“veracity, agility, ferocity, and novelty”: Les Wicks launches Open & Unfold by Cecilia Morris

Les Wicks launched Open & Unfold (Belgrove Press) by Cecilia Morris on Sunday, 21 May at the Brighton Library, 14 Wilson St, Brighton, Victoria.

cecilia morris book coverI’ve been a part of this community of poets for too many years. We are continually moaning the difficulties of access that we suffer, always sure that it can’t get any worse but somehow it still does. There’s a number of reasons why, certainly including some that is our own fault and a failure over time by government to support us in our efforts to get our work out there.

I say this because us being here to launch Cecilia Morris’ Open and Unfold speaks to the way we can turn this around.

With commercial publishers having long vacated the field of poetry, Belgrove Press is a shining indication of the way forward. Motivated, intelligent writers coming together – utilising each other’s strengths to create an imprint with a clear vision. I’m certainly keen to support this new player in any way I can and I urge you to do likewise.

Launch CM

Cecilia Morris reading from Open & Unfold. photograph Lexi Johnston

Secondly, there is Cecilia herself. Over the past ten years she has turned her considerable, sometimes awe inspiring, energy to the development of her own craft, that of others through Coastlines, U3A, etc., and finally working to enhance the placement of poetry in the broader community both Bayside and elsewhere. I love this woman’s ferocious capacities. I’m sure many of you feel the same way.

For my sins, I regularly find myself in the role of competition judge or editor. I’ve kind of distilled what I look for in a poem or book into four ‘ities’ – veracity, agility, ferocity, and novelty. Cecilia’s book has all these in spades.

Veracity – the mining for fundamental truths and the transmission of same. Open and Unfold comes from a multifaceted life lived and examined fearlessly. From the deeply upsetting Don’t Go Home to the explored vulnerability of Left, we are privileged to be allowed into Morris’s garden of experience.

Agility – the best writers need to have both a love of language, commitment to perpetual exploration alongside a capacity to be somewhat ruthless in editing. There are so many marvellous expressions in this book. I’ll read you just a few:

‘I’d rip off your body if I could.
You have a fishtail’, floating fabric says

Dali Exhibition Melbourne Two Voices

unpacking mackerel sky

The Cloud Spotter’s Guide

there was a green border of longing

Colette

There is an age when you are most yourself,
you feel as large as Russia

Timetable

When I use the phrase ferocity I’m not talking about axe murderers (though there are some pretty tough moments in this book). It could just as easily be a ferocity of empathy, of love, of grief. The energy of real emotion is evident throughout this book whether it be her first kiss on page 77, great lines like “skies fell fears” (Visitor’s Rights) and the lovely poem to her mother Ruth.

Novelty can really make a collection memorable. We all write about relationships, death, ageing, et cetera and there are many fine poems around those themes in this collection. But what makes it particularly memorable are the pieces where new subjects are explored, the reader finds themselves embedded in the poetic experience completely unfamiliar to them – you must read This Chartered Accountant, Dining in the Wolf’s Lair and Branau Am Inn. In many ways, the whole section titled These Biographies is a wonderful kaleidoscope of character exploration. Creating fresh imagery after centuries of literary tradition is not easy, but Cecilia can describe a swing going to and fro as buttering sky. The moon has been subject to so many descriptions, how can you go past to describing it as opal? How about an aphorism I wish like hell I had written “the forgotten tap still runs”?

The first section titled Don’t Let Them Sit embodies that restless energy we’ve come to know and love in Cecilia. One of her great passions is for colour and the second section flows across the spectrum in an entirely unforced way. Customers Arrive Naked starts with that confronting proposition and explores it masterfully. Breaking Bread covers quite a lot of temporal ground and gives us a glimpse of what makes a 21st century Jewish woman. The Timetable section explores travel, Wait is replete with moments of lucid quiet whilst the last section Surrender concerns letting go and departures.

Lovely, lovely poems throughout this collection – humour, pain, judgement, and celebration. A clarity of language makes each poem a genuine moment that the reader will feel honoured in which to be emplaced. I declare this book duly launched.

cecilia morris launch photo

Audience members at the launch of Open & Unfold, Brighton Library, Victoria. photograph by Lexi Johnston (2017).

