Celebration of the Queensland Poetry Festival’s 20th Anniversary and Launch of the 2016 Festival Program
Speech delivered by His Excellency the Honourable Paul de Jersey AC as Administrator of the Government of the Commonwealth of Australia:
Minister Stephen Miles MP, representing our Premier; Councillor Peter Matic, representing our Lord Mayor; Councillor Kerry Silver, representing the Mayor of the City of Ipswich; distinguished guests; ladies and gentlemen. Kaye and I are delighted to celebrate with you the imminent four-day 2016 Queensland Poetry Festival, and the Festival’s twentieth anniversary.
Countries and peoples with a distinguished poetry tradition have revelled in the cultural status and influence that this tradition brings.
Among examples I may cite are: Homer and Chaucer; Goethe and Russia’s 19th century Pushkin; 13th century Persian Rumi and the great poets of Arabia; the essentially Shakespearean sonnet and the Japanese haiku; and the extraordinary antiquity of Chinese and Indian poetry.
It is difficult to think of any culture that does not have an iconic body of written or oral “language art” which occupies a special – some would say “magical” – place in the territory between prose and music.
Not only poetry, but also poets, have enjoyed special status. They have been credited with exceptional insight into our existence, coupled with great expressive powers. They have been thought to stand, as E.M. Forster remarked of the poet Cafavy, “at a slight angle to the universe”.
Forster, I am told, made this remark of Cafavy while Forster was working for the Red Cross in Alexandria, Egypt: “A Greek gentleman in a straw hat, standing absolutely motionless at a slight angle to the universe.”
Now I leave to you the debate on the contemporary status of poets: disregarded, regarded, sufficiently regarded? But it remains undoubtedly true that we look to poets for emotionally powerful insights into our existence, expressed, with great imagination, through the treasure house of sounds, cadences, images, and symbols embedded in language.
I humbly offer this from the poet Bruce Dawe, Patron of the Queensland Speech Teachers’ Association – with whom Kaye and I recently helped celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Barbara Sisley Awards: of which I was many, many years ago an awardee! Mr Dawe wisely goads young poets, and I suspect it’s as applicable to young speech-and-dramatists!:
You’ll be forgiven your rash turns of phrase,
Your imitativeness, your youthful posturing,
You’ll be forgiven those old wretched days
When, for not better reason than a bird, you sing.
You’ll be forgiven (of their charity)
Your budding anti-Establishmentarianism
- As if through time’s wry telescope they see
Tomorrow’s orthodoxy in today’s new schism.
You’ll be forgiven the harsh things you meant,
And the soft answers when harsh words were wise,
You’ll be forgiven all emotion spent
As though the world had never known a miser.
Yes, you’ll be forgiven, for your youthfulness,
Everything about you but – success…
I raise this to encourage, not deter!
Reverting to task, for twenty years, the Queensland Poetry Festival has been a wonderful champion of the enormous cultural wealth that resides in poetry, particularly our own, and of poetry’s capacity to enrich our Queensland communities and our State’s culture.
In this special anniversary year, the Festival is focusing on Indigenous and First Nation poetry, bringing us the contemporary voices of the world’s oldest cultures. And this in the same year that the NAIDOC Week theme is: Songlines – the living narrative of our nation. It was a wonderful privilege for Kaye and me last week to host a reception here at Government House, such a vibrant occasion, in support of NAIDOC Week.
As Governor, and indeed currently as Administrator of the Commonwealth (our Governor-General being overseas), I thank the board, executive and staff of this excellent Queensland Festival for their great commitment and hard work in making the twentieth anniversary a reality.
I thank the Festival’s many sponsors and supporters for their great generosity. And the Queensland and visiting poets who will bring the Festival so vividly to life.
Kaye and I heartily congratulate the institution, if I may put it that way, the Queensland Poetry Festival, on such achievement over the past twenty years – may the Festival continue for at least twenty more! And as I now take great pleasure in officially launching the 2016 Festival program, and with deference to poets, and acknowledging that this is my own inadequate but sincerely expressed offering, I say:
That we Queenslanders delight in inclusion,
With mutual support and friendliness our trademark,
We also know support of the arts lends us éclat;
And so, as the Governor speaks for all,
He decrees tonight: poetic verse will have its thrall!