“An art work has to be approached—there are the footsteps”: Judith Rodriguez launched ‘Footsteps’ by Greg Rochlin at Collected Works Bookshop

Judith Rodriguez launches Footsteps by Greg Rochlin (Littlefox Press, 2016), 2.00pm, 22 October 2016 at Collected Works Bookshop

Footsteps A5 cover art etch linesHow long have I known Greg Rochlin? I don’t know. There are friendships where you’ve known someone for years but never felt you’ve known them. And there are those you’ve met, in class, on a committee, at a dinner, and they become part of your friendship circle; your life is changed that bit by them, they expand your world. Greg is one of those.

I can’t actually remember the CAE group he was in. But at Yak and then at the Moat meetings of poets, he’s an irregular regular, whose poems always create interest and sometimes discussion.

Should I add that Greg takes part in the Melbourne productions of plays in French? An extra language is an extra string to your bow; it opens up another literature in the medium in which it is best met—its own language. And it gets you thinking constructively about language, because other languages behave differently from English.

Greg is the only student poet I’ve known who has proposed a new and difficult poem form, the villanellette. It is, if you like, a parody of the villanelle that shows both its problems and its finesse. A trial and critique that both entertains and exercises the poet.

Now we have Footsteps—what a modest title, by a poet who understands that one is always going somewhere, making a fresh start, directing the words to be different from say, just conversation or a business mission statement. An art work has to be approached—there are the footsteps.

– Judith Rodriguez


Judith Rodriguez is a Melbourne poet. Her recent books are Manatee (2007) and The Hanging of Minnie Thwaites (2012). She wrote the libretto for Moya Henderson’s opera Lindy which was performed at the Sydney Opera House in 2002. She taught at La Trobe University (1969–1985) and Deakin University (1998–2003). Judith is a recipient of the Christopher Brennan Award.

 

“Art in response to Art”: Rob Walker launches ‘Dreamday’ by Amelia Walker at the 2018 Adelaide Fringe Festival

Dreamday by Amelia Walker was launched by Rob Walker at the Campbelltown Arthouse in Campbelltown, SA on 18 February 2018.

Dreamday Amelia Walker Book Front Cover Image (2)Amelia Walker and I met at Friendly Street Poets sometime around 2005, I think, when she was still nursing and wanting to get out. As a ridiculously precocious and talented teen, she’d already attracted my attention with her tribute to the Adelaide collection Fat Streets & Lots of Squares. I was more than a little impressed that she’d already been published in 2003 when I was 50 and still-to-be-published!

After that, I enjoyed randomly bumping into her at local gigs and discussing poetry. It was at the launch of her Just Your Everyday Apocalypse on an infernally hot night at the Jade Monkey in 2006 that Amelia, Mike Ladd and I had an enthusiastic discussion about forming a kind of impro music/ spoken word ensemble with bass player, trombonist, [and] programmer, Steve Matters, percussionist Andy Mills and sax-player Derek Pascoe. And thus, we begat Max-Mo.

It was Amelia and her partner Richard who house-sat our small farm at Cherry Gardens when Lyn and I lived in Japan in 2012. So, we may not be related but we share a lot of history!

Rob Walker. photograph by Asbjorn Kanck 2018

Rob Walker. photograph by Asbjorn Kanck (2018)

It was around this time that Amelia produced her unique collection Sound and Bundy in which she ambitiously took on the voices and personae of fictional performance poets Pete Lind, Shannon Woodford, Angie Rawkins, and the mysterious Jason Silver.
In the meantime, there has been a PhD and too many health challenges but precious little published poetry. So, it’s an honour and a pleasure to be part of the launch of Amelia’s first new collection in six years.

Now to this book. Dreamscape was originally a South Australian Living Artist exhibition of works presented by Campbelltown Arthouse from August to September 2017 on the theme of dreams. Amelia was approached after the program had been curated to provide poetic responses and earlier versions of her poems formed part of the exhibition.

The tradition of the ekphrastic poem is a long one. You know, those poems which describe a work of art and attempt to further its meaning and our understanding. If any of you are poets yourselves, you’ve probably had a crack at some stage. The danger is succumbing to giving a blow-by-blow physical description of the image and didactically telling the reader/ viewer what they should be seeing.

Amelia Walker. photograph by Asbjorn Kanck 2018

Amelia Walker. photograph by Asbjorn Kanck (2018)

Amelia avoided this pitfall simply by giving her personal reactions to each artist’s work. I say ‘simply’ but she confided to me that there was some angst involved at times. What if she didn’t “get it”? What if her interpretation of the piece was completely at odds with the artist’s intention? All she could do was trust her gut. So, these poems are often a tangential memory triggered by the image.

This is Art in response to Art. And surely this is the ultimate purpose of Art – to elicit a response in another human. (“Hey! I hear what you’re saying… I’ve felt exactly the same way!”) Sometimes, the reaction to an image seems immediate. At other times, there’s a musing, a reflection, days later.

‘Still falling’ is a wondering on the nature of those dreams that slip away before we wake.

“I wonder, what becomes
of those dreams we don’t remember

—the ones that giggle as they slip
through fumbling morning fingers

of consciousness, escaping like gold
and silver glimmers in a clear

yet rapid stream? What makes it flow
so fast, that stream?”

What impresses me about these poems is that there’s no pretense or artifice; no attempt to be arcane or esoteric. These are the kind of musings we all have —expressed better than most of us could! The James Joyce Ulysses kind of consciousness-streams which flow through our heads daily as we go about our mundane jobs, shopping and coffee-drinking.

This surreal internal world is explored in ‘This Comfortable Cage’, a response to Man Trap by Salvador Loreto:

This Comfortable Cage

After dinner, we watch a film
in which a man becomes a rat, only to realize
this is what he always was—trapped
in the box of a high-rise apartment
with higher rent, among the city lights
so bright they drown the stars,
(sometimes we need the dark to see).

In one scene, the man’s teeth crumble
and fall from his mouth,
making way for his jagged rat smile.
It reminds me of nightmares
I used to have recurring: spitting shards
of chalky ivory into a sink
pink with blood.

Losing teeth is common
in nightmares, friends tell me.
Such dreams come, they say
in times of insecurity—some threat
of loss, or losing,
especially loss of face.

My dream encyclopedia claims otherwise:
teeth pertain to speech, or failure to speak,
tooth decay to foul words—maybe lies:
things that may be denied, but never unsaid.
(The rat in the dream regrets
words the man fed to women.)

