The 2009 Overload Poetry Festival launch.
Festival launch. Ho hum. People to thank. Obligatory mayoral speeches. False dignitaries. Yawn. Oh, the officialdom of it all. Last night though, the launch of 2009 Overload Poetry Festival managed to bridge Melbourne’s poetic and cultural history with the present in a fitting and boredom-free start to Overload 2009. The evening started with a warm and spirited welcome to country by indigenous actor Jack Charles. Myron Lysenko peppered the evening with poetry fragments which effectively threaded together the obligatory speeches, including from Overload director Jon Garrett, Yarra City mayor Amanda Stone and Arts Victoria’s Deborah Jefferies.
The speeches were tight and suitably clipped, with much murmuring and a smirk from Overland editor Jeff Sparrow, when a speaker stumbled twice and spoke of the 2009 Overland Poetry Festival. What is it they say: any publicity is good publicity.
Whilst Charles’ welcome to country paid homage to our country’s fractured history, poet Jennifer Harrison’s heartfelt tribute to her dear friend, the late poet Dorothy Porter (the last, she vowed, of several she has delivered since Porter’s passing) paid due respect to our poetic history and Porter’s legacy. Harrison did a beautiful job of intertwining her memories of Porter, and fragments from Porter’s life and works with insightful musings on the power of grass roots poetry festivals such as Overload.
Then, in a well-chosen start to the amazing Overload readings programme, poets Matt Hetherington, Lia Hills, Tom Joyce, Michelle Leber and Marian Spires took the stage and the heart chamber swung open. The Heart Chamber could best be described as a lengthy ‘poetic conversation’. Five poets lounged in a semi-circle sipping glasses of red wine and taking turns to wax lyrical about all things love. Reading the programme beforehand, the very idea left me seriously unenthused. After all, the concept of the dreamy bohemian poet of old lounging beneath a pear tree and spouting love sonnets, one hand all camp gesture, the other cradling a glass of red, is partly the kind of image us ‘street’ poets are trying to live down. Why not ‘The Torture Chamber’? Why not wax lyrical on all things war? Love? I don’t think so.
In actuality, although the above topics might well have worked just as effectively, the topic of love allowed for the juxtaposition of a myriad of images: from seed pods in rock pools to broken marriages, from sensuous touch and love lost to quirky relationship anecdotes. The poets took turns delivering original verse from paper, memory and thin air, responding to each other’s word as easily and effortlessly as if the entire performance had been scripted. It was really only on speaking to poet Matt Hetherington later in the evening that I was enlightened as to exactly how spontaneous the performance was. Five minutes beforehand, the Heart Chamber poets met to gain a vague idea of what each might end up reading. Once on stage, they simply took a chance on poetry.
For those willing to drift in and out of the poetry, which at times gently undulated and at others settled into flowery desciption or engaging scenes, the experience consumed you. For those who require more of a narrative or structural hook, the twenty minute piece might have been a tad too long. I, for the record, belonged to the former group of listeners. Each poet had their own unique style of delivery, from Marian Spires’ more full and fiery images to Hetherington’s more conversational phrases and occasional humourous asides. Poet Tom Joyce apparently has several hours of his own work memorised, and was able to respond with a steady stream of poetic monologues, his calm and powerful delivery doing justice to the amazing density of his poetry. Michelle Leber and Lia Hills weaved their work effortlessly into what might otherwise have developed into poetic rambling, frequently moving the conversation into new and interesting directions.
To close the evening, Melbourne poet Santo Cazzati appeared in a checked jacket and hat and fluorescent orange collared shirt with what seemed to be some kind of a goat-herders horn and, in a very efficient and suitably ostentatious manner, declared the Overload Poetry crawl officially open.
Matt Hetherington and Tom Joyce will appear at several other Overload events, starting with this evening. Check them out by clicking on their links in the above review.