2017 QPF Program launch

2017 QPF FRIDAY

So, I went to the 2017 Queensland Poetry Festival program launch at Gilimbaa headquarters last night and the first person I ran into was David Stavanger just inside the front door. “David,” I said, as he quickly fled my presence into the backroom busy preparing his launch speech or on some other such pretext. The next person I saw was Sam Wagan Watson who broke the awkwardness as he offered me a sip of spicy rum from his silver hip flask.

So I hung around Sam mostly, and Liam Ferney who turned up to support Michael Farrell’s pre-launch reading of poems from his next book out in November with Giramondo. Stuart Cooke was there too fresh from organizing a literary environment conference on the Gold Coast. Ross Clark looking dapper in his retro blue, pin-striped suit complete with an ironed on quaver on his lapel was also there representing the significant history of Queensland poetry and this 20 year old event – like the ghost of Christmas past who has seen it all and knows the truth about things. Ross has had over 400 individual poems published in a significant writing career stretching from the 1980s, yet I can’t remember the last time he read at the festival.

So I had some allies amongst the 80 or so younger, inner-city, arty, hipster type dudes and dudettes who turned up to celebrate this year’s program. Hell, one of this year’s young queer guest poets was wearing a poncho channeling either The Mighty Boosh circa 2004 or Clint Eastwood in his spaghetti westerns. It did feel a little bit like a Mexican stand-off at times to me. At one point I was talking a bit too loud during the hip-hop act (he goes for Port Adelaide btw) and one of the co-directors stalked across the room to shut the door in my face, but I acquiesced and was silenced.

So, the speeches were performed, sponsors thanked, Stavanger was even a bit teary-eyed lamenting about the emotional toll festival organisation takes on the human soul; said how QPF operated on exactly 1.5 positions compared to the Brisbane Writers’ Festival which has substantially more arts workers (and dollars?). Ironically, the new director of the BWF seems to have the same problem as QPF does with the old Brisbane cultural cringe syndrome, both flooding their festivals with interstate imports at the expense of local writers (some even with published books out this year). There was also an attempt to smooth over the lack of established Queensland poets’ inclusion in QPF, when Stavanger stressed that the festival was grooming the next generation of Queensland poets, establishing a legacy of looking ahead. That’s all fine, but if there are no mentors for the next generation to learn from, then how can you guarantee that you are establishing anything worthy in the future? I’m sure this is how totalitarian states justify their programs of future development too, (sic North Korea) caught in their terrible conundrum of having to control the flow of information to prop up their tyranny, yet knowing that the only way to get ahead is to share new ideas amongst their population.

The honourable Jen Howard Member for Ipswich and Assistant Minister for The Arts was also present to speak on behalf of the Queensland State government’s role in fostering the QPF. I had a nice little chat to the Honourable Member after the speeches; she knows me from Ipswich/teaching at IGS/reading poetry and I invited her to my gig at the Secret Garden on the 8th September. You know you’ve made it in the politics of poetry and power, when you can say to the great unwashed, “My car is here”.

There was a bit more hip-hop and music to end with I guess, because these art-forms are becoming a mainstay of the QPF ethos, so there was no real surprise there. I also congratulated the Reverend Hellfire on his Paul Sherman Community Poetry Award win and said to him that I hoped his time in the light would not be as controversial as mine has been!

I must say though, that I am a bit confused by the 2017 QPF program. The little blue book released last night comprises of 18 biographies resplendent with cool black and white photos of who I guess the QPF team consider to be the superstar poets at this year’s festival – Joy Harjo, Courtney Sina Meredith, Ali Cobby Eckermann, Tusiata Avia, Tony Birch, Hera Lindsey Bird, Mark Doty, Quinn Eades, The Bedroom Philosopher (with cat ears like the anime/manga folk wear), Andy Jackson, Luka Lesson & Kahl Wallis, Michael Leunig, Patricia Lockwood, Omar Musa, Ben Salter, Sarah Holland-Batt, Maxine Beneba Clarke, and three international poets from WrICE. Then, the rest of the booklet consists of the other guest poets’ names dumped in a block of names from Thursday through to Sunday between 9.30/10am – 9.30/10pm in no discernible listed events. It’s a lump sum of poets!

I find this treatment of the rest of the guest poets odd, when you have local,  interstate and international poets of the calibre of Jennifer Maiden, Michelle Cahill, Paul Hetherington, Eileen Chong, Ian McBryde, Lionel Fogarty, Christian Bok, Brentley Frazer, Chloe Callistemon, Nathan Shepherdson, Uncle Herb Wharton, Ali Alizadeh, Kit Kelen, Derek Motion, Caitin Maling, Kerry Loughrey and Toby Fitch performing in this year’s festival. Hopefully their biographies will appear magically on the website, along with in what gigs they are actually connected with, as this important information is also missing.

