Poetic Manoeuvres in the Dark and on the Television

Published : Monday, May 28, 2012 | Label:

Tuesday 29 May, 11 am: ABC 1 (TV) Shortcuts samples a reading I gave in the Jenolan Caves on 13 May, at a Sydney Writers’ Festival event I shared with David Brooks, Brenda Saunders, David Malouf, and Judy Beveridge. Watch highlights and link to the full reading here: http://www.abc.net.au/tv/bigideas/stories/2012/05/28/3511401.htm

Here’s a direct link to my reading on Shortcuts: http://www.abc.net.au/iview/#/view/22460

The full reading airs on Wednesday 6 June.

“Poetry, like jazz, works best/ too late and in the dark.”

The opening lines of my poem “Jazz; or, every poem is a love song, really”, which appears later this year in Extempore, Miriam Zolin’s beautiful journal of jazz and poetry.

And I think Orpheus would know what I mean: Orpheus, most of whose brilliant career was spent in the wake of a love he could not turn his back on in the underworld. Dante might be with me, too: the poet, searching hopelessly for the Beloved down through all the circles of hell, singing up the afterlife—the inner life, really—in terza ryma in the baleful dark; chanting the Divine Comedy real, through all three books of the storied Otherworld.

On 13 May poetry came to the Australian underworld. The Antipodean antipodes. With David Brooks (whose brilliant idea it was), Brenda Saunders, David Malouf, and Judy Beveridge, I read poems in the Cathedral Caves at Jenolan, west of the Blue Mountains. The event, hosted by Varuna (The Writers’ House), was part of this year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival. As I read “News of the World”, which I chose because some little forest bats fly in it, several of the tiny bats that live in the cave system flew in and circled my head. The first bat appeared when Judy, who read before me, read her lovely bat poem. The second buzzed me as I walked out into the floodlights to read. There were television cameras in the cave (along with seventy-odd listeners), and in all likelihood it was the TV lighting that drew the bats. But it has to be said they came on cue.

In any case, you can catch them, and hear us at our post-Orphic work, reading poems in the floodlit dark on BIg Ideas on ABC 1, Wednesday 6 June (2012).

But as soon as tomorrow (Tuesday 29 June), you can watch some outtakes of me (and, who knows, the bats) on Shortcuts—same Bat time, same Bat channel.

And you can look at an extended version of the reading online at this link: http://www.abc.net.au/tv/bigideas/

The event, itself, was a delight for all of us involved in it; poetry deserves such a resonant setting, and it’s wonderful the reading was caught on camera. But it’s worth saying, too, that poetry of this calibre (I speak of the work of my fellow-readers, who are among Australia’s greatest living poets) rarely makes it onto national television—or anywhere near the mainstream. So please watch, if you can. And let everyone know.

Congratulations to David Brooks for dreaming this up; thanks to the SWF for putting it in their program (and may they do it again every year); and special thanks to Lis Bastion and Varuna for hosting the event with such elegance.

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