comics, gigs, i would like to recommend these people's writing, poetry

Poetry and comics (and me) at the Melbourne Writers Festival

The MWF program was launched last Friday, meaning that I can finally let you in on some exciting news that I’ve been repressing the urge to scream from the rooftops of Chewton (admittedly not very high rooftops, but still) for a while now, which is that I’ve had the fabulous fortune to be invited to interview the legendary Jim Woodring live on stage as part of the festival’s Graphic Novels program. Which is very exciting and squeeworthy indeed.

I may not be able to match Jim for artistic talent, but we're neck-and-neck in the bearded and bilateral symmetry stakes...

I’m in a bit of a tizz, fan of the man that I am, about doing a good job as interviewer and host, but the upside of this self-imposed pressure is that the best way to relieve it is to read a shedload of Mr. W’s comics and also a bucketload of interviews with him too. Which is the sort of thing I would normally do by way of procrastination, so the fact that in this instance reading a muckamuckaload of Woodring is a productive use of my time is kind of cool.

Anyway, above braggage is a nice way to lead into a closer look at the MWF program to see what it has to offer in terms of poetry and comics, which I have done on your behalf so that you don’t have to rummage around in the online program like I just have for the last half-hour or so.

It’s interesting (and possibly also irrelevant) to note that poetry doesn’t get its own button on the main program page, instead being rolled together under the fiction banner (though you’d have to click on the fiction button to find that out, or search for “poetry” using the search form), while at the same time there’s an individual “graphic novels” button.

To my mind this reflects well the relative status of each form within the publishing industry: not a lot of fuss (or time or effort) is expended by many prominent publishers on poetry these days, whereas comics, graphic novels, sequential art, whatever you want to call it, is really hot right now. If you want a publisher to return your calls, it’s a pretty good time to be a graphic novelist, but not so great to be a poet, know what I mean?

Poetry stuff

Poets performing at Melbourne writers festival - L-R: Ali Alizadeh, Ryan van Winkle, Terry Jaensch, Hannah Jane Walker, Emily Ballou
L-R: Ali Alizadeh, Ryan van Winkle, Terry Jaensch, Hannah Jane Walker, Emily Ballou

But I digress. To poetry. Here’s my pick of the most interesting-looking poetry-themed events on the MWF 2011 calendar:

  • 28th August – Ali Alizadeh and Omar Musa are part of the Red Room Company’s “the club” project in which poets join a bunch of clubs and learn the language of the boffins and enthusiasts therein, then bring back what they found. I don’t know what kind of clubs these guys joined, but I’ve always loved jargon, so this should be a treat.
  • 28th AugustI’m personally very interested in the session on classical education with Peter Rose, Barry Hill and Eliot Weinberger because as previously mentioned I’ve started working through the poetic canon to see what all the fuss is about, so this could have some nice pointers, or at the very least a bit of validation. Which is always nice.
  • 30th August – The Edinburgh Unbound event is a night of performance celebrating what it is to be a City of Literature (like Melbourne and Edinburgh before her) featuring the curiously-named Scots poet Ryan van Winkle and Aussie poet Emily Ballou, whose Darwin Poems I’ve read some of and who blends science and poetry quite nicely, thank you.
  • 1st SeptemberGoing Down Swinging is launching its latest (and its first all-ebook) issue as part of the festy – the buzz about this particular issue has been good and GDS launches are always a treat – the night will put three NYC poets up against 3 Oz poets in a knock-down drag-out spoken word slam battle. Should be fun.
  • 2nd SeptemberGreat Speeches and the Art of Poetry is poets Judith Rodriguez and Robyn Rowland in conversation with speechwriter Dennis Glover. I wonder if they’ll talk about performance techniques as well as the crafting of the words.
  • 3rd SeptemberSix Poets Speaking Softly is four Korean and two Oz poets reading their works, tying in with the recent ozko collaborations undertaken by cordite. I have a paucity of knowledge about Korean poetry and poets, but Terry Jaensch and Barry Hill I do know, and they’re ace.
  • 3rd SeptemberLiner Notes is a series of poetry readings where poets are each given a different track from a famous album and asked to do a poetic interpetation thereupon. This time around it’s INXS’s Kick, which I was initially unimpressed with, but last night I was discussing with Anna which track she or I would pick, and all of a sudden a massive soft-rock screwed-up-faces duet air-guitar version of “Never Tear Us Apart” broke out and I had to admit: yeah I kind of like that album a bit after all.
  • 4th September  – I similarly know nothing about Hanna Jane Walker’s This is Just to Say performance piece, but the parallel “sorry”s spelled out in spaghetti letters on her MWF bio page have definitely got my attention.

Comics stuff

L-R: Andrew Weldon, Mandy Ord, Peter Arkle, Jo Waite, Bernard Caleo

The two main drawcards (yes, that’s a pun) of the comics program for me are:

  • The Drawn from Life all-comics newspaper that’s being handed out for free at train stations in the city for the duration of the festival (if I ride the city loop and get off at a different stop each day, can I have five copies?).
  • The Don’t Feed the Artists installation wherein actual real live comic artists have set up temporary studios inside the Fed Square Atrium and will be plying their craft in public for all to see so that anyone to drop in to and say g’day. The likes of Bruce Mutard, Judy Horacek, Alex Hallatt and Mandy Ord will be on display throughout the festival.

Other comicky events that catch my eye include:

  • 27th AugustDrawn from Life contributors Oslo Davis, Peter Arkle and Jim Woodring discuss the aforementioned free comic newspaper, and presumably hand more copies out to those who were nowhere near train stations at the time.
  • 28th August – Mr Peter Arkle has been making an illustrated autobio newspaper since 1993, and he’s got his very own session at the MWF to talk about the history and processes behind The Peter Arkle News
  • 28th August – It’d be remiss of me to include my own conversation with Jim Woodring in a list of recommendations, wouldn’t it? I’m hoping to talk in-depth to Jim about a range of things from influences to technique, and to have him narrate a sequence  from his new graphic novel Congress of the Animals. Should be fun.
  • 28th August – And that night, in conclusion of a big comic-filled day, to the strains of the melodies of Martin Martini, Mr. Woodring will be joined by three of my favourite OzComickers Pat Grant, Andrew Weldon and Jo Waite as they create a series of live illustrations in response to Mr. Martini’s music. Sounds keen.
  • 30th August – While the question “Graphic novels yes or no?” may be a hoary old one, the comickers who will be tackling it this time around – Bernard Caleo, Pat Grant and Mandy Ord – are sure to come up with some fantastic answers. That question has no idea what’s coming.
  • 1st September – The opportunity to be taught by the infinitely talented Mandy Ord how to make your own illustrated stories is an opportunity that should be grabbed with both hands by the frilled ruff that adorns its neckparts and hung onto with the full strength of a pitbull’s clenched jaw. You have been advised.

Obviously that’s not a comprehensive list of po-or-com events at MWF, just what my fancy is tickled by, so by all means avail yourself of the MWF program to dig up things to your own unique taste. See you at the festival.

2 thoughts on “Poetry and comics (and me) at the Melbourne Writers Festival”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s