The 2017 Queensland Poetry Festival is releasing details of its programming bit by bit on Facebook and by email, like the federal government releases some budget decisions prior to the May Budget announcement on TV, often to soften the blow of those sections of society who miss out or have their funding drastically cut by the Treasurer.
So far QPF has announced some major program events including; the Literary Cabaret, the Leonard Cohen tribute night, the Arts Queensland Poet/s in Residence with accompanying schedules of workshops and readings while in Queensland, the Mark Doty workshop, the Poet vs Pageant spectacular, a Michael Leunig afternoon in discussion (and in drawing no doubt) and a musical-comedy gig by The Bedroom Philosopher.
Literary cabaret. Great. Leonard Cohen tribute night. More musicians than poets. Not so great. Mark Doty. Great. Joy Harjo. Great. Not sure about the other poet in residence. Poet vs Pageant. Interesting maybe? The Bedroom Philosopher? Not so great. Michael Leunig? Great cartoonist. But great poet?
So far, the program is following the formula of the last two festivals with celebrity non-poets booked like Clive Palmer in 2015, and now legendary cartoonist Leunig, musicians, stand up comedians and performance artists emphasised over true contemporary Australian poets. The Co-directors, programming consultants and the QPF board will argue (as they have been) that these programming decisions are all about growing a new audience for the Queensland Poetry Festival. So, an audience for comedy will turn up, an audience for satirical cartoons will turn up, lovers of Leonard Cohen’s music will turn up. Yes, I must admit this strategy will most likely bring in new people for these genres, but fail miserably to educate, promote, or engage these same people with contemporary Australian poetry. They won’t stop by the bookstore and buy Mark Doty’s poetry books.
This is what Wikipedia says about The Bedroom Philosopher.
The Bedroom Philosopher aka Justin Heazlewood is an Australian songwriter, author, actor and humourist. Most known for his writing and musical comedy works, The Bedroom Philosopher has released several albums, performed at many arts festivals, been nominated for an ARIA Award, published several books about the entertainment industry and is a regular guest on several Australian radio shows.
Nowhere does it state that he writes poetry, or has even attempted to write a poem, however he gets a whole exclusive night gig for his comedic-musical about cats. Hopefully it is based on T.S. Eliot’s collection of poetry about cats, or has a satirical and environmental message about the estimated 20 million feral cats in Australia that contribute (along with 7 million foxes and 200 million rabbits) to 75 million native animals being killed every 24 hours. Or perhaps an epic poem about the 28 out of 29 mammalian species that have become extinct due to predation by feral cats in Australia.
Leunig at least has written and published satirical poetry, but I wouldn’t put him up there with the Les Murrays, Fay Zwickys, John Tranters, Pam Browns, Anthony Lawrences, Jennifer Maidens, John Forbes, Gwen Harwoods, or even Judith Wrights just yet.
The full program will be released at Gilimbaa HQ on the 20th July, so until then we can only speculate on how many more non-poets will be programmed and paid to replace the very writers that the Queensland Poetry Festival was created to develop and sustain.