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Tasmanian Poetry at 'Another Country'

Notices of 'Another Country' festival, celebrating writing in Tasmania held at the beginning of December 2001 - like Tim Thorne in Overland 166 and Chris Bantick in Island 88 - rightly record the many successes of this event. Conceived and organised by Richard Flanagan, Pete Hay, Chris Pearce and David Owen, the idea was to represent as energetically and ecumenically as possible, the extraordinary florescence of writing in contemporary Tasmania. There were many stimulating sessions, perhaps especially the opening panel of Amanda Lohrey, Margaret Scott, Henry Reynolds and Richard Flanagan. But I wanted to record here the particular success, as well, of the poetry panel held on the Sunday morning (2 December). Poetry, perhaps more than any other genre, has suffered from the three-ringed marketing events that writers' festivals (here and overseas) have become. In the deliberations of programming committees, the pleasures of listening to poetry and poets talking, come way behind the program-inflecting pressures of state and federal funding bodies, publishers' marketing strategies and priorities, and the official and unofficial workings of the star system (hierarchised, as it is, for genre). Poetry in real and connective performance has moved onto the net, and into the pubs, coffeeshops and bookshops. This is why the 'Tasmanian Poetry' session was so refreshing and affecting (everyone I talked to there felt they had been part of a rare and unrepeatable occasion). The usual lines of patter and ego displays - justifiable defences perhaps against the androphagous writers' festival audience - were miraculously absent and what we were treated to were the uniquely different meditations on language and place of James Charlton, Louise Oxley, Adrienne Eberhard, Sarah Day and Stephen Edgar. It was intense, honest, absorbing. And also at times hilarious: James Charlton's memory of Tennyson, eg. Tim Thorne read this as poets 'unanimously concerned with more universal matters' than with the specificities and actualities of Tasmanian place and lives. Not so: the thinking about language that these poets were enacting - and Margaret Scott had foreshadowed it, unbeknown, in her opening speech - was profoundly marked by its locality and time. This is the way Tasmanian poets talk about universality, that's all. The only thing that the panel lacked was more reading, from the poets, of their poems.