Pushing Boundaries: Mark Roberts reviews amphora by joanne burns

amphora by joanne burns. Giramondo 2011.

burns-cover-final-215x300Burns has been writing and publishing for almost four decades, her first collection Snatch being published in 1972. Over the years she has established a reputation for pushing poetic boundaries and for blurring the distinction between poetry and prose with her published work consisting of a combination of poetry,  prose poems and prose sequences.

Much of burns’ earliest work from the 1970’s was, in fact, poetry – though it was very much the experimental poetry that the ‘new poets’ were working with at the time. ‘carve her name with pride’, from her second collection Ratz, is perhaps sounding a warning to those of us who attempt to categorise and label her work:

the critics are coming
they’re here, they’re here

perception ‘n logic, linguistic deception
the cutlery’s laid, the dishes prepared

metaphors marinate, mashed metaphysics
roasted rhetoric phonetically fried
coffee dichotomy, Jane Austen cheese

…..sing a song of critics
…..bellies growing high
…..first class honours theses
…..hang the bones to dry

There is a playfulness in this poem, though very much tongue in check. It is interesting to consider that these days, particular after the publication of amphora, the critics have indeed been coming – in most cases to praise!

Burns very quickly, however, moved towards the short prose, or prose poem sequence and, in collections such as Correspondences (with Pam Brown, Red Press 1979) and Ventriloquy (Sea Crusie Books 1981), we find her at ease with the short prose genre – what might be called today ‘micro fiction’, but which was then very much prose poetry. In some ways the prose poem, and particularly the way burns approached them in the late 70’s and 80’s, could be seen as a political statement, something Moya Costello alludes to when she refers to the rise of the prose poem/micro fiction among Australian feminist writers during this period:  “I was trained in the art of short fiction in the early 1980s by being a member of the Sydney Women Writers Workshop who, to put it crudely, favoured experimental short prose over the novel, which was seen as colonised by patriarchy”.(http://reviews.media-culture.org.au/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=1785#FNT6).

In part It is this background that makes burns such a fascinating writer. Boundaries have indeed been pushed (and in some cases broken completely), but her work has continued to developed and to suprise. Her latest collection, amphora, is further evidence of this development. It is a major work, complex and at times dense, but burns has remained true to her roots – amphora is also surprising and unexpected and difficult to tie down, just like much of her work stretching back to the 1970’s.

For example, while there are some very fine prose poems in amphora, I was also pleasantly surprised by the strength of the work that falls, for the most part, under the more traditional ‘poetry’ tag, especially those in the first section of the collection ‘ichoria’.

Even here, however, burns can’t help slipping back into the prose poem from time to time. In the opening poem, for example, we see her moving easily from a conversational poetic form:

i know an angel poem can be a cliché
but every poet’s got an angel somewhere
cruising through their work even if they don’t
admit it; ruffle the leaves of any old anthology
and you’ll hear angels speaking through the dust

to a lines that start leaning towards a more prose like structure:

my kind of angel comes like a flash of light a silver
wink  in the  dark a stroke  of  thought  behind the
brow down the  nape of the neck so slow it’s really
fast.it could remind you that you’re about to die if
you don’t move your arse

‘pitch’

In some respects this change from the ragged line breaks of the first section to the prose like justification of the second is almost like a gear change. It forces the reader to read in a slightly different way, by breaking up both the rhythm of the poem and the way the lines form across the page. In this poem, however, it also allows burns to insert a personal experience into a more general discussion. In the prose/poem section we read of how the poet narrowly avoided death when a speeding car heads straight towards her:

……………………………………..i felt too vague. in that
slow step to the right the prod of an instant angel
surely reached across to save my life

In reality the entire poem revolves around this central prose section. The personal experience in the centre lends weight to the more poetic discussion around dusty angels speaking from old anthologies or the fallen angel “who descended from a star then lost its light.” that take place at the beginning and end of the poem.

Burns uses the same combination of poetry and prose in ‘rung’ which is one of the most impressive pieces in this collection. The first section of this piece uses poetry, the second section starts using poetry and then slowly changes into prose. The rest of this piece then moves between poetry and prose. This actually works very well and creates a structure which allows burns to explore some complex notions of memory.

The ‘rung’ of the poem refers to the rungs of a ladder and it is the dusty of rung of her father’s ladder which opens the poem. This simple domestic object:

covered in dust, draped in
an ancient sarong, its rungs
to hang disoriented clothes,

Becomes a symbol  of the martyrdom of St Perpetua, an early Christian female saint who, in a vision while in prison, saw a narrow golden ladder reaching up to heaven.

