It was a cold coming we had of it, as hose who ventured to the Opening function of the Perth Poetry Festival ... er, the WA Spring Poetry Festival ... or ... would know all too well.
Tonight was a fine night but chilly. We gathered in the barn of Perth City Farm for a 6pm start. There was food and drink for a hundred - and poets from England, all around Australia and various corners of Western Australia. At most, thirty people braved the chilly conditions. Shame on you, absent Perth poets. Shame on you, Perth arts community.
And shame on the local arts department who contributed but a pittance toward this week's festival events.
The main man behind the preparations and MCing the event all evening was Gary de Piazzi, poet and generous spirit. He was a very active man throughout the evening! As he introduced poets and speakers, he ducked down to front of stage to take celebrity photos, then checked the produce table to make sure the books etc were set right for sale, and conversed with a sidekick, Chris Arnold or Mar Bucknell about sundry matters - such as who was gunna pick up guest poet Geoff Lemon from the airport. A small point, but worth pursuing. Jennifer Compton was already here ... er, there. And where was she staying? At Gary's home. He's a generous man. (And the arts dept are tight-fisted as ever.) She was comfortable and dressed in her best poet's gear, complete with black beret. Tres chic.
The guest to open the show was Kim Scott, West Australian novelist, double Miles Franklin Award winner and contemporary Australian literary figure. Kim was relaxed and informal. This is not to say he treated the event lightly: he simply felt somewhat at home with a small audience of people who were obviously as committed to The Word and its uses as he is. His 'keynote address' was about the richness of language when it was used as part of our experience of reality rather than just as a means of representing that experience. To illustrate and weave out his thesis, we heard the words of Nabokov, Dennis Haskell, TS Eliot and some Noongar words expressed for their beautiful and linguistically apt musical values. I can't do justice at all to Kim's address, but I must say he was a gentle and quietly persuasive speaker who had the audience in the palm of his hand from start to finish. Unfortunately he had to scamper shortly after he was finished to catch an early morning plane to - somewhere. Nowadays, the literary life of successful writers requires a vast amount of travelling, so much so that Kim's next novel will be almost entirely written on Qantas napkins. Or is it Jetstar now?
During the evening we heard works from John Mateer, Jennifer Compton, Geof Lemon, and English guest poet, John Daniel, plus local poets as divers as Anna who read her first poem in public, to Don Rignall who has been reading his poems for decades and teaching children the values of literature for the same length of time.
The lamingtons were fine, too.
The mood of the wide open City Farm barn was warm and friendly. And the close proximity to the railway tracks made for unusual background noises of trains switching lines and the first sound of metal engaging with metal to cause traction. The poets seemed a humble lot, no great egos strutting around like peacocks and peahens. Egalitarian, you might say, the mood in which poetry is most advantageously presented.
This weekend is rich in poetry events all around Perth. And it continues into the next week, with poems in the city malls, poets at schools, readings in bars and pubs and clubs from Freo to Joondalup, from Greenmount to Swanbourne. May you break out of your reveries and attend a function or two - I guarantee it will be worth it.
See where to go and what to hear, or workshops to be a part of, at http://www.wapoets.net.au/pages/festival/2011/programme.html.