Poetic City 2021: Canberra

The Poetic City Festival ran through March and April 2021 at a multitude of venues in and around Canberra. Together with a band of willing helpers, local poet Jacqui Malins put together an extensive program of poetry readings, workshops, installations and other events.

The Festival opened on 15 March with the launch of Issue 8 of the online journal, Not Very Quiet, edited by Moya Pacey and Sandra Renew. Many contributing poets were on hand to read their work to a receptive audience at Smith’s Alternative. You can read current and past issues of Not Very Quiet here.

Poetic City took poetry to the public with outdoor readings, poetry installations and even an outdoor poetry cinema screening short poetry videos.

Among other events, I attended a reading of tanka poetry held in the rotunda at Glebe Park. Hosted by Michael Thorley and Kathy Kituai, the afternoon featured tanka, tanka prose and tanka sequence readings by seven local poets.

Robyn Sykes brought Brush With Poetry (usually held in Binalong) to Haig Park in Canberra for a poet’s breakfast. This open mic session included presentations by more than a dozen poets from the region plus a number of interstate visitors and ‘passers-by’ who were keen to recite poems or share their original work. The morning concluded with local musical duo, The Cashews, playing a set of their own songs.

Robyn Sykes at Brush With Poetry in Haig Park

I read a couple of my poems at the poet’s breakfast including A Fish In The Sand which contains the following lines:

A couple of parallel curves for the gills, a slender tail, a dorsal fin,
An eye, straining to focus for the first time.

. . .

despite its transient nature, despite having
the look of freeze-dried coffee granules waiting for water,
I’m proud of my fish.
I’m pleased it’s not for everyone, not trending on social media,
Not immortalised on the world wide web.
After all, it’s just a personal matter between me and the sand.

The 2021 Poetic City Festival closed on 26 April with an evening at Smith’s Alternative featuring readings of very personal and moving poems by Australian returned service men and women. The poems were written as part of the Australian Defence Force Arts for Recovery, Resilience, Teamwork and Skills Program which assists defence personnel facing health and wellbeing challenges.


To conclude the evening, and the 2021 Poetic City Festival, we were treated to a performance by local band, GWEN, who presented a lively set of their own songs all of which are based on the poems of renowned Australian poet and librettist, Gwen Harwood (1920-1995). Here are a few lines from the song, Snow in the City, which draws on Gwen Harwood’s poem titled September Snow, Hobart:

In their hives of glass and concrete, the workers take their lives
into their hands.
An old clerk leaning
from a window holds a snowflake on his tongue.
Ah, to be young:
he stands with morning melting on his tongue.

Thanks to Jacqui Malins and everyone involved in putting together this year’s Poetic City Festival.