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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 – Judith Beveridge

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

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

Eccentric & Sustaining: Bernard Cohen launches ‘The Party of Life’ by Beth Spencer

The Party of Life by Beth Spencer is a bilingual (English and Chinese) collection of poems published by Flying Islands Books which was launched by Bernard Cohen at The Friend in Hand, Sydney, on 14th November 2015.

sm-edged-front cover-Party of life

The Party of Life is a big book disguised as a little book. It is the Tardis of books. The inside of Beth Spencer’s book is much, much bigger than the outside—and I speak as someone with access to just over half the words in this book, about which more soon.

As befits its title, The Party of Life is also much bigger on the outside, existing in a warm social media space, which I think many of us have made our way through to get here. Typically, that space is bill-boarded by the generous tributes Beth pays to all who have helped with this book or may help even slightly at this later stage (thank you).

And from social media we are, in turn, linked to points in electronic media, including Beth’s radio/podcast performance of her moving and lovely poem ‘Forgetting’. Additionally, there’s the space mapped out by the Viscount Kit Kelen [ASM/Flying Islands Pocket Book Bilingual Series Editor] and Flying Island Books—to whom and which let us all raise a glass.

When Beth asked me to launch the book, she did this with her customary modesty and diplomacy, the request surrounded by disclaimers, but she also attached the text. I was actually hypnotised into it by halfway down page twelve. (I should note, though, that the text starts on page ten and that page eleven, other than three commas and a colon, is, to me, completely unreadable.)

In the very first poem of this big-little book, Beth manages to evoke an entire era with two words: ‘without helmets’. She gives us the totality of a way of existing with three words: ‘for eighty cents’.

inside pp Untethered

from The Party of Life by Beth Spencer. Photo curtesy of the author.

I have a vague recollection of the instead-of-a-suicide party. I don’t think I was there, but reading the poem, the milieu seems so familiar—the particular mix of music, song after epochal song, us all in black, that ghoulish bride—that I begin to recall the whole thing. Who I may have spoken with? No, no. The details of the conversations, hesitating about going to see Beth lying in a state?—did I know her well enough in those days to see her like that? Not knowing what to do with my hands other than to hold drinks, which in this possibly new memory I was gulping at much too frequently.

But not too much further into the book, Beth talks to me about this, she says:

This is a backwards poem,
an unreliable/selective memory poem.

The imagery is getting to me, too:

The shark coloured water
creaks against the bank
‘Hmmm… hmm…’
like a $90 shrink.

Here we are, rejected, confiding in the endlessly understanding bay. Beth’s easy control over the rhythms of Australian English:

I let myself get tipsy
on two middies in the pub

and

Michael says, ‘You’re a feminist,
but your sense of humour saves you.’
(Sigh.)

I could simply refer to half of this book, the left-hand pages, but there’s something lovely about bilingual texts, those that can be made out or at least sounded out and those, like this, which to me are visually beautiful; full of promise and of questions of what is possible to carry over from one vernacular to another.

For instance, a group of schoolgirls in shortened dresses

setting
the store detectives off like alarm bells
as we passed.

inside bit tunnels

detail from The Party of Life by Beth Spencer. Photo curtesy of the author.

Something Claudia Taranto did not mention when introducing me was that I am the author of Mistranslations from a Chinese Vase’. Despite failing to read, completely, the right-hand pages [in Chinese]—these pages which join the book to a converging path through spacetime—I would like to read to you those parts [of the Chinese translations] which were accessible to me (knowing from the left-hand pages just what those missing words carried).

So I’m going to read to you [in English], from the Chinese, all the parts that I can understand:

, , , :
? , , ?
, , , : , , , ?
Glebe Point
Blackwattle
90
Glebe Point
Weeties ? ?
!
1900
? 1 2 100 3 4 5 6
7 8 & 9,
1972
A : , 500 : : B ? C !
… ? ! ? ! !
Wimera
2009 2 7
X Steeles Creek ? ? ?
? ? ? ? ?
Steeles Creek
?
?
1 : Snap
!
?
Creswick
Bobby Brady 5 25 ? ?
Cuisenaire

And again, given the pleasures of translation, with its gains and decay of implication and universal possibility within this text’s generous playfulness and availability, I’m pleased to provide this alternative: ‘Multilingual Machine Mistranslation’ (so, one more misreading of Beth’s work):

Sound –
Red socks and Jane’s wit.

Once,
Miss George McIntyre
Sewing atheist work
Hanging clothes our dirty shoes.
a Blue – white T-shirt from T-shirt College.
(all Brown Female
According to the table), the following steps.
Wear $ 500
concluded Toorak Customers
as Researchers worry about shopping.

(Perhaps my translation needs more work?)

Finally, everywhere in this big little book there is love. The love in Beth’s poems is always eccentric and sustaining. ‘I loved the way / they leaned in towards each other / for stability’, she writes, of a mother and her suckling calf. ‘The rejected in love / come down to sigh in the park / at Glebe Point’ and, in ‘Love Poem’, which begins with fear, vomit, weeping, Bobby Brady’s donut and hairy armpits, really does resolve into love.

I commend The Party of Life to you. Everyone here should walk out with several copies, which are ideal gifts for upcoming festivities, for loved ones and for your employers, employees and amanuenses: highly portable, richly evocative, impeccably observed and moving.

And it is with great pleasure that I declare Beth Spencer’s The Party of Life launched.

– Bernard Cohen

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Bernard Cohen’s most recent book, The Antibiography of Robert F Menzies, won the 2015 Russell Prize for Humour Writing. He is also founder and director of The Writing Workshop.

Beth Spencer’s previous books are Vagabondage, How to Conceive of a Girl, and Things in a Glass Box. The Party of Life is published by ASM/Flying Islands books and is available at events, at Booktopia, or direct from Beth at www.bethspencer.com for $12 including postage.

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