An Amazing Amalgam of Triumph and Grief: Tim Thorne launches ‘The White Room Poems’ by Anne Kellas

Tim Thorne launched The White Room Poems by Anne Kellas (Walleah Press 2016) at the Upstairs Volume 2 Bookshop in Launceston on 12 February 2016.

thewhiteroompoems715I would like to start by quoting a couplet from one of this book’s early poems. In fact, I would really like to quote all the lines in all the poems instead of making a speech. But I shall content myself with this, from “How to Get Rid of the Layer of Snow”: “Write on the line! And the thin black words will vanish.”

My first reaction on reading this was to think, “No. These words will never vanish. What is written here is written forever.” But of course this book is all about vanishing. Its heart is the fact of the worst kind of vanishing, that of a mother’s son, of a loved and loving, creative, whimsical, vibrant young man, into the void of death. But the words, while they threaten to vanish, keep resurfacing. Even though, later in Part One of the book, “I could have written to you, but my words were imageless / and you wouldn’t have seen me.” and towards the end of Part Three, there is only a semblance of words painted sky-high on sky; even though, as late into the book as Part Five, “The Tinderbox Poems”, there is the line, “And if I write, my words turn into sand.” Despite all these disappearances, in the book’s climax, the final poem with the wonderful title, “Narcissus in Newtown at Youngberry Time”, words come rushing back in an amazing amalgam of triumph and grief, as follows:

In the casuarina-soft sky
…………………..– your face.

I am your mirror words
…………………..
– left waiting wondering
…………………..
pinioned on the banks
….and staring back

………– not the poem you wanted to write
……………….yelling out
……………….
with its yellow cries
…………………….
its purple walls
…………………….
its tissue paper
…………………………
globes
…………………………
lost planet halves
……………….
balanced in the netted air
……………….
in the planet wheel garden.

………Clematis coils spurl seaward glances
……………….
at the empty panes.

……………….Don’t touch, eel bird, child.

In a very important way, all poetry is about itself and therefore about words. (I am using the word “about” here as referring not just to connotative content.) The poetry of The White Room Poems is as deeply, as significantly “about’ so much more. At the level of imagery it deals in such currency as leaves, birds, snow, mist, clouds. There are “the mountain wrapped in scarfs”, the tree with “the leaves of a doilie” and “Sticks of light the colour of sea”. There are many more exquisite visual miniatures.

If all words, all images vanish, what do we have left? Not poetry, perhaps, but we still have humanity with all its potential interactions; we still have emotion; we still have knowledge. The most difficult task for a poet is to avoid the mere transmission of thoughts, ideas, knowledge, emotion, even wisdom. Such essential components of our common humanity, universally pervasive as they might be, are not art. The art of poetry is not made up of them. Too often, the attempt to incorporate into poetry great themes, whether of intense personal relevance or of more global concern, fails because the “content” (to bow briefly to the simplistic binary terms of “content” and “form”) is too heavy to be supported. That is why the vast majority of love songs are rubbish, why in memoriam newspaper columns and greeting cards are so cringeworthy, why most national anthems are laughable in terms of their lyrics.

Anne Kellas has overcome this problem. The White Room Poems have as their starting point, as I indicated, the most intense grief, they also respond to a number of other triggers; close observation of the natural world is one. Of course, Dante Gabriel Rossetti famously demonstrated how grief leads to such observation in his song “The Woodspurge”. Another is a keen desire to explore how one’s own mind processes a multitude of inputs. This is all extremely weighty material. And yet, far from collapsing under the weight, far, even, from giving the impression of weight, these poems rise with a remarkable sense of lightness while simultaneously conveying the density and intensity of the emotion at their core.

And this is where we get back to the words. They do vanish as far as the reader is concerned, because in reading the poetry we are not conscious of them intruding. This is because they are so aptly chosen and arranged, so finely crafted. It would be using a glib and inadequate metaphor to say that the structure which is supporting the heavy emotional load is delicately and intricately engineered the better to function in that way, but that is part of the case. The relationship is in reality more subtle, more complex because the language elements are part of the whole meaning. Poetry is not of the same linguistic nature as, say, a shopping list. So, as the words vanish, they remain.

There is a lot more I could say about this amazing, powerful book. I shall conclude by noting that on page 13 Anne quotes Robert Adamson, “We slide into the new / century through glass” and adds, “If only I’d said that.” That was my response to each line of The White Room Poems. I congratulate Walleah Press for publishing it, Merridy Pugh for the wonderful design (incorporating the Giles Hugo photograph on the cover) the Australia Council for the Arts for supporting its development, but most of all Anne for having the courage, the perception, the wisdom and the immense skills to write it. I am honoured to be launching it and I fervently commend it to you all.

 – Tim Thorne

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This speech was originally published on the Walleah Press website http://walleahpress.com.au/launch-Kellas-2.html 

Tim Thorne’s writing career has stretched over half a century, during which time he has worked as a poet in schools, universities, trade unions, industry associations, prisons and art galleries in places as diverse as Darwin, Liverpool and Prince Edward Island. He was born in Launceston Tasmania, where he lives with his wife, Stephanie.

The White Room Poems are available from http://store.walleahpress.com.au/ANNE-KELLAS-The-White-Room-Poems_p_72.html

The White Room Poems will be launched in Melbourne by  Professor Patrick McGorry at Collected Works Bookstore on Thursday 3rd March 2016 https://www.facebook.com/events/193956597634866/

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A Collection of Great Variety and Intensity: Charles Freyberg reviews ‘An Existential Grammar’ by Paul Scully

An Existential Grammar by Paul Scully. Walleah Press 2014

existential grammarPaul Scully’s poems in An Existential Grammar have a wide range of settings and timeframes. He speaks to us from an olive grove outside Rome in the 5th Century BC, a rural vicarage in winter, a red rattler train, a village in Cambodia littered with memories of war, a rugged mountain walk, the cafes of the inner west, amongst many others. Each poem responds to the life in these settings with a formal, precise clarity of language, an acceptance, a dissatisfied intelligence, sometimes a wry humour. They can be places of safety for intimacy and thoughtfulness, or places the speaker feels at odds with. The strong emotion and memories in many of the poems are well grounded, triggered by vivid detail.

In the opening poems about Cincinnatus, Scully’s language reflects his complex response to his time and place.

…………….Discordant voices
that riffle through Livy, I harmonized them
with plangent afterthought, arpeggiated
your reflections with my sensibilities-
the faultlines of others, our own dissonances ….

Unusual words like ‘arpeggiated’ and “plangent’ sharpen the ambiguity of Scully’s emotional life. His diction does not over intellectualise the poems, because he also has a gift for finding the sensuality of his character’s responses. Cincinnatus is looking for peace in his rural haven, which he experiences in his body as well as his mind

Honeycomb smoked from a choreography of hives
earlier in the day, bread with crusts of earth
and wine and water tasting faintly of terracotta.
My wife’s face shines through contours of contentment.

