Unfolding Complexity: Mark Roberts considers Anna Couani’s ‘thinking process’

This is a slightly edited version of Mark Roberts’ introduction to thinking process by Anna Couani, Owl Publications, 2017

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Anna has been a friend and a mentor for more years than I care to remember. As a young poet in the late 1970s I had discovered New Poetry magazine and the Poets Union readings at the Royal Standard Hotel in Sydney. I began to meet poets and I read as widely as could among the small literary magazines and presses of the time. Then, I think it was in 1979, I came across Italy by Anna Couani (Rigmarole of the Hours 1977).

There are a number of things that I can remember from the first time that I read that book, the wonderful cover, which consisted of a simple line drawing of a kitchen with a pot on a hot plate and a bottle of salt off to the left and the opening lines of ‘Untitled’, the first prose piece in the book:

As I write down the sentences, mentally compose them and then read them off, they begin to break off like huge chunks of glacial ice, the row of type – the glacier’s cliff face at the water.”

There was  also, later in Italy, a drawing of a doorway, with most of a cane chair, a mirror leaning up against the wall reflecting another chair and a window and a piece of paper pinned to the wall with the word ‘Poetry’ written on it. This picture, for me, encapsulates Anna’s work, both literary and visual. It is, on first glance, a simple line drawing of a room. But as it draws you in the complexity begins to unfold. There is the hidden window reflected in the mirror, is it a glimpse through the doorway? There is the intricate detail of the cane chair and the piece of paper/poetry hanging on the wall.

It is interesting to realise that the connection between the visual and the literary has always been at the centre of Anna’s work. Early in her latest collection, thinking process, Anna asks:

is it ekphrasis
if the poet also made the picture?

She doesn’t directly answer this question but we know after reading the poems in this collection that the answer is a resounding ‘yes’. For Anna the “thinking process’ revolves around making art, whether it it is the writing of the poems, the making of the visual art that the poems describe , or the process of making space for the world of art and imagination. In the opening poem, ‘the idea of worlds’ she refers to her “world of work” as a school teacher:

the poignancy that
no one can understand
how it feels

the sense of restriction

but there is the other world “the virtual world already there / in the peripheral vision”. This other world is already an art work

a shimmering white border
enclosing a blue and green world

Anna’s background as a teacher runs through many of these poems. In a sequence of poems about making a print of an iris flower Anna refers to being a student learning a new printmaking technique. There is also a playfulness to many of these poems. The playfulness of an image that ends up being something completely different to what was intended, or the playfulness of words in a poem such as ‘2C’ which discusses how we are taught to ‘see’ an image. The ‘2C’ of the title is echoed in the poem when Anna writes that:

so that could mean
‘seeing’
a scene in 2D

thinking process is an important book full of finely crafted poems by a writer and artist who has played a critical, if under appreciated, role in the Sydney and wider Australian cultural scene for many decades. There is a final image from poem ‘200’ which, for me, encapsulates the success of this collection:

but texture and colour can sing
like the traditional finger painted end papers
of old books
something beautiful to see and touch.

 – Mark Roberts

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Mark Roberts is one of the founding editors of Rochford Street Review. His latest collection of poetry, Concrete Flamingos, was published by Island Press in 2016.

thinking process is available from http://www.owlpublishing.com.au/chapbook-series.html

The Writhing, Hissing Life Force of the Poems: Liana Joy Christensen launches ‘Snake Like Charms’ by Amanda Joy

Snake Like Charms by Amanda Joy, UWAP 2017 was launched by Liana Joy Christensen at Voicebox, Fremantle on 24 April 2017

Your friend, an elder
from Broome explains the snake
is your guardian
 – “Your Ground”

Amanda Joy. Photograph Alex Chapman

To say I was charmed by the invitation to launch this collection is not a platitudinous social nicety. I was literally charmed in the original and potentially perilous sense of the word.  The meaning invoked in the title.

I had the privilege of encountering many of these poems during their season in the hibernaculum, the ‘winter tent’ of their gestation. They were powerful then, the poet’s voice singular and distinct.

The charm began in earnest, however, when I lay by a river in the karri forest, my sole companion this extraordinary volume. Taken collectively, these poems possess a power that commands and handsomely rewards a reader’s attention.

Amanda Joy chose a phrase from Luce Irigaray as the epigraph to the poem On Warmth: “don’t let any parts of us be amputated that could be expansive for us”.  This struck a note that resounded well beyond the individual poem to the entirety of the work. It is evident throughout that this poet has refused any such amputation.  And the volume gains a complex richness from her courage. For me there is a deeply intelligent and particularly feminine sensibility in Irigaray’s exhortation and Amanda Joy’s willingness to refract it past all clichés. She doesn’t do “pretty”. Her vision is truly fresh. And, at times, frightening (and I am not referring here to ophidiophobia!). There is a fierce intelligence at work in these poems.

The work is also coruscant with joy, wit and sudden startling insights. Here are just two of the many that struck me:

From “Girt”

………………………………………………..nationalism makes of each
landscape a bestiary.

and from “Medusa and the Taxonomic Vandal”:

She was pregnant with sea salt
and suddenly headless
eternally looking
at herself

and you want to focus on
what sprung from her head?

The reader will find many more examples to hold as touchstones or turn over in their mind’s eye. The pages of this volume seem barely able to contain the writhing, hissing life force of the poems within. Some will strike you. Some are self-efffacing and slither just beyond the limits of meaning, turning to promise more. In one light the poems are dense with mystery and in another plainspoken as day.

Read them by a river as I did and you will be astounded at the breadth and depth of the cultural knowledge and the lightness with which it is sown through the poems. Read them in the city and your heart will be broken open at the poet’s rare ability to conjure what is wild. A single reading would never suffice – each encounter yields new layers of meaning and of life.

Kenneth Slessor said: “I think poetry is written mostly for pleasure, by which I mean the pleasure of pain, horror, anguish and awe as well as the pleasure of beauty, music, and the act of living”.  Snake Like Charms qualifies on all counts.

It is for the poet to share with us a selection of her work tonight. I will conclude by reading one: “Sea Krait, Broome”

How slow an approach when viewed
from a distance. How more likley
the encounter if the ground is clear
A voice saying always ‘go ahead’
…………calls it freedom

Above the 27th parallel is the heat
I know as home, in my bones always
untouched by city’s cool centrifuge
that refracts a kind of light
which bursts and vanishes on the spot

Heading North, I escape the fray
Green hem of the outskirts, roadside
facade of forest, hiding a casement
of burnt earth, silent as myself

Outside, a poet ghosts a window
Writing back into life his night
parrots. I drive lines from water
to water, guzzle roadhouse coffee

Warming up, there is a conflict
of appetite, a surburban tree, black
with cockatoos shucking almonds
A dolphin trapped in a rockpool

Cane toads storming the Kimberley
in wet, find it planted with sugar
An olive python curled under a van
belly beaded with feral kittens

After three days of seated travel
I lunge from the car, sprint the length
of jetty, deaf to the man screaming
warning. Only in mid-air do I look
down to the sea, the time it takes
to panic

Two yellow and black krait, vivid
bandwidth of danger, turning on
the turquoise surface, and all
I can do, is fall

Sea Kraits may indeed be present in these pages. But I urge you to launch yourself into the collection with the same spectacular fearlessness.