Through the whole thing, I can’t relax.
I’m thinking about our damn mortgage
—all that paper, all those words—
signed names and numbers
that simultaneously shelter
and bind us, and will tomorrow drive us
back to work, were we’re driven
to smile and smile
as though we mean it.

Mike Ladd, Rob Walker and Amelia Walker. photograph by Asbjorn Kanck 2018

Mike Ladd, Rob Walker and Amelia Walker. photograph by Asbjorn Kanck (2018)

There are poems which might be immediate thoughts on viewing a canvas; others contemplating while riding a bike after days have elapsed. Despite Dr Walker’s vast knowledge of poetics, these writings are decidedly unscholarly and accessible to all. As she responded to the artworks – or did her own mulling on the notion of dreaming – Amelia found that characters began to emerge as they had years before in Sound and Bundy and a kind of verse novel condensed from the fog.

After thousands of years of studying dreams through religion, philosophy, science and art we still have no real idea of the purpose of dreams. Perhaps this is part of our fascination. We are only now beginning to realize the importance of dreaming and our everyday internal world for our mental health.

the audience at the launch of Dreamday by Amelia Walker

The audience at the launch of Dreamday. photograph by Asbjorn Kanck (2018)

In conclusion, I’d like to thank SALA for promoting visual artists (while they’re still alive!) and Campbelltown Arthouse for funding this fine project. Over the past decade or so we’ve seen arts funding dry up from the state government. It’s been so important for community groups and local councils to promote the Arts at a grassroots level. I appreciate this from my own experience —my first poetry collection, micromacro, was funded when it won a competition sponsored by the City of Onkaparinga in 2006. Since then, many other councils have followed the lead.

Thanks to Campbelltown Arthouse, both for initiating the exhibition and publishing the book. All profits from sales will be reinvested in the Arthouse’s work. Finally, congratulations Amelia on your dreamy collection. Consider it launched!

—Rob Walker

 


Rob Walker has produced six poetry collections, including tropeland (Five Islands Press, 2015), Original Clichés (Ginninderra Press, 2016) and Policies & Procedures (Garron Publishing, 2016). His poems have been published in journals in the UK, US and Australia, including Best Australian Poems, cordite, Australian Poetry, Tincture, Verity La, Quadrant, and Rabbit. He recently performed work at the Adelaide Writers’ Week 2018. His short fiction, memoir and essays have appeared in Bewildering Stories and Zodiac Review in the US and Transnational Literature, Pure Slush, fourW New Writing, Short & Twisted, Stringybark Books, and on ABC Radio National.

Dreamday by Amelia Walker (Campbelltown ArtHouse, 2017) is available from Lulu

Dreamday by Amelia Walker launched by Dominique Hecq at the AAWP 2017 conference at Flinders University.

 

“We must dream, and honour our dreams, in order to live actualised lives”- Amelia Walker: Dominique Hecq launches ‘Dreamday’

Dreamday by Amelia Walker launched at the AAWP 2017 conference at Flinders University by Dominique Hecq on 1 December 2017.

Dreamday Amelia Walker Book Front Cover Image (2)Amelia Walker’s new book, Dreamday, vividly tracks the contents of dreams attuned to phenomena that reside both under and beyond the surface of things. The poems retrace the events in one day of the narrator’s life, opening her private world onto the public sphere through a voice that is at once playful, witty, sensitive and assertive.

The Interpretation of Dreams is one of Freud’s most important contributions to psychoanalysis. It is at once surprisingly clear and confusing. The key idea is that ‘The meaning of every dream is the fulfilment of a wish’ and Freud is quite categorical about this. He adds: ‘there cannot be any dreams but wishful dreams’ (134). To illustrate his thesis, Freud tells the story of little Anna who, denied strawberry cake during the day, dreamt that night of enjoying the most delicious cake. Our dreaming activity, Freud explains further, is a regressive reactivation of the hallucinatory means of ‘wish-fulfilment’. Nonetheless, on the same page, Freud hesitates and writes: ‘I feel certain in advance that I shall meet with the most categorical contradictions’ (134). One of these contradictions concerns ‘anxiety dreams’, or nightmares that indeed undermine the idea that dreams fulfil wishes. It is this contradiction that Amelia Walker explores in refreshing ways in her new book of poems, Dreamday. In ‘Prelude’, she asks:

Are dreams simply desires
too wild, too deep to seek
or even speak
by day?

Is that why we have nightmares?
Is that why they frighten us so?

The book provides an array of answers to these questions set against the very idea of interpretation.

Amelia Walker_ photograph by Jason Nahrung

Amelia Walker. photograph by Jason Nahrung

Dreamday comprises twenty-eight ekphrastic poems. It began ‘as a poetic response to Dreamscape, an exhibition of works by South Australian artists at the Campbelltown ArtHouse’. Some of the poems were displayed together with the artworks. Others were written retroactively. The collection is preceded by a ‘Poet’s Note’, or exegetical foreword, where Walker writes about her encounter with the visual material, its emotional impact and influence on her writing process. Here, she states: ‘We must dream, and honour our dreams, in order to live actualised lives. In this, she is closer to Jung than Freud. Jung disputed Freud’s ‘wish fulfilment thesis’. He believed that dreams are doing the work of integrating our conscious and unconscious lives—he called this the process of individuation. In ‘Meeting Morpheus’, Walker briefly reconciles Jung and Freud with direct reference to the act of creation:

Ah, creation…Morpheus would muse. But you’ve mistaken me.
I’m a weaver more so than a maker. My name means ‘form’
which most often means reshaping, much like this old chair
you call a throne—jagged fragments thrown together,
sourced from the wreckage of gone thoughts, polished
‘til seams between mirror and windows blur,
become new reflections, new outlooks.

This process is not work, to me. Or if it is, it’s work that sustains
rather than drains, for along the way I salvage certain parts
of my materials, marvel at the sparkle of unhemmed pieces,
and sometimes even arrangements abandoned along the way
–failure merits more credit than it gets.

Just as Morpheus balances success and failure, this book balances night and day, dream and daydream, truth and desire. Above all, it resists the ‘meaning’ ascribed to dreams, including dreams within dreams and other nightmares, by psychologists, psychiatrists, psychotherapists and other interpreters of the human psyche.

