Writers for Refugees – Melbourne Public Launch

writers4refugeesWriters for Refugees was founded in December 2013 by fiction writer Kalinda Ashton and poet and spoken word artist Benjamin Solah with the aim of protesting the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees. Their first major task was to encourage prominent writers, academics and journalists to join them in speaking out against policies of mandatory detention, offshore processing and the elimination of the prospect of permanent resettlement in Australian for people who arrive here by boat. Rochford Street Review have signed up and fully support their aims.

Next Thursday (13 March 2014) Writers for Refugees will be having their official public launch in Melbourne at 6pm at Bella Union, Level 1, Trades Hall, Corner of Lygon and Victoria Streets. Speakers and readers will include Arnold Zable, Maxine Beneba Clarke, Abe Ape, Jeff Sparrow and Ali Alizadeh. (Facebook invite https://www.facebook.com/events/408501482616562/)

Unfortunately we wont be in Melbourne for the launch but if you will be we would urge you to attend and show your support.

If you can’t make the launch you can still show your support by signing and agreeing to the Writers for Refugees Statement: http://writersforrefugees.com/2013/09/03/writers-for-refugees-statement/

The statement reads:

As a writer, I am opposed the system of mandatory detention of refugees in Australia. This system, which in some cases sees refugees, including children, imprisoned for years, is inhumane and unjust. I acknowledge the suffering faced by refugees presently held in detention centres both on- and off-shore and will continue to speak out about my country’s treatment of those seeking asylum. Refugees are facing dangerous, inappropriate and inadequate conditions on Nauru and Manus Island and being further traumatised by their exposure to such facilities. Others are drowning at sea while Abbott continues to vow he will turn back the boats. I am committed to upholding human rights and extending generosity and assistance to those fleeing persecution and oppression. I choose to use my voice as a writer to speak for the voiceless and the silenced who have come to Australia by boat seeking freedom and asylum but were met with ‘cruel, inhuman and degrading’ treatment. I wish to acknowledge those who have lost their lives or their hope attempting to seek safety and solace here. I read this statement to call on the Australian government to welcome refugees and end these policies.

– Mark Roberts


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Pointing a Tongued Sword: Heather Taylor Johnson reviews ‘Another Fine Morning in Paradise’ by Michael Sharkey

Michael Sharkey’s Another Fine Morning in Paradise. Five Islands Press, 2012

One of the things I love most about migrating to Australia from America is the lack of enthusiasm here for discussing cultural politics at a party. American’s have a habit of getting worked up and defensive when expounding upon the state of their country, and they love to verbally finger a wrongdoer; Australians speak wryly, almost out of the corners of their mouths. In America, one often leaves the conversation feeling angry, physically changed; in Australia, they have just had a chuckle and a drink. Sure, this may be a sweeping generalisation but it is something I find unendurable when I encounter it in America, and witty and charming when it happens in Australia, and this is what I think about – the witty and charming – when I read Another Fine Morning in Paradise, where Michael Sharkey performs what I have just described as Australian, in poetry.

In his latest book Sharkey points a tongued sword directly at Australia, but there is no sense of attack. His is a playful style, much the antithesis of some of our more prevalent migrant poets, such as Ali Alizadeh and Ouyang Yu, whose ‘digs’ at Australian culture and politics are not so much ‘elbow jabs’ as they are deeply felt and resonate in the gut. There is a great sense of discomfort in some of the poetry of Alizadeh and Yu because of its unswerving confrontation, but Sharkey skirts around the frank and is mischievously ironic in his themes. He creates what might seem to be alternative worlds where ‘there are such good things to eat, and no one’s sick: / the weather’s crackajack, the garden spruce’ and then offers the punch which takes us back to what we know: ‘Soon, they took a vote and ended this.’ (‘The Garden of Earthly Delights) That he offers his readers a paradise then takes it away without explanation encourages us to question how we feel about Australia, without being led. He does this in ‘The Superheroes in Old Comics’ which illustrates a comic book world and simultaneously questions our own values:

Families are dysfunctional in here.
It’s like real life, whatever that is.

