Monthly Archives: December 2011

Poetry Picks 0f 2011: Zenobia Frost

2011 has but a few hours left in its sail…. it has been the most amazing year of my life – the incredible response to the Ocean Hearted Flood Relief Fundraiser, winning The Johnno, turning 40, the birth of T.H.E. Nunn to name a few milestones – and now I am looking forward to diving headlong into 2012. But before the new year kisses us sweetly, let’s take a look at one last book from this year. And in doing so, I will leave the last word to Zenobia Frost.


Thirty Australian Poets
Edited by Felicity Plunkett
Available widely and online at Penguin Books Australia

Writing in The New Australian Poetry in 1979, Tranter described the “Generation of ’68” — a wave of “mainly young” Australian writers experimenting with and against conventional modes of poetics. What Tranter called his “half-serious theory” informed the selection process for this new collection, edited by Queensland poet Felicity Plunkett, which celebrates the diverse, vital voices of contemporary Australian poetry.

Thirty Australian Poets gives us a much richer view of national poetic voice than we’ve had access to in the past. Even in Tranter’s ’79 collection, only two female poets featured — with no Indigenous voices at all. 18 writers in Thirty Australian Poets are female. Les Murray commented in 1968 that “women are writing less well because feminism is there to absorb the energies that otherwise would have gone into literature” (see Tranter’s In Praise of Poets with PhDs ), as if (women) writers have a finite imagination. Many of the poets within these pages are also academics, critics, musicians, screenwriters and editors (along with practising any number of pursuits external to writing), disproving the myth of a writerly starvation economy once and for all. Furthermore, the 30 poets as a whole represent multicultural Australia, featuring both Indigenous writers, such as Samuel Wagan Watson, and — as David McCooey writes in his introduction — poets with “non-Anglophone backgrounds, such as Ali Alizadeh and Danijela Kambaskovic-Sawers.”

On a more personal level, Thirty Australian Poets signalled the first time in a year or more that I’d devoured a whole poetry collection in one sitting. I felt privileged to discover poets I’d never read before — Emily Ballou (whose The Plums  I return to again and again), Kate Middleton, and Simon West, for instance — alongside familiar voices. I particularly enjoyed that, rather than eschewing traditional modes (closed forms, uniform metre) entirely,  these writers more often metamorphosed them, releasing their words from the shackles of strict formalism. If this collection represents a new generation of Australian poets, they are weaving and re-weaving a tapestry of poetics as complex, strong, and infinitely re-formable as a spider’s web.

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Zenobia Frost is a Brisbane-based writer and critic whose poetry has appeared in Cordite, Voiceworks, Overland, and Small Packages. Her chapbooks include The Voyage (SweetWater Press 2009) and Petrichor (2011), a self-published collaboration with Jeremy Thompson. She recently placed 3rd in the 2011 John Marsden Awards for Young Writers. She is otherwise occupied with making the perfect cup of tea.

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Poetry Picks of 2011: Stuart Barnes

In 2010 five Hobart poets – Karen Knight, Liz McQuilkin, Liz Winfield, Christiane Conésa-Bostock and Megan Schaffner – received the FAW Community Writers Award for Of Things Being Various’ manuscript.

Knight – author of four collections – moves freely from Turin’s streets where Nietzsche suffered a mental collapse after “hold[ing] fast onto the neck/of a beaten carriage horse” (‘Sing Me A New Song’) to a ‘Canonmills, Scotland’ bookshop, where a first edition of Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Tom Kitten vies for the affections of passersby with a “stray/priceless/in his dignity”. Her poems are concise, yet thundering.

McQuilkin’s, comparatively, are quiet, though no less compelling. One might mistake this well travelled, retired English teacher – winner of 2010’s King Island Award – for an ornithologist, so delicately formed her observations:

They dot the Upper Derwent, each an oval islet
with a slender line that rises in an S,

a contrary question-mark (‘Rara Avis’).

Most touching are those in which a mother addresses a son: ‘Last Day Of Leave’, ‘Phone Call From Tarin Kowt’.

Winfield – a solo collection, a chapbook to her name – is a confessional poet. The feline and breath – “The weight of the night on my chest/is a sleeping cat” (‘Another Tired Morning’), “a scene from a dream/a snore of disregard” (‘Breath Collage’) – feature prominently in her short, sharp pursuits of inclusion. ‘The Doppelgänger’’s final lines encapsulate this lust:

If it’s true that we’re reborn,
I want to come back as the real me.

