Issue 9: September 2013 – November 2013

Pacific Solution 2 - Mark Roberts 2012

Pacific Solution 2 – Mark Roberts 2012

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when they came/ for you elegies/of resistance – Christopher Barnett’s Melbourne Book Launch.

when they came/ for you elegies/ of resistance by Christopher Barnett. Wakefield Press 2013. Melbourne launch 30 November 5pm, Embiggen Books, 197-203 Little Lonsdale Street Melbourne.

BarnettChristopher Barnett’s when they came/ for you elegies/ of resistance would have to be one of the most important works of Australian literature published this year. Overtly political, intensely private and containing some of the best poetry you will ever read, when they came/ for you elegies/ of resistance will be launched in Melbourne this Saturday (30 November 5pm, Embiggen Books, 197-203 Lt Lonsdale Street Melbourne).

“A unique work painstakingly and painfully realised by an ailing Australian poet who has lived in self-imposed exile in Nantes, France, for the past 2 decades. Christopher Barnett has delivered, in spite of penurious circumstances and dedication to generating cultural expression for the most marginalised through his theatre workshop Le Dernier Spectacle, a monumental poetic statement based on the author’s memories of various vicissitudes and singular personal experiences of his own life as a committed artist, poet and performer, and a polymathic knowledge of the brutality and cruelty of much of 20th century history and the current state of early 21st century geopolitics. This a sobering, moving, harrowing and haunting work that has been years in the making. It is as a literary legacy that is riveting and as necessary as it is discomforting and distressing poetry that is the polar opposite of escapism and light entertainment. This is an unflinching magnum opus from someone all too aware of his life and time running out”. – Hamish Danks Brown.

Rochford Street Review will be running an extended article/review on when they came/ for you elegies/ of resistance in the near future.

when they came/ for you elegies/ of resistance can be obtained from http://www.wakefieldpress.com.au/product.php?productid=1120

A book trailer of when they came/ for you elegies/ of resistance can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1qSI331Zhxw#

launchbarnett.

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

“… go out to the world of cow” – listening to Queenie, Sappho and Hawthorne: Sarah St Vincent Welch reviews ‘Cow’ by Susan Hawthorne

Cow by Susan Hawthorne. Spinifex Press. 2011

I have doubled in age and am learning
the internal properties of cow
stand your ground calls my father
as the biggest cow of the herd
breaks away and runs straight at me
I wave my arms about wave my stick at the end of my arm
she is still running
I jump and scream and wave
two metres before I am history
……………………she veers sideways and returns to the herd

I have found my cow inside
I have learnt the internal property …

– ‘string one – the philosophy cow – what the poet says’

Cow058‘Beckon, flag, gesture, signal’. I looked up ‘wave’ in my thesaurus to help think about this opening stance of Susan Hawthorne’s poetry collection, Cow. I then looked it up in The Macquarie Dictionary and scanned down to the etymology (which I often skip over). [Middle English; Old English wafian, related to Icelandic vāfa swing.] The nuances are pleasing and affirm my feeling for this word, there is a sense of greeting, but also a sense of alert, and a positioning that conveys and interprets meaning while balancing a number of possibilities (and how about that ‘swing’?) This collection encourages you do such things, it offers an extraordinary place to pause and move and engage, and with invitation after invitation to listen, I was guided into and held within Cow as the herd stampeded around me. It’s a confident place, a place to think.

I keep wondering how to describe Cow, because it is such an unusual creature. I’ve been living with Cow, its grassy breath, sweet dung and low low, everything Cow, for some time now. Sensual and intellectual, it has made me reconsider words. I have circled and mouthed individual words, traced metaphors, savored etymologies, and been encouraged as a reader and writer.

I’ve also written all over my copy of Cow. I may dog-ear the page of a book sometimes but I rarely mark a page. I have absolutely scored this book. Cow makes me want to be inside it, to participate in it beyond reading – somehow, somehow. I’ve sometimes wanted art to be life, and this is one of those times. The enjoyment of art is of course life, and this is just one opposition (art/life) that is part of our dominant discourse that does not always make sense. Cow is one of those books that challenges such discourses.

I’ve read Cow in planes and trains, in beds and baths, inside and outside, out loud and silently, I’ve lost and then found it, and I’ve read it to a friend in her kitchen as she cooked and as her children played outside.

With Cow I’ve circled language and also swum into its breaking waves. And imagined myself, Europa.

It came to me what this unusual Cow creature might be, in an exotic and also a mundane way, what it might be, at least for now. On the foothills of a volcano in the mist and drizzle I was reading (as a tourist) about the cowgirls and cowboys who wrangled herds of cattle in the foothills, and I thought, Cow is about representation.

how the words on the page
are to be read
measured
understood

– ‘string two – what the philosophers say – Diotima’

The structure of the collection is foregrounded, its patterns clearly marked in the contents. ‘Etymologies’ is an elegant entrance, like a foreword, or a list of characters in a play. Cow asks us to think of it in many ways, through multiple voices, and threads and strings, creating a sense of unity without upholding the concept as a solution. There are ways rather than a way.

The collection is strung with four strings, yes, like a musical instrument. But mainly, Cow just sings. 
These strings are named ‘the philosophy cow’, ‘what the philosophers say’, ‘what the lovers say’ and ‘what queenie says about the philosophy cow’. It is at once a circle, a progression, and a chord, but the collection as a whole has the ease of strumming, and is the seamless extemporization of an expert (I wanted to write mistress, but etymology got me, the feminine of the word master defeated by its history and nuance.)

In string one, ‘the philosophy cow,’ we listen to Queenie, Fatima, Meena, the prophet, the mayor, Sita, the cows and calves, Demeter, Persephone, Kuvalaya, Sita, Elektra, Lakshmi, Sarasvati, Ereshkigal, Io, Hathor, Guinevere, Durga, Savitri, the mythmakers and the Cow and Tiger. I struggle to find a collective noun to describe the effect. Is this a choir, an army, or a parliament that we are listening to? Many voiced, this collection harmonises numerous traditions.

To quote from such a measured creation is uncomfortable, to pull any of the threads, and one of the big challenges of this review. But I will try. Perhaps I can feel more comfortable by imagining I’m showing you a detail of Queenie’s (our main character) dilly bag.

I’m grazing near a human encampment
time has rolled in
on a day the length of all time
I give birth to the folding universe
my milk flows away through the night sky
galaxies spin and twirl form and unform
……..as the dance of creation and decreation proceeds

– ‘string one – Queenie’s dilly bag – what Queenie says’

And so we are introduced to Queenie. She has a certain notoriety and glamour, but mainly, she is sage. We listen to her throughout the collection, and anyone who is anyone is talking about her. She’s so transcendent, so simply everything.

I recognised Sappho’s honouring of her friends and lovers very quickly in Cow (my recognition only from English translations) and Hawthorne’s use of this tradition gives strength and pleasure to the collection. The direct reference is quite audacious and Hawthorne handles it skillfully.

In string two, ‘what the philosophers say,’ we listen to Diotima and Gargi, and to Queenie.

when I’m in full flight my intellect
swings I explore
not static existence
but moments of between-ness
the metaxu

This section is expansive but also sustained. At times I wanted to call Cow a female Odyssey, but this analogy is inadequate. It is not that sort of journey. It feels like Cow always slightly eludes description though it is also quite, quite present. It is because Cow is explicitly about making and speaking outside the dominant discourses, but also from inside and between them.

what really matters is that everything is packed
the time for doing and speaking all the things undone

– ‘string two – what the philosophers say – Queenie’s aubade

String three is ‘what the lovers say.’

1

how to contain
these feelings
only poems are
strong enough

How to contain? Cow convinces me only poetry is strong enough, as there are no other discourses adequate. And there is so, so much to offer. Queenie speaks of her loves, the fugue of history, nomadic life, wolves, gopi, and other voices join so the conversations swell and everyone is given time and space (a happy back and forth). Durhitri, Rasha, Mura speak, and there is talk of raga, a maiden aunt, sixty-four dakinis, one voice, akam, kolam, dancers, the shore temple, and the word paksha. We hear Anaktoria, Sappho, Atthis, Gongyla, we learn of sedentary life, listen to Madhukari, Radha, an Indian heifer, talk of priya, love, inversion, and sisters.

‘What Queenie says about the philosophy cow’ begins string four, which is followed by Queenie’s song for us.

I read this collection as a revolutionary work moving from Wittgenstein’s elegant but silencing impasse on the limits of language to Wittig’s iconoclastic language of bodies.

I recommend you lie in bed and read it to your lover, or pleasure yourself with it, mouth it, tongue it, and maybe as I did, circle its words and metaphors, anotate, indulge in marginalia, dally in thesauri and etymologies and listen and be encouraged to sing along.

I keep thinking about this collection, as I now notice Cow everywhere, it is the kind of work that stays, or returns. That is a high recommendation. I keep thinking new things, noticing new things, remembering things because of Cow. Cow rises in my mind unbidden. That is a rare thing in a reading life. As I write, the sweet smell of Cow ascends in my body’s memory.

