The Poet's Life Works
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Showcasing one poem each month, the project presented four events in a variety of Sydney spaces. Each event explored a poet’s working life through objects, music, and a commissioned visual interpretation by artists from Chalkhorse Gallery. Scroll down to read about and view each of the events. Selected artworks from the project by Oliver Watts and Michael Robson are for sale. Please contact Johanna or Oliver for more information.
The conclusion of The Poet's Life Works was marked by two final events at the Brisbane Writers' Festival on September 12-13. The first featured Lionel Fogarty performing his poems and in conversation with Johanna Featherstone, looking back on the Sydney event and sharing the project with a wider audience including Fogarty's home region. On Sunday, BWF poets who have featured in Red Room projects gave a reading.
The Poet's Life Works with Lionel Fogarty
A Murri man, Fogarty was born at the Cherbourg Aboriginal Reserve on Wakka Wakka land in Queensland in 1958. He is a leading spokesman for Indigenous rights in Australia, particularly deaths in custody following the death of his brother, Daniel Yock, at the hands of police in 1993. His poetry expresses the need for innovation and urgency. In doing so, it is sometimes surreal, sometimes confronting and includes large amounts of Bandjalang dialect and vernacular. Fogarty is a writer with a purpose as crucial as the existence of his people; as poet and critic John Kinsella has remarked, "All of us should listen". Fogarty's works include: Minyung Woolah Binnung: What Saying Says (Keeaira Press, 2004) and Dha'lan Djani Mitti: Collected Poems (Salt Publishing, 2008).
Aunty Silva welcomed the audience to the Country of the Gadigal people, and Fogarty wrapped the audience in his life story. Treading through his experiences as an activist at the age of fifteen to readings done in Germany and Italy, Fogarty's words were accompanied by footage of his public life as a child, young man and adult. Fogarty read brand new poems as well as the dense, meandering and surreal writings for which he has become known. At the end of the evening, Koori Radio presenter Marlene Cummins presented Fogarty with a song she had recorded, "Pemulwuy", announcing Fogarty as "a modern Pemulwuy". Fogarty continues to combine his activism and writing, joining local protestors after his Brisbane reading to speak against the federal intervention in the Northern Territory.
Tara Marynowsky interpreted Fogarty's poetry visually, with a series of five delicate but spectral watercolours. These were displayed along with Fogarty's own drawings and drafts at the Redfern Community Centre. Marynowsky is a Sydney-based artist whose work ranges from watercolour paintings to video art. She was selected as a finalist for the 2008 Helen Lempriere Award, exhibiting her watercolour series Tales. Most recently her video work I Really Know What You’ve Done To Me was selected as part of the Hors Pistes [Off Tracks] 2009 Festival at the Pompidou Centre in Paris.
The Poet's Life Works with Kevin Hart
Following the project's May and June events, Red Room moved into a space of contemplation at St James Church, Sydney. On July 17, we were joined there by Kevin Hart, who had returned from Virginia, USA, to the country of his childhood and early career.
Hart is internationally recognised as a poet, critic, philosopher and theologian. Born in England, he grew up in Brisbane, and taught Philosophy and English at the University of Melbourne. He has recently taken up a position at the University of Virginia, and is about to release a new book of poems, Young Rain (Giramondo). Hart talked about the place of faith in his life's work, the theme and exploration of death through poetry, and the choice of lyricism over politics. He shared new unpublished work about his father's death and spoke candidly about moments of revelation in his life.
Hart's poetry was accompanied by the delicate drawings of Sydney artist Michael Robson, whose drawing and print-making have long been influenced by literary references. Before the Church altar, Robson's double flower study and portrait of Hart took on an ethereal quality.
The Poet's Life Works with Tim Thorne
On June 24 2009, the project delved into the deep, ironic, angry, laconic and spirited poetry of Tasmanian poet, Tim Thorne. A poet, editor critic and publisher, Thorne discussed his experience directing the Tasmanian Poetry Festival, his family history, and his definition of "good" poetry. Thorne has published more than ten books of poetry, and he read extensively in two sets from his recent selected works, I Con (Salt Publishing: 2008), including poems recounting his first, youthful visit to Sydney, and his suites on the war in Iraq.
Hosted by Chalkhorse gallery, the space was graced by a suite of five works by Orlan Erin Raleigh. Painted in response to Tim's work and developing Raleigh's past interests in reproduced propaganda images of children, the works' muted tones and haunting exposures of a boy scout's face complemented Thorne's own seriously impish mien. The night closed with a third set featuring a new Thorne poem commissioned by Red Room and called "But the poet's life would work better if...". Accompanied by nuts roasted lovingly by supporter Emma Hoy, and the jazzy strains of Joern Harris live on saxophone, the event established its own unique flavour within the series.
The Poet's Life Works with MTC Cronin
March 21st 2009
The Sydney Writers' Festival
To kick off this series of events, the Richard Wherrett Studio at the Sydney Theatre was inhabited by Spanish guitar, a welcome mat and a pair of Cronin's small Havianas, and a bowl of the poet's homegrown green peppers. The room brought her work to life, and brought her life to the audience: a series of fishbowls weighed down poems from Cronin's The Law of Poetry, and contained enigmatic objects alluded to in the poems, including a box of sand, a cucumber, a yo-yo, a moth and an ant. Onstage, three vivid collages by artist Oliver Watts led the eye from Cronin herself to these deconstructed fragments of her portrait.
The project's launch was commemorated with a vegan slice - download the recipe to find out how good the poet's life tastes.
Cronin delivered the 2009 Minislec, Red Room's annual miniature-essay-lecture. This year, the lecture reflected on the laws of Cronin's poetics and the ethics of writing. Cronin gave her Minislec in two parts, mediated by a brief discussion with Johanna Featherstone.