Happy Birthday Rochford Street Review!

On the 2nd December 2011 the first three reviews/articles were uploaded to the brand new Rochford Street Review site. The articles were:

I had a vague idea of what I wanted RSR to be. I wanted, for example, a site that would pick up small press publications and try to place them in some sort of context. There seemed to be a rise in the number of chapbooks being produced for example and, for the most part they were being ignored by the major reviewing outlets (the Saturday papers, ABR etc). The mainstream literary journals had limited capacity to run reviews and it seemed that a lot of good stuff might be slipping through the gaps. A new on-line journal seemed to be the way to go so I began looking for the easiest (and cheapest) way of setting it up. After checking out a number of blog sites and templates I settled on WordPress for some reason – so far it seems to have worked OK.

At the time I was aiming to publish a review a week if possible. After a year there have been 87 posts of which 73 have been reviews, articles or launch speeches (the others have been admin posts – desperate appeals for money, desperate appeals for reviewers or table of contents for special events). We have had 19,800 hits up until 8pm on 2 December 2012 (which means we have averaged just over 50 a day!).

As the site has evolved over the last year one of the more pleasing features has been the number of people who have been willing to either write for RSR or offer us a launch speech or an article they haven’t yet been able to place. The diversity of the people who have contributed, from young and/or new reviewers to more established writers and critics, has been particularly pleasing – more so when you realise we are not in the position to pay people for their work.

There are, of course, a number of things I wanted to do over the past year but haven’t as yet. One of the highlights was the special Dransfield piece in April which attracted almost 200 hits on a single day. I had wanted to do something similar on Vicki Viidikas and Jennifer Rankin but haven’t been able to organise it. I also wanted to do a series of interviews – I did one with Johanna Featherstone from Red Room on their ‘Disappearing’ project but am only half way through transcribing it.

As we begin our second year I have thrown together the following stats:

OVERALL POSTS

Number of posts 87
Number of Reviews 73
Number of Admin posts 14

GENDER BREAKDOWN BY AUTHOR (author of book being reviewed)

     
issue 1 Reviews Gender Breakdown by Author  
     
  Male 6
  Female 0
  mixed (eg joint) 0
     
    6
     
     
     
Issue 2 Reviews Gender Breakdown by Author  
     
  Male 5
  Female 2
  mixed (eg joint) 2
     
    9
     
     
     
Issue 3 Reviews Gender Breakdown by Author  
     
  Male 8
  Female 5
  mixed (eg joint) 7
     
    20
     
     
Issue 4 Reviews Gender Breakdown by Author  
     
  Male 6
  Female 4
  mixed (eg joint) 5
     
    15
     
     
Issue 5 Reviews Gender Breakdown by Author  
     
  Male 8
  Female 5
  mixed (eg joint) 4
   
    17
     
Issue 6 Reviews Gender Breakdown by Author  
     
  Male 3
  Female 2
  mixed (eg joint) 2
   
    7
Total Male 35
  Female 18
  mixed (eg joint) 20
     
    73

GENDER BREAKDOWN BY REVIEWER

issue 1 Reviews Gender Breakdown by Reviewer  
     
  Male 5
  Female 0
  mixed (eg joint) 0
     
    5
     
     
     
Issue 2 Reviews Gender Breakdown by Reviewer  
     
  Male 7
  Female 1
  mixed (eg joint) 1
     
    9
     
     
Issue 3 Reviews Gender Breakdown by Reviewer  
     
  Male 15
  Female 3
  mixed (eg joint) 2
     
    20
     
     
     
Issue 4 Reviews Gender Breakdown by Reviewer  
     
  Male 7
  Female 8
  mixed (eg joint) 0
     
    15
     
     
Issue 5 Reviews Gender Breakdown by Reviewer  
     
  Male 9
  Female 8
  mixed (eg joint) 0
     
    17
     
     
     
Issue 6 Reviews Gender Breakdown by Reviewer  
     
  Male 3
  Female 4
  mixed (eg joint) 0
     
    7
Total Reviews Gender Breakdown by Reviewer  
     
  Male 46
  Female 24
  mixed (eg joint) 3

GENDER BREAKDOWN BY REVIEW (Excluding Mark Roberts – editor)

issue 1 Reviews Gender Breakdown by Reviewer  
     
  Male 1
  Female 0
  mixed (eg joint) 0
     
    1
     
     
     
