False Nostalgia – Aden Rolfe PLUS bonus poet interview

False-Nostalgia-cover-for-web

Today I complete the full suite of shortlisted and highly commended books from the 2017 Mary Gilmore Award, an award for the best first book of poetry published in the previous calendar year. As all of the poets shortlisted and commended for this year’s award, Aden Rolfe has participated in an interview about his collection “False Nostalgia”.

The interviews, and my thoughts on each book, can be found by clicking the links in the list below:

 “Glasshouses” – Stuart Barnes (UQP)

“Sydney Road Poems” – Carmine Frascarelli (rabbit)

“Lemons in the Chicken Wire” – Alison Whittaker (Magabala)

“Lake” – Claire Nashar (Cordite)

Aden Rolfe’s book commences with quotes, epigraphs, by Drake and Georges Perec and before you’ve read a single poem you know you are in for an interesting ride.

I’m looking forward to the
memories of right now

DRAKE

the picture is cut up not only into inert, formless elements
containing little information or signifying power, but
also into falsified elements, carrying false information
GEORGES PEREC

A collection made up of poems, essays, notes, reflections, it is broken into four sections, “Anamnesis”, “Ars memoria”, “False nostalgia” and “Autoplagiarism”, and closes with a quote by Eliot Weinberger.

Immediately the reader’s own memory is called into play, in the opening poem “Anamnesis”;

We are who we are because of
what we remember —

The opening poem also advising us, “the trees out of breath”, the second poem “The woods/wet and not quite real, breathe us out”. A collection that needs to be savoured, the realities of the present moment are interspersed with the facts of the future, laced with the inanity of social media; “Instead we set the scene / take the photo, update our statuses.” (p16)  preceding “but one day you’ll find a lump / with searching fingers // you’ll change your health cover / at last come to appreciate / the things you can’t buy your way out of // which is the dawning realisation / of our time / “ (p 19)

Similar to a number of the works featured on the Mary Gilmore Award lists, the spacing, the open page plays an important role, “a pause is a thoughtform”.

With snatches of Andrei Tarkovsky and David Lynch, the humour is also apparent, , for example a mnemonist and erratum appear only a few pages apart, the questioning of memory, the impact of time becoming all too apparent, is this a false nostalgia?

The wryness appearing to interrupt your immersion; “i’ve never / really known solitude / i even drove round all night looking for it” and “if I say apple / do you picture it as red or green? / With a worm or a snake or an archer?”

The same process underpins what Oliver Sacks calls ‘cryptomnesia’, a kind of unconscious plagiarism where you mistake a received idea for an original thought.

Through the poetry, essays and musings, the reader becomes trapped between the theoretical, the real and the present, and of course poetic licence. Masterfully constructed, your mood peaks and troughs as our poet waits, or reflects on the concept of time, or memory, I found myself bringing my own memories into the experience. Personally a playful work, thoroughly recommended.

As always I would like to thank the poet for their time and their honesty in answering my questions, and hope this series is continuing to inform you about the poetic art form and educates you about the work of contemporary Australian poets.

Onto the interview…

Q. I found your collection immersive, playful, so I’ve formed my questions along those lines, I hope you don’t mind…

And what if I said I did…?

Q. With references to Marcel Proust, Oliver Sacks, Plato, Socrates, Italo Calvino (to name a few) you’ve obviously been fascinated by time and memory for some time. Tell me about how that fascination came about.

The theme developed organically, or rather, unintentionally. It started with this concept of false nostalgia – the idea of looking back with fondness on something that wasn’t particularly great the first time around. I had a handful of poems that wrestled with this idea, poems that betrayed an interest in it, a desire to unpack it, but which had also come about as a result of the way I write. I tend to approach ideas sideways, composing by bricolage, sifting through notes and scraps and phrases until enough of them cohere into a poem. One of the consequences of this approach is that different parts of an idea can find themselves in different poems. At some point it occurred that I was returning to the same ideas about memory and forgetting – a kind of autoplagiarism about autoplagiarism.

My initial reaction was embarrassment. You can only write so many melancholy beach poems without seeming like a one-trick poet, right? It struck me as lazy – to keep going over the same territory. Only later did I think that this might become a sustained or focused investigation, later still before the pieces took on the shape of a collection

Q. Is this collection of your memories “a theory of your life, not a proof”?

Very little of the book actually stems from my direct experience. There are some autobiographic parts in “Ars memoria”, but the focus there is more on Simonides of Keos, who invented the memory palace technique, and Solomon Shereshevsky, the famous Russian mnemonist. They embody the idea of infallible memory, while I feature as their foil, as someone who forgets too much and recalls too little. I can’t even remember what I’ve already written.

Q. You wait a lot and contemplate whilst doing so, are you an overly punctual person? Did I make you wait too long before sending through these questions?

When it comes to appointments, yes; less so with deadlines, as you’re well aware. So no, you were not late at all.

Q. The opening section of your book is titled “Anamnesis” and we move through to “Ars memoria” straight to “False Nostalgia”, the unreliability of memory the theme throughout. Having said that you use a number of formats and poetic devices including argument, this “scrambles” the reader’s experience. Do you enjoy these “games”?

When I started work on the book in earnest, I was trying to find a form between poetry and essay. A space to explore the relationship between memory, identity and narrative more deeply than I could in poetry, but without losing its movement, the ability to jump between disconnected thoughts and images.

The different forms in the book – standalone poems, poetic sequences, essay, commentary – emerge from my failure to find such a form. In its absence the various modes and genres are a way to explore different aspects of the same idea. The title essay, for example, considers the concept of false nostalgia from a theoretical standpoint, but captures little of it as a sensation, a mood. This comes across much more strongly in poems like “How we tell stories about ourselves” and “We Watched the Waves”, which embody the concept without explaining it.

