A resonance that lingers: Judith Beveridge launches ‘Everyday Epic’ by Anna Kerdijk Nicholson

Everyday Epic by Anna Kerdijk Nicholso, Puncher and Wattmann 2015, was launched by Judith Beveridge at the Rosie Scott Women Writers’ Festival on 18th September 2015.

everyday_epic_310_437_sI’m delighted to be launching Anna Kerdijk­Nicholson’s Everyday Epic and I’d like to congratulate her on this fine new volume as well as the publisher, Puncher and Wattmann, for another terrific addition to contemporary Australian poetry.

As the title suggests, this book has a wide­-ranging, grand scope to it – the poems cover a rich variety of subjects: from personal poems, poems about landscape and urban settings, poems about art and art­works, both historical and contemporary, poems with current social and political content, as well as the final and climatic, historical series on Burke and Wills.

This book values and celebrates both the large and the ordinary, travelling outwards into politics, history and culture, yet coming back to the everyday personal worlds of love, suffering, injustice. Though the book is wide in scope, it is not a baggy book. The poems feel necessary and are beautifully honed, they have a sharpness of mind, a penetrating focus of image and diction, a resonance that lingers. And this is important because so many poems, while they can be arresting and alluring during the reading of them, seem to dissolve or evaporate in the mind once your eyes leaves the page – Anna’s don’t do this, they have an astringency that hangs around, an allure that stays with you, and this is an effect of the craft: the way Anna has been able to weigh her words with intense thought and chose them with subtle and powerful discrimination.

One poem I’ll read to illustrate this is the poem “Desert” – (p. 63). This poem has terrific economy while saying a lot, which is what all the best poems do. I love the way the word “murders” at the end of the first line can be read as belonging to “wildflower” as in “allows wildflower murders”, yet as you read the next line you realize “murders” belongs to “murders the momentary”. This playful slippage, of keeping the language moving and dynamic, of constantly surprising the reader is another hallmark of the book. I love the way Anna bends her language and sometimes her syntax to achieve many windfalls. The last stanza in “Desert” is beautifully constructed as Anna takes advantage of the double meaning of “magazine” as in glossy publication, but also as in its meaning as a receptacle that holds the cartridges to be fed into a gun. This sense is picked up and amplified in the last line by “triggers Intervention” – there are so many little nuances of meaning in the poem and they delight you as they invite you to tease them out.

Anna’s poems kept me delightfully engaged with the way the imagery and tone negotiate the very subtle changes of mood or modes of feeling. These poems have that admirable ability to grow in intensity out of their own emotional necessity; these poems seem to rise to discoveries of ­ and are themselves – epiphanies. Take for example the poem “Bangarra” (p. 79) – I love the way this poem so wonderfully combines a sense of stillness and movement in describing the dance, that seamless bringing together of opposites creates a lasting impression, all done through the crystalline images.

What there is in spades in this book is a compassionate sense and sympathy for the effects of injustice and wrong-­treatment metered out to the less powerful. Anna writes movingly and convincingly about the plight of refugees, of the suffering of indigenous people, exemplified in her three­-poem sequence which looks at two photos and one painting of Truganini. But perhaps the most powerful of all in the book is the last section called “The Factitious Tragedy of Burke and Wills” – a sequence of eight poems of emotional and graphic intensity which depicts the disintegration through starvation of members of the Burke and Wills expedition. In just eight poems Anna gives the reader what it might take a prose account several chapters to do – the selection of detail, the narrative pacing, the characterisation are all magnificently drawn. Anna really makes us feel the tension and the uneasiness, the tragedy at the heart of this story.

But the poem I’d to finally read is called “Foucault’s Pendulum” (p. 89) – the way the poem handles time I think is terrific, the present and past come into beautiful conjunction through the watching of a flitter­bat – which brings into the speaker’s mind memories of a museum in Holland which house a Foucault’s Pendulum and a colony of pipistrelles. I love the backward lean of the poem into memory, and then the forward stepping into the kinesethetic and visual movements of the flitter­bat. The images and details are orchestrated so well, the long, slowly­ moving, fluent lines feel like time swinging back and forth. This is a finely textured, superbly wrought piece which I urge you to re­read in order to fully appreciate the way the connections are braided seamlessly together, how Anna has brought the disparate and multiple qualities into a unified whole.

