Vale Martin Harrison: Poet, Teacher, Broadcaster….

Pictured (l-r): Anthony Lawrence, Flood author Bob Adamson, Devin Johnston, and Martin Harrison, Mooney Creek, New South Wales, May 2009. (Photograph Juno Gemes)

Pictured (l-r): Anthony Lawrence, Flood author Bob Adamson, Devin Johnston, and Martin Harrison, Mooney Creek, New South Wales, May 2009. (Photograph Juno Gemes)

Martin Harrison’s death last Saturday quickly resonated around social media with personal tributes from friends, students and fellow poets flowing thick and fast. While undoubtedly one of Australia’s finest poets, it quickly became clear that a considerable part of his importance to Australian poetry was also that of a leading mentor to a younger generation of writers. His devotion to teaching, through his position as Senior Lecturer at the University of Technology, Sydney, will provide an ongoing legacy through the work produced both by those lucky enough to have been taught by him, but also by those who have been influenced by his work.

According to Susan Wyndham’s obituary in the Sydney Morning Herald (http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/philosopherpoet-martin-harrison-spread-happiness-until-the-end-20140908-10dxhi.html) Martin was driving home from UTS to his home at Wollembi in the Hunter Valley when he suffered a heart attack. When he failed to arrive the alarm was sounded by a number of his PhD students who set out from Sydney and found him in his car near the road at Brooklyn.

Martin Harrison was born in Yorkshire, England, in 1949. He studied at the University of Cambridge, where he attained a Master of Arts, and started publishing his poems in London in the mid-70s. After living for three years in New Zealand, he settled in Sydney in 1978. He worked for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation for a number of years, and has been a leading ABC radio producer and broadcaster associated equally with drama, poetry and criticism on radio and with the promotion of innovative forms of sound-feature and sound-work.

Harrison’s first poetry collection, Leisure, was published in England in 1978. He has since published a number of further collections, including a volume of new and selected poems, Wild Bees (2008). He has also written widely as a reviewer and critic, mainly on contemporary Australian literature. A collection of essays mainly about contemporary poetry, Who Wants to Create Australia (2004), was selected as one of the Times Literary Supplement’s ‘International Books of the Year’ for 2004.

Martin was a Senior Lecturer, Creative Writing Program and Core Member, Creative Practice and Cultural Economy at the University of Technology, Sydney. He held a
MA (Cantab.) University of Cambridge and  Ph.D from UTS.

A service for Martin Harrison will this take place this Saturday 13th September at 11am St John’s Anglican Church Wollembi. Contact Juno Gemes. to RSVP.

A Sydney memorial gathering for Martin will be held on Sunday 14 September at the NSW Writers Centre Rozelle, from 1pm to 4pm. All welcome, please byo drinks and a plate.

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Information of this obituary has been taken from the Australian Poetry Library (http://www.poetrylibrary.edu.au/poets/harrison-martin) and Susan Wyndham’s obituary in the Sydney Morning Herald (http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/philosopherpoet-martin-harrison-spread-happiness-until-the-end-20140908-10dxhi.html).

Mark Roberts review of The Distribution of Voice has been published here as a tribute to Martin.

Examples of Martin’s  poetry can be found at:

Alan Loney launches ‘open sesame’ by Michael Farrell

open sesame by Michael Farrell, Giramondo Publishing 2012

This is a transcript of Alan Loney’s launch speech delivered at Collected Works Bookshop Thursday 2 August 2012

it’s been many years since I read a lot of poetry – in the last few years I’ve read almost none at all – my job, for want of a better term, was not to read poetry, but to write it – for most of my adult life I have written something under the heading or impulse or intention of poetry almost every day – but since end March 2011 I have written almost no poetry at all – and between you & me, let it be & not be, our secret – it scares the hell out of, or into, me –

what am I, if not a poet – and if I am a poet, what am I to do next – it’s not an original question – famously, as they say, Martin Heidegger repeated Holderlin’s question : “What are poets for in a destitute time?” – but if all times are destitute, and ours by common consent is, “What is Michael Farrell for” – what is Alan Loney for – what is any of us for, whether we write, poetry or not – in any case, whatever it is I can say this evening about the poetry of Michael Farrell, I cannot claim to be much of a witness, especially if being such witness has anything to do with comparative assessments like “more (or less) than any other (or Australian) poet or poets, here or anywhere, at this or other time” – I have no such capability – nor interest, now that the truth is known –

