Alert to Erasure, Exclusion, and Appropriation: Tina Giannoukos launches ‘The Herring Lass’ by Michelle Cahill

The Herring Lass, Michelle Cahill, ARC Publications (2016), was launched by Tina Giannoukos at Collected Works Bookshop, Melbourne, on Friday 10 February 2017.

Tina Giannoukos (left) with Michelle Cahill at the launch opf The Herring Lass at Collected Works Bookshop. Photo Richard Mudford

Tina Giannoukos (left) with Michelle Cahill at the launch of The Herring Lass at Collected Works Bookshop. Photo Richard Mudford

It’s a great honour to launch Michelle Cahill’s new poetry collection, The Herring Lass. Firstly, I’d like to thank Michelle for this honour. Secondly, launching this collection gives me the opportunity to speak of Michelle’s superb craftsmanship. With the publication of this collection, Michelle affirms her position as a consummate poet of extraordinary range and skill. She’s not only an acclaimed poet. She’s also an acclaimed fiction writer, essayist, and editor of the online Mascara Literary Review.

The Herring Lass burrows into history and ranges over the present. It is in some respects the apotheosis, or summit, of themes she has explored with tremendous insight in previous poetry collections. However, in The Herring Lass, her third full collection, she does so with renewed depth, skill, and complexity. The collection runs to 48 formal poems, including sonnets, which command our attention. Their tone is formal, elegant, and elegiac They can begin ekphrastically before turning inward, lending them both a public and a private quality. Throughout, Michelle’s lyric is confronting, as individual poems traffic in complex ideas. In this respect, the poems are exacting, intellectual, and unsettling. Her language is strong, uncompromising, and utterly beguiling. The collection is as much a major contribution to poetries concerned with the complex legacies of historical injustices and contemporary wrongs as it is to poetries concerned with beauty.

On her blog, Negative Capability, Michelle calls The Herring Lass “a collection themed on human and non-human animal migrations”. However, it’s the way these migrations are handled that renders The Herring Lass rich in its poetics and themes. We can take the image of the suggestively peripatetic and rather muscular figure on the cover, which is a beautiful image, a reproduction of an 1894 painting by the American painter, Homer Winslow, as a metaphor for Michelle’s circumnavigations in The Herring Lass. The collection’s title is also the title of the opening poem, “The Herring Lass”, an emblematic poem about the herring women who traipsed “from port to port”, chasing the herring, but hardly prospering. Throughout Michelle takes on various animal and human identities, awakening us to our shared destinies of suffering and loss. However, she also reminds us elliptically, elegantly, unwaveringly of imperialism’s injustices, gesturing in the final stanza of “The Herring Lass” to other migrations, other inequalities:

She stands by a trough in the dark, guttering cold.
Black hulls heel under press of lugsails, foremasts low.
They drift with shoals of migrant herring the sea returns.

Through the metaphor of the sea, Michelle repeatedly draws subtle links between geographic co-ordinates. In “Harbour”, she offers these lines of reflection:

He is not the sea’s signature, its memory of human
coal, its middle passage of linen, tobacco, gold.
When beckoned, he leaves the harbour quietly.

The traveller enters the bank to haunt the empty
creels, his seaweed hair. She hears a pipe rinsing
flagstones, Zambia’s swamps — all the drowned past. 

T. S. Eliot has said that “no art is more stubbornly national than poetry” (Eliot, T.S. “The Social Function of Poetry.” On Poetry and Poets. Faber. London: 1957), but when a language with an imperialist past is also a lingua franca, we witness how a poet of Michelle’s skill can use it to great effect to critique injustice across time and space. Crossing intellectual, historical, and geographical space, as well as inner and outer geographies of self, The Herring Lass achieves that most extraordinary thing in a poetry that is as richly metaphorical and as well wrought as this, the attention to the ethical. Michelle sifts through the detritus of history and the debris of the present to interrogate injustice—animals hunted to extinction or near extinction, refugees abandoned to their fate, men or women seeking redemption. All this is in a beautifully wrought language that never overwhelms but underscores her themes. Listen to these lines from the first sonnet in “The Grieving Sonnets” sequence:

Autumn winds come biting over tribal meridians,
raking syllables of country, of forty thousand years
barred by intrusions. On the rabbit-quarried dunes
blood money is history’s hole, the lake is dredged.
Here in this gap, I flick a cigarette in the bone quiet.
If there’s memory in my veins the ants carve it over
my body, edgy for a fix, or a verse the wind runnels.

