Satire, Mischief and Joy: Anne Pender Launches Michael Sharkey’s Another Fine Morning in Paradise

Anne Pender Launch Speach for Michael Sharkey’s Another Fine Morning in Paradise, 20 April 2012, Armidale Art Society Gallery, Beardy Street Armidale.

It is a pleasure and a privilege to be here this evening to launch Michael Sharkey’s latest collection of poems, Another Fine Morning in Paradise. I believe this is Michael’s thirteenth volume of poetry. And true to form, Michael has supplied me with some intriguing, and rather detailed notes on one of the poems ‘Where the Bunyip Builds its Nest’.

But more about that in a few minutes. I’d like to dedicate this celebration to the memory of Bruce Bennett who died last Friday and who was a life-long supporter of Australian literature. Bruce wrote many fine essays about poetry and he was a fan of Michael’s work too.

The marvelously ironic title of this collection, Another Fine Morning in Paradise, immediately suggests satire, mischief and joy. All of these things are present and abundant in this collection. I have enjoyed reading these poems immensely. There is pleasure awaiting you in reading this poetry – intense pleasure. But there is a sting in this poetry and you won’t get off lightly. The poems on these silky pages will prick you, prod you and pin you to your seat. Have a look at the one called ‘And Afterwards’: no one is spared in this assault on funerary customs and the way we speak of the dead….

And yet in the reading, and in the midst of what sometimes feels like an attack, A total disturbance, a disorienting disruption of everything – the poems have a liberating effect – they are liberating at every level: intellectually, aesthetically and emotionally. There is nothing predictable in the phrasing, or in the narrative arc of the poems here. This is where Michael’s mastery of form, style and diction is so impressive. And before I get into some detail I want to stress the humour and astringency of so many of the poems in this collection.

Michael Sharkey is a satirist through and through. Have a look at the opening poem ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’, or the second poem, ‘The Plain People of Paradise’, in which the speaker ponders eternity through the language of the real estate pages, complete with parodies of the spelling mistakes therein: one of his headings in this poem is ‘Sort After Neighbourhood’. Listen to the wit and sharpness of the opening lines:

‘How do the patron saints of age and illness
do their work? Do they have unions?

And then pressing the marvelous conceit, a few lines on:

Do angels have computers? …
What use are wings in office cubicles?

And then the devastating attack of these lines:

‘Who measures blood that’s spilled on earth? Who handles grief?

Further,

‘Some say Valhalla is a vast hall full of smoke
and cloudy trophies; others plump for golden city

walls of diamond, gleaming streets like burnished glass,
but what the inmates have to do, detained there

for eternity with klieg lights and no sleep
is anyone’s guess. …’

The power of allegory builds in the portrayal of heaven in a few scathing lines:

‘What use is /Heaven if the ones refused admission

Can’t be sent to some Nauru or Christmas Island
Of the damned to keep the ignorant in bliss?’

And so we have an ingenious shift to the concrete, a real place: Australia.

The closing sequences of this poem give us the self at last, as a Hieroglyph’ and the eerie invocation of the self on a tour of paradise:  ‘Collect your third eye at the door, enjoy your flight.’ This, like many of the poems in this book will stop you short with their breathtaking clarity of image, the sudden perfectly targeted attack on Arden, standing in perhaps for Armidale.

I urge you to look closely at the glorious poem called  ‘The Paradise of Kevins’:  it is the Gold Coast’. And here I’m enthralled by Michael’s language of attack and its music; take the second stanza:

‘Mothers in law, all those widows
who wondered while reading brochures when
not busting their backs having children and
wiping the snot and the crap from the kids
who’d grow up to be Kevins and girls that
the Kevins would marry, now occupy units
on package-deal holidays, nannied by
daughters or sons now divorced, through snares of resorts.’

Michael’s nimble critique of the shallow tracings of contemporary nature tourism in another poem called  ‘Nothing to it’ continues the satire on our fetishizing of the banal and our tendency to blunder past the sacred.

Existential questions in Michael’s ‘Ode to Shoes’ are comical and gentle. We are treated to mesmerizing rhythm and comic brilliance as the speaker contemplates the bizarre materials in which we clothe our feet: ‘Brothel creepers’, ‘country boots’, ‘plastic clouds in labs and surgeries and wards’. He says

How many personalities do you assign to us?
What selves are hiding in our closets or at large among the world?
What is it that your many tongues are trying to relate?

The poem seethes with a driving energy, arriving at the final lines

‘Roman sandals, hobnailed toughs, we see your passion play;
you, dress shoes on a coffined corpse, absurdity that fits.’

One of the further pleasures of this collection is its variety of mood and style. ‘Young Woman with a Tea-Towel’ is simple, direct, moving – with the grace of a portrait, it is itself painterly, but it is stripped back, not a word too many in this lament. I think it is one of my favourites.

I want to draw attention to the majesty of argument woven in many of these poems, their swiftness, lightness and Swiftian quality of close examination of us. I’m thinking of the supple lines of a poem called ‘The Sight of Blood Each Day’ with its striking conclusion. The narrative arc of this short poem stays with me; I hope Michael will read this to us.

