By Shelley Burr
On Friday 16 August I attended the launch of six poetry chapbooks (and relaunch of three more) by Subbed In, a Sydney based independent publisher, at Playing Fields cafe in Canberra.
Subbed In was established in 2015, growing from backyard poetry sessions at a share house in Melbourne to a digital magazine (Ibis House) and non-profit publisher. Subbed In occupies a still desperately underserved segment in the Australian arts community—providing ‘a platform to amplify under-represented voices, facilitating grassroots support for young and emerging writers to achieve publication or performance.’
In 2018 Subbed In launched a crowdfunding campaign, raising enough funds to publish six new works of poetry from six artists—Eloise Grills, Jason Gray, Cham Zhi Yi, Šime Knežević, Jennifer Nguyen and Marcus Whale.
The launch night felt like being welcomed into that share house backyard. Playing Fields cafe is a writer’s dream, with a performance space big enough for an enthusiastic but not intimidating audience.
The walls are lined with floor to ceiling bookshelves stacked with second hand books, and by the intermission half the audience had found something worth pulling down and leafing through. (To be clear, my main metric for the quality of a party is how many of the guests have raided the host’s bookshelves by the end of the night.)
Seven artists shared their work. Shu-ling Chua, read from a collection of poems. Maree Stott read from her in progress novel, a sharp and funny story about the complex relationships of primary school girls. Both Shu-ling and Maree are alumni of the ACT Writers Centre’s Hardcopy program, in 2015 and 2018 respectively. Melbourne singer l. james e performed his self described ‘mental health lullabies’. Aline-Mwezi Niyonsenga read an extract from her short story Light Boy Blue Lake, published in Djed Magazine. The evening closed with readings from three poets— Saaro Umar, Zhi Yi Cham reading from the newly launched blur by the, and Jennifer Nguyen reading from When I die slingshot my ashes onto the surface of the moon.
There was an air of spontaneity around all of the performances—one performer announced that she’d changed her mind about what she would read at the last minute, while another confessed that she’d been editing a piece only a few hours before the event began. It created an impression that the audience was being let in on something intimate, a peek inside notebooks at works in progress.
Further launch events were held in Eora (Sydney) on 22 August and Birraranga (Melbourne) on 24 August. The launched books are available now on the Subbed In website.