NOTE: Read about THEthe’s collaboration with the Red Room Company here.
Across Australia, each state, city, suburb and street autonomously divides itself into thousands of clubs and societies. Sport, politics, art, craft, collectors: people gather voluntarily, outside the confines of their immediate geography, social class or profession. They gather around a shared passion. As such, clubs and societies are sites of sharing: sharing of knowledge, stories, skills and resources.
Within these shared circles, language takes on a special role. Since members don’t have to articulate themselves for a general audience, vernacular becomes increasingly specialised. Often the assumed knowledge that lies within any given statement is so huge that, to an outsider, conversation at a club meeting would seem like a foreign language. For poetry, these distinctive argots provide fertile fields for experimentation, since every unique language has the potential to inform its own unique poetics.
The Red Room Company (RRC) set out to explore this terrain in 2011 through our major project, Clubs and Societies. We even set up our own Clubhouse in The Rocks in Sydney, complete with bunting, dartboard and our own selection of club records. There, we played host to clubs and visiting poets alike. We also produced an exclusive club pack for new members, with specially designed membership pins (one of the pleasures of being in a club is allowing oneself to get a little obsessive over things…).
The project worked by pairing up 15 poets from across Australia with 15 diverse clubs and societies. Each poet and their club was handpicked by RRC Artistic Director – and Club President – Johanna Featherstone. Poets were chosen both for the quality of their work, as well as their potential to creatively engage with their host club as a kind of Club Poet Laureate.
Poets were asked to open their practice to the experience as much as possible, and we encouraged experimentation and a free interpretation of the notion of ‘poetry’. In some cases, the club’s influence is discernible not only in the poem’s content, but also in its form. Kit Brookman, for example, paired with the Astronomical Society of NSW, collected smaller, imagistic poems–little vignettes – like the singular view through a telescope of a section of night sky. Ali Alizadeh, on the other hand, responded to the lecture-based Existentialist Society with a longer, discursive, almost essayistic poem. Meanwhile, Michael Giacometti, working with the Central Australian Bushwalkers, collected over 20 short poems and haikus, quickly scribbled at breaks along the track: evocations, often humorous, of exhaustion and thirst through the middle of Australia.
Over the next month we’ll present a selection of the commissioned poems, as well as snippets from a research report compiled by Jacinta van den Berg, which investigated links between poetry and clubs in Australia. Within these works, poets represent the customs of clubs in super close-up, like cultures in a petri dish. In contrast, the research project zooms out, considering the role clubs and societies play in the broader social picture, and how that role is comparable (or incomparable) to poetry’s. We hope that readers, whether poets, club members, both or neither, enjoy this selection.