Poets all over the world do their thing all the time. The Queensland Poetry Festival held at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts in Fortitude Valley in Brisbane chose ‘Deep Listening’ as its central theme this year. Listening as an art and as an act, at once physical and spiritual. Listening with the whole body. It is not enough poets do their thing; we as listeners have to keep our end of the bargain and… listen.
From August 22 to 25, an assortment of voices recited and crooned and warbled indigenous, modern, coloured, white, physically handicapped and multi-sexed verse in a variety of moods. Poetry broken down into slam and spoken word, into chants and hums. The ambience jumping from low to high as sensitive pasts about the land blend into lyrical heroism of reclaiming. Really, sometimes it is just one song being sung by the universe and the whole world joining in from wherever it is.
The festival’s Artistic Director Lucy Nelson was seen flitting about the corridors and sometimes on stage demanding more applause for the poet who just read. The schedule, inclusive of indigenous and international voices, no mean feat.
So Selina Tusitala Marsh, Poet Laureate of New Zealand and former Commonwealth Poet, regaled with her royal escapades (she recently performed for the Queen of England), ever mindful of the metre and rhyme and of her ‘big hair’, while Jim Everett Puralia meenamatta, an Indigenous poet from Cape Byron in Tasmania, spoke evocatively about his home past and present. During the launch of ‘Solid Air’, a collaborative poetry anthology between Australia and New Zealand, Jim brought his bass tones and the young Jay Bernard threw in his bit of Black history, complete with killings. The editors of the anthology, David Stavanger and Anne-Marie Te Whiu, orchestrated the flights from page to stage.
All Ears, a programme that ran everyday at different hours, showcased stark lines and readings. Meleika Gesa spoke about her identity and roots, her name and her hair. And award-winning poet Ellen Van Neerven quipped: ‘White excellence should be a filter on Tinder’. Performances included Lyre, where Stuart Cooke presented a sonic, sculptural cornucopia of new and startling forms – ranging from Australasian oceans, coastlines, rainforests and deserts, as also in approach to form and lineation – basically asking what happens when poems make contact with non-human worlds. Brotherhood of the Wordless saw poets with disabilities take the mike, while Cirquetry explored emotional and physical risk-taking in the bodies and minds of poets and circus performers.
Gregory Kan from Auckland and Norman Erikson Pasaribu from Indonesia both ran workshops for budding and established poets, giving a glimpse into their creative process. And they both performed at the Bloodhound Corner pub during the last event – with a DJ too – hosted by Peril magazine. Norman’s poem on how easy it is for two beautiful men to fall in love in scenic settings like it happens in the film ‘Call Me By Your Name’ got the laughs, Shastra Deo’s rendition got the applause and Kan’s reading of his poem ‘There is a house that we are in’ ushered in the pathos. He read:
There is a house that we are in When you have your back turned I have my back turned Sometimes when you have your back turned I turn around
And look at your back.
Shinie Antony is a writer and editor based in Bangalore. Her books include The Girl Who Couldn't Love, Barefoot and Pregnant, Planet Polygamous, and the anthologies Why We Don’t Talk, An Unsuitable Woman, Boo. Winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Asia Prize for her story A Dog’s Death in 2003, she is co-founder of the Bangalore Literature Festival and director of the Bengaluru Poetry Festival. Read Shinie Antony's columns