Notes: February 2018

Adelaide Writers’ Week 2018 – Notes on Tracy Ryan’s The Water Bearer

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I’m writing this on March 4, which means Adelaide’s ‘Mad March’ is well and truly under way. I can take and/or leave many of its attractions, which include the ‘Adelaide 500’ car racing event, with its air-force flyovers and traffic diversions; the various delights of the Adelaide Festival; the ubiquitous Fringe Festival; WOMADelaide; the Adelaide Cup, a public holiday, at least; and – this year – a particularly inscrutable state election campaign. To borrow a note or two from Keats, early autumn in Adelaide is drows’d with exhaust fumes, and the wailful choiring of supercar engines.

While I can take and/or leave much of that, I take time off work (when I can) to spend a few days at Adelaide Writers’ Week, which started on March 3 (‘yesterday’, at the time of writing). There’s lots to look forward to in the days ahead – including some gifts of serendipity, no doubt – though I’m particularly looking forward to sessions featuring Australian poets Pam Brown and Sarah Holland-Batt, and Adelaide Hills writers Rebekah Clarkson and Eva Hornung, and the traditional Writers’ Week poetry reading. I attended yesterday’s session for the announcement of the Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature. It was great to see the successes of well-known Adelaide poet Jude Aquilina (the Barbara Hanrahan Fellowship), and Pam Brown – who was awarded the John Bray Poetry Award for Missing Up (Vagabond Press, 2015). It was also great to see Eva Hornung win the Fiction Award for The Last Garden (Text Publishing, 2017), as well as the ‘overall’ Premier’s Award – evidently, she’s the first South Australian to win the Premier’s Award in its 32 year history (The Advertiser article). Though I’ve never met Eva, she’s my next-door-neighbour when I’m ‘home’ in Bugle Ranges, which is less often than I’d like at the moment.

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Of the hundreds of poems I read in February (Lowell, Boyle, Kinsella, Salamun…), the one that’s stayed with me most strongly is an apparently unassuming poem entitled ‘School Walk in German Winter’, from Tracy Ryan’s new book of poems, The Water Bearer (Fremantle Press, 2018). I won’t say so much (I hope) that I spoil the poem or its workings (or the workings it seems to offer the reader) for anyone who’s keen to track it down and read it for themselves. What’s noteworthy about the poem is the chance Ryan’s taken in publishing a finely worked poem when a superficial reader – and maybe many other readers besides – will miss its apparent secondary reading – one that notionally contains both the walk to and from school – after all they’re the same journey, but in reverse.

As a reader, there’s a particular pleasure in discovering some element or effect that’s been subtly worked into a poem. By not disclosing the effect in an explanatory note, the poet preserves the poem’s potential energy. Ryan’s poem had me thinking – more broadly – about the gamble writers take on their readers’ attentiveness. Does the writer disclose some element or effect they want a reader to discover in their work – for the reader’s edification, or as evidence of their own cleverness? – at the risk of being heavy-handed and untrusting? Or do they leave it undisclosed, keeping the poem’s full range of delight open to the reader? Some of the pleasure of discovering an undisclosed element or effect, then, is knowing you’ve rewarded the poet for their trust.

In addition to this one poem, it’s an excellent book – though I’ll leave it to others to say more in the reviews that will, no doubt, follow. It’s Ryan’s first book of poems since 2013’s Unearthed (Fremantle Press) and 2014’s Hoard (Whitmore Press). Unearthed is also an excellent book, and one which resonated with me at the time I read it – particularly the ‘Karlsruhe’ poems. Unearthed can be read profitably alongside Sharon Old’s Stag’s Leap (Jonathan Cape, 2012), winner of the 2012 TS Eliot Prize and 2013 Pulitzer Prize, which shares something of its circumstance and themes.

