It’s been 10 months, since a live poetry event for the Queensland Poetry Festival (QPF). So, it was perhaps this that led to such anticipation and a within minutes booked out venue for the first Volta (an Italian term for the ‘turn’ in thought or argument in a sonnet, although we weren’t required to perform sonnets) at the Brisbane Square Library.
Thankfully a move to a larger venue at the same library was possible, and that was again rapidly booked out.
Covid 19 has altered so many art events, festivals, performances and pushed them into adaptations which include an expanded use of online performance and workshops.
Panacea Poets, was one such innovation of the QPF, and involved 46 poets recording their performances and sharing them in an online curated youtube channel.
Yet the yearning for real space, not cyberspace poetry is not completely fulfilled by these adaptations. Why?
Once many years ago, I listened to Anthony Warlow, sing live in Phantom of the Opera. Nothing prepared me for just how powerul and moving his voice in person actually was.
The music resonated through my bones and muscles in a way that an online and recorded rendition could never do.
So, it is with this backdrop that a group of three poets, Kylie Thompson, June Perkins, Sam Watson were hosted by the Queensland Poetry Festival and the Brisbane Libraries, for the very first Volta (now replacing the couplet program).
The audience were warm and welcoming. Everyone was excited, and ‘pumped’ especially as Sam was to do his first performance in Brisbane for a few years. Margaret, a regular to QPF events, welcomed me and wished me well for my reading. Luminaries such as Shastro Deo who I have known through Instagram and her stellar poetry career and elsewhere, were completely approachable.
Zenobia Frost, herself a venerable poet, was the host of the proceedings. She welcomed us, with good humour and enthusiasm and acknowledged the traditional owners of the land upon which we read our poetry. 50 people attended (the maximum the library allows under still continuing covid19 restrictions).
For Kylie, this was her first live reading (not that you would know it, she did brilliantly!).
‘The thing about lying it’s really easy to get addicted to the … touch of your own genius and so he get’s cocky and starts to assume he’s the smartest in the room no matter what the room, starts to half arse the effort but rev up the execution’ (Five Days & a Gaslight Anthem)
She shared with us 4 astounding poems, ‘Lysithea in Crescent’, ‘Five Days & a Gaslight Anthem’, ‘Hexcraft’, and a recently written poem, ‘Some Days, Your Bed Is A Coffin.’ Some of Kylie’s work will be included in upcoming anthologies.
‘Five Days & a Gaslight Anthem’ and ‘Some Days Your Bed Is A Coffin,’ were particularly potent pieces, especially for anyone who has experienced gaslighting, or those days when you just don’t want to face the day.
Next was myself, reading 6 poems, with a backdrop of slides from illustrators of the poems or to share aspects of culture such as the totem, a Bird of Paradise, of my Mekeo mother.
Zenobia read my biography and explained that she had met me through engaging me for ‘Panacea Poets’, a video youtube project during the pandemic lock downs.
Ivi Ivi na Alaka
Komo oma afa itsima imimi
Ana paiga Ane Kaina (River Song, in Maipa Language)
June Perkins , Translated by Cornelia
I read ‘Dear Artist, ‘Dust’ and ‘Bird of Poetry’ from Illuminations, a collection dedicated to the bicentennial of the Birth of Baha’u’llah; a poem from Tokens on the bushfire seasons in Australia, ‘River Song’ from my children’s collection, Magic Fish Dreaming, but in Maipa village language to honour my PNG heritage.
This was followed by a shout out to young appreciators of poetry to the youngest audience member, a small child. I read a poem ‘Sleipnir’s Children’ (God of Horses) included inCreative Kids Tales Story Collection2, especially for him. Without the young appreciating poetry how can we keep the form alive! I finished with a short piece inspired by Irene Chou’s (1924-2011) abstract art, ‘Universe Within Our Hearts’ also included in Tokens.
The last poet to read was SAMUEL WATSON is a Wunjaburra/Munanjali/German writer.
Feel inspired by tonight by us, the poets. Go home and write.
Sam Wagan Watson
Sam is the author of a dozen publications of poetry and short stories, he was the recipient of the 2018 Patrick White Literary Award. He is proud to be labelled as a Brisbane author. An absolute legend to the Brisbane poetry community, and a highly accomplished poet, Sam treated us to his warm personality, telling us the hilarious tale of his travel into the venue in a taxi with a man who wanted to suggest bizarre and way out topics for his poetry. Still recovering from three strokes, he courageously shared his work. The attentive audience had deep respect for this incredible poet.
