ISSUE 11: March – May 2014

'Tea and Biscuit Vanitas' by Narelle Adair Coxhead. Narelle can be found at

‘Tea and Biscuit Vanitas’ by Narelle Adair Coxhead. Narelle can be found at


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Challenging Archetypes: Shirley Lu reviews Outcrop: ‘Radical Australian Poetry of Land’

Outcrop: Radical Australian Poetry of Land. Edited by Jeremy Balius and Corey Wakeling. Black Rider Press 2013

outcrop 1Corey Wakeling’s introduction to Outcrop: Radical Australian Poetry of Land, is a heavy read. It was written for connoisseurs of poetry, and I am not one, so most of it went over my head. I am a lover of poetry, though. Poems that are conventional in shape and yet linguistically complex resonate with me. I am also a lover of land. This land. I roadtrip often. I chase art exhibitions in Canberra and Melbourne and I visit friends who live upstate. In fact, I completed my first reading of Outcrop while on a roadtrip from Melbourne to Sydney. I followed the A1, which took me passed Eden, Bega, and Ulladulla. I could not help but see the poems in the land and the land in the poems. In Pete Spence’s poems, especially his upturned sonnet ‘Season’, I saw Melbourne’s alleyway chirpiness. In John Mateer’s ‘Auguries’, I heard birdsong and soft borders. In Peter Minter’s ‘Faecebook’, I saw sunbeams and calloused feet. And in Tim Wright’s ‘cleanskin’, I saw the peeling paint of a lakeside house in Bermagui.

Astrid Lorange’s ‘Grubs’ took me from a muddy river bank near Milton to a gum-ridden motel room in Eden. Kate Fagan’s ‘Circa 1927: Realising Belief’ made me think of the purple wildflowers that spilled over the side of the highway near Nowra, nature defying human design. John Kinsella’s ‘gentle geometry’, Louis Armand’s ‘precision’, Sam Langer’s ‘mission to divide and disorientate’ – in all of that I saw straight stretches of road, bellying with hills and buckling with sky.

I completed my second reading of Outcrop on a CityRail train in Sydney. With graffitied fences and rundown warehouses as my backdrop, I engaged with the collection more cerebrally. In doing so, I found many poems that conveyed a sense of urgency and decay, highlighting the “linguistic and cultural crisis” alluded to by Wakeling in the introduction.
Many poems in this collection play with scale. In the poem ‘A Miniscule Map of the Country’, the poet Jill Jones connects the image of a wall map to that of a house on the fringe, and then pulled me out with cinematographic force so that I could see the whole country from the sky. With the line “And landscape looking like toast” I fell from bird’s eye height to the kitchen table; with the line “space, time and a chlorine pool” I saw the jelly blue Milky Way swirl down the plug hole of a bath tub. Dizziness, and this uncomfortable realisation: ‘When you say the word ‘country’, I don’t fully understand what you mean.’ The word conjures images of Uluru and AFL, mullets and beer bellies, but it does not conjure any concept of the size of the place. Jones’ poem forces one to see the largeness of ‘country’.

In contrast, Matthew Hall’s poems force one to see the smallness of ‘country’. The poem ‘a pattern of settlement’ is a poem of components. Seeds and the scuffing of heels. The poem ‘six preludial songs’ called captivity is an ode to the minute changes in land. Pores picking up pollen, nails picking up dirt. The person is presented as out-of-place and out-of-time.

Through the poems by Jones and Hall, and through experiencing Claire Potter’s wild domestic scenes and Keri Glastonbury’s sharp suburban imagery, I was forced to reconsider the words ‘land’ and ‘country’, and the cultural baggage that these words carry. These words make me picture eucalypt green and desert red. But these poems made me move vertically: they made me zoom in and notice signs of manual labour and human life; they also made me zoom out and realise the insignificance of it all.

Many poems also play with syntax, use fragments, are messy in their imagery and enjambment. The poems by Laurie Duggan and Duncan Hose in particular made me think of newspaper headlines. Duggan’s poem ‘They can’t take that away from me’ contains interruptions, self-reflections, and strategic allusions to van Gogh and Hopper. These two artists had styles were as different as egg yolk and steel wool, but the compositions of both artists were careful and controlled. They only painted what they wanted us to see. So does Duggan in this poem, particularly in the following lines:

“Grey cat on vermilion floor. Coffee pot, milk carton, sugar bowl & mugs. Radiator. Iron. Table of books & junk. Roll of pink paper. Sock on elastic length. TV with bent leg. Green wooden umbrella. Brown polyester socks. Wool pieces. Boxes of records. Wires. Dictionary. Liquorice.”

I imagine these objects in a terrace house in Sydney’s inner west. Each object is a piece of a puzzle that, once complete, reveals the persona’s dominant traits: quiet, restless. Hose’s poem settler’s mess meanders and mills. The opening five lines introduce the persona, a sailor of sorts. An indented line halfway down the page alludes to the mythology of Cooks and Banks. The poem ends solidly in the modern day with an image of a headmaster’s daughter dreaming of Chinese silk. ‘We are a potpourri of slang and attire’, the poem seems to say.

Duggan and Hose’s work, along with Fiona Hile’s treatment of mind and matter and Michael Farrell’s confrontational portrayal of country, forced me to move horizontally, ant-like, and think about the narratives that make up the national identity. The archetypical Australian is a rugged worker of land and the archetypical Australian poem is a rugged ode to outback, but these poems, suburban in tone and multicultural in nature, challenge those archetypes.

