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Tim Winton gave a talk at the Adelaide Convention Centre last night – Tender Hearts, Sons of Brutes – as part of his tour to promote his latest book. The place was packed.

Winton is an iconic Australian author. I remember when we first moved here, I wanted to immerse myself in Australian culture and literature, and was promptly pointed in his direction. I started with Cloudstreet and have never looked back. In 2007, he was named a Living Treasure by the National Trust and has won the Miles Franklin Award four times.

The protagonist in The Shepherd’s Hut is Jaxie Clackton, a young boy searching for a better way to be, having learnt everything about being a man from his dad, a brute and a bully, and so has been shaped by, and marinated in, violence, as Winton shared:

I think we forget or simply don’t notice the ways in which men, too, are shackled by misogyny. It narrows their lives. Distorts them. And that sort of damage radiates; it travels, just as trauma is embedded and travels through families.

Winton opened the session with an extract from the book speaking as Jaxie, explaining how he now knows what he wants but has ‘been through fire to get here’. For Winton, a novel is not a tool but a toy; something to explore with curiosity because ‘useless stuff resonates, experiences linger’ – ‘useless beauty’ is why he writes. He’d planned to write the story from three or four people’s perspectives, but it didn’t work because all he could hear was the voice of the ‘unlovely boy’ and so gave him the floor.

Having read only six of his twenty-nine books (Dirt Music and Minimum of Two I borrowed from friends), I still have some reading to do. His writing is inspirational with a focus on landscape and place (his novel In the Winter Dark spurred me to write a poem called ‘primordial’ I’m rather proud of and is currently finding a home).

Winton spoke well to a captivated crowd, exploring childhood, identity, poisonous masculinity, domestic violence:

In this airless universe there are no conversations, only declarations and fraught silences

and was humble, describing himself as ‘just a storyteller’, a brilliantly iconic one at that.

Having reviewed her son’s show, Susan Belperio asked if I’d review her photography exhibition, Under the Lens, currently on display at the same venue, The Lab, Queen’s Theatre.

A former medical practitioner and in addition to here, Susan’s work has been displayed in Queensland and the Northern Territory; she also had an image in a human rights exhibition in Tibet opened by the Dalai Lama.

For me, the exhibition comprises three parts, beginning with a stunning black and white photo of Josh either dressing or undressing for his show (it’s the voyeur’s choice), revealing the eight-inch scar travelling his skin. It’s an intimate scene, one of a mother portraying the glittering remnant of her son’s near-death experience.

In the cluster of black and white images that follow, hands and feet feature, snapshots of movement stilled. Two pairs of feet dangle carefreely from a balcony overlooking the beach. A pair of hands are clasped on a lap, the red painted nails the only colour calling. A circle of polished feet appears as if talking and a child’s hands are being introduced to the piano. Interspersed with images of the moon, birds, roads and the sea, they denote a journey well-travelled, be it flying, driving or sailing, elements that lead neatly into the final part.

The colour series is called Life’s a Beach, in which Susan conveys the multi-faceted sea, what it can give and take away. It’s a colour spangled dreamscape with each image expertly placed to both singularly shine and complement its neighbours. Humans are juxtaposed with the man-made and wild – the shadow of a plane over water, a lone feather, a child’s spade in the shallows, the ripples and twists found in the sand and sky. The sea dons day and night, carries time effortlessly, simultaneously evoking a distant longing and home.

Susan has an incredible ability to capture the everyday in a way that is not, to present indelible moments, to stop and embrace life. The exhibition, which is free to view, only runs until 17 March as part of the Fringe, so if you’d like to immerse yourself in some hauntingly beautiful images, I highly recommend a visit.

This took place yesterday in the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden, as part of Adelaide Writer’s Week, with a spectacular line-up – Alison Flett, Nelson Hedditch, Rachael Mead, Rob Walker and Manal Younus.

Facilitated by Peter Goldsworthy, a stalwart of the South Australian poetry scene, each poet was introduced to share some of their work with a packed audience. Alison was up first.

I love Alison’s work, particularly her fox and vessel poems, of which, among others, she shared both. ‘Liminoid’ is from Semiosphere, Alison’s Little Windows chapbook, and describes an encounter with a fox where there was still all the noise going on around me but there was a pencil line of silence running between me and the fox.

Alison then shared the first part of the trilogy ‘Vessel’, which symbolises the stages of womanhood and opens with:

No one else              has seen inside        this child.

She is small. The sky does            not yet            come down

around her.   It is still           contained

in a blue strip            at the top       of the page.

