So, today I received the Right to Information dossier I requested concerning my eviction from the QPF in August that includes a QPS Occurrence Report, Police diary information and email correspondence between the QPS, OSC and Ethical Standards peeps who just slap each other on the back and say job well done, there was no misconduct on our behalf. Thank god we didn’t accidentally choke any poets to death. We were just following orders. I will publish the whole QPS dossier as a blog post soon. But for now here are the main accusations against me reported by David Stavanger that led him to call the Queensland Protective Services (QPS) and ask for my eviction from the festival on Sunday.
Not surprisingly, the truth of the whole matter comes down to little more than, ‘I said/He said’ doleful semantics. Of note Arts Queensland refers to our incident as an ‘interaction’, however I am bemused by Stavanger’s first claim that I was ‘openly aggressive’ towards him. I have never shied away from the fact that I did approach him when he was talking to Ian McBryde on Saturday night and yes, rudely interrupted his conversation to say, “Hey David, I’ll bury the fucking hatchet if you stop persecuting me.” I guess the word ‘fucking’ is rather emphatic, but pretty passé these days to be offended by. Unless he thought I was going to bury an actual hatchet in his head? Could he have misheard me on that fateful night? No, I really believe he wasn’t prepared to listen to anything I had to say to him at all, as he was too busy misconstruing my attempts at communication as some imagined physical threat. Weird. As I’ve previously stated, I wasn’t in his personal space at all. Definitely not Maori nose to nose. He was sitting down, I was standing. Maybe he felt intimidated by my body language and not the message I was trying to get across to him. Remember folks – don’t shoot the messenger!
So ‘openly aggressive’ must also mean that the big make up hug I gave Matt Hetherington (a 2017 QPF program advisor and not one of my favourite peeps either) down at the bar where he was d-jaying about an hour before, was actually a sneaky wrestling maneuver designed to break his back. FFS, I have witnesses who heard me say to Stavanger as he walked down the Judith Wright stairs on Saturday night, “Hey David, great festival.” He ignored me of course. He was also rude to friends of mine at the festival and treated them with disdain, just because they were seen hanging out with me. When they confronted him about his behaviour by email – he never bothered to reply to them either with an explanation. And then there was that FB post I wrote on Saturday night that quoted all the terrific lines of poetry from guest poets I’d heard over Friday and Saturday. Does this sound like the actions of someone who was ‘openly aggressive’ and wanting to cause trouble at the QPF?
Next we have the, ‘refused to remove from his physical space” accusation. Boy, you should have seen how fast I moved out of his presence when he replied, “You’ve got about two seconds to get out of my personal space, or else,” and then got up and reported my ‘openly aggressive’ behaviour to the Judith Wright Centre’s duty manager. Ian could probably tell you how quickly I fled that scene. For the next half hour or so, I hid out the back of the Judith Wright Centre, scared that security guards were coming to get me then and there! So much for the ‘intimidating’ and ‘openly aggressive’ Brett Dionysius, who actually became upset during a phone interview with Deborah Tanzer, the Manager for Legal & Governance at Arts Queensland, when talking about the incident three days later. So I actually didn’t refuse to move out of his physical space at all. I obeyed the command shocked by his reaction.
His reaction to what again? To me asking for a reconciliation to heal the schism that has erupted between the old and new guard? Between page and performance poets in Queensland. For asking to stop being persecuted (some would say professionally bullied) by the QPF under Stavanger’s dominance, an organisation that has not included me in any poetry reading, event, festival, project or commission for the last four years. FFS. Imagine if this degree of purposeful professional persecution happened to a poet of similar standing elsewhere in Australia? Imagine if Ian McBryde was treated like I have been by the Melbourne poetry scene? Imagine the national outrage amongst fellow poets. And yet, here I am in Queensland, my home state, that has marginalized one of their most successful and published poets ever, and now to rub salt into the wound, soils my professional reputation as well over these false allegations and trumped up charges, purely enacted as revenge for my criticisms of the QPF.
Then in the police diary notes we have this, ‘charging forward in the foyer’ claim where all I did was again try and walk up to Stavanger to, you guessed it, “bury the fucking hatchet” between us and I followed him for a bit as he danced out of my way. What? Charging forward like a bull in a china shop I suppose? He was on his phone, so I just guess my timing in trying to reconcile with Stavanger that night just sucked. I thought about attempting one last communication with him, but Sam Wagan Watson put his hand on my shoulder and said forget about it and I left after that. I don’t know about you, but the only ‘charging’ I did in the Judith Wright foyer over that weekend was the $185.00 worth of poetry books I charged to my credit card to support the QPF guest poets and the festival. Again FFS. My last great shoulder-charge was playing under 12s ruby league in 1981.
Furthermore, it’s unfortunate that Stavanger in the Police notes indicated that he, ‘felt uncomfortable and did not want Brett to be present in [the] building’ the following day – Sunday and that the Queensland Protective Service officers, going just on Stavanger’s bizarre interpretation of the previous night’s events as a real physical threat to his person, thought that I had, ‘failed to satisfy an SPSO that the person (me) was there for a good and lawful reason to be in that particular state building’. Sorry Andy Jackson – going to see your show wasn’t a good and lawful reason to be at the festival. So ‘feeling uncomfortable’ about someone nowadays equates to you automatically calling the police on them. Imagine being this guy’s neighbour? Imagine having a boundary dispute with him or a tree branch sticking over his fence?
Nah mate, I just created the Queensland Poetry Festival 21 years ago when the Brisbane Writers’ Festival kicked out all of the local poets from their program, and I directed the QPF for five years – still the longest serving director of the event. Is it any wonder that I am blowing up about this? All up on Saturday night I estimate I had about a minute’s interaction with Stavanger. And now to be treated like some serial pest who invades cricket, horse racing and soccer pitches all the time.
What’s more amusing in these Paradise Poetry Papers is that one of the officers notes that I was ‘loud’ and ‘vocal’ during my extraction, as though making noise while being tossed out for no good reason, is in the police brain synonymous to violent, hey even ‘openly aggressive’ behaviour, possibly even an attempt to resist arrest. Yes I was vocal. On the day I was reminded of that scene in Hamlet in the last act, when Hamlet stabs Claudius and the dying king yells out, “Defend me friends!” but no one moves to help him. Yes, I did try to attract the attention of the fifty or so eyewitnesses, guest poets, and punters gathered around the book table. Who wouldn’t in that abusive situation. What? Did Stavanger & Co. really think I was going to go ‘quietly into that goodnight?
I said something like this, “Hey everyone, I’m being evicted from the QPF for no good reason. Who’s going to help me?” Did I expect a blockade of the centre’s doors by poets willing to defy the authorities and put their lives in the line? No one moved – people were kind of shocked I suppose. Then I appealed to poets personally to intervene. “Maxine [Beneba Clarke], Tony [Birch], Michelle [Cahill], Jonathon [Hadwen]!” Three of them had just come from a panel where they talked about poetry as political resistance, so I was betting on them putting their money where their mouth is. I will always remember the many people who turned away from the scene embarrassed by the situation, by me standing there with guards gripping my arms. By confrontation with authority no doubt. Those poets who could not meet my eyes and looked elsewhere. How easily do we become complicit in wrong-doing. How easy was it for the Nazis to do the terrible things they did, because of the complicity of good people who just stood there and did nothing to stop injustice. Only two festival attendees moved to enquire why I was being put out – Tony Birch and Matt Stein. Tony was intercepted by Anne Te Whiu and obviously told some bullshit about me threatening her partner. Matt accompanied me outside but was soon told to ‘piss off’ by the ‘polite’ officers. As was some old guy in a electric wheelchair who just happened to roll up at the same time to where we were gathered outside on the footpath. Now that was weird. Must have been the same officer who called me a ‘fucking comedian’ after I said they’d all end up as characters in one of my poems some day.