-Les Wicks

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Les Wicks has toured widely and been published in 28 countries and 13 languages. His 13th book of poetry is Getting By Not Fitting In (Island, 2016). His 12th, El Asombrado, is a selection of poems from the previous fifteen years in Spanish and English translated by G. Leogena and published by Rochford Street Press in 2015. He can be found at http://leswicks.tripod.com/lw.htm

A selection of poetry from Open & Unfold by Cecilia Morris
Barbara Boyd-Anderson shares her thoughts on Open & Unfold
Open & Unfold
is available from Belgrove Press. Contact: salescm@belgrovepress.com

Horrors & Hay: Les Wicks reviews ‘Rain Season’ by Robbie Coburn

Rain Season by Robbie Coburn, Picaro, 2013. Reviewed by Les Wicks.

robbieAs a general rule I only write positive reviews of Australian poetry. Sure, the argument exists that this presents to the revered reader a one-dimensional aspect of this oh so wise critic’s poetic worldview. There are certainly alternative approaches out there, I note particularly a few who wrap up superficially cogent demolition jobs around malicious misreadings of a handful of pieces within a book to generate a few titters amongst their readership. I suspect there is a childhood history of torturing kittens. But what is the point? There are already more than enough reasons not to buy Australian poetry floating about. Sure, there are any number of books that I won’t review because I can’t be enthusiastic about them. I’d rather tell you about the ones that have enriched, surprised or challenged me.

I’m inclined to be generous when I open the covers of a first book. But all predispositions were unnecessary as I immersed myself in Robbie Coburn’s Rain Season. By any measure, this is an accomplished collection by a writer clearly confident in the voice of his work.

Coburn lives in Woodstock, semi-rural Victoria. The landscape lends itself to his sparse, sometimes ruthless lyric style through much of the book:

home suspended on brass hinges,
I ignore all motion. alive.
my hands have disappeared in front of me –

there is beauty in that.

– “There Are No Strangers”

.

it was weeks before Dad returned home from hospital
and even then he suffered death a second time
spluttering beneath his gutted body, his chest’s bloody centre
sewn shut.

– “The Heart Resetting”

To my mind he’s the best portraitist of Australian rural life since Brendan Ryan. This is no shallow pastoral – fire, death, abuse and depression roam alongside a rich connection to the landscape, evolution of an adult life, relationships et cetera. Throughout there is an endearing, sometimes heartbreaking, autobiographical journey…

I open the vein, twice
the deeply pressed blade embedded
in flesh like an extension of my limb

– “Poem”

Section II is the title poem of the book and examines the 2009 bushfire that burnt through his region. The challenges of drafting a consistently engaging long poem alongside the imperative to detail factual material has shipwrecked many practitioners. This poem, for me, is perhaps the weakest part of the book but there aren’t many who could do it better.

“Sophie” is a delightfully clean and simple love poem. Throughout, there are some great lines like daylight bends like a flame (“Chemical Winter”) and death was fashionable when we were kids (“Follow”).

I’ve often said it’s kinda hard to shake the foundations with yet another poem about middle-class greybeards sitting around drinking good coffee and whingeing about their backs. The newly examined has a great capacity to draw the reader in, to fix them in the poetic experience. A number of pieces in this book are centred around greyhound breeding/racing, an area of human activity completely alien to me and no doubt most readers. These poems manage to range across both empathy and detachment, a pre-requisite perhaps for those involved in working with animals.

There is much in this book that is confronting, but I laughed out loud when I read Coburn’s hilarious discussion around the point at which the poet settles on his sexuality – “Three Lessons Remembered” – there’s a punchline I’m not going to spoil by repeating, a great image.

This is an enriching read.

– Les Wicks

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Les Wicks has seen publication across 18 countries in 10 languages. His 11th book of poetry is Sea of Heartbeak (Unexpected Resilience) (Puncher & Wattmann, 2013). This year he will performing in LA – Beyond Baroque, Austin International poetry Festival & RhiZomic.. He can be found at http://leswicks.tripod.com/lw.htm

Rain Season is available from Picaro. www.picaropress.com/

With Pretty Air and Marginal Grace: Rebecca Kylie Law review’s ‘The Sea of Heartbeak (Unexpected Resilience)’ by Les Wicks

The Sea of Heartbeak (Unexpected Resilience) by Les Wicks.Puncher & Wattman 2013.

