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StAnza: Flight and Finesse


My first event on the Saturday at StAnza was Bill Manhire’s masterclass: a one-off workshop with six writers selected from among a batch of submissions plus an audience. I was in the audience, not having submitted anything.

Manhire was warm and engaging while still being quite thorough. As he pointed out, there was no time to build up the trust that would be established in a long-running workshop group. Perhaps he’d be a tougher critic in that setting, but I get the sense he wouldn’t have the bluntness of some well-known poets. Whether you think that’s good or bad depends on what you look for in a critic of your poetry, I guess, but it suited the set-up.

We were all give copies of the poems, chosen by Manhire mid air over Singapo. The poet would read their piece, then Manhire would ask them about it and comment on it himself before opening the discussion to comments, suggestions and questions from the audience and the other selected participants. The atmosphere was friendly, the selection varied and the discussion intelligent.

For me, the best poem of the session was Matthew Hotham‘s “Forms of Flight”. It was the most interesting formally and possessed a distinctive beauty. It had mystery, imagination and a quiet but insistent power. It simply said to me that Matthew had real talent, underpinned by skill and intelligence. Several people in the room obviously just didn’t quite get what he was up to, and made suggestions that would have robbed the poem of mystery and richness. That’s what you might expect of such an event, I suppose; I couldn’t help but defend his piece.

After the masterclass, Rob Mackenzie, Ross Wilson and I had a brief chat with Matthew and Cynthia Chin, who also had a poem in the masterclass. They’d come over from the States specially for StAnza. So we’re not just talking talent and skill here, but ocean-crossing commitment! Later, at the poets’ market, Matthew bought The Ambulance Box and The Opposite of Cabbage and gave Rob and me each a copy of his chapbook, Early Art, published by Turtle Ink Press in 2006.

Having had a quick read through Early Art, I’m really looking forward to going back and savouring it. Everything I saw in “Forms of Flight” seems to be there in the pamphlet, though perhaps not quite as developed, given that it was published three years ago. Still, the talent is obvious. It’s exciting to find a good writer at an early stage in his career, and I’m looking forward even more to seeing where Matthew takes his poetry in the future.

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