On the QPF website there is another schedule document that gives information on the actual programmed events and times, however most of these events don’t have who is actually on in these reading and panel sessions. (See the example of Friday’s festival program above). I don’t understand why these two strangely conflicting programs just weren’t meshed into the one comprehensive document? Maybe that’s coming on the website? So, I don’t have any idea who is on the Deep North: Poetry Reading from 1-2pm, or on the Seeds: Eco Poetry Panel from 3-4pm on Friday? Is it a lucky dip perhaps? Does the audience take their pick out this mass of poets and run with it?

Oh, on a personal note, there is a reading for the Puncher and Wattman Contemporary Australian Poetry: 1990-2015 anthology, but as I found out from Liam last night – he and Bronywn Lea and Sarah Holland-Batt (most of the Queensland contributors) are reading, but not yours truly! It seems whistle-blowing or just living in a democracy that gives you the right to criticize an event that uses public funds, warrants you a death-card! Is this some kind of weirdly perverse, reverse McCarthyism I wonder? Where the left is now acting like the right and blacklisting anyone on the left if they speak out? Or do they think that I am right-wing and they’re justified in their treatment of me? Hadley and Rose did refer to me as a racist earlier this year, so maybe they do? Funny though, how one of my Indigenous Year 12 students is writing an autobiographical story about the night I talked him out of committing suicide, when I found him sitting on the window ledge of the boarding tower, five stories up.

Another concern of mine is that out of the 100+ artists (not poets you mind) featured in the 2017 event, by my count only 15 are from Queensland. And maybe only 2-3 of these are from regional Queensland. Wait. Isn’t this the Queensland Poetry Festival? Don’t other literary festivals in every other state usually fill the majority of their programs with writers from their own home state? Can you imagine a literary event in Sydney having more Queensland writers in it than NSW writers? I suspect that this is a trend that has been growing over you guessed it, the last two years since the two co-directors have taken artistic control of the QPF. What next? Ten in the 2018 festival? And I’m supposed to be the only cranky, mad, white, hetero, middle-aged, male Queensland established poet who cares about this disturbing phenomenon!

The night ended with Sam, Liam and myself going to dinner with Michael, Stuart and two other academic mates. I had another swig of spicy rum to assuage the chill winter wind. A troop of the other camp (the Loyalists) came in (Burton, Pound, Shepherdson, et al), but left rather quickly. Maybe they just ordered takeaway? Chloe Callistemon came in a bit later and sat at our table; a sign of fraternity? Has she joined the resistance?

Go see her. She’s in the festival. She’s a great poet. I will be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Philosophy of Cartoons and Comedy Cats at a Poetry Festival

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A feral cat and a bilby that have died from laugher at the QPF

 

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.

 

Love Letter to Professor Brian Cox

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Dear Professor Brian Cox,

I have an absolute man-crush on you. I am not ashamed to say that I love you and what you stand for. Although I am a married man with three children and a loving wife, I feel I need to share my thoughts about why I love you so much. My family laugh and roll their eyes whenever I mention your name. Whenever I sit alone at night and watch one of your documentaries, or quote one of your lines, my children tease me. They think that my love for you is daft, but I believe that it is pure. As pure as science.

Firstly, I love your mind. It’s the kind of mind that I wish I had, but know that I’ll never have. I don’t have a maths brain you see. I write poetry. I can’t get my head around figures. When I was in grade seven my teacher, Mr Turvey, used to humiliate me in front of the class for my poor maths quiz results. I was the School Captain. I was so frightened of failing each Friday morning test that I resorted to cheating. It didn’t help. Often, there was only the sole Aboriginal girl at the school and I left standing. He said he couldn’t believe that I was the School Captain and he made the Indigenous girl look him in the face. She reacted as if she’d been burnt by boiling water as he forced her to look at him. We were both ashamed. I love you because I know you would never do this to a child. I love you because you inspire children with your words, not destroy them.

I love how you connect the audience with your early awakening of science by sharing your childhood memories. Pictures of supernovae painted onto rock faces in South America that you saw in Carl Sagan’s grand book, ‘Cosmos’, you have gone and seen for yourself, sharing your youthful dreams with us, your adoring viewers. I love it how you are selfless. I love it how we both have kept books from our childhoods that meant something more than we could know. Texts that mattered then and still matter to us now. Mine is, “The Osborne Book of the Future” that my children now pore over, their fingers dog-earing intergalactic space. Sadly it is out of date. Science has caught up with the fantastic concepts of my past. Green cities with lush gardens and solar panelled windows are now commonplace. I point out the ‘future’ technology that has come to pass for my son and daughter, my youthful naivety slipping away into fiction, as their scientific present turns these memories into fact.

Yours with that photo taken by Sagan, of the rock art depicting the last star to die that was seen by human eyes hundreds of years ago in Peru maybe. I admire the pride you felt when you finally saw it with your own eyes, holding up your battered childhood paperback, the page with the photograph open, so that we could see the real and the facsimile that forged your early sense of wonder with the universe. After your rock and roll career that is. That grin of pure joy on your face, a pilgrim’s delight in reaching some holy place only dreamt of in distant legend. That point where childhood fantasy intersects with adult reality. Your smile, the same one you kept as a child in your corduroy pockets, wide as the Milky Way, white teeth twinkling like neutron stars. I love that.

