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The Life & Vitality of Perth Poetry

[Photo of young poet Luka Buchanan]

Meeting up with on-again-off-again WA Poet chairman Peter Jeffrey (pictured left-below) was an interesting occasion. The event naturally took place at Little Willy cafe, just next to Paper Mountain (a popular venue for Perth poetry). It was a discussion of everything poetry, ranging from poetry politics, slam poetry and its uprise among younger crowds, as well as what is the life and vitality of Perth poetry and how do we keep it cycling on through our lives.

1. What is the mission of WAPI?

P: "It's to democratise poetry, to restore poetry to the central part of our cultural life that it once had. it used to be you couldn't go anywhere without poetry being around you, even scientific treatises were once written in poetry."

2. Can you name some of WAPI’s greatest accomplishments?

P: "Undoubtedly, the survival of the Perth Poetry Festival for some fourteen years with international visitors, interstate visitors and prize-winning local authors as well as the little people — the people who have just suddenly discovered that poetry can give them a voice to articulate their needs and also to outline some of the difficulties that society’s imposed on them."

3. Where do you normally host your events?

P: "That’s the moveable feast. We’ve had a pretty good run with the Moon Café in regard to once in the festival we basically put on a particular session where all the guest poets are given a good solid ten minutes — generally read two or three of their poems — and talk a bit about themselves. Over and above that, as I’ve told you, we are important in regard to at least three groups: 'Said', which tends to go into the high schools and with young people talking to the kids, and they obviously traverse things like suicide, drugs, sexual harassment, racial prejudice, and so on. And we’ve given them money and support. Again, we have, in fact, creative connections which has worked in with the disabled people. During the festival, we have a meeting about mental health — that’s 'Lorikeet' — in other words we’re everywhere and doing everything."

[Photo by Women Poets International Movement taken at the Moon Cafe]

4. Can you tell me about this year’s Perth Poetry Festival – I believe it featured mid-August – how did it go? What were the best turn-outs?

P: "Well our figures seem to have been so good that we have claimed it is the best [poetry festival] we’ve ever had, and we were told that the front runner that used to be before us was Queensland, and one of our guest poets went to Queensland immediately after ours and he said ‘no, the west Australian one was better’."

4.5. So was there also a decent young adult turn out?

P: "Young adults — well there’s slam, which is also integrated into the poetry, but also, we reserve a space for people from Paper Mountain or emerging poets and as a consequence they attract their own young audience. And I say, we’re very happy to have young people on board and we seem to get along very nicely together."

[Photo taken at the 2017 Perth Poetry Festival]

5. For those poets aspiring to become published, what do you believe makes someone worthwhile reading? Any tips?

P: "That’s a difficult one. Mainly, the more you read the more you know what’s good and what’s bad — in your terms; not necessarily anyone else’s. and I’m in the position of being able to read about 240 submissions a year. And so, the consequence is — the poet must be arresting, it must be an offbeat look at what sometimes we take for granted position. There is one theory that I think Ezra Pound said: ‘make it strange’. In other words, they use the word strangury — which means stranger — and they base it on particularly you have to get an offbeat way of looking at things."

6. Who do you recommend joining/attending WAPI’s events? What do they gain?

P: "Well, first of all, you see the amazing diversity and you see the people who improve with continued performance. So, we had one lady — and Elya Novella, who’s a superb chairman at the Moon Café, complimented her and said ‘you’re very different now to the girl that you were when you first got up and stumbled out a few words’. Yeah, I think it’s a testing ground and you’re there amongst your equals and even your superiors. You can learn and you can even get a kick in the teeth, but at least it’ll humble you and make you try harder."

7. Have you many young-adult poets in the Perth scene? Can you name any rising stars? Why?

P: "Well, I’d put my money on a woman called Melissa Clemmens. I think I’ve got her name right. Maddy Godfrey. She’s now an established figure. Jason Boyd — everyone absolutely loves him. A guy that I really like is Matt Norman, I think he’s quite gifted. And, I still am getting to know the Paper Mountain crowd. For example, they aren’t all young and just recently an Arab woman delivered herself here rather than, let’s say, at the Moon Café or something like that. So, yeah, we’re on the lookout for anyone that’s coming through. And one that needs to be watched for, and I’m sure she’ll get there, that’s a person called Anne Gilfree, and she wrote a brilliant poem about C.Y. O’Connor, and she and a woman called Christine Beledova are going to do a sort of a tribute to Emily Dickinson and they’ve asked everyone to wear white. It’ll be at the Moon next week on Saturday."

8. You’ve made a post about WAPI’s Creatix Anthology 2 on your website. Why should someone pick it up?

P: "Kinsella, through Fremantle Press, brought out what he called the anthology of WA poetry. And it’s a very good anthology. By and large, most of the people that are in it have been around for quite some time. My argument is that the Creatix Anthology kills the gap. There’s sort of mode a lot of us went through — which is the academic university stream — and now, of course, you’ve got huge things like online, you’ve got Paper Mountain, you’ve got Voice Box, you’ve got Spoken Word, and things like that. So, basically, on the downside if you like, and I don’t even apologise for them: we have published national poetry prize-winners. So, in short, Kinsella did a great job but there’s many more. And they didn’t get recognition in his book."

9. Why is it important that young poets engage with your organisation?

P: "Because we are on the side of poetry, and even if they have their own little private agendas on things, if they can't come and join us they cannot be doing good for poetry. And if they think they’re poets, they gladly well better join us!"

10. Any exciting Poetry events coming up? Tell me about them.

P: "Yeah, very shortly we’ll be working in again with the Stirling Council, and we’ll be presenting — our first time was Poetry by the Sea — and this time we’re doing a sort of

off-beat poetry outside the Scarborough Library. And that’ll be probably early January or late before Christmas."

[Little Willy Cafe in Northbridge]

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