Her contemporary lyric, in which rapture and grief collide, is emblematic of a poetic consciousness alert to erasure, exclusion, and appropriation. If it is imperialism’s slave trade in “Harbour” then it is the plight of refugees in “Interlude”. In the latter poem, Michelle articulates a powerlessness in the face of the contemporary movements of people within the context of a series of escalating griefs:

Or I could mention the Rohingya Burmese father of four
…………………………..closing the door, in haste, unlocking
suitcases to scribble down the UNHCR-ID on the back
…………………………..of some food coupon, the sound of a hose
filling buckets of water for the day’s quota; his exquisite wife.

Above all, The Herring Lass is a superbly realised paean to the power of language to bring forth truth. In “The Edge of Empire”, we are confronted with the absurdity of walls: “But nothing could drive out the Barbarians”. Michelle deploys the world’s argot of pain, its vernaculars of interrogation, to meet head-on our collective traumas and complacencies. As one of her personas—or is it heteronyms?—says in Youth, by Josephine Jayshree Conrady”:

I spoke the argot of the navy: rosin, whale-oil,
cordage, hemp, windlass, hooks.
……………………………I caught the accents
of shore boat smugglers, spice traders,
I smelt the paraffin smoke of burning coal,
the bursting aromas of strange fruit, peppers,
the almond breath of slaves as we paddled
from our clipper to the shores of Mauritius.

Through her magnificent short story collection, Letter to Pessoa, Michelle’s interest in the early twentieth century Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa is now well established. Pessoa was famous for his assumptions of other identities, which he called heteronyms. As George Steiner has argued, “Pseudonym writing is not rare in literature or philosophy” (Steiner, George. “A Man of Many Parts”. Review. The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa. The Guardian. June 2, 2001), but Pessoa’s heteronyms are “something different and exceedingly strange”, inventing for each of his voices “a highly distinctive poetic idiom and technique, a complex biography …” and even “subtle interrelations and reciprocities of awareness”. In The Herring Lass, Michelle’s personas, human and animal, are so beautifully realized that they possess the affecting power of the heteronym, suppling a biography from the content of the poems themselves, if not history. In “Day of a Seal, 1820”, Michelle handles its subject matter eloquently, elegiacally, subtly sketching in the power dynamics of colonial-era seal killing. She does so in the fabulously realised voice of an animal Other, a seal:

A tall ship patrols the coast,
…………………………….the pelagic fish skirr.
I sniff the kelp and the bloodworms,
……………………………..mould into an eroded kerb
with a twist of neck, whisking as if
……………………..           ………hiding my fur is natural
……………………..           ………instinct for milk or man.

The chilling realisation of the voice of an animal Other not only in this poem but also in others is so well executed that Michelle moves us into the strange. However, her human persona poems also have their own affecting power. In Youth, by Josephine Jayshree Conrady”, of which I was just talking about before, the female speaker utters in sibylline tones: “Words scrabble. I piece them as a montage, / inlay after inlay.” Playfully heteronymic, Michelle’s articulation of injustice renders such persona poems powerful and resonant. In “Charles Dickens Weeps for his Last Childe”, a poem that quietly ironises colonial era’s notion of the antipodes as the ground of various European desires, her Dickens persona says:

Autumn with her rich unleaving of oak, elm and maple
measures my bleakness. For days the wind has refused to speak.

My youngest, Plorn, waits in the boarding house with his dog,
his armoury of rifles, revolvers, saddles and family portraits

which will decorate the saloon. But when the fiddler plays a shanty,
when the sails are unfurled, the anchor raised out of mud

that other world begins with its nautical discipline. So remote
from landfall or the idleness of London, strange things can happen.

While The Herring Lass deals in global disaffections, historical and contemporary, which at any rate embroil Australia, several poems specifically address the Australian context. The seal poem is one. Another is the whaling poem, “Twofold Bay, 1930”, where the speaker chillingly utters: “I can taste the words whiten / into thin milk of settler culture, bloodlines turnstiled.”. Yet another is the “Thylacine”. In the latter, the animal Other says, “Canine / feline / marsupial / carnivore — I confuzzled”, rendering the poem a metaphor for the puzzle of multiple cultural and linguistic identities. But the following utterance of the thylacine is suggestive of the violence that can be directed towards the Other, including the animal Other:

“ …………………………….All the deals and export licences
distempered me, a shy beast, affectionate by turns.
The palaeontologist knows economics cheated me,
a continent spread her legs to quarry the Tarkine frost.