Nelson was up next, a performance poet I wasn’t familiar with, who has a passion for rhythm and words, which punched through. With his collection Never Finish Anything, Nelson began with ‘End to the Means’, which, like any brilliant performance poet, he recited from memory. ‘Homeostasis’ slowed down the pace from a song, ending in the line when I was born, I looked into my dad’s eyes like I’d been here before. Nelson also shared a poem written by his grandmother, ‘Words are dry shells, which presented a series of evocative images. When not poeting, Nelson is a hip-hop artist by the name of Dialect, at which I’m sure he’s just as talented.

Third to read was Rachael, another of my favourite poets, sharing some of my favourites too, starting with ‘The wild grammar of leeches’ from her new collection The Flaw in the Pattern, UWA Publishing :

I shed my clothes like an awful first draft, splashing river

on my face and into places used to their own company…

I look down to find my body being edited, its pages

harshly corrected with black punctuation.

Rachael also read ‘Powerless’, an award-winning poem I’ve shared on here recently from the Grieve Anthology along with ‘The dog, the blackbird and the anxious mind’, which was published in Meanjin, where while walking the dog, he drags me like I’m emotional baggage he’s desperate to escape.

Rob took to the podium next, again whose work I admire. He opened with ‘An accident waiting to happen’ from his collection Tropeland, Five Islands Press, which relayed a series of bad things, including I am the scissors in the hand of the running child. Rob also read ‘A Clarity of Smog’, which won Friendly Street Poet’s Satura Prize in 2015 (the year one of my own was shortlisted), followed by ‘radiology’ from his chapbook Policies & Procedures, Garron Publishing, where:

holding our futures in nervous hands

we come with xrays – ikons

in large envelopes with corporate logos…

 

this arcane analysis

reading the stars within…

Manal finished the set, another unfamiliar poet to me, her poise and delivery impeccable. Manal began with ‘Girl’, in honour of International Women’s Day tomorrow, further emphasised by the readings being held where they were. A particularly poignant piece, it compared woman to tree where ‘flowers are bi-products’ culminating in the stunning lines:

The burden is not who you are

but who you are asked to be.

Manal then shared a poem she had performed earlier that day, ‘Colour me in’, at a high school, in which we’re asked to colour me kind, colour me strong and colour me conscience so I see things others do not.

The readings were followed by the essential book buying and signing, so once again, I’ve got me some reading to do!

So I went to review my second Fringe show Friday night for mindshareScarred for Life at The Lab, Queen’s Theatre.

With the headline Man falls off bike, becomes star, Josh Belperio relays the time he flew over the handlebars of his bicycle, ruptured his spleen and nearly bled to death through a series of comical and clever songs on the piano, reminiscent of Tim Minchin.

Josh began by taking us back to when he was little, where he was held back in ‘fun skills’ because of his slight touch of autism, before finding his place at the piano and then falling from it (literally), which won him $500 in Australia’s Funniest Home Videos courtesy of his mum filming it. His first scar came at 15 from running through a plate glass door, severing the tendon and artery, with thankfully no nerve damage.

The day of his accident he was anxious and rushing to the Festival Theatre to workshop ‘The Unmentionable Musical’ as he calls it, approached a roundabout too fast, as did a car from his right. He slammed on his brakes. The bike stopped, he didn’t. And as he gets to his feet he feels strange, as if his body’s trying to process something, all this to terse music.

At home his parents (both doctors) put him to bed and monitor him, until Josh wakes feeling strange again. His mother takes one look at him and rushes him to hospital, not before Josh collapses and asks his boyfriend Matthew am I dying? A CT scan reveals a ruptured spleen, which requires immediate surgery and as the mask comes down, all Josh can think of is all the music he has left to write.

Having lost 2 litres of blood, Josh is transferred to ICU, which is the title of a highly entertaining song through the eyes of the ICU nurse, followed by ‘Sample pack of information for families of deceased patients – spare copies’ where Josh summarises each pamphlet inside. My favourite song was ‘Watching me pee into a bottle’, a tender exchange between Josh and Matthew, in which love and affection grows like my urinal collection.

Towards the end Josh reveals his eight-inch medical marvel (his scar), an angry looking welt, which he thinks ugly, but to Matthew it’s beautiful because it represents how his life was saved. The mental health aspect of the show is anxiety and how Josh manages it – present before his accident and escalating after – to enable him to live the life he wants, to not be scared, to make peace with his scar and most importantly, to get back on his bike. Josh is a talented artist, and gave a funny and moving performance through theatrical song. It’s a show I’d recommend.

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