- Something Astonishing: Rae Desmond Jones reviews Dark Night Walking with McCahon, by Martin Edmond
- Playful Interplay: Mark Roberts reviews Portraits – 54 Poems by Lizz Murphy
- A Writerly Experience: Petrina Meldrum reviews Varamo by César Aira (Trans. by Chris Andrews).
- Life lived outside the enclosure: Virginia Shepherd reviews Small Wonders by Anna Couani
- Sydney and Newcastle Launches for Notes For The Translators from 142 New Zealand and Australian Poets
- Michael Sharkey to launch What the Afternoon Knows by Ron Pretty
- A Sense of Courageous Innocence: Grant Caldwell launches Four Plots for Magnets by Luke Davies.
- Sydney Launch of Mud Map: Australian Women’s Experimental Writing – Text Special Issue 17
- Literature, refugees and pumpkin pancake – Michelle Cahill on Multicultural Literature & the PNG Solution
- A Warning in the Water: Robbie Coburn Reviews The Sunlit Zone by Lisa Jacobson
- An Overview of Visual Poetry & Mail Art in Australia by Julie Clarke
- Launching Love at Byron Bay – George Megalogeni to launch Australian Love Poems 2013
- Art, Memory & Dreams: Claire Nashar Reviews Hotel Hyperion by Lisa Gorton
- Enjoying the Reading Ride: Pam Brown Launches Boom by Liam Ferney
- Something for Everyone: Lisa Wardle review Undertow by Susan Austin
- So Honest, So Textured, So Real: Les Wicks Launches What the Afternoon Knows by Ron Pretty
- A Deeply Personal Experience: Kate Pardey reviews Peace, Love and Khaki Socks by Kim Lock
- A Hammer With Which to Shape Reality: Kit Kelen Launches It Comes from All Directions: New and Selected Poems by Rae Desmond Jones
Kit Kelen launched It Comes from All Directions – New and Selected Poems (published by Grand Parade Poets) on 11 August 2013 at the Summer Hill Hotel. The 11 August was also Rae Desmond Jones’ birthday.
Singing to the arid stars!
I’m honoured to have the opportunity to praise this book today – and when Rae asked me to do the honours, it wasn’t so much that I relished getting onto the encomium mill, it was that I thought ‘I get to read lines of Rae’s that I like and I get to read them the way I like’, so that’s what I’ll mainly do.
Rae and I go back a long way; in fact, Rae, I believe, holds the record for holding one of my poems (juvenilia naturally) the longest before publishing (somewhere between five and ten years). I have considered forgiving him – not for holding it but for publishing it – but I’ve thought better of this. The time is not right. We are, after all, both still alive.
So to read a few favourites and favoured fragments. First ‘The Poets’ – words of the seventies as true today as they will be tomorrow.
they speak to a vast audience
consisting mainly of one another
all of whom nervously shuffle
manuscripts & wait their turn
meantime the masses who are
as usual blind deaf & stupid
just keep walking to the bus or
into the office reading newspapers
& quite obviously don’t give a fuck,
& who can blame them?
for of course they have real
problems, the problems of carrying
on the business of carefully
living & dying & paying off the
telly getting tired disillusioned
& old but nonetheless keeping
the nose to the grindstone etc.,
but if one should by some incredible
mischance happen to actually read
one of the poems published
as an occasional cultural piece
but not too prominently
in the corner of the review page
of one of our Saturday morning papers,
he nods, baffled, & turns back to
the real problem he has of the second
mortgage or thinks about his wife
swollen with the third
or the legs of the office girl
so tightly clenched he thinks
her pussy must almost pucker &
blow him kisses
but rarely he might think
at how unreal the world has
become & how beautiful & how
soon he must leave it which is
also beautiful & how time
passes but in any case perhaps
just for a minute he thinks
poetry & knows himself
dwarfish, blind & ugly &
returns once again to the real.
Elsewhere Rae tells us the poets are the ones with the little knives hidden in the pages of their manuscripts. Homer, Rae tells us, was this blind old fart wandering about singing and banging on a garbage tin lid. And what is poetry? For Rae, it’s Brecht’s not the mirror held up to reality but the hammer with which to shape reality. Thinking of different realities, of the différend between them, I’d like to read Rae’s ‘Decline and Fall’ – title poem of a recent book and the ultimate high school teacher’s poem, which, Leunig-like, I know, with the aid of magnet, adorned many a teacher’s fridge, especially in the later eighties.
Decline and Fall
i hate them
the truth is out! & they hate me.
them, the barbarians in baseball hats,
twisting in chairs lined up in artificial order,
and carving their loathing on the tabletops.
do you know why the roman empire fell? i ask.
who cares? a boy giggles.
that is the reason, i say.
you are old & fat, they say.
they are young & fat, I don’t say.
because i don’t want them to get healthy.
they can stay ugly and stupid so i can despise them.
why envy the awkward root they didn’t have
or their perfect wet dreams pearling
……….on the television screen?
outside the aluminium rimmed window
a crow strops his beak against a tree trunk
so that it will be sharp to dig
soft white worms from the dark earth.
i yearn for that brutal freedom.
the students resist my will although their heads bow,
broken for a second.
the room constricts us all.
i almost say get out.
go back to your bad videos & your hopeless dreams:
daub graffiti on trains
& put as many needles in your arms as you want.
die if it seems romantic.
let there be war between us.
Sharks on King Street trawl past indifferent in their steel bodies. In Darlinghurst they tap for ambulances. Now if I were a Summer Hillian I’d be able to wax on about the local content and the post-mayoral revisioning thereof in the Rae oeuvre. In fact I do myself have two Summer Hill connections; one is with the Table Tennis Centre in the early seventies (ah, nobody remembers), the other is with the now IGA supermarket just behind here, the shelves of which I was helping to stack I think in 1979 or 1980, before it first opened, and where I learned a lot from first hand accounts of sexual abuse of students in Hunter Valley schools by Catholic clergy, but that as they say is another story… complete non sequitur in fact, yet part of the temporal fabric we’re tearing through here… One is struck coming here at how much – how unusually much – of this suburb is intact – I mean has not been wrecked by developers and much of this is down to Rae! I mean Mayor Jones. It looks better than it did in 1979 because it’s all been painted and some tiles have been replaced and now there are trees.