Q. The opening lines of the opening poem “Anamnesis”, “We are who we are because of/what we remember – ” leads to a blank space. Is there an implication that we aren’t who we think we are?

It’s not an implication, but it’s also not that simple. You are who you think you are, but only because of that thought. Or perhaps: you are only who you think you are. The idea of the objective self is a fiction. We build stories about ourselves to serve present needs and future trajectories, deploying memories as evidence. But what we leave out is as telling as what we include, what we forget and elide and edit.

Q. The collection is peppered with questions, forcing the reader to dwell, recall, add their personal journey. Is immersion part of your poetic toolkit?

The question is an important poetic – and rhetorical – device, don’t you think? In some senses all questions are rhetorical. So are compliments.

Q. Your collection includes a lot of pauses, and “a pause is a thoughtform”, could you explain that a little more?

Pausing is the active form of waiting. Both are loaded with potential, but while waiting is passive, pausing is always active. To hesitate, to think, to contemplate is to do nothing and everything. You arrest the flow, threaten a drastic shift, even if you end up resuming the course.

Q. Any reader can tell from your book that you are well read, I ask all my interviewees this, what are you reading at the moment and why?

In terms of poetry, I just picked up Melody Paloma’s In Some Ways Dingo, which I’ve been looking forward to for a while, and I’m revisiting Bella Li’s Argosy and Monica Youn’s Blackacre.

I’m also in the middle of a couple of series: Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan tetralogy and Edward St Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose novels, both of which have been on my reading list for a while.

I was reading Patrick White’s The Vivisector, in an attempt to finish it before the Centre for Deep Reading’s White Out weekend, but work got in the way. So it’s back on the pile while I have another stab at Roberto Calasso. I got nowhere with The Ruin of Kasch, but I’m finding The Marriage of Cadmus of Harmony more rewarding, at least so far.

Q. I normally ask my subjects “what’s next” is there something you are working on that you can tell us about?”, however I’ll ask it this way, are you continuing to “write to forget” or are you now an “empty vessel”?

Writing to forget, always. Both in the sense that an idea or a line, once written, ceases to tap me on the shoulder and ask to be remembered, and in the sense that it then risks being erased from memory altogether. How often do you go back through a notebook and find that a thought you had that morning is the same as one you had four years ago? But writing is also thinking, and I’m always reading to remember, so the important things come back eventually.

At the moment I’m working on a poetry and poetics project called the Heavenly Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge, the title of which comes from a certain Chinese encyclopaedia uncovered by Jorge Luis Borges. In its distant pages, he writes, animals are not divided into mammals and fish and birds, but more creative categories like “those that belong to the emperor” and “those that have just broken the flower vase”. Each poem in my Heavenly Emporium corresponds to one of the encyclopaedia’s categories, proposing an Australian animal that could fit that particular classification.

 

Sydney Road Poems – Carmine Frascarelli PLUS bonus poet interview

SydneyRoad

Carmine Frascarelli’s collection “Sydney Road Poems” would have to be one of the most visually arresting, multi-layered collection of poems that I have encountered in the last few years. Shortlisted for the Mary Gilmore Award, along with Stuart Barnes’ “Glasshouses”, Aden Rolfe’s “False Nostalgia” and Alison Whittaker’s “Lemons in the Chicken Wire”, I have been fortunate enough to have the poets answer my questions about their works, and today I bring you another amazing interview with an Australian poet, as always the responses follow my short views on the book and appear unedited below.

For non-Melbourne based people, Sydney Road is a busy stretch, that runs from the north of the city, towards Sydney, past the old gaol and has traditionally been an area for migrants, recently becoming “gentrified” and hipster.

Carmine Frascarelli has captured the history and make up of this interesting part of Melbourne through concrete poetry, visual layering, blended with historical documents, shapes and so much more. This book is not simply poetry, it is a work of art.

Covering the history of the road, from pre white settlement, through to chain gang constructions, gold rush traffic, migrant population, controversial war moments, to the present day tram trips, cars and multi-culturalism, this homage to an area of Melbourne is both compelling and educational.

The loss of history is marked from the opening poem “#1”, “we poke up & down this road,/ where the old prison & religions ran out // (the walk home) / Gentrified     no gentlemen / Hill side of the Green Field” . “#2” takes us back to the traditional owners and the possession of their land; “they drew a line on a sheet of paper  & here =, they’d pave a way  :  in    :  out    in order to settle / they would be unsettled”. Onto “1838” and the convict gang who commenced building the road, and then “1896” and religious riots.

The sense of time is portrayed through the use of now redundant language, “Bukko”, “Dagoes”, but it is not a collection that simply recreates a history of Melbourne, although there is the inclusion of the treatment of returning diggers, dissidents, women voters, the north of Melbourne becomes a microcosm of general society. Using the open (one sided) parenthesis throughout, the implication of a half finished story unsettles you on almost every page.

As it is impossible to quote a poem here without the visual layering, here is an example of one of the pages

SydneyRoadPoem

A timeline of ownership of the original property called “Brunswick” (including subdivision), shows the fleeting existence, the passing of time, through layers, images and historical records.

The collection is not all visual, with poetic lines overlaying the present day with the historical, the activism peeping through, the current treatment of migrants becoming echoes of the past. This is a book all Melbourne residents should own, a collection that would resonate with many readers who live in the suburbs of Brunswick, Coburg and surrounds, a document that adds to the vibrancy of our city and through careful research and stunning presentation celebrates the multiculturalism that is weaved through our current time and place, without ignoring the traditional owners of the lands where we currently live.

Another brilliant collection from the Mary Gilmore Award list of 2017, again I thank the chair, Michael Farrell, and judges Ann Vickery and Justin Clemens for bringing these works to my attention.

As always, I would like to sincerely thank the poet, Carmine Frascarelli, for his time and honesty in answering my questions, I feel this is another dazzling interview to add to the collection I am slowly building here at Messenger’s Booker.