French and English Writing teacher Conésa-Bostock, who moved from France to Tasmania in the 1970s, is “the silenced Edith Piaf … guide between two cultures” (‘Voluntary Exile’). Her poems are as comical (‘Wines For All Types And All Occasions’) as they are solemn:

Today, in my mother’s worn wallet,
I found one she had kept as a souvenir
after my father died.

It writhes and slithers out of my soft fingers (‘Green Pay Slips’).

OTBV concludes with exquisite images by South African emigrant Schaffner, a passionate reader and editor: “it holds you/opens out/billows into silken images … floats you gently/to somewhere you’ve never been before/and with luck you’ll land wrong side up” (‘A Poem Is A Parachute’); “Night’s extravaganza begins/as fireball Sol dives/sizzling into the ocean,/and the Seven Sisters/tilt singing/toward the Cross” (‘Flying West’).

These women work together. Nevertheless their voices are distinct, as “playful …  philosophical, tender, sometimes sad” as the rake of McQuilkin’s ‘In Bed with Billy Collins’.

Of Things Being Various – RRP $24.95 (plus shipping) PB 84pp – is available from Forty Degrees South Publishing

 

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Born in Hobart, educated at Monash University (Bachelor of Arts: Literature, Philosophy), Stuart Barnes is arranging the manuscript for his first collection of poetry. At the moment he lives in Melbourne; a move to the Hawkesbury is imminent.

Links:

http://cordite.org.au/poetry/children-of-malley-ii/so-i-was/
http://nthposition.com/necktiesablutionamp.php
http://www.copperfieldreview.com/poetry/Stuart%20Barnes.htm
http://bluepepper.blogspot.com/2011/12/grindr-another-shitty-iphone-app-one.html

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Poetry Picks of 2011: Jacqueline Turner

One of the standout poetry projects for me this year (beside the BookThug sweep of the Canadian Governor General’s award for poetry shortlist and ultimately the winner of said prize) is Sachiko Murakami’s Project Rebuild  (Read about the project here) which is an experiment in radical collaboration. The project is created out of the compelling question: “Can you inhabit a poem?” You can go and “renovate” poems on this site and I invite you, specifically, to renovate mine. The multiple iterations of the poems show how language can move from one idea to another, while still maintaining a trace of the original, almost like an elaborate game of telephone.

The project is connected to her second book of poetry, Rebuild which I reviewed here. Her book asks us to look at the ridiculousness of the structures we inhabit and the identities we attempt to derive from them. She looks closely at the city of Vancouver (where I live – think Sydney) where the architectural splendour signifies “Enough failed attempts at beauty” to “Let the home stand for us,” even though “There’s nowhere to hang a metaphor.” The repetition of the structure indicates a civic reliance on sameness built into the visible history of the city. She uses a housing type called the “Vancouver Special” to show how this “sameness” comes to represent the identity of this Canadian city while at the same time showing that change isn’t just always possible, change is the thing itself. In the end she asks, “What is poetry but a rental unit of language?”

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Jacqueline Turner has published three books with ECW Press: Seven into Even (2006), Careful (2003), and Into the Fold (2000). She writes poetry reviews for The Georgia Straight, and is on the board of Artspeak. She teaches creative and critical writing at Simon Fraser University and Emily Carr University of Art + Design. She was Queensland’s inaugural poet-in-residence at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts in Brisbane, Australia in 2005, a poet-in-residence in Tasmania in 2006, and a guest writer at the Queensland Poetry Festival in 2007 and the Tasmanian Poetry Festitval in 2010. Last year she read at the Bowery Poetry Club in New York. Her most recent publication was from Nomados, called The Ends of the Earth. Her work has appeared in anthologies —How the Light Gets In (2009), Companions and Horizons, (2005), and The Small Cities Anthology (2005).

Links:

Follow Jacqueline on Twitter
Audio from Seven into Even
See list of all her books
Archive of her poetry reviews for The Georgia Straight

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Poetry Picks of 2011: Mark William Jackson

I’m lucky in that I get books sent to me for review and 2011 has been a great year regarding poetry; I was privileged to review Geoff Goodfellow’s Waltzing with Jack Dancer, Koraly Dimitriadis’, Love and Fuck Poems, the DVD anthology Memory: Video Poetry from Synaptic Graffiti Collective, and many other great titles.

However to pick a favourite, outside of the reviewing sphere, I would say Sean M Whelan’s, Love Don’t Live Here Anymore.

