A recommendation in support of Australia’s inaugural national Poetry Month… ‘Adelaide Stone’, a poem by Thomas W. Shapcott – written during Shapcott’s time as the Professor of Creative Writing at Adelaide University. The poem appears in his 2006 book, The City of Empty Rooms (Salt). As Shapcott writes in the poem, ‘Adelaide stone was here, on the spot, / It is only now we are surprised / And grateful. You didn’t notice it much? / Ah, but you were brought up here. Best things / Should perhaps be taken for granted.’ I became an avid reader of Shapcott’s poems in my late teens, long before I identified the poems with the shuffling gentleman I often passed in the corridors of the university’s English Department.
Red Room Poetry has named August 2021 as Australia’s inaugural national Poetry Month. Throughout the month, Red Room will celebrate Australian poetry, poets and publishers through a program of collaborations, poems and writing prompts, online workshops, residencies and live-streamed showcases. The full program and a calendar of events are available at the Red Room Poetry website.
‘Poetry is the artform that allies what we say with the way we say it. Language is the material of poetry, whereas the material of the novel is character and story. If a thing has been said it doesn’t need to be said again. If a thing hasn’t been said – if a poem attempts to say something new – it ought to find a new way of saying it. To find a new way to say the thing is a matter of experimentation. An experiment that succeeds – in its own terms – is an innovation. An innovation in poetry is a new way of saying a new thing through the material of language. Any canon of poetry, or any artform for that matter, ought to be a catalogue of innovations.’ (from a notebook)
Adelaide – like California, and relatively few places outside the Mediterranean – has a ‘Mediterranean climate’, characterised by dry summers and mild, wet winters. Listening to The Daily Poem’s recent episode (Spotify) about Dana Gioia’s poem ‘California Hills in August’ was a welcome reminder of the warmer months ahead of us. In particular, it reminded me of early evening walks at Brown Hill Creek and Chambers Gully. Both can be a breathless hike, especially on a hot summer day, but the view of the sun setting over the city and the gulf beyond is a just reward, and something to look forward to. You can read ‘California Hills in August’ at the Poetry Foundation website.
As Facebook reminded me this week, it’s two years since my debut book of poems, Carte Blanche (Vagabond Press), went out into the world. And it’s almost two years since I was in Sydney for its launch… a much simpler time. In the meantime, Carte Blanche has won the 2020 Mary Gilmore Award, for the best first book of poems published in Australia in 2019, and has been warmly reviewed by David McCooey for Australian Book Review (behind the paywall, unfortunately), Geoff Page for The Canberra Times, and Martin Duwell for Australian Poetry Review.
Australian Book Review has followed its 2020 podcasts Poetry for Troubled Times and More Poetry for Troubled Times with the more optimistically titled Poetry in Times of Recovery. The podcast includes Sarah Holland-Batt reading Adam Zagajewski’s ‘Try to Praise the Mutilated World’, Felicity Plunkett reading Tracy K Smith’s ‘An Old Story’, Peter Goldsworthy reading Eugenio Montale’s ‘Forse un mattino’, Judith Bishop reading Tomas Tranströmer’s ‘Face to Face’, and John Kinsella reading Emily Brontë’s ‘No Coward Soul is Mine’. Recently, I’ve been revisiting some of my favourite poems by Zagajewski, having come late to the news of his death on 21 March. Likewise, I was late to hear of the death of American poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, in February. And, finally, this week brought news of the death of American poet Stephen Dunn (24 June), whose poems ‘Sweetness’ (itself a consolation in times of bereavement) and ‘Poem for People Who Are Understandably Too Busy to Read Poetry’ I return to often.
My mixtape for April-June 2021: 01. Azure Ryder: Wolves. 02. Caiola: Alaska. 03. Caiola: Own Medicine. 04. Chris Lanzon: Everest. 05. Chris Lanzon: Still. 06. Donovan Woods: Break Somebody’s Heart. 07. Field Guide: Separate Bills. 08. Flannel Graph: Pure Imagination (Gene Wilder cover). 09. Foreign Fields: Don’t Give Up. 10. Frances Cone: ’93 or ’94. 11. Hailaker: Not Much. 12. Hayley Williams: Simmer. 13. Japanese Breakfast: Posing in Bondage. 14. Julien Baker: Faith Healer. 15. Kaleo: Skinny. 16. Khruangbin & Leon Bridges: Texas Sun. 17. Lucy Dacus: Fool’s Gold. 18. Michigander: East Chicago, IN. 19. Oshima Brothers: Cadence. 20. Phosphorescent: Song for Zula. 21. Samia: Big Wheel. 22. Slenderbodies: Anemone. 23. Stu Larsen: The Loudest Voice. 24. Watt!: The Rooftops of Lavender Street/Lavendelstraede, 21 Mix. 25. Yoke Lore: Chin Up.
On the back of Vagabond Press’s extraordinary success in 2020, there are new books by Tanikawa Shuntaro, Shinkawa Kazue, LK Holt, Bella Li, John Kinsella, Eleanor Jackson and Ann Vickery going to press. Vagabond has created a gofundme page in aid of two more books of poetry going to press in 2021: Petra White’s ‘Cities’ and Dan Disney’s ‘accelerations & inertias’. I’m looking forward to reading both. You can support the publication of Petra and Dan’s books via the gofundme page, or by purchasing from Vagabond’s extensive backlist of poetry, fiction, essays, memoir and criticism from Australia, the Asia-Pacific and the Americas.
As the grey days set in in Adelaide I’ve enjoyed revisiting sunnier times via the recently published podcasts from this year’s Adelaide Writers’ Week. In particular, the sessions on the business of being a writer: ‘On the Road to Publication’, ‘A Day in the Life of a Writer and Bookseller’, ‘Self-Publishing: Viable or Vanity?’, and ‘Your Book and Your Brand’ (via Spotify).
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – / I took the one less traveled by…
British poet Edward Thomas was killed in action on this day (9 April) in 1917, at Arras, France. He’s best remembered for his poems about the English countryside, the most memorable of which, to my mind, are ‘Adlestrop’ and ‘As the Team’s Head Brass’. Thomas was an unlikely soldier: at the time he enlisted he was a family man aged in his late 30s, who’d been mostly indifferent to the war. His decision to enlist, and his death, are often associated with Robert Frost’s well-known poem ‘The Road Not Taken’. The friendship between Thomas and Frost is recounted in an excellent and accessible episode of Today I Found Out, which addresses a common misreading of Frost’s poem, which critic David Orr has described as ‘The Most Misread Poem in America’. The poets’ friendship, and the import of Frost’s poem to Thomas, are discussed extensively in Orr’s The Road Not Taken: Finding America in the Poem Everyone Loves and Almost Everyone Gets Wrong, and Matthew Hollis’ Now All Roads Lead to France: The Last Years of Edward Thomas. Click here for the Today I Found Out episode, entitled ‘The Almost Universally Misinterpreted Poem ‘The Road Not Taken’ and the Fascinating Story Behind It’ (via YouTube).