The overwhelming message of the collection is that there are layers in this country, perceptually and conceptually distinct. This is most likely the moral of Wakeling’s introduction, but it was one that was not accessible to me. Nicola Themistes said it with most clarity in her poem How to which hunt: “truth grows wild amidst native greens”.

– Shirley Lu


Shirley Lu works in the field of special education by day and reads poetry by night. Her favourite poets include Carson, Michaels, Ondaatje, and Kinsella. She also writes poetry; her poems have been published in Freckled Magazine, Thistle Magazine, A Hundred Gourds, and blackmail press. For more of her writing, visit

Outcrop: Radical Australian Poetry of Land is available from



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Writers to Prime Minister Tony Abbott: Restore funding to the arts!

This open letter has been run on Meanjin and Overland websites. We have republished here in order to allow as many writers, artists and cultural activists to lend their support.

fist-holding-a-fountain-pen-concept-icon-black-colorful-hand-holding-pen-in-prAn open letter

Dear Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Treasurer Joe Hockey and Minister for Arts George Brandis

We view with dismay the many proposed changes to health, education and welfare support announced in the 2014 budget, and fear that the consequences these changes are likely to have will be dire for our most vulnerable citizens: the young, the elderly, the disadvantaged and Indigenous Australians.

We also strongly object to the reduction in arts funding, specifically the Australia Council’s loss of $28.2 million (not to mention the attack on Australian screen culture with cuts of $38 million to Screen Australia’s budget and a massive $120 million cut from the ABC and SBS over the coming four years). This decrease in federal support will be devastating to those who make art of any kind in this country, and many important works, works that would inform national debate and expand the horizons of Australia and its citizens, will simply never be made. Ultimately, these cuts will impoverish Australian culture and society.

Cutting the support the Australia Council offers will mean the loss of libraries, galleries, museums, concerts, regional tours, writing centres, and community and regional arts centres. In 2009, 11 million people visited an art gallery. To give that number context, it’s more people than went to the AFL and NRL combined. Those numbers tell us what many already know: that art is as crucial a part of our national identity as sport. Australians are passionate about creating, attending, consuming and investing in art.

The sector is ‘central to the social life of Australians’, as last year’s Creative Australia policy noted, and ‘an increasingly important part of the economic mainstream’. Following two comprehensive government reviews and a long process of consultation, the Creative Australia policy had promised to invest an additional $200 million in the sector; there is no mention of this additional funding in the current budget.

Importantly, the arts sector is one of the largest employers in the country. ‘In 2011, cultural industries directly employed 531,000 people, and indirectly generated a further 3.7million jobs,’ critic and writer Alison Croggon recently observed. ‘Copyright industries were worth $93.2 billion to the Australian economy in 2007, with exports worth more than $500 million.’

The Australian Bureau of Statistics found that in 2008–9, the arts contributed $86 billion to the Australian GDP – that is, 7% – $13 billion of which flowed directly from our field, literature and print media.

It is worth noting that the mining sector only provides $121 billion to the GDP, and employs fewer workers (187,400 directly, 599,680 indirectly), yet receives far more government financial support at federal and state levels.

Government support of the arts is vital to civic participation, as well as employment, innovation, growth, education, health, trade and tourism. The arts, the Australian Bureau of Statistics found in 2011, help build a ‘socially inclusive society’, one that makes people feel of value, and encourages greater participation in employment, education, training and volunteering.

Australia has a long history of valuing the arts and supporting its artists and writers. The Commonwealth Literary Fund was first started in 1908 and eventually became the Literature Board, before moving to the auspices of the Australia Council. The $200 million in grants the Australia Council as a whole currently bestows enables large organisations, such as the Australian Ballet, to put on annual programs, but also allows regional companies such as Back to Back Theatre or Bangarra Dance Theatre to tour internationally. It helps decades-old publications continue to foster a love of literature, finding and supporting new writers who will become tomorrow’s great Australian authors.

The loss of funding indicated in the 2014 budget will devastate these smaller organisations and practitioners, robbing Australia of a whole generation of artists, writers, publishers, editors, theatre makers, actors, dancers and thinkers. Crucially, it will deprive people, particularly in rural and regional areas and in remote communities, of the opportunity to create, educate, learn and collaborate. These proposed funding cuts endanger us intellectually, artistically and severely damage our reputation internationally. Moreover, we fear the prospect of a world of culture and art that is unaffordable to the majority of Australians.

You have an opportunity now to restore and increase funding to the arts. We ask you that you don’t devalue our artists or their work, and instead recognise what art offers Australia.

We look forward to your response.

