Notes: June 2017

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

Thom Sullivan Poet Poetry NaPoWriMo 02

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


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”


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”


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.

3 more South Australian poets, part 3/3

Well, this is Part 3 of my three part series on South Australian poets who (I think) should be known, or better known, beyond the streets and suburbs of our State. Again, for each poet I’ve included details for recent publications, and references to poems that can be found online or in readily available anthologies.

And there are at least half a dozen poets I’ve kept in reserve for a later post or posts.

For those looking for a further entrée of South Australian poetry, the Adelaide Writers’ Week poetry reading on Monday, 6 March 2017, 5:00-6:00 pm, will feature a range of South Australian poets, from the established to the emerging: Steve Brock, Cath Kenneally, Jules Leigh Koch, Louise Nicholas, Jan Owen and Dominic Symes.

Writers’ Week will also feature well-known South Australian poets Ken Bolton and Mike Ladd, as well as Adam Aitken (NSW) and Adam Fitzgerald (USA).

Louise Nicholas, poet

The List of Last Remaining proves Louise Nicholas to be a poet of generosity, wit and wisdom. […] The pervasive humour and leaps of imagination are tempered by Louise’s emotional and verbal precision and her poised acknowledgment of loss as well as grace.’ – Jan Owen on The List of Last Remaining

Heather Taylor Johnson, poet and novelist

‘We’re drawn into an ecology where people really do give a damn about each other and the world their friends, lovers, children and animals inhabit.’ – Michael Sharkey on Meanwhile, the Oak

  • Letters to My Lover from a Small Mountain Town (Interactive Press, 2012) review
  • Meanwhile, the Oak (Five Island Press, 2016)
  • Jean Harley was Here (novel) (University of Queensland Press, forthcoming 2017)
  • Poetry editor for Transnational Literature
  • Poem: ‘Two Trees’ (Transnational Literature)
  • Poem: ‘Shovelling Snow’ (Mascara Literary Review)

Ian Gibbins, poet and neuroscientist

‘More than thirty years of experience in zoology, pharmacology and the human body spill out onto the pages of this focused and often quirky collection. Ian challenges his readers to open and expand their minds while delighting in new words, new creatures and new rhythms.’ – Heather Taylor Johnson on Urban Biology

3 more South Australian poets, part 2/3

As promised, this is Part 2 of my offering of South Australian poets who (I think) should be known, or better known, interstate. For each poet, I’ve included details for a couple of recent publications, as well as references to poems that can be found online or in readily available anthologies.

Part 3 will follow soon.

Kathryn Hummel, poet and ethnographer

‘Each poem lingers in the liminal spaces between the erotic and the exotic, the eclectic and the electric, the enigmatic and the energetic. These poems are from here, but they tirelessly interrogate the location of here…’ – Carl Leggo, Professor at the University of British Columbia, on Poems from Here

Rachael Mead, poet

‘Empathetic without sentimentality, Mead has found all the material she needs for poetry in her own vicinity: the mutability of life, the histories that have made us, and the responsibility we bear for what we’ve done to our places.’ – Jill Jones on The Sixth Creek

David Mortimer, poet

‘Reading Magic Logic is to listen to a musical mind at work. It is a journey of cadences, the everyday and the metaphysical, smaller soundscapes as valued as larger ones.’ – Patricia Sykes on Magic Logic