Tag Archives: Australian Poetry

Memories of ‘The Friend in Hand’ and Rae Desmond Jones

6 Feb

Last weekend Linda Adair and I attended a double book launch at the Friend in Hand pub in Glebe. Nothing too remarkable there, I have been to many book launches at the Friend in Hand, indeed my own book launch took place there (https://rochfordstreetreview.com/2016/03/16/decades-of-percolation-anna-couani-launches-concrete-flamingos-by-mark-roberts/). But, as I listened to Margaret Bradstock launch Les Wick’s Belief and Anna Couani launch Kit Kelen’s  Poor Man’s Coat: Hardanger Poems, I had what is commonly referred to a flashback to the first launch Linda and I had organised at the Friend in Hand.

Back in late 2012 the launch of two Rochford Press books took place at the Friend in Hand, P76 Issue 6 (The Lost Issue) and The Selected Your Friendly Fascist edited by Rae Desmond Jones. Both these titles were nostalgic in their own right. Issue 6 of P76 had  been over 15 years in the making. Linda and I had created the original layout for the issue in the 1990s on an old Mac and then lost the disk in the confusion of babies and house moves, only to discover it years later in a box under the house. The Selected Your Friendly Fascist grew out of an article Rae Desmond Jones had written for Rochford Street Review on the magazine that he and John Edwards had edited and produced for many years “Lots of energy here, not much control”: Your Friendly Fascist – 1970 – 1984. Rae Desmond Jones remembers…... The article attracted much attention and reminiscing and a few months later I suggested to Rae that he might like to consider pulling together a “best of” YFF . At the time Rae was in hospital and I remember his initial response was “it would have to be called the Worst of”. Shortly after he returned home, however, I received a phone call “is 120 pages enough”.

As a result in October 2012 there was a large gathering of those of us who had survived being published in Your Friendly Fascist and/or P76. In my memory of that day the figure of Rae looms large against the red curtains of the upstairs bar of the Friend in Hand and, as I watched Les and Kit read from their new books last Saturday, I looked across at the corner near the stage where Rae had sat just over 6 years ago.

Of course the fact that I have spent the last 8 months or so working with Linda Adair, Narelle Adair, John Edwards and Ruth Saunders to bring Rae’s final collection of poetry into the world probably had a lot to do with that feeling. So I searched through some old photos and found Rae at the Friend in Hand, launching The Selected Your Friendly Fascist, back in October 2012. I suspect I will have the same feeling when we launch The End of the Line (Rae’s final collection) on Sunday 24 February at 1.30pm at the Exodus Foundation (The Burns Philip Hall) 180 Liverpool Road Ashfield.

Rae Desmond Jones carefully considers Alan Wearne’s launch speech for The Selected Your Friendly Fascist at The Friend in Hand Hotel, October 2012


Rae Desmond Jones in full flight at the launch of The Selected Your Friendly Fascist

Joanne Burns, Rae Desmond Jones and Joseph Chetcuti at the launch of The Selected Your Friendly Fascist, Friend in Hand Hotel, October 2012

The End of the Line by Rae Desmond Jones will be launched on Sunday 24 February at 1.30pm at the Exodus Foundation (The Burns Philip Hall) 180 Liverpool Road Ashfield. Facebook link https://www.facebook.com/events/242278270027993/

Copies of The End of Line can be purchased at https://rochfordpress.com/rochford-press-book-shop/

“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!


Mark Roberts, Melinda Louise Smith and A Walk Through Gaza (Poetry From Palestine) At Don Banks North Sydney

19 Feb


I’m looking forward to reading with Melinda Louise Smith and listening to A Walk through Gaza (Poetry from Palestine) this coming Wednesday night at the Don Banks Museum, 6 Napier Street North Sydney from 7.30 pm. I will be reading poems from my new manuscript Lacuna as well as some from my last collection Concrete Flamingos. Many thanks to Danny Gardner for inviting me.


‘Forgetting is So Long’ – Love Poetry by Australian Men

14 Oct

Forgetting is so Long: An Anthology of Australian Love Poetry edited by Robbie Coburn & Valli Poole. Blank Rune Press 2016


Love is so short, forgetting is so long.
………………………… – Pablo Neruda



When we think of anthologies were generally think of larger books with lots of pages so it was exciting to be asked to contribute to a chapbook anthology of Australian love poems. Some years ago I had some poems in the Inkerman & Blunt Australian Love Poetry anthology. That was a huge, diverse and ultimately uneven anthology (as anthologies of that size tend to be). Forgetting is so Long is the opposite – it is a small, beautifully constructed chapbook and it features love poems by men. When I was submitted my poems to Robbie Coburn I was unaware that the anthology would be purely love poems by men but I have been pleasantly surprised by the result and the company in which my two poems have landed. There is a hint here of a different masculinity, something that deserves to be explored in greater depth.

Along with my work Forgetting is so Long contains poetry by Ashley Capes, Robbie Coburn, Glenn Cooper, Phillip Hall, Ramon Loyola, Pete Spence, David Ellison, Andy Jackson, Ariel Riveros Pavez, Kenneth Smeaton and Les Wicks. It is available from Collected Works Bookshop in Melbourne or you can contact the publisher for details on how to acquire a copy blankrunepress@gmail.com



‘perfume’ wins 2016 Dangerously Poetic Byron Writers Festival Poetry Prize

14 Aug
With Anthony Lawrence (left) at the Dangerously Poetic Byron Writers Festival Poetry Prize presentation. Photograph Linda Adair

With Anthony Lawrence (left) at the Dangerously Poetic Byron Writers Festival Poetry Prize presentation. Photograph Linda Adair

Last weekend I had the wonderful experience of attending the three day Byron Bay Writers Festival and, on Saturday night, being awarded the 2016 Dangerously Poetic Byron Writers Festival Poetry Prize for my poem ‘perfume’. In his judge’s report for the prize Anthony Lawrence described ‘perfume’ as:

‘perfume’ moves like frames in a sepia-tone, grainy film. Its story suggests intrigue, death, rural myth or local history, in a time of war.