I said earlier that you are pinned to your seat and I meant it. There are stinging lines about our country, such as ‘The nation’s business is ham acting’. Life in a university near you keeps reappearing and no one is spared. Take the lines:

Academically speaking, teaching’s really spaz
But who expects to make an impression when every
Contact confirms that your life is under a hex.

And in this as other poems we are saved by comic fury, saved by compassion and humour:

         This Sargasso Sea hosts other crawlies, monsters with
Two driving motives: knowledge they’re hopeless as teachers, and toadying
Up to the setters of targets for others.

I won’t give away the ending.

Comedy is intense in the swirling poem about drunkenness called ‘Heroes of Australia’. It begins

In bedrooms of Australia they are waking up and saying
What did I say and you know you should have stopped me and
My God did I say that and saying never that’s the end of it no more
I’m giving up and swearing off it while their heads are full of saucepans
falling endlessly to floors made out of steel.

I mentioned that Michael supplied me with some notes that explain the extraordinary final poem in the collection called ‘Where the Bunyip Builds its Nest’. This is a poem made up of 200 lines drawn from the poetry of Australian poems written over the last 200 years. So in other words each line has been taken from another poet’s work. There is a guide at the back of the book to the source of each line. But the narrative and the structure are Michael’s. Michael says that he had no specific model in mind but thinks of Ashbery’s cut up narratives or possibly Pound’s idea of a poem containing history. The title recalls a poem written in 1885 by Mary Hannay Foott called ‘Where the Pelican Builds its Nest’. This last poem of Michael’s is a remarkable piece. Clever, witty, artful and rich in the way it brings a poetic history to life, but moulded into something else, something Sharkean. The final three lines of the last section called ‘Galah Songs’ come from three contemporary Australian poets: Bronwyn Lea, MTC Cronin and Peter Minter. Here are the last three lines:

Socrates said when our feet hurt we hurt all over.
My way is I make a huge fuss and then I get over it.
Lines I improve, boundaries erode

I commend the extraordinary Bunyip poem to you. Thank you Michael for this book; I have great pleasure in wishing you every success with it. Let’s drink a toast to Michael and Another Fine Morning in Paradise

– Anne Pender

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Anne Pender is Associate Professor of English and Theatre Studies at the University of New England, Armidale. She is also an Australian Research Council Future Fellow, currently working on a major study of Australian actors from 1950 until the present. Her publications include a study of Christina Stead, studies of the theatre of Nick Enright, a biography of Barry Humphries (One Man Show: The Stages of Barry Humphries, Sydney: ABC Books, 2010) and a recently completed study of writers abroad: Reverse Diaspora: Australian Expatriate Writers in Britain 1830-2010 (for the AustLit online Australian Literature Resource).

Another Fine Morning In Paradise is available from Five Island Press: http://fiveislandspress.com/catalogue/another-fine-morning-in-paradise

Six at Once: Pam Brown launches the latest Vagabond Press Rare Object Series

Beheld by Niobe Syme, Chooks by Adrian Wiggins, Don Juan Variations by S.K. Kelen, Green Thought – Green Shade by Kit Kelen, Imitation Era by James Stuart, Under Rats by Nicolette Stasko. Vagabond Press, Rare Object Series 2012.

This is a slightly edited version of Pam Brown’s launch speech for the six chapbooks at Gleebooks, Glebe, Sydney on 29 July 2012.

Pam Brown launching beheld by Niobe Syme, Chooks by Adrian Wiggins, Don Juan Variations by S.K. Kelen, Green Thought – Green Shade by Kit Kelen, Imitation Era by James Stuart, Under Rats by Nicolette Stasko at Gleebooks. (Photo Adrian Wiggins).

Six poetry books to launch together! John Ashbery called a review of a number of poets at once the ‘club sandwich review’ but that’s so New York New York.  In Sydney we’d probably find, at the breakfast-all-day cafe, various versions of a triple-tier vege burger. Let’s order one and check out the fillings –

Between the ancient-grain bun, this one is, of course, spelt. Starting at the bottom, resting on radicchio and romaine lettuce there’s an orange yolked egg that reminds us of Adrian Wiggins’ Chooks – this isn’t a vegan-burger – it’s a vege burger. James Stuart is occupying the organic gherkin and caper layer. Above that we behold Niobe Syme  sharing a Spanish vegetarian ground sausage – a soy protein soyrizo – with Nicolette Stasko. Next we come to the Kelen Brothers – Kit Kelen mixing in some Asian greens and beetroot and S K Kelen,  a.k.a  Zen Kelen, lathers the lot with sweet chilli sauce.

Because it’s not that great, it’s corny even, I don’t want to labour this allusion so I’ll stop –  but I do want to say that the beautiful design of Vagabond chapbooks transform each title into what looks like a delicious light crispbread with a nougat paper fly leaf.

