A recommendation for Day 1 (August 1) of Australia’s inaugural national Poetry Month… ‘Adelaide Stone’, a poem by Thomas W. Shapcott – written during Shapcott’s time as the Professor of Creative Writing at Adelaide University. The poem appears in his 2006 book, The City of Empty Rooms (Salt). As Shapcott writes in the poem, ‘Adelaide stone was here, on the spot, / It is only now we are surprised / And grateful. You didn’t notice it much? / Ah, but you were brought up here. Best things / Should perhaps be taken for granted.’ I became an avid reader of Shapcott’s poems in my late teens, long before I identified the poems with the shuffling gentleman I often passed in the corridors of the university’s English Department.
Red Room Poetry has named August 2021 as Australia’s inaugural national Poetry Month. Throughout the month, Red Room will celebrate Australian poetry, poets and publishers through a program of collaborations, poems and writing prompts, online workshops, residencies and live-streamed showcases. The full program and a calendar of events are available at the Red Room Poetry website.
‘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)
Australian Book Review has followed its 2020 podcasts Poetry for Troubled Times and More Poetry for Troubled Times with the more optimistically titled Poetry in Times of Recovery. The podcast includes Sarah Holland-Batt reading Adam Zagajewski’s ‘Try to Praise the Mutilated World’, Felicity Plunkett reading Tracy K Smith’s ‘An Old Story’, Peter Goldsworthy reading Eugenio Montale’s ‘Forse un mattino’, Judith Bishop reading Tomas Tranströmer’s ‘Face to Face’, and John Kinsella reading Emily Brontë’s ‘No Coward Soul is Mine’. Recently, I’ve been revisiting some of my favourite poems by Zagajewski, having come late to the news of his death on 21 March. Likewise, I was late to hear of the death of American poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, in February. And, finally, this week brought news of the death of American poet Stephen Dunn (24 June), whose poems ‘Sweetness’ (itself a consolation in times of bereavement) and ‘Poem for People Who Are Understandably Too Busy to Read Poetry’ I return to often.
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).
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]
Vagabond Press has launched its new website. Vagabond’s books of poetry from Australia, the Americas, the Asia Pacific, and Europe are available directly from the website, which now includes a sample of each book. It’s been a great 12 months for Vagabond, with Natalie Harkin’s Archival-Poetics winning the 2020 John Bray Poetry Award, and Peter Boyle’s Enfolded in the Wings of a Great Darkness winning the 2020 Kenneth Slessor Award for Poetry, among others. My book of poems, Carte Blanche, is available from the website as a paperback, and a limited edition hardback.
It’s been a difficult year for launching books. And it was an enormous relief, especially in hindsight, that Aidan Coleman and I managed to jointly-launch our books of poems a few short weeks before the COVID-19 restrictions clamped down in South Australia. It was very welcome, then, to be able to attend the launch of Juan Garrido-Salgado’s Hope Blossoming in Their Ink in Adelaide last week, the first launch I’ve attended in person in many months. It was the sort of lively event we’ve felt the lack of amid our ‘Covid-winter’, even in a city and state that’s weathered the pandemic better than most. Touch wood. It’s also been very welcome, and a small compensation of the pandemic, to be able to attend events and launches interstate, albeit as an online ‘attendance’. It’s a regrettable compromise for the poets and publishers concerned – a writer sending a book into the world (particularly a first book) deserves all the love and fuss that can be mustered – but, for those of us further afield, it’s been nice to ‘attend’ in some small way, even foregoing the customary signings, and conversations. To the point, it was so enjoyable to attend the launch of Ella Jeffery’s book of poems Dead Bolt, launched by Lisa Gorton this evening, even if the setting, from my end at least, was my lounge room in Adelaide. Congratulations to Juan and Ella, and all best wishes for the success of your books, particularly in this challenging time. Hope Blossoming in Their Ink and Dead Bolt are both excellent, and available from Puncher & Wattmann.
There’s a special obligation on poets, I think, to know the names of things, and with specificity. Just as there’s a value in any or all of us knowing the names of those birds and plants that we find in our home environment, for example, our garden or our street. It’s part of a greater work of attention: we start to notice the comings and goings of birds at different times of the day, or across the seasons, and we begin to mark the progress of time by a plant coming into blossom, or a tree that begins to shed its bark. It’s a particularly worthwhile idea now, when many of us are spending more time at home.
With a recent move, I’ve had to acclimate to a new home, and to a working/writing space that looks out onto a garden. I readily identified the birds that were coming and going, and the magnolias, but there is a shrub that’s been cultivated into a hedge that was unknown to me. I took a photo of it with the PlantSnap app: it’s a cherry laurel or type of viburnum, the app suggested. I researched a little further. It is a cherry laurel.
Poetry has some role in mediating the world – for poets themselves, and sometimes for others – through words. In the Western Judeo-Christian account, the task of naming – of relating words to the things of the world – is so ancient and integral that it precedes the creation of woman: ‘And whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.’ (Genesis 2:19) Earlier still, there’s the account of God speaking the world into existence (‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.’ Genesis 1:3), as if the world itself is the magna poema.
At the front of the house, a New Holland Honeyeater flits from the eaves to the crossarm of the Stobie pole at the streetside. (Of course, ‘Stobie pole’ is part of a distinctly South Australian dialect and design vernacular.) In the garden, two Common Blackbirds fossick in the leaflitter beneath the cherry laurels and magnolias: the male blackbird, which is glossy black with a bright orange beak, and the female blackbird, which is in fact dull brown.
As the southern winter persists, many of us find ourselves working from home still. And there’s a natural progression to the final hour or so of daylight that wasn’t evident while I worked in a city office. After 5:00 p.m. the light falls quickly, and the garden darkens. The blackbirds become indistinct beneath the shrubbery and, for a time, cars come and go more frequently in the lane. I usually work on for a while longer, till there’s a natural pause in whatever I’m working on, then I push back my chair, and close the laptop over. By that time, the room itself is dark, and the street lights have come on, casting a soft glow into the garden.
Recommended: Matthew Hooton’s story ‘Welcome to Fordlandia’ (Sweet Tree Review); Aidan Coleman’s article on the 25th anniversary of the death of Australian poet Philip Hodgins (The Conversation); Philip Hodgins’ poems ‘Making Hay’ and ‘Shooting the Dogs’; Rae Armantrout’s Partly: New and Selected Poems 2001-2015 (Wesleyan UP); and (song-wise) Donovan Woods’ ‘Portland, Maine’ and Field Guide’s ‘You Were’.
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.