A Slice of the Tasmanian Poetry Festival 2008

Friday evening 3rd October: Compere Chris Gallagher introduces Ken Bolton. ‘It’s always weird having your life recounted in this way,’ he responds in acknowledgement, ‘I suppose I’ve done all those things’. Bolton’s opening poem asks ‘Who else was there?’ before going on to list the names of friends and colleagues, (Anna, Kerry, John Jenkins, Nigel, et al). It’s a poem typical of Bolton’s approach to poetry, implicitly connected with the personal minutae of his life; a simple poem on the surface but hinting at an underlying and integral consonance. Ken follows with ‘Boundless’, written in memory of Sasha Soldatow – ‘an email from Pam says Sasha has died’ – at which point there’s a hint of fracture in his delivery. Or is that my imagination?

Next to read is Janet Galbraith, formerly of Broken Hill - where for some years she was Director of both the Broken Hill Regional Writers’ Centre and the annual Broken Hill Poetry Festival – but now a resident of Maldon in central Victoria. She’s mainly a writer for performance, admits that writing for the page ‘is quite new for me; but I’m working on it’. A number of Janet’s poems address the effects of trauma on the individual; that is, the fragmentation and discontinuity of memory, a need for the expression of language outside mainstream media representations serving only to sensationalise and trivialise. Janet settles into a bracket of close to a dozen poems with an animated and engaging delivery - arms sweep, body bows to emphasise the cascade of words - her patter between poems (‘this one’s dedicated to my beautiful boy whom I just adore: my blue heeler’) a natural flow. It’s not a shallow well she taps, Janet’s explication of ‘Disappearing Darling’ relives the experience of dwelling for years by the river ‘watching it growing lower and lower, it was heart breaking to watch’, and a chance meeting with a Melbourne print maker engaged in a residency in Broken Hill, ‘doing charcoal images which he recorded with a digital camera … working well outside his genre, really pushing himself … composing a piece entitled "Slowly Disappearing Darling". From here, my own poem developed.’

Galbraith’s final poem of the bracket is ‘Remembering,’ in five short parts, ‘dedicated to someone I call "My Reader" because he reads me’.

Chris Gallagher remarks that one of the wonderful things about a festival such as this is that we get to hear poems instilled with a real sense of place, not just the place we know – ‘and I think that’s what comes through so strongly in your poems Janet.’

Following a brief open mic session and a break, Chris introduces Carolyn Fisher to read a poem from her first collection, The Unsuspecting Sky, due to be launched by Tim Thorne the following morning. How is it that it’s taken so long for Carolyn’s first collection to appear in print?

Their faces are generous like their offering,
Her truth as even as the number of years
Their country has been at war;
His smile is the Mozambican sky.
Watching them is to catch sight
Of a shore within reach, while floundering
In the deepest ocean.

[From ‘The Gift’]

Next to the microphone is Joan Webb, with ‘Soul’ and ‘Following the grand old Duke of York’, a poem inspired by Kevin Rudd. ‘I’m really quite a fan of Kevin Rudd, but didn’t like his education policy so I wrote this.... ’

Gallagher introduces David Stavanger whose opening poem features the refrain ‘Beauty is everywhere, Baudelaire’. He’s full of energy, patrols the floor without recourse to the page. ‘I’ve just flown in this afternoon from the Newcastle Young Writers’ Festival. After last night, this is such a relief: all they wanted to do was dance. Here, I can hear the glasses clinking'’.

Stavanger’s lyricism is clever and compelling. ‘Old poets don’t die / they just get grants’ he recites, with the aside ‘This doesn’t apply to Ken Bolton’; and ‘Young poets dream / old poets try to sleep at night’. Stavanger concludes with an invitation to anyone interested in further mayhem. ‘The mall tomorrow: cane and tophat!’

Cuz Co take over the microphone - and adjoining hotel lounge, it would appear: there’s a great deal of interest from festival and non-poetry patrons alike - with an energetic and brilliantly coordinated routine the likes of which we see too rarely in Tassie. Cuz Co is South American rapper Choo Choo, and Wire M.C., a Gumbayngirri descendant from Bowraville in northern NSW who sees hip hop as the ‘new corroboree’ for young Indigenous Australians. The pair combine ‘electrifyingly’, which seems as apt a description as any to describe their work.

scribesisterspeaking, the last of the guest performers for the evening, is a little disadvantaged in that one of their number missed the plane down from Darwin. ‘We’re still working out how we can perform as a duo. Here’s another in a hip hop vein for the fellows who went before us, they were fantastic!’

Not sure what it meant
to be from here.
Something to do with
Ken Done, koalas, the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Justice was something that happened elsewhere,
Maybe in Africa.
Full stop. Next chapter.

