Subtle, Multiple Implications: John Jenkins Launches ‘The Sly Night Creatures of Desire’ by Debi Hamilton

The Sly Night Creatures of Desire by Debi Hamilton (Hybrid Publishers 2016) was launched by John Jenkins at The Italian Cucina in Carlton, Victoria on 27 November 2016

sly_nightThanks everyone, for coming along today … to the launch of Debi Hamilton’s new book, The Sly Night Creatures of Desire.

Hybrid Publishers have done Debi proud, I think… with this well-produced and attractive collection. I particularly like the spacious layout, which gives ample ‘breathing space’ around each poem, adding to one’s reading pleasure.

I was delighted and surprised when Debi asked me to launch this book… Surprised, because I have only met Debi once, before today. This was very recently, at a Melbourne Poets’ Union event.

And I’m Delighted, because I was immediately absorbed and impressed by the poems I heard Debi read that day. Later, I was introduced to Debi by her partner and our MC of today, David Francis.

Debi started writing poetry around 2010. And she has already achieved quite a deal. Her first book, being alone, appeared in 2013. Now, in 2016, 3 years later, we have The Sly Night Creatures of Desire

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Debi Hamilton at the launch of The Sly Night Creatures of Desire.

Debi has also won a swag of prizes, including joint winner of the 2014 Newcastle Poetry Prize; and winner of the 2015 MPU award. At least 8 poems in this new book have fared well in comps.

Debi’s poems generally gravitate towards the so-called ‘confessional’ mode …

Her work is emotionally intense, often deeply personal. Some poems convey quite private details, about her own life and relationships. And many of these deeply felt, ‘heart-sleeved’ poems are meant to be, and certainly are, both touching and moving.
But that, I’d like to emphasize, is just the start, just one aspect of this book.


The Sly Night Creatures of Desire
contains a generous offering of 58 poems. Yet fewer than a dozen continue for more than one page.

It’s all about brevity, succinctness, compression – saying as much as you can in a relatively few words.

In the poem, ‘What Big Plans You Have’ she mentions “A moment in a silver frame…” These moments, however, always escape their boundaries, providing greater illumination.

It’s not just a matter of ‘short and sweet’, or ‘less is more’, because the poet’s art of inference, implication, resonance and suggestion can amplify these brief poems way beyond their formal containers.

Often, there are subtle, multiple implications; it’s a matter of reading between the lines, so what remains unsaid or not fore-grounded contributes equally to the poem’s impact.

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The audience at the launch of The Sly Night Creatures of Desire, Melbourne, 27 November 2016.

The book is divided into three sections.

Part I, A Thrill of Cold Stars; consists of 17 prose poems.

In the very first of these, ‘String Bag’ we see the short story writer’s ability to very quickly establish characters, to set up a scene. Inextricably wedded to this, is the poet’s gift of inference, of resonance, of suggestion; of amplifying a pervasive mood, or tone.

In ‘String Bag’, children wander down by beach dunes, and meet a possibly sinister stranger. Is he a wolf in hiding? The writing is ambiguous, a series of hints and clues, a poetic journey.

Note also the terrific character-study in Part III, titled Small Waiter, Dropped Glove. This time, Debi is in Venice (we only know this because Tintoretto is mentioned, called ‘Il Furioso’ by his fellow Venetians, because of his muscular energy, his huge and flamboyant canvases). In contrast, wonder at the controlled subtlety of Debi’s poetic miniature, a pearl of empathy and understatement, in which a small, frail waiter with a wounded eye scurries dutifully to recover a dropped glove and return it to a woman in an opulent pearl necklace.

To her great credit, throughout this book, Debi is never pedantic, nor prescriptive, which encourages the reader to fully engage with her narrative. As her intriguing scenarios emerge into full and imaginative presence within the poem, thus we become equally absorbed, active participants.

Communication – both intellectual and emotional – is important here: a bridge, between writer and reader.

