Recent Writing


To read Mala Anthony-Ranu’s poetry is to be struck, initially, by the poet’s irrepressible humour and exuberance, celebrating a life happy with its lot; a positive outlook that persists throughout, defining the mood of the collection. Mala's poems touch on various topics – a reflection on Dali, domestic pursuits, a way of life left behind in India - but return inevitably to the familiar and recurring themes of family, and the experience of migration to Australia. Perhaps the title - Twin Voices - refers to the dual settings of the poems, the Indian background as origin and the Tasmanian society into which she and her family have settled. What is very evident is the joy with which the poet plays with words, the possibilities of balance and harmony they provide: ‘forge poems / that rhyme with / my soul’.

Poetry offers many rewards; instigates wonder

A poem is not a secret
But it is a whisper.
A poem is not a tent
But it is a shelter.
A poem is not a lover
But can bury deep in the heart.

[from ‘A poem is not an atom’]

finds utility in the expression of grief. 'I knit, it suits my lifestyle' speaks of a woman who waits with inexhaustible patience by her son’s bedside

My boy, Johnny has not stirred.
Doctors forecast
a deep, deep sleep.
I sit and talk to him
when there’s no answer,
knit one, purl one.

offers unexpected juxtapositions: the unforeseen 'split second friends' as a father propels his young daughter above his head

... a missed heartbeat
but always his catch
safe breath away.
Birds and clouds
my split second friends

and when used humorously, bridges cultures. To a child's question, 'Please, why are you / you know, all over?' comes the response 'Well I'm a freckle all over'. 'A freckle all over' was one of a number of poems shared with an appreciative audience at Tim Thorne's launch of the collection at the 2008 Tasmanian Poetry Festival where, in recognition of environmental concerns, purchasers of the collection were offered a complimentary plant 'to reduce the book's carbon footprint'.

'Twin Voices': ISBN 978-0-646-49810-2 mmranu at gmail dot com



Barbara De Franceschi’s poetry in her second collection Strands (Island Press, 2009) has developed from the material presented in her first, five years ago. What emerged most indelibly in Lavender Blood (Seaview Press, 2004) was joyful exuberance in the discovery and development of a poetic voice. Strands differs in that it opens up more spaces of enquiry: de Franceschi pares back to settle comfortably into a reflective assessment of a lifetime’s lessons and achievements.

Strands is partitioned into four sections, the first largely encompassing flights into childhood. At times these simply recall past events, at other times they’re more reflective, perhaps raising regret for opportunities missed, the occasions that might have been managed better. The contemplative ‘Floral Confessional’ attends to personal conviction: ‘As a child I confessed to hollyhocks / rather than those wire grills / eager to hand out penance for fairytale transgressions’, and ‘I confessed to flowers / blamed no one for my sins’. Personal relationships are touched on too, particularly those between mother and daughter. And in the final poem of the section - ‘Mother’s Prophecy’ - we get a sense of the poet’s positive [‘lustful for life’] outlook. Of the filial inheritance of aspects of a mother’s nature and personality, de Franceschi writes: ‘Hair glinted with henna / sharp wit / generosity / I take these things willingly. / The sloppy housekeeping she can keep / along with the arthritis / bingo nights / horse races.’

‘Mother’s Prophecy’, with its lines ‘Skin smooth and fulsome / till the day she died at 75’, sets the mood for section two entitled ‘In the Moment’ where absence, illness and death move in unforeseen perambulations. In ‘Just a Routine Procedure’, familiarity – ‘… count backwards the number of times / I have died alone in this hospital’ ushers in the denouement ‘I walk down the corridor / leave my death for the cleaners again’. ‘Hospital Emergency 2 am’ asks why illness reaches ‘… a pivotal point / in moonlit hours // disease has no consideration’. The words ‘I thought I saw you’ find repetition in the poem ‘Imaginings’: in overgrown grass ‘bent to the mower blades’, in flower beds ‘amongst festival petunias’, in every cloud…. This section of the book encompasses other realities as well, de Franceschi writes of pets (‘my dog is casual about discipline’), ethnicity and the nuances of the Australian migrant experience, (‘They live at the edge of paths / in the cracks between / one culture and another’) along with the simple necessity of living ‘in the moment’:

I have nothing to consider.
No breath-taking moment divided by
illusion or reprieve.
Every second counts/ like now
a chosen occasion when on a stainless stovetop
I watch
the pasta
boil over.