[from ‘full stop. next chapter’]


Launceston Poetry Cup 2008: Sat 4th Oct

Steve Davis stands solitarily at the bar, buying a drink. A woman approaches, waits beside him to order, eyes Steve appraisingly. ‘Excuse me,’ [opening gambit], ‘you wouldn’t happen to know who’s in charge of the gong this evening I suppose?’ [knowing full well who’d be holding the hooter].

‘That’d be me,’ Steve replies equably, knowing full well she’s aware who’ll hold the hooter, hasn’t he been doing it for yonks? [Counter gambit].

A brief silence, another appraising glance and a grin. ‘Could I buy you a drink?’ [Too late, Steve’s drink arrives].

Steve suppresses an involuntary smile as he turns to leave. [En passant].

The Poetry Cup’s drawn twenty-two entries, about average for the festival. It’s been preceded by a performance from scribesisterspeaking as well as by hip hop duo Cuz Co. ‘Welcome to the Launceston Cup section of the Tasmanian Poetry Festival,’ intones Festival Director Cameron Hindrum. ‘As you may have noticed, we’re competing tonight with a very important sporting event: the sheep dog trials being held next door at York Park. Every poet has to jump through a hoop on their way out the door! And don’t forget that after the Cup you can make your way to a party – not at my place – where Tim Thorne will regale you with his catalogue of rather colourful festival stories.’

Hindrum outlines the rules for the Cup, including the popular, singularly conceived rule four. ‘There is no rule four’.

‘You guys – collectively, as one – get to decide who is the winner,’ he concludes. ‘Bribery isn’t going to work, though feel free to try.’

A hand dips into a hat. First cab off the rank is Luke Zyl. Luke heads stagewards – falters, retrieves his glasses – and advances to the microphone to launch into ‘Face Off’. Contestant number two is defending champion Yvonne Gluhas; an early appearance for the cup holder, thus a big hurdle to overcome. ‘How could you do this to me?’ she implores with her opening line which leaves open the question of who’s doing what to whom. ‘You’re out of here,’ (sounds serious), ‘cavity and decay….’ (aaaah! the cookie crumbles - or is that the tooth?) ‘Out damn tooth / out.’ Yvonne earns strong support but it remains to be seen whether she’s been drawn too early.

Joan Webb’s focus is on government changes to the legislation on trespass. She invites the room to join with the reprise after every fourth line ‘don’t wander in the bush tonight’, a clever strategy assuring an active audience involvement.

Bruce Penn laments the early departure of his father from his life. This poem ‘is probably / the most honest thing I’ve ever written /,’ Bruce admits. It’s called ‘Things I learnt from my father….’ Then follow long seconds of stony silence, greeted initially with sporadic chortles of amusement that build to a crescendo of applause. Penn rocks back and forth, glances left and right, up to the ceiling and down to his shoes. H-o h-u-m. He checks his watch, fingers tapping coincident to the passage of time, before turning beatifically to Steve Davis to be rewarded by the screaming of the hooter in his ear.

Marie Stannus remarks on the US social system’s singular lack of compassion. ‘America, God save your heart / your purse is now open wide’. Perhaps Obama will win in November and change the country’s course, Marie. Christine Attwell’s contribution is similarly politically inclined, refers obliquely to recent Tasmanian poltical occurrences, to the plotting and bullying that’s left the ‘poor little mate in a terrible state’; while Colin Berry passes judgement on an unsavoury aspect of religious faith, remarking on the way a poem sometimes comes at you ‘like a priest in speedos / like a priest in my speedos’.

Next contender is Ross Clark. ‘Q-u-e-e-n-s-l-a-n-d-e-r!!!’ ‘Sometimes I’m kept awake,’ Clark admits, ‘by your bare skin, ‘ ‘by the jazz of your breathing and heartbeat’. A serious poem, a love poem; it goes against the grain of the usual punning poems entered in the Cup, the ‘out there’ attention grabbers. Clark’s is a tender declaration of love: ‘sometimes I’m kept awake / by knowing the day will claim you / too soon too soon’.

Kim Neilsen-Creely’s ditty of a dalliance between a young woman and ageing farmer draws an appreciative response, but nowhere near the level of support for Taz, the next competitor, who introduces a subject viewed vexatiously by most in the room. ‘… and all the while, the mills are pulping’, she reads. Hindrum suspects something must be wrong; ‘we’ve had about a dozen readers and that’s the first poem about the pulp mill’.

