Patron’s Keynote Address

Alongside my WA Poets life membership I will equally cherish being Patron of this year’s Perth Poetry Festival, even if someone cynically suggested, it was a promotion upstairs with only Heaven beyond to keep me from interfering with the efforts of the coming generations. Thank you all for the great honour you have conferred.

After a week of the unity of highly diverse and widely located events, tonight is almost a culmination, rather than a launching start, of the Festival, with however Sunday’s Festival Finale to follow with the fabulous Ros Spencer Awards that underwrite our State’s richest poetry prize.

Bemused by the music and patterns of sound and performance we experience, Poetry appeals to us all in our different ways, and for some of us entranced by its magical effects we would like to master them, so that sometimes there are as many poets at a poetry event, as the uncommitted entertainment and pleasure seekers of the general public.

I came across this poem of Neruda’s that shows how he became committed to wanting to be a poet and many of us might recognise ourselves there.

and it was at that age … Poetry arrived
in search of me. I don’t know, I don’t know where
it came from, from winter or a river.
I don’t know how or when,
no, they were not voices, they were not
words, nor silence,
but from a street I was summoned,
from the branches of night,
abruptly from the others,
among violent fires
or returning alone,
there I was without a face
and it touched me.

And in a breath the following poem THE CREEL which is to say.’a wicker basket for carrying fish, peat, etc. on the back.

The world began with a woman,
shawl happed, stooped under a creel,
whose slow step you recognise
from troubled dreams. You feel

obliged to help bear her burden
from hill or kelp strewn shore,
but she passes by unseeing
enslaved to her private chore.

It’s not sea birds or peat she is carrying,
not fleece, nor the herring bright
but her fear that if ever she put it down
the world would go out like a light.

Similarly, then, one might argue that the poets like Neruda who have been called to poetry will continue to think, write and perform poetry as a similar creel or wicker basket to their dying day. In doing this, they sustain the continuity and life of poetry in our culture.

WA Poets Inc. in its universal mission of maintaining and extending all things poetic under the rubric of ‘unity in diversity / diversity in unity’ echoes the efforts of those committed members in an egalitarian manner be the consideration academic or rising from the quotidian or everyday life style and productive work pattern.

Poetry is endlessly transformative, ever constructing, de-constructing, and reconstructing patterns of sound, text, graphics and performance as well as combining multi- artistic formats and multi-media means. Poetry can interrogate the word down to its syllabification to its very breath pattern and delivery times or coruscate into the verse novel with all of its generic convolutions.

The net, the computer, the I pad and the I phone have generated chapbooks and publications of all formats and even animated numbers into poems of their own.

There is an argument that reading a text of a poem is poetic in itself for no two individual readings will completely tally or generate the same meaning simultaneously or on different occasions, so that brings up the importance of poetry as a socialising form and a bonding pleasure in sharing. In feudal times the aristocrats used poetry to rigorously established formats and in a high court language like Urdu as an expected accomplishment and competitive recreation of courtesan, concubine and warrior alike. Conversely peasant culture had its rituals and response chants, language games that were often tribally and dialect unique to ensure boundaries could be established and maintained.

Does this mean that ‘Poetry is all to all!’ Or ironically or usefully ‘Let a thousand flowers bloom!’ with its tragic consequences

If we take Arnold’s dictum for great poetry that ‘Poetry is the best possible words in the best possible order’ I envisage that the purpose of poetry is to hold an elevated, elegant conversation on a daily sharing basis to develop clearer understanding and fellowship with us all.

I am sure then the Festival has certainly met that requirement and I hereby declare the fifteenth Festival well and truly launched.