He is seeking an escape from the shrill voices of Roman republican politics – ‘the thought of their contest exhausts me’. The thought of his life outside the farm is never far away as he tries to still his discontentment. It reminds me a little of Auden’s nuanced language trying to find more complex truths than war in his poems responding to the chaos of the late 1930s.

In “Lost and Found” Father Raymund restlessly searches for an almost lost faith, an emotional/ intellectual journey which animates the whole poem.

…………Father Raymond had decided
the calling he still grieved was more wish than summons.
to be wrapped in a yielding black,
identified with the communion of others
ritualizing hope in their daily lives …ever since
he had lived a consolation life, truth be told,
and anxiety became his vocation.

Later in the poem, we follow the search in the priest’s senses, an unquiet mind in a lively body trying to move beyond the drabness of his setting,

He caught a whiff of himself, sour disuse of age,
toasty in flannelette with the heater turned up high.
Washing was now timetable, eating perfunctory …
as he huffed down into his chair, even that.

“Whiff, toasty, huffed’ are the kind of words that place the priest in his body. His discomfort triggers memories of his time as a missionary in Papua New Guinea, a cold wind is outside, his children are non believers, but he reconciles himself to this. So a kindly intelligence is slowly built, an outsider to be sure, responding physically and emotionally to his surroundings and his memories. He’s the kind of keenly alive solitary that Patrick White might have enjoyed. Spiritual needs grow from a well drawn setting and past life that allows us to follow Raymund through his unsolvable ruminations. The poem becomes a lot more than a dry discourse on lost faith. This is my favourite poem of the collection.

I think this pattern of human needs growing out of a setting is continued in the wasteland of a dying mining town in ‘A Mother Country (“Chambers of a Black Hand”). The children are still lively, despite (or because of) the setting.

Farther west
packing- taped windows truck carcasses
and derelict cars outnumber the flies,
summon memories of kids loose on flat- beds
whooping over joyful corrugations,
sights trained from camouflage ….

Here again we see the sharpness of Scully’s carefully chosen unusual diction ‘truck carcasses’ ‘whooping’, ‘loose’ ‘corrugations’ that conveys both his character’s physicality and a sense impression of their surroundings. There’s a strong interplay here between vivid imagery and human tenacity.

We see this also on a “Red Rattler “ train on its journey through the ‘dun colour of suburbs” as the poet watches the antics of a mentally ill man. He swears, he ‘crumples into a ball of clothes that rolls towards the door’, then a policeman hassles him, but even so ‘he surges upright  trumpets his intent  flags fractionally’. It’s a portrait that engages our aural imagination and sense of touch while keeping a vivid sense of movement. Like Father Raymund he’s a solitary alive in his senses, uncomfortable with his surroundings, fighting for his emotional life.

There are also a number of travel poems, where Scully shows a society’s tenacity despite dispossession and violence. In “Orphans of the Storm” there are memories of “the coarse stammer of AK47s/ when bullets weren’t being saved/ the chop and rasp of machetes through emaciation.” Here memory is the setting as a tuk-tuk driver’s sleep in a hammock ‘placates history”. The ‘old corruptions” are still there, but perhaps there can be a ‘rebirth at least/ into a life/ that can endure.’ Scully’s characters are always aware of their surroundings, but within this, life always continues.

Another strand of Scully’s poetry deals with the intimacy of a longstanding marriage set in nature. In “Southern Wright Water”, a couple are on holiday ‘as infant night/ enables sight and dark/light waves wash through our ears” The surroundings soothe, and the couple are easy in their home and cherished possessions –

………..sometimes the old flirtation
animates ambling love through our feet on cradling lino,
a glass too many of wine, tea served in crockery that aches
to be held fragile and firm as breath.

The ability of natural surroundings to produce a warm and humorous intimacy between people is also explored in “Inflammation of the Gums”. A couple walk through an undulating forest landscape described with breathtaking beauty –

Agitation in the branches: singly
Or in family groups, finches flitted ….

….. Longer stemmed birds interleaved with them,
sucked at banksia, their tails arced or elongated in flight.
Two lyrebirds sculpted a breath held moment …..

The couple get lost and wet, but despite (or because of) this humorous chaos, the memories remain. “It was several days before we reacquired nuance, the birds/ reasserted themselves, the gums attained the rose of memory.” Again Scully engagingly shows the relationship between setting and inner life.

This is a short sampling of the poems in a collection of great variety and intensity. Scully’s well chosen language, lively unusual characters and vividly drawn settings shine throughout.

-Charles Freyberg

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Charles Freyberg is a Sydney poet and playwright. He has studied poetry writing
with Judy Beveridge at the University of Sydney. His poetry was recently
performed as Dining at the Edge at El Roco in Kings Cross. His play the Rose
also recently won best drama at Short and Sweet Sydney at the Newtown
Theatre.

An Existential Grammar is available from http://store.walleahpress.com.au/PAUL-SCULLY–An-Existential-Grammar_p_34.html

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Living Life in the Rhythm Section: Nathan Hondros reviews ‘One Hour Seeds Another’ by Andrew Burke

One Hour Seeds Another by Andrew Burke Walleah Press 2014

Burke one HourOne Hour Seeds Another, Andrew Burke’s twelfth collection of poetry, is an important book and demands your attention.

This is primarily, of course, because of the quality of the work, which seems to me a landmark in Australian poetry. One Hour Seeds Another is a counterpoint of simple narrative, multidimensional confessional lyrics, complex religious and profane imagery, all beside and within the deceptively simple subjects critics have mislabelled ‘quotidian’.

More than this, however, Burke’s achievement in One Hour Seeds Another is the fusing together so many of the best tendencies in poetry that it feels like some kind of apotheosis. The ecumenical character of Burke’s poetry is also part of the man himself. As Andy Jackson pointed out at the Melbourne launch of this book (https://rochfordstreetreview.com/2014/08/15/a-disconcerting-bravery-andy-jackson-launches-one-hour-seeds-another-by-andrew-burke/), Andrew Burke turns no-one away: ‘…all poets are colleagues and poetry is democratic in the best sense’.

His refusal to be partisan to one form or school over another means he can move between classifications within a comprehensive and considered poetics, at times within a single poem, and choose his colours from a uniquely diverse and rich palette. Surrealism, jazz, rhythm and musicality, a kind of Australian formalism I’m yet to put my finger on (the whatever-it-is that a Geoff Page and a Robert Adamson have in common), Japanese forms: to Burke, these are tools employed to scratch at the rock face of poetry, not ideologies to use as broken glass in a fist fight. Each tool has an important job to do; no more, and no less.