Your love for space and astrophysics has driven me to write poetry about the history of space exploration. I’m writing poems about the Voyager spacecraft drifting out of our solar system like a plastic bottle kidnapped by the ocean’s currents and washed into deep space, from their point of view. The gold record of Earth’s sounds, songs, greetings and images welded to the fuselage, a small round sun glinting as other stars brush it with their faint light; silent as space, only waiting to find the right player to bring our planet to life.

The cicada hum of the cosmos microwave background serenading the frozen, fragile craft. Sagan was clever and left instructions for how to build one and how to find our galaxy, our pale blue dot. He attached a nude poster to its locker room door. He planned ahead. I love that you love what he did, as our tiny probes carry our love out into the vast universe. A single bee making its circuit throughout a field of eternal flowers. The dust of dead stars collecting like pollen on the delicate legs of radar antennae and their titanium exoskeleton.

I love your accent. The way Manchester’s protein gradients have evolved your pronunciation of ‘ing’ words to accelerate last ‘g’ sound. So I love it when you say words like ‘everything’ and ‘something’ in your mesmerising narration. You’ve repopularised the word ‘vast’. I find myself now using ‘vast’ in my own writing. I love how you inspire me more than some Facebook video of cats squeezing into boxes. Although to you, these could be Schrödinger’s cats, neither here, nor there. I want to dedicate a collection of poetry to you. Hopefully the space one, if I ever finish it, as it’s quite vast in scope. I’d love to meet you, book in hand and stare into your eyes, though I feel I would be the first one to lower my lashes; your intensity awes me at times, your passion for logic, and your feverish pursuit of knowledge. I wonder what you’d make of these poems. These inky atoms that bond together on a page and make up my admiration for you. I wonder what you would write if you ever autographed it. When you autograph a table setting with your calculations in some hot café outside a desert, I wish that I could understand them. I wish I could send you this love letter as an equation that you’d use as an analogy for some point about the gravity of my love.

See, I love the way you illustrate points about the universe using sauce bottles and sandcastles. You treat me as a layman and I love you for that, because I am one. I love it how you don’t make me feel ashamed for not knowing things. You’d never make me stand up in front of a class and be humiliated. You don’t talk down to me, but always up. I don’t often understand things of a scientific nature, but you make me feel as though I could. Then there was that time that your coffee cup was not an analogy for anything, not a planet or a distant star or molecule, it was just a lukewarm cup of Jo. Your ironic wit and the liquid’s heat radiating out into space. I loved that.

Finally, you comfort me when I think about my own inescapable death. You reassure me that I won’t truly die in a physical sense. That although my body will break down, my atoms – the star stuff you call it, will be recycled by the universe. I am comforted when you say that my atoms are eternal and that I will live on in other forms of matter – trees, soil mainly, but maybe even in stars that have not yet been born. We were all born when a star died two suns ago. You make me feel that my death will be something worthwhile, something material, that I will give back the thoughts of the universe given. I love you for that. It softens my father’s blow when I was eight, the same age my son is now.

I guess it’s safe to love you from a distance. I’m 45 years old and no longer have any close male friends. They have all drifted away like asteroids bunted from Jupiter’s gravitational belt. I haven’t spoken to my best friend for six years now. I don’t call up anyone on the phone. Texts are rare. Facebook comments rarer still. I am the distant Andromeda galaxy to their Milky Way. I have become insular, a bit down, and talk to no one about my emotional state. I act out. My wife hates that about me. Calls it my ‘stupid country ways’ which incidentally I’m going to call my new and selected poems. I talk to you in my mind’s eye though, almost like an imaginary friend. I love you because you accept me for who I am without ever knowing me. You do not judge, but weigh up the evidence. I love the good scientist in you.

If only you knew that I existed, that my love for you was some theory, tested and proven. I know that we’d talk planets and poetry and childhood and space and dying and atoms and red shift galaxies. I now know that love is faster than the speed of light.

There are only two things that are infinite; the universe and love. You make both possible.

 

Yours universally,

B. R. Dionysius

 

Travelling Sleight

 

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“As part of QPF2017 Distant Voices, some of Queensland’s finest will let the light in as part of a special tribute to Leonard Cohen, one of the greatest poets and songwriters the world has ever known. Acclaimed musicians Ben Salter, Ben Ely (Regurgitator), McKisko, Skye Staniford (We All Want To), and electronic trash trio Architects of Sound are joined by local poets Sam Wagan Watson and Pascalle Burton (The Stress of Leisure), as well as Canadian-born Australian poet Ian McBryde, to sift through the fire of some of Leonard Cohen’s finest work. To close the night will be a feature set by Hexham, fronted by seasoned poet and lyricist Max Ryan, showcasing their new album Close and Leaving.”