– Sarah St Vincent Welch

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Cow is available from http://www.spinifexpress.com.au/Bookstore/book/id=215/

Sarah St Vincent Welch grew up swimming in Middle Harbour and now loves walking on Mt Majura. She teaches creative writing in the community. She co-edited The Pearly Griffin – the story of the old Griffin Centre with Lizz Murphy, and two short story anthologies – The Circulatory System and Time Pieces with Craig Cormick. She also co-edited FIRST: Surrender with Francesca Rendle-Short in 2007 (a student anthology at the University of Canberra). Her short fiction (or long poetry), has been anthologised, and published in independent magazines. Her chapbook Open will be published by  Rochford Street Press in 2014. She blogs about reading and writing and time and space at sarahtvincentwelch.com

 

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Bringing the Reader Full Circle: Lisa Wardle reviews ‘The Swarm’ by Andy Kissane

The Swarm by Andy Kissane. Puncher and Wattmann 2012

the_swarm_310_439_sI am a fan of the short story. I read them. I write them. I have no doubt they are here to stay and will continue to be published. I don’t buy into the idea that the short form is an endangered species, and here’s why.

In our busy twenty-first century lives, the short story is just the right length to fit into those brief moments when we stop and catch our breath between our daily responsibilities. The short story, regardless of whether it is five hundred or five thousand words long, can slot comfortably into these spaces. We all like to finish things, and being able to start and finish a story in one sitting is satisfying. Where a novel takes an extended commitment of concentration and time, the short story asks much less of you, yet offers so much in return.

Done well, a short story will grab you by the scruff of the neck and press you hard up against life, in all its beauty and ugliness. Andy Kissane’s collection, The Swarm, did just that. The opening story, “In My Arms”, deals with the loss of a child – the most painful grief imaginable – yet there is light and hope at the conclusion of the story. By cleverly linking the first and last stories, Kissane brings the reader full circle, creating a feeling of completion.

The last story, “A Mirror to the World”, stayed with me long after I had read the final sentence and closed the book. “In My Arms” was equally as affecting, though in a different way, as if it had taken an alternate route to my heart. Both stories are filled with sadness and loss, with some of the worst experiences the world can present to us. The actions and reactions of the characters are to be expected given the situations they have been written into.

One difference I felt between the two stories was the way I read them, the way I felt while reading them. With “In My Arms”, I had the sense of looking down and watching the events unfold, of being ‘apart from’, rather than ‘immersed in’, the story. A detached observer, though the sadness still reached me.

The opposite was true of “A Mirror to the World” – which is what most writers do with their writing; show the reader a reflection of the world around them. I experienced this story more closely, intimately. This may, in part, have been the form the story took, which was a writer (Kissane) writing about a writer, writing. This can be tedious when done badly or for no real reason, but I felt Kissane knew exactly what he was doing. By structuring the story in this way, he has helped the reader take it in less quickly. By slowing us down, he has allowed us to digest the tragedy in bites, rather than choke on its intensity.

The difference in the way I experienced these two particular stories could simply have been the order in which I read them. When I read the first story, Kissane was a author that was new to me. By the last story, I was more familiar with the writer and his style; this may explain why I felt more immersed in the final story of the collection. Also, knowing the book was coming to an end, perhaps I wanted to savour that final story, like the last spoonful of desert at the end of a good meal.

The character M. Chagall in “The Illusive Tenant” was particularly interesting to me. Though he was not a major player in the story, the front story at least, he plays such a large part within the context of it. His surrealist art leaches out into the fabric of the story until the story itself becomes a written version of surrealism. It was surprising and entertaining. For me, this story stood on its own, spot lit, within the collection.

Kissane’s stories are not complex or filled with action and movement, but each satisfies in its own way. They encourage the reader to participate, imagining what lies outside the confines of the words on the page. As Samuel Johnson once said, “A writer only begins a book. A reader finishes it”. I’m glad I had the opportunity to read The Swarm and become familiar with this writer’s work. There is a skill to writing a good short story. Every word must count; must earn its right to be there. Kissane clearly knows this. There is nothing superfluous here.

– Lisa Wardle

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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/

The Swarm is available from http://puncherandwattmann.com/books/book/the-swarm/

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

Cornelis Vleeskens: towards a retrospective – Mark Roberts

This is an edited version of a article which will appear in the special Cornelis Vleeskens issue of P76 which will be curated by Pete Spence http://rochfordstreetpress.wordpress.com/p76-literary-magazine/
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Trivial Pursuits, PressPress 2012. 
Broken Glass & Driftwood, originally published in Riverrun Vol 1.No 3 1977. Republished Earthdance/Donnithorne Street Press 2012,
Hong Kong Suicide and Other Poems, Gargoyle Poets – Makar Press 1976

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Trivial PI first read Trivial Pursuit in April 2012 and felt like I had rediscovered a friend. I had meet Cornelis Vleeskens a couple of time in the mid eighties – around the time of Fling poetry. He was one the poets whose work I had read in various magazines and admired and I remembered being very impressed by Full Moon over Lumpini Park. Then suddenly it seemed he disappeared from the poetry scene, the work in magazines all but dried up and there didn’t seem to be any new publications. This was, in fact, not the case. Vleeskens hadn’t stopped writing and creating. He was still working, but at a very personal level. He was writing some very fine poetry and circulating it among a select group of friends and colleagues. At the same time he had expanded the scope of his work and was actively involved in producing mail art and a body of very impressive Visual Poetry.

Then about the time I read Trivial Pursuits in 2012 I heard that Vleeskens was very ill and that the prognosis was not good. I had intended to write on the new book immediately after finishing it, instead I hunted out his other work, his earlier books, his visual poetry – whatever I could find. Perhaps I felt it was important to put this late work into some kind of context, perhaps I just wanted to catch up on some of what I had lost. While it was not unexpected, Vleeskens’ death on 11 May 2012 did came as something of a shock.

For me Trivial Pursuit became a way back into Vleeskens’ work and a way of trying to piece some of the fragments of the last 20 years together. It is a single poem, made up of many parts, running through a 32 page chapbook. The first thing that stands out about Trivial Pursuit is that it is funny. It is a long time since I found myself laughing out loud with a poem (as opposed to laughing out loud at a poem!) but I did find myself giggling on the bus while reading this book. Not all of the jokes, however, are one liners. In a long sequence half way through the poem we read:

I misunderstand the cold!
I struggle to misunderstand warmth!
I often misunderstand 11.30 in Glen Innes
I misunderstand my misspent youth
I misunderstand youth!
and hiphop and bodypiecring and tattoos
except on sailors in sleazy bars down the docks
I misunderstand D.O.C.S
I’m pretty sure I misunderstand angels!
I misunderstand the strawnecked ibis
I misunderstand breaking the bank at Monte Carlo
but I’m not sure I’d misunderstand a windfall!
I misunderstand why bats turn left at the exit
I misunderstand “no right hand turn”
I never misunderstand ORANGES! But
I sometimes misunderstand my kelpie
I think I misunderstand Rob Kars’s smirk
I definitely misunderstand this poem!
………………………………………….(p16)

While this section is quite humours in itself with the repetition of “I misunderstand” setting up a rhythm which is only associationally broken, the real word play lies in how this section relates to lines in other parts of the poem. For example the reference to the time “11.30 in Glen Innes” contues a pattern in the first part of the poem where Vleeskens places sections of the poem by referring to the time: “it is 12.20 in Glenn Innes and a Friday” (p3), “it is 1.35 on a new day/and I’m walking on the sunny side/of the street:” (p6), “it’s 12.40 in Glenn Innes/(lunchtime) I need a break….(p11), “it’s 10.50 in Glenn Innes/and there’s a knock at the door! (p15).

The actual reference which caused me to disturb the serenity of the morning bus commute, however, came a few pages later:

the gang’s all hair and another
strenuous hike takes us to the edge:
did the Brisbane River break
the bank at Monte Carlo?

……………………………(p24)

Suddenly the earlier link with the bank at Monte Carlo is made, is this the misunderstanding, or is it the earlier meaning? I was too busy giggling to worry.

These word plays run through the poem. One of the most obvious and successful begins on page 4 when Vleeskens links orange the colour to orange the fruit and orange the national colour of Holland (his birth country):

………..I think it’s kosher
to eat an ORANGE while
listening to a Dutch composer!
On page 10 he expands the word play to include place
and ask myself did the defeat
of the Boers create an ORANGE-free state?

Then there is the reference to misunderstanding ORANGES in the section already quoted from page 16, a line on page 18 “how many slabs for an ORANGE hangover”, then place is referenced again on page 22 when he asks: “do they grow oranges in Orange?” And given the number of mentions of Orange in this poem one can’t help but think of Frank O’Hara.

Running through this of course is the reference to Vleeskens’ Dutch background. He listens to Dutch composers, discusses Dutch artists and pulls in a Dutch reference when you least expect it:

well blame it on my eyesight
or Ashbery or the schizochroal eye!
Which works like a series
of aplanatic corrective lenses
(as if designed by Huygens in
the 17th century Netherlands)

………………………………………(P8)

While the poem appears at first reading to be loosely structured, the word play and the interconnectivity of the text suggests that there might be more than first meets the eye. The poem actually layers image on image, carefully building so that the mundane act of walking down the street becomes a discussion on poetry and poets, on art and artists, on food, about place and history – among many other things.

