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Sunday evening was a divine mixture of fine food and company, as we devoured a three-course meal and the words of five Adelaide-based poets and novelists who shared a series of water-themed readings.

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Held in Sarah’s Sustainable Café in Semaphore as part of Adelaide’s Fringe-frenzy month, the line-up was impressive – Ray Tyndale, Mag Merrilees, Rachael Mead, Heather Taylor Johnson and Alison Flett – and Stuart Gifford, and his partner and co-chef Marian Prosser, did an amazing job of hosting and feeding!

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Ray was first up, a local poet living by the sea in Semaphore who writes a poem a day (impressive). Ray opened her set with a poem called ‘Dolphins’ written last July, describing how a mother and baby were ‘turning and surging in the shallows’, an image you could so clearly see.  Next up was a poem called ‘Menace’ where the sea ‘claims at least one to itself each year’ followed by ‘The kite-surfer’ where it ‘erupted into white horses’.  In ‘Winter on Semaphore beach’, there is ‘half a rainbow, a brilliant half’ and in ‘Blue seaweed’ ‘magic happened’.  Ray read well, was both warm and engaging, her work painting a picture of everyday events we could all relate to, as well as making reference to the highly variable temperatures in our state when ‘thunder rumbled like an upset stomach’.

Just before the main course was served, Mag started by explaining how she is primarily a novelist who dips into poetry. Mag began with an old poem, ‘The whales’, written 25 years ago about the time when these glorious mammals came back into Encounter Bay, watching as they were ‘rocked weightless by the waves’.  Next up was a poem about Kangaroo Island where she was ‘drawn homeward by moonlight’ followed by another short piece, ‘Flotsam’, which she later learnt was a Haibu (Haiku embedded in prose).  Mag’s last share was ‘Sea ground stones’, a much longer piece, both interesting and entertaining, which opened with the line ‘letters from my sister start mid-thought’ and then went onto explain Mag’s ‘digestion song’, and how she plans ‘to meet every pebble on the beach’ referring to them as ‘crumbs of mountain’.

Rachael was up next who confessed she had to trawl through the archives living in the hills, so began with a poem about a beach walk she took to calm down after a rather irritating visitor had left, where she ‘was the only one with untamed hair and sneakers’ and ‘the idea of day makes the hills blush’. Rachael then read a series of sonnets about her encounter with a great white shark while cage diving in Port Lincoln (on our to do list!) from her new chapbook, The Quiet Blue World and Other Poems, published by Garron Publishing and having heard them before, they were just as stunning.  ‘In the kayak’ followed, a very atmospheric piece likening the paddles to cutlery which ‘feast on platelets of silence’ and in ‘After crossing the bridge the first time’ to Hindmarsh Island, ‘an ant crawls across the page like punctuation gone wild’.  Rachael finished with a poem called ‘Lost on the coast road’ ‘in a car like a metaphor gone wrong’ through ‘a tangle of stars and streetlights’.

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As we were tucking into a delicious dessert, Heather began reading an excerpt from her new novel due out next year from University of Queensland Press, which focuses on a character called Jean Harley who is either dead or in a coma (Heather’s own words!). The passage was from a chapter called ‘The house of noise’ from the viewpoint of the mother-in-law Marion, who describes her daughter-in-law as ‘a sunken body in white sheets’ and tells of her own secret battle with cancer where ‘she lived on a lake, but today it sounded like an ocean’.  On a trip to West Beach with her son Stan and grandson Orion, Marion has a rare moment of contact with the former when ‘she cherished the linger, felt safe she could melt’ and then of Orion, ‘his smile as vast as the shoreline’.  The next passage was from the chapter ‘Very Viv’, where Viv is beach walking during that time of the month when ‘her uterus is emptying itself’ as she contemplates her affair with a professor who had had a fling with Jean before she married Stan.  What Heather shared was enough to make me want to buy the book and read more!  Heather finished with the poem ‘Gearing up’ about Adelaide’s Fringe season from her collection Thirsting for Lemonade published by Interactive Press, just perfect.