In Rae’s work there’s frequently the embarrassment of the gritty corporeal and from all directions. You were my first between two fences off a lane in Darlinghurst. From Rae one gets that awkward feeling and that sweet tease built into the hip structure is still effective at 71 and 72 (and beyond?) naked in the dancing synapses of the Rae brain. You (the reader) find yourself preparing to cringe and then you think ‘fuck it, this is real’ because there was a time when I could have been you and I am truly but I’m going there.
I readily admit I haven’t read all of the new poems and that’s because I wanted the pleasure of reading a new poem when I finally got hold of a hard copy of the book in my hands – as in, from this time on. Still, I have read enough to say that in Rae’s book singing to the arid stars turns out to be something we might ourselves not be able to do. After all, we homo sapiens are saps and this lonely night we got it coming. And again, the multiplying universes are happier now because they are recognized as they give birth to subtle gods.
And so it is with pleasure I introduce to you – Mayor Jones, R.D.J., birthday boy, survivor of the siege of Bundanon, sometime acknowledged legislator, now lost somewhere between Parnassus and Helicon, with ever a backward Eurydical glance. When he speaks – a waterfall in sunlight, nothin’ but fire rockin’ in meat. The grim bloke looking anxiously for the tuba – Rae!
– Kit Kelen
Christopher (Kit) Kelen is a poet, scholar and visual artist, who shuttles between his home at Markwell via Bulahdelah and a position as Professor of English at the University of Macau in south China. Over the last five years Kit has been bringing Chinese poets and translators to Australia to translate Australian poets. So far five large scale anthologies have been published as a result. Over the last twenty years a dozen books of Kit’s poetry have been published in English and volumes of his poetry have also been published in Chinese, Portuguese, Italian, Swedish and Filipino. His next volume of poems Scavenger’s Season will be published by Puncher and Wattman in Australia in 2014.
It Comes from All Directions – New and Selected Poems can be obtained by contacting Grand Poets at http://grandparadepoets.com/contact-us/
Peace, Love and Khaki Socks by Kim Lock. MidnightSun Publishing. 2013
It is possible this is a timely book. It certainly is a well-written one, and the voice of protagonist, Amy Silva, is immediately likeable. Such is Kim Lock’s skill as a writer it is wonderfully easy to move into Amy’s world. But is what she is saying timely? Do young women today need to be encouraged to take control of one of the most important events of their lives? Do young women today even see childbirth as one of the most important events of their lives? And if they don’t, why should they?
I’m not spoiling anything by telling you this is a story of a woman’s efforts to take control of her life after she discovers she is pregnant. I am perhaps spoiling the review to say just by writing this I immediately have visions of John Belushi singing the lyric – ‘… sometimes it’s hard to be a woman….’ There were times when I sided with Amy’s friend and thought Amy spent a little too much time thinking about herself.
Well, now that I have declared myself to be the type of woman whose given birth under the desk at work I can say I enjoyed reading Peace, Love and Khaki Socks – mainly because it was amusing. Amy’s voice is distinctly Australian – there are plenty of words which would not be found in novels written by authors in other countries – which for me added to the humour. There is a vast array of characters, but given the subtext it’s not surprising to discover the best are women, girls especially. Whilst Amy’s husband is occasionally allowed to voice an opinion, and does tear his hair quite a bit, there’s, no doubting this is a woman’s journey and whilst for the most part ably supported, it’s a journey she mostly goes on alone. And this is where Kim Lock’s excels with her clear, telling evocations of what pregnancy is like for some women or how young girls feel when they get their first period or when they discover sex.
Kim Lock also writes evocatively of place. She is able to convey deftly in a few words not just what a place looks like but also, more importantly, how it feels. Darwin truly comes alive under Lock’s colourful description of energy sapping heat and the torturous wait for the dry to break. Her best writing is the writing of the quotidian. This is an important detail given Lock has decided to write a novel where on the surface seemingly little happens. But of course Lock’s cleverness lies in the fact that a huge amount does happen and that she can make the reader care is the mark of a good writer.
Given the propensity of today’s young women to take for granted the fact that their opportunities were hard fought for by the women who came before them, perhaps does make this a timely book. As does the inescapable reality that childbirth and motherhood will always be a deeply personal experience. Kim Lock has written an entertaining story and one that is reassuring for those embarking motherhood – far better I’m sure than my approach which was simply to let someone else do the worrying…..and then I was left – holding the baby.
– Kate Pardey
Kate Pardey is a Sydney based fiction critic.
Peace Love and Khaki Socks is available from http://midnightsunpublishing.com/books/peace-love-and-khaki-socks/
What the Afternoon Knows by Ron Pretty. Pitt Street Poetry 2013. The Sydney launch of What the Afternoon Knows took place on 15 August at Gleebooks. Les’ speech launched the collection on its way.
In the poem ‘Grace Notes’ Pretty pictures a budgerigar spilling seed. As a kid I had a budgerigar that had adopted me, flew in my bedroom window one day starving. He lived happily in a cage for some years then started spraying seed from his bowl out of the cage around the veranda which had been his home. Sparrows flocked there to enjoy the bounty…..?
This budgerigar seemed to stop eating himself, got thinner and thinner as the sparrows chirped busily about him daily. Eventually he was thin enough to simply step between the largest gap in the bars, he joined that sparrow flock and for years in Parramatta you saw the mass of brown at sundown heading for their nocturnal roost with that tiny slash of blue embedded in the middle. I’ll take Ron’s imagery and turn it back on him because I think he in many ways resembles my blue budgerigar’s trajectory.