– Dominique Hecq



Dominique Hecq
grew up in the French-speaking part of Belgium. She read Germanic Philology at the University of Liège and then flew over to Australia where she completed a PhD on exile in Australian Literature. She also holds an MA in Literary Translation. Dominique is the author of a novel, three collections of short fiction, five books of poetry, and two plays. Over the years, her work has been awarded a variety of prizes, including The Melbourne Fringe Festival Award for Outstanding Writing and Spoken Word Performance (1998), The New England Review Prize for Poetry (2005), The Martha Richardson Medal for Poetry (2006), and the inaugural AALITRA Prize for Literary Translation in poetry from Spanish into English (2014). Her poems have been published in anthologies, journals and on websites in Australia and overseas. Having recently reconnected with her mother-tongue, Dominique is currently negotiating the pleasures and perils of self-translation. Hush: a fugue (2017) is her latest book of poetry.

Dreamday by Amelia Walker (Campbelltown ArtHouse, 2017) is available from Lulu

Dreamday by Amelia Walker launched by Rob Walker at the 2018 Adelaide Fringe Festival

 

“Beauty, imagination, understanding, empathy, recognition”: Heather Taylor Johnson launches Andy Jackson’s ‘Music our bodies can’t hold’

“Andy Jackson is such an important poet writing about a topic so deeply important to me: the othered body. I think this is his best book to date and I was so privileged to have launched it. Read the speech, then read the book!” -Heather Taylor Johnson

Andy Jackson’s Music our bodies can’t hold was launched by Heather Taylor Johnson at the Queensland Poetry Festival on 26 August 2017.

Music_our_bodies_can't_hold_Cover-300x462Reading Andy Jackson’s exceptional book Music our bodies can’t hold, I’m left asking myself what the purpose of poetry is. For me, its purpose lies beyond language, though language, of course, is the essential vehicle to get us to where we need to be. And is that a place of beauty, that old cliché? Is it a place of imagining, as the core practice of creativity would assume? Perhaps it’s a place of understanding, empathy and recognition so that we find comfort in a world we enter and leave alone and, in the midst of that, cling to others for connection. Music our bodies can’t hold leads me to all of these places, and for that, I’m both honoured and humbled to be launching this book tonight.

 

Andy’s work has always been about giving voice to the body that is othered. In the spaces between a stranger’s stare and the poet’s eye catching that stare, there are so many words that go unsaid. There are words that skin and muscle and bone silence. Words that hover like empty speech bubbles when we remember and when we hope and when we hurt and when we love. One of the purposes of poetry is to find those words, to write them and read them, which is Andy’s true calling and his gift to us.

In his previous books he strips his body bare to do this, but in this book – in this remarkable book – he takes a risk and embodies others like him: historical figures like Abraham Lincoln, who quite possibly had Marfan Syndrome; people like Jess, who he met and spoke with, and most definitely does. These poems are forty-seven different people, similar through a hereditary genetic disorder, but unique. Unique.

As a prelude, he writes from the voice of Antoine Marfan, who says ‘The last thing a physician / could want is their name on a condition / they have tried to understand and eradicate.’ As an interlude, he writes from the voice of the disorder, which says, ‘Names are critical, threads from a time before us, spiralling into the future’, and ‘Sometimes, too conscious of how I’ve shaped you, that minor rearrangement of elements that estranges, you look around for kin, as if you might find yourself in other bodies.’ As a postlude, he writes in his own voice, from his own experience, but having read the book to this conclusion, we know it to be a voice infused with every person in the book just as every person in the book carries Andy’s words.

Beauty, imagination, understanding, empathy, recognition – this book is a perfect example of what poetry can do and what poetry is. I’m going to go one step further and say that reading this book has made me a better person, so maybe that’s poetry’s purpose, too. So, with that I thank you, Andy. You’ve touched me deeply, and I’m happy to say, ‘This book is launched.’

-Heather Taylor Johnson

“poetry’s never been about ego or cliques, but about the spaces between us, the distant and beautiful voices coming closer, and QPF [the Queensland Poetry Festival] was exactly that this year… had such an exhausting and enlivening time – and so many stunning poets (so many, I missed out on seeing some) – Mark Doty, Ali Coby Eckermann, Quinn Eades, the Writing Through Fences group, Heather Taylor Johnson, Tony Birch, Omar Musa, Sarah Holland-Batt, Bronwyn Lea, Stuart Barnes, Racheal Mead, Ian McBryde, Anna Jacobson… and a huge thanks to David Stavanger and Annie Te Whiu, whose open-hearted and generous directorship made the festival so diverse, so relevant and so profound… thanks too for putting on Each Map of Scars and letting me launch Music Our Bodies Can’t Hold – they landed softly and well…”

-Andy Jackson reflecting on the launch of his book, Music our bodies can’t hold and the Queensland Poetry Festival 2017.

______________________________________________________________________

Heather Taylor Johnson is an American born poet, novelist and editor who lives in Adelaide. She has written two novels, Jean Harley Was Here and Pursuing Love and Death, and published four volumes of poetry. She is also the editor of the anthology, Shaping the Fractured Self: Poetry of Chronic Illness and Pain.

Music our bodies can’t hold is available from Hunter Publishers

Andy Jackson: Biographical Note

Andy Jackson: Three poems from Music our bodies can’t hold

 

Danny Gardner and Maureen Ten co-launch Belgrove Press’s first title for 2017: Willem Tibben’s ‘suburban veneer’, address by Maureen Ten

Danny Gardner and Maureen Ten launched Willem Tibben’s suburban veneer at the NSW Writers’ Centre on 22 April 2017

!Maureen Ten launching suburban veneer

Maureen Ten. photograph by Helen Lu

We are prompted to ask what lies beneath the veneer. In the first segment ‘the smell of cows’ it is habitations, movements, the states of being of myriad life-forms. Willem is engaged in attentive observation of each creature enacting its drama, its cabaret, its well-made play. He gives us unmistakable images of the situation, the gesture, the unfolding sequence of activity. His theme is the predicament; his task, reporting back accurately.