Issue 2 Reviews Gender Breakdown by Reviewer  
     
  Male 5
  Female 1
  mixed (eg joint) 1
     
    7
     
     
Issue 3 Reviews Gender Breakdown by Reviewer  
     
  Male 7
  Female 3
  mixed (eg joint) 2
     
    12
     
     
     
Issue 4 Reviews Gender Breakdown by Reviewer  
     
  Male 4
  Female 8
  mixed (eg joint) 0
     
    12
     
     
Issue 5 Reviews Gender Breakdown by Reviewer  
     
  Male 5
  Female 8
  mixed (eg joint) 0
     
    13
     
     
     
Issue 6 Reviews Gender Breakdown by Reviewer  
     
  Male 2
  Female 4
  mixed (eg joint) 0
     
    6
Total Reviews Gender Breakdown by Reviewer  
     
  Male 24
  Female 24
  mixed (eg joint) 3

Adam Aitken on The Political Imagination: Contemporary Postcolonial and Diasporic Poetries Conference

The Political Imagination: Contemporary Postcolonial and Diasporic Poetries Conference was held at Deakin University (Deakin Prime in Melbourne) on 12th and 13th of April 2012. Adam Aitken, who presented on “(un)becoming hybridity in my poetry”, looks back on the highlights of the conference. This account was first published on Adam’s blog http://adamaitken.blogspot.com.au/

Adam Atiken. Photo by Adrian Wiggins (www.pureandapplies.net/adrian)

The Political Imagination: Contemporary Postcolonial and Diasporic Poetries Conference was one of the best conferences I’ve been to. The conversations were lively, and there was a refreshing openness and willingness to understand the institutional limits of our thinking. The postmodern did its dance with the postcolonial in a good atmosphere that seemed free of the defensiveness and self-censoring that often occurs at such conferences.

One of the major debates has been the reasons for the demise of postcolonial study of poetry throughout the world, and the subsequent shrinkage of voices from the margins. But no-one came out and ‘blamed’ the postmodernists, no one blamed “po-co” theory for being out-of-date, but good critiques were mounted on the limits of these paradigms, and poetry as poesis or “making” (dare I say in Shelleyan terms the “Spirit” of Poetry) seemed to survive the machine that theorises it. (Or at least I didn’t feel overwhelmed by theory, but affirmed by the workability of bringing together of theory and poetry performance. It certainly allowed me a freedom to speak in ways I have been craving for years.)

To kick things off Peter Minter reprised his critique of the recent Gray/Lehmann battleship anthology Australian Poetry Since 1788. Minter argues that the project comes across as a “neo-colonial vanity project” that fails to achieve its claimed objective representation of Indigenous, ethnic and postmodern Australian poets; its fails to disclose its subjectivity, a point made already by David McCoohey in an early review of the book. Minter called the framing of the collection (by its introduction and its faux-Aboriginal emu-design cover pages) an example of nationalistic kitsch. One view is that whatever the quality of the selection, the canonising function of the national anthology represents a kind of management document for the archiving of a certain ideal Imaginary, one whose border are already belated and possibly out of date, an argument both Bridie McCarthy (“Border Protection: Neo-Colonialism and the Canon”) and Lucy Van (“‘Why Waste Lines on Achille?’: Tracing the Critical Discourse on Postcolonial Poetry”) touched on in their respective papers.

Minter’s figure of the archipelagic map of Australia swims for me, so rather than one island made of “empty space”, we are a constellation of geo-psychic centres scattered between the equator and semi-arctic latitudes. The desire is to connect these centres in a diplomatic way, through a poetics of relation and movement. Minter’s eco-poetic is complex and continually re-imagined and changing, and so far no national cultural “programme” or manifesto is offered to replace current Federal-State structures for the arts. In a sense, Minter’s Glissantian vision is antithetic to centralist bureaucratisation, is self-engendering and anarchic. (Should the participants in the debate over the direction of the ‘peak-body’ Australian Poetry take note here?)