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Alison rounded off the readings who, having been in Australia now for five years from Scotland and a former resident poet in Adelaide’s Botanic Gardens, began with a poem called ‘First creek’ in the shape of a creek on a scroll of paper. With ‘surfaces reflecting scraps of sky’, water that ‘petered into pools and puddles’ and the ‘sun repeatedly paddle-beating my skull’, we were there with Alison on her journey.  The creek is compared with her sweat and the water at lunch, as she notes how ‘magpies look the same but make the strangest of noises’ and what is brilliantly referred to as the ‘disappointment of crows’ (so true!).  Alison then read ‘Pittance’, a poem that talks of the primeval presence trailing them, the animal they once were, followed by ‘Five ways to hear the ocean’ which was just that.  Alison finished with a poem I’ve heard her read before and just love, ‘The map of belonging’, which will form part of the new collection she’s working on funded by an Arts SA grant, ‘where home is a paper folded and torn’ and ‘you find yourself landless’, beautiful.

And there endeth a wonderful evening! A fantastic experience I was thrilled to be a part of.  And if you’re ever in Semaphore check out the cafe, it’s well worth a visit.

Wednesday saw Rachael Mead and Peter Goldsworthy reading at the Halifax Cafe, two really big names in the literary scene, introduced by the lovely Jelena Dinic.

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First up was Rachael, whose work I just adore.

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Rachael is such an amazingly talented poet, conveying the relationship between humanity and the natural world in stunning sequences. Rachael began by sharing some poems from her overland trek series, the first called ‘These clouds that cap the world’, with delicious lines like ‘our whole worlds hanging from our collarbones’ and ‘hair netting sky’, and then onto day two enforcing the strong sense of place ‘as the dark falls wildly over everything’. Next up was ‘Polar tent’, which Rachael wrote after doing some field work in the Antarctica, threading images of the winds, the cold and eventually sleep in engineered darkness.

Rachael has just had a new collection of work published by Garron Publishing, The Quiet Blue World and other poems, part of the Southern Land Poets series, and so read ‘The Lake’ from her ‘Lake Eyre cycle, which incidentally has recently been set to music. Again so many dazzling images – ‘ankle deep in sky’ and ‘we are flying in the lake’ – we are there with them with ‘no edge, just here’. Having braved a shark diving experience Rachael shared two sonnets about the Great White from her chapbook, beautifully rendered pieces where the ‘density’ and ‘blackness’ of the eye becomes the focus. A couple more were shared from her chapbook, including ‘Behind locked doors’, a haunted poem about a cemetery with its ‘lonely scratching of the living on the locked doors of the dead’, and then Rachael book-ended her set with another from her overland series, ‘The wild grammar of leeches’ where, after a long awaited swim, they ‘edit her body’ with commas and apostrophes, what a wonderful comparison. Rachael read beautifully and produces exquisite pieces, I can’t praise her work highly enough so you’ll just have to buy her chapbook.

Peter began by reciting some colour poems with his eyes closed, encouraging us to do the same, in aid of the charity Sight for All.

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Beginning with the orange of lanterns in the dark and peel under fingernails, Peter took us through ‘a yolk yellow sun’ to violet, which is ‘more iodine than violin’ where all we can see is ultra. It was a poignant performance. Next Peter read some older poems from a 1988 edition of Ash magazine, a very clever one of the day in reverse ending with the alarm and ‘Penis sympathy’, a humorous poem about other parts of the body keeping that one happy! Peter’s next poem ‘Journey of the Magi’ was based on a trip taken on The Ghan, where ‘a dollar ring stuffed in a suitcase buys amnesia’ and then shared one of his favourites called ‘The Blue Room’, which had ‘clear aquarium air’ and was also referred to as ‘the morning room’ and ‘the wide waiting room’. In ‘Statistician to his love’, a husband explains to his wife how more men kill in the bedroom whereas women favour the kitchen, a stream of facts that ended with ‘the person to avoid the most is mostly you yourself’, a powerful line.

Peter also shared poems from his recent collection, The Rise of the Machines and other love poems, published by Pitt Street Poetry, where ‘there is a bed of lovers ten thousand years thick’. In his poem ‘Australia’, Peter tells us about ‘forest fur itchy with green public lice’ and read a few Haiku before finally surrendering to requests to read ‘Dog day’, about an owner’s feelings towards its canine friend, who laps at a ‘cloak of liquid enchantment’ as the owner steps from the shower and then ‘dreams of fresh granny kill’, hilarious. Peter has been published widely so whatever you pick, you won’t be disappointed.

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