It’s Friday night, and still I am feeling buoyed by the joy of launching The First 30 and other poems in a room filled with friends, family and smiling faces. Again, thank you to everyone for their love and support! Tonight, I want to give a special shout out to Andrew Phillips for his assured and honest reading to open the day, to Rob Hoge for taking the photos you see below, to QLD Writers Centre for their years of support and for providing the space to launch and to Cindy Keong for being bookseller extraordinairre on the day! I also need to extend a huge thank you to Nathan Shepherdson for delivering, what was a truly humbling launch speech. Having reader’s (& friends) like Nathan, is what keeps the ink in the pen. And of course to Julie & t.h.e. nunn… you are everything!
Finally, It is my absolute pleasure to be able to publish Nathan’s launch speech here for you all. If you are not familiar with his work, make your shelves richer and visit the UQP store. And of course, if you would like to purchase a copy of The First 30 and other poems, it is available at my webstore.
Happy Friday night to you all…
The First 30 and other poems: Launch Speech by Nathan Shepherdson
In Sonic Youth’s ‘Leaky Lifeboat (for Gregory Corso)‘, Thurston Moore sings, ‘Fate’s in a pleasant mood today.’ That lyric sums up our occasion: we are here to celebrate a new book by Graham Nunn, which celebrates the new life of Graham & Julie’s son, Thomas Henry.
In a wider context, under the elastic heading ‘Poetry’, Graham is a type of architect for celebration. For his own poetry, or the poetry of others, he allows us to listen or read, to flow into words, to drain away in conversation. But despite his endless capacity for organisational philanthropy, today the conversation is squarely about his own work.
The book is in two sections. The first third collates ‘other poems’; and the second part is The First 30 (if you can follow). But don’t worry about the numbers (there’s no page numbers or contents anyway), just follow the words.
As a reader, I think the ‘other poems’ provide an important foreground for the main sequence. They are a cleverly edited micro-anthology of sorts, offering us all the regular themes associated with Graham’s work – Brisbane, lust, food, travel, family and the reminiscent geography within his own memory. There are dark hints – a loneliness that could fatten eels or the simple fact of thanking our blood that we exist – your eel dark hair shaken loose, the thrum of water, binding our fingers.
Graham has the knack of compressing vapour into physical presence, happy to send himself syllable postcards to remind him of where he is and who he is with. And of course, ‘who he’s with’ for the most part is Julie, as two people, at that point about to welcome a third person in the pre-natal reflections of ‘One Way of Looking at a Girl’, ‘Balance’ and ‘Unborn’.
know that soon, your unborn child
will arrive, take its first
clean breath, decorated with blood
will forever change the season.
The season that is The First 30 begins in November. It’s a beautiful, clear cycle of observation, that allows us to hover guiltlessly in the room with three people encased in words. In writing this cycle, Graham not only draws on the accumulations within his own language and history, he also abandons them. Everything to that point is parceled up and offered to his son. As a father, this is a necessity. As literature, this is a risk. But I’m pleased to report, this is a ‘Schmaltz-Free-Zone’. Sentiment is in abundance, but without any secondary cloying. Given the circumstance, we would’ve all forgiven a bit of syrup. Though this is not required.
How is this achieved? Well written poetry is the perfect vehicle for this task, but this is not to say it’s easy to do. Quite the opposite. I think the pattern of how the poems were created is the key in this instance. With other forms, there is more pressure to elaborate, to extend. The observation can gradually be replaced by the thought. But here the observations and the thoughts are intricately balanced in the poet’s stare. Don’t forget, that Graham too, is witness. he is suitably amazed, but he has the gift or the luxury of stepping outside of himself, to explain to himself, why he is there and what his role might be in this new world. it’s not just the emotion. immense practical forces also need to be mustered. So while we clearly understand what’s going on – and we realise these moments belong to the poet’s family and nobody else – it’s in the moments when he comes up for air, that enable us to see what’s happening in one moment of surfacing, on each of the 30 days. It’s in these moments that the poems are created – ‘twisting like a just landed bream‘ – then left alone to swim by themselves. They each swim onto a page, then we retranslate words into images as second generation observers in our own comparative silence as we – ‘listen to the distant engine pounding the shore of his chest.’
The words on the page offer us a glimpse, a welcome crack in a suburban wall to peer through – slow-fed adrenalin enclosed in paper space.
So in less than 12 months, Hawkwood Street has proved a very fertile location. One child and two books. I am pleased to be part of the ceremony – the celebration. I think The First 30 and other poems can only enhance Graham’s growing reputation as a poet. Despite where he is, he understands that maps can only take you so far in this art form. The poem continues with or without us in tow. There is mystery. On a daily basis, Graham will continue to leave his bitumen scented bouquets at the white door, knowing it’s the door’s decision to open, or not.In this case, the door held itself ajar for 3o days.
the conversation is relentless
no one is letting go
without an answer
Hopefully on this day, the poet will have an answer. Please welcome, Graham, Thomas and The First 30…