Submerged beneath the musical tenor of her elegant, unswerving line, Michelle refocuses the lyrical as considered rather than ecstatic. Her lyric promotes an initially distancing effect, achieved through the utilisation often of the ekphrastic but turns elegiac, confronting. Her double-voiced lyric simultaneously enacts desire and grief. As she says in “How the Dusk Portions Time”:

So dusk emulsifies desire, or maybe it’s the reverse
— we are tenants of this periphrastic end. Office cubicles
half-lit, ladder the sky, turning their discretionary gaze
…………………….to what’s sketched by the carbon ink.

What ultimately makes The Herring Lass such a rewarding work is its multi-layering. The poems are a joy to read, to sound out. In the ekphrastic-like “Night Birds”, a flawlessly executed sonnet, like all the sonnets in the collection, including “The Grieving Sonnets” sequence, Michelle deploys emotion, difference, exile. Riffing on Mallarmé’s own poem about a white swan trapped in ice, she writes:

My body rivers over absent fields, where words rescue
or reduce me until I try to erase whiteness, her artefacts —
a snow-dusted angel of the lake, the symmetry of elms
undressing like brides in the night’s incomplete sentence.

This is a poet who loves language—an observation also made by Michael Sharkey reviewing her first collection, The Accidental Cage. There is no doubt that Michelle is the consummate poet, her metaphor making a structuring device through which she draws together disparate realities across time and space. Her dual attention to language, its beauties, and the archival, the legacies of imperialism, renders The Herring Lass a work of sophistication and commitment. This dual attention to language and politics makes the poems resonant and compelling. The attention to the rhythm of language and movement of thought unifies the collection at the level of form and content. A sharp intelligence, musically and linguistically, courses through the poems rendering them subtle, uncompromising, and beautiful. The concluding lines of “Windscape” remind us of the affecting power of her poems:

To be broken or to sing — which is our destiny? A bottle
jangles downhill, leaves scrape, watched by the psychic owl
as the wind’s curved reflexion pours into abstract fields.

In conclusion, The Herring Lass challenges the notion of discrete borders: historical, geographical, cultural, animal, human. It showcases Michelle’s lyric at its best. Through her poetic, the sensual music of her lines and the metaphorical richness of her poetry, she exposes all that is violent, imperialistic, and exclusionary. She conjoins ethics to poetry without didactism, remaining true to poetry’s provocations. She joins the global to the local. She is a world poet as much as a local one.

My heartfelt congratulations to Michelle on this wonderful collection. And I’m delighted to declare The Herring Lass launched.

 – Tina Giannoukos

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Tina Giannoukos has published two collections of poetry. Her most recent collection, Bull Days (ASP, 2016), was shortlisted in the Victorian Premiers Literary Awards 2017. She hold a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Melbourne.

The Herring Lass is available from https://www.arcpublications.co.uk/books/michelle-cahill-the-herring-lass-558 

Subtle, Multiple Implications: John Jenkins Launches ‘The Sly Night Creatures of Desire’ by Debi Hamilton

The Sly Night Creatures of Desire by Debi Hamilton (Hybrid Publishers 2016) was launched by John Jenkins at The Italian Cucina in Carlton, Victoria on 27 November 2016

sly_nightThanks everyone, for coming along today … to the launch of Debi Hamilton’s new book, The Sly Night Creatures of Desire.

Hybrid Publishers have done Debi proud, I think… with this well-produced and attractive collection. I particularly like the spacious layout, which gives ample ‘breathing space’ around each poem, adding to one’s reading pleasure.

I was delighted and surprised when Debi asked me to launch this book… Surprised, because I have only met Debi once, before today. This was very recently, at a Melbourne Poets’ Union event.

And I’m Delighted, because I was immediately absorbed and impressed by the poems I heard Debi read that day. Later, I was introduced to Debi by her partner and our MC of today, David Francis.

Debi started writing poetry around 2010. And she has already achieved quite a deal. Her first book, being alone, appeared in 2013. Now, in 2016, 3 years later, we have The Sly Night Creatures of Desire

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Debi Hamilton at the launch of The Sly Night Creatures of Desire.