When I first got to know Ron he was ensconced in the University of Wollongong. I have met so many people who have flowered under his patient and tireless guidance there. But that wasn’t all, Ron was generous in his millet distribution. For years he put out Scarp which was to my mind a high point in poetry/visual art collaboration. It is impossible to imagine Australian poetry without his long-term imprint Five Islands Press. For quite some time it was the biggest publisher of poetry in the country – many well fed famous sparrows were published there, alongside a solid number of scrawny hopefuls having their first shot at flight. Part of fip was also the new poets program which gave a unique mixture of intensive feedback, touring and marketing. So many have been propelled into a satisfying poetic life after being a part of this program. We won’t stop there, there was the establishment of the South Coast Writers’ Centre, the poetry cottage at first in Wollongong, then in Melbourne as he moved to the University down there, blue dog (another high water mark in Australian publishing), he regularly contributed to the poets union etc etc.
I’ve always loved Ron’s work – there is a deep humanity in his observations and as you would expect, the deft hand of a master craftsman. If there was to be a criticism, then it would be that we never saw enough. He was doing so much to help other poets and poetry in general his own output suffered. But now, he is out of the cage and flying free across sunsets with the rest of the huge flock he so lovingly sustained. He is that stunning shard of blue with his “post institutional” books, the latest being what the afternoon knows, that we are privileged to be sharing today.
I had a bit of a chuckle at the first line in this collection “I am in the third level of irritation”, wondered what journey I had to share with the poet in the pages ahead. It was a great poem but it wasn’t by any means a guide to the work ahead. For me, the lines that summed up the whole collection were to be found towards the end in the poem on “the Last Half-Hour” – “
meeting me under this leaking awning, the rain
tumbling down. 30 minutes here & every
minute we’ve been given seems a lifetime.
Every minute of this book seems to introduce us to a new life, a new angle. Ron had a poem in an earlier collection, I think it was in Halfway to Eden that played around the work of Philip Glass. I will admit today that I hadn’t heard Glass when I had read Ron’s poem but immersing myself in that composer’s work in subsequent years has always been coloured by the moment created in that poem. You will see this throughout What the Afternoon Knows. Whether that be in a recreated Juliet far more real than Shakespeare managed, or maybe in ‘Respect with Steve’ “black sheep of the everyday” or the beggars and buskers of Italy. Pretty works off a deep well of personal experience alongside immersion in the arts that lift him. Throughout this is not an irritation but a deep engagement and empathy with the breadth of society.
Much of the work concerns the quotidian, but it’s an everyday that is always at the edge of fracture. In the poem ‘Montaigne’, a child undams the evening & death floods each consciousness.
Ron has also had a long history of writing about landscape and people in landscape. This is also a marvelous vein in this new book, some experienced, some imagined. Wonder at his poem ‘Four Hands’ wherein the delicacy of a piano glides alongside snow on eye lashes, join with him driving through a squall of desert grasshoppers in ‘Desert Storm’, I sweated with the heat of an Australian back Veranda in ‘Change’. He totally gets Hobart’s Battery Point writers cottage. I was back there again with him. In ‘Barista: a Love Story’ we see rural Australia made magical with no more ingredients than coffee beans & lantana. This mythic resonance can also be enjoyed in ‘Eyewitness Report’ as a crocodile is sighted on the Shoalhaven and in ‘Fool’s Gold’ with its lost daughters.
The style throughout is largely accessible but there is much language there to enrich and inveigle – particularly for me the poems ‘Burnt & Kiss’. Where the poem dictates such he can veer off into a wildly divergent voice such as in the poem ‘Unfinished’.
Imagery, when utilised, simply shines… His “barking night” in ‘Nocturne’, In ‘River out of Africa’ we see early humans spreading like candle wax. Self as cicada is explored in ‘Envoi’ and in ‘Burnt’ we’re told “ours was the mourning that burnt”
Many poets, particularly ones so heavily focused on creating and celebrating external characters as Ron does, veer purposefully away from the personal. You never feel this in Ron’s work. He is always a figure there in the action, usually the concerned, engaged onlooker. But we’re invited deep into Pretty’s life in the poems starting with ‘Folders’. Here we see an extended, riveting exploration of his parenting experience. So honest, so textured, so real.
This book is a wonder. It is a privilege for us to share this wise, generous, laughing man’s treasure of work. What the Afternoon Knows is duly launched, all of you here are about to share a delight that I’ve been lucky enough to revel in over the past weeks.
Les Wicks has toured widely and seen publication across 16 countries in 9 languages. His latest book of poetry, Sea of Heartbeak (Unexpected Resilience), has just been published by Puncher & Wattmann. http://leswicks.tripod.com/lw.htm.
What the Afternoon Knows is available from http://pittstreetpoetry.com/ron-pretty/
Undertow by Susan Austin. Walleah Press 2012
Even though poetry is something I’ve not attempted to review in the past, I read it regularly and know what I like, and what I don’t like. I found there was much to like in the poems in Susan Austin’s Undertow.
Austin’s poetry is frank, honest and accessible. Perhaps I’m a lazy reader, but I’ve never been a fan of the vague, the intellectual; the type of poetry that must be read and reread, and read yet again in the hopes of discerning just an inking of what the poet is writing about; the kind of poetry that leaves me with a headache and the uncomfortable feeling that I am more than a little stupid.
Austin’s poetry is anything but the brain-bending kind, and yet that doesn’t mean it is all too obvious and boring. In fact there is much subtlety here. The subject and content of the poems varies, but all are created from the details – big and small – of everyday life; of love and loss and sadness; universal themes that we can all relate to as emotional human beings. Poetry’s power lies in its ability to get under our skin, to touch something deep within us, to remind us that we are all connected through our experiences.
Anyone who has suffered from depression or debilitating inertia would feel an immediate connection with Austin’s poem ‘Couched’:.
