Well, I have now reached the end of the States of Poetry (ACT) mini-anthologies, accompanied by delight and privilege in having been able to showcase something of the poetry where I live, as well as regrets that I couldn’t include a lot more poets. Eighteen out of more than fifty (at a conservative count) published, recognised local practitioners gives a taste, only, of what the ACT has to offer. And since this project began three years ago, established poets have moved into Canberra, new voices have emerged from within the community, new poetry venues have opened up, and a new poetry publisher, Recent Work Press, is not only publishing local poets, but also brokering international relations and collaborations.
Poetry is flourishing in the national capital, in many forms. There is a strong oral poetry culture evident in slam, rap, and spoken word verse events, and an equally strong presence of poems written for the page — lyric verse, prose poetry, and bush poetry. Form poetry, tanka, haiku and prose poetry, new approaches to the sonnet, and material poetics being exhibited in galleries across the Territory: all are testament to the rapid growth of poetry in all its guises, in the ACT.
This year’s poets are a mix of old and familiar voices, and newer entrants to the field. Each has a very distinctive eye, voice, and style; and each is influenced or perhaps inflected by the Canberra landscape – its human and natural environments. In alphabetical order, may I introduce: Paul Collis, Lesley Lebkowicz, Miranda Lello, Paul Munden, Mark O’Connor, and Anita Patel.
Paul Collis, perhaps better known locally for his prose writing, has brought together a body of poems that speak to, and out of, his experience as an Aboriginal man living in twenty-first century Australia. His twin concerns are the telling of stories in poetic form, and the representation of Aboriginal – and especially Barkindji – voices in the contemporary world.
Lesley Lebkowicz is a long-term Canberran, for whom the ACT and its region is an enduring influence. She has written work responding to its politics, its social nuances, and the natural world; but, refusing to be tied down to a single idiom, also writes evocative poetry that expresses other absorbing practices, particularly her meditation and her more recent explorations in pottery.
Miranda Lello comes out of a spoken word poetry background, and has only more recently been turning her attention to the crafting of poems for page as well as stage. Her works combine close observation with a strong sense of wit.
The person most recently associated with the ACT is Paul Munden, who joined the University of Canberra in 2015 and has galvanised poetry on and off campus. A British poet, he brings an inquisitive and generous eye to the local context, and a fresh sense of how the Australian landscape might speak to the humans who live on its surface.
Mark O’Connor was, famously, the poet of the Sydney Olympics, and his work is characterised by a curiosity about contemporary social events and community responses to those events: moving beyond reportage to thoughtful accounts of everyday life.
Anita Patel has lived here for decades, but, like Paul Munden, has something of an outsider’s eye to the place, bringing her cultural heritage and her several languages to bear in crafting poems. She is a member of Canberra’s Mother Tongue – Multilingual Poetry group, who provide opportunities for people to read poems in their own language, reminding audiences of the patterns and flows of human utterances.
All six poets, like the twelve who preceded them in States of Poetry 2016 and 2017, showcase something of the diversity and energy of the region; they look outward, and internationally, as well as looking inward, participating actively as members of a vibrant and energetic community of practice.