………….Nobody’s black.
……………………………..No action happens
out of town.
………….There is no forest, desert,
………….No Indigenes exist.

tall buildings block the sky where now and then
a flying man or piston-engined airplane
happens by.

Sometimes his worlds are our worlds, literally, and there is no need to disguise them. The poem leading on from ‘The Superheroes in Old Comics’ is ‘Women in Their Houses on Their Own’, and it presents a man contemplating a woman – presumably his partner – eating dinner on a plane, flying through time zones, reminding him of two weeks earlier when she was eating alone while he was in another time zone, while his daughter will be eating out and other women will be eating in, alone. This sounds familiar enough, but Sharkey’s way is to offer us a small dose of absurdity, so that we can see the shallowness of our busy lives. I suppose, in following on, I need to say that one doesn’t need to walk away from Another Fine Morning in Paradise feeling guilty or depressed – I’m not sure one can – because the lilts in his rhythm, some of the poetic forms recalling a less jet-setting time, and the straightforwardness of his word choice is non-threatening. It’s jest-worthy sarcasm; that sideways sneer over a chuckle and a drink at a party.

This seems like a rounded way to end my review, but I cannot press save and send without discussing the final poem of the book: ‘Where the Bunyip Builds its Nest: Five Centos’. Centos are poems composed of other poets’ lines, and in this 200 line poem Sharkey has fittingly borrowed from only Australian poets to write a poem about Australia. More than a lyrical ode to the geography, the culture, the history of Australia; it is an ode to Australia’s finest voices:

And shall thy joyous lays no more be heard?
What songs were they the Sirens sung?
Against the shade-side of a bending gum
they chain us two by two, and whip and lash along.
We will not join the general groan,
O barren land! O blank bright day!
O hopeless wilderness without one fruit,
what words are left for Hope to say?

Who owns this voice? Who speaks?
All that I know about poetry is that it has
Familiar compound ghosts? No,
linen folded for the future:
iambics chide industrialists
and vanish in the gentle air.
Mild forgotten poems
drop their kiddies at the kindy.

Not only is it an impressive poem for its clever cut and paste structure, which one can imagine would have taken weeks – months – to gather and puzzle together, but each stanza is broken up into eight lines, adding to a sense of nostalgia for a closed form poetry not of our time, a sense of nostalgia for an Australia not of our time.

Another Fine Morning in Paradise isn’t a heavy read, though it is densely filled with poetry. I cannot say that it struck me to the core, emotionally, because that would not only be a lie but would represent a different kind of poetry. I can, however, say that I did briefly contemplate carrying this book around with me the next time I go to America, so when ‘certain’ people ask me what it’s like to live in Australia, what our ‘policies’ are (oh dear), I can lend them this book and duck out quickly, avoiding any ensuing confrontation.

–  Heather Taylor Johnson


Heather Taylor Johnson is the author of two poetry books, Exit Wounds and Letters to my Lover from a Small Mountain Town. Her third collection will be out in February from IP. She has a PhD in Creative Writing and occasionally teaches it at Flinders University. Her first novel, Pursuing Love and Death (HarperCollins), will be out in August.

Another Fine Morning In Paradise is available from Five Island Press: http://fiveislandspress.com/catalogue/another-fine-morning-in-paradise

Diversity and Cohesion: Marietta Elliott-Kleerkoper reviews Thirty Poets edited by Felicity Plunkett

Thirty Poets edited by Felicity Plunkett. UQP 2011.