While Pursuit highlights the skills of the later poet it is interesting to turn to his earliest work which appeared in Hong Kong Suicide and Other Poems (Makar Press 1976) and Broken Glass & Driftwood (Reprinted Earthdance/Donnithorne Street Press 2012 – originally published in Riverrun Vol 1.No 3 1977).

There is a gentle lyricism to a number of poems in these two collections, indeed ‘Poem for Celia’ in Hong Kong Suicide, recalls Dransfiled’s ‘Pas de deux for lovers’:

the quiet of the dawn;
lost in the fishermen’s lights
trawling harbour waters;
seabreaze blowing mosquitoes;
& stars through the open
window. we lay side by side
i, dreaming clouds of smoke;
you dozing in your quiet
music; skin gently played by
the knowledge of goodbye.

While Hong Kong Suicide was Vleeskens’ first published book (part of the original Gargole Poets series which featured poets such as Alan Wearne, Antigone Kefala, Rae Desmond Jones, Kris Hemensley, John Tranter, Jennifer Rankin and many others), the work in Broken Glass & Driftwood belongs to roughly the same period and, I some ways, introduces some of the elements which we find in Trivial Pursuit.

The title poem ‘Broken Glass & Driftwood’, for example, is a poem about making poetry. The physical world becomes a metaphor for the writing process:

1.

words pass like seconds & minutes
of days spent. they’re like a taunt
line in harbour tides, not always

a catch: mullet nibbling the torn
edges of poems: broken glass &
driftwood. (for robert adamson) lies

of years blowing in the trees. the
blues of nothing caught off jetties &
the rocks. my line lies on the bottom

2.

driftwood memories have been laid
out in the sun to dry. i’ll need
them to fry my catch. maybe I can

forget the broken glass. it’s drawn
enough blood already. washed up on
beaches & islands & harbour shores &

always leaving pieces behind when a new
tide pulls me out again. I wonder if
there’s enough left to build a poem.

Interesting the reference to Robert Adamson provides an immediate echo of this poem in Trivial Pursuits through the lines:

throw in a line Bob the mullet
are running:

…………………………………….(p. 10)

Broken glassOnce again there is a unforced lyricism to this poem, at times almost haiku like. The link between words and time “the seconds & minutes/ of days spent” moves easily into the image of fishing (and during the mid to late 1970’s references to fishing could not but help to suggest Robert Adamson who was riding high at the time as editor of New Poetry and the writer of poems such as ‘The Mullet Run’. Interestingly there is a line in ‘Mullert Run II which refers to the river “turning orange with mud”)). In the second stanza there is the unexpected use of the word ‘poem’ “mullet nibbling the torn/edges of poems”. For anyone who was every taken fishing as a kid, the expectation was that the mullet would be nibbling the torn edges of prawns (I remember the feeling of the line tugging gently and reeling it in only to find the prawn still on the hook but torn all around by small fish mouths too small to take the hook). The poem becomes something more at this point, the image in the first line “words pass like the seconds & minutes” is recalled and extended and becomes much more ambitious.

Interestingly the next direct reference to poetry does not occur until the final line but the imagery runs right through the poem. The fishing line that lies on the bottom, the “driftwood memories…..laid out in the sun to dry” suggest the struggle to find the words, to create the poem. But in the final instance the easy link between writing a poem and catching a fish is denied. It is not the mullet waiting to be hooked or the memories of driftwood – “of years of blowing in the trees,” that represent the poem. Instead in is the broken glass, which at first is to be discarded “maybe I can/forget the broken glass. it’s drawn/ enough blood already”, which becomes the core of the search of the poem. Blood has been drawn, but obviously there must be more, as after each tide fragments of glass are washed up on the shore. “i wonder if/there’s enough left to build a poem’.

So while at first reading ‘Broken Glass & Driftwood’ appears to be a relative simple poem relying on some strong imagery to draw the reader in, on closer reading it is actually much more complex. The creative process is linked to ebb and flow of tides, and of time which turns fallen trees into driftwood and wears broken glass down into fragments of colour washed up on the shore and, in the end, the poem itself comes from an unexpected source.

In most of these early poems the actual act of writing is nearly always central to the poem. In the second poem in Broken Glass & Driftwood, ‘Between Sleep & White Uniforms’ there are, once again, moments of almost intense lyrical beauty:

(waking again: chalkdust
blown over the harbour
like unwritten poems

the chalkdust echoes the fragments of broken glass – though this time they are blowing over the water rather than being washed up on the shore. They are being blown over the harbour, fragments of unknown/unwritten poems. Later, however, the poem does materialise

waking again: new chalk
& typewriter poems for
dusty lovers

‘Between Sleep & White Uniforms’ is a longer poem running over a number of pages, each section is a different waking, a different attempt at a poem or a relationship with a lover or probably both. There is a transience to both the poems and the relationship here as chalk poems can disappear in a flash

…………..chalkwritten words wiped for

falling short. i came to these pages for

explanations ……………..there are none

This transience is emphasised in a later, unnamed, poem in the book:

a rewrite of old poems scribbled on the
outgoing tide while we were digging for

olive shells.

The poems in Hong Kong Suicide, while still retaining their lyricism, have a sightly harder edge to them. The title even hinting a something a little darker than driftwood and broken glass. The title poem is subtitled ’10 preludes’ – is this a wink at T S Eliot or Wordworth or Katherine Mansfield? Probably not, though it is an interesting train of thought. I suspect Vleeskens was bypassing the other ‘famous’ literary preludes and going straight to it’s musical roots. Each of these ten pieces can stand alone as a poem, but they also work as a sequence with everything working up to a final flip of the corn.

The imagery here is grittier, more crowded and a little more desperate. The images are that of a crowded city with people piled up on each other:

the more people in the room/the less room.
four chinamen bent over mahjong; the back
room sending sweet smoke signals and the
occasional laugh; Sesame Street sounds
strange in chinese, the kids don’t seem to
notice it;

………………………………………………prelude 1

and

suzie quatro
carpenters
don mclean
& chinese opera
blaring forth
scratchily
from cheap speakers;

………………………………………………prelude 2

The list in prelude 2 recalls a poem in Broken Glass & Driftwood ‘ – Another Chalk Poem – which simply refers to a shopping list written out in chalk. But here the list is part of a slightly larger whole. Prelude 2 is a simple capture of an image, almost like an extended haiku, but it is a dynamic opening image, the clashing of sounds and cultures which lead into the final lines:

……..……………..Shangai Street
haggling over the price of a bowl of won ton mi

And we are led into the other Preludes and we are reminded that Vleeskens’ Hong Kong is the British Hong Kong before the handover. There is the feel of a ‘frontier town’ of border guards and searches and spying. There is also a playfulness here in Prelude 3 we are told:

not after the shock of seeing
the police superintendent up on illegal earnings charges
the night after
i slept with
his daughter.

and then in Prelude 5.

sketches like this don’t work without
some sex-appeal, another girl friend perhaps?

give her the same name/……. i lie every time

…………………………………………..i use it

give her a guitarcase/ …………the lies come easy

…………………………………………..once you admit to them.

So as we piece the preludes together, the narrator/poet’s voice is undermined by the poem itself. In Prelude 9 there is a description of an early morning dash across Hong Kong by two lovers in search of breakfast. But we sense the narrative starting to unwind:

i live in Jordan Road, Kowloon
with an empty refrigerator/she
stays with her uncle (foreign
office or something). he doesn’t
like me, even my poems have
become third person, singular

first person, plural:
we alight from the peak-tram,
have a champagne breakfast &
soil borrowed white sheets (the
maid’s on our side, she’ll wash
them for a bribe, Hong Kong’s
like that…..

first person, plural:
we are an inveterate liar.

so what/who to trust the ‘I’, the poet, has declared himself a liar, but the poem is still there – jumping from the first to the third person and back again. But what of the suicide? The tension builds through the Preludes – after all the sequence is called ‘Hong Kong Suicide’ so there should be a suicide somewhere, unless the poet is indeed an “inveterate liar”.

So, like a good thriller it all comes down to the final scene, or the final prelude in Vleeskens case:

he stands exhausted penniless.
(the poem has turned impersonal
but refuses to reach a conclusion.
he’s tried to swallow his pride
hoping to choke on it
but the little he has left
went down without complications.
(throw in his three year old son
if you really want complications.
they stand on the roof of the
newly completed Connaught Centre,
overlooking the Star Ferry.
he flips his last coin…….

There is something almost filmic about this last prelude, the image of the lone person standing on the edge of a tall building making deciding what to do. Once again the poem has changed to the third person, something that Vleeskens announces bluntly in the second line. Like a story teller developing his plot as he goes Vleeskens intrudes once again by adding in the man’s three year old son – so that he “he stands” of the 1st line changes to the “they stand” of the 10th line.

