Go Go Gonzo in the West: Peter Jeffery on the Perth Poetry Festival

The 2015 Perth Poetry Festival was held at a number of venues around Perth between 13th and 16th August.

Peter Wadds Jeffery reading at the 2015 Perth Poetry Festival. Photograph Coral Carter

Peter Wadds Jeffery reading at the 2015 Perth Poetry Festival. Photograph Coral Carter

Pick up The West  to see their full page ad of “What’s On” for the month of August asselected by the WA Tourist Bureau and you are shown events like the Periwinkle Festival in the farthest reach of the North, but you don’t see anything remotely mentioning our annual cultural landmark WA Poets Inc. (WAPI)  Poetry Festival. On the other hand the Perth Literary festival in February, run through UWA has feature after feature. Is it money or the Establishment speaking away from the oily rag that sustains the WAPI Festival?

That said we have a great collection of Annual Patrons such as Lucy Dougan, Kim Scott,  and this year’s inspiring  Nick Hasluck, poet himself and considerable novelist  winner of an Age Prize award as well as a retired High Court Judge. His speech was magisterial and is now circulating on many online magazines.

He wondered aloud what drives the poet and yes, it is the desire to be heard or to influence others and he turned to Baudelaire wondering what the ‘new poetry’ would be over a century ago.

Baudelaire used the metaphor of  the albatross that bird that soared endlessly graceful in flight with great sweeps of movement,  but once on the ship’s deck almost misshapen, vulnerable, clumsy,tormented. He told then the anecdote of a fellow writer who was on various writing courses and a wordsmith of quality, but always playing to minimal but highly appreciative audiences, until one magic day she was made the laureate of a presidential installation and spoke to a nation of over 250 million people.

His message was that the poet must persist no matter what the outcome because of their love of words.  Thus he provided a self aggrandising opportunity for this writer who featured two poems ‘Fireworks’ which talks of us who flare and fail, and ‘Poets Have Their Heroes’ that celebrates our great masters like Yevtushenko, Lorca, Dylan Thomas, and Gerald Manley Hopkins who soar above the rest of us.

The festival was thus nobly and truly launched and the guests poets were invited to read. From the international  Malaysian Angelina Bong, the interstaters Mark Reid, former West Australian and Premier’s Poetry Prize winner, and Pierre Van Osselaer  the trilingual semiotic explosive expressionist from Victoria to two lively and emerging poets, ‘Chuckie’ and Alexis Lateef  then finally Rose Van Son and myself.

Malaysian poet Angelina Bong at the 2015 Perth Poetry Festival. Photograph Coral Carter.

Malaysian poet Angelina Bong at the 2015 Perth Poetry Festival. Photograph Coral Carter.

Reid spoke with a mature dignity and read some of his compassionate yet hard bitten poems based on his experiences as a hospital orderly. Chuckie explained that he had a troubling youth that led to  thoughts of suicide and his poems on this theme and that of bullying and harassment  were delivered with great passion and made the older audience member remember that youth is a time of great vulnerability and transformation that must be taken most seriously in a nation that is one of the most suicide prone in the world. Alexis who is gaining a great reputation at an early age with her online magazine Writ with her friend Christine Velladova, did a great humorous biographical poem about her lowly paid but vitally necessary job as a bookseller. A gentler Bakowski  with a feminine touch. Finally Rose van Son who is well known for her work in the haiku world both here and abroad read very sensitively the merging of cloudscape with landscape, and the relentless onrushing  and outflowing of the sea with a penultimate final line :

the shifting sand

Now running for over ten years the Festival of Poetry is organised through a rolling committee, and interested members of WAPI can attend any of its meetings on an on and off basis with decisions made hopefully through consensus but put to the vote when necessary. However decisions made one week may be altered or modified at the next  and happenstance as this may seem it leads to fine-tuning right to the week before the Festival Launch.

The committee decides guests, workshops, programmes, venues, panels, thematic sessions, competitions, publicity in all the media, sponsors, bookshop readings and launches. Panel topics this year were as follows:

  • Why is the Perth poetry scene so fragmented?
  • What factors influenced you in choosing your particular poetic aesthetic?
  • Is there a common ground beween performance and academic poetry?

The themed sessions were remarkably innovative and an amazing one was the Forest of Poets which involved a host of poets reciting endlessly an individually selected and looped poem which could  be activated by the public addressing the particular Poet Tree.  Coral Carter’s official photographs, that can be viewed on the Facebook page for WA POETS INC., show the robot like stance of the performers more like those animated slot machines that purvey food, objects and even hot coffee in Japan.

A Forest of Poets at the 2015 Perth Poetry Festival. Photograph by Coral Carter.

A Forest of Poets at the 2015 Perth Poetry Festival. Photograph by Coral Carter.