The galahs alighting from their blue-sky-cab, well-dressed for an evening’s entertainment, overtaken by another turn of events. The leech with its slow-urgent head, drinking slowly, deeply, drinking to excess, and then lolling off. The lobster bartered for beer money, sidling along the foot rail of the bar, lost and clueless, desperate to relocate, finding its way back to water (not the ocean but the cooking pot). The ibis of ancient sacred lineage, now regarded as dirty and noisy, confined to fossick in suburban parks. The platypus catching its breath. The microbats tiny flying mammal/ on fast forward/ chasing down their light

suburban veneer coverUnderneath Willem’s ‘suburban veneer’ is the boy who lived on a farm for many years and soon he ferries us out of the suburbs to the farmyards and pastures, into the world of cows. The cow loose in the pasture gorging on clover glowing fertilizer green, ballooning into a clover-gas blimp, saved from explosion by Willem’s dad driving a knife into her stomach to deflate her; the cow restless, in heat; the cow with a miscalculated due date; the drowned cow; the cow with an iron burned into her hide. In ‘she strolls to the stall’, he leans his ear against a cow’s side and hears her gurgling clonking milk-making depths as she chews under a yellowing fly-speckled bulb.

We journey further afield in the second segment ‘erode.’ Here there is curiosity and stamina to engage with national parks, land forms, Uluru, the geology and sociological gestalt of place, the accidents and incidents of history which form a town (such as Broome). With a poise of comment and irony relayed by the tension of juxtaposition, he points to the inadequacy of systems, and the failure of care beneath the veneer of society. The missing support and lack of social cohesion lead inevitably to the unravelling of vulnerable individuals.

In our recent city train travel back from rehearsal (for Auburn poetry group’s presentation of ‘Grandma’s Bed’ at Sydney Writers’ Festival), conversation with Willem covered how many cloves of garlic you need for a dish of silverside, two jazz saxophonists (octogenarian Wayne Shorter and Jan Garbarek) and Bashō. I mention this because perhaps it is not too far-fetched (or trivial) to suggest that spices, improvisation and haiku are helpful in a discussion of Willem’s modus operandi.

Apart from the prose poems, everything is in lower case. Type-spaces replace punctuation with the number of spaces (one, two or three) serving as a notation indicating the intended length of pauses. The spacing is not random but calculated. What appears improvised has a precise intention.

Willem’s love of haiku is evident in the use of an image which even when seemingly throwaway, lightly balances the experience like a spice activating (or settling) a series of flavours in the whole. In ‘yulara sunrise’ a groundman hoses and a sprinkler twinkles in a patch of tame desert. In ‘sick country’ a geiger counter chatters to itself. In ‘tawny frogmouths’ the poet is viewing the bird and the bird is in turn, he tells us, huge in my binoculars staring me down. In a knockout poem on artist Albert Namatjira:

.           there is a sign on the wall of the museum   warning
.           do not make pictures
.           of any kind

In the third segment ‘no direction home’ Willem writes about musicians (Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, Fats Waller), men’s shed, his own stroke, a dream of his parents, his brothers, fibro and silvertails. In the poem ‘a hard day’s night’ he conveys the newness of intimacy and the excitement of a first date.

He captures a certain elusive quality about a person, a place or situation. How does he do this? Take, say, the second of two poems on Bob Dylan. He lists a number of things: what we see on the cover of the double DVD – feet, the car prop, a poster. This works as a sort of casual shorthand and you don’t notice that you’ve been shepherded in a certain direction. Then this is not the crossroads   nor yet bedevilment. He’s slipped in, among the apparently routine objects observed, a statement, an abstraction, perhaps even a judgement, and by the time he mentions the cast marks in the concrete apron and Dylan’s floating away, he’s nailed a sense of the enigma, of something astir within the publicity-contrived persona.

In the opening poem ‘lake cockrone’, he is remembering what happened twenty-eight years earlier at the beginning of a relationship with Pam to whom the poem is dedicated. It is going to be the most enduring relationship leading to a marriage of 33 years and counting. They are easy new and free   careful/ awake. It is past midnight and they are canoeing.

.           the boundary hills moved with us
.           black shapes on starry surfaces

The midnight memory is encapsulated in the stillness before sunrise of a day many years later. It is a quite remarkable synthesis of two stages (both harbouring a happiness or a measure of content while differing in maturity) of a relationship. If I may put it a tad grandly (using references from the poem): remembrance is anchored in the breathing of oceanic time present.

!CROPPED Willem Tibben reading at the launch of suburban veneer, NSW Writers' Centre, 22 April 2017 photograph by Helen Lu

Willem Tibben. photograph by Helen Lu

The fourth and last segment includes the poem which gives the book its title but it is the closing lines of ‘uluru’ in the second segment which indicate the nature of the engagement we find in suburban veneer.

.           begin again  each naming
.          
story  animal  plant  stone
.          
every-thing   in-place
.          
and underneath our feet
.          
a thousand ulurus

Not just at Uluru, but here too in our everyday, in the suburbs, a thousand reverberate.

-Maureen Ten

 ____________________________________________________________________________________________

Maureen Ten (Ten Ch’in Ü) directed plays and documentaries, and penned a newspaper column (‘Gandiiva’) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, before migrating to Australia in 1989. Maureen has convened poetry evenings, edited and independently published the anthology Mood Lightning and read at the Sydney Writers’ Festival. She has been published in SMH, Westerly, Imago and anthologies including Contemporary Asian Australian Poets. Maureen has a Master’s degree in English from the University of Kent at Canterbury, UK.

Danny Gardner and Maureen Ten co-launched Willem Tibben’s suburban veneer at the NSW Writers’ Centre on 22 April 2017:
Danny Gardner’s audience address

Poems from suburban veneer

Willem Tibben: Biographical note

suburban veneer is available from Belgrove Press. contact: saleswt@belgrovepress.com

 

Danny Gardner and Maureen Ten co-launch Belgrove Press’s first title for 2017: Willem Tibben’s ‘suburban veneer’, address by Danny Gardner

Danny Gardner and Maureen Ten launched Willem Tibben’s suburban veneer at the NSW Writers’ Centre on 22 April 2017

!Danny Gardner launching Will Tibben's suburban veneer

Danny Gardner launching suburban veneer, NSW Writers’ Centre, Sydney, 22 April 2017. photograph by Helen Lu

I first became aware of Bill Tibben as a man who seemed to have an inside track on Willy Shakespeare’s private life. This was after I read his poem ‘did Bill Shakespeare have to wash the dishes?’ in the first Live Poets’ Society anthology: ‘Litmus Suite’ in 1991. It’s rumoured that Bill and Will were born on the same day, that is, date- April 21st.

