A Frances Johnson

‘The flag’s taking off for that filthy place, and our jargon’s drowning out the drums.’ A. Frances Johnson’s new collection begins with this quote from Rimbaud, which immediately betrays her appreciation for both the European avant-garde and the viral nature of the context from which it emerged. Johnson is a poet, painter, novelist, and academic acutely sensitive to such colonial haunts, perhaps largely due to the delight she takes in the other tones offered up by historical subject matter. She has displayed this previously in Eugene’s Falls (2007), an expansive novel about Eugene von Guérard, and in exhibitions dealing with the ambiguous textures of botanical empire building. Interestingly, though, her layers of historical literacy have led to a skilful inspection of her own aesthetic fetishes, writing as she does in a time when ever more bilge-water seems to be issuing from the half-drowned ship of Western culture.

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Frederick McCubbin (1855–1917), otherwise known as ‘The Proff’, was only a sometime plein-airiste at the Box Hill artists’ camp. He never made it out to Eaglemont and Heidelberg, as curator and historian Anna Gray has shown, debunking mythic accretions of place around the venerated so-called Heidelberg School. Boxhill/Lilydale, laid down in 1882, was McCubbin’s trainline of choice. He was also a studio artist given to creating a tightly controlled narrative mise en scène. As Andrew McKenzie has revealed, McCubbin built a faux grave in his backyard at his home in Rathmines Street, Hawthorn, dragooning his wife, Annie, to play the female mourner for Bush Burial (1990). The bearded elder was possibly John Dunne, a picaresque character whom McCubbin purportedly accosted on a city street. Artist friend Louis Abrahams played the young male mourner. The young girl is not identified. Nor the sorrowful dog.

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She-Oak and Sunlight

National Gallery of Victoria
by
05 May 2021

I have frequented too often the gift shops of Australian Impressionism. Back in 1985, I mooned over David Davies’ Templestowe twilight scene before purchasing the corresponding tea towel (for my mum), Fire’s On placemats with matching coasters (for my dad), and lost child mugs (for my siblings, only one of whom took offence).

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Postwar memorial gardens can be found the world over. Gardens scholar Paul Gough has noted how planted memory is an essential aspect of future remembering; gardens create inclusive spaces that rely on participation and careful nurturing to ensure that memory stays ‘alert, relevant and passed on from generation to generation’. The dedicated memory garden at Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance is a site of ritual remembering of equal importance to sites such as Anzac Head in Turkey. Gough argues that the front can be symbolically transplanted. Objects, seeds, letters, and small packages of soil were often bought home, particularly where bodily remains could not be retrieved.

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Lachlan Brown 800x500 monoLachlan Brown is a senior lecturer in English at Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga. He is the author of&nbs ...

The shortlist: 'My Father's Thesaurus' by A. Frances Johnson; 'Precision Signs' by Lachlan Brown; 'Constellation of Bees' by Julie Manning; 'That Wadjela Tongue' by Claire G. Coleman; 'South Coast Sonnets' by Ross Gillett.

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In this episode of Australian Book Review's States of Poetry podcast, A. Frances Johnson reads three poems from 'The Book of Interdictions' which features in the 2016 Victorian anthology.

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for Marcia Langton

 

The rock-art guide, combusting
in 43 degrees, back to image.
His sloppy dreamtime
a melted ice-cream,
far from refrigerated sublime.

Gwion rock art from the 'Tassel era' is happy art,
though contentiously attributed and dated, he says,
authoritative white sweater in white sweater.

1.
Even poetry dements in the end; fatal attractions to dank earth
and ash albums don't fool or buy time. Poetry cherry-picks
memory for its own ends; yet that's a medicated narcissism for
some. Earnest elegies are often rejected by dogs and children.
Listen to them howl. Voting for life outside of ritual.
I'm on your side; I'm with the hounds and the kids. I won ...

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