Perth Poetry Festival – Keynote Address by Amanda Joy

As patron of the 2017 Perth Poetry Festival Amanda Joy delivered the 2017 Festival Keynote address on 17 August at the Northbridge Piazza Community Room.

Amanda Joy

Within days of being asked to make this address, the week before I left for Broome, I went to dinner with a group of poets, in a corner a candle had been lit for Fay Zwicky. We were told she would not make it through the following day.

When I think of memorable keynote addresses, without fail, the first to come to mind is Fay Zwicky’s opening speech from the Apropos Festival hosted by Writing WA a few years back. I still don’t entirely trust my recollection of what she said, there was some kind of hypnotic reverie involved, which existed outside the words and cast a spell over that entire week. It began with music, Fay Zwicky playing piano. Her talk was mostly autobiographical, quite practical, surprising, gracious and radiated great generosity in its advice to poets. I’m sure everyone there took away many things. Residual for me, the seed which took root, was her advocacy of fearlessness, not just in poetry but in our relating to others, a courage in reaching out, particularly poet to poet.  I very loosely paraphrase here, “if you admire someone’s writing, write to them, no matter how far away and loftily admired they might be” Her reach was as international as the points of reference evidenced in her writing. She illuminated those interconnections which sustain us and it seems right to invoke her presence here now, through her own words and those of a handful of Western Australian Women Poets.

There is a particular sentence in her essay Seeing and Recording a Local Ambience which has stayed with me as caution, friction and fascination since I first encountered it;

The Obscurity of Our Diction.

“The obscurity of our diction has been closer to vagueness of perception than to the obscurity of the complex consciousness. It embodies an uncertain grasp of the relationship between language and feeling, and of feeling and the natural world. Our poetic speech has lacked that edge of hardness and truth, which enables us to forgive an obvious clinging to convention, which we do in Hardy and Frost. What has been missing is the personal tone, the adjustment of the individual to the physicality of things.”

What an awareness this asks for! and she offers little consolation, rather opening a field of questions. Yes, as instructed, you can slow the moment of sensation, break it gently down, line by line to regulate the pace, as with all her writing the words seem to have absorbed more, codified more, than others can in entire books.

She writes of the lack of musicality, even the inert “thud” of the words of William Carlos Williams, of his visual rather than auditory imagination, not tuned to the mind’s ear, then discusses at length the heightened scrupulousness in his matching of language to physicality, of the appeal this concept of poetry might have to, in her words, “shallow democracy” shared by Australian and Americans.

And what a potent pairing of words that is “Shallow democracy” It speaks to a great deal more than a distrust of elevated or academic literary language and how specialized language can isolate.

In preparing for this talk, I was excited to find on the Giramondo website, her speech from the launch of Lucy Dougan’s book The Guardians. It contains so many gems but I loved this euphoric quote (which I have kept near my desk) “Whenever a poet manages to find language and structures that mimic and project her feelings, she’s actually chalking up a victory over oblivion. “

What our diction resists and what its resistance can say. A well crafted poem asks the reader/listener to move toward it to gain understanding.

In the poem The Stone Dolphin, from Three Songs of Love and Hate, she writes:

The language of tyranny had to be
learnt if anything were to be said

and later in the same poem:

True grief is tongueless when the dumb
define love’s death
In a fiercely fathered and unmothered world
words are wrung from the rack

These are origins, not conclusions. As in so many of her poems she destabilizes language by critiquing the same tool she is working with, she renders it precarious through a restructuring, each orphaned word crammed to bursting point with the weight of greater meaning, yet retaining its most seductive qualities.

I was reminded of the final stanza’s of Morgan Yasbincek’s poem Pilgrim, from White Camel

for two days she sits broody in the camper chair, her cup held still
on ten fingertips, then she moves like that woma python woman
from Uluru, the child a light under the sand of her
tasting the air, she enters a gathering in the centre of Alice, finds
the Arrente woman who gives her some words to see with, permission
to enter her land

These complex networks. Words which have come from another physicality, which have not only been seeded by the shape of things in that particular locale but also allow the alignment of the individual to that same physicality. This is not abstract theory, become bilingual and your tongue will develop a new muscularity, your hypothalamus will vibrate differently, your pituitary gland will secrete a new dose of hormones.