The Eurocentrism of the academies was hardly apparent here (though the venue itself was pure High Modernist Corporate and rather neutral in terms of cultural markers of identity, but everything worked; and some of the conference food was “Asian”), and rather than merely accept any kind of approach as the “right one” for all of us, there was a thoughtful suspension (or muting perhaps) of the manifesto-impulse. That said, a certain participant confided in me that she thought John Hawke’s launch of VLAK, a journal produced by a coalition of Australian internationalists and expatriate Louis Armand, had a whiff of “cultural cringe”. Looking through the volume afterwards, I was impressed by how many Australian-based poets had a presence here, and rather than read this as “Australians going Euro-avant-garde”, I read a concomitant vector in which Australian marginalism and our own awkward multiculturalism and location hybridises the master signifier of “Europe” itself. VLAK is European, but the term already masks its own contradictions and the seeds of its own deconstruction and impossibility. VLAK comes out of Prague, not Paris or London or Berlin, and arguably it speaks of some kind of Eastern European marginality vis-à-vis the West, a marginality that invites collaboration with our own.

For everyone the challenge was to talk about Australian poetry as something that is still growing and negotiating its own relations to it own marginality, and to speak with/back to the grand body of European postmodern theory, to postcolonial traditions (the subaltern studies group, Latin American traditions, hybridity theorists and others), and to Asian-American literary studies, a kind of big sibling of a nascent Asian-Australian formation represented here by Tim Yu a leading theorist and Asian-American poet in his own right. As Michael Farrell’s quip about “marsupial consciousness” suggests, the organism is still semi-foetal and in need of many mothers’ protection, and it would be premature to champion any kind of eco-poetics or hybrid consciousness as the future terrain of our reading.

Ali Alizadeh offered a post-Marxist critique of how we over-determine identity in migrant and indigenous poetries, and, in a controversial reading of an Ali Cobby Eckermann poem, suggested that identity is virtual and operates as a kind of fantasy that obscures the material and eco-political conditions that oppressed subjects deal with. Arguing against that I suggested a way of reading identity in Butlerian terms, which sees identity as performative and constituted in the interpellative moment. We become who we are – gendered and raced – through self-identity, but also because we respond to the labels others put upon us, and the effects of language and of naming are material; identity is symbolic as language itself is a system of symbols with communicative and ideological effects; identity is not merely symbolic or virtual or to be relegated under macro-economic superstructures and ideologies, and there is a complex pre-ideological moment before identity is affixed, through language, on the body. But I argue that in the face of essentialistic racism we can hybridise those labels deliberately and disobediently through speech acts.

Maintaining a hold on Australian studies, the enthusiastic, warm, and venerable Lyn McCredden gave a brilliantly strong reading of the tropic traces of “Australian nation” (its status as a centring Imaginary) in poems by John Forbes and Ken Bolton. Opening up her own position to debate, she invited different readings. I suggested that she extend the study of nation in Forbes and Bolton to include their poems about other nations, European ones at that. McCredden’s main point is that however we try to break away from controlling discourses of nation in the popular imaginary (e.g. ANZAC, the Beach, Tom Roberts painting of shearers etc.) Nation and Nationalism Aussie style won’t go away and should not be ignored. Indeed poets need to address such a demotic in order to remain relevant as critics of the current neo-colonial regress in popular Australian culture.

Other notable papers included Michael Farrell’s reading of on the Neo-baroque in Michael Dransfield. Michelle Cahill gave a brilliant paper on the subaltern and the necessity, perhaps, to step outside the institutions that continually silence the subaltern. There was a good discussion of what the margin-centre looks like now in the Australian poetry scene, and how an Asian-Australian literary formation might address margin-centre formations. It was my own sense that good will exists towards the project of opening up the space with an Asian-Australian anthology, and many are looking forward to have more discussion of form and language in AA poetries.Tim Yu’s paper re-enforced a perception that AA poetry was invisible, and that in his own research he had begun to see that there was no easy parity between the two versions of AA – Asian-Australian was NOT an obvious kindred model of Asian-American literature.

