Communal Gathering of Poetry Lovers
The 2012 WA Poetry Festival run by the WA Poets Inc committee began for me Friday afternoon on 17 August 2012. I left work early that afternoon and made my way to The Blue Room Theatre on 53 James Street, Northbridge, where I would run the following workshop as part of the festival’s Poetry Workshop Series:
Poetry and Emotion with Jake Dennis
3pm to 5pm
WA Poets Inc presents local poet Jake Dennis and his workshop, Poetry and Emotion. The workshop begins by reflecting on a selection of poems by poets such as Bruce Dawe and Anne Sexton which focus on serious cultural issues such as domestic violence, racism, and global conflict. The emotive and intellectual power of poetry which protests against such issues is discussed as are the techniques used to create such poems. Participants are then invited to begin creating a new poem that has such culturally significant subject matter at its heart.
In the second part of the workshop participants learn techniques for editing their poems. All participants are therefore invited to bring a poem to the class for workshopping. It is suggested that a few copies of the poem be brought so that can everyone contribute to the constructive critical discussion.
In a black shirt and suit I entered the Kaos Room to find the five participants: Karen Murphy, Gary de Piazzi, Clayton Lin, Kate Wilson, and Liz, a new local poet none of us had previously met. The atmosphere was supportive, encouraging, and friendly, and each participant had an opportunity to generate a new poem using the techniques discussed in the workshop as well as receive constructive feedback on a poem they prepared for the workshop. As part of the workshop, which included a detailed discussion of Anne Sexton’s anti-Vietnam war poem “The Firebombers” and Bruce Dawe’s poem about domestic violence “The Blue Dress,” participants received “A Checklist for Editing Your Poems”; a detailed hand out I prepared for the workshop. The workshop went well and it was great to hear everyone’s poetry covering issues such as threatened species of wildlife, recent bushfires, and depression. We may meet again soon for further poetry workshopping. That night I reviewed a Hilltop Hoods concert at Challenge Stadium for Drum Perth [see Freelance Journalism page for the review] so was unable to attend the festival launch but I heard that the night was a success.
The following day I was a part of what was one of the fondest moments for me from the 2012 WA Poetry Festival: The Poets Lunch. Held in the sunlit room at the back of the Moon Café where the Perth Poetry Club meets each Saturday, the Poets Lunch consisted of short poetry readings from festival guests such as Tineke Van Der Eecken, Kevin Gillam, Kate Wilson, and myself. The photographs you see, taken by WAPI treasurer Gary de Piazzi who chaired the event, are from that reading.
What distinguished this reading from others I had been to in the past was that the poets read their poetry without microphones, standing wherever they decided was best, while the audience gathered in closely to hear their words. This stage choice along with the way Gary de Piazzi chaired the event by going from one poet to the next with brief interludes of other poet’s and his own poetry, made the event feel a communal gathering of poetry lovers and friends. Belgium born Tineke Van Der Eecken’s poem which was inspired by the Edith Piaf classic “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien” and Indigenous actor Maitland Schnaars’s reading of his poem “The Lost Children” while cellist and poet Kevin Gillam played a haunting accompaniment, were personal standouts for me.
Immediately after that event one of the most packed Perth Poetry Club gigs that I have ever witnessed began. The featured guests were Steve Smart (double feature), the WAPI Committee, and I. My beautiful girlfriend Maneera de Mel had arrived to come see me read so I was ecstatic. The photographs shown below were taken by WAPI treasurer and friend Gary de Piazzi during this reading. What I enjoyed most about doing my featured spot was the way the audience of listeners, most of whom I knew but many of whom were new to me, sat hushed then applauded after each poem concluded. Steve Smart’s lyrical poetry read in a Southern American accent as well as Karen Murphy’s poem which showed the influence of Sylvia Plath were highlights of this event for me.
That night, at the industrial Artifactory in Osborne Park, Karen Murphy, Benjamin Lowry, Mar Bucknell, and I attended the Phonics, Sonics, and Electronics and shortened Festival Kick-Up event. As a musician whose favourite artists include Judy Garland, Whitney Houston, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, and Frente (among others), the soundscapes and “noise music” did not appeal to me. However, I enjoyed having time to chat with Melbourne poet Steve Smart and local poet Zan Ross as well as hearing ACR’s deconstructionist poem about sex which consists of an almost endless list of words into which the word “sex” is fused. I was also grateful for the appreciation shown particularly by performance poet and friend Splodge during my a cappella performance of Michael Jackson’s “Who’s Loving You?” which I may record for YouTube one day.
Musician friend Marcus Macadi attended the Poetry Readings at Crows Books held the following afternoon in East Victoria Park. It was my first time at the amazing bookstore which has an admirable selection of art, poetry, and theatre books. Crows Books – much like Planet bookstore in Mount Lawley and, to a lesser extent, Oxford St Books in Leederville – is one of the few specialty new books shops in Perth that devotes a significant proportion of shelf space to plays, poetry, and art (I could not leave without purchasing Kate Mulvany’s incredible play “The Web”; a play which I have been dying to own a copy since I saw it performed live in 2009). However, more commendable was the fact that the bookstore was hosting a poetry reading organised by WAPI for which the guests were Bunbury performance poet Kate Wilson, Perth poet and cellist Kevin Gillam, Irish poet and songwriter Andy White, multilingual poet Tineke Van Der Eecken, and Anglo-Burmese second-generation migrant Jake Dennis. Kate Wilson’s poem about romance inspired by working at Office Works, Kevin Gillam’s poem written to save a Morton Bay Fig from council bulldozers, Andy White’s poem about an unknown attractive girl at a bar, and Tineke Van Der Eecken’s poem inspired by Belgian singer-songwriter Jacques Brel’s song “Ne Me Quitte Pas” (Nina Simone and Barbara Streisand recorded extraordinary covers versions of this heartbreaking song) were all unforgettable performances. In memory of my friend Alex Dennis who was murdered earlier this month I chose to read mostly poems about death so my reading may have been too on the heavy side but Marcus Macadi whose songs I admire said he enjoyed them.
At the PICA (Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts) Bar the next evening I was pleasantly astounded to discover a large crowd chatting, drinking, and listening to poetry from 9:30pm til midnight on a Monday night in Perth! The venue, with its windows that open out onto the street where local passersby can hear a taste of the festivities inside, was perfect for the final poetry event of the 2012 WA Poetry Festival. Kate Wilson’s arresting and animated performance poetry, Andy White’s rocking original songs, and Steve Smart’s charismatic and amiable hosting of the event were highlights of the night for me. Additionally, it was an honour to see poet and friend Jackson listening to my poetry from the back of the room even after the interval before which there had been a particularly excruciating performance which turned away many guests. After my reading, fellow Curtin University graduate Shane Cartledge read some promising poetry, the bar manager read a spontaneous poem which drew on Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” and announced the call for last drinks, and hip-hop emcee DVS helped close the night with an on-the-spot performance piece with dynamic performance poet Splodge that drew on Flora Smith’s poem “Addicted” from the recently published Creatrix Anthology.
In the final moments of the 2012 WA Poetry Festival WAPI committee member and poet Chris Arnold brought to the stage WAPI committee members Gary de Piazzi, Mar Bucknell, and Karen Murphy to give them, on behalf of everyone who enjoyed this year’s festival, heartfelt thanks for the tremendous effort they voluntarily devoted to organising the festival. The applause, gratitude expressed, and enjoyment had throughout the four-day festival, remains a testament to the effort the WAPI committee put in to create what was the best and probably most successful poetry festivals I have ever experienced. I am definitely looking forward to next year’s festival!