Issue 17 January 2016: March 2016 – Index

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Tony Oliver, Baguette, Poet table series, 2013.

Tony Oliver, Baguette, Poet table series, 2013.

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Teasing Threads

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Vale Lyn Hatherley

Lyn Hatherly - Photograph from Facebook

Lyn Hatherly – Photograph from Facebook

Mascara Literary Review reported today on social media that poet, academic, critic and editor Lyn Hatherley had died last Thursday evening.

Lyn’s biographical note in Mascara (Issue 12 2012 http://mascarareview.com/lyn-hatherly/) gives a small glimpse of her importance to Australian Poetry and literature in general:

Lyn Hatherly spends much of her time doing something about writing: editing, publishing, writing, and teaching. Some writers have been working with her – as members of The Writing Zone club – since 1997. Currently, apart from teaching writing and mentoring other writers, she’s one of the managing editors of  Five Islands Press. In the past she was one of the founding board members of Australia Poetry, editor of Poetry Monash and the Medal Poets Series. In between lecturing in North Queensland Lyn set off in her small green car on a Writer on Wheels tour funded by the Regional Writing Fund. She also acted as poetry editor for LiNQ. Lyn has three published books: Acts of Abrasion (Five Islands Press 2006) Sappho’s Sweetbitter Songs (Routledge 1996) Songs of Silence (Medal Poets 1994). She contributes poetry and reviews to journals and anthologies and has won several awards.

Issue 12 of Mascara also contains two poems by Lyn including the beautiful ‘Shearwaters’  http://mascarareview.com/lyn-hatherly/

Some of her other work can be found on line in:

A public memorial ceremony is planned for early April and will be held in the Great Hall at Montsalvat, Eltham, Victoria.

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Fusion of the Personal and the Imagined: Robbie Coburn Reviews ‘Lilies and Stars’ by Rebecca Law

Lilies and Stars by Rebecca Law, Picaro Press 2013

Lilliey-coverIt seems rare in modern verse to see a poet approach language traditionally, or at least follow the university-taught guidelines of how to construct a poem; be that through a refusal to use capitalisation or experimentation with form, it seems now the traditionalist might be the one breaking the mould.

Filled with a deep sense of romanticism, desire and longing, Rebecca Law’s second collection of poems achieves this in its evocation of a charming series of landscapes where the correlation of the imagined and ‘real’ world runs through the lines.

Law seems to be following a tradition of romantic poets, using sometimes familiar imagery but with a unique and expressive originality.

Constructed musically and always bearing an assured, clear grace, it is as if Law has crafted a unique theology, drawing on her own beliefs as a practicing catholic, and there is a kind of sacred atmosphere one inhabits when reading Lilies and Stars.

The collection opens with the question ‘what can one make with a bucket?’ (“The Shivering Song”), proceeding to reveal a love poem filled with stunning imagery of water and a subtle exploration of connection.

A great sense of longing underpins the lines and human relationships are dealt with carefully, constantly using the land and the elements to frame them.
The shorter love poems within this collection are by far the most effecting and employ a level of honesty often rare in much modern work. “Form of” simply and effectively recounts a former love, expressing longing and an aching desire:

Last night
I wanted not to love you
your distance and silence:
then conversely
it was this howling
I wanted to love forever,

heaving my backbone
in my sleep.

Regardless of the content of the poem, the real strength of the work is its precise rhythm, like Yeats, where the personal and the natural exist as one and aren’t afraid to dream: ‘The world/is everything/within azure/reaching higher’ (“The Road”)

Although Law now resides in Sydney, these are poems that could be written about any environment and there is a timeless quality in the traditional approach of the verse. This lies in the fact that, although Australian, Law seems to write outside of any existing timeframe, combining the personal with an expert understanding of mythology. The presence of symbolists such as Baudelaire and Verlaine as influences contribute to what Law has described as an “[interest] in the surreal, the symbolic and the sublime as romantic concepts that displace and liberate the word from a human preoccupation with living and dying” (Overland, September 18 2012. ed. Peter Minter).

This careful use of imagery that comes as a result is both powerful and mesmerising. A beautiful example of is displayed in “Ocean, Sky & Wreath” in which the poet plays with images, creating an atmospheric music for the reader:

Where the whale sinks,
stars are a floor,
ceilings, cloud,
daylight an aura

Family is a constant source of light and dark shades and runs below the surface of much of the work, as the poet recalls people and times, asserting that ‘The flight away and back towards home [is] an exercise in learning grace’. 

“Infusions of Shoreline Fauna” is a moving tribute to the poet’s mother and one of the finest examples of what Law manages so well in her approach to her subjects:

This lowly tree reminds me of mother,
white pebbles and sprouting grass….


Mother you are always old
for your years, my own growth
distanced more and more
into adulthood

A highly confessional and moving piece, the careful use of spare verse to describe the personal entwine with natural imagery to create a beautiful balance and resonance. Again a haunting longing seeds the lines as ‘lavender bouquets outlast/hours of any starry night/for whomsoever mutters a wish.’

A startling marriage of the earth, the sky and the imagination, with this collection Law’s touch is gentle and affecting, consistently displaying a polished sense of line and metre.
With such assured lyricism, perhaps the ultimate triumph of the work is the blending of personal experience with fantastic imagery.
It is as if Law is attempting to recapture the romantic notion of poetry so many fall in love with, however unfashionable this kind of writing may appear beside other contemporary work.

With its mystical imagery and passionate lyricism, Lilies and Stars is extremely effective in achieving what it intends to.

-Robbie Coburn

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Robbie Coburn was born in June 1994 in Melbourne and grew up in the rural district of Woodstock, Victoria. He has published a collection, Rain Season (Picaro Press, 2013), as well as several chapbooks and pamphlets – Before Bone and Viscera (2014) is available from Rochford Street Press – https://rochfordstreetreview.com/2014/07/18/ rochford-st-press-is-proud-to-announce-the-publication-of-before-bone-and-viscera-by-robbie-coburn/. His latest chapbook is Mad Songs (Blank Rune Press, 2015). A new collection of poetry The Other Flesh and a novel Conversation with Skin, are forthcoming. He currently resides in Melbourne and can be found at www.robbiecoburn.com.au

Lilies and Stars is available through Rebecca Law’s website http://rbcclaw.wix.com/rebecca-kylie-law

without / within – a self portrait of the world: Lisa Sharp reviews “Alone Together: In the company of strangers” by Jo Meisner

Alone and Together by Jo Meisner (was onsite at 1 Margaret Street, Sydney 8-9 March)

On a busy city corner at One Margaret Street Sydney art in a glass-walled corporate foyer reflects, barely contains and displays the herd of people moving through the city. In a visually subtle, site-specific spectacle, the reality of the moving crowd without is echoed by the evocative imagery within, in a photographic installation created by artist Jo Meisner. Placed within and among the actual surge of human movement, the glass wall comes to life. Reflected legs merge with the strides and steps of people coming and going. It is at once integrated and illusory. The work melds, almost but not quite fusing with the world it depicts. And it is those parts that don’t quite fit which make it such an intriguing, uncanny experience.

alone together 1

The relentless, restless movement of people outside the building is repeated inside the building by the work, Alone Together: In the company of strangers. Consisting of a strip of photographically printed transparencies, located on a waist-height horizon line, the imagery is of truncated bodies. Legs stride, feet hit the pavement and colour is bleached away in a frozen moment.

