Welcome to SPIRIT OF RENEWAL, the Manly Art Gallery and Museum Poetry Alive Reading. This annual event, a synergy of art and poetry, is now in its 7th year. In 2021, for the first time — due to Covid restrictions — the reading was filmed on Zoom and presented virtually.
This year’s poems were inspired by the stunning artwork of Salvatore Zofrea, and resonate with themes of resilience, reinvention, and renewal.
Our thanks to Manly Art Gallery & Museum and Northern Beaches Council for supporting the event, and to Poetry Sydney and Sydney Underground Streaming Sessions for partnering with us to bring you this stunning visual record. We hope you enjoy the video and the poems!
With readings by Rozanna Lilley, Miriam Hechtman, Paul Hetherington and Cassandra Atherton, Djon Mundine, Jen Chen, Robbie Coburn, Jenny Pollak, Teena McCarthy, Mario Licón Cabrera, Saba Vasefi, Koraly Dimitriadis, Kween G Kibone, Alise Blayney, Carly-Jay Metcalfe, Sarah Temporal, Justin Lowe, Robyn Sykes, Cecilia White, Denise O’Hagan, Richard James Allen, Ellen Shelley and Devika Brendon. And an interview with artist Salvatore Zofrea.
Turning by degrees
Even without seeing the dark chambers
oozing their sweets, you have the idea (watching the bees
thrusting their heads into the specific
rose) they serve a master greater than you can ever believe.
To keep on moving.
This is what matter wants most of all.
And what the obedient plants keep saying. All their cellulose
lifted up in one alphabet of lust; the various bees
and all the winged and willing servants,
complicit in this.
Matter doesn’t rest.
Excessive pollen spills from its cups. More than enough
for such a manifesto of love.
What kind of light is it, falls from this distance
precise as a blade
and illuminates a single white flower
in a field of dull hills? What kind of music,
as you traipse through clods of the earth,
the ground shifting, and your feet
stumbling in the raised dirt. The dust on your cheeks?
The diminished hills are wringing
colour from the clouds, drawn back like curtains
playing their bit part as they bow and scrape
the edge of the dumb stage. Here.
In the plain field
among the pink eyes and pontiacs, king edwards
and dutch creams. Which rest in their hillocks.
A single flower in the light.
As if someone had reached down a hand and commanded
this exact scene.
This is what I come down for,
dragging the skin of my sleep.
Communing with the slick wings and the candelabra plants.
All of us, dipping our wicks in the new light.
Bees poking their sticky heads into the glorious
It’s enough the sun has risen and clouds have parted.
That one bird in particular sounds ecstatic
and the shower in the night still glistens on the leaves –
a thousand delicate sips a bird might have.
That insects everywhere are beginning to rise.
We could do worse than follow the curve of a rib
knowing how close to the heart it always was.
Night after night,
spinning our webs between the stuck stars. Every one of us
turning by degrees,
until all that’s visible are the bones of our lives
shining under the repetitive moon.
In the river of
my childhood I swim
Each easeful stroke
cutting clouded water
scattered with sheoak
wading belly deep barking
to their wayward chicks
Ruckled fishermen sail
home on the westerlies
hauling herring heavy nets
Treading water my
webbed feet stretch
to solid ground a giantess
Stride quickening as
I splinter snags stepping
over the limestone
Walls of Cooper’s Mill
shingle tiles cascading
the trace of my quickening
Step weaving each
at delta’s entrance
I pause recalling
venomous spines of cobblers
searching the muddy bottom
I am the river &
I am still running
(Paul Hetherington and Cassandra Atherton)
after Salvatore Zofrea’s ‘Days of Summer – Native Hibiscus with Flowering Gums’
I tore up my journals when I got sick; destroyed two decades of thoughts in one afternoon. Cursive writing, in thick fountain-penned loops, filled the kitchen bin until all that was left were book covers with no pages. In a hospital bed, I fixated on the blank walls. I sent you a photo of nothing and you sent me photos of boats and coloured lights on water. They kept me company at midnight and 4 a.m. when the nurse came to start the drip. Your travels lit up my caliginous space, reminding me of something always out of my reach. When my mother brought calla lilies during Visiting Hour, I didn’t tell her they were funeral flowers. Instead, I remembered long tropical afternoons with you; pollen from the bright stamen of a wild hibiscus staining my cheek with yellow iridescence.
Recollection’s red, yellow and blue; it’s a blur of colour and flurry of synapses. You were intimate, though never in my bed—I could always imagine turning to speak to you. Now, thousands of kilometres stretch like an inland sea. You bloom persistently in thought, but our utterance is straitened in this breathless, virtual air. I’d taste the bitterness of the Hibiscus Café’s cinnamon-sprinkled cappuccino and hear you speak for hours—such insistent imperfections that I crave like an improbable form of Manna. Let it rise, however stunted; let the disagreements we’ve harboured chasten and connect us; let blossoms colour with sudden, adverbial vigour. Let language become the wild hibiscus flower.
* Feature image: Salvatore Zofrea, Study for Psalm 69 Midnight Café, 1999, oil and pencil on paper.
Jenny Pollak has been a visual artist for most of her life, focusing her arts practice in photography, sculpture and video installation. For several years she also performed as a flautist and percussionist with various Latin American bands around Sydney and NSW, and briefly in South America. In 2012 she began a dedicated poetry practice and has since been published in various literary journals. She is currently working on her first two collections of poetry.
Rozanna Lilley is an author and academic. Her essays and poems have been widely published. Her hybrid prose-poetry memoir Do Oysters Get Bored? A Curious Life (UWA Publishing, 2018) was shortlisted for the National Biography Award in 2019. A chapbook, The Lady in the Bottle, is forthcoming from Eyewear Press, London, in 2022.
Cassandra Atherton & Paul Hetherington are award-winning poets, co-authors of Prose Poetry: An Introduction published by Princeton University Press, and co-editors of the Anthology of Australian Prose Poetry.