Letters to Dead Poets’ Society

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The Queensland Protective Services Officers who were called to ensure that I  did not behave in a way that was offensive, intimidating or threatening on Sunday 27th August when I was refused a ticket to go and see Andy Jackson’s poetry show.

 

30th August 2017

 

Ms Carmel Macmillan, Chair

Queensland Poetry Festival

GPO Box 3488

Brisbane QLD 4101

 

Dear Ms Macmillan,

I have a complaint about the Queensland Poetry Festival and would like to use your complaints management system.

On Sunday the 27th of August I was forcibly removed from the premises of the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, by two officers of the Queensland State Protective service around 12.30pm, at the behest of the Queensland Poetry Festival co-directors, David Stavanger and Anne Te Whiu.

No reason was given for my eviction by either the QPS officers or the co-directors when I asked why I was being removed from this Queensland government building, hosting a free public event in a building that has free entrance to the public.

All the officers said was that they had the legislative power to remove people from State government facilities if asked to do so by the management. I was not approached by the management of the Judith Wright Centre either, or asked to leave by them, before the QPS officers escorted me outside the building.

I find this abuse of the QPS powers to be very disturbing, as I was doing absolutely nothing wrong at the festival, in fact I had been at a reading in the shopfront enjoying the poetry. In fact, I had been enjoying the QPF for two days previously, even trying to reconciliate with the co-directors, but alas all of my overtures were ignored, and instead I was threatened with more security measures on Saturday night by David Stavanger, for again no reason.

I never threatened anyone physically or verbally during the festival, never touched anyone, nor did I damage any of the Judith Wright Centre facilities. I was not intoxicated or under the influence of drugs at any time. As a result of this abuse of my civil rights, I have had to go on sick leave for three weeks from my work because of mental anguish.

I would like the Queensland Poetry Festival to issue a public apology to me in writing over this mistreatment. I also would like the Board of the Queensland Poetry Festival to seriously review the contract that you have with the current co-directors, who have not only abused my human rights, but have also abused state government resources through their maladministration of public sector security services.

To this end, I have also made a public sector disclosure statement to Art Queensland complaining of my mistreatment at the 2017 Queensland Poetry Festival.

I request written acknowledgement of my complaint in 10 working days. I also request that you provide updates on the progress and outcome of my complaint. Furthermore, do I also have any right to an internal review if I am not happy with your initial decision?

If I do not hear from the Board of the Queensland Poetry Festival, or if you respond in a manner that I deem inadequate, I will take my complaint to the Queensland Ombudsman. I am also investigating civil legal options at the moment.

I can be contacted at the above address or by email and phone.

Yours sincerely­­

 

Brett Dionysius

 

___________________________________________________________________________________________

4th October 2017

 

Ms Carmel Macmillan, Chair

Queensland Poetry Festival

GPO Box 3488

Brisbane QLD 4101

 

Dear Ms Macmillan,

It has been approximately five (5) weeks since I sent you a letter of complaint on the 30th August 2017 about my forcible eviction from the 2017 Queensland Poetry and the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts.

In that time I have been contacted twice by email and once by phone by Deborah Tanzer, Manager, Legal and Governance, Arts Business Performance and Infrastructure, Arts Queensland in conjunction with a complaint I made to Arts Queensland concerning this matter also.

Over this time, I have also heard back from the Queensland Police Service, regarding a similar complaint I made to that organisation about my eviction from a state government building. A senior sergeant called me to inform me that I was evicted under section 23 of the act which I am quoting here for your perusal. Specifically the clause which says, “or fails to satisfy a senior protective security officer that the person has a good and lawful reason to be in a particular state building then –“

Refusal of entry to and removal from building

If a person fails to comply with a demand under section 20, or

a direction under section 21(3) or 21A(3), by a senior

protective security officer, or fails to satisfy a senior protective

security officer that the person has a good and lawful reason to

be in a particular state building then—

(a) if the person is in the state building—it shall be lawful

for the senior protective security officer and all persons

acting in aid of the officer to remove the person from the

state building, using such force as is necessary for the

purpose; or

(b) if the person is about to enter the state building—it shall

be lawful for the senior protective security officer and

all persons acting in aid of the officer to prevent the

person from entering the state building, using such force

as is necessary for the purpose.

I have followed up this unsatisfactory explanation of my eviction with an RTI (Right to Information) application to seek information from the QPS surrounding my eviction under this clause of the act. Specifically, I have asked for access to the notes, reports and details of the phone conversations between the QPS- Protective Services Officers and David Stavanger, so I can ascertain on what specific information section 23 of the act was enacted – particularly as the QPS officers did not make an assessment of the situation on Sunday the 27th August, but rather ‘acted on information’ from David Stavanger.

Now, as to the QPS justification that I did not have ‘a good and lawful reason to be in a particular state building’, I must confess that this claim seems rather thin and unsubstantiated to say the least. I had attended Mark Doty’s workshop on Wednesday the 23rd August, I had attended the QPF all day Friday and into the night on the 25th August and attended all day and into the night on Saturday the 26th August. Twice I tried to speak with David Stavanger on Saturday night, the first time just after I spoke to you that night, when I asked you to intervene and stop the persecution against me. If I remember rightly you said, “What persecution Brett?”

Next, I tried to talk to David Stavanger and said to him, ‘Hey David, I will bury the fucking hatchet if you stop persecuting me.’ That is when he said, “You’ve got about two seconds to get out of my personal space or else I’ll call security.’ Ironically, if his response and what happened to me the next day is not persecution, then I don’t know what is.

I never threatened David Stavanger verbally or physically, nor anyone else at the festival. I did not make a nuisance of myself and was thoroughly enjoying some fabulous poetry over the weekend. I enjoyed myself immensely over the 12 sessions that I saw, and even wrote a glowing Facebook comment on the great poets and poetry I was witnessing. I even followed that up with a post on my WordPress blog commenting on the aspects of the festival that I liked and refraining from anything negative. I also purchased $185.00 worth of poetry books from the bookstall, to support the festival.

So, can you as the Chair of the Queensland Poetry Festival please explain to me in detail how I was not at the festival for, ‘a good and lawful reason’ and therefore had to be humiliated in public through a forcible eviction by security guards from the poetry festival that I started?

Again, in accordance with my previous letter, I would like the Queensland Poetry Festival to issue a public apology to me in writing over this mistreatment and maladministration of public sector security services. I want you to admit that what was done to me was wrong. As no written acknowledgement of my complaint arrived in 10 working days either by email or letter, I again request that you provide updates on the progress and outcome of my complaint and a response to my question about ‘do I have any right to an internal review if I am not happy with your initial decision’.

Again, if I do not hear from the Board of the Queensland Poetry Festival, or if you respond in a manner that I deem inadequate, I will take my complaint further to the Queensland Ombudsman.

I can be contacted at the above address or by email and phone.

 

Yours sincerely,­­

 

Brett Dionysius

 

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

20 October 2017

 

Mr Brett Dionysius

38 Paluna Street

Riverhills Q 4074

 

Dear Mr Dionysius

Your complaint about 27 August 2017

Thank you for your letters dated 30 August 2017 and 4 October 2017 setting out your complaint about being removed from the Judith Wright Centre, Fortitude Valley on 27 August 2017.

Queensland Poetry Festival Inc. (QPF) takes all complaints seriously. Your complaint has been considered by members of the management committee. They have considered the matters set out in your correspondence as well as information from witnesses, other attendees at the festival, volunteers and the festival co-directors.

QPF considers that the festival co-director’s decision to request your removal from the venue was reasonable and appropriate. While the festival is open to the public, QPF nonetheless retains the right to revoke its consent for individuals to attend the venue. QPF exercised that right on 27 August 2017, following complaints about your behaviour.

QPF welcomes diverse views and supports a vibrant poetry culture. However QPF must also ensure the enjoyment and safety of everyone attending the festival. QPF wants to ensure that views are expressed respectfully and attendees do not behave in a way that is offensive, intimidating or threatening.

I am pleased that you enjoyed several sessions at the festival.

 

Yours sincerely

Carmel Macmillan

Chair

Queensland Poetry Festival Inc.

 

______________________________________________________________________________________________

24th October 2017

 

Ms Carmel Macmillan, Chair

Queensland Poetry Festival

GPO Box 3488

Brisbane QLD 4101

 

Dear Ms Macmillan,

Thank you for your response to my two letters dated 30th August 2017 and 4th October 2017.

While my immediate thought about your response was an organisation closing ranks to protect its own reputation, I am now even more concerned about the maladministration apparent in the QPF.

I also seriously doubt the impartiality of the information gathered in your so-called ‘internal investigation’ as most of your eyewitnesses (attendees at the festival, volunteers, festival co-directors) have a vested interest in upholding the reputation of the festival, whether through being a festival participant and being paid (and wanting to return perhaps one day on the program), being in the loyal role of a volunteer who just follows orders, or being the co-directors who just hate my guts because have I criticised their programming decisions over the last three years.

I assume the ’complaints’ about my behaviour came only from the imaginations of the co-directors, and I really don’t agree with your summation that I or anyone else I saw at the festival behaved in an offensive, intimidating or threatening manner. As I have pointed out in my previous two letters, I was enjoying the festival, went to 12 events and was even writing positive reviews about the poetry I heard, so it just doesn’t make sense to me or to anyone else who is observing this furore/fiasco, why I would act in a such a way to be thrown out of the event, when I was having a good time?

As no acceptance of wrong-doing is obviously forthcoming from the QPF, again in accordance with my previous letters, I am now taking this complaint to the Queensland Ombudsman. Further to this action, I also have a meeting on the 31st October with the Honourable Jen Howard MP, Assistant Minister of State, to discuss my unethical eviction from the QPF and the Judith Wright Centre on the 27th August 2017 and your response to my complaint.

Consequently at that meeting I will be advising her to sack you as Chair and the entire QPF board/ management committee because of your maladministration of this issue and to offer those positions up to people who at least have a working knowledge of the art form you supposedly represent.

 

Yours sincerely,

­­

Brett Dionysius

 

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Open Mango Season on Authors

 

02e6b82e-006f-4d5f-a1e1-fc3185eac14f

Hi kids. As a Senior teacher of English and Literature at a private boys’ school in Queensland and an established Australian poet, I find the internet abuse aimed at Ellen van Neerven over the inclusion of her poem, Mango on the NSW HSC exam to be utterly repulsive and foreboding for our own QCAA senior schooling restructure (the most significant in 40 years) about to roll out in 2019, which mirrors the HSC’s external examination style. In Queensland there will be an external English exam worth 25% of a Year 12 student’s total English marks.

Ideologically I’m against external exams, against the pressure they emit on students, against the cold calculating data that is gleaned from the most artificial of conditions to test students on a text.  I’m against the homogeneity of 70,000 students all sitting down to develop nominally the same carefully spoon-fed critical response that the external markers want to hear.  Even so-called ‘exam stress’ is not a sufficient reason anymore to be excused from the HSC apparently, so imagine those frustrated, anxious and stressed out kids forced to sit the HSC, and being ambushed by the imagery in van Neerven’s poem.

Yes, we have QCS in Queensland that warrants an extended writing task, numeracy and literacy testing and goes towards a student’s final OP score, but I’m not really a big fan of that either. Can you give me an example of where in the modern workplace similar ‘external test’ conditions are manufactured for an employee to pass muster on the job? With all eggs in the one basket. You do job training, you have professional development, you learn from experience over time to do your occupation well. Yes, there are times when you work under extreme pressure to meet a deadline, but you don’t attack your client on social media and blame them for your stress levels and ulcers, do you?

The pressure to succeed, to score highly so the school and the cohort score highly (in QLD at least), culminates in stress and anxiety which is the real culprit in these students’ dissatisfaction with the HSC. Not van Neerven’s poem, not James Bradley’s Wrack excerpt. But they can’t attack the NSW Education Department online, or create a meme ridiculing the faceless entity of the HSC. So, having limited options to vent their frustration over the system’s failure to keep a lid on their stress (that’s right, it’s everyone else’s problem, not their’s) these gutless students attack the only visible targets – the authors of the exam texts who know nothing about its existence. Isn’t that much like picking on the weaker kid to make yourself feel stronger? Or king hitting the guy in the bar who doesn’t see the punch coming. Just a cowardly bastard act.