Read literally as an urban street scene it conveys (but cropped to a lower register only) the repetition, monotony and movement of commuting much in the vein of that iconic John Brack painting, Collins Street, 5pm.[i] Yet on closer inspection the images have been photographed in situ – according to Jo, just days before, so that at any moment the owner of the depicted legs could walk into and through the image in a strange conflation of time, object and subject. This brings the work to immediate, vivacious life. Wrapped on the inside of these public-facing windows then, is an inward-looking idea; that of the self within the crowd. The static, black and white imagery stands as metaphor for an idea that Jo has been exploring for some time now – the alienation of the individual and particularly, its manifestation in our highly digitised, social media and device-aware contemporaneity.

alone together 2

Jo ascribes her initial concept to the childhood matching game of tops and tails, but this is different. While John Brack gave his commuters highly individualised features, these legs and feet are anonymous. They are yours, or mine. Identity comes from the interaction that occurs when any individual walks into the reflection and becomes part of the work – and it is a fleeting, ephemeral moment.

alone together 3

There is an immediacy about the process of making this work, also only made possible with digitisation and rendering in plastic film. What was seen only last week is now enlarged and printed with the ubiquitous media of our age. There it is, multiplied, a rectangular reflective screen within which to see ourselves. One of Jo’s influences is Michelangelo Pistoletto and his mirror paintings. This legacy is apparent, but here it is taken out of the gallery and onto a particular street corner, creating a specific “self portrait of the world”.[ii]

Can we be lonely while in a crowd? The sense of separation is familiar but uncomfortable.  It is all around us – on a train, a bus stop, commuting to work, as a group we move as Jo observes, with “heads looking downwards, not outwards.” Our mutual alienation commodified on a building wall. See it, look and walk through it.

The exhibition was part of in’habit , the Spectrum Now festival and was supported by Dexus property group http://spectrumnow.com.au/events/%C9%AAn%CB%88hab%C9%AAt-presented-by-dexus-property-group/.

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All images courtesy of the artist.

[i] John Brack, Collins St, 5pm, 1955, oil on canvas, 114.8 x 162.8 cms, National Gallery of Victoria

[ii] Michelangelo Pistoletto, www.pistoletto.it

 – Lisa Sharp

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Lisa Sharp is a Malaysian-born Australian artist, writer and independent curator. She
currently lives and works in Sydney.  After a career as a lawyer, Lisa recently graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Honours – painting). Lisa is travelling to Paris at the end of this month to exhibit her paintings at the Factory 49 Paris Pop Up Gallery. The exhibition “unmake / make / dénouer / nouer” will be open at 122 rue Amelot, 75011 Paris from 30 March – 23 April 2016. Lisa also likes to write about art and artists, and curate exhibitions. Her blog is at www.lisa-sharp.tumblr.com

Jo Meisner has a website http://jomeisner.com.au/

Teasing Threads – Sundry Film and Literary Criticism: Ridley Scott’s ‘Black Hawk Down’

Chris Palazzolo revisits Black Hawk Down, directed by Ridley Scott, 2001

black-hawk-down

21st Century culture industries produce so much it’s entirely possible to spend a lifetime with a cultural diet of products never more than a fortnight old. This is the professional hazard of a Reviewer, and the reason why I describe my column as Criticism and not Reviews; so I’m not only restricted to what is new. I felt at some point that I may want to look at something older, for whatever reason. I named the column Teasing Threads because I like the idea of finding something in a film or a book, or some other cultural artefact that can be ‘teased out’ so to speak, so as to see what unravels. In my last column on Ridley Scott’s The Martian, the meritocratic incorruptibility of NASA and the hyper-competence of its scientific and military personnel was a thread that led me to thinking about an earlier film of Scott’s with the same kind of character-erasing merit of institution and personnel (though with a flaw in its structure that leads to an unimaginably bloody outcome) – Black Hawk Down.

Black Hawk Down is a moment by moment account of US Special Forces attempt (under a UN mandate) to arrest a Somali warlord named Mohammad Farrah Aidid, from central Mogadishu during the Somali Civil War in 1993, and the subsequent retrieval of its dead and wounded when the operation fails. In one sense this film is an essay on the technicalities of military necessity; each step of the two operations, arrest and retrieval, are detailed clinically, orders are followed to the letter, there is no cowardice, no insubordination, and no betrayals by the high command; the Special Forces portrayed here is a meritocracy from top to bottom, start to finish. The humanitarian aims of the operation casts the Special Forces in the glow of Reason. In another sense this is a very political film, examining the disastrous results of a command flaw on a military operation. The flaw is in the command structure, specifically a double directive; 1. Arrest Aidid and bring him into UN custody. 2. Leave No Man Behind. The second directive effectively cancels the first directive because as soon as an American soldier is killed or wounded the retrieval operation begins; for no military reason offense shifts to defence. Because of the narrowcast ‘real time’ narrative we see all of the events from the American perspective. We see their rescue attempts as examples of selfless courage. But the pornography of killing (which takes up 90% of the screen time) and the brute statistics at the end scream at us – 19 American, and over 1000 Somali dead. All but one of those casualties sustained under operation Leave No Man Behind.

What triggers the second directive, and cancels the first, happens when the soldiers are abseiling from helicopters hovering over the CBD. One of the soldiers falls and lies injured on the street. At this stage, the Americans still have the advantage of surprise; no one has been killed, this soldier is the first casualty. If they leave him they may succeed with the arrest with only a handful of casualties. But because of the second directive, crucial resources are diverted to rescue this soldier. In the process more American soldiers are hit; they have to be rescued; each rescue attempt resulting in greater waves of bloodshed as thousands of Somali hot-heads try to do battle with the yankee. In the end, the American dead and wounded that are finally left behind are ripped to pieces by mobs enraged by the massacre of their young men. Who knows how that first injured soldier would’ve been treated by the Somalis if he’d been left and the massacre hadn’t happened? If he’d died there would it have become a corner of a foreign street that is forever America?

