Monday musings on Australian literature: Poetry Month 2021

I have posted on World Poetry Day, which occurs in March, several times in recent years. And I have written about Australian poetry various times, including about the Red Room Company (or, Red Room Poetry). Their vision is very simple: “to make poetry in meaningful ways”. They have initiated and supported various projects over the years, and have now come up with a new one, Poetry Month. It seems the perfect topic for another Monday Musings on poetry in Australia.

Many of you are probably aware that the US has various months dedicated to literary/humanities/justice issues, like Black History Month in February. One of these is their National Poetry Month which has been going now since 1996. I’ve often thought it would be good for Australia to emulate some of these. We do have NAIDOC Week, of course, but that could be a month, eh? Anyhow, now Red Room has initiated a Poetry Month which is exciting:

Our goal is to increase access, awareness, value and visibility of poetry in all its forms and for all audiences. The inaugural Poetry Month will be held during August 2021 with the aim of an ongoing annual celebration.

What are they doing?

A lot, in fact. They say that they have

an electrifying lineup of poetic collaborations, daily poems and writing prompts, online workshops, poetic residencies and live to live-streamed showcases, designed to engage everyone – from veteran poetry lovers to the (for now!) uninitiated.

There is a calendar. They have 8 poetry ambassadors, who are an eclectic and appropriately diverse bunch: Yasmin Abdel-Magied, Tenzin Choegyal, Peter FitzSimons, Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, Stephen Oliver, Grace Tame, Megan Wilding.

My love of reading and writing poetry is guided by a lifelong attraction to the seemingly simple and unadorned.

~ Tony Birch

Specific events are …

  • 30in30 daily poetry commissions: every day there are/will be “new original text/video poems, poet reflections and writing prompts from some of the country’s leading poets, authors, spoken word artists and playwrights”. They can be accessed on the site, and on social media (with the hashtag #30in30). Today, for example, there’s a 2-minute video from First Nations author, Tony Birch, on what poetry means to him. He talks of poems that can have new meanings each time you read them. 30in30 will include commissions from their larger Fair Trade project which involved First Nations poets from around the world.
  • Line Break: a weekly online show, on Tuesdays through August, 7pm AEST, on Facebook and YouTube, providing previews from feature poets, publishers, spoken word artists, and musicians, and more.
  • Poets in Residence: a program, supported by City of Sydney (how great is that). The poets were to be located at Green Square Library “for a period of writing, reading and performing poetry on site, engaging the general public in various ways and showcasing COS library collections”. Unfortunately, Sydney’s current lockdown has forced the postponement of this.
  • Showcases: a “raft” of live and online events across the country, including the inaugural Poetry Month Gala supported by The Wheeler Centre. Click on the Showcases link to see events from, indeed, around the country, including in South Australia and Western Australia.
  • Workshops: weekly online workshops, on Wednesday nights 7-9pm, via Zoom, catering “for all poets at all levels … anywhere in Australia”, with the topics being “stripping poetry back, breath and beatboxing, the intersection of poetry and comedy, and a special older emerging voices workshop”. They suggest a donation of $10. The workshop leaders are Sarah Temporal, Hope One, Vidya Rajan and Tony Birch.

What an exciting-sounding and diverse program.

Here is a taster … Australian of the Year, Grace Tame, with her strong 30in30 contribution, “Hard pressed”.

A little value add from me …

If you are looking for contemporary Australian poetry, you could start with two independent publishers:

Ali Cobby Eckermann, Inside my mother
  • Giramondo, which published Jonathan Shaw’s chapbook that I reviewed recently). They have also published Ali Cobby Eckermann, Jennifer Maiden, Gerald Murnane, Gig Ryan, Fiona Wright, and so many more known and unknown to me.
  • Pitt Street Poetry, which published Lesley Lebkowicz’s The Petrov poems (my review) and Melinda Smith’s Drag down to unlock or place an emergency call, which won the 2014 Prime Minister’s Literary Award for poetry. They have also published Eileen Chong, John Foulcher, Peter Goldsworthy, Geoff Page, and Chris Wallace-Crabbe, to name some of the better known (to me) from their stable.

There is also the Australian Poetry Library, about which I’ve written before. It now contains, the website says, “tens of thousands of poems from hundreds of Australian poets”. You can read poems free online, but if you want to download and print poems, there is “a small fee, part of which is returned to the poets via CAL, the Copyright Agency Limited”. This resource is particularly geared to teaching poetry, but is available to anyone.

Lesley Lebkowicz, The Petrov Poems

If you are looking for Australian bloggers who write about poetry, try Jonathan Shaw at Me fail? I fly. This link will take you to his poetry tagged posts, of which there is now a substantial number. Also, blogger Brona (This Reading Life) is planning to support the month, so if you don’t already subscribe to her blog, do check her out if you are interested in poetry and/or in what Red Room is trying to do for Australian poetry.

Finally, you can also find poetry reviews in the Australian Women Writers database.

And now my question: do you have a favourite poem to share with us? (And do you, like Tony Birch, go back to it again and again, and find something different each time?)