I am testing my body-to-couch solubility / I join those
with schizophrenia and others on soporific drugs / scores
of thoughts about what I could do / should do / oscillate in
my dizzy head / only my internal systems move / slowly /
clogged with toxins / lethargy / negatives /
I could do that / should do that / not doing that / an hour
has passed / still not doing that / with effort I put the
washing on / but not out / the machine guards its sodden
inmates / the clock watches me / I don’t have the energy to
take the batteries out or turn it to the wall / damn clock /
If, like me, you prefer poetry to be a warm and welcoming embrace, rather than something that keeps you at arms length, then you could do a lot worse than to pick up a copy of Susan Austin’s Undertow.
These poems don’t wear gaudy colours or shout from the rooftops to be noticed. Nor do they attempt to confuse, or baffle. These poems hold the door wide and welcome you in. There is something for everyone in this collection.
– Lisa Wardle
Lisa Wardle is a writer, blogger and avid reader. She enjoys paper crafts and spending time with her family. She has interviewed more than 30 authors for her blog, and has had her poetry and stories published in various literary magazines. Her short story collection Reflections was published in 2009 by Ginninderra Press. She can be found at http://lisa-wardle.blogspot.com.au/
Undertow is available from http://store.walleahpress.com.au/susan-austin-undertow/
Boom by Liam Ferney. Grand Parade Poets, 2013. Pam Brown launched Boom at the Summer Hill Hotel on 11 August 2013. This speech originally appeared on Pam’s blog http://thedeletions.blogspot.com.au/2013/08/boom-by-liam-ferney-published-by-grand.html
I had read the first eleven poems in Boom before they were collected here. In 2011 they were published in a neat chapbook called – how ironic is this for a poetry title? – Career. I don’t want to sound totally naive, but I didn’t know for certain whether ‘first eleven’ meant something sporting though I had an inkling it did. So I actually looked it up – of course, it’s a cricket team. Sport is an important component in Liam Ferney’s poetry. A sports fan is happy being part of a crowd and in fact probably really enjoys the metaphysics of mass companionship so I think it’s reasonable to say that Liam is not primarily driven by individual subjectivity. But reading his poetry I deduce that neither is he blinded by latest-literary-fashion-following tribal poetry behaviour. Perhaps living in Brisbane protects him from any such competitive, impenetrable and rarefied stuff. In other words, Liam probably gets enough of a dose of competition from being a competition spectator so his poems can remain characteristically distinct from a poetry mob.
However, there are influences and, rather than replicating them, Liam synthesises his influences. Among others, there are traces of the wonderful contemporary sonneteer Ted Neilsen, the bold vim of the adventurous 20th century-modernist travelling poet Frédéric-Louis Sauser whose well-known pseudonym was Blaise Cendrars, and, especially, the critical wit of the exceptionally vital and original twentieth-century Australian poet, John Forbes.
In fact Liam and his friend, poet Jaya Savige, read poems from John Forbes’ last book Damaged Glamour each day for a week during Liam’s visit to Jaya at the poets’ flat in Rome in 2007. Jaya told me in a recent email he is “certain [that way back in 1998-99] no teenager in Qld at that time, and few before or since, had read as much contemporary Australian poetry as Liam had.” He also told me “Liam’s first reading was in fact at the ‘Warana Festival’ – before it became the Brisbane Writers Festival (!) – WHEN HE WAS 14!!”. Jaya went on to say “he was probably the most informed teenage poet of his generation in his state, and in hindsight, one of the most serious, committed teenage poets Queensland’s ever had.” By his early 20s “Liam knew everything there was to know about contemporary Oz poetry, especially the 68-ers.”
The first group of poems in Boom were written in South Korea and the blending of images and the sensuality of a hectic city is everywhere in them – like the poem ‘sign on the dotted line’ where many things are happening as the poet, drink in hand, watches tv and reports the goings on
chase the fishmonger’s asthmatic truck
clogging the warren’s chambers
susan sangsters lounging on the hoods
of hyundais ajumma lugging cardboard
ajeossi stoop smoking mild seven(TM)
scooter delivery kim chi and pizza boy
sideways under a truck a michael bay hero
when you consider it skynet only considers itself
so we say to the fish go forth and conquer
they prosper on the fourth floor of the flophouse
propped between the bathhouse and the driving range
after the funeral they confirm it you were always
better than your caste there is no substitute for thinking
but abc asia and soju come close
Please explain? Okay. Google tells me a couple of language things – ‘ajumma lugging cardboard’ – ‘ajumma’ in Korean is a middle-aged woman, ‘ajeossi stoop smoking’ – ‘ajeossi’ is a middle-aged man. Michael Bay, as you know, is a high budget special effects action film director (he made Pearl Harbour, Armageddon, Nightmare on Elm Street and so on). The scooter accident where the boy dies must be horrific. It’s all, together with Susan Sangster, a jumble of images in real life and on tv – the poet is drinking ‘soju’ -a Korean liquor that’s a bit like vodka.
So you get the general crazy language mix and copious idiosyncratic pleasures of Liam’s poetry. It’s often a kind of freely-associated speedy world-travelling word salad of tumbling imagery and is exciting to read.
the subways empty for the quarter-final
while the postman is kept busy with dispatches
bullfights and canals from the melted western front
post-it notes flapping on the microwave:
you are your own cinema verite
all the rushes make the test screening
towards the denoument is a flourish – another sporting reference –
lennox lewis stops mike tyson in the eighth
and you invent an answer to your inadequacy
a postdoc thesis on rollercoasters and bliss
– (Say Anything)
Liam’s abbreviations, Korean and other languages-other-than-English terms, and colloquial acronyms will keep your search engines busy. For example, in ‘Expecting Turbulence –
HMRG ( heavy metal? I don’t know) Deep in my heart First chance I get I’m SoCo mofo (U2??) – JDAM’s first,/questions second – I think I’ve decoded that part – ‘Joint Direct Attack Munition or smart bombs first / questions second’
So although it can be puzzling figuring out some of these especially particular references, the poems provide so much imagery, humour, comment and movement that you can probably skip deciphering and enjoy the reading ride.
