John Kinsella, who lives mostly in Australia, is a transnational literary powerhouse. Poet, fiction writer, playwright, librettist, critic, academic, collaborator, editor, publisher, activist; his activities and accomplishments are manifold. He is best known as a poet, and the publication of Graphology Poems 1995–2015 – a mammoth (and ongoing) discontinuous series of poems published in three volumes – brings together two decades of work.

The collection has ‘a tentative beginning and no possible closure’, as Kinsella writes in his prefatory note. The poems are numbered sequentially, though there are numerical gaps and leaps. There are thematic sections (such as the ‘Faith’ and ‘Forgery’ poems), and the final volume includes a number of appendices and ‘Mutations’. Like the landscapes Kinsella so often writes about, Graphology Poems is sprawling, sometimes messy, often imposing, and always compelling.

The pseudoscience of graphology is the study of handwriting, especially as a tool to analyse character, attribute authorship, or determine an author’s state of mind. For Kinsella, it is a beautifully ambiguous and generative master trope, putting in train numerous characteristic concerns: identity, authenticity, memory, place, representation, power, and textuality itself.

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  • Custom Article Title David McCooey reviews 'Graphology Poems 1995–2015, Vols I-III' by John Kinsella
  • Contents Category Poetry
  • Book Title Graphology Poems 1995–2015, vols I-III
  • Book Author John Kinsella
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Volume I, 268 pp, 9780734051639 Volume II, 281 pp, 9780734051646 Volume III, 246 pp, 9780734051653

According to The Magic Pudding, Bunyip Bluegum’s erudition is established through his ability to ‘converse on a great variety of subjects, having read all the best Australian poets’, a questionable achievement in Norman Lindsay’s day. A glance through the Annals of Australian Literature reveals the paucity of quality Australian poetry volumes published through most of the twentieth century, with selection shaped by the tastes of powerfully controlling editors, especially Douglas Stewart. Even in 1966, Max Harris’s survey essay on ‘Conflicts in Australian Intellectual Life’ – in which he inveighs against the academic gatekeeping of critics such as A.D.  Hope, James McAuley, and Vincent Buckley in the post-‘Ern Malley’ era – notes the limited opportunities for publication by emerging ‘younger non-intellectual’ poets. This situation changed dramatically for the generation of poets who appeared in the 1970s, with generous subsidies and the emergence of a range of independent and commercial publishing opportunities for poetry volumes: poets of this generation – whilst splitting the spoils along the lines of painstakingly demarcated coteries – responded to this opportunity by producing oeuvres often staggeringly more voluminous than those of the poets who preceded them (Kenneth Slessor’s 100 Poems would these days barely constitute a single publication).

As the editors of Contemporary Australian Poetry (edited by Martin Langford et al., Puncher & Wattmann, $49.95 hb, 690 pp, 9781922186935) explain in their cogently instructive Introduction, the assurances of this fruitful period were at least threatened, if not ineradicably altered, by the abandonment of poetry publishing by major presses in the mid-1990s, when a return to the deserts of earlier in the century seemed likely. That this didn’t happen was due to the energies of mostly unpaid volunteers in a cottage industry of independent publishing: previously regional presses such as Five Islands Press and Fremantle Arts Centre Press suddenly became more central, and they were joined by the collective efforts of supportive publishers like Giramondo and Puncher & Wattmann, who discovered that, with small government subsidies and limited print-runs, poetry publishing could indeed be made economically viable (though payment for the poet’s labour was restricted).

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  • Custom Article Title John Hawke reviews 'Contemporary Australian Poetry' edited by Martin Langford et. al. and 'The Best Australian Poems 2016' edited by Sarah Holland-Batt
  • Contents Category Poetry
  • Book Title Contemporary Australian Poetry
  • Book Author Martin Langford et. al.
  • Author Type Editor
  • Biblio Puncher & Wattmann, $49.95 hb, 690 pp, 9781922186935

A book called Our Lady of the Fence Post (UWA Publishing, $22.99 pb, 105 pp, 9781742589121) by a poet called J.H. Crone is an irresistible proposition, simply as a notion. Luckily for readers, neither is at all fanciful. This verse narrative explores the events around the appearance in 2003 of a likeness of the Virgin Mary on a fence post at Coogee, near the site of a memorial for five local rugby players killed in the Bali bombings. Crowds of fervent worshippers flocked to the scene.