Small presses have been in my published-poetry life since it began. (That’s quite a while ago now). ‘Independent or small poet-run press initiatives have had an enduring influence on the social histories of poetry communities: in part reflecting the relationships, ideals and shared spaces and chance meetings that underpin poetic activity'(1). In the last few decades of the 20th century, many poets were using roneo, gestetner or mimeograph to produce magazines, pamphlets, broadsheets and small books of poetry – and silk screen, potato stamps, rubber stamps, lino cuts and so on to make the cover art. Gradually, with the progression of technology, roneo, gestetner and mimeo have become antique, if not obsolete. And offset printing or lithography has become a luxury, a costly (for most poets) quality printing method, and luscious silk screen printing is now more of a fine art process. Xerox-digital innovation has become the means of extending this rich tradition. And Vagabond in that context is exemplary. Praise is due to Liz Allen, Kay Orchison, Chris Edwards and Mike Brennan, the main players who keep this lively publishing venture going.

Some of the poets whose work we’re celebrating today have done and still do participate in independent publishing. Steve Kelen had Glandular Press and a one-off magazine Final Taxi Review, Adrian Wiggins hosted Final Friday readings until recently and produced limited editions of poems by each guest reader. Kit Kelen currently edits Flying Island books and Association of Stories in Macau and used to have Cerberus Press, James Stuart had ‘non-generic productions’ – an electronic publishing outfit – and he edited an inventive collection of conceptual writing – ‘The Material Poem’ – which, because it was in portable document format, or pdf, can still be downloaded. Even though poetry in print usually has a lengthy shelf life the internet has given us an even longer one.

Now to the booklets – and I’ll have to be brief because you’ll want to hear the poets and then get on with drinking and further palaver.  I’d  like to note that Vagabond Rare Objects are refreshingly bio-note-and-blurb-free, and  although I did see the precis of each booklet in the gleebooks publicity, I wrote this little panegyric before that – so what I’m going to say shouldn’t echo any stale recommendations.

Adrian Wiggins reading from Chooks.

Adrian Wiggins has been writing poems for some years now. He co-founded, with Peter Minter, Cordite Poetry Review and published his first collection The Beggar’s Codex back in 1994. He also founded the online network ‘Sydney Poetry. Adrian’s poetry has a deft, complicated and original touch.

In this booklet, called Chooks, Adrian writes a number of sonnets, a deceptively difficult form to write and he does it superbly. These sonnets are filled with dilemma, often  relationship dilemma.  There is a reminder of Ted Berrigan in ‘Sonnet No 1’ –

  Dear Siobhan, hello. Is it 5:15am where you are?

at the end of the fourth sonnet, the mood is positively redemptive :

up on stage with yr bluegrass tunes & tight banjo-rich
hick panegyrics (oh the yips, licks & lyrics)
are so cool in an acceptably indecent & benign

Gen Y way – I heart yr 80s pants suit & yr Bali Writers
Retreat keepsake flashcards: See. Feel. Touch. Write.

There are also some noir poems here. One is ‘Cordeaux Dam’ – a dam that’s part of the Sydney catchment area, where over a decade ago now two teenagers murdered a friend, kicking him and bludgeoning him with a log, and then went to a party. A few years later his body was found when one of the murderers confessed to the police.

The murderer in Adrian’s poem has not confessed and still wears the victim’s chain. It’s a powerful poem written concisely and directly. There’s really no other literary method of managing this kind of topic.

and then there’s ‘The Astronaut’s Lovesong’  –

     …honestly, love, I want you totally
like a heatshield, an antidote, a splashdown.

From my home in Magnolia I’ve driven
in my transit nappies, in my husband’s wagon
with duct tape, cord and gear sacks
a steel mallet, a knife and rubber tubing
in the back.

Yes, it’s about the wildly jealous astronaut Lisa Nowack who tried to kidnap a female airforce captain who was involved with an astronaut on whom Lisa had a big crush.

But, not to dwell mainly on the darker side of Adrian’s beguilingly titled booklet s, the poems are diverse, often clever, sometimes contemplative and lyrical.  Contemplating ‘fate’ as in ‘destiny’ and playing on the word – the poem’s title is the French ‘fête‘ which translates as celebration – he sets an impossible task –  to weigh a mountain,

any mountain, Eyjatjallajokull say,
(go on say it)

There are also plenty of ‘up’ moments, poems that embrace a kind of Australian-ness, alongside some jokes and fun lampooning old poetry codgers (my generation) –  current dress fashions – sock-free men and fruit-print frocks. And, for me, Adrian’s tone is occasionally reminiscent of work by S.K. Kelen –

*

S.K. Kelen reading from Don Juan Variations. (Photo by Adrian Wiggins).

Steve Kelen has been writing preeminent poems for several decades, publishing early poems in Poetry Australia when he was only17. He is one of OzPo’s luminaries. Here, he takes on the legend of Don Juan, the fictional 17th century wealthy libertine who devoted his life to seducing women and who’s been portrayed through the centuries in various iterations – famously in opera by Mozart, in poetry by Lord Byron and even by Guillaume Apollinaire, and in myriad plays, songs and films.

