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Hosted by Red Room Poetry as part of their new initiative Poetry Month, I zoomed into a workshop by Tony Birch – ‘Everything is everything’.

Image courtesy of Red Room Poetry

Poetry Month is all about celebrating Australian poetry, poets and publishers, and Tony is one of its finest poets. Author of three novels, including White Girl, winner of the 2020 NSW Premier’s Award for Indigenous Writing, and short story collections in addition to poetry, Tony is also an activist, historian and essayist.

The workshop focused on simplicity; the paring back of a poem to its bones to let it breathe and quietly be. Tony showcased the work of Agnes Martin (painter) and Alice Walker (poet) among other artists, sharing his method of holding a poem and not releasing it until it’s ready to be formed. And form really is key, something not to be forced, with Tony admitting he knows little about the technicality of poetry.

You can have the greatest technique but if the poem doesn’t have heart, it’s vacuous.

Tony Birch

Reiteration, writing body, themes of country, family and blood, Tony shared his own work as well as others, explaining how he often revisits poems to discover another layer. Referring to himself as a writing block plumber, Tony gave us prompts to try, one of which was to take a favourite photo and capture an impression of it rather than an exactness.

Tony was incredibly generous with his time, knowledge and skill, and answered questions throughout. We even got to see his writing desk! And what I love about these sorts of insightful workshops is being introduced to new work, new ways of seeing and of course the inevitable additions to an ever-growing wish list.

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