So in their tradition of broadening Brisbane’s poetic cultural cringe, the Co-directors of the 2017 QPF have released the details of one of their special events – ‘Travelling Light’ – a Leonard Cohen tribute night. Don’t get me wrong – I love the man, his voice, his songs, poetry and novels. He probably deserves a tribute night more than Prince or Bowie did in last year’s festival, however, while QPF favourites Sam Wagan Watson and Pascalle Burton headline for Queensland poets, and the Canadian godfather of Melbourne poetry, Ian McBryde also stars, I must admit that musicians certainly hold the microphone at this gig.

Let’s count them. Ben Salter (1), Ben Ely (2), McKisko (3), Skye Staniford (4), Architects of Sound (7) Pascalle Burton (8), Hexham/Max Ryan (12). Granted Burton and Ryan are at least poets who have published collections and individual poems in journals, yet they still front bands and so can be included in the ‘musicians’ tally. That’s 12 musicians to 3 poets, who will be paid for their cutting edge musical renditions of ‘So Long Maryanne’ and ‘Sisters of Mercy’ out of grant money allocated to poets.

Furthermore, and this is where it all gets a bit cringy, we have another famous, dead international star/artist/poet/songwriter/musician, whose life and works will be celebrated in Queensland at the Judith Wright Centre for Contemporary Arts, and this year another iconic celebrity will drop dead (Madonna maybe? Heaven forbid Mick Jagger?) and then there’ll be another tribute night in 2018. You can see the inevitable programming pattern like Macbeth did, stretching all the way forward to the ‘crack of doom’.

Soooo, we can’t celebrate the life and works of a dead Australian poet at the Queensland Poetry Festival? Australian poets just aren’t that famous I guess. Not cool enough perhaps? Never mind about educating the wonderful new audience that has been attracted to the QPF by all the fab musical acts and slam poetry, about the great Australian poetry legacies of Kath Walker, Bruce Beaver, Dorothy Porter, J.S. Harry, Michael Dransfield, Dorothy Hewitt, Francis Webb, Gwen Harwood, John Forbes, Charles Buckmaster, Martin Johnston, Philip Hodgins, Judith Wright and Dimitris Tsaloumas, or about the aesthetic differences between poetry and song.

I’m sure this event will attract an appreciative audience who know nothing about contemporary Australian poetry, or contemporary poetry for that matter, and be a great success riding on the coattails of another dead music immortal.

 

 

Distant Voices Choking

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“In 2017 QPF moved to a new model of programming, with more curatorial artist invitations whilst still maintaining an open Expressions of Interest (EOI) process. QPF now engages volunteer Program Advisors to independently assess all EOI’s, as well as making program and artist suggestions. This year’s Program Advisors were poets Matt Hetherington, Rebecca Jessen, Stuart Barnes (Tincture Poetry Editor), Ellen van Neervan, and Eleanor Jackson (Peril Magazine & Stella Prize Board Member.)”

So this passage is from the revamped QPF website (About) section which explains an apparent new model of programming for future Queensland Poetry Festivals. I am wondering what exactly a ‘more curatorial artist invitation’ is? Are the Co-directors now going to hand pick some poet, artist, musician mates to curate sessions within the festival? Are these to be musical acts? Spoken word extravaganzas? Multidisciplinary events? What is the brief? It is all extremely vague and the lack of transparency around the new changes and lack of information about how this new model will work, should be rather disconcerting for poets and writers not aligned to the Brisbane spoken word hegemony.

Also disconcerting is the assumption from the Co-directors that ‘volunteer Program Advisors’ [independently] assess all EOI’s. I’m not sure how this process is really ‘independent’ considering Hetherington, Jessen and Jackson are (ex) members of the QPF programming committee and so are not really independent from the festival programming bias towards music, performance poetry and spoken word pushed forward by the two Co-directors over the last two years. What are they supposed to be independent from? Payment for their services?

It also begs the question as to what exactly Stavanger and Te Whiu do now in their roles as Co-directors of the festival (and how much they are paying themselves per year from the $360,000 in operational funding from Arts Queensland – not that we will ever know given that it is a closed membership incorporated association and only the arts accountant Brian Tucker and the QPF Board will probably ever know) given that the majority of the festival programming appears to be now managed and selected by unpaid volunteers and that the new Program Coordinator, Culver is responsible for the nuts and bolts admin stuff like gaining sponsorship, booking flights, hotels and printing programs.

It’s also interesting to note that the relatively new Queensland poet, Stuart Barnes who launched his debut poetry collection at the festival last year, and who also appeared at Riverbend Poetry Series this year, is now both a judge of the 2017 Arts Queensland Val Vallis Award and also one of the new Program Advisors for the 2017 QPF. If you’re ‘in’ with the ‘in’ crowd, then I guess the benefits start to roll ‘in’. Makes me wonder how many of the QPF ‘in’ crowd are also regularly published in Tincture Journal that Barnes also edits. Keep it in the family I suppose. I have nothing personal against Barnes, I just find it strange that someone with barely a debut poetry collection behind them winds up being a judge of a major national poetry competition, so soon, is all.