what then, am I doing here, or what specifically, am I doing here – when other, avid readers & students of Michael Farrell’s poetry could be telling you what his latest book (O, hot off the press, freshly into your hands, sharply into your mind, is all about – what’s worse, I am of an earlier generation, and as my physical arteries are no doubt hardening, no doubt my intellectual arteries are also hardening – what possible posture or position could I legitimately assume in the face of the work, so hip, so sharp, so up-to-the-minute, so of our virtual time, as Michael Farrell’s poetry –

some years ago, in conversation with Robert Creeley, he used the term ‘register’ as a pointer to what the poet John Wieners  had said to him about the way he thought about writing – Wieners wanted, said Creeley, to see how much of an experience could be left out and still have the language of the poem active – in 1965, Creeley wrote of Wieners that there was “no one more accurate in the registration of his feelings” – almost 30 years later in 1996, Wieners wrote : “I will use the distractions of this world and erect a structure from them that will be of the poem. No matter how I go, or how ruined”. –and Creeley followed this with “His poems have nothing else in mind but their own fact”. It’s hard for me not to say the same about the poems of Michael Farrell – I don’t want to make too much of any supposed or posited relation between the poetries of Farrell & of Wieners, but the notion of ‘registration’ of experience is common to them both, and that the very notion of ‘registration’ comes to my reading of Michael’s books by way of my reading of me reading Creeley reading Wieners – which is one way of saying that in these matters, lineages matter –

nevertheless, ‘registration’ is what Creeley might say is a ‘curiously apt’ term for what Michael seems to be showing in the work, knowing all too clearly that I have no comparable relation to him as Robert Creeley had to John Wieners – I don’t know what Michael intends, how he understands his activity, I’ve not discussed these matters with him, I’ve not heard him talk about them, nor have I read anything he might have written about them – all I have to go on are the marks on the published page –

In 1994 American printer Peter Koch asked Canadian poet Robert Bringhurst to make a new translation of 6th century BC philosopher Parmenides – at line 3 of Bringhurst’s English he transmutes, transforms, transfigures the ancient Greek to this : “they ran with me straight up the track that passes through everyone’s voices” – I think that, among other things, Michael’s poetry walks that track and runs through everyone’s voices – and  the writing rarely, if ever, slides off into narrative – Bringhurst also writes that, for the ancient Chinese poets, “With them, the escape from narrative is complete” – narrative, telling stories, is absent from these poems unless one thinks that, from one line to another or even part of one line to another part, multiple narratives are at work, or snatches of narratives (plural), taking fragments that are usually parts of narratives and putting them, paratactically, alongside all the other fragments of which our world is construed – yet the poet, finding & losing himself in the writing, finding & losing himself in the Buddhistic ten thousand things of the world, sets about recording the experience, inside & outside of some notion of the self, and the experience is not only of things & events, but also of the words given to them and to us as if they too were simply things & events, with the self not only as agent, but also as something given to us, simply (and this ‘simply’ is one of the great terms Creeley has given to us, or if you’d prefer, to me) as something given in the world, as a plant, an animal, a chair, a supermarket –

in 1965, the year of Michael’s birth, my first teacher & mentor in poetry, George South, died, taking his life, here in Melbourne, and I decided then not only to be a poet for the rest of my life, but also, under the influence of the letters of John Keats, to be a great one – if it was good enough for him to come to that decision, maybe it was good enough for anyone whatsoever who wanted to write to do the same – but it was not until 1970-71, a year by which time Michael’s character or personality or whatever word we have for such things now, ‘by the time you are seven you are then who you are’, that the decisive event took place in my life that shifted my very English orientation to poetry to an American one – so I was 30 and ‘already fully formed’ when I first read the work of Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, Denise Levertov, Gary Snyder, and Robert Duncan – and I then knew, more or less, what I was henceforth going to be doing as a poet –

at this point I want to read to you an early poem of mine, that came directly out of this sort of sea-change in how I thought about writing – this then is 1971 –

You lean on it[there’s no catch –

perhaps myself(& you brother
a kingfisher,or
shag

…………………staring out,far
…………………& within,me
…………………& Maui

…………………………………..scaling stale fish
…………………………………..for breakfast
eyes keened
looking for where
the bird will rise
…………………another catch
…………………………………..given tongue
…………………………………..gone
…………………………………..……….&
………………………………….no rest at all
of beginnings
no end
……….of ends,nothing finished(yep, that’s us

1

Gawain broke his pledge
& lived
saved by the fairy woman’s girdle

Odysseus found shelter
from Poseidon’s storm
& life
binding to his chest
the veil of Leucothoe the ocean-nymph

guy next door
in stolen panties
answers back the boss
keeps his job

…………………you do one

…………………………………….like

…………………………..take up a trade,me darling boy
……………………………….something to fall back on

