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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…

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.

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