You will be charmed in every sense of the word, so buy up big. The book is now launched.

 – Dr Liana Joy Christensen

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Liana Joy Christensen is an ophidiophile, as well as a writer and poet. She is the author of Deadly Beautiful (https://www.exislepublishing.com.au/Deadly-Beautiful.html), and Wild Familiars, prose and poetry, respectively. Her work is widely published and she was shortlisted for the Newcastle Poetry Prize in 2014.

Snake Like Charms is available from https://uwap.uwa.edu.au/products/snake-like-charms

Alert to Erasure, Exclusion, and Appropriation: Tina Giannoukos launches ‘The Herring Lass’ by Michelle Cahill

The Herring Lass, Michelle Cahill, ARC Publications (2016), was launched by Tina Giannoukos at Collected Works Bookshop, Melbourne, on Friday 10 February 2017.

Tina Giannoukos (left) with Michelle Cahill at the launch opf The Herring Lass at Collected Works Bookshop. Photo Richard Mudford

Tina Giannoukos (left) with Michelle Cahill at the launch of The Herring Lass at Collected Works Bookshop. Photo Richard Mudford

It’s a great honour to launch Michelle Cahill’s new poetry collection, The Herring Lass. Firstly, I’d like to thank Michelle for this honour. Secondly, launching this collection gives me the opportunity to speak of Michelle’s superb craftsmanship. With the publication of this collection, Michelle affirms her position as a consummate poet of extraordinary range and skill. She’s not only an acclaimed poet. She’s also an acclaimed fiction writer, essayist, and editor of the online Mascara Literary Review.

The Herring Lass burrows into history and ranges over the present. It is in some respects the apotheosis, or summit, of themes she has explored with tremendous insight in previous poetry collections. However, in The Herring Lass, her third full collection, she does so with renewed depth, skill, and complexity. The collection runs to 48 formal poems, including sonnets, which command our attention. Their tone is formal, elegant, and elegiac They can begin ekphrastically before turning inward, lending them both a public and a private quality. Throughout, Michelle’s lyric is confronting, as individual poems traffic in complex ideas. In this respect, the poems are exacting, intellectual, and unsettling. Her language is strong, uncompromising, and utterly beguiling. The collection is as much a major contribution to poetries concerned with the complex legacies of historical injustices and contemporary wrongs as it is to poetries concerned with beauty.

On her blog, Negative Capability, Michelle calls The Herring Lass “a collection themed on human and non-human animal migrations”. However, it’s the way these migrations are handled that renders The Herring Lass rich in its poetics and themes. We can take the image of the suggestively peripatetic and rather muscular figure on the cover, which is a beautiful image, a reproduction of an 1894 painting by the American painter, Homer Winslow, as a metaphor for Michelle’s circumnavigations in The Herring Lass. The collection’s title is also the title of the opening poem, “The Herring Lass”, an emblematic poem about the herring women who traipsed “from port to port”, chasing the herring, but hardly prospering. Throughout Michelle takes on various animal and human identities, awakening us to our shared destinies of suffering and loss. However, she also reminds us elliptically, elegantly, unwaveringly of imperialism’s injustices, gesturing in the final stanza of “The Herring Lass” to other migrations, other inequalities:

She stands by a trough in the dark, guttering cold.
Black hulls heel under press of lugsails, foremasts low.
They drift with shoals of migrant herring the sea returns.

Through the metaphor of the sea, Michelle repeatedly draws subtle links between geographic co-ordinates. In “Harbour”, she offers these lines of reflection:

He is not the sea’s signature, its memory of human
coal, its middle passage of linen, tobacco, gold.
When beckoned, he leaves the harbour quietly.

The traveller enters the bank to haunt the empty
creels, his seaweed hair. She hears a pipe rinsing
flagstones, Zambia’s swamps — all the drowned past. 

T. S. Eliot has said that “no art is more stubbornly national than poetry” (Eliot, T.S. “The Social Function of Poetry.” On Poetry and Poets. Faber. London: 1957), but when a language with an imperialist past is also a lingua franca, we witness how a poet of Michelle’s skill can use it to great effect to critique injustice across time and space. Crossing intellectual, historical, and geographical space, as well as inner and outer geographies of self, The Herring Lass achieves that most extraordinary thing in a poetry that is as richly metaphorical and as well wrought as this, the attention to the ethical. Michelle sifts through the detritus of history and the debris of the present to interrogate injustice—animals hunted to extinction or near extinction, refugees abandoned to their fate, men or women seeking redemption. All this is in a beautifully wrought language that never overwhelms but underscores her themes. Listen to these lines from the first sonnet in “The Grieving Sonnets” sequence:

Autumn winds come biting over tribal meridians,
raking syllables of country, of forty thousand years
barred by intrusions. On the rabbit-quarried dunes
blood money is history’s hole, the lake is dredged.
Here in this gap, I flick a cigarette in the bone quiet.
If there’s memory in my veins the ants carve it over
my body, edgy for a fix, or a verse the wind runnels.

Her contemporary lyric, in which rapture and grief collide, is emblematic of a poetic consciousness alert to erasure, exclusion, and appropriation. If it is imperialism’s slave trade in “Harbour” then it is the plight of refugees in “Interlude”. In the latter poem, Michelle articulates a powerlessness in the face of the contemporary movements of people within the context of a series of escalating griefs:

Or I could mention the Rohingya Burmese father of four
…………………………..closing the door, in haste, unlocking
suitcases to scribble down the UNHCR-ID on the back
…………………………..of some food coupon, the sound of a hose
filling buckets of water for the day’s quota; his exquisite wife.

Above all, The Herring Lass is a superbly realised paean to the power of language to bring forth truth. In “The Edge of Empire”, we are confronted with the absurdity of walls: “But nothing could drive out the Barbarians”. Michelle deploys the world’s argot of pain, its vernaculars of interrogation, to meet head-on our collective traumas and complacencies. As one of her personas—or is it heteronyms?—says in Youth, by Josephine Jayshree Conrady”:

I spoke the argot of the navy: rosin, whale-oil,
cordage, hemp, windlass, hooks.
……………………………I caught the accents
of shore boat smugglers, spice traders,
I smelt the paraffin smoke of burning coal,
the bursting aromas of strange fruit, peppers,
the almond breath of slaves as we paddled
from our clipper to the shores of Mauritius.