……………………………………………..well

…………………………………..the postman
…………………………………..went down the path
…………………………………..to the house in
…………………………………..the trees,& the man
…………………………………..said thanks, I’m on
…………………………………..my own these days
…………………………………..the wife died 2
…………………………………..months ago, the kids
…………………………………..are all up north,i
…………………………………..was 43 years with
…………………………………..the power board
…………………………………..gave my life’s best
…………………………………..years to them
…………………………………..&                     (bastards
…………………………………..he wept

………..what’s incredible,is
………..Sisyphus turns,YES
………..& walks back
………..down the
………..hill
…………………………………..try fishing. . .

a year after,the
man said

……………….throwing them back,helps

chunks or bits of truncated narrative, not to tell a story, but to keep the image and the words that are put with it alive, or in John Wieners’ term, active – the different bits stem from different locations where various historical & mythological narratives have their sources – but the pages on which we write are now understood to be already choked with words, the culture, it used to be said, is the totality of what a people does – and this shift, from a set of words, things and practices that are valued more highly than the rest (religious rites & beliefs are among the sharpest examples, and for many others, the arts are ‘cultural’ in ways that peeling potatoes and hanging out with friends are not) – to an understanding that everything is there, is here, is what we are part of, and in which we are inevitably implicated – and the already-inscribed, inscripted page has in our time replaced the apparently empty one upon which we make our carefully delineated forms, hoping somehow that they will shine & shimmer like jewels on the page, as that too is capable of being seen as a kind of terra nullius –

open sesame is a spell, a magic trick designed to open the page or stage or screen to the beautiful & hideous cornucopia that is already there – heaven&hell in a paper bag – all the tv channels open at once, or the loquacious speed Martin Harrison wrote of, directed, not just at how fast the channels can be switched, but at how fast our attentiveness can keep up with them – I’m hopeless at it – in my early poems I took the poem on the page as a kind of music score, which told you what noises were to be sounded and when – since then, I feel that the white spaces between us, between words and other words, between the words & the chairs, have shrunk or disappeared, the gaps between one kind of writing & another have collapsed into a shredded heap of word-strips, sound-flickers, a winking on&off of content – the old Parmenidesian function of passing ‘thru everyone’s voices’ is given up for the more intimate task of registering those voices, not on the way thru, but as a way of being itself –

when Martin Harrison wrote of Farrell’s ‘loquacious speed’ he was writing of Michael’s 2002 book, ode ode – by the time of open sesame, the book opens on something like a theatre or screen of words & images that are not joined by narrative but which are nevertheless there alongside each other in a single multifarious plethora – where all the possible prepositional relationships of word & thing are operative – open sesame opens the door to the white noise of the empty & loaded page of whatever it is that can be recorded, and the need for speed is now given over to the simple fact that this and that are always & ever alongside each other – in the many voices, many words, many things, many people that we are –

but there is, as there always is, something else – experience, as we all know, is not perceptual alone – thruout this book, the poet as a feeling/thinking/laughing/hurting being is evident thruout – the wonderful et tu supermarket tells a long story quick about the pain – et tu is what Julius Caesar is said to have said to his friend Brutus as Brutus’s sword went into him – love & betrayal, value & expediency – all compacted into one bright dark experience – looking around the supermarket all the words on packaging & signage are split up simply by our angles of vision, and the promise of ecstatic consumerism dispersed – John Weiners said ‘I will use the distractions of this world and erect a structure from them that will be of the poem’ – which is a great way to elaborate a method, a method still relevant, still operative, ‘after all these years’ – but he followed this sentence with another – ‘No matter how I go, or how ruined’.  He knew the risks and had more than once paid the price of time spent in asylums. He knew the meaning of ‘ruined’ – and I want to say about Michael’s work what Creeley said about John Wieners’ work – ‘His poems had nothing else in mind but their own fact’ – personally, I have had, reading this book, to figure out how to read it, not how we should read it, but how I, at my time in life & in the grip of a freezing up not a freeing up of the writing, might read the work of Michael. I love this work, and I love the act & process of reading it, and I’m sure I’ll find out more about it as I continue to read – in this regard I can only express my great respect and gratitude for the chance to have my history rocked about as it has been. Thank you, and it is a great pleasure for me to declare the book, open sesame, duly, but never dully, opened. . .

– Alan Loney

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Alan Loney’s 12th book of poems, conStellations, is due soon from Rubicon Press, Canada. He runs Electio Editions in Melbourne and is the president of Codex Australia. His latest prose work is The books to come, in paperback from Cuneiform Press, Texas. See http://electioeditions.blogspot.com and http://codexaustralia.com .

open sesame is available from Giramondo Publishing: http://www.giramondopublishing.com/open-sesame

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