Zora Sanders, Meanjin
Jacinda Woodhead, Overland
Alex Miller, author
Alexis Wright, author
Anna Funder, author
Christos Tsiolkas, author
JM Coetzee, author
Sonya Hartnett, author
Chloe Hooper, writer
Don Watson, writer
Hannah Kent, author
Shaun Tan, author and illustrator
Garth Nix, author
Peter Temple, writer
Sally Rippin, author and illustrator
Andy Griffiths, author
Kim Scott, author
Alison Croggon, writer and critic
Daniel Keene, playwright
Robert Drewe, author
Kirsten Tranter, author
Fiona Capp, author
Tony Birch, writer
Michelle de Kretser, author
Larissa Behrendt, writer
Lisa Dempster, Melbourne Writers Festival
Jennifer Mills, author, fiction editor Overland
Martine Murray, author
Andrea Goldsmith, author
Emeritus Professor John McLaren AM, author
Marion Halligan AM, author
Dr Clare Wright, author and academic
Dr Jessica Wilkinson, poet, academic and editor
Ivor Indyk, Giramondo Publishing, UWS
Evelyn Juers, author
Peter Rose, Australian Book Review
Professor Gail Jones, author
Dr Jeff Sparrow, Overland
Favel Parrett, author
Dr Benjamin Law, author
Dr Maria Tumarkin, author
Matthew Lamb, Island
Sam Cooney, The Lifted Brow
Rjurik Davidson, writer and editor
Amy Middleton, Archer Magazine
Alice Grundy, Seizure
Elizabeth McMahon, Southerly
Tessa Lunney, Southerly
David Brooks, Southerly
Geoff Lemon, Going Down Swinging
Robert Skinner, The Canary Press
Alex Skutenko, Overland
Lesley Halm, Island
Dr Peter Minter, Overland
Dr Kate Fagan, author and musician
Susan Hornbeck, Griffith REVIEW
Geordie Williamson, Island
Kent MacCarter, Cordite Poetry Review
Josephine Rowe, author
Richard Watts, writer and broadcaster
Angela Meyer, author and literary journalist
Delia Falconer, author
Connor Tomas O’Brien, Tomely
Van Badham, writer
Melissa Keil, author and editor
Professor John Kinsella, poet and writer
Gideon Haigh, journalist
|Dr Tom Cho, author
Judith Beveridge, Meanjin
Kalinda Ashton, author
Simon Mitchell, author
Margo Lanagan, writer
Lally Katz, writer
Sally Heath, writer and publisher
James Ley, writer and editor
Luke Davies, writer and poet
Omar Musa, rapper, poet and author
Ben Walter, writer
David Leser, writer and journalist
Ben Eltham, writer and journalist
Robert Macklin, author and journalist
Alan Close, writer
Chris Womersley, author
James Bradley, author and critic
Bronte Coates, Stilts
Carmel Bird, writer
Maxine Clarke, poet and writer
Alice Pung, author
Kate Larsen, writer and arts manager
Craig Sherborne, author
John Birmingham, writer
Steve Bisley, actor and writer
Candida Baker, author
Hannie Rayson, playwright
Di Morrissey, author
Marele Day, author
Rebecca Starford, Text Publishing and Kill Your Darlings
Susan Johnson, author
Mungo MacCallum, writer and journalist
Thomas Keneally, author
Melissa Cranenburgh, editor and writer
Charlotte Wood, author
Rachel Power, author and journalist
Andrew Nette, author
Sandra Symons, academic
David Whish-Wilson, author
Michael Rowbotham, author
Paul Clifford, Westerly
Delys Bird, Westerly
Mark Roberts, Rochford Street Review, Rochford Street Press, Social Alternatives.

(Signatures are still being collected for this letter. If you are a writer, editor or publishing worker, please leave your name in the comments section of the letter over at Meanjin, or email Jacinda Woodhead at



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A Luna Park of Treasures: Gig Ryan launches ‘Sputnik’s Cousin’ by Kent MacCarter

Sputnik’s Cousin by Kent MacCarter. Transit Lounge 2014 was launched by Gig Ryan at Collected Works Bookshop in Melbourne on 14 May 2014. Here is what she had to say….

Kent MacCarter reading at the launch of Sputnik's Cousin - Collected Works 14 May 2014 (Photograph - Angela Meyer)

Kent MacCarter reading at the launch of Sputnik’s Cousin – Collected Works 14 May 2014 (Photograph – Angela Meyer)

It seems clashingly right to launch Kent MacCarter’s Sputnik’s Cousin the day after the federal budget – while Joe and Mathias chomp cigars, we can chink glasses to celebrate an untaxable uncuttable un-levy-able complex work of art, knowing that it’s as far outside this Liberal Government’s comprehension as a person unemployed and under-30 would be, and if, in some alternative universe it was comprehended, it would be sent direct to Australia’s latest asylum seeker centre in Cambodia, or drowned at sea in the new Orwellian forms of compassion we have come to expect from those weeping over their speeches in Parliament. This book in part tracks the poet from youth to maturity to fatherhood, as he careens through a universe of Twentieth and Twenty-First century chaos from Mexico to Macedonia, market forces, memes and mantras of anxieties and amusements – enfolding a critique, and slanted analysis, of all things Now, as well as some rueful summings up of some things Then in jigsawed apologias of past experience. Migrations zero in on fraught states and wondrous sceneries, a guidebook to the world equals a guidebook to the poet’s feverish deracinated mind, all in some newly bursting MacCarterian Esperanto.

Kent’s language curls around all matter like Darwin entranced, or the glimmering blades of grass in a Terrence Malick film, as he plays and puns and rhymes through pantoums and longer poems, as well as some long prose accounts – a Luna Park of treasures, tricks, and terse bundles of matter: there’s a weird history, or portrait, of Melbourne’s inner North, a long riff on jazz musician and composer Bix Beiderbecke (‘fleeter than Art Deco or a cheetah hunt’ – Bix dropped dead at the age of 28 in 1931, from pneumonia, thought to have been exacerbated by alcoholism), Houdini in Australia, the 1980s computer game Pac-Man, some down-and-outer pranksters Eddie, Joey and Syd (maybe really Tony, Joe and Mathias), a look at attempting to learn German, all with an almost Shakespearean love of inversions and complexities that meanings slither, gasping, through, or else meticulously guided into states of disappearance like the MH370.