Western governments (including Australia’s) have a tricky job arguing for the national interest when they offer their defence forces as police for ‘International Law.’ This is what orders like Leave No Man Behind are meant to do; mollify public opinion. ‘International Law’ means even less to the populations of the failed states where these police actions take place. They don’t see ‘Law Enforcers’, they see invading soldiers. It is a military fact as old as Herodotus that if you intend to win a war leaving men behind is an operational necessity.

But there is another terrible truth our governments are ignoring too. That the dead body of an invading soldier, no matter whether his army is victorious or defeated, is a sombre sign of the humanity of the invader. No matter how hated, it says to the invaded population, ‘here lies a man with a mother and father brothers and sisters just like us.’ Every army in history has left these poignant signs on foreign streets and fields. Except ours (Australian, American, French, British and Russian) which now add to the unprecedented lethal power of their technologies, the insult of this erasure. Leave No Man Behind means the lands we invade are not good enough for our dead. Therefore those lands will raise no memorials to the bravery of our soldiers and the ideals of our civilisation.

black-hawk-down-crash

 – Chris Palazzolo

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Teasing Threads is Chris Palazzolo, novelist and poet, editor at Regime Books in Perth, radio host on 6EBA FM North Perth, and manager of one of the last video shops in the world – Network Video, Roleystone.

When Romance is too Culturally Meaningful to be Common: Rebecca Law reviews Martin Langford’s ‘ground’

ground by Martin Langford. Puncher and Wattmann 2015

ground_310_440_sReading Martin Langford’s ground made me long for the kind of mood state celebrated in the Rick Springfield song ‘Free and Easy’. In this tense, studious collection ‘just knowing that you’re there’ is not enough to sustain happiness and ‘waking in the morning’ doesn’t illicit a casual ‘walk by the shore, miles from everyone…feeling free and easy’. So instead, here we are in Australia, you, me and the next door neighbour wondering with great angst why the climate isn’t great, the future looks bleak and the past is too miserable to forget. What’s needed is a beginning and the ground is a good enough start excepting that’s in trouble too- the clay is cracking and dried up, roads ‘shimmer, tacky with heat’, the ‘bleached grasses’ are dying and what is more, the sky here only ‘swells’ and the sun is ‘colourless’. With such constant negativity I wanted some sense of an RU OK day just to check if Langford’s insistence we never arrive anywhere and it is impossible to ‘articulate home’ was a nationwide catastrophe waiting to happen. A sort of where have I been all this time if this is what is really going on in Australia (says Langford with a wink and a nudge).

This is a poetry of disjunctions, of the pull of the wild that can’t sustain its original intentions, of the unsettled and the pathetique. The human gazes at its world looking for something and nature carries on its persistent evolutionary tumbles and turns; but always in reaching out or even meeting our utmost energetic states we are forced to recede again to ‘sorrows of the limpid and mild’. What happened was Captain Cook came and ‘planted a flag’. Our soldiers ‘died at Gallipoli’. First they said ‘nobody lived here’ then ‘they made room for Indigenous people’. And for that, the massacres and the silence, the absences and the emptiness (of spirit) there is the ‘working out what to do next, and then doing it’. There is a fight going on, a struggle to settle in and settle down but Langford is dismissive and wants to dance. After all, in “Broken Bay”, where there is a will there is way: ‘back in the suburbs/ the small rooms light up/ for the night cliff’ and ‘shearwaters shoulder/ the bomb of the wind’.

In the heart of Sydney’s CBD ‘someone/ keeps making a point but the listeners/ vague out when the seagulls tilt sideways’ and this is either the malady or upside of living in Australia: language matters less when the ‘air…is swarmed by a perfume called “Distance”/….and ‘there’s a breeze/ off the river so faint it’s like breath on the skin’. Here, the best conversations come in the wind or are summoned by the gaze but never form words: instead, find the ‘gaze of an other’. Good sense is like ‘woodsmoke-and-lassitude days in the streets without trees’, of little consequence or meaning for the intransience of living in a country whose histories are so eclectic even your own can be untold ‘heart-work’, a granted legend. The point is we are all here together, scrambling for place, for destinations, a sense of arriving ‘home’. But with consideration for the wildflower principle, there is another way to bloom and that is to amble and plonk respectively: for ‘beauty is not destination’. Which begs the question what was land first but ‘a clearing of prayer for our barley’. Or ‘a meadow at Windsor with hayricks and steeples’, a ‘pastoral idyll’, a ‘dancing-itself of the rhythms of seed-life’, the ‘site of our stories/ our lost child/ our sorrowing ground’. And then that familiar retraction, a kind of Langfordesque erasure: ‘what was this land?’

In ground everything is a problem because, like Eric and Annersley, the two dozer drivers who don’t gel, living in Australia is complex, complicated. There are animosities but in the end, we have to work the same land ‘because we are clever/ because need is tough’. Here, there are ghosts of soldiers ‘whose footsteps..echo in halls like important, dull songs’, crows who ‘tell the plain, not the kind truth’ and ‘thrushes…cuckoo-shrikes- / carving dusk-contours and -hollows’. And the ‘impulse’ to dance, ‘a sun of participants dancing/ a source/ not a grief’. That way we might ‘get the weight of this place/ in our bodyminds’ and in dancing help ‘the small creeks run clear again/ …the firetails and wrens to come back/ …our own understandings…/ specific, loose-limbed’.

On “The Kingfishers Wings” beautifically light can refract from the sorrows, deaths, dismissals and shadows to the ‘azure’ of our attention, our tears, our desire for flight from/ out of the mire. In ground meaning is lower case and simplified, less a definition and word than a sense of something to look at and look around from the vantage point of feeling it beneath you…Like a poetic encyclopaedia of Australia’s transition from paddock to city, from ship to house, war to a makeshift peace, ground is sensitive to its subject matter and respectfully inoffensive. Its gaze is studious and uptight and captures details with such eloquence they almost seem caught in the lines of their stanzas, prized or wittily expressive. The subheadings assist an orientation through what seems otherwise a hike through a terrain of surprises and eccentric journeys. Alas, you don’t feel ‘free and easy’ reading the collection, being in Langford’s world for the 155 pages of poetry, but you learn something and perhaps that too, is time well spent.

