Capital: The Beginning of the Word

Madeleine Dore

Dream-like in its surprises, a night of poetry in the iconic La Trobe Reading Room was a reminder of the vast artistic talent found in all corners of Melbourne.
Capital: The Beginning of the Word

Photography by Caterina Fizzano

A night of poetry-reading at the State Library of Victoria morphed into a spectacular that was in equal parts elegant and magical. 

Dome Centenary Fellows Emilie Zoey Baker, Sean M Whelan and Alicia Sometimes were tasked with creating an evening of poetry, sound and visuals to celebrate the Library’s iconic La Trobe Reading Room and unveil its poetic history.

From the hilarious and moving recorded interview experts of library patrons describing what books smell like, to a seamless collaborative poem on the same topic, The Smell of Books, the creative trio created a sensory world exploring the various ways readers connect with the beloved Library.


Dome Fellows Sean M Whelan, Alicia Sometimes and Emilie Zoey Baker perform The Smell of Books with Isnod. Photography by Paul Armour

Poet, playwright, and performer Sean M Whelan was joined on stage by musician Isnod, composing the score for a dedication to the humble Dome builder. Writer, poet, broadcaster and musician Alicia Sometimes dedicated her poem Nucleus to the planetarium, an oasis of childhood memories.

Special guest Miguel Syuco – author of one of the New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2010 Ilustrado – captivated the audience with his tribute to the library’s silent beauty. Rows of chests held their breath as he stood speechless but with the steady delivery of eye contact across the room. Minimal in prose, yet full in its impact.

In her solo piece titled A Love Letter to the Dome, poet Emilie Zoey Baker declared her love for the architectural beauty of the Reading Room, proclaiming her affection for the icon before it was even born – because poetry can time travel.

When the Fellow’s concluded their readings, the trio invited the audience to write a love letter of their own – be it to their first memory in the majestic space; the handsome stranger they sat opposite; a favourite book; a favourite corner; a favourite moment, librarian, or place to ponder.

Filing into the La Trobe Reading room where paper and pencils sat patiently awaiting us to compose our adoring missives, the robust voice of classical singer Helen Menzel-Ling echoed from the first mezzanine. Dressed in red and basking in a spotlight, Menzel-Ling’s resounding vocals penetrated even the most stubborn case of writer’s block.

After jotting down our dedications, the audience followed the instruction to place our poems in any book in the Dome, ready to delight the stranger who would find it hidden between pages a day, a week, or even a decade from now. Our words, too, invited to become part of the Library's poetic history.

The surprises continued as The Renovators played on an adjacent balcony as we scanned the shelves to find the perfect home for our prose.