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Notes: November 2017

Adelaide, a Mediterranean city – Little Windows Press’ chapbook series – Poetry reading at Café Latino – The future of Adelaide Writers’ Week – Adelaide Writers’ Week 20182017-11-29 22.37.04bb

Adelaide, like some of the world’s most romanticised cities, has a Mediterranean climate with dry summers and mild winters: think Algiers, Athens, Barcelona, Casablanca, Istanbul, Jerusalem, Madrid, Marseille, Seville, and Rome, and – away from the Mediterranean – Perth, Cape Town, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. It’s a climate that’s well adapted to human flourishing, associated with the ‘Mediterranean trinity’ of wheat, vines and olives. Here, in South Australia, the local wine and tourism industries enthusiastically remind us there are over 200 cellar-doors within an hour or so’s drive of the CBD – some in Thiele-country, others in Heysen-country, others to the south of the city. Even when the spring and summer days are harsh to us with their heat and dryness, they pay a dividend of long, warm evenings. (It was Camus who wrote in his essay ‘Summer in Algiers’: ‘The loves we share with a city are often secret loves.’) It’s a climate that’s favourable to Adelaide at its cosmopolitan – and romanticised – best: the vision of a hospitable and orderly city, of long summer evenings, alfresco dining, local wines and produce, and sunsets over the gulf. And the arts, and poetry, are an essential part of it, too.

Fittingly, then, Little Windows Press – the enterprise of publishers Jill Jones and Alison Flett – launched its second annual series of chapbooks on a warm Adelaide evening at The Howling Owl, in a lively corner of Adelaide’s East End – between the fashionably unfashionable crowd at The Exeter Hotel, and the unfashionably unfashionable mock-Tudor of The Elephant British Pub. The 2017 series features Adam Aitken’s Notes on the River, Ali Cobby Eckermann’s The Aura of Loss, Jen Hadfield’s Mortis and Tenon and Kathryn Hummel’s The Body That Holds. It was a great launch. For notes on the event and each of the chapbooks, I recommend this blogpost by Adelaide poet JV Birch. The chapbooks are available from the Little Windows website.

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More recently, Café Latino at Woodville hosted an excellent and enlivening evening of food, poetry and music on Sunday, 26 November. The event neatly foregrounded the poetry, and offered a selection of favourites – courtesy Shakespeare, Hopkins, Shelley, and the like – along with lesser known poems, poems by local poets, and popular song lyrics read as poetry.

This month, old news was good news: I enjoyed posting a few words on Facebook, reflecting on the ‘Light & Glorie’ project Aidan Coleman and I ran in November 2012. Meanwhile, the new news was more complicated. It was sad to read that Tincture Journal will be publishing its final edition on 1 December 2017, having achieved a great deal since it began in 2013. A big congratulations and best wishes to editor Daniel Young, and the editorial team, including poetry editor Stuart Barnes. It was disappointing to read that Laura Kroetsch, Director of Adelaide Writers’ Week since 2012, will direct her final Writers’ Week in March 2018. One distinctive and welcome hallmark of Laura’s directorship has been her efforts to introduce many of New Zealand’s most celebrated poets to Adelaide audiences.

It was disappointing, too, to read that the Adelaide Festival Board is reconsidering Writers’ Week’s status as the country’s only free writers’ festival – an essential characteristic since it began in 1960. Being free to the public is a concession that gives all South Australians access to great writers, writing and ideas – particularly those people whom ticketed events would most readily exclude. I think back to my own tentative introduction to Writers’ Week, which was an initiation into a culture of ideas and writing, beyond the hallways and bookstacks of the university. 2006, my first serious Writers’ Week, acquainted me with the work of Nick Jose, Gail Jones, Simon Armitage, Judith Beveridge, Peter Skrzynecki, Vincent O’Sullivan, and others I don’t recall. And early March days at Writers’ Week are a paradigm of Adelaide at its cosmopolitan (and ‘Dunstanian’) best. It’s a vision of the city (indeed, the Province) that is (or should be) in keeping with the idealistic and dissenting ambitions of its founders, including those honoured by the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden in which Writers’ Week is set.