Stavanger’s reaction was completely paranoid and over the top. What, I go from written criticism of the festival on my blog, to violent agitation on the front lines of the poetry festival in a night? Maybe I should have just chained myself to the front doors of the Judith Wright Centre to get my message about his nepotistic programming decisions out there hey? Next time I’ll take some placards with me. My punishment didn’t really fit the supposed crime. I just find it very sad indeed that he’s basically lied to everyone, and seriously exaggerated my actions that night to the QPS (the bloody police), the Management Committee of the QPF and to Arts Queensland. This just proves that I was tickling his ribs with those accurate blogpost bouncers I’d been hurling down at his poor programming form for the past year.
All I can say is that these reports of my ‘openly aggressive’ behavior that night are pretty exaggerated, biased and politically-motivated as a means to shut my criticisms of Stavanger’s direction of the festival down. Imagine if Anthony Lawrence and John Kinsella started raining blows on each other again under his management? We’d have to call the cops and have them arrested for sure. Imagine what Bukowski would have made of this storm in a tea-cup…er… whiskey bottle.
Democracy should be the right to criticise and converse without the fear of heavy-handed authority, reprisal or removal right? Right? I just hope the new director of the 2018 Queensland Poetry Festival is not one of his stooges who will just replicate this new QPF hegemony of poor programming decisions, amateurism, marginalization of older, regional, older women and respected Queensland poets, blatant lies for political purposes and now use of the state’s security apparatus to shut down free debate.
And I haven’t even told you about the worst thing that he did that Sunday. But that’s another story….
30th August 2017
Ms Carmel Macmillan, Chair
Queensland Poetry Festival
GPO Box 3488
Brisbane QLD 4101
Dear Ms Macmillan,
I have a complaint about the Queensland Poetry Festival and would like to use your complaints management system.
On Sunday the 27th of August I was forcibly removed from the premises of the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, by two officers of the Queensland State Protective service around 12.30pm, at the behest of the Queensland Poetry Festival co-directors, David Stavanger and Anne Te Whiu.
No reason was given for my eviction by either the QPS officers or the co-directors when I asked why I was being removed from this Queensland government building, hosting a free public event in a building that has free entrance to the public.
All the officers said was that they had the legislative power to remove people from State government facilities if asked to do so by the management. I was not approached by the management of the Judith Wright Centre either, or asked to leave by them, before the QPS officers escorted me outside the building.
I find this abuse of the QPS powers to be very disturbing, as I was doing absolutely nothing wrong at the festival, in fact I had been at a reading in the shopfront enjoying the poetry. In fact, I had been enjoying the QPF for two days previously, even trying to reconciliate with the co-directors, but alas all of my overtures were ignored, and instead I was threatened with more security measures on Saturday night by David Stavanger, for again no reason.
I never threatened anyone physically or verbally during the festival, never touched anyone, nor did I damage any of the Judith Wright Centre facilities. I was not intoxicated or under the influence of drugs at any time. As a result of this abuse of my civil rights, I have had to go on sick leave for three weeks from my work because of mental anguish.
I would like the Queensland Poetry Festival to issue a public apology to me in writing over this mistreatment. I also would like the Board of the Queensland Poetry Festival to seriously review the contract that you have with the current co-directors, who have not only abused my human rights, but have also abused state government resources through their maladministration of public sector security services.
To this end, I have also made a public sector disclosure statement to Art Queensland complaining of my mistreatment at the 2017 Queensland Poetry Festival.
I request written acknowledgement of my complaint in 10 working days. I also request that you provide updates on the progress and outcome of my complaint. Furthermore, do I also have any right to an internal review if I am not happy with your initial decision?
If I do not hear from the Board of the Queensland Poetry Festival, or if you respond in a manner that I deem inadequate, I will take my complaint to the Queensland Ombudsman. I am also investigating civil legal options at the moment.
I can be contacted at the above address or by email and phone.
4th October 2017
Ms Carmel Macmillan, Chair
Queensland Poetry Festival
GPO Box 3488
Brisbane QLD 4101
Dear Ms Macmillan,
It has been approximately five (5) weeks since I sent you a letter of complaint on the 30th August 2017 about my forcible eviction from the 2017 Queensland Poetry and the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts.
In that time I have been contacted twice by email and once by phone by Deborah Tanzer, Manager, Legal and Governance, Arts Business Performance and Infrastructure, Arts Queensland in conjunction with a complaint I made to Arts Queensland concerning this matter also.
Over this time, I have also heard back from the Queensland Police Service, regarding a similar complaint I made to that organisation about my eviction from a state government building. A senior sergeant called me to inform me that I was evicted under section 23 of the act which I am quoting here for your perusal. Specifically the clause which says, “or fails to satisfy a senior protective security officer that the person has a good and lawful reason to be in a particular state building then –“
Refusal of entry to and removal from building
If a person fails to comply with a demand under section 20, or
a direction under section 21(3) or 21A(3), by a senior
protective security officer, or fails to satisfy a senior protective
security officer that the person has a good and lawful reason to
be in a particular state building then—
(a) if the person is in the state building—it shall be lawful
for the senior protective security officer and all persons
acting in aid of the officer to remove the person from the
state building, using such force as is necessary for the
(b) if the person is about to enter the state building—it shall
be lawful for the senior protective security officer and
all persons acting in aid of the officer to prevent the
person from entering the state building, using such force
as is necessary for the purpose.
I have followed up this unsatisfactory explanation of my eviction with an RTI (Right to Information) application to seek information from the QPS surrounding my eviction under this clause of the act. Specifically, I have asked for access to the notes, reports and details of the phone conversations between the QPS- Protective Services Officers and David Stavanger, so I can ascertain on what specific information section 23 of the act was enacted – particularly as the QPS officers did not make an assessment of the situation on Sunday the 27th August, but rather ‘acted on information’ from David Stavanger.
Now, as to the QPS justification that I did not have ‘a good and lawful reason to be in a particular state building’, I must confess that this claim seems rather thin and unsubstantiated to say the least. I had attended Mark Doty’s workshop on Wednesday the 23rd August, I had attended the QPF all day Friday and into the night on the 25th August and attended all day and into the night on Saturday the 26th August. Twice I tried to speak with David Stavanger on Saturday night, the first time just after I spoke to you that night, when I asked you to intervene and stop the persecution against me. If I remember rightly you said, “What persecution Brett?”
Next, I tried to talk to David Stavanger and said to him, ‘Hey David, I will bury the fucking hatchet if you stop persecuting me.’ That is when he said, “You’ve got about two seconds to get out of my personal space or else I’ll call security.’ Ironically, if his response and what happened to me the next day is not persecution, then I don’t know what is.
I never threatened David Stavanger verbally or physically, nor anyone else at the festival. I did not make a nuisance of myself and was thoroughly enjoying some fabulous poetry over the weekend. I enjoyed myself immensely over the 12 sessions that I saw, and even wrote a glowing Facebook comment on the great poets and poetry I was witnessing. I even followed that up with a post on my WordPress blog commenting on the aspects of the festival that I liked and refraining from anything negative. I also purchased $185.00 worth of poetry books from the bookstall, to support the festival.
So, can you as the Chair of the Queensland Poetry Festival please explain to me in detail how I was not at the festival for, ‘a good and lawful reason’ and therefore had to be humiliated in public through a forcible eviction by security guards from the poetry festival that I started?
