Peter Rose refers to poetry as “the most intense use of language”; which I think is an adequate summation of the work read and discussed at Poetica on Friday. I left the session weepy and headed to the nearest bathroom (Winthrop Hall) where the lady I shared a mirror with had to witness me blow my nose on a paper towel with the texture of some crudely homemade material before commenting this was the best bathroom to use at the festival due to low traffic (Protip – you’re welcome). The poets Peter Rose, Lucy Dougan and Dennis Haskell were intense – offering such a depth of emotion in the reading of their work that I couldn’t help but leave the session feeling simultaneously emotionally full and yet wrought with a sense of loss. Much like if you’d eaten your favourite dish until the plate was not speckled with organic aesthetic shadows of beetroot and something green but rather licked clean – a void of loss without any remainder of tangibility.
Hosted by Kate Noske, each author shared their poetry with the audience, proffering beautifully crafted words that were at times alight with humour and at others studded with deep pain. Each poet drew variously from their work to read a range of poetry, intersecting these with reflections upon their influences. The form ‘accidental poetry’ (the writing style of Rose and Dougan) was illuminated for the audience; defined as poetry that is not planned but rather the aftermath of an experience, a detail or a feeling.
Peter Rose referenced cusps in one’s development as a distinct inspiration for his writing; reading poetry inspired by figures in parks and his brother’s life and death. I found Lucy Dougan’s poetry specifically interesting for the references to genetics – an acknowledgement of the traits we inherit and a connection grounded in existence and the body. Dennis Haskell read poetry about his wife’s battle with ovarian cancer and how he experienced life following her passing.
As each poet read I closed my eyes and for that moment existed in a space where sound was paramount in order to take in their words. There was a distinct undercurrent of grief and being without; each reading broken by the quiet murmurs of “mmm” and “yes” supplied by the crowd to fill the chasm each poem built – responses that seemed almost humorous or perhaps inadequate following such depth and gravity, as if to say “aha! Yes I do understand”. And I supposed they did, so grounded in human experience were the works. Particularly poignant, and leaving the crowd with teary eyes was Haskell’s poem ‘Oranges’ – on how one experiences the aftermath of the loss of a loved one. In Haskell’s own teary reading lilted by a voice heavy with emotion – with passages like ‘The morning of your funeral / I washed my hair / with the last of your shampoo/ as if to get part of you, / the smell of you, on me” – it was hard not to be left a crying mess. If there is one poem you read today or any other, I implore you to look for this as I did when I got home to read again (you can find it as a Google book, Ahead of Us).
I think the resounding success of this session was in the astounding talent at Poetica – three authors who seem to have a deeper understanding and expertise, refined the art of the word and where it should fall on a page or inhabit air as sound to make us ache in the chest, to make us marvel the mundane, to render us quiet and clutching for the details, for every detail.
The 2016 Perth Writers’ Festival ends on Sunday February 20.
Review by Bryce Newton