Poetry

Poets Abroad – Victoria

The ABR Podcast
Wednesday, 02 September 2020

We continue our poetry podcasts with the first in a series of readings by poets living in a particular state. It complements in a way ABR’s old States of Poetry anthologies (all still available online).

This time we’re inviting a number of poets to record a poem of theirs that is set outside their home state (whether interstate or overseas – or indeed in space, as you will hear). The poems can be published or unpublished ones. We list all the readers and poems on our website. Given the present lockdown in that state, we’re starting in Victoria. After all, if we can't leave home, we might as well do so imaginatively.

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In his description of the verse novel as ‘the awkward child of successful parents, destined to disappoint both of them’, Michael Symmons Roberts emphasises the form’s sometimes disjunctive use of literary techniques commonly associated with poetry and prose fiction. While the verse novel has gained popularity since the 1980s, many of its features may be traced to epic poems such The Epic of Gilgamesh and Homer’s The Iliad, and the long narrative poems of the Romantic and Victorian periods. The form was established by Alexander Pushkin’s nineteenth-century verse novel Eugene Onegin, which was divided into stanzas; however, the definition and key features of the verse novel are still hotly debated.

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Tim Wright reviews 'Homer Street' by Laurie Duggan

Tim Wright
Monday, 24 August 2020

In all of his books, Laurie Duggan has tended to avoid the ‘well-formed poem’. His poems are not of the kind that unroll like carpets: replete with interconnected images, sonic patterning, argument. A large part of his poetic approach emerges from an attempt to not speak over what is already there, or, as he writes in one poem, to ‘not neutralise / the effect of atmosphere’. This might be described as permitting the incidental, letting things in, but it’s also – Duggan being a self-described minimalist – much to do with omission. The model his oeuvre provides is one that prioritises listening (and looking) over speaking, and in that sense it is anti-bardic. ‘The poem’ as a discrete object is often, and almost entirely within this collection, given over to the series, allowing Duggan to retain qualities of the short lyric while building long-form structures whose rhythms become apparent over years or, in the case of ‘Blue Hills’, over decades.

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John Tranter has published more than twenty books since 1970. They include long dramatic monologues, a type of verse novel (The Floor of Heaven, 1992), prose poems and traditional verse forms. Starlight, his new collection, continues his ‘evisceration’, as he calls it, of other poets.

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James Jiang on three new poetry collections

James Jiang
Monday, 27 July 2020

Mount Parnassus remains a proscribed destination for the moment, but Aidan Coleman’s Mount Sumptuous (Wakefield Press, $22.95 pb, 56 pp) provides an attractive local alternative. Following on from the poems of love and recovery in Asymmetry (2012), this collection marks the poet’s reawakened appetite for the sublimities and subterfuges of suburban Australia, from cricket pitches ‘lit like billiard tables’ and Blue Light Discos to the flammable wares of Best & Less and the implacable red brick of ‘all-meat / towns’. As these poems and their pseudo-pedagogical endnotes show, Coleman is a keen philologist of the language of commerce. The title’s ‘sumptuous’ (from the Latin sumptus for ‘expense’) keys us in to the vital ambivalence of a poetry, which on the one hand honours the rituals of everyday consumption (‘lounging / book in hand, Tim Tams / … tea a given’), and on the other speaks to the exploitative logic of consumer capitalism (‘Take the juiceless fruits / of day labour and a white / goods salesman’s leaden chicanery’).

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Michael Farrell reviews 'Shorter Lives' by John A. Scott

Michael Farrell
Monday, 27 July 2020

John A. Scott’s Shorter Lives is written at an intersection between experimental fiction, biography, and poetry. It inherits aspects of earlier works, such as preoccupations with sex and France. As the title indicates, it narrates mini-biographies of famous writers – Arthur Rimbaud, Virginia Stephen (Woolf), André Breton, and Mina Loy – and one painter – Pablo Picasso – with interludes devoted to the lesser-known poet Charles Cros and the art dealer Ambroise Vollard. The narratives are largely distilled from more conventional prose sources. Scott gives himself poetic licence to fictionalise, and anachronise: Paul Cézanne’s collection of twentieth-century American paintings, for example.

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Elizabeth Lawson Marsh reviews 'The Lion's Bride' by Gwen Harwood

Elizabeth Lawson Marsh
Thursday, 23 July 2020
How good to receive Gwen Harwood’s latest book of poems, The Lion’s Bride! Though Harwood seems to be continually active making words for music for Australian composers, a five to seven year interval lies between the appearance of each volume of poems –·here I include the 1975 Selected Poems because it gave us twenty-seven New Poems, including many that caught the imagination of readers and are already well-known: ‘The Blue Pagoda’, ‘At Mornington’, ‘Father and Child’. Selected Poems also included the tragic sonnet ‘Oyster Cove’, which, though we could not know, anticipated courageous series in The Lion’s Bride which mourns and confronts the guilt bequeathed by the black Tasmanian dead. ... (read more)

Andrew Taylor’s Selected Poems opens with rain and a quote from Rilke’s first elegy, collects new poems from 1975–80, touches his The Cool Change (1960–70), Ice Fishing (1970–72), and The Invention of Fire (1973–75), and ends with an epilogue the final image of which is a night watchman whittling a wooden deify which ‘Glows like a storm lantern / burning all night’. It’s night and the poet has gone to bed and closed the shutters, and the nightwatchman of the subconscious gets to work.

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The Fremantle Arts Centre Press is an example of what a state-oriented press can do. Under intelligent guidance and with sympathetic but not irresponsible state funding assistance, it has now established a solid reputation for publishing good­looking and worthwhile books. If west coast writers are now better known in the east than they were several years ago, this is only partly due to their qualities as writers, good though some of them undoubtedly are. It is also because the Fremantle Arts Centre Press has actively encouraged and promoted west coast writers, giving them the confidence that only professional book publication can.

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What is more common than the indicative mood, and what is more uncommon than the way Les Murray uses it? His Christian finger ‘scratches the other cheek’ (‘The Quality of Sprawl’) but more often points out tracks seen from the air, but invisible on the ground: a hibiscus becomes ‘the kleenex flower’ (‘A Retrospect of Humidity’); the shower an ‘inverse bidet,/ sleek vertical coruscating ghost of your inner river’ (‘Shower’); a north-coast punt ‘just a length of country road / afloat between two shores’ (‘Machine Portraits with Pendant Spaceman’). You see it in his use of the demonstrative pronoun – ‘this blast of trance’ (‘Shower’); the definite article – The man imposing spring here swats with his branch controlling it’(‘The Grassfire Stanzas’)’; the deictic use of ‘I’ and ‘we’ to get his readers looking in the same direction as he points out where we are and where we’ve come from – ‘So we’re sitting over our sick beloved engine / atop a great building of the double century / on the summit that exhilarates cars, the concrete vault on its thousands / of tonnes of height, far above the tidal turnaround’ (‘Fuel Stoppage on Gladesville Road Bridge in the Year 1980’).

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