Next, ‘Little Red’ makes reference to a well-known fairy story, or folk tale; namely, Little Red Riding Hood, in which the wolf again appears, this time much more explicitly, perhaps as a teasingly shadowy trope for shared desire.

‘Little Red’ establishes its naturalistic context and setting, an ordinary park where “… an unexpected dog brings it back – slick wet gums ivory teeth on a hot day, or particular kind of pelt-loose loping.” The poem then unpacks the interior life of her character, and mediates between inner and outer.

A wolf and a flower-gathering child return in the poem ‘Red Skirt’.

Here, Riding Hood sets of for the chemists, to get her mum some medicine. She is followed by a wolf, who soon morphs into a doctor. Throughout several poems in which they reappear, these wolf-men can be many things: mysterious, helpful, threatening, passive, disarming, alluring, exciting…

Much later, in ‘Red Riding Hood Grows Old’, as time domesticates the inner and outer wolf, the narrator seems quite nonchalant, and comfortable about curling up with her lupine other half… now perhaps feminised, re-integrated, triumphantly reclaimed.

Several other semi-ekphastic (here, literary-referencing) poems refer to Germanic folk tales, ones with very ancient roots, including the well-known Hansel and Gretel, which harks back to a time of Medieval hardship, when infanticide was common practice. Debi’s  poem, ‘H and G’ conflates this tale with failed fathers, and with a certain Nazi demagogue of the Fatherland – a poetic purpose not for the un-adept.

All such folk tales are common cultural property. They belong to everyone; they can be told, re-told, elaborated and embroidered forever. In this book, Debi certainly makes them her own!

Take The Little Match Girl, another familiar story. Flagged by Debi’s title, ‘How the Market Works’, her modern retelling of this story becomes a sly critique of consumer capitalism. She creates interesting frissons, too, by lobbing modern words like ‘synaptic’ and ‘circuit’ against traditional ones like ‘match’, ‘stove’ and ‘roast goose’.

‘At The Window’ is a personal favourite, in which a mysterious lover dances naked on the grass outside a man’s open window, in a sort of reverse lubricious Romeo and Juliet scene. But, Romeo, alas, “Snaps shut the little door on his chest.” With just a touch of Freud, as well as fear, “He remembers his mother, unexpectedly. His small luminous, long-ago self.” He abandons the casement, as a voice “… calls him from the other room…”

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In ‘Midnight’, the narrator steals a motorbike, picks up a new lover and goes roaring off into, “The newest black night you’ve ever experienced, just the two of you and the wordless roaring road.” This hints at… adventures to come.

The poet’s dreams, allegories, imagery… are imbued with strong emotion, yet there are many closely observed descriptive touches, woven in economically, to provide verisimilitude. For example, in ‘Down the Coast’, there’s this unobtrusive but telling detail: “… little wildflowers underneath the long protective march of fences.” So, description is metaphor, and metaphor description.

There are terrific glints of humour, too: “The house is so still I can hear the frozen peas coming to, breathing.” (‘The Blackout’.)

And some wonderfully penetrating ‘straight-talking”: “This is all we have / in the end, a heartbeat / in the small hours.” (‘After Surgery’).

Other poems are dream-like, subtle, oblique: “Perhaps it is a mine shaft that she falls into that night, where a man is aflame at the seam he has found in the dark.”

Debi works as a psychologist. Well, consider the acuity of this observation: “Dining out alone, the exactness of it, / how you make the table an unfenced field. / Privacy you don’t get at home alone, / where you expand into every corner.” (From: ‘Exactly’.)

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John Jenkins launches The Sly Night Creatures of Desire

The book’s Part II is titled The Grateful Wounds – a record of surviving breast cancer; starting with ‘BreastScreen Letter’ …

Then a genuine poetic tour de force follows, titled ‘Infiltrating Ductal Carcinoma’.