This, perhaps to his alarm, puts Burke at the forefront of Australian poetry. The fusing of forms and subjects, an interest in most schools of thought without being a crusader for their cause, the sheer breadth and depth of knowledge of prosody, poetry and poetics sits under much of this work. While others are debating how to do the job by tossing useless barbs across the internet, Burke is doing it.

Andrew Burke gives away a rare clue in ‘Two Dead Matches’: ‘Why ask me. I like to live life in the rhythm section.’ He is feeling his way through the music of this collection. No prior knowledge of poetics and its controversies are expected or required of the reader; perhaps these poems should be listened to with the body like you would a drum solo, not over-analysed with the mind. They are expressive, emotional and Burke unifies their form with their intent almost perfectly.

For example, ‘Shikibu Shuffle’, a collaboration with prominent Canadian poet Phil Hall, is in part inspired by Japanese poet Murasaki Shikibu (973 – 1014) and jazz experimentalist Ornette Coleman, and works on a framework of Japanese forms.

Whistling without charts

I praise all swoops and calls

old red-throat has come back
the gentle violin-maker to the countryside

a left-footer’s choir
all language metaphor

All this manages to be uniquely Australian (in spite of its bi-national authorship of this one). Even when he messes with Japanese forms and experimental jazz, Burke meets my test for the importation of foreign forms into languages for which they were not intended: e.g., haiku in English must be good English poetry before it can be good haiku. There is a lot of feeling in poems like this, sometimes it only needs to be reached through the musicality of the phrasing and the images set against it. No agenda here, just like Ornette Coleman, who wouldn’t expect you to learn anything from him aside from the metaphysical lessons inherent in the experience of his work.

It is poetry like ‘Shikubu Shuffle’ that also confounds the too often repeated criticism of Burke’s work as ‘quotidian’. This does his poetry an injustice; if pundits and critics get away with this without appropriate extrapolation, then informed readers who approach this volume with those particular lenses will miss most of the show. True, Burke has in interest in the life he finds around him, but which poet doesn’t? Only those who are inept or dishonest. Burke does not embellish his life in the poems that are fitted up as ‘quotidian’, but takes it as it is and uses it as a framework for wringing out the poetry. And that’s how it should be. Poets who only write in aphorisms or ‘great thoughts’ bundled together in poetic forms or disparate lines too often seem afraid that their skills aren’t up to the job of revealing the poetry hidden in their daily circumstances. Instead they retreat into philosophical niceties or form tinkering or abstraction and obscurity. I’ll certainly confess this of my own poetry at times, and Andrew Burke was the first to point it out.

Among the extraordinary number of exceptional poems in One Hour Seeds Another are what Burke calls his ‘Notebook Poems’, which I gather are works masterfully excavated from the back catalogue of notebooks every poet lugs about. In these two poems ‘Notebook “singing they sang”’ and ‘Notebook (Darlington)’, I can see an Australian world transmogrified into an apposite and universal poetic representation of human experience. How many other poets can I write that about? ‘Notebook “singing they sang”’ binds Australian and American cultural influences into something unique: Burke thinks of Kerouac in the sparse Australian landscape, Tom Paxton and the Tasmanian Poetry Festival. He contemplates the music that exists independent of where it is sung. Any one of us could be in ‘Notebook (Darlington)’; for instance here I am:

in a cold
hillside morning
a boy repeats his callsign
…………..endlessly

The works to which I will return the most often in this collection are the ‘prose poems’. I’ve thought a lot about these poems, and have discussed them with the poet. They carry a powerful emotional charge. They sneak up on you. ‘Late Winter Night’ (the form of this one only verges on prose) is a contemplation of time explored through both an evening every one would recognise and ‘Berkeley Renaissance’ poet Jack Spicer: ‘The old dog is snoring…This poem has no birds in it, as Jack Spicer said some time/off’.

The two poems among these that caught me most deeply were ‘From The Centre Out’ and ‘Two Dead Matches’. Although an understanding of Ron Silliman’s ‘post-avant’ treatise The New Sentence is not required to appreciate the expressive power of these poems, it’s interesting to recognise that Burke is deliberately building on a tradition in language and poetics with these works. Phrases are repeated, and the poet appears in an almost renga-like dialogue with himself. The narrative and the phrases build and become more moving as each repetition is built upon those before and new lines introduced to elaborate the effect.

At the risk of upsetting people (including the poet) by using the term, ‘Two Dead Matches’, in particular, is a masterpiece of Australian literature. A review can’t do it justice; you have to read it, and I hope you’ll agree.

‘Last Rites’ is another poem alone worth the price of admission for this remarkable book. It’s a knot of mortality angst that fuses the modern with the avant-garde. I’m not sure how the critics of the ‘quotidian’ neatly fit this in their theory:

‘I shit with the dead’
How do the dead shit?
Their diners come to feast
corpus delicatus.

And for a final note, the poet who lives his life in the rhythm section summons Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite and Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Stimmung to sit along side ‘tea and finger food/for the living’ for last rites. What a magnificent and fascinating synthesis of ideas.

Years ago a friend and I hypothesised that the character of a person can be measured by the books beside the bed he or she wakes up next to. I’ll be happily judged for keeping Andrew Burke’s One Hour Seeds Another on the bedside table and it’ll be there for a long while yet.

– Nathan Hondros

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One Hour Seeds Another is available from http://store.walleahpress.com.au/andrew-burkes-one-hour-seeds-another/
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Curio and Curiouser: Hamish Danks Brown reviews ‘Curio’ by Kristin Hannaford

Curio by Kristin Hannaford. Walleah Press 2014

Curio“Curiouser and curiouser!” Cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English).” -Lewis Carroll (England 1832-1898).

Until the mid-1980’s, I had never really paid any attention to the ancient art of taxidermy. At the time, I had recently started living and working in the Darlinghurst area of inner Sydney. One day, while walking back to my compact bedsit, I noticed an unusual shopfront facing Flinders Street, between the Taxi Club and the Palace Hotel, under an awning with the emblazoned words ‘Animal Fetish’.

This fascinating enterprise, run by the McRae brothers, was a taxidermy studio that supplied stuffed animals as theatrical props and interior decoration, and it was crammed full of a menagerie of mounted and preserved beasts, birds, reptiles and marine creatures, as well as a range of other related curios, such as prints, costumes and kitsch souvenirs rendered from various animal skins and skeletons.

I could not help but be reminded of the Animal Fetish studio, both while listening to poet Kristin Hannaford reading a selection of her poems from her new collection ‘Curio’ (Walleah Press 2014) at Live Poets at Dan Bank a few weeks ago, and during my subsequent reading of her book for this review.

Curio is a thematic collection of poetry derived from comprehensive historical and archival research into the lives and work of a mother-and-daughter pair of taxidermists, Jane Catharine Tost and Ada Jane Rohu respectively, who worked in Sydney through the mid-to-late Victorian era to the early 20th century. Their time dedicated to this profession also coincided with what is now considered the ‘golden age’ of taxidermy, as natural history studies proliferated, in the wake of one of the biggest and most controversial arguments of that age, precipitated by the theory of evolution published in 1859 and 1872 in two books by Charles Darwin (1809-1882). Incidentally, Darwin visited Australia during his five-year voyage around the world on the HMS Beagle in the 1830’s.

