- Kimberley Mann :
'Awake During Anaesthetic'
Its lunchtime, Saturday. Hobarts Salamanca market is
in full swing with musicians adding a rhythmic refrain to the steady ebb and flow of
conversation in the street.
In an office housing the Tasmanian Writers Centre and
overlooking the markets melee, seven or eight writers are seated round a table to
welcome visiting South Australian poet and novelist Kimberley Mann whose first poetry
collection Awake During Anaesthetic
has recently been released by her publisher the Australian Poetry Centre. The
collections a slim and modest thing, handily pocket-sized but managing to squeeze in
close to a couple of dozen poems. What shall I read? she enquires, glancing
round the encircling faces. My poems are a bit of this and that ... speak to various
moods and topics, she adds before settling into a handful of pieces which - as if to
prove her point - include the enigmatically titled Oral sex with a chilli. Now
what was that about?
Manns comfortable swapping poems and sharing anecdotes with
others at the table. Its an environment most likely second nature to her, she
belongs to a long-lasting Adelaide writing group - comprised of Shen, Jude Aquilina, David
Ades and Graham Catt, among others - so its no surprise to learn she copes
comfortably with criticism, appreciating a response even when negative. Sometimes
Ill take note but not act on it; other times Ill hear three or four people
saying the same thing and think maybe theres something radically wrong here, which
forces me to have another think.
Love and loss, purpose and place are represented in Kims poetry,
in the droll eroticism you slipped oyster flesh down my throat / and your
tongue to follow of Terimbula, the distress of personal loss
I am not sitting in a garden, not in a park, not by a river / not with you on
the Harbour Bridge - in My Live-in-mistake, the environmental
perception 87 lost white trees in that dry river / sand ghosts / ripping
soul from the bark of Inland, and Drought. This
is not to say all poems hit the mark (something of the prosaic weighs upon My
Doll) but within the collection are very fine pieces such as Native Soil Under
Her Nails, Mann's attempt to step inside the asylum seeker experience. Writing the
political is a delicate business, but Native Soil Under Her Nails defeats the
cynic in that it neither actively clamours for sympathy nor seeks to persuade. The poem
speaks of a refugee lifestyle behind fences, embracing politics but reaching beyond
to the personal. Her imagery of the sick yellow floodlight of night highlights
the artificiality of the refugees lot, accentuates the gap between hope and reality,
between false expectations and brutish reality.
It's said the author is no more to be confused with his poems
than the actor with the part he portrays on the stage, but in Mann's case it's not
difficult to make a corollary between poet and artistic endeavour. In her capacity as a
counsellor with a South Australian welfare agency, Mann deals daily with social justice
issues. 'The money isn't the greatest but the job's good, I love it.' She says she gains
as much from her work as from her writing, that it confronts her with challenges she's
determined not to shy away from.'What would be the point?' From Kim's poetry and
conversation you're left with the impression that edginess is preferable to a life lived
'safe', that sincerity is a natural part of the makeup. And as John Tranter says, there's
nothing wrong with sincerity as long as you're not too earnest about it. 
John Tranter, interviewed by Brian Henry : 'The Argotist Online'.
Wet Ink - edited by Phillip Edmonds and Dominique Wilson - is
a relative newcomer to the stable of Australian literary journals, though in the sense its
existence is underpinned by recent Australia Council funding ($20,000 for the publication
of four issues during 2010) it can be said to have arrived, sharing the stage
with prodigious journals such as Meanjin, Overland, Island and Southerly.
Its editors suggest the magazine carries no overt ideological
agenda other than the promotion of writers to readers, a policy that invites reflection on
the nature of projected audiences for small magazines. (Does there exist an ideal
reader as entertained by Overlands founding editor Stephen
Murray-Smith, ie the nursing sister at Port Hedland hospital?) To its credit, Wet Ink
escapes the restrictions of a journals first and natural line of support - a
readership of writers - by concentrating on audience as well as acquiring local and
international distribution and the odd advertising dollar. We needed a national
distributor, and found one, and are militant in the belief that we should at least cover
our production costs through advertising.