The allure of Kent’s work is in its tightly entangled linguistic play, where an observation is stretched out, twisted around, bent and peered at from every possible angle. We can’t always follow what he means, as like all poets he invents his own language: American slang, Hopkins-like nouns morphing into verbs, verbs cross-dressing as nouns as if on a Eurovision catwalk, smashed up compound words where we have to intuit meaning from context. In fact in some ways Kent’s poems re-enact the very basis of the invention of language where soundings sing and thump and collapse and collide and parade across the pages, and nothing means, except strait-jacketed into its context , but Kent removes the strait-jacket and ambiguity unconsolingly reigns.

He takes jargon from botany, from food writers, from science, from technology, from travel, enlarging the world, then chopping it up again into intricate pieces. The book’s appropriately urban cover – Carrum Station Vending Machine by James Bonnici – depicts in Edward Hopper-type views both the exterior and interior of a train station and its waiting room, the vending machine like a robot deity or dalek, the street lamp behind it glowering over the scene like a scaffold, and the telegraph pole further back resembling a crucifix: Christianity runs through this book like some alternative computer programme that Kent shuffles, uses as sufficiently absurdist theatre, and challenges and discards.

Knit us, wise Christ, the Christmas dinner bell
your pupils’ peel, a chime the core of alchemy
listen, stun, the sleet is angling in. I dispel
patina’s yell at rust misguided peasantry

And won’t you take a closer look at peanuts?
freeze them out to wander flocks with jiggling palm
remittance, hymns confess their treetops…

‘A Closer Look At Peanuts’

Other poems are travelogues buckling and chuckling with description:


my scramble, chart points with gadgets shaving geological chin
us mountain sports
and fix my silty ascent
……………………………pruning moustache of pine
…………………………………..the far-above cornice
………………………………………….converting who into my prime
me where psalms of Russian-built Nivas
slalom between frescoes and goats. When down-
shifting from first to Cyrillic
………….orthodox monks
………….grind their 4×4 hearts out
atop our perilous sentence
…………………………..of road
…………………………..imprisonment in a windcheater of tourism
I first read about in guidebooks
Steep road read aloud
my feet…

Understand, then, how we marvelled apart olives. Our communion
of Boolean syntax. My GPS, their chalk lines…

‘The Precipice That Is’
(Treskavec Monastery, Macedonia)

That is, dilemmas of direction are analysed then solved through necessity and curiosity, into a communion over a meal, a communion of data, yet also a spiritual communion. He hovers over difference wherever he can find it, and in his spliced cubist descriptions of everything the picture is vivid – a washing machine at Christmas ‘whirs and brims hot infant light’ – that is, it’s both funny yet profound. God is – literally – in the machine.

Kent outlines a theme then personalises it, splitting into narrator and participant, observer and perpetrator, puppet and puppeteer on an eternally precipitous Big Dipper of engineered collisions that echo and pool outwards like the recently picked up pulsations from the original Big Bang – ‘civic brides prepare at the smooch of marriage / in a pre-arranged I do. You did’ – or like John Berryman’s wandering cranky bemused romantic Everyperson, Henry. As also for Berryman’s Henry, the tone is constantly shifting – from studious to hilarious to regretful to celebratory. Nothing settles.

Many poems are wily political critiques such as ‘Open Your Preferences’ which refers to Australia’s border policy (a bland euphemism, if ever there was one!) – but always written in Kent’s Carl Linnaeus-like fidgety original nomenclature:

…………………………….…………..A drop-down menu spooks
your cookies, allowance for our stateless in-flux

Guinea pig wheels of border patrol. Watch humbled
objects, small, which might or mightn’t float
convert, create, divide, divert, confide…repeat.

And that spilt casket of verbs is a good place to end – from yesterday’s budget cuts of Hockey’s poseur economics of Slash and Burn policies, to Kent’s alternative Utopia of corporeal ‘Pash and Churn’ through an unstoppable hyper-observant brain where every bit of matter observed, every plate of daily bread, is pulsating with clambering life, an unbudgetable splurge of tripping, and renewable, energies that is Sputnik’s Cousin.

Others mentioned: Joe Hockey, Federal Treasurer; Mathias Cormann, Minister for Finance; Tony Abbott;
Eddie Joey and Syd – Ed Kuepper, Joey Ramone, Syd Vicious.

– Gig Ryan



Gig Ryan is Poetry Editor at The Age newspaper (Melbourne) and a freelance reviewer. She has published numerous books including New and Selected Poems (Giramondo, Australia, 2011); Selected Poems (Bloodaxe, UK, 2012); songs with Disband, Six Goodbyes (1988), and Driving Past, Real Estate (1999), Travel (2006).

Sputnik’s Cousin is available from


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A Story of Gradual Attunement: Alex Chapman reflects on Annamaria Weldon’s ‘The Lake’s Apprentice’.

The Lake’s Apprentice by Annamaria Weldon UWAP 2014.

