DIVERSE AND COLOURFUL: LIANA JOY CHRISTENSEN
Creative Connections Art and Poetry Exhibitions were established with the purpose of demonstrating, through creative pursuits, the diverse abilities and personalities of people with complex needs. The greatest benefit of Creative Connections is that it allows networking and sharing, not only between artist and poet, but also between the many similar, but distinct service provider organisations and the community. Communication beyond regular pathways often results which can lead to new opportunities for artists.
The Creative Connections Poetry Award is an annual award awarded to the poem from the Creative Connections Art & Poetry Exhibition that displays a high level of poetic craft and evokes the character of the artwork and artist. Liana Joy Christensen was the judge of the 2019 Award. Here are her comments this year’s reward
Creative Connections (http://www.creativeconnectionsaape.net.au/) is an ekphrastic project. People with disabilities and complex needs make visual art and poets respond to their work. The outcome is a yearly exhibition and anthology. It is a supremely egalitarian project, enhancing the creative lives of many people. Creative Connections has had a substantial longevity for a creative venture — which sometimes, I suspect, take their measure from dog years. Twelve years is approaching venerable.
Along the way there have been losses, great and small. The most significant of these, of course, is the loss of the artist Kathy Adair, whose mother the poet Maureen Sexton was the bridge that first brought our communities together. What a legacy Kathy left us. We face challenges as we look to our thirteenth year. Funding lost, artists cut adrift from our creative community. But people believe in this project; they continue to work. Even when the money runs dry, their hearts are full. I am grateful to each and every one who contributes, often above and beyond what could reasonably be expected.
I have been a contributing poet with Creative Connections for twelve years. It is a sweet privilege, then, to be asked to nominate a winner for this year’s poetry award. I have spent much time with all the diverse and colourful works in the 2019 Anthology. Judging is not a task I take lightly. Some poems announce themselves with insouciant joy, immediately capturing a reader’s attention; others are quieter, like John Shaw Nielson’s silver-hatted mushrooms, they softly make their way into the reader’s consciousness. I read all the poems many times, quickly, slowly, in different moods, at morning or evening I wished to allow each the chance to unfold in my mind, to connect. And I thank each poet for the honour of spending time with their work.
Thus far the process is fun, like taking a long walk on the shore collecting shells, picking up a line here, an image there. Whatever catches my eye, my ear, my heart, I gather up. I sift and sort, arrange and re-arrange my collection. And then the hard part begins. Because I am tasked with choosing a single winner. What am I to do with my gathered pretties, then? Cast them back to the metaphorical waves? That was the most obvious option. I decided, however, to do something a little different. I took the liberty of arranging lines from many of the poems to make two cento poems.¹
Ride the Spectacle
Aand – GO
lean to the left
take hold of the one in front
keep in close
Here comes the peloton of hurried colour
from kelly, moss and sea
through bottle, jade and verdigris
strut the glut, leave stacks of crazy tracks
through the hot pink
When I play this game, something big happens
Something big happens when I turn into me
And the world is as real as you want it to be.
This is ME!!
I am my art. Come closer, closer –
see my heart
I marvel at the hint of shadowy rain drifting down
through the silk. Out in sky ocean
I am emptied, my beat slows
a Greenough painting hidden, like water down a well
A dream is a hole in the face.
and through it we will go
Pushing soft words
through hard veins
each thought a seed
aspiring to spring
The hunter’s claws are rounded in grace.
The rhythm of patience: attuned to embrace
each animal as kin.
And the painting said
there are many colours to every man,
don’t give up on what you can’t see.
For those poets who recognise their own words in here, I have made a copy of the cento poems, with acknowledgement, for each poet who involuntarily contributed lines. You can pick yours up at the reception. Or you can take issue with me afterwards if you think me too impertinent! In my defence, however, I submit that similar liberties have long been taken by other far more immortal poets: Homer, Virgil, Dickinson and Plath among them.
Those who did not recognise any of your own words, take heart. It does not mean I did not respond warmly to your work. But even with “found poetry” there must be some selecting take place to fit the needs of the poem. Darlings, alas, must be murdered. Fortunately, however, the unabridged originals are all still alive and well in the pages of the anthology, there for all to read and re-read.
So that brings me to my choice. At this point I fear that I may develop a reputation as a “hanging judge”. Not so much for the severity of my sentences; more in the sense of a “hung jury”. It has happened to me several years ago, when I judged the Haddow-Stuart Short Story Award. I simply could not choose between first and second place; and requested that first place be shared. For this Award, of course, there is no second place. Nonetheless, two poems kept alternating in my mind for first place as I struggled to select a winner. In the end I could not choose between them so I am happy to announce (in the order in which the poems appear) that the 2019 Creative Connections Poetry Award is given jointly to Scott-Patrick Mitchell for “galah” and Shey Marque for “Letting Go”.