Then one night I found myself going with my former partner Sue Hicks to a poetry reading in Parramatta of all places – that Bill and his friend Daryl Wayne Hall ran, called PIE – Poetry, Imagery and Expression. Reading at that meeting necessitated sending a poem for inclusion in the current PIE poetry book.

Meantime Bill had stopped being a regular at Live Poets Society in Neutral Bay but I had a feeling he would be back. He contributed some poems to the 2001 Tenth Anniversary anthology of LPS called ‘Becoming a Nomad’. Then he came to do a guest reading in 2005.

Much later in 2009, Bill, Maureen and myself decided we would perform as a poetry trio and called ourselves ‘Running Order’. Meantime I’d got to hear much more of Bill’s poetry and ended up performing one with Bill called ‘Showering on the Nullarbor’. It would take too long here to put the proper context on that intimate association.

I was by now particularly struck with the book ‘Showering’ came out of: Bill’s the fascination of what’s simple. I actually composed a poem trying to explain the Australian way of doing things that that book reflected on. Here are a few lines from that poem called ‘bill’s poems’.

The smells, the damp flesh / the sun-bleached art, the bones / the sheer expanse of our country / leaves us speechless; / mouthing gibberish and old rhymes as consolation. / There are only bits and pieces to see / until you pull away / like in the best abstracts – / and then there’s a quiet music playing, / just enough to make a pattern / we squirrel away / to form, roughen out, a code we can pass / on, avenue to our fellows.

By this stage too, Bill, Maureen and I had joined Auburn Poets & Writers Group and Bill started to call himself Willem because Bill sounded too Anglo and he wanted to reflect on his Dutch heritage. Bill and I shared many other things we discovered. Like a love of Charlie Parker and Tom Waits and a nice ale, and outback road trips – and having fathers who tried to make a go of farming. A poem about that last point is in this book and I’d like to read it. It’s called ‘Big Hill’ (p 29, suburban veneer).

Willem had become an indispensable help running ‘Live Poets @ Don Bank’ (yes, the Society had ‘morphed’) and we got up to some rare skits together as you do. Like a re-enactment of the Apollo Moon landing and being in a play about the Lapin Agile café in Montmartre, Paris in the early 1900s – where Willem played 2 famous cats: Guillaume Apollinaire and Aristide Bruant. We decided to make a video on Live Poets’ 20th Anniversary. We also did a rendition of Melbourne rock/ blues group Chain’s epic song: ‘Black and Blue’.

This last trait seems to have migrated across to APWG too – just a couple of weeks ago at rehearsal for our 2017 Sydney Writers Festival show – Will playing bass and me playing saxophone in dumbshow as part of a band behind Maureen’s performance piece: ‘Grandaddy Jazz’.

I’d just like to add finally, in relation particularly to proofing Mr Tibben’s work: ‘he’s a guy who makes a space for poetry in his life.’

!ENHANCED Launch Will Tibben signing copies of suburn veneer at the launch 22 April 2017 NSW Writers' Centre

Willem Tibben signing a copy of suburban veneer with Neil Sheridan, and June Zhao at the launch, NSW Writers’ Centre, Sydney, 22 April 2017. photograph by Helen Lu

-Danny Gardner

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Danny Gardner is a poet, novelist and freelance journalist. He has published several books of poetry. His most recent, Before I Press the Trigger, was published by Ginninderra Press in 2009. He has also published a book of non-fiction, Brains in My Feet – Encounters While Travelling, which was launched in 2014. He has been convening Live Poets @ Don Bank (North Sydney) since 2003. He first appeared with Auburn Poets & Writers Group at the Sydney Writers Festival 2008. He has been the group’s coordinator since 2014.

Danny Gardner and Maureen Ten co-launched Willem Tibben’s suburban veneer at the NSW Writers’ Centre on 22 April 2017:
Maureen Ten’s audience address

Poems from suburban veneer

Willem Tibben: Biographical note

suburban veneer is available from Belgrove Press. contact: saleswt@belgrovepress.com

 

“veracity, agility, ferocity, and novelty”: Les Wicks launches Open & Unfold by Cecilia Morris

Les Wicks launched Open & Unfold (Belgrove Press) by Cecilia Morris on Sunday, 21 May at the Brighton Library, 14 Wilson St, Brighton, Victoria.

cecilia morris book coverI’ve been a part of this community of poets for too many years. We are continually moaning the difficulties of access that we suffer, always sure that it can’t get any worse but somehow it still does. There’s a number of reasons why, certainly including some that is our own fault and a failure over time by government to support us in our efforts to get our work out there.

I say this because us being here to launch Cecilia Morris’ Open and Unfold speaks to the way we can turn this around.

With commercial publishers having long vacated the field of poetry, Belgrove Press is a shining indication of the way forward. Motivated, intelligent writers coming together – utilising each other’s strengths to create an imprint with a clear vision. I’m certainly keen to support this new player in any way I can and I urge you to do likewise.

Launch CM

Cecilia Morris reading from Open & Unfold. photograph Lexi Johnston

Secondly, there is Cecilia herself. Over the past ten years she has turned her considerable, sometimes awe inspiring, energy to the development of her own craft, that of others through Coastlines, U3A, etc., and finally working to enhance the placement of poetry in the broader community both Bayside and elsewhere. I love this woman’s ferocious capacities. I’m sure many of you feel the same way.

For my sins, I regularly find myself in the role of competition judge or editor. I’ve kind of distilled what I look for in a poem or book into four ‘ities’ – veracity, agility, ferocity, and novelty. Cecilia’s book has all these in spades.

Veracity – the mining for fundamental truths and the transmission of same. Open and Unfold comes from a multifaceted life lived and examined fearlessly. From the deeply upsetting Don’t Go Home to the explored vulnerability of Left, we are privileged to be allowed into Morris’s garden of experience.

Agility – the best writers need to have both a love of language, commitment to perpetual exploration alongside a capacity to be somewhat ruthless in editing. There are so many marvellous expressions in this book. I’ll read you just a few:

‘I’d rip off your body if I could.
You have a fishtail’, floating fabric says

Dali Exhibition Melbourne Two Voices

unpacking mackerel sky

The Cloud Spotter’s Guide

there was a green border of longing

Colette

There is an age when you are most yourself,
you feel as large as Russia

Timetable

When I use the phrase ferocity I’m not talking about axe murderers (though there are some pretty tough moments in this book). It could just as easily be a ferocity of empathy, of love, of grief. The energy of real emotion is evident throughout this book whether it be her first kiss on page 77, great lines like “skies fell fears” (Visitor’s Rights) and the lovely poem to her mother Ruth.

