The Currency of Treachery


Reading at Dusan Bojic’s house party in 2017.

So, my demise as a recognized Queensland poet probably began in 2013 with the Graham Nunn poetry plagiarism controversy, when I criticized him during the Facebook exchange that took place between his supporters like David Stavanger and Nerissa Rowan and his attackers like Anthony Lawrence and Ira Lightman. From memory I said something on Facebook to the extent that his poetry career was over and probably expressed similar shock and outrage like most of the hard-working and non-plagiarist poets expressed during that phenomenon.

Coincidently in 2013, his wife Julie Beveridge became the programming manager of the ‘Brisbane Writers Festival’, where Nunn was a guest that year as well. She then became the Director of the BWF in 2015 until recently in 2016 when she moved on from that event amidst the Lionel Shriver opening festival speech controversy last year.

Coincidently, the last time I read at BWF was in 2013 at the launch of Inkerman and Blunt’s anthology, ‘Australian Love Poems’, where I read my included poem along with other Queensland participants including Graham Nunn no less. As for a feature spot at BWF, I’d have to go way back to a poetry reading I did with Bronwyn Lea I think in 2011 or 2012 for a 10-15 minute representation of my work at Queensland’s premier literary event. So paranoia aside, it’s not a stretch of the imagination to see why I wasn’t included in that event over the five years of Beveridge’s control of the programming. You criticize my husband, you don’t get a gig. I wonder how Anthony fared then?

As for the Queensland Poetry Festival, my last 10-15 minute guest spot was also in 2013, where I read for the very first time on the same bill with Anthony Lawrence. Sarah Gory was the QPF Director then, until David Stavanger took the helm in 2015. I did read one poem of Sam Wagan Watson’s and one of my own last year for the “Big Read” Australian Poetry gig, but I believe Toby Fitch had more influence on my inclusion in that event than the current Co-directors did.

As for Brisbane poetry reading guest spots coordinated by the QPF, I read last year at “Couplet” for the first time at the BCC central library courtesy of Stavanger, but prior to that, my last QPF sponsored reading was in 2013 at Riverbend Books. A long time between drinks as they say in cricket. So to summarise, since 2013 I’ve had;

  1. one poem read at BWF in 2013.
  2. a 15 minute reading at QPF in 2013.
  3. a 15 minute reading at Riverbend Books in 2012.
  4. one poem read at QPF in 2016.
  5. a 15 minute reading at Couplet in 2016.

So, one reading a year practically, since 2013 which doesn’t sound so bad does it? Or what the fuck are you complaining about you angry middle-aged white man when many of your poetry peers from the 90s and the 2000s also suffer from a lack of recognition in their own home town and state in these same festivals, anthologies and poetry projects. You are not alone.

However, now that I have been embroiled in another heated FB exchange about the direction of the QPF in late 2016, and have been a very verbal critic of Stavanger’s programming direction over the last two years that he has co-directed the Queensland Poetry festival, I am wondering if I am about to enter another five years of ostracism and tokenism in my own home state of Queensland.

So why do I feel like the ‘bad guy’ when I turn up to poetry gigs in Brisbane, when all I have done is to question the integrity, quality and balance of poetry in the Queensland scene that has been scandalized by; Nunn’s (Mr. Poetry’s) ‘currency of treachery’ as Lawrence put it, as a poet, publisher, QWC ‘mentor’ and QPF director from 2004-2007; Stavanger’s strange programming decisions like including Clive Palmer in QPF 2015 and programming non-poets in the Brisbane Poetry Map project, as well as his emphasis on programming musicians and amateur performance/slam poets in the QPF; the clique of performance poet ‘friends’ who give themselves all the poetry work in Brisbane; and a poetry gerrymander where only a few ‘select’ high profile poets make the national grade as representatives of ‘Queensland’ poetry.

I love the irony. The Queensland poetry scene I helped to create, now turns it back on me and sees me as some kind of throw-back threat to ‘the good old days’. All I have done is post on this blog and write one letter to the programming committee. I have not written to the Australia Council or to Arts Queensland or to the Premier/Arts Minister complaining about QPF’s direction and programming. I hope we can sort this out amongst ourselves,but it looks like lines have been drawn in imaginary sand.

So when I rock up to the first Riverbend Poetry Series reading this year, I am routinely ignored by the self-same clique of friends, committee members and amateur poets in charge of all things poetry in Queensland at the moment – Stavanger, Te Whiu, Burton, Hadley, Rose, Jessen, Neerven, Barnes et al. Nathan Shepherdson who collaborates with many of these people manages an awkward hello. Ron? from speedpoets very aware of the controversy pats my arm sympathetically. I went to support Liam Ferney and Carmen Leigh-Keates because they are quality poets who deserve their place in the contemporary poetry community and have the publications to back it up.

They were excellent, but then I had to endure amateur, audience-interactive performance poetry from some slam winner and post-Plathian centos – (or I’ve run out of things to say myself, so I’ll cut together famous poets’ words to appear clever). In my book, a breath away from Nunn’s ‘currency of treachery’.

I’ve put in my EOI for the 2017 Queensland Poetry Festival, an event I started 20 years ago, when the Brisbane Writers’ Festival governed by Stuart Glover ousted local poets from their program completely. All I see are modern comparisons to the situation two decades ago. People say to ignore what is going on with the QPF and if I don’t like it, then start up my own reading that suits my understanding of quality and balance. But that’s a compromise I am not willing to make.

I may cut a lonely figure at these Brisbane poetry readings now, but I know that I am not alone in my concern for the future of the QPF and that many local, regional and national poets are also worried at Stavanger’s attempts to build new audiences for poetry at the expense of quality, integrity and balance in the programming. I guess we’ll all see his response to this criticism at the QPF program launch in a few months time.

Until then, I will just continue to write and publish and gnaw away at the those greater mysteries of the universe.