The elements of the real story are fantastical enough without any poetic embellishment: faith, anti-faith, nationalism, sensationalism, online abuse, grief whirled through the media at the time, all largely forgotten now. This heady mix, fading into the fog of vague recall, is a perfect ground for the narrative and allusive skills J.H. Crone has in abundance.

Female characters bear names with a Marian tinge: Mae the television reporter; Mari the bakery owner; a Muslim woman, Maryam; even an expert on religion called Maire: but this seems only fitting. J.H. Crone has come lately to poetry after a career as a documentary maker and editor, and though she has a documentarist’s skills with history, she also spins religion though everything, in the bakery, say: ‘Mari offers a slab of soft, air-filled / bread to Jesus, but she can’t eat. Perhaps / a caramelised cardamom brulee / tart? Jesus swallows a flake. Her dolour / pours out into the throng.’

There is conflict everywhere, between genders and faiths, and strange exaltations, as Mae falls/rises into a Catholic netherworld, and everything comes to an inevitable Cronullan climax – or rather, a set of blessed anti-climaxes. Ranging wide, with compassion and compression, Our Lady of the Fence Post might just be the first verse novel that is actually a novel.

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  • Custom Article Title Peter Kenneally reviews 'Our Lady of the Fence Post' J.H. Crone, 'Border Security' by Bruce Dawe, 'Melbourne Journal' by Alan Loney, and 'Star Struck' by David McCooey
  • Contents Category Poetry
  • Custom Highlight Text

    A book called Our Lady of the Fence Post (UWA Publishing, $22.99 pb, 105 pp, 9781742589121) by a poet called J.H. Crone is an irresistible proposition, simply as a notion ...

  • Book Title Our Lady of the Fence Post
  • Book Author J.H. Crone
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio UWA Publishing, $22.99 pb, 105 pp, 9781742589121

Ellen van Neerven, Joel Deane, and Mike Ladd present poems about journeys, recovery, and healing, from comfort food to the experience of a stroke, within overlapping landscapes as palimpsests for their respective pathways.

Reciprocity through feeding runs through Ellen van Neerven’s first collection (Comfort Food, University of Queensland Press, $24.95 pb, 104 pp, 9780702254055) – reciprocity within and without family. Staples like bread and noodles bring joy and contact through breaking and sharing. The fibrous texture of mango cheeks paired with a found object – half a tennis ball – correlates to childhood; the softness of pumpkin scones and familial Dutch comfort food represent togetherness and belonging, expressing van Neerven’s mixed Mununjali and European heritage.

Edgier correspondences are found in the elders drying out kangaroo tails on a wire fence crossed by settler lines imposed on country. These create their own twisted hieroglyphics, and ‘out here there’s reading to be done’ in order ‘to be a piece in time / not a timeline / or a picket in a fence’. An old neighbour attracts animals, including ‘a tree snake hung with his belts’ – juxtaposed skins of the living and dead. A woman with cancer remembers ‘that day she found a snakeskin by the river / they say grief infiltrates strange locations / usually ties itself around your lungs like rubber bands’. Such lines within the body and spanning country are spun out deftly through the text.

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  • Custom Article Title Nathanael Pree reviews 'Comfort Food' by Ellen van Neerven, 'Year of the Wasp' by Joel Deane, and 'Invisible Mending' by Mike Ladd
  • Contents Category Poetry
  • Book Title Comfort Food
  • Book Author Ellen van Neerven
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio University of Queensland Press, $24.95 pb, 104 pp, 9780702254055
Friday, 28 October 2016 17:52

Bill Manhire is Poet of the Month

Which poets have most influenced you?