Distant voices should be choking in rage, at what again appears to be nothing more than blatant programming nepotism and branch-stacking on behalf of Stavanger and co. to control what is now a very lucrative little cash cow for some very amateur spoken word artists and musicians, who once upon a time, would not even have been heard at Australia’s premier poetry festival.

 

 

The Currency of Treachery

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Reading at Dusan Bojic’s house party in 2017.

So, my demise as a recognized Queensland poet probably began in 2013 with the Graham Nunn poetry plagiarism controversy, when I criticized him during the Facebook exchange that took place between his supporters like David Stavanger and Nerissa Rowan and his attackers like Anthony Lawrence and Ira Lightman. From memory I said something on Facebook to the extent that his poetry career was over and probably expressed similar shock and outrage like most of the hard-working and non-plagiarist poets expressed during that phenomenon.

Coincidently in 2013, his wife Julie Beveridge became the programming manager of the ‘Brisbane Writers Festival’, where Nunn was a guest that year as well. She then became the Director of the BWF in 2015 until recently in 2016 when she moved on from that event amidst the Lionel Shriver opening festival speech controversy last year.

Coincidently, the last time I read at BWF was in 2013 at the launch of Inkerman and Blunt’s anthology, ‘Australian Love Poems’, where I read my included poem along with other Queensland participants including Graham Nunn no less. As for a feature spot at BWF, I’d have to go way back to a poetry reading I did with Bronwyn Lea I think in 2011 or 2012 for a 10-15 minute representation of my work at Queensland’s premier literary event. So paranoia aside, it’s not a stretch of the imagination to see why I wasn’t included in that event over the five years of Beveridge’s control of the programming. You criticize my husband, you don’t get a gig. I wonder how Anthony fared then?

As for the Queensland Poetry Festival, my last 10-15 minute guest spot was also in 2013, where I read for the very first time on the same bill with Anthony Lawrence. Sarah Gory was the QPF Director then, until David Stavanger took the helm in 2015. I did read one poem of Sam Wagan Watson’s and one of my own last year for the “Big Read” Australian Poetry gig, but I believe Toby Fitch had more influence on my inclusion in that event than the current Co-directors did.

As for Brisbane poetry reading guest spots coordinated by the QPF, I read last year at “Couplet” for the first time at the BCC central library courtesy of Stavanger, but prior to that, my last QPF sponsored reading was in 2013 at Riverbend Books. A long time between drinks as they say in cricket. So to summarise, since 2013 I’ve had;

  1. one poem read at BWF in 2013.
  2. a 15 minute reading at QPF in 2013.
  3. a 15 minute reading at Riverbend Books in 2013.
  4. one poem read at QPF in 2016.
  5. a 15 minute reading at Couplet in 2016.

So, one reading a year practically, since 2013 which doesn’t sound so bad does it? Or what the fuck are you complaining about you angry middle-aged white man when many of your poetry peers from the 90s and the 2000s also suffer from a lack of recognition in their own home town and state in these same festivals, anthologies and poetry projects. You are not alone.

However, now that I have been embroiled in another heated FB exchange about the direction of the QPF in late 2016, and have been a very verbal critic of Stavanger’s programming direction over the last two years that he has co-directed the Queensland Poetry festival, I am wondering if I am about to enter another five years of ostracism and tokenism in my own home state of Queensland.

So why do I feel like the ‘bad guy’ when I turn up to poetry gigs in Brisbane, when all I have done is to question the integrity, quality and balance of poetry in the Queensland scene that has been scandalized by; Nunn’s (Mr. Poetry’s) ‘currency of treachery’ as Lawrence put it, as a poet, publisher, QWC ‘mentor’ and QPF director from 2004-2007; Stavanger’s strange programming decisions like including Clive Palmer in QPF 2015 and programming non-poets in the Brisbane Poetry Map project, as well as his emphasis on programming musicians and amateur performance/slam poets in the QPF; the clique of performance poet ‘friends’ who give themselves all the poetry work in Brisbane; and a poetry gerrymander where only a few ‘select’ high profile poets make the national grade as representatives of ‘Queensland’ poetry.

I love the irony. The Queensland poetry scene I helped to create, now turns it back on me and sees me as some kind of throw-back threat to ‘the good old days’. All I have done is post on this blog and write one letter to the programming committee. I have not written to the Australia Council or to Arts Queensland or to the Premier/Arts Minister complaining about QPF’s direction and programming. I hope we can sort this out amongst ourselves,but it looks like lines have been drawn in imaginary sand.