Martin Duwell (Australian Poetry Review, 1.2.12) considers anthologies:

… weird and fascinating reading experiences. In many ways they are rather like poems themselves. They have an intention … but the possible meanings of the work often overtake its intention. Like poems they have a personal stamp but they also have a context – the context of other anthologies. Like poems they have complex and important internal structures …

An anthology is like a bunch of flowers, the whole being greater than the sum of the parts, and there is an art in arranging both flowers and poems. The two opposing principles of variety and cohesion often create a tension, as it is difficult to achieve both in equal measure. In the case of this anthology, the structural principle is the nature of the selection criteria: the poets were born after 1968 and had to have at least one publication. In fact, as far as we can judge (not all the poets reveal their date of birth in their biography), the dates of birth fall somewhere between 1968 and 1980. Apart from the criterion of year of birth, the arrangement is studiously neutral, poets being represented in alphabetical order, a common practice these days (e.g. Best Australian Poems). The advantage of a neutral arrangement is that readers may find their own connections. For example, there seems to be a deep link between the first poem, Ali Alizadeh’s ‘Listening to Michael Jackson in Tehran’and the last poem, Petra White’s ‘The Gone’: a journey across geographical and cultural territory and a mourning for those ‘packed into the present tense of here lie/ and the single past tense of the headstone’. David McCooey, in his introduction, has commented that Plunkett ‘has chosen the poems…so that the collection reads like a ‘book’, with artfully repeating motifs and themes.’

Themes and motifs I have chosen to trace have been those identified by David McCooey (‘Surviving Australian Poetry – the new lyricism.’ International Poetry Web, May 1 2007) as being part of a ‘new lyricism’. He identifies three elements of this new lyricism: ‘worldliness’, ‘the uncanny’ and ‘lyricism’. While, as McCooey has stated in the introduction to the anthology, there is clearly an enormous variety of theme and form represented, and we would not push this framework too far, I found it useful in exploring the ‘flavour’ of the anthology, with the caveat that both Potter (Poetry International Web, July, 2011) and Alizadeh (Cordite, 30th May, 2011) have expressed reservations about such a classification.

McCooey defines ‘worldliness’ as: ‘… the ‘recumbent poetic’ that can be found through any number of antecedents not determined by nationality.’ He has identified ‘key concerns in Australian poetry’ as ‘self and place’.

Place is interwoven with memory, as in the poems of Samuel Wagan Watson; as a source of ambivalence, as in ‘Antipodes’, by Bronwyn Lea, exploring the ambivalence of a European in Australia. Jaya Savige, in the persona of Michael Dransfield, exposes the Australian abroad:

I guess I’ve never understood
the romance of those ruins of the blood.

In Sarah Holland-Batt’s poem ‘The Art of Disappearing’, it is the self that keeps changing:

Desire will not hold …
Something is always about to happen.
You get married, you change your name…’

In Petra White’s poem ‘The Magnolia Tree’, the tree is a metaphor for:

A mind beginning to know itself again
after a long period of hostage.

Finally, Alizadeh and Kambasovic-Sawers explore self and place from the perspective of their bicultural heritage.

The ‘uncanny’ has to do with ‘strangeness, eeriness … we can find it in the unfamiliarity of the familiar, or in the sense of the familiar in the unfamiliar.’ The uncanny, of course, has a long list of antecedents, not least surrealism. In discussing the uncanny, McCooey uses as an example a poem by Michael Brennan, which has been republished in this anthology: ‘The Other’:

‘… the doppelganger (sic) … is associated with sleep … with
death … sleep is uncanny because it unsettles notions of the self …’

In Brennan’s first ‘Letter Home’ the narrator’s brother, who has died, appears in his mind: he seems to see him everywhere, as in a dream. Whilst he doubts there is an afterlife, the image is at once disturbing and comforting. The second ‘Letter Home’ consists of a dream sequence where dream and poetry are interwoven:

The people douse themselves in petrol
As though poetry mattered

As in a dream, all elements: earth, sky, water, fire, are confounded.

Kate Fagan’s ‘Dadabase’, dedicated to Michael Farrell, is a mosaic of non-sequiturs, a word- and soundscape.  ‘A Little Song’ presents a surrealist landscape, with juxtapositions that make you sit up: ‘Before the world was blue/it was a little darker …’ ‘Concrete Poem’ consists of a series of mini-poems, statements reminiscent of Neruda, dream-like associations with their own internal thematic logic.

