The Australian Poetry Podcast: Episode 3 Mark Roberts on Rochford Street Review, Publishing & Writing

podacstNathan Hondros and Robbie Coburn created The Australian Poetry Podcast earlier this year, partly in response to the axing of the flagship ABC Radio National poetry program Poetica, but mainly because it was a cool thing to do. So far they have produced 3 episodes featuring interviews with Andrew Burke, Jill Jones and Mark Roberts.

In the third episode Mark Roberts talks, among other things, about setting up Rochford Street Review and some of the ideas for the journal’s future.

All three episodes are available from https://medium.com/the-australian-poetry-podcast or you can search for them on iTunes.

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Infused With Possibilities: Stu Hatton Reviews ‘The Beautiful Anxiety’ by Jill Jones

The Beautiful Anxiety by Jill Jones. Puncher & Watermann 2013.

Beautiful-Anxiety-JJ_310_442_sWhen or how can anxiety be beautiful? Consider the possibility of a trembling current within all things, like the flickerings of light and water; the pulse of language becoming elevated; an overload of images; the meshings of city temporalities; tinglings and scratches of affect; the moment’s anxious possibilities for birth, death and rebirth. Jill Jones’s latest collection reaches towards all of these, and is informed by them.

The book opens with the sequence ‘My Ruined Lyrics’. The first poem is entitled ‘Hold On’, the second ‘I’m Coming’. This may well be a nod to the Sam and Dave soul classic ‘Hold On, I’m Comin’’, dividing the song’s title over two poem titles. There’s a hint of Dorothy Porter in the sparseness of ‘Hold On’ and ‘I’m Coming’, although Jones’s instinct is for subtlety and suppleness, as opposed to Porter’s tendency to go for the jugular. ‘I’m Coming’ also has undercurrents of the detective on the case (of love), one of Porter’s favourite motifs. Nevertheless, Porter and Jones are very different poets, and considering their respective oeuvres, I don’t think any particularly meaningful comparison can really be made.

‘Wave’, by its halfway point (at its crest?) is unmistakably recycling itself; it allures in the ways it permutes prior words, phrases, and images. But on a closer look the poem had been doing this from early on, beginning with recurrences of ‘the traffic’ and ‘the sky’. ‘The traffic begins its wave’ morphs into ‘the hours begin to waver’. The poem’s closing morph, ‘each ticket is beautiful within its own exhaust’ perhaps stretches the trick to breaking point (though perhaps this is fitting for the endpoint of a wave). It’s a delightful poem.

Things often talked and danced around seem to congeal in ‘The Weight’, which fires jumpcuts of always-on city living: bland consumerism writ small (and yet admitting a certain wonder):

how cold the upright steel how cold
the headlines pile up just like saying
there’s less difference now
though bread seems various at a distance
packets are wondrous as we attend
within the fleeting

‘Some (…… ) Time’ includes ‘a fragment from a fragment of Sappho’. The parenthetic ‘gap’ in the title would seem to be a space left open by (or for) the future, since translations of the Sappho fragment in question (number 147) contain the phrase ‘some future time’. Jones renders the fragment as ‘some future time / will think / ?’. The latter part of fragment 147 might be translated as ‘someone in / some future time / will think of us’. So Jones has fragmented the fragment (as noted) and torqued it into a question—one which seems to allude to anxieties over current events and where they may be headed. Such questions hover over a number of poems in the collection, interwoven with the personal, the social, the environmental, the beautiful (not that these are discrete categories, of course).

Futures and futurity reappear across the collection’s three sections, as suggested by poem titles such as ‘What’s Coming Next’, ‘The Future’, the aforementioned ‘Some (…… ) Time’, and ‘The Futures’. One way of thinking about anxiety is as a mental/affective projection of the future that intrudes upon one’s awareness of the present moment. To oversimplify Derrida (see, for example, his 1998 essay ‘As If It Were Possible, “Within Such Limits …”’), one might consider two kinds of future or futurity. On the one hand there is a future that is relatively predictable and calculable, as in the realms of weather forecasting, economic modelling, or seemingly straightforward inductive reasoning, like the idea that the sun will rise again tomorrow morning. Then on the other hand there is what Derrida calls l’avenir: the realm of the completely unforeseen, indeterminate, incalculable … or indeed, messianic. Does anxiety tap into this kind of incalculable future? Or does it always hinge upon a predicted possibility, rather than the unforeseen? I’m not entirely sure (and I’d resist having to decide under such binary terms), but the thematic futures recurring through The Beautiful Anxiety had me thinking along these paths.

The following lines from ‘Impermanent Tenses’ exhibit a beautiful indeterminacy (which Jones’s work often tends towards):

Life takes place
on planets sleek
smoky
we travel
our uncertain seats

Here the indeterminacy is accentuated by form: unpunctuated lines, with linebreaks that seem playfully ambiguous. Should the reader flow on with enjambment, or jump-cut, e.g. from ‘smoky’ to ‘we travel’, or from the latter to ‘our uncertain seats’? Are the planets smoky, or are ‘we’ smoky, or both ‘we’ and the planets? Hence the stanza is infused with possibilities, where two seeming forks in a road might be followed at once, or alternated between. Stanzas such as this offer suggestiveness, polysemy, echoes, image-hauntings.

