A group of dedicated locals on the NSW Far South Coast are encouraging residents to let out their inner Wordsworth, Plath or Yeats.
Their efforts have seen several workshops, poetry groups and poetry reading sessions spring up in the past few years, and local poets have performed on stages big and small.
According to local editor and poet Kai Jensen, writing poetry can be a daunting experience at first.
“Venturing out into the blank page with no maps, that’s frightening,” he says.
Kai says people tend to stick with what they think a poem should be – whether that’s the need to rhyme, stick to a set meter, or restrict themselves to writing about a personal experience with some kind of moral reckoning emerging.
So while he’s unlikely to be impressed with the rhyme that made its way into the headline of this article, he is impressed with the diverse range of people who are unafraid to have a go and venture into the unknown.
Many of the poetry workshops Kai has been involved with have seen locals undertake the somewhat “gruelling but worthwhile” task of responding to events such as the Black Summer bushfires or the Christchurch terrorist attack.
However, he does say he’s often a bit hesitant about using poetry or poetry readings to help people ‘process’ trauma.
“The fires sort of threw us all a bit so we did an event to raise money for wildlife refuges on the theme of nature,” says Kai.
“Then we did another event at Sculpture Bermagui where we put up a big white painted door and asked people to write us a line of poetry about anything, really, but hopefully their reaction to the art,” he said.
Coming from a bookish family in New Zealand, Kai started writing poetry as a young man, and says he did so “probably in the way that young men do, you know, to be a pretentious, soulful person”.
When he went to university in Dunedin he found himself enchanted with the reaction his work could get from the audience when he performed for the live poetry scene.
So he began writing for the page again and eventually got several poems published in illustrious Australasian journals.
“But I felt, personally, that it wasn’t working and I wasn’t getting a book published,” says Kai.
“I felt I wasn’t writing works that hung together in a satisfying interaction for the reader.”
After working in Melbourne for many years, it was after relocating to the NSW Far South Coast, next to Wallaga Lake and the surrounding trees, that Kai rekindled his desire to write poetry once more.
He’s currently offering a review/advice service to aspiring poets on the coast to help improve the quality of their work.
“Those who are taking up this service are, I think, reaching the standard of work published in leading Australian poetry journals,” he says.
According to Kai, while this makes up the bulk of his work to create a Far South Coast poetry scene, he was also one half of the founding duo of the Well Thumbed Poets which has been in operation since 2018, and he’s recently been running monthly contemporary workshops at Bermagui Library.
The Bermagui Poets was founded by Chloe Spear in 2019, and members from both groups have collaborated on Chookbook, a giveaway leaflet of poems about chickens.
Kai says the readings he and Chloe, along with Linda Albertson, did at the Four Winds Festival, was definitely a high point as the trio performed for 750 people.
They hope to organise more live poetry performances in the near future.