Other great papers and performances included Danijela Kambaskovic-Sawers, “A migrant poet and the fine art of escapism”and Ania Walwicz reading “‘cut-tongue’-fragmentation, collage and defence”. Danijela’s story of how she overcame her own silence, and learned to speak of post-war trauma, was extremely moving and instructive. Her own sense of her own migrancy in Australia reminded everyone that being a migrant poet is subject to all sorts of limitations and expectations and impositions from the audience. Her own work, however, is both resistant and critical of what “migrant poet” means in the first place, and her life and work which is often surreal, playful, confounding, often transcends the limits of the framework imposed by managed multiculturalism.

A fitting closure was Ann Vickery’s wonderful paper on Juliana Spahr’s book Fuck You Aloha I Love You, a book very much about how a white woman negotiates cultural chauvinism in Hawai’i, and how the white female critic can respond to anti-white racism. In the face of hateful vilification, what responses are open to scholars to keep the debates and conversations open? How do empowered white scholars deconstruct their own cosmopolitan readings of the non-white, the non-cosmopolitan and the colonised on the margins? The ideas were familiar, but what moved everyone was Ann’s reading of Spahr’s poem and Ann’s “confession” that she felt guilty that she had neglected race in much of her scholarship. Awful silences occur in classrooms when race-talk becomes a divisive machine, a taboo subject, so if the military atmosphere is to be decommissioned, poetry like Spahr’s should be heard and conferences like this one need to continue.

Finally it was a great loss not to have heard Sam Wagan Watson, who was ill. I wanted very much to discuss how he saw hybridity theory and its limits, the subject of my paper. In defiance of much hybridity-theory’s need to “smash essentialisms” I am sure he would have given an impassioned description and defence of the essential at the heart of his identity and how his poetry configures nation, land, imagination, desire, and identity. A conversation for another time.

Adam Aitken

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Adam Aitken latest collection of poetry is the chapbook Tonto’s Revenge (Tinfish Press). He has just returned from three seasons in France and now lives in Sydney.

Writing Elevated to the Label of Literature: Lyndon Walker reviews Late Night Shopping by Rhyll McMaster

Late Night Shopping by Rhyll McMaster. Brandl & Schlesinger. Poetry 2012.

I come to this book with all the worst qualifications of a reviewer – full of prejudices towards the book, both negative and positive – most of which I would like to put on the table up front.

At first glance  I am in love with the past, of the good days of poetry resurgence in this country. This book is the size and shape of the little UQP books that truly established their place in my heart with numerous volumes of contemporary poetry from modern Australian poets, often young, always original, always worth reading. It is a promise I want the book to keep.

Robert Gray and Michael Dransfield were two of the first authors I bought in the UQP series from the seventies and I loved their work and the books still inhabit a proud place on my bookshelf of favourite poetry. But those ghosts haunt the current publication.  Robert Gray is co-editor of the recent Titanic Anthology of poetry (Australian Poetry Since 1788) along with Geoffrey Lehman, who is scheduled to launch Late Night Shopping, along with a reading by Robert Gray, on the evening of Tuesday 10th April at Sappho’s Cafe and Wine Bar, 51 Glebe Point Road, Glebe, (Sydney) NSW 2037. 7.00pm (I break with a strong Melbournian tradition to here provide clear and accurate information to enable your attendance at the launch). Michael Dransfield is one of a number of excellent poets omitted from the recent massive volume. Another volume from the UQP onslaught was Brineshrimp from a young Rhyll McMaster in 1972, the same year I left Townsville for the big city of Sydney, and I still remember the astringent taste of that poetry; something new to say and a new way of saying it (and they were my criteria for excellence in poetry those days).

Exactly forty years later those criteria have broadened but the hunger remains the same. I am going to claim that this book is mostly about death. Death envisioned, foreseen, experienced as an involved and close participant and as a sometimes detached and ruminant philosopher. In this quest McMaster is up against some formidable forebears   in the likes of Eliot, Roethke, Dylan Thomas, Marianne Moore, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Ted Hughes and Christopher James, but when I read her poetry these are not the practitioners of the craft that quickly come to mind. More immediate to me is the brilliant and original Canadian poet Anne Carson.  Both poets have minds as quick and incisive as a scalpel but at times as light and elusive as dancing leaves on an autumn breeze. Both have the capacity to move quickly from the lyric exactitude of original description to the esoteric realms of the determined, urbane and educated philosopher.

