Poetry here and on the way

Subject of feelingAustralian readers overlook poetry to our loss. Fortunately there are a number of excellent publishers who publish poetry either exclusively or as part of their list.

Many of our literary awards have poetry sections and these remind us that poetry deserves attention. The Queensland Literary Awards shortlist, for example, will be announced this Friday, 11th September.

Australian publisher Puncher & Wattman has a fantastic crop of poetry appearing between August and the end of the year. Highlights are John Tranter’s twenty-fourth collection, Heart Starter (August). This showcases old and new poems, some of which speak harshly about the nature of ‘poetic insight’. Philip Hammial, who has twice been shortlisted for the Kenneth Slessor Prize, had Asylum Nerves published in August. Anna Kerdijk-Nicholson’s very topical Everyday Epic about asylum seekers and reconciliation will be launched in Sydney in September. CLOUDLESS_Front_grande

UWA published The Subject of Feeling by Peter Rose (ABR Editor who appeared at last week’s Brisbane Writers Festival), and Happiness by Martin Harrison in August and will publish Cloudless, a verse novel by Christine Evans in September.

UWA Publishing and creative writing journal Trove are also co-hosting quarterly Sturmfrei poetry nights. “Sturmfrei” is a German word for “being without your supervisors or guardians and therefore being able to do as you wish.” The idea is that UWAP and Trove have fled the UWA campus for the wider Perth community for nights of poetry, conversation and ideas.

On BunyahOn Bunyah, follows Les Murray’s recent Waiting for the Past (both Black Inc) in October. Les has lived in Bunyah all his life. We were fortunate to host Les Murray in our home when he spoke at our inaugural ‘Be Inspired’ series, which aims, as the name implies, to inspire our friends and family. Our other presenters have generally been from the arts, including singer Kate Miller-Heidke; theatre company, Crossbow Productions; and authors Nick Earls and Shaun Tan. Our other poet/author inspirer was the esteemed David Malouf.

Best Aust Poems

Black Inc’s Best of Australian Poems 2015, edited by Geoff Page is also eagerly anticipated in October, as is Falling and Flying: Poems of Aging, edited by Judith Beveridge and Susan Ogle and Idle Talk – Gwen Harwood Letters 1960-1964. (both Brandl & Schlesinger).

My husband received Judith Beveridge’s Devadatta’s Poems (Giramondo) for Fathers’ Day, as well as former PM Poetry award-winner John Kinsella’s Sack (Fremantle Press).Devadatta's poems

Giramondo will publish The Fox Petition by award-winning Jennifer Maiden in November. “The fox” emblemises xenophobia and Maiden’s signature dialogues between notable people reappear. She also used this powerful structure in Drones and Phantoms and Liquid Nitrogen.

In case you missed them, UQP recently published Eating My Grandmother by Krissy Kneen and The Hazards by Sarah Holland-Batt. These writers also appeared at the recent Brisbane Writers Festival and both have won awards.

Robert Adamson was another popular figure at the BWF. He discovered poetry in gaol as a young man and his most recent publication is Net Needle (Black Inc). Just goes to show the power of poetry.Net Needle

Holidays – the chance to read: short fiction, poetry, YA …

Only the AnimalsThe Christmas holidays are most likely your best chance in the year to read. If your family or close friends aren’t as keen as you, send them off on other pursuits – the Sydney Festival if you’re in NSW (or even if not); bush walks, tennis or whitewater rafting; the beach; the movies, especially moonlit ones … Or better still, join them doing those fun things but make sure they also have a book to read when you just can’t keep yourself out of one for a minute longer.

I am about to read some more short fiction – there are so many great collections around at the moment – starting with Springtime by Michelle de Kretser and then The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel and The Strange Library by Huraki Murakami. I was fortunate to go to a launch of Only the Animals by South-African born, Australian author, Ceridwen Dovey (Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Books) earlier in the year and so have already read this original work which is exceptional across short and long fiction. The conceit of telling each short story from the viewpoint of animal souls and their engagement with important times in history as well as with significant writers, such as Franz Kafka, J.M Coetzee, Virginia Woolf and Julian Barnes, is inspired. And the writing is brilliant. Ceridwen is a star and her book cover is the best of the year.A Rightful Place

In non-fiction, Noel Pearson’s Quarterly Essay, A Rightful Place (Black Inc) is my standout. In fact, it’s essential reading to glean some understanding of our original peoples, written by one of their representatives who understands the problems as well as possible ways forward. Pearson is also revered by a broad cross-section of Australians, particularly after his speech at Gough Whitlam’s funeral. Although divisive, many would regard him as a statesman.