Some of the more sparsely punctuated or unpunctuated poems made me reconsider the book’s cover. It almost seems some unneeded punctuation has been stripped from the poems and strayed onto the cover, which itself might be termed minimalist vispo (i.e. visual poetry) with its full stops and commas (or is that a colon, a semi-colon … ?) Anxiety might be seen figuratively as a scarcity of punctuation (like a shortness of breath), or for that matter an overload of punctuation.

The collection’s title poem won the 2007 Booranga Poetry Prize. I’ll allow the second stanza to speak for itself:

There’s nothing purely accidental
in your edgy condition.
Damage seems almost a necessity.
If there’s beauty in patina, it’s here
not just waiting for the cracks
in the permanent. It’s subcutaneous
like a language that entered you
without stamps of approval.

Then later in the poem, ‘You step out with your necessity / because nothing will grow within / houses for too long’. To me this suggests anxiety as avoidance, and a need to overcome this; though ‘You step out with your necessity’ has a hint of ridicule or deprecation about it.

‘As It Comes To You, Finally’ may trace a way out of (or a way of living with) anxiety: ‘To connect, let the wind / clear your lies and your whispers’, and then ‘Dear injury, can you hear / how the storms are blowing? / Listen hard as it comes to you finally.’

Part Two of the book is titled ‘Wandering Breath’, and comprises short, spare poems that flit between the lyrical and the abstract. The unswerving opening lines from ‘Skin’ tend towards the former:

I went out
to stand in the rain
as if falling
felt any different
outside

‘Recoveries’ (p. 47), on the other hand, is practically devoid of articles, conjunctions and prepositions, which pushes it toward abstraction and a somewhat staccato rhythm. But it works as a fusion of images, and opens itself to the reader’s imaginative ‘recoveries’ of scene and sense.

The ‘Wandering Breath’ section foregrounds the poem as process/procedure, or the ‘poem as exercise’. To my mind, the latter is in no way a pejorative description. The ‘Wandering Breath’ poems are not merely exercises for the poet, since they can be fascinating exercises for a reader too—for example, the aforementioned ‘Recoveries’ and ‘The air will tell us’, which is ‘patched’ (i.e. a patchwork of fragments) from Patrick White’s novel Voss.

The Beautiful Anxiety is dedicated to Jones’s mother, who passed away in 2007, and in Part Three, themes of death and mourning come to the fore. The title of this final section (‘Which is being too’) seems to be shorthand for lines which appear in the poem ‘Sensate’: ‘all that outside / which is / being too’.

‘Big Flower’ relates a dream involving death, personified as a ‘night visitor’; yet the dreamer ‘did not even die but rose / through the strata, plains of clouds / beams, quivers, satellites, walkers / to the place the moon might be’. Then the closing stanza begins with ‘Death knows me, the moon knows / me’. And if we turn back a couple of pages, we’ll be reminded in the final line of ‘Erosions’ that ‘No dream stands outside of history’.

‘Recipe / Fluffed And Begging Out of This’ is another permutational poem, recycling itself à la ‘Wave’ (see above). Each stanza is a permutation of recipes, ingredients, measurements, cupboards, spoons … and the ‘I’, its (mis)understandings and misadventures, e.g. ‘I inflict myself with abilities I don’t have.’

‘Urn’ performs what Kate Lilley refers to on the back cover as ‘the work of mourning’, beginning with the lines ‘I don’t know / where to put you’. Death figures as absence; and perhaps, for those still living, as the idea of an afterlife, the place of those passed: ‘Here is the Nothing. / It’s an old country / shaped by dreads and births.’ The poems ends with ‘This is one fight / you win by losing’ (whether this be the fight to hold on to life, or the struggle of mourning?).

‘Sometimes they put you in seas / or rivers without telling you.’: these are the opening lines from ‘The Slide’. Later on the poem offers what could be a description of anxiety: ‘It is chemical, archaeological / and violent’. Along with the title poem, for me this was perhaps the most ‘anxious’ poem in the collection: it has an insistence about it, and embodies a kind of dark vertigo. It’s also one of the most beautiful poems in the book.

‘In Air’ closes the collection, with its final line ‘there’s no reply that won’t hurt you’. Once again, this could be read as a manifestation of anxiety—anxiety as anticipation, as a projected, troubling future. Whereas the preceding lines of the poem tend towards consolation, or encouragement to dwell in a state of peace or acceptance alongside (or within) such anxiety: ‘Move slowly and compose in air’.

Despite the recurring and interrelated themes I’ve mentioned (love, death, anxiety, the future), I don’t feel the collection is pushing for a unified theme or argument—or at least it’s not pushy in doing so. It is resolutely eclectic, heterogeneous, and yet close-knit.

From my readings of The Beautiful Anxiety I noted the consistency of Jones’s attentiveness to affective and sensual registers, and to ‘all that outside / which is / being too’ (‘Sensate’). These qualities will be familiar to those who have read her earlier work, but they seem especially distilled in this collection. Not only is Jones capable of an attention-in-miniature, but also of flitting effortlessly between scales (by which I mean scales of proportion, of music, and of weight). So often she catches you unawares to extend and renew your awareness of what is.

