Garron Publishing’s series, Southern- Land Poets 2016 was launched by Mike Ladd on 6 October at the Halifax Café, 187 Halifax St., Adelaide, SA.
Garron Publishing is the creation of Gary MacRae and Sharon Kernot. Their Southern-Land Poets series, featuring contemporary South Australian poets, is now up to its twentieth chapbook. It’s a nice format. Having only twenty-two pages tends to focus the minds of the poets on finding a theme and keeping the selection tight.
The Garron tradition is that each chapbook has a title poem, so let’s start with Alison Flett’s Vessel and other poems. The title poem is a knockout and it’s great to see long-form poetry getting a run here. ‘Vessel’ is a highly visual poem, incorporating multiple reflections and angles of view. The lines are broken up by internal spacing, which gives the poem a mosaic effect. ‘Vessel’ is in three parts; a metaphorical exploration of filling and being filled, from childhood to young adulthood, through to middle age. In part one, a child setting her place for breakfast is seen as a vessel being filled with worldly knowledge. When she drops a cup she’s holding, she comes to a literally shattering realisation about being and not being:
a first meme which will repost versions of itself
again and again in her brain until she comes to see
the cup isn’t what matters
In part two we move into adulthood; a young couple enjoying a day of timeless lust in bed, connecting them to lovers over the centuries. There is an erotic power here, woman containing man, two beings overfilling each other:
hunger and fulfilment fucking
and sleeping and waking
the filling and emptying of the world
Finally, in part three, the couple, older, more freckled and wrinkled now from exposure to “the star at the centre of their universe”, sit at the kitchen table, observing their tiny place in the huge pattern of the world. Here their human consciousness is seen as a vessel that reflects the pattern back onto itself:
Maybe just this: paying attention holding these
things in her mind until the light of them shatters.
Maybe this is what matters.
Steve Brock’s Jardin du Luxembourg is a travel chapbook; the holiday notes of a forty something guy from the Adelaide suburbs on the loose in Paris, Barcelona, Madrid, and Los Angeles. Armed with a certain ironic detachment, it’s smart, chatty, literary, arty, but humble about it. Steve Brock’s work shares some to the humorous rambling discursiveness of Ken Bolton’s poetry. He also uses a plainspoken diction that has echoes of Bukowski or Geoff Goodfellow. As well as the main cultural tourist game, Steve’s attention is caught by the side streets and the random events, like bit-part actors on a film set in a Paris street, living-statue buskers in Madrid’s Plaza Major, or Hollywood extras:
LA is a lonely city
the B-grade actor
at the bar
of the San Remo Hotel
on North Beach
and he kind of confirms it
by not answering my call
when I arrive.
‘Paris a Conqueror’s Guide’ seems to reference John Forbes’s great send-up ‘Europe a Guide for Ken Searle’, but I get the feeling Steve Brock actually likes Europe more than Forbes did. His triumphs are typically humble though, and laced with self-depreciating humour:
It’s enough to make you want to
and after a kilo of raw beef
at the Polidor
I feel I probably could
but it’s the small victories
in which we find solace
like finding the side entrance to the Louvre
The title poem of Lost Property by Judy Dally is about her ninety-nine year old mother, but most of the chapbook is about her relationship with her father. In fact, he’s a shadow cast across the whole collection. He seems cold, cruel and distant. The main clue to her father’s remoteness is in the poem, ‘War Memorial’ that appears to describe post-traumatic stress disorder:
He dug out bodies
from London’s rubble
I was born.
My father remembered
for thirty-four more years
before he died
from self-inflicted wounds.
against us all
instead of weapons
instead of sirens
that could kill.
Just occasionally there are some happy memories, moments when touch or rituals break the cold spell, more than words can, like listening to the cricket together, or as a young girl playing with his hair. Allowing her to conclude:
I missed my father today.
forty-four years ago
and back then I felt relief
more than sorrow.
an old photograph
called him to mind
and I missed
not missing him then.
This is a tough, brave and honest collection. The language is achingly spare and plain, but it works, especially when read aloud.
The Martyrdom of Bees by Louise McKenna contains this quote from Albert Einstein: “If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left.” So maybe we should look after them a bit better. For a start, get rid of the pesticide around your place and plant lots of flowering bushes.
Louise McKenna’s poetry is rich in the use of sound and metaphor; her language-poised and delicate. For example, this is from the title poem:
She took delight in their Latinate hum,
their industry and rituals, precise as grammar.
She loved their etiquette,
their lessons in humanity.
Now the hive is empty –
the bees have flown somewhere,
perhaps to die
and she is queen of a desolate queendom.
She pulls out the frames, one by one.
Not one wing or aureate hair remains,
only these halls oozing honey
like unguent tears
The book begins with bees, but its real focus is life as a nurse. Is there a link? Why are nurses like bees? Well perhaps hard work, hierarchy, and being absolutely essential. Louise McKenna is employed as a nurse and comes from a fine tradition of Australian poets who have worked as nurses including John West, and Amelia Walker. The good thing about writing about your work is not only that you know the right names of things, but that you have the observational time to get the full story. This is from her poem ‘Early Shift’:
The world still tilts on the edge of night
with a moon like a dissolving aspirin –
the hour for sparrows and nurses.
Our footfalls go unheard on floors
smooth and unscathed as the skin on milk
before we attend your sick bed,
banish your fever, lay out your dead.
In my uniform and sensible shoes,
time swinging above my heart,
I have come to know you like a lover:
your every birthmark and scar,
the shape of your breasts,
whether you are circumcised or not.
Louise McKenna has a polished, observational style, and she lets her language fly with the birds and hum with the bees.
Selfish Bastards by Mike Hopkins is a hoot. This chapbook makes generous use of the art of parody, including of Auden’s ‘Musée des Beaux Arts’, “About infidelity they were never wrong, those old blues guys”, and this one of the Book of Genesis:
In the Beginning was the Cliché
And the cliché was with God and the cliché was God, and oh
my God, the cliché was the best thing since sliced bread…
There are borrowings from Wallace Stevens’s ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird’, and one of my favourite poems in the chapbook is ‘The Last Haircut’ which pays homage to Dennis O’Driscoll’s poem, ‘Someone’. There is also a double parody: ‘The Adelaide Taxi Driver’s Prayer’, takes off Ian Dury’s ‘The Bus Drivers’ Prayer’, which is itself a parody of The Lord’s Prayer:
Our cab fare, which starts in Cavan
Hallet Cove be thy aim
But there’s a serious side to the collection as well, and the wit is often edged with anger. There are poems about prejudice, image manipulation of the military by politicians, the boredom of poverty, the realities of meat production and our complicity in it, and the infamous tea party between Margaret Thatcher and the murderous, Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet.
The title poem of Selfish Bastards is a refrain, a list of all the selfish bastards you’ve ever met, which ends up being pretty much everyone, and then you realise we’re all capable of being selfish bastards at certain points in our lives. For example:
Poets who go into a bookshop and move their books to
the best position and their rivals’ books to the gardening
section – Selfish Bastards!
We’re going to have to watch that this chapbook doesn’t keep mysteriously moving in front of all the others in the display case.
Mike Ladd lives and writes in Adelaide. He ran Poetica on ABC Radio National for 2 decades and currently works for Radio National’s features and documentaries unit. His chapbook, Adelaide was published by Garron Publishing in the Southern-Land Poets series, Spring 2014. His new collection of poems and short prose, Invisible Mending was published by Wakefield Press in 2016.
To purchase a chapbook from the Southern-Land Poets series published by Garron Publishing contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Each chapbook is only $7.00 plus $1.00 for postage and handling.