The third section of the book - ‘Certain Species’ - emphasises the ultimate solitariness of the individual, whether it be, for instance, the result of torment in the schoolyard (‘Constantine to Con’), the loneliness of isolation (‘Chink in the Armour’, ‘Athens Widowed’ – ‘Yesterday I saw him dancing, / twirling an invisible partner / around the backyard.’ – ‘Doll’s House’) or social dysfunction. The poem ‘Blank Spaces’ speaks of the lot of a young woman with a baby ‘who cries as much as she does’, who fails to see the point of the form ‘they insist she fill in / despite the frequency of visits’, and whose rage and frustration reaches its climax when

She scribbles on the back of the form
a neon history gone pale –
defucked / deceived / deserted.
Pins it on the noticeboard for all to see.
Next time she need only point
Hey everybody that’s me
just another infected ear and constant puking.

The fourth section of the book, ‘Wanderings’, records travel impressions from both Australia and overseas. Some of these localities are mentioned in the titles of poems: 'Rest Area Thackaringa Hills', 'Roman Renaissance', 'Mundi Mundi Plain', 'Beneath the Brow of Italian Alps', 'Christmas on a Sheep Station'. They deal with place while reflecting the fruit of a lifetime's observation. One could wonder at the self-imposed limitations facing a poet who’s spent much of her life adrift of the cosmopolitan influences of Australia’s larger centres, (in 'Semaphore and Growing Pains', de Franceschi - who lives in Broken Hill - likens her wider experience to being ‘on loan to rented bedrooms by the sea’). Yet it's not isolation itself that's ultimately limiting. Writers, as Amanda Lohrey recognises, can live anywhere: ‘It’s their own idiosyncratic interpretive apparatus that matters’. De Franceschi thrives in relative isolation, draws on her experiences to write engagingly on diverse topics embracing social change, sexual boundaries and mores, the body politic and much more, with considered and imaginative attention.

Strands: Island Press, 2009. ISBN 978-0-909771-78-2


ANDREW SANT : 'Speed & Other Liberties'

Before the advent of semaphore and morse code, it could take weeks - months - for news of calamitous events to reach the outside world. But the information revolution has transformed the world into a global village, the dollarisation of the globe allows swift transfers of money to all corners of the planet and social networks have expanded to cover far greater distances. The world, reduced to a 'world without walls' has, in short, shrunk to the point of giving rise to the notion of ‘six degrees of separation’ whereby we might feasibly connect with any individual on the planet through personal contacts with just five other people.

That's not to suggest it's a one-way street. The phenomenon of slow TV (and similarly, of the slow food movement) has sought to plant a cautionary brake on the relentless march of technology by stressing the local (and in particular, the notion of quality) rather than the uniform offerings of globalised communications and produce. Nevertheless, we continue to experience change at a mind-numbing rate. "Indeed, as things become more complex so humans are overwhelmed and unable to deal effectively with constantly changing requirements," suggests Mike Bolan, commenting on the Tasmanian Times website [September 15th, 2009].

This is a truism reflected in Andrew Sant's recent collection Speed & Other Liberties (Salt Publishing, 2008) which is introduced with a quotation - ‘Contemporary civilisation differs in one particularly distinctive feature from those which preceded it: speed’ - from French historian Marc Bloch (1886-1944). Speed throughout the collection can be inferred from the cosmopolitan reach and span of Sant’s poems, variously set in Australia, China and Europe and other reaches of the globe and effectively underscoring a lifetime's professional achievements: the poetry fellowships at the universities of Leicester, Chichester and Peking, the co-founding of literary journalIsland, and now this the tenth collection of a celebrated career. Andrew Sant is indeed, as the saying goes, a citizen of the world. It comes as no surprise to find him ensconsed on a stool in a Hobart poetry venue, or to hear his name linked to judging panels such as the distinguished (though now defunct) Tasmania Pacific Fiction Prize; yet neither was it unusual to find Sant - before his subsequent recent move to Melbourne - absent from the reading scene in Tasmania for extended periods of time overseas.

Sant in this collection experiments variously with tone, flaunts a playfulness with language (‘the skaters got set, ready and went’) which slips at times from the simply conversational ('fumaroles is the word I'm seeking') to the gravitas of poems dealing with death and displacement, ('The Morning of the Funeral' and 'Poem for the Refugees'). ‘Crime fiction’, an elegy for the poet’s mother, is extremely busy - as if only through a no-nonsense, perhaps mechanical approach is the poet able to effectively deal with loss and grief. In the struggle to remain in control, Sant adopts a façade in the mode of Raymond Chandler’s fictional crime detective Philip Marlowe.

