Highlights from the Poetry Symposium

By | 25 April 2012

About a week ago, I got along to the Political Imagination: Contemporary Postcolonial and Diasporic Poetries symposium, hosted by Deakin Uni at their suave city campus. Convened by Ann Vickery, Lyn McCredden and Cordite’s very own Ali Alizadeh, the symposium made trouble with notions of postcolonial and diasporic poetries. It was a Nespresso (and in my case Codral) fuelled couple of days, packed full of paper presentations, book launches, and great conversations cut short between sessions. I found it pretty generative to some of my own thinking about poetry — I’ve put together a bit of a run-down of the bits I found particularly interesting. Please feel free to leave you own comments or reflections from the event below.

The keynote speaker was Peter Minter, who got proceedings off to a cracking start with a paper that evolved his critique of the Gray and Lehmann Poetry Since 1788 anthology, and went looking for productive ways forward in reconceptualising what an Australian poetic is/could look like. Searching for ‘new ways of conceptualising the beautiful, the artful, and the aesthetically true’ he proposed the notion of an archipelagic poetic, inspired in part by the work of John Mateer and Robert Duncan. He asked the question of how culture could become more sophisticated in engendering cultural diplomacy, arguing for ‘archipelagos of psychogeographic intensities’ where we each habituate on our own archipelagos, venturing across to others for moments of exchange and commune.

It was really great to see how this notion was picked up and reseeded by many of the presenters over the two days. It certainly captured my imagination, both in its potential to decolonise the trope of Australia as an island nation, as well as in the sense of volatility and movement the word suggests — archipelagos are fraught places, often formed out of volcanic rock and liable to flooding over. I thought it was a really ripe idea and I hope Peter and others continue to develop it. Keep an eye on the blog for Bonny Cassidy’s take on it too, coming very soon!

Later that afternoon Ania Walwicz gave a performance and creative paper about her poetic practice. I hadn’t seen her read for ages, and she was terrific. I actually woke up the next day with her in my head: I wake up now now I shower coffee now where is coffee now? These were some of her pearls from her accompanying paper, which she described after the fact as facetious: ‘I inflate myself — and then I cut’, ‘Freud writes: the only reason I write is to analyse Ania!’, ‘Something is wrong and I see this in a film’, ‘I don’t believe in one word I say’, ‘dream diary dreamt in the palace of culture’. I’m pretty intrigued about what her dream diary contains, and I think she’s inspired me to start one of my own.

Unfortunately owing to illness I missed the Michelle Cahill’s and Adam Aitken’s sessions the following morning, arriving just in time for Michael Farrell, who was totally on-trend with his paper about Michael Dransfield, who seems to be everywhere right now. His presentation used Dransfield’s Courland Penders as a test site for turning over the notion of the baroque, a term which he fermented with other concepts hiked from Latin America, specifically the geopoetic (‘a place where poetry, science and thought can come together’) and creolisation (‘the results of a history of contact: colonisation, history, migration’). I got the sense that Michael was working with these ideas less to reach a destination point than to see what adding them into the mix might reveal – a way of shaking up an attitude to Australia poetic genealogies he memorably phrased as ‘varandah shandy triviality’.

For Farrell, the ‘baroque turns itself intrinsically towards the rural, the peasant, the pagan,’ and widening out from Dransfield, he drew on this definition in reconceptualising our formation of poetic lineages, differentiating the bush baroque — being a term Peter Porter once used to describe Les Murray – from the neobaroque, a category he extends to poets such as Gig Ryan, Chris Edwards, Jill Jones and Emma Lew.

He received a question at the end which unfortunately I didn’t write down, something about the follies of moving from away from Eurocentric conceptual modes — a comment I found especially odd as I’d been thinking about how great it was to finally see some cross cultural concepts in action!

And he also quoted Walter Mignolo,‘I am where I think’, an idea which seems to sound off Minter’s archipelagos-as-psychogeographic-environs idea.

Towards the end of day two Lyn McCredden gave a presentation on poetry and nation. Afterwards I was initially frustrated that it wasn’t a more focused paper, but the longer I thought about it the more provocative her ideas became. I feel like she swooped in and left us all with a bunch of riddles to solve; does poetry have a role in reimagining nation/hood? What can we conceive of as common readers? Especially when poetic language use is anything but common? How does this in turn feed into ‘the double impulse of poetry’: embodiment and refusal? And finally, is Australia bad at poetry?’ All-in-all, questions I’d love to see someone more foolhardy than I try to tackle!

There were so many other highlights too — Lucy Van’s compelling observation that a sense of the present is always belated in criticism (based on her reading of Achille Mbembe), Ann Vickery on Juliana Spahr and postcolonial queering, and her idea of water as a connecting fluid (another idea useful for our creation of the archipelago); poetry readings at Collected Works and the launches of forward slash, VLAK

And the epic closing event, in which we all crammed in to the upstairs room at The Alderman for the launch of six Vagabond Press chapbooks, by Corey Wakeling, Fiona Hile, Nick Whittock, Nguyen Tien Hoang, Eddie Paterson and Jill Jones, which I’m planning to say much more about once I’ve had the chance to chew through them.

Thanks to the symposium organisers! Not only was it a productive and stimulating two days, it was free and open to the public, allowing for a diversity of participants which can only be described as a Really Good Thing.

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