I can’t begin to tell you how pleased I am to be doing this. As I drift out of poetry — indeed, out of writing generally —– I become even more convinced of the importance of writing, and of the writing of poetry in particular. It is, I think, a foundational human activity, civilisation’s very cornerstone. As the world becomes more literal, more technical, less subtle, super-prosaic, the need for the beauty, uncertainty, enigma — the very shimmer — of poetry comes to assume ever greater import. Poetry might not save the world — but poetry is the reason why the world is worth saving.

That, I agree, is a somewhat startling claim. Here’s what I mean by it. We who value poetry might abandon the writing of it as a formal activity, narrowly defined — as I appear to be doing. But we should, all of us, live lives of poetry. I came to this conclusion last Saturday, when I made a political speech in Launceston. Someone came up to me afterwards and said, ‘I have never heard politics sound so much like a poetry reading’ — and I thought: ‘Yes!’ That could be the greatest compliment I’ve ever received. It is more important, I decided, in these perilous, spirit-deadening times in which we live, to embody poetry in your person than it is to write poetry.

But of course, such a stark distinction can’t really be sustained. We can only imagine how it might be to live poetically because poets have taken the trouble to write poetry.

What is needed is for the common view that poetry is an arcane, ultimately ephemeral activity to dissolve and slip away. It didn’t help, here in these benighted times, that our nation’s leading publishers decided, all in the same year and apparently without reference to each other, to opt out of poetry publication — an act of cultural treason, in my view. It was certainly a body blow. We were rescued by the democracy of the net and by a courageous few publishers of the small and middle range who filled the void that should never have been there in the first place. They deserve gongs — especially the smallest of the small, those who, with almost no resources and with scant or no assistance from the public purse, keep the pure, poetic heart of literary expression beating.

They deserve gongs. And so, say I — arise, Sir Peter Macrow!

Let’s talk about blue giraffe. It is a physically pleasing object. It feels good and gentle to the touch. It is simple, dignified and stylish — not unlike Sir Peter himself. Ninety-five percent of Tasmanians will see it on the counter here and will deem it a humble little enterprise of the fringes. That ninety-five percent will be wrong. Here, in blue giraffe —  not there on that table of the latest big-publisher releases — lies the heart of Australian writing. Without blue giraffe and its like publications — Famous Reporter, for example (I see you over there Ralph — arise, Sir Ralph) — literature becomes a mere matter of grubby commerce, hyped-up packets of puff, soap powder for the fluffy intelligentsia.

So. Never stop, Peter. Never stop.

The featured poet in blue giraffe 4 is Karen Knight. Karen’s poetry slides through your consciousness like watered silk on skin. Hers is a talent to die for. Her work is thematically diverse, imagistically perfect, beautifully composed on the page, beautiful to the ear. She neither understates nor overstates, she is not excessively spare, but in her poems nothing is ever surplus to requirements, not a single word. It is ridiculous, I know, in the context of poetry, but I find myself thinking as I read Karen’s work — that’s perfect.

But Karen is here with us, and I’m hoping we might hear from her shortly. I’m going to speak of some of the other poems that Peter has gathered for this superb edition. What I say now will, I know, reveal more about me than anything else, because each reader of blue giraffe 4 will find their own themes and patterns, and these will accord with their own preoccupations. But this is what I saw,

I saw the past articulating into the present, sometimes seamlessly, sometimes by way of confrontation. Most of the poems here, it seems to me, seek, in large part, to make sense of the present in terms of the past — or vice versa. An example is Christina Kirkpatrick’s exquisitely-observed still life, ‘The Millhouse’. One of my favourite local poets, Christina — I just wish she would not hide her light under a bushel to the extent she does. Connie Barber’s ‘Old House Old Country’ works similarly. In this poem the past is a potent force within the present — but it is not well treated by the present and its crass preoccupations. And the past constructs the present, too, in Graeme Hetherington’s poetically-rendered account of his dialogue with Ralph Spaulding over how to treat The Mountain in metaphor. And it is there, too, in Adrian Flavell’s chilling poem, ‘Bait’, about an appalling atrocity deep within lost layers of time, but so tangible that ‘the bones of this story rattle through our families’.

Flavell’s poem also brings to mind a second quality running through blue giraffe 4. This is power. These are —  this is a generalisation of course, and not all poems conform to it —  not light-tripping poems. They are tough and muscular. This observation applies to the poems written by women, too —  these often exhibit a steeled resolve, a sure, staunch cast of mind deploying language appropriately resolute. The men ramp it up still further. Flavell’s poem is brutally unsentimental. So is john Egan’s poem, ‘Fire at Sea’. So is the poem that opens the collection — Henry Shearwater’s ‘Adam becomes a Mountain’ — a poem of unrelenting power, and absolutely marvellous.

But that’s enough from me. I saw other themes and commonalities in blue giraffe 4, and other readers will locate patterns entirely overlooked by me. What we will agree upon, I’m sure, is that blue giraffe 4 is a triumph. We who love words and their properties of magic owe Peter more than I can begin to say, and I hope blue giraffe is still going strong long after I am not.

I’m going to close by reading a poem by a Launceston poet who I think a terrific talent — but who is also inclined to reticence and has to be continually coaxed out of literary hiding. I know that Peter likes this poem, because he recited it to me in the street the other day — from memory — and when he got to the final line he punched the air.  So here it is, a deceptively simple, powerful, quintessentially Tasmanian poem, in which the past reaches tellingly into the present — Monique Sereda’s ‘Return to Waddamana’:

The river is dry.
Hills echo with silence
and empty spaces
carry the black jay’s cry.
Once the world began
and ended here,
or so it seemed,
where steel pipes
led the way to the sky
and men died.

Pete Hay’s   launch speech for Blue Giraffe 4 in December, 2006.

Pete Hay  Launch, Blue Giraffe 4

That, I agree, is a somewhat startling claim. Here’s what I mean by it. We who value poetry might abandon the writing of it as a formal activity, narrowly defined — as I appear to be doing. But we should, all of us, live lives of poetry. I came to this conclusion last Saturday, when I made a political speech in Launceston. Someone came up to me afterwards and said, ‘I have never heard politics sound so much like a poetry reading’ — and I thought: ‘Yes!’ That could be the greatest compliment I’ve ever received. It is more important, I decided, in these perilous, spirit-deadening times in which we live, to embody poetry in your person than it is to write poetry.