Annamaria Weldon’s The Lake’s Apprentice contains a suite of poems alongside celebrated essays and nature notes cognisant of current environmental research. It is also illustrated throughout with colour photographs depicting the lakes and their flora and fauna. The Lake’s Apprentice was launched on 2 April this year at the University of Western Australia’s Claremont Campus. Alex Chapman recorded the event

“This kind of writing – the fruit of real contemplation, informed by a wide range of ideas, respectful of the reader’s intellect and imagination, driven by an empirical sensibility – is, for me, where the best ‘nature writing’ is to be found”.

Annamaria Weldon with The Lake's Apprentice

Annamaria Weldon with The Lake’s Apprentice

There is a savage passion which can invade the urban hominid when they encounter and, more significantly, engage with nature.  Yet Nature is often so wild and foreign to our experience that it is almost impossible to ‘see’, let alone interpret.

We could spend many days or months learning the seasons, the landscape and the inhabitants. To engage with the land and find our part in it – often through photography, conversation or writing – of necessity takes time, persistence and eventually, love.

Inevitably, most of us have neither the time nor skill to devote to understanding a landscape, an ecosystem, the way of lives.

Therefore, to find an author who has devoted five years to one special place – ‘an ecology of residence’ – and collected their observations and engagement, photos and reveries into a work that fits in your back pocket and can amplify an hour’s visit, is extraordinary. This is what my friend Annamaria Weldon has delivered with the recently published The Lake’s Apprentice, a story of gradual attunement to the wetlands of the Yalgorup National Park and the Lake Clifton thrombolites.

The launch, attended by around 100 people, was held within UWA Publications’ late-Victorian premises on the Claremont campus. It was opened by Annamaria’s mentor and cultural guide George Walley, who provided the acknowledgement of country on behalf of the traditional owners. He then went on to describe their meeting, and later immersion in Bilya Maadjit, the Bindjareb people’s name for the Murray River, a significant flow in the Peel-Harvey catchment leading into Yalgorup. It is considered by Bindjareb Noongar the umbilical cord of Mother Earth. Immersed in Bilya Maadjit George introduced Annamaria to country, a welcome to move freely through the land with humility.

Lucy Dougan spoke next, elaborating the personal significance Yalgorup has for Annamaria, who came from Malta in 1984; Yalgorup has become her portal for ‘home, place and belonging,’ enabling her to ‘make a reckoning with past and present.’ Dougan went on to discuss method: an artist usually presents only the finished artifact, yet in The Lake’s Apprentice there is evidence of the ‘footslog’ of work over time. To publish both the finished art and the journey is compelling.

Landscape is an archive, a book that not everyone can read, however Annamaria has brought to life an Atlas, a set of maps, stitching experience and place together. And she has taken time to contemplate personal loss of culture, ritual and access to knowledge, finding a way through to a new way of seeing.

With gratitude to Annamaria for coming to us from Malta, Lucy formally launched The Lake’s Apprentice. In acknowledgement, Annamaria spoke of her flight from Malta and growing attachment to country, first Denmark via love broken, then loving again – the lakes of Yalgorup.

The finished work of some 260 pages contains 242 colour photographs and decorative illustrations by Carolyn Marks. It is organised into two parts: the first a set of four nature notes and accompanying essays; the second a body of 38 poems.

Annamaria paid tribute to the many relationships developed in realising her work, gleaning information from scientists, the community, traditional owners and, ultimately, the publishing team at UWAP she trusted to ‘house-sit my dream.’ Now Annamaria has another dream, that The Lake’s Apprentice reaches out to our children’s children so that, wherever we come from, we all come home together in loving the land.

– Alex Chapman


 Alex R Chapman was born in Sydney but has lived in Perth since 1988 working as a botanist. He first started writing songs and performing while at the University of New England and has been playing music in various bands ever since. Sojourn, his first collection of poetry was published in 2013.

The Lake’s Apprentice is available from




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Flowing Lines and Hypnotic Melodies: Jean Kent launches ‘Bluewren Cantos’ by Mark Tredinnick

Jean Kent launched Mark Tredinnick’s Bluewren Cantos at the Newcastle Writers Festival on April 6th, 2014

blue wren cantosWhen Mark asked me to launch this new book, Bluewren Cantos, I took a very deep breath before I said ‘yes’. I had already been reading the book, so I knew it was an exceptional collection of poetry. I believe it is a book that will be written about with great excitement by critics and readers for a very long time, so whatever I say today to launch it will be just a brief wren-like twittering, compared with the chorus of praise with which it will undoubtedly be received as it goes out into the world.

Bluewren Cantos is not just ‘a book of poetry’ – although it is a very beautiful book, not only because of its contents, but also because it has been so elegantly produced by Pitt Street Poetry, with John and Linsay’s trademark care and thoughtfulness – no, what’s struck me again and again as I’ve been reading is that this is a ‘life of poetry’.

The stuff of poetry – words, visions, phrases, observations that stick in the mind or startle other thoughts, memories, associations, quotes from other poets … all these small starters for poems are what every living moment here feels suffused with.

In ‘The Wombat Vedas’, Mark writes

…………………………………….…….These lines are the roads I take into the world –
out and back into the Self – a shuffle
………………..performed with a pencil and a voice and their truth is how
They go, not where they start.

In fact, there is a feeling for me that the lines could start anywhere – in any moment, with any chance observation – so that longing and love, and meditations on the endless riffs on these within a multi-layered life, must lead, inevitably, to poetry.

