2013 / Interview / Jackson / Perth / Poetry / Reading

Perth Poetry & Permission to be Bad

I know we have blogged about poetry before, but we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to talk about poetry in Perth. Not being from Perth, I can’t say I have had any experience with the Perth Poetry scene, but after speaking with Perth poet, Jackson, I can safely say that as a consequence I have been missing out.

– by Laura Bartlett

‘Perth has one of the worst urban sprawls in the world, and the literary scene in Perth reflects that. There are several writers centres, community groups and university departments, and there’s a lot of space between them, both geographic and perceptual. Getting people to travel across town to attend a reading can be difficult. But it’s not impossible, and in recent years social media and email have made it much easier to bring people together both online and in real life.

A couple of years ago there were four or five regular poetry events, but people and their energy-levels come and go, and at the moment we’re down to two: Perth Poetry Club (which I started in 2009 but no longer organise) weekly in the city centre and Voicebox monthly in Fremantle. There are two or three other regular events which are focused on music or comedy but include some poetry. However there are a number of people, including myself, who put on one-off events from time to time, and there are often book launches. There’s a lot of print publishing going on — we have UWA Press, Fremantle Press, Sunline Press, Mulla Mulla Press, Regime Books and the rather secretive Black Rider Press, as well as writers centres and individuals publishing anthologies and zines.

We have a state poets’ association, WA Poets Inc, which was started in 2005 to organise a festival in early spring. The 9th annual festival is about to happen, on 15-18 August. (Mid-August is the beginning of spring here.) Last year’s festival was pretty good but in previous years attendances have been disappointing (people would put in an appearance at the opening and skip the rest).

WA Poets Inc publish members’ poetry in their quarterly online magazine Creatrix. Since February I’ve been publishing an online magazine in blog form, Uneven Floor. There are two print journals, Westerly and Regime. Perth’s daily newspaper The West Australian hasn’t published poems for some years, but the editor of the weekly books section is well-connected to the poetry scene and often reviews local poets’ books.

One thing Canberra has that Perth lacks is a regular slam. The Australian Poetry Slam heats in October attract good crowds, but once they’re over that’s it for the year. Perth is a commercial, competitive kind of place: maybe the last thing anyone wants at a poetry night is more competition!’

We all remember when we first started out – which book made us want to be a writer, or a certain poem or article that made us think ‘this could be me.’ For Jackson, it was at an early age. ‘My first memory of writing a poem was in year 4 at school. I wrote a poem about machines and all the different sounds they made, and my teacher, Miss Packard, liked it so much that the class performed it — with actions! — at assembly. I was supposed to be the main reader, but I was so shy and quiet that Miss Packard asked one of the rowdiest boys to narrate, and relegated me to the back of the chorus.

I have now overcompensated for this disappointment, as you’ll see if you come to the Canberra Poetry Slam at the Front cafe on 30 August.

I started writing seriously when I was 20. I was inspired by music and wanted to express myself creatively, but instead of joining a band I started to write. I started playing the guitar a year later, but I didn’t start writing my own songs or setting poems to music until much more recently. My first album The right metaphor (the CDs are being pressed this week!) contains 15 poems, three of which are set to music. I play bass, keyboard and piano as well as guitar.

My first published poem appeared five years after I started writing. In 2003 I started self-publishing online (my site, Proximity, is now archived by the National Library’s Pandora project) and in 2009 self-published my first collection, Coracle. Earlier this year, Mulla Mulla Press published my second collection, lemon oil.

I started to teach writing in 2008. At first I did it for the money, but it turned out to be fun. Teaching makes me a better writer, too. And people seem to like my workshops. I want to help people learn, not just to write poetry, but to write it well — to understand how form and technique create feeling.

To write well you also need permission to be bad — as in naughty, playful, experimental, risky. I encourage people to give themselves that permission.’

There is always that niggling of stage doubt that lingers in the back of how heads, ‘what makes this a great piece, can I do this?’ I’ve certainly had this voice (strangely this voice has a smooth Italian accent- weird!)

‘I enjoy the editing process even more than the initial writing. I think of my original text as raw material from which I may be able to sculpt or craft a poem that satisfies me — and, with any luck, some readers! — aesthetically, emotionally and intellectually. Some poems are easier to write than others, but the idea that great poems ‘just happen’ is… well, let’s just say it’s probably responsible for the Internet being full of dull, clumsy, clichéd verse.

For me, art is about communication. A poem tries to communicate something: an idea, a connection, a pattern, the flavour of an experience, or perhaps just a state of mind. If you’re not open to feedback, how can you know whether your poem communicates successfully? All feedback is worth listening to, but the opinions of fellow poets are particularly useful because you may find out why something works or fails. In my Poem Clinic workshops we use a formal method to keep the egos at bay. The feedback is tactful and constructive, and everyone gets an equal, respectful hearing. We allow different opinions to coexist so that the poet can choose what is right for their poem.’

Meet Jackson in Canberra:


Perennially Popular Poetry

Sunday 1 September, 10–1pm

It’s often said that poets today are writing for each other — but what if we want to reach beyond the inner circle? How are some poems able to capture the imagination of those who are not poets, critics or students? What do Emily Dickinson, Henry Lawson, Li Po, Charles Bukowski and Dylan Thomas have in common? What works? What doesn’t? Learn what it takes to write a great poem, and maybe come away with some of your own. Please bring writing materials. This workshop is suitable for beginning and ’emerging’ poets.

WA-based poet Jackson writes and publishes poems, songs and prose, performs poetry and music, and edits and teaches poetry. In 2013 Mulla Mulla Press published her second full-length poetry collection ‘lemon oil’ and Fremantle Press a micro-collection. Her guest performances include the Tasmanian and Queensland Poetry Festivals. In 2012 Jackson was a writer-in-residence at the Fellowship of Australian Writers WA. She is a 2013 Literary Advisor for KSP Writers Centre and a member of the Society of Editors WA. The National Library of Australia archives her collected poems and online home Proximity, proximitypoetry.com.

20% discount on booking if participants register for both this workshop and ‘Poem Clinic’

Venue:ACT Writers Centre workshop room.
Cost: $50 members, $45 concessional members, $90 non-members.
Bookings: You can book by phone on 6262 9191, online or at the office. Payment is required at time of booking.


Poem Clinic

Sunday 1 September, 2-5pm

Don’t abandon your sick and injured poems: bring them in for a friendly group healing session. Some need cosmetic surgery; some need deep healing. Explore what works, what doesn’t, and what to do about it. Please bring writing materials and two or three of your poems. If possible please bring several copies of each poem. This workshop is suitable for all poets.

WA-based poet Jackson writes and publishes poems, songs and prose, performs poetry and music, and edits and teaches poetry. In 2013 Mulla Mulla Press published her second full-length poetry collection ‘lemon oil’ and Fremantle Press a micro-collection. Her guest performances include the Tasmanian and Queensland Poetry Festivals. In 2012 Jackson was a writer-in-residence at the Fellowship of Australian Writers WA. She is a 2013 Literary Advisor for KSP Writers Centre and a member of the Society of Editors WA. The National Library of Australia archives her collected poems and online home Proximity, proximitypoetry.com.

20% discount on booking if participants register for both this workshop and ‘Perennially Popular Poetry’

Venue:ACT Writers Centre workshop room.
Cost:$50 members, $45 concessional members, $90 non-members.
Bookings: You can book by phone on 6262 9191, online or at the office. Payment is required at time of booking.

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