Recommended: In Your Hands poetry anthology

InYourHands

Some good news for readers of Australian poetry…

With the outbreak of Covid-19, and the consequent cancellation of events, many poets have been left without the opportunity to showcase their new work at launches, live readings and festivals. Red Room Poetry has stepped into the breach by publishing In Your Hands: A poetry collection for isolated times – a free digital anthology of 80 poems by Australian poets whose recent or forthcoming books have been affected by the pandemic.

My poem ‘Brag or Bait’ is included in the anthology. Also included are poems by several of my stablemates at Vagabond Press – Melinda Bufton, Toby Fitch, Natalie Harkin, Lucy Holt, and Jessica L. Wilkinson – and poems by a number of fellow South Australian poets, including Juan Garrido Salgado, Jill Jones, and Em Konig. All told, In Your Hands is an excellent snapshot of, and showcase for, Australian poetry now.

You can download In Your Hands for free from the Red Room Poetry website. You can also replay the anthology’s live-streamed launch on Red Room’s Facebook page. The launch includes readings by 12 of the featured poets.

Recommended: More Poetry for Troubled Times

ABR

I’m delighted to feature in Australian Book Review’s ‘More Poetry for Troubled Times’ podcast, along with 14 others. The podcast includes readings of poems by the likes of WB Yeats, Henry Lawson, Kenneth Slessor, Gwen Harwood, Bruce Dawe, Eavan Boland, Charles Simic, Czesław Miłosz, Denise Levertov, Emily Dickinson, and my selection, AR Ammons. The podcast is available via iTunes, Google and Spotify.

The first ‘Poetry for Troubles Times’ podcast is also highly recommended. It features Sarah Holland-Batt reading Geoffrey Hill, Stephen Edgar reading Seamus Heaney, JM Coetzee reading Zbigniew Herbert, John Kinsella reading Christopher Brennan, David McCooey reading Tomas Tranströmer, and Peter Rose reading Wallace Stevens.

A full list of the readers, poets and poems for the first podcast and the second podcast is available on the ABR webpage.

It’s a great initiative from ABR in the midst of our present maladies.

Recommended: Paul Kelly talks words and music

Paul Kelly Albums

Sarah Kanowski’s conversation with musician Paul Kelly, for ABC Radio National, is an engaging encounter with one of Australia’s most highly regarded songwriters. Of particular interest are Kelly’s comments about the craft of writing songs based on poems, which has become a central aspect of his songwriting.

I think, for example, of Seven Sonnets and a Song (2016), an album which comprises six songs based on Shakespeare’s sonnets, one based on the Clown’s Song from Twelfth Night, and one based on a poem by Sir Philip Sidney. Then there’re the songs of Spring and Fall (2012), Nature (2018), and Thirteen Ways to Look at Birds (2019), which draw on the poems of Emily Dickinson, John Donne, Thomas Hardy, Miroslav Holub, Gerard Manley Hopkins, John Keats, Philip Larkin, Sylvia Plath, Dylan Thomas, Walt Whitman, Richard Wilbur, and WB Yeats – and, closer to home, Denis Glover, Gwen Harwood, AD Hope, and Judith Wright. Most recently, Penguin Books has published Love is Strong as Death (2019), an anthology of poems chosen by Kelly. It’s evidence of his wide-ranging and abiding engagement with poetry.

Based on Shakespeare’s ‘Sonnet 73’

Kelly’s comments about discovering poetry during his high school years particularly resonated with me, as I attended the same high school, albeit a few decades later. It was in the same classrooms that I found my own interest in the poetry of Keats, Hopkins, Harwood, Wright, and others. Until only a few decades ago, I suspect that much of Adelaide had no more than two or three degrees of separation from Kelly and his family. Though it’s matured into an elegant and cosmopolitan mid-sized city, Adelaide still has about it some of the charm (for better and/or worse) of a big country-town. I certainly grew up with family members who knew Kelly’s siblings or were at school with Kelly himself. Naturally, his music seeped in through the seams of my childhood and adolescence.

Based on Sylvia Plath’s poem ‘Mushrooms’

In the course of the conversation, Kelly also talks about (among other things) the influence of Shakespeare and the King James Bible on his work, his affection for the poetry of Yehuda Amichai (‘conversational and warm’), and his memory of sharing his earliest poems with family members (‘kind of shy and proud … at the same time’). He’s sanguine about poetry’s place in our modern world (it’s ‘on the march’). It’s a hospitable conversation about poetry, borne out of Kelly’s generous regard for it. The conversation ends with Kelly playing his song ‘Barn Owl’, based on Gwen Harwood’s poem of the same name, and ‘Pied Beauty’, based on the poem by Hopkins.

