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Launch: Anne Collins' The Season of Chance

Hobart Bookshop, 9th August 2005


The chapbook is far from dead. When I googled ‘chap-books’ yesterday, 1,280,000 hits came up. Indeed, chapbooks have a long history. Before the chapbook, literature existed as an oral tradition handed down by word of mouth, except for the manuscripts wrought by monks for the cultivated classes. In the sixteenth century chapbooks became the literature of the ‘common people’ and a means of expanding literacy and disseminating popular culture. Chapbooks are named after the chapmen who hawked them from door to door along with other small items such as ribbons, laces, and pins from a tray slung across the shoulders. The word 'chapman' is related to the word 'cheap', and to the Anglo-Saxon 'ceapian', meaning to barter or buy and sell. The meaning of ‘cheap’ was not loaded with the connotation of ‘cheap and nasty’, but simply meant ‘of little cost’. Chapbooks gradually disappeared from the 1860s onwards, not only because of the explosion in the amount of cheap printed matter available but also due to strong competition from religious tract societies which regarded many chapbook publications as 'ungodly'.

So why are so many chapbooks being published now? I think the major publishers are motivated more and more by profit and the quality of literature is being left out of the equation; just consider the proportion of money spent on editing compared to marketing. So, literature lovers, and especially poetry lovers are being squeezed out of the main market and into niche markets provided by small presses run by passionate, committed people who don’t work for profit and provide small print runs of spined books and chapbooks. This is becoming an underground distribution of literature, as a subversive act against literature-defined-as-such by market forces. Chapbooks are once again a revolutionary act. To quote George Orwell "In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act."

Anne Collins' Chapbook The Season of Chance is a truth-teller, and the title reflects the strong link the poet has with the landscape, the nature of time and underlying hope in a climate of uncertainty. One of my definitions of poetry asks you to meditate on something for one hour and then to summarise that in writing in five minutes; this may be the seed of a poem. This collection of 23 poems is a distilment of a poet’s practice of poetry over the last 15 years. The driving force of these poems doesn’t come from trying to be a poet but from being a poet. These are the poems that come unasked for and will not be quiet. I quote from Anne’s poem Leave of Absence ‘…our souls are rarely bared, except/ for the creator, and only after the event.’ Before the event, poetry is often the closest we will ever come to the essence of another person.

Anne makes experiences real for us through poetry, as in the poem Her Body Thought, where on a trip to surgery ‘…she packs a bag of panic,/ hangs up time,/ steals a cloak of composure, hides behind sunglasses for the drive./’, ‘…The afternoon weeps./ Air-conditioning re-heats her thoughts./ She’ll be used to this soon,/…’ The poet plays with language like a kitten with wool, and knits a jumper to fit each reader while she’s doing it.

Anne’s poems make ideas real for us and show us a world where ‘Small miracles are still possible:’ (Hoping for Small Miracles) and ‘where conversations take people elsewhere,’ and time is not an obstacle but a place in which ‘…to wait, to hope.’; as opposed to the ‘smoothe-tongue’ whose ‘…double-talk steals our thoughts,’ and ‘Generic expressions of regret display,/ a cheap brand of sorrow,/ opportune, cleared of historical weight,/ compassion or the promise of tomorrow.’ (Vainglory). We are shown different views or perspectives of our times such as ‘A take-away paradise’ (The Defecit), or a town ‘..built on dreams’ with ‘exclusive rights to happiness.’ (Missing) where:

‘Here wishing is wired to the loop,
the silhouette of the market snare,
trading in shares, bonded to that
notion. Eyes steered ever onward,
double glazed against all threats,
reluctant to rest in case there is
no chatter left, no clatter left, in case
there is, after all, something missing.

Anne’s poetry has depth without losing its vitality and playfulness. The long thought through ideas are there, but will not bog the reader down. Anne makes real her inner world and thought processes to us while allowing ‘talking deep has its place/ where it should stay.’ (Her Type of Nearness) and that there are ‘…words/ which make no difference in the end,’ (Spare Moments); when confronting our troubled 200 year history the poet says ‘we cry for a new language’ (The Bridge) ‘trying to remain open to different/ questions, instead of the same answers, wanting to be surprised.’ Anne’s poems allow that communication can be through doing and the silences between words as much as by words themselves. This process is extended to the way Anne chooses to make line breaks in her poems, everything this poet does is carefully chosen.

The poems are sequenced in a way that gently opens our imagination from seeing ‘this busy white universe, (in) ant eggs galore.’ (Beneath the Irises) where the poet nestles into the landscape as one would nestle into a person and chooses a life which looks ‘… beyond fence-line, square hedge,/ instant lawn, the five day week, the business year./ Elsewhere, beyond all that.’

This viewpoint allows such questions as:

‘…You’d gone already
into that place we call the mind.
Was it heaven or was it hell,
or nothing quite so simple?’ (Duty and the scent of Jasmine)


‘When privacy rules the fortunes of many,
how does a country make up its mind?
What makes a group of strangers family,
what makes a family strangers in time?
And how can she learn to be kind? (From the Edge)

In the poem (T)error we see the poet’s unique views of both landscape and as a thinker.

‘Now the spring sings a silence
caught in the explosion.
Wattle bursts with light.’


'The story unwinds
along fault lines as far back as Eve.
And she only tried to get an education.'

In the very personal poem Reunion which explores the relationship with a loved one with limited time left to live, the personal becomes universal, and as I read it becomes a poem for me and my mother. ‘…I can forget you/ have almost lived your life…’, ‘…you remind me of/ the daylight left and my grief/ seems premature to this gift of/ the moment…’, ‘…You and I have/ always loved with questions, our/ silence determines what is said…’ Each reader reads both the same poem and a different poem, this is the life force of poetry that refuses to be pinned like a dead butterfly for examination.

From here we are led to the poem Manyalluk Time where ‘Words recede into a sleepy haze.’ and ‘wattle-splash takes me home.’ The final poem of the collection, The Next Stream in memory of Deny King opens us through the senses to a place where ‘Five minutes is forever,/to be now…’ and the final image is ‘..the mouth/ dry, anticipates the next stream.’

Never has a collection so gently led me through such difficult territory; I trusted Anne every inch of journey and came out the other end uplifted with hope and a feeling of not being so alone. I commend this poetry collection, The Season of Chance to you and it is my pleasure to launch it into the world. May its ripples travel far.