The same goes for the cricket references, hardly any of which I ‘get’ but that didn’t stop me from thinking along and chuckling with Liam. But for actual cricket fans I’m certain it has many rewards. It’s a local genre – the North Americans have poems about baseball, Liam includes cricket.
but the lights go out on us
as lazily as a midwicket poke in the annual boxing day game
michael slater has never known such a tragedy
– The Secret Life of Them
and in a different poem –
The High Court straight drives its ton
with the panache of a Bill Lawry knock,
tipping its bat to the bored crowds
swatting at flies with cultivated indifference.
Wiping the leather & green off their creams
they decide the occasion calls
for a bleary barbie on the banks
of Lake Burley Griffin.
The poems also critique the shallowness of our fast-fix lives and are sometimes imbued with nostalgia for a better version of contemporary urbanity in the boom-time years and their myriad distractions –
that was the eighties nobody stayed for the dailies
– Think Act
and in an early millennium poem: – he asks “who says the naughties can’t be fun” (riffing on both ‘nought’ – zero and ‘naughty’ – wicked) :
rather than celebrities the glossies give us notorieties
the gossip in the weatherboard suburbs
is as periodical as a cold sore
the pleasant machines
in the bourgeois estates
get whacked on irony and debt
play prime time remote control keno
if it comes up rove everybody wins
– The Secret Life of Them
These poems are crammed with ideas and popular culture like zombie movies, all kinds of songs, all kinds of movies, 1940s films’ wholesome romantic misadventurers like Andy Hardy and Jimmy Stewart as well as the previously mentioned Hollywood action movies. There are many places, cities, odd behaviours, politics, food, language, there’s daily news, tv characters, spies, artists and more.
There is also much humour and occasional ironic self-deprecation as in quips like this one –
I learned surrealism
from travelling exhibitions
then did my best to forget it
hoping I could come off
easy and casual
like terry towelling hats
or cold beer.
-some nights the heat
and other funny failure lines like
my saison en enfer & the get rich schemes
evaporate like colonial best intentions
or foraging all over town for Vegemite’
– Seoul Survivor
Sometimes Liam’s poems also display formal characteristics. ‘Day of the Robots’ is a pantoum or a villanelle (they’re similar forms) – I think it’s a pantoum – here are the middle quatrains –
An early riser’s athletic mystery
determined by a detective’s defective method.
An embedded cultural reference
weaves the fabric of R. Mutt’s famous joke.
Determined by a defective detective method,
the curbside lunch, meat pie and Coke,
weaves the fabric of R. Mutt’s famous joke,
trademarked like a familiar sentiment.
The curbside lunch: meat pie and Coke;
a checkout chick’s smoke break lament
trademarked like a familiar sentiment:
kitsch is truth as we know it.
In ‘No Room At The Inn’, Liam’s lines of thought take the reader from definite impressions of Blaise Cendrars, he opens with a quote from the trans-siberian prose – we know we’re momentarily in Paris, and then, with a turn that’s similarly visceral to Cendrars’, we are suddenly in an exotic east or in a suburb
where our stomachs rattle like cathedrals
shuddering shocked earth of an invading artillery advance.
Over a breakfast of champagne sherpa-ed from the Crimea,
……….Siberian pastries and unlikely fruit,
we expect good things to happen to good people:
and further along –
Sometime later, after the long early dark,
with the help of a hitchhiking tundra tamer
…….we’ll shunt out of the station with a long march
of Chinese commerce boxed for trade in Ulan Bator.
Finally, a fan belt snapped on some post-industrial Leichardt’s Kombi,
as we slide our best silk stockings into place
that cough, more welcome than tubercular,
…..tolls the glory of our departure.
Boom is Liam’s second collection after Popular Mechanics was published in 2004. In a recent interview he was asked “How long do you generally spend writing an individual poem?” He replied – ‘Five or six years. The initial composition generally only takes about fifteen minutes (I write short poems) but the polishing and tightening and drafting can take years. One of the reasons I am able to balance a demanding professional career and poetry is the fact that I write predominately short, experimental lyric poems which I can scribble off in a lunch break or in the couple of free hours I get an evening. If I was writing The Iliad I might struggle to find some balance but I’m not.’
These poems, although carefully constructed, never appear laboured or contrived. They move as easily as songs.
A few years ago Liam was ‘Cordite Poetry Review‘s editor. He edited a feature of newly-written Ern Malley poems. I think that was a demonstration of his light-heartedness – his ability to be genuine while not taking things too seriously.
There is much more in the collection but I hope I’ve given you some idea, a sample of the multivalent range of Boom. Liam’s is a punchy, a-d-h-d-y, original poetic energy that is steeped in urban imagination.
The final poem ‘K61: Beijing – Kunming’ – is a vivid diaristic record that transits various locations – China, Brisbane, the UK, Nigeria – and several years. Here is the final part of the poem –
now slipstreamed it’s five o’clock fireballs
like a marshmallow forgotten on a twig
the villages are all dank water anonymous toil
bicycles with bent spokes they reduce pollution
for the olympics piped flutes harp in my eyes
i will wake to mountains or plains
& twenty-four hours to go
The last line of Liam’s bio note, which is also the last line in the book, says ‘His passion is life.’
To quote from one of the poems –
and it is true that flowers are better than bombs
Peace & Lerv – here’s Liam Ferney……
– Pam Brown
Pam Brown recently edited Fifty-one contemporary poets from Australia for Jacket2 where she is an associate editor. She has published many books including Dear Deliria (Salt, 2002), True Thoughts (Salt, 2008), Authentic Local (SOI3 Modern Poets, 2010) , a pocket book of ten poems, Anyworld (Flying Island, 2012) and a booklet, More than a feuilleton (Little Esther Books, 2012). Her latest collection of poems, Home by Dark, has just been published by Shearsman Books in the U.K. Pam lives in Alexandria, Sydney and blogs intermittently at http://thedeletions.blogspot.com/
Boom is available from http://grandparadepoets.com/
Hotel Hyperion by Lisa Gorton. Giramondo 2012.