But if the opening section of the collection is full to overflowing with catholic icons, burns’ angels aren’t the angels of spiritual belief, rather they are the angels of childhood memories – the result of a traditional Catholic upbringing.  In ‘Rung’ burns highlights the conflicting symbolic uses of the ladder. While for St Perpetua the ladder is the golden ladder stretching to heaven which the faithful must climb, for burns:

this ladder has no fine points sticking up towards
heaven.  i feel no drowse. No golden dream….

Rather burns questions the need to go up ladders, rejecting the

…………..…medieval images of sinners falling down
the ladder to hell and the lascivious instruments of
satan’s torturers…

for burns the ladder represents a chance to “…climb down the ladder / of memory”. The strength of this poem lies in the conflict between the images (relics) of a Catholic childhood, the stories of the martyrdom of the saints, their ‘visions’ of the climb into heaven and burns’ desire to move beyond these images to the recollections and memories which has driven much of her work over years:

……………………..…………………….not the tongue stretching
Up for the dry sticky host of a first communion gravitas
But arms reaching out for that first swim in deep water

While there is plethora of angels and saints in the first few sections of amphora, it is the consistency of the work through the entire collection which is its major strength. At 135 pages it is almost as long as some Selected or Collected poems going around and, indeed I have read selected works with a greater variation of ‘quality’ – the poems in amphora retain their intensity throughout the collection. After the ‘surprise’ of the intense catholic iconography in the early section of her book, it was the more conventional   work in the middle and later sections of amphora suggest that this will one of burn’s major collections. All in all amphora deserves to become one the ‘must read’ collections of Australian poetry. In it joanne burns has drawn on her work over the last 30 years or so to create a work that threatens to become a classic.

– Mark Roberts

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

amphora is available from Giramondo http://www.giramondopublishing.com/category/author/joanne-burns-author

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.

.

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

– Mark Roberts
Rochford Street Review

___________________________________________

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

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.

All Dressed Up – Stephen Lawrence reviews Mascara Issue 10 and Jacket 2, ‘51 Contemporary poets from Australia’

Internet sites are replacing journals. Beyond this clear fact, there exists little consensus about whether it is a good or bad thing – let alone how one defines ‘journals’ and their impact on culture – according, for example, to the (online) discussion in Overland, September 2011, and this month’s review piece in The Australian.

Mascara, out of the University of Newcastle, began as, and remains, an e-journal since 2007. It started publishing poetry only; now they have a long review list, and it is growing lengthier with each new edition. Mascara’s tenth issue, ‘Prose Poetry,’ is the first themed edition.

The site’s pages employ a simple, effective interface, leading us in with a solitary striking image; for the tenth issue, it is Tamryn Bennett’s text cityscape, ‘Aneki.’ This visually primes the reader for Alistair Rolls’ featured essay, ‘Baudelaire’s Paris: A New, Urban (Prose) Poetics.’ Rolls’ piece argues that prose poetry is an urban form – indeed, embodies the modern metropolis. He does this by using Baudelaire’s artistic response to Modernist Paris’ urban renewal. (I am glad Woody Allen didn’t encounter Baudelaire in his insolent tour of Modernism, ‘Midnight in Paris.’)

The featured essay also alerts us to Mascara’s tone and editorial choices. The journal is “interested in the way poems locate individuals, and how they connect cultures and languages.” To say Mascara hopes to “challenge the way we position ourselves… renewing the way we imagine ourselves and the world,” reads as a nebulous mandate – although this allows the journal to evolve in any direction it pleases.

Intimations of literary theory wash through the essays. And French Modernist art is never far away; Toby Fitch translates two pieces from Rimbaud’s Illuminations. Theorising also infests some of the poetry – although it is often takes the form of playful nods within a palpable landscape, such as Tim Wright’s:

Boxes in the landscape. The assumptions of architecture. A different beach. The longer a trend takes to reach one. The grimy inner city becomes an idea. Patterns of light through the curtains. The Bolaño effect. Packets of mud.

(‘untitled’)

Mascara’s very general brief is made more specific by announcing its interest in Australia’s interaction with Asian regions. Half the advisory board is Asian; however, the journal is more ‘international’ than its advertised focus on Asian/American texts. There are only two Asian poets in the current issue, although other works address Asian culture, and a few of the translations are of Chinese prose poetry. Chen Li’s fine pieces, for example, translated by Chang Fen-Ling, are sharp micro-narratives built around cores of meditation:

…she borrowed money and bought him another car without my knowledge. That was a white car, white as the morning fog on winter days.

(‘Black Sheep’).

