Notes: August 2017

Winter’s on the wane in Adelaide, despite a dogged run of achingly cold days. Still, the daily drive to work has been sweetened in recent weeks by roadsides lined with early blossoms, particularly those of Manchurian pear trees (Pyrus ussuriensis), which have something distinctly bridal about them.

Early August was replete with opportunities to break the winter hibernation, including a night of readings from the Griffith Review’s South-Australian themed ‘State of Hope’ edition, at Matilda Bookshop, Stirling. The event, hosted by Patrick Allington, featured readings by Anna Goldsworthy, Jill Jones and Rebekah Clarkson, and an interview with photographer Annette Willis. It was a great complement to the session at Adelaide Writers Week this year, but in a more intimate setting. The following night, Jill Jones’ new book of poems, Brink (Five Islands Press, 2017), was launched at The Wheatsheaf Hotel. It’s an eagerly anticipated follow up to Jill’s highly regarded recent collections.

An ill-timed, mid-month head-cold gave me the chance to catch up on a few recent books of poetry, including Brink, Lachlan Brown’s Lunar Inheritance (Giramondo, 2017) and Afloat in Light (UWAP, 2017) by Adelaide poet David Adès. Apart from that, the two pieces of writing that’ve stayed with me are essays by South Australian writers: Shannon Burns’ personal and incisive ‘In Defence of the Bad, White Working Class’, also discussed on ABC Radio National’s Religion and Ethics Report, and Kathryn Hummel’s in-turns-familiar-and-exotic ‘Scented Memento’, both published in Meanjin, and both having some grounding in Adelaide’s western suburbs.

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I shared a poetry reading with Peter Goldsworthy at the Halifax Café, Adelaide, on 30 August. The reading was well-attended and it was great to debut half-a-dozen or so new poems for a generous and attentive audience. The September reading will feature Ken Bolton and Cath Keneally.

David Campbell’s review of Contemporary Australian Poetry (Puncher & Wattmann, 2017), published in The Australian, provided some food for thought – in particular, his complaint that the anthology omits (“airbrush[es]”) “[t]raditional rhyming verse, often misleadingly referred to as “bush poetry””. Robert Wood’s response (Overland) also provoked debate (witness the comments section), proving there’s still plenty of fervour to the arguments about poetry, good poetry and good Australian poetry. I’ve had plenty to say about the issue in private, but my summary point is that the anthology has its omissions (individual poets), but is an accessible, well-considered and well-produced book, and an excellent starting point for anyone wanting a survey of (as the title suggests) contemporary Australian poetry. For a fuller consideration of the anthology, see Robert’s review in Westerly.

Another pause for thought was a program on ABC Radio National’s The Philosopher’s Zone, featuring Professor Barry Smith, philosopher and Director of the Institute of Philosophy at the University of London. The program (downloadable as a podcast) takes “the philosophy of wine” as its subject matter, but its thoughts on subjectivity and objectivity, personal preference, judgments of quality, developing critical competence, and experts are transferrable enough to an appreciation of poetry, and the arts more broadly.

In terms of “forthcomings”, I’m looking forward to new books of poems by Michael Farrell and Fiona Wright, which will be released by Giramondo on 1 November.

Finally, I’ve been on Twitter for a while, but you can now also find me on Facebook.

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Notes: July 2017

Poetry reading by Jill Jones & Jerome Rothenberg – Review of Arjun Von Caemmerer’s Vice Versa – Results of the National Arts Participation Survey

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The highlight for July was the opportunity to emcee a poetry reading by Jill Jones and Jerome Rothenberg at The Wheatsheaf Hotel, Thebarton, on Thursday, 20 July. I’m a long-time proponent of the two-volume anthology, Poems for the Millennium: The University of California Book of Modern and Postmodern Poetry (University of California Press, 1998), edited by Jerome and Pierre Joris. Poems for the Millennium, described by Publishers Weekly as a ‘gatecrasher’ of an anthology for its contravening of aesthetic and national boundaries, covers the Fin-de-Siècle to Negritude period (Volume 1), and the Postwar to Millennium period (Volume 2).

In practical terms, it’s a challenging anthology for new readers of poetry, but an invaluable working anthology for poets due to the breadth of its content, including selections from the forerunners to Modernism, the various ‘-isms’ of Twentieth Century literature (e.g. Futurism, Expressionism, Surrealism, Objectivism, Dada), translations of French, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic and South American literature, as well as selections of concrete, sound and oral poetry, Language poetry, and a gesturing towards cyber-poetics.

