Maddie Godfrey is wearing a black and gold-glittered 80’s style shirt and black trousers. The microphone stand is wrapped in fairy lights. The warm wood-walled surrounds of the City of Perth Library auditorium make the crescent shaped room feel cosy but not contained. It curves people towards each other like a modern amphitheatre.
Godfrey is launching her debut poetry collection How to Be Held and there are 50 people in attendance and more 20-somethings than I’ve seen at a poetry reading, although this is becoming the common demographic for spoken-word and slam poetry.
Godfrey is a performance poet, writer, theatre maker and spoken word educator. She has performed at the Sydney Opera House, the Royal Albert Hall and the Glastonbury Festival to name only a few. At age 22 this says something about her drive and talent.
Godfrey doesn’t read her poetry, she performs it. Her speech is clear and measured, each word weighted perfectly. She is a professional. She is captivating. Poems are interspersed with jokes, the tension builds and breaks and creates genuine warmth between Godfrey and her audience. People giggle and look at each other and applaud. “I don’t know how to handle applause, so I awkward dance, the more awkward, the more provocative”. The crowd laughs along, the awkward dance is like a slow hula hoop hip gyration while avoiding eye contact.
Godfrey’s poetry is all mouths and thighs and muscular words and muscular themes. The poems range in content, from Kissing
the first night we kissed
I thought you were a bad kisser
Because your mouth moved
In different shapes to mine
to reclaiming narratives of abuse in Birthday Parties, a powerful poetic outcry against the pro-rape organisation ‘Return of Kings’, who attempted to organise worldwide meet-ups to advocate violence against women in 2016.
today, there are men organising rapes
like birthday parties
treating bodies like cakes, that can be cut into
pieces and consumed whenever you feel like it…
I am constantly taught to be pretty
to look behind me, to carry my keys
between my fingers like Wolverine
most days, none of this seems strange to me…
today I will wear my strength like a clown costume
and when it attracts attention I will refuse to
dull my colours, I will walk down the street
to the sound of my own heartbeat
it says, I survived, I survived, I survived.
I don’t think I’m the only person in the room with damp eyes when she finishes this poem.
The tone changes again, “I’m going to finish with my most joyful poem, Ode to my Kneecaps. I think it’s really important to privilege joy and gratefulness and this cheek-feeling I have right now” she says with the widest grin. “My first year of writing was about trauma”.
Godfrey is just a bit glorious, with both feet on the ground. The audience loves her and she loves them. People who don’t like poetry like her poetry. This is partly because Godfrey radiates warmth and humour and takes the time to connect with her audience as if they are all new friends. It is also because her writing is direct and emotive without dumbing down. Godfrey doesn’t shy away from the details, whether light-hearted observations or the heavy truths of victim experience. Her poetic honesty and gentle treatment of emotion engenders respect. If you read one poetry book this year let it be How to be Held by Maddie Godfrey.
Godfrey is one of several accomplished poets featuring in the Perth Poetry Festival this year. Organised by the passionate team at WA Poets Inc, the week long festival begins on Saturday and aims to provide access to free or low-cost poetry events highlighting select local, national and international poets. The festival has been running for 14 years and this year the program is broader than ever with workshops, readings, a gala event, slams and poet/artist collaborations. The poetry scene in Perth is healthy and growing and available to all.
Download the full program here:
A wonderful introduction to Maddie, a young woman who will assuredly have a long future in the arts. As one of the “I don’t like poetry” people in the audience I was engaged and delighted by Maddie’s performance, she is funny, lively and life-affirming. Perhaps “How to be held” will prove to be a gateway drug into the world of performance poetry.
Yes the arts need people like Maddie who open the gates.