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Launch speech: Jenny Barnard's chapbook 'First Blue'

(Launched 14th October 2005 at the Tasmanian Poetry Festival)

Jenny Barnard is three quite amazing people. One of these people is the wonderfully enthusiastic and supportive lover of poetry, whom, along with her husband Max, I got to know by meeting at readings and festivals over a number of years. Jenny reminded me in her consistent and appreciative attendance at these events of the legendary Gary Flynn, an enigmatic figure in Sydney during the 1970s and '80s, of whom it was said that nobody, even in their sleep, could read or recite a line of poetry without Gary appearing there to hear it and applaud, often having brought his family along with him.

But then I met the second Jenny Barnard. This person emerged, somewhat in the manner of Pallas Athene from the brow of Zeus, from that dutiful audience member on the occasion of the launch of May Carroll's book, I Wanted to Throw Your Things Out on the Lawn in Hobart in 2000. After the formalities of the launch (although formalities is not really the appropriate word for that particular launch) Jenny proceeded to give the most gobsmacking extempore performance of poetry that I have ever been lucky enough to witness. It was enormously clever, enormously funny and enormously wise. I was reminded this time of DM Thomas's novels Ararat and Swallow, in which the world's greatest poets get together in a kind of Olympiad for improvised poetry. Had one of those contests taken place in the so-called real world, Jenny could have, based on her form that day, brought home a gold medal for Australia. I don't know if anyone here has tried to improvise poetry, but it requires an agility of wit, a command of vocabulary and technique, and a presence of mind way beyond that of the average genius.

Anyway, what do you get when you cross Gary Flynn with Corinna Riznich (one of Thomas's great poetry improvising characters)? The answer is, of course, the third incarnation of Jenny Barnard. And it is this third Jenny Barnard whose book I am proud to be launching today. First Blue is a worthy addition to the Walleah Press publications list. As Jenny's first collection, it brings together into an impressive array the pieces that she has read and published individually and in modest environments. This enables an evaluation of her achievement as a poet, and the evidence - contained in these 33 excellent poems - indicates that the combination of Jenny Mark I (avid poetry lover) and Jenny Mark II (wildly high-flying genius) has indeed been a fruitful one.

It is fitting that this launch is taking place within the context of a festival, as it is a cause for celebration, for festivity, an occasion from which we shall all take home some memory of a first-rate performance, of a flash or two of poetic talent and the sense of having felt a little at least of the addictive admiration that good poetry can engender. Whatever else you take home with you from this festival, make sure you take home a copy of Jenny Barnard's First Blue.