Debi has also won a swag of prizes, including joint winner of the 2014 Newcastle Poetry Prize; and winner of the 2015 MPU award. At least 8 poems in this new book have fared well in comps.

Debi’s poems generally gravitate towards the so-called ‘confessional’ mode …

Her work is emotionally intense, often deeply personal. Some poems convey quite private details, about her own life and relationships. And many of these deeply felt, ‘heart-sleeved’ poems are meant to be, and certainly are, both touching and moving.
But that, I’d like to emphasize, is just the start, just one aspect of this book.


The Sly Night Creatures of Desire
contains a generous offering of 58 poems. Yet fewer than a dozen continue for more than one page.

It’s all about brevity, succinctness, compression – saying as much as you can in a relatively few words.

In the poem, ‘What Big Plans You Have’ she mentions “A moment in a silver frame…” These moments, however, always escape their boundaries, providing greater illumination.

It’s not just a matter of ‘short and sweet’, or ‘less is more’, because the poet’s art of inference, implication, resonance and suggestion can amplify these brief poems way beyond their formal containers.

Often, there are subtle, multiple implications; it’s a matter of reading between the lines, so what remains unsaid or not fore-grounded contributes equally to the poem’s impact.

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The audience at the launch of The Sly Night Creatures of Desire, Melbourne, 27 November 2016.

The book is divided into three sections.

Part I, A Thrill of Cold Stars; consists of 17 prose poems.

In the very first of these, ‘String Bag’ we see the short story writer’s ability to very quickly establish characters, to set up a scene. Inextricably wedded to this, is the poet’s gift of inference, of resonance, of suggestion; of amplifying a pervasive mood, or tone.

In ‘String Bag’, children wander down by beach dunes, and meet a possibly sinister stranger. Is he a wolf in hiding? The writing is ambiguous, a series of hints and clues, a poetic journey.

Note also the terrific character-study in Part III, titled Small Waiter, Dropped Glove. This time, Debi is in Venice (we only know this because Tintoretto is mentioned, called ‘Il Furioso’ by his fellow Venetians, because of his muscular energy, his huge and flamboyant canvases). In contrast, wonder at the controlled subtlety of Debi’s poetic miniature, a pearl of empathy and understatement, in which a small, frail waiter with a wounded eye scurries dutifully to recover a dropped glove and return it to a woman in an opulent pearl necklace.

To her great credit, throughout this book, Debi is never pedantic, nor prescriptive, which encourages the reader to fully engage with her narrative. As her intriguing scenarios emerge into full and imaginative presence within the poem, thus we become equally absorbed, active participants.

Communication – both intellectual and emotional – is important here: a bridge, between writer and reader.

Next, ‘Little Red’ makes reference to a well-known fairy story, or folk tale; namely, Little Red Riding Hood, in which the wolf again appears, this time much more explicitly, perhaps as a teasingly shadowy trope for shared desire.

‘Little Red’ establishes its naturalistic context and setting, an ordinary park where “… an unexpected dog brings it back – slick wet gums ivory teeth on a hot day, or particular kind of pelt-loose loping.” The poem then unpacks the interior life of her character, and mediates between inner and outer.

A wolf and a flower-gathering child return in the poem ‘Red Skirt’.

Here, Riding Hood sets of for the chemists, to get her mum some medicine. She is followed by a wolf, who soon morphs into a doctor. Throughout several poems in which they reappear, these wolf-men can be many things: mysterious, helpful, threatening, passive, disarming, alluring, exciting…

Much later, in ‘Red Riding Hood Grows Old’, as time domesticates the inner and outer wolf, the narrator seems quite nonchalant, and comfortable about curling up with her lupine other half… now perhaps feminised, re-integrated, triumphantly reclaimed.

Several other semi-ekphastic (here, literary-referencing) poems refer to Germanic folk tales, ones with very ancient roots, including the well-known Hansel and Gretel, which harks back to a time of Medieval hardship, when infanticide was common practice. Debi’s  poem, ‘H and G’ conflates this tale with failed fathers, and with a certain Nazi demagogue of the Fatherland – a poetic purpose not for the un-adept.

All such folk tales are common cultural property. They belong to everyone; they can be told, re-told, elaborated and embroidered forever. In this book, Debi certainly makes them her own!

Take The Little Match Girl, another familiar story. Flagged by Debi’s title, ‘How the Market Works’, her modern retelling of this story becomes a sly critique of consumer capitalism. She creates interesting frissons, too, by lobbing modern words like ‘synaptic’ and ‘circuit’ against traditional ones like ‘match’, ‘stove’ and ‘roast goose’.