The Australian continent, and the South Pacific region, became a region of intense investigation by scientists in various disciplines– anthropology, archaeology, botany, biology, entomology, geology, ichthyology, ornithology, paleontology, et al, as well as artists specialising in landscape, ethnographic and wildlife illustration, ever since specimens of fauna, flora and indigenous people and their artefacts had first been exhibited in Europe after exploratory voyages, such as those of Captain James Cook, during the 18th century.

This is the historical background and context by which I read this collection, from the explanatory Author’s Note, through the poems themselves, to the extensive bibliography, all contained in this slim volume.

The 60 pages of poems are not, however, a chronological record of the times and of the two women portrayed therein. Rather, they are a collection of episodic and reflective pieces that often incorporate quotes from the sources and references that Kristin Hannaford diligently researched while writing this collection. Many of the poems are prefaced with a brief explanatory note.

Kristin Hannaford’s poems necessarily contain a lot of specific detail and terminology about the techniques of taxidermy and the science of natural history, and they are often couched in the prevailing English of the 19th century. For example, ‘The Queerest Shop in Sydney’:

….Welcome to Tost & Rohu’s carnival of the unusual!
………………………………………..Naturalists, articulators Purvey the shelves, cabinets
….and shop-front facade: sea-shells in large variety. Wonderopen-mouthed entomological
….specimens and requisites at what you do not know, what you do not have: bric-a-brac.

Some of the poems focus on particular taxidermy commissions undertaken by Tost and Rohu, such as the now extinct thylacine (Tasmanian tiger) and the Irrawaddy squirrel from Burma (Myanmar). Such commissions came from collecting institutions such as the Australian Museum in Sydney, while others were for the purpose of displays prepared for large-scale international exhibitions held in Australia and abroad, events that had been inspired by the success of the monumental Great Exhibition held in London’s Crystal Palace in 1851.

For instance, the poem ‘Semaphore’, relating to the World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893:

They are often roadside, I look to the east,
to the wetlands, to watch for Brolga
walking fencelines like farmers inspecting boundaries
for slippage or slack in the wire, or observe them
standing in pairs – necks extended in various
attitudes of fountain, or Vedic statue.

Other poems relate to the recognition and remuneration of the two women in their careers as taxidermists. Unusually for those times, when careers and wages for women were usually strictly limited, they were paid equally to men in the same profession by the Australian Museum.

All hail the bearded men in their dark planks
……….of suited cloth, the measured
solemnity of undertakers belied by legs
……….scissoring a kind of scientific urgency
to order, sort and classify the junctures
……….of the British Kingdom
into her phylums and classes.

(from ‘Wanted: Taxidermist’, a poem which contains direct quotes from Jane Catharine Tost’s 1862 application for employment as a taxidermist with the Australian Museum in Sydney, her having previously worked for the Royal Society Museum, Hobart.)

The title of this collection ‘Curio’ also draws our attention to a parallel theme running throughout – the human trait of curiosity about the strange, the exotic, the unfamiliar, the unusual and, for commercial purposes, the production of collectible curios, ephemera and souvenirs in distinct counterpoint to the scientific demands of the taxonomic representation of animals. The poem ‘Curiosity’ is based on a 1921 shop catalogue.

In case, in jars
bull roarers under glass
traded, stolen
made for sale
shields suspended
artefacts pinned
glass knife stone knife millstone dilly bag.

A more gruesome aspect of colonial era taxidermy related to the preservation of the bodies of indigenous people, as elicited in the poem ‘Sarcophagus E1 81 84’, about the curation of the skeleton of a Melanesia chieftain from New Caledonia in 1909.

hard-wooded casing bound with sinnet’
ropey knotted tendons
………..of woven pteropus – flying fox fur –
to strap death’s carved dimensions;
note the ‘highest mountain district’
diagonals razoring beneath
the square-faced centure
………..of its chief, Rouendjar
a man of the tribe, ‘Aubias’,
subject to our imminent inspection.

The taxidermy and curio dealing shop of Tost and Rohu continued until 1923, when it was acquired by Sydney bookseller James Tyrrell (1875-1961), who was very well-known to that city’s bibliophiles and collectors, as well as to artists, poets and writers over many years. Poets including Henry Lawson, Roderic Quinn and Kenneth Slessor dedicated poems to Tyrrell and/or his bookshop.

Tyrrell’s Bookshop continued in various incarnations for several more decades, and I used to frequent it as a younger man between the mid-1970’s and early 1990’s, in its final address at Crow’s Nest in northern Sydney. So this factual aspect of Kristin Hannaford’s collection Curio also provoked memories of my own bouts of browsing and searching for literary curiosities, which has been a lifelong pursuit.

Kristin Hannaford’s Curio is a very well conceived collection which attains a fine balance between the poetic and the prosaic. This book successfully animates an arcane historical topic that draws upon the aesthetics and the practical skills of taxidermy, and the scientific perspective of a bygone era in colonial and newly federated Australia, together with the general popular perceptions of that era.

– Hamish Danks Brown

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Hamish Danks Brown (born 1957) grew up in a soldier settlement farmhouse in Forestville NSW in an artistic family. He has worked in the arts,media and communities in Sydney, Canberra, Wollongong, Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast of QLD, where he was also a full-time carer for his parents until this year. He has been writing since schooldays,but it is only in the past decade that he has become a regular writer, blogger and spoken word performer a.k.a. Danksta Downunder. His interests include the arts, archaeology, astronomy, neuroscience and being a satirical opponent to the status quo. He has published one chapbook ‘All Other Destinations’, is working on his second,and publishes frequently online, and regularly in various poetry anthologies and journals in Australia and overseas.

Curio is available from http://store.walleahpress.com.au/kristin-hannafords-curio/

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From Cemeteries to Video Stores: Francis Thompson launches ‘Salt and Bone’ by Zenobia Frost

Francis Thompson launched Salt and Bone by Zenobia Frost, Walleah Press 2014, at Brisbane’s Avid Reader Bookshop on the 18 September 2014.

Salt and BoneFor me, this manuscript began with a dead rat named Cookies. I met Zen properly on a boiling summer day in Brisbane. The red dust storm from Sydney had just rolled through. The apocalyptic glow had settled. One thing I wasn’t expecting was a message from Zen asking if I had a shovel and/or could I help her bury her housemate’s rat. The poor wee thing had choked on the dust.

