See Liz's selection of Queensland poetry.
For her own poetry Arthritic Heart
For her feature on her Fit of Passion performance poetry with Kim Downs
With this issue, Liz Hall-Downs joins The Drunken Boat as a Contributing Editor
Introduction to Queensland Poetry Feature
by Liz Hall-Downs
Whether digital or print, performed or constructed in a studio, good writing, as David Reiter remarks in his essay in this feature, is still the raison d'etre of the poet and writer's craft. And I hope that good writing is what you'll find here, in this brief survey of the work of eight poets from Queensland, Australia.
B. R. Dionysius, Melissa Ashley and Jayne Fenton Keane are all poets from the south east Queensland/Brisbane area who have interacted and therefore influenced one another creatively over the past decade, and this comes through stylistically. Each poet, however, still retains an individuality, a quirkiness of expression (often in the form of the striking metaphor), that sets their work apart. Dionysius' “Stung” is a personal favourite, along with Ashley's “Anatomy of My Hysterical Womb,” even the title of which gives most women born since the advent of the baby boom cause to smile. More performance-oriented and with a strong interest in hypertext and web design, Jayne Fenton Keane's work in performance is an intense and theatrical experience. Reading JFK's work on the page or screen reveals a structural integrity and craft that can only enhance the pleasure derived from the words of the poems themselves.
Of the other poets featured here, it's a pleasure to introduce Bronwyn Lea, who returned to Australia after twelve years in the US and has made a strong impression with both her academic work and her vivid, imagistic, emotional poetry, taking out a number of prestigious prizes during the past year. Ross Clark is a Brisbane stalwart, with a long history in poetry publishing, performance and teaching. He is, by all accounts, a 'good bloke'. His words are included in the brass plaques of the Brisbane Literary Walk, alongside writers such as Queensland novelist David Malouf.
The spare and moving poems of English-born Sara Moss address issues of “illness and loss, as well as public and private violence.” A powerful reader of her own work, Sara's wicked sense of humour also delights and fascinates. And then there is Kim Downs, novelist, musician, technician, sculptor, and my partner in crime in the Fit of Passion performance poetry project. Kim completes the cross cultural circle by being an expatriate American who fell in love with Australia 20 years ago and made his home here. Kim's poems in this selection are from his chapbook, Paddling.
David Reiter's Interactive Press (see the feature) is a good example of some ways in which small publishers in Australia are meeting the challenges (and responding to the possibilities) of the digital world, while still recognising the genuine love the market harbours for print. It seems as if the digital age is encouraging diversification rather than taking over from print.
From an artist's point of view, the web has provided a whole new forum for communicating with the world, and has completely addressed the 'tyranny of distance' so many Australian artists have in the past complained of. No longer do we have to live for periods in London or New York in order to participate in a global poetry culture. The slowness and cost of snailmail has been replaced by the cheapness and convenience of email, even when negotiating print works. Websites allow artists to control their own product on a marketing and sales level. Business has changed, and for the self-employed artist or writer this can only be a good thing.
In a market as small as Australia's, there is no other word to describe per capita levels of participation in the arts than 'extraordinary'. We have 19 million people, a landmass the size of the USA, and thriving creative industries that are drawing professionals from all over the world. Some have argued that it's because we are a young country, without the weight of an old European culture to contend with, that produces a freshness and irreverence in our books, movies and art. At the same time, there is the persona of the land. Australia is a vast island continent, with most of the population huddling along the east coast. The further inland one travels, the more dry and inhospitable the place becomes. We love and fear the land in all its extremity - its bushfires, floods, and droughts - and more and more the heirs of the white, colonial past are recognising and connecting with another truth about this land: its aboriginal heritage, the concept of a 'dreaming' that is intimately connected with 40,000 years of black culture and has its own inherent spiritual values.
We are a long way from the bright lights of LA, the humano-centric streets of New York. Yet we participate through a global lens of television and media, and September 11 had as much impact here as anywhere in the West. Simultaneously we live our own imported and indigenous cultures down here in the southern hemisphere. In a way, with such a small population that is comfortable with American and British culture but has its own take on things, working artists can feel a rare freedom, a feeling that we can actually make a difference, that someone might actually read and appreciate (and even publish, or pay for) our words.
Australian poets are as diverse as the stars. Traditionally, Melbourne and Sydney are where 'things happen', but the smaller city of Brisbane has, over a period of years of being virtually ignored by the southern states, developed a unique voice in the cultural mix, a voice that mirrors the subtropical humidity of the climate with a fecundity of vision.
Liz Hall-Downs has been reading and performing poetry in public (see her feature on performance poetry in this issue), and publishing in journals, since 1983. She has been a featured reader at countless venues across Australia, has toured the USA, and has had work published and broadcast on TV and radio in both countries. As well as poetry, Liz writes fiction and essays and has worked as a community artist, writer-in-residence, editor and singer. She has a BA in Professional Writing and Literature, and has recently submitted for an MA (Creative Writing) at the University of Queensland. Her most recent collection of poetry, Girl With Green Hair was published by Papyrus Publishing in 2000. Current projects include an 'illness narrative' in poetry, My Arthritic Heart, and a realist novel, The Death of Jimi Hendrix. She lives in paradise in south-east Queensland, with her partner, Kim Downs and an assortment of cheeky parrots. Liz's Selection of Queensland poetry scene is also in this issue, as is her article and poems on illness, Arthritic Heart. With this issue, she joins The Drunken Boat as a Contributing Editor.