‘At The Window’ is a personal favourite, in which a mysterious lover dances naked on the grass outside a man’s open window, in a sort of reverse lubricious Romeo and Juliet scene. But, Romeo, alas, “Snaps shut the little door on his chest.” With just a touch of Freud, as well as fear, “He remembers his mother, unexpectedly. His small luminous, long-ago self.” He abandons the casement, as a voice “… calls him from the other room…”

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In ‘Midnight’, the narrator steals a motorbike, picks up a new lover and goes roaring off into, “The newest black night you’ve ever experienced, just the two of you and the wordless roaring road.” This hints at… adventures to come.

The poet’s dreams, allegories, imagery… are imbued with strong emotion, yet there are many closely observed descriptive touches, woven in economically, to provide verisimilitude. For example, in ‘Down the Coast’, there’s this unobtrusive but telling detail: “… little wildflowers underneath the long protective march of fences.” So, description is metaphor, and metaphor description.

There are terrific glints of humour, too: “The house is so still I can hear the frozen peas coming to, breathing.” (‘The Blackout’.)

And some wonderfully penetrating ‘straight-talking”: “This is all we have / in the end, a heartbeat / in the small hours.” (‘After Surgery’).

Other poems are dream-like, subtle, oblique: “Perhaps it is a mine shaft that she falls into that night, where a man is aflame at the seam he has found in the dark.”

Debi works as a psychologist. Well, consider the acuity of this observation: “Dining out alone, the exactness of it, / how you make the table an unfenced field. / Privacy you don’t get at home alone, / where you expand into every corner.” (From: ‘Exactly’.)

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John Jenkins launches The Sly Night Creatures of Desire

The book’s Part II is titled The Grateful Wounds – a record of surviving breast cancer; starting with ‘BreastScreen Letter’ …

Then a genuine poetic tour de force follows, titled ‘Infiltrating Ductal Carcinoma’.

If you have ever wondered what being diagnosed with ‘infiltrating ductal carcinoma’ would be like, well this is what it is like! This poem precisely registers the shock, the confusion; a disorientation of everything once familiar: a disruptive plunge into uncertainty, a future of walking on eggshells.

Invasive breast cancer is sadly very common, originating in the milk ducts and spreading to surrounding tissue. Its treatment includes chemo, radiation, hormone injections, surgery …

The cluster of poems that follow this initial shock are like shrapnel flying from the centre of a shell-burst. Boom!

Disorientation, and potential loss of self, is then reprised in a similarly anxious register, in ‘Vacuuming with Breast Cancer’: “I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole / and here is all my furniture, / slightly out of proportion…”

In ‘A Room in Sunshine’, however, there is an interesting blurring of subjectivities, now hinting at a sort of healing empathy.

Then, solidarity with other survivors, support from certain women who really understand.

But it’s never easy: “…they are up close. / They are trying to hold you. / You can feel their hearts / through the glass but you have to / keep still or you will be bruised.” (‘Ten Meditations’.)

Gentle humour helps: “Tiredness becomes / your second name, the micro / nap your new stalker. / Every cell of you wearing / its little bed socks, waiting.”

In a truly lovely poem dated 19 January, the simple consolation of a lullabying sea dip is evoked: its “closed eyes” and “long underwater song”.

Finally, Part II asks: “Is it enough (my emphasis) that you have survived… that you are sometimes happy?”

No, it is clearly not enough, not after such a chronology of traumas.

So, with some relief we reach Part III, also eponymous of the book’s title: The Sly Night Creatures of Desire.

So far, throughout, there’s been a sort of buried subtext – about a first broken marriage; alienation from family life.

This final section seems all about a hard-won re-birth, perhaps pre-figured by the Red Riding Hood story: a celebration of new love, love now inseparable from happiness,  romance and desire… and very welcome new adventures, both at home and overseas.

In ‘Red Riding Hood Grows Old’ (Debi has certainly given Red Riding a hiding!) she now has “No need of the woodcutter” – relying instead on hindsight, maturity, and (dare we say it?) wisdom.

And… a happy announcement: ‘Love is Around the Corner’.

And… it is!

Of course, life is never an unalloyed fairy tale… But there’s welcome joy and renewal in the conclusion of The Sly Night Creatures of Desire: renewal, for those brave enough, open enough, wise enough, to recognise, grasp and accept it, should new happiness come along.