The ending of this last Prelude leaves us hanging, literally. The coin has been flipped but we don’t see it land. Does he jump? Does he take his son with him? Or does he turn around, take he elevator down to the ground floor and disappear into the crowd to return to his room to start writing the poem? The sequence is called Hong Kong Suicide, so he must have jumped, but we already know that he is “an inveterate liar”.

Like a piece of good music ‘Hong Kong Suicide’ improves with multiple readings. While at first it appears like a sequence of good but loosely connected poems, it soon becomes clear that there is an underlying structure to the sequence which propels it forward, like a post modern film noir, to leave the reader dangling on the precipice. But Vleeskens’ structure is not an easy one, as he says in another poem:

there’s more form crept in
than i intended to allow:

……………….– The Motorcar as Poem in Two Parts

hong kongIt is a jumpy structure which may run for two or three lines and then suddenly change. An unexpected line break, a dropped line or a section that is indented and/or cut up adds to the jagged feel of the sequence. One senses that Vleeskens was struggling to keep the poem out of control as much as the character in the poem was trying to keep in control.

There was allot of poetry between Hong Kong Suicide and Other Poems, Broken Glass & Driftwood and Trivial Pursuit – in most cases at least 36 years worth of poetry. Some of that poetry can be accessed in collections such as Full Moon over Lumpini Park (Fling Poetry 1982), The Day The River (UQP 1984), Treefrog Dreaming Fling Poetry 1990 and many others (a non exclusive bibliography is included at the end of this paper). While some of these works can be traced through libraries, many others were published in very limited print runs and are almost impossible to locate. There is a definite need for a major poetry publisher to bring out a collection of Vleeskens’ work.

In the end I have come back to Trivial Pursuit and a piece that seems to bring together a number of the themes running through Hong Kong Suicide and Other Poems and Broken Glass & Driftwood:

OH! cast down your eyes
on these scraps of paper:
they’re blowing on a brisk Westerly
like hamburger wrappers
they’re covered in scribbled notes
indecipherable like a foreign language
or poetry! you recognise a score
and orchestrate the notes
it’s symphonic! it’s mindblowing!
it’s a rip-off!! (AND you’re tonedeaf)
what happened to the I?
is he the first person asleep?
all this time I’ve achieved so little!
it’s 12.40 in Glenn Innes
(lunchtime!) I need a break…..

…………………………………………….(Page 11.)

There is the echo here of the chalk dust poems blowing across the harbour and the slipping between the first and third person. In the end I am left thinking about the title of this last chapbook, Trivial Pursuit. Throughout his work the act of writing and reading poetry was central to his thinking. For Vleeskens the act of walking down down the street was poetic and chalk dust or waste paper a potential poem. For him the trivial acts of life, checking he mail box, catching a tram in Hong Kong or writing out a shopping list was the stuff of poetry. As he says on the final page of Trivial Pursuit:

(it’s all smoke and mirrors!)

-Mark Roberts

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Mark Roberts is a Sydney based writer and critic. He is currently undertaking Post Graduate studies at the University of Sydney and currently edits Rochford Street Review and P76 Magazine (http://rochfordstreetpress.wordpress.com/p76-literary-magazine/).

Other books by Cornelis Vleeskens that are still available include:

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Cornelis Vleeskens – picture from the back cover of Hong Kong Suicide and Other Poems 1976.

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Beautifully Composed Poetry: Judith Beveridge launches Magic Logic by David Mortimer

Magic Logic by David Mortimer. Puncher and Wattmann 2013. Magic Logic was launched by Judith Beveridge at the Friend In Hand Hotel Glebe on on 22nd June 2013.

magic_logic_310_418_sThis is a delightful book. There is a terrific refinement of sensibility working in David Mortimer’s poetry. David seems able to get to the heart of a matter by application of mind and an astute discernment and selection of details. These details are often small evocations of a time and place which carry with them a great deal of tonal atmosphere and feeling.

Reading David’s book, what struck me time and again was the acute and loving attention he pays to his syntax, to his diction, to the cadences of his lines. This is beautifully composed poetry. He lingers on things and the words for things, delighting in their sound and texture, and often in the longer poems, building up crescendos and graceful flights of musical expression. It’s no wonder quite a few of David’s poems are about music or composers, as he is himself a poet who sings and who plucks his lines like melodious strings.

David’s poems have that admirable ability to grow out of their own emotional necessity. Many of these poems seem to rise to discoveries of – and are themselves – epiphanies.

Here’s a lovely example of his ability to draw out meaning and significance from an observation:

Cold wet frozen

Early morning
And a small child on a huge drenched oval
Maybe eight, maybe ten years old
In a school uniform, winter-weight
Even a blue blazer
Kicking a soccer ball

And her dad the goalie
In a business suit

Something’s dragged them out –
Some promise or madness

Perhaps their car’s broken down
And they’re making the best of it
Kicking ice off the grass
Scuffing curves into almost mud

And who cares if her socks will be wet all day?
If he gets a cold?
Here’s memory being made, laid up, forever
Brighter than rinsed sunlight

And her flashing feet are more awake
Than anything else on earth

I think it’s true to say that poetry almost always returns to the inner life, to the hidden feeling, the buried motive, to the details that embody emotion. Each poet for us defines a world and it is important for us as readers to be exposed to as many of these differing worlds as we can. David’s world, as we witnessed in the poem I just read, is often full of glittering perceptions, of magic, of the power of the imagination. Wallace Stevens argued that the power of the imagination to transform reality is what enables people to cope with the pressure of reality. Poetry can help us escape the numbness of daily routine. The imagination enables us to enter the experiences of others and if we wish, make them our own. I have a feeling that David Mortimer would agree wholeheartedly with this statement of Stevens. His title ‘Magic Logic‘ seems to beautifully encapsulate what Stevens meant, and here’s a poem which memorably illustrates this:

at the pedestrian crossing

at the pedestrian crossing
a single butterfly
in the middle of the city
in the morning rush hour
shapes at the traffic lights
and delicately
disturbs the flow

distorts
and in turn
denies the tableau
with moving graffiti
insistently

disrespects
the status quo
of metal pole
with metal button
and intermittently indifferently
the switching box
the hooded glass
the people waiting

by dint of
circling the woman’s hair-do
but then
landing on the man’s hand
to be held up
like the most beautiful wristwatch
ever imagined

David’s poetry makes us feel welcome and makes us value the work that poetry does, which is to say things with a “passionate syntax” on the margins of the sayable and allow readers to become participants in their own relationship to the world. David’s poems acquire both heart and mind in startling ways. You need to be “holy in small things“ – someone once said, and this I think applies very much to David’s writing – as well as some very impressive long poems, there are quite a number of shorter, haiku-like poems which are resonant and powerful:

Contingency

Imagination
Doesn’t get
Dirt in its eye

Or this slightly longer poem with its sharpness and precision of image and detail:

Acme

The little beak of the water jug
Is narrow and plastic and – articulated by the pressure of
the water –
Twitters away
Into the throat of the electric kettle;
For all the world – in a world of white kitchen accessories –
The very picture
Of an attentive parental bird
With a huge fledgling

Time and again David’s poems work to discover value and meaning in the world through the redemptive power of perception, observation and imagination. These poems carry the undertow of an engaged, intelligent mind operating with a grounded and responsive heart. These poems are written out of a respectful, almost humble attitude towards the world of others and towards the dailiness of the self. The poems are investigative and always humane.

All those of us who write poetry know that the magic of the art is inseparable from its risks – that this risk is a necessary component of poetry as it performs that balancing act between reality and the imaginative force at work within the poem. It seems to me that David is a poet well able to tread that fine line.

I’d like to conclude by reading one more poem that typifies what I have been trying to say about this work: the sense of wonder, the imaginative play, the strong yet mellifluous cadences, the poignant perceptions, the spirit of tenderness and lightness of touch, the vigour of the syntax all come beautifully alive in this poem called: no wonder:

no wonder

once there was fire
a car alight burning in a side street
so intense I nearly drove off the road at the force of the fact

intenser than rain thunderstorm anger or Brueghel’s colours of heat in snow
fire bright brighter here more real rounded flagrant in the back streets near the train line
than whatever half-baked errand I thought I was on
after the football before dinner weekend wheel-turning
cauterised in one glance up against

torch crucible Bunsen burner bonfire

people from front yards drawn to watch boredom wrong-footed
residents with phones shouldered angling out to catch reality vouchsafed
and everything else in late afternoon not noticeably incandescent with flame and petrol
seemed to be seen to be concealment compromised with grey

no wonder Heraclitus felt that to only rub drag break anything open
would be to find fire

-Judith Beveridge

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Judith Beveridge is the author of The Domesticity of Giraffes, Accidental Grace, Wolf Notes and Storm and Honey all of which have won major prizes. Her new collection, Devadatta’s Poems, will be published by Giramondo Publishing in 2014 and Brazilier Publishers are bringing out a new and selected volume, Hook and Eye, in 2014 for the US market. She is the poetry editor for Meanjin and teaches poetry writing at postgraduate level at the University of Sydney.

Magic Logic is available from http://www.puncherandwattmann.com/books/book/magic-logic/

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

Fidelio Geronimo: Duncan Hose’s Launch speech for Corey Wakeling’s ‘Goad Omen’.