Of course, the city’s singular idealism is haunted by its notorious vulnerability to the sinister. It was Salman Rushdie who said at Writers’ Week in 1984 that ‘Adelaide is an ideal setting for a Stephen King novel or horror film … sleepy, conservative towns are where those things happen. Exorcisms, omens, shinings, poltergeists. Adelaide is Amityville, or Salem, and things here go bump in the night.’ Kerryn Goldsworthy quotes Rushdie more fully in her book Adelaide (NewSouth Publishing, 2011), and reminds us that his reckoning predates the events associated with Snowtown by two decades. She goes on, though, to counterbalance this view with that of Adelaide novelist Barbara Hanrahan (1939-1991): ‘[she] sees the strangeness of Adelaide crime as not unique to the city but rather as highlighted and thrown into stark relief by the contrast with its carefully maintained outer image, which is both of beauty and of virtue’ (p. 169). In any case, it’s a rumination that places Writers’ Week at the centre of Adelaide’s identity and cultural life. There’re plenty of reasons to be careful and protective of its legacy, and its accessibility to all quarters of the South Australian community.

To return to the good news, it was great to read poems by South Australian poets Ken Bolton, Ali Cobby Eckermann, Natalie Harkin, Jill Jones, Mike Ladd, and Heather Taylor Johnson among Sarah Holland-Batt’s selections for The Best Australian Poems 2017 (Black Inc, 2017). Sarah will be a featured writer at Writers’ Week 2018, along with New Zealand poet Ashleigh Young and US poet Patricia Lockwood. However, there’s plenty of summer to enjoy or endure before then. In the immediate short-term, the Mediterranean climate is offering a humid 34 degrees, partly cloudy, with the chance of thunderstorms.

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

Update: July 2016

Thom Tom Sullivan Poet Poetry 2016

I’ve been away from the blog for a month or two, as I’ve been occupied with a few writing projects.

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In mid-June, I was a featured writer at the Meet the Writers Festival, an annual festival for middle- and high-school students that’s been run by the South Australian English Teachers Association (SAETA) for the last 23 years. The festival, which was held at the Adelaide Convention Centre, gave hundreds of our State’s young readers and writers the opportunity to meet, listen to and ask questions of some wonderful local and interstate authors – much like our annual Writers’ Week. It’s an event that’s a great gift from our State’s English teachers.

This year the other featured writers were Janeen Brian, Phil Cummins, Archie Fusillo, Roseanne Hawke, Jack Heath, Don Henderson, Greg Holfeld, Christobel Mattingly, Ruth Starke and Claire Zorn – some of whom I read at school myself.

The four sessions I ran gave me a chance to talk to students about my own writing, offer some tips for writers and creators, and read a couple of poems. It was a fun day, and I especially enjoyed my conversations with young people who have the same enthusiasm for writing that I remember having as a high-school student.

You can find some very complimentary student reflections on the festival here.

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Since then I’ve been editing a collection of poems for a friend and working through the final drafts (at this stage, at least) of what should become my first full length collection of poems. Once a final draft is done, the manuscript will be ushered out into the world in search of a home. And gladly – it’s long overdue (though the maturation time has been well worth it), and there’re a bunch of poems in there I’m looking forward to putting into people’s hands.

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This week Australian Book Review released a set of podcasts for its national ‘States of Poetry’ project. Each podcast features an Australian poet talking about, then reading, one of their poems. You can listen to me read my poem ‘Suburban Panopticon’ here. And you can find the Adelaide Writer’s Week 2016 session featuring five of the six South Australian ‘States of Poetry’ poets here – that is, Aidan Coleman, Jelena Dinic, Jill Jones, Kate Llewellyn and me.

On the ABR site, you’ll also find new podcasts for some of my favourite contemporary Australian poets, including: Ken Bolton, Michael Farrell, Toby Fitch, Sarah Holland-Batt, Jill Jones, Nathan Shepherdson and Fiona Wright.

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Finally, on 16 August I’ll be appearing as a guest at The Lee Marvin Readings here in Adelaide, along with Pam Brown (Sydney), Kent MacCarter (Melbourne) and Dominic Symes. The readings take place every Tuesday night in alternate months, at the Experimental Art Foundation’s Dark Horsey Bookshop. I well remember attending the readings when they were held at the De La Catessen Gallery in Anster Street, Adelaide, as early as 2007, so it’s been nice to become a somewhat regular guest in recent years. The readings feature the best of Adelaide’s new writing – poetry and prose. You can find the full program for the August readings here.