It seems more than usually appropriate to refer to Lisa Gorton’s Hotel Hyperion as a ‘collection’ of poems. Not only is it clear that each of Gorton’s poems has been carefully selected and ordered for ‘display’ within the pages of the book, but the very idea of ‘collection’ is also one of Hotel Hyperion’s predominant themes. The book’s opening section, ‘Dreams and Artefacts’, is written after the Titanic Artefact Exhibition, hosted by the Melbourne Museum in 2010:
the interior, windowless, where perspex cases bear,
each to its single light, small relics ‒
a tortoiseshell comb, an ivory hand mirror,
a necklace pricked with pin’s head costume pearls
And the title sequence, ‘The Hotel Hyperion’, imagines ‘The Futures Museum’, a place which gathers, documents, and exhibits the history of space travel:
And because out-of-date technology
endears lost futures to us, among the screens they keep
a miniature Diorama ‒ a foot-square box that holds
Titan’s abandoned settlement,
its vaulted dome and gardens, built to scale
The preoccupation with collection extends to the structure of Gorton’s book. Its poems, like any grouping of objects curated for a museum or gallery, are assembled in such a way as to emphasise their interrelations. That is, both the new associations generated by their arrangement within a particular space, and the prior connections and histories that they share. Poems that address art, haunting, memory, dreams, space, feeling, and the future – all collected together on pages that are, in their own way, museum cabinets, whited-out versions of the brilliant windows of the Palais des congress, Montreal, depicted in close-up on the book’s front cover.
Hotel Hyperion is Gorton’s second full-length collection of poetry. It comprises twenty-nine poems, divided into five sections, and spread over forty-seven pages ‒ which makes it a slim volume. Its economy is rewarding, accentuating the intellectual and emotional intensity of the poetry. One of the book’s dominant tactics, repetition also has this effect. The return, again and again, of particular words and phrases (tens and tens of them) creates a feeling at once of circling back and widening out ‒ a more and more complex picture emerging with every poem. Back and forth between poems and across section divisions, repetitions build and complicate Gorton’s themes. In ‘V’, from the book’s second section, ‘The Storm Glass’:
The ambition of a miniaturist,
which fashions Mantegna’s Triumphs in pin-scale diorama ‒
trophies and armour, where
Caesar’s chariot by key-wound mechanism succeeds itself
upon the scene ‒ is framed in this
where crystals, by their wreckage
upon wreckage which is making, remake weather
as a succession of rooms…
A clock, upon which has been painted a miniature, mechanically rotating reproduction of Andrea Mantegna’s nine-part masterpiece, The Triumphs of Caesar, is viewed through the orb of Storm Glass ‒ ‘A sealed dome of glass where crystals,/ by an alchemy “more precise than precision”’ are used to forecast the weather (‘II’, ‘The Storm Glass’). The Storm Glass is already a familiar object, having been extensively described in the four poems immediately preceding ‘V’. The clock, too, has a counterpart recalled from the book’s first, Titanic-inspired section:
A clock without mechanism
adorns its first floor landing, hands stopped at that minute
history pours through.
Here, the first floor landing belongs to a staircase which is ‘not for climbing’, a ‘replica, reinvented from a photograph’ ‒ a foreshadowing of the miniaturist rendition of Mantegna’s Triumphs. And in the poem following ‘V’, we read of another clock, an ‘heirloom carriage clock of ormolu, stopped/ in its dome of glass’, an ‘emblem’ through which the memory of a childhood house ‘returns’:
The child in the window sits under their grown-up voices.
Outside a train tracks through the suburb
its vanishing point. On her lap, the Book of Reproductions
falls open at Mantegna ‒
Adding another layer of repetition, Mantegna’s series of paintings go on to give their name (though made singular) to the book’s last section (‘The Triumph of Casear’), and to its final poem. In that poem, Mantegna’s original brushstorkes are described as those ‘of a minaturist’‒ yet another echo ‒ and he himself is seen to copy the ‘trophies and armour’ of his own painting ‘from a stone frieze’ ‒ an even older record of Caesar’s triumphal procession following his victories in the Gallic Wars. And all of this without mentioning the repetition of the words ‘ambition’, ‘wreckage’, ‘mechanism’, ‘making’, ‘remake’, ‘weather’, ‘crystals’ and ‘rooms’ ‒ the majority of the verbs and nouns in the passage from ‘V’ quoted above ‒ all of which appear multiple other times throughout Hotel Hyperion, accreting their own histories of usage, and ultimately forming the tightly woven nexus of thoughts and images that make Gorton’s book itself a triumph.
At times, Hotel Hyperion reads less like a collection of discrete poems than a single, extended obsessive form. Remarkably, this does not narrow the breadth of vision of these poems, which remain a vivid and feeling testament to Gorton’s strength of imagination.
– Claire Nashar
Claire Nashar is a poet and writer from Sydney. She is currently the Guest Curator of the Australian Poetry Library http://www.poetrylibrary.edu.au/
Hotel Hyperion is available from http://www.giramondopublishing.com/poetry/hotel-hyperion/
Australian Love Poems 2013, edited by Mark Tredinnick. Inkerman and Blunt
Among the highlights of this year’s festival is the launch of not just another poetry anthology, but of a new Australian literary publishing house. If you are lucky enough to be in Byron for the Festival make sure you don’t miss the launch of Australian Love Poems 2013, edited by Mark Tredinnick on Sunday at 1pm at the Launchpad at the Lakehouse, 2 Bay Shore Bay, Byron Bay. It will be launched by author and columnist George Megalogenis and will feature a discussion with the editor of the anthology, Mark Tredinnick as well as readings from poets Kate Lumley, Phillip A Ellis, Michael Thorley, Rosanna Licari, Phyllis Perlstone, Candy Royalle, Erin Martine Sessions and Lisa Brockwell.