In Steve’s version, in the two epic poems here, we begin in the traffic daze of Parramatta Road that is depicted so powerfully that it’s rendered a grotesque enargia – ‘roadside even/ A dead dog can be sexy’ . Through a choking throng of machinery, noise and fumes Don Juan gets his chariot to the shopping mall – where

Flamenco muzak is ecstasy, escalators
Are heaven’s path. You ride a dragon’s spine
Upward upward rise through the shiniest place of all time
Shining the way paradise should shine

This is a veritable arcadia of pleasures –

Juan was home, felt the mall satisfying.

A witty commentary on the poem’s artifice ensues and does my work for me in introducing the poems to you – so I’ll quote –

Of course they still ennoble the soul but today’s
Best loved poems are the ones that can be enjoyed
During the ads on TV, while playing air guitar
Downloading a game or sitting in an RSL drinking.
Thus this poem will leave much to the imagination –
What is given are some illuminations and bursts of story
Something extra for resonance maybe some startling imagery
Maybe not; as far as plot and meaning go
Like Byron’s Don Juan, this baby is an open field
A map with a lot of terra incognito.
A quick-epic or verse miniseries that approaches
the lyric in brevity and leaves time for other play activity.

And it goes on to critique Byron’s poem as old-fashioned in the face of the soft-core porn of today’s glossy celebrity magazines and tv soapies. And there’s much much more – we are even given the traditional epic’s shipwreck, a resume of multiculturalism  too, as we follow Don Juan’s numerous encountersin his efforts to work out where he’s landed – in 21st century Aussie culture.

These poems are a narrative-driven tour de force. Here is a worldliness grown weary of consumerism, yet still able to see the comical. It’s an absurd knowledge that the material world is, finally, preposterous. In the second poem Don Juan joins a queue of unhappy souls, in various states of anomie, waiting toenter The Underworld. After further disconcerting disintegration there are some marsupials at the end of the road who seem to have figured things out –

Possums laugh, their bushy tails point to the sky.
‘Lost Paradise?’ they ask. ‘Regrets?’

*

James Stuart reading from Imitation Era. (Photo by Adrian Wiggins).

James Stuart’s Imitation Era begins with poems displaying a genial relational cognizance.

In a beautiful poem to his infant daughter the lyricism is consummate. ‘Postcard for Marilla’ encompasses the classic occasion when a father considers his projections into the future –

                                                  Whole empires
could balance upon your first tooth but this life
we have prepared for you will close more quickly
than it opens, no matter how much we love each other.

and

One day when you are ready I’ll tell you
about great migrations we have destroyed & marsupials

you’ll never meet, even as they ghost
across scrubland on the television screen.

James’ poems are diffused with exacting and mostly scarce description and nimble philosophical reflection as they shift through diverse locations. The Sydney Harbour Bridge looks like the handle of an old suitcase found in a second-hand shop in Enmore, there’s a business banquet in Hong Kong, a Venison Weekend at the Austrian Club near Bulli Pass, a decaying Doric Europe, bamboo forests, tropical storms and a quick and greedy street puppy. A few years ago James spent time in Chengdu in China on an Asialink residency.  In ‘Images, the outside world’ – he encounters and animates a dragon –

                                 A mangy dragon
pokes his head out from between Heaven’s West Gate
& sneezes, scratching lazily at lice between his scales.

Elsewhere, in the east near a well-worn ancient gingko tree, the poet experiences the ephemerality of his vocation –

The most unbelievable ideas spout up here
& are swept like plastic bags towards the ocean.

And in a cogent poem, ‘The White Horse’,  he learns what every self-conscious foreign-devil-poet learns at some point in any country, when his wise teacher’s advice and ancient romantic Eastern imagery fails him –

But the white stallion with its cloud-draped hooves
& silk-thread mane never turned up for collection.
Nor did my Vietnamese mother who had forsaken me on this,
the eve of the lunar new year. Only thus did I learn
that I am from Australia, that I am an Australian

The next poem, ‘Sudden Rain, Tilba Tilba’, incorporates the lesson naturally. The landscape of spotted gums and blackbutts and tin shed-and-flyscreen bric-a-brac are fleetingly imagined as a Chinese painting –

the grass as negative space upon which float
the black-ink strokes of eucalypts?

and the final poem ends in a photo of a mist, not the misty mountains mist, but, (I’ve imagined at any rate), the mists of the escarpment just north of Wollongong –

                                                              …even the swans,
who barely register our shapes from so high above, as we move
into & out of focus, signposting this inexplicable mist.

*

Niobe Syme reads from Beheld. (Photo by Adrian Wiggins).

For me, the title of Niobe Syme’s booklet, Beheld, sounds kind of biblical. You know, as if we’ve suddenly looked and beheld some heralding angels or the king of kings or one of his friends or relatives!

Niobe is a photographer who has shown her work publicly in various competitions and group exhibitions. This practice gives her poems a visual aesthetic and an occasional obliquity. She says on her web site that she has ‘a fascination with perception surrounding sense, meaning and time’ and that contextualises aspects of the poems in Beheld.

