At primary school we were shown a video warning children not to get into strangers’ cars. We were told to note the places with Safety House stickers on the way home. I remember wondering if, on being pursued, I’d be able to run all the way to the nearest one. Every so often, we heard about a kidnapping on the news, so we took these warnings seriously.

Sonya Hartnett’s novel Of a Boy, written for the adult market after her many successful Young Adult novels, begins with a kidnapping, which provides a counterpoint to the central story of nine-year-old Adrian. Veronica, Zoe, and Christopher Metford go to the milk bar one afternoon to buy ice cream, and never return. Adrian watches this news story with interest and trepidation, asking his grandmother if it happened nearby.

Adrian keeps a list of his ordinary fears. Reading a newspaper article about a sea monster found off the coast of New Zealand, he ‘adds the sea monster to the list of things he finds disquieting’. Just as he remains attentive to the story of the kidnapped Metford children, he searches throughout the course of the novel for more information regarding this sea monster. His list of fears includes the concrete (he ‘dislikes seeing his cupboard door ajar, especially at night’: this is common sense), but it also encompasses murkier fears. Adrian is afraid of everything, especially being left alone.


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  • Contents Category Fiction
  • Custom Highlight Text At primary school we were shown a video warning children not to get into strangers’ cars. We were told to note the places with Safety House stickers on the way home. I remember wondering if, on being pursued, I’d be able to run all the way to the nearest one. Every so often, we heard about a kidnapping on the news, so we took these warnings seriously ...
  • Book Title Of A Boy
  • Book Author Sonya Hartnett
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Viking, $26 hb, 188 pp, 0 670 04026 6
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The poetic epigraphs that introduce all three sections in Brink, Jill Jones’s tenth full-length poetry collection, are collaged fragments from the poems proper. Moodily, they skirt the edges of what’s to come: ‘I am to proliferate.’ The poems then, in all their multiplicity, evoke and explore being on the brink – of knowing, feeling, sensing, and making sense:

                         ... but there’s a feeling
that can’t be formalised or even spoken
as we pass in and out of and into again
the known, or the known knowns,
and the unknowns, the way things
brush past, or the way you fall
in haste, in love, what trickles onto
a porous path, as traverses of skin.
           (‘Data, Twigs, Memory Lapses’)

Jones is interested in ‘words that sound like words’, in how ‘Twigs make their Ts’. A poem is a construct that can talk of itself and the world, simultaneously: ‘It’s communication ... / though you don’t really know / if it’s a system of messaging, / or a type of presence.’ To Jones, it is both, in varying degrees.

The poem ‘Edge Against Sign’ alludes to this duality – of the sign and signified, these ‘pests of language’, the gap between them but their inseparability. The poem also wagers that past and present are not so easily delineated: all its phrases are sourced from Jones’s first book, The Mask and the Jagged Star (1992).

In ‘Speak Which’, Jones’s lyric mode is clear. The poem is an utterance: ‘words tear’ and ‘form / is tested / as leaves fall // not itself / but what it / does // shapes in / the mind breath / unsaid’. An unsettled feeling then emerges about writing place (and the allusion to country is deliberate): ‘trying to figure / landscape / and failing’. Antipodean poets have long occupied the land in their poetry, but as Jones points out, ‘who do we / think / we are?’

Jones, ‘being sneaky and queer within / and beyond spaces’, is occupied with the contradictions of the contemporary world – its beauty, how to live ‘without all the modest accounting’, versus our destruction of it: ‘We know plexiglass, expecto patronus / or police presence won’t save us’. Her poems are always ‘thinking the unthinkable today’. ‘[F]lowering and simply kidding’, she has a dry sense of humour – perhaps not unrelated to living in Adelaide – most evident in ‘Divination Isn’t What It Was’: ‘I went out among leaf litter that seemed glum / ... Is the solar system being hacked?’

In the first section, the poems draw images and ideas together breathlessly, list-like: they ‘spark and spit in the sky’. Some of these also split – literally down the middle – and shimmer/shimmy down the page. The second section continues with freewheeling poems, a number of which are knockouts, including ‘Our Epic Want’: ‘Raw music stunned us, it hurt more than love.’ In the final section, a range of notational, fragmentary experiments in sound and sense offer us a glimpse into the ‘shadow language’ of Jones’s process. These give way to more existential, elegiac poems that memorialise: ‘Our waxworks are dying ... We are terrifying But no longer awesome.’