26 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian literature: Poetry Month 2021

  1. I was bloody amazed at Grace ! – who knew about the strain of creativity running through that beautiful, besieged young woman ?!
    Lovely post.
    Yes, I have a poem that’s been my favourite for nearly my whole life: Rupert Brooke’s “The Jolly Company”. When I told my father it was the poem I loved best, he said we should have discussed it long ago .. He had just ‘discovered’ me.

    • Thanks M-R, yes re Grace. A powerful poem – wel-written, well-spoken, and with punch. I hope the media is listening.

      I know Brooke – indeed he came to mind just this last weekend in a Times cryptic crossword! – but I don’t know that poem. I am going to list all the recommended poems and look them up. I love that story about your father! How good is that.

  2. Hi Sue,

    Long time no post (for me, that is). Thanks so much for posting all this. I feel a bit daft that I didn’t already realise this stuff was happening (particularly given that poetry is my main literary interest these days) but you’ve saved me from FOMO.

    As for poems I keep returning to, there are several, but off the top of my head I’ll mention Judith Wright’s “Woman to Child”, Auden’s “O What is that Sound”, and Randolph Stow’s “The Land’s Meaning.”

    • Since you haven’t commented for so long Glen, I’ll let you have three! And, I’ll be adding them to my list and looking them up. I only know Wright’s. I’m really glad I brought this to your attention. Let’s home that this becomes a regular thing on the literary/event calendar in Australia and becomes well-known. It has some great supporters so hopefully it will continue.

  3. Hi Sue, I didn’t know all this information about poetry. To choose one poem over another is as difficult as choosing your favourite book. However, nostalgia rose again, and I remember my mother often reciting I Remember, I Remember by Thomas Hood. One in school that always brought tears, Little Boy Blue by Eugene Field, and Matthew Arnold’s The Forsaken Merman. And there are more.

  4. Hi Sue, I forgot to add that the best person to listen to reading poetry is Charles Bukowski. His reading of The Lady of the Lake by Sir Walter Scott is wonderful.

  5. The poem I go back to again and again is one that, many years ago now, a friend cut out of a magazine and sent to me when our dog died.
    I don’t know if it has a title, I don’t know the poet’s name, but I deduce its vintage by the lines ‘Proportion, please/The nations are scarlet with pain/(Rhodesia, Vietnam, the Berlin Wall).’
    It’s actually about the death of a cat but I rewrite it as for a dog and send it to friends in the way that it was sent to me.
    I like its final lines: ‘But love anywhere is love/And we are only human.’

    I’m also fond of ‘Man’s Home is in the Mind’ by Anne Parratt, which begins:
    ‘Too great a tidiness of the mind
    is an over-organised house
    no scattered toys
    or well-read books, open at a favourite page
    or wine marks on the table to record a special occasion
    or pencils and discarded paper
    or empty coffee cups still holding thought;”

  6. You post had me stymied when I read it last night -what could I possibly say. I don’t have a favourite poem. I’m not sure I even know any poems (except I love a sunburnt country, of course, and no one likes that!). I could say my favourite poet is Alan Wearne, except for a couple of Indigenous collections, he’s the only one I’ve ever paid money for.
    And then I went and did a poetry post – blame Brona.

    • I saw that, Bill! And was waiting for you to comment here!

      I nearly mentioned Alan Wearne as published by Giramondo because I know you like him, but I don’t really know him and had already listed several poets.

      You didn’t do poetry at school? Or, you did and you didn’t like any? I loved so much of what I did at school and university – from the emotional responses to life and nature of the Romantics to the early 20th century existential angst of Eliot and the like to the politics of Kath Walker/Oodgeroo Noonuccal.

      • I did a maths science matric, so no Eng.Lit. and no poetry that I remember in earlier years. Maybe some bush ballads around third form because I remember writing one that began “Way down the Eumeralla, I met a drovin’ fella” (and another one about our French teacher, the Toad, which got me in a bit of trouble after all the teachers stopped laughing).

        • Oh Bill! You should have continued! I can sense some talent there.

          BTW Mr Gums was maths/science too – here in the ACT – and reckons he passed English on the grammar parts. But he also had to do some literature too. I’ve just asked him and he said he did Dylan Thomas for matric. He doesn’t remember any others but he got quite “into” Thomas he said.

  7. How did I miss this post?

    August ended up being a bit of a blur for me in the end, blending into July and June before that! But like Bill I’m not sure I can think of a favourite poem. I have some that are important to me because of time of life, a person I associate them with etc…but a favourite?
    John Donne is certainly up there and I feel like Emily Dickinson is calling my name, but…a favourite?

    Despite the confusing lack of favourites, thank you for the lovely shout out 🙂

    • I have no idea how you missed this post Brona. I would have thought that being in lockdown you had nothing to do but read my blog! What have you been doing! Haha.

      I completely understand your not naming a favourite poem. I found it hard too, but having asked the question, I know I had to answer, and Hopkins Spring and fall and Kath Walker’s (as she was known then) We are going are loves from my youth.

      I remember a few of Donne (To his coy mistress?? I think). I never really read Emily Dickinson but when poems of hers a pointed to me I like them.

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