When I moved to Canberra in 2000, I knew it only by the stories that are told of it: of a place lacking human qualities, but full of government processes. Living here, working in the creative writing program at the University of Canberra, and pursuing my own writing practice, quickly disabused me of that. The ACT I have come to know is filled with people who make, teach, consume, critique, and preserve creative matter. There are poets right across the region, who present and perform and publish their work in a number of modes – performance, rap, and slam; lyric, prose, and experimental; haiku and tanka; bush poetry. A surprising number of the (not quite) 400,000 people living in the ACT region seem to be writing poetry; in many cases, to a very high standard. Geoff Page estimates that there are more than fifty local poets who have sustained their practice, and achieved professional publication and recognition.
When Peter Rose invited me to be the ACT editor for the States of Poetry project, I was honoured to be asked, but also quite overwhelmed. How to choose just six people to represent the state of poetry in the ACT? (I realise of course that my fellow editors in the much more populous states have an even more demanding task.) To showcase something of the richness and variety of the local scene, I decided to select six quite different voices from around the city and its region – voices capable of reaching a variety of audiences.
'A surprising number of the (not quite) 400,000 people living in the ACT region seem to be writing poetry'
Because Canberra is my local town, I inevitably know many of the poets as colleagues, acquaintances, or friends. Several of those I selected fall into those categories, so I have to acknowledge my personal connections, while acknowledging too that it would have been difficult for me to find six local poets with whom I have no association. To the forty-four-plus poets not included in this collection: your absence is no reflection on the quality of your poetry or the extent to which I value your work, but on a series of pragmatic decisions. I am also heartened that States of Poetry is an ongoing project. Each year the state editor will choose a new cohort of poets to illustrate the quality and diversity of Australian poetry.
In no particular order, then, I introduce the six poets.
Paul Hetherington is a colleague of mine at the University of Canberra, and is also a nationally and internationally recognised poet. His poems are very imagistic, full of affectual moments, and marry memory with possibility, offering windows into what it is to be human.
Jen Crawford is also a colleague at the University of Canberra, though she is a recent addition to the Canberra community. Her poetry includes various experimental moves and techniques, and her gentle but incisive poems provide a sense of air and space in their phrasing and in their lineation.
Adrian Caesar is, like Paul, a long-term Canberra resident who has a long-term involvement in the Canberra poetry community. He brings wit and precision to his carefully formulated but deeply felt works, and achieves a fine balance between technique and mood, and between the intimate and the public.
Jeanine Leane brings a clear eye and narrative strength to a body of work that has a strong political edge. Her poems mix irony and humour with anger to generate a powerful reminder of the impact on indigenous Australia of the invasion and settlement of this land just over two centuries ago.
Omar Musa lives in Queanbeyan, which forms part of the broader Australian Capital Region rather than the ACT per se. He is an important part of the local poetry scene: a rap poet who captures the visual and the visceral, and presents them in riveting, vibrant performances.
Sarah Rice is a visual artist and a philosopher as well as a poet, and those other practices emerge in her poetry. Her works are filled with verve and colour, and tackle bold and complex ideas in a language that delights the ear through its playful use of words, its lists, and its dense language.
Six very different poets, tracing the landscape in their individual imagistic and lyrical ways. I hope that readers find in this body of work a reflection of the vibrancy, diversity, and energy of poetry in the ACT.