Jill Jones new pic photo by Annette WillisJill Jones (photograph by Annette Willis)

 

The poems in Kate Middleton’s third full-length collection, Passage, cover much terrain: untrodden land, moors, refuse, days, time, utopia, empire, ships, exploration, travel, saints, science, science fiction, colour, art, artworks, and animals – rats and whales, especially, but also lions, the oldest living tortoise, and a gynandromorph butterfly. Like her favoured rats, Middleton has ‘success at roving’ between these topics and themes: ‘(Follow them all the way down; refuse maps)’. Middleton trusts the intuitive, ‘go on your nerve’ approach, as Frank O’Hara put it, to writing: ‘The body bears the text / of distances covered.’ Poems, stanzas, phrases become islands: ‘A Lilliput of words and meadows.’

In Passage, she writes charms, elegies, centos, erasures, eulogies, ekphastic poems. The sections are split into ‘Past’, ‘Present’, ‘Future’, and an additional ‘Future’. Within these, poems aren’t wedded to chronology. Sci-fi crops up in the past and fourteenth-century fantastical travel-writer Sir John Mandeville descends into the future: ‘Paradise is / a loch / – and it / has / no bottom.’ Middleton revels in getting lost: ‘Lost is – and is not – a contagious / panic.’ Many of the poems work ‘in the borderland of dream // and memory // in the empty space of light between maps // of possible pleasure’.

The present is fleeting: ‘Only the ever-changing calligraphy / of waves sweeping the shore / records the moment. Then it’s gone.’ There is, tellingly, only one poem in the ‘Present’ section. There, and elsewhere, ‘memory is what is present ’.

Passage mines dozens of mostly textual sources to then create ‘puzzle patchworks’. The recurring sources (Dan Beachy-Quick, Siri Hustvedt, S.P.B. Mais’s This Unknown Island (1932), BBC science news, art, varying texts about rats or whales) intertwine throughout so that themes interlock and give the whole form: ‘the always-sharp meeting / point of water tumbles land / into shape’.

The ‘Watching Science Fiction’ sequence, which takes the television series Fringe as its inspiration, dovetails nicely with the poems about science: ‘When you turn to your / science to explain it nothing pierces the mystery of loss / ... In some unwritten future there’s a law of physics to explain it.’

Kate MiddletonKate Middleton

 

Grief and loneliness feature in these assemblages of found traces left by others: ‘for what is loneliness but // awareness I am human? ... What is that awareness / but an act of praise?’ To end the poem ‘Prayer for Any Morning’, Middleton writes: ‘cherish the broken / monuments / days’. To Middleton, the poem is a monument, no matter how broken, in praise of imaginative exploration. Negotiating her own position toward her interests against a backdrop of climate change – ‘toxic hailstones rain down upon you’ – Middleton finds passage through time, text, tradition: ‘With all that elegiac grace you clear a space for yourself.’

Both Jones and Middleton approach a kind of ‘pure lyric poetry’, as Marina Tsvetaeva defined it: both are performative, oral, musical, and foreground the lyric ‘now’ or moment of utterance. And yet both assemble their poems, much like collages. One poet is perhaps more sceptical and rightly critical of the world, and one is more in awe.

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  • Custom Article Title Toby Fitch reviews 'Brink' by Jill Jones and 'Passage' by Kate Middleton
  • Contents Category Poetry
  • Custom Highlight Text

    The poetic epigraphs that introduce all three sections in Brink, Jill Jones’s tenth full-length poetry collection, are collaged fragments from the poems proper. Moodily, they skirt the edges of what’s to come: ‘I am to proliferate.’ The poems then, in all their multiplicity, evoke and explore being on the brink – of knowing, feeling ...

