The Wombats of Bundanon - book cover

At the Friend in Hand pub in Glebe.
So, there we are: Poets and Wombats in the same title. Poets numbered (twenty of us) and wombats innumerable (though poets do seem to be multiplying every time you look around).

Regarding that syntax – poets are wombats? Let’s see. As in the old joke, some poets, definitely. Burrowing creatures? Yes. Bent on doing their own thing? Yes. Thick-skinned? No! Nocturnal? Often. Sharp of claw? Mmm. Lumbering? Slow??

And translatable? Well, that’s always the question, so how’s your Mandarin? Because this was the launch of Kit Kelen’s second anthology of Australian Poets, the poets and poems selected by him and translated into Chinese by his small group of very keen poets/translators from the University of Macau. We had met at Bundanon the year before, in face-to-face sessions of poet and translator; here was the resulting book.

There we were, too, the poets, or some from this anthology and some from the next, and friends. Anna Couani did the honours and with great calm MC’d events in the upstairs bar. Our reading was going pretty well until the live crab-derby – amazingly, crabs on the downstairs bar – excited the race-caller beyond reason and the sound of his amplified bellowing and of crabs (or balloons) exploding came up the stairs and into the audience.

As well as Anna, we were, in very approx. reading order: Chris Mansell, Margaret Bradstock, Pam Brown, Andy Kissane, Louise Wakeling, Carol Jenkins, Martin Langford, Philip Salom, Michelle Cahill and David Musgrave. (I think that’s everyone.)

Earlier, there was a launch of Decline and Fall, a beautiful bi-lingual pocket-book of poems by Rae Desmond Jones – complete with readings by the poet in his wonderfully droll manner; and a launch of Kit Kelens’ own poems, a fulsome Selected Poems in English and Mandarin. Some Chinese students added to the night by reading from these books, in Mandarin and Cantonese. (Earlier, my landlady for the night, the owner of the guest house I was staying in, told me she thinks Cantonese speakers sound like mad people fighting! She speaks Mandarin.) Somebody downstairs, having perhaps lost money on a slow and crabby crab, lit the log fire and nearly smoked us out, proving yet again how smoke, heat and bloody noise always rise to the top. All in all, loads of fun.

Carol Archer’s impressively detailed tree drawing decorates the book cover and keeps on making me think of that other wombatty creature, the koala, but there are none in the branches.