Q. One of the first things a reader notices is the visually stunning work you have constructed. I am sure there were many hurdles in getting a work like this to print, can you take me through the printing process, proof reading etc.?

It worked out much easier than expected. I was initially a bit worried with definite sympathies for the typesetter. I’d had a piece published in Rabbit before that had ‘visual’ text in it with some images as well and it got a slightly messed up with bits missing, a line repeated that I didn’t do, things out of whack etc. but Jess Wilkinson wasn’t fazed and had confidence in Megan Ellis, the new typesetter.

The first proof was great. With mostly minor things, and even the one bigger thing resolved easy enough (poem 26 had about 50 text boxes in it). I met with Megan and went through it all, I’m also a visual artist so conscious of the qualities text as a visual communication but in a very…I guess painterly way, so there was a lot of “up a bit” “down a bit” “left” “more” “more” “more” “go back” “can you get it as close to the edge as you can?…what?…let’s not worry what the printer’s gonna say” etc. Megan was great, patient, astute, knew what she was doing and had what looked like a professional computer.

I didn’t see the physical book until the launch. Some things shifted, namely the newspaper clippings which I wanted to haunt and pester around specific lines of mine. But no matter, I was (still am) more concerned with the bungled hurdles of how bad some of the poetry is than the visuals.

Q. Your collection opens with a stunning epigraph from Rebecca West’s “Black Lamb and Grey Falcon”, an inspiration to stop and to dwell. How long did you allow Sydney Road to sit in your unconscious before the poems birth, crawling “like serpents from their cave”?

Sensitivity to the ideas of place and relationships to it (social place, cultural place, environmental place, historical etc.) has been with me since childhood. I think the migrant heritage plays a big part in that hyper-awareness. There’s both a strong sense of estrangement mixed with an overcompensating urge to prove yourself & belong, all complicated by the hypocrisy of “Australian” as a benevolent reliable macho identity founded on dispossession & displacement. Then, after getting a grip, seeing it change, and what you grasped at, shift. There’s an inherited chip on my shoulder.

Add to that my reading of travel books with author philosophical interludes; West’s Black lamb Grey Falcon & Henry Miller’s the Colossus of Maroussi, Hunter S. Thompson & Walter Benjamin, then William’s Paterson, Susan Howe’s Europe of Trusts, locally π.ο’s, Thalia’s & Jordie Albiston’s stuff,  then even more influential was Olson’s Maximus Poems, also seeing Fellini’s Roma as a teen, an unresolved need for exploring or atomising what person to place was, is,& could be, was waiting then just sort of gradually unleashed for my own entertainment & catharsis (as private relief & distraction during a troubled relationship combined with that chip on my shoulder) then gradually more serious until Jessica asked if I had anything for a book, I stopped having fun and did deeper research and thinking and made a book. But time from the first poem to the finished manuscript was about 18 months. Though there’s more poems I wanted to do. I sort of consider it incomplete.

Q. The newspaper reproductions add yet another layer to your work, quotes like “famous previously for bricks, pottery, mud and poverty” revealing another depth to the suburb. Can you explain a little about your research process?

The first stuff I wrote was from my immediate experiences and daily observations of the place with some influence of local knowledge. Then it slowly built. I was personally, instinctively curious about it all so there was no academic or scholarly impetus or method to any of it. Secondary sources: Laura Donati’s book Almost Pretty: A History of Sydney Road being the main one which led to stories & primary sources both in the Local History Room at Brunswick library and going through digitised newspapers on Trove. The staff at the library were very helpful too. They have excerpts from the Sands & McDougall Post Office records just for Brunswick from 1885 to 1970 listing tenants & property owners for Brunswick addresses. Saved me a heap of time & trouble & let a piece I really wanted to do & felt vital for the work (poem 26) finally happen.

Because it was for poetry not dissertation, I wasn’t concerned with finding or justifying a conclusive position. So, I tried to have fun and throw all these sources against & in with one another to test & challenge and see what it all may or may not mean.

Q. In your hands a walk down Sydney Road and the encounters made is a “cluttered” experience, “the ordeal a footpath”. Did this “concrete poetry” and shape and form come easily?

A sense of self, others, place and their histories, present & futures as interconnecting unpredictable improvisations. Yes! With shoes on my hands. Also, that was a bad proof read on my part “the ordeal of a footpath” should’ve been the line. Shit.

I consider myself instinctively a visual artist, but having said that my sketch books have lots of text in them. Abrupt annotations. Sometimes the best way I felt I could capture & express my reactions & thoughts is through diagrams or keep myself from interjecting as much as possible & just do a kind of textual frottage or bricolage.

The “concrete” aspect, I feel, can aid and enhance the ideas expressed. Like how the assured projection of a line or a path may either continue to head wherever or suddenly morph & avert to remain relevant & existent. Though I tried to employ it fluidly, organically, erratically more than architecturally. Not for novelty sake either. Which is why I loved Jessica’s work so much. It’s a valid & vital mode. Believe it or not I wasn’t interested in being experimental or too recondite & I didn’t want to write a poem about a mouldy banana in the visual form of a furry teacup either, for example.

Q. Pardon my ignorance, can you explain your use of “pe,ople” to me?

It’s a clumsy (mis)appropriation of something Melbourne poets Thalia & π.ο do, where they use mathematical commas to group letters like digits. “pe,ople” as opposed to “people” was to try and refer to people as a number, a bulk of data, objects, statistics more than a collection of poetic personifications of humanity. Not sure it works.

Q. The poem “1991” shows a forward thinking and forthright mentality by the council on the issues of the Gulf War and “Moslems” in general, are you proud of Brunswick Council’s stance at that time?

