Red Dirt Poetry Festival
Highlights of Red Dirt Poetry Festival in Alice Springs August 2-5 2018
For the first time I get my flights and accommodation covered for being a performer in a festival. It makes me feel incredible and dare I say it: like a real writer who is valued.
The event organizer herself Laurel Jane May picks me up from the air port at the same time as famous poet and author of novel Out Come The Dogs Omar Musa. I am participating in events that include talent like his. It is scary and surreal.
Meeting Laurel’s pets and getting to hang out with them at her house while we wait for it to be time to check in to the Jump Inn hostel. Her dog is called Wilber and her beautiful black cat with piercing green eyes is called Charlie and she is beautiful. I take lots of photos of charlie.
Fighting my anxiety and having kind poets and new friends helping me through it with patience and gentleness that a week later still amazes me. Thank you so much. Alexandra Steffan
Sitting in Mcdonalds at 11pm eating McFlurrys talking intersectional feminism.
My first event is Poetry Its Whats For Breakfast at Page 27 Cafe. This is where people can come and sit and chat with a couple of poets and hear some poetry and share their own if they want. I get to do this with brilliant award winning Mununjali writer and poet Ellen Van Nerveen. It feels like there has been a mistake. How did I get to a point where I share an event with such an amazing writer? I wonder as I chat away at her and her mother. Maria Ellen’s mother shares a poem she wrote about her daughter ( at our encouragement) and it is so beautiful. There is something magical about seeing a poet’s mother share poetry after her poet daughter. A man comes and sits at our table to talk poetry. He shares one of his own and it not terrible. He also buys both Ellen’s and my own poetry books. By the end of breakfast with poets I have made a new friend called Jemma who sits down in front of us and shines with poetic enthusiasm and light.
poetry jukebox is the next event I am a part of. A cardboard jukebox has been created for the purpose of the public art event that involves a poet standing inside the cardboard jukebox and waiting for passer by to press a painted on button. When this happens the jukebox poet inside reads one of their own poems. Each poet is in the jukebox for 30 to 40 minutes. I take part in this on Friday and Saturday. Of course as I am so short a milk crate needs to be found for me to stand on so passer by can see my head and shoulders through the cut out window. Omar Musa and Michael Moore had the opposite problem to me as they had to try and fit inside and limit their gestures. Least favourite response to one of my poems is from an older white woman who comments ”Its very female oriented.” and the question I get asked by an older white man, ”Did you write that all by yourself?” It is nerve wracking pouring your heart out through poetry in broad daylight when your poetry is about heartbreak and sex and hospital. Best part of this event? Reading one of my most thirsty poems ( Your Upper Thigh) to fellow poet and now friend Michael Moor and both of us feeling awkward afterwards and just standing with the awkwardness for a bit.
The event at Totem Theatre on Friday evening: Wom-Yarn Arlhe-Kenhe Ayeye ( Embrace the space in which we the ”other” live (love) is incredibly special and it is an honour to be in a line up with such an amazing group of talented, diverse and dynamic women that include Marie Elena Ellis, Ellen Van Nerveen, Stevie Jean Alexandra Steffan, Victoria Alondra, Jennifer Compton and Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa. Triple J unearthed winner Stevie Jean at just 18 continues to blow me away with her wit and confidence as she MCs the entire the event as well as does a reading. Not to brag but she and I are friends now and she thinks im good to hug. the feeling is mutual. It is a bit disappointing to learn after the event that in the entire audience there is only about three men. Proving yet again the ones who need to witness the brilliance and messages the most are not in the room. sigh.
Sitting around a large table full of poets in a cafe eating lunch and talking and laughing so much. Feeling a part of something bigger than myself that does not include a fear of hell. This is a highlight. This is a moment that I cannot capture properly for you to feel as I feel while sitting there. But Jeremy Garnet can and does. He stands up and reads to us a poem he wrote as we sat around talking and laughing. A moment that captures a moment.
Saturday evening as the sun sets on Totem Courtyard is Mixtape Memoirs an event where writers share a song from their high school days and read a response or a memory or any sort of poem or story connected to that song. It is a joy of an event. There should be a mix cd made of the song selections or a zine with the mix cd provided along with the collection of written responses. Performance poet Bill Moran is wonderful as he MCs and shares lyrics he wrote for his 14 year old death metal band. They are terrible and terribly funny. The stories shared are as you would expect from a bunch of teens who grew up to be writers: heart wrenching, sad, poignant, beautiful and full of yearning, anger, despair. There is something to be said for not being the type of person who peaked in high school. After I share my song and story I sit and watch my peers Michael Moore, Jeremy Garnet, Dina Indrasafitri, Alexandra Steffon, Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa, Declan Furber and Jennifer Compton perform. As I sit there is occurs to me that teenage Jess would be pretty thrilled to see how I turned out. She would be amazed that there is no sign of hell breathing down her neck for choosing a life of writing and fighting patriarchy.
The Journey The Dreaming Poetry Walk is guided by Arrernte Woman Alison Furber who takes a group of us around Mparntwe and shares the cultural history of this place that I have been fortunate enough to experience over the last few days. We are shown a protected River Red Gum tree that is 400 years old. We are shown a once full and flowing river bed that is now dry. ”The water is still here it is just invisible.” Alison tells us. We are told of the continuos and on going fight for protecting other sacred sites such as one particular tree that Alison helps keep safe though there area around it has been filled with a rather ugly building. As we pass some other trees on our walk Alison gestures at thes and keeps us walking. She explains, ”These trees are not significant. They do provide us with oxygen.”
After the walk I take Alison’s advice to bypass the gallery and give money straight to the artists by purchasing some original art straight from some Aboriginal women sitting on the grass of Todd Mall. The artist introduces me to thier daughter and grandson. Unfortunately it is only the grandson’s name I can remember now and not the name of the artist. It is a beautiful painting representing bush tucka such as honey bees and witchetty grubs and women preparing the food.
Each performer at the festival gets a show bag that includes a tote, free coffee tokens for a local cafe, a $50 gift voucher for the same cafe as the free coffee ( thanks Epilogue Cafe!) an artist pas to events and a hand made beanie. Laurel herself personally chose each beanie with each individual writer in mind. Did you know that Alice Springs has a beanie festival? Neither did I. We know now though! There is a competition for best hand made beanie and they are some next level beanie creations I can tell you. I love my personally chosen beanie. It is very warm and fits my noggin nice and snug.
On the last night I am woken by two cats fighting and it sounds like a nightmarish cacophony of horror.
Monday is flying home day. There is time for one last meal at the cafe with my new friends and fellow writers from all over Australia, New Zealand and America. I have poet friends in Darwin now and Perth and Brisbane. Some of these friends looking far seedier from closing party shenanigans than others. Before I leave for the airport with Lay The Mystic and Jennifer Compton there is much hugging.
Laurel Jane May and her husband Nico’s pet cat Charlie. look at her little paws!!