Another one that was arranged by Zan Ross was called SENSE OF PALCE. Feeling that a session devoted to eco-poetry would not appeal to the non-scientific or conservation minded  she called on a bevy of Perth’s most talented poets such as Amanda Joy, Annemarie Weldon, Jennifer Kornberger, and others equally gifted to generate a sense of place. Most people chose our own State and its remarkable physical and climatic features, but some ranged overseas and  Indigo Eli chose her own personalised private room. Maitland Schnaars asserting his indigenous origins performed a dramatic monologue  that involved red mud and blood that can be seen in the great aboriginal flag. Alan Boyd the Anti-poet re-read it with wodjola or white-feller inserts throughout. Boyd and Zan Ross brought it to a resounding climax with their combined responsive patterning.

QUEER Poetry MC Scott Patrick –Mitchell. Photograph Coral Carter.

QUEER Poetry MC Scott Patrick –Mitchell. Photograph Coral Carter.

‘Outspoken’ presented QUEER POETRY at an alternative venue called Sparrow’s Nest and it was compered by that fashion plate experimental poet who won this years Creatrix Poetry Prize with his accessible ‘Makeup on the Midlane Line’. Watch out for his forthcoming Eastern States tour where he will give a twenty four hour performance.

As to self we played two sessions ASIAN CONNEXIONS at the Moon Café and the ekphrastic WORDS AND ARTWORKS/ ARTWORKS AND WORDS in collaboration with the Art Gallery of Western Australia where six representative

WAPI poets wrote and performed their poems to six selected artworks on permanent display and were featured in a very attractive chapbook which will be distributed to the public until next year’s festival.

ASIAN CONNEXIONS highlighted poets from China, Burma, and Malaysia with European collaborations of a poem ‘Desert Dying’ with Australia famous Indian Jazz fusion guitarist Arthur  Gracias.  Later interludes were played by the Vietnamese artist Tam Thai who is regularly featured on Radio Saigon. As our international poet Angelina Bong was a key performer her contribution was very insightful and full of goodwill.

On the Saturday the Perth Poetry Club featured all the guest poets and a crowded open-mike session in a jam packed  Moon Café  and  then at session’s end afficiandos hurtled over half a city to the Rosemount Hotel for our first Poetry Slam towards the National Slam Championship.

Part of the audience at the Perth Poetry Club. Photograph Coral Carter.

Part of the audience at the Perth Poetry Club. Photograph Coral Carter.

A great boozy time on occasion and a word drenched time. I had hoped to make this more gonzo but at least you have the details of what was one of the best Festivals in Perth ever. Start getting ready to enjoy and perform at our 2016 Festival next year and find out that there’s another Australia outside the Eastern Coast, with just as fine poets.

 – Peter Jeffery OAM

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Peter Jeffery OAM exhausted survivor of this year’s WAPI POETRY FESTIVAL PERTH 2015 has been writing occasional poetry for over 60 years as  finally revealed in his recent book True to Poetry in my Fashion published by Regime Press (http://rochfordstreetreview.com/2015/08/05/an-astonishing-61-years-of-poesis-allan-padgett-launches-true-to-poetry-in-my-fashion-by-peter-jeffery/). He has never forgets Rochford Street Review’s first notice of our first issue of Regime New Writing, Peter was a lecturer, a pioneer of Community Television, arts labs, multicultural arts centre, and currently broadcaster of The World of Art for 6EBA the West’s multicultural community station.

WA Poetry Inc. can be found at http://www.wapoets.net.au/

Writing Elevated to the Label of Literature: Lyndon Walker reviews Late Night Shopping by Rhyll McMaster

Late Night Shopping by Rhyll McMaster. Brandl & Schlesinger. Poetry 2012.

I come to this book with all the worst qualifications of a reviewer – full of prejudices towards the book, both negative and positive – most of which I would like to put on the table up front.

At first glance  I am in love with the past, of the good days of poetry resurgence in this country. This book is the size and shape of the little UQP books that truly established their place in my heart with numerous volumes of contemporary poetry from modern Australian poets, often young, always original, always worth reading. It is a promise I want the book to keep.

Robert Gray and Michael Dransfield were two of the first authors I bought in the UQP series from the seventies and I loved their work and the books still inhabit a proud place on my bookshelf of favourite poetry. But those ghosts haunt the current publication.  Robert Gray is co-editor of the recent Titanic Anthology of poetry (Australian Poetry Since 1788) along with Geoffrey Lehman, who is scheduled to launch Late Night Shopping, along with a reading by Robert Gray, on the evening of Tuesday 10th April at Sappho’s Cafe and Wine Bar, 51 Glebe Point Road, Glebe, (Sydney) NSW 2037. 7.00pm (I break with a strong Melbournian tradition to here provide clear and accurate information to enable your attendance at the launch). Michael Dransfield is one of a number of excellent poets omitted from the recent massive volume. Another volume from the UQP onslaught was Brineshrimp from a young Rhyll McMaster in 1972, the same year I left Townsville for the big city of Sydney, and I still remember the astringent taste of that poetry; something new to say and a new way of saying it (and they were my criteria for excellence in poetry those days).