Goad Omen by Corey Wakeling. Giramondo Publishing 2013.

Goad Omen was launched in Melbourne at Collected Works Bookshop by Duncan Hose on 20th March 2013. Here is Duncan’s launch speech – and at Duncan’s direction “all potential typos” have been retained “to carry the sense of a live and faulty reading”.

GoadO Just as a guide to the code of intimacy here, when I say Corey i mean Wakeling, and when i say Wakeling I mean Corey.

When a’ was a hippy   I always knew in the bush when I was going to see a snake; before I would see one, the simple phrase “ I’m going to see a snake” would sleether through my  head.  I b’now have a much more dependable source of this canny within the uncanny: every time I read a Corey Wakeling poem I know I’m going to see a snake.  The same cold thrill, the same terrestrial community that is at the same time utterly alien.

W.C Fields used to say “I always keep a some brandy on me in case I see a snake – which I also keep handy.”  Wakeling’s poetry serves the same purpose, not to send us to brandy, but to have something like having a triple AAA battery threwn at your head on call, to get a little charge, to be a little bit more awake, to make a little earthquake.

Corey and I shared a cell in Parkville Penitentiary  for over two years.  This is hardly important except that I’ve heard the bustard type.  I have had the pleasure of listening to him practice his compositional principles.  He types el rapido, and then like a dandy on a highwire he will stand very still, balanced on the line he has just written, with the weird vertigo of there being no skyline, no ground, and then he proceeds.  He is a very exacting writer; his retreats  –  say deletions – are sudden, inexorable and not so rare.  Like crossing der Alps I suppose he knows to take a few steps back to advance.  & having said this I am now struck now by how alike Hannibal is to Corey.

Poetry as we know is a stunt occupation.  The question is how does one go on, how to proceed?  By poiesis:  “I can’t go on I must go on.”  Though he is the subject of Wakeling’s doctoral thesis I wouldn’t bother to look for the influence of Sam Beckett in Corey’s poetry, except for the tragicomic noise of this phrase: I can’t go on I must go on.  This demands a continual return to the arche, the beginning of one’s cultural moment, not as the curse of homework but as the work of Eros.

Appetite is both cause and effect in Wakeling’s poetry; I wonder if we can say that this is a poetry of the appetitial.   Like the blue whale I’m the one with the baleen, the clear jawed rakes, and Wakeling’s poems are like the promise of krill: swathes of continually spawning, beautifully articulated and luminescent little machines.  And tasty.

Like a CyTwomply painting, Wakeling’s field poems are intensive communities of individually living lines, which suffer horizontal as well as vertical migrations of meaning, within discrete poems and across poems.  Reading Goad Omen is a lot like seeing the Quattro Stagioni for the first time: one is both delighted and appalled that a mortal has almost been able to get the whole world into a single work.

I would put this next bit in a speech bubble.  I remember Cakeling saying once:

A pyramid is just a Sign but the sphinx is the shit.

And there’s my point.  Wakeling is walking poiesis:  his whole being is a compositional principle. Hearing Corey’s poems one by one, here and there, one gets freshened by little squalls of intimacy. But we are also facing the most sophisticated kinds of evasions: in order to get at what might be true, and if we are concerned with achieving real presence, we understand that poetry has to lie incessantly to be immediate.  This is a lot like when Frank O’Hara says to Bill Berkson, just before the epic “Biotherm”: “what is under your skin is under your skin.’” This is the visceral space of Wakeling’s poetry parlour and his hospitality.

These poems are written in community; they are poems that are reading poems, they are a response to other kinds of poems being written around the world and poems being written by his friends in Melbourne …  they are goaded and they goad.  They properly function among the unrestrained Babylonia of Australian poetry in particular … remembering that the curse of that town is that no-one could understand the language of any other, so didacticism disappears while music and tongue-sports take over.

The situation of Babylon belongs to love as well as language; in a crucial transmission one finds within language many languages, and the lover will say to the beloved “but what do you mean?”   The story of Babylon is an undecided one:  is the confusion of tongues a curse, or is it the institution of difference which makes the space for desire.  I suspect it is both and this fractiousness is what we come to love about a goad omen.

This book is a generator of an Australian phantasmagoria: it has the spy for the rest of the world, functioning as an eccentric centre.  Of course we can presume no single Australia, they are legion, a series of tricks of the time space caper:

left to pass time on this vile rock,
left to grab the roiling wheel as starboard the variorum abnegates
new variorum, floor to the still unrenovated floor
to the front bar of the Clyde.

I read in this the strange tiers of the history of the present, and the poem as time machine.  The variational and mutational all exist as possibilities simultaneously through multiple authorships.  “The Clyde” as you may know is a plain and functional boozer in Carlton.  For years the front bar has been an exhibit of promised renovation in which we could read the pathos and bathos of terra nullius, settlement, abandonment and dust.  What is underneath the Clyde is “country,” a kind of language we may have bothered to learn too late.  The Clyde is now fully renovated, including faux renaissance tapestries in heavy gold frames and a blonde piano.  Wakeling’s poem sits in the front bar of the Clyde in mythic time, as Prometheus “Left to pass time on this vile rock” and as a hapless member of the Pequod, the whale hunting ship of Moby Dick, the glorious allegory of capitalism, individualism and the destiny of the West.  Wakeling’s poems constantly exploit this telescopy:  the more local and the more obscure the wound, the more you may be sure that behind the scab is the gore of history and the bloody currency of the world.

In one version of space and time these are incredibly dense poems, and so thinking like an electron this leads me to believe they are incredibly spacious poems, if we think of the Earth’s supposed solid iron core as spacious.  This from “That Part in Basquiat ..’”:

………………………………………………….dropping
into the bed of nails, dropping into aeroplane carcass, dropping
like dead lead into wet lead, dropping like wet lead on to dead lead,
from lea to bed to lea to lead ad infinitum.

…………………………..Why is the queen a scallop …

Wakeling is adept at the matchless switch, turning attention from territory to territory, territory to face,  face to phantasmagoria, death valley to shopping mall.  While seeming to be an endless series of turning points or rivets , they  remain always within the spinning and spoiling action of the trope, and in this way begin to give us a sense of the dreadful coherence of the world.

I love the shimmy in these poems, between clamour and control, dictatorship and free love. There is a kind of soft-shell megalomania, an appetite for the world itself with an indifference of bios and graphos.  In the manner of a Forbes or an Ashbery, these poems seduce with the music of pseudo-logic which quickly marbles into the sur-real, in the sense of searching for the more real than real, the “over-real,” and this seems to be found in the action of words themselves: phrases flow on, tropes divide and multiply like bacteria, intoxicated by their advance, savouring their own conceits.  There is never an et cetera in Wakeling’s poems,  one can never presume what is to follow, one is never blasé about the trip; rather know that as the train jerks along Wakeling is just out the front, on the pointy end of the cow catcher,  laying fresh track, often using bits of track that we have just travelled over.

Wakeling’s poetry is a private periodical of the exploitation of our vocabulary,  a vocabulary not just of words but of forms, phrases, other poems and poet’s faces, cinematic moments,  novels, paintings and the acute intellectual meningitis of popular culture.   It is probable that the requisitioned vocabulary we find here will exceed that of all comers, and so we understand that this book does not advance alone but is part of a phantom phalanx of cultural texts from the last 4000 years or so.  Remember the brutal pleasures of modernism? This force of exotic mercenaries does not ask for a literal codex like the dictionary but insists we acquaint ourselves with them as they come in their high contingency and baffling company.  This also points us to the books textual profligacy, its reckless spending, casting about alms, an obscene generosity like that of Heliogabalus who would bury his guests in rose petals at dinner.

This from ‘The Bucking Bronco’:

Diabolical Bronco entertains.  No more painters in the bloody eyes.
Refrain from context, red eyes.  Visor brims tucked into the sneaky
afternoon.  Pints of platinum.  Entertainment.
How many horses power this metal conjuror jolting,
whinying by dint of hot chanting, displaced bartender
but a grateful grimace.  Black Rock beach.

There are several of the striking things about this passage.  One is that this is a poetry that is always potentially commenting upon its strategies of composition, since it is always appropriating and abandoning techniques and conceits.  Now is always the moment of application.  From this we have the curious fact that all of these poems are speaking in the present.  Metaphysicians might say this is always the case, but Corey is careful to put this is place grammatically and through tenacious clause.  We also read a pronounced smitten-ness for Melbourne, not as a nostalgic reproduction of a European city but as the idea of a city; a place that is invented and courts continual re-invention.  This remythologising of place on a molecular level extends to the rest of Australia in the book, as a book, and it takes the baton of the notion of an Australian high modernism, and, uh, like a gargantuan terrier, proceeds to chew it up.

There is a good deal of poetry as anti-art , poems that are not recuperable as pleasurable doingys (a toady relative of the doily). These are poems that would come to your wedding with a horse’s tail in the lapel when you asked for carnations- they are gentleman ratbag poems.  So we have some of the finest lyrical streaks lately written steamily mixed through some of the most outrageous trash humping we might ever hope to see in a poem.

