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I went to three sessions on my final day, starting with my second workshop, Embracing the unexpected, with Oz Hardwick.

Oz is from the UK and began by explaining how he prefers to write first thing in the morning without any voices, often short-lived as his wife puts the radio on. So Oz will be busy drafting then get distracted by a word or phrase, which formed the first of a series of exercises. Oz asked us to think about mirrors, be it a physical or metaphysical one, and as we wrote he threw out some words for us to include – head, marching, higher, war, student, ferret. We wrote about crows next, then had to personify them and have them engage with a phrase. It was interesting to hear the pieces shared and the different perspectives. I plan to develop my crow poem.

Making space for poetry

The panel for this session comprised Mike Ladd, Felicity Plunkett, Ross Donlon and Paul Munden, hosted by Jen Webb.

Mike I know from the Adelaide poetry scene, his work is fantastic, coupled with a commitment to sharing words in public spaces. Mike talked about Poetica, his radio program, which ran for 18 years to a mass audience due to its accessibility and the fact this medium is perfect for poetry being based on sound. Mike also shared a project he undertook with his partner, Cathy Brooks, to put poetry on street signs around the Adelaide bus station and spoke briefly about Raining Poetry, coordinated through Adelaide University, where poems are written on the sidewalk so they appear only when it rains.

Felicity works with students, as an editor through University of Queensland Press and a reviewer, adopting a variety of roles. Felicity’s student work involved harvesting words from the environment to prove you don’t have to dredge up words from inside, and shared some images of poetry on stones, in bottles, small forms to put out into the world for people to find. Felicity taught prose poetry to teachers and provided resources to help them deliver it back in the classroom, and spoke about gate-making rather than gate-keeping when it came to accessing literary opportunities, a phrase that stuck.

Ross started a poetry reading in Castlemaine, Victoria and attended an international arts festival every other year where literature wasn’t represented and so pulled together a poetry event, which sold out in days. Ross has also organised poetry readings in Carmen’s Tunnel lit using candelabras and arranged readings at Books Plus, which comprised a 20-minute session followed by questions and answers. Ross created Mark Time, a chapbook press each containing 32 pages, publishing a Shropshire-based poet whose work caught the eye of Carol Ann Duffy and was selected for inclusion in the Laureate anthology.

Paul put poetry and jazz events on as a student in bars, which escalated to integrating poetry in folk music in a daub and wattle venue in York, then onto creating a book of poetry and photos about Castle Howard. The British Council commissioned Paul to compile an anthology on climate change called Feeling the Pressure and Paul has written a poem called ‘Duet’ to mark the 100-year anniversary of the end of World War I to be read in Southwark Cathedral. The poem is based on a pair of handmade violins for Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon fashioned from a sycamore branch.

Questions and answers followed, sparking a discussion about how poetry should be paid for. It’s a craft and skill, honed over many years and yes, we do it for love, but this shouldn’t undermine the value of it. So it came as no surprise that poets are the lowest paid of all artists.

Poetry of the senses

My last session of the festival was a discussion between Moira Egan, Oz Hardwick, Ross Gibson and Monica Carroll, convened by Jordan Williams.

Moira is one of the international poets in residence based in Rome, and has smell and colour synesthesia. Moira read from her collection, which is split into halves – one on smell, referred to as her smelly sequence, and the other ekphrastic. Moira read ‘Poison’, about molluscs and purple followed by ‘Le Chambre Bleue’, literally about a blue room. Another poem featured Andy Warhol as “a skinny avatar of cool” and another about a ginger cat sitting on a beautiful piece of fabric.

Oz read from his collection, The House of Ghosts and Mirrors, and began by explaining that the cover image is the place in the room he was born where now stands a round mirror in a window. After his parents died, Oz’s poems became personal, demonstrated by ‘Archaeology’ about a crawl space in the family home. Oz spoke about a psychic geography, peeling back the layers of the house that haunts him, reading ‘Lacuna’ and ‘Emptying the cupboard’, which when he did he found a piece of the original lino.