A love story unfolds at the end of this book. One, happily, ‘to be continued’…

I particularly like Debi Hamilton’s bravery in these pages, her honesty, in not flinching from examining, understanding, and making use of difficult personal emotions – as if, paradoxically, her vulnerability makes her strong.

Even more so, her ability to fashion and convert all of this, and much more, into a luminous and engaging volume, one that reaches out ever further, both to us personally and into the spaces of our literary culture…

So….. Buy your copy today, Enjoy!

The Sly Night Creatures of Desire is duly ‘launched’!

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The launch of The Sly Night Creatures of Desire, Melbourne, 27 November 2016.

 – John Jenkins

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John Jenkins writes poetry, and on music, travel and the arts. He has authored, co-written or edited twenty-four books. In a previous lifetime he was a journalist and part-time academic.

The Sly Night Creatures of Desire is available from https://www.hybridpublishers.com.au/product-category/poetry/.

You can also purchase a copy directly from Debi Hamilton. Just email: deb.hamilton@optusnet.com.au

A Discursive Poetics: Caitlin Maling Reviews ‘Drones and Phantoms’ by Jennifer Maiden

Drones and Phantoms by Jennifer Maiden Giramondo Publishing 2014

Drones and PhantomsIn her eighteenth book Drones and Phantoms Jennifer Maiden returns to war. This is perhaps unsurprising as we remain a country, and a world, embedded in conflict and no other poet exists as purely in the Kairos of our exact sociopolitical moment as Maiden. Hers is a discursive poetics, in conversation and argument with day-to-day events and the people that influence them—definitively a poetry aimed at bringing us the news.

This is evident in her use of three recurrent poetic structures, George Jeffreys poems, diary poems and what can be loosely termed a public-figure-wakes-up-has-enigmatic-conversation-with-other-public-figure poems (think Hilary Clinton chatting with Eleanor Roosevelt). These primarily dialogic forms are features of her previous books, (most notably the preceding four) extending out each collection into an extended poetic dialogue. Although each poem, each book, remains discrete, it’s more in the way that a particular phone call ends than in the limits of a physical object. This is what allows Maiden to stay so particularly in the present. ‘Hilary and Eleanor 10: The Coppice’ is, as the name suggests, the tenth of a series of conversations. In this one we find Hilary recounting the Bin Laden assassination:

the drone and that Bin Laden episode
of reality TV,’ added Hilary, before
the old lady added them herself. ‘Yes,’
said Eleanor without variation, ‘I thought
watching live assassinations, some of them
involving children wouldn’t be all that
helpful for your health, dear, whether
we speak of arteries or soul, indeed
to have trapped oneself as an audience
to prove oneself an actor isn’t what
I would ever want for you

This is a telling ending. Television and the act of watching, and, subsequently, what watching requires of us, are some of Maiden’s more complex and ambiguous themes. The ‘audience’ spoken of here is simultaneously Clinton, the reader and, most loaded, the poet herself. In these conversation poems, despite the public figures that occur and reoccur, we always get the sense that the poet is interrogating herself. Here she questions whether it is action enough to bear witness and what, if news is converted into entertainment, the nature of that witness is. Can the poet reporting on the action ever escape questions of how much of their witness is self-serving: speech to prove one can speak? It is this complexity that helps Maiden out of corners that could otherwise prove problematically didactic, reminding us of Yeats’s famous mantra “we make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry.”

It is in her diary poems that we best see Maiden levelling her gaze at herself and her craft. Maiden, like Yeats, is prone to working and reworking themes, images, ideas and using sequencing through her collections to guide the reader along her thought pattern. In ‘Tanya and Jane’ we find Tanya Plibersek and Jane Austen having tea and chocolates:

Jane was
so sympathetic too about her children.
From her shrewd Slovenian family, Tanya
respected this property of an aunty, grateful
when Jane admired her new baby.

Then in the next poem, ‘Diary Poem: Uses of the Politician’s Wife’, the poet offers us advice on how to read the previous interaction between ‘Tanya and Jane’:

The
policy of the belittling alternative
is so entrenched that when I wrote
a Plibersek Austen poem the assumption
from one practiced reader was that I meant
by describing their relationships with babies
to recommend that over
their professions, although in fact
I was suggesting that a lack
of critical confidence in both areas
was unwarranted and socially defined,
all similes on creation intertwined.