I always get a sense of the collisional reading and listening to Wakeling’s work, the infraction of zygote and spermatozoa; the blending of genetic codes that is the protein history of the world is sensible in these living ciphers that are both keepers of secrets and nothing.

Cryptomeria

Far more than cryptomnesia these days, may it
be born then in the chrysalis
of remembrances, the good forgetting forgotten
running his hands through Akita fur
of acres of shivering fibrillating vice figures
of the iodine-poisoned anodised, glade lain in a country
of cryptomeria.

Cryptomeria it’s a Japanese fir tree, something about pinecones and packed seeds and coronas of the sun.  It’s a poem for the liver, it’s a poem for chickweed and we get to overhear in a sense what the earth would say to itself, what the earth has said to itself.  I do love the way Corey’s poems return to things as the unwritten signatures of the world, without investing these things with the sentimentality of Romanticism  or the piousness of the ecologic.

Coerey’s poetry minds me of the troubadour  William IX, Duke of Aquitane, who is credited with inventing  trobar clus, the close or closed song, a poetic style composed of complex metrics, intricate rhymes, and words chosen more for their sound than for their meaning. William writes:  “I will put in it (my vers) more folly than wisdom, and one will find there mixed pêle-mêle love, joy and youth.”

But in love we now understand certain difficulty, and involvement with complexity, and also, why not, a measure of brotherly cruelty. What is most pleasing to me personally, and this has only come to my attention since being able to read  Corey’s poems as a full collection, is the consistent note of liquorice contempt that underlies the flare of their feu d’esprit.  There seems to be an unending rally against the torpitude of lazy linguistic citizenship, and against a certain conception of the poet who is not in love with language but is in love with their love of language.   We might say that Wakeling is a lover of lovers of language, his work is involved with an impressive range of trouabdours, trobar  trouvere, the searchers of songs.  As he writes in “Current Affairs” “Each key is a glyph/ to the recombinant Song of the Dead.”

This is a game for connoisseurs of poetry and of words in which language is made to do its most incredible work, which, in the words of R. Howard Bloch, ‘denies the purchase of language on the world and represents a symbolic closure of language upon itself, its substitution for action and constitution  as event.’    This is not an effort of exclusion or elitism, but a transmission of a kind of amorous nobility.  Wakeling’s courtliness does not rely on patronage and ritual condescension: to enter one simply has to buy the book.

The buffalo on the cover, a custom illustration for the work,  is the author, part North American praire sucker, a woolley heft that rears but is balanced by the strong feminine lines that make up the behind, capped with tiny clogs for a typographic charge.   Wakeling’s book is an envoi for a larger, hungering territory called Wakeling’s poetry, a limitless baroque pantry of inter-special sweetmeats:  it’s a dazzling experience for the omnivore and copraphage alike.  So many things are here properly addressed: the relationship of seafood and communism, to pick a hasty example.  All is served with frightening dexterity, strict tenderness and an occasional cudgelling.

I think we are all literally stunned.  A good thing too.  And so for lovers of the permanent gambol, prepare to be spoilt.  Rotten.  I hand over to you the millennial threat and the promise of CW’s Goad Omen.

– Duncan Hose

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Duncan Hose is a poet, painter and academic scholar.  His latest book of poems, One Under Bacchus (Gig Ryan’s launch speech https://rochfordstreetreview.com/2012/09/27/treading-the-lesser-known-path-gig-ryan-reviews-one-under-bacchus-by-duncan-hose/), was published in 2011 by Inken Publisch, who also released his first collection, Rathaus, in 2007.  He has published poems in Cordite, Steamer, Jacket, Jacket 2, Island, Overland, Rabbit and The Sun Herald, and in 2013 he edited a special edition of Cordite on Ratbag Poetry, and the “Phantasmagoria” edition of Rabbit.  His work is anthologised in Outcrop: radical Australian poetry of land (Black Rider Press 2013). In 2010 he was the recipient of the Newcastle Poetry Prize.  Inken Publisch can be contacted at  http://www.inkenpublisch.com/hoem.html

Goad Omen is available from http://www.giramondopublishing.com/poetry/goad-omen/

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

All Features Great and Small: Robbie Coburn Reviews ‘Between Giants’ by Ashley Capes

Between Giants by Ashley Capes, Ginninderra Press. 2012

betweengiantswebTo read Ashley Capes’ poetry is like standing on your veranda or in your lounge room, or anywhere for that matter, and simply finding the poetry that lies in the every day. In fact, Capes acknowledges this fact in stating he will ‘keep sucking poetry from small things” (‘a table set for thousands’), a statement that sets the tone for his latest offering Between Giants nicely.

This type of work is expertly balanced and a breath of fresh air amidst the countless collections of difficult and unnecessarily thesaurus-laden modern poetry. Capes has an impressive ability to reflect on the every day and make it so much more in his lines and sentiments, sourcing beauty and food for thought in even the most mundane of things, in a voice that feels genuine, assured and intelligent. As Jane Williams states on the back cover, Capes’ poetry “[favours] sincerity over artifice and meaning over wordplay”.

Finely tuned, vivid and accessible, Between Giants goes further in expanding the reputation he has established in his previous collections, Pollen and the Storm, Orion Tips the Saucepan and Stepping Over Seasons, exploring a range of experiences, topics and landscapes.

The fantastic opener ‘transitions’ displays to the reader that they are about to be taken to a different cultural landscape by the poet, and as the collection progresses, it is clear this landscape is Italy, namely Rome.

The standout poems in the collection are derived from these overseas travels, such as the excellent “St. Mark’s Square” which closes the collection:

we eventually have to stop,
as people invariably halt
to stare up at bronze, replica horses
and unhook
their jeep-like cameras
right in the middle of the flow

Here he applies his unforced, Australian poetic voice with the unfamiliar and beautiful imagery of Italy from his point of view. This creates somewhat of a poetic travelogue and is possibly Capes’ best work to date. This view is verified by the inclusion of his poem ‘archaeological moment’’ in John Tranter’s The Best Australian Poems 2012 (Black Inc.), where the simple discovery of an old coin in the dirt while on holiday in Italy becomes a brilliant exploration of the changing in the land, and the monumental travel of lost objects through time:

a penny has come thousands of miles
to hibernate in the dirt

it’s not worth much
but neither is it worth nothing

The poem then forwards into a future where the coin is left behind, waiting to be rediscovered by future travellers:

 years later when moving house
and neither one goes back for it

the penny can close its tiny eyes
and wait for a more archaeological moment.’

The non-travel poems are also strong, always keenly observed, exploring connections between people and places, and deriving beauty from streets, nature and even popular culture, such as in ‘stubble’, which references Clint Eastwood’s facial hair in A Fistful of Dollars, and ‘the colour purple’, which compares Australian nature to ‘a lost set piece from The Wizard of Oz’. It is this ability to find poetry in virtually anything that makes Capes such a fine observer of our modern world and the way we inhabit it.

The subtle and comical monologue ‘acceptance speech’ is a standout in which Capes thanks several acquaintances from his life for their various contributions to his wellbeing, displaying the range of his work and drawing from things generally not associated with poetry:

actually, while I’m here
I’d like to thank my dentist
for standing up to my recklessness,
even if the remorse
of the sugar-junkie never lasts

This piece is an interesting take on something we have all witnessed, and demands to be re-read and paralleled with our own lives.

 Between Giants, a reference to witnessing the old structures of Rome, is a fine title for this collection, as there are plenty of big and memorable moments within the covers, and also an appropriate representation of Capes as a poet: between the famous names, the giants of Australian poetry, Ashley Capes stands most impressively.

More importantly, Between Giants reminds us that wherever there is life, in Rome or in Australia, there is always poetry and vice versa.

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 Robbie Coburn is a poet and writer from country Victoria. His first chapbook Human Batteries was published in 2012 and his first full collection Rain Season is forthcoming from Picaro Press this year. For more go to: www.robbiecoburn.com

Between Giants is available from Ginninderra Press: http://www.ginninderrapress.com.au/poetry.html

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

With Pretty Air and Marginal Grace: Rebecca Kylie Law review’s ‘The Sea of Heartbeak (Unexpected Resilience)’ by Les Wicks

The Sea of Heartbeak (Unexpected Resilience) by Les Wicks.Puncher & Wattman 2013.

sea_heartbreak_310_438_sOne of the quirks of Performance Poetry is to speak from the heart; and if a word or phrase brings to mind an image then such matters need to be voiced. It seems this spontaneous combustion of language happened to Les Wick’s in his composition The Sea of Heartbeak (Unexpected Resilience), as, I can only suppose, he wants to paint a familiar metaphor but at the word ‘heart’ falters and sees a bird’s beak instead of the more painful realisation inherent in ‘break’. In this sea inside Wick’s, the waters are rough but expertly thwart by denial. Wicks has come up with a strategy it seems, in overcoming disappointment. ‘Love hurts but it can be cured’, he says, ‘divine then dive’. It’s not apathy but a gung-ho battle of wits to demystify romantic demonstrations. ‘Seems even harmony is a habit’ writes Wicks, the trick being, it seems, to believe in something besides the obvious, to ‘riot in the empty’.

