Off the page and onto the stage: poetry from and in the heart of Queanbeyan

Omar Musa with Guyy and the Fox
2:30 – 4:15pm Saturday 3 April 2021
The Q, Queanbeyan

There may be more yarns than at a knitting bee when Omar Musa performs at the Good Folk event in Queanbeyan over Easter. And they’ll be carefully blended with songs and poems.

This interview with Omar Musa also features the first reading of his new poem, Flannel Flowers

Omar Musa comes from an artistic pedigree. His father is a poet, his mother, Helen, a well-know arts journalist.

‘The arts kind of runs in my blood, you know, I was very, very privileged growing up to be able to go to a lot of exhibitions and shows and theatre shows, concerts. And so I was always really drawn to performing,’ he says.

‘My father told me that in Malaysia and Indonesia, poetry was at its best when it was performed when people lived and breathed that onstage and got up and use their whole bodies and modulating their voices. And it was as much a theatre show as anything. That seemed quite different to the poetry that I was taught at school.’

Performance poetry is lively, but in the past it has also proved dangerous. In the 1990s, Omar’s parents introduced him to a visiting Indonesian poet who had been jailed for his poetry, and had even had a bomb thrown on stage while he was performing.

‘And so, you know, I had this idea of poetry that was performed, and I got into hip hop at an early age and, and then eventually, that became performance poetry, slam poetry, which I don’t do anymore. But you know, that was my entry point into getting the poetry off the page and onto the stage.’

Omar says that he’ll be doing ‘a whole bunch of new work’ at his Good Folk performance.

‘I’ll be doing some older hip hop songs as well, and telling a few yarns, you know, maybe a few yarns about Queanbeyan. I sort of I like to play it by ear, you know . . . sometimes I like to just get into the space and feel what the audience is putting out.’

He was pleasantly surprised early last year, when with only three days’ notice a ‘couple of hundred people’ turned up to a fundraiser he had organised for animals injured in the bushfires. He believes it’s part of a hunger in Queanbeyan for performance, for stories and the arts more generally.

‘It’s changed a lot since I was a kid. I do believe it’s always been a place rich with stories. And that’s informed a lot of my work, ‘ he says.

While poetry is his living, Omar now also works in the visual arts. He learnt to do wood cuts prints in Borneo, and has been working at a glass art studio in Queanbeyan. He will publish a book later this year, with a mixture of woodcuts, poems and stories, some focussed on his connection to Borneo and to the ocean, and others on Ngunnawal country.

‘Sometimes I’ve felt during my life that I don’t have a home because I’ve been in between cultures, but I think it’s alright to have a few homes, you know, and I’m trying to represent that in my work. And so there’s a lot about bushfires as well and also about the COVID era where we are not allowed to leave our houses or houses not allowed to travel very far. So our imaginations, our windows and our mirrors. have become portals to these dreamed worlds.’

Tickets for Omar Musa’s performance with Guyy and the Fox are available at https://www.folkfestival.org.au/good-folk

Image of Omar Musa from Good Folk website