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‘The Office of Literary Endeavours: Maree’ appears in Postcolonial Text Vol 12, No1 (2017)

11 Jul

Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictee; Dictee Takes the Stage. Photograph by Soomi Kim. The cover of Postcolonial Text Issue 12: No.1

I am very pleased to have had ‘The Office of Literary Endeavours: Maree’ published in the on-line journal Postcolonial Text. This poem is an interesting one for me as it grew out of a novel I’m attempting to write. As part of my research I was reading a lot of poetry in translation. I found myself increasingly wanting to get ‘behind’ the translation to the poem – to read different translations of the same poem and to use online translation tools and dictionaries to create my own literal translations.

One of the poets who caught my attention during this time was the Spanish poet Luis Cernuda. Cernuda was born in Seville in 1902 and during the Spanish Civil War he found himself forced into exile when he was unable to return from giving a series of lectures in England. Openly homosexual and antifascist Cernuda spent the rest of his life in exile, dying in Mexico in 1961. It was while reading and playing around with Cernuda’s work in translation that I started writing some poems in a style that seemed to me to have a feeling of being translated. This is a hard thing to describe but I guess it is where you look at the multiple meanings behind each word and try and understand different ways of capturing the same idea or image.

One of the results of this exercise was ‘The Office of Literary Endeavours: Maree’  and you can read it here:

http://postcolonial.org/index.php/pct/article/view/2204/2039

“I can be tight and nervy as the top string on a violin” appears in ‘Tincture’ Issue 17

9 Mar

I’m excited to find my short poem, “I can be tight and nervy as the top string on a violin”, which is based on a line from a Sylvia Plath short story, has found its way into the latest issue of Tincture (Issue 17).

Tincture is an unusual journal as it is available in ebook formats (EPUB and kindle) only, no print or on-line versions. There are, a number of advantages to this strategy, Tincture can produce a journal which is available for sale to anyone with an internet connection and a device running freely available software. It is also able to sell the journal, something which is difficult for most online journals running on blogging platforms. Finally it can sell each issue at a fraction of the cost of a compatible print version. By establishing a income stream Tincture is also able to pay its contributors, something all writers should appreciate. There is, of course, on the other hand the issue of accessibility. One can’t simply click on a link, or order a hard copy, and start reading. But all in all Tincture is a innovative concept in the Australian literary scene, which has been running for seventeen issues now, and which deserves our support.

If the fact that Issue Seventeen contains my poem isn’t enough to convince you to click on http://tincture-journal.com/buy-a-tincture/ and buy it, here is the table of contents for the issue:

 

Editorial, by Daniel Young
Some Days, by Rebecca Jessen
Moederland: Part One: I’m Not From Around Here, by Johannes Klabbers
Political Reflections: The Day Trump Won, by Alexandra O’Sullivan
The Need for Poetry, by Mindy Gill
Water Lily, by Douglas W. Milliken
Ethanol, Eschar, by Charlotte Adderley
WWJD? by Nathanael O’Reilly
Compass, by SJ Finn
Plum, Flower, by Eileen Chong
Shoes That Go Krtz-Krtz, by Tamara Lazaroff
Beach Road, by Thom Sullivan
Great Expectations, by Denis Fitzpatrick
Avid Reader, by Rosanna Licari
Running Away from the Circus, by Philip Keenan
Spider, by Ailsa Dunlop
From ‘Autobiochemistry’, by Tricia Dearborn
Our Mate, Cummo, by Dominic Carew
“I can be tight and nervy as the top string on a violin”, by Mark Roberts
Venus, by Grace Jervis
Last Post, by Aidan Coleman
Fighting for Breath, by Paul Threlfall
Combination Soup, by Pam Brown
You Are Cordially Invited, by Sean Gandert

So click away and you could be reading the latest Tincture in a matter of minutes!

