With Adelaide Writers’ Week wrapped up for another year, I want to share some of the highlights for me, predominantly poetry, despite the limited selection this time.

The Opening Address, Imagination Redeems, was delivered by Ben Okri, a Man Booker Prize winner for his novel The Famished Road. Ben was an engaging speaker, believing that “literature is one of the great freedoms” and that “reading happens in the theatre of the mind”. Being human is a strange condition, which we “seem to accept and hurry about our lives”, and Ben went onto explain the concept of unfreedom, where “our deepest dreams are strangled at the roots of their dreaming place”. Ben left us with these words:

The strength of our freedom is wholly dependent on our imagination. Children see small castles in stones growing into adults who cannot see the small stones in castles. Literature is a way of seeing with the mind.

The first session was Open Book with David Malouf, the title of his new collection, which spans all stages of life. David explained how he learnt poems by heart, his first favourite being Kenneth Slessor, quickly followed by Rainer Maria Rilke, Wallace Stevens, Emily Dickinson and W B Yeats. For David, poetry comes from a dreaming, rather than a thinking, place, and when planning a collection, he waits until he has enough poems and then tries to order them in a coherent way. David shared the title poem from his new collection, and ‘On the Move’ and ‘Late Poem’, stressing the importance of close listening and layering in language.

Next up was Fiona Wright’s The World was Whole, the follow up to her award-winning essay collection Small Acts of Disappearance. Fiona’s writing is mesmerising, part poet, part memoir, who doesn’t consider herself to be a confessional writer. She’s not ashamed of her illness, with her new book about managing it on a daily basis. When stuck, she reads Helen Garner, a famous diarist and thinks herself a slow writer, having to battle with a double consciousness in that she can never just sit in a park and relax, her mind is constantly working. Fiona spoke about transcendent time (a journey) and imminent time (here and now) – her new book focuses on the latter.

The final session I went to were the Poetry Readings with Birgitta Jónsdóttir, David Malouf, Fiona Wright, Joelle Taylor and Ben Okri. Birgitta’s an Icelandic poet, who read a moving piece about refugees as heroes and another about colonising women inspired by the #metoo movement. David read a poem about the war in Brisbane in 1944 from his first solo collection, followed by a few from Earth Hour, another of his fascinating works. Joelle’s a spoken word poet, sharing how she was raped by soldiers when she was five then reading excerpts from a canto in her new collection, Songs My Enemy Taught Me, to express this trauma. Fiona read from her new collection, Domestic Interior, including the title poem and the entertaining ‘Thank you internet’ which comprised a conversation Fiona overhead in a café. Ben closed the session by sharing a love poem, and another about stars and wishes/fishes, a clever play on words.

Needless to say my book collection has grown considerably with a few of them signed, so roll on next year’s Writers’ Week, and may there be plenty more of the poetic kind.

My third show to review for mindshare was Singin’ in the Pain last night at Nexus Arts in the Lion Arts Centre.

This is burlesque with a definitive kick, produced by Diana Divine who began by sharing her own story. On strong painkillers after putting her back out, which she later discovered she was allergic to, Diana performed a show in excruciating pain et voila, the title!

Diana removed her back brace to music to demonstrate burlesque for those unfamiliar with it and then sang about trying to accomplish things with a constantly shifting finish line. Her voice was amazing.

Diana introduced the first act – Jaqueline Boxx (aka Miss Disa-burly-tease) from the US. With Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, which affects connective tissues, Jacqueline performed in a wheelchair as pertinent messages flashed across the screen behind, such as You don’t look ill and the one below, culminating in a defiant pose giving the finger.

Next up was the recently crowned burlesque idol SA who, with one hand deformed, fascinated with a fan dance, her energy and stage-coverage exhausting, quickly followed by Moisty Magic who shared her history of mental illness through song. Moisty’s voice wasn’t as strong as Diana’s and having Googled her, I found a far more profound performance she gave called Unique.

Madame Savage graced the stage next, drunk on love and high on prescriptions, who, suffering from diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis to name a few, demonstrated difficulties in the bedroom. Her act finished with a release of medical waste from above – empty blister packs, syringes, boxes, etc. – representing just a few months’ worth. Imagine this for everyone managing a debilitating condition.

The next act enthralled me – Laetitia Stitch who, after visiting ER with endless bleeding, was eventually diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome. Laetitia presented herself as a bandage, head to foot in white, which when peeled, revealed its symbolic red lining. Living with endometriosis myself, this resonated.

