Poetry on the Move, and the launch of the Australian Poetry Journal Anthology 8
Dr Jen Webb
July 20, 2020
The Australian Poetry Journal anthology is one of the highlights of the year in the poetry world; and for those of us based in Canberra, this was a particularly important one because for the first time the focus was on the ACT. One of the two editors, Melinda Smith, is a local poet who is also deeply involved in the organisation of That Poetry Thing That Is On At Smith's Every Monday (arguably the longest name for any poetry organisation anywhere!), and has been a regular participant in all aspects of UC’s Poetry on the Move (POTM) festival since its inception in 2015. (This year Melinda is conducting one of the four workshops being held as part of POTM.)
Australian Poetry, the publishers of the anthology and the sole national representative body for poetry in Australia, have also been strong and regular supporters, with Chief Executive Officer Jacinta Le Plastrier consulting with the festival organisers each year, and Australian Poetry providing sponsorships for panels over several of the festivals. While POTM definitely looks to the international community of poets, it is grounded in local and national poetry, and the input of Australian Poetry has been invaluable.
The chair of the Australian Poetry Board is UC’s own Martin Dolan, longterm local poet and PhD candidate in the Faculty of Arts and Design. On behalf of the Board he thanked the Faculty of Arts and Design, the home for POTM, as well as the Where You Are Festival and ACT Government for their support. After I too offered thanks on behalf of the POTM team I settled back to hear the poets read, steered by the other editor of the anthology, NSW-based Sara Saleh.
Of the eight readers during this evening, four were from the ACT: Judith Nangala Crispin, Anita Patel, Isi Unikowski, and Merlinda Bobis. All four are people I know, admire, and count as friends, and whose reading this night was a very real delight: both in the quality and focus of the poems they read, and in the opportunity it provided to witness their ever-increasing accomplishments. The other four are from across the country: Laniyuk (NT + Vic), Shastra Deo (Qld), Eunice Andrada (NSW), and Noemie Huttner-Koros (WA).
All eight poets delivered powerful and lyrical readings that cast an uncompromising light onto the inequities and inadequacies of contemporary society – the damage done by history, environmental depredation and the colonial enterprise, for example. But each also illuminated the things of beauty in the world – the country; song; tenderness – doing what poetry does best: singing out the things that matter; bridging the particular and the general; offering consolation.
The other poets included in the anthology similarly span wicked problems and deep joys. I particularly want to draw attention to the first poem in the publication, “Wiradjuri country”, by Kerry Reed-Gilbert, inaugural Chair of the First Nations Australians Writers Network, a major figure in Canberra poetry, and whose loss has impoverished us all. The POTM team is well represented too, with poems by many participants of past festivals, as well as graduates of UC’s creative writing program, and current staff: IPSI chair Paul Hetherington, Paul Collis, Paul Magee, Festival Director Shane Strange, and me.
This launch evening was a key event in the Poetry on the Move online festival program, and its structure offered reminders of how we can continue to operate in the face of a global pandemic – and not just operate, but make a virtue of necessity. While the event was, formally speaking, in Canberra, on the lands of the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, poets and readers zoomed in from across the country and around the world to produce a local, national and international event shimmering with energy and enthusiasm; grounded in local creativity, reaching out beyond the ACT to connect with the wider world of poetry.