Poetic commune

Emerging and established poets will unite in 22 Pillars, an experimental performance all about Fremantle.

The event is part of High Tide, where artists respond to their local environment, and all 22 poets will explore some aspect or archetype of the port city.

“To have the whole cohort focused on the Fremantle theme is really a first for the city,” says event director Jennifer Kornberger.

Over the last few years Kornberger has been experimenting with ways to bring poetry into new contexts, and her two previous spoken word projects, Forest of Poets and Oraculum, were performed in public places to create a raw exchange with the audience.

“I’ve always had a simple fascination with the way people can be moved by words, how they can be stirred or soothed or shown another way to feel,” Kornberger says.

But 22 Pillars will go further than her previous works with the addition of a choir, who will sing about the significance of limestone in Fremantle’s history and culture.


Kornberger says the choir will add another element to the live performance and develop the idea that poetry is a unifying and collective experience.

“As a writer I know that poetry can be a fairly solitary pursuit—there’s the poet with the pen and there’s the reader with the book,” she says.

“But in its roots, poetry is communal.

“It’s a shared mythos—it’s the first songs of every culture.”

So when High Tide curator Tom Muller asked Kornberger to create a piece in response to the Pakenham Street Art Space, she decided to merge space and landscape with poetry to create a “living artwork that speaks, creates images, and makes its own world.

“It’s an orderly, evocative space, almost like a crypt,” Kornberger says.

“It has literally 22 jarrah pillars, each one crying out to be inhabited by a poet.”

There’s nothing in the performance to distract from the words: the lighting is simple and the human voice raw, and the poets’ costumes, designed by local designer Deborah McKendrick, are elegant and unadorned.

Kornberger says the performance will break down parameters and present poetry in a “completely new way”, with the hope that it will demonstrate, in one way or another, why verse is indispensable to our lives.

22 Pillars will be at PSAS, as part of the Fremantle Festival, on November 3-4.


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