Prismatic and dynamic, Australian Book Review's States of Poetry anthologies are about refraction as well as brilliance, shade and trace as much as what is lit. If anthologies generate disagreement, it is because of an illusion that they set or express the fixed amidst a mobile and vibrant set of practices. The recurring, multifarious nature of States of Poetry dispenses with that illusion. That the project is ongoing, comprising a series of snapshots and that its crafting is divided between state editors enables a radical, shifting dynamic where curatorial as well as poetic practices combine in assemblages.
Though Australian poetry's knife fight in a teacup – its storm in a phonebooth – (with apologies to John Forbes) is a sideshow, its dispiriting bickering looms large in the mainstream imagination. Visionary poet A.J. Carruthers re-imagines the circulating phrase 'broad church' when he argues that Australian poetry can and does host a 'broad church of experimental writing'. States of Poetry enacts an exploration of the ways a poetics of the 'wayward, the writing otherwise', to use Carruthers' phrase, may be mapped.
The most literal aspect of that mapping begins from a convenience of naming that should never forget the deeper maps onto which settler Australia's states and territories have been imposed. The more figurative connotations of 'states' suggest the flux and mobility of poetry's shape and condition. State of flux, mind, affairs, play, state of the art, state secret, state of origin – each of these angles is evoked by the overarching curatorial phrase.
Thinking about Queensland poetry, my immediate excitement veered swiftly into anxiety at the prospect of selecting just six poets from a burgeoning poetic culture. There are practical reasons for this, such as the annual Queensland Poetry Festival with its lineage of inspiring directors, and the Arts Queensland-funded poetry prizes which continued even when funding was slashed and the Queensland Premier's Literary Awards cut.
But each of these poets has a readership far beyond Queensland, and each is stellar in different ways. As well as established poets, I aimed to include poets yet to publish a book, but the two in this category, Ellen van Neerven and Stuart Barnes, have since completed début collections.
An array of styles, modes and forms gestures towards the shape and trace of those ways, new ways emerging from and rewriting the old. Robert Macfarlane describes these in The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot (2012) as 'second-order suggestions of their earlier presence: glimpses of afterglow, retinal ghosts, psychic gossamer'. At the same time, they remake and envisage the unlit paths ahead. From Nathan Shepherdson's h(a)unted traces and provisional aphorisms to the compelling undertow of what Anita Heiss calls Lionel Fogarty's guerrilla poetry, from the dark music of Sarah Holland-Batt's originality to the gilded brilliance of Stuart Barnes's resilient samplings, and from the lean, raw energies of Ellen van Neerven's sharp, pulsing images to the multifarious surrealisms of MTC Cronin's lit and circling poetics, each poem has its own way; its own waywardness.
These are poems of gossamer and afterglow, of spindrift and slipstream, of watery and airy paths. Poems of conversations across borders of time and language sit next to poems in dispute with language, undoing certainty as their lines unravel. Assembled, they insist on nothing but the space they take and give, and the provisional and vibrant energies that are poetry's vital signs.