Tag Archives: Graham Nunn reviews QPF 2012

spoken in one strange word 2012: The Sunday Wrap

… and before I can blink the sleep out of my eyes, I am back at The Judith Wright Centre, ready for the double helping of words on offer; Storm and Honey featuring performances from Doubting Thomas & Eleanor Jackson (aka DJ Thought Fox and MC Lady Lazarus) and Andrew Phillips & Tiggy Johnson + the launch of Nicholas Powell’s ‘Thomas Shapcott Award-Winning’ debut collection, Water Mirrors (UQP 2012).

Knowing that I can catch Nick reading later in the day, I opt for Storm and Honey and this is richly rewarded. Thought Fox & Lady Lazarus open up with a performance that has them embodying Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, re-imagining their lives through their own performances and interpretations of interviews and poems, alongside readings from both Plath and Hughes with the most stunning visual imagery creating a swirling backdrop (and later in the day Doubting Thomas is rewarded for his mastery of the poetic film, taking out the QPF Filmmakers Challenge). Thought Fox and Lazarus are captivating on the stage, their interaction crackling with energy. It’s the perfect poetry hair-of-the-dog to get the day kickstarted… intensely dark and joyous and I would kill to watch it all over again.

From there, we are taken on a full 360 degree spin with a life-affirming performance from Phillips and Johnson. They take us into the heart of their families, then skillfully and fearlessly, allow us to experience some of their most intimate moments. The reading is taken from their dual collection, That Zero Year, which I was honoured to write a blurb for. This is what I had to say:

From the sudden weight of Thirteen Weeks to the biting complaints of Fishing, That Zero Year, screams with joy.These poems form a dialogue of love and loss; unpicking stitches in the family weave to welcome us to the bedside table of these most private moments. Here, we witness breath-taking devastation – the missing knee in the chest, the remembered rub of a belly – and wide-eyed wonder – a smile wriggled through to the toes. That Zero Year is an unflinching celebration of breath and blood. Phillips and Johnson know what it is to be alive and we are richer for it.

This is a collection that I strongly recommend you seek out. You can do so by contacting author, Andrew Phillips via his blog. And their reading… earnest, heartfelt, wonderfully human!

So with a buzz in the temples I eagerly take in the opening of Whisper Me Awake. I have the pleasure of catching the majority of Vanessa Page’s reading and she proves just why her work has been shortlisted in the Thomas Shapcott Award in 2011 and 2012. Her voice is assured, her words ringing with the fullness of the heart. If you have not yet acquainted yourself with Vanessa’s work, you can do so here, and believe me… she is a poet to watch!

From here, I am on dad duty (the most wonderful duty in the known universe), so it’s not until the 3:15pm sessions, Through These Paper Walls and Sharp With Sparks, that I get my next poetry fix. And what a fix… first up I take in Robert Adamson’s last reading for the festival. Hearing Robert read is a wonderful experience… his voice, lifts the words gently from page to ear; easy as breathing. Highlight is not even close to describing Robert’s readings… his presence at the festival has had a profound impact on me. Then it’s off to the Theatre to catch the end of Nicholas Powell’s reading and the first half of the man I described as having the best fingernails in poetry, Steve Smart. Nick is dazzingly relaxed while Steve is poised and menacing. It’s a great combination! And then it’s back to the Shop Front to hear Paul Summers, close the session with another rousingly witty reading. His lyricism is sharp and his keen eye for detail takes us into the heat of each moment. Before QPF I was not familiar with Paul’s work… thankfully, I am now.

For me, it’s now a long stint working the book store, where I am fortunate to have incredible conversations with Robert Adamson and Jill Jones. Working the store is a real pleasure and a great chance to connect with many of the festival punters, all of whom are brimming with festival energy.

And then, in what seems an instant, we are all rolling in to the Theatre for the final session of the festival, Evening Draws Back The Sun. There are many stunning performances, but the closing trio of Darkwing Dubs, a.rawlings and Tylea showcase the vastly different styles that QPF so elegantly unites on the same stage.

