Raining Poetry



It’s November but the warm weather has bypassed the Highlands on this Sunday afternoon in Ward Lane, Mittagong.  Around 50 of us are here to launch the Treelines exhibition, part of the Southern Highlands Arts Festival.  But rather than the interior of a building, the street is our gallery.  Curator, Monica Markovina reminds us that art has the power to produce a state of mindfulness that brings us to the present where we create our own meaning. What better place than the street for those of us less likely to frequent galleries, to discover this by accident.

A tireless cold wind might be blowing but the wine is flowing and the walls on both sides of the lane are glowing with the nocturnal landscapes of local photographers, Paul Harmon and Mim Stirling.  And it is about to rain poetry.  As if performing a holy ritual, water is poured onto the dry pavement.  Our heads bowed to the ground and eyes squinting to witness the miracle of an invisible poem becoming visible, we resemble a group gathered in prayer and perhaps we are for we are silently waiting for the revelation that poetry can bring, that ability to say the unsayable.

As the script of the first poem emerges before our eyes one of the featured poets, Lorne Johnson is there to read us another of his poems:

Under sweaty

Morning skies

We clambered through

Vaulted emerald domes

And spirals of light and insects.

Everything around us

Buzzed and ticked.

The air tasted of mint and salt.

Monica is right.  We are mindful.  Time stops as we silently interpret the words through our individual filters.

As water and wine continue to be poured another of the featured poets, Mark Tredinnick is there to perform one of his poems:





(To view the complete versions of either of these poems or other work by these poets please contact Pitt Street Publishing)

The exhibition includes another poet; Phillip Hall who will be the featured guest at the next Mittagong poetry event, Little Mountain Readings, scheduled for Saturday 3 December at the Sturt Gallery.

So where did this amazing idea of raining poetry come from?  Monica tells us she got the idea from Mass Poetry, a community arts project based in Boston.  They are enthusiastic to have their idea spread globally, making this not just a local community art event but a global one as well.  Monica recounts that they had planned to hand cut stencils of the poems which would have been painstakingly difficult.  However, a local business, Bowral Signs came to the rescue with the latest laser cutting technology.  The completed stencils were then placed on the pavement and sprayed using a biodegradable spray, leaving the invisible impression of the poem waiting for water like dormant seeds.

As part of the launch Monica acknowledges a long list of other local businesses and individuals that have been involved in the project.  This is community art at its best.  Today we witness the end product but we are reminded of the multiple community connections that have been forged in the process that led up to today.  In an era of on-line connection, face to face connection is even more precious.

The exhibition will be on display until November 30 and if you visit make sure you pop into the adjoining Shaggy Cow Café.  If the catering at the launch is an indication, the food is fantastic and they just won Most Outstanding Café in the Southern Highlands, Business Award.

Bonding Over Books

The Venue

The setting sun streams in through the Gothic sized windows that overlook a vineyard.  This massive space with its high vaulted ceilings, exposed beams and rustic iron chandeliers, looks and feels a bit like a medieval church.  Our religion this evening is reading and the faithful are gathered to hear the sermon of Hannah Kent, author of ‘Burial Rites’, a haunting historic tale set in Iceland.  What better setting to hear about her new book; ‘The Good People’, this time taking us to nineteenth century Ireland, a country steeped in superstitions that explain everything from minor ailments to disappearance.

Along with around 200 other members of the congregation, on arrival I am handed a glass of wine and steered to my name tag at one of the long, linen covered tables that begin at the entrance and disappear into the distance towards the microphone.  We are at the Centennial Vineyards in the picturesque Southern highlands of N.S.W, and this is one of many literary events organised throughout the year by the Bookshop, Bowral.

To my right are 3 women in their thirties, one of whom is a local hairdresser who loves reading.  Evidently, the other two are her clients.  They bonded over books while she was cutting their hair and decided to form a book club.  I am reminded of while the act of reading is a solitary pursuit, talking about what we have read in common creates a special kind of intimacy.

Hannah Kent

The noise drops as tonight’s Guru takes the stage.  How has this beautiful, articulate thirty-one year old already become a best-selling author?  She tells us that it all began when, as a child, she acquired a box of forty Enid Blyton books at a garage sale.  From then she entered a world of fantasy that she has never really left.  Her parents encouraged story-telling and creativity and fortunately this gave her the confidence to stave off the disparaging remarks of the faithless who doubted her ability to support herself through writing.  Presumably a PHD in creative writing from Flinders University also helped.

So what took her to the fairy glens of Ireland where her second book is set.  Hannah randomly stumbled upon an English newspaper article published in 1826 about a woman accused of murder.  However what particularly caught her attention was the basis of the woman’s defence.  She could not be guilty of murder because the victim was a ‘changeling’.  For those of us unclear on the exact meaning of this term, Hannah explains that “a changeling is a fairy among us”.  So this random newspaper report combined with “an interest in the nature of darkness” began a frenzy of research into rituals, herbs and fairy stories from Ireland.  She was on a mission “to shed the modern mind,” which ended up being so effective that Hannah can no longer look at a herb without remembering what it cures.  She cites the case of Foxglove which can kill or heal, putting it in the realm of “the inexplicable, not good or bad.  Not good enough for heaven, not bad enough for hell”.  In Ireland people lived in constant fear that any of them at any time could be taken and replaced by a changeling.  Placating the fairies filled their lives and has filled a whole room of reference cards in an Irish Library. She reminds us of the expression “off with the fairies” to which the whole room murmurs in recognition.  And to the skeptics who scoff at fairies, she says, “Even the greatest cynic gets goose bumps, when they find themselves alone in a dark forest.”

In terms of why, in general Hannah Kent writes, she says that she is compelled to explore the human experience, the way we are shaped by the external and how what we see in the lives of others creates empathy.  As reader and a writer, I say amen to that!