Editing an anthology of poets from New South Wales is both a wonderful and confronting task. Wonderful because you get to spend close-reading time with the work of poets that you greatly admire; confronting because of all the excellent poets you might include. However, one can take comfort in the fact that this anthology is going to be an annual occurrence, and in that sense cumulative, with a new cohort of six poets each year. I look forward to seeing it unfolding over time in its various iterations, and I feel honoured to present this inaugural collection.
The poetry included here has a certain quality in common: it unsettles the reader's relationship to language and to everyday phenomena; and it generates new and unexpected perceptions and imaginings. I have also chosen poets who contribute to the broader poetry community as teachers, editors, mentors, reviewers, and/or event organisers.
Here are six New South Wales poets I wanted to share with you. I hope you enjoy living with them as much as I do.
Toby Fitch's poems possess an unusual physicality and form beautiful and intriguing shapes on the page. They are clever and energetic, full of word play, puns, and politics. Reading them is like sliding down a slippery dip. They are also inversions of Rimbaud's Illuminations. Another ride down the slide – this time maybe backwards.
Fiona Wright's poems are open; I like that about them. Her voice – sometimes vulnerable – is often gentle and strong at the same time. Everyday images become quite surreal in her poems. For instance, in 'Crisis Poem', she takes a satirical look at gender stereotypes, which adds a strange twist to an otherwise 'normal' backyard barbeque.
David Malouf – one of our greatest writers and Australian Book Review's Laureate – finds ways of expressing very difficult things in a way few other poets can, to 'speak for what we have no other / words for'. Sometimes, I see David sipping coffee under neon lights at the busy Broadway shopping centre, watching people come and go. I was pleased to able to juxtapose this mental image of him with those of his 'Late Poem', a hushed and contemplative reflection on a much quieter coffee drinking experience.
Susie Anderson moved from Victoria to New South Wales fairly recently. She writes strikingly easygoing, relaxed prose poems. They are confessional and deceptively off the cuff – as though presenting thoughts and actions unfolding in real time. Her unaffected voice, typically keen to reveal her quirks and shortcomings to the reader, is endearing in its honesty.
Reading Pam Brown's poems is a bit like watching jazz; it can feel like she is going off on long solo improvisations. Things from the outside world – a train announcement, a sign she passes – interweave themselves with her inner melodies, and she seems to play with the sounds and rhythm of words as much as with sense and nonsense, as in this passage: 'rain taxi / book thug / I ate all your bees'.
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'.