Dubs is a master of the blackly comic, bringing the room to its knees as he surges through a treasure trove of Saturday morning super heroes and threatens to slap an orangutan in the face; but he can also kick hard… delivering a slap to the senses with a poem that takes a child’s-eye look at domestic violence. a.rawlings then delivers a superb reading from her collection, Wide Slumber for Lepidopterists. Her presence on stage is magnetic, her voice control, thrilling. Having angela with us in Brisbane as Arts QLD Poet-in-Residence for the past two months has been nothing short of inspirational. And then, Tylea hits a big open chord, heavy with delay and sends the most delicious shiver right through to my toes. Like rawlings, she is impossible to look away from… her easy manner and delightful banter (school fetes, jumping castles and sick children) hold the audience captive allowing the emotion of her songs to burst inside us all. Tylea closes the festival by inviting Pascalle Burton on stage, to pay tribute to Yoko Ono. It’s a rush and the perfect way to sing QPF to sleep for another year…

Before I sign off, I have to pay tribute to Sarah Gory, Talina McKenzie and the volunteer committee. I hope you are all, like me, high on festival spirit. QPF is the pinnacle of our poetry community; the fire that brings us all together and I for one, am incredibly proud to have sat by its warmth.

Til next year…

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spoken in one strange word 2012: The Saturday Wrap

The 16th annual QLD Poetry Festival: spoken in one strange word filled the Judith Wright Centre with a sweet rush of language… that language came in the form of poetry, music, film, conversation and community.  From the sparks of Friday night’s showcase, Tongues of Flame, the crowd surged back for the Saturday morning program, which opened with one of my personal highlights, a conversation with 2012 Arts QLD Poet-in-Residence, a.rawlings and Robert Adamson.

The session was titled ‘Since Beginningless Time‘, and in the hour-long conversation, I talked to Robert about his passion for fishing, the Hawkesbury River, birds and Bob Dylan; and to a.rawlings about the language of water, tackling the QLD ornithological lexicon and how she applies the concepts of reduce, reuse, recycle to her work. It was illuminating and both artists were incredibly generous in their responses; Robert happily telling stories,  including one about how, as a boy, he stole a rifle bird from Taronga Zoo to capture its image on paper and how he elaborately cared for it by using a number of electric frying pans to provide heat and humidity in the cage; and a.rawlings playing us a recording of the Coral Sea from her recent trip to Arcadia Bay on Magnetic Island, alongside a recording of a hot spring in Iceland, while talking about the unique quality of their cadence. The hour came and went all too soon, but the large audience that had gathered happily charged off to the bookstore to do some ‘informed shopping’ and then hit the first reading of the day, a session with its title taken from one of Robert’s books, Reading the River.

Reading the River was a celebration of all things Brisbane; a live collage of photographs and poetic snippets swirling on the big screen, while Michelle Dicinoski, Chris Lynch, Carmen Leigh-Keates and Ella Jeffery, read poems from the vast QLD canon (including works by Val Vallis, Jaya Savige, David Malouf, Samuel Wagan-Watson, David Rowbotham, Gwen Harwood and Judith Wright) as well as their own work. It seemed an absolutely perfect way to opening the first full day of readings, grounding us all in the extraordinary beauty of this great city and its almighty river.

From there, I caught the session, Strands on the Pillow, featuring Kathryn Lomer, Ray Liversidge and Nathan Curnow. Kathryn opened with a sequence of poems about some of her favourite places in Tasmania; her eye for natural detail, drawing the whole audience in to her world. After talking with him extensively in the lead up to QPF, it was a great pleasure to hear Ray read from his forthcoming collection, No Suspicious Circumstances; my personal favourite, his poetic portrait of Dylan Thomas. And then, what followed was for me, one of the readings of the festival… Nathan Curnow read a selection of poems from his latest collection, Radar (a two-in-one collection alongside Kevin Brophy published by Walleah Press). Not only was the work incredibly strong, for example…

she leaps like a turtle
swims like a victim
can’t trust herself to float
she throws like a creature who has just discovered
the basic mechanics of their arm

but she delivers babies
and sometimes a baby  comes falling
head-first toward the ground
then she will make that catch
that terrifying catch

she doesn’t know how to drop them

(from the poem, The Midwife)

but he was present in every word… his delivery, the perfect mix of relaxed and confident. It was really something!