Through her magnificent short story collection, Letter to Pessoa, Michelle’s interest in the early twentieth century Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa is now well established. Pessoa was famous for his assumptions of other identities, which he called heteronyms. As George Steiner has argued, “Pseudonym writing is not rare in literature or philosophy” (Steiner, George. “A Man of Many Parts”. Review. The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa. The Guardian. June 2, 2001), but Pessoa’s heteronyms are “something different and exceedingly strange”, inventing for each of his voices “a highly distinctive poetic idiom and technique, a complex biography …” and even “subtle interrelations and reciprocities of awareness”. In The Herring Lass, Michelle’s personas, human and animal, are so beautifully realized that they possess the affecting power of the heteronym, suppling a biography from the content of the poems themselves, if not history. In “Day of a Seal, 1820”, Michelle handles its subject matter eloquently, elegiacally, subtly sketching in the power dynamics of colonial-era seal killing. She does so in the fabulously realised voice of an animal Other, a seal:

A tall ship patrols the coast,
…………………………….the pelagic fish skirr.
I sniff the kelp and the bloodworms,
……………………………..mould into an eroded kerb
with a twist of neck, whisking as if
……………………..           ………hiding my fur is natural
……………………..           ………instinct for milk or man.

The chilling realisation of the voice of an animal Other not only in this poem but also in others is so well executed that Michelle moves us into the strange. However, her human persona poems also have their own affecting power. In Youth, by Josephine Jayshree Conrady”, of which I was just talking about before, the female speaker utters in sibylline tones: “Words scrabble. I piece them as a montage, / inlay after inlay.” Playfully heteronymic, Michelle’s articulation of injustice renders such persona poems powerful and resonant. In “Charles Dickens Weeps for his Last Childe”, a poem that quietly ironises colonial era’s notion of the antipodes as the ground of various European desires, her Dickens persona says:

Autumn with her rich unleaving of oak, elm and maple
measures my bleakness. For days the wind has refused to speak.

My youngest, Plorn, waits in the boarding house with his dog,
his armoury of rifles, revolvers, saddles and family portraits

which will decorate the saloon. But when the fiddler plays a shanty,
when the sails are unfurled, the anchor raised out of mud

that other world begins with its nautical discipline. So remote
from landfall or the idleness of London, strange things can happen.

While The Herring Lass deals in global disaffections, historical and contemporary, which at any rate embroil Australia, several poems specifically address the Australian context. The seal poem is one. Another is the whaling poem, “Twofold Bay, 1930”, where the speaker chillingly utters: “I can taste the words whiten / into thin milk of settler culture, bloodlines turnstiled.”. Yet another is the “Thylacine”. In the latter, the animal Other says, “Canine / feline / marsupial / carnivore — I confuzzled”, rendering the poem a metaphor for the puzzle of multiple cultural and linguistic identities. But the following utterance of the thylacine is suggestive of the violence that can be directed towards the Other, including the animal Other:

“ …………………………….All the deals and export licences
distempered me, a shy beast, affectionate by turns.
The palaeontologist knows economics cheated me,
a continent spread her legs to quarry the Tarkine frost.

Submerged beneath the musical tenor of her elegant, unswerving line, Michelle refocuses the lyrical as considered rather than ecstatic. Her lyric promotes an initially distancing effect, achieved through the utilisation often of the ekphrastic but turns elegiac, confronting. Her double-voiced lyric simultaneously enacts desire and grief. As she says in “How the Dusk Portions Time”:

So dusk emulsifies desire, or maybe it’s the reverse
— we are tenants of this periphrastic end. Office cubicles
half-lit, ladder the sky, turning their discretionary gaze
…………………….to what’s sketched by the carbon ink.

What ultimately makes The Herring Lass such a rewarding work is its multi-layering. The poems are a joy to read, to sound out. In the ekphrastic-like “Night Birds”, a flawlessly executed sonnet, like all the sonnets in the collection, including “The Grieving Sonnets” sequence, Michelle deploys emotion, difference, exile. Riffing on Mallarmé’s own poem about a white swan trapped in ice, she writes:

My body rivers over absent fields, where words rescue
or reduce me until I try to erase whiteness, her artefacts —
a snow-dusted angel of the lake, the symmetry of elms
undressing like brides in the night’s incomplete sentence.

This is a poet who loves language—an observation also made by Michael Sharkey reviewing her first collection, The Accidental Cage. There is no doubt that Michelle is the consummate poet, her metaphor making a structuring device through which she draws together disparate realities across time and space. Her dual attention to language, its beauties, and the archival, the legacies of imperialism, renders The Herring Lass a work of sophistication and commitment. This dual attention to language and politics makes the poems resonant and compelling. The attention to the rhythm of language and movement of thought unifies the collection at the level of form and content. A sharp intelligence, musically and linguistically, courses through the poems rendering them subtle, uncompromising, and beautiful. The concluding lines of “Windscape” remind us of the affecting power of her poems:

To be broken or to sing — which is our destiny? A bottle
jangles downhill, leaves scrape, watched by the psychic owl
as the wind’s curved reflexion pours into abstract fields.

In conclusion, The Herring Lass challenges the notion of discrete borders: historical, geographical, cultural, animal, human. It showcases Michelle’s lyric at its best. Through her poetic, the sensual music of her lines and the metaphorical richness of her poetry, she exposes all that is violent, imperialistic, and exclusionary. She conjoins ethics to poetry without didactism, remaining true to poetry’s provocations. She joins the global to the local. She is a world poet as much as a local one.

My heartfelt congratulations to Michelle on this wonderful collection. And I’m delighted to declare The Herring Lass launched.

 – Tina Giannoukos

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Tina Giannoukos has published two collections of poetry. Her most recent collection, Bull Days (ASP, 2016), was shortlisted in the Victorian Premiers Literary Awards 2017. She hold a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Melbourne.