If you have ever wondered what being diagnosed with ‘infiltrating ductal carcinoma’ would be like, well this is what it is like! This poem precisely registers the shock, the confusion; a disorientation of everything once familiar: a disruptive plunge into uncertainty, a future of walking on eggshells.

Invasive breast cancer is sadly very common, originating in the milk ducts and spreading to surrounding tissue. Its treatment includes chemo, radiation, hormone injections, surgery …

The cluster of poems that follow this initial shock are like shrapnel flying from the centre of a shell-burst. Boom!

Disorientation, and potential loss of self, is then reprised in a similarly anxious register, in ‘Vacuuming with Breast Cancer’: “I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole / and here is all my furniture, / slightly out of proportion…”

In ‘A Room in Sunshine’, however, there is an interesting blurring of subjectivities, now hinting at a sort of healing empathy.

Then, solidarity with other survivors, support from certain women who really understand.

But it’s never easy: “…they are up close. / They are trying to hold you. / You can feel their hearts / through the glass but you have to / keep still or you will be bruised.” (‘Ten Meditations’.)

Gentle humour helps: “Tiredness becomes / your second name, the micro / nap your new stalker. / Every cell of you wearing / its little bed socks, waiting.”

In a truly lovely poem dated 19 January, the simple consolation of a lullabying sea dip is evoked: its “closed eyes” and “long underwater song”.

Finally, Part II asks: “Is it enough (my emphasis) that you have survived… that you are sometimes happy?”

No, it is clearly not enough, not after such a chronology of traumas.

So, with some relief we reach Part III, also eponymous of the book’s title: The Sly Night Creatures of Desire.

So far, throughout, there’s been a sort of buried subtext – about a first broken marriage; alienation from family life.

This final section seems all about a hard-won re-birth, perhaps pre-figured by the Red Riding Hood story: a celebration of new love, love now inseparable from happiness,  romance and desire… and very welcome new adventures, both at home and overseas.

In ‘Red Riding Hood Grows Old’ (Debi has certainly given Red Riding a hiding!) she now has “No need of the woodcutter” – relying instead on hindsight, maturity, and (dare we say it?) wisdom.

And… a happy announcement: ‘Love is Around the Corner’.

And… it is!

Of course, life is never an unalloyed fairy tale… But there’s welcome joy and renewal in the conclusion of The Sly Night Creatures of Desire: renewal, for those brave enough, open enough, wise enough, to recognise, grasp and accept it, should new happiness come along.

A love story unfolds at the end of this book. One, happily, ‘to be continued’…

I particularly like Debi Hamilton’s bravery in these pages, her honesty, in not flinching from examining, understanding, and making use of difficult personal emotions – as if, paradoxically, her vulnerability makes her strong.

Even more so, her ability to fashion and convert all of this, and much more, into a luminous and engaging volume, one that reaches out ever further, both to us personally and into the spaces of our literary culture…

So….. Buy your copy today, Enjoy!

The Sly Night Creatures of Desire is duly ‘launched’!

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The launch of The Sly Night Creatures of Desire, Melbourne, 27 November 2016.

 – John Jenkins

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John Jenkins writes poetry, and on music, travel and the arts. He has authored, co-written or edited twenty-four books. In a previous lifetime he was a journalist and part-time academic.

The Sly Night Creatures of Desire is available from https://www.hybridpublishers.com.au/product-category/poetry/.

You can also purchase a copy directly from Debi Hamilton. Just email: deb.hamilton@optusnet.com.au

A Sparkling Constellation of Poems: John Jenkins launches ‘Princes by Night’ by Jeltje Fanoy

Princes by night by Jeltje Fanoy, Island Press Cooperative 2015, was launched by John Jenkins at Collected Works Bookshop, Melbourne on March 27, 2015

princess by nightJeltje Fanoy briefly described her new book, Princes by night, in these terms: “And now, finally, and years later, this collection of poems based on my family’s experience in the former Dutch Indies.”