Ross’s poetry is an aesthetic activity before it becomes semantic, sharing a quote by a Welsh poet about how poetry arrives through the intellect at the heart. Ross reads haiku, likening it to being hit on the head with a hammer, which releases a flood of associations. Ross shared a current project on show at a station in Sydney – a series of short phrases scroll as individual words on a 22-metre screen so that from a distance, it seems to sparkle as you try to decipher them, epitomising the city.

Monica talked about touch and poetry, getting us to close our eyes and touch one hand with the other while she read philosophical passages and explained how the object touched is the object touching. Monica then asked us to raise our hand and keep it aloft if we’d ever experienced an orgasm. I don’t believe any dropped. Monica asked us to keep it raised if we’d ever experienced a non-genital orgasm. The majority, including my own, fell, and she said she felt a shift in the room. It was an intriguing experiment.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the festival – made new connections, shared thoughts and ideas, learnt more about the art and of course, returned with more books! I’d highly recommend Poetry on the Move, it will satisfy every poetic curiosity. I wonder where next year will take me…

My third day kicked off with the first of two workshops I’d booked into, Deep reading for better writing, facilitated by Lisa Brockwell.

Lisa is another wonderful poet and having only had online contact, it was lovely to meet her in person. Lisa’s most recent collection, Earth Girls, had been on my wish list for some time now, so it was fab to get my copy signed.

Lisa loves sonnets and introduced us to a wide variety – from the traditional William Shakespeare and Elizabeth Barrett Browning through to the more contemporary Jo Shapcott and Terence Hayes. We explored content, meaning, rhythm and sound, bringing us to the conclusion there’s no such thing as over-reading and one of my favourite statements – sonnets are not small rooms!

I took away an array of poetic terminology I’d not been familiar with, for example, volta is a technical term in a sonnet for where there’s a turn of thought, which made me want to pursue the academic side of poetry further. The workshop also converted me into a sonnet-lover, as I confessed to Lisa after I’m not a fan of this form, but that was before I realised how flexible it can be.

Learning to have lost

This was a poignant session, because we all experience loss at one time or another. The panel comprised Penelope Layland, Paul Hetherington, Dominique Hecq and Oz Hardwick, convened by Lisa Brockwell.

Penelope began with an elegy by Seamus Heaney and discussed how this form employs traditional conventions, such as references to God and vegetation. Penelope read ‘In Miss Haversham’s Garden’, ‘Calendar’ and ‘Inverted Gaze’ from her collection, and explored the more taboo areas, for example, a suicide or the loss of a relationship not sanctioned by society. Penelope also explained how it’s counter-intuitive to write and read something that hurts.

Paul shared how absence is at the heart of his poetry, followed by a quote by Rilke. Paul read five of a six-part poem called ‘Elegy’, about his father who died in 2015, from his prose poetry collection, Moonlight on Oleander, one of many memorable lines being “what is gone, also belongs”. Paul explained if he hadn’t written these poems, he’d still be immersed in grief. He also confessed there is one elegy he can’t write due to the nature of the relationship.

Dominique read four fragments, the first two in French, the second in English, about a mother whose son died at the age of eight, from her collection which is split into colour chapters, this one being in the White chapter. Dominique discussed how loss is global, quoting Margaret Attwood, who believes all writing comes from a fascination with death, with Dominique adding that if musicians can explore death, why can’t poets.

Oz shared six small pieces, including a couple from his most recent collection, Learning to have lost, specifically ‘When he leaves’ and ‘Au’, both leaving an indelible mark, with the latter about a friend who committed suicide 11 years ago, which he could only write about now. Oz talked about David Kennedy’s study of elegy and getting to know your companion (death), and also shared how this art form requires bravery to do it justice.

Pivotal discussion points included whether all poetry is about loss in one way or another and other types of loss, such as the loss of a child’s innocence.

Loss was the focus of my first collection – of the self, another person or the connection between people – so I found this session particularly engaging, albeit infused with a definitive sadness.

The first session of my second day was Living Poetry, which focused on experience and biography by a panel comprising Andy Melrose, Kerry Nelson, Ross Gibson and Andy Jackson, hosted by Cassandra Atherton.