sea_heartbreak_310_438_sOne of the quirks of Performance Poetry is to speak from the heart; and if a word or phrase brings to mind an image then such matters need to be voiced. It seems this spontaneous combustion of language happened to Les Wick’s in his composition The Sea of Heartbeak (Unexpected Resilience), as, I can only suppose, he wants to paint a familiar metaphor but at the word ‘heart’ falters and sees a bird’s beak instead of the more painful realisation inherent in ‘break’. In this sea inside Wick’s, the waters are rough but expertly thwart by denial. Wicks has come up with a strategy it seems, in overcoming disappointment. ‘Love hurts but it can be cured’, he says, ‘divine then dive’. It’s not apathy but a gung-ho battle of wits to demystify romantic demonstrations. ‘Seems even harmony is a habit’ writes Wicks, the trick being, it seems, to believe in something besides the obvious, to ‘riot in the empty’.

With six sections dividing the poems in The Sea of Heartbeak, the labour of love is an odyssey buoyed by hope and reckless humour. ‘Lament ruthlessly’ suggests Wicks and the ‘new lyricism’ will be a ‘walk in wonder’ with ‘the heart in there somewhere/ but hardly worth the mess’. From a cemetery to a forest of trees, past a ruler of three winds to a bay disassociated from others, the journey is a ride in strange lands where matters of the flesh are the only reminders of life as a heart-beat or ‘a silenced chick’. ‘Got nothing this year/ just what I wanted’ remarks Wicks in “On the Nature of Wickedness and Plums” and it’s not humour this time but a cunning to outfox hope’s opposition, despair. With history directly behind us, there’s ‘barely a cloud says the weatherman’ and ‘christmas is dead, /right on schedule’. This poem, wedged midway on our journey from cemetery to ‘yawning daffodils’ purports a selfhood wounded by the past, uncertain of a future but glad of company. ‘Cats snigger in the shade/ But I’m smiling and silly is my key’. This, it seems, is the unexpected resilience finding its way through the stodge of misfortune, the wickedness and plums.

The poetry in this collection is aptly both surface and depth at once, both performance verse and poetic literature. If, as Les Wicks tells us, he is the ‘afterthought of birds’ then the voice, for its sing-song quietude is authentic. There is an irony to Wick’s poetry for though he is rioting about his own life, caring less for this, sparing thoughts to regard that, his poems are peaceful musings close to scores for a whistle. Towards the end of the collection he suggests we are blundering in our dialogues and need to go ‘back into the wood’. That this is the perpetual cycle of life, a back and forth movement like the tides is, for Wicks, the consolation that keeps his spirit joyous, albeit a fence-sitter. There is a lot of ‘flapping’, ‘smiling’, ‘tinkling’ and physicality in the poems that succeeds in achieving a sense of their immanence. They are restless, balletic and seemingly wanting lift off though authored by a smiling hopeful, know better than to leave. There is a ‘silence beyond glance’ says Wicks and in spite of the frivolous tumbling, walkabouts and fleeing from love, the poems have not forgotten the gravity of the very substance they choose to shut out: love through a window pane than behind a closed door. Of course, lest we forget, this is poetry.

They call Les Wicks a “stage” and “page” poet and for the purposes of this review, considering the latter, I can attest to this being an actual fact. Although there is nothing stylistically outlandish or radical about the poetry in The Sea of Heartbeak (which one would suppose a “page” poet would strive to accomplish) there is the expected attendance to rhythm, syntax and grammar for all their respective traditions and creative potentials. The poems are all left to right on the far left of the page, which I hasten to add, is not, these days, stating the obvious. Aside from this however, they are unique compositions that capitalise letters when required, italicise accordingly and arrange stanzas in the usual fashion. I am pointing this out by way of emphasising just how much of a “page” poet Wicks is…though the honesty of the language, the stop, starting you see best explained by ‘heart’ (stop) ‘beak’, is where the stage is envisioned comfortably. Wick’s poetry has a beat, a steady, unrelenting beat that pauses only when acknowledging another presence- a dog or woman, cloud nine or a’ holy man’s chant’. Phrases such as ‘Love you as the stars cave in’, cram the collection with playfulness and childlike innocence (‘that suddenly purposeful possum’) and appear as welcome antidotes to more despairing realities such as death or a heat-wave leaving ‘eucalypts inflamed, mangy’.

