Gaby Bila-Günther aka Lady Gaby: “SHOW RATHER THAN TELL”
I have always loved poetry. As a small child my favorite book was a collection of English and German verse and I would hover over the old pages devouring words for hours on end. The art stayed with me for many years in many forms but to my disappointment it was unpopular in the 90ies Techno or art scene and I rarely met a like-minded soul.
I performed in a hiphop band, writing rap lyrics for a couple of years and later on in electronic bands which tolerated my spoken word with a grimace but mine was a lonely landscape until around 2010 when visiting London I met a whirlwind of language and activity in the form of Kirsty Allison. She was not only an incredibly talented writer, journalist and poet; she also founded her own poetry mag “Cold Lips” and initiated Sylvia Plath Fan Club events. It was a profound and exhilarating experience to rush through London with her, opening my eyes to a new scene that had quietly been developing in the depths of our populaces heart.
It was then that I realized that poetry, poetry slams and spoken word have become wildly popular, be it purely spoken or presented with music, visuals or entire choirs. Poetry clubs and salons are celebrated in London, NY and Paris and like the beat poets of the 60s; they have become the happening mouthpiece of our times. In face of “fake news,” media distortions and general erasing of history, a general plea for truthfulness, fact- based comments and uprightness has been growing. Today’s poetry is not romantic, pedantic or boring, it is sassy, radical and entertaining. Poets are not the introverted, pale romantics of Baudelaire’s age anymore but outspoken, profound, fearless performers of all genders, ages and cultures that are willing to stand up in front of various audiences and bare open their soul, question our society and destroy all monsters.
Back in Berlin I decided to learn more about the Berlin based poetry scene and very quickly discovered that one of the most important spoken word artists and promoters in Berlin is Gaby Bila Günther, whom I had met early on as an event manager. She not only writes and performs her own poetry, but also features and presents other word artists, founding “THE POETIC GROOVE SHOW” to give lyricists a stage and teaches creative writing in schools and cultural events. Experiencing her on stage is magical; her poems are tight, rhythmical rants. Stories stripping her persona of all pretensions embellished with empowerments of vision and charisma. She is the Mae West of slams; strong, proud, sexy and often humorous she captivates her audience quickly and completely. I was mesmerized the first time I experienced her performing and have been a fan of her work ever since and am delighted to present her here today.
Danielle: Have you always been interested in language?
Gaby: I love language and experimenting with it. I have been interested in language since I learnt to read and write, very much influenced by Eastern European poetry as well as the fairy tales by Brother Grimm. Their story telling was so dark, so poignant, they painted pictures with their words and that’s when I learnt how words if well written can delight or frightened one with their power.
How do you think language has changed over the years?
Language has become richer, more liberated as we can express ourselves more as writers, poets, musicians and artists. However I´m afraid that political correctness often holds us back and we must be very careful what and how we write or speak these days. Although the freedom in how we use our language has expanded, censorship in artistic and daily language limits us often; our direction and honesty have to be disguised. Modern language has empowered many marginal groups, which makes me happy, but we shouldn’t forget old-fashion words and expressions as well and we shouldn’t be too shy or lazy to use when we want to express ourselves in sophisticated ways. And if we do, we shouldn’t be judged nor rejected for using complicated or violent language. We live in a violent world that attempts to hide its ugliness and brainwash us with consumerism. It’s our duty as artists and poets to say it how it is and how it shouldn’t be.
Danielle: How and when did you become a spoken word artist?
About 27 years ago, if not longer. The first time I wrote a poem, I was very young and back then I used to participate in spoken word and poetic shows at school and we had to memorize a great deal of poetry and recite them on stage, alongside classical music. However I began to take it seriously about 27 years ago, early 90s when I was part of a performance group in Berlin and wrote my first poems as an adult. I have always been interested in spoken word ever since I heard pi, anja walwicz, lydia lunch, henry rollins, ken ordine, laurie anderson, patti smith, richard hell and the beat poets being my first influence. In the late 90s when I returned to Melbourne from Berlin. I began to study prof writing and editing and poetry writing was my favorite subject, as we would workshop our latest poems with our tutors and that gave me strength, confidence and a voice to take on stage. The scene in Melbourne was very rich and experimental when I lived there and there were plenty of open stages, festivals and events dedicated to spoken word and slam poetry. And then I brought it and all my energy back to Berlin where I was happy to put the scene here on the spoken word map.