The opening lines in a poem set in a place called ‘Raglan Road’, ‘Late light bleeds/into the sitting room’ establish a photographic perception right from the beginning. And later these minimalist couplets continue with  ‘Now with cloudy eyes/she stands mute/in a haze of olive tones. Dust advances like an army/leaching highlights’ This poem engages with pastness, past time.

There is a poem in an urban hotel or bar that is busy with images of a signature Happy Hour, and  a couple of travel poems – at the Mississipi River where the American dream is subsumed to the mortgage crisis, and, then there’s a totally different place –  ‘Leaving Jodhpur’, a famously dusty Indian city –

Dust clouds around a ball
pursued by long-limbed children.
Rajasthan, Sofala or Mars?

Every moment and form is rusting
substance yielding to air
and carried away to settle

as desert-varnish, elsewhere.

Most of Niobe’s poems connect somehow with a photographer’s way of seeing – and there are traces throughout of tungsten, filament, colour definition, ‘sun and matter/hum out of shadow’ in a dark room, framed reproductions of painting masters, and photographs in a family house, a window has a ‘ferrous tint’, the sky (in Jodhpur again) is ‘in mineralised brooding’, there are ‘faded psycho-snapshots’, ‘the mind must have its frame’, ‘she gently roamed/from highlight to shadow’.

The poem ‘The Art of Peeling Skin’ is oblique, private, coded and ends with a line that gives the clue to the booklet’s title ‘as though in peril you might find it,
 a luminous core/or at least the suggestion that you were beheld.’

*

Nicolette Stasko reads from Under Rats. (Photo by Adrian Wiggins).

Nicolette Stasko, originally from Pennsylvania in the U.S., started publishing her writing in the 1990’s. She has edited, in the late ’80s, for a magazine called Phoenix,  written four poetry books, a novel and a book about a bivalve mollusc, the oyster. She has also taught creative writing.

Every poem in Nicolette’s Under Rats includes an animal, a bird or an insect so this chapbook is a series of natural world or fauna poems and, mostly, the context is the everyday.  Her neighbours, in the first poem and wasps flying around a line of washing, a pouncing marmalade cat, mouse spiders, (not that mouse spiders are very ‘everyday’) and sea shells. Hummingbirds, similar to Australian honey eaters, are found in north America and bring a sense of nostalgia for the poet. Even in a poem depicting three different moons there’s an animal reference – a reflection of one of the moons smiles like a Cheshire cat. Another poem, in a scene that’s familiar in Sydney, the poet is waiting for the bats to make their early evening crossing and, oddly, they fail to appear.

The title poem, ‘under rats’, is at a tangent to the others here It’s a complex, sometimes startling, sometimes darkly humorous kind of European poem. To me it suggests an historical figure, a writer, a playwright, a communist, a Jew, a Russian, or perhaps these are scenes from Nicolette’s Polish/Hungarian background?  I don’t know – it’s quite oneiric, coded and distanced and perhaps I’ve got it wrong ..? The structure is twelve stanzas that in pairs are of fourteen lines – like sonnets and the narrative shaping is engaging and very effective –

we began to be afraid of our shoes
they seemed to become more
aggressive   taking us places
we didn’t want to go
someone said to leave
them for a while
that  always fixed things
but they only became

more demanding
we had heard of a case like this
somewhere in chechnya

finally they had no choice
but to line them up and shoot
blindfolds were unnecessary

I’ll leave it there. Under Rats is an intriguing collection of poems.

*

Kit Kelen reads from Green Thought – Green Shade. (Photo by Adrian Wiggins).

Kit Kelen is currently on sabbatical from his job in Macau, where he teaches and publishes translations and original work at a prolific rate – both his own work and others. And on this sabbatical he has written Green Thought – Green Shade – a suite of pastoral poems about re-entering or re-engaging with the Australian countryside. Where, as he says in the first poem, he will ‘go bush’. He reflects on the return and the changes that have occurred during his absence from Bulahdelah in the poem ‘coming home’

where a tent was first pitched
the garden went

the oak from the acorn
come in the post

the reach of the branches
adventures in bark

heights of trees
now I am taller

Although Kit Kelen’s use of language in the poems is direct, and is in fact pretty much plain speech, he idealises the place where he has a great sense of belonging. The property is called ‘Iona’, an island in the Scottish Hebrides, but also , in the sububan tradition of using homynyms for house names like Dunromin – ‘done roaming’, ‘Iona’ is also ‘I owner’.

Here, he writes –

I sink in like fenceposts
this is the spot
where I’ll rot

In the poem ‘the morning’s headlines’ this particular idyllic arcadia is where the anxieties of daily news reports are soothed and parodied by the contrast of the Australian landscape –

local economy in overnight flatline

mist lifted
neighbour’s cows emerge unscathed

vine in gumboot tangle
hooves press on

haze fails to dampen sun

hoe flies off handle

kookaburras sit out last laugh scandal

These poems are written from an affection for a landscape and its details in a particular part of the country in which Kit Kelen has made his own sense of belonging. Readers can guage, from what he calls a ‘sabbatical set’ of poems, that he misses this place when he is away in Asia.