I think I’m too cynical to be proud. And I was too young then to really remember first-hand what things were like for Muslim Australians especially with Middle Eastern heritage. But it seemed like an impressive gesture by the council to act from principle and passionately reach out, represent and defend the locals especially considering Brunswick’s intense & mixed migrant heritage all experiencing that agitation I mentioned earlier. That was Romper Stomper time as well.

Q. Are we all just visitors here, the “t-shirt/the white kids with the black sky red earth sunned chests (pseudo – “sorry”s & crypto-“so what”s” ?

Visitors is a soft, evasive way of putting it. Hard for me to answer assuredly. Probably why I listed some of what we are with question marks in that poem. The whole book could be considered a response. As in visitors or guests or invaders or fugitives in a planetary sense? Cultural? Geographical? Mystical? I dunno. (Falsed roots brings false fruits (hello Matthew Hall)

Again, I’m cynical, or maybe naïve, I believe it’s more in a nuanced awareness & self-awareness & integrity of relationship to place & people that goes further than simply waving a flag or putting on a t-shirt. Anyone can do that. It can be distortive. Ethical complexities reduced to (moral) fashion and not much really changes. Token appeasement & mutable affiliations are sugar (bulls)hits. Genuine engagement with the issues lay elsewhere, maybe inwards. For all my gentrifications & lush-haired-clean-shaven-Roger Moore-ness, I’m a cagey wog at heart.

Q. Is non-fiction, historical, “metaphysical hysteria”, poetry a genre?

One may, perhaps, consider it a nomadic non-linear line of trans-ideological enquiry more than a genre my dear Sir. A mode of consciousness that meanders in the rift between my inherited peasant strand of defiant nihilism & my constructed bourgeois conceited aloofness. I think what I do could be  a hyper-judgmentalist projectivism maybe. It’s also a nod to Rachel Blau Duplessis’ “hysterical masculinities”.

Q. With references to Ezra Pound, Joseph Brodsky, Howlin’ Wolf (to name a few) you are obviously well read and a music lover. I ask all my interviewees this, what are you reading at the moment and why? And for yourself, what are you listening to and why?

(I’m thinking of Bill Hicks “watcha readin’……for?”)

My kitchen table is my desk/workbench. Currently stacked & sprawled across it are; the latest Rabbit Issue 21 along with Melody Paloma’s excellent book & Dave Drayton’s too. It’s all just so bloody bunny good. And what value! Flash Cove 4 & 5. I’m onto the second book of Rachel Blau Duplessis’ extraordinary Drafts which is becoming increasingly influential for me. Lionel Fogarty Selected Poems 1980-2017 (signed). Rosi Braedotti Transpositions. An old Japanese book with Japanese text (the photos are in Australian) a nice friend lent me about ceramics & tea bowls & the styles & traditions of glazing. Wabi sabi! That’s what I should have called “metaphysical hysteria”. I’ll just list the rest: The Essential Mary Midgley Reader; a stack of monographs: Soul of a Tree by George Nakashima; one on “prototypes, one-offs & design art furniture”; Robert Motherwell; Cy Twombly; Arte Povera; Yvonne Audette; Cy Twombly & Poussin; Cy Twombly Sculpture; Out of Hand: Materialising the Post digital & one called Post Digital Artisans.

Music’s always on. Music’s the best. I’m actually a failed musician. Howlin’ Wolf was a homage to my brother. I listen mostly to….jazz I guess. Everything from the 20’s to now. Mostly stimulated by the 50’s/60’s stuff. Eric Dolphy, Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk etc. I play a lot of Melbourne band the Hoodangers too because they don’t perform live so much these days. I usually get New York bassist William Parker’s music when it comes out. At the moment Marc Ribot Requiem For What’s-His-Name is on. Recently purchased: Mary Halvorson Meltframe, Marc Ribot Rootless Cosmopolitans, Charlie Haden & Liberation Music Orchestra Time/Life & Archie Shepp Blasé.

Why? Short answer is for pleasure, inspiration & vindication. Knowing there is & has always been fervent nutters after my own soul existing & expressing.

Q. Finally, what is next? Are you working on anything you can tell us about?

I’m currently completing an Associate Degree in Furniture Design at RMIT. No idea what’ll come of it though. I’ve just had a short burst of writing so I hope to do a few submissions, which I haven’t really done for a while. Also, gradually working my way back through a stack of short poems I did as a kind of journal/daily medicine a few years ago during the mercurial relationship that spawned the Sydney Road stuff. Actually, the book started in that stack. Maybe someday I’ll coax & hoax another manuscript of it.

 

Hopefully I will round out the set of Mary Gilmore Award shortlisted, and highly commended poets, Claire Nashar’s “Lake” being highly commended, with an interview with Aden Rolfe, about his book “False Nostalgia”, in the coming weeks.

The Way by Swann’s – Marcel Proust (translated by Lydia Davis)

Swanns

As my followers on Twitter (@messy_tony) would know, I’m currently working my way through Marcel Proust’s masterwork.

Why Proust?

His massive book has sat hovering on my periphery for a number of years, frequent allusions, quotes and references have occasionally prompted me to start the seven book, six volume journey, however something more pressing, shiny and new has always distracted me.

The final push came the way of Matias Enard, and his latest novel “Compass”, where numerous Proust references were made. For the uninitiated his “masterpiece” is titled, “À la recherche du temps perdu”, translated as both “Remembrance of Things Past” or more recently as “In Search of Lost Time”. Finding Enard’s book a revelation I thought it was time to undertake my own personal Proustian journey.

I own the six volume Penguin Edition’s version, translated by six different translators, this collection alone has prompted many debates, with numerous detractors, as just as many supporters. I do not want to enter the debate about Scott Moncrieff vs others, as I have no intention of becoming a Proust scholar, nor an expert in French. As a reader of translated fiction, I thought the concept of six different translators would appeal, as I could pick up nuances between volumes that I may generally miss when reading a translated work. Maybe my appreciation of translation would improve through this exercise, an added bonus.