Again, in accordance with my previous letter, I would like the Queensland Poetry Festival to issue a public apology to me in writing over this mistreatment and maladministration of public sector security services. I want you to admit that what was done to me was wrong. As no written acknowledgement of my complaint arrived in 10 working days either by email or letter, I again request that you provide updates on the progress and outcome of my complaint and a response to my question about ‘do I have any right to an internal review if I am not happy with your initial decision’.
Again, if I do not hear from the Board of the Queensland Poetry Festival, or if you respond in a manner that I deem inadequate, I will take my complaint further to the Queensland Ombudsman.
I can be contacted at the above address or by email and phone.
20 October 2017
Mr Brett Dionysius
38 Paluna Street
Riverhills Q 4074
Dear Mr Dionysius
Your complaint about 27 August 2017
Thank you for your letters dated 30 August 2017 and 4 October 2017 setting out your complaint about being removed from the Judith Wright Centre, Fortitude Valley on 27 August 2017.
Queensland Poetry Festival Inc. (QPF) takes all complaints seriously. Your complaint has been considered by members of the management committee. They have considered the matters set out in your correspondence as well as information from witnesses, other attendees at the festival, volunteers and the festival co-directors.
QPF considers that the festival co-director’s decision to request your removal from the venue was reasonable and appropriate. While the festival is open to the public, QPF nonetheless retains the right to revoke its consent for individuals to attend the venue. QPF exercised that right on 27 August 2017, following complaints about your behaviour.
QPF welcomes diverse views and supports a vibrant poetry culture. However QPF must also ensure the enjoyment and safety of everyone attending the festival. QPF wants to ensure that views are expressed respectfully and attendees do not behave in a way that is offensive, intimidating or threatening.
I am pleased that you enjoyed several sessions at the festival.
Queensland Poetry Festival Inc.
24th October 2017
Ms Carmel Macmillan, Chair
Queensland Poetry Festival
GPO Box 3488
Brisbane QLD 4101
Dear Ms Macmillan,
Thank you for your response to my two letters dated 30th August 2017 and 4th October 2017.
While my immediate thought about your response was an organisation closing ranks to protect its own reputation, I am now even more concerned about the maladministration apparent in the QPF.
I also seriously doubt the impartiality of the information gathered in your so-called ‘internal investigation’ as most of your eyewitnesses (attendees at the festival, volunteers, festival co-directors) have a vested interest in upholding the reputation of the festival, whether through being a festival participant and being paid (and wanting to return perhaps one day on the program), being in the loyal role of a volunteer who just follows orders, or being the co-directors who just hate my guts because have I criticised their programming decisions over the last three years.
I assume the ’complaints’ about my behaviour came only from the imaginations of the co-directors, and I really don’t agree with your summation that I or anyone else I saw at the festival behaved in an offensive, intimidating or threatening manner. As I have pointed out in my previous two letters, I was enjoying the festival, went to 12 events and was even writing positive reviews about the poetry I heard, so it just doesn’t make sense to me or to anyone else who is observing this furore/fiasco, why I would act in a such a way to be thrown out of the event, when I was having a good time?
As no acceptance of wrong-doing is obviously forthcoming from the QPF, again in accordance with my previous letters, I am now taking this complaint to the Queensland Ombudsman. Further to this action, I also have a meeting on the 31st October with the Honourable Jen Howard MP, Assistant Minister of State, to discuss my unethical eviction from the QPF and the Judith Wright Centre on the 27th August 2017 and your response to my complaint.
Consequently at that meeting I will be advising her to sack you as Chair and the entire QPF board/ management committee because of your maladministration of this issue and to offer those positions up to people who at least have a working knowledge of the art form you supposedly represent.
Hi kids. As a Senior teacher of English and Literature at a private boys’ school in Queensland and an established Australian poet, I find the internet abuse aimed at Ellen van Neerven over the inclusion of her poem, Mango on the NSW HSC exam to be utterly repulsive and foreboding for our own QCAA senior schooling restructure (the most significant in 40 years) about to roll out in 2019, which mirrors the HSC’s external examination style. In Queensland there will be an external English exam worth 25% of a Year 12 student’s total English marks.
Ideologically I’m against external exams, against the pressure they emit on students, against the cold calculating data that is gleaned from the most artificial of conditions to test students on a text. I’m against the homogeneity of 70,000 students all sitting down to develop nominally the same carefully spoon-fed critical response that the external markers want to hear. Even so-called ‘exam stress’ is not a sufficient reason anymore to be excused from the HSC apparently, so imagine those frustrated, anxious and stressed out kids forced to sit the HSC, and being ambushed by the imagery in van Neerven’s poem.
Yes, we have QCS in Queensland that warrants an extended writing task, numeracy and literacy testing and goes towards a student’s final OP score, but I’m not really a big fan of that either. Can you give me an example of where in the modern workplace similar ‘external test’ conditions are manufactured for an employee to pass muster on the job? With all eggs in the one basket. You do job training, you have professional development, you learn from experience over time to do your occupation well. Yes, there are times when you work under extreme pressure to meet a deadline, but you don’t attack your client on social media and blame them for your stress levels and ulcers, do you?
The pressure to succeed, to score highly so the school and the cohort score highly (in QLD at least), culminates in stress and anxiety which is the real culprit in these students’ dissatisfaction with the HSC. Not van Neerven’s poem, not James Bradley’s Wrack excerpt. But they can’t attack the NSW Education Department online, or create a meme ridiculing the faceless entity of the HSC. So, having limited options to vent their frustration over the system’s failure to keep a lid on their stress (that’s right, it’s everyone else’s problem, not their’s) these gutless students attack the only visible targets – the authors of the exam texts who know nothing about its existence. Isn’t that much like picking on the weaker kid to make yourself feel stronger? Or king hitting the guy in the bar who doesn’t see the punch coming. Just a cowardly bastard act.
No author should be trolled just because a student has not been taught how to deconstruct a poem properly, or have been so lazy and off-task in class when they did the poetry unit, that instead of taking personal responsibility for their own lack of a work ethic and absence of classroom industry, they have to project their failure onto the author in the most public of ways (Twitter, Facebook, Memes). This really only displays their poor and ineffective literacy skills and their racist tendencies, possibly reinforced from the complicity of their infantile peer group, the school’s boys’ education ethos or from their privileged parents’ negative ideas about issues of race and equality in Australian culture that these children regurgitate, having developed none of their own opinions yet. Perhaps still lacking the right chemistry set in their heads?
Because if these students had been paying attention in their English class over the last six years of their lives, instead of skyping friends in other classrooms or being on Facebook when the teacher wasn’t looking, then they would not have failed to notice how almost every unit of work over their English career, asked them to deconstruct a text for either its ideology, representation of stereotypes, main message, themes, tone, emotion, subject matter, purpose, poetic techniques, literary devices, narration style and language choices. So, if they really weren’t paying attention in English for all of those six years, perhaps dreaming of signing that big starting contract for that famous footy club instead, then as Macduff puts it, “Heaven help him too”, the blame for their utter failure to interpret van Neerven’s Mango rests solely on their young entitled shoulders and nowhere else.
I’ll grant though that the question asked of the students was a bit naff to begin with. Detail the pleasure of discovery in the poem or words to that effect. ‘Detail’ is a vague requirement of students to help them organise an analysis of this poem. You detail a shopping list don’t you? Ironically, mangoes (the fruit) have less to do with the meaning of van Neerven’s poem, unless they are a metonymic device for breasts. But bullying, sexual assault and the normalization of how young boys mistreat girls and living creatures perhaps is a reading of her poem. Which reminds me of the #metoo campaign on FB at the moment and the awful depths to which sexual abuse and misogyny have assaulted our society. Harvey Weinstein being the famous tip of the iceberg at the moment. Hollywood the listing Titanic. What is sadly ironic is that these NSW students are reinforcing the very message possibly contained in Mango; that some people feel that they can project their own shit onto other people and make their life hell. These students have been taught to succeed, so when they fail, they have no sense of personal responsibility or self-reflection, but lash out at a convenient target. Usually it is their poor bloody parents, but failing that, the author of that darned poem will do. Maybe they should be taught to fail more often, than pushed to succeed at all costs?