 – Rebecca Law

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Rebecca Kylie Law is a Sydney based poet, essayist and reviewer. Her poetry collections include Offset, Lilies and Stars. The Arrow & The Lyre and In My Days and In My Sleep  (May, Interactive Press). Other  publications include Notes for The Translators, Poems for the Young Chinese Adult, Best Poem Journal, Australian Love Poems 2013, Southerly, Westerly, Rochford Street Review, The Australian, The Euroscientist Ezine, The Lake, Pacific Poetry, Spiritus and Assisi: An online journal of Arts & Letters. She is currently completing her Phd at the UWS. Rebecca Kylie Law was Rochford Street Review’s featured writer for Issue 16  https://rochfordstreetreview.com/2015/10/06/featured-writer-rebecca-kylie-law-biographical-note/

ground is available from https://puncherandwattmann.com/books/book/ground

Decades of Percolation: Anna Couani Launches ‘Concrete Flamingos’ by Mark Roberts

Concrete Flamingos by Mark Roberts, Island Press 2016 was launched in Sydney by Anna Couani on 27th February 2016 at the Friend in Hand Hotel. Concrete Flamingos, along with the other four titles on Island Press’ 2016 list will be launched in Melbourne at the Dan O’Connell Hotel, Carlton, on 19th March – details  https://www.facebook.com/events/914712998643164/

concrete-flamingosThanks for coming today and thanks to Mark for asking me to launch his long-awaited and beautiful book, Concrete Flamingos.

Mark is probably best known to most of us as a can-do person, as an officer of the Poets Union in the 80’s, running a small magazine P76 and now The Rochford Street Review online review journal. He’s also had a full-on career in various jobs, has so many skills and raised a family with Linda Adair. He’s always been kind of busy.

Mark and I were Poets Union officers at the same time during the 80’s where we were addressing important political issues and issues about payment of writers, and sales and distribution. Island Press was in existence at that time, previously run by Philip Roberts, taken over for a short while by Ken Bolton and I and then passed on to Philip Hammial when Philip Roberts left the country. The small press scene was pretty lively and buzzing – we all knew each other, even the interstate people (this was before Facebook, before the internet), and it was the remnants of that scene that Mark first encountered as a young poet. It’s so gratifying that it was publications like the ones I was involved with that inspired Mark to write and to publish poetry.

When I first met Mark and worked with him in the Poets Union, there was no need to explain what we older people were trying to do in the small press scene, and what we were trying to do with organising public readings, pushing for better book distribution, promoting women writers, writers from diverse backgrounds and gay writers because he understood all that perfectly, was probably more ofay with those ideas than some of the older people he was influenced by. The things we’d been fighting for were a kind of given for Mark and the other younger poets like Adam Aitken, Dipti Saravanamutu and Kit Kelen. And also for people like Sarah St Vincent Welch, Moya Costello, Jane Skelton and Virginia Shepherd, to name a few.

It would be odd to speak about Mark and only mention his poetry because he has been a poet/producer/publisher, something like an artist run space in the visual art field. So a collection of Mark’s own work somehow has a special significance because it is positioned within a milieu that he has been rather instrumental in creating. He takes his place alongside lots of other practitioners who have participated actively in the literary world in ways that create infrastructure that benefits us all. I love the piece in the book that repeats the line you tell me I’m not a poet over and over again. Something writer/publishers often encounter from other writers.

This lovely book of poems is bedded in a sense of communalism. Mark’s authorial voice and perspective refer to this. The work has a self-consciousness, a knowledge of where we are and where we came from. It is obviously the precursor to the historical sequence he’s writing now, as in the poem crossing the mountains. It is a book of many disparate parts and that makes it interesting.

There are 4 concrete poems in the book, all called ‘Concrete Flamingo’. The first one consists of 8 columns of illegible text and this poem/image is then digitally transformed three times in the other 3 that are placed at intervals throughout the book. That’s one example of the humour that runs through the collection. In another poem, ‘Letter to Frank’, Mark (addressing Frank O’Hara I imagine) throws many odd referential bits together that are at the same time absurd and theoretically interesting. I’m quoting parts of it, it goes:

like you i want to be a construction worker/
poet

i have a copy of the planning regulations
which i am rewriting in the style of the new york
school

and finally,

& all the construction workers have gone home
maybe to write poems

Something like a good humoured Ken Bolton poem but one that also swipes at urban consolidation and the elitism of the literary world. There’s often a political dimension or reference in Mark’s work. Just creeps in somehow.

And Mark’s not scared to mention the domestic details that so many male poets shy away from. Like in shapes

my life
demands
a cluttered base
rooms scattered
with papers & books
baskets of washing spilling
onto the floor an ironing board
with a shirt half ironed & discarded
a stain demanding a soak & a rewash

Some of the poems have an intense local feel, that is visual and immediate, many emphasising colour and somehow full of affect. An obvious example is ‘The only marigold in Erskineville. It starts:

i walk through a black & white suburb thinking
of a poem i could write about how longing & desire
creep up on you like a shadow on a cloudy day.

it ends with:

i transfer your postcard
to my coat pocket & notice
again the explosion of the marigold
outside the church

The emotions draw attention to themselves through their erasure and are made poignant somehow through the use of colour and contrast.

The poem red uses the colour (red obviously) as a recurring motif that has not only a visual intensity but also symbolic meaning

red neon pulses like veins pumping blood.

it appropriates a few crime fiction narrative devices and somehow conflates the road death of a possum with a human murder, ending with:

whose face is this?
a memory?
i remember nothing
except blood.

There are two short sequences in the book. The first one, breaking – 1918, based on Virginia Woolf’s diary for 1918 Mark writes in the first person about the end of WWII. Interesting in that he adopts Woolf’s persona.

The other sequence is from the life of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, based on an 1889 biography of a German writer who died in 1781. In this sequence, Mark inserts quotes from Lessing’s plays. The poems ironically recreate the over-inflected language of the era.

This is so much more to talk about in the book, the chunks of prose, the night walks, the Sydney landscapes, the train poems – gives me ideas about how to occupy myself on public transport – also how to manage the writing of a poem a day for project 366 (http://project365plus.blogspot.com.au/)– think local, publish global. There’s a lot to read and enjoy in this book, decades of percolation and consideration have gone into it. So buy the book to support the writer and the publisher. If you haven’t already explored Mark’s world, check out The Rochford Street Review and Printed Shadows (https://printedshadows.wordpress.com/), both online publications. There’s a wealth of material there.

Congratulations to Mark on the publication and to Island Press for bringing it out.

 – Anna Couani

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Anna Couani is a Sydney writer and artist who taught Art and ESL most of her life. Her most recent book is a collection of poetry, Small Wonders, Flying Islands Books. Some of her previous work is available at http://seacruise.ath.cx/annacouani/.