Novelty can really make a collection memorable. We all write about relationships, death, ageing, et cetera and there are many fine poems around those themes in this collection. But what makes it particularly memorable are the pieces where new subjects are explored, the reader finds themselves embedded in the poetic experience completely unfamiliar to them – you must read This Chartered Accountant, Dining in the Wolf’s Lair and Branau Am Inn. In many ways, the whole section titled These Biographies is a wonderful kaleidoscope of character exploration. Creating fresh imagery after centuries of literary tradition is not easy, but Cecilia can describe a swing going to and fro as buttering sky. The moon has been subject to so many descriptions, how can you go past to describing it as opal? How about an aphorism I wish like hell I had written “the forgotten tap still runs”?

The first section titled Don’t Let Them Sit embodies that restless energy we’ve come to know and love in Cecilia. One of her great passions is for colour and the second section flows across the spectrum in an entirely unforced way. Customers Arrive Naked starts with that confronting proposition and explores it masterfully. Breaking Bread covers quite a lot of temporal ground and gives us a glimpse of what makes a 21st century Jewish woman. The Timetable section explores travel, Wait is replete with moments of lucid quiet whilst the last section Surrender concerns letting go and departures.

Lovely, lovely poems throughout this collection – humour, pain, judgement, and celebration. A clarity of language makes each poem a genuine moment that the reader will feel honoured in which to be emplaced. I declare this book duly launched.

cecilia morris launch photo

Audience members at the launch of Open & Unfold, Brighton Library, Victoria. photograph by Lexi Johnston (2017).

-Les Wicks

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Les Wicks has toured widely and been published in 28 countries and 13 languages. His 13th book of poetry is Getting By Not Fitting In (Island, 2016). His 12th, El Asombrado, is a selection of poems from the previous fifteen years in Spanish and English translated by G. Leogena and published by Rochford Street Press in 2015. He can be found at http://leswicks.tripod.com/lw.htm

A selection of poetry from Open & Unfold by Cecilia Morris
Barbara Boyd-Anderson shares her thoughts on Open & Unfold
Open & Unfold
is available from Belgrove Press. Contact: salescm@belgrovepress.com

“narratives of pain, illness, resilience and fortitude”: Jennifer Harrison launches Shaping the Fractured Self edited by Heather Taylor Johnson

Shaping the Fractured Self: Poetry of Chronic Illness and Pain (UWAP 2017) edited by Heather Taylor Johnson was launched by Jennifer Harrison at the Dax Centre, University of Melbourne on 11 May 2017.

10203-ShapingTheFS-Cover-v5In a marvellous SBS documentary about New York women who live octo-nonagenarian lives full of vitality and insouciant style, one of the women noted, “As you get older, if you have two of something one of them is always in pain.”

Pain, then, is something that confronts us all with age. This week my mother, who is in her late 80s and lives interstate, has spinal pain. After we had talked about it for a while on the phone she said suddenly, “That’s enough about me. I hate talking about me this way. Tell me about you.”

Illness and pain are also very private and personal matters that often alienate us from the general discourse of daily health and vigour. Sometimes people feel too vulnerable to talk about pain, as if ashamed of their experiences. Shaping the Fractured Self addresses the psychological ethics and lived experience of pain and chronic illness. The book asks: what is normality? what is reality? who defines pain?

I’m so glad that the editor and publishers invited the Dax Centre to launch the book in Melbourne. The anthology’s themes reach into everything the Dax Centre holds dear to its historic art collection, and to its more recent child: The Dax Poetry Collection. The Dax Centre has always believed that it is the lived experience of mental illness and psychological trauma that most powerfully helps us to understand mental illness. To empathise is to counteract stigma. Shaping the Fractured Self is very much a book about lived experience. The insights into chronic pain are deeply powerful. The poetry is vibrant, exciting and emotionally engaging. This is poetry with something to say.

SFS Melbourne launch photo

Melbourne book launch of Shaping the Fractured Self with editor Heather Talyor Johnson (pictured far left). Dax Centre, University of Melbourne, 11 May 2017. photograph by Bel Schenk

When I think about the themes of the anthology my own identifications are threefold: I’m a doctor, I work as a child psychiatrist with young people with disability and their families, and I struggled with relapsing cancer for ten years in my 30s. I have always felt that by having cancer at a young age I did the psychological work of becoming 90 at 30. In other words, I ‘did’ the work of death early in my life, earlier than most. And I notice that this book is not only about the illnesses of elderly experience but also about the effects of chronic illness on early adult trajectories (work, relationships, financial striving). It is a testament to those who adapt, ‘live with’ their pain and refuse to submit to it.

All of us have a body. All of us are vulnerable to illness, every day. We have colds, appendicitis, tooth aches. These are episodic reminders of our vulnerability. In these pages are poems about all kinds of conditions: migraines, Ménière’s disease, Marfan syndrome – just to name some of the “Ms”. Not only did the poems reawaken my own (slightly dormant) illness narrative, but I could dip in and out of the images – relating, identifying, or not identifying. This is one of the book’s strengths: it is a moving prism of possible identifications, mirrors.

But these are also specific stories and it is an inspired decision by the editor Heather Taylor Johnson to include the framing narratives at the beginning of each contributor’s poems. I fell deeply into these narratives of pain, illness, resilience and fortitude. I then fell differently into the poems. It’s as though the two forms, prose and poetry, encourage each other, sometimes mysteriously, sometimes angrily, but always reminding us that a person is more than the sum of his or her suffering. As Peter Boyle says, “Illness, suffering, disease are not the whole of the story.” And, again, in his poem on the experience of having polio as a child (‘Paralysis’) he writes, “What does it matter / that I am only eyes / if I am to be carried / so lightly / under the trees of the world?”

The natural world and its resonances, both as solace and as a reminder of the vulnerability of life, is a frequent theme in the collection. In Beth Spencer’s ‘The Shipwreck Coast’ with its wonderful evocation of isolation and struggle in nature along the Great Ocean Road, she asks, ‘Rising and sinking. / Is that a form of swimming?” And elsewhere in the poem, the flow of the seasons also shapes the fractured self:

The grey beige relentlessness of my haven,
and the constant howling ripping of the wind
ate into my brain.