In Lisa Gorton’s ‘Dreams and Artefacts’, dreams, history and poetry merge:

‘ … the mimic ship’s hull half-
sailed out of the foyer wall,
as if advancing into somebody else’s dream –
… these things raised
from a place less like place than like memory itself –’

Lyricism ‘is what we associate most commonly with poetry: musicality; brevity; intensity; the drive to epiphany or insight and an emphasis on thought, feeling and subjectivity… The ‘new lyricism continues the lyrical project by being both faithful and unfaithful to poetry.’ (McCooey, op.cit)

Lyricism is as old as the hills – so what might be new about the ‘new lyricism’? Perhaps nothing, or perhaps it lies in the notion of poets being ‘both faithful and unfaithful to poetry’ – maintaining an ironic distance from their own work, weaving into their poetry reference to the whole poetic enterprise. Many of the poets make specific reference to the poetic process in a variety of ways, such as using words such as ‘poetry’, ‘rhythm’ ‘syllable’, thus doubling the frame; the poem contains within it the history of its evolution. In Nick Riemer’s: ‘The Thing You’re In’, the poet is ‘in it’, yet sees himself somehow as an outsider, sitting on the sofa watching movies: ‘Everything happens fast and then is gone’. The poem is also about the frustrating task of capturing this fleeting reality speeding past as water down the drain:

I type full stop and an arrow
appears: today is a flickering thing, there’s
not much I could say about today.’

In Petra White’s ‘Karri Forest’, the forest, in the process of being destroyed, still ‘swirls you in its poem’, so that the creation of the poem in some way counteracts the destruction of the forest.

Referencing other authors and literary works: David Prater’s ‘Sunbathing’ begins with a quotation from Bernard O’Dowd, and the narrative voice seems to suggest this author; in ‘Oz’, Prater references O’Dowd’s ‘Australia’, at the same time creating his personal sardonic eulogy to the country. In ‘A821.4’ that library classification stands for ‘…the place where we all somehow hope to die’, a place where we are ‘in solidarity with those whose fame/ exceeds our own’.

Finally, in Jane Gibian’s ‘Sound Piece’, the items stored in the curiosity cabinet, such as ‘a baby sister sucking her dummy in the night’ are the stuff of poetry, making the whole poem a metaphor for the poetic process.

There are many more paths to explore through this varied and cohesive anthology. You could simply revisit your old favourites and acquire new ones. A poet who has for some time been a favourite of mine is Sarah Holland-Batt. In ‘This Landscape Before Me’, the natural environment, history, the present, in the form of the poet, and the future, in the shape of the rabbit, who is about to die, are all anchored. Then there is the delicacy of ‘Night Sonnet’, with its startling metaphors: ‘Cars drowse under the window quiet as mousetraps’ and ‘a grit of light trembles…’

I am not in the habit of criticising choices made by editors of an anthology. We all have our favourites and each editor has their own notion of what matches. Generally, the poets are all beyond the ‘emerging’ stage and are both competent and interesting. However, not all poems by individual poets are at the same level. The practical constraint of selecting roughly the same number of pages from each contributor, while having the advantage of providing a substantial representation, also carries the disadvantage of including some lesser work. As the poets are relatively young, this may eventually prove to be a disservice.

Another constraint perhaps too rigidly applied was ‘post 1968’. Plunkett herself mentions in the preface several poets  who could have been included, both ‘emerging’ and older poets. I agree. I wonder why she did not do this, as it would have provided greater continuity, instead of giving the impression that the cut-off point had more than ‘practical’ significance.

This collection has effectively balanced competing demands of diversity and cohesion: it is a richly coloured and thoughtfully arranged bouquet of poems. It has already inspired another anthology with authors selected on the basis of age: John Leonard’s Young Poets: An Australian Anthology (John Leonard Press, 2011), featuring 7 poets at greater length (some of the same poets, and even the same poems, as in Thirty Australian Poets). It will be interesting to see what other anthologies might follow in its wake.