In this poem, as in others, there is a real subtlety of thinking. Jane Hirshfield in her wonderful book on poetry, Ten Windows, says “It is by and in its subtleties that a good poem is able both to answer uncertainty and to contain it” (p.131). She says “Subtle thinking liberates its subject from the expected and the assumed, from arrogance and the ordinary versions of what is thought true” (p. 130).

I think it’s true to say that poetry always returns to the inner, private life, to the hidden feeling, the buried motive, to the details that embody emotion. Each poet for us defines a world and it is important for us as readers to be exposed to as many of these differing worlds as we can. The Russian poet Andrei Voznesensky has said, “Languages are many but poetry is one”. Anna, in this latest volume Everyday Epic, has found a convincing and rich poetry that makes us feel welcome and makes us value the work that poetry does, which is to say things with a “passionate syntax” on the margins of the sayable and allow readers to become participants in their own relationship to the world.

 – Judith Beveridge

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Judith Beveridge is the author of The Domesticity of Giraffes, Accidental Grace, Wolf Notes and Storm and Honey all of which have won major prizes. Her latest collection, Devadatta’s Poems, was published by Giramondo Publishing in 2014 and Hook and Eye, a selected of her poems, was published by Brazilier Publishers in the USA. She is the poetry editor for Meanjin and teaches poetry writing at postgraduate level at the University of Sydney.

Everyday Epic is available on the Puncher and Wattmann website: https://puncherandwattmann.com/books/book/everyday-epic

Courageous and Compelling: Judith Beveridge launches ‘Signal Flare’ by Anthony Lawrence

Judith Beveridge launched Signal Flare by Anthony Lawrence (Puncher & Wattmann) at the Friend in Hand Hotel on 14th October 2013.

Anthony Lawrence

Anthony Lawrence reading at the launch of Signal Flare (Photo Robert Adamson).

I’m deeply honoured to be launching Anthony’s new book Signal Flare today. As is usual with Anthony’s work, there are great treasures and riches on every page. Anthony‘s poems reward you every time you go back to them. And I go back to Anthony’s poetry a great deal. Over the years I have found the poems to be inspiring, sustaining, provocative, awe-inspiring, far-reaching, beautiful, wildly imaginative, yet also very grounded in emotion.

What I’ve always admired about Anthony’s work is his ability to express powerful feelings through complexities of form and language. Anthony uses language as a form of revelation. In his poetry, language is substance; a means of generating realities and of extending and shaping consciousness. William Carlos Williams said: ‘It isn’t what [a poet] says that counts as a work of art, it’s what he makes.’

I know that when I read a poem by Anthony Lawrence I’m going to be taken somewhere transformative and unique. I know that something within me is going to be activated and enlarged. Wallace Stevens talked about the power of the imagination to transform reality. He is famous for saying that poetry ‘helped people live their lives’. By this I think he meant that poetry can change our perceptions and help us escape the numbness of habit and daily routine. We need the poet’s eye to explore, to celebrate, to make the familiar extraordinary and to make space for the inner life. Anthony’s ability to keep his readers, and also himself, in a state of wonder and amazement, is one of his great specialties.

Signal Flare, the new book, is riddled with wonder and amazement, yet it is also underpinned by an ability to obverse meticulously, and to go about its image-making as ‘primarily a discipline of rightness’ -(another phrase from Stevens). Let me list a few of these truth-to-feeling images:

….Sydney rock oysters
like ceramic fuse plates
sparking and shorting-out in the wash.

– ‘Lines in Absentia’

After the black rain squall
………of an argument has blown over
……………….we talk about how we
………are spirits with working mouths
a crazing of bones
………and a scribble of red and blue
……………….
electrical wiring
………heated by blood
from a four-chambered engine room.

– ‘Nocturne’

Blood, you gnarly old scholar
pouring over illuminated texts
an arterial wound brings up from stack
turn off your lamp and write your name
before you thumb the uncut pages
of my skin.