Australian Love Poems 2013 is the fist publication by Inkerman and Blunt who state that they are “dedicated to publishing books of originality, intelligence and beauty”. If their first book is anything to go by they are well on their way!
The 200 poems in the anthology are grouped together into a number of different sections: ‘Unruly days’, ‘It can’t work, but nothing does’, ‘It’s time to take off our clothes’, ‘You and I sitting out the world’, ‘A betrothing rain’, ‘But I have known you in the winter, too’, ‘You are gone again’, ‘I’ve been drunk with you for millennia’, ‘We outgrow love like other things’ and ‘There is another universe in which our song is not yet finished’. This adds a certain level of ‘poetic complexity’ to the anthology which comes as an intriguing surprise when compared to the majority of anthologies that take the democratic, but simple, alphabetic path.
While Rochford Street Review hopes to be able to profile Inkerman and Blunt in the future as part of series on independent literary publishers we are still insanely jealous that we are not spending the weekend in Byron helping to launch this anthology!
Australian Love Poems 2013 is available from Inkerman & Blunt http://inkermanandblunt.com/home/projects/australian-love-poems-2013/
For more information on the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival go to http://www.byronbaywritersfestival.com.au/
Disclaimer – Mark Roberts has two poems in this anthology.
Prior to the Internet and its potential for enabling networking and exchange of information between individuals, Mail Art provided a direct manner for some poets to distribute their ideas through a rarefied form.
While there is much debate around the history and origins of mail art, it is probably safe to quote the description in the catelogue for the Museum of Contemporary Art’s (Los Angeles) First Thirty Years exhibition:
“Mail art—along with the synonymous terms Postal art and Correspondence art—refers to small-scale works that utilize the mail as a distribution system. These terms have also come to refer to related formats, including artist-designed “postage stamps,” postcards, and even impressions from rubber stamps”.
http://www.moca.org/pc/viewArtTerm.php?id=22 Collection: MOCA’s First Thirty Years
The rise of Mail Art in the USA during the 1950s provided a forum for a number of unusual visual and poetic mediums. One of these was Concrete Poetry which emphasized a poetic through concrete forms derived from letters of the alphabet. The use of the alphabet as a potent visual medium can be traced to medieval times, however, the international Concrete Poetry movement may be said to have began with Stéphane Mallarmé’s (1897) Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’abolira Le Hasard (A throw of the dice will never abolish chance) – a typographic poem that challenged established presentations of texts in books and ways of seeing and reading texts. The unusual use of typography, page space, letter forms and chance play of meaning initiated by Mallarmé continued in the early twentieth century with the Fluxus Group, Dada telegraphy, Futurists correspondence and in particular Marcel Duchamp’s Rendez-vous du Dimanche 6 fevrier 1916 ~ a set of postcards, which he posted to other artists. John Cage’s mesostic texts, in which he used the throw of a dice to determine font types, also exerted an influence on the presentation of poems and methodology of production. Poems were produced on paper by artists in small editions or photocopied so that they could be distributed inexpensively through the postal system.
Although this activity had been prevalent internationally since the first decade of the twentieth century, Concrete Poetry began in Australia in the 1960s. Whilst Concrete Poetry continued, there was a departure from its traditional forms in the early 1980s by Visual Poets who included collaged images as well as text in their poems. This use of collage created unusual juxtapositions and meanings. Most, if not all Concrete and Visual poets in Australia were also Mail Artists since they posted their poems to others around the world, often contributing to a call for works sent out by international small press Concrete and Visual Poetry magazines.
Concrete and visual poets in Melbourne have produced a number of small print publications since the 1970s. ΠO produced Fitzroy No. 4 in the 1970s and David Powell and Pete Spence produced Ligne magazine in the 1980s. Cerebral Shorts (Charles Roberts, now Charles Strebor) produced Convolusions: Of the Irregular Brain Post in the late 80s and early 90s. Before he passed away, Jas Duke worked closely with Peter Lysiottis to produce a small book, which is still in Peter’s possession. Tony Figalo and Pete Spence published Axle Concrete Poetry, a small press magazine in Richmond, Victoria, which included concrete and visual poems from Australian and international artists for nearly two decades. Collective Effort Press produced Missing Form: concrete, visual and experimental poems in 1981 and in the same year a facsimile edition of Christopher Brennan’s hand written Musicopoematographoscopes was published by Hale and Iremonger.
Several major exhibitions of concrete and visual poetry have been staged since the late nineteen eighties. In 1987 a group of visual poets (Julie Clarke, David Powell, Pete Spence, Thalia, Alex Selenitsch, Peter Murphy) exhibited their work in JustWot?, at Artist Space Gallery, Park Street, Fitzroy. Barry Reid at Heide Gallery was the curator of Words on Walls: a survey of contemporary visual poetry in 1989. Pete Spence was the curator of an International Mail Art Show at The Writers Centre in Melbourne in 1990 ~ Visual Poetry Outdoor Show at St. Kilda Festival in 1990 ~ an exhibition at Linden Gallery, St. Kilda in 1991 ~ Visual and Concrete Poetry at Trades Hall, Melbourne as well as Mallarme: Visual Poetry in 1998. Raimondo Cortese (playwright) was the curator of the Third International Visual Poetry Exhibition in 1992 and Griffith University in Queensland organized Essence: International Networking Culture in 1995. Dale Chapman curated Tongue – Artists using text, at Spencer Street Platform Project, in Melbourne in 1992. Linda Michael with Peter Tyndall curated Word: artists explore the power of the single word at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney in 1999.