This late rat would later feature in one of Zen’s poems, called ‘Graveyard Haibun’, which is also one of the first poems I helped Zen edit. The draft versions of this poem alone could fill a small room.  I remember so clearly sitting on the floor with Zen, surrounded by printed-out poems, the both of us furiously scribbling. After every hour or so of scribbling we’d yell “a-ha!” and change a single word, shift a line break, add or delete a comma. After about two years of this, we yelled for the final time and closed the book on “Graveyard Haibun”. I’d like to say we stopped editing that poem because it was perfect and finished, but honestly we also couldn’t bear to look at the damn thing one more time.  But also the poem was perfect, clearly.

Five years after that fateful day with Cookies, I’ve had the pleasure of reading and editing pretty much every single one of Zen’s poems. I’ve seen her writing grow more and more assured. I’ve watched her slide effortlessly from topic to topic, from tone to tone, from cemeteries to video stores, from Kafka’s forgotten characters to third-century warrior queens, from terror to courage and courage in terror. What has remained constant throughout is her extraordinary attention to detail that sees her agonise over commas and draft poems until the there’s enough draft versions to construct a tasteful evening jacket out of. I’ve watched her pour herself into this manuscript, sometimes quite literally leaping into a pile of the printed out poems scattered on the floor, always furiously scribbling. This skill and this dedication has forged the manuscript I have the pleasure to launch tonight. As with the ‘Graveyard Haibun’, this book is perfect and finished and done (clearly), but also we’ve read the damn thing so many times that we’re having trouble looking at it straight anymore. So now you’re all going to have to look at it for us instead.

– Francis Thompson

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Graveyard Haibun

On Thursday morning I meet Death. We inherit Sydney’s red-dust storm, and
our backyard is thick with it. The white cat with the poodle-cut is now auburn.
She cleans herself uselessly, tongue moistening dust into clay.

Six am sun casts every gravestone reflective. I never get up this early. I settle
on the hot, steady concrete of a grave, and try to learn silence.

Scarlet beetles skitter through dry leaves. Cicadas hum in hollows. Our raised necropolis is more awake than anywhere in this lidded city.

cemetery
spring’s new crows
let sleeping dead lie

I breathe and watch. For a rare moment, my mind too is warm, dark stone.

I go out to feed my flatmate’s old rat and find that his lungs are full of the
desert. I sit on the kitchen floor with him in my lap. He is thin-blooded – an
aspirin-thief in his youth. Now, his nose has stopped bleeding for the first time
in months. Droplets congeal in the dust on his snout. I feel his body cease.

on the floor
we share rigor mortis

The cats sniff around us. They do not interfere.

I return alone, and enter the wilderness without pith helmet or field knife. Birds
own the graveyard, swooping for me to turn back; the dead and I are just
guests.

If I am very still, I fade into this place. My shadow thickens into my own ghost,
leads me down paths that are only pretending. I wouldn’t mind being lost here.
(I am already lost.)

hoop pines rise
from the jaws of skeletons
a final word

——————————————————————————————

Francis Thompson is a Brisbane writer and barista. When he was fifteen, The Grin and Tonic Theatre Troupe used his poetry in their performances at schools around North
Queensland. Since then his poetry, fiction and reviews have been published in Voiceworks, Small Packages, Rave Magazine and OffStreet Press. He is currently working on his grandest and most challenging project to date — thinking up hilarious Wi – Fi passwords for the café he works at.

Salt and Bone is available from http://store.walleahpress.com.au/zenobia-frosts-salt-and-bone/

 

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

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A Disconcerting Bravery: Andy Jackson launches ‘One Hour Seeds Another’ by Andrew Burke

One Hour Seeds Another by Andrew Burke. Walleah Press, 2014. One Hour Seeds Another was launched in Melbourne at Collected Works Bookshop on 19th July 2014 by Andy Jackson.

Andrew Burke discussing One Hour Seeds Another at Collected Works

Andrew Burke discussing One Hour Seeds Another at Collected Works (Photo Franceska Bussey)

When Andrew Burke asked me to launch his new book today, I had two simultaneous thoughts. One of them was “of course, I’d be honoured”. The other was – why me?! I mean, here is a poet who has had a dozen books published. Doesn’t he realise I’m a relative newcomer to poetry? What happened to getting someone more prestigious than you to launch your book, a sort of reflected glory? Well, what happened is that Andrew doesn’t see the world of poetry as hierarchy, or snakes and ladders, poets climbing over each other, or hissing and slithering with barely-disguised venom. To Andrew, all poets are colleagues and poetry is democratic in the best sense. He draws from a long lineage of poets of the past and the present, from writers and thinkers of other cultures and nations, from jazz musicians and friends, and from language itself.

And since he’s a collaborator, I’m going to insert little samples of some of the poems from “One Hour Seeds Another” throughout this launch speech. These samples of course belong in their contexts, but they can still breathe outside on their own – because, while each line presents itself as casual, they’ve been written with intense attentiveness.

It’s a compost heap.
It’s a tapdance on your grave.

-‘Ars Poetica’

This book revolves around time, memory, change, death and life. It gives ample space for grief and not knowing. It celebrates the lives of now-departed friends, in moments and in experiments that are poignant, memorable and transcendentally mundane. These poems are moving, but they’re moving in both senses – they provoke an emotional response, but they never get stuck in one place. And while they are a kind of memento mori, they are also witty, sometimes even like zen koans that don’t require an answer.

……………………..………Cemetery birds are all black
except at the entrance where butterflies flitter.

– ‘Requiescat in pace’
.

I like to think the man with a scythe
is simply a man with a scythe.

– ‘Still Life’

The poems also revolve around moments, humble micro-epiphanies captured in language. His wife needles him more than once for his immersion in these fleeting and pregnant moments – the determined and thoughtful movements of a bee around a thistle bush in the garden; or the music of dandelion heads on the drive shaft of the car as they back out of the drive. They are always, like the haiku he includes here, the moments themselves, entirely, yet they hint at something beyond, a wisdom in the distance. These hints are invariably subtle, but sometimes they come with a wink.

I bring my porridge
to the table
and think in its steam –
too much cinnamon
and not enough
metaphor

– ‘She waits for me’

There is also a disconcerting bravery here (and by that I do mean brave, not foolhardy), as the poet shows himself dreaming of sex with red-haired women, or [quote] “reading AA recovery stories” while “socking water back”, or just openly admitting his ignorance at any number of life’s mysteries. Whether the poet here is Andrew or not I’ll leave that to you to decide. Either way, it’s an honesty that is not only thumbing a nose at the hubris, the cool detachment and false wisdom of some poets, but an example to us all. From one of my favourite poems of the book, which maintains its dark mystery and black humour even after we realise it’s about the experience of surgery, pre-op and post-op.

I enter, not knowing who
I’m going to see : : dead, living,
actors slipping into their roles
for theatre. I greet all I meet
with a face reflecting
the intelligence of a decorated biscuit
at a birthday party.