If any of the apparently hundreds of Year 12 students who targeted van Neerven on social media, instead of recognizing their own lack of engagement with the text and failure to apply critical English analysis skills were my students, I would feel immense shame as their teacher and school, and anger, but I would also respond to them how I treat any student who says inappropriate things in class or on the playground. For example, I call out students all the time when they use the word ‘gay’ stupidly to describe a negative response to something. I tell them a) that using that word is offensive to me and to homosexual people as my daughter is homosexual, b) that using it to describe something negative reinforces a bias that homosexuality is a negative thing too, and c) ‘gay’ is not a sophisticated critical term and says nothing about the issue, so don’t use it at all. Toxic masculinity begins with young men thinking that it is okay to make fun of someone’s ethnicity, gender and or sexual orientation in the form of a joke or a meme to their peers. It ends with domestic violence, sexual assault and the murder of women by men predominantly. It’s time we called that shit out when we see it. It’s a shame that it takes institutions like Hollywood twenty years to do it. It should not be present in our state education systems.
That is why it has been so encouraging to read other writers and commentators calling these NSW students out for their shitty response to van Neerven. If only these cowards were not hiding behind fake accounts and private settings. Is this the attitude that they’re going to take to university – when they don’t get the result they want, are they going to attack their professors and tutors on social media? Have a hissy fit because they lost marks for handing in an assignment late. Wake up darlings – you might get pampered at high school with multiple drafts and extensions from your teachers, but higher education doesn’t care that you had to take your cat to the vet’s for a medical emergency. Hopefully, these students will look back when they finally mature (sometime in the foreseeable future) with shame on their actions this past week. If anything poetry has left its indelible mark on their senior schooling forever, just not in the way they wanted. Poor dears -you can’t always get what you want as the lyrics say.
We as teachers, writers, artists, parents, community leaders and mentors must not allow children to use social media as a tool for revenge; we must not stand for inappropriate behaviour from juveniles towards adults; we must refute racism, homophobia and hate wherever we see it in young people; we must unpack toxic masculinity that provokes young males to act like scum, and to as suggested in Mango, ‘pull on tufts of hair/fill ears with mud.’
So on Friday the 8th September, I read at the ‘Fused Harmony’ event at Art-time Supplies/Goleby’s Basement in Ipswich as part of the ‘fused’ arts festival over that weekend.
Earlier in the month, I asked Kate Roberts the owner of both venues and organiser of the gig, if I could include one of my Year 12 English students – Leon Miller on the program. Leon has started writing poetry over the last three years, and in 2016 was commended in the Ipswich Poetry Feast competition for his age group. He has led a life that few of us could comprehend – and his poetry talks to his seventeen years of being in the foster care system.
Kate agreed and so eager was Leon to read at his first poetry performance that he actually turned up to the venue one week early and hung around for about half an hour, before he saw some advertising that said the gig was on the 8th.
So, I was glad when Leon did turn up, and immediately we occupied a table for ourselves upstairs and organised for two short three minute readings each, and one collaborative performance at the end of the night. I told him that I had the idea that we could write short letters to each other from one old guy to one young guy and respond to what the other had said – taking turns. Leon agreed and off we went alternating this poem in two voices, which we wrote in about half an hour.
Finally, at the end of the night at around 9.30pm Leon and I stood on stage together down in Goleby’s Basement and read out the poem with guitar backing from Dave Smith. As a teacher of English, a poet and creative writer myself, it is so heart-warming to be there at the start of what will be a great new literary career for Leon as a young Indigenous Queensland poet.
Below is the finished collaborative poem called, ‘Oh Dear!’ written for two voices by Leon Miller and B.R. Dionysius
Sex ed now starts in grade five.
I picked up my son & he said
‘Dad….I never want to have an erection.’
‘Have you ever had one at night?
I’m sorry I didn’t fight the Great War.
Only seventeen, but do not think, because of my
Young age I understand so little.
Do not spit on me because I have dreams.
I’m sorry! I was just trying to be funny.
I think being young itself is no joke.
It must feel sometimes like surviving
A Great War. Humans mess everything up.
Embarrassment is all you seem to achieve.
You’re okay I guess.
But now times call for new jokes.
And please stop snoring!
When the wheels start to fall off
All sorts of noises are heard –
I snore, my wife snores…we both deny it.
Chainsaws start up in the middle of the night!
Oh dear lord!
Leave us be.
We’ve enough stress.
Now have you on our backs
And your snoring in our ears.
I think stress in life
Continues to rise like red mercury
In a thermometer on a hot day.
We are all dormant volcanoes waiting to erupt!
Leave us be for a while.
We’ve lives to pursue.
We’re not trying to be like you.
We’re trying to be better!
I want to leave something behind
For you to be better at! Hopefully
A planet – that can be healed & the core
Of its broken heart made whole again.
I know it was all of you
Who ruined our home.
We do not hate.
But you’ve led us to destruction.
We have killed so many of you
Over the centuries – for lands that
Don’t even exist anymore. I am so
Sorry we’ve turned the seas red.
But you’ve turned our souls black!
It’s not all of you.
It’s human nature.
I guess we have to heal ourselves
First, before we can start on the Earth.
Please don’t get our sickness.
Whatever it is. Stay away from pride.
We are the solution.
We would create solutions.
Maybe even a solution
To your snoring!
To you the world is snoring, fast asleep1
Do you believe that we must become insomniacs?
To combat our insatiable greed?
To get the sleepers to awake.
For a solution
For our old world
We must sleep well.
And so, soon a better world shall come.
I am getting so tired, it’s late.
My heart is full of black ink.
My entire body hurts, shakes in rage
At what I see you are going to have to do, to make it right!
All will be well.
So patience please.
Extra stress will not help!
But slowly all will be well.
I’m glad you have the faith now
You never have when older.
All I can hope for is that my words inspire
You to greater things! I look forward to reading you!
Faith is key.
We shall hold it to the end.
Just like you have with us.
Till I read you again, Dear Elderly.
So, all in all I went to 12 events at the 2017 Queensland Poetry Festival, and would have gone to a few more on Sunday, but alas I was evicted from the event. More on that later…
Wednesday 23rd August:
Mark Doty’s poetry workshop was over before it began – the two hours went by so fast because we were all engaged by his words and American poetic wisdom. He started off by asking each of us to talk about one thing in writing that we are struggling with. Mine was the lyric ‘I’ of the poem in contemporary free verse. I said that I struggle with its validity and authenticity, even if the ‘I’ is not the ‘I’ that is written, even if your ‘I’ is something else’s unique perspective, I don’t trust it, it seems false to me, as though how could I ever conjure up the authority to speak from such an intimate position. I told him a lot of the contemporary lyric poetry I read seems interchangeable and homogenous; as though many different contemporary lyric poets could have written the same poem, or they have echoes of each other. Words like ‘inking’, ‘skein’, ‘wend’ and ‘fractal’ inhabit these poems with an irritating regularity.