Like the singing of birds, it all feels artlessly beautiful, but only because of the exceptional art, which keeps the music of what’s being said mesmerizing. Behind the flowing lines and hypnotic melodies, there is as much control of the rhythm and counterpoint and harmony as there is in any of the compositions by Bach or Mozart or Debussy, composers who compete with all the real birds in Mark’s Wingecarribie landscape.

Even before he began publishing poetry, Mark was renowned as a nature writer. His sensitivity to place and his ability to celebrate the Australian landscape are special joys in all his poems. The places are often so wonderfully recognizable – the Sculpture Garden at the NGA in Canberra, Margaret River in WA, the Southern Highlands: I know these places, and I love the way they lift off the pages of Mark’s book in as if they deserve to be treasured

There is also a deep spiritual possibility in this, as the poem ‘On Hammock Hill’ shows:

This is my devotion, then, to walk sometimes
…………………….with the dog through the schlerophyll

Cathedral of morning.

Often, Mark’s poems begin with nature – but invariably the solitary presence of the poet reaches out to another person – often a loved person – or, in an intimate connection, to the reader.

This is poetry like tightrope walking – a nonchalant, though thoughtful, ambling out into the world, which almost leads us into a transcendental state – only to be caught in a web of emotion and thought and connections to the daily reality of living.

I think this is beautifully illustrated by ‘Fight or Flight’, a poem about a butterfly flying into a spider’s web.

….Webs like soft targets stretch across
Every flight path and passage – traps
….So exquisitely laid you almost wish
You were small enough to spring them,
….For the terminal pleasure of being

So elegantly caught.

This could just as easily be a description of reading a Mark Tredinnick poem. So many ‘exquisitely laid’ webs, so much pleasure in being ‘elegantly caught’.

If all this sounds very serious, it is. But Mark’s poems are also full of contrarily playful paradoxes and wry humour. His tone may be debonair, well-dressed and conscious of manners and historical allegiances, but for all the hypnotic oratory, his voice is both questing and self-deprecating, and the earth he walks over is emphatically today’s.

This is a world of therapy and co-dependency and anxieties about what is happening to our planet – just to mention a very few current or topical concerns.

It is also a world of travel and work – and very notably and memorably – of family, of parents (as remembered from childhood, or ageing now) and children (those blessed ‘thieves of our time / love’s worst scoundrels’, taking the best and worst of us.

There are so many arresting images and lines in Mark’s poems, it is tempting to quote and quote … although where would I stop in any one poem? There is such a flow of words; one memorable moment just leads on to another.

Here is one, a description of ‘Sandhill Cranes’:

………………………………………………………..They carry their legs
Behind them like music stands they never learned
To fold, and they slash a loose graffiti
…………………………………………on the cloudbank as they come.

The book is called Bluewren Cantos, and there are so many beautiful poems about birds. For that alone, it would be a treasure.

When I first started reading Mark’s book, in a very hot January when cicadas were the most deafening choirs all around our house, the dollar birds who visit us each summer were also in residence.

I saw one at twilight on the same day I read Mark’s dollar bird poem, and it was one of those electric shock moments that can come when poetry connects absolutely with life.

This is the poem:
The Currency of Turquoise (P 87)

“What is the worth of the world?”
……………..Tim Lilburn ‘The Return to the Garden’

“I caught this morning morning’s minion …”
……………..Gerard Manley Hopkins, ‘The Windhover’

What is the world worth these days, do you suppose?
A dollarbird at a distance looks like nothing much at all:
A myna at Vipassana on the gatepost. But in flight later
He’s a peregrine falcon. The way of poetry never looked
So sleek: loneliness never travelled so fast. Wings raked
Back, her heart stenciled cheaply on both her sleeves,
Her colours running from scarlet tip to lapis tail, she free-
Falls in turquoise to the treeline, then pulls back hard
On the joystick, her bill slick with insect, and glides away,
As if the whole world were nothing more than a reject
Shop on a Saturday afternoon. But the world, in truth,
Is ten thousand expensive things heaven forgot to say.
And the dollarbird, at her semi-precious plunge, spruiks
Two of them for the price of one, and flies away for free.

Congratulations Mark! Apart from the excellence of the writing, what we have here is a BIG book, in a multitude of meanings of that word. It is an awe-inspiringly generous collection of poetry, abundant with language and vision and experience. I’m honoured to be launching it, and I wish it great success and the very many appreciative readers it deserves. May they be as enriched by reading it as I have been.

– Jean Kent


Bluewren Cantos is available from

Jean Kent has published four collections of poetry. Her most recent is Travelling with the Wrong Phrasebooks (Pitt Street Poetry, 2012).

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Conversational & Honest: Petrina Meldrum reviews ‘Dear Writer Revisited’ by Carmel Bird

Dear Writer Revisited by Carmel Bird Spineless Wonders 2013

Dear-Writer-Revisited-Frnt-cvr-mstrIt must be close to twenty years since I first read Dear Writer by Carmel Bird and I can honestly say I have never forgotten it. I bought three copies back then, but such was my enthusiasm for sharing what Carmel Bird was offering would-be writers, that I ended up with none. It being reissued as Dear Writer Revisited, gave me the opportunity to reread it and nothing has been lost. Its conversational, honest, and no nonsense tone, makes you sit up and listen to the lessons being so generously taught.