Andy Melrose is a songwriter who doesn’t consider himself a poet, having recently produced a song for an exhibition, which explored the very topical subject of immigration and being removed from one’s origins. Andy shared the song, ‘Your mama’s music box’, on guitar, a haunting piece with three narrative voices.

Kerry uses vernacular in her work, informed by her grandad who listened to Banjo Patterson and C J Dennis, as well as collaboration and humour. Kerry worked in Aboriginal Affairs and shared a poem called ‘Palm Island Kids’, in which children warned Miss about the “hairy man”, be it literal or symbolic.

Ross spoke about how biographising changes the person being written about as well as the writer, and stressed the importance of finding a bearing, using the example of Henry Thoreau who could recognise a person from across a field by their gait. Ross is currently working on a redact project, which explores the concept of the omitted centre.

Andy Jackson I’ve met before and whose work I love, with his most recent collection, Music our bodies can’t hold, being a series of 46 portrait poems about people with Marfan syndrome. Andy explained how a poet needs to inhabit other people’s lives and to do this, he thought of people as houses, tried to find a way in, sometimes ending up in the garden.

I’ve recently had a collection published about endometriosis, comprising poems which explore different aspects of the condition from personal experience. This session got me thinking about a potential next step.

Speaking in Tongues

Four international poets – Eileen Chong, Omar Sakr, Ravi Shankar and Jen Webb – were brought together for this session, convened by Anita Patel.

Eileen was born in Singapore and is another whose work I admire, reading a poem called ‘Chimera’ from her most recent collection Rainforest, having explained how the characters depicted on the cover are the symbol for rain over forest. Eileen feels a connection to Chinese poetry, but has only ever read them in English, despite being forced to learn Mandarin at school. A point that struck me was how Eileen thought herself a person before moving to Australia, after which time she became an Asian person.

Omar read two poems, one of which was ‘A beautiful child’, a very powerful and moving piece. Omar’s mother is Lebanese, his father Turkish, but having been raised by his mum, his heritage is predominantly Arab. Omar spoke of ruptured belonging and unbelonging, about being happy in his unbelonging space with shards of broken prayer, turning to Arabic when scared. I particularly liked Omar’s observation of language being the least favourite daughter, a powerful statement in patriarchal cultures.

Ravi began by sharing a yoga transcript, followed by his translation, and a poem called ‘Exile’ from his latest collection Many uses of Mint. With South Indian parents who emigrated to the US, his country of birth, Ravi found that responding to languages not understood turned him to poetry. As a student, Ravi both embraced and rejected his heritage, translating work with a colleague, producing multiple versions.

Jen hails from South Africa and grew up in the apartheid, viewing language as political and changeable, speaking both Afrikaan and English. Jen spent some time in New Zealand, which she compared to living with your lovely aunt, and has been in Australia for 26 years, with the belief people aren’t of land, they are not planted, rather moving constantly like water. Being multilingual and bathed in many languages, Jen finds she often picks a word or phrase from a language that suits her at that time.

This got me thinking about my own heritage, which is, as far as I’m aware, just English, albeit infused with my preference for French at school and having a German husband.

Poetry reading

Tonight’s poets were Bella Li, Jill Jones, Paul Hetherington and Sholeh Wolpé.

Having recently purchased Bella’s latest collection Argosy, I was looking forward to hearing her read from it. Bella read parts two and three from ‘Lost Lakes’, the last sequence in the book, followed by three pieces of microfiction, encouraged to fruition by Cassandra Atherton.

Jill’s work I’m familiar with, she’s an amazing poet, reading from her vast array of collections – from Brink, her latest back to Ash is Here and So Are Stars, one of her earlier ones.

Paul’s poetry I wasn’t familiar with it and enjoyed it immensely, as he read from his latest prose poetry collection, Moonlight on Oleander, including the title poem, in which “the moon sits on the horizon like a serious word”.

Having heard Sholeh speak on one of the panels, I was also looking forward to her reading, which she did so with passion, sharing poems from her schooling in Trinidad to a catholic boarding school in Southern England, where “home is a missing tooth”.

This was a rich and memorable line-up, both contrasting and complimentary, one of many credits to the festival.

