‘The interconnectedness of people, poetry and place’ at the BIG READ: NT Poetry- Zalehah Turner catches up with Alice Springs poet, Laurie May

Laurie May permission from Laurie
Laurie May photograph by Else Kennedy, 2015. Used with permission

Laurie May was one of eleven poets chosen by Australian Poets Festival Director, Toby Fitch to read at THE BIG READ: NT Poetry on Saturday, May 7 as part of Northern Territory Writers’ Festival, Wordstorm. The BIG READ is just one of the events hosted by Australian Poetry, the peak, national body for poetry, that will see more poetry events and a stronger poetry presence at many of the main writers’ festivals including, the Sydney Writers’ Festival on Saturday, May 21 and Sunday, May 22. Toby Fitch designed and hosted the APF event which reconnects poetry and place at Wordstorm with all poets reading one poem from, or about, the Northern Territory and following it up with one or two of their own. Laurie May, Director of the Alice Springs’ Red Dirt Poetry Festival and The Dirty Word, speaks to Zalehah Turner about the poems she read and the “the interconnectedness of people, poetry and place” in the Northern Territory.

Z.T: Which poem did you choose from another Northern Territory poet to read at the Big Read?

L.M: I chose to read ‘Blackbone’ by Steve Gumerungi Hodder Watt.

Z.T: What appealed to you about the poet or their poem from the Northern Territory archive?

L.M: I’ve read a lot of Steve’s work and appreciate the passion, depth and style he employs to approach political issues and challenge the whitewashing of the Australian narrative. ‘Blackbone’ is an intense piece approaching the assumptions around the Australian cattle industry and its history. It takes the history and gets the reader to see the injustices of the past and the intergenerational trauma that has followed while ending with a strong message for our future.

Z.T: Which poems of yours did you follow it up with?

L.M: I read two poems after Steve’s of my own. The first one was about a grandmother and family I never knew and their connection to sugar cane farming and ancestral history coinciding with a lapse into dementia. The second poem is called ‘Lovers Once’.

Z.T: What can you tell me about your poems that you chose to read?

L.M: ‘Lovers Once’ as it’s currently my favourite piece. It weaves in a romantic partnership narrative with the destructive force of invasion in this country. I’m quite pleased with it because it feels so intense and every time I read it I feel like something new is revealed, it challenges me to think and I hope it does the same for others. The first poem I read, ‘She Fought’, which I should add is a working title as it’s correct title has not been formed, is only new for me. On the night I read it, my father showed up to watch. It’s only the second time we’ve met since I was little so it meant a lot to read a poem about his mother and family while he was there.

Z.T: What are the similarities or differences between the poems you choose from the Northern Territory archive and your own?

L.M: I think the similarities between Steve’s poem and my own (particularly ‘Lovers Once’) is that they both challenge the mainstream narrative around Australian history and prompt the reader to think differently.

Z.T: Which of your poems do you think best speaks about your experience of living in Darwin?

L.M: I lived in Darwin for a few years before moving to Alice Springs and it’s weird that I didn’t write many poems there, I flourished in the desert and have written very few reflective pieces. Even my most tropical of poems is written about Weipa in Queensland. If anything ‘Walk With Me’, which is a piece I love doing when I travel interstate, compares my life in the tropics and now in the desert, is probably the only piece I have about Darwin. Oh I just remembered, I have a poem somewhere about the love affair between the sun and the sea I wrote on Bathurst Island – that’s my most Northern poem I think.

Z.T: Did the experience of hearing a poem from the NT archive from each poet at The BIG READ alter your perception of poetry in the Northern Territory?

L.M: Not so much altered but reinforced my understanding of the interconnectedness of people, poetry and place.

Z.T: What do you think of the poetry scene in the NT?

L.M: Poetry and the Northern Territory are synonymous really. I feel like the two belong together. Everything about the NT inspires me. I love living here and writing poetry here. The scene in Alice Springs in particular is massive, with a love and celebrated history of poetry I feel privileged to be a part of it. Every two years, I have the pleasure of putting together the Red Dirt Poetry Festival which sees poets from all over Australia and this year, America, Indonesia and New Zealand, get together and celebrate poetry and the spoken word. I’ve never seen another festival like it. This July it’s going to be massive. From July 28 – 31st poets will take over the town. There’ll be poetry everywhere and I mean if that’s not a good indication of how much we love poetry then I don’t know what is.

The YouTube video for ‘Lovers Once’ by Laurie May used with permission:

The full program for the Red Dirt Poetry Festival 2016 which runs from July 28 to 31, is coming soon: http://www.reddirtpoetryfestival.com/

Read Laurie May’s 2016, The Year of Fun Made in Alice to find out more about The Dirty Word and the Red Dirt Poetry Festivalhttp://www.alicespringsnews.com.au/2016/01/03/2016-the-year-of-fun-made-in-alice/

About: Laurie May’s poetry and spoken word challenges societal norms and explores the concept and construction of identity in notions of self, family and the cultural identity of Australia. Based in Alice Springs, Laurie performs around the country as well as, running youth poetry and performance workshops. Laurie is the Director of The Dirty Word and the Red Dirt Poetry Festival in Alice Springs.

APF: The BIG READ is just one of the range of poetry events organised by Director, Toby Fitch for the Australian Poets Festival. While Sydney-siders and those visiting this weekend won’t get a chance to see the BIG READ at the Sydney Writers’ Festival, you can catch two other Australian Poets Festival events: the popular, experimental poetry night, turned one off afternoon, AVANT GAGA on Saturday, May 21 as well as, Mysterious Ways on Sunday May 22.

Please visit the SWF website for details.

AVANT GAGA: http://www.swf.org.au/program/swf2016/avant-gaga-219

Mysterious Ways: poetry and publishing: http://www.swf.org.au/program/swf2016/mysterious-ways-poetry-and-publishing-257

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