– Stu Hatton

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Stu Hatton is a Melbourne-based poet, editor and researcher. He works in mental health research at the University of Melbourne. His poems have been published in The Age, Best Australian Poems 2012Cordite, Overland and elsewhere. His first collection, How to be Hungry, is available through Lulu (http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/stuhatton); a new collection, glitching, will be published later in 2014. Sometimes Stu posts things at http://outerblog.tumblr.com
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Tongues of Flame: Mark Roberts Previews the 2012 Queensland Poetry Festival

One should perhaps suggest to Campbell Newman that he keeps well clear of the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts between 24th and the 26th August – though I would image the prospect of Mr Newman, or any of his cabinet, venturing anywhere near a Contemporary Arts Centre named after a poet would be remote under any circumstance. I somehow suspect that Premier Newman is not the sort of person that appreciates poetry or poets and that he would feel very uncomfortable surrounded by some of Queensland’s and Australia’s best poets at the 16th Annual Queensland Poetry Festival.

The 2012 festival kicks off on 24 August with the Official Opening at 6pm followed by “the opening night event”, Tongues of Flame featuring ‘national treasure’ Robert Adamson (NSW), African-American jazz poet L.E. Scott (NZ), ‘brilliant interdisciplinarian’ a.rawlings (Canada) and singer-songwriter Holly Throsby (NSW).

The Festival includes two paid workshops: ‘The Art of Reading a Poem’ with Robert Adamson on 24 August and ‘The Poetry of Politics’ with L.E. Scott on 25 August. Other poets appearing at various events over the three days of the festival include Kathryn Lomer, Ray Liversidge, Nathan Curnow, Paul Summers, Jean Kent, Marty Smith, David Stavanger, Steve Smart, L.E. Scott, Michelle Dicinoski, Carmen Leigh Keates, Philip Hammial, Brenda Saunders, Charmaine Papertalk-Green, Misbah Khokhar, Cameron Hindrum, Geoff Lemon, Jill Jones, Nicola Easthope, Robert Adamson and angela rawlings among others.

There are also a number of awards being announced during the festival, including the 2012 Arts Queensland Val Vallis Award for Unpublished Poetry which this year is being judged by Robert Adamson, Sue Abbey and Kent MacCarter, and the 2012 Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize for an unpublished manuscript with 2012 judges Thomas Shapcott, Felicity Plunkett, Justin Clemens.

Interestingly for a poetry festival there is also a ‘film festival/challenge’ with the Queensland Poetry Festival Filmmakers Challenge exploring “the arena where poetic expression and audio-visual technology collide”. Filmmakers, video artists, poets, and all multimedia practitioners were asked to create a short work which could include a record of poetry performance, a video text manipulation or their own interpretation of the challenge. The winner, along with a selection of shortlisted entries, will be screened at the festival.

In addition to the Brisbane program the festival for the first time while be going bush….or at least to Bundaberg, Gladstone, and Rockhampton to host workshops, readings, and performances as part of the inaugural QPF Regional Roadshow.

Of particular interest this year is a collaboration the Festival and Cordite Poetry Review which has seen the on-line publication of ‘Gibberbird: Of Birds and Other Strings’.(Special Issue 39.1). Gibberbird consists of a ‘source’ poem, written by Canadian poet (and 2012 Arts Queensland Poet in Residence) angela rawlings, together with ten poems responding to the source poem by a number of Queensland poets. As the title suggests the project is centred around birds and, as Cordite suggests in their introduction, the source poem represents “a foreigner’s first tenuous steps into Queensland’s ornithological lexicon via unorthodox categorization and linguistic sorting methods’. While Rochford Street Review will attempt a more in-depth review of this intriguing poetic collaboration in the new future, an initial reading suggests that this is a work that will repay multiple careful readings.

All in all the 2012 Queensland Poetry Festival promises to be an exciting few days for anyone who finds themselves north of the Treed River between the 24 and 26 August. Above everything else the Festival takes occurs at a critical time for artists and poets in Queensland after the new LNP Government declared their hand earlier this year by scrapping the Premier’s Literary Awards and then cutting a swath through government funding of arts organizations. Lets hoped that the QPF have their funding locked in for the next few years!

– Mark Roberts

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

Queensland Poetry Festival http://www.queenslandpoetryfestival.com/

‘Gibberbird: Of Birds and Other Strings’ http://cordite.org.au/content/poetry/gibberbird/

“Getting Excited by the Writing & Wanting More of It”: Ralph Wessman recalls 25 years as editor and publisher of ‘famous reporter’.

Shortly before the launch of famous reporter 43 in late May I asked Ralph Wessman, the founder and long time editor of the magazine, for some background information on the magazine. At the time my intention was to include this in a review of the final issue of famous reporter that he was going edit (the very final issue, No. 44, will be edited by Michael Sharkey and Dael Allison). What he sent me, however, was a detailed personal account of the history of famous reporter. In my view it would be a crime not to publish his account in full – so here (with a few minor edits) is Ralph Wessman on the 25 years he has spent publishing and editing the famous reporter…..

The cover of issue 1 of the famous reporter.

