What Are Your Poetics?




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.

Intimate Music For Everyone

A different occasion in the Rose Room

It is 4pm on a sunny, Saturday afternoon at the Rose Room, Burradoo in the Southern Highlands of NSW.  The room is an annex of a private house owned by Janet Ninio whose vision is “intimate music for everyone”.  As I sit and relax in pre-concert silence, I notice that the neutral tones of the straw washed walls and bamboo floors blend beautifully with the outside view of native grass and eucalypts.

It is an apt backdrop for the reason we are here; to listen to the poetry of the great Australian poet, Rosemary Dobson read by Leonie Cambage and accompanied by Shaun Ng on viola da gamba and lute and Diana Weston on harpsichord.  The performers are classically dressed in black, adding a formality to the occasion.

Today Janet Ninio has achieved her goal.  It is an exquisite, intimate hour of sounds and images representing themes ranging from Greek mythology to nostalgic Australian landscapes, of bush-land, rivers and even trams.  We are fortunate to be joined by Rosemary Dobson’s son, Ian Bolton who has traveled with his wife from New Zealand especially and previously provided insight for the show.  I feel very blessed indeed.

Here are two verses of my favourite poem.

Cock Crow

Wanting to be myself alone

between the lit house and the town

I took the road and at the bridge

Turned back and walked the way I’d come


And walking up and down the road

I knew myself separate and alone

Cut off from human cries, from pain,

And love that grows about the bone