A four issue, $54 annual subscription [$48 concession, a little
more for institutions] typically entitles readers (taking issue 17 as an example) to eight
pieces of fiction, two non-fiction, four poems (in the previous issue there were six), an
interview, a reviews section and an editors introductory note. Its a
distinctive editorial direction: most journals tend to publish more poetry than fiction.
Strong essays - never easy to find - are integral to the mix; Jenny Sinclairs
The night train to Brisbane [Wet Ink 17) is worth a subscription alone,
a long and discursive piece exploring a pivotal point in the past but - one gets the
impression - requiring the filter of time and experience to pull together.
The magazine has a strong reviews policy, with a dozen in
number in Wet Ink 18 (March 2010) including coverage of Kim Chen Boeys Between
Stations and Michael Farrells a raiders guide. Boeys Between
Stations - a mix of memoir, essay and personal reflection in the mould of Eva Sallis,
Pete Hay, Cassandra Pybus and Martin Edmond at their best - is arguably one of the finest
Australian books to appear in 2009 and its pleasing to find it supported within
these pages. Fiction editor Emmett Stinson assumes a poetry reviewing role with his
appraisal of Michael Farrells a raiders guide. Farrell - who probably
approaches reviews of his work with a dubious regard, never knowing whether to expect
confusion, criticism or acclaim - would be comfortable with this one. Farrells
poetry evokes strong reactions from readers who have a prescriptive notion of what a
poem should be, Stinson notes, adding that while reading Farrells poetry might
be an unsettling experience for some readers, that is the point after all, and those
who do will be rewarded by their strange beauty.
For Wet Ink, the question and answer form of the literary
interview is standard fare. Some interviewees here are more comfortable in front of the
microphone than others: Mike Ladd in Wet Ink 16 is breezy and opinionative in
explaining that he enjoys experimentation but cant stand overly literary,
deliberately obscure or snobby poetry. Some critics get the horrors if youre
too easily understood, as though its a crime to have a message in a poem, but
Ive always wanted to communicate, not hold out on people. Mathew Condons
ruminations on the writing process (Wet Ink 14) are well worth a read. Condon wrote
his first published novel, The Motorcycle Café, when he was twenty, scribbling
away during lunch hours while performing dull, monotonous work in a
garage/service station. I think now I brought some form of colour to my life by
scribbling away when I could. It was a choice and it wasnt. And it wasnt hard
because I had no experience at it, no expectations, no critics, no limits to what I
thought I could and couldnt do. I had complete freedom. Without even a thought of
publication, I just kept writing and rewriting it until I couldnt pare it down any
further. David Malouf too (Wet Ink 17) concentrates on writing styles and
conceptions of the role of the writer, the way writing generally sets out to take
what seems familiar and make it strange, and to make it strange in such a way as to make
us look at it as if for the first time. When you do that you expose contradictions we
think weve resolved. This doesnt necessarily suppose you find a
reconciliation of opposites, Malouf maintains, because the truth might be that those
opposites are not reconcilable and the wish to reconcile them is a way of reducing
experience rather than allowing it to exist in its full complexity.
Theres a tough realism to much of the
magazines short fiction. Hilaires Beyond language in issue 17 is a
stylish intrigue set against the background relief of the joys and difficulties of foreign
travel. In the same issue, overtones of bestiality in the opening paragraphs of Jason
Gents Sex in the kitchen might deter some readers, nevertheless Gent has
much to offer. His story focusses on a young workers first days employment as
a kitchen hand; interactions with fellow workers are alternatively casual, intimate,
intense. Peter W. Bishops Lukey (also issue 17) is a strong,
individualistic piece but his bios just as original: the W in his name
is employed to distinguish himself from the famous man who runs Varuna and whose
errant emails are much more interesting. And Randall Longmires A mob of
recalcitrant mountain-men looking for a horse (Wet Ink 17) plays cleverly on Patersons
The Man from Snowy River.
pound, I said, and the excitement began to build. I watched the unruly mob for
signs of trouble. There was no time to waste. This poem had to move along.