With six sections dividing the poems in The Sea of Heartbeak, the labour of love is an odyssey buoyed by hope and reckless humour. ‘Lament ruthlessly’ suggests Wicks and the ‘new lyricism’ will be a ‘walk in wonder’ with ‘the heart in there somewhere/ but hardly worth the mess’. From a cemetery to a forest of trees, past a ruler of three winds to a bay disassociated from others, the journey is a ride in strange lands where matters of the flesh are the only reminders of life as a heart-beat or ‘a silenced chick’. ‘Got nothing this year/ just what I wanted’ remarks Wicks in “On the Nature of Wickedness and Plums” and it’s not humour this time but a cunning to outfox hope’s opposition, despair. With history directly behind us, there’s ‘barely a cloud says the weatherman’ and ‘christmas is dead, /right on schedule’. This poem, wedged midway on our journey from cemetery to ‘yawning daffodils’ purports a selfhood wounded by the past, uncertain of a future but glad of company. ‘Cats snigger in the shade/ But I’m smiling and silly is my key’. This, it seems, is the unexpected resilience finding its way through the stodge of misfortune, the wickedness and plums.

The poetry in this collection is aptly both surface and depth at once, both performance verse and poetic literature. If, as Les Wicks tells us, he is the ‘afterthought of birds’ then the voice, for its sing-song quietude is authentic. There is an irony to Wick’s poetry for though he is rioting about his own life, caring less for this, sparing thoughts to regard that, his poems are peaceful musings close to scores for a whistle. Towards the end of the collection he suggests we are blundering in our dialogues and need to go ‘back into the wood’. That this is the perpetual cycle of life, a back and forth movement like the tides is, for Wicks, the consolation that keeps his spirit joyous, albeit a fence-sitter. There is a lot of ‘flapping’, ‘smiling’, ‘tinkling’ and physicality in the poems that succeeds in achieving a sense of their immanence. They are restless, balletic and seemingly wanting lift off though authored by a smiling hopeful, know better than to leave. There is a ‘silence beyond glance’ says Wicks and in spite of the frivolous tumbling, walkabouts and fleeing from love, the poems have not forgotten the gravity of the very substance they choose to shut out: love through a window pane than behind a closed door. Of course, lest we forget, this is poetry.

They call Les Wicks a “stage” and “page” poet and for the purposes of this review, considering the latter, I can attest to this being an actual fact. Although there is nothing stylistically outlandish or radical about the poetry in The Sea of Heartbeak (which one would suppose a “page” poet would strive to accomplish) there is the expected attendance to rhythm, syntax and grammar for all their respective traditions and creative potentials. The poems are all left to right on the far left of the page, which I hasten to add, is not, these days, stating the obvious. Aside from this however, they are unique compositions that capitalise letters when required, italicise accordingly and arrange stanzas in the usual fashion. I am pointing this out by way of emphasising just how much of a “page” poet Wicks is…though the honesty of the language, the stop, starting you see best explained by ‘heart’ (stop) ‘beak’, is where the stage is envisioned comfortably. Wick’s poetry has a beat, a steady, unrelenting beat that pauses only when acknowledging another presence- a dog or woman, cloud nine or a’ holy man’s chant’. Phrases such as ‘Love you as the stars cave in’, cram the collection with playfulness and childlike innocence (‘that suddenly purposeful possum’) and appear as welcome antidotes to more despairing realities such as death or a heat-wave leaving ‘eucalypts inflamed, mangy’.

The unexpected resilience assisting the journey’s end or perpetual return as Wick’s would have it in The Sea of Heartbeak backs up a poet who ‘knows less each year/ & cannot rise to judge’ but considers ‘another day of life’ as marvel enough not to restlessly walk around with ‘grey abandon’. For Wick’s love comes in smoothly and goes away like rough rain, at times ‘placed in blossom’ and others as bleak as ‘the bogong moth…fooled by trashy suns humans make’. Culture these days is casual and hippie, Wick’s is wearing Indian shirts, backpackers are aimless in Coogee and the water skiers have found the river. There’s new road works taking place on the pathways to Hell, someone’s noticed the potholes,; and the stars belie a higher paradise, best to keep an eye on that or more delightfully find promise in a sun. Cerulean blues on white spell out the cover of The Sea of Heartbeak, Unexpected Resilience like the night and tides that accompany bed linen, fingers that ”ferry’ and a tinkling mind.

– Rebecca Kylie Law

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Rebecca Kylie Law is a Sydney based poet, essayist and reviewer. Published by Picaro Press, her poetry collections include Offset, Lilies and Stars and The Arrow & The Lyre. Other publications include The Wonderbook of Poetry (http://wonderbookofpoetry.org/?s=Rebecca+Kylie+Law), Notes for The Translators, Best Poem Journal, Virgogray Press, Australian Love Poems 2013, Southerly and Westerly. She was short-listed for the Judith Wright Prize in 2012 and holds a Masters Degree in Poetry from Melbourne University.

The Sea of Heartbeak (Unexpected Resilience) is available from  http://puncherandwattmann.com/books/book/sea-of-heartbeak/

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A Combination of Accident, Pleasure & Deep Thought: Ron Pretty Launches Kevin Brophy’s ‘Walking: New & Selected Poems’

Ron Pretty launched Kevin Brophy’s Walking: New and Selected Poems (John Leonard Press 2013) at the University of Melbourne on the 26th September. Here are the words Ron used to send Walking on its way……

BrophyIt’s good to be here – every time I return to Melbourne I feel that I’m living most of my life in exile from my real home. Partly that’s because the writing scene here is so full of energy and variety, and partly it’s because so many of my favourite people live here. And I’m feeling very privileged tonight to be launching a book by one of my favourite poets and friends, Kevin Brophy.

There’s so much to say that it’s hard to know where to start. I guess one starting point would be that Kevin Brophy is a wonder-worker (Not a miracle worker, for miracles, we are told, are phenomena that give faith and among the many things that Brophy does in this book is to interrogate the notion of faith. More of this later).

So, a wonder-worker, as evidenced by his omnivorous reading, his prolific writing, his research (he has a major project under way as we speak), his teaching, his publishing, his reviewing etc etc. How does he do it all and still have time, as he always does have, for friends and family? Does Kevin Brophy ever sleep?

My first contact with Kevin was over twenty years ago, when he sent me the manuscript of Replies to the Questionnaire on Love. It was a book I accepted without hesitation, and it was followed by another three: Seeing Things, Portrait in Skin and Mr Wittgenstein’s Lion before I retired from all that and returned to my long-suffering family. At that point Kevin took over responsibility for Five Islands Press and it has prospered ever since.

In the meantime, Kevin had been one of the outstanding teachers at the annual Wollongong Workshops while they ran, and had also been instrumental in enabling me to move the Poetry Australia Foundation to Melbourne, where it eventually metamorphosed into the present Australian Poetry Inc.

So we go back a long way, twenty years or more, and through it all, Kevin has been writing these six books of poems as well as novels, reviews, and three fine books of creative writing theory. Six books of poetry, culminating, but not, I’m sure, concluding, with Walking,(Look, by the way, at the evocative power of that comma, the movement and incompleteness it suggests: look at the movement in what follows, it says, and, There is still more to come, it says, and I hope and believe that is so.)

I’ve been trying to find an analogy for the process of reading a Brophy poem, and the nearest I can come to it is this. I went to a bird sanctuary in Sri Lanka once, and on the way in we caught a glimpse of a jaguar as it crossed the path in front of us. And then our driver/guide saw a flock of white birds – herons, I think they were – which indicated to him the nearby presence of elephants. So we drove over to them, and spent quite a while in close proximity to them, never quite sure whether or not we were safe there. And then the gearbox in the jeep jammed, and we were stuck in second gear, which led to much nervous laughter as the elephants galumphed and swayed around us.

Like the driver that day, a Brophy poem can take us in altogether unexpected often slightly surreal, directions. When I read the poems in this collection, in many of them I get that same combination of surprise and awe, humour and concern that I experienced that day – though, I hasten to add, without that threat of imminent pachyderm destruction… As I read the poems, I do get the sense that they are leading me wildly and originally into new territory; it does suggest for me the way the poems shift gear, shift directions, take us down tracks where sudden vistas open before us, inviting us to consider aspects of the worlds, and of ourselves, we have not really considered before.

In an interview for TEXT in 2007, Brophy said, “But then, the other thing about poems is that they aren’t going to be any good if the poet already knows the answers to the questions the poem is asking. The poems I write are asking questions, as I think most poems are. Most of the time I don’t know the answers to the questions that I’m posing, even the very simple questions such as, what is it going to be like to get old? Which is what that poem about the men’s bodies in the change room is about. I don’t know. I can only imagine, guess, propose. It is the limit of my own already limited understanding I press against”.

And in his book, Patterns of Creativity, discussing Elizabeth Bishop’s poem Man-Moth, he wrote: “A poem that interests me is one that takes me to a thought or a place of feeling, sometimes a dream location that I recognize but do not know – I am drawn to it too because it is an accidental poem.” (“Man-Moth” was a misprint for Mammoth, which Bishop used as the starting point for her poem) …Brophy continues, “The poem reads as both a whimsy and an opportunity taken for a deeply serious exploration or construction of self. This doubleness is yet another instance of an oscillation between extreme that makes literature possible and reading a pleasure (P 100).