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‘Shark’ – a block poem in Otoliths 43

6 Nov

My block-poem ‘Shark’ has appeared in the on-line journal Otoliths Issue 43. Otoliths is one of of those journals which flies a little under the radar but which has a rich history and continues to play an important role both locally and internationally. Otoliths is edited by the New Zealand born Mark Young who curently lives in Queensland and who has been publishing poetry for over 50 years. He describes the journal as publishing  “e-things, that is, anything that can be translated (visually at this stage) to an electronic platform”. As a result  Otoliths contains an interesting mix of poetry and prose ranging from the almost traditional to the experimental including some very fine visual poems.

I have described ‘Shark’ as a ‘block-poem’. It is a form that I have been playing around with a little recently where what would normally be a conventional prose poem is ‘forced’ into a contained space – a square, rectangle, circle etc. ‘Shark’ is the first of these poems that I have sent out and is based on a childhood memory of an old creek at the end of the street that had been encased in concrete and was referred to as “the canal”. It basically became the local dumping ground and filled up with car bodies, discarded washing machines and the like. By being forced into a column ‘Shark’ takes on the appearance of a traditional newspaper story where the importance of the story could be measured in column inches – but the actual text of ‘Shark’ retains its poetic origins.

‘Shark’ can be found at http://the-otolith.blogspot.com.au/2016/08/mark-roberts.html. While you are there make sure to lose yourself in the reach archive of work that can be found at the Otoliths site. If you haven’t been there before you are in for a treat.

 

 

‘how many more are coming’: Cordite 53 THE END edited by Pam Brown

1 Feb

Jack_Marsh_cup_large

To conclude an extremely busy day for poetry my poem ‘how many more are coming’ was published today in Cordite 53, edited by Pam Brown.

‘how many more are coming’, like some of the slide poems which will appear on Project 365+1 over the coming month, is part of a larger work/book called LACUNA. The poem records the death of Jack Marsh, an Aboriginal cricketer, who was bashed and left for dead in Robinson Park in the Centre of Orange NSW.

The poem can be found here: http://cordite.org.au/poetry/theend/how-many-more-are-coming/

The complete issue, which includes some amazing work, can be located here: http://cordite.org.au/content/poetry/theend/

My thanks to Pam Brown and Cordite Editor Kent MacCarter.

 

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‘In the Class Struggle, Better Red than Wed ‘Widdershins’ by Jack Bealey

8 Apr

Widdershins by Jack Beasley Wedgetail Press 1986. First appeared in the Times on Sunday (formerly The National Times) in 1986.

widdershinsJack Beasley certainly is no stranger to Australian radical fiction, having spent a lifetime involved in radical politics and in writing about its literature. Indeed his major works to date, Red Letter Days and the The Rage for Lifea study of Katherine Susannah Prichard, have attracted consider attention. The publication of Widdershins, his first major fictional work, must therefore be seen as an event of some importance.

‘Widdershins’ means to swim against the tide and, predictably, one of the novel’s central themes is the struggle of the main character, Jeff Conway, to swim against the prevailing tide of Australian conservatism. Conway is, in many ways, typical of a generation  of Australian communists and radicals. Born to a working class family in the BHP steel city of Newcastle in the early 1920s, his education takes place against the backdrop of the Depression. Returning from the war to Sydney, he quickly becomes deeply involved in the struggles of his trade union and in the day-to-day affairs of the Communist Party.

Indeed Conway’s life strangely parallels the history of the Communist Party of Australia, something which he recognises:

The party and I are more or less of an age. We both breathed what was then the clear Australian air about the beginning of decade three….as the party and I attained maturity, our two paths coincided. I joined our revolution and I signed on for the duration.

These parallels are, at times, striking. During the period from the end of World War II to midway through the 1950s when the party was at its peak, Conway’s family life was happy and secure, But as serious splits and divisions opened up in the party after the 20th Congress of the Soviet party and the Soviet intervention in Hungary, his marriage begins to fall apart. By the mid 1970s party membership is at an all time low and Conway is in hospital recovering from a serious car accident, but also showing the first signs of asbestosis.

