Tincture’s editors Stuart Barnes and Daniel Young interviewed David Stavanger and Anne-Marie Te Whiu via email. David and Annie are the co-directors of the Queensland Poetry Festival.
The 2015 festival will be held at Brisbane’s Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts from 28th – 30th August. For the full program head to the Queensland Poetry Festival website.
1. Annie and David, your Rolodexes must be bulging: for at least a decade you’ve both worked for, among other organisations, the State Library of Queensland and Woodford Folk Festival. This is your first year co-directing Queensland Poetry Festival, now in its 19th. How is it dis/similar? Tell me about working together, some of the joys and challenges, and your team.
Decades is phonetically very close to decay, which fortunately doesn’t apply in our case—the enthusiasm and joy we get from working in the arts is enough to sustain us. Co-directing QPF is similar in that between us we have produced spoken word and poetry at Woodford Folk Festival for ten years, created and directed community festivals such as Home and Zillmere Multicultural Festivals, and set up and coordinated the Queensland leg of the Australian Poetry Slam. The big difference with QPF is that we are now combining our spirits and aesthetics, to create an artistic vision that represents both of us, cohesively.
In terms of working together, we are both Aries, so there is much fire, which means we are driven by passion, but also need to get into the ocean regularly. We are ardent believers in being Artistic Directors rather than Arts Administrators, as is the current trend in so many places today (Belgian Frie Leysen’s closing speech earlier this year at the Australian Theatre Forum sums up much of our thinking—‘we urgently need the courage back to pick up this role of disturbers’).
We personally curated much of this year’s program with the intent to shake up expectations and draw new audiences, but we also have a small, experienced programming team of local poets (Matt Hetherington, Jonathan Hadwen and Rebecca Jessen) that assisted us with the expressions-of-interest process and putting other names on the table that we might have missed. We have also initiated a program partnership with Ellen van Neerven through black&write! which we hope to expand on further next year.
2. QPF’s brisk energy is contagious. What originally captivated you? Is Queensland Poetry Festival the only one of its kind in Australia? Do many people travel to the Festival from regional Queensland and interstate?
David: My first QPF was 2003 when I was lucky enough to do a reading in the main Judith Wright theatre. I wasn’t ready for that, but it planted a seed. I have been on the programming committee before but then had quite a few years away before launching my book with UQP there last year, and when this role came up we decided to throw our hat in the ring (despite the pay and the hours) to see where we could take the festival.
Annie: QPF is one of a kind in that it provides a platform for local, national and international poets. Audiences mark QPF on their calendars well in advance and thrive on the opportunity to experience over fifty artists from around the world. Many people come from across the nation to be a part of QPF, and the fact that over 80% of our sessions are free makes this a viable possibility. QPF takes poetry to regional Queensland each year too. This year it is via the Australian Poetry Slam heats in Cairns, Moreton Bay and Gold Coast, satellite events in Ipswich and Toowoomba, as well as partnering with the Online Literature Festival for the first time to send five poets into over one hundred regional schools via video link-ups.
3. Language is a Virus is a potent, ominous war cry—a far cry from spoken in one strange word—that conjures marvellous contrasts: the haiku, the epic; the Petri dish, the epidemic. Would you elaborate on the How and the Why?
You have captured much of the energy of the phrase in your question. Firstly, we wanted the festival to move on from spoken in one strange word as the identifier—it says we are new Directors and this is a new QPF. Festivals need a spine to build from. We were also taken by the notion of words in transmission and what happens between them being spoken and then entering the audience’s ear. We have asked Brisbane artist Pascalle Burton to curate ten poets writing in response to this theme and the project will be released in a limited edition on USB at the festival.
4. Which events are you most looking forward to?
David: I’m looking forward to so many facets of the program. I’m a great believer in programs that challenge and provoke the audience (including me). The most provocative for me include Scottish performance artist and poet MacGillivray who has carried a dead wolf across Vegas and is a truly experimental writer; the naked poetry session with acclaimed erotic author Krissy Kneen; a reading and interview with Clive Palmer following on from Mitchell Welch’s great essay in Australian Poetry Journal on Poets & Power; the immersive performance piece in response to floods that is Klare Lanson’s #wanderingcloud; and our late night session where poets including the likes of TISM’s Damian Cowell, Angela Meyer and Italy’s Elisa Biagini respond to the films of David Lynch.
Annie: I most look forward to being a fly on the wall in the Judith Wright Centre foyer, observing people’s reactions to sessions we have programmed. I am hoping this year’s program will spark conversation, debate and provide a way in for new audiences to the world of poetry. Plus I want to go to all of this year’s Arts Queensland Poet in Residence Kate Durbin’s sessions as she has a unique way of articulating and commenting on popular culture (and she is an incredibly warm and generous artist).
5. Tell me about the state of poetry in Queensland.
David: Personally, I don’t think it is that different from ten years ago. Open mics and slam still hold sway in many ways; UQP still have a strong poetry list (perhaps not as long); there is an established avant-garde scene supported by venues like the Bearded Lady; and there are still underground happenings where poetry crosses over into other mediums. It is a resilient community which no one voice can define, and there is always room to experiment and fail. I think QPF has really come to the fore in that time, when other national poetry festivals have disappeared off the radar. Also, the recent announcement by the Queensland government to support the Literary Awards as well as continue the major poetry prizes and the residency that QPF administers, plus the emergence of Bareknuckle Books as a viable and independent Queensland based poetry press, means the immediate future looks bright in a darker time for the arts.
6. What does the future hold for poetry in a festival form?
Endless panels on the future of poetry (actually, we have one this year).
We believe that it is in the live environment that poetry can truly be lit. At a time when book sales are generally decreasing each year, QPF’s audience has gradually been rising, more so as programming has been more inclusive and drawn in a younger and more diverse demographic. Tasmania has a fantastic poetry festival too, which is rich for its intimacy and range of venues. QPF has become known as Australia’s premier poetry festival, and for it to continue to exist we know it has to continue to present poetry in a new way that reflects all forms while keeping the rust away.
7. Which Australian poet is currently corrupting you?
David: Two poets for me. David Brooks’ latest collection Open House has reminded me how much place influences the work and that time and silence are necessities for some poetry to breathe. I read it when we had three days off in bushland with no phone or internet. Also, Lionel Fogarty’s book launch earlier this year—around a fire where around twenty-five of his grandchildren danced—elevated poetry to a place from where it will not fall (the book is stunning too).
Annie: Melinda Smith. She is a brave hard-working artist whose work will endure.
Thanks David and Annie for your time.