I think with Sophie on board we’ll have to start a Troppo Literary Award! Stimulated by Sophie’s post on Les Murray, I’ve been pondering the lack of popular or media recognition of some for our excellent emerging and young poets. This is no doubt partly explained by the economics of publishing, and the priorities of the mainstream media, and partly also probably (and sadly) explained by the political rhetoric of “anti-elitist” cultural backlash diminishing the space for arts in the media.
Troppo readers may or may not know that Brisvegas is a thriving hub of culture and creativity. Far from the days when the daggy Warana was our only Festival (though free jazz at twilight by the river was always very welcome), we now have an almost constant smorgasbord of festivals to enlighten our cultural and social lives. Incidentally, Brisbane residents or visitors to our city may like to check out SOOB (Straight Out of Brisbane) next month – featuring a range of blogging related panel discussions.
Anyway, a few years ago I was surprised and delighted to find that Brisbane hosts the excellent Queensland Poetry Festival. At that stage we had an avid poetry-reading Arts Minister, Matt Foley, who could be relied upon to entertain, and also to secure the beautiful Legislative Council Chamber of the Parliament for readings. But one definite highlight was discovering the work of Bronwyn Lea.
Bronwyn is a Lecturer in Poetics at The University of Queensland, Poetry Editor for UQ Press, and co-editor (with Martin Duwell) of the series The Best Australian Poetry. She’s also my nomination for Best Emerging Australian Poet…
I met Bronwyn a few years ago at a wonderful night at the Terminus Hotel in South Brisbane – she was reading at Whirlpool, an initiative of the Queensland Writers’ Centre… along with historian and former Keating advisor Don Watson. Bronwyn is an engaging, wry, witty and intelligent woman, as well as a fabulous reader of her poetry.
Rush out and buy her book Flight Animals, published by UQP (before she joined the editorial team) and recipient of seven awards and nominations.
To give you a taste of her work, here’s one of my favourite poems, and one I remember her reading on that rainy August 2002 night in South Brisbane in a crowded pub:
After Galway Kinnell’s ‘Oatmeal’
Most nights I drink cheap red wine.
I drink it alone.
I drink from a Baccarat crystal wine glass
of which I have only one and that is why I must drink alone.
Popular wisdom tells me it is not good
to drink alone.
Especially cheap red wine.
The dank and cloying aroma is such that a feeling of sorrow
can too easily twist into despair.
That is why I sometimes think up an imaginary companion
to drink with. To ward off the despair.
Last night, for instance, I drank with Charles Baudelaire.
He drank from the bottle
owing to the single Baccarat wine glass.
Charles (he begged me to be familiar) said he was grateful
for the invitation.
He hadn’t been getting out as much as he used to.
I apologised for not thinking
to invite him sooner and asked after Jeanne Duval,
if he had seen much of her lately.
He sighed. Dans l’amour il y a toujours un qui soufre
pendant que l’autre s’ennui. In love,
there is always one who suffers while the other gets bored.
I nodded and refilled my glass.
Charles read to me from Fleurs du Mal,
as the evening breeze blew through the open window,
and I confessed to him my anthophobia,
how sometimes the scent of flowers can fill me with unshakable dread.
He nodded gravely.
Such a feeling, he said, inspired him to write
the lines: arrangements of flowers encoffined in glass exhale their ultimate breath;
and, I prefer the autumnal fruits over the banal blooms of Spring.
He shuddered and finished off the bottle.
Deep into the night Charles read to me,
and as I fell asleep in his arms I had the idea
that communing with the dead needn’t be a mystical activity.
It may require no more than a glass
or two of cheap red wine
and listening, intently, to the bodily meanings
of ghostly words.