Although Widdershins clearly fails into an Australian tradition of radical realism, Beasley attempts at times to expand the genre. In the opening sections of the novel he employs several stylistic devices, such as discontinuous narrative and stream of consciousness. He also plays with notions of time throughout the novel – dates are left deliberately vague and one only gradually becomes aware of the time gap between specific events. Beasley, however, is obviously far more at home with realism and overall these devices tend to disrupt the novel’s continuity without really adding to its impact.

One of the great strengths of Widdershins is the portrayal of the relationship between Conway and his wife Ann. Ann, also a party member, sees in their marriage new possibilities for an equal relationship. SHe soon finds, however, that despite Jeff’s best intentions, their marriage has fallen into predictable patterns. She also realises that, despite its rhetoric, the party still works to marginalise women:

Even in the party itself, do you think there’ll ever be a woman as general secretary? Not while they’re always sidetracked into work among women as we call it!”

Ann’s anger grows as she realises that far greater importance is placed on the work Jeff does organising the men at the power station where he works, than among the “work among women’ or the mundane party work she undertakes in her own branch.

Although Jeff never admits it, a clear distinction grows up between his party work and his family life, and the two increasingly take on the appearance of opposites. Either he stays at home and looks after the children or he goes to an important meeting and feels that he is accomplishing something “real”. The party eventually disciplines him when he misses a vital branch meeting  because Ann is sick and he has to look after the children. The party obviously believes that Jeff has a political duty to be at the meeting. Ann finally leaves him, realising for the first time that she was, in fact, the “strong one” in the family”.

Ann’s political consciousness was perhaps 15 years too early. Her marriage took place well before the saying “the personal is political” became a catchcry for sections of the Left and before the resurgent feminism of the sixties nd seventies began to affect the Communist Party’s attitude and structures. One of the final ironies of Widdershins is that while Jeff leaves the party because of what he sees  as “the party’s collapse into the mire of revisionism”, Ann probably would have found the Communist Party of the seventies far more flexible than the “cohesive” party of the fifties.

While Beasley may lack, in the final instance, much of the sophistication of many younger writers, his novel is an honest portrait of the aspirations, achievements and shortcomings of a generation of Australian communists who lived through some of the century’s most tumultuous struggles. As such Widdershins is an important addition to the Australian radical literary tradition.

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Jack Beasley’s review of Wintering by Victor Kelleher appeared in P76 Issue 6

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A Film and Video Showcase: Shooting Gallery: A Group Show Featuring Film and Video Projects (1986)

10 Jul

Shooting Gallery: a group show featuring film and video projects, funded by the Australian Film Commission (AFC) and exhibited in association with the Australian Film Institute. It screened at the Chauvel Cinema Sydney and  the  Brisbane Centre Cinema. It also screened in Hobart, Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide. Review first Published in Tribune (Issue 2417), April 2 1986.

The late Lance Curtis in ‘The man You Know’ by Steven Jacobs. The film deals with a complex range of social and political questions and satirises the peculiar combination in Australian politics of “conservatism, apathy, the profit motive and rampant pragmatism.

The demise of the Sydney Filmmakers Co-operative has left a large gap in the distribution of independent films and video in Australia. But while, in the long term, there are still many obstacles to the establishment of an effective independent distribution service, for the present the Australian Film Institute (AFI) has come to the rescue with Shooting Gallery.

Shooting Gallery brings together a wide range of films and videos which have been produced with the assistance of the Creative Development, No Frills, and Women’s Film Funds of the AFC. The films are organised into nine programs which will be screened across Australia over the next few months. The films range from professional, mainstream oriented documentaries to open-ended dreamlike reminders of Super 8 film festivals.

Some, such as Red Matildas, Kemira — Diary of a Strike, Song of Ceylon and Munda Nyuringu. have been screened before. But, as independent films generally receive such brief commercial seasons, another opportunity to catch up on those you may have missed the first time round is always welcomed.

For other films, particularly those in the “Best of No-Frills Fund”, Shooting Gallery may provide the general public with one of the few opportunities to see what is happening at the grassroots level of Australian filmmaking.

