Tag Archives: Australian Poetry

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

19 Feb

don-banks

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

forgetting-is-so-long-2

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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

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‘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.

 

perfume
………………………………………………….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
………………………………………………….wartime
………………………………………………….he will be shipped out
………………………………………………….before
………………………………………………….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
………………………………………………….waiting

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‘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

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

warningly.

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

school.

I stop to gloat at the crack that grows the

ferns.

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.

Two Anthologies: EDGE CITY ON TWO DIFFERENT PLANS Inversions 1983 & NETWORK/EXILES IN PARADISE Fringe Network 1983

29 Feb

Two Anthologies: EDGE CITY ON TWO DIFFERENT PLANS, edited by Margaret Bradstock, Gary Dunne, Dave Sargent and Louise Wakeling, Inversions 1983 &   NETWORK/EXILES IN PARADISE   Fringe Network 1983. Published in P76 Issue 2 1984.

In a recent interview (Image Vol.6 No.3), John Tranter talks of the progression of contemporary Australian poetry in terms of a “pendulum swing reaction” against what is seen as the ‘accepted’ or ‘established’ mode of expression. Such a comment, of course, refers back to the “generation of ’68” and the break that many writers felt they were making from the established, conservative forms of writing which had predominated during the fifties and sixties, but it also implies a conservative backlash which, Tranter suggests, will “swing” the writing scene back to something resembling the pre-’68 situation. On a similar note, Kris Hemensley, reviewing Ania Walwicz, Dimitris Tsaloumas and Mary Fallon (Syllable No.1), talks of the “rut” in which contemporary Australian writing “had become stuck” by the beginning of the eighties. One possible explanation for this is that the writers who saw themselves as the poetic revolutionaries of 1968 now feel quite comfortable with the way Australian writing has developed during the seventies and no longer feel it necessary to question or challenge the prevailing mood of the literary establishment.

There are, however, many writers who aren’t satisfied with the ideology which underlies much contemporary Australian writing. The strength of Women’s Writing at the moment (as witnessed by the, No Regrets anthologies, Frictions, the large number of Women’s Writing Groups and the Faceless Woman Readings in Melbourne) can be seen, in part, as a reaction against the subtle, and often not so subtle, repression of women writers throughout Australia’s history, and which is still prevalent in the post ’68 writing scene.

Two recent anthologies, Edge City on Two Different Plans (a collection of Lesbian and Gay writing from Australia) and Network/ Exiles in Paradise (An anthology of new writing from the Melbourne Fringe Arts Festival 1983), highlight further problems with the Tranter pendulum. Both anthologies can be seen as jerking Australian writing, out of its rut, though in quite different ways. Edge City confronts the masculine tone inherent in much Australian writing which was left virtually untouched, and in some cases actually strengthened, by the “generation of ’68”, while Network/Exiles in Paradisehas combined an ‘open access anthology’, a fringe arts festival and collective production so that the writers become responsible for, and learn the skills necessary to compile and produce the anthology.

In other ways Edge City and Network/Exiles in Paradise are very-different anthologies. The editors of Edge City, in a lively forward, discuss the history of the anthology and attempt to place it in an historical context. They make it clear, for example, that they are in debt to the women’s writing movement:

“We also thought, like the editors of earlier anthol­ogies of women’s writing which explored areas of specifically female experience, that it was necessary to counterbalance the heterosexist and masculinist literature which still predominates in Australian culture.”

But they point out that the aim of the anthology was not to set up an ideological framework but to present us with “an important expression of the diversity of the lives….. of homosexual women and men.” Over-all, the Introduction and Forward compliments the work of the 43 writers in the anthology and it seems that Dennis Altman is correct when he claims that Edge City’s importance lies not only in the creative work it contains, but equally “as the foundations for what is the long overdue emergence of a literary voice of lesbian and gay men in Australia.”

Edge City attempts to highlight what it sees as the diversity of lesbian and gay writing by collecting work by 43 different writers (25 men and 18 women), ranging from fairly traditional short stories and poetry, to more experimental prose and poetry and a number of song lyrics. Although there are a few well known names among the 43 contributors, one of the most refreshing aspects of the anthology is the amount of interesting and exciting work by writers who have had little or nothing published in the mainstream literary magazines.

A number of prose pieces deal directly with aspects of a lesbian lifestyle. Jane Eliot’s ‘Holiday at the Parm’, for example, examines a woman’s reaction when she returns to the country town where she grew up. Her friends are married and living conservative country lives, while she has returned from the city a feminist and a lesbian. Eliot effectively combines a slight feeling of nostalgia with the underlying political conflict which affects the way the woman reacts to people in her past. Geraldine Mecredy’s piece ‘Journey’, like ‘Holiday at the Farm’, uses a central theme of a woman analysing her past. She has recently ended a heterosexual relationship and she reflects upon aspects of it – how it started, conflicts, sexuality and so on. Runn­ing throughout the pieces are the fragments of a dream, of being in s waiting room waiting for a train. The heterosexual relationship becomes the world outside the waiting room, the train a method of escape and a means of personal transformation.