Having decided to treat myself to a poetry festival a year, this time took me to Canberra for Poetry on the Move hosted by the International Poetry Studies Institute, University of Canberra.

With a focus on Inhabiting Language, it offered an eclectic mix of poets and perspectives, a fantastic few days of being immersed in pure unadulterated poetry. Heaven. Due to the amount of sessions, I’ll summarise those I attended and in the absence of some photos, illustrations are curated from my travel snaps over the years in an ekphrastic attempt!

Lines and shapes

My first session looked at form, the panel comprising Cassandra Atherton, Lisa Brockwell, Owen Bullock and Lisa Gorton, convened by Paul Munden. Each poet shared their thoughts before questions from the audience were invited.

Lisa Gorton spoke of an inward principle of growth, a place where line breaks come up against silence, unformed time and vacancy, structures of hesitation. Owen shared a quote by Lyn Heinjin – form is not a fixture but an activity – there’s link and shift, internal line breaks, a song in the narrative. Lisa Brockwell has a strong preference for the sonnet, finding its metre and form liberating rather than confining, allowing her to access a wilder part of her imagination. Cassandra is a prose poet and passionate about it, sharing the concept of the free-line from Sally Ashton, where stand-alone sentences run from margin to margin separated by a skipped line, using Ocean Vuong’s poem ‘Trevor’ as an example of this.

Jill Jones initiated an interesting debate by saying a poem never really ends. Shane Strange asked if it’s better for a poet to just read their work rather than introducing its form, e.g. ghazal, pantoum, sestina, etc., and Cassandra asserted she can identify a prose poem by how it’s delivered.

To conclude, form is organic and follows content, which it most certainly does for me, unless I’ve been set the task of writing in a particular form.

In between sessions, my neighbour asked if I was studying poetry to which I replied no, I’m a poet! In hindsight I thought what an arrogant response. Of course I’m here to learn and will never stop.

Poet to Poet

The next session was a dialogue about the art of translation between Iranian writer Sholeh Wolpé and Keijiro Suga a Japanese literary scholar, facilitated by Melinda Smith.

Sholeh has translated Attar’s work, The Conference of Birds, a piece comprising over 5,000 couplets, one of which is ‘a morsel of lover’s pain is better than the lovers’. Sholeh wants to be known as a writer, not a translator, as she recreates pieces in which nothing is lost, comparing it to using a scalpel; it must cut to the bone. With poetry building bridges, Sholeh is very keen to share the pearls of Iranian work, otherwise it will continue to be regarded as just a terrorist state.

Keijiro didn’t start writing poetry until his fifties and shared a Japanese translation of the poem ‘In a Country where December is Mid-summer’. Japanese society is monolithic and encourages self-declaration, and so for Keijiro, the word identity is bothersome as he feels country doesn’t define who you are, juxtaposing this with his interest in indigenous work. Keijiro explained how, by having to meet deadlines, he doesn’t have the luxury of thinking.

What I took away is that translation can be flexible. You can bring in elements of yourself and your own interpretation, provided the reader ends up feeling the same way.

 

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!

Having been invited as a guest speaker in a writer’s festival run by Banksia Park International High School to inspire students to write, this was my first school talk and I must admit, I thoroughly enjoyed it!

Mine was the first session in the program after its official opening on Wednesday, with other sessions by a journalist and author taking place next week.  The school is in a part of Adelaide I’d never visited before and Marika, the English Coordinator who’d contacted me, led me to the Resource Centre where a wonderful space has been created for the festival.

About 15 students attended in their lunch break, ranging from 12 to 18 years old, who listened while I shared how I’d started writing, a little about the process I follow, some of my poems, finishing with a few hints and tips for those interested in pursuing poetry.

I asked those who write poetry what they like about it, to which one young boy replied “because I’m creating something”, supporting the idea that the poem is a living, breathing thing.  One girl asked what sort of poetry I write, haiku, sonnet, etc. I replied “free form” – I prefer to write without constraint, to let the poem take the shape it wants, which prompted Marika to make a note to talk to the other teachers about letting the students write more poetry without having to adhere to a set of rules.

