There has been a huge amount of discussion over the last year about funding the arts. Some of the cuts which have been made, like those nationally to the Australia Council or those here in Western Australia to the Premier’s Literary Prize, are frightening in the message they send about the perceived worth of artistic contributions to culture. Other voices in the discussion, like David Henley’s recent article in Seizure (http://seizureonline.com/on-art-money/) on building audiences for the arts, have drawn our focus to an underlying problem—that the arts are not self-sustaining in our country. Across it all, a complex sense of value has emerged.
This is why Westerly is now launching ‘Word Matters’, a project looking to play with the economy of writing. Three poems have been commissioned from two brilliant emerging young writers, SJ Finch and Siobhan Hodge, exploring ideas of value and recompense. Two-line excerpts from these poems will be printed on limited edition business cards and spread across the nation. You will find the full works in the next issue, coming out November.
This project is a response to the ways in which we value the arts in our country. It was developed in reaction to the cuts we have seen, but seeks also to challenge us to reflect on the situation underlying them. You will come across these cards in a whole range of places across Perth, sent out with every copy of Westerly, and popping up in random places in other cities and towns. The cards offer poetry as a currency, point to the work of writing, and question ideas of value in the sense that they both represent the contribution to culture offered by our publication and play with that normally associated with ‘business’.
Here then are the three-fold meanings behind the name ‘Word Matters’: we are looking at word matters—these questions surrounding the arts in our economy; we are making clear that to us, word does matter, that it is valuable in infinitely complex ways; and finally, we are playing with word as matter, with material objects in trade.
From the 9th to the 13th of November, Steven Finch will bring our project to its culmination, in running a poem shop ‘The Poesy Merchant’ from a secret location in North Perth. Here, shoppers will be able to ‘buy’ poems with poems—Steven will be offering a trade of poetry for lines of his own writing.
We want Word Matters to draw attention to the value of the written word as an art form. We want to make a statement about the cuts literature has suffered, and encourage people to consider what of worth might be lost. And we ask that you get involved. The project will be taking over our Twitter stream (@WesterlyMag) with the hashtags #westerlywordmatters and #thepoesymerchant. Reply, respond, or follow us to see how far we can spread the word…