While the acts were not as polished as some I’ve seen at the Fringe, they were brave and the concept’s quite brilliant, in its attempt to shatter the assumptions associated with disability, highlight individual experience and demonstrate that accessibility shouldn’t be a barrier. I believe it achieved its goals.

I’ve just finished an online workshop facilitated by Andy Jackson called ‘Poetry Season’, which ran over six weeks, each with a different theme.

Andy’s based in Victoria, an amazing poet with five collections to his name, the most recent being Music Our Bodies Can’t Hold. I’ve met Andy a few times now, such a warm and engaging person, so when he sought interest in a new poetry workshop he’d developed, I jumped at the chance.

The weekly assignment comprised a short essay, example poems and prompts for us to respond to by drafting a poem of our own and sharing it with the other participants. Andy ran two groups in parallel due to the volume of interest received, with another scheduled later in the year, already with a waiting list I believe.

Summer

Themes covered included ‘Summer’ (incredibly apt considering the recent heatwaves!), ‘Place’ and ‘Others’, all inviting us to explore form and technique, to step into unfamiliar territory, to not hold back. Andy provided detailed feedback each week with participants encouraged, but not required, to share their thoughts on each piece. The group I was in was incredibly talented and supportive in the comments and suggestions made, which I used to improve each of my drafts.

I’d highly recommend this workshop if you want to connect with like-minded people, discover new poets and receive invaluable feedback from a fantastic one. It’s given me six poems patiently waiting to be released when opportunity calls. Pretty good for six weeks’ worth of work I reckon.

Yesterday I joined the panel on Words Out Loud, a regular slot on PBA FM, Salisbury’s community radio station.

 

Hosted by Joanne Baker, the focus is to promote local writing and literary events with featured writers talking about their latest publications, so I went along to chat about more than here.  With tip of the day, the five-word challenge and a roundup of recent and future events, there was a lot to cover in the half-hour slot.

Joanne opened the show by introducing the panel (I joined Carolyn Cordon and Gordon McPherson on this one, both poets), who shared news of local writing groups followed by the tip of the day. Next up me. I explained how my collection came about, spoke about the different themed-sections and read a poem from the first with a focus on family.

Before the show, we were asked to complete the five-word challenge from the previous week to incorporate ‘intensity’, ‘nomadic’, ‘fire’, ‘unreal’ and ‘open’. It produced some interesting pieces that we shared on air, after which point I chose five words from more than here for the next challenge

Thankfully it was pre-recorded for Joanne to work her editing magic. The program will be broadcast next Tuesday at 11:30am after the weekly Well Versed readings, which I was also proud to be involved in (my poem’s scheduled to air Tuesday 12 March along with Joanne’s). I wasn’t able to attend the launch unfortunately, which by all accounts was a success and well attended, but my visit to the station did allow me to buy the full set on USB.

Being interviewed on radio was a first for me, one that I hope to repeat if opportunity allows. Next to finalise the launch of the collection. Watch this space!

My second Fringe show to review was Mickey D: CAN DO! at The Little Sparrow in Masonic Lodge, Gluttony’s new venue this year.

Deemed “a show with attitude, about attitude”, Mickey began by laying down some ground rules in his bandit basement comedy – there are no rules and we’re just here to laugh. A good start.

An advert for Cotton On in his “tropical dad shirt” and chequered socks (all about the finish line!), Mickey discusses the various greetings with accents using the obligatory how do you feel? replying with that’s why we have you ladies as men (some, most, all?) are construed as empty vessels when it comes to emotion.

His wife’s name is Beth, aka Boss, who is British so unaccustomed to how cold it can get here:

Beth – Can we turn the heating on?

Mickey – Heating?! We don’t have any heating! Heating fucked off in March!!

Beth is apparently 6 ft 8 and so rather than spooning, Mickey says she ladles him; he could be there for months. Mickey talks about his kids – his daughter whose accent is half Adelaidean, half Brummie so jokes they’re hanging out for a disability benefit and his son, who just sits there all day, staring, doesn’t do anything as Mickey snaps his fingers trying to get his attention, later revealing he’s only 10 months old.

When Mickey argues with his wife, he knows he’ll never win so simply relocates, however you ladies have freaky hearing and even then, she can detect his muffled words when he’s in his shed, head zipped into an empty golf bag. Beth’s nickname is Wolf – my wife will eat your wife! – then things turn serious (?) when Mickey shares that she helped him beat drugs, gambling and alcohol 15 years ago.