I remember a conversation with Philip Mead some years ago where I tried to explain to him that my magazine was like an extension of myself – like being blessed with another arm if you want to put it in a physical context though that’s not what I meant – and Philip nodded in agreement and more importantly, understanding. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised but I’d forgotten at the time that Philip had been an editor himself – of Meanjin.

At other times I used to say that with my magazine I’d found a place to park my head.

The beginning

I had no idea what I was doing when I began The Famous Reporter, although I’d taken a small publishing step with a small newsletter distributed free throughout St Kilda – St Kilda Beat – for three years. Then a friend established a literary journal, On the Off Beat, a magazine of women’s short stories. The editor had the advantage of working with a printer, so it was a case of satisfying an aesthetic urge while on the job. I liked the results, I was both interested, and encouraged, I have to admit, to have a go at it too.

So I did …and began with my ex wife a short story magazine. In 1986 I sent off letters to writing groups and universities around the country seeking material and early in 1987 we had enough material for an issue that we typed up on our old typewriter at home. Ambitious, we had no idea of the practicalities of producing a magazine.

We had problems finding a name, famous reporter as a name doesn’t do much for me these days but it’s too late to change it. Shane McCauley – a West Australian poet I’m in touch with – once said that he didn’t bother submitting to famous reporter for years and years because he was under the impression it was a magazine publishing material in the crime genre.

We began by publishing 500 copies for the first couple of issues; I guess a lack of knowledge is a dangerous thing, offset by possibility of making the thing work. I’ve never sold 500 copies of an issue of famous reporter, a couple of hundred copies is the norm.

Issue 2.

I had little knowledge of Australian literature other than as a general reader, so for the first three issues the magazine we published only short stories. It wasn’t until the fourth issue that we began experimenting with other material – in that issue there were not one but three interviews – with John Tranter (http://www.the-write-stuff.com.au/archives/vol-8/tranter.html), Mary Blackwood (http://walleahpress.com.au/FR4Blackwood.html) and Georgia Savage (http://walleahpress.com.au/FR4Savage.html). Issue five saw a further three interviews this time with Hilarie Lindsay, Chris Mansell (http://walleahpress.com.au/Int-Mansell.html) and Garry Disher (http://walleahpress.com.au/Int-Disher.html). Issue 5 also contained the first couple of poems appeared in the magazine, the first by Sue Moss (http://walleahpress.com.au/FR5Moss.html), something I’d heard her reading in at an event Battery Point & the first piece of poetry I actively sought out. ‘I’ve’ dined out on that story’, Sue’s told me since. The other came courtesy of a wonderful public talk that Libby Hathorn gave in 1990 which she allowed me to use – and illustrating her conversation was a poem.

Of course more poetry – more poetry contributors – appear in the magazine now than anything else. I’m interested in poetry, fiction, essays, reviews and haiku. Arts Tasmania has funded the magazine since 1994, so we’ve been able to offer a little money to contributors

The launch for FR43 was held on Wednesday 30th May in Hobart. Usually a decent crowd turns up to famous reporter launches in Hobart, anything from thirty to ninety – but it’s different on the mainland. We’ve had launches in places including Melbourne, Adelaide – twice – Sydney, Newcastle [that was lovely] and the Blue Mountains. But the first time in Adelaide, when I took my son Jazz along with me, he was twelve at the time was interesting. I remember how Graham Rowlands and I tried lots of promotion, but on the night there were seventeen of us who turned up, including Jazz and me. However I tried Adelaide several years later, and had a great time, taking my other son Noah with me, a mad keen Aussie Rules supporter so holding a launch & taking my son to the footy was killing two birds with the one stone. We had an audience of thirty-five or so that night in Adelaide, and I managed to put to rest something that had been holding me back for years – my awe of Jan Owen. I’d been in awe of her poetry for years and I’d often think when a poetry submission turned up in the mail from Jan, why me? Why am I blessed? But I invited her along to the launch and she turned up and put me at ease so quickly, from memory it was along the lines of: “like your magazine Ralph, enjoying your launch, don’t particularly care one way or the other about your footy team tomorrow night but if that’s your bent so be it “… yes it was a very good launch for more reasons than one.

But you never know how they will go, which is why it’s not a bad thing to do to have a launch as part of a reading programme put on by local writer’s groups, which is what [haiku editor] Lyn Reeves and I did with the magazine in Byron Bay some years ago. It was the Christmas function for the writing group Dangerously Poetic, at Bangalow just a little outside of Byron Bay. And we had a dozen readers, people we’ve met along the way as both Lyn and I have strong links with the area, and we had an audience of over eighty people and we had a fine time.

The reasons for one’s involvement with a literary magazine.

I am somewhat moved by Ken Bolton’s argument, the premise that a magazine renews itself, its vitality, by finding a course and sticking with it through thick and thin on a particular aesthetic, political [whatever] direction. This is the opposite of the eclectic magazine, the opposite of something like famous reporter. I’m somewhat persuaded by Ken’s arguments, I admit. But then I look at what is possible with a magazine such as Meanjin which often used to focus on thematic pieces … This is a danger, of course, if you take on a topic which has little appeal. But over the years, in my opion, Meanjin has managed to publish exciting writers speaking on a range of issues, resulting in eminently readable and successful issues of the magazine. So yes, I feel the eclectic magazine has something to offer.