Thirty Poets is available from UQP http://www.uqp.uq.edu.au/

Marietta Elliott-Kleerkoper was born in Amsterdam and survived the Holocaust in hiding. She arrived in Australia at the age of 11 with her family. She taught foreign languages and English as a Second Language and lectured in Teacher Education at several universities. She has been published in Australian and overseas journals and anthologies, has won several poetry prizes. Her Dutch-English poetry book and CD Island of wakefulness appeared with Hybrid in 2006. She is a former president of Melbourne Poets Union.

Adam Aitken on The Political Imagination: Contemporary Postcolonial and Diasporic Poetries Conference

The Political Imagination: Contemporary Postcolonial and Diasporic Poetries Conference was held at Deakin University (Deakin Prime in Melbourne) on 12th and 13th of April 2012. Adam Aitken, who presented on “(un)becoming hybridity in my poetry”, looks back on the highlights of the conference. This account was first published on Adam’s blog http://adamaitken.blogspot.com.au/

Adam Atiken. Photo by Adrian Wiggins (www.pureandapplies.net/adrian)

The Political Imagination: Contemporary Postcolonial and Diasporic Poetries Conference was one of the best conferences I’ve been to. The conversations were lively, and there was a refreshing openness and willingness to understand the institutional limits of our thinking. The postmodern did its dance with the postcolonial in a good atmosphere that seemed free of the defensiveness and self-censoring that often occurs at such conferences.

One of the major debates has been the reasons for the demise of postcolonial study of poetry throughout the world, and the subsequent shrinkage of voices from the margins. But no-one came out and ‘blamed’ the postmodernists, no one blamed “po-co” theory for being out-of-date, but good critiques were mounted on the limits of these paradigms, and poetry as poesis or “making” (dare I say in Shelleyan terms the “Spirit” of Poetry) seemed to survive the machine that theorises it. (Or at least I didn’t feel overwhelmed by theory, but affirmed by the workability of bringing together of theory and poetry performance. It certainly allowed me a freedom to speak in ways I have been craving for years.)

To kick things off Peter Minter reprised his critique of the recent Gray/Lehmann battleship anthology Australian Poetry Since 1788. Minter argues that the project comes across as a “neo-colonial vanity project” that fails to achieve its claimed objective representation of Indigenous, ethnic and postmodern Australian poets; its fails to disclose its subjectivity, a point made already by David McCoohey in an early review of the book. Minter called the framing of the collection (by its introduction and its faux-Aboriginal emu-design cover pages) an example of nationalistic kitsch. One view is that whatever the quality of the selection, the canonising function of the national anthology represents a kind of management document for the archiving of a certain ideal Imaginary, one whose border are already belated and possibly out of date, an argument both Bridie McCarthy (“Border Protection: Neo-Colonialism and the Canon”) and Lucy Van (“‘Why Waste Lines on Achille?’: Tracing the Critical Discourse on Postcolonial Poetry”) touched on in their respective papers.

Minter’s figure of the archipelagic map of Australia swims for me, so rather than one island made of “empty space”, we are a constellation of geo-psychic centres scattered between the equator and semi-arctic latitudes. The desire is to connect these centres in a diplomatic way, through a poetics of relation and movement. Minter’s eco-poetic is complex and continually re-imagined and changing, and so far no national cultural “programme” or manifesto is offered to replace current Federal-State structures for the arts. In a sense, Minter’s Glissantian vision is antithetic to centralist bureaucratisation, is self-engendering and anarchic. (Should the participants in the debate over the direction of the ‘peak-body’ Australian Poetry take note here?)