Concrete Flamingos is available from  https://printedshadows.wordpress.com/2016/01/23/concrete-flamingos-poems-by-mark-roberts/

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ISLAND PRESS 2016 LIST MELBOURNE LAUNCH
2PM 19th MARCH AT THE DAN O’CONNEL HOTEL
225 CANNING ST, CARLTON VIC

Island Press' 2016 Poets will be at the The Dan O Connel Hotel Melbourne at 2pm on 19th March 2016

Michele Seminara Engraft, David Gilbey, Pachinko Sunset, Lauren Williams Cleanskin Poems, Les Wicks, Getting By Not Fitting In, Mark Roberts, concrete flamingos

Towards an Ethics of Poetry: Dominique Hecq launches ‘either, Orpheus’ and ‘Report from a border’ by Dan Disney

Dominique Hecq launched Dan Disney’s either, Orpheus (UWAP) and Report from a border (light-trap press) at COLLECTED WORKS, Melbourne on February 11, 2016

Weaving her way

……………through
the woods the city the maze
of slums on the outskirts
where the abject poor seethe
like a rising storm
& nodding to herself the exiled reviewer stumbles
……………………………………………….like a poet testing
the cadences & shifting lines
towards a light less
…………………..truth
………………is a ship bound for utopia
……………………….(Baudelaire vs Disney)
…………………………………………….WHOSE

………………………………villanelles rev-
O! luce ion eyes
…………the form
…………in parodic conversation
…………with the philosophers & the poets

…………………………..bound for utopia

…………Immanuel Can’t & Charles Seem Hic

…………but [yes] mostly Kierkegaard & Rilke

…………………………………………(Hecq vs Lacan)

Orpheus_coverBoth either, Orpheus and Report from a Border are complex books. Both are syntactically and typographically inventive. Through perfecting the art of quotation, both are tributes to the richness, value, inescapability of language in its spoken and written forms, books and ideas. And despite their tackling very different themes, both gesture towards what might be called an ethics of poetry.

As the homage that opens this review suggests either, Orpheus is a ludic book that engages with other texts in self-reflexive fashion. And yet it is never narcissistic. Through utilising shifting personas and modes of poetic diction, it achieves some kind of exclusive inclusiveness which resonates with its subject matter: what it means to be human in the maze of (post)modernity.

The unifying principle at the heart of the maze is a concern with poetic forms and forms of exile. either, Orpheus tells of the burdens of history and the ruins of memory. It speaks of the erasure of consciousness, the decolonisation of affects, and it speaks of death without any touch of nostalgia for origins from a variety of viewpoints. The poems speak in and through themselves while showing the reader the many approaches that gain purchase in Disney’s poetic world.

In brief, this world is formal, historical, etymological, and to a lesser extent, political, biographical, and eco-critical in its postmodern sense of play, satire, and suspicion, and the concurrent romantic vision of the redemptive possibilities of art. The reader who seeks modernist seriousness in either, Orpheus will soon be frustrated with the hiccups of villanelles that morph into villaknelles where repetition and quotation are often used to great ironic effect. It is especially evident in poems such as those from ‘accelerations and inertias’ which won first place in the 2015 Gwen Harwood Poetry Prize. In these poems, the connections between works, ideas, figures and patters are amazingly intricate and illuminating, particularly upon discovering their textual sources:

These texts engage with a range of textual sources: (i) originates after reading the interview with Charles Wright in The Paris Review (No. 113, Winter 1989); (ii) originates after reading ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction ‘ by Walter Benjamin against the grain of ‘Always On’ by Sherry Turkle; (iii) originates after reading ‘Cultural Pedigree’ by Pierre Bourdieu alongside ‘Income and Output’ by Thomas Piketty; (iv) originates after reading the interview with A.R. Ammons in The Paris Review (No. 139, Summer 1986); (v) originates after reading the interview with Jorge Luis Borges in The Paris Review (No 40, Winter-Spring 1967). Disney 2015: 108)

On the other hand, the reader who wants only postmodern indeterminacy and scepticism will stumble over recurring lines from the mystic poet Rainer Maria Rilke in the epigraphs to part one and three and in echoes of Rilke texts throughout the collection. There is cause not for despair here, but for fascination and excitement in the possibilities of interplay.

Thus, either, Orpheus foregrounds the influences of philosophers, social theorists and other poets. Disney’s work, shows (off) how he responds and re-reads such figures as Kierkegaard and Rilke, Jorge Luis Borges, Ted Hughes, Charles Wright, Paul Muldoon, John Ashberry, George Seferis, Jean-Paul Sartre, Czeslaw Milosz, Seamus Heaney, Philip Larkin, T.S. Eliot, Marianne Moore, Gary Snyder, William Wordsworth, Pierre Bourdieu, Elizabeth Bishop, Yves Bonnefoy, Joseph Brodsky, John Cage (a favourite), Anne Carson, Robert Graves, Immanuel Kant, Walter Benjamin, Alain Badiou and many others—named or not (I read a reference to Lacan in the swarm of bees first invoked in relation to Rilke). Rather conspicuously absent are references to Australian thinkers and poets; the exception is Les Murray, in a rather ambivalent piece. I wonder why.

My guess is that Dan Disney may think of himself as self-imposed exile. And I suspect that he is closer to Paul Muldoon than any other living poet he engages with in virtual conversation, apart from Dante, another exile, whose influence is felt from the start of the prologue onwards. In fact, the word ‘exile’ recurs as a mantra in either, Orpheus, and although absent in Report from a Border, it is exile which is this work’s subject matter. In Disney’s poetic world. ‘The exile…exists in a median state, neither completely at one with the new setting nor fully disencumbered of the old, beset with half-involvements and half-detachmnebnts’ (Said 1996: 49). However in this world, the exile is divested from ‘nostalgic and sentimental’ attributes (49). Disney’s exilic figure could be said to be a latent exile. Aethetically and ethically, then Disney joins the company of Dante, Baudelaire and Muldoon

border_coverLike these poets, Disney strives to bring forth the contradictions at the heart of his human and poetic heritage. The only thing is that the word ‘soul’ is not frequently called upon in Disney’s poetry. Nor are overt instances of an autobiographical nature. Disney and Muldoon share an interest in writing the poetical and experiential landscapes of poetry, but Disney, like Dante, and unlike Baudelaire and Muldoon, shies away from any family history and emotional terrain that might partake of a work’s ‘hidden architecture’ to cite Valéry translated by Muldoon (2004: 25). Nonetheless, what they all strive to convey is that ‘very little is as it seems’ (Muldoon 2004: 25), or put it in imagist mode, that ‘truth is a ship bound for utopia’ (Disney 2015a). Although both are reluctant to support any claims for art’s importance and near sacred status, both affirm their faith at least in art’s power to express ideas, feelings and affects, especially despair. Muldoon does so in elegies written upon the death of family and friends; Disney does so in elegies for the unknown and often unnamed of (post)modernity. This testifies to a common understanding of aesthetic illumination as well as redemptive drive. On hearing myself say the last sentence, though, I’m not sure this is the right way to put it.