Dear Writer Revisited is described in its subtitle as ‘The Classic Guide to Writing Fiction’, and in one of the essays included at the end of the book, Bird tells us it is a piece of fiction about fiction. Each chapter is a letter to an novice writer providing advice from a manuscript assessor, Virginia O’Day; and to that extent it is fiction. The contents of the letters however, provide valuable information for would-be writers. Words of wisdom from Bird, and judiciously selected quotes from acclaimed authors, guide the reader/writer through many of the topics that need to be considered in order to write fiction worthy of being read.

Too often students of writing are told to follow a set of rules, but rules are made to be broken; and although you could be forgiven for thinking, when reading the sub-title to each chapter, that Bird is simply applying conventional wisdom to her guide, she does more than that. She provides a context for each point she wishes to make and explains how to look more deeply into each issue. She presents examples where well respected writers break every rule to excellent effect, concluding that as long as it is done well, not following the formula is fine.

The chapter I felt could have been dealt with more thoroughly was that on ‘choice of point of view’. Bird digresses from the topic by imploring the writer to make sure they get their facts correct if they want the reader to care about what they are writing. To be fair she does tie this in with the omniscient narrator needing to be credible, but an author checking their facts before allowing the omniscient narrator to relay them to the reader is a different thing. Apart from commenting on third person narrative, and first person narrative, Bird merely advises that we read the works of well-known writers and analyse what they do. Good advice, yes, but a few examples with some comment on the nuances of the points of view being used would have been more helpful.

The minor variations in the ‘Revisited’ version, amount to no more than Bird’s introduction to the 2013 edition, and a smattering of Author’s Notes throughout the book. However, a major variation is the inclusion of two essays at the end of the book, each containing a story and an analysis of the same, through which Bird generously provides the reader with an insight into a writer’s mind at work. She comments that, ‘one doesn’t usually indulge in the flurry of analysis I have outlined here. I did it for you, Dear Reader, I did it for you.’ And I for one would like to say, thank you.

– Petrina Meldrum


Petrina Meldrum is a Tasmanian based writer with an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Tasmania. Her short stories for adults and children have appeared in a number of publications. She is presently working on her first novel.

Dear Writer Revisited is available from


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Rochford Street Review passes 50,000 hits

Rochford Street Review recently passed 50,000 page hits since November 2011 which I guess is some kind of milestone. Thanks to everyone for your support.


The spiritual home of Rochford Street Review, Rochford Street Press & P76 Magazine

The spiritual home of Rochford Street Review, Rochford Street Press & P76 Magazine


Rochford Street Review relies on the support of its readers to continue. If you like what we are doing please consider making a donation.

Clever and Surprising: Sherryl Clark reviews ‘Chains of Snow’ by Jakob Ziguras

Chains of Snow by Jakob Ziguras (Pitt Street Poetry, 2013)

chains of snowOften a reader comes to a first collection of poetry with certain expectations – that of a poet finding his or her voice, a varied range of topics and levels of craft, a moderate publication record. The first things that greet you in Chains of Snow are recommendations from three eminent poets, and then a list of acknowledgements which includes significant shortlistings and prizes. All of these serve to warn you not to take this collection lightly.

It quickly becomes evident that Jakob Ziguras is not afraid of forms or rhyme, and this also intrigued me. Many first collections are primarily free verse – here we begin with a number of rhyming poems, all of which relate to ancient history in some way: Akhenaten, Plato, Orpheus, Aristotle and the like. The rhymes are clever and surprising – edge/aslant/sortilege/ignorant – and unlikely to put any reader to sleep. If that doesn’t keep you on your toes, free verse poems are dropped in here and there, so that just when you turn the page expecting another form poem, there is a free verse poem to “lighten the load”.

That is not to say that the rhyming poems are too heavy. Often they are 12 or 14 lines, and Ziguras’s language is rich and varied, offering great depth in that small space, as in ‘Reading Nelly Sachs’:

Meanings, like sleepers who have spent the night
Beneath infested sheets, are torn, too soon,
From the milky comfort of the moon
Into the iron light.

In ‘Spring’, about returning soldiers in a welcoming cavalcade, the stanzas are three lines (it’s a terza rima) and, again, the imagery is rich:

… tireless wheels crush beauty’s gaudy trash.
They went believing in the hollowed pap
Fed them by old men hoarding tarnished cash.

Throughout the whole collection, many images captured my imagination, standing out from the poems like beams of light: a honeyed afternoon, rags of laughter, trees are but cracks appearing in the blue eggshell ceramic. I imagine other readers would find their own favourites.

Perhaps I’m an impatient reader these days though – the much longer rhyming poems sometimes lost me, as if their subject slowly became smothered by the layers of words. Is it harder to write a long poem these days and keep it coherent and moving forward for an average reader? I’d hate to think Ziguras was writing only for academics! There is too much to savour here.

I admit I found that the free verse poems were more pleasurable to read, for several reasons. One was that it seemed the imagery became freer, the often shorter lines carrying less but allowing more reflection and thought. Another was that the poet was clearly thinking very carefully about his line breaks, and using them to advantage. In ‘The Bees Are Leaving’, it begins:

The bees are leaving, abandoning their hives,
the wax still warm, the cells impeccable.

The word ‘impeccable’ is impeccably placed. I could read that stanza several times and still be caught by that word.

