‘Poetry is the artform that allies what we say with the way we say it. Language is the material of poetry, whereas the material of the novel is character and story. If a thing has been said it doesn’t need to be said again. If a thing hasn’t been said – if a poem attempts to say something new – it ought to find a new way of saying it. To find a new way to say the thing is a matter of experimentation. An experiment that succeeds – in its own terms – is an innovation. An innovation in poetry is a new way of saying a new thing through the material of language. Any canon of poetry, or any artform for that matter, ought to be a catalogue of innovations.’ (from a notebook)
Adelaide – like California, and relatively few places outside the Mediterranean – has a ‘Mediterranean climate’, characterised by dry summers and mild, wet winters. Listening to The Daily Poem’s recent episode (Spotify) about Dana Gioia’s poem ‘California Hills in August’ was a welcome reminder of the warmer months ahead of us. In particular, it reminded me of early evening walks at Brown Hill Creek and Chambers Gully. Both can be a breathless hike, especially on a hot summer day, but the view of the sun setting over the city and the gulf beyond is a just reward, and something to look forward to. You can read ‘California Hills in August’ at the Poetry Foundation website.
As Facebook reminded me this week, it’s two years since my debut book of poems, Carte Blanche (Vagabond Press), went out into the world. And it’s almost two years since I was in Sydney for its launch… a much simpler time. In the meantime, Carte Blanche has won the 2020 Mary Gilmore Award, for the best first book of poems published in Australia in 2019, and has been warmly reviewed by David McCooey for Australian Book Review (behind the paywall, unfortunately), Geoff Page for The Canberra Times, and Martin Duwell for Australian Poetry Review.
My poem ‘Buonanotte’ has been published in Australian Poetry Anthology, the annual anthology produced by Australian Poetry, our peak body for poets. The 2020 anthology (volume 8) was edited by Melinda Smith and Sara Saleh. It includes poems by Stuart Barnes, Anne Casey, Tricia Dearborn, Shastra Deo, Toby Fitch, Jane Gibian, Dominique Hecq, Paul Hetherington, Geoff Page, and fellow South Australian poets Jill Jones, Bronwyn Lovell, Rachael Mead, David Mortimer, Heather Taylor-Johnson, and Manal Younus.
I flew to Sydney for the launch of CARTE BLANCHE on Saturday, 20 July. After the launch at Mothership Studios, Marrickville, I had the chance to drive back from Sydney to Adelaide: a two-day, 1,375 kilometre (855 mile) journey by car, through the Great Dividing Range, and across the plains of New South Wales’ Riverina region and the Mallee districts of Victoria and South Australia.
Much of the journey I knew only from imprecise childhood memories (the Dog on the Tuckerbox, 5 or 9 miles from Gundagai – depending on whether you reference the poem ‘Bullocky Bill’, the later Jack Moses poem, or the Jack O’Hagan song), or through particular contemporary poems. I think of Geoff Page’s poem ‘Hay to Balranald’: ‘Heading west all afternoon the curvatures can still surprise you. / You might as well be out at sea; the skyline is a perfect circle. […] All afternoon forgetting physics / you drive into the sky.’ Or there’s Mike Ladd’s poem ‘Out of Balranald, just on dusk’: ‘Now the last light catches old fridges on their plain of resurrection – / a voice says ‘I AM’ from a burning roly-poly bush […] Kenworths and Macks in their prides / roaring down the gears through the drowse of distant towns.’ It’s an experience of a distinctively Australian Sublime – horizontal and understated, rather than vertical and imposing – as alluded to in On the Hay Plain, a radio episode about the ‘big sky country’ surrounding Hay, written and produced by Ladd. I took photos regularly during the portions of the trip when I wasn’t driving. None has any artistic intent: they were captured only as aide-mémoires. They document something of the journey and the incremental changes in the landscape: green hills, grasslands, riverine plains, dry creeks, brown rivers, river red gums, woodlands of black box and grey box, dry lake beds, sheep, cattle, roadkill kangaroos, saltbush, grain crops, a crop fire, silos, siding towns, salt flats, mallee roadsides, and semi-trailers – and kilometre after kilometre of white-lined bitumen, varying in colour from dark grey to soft grey to ochre. Of course, ‘experiencing’ a landscape while driving through it at 110 kilometres per hour is little better than watching it on TV. In both cases we sit in a comfortable chair, watching images flash past on a (wind)screen. Nonetheless.
Mascot, Sydney, NSW.
Hume Highway, Oakdale, NSW.
Federal Highway, Lake George, NSW.
The Nation’s Capital, ACT.
Barton Highway, Jeir, NSW.
Hume Highway, Coolac, NSW.
Hume Highway, Tumblong, NSW.
Hume Highway, Mount Adrah, NSW.
Morning fog, Murrumbidgee River, Wagga Wagga, NSW.
Sturt Highway, Sandigo, NSW.
Sturt Highway, Sandigo, NSW.
Crop fire, Sturt Highway, Maude, NSW.
Sturt Highway, Keri Keri, NSW.
Sturt Highway, Yanga, NSW.
Sturt Highway, Yanga, NSW.
Balranald Tooleybuc Road, Balranald, NSW.
Bridge over the Murray River, Tooleybuc, NSW/VIC.
Mallee Highway, Manangatang, VIC.
Mallee Highway, Ouyen, VIC.
Mallee Highway, Parrakie, SA.
Coming soon to The Wheatsheaf Hotel in Thebarton, Adelaide: a poetry reading by Louise Nicholas, JV Birch, Paul Turley and Dylan Rowen.
This Thursday, 25 July 2019, I’ll be featuring at a poetry reading at Halifax Café, 187 Halifax Street, Adelaide, from 6:00pm, with renowned Adelaide performance poet Kami. The event is hosted by Friendly Street Poets. Entry is $5. The readings at Halifax Café are always a great event. Further details on Facebook.
This Saturday, 20 July 2019, my debut book of poems will be launched at Mothership Studios, at 18-22 Sydney Street, Marrickville, Sydney, from 2:30-4:30pm, along with new books of poems by Peter Boyle, Natalie Harkin, and L.K. Holt. Sydneysiders are welcome to attend. Copies of CARTE BLANCHE will be available at the launch, and are available already from vagabondpress.net, along with all of Vagabond Press’s 2019 releases – books by Peter Boyle, a.j. carruthers, Toby Fitch, Natalie Harkin, L.K. Holt, and Jessica L. Wilkinson. A launch in my home city, Adelaide, will follow. Further details soon.
After Richard Long’s ‘A Ten Mile Walk England’ (1968)
CARTE BLANCHE, my debut collection of poems, is available now from Vagabond Press, as a softcover and a limited edition hardcover. Along with CARTE BLANCHE, Vagabond Press has released its full suite of 2019 Australian poetry titles, including new books of poetry by Peter Boyle, a.j. carruthers, Toby Fitch, L.K. Holt, Jessica L. Wilkinson, and fellow South Australian poet Natalie Harkin. Readers of Australian poetry are well served by our best publishers and the quality of books they produce. Even in that esteemed company, Michael Brennan of Vagabond Press has achieved something special with the presentation of these books. Vagabond Press has a great history of publishing Australian poetry, dating back to 1999, but uniquely among Australia’s poetry presses, it’s also known for its books of poetry in translation – including the work of poets from Europe, the Asia Pacific and the Americas.