Tag Archives: Poetry

Prayers of a Secular World, edited by Jordie Albiston and Kevin Brophy: Book Review.

Sometimes, a poem can strike so deeply as to leave you speechless. It is often personal: the subject matter unearths a buried chord or a voice speaks like one you have heard before, calling memories out to play. It may be – variously – rhyme, rhythm, length, word choice. It might also depend on where one is, literally or metaphorically, at the time of reading. This is a wordy introduction to my favourite piece from Prayers of a Secular World because, frankly, Daniela Giorgi’s ‘Sea Fox’ has left me as close to speechless (and almost breathless) as I can get. It sings to me on every level in six succinct stanzas. My partner rarely reads poems (not even those written by me) but this is a poem I knew would resonate. When he agreed (with a sigh of resignation) to listen to a ‘Sea Fox’ reading, it took him a moment to find his voice. When he finally spoke it was to ask me to read it again. I hope you can hear my applause, Daniela Giorgi. Bravo.

I was initially daunted by what seemed a rather earnest and high-brow title. Prayers of a Secular World. But the poems and meditations are all accessible and inclusive. What a surprise to receive this beautifully designed (Sandy Cull, gogoGingko) compact book with a forward by Inkerman and Blunt publisher Donna Ward and an introduction by author and intellectual powerhouse David Tacey who reminds us that sacredness is a ‘dimension of the everyday’ rather than something to be celebrated at special times in holy buildings.

Aboriginal culture has never separated the sacred from the ordinary but finds it embedded in the everyday. (10)

Tacey tells us that we can bring a greater awareness into our own lives by thinking like poets.

The poems and contemplations in this volume are separated into six sections. There is something here for everyone but, in keeping with my opening remarks about the personal call of a poem, I’m going to tell you a little something about my favourites in each section.

See the Dreaming Claim You
Maya Ward’s ‘Powerful Owl’ gets its claws into the subterranean layer of my soul. It is dark and potent, the stuff of dreams.

My mind was forged in the crucible of you
And my spine is a tree
Where you have perched
For thousands of years (14)

 A Mantra That Will Keep Us
Every word in ‘The Sadhu’ by David Francis seems perfectly chosen, mulled over, repositioned perhaps. The effort put into the writing makes the reading effortless so that I was transported into the world of this journeyman of landscapes. I felt as though I was standing before a perfect portrait in a quiet gallery, seeing the sacred mountains. And then I felt myself breathing the thin mountain air. Now I can taste the rice and hear the bells. If I close my eyes, is it possible that I might see the mysteries and grace beyond the narrow path of the present? Maybe.

‘The Sea Fox’, as already mentioned, is my favourite. Giorgi’s metaphoric transportation of expressions between the pain-racked body, the surroundings (You pace the raw metres of our flat, it’s three a.m) and the thoughts of the partner (My brain is dry, red, sore, scratched by empathy) (42) is brilliant.

Domestic Interiors
It was very hard to narrow down my favourites in this section. ‘Don’t’ by Matt Hetherington is clever and poignant; a diamond. Ali Alizadeh brings perfect rhythm to a yearning for love in ‘Venus’. As a mother, I am transfixed by ‘First Night’. Anna Ryan-Punch captures the deftness of the midwives and nurses, the mystery of babies and the re-arrangement of a mother.

Midwives relieve me of your squalling
head. I am as glad and guilty as Catholic steak
on Good Friday. Soon they will bring back your limbs
that I made … (54)

 The Delicate Formation of Faults
As I indicated in my opening, sometimes the connection with a poem might have something to do with where the reader is reading and so I don’t doubt that ‘No End to Images’ by Sarah Holland-Batt has a particularly literal connection for me. I read it on a boat on the Danube so no surprise that lines like no end to iron shoes along he Danube and no end to the gardens of Europe/with their murderous symmetry (78) hit their mark. For the same reason ‘Folding Down Corners’ (Anna Ryan-Punch) and ‘Photographs of Jews’ (Lisa Jacobson) spoke to me clearly.

The Shadow of the World
Catherine Bateson’s ‘Imperfection’ brought to mind Leonard Cohen’s ‘Anthem’. Cohen reminds us that the cracks let the light in. Bateson draws our eye to the beauty of a hand-embroidered orange nasturtium that … here, in the left hand corner/can never match its yellow twin (95).

