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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.

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.

 

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