We learn, yet forget, in the cataclysm of our birth
the owl songs of Muk-Muk;
the death feather, and reacquainted we shall be
in the sunset of our mortality.
(The call of the strange bird is heard …)
The didjeridu sits in the corner of my room
near the window, ghosts breathe
my frailty of spirit
resonates in the acoustics of this gouged plain.
(… on the pipe of the breathing floor …)
From Love Poems and Death Threats
The evening ended with a short amount time for catching up with other poets, and appreciators of poetry, and some official photographs. I was delighted to find out that the library has now stocked my poetry book and it will be available there for people to borrow. There is nothing quite like the thrill of seeing people with a copy of your book, purchased or borrowed from the library!
A few of the poets and their friends, lingered outside the closed library, just to celebrate the joy of poetry and the thrill of being able to hear it live!
You can find out more about the poets and how to purchase their works and QPF here:
I read some Magic Fish Dreaming poems as well as a poem inspired by Sydney Long’s painting Spirit of the Plains daily over the three days of the festival.
It was so much fun to share these poems and the story behind their inspirations.
I loved performing my new ‘Brolga’ poem and ‘Cassowary Chat’ with the help of the children and two home made puppets.
Some other poems performed were ‘Giggle Poems’, ‘Curtain Fig Tree’, ‘River Song’,’Brahminy Kite’, ‘Discovering Magic’, and ‘Magic Fish Dreaming.’ I varied it a little each day, but performed the participatory puppet poems every day!
The setting by the river under the shade of a tree was just perfect, and cool and comfortable for families.
Thank you so much to all those families who stopped to listen and participate in the storytelling.
A big thanks to Laura, Roshni, David and my family for their supports on the day and Hannah for support in the lead up. As well as to Maree from Deaf Services Queensland, for her Auslan of the poems.
Working hard towards some new poems, and especially keen to include the Brolga poem in a new collection for children.
Whilst the festival is over, the exhibition continues and you can find out more here. APT9 DETAILS
So the absolute highlight of the Brisbane Writers Festival for me was the talk I attended by Trent Dalton.
I saw Trent a few weeks ago on Q and A, on the ABC, as well as Sofie Laguna, and was so impressed by the way they both conducted themselves on the panel I set out to look up their books.
When I heard Trent would be attending and presenting at the Brisbane writer’s festival he went right to the top of my must-attend sessions.
When Trent entered the room there were huge cheers. He pumped the air with his fist, and yet there was no ego in that fist pump. It was more like a boxer, who has triumphed over a huge battle in his life, and is now saying thank you to an appreciative crowd. A Rocky moment, part of a montage. He thanked us for choosing to attend his talk over the current game that was on at the Stadium.
Matthew Condon, another brilliant Brisbane writer, was interviewing him and it soon emerged that he had known Trent for fourteen years, when Trent began as a reporter, and that Trent saw Matthew as an inspiration for his writing.
Matthew is well known for his non fiction books about crime and corruption in Queensland, and is a brave, principled and ethical man. It became increasingly apparent just why he was the right person in many ways to be sharing the stage and interviewing Trent. He knew the stories of some of the criminal figures featured in the book by Trent. Trent told Matthew he was writing a book, about a ‘young man raised by a gangster,’ and Matthew said, ‘I want to read that book.’
Before attending this talk, to be honest, I did not realise that 50% of the book is based on Trent’s true life experience. But in his first work of ‘fiction,’ he has found a freedom to extend and develop and share his philosophies about the line between criminal (with a heart of kindness and compassion) versus truly evil. Matthew joked, that so many authors even in fiction, channel their life without realising it. Matthew’s mum always says to him no matter what he writes, ‘when are you going to stop writing about your Dad.’
Trent shared that much of the story is based on real life figures, his mother, his three brothers, combined into one character August, and the gangster who was his babysitter, who through a comment to his mother, ‘saved my mother’s life, when no one else would have anything to do with her.’
As Trent spoke, his great love and admiration for his mother and family was warmly conveyed, but also so were the challenges of his childhood, and how much his main character Eli is based on himself : the audience were often moved to tears. This was tempered with moments of laughter as he saw the humour in the characters of his life, including his forever rebellious Dad.