On the Adelaide Writers’ Week Poetry Podcast

A podcast of the 2016 Adelaide Writers’ Week poetry reading is now available.

The Monday afternoon poetry reading is an enduring and eagerly anticipated tradition at Adelaide Writers’ Week. In past years, it has showcased interstate and international guests, however, this year poet and novelist Peter Goldsworthy chose five South Australian poets to read at the session, and appear in a complementary poetry feature for the March edition of Australian Book Review. The feature is part of ABR’s ‘States of Poetry’ project, a federally arranged project, funded by the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund, that will include poets from all states and territories.

Tom Thom Sullivan Poet Adelaide Writers Week Poetry Reading 1.jpg

I’m among the poets who were chosen to appear at the reading, along with Aidan Coleman, Jelena Dinic, Jill Jones and Kate Llewellyn. The reading, like all Writers’ Week sessions, was a free event and took place in the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden. The poetry reading is well attended year-after-year, but this year’s crowd was the largest I’ve seen. Details for the podcast are as follows:

Laura Kroetsch: Director’s introduction (0:00)

Peter Goldsworthy: Chair (0:17)

Aidan Coleman (2:40) @AidanColeman4

Jelena Dinic (17:06)

Jill Jones (28:48) @_jill_jonesblog

Kate Llewellyn (40:50)

Thom Sullivan (53:12)

One poem by each poet appears in the March 2016 print (“dead tree”) edition of ABR, along with a poem by Ken Bolton. A further four poems by each poet will be published on ABR’s website as part of the ‘States of Poetry’ project (forthcoming). ‘States of Poetry’ anthologies for the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), Victoria and Queensland are already accessible online.

Tom Thom Sullivan Poet Adelaide Writers Week Poetry Reading 2

I’m somewhat sympathetic to Philip Larkin’s view 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.” With that in mind, I’m happy to indicate where the poems I read during the session can be found in print and/or online, including a poem by American poet AR Ammons (1926-2001):

“Homo Suburbiensis” (Cordite)

“Threshold” (forthcoming)

“Freehold” (The Best Australian Poems 2015, Black Inc, 2015)

“In Camera” (Australian Book Review, online and March 2016 print edition)

“The City Limits” (AR Ammons)

“Carte Blanche” (Cordite, The Best Australian Poems 2014, Black Inc, 2014)

“All Things Go” (Australian Book Review)

“Nothing Doing” (Australian Love Poems, Inkerman & Blunt, 2013)

As stated by Peter at the end of the session, South Australian poets and ABR’s ‘States of Poetry’ project will feature at Writers’ Week in future years. It’s an addition to a venerable tradition that’s well worth applauding.

Ref.

A Poet’s Guide to Adelaide Writers’ Week

Poet, novelist and raconteur Peter Goldsworthy is curating a feature on South Australian poetry for this year’s Adelaide Writers’ Week. A poetry reading will take place on Monday, 29 February, at 5:00 p.m., and will be complemented by a feature on South Australian poetry in a forthcoming edition of Australian Book Review. I’m among the poets who will appear at the reading, along with Aidan Coleman, Jelena Dinic, Jill Jones and Kate Llewellyn.

This is (I hope) a small encouragement to come along to Writers’ Week to enjoy the best of cosmopolitan and literary Adelaide – the city that Salman Rushdie described as the perfect setting for a horror story, and Nobel laureate (and now resident) JM Coetzee described as “paradise on earth”.

There are over 80 writers featuring at Writers’ Week, including (those who piqued my immediate interest) Gail Jones, Gerald Murnane, Lauren Groff, Charlotte Wood, Gregory Day and Peggy Frew.

For those with a particular interest in poetry, there’s also acclaimed New Zealand poet Bill Manhire, Australian poet Chris Wallace Crabbe, New Zealand poet and novelist Anna Smaill, and Jonathan Bate, the author of a recent biography on Ted Hughes – who has his own often-recounted connection to Adelaide Writers’ Week.

I intend to get to as many sessions as I can – and to make a few notations here and on Twitter (@thomsullivansa).

Ref.

  • Kannemeyer, MD, 2012, “An Intimate Matter for JM Coetzee”, The Australian, 17 November 2012.