Kit Kelen’s reflective philosophy turns up in the final poem ‘art of passing’ –

and under distraction
victim of our own whim
I’m becoming past master
of the imperfect

and making this
my art

*

So – that’s a brief tour of these collections. My apologies for the length of time I’ve taken here and for the brevity of attention to each title but I’m sure the poets will amplify my notes by reading for you. I take great pleasure in announcing these six chapbooks launched and ready to read!

NOTES

1. A line I read somewhere, perhaps in Keri Glastonbury’s 2010 JASAL article – The New ‘Coterie’, or perhaps elsewhere. I copied it into my book of extensive notes on independent publishing but didn’t add the source.

– Pam Brown

————————————————————————–

Pam Brown recently edited Fifty-one contemporary poets from Australia for ‘Jacket2’ where she is an associate editor. She has published many books including Dear Deliria (Salt, 2002), True Thoughts (Salt, 2008), Authentic Local (SOI3 Modern Poets, 2010) and, more recently, a pocket book of ten poems, Anyworld (Flying Island, 2012) and a booklet, More than a feuilleton (Little Esther Books, 2012). A longer collection of poems, Home by Dark, will be published by Shearsman Books in the U.K. in 2013. Pam lives in Alexandria, Sydney and blogs intermittently at http://thedeletions.blogspot.com/

For information on how to buy any Vagabond Press Book email them at contact@vagabondpress.net

Adam Aitken on The Political Imagination: Contemporary Postcolonial and Diasporic Poetries Conference

The Political Imagination: Contemporary Postcolonial and Diasporic Poetries Conference was held at Deakin University (Deakin Prime in Melbourne) on 12th and 13th of April 2012. Adam Aitken, who presented on “(un)becoming hybridity in my poetry”, looks back on the highlights of the conference. This account was first published on Adam’s blog http://adamaitken.blogspot.com.au/

Adam Atiken. Photo by Adrian Wiggins (www.pureandapplies.net/adrian)

The Political Imagination: Contemporary Postcolonial and Diasporic Poetries Conference was one of the best conferences I’ve been to. The conversations were lively, and there was a refreshing openness and willingness to understand the institutional limits of our thinking. The postmodern did its dance with the postcolonial in a good atmosphere that seemed free of the defensiveness and self-censoring that often occurs at such conferences.

One of the major debates has been the reasons for the demise of postcolonial study of poetry throughout the world, and the subsequent shrinkage of voices from the margins. But no-one came out and ‘blamed’ the postmodernists, no one blamed “po-co” theory for being out-of-date, but good critiques were mounted on the limits of these paradigms, and poetry as poesis or “making” (dare I say in Shelleyan terms the “Spirit” of Poetry) seemed to survive the machine that theorises it. (Or at least I didn’t feel overwhelmed by theory, but affirmed by the workability of bringing together of theory and poetry performance. It certainly allowed me a freedom to speak in ways I have been craving for years.)

To kick things off Peter Minter reprised his critique of the recent Gray/Lehmann battleship anthology Australian Poetry Since 1788. Minter argues that the project comes across as a “neo-colonial vanity project” that fails to achieve its claimed objective representation of Indigenous, ethnic and postmodern Australian poets; its fails to disclose its subjectivity, a point made already by David McCoohey in an early review of the book. Minter called the framing of the collection (by its introduction and its faux-Aboriginal emu-design cover pages) an example of nationalistic kitsch. One view is that whatever the quality of the selection, the canonising function of the national anthology represents a kind of management document for the archiving of a certain ideal Imaginary, one whose border are already belated and possibly out of date, an argument both Bridie McCarthy (“Border Protection: Neo-Colonialism and the Canon”) and Lucy Van (“‘Why Waste Lines on Achille?’: Tracing the Critical Discourse on Postcolonial Poetry”) touched on in their respective papers.

Minter’s figure of the archipelagic map of Australia swims for me, so rather than one island made of “empty space”, we are a constellation of geo-psychic centres scattered between the equator and semi-arctic latitudes. The desire is to connect these centres in a diplomatic way, through a poetics of relation and movement. Minter’s eco-poetic is complex and continually re-imagined and changing, and so far no national cultural “programme” or manifesto is offered to replace current Federal-State structures for the arts. In a sense, Minter’s Glissantian vision is antithetic to centralist bureaucratisation, is self-engendering and anarchic. (Should the participants in the debate over the direction of the ‘peak-body’ Australian Poetry take note here?)

The Eurocentrism of the academies was hardly apparent here (though the venue itself was pure High Modernist Corporate and rather neutral in terms of cultural markers of identity, but everything worked; and some of the conference food was “Asian”), and rather than merely accept any kind of approach as the “right one” for all of us, there was a thoughtful suspension (or muting perhaps) of the manifesto-impulse. That said, a certain participant confided in me that she thought John Hawke’s launch of VLAK, a journal produced by a coalition of Australian internationalists and expatriate Louis Armand, had a whiff of “cultural cringe”. Looking through the volume afterwards, I was impressed by how many Australian-based poets had a presence here, and rather than read this as “Australians going Euro-avant-garde”, I read a concomitant vector in which Australian marginalism and our own awkward multiculturalism and location hybridises the master signifier of “Europe” itself. VLAK is European, but the term already masks its own contradictions and the seeds of its own deconstruction and impossibility. VLAK comes out of Prague, not Paris or London or Berlin, and arguably it speaks of some kind of Eastern European marginality vis-à-vis the West, a marginality that invites collaboration with our own.

