Image by Jackie Ryan
I think often about the quality of light in Brisbane, how clean it was, and also of the big storm I experienced while I was there, which shook rooftops and transformed the sky. And most often I think of the faces of my friends.
In its 15 years so far, the Arts Queensland Poet-in-Residence Program has brought internationally acclaimed poets to the Sunshine State from the USA, UK, Ireland, New Zealand, India and Canada. For locals in Brisbane and regionally, these extended visits spark new work, forge friendships, and annually raise the bar for Queensland poetics.
So many past Poets in Residence – from Poet Laureates like Joy Harjo (USA) and Selina Tusitala Marsh (NZ) to viral poets like Warsan Shire and performance innovators like Emily XYZ – have left their imprint in the voice of Queensland through performances at Queensland Poetry Festival and on tour, workshops, and mentorships.
And Brisbane – its poets, its landscape, its storms, its light – left a mark on each poet.
With travel out of the question, Queensland Poetry Festival (QPF) had to get creative (don’t say pivot!) in administering its 2020 Poet-in-Residence program – to capture that cross-cultural exchange and to transcend Zoom fatigue. For that reason, we engaged four different writers – storyteller Ivan Coyote (Canada), poet and conceptual artist Kate Durbin (USA), poet Nick Makoha (UK), and poet Amina Atiq (UK).
Two of these guests – Coyote and Durbin – are no strangers to Brisbane. A tireless touring storyteller, Ivan Coyote sold out the Judith Wright Centre during QPF 2016, while Kate Durbin was Arts Queensland Poet in Residence in 2015, adapting her live performance work Hello Selfie for Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley mall with the help of local poets. These two seemed perfect for a QPF redux: Coyote’s tender, direct address can reach through any screen, dissolving the Zoom fourth wall, while Durbin’s generous, collaborative approach to poetry makes her the perfect literary pen-pal.
Chosen in consultation with UK’s Speaking Volumes live literature organisation, Yemeni-Scouse poet, performer and activist Amina Atiq and award-winning Ugandan-born poet Nick Makoha ‘visited’ Queensland across the airwaves for the first (and hopefully not last) time.
Across four time zones, Coyote, Durbin, Makoha and Atiq delivered performances and workshops, and mentored emerging Queensland poets and performers. And we posted out as much of Brisbane as we could: recent poetry releases from UQP, local Bee One Third honey, and Knowledge Sharing pins by Goreng Goreng artist Rachael Sarra.
Amina Atiq: Golden Eagle
Ivan Coyote: Last Train Out of the City
Nick Makoha: 2 Codex
Kate Durbin: Folio: Brisbane
Four response poems to ‘Folio: Brisbane’
- Kylie Thompson: Pre-heatwave Interlude
- Pascalle Burton: then is now is then and here is there — a forecast
- Zenobia Frost: Severe Thunderstorm Warning for Heavy Rainfall and Damaging Winds
- Rae White: Wheelie bin
And, without setting foot on a City Cat or breathing the green pre-storm air or watching an Ibis perform its delicate bin-surgery, Coyote, Durbin, Makoha and Atiq have responded to their uncanny experiences of being ‘resident’ in a far-off city during a pandemic. This digital chapbook collects this commissioned work, and reflects their diversity in style and approach. Their new work evokes these paradoxes of distance and closeness, isolation and connection, travel and memory.
Image by Jackie Ryan