We live in a loud world, full of endless distractions and social media feeds clamouring for our attention. In their joint poetry collection, The Silences (Eaglemont Press), Robbie Coburn and Amanda Anastasi explore the idea of silence in all its forms. It is a meditation. Reading through the poems is an exercise in quiet reflection; a chance to journey into an interior world, by way of Robbie’s haunting (and haunted) rural landscapes and Amanda’s domestic surrealism.
The publisher Ian McBryde (himself a poet of merit) has allowed white space around each poem, that forces the reader to sit for a moment with the after image of each work; a perfect embodiment of the theme. Robbie’s cover design of a lone figure leaning into a dense fog is moody and abstract. It is reflective of his poem, Autumn Proverb:
I recalled your ghost, transparent in the open paddock, a thin veil of fog beginning to leak into the frame.
The Owl and Cat was close to the best choice of venue for a book from Shelton Lea’s publisher, Eaglemont Press (now fronted by Ian McBryde). It has a bohemian, dive-bar feeling. The only other obvious choice would have been a pub. Perhaps Shelton would have heckled from his grave if it was in one. There were few antics. The smoking and rabble rousing was outside. But inside Amanda and Robbie had people queuing to sign their books.
The crowd was far from silent. More seating had to be brought in and the crowd had a contingent of westies, still in a celebratory mood after the Bulldogs win.
Hopefully there will come a time when the binary idea of two separate factions fades away. Both Robbie Coburn and Amanda Anastasi are regular readers on stages. They certainly don’t represent the idea of authors locked away in towers and emerging, shading their eyes from that dreaded sunlight. But neither are they the type of poets to flail their arms about and blow their own trumpet in order to win a contest of words.
Anna Forsyth chats to Genevieve McClean from New Zealand ahead of her visit to Melbourne to feature at a range of events in September.
You have an upcoming show, FLOCK coming up for National Poetry Day in New Zealand. How did you get the kernel of the idea for this show?
I’d had a desire for a long time to invite poets to work with a theatrical process. Apart from that, the ideas are all the poets’ own. Even though I am the director, it’s been a very poet-centric process. I imagined all the elements except the poetry as happening in the space. It’s the third time over the last 8 years, that I’ve directed a theatre production across different disciplines that relates to the history of the space that it’s in. I toyed with managing the shape of the poems that came to me, but ultimately, the poems have re-informed the work all over again.
FLOCK is an innovative work. What fascinates you about working across different art disciplines, such as dance, theatre and poetry?
I was always driven by wanting to do the thing that was new. I was introduced to the concept of post modernism at university when I was seventeen. At the time I was living with a blues band in Ponsonby. Thanks to a teacher at Auckland Uni, Roger Horrocks, I entered a contemporary school of thought that looked at original approaches to words across forms. I was delighted, and two years later I was in Dunedin singing in a band and studying theatre and directing and making sets and convincing the band to use more theatrical elements, and experimenting in all directions.
FLOCK, is dance theatre poetry performed by poets. Dance and poetry are actually quite close, closer perhaps that theatre and either form are. Dance is abstract, and allows for the performance to exist in that post structural place where it sets on arriving with the audience. FLOCK is also an opportunity to get a group of poets together. We have created a physical vocabulary be
Girls on Key is a monthly music and poetry event held at Open Studio in Northcote, Melbourne. The focus is on building a platform and creating opportunities for female-identifying and LGBTQI artists, with two or three feature poets at each event. It is an inclusive event that includes an open mic section, open to all genders (as is the audience). It’s a very supportive and encouraging event, where first time and seasoned poets are all welcome. It also acts as a fundraiser for refugee and asylum seeker causes. It can be a space for quiet reflection, but most of all for self-expression in all its colourful and diverse forms. Here is a bit of background about how this event came into being:
I arrived back in Melbourne from Auckland in 2012 after a few years away. Being a musician, I immediately moved to one of the suburbs soaked in live gigs most nights of the week; Northcote. I had run fundraising poetry and music gigs back in New Zealand and I was keen to get back into it. Open studio was the first venue we booked and it was just the right vibe for the Kerouac Effect, with its French/bohemian style and intimate vibe (and delicious crepes!). We matched up poets and musicians and it was a delightful night.
At that stage I was surrounded by amazing, talented women who played piano and wrote their own songs and I thought it would be great to run a monthly showcase, hence the name “Girls on Key”. It was literally Women who played piano. Because I wasn’t as well-connected to the Melbourne music scene as I used to be, it was a small gig, with limited success in terms of bringing a crowd out on a week night. In 2014, I decided to run a poetry special of the event and, surprise, surprise, Melbournians really enjoy their poetry and spoken word, so the gig started to grow. People seemed to be on board with the idea of contributing to refugee causes through the door charge.
The philosophy behind my fundraising gigs was to always support the arti
As Canberra poet, Melinda Smith takes the floor of the Courthouse, her beer fizzes over. This image could be one that springs to mind for people when they think of poetry in performance: gushing with emotion, theatrical, and often extroverted. Given the theatre surrounds, it would be easy to anticipate this. By the end of the night, one poet did yell, “Now that was intense!” but it was a quiet intensity, springing from the power of the subject matter and heartfelt sentiment, rather than any contrivance of the performance. This was no flash-in-the-pan proto-slam sermon. It felt raw and immediate, aided by the packed audience being so close to the poets, with no stage to act as a barrier.
Only one poet was labeled as a performance poet, Fleassy Malay, who put the audience at ease by joking about having to ‘adjust her breasts’ during the performance. She addressed serious themes, such as racism, identity and inter-generational politics with the deft hand of someone in tune with the way the body can serve the poem. Her movements and character voices never distracted, but drew you in and captivated you. Her love of hip hop came through in her cadence, with its lyrical and engaging style.
Robbie Coburn belied his youth as he tackled the thorny nature of life and love in the Victorian countryside. It was bush poetry with a twist of something bitter and real. It was an interesting juxtaposition of poets overall, which is something La Mama does well. You have the seasoned street poet, Kenneth Smeaton, with his world-weary everyman tales, urban unease nestled in next to Robbie’s rural malaise. It’s interesting for an audience to hear these contrasting environs the poets traverse, including splashes of Canberra and Sydney from Melinda. Perhaps one of the more traditionally accomplished poets of the bunch, her work touches on the personal, but is both witty and touching in turn.
If a poetry reading is a feast for the senses, convener Amanda A