While either, Orpheus is universal in significance and intertextual engagement, Report from a border, co-devised with graphic artist John Warwicker, is more local in character. It shares similar formal and thematic concerns with either, Orpheus, but its topos is not the tortuous road to modernity; rather, it is the torturous backdrop of a colonised ‘cove’ (Disney 2015b: 74). Here, the typographical experiments enhance the social critique rather than the formal and philosophical possibilities of poetry. Almost every page in the book is deliberately offering multiple ways of being read and therefore foregrounds multiple points of views. Here inclusive exclusiveness often excludes the reader by questioning her values, which is disconcerting at times, but no doubt intended.

In these more overtly politicised poems, Disney displays his penchant for satire of a Swiftian mode by making use of the whole gamut of possibilities typography offers, especially in conveying the violence of/and inflicted by language. Thus whereas either, Orpheus creates a fable of social and political and aesthetic experience that uncovers truths about what it means to be human, Report from a border translates vignettes of social and political experiences that discover and uncover hidden truths about human nature. And what is hidden is often hideous. In this work, we are all exiles, and it is unclear whether redemption is possible, especially for Australians, who are irrevocably caught in the mesh of postcolonialism (read neo-colonialism).

Dan Disney is a rare pyro-technician who dazzles with his poetic acumen and depth of reflection. He matches the complexity and uncertainty of the 21st century with a poetic project that is enthrallingly uncertain, yet nevertheless vibrant and generative in its wit, wisdom and ongoing effort to find meanings in the world.

 – Dominique Hecq, February 2016.

Works cited

Disney, D 2015a either, Orpheus Crawley: University of Western Australia Press

Disney, D 2015b Report from a border Maleny: light-trap press

Disney, D 2015c ‘from accelerations & inertias’, Island, 143, 104-108

Muldoon, P 2004 Moy Sand and Gravel New York: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux

Said, E 1996 Representations of the Intellectual New York: Vintage

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Dominique Hecq is a Belgian born poet, fiction writer, and translator who, many years ago, came to Australia to write a PhD on exile in Australian literature. She has become a character in her own fictions of exile and teaches writing at Swinburne University of Technology. Out of Bounds and Stretchmarks of Sun are her most recent poetry collections.

Report from a border is available from http://www.light-trap.net/report_from_border.html

either, Orpheus is available from http://uwap.uwa.edu.au/products/either-orpheus

An Imaginative Renewal: Peter Kirkpatrick launches ‘Pachinko Sunset’ by David Gilbey

Pachinko Sunset by David Gilbey Island Press 2016 was launched in Sydney by Peter Kirkpatrick on 27th February 2016 at the Friend in Hand Hotel. Pachinko Sunset, along with the other titles on Island Press’ 2016 list will be launched in Melbourne at the Dan O’Connell Hotel, Carlton, on 19th March – details  https://www.facebook.com/events/914712998643164/

David Gilbey reading at the Sydney Launch of Pachinko Sunset. Photograph Tahira Husain

David Gilbey reading at the Sydney Launch of Pachinko Sunset. Photograph Tahira Husain

Sometimes I think there is a book of poems to be written in praise of ironing. Indeed, in many ways poetry resembles ironing – not least because most people say they don’t enjoy it. But what’s not to like about ironing? You take a wrinkled shirt or a pair of pants – in days gone by it might also have included bed linen, or even underwear – and restore it to its always intended, as it were ideal, Platonic form. If ironing is a perfectly mundane activity, its orderly rhythms can also become a form of meditation, whereby you enter that calm place in the mind inhabited by people who go fishing, or who enter holy orders – or who write poems. You take an ordinary, untidy object from the ordinary, untidy world and give it fresh shape and meaning, renewing its significance. I might go so far as to say that somebody ironing embodies a domestic version of Walter Benjamin’s Angel of History, making whole again, not the vast wreckage of time, but the rucks and rumples of the rinse cycle.

I’m pleased to learn that David Gilbey is a man who loves to iron. He even has a poem all about it in Pachinko Sunset, “Iron Men”:

An iron believes in order, pressing even rebellious seersucker into place.
pleats are a challenge: in Japan my daughter’s school tunic
was my Sunday night labour of love,
threading camels through a needle’s eye.

Not only is it nice to encounter a man who has been up close and personal with seersucker, I like the way that last line inverts the whole painstaking “order” semingly imposed by ironing. “Iron Men” also indicates that David is a frequent visitor to Japan. Three times, he tells us, he has been a Visiting Professor at Miyagi Gakuin Women’s University in the city of Sendai in northern Honshu. Speaking as somebody whose linguistic range beyond English and swearing extends only to some high school French, I can’t imagine what it’s like to work at such a level across such a very different language as Japanese. It’s significant, then, that several of David’s poems play on mistranslation, and the surprising misdirections of meaning that result. In fact, mistranslation as misdirection is a keynote of Pachinko Sunset. Perhaps a better word might be indirection: the diversion rather than the complete loss of meaning.

In a section from the long sequence “Haibun Hikes”, David asks his Sendai students to write about an imagined holiday to Australia, and then cobbles together a passage of his own, using their mistakes, for them to mark. He turns the result into a sonnet, what he calls “a ‘found’ poem [created] out of our mutual language-making”:

The hotel there was more beautiful than our imagination.
At lunch I eat crocodile and lasagne.
I go to sea and swim enough with a shoal of fishes.
We saw many famous animals: kangaroo, koara [sic],
And the shy duck-mouth otter.

Yes, the effect is predictably humorous. But when in this transcultural exchange a platypus becomes “the shy duck-mouth otter” things also become both strange and yet somehow right, an imaginative renewal.

I have compared poetry to ironing, and mentioned that David likes to iron: “I’m an ironing kind of guy”, he tells us. On his many travels I am sure that pleat marches with pleat, and that all his creases properly rhyme. But I have also seen David in a more expansive mood, in which a hidden penchant for extremely loud dinner jackets reveals itself, and these highly colourful items more closely resemble abstract expressionist paintings – or, in literary terms, projectivist compositions by field – rather than lyrical poems. So if there is a fascination with order in David’s work – is that why he is so attracted to Japan and to Japanese culture? – there is, running alongside it, a spirit of play and of wild extravagance. In this regard it’s worth nothing that, outside of references to Japanese poets such as Basho, the dominant literary allusions of Pachinko Sunset are to the Metaphysical poets of the seventeenth century: poets known for their fondness for unlikely and abstruse metaphors or “conceits”. Thus, in the first of a set of “Slam Scripts”, David manages – tongue firmly in cheek, I suspect – to invoke both Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” and Donne’s “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning” in support of his argument that the lyrics of Swedish pop singer Mans Zemerlöw’s winning entry in the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest, a confection called “Heroes”, is genuine poetry. The melodious Zemerlöw

Wizards his words, magics his music
croons his metaphysical conceit:
“I make the worms turn into butterflies”

David calls this “Eurovision’s Metaphysical Embrace”. No doubt that last line is best embraced in Swedish.