And then just as I was about to crack
one morning the sun came out.

And the wind relented just a little.

And I fell instantly in love.

Still later in this long poem, nature brings death closer in perspective, “. . . a dead penguin on the beach, / its feathers slicked with oil. / Everything after all, just a step away.”

Poetry is the distilled art of language. Nothing is briefer, more somatic, more sensory. It is language under pressure, experimental in its purest form. And what art form can better express what the body senses in a paralinguistic sense?  The poems and prose texts reach towards the unsayable, often towards the interspaces between a smiling doctor and a devastated patient. The power inequality in these poems is addressed and recalibrated continually. Andy Jackson indicates that he came to poetry for two reasons – “to try to feel at home outside the church, and to try and feel at home inside my own body.” He says, “When language is placed in the hands of people who have been marginalised, and then spoken in a public space, small transformations can be triggered.” This is indeed a profound truth, a neurolinguistic philosophy, of a kind: that writing effects cultural change as powerfully as culture affects writing.

There are three poems from each of the contributors. Voices of carers and doctors are here too but do not drown out the lived experiences. A terrific introduction by Rachel Robertson references the controlling technologies of medicine, how the self is changed by illness experience, how narrative fragmentation is often the most appropriate form to illuminate the body’s actual experience of pain – but she also discusses how the lyric poem gives us entry into hope and a positive sense that the ‘darkness can be navigated’.

Many poets talk about how hard it is to write and share these poems. As Heather Taylor Johnson says, “I hated the poems I wrote on illness.” Yet her metaphors on Ménière’s disease (like so much imagery in the book) are fresh and engaging: “Still, you want to write about the sound in your left ear. You want to say it is time’s drone, molecules swimming past your head or the dam that will tug you under . . . None of this is natural.” (‘Trying to Write about Ménière’s Disease’).

As I said, I have had a very personal response to the book – as a doctor and child psychiatrist. I’ve just returned form the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatry’s annual congress in Adelaide, where so many interesting discussions and papers were presented, and I know that the only way forward in medicine is through co-dialogue with patients – where all services at every level of development are made and shaped in conversation with patients, and their families. It is quite strange to me that this is a new idea. Doctors might have training in medical expertise but it is a service not a power. In Andy Jackson’s poem ‘Nothing Personal’ he says (referring to the doctor), “He is not talking to me, but to my mother”. In her poem ‘The Waiting Room’, Jessica Cohen notes, “Another waiting room, . . . as bland as the beige of the walls / as monotonous as the grey ceiling tiles.” Drab hospital environments, uncaring treatment and cruel numbers (statistics often standing in opposition to the uniqueness of suffering, individuality). In her poem ‘The Numbers’, Fiona Wright emphasises the distancing effect of statistics when she glimpses the contents of the locum’s bag, “one sandwich in blue plastic, one nectarine, / three crackers, pink wallet, keys” and also later in the poem when she is given ‘three standard questionnaires, at twenty-eight-day intervals.”

Doctors smiling as they tell bad news can be particularly painful, a defence. But sometimes there are also helpful care narratives, as in Rachel Mead’s ‘At the Psychologist’ when she says, ‘But you catch it all, deftly, the tissues / placed just so. . .”

Often, the chronic conditions cannot be completely understood or defined by traditional medical diagnoses. Pain falls between categories. Many poems speak to the shortcomings of medical insight. In the poem, ‘The Body Electric’, Steve Evans notes, “But still I cannot sing it right. / Even if I go quite slow there are / glitches in transmission” and later in the poem, “I see the poor machine I am.”  Patients can easily feel themselves blamed when they don’t fit a diagnosis. Sometimes the treatment makes things worse. In ‘ENDONE.  Oxycodone hydrochloride 5mg*’ Stuart Barnes advises, “. . . do not show your new / -born child to a doctor or a pharmacist.”

Many poets speak of what chronic debility has cost them in terms of work, career advancement, educational opportunities and wellbeing. In her prose narrative, ‘From Clinic to Consulting Room’, Fiona Wright talks about the solace she has gained from writing but also notes, “I’m still not sure if this can ever be a consolation commensurate enough for what I’ve lost.” Nevertheless, Wright also sees that writing has a restorative, reclaiming power, “My glass hands lift . . .” (‘Her Arms and Legs are Thin’).

I want to emphasise the strange and often fragile beauty I found in many of the poems. Rarely have I read work that stilled and shocked me with such forceful immediacy. There are many wonderful images in the anthology. For example, Anne Carson in ‘Axiology’, “If I was ceramic I’d be kindsukuroi, / pottery which has been knocked, // dropped, broken into shards then /mended with gold or silver lacquer . . .” and here, Rachael Guy’s taut subjectivity in her poem ‘Discontinuation’: “I watch as skin crawls up my wrists, another person’s arms colonising my sleeves.” Fragility, however, is tempered with toughness and determination. In ‘Blade of Grass’, Sid Larwell reminds us to be careful of pathos, “But don’t compare me to a blade of grass. / I want to be something bigger, something stronger.”

Some authors contextualise their writing to a specific illness; others are more interested in the body in space and time, the disempowering or empowering experience, the way poetry sings both to and against death, towards medicine and against constriction. The work of Quinn Eades, for example, challenges our basic ideas of illness when he discusses the concept of the body as ‘outlaw’. Eades explores what becomes possible when “I write the body” and looks at how the “body falls right where we need it, falls here, in the writing, in the fragment, in poetry.”  This is an argument for deconstruction of prejudice and stigma.

Alongside Eades’s keenly academic appraisal of the place of fragmentation and power in art we find a kindred psychology in the work of a poet like Kristen Lang. Her writing, which explores themes of anorexia, also investigates ideas of empowerment/ disempowerment, through lyric, and is especially insightful about the effect of chronic illness on youth. Here is Lang’s entire poem ‘Hole’:

The dark breaks on the sea of its own rising,
a moonless tide swelling into shadow. At its centre,
a woman stands on a float of leaves, on their reds
and browns, their veins decaying and the not-

night waiting below. The black leans into her blood, full
and heavy with emptiness. Balancing on the leaves’
frail bones, she barely moves. In her heart, a stuttered
cry . . . this . . . this way . . . this way now. But the dark

swirls and the sound is swallowed. Her eyes
dig for the fall She is held by wire, the thin
clamour of her pulse.

