Special thanks to Kathryn Hummel

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Special thanks to my long-time and very dear friend Kathryn Hummel who has posted on her website her poem ‘The Aftertaste of Words’, which responds to my book of poems Carte Blanche. At the time of writing this (mid-January 2020), Kat and I are just a few weeks short of our 20-year frienniversary, all of which began in a Philosophy 1A tutorial at Adelaide University very early in the millennium. Back then, it seemed that all our cohort of fellow students had found their way to the university’s Arts Department to make their way as writers, of one sort or another. Kat and I, at least, are still toiling at it. It’s a friendship I’m immensely grateful for, and I’m often reminded of the two feet of the compass in John Donne’s poem ‘A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning’ – one that ‘far doth roam’ and the other that ‘makes no show / To move.’ Kat’s fifth and most recent book of poems, Lamentville, was published by Math Paper Press in 2019. It is unabashedly excellent.

Launch: ‘Mount Sumptuous’ / ‘Carte Blanche’

At long last, the Adelaide (‘home town’) launch of my debut book of poems, ‘Carte Blanche’, is imminent. The launch will be a joint-launch, shared with friend and long-time collaborator Aidan Coleman, whose third book of poems, ‘Mount Sumptuous’, has been published by Wakefield Press.

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The full details of the invitation are as follows:

You’re invited to celebrate the joint-launch of two new books of poems, Aidan Coleman’s ‘Mount Sumptuous’ and Thom Sullivan’s ‘Carte Blanche’.

Join us at 7pm for 7.30pm on Wednesday, 12 February 2020, at The Wheatsheaf Hotel, 39 George Street, Thebarton. ‘Mount Sumptuous’ will be launched by Ken Bolton; ‘Carte Blanche’ will be launched by Peter Goldsworthy.

Hosted by NO WAVE Monthly Poetry Reading Series, in conjunction with Wakefield Press and Vagabond Press.

John Kinsella on Aidan Coleman’s ‘Mount Sumptuous’: ‘Smart, learned, and ironic, the work leads us through the artifice of art and aesthetics, confronting our cultural certainties and pre-judgements. Satire with compassion, wit with deep insight. His is a unique voice.’

Jan Owen on Thom Sullivan’s ‘Carte Blanche’: ‘‘Carte Blanche’, by its very title, welcomes the reader honestly yet artfully in; in to lucidly thought-through poems which balance virtuosity and spontaneity, sense and intellect. These are poems of a swift and convincing trajectory with a feeling for nature as well as human nature and a sense of their interactions and interconnections.’

Full details on Facebook.

A simpler encounter with the poem

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‘Every individual ought to know at least one poet from cover to cover: if not as a guide through the world, then as a yardstick for the language.’ Joseph Brodsky

My favourite readers of poetry are often those who don’t also write poetry, or not much. I come across them in conversation often enough. They’re people for whom poetry has carved out some wedge of significance in their lives. I enjoy hearing about the particularity of the poetry they enjoy. And, while there are plenty of idiosyncrasies in their tastes, there are often consistencies as well, drawn no doubt from school poetry anthologies or syllabuses. For example, the common predilection for the work of Donne, Hopkins, Yeats, Eliot, Plath, and the like.

It’s not that I dislike readers of poetry who also write poetry. I am one of them. But I know that writing poetry necessarily changes and complicates the way we read a poem. And, while this opens a reader to a different understanding of a poem and its workings, it also curtails a simpler encounter with the poem, as an aesthetic experience rather than as a made thing.

Mixtape: December 2019

My mixtape for the second half of 2019: some songs I became enamoured or re-enamoured of, and want to be able to find my way back to. My mixtape for the first half of 2019 is over here.

01. Lambchop’s In Care of 8675309 (2016). 02. Fontaines D.C.’s Boys in the Better Land (Darklands version) (2019). 03. Black English’s So Scared (2014). 04. The National’s The Perfect Song (2001). 05. The National’s Oblivions (live) (2019). 06. Matt Berninger’s Walking on a String, feat. Phoebe Bridgers (2019). 07. Phoebe Bridgers’ Motion Sickness (2017). 08. Better Oblivion Community Center’s Dylan Thomas (2019). 09. Lord Huron’s The Night We Met, feat. Phoebe Bridgers (2017). 10. Lord Huron’s Wait by the River (2018). 11. Iron & Wine/Calexico’s Follow the Water (2019). 12. Gregory Alan Isakov’s Time Will Tell (live) (2016). 13. The Trims’ Emergency (2014). 14. Boy & Bear’s Work of Art (2019). 15. Boy & Bear’s Suck On Light (2019). 16. Bon Iver’s Hey, Ma (2019). 17. Bon Iver’s Faith (2019). 18. Birdy’s cover of Bon Iver’s Skinny Love (2011). 19. Birdy’s cover of The National’s Terrible Love (2012). 20. David Gray’s If 8 Were 9 (2019). 21. John Floreani’s Oh Brother (2019). 22. Beck’s Colors (2018). 23. Beck’s I’m So Free (2018). 24. R.E.M.’s I Don’t Sleep, I Dream (remix) (1994/2019). 25. Daniel Carter, Tobias Wilner, Djibril Toure & Federico Ughi’s Canal Street (2019).

New poems in ‘InDaily’

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I’m delighted to have three short poems appear together in the Poet’s Corner section of Adelaide’s InDaily. Back in 2007, my first published poems appeared in Poet’s Corner, when InDaily was still the weekly print newspaper The Independent Weekly. Thankfully, more than a decade on, InDaily continues to publish a weekly selection of poems under the curatorial hand of John Miles.

The permutations of poetry

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Spare a thought for the poets.

When your favourite band records their latest 12 track album, there are 479,001,600 ways they can arrange the songs on the album.

When a poet writes an average-sized book of 70 poems, there are 11,978,571,669,969,891,796,072,783,721,689,098,736,458,938,142,546,425,857,555,362,864,628,009,582,789,845,319,680,000,000,000,000,000 ways they can arrange the poems. And, even if they arrange them well, it’ll be something that’s scarcely noticed.

Every book of poems I’ve had a hand in editing has gone through a tried and tested process. The poems are printed, then laid out on a large floor for painstaking arrangement and rearrangement. It’s an arcane task that’s part intuition, and part logic. Its aim is to find a compelling order and a natural balance for the poems’ themes, images, vocabulary, etcetera.

But, anyway, that’s the maths.

Recommended: Writing the long poem

There seem to be those who regard the craft of poetry as an engaging and useful topic for discussion, and those who regard it as a somewhat contemptible and self-indulgent one. I’m among those who often find something insightful or useful in discussions about the practicalities of writing poetry, whether it’s via a writers’ festival, a radio interview, or a podcast. And the more practical the discussion is the better.

I recently watched a number of videos by poets.org, including a video in which American poet Ron Padgett talks about writing long poems. In particular, he suggests the following writing strategy:

‘I just made a dumb rule. I said, I’m going to write every day. I’m going to sit down at my desk every day and I’m going to write ten pages. And I don’t care if it’s good or bad, or indifferent, or if it’s notational or whatever. I’m going to write ten pages every day. And I did that for five or six days … I came up with about fifty or sixty pages of material and I put it away for a while. And I went and looked at it again later and a lot of it was dreck … But some of it was pretty good. I was surprised. So I did the obvious thing: I took out all the dreck and I stuck the other pieces together … It all fit together and made this long poem.’

The full video is available here:

Those familiar with Jim Jarmusch’s 2016 film Paterson may be aware that Padgett is the author of several of the poems supposedly written by the eponymous main character, played by Adam Driver: