So, today I received the Right to Information dossier I requested concerning my eviction from the QPF in August that includes a QPS Occurrence Report, Police diary information and email correspondence between the QPS, OSC and Ethical Standards peeps who just slap each other on the back and say job well done, there was no misconduct on our behalf. Thank god we didn’t accidentally choke any poets to death. We were just following orders. I will publish the whole QPS dossier as a blog post soon. But for now here are the main accusations against me reported by David Stavanger that led him to call the Queensland Protective Services (QPS) and ask for my eviction from the festival on Sunday.
Not surprisingly, the truth of the whole matter comes down to little more than, ‘I said/He said’ doleful semantics. Of note Arts Queensland refers to our incident as an ‘interaction’, however I am bemused by Stavanger’s first claim that I was ‘openly aggressive’ towards him. I have never shied away from the fact that I did approach him when he was talking to Ian McBryde on Saturday night and yes, rudely interrupted his conversation to say, “Hey David, I’ll bury the fucking hatchet if you stop persecuting me.” I guess the word ‘fucking’ is rather emphatic, but pretty passé these days to be offended by. Unless he thought I was going to bury an actual hatchet in his head? Could he have misheard me on that fateful night? No, I really believe he wasn’t prepared to listen to anything I had to say to him at all, as he was too busy misconstruing my attempts at communication as some imagined physical threat. Weird. As I’ve previously stated, I wasn’t in his personal space at all. Definitely not Maori nose to nose. He was sitting down, I was standing. Maybe he felt intimidated by my body language and not the message I was trying to get across to him. Remember folks – don’t shoot the messenger!
So ‘openly aggressive’ must also mean that the big make up hug I gave Matt Hetherington (a 2017 QPF program advisor and not one of my favourite peeps either) down at the bar where he was d-jaying about an hour before, was actually a sneaky wrestling maneuver designed to break his back. FFS, I have witnesses who heard me say to Stavanger as he walked down the Judith Wright stairs on Saturday night, “Hey David, great festival.” He ignored me of course. He was also rude to friends of mine at the festival and treated them with disdain, just because they were seen hanging out with me. When they confronted him about his behaviour by email – he never bothered to reply to them either with an explanation. And then there was that FB post I wrote on Saturday night that quoted all the terrific lines of poetry from guest poets I’d heard over Friday and Saturday. Does this sound like the actions of someone who was ‘openly aggressive’ and wanting to cause trouble at the QPF?
Next we have the, ‘refused to remove from his physical space” accusation. Boy, you should have seen how fast I moved out of his presence when he replied, “You’ve got about two seconds to get out of my personal space, or else,” and then got up and reported my ‘openly aggressive’ behaviour to the Judith Wright Centre’s duty manager. Ian could probably tell you how quickly I fled that scene. For the next half hour or so, I hid out the back of the Judith Wright Centre, scared that security guards were coming to get me then and there! So much for the ‘intimidating’ and ‘openly aggressive’ Brett Dionysius, who actually became upset during a phone interview with Deborah Tanzer, the Manager for Legal & Governance at Arts Queensland, when talking about the incident three days later. So I actually didn’t refuse to move out of his physical space at all. I obeyed the command shocked by his reaction.
His reaction to what again? To me asking for a reconciliation to heal the schism that has erupted between the old and new guard? Between page and performance poets in Queensland. For asking to stop being persecuted (some would say professionally bullied) by the QPF under Stavanger’s dominance, an organisation that has not included me in any poetry reading, event, festival, project or commission for the last four years. FFS. Imagine if this degree of purposeful professional persecution happened to a poet of similar standing elsewhere in Australia? Imagine if Ian McBryde was treated like I have been by the Melbourne poetry scene? Imagine the national outrage amongst fellow poets. And yet, here I am in Queensland, my home state, that has marginalized one of their most successful and published poets ever, and now to rub salt into the wound, soils my professional reputation as well over these false allegations and trumped up charges, purely enacted as revenge for my criticisms of the QPF.
Then in the police diary notes we have this, ‘charging forward in the foyer’ claim where all I did was again try and walk up to Stavanger to, you guessed it, “bury the fucking hatchet” between us and I followed him for a bit as he danced out of my way. What? Charging forward like a bull in a china shop I suppose? He was on his phone, so I just guess my timing in trying to reconcile with Stavanger that night just sucked. I thought about attempting one last communication with him, but Sam Wagan Watson put his hand on my shoulder and said forget about it and I left after that. I don’t know about you, but the only ‘charging’ I did in the Judith Wright foyer over that weekend was the $185.00 worth of poetry books I charged to my credit card to support the QPF guest poets and the festival. Again FFS. My last great shoulder-charge was playing under 12s ruby league in 1981.
Furthermore, it’s unfortunate that Stavanger in the Police notes indicated that he, ‘felt uncomfortable and did not want Brett to be present in [the] building’ the following day – Sunday and that the Queensland Protective Service officers, going just on Stavanger’s bizarre interpretation of the previous night’s events as a real physical threat to his person, thought that I had, ‘failed to satisfy an SPSO that the person (me) was there for a good and lawful reason to be in that particular state building’. Sorry Andy Jackson – going to see your show wasn’t a good and lawful reason to be at the festival. So ‘feeling uncomfortable’ about someone nowadays equates to you automatically calling the police on them. Imagine being this guy’s neighbour? Imagine having a boundary dispute with him or a tree branch sticking over his fence?
Nah mate, I just created the Queensland Poetry Festival 21 years ago when the Brisbane Writers’ Festival kicked out all of the local poets from their program, and I directed the QPF for five years – still the longest serving director of the event. Is it any wonder that I am blowing up about this? All up on Saturday night I estimate I had about a minute’s interaction with Stavanger. And now to be treated like some serial pest who invades cricket, horse racing and soccer pitches all the time.
What’s more amusing in these Paradise Poetry Papers is that one of the officers notes that I was ‘loud’ and ‘vocal’ during my extraction, as though making noise while being tossed out for no good reason, is in the police brain synonymous to violent, hey even ‘openly aggressive’ behaviour, possibly even an attempt to resist arrest. Yes I was vocal. On the day I was reminded of that scene in Hamlet in the last act, when Hamlet stabs Claudius and the dying king yells out, “Defend me friends!” but no one moves to help him. Yes, I did try to attract the attention of the fifty or so eyewitnesses, guest poets, and punters gathered around the book table. Who wouldn’t in that abusive situation. What? Did Stavanger & Co. really think I was going to go ‘quietly into that goodnight?
I said something like this, “Hey everyone, I’m being evicted from the QPF for no good reason. Who’s going to help me?” Did I expect a blockade of the centre’s doors by poets willing to defy the authorities and put their lives in the line? No one moved – people were kind of shocked I suppose. Then I appealed to poets personally to intervene. “Maxine [Beneba Clarke], Tony [Birch], Michelle [Cahill], Jonathon [Hadwen]!” Three of them had just come from a panel where they talked about poetry as political resistance, so I was betting on them putting their money where their mouth is. I will always remember the many people who turned away from the scene embarrassed by the situation, by me standing there with guards gripping my arms. By confrontation with authority no doubt. Those poets who could not meet my eyes and looked elsewhere. How easily do we become complicit in wrong-doing. How easy was it for the Nazis to do the terrible things they did, because of the complicity of good people who just stood there and did nothing to stop injustice. Only two festival attendees moved to enquire why I was being put out – Tony Birch and Matt Stein. Tony was intercepted by Anne Te Whiu and obviously told some bullshit about me threatening her partner. Matt accompanied me outside but was soon told to ‘piss off’ by the ‘polite’ officers. As was some old guy in a electric wheelchair who just happened to roll up at the same time to where we were gathered outside on the footpath. Now that was weird. Must have been the same officer who called me a ‘fucking comedian’ after I said they’d all end up as characters in one of my poems some day.
Stavanger’s reaction was completely paranoid and over the top. What, I go from written criticism of the festival on my blog, to violent agitation on the front lines of the poetry festival in a night? Maybe I should have just chained myself to the front doors of the Judith Wright Centre to get my message about his nepotistic programming decisions out there hey? Next time I’ll take some placards with me. My punishment didn’t really fit the supposed crime. I just find it very sad indeed that he’s basically lied to everyone, and seriously exaggerated my actions that night to the QPS (the bloody police), the Management Committee of the QPF and to Arts Queensland. This just proves that I was tickling his ribs with those accurate blogpost bouncers I’d been hurling down at his poor programming form for the past year.
All I can say is that these reports of my ‘openly aggressive’ behavior that night are pretty exaggerated, biased and politically-motivated as a means to shut my criticisms of Stavanger’s direction of the festival down. Imagine if Anthony Lawrence and John Kinsella started raining blows on each other again under his management? We’d have to call the cops and have them arrested for sure. Imagine what Bukowski would have made of this storm in a tea-cup…er… whiskey bottle.
Democracy should be the right to criticise and converse without the fear of heavy-handed authority, reprisal or removal right? Right? I just hope the new director of the 2018 Queensland Poetry Festival is not one of his stooges who will just replicate this new QPF hegemony of poor programming decisions, amateurism, marginalization of older, regional, older women and respected Queensland poets, blatant lies for political purposes and now use of the state’s security apparatus to shut down free debate.
And I haven’t even told you about the worst thing that he did that Sunday. But that’s another story….