First and third person points of view combine in clipped, lyrical stanzas to create a miniature novel in which mystery and allusiveness are palpable.


Details of the award, together with the winning poems can be found here http://dangerouslypoetic.com/2016/08/and-the-winners-are-2/ or you can find ‘perfume’ below.


………………………………………………….she heard him
………………………………………………….an instant before
………………………………………………….the scarf pulled tight
………………………………………………….against her throat
the train to lithgow
settles into a metal song
reassurance of steel on steel
………………………………………………….her arm swung around smashing
………………………………………………….the perfume bottle to the floor
last night I smelt a ghost
sweet & alluring
flowers, orange
a suggestion of earthiness
………………………………………………….he will be shipped out
………………………………………………….they find the body
a ripple of iciness
flowing up the bed
my eyes closed
but awake
colder now
than a bathurst winter
………………………………………………….left behind in the pub
………………………………………………….next to the station




‘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


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


In what distant deeps or skies

Burnt the fire of thine eyes



Inside the harsh

Saharas of his skull


a tiger

rasps into its pondered mash



What the hammer? What the chain?

In what furnace was thy brain?


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


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

God and Landscapes: Andrew Lansdown: Between Glances & Rhyll McMaster: On My Empty Feet

20 Mar

Between Glances by Andrew Lansdown, William Heinemann Australia 1993 and On My Empty Feet by Rhyll McMaster, William Heinemann Australia. First published in Overland 135, Winter 1994.


There is a simple delicacy to many of the poems in Andrew Lansdown’s sixth col­lection of poetry, Between Glances. Lans­down moves slowly through the landscape bringing a spiritual intensity to bear on the objects of everyday life. Many of his best poems grow out of a single image. In ‘Tea Chest’, for example, a robin drinking water out of a dis­carded tea chest is captured in the centre of the poem:

The late afternoon light

duplicates the bird’s shape darkly


in the still water as it stoops

to drink.

The poem is, in fact, almost a fable. Lansdown is suggesting that nature can transform a func­tional object which is perceived to have outlived its usefulness to an object of beauty and of a different functionality:

Truly, this moment, that tea chest

bears a cargo more precious than any


it carried long ago from India or Ceylon.

The title poem of the collection, ‘Between Glances’, operates on a similar level. The poet has been watching a single autumn leaf on a liquidambar tree all day:

I glance

down at my work then out


again, only to find it gone.

Gone between glances. If only

I had known that last wave

was a goodbye, a farewell,


I would not have looked away.

While the transient nature of beauty obviously lies at the heart of this poem, ‘Between Glances’ can also be read as a fable where the falling leaf represents human mortality. Above all else Lansdown is a religious poet and, in the context of the rest of the collection, these ‘fables’ take on a distinct spiritual dimension.

Between Glances contains a number of more obviously religious poems. There is an uneven-ness to these poems which I feel is probably almost inevitable. Religious poetry is difficult to write and like many poets Lansdown does occa­sionally fall into cliche. However, Between Glances contains some of the best religious poetry I have read for some time.

For most of the collection Lansdown is content to write about his children and the natural land­scape, but in the last section there are a number of poems which grew out of a trip to Sydney. These poems lack some of the spiritual intensity which runs through the rest of the book, but I feel that they actually balance the more overtly religious nature poems.

After the softness of Lansdown’s poetry Rhyll McMaster’s third collection, On My Empty Feet, seems positively hard-edged. In the opening poem, ‘Figure in the Landscape’, we have a view of the landscape very different from Lansdown’s images of transient beauty:

Sheep lie down in the wind,

trees tremble their roots

in underground runnels.

Cattle pour milkily across

a world of occurrence.

Whereas Lansdown was content to sit back and watch the robin drink out of the old tea chest, McMaster places herself very firmly in the poem:

I am the figure in the landscape

which does not live

unless I move.

On My Empty Feet is divided into three sec­tions. The tone of the first section is set by ‘Figure in the Landscape’, which is one of the strongest poems in the collection. Many of the poems in this section explore the relationship of  the poet to both her external physical environment and her internal mental state.

The second section revolves around a sequence of poems called ‘My Mother and I Become Victims of a Stroke’. In ‘Residues’ McMaster records the way her mother was affected by a stroke:

Her brain is stripped

to its inessentials.

She’s disposed of the gears.

Her mind is full of old shoes


that don’t fit.

In ‘The Mirror’, the mother’s illness forces the daughter to confront their relationship:

I look into the mirror of my life

and see my mother


She glares back at me


She says, “I’m bitterly disappointed.”

In the final section McMaster recalls her childhood, effectively going back to a time before her mother’s stroke. Balancing the pain in the poems in the second section, the poems here are nostalgic and safe, as in ‘Our Street’:

There I am, aged six, striking home from


I stop to gloat at the crack that grows the


At silent number eight the privet hedge

rampages down the side.

On My Empty Feet is a powerful collection. Its strength lies not only in the individual poems but also in the careful way the collection is structured. My one complaint with McMaster is the length of time between collections. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another seven years for her fourth.