Distant Voices Choking

val vallis

“In 2017 QPF moved to a new model of programming, with more curatorial artist invitations whilst still maintaining an open Expressions of Interest (EOI) process. QPF now engages volunteer Program Advisors to independently assess all EOI’s, as well as making program and artist suggestions. This year’s Program Advisors were poets Matt Hetherington, Rebecca Jessen, Stuart Barnes (Tincture Poetry Editor), Ellen van Neervan, and Eleanor Jackson (Peril Magazine & Stella Prize Board Member.)”

So this passage is from the revamped QPF website (About) section which explains an apparent new model of programming for future Queensland Poetry Festivals. I am wondering what exactly a ‘more curatorial artist invitation’ is? Are the Co-directors now going to hand pick some poet, artist, musician mates to curate sessions within the festival? Are these to be musical acts? Spoken word extravaganzas? Multidisciplinary events? What is the brief? It is all extremely vague and the lack of transparency around the new changes and lack of information about how this new model will work, should be rather disconcerting for poets and writers not aligned to the Brisbane spoken word hegemony.

Also disconcerting is the assumption from the Co-directors that ‘volunteer Program Advisors’ [independently] assess all EOI’s. I’m not sure how this process is really ‘independent’ considering Hetherington, Jessen and Jackson are (ex) members of the QPF programming committee and so are not really independent from the festival programming bias towards music, performance poetry and spoken word pushed forward by the two Co-directors over the last two years. What are they supposed to be independent from? Payment for their services?

It also begs the question as to what exactly Stavanger and Te Whiu do now in their roles as Co-directors of the festival (and how much they are paying themselves per year from the $360,000 in operational funding from Arts Queensland – not that we will ever know given that it is a closed membership incorporated association and only the arts accountant Brian Tucker and the QPF Board will probably ever know) given that the majority of the festival programming appears to be now managed and selected by unpaid volunteers and that the new Program Coordinator, Culver is responsible for the nuts and bolts admin stuff like gaining sponsorship, booking flights, hotels and printing programs.

It’s also interesting to note that the relatively new Queensland poet, Stuart Barnes who launched his debut poetry collection at the festival last year, and who also appeared at Riverbend Poetry Series this year, is now both a judge of the 2017 Arts Queensland Val Vallis Award and also one of the new Program Advisors for the 2017 QPF. If you’re ‘in’ with the ‘in’ crowd, then I guess the benefits start to roll ‘in’. Makes me wonder how many of the QPF ‘in’ crowd are also regularly published in Tincture Journal that Barnes also edits. Keep it in the family I suppose. I have nothing personal against Barnes, I just find it strange that someone with barely a debut poetry collection behind them winds up being a judge of a major national poetry competition, so soon, is all.

Distant voices should be choking in rage, at what again appears to be nothing more than blatant programming nepotism and branch-stacking on behalf of Stavanger and co. to control what is now a very lucrative little cash cow for some very amateur spoken word artists and musicians, who once upon a time, would not even have been heard at Australia’s premier poetry festival.




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