“As part of QPF2017 Distant Voices, some of Queensland’s finest will let the light in as part of a special tribute to Leonard Cohen, one of the greatest poets and songwriters the world has ever known. Acclaimed musicians Ben Salter, Ben Ely (Regurgitator), McKisko, Skye Staniford (We All Want To), and electronic trash trio Architects of Sound are joined by local poets Sam Wagan Watson and Pascalle Burton (The Stress of Leisure), as well as Canadian-born Australian poet Ian McBryde, to sift through the fire of some of Leonard Cohen’s finest work. To close the night will be a feature set by Hexham, fronted by seasoned poet and lyricist Max Ryan, showcasing their new album Close and Leaving.”
So in their tradition of broadening Brisbane’s poetic cultural cringe, the Co-directors of the 2017 QPF have released the details of one of their special events – ‘Travelling Light’ – a Leonard Cohen tribute night. Don’t get me wrong – I love the man, his voice, his songs, poetry and novels. He probably deserves a tribute night more than Prince or Bowie did in last year’s festival, however, while QPF favourites Sam Wagan Watson and Pascalle Burton headline for Queensland poets, and the Canadian godfather of Melbourne poetry, Ian McBryde also stars, I must admit that musicians certainly hold the microphone at this gig.
Let’s count them. Ben Salter (1), Ben Ely (2), McKisko (3), Skye Staniford (4), Architects of Sound (7) Pascalle Burton (8), Hexham/Max Ryan (12). Granted Burton and Ryan are at least poets who have published collections and individual poems in journals, yet they still front bands and so can be included in the ‘musicians’ tally. That’s 12 musicians to 3 poets, who will be paid for their cutting edge musical renditions of ‘So Long Maryanne’ and ‘Sisters of Mercy’ out of grant money allocated to poets.
Furthermore, and this is where it all gets a bit cringy, we have another famous, dead international star/artist/poet/songwriter/musician, whose life and works will be celebrated in Queensland at the Judith Wright Centre for Contemporary Arts, and this year another iconic celebrity will drop dead (Madonna maybe? Heaven forbid Mick Jagger?) and then there’ll be another tribute night in 2018. You can see the inevitable programming pattern like Macbeth did, stretching all the way forward to the ‘crack of doom’.
Soooo, we can’t celebrate the life and works of a dead Australian poet at the Queensland Poetry Festival? Australian poets just aren’t that famous I guess. Not cool enough perhaps? Never mind about educating the wonderful new audience that has been attracted to the QPF by all the fab musical acts and slam poetry, about the great Australian poetry legacies of Kath Walker, Bruce Beaver, Dorothy Porter, J.S. Harry, Michael Dransfield, Dorothy Hewitt, Francis Webb, Gwen Harwood, John Forbes, Charles Buckmaster, Martin Johnston, Philip Hodgins, Judith Wright and Dimitris Tsaloumas, or about the aesthetic differences between poetry and song.
I’m sure this event will attract an appreciative audience who know nothing about contemporary Australian poetry, or contemporary poetry for that matter, and be a great success riding on the coattails of another dead music immortal.