“Saturdays with Charles Bronson” 21/04/18

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Two hard men of Hollywood.

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Popular mechanical Brisbane poet Liam Ferney, not content with the status quo, has upped his career options and established a new four month boom poetry readings series in Brisbane called, “Saturdays with…” and the first event “Saturdays with Charles Bronson” took place yesterday at the Can You Keep a Secret bar on Stanley Street, Woolloongabba. The bar is decked out like your aunt’s and uncle’s kitsch home from the seventies, lots of wooden cat statues, cane chairs, African-styled figurative floor lamps, macramé tapestries, mid-century ceramics, but most importantly, it has an impressive black painted bar.

Walking through the entrance was akin to slamming open those wild west saloon doors, (something Bronson was attuned to do in epics like The Magnificent Seven and Once Upon a Time in the West) where the protagonist is met with silence and squint-eyed suspicion. This was my first gig back in Brisbane since the notorious ‘securityguardgate’ of last year, but there were at least a few friendly poetry pilgrims – Nathan Shepherdson, Damen O’Brien, Stuart Cooke, Brentley Fraser and Duncan Hose (who hopefully is becoming a local sheriff) and no Queensland Protective Services lawmen in sight.

Liam introduced his new reading series by acknowledging Woolloongabba’s rich poetic history and its galvanizing effect on him as a younger poet. He remembered reading at Melissa Ashley’s and Lidija Cvetkovic’s poetry event, “New and Selected” in the late nineties and even mentioned the ancient poetry reading, “Chalice Poets” from the early nineties where I first met legendary Brisbane poets like Brentley Fraser and Rebecca Edwards. The old building where they both were housed has now made way for the expanse of the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital. So hopefully enough poetry vibes still remain in that place to help with the littleuns’ healing.

The timing of Liam’s new gig couldn’t be better. Regular readings like ‘speedpoets’ seem to have faltered for the time being in Brisbane, and if you hate slam poetry as much as I do then it’s pretty thin on the ground for page poets in this ‘anonymous’ city that could be any city in the world according to our film bureaucrats who try to sell it to the international market. As for funded events like ‘Couplet’ and the ‘Riverbend Poetry Series’ controlled by the QPF, well you’re either in with the ‘in’ crowd or you’re not. You are me. Therefore, ‘Saturdays with…” is a pure page poetry gig, that unashamedly programs poets based primarily on their quality, track record and publications. The thing is, Queensland has a burgeoning plethora of young, new, emerging and even some established poets who have new books out with interstate poetry publishers, particularly it seems with Vagabond Press. Three of this month’s readers – Anna Jacobson, Angela Gardner and Stuart Cooke all have books published by this press, and I believe Pascalle Burton has a forthcoming title from Cordite Books, About the Author is Dead to be released in June. Then there’s some fabulous emerging poets like Shastra Deo, Chloe Callistemon, Rae White, Vanessa Page, Carmen Leigh Keates and Zenobia Frost. So Liam has his work cut out for him only having space to program 16 poets in the first year of his new event.

Thus, four poets read their own work, plus were invited to read/respond to two poems by poets they like. So we not only were privileged to hear old and new works from Stuart Cooke, Angela Gardner, Damen O’Brien and Anna Jacobson, but the audience also heard poems from Seamus Heaney, Kate Lilly, Marianne Moore, Fay Zwicky, Anne Sexton and Andrew Marvel.  First up was Damen O’Brien, whose name you’ll find on the lists of many poetry prizes around the country. His poem ‘Fruit-picking’ was a fine imagistic response to Heaney’s ‘Digging’ that he read out as a favourite. Next, Anna Jacobson, read for the first time from her new poetry collection, The Last Postman (Vagabond Press – deciBels Series 3) and it felt like being in a flowing, transcendent Jim Jarmusch film – Night on Earth maybe. I bought a copy for $15, again very happy to support Queensland poets at the ground level. Angela Gardner and Stuart Cooke are both frighteningly accomplished poets  – Opera is Cooke’s latest collection from Five Islands Press and he read the title poem ‘Opera’ too, brilliant work and I admit, it’s a book that I need to get my hands on immediately.

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Famously, it is reported that Charles Bronson wanted to punch out Lee Marvin’s lights on the set of the WW2 film, The Dirty Dozen (1967) directed by Robert Aldrich. Marvin’s drinking was upsetting the production flow and Bronson was no longer going to stand for it. You can kind of forgive Marvin though; he was a WW2 Marine veteran of the Pacific theatre and was twice wounded in action in the Battle of Saipan, shot in the back by machine gun fire and in the foot by a sniper. Making all those violent crime, western and war movies afterwards probably triggered a few flashbacks now and then on set. Bronson had the gonads to threaten Marvin like this, as he was also a WW2 Pacific theatre veteran, having flown 25 missions as an aerial gunner on a B29 Superfortress bomber out of Guam, the same type of heavy bomber that later dropped the two atomic weapons on Japan.

