Australian Poetry Ltd, the recently formed peak industrial body for Australian poets, has declared this to be National Poetry Week. I’ve been too preoccupied with fighting off a virus and feeling sorry for myself to pay much attention, though my impression is that NPW hasn’t been quite as big as the State of Origin week. Some days have had a theme word – one day Read, another Write, and today Buy. I dutifully rose from my tissue-bedecked bed, caught the bus to Gleebooks and bought two slim volumes. But, I hear you protest, surely you could find something more interesting than a trip to a bookshop to get out of the house for? You’re right. There was also the Poets’ Train.
From the CountryLink website:
To celebrate National Poetry Week and the joys of train travel, a group of Canberra poets are catching the train to Sydney to join forces with like-minded bards for an exciting program of social and literary events.
Those events included composing poems during the train journey today for later publication in a chapbook, a dinner and a poetry slam. The thing that caught my attention was a poetry recital on arrival at Central Station this afternoon ‘with media attending’. Gleebooks was just a stop on the way.
The country trains concourse at Sydney’s Central is a lovely space, full of light and air. As I came through the main entrance the first thing I saw was a group of about twenty people, significantly more warmly dressed than called for by the Sydney spring weather, looking like a small choir with a conductor standing in front of them. It was Train Poets, and one of them was reading to the rest. A woman who turned out to be Poets Train Coordinator, Fiona McIlroy, gestured a welcome, and I became, as far as I could tell, the only member of the public to join the audience. There was a young man taking photos – presumably he was the attending media, and if I find any pics on line I’ll add a link to them.
And you know, it was fun. Poems were read that were variously witty, comic, fanciful, and elegant, and most hot from the oven. I chatted to the people closest to me, who said that the train poets had sat working away at their notebooks, taking a break every hour (it’s roughly a four hour trip) to read the work so far. As a result, at the reading I was privileged to attend, they had already established a palpable sense of communal bardship. Contemporary poetry is often criticised as being a matter of poets writing poetry that is read only by other poets. Even if that description were accurate, if it signified the kind of warmth, generosity, mutual appreciation that featured in this event it wouldn’t be an entirely bad thing. No one seemed disappointed at the absence of TV cameras. It was culture without commodification, and I look forward to the chapbook.
I doubt if I’ll get to the slam tomorrow night, as I’m not taking my germs out after dark, but if you’re in Sydney you could do a lot worse than head for The Friend in Hand Hotel, Glebe, at 7 pm.
To cap off my participation in National Poetry Week, there was an email waiting for me when I got home to say that my pre-ordered copy of Bob Dylan’s Tempest, official launch date Tuesday 11 September, was ready to be downloaded. So I’ve been typing this up, home alone on a Friday night, listening to croaky Bob, ‘It’s soon after midnight, and I don’t want no-body but you.’
Happy National Poetry Week!
Added on 1 October: Fiona McIlroy reports on the Poets’ Train at the Australian Poetry website, with photos and the text of one of the poems.