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).
This week the literary folk have reclaimed the sunny, grassy environs of Adelaide’s Pioneer Women’s Garden for this year’s Writers’ Week. Five years ago more or less to the day (29 February 2016), Peter Goldsworthy presented a feature session on South Australian poetry, with readings by Aidan Coleman, Jelena Dinic, Jill Jones, Kate Llewellyn, and me. The podcast is still available on Soundcloud: Peter’s introduction (0:17), Aidan (2:40), Jelena (17:06), Jill (28:48), Kate (40:50), and me (53:12). Click here for the PODCAST.
‘And you read your Emily Dickinson / And I my Robert Frost…’
– Simon & Garfunkel, The Dangling Conversation
Is indie music a gateway, or a virgil or a psychopomp, to the hinterland or heartland of poetry, particularly for people who aren’t ordinarily predisposed to read it? Perhaps. Here’s a haphazard selection of poets name-dropped in contemporary indie rock and indie folk song titles that have made their way into my recent playlists. 01. Aeseaes: Rilke Song. 02. Ryan Adams: Sylvia Plath. 03. Augie March: Owen’s Lament. 04. Better Oblivion Community Center: Dylan Thomas. 05. Mal Blum: Robert Frost. 06. Billy Bragg & Wilco: Walt Whitman’s Niece. 07. Fleet Foxes: Jara. 08. Night Teacher: Emily Dickinson. 09. DCR Pollock: Ezra Pound. 10. Okkervil River: John Allyn Smith Sails. 11. Sea Wolf: Frank O’Hara. 12. Spider the Cat: Hey, Theodore Roethke. 13. Sufjan Stevens: Come On! Feel the Illinoise! Part I: The World’s Columbian Exposition Part II: Carl Sandburg Visits Me In A Dream. 14. Sufjan Stevens: Wordsworth’s Ridge. 15. M. Ward: Blake’s View.
There ought to be a mythology that depicts The Poet as a being with two skins: a tender inner membrane that’s pervious to the world, and a thick hide or pelt that insulates them from the inevitable slings and arrows of rejection notes, or reviews, or – failing that – the abject neglect of their work. In December 2020, critic Martin Duwell published a review of my book Carte Blanche (Vagabond, 2019) and Ella Jeffery’s Dead Bolt (Puncher & Wattmann, 2020) at Australian Poetry Review. It was a fearful thing to discover that the book had been reviewed by a critic I regularly turn to as one of the country’s most incisive readers of poetry. Sincere thanks to Martin for his careful and generous reading of the book. It was a delight to be reviewed alongside Ella’s debut book of poems, which I very much enjoyed reading, and which I had the pleasure of seeing launched online in September. Click here for the FULL REVIEW of Carte Blanche and Dead Bolt.
Vagabond Press has had an extraordinary 2020, with Natalie Harkin’s Archival-Poetics winning the 2020 John Bray Poetry Award, Peter Boyle’s Enfolded in the Wings of a Great Darkness winning the 2020 Kenneth Slessor Award, and my book Carte Blanche winning the 2020 Mary Gilmore Award. Not to mention the acclaim garnered by the recent books by Melinda Bufton, a.j. carruthers, Toby Fitch, LK Holt, and Jessica L. Wilkinson. For 20 years Vagabond has published established and emerging poets from Australia, the Asia-Pacific and the Americas. Like many small literary presses, it faces an uncertain future, and has launched a gofundme page to aid its survival. In particular, the campaign will support the publication of three new titles, presenting work by LK Holt, Tanikawa Shuntaro, and Shinkawa Kazue. You can support Vagabond via its gofundme page, or by purchasing from its extensive backlist of poetry, fiction, essays, memoir, and criticism.
It was so enjoyable to ‘attend’ the launch of Benjamin Dodds’ second book of poems Airplane Baby Banana Blanket, via Zoom this evening. The book was launched by Stuart Barnes, with readings by Ben, and Judith Beveridge. It’s become a small concession of the Covid year to be able to attend these launches from faraway Adelaide. And, in this case, it meant I had the chance to hear some of the poems in Ben’s own voice, to hear Stuart’s launch speech, and to get a sense of the rapport between Ben and Stuart, whose bodies of work I’ve been reading for some time. I really enjoyed Ben’s first book Regulator (Puncher & Wattmann, 2014). I’m glad he hasn’t kept us waiting too long for this second book, but also that Airplane Baby Banana Blanket draws us into new and worthwhile territory. I hope the book finds the wide readership and acclaim it deserves. For those wanting a foretaste of the book, there’s a recent ABC Radio National interview with Ben – Lucy’s Story: the chimp, the poet, and the interspecies experiment that went weird – describing the bizarre-yet-true story of Lucy, a chimpanzee raised by psychotherapist Dr Maurice Temerlin, which is at the heart of the book. Congratulations to Ben: Airplane Baby Banana Blanket is available from Recent Work Press.
‘April is the cruellest month…’, the opening line of TS Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land’, is one of the most famous phrases in Twentieth Century poetry. It’s famous enough that it often escapes poetry’s sequestered colonnades and turns up in the popular culture. But for those of us in the southern hemisphere, the phenomenon Eliot was referring to is something we experience in October (‘if at all’) as a sort of seasonal affectivity, a dark irony rooted in the burgeoning Spring. (There’s a similar seasonal reversal required for Ted Hughes’ ‘October Dawn’, another poem I’ve had a long attachment to (it’s mastery of half-rhyme), though it’s hard to find a correlative for Hughes’ ‘premonition of ice’ in the Australian autumn or winter.) Michael Austin reflects on Eliot’s phrase, particularly in a time of pandemic, in a blog post from April this year, entitled: ‘Why is April ‘the Cruelest Month’? TS Eliot’s Masterpiece of Pandemic Poetry.’ Austin writes: ‘Eliot wrote his famous poem in the aftermath of the last global pandemic to shut down the world. He and his wife caught the Spanish Flu in December of 1918, and he wrote much of the poem during his recovery.’ He goes on: ‘In the Waste Land, nothing can be crueler than hope, since it can only lead to disappointment […] The more I have read the opening lines of Eliot’s great poem, the more I have realized just what a dangerous emotion the great theological virtue of hope can be. Cynicism and irony are safe. To hope, one must open the door to disappointment, rejection, and disbelief.’ It’s a timely thought for those of us in our own ‘cruellest month’, as the beginning of the southern Spring this year coincides with the lifting of Australia’s most stringent lockdown. The attached video footage captures some essence of an October evening in Adelaide, a welcome relief after a particularly subdued winter. Look at all that glorious cruelty.
As a writer whose ‘day job’ is far removed from whatever writing I’m doing, I take some consolation from the examples of TS Eliot, Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams, who worked as a bank clerk, insurance executive, and physician, respectively. It’s more consoling than the thought of the countless writers whose aspirations were (and are) swallowed up by the necessary and quotidian. It’s difficult to cordon off a little energy, mental space, and time each day or across a week. I was a relative latecomer to Spotify, but podcasts on poetry, literature, writing, and creativity are a feature of my commute nowadays. This morning’s podcast, Unpublished’s ‘Consistency: the Antidote to Hustle’ (season 3, episode 12) was timely, part-practicality, part pep-talk: ‘… Working hard and devotion to your creativity, and the road to success, is consistency. And I almost would argue that it’s the smallest viable amount of work to do each day … That consistency is about showing up and doing the bare minimum, but doing the bare minimum every day.’ [at 4:47]