Trent felt that his whole writing career in non fiction, pursuing stories about social justice, interviewing those struggling in life, experiencing domestic violence, and more was in fact a journey to understand the balance of good and evil in the world and what makes a good person turn bad, or a good person on a destructive path turn to a good one. He was trying to ‘get the scoop’ on understanding his family through his reportage of families who were going through something similar.
Trent did some creative things like taking us through his life a museum and explaining his motivation for bringing the worlds of Darrah and Brackenridge, Brisbane into fiction. He pointed out some of the heroes of those areas, and some of them were in the audience, and are still out in those areas, helping out young people who have terrible situations at home. He passionately spoke of how he wanted to emulate Charles Dickens, and what he did for the children of London, in doing the same for the young people of Darra and Brackenridge. But just like that fist pumping, there was absolute sincerity in what Trent was saying to us all.
Trent is a true believer in the power of story, to empower and transform. He felt vulnerable, and some weakness in sharing his story with us all. But at the same time felt an obligation to share deeply as many of his interviewees have done over the years. The reason for his feeling of weakness was that in some ways he drew strength in keeping the secrets of his life like a genie in a bottle, something gold, which has made him who is but which has more power in being secret.
But that feeling has been counteracted by his feeling for the ‘theatre of Brackenridge,’ and his concern for people born into communities like that who are in households, were there is lots of love, but also lots of dysfunction, and a feeling of hopelessness can creep in.
Looking back, Trent sees the hardships of his life as the ‘gold’ and admires his mother and brothers for who they were, are and who they have become. He spoke passionately about how children need to have that relationship with their mothers, even in families where there is dyfunction, don’t disconnect them if you can, but let them heal, flood them with love.
Matthew Condon’s interviewing of Trent was masterful. Trent’s admiration and respect for Matthew was lovely to witness, and both clearly have a passion for Queensland, and specifically Brisbane stories. Matthew has called Trent the new Tim Winton, who has written something equal to Cloud Street. Now that is brilliant praise.
There were many more stories in Trent’s wonderful and generous sharing with the audience, but I think it best if you go to hear him speak if you ever can, as I can’t really completely capture the humility, humour, warmth, and generosity of his words, and the way in which he emanated love for the audience. And you know what the audience gave him back that love. ‘Don’t feel weakened by sharing so much, we appreciate it.’ said one person.
A huge queue lined up to have him sign books. Was it 200 people, or more I can’t be sure. The line snaked around so people needing to travel elsewhere could pass through. I was right at the back of that queue with a photographer from Toowoomba, and a once journalist, author, now working for university Queensland lady. We chatted as we waited, and Dave, the photographer of Toowoomba took pictures of me with Trent, getting my book signed for me.
Trent thanked all of the people who lined up to have their books signed, and was warm, kind and apologetic we had to wait so long.
I told him I had someone I was going to have borrow the book from me, that would really benefit from it.
When thinking about why this talk affected me so much, I thought back to my time raised in housing commission areas in Tasmania, my brother who died at thirty after going off the rails, and my whole life journey. I thought about Trent and I could see a place for my own writing in the Australian landscape of fiction. My dream to be an Australian Maya Angelou is not beyond reach; it is a matter of digging deep, and continuing to work on the craft.
It is about being passionate about social justice and what you want to say.
The next morning I went to my inbox on email, and found out that I am a finalist in a short story competition, and inspired by Trent, who said he wrote from 8-10 pm every night to finish his book, I have decided to devote three hours daily to writing, free from all the other things in life.
Maybe just maybe I can be like a Trent Dalton, writing the theatre of East Devonport, and Rocherlea, and of the racism that migrants in this country encountered in the early post white Australia policies. And maybe, just maybe I can capture that astounding love of my parents, that gave me strength to get a university education and build a family that is a fortress of well being.
Thanks Trent, the world needs more writers like you.
(Thanks Dave from Toowoomba, for the pictures of me getting my book signed!)