Before I knew about poetry it would have been the Grimms, plus Orson Welles reading ‘The Happy Prince’. Then R.A.K. Mason, Carl Sandburg, Robert Creeley – at which point I developed a taste for clunkiness, awkwardness, tonal non sequiturs, all the way from Wyatt, Hardy, and the weirder parts of Browning, to Frank O’Hara and Stevie Smith. My poetry tastes have always been pretty chaotic: in my reading universe, Lorine Niedecker, John Betjeman, Adrienne Rich, and the Beowulf poet all rub along together.

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  • Custom Article Title Bill Manhire is Poet of the Month
  • Contents Category Poet of the Month
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    Which poets have most influenced you? Before I knew about poetry it would have been the Grimms, plus Orson Welles reading ‘The Happy Prince’. Then R.A.K. Mason, Carl ...

When Viktor Shklovsky, in his famous 1917 essay 'Art as Technique', asserts that the fundamental task of the poetic function is one of 'making strange' the reader's customary perceptions, he is arguing for more than just the avoidance of linguistic cliché. Through the medium of poetic form, the accepted conventions of our habitualised view of the world can be defamiliarised: the political implications of this approach directly influenced Brecht's Verfremdungseffekt, and in turn underwrite Roland Barthes's structuralist unmasking of societal 'mythologies'.

The Russian Formalist critics – and their counterparts in practice, the avant-garde Futurist poets – are frequently cited as precursors by the American poet and critic Charles Bernstein, along with Wittgenstein's similar explorations of the manner in which our perception of the world is shaped by language. (Bernstein's undergraduate dissertation, later published as Three Compositions on Philosophy and Literature [1972], linked Wittgenstein's 'linguistic turn' to the textual experiments of Gertrude Stein.) Yet the political claims made for their often wilfully 'difficult' poems by Bernstein and his associates in the burgeoning international field of 'Language' practitioners have often been contested: as a somewhat perplexed Chinese interviewer puts the question to Bernstein here, 'L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E is generally regarded as a renegade brand, but in what way is it rebellious?' Or, as the poet Jackson Mac Low once asked: 'What could be more of a fetish or more alienated than slices of language stripped of reference?'

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  • Custom Article Title John Hawke reviews 'Pitch of Poetry' by Charles Bernstein
  • Contents Category Poetry
  • Custom Highlight Text

    When Viktor Shklovsky, in his famous 1917 essay 'Art as Technique', asserts that the fundamental task of the poetic function is one of 'making strange' the reader's ...

  • Book Title Pitch of Poetry
  • Book Author Charles Bernstein
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio University of Chicago Press (Footprint), $49.95 pb, 352 pp, 9780226332086

Poetry as the solidifying of memory, poetry as a survivor's sanguine amusement, takes a lifetime. Louise Nicholas relates autobiography through strongly considered moments in time in The List of Last Remaining (Five Islands Press, $25.95 pb, 85 pp, 9780734051998). Her childhood is tracked by the small fears, confusions, and elations that only later feel like turning points:

                 in the same year but not the day
that President Kennedy was shot in Texas,
I sit on the sidelines at my first high school social
wondering what to make of a new betrayal:
the flowered bodice of my favourite party frock
straining to contain an embarrassment of breasts
where once there was little more than the rise
and fall of my breath.
                                                           ('Aged Thirteen')

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  • Custom Article Title Philip Harvey reviews 'The List of the Last Remaining' by Louise Nicholas, 'How to Proceed: Essays' by Andrew Sant, and 'Rupture: Poems 2012-2015' by Susan Varga
  • Contents Category Poetry
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    Poetry as the solidifying of memory, poetry as a survivor's sanguine amusement, takes a lifetime. Louise Nicholas relates autobiography through strongly considered moments ...