The songs tend to be more obviously political than either the poetry or prose. Phillip Stevenson’s ‘Thank you Lord for Gay Liber­ation’  (which has been performed widely around Sydney by the Gay Liberation Quire) satirizes the church’s approach to homosexuality while, at the same time, asserting the strength of the gay movement.  Alison Lyssa’s songs also approach important issues with humour. ‘There are lights sweeping over the city’, for example, sees the nuclear threat as a part of patriarchal society:

“My brain can’t believe how they got there

‘Those billions of dollars of toys;

Do they fire them in circles like marbles

To keep up with the rest of the boys?”

Other pieces which I felt stood out were the poems of Margaret Bradstock, Mary Fallon, Tony Page and Elaine Byrant. Gary Dunne’s story ‘The Tyranny of Distance’ and Nicholas Thomas’ prose piece ‘Contradictions and Peripheries’ and Judy Small’s song ‘The Festival of light’,

The importance of Edge City is that it has focused attention on lesbian and gay writing in Australia and has been responsible for stimulating quite a lively discussion. On a purely literary level, Edge City introduces a number of exciting writers whose work may have never been accepted by the mainstream literary scene but who, it is hoped, now have the confidence to continue writing without having to compromise in an effort to be published.

Compared with Edge city, Network/Exiles in Paradise appears quite uneven. Among some exciting pieces of writing there are some almost total failures. Network/Exiles in Paradise lacks a unifying theme and is without Edge City’s encompassing introduction. Network/ Exiles in Paradise is, in fact, two different anthologies, separated not by theme, but in the way each was produced. We are told simply “the editing, compilation and lay out of ‘Exiles in Paradise’ was performed by the writers themselves;.  ‘Network’ drew on writers within the book and Fringe Network for its production.” So Network/Exiles in Paradise has taken the idea of an open access anthology a step further to collective production. One of the stated aims of the anthology is to “encourage writers to be responsible for their work beyond its actual creation.”

Overall I found the poetry, with the exception of Cliff Smyth, Pete Spense and John Anderson, quite disappointing. Daniel Keene’s piece, ‘Echoes of Ruby Dark’, was for a while interesting, but because of its length, rapidly lost much of its impact. I found the length of many of the poems irritating. It is extremely difficult to maintain a poem through four hundred or so lines, and unfortunately I don’t believe any of the poets who attempt such a task in Network/Exiles in Paradise quite succeed.

On the other hand, prose is definitely Network/Exiles in Paradise’s strength. Ania Walwicz’s work is already fairly well known and her four prose pieces highlight the conservative approach some of the other contributors adopt towards the language. Raphael Pomian’s prose has, at times, a feeling similar to Walwicz’s. Both use uncluttered language but manage to create an overall richness. For Walwicz it’s predominately sound patterns and rhythms, while Pomian’s prose is extremely descriptive, at times almost to the point of being languid. Moya Costello’s ‘The Usherette’ is a realistic portrayal of working as an usherette at a concert hall. Periods of boredom, flustered activities and flights of fantasies are undercut by a sarcastic humour directed mainly at the patrons who she directs to their seats. Berni Jassen’s untitled prose piece, which is the account of the beginning of a relationship, is perhaps, the most powerful in the anthology. Her skilful use of short sentences and clear language gives an intensity and urgency to her theme.

The contrasts in Network/Exiles in Paradise are, in themselves, quite illuminating. The successful pieces tend to be fairly short,or at least concise and uncluttered, while some of the longer poems and stories I found extremely difficult to get through, Fringe Network apparently intends to publish more anthologies and “self-devised books by groups of writers”, the results promise to be interesting.

I found little evidence in Edge City and Network/Exiles in Paradise to suggest a movement towards a more conservative writing in Australia. Tranter’s pendulum is, of course, a gross over simplific­ation. Seeing writing as a movement back and forth between two points is extremely limiting and excludes the possibility of development in other directions. It suggests a ‘establishment’ view of literature operating ‘like clockwork’ to predetermined rules. Projects like Edge City and Network/Exiles in Paradise disrupt the equilibrium by quest­ioning the dominant ideology of Australian literature and suggest new directions in which it could move.

EDGE CITY ON TWO DIFFERENT PLANS inversions (Sydney Gay Writers Collective) P.O. Box 158 Leichhardt N.S.W. 2040. NETWORK/EXILES IN PARADISE Fringe Network 201 Brunswick Street Pitzroy Victoria 3065

– Mark Roberts