The unexpected resilience assisting the journey’s end or perpetual return as Wick’s would have it in The Sea of Heartbeak backs up a poet who ‘knows less each year/ & cannot rise to judge’ but considers ‘another day of life’ as marvel enough not to restlessly walk around with ‘grey abandon’. For Wick’s love comes in smoothly and goes away like rough rain, at times ‘placed in blossom’ and others as bleak as ‘the bogong moth…fooled by trashy suns humans make’. Culture these days is casual and hippie, Wick’s is wearing Indian shirts, backpackers are aimless in Coogee and the water skiers have found the river. There’s new road works taking place on the pathways to Hell, someone’s noticed the potholes,; and the stars belie a higher paradise, best to keep an eye on that or more delightfully find promise in a sun. Cerulean blues on white spell out the cover of The Sea of Heartbeak, Unexpected Resilience like the night and tides that accompany bed linen, fingers that ”ferry’ and a tinkling mind.

– Rebecca Kylie Law

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Rebecca Kylie Law is a Sydney based poet, essayist and reviewer. Published by Picaro Press, her poetry collections include Offset, Lilies and Stars and The Arrow & The Lyre. Other publications include The Wonderbook of Poetry (http://wonderbookofpoetry.org/?s=Rebecca+Kylie+Law), Notes for The Translators, Best Poem Journal, Virgogray Press, Australian Love Poems 2013, Southerly and Westerly. She was short-listed for the Judith Wright Prize in 2012 and holds a Masters Degree in Poetry from Melbourne University.

The Sea of Heartbeak (Unexpected Resilience) is available from  http://puncherandwattmann.com/books/book/sea-of-heartbeak/

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The return of the Gestetner Revolution……sort of…. The double launch of: THE SELECTED YOUR FRIENDLY FASCIST edited by Rae Desmond Jones & P76 Issue 6 (The Lost Issue)

The return of the Gestetner Revolution……sort of….Rochford Street Press is proud and slightly surprised to announce the double launch of: THE SELECTED YOUR FRIENDLY FASCIST edited by Rae Desmond Jones (to be launched by Alan Wearne) & P76 Issue 6 (The Lost Issue)

SUNDAY 21 OCTOBER 2.30PM FRIEND IN HAND HOTEL GLEBE

Your Friendly Fascist was a poetry magazine so deep underground that it caused tremors among persons of a pious literary persuasion on the dread occasions of its appearance. The magazine served as an outlet for views and feelings which are not expressed in polite company. Your Friendly Fascist was not the only outrageous small literary publication of its time, but it took pleasure in divergent views. Poetry can tend to sombre pomposity, or the self –consciously polite. If there is a secret to the Fascist’s modest success, it is in the energy with which it rode on the un-ironed coat tails of unruly expression. Rae Desmond Jones and John Edwards remained at the helm of the magazine despite frequent inebriation, from the magazine’s beginnings in 1971 to its final burial with absolutely no honours at all in 1986. Rae Desmond Jones has made a selection of material that appeared in YFF and pulled together an creation that sits well with the ratbaggery tradition that was Your Friendly Fascist.”

The Selected Your Friendly Fascist contains work by John Jenkins, Mike Lenihan, Rob Andrew, Denis Gallagher, Adrian Flavell, Peter Brown, Debbie Westbury, Carol White, Billy Ah Lun, Peter Brown, Lis Aroney, Patrick Alexander, Steve Sneyd, Ken Bolton, Nigel Saad, John Edwards, Robert C. Boyce, Rae Desmond Jones, Trevor Corliss, Kit Kelen, Rob Andrew, Jean Rhodes, Larry Buttrose, Joseph Chetcuti, Alamgir Hashmi, Anne Wilkinson, Jenny Boult (aka MML Bliss), George Cairncross (UK), John Peter Horsam, Steven K. Kelen, Irene Wettenhall, Chris Mansell, Robert Carter, Anne Davies, Nicholas Pounder, Cornelis Vleeskens, Andrew Rose, Joanne Burns, Les Wicks, Eric Beach, Ian, Gig Ryan, П. O., Barry Edgar Pilcher, Andrew Darlington, Dorothy Porter, Gary Oliver, Richard Tipping, Micah, Carol Novack, Peter Finch, Evan Rainer, Graham Rowlands, Christopher Pollnitz, Robert Carter, Philip Neilsen, Andrew  Chadwick, Stephan Williams, Rollin Schlicht, Philip Hammial, John Peter Horsam, Peter Murphy, Karen Ellis, Richard James Allen, Rudi Krausmann, Paul “Shakey” Brown, Michael Sharkey, Karen Hughes, Susan Hampton, Rory Harris, Pie Corbett and Billy Marshall Stoneking.