David Gilbey with Pachinko Sunset. Photograph Lachlan Brown

David Gilbey with Pachinko Sunset. Photograph Lachlan Brown

I spoke before about Pachinko Sunset’s interest in mistranslation and mis/indirection, and it is evident that these are generators of poetry for David, as evidenced by “the shy duck-mouth otter” – or perhaps even “I make the worms turn into butterflies”. The American critic Harold Bloom famously believes that all allegedly strong poets “misread” their poetic forebears, and in that misreading remake the Western canon according to their own lights. Like a lot of literary theory, Bloom’s The Anxiety of Influence can seem a form of Higher Bullshit (not least for its Freudianism), but there’s something to be said for the notion that a poet, and poetry itself, characteristically misses or misreads obvious or assumed meanings and takes our minds into other directions: the pathways of the duck-mouth otter. “Tell all the truth but tell it slant”, wrote Emily Dickinson, “Success in Circuit lies”.

Two of the many outstanding poems in Pachinko Sunset dramatise happy experiences of misdirection; of eventually finding yourself in the right place in the very process of getting lost. In one of these, “Cancer Ward: Octet for Jim”, the poet initially goes to the wrong Japanese hospital to see a friend: “they treat Alzheimers, not cancer”. Waiting to be redirected, he watches elderly patients who are now genuinely lost, “tottering, frail, already other-worldly”, but is distracted by TV game shows “where, like life, two mixed teams/answer questions, give opinions, banter and flirt”. Happy redirection is what this sequence of poems is all about because – as we discover when David eventually finds the right hospital – cancer itself isn’t necessarily a one-way street, and Jim ultimately returns to the land of the living. But in the finale David is characteristically lost once again:

On the way back, you get Jim’s instructions wrong again,
are rescued by a cheerful, patient Japanese couple
who give you a lift, in the other direction,
to the station.

“Cancer Ward: Octet for Jim” is about being rescued by the surprising, unexpected directions that life can take, and the ways in which other people can lead us there.

In another of poem of misdirection, “Arashyama Nocturne”, David’s friend Keiji is taking him to what must be a quite special sushi restaurant, only the pair get so carried away talking about poetry that they board the wrong subway train. “Forgive me, I often make this mistake”, says Keiji. At the end of the poem, however, a different order is achieved “above a [humble] tourist centre” as the pair sit down to a meal which is laid out like a poem: “a stanza of delicacies”, as David calls it:

slices of sashimi haiku,
tanka with beans, potatoes, burdock root,
pickles, fresh water bream and, to my surprise,
a wild strawberry with black and white sesame tofu,
topped with a curlicue of sea urchin.

Sometimes the wrong subway is the right subway.

Pachinko Sunset is not only about Japan. There are poems about David’s hometown of Wagga, and others that range more widely over his life and times. Even so, it’s fair to say that the transcultural connection with Sendai is the book’s dominant motif. This is in line with a growing, indeed inevitable trend in Australian poetry towards closer engagement with Asia. In this connection I note in passing that in August 1899 a Sydney poet, Robert Crawford, published an English haiku in the Bulletin, home of “The Man from Snowy River”:

Flannel-flowers dancing
To the Dawn on the hill-tops…
The Vision of Spring!

This appeared a decade before Ezra Pound and the Imagists expressed interest in Asian poetics. The Far East is in fact our Deep North, and Pachinko Sunset offers a number of broad and narrow roads into it. In that sense, it makes a welcome contribution to Australia’s re-Orientation.

That Japan is by now a familiar exotic for Australian readers is perhaps implied by David’s title. Pachinko – a popular Japanese arcade game played by dropping steel balls into a kind of vertical maze – is at once commonplace (pachinko gambling parlours are everywhere in Japan) and, to Western eyes, exotic. For me, Pachinko Sunset also carries echoes of the kind of mass-produced Sampans in the Sunset paintings that hung in long-ago dentists’ surgeries. Whatever the case, the essence of the game of pachinko is misdirection. Steel balls tumble through pins and traps which produce unexpected trajectories. The point is not that the balls ultimately descend through the machine, it’s the circuitous routes they take to get there: that’s where fun and profit reside. “Success in Circuit lies”.

Buy Pachinko Sunset, follow its poetic misdirections, get lost in it, and re-Orient yourself. And may all your worms turn into butterflies.

 – Peter Kirkpatrick

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Peter Kirkpatrick teaches Australian Literature in the Department of English at Sydney University. His research interests include poetry and popular culture, Australian modernism, and the literature of Sydney. His publications include The Sea Coast of Bohemia: Literary Life in Sydney’s Roaring Twenties (2nd ed. 2007); Serious Frolic: Essays on Australian Humour, with Fran de Groen (2009); and Republics of Letters: Literary Communities in Australia, with Robert Dixon (2012).

Pachinko Sunset will be launched in Melbourne, along with the other 2016 Island Press titles  at the The Dan O Connel Hotel on 19 March at 2PM  https://www.facebook.com/events/914712998643164/

Pachinko Sunset is available from http://islandpress.tripod.com/ISLAND.htm or you can order by PayPal or Credit Card from https://rochfordstreetreview.com/about-rochford-street-review/island-press-book-launch/

Island Press' 2016 Poets will be at the The Dan O Connel Hotel Melbourne at 2pm on 19th March 2016

Island Press’ 2016 Poets will be at the
The Dan O Connel Hotel
Melbourne at 2pm on 19th March 2016

Great Humanity and Human Decency: Annette Marfording reviews ‘The Simplest Words: A Storyteller’s Journey’ by Alex Miller

The Simplest Words: A Storyteller’s Journey (selected and arranged by his wife Stephanie Miller) by Alex Miller,  Allen & Unwin 2015.

simplest wordsThere are many Australian authors who are good writers, but there are few who, in addition to bringing the reader enjoyment – and incidentally – teach the reader something about how to be a good person, show the reader the impact of racism and other injustices, and thus demonstrate their deep humanity. In America, one of the most famous authors to do so is Harper Lee, whose novel, To Kill a Mockingbird through her character Atticus Finch, teaches her readers the meaning of empathy and the injustice of racism. In Australia, that author is Alex Miller. And for those who are not familiar with all of his work and especially his most award-winning novels The Ancestor Game, Journey to the Stone Country, and Landscape of Farewell, in which those teachings of his are the strongest, his deep humanity is starkly illuminated in this book The Simplest Words: A Storyteller’s Journey.

Although Alex Miller has written short stories and essays, some included in past editions of The Best Australian Essays and The Best Australian Stories, he is best known for his novels, for which he won multiple literary awards, including the Miles Franklin award for The Ancestor Game and for Journey to the Stone Country. Apart from the Miles Franklin, his most prestigious literary awards are the Commonwealth Writers Prize (for The Ancestor Game) and the Annual Foreign Novels 21st Century Award from the People’s Literature Publishing House in China (for Landscape of Farewell). He has also been awarded the Melbourne Prize for Literature and the Manning Clark Cultural Award for his outstanding contribution to the quality of Australian cultural life.