When in Swamp, Nandi Chinna asks “How many footsteps will it take/ to walk a place into the body?” the body keeps walking, the rhythm of movement through terrain becomes the body and the words-as-poem, a new form.

When poetry strives for this alignment, evidences this adjustment, it sings. Not merely as vocality, onomatopoeia, in cadence, meter, or a layering of meaning. Something happens spatially. We are drawn into another place, another encounter, it situates us in a “constellation” complete with its own rhythm.

There is a great poem by Caitlin Maling, I came across originally in Going Down Swinging from her book Conversations I’ve Never Had, called Holiday, it begins with an aerial view of Perth.  (our freshly arrived interstate and international guests may appreciate this view from an airplane)

Perth from above is a cockroach.
It sits there, brown and laconic, and
the microwave of summer can’t shift it”

Discomforting for many reasons, not least because it likens Perth to a cockroach, but also everything suburban becomes cockroach, not diffused by the word like it actually is a cockroach. The language in it is hard, the line breaks as dissociated and dislocated as the idea of a city which clings to country like an insect “twitching intermittently”

The precision of our diction, the map which is our diction, leads to and from the reader/listener’s body through the sentence and from and to share the poet’s body and its yearnings, where they are located, not simply geographically and physically but psychically, spiritually and ineluctably, politically.

Set this beside Yamatji poet, Charmaine Papertalk-Green’s Don’t Want me To Talk, published in Cordite and also The Fremantle Press Anthology of Western Australian Poetry.

You don’t want me to talk about
Mining or its impact on country
You don’t want me to talk about
The concept and construct of ‘whiteness’
And how dominant and real it is
You don’t want me to talk about
The art vultures here and everywhere
Modern day art missionaries
Guiding us on the great white canvas
You don’t want me to talk about
Treaties or invasion of this land
It’s a shared true history- lets heal
You don’t want me to talk about
How reconciliation could be the wrong word
You don’t want me to talk about
Native titles way of moving across
The Midwest and Murchison landscape
You don’t want me to talk at all
Most of the time
You want me to nod, smile and listen
You don’t want me to talk about
How I have got a voice
And you don’t listen

There are voices not represented in this room. While we gather under the banner of ‘celebrating diversity’, lets also have a heightened awareness of where it isn’t and why its important to do so.

In the rarefied context of several days of poets reading their poems we have the benefit of entering not only the poet’s diction but an immersion in the intonation, to observe the facial expressions and physical presence. To commune through a shared embodiment of words, the texture of those words over tongues and into ears, as spirit, as wind or other movement over terrain. This week as we make those maps. Maps of this precious time we have together, this transient field of relations we co create and its capacity to change us, as poets and people.

I’ll now read Fay Zwicky’s ‘The Poet Asks Forgiveness’ from Kaddish.

Dead to the world I have failed you
Forgive me, traveller.

Thirsty, I was no fountain
Hungry, I was not bread
Tired, I was no pillow

Forgive my unwritten poems:
the many I have frozen with irony
the many I have trampled with anger
the many I have rejected in self-defence
the many I have ignored in fear

unaware, blind or fearful
I ignored them.
They clamoured everywhere
those unwritten poems.
They sought me out day and night
and I turned them away.

Forgive me the colours
they might have worn
Forgive me their eclipsed faces
They dared not venture from
the unwritten lines.

Under each inert hour of my silence
died a poem, unheeded

 

 – Amanda Joy

  —————————————————————————————————–

Amanda Joy was born and raised in the Kimberley and Pilbara regions of Western Australia. Her first full-length book, Snake Like Charms, is part of the UWAP Poetry series. Her poem ‘Tailings’ won the 2016 Peter Porter Poetry Prize. She is the author of two chapbooks, Not Enough to Fold and Orchid Poems.

The 2017 Perth Poetry Festival ran from 11th to the 20th of August https://wapoets.wordpress.com/2017/06/01/2017-perth-poetry-festival/

One thought on “Perth Poetry Festival – Keynote Address by Amanda Joy

  1. Pingback: ISSUE 23. July 2017 – September 2017 | Rochford Street Review

Comments are closed.