Monthly Archives: February 2012

for John Knight

blue-lipped the last of summer’s waves

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Big man’s last wave

The Australian poetry community lost one of its true characters this past week…

Foundation editor of haiku journal paper wasp, driving force behind Post Pressed and internationally recognised haijin, John Knight, passed away after a long battle with cancer.

Like his friend and colleague Janice Bostok, John was a great support to me in the early days. At paper wasp gatherings in the old State Library of QLD, John was always there to provide incisive critique and share his wicked wit and love of life.

His published verse includes Wattle Winds: an Australian haiku sequence (Paper Wasp, 1993), From Derrida to Sara Lee (Metro Arts, 1994), Extracts from the Jerusalem Archives (Sweetwater Press, 1997), big man catching a small wave (Post Pressed, 2006) and Letters from the Asylum (Sudden Valley Press, 2009). It is a body of work that I hope continues to be read long into the future.

I will be reading a poem in his honour tonight at Riverbend Books, where I am sure, there will be another star in the sky, shining down on the poets as they gather on the deck.

John, may that last wave carry you forever…

mackerel sky and
now the wild geese are calling
into the sunset

– John Knight  (1935 – 2012)
from the collection ‘big man catching a small wave

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end of summer
the mosquito’s hum gathers
in our blood

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February Pin-Up Week #4: Ross Donlon Catches Poems

February has but a handful of days left, which means Summer is also all but gone… It is also time to say goodbye to our February Pin-Up Poet, Ross Donlon, but never fear, he will be hear in Brisbane before the month is out performing at Riverbend Books and SpeedPoets. And he is also running a workshop while he is in town, which is what we got to talking about this week.

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I wanted to ask about the workshop you are running in Brisbane titled ‘Catching Poems’. What can participants expect to come away with at the end of the day?

Yes, I’ve begun to call my workshops ‘Catching Poems’ picking up on what someone said – I forget who, ‘The world is full of poems. They just need an edit.’  The class will be writing poems to begin and reading poems aloud in the last session.

I have a couple of mantras I put on the board and one is by Frank O’Hara : ‘Follow Your Nerve’.

So the aim is to have the class come away with a number of drafts from short bursts of intensive writing following some ideas and stimulus and models I supply. Ideally there will be ‘useful lines’ or ‘useful passages’, even a ‘useful phrase’, they they can then take home and build into a finished poem from the exercises.

It is not a class where poets will be pondering and mulling for an extended period of time and chatting with me. Others are put off or lose concentration with that muttering, I think. I do ‘go around the class’ and invite poets to read their ‘best bit’ be it a  phrase, or line, or sentence or pasage – more as the class develops and poets become more relaxed. So, if the class goes away with, say 6 ‘useful bits’ in 6 different kinds of poems to work – that’s what I’m after.

I was at the last launch of a major Australian literary journal. There were six readers, including me, but an observer present said that only three of us could be understood. The rest were too fast and  / or indistinct because they were too far from the mike. Diction is helped if the pace is right. So I think this is a useful skill to learn whether for reading poetry – or at your wedding!

So in the last session we will do microphone  technique and reading for an audience where each person reads a poem they have chosen (not their own)  using the mike. I will model what I do, then  it’s likely each poet will go through their poem a couple of times with me offering some advice.

In sum, I hope the class will take away: some useful drafts / some new poems and names to follow up / some ideas about reading technique.

I’m also happy to do a Q and A if there’s time about my experiences as regards publishing or reading or anything else about writing and reading poetry.

There are still places left in the workshop, so for those lucky enough to be able to attend, here are the details:

Catching Poems w/ Ross Donlon

Join award-winning Victorian poet Ross Donlon for an all-day session, giving poets ideas to catch and edit poems as well as tips and practice on how to read for public performance. This is a hands-on workshop using both formal and more open structures, so poets can expect to take away a number of drafts. There will be time for writing and sharing. The afternoon session will also include tips on mic use and public performance techniques with flexibility for other interests which may arise from the early session.

Ross is published in both newspapers and academic journals and has read at festivals both in Australia and England. He has won prizes both for the written and spoken word, including the Launceston Cup, premier spoken word event of the Tasmanian Poetry Festival and the Wenlock Festival Poetry Prize (U.K.) judged by Carol Ann Duffy, English Poet Laureate. His latest book, The Blue Dressing Gown and other poems, is published by Profile Poetry.

When: Sunday 4th March 2012
Time: 10am – 3pm
Where: Room 1.A, State Library of Queensland
Cost: $65

Please contact sarah.qldpoetry@gmail.com for further information or to enrol in the workshop.

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At Haberfield Demonstration School

I was with the boys in our group
at the meeting place, a peppercorn tree,
eating lunch inside the shadow.
The peppercorns’ bright, spicy scent
remains in memory
the way it stays on fingers with the stain.

Soon I would be ready for the Big School.
Boys were separated from the girls’
asphalt playground of rectangles, circles and squares.
Boys played wars up
and down a sloping paddock beyond the classrooms.
We heard the cries a continent away.