In individual pieces, written mostly for newspapers – especially the Melbourne Age – and in short stories, selected and arranged for this book by the author’s wife Stephanie, and with the addition of significant photographs with family and friends, The Simplest Words presents a kind of autobiographical journey of the author in chronological order, which ends with a surprise poem. That the book emerges as an autobiographical journey is interesting in itself, because at the symposium on his novels, organised by Professor Robert Dixon at Sydney University in 2011, he began his own contribution by saying, “I’ve been asked for a memoir for this occasion yet I am uncomfortable writing directly about myself. I prefer the mask of fiction. In this preference it is self-deception I fear most, for who but the self-deceived would claim to be able to write with moral detachment about themselves?” The last sentence is, of course, an immediate demonstration of his deep humanity, his morality, his modesty: “who but the self-deceived would claim to be able to write with moral detachment about themselves?”

The Simplest Words: A Storyteller’s Journey begins with the desire for storytelling in his childhood, takes the reader through the impetus for each of his novels and shows their profound link to his own life, includes brief extracts of each of those novels, and introduces the reader to his special friends, his thoughts about writing and issues he feels passionate about. For those who are new to Alex Miller’s work, this book is thus the ideal introduction to, and overview of, his body of work.

For this reviewer, who is intensely familiar with his novels, has reread most of them, some more than once, who was one of the only non-university people to attend the above mentioned symposium on his novels, and who learned yet more about him in her in-depth interview with him for her book Celebrating Australian Writing: Conversations with Australian Authors, there were several highlights in this collection. The first, the ability to read ‘Comrade Pawel’, the story that was his first publication in Meanjin in 1975. The story is based on an incident that happened to his friend Max Blatt in the Second World War. Reading the story as written by Alex prompted Max to say, “You could have been there,” and with those words launched his writing life and career.

A second highlight of The Simplest Words: A Storyteller’s Journey is a previously unpublished novella, ‘The Rule of the First Prelude’, in which Alex Miller imagines the life of the child of his protagonist Emily in his novel Conditions of Faith as an adult, and her grief at her mother’s absence. It is an eloquent and extremely powerful story, though written, indeed, in the simplest words.

A third highlight of this book are the essays on issues the author feels passionate about; foremost ‘Australia Today’, in which he writes in disbelief about the Australian government’s shocking turn-away from asylum seekers, and yet, remains hopeful that Australia will return to humane refugee policies. Another is ‘Chasing My Tale’ on the labelling – such as revisionist historian – that he has received by academics following his novels and his resulting bewilderment, causing him to say, “I believe a novel is like a painting or a piece of music, at least in the sense that it cannot be explained but can only be experienced.” Another is ‘Sweet Water’, an outstanding essay on the need to preserve the Urannah Valley, and thus the land and pristine wilderness of the Birriguba people of North Queensland, from damming and consequential destruction. The Urannah Valley is part of the landscape in his novel Journey to the Stone Country and in this essay Alex Miller explains the significance of this land to its original owners, and makes a passionate argument against the focus of Western culture on acquisition: of land, of knowledge, of consumer goods, and in favour of preserving the sacred. And, while in the interview with me he stated that his novels Journey to the Stone Country and Landscape of Farewell were not written as books about Aborigines and the issues they face, but were the stories of his personal friends, which they had asked him to write, towards the end of ‘Sweet Water’ he nevertheless points to the importance of writing about things affecting Aboriginal people: “Some critics assure us that our novels are irrelevant to the important issues facing our society. I don’t share that view. As well as entertaining us, our novels have always explored the individual’s relationship to the great moral questions of the day. Not answers, but an awareness of the questions we need to face. Something, dare I say it, such as an image of the Urannah Valley…., intact as yet and just as filled with mystery as the deepest and most hidden part of the great Amazonian forest. A fragile and precious reality of ours that we are about to destroy in order to provide water for coal mines and crop irrigation.”

A fourth highlight of The Simplest Words: A Storyteller’s Journey is the inclusion of ‘The Writer’s Secret’, a piece on parental love and advice and writing, which he read at the 2014 Bellingen Readers and Writers Festival and which held the entire audience in a suspended hush for the duration.

A final highlight of this book are Alex Miller’s pieces about his friends, including the aforementioned Max Blatt, the late Frank Budby, elder of the Barada Barna people, who became his protagonist Dougald Gnapun in Landscape of Farewell, Col McLennan, elder of the Jangga people, and his wife Liz Hatte, who became his protagonists Bo and Annabelle in Journey to the Stone Country, biographer Hazel Rowley who became his soul mate by daily email correspondence, and philosopher and author of Romulus, My Father and After Romulus, Raimond Gaita. And in words I would use about Alex Miller, he finishes the Hazel Rowley Memorial Lecture ‘A Circle of Kindred Spirits’ as follows: “Rereading her books these last few weeks I have known myself to be in the presence of Hazel Rowley’s great humanity… Her great books are for life. To read a great book for a second time, just as to listen to a great piece of music for the hundredth time, is to be in the presence of a new creation.” Gerard Windsor, in his review of The Simplest Words for The Australian refers to this praise as “quite starstruck admiration” for Hazel Rowley, and the same might be said of this review for Alex Miller, but I see it as simple gratitude for those people in our lives, be it primarily only through the written word, who remind us of the existence of such great humanity and human decency in this increasingly self-centred world.

Buy The Simplest Words: A Storyteller’s Journey, buy Alex Miller’s novels, and reread each of his books for perpetual new pleasure, awe and gratitude. It’s no surprise that this book was my book of the year 2015. It was published by Allen & Unwin in a sturdy hardback edition with a hauntingly beautiful cover image designed by Lisa White, which you will enjoy looking at for years to come.

 – Annette Marfording

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Annette Marfording is a writer, broadcaster and critic who lives in regional New South Wales. She was Program Director of the Bellingen Readers and Writers Festival until 2015. Her book Celebrating Australian Writing: Conversations with Australian Authors features 21 in-depth conversations with Australian authors on their books, central themes in their body of work, writing methods, central tips for aspiring writers and more. It is available in independent bookshops in Sydney and on the NSW Mid-North-Coast and online at www.coop.com.au or http://www.lulu.com/shop/annette-marfording/celebrating-australian-writing/paperback/product-22192469.html. All profits from the sale of the book go to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation.

The Simplest Words: A Storyteller’s Journey is available from  https://www.allenandunwin.com/browse/books/general-books/literature-literary-studies/The-Simplest-Words-Alex-Miller-9781743313572