Jeltje’s family migrated to Australia in 1963, first settling in Melbourne, then the North Sydney suburb of Lindfield.

Princes by night is clearly autobiographical, but not narrowly so. In one of its many dimensions, it is as much about the process of remembering, as it is about specific memories.

More than this, it insists upon always engaging with a much larger reality than the purely personal. The entire energy of the book flows outward, a widening connection with key places; and with people too, all sympathetically grounded in their own personal reality, their unique life context, and historical moment.

Princes by night contains 40 poems, and their average length is about a page and a half. The poems are all related, and inter-related. Collectively, they tell a story, indeed many stories.

To start with, the book’s cover shows an old-fashioned telephone, dangling invitingly from the clouds. (Incidentally, good-hearted humour is another thread which unites this book.) This image refers to the very first poem, titled ‘Hey father…!’ in which the poet is woken from sleep by her Dad, as he joyfully telephones her: from the hereafter.

In a way, that is what a vivid memory can feel like. Like a re-union across space and time. The book itself is a sort of family re-union, with, the living and the dead all brought back together, and meeting here, in its welcoming pages.

An early poem seems foundational, setting the stage for subsequent poems. In ‘The unnamed relatives’, Jeltje and her father discuss family photos, some set in the Dutch West Indies, where generations of the family, including cousins, aunts, grandparents, servants and cooks, were all part of a former colonial military and administrative world.

The title, Princes by night, refers to Jeltje’s cousin Jaap and his brothers, who would escape from their authoritarian father, and by night:

…cross over to the batik-patterned universe,
…to the Indonesian kampong
at the back of the house, across
the vast expanse of cultivated lawn,
bare-footed, and in their pyjamas,
to where the servants lived.

On the other side of this precise cultural and class divide, far from “…the cool Assistant Regents’ House”, and its “…towering mosquito-netted opulence”, a servant named Zain impressed the boys with his skills in oratory, while Zain’s wife served them fiery, spicy and delicious local fare.

This was a revelation for the young escapees, who would then be entertained with funny stories, and listen spellbound to tales from the Kumbang Hitam, tales accompanied on the genggong (or Balinese-style jaw harp).

Now, Kumbang Hitam means ‘black beetle’, a large earth-burrowing insect, spectacularly obsidian-carapaced, associated with mysticism and sorcery, and regarded in the mythology of many peoples as an intermediary between sky and earth, between reality and dreams.

Appropriately here, the mysterious black beetle is an intermediary between cultures, which can seem reciprocally dream-like, one to the other.

The poem goes on to say, how the boys started roaming into this parallel cultural world, avoiding church and study:

Feeling like exiles
during the day,
and princes, in stealth,
at night, the brothers
led a double life…”

Unfortunately, Jaap’s father (Jeltje’s uncle) got wind of things and cracked down heavily on the little princes by night, confining them to a special military-style, training school, and so their reign as part-time, nocturnal royalty came to an abrupt end. Thereafter, we are told, there was

…never again,
any opportunity, for Jaap,
to speak, unobserved,
to any Indonesian servant”.

In other poems, too, some of the half-suppressed or surrounding ethos of colonial violence can well up, as if volcanically, into otherwise serene domestic family relationships.

Jeltje Fanoy reading

Jeltje Fanoy reading at the launchj of Princes by night

We know terrible atrocities were committed by early Dutch planters and plunderers, particularly in Aceh, but this fact is certainly not dodged. Indeed, an ancestral Fanoy wrote an authoritative expose, a plea for humane policy.

Memories remain mixed in Princes by night. Many have a positive, even joyous, up-close immediacy; and then, and even perhaps in the very next line, subside almost back into silence, as part of a far-away almost never-was past. The rhythmic occurrence of both these registrations of memory is subject matter of some highly reflective and effective poems, such as ‘Far away (talking) Blues’.

