Friday, 28 May 2021

The Poetry Salon, The Glebe Hotel, Bay Street

A list of things that happened to me to explain why, since 2008, I’d not once attended a poetry reading:

  • Moving to Queensland to look after elderly mother,
  • Moving back to Sydney,
  • Mum dying and my slow recovery from that event,
  • Supraventricular tachycardia and ablation,
  • Trip to Middle East,
  • Moving house again, this time to Botany.

In the meantime I’ve received faithful email notifications from Roberta Lowing though credit for today’s blogpost goes to Twitter since I saw advice about the reading in a tweet from a friend. 

My neglect of local poets, however, was not for lack of trying. I actually planned last month to visit the Addison Road Writers’ Festival but another friend placed in my way an urgent request for help and I had to miss it.

The Poetry Salon at The Glebe Hotel last night was a celebration of diversity. Proceedings opened by organiser Ali Whitelock (see photo above) started with her presenting a poem which has the environment as its subject. She explicitly linked the work to student rallies that’d taken place in Sydney to protest the funding of a new gas-fired power plant by the federal government – or, at least, an announcement to that effect. 

Ali’s poems are full of humour and insight. The poem I’m talking about – unfortunately I didn’t note down the title – likens our relationship with the planet to a relationship between two people, a man and his girlfriend, say. With this metaphor kept in mind a thousand sentences might suggest themselves to a poet. 

Whitelock in her work tends toward the interpersonal and the intimate, though more often (see here a review of a 2018 book) with a comic purpose, so the focus on planet Earth was surprising. 

For Gayatri Nair (see above photo), the event was only the second time she’d read her work out loud though she mentioned a book titled ‘How to Wrap a Sari for Beginners’. Gayatri overtly locates her writing in a multiethnic community, and summoned up, with her trenchant, amusing poems, images I’d kept of parts of Sydney that are seldom the focus of popular attention. 

This city is so big and it’s communities are so diverse that on one day – just by catching a train – you can fly from one continent to another. As if on a magic carpet – though I sat in a retro lounge chair – Gayatri transported me miles away to the remote corners of the city I grew up in and in which I have lived for most of my life. I felt confronted by cultures I rarely see appreciated by the mainstream media – still (despite demographic changes) predominantly Anglo-Saxon – and as I listened to Gayatri tell her stories I grew.

Michelle Cahill – whose tweet had alerted me to the event – read her complex poems rich in imagery. Michelle (see photo above) has poise and is clearly accustomed to reading out loud to groups of people and on this day read one of the poems in a collection I’d recently reviewed, though it wasn’t the one I talked about in my Patreon post. Her work contains a multiplicity of points of view, the ideas quickly forming and resolving in the mind only to be replaced by new ones. This process is aided by her clear diction and the control she is able to make use of in a roomful of listeners, serving to give you a detailed understanding of the world. Because attention switches from one thing to another in rapid sequence you have to work hard to follow but there’s magic – your mind shuttling back and forth between your own point of view and the poet’s – being entertained by words. 

Stephen Edgar (see above photo) also read work he’d written, some of it in the 1970s. He spent time living in Hobart so some of his poems contain stories that happened in the island state. I was transported in time listening to Edgar and heard echoes of Wordsworth in his allusive poems. They catapult you to other places – to the eye of a storm, say, or to a garden where dragonflies whip around bushes – and press into your imagination with subtle wit. Stephen offers a completely different view in comparison to what was offered by Gayatri or Michelle or Ali, leaving me feeling inspired by the choice of the four writers to accompany each other on the night. 

Ducking out quickly as it was well past my usual bedtime by the time everyone had finished reciting their work – books held open in calm hands – I dashed for the car and drove in heavy traffic on Wattle Street. I turned into Fig Street and then took Regent Street, heading to Botany Road and home. A night to remember.

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