– ‘Anaesthetics’

One Hour Seeds Another is also very much about poetry itself. In fact, it’s how it begins. The opening section, bravely (there’s that word again) elaborates on Andrew’s Ars Poetica, directly and by example. It’s a poetry of play and experimentation. He clearly loves form – haiku, renga, concrete poetry, list poems, prose poems, erasure, and two poems in a form I’d never seen before and still can’t name. But this is poetry that is very aware of its own limitations, which is of course where its power resides. I’d like to read a poem which to me is about poetry as much as it is about cricket.

A Quick Single

1

I like a dark mystery
in the sun for five days

2

there is a book of rules
lots of people have read it

3

at the game my friends and I
don’t talk about each other
but about the men out in the centre
who we attribute various character faults to

4

it has the wonder of chess
with the athleticism

of billiards

5

as a nation
we are good at it
and we beat the poms and kiwis
on a regular basis

what more could you ask?

6

once upon a time
I could bowl
bouncers at bullies

Andrew also knows about silence. Many lines here are short. He can certainly elaborate, but he also knows how the white space of the page can speak as strongly as the text. So, just two more very short things before I follow his example and become silent myself. First, I’d like to declare One Hour Seeds Another launched, confident that it will certainly seed many other beautiful poems, for Andrew and for every poet who reads it. Second, a haiku from the book – not 17 syllables, but perfect.

fuse flash
lights ou

– ’12 Haiku’

-Andy Jackson

__________________________________________

Andy Jackson’s Among the Regulars (papertiger, 2010) was shortlisted for the Kenneth Slessor Prize and Highly Commended in the Anne Elder Award. His poems have recently appeared in Meanjin, Best Australian Poems 2013, and the Medical Journal of Australia. A new collection Otherpoems won the Whitmore Press Manuscript Prize and will be published later this year. He blogs about the poetry of bodies and identities at amongtheregulars.wordpress.com

One Hour Seeds Another is available from http://store.walleahpress.com.au/andrew-burkes-one-hour-seeds-another/

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

Something for Everyone: Lisa Wardle review ‘Undertow’ by Susan Austin

Undertow by Susan Austin. Walleah Press 2012

UndertowEven though poetry is something I’ve not attempted to review in the past, I read it regularly and know what I like, and what I don’t like. I found there was much to like in the poems in Susan Austin’s Undertow.

Austin’s poetry is frank, honest and accessible. Perhaps I’m a lazy reader, but I’ve never been a fan of the vague, the intellectual; the type of poetry that must be read and reread, and read yet again in the hopes of discerning just an inking of what the poet is writing about; the kind of poetry that leaves me with a headache and the uncomfortable feeling that I am more than a little stupid.

Austin’s poetry is anything but the brain-bending kind, and yet that doesn’t mean it is all too obvious and boring. In fact there is much subtlety here. The subject and content of the poems varies, but all are created from the details – big and small – of everyday life; of love and loss and sadness; universal themes that we can all relate to as emotional human beings. Poetry’s power lies in its ability to get under our skin, to touch something deep within us, to remind us that we are all connected through our experiences.

Anyone who has suffered from depression or debilitating inertia would feel an immediate connection with Austin’s poem ‘Couched’:.

I am testing my body-to-couch solubility / I join those
with schizophrenia and others on soporific drugs / scores
of thoughts about what I could do / should do / oscillate in
my dizzy head / only my internal systems move / slowly /
clogged with toxins / lethargy / negatives /

I could do that / should do that / not doing that / an hour
has passed / still not doing that / with effort I put the
washing on / but not out / the machine guards its sodden
inmates / the clock watches me / I don’t have the energy to
take the batteries out or turn it to the wall / damn clock /

If, like me, you prefer poetry to be a warm and welcoming embrace, rather than something that keeps you at arms length, then you could do a lot worse than to pick up a copy of Susan Austin’s Undertow.

These poems don’t wear gaudy colours or shout from the rooftops to be noticed. Nor do they attempt to confuse, or baffle. These poems hold the door wide and welcome you in. There is something for everyone in this collection.

– Lisa Wardle

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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/

Undertow is available from http://store.walleahpress.com.au/susan-austin-undertow/

A Voice Caged in Paper: Les Wicks reviews ‘Private Conversations Vol 2’ by Cameron Hindrum

Private Conversations Vol 2 by Cameron Hindrum. Walleah Press, 2012.

private conversations

Cameron Hindrum is a familiar figure amongst the slam community, a big presence both on the stage and physically. He has comparatively recently ventured into the world of words on paper with his novel the Blue Cathedral published in 2011.

I always expect a lot from Walleah Press, a bright light in what can be a narrow, dark poetry tunnel. They publish mostly, but not exclusively, Tasmanian work. As usual the production and design of Private Conversations are first rate. It is a 32 page chapbook with space to spare, I did wonder, however, why they went with the two-volume chap book model.

There is so much to like about this book. Hindrum’s is an openhearted voice capable of the belly laugh, freely given love and shared poignancy. If Australian poetry needs a medical plan to treat its chronic disease, this inclusive veracity will clearly be a core part of the treatment regime. Language is appropriately simple and clear.

Poems like “Zen Suite” gleam:

a footstep
is a map
of all things

“Driving East” finishes:

All things drift towards the water:
By the water, find the beach.
It’s of no importance that
The horizon’s always out of reach.

“Good Manners” is a delightful study of a visiting Japanese woman. Hindrum deftly works with the dissonance between the expected, clichéd mannerism of a different culture, her politeness, to the piercing on Koyuki’s throat (which also works as a marvellous metaphor for her limitations in English). Towards the end there’s a brilliant play on both her tackling of Western language/mores and a jibe at Japanese whaling:

At dinner I watch her harpoon
a California Roll with
an expertly-handled chopstick

so much achieved in so few words, so unforced.

Consistently over decades I have seen adept page poets murder their work on stage through arrogance,laziness, sheer incompatibility or incapacity. Conversely, many of the leading performance poets fail to make the transition to the printed page. They are not mutually exclusive mediums, but each requires a certain critical mindset to be applied. Many poets who straddle both mediums will say that certain pieces can be performed regularly but will not appear in any book. Other works would almost never be read out loud. From a slam poet like Hindrum the challenge really was to look again at all his work and make sure they function on the printed page. “On explaining the facts of life to a six-year-old” and “On finding 20,000-year-old footprints near Lake Mungo, NSW” are examples of work that generously reward both the reader and the audience equally. But this doesn’t apply to all pieces with a little lazy language detracting from otherwise engaging narratives. “Love poem for Jack and Sylvia” was a joy to read but the constant repetition of the word old, while I saw it working phonically, just served as a dragging chain on paper for me.

Having said this I return to my core point that this is a book well worth reading and possibly more importantly a book that makes one hungry for Hindrum’s next.

