Review: House Red by Di Cousens (Book)

Review by Amanda Anastasi

House Red by Di Cousens

After enjoying Di Cousens’ first collection – the reflective words and stunning photography of Freedom To Be – I did not need much coercion in grabbing her latest offering House Red. The cover is impressively funky and contemporary, and the content twice the size of Di’s modest first collection.

Upon opening the book, the reader is immediately struck by the extraordinary standard of the photography. It is rather like a book-form photographic exhibition, as much as it is a poetry collection. Most of the images feature portions of wall graffiti, Occupy Melbourne camps, close-up shots of bricks and mortar, a letterbox opening, fallen leaves, Brian Ferry in concert – all vivid, striking visuals that compliment the accompanying words.

While the images in Freedom To Be were predominantly majestic shots of India – a meditative document of the author’s travels – the photos in House Red are mostly depictions of Melbourne streets. The final photograph of the Brunswick Hotel is a real ‘coming home’ photo – indeed the home to many spoken word poets, including myself. This collection contains less nature shots (although there are some), and is distinctly more urban and ‘street’ as is the poetry. Yes, I am getting to the poetry!

The book begins with a very anarchic portrayal of urban life with Driving In Bangkok and Stopping In Traffic. Cellular Life, in contrast, depicts the highly structured aspect of the modern world, and the insular existence of this technological age in which we live.

Some poems are short and whimsical like The Price Of Wine, Lost Wisdom, Advice To Politicians and Airport Queue. These little poetic snapshots, while seemingly simple and light on first viewing, grow in resonance and meaning upon re-reading.

If in that moment One thing had changed Everything would h

Where are Australian Poetry?

Op-Ed by Benjamin Solah

I’ve been involved on the ‘Melbourne Poetry scene’ for almost three years now, but have yet to meet someone from Australian Poetry in person, or anyone from its previous organisations that merged together recently.

It’s very unlikely that I missed them because of a lack of attending events. I am prone to become quite obsessed with poetry, attending a lot, sometimes three or four times a week. It could be that there are individuals there but their connection to AP is not obvious or known.

But it is disappointing that an organisation with such a large profile and funding base, as compared to the wider Melbourne poetry scene, seems so disconnected from the grassroots base that attracted me to spoken word poetry in the first place.

I don’t know enough about the ruptures inside the organisation to comment fully on it, but the comments in Crikey that outgoing National Director, Paul Kooperman thought others in the organisation only offered “lukewarm support for poetry slam events” fit with some of my own concerns and experiences in dealing with AP. I think this extends to not just ‘slam events’ the ‘spoken’ scene in general as opposed to page poetry.

AP runs a lot of programs themselves, including the Cafe Poet program, and have a profile that could be put to better use, but there is a notable absence of the major Melbourne poetry events on their calendar. Regular gigs such as Passionate Tongues and the Dan O’Connell do not feature on the calendar, unless individual features contact AP to let them know. Where as in my own experience, getting an event listed requires numerous following up to the point you feel like you’re nagging them. A more proactive approach by Australian Poetry to connecting with the scene, researching into the major events, and giving them more exposure would be most welcome, to support the already existing grassr

Keep Left featuring Sister Zai

Keep Left is the latest regular poetry gig to start in Melbourne. Started by Paulie at Noise Bar last month, the aim is for it to be a space for left-wing, progressive performance art including spoken word, poetry, music, hip-hop, rap and comedy. As Paulie explains on the Facebook group:

Keep Left is an opportunity for radical & progressive poets, musicians and comedians to come together and share their voices on the open-mic, and online. We seek poetry, music and comedy that is politically, socially, economically and environmentally inspired! We welcome new and established performers, students, educators, unionists, blue-collar workers, the unemployed, people from non-English-speaking and migrant backgrounds, Indigenous people, feminists, LGBTI people and people who are differently-abled. Keep Left is about diversity and inclusivity; not homogeneity and exclusivity.

It will now happen on the first Saturday night of each month. The second ever feature is Sister Zai on May 5 from 8pm and will include an open mic that is open to music and comedy as well as poetry. It’s good to see poetry again at Noise Bar, and in the back bar no less. Hopefully it will continue on as the space is great and there seems to be a bit of interest for left-wing focussed events.

About Sister Zai

Sista Zai is a storyteller who uses spoken word to explore the political through her personal and lived everyday experiences. Zai’s social justice work takes place within the Stillwaters Women’s Storytelling Collective, which she founded in 2011 with the intention of making diverse and underrepresented voices and issues heard in the mainstream. Sista Zai is also a radio announcer on 3CR’s Hip Sista Hop show (Monday @ 1pm on 855am), where she showcases music by women and indigenous Australians and a spoken word segment featuring live readings from local poets.