In ‘Eating katjang story’ (‘katjang’ is Indonesian for peanuts) we are told how Jeltje’s grandfather made a crystal set radio, and: “…it would take ages to tune in / to far-away, strange-sounding signals…” Such an apt trope, I think, for Jeltje’s own accurate re-tuning-in to an obscure and exotic corner of the now, seemingly long-ago-faded Dutch empire! But, as she affirms, history is ever with us.

In another poem we also learn how Jeltje’s grandfather, after his much-loved wife died, then locked himself in his study, drinking beer and playing the same song on a wind-up gramophone, over and over again, for almost a year: Irving Berlin’s ‘Blue Skies’, sung by Josephine Baker.

At one point in the book, Jeltje’s father says he might know more Indonesian history than that of Europe. He would also recite: “…Indonesian myths / and legends to the household staff.” (‘Stories about food’.)

That Jeltje’s ancestors were cross-cultural inhabitants of diverse and disparate worlds is affirmed everywhere. In some ways, they appear forbears of a cross-cultural modernity, one – optimistically – now a celebrated norm.

The poem ‘Lampu dingding story’ mentions a kerosene lamp, with mounted mirror behind it, hanging in a children’s bedroom at night. (The mirrored light, the light of historical time, reflected hauntingly here; while the real lamp is so well-described, it leaps concretely back into being, across years of lost time.)

By this lantern light, the children’s Baboe (or Babu, Indonesian for child-minding servant, or Nanny) tells Indonesian tales, and makes ghostly faces, by pulling at her eyelids. But, as she tells the children, to break a ghost’s spell, they only need to shut their own eyes. Then, Baboe: “… slept on a mat in front of their beds // so they had nothing to fear.”

There are some touching portraits of these various Baboes. In one poem, a Dutch journalist who telephones Jeltje’s mother, confesses somewhat dramatically that her Baboe was the only person she ever loved.

Eventually, we learn how Jeltje’s father left Indonesia during the war years, to fight with the Resistance against the Nazi occupation of Holland. After many close escapes, he joined the exiled Dutch Navy. But his ship was hit by a Japanese torpedo, and later repaired at Cockatoo Island, on Sydney’s Parramatta River.

At the end of fighting in Europe, Jeltje’s father then returned to Indonesia. Around 1947, however, he began to suffer terrifying hallucinations, including night terrors of giant rats. The poem ‘What if (1947)’ confirms how he was under enormous pressure:

…still duty bound,
facing a vicious
colonial war
directly
after
the horrors of WW2…

Peace he fervently longed for proved elusive. And we are told, in ‘Stories about food’, how he had to carry

…his own father,
now skin over bone,
on his back, after WW2,
out of the gates of the
Japanese Internment Camp…

After all these ordeals, Jeltje’s father was administered electric shock treatments (E.C.T.) by the Dutch Navy, and granted an Honourable Discharge.

He returned again to Holland (Jeltje herself was born in Amsterdam) before the family moved to Australia. His earlier stay in Sydney, apparently, had left lasting memories, and Jeltje’s father now believed – with an almost celebratory optimism – in making a peaceful life afresh. Unfortunately, he then suffered increasingly from amnesia, probably due to the E.C.T.

Princes by night can be seen as a labour of love, with Jeltje attempting to restore, though its historically-re-echoing pages, the memory of her amnesiac father, to reinstate a lost subjectivity. Certainly her father’s portrait emerges as central to this book, amidst many significant portraits.

The Princes by night narrative is often pleasantly rambling and ragged, just like life itself; just as lived moments mostly are, in the course of their unfolding: life, onward-flowing, with closure and resolution only its retrospective glance backwards, and always open-ended as to further curtailment, further possibility…

This sparkling constellation of poems – each short and sweet, and seemingly simple on the surface – cuts deeply into memory and history: and very succinctly, employing that unique poetic dimension, of resonance. There is therefore – and necessarily so – much left unsaid, implied, partly sketched; all generously prompting one’s own research, and inviting completion of the historical jig-saw.