There is a cool poetic moment in The Dirty Dozen, when Marvin, the commander in charge of recruiting and training these twelve death row American soldiers for a suicide mission deep inside Germany to assassinate some Nazis top brass, requires them to learn the final mission details off by heart through reciting a poem.

  1. Down to the road block, we’ve just begun.
  2. The guards are through.
  3. The Major’s men are on a spree.
  4. Major and Wladislaw go through the door.
  5. Pinkley stays out in the drive.
  6. The Major gives the rope a fix.
  7. Wladislaw throws the hook to heaven.
  8. Jiminez has got a date.
  9. The other guys go up the line.
  10. Sawyer and Gilpen are in the pen.
  11. Posey guards Points Five and Seven.
  12. Wladislaw and the Major go down to delve.
  13. Franko goes up without being seen.
  14. Zero Hour: Jimenez cuts the cable; Franko cuts the phone.
  15. Franko goes in where the others have been.
  16. We all come out like it’s Halloween.

Presently, I’ve found myself writing a bit more poetry about war courtesy of the ‘War History Online’ posts on Facebook. Many strange, tragic and terrible stories appear everyday through this feed (even the story about Bronson wanting to hit Marvin) and I am naturally drawn to those tales that seem quite unbelievable. A recent story concerned Mariya Oktyabrskaya, a Russian woman, who after her husband was killed by the Germans in the Battle of Stalingrad, was so angry that she wrote to Stalin personally and begged him to allow her to buy a tank, so that she could fight the Germans herself and take revenge.

Now you’d think that with all of the millions upon millions of pieces of correspondence and files generated by an event such as the German invasion of Russia, that Stalin would have had little time to respond to her request, being buried under the mountains of papers, reports and decisions that he would have had to deal with every day, particularly around 1941-42. But he did respond to her letter, moved by her patriotism towards the Motherland and her loss and granted Mariya her request. So, undaunted she sold all of her belongings, took what cash she had out of the bank and raised enough capital to purchase a brand spanking new T-34 medium tank right off the assembly line. She named it ‘Fighting Girlfriend’.

She trained and became the tank’s driver, was given a crew and put into a tank unit on the Eastern front. At first the men in her tank platoon thought that she was nothing more than a sad joke; a propaganda stunt devised by Stalin and that she wouldn’t really fight the Germans; just be driven around waving at the real troops. But they were wrong. Mariya saw action maybe three times. Twice her tank was hit by artillery fire and its tracks disabled. Twice she climbed out of her tank under intense shellfire and attempted to fix the problem, much to the astonishment of her crew. Her second attempt was her last, as she was hit by a piece of shrapnel and critically wounded. She fell into a coma and later died, joining her husband at last in a sacrifice worthy of a Brooke sonnet. Stalin even gave her a medal. My poem “Fighting Girlfriend” was recently published in Issue 3 of StylusLit at http://styluslit.com/poetry/fighting-girlfriend/

Next month’s gig is “Saturdays with Rosalind Russell” and features two Arts Queensland Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize recipients – Shastra Deo, (2016 ) and Rae White (2017), as well as newcomers Ella Jeffrey and Jake Goetz. I’ll be reading about Mariya and other heroes both on and off the screen at the June gig. Hats off to Liam Ferney for breaking me out of my poetic military prison. It’s been two years since I’ve been a featured reader in Brisbane; five years since I’ve read in Melbourne, eight years since I’ve read in Sydney, and I think nine years since I’ve read in Adelaide. Perth, Darwin, Canberra…ah not yet I’m afraid. One day perhaps… when I receive that wonderful suicide mission.

 

 

 

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The Poetic Castle

THECASTLE_50

The poetic castle of the toothless Arts Queensland.

Deborah Tanzer

Manager, Legal and Governance

Arts Business Performance and Infrastructure

Arts Queensland

Department of the Premier and Cabinet

22/11/17

Hi Deborah,

Hopefully by now you have been contacted by the Honourable Jen Howard, Assistant Minister of State Assisting the Premier, as I had a meeting with her on the 31st October to discuss the QPF’s negative response to my complaint. If you have not seen the response from Carmen Macmillan the Chair of the QPF, then I have attached it for your perusal.

Needless to say, that I am underwhelmed by her response to my complaint and the accusations that I behaved in a way that was contrary to the spirit of the festival, and the QPF was justified in removing me from the premises, when I have strenuously outlined the positive aspects of my involvement at this year’s event.  As no specific details of the supposed ‘complaints about my behaviour’ are forthcoming from the QPF, I have used the RTI (Right to Information) process with the QPS to get those specific details, and ascertain exactly what I was accused of, by whom, and when.