By placing this poem after the originating poem, Maiden rewrites the first poem and as readers we are compelled to perform a re-reading. In Drones and Phantoms, and particularly in the diary poems, Maiden deftly directs such commentary at her readers and critics, acknowledging the fallibility of poetry to directly communicate, while actually justifying its power. Throughout the collection she highlights ethical or moral ambiguity and the ability poetry has to rest within discomfiture and uncertainty, her frequent rewritings and references to her own past work are key ways she embodies these concerns.

The biggest risk Maiden runs in being so invested in the day-to-day political is in not maintaining freshness. For all the strengths of the collection, the title poem is a curious let down. Weaving snippets of media together—Julia Gillard’s commentary on her hair and discourse on American use of drones—the poem is failed by a lack of the reflexive personal perspective that grounds some of the other political poems. The ending of the poem has pleasing prosody:

…….while some other
indirect country considers surrender
and its teasing leader’s unlucky
hairdresser gives up

however, the poem’s overall sparse pairing of oppositional Australian/American political statements is not extended otherwise through use of voice or image. In this poem what we are left with is news of the temporary sort.

Such is pleasingly not the case for most of the other standalone poems. ‘Maps in the Mind’ uses repetition to establish a tone of questioning insistence, the speaker demanding we engage with Manus Island: ‘too hot, too late, too cold/ the maps-in-the-mind of Manus Island,/ like maps of Manus Island.’ In this poem, as in all of Drones and Phantoms, Maiden proves herself incapable of evasion, forcing herself and her readers to confront the present world and think, not just about the role of poetry, but what role each of us has in our worlds construction, even through just the simple act of looking, of reading.

 – Caitlin Maling

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Caitlin Maling is a Western Australian poet. Her first collection, Conversations I’ve Never Had, was published earlier this year through Fremantle Press. Shane McCauley’s launch speech for Conversations I’ve Never Had can be found here  https://rochfordstreetreview.com/2015/02/17/the-interplay-of-tones-and-images-shane-mccauley-launches-conversations-ive-never-had-by-caitlin-maling/

Drones and Phantoms is available from  http://www.giramondopublishing.com/author/jennifer-maiden/drones-and-phantoms/

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Little Ships and Short Lives: Nickolas Falkner Reviews ‘Collected Poems Lesbia Harford’

Collected Poems: Lesbia Harford. Edited and Introduced by Oliver Dennis, UWAP 2014.

HARFORDI didn’t know what to expect when I opened Collected Poems Lesbia Harford, edited by Oliver Dennis. I had been previously unaware of her work so having the opportunity to read a collection of around two hundred poems, roughly half of all that she wrote, was a delight. Many of these have not been previously published and, on reading this volume, my only question was “Why not?” Overall, this is a very fine collection of work: lyrical, honest, a voice that captures a very strong minded person. There is a sense of mortality over all of the longer pieces but she was ill for most of her life, a congenital heart defect led to illness for most of her life, which ultimately ended far too soon at the age of 36 in 1927.

If I am being honest, and I suspect that she would expect no less, some of the shorter, smaller works have a sing-song cadence that undermines the beauty of the scenes that she evokes. However, this is more than compensated for by the poems where she explores grand themes with a bold, powerful approach that is deeply moving. And she does not require many words to stir you or break your heart. ‘Ours was a friendship in secret, my dear’ captures the horrific death toll of World War I and the tragedy of a secret love in eight lines and it is a brutal reminder of those times. But contrast this with one of her earlier poems ‘This year I have seen autumn with new eyes’, where her strength of evocation takes us to fallen leaves and cooling land but walks us hand-in-hand through an almost medieval reverie, a celebration of the harvest season in calligraphy and illumination.

It takes a skilled poet to handle love, death and war with such sensitivity and commitment to empathy and Ms Harford was such a poet. Lesbia Harford’s love and desire for men and women shines through in her work and she notes herself that like all lovers, she wants “love to be”. When she is in love, her work soars on warm winds above the hills. When she has lost, she takes you under the ground and you lie, held by her words, in the cold ground as she mourns.

Her voice, her thoughts and the way that she lived were very much her own. In ‘Fatherless’, she reflects on this and in the final paragraph she says:

For since no male
Has ruled me or has fed,
I think my own thoughts
In my woman’s head.