Believe There’s a Road to El Paso
Judy Johnson’s ‘Swans’ is a stand-out for me, mainly because it made me laugh. Her beautiful poetic descriptions of the majesty of swans morphs into the comedy of the momentary glitches of the propellers of their feet failing to launch like the frenzied paddles of a waterwheel and their absurd cries half bugle, half air brake. Toward the end, the poem is deeply philosophical: The soul we do not believe in, suddenly/believes in us, and flutters in terror (138-139). And her final stanza, which I won’t quote here, is divine. You need to read the whole poem to fully appreciate its depth and beauty.

I have a weird habit. Whenever I finish reviewing a collection of poems or short stories, I go back through to see a) what my favourite pieces have in common, b) what I know about the authors, c) if there are any themes I seem to be leaning toward. I usually find that my choices are eclectic, unbiased and fun to analyse. And this time it’s no different. Many of the writers are unknown to me, the subject matters are vastly different and yet – on some level – linked.

There’s something for everyone in this beautiful gold-embossed collection. For more information, head to the Inkerman and Blunt website

BOOK DETAIL
Albiston, J and Brophy E, eds.
Prayers of a Secular World
Inkerman and Blunt, Carlton South.
ISBN: 978 0 9875401 9 5

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THE END OF THE WORLD by Maria Takolander: Review

Good things come, as the saying goes, in small packages.

Takolander-frontcover-214x300

The End of the World is a precise and economical collection of poems by Maria Takolander presented in a neat little 78 page paperback. It’s Takolander’s third poetry collection, following on from Narcissism (2005) and Ghostly Subjects (2009).

Takolander’s poems are excruciatingly daring, despite some every-day domestic subjects.

The first two poems ‘Unborn’ and ‘Post-partum’ are linked in exactly the sense that the titles suggest.  Poetry can often seem inaccessible but I was instantly seduced by the recognizable in the surreal animal-ness of these poems about motherhood.

The very first stanza (Morning Sickness) of the first poem (Unborn) is a tour de force. A newly pregnant woman dreams of a sow giving birth to a litter. ‘…their lids were serene,/as if eyes did not exist, and their ears were closed/to the sound of their own not screaming…’ The two other stanzas ‘Ultrasound’ and ‘Foetal Movement’ continue the pregnancy journey.  What modern-day mother (or father) wouldn’t relate to seeing the first grainy pictures of their baby: ‘As I watch you shadow box with sourness, radiance and din,/the sources of which you must fear like a medieval Christian,/.’ It’s all here in these two poems: the joy, the blood, the recognition, the pain and violence. Every word perfectly precise, perfectly descriptive, perfect.

The motherhood theme continues in this collection (which Takolander has dedicated to her son) and, in ‘Night Feed’, the baby is a ‘time traveller at my breast’.  Once again, the poet is tapping in to the universal experience through the deeply personal for haven’t we all wondered where babies have been, what knowledge they are coveting, what their slot is in time and their place in relation to ourselves?

As two little girls in their pyjamas navigate the aftermath of violence in ‘Domestic’, we are confronted with the interior of a broken TV which looks ‘bereft’, and the mess of a broken pot plant with its soil and roots and shards of terracotta littering the room ‘as if Triffids had escaped.’

The collection unfolds naturally, from the deeply personal (a woman’s body, a mother and a baby, a family broken) outward to the wider world of alien surrounds and different countries, wars and dead relatives, to Stalin and convicts.

The hotel room of the first poem in Section two with its beige bed cover that ‘has been ironed of dreams’ is a place ‘furnished by sanity’. Once again, so accessible, so recognizable is this room, even when painted in the language of the poet.

‘Missing in Action’ is about men lost in wars, a grandmother ‘dead soon after she got an electric stove’, others who succumbed to alcohol and, poignantly:

Three other uncles: heart attacks – possibly euphemistic.
                (Pictures of those men, modest and blank faced,
                Suggest something already buried.)

Part three begins with ‘Cesare Lombroso, Criminal Anthropologist’ and as I read the following…

                4 rapists, sparkly-eyed.
                6 prostitutes, furnished thickly with hair.
                3 thin-lipped murderers.

…I realised that I was, rather macabrely, almost singing it a-la ‘and a partridge in a pear tree’.