  • Book Title Brink
  • Book Author Jill Jones
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Five Islands Press, $25.95 pb, 99 pp, 9780734053640
  • Book Title 2 Passage
  • Book Author 2 Kate Middleton
  • Biblio 2 Giramondo, $24 pb, 128 pp, 9781925336436
  • Book Cover 2 Small Book Cover 2 Small
  • Author Type 2 Author
  • Book Cover 2 Book Cover 2
  • Book Cover 2 Path images/ABR_Online_2018/January-February_2018/Passage.jpg
Thursday, 31 March 2016 10:28

Letters to the Editor - April 2016

TROVE CURTAILED

Dear Editor,

As President of the Australian Historical Association, on 2 March I sent the following letter to the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull MP, Prime Minister of Australia, (and copied it to the Hon. Bill Shorten MP, Leader of the Opposition; Senator the Hon. Mitch Fifield, Minister for the Arts; and the Hon. Mark Dreyfus QC, MP, Shadow Minister for the Arts):

Dear Mr Turnbull,

As the peak body representing historians in Australia, the Australian Historical Association is extremely concerned about further cuts to the budgets of our national collecting institutions. Our national institutions, including the National Library, the National Archives, the National Museum, the Museum of Australian Democracy, and the National Film and Sound Archive are the most prominent storehouses of our collective identity and culture. When they cannot fulfil their missions to collect, preserve, interpret, and enable research access, we are all diminished.

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More than 700 poets entered this year's Peter Porter Poetry Prize; just over 200 of these entries came from overseas. The judges were Luke Davies, Lisa Gorton and Kate Middleton. They completed their judgement without knowing the name, gender, background or nationality of any entrant.

This prize honours Peter Porter and its judges seek to honour him not only in name but in principle: by valuing various approaches to poetry, and by a serious commitment to the judging process. The judges read all entries over the summer and together compiled a varied and impressive longlist of nearly seventy poems, which they read over for several weeks. Over a day in Sydney, they discussed these poems and created a shortlist of five poems: poems which had stayed in their minds all summer and which, on each rereading, kept the power to surprise, impress and move them. In the judges' view, any of these shortlisted poems would have made a worthy winner of this year's Peter Porter Poetry Prize. The five shortlisted poems are '... a passing shower? (18 aphorisms verging on a narrative)', 'Lament for "Cape" Kennedy', 'Prelude to a Voice', 'Rage to Order' and 'Tailings'.

By turns lyrical, jerky, sardonic, funny and facetious, '... a passing shower? (18 aphorisms verging on a narrative)' charges the spaces between its aphorisms with imaginative energy: it builds a sort of electric tension between opposing voices, registers and ways of noticing the world. The poem works with an hallucinatory cognitive dissonance, which challenges settled poetic modes.

'Lament for "Cape" Kennedy' is an elegy of unshowy craft and emotional heft. Keeping its conversational tone, it ranges easily over details, personal memories and stories of injustice and dispossession. The intimacy of its details and the immediacy of its speaking voice enhance and enrich the sorrow and anger of this powerful lament.

'Prelude to a Voice' works at the same time with local detail and mythic depth: 'to keep/ an eye out for snakes/ while carrying the burden/ of water in a steel flask,/ as if bearing the urn/ of all our deaths'. Images open out of images, new forms out of white spaces: the whole page works like a phantasmagorical landscape, in which each part forms its own centre. This is a poem that captures how the mind shimmers in and outside language and its feeling for place.

'Rage to Order' is a poem of vertiginous self-consciousness: its extremity of feeling countervailed by the pressure of silence it makes felt. Like Gerard Manley Hopkins in 'No worst, there is none', this poet brings experience to a pitch in language at once pared back and wild with its play of repeating words and sounds.

'Tailings' is a poem remarkable for its close-woven language, everywhere charged with vivid details; and, at the same time, remarkable for its open and wide-ranging attentiveness. In 'Tailings' the poet nowhere sets place at an aesthetic distance but everywhere attends to its mess and profligacy, a mode of perception alive to the hunger of animals.