I don’t see that FR set out to ‘change anything’, it’s a case of simply getting excited by the writing and wanting more of it. There are various styles of magazine, some accept contributions only by invitation. I’ve gone the other way and accept through submissions and seek out the occasional article that I seek out, I do this particularly with reviews. The result is an eclectic magazine. That’s not to say that I don’t seek to question, what would be the point of writing if it didn’t?

Mistakes

Invariably you make mistakes. Would the process be worthwhile if there wasn’t the possibility for making mistakes, the possibility of scaring yourself silly by what you’re about to write or publish next….

  • interviewing Mary Blackwood for the magazine and losing the tape I’d made of it and having to return to interview Mary for the second time.
  • issue three, I typed it up in a computer software package but for some reason experienced difficulty getting the magazine to do exactly what I wanted so reinstalled the software package, thinking it would reinstall alongside the old one and I could copy my files across, I was horrified to find it installed over the old one and I lost my complete magazine, had to start again. I hadn’t saved any of the stories into word, simply typed them straight into the package.
  • Another terrible moment was the day Kris Hemensley, of Collected Works Bookshop in Melbourne, telephoned to say that he’d just received his copy of famous reporter in which I’d published a launch speech he’d made in Melbourne some weeks before for a Melbourne literary magazine, Salt-Lick. I’d sent Kris a proof copy of the speech before publication, he’d duly made a few changes only to find to his dismay that, on publication, the mistakes remained. I’d made the changes, but used the wrong version of the speech. This was compounded by the fact I’d be meeting Kris face to face in a week’s time when he was due to launch my own magazine.

The lovely moments

  • One of the lovely things is that every six months Lyn Reeves sends me the pages of haiku to go into the next issue, with the bio details of each contributor. I don’t have to lift a finger throughout the whole process, I think it says something for the possibilities for literary and publishing collaborations.
  • The time I interviewed Richard Flanagan and Pete Hay in my small South Hobart flat. Towards the end of the end of the interview I had to leave for the gents, when I returned I found Pete and Richard  still chatting, the tape recorder still rolling. I didn’t transcribe the tape till two weeks later to hear Richard telling Pete he’d won the 1995 Victorian Premier’s Award for his novel Death of a River Guide. ‘But you’re sworn to secrecy till October 20th Pete’, Flanagan went on. I suppose by implication I was sworn to secrecy too, it was a special moment.
  • Anna Bianke: one of the interesting things for me was that when I began the magazine I’d get a rush of excitement when a piece of writing came in from someone whose name I knew, and particularly, of course, if they were someone whose writing I respected. Well one day in the mailbox arrived a short story manuscript from Anna Bianke, of Launceston, and I was familiar with Anna’s work because I’d read several of her pieces in Overland. In fact her name was emblazoned across the front cover of Overland 101. You might remember, if you enjoy your magazines, that Stephen Murray-Smith who was editor of Overland at the time published a 100th commemorative issue, but found himself with so much exciting material that he the 101st issue became a commemorative issue as well, big and fat with lots of good reading. So the arrival of Anna’s manuscript meant quite a lot to me, and her story read with a delicate light touch, it was a beautiful piece of writing and I felt so proud to be able to publish and I suppose to some extent, to feel as if I really was some part of that great fraternity of Australian writing. It wasn’t until some years and perhaps some pieces of writing later, that Anna dropped me a line with an apology and an admission that for years she’d hid behind a pseudonym and that she wasn’t Anna Bianke of Launceston at all, but Stella Kent – playwright and fiction writer – of Launceston. And I’m pleased to say that my publishing relationship with Stella continues … only two or three weeks ago, she sent me an unpublished manuscript she’d come across, a poetry manuscript written by two young Northern Tasmanian students that simply blew her away … she wondered if any might interest me. ‘And if not,’ she added, ‘simply throw it away’. How wonderful is that, when someone with an eye for good writing takes the time to mail along something that moves them, how much simpler does an editor’s job become?
  • I think one of my highlights was to publish Pete Hay’s collection of essays some years back, Vandiemonian Essays. I’m a strong admirer of Pete and his work and it was an honour to be able to publish his book, just as it was to follow up with a collection of his poems three years later. There were 180 to 190 people at the launch of his book of essays – and what a launch it was! We sold 90 copies of the book at $20 each, I’d known there’d too many people in attendance to be able to cater for normally as I do with a famous reporter launch –  that is spend a couple of hundred dollars on light food, softdrink and wine – so I bought about five hundred dollars of various drinks – stubbies of beer, stout, softdrink – and sold them for cost price – and it was just so phenomenally successful.

And to the present?

I like the idea of continuing to publish. I’ve been using Lightning Source in Melbourne, a company with offices in the US, France and the UK and which set up in Melbourne last year. If you do the set up yourself, and provide your book in Indesign and with a cover that’s been Photoshopped – you can manage to publish relatively cheaply, so I’m giving it a go.

I’ve let my enthusiasm carry me away again and taken on probably a bit too much to chew, nevertheless I’m looking at producing several books later in the year, individual poetry books by four local writers – Philomena van Rijswijk, Anne Kellas, Susan Austin, and Cameron Hindrum. A book by Jill Jones, and a joint effort from Kevin Brophy and Nathan Curnow The Jones and Curnow/Brophy books are planned for August and to be available at the Queensland Poetry Festival where both Jill and Nathan are on the programme.