The Herring Lass is available from https://www.arcpublications.co.uk/books/michelle-cahill-the-herring-lass-558 

Room for Reflection: Annette Marfording Reviews ‘Here Where We Live’ by Cassie Flanagan Willanski

Here Where We Live by Cassie Flanagan Willanski, Wakefield Press 2016

here where we liveWillanski has extensive experience as an environmental volunteer and campaigner as well as a degree in environmental studies from the University of Adelaide, and this collection of short stories, which won the Wakefield Press Unpublished Manuscript award in 2014, reflects this interest. The collection includes eight short stories and one novella. Rather than falling within the traditional short story genre, however, her stories are offerings of moments of life, often those where mostly female characters face uncertainty, are at a turning point and come to a realisation about what it is that they desire from their lives and how that may affect their relationships. In addition to these environmental and human concerns – which ground the title of the book –, many of the stories are linked to Willanski’s research for her Master of Arts degree ‘about the ways white Australians have written about (and for) Indigenous people’ and her discoveries about white people’s attitudes to Indigenous people, as she explains in her author’s note. As a result, in several stories characters ask each other or themselves whether they are racist, in others, white characters learn about Indigenous history or historical events affecting Aboriginal people.

In ‘Oak Trees in the Desert’, the narrator, an elderly white woman, is the only white woman attending an international women’s conference against radioactive racism with many indigenous delegates. The story addresses the universal problems of uranium and nuclear testing and is the most political. At the end of the conference the narrator has enough courage to disclose that her late husband worked at Maralinga. In ‘Karko’, children on a school excursion learn about the Ibis man who carried his nephew’s body down the coast, his tears creating a series of fresh water springs in the sand. In ‘Some Yellow Flowers’, a young man tells his girlfriend about the Maria shipwreck and the subsequent massacre of the surviving white colonists by local Aborigines.

All stories are set in South Australia – where the author lives and grew up –, mostly in remote places near the coast or in the country and she evokes the landscape very skilfully. All are written in spare prose, often with poetic and rhythmic elements, contemplative in nature, which contributes to giving them a haunting quality, as her creative writing mentor Brian Castro says in comments quoted on the book cover.

The first story in the collection, ‘My Good Thing’, illustrates these elements strongly. This is how it begins:

This is my daughter’s country. That mallee sea with the undulating dunes and the rockholes where we take her back to camp. Twice a year at least, but sometimes more. This is her house, hear near the sea where the bay sparkles beside one window and the mallee grows straight up to the back door. This is the yard where she plays. These are the dogs, her friends and guardians. These are her dark brown eyes, her chubby bronze hand on my pink freckled arm. These are her father’s eyes, her grandmother’s eyes, back to the Dreaming, looking out of a face just like mine. Her expressions are my expressions. I carried her, but she comes from this land.

The final story in the collection, ‘Some Yellow Flowers’, is the novella and requires a patient reader to solve the puzzle as to who is who. It interweaves two couples whose paths intersect: one elderly with a first-person narrator addressing their beloved, one young who have to decide whether to marry, written in third-person. Those who persevere with the puzzle will be rewarded with an emotionally affecting story about the meaning of love and the potential conflict between love and individual freedom. It hones in on the author’s preoccupation with the theme of women’s lives and how to resolve that tension between love and individual freedom, especially if there are children – or potential children – in the picture.

With the exception of ‘Oak Trees in the Desert’, the story about the international women’s conference against radioactive racism, which reads in part like a list of biographies of the delegates, each story in Here Where We Live provides much room for reflection about our own lives and our reactions to climate change and – for those who are white – our attitudes to Aboriginal people. Equally importantly, each is beautifully written.

To keep readers engaged, single-author collections mostly vary in voice, theme, setting, character preoccupations, etc, but Willanski’s Here Where We Live does not. So while I recommend the book, it is best not read sequentially.

  – Annette Marfording

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Annette Marfording is a writer, blogger and critic who lives in regional New South Wales. She was Program Director of the Bellingen Readers and Writers Festival until 2015. Her book Celebrating Australian Writing: Conversations with Australian Authorshttp://www.annettemarfording.com/celebrating-australian-writing/ features 21 in-depth conversations with Australian authors on central themes in their body of work, writing methods, central tips for aspiring writers and more. It is available in independent bookshops in Sydney and online at www.coop.com.au or http://www.lulu.com/shop/annette-marfording/celebrating-australian-writing/paperback/product-22192469.html. All profits from the sale of the book go to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation.

Here Where We Live is available from http://www.wakefieldpress.com.au/product.php?productid=1283

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The Forked Garden Path: Jonathan Dunk Reviews ‘A Few Days in the Country: And Other Stories’ by Elizabeth Harrower

A Few Days in the Country: And Other Stories by Elizabeth Harrower Text Publishing 2016
Elizabeth HarrowThis new collection of Elizabeth Harrower’s short fiction furrows a subject matter, and an affective topography, familiar from her novels. Namely, acts and structures of cruelty, subjection, and predation occluded by the contexts of relationships. Throughout these fictions Harrower wields free indirect discourse with masterful subtlety; she illustrates with surgical precision and wry disingenuity the internal fictions by which both the master and slave of the social bond – in Hegel’s perennial formulation – justify or conceal the cruelties they suffer or inflict, or both. This relational landscape is nightmarishly claustrophobic, and through its labyrinths the ugliness of the brittle human subject is inescapably intimate.

Harrower’s recurrent question is how far resignation to another’s narrative can alienate you from the shape of your own life: how easy it is to love what tortures us. Where some might find its treatment in her celebrated novel bleak, airless, and altogether dark, these short stories concern transitions, the forks and bridges and lacunae that emerge in all narratives; moments that offer freedom to the oppressed, and self-awareness to the oppressor. Moments that offer truth, or seem to.

In ‘The Fun of the Fair’, published in The Australian in 2015, the collection’s opening gesture, a mistreated child watches a pair of circus performers shamble through demonstrations of romance. She hears them speak the word ‘love’, and from the indifference of their performance abruptly realises the extent of her deprivations. More importantly however, she grasps the freedom of her solitude, obscured by a cocoon of obligations. This is a crucial, reflexive moment in Harrower’s work.

‘Alice’, a brief kind of narratival res gestae was published in the New Yorker last year as one of the opening salvos in Text Publishing’s Harrower Renaissance. It evinces many of the author’s gifts. The basic anti-essentialist scene underwriting all her relationships is effortlessly sketched: “Mother and child were unsatisfied. They looked at each other.” From their bleak beginnings Harrower’s characters weave circle-dances around the wound. Concealing, but emphasizing their concealment with tourniquets of screen memories described in sentences like cobwebs, elegantly fragile. This, from ‘The Beautiful Climate’: “Something about her situation made her feel not only, passively, abused, but actively, surprisingly, guilty.” Here the situational truth vibrates its burden from strand to strand of thought, performing a dispersal and diminution of revolt. The vast inequities countenanced by the bourgeois mind are everywhere on display in Harrower’s world; Alice’s father is described as a man of whom “ no one could remember his voice the day after he died”.