The book begins with a single poem where we join the poet as a voyeur at the laying out (if not the autopsy) of the body of a woman soon after her death:

Her platelets desiccated and curled like dropped contact lenses.

This much that was invisible I knew like a fairy tale

.

But where was her mere self…..

And

When we tried to slip in her dentures they didn’t fit.

.

On edge, we laughed.

There was no disrespect – she wasn’t there.

The formality of death is due to emptiness.

.

When molecules cease their high humming

Dark space appears.

It radiates in waves and disperses in continuous air.

.

So, this episode of CSI as poetry, begins the book’s exploration of the space between being and not being, explored in variant ways in the following three sections. The first of these: Philosophy in A Ghosting Universe, explores memories of a dead and dying father and the ramifications for the mortality of the poet herself and for her relationships and loving attachments seen within this context. They are ramifications dealt with with subtlety, insight and intelligence.

She begins this section with a “Photograph”, presumably of the author as a young girl taken by the dead / dying father and follows with other poems that move through “His Ordered World” where:

Death invades the space

Of a serious human error, where terror lives,

.

And moves through the absolute particulars of that father’s world in that desperate attempt that humans make, to make sense of the existential journey, from being to nothingness, balancing sharply drawn particulars with abstract philosophical summary.

Halfway through this section there is a break, just a blank page, no titling, but the subject of the poems now oft times includes a lover, the games that lovers sometimes play and the futility of love in the face of death, which is a recent visitor in the mind of the poet.

The breeze blowing through the house

Strangely circulates.

It means to turn things inside out.

‘Flight on the Wind’

.

I like ‘Red Socks’ and no – no bits – it’s just a little poem – go on, buy the book and read it. ‘Well Met by Moonlight‘ is a “Sliding Doors” poem looking at what might have been if the lovers had met earlier. ‘Love Poem No.9′. invokes a pop song from a time when both I and the poet were young. ‘Darwin Fulminates on Hybridism’ again describes a world informed by the poets scholarly knowledge or reading, as does ‘Re-arrangement in the Emporium‘. We are given here (and on the poet’s website : http://www.rhyllmcmaster.com/ )  little biographical linkage to this knowledge beyond she has been a nurse and a farmer.

‘Arrogant Animals‘ dances on the edge of the promise that postmodernism offered but mostly failed to deliver –not here – here it succeeds because it is warmed by humanism or at least loving and playful observation.

‘Amazing Grace’ is a tiny poem:

There’s no dispute

Our brains are a maze

Of raw electrical connections

In a base of critical soup.

.

The question remains

Why don’t we

More often

Get electrocuted?

.

Well, for those of us with a working knowledge of neurochemistry, the definite answer, through faith or science, is the little insulating miracle of the myelin sheath. What’s disturbing is the world of chaos unleashed when this little biological insulator is attacked or eroded (as in Alzheimer’s or Dementia). This theme is carried on in the title poem of the section: ‘Philosophy in a Ghosting Universe’:

Not clever enough

That flash of intuition

An electrical storm in a teacup.

.

There is a marvellous poem on the toestubbing mysteries of gender: ‘Boys Own Annual‘, which my students would do well to read:

Boys know girls are the enemy

Because girls keep calling in the debt.

Girls block the light that’s shining

Straight down on Boys Own Mighty Heaven

That glazed place where time’s ephemeral, yet set.

The section ends with ‘Comfort Station’, which makes a clever essentialism of the further mysteries of life and death and nature and the vehicle of our journey through them:

In the comfort of my body, glistening

In this shelter, my exemplary shed artefact

I disintegrate intact.

The final two sections of the book are poetic reflections on visual art, both painting and photography. The first; ‘Evolutionary History of Edward Kelly in Primary Colours is a commissioned piece (by the Nolan Gallery) which has previously been published as a limited edition with colour reproductions of the paintings.