The judging process is partly intuitive, always subjective, but should never be entirely random. It is as instructive for the judge as much as anything else, because it requires you to articulate the reasons you make the selections you do. Both poems I chose share certain qualities that clearly appeal to me. There is a sense of immediacy in entering the work; I instinctively respond to the poetic authority of the poets. Let me be clear about what I mean by that statement. It was not a blind selection, therefore as a member of this community of course I know the names of many of the poets whose work is in the anthology. Many have justifiably stellar reputations; many are my personal friends. However, the “poetic authority of the poets” to which I refer is not based on reputation or personal connection: it is a quality resident in the poems themselves. I trust the works. Both are energetic in their imagery and the momentum of their rhythm. Both evoke an understated, clear, complex and unsentimental range of emotions. Each is delicately and explicitly responsive to their artist’s work and yet moves beyond a simple ekphrasis to a wholly realised poem that stands independently.
Above and beyond these shared poetic strengths, of course, each work is, naturally, unique in vision and execution. Shey and Scott-Patrick’s winning poems are below.
Galah by Aimee Dickson (2019).
dust plumage with borrowed sunset blush
how the world levitates, across the
musical staves of wires, telegraphic,
& yet you still can’t sing; there is no need
when your feathers descend like dusk
barrelling cars home to familial love
& your name tells of joy that only wings
can bring: you add your body to heaven
as if it were a hymn & we listen. we listen.
– Scott-Patrick Mitchell
Autumn in Greenough by Wendy Knapp (2019).
You squat at the edge of the river, fingertips
poking out of the sleeve of an oversized
jumper- its belly-full of liquid amber leaves.
Teenagers bounce each other off the seesaw, a
car horn loose on the bridge, the rolled-up
jeans cuffs damp against my leg. Talk of the
guy we tipped out of a canoe by accident. My
dog swims out too far and returns with a
bouquet between her lips, a remnant of last
summer’s algal bloom. You climb a tree,
release all of autumn upon me.
– Shey Marque
Scott-Patrick Mitchell (SPM) is a non-binary West Australian poet, writer and spoken word artist. SPM’s work appears in Contemporary Australian Poetry, The Fremantle Press Anthology of Western Australian Poetry, Solid Air, Stories of Perthand Going Postal. In 2015, SPM performed THE 24 HOUR PERFORMANCE POEM… which was exactly as it sounds. A mentor to many emerging West Australian poets and recipient of a 2019 KSP Writers Centre First Draft Fellowship, SPM was the coordinator for WA Poets Inc’s 2019 Emerging Poets Program.
Shey Marque‘s poetry appears in literary journals including Award-Winning Australian Writing, Cordite Poetry Review, Meanjin, Overland, Southerly and Westerly. She performed as a feature poet at the Perth Poetry Festival 2019, and the Queensland Poetry Festival in 2018 as the inaugural recipient of the Emerging Poet Award. Her chapbook Aporiac was published in 2016 with Finishing Line Press (USA). Keeper of the Ritual (UWA Publishing 2019), shortlisted for the 2017 Noel Rowe Poetry Award, isher first full-length collection.
¹The Second Harvest Centos were selected and arranged by Liana Joy Christensen from the words of the following poets: Sarah Afentopoulus , Sunny Blundell-Wignall , Coral Carter, Gary Colombo De Piazzi, Brigita Ferencak, Ella Harrison, Nathan Hondros, Leonard James, Peter W. Jeffrey, OAM, Amanda Joy, Christopher Kennedy, Deanne Leber, Ron Okely, Colleen O’Grady, Chris Palazzolo, Zan Ross, Rose van Son.
– Liana Joy Christensen
Liana Joy Christensen is a poet, author and poetry editor. Her work is widely published in Australia and internationally, including The Fremantle Press Anthology of Western Australian Poetry, Prosopisia, Once Wild, Veils, Halos and Shackles, and The Enchanting Verses Literary Review. She has won the Peter Cowan Writers Centre Patron’s Prize for poetry, as well as being shortlisted for the Newcastle Poetry Prize in 2014. She has twice been a guest of the Perth Poetry Festival, and judge of several poetry awards. For seven years she was the MC of Fremantle’s Voicebox, Western Australia’s longest-established poetry reading.
The above was published in Rochford Street Review on 2nd October 2019