‘I had to become a tough dick for this,
or fake it. Adopt a style,
just to get by.’

There's a determinable difference between Sant in the flesh and on the page; the poems here aren't quite the Sant of conversational mode and earnest expression hammering home a point of view. The conviction and acute perception migrate successfully to the page, but there’s another measure in the mix: the clarity afforded from being a step removed.  The compassion of 'Abundance', the collection's final poem, exemplifies this. The sea captain serves up for his dozen passengers, (his 'windswept watchers'), the sights of minke whales, a colony of piebald seals, and gannet that jack-knife into the water in search of a meal. Pared down, the poem - saying no more than is needed but communicating far more than is said - reveals a heightened environmental sensitivity. This is perhaps nothing unusual, given Sant’s many years' exposure to the cauldron of Tasmanian environmental politics.

It emerges slowly
he once did have a crew and lived from fishing.
That's what the other seabirds, guillemots,
petrels, shearwaters, are doing now, full time,
large flocks drawn, as the boat is, to abundance
and, the well-thumbed bird books show,
the love of associating with those now seen:
a few house martins, here long before there were houses
still breeding in the cliffs-and the watchful puffins.
If all this is damaged, it will stand as a terrible absence.
There can still be returns aplenty. The captain, alert eyes
on the sea, knife-bright, has lost nothing of his appetite.
                                                     [from 'Abundance']

Though exhibiting environmental sensibilities, the poem 'Abundance' nevertheless retains a residual element of detachment. ‘Luxuries on Market Day’ comes with no such restraint. The temptation of bargain chickens selling in triplicate at the market, draw ‘my eyes like a London fox’s / on gut needs. Gratified as any city dweller / with a well-supplied refrigerator.’ What follows is complacent contentment at 'abundant leisure' before an unexpectedly frank admission of personal complicity. ‘My bargain implicates me in this’.

To my mind, consideration of the latterly-mentioned poems raises interesting questions about the relationship between the self and the world. Some argue that all we have is language, that poetry is nothing but language manipulated to create meaning so how can it possibly describe reality? Yet I'm reminded of an observation by UK poet and scholar, Peter Riley. 'It can't be true that there is nothing but language, because if there were nothing but language there would be nothing for language to do. There are obviously a lot of things in the world that language needs to do with urgency.' [British & Irish poets, 28th August, 2009).

Any concern for the use of language, one suspects, will include consideration of the tension between poetic practice and social engagement; in Speed & Other Liberties, Andrew Sant addresses such complexities with consummate ease.

Andrew Sant: Speed & Other Liberties, Salt Publishing 2009. ISBN 978 1 84471 347 9


PAM BROWN : 'True Thoughts'

‘Counterculturalist’ seems as good a term as any to describe Australian poet Pam Brown whose lifetime of oppositional poetry and politics - the legacy that culminates in her latest collection True Thoughts (Salt Publishing, 2008) - points to a decidedly individualist nature, to one whose choice has been the road less travelled. True Thoughts is 72 pages in length, a hardback collection of twenty-three poems freewheeling through a landscape distinguished by wide-ranging cultural, political and philosophical references.

Pam Brown has been a practising poet since the early seventies, was for five years the poetry editor of Overland, and in latter years the associate editor of John Tranter’s Jacket.  Such exposure guarantees she is well acquainted with the various trends of Australian poetry, ('I have read practically every poetry book recently published in Australia.': P. Brown, her blog 'the deletions', Oct 2009), with its factions and subcultures. Yet for Brown - deeply conversant with (but largely blasé about) the reductionism of labels - it’s mostly about the writing.

droning on is not
                         my way,
mine’s more a kind of
or           maybe,
    simply,      to make art
through spaces,
     without notes to myself –
           none - myself to myself),
chasing the unknowable,
                         (from 'Death by droning')

Brown's writing – not only in this collection, but overall - is neither coercive nor shrill. The predominant approach is for the personal, observant, matter-of-fact; 'essayistic' is the term David McCooey uses in the Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature, 2009 to describe her poetry. Innately political, Brown extends beyond advocacy to reveal a poet very comfortable both with her ouevre, and herself; intelligence and intensity are on parade but there’s little effort at salesmanship, the writing remains respectful and accepting of others’ points of view.

                   he says (in 1940)         that he lives
          that politics is useless,
                                       & talking politics, worse.
          he’s right,
                            I drop my fervour.
                                                      [from the poem ‘No Action’, referring to Samuel B. Beckett]