This single poem chapbook, “lustfully” illustrated by Melbourne artist Dyana Gray, is a wonderfully surreal psycho trip through 1980’s brat pack angst. The poem opens…

A person lives alone.

A person doesn’t live alone.

There are shops where you can buy loneliness.

There are restaurants where you can eat it.

It’s 1984. Sometimes I’m so self conscious, I don’t know
where my head starts and where my piano keyboard tie
finishes.

The poem’s narrator travels though anonymous fields of loneliness, in and out of his body.

Existentialism ensues…

This man resorts to thinking. He thinks about thinking and
thinks that maybe this is something he began a long time
ago, once he started thinking.

You are not wrong, because when you are alone, you can
never be wrong. You can also never be alone.

And surreal concepts…

But everyone knows pop music can only contain a limited
amount of sadness. Any excess sorrow is excreted from
the trees crystal veins in the form of sap.

That’s what sap really is, pure concentrated sadness.

The poem concludes with a discourse on the value of 80’s pop music as currency, and the need for the currency to be protected by the Brat Pack.

The Western point is guarded by James Spader, Ally
Sheedy watches the North, Andrew McCarthy stands cool
and detached over the East and Molly Ringwald keeps an
eye on the South

And seriously, any poem that finishes with “My heart still belongs to Molly Ringwald” has instant appeal; that line alone forces you back to the start to read again.

The poem is deliberate free verse, switching between enjambed lines and prose poetry, which helps pace the poem; Sean Whelan is a rare breed, a performance poet who translates to the page.

Love Don’t Live Here Anymore is available by emailing seanmwhelan@gmail.com $7 incl. postage within Australia, $8 international.

Sean M Whelan blogs at http://www.loveisthenewhate.blogspot.com/

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Mark William Jackson is a Sydney based poet whose work has appeared in various print and online journals including; Best Australian Poems 2011, Popshot (UK), Going Down Swinging, Cordite, The Diamond & the Thief and SpeedPoets. For more information visit http://markwmjackson.com

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Poetry Picks of 2011: Sarah Gory

With the year swerving to an end, it’s time to have a look back at some of the most exciting poetry collections released in 2011. First up, I have asked QLD Poetry Festival Director, Sarah Gory, to share her pick of the year:

Remember wild nights out ‘til dawn where the freedom was so palpable it was more than recklessness – you actually were invincible? Or the sheer glee of playing in the back garden with the skipping-rope water hose in the heat of summer?

Michelle Dicinoski’s first collection, Electricity for Beginners, captures with absolute clarity the intensity of feeling wrapped up in moments and memories such as these. A motley assortment of poems about love, about stealing grass, hanging prayer flags, riding bikes up hills, children in shopping trolleys, listening to frogs in floodwaters.

The clarity and ease of expression in each poem makes the collection accessible, almost familiar. The language is fresh, but never clichéd or tired. It is full of snapshot images that are quintessentially Brisbane – late summer storms, tongue and groove houses, yellow cabs, eucalyptus sap. Yet the sharp breath of emotion evoked in these vignettes is not bound by geography. The sentiment is universal.

My favourite piece in the collection is Such Riches, an ode to the beauty of details, a reminder that our riches are living entities, that they are already our own:

“If anyone should ask, tell them / bluebottles, cuttlefish, sea glass / and wild raspberries that charge / blood for fruit. Tell them / drunk on ten dollars and kissing the dawn.”

Above all, the poems in Electricity for Beginners are both intimate and soaring, a reminder of why small moments leave indelible memories. The strength of the collection is that it inhabits the everyday in a way that is far from mundane. Through Michelle’s eye, even a driving lesson becomes transcendental:

“Every time I find that point, he fills / me with joy as he says / deadpan: Now give her some exhilaration. / And up, up, up she goes.”

Electricity for Beginners is published by Clouds of Magellan (2011) and can be purchased directly through their website.

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Sarah Gory is a reader, writer, and cultural producer. She is Manager of the Queensland Poetry Festival and Acting Programs & Services Manager at the Queensland Writers Centre. Prior to moving to Brisbane she was Manager of the National Young Writers Festival and worked at Oxfam Australia. You can find a random collection of her thoughts and photos at unworkability. The language is fresh, but never clichéd or tired.

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Perfect, Perfect, Perfect: The Church live at The Powerhouse

How did you spend Christmas eve?

