Amelia Walker and Mike Ladd were this month’s featured poets hosted by Friendly Street at the Halifax Café, two fantastic local poets who I thought complimented each other very well.

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Introduced by the lovely Jelena Dinic, Amelia was first up, but not before distributing a piece of paper to each table with a request to write down five things (in our case, five abstract nouns). Amelia actually started with a poem by someone else, something she often does apparently, and it just happened to be one of Kathryn Hummel’s who has recently returned from India where she published her second collection, The Bangalore Set. The poem focused on winded birds whose ‘feathered tips articulate their shock’, a vivid image.

Amelia had her first collection published at the tender age of 19, Fat Streets and Lots of Squares, essentially about Adelaide which has proved very popular with teachers in schools. Amelia shared ‘Him’ from the collection about a well-known local character who walked up and down Rundle Mall in white gum boots, referring to him as ‘an isolated hiccup’ and she ‘had heard from a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend, he does it for a laugh’. Amelia then read an updated version written now at the age of 32 called ‘For Johnny’, where he is ‘real like fairies’ with a ‘body dressed in loud undress’, a far more introspective piece that asked questions, culminating in the memorable line of ‘a made in China koala always monkeying your back’. This was followed by another new poem about an old poem inspired by the war memorial on North Terrace, which spoke of looking after soldiers in a nursing home, ‘with brushed teeth and perfect parts’ these were ‘old men unhinged from time’.

Amelia then collected the paper from the tables, put them in order and created a poem before our eyes. Beginning with our abstract nouns, for example ‘homesickness’, she connected each with a colour, an animal, a place and a time, producing some very thought-provoking lines. This was clever stuff and further enhanced the fact Amelia is an amazing performance poet who captivates her audience.

Mike read old work, from his second, third and fourth collections, which is what these readings are about, the antithesis to the Lee Marvin ones. Mike started with a poem called ‘Vasectomy’ where the doctor ‘chattered golf, his slice and splice, tapping the balls in’ which his, after, swelled to resemble ‘a witch’s fruit’ culminating in the poignant image of ‘me on the cliff top with empty arms’. Mike’s next piece was a ‘Poem for two brickies’ who threw bricks to the other with movement reminiscent of some kind of dance as they ‘placed to weight on an invisible shelf of air’. ‘Waiting room’ was just that, where the walls were ‘duck-egg blue’ and a girl was ‘scratching her name with a 20 cent bit’. Mike then shared four poems in one about water, which ‘has no voice tonight’, where ‘water cats’ loitered and resembled Siamese from whom you could ‘drink their eyes’.

Mike had written some semi-surrealist poems about objects inspired by a surrealist artist whose name I didn’t quite catch, one being ‘Dreams of a pillow’ in which the pillow imagines being ‘hard and sharp’, and another simply called ‘Spare chair’ which plays ‘wooden horse in secret’. Mike moved onto more naturalistic pieces – ‘Murray bend’ where ‘sand fire colours warm the eye’ in a ‘big fish dreaming place’, and ‘Parable of a farmer’ written in long lines to symbolise those made by cattle traversing a field so that ‘shambling cows turned hills into verse’. ‘Spinal unit’ Mike wrote after his partner fractured her spine, where ‘beds are altars for flowers’ and ‘patients brace for their separate nights’.

Mike finished with some beautiful snippets about vegetables in ‘A vegetative life’ – beetroot, asparagus, potato and parsnip, the ‘pale digits of the damned’, and red onion that he told ‘you contain infinity and make me weep’. Mike was just as engaging as Amelia, no doubt honed from his years hosting ABC’s radio program Poetica. This was a brilliant line up.