Sasha Keeler-Coe entertains with an intense piece about warm embraces and sacred places. ‘Birth with me…’ she invites, but her final words are cut off by the raucous note of Steve Davis’ hooter and his accompanying cryptic glance of amusement. Mala Anthony-Ranu’s introduces a variation on an old nursery rhyme. ‘One two buckle my shoe’ ... it’s clever and entertaining, interposed with topical political references. ‘I’ll make Obama a has-been’, and ‘Seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty / you may think I’m shifty and nifty / but I’m all novelty.’

Melbourne visitor Philton [Phil Ilton] draws on the metaphorical to disclose how ‘my explorer googled your accessories’, and ‘entered your inbox / but crashed’. ‘Hmmm … all kinds of things I could say, but I won’t’ Hindrum adds reflectively before introducing Lois Hoffman whose concern this evening is with hot house love … broccholis, tomatoes ... seeds all sprouting ‘lustily, vigorously’.

Tim Thorne, contestant fifteen, reads a gem about poor Father O’Leary ‘cracking the fat again’, and whose techniques are ‘far from inferior / according to Cardinal Pell’. As always, Thorne draws strong support, as well as the obligatory disparagement from a cockily confident Bruce Penn. Steve Davis plumps for a change of mood with a serious reflection on watercourses dying in the sunshine, on credit markets being tight; his departure paves the way for the appearance on stage of Reverend G, aka David Stavanger.

David’s performance is unrestrained, his poem comes in a rush of words; he’s got lewd and lusty on his mind, hints at swinging upon the vines of her valley ‘just to hear her soaring sighs’. He traverses the room as if it’s his, deposits his coat across the shoulders of a female observer and his body on the lap of another. In the melee a handbag flies to the floor while Stavanger - unwaveringly, still within his sixty seconds - presses on.

Drawn to read next is Stavanger’s victim, Ella. ‘Consolation prize?’ soothes Hindrum. Hers is a sceptical piece that sees ‘the word’ as ‘absurd’

Words in God’s kitchen
Are always pared back
Fire and brimstone meal
Swallowed hook, line and sinker

Chaya Mickey projects sinister shadows flickering to and fro across the page, and then it’s Nathan Shepherdson’s turn - ’Queenslander!!!’ - to take the floor. Shepherdson stands stock still, says not a word; watches the second hand traverse the dial of his watch. ‘Do you need a friend?’ someone asks from the audience, parodying Tina Fey’s spoof of Sarah Palin. ‘We don’t need daylight saving!’ comes the jibe from another. Shepherdson’s effecting a ploy memorably trialled by Ian McBryde at the 2005 festival and wins points for audacity, but is it enough to swing the evening? ‘If you find the corner in the circle / you’re dead,’ Shepherdson concludes.

‘How long did it take you to write that?’ asks Hindrum offhandedly before introducing Joy Elizabeth. Joy’s been troubled by the dilemma of deciding on a topic for her cup piece. Try something original? Something topical? Sex? Politics? The ‘Cup’s a bloody setup / cos if you speak Mandarin / you’re destined to win....’ she decries. The hooter interrupts before she manages to finish and she sits down, deflated. ‘Next year,’ she sighs. ‘Yeah,’ adds Hindrum soothingly, ‘yeah: you were speaking my language’.

Vicky Riette, the final competitor for the evening, offers a lament about the traffic confusion caused by one-way streets and by roundabouts. ‘And that, ladies and gentlemen, is that,’ concludes Hindrum with finality.

The room remains awash with gaily coloured cardboard cutouts of poetry from this and previous festivals. ‘Please feel free to take a poem home with you, along with the flowers on the tables.’ Mala Anthony-Ranu’s offer of a complimentary plant with each purchase of her newly-launched collection ‘to reduce the book’s carbon footprint’ is a nice touch, a much-appreciated environmentally-friendly gesture. The absence of poems dealing with the proposed pulp mill up the valley suggests a general comfort with its fate, perhaps googling ‘gunns asx’ has taken the sting out of the argument, seen it succeeded by other concerns - takeovers, interest rates, recession. In its place are the old stalwarts: sex and debauchery, politics and religion. Colin Berry and Tim Thorne have trodden similar ground with their forays into religious misdemeanour, but this year it’s Thorne who is triumphant. Tim also won the event in 2006. ‘He’s clearly making up for lost time,’ opined Festival Director Cameron Hindrum. ‘He didn’t win it at all in the seventeen years he ran the poetry cup, but has won it twice since I’ve been Director.’

‘What’s really disappointing is that I probably never will surpass Colin Berry’s record of two cups in two different millenia,’ Thorne says, regretfully. ‘But by God, I aim to try’.

‘Maybe you can settle for winning in two different decades,’ Hindrum concludes. ‘Now - did I mention? - there’s the traditional post-cup party at the Thorne’s residence once we leave here. Tim will probably be drinking champagne from the cup he’s won this evening, but don’t mind him….’