All these psychic bones form a morbid tableau, but Harrower never – or almost never – concedes her belief in the beauty of earthly happening, or her sense of the intricacy, dignity and pathos of even the most ruinous lives. The philosophic result resembles what Thomas Mann called the ‘blithe skepticism’ of Freudian analysis. Developing a theme, the evasion she describes shares many symptoms with the consuming passion for self-ignorance that Adam Phillips considers Freud’s subject. The return of familial wounds, and these ‘psychoanalytic’ or psycho-performative aspects of Harrower’s language substantiate readings of her fictions as rehearsals of trauma. However, reductive armchair psychologizing which positions analysis as a solution or key to the quandaries of the text, of the kind, say, risked by James Wood in his retrospective for The New Yorker, mistakes the fiercely intellectual – almost scholarly – rigor with which the author engages inhumanity. After all, within the half-world of bourgeois life it is deflected aggression, forms of cruelty and manipulation often sublimated into language, that frequently manifests the problem of evil.

The internal, however, is not unhistorical, nor as Jameson demonstrated so thoroughly, un-political. On the contrary, in Harrower’s vision plausibly deniable forms of psychic cruelty are the vice of privilege, a form of outsourced violence. Harrower’s fictions are intensely aware of the materiality of consciousness, and the political or economic forces which structure that materiality. Read with a Marxist hermeneutic to hand, her work forms an incisive sociology of what Engels called false consciousness. ‘The Cornucopia’ comprises an intricate study of the veils with which privilege legitimates itself. The story’s protagonist is Julia Holt, an exquisite North Shore sociopath, who recalls Robin Wright’s magnificent performance of Claire Underwood in House of Cards, Like the late capitalist dispensation itself, the beautiful Julia takes as much and gives as little as she can; and exerts a potent discursive force, a private kulturkampf, to occlude this state of affairs. Her strategies are intricate; the affective labour of her social matrix is striated and segmented between Grades I, II, and III ‘friends’, each category of subjugation allotted its distinct servitudes and privileges. The intelligentsia too, have their role in the system. Julia collects young “university men”, flattering these scholars with an illusion of sanctioned freedom, with seduction, or the idea of it, and in return they supply her with choice words and ‘wise sentences’ to repeat at dinner parties and meetings. At one such she crosses paths with the awkward altruist Zelda, who bemoans with some sincerity the fact that her impoverished maid must pay twice for a sewing machine what she would, being connected to the ‘company’. Throughout this section the word ‘company’ is situated with artful parataxis to conflate the social gathering with the corporation, and the interdependence of Julia’s labours with her husband Ralph’s emphatically situates the social circulation of cultural capital within market-structures. Zelda’s half-hearted protest is a faux pas; it threatens the equanimity of the evening: “though the sum of money involved was trivial, it was, nevertheless, money, and the whole story began to symbolise some problem, to involve principles”. Swiftly moving to restore order Julia subverts and polices critique, firstly with psychology: “I think your Molly should have her head examined,” and then with innuendo: “Really? Malnutrition?” the superstructure avails itself of all available ideological products to occlude and legitimate itself: to nullify critique. One thinks, recently, of News Corp’s shameful hounding of Duncan Storrar; as though an individual’s troubled past had any bearing on the merit of critique.

The oldest weapons of the narcissine system are objectification and reification. Within the compass of two pages the ‘friends’ with whom Julia ‘converses’ are compared to “a pup prancing up with a mouldy bone between its teeth”, and “a tiny pampered lapdog yapping fiendishly”. Her husband Ralph is described, when away from the office – his allotted function – as “like a horse in an aeroplane.” Julia resents evidence of “initiative or individual desire” among the girlfriends she has “acquired” like objets d’art. She is threatened by demonstrations of their alterity; their humanity. She is, at root, engaged in a conflict with the reality of other minds, of others, the Other. The implication, I’d argue, is that in Harrower’s vision the illusions of privilege sanction and prolong thought-structures that are in essence, madnesses: processes of cannibalism, that in consuming the other, can only, finally, rehearse the Ouroboros, consummate in self-devouring. This might be what Christ meant with the eye of the needle analogy, who also didn’t distinguish between sublimated and unsublimated violence.

In the Harrower structure, though, no one is quite damned without their consent. There is always an untrod garden path, an unopened door. In ‘Alice’, towards the end of her life the protagonist begins to exchange kindnesses with a girl, “one of the strangers”. At first she remains clothed in object: “no more pleasing than the chirp of a small canary”, gradually, however, the mortar of the prison-walls begins to crumble; to adapt Jessica Anderson’s conceit from Tirra Lirra by the River – a fruitful comparison with Harrower’s work – she hears the song of the other. My allusion to the garden path was a reference to Eliot’s Burnt Norton, but perhaps Harrower had similar thoughts; the girl visits Alice en route to her wedding:

“Alice sat down alone. And then, from the top of the garden path, someone was calling her name, and through the greenery and the late-summer flowers the girl came in her wedding dress and shimmering veil, like a bird or an angel, on her way to the church.”

The passage above traces the transformative, vivifying instant. Even more precisely, I’d locate the critical juncture in the simile ‘like a bird or an angel’, in which the objectivity of the other is sacralized, stood forth in the wonder of its singularity. This might be what Salinger was getting at in the conclusion of Franny and Zooey, the Fat Lady, the audience, the other, is “Christ himself”. More tenuously, this might be one of the implications of Benjamin’s coda in his Theses on the Philosophy of History, when he posits the texture of experienced history as a fluid, striated, and ghosted form of mitwelt, and each futurity as “the narrow door through which the Messiah might enter.” It is precisely in its unfamiliarity, then, and not in calculable forms of friend or lover, that the stranger becomes the image of God.

Alice is one of the lucky ones, a sheep and not a goat. Returning to Julia, we note that her faith in her own exceptionality, her private religion of desert, is properly shaken only once. Through her ‘charitable’ engagements she comes into contact with Anne-Marie, the daughter of a broken home. Having hired her as a maid, Julia sets out to subject Anne-Marie, a beautiful and intelligent sixteen year old with eyes “like stars and flowers” to the logic of her symbolic economy; make her “give smile for conspiratorial smile.” Like a Men’s Rights activist commenting on youtube – and other agents of unexamined privilege – Julia interprets difference as aggression, and a condition of equity as one oppressive to her. She is troubled by the way Anne-Marie’s “wonderful eyes seemed to think at her, or about her, in some disconcerting way.” The disconcertion, of course, is thinking at all. Julia is hypnotized by the possibility of ruining the girl, of scarring another’s beauty. She explains all that she knows “of the curious customs and practices of a sexual nature that had ever been brought to her attention”, without deigning to mention contraception. The ‘explanation’ is an act of calculated brutalism worthy of de Sade, designed, as it does, to precipitate suicide. Naturally and infuriatingly, Julia’s subsequent life is untrammelled by remorse: “No one more remarkable than Julia ever appeared. No one took up the gauntlet she she had thrown in the face of the universe.”

