Various things draw me to Hobart’s Republic Hotel this afternoon, not least the fact that Pete Hay is reading today. Compere Liz Winfield opens proceedings with work by Barney Roberts and Magenta Bliss (Jenny Boult), a recital that both renews our appreciation of their respective talents and accentuates our loss. Some of us are making the trip to Launceston for Bliss’ funeral next Thursday. Continuing on a happier note, Liz announces the results of this year’s Bruce Dawe Poetry Prize. ‘Last year as you’ll remember, it was won by Louise Oxley, this year it’s the turn of Jane Williams’. Both women are among the audience for the afternoon’s readings.
First to the microphone is visitor Shaun Levin – originally South African but now a resident of London – and Hobart City Council’s International Writer in residency. ‘Much of my work is about love, and sex,’ he says, ‘which I’m missing cos I haven’t been home for three weeks…’
‘But you’re open to offers, right?’ calls some wit from the audience.
Levin grins without missing a beat. He’s the editor of Chroma, a queer literary journal publishing work from writers and visual artists based in the UK. This afternoon he reads from his recent novella, Seven Sweet Things – his writing is funny, droll, in-your-face.
Next to read is local writer Kathryn Lomer. She’d missed the last reading at the Republic, she explained, having been hospitalised for a few days with a life-threatening illness. Kathryn mentioned the name of the illness, ‘something to do with the colon’ she said, adding that investigation had led her to realise the poet A.D Hope had suffered from the same affliction. ‘We both underwent life-saving operations … saved his life, saved mine. Hope went on to write about his. “I’ve always been partial to a colon; but a semi-colon is better than a full stop.”
Lomer reads from old and new work, including ‘Heart to heart’ published in the most recent issue of Island (no. 102), and displaying her effortless capacity to write of the trials of the heart – ‘… parts of our hearts already comatose/ from long-ago mishaps in love’. As she offers words to the microphone I wonder again at the sheer quality of her first collection An Extraction of Arrows (UQP), the winner of the Anne Elder Award and short-listed for the 2004 Adelaide Writers’ Festival. (How difficult is that, faced with competition from every decent poetry collection published in the country over the preceding two years?)
The experience of motherhood is never far from Kathryn’s consciousness, it comes out in her writing, in her conversation. ‘I think we could learn from a survey of four-year-olds on their recollections of the experience of birth,’ she says in response to something raised by Shaun Levin, the previous reader. “I asked my son what he remembered about his birth. His immediate response was, “It was too dark, then I slid down a slide and Mummy bit me” ’. (Do our children ever forgive their writer parents for any of this, Kathryn wonders?).
Another poem is dedicated to Anne Morgan, ‘who put me on to kayaking’. It’s a poem from what she hopes will be her second collection ‘by a publisher who’s intimated they may be able to publish it … in 2007’. It’s funny, Lomer adds, ‘people always tell me this is a great poem about relationships but it’s really just a poem about kayaking’.
I can’t help thinking how good an experience it’d be to publish Lomer myself, if only I had the resources. The things that matter most in the relationship between a press and the work it publishes – the things that make a book effortless and natural to promote – is always apparent to me when listening to Kathryn read her work, it’s in her earthiness, in the lack of self-consciousness about her writing, in her lively imagination.
Pete Hay introduces a sombre note to proceedings. Remarking on the passing of Magenta Bliss (Jenny Boult) this week, he mentioned how he’d had the privilege of delivering the eulogy at the funeral of Barney Roberts a little time ago. “Scott, Roberts, Bliss in the past three months … we’re losing too many fine poets, too fast’, he laments.
Hay reads from his recent collection Silently on the Tide, the poetry spilling out from this much loved man of letters. Of the thylacine, he reads:
- The tiger is an absence, and here’s a marvel.
- In the common soul wells a mourning,
- a sense of an essence lost from the land
- and we have made it so.
- We have rendered the land incomplete
- and it is not to be redeemed.
- It is the very land that grieves, perhaps,
- gathering us up.
Hay – generous as ever – makes mention of the presence of Cameron Hindrum in the audience. Cameron, the Director of the annual Tasmanian Poetry Festival, is in Hobart to present Jenny Barnard with the Poetry Cup she’d won at the festival. ‘Cameron’s an extremely good link-man’, Hay says, adding that like a good many other people ‘I got my ass kicked by Jenny in the Cup’. He finishes his set with a wry smile and some welcome new work. ‘The book goes on, becomes part of history … and the poet moves on, to the next.’
Hindrum is welcomed to the microphone. ‘The Launceston Poetry Cup has escaped Launceston,’ he says mournfully, ‘has come to Hobart for the first time since Tony Rayner lifted it in 1997’. The Cup is duly presented – ‘it’s yours for a year Jenny, no wild parties with it’ – and there’s opportunity for Jenny to read her prize-winning piece.
Liz Winfield takes a few moments to launch the latest issue of Poets Republic, the bi-monthly A3 poetry broadsheet she’s faithfully produced for the past two years. It’s a freebie, five hundred copies of it are distributed by literary organisations and bookshops throughout Tasmania. ‘This issue marks its second anniversary,’ she says, ‘the next one will appear early in the new year”.
It’s been a good afternoon.