Saturday 29th April 2017, was a day to be inspired as authors shared their writing journeys and ideas on the power of words with writers and readers gathered at Bracken Ridge Library. Both sessions were chaired by Sheryl Gwyther (introduced by Adele Moy), an Australian children’s author. She writes novels, chapter books, short stories and school plays for children and short stories for adults. She is the recipient of two Australian Society of Authors’ Mentorships, and two May Gibbs Children’s Literature Trust Fellowships as well as a SCBWI International Work-of-Outstanding-Promise award.
Michael Aird, Keeaira Press, began by explaining how he went from working in a factory with a low level of literacy and working out the spelling of words for the lunch order with co-workers to a dawning realisation that his older co-workers were unhappy; he realised this was not the life for him. He obtained a university education, developed a passion for photography and after graduating with anthropology combined his talents. Michael has since created over thirty varied books with Indigenous authors covering, art, history, heritage, fishing, and a manual arts teacher on his life teaching in a remote area, and some of his own works. He has learnt a lot in this process, including that some people are easier to collaborate with than others, artists can often be disorganised, some artists and writers are fantastic at marketing and promoting their books, as well as that larger print runs often give a better quality printed book.
Duncan Richardson, Michael Aird, June Perkins
Duncan Richardson took us on his journey of finding a genre that suited him and mentors that told him the truth. He began writing poetry, and still likes to do this, but found that the children and young adults’ literary community provided a more supportive group environment than that of poetry. He works as an ESL teacher and found that sometimes his students were an inspiration for stories, as well as history. He shared his interest in speculative fiction. Duncan shared that he has had mentors along the way who have told him what he needed to hear, not necessarily what he would like to hear. For instance one mentor said he really shouldn’t write drama as he knew nothing about it. Duncan shared some beautiful quotations about inspiration and showed us several of his books. Today Duncan is a highly imaginative storyteller (he still likes writing poetry), who has a real passion for writing YA novels and chapter books. He continues to have an interest in history. He feels like he has found his forte. Later in question time, an audience member asked him for more details about where his ideas came from. They were particularly intrigued by Jason Chen and the Time Banana.
I shared my journey‘ outlining five major influences: my birth family, nature, my family today, writing groups and spirituality of the Baha’i faith. I especially focused on the racism my family endured when living in Tasmania, which in some ways lead to the loss of one of my brothers, and how education, my family and community, played a role in empowering me, to create the poetry book for children and family Magic Fish Dreaming, a subtle celebration the oneness of humanity – which is reflected in its illustrations. I feel compelled to write by the desire for the children of the world to grow up in a world free from prejudice. I shared a moment of celebration where my brother wore a grass skirt and was proud of who he was and was featured on the front of the paper. This was a fairly emotional moment. I shared stories of my family growing up and having my Dad read stories to us and tell us always to work very hard to be treated equally to others in the society we were part of, and later learning more cultural stories from my mum when I began to ask her questions. I read and showed photographs (as I love photography) of these influences and concluded my presentation by reading a poem – River Song. Some of the stories I shared can be found on ABC Open.
(Note: I won a mentorship from the Australian Society of Authors and spent 2017 honing my craft on Picture books. This was during the time of the kickstarter.)
Later in question time to the panel I shared some details about kickstarting and how it is suitable for projects that should happen, have wide community support, but which publishers won’t take on for a number of reasons. One has to have a real passion for what one is creating for crowdfunding.
Susan Johnson, author of My Hundred Lovers,The Landing, and many others, a novelist and journalist, spoke naturally and informally on her life. She always loved to read, and feels that the majority of writers begin as readers. She spoke about her beginnings in Sydney and the shock of moving to Nambour. From a place where people marched against Vietnam, to a much more conservative place, which as first she resisted.
She shared with us memories as a journalist of meeting Mrs Whitlam (who she found quite shy and awkward) and more recently many other interesting people such as artist and film maker Tracy Moffat, but also that she found journalism quite an easy form to write in (she wanted to assure us she wasn’t putting down journalism as a writing form but it is so different from fiction). Fiction for her personally by contrast to journalism requires immense work (but pays less), and ‘good fiction shows the knots of life and experience,’ and probably one needs life experience before being able to write really good fiction. ‘Most good fiction is written after people turn 30. There are rare exceptions to this rule.’
Susan said today most authors doing well will only receive a $10,000-12,000 advance, whereas in the past they might have received $80,000. On average Australian authors earn $14,000 a year. So the vast majority of writers of fiction, other than say people like Geraldine Brooks (a good friend) have to hold down other jobs, and this is why she works as a journalist and adjunct lecturer, whilst writing fiction, despite having many novels published. Susan was lucky enough to have literature board grants and residencies, and was able to live overseas whilst she was writing one of her novels. These were brilliant experiences.