From certain perspectives, this injustice is nightmarish. In Harrower’s work most abusers never receive their desert, they do not die by the sword. Unless, of course, the deeper and better, parabolic meaning of Christ’s utterance is that to take up the sword is itself a form of death. If we understand evil of this elemental kind to consist in essence of a failure of imagination, a habitually cultured inability to imagine the other’s suffering, or to justify that suffering, Levinas would say, then such a profound limitedness, such affective deprivation, might be understood as its own punishment. This is a logic Dostoevsky pursues throughout his work, and obsessively in Crime and Punishment, sin, the contagion and torsion thereof, is its own justice.

This is the conclusion puzzled over by Clelia, the protagonist of ‘It is Margaret’, published by the Australian Book Review in 2015. This story illustrates the division of property and keepsakes between Clelia and Theo, her sadistic stepfather, following the death of her mother, the titular character, whose life he plagued. With Margaret gone, Clelia realizes that the man has no more power over her, no hostage, nothing to threaten. She treats him neutral care and kindness, knowing fully that Theo and his ilk prey upon “such weak-mindedness, soft-heartedness, without understanding remotely the movements of thought and feeling from which they sprang.” Bemused, Theo finds himself more and more becoming the part he impersonated: a doddering, harmless old man. In the story’s climactic scene, leaving finally the house that has theatered his cruelties, he presses upon Clelia a series of studio portraits, taken when he was a young man. As Theo sits with his own images in his hand she realizes that any gesture of reprisal she might make would “insult the true tragedy” of human suffering which this man, and his ilk, have wrought.

Unsatisfying, but pathetically resonant. Thus far I’ve shuffled cards from Freudian and Marxist decks, with the occasional coat-card thrown by Christ. In the balance of Freudian and Christian ethics, Harrower’s moral economy is both accurate and tenable, I’d say. From the Marxist angle it meets the former criterion but not the latter; this is not a criticism however.

If ‘The Cornucopia’ performs the frenetic, self-justifying monologue of the abuser, and ‘It is Margaret’ analyses both positions in the dialectic from a third, intimate position, analogous to Clare’s in The Watch Tower, then the last story in this collection ‘A Few Days in the Country’, originally published by Overland in 1977, focuses directly upon the wounded mind suturing itself back together. Appropriately, Harrower’s free indirect discourse is highly impressionistic in this piece. Sophie – the Greek comes to mind – does not reflect on her past but sways to the beck of distant impulses. She does not contemplate her own end, but reacts, when “suicide thought of her”. Arduously, through the ‘dumb communion’ of animal life she locates the remnant fragments of her capacity to love. “Love.. that poor debased word. Poor love. Oh, poor love, she thought.” Meditating on the persistence of that love, how it, like sorrow, lingers in her affect-world, with the irreducible traces of the others, lovers cruel and kind, she stands neither at the beck of rigid conscience, nor trembling before abnegative suicide. Like poor love, she accepts herself as a space striated by both forces, and – the last lines in the collection – ‘She had learned’.

These epiphanies are divisive, perhaps not quite what they might seem. The texture of Harrower’s narrative voice is febrile, eloquently dubious. Whether they register authentic self-awarenesses, or merely another plane of self-deception is textually resolved; left open to the reader, who participates in their performance of meaning. Returning to our Marxist question, this structure might be considered a subtle equivalent of Brecht’s Episches Theater: Harrower pitilessly diagnoses the structures by which we license our suffering. The withheld catharsis is her final, secular gift to the independence of the reader’s ethic.

 – Jonathan Dunk

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Jonathan Dunk is a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney, where he teaches Australian Literature. His work has been published in The Australian Book Review,Southerly, and Cordite, and shortlisted for the 2015 Overland Victoria Short-story prize.

A Few Days in the Country: And Other Stories is available from https://www.textpublishing.com.au/books/a-few-days-in-the-country

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Funny, Insightful and Touching: Anna Forsyth Reviews ‘Fair Game’ by Carmel Bird

Fair Game by Carmel Bird. Finlay Lloyd press, 2015.

fair game 2This petit offering from Finlay Lloyd Press represents prolific author and essayist Carmel Bird’s first longer memoir piece, with the inclusion of her short story,  What World is This? from a ballet based on Carmel’s research on Tasmanian history.  This book is part of a set of five short works released together by Finlay Lloyd. Though the book itself is light enough, the contents carry the weight of an important historical subject: The Princess Royal girls, or the group of women sent on a fateful journey to Van Dieman’s Land (Tasmania) to become the wives of the men sent to the penal colony. Carmel warns the reader that her account ‘…will waver, will veer off course…in service of the narrative itself.’ The book is written in a rambling style, but Carmel is an insightful tour guide of the subject. Because of its combination of memoir and historical essay forms, it is more of a woven tapestry that gives us a bigger picture, as opposed to a singular historical narrative.

Traditional histories of Tasmania have lent themselves to the masculine perspective; their heroes and villains being the convict and pioneer men, those battlers who forged a part of Australia’s history with grit and rippling muscles (if cinematic portrayals are correct). What these histories largely omit are the women who, through a variety of circumstances, found themselves bit players in this hyper-masculine world; their struggles and contributions reduced to marginalia in our textbooks (if that). This book then forms an important piece of the narrative puzzle. It could be that it warrants more than the 60 pages it was given. It is not a revisionist work, and not comprehensive by any means, but a simple snapshot of the lived experiences of pre-Tasmanian era women.

The title, Fair Game, comes from the lithograph on the cover, entitled, E-migration, or a Flight of Fair Game, by Alfred Ducote. At first glance, it’s a gentile portrait, in pastels of Georgian women flitting across the ocean, portrayed as delicate butterflies. One imagines a soft, gentle landing for these characters. But on closer inspection (Carmel with her magnifying glass), we see the true meaning of the satirical piece. The women depicted are the chosen few, sent by barque sailing ship (The Princess Royal) on a gruelling trip, we are told lasted just over four months. They are seen as property, with a tiny figure waiting for them reaching up with a net and exclaiming ‘I spies mine’. A woman wielding a broom is seen positioned on the opposite coast shooing the woman away as ‘Vermont’. This is indicative of the view of the particular women who were chosen to be part of this group. Not dissimilar to the men in that sense. Van Diemen’s seen as almost an offshore dump for those in society deemed less than respectable.

