If you gave up on poetry post-high school you are missing out. Perhaps through no fault of your own you never discovered that contemporary poetry exists and can be vibrant, energetic, straight-talking and head-gut-lung-heart-felt.

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Fortunately the 2018 Perth Festival’s Writer’s Week addressed this head-on, partially re-allocating the budget for international artists to local writers. Poets responded enthusiastically and attracted an audience of rapt listeners. From Adelaide’s David McCooey and his pop music poetics to local legend John Kinsella and emerging poet Renee Pettit-Schipp the range of voices was refreshing.

The expanded program of over 150 events started a week ago ranging in location from Fremantle to Northbridge and converging over the weekend at the University of WA. Guest Curator William Yeoman’s theme of storytelling included music, architecture and visual arts and attracted more than 20 000 people.

One of the highlights of the weekend was Poetry Land I, a panel of five poets. It was chaired by local ‘language’ poet, Tineke Van der Eeken who began by reading a poem that transitioned through at least five different languages in her mellifluous voice. The readings then circled around the group with brief introductions and musings on influences and instigators.

Aboriginal poet Charmaine Papertalk-Green was fierce, direct, no nonsense. “My name, Papertalk, is not a made-up name. It was my mother’s name”.  Her poetry felt like a window into a culture Wadjela (white people) are not always privy to; it was both uncomfortable and humbling to hear her stories and experiences told with such feeling,

“Tapestry of coexistence woven

Colonised story forefront story

Mythical track moving across land dissected

Metal sculpture appeases society guilt.” (Creation Markings – Ellendale Pool)

In contrast, Carolyn Abbs was softly spoken and gentle. Her poetry triggered nostalgia with its descriptions of tablecloths and childhood friendships: “She wore a print frock, green…herring-bone braid around the hem.”  Unfortunately, I couldn’t hear her as clearly as I would’ve liked. I intend to linger over her poems with a cup of tea at home, and I thought of friends who would enjoy her storytelling style and purchased her book to share with them.

Similarly with Corey Wakeling: He mentioned he’s been described as “wilfully obscure.” I heard some nice turns of phrase, social commentary and satire in fits and starts but the microphone was booming with static and I couldn’t appreciate his poems in their entirety. I’m not sure this was the kind of wilful obscurity Wakeling was aiming for.

Finally, Stuart Barnes. When audience members close their eyes and tilt their heads back to listen and people murmur ‘beautiful’ at the close of a poem, you know you’re onto a good thing.

Barnes was a crowd pleaser drawing chuckles and claps. He was also frank about growing up gay in Hobart when it was illegal, “…it was very bizarre”, which seems an understatement. He talks about his struggle to find a place to call home and settles on, “I’ve written the most through meditation…going for hikes…I’ve tried to just focus on my work.” His poetry is clever and deserving of multiple readings:

“…On the Fitzroy’s

bank at midday,

cracking seeds of eucalypts

that outrank Council, a hundred

Banksian black Cockatoos,

a paroxysm of commas.” (Black Cockatoos)

In this poetry session, as with others during Perth Writers Week, there was a feeling of celebration. Words of appreciation for the volume of poetry events have been consistently directed towards Yeoman for making it so. Wouldn’t it be fabulous to see a culture of pride in our poets flourish in Perth.

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