Given there are a plethora of reviews, opinions, and information about Proust, publicly available, I do not believe I will add anything credible to the material you can source elsewhere, however I thought I would highlight a little of my journey and present a few favourite quotes from each of the novels.

Starting with “The Way By Swann’s” (Translated by Lydia Davis), commencing with death, time…

I find the Celtic belief very reasonable, that the souls of those we have lost are held captive in come inferior creature, in an animal, in a plant, in some inanimate thing, effectively lost to us until the day, which for many never comes, when we happen to pass close to the tree, come into possession of the object that is their prison. Then they quiver, they call out to us, and as soon as we have recognized them, the spell is broken. Delivered by us, they have overcome death and they return to live with us.

It is the same with our past. It is a waste of effort for us to try to summon it, all the exertions of our intelligence are useless. The past is hidden outside the realm of our intelligence and beyond its reach, in some material object (in the sensation that this material object would give us) which we do not suspect. It depends on chance whether we encounter this object before we die, or do not encounter it. (pg 47)

On reading…

After this central belief, which moved incessantly during my reading from inside to outside, towards the discovery of the truth, came the emotions aroused in me by the action in which I was taking part, for those afternoons contained more dramatic events than does, often, an entire lifetime. Those were the events taking place in the book I was reading; it is true that the people affected by them were not ‘real’, as Françiose said. But all the feelings we are made to experience by the joy or misfortune of a real person are produced in us only through the intermediary of an image of that joy or that misfortune; the ingeniousness of the first novelist consisted in understanding that in the apparatus of our emotions, the image of being the only essential element, the simplification that would consist in purely and simply abolishing real people would be a decisive improvement. A real human being, however profoundly we sympathize with him, in large part is perceived by our senses, that is to say, remains opaque to us, offers a dead weight that our sensibilities cannot lift. If a calamity should strike him, it is only in a small part of the total notion we have of him that we will be able to be moved by this, even more, it is only in a part of the total notion he has of himself that he will be able to be moved himself. The novelist’s happy discovery was to have the idea of replacing these parts, impenetrable to the soul, by an equal quantity of immaterial parts, that is to say, parts which our soul can assimilate. What does it matter, thenceforth, if the actions, the emotions of this new order of creatures seem to us true, since we have made them ours, since it is within us that they occur, that they hold sway, as we feverishly turn the pages of the book, over the rapidity of our breathing and the intensity of our gaze. And once the novelist has put us in that state, in which, as in all purely mental states, every emotion is multiplied tenfold, in which his book will disturb us as might a dream but a dream more lucid than those we have while sleeping and one whose memory will last longer, then see how, for the space of an hour, he sets loose in us all possible happiness and all possible unhappiness, just a few of which we would spend years of our lives coming to know and the most intense of which would never be revealed to us because the slowness with which they occur prevents us from perceiving them; (thus our heart changes, in life, and it is the worst pain; but we know it only through reading, through our imagination: in reality it changes, as certain phenomena of nature occur, slowly enough so that, even if we are able to observe successively each of its different states, we are still spared the actual sensation of change). (pgs 86-87)

I have been peppering Twitter with the quotes, the format not ideal for Proust, where sentences can ramble for pages, here is one that didn’t fit the 140 character format:

For what we believe to be our love, our jealousy, is not one identical and continuous passion, indivisible. They are composed of an infinity of successive loves, of different jealousies, which are ephemeral but by their uninterrupted multitude give the impression of continuity, the illusion of unity. (pgs 373-374)

Approaching the work with a little trepidation, I should not have been so fearful, thoroughly enjoyable, immensely readable and captivating, I jumped straight to Volume Two. My journey has begun…

Enough from Volume One of the 3,296-page work, I will return with a few favourite quotes from Volume Two, “In The Shadow of Young Girls in Flower”, later in the week, along with my thoughts about the two different translators.

Deluxe Paperweight – Holly Isemonger PLUS bonus poet interview

Deluxe

A couple of weeks ago I interviewed Alison Whittaker about her Mary Gilmore shortlisted collection “Lemons in the Chicken Wire”, whilst we were communicating back and forth and finalising the interview the Judith Wright Poetry Prize winner was announced. Alison Whittaker’s poem “Many Girls White Linen” shared first place in that Prize with Holly Isemonger and her poem “OK cupid”.

The judges of the Judith Wright Poetry Prize, Jill Jones and Toby Fitch (stay tuned here I have a Jill Jones interview in the pipeline), said of Holly Isemonger’s poem;

‘OK cupid”…is a dark, post-digital love poem in which the words of three stanzas are recombined to tell a warper tale about the split-second decisions one makes in the world of online dating. The poem could be seen as a nocturne: the words rotate almost musically, but the recombinations also deconstruct the events within the poem. ‘OK cupid’ shows how repetition is really, in Gertrude Stein’s sense, insistence. (‘Overland Journal’ issue 226 p 28)

‘OK cupid’ can be read online here or better still support Australian writing and buy a copy of edition 226, or even better still subscribe.

Holly Isemonger’s “Deluxe Paperweight” was published last year, by Stale Objects Press, and is available to download here  (when at that page click on the word “link”)

Opening with a page of reviews of Lars Von Trier films, the collection engaged me from the off, as a filmgoer, who has both loved and loathed Lars Von Trier’s movies, Holly’s views on films “Breaking The Waves”, “Dancer In The Dark”, “Dogville”, “Melancholia” and “Nymphomaniac” brought my own experiences back to life;

Dancer in the Dark

Some reasonable people will love this film and others will despise it… but we are not reasonable… we have spent too long reading the little box that describes the art. We know the arc of tragedies, and musicals — we dread, so here we find ourselves with Bjork in the depths of hell. We raise our fists and look for Lars who has left. He is scooting away on the surface of this shallow film to the spiritual sequel, featuring Nazis, his mother, a communist and a swan that will leave him wondering how to get out of this sentence.

