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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.

Well I got me some done. Mainly because I was getting fed up of writing my details on any scrap of paper to hand, plus I do think it looks a little bit professional, don’t you?

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So far I have parted with only a few – the obligatory one to the husband, and then a couple were given out at my recent trip to the Mildura Writers Festival, including one to Eileen Chong.

I do have more readings, festivals and workshops booked in to attend and participate in, including the launch of my first chapbook Smashed glass at midnight, so plenty more opportunities to spread the word of my own  🙂

And so the second session I attended at the Mildura Writers Festival was an insight into the work of Eileen Chong and Anthony Lawrence facilitated by Judith Beveridge.

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I must confess I had never read either of their poems before and so was very keen to be introduced to them. Judith began by asking them how they write. Eileen explained how she allows a poem to ferment and doesn’t normally write until it is almost fully formed. She went onto confess she is a compulsive reader, books, packets, labels, really anything with words, and that she casts around for ideas to find a voice or mood to fit the subject matter. Anthony said his poems begin with an emotion, giving the example of driving from work one day when two gulls angled away from his fender and he knew at that point a poem was on its way. He also explained that he read a lot of lyrical poets, citing Leonard Cohen as one of his favourites (mine too!).

Both read poems about their grandmothers – Eileen about her paternal grandmother in ‘My Hakka Grandmother’ from her debut collection Burning Rice and Anthony read ‘Need’ from his forthcoming collection Wax Cathedral.

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When asked by Judith about the actual process of writing, Eileen said she usually goes straight to the keyboard, whereas Anthony has a passion for paper and fountain pens, making meticulous changes by hand, although did confess that for his new collection he went straight to a Word document for the first time. Judith also explored if either have any particular rituals when writing, to which Eileen replied she has to have a clean house before starting and is not able to write if she’s anxious about something. Anthony said he can write anywhere without need for a formal structure and read a poem called ‘Murmuration’ about the movement of starlings. Eileen also read a poem from her forthcoming collection Painting Red Orchids to be published by Pitt Street Poetry who also published her first.

After hearing Eileen read her work it resonated with me, so I purchased a copy of Burning Rice and asked her to sign it, which she happily did. Having read it from cover to cover there are so many delicious images weaved within, and I particularly like her style of writing, succinct and yet so much depth is shared.

And so my first experience of this particular festival ended with a quick review over wine with two very good poet friends – Jennifer Liston and Louise Nicholas – who opted for the early bird package, something I plan to do next year.

The Mildura Writers Festival – what an amazing whirlwind experience! I say whirlwind because we drove for about 10 hours for me to attend 2 sessions totaling 3 hours, thankfully with an overnight stay! Next year better planning’s required, mainly signing up for the whole weekend but anyway, it was well worth the drive.

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The first session I managed to sneak into just before it started, having totally forgotten about the half hour time difference, was Peter Goldsworthy’s chat with Sharon Olds. Peter began by asking Sharon how she came to write and so she explained at one point she used to speak to her friend in sonnets after studying Shakespeare at 14, and started writing out of love for it along with music and rhythm, soon having a preference for 6 beats per line. Sharon felt she wasn’t suited to become a scholar having failed her dissertation, and would happily give up everything she’d learnt to write poems, adding that she had, in fact, learnt very little! And this was just one example of Sharon’s gorgeous sense of humour collapsing the audience into laughter.

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Sharon went onto confess she only wrote good poetry after writing a lot of bad poetry and had some nasty rejection letters, one from a literary magazine that replied if you want to write about your children, we suggest a women’s magazine a better fit! And that’s what Sharon is, a family poet, writing about a range of human wealth some find confrontational, a bit too close for comfort. When writing Stag’s Leap published by Jonathan Cape in 2012, Sharon explained she didn’t feel she was still under the vow of marriage and so could write about this very personal experience with a poetic rawness. She added it doesn’t matter if a poem makes her feel vulnerable, as long as it has emotional gravity.

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Sharon read a couple of poems during the session and ended with ‘Ode to the Hymen’, a piece that was both funny and poignant generating loud hysterics that ebbed into thoughtful silence. And that is the power and magic of Sharon. Listening to her was divine, she is such a beautiful person and I wished the session had been longer, but I was absolutely thrilled to have her sign my copy of Stag’s Leap and felt she shared with us all a certain sense of peace, quiet in its power.