Your Friendly Fascist will be available for purchase from the Rochford Street Press On-Line Shop from 17 October: http://members.optusnet.com.au/rochfordstpress/.

Facebook invite for the launch http://www.facebook.com/events/419856534730684/

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Rochford Street Press in the publisher of Rochford Street review

An eclectic tour de force: Mark Roberts reviews Famous Reporter 43

Famous Reporter Issue 43 Published by Walleah Press, PO Box 368, North Hobart Tasmania 7002.

There is always (or at least almost always) a scene of sadness around an impending death. Friends and families wonder how they will cope, how things will change, how they will be able to fill the gap……it is much the same with literary magazines. Some go out in blaze of glory while others hang around for far too long, dying long slow lingering literary deaths. Of course there are also those magazines that you miss even before they are gone – and the famous reporter is firmly in that category.

Fr 43, which was launched in late May 2012, was the last issue with founder and long time editor Ralph Wessman at the helm. There will be one final issue but it will be edited by Dael Allison and Michael Sharkey. After that silence…….

Ralph Wessman, talking about his years editing famous reporter, recalled a conversation he had with Ken Bolton where Bolton claimed 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” (https://rochfordstreetreview.com/2012/07/25/getting-excited-by-the-writing-wanting-more-of-it-ralph-wessman-recalls-25-years-as-editor-and-publisher-of-famous-reporter/). While Wessman admits that he found this notion persuasive, he points out that the famous reporter has moved in the opposite direction, towards the eclectic.

A measure of this eclecticism can be seen in FR 43. The issue opens with 11 pages of haiku edited by Lyn Reeves . FR is one of the few journals in Australia with a dedicated haiku section with a dedicated haiku editor. This concentration on haiku began in 1993 and ends with this issue as there wont be a haiku section in the final issue. The tradition and concentration on haiku has paid off for FR with some very fine pieces in this edition. Perhaps my favourite in this issue was from Leonie Bingham:

in the doorway
of the osteopath
spring leaves

The contrast between the distilled lyricism of the haikus and James Dryburgh’s essay, ‘Chico’s Story’ which immediately follows the hakiu section, is, at first glance, almost confronting. ‘Chico’s Story’ is an account of a refugee from El Salvador who fled form his country during the US backed military crackdown during the 1980’s, finding a new home in Melbourne. Years later he returns to El Salvador and finds a country still trying to come to terms with its past. This is a powerful essay on a number of levels – having spent the 1980’s following the struggles of the Latin American people in countries such as Nicaragua and El Salvador, there was something very familiar about ‘Chico’s Story’.  It is the account  of a conflict and of a refugee program that many of us have forgotten. At the same time it reminds us that the terror and repression which drives people to leave their home and seek refuge is still very much with us and that we should be learning from the past not pretending that suffering and repression is not part of the 21st century.

FR 43 also contains a wide range of poetry from both new and established poets (if not new, at least poets I was coming across for the first time). I was particularly pleased to find a wonderful poem by Judith Rodriguez, ‘Sayings of my Mother’, which explores notions of memory triggered by scanning old photos into a computer and blowing up the images:

Decades crumble to a night in the zippy thirties:
off the road and over the small-scrub plain
skitters his Willis, jibbing at burrows and tussocks,
headlights jumping, hoyed rocks, rabbits playing games.
All the lighting we can manage won’t hold the image
galvanic , the freckled print, a blur, Dad’s face.

It is a measure of the success of the eclectic nature of FR that the poetry in this issue can move easily from Judith Rodriguez to Les Wicks without blinking. Wick’s ‘Eight Words to a Life’ moves through a life in eight sections: ‘ Rot, Slink, Stroke, Strike, Stuck, Shiver, Squat and Give’. It is an ambitious poem, ranging over decades of English history, from post war docks to Thatcher’s Britain, ending with almost despairing acceptance of how a life half lived is not living up to expectations:

Nothing turns out like our clever plans
termites build & destroy
we too are argute toys in havoc.