For everyone the challenge was to talk about Australian poetry as something that is still growing and negotiating its own relations to it own marginality, and to speak with/back to the grand body of European postmodern theory, to postcolonial traditions (the subaltern studies group, Latin American traditions, hybridity theorists and others), and to Asian-American literary studies, a kind of big sibling of a nascent Asian-Australian formation represented here by Tim Yu a leading theorist and Asian-American poet in his own right. As Michael Farrell’s quip about “marsupial consciousness” suggests, the organism is still semi-foetal and in need of many mothers’ protection, and it would be premature to champion any kind of eco-poetics or hybrid consciousness as the future terrain of our reading.

Ali Alizadeh offered a post-Marxist critique of how we over-determine identity in migrant and indigenous poetries, and, in a controversial reading of an Ali Cobby Eckermann poem, suggested that identity is virtual and operates as a kind of fantasy that obscures the material and eco-political conditions that oppressed subjects deal with. Arguing against that I suggested a way of reading identity in Butlerian terms, which sees identity as performative and constituted in the interpellative moment. We become who we are – gendered and raced – through self-identity, but also because we respond to the labels others put upon us, and the effects of language and of naming are material; identity is symbolic as language itself is a system of symbols with communicative and ideological effects; identity is not merely symbolic or virtual or to be relegated under macro-economic superstructures and ideologies, and there is a complex pre-ideological moment before identity is affixed, through language, on the body. But I argue that in the face of essentialistic racism we can hybridise those labels deliberately and disobediently through speech acts.

Maintaining a hold on Australian studies, the enthusiastic, warm, and venerable Lyn McCredden gave a brilliantly strong reading of the tropic traces of “Australian nation” (its status as a centring Imaginary) in poems by John Forbes and Ken Bolton. Opening up her own position to debate, she invited different readings. I suggested that she extend the study of nation in Forbes and Bolton to include their poems about other nations, European ones at that. McCredden’s main point is that however we try to break away from controlling discourses of nation in the popular imaginary (e.g. ANZAC, the Beach, Tom Roberts painting of shearers etc.) Nation and Nationalism Aussie style won’t go away and should not be ignored. Indeed poets need to address such a demotic in order to remain relevant as critics of the current neo-colonial regress in popular Australian culture.

Other notable papers included Michael Farrell’s reading of on the Neo-baroque in Michael Dransfield. Michelle Cahill gave a brilliant paper on the subaltern and the necessity, perhaps, to step outside the institutions that continually silence the subaltern. There was a good discussion of what the margin-centre looks like now in the Australian poetry scene, and how an Asian-Australian literary formation might address margin-centre formations. It was my own sense that good will exists towards the project of opening up the space with an Asian-Australian anthology, and many are looking forward to have more discussion of form and language in AA poetries.Tim Yu’s paper re-enforced a perception that AA poetry was invisible, and that in his own research he had begun to see that there was no easy parity between the two versions of AA – Asian-Australian was NOT an obvious kindred model of Asian-American literature.

Other great papers and performances included Danijela Kambaskovic-Sawers, “A migrant poet and the fine art of escapism”and Ania Walwicz reading “‘cut-tongue’-fragmentation, collage and defence”. Danijela’s story of how she overcame her own silence, and learned to speak of post-war trauma, was extremely moving and instructive. Her own sense of her own migrancy in Australia reminded everyone that being a migrant poet is subject to all sorts of limitations and expectations and impositions from the audience. Her own work, however, is both resistant and critical of what “migrant poet” means in the first place, and her life and work which is often surreal, playful, confounding, often transcends the limits of the framework imposed by managed multiculturalism.

A fitting closure was Ann Vickery’s wonderful paper on Juliana Spahr’s book Fuck You Aloha I Love You, a book very much about how a white woman negotiates cultural chauvinism in Hawai’i, and how the white female critic can respond to anti-white racism. In the face of hateful vilification, what responses are open to scholars to keep the debates and conversations open? How do empowered white scholars deconstruct their own cosmopolitan readings of the non-white, the non-cosmopolitan and the colonised on the margins? The ideas were familiar, but what moved everyone was Ann’s reading of Spahr’s poem and Ann’s “confession” that she felt guilty that she had neglected race in much of her scholarship. Awful silences occur in classrooms when race-talk becomes a divisive machine, a taboo subject, so if the military atmosphere is to be decommissioned, poetry like Spahr’s should be heard and conferences like this one need to continue.