The Eurocentrism of the academies was hardly apparent here (though the venue itself was pure High Modernist Corporate and rather neutral in terms of cultural markers of identity, but everything worked; and some of the conference food was “Asian”), and rather than merely accept any kind of approach as the “right one” for all of us, there was a thoughtful suspension (or muting perhaps) of the manifesto-impulse. That said, a certain participant confided in me that she thought John Hawke’s launch of VLAK, a journal produced by a coalition of Australian internationalists and expatriate Louis Armand, had a whiff of “cultural cringe”. Looking through the volume afterwards, I was impressed by how many Australian-based poets had a presence here, and rather than read this as “Australians going Euro-avant-garde”, I read a concomitant vector in which Australian marginalism and our own awkward multiculturalism and location hybridises the master signifier of “Europe” itself. VLAK is European, but the term already masks its own contradictions and the seeds of its own deconstruction and impossibility. VLAK comes out of Prague, not Paris or London or Berlin, and arguably it speaks of some kind of Eastern European marginality vis-à-vis the West, a marginality that invites collaboration with our own.

For everyone the challenge was to talk about Australian poetry as something that is still growing and negotiating its own relations to it own marginality, and to speak with/back to the grand body of European postmodern theory, to postcolonial traditions (the subaltern studies group, Latin American traditions, hybridity theorists and others), and to Asian-American literary studies, a kind of big sibling of a nascent Asian-Australian formation represented here by Tim Yu a leading theorist and Asian-American poet in his own right. As Michael Farrell’s quip about “marsupial consciousness” suggests, the organism is still semi-foetal and in need of many mothers’ protection, and it would be premature to champion any kind of eco-poetics or hybrid consciousness as the future terrain of our reading.

Ali Alizadeh offered a post-Marxist critique of how we over-determine identity in migrant and indigenous poetries, and, in a controversial reading of an Ali Cobby Eckermann poem, suggested that identity is virtual and operates as a kind of fantasy that obscures the material and eco-political conditions that oppressed subjects deal with. Arguing against that I suggested a way of reading identity in Butlerian terms, which sees identity as performative and constituted in the interpellative moment. We become who we are – gendered and raced – through self-identity, but also because we respond to the labels others put upon us, and the effects of language and of naming are material; identity is symbolic as language itself is a system of symbols with communicative and ideological effects; identity is not merely symbolic or virtual or to be relegated under macro-economic superstructures and ideologies, and there is a complex pre-ideological moment before identity is affixed, through language, on the body. But I argue that in the face of essentialistic racism we can hybridise those labels deliberately and disobediently through speech acts.

Maintaining a hold on Australian studies, the enthusiastic, warm, and venerable Lyn McCredden gave a brilliantly strong reading of the tropic traces of “Australian nation” (its status as a centring Imaginary) in poems by John Forbes and Ken Bolton. Opening up her own position to debate, she invited different readings. I suggested that she extend the study of nation in Forbes and Bolton to include their poems about other nations, European ones at that. McCredden’s main point is that however we try to break away from controlling discourses of nation in the popular imaginary (e.g. ANZAC, the Beach, Tom Roberts painting of shearers etc.) Nation and Nationalism Aussie style won’t go away and should not be ignored. Indeed poets need to address such a demotic in order to remain relevant as critics of the current neo-colonial regress in popular Australian culture.

Other notable papers included Michael Farrell’s reading of on the Neo-baroque in Michael Dransfield. Michelle Cahill gave a brilliant paper on the subaltern and the necessity, perhaps, to step outside the institutions that continually silence the subaltern. There was a good discussion of what the margin-centre looks like now in the Australian poetry scene, and how an Asian-Australian literary formation might address margin-centre formations. It was my own sense that good will exists towards the project of opening up the space with an Asian-Australian anthology, and many are looking forward to have more discussion of form and language in AA poetries.Tim Yu’s paper re-enforced a perception that AA poetry was invisible, and that in his own research he had begun to see that there was no easy parity between the two versions of AA – Asian-Australian was NOT an obvious kindred model of Asian-American literature.

