Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Emma Rooksby on the inaugural Fremantle Poetry Month

The evening of Thursday July 8 was cold and blustery with intermittent heavy rain, just the sort of night when you’d want to stay at home, snuggled up with a good book and a hot drink. And yet, some 130 people made their way to the Fremantle Arts Centre, to celebrate Fremantle Poetry Month and the launch of three new volumes of poetry by Fremantle Press.

As one of the three new poets whose joint volume (New Poets) was being launched that night, I’d spent my day preparing and wondering what the rotten weather would do for the size of our audience. It did extract some collateral damage: Tracy Ryan, who worked with us to edit the collections in New Poets, couldn’t be there, due to impassably bad roads between Toodyay and Perth.

But the old museum hall in the Arts Centre was full to overflowing as RTRfm’s Peter Barr stepped up to open the event. Brad Pettitt, Mayor of Fremantle, spoke of his pleasure at seeing Fremantle Poetry Month come to fruition. Then Georgia Richter, poetry editor at Fremantle Press, who together with Tracy and the Press’s editor Wendy Jenkins had chosen the poets for New Poets, shared a message from Tracy with the audience, so we knew she was there in spirit, if not in person.

The new poets, Scott-Patrick Mitchell, J.P. Quinton and myself, each read a couple of poems from our new book; as a first-time reader in public, I was amazed and impressed at the attention with which the audience listened to and appreciated the works. Then two established poets, Caroline Caddy and John Mateer, came to the stage to read from their new collections. Caroline, publishing her eighth collection, Burning Bright, with Fremantle Press, read a poem, both funny and serious, to would-be olive growers, while John Mateer shared a moving piece about a boy who had drowned at Cottesloe beach, from his new collection The West.

A brief intermission included a book signing for the new volumes, and I think we were all overwhelmed at the number of people who’d bought one, two, or even all three new books and wanted authors’ signatures in them!

The second part of the evening included performances by poets Janet Jackson, Nandi Chinna and Wendy Jenkins, plus music from Xave Brown, Amber Fresh and Lil Leonie Lionheart.

Fremantle Press is a long-time supporter of Western Australian poetry. That so many people braved the weather and turned out to this event is testament to a great interest in contemporary poetry, and to the amazing work of everyone at Fremantle Press.

Emma Rooksby, poet.

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