That’s why I said I choose to mainly write historical narrative poetry in the third person that gives me greater distance from the subject. We then analysed Robert Bly’s translation of the Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer’s sequential poem, “Schubertiana” which inspired us to do some sequential writing practice. Mark suggested to list points down about a difficult subject quickly, so I started a poem about one of my Year 10 boys who died a few years ago from an aneurism in his sleep; and about the time I wrote a sonnet for his funeral and placed it inside a sympathy box for his parents. Mark then suggested we change the angle for the next part of the sequence, so I envisioned his parents after the funeral, opening the sympathy box and reading the poem I dedicated to their son.
Eileen Chong lastly asked Mark to read some of his poems to end the workshop which he kindly did, including his wry poem about his terrier ‘George’; now I’m a cat lover and have never housed a dog in my life, but that poem almost convinces me to pop my dog owning cherry.
Friday 24th August:
One of the first people I ran into at the festival was local Brisbane poet Ron Heard, who told me that 40 years ago Tom Shapcott did his taxes. I said to him that, that snippet has to be turned into a poem or a short story memoir piece, ‘When Tom Did My Taxes’.
Poetry without Borders – Paul Hetherington, Michelle Cahill
It was delightful to meet the Canberra poets who came up to festival – Paul Hetherington, Shane Strange and Paul Munden. Hetherington read narrative and ekphrastic pieces from “Burnt Umber” and poems like ‘Eggs’, ‘Burnt Umber’, ‘Fox’, Refugees’, Lorelei’, and ‘Squirrel’ are full of memorable imagery like, ‘each hair in the brush is a thought in the squirrel’. ‘Portrait of a Count’ was a moving poem for his late father obsessed with all things Italian.
Michelle Cahill is a powerhouse writer who read narrative poems from “The Herring Lass” like ‘Dying to Meet You’, Somewhere a River’, ‘Taboo’, the brilliant ‘Second Winter’ and right up my free verse sonnet sequential oeuvre, her fabulous sonnet sequence, ‘The Grieving Sonnets’. She finished with ‘Burial’ a hard hitting poem about her mother’s end and her brother’s projection of blame.
Deep North: Poetry reading – Zenobia Frost, Tamryn Bennett, Bronwyn Lea
Zenobia Frost is an emerging Queensland poet who didn’t pull her imagistic punches even with her parents in the audience! I think she captures the awkward share house experience like no tropical poet before her – with acerbic detail and wit. I absolutely love her line, ‘a bulb burns inside an avocado’ to describe the fruit seed. A big shout out to Ralph Wessman of Walleah Press in Tasmania who is promoting many fine Queensland voices like Kristin Hannaford, Vanessa Page and Zenobia.
It was also great to hear Tamryn Bennett of Red Room Company fame, read a long bilingual poem about her cross-cultural experience in Mexico, I think it was, matching the theme of this year’s festival ‘Distant Voices’.
Here I must also apologise to (and thank) Bronwyn Lea because I zoned out of her reading halfway through (not for any nefarious reason), but because she triggered me to write a poem, ‘Spinifex’ on the spot after I think mentioning the word ‘spinifex’ in one of her poems. In the July holidays I road-tripped out to Winton with the family and saw spinifex grass for the first time. So, I love it how Bronwyn’s sensuous and sinuous poetry has the power to influence and inspire!
We the Mapless: Poetry reading – Ian McBryde, David Musgrave, Jennifer Maiden
David Musgrave read his 2012 Newcastle Poetry Prize winning long poem, ‘Coastline’ and it was a thrill to hear it live and full-blown. A great aspect of the festival was that many poets like David commented that they could read longer works because of the space and time given by the festival, and I heard many of them from such poets as Quinn Eades, Maxine Beneba Clarke, Tony Birch and Christian Bök.
Ian McBryde is the hard man of Melbourne poetry and I’ve known him for about 25 years. In fact he was one of the first interstate poetry guests ever to be invited to the Queensland Poetry Festival back in 1997 along with Anthony Lawrence. Ian was giving me the finger before the finger was invented. What sheer delight then, that Queensland publishers Bareknuckle Books (Brentley Frazer and Adam Pettet, who are themselves Queensland poetry and publishing royalty, and were present back then at the Sailing Club with Ian) should end up publishing his New & Selected poems, “We the Mapless” 21 years later. Some things just come about in neat circles – nature understands this. Ian’s poetry is your conscience confessing to you when you walk down the street every day. It is the voice you wake up with and the whisper you go the sleep with. He also inhabits your dreams and is the genesis for your nightmares. ‘There is no winding back the soul’s odometer’. Really.
Jennifer Maiden is like an Australian poetry war hero. We should give her a Victoria Cross for bravery in sticking with poetry predominantly, over the time it takes you to write and publish 21 books of poetry and 5 novels. “It is when one is most afraid, that one is most a woman’, is a line that men need to wear on t-shirts – such a powerful idea that cuts male privilege in half and undercuts perceptions of gender equality right to the core.
Avant Gaga Reading & Xenotext – Shastra Deo, Chloe Callistemon, Nathan Sheperdson, Pascalle Burton, Lionel Fogarty, Vernon Ah Kee, Christian Bok. (absent from photo – Stuart Barnes)
Is a xenotext like a xenomorph I wondered? I liked Toby Fitch’s poem to begin with (or was it just the introduction to the gig? Or both?) but then the magic of replacing select language choices from cosmology with the word ‘poem’ or ‘poetry’ kind of fizzled out for me in the end, like a dwarf star I guess. I did appreciate his stage trick of making anagrams out of the featured poets’ names to introduce them. Chloe had a memorable one – semi-colon hellcat. There were many cool lines of poetry in this gala avant gaga;
Shastra Deo – ‘foreign gods clenched in one small fist’.
Chloe Callistemon – ‘no animals were hurt in the making of this poem’.
Nathan Sheperdson – ‘he talks miracles down from their own end’.
Lionel Fogarty – ‘nature’s justice is cut up’.
Vernon Ah Kee – ‘letters should be drawn, not written’, ‘lies, like the southern cross should belong to this country’.
Christian Bök – ‘And now for the best poem I have ever written’.
QPF 2017 Literary Cabaret – Hera Lindsay Bird, Omar Musa, Sarah Holland-Batt, Ali Cobby Eckermann, Maxine Beneba Clarke, Mark Doty
Hera Lindsay Bird was a great millennial stand up comic from New Zealand and her routine about Monica from “Friends” made many in the audience laugh appreciatively.
Ok, I’ll be the first to admit I am not a fan of rap or slam poetry. Rap music yes. Omar Musa weighs a little less than me, but has a bigger rap. Pretty honest to admit to domestic violence in his poem, (but maybe that wasn’t his ‘I’ – just a generic ‘I’ for all the abusive bros out there?). But I guess that’s slam – brutally honest, upfront, in ya face, with a simple cadence, mostly polemical, annoyingly didactic, not very multi-layered, not very mysterious, often clichéd, very predictable with its language choices, (I play this game where I try to guess the next rhyming word the poet will use), almost always just laying it all out there with a few interruptions to the flow, in order to explain some contextual point the slam poet assumes the audience doesn’t understand, with a self-deprecating laugh. When I do listen to the odd slam poem, they just sound like every other slam poem I have ever heard – tragically formulaic with that annoying ‘stretched out’ syllabic emphasis/gravitas in that irritating fake performance voice. (Ok, so a little bit of the bad has snuck in here!) Nice hoodie though and arm movements. I was wearing my blue hoodie yesterday too with the hood up and my elderly white neighbour took a long look at me to ensure that I wasn’t breaking into my own house. So, I really really really want a hoodie with ‘Oma’ or ‘Musa’ printed on the back of it, so I can freak him out even more.