Between them I think those two quotes give a very good idea of his practice, and of his achievement, for in these poems we do get the sense of a restless mind seeking answers to questions about the nature of humanity and our fallibility and follies, the nature of belief, the inevitability or otherwise of entropy, the relationships between people and their environment. Part of his achievement is that he can pose these deeper questions in poems that are, on the surface, often whimsical or humorous or surreal, and that the poems often seem accidental in the sense that they spring from a random observation, an overheard comment, sometimes by one of his children. That combination of accident, pleasure, and deep thought is the hallmark of a Brophy poem.

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The new poems in the Walking, section confirm directions in the development of Brophy’s poetic thought that have become clearer as we move from one collections to the next. I can remember my delight at The Replies to the Questionnaire on Love for its gritty urban placedness, mixed with both whimsy and tenderness. Here was a poet who knew the city and its people and could portray them with love, unflinchingly. Those qualities are confirmed in the book that followed, Seeing Things (1997), of which Tom Shapcott wroteBrophy’s poems … outstare the icy blasts of inner suburban Melbourne’s cold, or evidence of the world’s madness … they have wit and memorability.”

In his interview in TEXT in 2007 Kevin said of himself, “You write about your neighbourhood, you write about your family, you write about your street. You write about Brunswick… I am someone who wants to belong in a locality… I like to write poetry that gets its inspiration from the place where I live. It just happens to have been Brunswick … When I think about those things, I have to admit I’m an urban poet. Nature doesn’t have much to do with it …”

That has remained largely true. As time went on, though, his poetic concerns have both deepened and broadened. One noticeable feature of these later poems is how many of them take us out of Melbourne. While that city is still there in many of the poems, the poet’s horizons now are wider, as they have been in the last two or three books. In these latest poems, we’re with the poet as he wakes up and views the events of the street outside in the first two poems in the book, but then we’re in the country, feeding horses, or at Marriner’s Lookout or in London or Barcelona or Turin or India or in a ruined forest or with refugees on their leaking boat. It is noticeable, though, that the last of the new poems ends with us firmly at home in Brunswick:

We turn into a side street, smell roasted coffee,
find shade that grips blank doors and factory walls,
out of the sun’s last shot at its circus of the fiery.
Just behind Brunswick, as it always does, the old sun rolls
into that dark slot in the far horizon.

At the same time the poems have become deeper, more searching in their implications, less likely to yield up easy answers – in either sense of that word. These later poems, certainly from Mr Wittgenstein’s Lion onwards, display to its fullest degree that quality that I admire most in Kevin Brophy’s work: the ability to move seamlessly from the particular to a consideration of its deeper epistemological or metaphysical implications, what Martin Duwell refered to as ‘the balance between the particulars of a finite, localised existence and the larger patterns of the universe.’

There are, however, certain continuities that help demark the Brophy territory. These continuities, though, are not discrete entities; rather, they inter-weave through the poems, often creating kaleidoscopic patterns. Family has always been important to him; there are some delightful poems about young people, his children especially, and there’s also the wonderful poem, “The Sublime” (Page 15) about his parents. There are also some very evocative love poems. See, for example, the fine poem, ‘This, Once’ in the Walking, section.

At the opposite extreme is a concern with entropy, which runs right through this collection. On page 6, in one of the latest poems, he writes “It’s you, my human world, that/twists my inside into a rag of worry.” And it’s there in the very first poem in his first book:

When my nephew visits from Doncaster he asks me why there is so much broken glass on my footpaths. ‘This is Brunswick,’ I tell him, / ‘where life is as fine as railroad dust.’

So we can find aspects of entropy throughout. It does seem to be, though, that in the later poems this concern has become more pressing. Aging and death are, of course, particular instances of entropy. In ‘The Change Room’ he writes ‘The old men take off their clothes/and show me what I will become.’ (80) ‘A Cup of Tea’ is, among other things, a whimsical look at this question of ‘what I will become.’ Or this, from ‘Of All Possible Universes’

Each city building closes round its rooms of flighty
guests: these are the old ones coming home,
touching benches, walls, as if newly blind,
squeezing their remote controls in ancient claws,
flocks of images flown in with them cricling down
inside the last blue skies inside their heads,
the dependable miracle delivering them every day,
each day, into this, of all possible universes.

His continuing questioning of the nature of religious experience and of religious symbolism is another recurring topic, and has been from the beginning. There are many memorable poems dealing with aspects of this. Among my favourites are ‘Life Size’ (P 88), the richly evocative ‘The Church of Madonna dei Boschi Piemonte’ (23) where the painted priest’s knife, raised for circumcision, can never be used, because the locals have scratched out all the genitals on the paintings. All the priest can do at the end, as he puts out his missal, is sigh. And there’s the wonderfully ambiguous villanelle, “Knowing” on page 8.

There’s also his continuing interest in the prose poem, which is there from the beginning  – in the poem ‘Four Years’ in his first collection (reproduced in this) and which reaches perhaps its fullest expression in Radar, where, among many fine examples of the form, we can find ‘Guadi Guadi Guadi,’ which is a list poem wrapped up in a prose poem. Clearly, though, he’s by no means exhausted his interest in the form – see for example ‘Cities’ or ‘Dead Dog Dumped’, fine poems in the Walking section.

As I indicated earlier, there’s a very light touch in many of these poems, despite the deeper issues being explored. Among the animals, cats seem to be among his favourites, for they often preen their whiskers in a Brophy poem, and are often the occasion of humour or whimsy, even when there’s a deep seriousness underneath. In the title poem from Mr Wittgenstein’s Lion, for instance, the narrator is interrogated by the cat – or so it seems  – about Wittengeinstein’s epistemology, and the poem ends with the delightful couplet

My cat signals something dismissive with its tail
Which is a tongue in the blue mouth of air.

Finally, there are a number of poems scattered throughout, dealing with the nature of poetry and the poetic experience. See, for instance, the richly evocative ‘Why I am a Poet’ on page 126, where, among many other things, he writes ‘Each line of poetry must be a tightrope crossed.’ In ‘Word Peace’ (22) we are told

He said he fell in love with words,
though, he admits, the words had no say in this.
He went to live in the town called Words
where he worked in an alphabet factory…

He not only fell in love, but also married a word. The marriage was, we are told, a ‘tolerable grammatical arrangement’. It’s another of Kevin’s poems where you are first taken with the whimsy, and then, as you re-read – and you have to re-read – you realize there are serious thought bubbles floating just beneath the surface. Even the title immediately suggests a much wider issue. And in ‘Difficult’ (68) he invites the reader in:

It is difficult to choose the reader for this poem.
I have left the window open
So you might as well climb inside
Where you can be safe now from weather…

It is, I would submit, an invitation to good to refuse…

Publishing a New & Selected, like Walking, it seems to me is a somewhat problematic endeavor, for two reasons. One is that, in making choices for the selected part of the book, you’re necessarily choosing what you see as your best poems from the earlier books, and there’s always the risk that the new poems will suffer in the comparison. Like me, you can probably think of instances of that. There’s no such problem here, however: the forty four pages of new poems here are as good as any of the selected poems.

I’m not quite so confident about the other problem however: the fact that, in making your selections from the earlier books, some poems that others regard as standouts will be omitted. I was fascinated, for example, by the poem “Painters” which I remember Kevin reading, I think it was when we were on tour together in India. I wasn’t surprised to see that this poem was chosen by Carol Rumens to publish in The Guardian, yet it is not in this selection. Similarly, ‘The Moths’ from Mr Wittgenstein’s Lion, or ‘Are You All Right?’ from Seeing Things. Everyone will have their own favourites from the earlier books, and will look for them in this one.

It is, of course, a pleasant problem to have, for I am not suggesting that there are poems here that should be left out. Rather, I’m suggesting that for all this book’s riches, there are still other wonderful Kevin Brophy poems out there. The cornucopia of riches here, however, will keep us all very satisfied for a long time to come – at least until the next book appears. In the meantime, buy this one and enjoy it over the weeks and months to come.

Finally, I’d like to congratulate John Leonard, Jacinta Le Plastrier and all at John Leonard Press for this timely and beautiful book, and most of all I’d like to congratulate Kevin Brophy on his achievement here, and to declare Walking, well and truly launched. I hope you all find it as exciting, as intriguing, as wonderful as I have done.

– Ron Pretty

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Ron Pretty has been publishing his poetry for 40 years. His eighth book of poetry, What the Afternoon Knows, was published in 2013. He has taught writing throughout Australia and in US, England and Austria. From 1983 to 1999 he was Head of Writing at the University of Wollongong. He was the director of Five Islands Press, for which he published 230 books by Australian poets in the 20 years 1987 – 2007. He taught creative writing at the University of Melbourne, 2004 – 2007. In 2012 the Australia Council for the Arts awarded him a residency in Rome.

For information on how to obtain a copy of Walking: New and Selected Poems  go to http://www.johnleonardpress.com/

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