Me, I was among the sold-out-crowd that gathered at The Powerhouse to experience the grand magic of The Church as they played their second Brisbane show on the Future Perfect Past Tour. A tour that would see the band deliver three albums in their entirety; their worldwide breakthrough album, Starfish, fan and band favourite, Priest=Aura and their latest opus, untitled #23.

As the band takes the stage for untitled #23 opener, Cobalt Blue, their is a tangible feeling that many of the audience may be hearing these songs for the first time; it is a feeling that spreads like rapture through the room, with each song getting a bigger reception. Set highlight #1 is the anthemic, Space Saviour. Kilbey’s voice has never sounded better and he belts this out with a new found force while churning out one of the spaciest, driving riffs you are ever likely to stomp your foot to. This is followed by set highlight #2, the sparse-noir of On Angel Street. Lyrically, Kilbey is at his most personal, and as he stands looking up into the single spot singing:

You should change the message on your machine
so sad, so strange baby to hear my name
makes me cry when you say we’re not at home

you can’t help but feel a deep ache. And set highlight #3, is the epic, Anchorage. The band are at their sprawling best, and Kilbey delivers one of the vocals of his career, bursting from the at times spoken into the sweet bluster of the chorus. From my seat in the crowd, one thing is clear… untitled #23 is a modern classic.

After a short break, the crowd filter back in for the second serving, the sonic masterpiece that is Priest=Aura. ‘Priest’ has never left my top 5 albums of all time and I can’t see the years ahead changing that. So as the swirling atmospherics of opener Aura start up, I prepare to lose myself in its ethereal landscape. Following the apocalyptic beauty of Aura, Ripple shimmers through the room and lights up every face. This has been a staple of the band’s live set since the albums release and tonight’s version proves why, with the band rising to a sublime crescendo. Other set highlights for me include Lustre; its scathing lyric:

If I never see you again
That will be way too soon
And if I ever get over this
I will be over the moon
I hope that something new comes along
Something more my style
I hope that someone else comes along
And makes it worth my while

still as incisive as ever; Swan Lake, which to this day leaves a sweet pang of hurt when Steve sings:

Oh my ugly ducklings, nobody loves you
Daddy said he’ll buy you some ballet shoes
But he spent all he had on hash
And avoiding another crash
Now who will look after you

the epic jangle of Kings, the manic theatrics of The Disillusionist, the ephemeral Old Flame, the rock & ramble of Chaos and album closer, Film, where Steve takes on lead guitar duties and blows me away… As the band walk off to prepare for Starfish, I am feeling overwhelmed. The perfection of ‘Priest’ is glowing brighter than ever…

[check out my review of the band at Twin Towns for the link to watch Aura played in full]

And in what seems like a blink, we file back in one last time for the jewel that is Starfish. Album opener, Destination is big, rising and crashing like a wave, then, just as the audience begin to brace themselves for Under the Milky Way, Peter Koppes launches into the opening riff of Blood Money. It’s a great way to break the tension and Tim Powles makes the most of it by asking Peter if his iPod is broken or on shuffle. With Starfish, every track is an immediate hit, the crowd rising in voice with each song. And there are some incredible moments… Steve ad-libbing from Springsteen’s ‘Backstreets’ at the end of Lost is a personal favourite; while the guitar interplay in North South East West is scintillating; Marty rocks Spark, harder than ever and Hotel Womb is an absolute triumph, as the band charge to one final climax.

To play three albums back to back on stage is an ambitious undertaking and one that few bands could come close to pulling off, but tonight The Church are staggeringly brilliant. The Future Perfect Past Tour… well, for mine it is Perfect, Perfect, Perfect…

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Christmas

beetles rattle in the grass
like radio static, until
their wings spring open
& rust slowly in the sun

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Much love to you all for the festive season and thank you to everyone who has supported this blog over the last three years… here’s to a creatively sparkling 2012.

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Warm

Two years ago tomorrow, Vic Chesnutt left this world to walk on another shore… at the time, Efrim Manuel Menuck from Silver Mt Zion wrote: best ever, gone. So each year at Christmas time, I feel a stronger than usual urge to listen to Vic’s epic body of work. Here’s one that is fitting for the season… hope your festive season is filled with warmth.

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There’ll never be another quite like you… The Church live at Twin Towns

These words take on greater meaning each time I see The Church play live. After 30+ years playing together as a band, through the headiest of highs and the darkest of lows, they have emerged as one of the most consistently breathtaking live acts on the planet. And last night’s show at Twin Towns was no different.