The school purchased a few copies of my chapbooks for their library and a couple of students took my contact details, so I’m hoping they’ll be in touch. Events like these are a brilliant way to engage the next generation in writing and provide some insight into taking the next step in their chosen craft.  Fingers crossed they do  😊

Adelaide’s Writers’ Week kicks off this Saturday with an impressive program full of all things literary, so there’ll be something for everyone.

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Held in the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden, there’ll be a plethora of poets, novelists, playwrights, historians, biographers and memoirists, all genres to captivate and challenge the crowd.  Notable events are; Mike Ladd chatting about his recent collection of poetry, Invisible Mending, published by Wakefield Press; an interview with Ken Bolton, ‘a laconic and discursive poet’, aswell as art critic, editor and publisher; and the coveted poetry readings presented by Peter Goldsworthy, with a stunning line-up.

Jan Owen and Cath Kenneally, stalwarts of the South Australian poetry scene, are joined by Steve Brock, Jules Leigh Koch, Louise Nicholas and Dominic Symes.  Jules and Louise I know well and are incredibly talented poets; Jan I’m learning an invaluable amount from through her monthly workshops; Cath and Steve I’m still relatively new to their work; and Dominic I believe is an up and coming poet, one to watch.

Unfortunately, however, I’ll be en route to New Zealand to explore the South Island so will miss the entire week! Note to self for next time – avoid holidays in March.

This year’s line-up at Adelaide Writers’ Week were all from South Australia – Aidan Coleman, Jelena Dinic, Jill Jones, Kate Llewellyn and Thom Sullivan – who shared poems from their own collections as well as from a poet who has influenced them.

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Peter Goldsworthy compered the event, telling us about the new state-by-state anthologies from Australian Book Review (ABR), in which these poets feature, before moving on to introduce each of them.

Aidan opened the session with two poems from Asymmetry published by Brandl & Schlesinger Poetry, a collection that focuses on his painstaking recovery following a stroke. ‘To play’ is a parody of putting himself back together, asking us to ‘catch a face before it slides from the plate’ and in ‘New York’, the last poem in the collection, they were ‘leaving an afternoon of coloured glass and temples’. Next Aidan read his ‘Secondary’ series about these colours, where in ‘Green’ ‘lungs are scoured by brillo air’, ‘the heart is a wound or badge’ in ‘Purple’ and how ‘Orange’ ‘is the light of a cupped match.’ From his new chapbook, Cartoon Snow available from Garron Publishing, Aidan read the title poem asking us to ‘go where a blue night is snowing to itself’ followed by ‘Barbarian studies’, where ‘kids jostle, shove and swing like wrecking balls’. Aidan’s influence was John Forbes, an Australian poet, and he finished with a poem of his own about motivational posters, where ‘scent falls upward like helium.’

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Next up was Jelena whose work I just adore, influenced by Vasko Popa, a Serbian poet. Jelena started with ‘Dawn chorus’, a sinister poem about her ancestors from her chapbook, Buttons on my Dress also by Garron Publishing, where ‘under their tall hats time waits’ followed by ‘Visiting’, describing a time Jelena returned to her hometown culminating in the fantastic lines ‘Lamp-lit photographs are mute. I pretend to know the answer’. Next up was ‘Wedding’ where she asks the obligatory question ‘stepping on his foot just in case’ and then one of my favourites ‘Portrait of Olympia the Prostitute’ which is just that, ‘her black-cat eyes mastering the craft of the second hand love.’ ‘Ballad retold’ was a longer piece from the chapbook, as well as its final one, in which she walks ‘fine lines where beauty hurts’. Jelena finished with a poem by Popa called ‘Before the game’, which she read in English and then Serbian, in particular for her parents in the audience.