Mickey talks about ice, how he got tired of it when he found himself doing a tour of someone else’s home and confronting a “sharkie” in an On the Run at two in the morning (buying cheese Twisties for his daughter’s lunch) who asks him what the fuck you looking at? to which Mickey tells us, now I love a quiz. And then we hear the best heckle ever. Mickey explains how he went to the Middle East to gig for the troops there when an audience member mutters haven’t they been through enough?! A brilliant come back, flooring us all, including Mickey!

After closing the show with the words of his ex-girlfriend I’m leaving you now, Mickey then treats us to a bonus outside on the steps, incorporating passers-by and even the trams.

Underneath the joking, piss-taking and bravado there are pertinent messages – try anything once, take every opportunity, but most of all, have fun, something which can be increasingly difficult in today’s shock-cultured world. At this venue, it’s a sold-out show, but if you want some laughs elsewhere and are not easily offended, I’d recommend it.

As a Fringe reviewer of mental health-themed shows for mindshare, my first was Whiplash last night at the National Wine Centre.

Opening with You know the story; it starts with a date, Scott Wings invites us on his self-exploration, literally, as his heart abandons him on a date, apt for Valentine’s Day. A clever mix of physicality and poetry, there’s some stunning imagery, as Scott relays:

In darkness my heart packs its bags. The streets are all clots. There, an old thought begs for change.

Heart is a person, has a mind of its own, leaves the taxi in iambic pentameter mimicked by Scott. And so he goes inside himself to search for heart while on the date, chats with the café proprietor of his stomach, past his appendix, an old lego brick he swallowed years ago, skillfully personifying each body part. He checks his spine, which asks the cliched have you checked out your sleeve lately? and then dick interferes with a romantic brush of hands as they reach for their wine.

He goes to his tailbone to mess with the monkeys there, encounters the brain ship with its powerful, all-knowing presence, eventually reaching his shoulder blade on which he sits, feet dangling, to watch the date unfold. There’s a tree in his collarbone where he encounters himself at different ages – 16, 18, 25, 28, etc. – masturbating to porn, smoking a bong, until a fight breaks out, with his 30-year-old self shouting none of you fuckers have ever done any of your taxes! And when the wine sloshes down, his discomfort increases as he desperately tries to find something to say.

Scott’s array of emotions and energy is boundless, as he takes us through an evolutionary dance, encouraging audience participation, starting with one cell, which multiplies, becomes a worm, which sprouts legs, becomes a lizard and so on, until the brain ship looms large.

I found this concept particularly fascinating, as Scott’s headspace gets re-arranged with spider-like hands shifting thoughts, questions, worries, culminating in when will anyone prioritise me…?

All this time he’s still on the date until, when it comes to goodbye, she says:

Your stories are great and thanks for sharing, but you didn’t ask me a single question all night

causing his brain to fight with his heart, now returned. The ending is poignant – his six-year-old self appears with a flower and places it where his heart is; together they watch it bloom.

It was an incredible show, up there with some of the best we’ve seen at the Fringe and we’ve seen many. With fundamental themes of self-doubt and anxiety, ingeniously expressed through theatrical gestures and words back-grounded with music and mood lighting, it has something for everyone, go see.

5-stars

J V Birch reviews Glass Life by Jo Langdon

Pleased with this and appreciate the opportunity. The start of something

I knew of Cassandra and Paul, having read some of their work, and met them at the Poetry on the Move Festival in Canberra last year. Garron Publishing have published a chapbook of their poems in their latest Southern-Land Poets series, the launch of which they joined via video link as both were overseas.

An award-winning poet, Paul is head of the International Poetry Studies Institute and Professor of Writing at the University of Canberra. Wedding Dress and Other Poems takes us on a journey of nostalgia, each stop a place of potency with a spectrum of feeling. The majority of poems are prose, with a few in tercets and quatrains, and their literary admiration for one another is clear, with both dedicating a poem to the other. In ‘Peeling (for CA)’, ‘Peeling an existence is easier than it looks’, which continues into an exploration of self, culminating in succinct advice – ‘When words fall from through your mouth listen to what they say.’

The nuances of other relationships are explored from different perspectives. In ‘Holding’, intimacy is balanced with unfathomable distance:

They held each other at slow arms’ length in the morning’s

indistinct light. So many words; a year of feeling their way.

Histories no longer kept known arrangements; their hands

were charged with intricacies of absence.

‘Apartment’ is an atmospheric poem, not just of place, but of the linear connection between people. From the start of something, when ‘their sense of themselves became vapour’ making love ‘against the damp bathroom wall’ to the break – ‘After weeks they knew they’d leave their mutuality there…He inspected the rooms and found no history he could keep.’

