The Poetry Object: Concrete Poems / Virtual Workshops

Last week marked my first South Australian poetry gig, thanks to The Red Room Company: I took a Skype trip to Adelaide to visit the Year 8s of Wilderness School, who are taking part in Red Room Poetry Object.

The Poetry Object is an annual competition open to school students in Years 3–10. Last year, Red Room asked me to contribute my own talismanic poem to the project — and the object I chose was my local Civic Video. In Red Room’s words: “‘Civic Duty‘ is a restrained detailing of the slow death of video rental stores: a period business that may one day be remembered with nostalgia, like milk-bars and roller-discos.”

Vale Civic Video Rosalie

Our Skype workshops were brief, with 20 minutes per class, so I framed them as conversations. What did the students already know? What did they want to discover? The young women of Wilderness School, it turns out, are pretty clued up when it comes to the mechanics of poetry, so together we unpacked ‘Civic Duty’ — its rhythms and devices — and discussed how they might approach their own poems.

There were plenty of blank faces when I explained my grief at the recent loss of Civic Video Rosalie. It’s enough to make a gal feel old. But it was otherwise wonderful to engage with these students, whose planned poetic talismans range from shells to farmsteads. Their knowledge and enthusiasm about poetry — and their wit — might surprise the bean-counters currently stripping Australian arts and education funding.

Photo by Ann Rooney (Wilderness School)

The workshop was organised by Ann Rooney, an English teacher at Wilderness School, who wanted the girls to learn that reading and writing poetry are skills that can be learned. I’m with Ann on this. Poetry has a mysticism, sure — as Prof. Dumbledore put it: “Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic.” But viewing poetry as a craft gives writers control over their word-magic. To give students — especially young women — tools with which to hone their communication and art-making is to empower them.

For me, poetry is a process of fearless editing in the pursuit of what Sylvia Plath called “a closed fist” — poetry as a contained potential energy: a fistful of lightning. I hope I passed even a little of that idea on last Wednesday. And I look forward to reading their object-poems!

Only WA and NT to go before I’ve poeted in all states of Australia. Workin’ on it.

The Poetry Object is open to students in Years 3–10 in Australia and New Zealand. The Red Room Company has a wealth of poetry resources available online for teachers and students. Get in on it.

Nuns, Punks, and Iggy Pop dressed as 007

The other day I was passing through Queen St Mall and observed the following:

  • A young boy in a home-made cardboard top hat with a big orange flower attached on a spring.
  • A man who, from the neck up, looked like Iggy Pop on a bad day but, from the neck down, looked like James Bond in a perfect black formal suit and bow-tie.
  • A punk asking a flock of querulous nuns in blue questions about Jesus.

This is irrelevant. I think all low-fat milk tastes like it’s gone off. I am having treacle cake and a glass of milk for brunch.

If you like poems, you can find something called I Dreamt You Were Dead and It Was Grand (A Love Poem) by me, over at Black Rider Press (come along with the Black Riders, etc.). Even if you don’t like poems, it will still be there. Even if you don’t like treacle cake, I will still be eating it.

No one in my house likes treacle. I would like to find someone else who likes treacle, and give them a hug. But I won’t give them any of my treacle. It’s English, don’t you know.

In other news, I’ll be doing performing at a poetry event called ‘Not Aloud in the Library’ at the Brisbane Square Library on the 16th of April. I will be reading other people’s erotica. Fuzzy-tingle times are not allowed aloud in the library, unless you are one of my housemates. Darkwing Dubs will also be performing, along with burlesque and circus acts.

In other other news, that same weekend I’ll be a busy bee at the state library on the 18th, doing a poetry workshop as part of Express Media’s Mini Publication Ride. It’s so awesome to have an Express Media thing happening up here in Queensland. If you don’t know them and their publication, Voiceworks, you ought to. Anyhoo, this is a four-week series of workshops. They will be on short stories (Chris Somerville), poetry (me), opinion (Benjamin Law) and zine making (Tiara the Merch Girl) – and if you do all four you’ll have your own zine at the end of it. You can book here if you want to come, which you really ought to. If you don’t, I’ll still be eating treacle cake, though I might be sick of it by then and have moved onto a different kind of cake.

Happy Easter. Avoid invoking the fertility gods today unless you really want to. Eat a lot of chocolate, though. Food babies are safer.