– ‘Signatures’

 Orb spiders lie cruciform on nets they have thrown.
They have a bladderwrack bulb for an abdomen
and graffiti stencils
above the poised, furred joinery of their legs.
They like to harvest blown pollen
which they keep in a sling below the sleeves
that house their fangs.
The netted shells of insects
are kept for their fine acoustic qualities
when stitched into mobiles
along with the lacework of dead leaves.

– ‘Orb Spiders

 The discordant, wrought-iron choir inside a storm
unmantles your resolves.
On nights like this
you dig a wick from its hollow
and carry cupped-flame from room to room.
In the clapped-out framework of a high window
the furred treble clef
of a spider in snared repose
is enough to keep you occupied
as the rain dies away like forced applause.

– ‘A Night at Home’

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You can see how the details have a sparkling precision and make us see things in an enlarged and energised way.

Something revolutionary occurs, I believe, when the poet, through exploration and invention, discovers the images and metaphors, the rhythms and sound patterns which open up and reveal a new set of meanings. Anthony’s poetry is remarkable for this. I’ve always enjoyed the way that Anthony integrates observation with thought and reflection, so that his poems are never just descriptive, but they open up vistas and perspectives, simultaneously linking and activating many assumptions and ideas.

Many poems in Signal Flare are meditations on nature, metaphysics, love, loss and mortality. These are Anthony’s prevailing themes, yet there is a more pronounced elegiac tone in this book, There are many poems of tenderness and compassion, and they sing with a generous voice. I’d like to read Moth Orchid, which expounds so simply yet movingly on loss

I’ve been trying to find the flower
that best defines you.
That it has to be unusual
in need of care
requiring an abundance of warmth and light
difficult to find and has a name
with the music of earth or air inside it…
the moth orchid comes to mind
and remains –
……..a flower that thrives
……………….at rare altitudes
one that’s been behind and above
the deaths of men who fell
while trying to claim it
from some distant, lofty place.
Have I said enough?
Has my definition gone
some way towards revealing you?
Let me say the flower’s name again:
the quiet vowels
the heavy consonants of grief.

In a poem, I always look at the poet’s ability to capture a number of extras, or windfalls. Anthony‘s poems are full of bonuses, because he pays painstaking attention to craft. He is able to garner much from his syntax, his rhythms, his lineation and his stylish and sure-footed metaphors. He is able to modulate his voice in ways that are both casual and intense.

I think with this volume, there’s no question that the level of astute attention that he as given to craft has gone up a notch: each line break has been carefully thought out, each move serves the poem. There are so many aspects which have been so expertly calibrated. Anthony often runs his sentences over many many lines, yet he never loses control; the branching or architecture, the flow of the sentences across the lines are simply masterful; he beautifully settles the weight and drift of the cadences in ways that are satisfying and surprising. Though his sentence constructions are often complex, his use of the line disencumbers any heaviness that might be produced by a build-up of phrases and clauses. A great part of the effect of Anthony’s poems is achieved through the balancing and positioning of the thoughts over the lines; each line will let a poem run out a little further on its syntax, shaping the pulse of thought: This is especially true of the very first poem in the book ‘Lines in Absentia’.

In Signal Flare Anthony’s voice is still seasoned with lyrical, dramatic and narrative impetus, but it’s also a book that is more graceful and enterprising, perhaps more of a book of mood, of memory, past and present. Though it startles with its agile, daring, off-centre imagination, it still has tenancy in the extrinsic world and has strong emotional coherence built from the layering of finely crafted lines. It is obvious that Signal Flare has a grandeur of language and thought that must surely have been hard-won. It also attests to Anthony’s courageous and compelling consciousness and his remarkable ability to work his material extensively and ambitiously.

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

Signal Flare is available from http://puncherandwattmann.com/books/book/signal-flare

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cold wet frozen

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

And her dad the goalie
In a business suit

Something’s dragged them out –
Some promise or madness

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

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

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

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

at the pedestrian crossing

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

distorts
and in turn
denies the tableau
with moving graffiti
insistently

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

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

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

Contingency

Imagination
Doesn’t get
Dirt in its eye

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

Acme

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

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

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

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

no wonder

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

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

torch crucible Bunsen burner bonfire

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

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

-Judith Beveridge

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

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

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