In terms of source material, it is interesting to note the audacity of Coultmann Smith in stamping his tome with ‘The whole story of the convicts’. His, Shadow over Tasmania was endorsed by the state premier in 1941 as a definitive and final word on the subject. Carmel notes in her cheeky way that it is a ‘creepy old paperback’ and bemoans the lack of substantial works to base her research on. An interesting aside is that a historical essay she wrote for a high school cultural exchange was rejected on the basis of its dark subject matter (i.e. Aborigines and convicts). Now Carmel can finally have her say, giving a voice to those who barely even register in the mythology. She doesn’t pull any punches politically either, stating, “I regard ‘settlement’ as a horrible euphemism, a choking smoke screen, language working to obscure the truth of the British invasion of the island, of the deliberate genocide of the local people…”. It’s a forthright statement and a sentiment shared by many.

The fact that it is part memoir softens what could be another dark and guilt-inducing look at a chapter in Australia’s history. If the array of history books were laid out as a buffet, don’t be fooled into thinking this is akin to a light and fluffy pavlova dessert. In some ways, it would have done it a greater service to package it in a more authoritative way. The choice of the comical lithograph almost mocks the women whose suffering Carmel touches on in the book. Knowing what we do now, those political cartoons of old veer into demeaning and offensive territory. It could just as well be for that reason that it was chosen. The gritty reality for these women is in stark contrast to this saccharine portrayal.

In her glamorous author shot on the back cover, Carmel smiles at us, her neck adorned with a frilly scarf. But don’t be put off by the traditionally feminine wrapping of this book. It is funny, insightful, touching and will hopefully open the door to more of the hidden stories of Australia’s past that have been swept under the carpet.

 – Anna Forsyth


Anna Forsyth is a writer and freelance editor, originally from NZ, now living in Melbourne. Her poems have appeared in FourW, Landfall and other journals. She is the convenor of the monthly female driven poetry event and refugee fundraiser, Girls on Key – https://www.facebook.com/girlsonkey/.

For details on how to purchase a copy of Fair Game go to http://finlaylloyd.com/fl-smalls/

Vale Venie Holmgren

Venie Holmgren

Venie Holmgren at the launch of The Tea House Poems in 2013.

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Last night on Facebook Kenneth Smeaton announced that poet and activist Venie Holmgren had passed peacefully away surrounded by her family..

Writing in the Guardian in March 2015 (http://www.theguardian.com/books/australia-books-blog/2015/mar/25/in-praise-of-venie-holmgren-at-92-still-an-activist-adventurer-and-a-poet), Kevin Childs said of her:

At 92, the writer and poet can look back on a life of activism, adventure and enterprise. And that life is far from over as she works on what she sees as a neglected history: the story of the anti-Vietnam war movement in her native Western Australia.

As she wrote in her most recent book, Tea House Poems, she is often “snuggling down/ down deep/ into bed/ when suddenly/ a poem limps in/ needing attention”. In a soft, clear voice, Holmgren presents her poems from memory. That same voice has been heard at anti-war and anti-logging rallies, in pubs and prisons, on river ferries and demos, and in universities from Austin to Heidelberg, Germany, and on to Calcutta.

Twice arrested in forests, she writes of the experience in Peasant in January: “you look in the eyes of a mild mannered cop as he utters the words/ and leads you away…/ and you point at the soil at your feet/ and you say to him see/ so erodible here/ and he mournfully answers you/ yes, you’re right, it will all finish up/in the creek down below…”. Not only did she decline to pay a $470 fine, she distributed a leaflet, Why I Refuse to Pay My Fine.

Her poems are praised for their colloquial idiom and lyricism. She writes of being poor, family struggles, loss and exclusion.

The following video, one of the amazing collection of poets reading their work assembled by Shelton Lea over the years, shows Venie reading at the Inaugural Radical Poets reading in Melbourne in 1989

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Featured Writer Michele Seminara – Biographical Note

Michele Seminara: Four Poems

Michele Seminara

Michele Seminara

Michele Seminara is a poet, editor and yoga teacher. After studying English and Australian Literature at the University of Sydney, she travelled extensively through India and became interested in Buddhism and yoga, which she has since studied and taught. After returning from her travels, Michele settled down in Sydney to raise her family of three children.

Michele is a relatively new poet whose poems have been published widely in the last few years in journals such as Tincture, Seizure, Verity La, Bluepepper, Social Alternatives, Transnational Literature & Regime. Michele is an active member of the Australian literary community, reviewing poetry collections and interviewing authors for journals such as Mascara, Plumwood Mountain and Verity La. She has also performed her poetry at and helped to organise the Blue Stocking Poetry Jam & the Women’s International Poetry Festival in Sydney.

In late 2014 Michele took over the role of managing editor at creative arts journal Verity La (http://verityla.com). She blogs at TheEverydayStrange
(https://wordpress.com/stats/micheleseminara.wordpress.com) and is on Twitter @SeminaraMichele.

Engraft (Island Press, 2016) is Michele’s first full-length collection and will be launched by Martin Langford (along with Les Wicks’ 13th book, Getting By Not Fitting In, launched by Chris Mansell) on 6 February, 2.30 – 5 pm, at the Friend in Hand Hotel, 58 Cowper St, Glebe. Engraft (along with other Island Press titles) can be purchased at http://islandpress.tripod.com/ISLAND.htm.

Some comments on Engraft:

“Engraft is a masterwork. Seminara’s deep gift lies in her fusion of the viscera of life with a transcendent poetic vision. By turns terrifying and tender, loving and lost, Seminara is a major new voice in contemporary poetry.” – Charles Bane, Jr

“Michele Seminara’s analytic prayers, domestic fables and eloquent centos work their ludic wit and charms in the house of loss and disturbance. She is not afraid to say ‘beauty’ in the language of economy engrafted with careful flourishes.” – Michelle Cahill

“There is a great restlessness in this collection – the poems grumble, push on, then soar. The reader is drawn progressively into that fascinating morass called life… It is no small treat to immerse oneself in this collection: let yourself in.” – Les Wicks

“Engraft is chock-full of tender, brave poems with emotional depth. Seminara’s work displays control, deft pacing, and a fierce commitment to witness with clear eyes the horrors we commit upon ourselves and each other. A book filled with variety and surprise which you will want, and need, to return to many times.” – Melinda Smith

Interviews:

Michele Seminara interviewed by Stuart Barnes in Tincture Journal
http://tincture-journal.com/2015/02/28/michele-seminara-interviewed-by-stuart-barnes/

Michele Seminara interviews David Stavanger in Verity La
http://verityla.com/success-smoke-and-joy-boats-an-interview-with-david-stavanger/

Michele Seminara interviewed by  Nathan Hondros and Robbie Coburn for The Australian Poetry Podcasthttps://medium.com/the-australian-poetry-podcast/show-notes-interview-with-michele-seminara-feat-stuart-barnes-b4fec1fe8fba#.6v1hjmj3w

Reviews:

Michele Seminara reviews Distance by Nathanael O’Reilly http://mascarareview.com/michele-seminara-reviews-distance-by-nathanael-oreilly/

Michele Seminara reviews Fixing the Broken Nightingale by Richard Allen http://mascarareview.com/michele-seminara-reviews-fixing-the-broken-nightingale-by-richard-allen/

Michele Seminara reviews Before Bone and Viscera by Robbie Coburn http://plumwoodmountain.com/michele-seminara-reviews-before-bone-and-viscera-by-robbie-coburn/

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Featured Writer Michele Seminara: 4 Poems

Michele Seminara – Biographical Note

Mother

When fixing the bedclothes
I always remember to  
pause
by the fighting fish’s tank:
Om mani padme hum, I intone;
and at least it helps me feel calmer.