Recommended: Poetry for Troubled Times

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‘Poetry for Troubled Times’, the latest episode of The ABR Podcast, features readings of 18 poems that speak to our present malady, even as news of the coronavirus (Corvid-19) pandemic worsens by the hour. As ABR’s editor Peter Rose says in his introduction, ‘These are such rattling and ominous times, as we all hunker down hoping for a cure, some cessation. Perhaps only poetry really offers true insight and consolation, if we lean on it, as we’ve always done in past crises.’

Among the 18 poems featured in the podcast, we find Sarah Holland-Batt reading Geoffrey Hill, Stephen Edgar reading Seamus Heaney, Peter Goldsworthy reading Jane Hirschfield, JM Coetzee reading Zbigniew Herbert, John Kinsella reading Christopher Brennan, David McCooey reading Tomas Tranströmer, and Peter Rose reading Wallace Stevens. A full list of the readers, poets and poems is published on the podcast’s webpage.

Perhaps the most resonant poems for me were Rose’s reading of Stevens’ ‘The Plain Sense of Things’ (‘It is difficult to choose the adjective / For this blank cold, this sadness without cause. / The great structure has become a minor house…’) and McCooey’s reading of Tranströmer’s ‘December Evening 1972’ (‘Here I come, the invisible man, perhaps employed / by a Great Memory to live right now. And I am driving past // the locked-up white church…’).

As for me, in a moment like this I might recommend Stephen Dunn’s ‘Sweetness’ (‘Often a sweetness comes / as if on loan, stays just long enough / to make sense of what it means to be alive…’), or Adam Zagajewski’s ‘Try to Praise the Mutilated World’ (‘You should praise the mutilated world. / Remember the moments when we were together / in a white room and the curtain fluttered…’).

New episodes of the podcast are released by ABR (Australian Book Review) fortnightly on Wednesdays. iTunes Google Spotify

Recommended: Poetry in Process – Interview with Alison Whittaker

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Owen Bullock’s latest Poetry in Process podcast is an interview with Alison Whittaker, author of Lemons in the Chicken Wire (Magabala, 2016) and Blakwork (Magabala, 2018), which was shortlisted for the 2019 Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Poetry.

It’s a wide-ranging conversation. I had particular pause for thought as they discussed the connection between poetry, language, and the law; writing under constraint – and an explanation of Whittaker’s use of trigrams (used in search engine optimisation); and a workshop exercise Whittaker has used to create a state of ‘controlled panic’ to induce participants to produce a chapbook of poems within 3 hours.

You can find the podcast on the Poetry in Process website, and on Spotify.

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:

Recommended: ‘Poetry Says’ podcasts

By and large, our experience of poetry is an active affair. Reading a poem well generally demands diligence and attention, which partially explains poetry’s neglect when compared to other artforms that are often experienced somewhat passively – from film to the visual arts, to music, to audiobooks, and even the novel, which generally relies less on an actively constructed meaning.

Of course, recordings of poems abound, and a recording of a poem can be experienced just as passively as an audiobook or piece of music. But there’s something to be said for Philip Larkin’s argument that ‘[h]earing a poem, as opposed to reading it on the page, means you miss so much – the shape, the punctuation, the italics, even knowing how far you are from the end.’

As someone who prefers to experience poems from the page, it’s a delight to have access to Alice Allan’s regular Poetry Says podcasts, a series of lively and engaging conversations about poetry. The podcasts are perfect for those moments in which reading poems from a book is impractical.

Over 100 episodes of Poetry Says are available, including episodes on Gertrude Stein, Adrienne Rich, Elizabeth Bishop, Sylvia Plath, Jack Gilbert, Ted Berrigan, Judith Wright, Jorie Graham, and contemporary Australian poets, such as Michael Farrell and Jill Jones. The episode on Plath’s bee poems is highly recommended. Invariably, an episode sends me back to a poet and their work with fresh insight and new regard.

Poetry Says website : Poetry Says on Twitter : Poetry Says on Facebook

Notes: August 2017

Winter in Adelaide – Griffith Review’s State of Hope edition – Launch of Jill Jones’ Brink – Winter reading recommendations – Poetry reading at Halifax Café – Puncher & Wattmann’s Contemporary Australian Poetry, & the airbrushing of bush poetry – Poetry & the philosophy of wineIMG_20170909_005224

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.

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.

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