Have you ever wanted to learn how to write poetry for children? Or hear Dorothea Mackellar's My Country re-interpreted by indigenous, migrant and bi-lingual poets? Keen to shake hands with Steven Oliver from ABCTV's Black Comedy, bail up a poetry editor, or meet poets from Japan? Canberrans will have the chance to do all this and more at the University of Canberra's Poetry on the Move festival this month.
The festival, now in its third year, starts on September 14 and comprises 26 events spread over eight days involving 75 poets and other contributors. Most sessions are on the University of Canberra campus in Bruce, but the festival also spills into the National Portrait Gallery, and Belconnen and Gorman Arts Centres. Almost all events are free.
The festival will see this year's winner announced for the $15,000 UC Vice-Chancellor's International Poetry Prize, one of the most valuable poetry prizes in the world. US poet Billy Collins is the principal judge. Three other prize results will also be revealed at the announcement event, "A Celebration of Poetry" on September 21: the Young Poets Awards (first prize $500), for ACT and NSW Year 11 and 12 students, the Health Poetry Prize (first prize $1500), for poems on the theme of "living life well", and the inaugural Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Poetry Prize (first prize $1500), announced by special guest, ABCTV writer/performer (and viral YouTube poet) Steven Oliver.
As it has in previous years, the festival features two internationally eminent poets in residence. This year's guests are Glyn Maxwell and Vahni Capiledo, both from Great Britain. Both will give workshops and readings, with Trinidadian-British Capiledo also chairing "Measures of Expatriation", a discussion of identity and migration in poetry. Maxwell will present a special "Drinks with Dead Poets" event, reading from his new book based on the diaries, letters and essays of poets from Byron to Dickinson to Whitman.
The theme for this year is "Boundary Crossings", with many sessions focusing on poetry in translation. The Embassy of Japan has supported Japanese poets Takako Arai, Hiromi Ito, Harumi Kawaguchi, Kayoko Yamasaki and Keijiro Suga to attend the festival. Their events include a bi-lingual poetry reading and anthology launch followed by an Embassy-hosted reception, and a special performance at the NPG. Ito and Suga will also appear at the centrepiece of the festival, a joint reading at Gorman Arts Centre with the two guest poets on Saturday evening September 16.
Other international guests will be attending from the US and New Zealand, and via video link from Great Britain. Joining them will be top interstate and local poets, along with performing and visual artists.
Further festival performance highlights include an unmissable reading by three of Australia's leading poets - Judith Beveridge, Sarah Holland-Batt and Stephen Edgar - and a special edition of Canberra's own BAD!SLAM!NO!BISCUIT! poetry slam at the Phoenix Pub featuring Melbourne's Quinn Eades and local Paul Magee. Poetry fans should also consider the panel on poetry editing (featuring editors from journals, anthologies, specialist poetry imprints and literary presses), the 10-poet "Take Five" event curated by Canberra poetry institution Kathy Kituai, and the workshop on writing poetry for children from Braidwood-region poet and performer Harry Laing.
The boundary-crossing theme of the festival is reflected in a Sunday full of "ekphrasis" on September 17, with poetry crossing into visual art (and back again). The centrepiece is textile artist Dianne Firth's exhibition at Belconnen Arts Centre, in which she has interpreted the reactions of poets to the Canberra landscape from previous years of Poetry on the Move. There will be a morning workshop and lunchtime reading at BCA, with an afternoon reading and panel on "Writing in response to Visual Art" at the NPG.
The festival also focuses on the crossing of national and cultural boundaries. In addition to the "My Country" and "Measures of Expatriation" events there will be a "Heart of Australia" session on working respectfully with First Nations communities and stories.
Readings and book launches abound, including several new titles from Canberra's own Recent Work Press, a vibrant new "micro-publisher" already receiving significant national and international attention. Books by local poets Miranda Lello, Moya Pacey, Maggie Shapley and Monica Carroll are among them.
Poetry on the Move is hosted by the International Poetry Studies Institute in UC's Centre for Creative and Cultural Research, in the Faculty of Arts and Design. Accordingly the festival has an academic component too: a day-long symposium on September 20, with Maxwell's keynote and papers on current poetry research - and of course, post-symposium drinks. After eight days of non-stop poetry, they will be well-earned indeed.
Poetry on the Move, September 14-21, 2017. Full program at https://www.canberra.edu.au/research/faculty-research-centres/cccr/ipsi/events/potm2017
Most events on UC campus (map at http://www.canberra.edu.au/maps/campus-map).
Most sessions free but numbers limited for some. Please book for all events at http://poetryonthemove2017.eventbrite.com.au
Melinda Smith is a Canberra poet.