In reading her work, we are exposed to what is in her head and it is dynamic, deeply felt and utterly her. Her work has been published before, most notably in The Poems of Lesbia Harford, edited by Nettie Palmer, Melbourne: Melbourne University Press 1941 and The Poems of Lesbia Harford, edited by Marjorie Pizer and Drusilla Modjeska, Angus and Robertson 1985, but the poet was in no great hurry for other people to see her work. Most was left in notebooks, not presented for anthologies and was almost lost. It’s a shame that we’ve had to wait so long to read more of her. I keep dipping in and finding more and more but I keep returning to the opening lines of one of her earliest poems:

The little ships are dearer than the great ships
For they sail in strange places.

A little ship with a short life but she sailed to so many places. An excellent collection.

– Nickolas Falkner

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Nickolas Falkner lives in South Australia and works in education. In his spare time, he writes and does print-making, often in combination.

Collected Poems: Lesbia Harford is available from   http://uwap.uwa.edu.au/collections/poetry/products/collected-poems-lesbia-harford

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Woman Scream: Michele Seminara previews the Second Sydney International Women’s Poetry Festival

The Second Sydney International Women’s Poetry Festival. Treasury Room Sydney Town Hall, Friday 6 March 2015, 6.30-10pm.

WOLOn 6 March a significant event will take place in Sydney’s Town Hall – the Second Sydney International Women’s Poetry Festival. The Festival is part of a global chain of events celebrating International Women’s Day in over forty countries worldwide, and has been officially named one of UNESCO’s 2015 International Year of Light activities.

The Poetry Festival, also known as ‘Woman Scream’, is a platform for women’s creative participation, providing a socially viable and direct way of using poetry and the arts to encourage women’s achievements and bolster their self-esteem. It is also a vehicle for creatively protesting violence – in all its forms – against women. Begun in The Dominican Republic by poet Jael Uribe, the Festival is organised in Sydney by poet, filmmaker and human rights activist, Saba Vasefi. Saba is originally from Iran. At 24 years of age she became a lecturer at Shahid Beheshti University, one of the country’s most prestigious schools. She was a member of the Committee of Human Rights Reporters, and also worked as a reporter for the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. However, she was expelled from the University after only 4 years of teaching due to her activism, and fled from Iran to Australia. She has since completed a postgraduate degree in documentary film making at The Australian Film TV and Radio School, and two of her films, which deal with the plight of refugees in Australia and the issue children’s human rights abuses in Iran, were recently launched in NSW Parliament House. Saba believes that:

The role of women in history, society and culture is underrepresented or devalued. In many instances, the contribution of women is only recognised and appreciated when viewed as subordinate to the role of men. Cultural patterns of discrimination are intersectional; the marginalisation of women functions in a system that involves race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, ethnicity and age. Contemporary female artists must navigate through interconnected systems of oppression. The literature … of women… is the literature of resistance.

As festival director, Saba has ensured that established – as well as emerging – poets and artists will be represented. Well known poets such as Melinda Smith, Tricia Dearborn and Candy Royalle will perform alongside lesser known, but highly respected, poets such Sara Mansour, Hani Aden and Roya Pouya. In addition, the audience will be treated to musical performances and film presentations, as well as to speeches by the likes of leading feminist and journalist Dr Ann Summers, and noted politician Dr Mehreen Faruqi, among others.

Asked about her motivation for staging the Festival in Sydney, Saba has said:

This is a creative rebellion against the forces that abuse and displace women … My awareness of this matrix of oppression, and the complexity of humiliating structures that support it, motivated me to organise this event in Sydney. I have witnessed discrimination towards different cultures, social classes and other marginalised groups… As a Middle Eastern woman I am pleased to create an opportunity for myself and other women with different voices, from different cultures and with different sexual preferences to scream against violence and once more display our power and unity.

The Festival will be attended by some refugee women and their children, who will be released especially from detention for the evening, and all proceeds from ticket sales will go to the Bridge For Asylum Seekers Foundation..

For further information visit the event’s Facebook site: https://www.facebook.com/events/1396462200655728

– Michele Seminara

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Michele Seminara is a poet and yoga teacher from Sydney. Her writing has appeared in publications such as Bluepepper, Tincture Journal, Regime, Seizure, Plumwood Mountain and Social Alternatives. She is also the managing editor of on-line creative arts journal Verity La. She blogs at http://micheleseminara.wordpress.com/ and is on twitter @SeminaraMichele
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