So when I rock up to the first Riverbend Poetry Series reading this year, I am routinely ignored by the self-same clique of friends, committee members and amateur poets in charge of all things poetry in Queensland at the moment – Stavanger, Te Whiu, Burton, Hadley, Rose, Jessen, Neerven, Barnes et al. Nathan Shepherdson who collaborates with many of these people manages an awkward hello. Ron? from speedpoets very aware of the controversy pats my arm sympathetically. I went to support Liam Ferney and Carmen Leigh-Keates because they are quality poets who deserve their place in the contemporary poetry community and have the publications to back it up.

They were excellent, but then I had to endure amateur, audience-interactive performance poetry from some slam winner and post-Plathian centos – (or I’ve run out of things to say myself, so I’ll cut together famous poets’ words to appear clever). In my book, a breath away from Nunn’s ‘currency of treachery’.

I’ve put in my EOI for the 2017 Queensland Poetry Festival, an event I started 20 years ago, when the Brisbane Writers’ Festival governed by Stuart Glover ousted local poets from their program completely. All I see are modern comparisons to the situation two decades ago. People say to ignore what is going on with the QPF and if I don’t like it, then start up my own reading that suits my understanding of quality and balance. But that’s a compromise I am not willing to make.

I may cut a lonely figure at these Brisbane poetry readings now, but I know that I am not alone in my concern for the future of the QPF and that many local, regional and national poets are also worried at Stavanger’s attempts to build new audiences for poetry at the expense of quality, integrity and balance in the programming. I guess we’ll all see his response to this criticism at the QPF program launch in a few months time.

Until then, I will just continue to write and publish and gnaw away at the those greater mysteries of the universe.

 

 

 

Dead Letter Office

24 February 2017

 

Mr B.R. Dionysius

38 Paluna Street

Riverhills QLD 4074

 

Dear Mr Dionysius

Queensland Poetry Festival Inc. (QPF) – Programming

Thank you for your letter of 3 February 2017. We appreciate your enthusiasm and interest in the Queensland Poetry Festival QPF).

The management committee considered your letter at its last meeting on 10 February 2017.

QPF’s objective is to present and promote poetry in all its forms. Our current festival C0-Directors are engaged to help QPF achieve this objective and, in particular, develop innovative and entertaining programming for the main festival and other QPF events.

Each year QPF seeks to balance the pull of its varied goals. QPF wishes to continue to support the many and diverse poetry communities and recognizes the festival is an important opportunity for poets to show case their work. QPF also wishes to diversify its audience, continue to increase attendance at the festival, and maintain and grow the support of its partners and funders.

Thank you again for your letter. We encourage you to submit an expression of interest for this year’s festival.

Yours sincerely

 

Tina Radburn

Chair

Queensland Poetry Festival Inc.

Open Letter to Live Poets

Paul Sherman Award

Queensland Poetry Festival

Level 2, State Library of Queensland Cultural Centre

Stanley Place South Brisbane 4101, Queensland.

03/02/2017

 

Dear QPF Programming Committee,

Firstly, please forgive this rather old-fashioned manner that I am using to communicate with you, the members of the QPF programming committee, but it seems to me that there is no other official access to your ears alone except by letter.

You may or may not be aware of the great Queensland poetry Facebook debate that raged over the 2016 Christmas period for about three weeks, instigated by an article I wrote for my WordPress webpage entitled, “Notorious Q.P.F.”. In that article I spoke about some reservations I have about certain aspects of the Queensland Poetry Festival programming over the last two years, and where the festival is headed under the leadership of the current co-directors.

After more than 230 comments by 30+ poets from both Queensland and interstate, it seems that I am not alone in my concerns that the QPF has some programming challenges. Here are some of those concerns from the thread summarised for your benefit.

  1. There is concern from some poets that the QPF is becoming too performance based in its programming to the detriment of page poetry.
  2. There is concern that the quality and balance of the programming is suffering from this overbalance in aesthetics towards performance poetry and music, which prioritises poetry as ‘entertainment’ rather than poetry as a profound form of social capital.
  3. There is concern that aspects of the QPF programming aim to be sensationalist and appear to be included for the sake of the festival’s publicity. An example of this type of sensationalism would be Clive Palmer’s inclusion in the 2015 festival.
  4. There is concern that there is a lack of serious intellectual/academic engagement with poetry as an art form, because of a lack of programmed panel discussions.
  5. 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.
  6. Added to that point, some local Queensland poetry publishers feel that they have been excluded from the festival for some time.
  7. Regional poets expressed concern over a lack of representation in a festival that seems to program most of its Queensland poets from South-East Queensland.
  8. There is concern from established and older Queensland poets, including older women poets about a lack of representation in the festival.
  9. There is concern that talented and successful Queensland page poets, some, winners of major national literary awards are being under-utilised in the festival program, when they are included.
  10. 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.
  11. 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 democracy is a problem.

I hope these concerns might go some way to influencing future programming decisions by the QPF over the foreseeable future. There are plenty of good things that the festival is currently engaged in, like increasing the exposure of Indigenous poetry through the 2016 focus on First Nations’ writing, however, there are other concerns that need to be addressed if the festival is to maintain its status as the premier poetry festival in Australia.