At any rate, it was an excellent reading, and well attended. Jill read from her recent books of poetry, including The Beautiful Anxiety (Puncher & Wattmann, 2014) and Brink (Five Islands Press, 2017). The latter will be launched by Peter Goldsworthy at The Wheatsheaf on Wednesday, 2 August. You can find details for Jill’s launch here.

I recently reviewed Arjun Von Caemmerer’s Vice Versa: New and Selected Poems (Collective Effort Press, 2016) for Cordite Poetry Review. You can read the review here.

Finally, I read – with some interest – the Australia Council for the Arts’ Connecting Australians: Results of the National Arts Participation Survey (June 2017). These are the extracts that pertain to poetry:

  • ‘One in five Australians participated in creative writing in 2016 (20%), up from 16% in 2013 and 2009. The increase is driven by increased participation in writing poetry, plays and creative non-fiction. A contingent of Australians use social media as a platform for creative writing, and the increase may reflect the popularity of blogs and other inherently social forms of creative writing.’ (69)
  • ‘Eight in ten Australians read creative writing in 2016 (79%) down from nine in ten in 2013 (87%), and eight in ten in 2009 (83%), with declines in the proportion of Australians reading novels, poetry, creative non-fiction and short stories. This decline in reading can be attributed to Australians’ increasingly busy lives, increased time spent on social media, and the proliferation of entertainment options …’ (74)
  • ‘Poetry has declined in popularity (14%), after a peak in 2013 (26%).’ (74)
  • ‘Females are more likely to read creative writing (83%) than males (74%). This is particularly true for novels with 69% of Australian females reading novels compared to 53% of males. This is also the case for poetry, with 17% of females reading poetry compared to 12% of males.’ (76)

You can read the full report here.

Notes: June 2017

Meet the Writers Festival 2017 – Robert Wood on John Kinsella’s Graphology – New books by John Kinsella & Jorie Graham

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June’s been a busy month poetry-wise. This week (Thursday, 22 June) I was a guest writer at the Meet the Writers Festival, an event that’s been run by the South Australian English Teachers’ Association (SAETA) for the last two and a half decades. Next year’s event will be SAETA’s twenty-fifth.

The festival is a great gift from our English teachers to the students of South Australia (2,000 of whom attend each year), giving them a chance to hear from and speak to writers from here and interstate. This year my fellow guests were: Andy Griffith, Isobelle Carmody, Phil Cummings, Rosanne Hawke, Stephanie McCarthy, Kristin Weidenbach, James Phelan, Tony Shillitoe, Ruth Starke, Allayne Webster, and Dan McGuiness.

I finished the day full of optimism and enthusiasm for the young people I spoke to. I was reminded of my own gratitude for those who taught me English in middle- and high-school, who went further than they knew in shaping my future. I was also reminded of the importance of developing young readers’ interest in and confidence around poetry, if we want to ensure an enduring readership.

In other news, my recent review of John Kinsella’s Graphology, for Plumwood Mountain, was discussed by poet and editor Robert Wood in his essay, The Boys in Cambridge: Clive James’ Injury Time and John Kinsella’s Graphology. It’s a worthwhile read for an alternate and well-considered view of Kinsella’s important three-volume work.

In terms of reading, I’ve enjoyed catching up with a few recent books of Australian poetry, including Shari Kocher’s The Non-Sequitur of Snow (Puncher & Wattmann, 2015), Jillian Pattinson’s Babel Fish (Puncher & Wattmann, 2014), and Dan Disney’s form-bending Either, Orpheus (UWA Publishing, 2016).

I’ve also enjoyed a preliminary read of the new collections of poems by John Kinsella and Jorie Graham, both of whom have been important touchstones for me. Kinsella’s On the Outskirts (University of Queensland Press, 2017) consolidates and extends the form and concerns of his earlier work, Divine Comedy: Journeys through a Regional Geography (University of Queensland Press, 2007), while Graham’s Fast (Ecco, 2017) breaks new ground for her oeuvre.

In the next month or two, I’ll post a link to a review that’s currently under construction.

