Meeting the Regulars: Eltham Courthouse Readings

Poetry doesn’t just exist in the inner city suburbs of Melbourne, but we have found there a bunch of gigs out there in outer suburbs supported by loyal locals and attended by committed poets who don’t mind a bit of travelling time to polish up that poem before the open mic. One of those is out at Eltham, in a beautiful old courthouse.

Words by Helen Lucas

The Courthouse Reading in the historic courthouse in Eltham has been running now for ten years. Funded by the Shire of Nillumbik, it has become an established reading over its time and has a dedicated group of mainly locals who attend it regularly, but also intrepid devotees who use public transport to get there.

Regular contributor Amanda Anastasi featuring at the Eltham Courthouse. (Photo by Thomas Kent)
Regular contributor Amanda Anastasi featuring at the Eltham Courthouse. (Photo by Thomas Kent)
One of the great things as far as a convenor is concerned is not having to worry about bums on seats, as I know that they will be paid regardless of attendance. The council is committed to the reading, and supports me as convenor.

In 2011, I had an idea about putting poetry on postcards as this fitted with the council arts strategy and the Ekphrasis Poetry Competition – a postcard project that combines artworks from the council’s collection with a poetic response was created, funded by the Courthouse door and further funds from council. A series of twelve postcards, artwork on one side, poem on the other are given out for free and the three best are chosen and given money!

The reading has one feature poet who performs two sets, and an open section. A theme is suggested, but by no means mandatory, but I have found that it inspires people who may not be poets, but who love poetry, to contribute. I often ask the feature poet for a theme that fits with their work and this gives an overall feeling for the night, with readers in the open section focussing their work.

The Courthouse Reading is a convivial reading, with a $5 entry fee which includes the poetry, of course, and refreshments, and a ticket in the door prize. The courthouse was built in 1862 and offers wonderful acoustics. A novelty of the reading being held in such a building is that the poets stand in the dock to read.

The next Courthouse Readings is on May 16 from 8pm featuring Steve Smart and the optional open mic theme is ‘Laughter.’ The Eltham Courthouse is at 728 Main Road, Eltham and can be accessed by catching a train and then a bus.

Annie Solah