Poetry Slam at Bar Luna

I’m afraid my friends at home will find I’ve become terribly dull. I managed to stay awake late enough to get myself out the door at 6:30 last night, just at sunset, and walk the quarter mile to Bar Luna. This popular watering hole is an expat hot spot in Ubud. The first Thursday of the month, poets gather here to read their works and be judged. I really hate to admit this, but I have never been to a poetry slam even though I love poetry and was writing verse almost before I could talk. I heeded the warning to come early if I wanted a good seat. The actual event was scheduled for 7:30.

My friends and I (Halla from Iceland, and Karin from Manhattan) arrived in plenty of time and took front row seats. We had no more settled into our cushions than in walked a face I hadn’t met but looked familiar. Steve Castley, of course! I recognized him from the photos on the jacket of the book he co-authored with Julie Silvester, A Taste of Bali. I was staring intently, trying to make sure because, frankly, the book photos don’t do him justice. After introducing myself I asked if he was reading tonight. Affirmative. Then he asked if I had a piece to share. I told him I’d brought a poem but had never been to a poetry slam. He assured me it was great fun and I should participate. Kicking myself for admitting I had come prepared, I walked to the bar and signed my name. My anxiety level surged. We know how to fix that, don’t we? Order a drink! As you might suppose, there are a great many alcoholic options at Bar Luna. The Coconut Killer was tempting, but I settled for a mixture of turmeric, lime, and honey in young coconut water. No alcohol. (I know, friends. You’re shaking your collective heads. But I had in mind the walk home in the dark where pieces of the sidewalk sometimes go missing over the sewer below. I needed my wits about me!)

Photo copyright 2011 Rudolph Helder

Did I mention the event was to start at 7:30 p.m? Yes? Well, that time came and went with much laughter and conversation but no poetry. At 8:20, Karin (who turns into a pumpkin even earlier than I do if that’s possible) inquired politely when we might expect things to get underway. She was answered by a laughing face reminding her that Bali operates on ‘rubber time.’ Then added, “We’re starting right now.” And so it began.

Photo copyright Bar Luna

The emcee with charisma and dreads,  got things going with a sort of rappish poem of his own to set the example for those of us needing guidance. He oozed talent which would become increasingly apparent as the night rolled on. I will spare gory details, but suffice it to say the skill levels varied. Men presenters outnumbered women three to one. And here’s a fascinating observation: the men almost exclusively wrote of love, sex, and lust. The women’s themes covered political activism, social injustice, spirituality, and personal growth. I didn’t expect that and was quite delightfully surprised. (The picture shows a Luna Bar audience staring in rapt attention at the presenter.)

When my name was called I approached the mic with a mixture of relief that it would soon be over and stage fright. I have an uneasy relationship with microphones. They seem to suck up the sound of my voice. I don’t know how singers stay on pitch using a mic when they can’t hear themselves sing. I didn’t win the competition, but I managed to face the crowd, smile, read, and sit down without utterly disgracing myself. Major accomplishment! The judges were volunteers from the audience so it wasn’t a test of literary genius, it was more about entertainment. The woman with a sultry jazz singer’s voice who sang her poem won by a narrow margin. In my opinion, the man who came in third was absolutely brilliant.

It was a wonderful evening. Now I can say I competed in a poetry slam in Ubud, Bali. I like that!

Meeting Julie

Another special day! About 2:00 I leave my key at the office, their signal that I’m ready for clean sheets, towels, and a light touch-up of the room, and head out. My mission: keep a 3:30 appointment with author, Julie Silvester. The directions she gave me take me along Monkey Forest Road lined with shops selling beautiful batiks, fine silver jewelry, wood carvings, musical instruments and art. I make note of several that require a return trip for serious shopping!

Around a long curve, up a hill, right at the 24 hour grocery to the reception desk, then another right along a narrow, walled walkway and I’m there. Julie sees me coming and welcomes me to her second floor bungalow. Sitting in the treetop balcony sipping Balinese coffee we chatter away. Then she suggests we walk over and see “the house” before the rain starts. This is what I’ve been waiting for. Julie has lived in Bali for two years and now she’s building her own home. I have read about its progress on her blog but I’m extremely eager to see it in person.

We walk to the building site, literally one house away. I make Julie stop on the path so I can snap a photo of her with the house in the background.

There are women sitting on bamboo scaffolding sanding the beams that support the roof over the balcony.

But the major work today is being done in the bathroom. She now has running water! Soon there will be a pond with fish, a rock wall with orchids growing from it, and a fountain.

As she leads me through the rooms, pointing out different features and reminding me to watch my step, her excitement is tangible. But when she shows me the giant sculpture crowning the intricately carved main door delight simply radiates from her face. Everything has been done by hand. The sculpture was just finished yesterday by a man, on bamboo scaffolding, carving the details into the plaster.


The tour is completed and as we leave she points out the detail at the end of each one of the roof tiles. They are frangipani blossoms, the crowning touch! I marvel at this labor intensive project. Everything has been done by hand. Imagine what that kind of work would cost in the U.S.

The tour completed we return to our coffee on the balcony. The sky has been a saturated gray all day and it looks as though it is getting ready to really pour. I have a bit of a walk home but before I leave I want to buy the book Julie co-authored with Steve Castley, A Taste of Bali. Julie has one signed and ready in no time. I tuck my autographed copy into my backpack and wave goodbye.

As I am nearing home I see the warm lights of Atman Cafe across the street. It looks so inviting and I feel a little hungry. About the time I step inside the heavens open and rain pours down in solid sheets. Curled up on a platform amid a profusion of pillows I engage in conversation with the woman next to me. She’s from Oregon and has been traveling for 3 months. I eat my tropical fruit with a sweet chili dressing (I can’t even tell you how delicious that is!) and sink into the deep sensation of contentment that envelopes me. About the time I finish eating the rain has slowed to a skin-moistening mist. I walk the three minutes home, retrieve my key from the office, and unlock the door to a fresh, clean room. Somebody pinch me!

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