Program 1 of Shooting Gallery opened with Flotsam Jetsam, an energetic and colorful song clip by Lucinda Clutterbuck. Based on dancers who had been animated to bounce and flow across the screen, the two-dimensional stick figures moved with such energy you could almost see the dancers fully formed beneath. Red Matildas, by Sharon Connolly and Trevor Graham, concluded the first program. Lots of historical footage cut with modern-day interviews created an enthusiastic and informative picture of three Australian women’s involvement with socialism and anti-fascism, beginning in the depression days of the early ’30s.

Punching Keys, by Sally Ingleton, is a highlight of Program 2. It is a dramatised documentary, questioning the application and side effects of modern office technologies on women VDU operators. The image was manipulated by the wonders of video technology to describe the depersonalisation and stresses of computer technology.

Among films to look forward to in later programs are Kay Self’s Portrait of Psyche, Steven Jacobs’  The Man You Know, Patricia L’Huede’s and Mark Mcleod’s Rapunzel in Suburbia, about the life and work of writer Dorothy Hewett.

At a period when the future of independent film-making is still under a cloud. Shooting Gallery is an opportunity not to be missed.

‘The Tiger in the Head’ by Robin Gurr (1990)

9 Jun

The Tiger in the Head by Robin Gurr. Jacaranda Wiley 1987. First published in SCARP No 16. May 1990

The title of Robin Gurr’s sixth collection of poetry, The Tiger in the Head, is echoed in her poem ‘The Visionary at Dawn’:

Inside the cherished

chaparral of his skull

.

nestles a stealthy drowsing

tiger

While the poem has, as its departure point, Rousseau’s painting ‘The Sleeping Gypsy’, there are also very deliberate and unmistakable echoes of William Blake. The most obvious refer­ence to Blake is the image of the Tiger. Compare, for example,

a tiger

stalks in emancipated bliss

 .

flashing poems from its sulphurous eye

with

In what distant deeps or skies

Burnt the fire of thine eyes

                                                                 (Blake)

or

Inside the harsh

Saharas of his skull

,

a tiger

rasps into its pondered mash

(Gurr)

with

What the hammer? What the chain?

In what furnace was thy brain?

                                                     (Blake)

Gurr’s concentration on light and dark, day and night in the opening poems of the collection also recalls Blake. This dichot­omy recalls the Songs of Inno­cence and Experience and, indeed as we progress through The Tiger in the Head, we come across poems with titles like ‘Child in nature’ and ‘Three meetings: Dark, Fear and Death.

For Gurr a celebration of youthful life and naivety is fol­lowed by the realisation of death in the same way as night follows day:

The sea mouths the morning

Then spits it on the shore

The stippled shells hold warnings

that night will come once more

                                                                ‘Shells’

In these poems Gurr moves from the very strict rhythms and rhymes of a poem like ‘Shells’ to the apparent freedom of ‘The Visionary at Dawn’. Her best poems however, are those she keeps under a tight rein. The Plath like ‘The Cutting of the Wind’, with its carefully meas­ured lines which have the effect of emphasising each word, is an example of Gurr at her best:

My face is turned by blade

my mortared limbs were

.

cast in clay  earth locked

and burnt to strength

While the highly structured nature of Gurr’s poetry at first seems a little ‘old fashioned’ when compared with the current directions of contemporary po­etry, her obvious skill at utilising traditional forms quickly over­comes any reticence in her read­ers. She doesn’t allow the struc­ture of the poem to dictate to her, rather she uses it to mould her ideas, constantly surprising the reader with unconventional rhythms and sound patterns. Indeed Gurr’s poetry repays a careful reading.

The Tiger in the Head i s a very accomplished collection by a poet who is obviously in complete control of her genre. While the book has been handsomely pro­duced by Jacaranda Press my only complaint is that there is no listing of her five previous collec­tions. This is going to make track­ing her earlier work down diffi­cult for those many readers who may want to read more of Gurr’s work.

– Mark Roberts