While my immediate thought about the response is 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 the so-called ‘internal investigation’ as most of the 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 friends of/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 don’t agree with their accusation 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 there is no spirit of reconciliation, or admittance of wrong-doing on their behalf, and even though the co-directors have now resigned, I am still taking this matter further through the Queensland Ombudsman process.

 

Kind regards,

Brett Dionysius

 

PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL

Mr Brett Dionysius 38 Paluna Street

RIVERHILLS OLD 4074

Dear Mr Dionysius

I refer to your email of 22 November 2017 and other communication concerning issues at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts (Centre) on 27 August 2017.

I have outlined your issues of complaint, as Arts Queensland understands them, separately below, together with Arts Queensland’s findings, having considered the information provided by you and the Duty Supervisor of the Centre.

I understand your Complaints as they relate to Arts Queensland are that:

  1. You were escorted from the Centre by two officers of the Queensland State Protective Security (SPSOs) at the request of the co-directors of the Queensland Poetry Festival Inc, (QPF);
  2. You were not given any reasons for your eviction by either the SPSOs or the co­ directors;
  3. You were not approached by Centre management or asked to leave by them, before the SPSOs escorted you from the building.

Jurisdiction

 Under the Department of the Premier and Cabinet’s Complaints Management Policy (the policy in place at the time of the incident), Arts Queensland may manage complaints about a service or action of the Department or a departmental officer’s conduct. The conduct of QPF directors and the decision of the QPF to deny you entry to the Festival is not a matter that Arts Queensland can formally investigate.

You informed our agency that you have lodged a complaint about the SPSOs and that this has been referred to Protective Security Services, Queensland Police Service, for response. I can confirm that this is the appropriate agency to deal with your issues of complaint regarding the SPSOs. The conduct of Centre management is a matter that can be investigated by Arts Queensland.

Your complaint in relation to Centre officers has been investigated and my findings are as follows:

 QPF hired the Centre during the Festival for its use during the period Thursday, 24 August 2017 to Sunday, 27 August 2017. The areas of the Centre included the performance space, courtyard and shopfront. QPF had licence and authority to use and occupy those

  • QPF’s ‘Conditions of Entry’ were displayed at the Centre and provided that patrons must be respectful of others and the venue and if not, may be asked to leave.
  • The Centre’s Duty Supervisor was not dedicated to the Festival, but his responsibilities included monitoring and ensuring the safe and proper use of the Centre.
  • On Sunday 27 August 2017, the Duty Supervisor was informed by a director of QPF that you had been refused entry to the Festival but you had ignored him and remained in the hirer’s space/event.
  • The QPF director also informed the Duty Supervisor that you had been denied entry because you had been disrespectful during the previous night’s events, and had been unapologetic and intimidating when approached on the issue by QPF directors.
  • The Duty Supervisor reported these issues to the SPSOs and requested that they escort you from the
  • After you had been escorted from the Centre, the Duty Supervisor discussed the circumstances with

In response to the situation at hand, the Duty Supervisor had to quickly balance various duties and potential outcomes in reliance upon the information to hand. This included an apparently lawful request by QPF for you to leave the Centre, the alleged reasons why you were denied entry, and your apparent refusal to leave the Centre. The Duty Supervisor determined that it was appropriate and in the best interests of all persons for you to be escorted from the Centre.

Having regard to the Duty Supervisor’s need to quickly assess the situation and balance various duties and rights in uncertain and difficult circumstances, I am unable to conclude that the decisions and actions of the Duty Supervisor were unreasonable.

In having concluded that the actions of the Duty Supervisor were not unreasonable, it was not necessary for me to form a final view as to whether the decision of QPF to exclude you from the Festival was reasonable or not. While I am not aware of any other complaint or grounds, I confirm that it would be a matter of concern if the QPF had capriciously excluded any member of the public from Festival events held at the Centre.

I accept that you felt aggrieved by the QPF’s decision to decline your entry to the Festival and the situation was regrettable. Again, I confirm that the Department requires all visitors to the Centre to be treated with respect and I thank you for bringing the matter to our attention.

With regards to follow up action, Arts Queensland will also review whether there needs to be clearer communication given to patrons as to roles of the parties as a condition of future hire agreements.

If you are dissatisfied with the outcome of your complaint or how the complaint was handled, you may seek an internal review by a senior departmental officer. If you are dissatisfied with the internal review, you may seek an external review by the Office of the Queensland Ombudsman.

Please do not hesitate to contact Ms Deborah Tanzer if you require any further information or have any questions about this process by email at Deborah.tanzer@arts.qld.gov.au or on telephone (07) 3034 4043.