Finally, some poems pose puzzles and questions, while others leave clues and cues, thus suggesting ways for things to be resolved, as in classical story telling. But I won’t offer a spoiler, by explaining or revealing too much. Simply buy and read the book, and enjoy its fascinating journey.

– John Jenkins

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John Jenkins writes poetry, and on music, travel and the arts. He authored, co-written or edited twenty-four books. In a previous lifetime he was a journalist and part-time academic. John is currently working on a book of short stories, and a non-fiction book on his favourite film directors.

Princes by night is available from http://islandpress.tripod.com/ISLAND.htm

 

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Unbroken: John Jenkins launches Chain of Hearts by Karen Throssell

Chain of Hearts, poems by Karen Throssell (Ginninderra Press, 2012).

This is  a slightly edited version of the John Jenkins’ launch speech for Karen Throssell’s third book Chain of Hearts. The launch took place at Collected Works on 18th August 2012.

It’s a pleasure to launch Chain of Hearts, the third book of poems by my friend, neighbour and fellow writer Karen Throssell. These are poems marked by their clarity, intimacy of tone and directness of address. As a poet, Karen takes you into her confidence, and the poems unfold in a natural and sympathetic way. Some poems are highly personal and emotionally edgy, yet their intensity is counter-balanced by a familiar and conversational style.

Karen’s egalitarianism is always a given. Her poems are addressed at ‘eye-level’, and at first-person-pronoun-I-level, too… as if to a friend. To me, this is, one of the most engaging qualities of this book. The poet has (at least, for the most part) an uncomplicated and pragmatic approach to the English language and its endlessly rich resources.

Karen’s poems connect with us individually, and – as if to heighten this welcoming effect – many are set in domestic interiors, so there is an immediate sense of warmth and inclusion. In contrast to the many home-centred poems, however, are ones of travel and the open road, where a wider, humanistic engagement is never absent. Concern for people’s ordinary lives illuminates Buildings The Colour of Sky, which is set in Paris…

Buildings the Colour of Sky

The haunting hollow echo
of homeward tramping hordes,
sucked deep by roaring tides.

Swept along
on tired currents
through tiled tunnels,

until Sortie
they’re spat out

into white/ grey light.

Buildings the colour of sky.
Sleet – white slate – grey,
broken by black lace balconies

which beckon with curled fingers,
to small evening rooms
warm with soup

and clink of drink.
Little teeming pockets
of life up there.

Down here, there’s rain-black roads,
and coal-black coats
wrapped like wind.

We wear these too –
our Paris garb,
blurring us into blank-faced crowd.

Walk fast like them, look straight ahead –
not up in wonder at chariots of gold
gleaming out from all that grey.

Try not to feel too dwarfed
by all that towering history –
t­he tiers and tiers of years:

Battles, Kings and Guillotines
blood seeps out of solemn stone,
flowing onto cobbled streets

which echo still
with swish of skirt
and groan of cart.

Pressing home to bread and cheese
ignore the beckoning bars,
slink past the brassieres,

where wrapped in mellow glow
the lucky sit. They sip their wine
in clouds of smoke and smugly pass the time.

And all the others’ surging rush
so many, packed so tight –
rushing home to tiny rooms,

just another Paris night.

For the past 20 years Karen has managed Warrandyte Neighbourhood House, which co-ordinates teaching courses in the community. (Warrandyte is a Yarra River suburb 24 km north-east of Melbourne). Karen also organises the annual ‘Grand Read’ in Warrandyte – a showcase of local writing talent. She is one of those absolutely essential people who spread a lot of sunshine into their corner of the world, and is a champion of localism.

