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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 – Judith Beveridge

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

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

Born and Bred: Anthony Lynch launches ‘Circle Work’ by Cameron Lowe

Anthony Lynch launched Cameron Lowe’s Circle Work (Puncher and Wattmann, 2013) at Paton Books, Newtown, Geelong on 24th November 2013.

circle_work_310_440_sIn March 2004 Whitmore Press published the first issue of Space: New Writing, in which three of Cameron’s early poems appeared – in fact, they were the opening three poems of the issue. To promote the launch of that not-so-long-lived literary annual, Cameron agreed to accompany me to 3RRR studios where we were interviewed by Steve Grimwade (later, director of the Melbourne Writers Festival), who asked Cameron if he lived in Geelong. Cameron replied, with a note of defiance: ‘Born and bred’.

This says something not only about Cameron’s affection for Geelong and its environs – and, perhaps, a suspicion of the artifice that the capital can be – but more pertinently to us today, a readiness to draw on the local for much of the imagery that pervades his poetry. This was true of Cameron’s first two volumes of poetry, Throwing Stones at the Sun and Porch Music, which I was fortunate to publish, and continues to hold true for this marvellous new collection, Circle Work.

As those of you who know Cameron and have visited his home, the front porch is the site of many of his observations about the world. In poems such as ‘Borders’, ‘In May’ and, in particular, ‘Theatre’, much of what is described – the white pickets (a recurring image in Cameron’s work), the ‘rust-coloured grapevine’, the traffic on Ormond Road, the ‘cool breeze stirring the last leaves from the birches’, and the ‘Pigeons strutting along the roof of St Matthew’s’ – can be observed from Cameron’s front door, or would be visible within short walking distance. There are excursions into neighbouring suburbs and to the Geelong waterfront, where the vista opens up, and occasional forays into quite specific locales in Melbourne, named or unnamed, where the immediate is again observed.

In none of this does Cameron ever lapse into being merely colloquial. He says something about the world as a whole – its seasons, its economic imperatives, the relationship of one force or object to another, and our own relationships with and attempts to interpret and communicate our environment – by seeing and describing what is to hand. Sometimes, to do that, he doesn’t even have to move beyond the room in which he’s sitting. It’s the everyday, or what poetry critics in particular are fond of calling ‘the quotidian’, that attracts his eye, and engages his mind. Among many examples of this is the poem ‘Echo’:

Echo

To those who make most noise the rich rewards –

The sun rises over the animal laboratory
……with a precision always surprising –

A wide arc of grey-green water, the dawn burning
……in shop windows, clouds lined with strange light –

And the wind in pine branches is the sound
……of the day waking, of thought escaping –

Little things of uncertain consequence,
……the motions of a hesitant grace –

To those who make most noise the rich rewards –

Without wishing to draw too long a bow, there’s a grace in this poem itself, as there is in many of Cameron’s poems. A quietness, a gentleness, and indeed the poem is in some ways a comment on itself, its own act of recording ‘Little things of uncertain consequence’. Self-reflexive, if you like, but subtly so. And these notes are framed by that repeated line –‘To those who make most noise the rich rewards’ – that I think provides an understated critique of social elements that demand our attention but are not necessarily worthy of it.

I’m not a devotee of social media, and I think Cam is only a spasmodic user himself, but he’s been known to add the occasional, pithy, sometimes spiky comment or question to a blog or thread, and in this he’s shown a welcome irreverence for poetry or, at least, its excesses, pretensions and factions. His wittier poems in this collection also betray this sentiment. In the poem ‘A lazy Sunday afternoon in which …’, the narrator/Cameron wishes he had a t-shirt bearing the words ‘SAY NO TO POETS’ that his friend Aaron had once threatened to make. It’s a sentiment that I think still sometimes holds true for Cameron and, perhaps, for others here, and if Aaron ever decides to proceed with his Say No to Poets project, Paton Books might stock the t-shirts and they’ll probably sell a few.

Further evidence of Cameron’s refusal to deify poetry comes in poems such as ‘Some thoughts on the American poetry scene, reconsidered as the Australian poetry scene’ (the word ‘scene’ is, I think, enough in itself to raise Cameron’s hackles) and ‘Knights in cool sweaters’, which, apart from making me think of the Moody Blues dirge from 1967 ‘Nights in white satin’, I’m guessing alludes to a poetry launch in Melbourne’s inner north, with the ‘bandwagon rattling down Lygon’ a particular coterie of poets, and we might wonder which of their number might have asked the (belittling?) question ‘have you read Ed Dorn?’ Similarly, we might ask: who is the Great Australian Poet (note the ironic capital letters in the title) who discovers a potato cake in his pocket at the Geelong Art Gallery?

Some of us who have known Cam over the years have noted his likeness, from a certain angle, of a once-youthful Hollywood icon. This, combined with a tendency in both his character and his poetry to be a loner on the edge or margins – Cameron has never been part of any poetry clique or faction, and to his credit despises such beasts – makes him a kind of Clint Eastwood of Australian poetry. (And we might note here that the above-named Ed Dorn’s most famous work is titled Gunslinger.)

But there’s never been any attempt on Cameron’s part to make this ‘outsider’ status a self-branding tool to mark out some small, nagging patch in the Australian poetry acreage. Rather, he tenderly invokes seasons – the poems in this collection are arranged roughly according to season – as well as subtle shifts of light, colours, mirrors, trees (birches and pines proliferate), the white picket fence and, in particular, flowers. An astonishing array of flowers bloom throughout this collection.

Water and the shoreline also feature prominently in many poems, the shoreline evoking another edge, the littoral, though Cameron quietly observes it rather than immersing himself in it in the manner of, say, Tim Winton – or as Cameron once famously said, Tim Oh-let-me-grow-my-hair-a-little-bit-longer Winton.

Here and in his previous collections Cameron is not afraid to use words such as ‘beauty’, ‘beautiful’, ‘dance’, ‘grace’. These could easily be sentimental words conveying tired sentiments, or conversely a lazy resort to cynicism. But Cameron uses these words deliberately, carefully. He’s acutely aware of the poetic traditions within which he’s working, and without being showy about it he continues his engagement with William Carlos Williams, Robert Creeley and Laurie Duggan, among others, and even introduces snow to his landscape by way of his partner Jo Langdon’s work. (Jo’s cat Edith also pops her head into a number of stanzas.)

All this is performed with intelligence and sensitivity, an attention to form and to the rhythms of language that make this far more than just a series of recurring images and seasons – to which I think the title Circle Work in part alludes – but a superb contemporary example of what we so often loosely refer to as ‘the lyrical’. Cameron manages to be both a romantic and an anti-romantic – one of the characteristics that I think makes his poetry so deservedly admired. (I can’t tell you the number of people who’ve said to me: ‘Cameron Lowe, I love his work’.)

Circle Work is the work of a poet who is past emerging, and has well and truly emerged. This is not a day to Say No to Poets, but a day to say yes to the work of one of Australia’s finest younger poets. I have much pleasure in declaring Circle Work launched into our neighbourhood, and the world.

– Anthony Lynch

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Anthony Lynch’s fiction, poetry and reviews have appeared in The Age, The Best Australian Poems, The Best Australian Stories, Island, Southerly, Australian Book Review and The Australian. His short story collection Redfin (Arcadia) was shortlisted for the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards, and his poetry collection Night Train (Clouds of Magellan) was runner-up in the 2012 Wesley Michel Wright Poetry Prize. He is the publisher for Whitmore Press (www.whitmorepress.com), specialising in poetry.

Circle Work is available from http://puncherandwattmann.com/books/book/circle-work

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