Monday, 20 July 2015

In with the Old(s)


Festivals have never really been my thing. More specifically, crowds have never been my thing. Having said that, I have ventured to Bluesfest in Byron Bay nearly every year since 2006 with my family due to the median age being roughly 52, so I feel as though I know enough to make a few summarising statements on these celebrations.

When you go to festivals, often you spend most of your time looking forward to the performers or artists that you know the best. You download every album from your favourite band and listen to it on repeat on the tram to work so that you can be front and centre when the lead singer announces that they're going to try something off their B-Sides, on the off chance he sees you - and only you - singing along, not missing a beat or a lyric. Naturally you hope this progresses to some sort of Bruce Springsteen/Courtney Cox "Dancing in the Dark" stage rendezvous and enough of your friends Instagram it so you can share with the world your fifteen seconds of fame.

The secondary bonus of festivals is discovering a new band or artist that speaks to you in a way that you thought couldn't be achieved anymore - well, not since the death of Amy Winehouse, anyway. This has happened to me at countless Bluesfests before, so I don't know why I didn't expect for it to happen here - in Mildura, at a writers festival.

I was familiar with some of Tom Keneally's work prior to the festival, and knew of but had not read any of Alexis Wright. For this reason I chalked my potential festival highlights down to this unlikely pair. What I was not expecting was to be blown away by any of the other writers featured at Mildura Writers Festival 2015 - least of all a poet.
It's not that I have anything against poets, but rather that I never studied poetry and as such never thought it could speak to me - or maybe that it might try, and I wouldn't hear.

Sharon Olds' authentic stage presence that combined the near-impossible contradiction of genuine humility and simultaneous pride in her work captivated me from the moment she spoke. Before she had read any of her work I knew that I wanted to hear it, and that it would mean something to me. Earlier today she read the short poem "Diagnosis" which saw me, and the rest of the audience, reacting with fits of laughter and applause. However it was a previous ode that truly cemented Sharon as my personal festival highlight .

'Ode to Hymen' was an incredibly funny yet thoughtful piece of art that demonstrated - even to men, like myself - a woman's connection with her body, and this specific membrane. She used humour to convey the message that all parts of the body are beautiful and sacred, bouncing between descriptors that painted the hymen as a gentle flower, and punchy one-liners like "one-time piñata".

What I thought was most important and provocative was Olds' decision to use this platform to also address a more dire issue for women, which is their security. I can't remember the exact quote, but it went something along the lines of "and how lucky we are that we got to choose when, and where and with whom" when discussing the breaking of the hymen.

Olds' seems to be perpetually demonstrating that art, specifically poetry, can be both funny and extremely meaningful simultaneously, while moving its readers/listeners/viewers in a way they hadn't expected, provoking thought on greater issues that might otherwise be swept under a rug.

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