JESSE John Brand is not as scared as he used to be.
The 24-year-old Australian poetry slam champ just wrapped up a poetry festival in Byron Bay, and he's got another festival to perform at in Bali to complete his international tour. Earlier this year he spent 11 days performing his poetry in China.
His life has changed quite a bit since he first entered the slam poetry scene a year ago.
"All I wanted back then was for someone to listen to me," Jesse says. "I was terrified. It was the first time I'd ever done a slam," Jesse says of his first performance ever, the regional poetry slam heat in Newcastle in 2013.
On stage, he forgot the words to the poem he had been editing on the train ride up from Sydney.
"People thought they were dramatic pauses," he says laughing sheepishly. "I said the worst words to fill in the gaps, 'moving', 'sharing', 'feeling', and I was instantly embarrassed. I had to turn off the recording of myself afterward."
He finished second place in the Newcastle competition, but a few months later was declared national champ.
He performed in Asia and Australia, and published a book of his poems, Cranes Falling in Unison, with illustrations by his then-partner, Martin deMontfort.
Last year, Brand graduated from University of NSW where he studied international relations and literature, but he grew up in Newcastle.
While he participated in drama and theatre as a youth, his closest experience to slam poetry was an impromptu high school performance criticising one of his teachers. After the performance, Jesse was suspended.
"To this day it's still the one that I'm most proud of, and I reckon it was better performed than any of my current things," Brand says.
He's recently completed a novel, which he describes as "transgressive satirical fiction".
"I'll always write and perform poetry, but fiction has always been where it's at," he says.
Brand's winning performances (on YouTube) present him as fast, passionate, earnest and enraged. One his pieces is about his brother's mental health challenges; it's called Joshua.
"There's a depth in my art that comes from a personal understanding of suffering," Brand says. "A lot of it is probably gradual things, my brother and my father's hospitalisation, my family's health issues."
He believes part of the reason he won last year was because he stopped wanting to win so desperately.
"Giving up is such a cathartic feeling," he says.
Brand will be hosting the 2014 Australian heat in Newcastle at the Royal Exchange on Saturday, August 23.
He's got some advice for any and all who compete: "Write the poem that you want to write, no matter what anyone else tells you. Trust the audience is there to be supportive of you, not someone to be afraid of. And, if you forget the words, don't fumble and don't apologise."
Sign-up starts at 6.30pm and there's space available to the first 20 who arrive. The entry cost is $5. First and second place winners receive $200 and $100. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about the local heat.