Coming from Melbourne, the best thing about arriving in Darwin was seeing that ol’ stranger, the Sun, shining in the sky like a big yellow present to me. I spent the first three hours rolling on the grass like a dog that had been locked in a shed for a week … but I cleared my throat, looked around self-consciously and straightened my skirt. I was here for words.
I grabbed the program and began to circle. It was stuffed full of fabulous guests, events and panels. Despite its small population, the NT has a large community of writers – the festival was packed with both local and interstate poets, novelists, writers and speakers. This year the Writers’ Centre had merged with Australian Poetry to bump together their biannual poetry festival with WordStorm. There promised to be ample Australian Poetry (AP) events mixed in with the main program – some were streamed live around the world and are still available here.
I went head first into the festival opening with a slam I co-hosted with Brisbane performance poet and cabaret superstar Ghostboy. The slammers consisted of locals and participants from the festival, all were judged by the audience. We named the winner, Nigel Ford of SA. The Darwinner (BAM!) Highlights included a poem by Lyndal Cairns made using words she learned from her Nokia phone dictionary – a girl who claimed she wants to start a movement where women carry round wet wipes in case they see 10-year-old girls wearing make-up. There was also a man who stripped down to nothing while performing his poem, leaving nothing but a half-eaten hotdog squeaky toy to cover his business. It was all quite marvelous and I do hope this is a trend we see spreading through the slam scene in Australia.
I performed a poem about being wet – a poem which the locals replied, ‘you have no idea about wet until you come here during Jan/Feb … you can’t write poetry about that … it’s inexpressible.’ This I immediately took as a challenge.
Darwin’s wet season sounds like an unbearable feat of human endurance. I later learned that it can come with uncontrollable weeping. Somehow the body – like the sky – just produces a torrent of falling water and there’s nothing you can do about it.
I got a small glimpse of The Wet the next night when I attended SlamTV, a showing of poetry ‘film-clips’. The two poems that stood out were by local Darwin writers; ‘Two Men’ by Dominic Allen and ‘Postcard from Hell’ that captured the horror of the wet season. It’s worth checking out on the Slam TV website. Clips were around three minutes, some were animated, some were shots of the poets performing and some were thick and arty. Most of it was fantastic. Some of it, awful. A real slam, only filmy!
The next day started with a reading in Civic Park which continued through the whole weekend, people gathered under a huge tree to hear poetry and stories from all sorts of writers, including Nam Lee (who was astonishingly underused), Lionel Fogarty, Jenifer Mills and Sam Wagon Watson amongst many more. It was kinda fantastic sitting out in the open, but was also kinda right next to the coffee machine. Readers were perpetually being sound-tracked by grinding and frothing … which is fine if all your poems are about zombies, but surprisingly, most weren’t.
My next event was a panel; ‘Ut Pictura Poesis: The Aesthetics of Poetry’ which, along with myself, included highly acclaimed Chinese poet and translator Ouyang Yu, Ghostboy, Australian Poetry Slam Champion Kelly Lee Hickey, Multiple award-winning poet Bronwyn Lea and American writer and teacher Ryan Van Winkle. I was excited to talk about the aesthetics of poetry, the essence of it, what turns you on as a reader and writer, what makes poetry poetic, beautiful and astonishing. But the discussion inevitably led down the old Stage vs. Page route which I find flaps on like a pair of old jeans on the line.
Things got a little blurry after that as we went out for drinks in the nearby bar. There may have been a heated political argument with actor William McInnes. I can’t be sure. Overall, it was a rewarding festival. I had to leave early on the last day so I missed the poetry debate ‘Are Sonnets Better Than Sex?’ I heard it was great though, and that poetry sex, as usual, won out in the end.
I’ll see you again soon, Darwin, armed with tissues, towels and a waterproof pen …