And once I’ve managed to fulfil the promises and half promises of my initial enthusiasm, I might slow down a bit and look a little more closely at the possibilities of wider publishing, of essays for instance.  And try to come to grips a little more with Dreamweaver and cascading style sheets so I can better promote and present the work of the writers I’m dealing with.

 – Ralph Wessman

A letter from Ralph I found inside my copy of issue 3.

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Ralph Wessman was the founding editor of the famous reporter and has been editor or co-editor of the last 43 issues of the magazine. He also runs Walleah Press whose latest publications include Fairweather’s Raft by Dael Allison and Undercover of Lightness by Andrew Burke. http://walleahpress.com.au.

The 44th and final issue of FR will appear late in 2012, edited by Michael Sharkey and Dael Allison. Unsolicited material (with the exception of haiku, which will not appear in FR44) is welcome, to:

PO Box 368
North Hobart
Tasmania 7002 Australia.

Vale Stephen Lawrence

It was with sadness that Rochford Street Review learnt of the recent death of Stephen Lawrence. I had only gotten to know Stephen over the last few months. He was the first person to ‘volunteer’ to write reviews for Rochford Street Review and I gave him the difficult task of reviewing two online publications – Mascara Issue 10 and the first installment of Pam Brown’s ’51 Contemporary poets from Australia’ on Jacket 2. He accepted this challenge and produced an insightful review which is still attracting traffic to Rochford Street Review – https://rochfordstreetreview.com/2012/01/19/all-dressed-up-stephen-lawrence-reviews-mascara-issue-10-and-jacket-2-51-contemporary-poets-from-australia/.

Over the past few months Stephen and I had exchanged a number of emails and he was looking forward to doing some more reviews for us. We discussed poetry and poets and he was always happy to offer comments and advice on the reviews and articles on Rochford Street Review. He had requested to review Chris Mansell’s collection Spine Lingo together with David McCooey’s Outside and was working on this review at the time of his death.

As a small tribute I am sharing a copy of Stephen’s last email to Rochford Street Review:

Hi Mark

I hope it’s going well with you. I enjoyed your recent piece – ah, the gestetner revolution!

I’m getting a piece together concerning the McCooey and Mansell collection you kindly sent over. Sorry, I didn’t ask whether I might combine them, or review the books separately – and word count, roughly (a number to aim for)?

In the meantime, you may be interested in my review last month for New York’s Poetry Project Newsletter, of Evie Shockley’s 2011 poetry collection, The New Black. (Evie is a black American academic poet, and may be of interest to local readers.) If it suits RSR, you are welcome to use this piece (my copyright) for the site.

.Please sing out if it might be useful to you, and I can send it over.

.All the best,

Stephen.

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Our condolences go out to Stephen’s family and  many friends.

– Mark Roberts
Rochford Street Review

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The following tributes to Stephen were posted onto Facebook. I trust that there are no objections to them being reprinted here:

Jill Jones

I am shocked and saddened to hear of the death of Stephen Lawrence, poet, friend. It is hard to believe we will never speak again, about poetry, about ideas, about music, and more. Apart from all that, I supervised Stephen’s PhD and had got to know a lot more about his ideas about poetry, as well as the work itself. Am finding it hard to say much more at the moment. Farewell Stephen. Thinking of Celine, Georgia and Joseph.

Deb Matthews-Zott

“I am saddened to hear of Stephen Lawrence’s passing. It is difficult to believe, when I only saw him last month and sat chatting to him at Writers’ Week. Stephen and I were co-editors of the Friendly Street anthology ‘Beating Time in a Gothic Space’, no. 23, the last Friendly Street anthology of the 20th century. So we spent a lot of time working together during 1999 and I have fond memories of how well we worked together on the collection, meeting in each others’ homes, taking photographs for the back cover in the Botanical Gardens, and surprisingly agreeing on most of the editorial choices. I was unable to attend the launch of the anthology due to a family illness and came under a fair bit of criticism for not being there; I want to thank Stephen for defending me against those criticisms and for hosting the launch without me.

Stephen was also an inaugural member of the poetry group I started in 1995 – A Passion of Poets (a group which still meets today, although the membership has shifted over time).

I hope no-one will mind me posting Stephen’s poem ‘Circuitboard’. It is the poem I selected for the 1999 anthology and I think it captures the nature of Stephen’s work very well, and shows something of Stephen himself. His collection ‘Beasts Labial’ is also a must read. My sincere condolences to Celine, Georgia and Joseph.

Circuitboard

.

The charge

Of thought

And intellect

Passes through structured ether, receiving

.

The glow

Of instant,

Experience,

In return for the intensity of the outlay.

.

The ghost

Of awareness,

The mind’s electricity,

Traces varying pathways across the board.

.

The mindfield

Of each reader,

Each reading,

Determines the quality of induction.

.

The oceans

Of electrons

Catch and swirl

Consciousness in their eddies and flux.

.

The current

Lights up

What it touches,

Illuminating one route each time through

.

The maze

Of the grid,

And passes out,

Changed from when it entered.