I have been in the presence of a few poetry masters before – Seamus Heaney at the Irish Club in Brisbane in 1996 performing to 500 people; Yevgeny Yevtushenko at the Brisbane School of Arts building in 1994, who danced up and down the aisle reciting his poems in Russian, while an English translator kept up; Paul Durcan at the Brisbane Writers’ Festival maybe ten years ago, who the morning before a reading received the news that one of his friends had just died back home in Ireland, so his reading was imbued with the most powerful gravitas I have ever heard.
The obvious highlight was Mark Doty’s reading. It was akin to these memorable reading experiences; a perfection of stories, words and images where you stop bothering to write his lines down, because each line is masterful and you just stop for fifteen minutes to listen to this New York poetry whisperer control your soul. His devastating poem, “In Two Seconds” about the police shooting of Cleveland 12 year old, Tamir Rice in 2014, was as much a masterpiece as you’ll ever hear. It starts;
the boy’s face
climbed back down the twelve-year tunnel
of its becoming, a charcoal sunflower
Please go and google the rest of the poem for yourselves and read it out loud to someone. That much we can do for Tamir. Oh, I also liked how the slam-loving millennials in the audience started to click their fingers while Mark Doty was reading – I first thought that they wanted him to get off the stage, but then Andy Jackson assured me that it was a sign of appreciation; that finger-clicking used to be a sign of hate in Queensland, but the Queensland slam scene fell into line with the other states, much like we have with our education system swapping over to external exams and the ATAR system in two years time. Now the slam scene in Queensland just sends in security guards to remove any dissent at readings!
Saturday 25th August:
Puncher & Wattman: Contemporary Australian Poetry Reading – Sam Wagan Watson, Liam Ferney, Toby Fitch, Bronwyn Lea, Kit Kelen, Felicity Plunkett, Nathan Sheperdson, Jennifer Maiden, Nick Whittock (as read by David Musgrave)
Another great line up and short readings from a stellar cast.
Sam Wagan Watson said in his preamble, ‘I’ll never be alone with this anthology. All my friends, lovers and enemies are in it!’ When you can say that, then you know you’ve made it in the poetry world.
Kit Kelen had a long and groovy metaphysical poem about men and their obsession with sheds. There were some fine lines like, ‘A parliament is mainly shed.’ ‘A man could fall to his knees in there, when god is shed.’ And ‘sheds are worlds’ fairs that no one saw.’
My apologies to everyone else who read as well, as I kinda zoned out again to write another long poem (Bronwyn, please don’t get paranoid, you’re just inspiring and catalytic), called, ‘God is in the Water’ – I think Felicity or Bronwyn may have been the muses responsible. Felicity Plunkett had a great line in her poem – ‘and verbs like lamps, illuminating sentences.’
UQP – Thomas Shapcott Launch – Shastra Deo’s “The Agonist”
Great to hear this wonderful new Queensland voice added to the milieu and to see the Shopfront space packed out by friends, family and poetry punters. Such confident and well-crafted poetry for a first collection and just go out and buy a copy from your favourite bookstore to support her as all the copies sold out at the launch.
Bareknuckle Poets/Hunter Publications Book launches – Andy Jackson and Ian McBryde
So heartwarming to listen to these two great Melbourne poets read from their new collections, “We the Mapless: New and Selected Poems” and “Music Our Bodies Can’t Hold”. Ian’s poems are that little voice in your head that you carry around with you and fight with, and Andy I think is possibly the best male Australian poet currently writing so powerfully and lyrically about the human body.
Ah….who the fuck cares! We all write shite at times!
Haha! Tricked you!
There is no ‘more’.
There is enough ugly out there in the real world.
I’m more interested in getting back to those five long poems I started courtesy of Mark Doty and Bronwyn Lea and all of the other poets’ great work that I heard over the three days of the festival. Thank you all for the inspiration to keep on writing!
Mark Doty – “fire to fire: new and selected poems”.
Mark Doty – “Deep Lane: poems”.
Andy Jackson – “Music Our Bodies Can’t Hold”.
Ian McBryde – “We the Mapless: New and Selected Poems”.
Michelle Cahill – “The Herring Lass”.
David Musgrave – “Anatomy of Voice”.
Caitlin Maling – “Border Crossing”
Caitlin Maling – ” Conversations I’ve Never Had”.
Small Packages – Issue 12.
Kit Kelen – “up through branches”.
Sometimes I wonder whether I’ve slipped into some alternate reality of Philip K Dick’s, where things look similar to my home planet, but you then start to see some very subtle differences that end up wanting to crush the individuality out of you, or at least oppress everyone, or drop a giant pinball onto you. It all seems rather Ubik-uitious, this constant nepotism on behalf of the QPF inner circle; these close friends who are all reading this year at the festival, or applying for poetry competitions coordinated by their mates.
Nothing could be more discombobulating than my broken relationship with the QPF that has seen me blacklisted from poetry projects run by David Stavanger & co, to being overlooked for readings organised in Brisbane, to even participating in the Queensland Poetry Festival, particularly in an event like this year’s Puncher & Wattman reading from the Contemporary Australian Poetry 1990-2015 anthology. I did apply through the EOI process to do a reading this year, but alas didn’t get the nod. All I’m getting is the good ole heave ho.
So, to my latest bitterness. The Arts Queensland Val Vallis Award for Unpublished Poetry is one of the country’s most prestigious poetry awards for you guessed it – unpublished poems and has been around for years. I blogged earlier that I had reservations about one of this year’s judges – Stuart Barnes (oh he’s also on at the festival 3 times too) who was given this judging job after only publishing one collection of poetry. Call me old-fashioned maybe, but he’s only an emerging poet, so I thought that there might be some controversy over this year’s shortlist. And here it is.
Rebecca (Bec) Jessen has been on the programming committee of the Queensland Poetry Festival for a few years now and is currently a Programing Advisor for the 2017 Queensland Poetry Festival. ‘QPF now engages volunteer Program Advisors to independently assess all EOI’s, as well as making program and artist suggestions.’ Although there is no rule in the conditions of entry that technically prohibits anyone associated with the QPF from applying to the Val Vallis Award, (why Stavanger could even apply if he chose to), us ordinary poetry punters would hope that someone in such a close and official QPF position (like an unpaid employee of the organisation really) would be ethically disqualified from entering this competition considering they may have even had some role in appointing the two judges?
This just appears to be another continuation in the ethical breaches of Stavanger & co; they give their close friends regular gigs at poetry events and at the QPF year after year; anyone who criticises their ‘mates’ or their organisation are black banned or are gas lit – as racists; they continue to do things with a lack of transparency; they continue to program and pay lots of money to non-poets; they are cultivating a popularist aesthetic as opposed to a contemporary poetic aesthetic.
I’m looking forward to going to this year’s event and talking to local, interstate and even international poets about this state of affairs. Does anyone else see this as a problem or is it just me?
Have I slipped innocuously into that other stranger things dimension where nepotism and cronyism are the new gods? Or perhaps I now inhabit that story from Twilight Zone: the Movie where that little boy with god-like powers has scared everyone into obeying his every command, or else he seals their mouths or makes them disappear altogether.
“12-1pm Puncher & Wattmann Anthology Reading
Join Editor David Musgrave as he presents readings from poets featured in P&W’s recent Contemporary Poetry Anthology, including Sam Wagan Watson, MTC Cronin, Liam Ferney, Sarah Holland-Batt, Bronwyn Lea, Felicity Plunkett, Kit Kelen, Jennifer Maiden, Toby Fitch and Nathan Shepherdson.”
This is my response to being white-washed out of Queensland poetry history by a few morally bankrupt and corrupt petty arts bureaucrats, who now almost Trump-like, tyrannically control Australia’s premier poetry event (and its $360,000 of Arts Queensland funding) and blacklist anyone who dares to speak out against their move towards music and performance, popularist programming, Brisbane slam-scene nepotism and bias against regional Queensland poets, older women poets and established Queensland poets who have vast track records of publication and performance. What? We’re not fucking hip enough for Stavanger & co? Not inner-city wankers? Not wannabes?