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Jill’s work is exquisite, her poems have been described as ‘tapestries of the present’, and she didn’t fail to impress. She began however, with her influence Peter Gizzi an American poet producing layered poems both intimate and global. Jill then read ‘Bent’, her poem in ABR’s state anthology, where ‘I make sense then drop it, it gets dirty, it breaks, the ants carry it’, a very poignant piece and with the poems that followed, Jill went on to paint equally vivid images – ‘maps of rain and passage of stars’ and ‘the sky is as opaque as reality’. Jill shared a few poems from her new collection Breaking the Days published by Whitmore Press Poetry, starting with ‘Happy families where ‘your own genius spooks, it runs to the cupboard and breaks all the plates’, followed by a sense of separation in ‘Fractions’ where ‘you could be tempted to fold’ and in ‘Not all choices’, she is out ‘to relieve the dog of its chasing thought and the business in the head’.

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Now I must admit Kate is new to me, I’ve not heard her read before, but she was introduced as SA’s most popular writer, known to her friends for her legendary letters. Kate started with ‘Harbour’ about both sailing into Sydney and growing old, where ‘the little casual things I see grow into a roar.’ Kate’s next poem ‘Dirt’ was very amusing, with which she falls in love through gardening, comparing it to Mr Right with a subtle rhyme throughout. In ‘Oxytocin’, included in the new ABR anthology, the line ‘last night I strode among the stars’ is repeated at intervals creating a profound effect and in ‘Seeds’ we hear the story of Demeter and Persephone, where the latter is a ‘creature of light, the sun and beaches’. Kate then read ‘Older men’, a poem she wrote years ago before, in her own words, she got old, where he is ‘courteous with your mother whom he could have married’, another humorous poem ending with the line ‘consider this a shopping list’. To compliment this, Kate finished with a poem by David Campbell, her influence, called ‘Younger women’ with their ‘blue stare of cool surprise’.

Thom I’ve heard before at Lee Marvin, and again was moved by the pieces he shared. After Peter spoke of Thom’s good use of colons to separate snatches of thought or dreams, he opened with a poem called ‘Homosuburbius’ and its repetitive line of ‘you’re dreaming still’, with ‘post boxes gagging junk mail’ and where ‘late night programming is flickering under their eyelids’. Thom’s next three poems were pastoral ones about his hometown in the hills presenting us with different aspects of it. In ‘Threshold’ there is ‘a fine grain of stars’ and in ‘Freehold’ there are ‘a pair of eagles riding the thermals’. The poet A R Ammons was one of Thom’s influences so he read one of his poems called ‘The city limits’ followed by a two-part one of his own called ‘Carte blanche’, where there is ‘death with a moon in her pocket’ to prove a poem can be serious without being solemn. Thom finished with his poem ‘Nothing doing’ from Australian Love Poems 2013 published by Inkerman & Blunt, where we find that ‘a bowerbird is hoarding memories’.

It was an amazing session (both the first and only one I will unfortunately have time to attend at this year’s Writers’ Week) with some damn fine poems, plenty to absorb and ponder.

So I thought I’d go along this year to see what it’s all about. Below are some highlights. Know now, this is long!

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Opening night

Mayor Gillian Aldridge opened the festival at the Mawson Lakes Centre, where they were thrilled to have secured former Prime Minister Julia Gillard to talk about her recently published biography My Story published by Random House. Amazingly Julia wrote this in 6 weeks, explaining that she wanted to write it as soon as possible to use the immediacy of memory. There are a few messages Julia wanted to convey in this book – a positive impression of politics for young people, how and why she did what she did, a story of resilience. Once again Julia was in top form – she really is a fantastic speaker and indeed role model for many girls aspiring to be a political figure.

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The launch of the anthology You’re Not Alone by young writers of True North also formed part of the evening, with participants asked onto stage to provide some context to the project, which essentially reaches out to anyone lost or lonely, or who are simply looking for a good story. It was a moving tribute.

Writers’ Forum

This was an all-day event of talks, debates and tips for writers across all genres, competency and experience.

Keynote address: William McInnes

Now I confess I was not familiar with this actor-turned writer, but was thoroughly entertained by what he had to say and how he did it!

William McInnes is one of Australia’s most popular authors, having written 8 books in 10 years, including memoir and his most recent novel, Holidays, published by Hachette AustraliaWilliam talked about the contrast between acting where you’re pretending to be someone else and writing, which is personal and all you. Above all, he said, the most important thing is that what you write means something to you, if not to anyone else, a point echoed throughout the day.