I’m careful to give the cat extra pats
now that the dog has come. 
The dog
was a gift for the children, but of course
it’s me who shovels his shit.

I cup his sumptuous neck in my hands
and jiggle the swathes of skin so he knows
that it’s going to be ok; we’re his family now;
no need to roll those accusatory eyes.

Still, he keeps following me
around the house, always pining for — something.
It bothers me because will there ever be enough
something to make him happy?

My husband’s not happy. When he tries
the tension of his pretence rises and rises
till it bursts.

I’m not sure where my eldest is:
only want drives her home.
On her first night on earth, before I knew her cry
she squalled for hours from the nursery.
Why doesn’t someone shut that baby up?
I thought, before the nurse brought her to me.
Here, she said, you’ll have to take her
Now it’s my job to shut her up.

My youngest child still gleams like dreams in dirt.
When I clutch her to my heart and pray
for the impossible, my tears
make her glisten.

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These four poems are all from Michele's forthcoming book Engraft

These four poems are all from Michele’s forthcoming book Engraft (Island Press)

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Happy Birthday

Seventeen quick years ago
on the other side of that wall
you came through me.

I’d no idea what to do
when you cried; I couldn’t stand
to rock you — an epidural
still pierced my spine —
numbing me, but not enough:

one side fire, the other running
cool with anaesthetic;
the faulty machine bleeping
every ten minutes, precluding sleep.

Turn it off, I begged,
take it out, it’s not working.
The nurse did, and offered Panadol.
I swore then, and cried,
But I’ve just been cut open!

When I called for help
your father was unreachable
(and is even more distant now)
so I was left with your screaming and my pain —
In the darkness I grabbed the half-drunk
bottle of celebratory Champagne…

When the breakfast-lady
came with tea in the morning
she saw me cradling my perfect bundle —
Healthy? she asked. Yes, I replied;
All’s right with the world then, she lied.

Tonight, to stave off your own suffering
you’ve drunk too much also —
your body soft, as I once again undress you,
as a mollusc without its shell;
your looking-glass face in dissolution
after the world has dropped its cruel stones in.

And after all these years
still I don’t know how to soothe you
still I find myself paralysed —
caught between numbness and burning
still I can only sit and stroke your hair.

 

Daytime Drinking

I retreat to this land whenever I need healing —
to ingest its molecules into my lungs
its light-waves into my pupils,
black-holed mainlines into the suffering brain.

Supplicant’s fingers raking
rough rock in a prayer of taking and giving;
barbecue smoke entering my throat
swallowing breath in a taste of oneness.

Today I stumble the bush in gumboots
sunglasses shielding swollen eyes
clumsy after the rancid wine
pulled in desperation from the back of the cupboard.

One part of me sinking into grief
the other rising inexplicably above —
gazing in awe at the ball of the sun
until it’s all that I can see.

 

On Reading Bishop

after Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘Giant
Snail’ (for PS Cottier)
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A peaceful life is arduous
to attain; desire’s
not enough, nor positive aim —
one side’s withdrawal is always the other’s gain.

What germ inside us inclines towards hate?
It seems to me there must be something
rank and spindly
tangled in the hub of our hearts
disordering their true rotation
until we become beings whose frequency
is attuned to blame.

Therefore, I hold my words
on a parsimonious rein.

Reading Bishop, a distinctive stillness comes.
Like her giant snail I too inch forward
my own amorphous, unguarded
foot absorbing sharp barbs of gravel
avoiding rough spears of grass
as I push, bull-headed, to gain a crack
in God’s sanctuary before sunrise.

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Michele’s first collection of poetry, Endgraft, will be launched at:

  • Sydney –  Saturday 6th February Friend in Hand Hotel, 58 Cowper St, Glebe upstairs bar 2.30pm.
  • Wagga Wagga – Saturday 5 March Wagga launch 2 PM Wagga Wagga City Library
  • Melbourne – Saturday 19 March Dan O’Connell reading Melbourne 2 to 5 PM 225 Canning St Carlton

Copies can be ordered from Island Press http://islandpress.tripod.com/ISLAND.htm

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Vale Marjorie Pizer

Marjorie Pizer - 1920 - 2016

Marjorie Pizer – 1920 – 2016

Marjorie Pizer, who died on 4th January 2016, was a poet, editor, psychotherapist and Communist who was proud of her Jewish heritage. She was born in Melbourne, Victoria, studied literature at the University of Melbourne and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts.

Marjorie married the poet Muir Holburn. They moved to Sydney where they joined the Realist Writers and the Fellowship of Australian Writers, befriending Dame Mary Gilmore, Katharine Susannah Prichard, Dymphna Cusack, Miles Franklin and other Australian authors. They joined the Communist Party and in 1947 set up Pinchgut Press to publish poetry and novels by authors who were unable to get their works published by the major publishing houses. Pinchgut Press is still publishing.

Marjorie edited ‘Freedom on the Wallaby, Poems of the Australian People and The Men Who Made Australia, Stories and Poems by Henry Lawson. Muir died suddenly in 1960 and, to cope with her bereavement, Marjorie started writing her own poetry. The first of her poetry books,’Thou and I, was published in 1967.

Marjorie published many books of poetry. Her poems were regularly published in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Bulletin and The Australian Women’s Weekly.

Marjorie’s close friend, Faith Bandler, said of her poems: ”I really feel they’re my poems, not hers. If I could do it, this is what I would be writing. She has a great simplicity, she doesn’t try to be so sophisticated that no one understands”.

Marjorie’s last book was a Poet’s Life which comprises 133 poems spanning her career from 1963 to 2005.

A listing of all of Majorie’s books can be found on the Pinchgut Press Website  http://www.pinchgut-press.com.au/marje.html

 –  sourced from the Jessie Street National Women’s Library