  • Book Title The List of Last Remaining
  • Book Author Louise Nicholas
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Five Islands Press, $25.95 pb, 85 pp, 9780734051998

Across two new titles, Maxine Beneba Clarke offers an unflinching portrayal of the impact of racism, and transcends form in turning a lens on Australian society. Together, these two works witness the myriad ways in which racism shapes the daily life of its victims, the ongoing impact and the toll on body and mind. We see this damage play out in each work, both in psychological terms and, as she describes in her memoir, physically. 'For most of my school life,' she writes, 'trauma manifested itself on my skin.' Her writing is blunt, uncompromising. Both works utilise repetition to enormous effect, layering instances of prejudice and returning again and again to specific moments of trauma. While the approach in writing differs radically across the two texts, they share stories to create something much larger between them.

The memoir feels in many ways like a shift from Beneba Clarke's poetic approach. It lacks the sharp edge I had expected. Carrying the World offers the same dangerous beauty of her previous poetry collection, nothing here needs fixing (2013) – and indeed incorporates some of the same work. But The Hate Race lacks some of the intricacy of her poetry. The voice is simple and open. Sympathetic to the child's perspective, it predominantly focuses on her school years. And it depends on the appeal of this voice – the familiarity of childhood, the associations of innocence – to carry the emotional power of each moment.

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  • Custom Article Title Catherine Noske reviews 'The Hate Race: A memoir' and 'Carrying the World' by Maxine Beneba Clarke
  • Contents Category Memoir
  • Custom Highlight Text

    Across two new titles, Maxine Beneba Clarke offers an unflinching portrayal of the impact of racism, and transcends form in turning a lens on Australian society ...

  • Book Title The Hate Race
  • Book Author Maxine Beneba Clarke
  • Book Subtitle A memoir
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Hachette, $32.99 pb, 271 pp, 9780733632280
  • Book Title 2 Carrying the World
  • Book Author 2 Maxine Beneba Clarke
  • Biblio 2 Hachette, $26.99 pb, 183 pp, 9780733636400
  • Author Type 2 Author
Wednesday, 24 August 2016 11:27

Geoff Page is Poet of the Month

WHICH POETS HAVE MOST INFLUENCED YOU?

Important early influences included Bruce Dawe, David Campbell, and Judith Wright, along with Americans such as William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, and e.e. cummings.

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  • Custom Article Title Geoff Page is Poet of the Month
  • Contents Category Poet of the Month
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    Which poets have most influenced you? Important early influences included Bruce Dawe, David Campbell, and Judith Wright, along with Americans such as William ...

The last two lines of Tony Page's Dawn the Proof (Hybrid Publishers, $25 pb, 87 pp, 9781925272239) ask 'how to seize / the grains of now'. One of Page's (implicit) answers is to relate the present to the past – a poem can provide a 'glimpse / through history's chink' – but the relationship is not just to the human past. The title poem concerns 'Geography's vastness', which 'weighs anchor and sails / across the world's mind'. Space and time have a vastness that dwarfs the human, but humans are consequential because they provide consciousness; it takes a human to recognise that vastness. This is a stance which just about constitutes the norm in developed Western nations: agnostic, seeking meaning with due humility, aware of others and conscious of our limited knowledge of them, curious about other times and other cultures, and knowing that some meanings are culturally constituted. It is certainly shared in the three books reviewed here. It is not a bad stance from which to write poetry, and its commonality is something to be celebrated.

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  • Custom Article Title Dennis Haskell reviews 'Dawn the Proof' by Tony Page, 'Headwaters' by Anthony Lawrence, and 'Gods and Uncles' by Geoff Page
  • Contents Category Poetry
  • Custom Highlight Text

    The last two lines of Tony Page's Dawn the Proof (Hybrid Publishers, $25 pb, 87 pp, 9781925272239) ask 'how to seize / the grains of now'. One of Page's (implicit) ...

  • Book Title Dawn the Proof
  • Book Author Tony Page
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Hybrid Publishers, $25 pb, 87 pp, 9781925272239