Cassandra is a prose poet and passionate about it. Her work has been widely published, she’s judged numerous awards, including the Victorian Premier’s Prize for Poetry, and is the current poetry editor for Westerly magazine. In Pre-Raphaelite and Other Prose Poems, there’s beauty and chaos, an ethereal quality fracturing edges, as Cassandra gives us poems about loss, desire and resolve in various stages. In ‘Bonds’, representing both the brand and the tie between people:

I promise to unbind you and gather you in my arms. Skin on

skin. My sweat will be our glue as I rip off that t-shirt and

bond you to me one last time.

In ‘Plum(b)’, food smears thoughts in a stream of consciousness – plums are kept in the fridge, farmyard animals are too ‘cute’ to devour, chicken, fish ‘and sometimes beef’ are eaten, bringing us back full circle to the drupe:

He doesn’t understand the importance of a big, red, expensive fridge.

He thinks they are just for keeping things cold. Like plums.

Cassandra reciprocates Paul’s dedicated poem with ‘Pineapple (for PH)’, where ‘Pineapple gives me atlas tongue. But I eat it and travel the world on my tastebuds’. A personal favourite of mine is ‘Heartbreak Spondee’ on the opposite page, a powerful piece in two parts in which the first is of a union – ‘We leave the lights off and let the sun trace our bodies on the bed’ – and the second separation – ‘Too many new moons have set without your touch.’ The grief in this piece is palpable.

I don’t do resolutions as a rule, but like to have goals, so this year I’ll attempt some prose poetry, aim to pack a punch, leave a mark, like the work in these collections do. And just to note, Melbourne University Press will be publishing The Australian Prose Poetry Anthology, edited by Cassandra and Paul, in 2020 (work submitted must have been previously published). I’ve no doubt it’ll be a fascinating read.

I was guest poet last night at the Southern Performers Interactive Network (SPIN) Christmas Concert in a jam-packed program of poets and musicians.

The event was co-organised by Julia Wakefield who I met at a writing workshop earlier in the year. It was a wonderful evening of entertainment, alternating between poetry and music, with the first half MC’d by Maria Vouis and Steve Evans.

Lindy Warrell opened the set sharing some of her Australasian poems amongst other countries, one of which was old age. Rose between Thorns stepped up next performing an excellent cover of ‘Alice’ and ‘Wicked Game’, aswell as some of their own music, followed by the fab Jill Gower who read entertaining poems about a man she met on a train in Europe and a room comparison with a friend.

Then it was my turn. I shared poems from my three chapbooks, giving a little context before each, and one from my first full length collection due out next year. Sharing the endometriosis poems was quite timely as this was the focus of a recent Insight program, so most in the audience knew about the condition.

After the break, guest musician Tim Saunders took to the stage playing a song called ‘Seflie’ on guitar and a Vivaldi rendition on flute amongst others. Steve Evans was up next, another great poet, sharing ’12 Days of Audit’ and ‘Dating Quiz’, both of which drew laughs from the crowd. Street Owls followed, playing covers of ‘Sweet Dreams’, ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ and ‘Runaway’, which got us singing along, and Samuel Summer closed the first half who’s recording an album for a Year 12 project and has an amazing voice.

An open mic session followed, which I unfortunately had to miss being exhausted from a ridiculously busy week! But I thoroughly enjoyed myself – caught up with some fellow poets, made some new friends, sold some chapbooks – all in a welcoming and supportive environment. Hoping to spin more in the future.

This morning I recorded one of my poems for PBA FM’s ‘Well Versed’ Program, to be aired during next year’s Adelaide Fringe as part of Salisbury’s Secret Garden.

pba_logo

PBA FM is a community radio station offering a diverse range of programs, giving voice to those who may feel excluded or find it difficult to participate in social, cultural and political aspects of everyday life.

One such program is ‘Well Versed’ devised by Joanne Baker. Poets were invited to submit work to be broadcast as part of the program and those selected by the judges, invited to record their poem in the studio. Joanne was keen to have poets read their own work rather than an announcer, so listeners get the true interpretation of the piece. Joanne also hosts ‘Words Out Loud’.

It was a great experience, a first for me, and wonderful to meet others who are passionate about getting poetry out there. A CD will be compiled of all the readings available to buy, with each being aired next February/March. So as well as hoping to be a reviewer again, I’ll be a Fringe artist, yay!

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