Accomplished Poet, Phillip Hall, tells us at a poetry workshop in Yerrinbool, that a poet has to decide “what gang to belong to” and that the best way to determine this is to read lots of poetry. “The enemy of poetry is banality and mediocrity.” He later adds, “The thing that makes imagery work is surprise.”
Phillip is a surprise himself. He looks younger than his 54 years, is tall, masculine and is wearing an AFL, Panthers jersey, covered in sponsorship logos. He would fit right in with the Australian masculine stereo-type if it wasn’t for his poetic sensitivities. He also describes himself as “highly emotional”.
He grew up in the Blue Mountains and admits to hating the beach and salt water. Luckily, he was adopted by an ‘inland’ First Nations community on his 5 year stay in a remote community in Northern Australia. “They just knew,” he claims.
This became the setting and inspiration for his latest work, an autobiography in verse called “Fume”. His work is a celebration of indigenous culture but does not avoid the tragic consequences of colonialism; “dispossession, frontier violence, self-harm, grog, community and family conflict.” He says that when he first arrived it took him a while to get over his “Christ complex” when he tried to do too much. He is an articulate, powerful speaker and the workshop participants hang on his every word, especially when he is reading from his collection. He practices what he preaches. His poems capture the essence of their subject matter without a wasted word, totally original and unpredictable but in human terms, familiar.
“The challenge is to capture the everyday without the banal” Phillip says. He adds that “contemporary writing has to be political and self interrogative.” He discusses this in relation to the poetry of Les Murray, Samuel Wagan Watson, Judith Beveridge, Dorothy Porter and Jennifer Compton.