Karen seems to have found an agreeable niche in her river town of Warrandyte:  “I think that it’s got me / this sleepy dream town… // Me, the girl from Fitzroy / came here on a whim…” // Now I am here, / the river’s turned bossy, says Never Again! / to Best Practice meetings / and work-till-you-drop.” (from ‘River Town’).

Karen has been writing poetry for about 15 years, though non-fiction for a lot longer – and an important poetic mentor was the multi-talented writer and teacher Anne Edgeworth, in Canberra. Early influences included political poets such as Neruda. Karen, as some of you may know, has spent a lifetime in left politics, with a focus on social-justice, advocacy and equity.

The following is from another travel poem, Source of Life Not for  Sale… It describes a vicious cycle that has closed in on ordinary lives, and the concern is a global one:

“… What once fell free from the sky / Is now bottled / For those who can pay // And those clean containers / Fill slimy rivers / Carcasses bobbing with poisoned fish // Like a snake that swallows its tail / They kill the rivers / And sell us water // In bottles, / Which kill the river / So we need to buy plastic water… // All that brown tide / Should flow free / Fill the earth’s cup…” (from ‘Source of Life Not For Sale… conservationist poster, India 2006’.)

Particularly in this book, poetry and biography coincide. Karen’s father, Ric Throssell, was a career diplomat, posted overseas, and Karen spent her first four years in Brazil. Then her family returned to Canberra, where Karen’s academic path began, first at the ANU, then Sydney Uni, then Adelaide Uni for her Masters in politics; then La Trobe.

Karen has worked as an academic, both in universities and TAFE; and in the late 1970s for the Labour Resource (and Research) Centre, taking part in work projects for Victorian unions. In the Victorian Cain labour years, she was an equal opportunities officer, across many industries and challenges, which included helping female motor mechanics further their careers.

Her first non-fiction book, a history of Australian foreign policy, was published in 1988; titled The Pursuit of Happiness: Australia, “the Empire”, ANZUS, nuclear disarmament and neutrality. Her second non-fiction title, Taking Back Time: How Part-Time Work Will Revolutionize Your Life is now doing the rounds of publishers, and we wish it a good landing.

Karen’s trajectory of commitment, whether directly or implicitly, finds wide and various expression in Chain of Hearts. Recently, Karen has campaigned against gambling addiction, and more specifically, against investments in poker machines by Australia’s two supermarket giants. As several poems attest, it is not a disinterested campaign, as Karen and her family have been touched personally by this problem.

In a previous rocky campaign, Karen was threatened with legal action by ‘the Big Mac’ itself, after a pamphlet was written by Karen and several others, titled ‘Rip-off Ronald: How McDonalds is Exploiting our Kids”.

And here is a poem-pebble slung against yet another multinational Goliath, titled The Colour of Money…                      

The Colour of Money

I hear BP is taking out a patent
on a shade of green.

Green is the bush:
Australian green.
the layers and shadows of
blue-grey, green-blue,
hints of mist
and bushfire smoke,
shades upon shades,
green bleeding mauve
in the day’s cooling –
green as not-green.

Even so,
there are still echoes
of that English green,
tree-shorn fields
rolling in foreign ways,
and moss,
softly, velvety
yearning to be stroked –
green as England.

Rainforests,
shiny monsterio tendrilled
frog an fern unfolding
bright dripping soggy green,
undercurrent
of damp twining wetness –
green as jungles.

My first party dress:
dark emerald green,
real silk velvet,
with a white fur collar.
I stroked its sumptuousness
thinking of Queens, elves
and deep mossy pools –
green as growing girls.

I have a friend
who wears only green.
I think of her,
in her olives and jades –
shirts, silk and sea-coloured,
with shining scarves,
their twining teals
humming together –
green as gorgeous.

She’s a gardener, swathed,
immersed in it,
willing newborns –
green as innocent,
green as young –
to poke defiant through
stubborn-clay, parched dirt –
green as growth.

I hear there is a patent out
on a shade of green.