Other great papers and performances included Danijela Kambaskovic-Sawers, “A migrant poet and the fine art of escapism”and Ania Walwicz reading “‘cut-tongue’-fragmentation, collage and defence”. Danijela’s story of how she overcame her own silence, and learned to speak of post-war trauma, was extremely moving and instructive. Her own sense of her own migrancy in Australia reminded everyone that being a migrant poet is subject to all sorts of limitations and expectations and impositions from the audience. Her own work, however, is both resistant and critical of what “migrant poet” means in the first place, and her life and work which is often surreal, playful, confounding, often transcends the limits of the framework imposed by managed multiculturalism.

A fitting closure was Ann Vickery’s wonderful paper on Juliana Spahr’s book Fuck You Aloha I Love You, a book very much about how a white woman negotiates cultural chauvinism in Hawai’i, and how the white female critic can respond to anti-white racism. In the face of hateful vilification, what responses are open to scholars to keep the debates and conversations open? How do empowered white scholars deconstruct their own cosmopolitan readings of the non-white, the non-cosmopolitan and the colonised on the margins? The ideas were familiar, but what moved everyone was Ann’s reading of Spahr’s poem and Ann’s “confession” that she felt guilty that she had neglected race in much of her scholarship. Awful silences occur in classrooms when race-talk becomes a divisive machine, a taboo subject, so if the military atmosphere is to be decommissioned, poetry like Spahr’s should be heard and conferences like this one need to continue.

Finally it was a great loss not to have heard Sam Wagan Watson, who was ill. I wanted very much to discuss how he saw hybridity theory and its limits, the subject of my paper. In defiance of much hybridity-theory’s need to “smash essentialisms” I am sure he would have given an impassioned description and defence of the essential at the heart of his identity and how his poetry configures nation, land, imagination, desire, and identity. A conversation for another time.

Adam Aitken


Adam Aitken latest collection of poetry is the chapbook Tonto’s Revenge (Tinfish Press). He has just returned from three seasons in France and now lives in Sydney.

Poetry Conferences each side of the Tasman: Short Takes on Long Poems and The Political Imagination

Over the next few weeks there are two poetry conferences you shouldn’t miss…unless like me you are in Sydney and the conferences are being held at the University of Auckland and the Melbourne campus of Deakin University.

First to Auckland…next week, on the 29th and 30th March I will be missing Short Takes on Long Poems: A Trans Tasman Symposium at the University of Auckland hosted by the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre (nzepc). This  is the sixth symposium nzepc has organised (the others being Auckland 2004, Christchurch 2005, Bluff 2006, Auckland 2010 and Sydney 2010).

According to the conference organisers Short Takes on Long Poems will focus on “short long poems and long short poems; in epic and seriality; in the book-length or site-specific poem”. They continue:  “we like the challenge of folding the universe into a matchbox. We like matchboxes made of dark matter. We want to be surprised, diverted and delighted by what we can bring to points of exchange, and we want to bring those points – before, during, and/or after our symposium – into digital renditions”.

Some of the highlights, from an Australian perspective include John Tranter talking about his poem ‘The Anaglyph,’ collected in Starlight: 150 Poems (UQP 2010). Also on the program is Pam Brown who will presenting Kevin Davies’ long poem ‘Duckwalking a Perimeter’, the penultimate section of his book  The Golden Age of Paraphernalia,  Philip Mead on John Kinsella’s 400-page Divine Comedy: journeys through a regional geography, Hazel Smith on ‘The Film of Sound’ – the contemporary long poem exists not only on the page,” but has also evolved off the page through performance, intermedia work and new media writing”,  Sam Moginie and Andy Carruthers on Jas H. Duke’s Destiny Wood and Australian Experimentalism, Toby Fitch reading from his work ‘Rawshock’ a long poem in 10 parts, Martin Harrison on the question of endings, Jill Jones  on the intersection of the long poem  with “other art practices, other modalities”, Ann Vickery on on a series of collaborative longish poems written and performed by Australian poets Pam Brown, Carol Christie, Jane McKemmish and Amanda Stewart,  Ella O’Keefe on John Anderson’s book-length poem the forest set out like the night and Jessica Wilkinson on her long poetic-biography of early cinema actress Marion Davies,  And this is before we start looking at the New Zealand and other international presenters.

