The 16th annual QLD Poetry Festival: spoken in one strange word filled the Judith Wright Centre with a sweet rush of language… that language came in the form of poetry, music, film, conversation and community. From the sparks of Friday night’s showcase, Tongues of Flame, the crowd surged back for the Saturday morning program, which opened with one of my personal highlights, a conversation with 2012 Arts QLD Poet-in-Residence, a.rawlings and Robert Adamson.
The session was titled ‘Since Beginningless Time‘, and in the hour-long conversation, I talked to Robert about his passion for fishing, the Hawkesbury River, birds and Bob Dylan; and to a.rawlings about the language of water, tackling the QLD ornithological lexicon and how she applies the concepts of reduce, reuse, recycle to her work. It was illuminating and both artists were incredibly generous in their responses; Robert happily telling stories, including one about how, as a boy, he stole a rifle bird from Taronga Zoo to capture its image on paper and how he elaborately cared for it by using a number of electric frying pans to provide heat and humidity in the cage; and a.rawlings playing us a recording of the Coral Sea from her recent trip to Arcadia Bay on Magnetic Island, alongside a recording of a hot spring in Iceland, while talking about the unique quality of their cadence. The hour came and went all too soon, but the large audience that had gathered happily charged off to the bookstore to do some ‘informed shopping’ and then hit the first reading of the day, a session with its title taken from one of Robert’s books, Reading the River.
Reading the River was a celebration of all things Brisbane; a live collage of photographs and poetic snippets swirling on the big screen, while Michelle Dicinoski, Chris Lynch, Carmen Leigh-Keates and Ella Jeffery, read poems from the vast QLD canon (including works by Val Vallis, Jaya Savige, David Malouf, Samuel Wagan-Watson, David Rowbotham, Gwen Harwood and Judith Wright) as well as their own work. It seemed an absolutely perfect way to opening the first full day of readings, grounding us all in the extraordinary beauty of this great city and its almighty river.
From there, I caught the session, Strands on the Pillow, featuring Kathryn Lomer, Ray Liversidge and Nathan Curnow. Kathryn opened with a sequence of poems about some of her favourite places in Tasmania; her eye for natural detail, drawing the whole audience in to her world. After talking with him extensively in the lead up to QPF, it was a great pleasure to hear Ray read from his forthcoming collection, No Suspicious Circumstances; my personal favourite, his poetic portrait of Dylan Thomas. And then, what followed was for me, one of the readings of the festival… Nathan Curnow read a selection of poems from his latest collection, Radar (a two-in-one collection alongside Kevin Brophy published by Walleah Press). Not only was the work incredibly strong, for example…
she leaps like a turtle
swims like a victim
can’t trust herself to float
she throws like a creature who has just discovered
the basic mechanics of their arm
but she delivers babies
and sometimes a baby comes falling
head-first toward the ground
then she will make that catch
that terrifying catch
she doesn’t know how to drop them
(from the poem, The Midwife)
but he was present in every word… his delivery, the perfect mix of relaxed and confident. It was really something!
Next up, I danced between the two sessions, Run of Verses and An Accidental Grace, taking in Northumbrian come Emu Park resident, Paul Summers, whose physical energy matched that of his poetry so perfectly; an epic reading from Cameron Hindrum, which brought joy to the words that fill the pages of his debut collection, Private Conversations, which I had the great pleasure of publishing; and from New Zealand, Marty Smith, whose poems kicked as hard as the horses she wrote about. The run between the two rooms was most definitely worth it!
And after a quick stop at the bookstore (the wallet is definitely haemorrhaging), I again made the run between two sessions… starting by diving off The Edge of Chaos, with a superb reading by David Stavanger. No one, and I mean no one, can read a poem and interact with the audience as seamlessly as David does and it is a real pleasure to watch. Then I zipped off to The Phrasebook of Silence to catch the last of Jill Jones, a reading by another of the New Zealand guests, Nicola Easthope, who gave us a big-hearted set of poems about her Orkney Island heritage; and to close a reading from the masterful Robert Adamson. Robert’s work has had a profound impact on me, so to have the opportunity to speak with him and hear him read his work on the weekend was somewhat of a dream come true.
Then it was time to eat… something that is often forgotten when you are being sustained by words… but only food would suffice with the one two punch of A Million Bright Things and Pierce the Salty Darkness looming!
A Million Bright Things has become a QPF institution… a session that showcases one poem from every poet on the program; the ultimate poetic sampler you might say. I have had the immense pleasure of MC’ing this wordy behemoth since its inception back in 2008 and it has become well known as my annual cardio workout!
Tonight’s event had something a little special too, opening with the debut performance of a.rawlings’ Sound Poetry and Visual Poetry Project, Gibber. This was a complete rush… there was a live twitter stream featuring writers from across the globe (including my lovely wife, Julie Beveridge, and past QPF guests, Tim Sinclair and emily XYZ), sound recordings sampling the natural poetics of Queensland’s vast landscape; guest poet, Nicholas Powell reading his poetic response to Gibberbird, Q, Without My Female Typist; local poets, Chloe Callistemon & Tamara Lazaroff sounding off; Maja Jantar collaborating live via skype; and of course, a.rawlings intoning, speaking, gargling, whispering and making an all round glorious cacophony as only she can do! The performance was filmed, so hopefully this appears somewhere soon and when it does, I will be sure to link it.
And then we were into it… the full-on swirl of some 40+ poets, each lighting up the mic with what they do best… and it all happens in just under 90mins. It really is the most amazing high! But the night doesn’t end there!
Its a quick rush to the bar and back into the shopfront space, to catch what is for me, the second highlight of the festival, the session, Pierce the Salty Darkness, featuring Bremen Town Musician and Max Ryan & Where Were You At Lunch. Bremen Town was in a slightly stripped back mode, featuring driving force Marisa Allen on violin and vocals with two different drummers,;the absolute standout, the closing track where Allen makes her violin roar and quiver over the hypnotic drum beat of Mayuresh Sathe.
Then to bring the night to a close, Max Ryan and WWYAL rumble on stage and deliver one of the most rollicking sets ever seen at QPF. The band are fierce, Pete Emptage on bass shaking and hollering like a tasered man, Samaan Fieke squeezing the most out of every guitar string and Kishore Ryan, making the kit sound like thunder; while out front, Max Ryan is in full-throated glory, his words rattling in the four chamber of the audience’s collective heart. The love on stage is big, and throughout the set, they don’t miss a beat, delivering us home with the exquisite beauty of the title track off their debut album, Before We Lose Each Other Again. Their album is going to be on repeat this week, and I have no doubt will make my top 5 of the year!
Singing, ‘Before we lose each other again…’ I walked out into the Valley night, knowing I had witnessed something extraordinary and smiling at the prospect of coming back tomorrow to do it all again!