North to Garradunga
Five Islands Press New Poets Tour
Hobart, August 2006
Half a dozen poets take
their seats facing an audience of eighty or more on the Tasmanian leg of the Five Islands
New Poets tour, one that has taken in various Australian cities as well as Wellington, New
Zealand. In Ron Prettys absence - Ron is ill, recuperating in a Melbourne hospital -
Nathan Curnow assumes the duties of compere. Wed like to acknowledge Ron
Pretty publicly for all hes done for us and for Australian poetry over
the years, Nate remarks, before handing over to Kate Waterhouse, the first reader of
Kate mentions the
affinity she feels for Hobart, reminding her in so many ways of her home city of
Wellington. Kates opening piece, a poem drawn from memories of time spent in
Thailand, is followed by a couple of Wellington poems - that could equally be about
Hobart, I think - including A thrush on your verandah, with its nod in
the direction of the supernatural. Among the most substantive inclusions in
Waterhouses collection are her pregnancy poems
Shaped from my body
this tug of life
complicates the horizon
with her pure need
extracts my silent permission
so that I am complicit
in this required identity
but on this
occasion she forgoes them to finish with Sounding. I think Tasmania and
New Zealand have more whale strandings than anywhere else in the world, she says,
the hint of a quaver in her voice. Normally, I might read my pregnancy poems,
she adds, but as on this occasion I havent, perhaps Ross will? She
glances quizzically to her left, welcomes Ross Gillett to the microphone.
I think Im bound
to begin with my pregnancy poem after that introduction, Gillett affirms. He reads
Pregnancy, following which he continues with the reproductive theme -
but possibly in the wrong order - by launching into Ejaculation.
Spontaneous laughter breaks loose at the line when at last I found someone else
interested enough to be there when it happens - and again, a little further on:
look Mum, no hands.
In his blurb on the back
cover of Gilletts collection, Kevin Brophy notes an inclination to search for
phrases, thoughts and music "that will become the fixed points by which we steer our
lives"; sentiments that Brophy finds confirmed within this collections
inventive wordplay and imagery, elegance and grace. Many of Gilletts poems are
thematically defined by his strong familial links as well as in his roots with the past.
I grew up in the western suburbs of Melbourne where factories were pretty thick on
the ground, theyre no longer there. Gillett concludes his short bracket with
the collections title poem, The Sea Factory before introducing Ali Jane
touches many bases, moves easily through personal reflection - of a Steve McQueen
epigraph, for instance - to descriptive reminiscences of time spent in various locations
(Murwillumbah, Wollongong), to the sensual, the romantic. While others might incline to
cool detachment, Smith tends more towards observation and experience than to judgement: as
a poet, shes very much involved in proceedings
It is all made up out of these little
Cooking breakfast, making coffee
working or looking for work
waiting for a favourite tv show to start
thinking about what to have for dinner
going out for a beer
putting off unpleasant things
trying to improve the radio reception, going to the supermarket
breathing in deeply, behaving as
if we had all the time in the world.
Smith acknowledges her
appreciation of the Haig familys generous support for the troupe of tourist poets on
the Tasmanian leg of their tour before turning to introduce Gita Mammen, whose work
is both challenging and extremely pleasurable, I think youre going to enjoy
With her collection Feefafafaluda,
Gita Mammen offers a wordly gaze perhaps distanced from the immediacy of Smith who
precedes her and Curnow who follows directly after. Wry declamation and acute observation
take precedence over introspection and interior monologue, reveal an eye and ear for
detail and dialogue. Steeped in myth but grounded in the litany of everyday events, in
Mammens poetry the extraordinary becomes ordinary:
in wheelbarrows, boys trundling mothers
in donkeycarts, veiled women and their daughters
on piggyback, crones on their grandsons
they went between the landmines
all shopping for a loaf of bread
[from Shopping, pg 11]
Being charged with a
political dimension as many of Gita Mammens poems are, its perhaps fitting
that Gita concludes with one of those that Ali might have been referring to as
political. Its a language poem, I think before turning to Nathan Curnow.