Utilising the full width of the page and accompanying white spaces, Brown is in turn generous, astute, inventive, unaffected, ironic - does the uncapitalised reference to ‘littlejohnnyhoward’ suggest anything so much as ‘diminished’? It’s a poetry of the everyday, refusing to take itself too seriously yet characterised nonetheless by a je ne sais quoi perhaps appropriately termed integrity:

then Samuel B. Beckett
                 the apolitical and became active,
dangerously, in
the resistance &, later, in the maquis
                            against the Nazis.
not fighting for ‘France’,
              fighting for his friends’ liberty.
     a person
any artist or poet
            could only hope
                      to be as
          courageous as
                                  or, at most, as definite

True Thoughts is a well-designed and handsome hardcover publication from Salt Publishing, a welcome new work from a poet whose last major collection, Dear Deliria, was awarded the NSW Premier’s Prize for Poetry (2004).

Pam Brown : True Thoughts. Salt Publishing 2008. ISBN 978 1 84471 427 8


LOUISE WALLER : ‘holding Job’s hand’

Louise Waller’s poetry collection holding Job’s hand appeared a year ago from fledgling Queensland publisher light-trap press, operated by Angela Gardner and Kerry Kilner. Waller asks who can tell about the heart and its fugitive transitions, questions the nature of our capacity for happiness.

it’s amazing how large how fast
close enough to touch
happiness is

One might readily identify with Waller’s premise as concerns the nature of happiness, but it’s when the Biblical figure of Job is introduced that questions arise. What, if anything, is the relationship between Job and contemporary Australian poetry? Is Waller sympathetic to the call of faith in an era when, by all accounts, God is dead? Cannot the human condition be readily appraised without resort to a biblical context? And what’s to be drawn from the analogy? Has Waller written a modern-day parable suggesting the human heart remains unchanged from earliest instances of recorded history? Is it empathy for the biblical character’s trials that moves her, admiration for his wisdom, patience and triumph over adversity despite the loss of his wealth and health, his friends Eliphaz, Bilbad and Zoptor?

i won’t question much
i already know how to suffer life

The thirty poems in the sequence holding Job’s hand came about via a number of interconnected yet individual processes that drew on Waller’s concerns with climate change and the fragile state of the world’s environment; ‘at the same time, I was investigating profound states of loss, and the idea that hope is often all that seems to prevent loss overwhelming individuals in certain circumstances, yet I wondered about how hope endured during times of great loss’. Drawing on Job’s triumph of faith over adversity helped to alleviate the concerns to whichholding Job’s hand is testimony, as are the various entries on Waller’s personal blog ‘lou-waves’ bemoaning environmental degradation (military exercises, coal port proposals) of central Queensland’s Shoalwater Bay. ‘I wanted to suggest loss in terms of the enviroment without being entirely obvious’.

In this regard, the ‘Book of Job’ - having influenced writers and artists including William Blake and the playwright and poet Archibald MacLeish - is a compelling choice. Yet when it comes to concern for the environment, religious texts are likely - just as readily - to be harmful. Genesis 1:28 [God blessed them, saying: "Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth."] gives rise to the problematic notion of Christian stewardship of the earth, not to mention its effect on the individual when Nature - dominated, manipulable - loses its capacity to awe; and when individuals, conversely, lose their capacity for vulnerability.


like a garment that is moth-eaten

the earth a forest you wonder about
once canaries could predict when air
got poisonous
stupidity shrugs
the war carnage each death
of a species
in fevered bouts without sleep
you see what was coming has
over time these spoken words
so much indecisiveness

Ever the wordsmith toying with possibilities, Waller notes (in private correspondence) the title’s ambiguity might suggest ‘the actual act of holding a hand, or it could also imply, perhaps more fatefully, holding the particular hand that is dealt’. holding Job’s hand is a deft and profound reflection on life; light-trap press are to be congratulated. Poetry publishing - difficult at the best of times - becomes decidely more so with collections of the physical dimensions [B5?] of this book, bringing to mind Chris Mansell’s approach with titles under her PressPress imprint: don’t even try the bookshops!

being old and full of days

what’s in the heart?
another beat that counts
                      not miserably
i still have my bones intact
the warmth of another’s hand
rushing ahead
filled with whatever pleasures
are left
Louise Waller : holding Job’s hand ISBN 9780980486308
light-trap press, PO Box 6418, St Lucia, Qld 4067 www.light-trap.net