‘Charcot’s Patients’ brings together the historic and the contemporary with a fine dose of black humour, ending with:

Years later – with Charcot posthumously celebrated
                as the founder of Charcot’s disease –
                the Salpetriere hospital in Paris receives
the body of Princess Diana, freshly deranged and photographed.  

The final poems use a kind of reverse anthropomorphism to highlight the foibles of the human animal.  Some bizarre imagery emerges from donkeys sitting at a plastic table watching the sunset, a goat dropping a fishing line from the jetty and then throwing a tantrum, and a spectator-pig watching a collection of animals playing sport.

After reviewing Takolander’s first collection of short stories and now this collection of poems, I had formed an imaginary view of her (in that way we tend to do when we’ve spoken to someone via phone numerous times over a period).  And, as is often the way, my picture was just about as far from the reality as it was possible to get.  I expected something haunted and hardened behind dark eyes.  Rather (as Google reveals) she looks soft and innocent, the girl-next-door in a Doris Day mode and most unlike a writer of such deep bleakness and violence.  That’s not to suggest that there’s not some light and laughter here between the lines but it is that kind of underbelly power that forms the lasting impression for me.

Thanks to Lisa Hill at ANZ LitLovers (cross-posted) for the opportunity to review this beautiful collection of poems, the publication of which was assisted by the Commonwealth Government through the Australia Council. (A couple of poet friends of mine sense some irony in the fact that many of these poems have previously appeared in esteemed publications while exceptional works of unknown poets languish – without funding – in bottom drawers. A subject worth debating perhaps.)

BOOK DETAIL:
Takolander, Maria. The End of the World. Giramondo Publishing Company, Artarmon, NSW, 2014.
ISBN 978-1-922146-51-9

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Fire: a collection of stories, poems and visual images, Edited by Delys Bird: Book Review

The latest outing from Margaret River Press is Fire: a collection of stories, poems and visual images edited by Delys Bird.

Fire

The dark cover image gives a ‘heads-up’ to the sometimes confronting pieces it contains but nothing could have prepared me for the impact of Cassandra Atherton’s ‘Raining Blood and Money: Remembering the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire’. Her description of shoeboxes filled with personal belongings as “mini-coffins” is perfectly sad and sadly perfect.   The term “thud-dead” that is the motif in this devastating imagined recounting is a quote from an eyewitness of the infamous 1911 New York factory fire and Atherton uses it to devastating effect. Of all the thud-deads repeated throughout the story, it was this one that left me breathless:

One of the girls hurtles into a street-light before her broken body lands on a pile of others beneath her.  A muted thud-dead. (89)

If you know nothing of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, I can recommend reading blood and money as a mini-history lesson.  If you know it well, the piece will bring the scene to life in all its unimaginable horror.

Another historical piece amongst the contemporary is ‘No Surrender’, in which Dorothy Simmons presents a different view of the Kelly Gang through a mother’s perspective.  Coincidentally, ANZ LitLovers (where this review will be cross posted) has a recent review of Jean Bedford’s novella fictionalizing the life of Ned Kelly’s sister Kate. Such vignettes into the lives of the ‘bit-players’ in these vast sagas help bring history to life.

David Milroy’s commissioned piece ‘Walardu and Karla’ presents as a pastiche of Aboriginal legend and contemporary realism.  Here we find Slim Dusty cassettes, the shadow of the Flying Doctor’s plane and a faded Dockers jumper, woven into the dreams and landscapes of tradition.  There is some great comic writing in this story like the description of the local expert on the Karla legend who is “happy to live the rest of his life in beer, in cigarettes and in-cognito” (16-17).  And this delightful gem where Alfred fondly recalls meeting the love of his life:-

Then from out of the darkness there came the voice of a goddess.

Ya got any cigarettes?

He turned slowly to face his destiny.

Nup! Don’t smoke. (20)

Underneath this rocking-good humour is a compact and special love story.

Kate Rizzetti writes beautifully in ‘Cool Change’ about a “man of the mountain, as strong and unyielding as the gums he felled for a living” (52), opening her story with Keith’s “unshaven kiss” (49) and ending with an imagined gentle kiss on his “whiskery cheek” (60).