Exactly forty years later those criteria have broadened but the hunger remains the same. I am going to claim that this book is mostly about death. Death envisioned, foreseen, experienced as an involved and close participant and as a sometimes detached and ruminant philosopher. In this quest McMaster is up against some formidable forebears   in the likes of Eliot, Roethke, Dylan Thomas, Marianne Moore, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Ted Hughes and Christopher James, but when I read her poetry these are not the practitioners of the craft that quickly come to mind. More immediate to me is the brilliant and original Canadian poet Anne Carson.  Both poets have minds as quick and incisive as a scalpel but at times as light and elusive as dancing leaves on an autumn breeze. Both have the capacity to move quickly from the lyric exactitude of original description to the esoteric realms of the determined, urbane and educated philosopher.

The book begins with a single poem where we join the poet as a voyeur at the laying out (if not the autopsy) of the body of a woman soon after her death:

Her platelets desiccated and curled like dropped contact lenses.

This much that was invisible I knew like a fairy tale

.

But where was her mere self…..

And

When we tried to slip in her dentures they didn’t fit.

.

On edge, we laughed.

There was no disrespect – she wasn’t there.

The formality of death is due to emptiness.

.

When molecules cease their high humming

Dark space appears.

It radiates in waves and disperses in continuous air.

.

So, this episode of CSI as poetry, begins the book’s exploration of the space between being and not being, explored in variant ways in the following three sections. The first of these: Philosophy in A Ghosting Universe, explores memories of a dead and dying father and the ramifications for the mortality of the poet herself and for her relationships and loving attachments seen within this context. They are ramifications dealt with with subtlety, insight and intelligence.

She begins this section with a “Photograph”, presumably of the author as a young girl taken by the dead / dying father and follows with other poems that move through “His Ordered World” where:

Death invades the space

Of a serious human error, where terror lives,

.

And moves through the absolute particulars of that father’s world in that desperate attempt that humans make, to make sense of the existential journey, from being to nothingness, balancing sharply drawn particulars with abstract philosophical summary.

Halfway through this section there is a break, just a blank page, no titling, but the subject of the poems now oft times includes a lover, the games that lovers sometimes play and the futility of love in the face of death, which is a recent visitor in the mind of the poet.

The breeze blowing through the house

Strangely circulates.

It means to turn things inside out.

‘Flight on the Wind’

.

I like ‘Red Socks’ and no – no bits – it’s just a little poem – go on, buy the book and read it. ‘Well Met by Moonlight‘ is a “Sliding Doors” poem looking at what might have been if the lovers had met earlier. ‘Love Poem No.9’. invokes a pop song from a time when both I and the poet were young. ‘Darwin Fulminates on Hybridism’ again describes a world informed by the poets scholarly knowledge or reading, as does ‘Re-arrangement in the Emporium‘. We are given here (and on the poet’s website : http://www.rhyllmcmaster.com/ )  little biographical linkage to this knowledge beyond she has been a nurse and a farmer.

‘Arrogant Animals‘ dances on the edge of the promise that postmodernism offered but mostly failed to deliver –not here – here it succeeds because it is warmed by humanism or at least loving and playful observation.

‘Amazing Grace’ is a tiny poem:

There’s no dispute

Our brains are a maze

Of raw electrical connections

In a base of critical soup.

.

The question remains

Why don’t we

More often

Get electrocuted?

.

Well, for those of us with a working knowledge of neurochemistry, the definite answer, through faith or science, is the little insulating miracle of the myelin sheath. What’s disturbing is the world of chaos unleashed when this little biological insulator is attacked or eroded (as in Alzheimer’s or Dementia). This theme is carried on in the title poem of the section: ‘Philosophy in a Ghosting Universe’:

Not clever enough

That flash of intuition

An electrical storm in a teacup.

.

There is a marvellous poem on the toestubbing mysteries of gender: ‘Boys Own Annual‘, which my students would do well to read:

Boys know girls are the enemy

Because girls keep calling in the debt.

Girls block the light that’s shining

Straight down on Boys Own Mighty Heaven

That glazed place where time’s ephemeral, yet set.

The section ends with ‘Comfort Station’, which makes a clever essentialism of the further mysteries of life and death and nature and the vehicle of our journey through them:

In the comfort of my body, glistening

In this shelter, my exemplary shed artefact

I disintegrate intact.