Notes: May 2017

Franz Wright – Diane Fahey’s A House by the River – James Longenbach’s The Art of the Poetic Line

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Today is the two-year anniversary of the death of American poet Franz Wright. He and his father, James, remain the only parent-child pair to have won a Pulitzer Prize in the same category. The Washington Post, in its obituary, described Wright’s poetry as ‘frank, confessional verse [that] reflected a search for self-discovery and spiritual yearning amid struggles with mental illness and substance abuse.’ Critic William Logan called his poems ‘the Hallmark cards of the damned’: they are minimal, exact, melancholic and unflinching. The poem that began my exploration of Wright’s poetry was ‘Thoughts of a Solitary Farmhouse’:

[…] the Canadian wind // coming in off Lake Erie / rattling the windows, horizontal snow // appearing out of nowhere / across the black highway and fields like billions of white bees.

For further reading from Wright’s work, there’s ‘Woman Falling’ and ‘Home for Christmas’ from Kindertotenwald (Knopf, 2011), a collection of prose poems, and ‘Another Working Dawn’ and ‘Night Flight Turbulence’, readings from Wheeling Motel (Knopf, 2009) with musical settings by Michael Rozon and Daniel Ahearn.

I spent the week reading Diane Fahey’s most recent collection of poems, A House by the River (Puncher & Wattmann, 2016), and James Longenbach’s The Art of the Poetic Line (Graywolf, 2008). Fahey’s is a likable collection of restrained and self-contained 14-line poems, primarily about nature and grief:

Rain falls in the middle of the night – / a statement, an unanswerable question. / Lightning flares for a sustained moment / in the rooms of the dreaming. (‘Summer Rain’)

I’d hoped for a marsh harrier, keeping / its place in the wind – a bookmark between / airy pages […] / […] My gaze hovers, sweeps over / that crack in the sea: a fault-line of foam / jagged as a gull’s flight through storm. (‘At the Cliffs’)

I’m still under way with Longenbach’s book, but among other things, he offers a fair argument for preferring the term ‘line end’ over ‘line break’:

Some lines end with a full stop – a period, a question mark, or an exclamation point. Others end with a comma, a semicolon or a colon that joins together two clauses or phrases within a sentence. And others end with no punctuation at all: the syntax continues on the next line. We might be tempted to say that the line “breaks” at such a moment, but the line merely ends – it doesn’t break […] it’s more helpful to think about “line endings”: the syntax may or may not break at the point where the line ends. (page 8)

Poem published in “Tincture”

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I’m delighted to have my poem ‘Beach Road’ feature in the newly released Tincture Journal Issue 17 (Autumn 2017), particularly as it appears with poems by Pam Brown, Eileen Chong, Aidan Coleman, Tricia Dearborn, Nathanael O’Reilly and Mark Roberts.

Tincture is a quarterly e-book journal, edited by Brisbane writer Daniel Young. It publishes fiction, poetry and creative non-fiction. Daniel and poetry editor Stuart Barnes have earned a great reputation over the 17 issues to date. You can buy a copy of the latest issue, or previous issues, or subscribe to Tincture at its website.

Review published in “Plumwood Mountain”

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The second feature of my productive week, poetry-wise, was the publication of my review of John Kinsella’s Graphology Poems: 1995-2015 (Five Islands Press, 2016) in Plumwood Mountain: an Australian Journal of Ecopoetry and Ecopoetics.

In Plumwood Mountain Volume 4, Number 1 you’ll also find a number of excellent poems, articles by Bonny Cassidy and Stuart Cooke, reviews of recent books of poems by Michael Farrell and Jill Jones, and more. All good reasons to read on.

2 poems published in “Otoliths”

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I’ve had a productive week, poetry-wise. I’m delighted to have two poems appear in Otoliths Issue 44 (Southern Summer, 2017), which went live on February 1. As always, the new issue is brim-full with poems – textual and visual – with lashings of innovation, novelty and wit.

My poems ‘Omina’ and ‘Fugue’ can be read here. ‘Where Songbirds Began’, a short documentary by ABC’s Catalyst, was a provocation for the former poem. For anyone needing a further inducement to read on, I can suggest: a.j. carruthers’ ‘Ten from Versificator, Michael Farrell’s ‘vovo driver’ and ‘Two Poems’, Joanna Thomas’ ‘Four Short Illustrated Erasure Stories’ and Ian Gibbins’ ‘Two Visual Pieces’.

Otoliths, which has been published since 2006, is the enterprise of editor Mark Young. The archives are accessible online. Also worth a visit is Mark’s blog, gamma ways, which features regular posts of his own poems and visual poems.