We then move into more formal psalms, onto images from iconic movies and then “Hip Shifts”, where repetition features again, the Tom Waits references bringing a broad smile to my face;

I am Tom Waits’ dumb teenage girlfriend.
We live in a shopping mall.
A car park surrounds our house
like a bruise. I drive.

Technology and the digital age is never far from Holly Isemonger’s work, manipulating an online translation tool to present the decay of language and meaning in “Free Online Translation Service”, an insight into the poet’s world where the essence of meaning is eroded by our current digital environment, the poem a stark reminder that text and language is ever shifting, faster and faster the more we utilise technology.

Finishing with “Failed Screenplays”, more images from art, film and the poet’s personal collection and then the questioning “Five Obstructions” the collection is a humorous as well as horrific take on our modern lives, when do we have time to simply live and love?

A further poem by Holly Isemonger was published earlier this week in the eChapbook “Tell Me Like You Mean It: New Poems from Young and Emerging Writers” – this online chapbook also featuring Alison Whittaker – you can access the book free here  and Holly Isemonger’s poem here a continuation of the “Sad Witch Psalms”, three which appear in “Deluxe Paperweight”;

museum incantation
let autumn crust the skin
on egg yolky afternoons
note hoe light leaks like
pus though windows
onto nudes burst the
culture blister only let
him touch u if u do him
the shit busker believes
you want him imagine
bob dylan is dead

Another young poet who is pushing the poetic boundaries and bringing a refreshing change to the flavour of the written word, to read a collection of poems that uses a raft of techniques to bring smiles to my face, and that questions the limits of language is an enjoyable exercise indeed. With recent recognition of her work, Holly Isemonger is a young poet to keep your eyes on, one that will challenge and amuse.

As always I would like to sincerely thank the poet for their time and honesty in answering my questions, Holly Isemonger being more than generous in her replies and time. I personally found this one of the more revealing and amusing interviews I have conducted and look forward to reading many more published works.

Over to the interview:

Q. Icelandic author Jón Kalman Stefánsson says, in his latest novel, “The poem surpasses the other literary arts in every way: in its depth, potency, bitterness, beauty, as well as its ability to unsettle us.” Some of your work is “unsettling”, do you think that’s a harsh or fair assessment?

Oh yeah for sure, unsettling is apt! I don’t ever set out to write things that are a bit gross, sad or creepy but those themes always seem to float to the top. I guess it says a lot about my psyche and interests?? Pleasure and repulsion are at the core of a lot of my poems but I don’t mean to write them like that. I guess it stems from the fact that I have an extremely ambivalent attitude toward poetry.

Some of my favourite poems convey both attraction and repulsion (with a certain sense of humour and wisdom) and I think those themes are particularly salient to people who identify as women. Too much can be made of the whole ‘hatred of poetry’ thing but I think there is something to it. To hate something, you have to respect it on a certain level. I love poetry, but it’s frustrating. I think my complicated feelings towards poetry is what makes me so interested in it… which perhaps says more about me than the form.

As for the quote you mentioned, I agree. Poems have a long history that is tied to the very nature of being human. There is a reason Ring Around the Rosie is still sung by children. It’s a form of play, it helps kids learn the rules of social interaction and teaches them about language- yet this is a song about the plague, but those sun drenched memories in pre-school and kindergarten are beautiful and they pass all too quickly- plus sometimes it’s v funny watching kids figure out language and coordination! So in this one nursery rhyme (which I would call a poem) you have this intersection that brings so many different elements of life together: humour, beauty, death, history etc. – plus there are the meditative and chant like qualities of poetry and rhyme. Combine all of these qualities and you have a précis of the human species. And I find that pretty unsettling! Like how in Jurassic Park the old dude has a fossilized mosquito caught in amber. To zoom out and see humans like that. It’s dark.

Q. Your Judith Wright winning poem “OK Cupid”, featured in the latest “Overland” Magazine (issue 226) uses a dating app as a subject, can the everyday be poetic?

Yeah this is my ongoing beef with poetry, it should reflect our everyday life! I think this is why lots of people don’t like poetry- it’s not that they don’t like poetry per say – it’s that they had to read a fuck tonne of Keats, Wordsworth etc. So people are like, ‘how does this relate my life? I have no time for this ivory tower bullshit.’

However, sometimes the idea of making poetry ‘relatable’ can be misconstrued. Ok Cupid is an ‘experimental’ poem, I used an exercise (or constraint) where I rearranged the words in three stanzas in three different combinations, but (I hope) it’s still relatable. Being relatable doesn’t mean that you that you can’t engage with form. We all spend a LOT of time manipulating text. Whether it is a text message, facebook, twitter or an email. Each medium demands a different kind of sentence or phrase. So poetry should engage with that process.

Reading NourbeSe Philip’s Zong! for the first time really made me understand how poetry, and particularly experimental poetry, is not an abstract academic idea. It opened up a whole new way of thinking about form, experimentation, history and subjectivity. AND it makes me SO angry that Kenneth Goldsmith is the go-to guy for “experimental” or “conceptual” poetry for many people.

Q. “Deluxe Paperweight’ opens with reviews of a number of Lars Von Trier’s films. He is seen as a “bad boy” of world cinema, and has said, “A film should be like a stone in your shoe”, are you poems “stones in shoes”? Are you the “bad girl” of Australian poetry? And, I have to ask this; did you watch the 5.5-hour Director’s cut of “Nymphomaniac” or the equally gruelling 4-hour version?

