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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…

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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