February is racing along and the Brisbane Poetry Scene is set to explode with a number of gigs over the coming weeks. One of the featured readers at said gigs is our February Pin-Up Poet, Ross Donlon, so this week, I asked Ross about the art of reading.
On your first visit to the Tasmanian Poetry Festival, you took out the coveted Tasmanian Poetry Cup which is awarded to the poet who receives the loudest audience response. I have had the pleasure of seeing you read on a handful of occasions and you always seem to be incredibly ‘present’ in your work. What is it you love about being in front of an audience and what kind of experience do you hope to create for them?
I was thrilled to win the Launceston Cup, only the second mainliner (if you’ll pardon the joke) to do so at that time – Lauren Williams, a poet I greatly admire, was the other. I enjoy the reading experience, especially, of course, if you get a sense of connection with an audience. I have read to nobody at all – and did read (seriously – in Shepparton), with 5 other poets reading to an audience of 2 (Ceduna) – as well as larger crowds. Once I sold 6 books to an audience of 4, so I was very pleased about that. I’ve come a long way from the man aged 25 who couldn’t speak at his own wedding for shyness. Of course, sometimes the chemistry is all there on both sides, sometimes not quite. Festival crowds are generous I’ve found. Sometimes the small inner sanctum type audience is harder to reach.
I came to teaching eventually, which was the key for me – facing classes of Year 9s makes you find things in yourself – I found that part of my thing was to sometimes ‘play’ with the audience/class in that show teachers do – and I did some lectures for Yr 12 texts, taught professional writing at Deakin and Melbourne unis, so all of that helped.
Frankly, I do like to entertain at a reading, meaning I do like to throw a lighter or humorous (we hope) poem into the mix. It seems to me that a more thoughtful or discursive poem has a chance of being heard more if you’ve just made people laugh – and I’m on about the total experience of being human, so some light in the dark – and I like to display range of form and content. I’m an emotional poet but interested in social commentary (Geoff Page described me in a review as ‘Swiftian’ – I loved that).
I am not an intellectual poet but I want to be understood without sacrificing craft.
I like to give an audience a good time but push them emotionally or share an experience in a new or fresh way, if that makes any sense.
Ross will feature at both SpeedPoets and the first Riverbend Books Reading for 2012. Here are the details for Riverbend, and believe me, this is an event that regularly sells out, so make sure you book your ticket soon!
Queensland Poetry Festival, QLD Writers Centre & Riverbend Books are proud to present the first event in the Riverbend Poetry Series for 2012. The February event features local poetic powerhouse, Samuel Wagan Watson and winner of the 2011 Val Vallis Award, Rachael Briggs alongside vibrant Central QLD poet, Kristin Hannaford and recent winner of the Wenlock Festival Poetry Prize (UK), Ross Donlon (VIC).
The Riverbend Poetry Series is one of the state’s finest, so be there to get the 2012 readings off to a flying start!
Date: Tuesday February 28
Location: Riverbend Books, 193 Oxford St. Bulimba
Time: Doors open for the event at 6pm for a 6:30pm start
Bookings: Online or call the store on (o7) 3899 8555
And since it was Valentine’s Day this week, I will leave you with one of Ross’s love poems. The simmering, with her.
and at last she comes to bed
the blue nightie
caught below her knees
and as she bends - like a girl picking flowers -
her breast moves with the movement down
her hair falls to one side
there’s a scent of rose and jasmine
and her nightcream glows
as she switches off the light
and climbs towards me
while I wait in my singlet and skin
with a useless book and glasses
yet we slide beneath the sheet
like children slipping beneath the first wave of summer
and it’s she who turns first
to fold her hair before it’s caught
as I turn to hold her
my palm floating across her back
pausing then stroking again – like soothing something young and wild
shifting her thigh across mine
kissing her lips like a kiss before sleep
when it’s really hello how are you tonight?
as she sighs and says
this is nice
and our bodies move together
like an answer