Lines for Birds

I took the opportunity this morning to head into Melbourne on a beautiful Sunday morning for a session at the Melbourne Writers Festival. I haven’t been in the last couple of years, and good poetry seems to be in scant supply in this age of fashionable fiction, but the collaboration between poet Barry Hill and artist John Wolseley on a book about birds did appeal to me.

I wasn’t disappointed. Lines for Birds is a beautiful collaboration. The poet and artist spoke for about an hour, showing images from the book and reading poems. It was an odd and amusing double-act and one of those rare occasions when the poet sounded sensible and rational alongside the artist who was eccentric and somewhat rambling and ill at ease with the workings of the projector, but whose work shone with vividness and lucidity that occasionally elicited audible gasps from the small but appreciative audience.

And the poems were good too, mostly it seems following the artist’s vision and responding to the works of arts even more directly than they were responding to the birds. It was well worth the short journey in and great too to see the long lines of Melburnians waiting to hear Jonathan Franzen in another venue. Writing, it seems, is alive and well despite our uneasiness about the rise of the e-book.

And this lovely looking book, with its colour illustrations and beautiful use of white space, is not any time soon going to be replaced with a digital version. I bought a copy and was happy to have it signed and happy too enjoy the delicate little ink drawings Wolseley had put around the title page of some of the copies for sale.

I should add too that it was interesting to hear the artist talk about John Shaw Neilson and his poetry given that I’ve just been thinking about Neilson and his work and that I’d even quoted from one of Neilson’s poems about birds in the previous blog post and that was before I even knew about this session. Birds, landscape, poetry, art, they all ripple out and echo in together somehow at the moment.

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