When minds met and traded verses

Updated: 2011-04-29 07:58

By Chitralekha Basu (China Daily)

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Kelly Lee Hickey won the National Australian Poetry Slam Championship in 2010 and her prize was an air ticket to Beijing. In China she happily became a part of the Bookworm International Literary Festival (BILF) held in March, trading verses with Malaysian-Australian rapper poet Omar Musa, sharing her thoughts on multicultural northern Australia, performing in front of a captive audience.

Hickey is slightly unconventional for a slam champ as her performances are hardly-ever high-octane. Her poems are brief (often not more than three lines), pithy and understated. Her themes are universal - about children being weaned "from milky breast to sunshine formula", or an elderly woman "smoking herself to death/ In a world of few choices/ She took one."

Some in the audience felt the cadence and metrical arrangement of her poems resonated with the spare nature of classical Chinese poetry, which, incidentally, Hickey is totally unfamiliar with.

"It's really flattering, given China has a long history of poetry and value placed on poetry," she says. "But I am a completely untrained poet."

Born and raised in Darwin, north Australia, Hickey brings to her poetry a sensibility that is distinctly Northern Territory - talking about a laid-back lifestyle, cozy afternoon naps and the love of beef.

No wonder then that Hickey should be so impressed by a poem by the Chinese poet Lan Lan, at a BILF reading. In the poem, titled Siesta, Lan Lan portrays a village at midday.

Noon. The village sinks

Into bright midnight.

In the room, a draft coasts the spine of

A dozing man,

The woman lying on a kang-mat, her

Child at her breast

Their fragrant bodies aligned with


Hickey says this was just the kind of peasant family scene she would often see in the Northern Territory, marked by a hot monsoon climate.

"The image of the child resting at the mother's breast enables many different stories to come together and feed into the stream of humanity," she says.

The poem is particularly poignant, she feels, when read in the context of rampant urbanization in China.

"In Chinese cities people cannot afford to stop. Siesta is an endangered species," Hickey says.

Her own poetry is often about reflecting on such moments of inactivity, which, as Lan Lan's poem suggests, could lead to a communion with "the deepest silence in the world".

China Daily


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