19 April 2013
One year in a town
Despite the best of intentions, I never manage to attend Geoff Page’s poetry sessions at the Gods. But at least I got to the launch of a new book by Geoff the other night at the National Library Bookshop. Geoff is not just a jazz aficionado, promoter of the Gods jazz series and author of Bernie McGann’s biography. He’s also a renowned poet. I know nothing of poetry but I’ve felt an interest of late, and Geoff’s poetry is particularly easy to warm to. My understanding is that he writes long-form verse. What I hear and read is easy and appealing and respectful and broadminded. The book he was launching is called “1953” and is portrait in verse of a country town in that year.
Jack Waterford of the Canberra Times introduced the work. I read Jack’s articles with much pleasure. I find him informed but also calm and humane and sensible. Jack was an obvious choice for this job. He grew up in a country town, often speaks of mid-20th Century Australian rural life and is obviously influenced by it in matters of ethics, community, aboriginal relations and more. So he spoke here: of the war (WW2), the polio scare and the floods; of barber, publican and the woman running the phone exchange; of secrets, layers of history, of adulteries and infidelities; of relationships of Euros and Aborigines. He mentioned Dennis O’Rourke’s film Cunnamulla and the instantly recognisable characters in bush towns. He noted parallels with suburbs of the time, with their own networks of known characters. It’s different now (although there are some hangouts, like Ernie at out local post office). We are more secure, more comfortable and there’s less risk, but we lack that “rich tapestry” of characters and the “conscious[ness] that we were alive”. Geoff’s characters in 1953 may be fictional, but they are not caricatures. They lead rich and complex lives.
Geoff offered some of those characters in readings. The two girls who talk of a third. The gunshop owner who muses on the metal and the skill and the touch of wooden butt to cheek. Auntie Mary, the aboriginal mother, whose son was taken and who now drinks in sympathy with the community. I was struck by the image of a stolen aboriginal girl who could live in the white community “passing as Italian” and by the sense of otherness that was portrayed. And to finish, Geoff’s partner Allison, read “Me”, a rhyming verse of her own childhood of the time. Then another wine, a copy of the book to sign and home. An interesting and thought provoking outing. Geoff Page read poetry; partner Allison read verse; Jack Waterford introduced.