Why poetry is having a COVID-inspired comeback

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Poet and filmmaker Jazz Money thinks poetry is having a moment.

“I’ve only been in this line of work for a little while,” they say. “But, I think there is an incredible swell of people who are writing and engaging with poetry now.”

Jazz Money performs at the National Poetry Month Gala on Friday.Credit: Edwina Pickles

Money, an artist of Wiradjuri and Irish heritage whose first poetry collection, how to make a basket, won the 2020 David Unaipon Award, is one of Australia’s most significant poets.

They believe more people started getting interested in poetry during the pandemic.

“COVID really changed things for poetry,” they say. “My ability to read a novel during lockdown, I couldn’t do it. My attention span was cooked. I spoke to a lot of people who were really struggling to focus on things.

“And, there was just something about poetry.”

‘People who hadn’t known they had a love of poetry, found it or returned to it.’

Money believes something lies in the medium’s immediacy and brevity.

“You can read a one-page poem, and have the same sense of awe and wonder and love for the world that can sometimes not even be accomplished in a novel,” they say.

“People who hadn’t known they had a love of poetry, found it or returned to it. They suddenly found a great form of comfort and love for a medium that’s actually always been with us.”

In August, Money is part of Poetry Month, a national event celebrating poets, publishers and lovers of the form.

Overseen by Red Room Poetry, the festival’s third year mixes online and live events in nine cities across Australia.

A national gala, which features performances by Money, 2023 Stella Prize winner Sarah Holland-Batt, actor Chika Ikogwe, hip hop artist L-FRESH the LION and a First Nations choir singing in language, leads four weeks of workshops, competitions,, online book clubs, open mics and daily commissioned poems.

Money says the poetry community, whether online or in person, is broad, supportive and keenly inclusive.

“I don’t think it’s an exclusive medium and I think that’s part of the reason people are coming to it,′ they say.

Jazz Money has managed to turn writing poetry into a full-time job.

Money is a cross-disciplinary artist, traversing film, written work and performance, who has presented work at TEDx Sydney, the Edinburgh International Book Festival, Literature Live! Mumbai, Performance Space New York, and Auckland Writers Festival. They have spent years writing poetry.

In 2021, it became a full-time vocation.

“When I tell people that I’m a poet, a lot of the time, there’s a bit of shock that that is even a viable job,” they say. “But, it’s not only viable, it’s really exciting and abundant and incredibly generous.”

Money says they started writing poetry to make sense of things.

“Poetry is a medium where you can put a lot of complexity on the page,” they say. “Contradictory things. Things that are hard to talk about in life … When you put them down on the page, suddenly they become a contained, understandable thing.

“Even the elements that are sticky, the poem doesn’t necessarily seek to resolve all those things. But, it can hold them and say, ‘Yeah, all these things can be true at once. You can be all these things’.

“That’s when poetry is, for me, such a powerfully cathartic thing.”

Dr Tamryn Bennett, Red Room Poetry’s artistic director, says everyone, no matter their age, interest level or sense of being a poet, can join in Poetry Month events.

Tamryn Bennett is a poet, and the artistic director of Red Room Poetry.

“The way younger people are engaging with poetry as an art form, it is so malleable,” she says. “You see it on Instagram and TikTok.

“Amanda Gorman, the US National Youth Poet Laureate who read at Joe Biden’s inauguration speech in 2021, captured the imagination of so many people in the way poetry can be the most potent use of our language.”

She points to the annual Stella Prize, which made poetry eligible for the first time in 2022 and subsequently awarded the main prize to poets Sarah Holland-Batt and Goorie-Koori writer Evelyn Araluen.

An official Australian poet laureate is set to be appointed under the federal government’s new national cultural policy.

“We know that there’s a real audience and appetite for this,” Bennett says. “We want to provide a platform that allows as many people as possible to engage with poetry.”

It’s also an art form that shaped her life. Growing up hearing-impaired, Bennett says words and language were initially scary.

“I came to poetry through the visual,” she says. “Poetry is really a way of living for me. It’s the music of clouds or the sun.

“However we move through life, we can do that in a poetic way.”

Poetry Month runs until August 31. The National Poetry Month Gala is at the Neilson Nutshell on August 4.

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