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I was invited to an exclusive gathering at Heather Taylor Johnson’s house last night to listen to the poetry of Andy Jackson, here from Victoria to complete his PhD at Adelaide University. I hadn’t read any of Andy’s work before the invite and once I did, was looking forward to hearing more.

Andy Jackson

Andy has performed widely, received awards for his work and been extensively published; his first full length collection, Among the regulars, was shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Prize for Poetry in 2010 and in 2013, his collection, the thin bridge, won the Whitmore Press Manuscript Prize. Andy has Marfan Syndrome, a genetic disorder of connective tissue, and the impact of this on his life is explored in much of his work.

The thin bridge

Heather introduced Andy, who started with a new poem, ‘What I have under my shirt’, which he told us had been rejected by a few journals and after hearing it I thought, more fool them. The poem offered several ways to explain his ‘body shaped like a question mark’ to use Andy’s words, comparing it to ‘a speed hump your eyes slow down over on approach’, followed by other explanations such as a ‘backpack’, ‘nothing’ or ‘infinite shirts’. It was a thought-provoking piece, really quite profound.

Next came a poem about parenthood called ‘Double helix’ in which Andy used line repetition; ‘what looks like a pattern is composed of chaos’, ‘I didn’t think of having children until I met you’ and ‘you can be so lonely you don’t want to be touched’. Powerful stuff.

Andy then shared what he described as a kind of love poem for his partner Rachael, a poignant description of them taking a bath, with the beautiful line of ‘I slipped, bumped my thinking on your actual body’ as he is almost dumbfounded by what’s happening.

‘The elephant’ was a poem about the proverbial one in the room, literally, where ‘there isn’t much room for us’ and so they are forced to ‘inch along the wall’, culminating in the wonderful last line of ‘He reverently lifts my arm, as if it were a tusk, lifeless’.

Andy closed his first set with a poem about the decomposition of a bike in Coburg called ‘The bike itself’, telling us how pieces were taken away over time so he finds ‘beauty in absence’, leaving ‘memories not even lavender-patterned wallpaper can hold onto’.

Unfortunately I didn’t stay for the second half (more fool me!), but it was a delight meeting Andy albeit fleetingly and to hear him read. It was a gorgeous event, filled with candles, soft lights and bright stars, both above and of the SA poetry scene, with Jill Jones, Rachael Mead, Alison Flett, Kathryn Hummel, David Mortimer, Mike Hopkins, Pam Maitland, Aidan Coleman and Amelia Walker, who were also invited to share a poem or two.

But lets return to Andy. His work is achingly beautiful, haunting, conjuring images you just want to put your arms around or slip into your pocket to take home to keep. If you’re not familiar with Andy’s poetry, I would strongly encourage you to get familiar; his collections have already been ordered.

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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