I wanted to mention every author in the book, quoting a small insight from each of his or her works, but soon realised that this would not be possible in a short talk like this. And so, with apology to all the poets I have not yet mentioned, I return to a medical perspective, to Leah Kaminsky, a doctor and a poet, who asks in the final poem of the book (‘In Memoriam’), “What is a body, if not grace?”

In conclusion, Shaping the Fractured Self is a dialogue between the body and self by poets who assert their right to shape their own experiences of illness and pain. As Kaminsky wryly notes in her prose narrative, ‘Death and the Doctor’, “Poetry has a surgical eye”. This small epigrammatic insight encouraged me to reflect on the nature of poetry itself: how the poems in this collection carve deeply into what chronic illness feels like, how it is experienced, and what it means.

Congratulations to the publishers, to Heather Taylor Johnson for bringing such a terrific swag of writers together, and to all the contributors. This conversation with the book is my own. Yours will begin as soon as you open a page.

-Jennifer Harrison

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Shaping the Fractured Self: Poetry of Chronic Illness and Pain is available from UWA Publishing: https://uwap.uwa.edu.au/products/shaping-the-fractured-self-poetry-of-chronic-illness-and-pain

Read a book extract from Shaping the Fractured Self

“Humorous and Paradoxical”: Mike Ladd Launches ‘Original Clichés’ by Rob Walker

Original Clichés (Ginninderra Press) by Rob Walker was launched at the South Australian Writers Centre on Friday, 22 July 2016 by Mike Ladd.

Rob Walker by Martin Christmas

Rob Walker at the launch of Original Cliches, Friday, 22 July 2016. Photo by Martin Christmas.

Original Clichés is Rob Walker’s sixth book of poems. Like a lot of his work, that title is both humorous and paradoxical. The whole point of a cliché is that it’s not original, yet clichés were once new ideas. Homer came up with “rosy dawn”, and “flame haired”, Shakespeare with “eagle-eyed”, but who first invented “I’ve been on an emotional roller-coaster?” It was once a good expression, but now it’s overused by every second sports star who’s lost a close game. In “After the climax”, Walker literally takes the point of view of a roller coaster that’s got emotional, thereby exploding the cliché:

Please don’t refer
to my bipolar mood swings.

You came here to have your fun with me.
I gave you fun.

You said I scared you, a nervous laugh
as you came along for the ride.

We’ve had our ups and downs
but we stayed together.

Even when you swore never again
you always came back for more and
never complained during the climax.

Climb on me one more time.
I KNOW I’m being hysterical!

What do you expect
from an emotional
roller-coaster?

Clichés bug Walker. He’s irked into verbal action by politicians and marketers and media types butchering the language. Whoops. “Bug” and “butchering the language” (are they clichés?) Behind the humour, there’s an anger and a drive in his work to rescue us from the bullshit. And I like that.

One way of looking at clichés is that they are victims of their own success. They were good, they worked, they became popular and overused. They went from being original to being clichés. Now we stamp them out in poetry workshops. Whoops, “stamp them out” that’s another cliché. I wonder who invented it?

Actually, clichés are hard to avoid. Which introduces the not so good side of clichés – namely that they mask truth with lazy thinking and convenient stereotypes. And this is another aspect I like about Walker’s work – he’s questioning the clichés and finding his own truths: funny, sad, poignant, grumpy, tragic-comic.

His poetry is very performable, very readable. He also loves a pun (which will lose him points with the more po-faced critics) but not with me:

speech of parts

I don’t know what I metaphor.
I tried ten puns to make her laugh.
No pun in ten did.

I’m a poet!      I ejaculated      prematurely –
She just left me                        dangling

a participle, part-disciple, part-adieu, pas de deux,
cut me to the Quink with her secateurs
(non sequitur)

my heart cut up as a found poem
split                 as an infinitive

I   am in the present,   tense.
She,     the past,          perfect.

He also loves anagrams:

Veto floral oil
Fill a love root
till love of oral

They’re just some of his anagrams for ‘Root of all evil’.

Original Clichés continues Walker’s interest in some of the subjects that have occupied him in previous collections: family, the education system, ageing, his travels in India, Japan, and the UK. He’s also particularly interested in insects and obscure phobias. For example, Eisoptrophobia – which is a fear of mirrors and reflections:

Self-reflection is dangerous.
that man pretends to be you
but he knows nothing,

except his left hand knows
what your right’s doing.
his asymmetric face

the obverse of yours,
unknown
to your friends.

he watches you shaving.
flashes his teeth. ejects adolescent
pimples at you.

knows your every flaw.
stares at you long enough
to make you feel guilty.

says good morning, goodnight,
avoids you for most of the day.
pops up in unlikely places.

men’s rooms.
sideways glances from shop windows.
his twisted Andrew Lloyd Webber face

glares back at you from the backs of spoons.
keeping tabs on you.
always mocking.

reminding you daily
of the passage of time.
you wish

you were a vampire

so you could be
rid of him.

Someone once said (and I don’t know who it was) that cliché is a democratically elected form of truth. Well, if cliché is a democratically elected form of truth then Rob Walker is sitting as an independent and disrupting proceedings from the cross-benches. He’s been warned by the Speaker.

-Mike Ladd

_________________________________________________________________

Mike Ladd lives and writes in Adelaide. He ran Poetica on ABC Radio National for 2 decades and currently works for Radio National’s features and documentaries unit. His new collection of poems and short prose Invisible Mending (2016) is published by Wakefield Press.

Purchase ‘Invisible Mending’ (2016) from Wakefeild Press
Read Rachael Mead’s launch speech for Mike Ladd’s ‘Invisible Mending’, 17 April 2016

Rob Walker has written six poetry books which include tropeland, Policies & Procedures and his latest collection, Original Clichés (Ginninderra Press, 2016). He became a member of the Adelaide open mic group, Friendly Street Poets in 2003. His work has been published in France and India and translated into Spanish, Arabic and Dutch. Working in collaboration with his sons, he won the Newcastle Poetry Prize (New Media) in 2007 with Matt Walker for ‘Moon Anti-Poem’ and in 2009 with Ben Walker for ‘Bibliophobia’.

Purchase ‘Original Clichés’ by Rob Walker
‘Original Clichés takes off!’ Rob Walker

New Shoots Poetry Prize banner 2