You Are Here’s Friday night event, Everything at Once and Altogether, more than lived up to its ambitious name. Packed with DJs, live music, street art, dance, and all kinds of experimental performance art, Verity Lane, a small space in Canberra’s CBD, was transformed into an immersive and otherworldly experience. However, it was one of the more unassuming installations, Amelia Filmer-Sankey’s Coin Operated Poetry Box, which attracted a sizeable crowd early in the evening.
Coin Operated Poetry Box was a unique interaction between the solitary pursuit of writing poetry and the collaborative medium of performance art. Filmer-Sankey dispensed poems on request from a glass and wooden box, inside which the décor resembled a 1950s office in miniature. The box initially caused some confusion but soon began running smoothly after some hand signals from the artist. The audience waited patiently in line to request a poem with the provided order form, choosing from categories including Dystopian Australian, History of Religion, Women and Work, and Lust + Love and Living.
Filmer-Sankey’s written instructions were simple: Wait for Coin Operated Poetry Box to process your order and administer to your poetry needs, Receive words, Go on with your life. Of course, this was not as easy as it sounds. After receiving an order form, Filmer-Sankey typed a short fragment of poetry onto a photo and also provided a longer prepared poem; “fickle/like eggs/that break/before water”, read one of the photos. The poems were brief but intriguing, all the more because they provoked a dialogue about the necessary but under-valued role of art in modern society. While some of the audience glanced at their poems before moving onto another performance, others remained transfixed by the words and Filmer-Sankey herself.
Coin Operated Poetry Box also featured an information panel about Hope Verity Fitzhardinge, Verity Lane’s namesake, who opened Verity Hewitt’s Bookshop in East Row on 1 April 1938. According to her biography, “from second-hand books, [Verity Hewitt’s Bookshop] expanded to sell new books, prints and artefacts, and to hold art exhibitions. Unsuccessful financially, it became a ‘pool of light’ for the book-starved community, reflecting the friendliness of its owner, who delivered library books by sulky.” This information added to the anachronistic impression of Coin Operated Poetry Box, its humble approach to art almost out of place in 2016.
It is clear from the success of You Are Here that contemporary Canberra, while no longer book-starved, is still in need of community events that provide a space for innovative and engaging art. By dispensing poetry in the midst of our everyday lives, Coin Operated Poetry Box was one small but successful contribution to this aim.
Express Media’s Buzzcuts program is presented in Canberra in partnership with Scissors Paper Pen and You Are Here. Visit buzzcuts.org.au for more.
Image: Sarah Walker
Molly McLaughlin is a freelance writer and passable Economics student from a small town in NSW. She writes for HerCanberra and has been published in Feminartsy, with work forthcoming in Demos and Woroni. She likes eavesdropping on public transport, cheese pizza and Instagram poets. She lives in Canberra, for now.