Prose poetry invites off-centre composition and grammar, showing itself qualitatively distinct from verse rhythms. Overall, the poems are varied, and generally fine examples of the genre. Some take the form too far, though. Michael Farrell’s shrilly gestural spacings around punctuation risk the reader seeing only empty hocus-pocus rather than interactive nuances. Most other poets get it, though: sparing use of devices imply mastery, such as Kate Waterhouse’s poised slashes, and Bella Li’s censorship of selected proper nouns. Or Jaimie Gusman’s mastery of cock-eyed, sometimes shocking syntax: “No one wants me as in desires me goes fang-thirsty to the hole in the ground” (‘Everything is For Seen’). These mechanisms are effective not just for the power of their sparse use, but also for their lucid intentionality, setting up clear exchanges with the reader.

The quality of reviewing is mixed in this issue. Heather Taylor Johnson’s piece on Pam Brown is insightful, and a model of how authors can conversationally appear in their own reviews and still come up with engaging criticism. However, Roberta Lowing’s critique of Jenny Lewis’ After Gilgamesh is clumsy and self-praising. It is laudable that so many poets are given the opportunity to review other poets in Mascara, but some employ ungainly prose. This may be either an inadvertent editorial irony – “this issue’s about prose” – or it could be intentionally opening up a complex dialogue on the artistic forms and grammatical elements of prose poetry. One can buy in or buy out of this.

A core review is Ed Wright’s, of The Indigo Book of Australian Prose Poems edited by Michael Byrne. He notes the drawback of so many Australian anthologies: defaulting to established practitioners instead of (a more difficult editorial task) venturing a stance on the future of such poetry by offering more new voices. Wright also usefully summarises weaker contributions as “cute but ultimately throwaway thought pieces”; this gives us a neat summary of prose poetry’s pitfalls, at the same time providing a measure of its uniqueness as a genre.

Jacket2 is the new incarnation of the original quarterly Jacket – another early example of an all-online poetry magazine. The original Jacket was founded by John Tranter in 1997 and while Jacket 2 moved is now maintained from the University of Pennsylvania, it has maintained its Australian connection by keeping Pam Brown as its associate editor.

In Jacket2, as with Mascara, the layout problems and bugs are minor. (In the latter, reviewers’ bios go missing, one is twice as long as the poet’s contribution, and another poet is given a blank page instead of a poem.) However, Louis Armand’s opening image is so large it takes a few seconds to download each time one navigates back to the page. And in both magazines, essays or core works do not announce themselves until one either scrolls down further page-lengths or searches a couple of layers in.

Pam Brown has recently put on this site a ‘collection’ – the editors hesitate to call it an ‘anthology’ – of fifty contemporary poets from Australia. This collection is buried partway down the ‘Features’ pages, at the bottom of a side-menu. Although it is a pity not to be visible closer to the surface, the purpose of Jacket2 is to be – at least in part – an ongoing report on the state of poetry. The site’s banner proclaims that it publishes articles, reviews, interviews, discussions and collaborative responses, archival documents, podcasts, and descriptions of poetry symposia and projects. Not unlike a daily news forum, we will publish content as it is ready.

Given this ambitious brief, articles and reports come and go, and the viewer is encouraged to browse randomly rather than more actively search through the site’s dendritic pathways.

The anthology’s introduction rightly suggests that to peruse literary journals can provide a better indication of a “country’s poetic,” and the collection only aspires to be “broadly representative.” However, although they do not discern any current ‘schools’ of Australian poetry, this doesn’t prevent Brown from noting “trends” – a “lyrical resurgence,” and poetic responses to technological and financial changes.

This is not an anthology that proscribes ‘Australian poetry,’ and Brown consider this a form of cultural cringe: defining this country’s poetic resembles a spurious postcolonial seeking after national identity. Besides, “nobody knows how to answer it.”

Though it is titled “51 Contemporary poets,” at present only about ten are evident in the contents. It is an evolving list, Brown tells us in her introduction, and forty more poets will join them in “four subsequent installments.” This first batch is in reverse alphabetical order (claimed as a “recently developed ‘downunder’ method”). Mark Young, a broad-ranging poet from New Zealand, is therefore up first. We are obliged to go to another page for poets’ biographies, and then are distracted by advertisements for the magazine on the right hand side. Marketing increasingly encroaches in our world – and poetry is not exempt from this influence, in its content as well as its backdrop.

The first ten poets also include Alan Wearne and his hilarious ‘Sarsaparilla: a Calypso’:

On through Menzies’ days and Holt’s,
Patrick logged up minor faults:
countless friendships never stick
(what a temperamental prick!).
Laboured syntax? Let it pass.
Can’t quite “get” the working class.
Down at the dump though, smoking pot …
Riders in the Chariot!

And there is Tranter’s own exceedingly long poem, ‘The Anaglyph.’ (Commissioned a stale five years ago, it is garden-fresh compared to featured poet Joanne Burns’ 2003 offerings in Mascara.) In terms of length, several of the poets are pleasingly allowed space enough to provide a sense of their methodology – although briefer entries often create a more intense and satisfying impact.