Even before I will be able to start to get over my disappointment at missing Short Takes on Long Poems, I’m going to have to confront even more disappointment when I  wont be able to make the trip to Melbourne for  The Political Imagination: Contemporary Postcolonial and Diasporic Poetries  at Deakin University (Deakin Prime in Melbourne) on 12th and 13th of April 2012.

According to the organisers ‘The Political Imagination’ will bring “together some of Australia’s leading poets and poetry scholars to investigate the state of contemporary postcolonial and diasporic poetries. It aims to explore the contentious, at times controversial, issues surrounding the production and discussion of poetry and poetics in work that engages with the politics of the postcolonial, the transnational and the diasporic. Among the topics addressed by symposium participants will be opposition, identity, subversion and hybridity”.

One of the potential highlights, as we approach the 39th anniversary of Michael Dransfield’s death later in April, is Michael Farrell’s presentation on ‘‘a needle spelling XANADU’: Reading Michael Dransfield’s ‘Courland Penders’ through the Neobaroque’. To quote from the abstract to this paper:

The neobaroque, also known as the colonial or counter-baroque is posed, in Latin American literature, as a counter-conquest mode. In this paper I attempt to reframe what has been seen as Dransfield’s romantic myth of Courland Penders as a neobaroque space: one that extends, critiques and parodies the colonial. As Alejo Carpentier writes in the Latin American context, ‘Let us not fear the Baroque, our art, born from trees, timber, altarpieces, and altars, from decadent carvings and calligraphic portraits, and even from late neoclassicisms’. Is this art foreign to Australia, or does it exist in imaginary inventions (or ‘folds’) like Courland Penders?

Two more quotes are relevant: Cuban critic Severo Sarduy writes that ‘Baroque space is superabundant and wasteful. In contrast to language that is communicative, economic, austere, and reduced to function as a vehicle for information, Baroque language delights in surplus, in excess, and in the partial loss of its object’; Irlemar Chiampi describes the neobaroque as ‘the aesthetic of countermodernity’. The former rejects the economic model of settlement; the latter affirms the former’s style. The specific poems I consider in seeking to read Dransfield as a producer of Australian baroque are ‘Portrait of the artist as an old man’, ‘Courland Penders: going home’, ‘Tapestry at Courland Penders’, and ‘Birthday ballad, Courland Penders’, all from Dransfield’s first book, Streets of the Long Voyage.

The other presentations look just as interesting:

  • Adam Aitken  “(un)becoming hybridity in my poetry”
  • Ali Alizadeh on “Metapolitics vs. identity politics: (re-)radicalising the postcolonial”,
  • Michelle Cahill on “The Poetics of Subalternity”
  • Danijela Kambaskovic-Sawers on “A migrant poet and the fine art of escapism”
  • Bridie McCarthy on” Border Protection: Neo-Colonialism and the Canon”
  • Lyn McCredden on “Poetry and the Nation”
  • Peter Minter on ‘Toward a Decolonised Australian Poetry’
  • Lucy Van on “‘Why Waste Lines on Achille?’: Tracing the Critical Discourse on Postcolonial Poetry
  • Ann Vickery on “Postcolonial Lovetypes: On Doing and Not Doing Her Kind in the Poetry of Juliana Spahr and Astrid Lorange”
  • Ania Walwicz on “cut tongue”-fragmentation, collage and defence”
  • Sam Wagan Watson on “Fight Club”

If, unlike me you are able to make the trip to Auckland or Melbourne, or if you are already in those cities, then it would be almost unforgivable not to make an effort to attend these conferences. For further information check out the relevant websites and book your tickets!

Short Takes on Long Poems: A Trans Tasman Symposium

The Political Imagination: Contemporary Postcolonial and Diasporic Poetries