In 1987 I was invited by poet Tim Thorne to attend the Tasmanian Poetry festival in Launceston in 1987. Looking back on it now, I was just a bit lucky, after only three years’ serious involvement in Oz Poetry, to be put on the programme alongside such luminaries as the late Gwen Harwood, Dorothy Porter, and John Forbes and the (thankfully still living) Thorne, Eric Beach and Jennifer Maiden. I recall this as a really pleasant festival experience, and in a beautiful location.
Just a few weeks earlier, I had been living in a share house underneath the overpass at Clifton Hill, when a disgruntled ex-soldier decided to ‘shoot up Hoddle Street’.
(A popular bad taste joke from this period:
Q. What’s the fastest way to Pentridge (prison)?
A. Shoot up Hoddle street.)
It’s fair to say this event shook me, and those around me, to the core. Nothing like a massacre in your neighbourhood to get you thinking about mortality. My friends and I, shocked and outraged at the violence, graffitied the overpass. And I wrote this prose poem, which was published in the festival programme. I did read it at an event, and found the experience and it’s aftermath so overwhelming that I put the programme, and the poem, into my scrapbook and never subsequently published it anywhere else. I hope enough time has gone by for this piece to re-emerge without triggering further trauma, as I think it captures the tenor of the time.
I’ve taken the liberty of including the TPF’s biographical page. Like so many things in the scrapbook, aesthetically it’s testament to that time before computers when we all pasted up our PR and ran it through a photocopier. This poem appears exactly how I presented it to the organisers myself, from my own typewriter. (I did not, however, write the biography describing me as ‘one of Melbourne’s most acclaimed performance poets’! But I CAN tell you that THAT moment of fame lasted for about five minutes … ☺️)