Again my positive prejudices are brought into play. Whenever I travel to Canberra (about once a year) I make a point of going to the National Gallery and viewing the Nolan Kelly paintings there on display. They are somehow quintessentially Australian and the powerful images in their rough and ready presentation, the primary colours, the violence depicted, the conflicts portrayed, the corruption of power : all hold my gaze and intellectual engagement throughout the process. For a poet to do justice to all this is no mean task. The successful and sparse evocation of these paintings is so complete in McMaster’s hands that they stand up strongly in their own light. Something which if read well to a blind person (who had experienced a world of colour before darkness) would give them the momentary gift of sight.

The stiff constable holds a white

Note for his rescue.

Chrome yellow death.

.

Round his retraced head,

Red poppies, yellow daisies

Blue-white babies breath.

‘Mesozoic Territory – Policeman in Wombat Hole, 1946′

Nolan may well be our Van Gogh but there is no soft romanticism here, in the paintings or the poems. Both are stark indictments of harsh behaviour in a harsh and unforgiving land, committed in the defiant face of cliché.

Five Acts of Faith are small, deep poems that explore the attempted capture through the medium of photography, by Terry Milligan, in his portraits of subjects involved in very different ways of pursuit or contemplation of the spiritual.

Liberation Theology

.

This a sanctuary

Let no evil seep

Under these doors

No river of blood

Run like the shallows

Across the glassy floor

Save me from myself

Save me from mankind.

These are spare and complete poems reflecting the intent and attempt of walking various pathways to spirituality and, I think, invoking Ray Carver’s book and poem Many Paths to the Waterfall. I am not sure they entirely work . They do invoke the paths nominated but they are so small in scope which attempts to encompass such large ideas and concepts that they all seem so esoteric as to be simply impressionistic sketches towards the whole. The exception of course is the poem called ‘Zen‘, which, since it entered our cultural lexicon in the sixties, is now almost a joke or a reference to the work of Earn Malley. Perhaps you need the photographic images as a guide but a fairly concerted effort via Google failed to materialise the specific images. They exist but do they add to what we already know or how we know it? I think the earlier section Philosophy in a Ghosting Universe succeeds far more in existential contemplation within the context of life, as we here in Australia, know it, but then it is also balancing science and humanism as opposed to particular structured forms and practices.

The title poem of the book; ‘Late Night Shopping’ begins the final grouping of eleven poems that complete the book. It’s clever in its attempt to personify words of emotional or behavioural description as competitive or accidental late night shoppers in a supermarket: Malice, Obsession, Hate, Revenge, Doubt, Panic, Anxiety and  Fear all appear and play their part in this mildly amusing toying scenario. I must admit I would have like to have been with Rhyll on the little trip that gave her the idea for this poem and the poems existence does give the reader this opportunity. The final poems revisit the books central concerns and keen observations in different locations: Glebe, Broome, Traffic in George Street. In ‘In the Inner West’ the imageric word film is almost too rich to be believable. In a few short lines we have:

.…pedestrian crossing with speed hump

 .

Recently installed by Muslim council workers

Late of Lebanon

They speak Arabic and it sounds like chocolate

 .

In the enclave of Chippendale

Where Indonesian Australian

Babies named Chloe

 .

Sleep beneath the rain laden ominous….

But it is a challenge. Do we recognise our own community and what it has become? Here is globalisation made manifest in our suburban lives. Here is a vision of hell for the shock-jocks and xenophobic cringers fearing change. Here we have found ourselves living in the future with Rhyll McMaster as our tour guide. It is almost enough to make me quit singing for the first night in three years to fly up to Sydney to simply hear her read this poem aloud.

All in all it is a brave book. It occupies territory often reserved for the male in our little post colonial literary colony. But it is written by that most dangerous thing in the Australian literary world: A smart woman. This book does not suffer fools gladly but it is kind enough to actually take prisoners. It performs that task of writing elevated to the label of literature: it helps us recognise ourselves in the place and circumstance in which we live. It also thinks in answer to those questions we have all wondered. It risks the answer in heightened, well crafted, visionary language. Thank you for it Rhyll McMaster. Bless you and all who sail with you.

—————————————————————————————

Lyndon Walker Is a Psychologist, Psychotherapist, Educator, Writer and Poet living in Melbourne. He has five published books of poetry and was awarded the Pablo Neruda Prize for poetry in 1996. He is currently working on two novels.