 I hope my poems are like a stones in shoes…I think. Or maybe like grit that slowly transforms into a pearl? I dunno, I lose all my jewelry anyway. It would certainly be an honour to be the “bad girl” of Aus poetry but realistically it’s more of a gang, or perhaps a coven. There are so many great poets pushing the form in Australia, like Emily Stewart, Alison Whittaker, Amelia Dale, Elena Gomez and Astrid Lorange- all have taught and inspired so many writers, artists and poets. And of course- the one and only Pam Brown! I don’t think Australian poetry would be where it’s at now if not for her, she is a huge inspiration to so many poets. If I could (and one day I hope I can) I would make her writing compulsory on every syllabus along with Ali Cobby Eckermann.

In regards to Lars, he is one really painful stone. Or maybe he’s like having an ulcer in your mouth but you keep touching it anyway because although it is a bit gross and painful it’s kinda satisfying? I don’t like that many of his films, and he is clearly a bit of a jerk, but I am glad (against my better judgment) that he and his films exist in the world.

And yes I did see the long version of Nymphomaniac at the movies. I liked the first half because it was fun, the girls were just trolling everyone and I loved it- and who doesn’t like to watch hot people root? But the second part was garbage: a woman who loves sex is crazy? And then she is slowly and gruelingly punished. It’s like- really? We’re still doing this?

But god bless Charlotte Gainsbourg, she’s such a trooper ❤ ❤

 Q. Your bleak imagery is also peppered with humour, “best buy your own beer”, or your acknowledgements containing the comment “and other stuff I can’t remember”, is it a fine balance between horror and humour?

 Well I’m glad you thought they were funny. I don’t really think about it, in general I have a pretty dry sense of humour and that seems to infect everything I write. Most of the writing I really love is a combination of comedy/melancholy (e.g. Lydia Davis, Russell Edson, Chelsey Minnis and Matthew Welton). Life is pretty funny – if sometimes painful- so I write poems like that.

Also, I wrote “and other stuff I can’t remember” because I literally couldn’t remember. I’m glad you found it amusing.

Also, Gone Girl was the best rom-com of 2014 and if u don’t agree I’ll see you in court 😉

 Q. Film obviously plays an important role in your life, with references to many classics, Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby, Badlands, Chinatown just a few. Can you explain a little about your love of cinema?

 When I used to work at the local IGA in my home town I would ask every person who came through my checkout what their favourite movies were, I would keep a tally on the back of receipts and blue-tack them to my register. It was fun because I would have so many interesting conversations and bypass inane chats about the weather. It really opened up an unusual space for empathy, I met so many fascinating people with a wealth of knowledge about movies, books, life experience- I would have never had those conversations if I didn’t ask them about their favourite movies. If they came through my checkout and I just said ‘how are you’ I would have judged them, not in a bad way, but like: you are a dad, or mum, or grandmother or kid or a creepy guy from the RSL. And they probably would have done the same to me. Through this one question about movies, I learnt so much from a bunch of really wise and interesting people that I would never otherwise talked to. Don’t get me wrong there were still customers that were a pain in the ass, but most people were open and kind. That was a pretty formative period.

One shift, the people who owned the video shop (TOP VIDEO) next door came through my checkout and offered me a job there. Needless to say, I accepted. I adored that job. I compiled folders that had lists of all the different movies that had won awards, I wrote up little introductions to various directors and actors. I don’t think many people read them when they came into the shop. But it was fun nevertheless.

One of my favourite dick moves was when groups of women would come in to get a fun rom-com for a ‘ladies night’. They would hire stuff like My Best Friend’s Wedding, 27 Dresses, Runaway Bride etc. But people would often see Kirsten Dunst in a wedding dress on the cover of Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia (a movie about depression and the end of the world) and hire it thinking they were in for a delightful marriage plot. How I wish I could have witnessed their faces as Kirsten Dunst flees her wedding in a golf buggy and pisses on the green as the end of the world looms.

There are a million reasons to love movies but my passion for them came kinda late. It was through a subject at uni taught by the brilliant Sarah Attfield. I was introduced to films by Tarkovsky, Lars von Trier, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Agnes Varda, Claire Denis, Chris Marker, Wong Kar Wai, Tsai Ming-liang, Roy Andersson- and watching Elem Klimov’s brutal war film Come and See still haunts me. Discovering these filmmakers really changed the way I thought about film. (N.B I watch so much trash- all these fancy directors could indicate otherwise- I’m terrible).

I think there is a correlation between poetry and movies. What was such a revelation to me was that some movies- like Tarkovsky’s for example- make you think in a very unusual way, and I think it is the same way you think when you read poetry or look at a painting. If you think of novels as linear/horizontal thinking, reading a poem is a kind of vertical thinking. You don’t think about the forward motion of the story. You don’t process the content, sound, image and temporal qualities separately. It’s an experience where you hold all these elements in your head at once and the meaning comes from a spooky place at the back of your mind. I don’t know much about art but I am obsessed with Hunters in the Snow by Bruegel the Elder. There is something in all the layers of meaning, which operate simultaneously, that I find super unsettling. That painting turns up in Melancholia and Tarkovsky’s film Mirror, which also features a voiceover reading Tarkovsky’s father’s poetry. So it’s all linked I guess?!

I could bang on about movies forever but I’ll spare you!

Q. I ask all my interviewees this, what are you reading at the moment and why?

 The last book I loved was Transit by Rachel Cusk. I have never read anything like it. There’s not much in the way of plot but she just examines the interactions that happen around her, and how people are accidentally cruel to each other. I think she is trying to figure out a different way of formulating what the ‘self’ is: it doesn’t come from within but it’s how you relate to the people around you. It’s cutting yet compassionate. The book is filled with a deep sense of wisdom. And besides that- it’s a delight to read!

At the moment I’m reading some feminist theory on horror films. It’s so weird to me that the genre is often perceived as a bro-ish genre (well, I thought of it like that) when it is, usually, quite literally about women overcoming all the awful shit that they have to deal with irl, but on an allegorical level. There is still a lot of annoying horror sexism stuff… but hey- beggars can’t be choosers and I love my female leads!