.

From Friendly Street Reader No. 23

Prose Poem or travel writing? Mark Roberts reviews Vanuatu Moon (Parts 1 & 2) by Paul Cliff

Vanuatu Moon (Part 1 and Part 2) by Paul Cliff. PressPress 2011

Paul Cliff’s two part prose poem, Vanuatu Moon, asks a number of important questions. Unfortunately, by the time I had finished Part Two, I did not feel most of these questions had been fully answered.

One of these questions related to the term ‘prose poem’. When I think of prose poems I think of Joanne Burns or maybe Ania Walwicz…or issue 10 of Mascara where there are some interesting, intriguing and, at times, amazing short prose/poems by Susan Schultz, Suneeta Peres da Costa, Adam Aitken and Jill Jones among others. So I went looking for a definition of ‘prose poem’ to try and place my understanding of the term in some sort of context. The standard Wikipedia defintion seems good enough to start with…..”Prose poetry is poetry written in prose instead of using verse but preserving poetic qualities such as heightened imagery and emotional effects”. If we apply this to a section of one of Suneeta Peres da Costa’s pieces in Mascara we can see how such a simple definition works:

Was shy, retiring, but his problem was he shone and gave a bad impression despite his every effort to go unremarked. He would try to be still, so as not to upset the careful geometry of others’ existences, but if he was knocked by the smallest force—a gust of wind, say, or a loud noise—he shimmered and glowed and peopled shouted and raised their fists at him………

The Mirror Man

This is prose, but it almost seems that is constantly trying to be a poem, and it is this conflict which drives the work. Paul Cliff, in the prelude to his long prose poem Vanuatu Moon, starts well enough with a description of a plane sitting on the runway at Sydney airport:

The difference already begins here, on the Sydney
tarmac. In the Air Vanuatu Boeing: with the stern-faced
Melanesian hostess standing at the aisle’s head wearing
a frangipani at her ear, and us all packed into these
very cramped seats….

There is a hint of what might come later in the sequence, “the difference already begins..”, we anticipate what that difference might be, how it might grow. There is the contradiction between the stern face of the hostess and the frangipani behind her ear. This anticipation is maintained in the second section ‘Invocation’ where the sense of difference is intensified by a prayer to the sea and air for their safe arrival. This section recalls earlier invocations or prayers offered up by sailors to survive storms and for safe passage through treacherous seas.

Unfortunately this sense of difference is never completely realised. What I found in the rest of Vanuatu Moon was a fairly conventional narrative of a holiday – basically a piece of travel writing. The ‘difference’, for the most part, seems superficial. The writer is on holiday, the people are different, there are interesting things to see. After the promise of the first page and quarter the tone of the writing slips into a flatness, from which it only occasionally escapes. We learn, for example, that:

In the air-conditioned cool, the array of imports
astonishes you. French, Swiss, Danish, Dutch and Italian
cheeses. Truffles and mushrooms. Escargots. Processed
meats, pate and game birds. Exotic beers and wines.
No less than 12 brands of deodorant and 15 of
shampoo (I’ve counted, it’s true).

‘Bon Marche supermarket, Numbatu’

There is a sameness to the prose which starts to detract from the descriptions of Vanuatu which fill the two chapbooks. It is this sameness which, in the final instance, prevents the sequence from reaching it’s true potential.

There are a number of lost opportunities in the two books. For me the most obvious was the ‘Surplus Cargo’ section in book one. Here Cliff describes how the Americans deposed of all their surplus war equipment at the end of World War 2 by simply building a ramp and driving it into the sea:

                                                            being
uneconomical to ship back home, and the
Condominium baulking at the asking price, the Seabees
constructed a ramp on this site, loaded up all the
airstrip – and road making plant – steam rollers, forklifts,
bulldozers, graders, trucks and such like – with all
manner of more surplus stuff, fixed open the vehicles’
throttles and, in a dramatic, emphatic kind of merry
‘Fuck You’, just let all the cargo go (feral) – hurting its
way up then incline, to Evil Kneivel itself into the sea.

There is the potential for some interesting imagery here – of steam rollers being driven off a ramp and crashing into the sea, the roar of engines, lights, noise and so on.There is also the sense of injustice that this machinery, which could have been left for the locals to use, was simply destroyed. While this is briefly touched on, Cliff never deviates from his narrative and we have to do the work, to imagine what could have been written.

The other major question that remained unanswered for me was why Vanuatu Moon ran over two chapbooks. After reading the first book I approached the second book hoping for a change in the narrative, for some tension perhaps, or even a change to the structure of the prose. Part Two, however, continued where Part One left off and I was left thinking “why two books”. In retrospect perhaps the final outcome could have been improved if it had of been edited down to a singe book. As it was I was left thinking I had read a very well written small travel book about a holiday to Vanuatu. I had long since given up, however, on the notion of reading a long and complex prose poem.

– Mark Roberts

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

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

I say AU, you say UA…..Mark Roberts reviews ‘AU/UA: Contemporary Poetry of Ukraine and Australia / Сучасна поезія України та Австралії’

AU/UA: Contemporary Poetry of Ukraine and Australia / Сучасна поезія України та Австралії  Edited by Les Wicks, Yury Zavadsky and Grigory Semenchuk. Published as ebook by Krok (Ternopil, Ukraine) in association with Meuse Press (Sydney, Australia). 2011.