Although Susan has had many books published, she still feels like a relatively unknown author. She feels it is the prize winners who become the best known Australian authors.
She shared later in the panel questions that journalism has given her the discipline to write, and so she wakes at 5 am before the other responsibilities in her life as a single parent, and writes fiction and then goes off to her work as a journalist.
Lauren Daniels, an editor who worked for many years for Interactive press, spoke about the rich diversity of books she has edited by Australian authors. She told us stories about the power of words, repeating that phrase throughout her talk to remind us of the theme. She began with her story of how editors are like the mid wives for other books. She loves to edit books with a social message. The books she has edited cover topics like, homeless youth, refugees, black birding, history, death, adoption, the history Tasmanian serial killers and there were many others.
She told us the story of Tilly Brasch, the first person she edited a work for. Tilly came to her with a story about her son’s mental illness and her original intention was not to create a book but a pamphlet, but Lauren saw the potential for this book to have the power to change the situation for other people going through what Tilly was.
Lauren explained the role of an editor. One of their roles is to assist the author to avoided being sued and another is to help them work out their main goal in telling the story. Key components of her editing are honesty, empathy and integrity, and this has meant she sometimes lets go of some editing jobs if the book and or author lacks this. Lauren did work on her own novel, but with her first novel couldn’t find a publisher after 20 attempts, but a friend reminded her she had walked inside many other’s stories and bought their books to fruition and publication and that is a great thing to have done.
(Editors note: The manuscript for her novel, The Serpent’s Wake: A Fairy Tale for the Bitten was shortlisted with the 2016 Half the World Literati Award.)
Lauren told us some engaging anecdotes about her life, working as a volunteer for assisting homeless and displaced people, her father reading her Moby Dick (which she dramatized for us!), her reading a piece of writing to Veterans after winning a writing competition. This moment of reading to the veterans clearly showed the power of words to her, as she saw grown men crying as she read.
She shared her family’s response to her declaration of wanting to be a writer, ‘Oh no, you’ll be an alcoholic’. This came from her grandmother who had known and served Hemmingway. She spoke of how she was teased in her early life for having a stutter. In retrospect this experience of social isolation, plus a love of books, led to her love of writing. Lauren also told us that she once wrote to Stephen King and received an encouraging reply. Lauren is particularly moved by writers who refuse to be ruined by trauma.
Jacqueline Henry, a Bayside Journalist, and now also author of fiction and children’s stories shared her story. She is delighted to not be an ‘ambulance chaser journalist’ but one who interviews remarkable people, or ordinary people doing remarkable things. She decided in her fourties, despite her love of journalism, that she wanted to explore writing fiction. She announced this to her family with great gusto, but nothing came of it for a while. That is until she began to just try to write 1000 words a day (or close to) and rise at 5.30 am in the morning to do so. She treated it just like her job in journalism, and turned up to write her fiction every day. Jacqueline encouraged the audience to accept that whatever they write there will be a diversity of responses, even from people who on the surface all seem the same. One must expect that and celebrate this even.
Jacqueline’s speech was engaging and relaxed. She encouraged the audience to hone their craft, and to learn from the rich diversity of authors talks and how to’s on youtube. You don’t need to go and do a degree to become an author, but you do need to work on your craft.
The audience asked some interesting questions, including Do you need to go to university to become a writer? Writing experience regardless of your education can come through the act of reading, writing and reflecting. It is the time you put into it, and the experiences or story you might share with an audience, and finding your audience that are all part of the journey. Sheryl also asked the panel some questions. One of which was where they saw themselves ten years from now? Susan said she would love to win a literary prize but she wasn’t sure if she would achieve that ten years from now! Everyone wanted to still be writing!
A big thank you to all presenters, organisers, sponsors and special guests to the festival from council, Councillor Amanda Cooper and the Society of Women’s Writers Queensland, Brisbane Libraries, Brisbane City Council,
Lauren, Sheryl, Adele and Jacqueline
Images from Sheryl Gwyther, Jo Hoffman, Lauren Elise Daniels, June Perkins, Kara McLeod