Finally, we come to family matters, often a highly personal (and powerfully expressed) arena, of both solace and distress, in Chain of Hearts. And where the biographical elements are most strongly linked to the poetic. Some of these family poems register shocks to the soul, as only the surprise loss of loved ones can detonate. Others take us into the harrowing territory of serious illness and the personal grief that surrounds it.Yet, despite the difficulties illuminated in this book, it remains an essay in quiet hope.

A long and extraordinary literary legacy within Karen’s family is also traced here, which might have began with Karen’s great grandfather – who was once editor of The Fiji Times and, later, of the Melbourne Sun.

Then followed Karen’s grand-mother, Katherine Susannah Prichard … author of 13 novels, as well as plays, journalism and verse – who declared she was, “born with ink in my veins…” Katherine Susannah Prichard, famously, was also a foundation member of The Communist Party of Australia. So much of that ink is red!

The ink kept steadily flowing, and down through the entire family.Karen’s father, Ric Throssell – as well as being a career diplomat – was author of 26 plays, as well as non-fiction titles.In the 1950s, Ric Throssell became victim of the hysteria and paranoia of the Cold War. And Karen is currently completing a play, titled The Man Who Wasn’t There, about that crazy era, and her father’s long fight for justice, after he became swept up in the infamous Petrov Affair and was falsely accused of being a spy.

More recently, the family ink seems to be fuelling the pens of Karen’s two daughters, Bryony and Katie.Bryony won the FAW junior poetry award when she was 16… And her attractive cover artwork is on Chain of Hearts.Katie, meanwhile, now lives in France, and translates extensively between English and French; mainly academic work so far, but lately gravitating towards the literary memoir in her own writing.

I will read perhaps the gentlest of Karen’s family series, about a CD of music once given to her sick mother.  Titled The Final Indulgence. It is also, wonderfully, a poem about music itself.

The Final Indulgence

(Ave Maria by Guillio Caccini)

The lingering: note of the violin
followed by the refrain – rising, falling
(molto crescendo, diminuendo)
languorous waves at sunset.

Long slow afternoons,
sadness seeping in.
Pate winter sun stroking her bedspread.

Repeated, until the same long note
is echoed by the soprano
the undulation
tremulous, tragic.

We have evening drinks together
like we always did,
but now gathered around her bed.

Then the voice soars –
(crescendo, aggravato)

the notes building up and up,
hovering –
the knife-sharp note poised.

This can’t be happening.
Maybe there’s more time.
She can’t die yet.

Then the despair of
the downwards swoop
(diminuendo, tenuto)
a slide into fathomless grief.

But in our hearts we know
these are her final days
the last of rose, all summers.

Now, as in conversation
the softer echo of the violins;
(pianissimo molto)
the sinking diminuendo.

This music was to be
my gift to her – ‘The Final Indulgence.’
before we knew –

The violins’ last refrain
so quiet, so slow
(lento, lento)
it becomes a prayer
until the final chord fades –

then silence.

 

To end on a very happy note, it’s not every author who has a new book – and becomes a proud grandmother! – in the same year. Katie and her husband, Gowan, live and work in Chartres, France, where six months ago, their first son, Sasha, was born, so the chain of hearts continues unbroken, and with gathering strength. It’s a little too early for Sasha to pick up a pen, so we will have to wait for that … In the meantime, we have Chain of Hearts to read… which I now declare launched!

– John Jenkins

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John Jenkins lived with Carol Novack in Sydney in the mid 1970s, when he first met many uniquely creative people, including Rae Jones. He is a sometimes visitor to Rochford Street, though now lives near the outer Melbourne suburb of Warrandyte, where Karen Throssell continues her writing and community-building work. His most recent poetry books are Growing Up With Mr Menzies (John Leonard Press, 2008) and (with Ken Bolton) Lucky for Some (Little Esther, 2012).

Chain of Heart is available from Ginninderra Press http://www.ginninderrapress.com.au/