Australian poetry is flourishing. I can only begin to list the 2014 crop but a few include Earth Hour by David Malouf (UQP), Sack by John Kinsella (Fremantle Press) and Poems 1957-2013 by Geoffrey Lehmann (UWAP) – reviewed here.

Cracks in the KingdomMy favourite young adult novels of the year include The Protected by Claire Zorn (UQP), Laurinda by Alice Pung (Black Inc), The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl by Melissa Keil (Hardie Grant Egmont) and Nona and Me by Clare Atkins (Black Inc). Jackie French in To Love a Sunburnt Country (HarperCollins) has opened my eyes again to an unknown part of Australia’s history. Incidentally, her novel for middle school (upper primary – junior secondary), Refuge recently co-won the children’s category of the Qld Literary Awards with Shaun Tan’s illustrated Rules of Summer.

And The Cracks in the Kingdom by Jaclyn Moriarty, which is the second in the ‘Colours of Madeleine’ trilogy and won the YA category of the Qld Literary Awards, is another of my 2014 Australian favourites.

Springtime

Book Review: The Jaguar’s Dream by John Kinsella

This book of poems is described in the press release as “A personal journey through the works of poets that most influenced Kinsella’s work“. Kinsella himself describes it as “creating responses, translations, versions, distractions, takes, adaptations and interpolations“. He goes on to say that “the poems are ‘my’ poems in so far as my own biography and experiences necessarily inform their references, conceits and dynamic responses“. The book is, he says, “an attempt to bring the work of poets from other languages I admire into the language I speak and think with most days“.

Sadly, this turns out to be a book for specialists. If you can understand the Latin titles and fragments of Latin text; if you are very familiar with the stories told by Virgil and Ovid and with the background in which Apollinaire and Tristan Tzara wrote their poems; and if you are happy to look up translations of the works of less well-known poets from Classical times to the 20th Century (most of which are easily available on the Internet), then this book may be for you. If not, you are likely to feel, at best, baffled; at worst, excluded from some elitist intellectual club where such things are considered to be the norm.

Some of the poems do stand alone with no need for recourse to the work which inspired them or to the mythologies or poetic ‘fashions’ , times or cultures in which the originals were written. Those poems which work best and show Kinsella’s own poetic style best, are his versions of Book VI of Virgil’s Aeneid, where he transposes the story of Aeneas’s journey through the underworld to the Wheatbelt of Western Australia, via the Nullabor, the Great Australian Bight and Mount Magnet. Two of these poems, in particular, reflect Kinsella’s usual ecological concerns and are fine original poems: ‘On the devastating fallout of the war waged by humans around the earth as witnessed in the Chittering Valley’, (which has a dedication ‘for Cate Blanchett’); and ‘Two gates of sleep: Death of trees in catchment’.

At the opposite extreme to these poems, Kinsella’s ‘Approximation: Extracted Ode to Tzara’ is as meaningless to me as any other Dadaist random compilation of words. And his ‘Zone (Echidna): A Take on Apollinaire’ is certainly ‘Surrealist’ but unlike Apollinaire’s ‘Zone’ it has no coherent meaning that I can divine. As to Kinsella’s excursion into Villon’s ‘Jargon Poems’, which he tells us were described by the London ‘Daily News’ in 1895 as being as obscure to the ordinary reader of French “as if the language was Coptic or Romany, Basque or Gaelic”, I was equally lost by Kinsella’s English ‘translations’.

The Jaguar’s Dream is an attractive title. Unusually for me, page after page of my review copy of the book now had scribbled comments in the margins: question marks; exact translations of Latin and French phrases (which I had to look up); fragments of mythology (which I also had to look up); expressions of  puzzlement, exclamation marks and underlining when I was lost to understanding the meaning or the syntax. I am no stranger to complex poetry and I am always ready to discover something new. I began the book hoping that Kinsella’s stated aim of introducing the reader to some lesser-known poets would lead me to some inspiring new work but I was disappointed.

Copyright © Ann Skea 2012
Website and Ted Hughes pages: http://ann.skea.com/