Hay is going to the Faroe Islands to talk about Tasmanian Poetry!

Ever heard of the Faroe Islands? They’re half way between Scotland and Iceland, more or less, and as far as I can tell, they are most famous for puffins, sheep and magnificent woollen jumpers. And that they still whale. It’s basically a vertical-cliffed protrusion of basalt. And it rains a lot.

I’m going to an event, part literary festival, part academic conference, with the title ‘The Tower at the End of the World – Islands and Literature‘. I’m not there as a poet – but I intend to read poetry at every opportunity. Meanwhile, if you’re interested, here follows the abstract of what I’ll be spouting.



The island of Tasmania is introduced. Almost literally ‘the island at the end of the earth’, its turbulent past and divisive politics (over radically opposed future ‘dreamings’) are outlined, and a landscape saturated in an inherent passion is described. The conflicted past manifests in a determination on the part of economic and social elites to blur history – to reduce the island’s past to a series of whitewashing clichés, and to engage in a systematic forgetting. The best-known literary engagement with Tasmania’s ambiguous past, its conflicted present, and the deep elementality of its natural world, is that of Richard Flanagan, 2015 winner of the Man Booker Prize for his novel, The Narrow Road to the North. Flanagan’s fiction is structured around an insistence that the past not be elided but be confronted; its darknesses and ambiguities looked full in the face. The paper discusses the central place within Tasmania’s literary corpus of Flanagan’s first book, Death of a River Guide, in which he resurrects suppressed narratives from the past, installing those narratives at the front of a reluctant community’s idea of itself. Flanagan notwithstanding, though, the real keepers of the island’s communal memory are its poets. Tasmania is really ‘an island of poets’, and some of that poetry is presented. It is noted that Tasmanian poetry is self-consciously an island poetry, engaging with the particularity of the island in which its authors ply their craft. It is a poetry of ground and heart, unambiguously Tasmanian, though structured around familiar island tropes – the sea, the littoral zone, a psychology of boundedness, but with an awareness that those island bounds frame a startling and unique past. Above all it safeguards the passage of the past through the fraught present and into the future, insisting that the present cannot be understood without an understanding of the shaping influence of the past. Memory is contested in Tasmania, then – and this is not only a matter of ‘whose memory’, but also one of the very relevance of remembering, period.



Girl Reading Lorca at the Mirador San Nicolas

A poem by Pete Hay

Published in ‘Girl Reading Lorca’ (2014)


Granada, Lorca writes,
draws to its ancient walls and waters
those of a temper
melancholic, contemplative.

At the Mirador San Nicolas
the coral white of the tower
unbearably focuses the day’s high heat
on the brown body of a woman
who sits reading Lorca.
She is walled within the poet’s world,
alone with the breeze that comes
from the old hills of the Alhambra.

The Church of San Nicolas
is so clean, so white,
it surely casts no shadow.
It has summer’s uncomplication.
The girl reading Lorca ignores it.
She would spurn, I imagine,
this meditation on the simple,
hearing, more complexly,
all Granada singing at once:
rivers, voices, foliage, processions…

A gang of bikers comes to the Mirador,
all beergut and noise, with hair
as stiff and gunmetal as their Harleys.
They roister with backs to the Alhambra.
They do not see the bonfire of saffron, deep grey,
and blotting-paper pink of its walls.
None are reading Lorca.

The girl reading Lorca ignores the bikers.
How she does this is as mysterious as the town.
The heat and the glare and the blackjacket noise
batter my inner gates.
I seek the city’s hidden song,
its lilt on the wisps of the wind.
Granada is withdrawn, enclosed,
apt for rhythm and echo,
the marrow of music.

I want to peer over her shoulder
to read the poem she reads,
but that would be misconstrued.
Does she sleep the dream of the apple?
Is she a dark child,
wont to cut her heart on the high sea?
Does she read the great poet
into the walls and small surprising streets
of a city fit for dreams and daydreams,
a city with an atmosphere full
of difficult voices, an air so beautiful
it is almost thought?

The girl reading Lorca reads on
through the surging heat.
She ignores San Nicolas and the bikers –
and, it occurs to me now,
she also ignores the Alhambra.
The bikers straggle to their Harleys
in a fug of merriment; roar away.
The girl reads on.
We consult maps, strike
through the heat for Puerta Nueva,
for we must leave, but Granada remains.
Eternal in time, but fleeting
in these poor hands…

I look back.
In the day’s high heat
a girl is reading Lorca.