Poetry that stays news

‘Literature is news that STAYS news’, as Ezra Pound wrote in ABC of Reading (1934).

In many Australian states and territories, there’s an annual award for ‘enduring architecture’, meaning buildings of at least 25 years of age that are considered high quality works of architecture. At a time when contemporary architecture is often derided as faddish and elitist, these awards celebrate – and perhaps encourage – architecture that proves its importance and influence over time.

As in the field of architecture, awards for literature and poetry proliferate. They’re an important means for celebrating newly published works – a benefit to the writer, their publisher and the reading public. But an award that recognises enduring books of poetry is also an attractive idea. It could be, for example, an award for a book of poems published at least 25 years ago – prioritising individual books of poems, rather than anthologies, or a particular poet’s book of collected, selected or complete poems.

Such an award could be a means to renew interest in books that have unduly lapsed from public consciousness or from a wide readership, particularly if the book is out of print, or the publisher has since closed. It could also be a means to acknowledge books that have remained vital, beyond the immediate circumstances in which they were published. It would be a way to celebrate poetry that has stayed news in some sense.

It’s imaginable, in many cases, that a book that didn’t garner much attention at the time it was published has nonetheless accrued importance over time, either through its influence on other poets, or in light of the poet’s subsequent work.

At any rate, such an award is an attractive idea and a modest proposal.

Recommended: Oscar Schwartz’s Paragraphs

Oscar Schwartz Paragraphs Honeymoon Stage

In 2017, I had the pleasure of reading Australian poet Oscar Schwartz’s debut collection of poems The Honeymoon Stage (Giramondo, 2017). It’s a clever, playful, inventive, and memorable book, which I return to often. Then a resident of Darwin, Oscar is nowadays a New York-based writer, whose work has appeared in Harper’s Magazine, The Guardian, The Monthly, The Atlantic, and Sydney Review of Books. He publishes a weekly newsletter entitled Paragraphs­ – a series of short reflections on reading, writing, and life in New York – which I’ve come to eagerly anticipate as a feature of my week. You can read previous editions of Paragraphs on Oscar’s website. And you can subscribe to have them emailed to you weekly, as I have.

Recommended: In Your Hands poetry anthology

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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

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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

Mixtape: January-March 2020

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My mixtape for January-March 2020: 01. Daughter: Youth. 02. DeYarmond Edison: Time to Know. 03. Henry Jamison: Through a Glass. 04. Horse Feathers: Broken Beak. 05. Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers & Lucy Dacus: Bite the Hand. 06. Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers & Lucy Dacus: Me & My Dog. 07. Junip: Line of Fire. 08. Little May: Back Seat Driver. 09. Maggie Rogers: Fallingwater. 10. Maggie Rogers: Burning. 11. Matt Berninger: Holes (Mercury Rev cover). 12. Old Sea Brigade: Tidal Wave. 13. Phoebe Bridgers: Garden Song. 14. Phoebe Bridgers: Motion Sickness. 15. Placebo: Pure Morning. 16. San Fermin: Little Star. 17. Sylvan Esso: Die Young (Echo Mountain version). 18. Sylvan Esso: Funeral Singers (Califone cover). 19. Sylvan Esso: Coffee. 20. Talos: Odyssey. 21. Talos: Landscapes. 22. Talos: Voices. 23. The Vanns: Hey, Ma (Bon Iver cover). 24. Volcano Choir: Byegone. 25. Wildwood Kin: The Crown.

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.