Finally it was a great loss not to have heard Sam Wagan Watson, who was ill. I wanted very much to discuss how he saw hybridity theory and its limits, the subject of my paper. In defiance of much hybridity-theory’s need to “smash essentialisms” I am sure he would have given an impassioned description and defence of the essential at the heart of his identity and how his poetry configures nation, land, imagination, desire, and identity. A conversation for another time.

Adam Aitken

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Adam Aitken latest collection of poetry is the chapbook Tonto’s Revenge (Tinfish Press). He has just returned from three seasons in France and now lives in Sydney.

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.

A new front opens in the ‘Poetry Wars’ – John Tranter, David McCooey and Peter Minter on ‘that anthology’ (Australian Poetry Since 1788)

Back in the first issue of Rochford Street Review I commented on Mike Ladd’s  review of  Australian Poetry Since 1788, edited by Geoffrey Lehmann and Robert Gray. At the time I stated that I had not read the anthology and did not intend to do so – “… it is unlikely that I will end up spending close to $70 for another anthology of Australian poetry (and given the size of this collection – 1,108 pages – I doubt my aging bookcases could support another large anthology”.  Nothing has happened in the intervening months to change my view.

The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH), however, must be really interested in this anthology. The Ladd review was published in Spectrum (in the Saturday SMH) on 12/13 November 2011. Earlier David McCooey had published a review in the Entertainment section of the SMH on 1 October. Now we have a third, an embarrassingly gushy review by John Clare published again in the Entertainment section on 29 January this year. While I appreciate that this is a thick anthology, does it really warrant 3 reviews in a major Sydney newspaper? Surely there are other newly released books of poetry that should have been reviewed but haven’t because of the space taken up by these multiple reviews.

Of the SMH reviews only the McCooey one takes up the obvious issue of the title – in particular the use of 1778. McCooey takes 1778 as a departure point for the fist part of his review. He points what he sees as the “neo-colonial” aspects of the opening sections of the anthology.

McCooey also refers to the “ethnographical” approach the editors take to indigenous poetry.  He points out that only 2 of the poets are Aboriginal (Oodgeroo Noonuccal and Elizabeth Hodgson) and he quotes the extraordinary description of Hodgson as a Aboriginal poet who  “’has not moved towards a Creole for her poetry” – excuse me!. McCooey also notes the exclusion of Lionel Fogarty and the inclusion of other indigenous poetry in the context of their non-indigenous “collectors and editors”.

While both the Ladd and McCooey reviews in the SMH have been a carefully measured critique of this lumbering anthology (I am dismissing the Clare review), John Tranter, in his new online journal, does not feel the need to hold back. From the start we know exactly where he stands – he has titled his piece on the anthology as “The Gray and Lehmann Death Star”. One has an image of Tranter as Luke Skywalker firing a series of explosive words down the spine to the core of massive anthology.

Interesting enough Tranter opens in the same way as McCooey, by attacking the way Gray and Lehmann approach the issue of Aboriginal poetry in the anthology. Tranter starts by quoting from the publicity for Peter Minter’s address at the 2011 Poetry Symposium held in Newcastle NSW on 1 October 2011(interestingly the same day that the Mccooey review appeared in the SMH):

Peter Minter will speak on the exclusion of modern Aboriginal poetry from “Australian Poetry Since 1788″, the new poetry anthology edited by Geoffrey Lehmann and Robert Gray. He will examine how Lehmann and Gray’s marooned neo-colonialism (circa 1988) whitewashes the rich tapestry of Aboriginal poetry from its so-called “landmark” vision. As such, and alongside the editorial sanitisation of many other non-Anglo poetries from its pages, the anthology will undoubtedly be viewed historically as one of the last gasps of white-Australian conservatism.

Tranter then moves on to the rejected poets, noting, as many others have, the “pointed exclusion” of Dransfield, but also the absence of Kenneth Mackenzie “a neglected, intensely lyrical poet rather like Dransfield, who died in the 1950s”. On the flip side of course are the poets that have been included who probably shouldn’t have been . Tranter cites the case of Jemal Sharah who published one slim volume “decades ago” together with a handful of poems in Quadrant (a journal, Tranter points, out was partially funded by the CIA during the Cold War). While Tranter doesn’t deny that she did show signs of “distinct talent”, she abandoned poetry at an early age to pursue another career. Tranter implies that she is included due to a friendship with Gray, while poets like Dransfield, Mackenzie and Fogarty miss out: “When does friendship get in the way of dispassionate literary judgment?”.

Tranter also raises questions about how the book was funded, hinting that the private subsidy that supported the publication of this anthology perhaps borders on “vanity publishing”. Tranter does not, however, drill too deeply into the details of this “subsidy” so, at least for me, the question of subsidy and influence remains a little unclear.

So has Tranter fired a missile into the spine of the “Death Star Anthology”? Maybe not quite – but along with reviewers, critics and writers such as Peter Minter, David McCooey and others – he has raised some serious questions around the objectivity and intention of this anthology. I’m sure, however, the ‘saga’ isn’t quite finished yet

As for me…one of my favourite anthologies of Australian poetry is Applestealers……so Gray and Lehmann aren’t quite my cup of tea.

– Mark Roberts