– Les Wicks

——————————————————————————————–

Les Wicks has toured widely and seen publication across 16 countries in 9 languages. His 10th book of poetry is Barking Wings (PressPress, 2012 http://www.presspress.com.au/Wicks.html). This year he will be performing at the world’s biggest poetry festival in Medellin. http://leswicks.tripod.com/lw.htm

Private Conversations Vol 2 is available from Walleah Press http://www.walleahpress.com.au/recent.html or http://walleahpress.com.au/garradunga/?tcp_product=private-conversations-volume-2-cameron-hindrum

The Ruthless Eye: Rae Desmond Jones reviews ‘Undercover of Lightness’ by Andrew Burke.

Undercover of Lightness by Andrew Burke, Walleah Press, Hobart Tasmania. 2012.

Many of Andrew Burke’s poems begin with a chatty casual style but end with a comment which carefully deflects the mood of the poem and makes it a reflection or moral observation deeper than the reader might expect from the tone. The process is not formulaic, as the reflections are diverse and most follow a narrative logically from each poem’s beginning. In ‘Washing, for example, Burke engages the reader with the tone of an experienced and skilful teller of tales of the good old days:

Today you won’t see one
but back in the sixties
the historic house I lived in had
a timber and wire clothesline,
propped up in midstring
by the long sapling of a eucalypt tree …

With this easy style the reader settles in for a straightforward yarn. However, by line eight, the points of reference broaden:

…………Urban Aborigines,
out of work and down on their lunch,
walked door to door selling these props …

Significantly, the washing line wires

hung loose between two crucifixes
with movable arms…

Details continue to accumulate without any explicit moral, although the poem’s sympathies are clear at the end:

…… on the night of a full moon
a small feathered woman would arrive
and sit on top of the post near
the gnarled and knotted mulberry tree,
her wisdom silent in her,
two deep eyes focused on me
as I wrote by moonlight,
sitting on the backsteps,
pad resting on sunburnt knees.”

Andrew Burke is a keen observer of people, politics and behaviour. The method he uses in Washing is typical, however he ranges across a variety of subjects and themes. The conversational tone sets the scene then he draws his point out with subtlety. There are poems when the opening gambit becomes blunt, when the subject is confessional, as in ‘Diary: Royal Perth Hospital 2010’ , where the title is an alert:

I am Bed 6GC
beside the helipad.

He (assuming that the subject is the poet) is no longer Andrew Burke, but a number and two capital letters:

identity band on
they won’t lose me
I’ll know who I am.

A double appears, disturbing evidence of his fragility:

There’s a ghost of myself
on this bed’s TV –
star of my memories.

The poem relates the central events of the following days. On Operation Day

Christ and his two thieves
left their crosses
at the cathedral next door:

weathered concrete,
not a splinter on them.

It’s just a story,’ the chaplain says.
‘You should know that, Andrew.’

I grew up with Christ’s thorns
tattooed on my brain.

The narrative (there is almost always a narrative – this poet is a natural teller of stories) describes a conversation of “cross / rhythms and syncopation” with a tall, urbane African orderly, as he enters the theatre where the spotlight is on him. He is not comfortable with this particular starring role:

My Greek chorus
leans in leans out.

By Day three, his body is a battleground:

as choppers drop
squads of para-
noia troops – terrorists
attack through tubes
into the interior night
shadows of my brain,
a mind field. I am
reduced to fears…

Gradually the tone of relaxed confidence returns with recovery, as he watches the 2010 Wimbledon men’s Final, and

A woman in
the crowd has
my mother’s hat on
last worn when
Rod Laver won the cup …

in the meantime,

Obese bed K2 farts robustly,
bed K4 snores to wake the dead.

Finally, he “keeps (his) eye on the exit sign.” It is an explicit use of poetry as therapy, which is not his usual way, although in the last section of the volume, entitled ‘Selected Poems, he ruminates at length, on some difficult family relationships:

Dear Father 

How sick I get of your ghost
stirring the blood between us,
how sick of the ties
that hold me.

Then resolves it:

father, I untie you –
air rushes out / and I whoop…

Burke’s eye for exercising (or exorcising) the telling detail re-appears in the series written in China, where he captures the poverty and seething vigour of China. He observes Bike mechanics in the street:

One old spark plug
lies on the pavement,
and a young boy,
opportunist at five,
picks it up and scurries away.
Maybe Dad will be pleased.

In ‘Linfen Morning’ he makes a series of acute but innocuous observations of household economic activity, then: “One man is gone from the streetscape. He wrote an anti-government message in his shop window and was not there the next day.” The prose poem continues to describe the bustle of the town as though the disappearing man is not important or significant, then the work is abruptly closed by a pointed haiku:

at night, fireworks
at dawn, torn red paper shells
dye the gutter pink.

The volume is replete with a variety of subjects scrutinised through an impeccable bullshit detector. The tone is mostly gentle but the eye is ruthless. Undercover of Lightness is a good title: beneath the cover a lot happens.

– Rae Desmond Jones

——————————————————————————

Rae Desmond Jones is a major Australian poet. His first book was Orpheus With A Tuba, Makar Press, 1973. His latest books are Thirteen Poems from the Dead, Polar Bear Press 2011 and Decline and Fall Flying Island Books 2011.  He has just finished editing The Selected Your Friendly Fascist which will shortly be published by Rochford Street Press.

Undercover of Lightness is available from Walleah Press http://walleahpress.com.au.

An eclectic tour de force: Mark Roberts reviews Famous Reporter 43

Famous Reporter Issue 43 Published by Walleah Press, PO Box 368, North Hobart Tasmania 7002.

There is always (or at least almost always) a scene of sadness around an impending death. Friends and families wonder how they will cope, how things will change, how they will be able to fill the gap……it is much the same with literary magazines. Some go out in blaze of glory while others hang around for far too long, dying long slow lingering literary deaths. Of course there are also those magazines that you miss even before they are gone – and the famous reporter is firmly in that category.

Fr 43, which was launched in late May 2012, was the last issue with founder and long time editor Ralph Wessman at the helm. There will be one final issue but it will be edited by Dael Allison and Michael Sharkey. After that silence…….

Ralph Wessman, talking about his years editing famous reporter, recalled a conversation he had with Ken Bolton where Bolton claimed that “a magazine renews itself, its vitality, by finding a course and sticking with it through thick and thin on a particular aesthetic, political [whatever] direction” (https://rochfordstreetreview.com/2012/07/25/getting-excited-by-the-writing-wanting-more-of-it-ralph-wessman-recalls-25-years-as-editor-and-publisher-of-famous-reporter/). While Wessman admits that he found this notion persuasive, he points out that the famous reporter has moved in the opposite direction, towards the eclectic.

