“Identity” on Rochelle D’Silva’s Youtube Channel
The spoken verse – interview with Rochelle D’silva
I met Rochelle D’silva at The Green Refectory, a popular Brunswick café in Melbourne’s northern suburbs. It’s conveniently located directly opposite The Brunswick Hotel, where poet and Melbourne poetry scene’s unofficial photographer, Michael Reynolds has been hosting Passionate Tongues over many years. Rochelle’s love affair with Melbourne’s spoken word world began two years ago, and The Brunswick Hotel was one of her regular hang-outs where she could flex her wordsmith and performance muscles. So strong was her commitment to the spoken verse, that she moved to Brunswick, living round the corner from our meeting place.
I arrived at our interview late, caught in busy Saturday traffic driving along Sydney Road. After dropping my girlfriend home and parking my car, I cycled as fast as I could along the Upfield train tracks. At the café, Rochelle was absorbed in her own writing, despite the throng of noisy chatter and café chaos. She brushed away my apologies with a warm smile, sharing that she’d finished writing a few poems while waiting. I gulped down glasses of water while she bought her lunch and then we started the interview.
So, how did her world of writing begin? “I started writing when I was 6 years old, I wrote a poem about a tree. I’ve always used writing as a vent, as therapy, as someone to talk to. When I put things to a page they make more sense to me, ” says Rochelle.
However, performing spoken word on the stage happened only after a close friend of hers passed away. “I wrote a poem, wanting to tell his story. And I did it for a “Producing Culture” class and that’s when they told me about something called spoken word. And I looked it up and it started with wanting to tell his story”.
Rochelle’s pursuit of the spoken word led her to gigs around Melbourne as well as an internship with the Centre for Poetics and Justice. “I was very lucky. I met good people that took me in. I was a very lost child”, she confessed and continued, “I didn’t know what I was doing. I’d only written page poetry. I didn’t know the difference between writing for performance and it changed the way I wrote. Initially, because I was saying yes to everything, I didn’t distinguish between what I wanted to do. You know that feeling of you don’t feel worthy and you don’t believe in your work as much. So you’re just going, ‘Wow, they’re asking me, I should say yes, I should go’, it was more of an obligatory thing. Now, I’m more certain of who I am. If a certain event or a gig, or a person who’s organizing it don’t match my values, I’m happy to say no, because I know I’ll continue to write, it doesn’t matter. I’m not one of those poets that’s trying to make this a living. I want this to be a constant in my life whether I’m popular or not.”
When I asked her about how she identified, Rochelle was determined not to have to subscribe to any identity, “When people ask where I’m from, I say that I’m a child of the universe, especially if they haven’t met me, I don’t have an Indian name. They don’t think I’m Indian. I don’t feel very Asian, I don’t feel very Australian, I just feel like my own person.” However, when she first started performing poetry, she went through something of an identity crisis.
“I was wondering whether people were just listening to me because I was brown. Was it because it was coming from me? Do the words I have to say, are they even relatable or is it just the fact that this is not normal, and I’ve struggled with that a little bit, wondering that I’m the token brown person, and I guess in some situations I have been, I have been a different voice, but I see that as a good thing now.
Later in the year for the Melbourne Fringe Festival in Sep/Oct, Rochelle will expand her repertoire to creating and producing a poetry and music event. “I’ve only performed, so I want to see if I can do it. I want it to be different, honest,” says Rochelle enthusiastically. The gig will be held at Southpaw café in Fitzroy’s Gertrude Street, and more details will be revealed later on her Facebook artist page.
For Peril’s theme of terra/land/place, Rochelle has contributed a video piece called “Identity” which she has performed, but never published because of its length. Rochelle didn’t mean to write a piece on identity, however the piece was developed from a workshop with the Centre for Poetics and Justice. “I was actually writing a really emotional piece that I didn’t want to perform. Usually there’s a showcase at the end of the workshop and you perform the piece that you’re writing, and this one was very emotional. So I wrote a second piece that I would perform and it started as a joke.” This second piece took audience to places all over India that Rochelle had been to. This travelogue included a poke at ignorance from ‘well-meaning’ people, “Oh English, what other languages do you speak? Indian? Indian is not a language.” According to Rochelle, her “Identity” piece is “just my way of showing people through my poem where I come from and who I am today, and that difference; I am part of you, I am Australian, I’m part of this strange and evolving landscape, this multicultural Australia, this is me.”
“Identity” is not written, rather it’s a truly spoken word poem, where the performance of the piece, it’s articulation and verbalization are all important aspects of its presentation. Rochelle explained, “It changes when I speak it, you have to hear the inflections, you have to hear when I’m putting on an Indian accent or when I use certain words, which I speak in my local dialect which doesn’t even have a script. I’ve only ever written a draft, but never submitted it anywhere as a written piece, and I get to do it very rarely because it’s 6 minutes.”
For Rochelle, Goa is home. “It always calls to me, every now and then I have to go back and clear my mind. When I’m there, I know I can sleep on the beach and not talk to a soul.” However, in terms of “Identity”, for her it’s not possible to pin it to a place as the work speaks about constant travel and changing conceptions of belonging, as much as her own idea of identity shifts and morphs.
More about Rochelle and her upcoming events, check out her Facebook Artist Page
Also, to see her in action, check out: Rochelle’s Youtube Channel
~ interviewed by Lian Low