Did you study poetry? If yes what was that like?
Yes, it was part of my Diploma of prof writing and editing. It was amazing to see how others saw and painted the world with their words, how words made the world a better or scarier place, the power of poetry gives me Goosebumps, and dissecting the meaning of other peoples minds through their poems like a jigsaw puzzle is very intriguing and worthwhile. It taught me how to become a better writer by editing myself and learning the first rule of poetry: SHOW RATHER THAN TELL: and that’s what I tell my students now, when I teach and conduct poetry workshops in schools and at festivals.
You are an Australian ex pat living in Germany – what does it mean for you as a poet to be living in a country which does not speak your first language?
Lucky for me, most people speak and understand very good English and Berlin is such a melting pot that my performances are understood and well received. However I think that there are less well paid opportunities for non-German poets in Germany even though I think, poems can be translated for the public. I do believe that the non German poetry and spoken word scene is more underground and less commercial than the German one, which is mainstream and pushes poets who are already known and published rather than discovering new voices and giving them a platform also.
That’s why I started THE POETIC GROOVE SHOW, to give a stage for the experimental, non-German, multicultural and undiscovered performers. I also teach in English creative writing, poetry performance in schools, project weeks and for cultural events, so I am happy for those available paid opportunities. I include a lot of my spoken word within performance art and I believe they compliment each other so even if the words are not all understood and digested, the per formative actions speak up parallel to the poems or spoken manifestos that I deliver.
You work as a curator, performer and poet – how do these different activities enrich each other?
I combine the three positions and I use my knowledge from each field to compliment and learn from each other in whichever role I am in. Being a poet, made me want to become a performer, to get instantly published in front of an audience, testing the power of my work immediately rather than waiting for letters from publishers to show my work. Being both, poet and performer made me a curator, as in I wanted to showcase the works, the artists that I like, maybe the ones who are rejected by the publishing companies, or whose work is too political, sexual, kinky or serious to win at slams. Selling poetry is hard however when performed live, it captures the audience to an incredible degree and it has such a seducing power that cannot be read on pages of books and that’s why I became all three, curator/organizer, performer and poet.
What is your favorite piece of poetry?
Poetry that deals with contemporary issues, which are important for everyone to grasp and understand. Spoken word that flows and has rhythm, words which are poignant and stab your mind or your heart. Poetry that rebels, that speaks to me about ugly situations with incredible, beautiful words, poetry that shocks, makes me ponder, speaks the truth and has a soul. Poetry that gives birth to a new language that makes me feel many emotions. Poetry that gives me a sense of place and identity. Poetry that empowers the less fortunate and makes the rest of us understand their dreams they want to follow.
How are you surviving during Corona? Has it affected your poetry?
The first lock down was a gift and I had plenty of time and energy to write, create new poems where I laid down my hopes and imagine a life after it. I was fortunate to have shows/performances where I tested this new work online and onstage. Through zoom performances I was lucky to reach a new audience without leaving my house.
The second lock down now is harder as the novelty has worn off and I am not feeling as creative as a few months ago, because my worries are larger now, seeing the world in shambles, coping and trying to survive. I miss poetic spaces and stages, and also live events, where one could go on a whim, without registration or restrictions. I feel the imposed restrictions that are in place around us, stagnating my creativity as well more than before. Although my words are not restricted, I feel like my intentions and directions are, making it hard to find the right words to express how I feel, despair, fear and uncertainty I have bottled up regarding the near future. I need to process everything first before I have a new poetic voice and energy to spread around and encourage others, But I am planning to make a corona / lock down spoken word CD together with my musical partner, DJ MEZKALITO, just in time for Xmas.
What are your plans for the future?
When its time to feel more positive, keep writing that book I never had time to finish, work on a new CD with DJ Mezkalito, embark on collaborations and look out for paid residency fit for writers/poets, leaving financial worries aside, I can focus on new work, travel again of course and breathe new poetic air and ideas gathered from new places and locations,
Organize The POETIC GROOVE shows again soon and get back to the old normal, if we are allowed to. Grab new artistic opportunities that will enrich my spoken word and artistic practice, as I want to grow as a performer, poet and curator, even higher. Meet and work with new poets and artists to build a new artistic carpet that will lay our large and easy for all of us to walk on.