Next up, I danced between the two sessions, Run of Verses and An Accidental Grace, taking in Northumbrian come Emu Park resident,  Paul Summers, whose physical energy matched that of his poetry so perfectly; an epic reading from Cameron Hindrum, which brought joy to the words that fill the pages of his debut collection, Private Conversations, which I had the great pleasure of publishing; and from New Zealand, Marty Smith, whose poems kicked as hard as the horses she wrote about. The run between the two rooms was most definitely worth it!

And after a quick stop at the bookstore (the wallet is definitely haemorrhaging), I again made the run between two sessions… starting by diving off The Edge of Chaos, with a superb reading by David Stavanger. No one, and I mean no one, can read a poem and interact with the audience as seamlessly as David does and it is a real pleasure to watch. Then I zipped off to The Phrasebook of Silence to catch the last of Jill Jones, a reading by another of the New Zealand guests, Nicola Easthope, who gave us a big-hearted set of poems about her Orkney Island heritage; and to close a reading from the masterful Robert Adamson. Robert’s work has had a profound impact on me, so to have the opportunity to speak with him and hear him read his work on the weekend was somewhat of a dream come true.

Then it was time to eat… something that is often forgotten when you are being sustained by words… but only food would suffice with the one two punch of A Million Bright Things and Pierce the Salty Darkness looming!

A Million Bright Things has become a QPF institution… a session that showcases one poem from every poet on the program; the ultimate poetic sampler you might say. I have had the immense pleasure of MC’ing this wordy behemoth since its inception back in 2008 and it has become well known as my annual cardio workout!

Tonight’s event had something a little special too, opening with the debut performance of a.rawlings’ Sound Poetry and Visual Poetry Project, Gibber. This was a complete rush… there was a live twitter stream featuring writers from across the globe (including my lovely wife, Julie Beveridge, and past QPF guests, Tim Sinclair and emily XYZ), sound recordings sampling the natural poetics of Queensland’s vast landscape; guest poet, Nicholas Powell reading his poetic response to Gibberbird, Q, Without My Female Typist; local poets, Chloe Callistemon & Tamara Lazaroff sounding off; Maja Jantar collaborating live via skype; and of course, a.rawlings intoning, speaking, gargling, whispering and making an all round glorious cacophony as only she can do! The performance was filmed, so hopefully this appears somewhere soon and when it does, I will be sure to link it.

And then we were into it… the full-on swirl of some 40+ poets, each lighting up the mic with what they do best… and it all happens in just under 90mins. It really is the most amazing high! But the night doesn’t end there!

Its a quick rush to the bar and back into the shopfront space, to catch what is for me, the second highlight of the festival, the session, Pierce the Salty Darkness, featuring Bremen Town Musician and Max Ryan & Where Were You At Lunch. Bremen Town was in a slightly stripped back mode, featuring driving force Marisa Allen on violin and vocals with two different drummers,;the absolute standout, the closing track where Allen makes her violin roar and quiver over the hypnotic drum beat of Mayuresh Sathe.

Then to bring the night to a close, Max Ryan and WWYAL rumble on stage and deliver one of the most rollicking sets ever seen at QPF. The band are fierce, Pete Emptage on bass shaking and hollering like a tasered man, Samaan Fieke squeezing the most out of every guitar string and Kishore Ryan, making the kit sound like thunder; while out front, Max Ryan is in full-throated glory, his words rattling in the four chamber of the audience’s collective heart. The love on stage is big, and throughout the set, they don’t miss a beat, delivering us home with the exquisite beauty of the title track off their debut album, Before We Lose Each Other Again. Their album is going to be on repeat this week, and I have no doubt will make my top 5 of the year!

Singing, ‘Before we lose each other again…’ I walked out into the Valley night, knowing I had witnessed something extraordinary and smiling at the prospect of coming back tomorrow to do it all again!

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