Dear Ms. Howard (Assistant Minister of State Assisting the Premier),
It was great to catch up with you briefly at the program launch of the 2017 Queensland Poetry Festival in July – Australia’s major poetry festival that I started 21 years ago as the founding director in 1997. However, I did not get the opportunity to discuss some concerns I have about the festival’s current direction under the leadership of David Stavanger and his partner Anne-Marie Te Whiu.
Since they became the Co-directors in 2015, there has been a marked shift in the aesthetic direction of the festival, that now emphasises music, performance and popularity over contemporary poetic practice. Evidence of this is businessman Clive Palmer’s inclusion in the 2015 festival because he wrote a collection of juvenilia in his early 20s. He is not a contemporary poet and his inclusion that year was for festival publicity only, which it received in the press to the detriment of real poets who strive to be heard anywhere!
Earlier this year I wrote to the QPF Board listing not only my concerns, but the concerns of other regional, local, older and established Queensland poets. My letter was tabled at a meeting and I received a response from Tina Radbourn the then chair, however there was no commitment from the QPF to either acknowledge or redress some of these concerns about the festival. Below is a list of some of those concerns that I included in my initial letter.
There is concern that the QPF is programming amateurs to the detriment of serious established poets. Poets without any track record of publication (a standard) have been included in this – Australia’s premier poetry event.
There is concern that the quality and balance of the programming is suffering from an overbalance in aesthetics towards performance poetry and music, which prioritises poetry as ‘entertainment’ rather than poetry as a profound form of social capital. For example, the Leonard Cohen Tribute event in the 2017 festival includes 12 musicians and only 3 poets.
There is concern that aspects of the QPF programming aim to be sensationalist and popular and appear to be included for the sake of the festival’s publicity. An example of this type of sensationalism would be Michael Leunig’s inclusion and The Bedroom Philosopher’s (a popular comedic musician) inclusion in the 2017 festival.
There is also concern that not enough poetry book launches are programmed in the festival, which should be a priority for the distribution and celebration of new poetry collections both from Queensland and interstate poets, but isn’t. There is routinely only 1 poetry book launch – The Tom Shapcott Poetry Prize winner for the previous year published by UQP, who is also a festival sponsor.
Added to that point, some local Queensland poetry publishers feel that they have been excluded from the festival for some time. For example, small Queensland presses such as David Reiter’s Interactive Press are not seriously represented at the festival.
Regional poets expressed concern over a lack of representation in a festival that seems to program most of its Queensland poets from mostly Brisbane and South-East Queensland. The only regular regional poet to be programmed in the festival is Stuart Barnes from central Queensland who has only been in Queensland for 3 years, won the Tom Shapcott Prize in 2015, is a judge of this year’s Arts Queensland/Val Vallis Poetry Prize and is a ‘friend’ of the Co-directors.
There is concern from established and older Queensland poets, including older women poets about a lack of representation in the festival. Established older Queensland poets like Alan Jeffries, Ross Clark, Liz Hall-Downs, Duncan Richardson, David Reiter, Tim Collins (who recently won the 2017 Bruce Dawe National Poetry Prize), Kristin Hannaford, Jayne Fenton-Keane. Michael Sariban, Stephanie Bennett, Philip Nielsen, Rob Morris, Lidija Cvetkovic, Andrew Leggett and B. R. Dionysius who should be regarded as mentors, are not regularly programmed in the festival.
There is concern that a group of Brisbane-based performance poets (who are mostly friends of each other) regularly receive more opportunities with QPF’s poetry projects, readings programs and QPF festival programming, than other Queensland poets, who are not part of this Brisbane performance/slam coterie. Over the last 3 years many close friends of the Co-directors have been included in the festival, some of whom are not even poets. Also out of a 2017 program of 100+ artists there are approximately 20 established Queensland poets who have a track record of publication in books and journals.
On that point, finally there is concern about the closed membership of the QPF, that is, legally confined to the two co-directors, the QPF programming committee and the QPF board, and that this apparent lack of openness and transparency is a problem.
I see with ironic gladness that the 2017 festival has now moved to include some of these recommendations. For example there is a small press and zine feature this year, there are more poetry book launches (Andy Jackson, Ian McBryde et al) and not just the Tom Shapcott Poetry Prize winner from the previous year. There are more discussion panels on the nature of contemporary poetry practice too.
However, I am still troubled by the appearance of multiple non-poets in the festival, the overabundance of music and performance events for popularity’s sake, the lack of representation of regional, older female and established Queensland poets with firm track records, and the small amount of Queensland poets programmed out of a total of 100+ artists.
Finally, I object to the blacklisting of Queensland poets at this event and other events organised by QPF, because we dare to criticise and we dare to speak up in a democracy where we see institutional injustice in a publically funded arts event that we as taxpayers contribute to.
I look forward to your response to these issues I have raised.
P.S. Rest assured that I will be publishing Ms. Howard’s reply on Bitter as the cud.
So, I went to the 2017 Queensland Poetry Festival program launch at Gilimbaa headquarters last night and the first person I ran into was David Stavanger just inside the front door. “David,” I said, as he quickly fled my presence into the backroom busy preparing his launch speech or on some other such pretext. The next person I saw was Sam Wagan Watson who broke the awkwardness as he offered me a sip of spicy rum from his silver hip flask.
So I hung around Sam mostly, and Liam Ferney who turned up to support Michael Farrell’s pre-launch reading of poems from his next book out in November with Giramondo. Stuart Cooke was there too fresh from organizing a literary environment conference on the Gold Coast. Ross Clark looking dapper in his retro blue, pin-striped suit complete with an ironed on quaver on his lapel was also there representing the significant history of Queensland poetry and this 20 year old event – like the ghost of Christmas past who has seen it all and knows the truth about things. Ross has had over 400 individual poems published in a significant writing career stretching from the 1980s, yet I can’t remember the last time he read at the festival.
So I had some allies amongst the 80 or so younger, inner-city, arty, hipster type dudes and dudettes who turned up to celebrate this year’s program. Hell, one of this year’s young queer guest poets was wearing a poncho channeling either The Mighty Boosh circa 2004 or Clint Eastwood in his spaghetti westerns. It did feel a little bit like a Mexican stand-off at times to me. At one point I was talking a bit too loud during the hip-hop act (he goes for Port Adelaide btw) and one of the co-directors stalked across the room to shut the door in my face, but I acquiesced and was silenced.
So, the speeches were performed, sponsors thanked, Stavanger was even a bit teary-eyed lamenting about the emotional toll festival organisation takes on the human soul; said how QPF operated on exactly 1.5 positions compared to the Brisbane Writers’ Festival which has substantially more arts workers (and dollars?). Ironically, the new director of the BWF seems to have the same problem as QPF does with the old Brisbane cultural cringe syndrome, both flooding their festivals with interstate imports at the expense of local writers (some even with published books out this year). There was also an attempt to smooth over the lack of established Queensland poets’ inclusion in QPF, when Stavanger stressed that the festival was grooming the next generation of Queensland poets, establishing a legacy of looking ahead. That’s all fine, but if there are no mentors for the next generation to learn from, then how can you guarantee that you are establishing anything worthy in the future? I’m sure this is how totalitarian states justify their programs of future development too, (sic North Korea) caught in their terrible conundrum of having to control the flow of information to prop up their tyranny, yet knowing that the only way to get ahead is to share new ideas amongst their population.
