Nocturnal House by Mike Greenacre, Ginninderra Press 2020 was co-launhced by Shane McCauley at the Fremantle Park Sport and Community Centre on 5 December 2020
It is a great pleasure and honour, in equal measure, to be asked to co-launch Mike Greenacre’s third collection of poetry, Nocturnal House. I have known Mike in recent years as an ebullient member of our OOTA poetry classes, but I have known of him for over three decades. Mike is a stalwart member of WA’s poetry community, and I remember reading his poems in many of the literary publications that proliferated in WA in the 80s and 90s. Artlook, Patterns, Fremantle Arts Review, Westerly are a few of these. Two of his poems appeared in the important anthology Wordhord, edited by Dennis Haskell and Hilary Fraser, way back in 1989. While many poets in that anthology are similarly remembered, many are now hazy, at least in my recollection.
Mike’s earlier collections, Kimberley Man (2002) and Beacon Breaker (2010), are well worth searching out. But the business of the day is his recent and comprehensive Nocturnal House, with its spectacular cover by Angie A. Phillips. The title poem was first published in Southerly journal and also represents Mike in the anthology which commemorates ten glorious years of the Perth Poetry Club, Recoil Ten.
The poem “Nocturnal House”, which opens the collection, is representative of many of the themes, tones and moods to be found in the other poems. Mike is a great absorber of experiences, which are then transmuted into poetry. His attitude to many of these experiences, as well as people and places, is a certain bemusement. What are we doing in this world, he asks by implication, what should we be doing? In the opening poem he is contemplating the night, vulnerable and literally naked, wondering, reaching some sort of conclusion to his vigil when the “daylight leaks” at last into the house.
The poem ushers in a series of poems which reflect upon the nature of poetry, far too many to be individually referenced here, but one learns a lot through Mike’s constant interrogation of poetry, and poets, and this theme occurs periodically throughout the volume. That initial section finishes with a poem titled “The Poem Itself” and ends with the lines: “those urges that push you/ unhinged become/ the poem itself.”
The past, especially in the form of childhood and teenage memories and evocations, also looms large, as in “Fast Food Wrappers”, which recalls the first KFC to grace Perth, established in Melville:
a new teenage adventure
land of American burgers
and young girls waiting
for a stranger with a whopper
to take them with the fries”.
And if you read anything extra into that, then that’s probably your fault, not Mike’s. That sense of “adventure” is also beautifully conveyed in “The Old Bakery”, where he talks of a sense of escape – “(we’d) sneak our bikes. . .across the road” – a sort of blissful trespass.
More recent memory infuses many of the family and love poems, often love of family poems, again too many to single out today, but so much worth encountering in this generous collection. Several of these poems are loving homages to his deceased parents, including the poem “Missing Pieces”, in memory of his father, for which he was awarded the Tom Collins Poetry Prize this year. Mike is a great music lover, something deeply shared with his father, and manifest here: “I can’t forget our duos”. He fondly recalls
that once rolled from
the cheek of Fats Waller
to the roar of Beethoven.
A poem for his mother, “The Shape of Love” begins:
I’ve tried to reduce your life to a poem
and failed many times before.
The deeply felt images and narrative that follow amply demonstrate that this poem, at least, is in fact a triumph of love and insight.
And Mike is a loving family man, with wife Tracy and children, a little unusual, at least according to the cliched views of the poet as alienated outsider, angst-ridden loner. There is none of this life-negating attitude in Mike’s celebratory poetry. Consider the moving love poem for his wife, From the Cottesloe Hotel”, in which the couple enjoy their drinks in harmony
with the rays/ of disappearing sun
and enjoy the music “from ‘The Summer of Love’/ on that ‘60s beat.”
In closing, I would just like to draw attention to two other aspects of Nocturnal House. Firstly, a sense of past injustices, a social conscience revealed and expressed without stridency, and thus having all the greater impact. One of the book’s finest poems, “Rottnest Ghost”, is an example of this. This is his contemplation of the sad and grim lives of Aboriginal prisoners on the island, a guided tour of the cemetery the catalyst, with its magnificent closing lines: “the stark breeze/ tearing through windcheaters,/ awakening the ghost within us all.”
I should like to end on an upbeat note, however, as Mike’s poems are always full of a sense of wonderment, sometimes even awe, at the multiplicity of life. Nowhere is this more apparent than in his poems of place, especially local environs. Again I would love to refer to several poems, but will make do with one, a considerable one, ‘Swan River Reflections’. I may not have indicated the frequent humour in Mike’s poems, but consider the opening to this one:
Writing about old times
is like dinkying your life on the handlebars.
The process of writing itself fascinates him, and thus he concludes that by writing he opens up
what time and circumstance conceal,
spilling traces of our journeys
that ride the moonlight of teenage lives.
This is great poetry. I hope many readers will have much joy of this book and, with Peter Jeffery, I very happily declare that Nocturnal House is launched, both upon the Swan River and far, far beyond. Thank you.
– Shane McCauley
Born in 1954, Shane has been a part of the Western Australian writing community for nearly 50 years. His poems and stories were first published in journals such as Westerly, Quadrant, Meanjin and Southerly in the 1970s. He won the Tom Collins Short Story Prize in 1976 and the Tom Collins Poetry Prize in 1982. Other awards include the Poetry Australia Bicentennial Award, the Max Harris Award, the Glen Phillips Prize, the Poetry d’Amour Prize and Katharine Susannah Prichard Poetry Prize. His play, The All-Nite Cafe, was performed in Perth in 1978. Apart from over 1300 poems published in literary journals and anthologies (including Best Australian Poems), Shane has had nine books of poetry published, the most recent of which was Sweeping Away the Mandala (Sunline Press, 2019). He has also edited or co-edited anthologies such as Breakaway, The Weighing of the Heart, Amber Contains the Sun, Jukebox, and has edited many single collections by fellow poets. He is currently working on a tenth poetry collection.
Nocturnal House by Mike Greenacre is available from: https://www.ginninderrapress.com.au/ store.php?product/page/2200/Mike+Greenacre+ %2F+Nocturnal+House
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