Suddenly the talk came to fathers and what they did.
As turns edged around the circle like a clock
I discovered that I could not speak.
What was it that could I not say?

The bell saved me as I was falling.
A huge part of who I thought I was
had avalanched, as if a shelf dropped
from a mountain.

I was an obedient child
but I ran home from school then to Nan,
my family skittled by a missing pin.

We sat on her bed and looked at photographs
and a face the size of a fingernail.
Bill. From the war.
She fanned out pictures like playing cards.

It was a summer’s day.
The bedroom’s lace curtains glowed in the heat.
Wind blew sweet scent from Peek Frean’s biscuit factory.
The bitumen noise of cars rushed down our street.

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Snow Moon reviewed by Patricia Prime

Snow Moon by Steven Carter, Uxbridge. Alba Publishing, Uxbridge, UK. www.albapublishing.com (2011) 48 pp. p.b. US$12.00/UK8.00 pounds. ISBN 978-095512544-7. Reviewed by Patricia Prime

Steven Carter is a retired emeritus professor of English and his book of essays, Devotions to the Text, was awarded the Eric Hoffer Foundation’s Montaigne Medal grand prize.  Carter secures his position as one of the most remarkable of contemporary writers with his first collection of haiku and haibun, Snow Moon.

The haiku and haibun in this collection are expressed in plain language that nevertheless enlightens us with their lightest and deepest concepts. In his haiku, which are divided into three sections: Equinox, The House and October, Carter ponders and marvels over the various seasonal changes that take place during the equinox, the practicalities of the house, and the coming of winter. Each section is headed by a haibun and the final section L’Envoi, contains ten haibun.

In Carter’s individual haiku, his mode is accessible, sometimes surprising, as in the opening haiku:

our silences –
the right words
only words

Carter displays considerable artistry in the haiku which sometimes jolts us out of complacency:

brightening the night
pale yellow moon –
heartache

and, at the same time, does not abandon the domestic:

careening moon –
the stillness
of your glass of wine

This trustworthy voice is welcome over a broad spectrum of subjects, yet is tied together so that each haiku unfolds something different and satisfying. In the section entitled The House, for example, there are haiku about the highs and lows, the practical and the emotional – test results, the garden, the empty birdhouse, rummaging in the attic, unwritten poems and more. The first haiku in this section:

waiting for the test results –
on which side of the window
a fly?

is offset by the nature haiku:

day moon on the lake
flying into its reflection
a hummingbird

or morphs into an account of disease:

mottled moon
no one brings up
the lymphoma

The final section of haiku, October, guides the reader through nature, landscape, seasonal weather, camping and the fireside. Here everyday occurrences and encounters enable the haiku to function as a catharsis to undercurrents that run beneath the poems, as for example, in the following haiku where we get caught up in the struggle that takes place in most of our lives:

behind scattered clouds
the coy moon
. . . regretting a kindness

taking early retirement –
winter moon
no longer part of something

Carter’s haibun are indicative of his interest in the form and sustain a high level of achievement throughout, but I do have my favourites: “Over Lunch”, “Kite””Sawtooth Range” and “1991”. What is particularly good, and the mark of a fine poet, is Carter’s ability and confidence to take chances.  In this particular book, the addition of “1991” abut a visit to Auschwitz places his haibun in the contemporary arena. Here is a short quote from the poem:

In a strange and terrible way, September is the cruelest month for     Auschwitz –     the skies are blue and balmy, the grounds and surrounding fields     lush with flowers, grasses and chestnut trees. These landscapes make the     facilities – gas chambers, crematoria, barracks, dungeons, the Wall of Death –     more poignant, even unbearable. I saw more than one Fullbrighter     throw up and     return to the bus.

The care that is paid to language in Carter’s poetry is just as evident in his prose and it is therefore no surprise that his haibun are exemplary. His haibun “Sawtooth Range” is impressive, and contains many well-crafted impressions of the “bearded, long-haired, very thin” young man carrying a cross he sees on his journey through Montana. : His lips move slowly – I can’t hear him because my window’s closed – but I lip-read his words: ‘Don’t forget me.”

This is a very fine collection and an engaging, attractive and worthwhile book.

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sickle moon
curve of the night
heron’s wing

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Knowing when to stop… Watts on Haiku

For anyone with even a passing interest in haiku, this lecture by Zen master Alan Watts is nothing short of enlightening. In fact, for any artist wanting to clear their head, Watts’ is refreshingly direct and profound. So sit back, empty your cup and drink in the wisdom.

Here is a poem from my morning walk…

without a thought
for tomorrow – dragonflies
in wheel formation

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February Pin-Up Week #3: Ross Donlon on the art of reading

February is racing along and the Brisbane Poetry Scene is set to explode with a number of gigs over the coming weeks. One of the featured readers at said gigs is our February Pin-Up Poet, Ross Donlon, so this week, I asked Ross about the art of reading.

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On your first visit to the Tasmanian Poetry Festival, you took out the coveted Tasmanian Poetry Cup which is awarded to the poet who receives the loudest audience response. I have had the pleasure of seeing you read on a handful of occasions and you always seem to be incredibly ‘present’ in your work. What is it you love about being in front of an audience and what kind of experience do you hope to create for them?

