Art in response to Art: Rob Walker launches ‘Dreamday’ by Amelia Walker at the 2018 Adelaide Fringe Festival

Dreamday by Amelia Walker was launched by Rob Walker at the Campbelltown Arthouse in Campbelltown, SA on 18 February 2018.

Dreamday Amelia Walker Book Front Cover Image (2)Amelia Walker and I met at Friendly Street Poets sometime around 2005, I think, when she was still nursing and wanting to get out. As a ridiculously precocious and talented teen, she’d already attracted my attention with her tribute to the Adelaide collection Fat Streets & Lots of Squares. I was more than a little impressed that she’d already been published in 2003 when I was 50 and still-to-be-published!

After that, I enjoyed randomly bumping into her at local gigs and discussing poetry. It was at the launch of her Just Your Everyday Apocalypse on an infernally hot night at the Jade Monkey in 2006 that Amelia, Mike Ladd and I had an enthusiastic discussion about forming a kind of impro music/ spoken word ensemble with bass player, trombonist, [and] programmer, Steve Matters, percussionist Andy Mills and sax-player Derek Pascoe. And thus, we begat Max-Mo.

It was Amelia and her partner Richard who house-sat our small farm at Cherry Gardens when Lyn and I lived in Japan in 2012. So, we may not be related but we share a lot of history!

Rob Walker. photograph by Asbjorn Kanck 2018
Rob Walker. photograph by Asbjorn Kanck (2018)

It was around this time that Amelia produced her unique collection Sound and Bundy in which she ambitiously took on the voices and personae of fictional performance poets Pete Lind, Shannon Woodford, Angie Rawkins, and the mysterious Jason Silver.
In the meantime, there has been a PhD and too many health challenges but precious little published poetry. So, it’s an honour and a pleasure to be part of the launch of Amelia’s first new collection in six years.

Now to this book. Dreamscape was originally a South Australian Living Artist exhibition of works presented by Campbelltown Arthouse from August to September 2017 on the theme of dreams. Amelia was approached after the program had been curated to provide poetic responses and earlier versions of her poems formed part of the exhibition.

The tradition of the ekphrastic poem is a long one. You know, those poems which describe a work of art and attempt to further its meaning and our understanding. If any of you are poets yourselves, you’ve probably had a crack at some stage. The danger is succumbing to giving a blow-by-blow physical description of the image and didactically telling the reader/ viewer what they should be seeing.

Amelia Walker. photograph by Asbjorn Kanck 2018
Amelia Walker. photograph by Asbjorn Kanck (2018)

Amelia avoided this pitfall simply by giving her personal reactions to each artist’s work. I say ‘simply’ but she confided to me that there was some angst involved at times. What if she didn’t “get it”? What if her interpretation of the piece was completely at odds with the artist’s intention? All she could do was trust her gut. So, these poems are often a tangential memory triggered by the image.

This is Art in response to Art. And surely this is the ultimate purpose of Art – to elicit a response in another human. (“Hey! I hear what you’re saying… I’ve felt exactly the same way!”) Sometimes, the reaction to an image seems immediate. At other times, there’s a musing, a reflection, days later.

‘Still falling’ is a wondering on the nature of those dreams that slip away before we wake.

“I wonder, what becomes
of those dreams we don’t remember

—the ones that giggle as they slip
through fumbling morning fingers

of consciousness, escaping like gold
and silver glimmers in a clear

yet rapid stream? What makes it flow
so fast, that stream?”

What impresses me about these poems is that there’s no pretense or artifice; no attempt to be arcane or esoteric. These are the kind of musings we all have —expressed better than most of us could! The James Joyce Ulysses kind of consciousness-streams which flow through our heads daily as we go about our mundane jobs, shopping and coffee-drinking.

This surreal internal world is explored in ‘This Comfortable Cage’, a response to Man Trap by Salvador Loreto:

This Comfortable Cage

After dinner, we watch a film
in which a man becomes a rat, only to realize
this is what he always was—trapped
in the box of a high-rise apartment
with higher rent, among the city lights
so bright they drown the stars,
(sometimes we need the dark to see).

In one scene, the man’s teeth crumble
and fall from his mouth,
making way for his jagged rat smile.
It reminds me of nightmares
I used to have recurring: spitting shards
of chalky ivory into a sink
pink with blood.

Losing teeth is common
in nightmares, friends tell me.
Such dreams come, they say
in times of insecurity—some threat
of loss, or losing,
especially loss of face.

My dream encyclopedia claims otherwise:
teeth pertain to speech, or failure to speak,
tooth decay to foul words—maybe lies:
things that may be denied, but never unsaid.
(The rat in the dream regrets
words the man fed to women.)

Through the whole thing, I can’t relax.
I’m thinking about our damn mortgage
—all that paper, all those words—
signed names and numbers
that simultaneously shelter
and bind us, and will tomorrow drive us
back to work, were we’re driven
to smile and smile
as though we mean it.

Mike Ladd, Rob Walker and Amelia Walker. photograph by Asbjorn Kanck 2018
Mike Ladd, Rob Walker and Amelia Walker. photograph by Asbjorn Kanck (2018)

There are poems which might be immediate thoughts on viewing a canvas; others contemplating while riding a bike after days have elapsed. Despite Dr Walker’s vast knowledge of poetics, these writings are decidedly unscholarly and accessible to all. As she responded to the artworks – or did her own mulling on the notion of dreaming – Amelia found that characters began to emerge as they had years before in Sound and Bundy and a kind of verse novel condensed from the fog.

After thousands of years of studying dreams through religion, philosophy, science and art we still have no real idea of the purpose of dreams. Perhaps this is part of our fascination. We are only now beginning to realize the importance of dreaming and our everyday internal world for our mental health.

the audience at the launch of Dreamday by Amelia Walker
The audience at the launch of Dreamday. photograph by Asbjorn Kanck (2018)

In conclusion, I’d like to thank SALA for promoting visual artists (while they’re still alive!) and Campbelltown Arthouse for funding this fine project. Over the past decade or so we’ve seen arts funding dry up from the state government. It’s been so important for community groups and local councils to promote the Arts at a grassroots level. I appreciate this from my own experience —my first poetry collection, micromacro, was funded when it won a competition sponsored by the City of Onkaparinga in 2006. Since then, many other councils have followed the lead.

Thanks to Campbelltown Arthouse, both for initiating the exhibition and publishing the book. All profits from sales will be reinvested in the Arthouse’s work. Finally, congratulations Amelia on your dreamy collection. Consider it launched!

—Rob Walker


Rob Walker has produced six poetry collections, including tropeland (Five Islands Press, 2015), Original Clichés (Ginninderra Press, 2016) and Policies & Procedures (Garron Publishing, 2016). His poems have been published in journals in the UK, US and Australia, including Best Australian Poems, cordite, Australian Poetry, Tincture, Verity La, Quadrant, and Rabbit. He recently performed work at the Adelaide Writers’ Week 2018. His short fiction, memoir and essays have appeared in Bewildering Stories and Zodiac Review in the US and Transnational Literature, Pure Slush, fourW New Writing, Short & Twisted, Stringybark Books, and on ABC Radio National.

Dreamday by Amelia Walker (Campbelltown ArtHouse, 2017) is available from Lulu

Dreamday by Amelia Walker launched by Dominique Hecq at the AAWP 2017 conference at Flinders University.


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