Kei Miller Reads at Poetry On The Move

The 2019 Poetry On The Move festival included several poetry readings at Smith’s Alternative in Canberra. Among the featured poets were this year’s Poetry On The Move Poets-in-Residence:

Kei Miller, a Jamaican poet based in England;

Mani Rao from India;

Alvin Pang, based in Singapore; and

Tricia Dearborn from Australia.

These poets, together with a range of other Australian and international poets, provided great entertainment over several nights. The evening readings were introduced by Poetry On The Move festival director, Shane Strange.

2019 PotM - Reading
Shane Strange introducing poets at Smith’s Alternative

Award winning poet and novelist, Kei Miller, wowed the crowd with readings from his 2014 collection, The Cartographer Tries To Map A Way To Zion. These poems show how we each have our own experience of a place, our own reality of what a place is. In the book, a western cartographer is in conversation with a Jamaican rastaman about the nature of place. The cartographer says:

What I do is science. I show

the earth as it is, without bias.

I never fall in love. I never get involved

with the muddy affairs of land.

Too much passion unsteadies the hand.

I aim to show the full

of a place in just a glance.

While the rastaman explains (in English and patois) that a mapmaker actually leaves out the things which define a place:

Him work is to make thin and crushable

all that is big and as real as ourselves; is to make flat

all that is high and rolling; is to make invisible and wutliss

plenty things that poor people cyaa do without – like board

houses, and the corner shop from which Miss Katie sell

her famous peanut porridge.

You can find a longer extract from the book here. Curiously for a poem by a Jamaican writer, this link records the poem as one of the best Scottish poems of 2014! Kei was working at the University of Glasgow when The Cartographer was published – he is now Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Exeter.

You can find a review of The Cartographer Tries To Map A Way To Zion here.

Another stand out on the night was Kei’s poem, Place Name: Oracabessa. A poem about gold, and colonisation, that Kei read at the Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace in response to two of the gallery’s exhibitions: From Cairo to Constantinople, and Gold.

You can find a copy of Place Name: Oracabessa and hear Kei Miller reading the poem via this link. Listening to the poem, you feel the care Kei gives each word, the deliberate emphasis on this syllable or that, as he develops the thread of the poem.

Kei Miller’s reading in Canberra left the crowd enthused and wanting to hear more of his work.