Panel: Writing as Therapy

This was an interesting discussion. The panel comprised, from left to right, William McInnes, Jane Turner Goldsmith and David Chapple from the SA Writers Centre, who between them explored the pros and cons of writing as a cathartic process.

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Writing is putting yourself out there, often the most intimate parts, to be read, judged, critiqued, loved or simply ignored, which begs the question why do we put ourselves through it…

Writing is a means of expression, a tool to help manage, understand and heal us from traumatic events and experiences.  It was interesting to hear that writing for therapy is only beneficial if there’s a strong narrative and resolution, giving an example where two groups were asked to write about something that has affected them, the first as a series of thoughts and the second as narrative, i.e. having a beginning, middle and end. The second group found this to be a satisfying exercise due to the structure imposed, whereas the first group felt they were just left swimming in a pool of emotion, proving this can be a dangerous exercise if not managed properly.

Writing can be subconscious, use characters or third person to reduce the anxiety associated with sharing, with writing fiction being a safe, protective environment to project the self. Even the most successful author can remain fragile about what they produce. I thought the closing remark poignant – people are designed to struggle, recover and move on; it’s what makes us human.

Panel: Once it’s out there…

This was essentially a hints and tips session from authors with books under their belt – from left to right Kristin Weidenbach, Carla Caruso, Jared Thomas and Mandy Macky from Dymocks. They explained how the world of publishing and marketing has changed, with publishers no longer able to finance extensive book tours.

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Here’s a little of what they said:

  • Arrange your own launch as a means to celebrate and thank
  • Cultivate a relationship with a local bookstore
  • Seek speaking opportunities rather than just book signings
  • Write articles for free
  • Visit country/remote locations and touch base with the local paper
  • Find a quirky angle in the media to advertise yourself
  • Be reliable and easy to communicate with
  • Know your genre and audience
  • Network, make connections, attend literary events and festivals
  • Literary agents are useful for negotiating internationally

The panel concluded by saying publishers look for authors who can market themselves as unfortunately, they no longer have the budget to do so.

Panel of Publishers: What goes on behind closed doors?

From left to right Michael Bollen of Wakefield Press, Sophie Hamley from Hachette Australia,  Leonie Tyle from Tyle & Bateson Publishing and Dyan Blacklock a publishing consultant gave us an insight into a typical day, where reading new work is a small proportion and quite often done in their own time.

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Liaising with account manages, sending books off to the printers, exploring cover designs, organising contracts, book signings, advising on book tours and launches, attending events, these were just some of the tasks cited that fill their day where, like many of us, there are never enough hours!

Usefully they shared some do’s and don’t when you think you’re ready to submit your work:

  • Revise, revise, revise your manuscript
  • Consider getting it edited professionally
  • Be familiar with submission guidelines and process
  • Do simultaneous submissions but be sure to let publishers know
  • Know your market
  • Apply for literary grants
  • Enter competitions, join writing groups, attend events
  • Explore the self-publishing option
  • Assess how much you want print against the rise of e-books
  • Beware of assessment agencies
  • Write something worth reading, fresh and original

On this last point they strongly advised against writing what you think people want to read and a concept of ‘rear view publishing’ i.e. don’t write what’s already out there. And again another beautiful closing – a good book will always find it’s home.

The University of Canberra is hosting a Festival of Poetry from 1-11 September with fantastic international poets in residence, Philip Gross and Katharine Coles, along with a positively star-studded cast including the likes of Mark Tredinnick, Lisa Jacobson and Peter Rose.

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The International Poetry Studies Institute carries out poetry-related research and publishes its findings across the world, along with journal issues and a chapbook series. Their aim is to “develop new communities of poetry and to make new links between poets wherever they are”, and this event will do just that.

Through a series of master classes, interviews, book launches and readings, including announcing winners of the 2015 University of Canberra VC’s International Poetry Prize, the program is jam-packed with opportunities to network, learn and appreciate poetry as the significant literary art form it is.

And if it weren’t for other poetry commitments around that time I would definitely go along, and then could have also ticked Canberra off being the only Australian city I have yet to explore! Alas, timing is everything.

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