I was thrilled to win the Launceston Cup, only the second mainliner (if you’ll pardon the joke) to do so at that time – Lauren Williams, a poet I greatly admire, was the other. I enjoy the reading experience, especially, of course, if you get a sense of connection with an audience. I have read to nobody at all – and did read (seriously – in Shepparton), with 5  other poets reading to an audience of 2 (Ceduna) – as well as larger crowds. Once I sold 6 books to an audience of 4, so I was very pleased about that. I’ve come a long way from the man aged 25 who couldn’t speak at his own wedding for shyness. Of course, sometimes the chemistry is all there on both sides, sometimes not quite. Festival crowds are generous I’ve found. Sometimes the small inner sanctum type audience is harder to reach.

I came to teaching eventually, which was the key for me – facing classes of Year 9s makes you find things in yourself – I found that part of my thing was to sometimes ‘play’ with the audience/class in that show teachers do – and I did some lectures for Yr 12 texts, taught professional writing at Deakin and Melbourne unis, so all of that helped.

Frankly, I do like to entertain at a reading, meaning I do like to throw a lighter or humorous (we hope) poem into the mix. It seems to me that a more thoughtful or discursive poem has a chance of being heard more if you’ve just made people laugh – and I’m on about the total experience of being human, so some light in the dark – and I like to display range of form and content. I’m an emotional poet but interested in social commentary (Geoff Page described me in a review as ‘Swiftian’ – I loved that).

I am not an intellectual poet but I want to be understood without sacrificing craft.

I like to give an audience a good time but push them emotionally or share an experience in a new or fresh way, if that makes any sense.

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Ross will feature at both SpeedPoets and the first Riverbend Books Reading for 2012. Here are the details for Riverbend, and believe me, this is an event that regularly sells out, so make sure you book your ticket soon!

Queensland Poetry Festival, QLD Writers Centre & Riverbend Books are proud to present the first event in the Riverbend Poetry Series for 2012. The February event features local poetic powerhouse, Samuel Wagan Watson and winner of the 2011 Val Vallis Award, Rachael Briggs alongside vibrant Central QLD poet, Kristin Hannaford and recent winner of the Wenlock Festival Poetry Prize (UK), Ross Donlon (VIC).

The Riverbend Poetry Series is one of the state’s finest, so be there to get the 2012 readings off to a flying start!

Date: Tuesday February 28
Location: Riverbend Books, 193 Oxford St. Bulimba
Time: Doors open for the event at 6pm for a 6:30pm start
Tickets: $10
Bookings: Online or call the store on (o7) 3899 8555

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And since it was Valentine’s Day this week, I will leave you with one of Ross’s love poems. The simmering, with her.

with her

and at last she comes to bed
the blue nightie
caught below her knees
and as she bends –  like a girl picking flowers -
her breast moves with the movement down
her hair falls to one side

there’s a scent of rose and jasmine
and her nightcream glows
as she switches off the light
and climbs towards me
while I wait in my singlet and skin
with a useless book and glasses

nearly sixty
yet we slide beneath the sheet
like children slipping beneath the first wave of summer
and it’s she who turns  first
to fold her hair before it’s caught
as I turn to hold her
my palm floating across her back
pausing then stroking again – like soothing  something young and wild
shifting her thigh across mine
kissing her lips like a kiss before sleep
when it’s really hello how are you tonight?
as she sighs and says
this is nice
and our bodies move together
like an answer

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Valentines Day Mix Tape

Just yesterday I was reminiscing with friends about the love and attention that went into putting together a mix tape. Sadly, burning tracks to CD to create a playlist just doesn’t have the same warmth… But never fret, let’s celebrate this February 14, with a mini-mix tape of tracks that continue to hit me square in the heart. So, spike yourself on this cupid, here’s this Lost Shark’s Valentines Day Mix-Tape!

Side A:

Here Comes My GirlTom Petty and The Heartbreakers

Nothing like opening the set with that big Petty jangle… this was the song that was playing when my gorgeous wife walked down the aisle. Nothing more special than that!

Just Like HeavenDinosaur Jr.

From jangle to fuzz… The Cure’s original is amazing, but when Dino gave it a fuzzed-out overhaul it took on a whole new meaning. And the clip is enough to put a smile on a slab of concrete!

Deep WatersDirty Three

This makes my heart swell to bursting. So much passion, so much warmth… one for those long lazy mornings in bed.

Side B:

Straight To YouNick Cave and The Bad Seeds

Cave shoots bolt straight when he sings, ‘For the sea will swallow up the mountains / And the sky will throw thunder-bolts and sparks / Straight at you’. And to steal a line… I am captured.

Live With MeTwilight Singers

Lanegan’s voice is a sexy rumble and Dulli’s harmony is like treacle. That’s right, I’ve been thinking about you baby

Come On In My KitchenRobert Johnson

This song has that touch of fire, that little bit of danger… You just know when they come together in that kitchen, the sparks are gonna fly. An absolute classic!

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slow dancing
the bee and
the dandelion

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