You probably would not associate the name Grace Tame with poetry. And that’s precisely what the founders of Australian Poetry Month were banking on when they selected Tame, activist and this year’s Australian of the Year, to become one of their poetry “ambassadors”.
Among her many accomplishments, Tame also composes poetry – her performance below is a powerful two-minute testimony to that.
This is just one of a series of performances by Australian poets – and some public figures you may not immediately recognise as poets – to roll out over August, including on the pages of Guardian Australia, along with workshops, showcases, reviews and events to celebrate the inaugural Australia Poetry Month.
Don’t expect it to be all Banjo Paterson or Henry Lawson either.
“Poetry is a really amplified scene at the moment, breaking out in different ways,” says David Stavanger, poet and co-producer, with Anne-Marie Te Whiu and Tamryn Bennett, of Australian Poetry Month. Part of the event’s purpose, he says, is to showcase and explore the range of poetic form and practice in Australia, while also reaching across the geographic breadth of the country.
The form itself often suffers from a perception that it is exclusive or difficult – or, perhaps tellingly, from “an association with school when it was forced into people”, Stavanger says. “That created a certain idea of what poetry is, who gets to read it, who gets to write it. I think there’s a need to acknowledge that poetry is part of everybody’s lives in different ways.”
Stavanger’s words echo those of poet and Overland literary journal co-editor Evelyn Araluen, who spoke to Guardian Australia about the poetry scene at length earlier this year: “You can see the emergence of new voices that are outside of the usual constraints or expectations around who would be a poet in Australia right now.”
Stavanger explains that part of poetry month’s objective is to “poke a stick at poetry”: “It’s not just poetry for poets: accessibility is not a dirty word in poetry, even though sometimes people think that way.”
It’s in that vein that poet and novelist Omar Sakr likens poetry to divine revelation in a fast-food restaurant: “Poetry is the opening up of language to all that is glorious and awful in us. It’s like praying in a KFC, offering up your greasy lips to god.”
The writer and social advocate Yassmin Abdel-Magied, meanwhile, says poetry gives “protection, permission, a moment of peace. Yet it remains mysterious.”
This month, Guardian Australia has joined forces with Red Room Poetry for Australian Poetry Month to present a very special edition of our popular interactive Zoom book club.
Australian Poetry Month ambassadors and poets Araluen, Sakr and Abdel-Magied will join me, Guardian Australia’s deputy culture editor, to share new work, highlight the inspirational work of other poets, and generally talk about what makes Australian poetry today so surprising and fascinating. Join us!