The four poems in ‘Varanasi Cycle’ work well together, a mix of free verse and rhyme with the rhyme, in Ziguras’s way, rarely falling into the predictable. All the sensory details bring the setting and events alive, as in ‘Poem IV, Night’:

Every night, as if raging against the gods,
the temple drums drive the red-faced monkeys
crazy, screeching over the rusted rooftops.

It’s inevitable that when poems are mentioned as winning or being shortlisted for competitions, you can’t help examining them more intensely. What did the judges see in this, you wonder, to make it a worthy winner? Was it just their length? Do you have to write long poems these days to be noticed? While ‘Varanasi Cycle’ and ‘Abendland’ were richly rewarding, I did think ‘The Last Man in Pompeii’ became a little too heavy-going. That may simply reflect my reading preferences.

Overall, Chains of Snow is a sterling first collection that rewards many re-readings.

– Sherryl Clark


Sherryl Clark was the supervising editor of Poetrix magazine for 20 years. She teaches poetry at Victoria University TAFE, and completed her Master of Fine Arts at Hamline University in Minneapolis/St Paul in 2013, where her critical thesis was on verse novels. She writes verse novels for young readers, and her most recent title is Runaways (Penguin, 2013). She is currently undertaking a PhD at Victoria University.

Chains of Snow is available from

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Launching ‘Beyond The Ohlala Mountains: Alan Brunton Poems 1968-2002’

Beyond The Ohlala Mountains: Alan Brunton Poems 1968 – 2002. Edited by Michelle Leggott and Martin Edmond Titus Books 2013

alan BruntonAround 200 people gathered at the Wharekai at the University of Auckland’s Waipapa Marae on Thursday 27th to launch Beyond the Ohlala Mountains. The launch consisted of “bands, performances and readings from the Beyond the Ohlala Mountains.

Alan Brunton was an endlessly fertile and eclectic poet, scriptwriter and performer. Born in Christchurch New Zealand, Brunton also worked as an editor, director, performance tutor, literary critic and community arts worker. He was the founding editor of Freed and co-edited the tabloid-format arts magazine Spleen. With his partner Sally Rodwell, he also established the important experimental theatre group Red Mole. Brunton was the University of Canterbury’s Writer in Residence in 1998. He died suddenly in Amsterdam in 2002.


From the Introduction to Beyond The Ohlala Mountains by the editors Michele Leggott and Martin Edmond

In the middle of the island are the mountains called the Ohlala Mountains, high above the roads of exile and the valleys of distress. Wild cows and other animals live in those mountains. The cows give a milk that is the colour of the sun. (Alan Brunton, ‘Being Here’ #5)

launch speech by editors Michele Leggott and Martin Edmond

Editors Michele Leggott and Martin Edmond speaking at the launch.

We set out one fine day in April 2007 to photograph the Red Mole masks in storage at Ohope. Google maps took us flawlessly to Andrew Rodwell’s house above the cliffs. Whakaari (White Island) smoked lazily on the horizon. By early afternoon we were in a big basement opening boxes and lifting out masks, puppets and painted figurines. Caterina de Nave laid them on a table and kept a list; Tim Page photographed each one; Michele Leggott repacked. Most but not all of the pieces were from recent years. The house in Island Bay, Wellington, nearly always had masks in progress drying in the sun on the windowseat. It was also full of masks from older shows and from travels in Asia, Europe and North America. As the unpacking continued we recalled the walls of the house, the shows and who made a particular puppet or wore a certain mask. There were many gaps and the people who might have told us what we didn’t know were not there. The talk turned again to the death of Sally Rodwell six months earlier. It was this painful event that terminated the mask-making in Island Bay and put Red Mole’s journeying on hold. After the sudden death of poet and beloved partner Alan Brunton in 2002, Sally kept herself and daughter Ruby busy with new shows and publishing Alan’s work. But she could not beat the despair that took hold in Alan’s absence and her suicide 15 October 2006 was a moment of disintegration all the more shocking because it seemed to fulfill a pattern imagined so often by Alan and played out many times in his poetry and scripts. Against the hot energy of love and its multiple projects comes inevitable fission, an explosion followed by icy darkness and inertia where a survivor might sleepwalk but not exist in any meaningful sense of the word.

We listed and photographed, not sure how any of it would help Ruby, then far away in New York. The mass of Alan and Sally’s papers had gone to the University of Auckland library for safekeeping; the house was rented out and Sally’s brothers were looking after the books and masks until they were needed again. At Ohope we unwrapped almost a hundred pieces, and then there was a plaster of Paris face, familiar features moulded in white, eyes closed, mouth set. It was Alan, a mask or the mould for a mask. None of us had seen it before.

** ** **

This recording of Lana Brunton reading ‘Waves’ was played at the launch.


so you want to know
lend undestructed ears,
I’ll do this haha just once more …

in a shingle shack lit by candles
way out back among the muters,
the town was Brightwater,
a kaka went in flight between the window
and the golden moon,
the Earthly Guest was born,
his mother ‘beautiful as a wreck of paradise’
dreamed him in her skirt of dust,
dreamed him beneath the open sky,
dreamed her little anomaly on a mallow eating fire,
dreamed him as geometry, as I over I, what always
dreamed the Unremembered Dream
where One
in a black cloud
comes upon the unrepresented world
beginning as a ‘grainy glow’,

Mask-Mark Roberts with material provided by Brett Cross


Beyond The Ohlala Mountains: Alan Brunton Poems 1968 – 200is available from:

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