The storm blows you back
              its funnel ardent
              its wide hungry eye
Its tongue croons you
onto flatline of prairie

When poppies drowsed you
red breath drew
gravity into your limbs:
you yearned for tall grass
a narrow tunnel
of consciousness brain
heart sharp, nerve

Migrant loess skims west
You root back into plain
              – Call this home
              – Call this no place
Ground glows like ruby
dense and knotted
as blood

 

Kate Middleton

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  • Custom Article Title States of Poetry 2016 - New South Wales | 'Utopia / After Oz' by Kate Middleton
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The dawn is only a thought.

The fulcrum on which we rest our newsprint, our toothless fingerprints, our balmy Paxil days.

Only a thought of the windy, dwindling kind.

Wake to urgent messages, to the waltz of hours crisp and fragile as thin pastry. To roulette of lightning yes. Of arid no.

 

Kate Middleton

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  • Custom Article Title States of Poetry 2016 - New South Wales | 'Daybreak' by Kate Middleton
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            The ‘greate fyshe’, terrible
colossus, dark cathedral of days
            and nights, arrests
lost Jonah in his flight. Three

            days and nights spent
in wet earnest prayer, dread
            dowse of whale’s
appetite, drowse of oceanic

            will. It is a liturgy
of krill. A pinwheel spun
            in blur of hope, despair.
The shroud of stomach’s wall,

            grave chamber, draped
in sacred bile. Three days lost.
            Three nights. Till their
cadence, amen, resolves.

 

Kate Middleton

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  • Custom Article Title States of Poetry 2016 - New South Wales | 'Jonah' by Kate Middleton
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Cut out a sixth of the heart.
At a day old—furless,
close-eyed, resembling nothing
so much as an infant's thumb—
he can survive it.
The mouse can regrow that missing part
in three short weeks.

Aesop knew it:
to be mouse-hearted
is as good as wearing
the swagger of lion.

His heart
perhaps the size of a Lilliputian walnut.
Barely a mouse, already
ripped apart.
He does not wait
for a Godhand to put him back together.
Alone he blindly furrows toward wholeness.

 

Kate Middleton

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In black chalk the beast
brusques forward   Silence   Rubens
has stopped his mouth
with a single line     He is already
awed by the den
he will find himself in even now
as his mane curls into wisp
of emptiness     A study on paper

But there in white chalk the grim
pose brightens
into recognition smudged nose
bent toward the scent
of viewer     Eyes steadily lighting
toward the years one swift textured paw
lifted ever so slightly
Patient as an avalanche

 

Kate Middleton

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  • Custom Article Title States of Poetry 2016 - New South Wales | 'Study of a Lion' by Kate Middleton
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Kate Middleton - new smaller

Kate Middleton is an Australian writer. She is the author of the poetry collections Fire Season (Giramondo, 2009), awarded the Western Australian Premier's Award for Poetry in 2009 and Ephemeral Waters (Giramondo, 2013), shortlisted for the NSW Premier's award in 2014. From September 2011 to September 2012 she was the inaugural Sydney City Poet.

State Editor's notes

'In her poetry, Kate Middleton displays an intricate knowledge of many topic areas and texts. She follows her obsessions with enthusiasm and takes her willing readers along for the ride. Here she takes us into a Rubens painting, into The Wizard of Oz, and into the belly of a whale. Kate adroitly uses similes to bring together ideas which at first seem contradictory, but then make perfect sense: a lion is as "patient as an avalanche", while the ground beneath Dorothy's feet "glows like ruby / dense and knotted / as blood" writes ABR's States of Poetry - New South Wales State Editor Elizabeth Allen. Read her States of Poetry introduction here.

States of Poetry

 'Study of a lion'

'Daybreak'

'Mouse (Wunderkammer)'

'Utopia / After Oz'

'Jonah'

Further reading and links

Kate Middleton at Cordite Poetry Review.

'The Future of Poetry' by Kate Middleton published by Australian Poetry in 2011

Kate Middleton reviews Liquid Nitrogen by Jennifer Maiden in the February 2013 issue of Australian Book Review

Kate Middleton reviews Naked Clay: Drawing from Lucian Freud by Barry Hill in the July-August 2012 issue of Australian Book Review

Kate Middleton reviews and then when the by Dan Disney in the June 2012 issue of Australian Book Review

Kate Middleton reviews The Best Australian Poems 2011 edited by John Tranter in the February 2012 issue of Australian Book Review

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