An old man was among
the crowd with hair as white as snow. It had to be Harrison because there were no
other white-haired old men around. While casting him would be easy, he wasnt
prominent until stanza four.
Publishing a literary journal isnt all beer and
skittles, one needs to navigate the inevitable criticism of style and aesthetics. One
reader of Wet Ink mentions being distracted by the proliferation of line drawings
supporting the writing, another states a preference for the inclusion of more poetry.
Perhaps in the final analysis this comes down to no more than a diversity of taste.
And vive la diversification I say,
(to quote Philip Mead, commenting on aesthetic differences between Australian literary
magazines). Its postmodern, theres no centre, anywheres a
. That Wet Inks hearts in the right place is
no better exemplified than by its reviews policy. The inclusion of reviews
isnt a necessity for a literary journal; Meanjin survives without them,
preferring to apportion extra space to primary creative material. And reviewing is
subjective: some efforts succeed better than others, and in this regard Wet Ink is
no exception. But who could not harbour a soft spot for a publishing outlet that provides
such generous exposure of new Australian writing?
Phillip Edmonds, 'TEXT Journal', April 2007.
Mead, 'Magazine Aesthetics', Famous Reporter 16, Dec 1997, pg 13.
Andrew Hardy & Chris Rattray, Far
Beyond The Sun,
There are many reasons to compel the publication of a book of
poetry, among them acceptance by a publisher, self-publication, a competition
win - but Far Beyond The Sun owes its raison detre to reasons beyond.
A dual collection comprised of the poetry of Andrew Hardy (who
died in 1997, aged twenty-two) and inseparable friend Chris Rattray, Far Beyond the Sun
is published by Andrews father Barry. Rattray and Hardy lodged together in
Launceston, composing poetry on a shared computer. With the exception of some more recent
poems by Chris Rattray, the work here serves as a time capsule for that period of their
In a commentary constituting part of the collection, Carolyn
Glock (Chris and Andrews former English teacher during their final years of
college), notes that in the microcosm of Andrews poetry, in the paradox of his
lightness of spirit and the darkness of his writing, lies a sadness, an unknown.
What sort of writer and writing would we have encountered had Andrew had the
opportunity to move beyond the turbulence and raging uncertainty of the adolescent and
young adult? This can only be guessed at and right now we have what Andrew left us: his
Its a simple matter, sadly, to portray Hardys work as
cut off in its prime and characterised by beginnings and uncertainty of expectations. But
Chris Rattrays poems similarly deal with notions of promise and possibility.
His poems extend from the time of his friendship with Hardy to document the teenage years
when Coming to terms with shaving, lathering cream to look
like Santa until a face Shines out to grow / into / a / man.
Rattray is perceptive, writes of a normal person / Trapped in a crazy world
proffered pills for what is euphemistically termed behavioural correction therapy.
The pairs writing is full of contrasts, nevertheless common themes emerge. To the
melancholy of Hardys Early Mornings [And purpose seems just
lost and never near] is the riposte of Rattrays agitated Red Shoes
in a Blue Crowd. In addressing love lost (with his reference in the poem
Survivor to Christopher Marlowes Who ever loved, that loved not
at first sight), Rattray echoes the thematic flights of Hardys
Sunflower Seeds, 27th of March 1993 and Efficient
Our lights winked out so fast,
Id grown accustomed to your
Your dusty prints
Around my spaces.
Theres no proof, no record,
Youre the dream -
These fading scents of filmy presence -
All the little whirlpools when my plug is
You swim now, on my ocular edge,
Distant with blur and
Sea salt to lash
Those horizons that we set,
It isnt hard to see,
Ran out of fuel.
comes through strongly in this double-dip of a collection is a profound sense of a tragic
loss of talent. Chris Rattrays contributions are fundamental to Hardys memory;
the presence of one complements the other. It's a collection overall that is
necessarily confined to modest parameters of beginnings, transitions and 'what-ifs' but
breaking free to present, as Glock rightly suggests, writing 'that is startling in its
honesty, refreshing in a world often tarnished with cynicism and falsity'.