Yury Zavadsky one of the editors of AU/UA: Contemporary Poetry of Ukraine and Australia

The past few months have not been the best time to release an anthology of poetry in Australia – that is if you want to get some mainstream attention in the literary press. That large anthology by Gray and Lehmann seems to have been sucking up all the reviews and interviews and not leaving much oxygen for anyone else. But things have been happening under the radar. One of the most interesting being the publication of an ebook anthology of contemporary poetry from Australia and the Ukraine. While the Gray/Lehmann anthology is bending bookcases in Libraries and bookshops this collection of Australian and Ukraine poets exists as a free downloadable ebook.

So why an anthology of contemporary Ukrainian and Australian poetry and why now? Unfortunately we don’t learn very much about the reasons why this anthology was put together. We have a list of editors (Les Wicks, Yury Zavadsky and Grigory Semenchuk), and a brief statement “UA/AU is an invitation to explore the contemporary poetries of the Ukraine and Australia”. I would have liked a little more information from the editors, an introduction for example, setting out how the connection between poets in the Ukraine and Australia came about, how the poets and poems were selected, a little background on the state of poetry in both countries and what the future might hold.

So we are left with the actual poems. Each poet, in both the Australian and Ukrainian section, is given a single poem – presented first in the original language and then in translation. While a single poem isn’t enough to get a sense of a poets’ work, it does allow the anthology to present a wider range of poetic styles from each country without creating a book of overwhelming proportions,

For an Australian reader the poets in the AU section are familiar names – Judith Beveridge, Susan Bradley-Smith, Pam Brown, Joanne Burns, Michelle Cahill, Michael Farrell, Phillip Hammial, Susan Hampton, Andy Jackson, Jill Jones, Christpopher Kelen, Cath Kenneally, Karen Knight, Mike Ladd, Anthony Lawrence, Myron Lysenko, Chris Mansell, Peter Minter, David Musgrave and Les Wicks.

But the importance of this anthology is that it makes us move out of our poetic comfort zone. For an Australian reader that means becoming acquainted with the Ukrainian poets and poems. But, as with any translation, it is not just the poets and poems, for the role of the translator is made very clear in this anthology. For example, in the translation of Pavlo Hirnyk’s ‘It Dawns, It Leaks, Its Light…’ (translation by Yury Zavadsky and Les Wicks) there is a very strong rhythm and rhyme:

Aloft the darken raven flies,

The colding home beyond my way.

The tiny tear imbibed by eyes –

My tired family in wait.

Without being able to read the original poem it is difficult to fully appreciate how much of this English poem is in the original and how much it depends on the translation. For instance, in order to maintain the rhyme has the meaning of the poem changed in a subtle way.? Was there another English word that would have conveyed the meaning of the original poem better, but would have broken the rhyme? For most of the readers of this anthology these are questions which we cannot answer.

Sometimes, however, a poem seemingly transcends the translation. In Yuri Andrukhovych’s ‘And Everybody Fucks You’ (translated by Sarah Luczaj), it is possible to forget that this is a translation:

A hundred bucks a month – I thought to myself.

And everybody fucks you.

Is it a plus or a minus, how to understand it? I wondered.

And it what sense, I thought to myself, in the literal

or maybe the metaphorical?

There are probably a number of reasons why this poem ‘works’ in the context of this anthology. It maybe that the orignal poem is written a style familiar to Australian readers, influenced by the same poets and poems that many Australian poets and poems have been. Or maybe the translator has found that fine balance between being honest to the original and creating a poem which stands in its own right.

Other Ukrainian poems which stand out in this anthology include Myhailo Hryhoriv’s ‘Renegrade Blizzards’ (translated by Yury Zavadsky, Les Wicks, Catalina Girona and Andrii Antonovskyi) and Victor Neborak’s ‘The Writer’ (translated by Mark Andryczk).

Iryna Shuvalova’s “You Are Black as Winter” (translated by Michael M. Naydan) is a particularly striking poem. It’s opening seems almost familiar and probably wouldn’t look out of place in an Australian literary journal:

…..you are black as winter

your palms shut

you clenched your treasure

of unspent lives

and angels rush

in the air –

In the end AU/UA: Contemporary Poetry of Ukraine and Australia is more of an appertiser than a main course. While most Australian readers will feel comfortable with the choice of Australian poems, I couldn’t help but feel that the anthology would have been more successful if there was a little more context to the poems. After reading the Ukrainian poems, for example, I would have liked to have been able to understand a little more about where these poems came from. Questions such as how has poetry in the Ukraine changed since the fall of the Soviet Union would seem to be an obvious starting point. I’m sure Ukrainian readers of the Australian poems would have similar questions about how Australian poetry has developed over recent decades.

In the final instance the value of this anthology is an introduction to poets and poems that many of us would not have come across before. In the long term its success will be measured by how many readers make the effort to chase down other translated poems by some the poets they first discovered in AU/UA: Contemporary Poetry of Ukraine and Australia.

AU/UA: Contemporary Poetry of Ukraine and Australia. can be downloaded freely at:

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