As the stage fades to black, the band bounce on stage, exuding youthful energy and leap into the swirl of opening number, Aura from fan (and band favourite), Priest = Aura. This song has at its hear the essence of everything I love about the band: the grooving pulse of Steve Kilbey’s bass, the percussive drive of Tim Powles and the intoxicating guitar interplay of Marty Willson-Piper and Peter Koppes. From Aura, they slide straight into one of my personal favourites, Sealine (from the criminally underrated, Forget Yourself). Steve is relieved of bass duties and is free to roam the stage, summoning the glittering spirit of the mirror ball dancing above him. As a front man, Kilbey is animated, throwing himself into every note of the song. Pangaea (from their modern classic, untitled #23) is up next, rounding out the opening clutch of songs.

The rest of the show is studded with some gems from their back catalogue: Metropolis (Steve announces that it is 21 years since they troubled commercial radio with this song), the chiming, Almost With You, the epic guitar freakout of You Took (for me, one of the set highlights, with Peter pressing his guitar into the amp stack creating a delicious wall of feedback), the song that has become our unofficial national anthem, Under the Milky Way, the riff-o-rama of Tantalised, the always slinky, Reptile, the sonic luminosity of Destination, the pummel and sway of, Grind and a joyous, Unguarded Moment, which Steve declares, is a song they have taken off mothballs just for the Twin Towns crowd, a song that when discovered in another 500 years will put a curse on its finder.

Each of these gems shines with diamond-hard-clarity, but it is The Disillusionist and Angel Street where the band are most triumphant. The Disillusionist is a hypnotic blend of theatre, spoken word and dark carnival whirls. Kilbey is shamanistic, cracking and warping and writhing across the stage. And Angel Street leaves a deep ache, as Steve leads us on an intimate, noirish journey to the crashing end of a relationship.

Sitting in the audience, it is hard not to feel buoyant as the crowd tonight (well at the least the people near me) are happy just to lose themselves in the music.

And for me, the day was made extra special when young T.H.E. Nunn met Steve Kilbey and was given a poet’s blessing; Steve chanting, ‘you will not rebel by hating poetry, you will love poetry, you will be a poet, you will remember these words.’

Roll on Christmas eve… as the band are playing their second show on the Brisbane leg of the Future Past Perfect Tour, where they play three classic albums – untitled #23, Priest = Aura & Starfish – in full… it’s going to be three and a half hours of bliss to kick off the festive season!

Here’s some brilliant live footage of the band playing Priest = Aura live, to let your heads unwind.

 

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The New Writing Frontier

It is an exciting time to be a writer living in Queensland. Arts QLD are currently undertaking a number of consultation sessions with writing communities all over our vast state, with a view to developing a clear(er) map of the writing sector and to reshape how they currently support writers and writing. With our chief government funding body showing such a strong committment to engaging with authors, agents, publishers, editors and other creatives, it is vital that people lend their voice to the discussion.

In their initial document: Map of the QLD Writers Sector, Arts QLD have set out seven questions for people to respond to. The questions are:

1. What will success for the writing sector in QLD look like in five to ten years?

2. What kinds of products and services will writers be creating and providing in the next five to ten years?

3. How can the sector capitalise on the opportunities digital technologies are bringing about?

4. Can QLD provide leadership for the writing sector nationally and internationally?

5. What kind of investments in the writing sector will make the most difference in the next five to ten years?

6. What roles do individuals, organisations, businesses and government potentially have in leading development of the sector locally and beyond?

7. What can be achieved by the QLD writing sector working more collaboratively to leverage current and future investments?

And the discussion is already bubbling… Chris Meade, founder of if:Book UK, has lead the first round of consultations in Brisbane and Bundaberg and has posted a series of thought provoking blogs. Some of the ideas of how Arts QLD can better support writers that have already been discussed include: the establishment of a writers retreat similar to Varuna (in the Blue Mountains), setting up mentorships for emerging writers, and establishing a new McSweeney’s-esque journal in QLD.

To read more of the discussion, visit the Arts QLD Blog here and here.

And to continue the conversation in the regions, I will be heading off to Cairns, Townsville and Roma in the new year to meet with their writing communities. So don’t let this opportunity to be part of the discussion pass you by… you don’t have to be at one of the meetings to be involved. You can respond to the questions in the comments box below and I will be sure to collate them and forward them to Arts QLD so that your voice is heard. It would be great to hear from many of you.

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