|© Stylus Poetry Journal, Est 2002|
|In Love with the Word: Poetry in Tasmania|
|Sweeping the Light Back into the Mirror|
|Wind over Water|
|The Tao of Water|
|Haiku and its related forms|
In Love with the Word: Poetry in Tasmania
In Love With the Word: Poetry in Tasmania
words: Lyn Reeves
It's a rainy Thursday evening in Salamanca Square. Writers congregate between the overflowing shelves and tables at Hobart Bookshop for the launch of the 40th issue of Famous Reporter. This much-loved journal, under the continuous editorship of literary devotee, Ralph Wessman, has given countless writers their first appearance in print for twenty-two years. Every issue features new and established talent and includes local, national and international voices in its pages.
Edith Speers, a poet from Dover south of Hobart, gives the launch speech and a handful of locals read their contributions. Managing editor of Esperance Press, Edith is one of several independent publishers who bring Tasmanian writing to audiences through book publication. Ralph is another, with his imprint Walleah Press. Tim Thorne's Cornford Press and my own Pardalote Press also encourage and disseminate the local product.
Tonight's gathering is one of several recent launches of Tasmanian poetry books. In previous weeks people have come here to celebrate Sarah Day's new collection from Brandl & Schlesinger, Grass Notes. Kathryn Lomer welcomed children's writer Anne Morgan's first poetry collection from Ginninderra, A Reckless Descent from Eternity, and Pete Hay introduced Robyn Mathison's long awaited collection, To be eaten by mice. Robyn has served as Secretary of the Fellowship of Tasmanian Writers for twenty years. With most of her time devoted to promoting and encouraging other people's writing she has only now, at seventy years of age, given us the pleasure of her own collected poems. This sold out within three weeks and has gone into reprint.
The Fellowship's poetry anthology, A Net of Hands, was launched in October by Liz Winfield. Liz spoke of the book's title as a metaphor for the writing community in Tasmania. Many have attested to the strong support given not only by writing organizations but also informally through the networks and friendships that exist here. Liz is a strong thread in that net. For eleven years she has convened the Sunday afternoon readings at the Republic Bar & Café. She also edits a bi-monthly broadsheet The Poets' Republic and a monthly e-letter of writing news collated from wide-ranging sources. The Republic Readings provide an opportunity for new voices to be heard and for people to give their first performance in a non-threatening atmosphere. Featured local poets read along with interstate and international writers who may be visiting the State. A monthly poetry appreciation group, convened by Megan Schaffner, also hosts visiting authors from time to time.
The Tasmanian Writers' Centre organises monthly readings at the Lark Distillery and this year ran a series of ekphrastic experiences in conjunction with Salamanca Collection Gallery, where two poets read in response to the exhibition currently on show. APC café poet, Anne Collins, convened haiku readings at Chado: the Way of Tea, a performance of Chinese poetry by Ian Johnston, (translator of Singing of Scented Grass and Waiting for the Owl), and a collaboration with visual artist Marion Stafford responding to Anne's verse novella.
And of course there's the annual Tasmanian Poetry Festival, held in Launceston every October, inaugurated by Tim Thorne and now convened by Cameron Hindrum. An intimate and relaxed festival, its high point is the Saturday night Slam with its coveted prize, the Launceston Poetry Cup.
Many commentators have referred to Tasmania as the poetry capital of Australia. It seems that there are more poets per capita than in any other State. Some of their names are often seen in national poetry prize awards. Terry Whitebeach, Sarah Day, Kathryn Lomer and Jane Williams have all won the Anne Elder award for their first collections and gone on to garner more honours for their writing.
Tasmania is home to the esteemed literary journal, Island. Two new poetry magazines based in Hobart, Blue Giraffe and Prospect, increase the outlets for print publication, while Island's offshoot, Islet, will soon go online with contributions by emerging writers.
What is it that favours the pursuit of poetry here? Is it the stunning beauty of the landscape, the relatively slower pace of life, the small island community where various art streams overlap and inspire each other?
The geography that stimulates writing also acts against its wider appreciation. It was because of the isolation from mainstream publishers and distribution outlets that I began Pardalote Press in 2000 to bring Tasmanian voices to the reading public. Distance is still a barrier in getting the books into mainland bookshops, and limits the opportunities for our poets to be heard at poetry venues around the country.
So I was pleased to accept Rosanna's invitation to edit a special issue of Tasmanian poetry for Stylus. My most difficult challenge was to keep to the required number of poets. There are at least a dozen more whose work I would like to present. I have limited the selection to writers who live in or close to Hobart, going no further south than Woodbridge and including only one from further north. Women outnumber men, and that typifies the ratio of female to male poets working here, especially since we lost three major practitioners, Stephen Edgar, Andrew Sant and Anthony Lawrence to the mainland in recent years.
Of the poets I've included, only two are under forty. This reflects the comparative ages of those active in writing and sharing their work. As far as I'm aware we have no vibrant youth poetry sector here. But there are a number of strong new voices emerging and I hope that they will benefit, as older writers have, from the networks and outlets available - or create fresh opportunities for themselves.
My choices show a small slice of the diversity of contemporary poetry in Tasmania. In this issue you will find gustatory celebrations, dark whimsy, meditations on the natural world, a deep sense of place, sensuality and longing, quirkiness and wry observations, expressions of grief and empathy. All the poets share a fascination for and agility with language and cadence that echoes Jane Williams' words:
Finally, if you are in Hobart on the first Sunday of any month (except January) call into the Republic Bar and share your poetry with us. We'd be pleased to welcome you.