Queensland Poetry Festival 2019 Overview/Review

Published in Arts News  
David Stavanger at QPF. David Stavanger at QPF. Image © Kylie Thompson

The Queensland Poetry Festival (affectionately known as QPF, 22-25 August 2019), though comparatively small, is one of the most important and dynamic festivals in the region.


A powerhouse of inclusive, engaging – and at times controversial – subject matter, QPF doesn’t shy away from the awkward or political topics. The beauty of QPF lies in its focus upon diversity. It’s not a festival devoted to showcasing the biggest names, or the most well-known voices. Instead, it clears space – meaningfully and deliberately – for those who often wouldn’t get a look-in in a more mainstream festival.

This year, a key focus was languages beyond English, with conversations around incorporation of Indigenous languages and performances by The Brotherhood Of The Wordless, a group of poets and performers with disabilities impacting speech and communication. An ongoing creative event throughout the festival, Llewellyn Jones curated ‘Sign Your Rhyme’, an opportunity for poets and word-nerds to learn a line of poetry in Auslan and gain an understanding of the intricacies of the language.

cirquetry KylieThompson
'Cirquetry' - Image © Kylie Thompson

With a focus on innovative and engaging performance, QPF has a habit of curating unmissable events. Spoken word joined forces with the Vulcana Women’s Circus in 'Cirquetry', equal parts spectacle, humour, and compelling poetry. The 'Solid Air' book launch captured hearts and minds, showcasing a wealth of Australian and New Zealand spoken word talent. The cynical could perhaps argue that it’s because 'Thor Ragnarok' director and absurdist heart-throb Taika Waititi has a poem in the anthology (and provided a rather artistic, if absent, performance for the event). But truthfully? There’s a certain unexpected magic to the anthology, brought about by the gathering of diverse, disparate and talented voices passionate about spoken word and seeing it granted the opportunity to live on the page, and well as YouTube and stages.

The ever-popular 'QPF Cabaret' also brought together an eclectic group of performers to tell stories, read poems, and talk honestly about being heard in a world where few seem willing to listen. Local legend Ellen Van Neerven waxed poetic on the sanctity of nostalgia, and the spaces you carve out in the world when there’s nowhere else to go. NZ’s former Poet Laureate Selina Tusitala Marsh kept the crowd laughing as she talked about staying political in politically-barren landscapes, and terrorising the British nobility.

Jay Bernard KylieThompson1
Jay Bernard - Image © Kylie Thompson

Jim Everett-Puralia Meenamatta’s poetic memoir was laced with humour, activism and fierce determination as he explained his decades-long fight to see Tasmanian Aboriginals acknowledged (until the 1990s, they were considered ‘extinct’ by the government). Jamaican poet Ishion Hutchinson staggered the crowd with work around racism, slavery, and hope. But it was Jay Bernard that stole the show.

It’s hard to get a crowd perfectly silent, but Jay managed it. Performing work contemplating the New Cross Fire, a devastating house fire that claimed the lives of 13 black teens in England, Bernard shifted personas, blurring between reality, imagined conversations, and harrowing retellings, creating an almost sacred silence around their work.

QPF isn’t the sort of festival for those looking for easy conversations, thoughtless book sales, and comfortable truths. But for those ready to think generously and listen deeply, it’s a not-to-be-missed feast of wisdom, hope, and creativity definitely worth looking out for in 2020.

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