The final two sections of the book are poetic reflections on visual art, both painting and photography. The first; ‘Evolutionary History of Edward Kelly in Primary Colours is a commissioned piece (by the Nolan Gallery) which has previously been published as a limited edition with colour reproductions of the paintings.

Again my positive prejudices are brought into play. Whenever I travel to Canberra (about once a year) I make a point of going to the National Gallery and viewing the Nolan Kelly paintings there on display. They are somehow quintessentially Australian and the powerful images in their rough and ready presentation, the primary colours, the violence depicted, the conflicts portrayed, the corruption of power : all hold my gaze and intellectual engagement throughout the process. For a poet to do justice to all this is no mean task. The successful and sparse evocation of these paintings is so complete in McMaster’s hands that they stand up strongly in their own light. Something which if read well to a blind person (who had experienced a world of colour before darkness) would give them the momentary gift of sight.

The stiff constable holds a white

Note for his rescue.

Chrome yellow death.

.

Round his retraced head,

Red poppies, yellow daisies

Blue-white babies breath.

‘Mesozoic Territory – Policeman in Wombat Hole, 1946’

Nolan may well be our Van Gogh but there is no soft romanticism here, in the paintings or the poems. Both are stark indictments of harsh behaviour in a harsh and unforgiving land, committed in the defiant face of cliché.

Five Acts of Faith are small, deep poems that explore the attempted capture through the medium of photography, by Terry Milligan, in his portraits of subjects involved in very different ways of pursuit or contemplation of the spiritual.

Liberation Theology

.

This a sanctuary

Let no evil seep

Under these doors

No river of blood

Run like the shallows

Across the glassy floor

Save me from myself

Save me from mankind.

These are spare and complete poems reflecting the intent and attempt of walking various pathways to spirituality and, I think, invoking Ray Carver’s book and poem Many Paths to the Waterfall. I am not sure they entirely work . They do invoke the paths nominated but they are so small in scope which attempts to encompass such large ideas and concepts that they all seem so esoteric as to be simply impressionistic sketches towards the whole. The exception of course is the poem called ‘Zen‘, which, since it entered our cultural lexicon in the sixties, is now almost a joke or a reference to the work of Earn Malley. Perhaps you need the photographic images as a guide but a fairly concerted effort via Google failed to materialise the specific images. They exist but do they add to what we already know or how we know it? I think the earlier section Philosophy in a Ghosting Universe succeeds far more in existential contemplation within the context of life, as we here in Australia, know it, but then it is also balancing science and humanism as opposed to particular structured forms and practices.

The title poem of the book; ‘Late Night Shopping’ begins the final grouping of eleven poems that complete the book. It’s clever in its attempt to personify words of emotional or behavioural description as competitive or accidental late night shoppers in a supermarket: Malice, Obsession, Hate, Revenge, Doubt, Panic, Anxiety and  Fear all appear and play their part in this mildly amusing toying scenario. I must admit I would have like to have been with Rhyll on the little trip that gave her the idea for this poem and the poems existence does give the reader this opportunity. The final poems revisit the books central concerns and keen observations in different locations: Glebe, Broome, Traffic in George Street. In ‘In the Inner West’ the imageric word film is almost too rich to be believable. In a few short lines we have:

.…pedestrian crossing with speed hump

 .

Recently installed by Muslim council workers

Late of Lebanon

They speak Arabic and it sounds like chocolate

 .

In the enclave of Chippendale

Where Indonesian Australian

Babies named Chloe

 .

Sleep beneath the rain laden ominous….

But it is a challenge. Do we recognise our own community and what it has become? Here is globalisation made manifest in our suburban lives. Here is a vision of hell for the shock-jocks and xenophobic cringers fearing change. Here we have found ourselves living in the future with Rhyll McMaster as our tour guide. It is almost enough to make me quit singing for the first night in three years to fly up to Sydney to simply hear her read this poem aloud.

All in all it is a brave book. It occupies territory often reserved for the male in our little post colonial literary colony. But it is written by that most dangerous thing in the Australian literary world: A smart woman. This book does not suffer fools gladly but it is kind enough to actually take prisoners. It performs that task of writing elevated to the label of literature: it helps us recognise ourselves in the place and circumstance in which we live. It also thinks in answer to those questions we have all wondered. It risks the answer in heightened, well crafted, visionary language. Thank you for it Rhyll McMaster. Bless you and all who sail with you.

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Lyndon Walker Is a Psychologist, Psychotherapist, Educator, Writer and Poet living in Melbourne. He has five published books of poetry and was awarded the Pablo Neruda Prize for poetry in 1996. He is currently working on two novels.