A slice of the Tasmanian Poetry Festival, 1995

September 30th. It's Saturday evening of the Tasmanian Poetry and Dance Festival, the night of the Launceston Poetry Cup.The audience is cold, and it takes several poems from U.K. visitor Matt Simpson before polite applause ripples through the room. "I see. You liked that poem, but you didn't like the others," he accuses good-naturedly.

Following Matt is Anthony Lawrence (in place of John Harding), then Chris Mansell. Mock exasperation edges her voice as she says she's under pressure from Tim Thorne to "warm 'em up for the Cup". And she does. Mansell is dynamic in full flight and a joy to take in, the crowd warms to her.

A record twenty-two entries compete for this year's Poetry Cup. J.S. Harry and Doris Leadbetter are disadvantaged by being drawn to read early, Doris further dents her chances by failing to beat the gong. Greg Leong amuses with four short pieces, but his entreaty, "It is politically correct to clap for me: very loud" isn't as effective as he hopes.

Bruce and Barney Roberts disqualify themselves by continuing past the going. "It's always been hard to keep those two quiet" says one unkind soul. Bruce is in trouble from the start. "You've sixty seconds to complete your poem from the time of reading its title," compere Tim Thorne had explained, "unless your name is Grant Caldwell, whose title went on for fifty-five seconds one year...." It's at this juncture Bruce goes awry. "My poem is called 'A Cup's Lament'." A brief lull, then, 'I'd like to preface this before I start...." A stifled "whoops!" escapes Thorne."Oh...."   Bruce mutters non-plussed, and begins his recital.

Departing the Tas Dance venue the previous evening, Shane Wolf admits his entry needs polishing. "I've a bit of work to do, I'm going to win this year". Come Saturday and it's apparent he's invested more than a little time exercising his vocal chords. Wolf's melodic delivery of a savagely satirical ode to Jacques Chirac rises in tempo and crescendo as he proceeds, and it's never quite clear if it is the audience or the minstrel finding most enjoyment in its performance.

Next it's Allan Lake, and a perceptibly changed Allan Lake at that. His piece debunks all that is held dear by writers and the literary establishment, it's a call for a soulmate who'll share the joys of ... football ... meat pies ... it is a celebration of the virtues of the great outdoors as opposed to the semantics of poetry, "give me an iron man rather than an ironic man". The effort draws loud and prolonged applause. Locals well know Lake and his wife Brenda (who's won tickets to the AFL Grand Final) are in Melbourne for the weekend. Emma Waters, his Alanvale College student comes oh-so-close to carrying off the Cup in his name.

And the winner? It's Colin Berry, with a piece that is shorter than sixty seconds, but whose allusions to current literary controversies - with a memorable hook to cap it off - wins the crowd.

Readings by Tim Thorne and Jenny Boult are followed by the launch of Rudi Krausmann's Made in Australia. It's an anthology of the work of eighty Australian poets translated in German, and in launching it, Krausmann pauses to comment on a cultural link between Tasmania and the European city of Salzburg.

"The translator of this book lives in Salzburg. He had in his possession several of Barney Roberts' poems, as well as three Australian anthologies I'd left him, those by Murray, Tranter and Heseltine. And of the material, the poem that most struck him, the poem he most wanted to translate, was Barney Roberts' 'The Mulberry Tree'. His regard for the poem makes a beautiful story in a way, but a sad one in another. After reading it he said he'd dearly like to visit Australia. 'Why?" I asked. 'Because I want to see this particular mulberry tree that Barney Roberts has written about. And', he added, 'I'd also like to meet an indigenous poet.' "

"Well," continues Krausmann, "I had to tell him the truth - as poets always must tell the truth. 'There are no indigenous poets in Tasmania, they killed off the aborigines.' 'Oh!' he said: 'then I'm not going to visit Tasmania!' "

Both Richard Allen and Richard Tipping read material from the book. Each pays tribute to Krausmann's publishing career ... though Tipping says he feels Aboriginals are by no means unrepresented in Tasmania, a sentiment Chris Mansell echoes shortly after when in deference she reads an Aboriginal poem from the collection. "I'm sure Terry Whitebeach would be very surprised to learn that there are no more Aboriginal poets in Tasmania," she adds. The humour of Bruce Penn, and a passionate performance by poet and singer/songwriter Denis Kevans, round off the evening.

"It's an honour to be invited", says Jenny Boult in retrospect, "there wouldn't be too many who'd knock back an invitation". Boult has been impressed by the number of strong women poets in the lineup, who include JS Harry, Dipti Saravanamuttu, June Perkins, Marilyn Arnold and Chris Mansell. "The festival is special" she adds, "because there's imagination and effort put into the programme, and attention is paid to the poets."

The Tasmanian Poetry Festival is special. It bridges the gap between audience and art, embodies a palpable spirit of generosity and is fun.