A measure of this eclecticism can be seen in FR 43. The issue opens with 11 pages of haiku edited by Lyn Reeves . FR is one of the few journals in Australia with a dedicated haiku section with a dedicated haiku editor. This concentration on haiku began in 1993 and ends with this issue as there wont be a haiku section in the final issue. The tradition and concentration on haiku has paid off for FR with some very fine pieces in this edition. Perhaps my favourite in this issue was from Leonie Bingham:

in the doorway
of the osteopath
spring leaves

The contrast between the distilled lyricism of the haikus and James Dryburgh’s essay, ‘Chico’s Story’ which immediately follows the hakiu section, is, at first glance, almost confronting. ‘Chico’s Story’ is an account of a refugee from El Salvador who fled form his country during the US backed military crackdown during the 1980’s, finding a new home in Melbourne. Years later he returns to El Salvador and finds a country still trying to come to terms with its past. This is a powerful essay on a number of levels – having spent the 1980’s following the struggles of the Latin American people in countries such as Nicaragua and El Salvador, there was something very familiar about ‘Chico’s Story’.  It is the account  of a conflict and of a refugee program that many of us have forgotten. At the same time it reminds us that the terror and repression which drives people to leave their home and seek refuge is still very much with us and that we should be learning from the past not pretending that suffering and repression is not part of the 21st century.

FR 43 also contains a wide range of poetry from both new and established poets (if not new, at least poets I was coming across for the first time). I was particularly pleased to find a wonderful poem by Judith Rodriguez, ‘Sayings of my Mother’, which explores notions of memory triggered by scanning old photos into a computer and blowing up the images:

Decades crumble to a night in the zippy thirties:
off the road and over the small-scrub plain
skitters his Willis, jibbing at burrows and tussocks,
headlights jumping, hoyed rocks, rabbits playing games.
All the lighting we can manage won’t hold the image
galvanic , the freckled print, a blur, Dad’s face.

It is a measure of the success of the eclectic nature of FR that the poetry in this issue can move easily from Judith Rodriguez to Les Wicks without blinking. Wick’s ‘Eight Words to a Life’ moves through a life in eight sections: ‘ Rot, Slink, Stroke, Strike, Stuck, Shiver, Squat and Give’. It is an ambitious poem, ranging over decades of English history, from post war docks to Thatcher’s Britain, ending with almost despairing acceptance of how a life half lived is not living up to expectations:

Nothing turns out like our clever plans
termites build & destroy
we too are argute toys in havoc.

There are some other very fine poems in this issue: Emma Rooksby’s ‘Red bloodwood’,  Margaret Cambell’s ‘Rained-in’, Michael Sharkey’s ‘Nothing for granted’, Pete Hay’s ‘The Duck’s Guts’, Bronwen Manger’s ‘ Few are Immune’ (is it just me or is there a hint of an early Gig Ryan about this poem?), Lucy William’s ‘paper aeroplanes’,  Cliff Forshaw’s ‘Lat. 43 degree’, Margaret Bradstock’s ‘Weedy Seadragon’s, Shane McCauley’s ‘Idyll’, Ben Walter’s ‘Dolerite’, Dael Allison’s ‘House’,  Cecila White’s ‘Breath’ and  Cameron Hindrum’s ‘Leaving an island’ were my personal highlights. But the best lines in FR 43 must go to Kimberley Mann:

My kiss is a noun
Yours is a verb
We need to talk

Grammar of Us

The diversity of the poetry in FR43 is matched by the four pieces of fiction. Mark O’Flynn’s ‘The Phone Rings’ is a disturbing account of an Asian man, accused of a crime he didn’t commit, or understand. Alone in prison he is listening to recordings of phone calls made to his house, searching for the piece of evidence that he was convicted on in order to mount a defence. The more he listens the more confused his past becomes. Solid relationships, marriages begin to blur- “the ominous years ahead are shedding their meaning like a snake’s skin”.

‘Leaving Kathmandu’ by David Francis is a short piece about departure and loss. A man is leaving Kathmandu, leaving his lover of five months behind. They both know that this departure is a leaving, an end, and there is, at least at one level, a sense of relief on both sides. But as soon as the plane takes off there is almost instant regret from the man “I saw the face of a drowning man who had missed the chance of a proffered life vest”. While not, perhaps completely successful, there is deep emotional undercurrent to ‘Leaving Kathmandu’, which is almost poetic and which makes the story stand out.

Jo Langdon’s ‘Paint’ is also, at one level, about the end of a relationship. This time the drama plays out inside the house as the narrator, the ‘I’ details how the other, the ‘you’ begins to change the rooms in the house by painting seas and landmasses,  then adding in clouds, before washing it clean and starting again. This time the other starts painting the interior of the body, the organs and bones on the walls of the room.

“…until suddenly I lost patience and objected……shouting fuck, this is like living inside a rotting corpse! You seem to consider this, picking at a scab of dried carmine on your wrist and nodding slowly….”

John Hale’s ‘Landscape of the Enemy’ is perhaps the most ambitious of the four pieces of fiction, it is certainly the longest. It is an interesting piece, well written and confronting. Set in the devastated German city of Hamburg immediately after the war, ‘Landscape of the Enemy’ is a shared memory of two people who meet briefly in the ruined city. The first section introduces the male character, whose name, we later learn, is Richard Dart. He is in a foreign town, browsing in a second hand bookshop when he opens a book on German Post War theatre and recognises a photograph of an actress. He knew her very briefly as a much younger woman.  The next section is his recollection of his his meeting with her in Hamburg just after the war when, as a very young merchant seaman his ships docks in the ruined city for 24 hours.  For the price of a block of chocolate he spends the night with her whensShe takes him back to the house she shares with her grandfather and mother. The final section recalls the same incident from the woman’s point of view. The title of the piece, ‘Landscape of the Enemy’, hints at the complicated power relationship which drives this encounter, the young male sailor, naïve, but on the side of the victor and the young street-wise woman, forced to be wise beyond her years in order to survive.

Beyond the creative writing we have to also acknowledge the non-fiction, both literary and non literary. I have already mentioned  ‘Chico’s Story’, but there are also a number of other pieces that fall under the ‘ Essay, memoir, miscellany’ category, one of the most interesting being Rick Haughton’s ‘Rebuilding Timor Leste Schools’.

There are also interviews with poets and activists – Peter Hay, Grant Caldwell and Melanie Barnes as well as number of launch speeches and reviews of poetry. All in all FR43 is a tribute to its long time editors, a kind of eclectic tour de force which highlights just how many bulls-eyes you can hit when you fire in multiple directions at once. But this is not quite the end we still have FR44 to look forward to before the FR printing presses fall silent.

– Mark Roberts

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Mark Roberts is a Sydney based writer and critic. He currently edits Rochford Street Review.

Famous Reporter can be found at http://walleahpress.com.au/past.html

Ralph Wessman remembers 44 Issues of FR https://rochfordstreetreview.com/2012/07/25/getting-excited-by-the-writing-wanting-more-of-it-ralph-wessman-recalls-25-years-as-editor-and-publisher-of-famous-reporter/