MOVING: Isaac Dugdale reads his poem at the opening of the Poetry in ACTION project. Photo: Jay Cronan
Ours must be a terrible city in which to be a philistine. However hard one tries it's desperately difficult to avoid art. Art stalks Canberrans and from today it will even follow commuters on to ACTION buses.
''Art should be everywhere,'' David Whitney of artsACT preached to us (preaching to the converted in our case) on Monday morning as rugged-up and rain-dampened poets, press and politicians milled together in the intimate space of an articulated ACTION bus. We were at the launch of the 2013 Poetry In ACTION project.
Our bus was, the bow-tied Whitney explained, a kind of ''show bus'' in which all 10 of the winning poems (from 270 submitted) were on display. As a general rule the average poetry-embossed bus on an average major intercity routes will have perhaps only one or two of the 10 poems displayed, and sharing space with advertisements.
Not even anti-art philistines will find much to disapprove of. The poems are all an undemandingly short maximum of eight lines each (a concession not only to the modern attention span but also to the scarcity of room on bus walls) and most are free of any bewildering punctuation (but how fogeys like this columnist, commuting, will itch to get out their felt-tipped pens and discipline these poems with the occasional full stop and semi-colon!). Few of the poems make any unreasonable intellectual demands. Most are little hymns of praise to Canberra, that dear little centenarian.
At Monday's engaging occasion (it felt good to be safe and dry together in the warm shelter of the bus while outside a Siberian breeze hurled freezing raindrops around Civic Square) the poets read their poems to a captive audience. Outside it was Siberia but on the bus, it was a Writers' Festival.
Probably the only two poems of the 10 the philistines will struggle with will be those of Geoff Page and of Moya Pacey. The first asks readers to imagine that their lives are as ephemeral as an autumn leaf, and imagining things is not a philistine's strength. The second requires readers to know enough history to know who the ''Marion'' is and what it was that was rushed out of Chicago at midnight. Philistines won't have the foggiest.
BANNER MOMENT: Unfurling the Canberra centenary flag, from left – back row, DFAT’s Fred Smith, AusAid’s Steve Burns and Brek Batley and Major Haydn Barlow; Front, Corporal Chris Moore and DFAT’s David Windsor. Photo: Supplied
Here is Geoff Page's
Manuka In April:
After all the reds and russets
you are driving down
this street because
you've long known
how its elms reach in
To stage their yellow
storms of Autumn
And how when you're all
said and done
You're no more than a leaf yourself
Twisting through a slant of sun.
Here is Meeting The Deadline
by Moya Pacey:
Marion feels the city beautiful
quicken beneath her fingertips.
she creates a work of art
imbued with sepia and gold.
Blueprint for Walter's dream -
a capital city imagined -
dispatched at midnight
from Chicago to Australia.
Some of Monday's rugged-up bards in our busload were refreshingly young. There are times when this centenary's celebrations can feel like a gerontojamboree of grey nomads but here for example one of the 10 poets, Isaac Dugdale, is so young that he hasn't even got his driving licence yet. Most of his fellow year 12s have got theirs but a licence still eludes him.
''Having recently failed my driving test - I think I did a lot of things wrong. I think I tried to turn into the wrong lane or something and it was pretty scary for everybody involved - I think sticking to buses is probably the safer option.''
Untitled, by Isaac Dugdale:
At school my fellow yr 12s
moan about petrol prices
About rampant kangaroos
and deflating tyres
Battle to leave the school carpark
So many close calls I'm sure
one'll be a martyr soon
And this is only early in the year,
wait till year 11 can drive
The free carparking spaces
take a dive
Shout out to those who know
buses are best
You know what? I'm glad I failed
my driving test
Monday's poets were all enthusiastic about having their work in such public places and David Whitney thought that since art should be everywhere. ''This gives people a chance to sit on a bus and look up and contemplate a poem about Canberra. And it gives poets an opportunity. Poetry is usually a very closed world, but this is an opportunity, and it's the third year we've done it, to take poetry to where people are.''
Canberra message to troops
We are used to associating our city's name with the green and eucalypt-upholstered backdrop of the ACT's meadows and mountains. And so it bewilders, for a moment, to see this Centenary of Canberra banner framed by Afghanistan's dramatically bare and arid mountainscape, near Tarin Kot.
Chief Minister Katy Gallagher recently sent the banner and a letter of support to all Australian troops and civilians, and particularly those from the nation's capital, serving in Afghanistan.
"Our city has always had a strong and enduring association with the Services, dating back to the very first days of our city with the establishment of the Military College in 1911," the message said.
''This Centenary of Canberra banner is a small gesture of the ACT government's appreciation of the brave work that you are undertaking in Afghanistan. The thoughts of all Canberrans are with you."