Adelaide Writer’s Week that is, and I went along to my first session yesterday to hear Julia Gillard talk about her new book.

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In the 35 degree heat albeit with partial shade, Julia’s session was literally bursting at the seams with the crowd of people there to hear her, many standing due to a lack of available seats, a sure sign of this ex-prime minister’s continuing popularity. Julia is an amazing public speaker, one question being posed at the end asking her if she knew of any courses, programs, free downloads where one can learn this skill, to which she replied that being part of a high school debating team considerably helped.

The interview was interesting, the host Laura Kroetsch probing Julia about her time in office, how she got there, memorable moments and the impact they had on her family. And in turn Julia provided very informative and heartfelt responses, which at times were highly entertaining, perhaps endearing her only further to her hometown of Adelaide. And the queue of fans afterwards to get their copies of My Story signed snaked around the garden!

So other sessions I plan to attend next week are the Poetry Readings tomorrow where Barry Hill, Anne Kennedy, Omar Musa, Samuel Wagan Watson and Ian Wedde will read a selection of their work, and then Shorts on Thursday with Cate Kennedy and Angela Meyer talking about the art of the short story. Oh, and of course there will be the obligatory visit to the book tent, must remember to take a sturdy bag…

Now I admit, I have only seen a few slam poetry performances over the years so my comparisons are not the broadest, but this group of young dynamic poets was amazing!

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The show “Aotearoa Speaks – Chewing your Ears” definitely needs to be heard, delivered by some of the best spoken word poets from New Zealand, including national and international slam winners.  In a collaboration of stories from New Zealand, Samoa, Africa and Egypt, these 7 artists deliver a fusion of song, movement and poetry with poignant cultural and social themes that will get you thinking and reflecting long after they’ve left the stage.
 
Having performed 3 nights in Adelaide at the Brighton Performing Arts Centre they are now in Melbourne, so if you can get tickets I can’t recommend them enough. Here’s a little taster…
 
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Rule 1: Don’t make it beautiful. Your metaphors are as pretty as an induced labour. Ideas swaddled too soon, let them sit in themselves like a soup.
 

February and March is a busy time in Adelaide – the annual Festival, the Fringe and of course, Writer’s Week.

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And what an eventful week it’s been! Last Thursday I attended a workshop by the inspiring Mark Tredinnick, a non-fiction literary master class that explored the process and influence of writing from fact.  The workshop generated a few ideas, thoughts and writers to research, so a very worthwhile investment I felt.

And then I went to a few sessions at Writer’s Week, conveniently taking place in the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Gardens just around the corner from where I work.  There was a poetry reading on Monday with the likes of Lisa Jacobson, one of the poets shortlisted for the 2014 John Bray Poetry Award with her verse novel The Sunlit Zone and David Malouf, who’s collection Typewriter Music was one of my many purchases from the frequently visited book tent.

On Tuesday evening I attended the monthly meeting of Friendly Street Poets (FSP) at the University of Adelaide where I read two pieces as a first time reader, for which I received a welcoming round of applause that managed to calm the nerves a bit (that and the free glass of wine I had beforehand!).  I have submitted both poems for consideration in the new annual anthology being finalised by the FSP editors so we’ll see how that goes.  I enjoyed the company of fellow poets Pam Maitland, Louise Nicholas and Nigel Ford, all of whom read extremely thought-provoking pieces, some not without humour, and were very supportive of my own performance.  Another noteworthy act was delivered by a group of New Zealand poets over to participate in their Fringe event taking place on Saturday night, Aotearoa Speaks – Chewing your Ears.  If their outstanding performance on Tuesday is anything to go by, this will be a fantastic and memorable evening so very much looking forward to it.

The final Writer’s Week session I attended was another of Mark’s where he was interviewed on aspects of love, birds and nature in his work by Mike Ladd, series producer of ABC’s Poetica.  This insightful chat prompted me to purchase another of Mark’s collections Fire Diary, which I have yet to indulge in.

So now I will take some time to breathe, reflect and do the thing that must be done following any whirlwind of words and wisdom…write, and then write some more!

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