Happy programming for 2017!

Kind regards,

 

B.R. Dionysius

 

 

 

 

Notorious Q.P.F

As the inaugural recipient of the Paul Sherman Community Poetry Award, I think it is my duty to share some candid thoughts about the direction of the Queensland Poetry Festival – Australia’s premier poetry festival for 20 years!

The Co-Directors of the Queensland Poetry Festival posted an article on Facebook about Tupac Shakur’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame next year, stating that he was, ‘undoubtedly one of the most influential poets in the last 25 years.’ This is an interesting statement to let loose on the world, because it says more about the programming agenda of the two Co-Directors of the QPF than it does about Pac’s worthiness to be inducted as the sixth hall of fame rap star.

This seemingly innocuous post speaks volumes about an anxiety that has been developing in my gut over the last two years about the content and agenda of the Queensland Poetry Festival. Think back to the 2015 festival and the inclusion of the then billionaire Senator Clive Palmer. Now as a marketing strategy it did wonders for the festival’s publicity, even making the news on TV, however it begged the question, did Palmer with his single collection of juvenilia deserve to be in the QPF at all?  No. A thousand times no. On his publication record – no. On his performance record – no. Not even his twerking was that good to be included. On his ideological grounds – no. This bastard wants to dig up half of the Bimblebox nature reserve in Queensland for his China First coal mine, destroying the habitat of the endangered black-throated finch. So, he was just there for sensationalism; like a bunch of slam poets getting nude.  Quality. My major concern is about some of the dubious quality of the work being programmed at the expense of serious poets who deserve to be in this festival far more than the likes of Clive Palmer.

Ominously, it seems that over the last two years, the festival has become much more performance oriented than literary oriented. Hell, there was so much hip-hop, spoken word, music and performance poetry that I had to walk out of a Friday session because the international performance poet was becoming incoherent on stage, dropping papers while mumbling through their life’s ups and downs and broken relationships. Performance poetry – the reality TV of the writing world. Or as Bowie put it, “Making love to his ego.”

Okay, there were still influential local, interstate and international literary poets in the festival program – Tracey K. Smith, Chloe Wilson, Stuart Cooke, Bonny Cassidy and Brentley Frazer, being standouts, but they seemed to be mostly buried in the middle of Saturday’s and Sunday’s day programs, while the juicy night time events went to spoken word artists, storytellers, comedians, the Australian Poetry Slam – Qld final, assorted poetry-musicians paying homage to dead rock stars or established folk/country/singers. Sure they all have poetic souls like Tupac, but is the QPF a music festival? A performing arts festival with a bit of page poetry thrown in to keep the arts funding bodies happy? The below list is taken from this year’s festival website and emphasizes the performance orientation of these night gigs focused on being entertaining and popular ‘in a live context.’ Do the Co-Directors not believe in the power of the poem to stand by itself anymore?

KALYAKOORL : LITERARY CABARET
MANY WATERS RISE : LYRICS & POETRY PANEL
ARCHIE ROACH IN CONCERT
STEVEN OLIVER, SINGLE     **SOLD OUT**
AUSTRALIAN POETRY SLAM – QLD FINAL
KURILPA : STORYTELLING SALON
SENTENCED TO LIFE-CLIVE JAMES
IVAN COYOTE LIVE
RAW STYLES: UNDERGROUND HIP HOP 

Over the five years that I directed the festival, we made sure that our interstate and overseas guest poets were programmed on one of these popular prime night spots, and we programmed heaps of local and interstate page poets and finished off these events – yes with a band or two. Balance. It was a balanced program. Why should musicians get the best night time programming at the expense of hard working poets? Isn’t this Australia’s premier poetry festival? When questioned on FB about their programming content being weighted towards music and performance the Co-Directors responded with,”What we won’t do is limit the range of what contemporary poetry is today in a live context. Multiple forms of poetry were programmed this year, and QPF intends to continue this approach into the future.”

Well I beg to differ. These ‘multiple forms of poetry’ seemed to be all geared towards performance. My claim is that the quality of the festival is suffering from too much emphasis on performance poetry and music. Here’s a case in point about ‘limiting the range of contemporary poetry.’ Liam Ferney, a gifted Queensland page poet (and now goose hunter) whose last collection Boom was shortlisted for the NSW Kenneth Slessor Poetry Prize and whose recent 2016 poetry  collection, Content was shortlisted for the Judith Wright Calanthe Poetry Prize, was relegated to a quick ten minute spot in the festival program just before the launch of Hunter Publication’s Anthology of Contemporary Australian Feminist Poetry. In festivals past, a good award-winning local poet of Ferney’s calibre who had a new book out, would have received a 30-45 min spot for a dedicated launch. In fact, when I directed the festival, this was the primary programming consideration, as we believed that promoting a new book of poetry (either from Queensland or interstate poets) was the most important aspect of the poetry festival, because of the limited distribution of poetry collections in book shops. Sadly, book launches at the festival are almost a thing of the past, with only UQP’s Thomas Shapcott winner receiving this rare promotion every year with regularity.