The honourable Jen Howard Member for Ipswich and Assistant Minister for The Arts was also present to speak on behalf of the Queensland State government’s role in fostering the QPF. I had a nice little chat to the Honourable Member after the speeches; she knows me from Ipswich/teaching at IGS/reading poetry and I invited her to my gig at the Secret Garden on the 8th September. You know you’ve made it in the politics of poetry and power, when you can say to the great unwashed, “My car is here”.
There was a bit more hip-hop and music to end with I guess, because these art-forms are becoming a mainstay of the QPF ethos, so there was no real surprise there. I also congratulated the Reverend Hellfire on his Paul Sherman Community Poetry Award win and said to him that I hoped his time in the light would not be as controversial as mine has been!
I must say though, that I am a bit confused by the 2017 QPF program. The little blue book released last night comprises of 18 biographies resplendent with cool black and white photos of who I guess the QPF team consider to be the superstar poets at this year’s festival – Joy Harjo, Courtney Sina Meredith, Ali Cobby Eckermann, Tusiata Avia, Tony Birch, Hera Lindsey Bird, Mark Doty, Quinn Eades, The Bedroom Philosopher (with cat ears like the anime/manga folk wear), Andy Jackson, Luka Lesson & Kahl Wallis, Michael Leunig, Patricia Lockwood, Omar Musa, Ben Salter, Sarah Holland-Batt, Maxine Beneba Clarke, and three international poets from WrICE. Then, the rest of the booklet consists of the other guest poets’ names dumped in a block of names from Thursday through to Sunday between 9.30/10am – 9.30/10pm in no discernible listed events. It’s a lump sum of poets!
I find this treatment of the rest of the guest poets odd, when you have local, interstate and international poets of the calibre of Jennifer Maiden, Michelle Cahill, Paul Hetherington, Eileen Chong, Ian McBryde, Lionel Fogarty, Christian Bok, Brentley Frazer, Chloe Callistemon, Nathan Shepherdson, Uncle Herb Wharton, Ali Alizadeh, Kit Kelen, Derek Motion, Caitin Maling, Kerry Loughrey and Toby Fitch performing in this year’s festival. Hopefully their biographies will appear magically on the website, along with in what gigs they are actually connected with, as this important information is also missing.
On the QPF website there is another schedule document that gives information on the actual programmed events and times, however most of these events don’t have who is actually on in these reading and panel sessions. (See the example of Friday’s festival program above). I don’t understand why these two strangely conflicting programs just weren’t meshed into the one comprehensive document? Maybe that’s coming on the website? So, I don’t have any idea who is on the Deep North: Poetry Reading from 1-2pm, or on the Seeds: Eco Poetry Panel from 3-4pm on Friday? Is it a lucky dip perhaps? Does the audience take their pick out this mass of poets and run with it?
Oh, on a personal note, there is a reading for the Puncher and Wattman Contemporary Australian Poetry: 1990-2015 anthology, but as I found out from Liam last night – he and Bronywn Lea and Sarah Holland-Batt (most of the Queensland contributors) are reading, but not yours truly! It seems whistle-blowing or just living in a democracy that gives you the right to criticize an event that uses public funds, warrants you a death-card! Is this some kind of weirdly perverse, reverse McCarthyism I wonder? Where the left is now acting like the right and blacklisting anyone on the left if they speak out? Or do they think that I am right-wing and they’re justified in their treatment of me? Hadley and Rose did refer to me as a racist earlier this year, so maybe they do? Funny though, how one of my Indigenous Year 12 students is writing an autobiographical story about the night I talked him out of committing suicide, when I found him sitting on the window ledge of the boarding tower, five stories up.
Another concern of mine is that out of the 100+ artists (not poets you mind) featured in the 2017 event, by my count only 15 are from Queensland. And maybe only 2-3 of these are from regional Queensland. Wait. Isn’t this the Queensland Poetry Festival? Don’t other literary festivals in every other state usually fill the majority of their programs with writers from their own home state? Can you imagine a literary event in Sydney having more Queensland writers in it than NSW writers? I suspect that this is a trend that has been growing over you guessed it, the last two years since the two co-directors have taken artistic control of the QPF. What next? Ten in the 2018 festival? And I’m supposed to be the only cranky, mad, white, hetero, middle-aged, male Queensland established poet who cares about this disturbing phenomenon!
The night ended with Sam, Liam and myself going to dinner with Michael, Stuart and two other academic mates. I had another swig of spicy rum to assuage the chill winter wind. A troop of the other camp (the Loyalists) came in (Burton, Pound, Shepherdson, et al), but left rather quickly. Maybe they just ordered takeaway? Chloe Callistemon came in a bit later and sat at our table; a sign of fraternity? Has she joined the resistance?
Go see her. She’s in the festival. She’s a great poet. I will be.
The 2017 Queensland Poetry Festival is releasing details of its programming bit by bit on Facebook and by email, like the federal government releases some budget decisions prior to the May Budget announcement on TV, often to soften the blow of those sections of society who miss out or have their funding drastically cut by the Treasurer.
So far QPF has announced some major program events including; the Literary Cabaret, the Leonard Cohen tribute night, the Arts Queensland Poet/s in Residence with accompanying schedules of workshops and readings while in Queensland, the Mark Doty workshop, the Poet vs Pageant spectacular, a Michael Leunig afternoon in discussion (and in drawing no doubt) and a musical-comedy gig by The Bedroom Philosopher.
Literary cabaret. Great. Leonard Cohen tribute night. More musicians than poets. Not so great. Mark Doty. Great. Joy Harjo. Great. Not sure about the other poet in residence. Poet vs Pageant. Interesting maybe? The Bedroom Philosopher? Not so great. Michael Leunig? Great cartoonist. But great poet?
So far, the program is following the formula of the last two festivals with celebrity non-poets booked like Clive Palmer in 2015, and now legendary cartoonist Leunig, musicians, stand up comedians and performance artists emphasised over true contemporary Australian poets. The Co-directors, programming consultants and the QPF board will argue (as they have been) that these programming decisions are all about growing a new audience for the Queensland Poetry Festival. So, an audience for comedy will turn up, an audience for satirical cartoons will turn up, lovers of Leonard Cohen’s music will turn up. Yes, I must admit this strategy will most likely bring in new people for these genres, but fail miserably to educate, promote, or engage these same people with contemporary Australian poetry. They won’t stop by the bookstore and buy Mark Doty’s poetry books.
This is what Wikipedia says about The Bedroom Philosopher.
The Bedroom Philosopher aka Justin Heazlewood is an Australian songwriter, author, actor and humourist. Most known for his writing and musical comedy works, The Bedroom Philosopher has released several albums, performed at many arts festivals, been nominated for an ARIA Award, published several books about the entertainment industry and is a regular guest on several Australian radio shows.
Nowhere does it state that he writes poetry, or has even attempted to write a poem, however he gets a whole exclusive night gig for his comedic-musical about cats. Hopefully it is based on T.S. Eliot’s collection of poetry about cats, or has a satirical and environmental message about the estimated 20 million feral cats in Australia that contribute (along with 7 million foxes and 200 million rabbits) to 75 million native animals being killed every 24 hours. Or perhaps an epic poem about the 28 out of 29 mammalian species that have become extinct due to predation by feral cats in Australia.
Leunig at least has written and published satirical poetry, but I wouldn’t put him up there with the Les Murrays, Fay Zwickys, John Tranters, Pam Browns, Anthony Lawrences, Jennifer Maidens, John Forbes, Gwen Harwoods, or even Judith Wrights just yet.
The full program will be released at Gilimbaa HQ on the 20th July, so until then we can only speculate on how many more non-poets will be programmed and paid to replace the very writers that the Queensland Poetry Festival was created to develop and sustain.