I was searching for weak links amongst the first offering, but found that all entries are of a high quality and representative of the editors’ themes. Brown takes no risks: every poet here is established or active in the literary community. Even though we only have ‘Y’ to ‘T’ surnames so far, this first sample presages a fine and comprehensive online anthology.

Given the inevitability of internet productions, these two journals – Mascara and Jacket2 – have taken the technological lead, and look like they, and others emerging even now, will continue to use the medium to produce effective and collaborative products.

– Stephen Lawrence

The Beautiful Dead – THIRTEEN POEMS FROM THE DEAD by Rae Desmond Jones

Thirteen Poems from the Dead by Rae Desmond Jones, Polar Bear Press 2011

First impressions are always important and in the case of Thirteen Poems From the Dead, first impressions create very high expectations. This is a beautiful book, printed in a very limited run of less than one hundred. It is printed, we are told, on Magnani Velata Avorio and set in Minion and Gill types. And if that isn’t enough there is apparently a deluxe edition on its way – twenty six copies “lettered a-z”, signed by the poet and artist and each with an original print by Michael Fitzjames.

But while it’s all too easy to be seduced by the way this book looks and feels I have, after all, come for the poetry – and fortunately I was not disappointed. Rae Desmond Jones has led a rich and varied life. I first became aware of him as a poet courtesy of Robyn Archer’s 1978 LP The Wild Girl in the Heart. On this album Archer put the poetry of a number of Australian poets to music – among them was Jones’ ‘The Deadshits’. This poem is a fairly graphic account of a pack rape at a suburban party and, at the time, resulted in calls for the entire album to be banned. Jones’ was already an established poet in 1978 and over the ensuring years released a number of books of poetry, two novels, a book of short stories as well as a video. In addition he found time to become involved in local politics, being elected to Ashfield council and serving as mayor from 2004 to 2006.

Jones’ of course is no longer a young poet. Born in 1941it is perhaps understandable that many of the poems in this small collection deal with issues of aging, mortality and death:

body when it is young:

how lush it is when in decay

hanging from the bush too long

‘How sweet the layered blossoming rose’

Like the rose in the title of this poem, Jones’ poetry in this collection is multilayered and and rich. The rose, traditionally a symbol of love, in this poem becomes a metaphor for an aging body that can still remember that it “once tingled/ to the eager hungry touch”.

With age comes the richness of memory and in ‘The Fairies of 520 Williams Street” there is the memory of a childhood home – images of a history that can only exist in the poet’s mind, now committed to the page:

I write to bequeath my part of this history to you –

remake it in images you own.

‘The Fairies of 520 Williams Street”

‘Ash Wednesday’, dedicated to the poet Kerry Leves who died in May 2011, is a stunning poem. Combining a rich Catholic/Christian imagery with everyday observations of Darlinghurst, the poem recalls a visit to the dying Leves at the Scared Heart Hospice. Jones’ states in the poem that he is not Catholic: (forgive me,/ Irish Grandfather), but one suspects that the poet’s grandfather would have found much to appreciate in this poem. The poem opens with the striking imagery of:

the moving stairs at Kings Cross station

groan upwards from deep beneath Victoria street

but to finally leave the darkness of the underground station and emerge into the light of Kings Cross the poet has to pass the barrier, in the same way as a Catholic has to accept the sacraments:

I have a ticket, which allows me

to pass an unlikely Angel at the gate,

a heavy middle aged man in blue

who glowers as the machine

chews my ticket like a broken biscuit

(Give us this day our daily bread)

The unexpectedness of the ticket machine becoming a metaphor for the communion sacrament is effective and surprising and prepares us for the imagery that continues to build up, layer on layer, as the poet nears the Hospice. There is the man with the “Satanic tattoo on the back of each leg” and the “demons revving engines.”

While the sadness that accompanies the process of dying is all to apparent

but you wait with your mind

sharp as ever even while your body

collapses softly, elegantly into the ash

on your forehead

There remains a sense of optimism in the almost Audenesque conclusion:

around us hover those we have helped

& a little distant, those we have failed

their lives assemble quietly,

clothed in light.

Of course the irony is that neither Jones, or Leves was/is Catholic (See Pam Brown’s memory of Leves in The Overland Memorial) adds yet another level to this already rich and complex poem.

While there are only fourteen poems in this collection they are of such quality that it is possible to spend hours reading and reading them. The richness of the imagery, the almost virtuosic display of poetic technique coupled with a beautifully design and produced book makes this limited edition collection one to queue up for.

Mark Roberts

To enquire about availability contact: books@nicholaspounder.com