture and languages. And the ocean, especially the ocean. But poetry is a place where I can engage with all of these things, we can write about anything. So I hope to sustain a life where I can disseminate knowledge without being affiliated with a university or government structure, and provide inspiration about any topic I choose to uncover for myself, or I feel must be uncovered for society.
Luka Lesson is the current Australian Poetry Slam Champion and Co-director of The Centre for Poetics and Justice based in Melbourne.
Luka has been active in utilising hip-hop and poetry as a form of self-determination and raising awareness for marginalised young people through community development projects for many years.
He has also taught Indigenous Studies at Monash University for the past two years and holds a first class honours degree in the same field.
Luka has performed his work beside the likes of Shane Koyczan (Canada), Amir Sulaiman (USA), Lowkey (UK) and Lemon Anderson (USA), and was invited to perform a full feature at the famous Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe in New York City in 2011.
Still only only at the beginning of his career, Luka’s roof raising performances and expert writing has built him a reputation that already spans the globe with UK performance poet Charlie Dark once describing him as “a young Saul Williams”.
His first full length Book and Album ‘Please Resist Me’ will be available through Australian Scholarly Publishing in 2012.