In the month-long celebration of the body that is Mardi Gras, Perverse Verse is a great cerebral -“ and emotional -“ distraction.

Every year the event has its stalwarts, the poets who read in the mainstream arts community for the rest of the year and return to the Sydney Writer’s Centre for every event.

There are also new poets, some with little reading experience, who find, at Perverse Verse, an audience unlikely to turn its nose up at controversial content, and very unlikely to hurl abuse from the back.

Jenny Nixon describes herself as one of the original dinosaurs of Sydney’s queer poetry community, and says the beauty of Perverse Verse is its gay and lesbian audience.

There’s a trust, she says. A trust that you can take your voice with you. At other readings I might not feel as comfortable coming out, sometimes it’s like you have to be on your guard.

There’s also a sense of celebration, she says, in catching up with some of the other writers she’s experienced in the past 30 years.

We’re like a Queer Poet’s Society, although it’s not that we get together much. If you’re a queer writer -“ and so many people are, whether they have boxes of poetry under their bed or whatever -“ this is a chance to come and really experience good writing.

Perverse Verse is one of the sleeper success stories of Mardi Gras. It’s been running in one form or another since the 1980s, when the Feminist Bookshop (still the major event organiser) held lesbian readings for poets like the then little-known Dorothy Porter.

In the mid-90s the Bookshop joined forces with Laurin McKinnon and Gary Dunne from gay publishers BlackWattle Press and held the first combined lesbian and gay poetry reading as part of a Mardi Gras festival.

Dunne is still a regular reader, and he agrees the events provide a great sense of community for writers and audience members alike.

I’ve read at all sorts of places and it’s often bloody hard work, Dunne says.

It just takes some idiot drinking up the back to make it all go wrong. But at the Writer’s Centre, sitting in that beautiful building in the middle of an insane asylum, with that wonderful audience, it really frees you, he says.

And the calibre is really excellent. We’ve got Jenny Nixon, who’s read everywhere. She’s read in more pubs than I’ve drunk in. And Jill Jones is one of Australia’s leading poets.

We’re all different, but we’ve all got this in common, that we identify with this community.

The Feminist Bookshop will present Perverse Verse on Saturday 11 February at 4:30pm for 5pm start at the NSW Writers’ Centre, Rozelle Hospital Grounds (follow signs from Balmain Road). Tickets are $10 at the door, go early to get a seat, and stay for drinks on the terrace with the poets after the reading. Visit The Feminist Bookshop website for more information.

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