“12-1pm Puncher & Wattmann Anthology Reading
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.
P.S. Rest assured that I will be publishing Ms. Howard’s reply on Bitter as the cud.