 

Susan Richer

A/Director, Development

Arts Queensland

 

Deborah Tanzer

Manager, Legal and Governance

Arts Business Performance and Infrastructure

Arts Queensland

Department of the Premier and Cabinet

20/01/18

Hi Deborah,

Thanks for your reply to my complaint. Yes, I am obviously dissatisfied with AQ’s response to my complaint, primarily as there is a glaring lie in your assessment of the case or in the information that has been fed to you by the ex-Directors of the QPF and I would like this complaint reviewed by an internal senior departmental officer.

Particularly, with reference to dot point 5 – ‘The QPF director also informed the Duty Supervisor that you had been denied entry because you had been disrespectful during the previous night’s events, and had been unapologetic and intimidating when approached on the issue by QPF directors.’

On this point, at no time on Saturday night or on Sunday morning was I approached by either of the ex-Directors David Stavanger or Anne Te Whiu, to discuss specific examples of my disrespectful behaviour. No details were ever given to me by them about who I was I disrespectful to or what exactly I did that was disrespectful? They never approached me in any manner personally  or through the Duty Manager of the Judith Wright Centre to discuss this alleged issue, so I don’t see how they could come to a conclusion that I was unapologetic, when they never ever approached me. This point in your assessment is a blatant lie on their behalf.

I look forward to being contacted by the internal senior departmental officer when my complaint is reviewed. I am also ccing this email to my local Minister, the Honourable Jennifer Howard, Assistant Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Assistant Minister of State, as she is also aware of my complaint concerning both the Judith Wright Centre and the Queensland Poetry Festival as we met last November to discuss my grievance.

It is certainly a sad day in Queensland, when the professional reputation of one of the state’s leading published poets and the founding director of the Queensland Poetry Festival itself, is abused by fake claims and unsubstantiated allegations of improper behaviour, in what amounts to a personal vendetta by a small group of corrupt arts workers to shut down criticism and free speech surrounding the maladministration of state government funding and resources.

 

Kind regards,

Brett Dionysius

 

Paradise Poetry Papers

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B. R. Dionysius’ diary extract 27th August 2017

 

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….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letters to Dead Poets’ Society

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The Queensland Protective Services Officers who were called to ensure that I  did not behave in a way that was offensive, intimidating or threatening on Sunday 27th August when I was refused a ticket to go and see Andy Jackson’s poetry show.

 

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.

Yours sincerely­­

 

Brett Dionysius

 

___________________________________________________________________________________________

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

purpose; or

(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.

 

Yours sincerely,­­

 

Brett Dionysius

 

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

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.

 

Yours sincerely

Carmel Macmillan

Chair

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.

 

Yours sincerely,

­­

Brett Dionysius

 

Open Mango Season on Authors

 

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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.’

Oh Dear!: fused harmony

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

 

Oh Dear!

 

Dear Youth,

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?

 

Dear Elderly,

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.

 

Dear Youth,

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.

 

Dear Elderly,

Embarrassment is all you seem to achieve.

You’re okay I guess.

But now times call for new jokes.

And please stop snoring!

 

Dear Youth,

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.

 

Dear Youth,

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!

 

Dear Elderly,

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!

 

Dear Youth,

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.

 

Dear Elderly,

I know it was all of you

Who ruined our home.

We do not hate.

But you’ve led us to destruction.

 

Dear Youth,

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.

 

Dear Elderly,

Seas red!

But you’ve turned our souls black!

It’s not all of you.

It’s human nature.

 

Dear Youth,

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.

 

Dear Elderly,

We are the solution.

We would create solutions.

Maybe even a solution

To your snoring!

 

Dear Youth,

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.

 

Dear Elderly,

For a solution

For our old world

We must sleep well.

And so, soon a better world shall come.

 

Dear Youth,

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!

 

Oh Dear!

All will be well.

So patience please.

Extra stress will not help!

But slowly all will be well.

 

Dear Youth,

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!

 

Dear Elderly,

Faith is key.

We shall hold it to the end.

Just like you have with us.

Till I read you again, Dear Elderly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2017 Queensland Poetry Festival: the good, the bad, the ugly

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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…

The Good

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
swallowing itself.

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.

The Bad

Ah….who the fuck cares! We all write shite at times!

The Ugly

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!

Books bought/given

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”.

 

 

 

 

Twilight Zone: the Poetry

twilightzonenomouth

Another critic of the Queensland Poetry Festival silenced by the nepotism.

 

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.

QPF: the fire and the fury

trump poetry

Donald Trumps reacts to the QPF Co-directors being ‘worse than he is’.

 

“12-1pm Puncher & Wattmann Anthology Reading
Free event
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.

Kind regards,

 

Brett Dionysius

P.S. Rest assured that I will be publishing Ms. Howard’s reply on Bitter as the cud.