The programming emphasis is definitely on performance as opposed to the literary/page. The lack of book launches and the entertainment prejudice of these ‘multiple forms of poetry’ sic spoken word events is evidence of this claim. Indeed, the most literary events of the 2016 Queensland Poetry Festival which actually discussed the nuances of contemporary poetry practice in panel sessions were largely due to the efforts of Toby Fitch’s and Australia Poetry’s Australian Poetry Festival revolving door act.

It’s almost as if the current Co-Directors are somehow confounded by the poetry book. Or that they are deliberately creating a binary between the contemporary Australian poetry publishing scene as opposed to the Australian spoken word scene. Just go back and look at this year’s program and at the amount of performance oriented events compared to page/literary events. Just count how many times the words, hip-hop, spoken word artist, lyrics, slam,  performance and musician are mentioned. Then count how many times published poet or award-winning poet is mentioned.

These should not be two siblings fighting over their Christmas presents. They should grow up and share. The Co-Director’s said I could have my opinion. I do.

 

 

 

 

Data on the Download

  • austlit

In this statistics driven world, here are some figures from the Austlit database of Australian writers’ publications. The first figure is for overall text publications, while the second figure is for poetry publications specifically. Granted, the good people of Austlit don’t always find every publication, review or award that an author receives and actually need writers to email them with publication details to make their listing even more accurate.

Below are the 8 Queensland poets chosen by Sarah Holland-Batt for this year’s 2016 The Best Australian Poems ranked according to their number of poetry publications. All excellent and award-winning poets and Holland-Batt should be applauded for ensuring this significant Queensland representation. I’ve included Felicity Plunkett and Tom Shapcott in this list; Shapcott because his genesis was in Queensland and Plunkett because of her publication and editorial role with UQP. Of course quality overrides quantity every time, and as Holland-Batt has also pointed out  – there are always more than 100 best poems published in any one year and editors are restricted to this number.

I’m fine with not being included for the last three years in this anthology; living in Queensland, away from the editorial, academic, generational and cliquey powerhouses of Sydney and Melbourne, I’m sure that Geoff Page doesn’t even know who the fuck I am. I’ve never been published in ABR either. Or in Quadrant. Or in Jacket.I’ve learnt to be patient, resilient and just to keep on writing, as without a doubt, existing on the margins and in the regions of the art form is a serious impediment to national reputation and publication, unless you’re playing the scene I suspect.

*Thomas Shapcott – 1520 (1053 poetry)

*M.T.C. Cronin – 943 (898 poetry)

*Lionel Fogarty – 637 (634 poetry)

*Liam Ferney – 149 (140 poetry)

*Jaya Savige – 157 (115 poetry)

*Bronwyn Lea – 130 (108 poetry)

*Felicity Plunkett – 166 (46 poetry)

*Ellen Van Neerven – 30 (14 poetry)

Furthermore, I have included the list of the Queensland poets published in ABR’s Queensland – ‘States of Poetry’ project edited by Felicity Plunkett. The 5 italicized poets have had poetry collections previously published by UQP. The double asterisked poets are included in both anthologies. Felicity Plunkett, herself a UQP poet has been the UQP poetry editor since 2010. Three of the selected poets had new UQP collections out this year. No conflict of interest here I guess in cross-promoting authors but, was this anthology really the ‘state of poetry’ in Queensland, or more the ‘state of UQP poetry’ in Queensland?

** M.T.C. Cronin – 943 (898 poetry)

**Lionel Fogarty – 637 (634 poetry)

Stuart Barnes – 123 (112 poetry)

Sarah Holland-Batt – 108 (96 poetry)

Nathan Sheperdson – 54 (52 poetry)

**Ellen Van Neerven – 30 (14 poetry)

So according to this comparison, when Felicity Plunkett edits an anthology she chooses Sarah Holland-Batt, and when Sarah Holland-Batt edits an anthology she chooses Felicity Plunkett. Poetry editors keeping things tight. Both chose Lionel Fogarty and Ellen van Neerven, supporting established and emerging Indigenous poets from Queensland which is a good call. I have no beef with that.. At best, however on paper this looks to be a homogenization of Queensland poetry , a select few being promoted, almost a closed shop and unless you’ve signed up to the union…..At worst it looks like pure nepotism and favouritism amongst a select coterie of editors and their stable of poets.

My bitch is that Queensland poetry is far more diverse in nature than is represented by either of these two new anthologies. Plunkett assured us at the recent 2016 Queensland Poetry Festival that there will be a second round of the ‘States of Poetry’ series for Queensland poets. Holland-Batt assured me that she, ‘excluded many poets who [I] have known in Queensland, including most of the poets recently published with UQP. Hopefully, some of my concerns about inclusion will be addressed in 2017.

Oh, and for the record my publication details are;

B. R. Dionysius – 525 (513 poetry)