Works produced by concrete and visual poets initially stood outside traditional poetry and ‘High Art’ expectations; however the techniques have influenced the development of text-based art adopted by many international and Australian artists. Indeed it has become interdisciplinary practice for the past five decades. Poems produced in small format, were originally intended to be posted and maintained a sense of intimacy. Australian writers/artists I am aware of who have been active visual poets over he last decade include: Bev Aisbett, Javant Biarujia, Mike Brown, Alex Danko, Jas Duke, Tony Figalo, Peter Lysiottis, Finola Morehead, Peter Murphy, David Powell, Leonie and Frank Osowski, ΠO, Rose Nolan, Alex Selenitsch, Pete Spence, Stelarc, thalia. Richard Tipping, Peter Tindall, Cornelius Vleeskins, Nicholas Zurbrugg, and myself.
– Julie Clarke
Dr Julie Clarke is a writer and exhibiting artist with a PhD in Cinema Studies from the University of Melbourne. She has exhibited her artwork in Australia and has had her visual poems published in Australia, Italy, Egypt and Russia. Her academic writing and poetic prose has been published widely in Australia and Internationally. She has been the primary author of the Anything But Human blog (http://juliejoyclarke.blogspot.com.au/), which has had over 150,000 page views since 2009.
The Sunlit Zone by Lisa Jacobson, Five Islands Press, 2012.
Its no secret the verse novel has a strong tradition in Australian poetry, approached with varied and mixed levels of success. Lisa Jacobson’s strikingly original verse novel, The Sunlit Zone is by all means a successful contribution to this field, using a controlled and accessible writing style that holds appeal beyond the general Australian, poetry-reading public.
Following Jacobson’s excellent earlier collection Hair & Skin & Teeth, published as part of 5 Islands Press’ New Poets series, The Sunlit Zone goes far in asserting her importance as a poet.
Focused primarily on sea change, Jacobson presents the reader with a dark and vivid look into the future of a fast changing earth through the eyes of North, a researcher at a Melbourne marine laboratory, exploring love, loss and the different aspects and dynamics of her past and family. Through her visionary imagination and extensive research, Jacobson reflects on the concerns of our modern world, such as the drastic alterations to technology and the environment, and in The Sunlit Zone, these fears have been fully realised, shaping the day to day lives of her characters’ generation. The verse novel’s warning is all the more haunting as the reader begins to comprehend the realistic nature of the vision Jacobson is presenting.
The Sunlit Zone stands out immediately due to its future setting and fuse of accessible, everyday language and evocative sea imagery, with a strong narrative drive. Using the constant lapping of waves to represent each verse, the ocean is present throughout the book, and reading the lines becomes a memorable visual experience as well as a written one. The ever-changing rips and tides are present in the water as North’s mind traces her memories, throwing her into different emotional states.
The poet’s personified voice is honest and personal, drawing the reader into her world immediately:
all Saturday afternoon I watch
through my front window
the blue whale that’s beached itself
amidst drifts of kelp on the foreshore
of Angler’s Bay…
The Sunlit Zone is described in the front of the book as “a shallow but complex layer of ocean in which vegetation flourishes most prolifically, and which the deep sea diver must keep in her sights if she is to return to it”.
Jacobson cleverly uses this as a metaphorical basis to structure her complex narrative.
The metaphor is powerful and extremely evocative, and it appears this future, and North herself, has lost sight of the sunlit zone, and must return to it before it is too late.
The sequences incorporate modern devices such as mobile phones, significantly advanced in this future, while still upholding consistent and effective poetic form:
Then my skinfone rings.
-Cello, I groan and answer it
through a fog of sleep. Silence, except
for the exhalation of someone’s breath.
Jacobson’s description of the damaged natural world in this future is a disturbing warning to our developing civilization, reminiscent of Orwell’s 1984. There is an emotional numbness that runs through the characters, as hopelessness wrestles with resilience throughout the journey. In this future, manufactured humans, genetically modelled and enhanced, exist along with “Dream Babies” (designer embryos) creating a paradoxical paranoia of what is truly reality, causing the atmosphere to often be haunting in Jacobson’s lines:
Dream Babes, they called them on iTV.
Fertility Clinic and other soaps like this
sprang up quickly. On Quantum
and 60 Minutes, the older scientists
thrashed it out with the newest wave
of graduates, already rich on GM profit.
Genetic, Robotic, Nano, InfoTech.
Whatever it was, my mother ignored it.
The verse focuses largely on trauma and its persistent effects: the silent and taxing pull of the past as it follows North throughout the text. She relives memories of her twin sister Finn, born with a series of fish-like physical traits, such as gills and webbed feet, needing “water the way most of us need air”, and her first love, Jack. This is primarily the source of North’s numbness and seeming emotional detachment, as she feels guilt for the loss of her sister, recounting the early months of her sister’s life as she was analysed and reviled due to her mutations. Her memories of Jack are also significant, light thrown back on their shared youth as North is reunited with him. His appearance has altered from her memory, and he has since become a husband and father, but the sting of their former relationship is still present in North’s mind as she relives their intimacy, emotional connection and experiences together:
waves tossed the dinghy up like a paper
boat, a cheap trinket, the oars useless
as two matchsticks. So I did what I had
not done for years: I prayed.
-Please keep him safe, God. I’ll do anything.
There is distinct desperation present in the lines that addresses the inability of the present to alter the past, and the inability to escape haunting reminiscence. Jacobson explores inevitable cycles of life through North’s eyes, and the reader is drawn into her internal pain and fear:
At home the past floods me too fast
to combat it. What the sea takes out
it washes in; mottled, gaping, fish-like
things that fall apart as I grasp at them.
Jacobson’s tale of longing is a powerful and compelling book, and an essential warning to humanity. It is defined by its gripping accessibility that bridges the allusive gap between prose and poetry, although the true accomplishment in the work is its consistent control and balance. The narrative and message is gripping and affecting, and the poetry, simply as poetry, stands on its own as powerful work.
The Sunlit Zone is an important contribution to both the fields of Australian poetry and fiction.
– Robbie Coburn
Robbie Coburn is a poet and writer from country Victoria. His first chapbook Human Batteries was published by Picaro Press in 2012. He can be found at www.robbiecoburn.com
The Sunlit Zone is available from http://fiveislandspress.com/catalogue/the-sunlit-zone.