When Caroline Richardson, the co-ordinator at the Victorian Writers Centre, mentioned that she planned to hold readings called 'Hot Cross Poets', two images came to me. The first was of poets popping out of huge hot cross buns. The second was of poets fighting with each other about who was the best.
The concept of 'Hot Cross Poets' is that two poets are invited to read - one an established name & the other a promising up & comer. The poets take turns reading poems, trying to cap the previous poem. Mal Morgan is the appointed referee, which basically means that he organizes the readers, introduces them & looks after the running of the reading. The two poets read for an hour, followed by a break for wine & nibbles & concluding with an open section.
In May on a wonderful autumn Sunday Ramona Barry & I were the protagonists. I arrived early with my poems in a backpack, feeling relaxed. Usually at poetry readings I feel nervous, even tho I've done it about 1000 times. But because I didn't have any idea which poems I'd be reading, I felt good. I brought old poems along, poems I hadn't read for a long time, as well as my recent poems & some poems I'd never read before in public.
Ramona arrived with her mother. A few of my friends turned up. The audience filtered in. Most got themselves a drink & sat near people they knew. Mal Morgan walked around greeting people. Peg Hardy wondered if the football match at the MCG would dissuage people from coming. I reminded her that a recent governmental report stated that the arts are more popular than sporting events. Somebody said: 'I hope 60,000 people don't try to crown into here.'
Mal introduced the readers & said nice things about Ramona & I. I'm not too sure what happened next. Ramona & I read out poems, trying to find something to connect them. But remembering readings that I take part in is difficult, because it's like I'm stepping into another world. I become a poet trying to deliver poems in their appropriate ways. I'm up there waiting to see how the poems will come out of my mouth. Sometimes they will sound similar to previous times I read them & sometimes they will come out in a different tone. My job is to articulate the words so everybody can hear them & make of them what they will.
Some themes developed at this reading. We read poems about suburbs, poems about being in bad moods, poems about relationships & how we cope with them, poems about living in a crazy world, love poems, poems about children, as well as others I've forgotten. But contrasts of ideas & similarities of concepts provided continual interest for the audience, which was responsive & at times helped the readers identify the main ideas of the poems.
It was a very enjoyable reading. The atmosphere wasn't competitive & Mal didn't announce a winner, but it gave Ramona & I an excuse for some gentle bantering. At one stage Ramona protested light-heartedly that I had organized my poems into categories. I hadn't - I was just referring to the contents page of my new manuscript. Later on, I walked past Ramona to refill my glass of wine & I bumped into her as I returned to my seat, while she was reading her poem. It was an innocent piece of gamesmanship, which I had learnt from my earlier experiences as a footballer.
After the interval the audience was invited to read their own poems. It was a pity that they weren't asked to cap each other's poems in the same way the featured readers were, as that would have made the reading quite dynamic. But that didn't matter as we were treated to some entertaining & stimulating poems by Nolan Tyrell, Grant Caldwell, Peg Hardy & others.
Overall, I'd say that this was a most enjoyable way to read poetry. I'd heard previously from Bev Roberts about how much she enjoyed reading in the previous one with Ian McBryde. It's always good to find different ways for poets to present their poems. It makes poems breathe....