Curnow has scant need
for words on the page, he recites from memory: makes the microphone his own, uses it
authoritatively leans forward, eyes on his audience as words meld in a natural,
rhythmic natural flow. Theres concern with integrity, the sense of writing as a
wrestle ultimately worth the effort; arrivals important, but no less so than the
journey. "I swallow praise / from actors, then dish some out, trying to think / of
something honest." He reads Bath towel wings, a reflection on his young
daughters questioning of death wherein he struggles with disarming directness,
honesty and compassion to communicate to a child a parents perceptions. Coming
through forcefully is the bond between father and daughter - a heartfelt awareness that
not all questions can be answered, that perhaps at times the best a parent can provide is
simply love and support.
I dont want to die, she says, and
if I could waive
death somehow, waive it like a day of school.
If I could write her a note or simply wrestle it,
the way I contort her into armholes.
I tell her that I love her but shes heard it before.
She wants to know where we go after this.
She believes in Santa. I cant let her trust Jesus.
Yes, your heart stops working and your lungs.
I want to tell her that life gets busier
which means there is less time to worry.
If there is a trick it is not to grieve too much.
The mystery must be lived, hope is important
and fear: I get the two mixed up.
[from Bath towel wings]
Curnow finishes with a
poem written for his grandmother, before turning to introduce Francesca Haig. A
formidable talent, classy and elegant - I can say sincerely its a huge honour to
stand here before her home crowd and introduce Francesca.
It is unusual to
find such acute observation and such quietly elegant phrasing in a first collection,
notes Philip Salom on the back cover of Haigs collection Bodies of Water;
and I agree. In Francesca Haigs poetry theres a hint of something special, the
sense of a remarkable talent and natural ability, of a knowingness beyond her years, an
energy and vitality bridling to be unleashed. I doubt in disclosing Francescas long
range goal - the simple desire to fully develop her tremendous writing gifts - that
Im giving away too many secrets.
Wallers review of Haigs collection Bodies of
Ive felt somewhat
non-plussed about Wiki since reading Jenny Sinclairs article Writers lost in
the Wikipedia wilderness in the Weekend Australian of October 14-15th, 2006.
Jenny wrote that on
Wikipedia, "Australian literature exists in a patchy, arbitrary fashion, depending on
whether someone has bothered to create an entry or not." Les Murray "gets a
parsimonious 93-word description", whereas writers such as Judah Waten, Marjorie
Barnard, David Campbell, John Morrison, Peter Cowan and TAG Hungerford are all missing.
is to do it yourself. "Editing Wikipedia is easy," she urges. "Any writer,
publisher, agent, arts bureaucrat or editor could add a listing for themselves, their
colleagues, their clients or their organisation in moments
It seemed easy enough so
I took up Jennys challenge and added a handful of writers myself. Simple. It
wasnt till the sixth that I ran into trouble, when a Wiki volunteer advised
"This article is being considered for deletion in accordance with Wikipedias
deletion policy" as it "Does not seem very notable". This was balanced by
another Wiki volunteer suggesting it deserved a "weak keep since the
writers credits included a "few published works". [Meanjin was
cited, if I recall]. A third noted the writer has a few published works of
On the other hand,
someone else offered a positive Keep and a note to everyone wishing to
gratuitously interfere in subjects they know nothing about, to pls leave them to
people who have some interest/knowledge. article lists several publications etc. the area
(contemporary poetry) is marginal enough in itself"
. Hang on, I thought -
Im not suggesting Im au fait with contemporary Australian poetry but
simply attempting to follow Jenny Sinclairs example.
What struck me about the
process was the difficulty for volunteers in verifying whether or not the work was
deserving. Mention of this particular poets four collections - though they included
books by Spinifex, Hazard and Friendly Street - didnt cut cut much ice. One
volunteer suggested a Delete in the absence of multiple reviews of the
poets work: yet Austlit cites seventeen reviews of the poets collections, so
perhaps its not the sort of information thats easily found and readily
verifiable. And of course I didnt help things by listing the writers
nomination for the NSW Premiers Award in 1995 (it was actually the Victorian
Premiers Award: my mistake).
Wiki? For others