A Voice Caged in Paper: Les Wicks reviews ‘Private Conversations Vol 2’ by Cameron Hindrum

Private Conversations Vol 2 by Cameron Hindrum. Walleah Press, 2012.

private conversations

Cameron Hindrum is a familiar figure amongst the slam community, a big presence both on the stage and physically. He has comparatively recently ventured into the world of words on paper with his novel the Blue Cathedral published in 2011.

I always expect a lot from Walleah Press, a bright light in what can be a narrow, dark poetry tunnel. They publish mostly, but not exclusively, Tasmanian work. As usual the production and design of Private Conversations are first rate. It is a 32 page chapbook with space to spare, I did wonder, however, why they went with the two-volume chap book model.

There is so much to like about this book. Hindrum’s is an openhearted voice capable of the belly laugh, freely given love and shared poignancy. If Australian poetry needs a medical plan to treat its chronic disease, this inclusive veracity will clearly be a core part of the treatment regime. Language is appropriately simple and clear.

Poems like “Zen Suite” gleam:

a footstep
is a map
of all things

“Driving East” finishes:

All things drift towards the water:
By the water, find the beach.
It’s of no importance that
The horizon’s always out of reach.

“Good Manners” is a delightful study of a visiting Japanese woman. Hindrum deftly works with the dissonance between the expected, clichéd mannerism of a different culture, her politeness, to the piercing on Koyuki’s throat (which also works as a marvellous metaphor for her limitations in English). Towards the end there’s a brilliant play on both her tackling of Western language/mores and a jibe at Japanese whaling:

At dinner I watch her harpoon
a California Roll with
an expertly-handled chopstick

so much achieved in so few words, so unforced.

Consistently over decades I have seen adept page poets murder their work on stage through arrogance,laziness, sheer incompatibility or incapacity. Conversely, many of the leading performance poets fail to make the transition to the printed page. They are not mutually exclusive mediums, but each requires a certain critical mindset to be applied. Many poets who straddle both mediums will say that certain pieces can be performed regularly but will not appear in any book. Other works would almost never be read out loud. From a slam poet like Hindrum the challenge really was to look again at all his work and make sure they function on the printed page. “On explaining the facts of life to a six-year-old” and “On finding 20,000-year-old footprints near Lake Mungo, NSW” are examples of work that generously reward both the reader and the audience equally. But this doesn’t apply to all pieces with a little lazy language detracting from otherwise engaging narratives. “Love poem for Jack and Sylvia” was a joy to read but the constant repetition of the word old, while I saw it working phonically, just served as a dragging chain on paper for me.

Having said this I return to my core point that this is a book well worth reading and possibly more importantly a book that makes one hungry for Hindrum’s next.

– Les Wicks

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Les Wicks has toured widely and seen publication across 16 countries in 9 languages. His 10th book of poetry is Barking Wings (PressPress, 2012 http://www.presspress.com.au/Wicks.html). This year he will be performing at the world’s biggest poetry festival in Medellin. http://leswicks.tripod.com/lw.htm

Private Conversations Vol 2 is available from Walleah Press http://www.walleahpress.com.au/recent.html or http://walleahpress.com.au/garradunga/?tcp_product=private-conversations-volume-2-cameron-hindrum

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