Some of the poems are exceptional, from Paul Hetherington’s ‘Bushfire’ (“Rain came in drops like stones/clagging ash, banging roofs,/making molten dreams” [72]) to Carmel Macdonald Grahame’s expert melodic alliteration (“the lost, last bathroom was green and white,/leafily lead-lit” [73]) in ‘Coming Down to Earth’Miranda Aitken’s ‘Isaac’s Land is Burning’ needs to be seen on the page to appreciate its cleverness.

Metaphors and similes provide for some great imagery in Clair Dunn’s ‘Quest for Fire.  An old termite mound opposite a burnt out tree are, together, “like rusty bedheads” (185)  and morning is described beautifully as a “smudge of indigo appearing in the east” as the narrator feels “the soft underbelly of night” at her back “curling up in hollows and burrows” (195).

The book itself is easy on the eye with an interesting use of white space and thoughtful placement of images, one of my favourite plates being Aerial King Lake – Black Saturday 2009 by John Gollings.  It is so difficult to believe that the image is un-manipulated apart from a “small increase in contrast and red saturation” (39).

This is a collection that invites dipping into, here and there and I am sure I will revisit it many times, perhaps finding kernels of understanding and picking new favourite pieces.  For now though, the thud-deads of ‘Raining Blood and Money’ won’t leave me alone.

Available from Margaret River Press.
This review cross posted at ANZ LitLovers.

BOOK DETAIL

Bird, Delys, Ed. Fire: a collection of stories, poems and visual images, Margaret River Press, Witchcliffe, WA, 2013.
ISBN: 9-780987-218070

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Rapunzel Competition: Runner Up

Poet Betsy Chape was the runner up in our Rapunzel competition with ‘Rapunzel’s Lament’.

Woe is me! Alas! Alack!
My love is gone, will he come back?
I am locked away in this lonely tower,
Far from garden, bloom and bower;
With naught to do but pace this cell,
And dream of one I love so well.

But should my love come back to me,
What can he do to set me free?
Beneath my window, no ivy grows,
Not even stems of climbing rose;
And my heart o’erflows with sheer despair
For it takes so long to grow one’s hair!

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Lowering your anti-poetry protective shield

If the word “Poetry” is a complete turn-off for you, I urge you to check out this fifteen minute TED video.
Poetry-lovers will, of course, enjoy it too.

I think the animated form fits perfectly with good, short, succinct poems and I’d love to see more of it. 

“Forgetfulness”, around six-and-a-half minutes in, is not only delightful but perfectly, sadly, completely, true in my case.

I also love the mouse in “The Country” (at around the 9 minute mark) who becomes the torch-bearer.  Wonderful!

Many readers (and reviewers) are terrified when confronted with poetry because it can be so subjective and seemingly introverted but as Billy Collins shows in this video, it can become crystal clear via an animated backdrop.

Collins’ final poem is recited without animation but it connects powerfully nevertheless. And anyone who’s ever parented a teenager will have a good chuckle.

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Which Writer Wrote ANSWER

This week’s WWW was:-

She gave me her factual tone,
her facial bones, her will,
not her beautiful voice
but her straightness and her clarity.

From his humble beginnings on the North Coast of New South Wales to the University of Sydney and then to poet extraordinaire, Les A Murray is a rare gem.  I love his willingness to wade into controversy, his big happy face and – most of all – his poetry.

The quote above comes from ‘Weights’, one of the poems he wrote in memory of his mother who died in 1951(published in the collection The Vernacular Republic: Poems 1961 – 1983, Harper Collins, 1988). Whenever I read ‘Weights’, it reminds me of my own mother (who is very much alive and kicking) and of good, courageous, beautiful mothers everywhere.

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WHICH WRITER WROTE Answer

The answer to this week’s WWW is Gig Ryan.

Women are full of compassion and have soft soggy hearts
you can throw up in and no-one’ll notice
and they won’t complain.  I’d shoot the man
who thinks he can look like an excavation-site
but you can’t, who thinks what you look like’s for him
to appraise, to sit back, to talk his intelligent way.

 The quote comes from ‘If I had a Gun’, a poem with capital A Attitude in both subject matter and in poetic form.  It’s tone is defiant and hostile and the colloquial language gives it a modern popular edge, emphasised by the odd swear word.

Gig Ryan is an award winning Melbourne poet,   She was given the name Elizabeth when she was born in 1956 and I’d love to know when and why she changed her name to Gig. Can anyone enlighten me?

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