There are some other very fine poems in this issue: Emma Rooksby’s ‘Red bloodwood’,  Margaret Cambell’s ‘Rained-in’, Michael Sharkey’s ‘Nothing for granted’, Pete Hay’s ‘The Duck’s Guts’, Bronwen Manger’s ‘ Few are Immune’ (is it just me or is there a hint of an early Gig Ryan about this poem?), Lucy William’s ‘paper aeroplanes’,  Cliff Forshaw’s ‘Lat. 43 degree’, Margaret Bradstock’s ‘Weedy Seadragon’s, Shane McCauley’s ‘Idyll’, Ben Walter’s ‘Dolerite’, Dael Allison’s ‘House’,  Cecila White’s ‘Breath’ and  Cameron Hindrum’s ‘Leaving an island’ were my personal highlights. But the best lines in FR 43 must go to Kimberley Mann:

My kiss is a noun
Yours is a verb
We need to talk

Grammar of Us

The diversity of the poetry in FR43 is matched by the four pieces of fiction. Mark O’Flynn’s ‘The Phone Rings’ is a disturbing account of an Asian man, accused of a crime he didn’t commit, or understand. Alone in prison he is listening to recordings of phone calls made to his house, searching for the piece of evidence that he was convicted on in order to mount a defence. The more he listens the more confused his past becomes. Solid relationships, marriages begin to blur- “the ominous years ahead are shedding their meaning like a snake’s skin”.

‘Leaving Kathmandu’ by David Francis is a short piece about departure and loss. A man is leaving Kathmandu, leaving his lover of five months behind. They both know that this departure is a leaving, an end, and there is, at least at one level, a sense of relief on both sides. But as soon as the plane takes off there is almost instant regret from the man “I saw the face of a drowning man who had missed the chance of a proffered life vest”. While not, perhaps completely successful, there is deep emotional undercurrent to ‘Leaving Kathmandu’, which is almost poetic and which makes the story stand out.

Jo Langdon’s ‘Paint’ is also, at one level, about the end of a relationship. This time the drama plays out inside the house as the narrator, the ‘I’ details how the other, the ‘you’ begins to change the rooms in the house by painting seas and landmasses,  then adding in clouds, before washing it clean and starting again. This time the other starts painting the interior of the body, the organs and bones on the walls of the room.

“…until suddenly I lost patience and objected……shouting fuck, this is like living inside a rotting corpse! You seem to consider this, picking at a scab of dried carmine on your wrist and nodding slowly….”

John Hale’s ‘Landscape of the Enemy’ is perhaps the most ambitious of the four pieces of fiction, it is certainly the longest. It is an interesting piece, well written and confronting. Set in the devastated German city of Hamburg immediately after the war, ‘Landscape of the Enemy’ is a shared memory of two people who meet briefly in the ruined city. The first section introduces the male character, whose name, we later learn, is Richard Dart. He is in a foreign town, browsing in a second hand bookshop when he opens a book on German Post War theatre and recognises a photograph of an actress. He knew her very briefly as a much younger woman.  The next section is his recollection of his his meeting with her in Hamburg just after the war when, as a very young merchant seaman his ships docks in the ruined city for 24 hours.  For the price of a block of chocolate he spends the night with her whensShe takes him back to the house she shares with her grandfather and mother. The final section recalls the same incident from the woman’s point of view. The title of the piece, ‘Landscape of the Enemy’, hints at the complicated power relationship which drives this encounter, the young male sailor, naïve, but on the side of the victor and the young street-wise woman, forced to be wise beyond her years in order to survive.

Beyond the creative writing we have to also acknowledge the non-fiction, both literary and non literary. I have already mentioned  ‘Chico’s Story’, but there are also a number of other pieces that fall under the ‘ Essay, memoir, miscellany’ category, one of the most interesting being Rick Haughton’s ‘Rebuilding Timor Leste Schools’.

There are also interviews with poets and activists – Peter Hay, Grant Caldwell and Melanie Barnes as well as number of launch speeches and reviews of poetry. All in all FR43 is a tribute to its long time editors, a kind of eclectic tour de force which highlights just how many bulls-eyes you can hit when you fire in multiple directions at once. But this is not quite the end we still have FR44 to look forward to before the FR printing presses fall silent.

– Mark Roberts

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

Famous Reporter can be found at http://walleahpress.com.au/past.html

Ralph Wessman remembers 44 Issues of FR https://rochfordstreetreview.com/2012/07/25/getting-excited-by-the-writing-wanting-more-of-it-ralph-wessman-recalls-25-years-as-editor-and-publisher-of-famous-reporter/

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.