No author should be trolled just because a student has not been taught how to deconstruct a poem properly, or have been so lazy and off-task in class when they did the poetry unit, that instead of taking personal responsibility for their own lack of a work ethic and absence of classroom industry, they have to project their failure onto the author in the most public of ways (Twitter, Facebook, Memes). This really only displays their poor and ineffective literacy skills and their racist tendencies, possibly reinforced from the complicity of their infantile peer group, the school’s boys’ education ethos or from their privileged parents’ negative ideas about issues of race and equality in Australian culture that these children regurgitate, having developed none of their own opinions yet. Perhaps still lacking the right chemistry set in their heads?

Because if these students had been paying attention in their English class over the last six years of their lives, instead of skyping friends in other classrooms or being on Facebook when the teacher wasn’t looking, then they would not have failed to notice how almost every unit of work over their English career, asked them to deconstruct a text for either its ideology, representation of stereotypes, main message, themes, tone, emotion, subject matter, purpose, poetic techniques, literary devices, narration style and language choices. So, if they really weren’t paying attention in English for all of those six years, perhaps dreaming of signing that big starting contract for that famous footy club instead, then as Macduff puts it, “Heaven help him too”, the blame for their utter failure to interpret van Neerven’s Mango rests solely on their young entitled shoulders and nowhere else.

I’ll grant though that the question asked of the students was a bit naff to begin with. Detail the pleasure of discovery in the poem or words to that effect. ‘Detail’ is a vague requirement of students to help them organise an analysis of this poem. You detail a shopping list don’t you? Ironically, mangoes (the fruit) have less to do with the meaning of van Neerven’s poem, unless they are a metonymic device for breasts. But bullying, sexual assault and the normalization of how young boys mistreat girls and living creatures perhaps is a reading of her poem. Which reminds me of the #metoo campaign on FB at the moment and the awful depths to which sexual abuse and misogyny have assaulted our society. Harvey Weinstein being the famous tip of the iceberg at the moment. Hollywood the listing Titanic. What is sadly ironic is that these NSW students are reinforcing the very message possibly contained in Mango; that some people feel that they can project their own shit onto other people and make their life hell. These students have been taught to succeed, so when they fail, they have no sense of personal responsibility or self-reflection, but lash out at a convenient target. Usually it is their poor bloody parents, but failing that, the author of that darned poem will do. Maybe they should be taught to fail more often, than pushed to succeed at all costs?

If any of the apparently hundreds of Year 12 students who targeted van Neerven on social media, instead of recognizing their own lack of engagement with the text and failure to apply critical English analysis skills were my students, I would feel immense shame as their teacher and school, and anger, but I would also respond to them how I treat any student who says inappropriate things in class or on the playground. For example, I call out students all the time when they use the word ‘gay’ stupidly to describe a negative response to something. I tell them a) that using that word is offensive to me and to homosexual people as my daughter is homosexual, b) that using it to describe something negative reinforces a bias that homosexuality is a negative thing too, and c) ‘gay’ is not a sophisticated critical term and says nothing about the issue, so don’t use it at all. Toxic masculinity begins with young men thinking that it is okay to make fun of someone’s ethnicity, gender and or sexual orientation in the form of a joke or a meme to their peers. It ends with domestic violence, sexual assault and the murder of women by men predominantly. It’s time we called that shit out when we see it. It’s a shame that it takes institutions like Hollywood twenty years to do it. It should not be present in our state education systems.

That is why it has been so encouraging to read other writers and commentators calling these NSW students out for their shitty response to van Neerven. If only these cowards were not hiding behind fake accounts and private settings. Is this the attitude that they’re going to take to university – when they don’t get the result they want, are they going to attack their professors and tutors on social media? Have a hissy fit because they lost marks for handing in an assignment late. Wake up darlings – you might get pampered at high school with multiple drafts and extensions from your teachers, but higher education doesn’t care that you had to take your cat to the vet’s for a medical emergency. Hopefully, these students will look back when they finally mature (sometime in the foreseeable future) with shame on their actions this past week. If anything poetry has left its indelible mark on their senior schooling forever, just not in the way they wanted. Poor dears -you can’t always get what you want as the lyrics say.

We as teachers, writers, artists, parents, community leaders and mentors must not allow children to use social media as a tool for revenge; we must not stand for inappropriate behaviour from juveniles towards adults; we must refute racism, homophobia and hate wherever we see it in young people; we must unpack toxic masculinity that provokes young males to act like scum, and to as suggested in Mango, ‘pull on tufts of hair/fill ears with mud.’