Q. Finally what is next? Are you working on anything you can tell us about?

Hmmm. I’m just trying to figure out how to make this whole writing career thing work. And it’s kinda tricky. I’m working on getting a collection of poetry together. And I am trying to get a daily schedule together- I’m not sure which one is harder! Can someone give me a job where I get to talk about movies and literature? (CALLING YOU SBS & ABC IF TURNBULL HASN’T GUTTED YOU ALREADY).

 

 

 

 

Lake – Claire Nashar PLUS bonus poet interview

Lake

Today I look at another title that was brought to my attention via the Mary Gilmore Award and feature another interview with the poet. I am always grateful for the time these writers put into answering my questions, their welcoming of my intrusions and the honesty in their answers. I am hopeful that their responses enlighten you a little in the art of poetry and give an extra layer to their works.

Today’s collection follows on from “Glasshouses” by Stuart Barnes and “Lemons In The Chicken Wire” by Alison Whittaker  both collections being shortlisted for the Award. “Lake” by Claire Nashar, although not shortlisted was “highly commended” by the Chair, another poet I have interviewed, Michael Farrell and judges Ann Vickery and Justin Clemens.

“Lake” is a difficult collection/presentation to review, the first impression a reader has is the stark page, the layout, the lines crossing pages and the melding of text, shapes, maps and a range of other techniques. As poet Claire Nashar advises in her ‘Preface’ “The poems…do not always start and end on discrete pages, and none have titles…” however you do glean a distinct sense of place and connection to the Lake in question, Tuggerah Lake on the Central Coast of New South Wales.

Although homage to the Lake this book is also a tribute, a eulogy to the poet’s grandmother, Beryl Nashar, a geologist and the first female Dean at an Australian university, the first woman to be awarded a Rotary Foundation Fellowship and she became the first Australian to be awarded a PhD in geology from an Australian university (The University of Tasmania), and this is just a snippet of her distinguished career.

erasure admits an understanding of circumstance, those sure obscurities of
nearness that breaks life from portable form and make all that’s mine what’s
                                                                                                                    left already

A work that shifts, as the surrounding environment would do, from page to page, a reading is an immersive experience, one where you flick backwards, forwards, around, as the structure evolves around you. A book that reflects deeply on the surrounding environment, man’s destruction of the natural wonders and plunges you into the concept of erosion, the page shifting in front of your eyes.

A very handy “Index” allows the reader to revisit their biases, their first impressions and create yet another work from the sparsely populated pages.

Using references to historical images, documents, maps and catalogues of species, the reader is left to ponder the space, create their own image of the ever-changing lake.

Another stunning collection highlighted by the Mary Gilmore Award and one that both challenges and allows you to contemplate your surrounds as well as your impact on such.

Again, I would like to thank the poet, this time Claire Nashar, for her time and generosity in answering my questions, another wonderful insight into the workings of contemporary Australian poets.

I hope to be back with a few more poet interviews over the coming weeks, stay tuned!!

Over to the interview;

 

 Q. I get a very strong impression that a page 22.5cm x 15.5 cm is still a restricted space for you. Was depicting the Tuggerah Lake within a restricted space a struggle?

Haha yep, you’re bang on. I first wrote the book for landscape-formatted pages. Kent at Cordite was still working out what the books in the series were going to look like at that point, so I didn’t know what the final dimensions would be. If I had, I might have written a bit of a different book actually! But in the end, shoehorning landscape pages into portrait format had some really interesting results. I really liked how it allowed certain poems that would have originally been on discrete pages to then float toward each other across the hinge/spine of the book.

I think initially, back when I first started writing the poems that went into Lake, I thought of publishing them as a scroll—just one long stream of poems. It’s hard to imagine a publisher who would have been able to print something like that though. The pages of a book have a way of feeling episodic/linear/sequential and can impart those qualities to the relations between poems. I wanted to suggest more varied and complicated associations. That’s why the index at the back of the book is so important to me. It creates a whole series of connections between poems/images/references/sources. It also helps extend the poems beyond the book by pointing to other texts/places/people.

When I read from Lake I draw on this, mixing up the order of the poems and using a projector/slideshow to show the poems and bring in other materials and images as well. Like any lake, I want the poems to keeping being a porous project.

 Q. Erosion is a strong theme, physical forms changing, memories fading, and you present such in various formats, even questioning “whats erosion”. Did this “change” go through a number of iterations itself?

The language itself went through heaps of iterations. I guess writing an elegy made me feel self-conscious, like I had to always be deciding what was too much feeling, what was too little, what was formally exciting, what just a little too cute or on the nose. I could have kept making those calculations forever if there hadn’t been a print deadline. Even now there’s stuff I wish I could change. In death and publishing, you learn to let go.

Q. In your preface you state, “Long before us and long after us the area is home to the Darkinjung, Awabakal and Kuringgai peoples”. This implying that there is one constant throughout this shifting work. Can you explain a little more about this indigenous connection?

Writing about Australian landscape seems to me to be incomplete and unethical without an acknowledgement of this country’s deep and broad Indigenous history. Part of that history is the violence of white invasion, of which I and many others are the beneficiaries. It seemed crucial to acknowledge this at the start of the book as well as in a number of entries in the index—in fact the entries for each of the Darkinjung, Awabakal and Kuringgai peoples index every page of the book. Indexing, or directing attention toward, the specific Indigenous past and present of the land around Tuggerah Lake was a way of engaging that ethical imperative while doing my best not to coopt or speak for those peoples and their histories.

Q. You address human encroachment through fishing and pollution, but it is finely balanced with an honour to your grandmother Beryl Nashar and your family. Was this a dichotomy you struggled with?

The answer to that’s a bit tricky. In a way, the project began because I was thinking about how my grandma had just entered the lake via her ashes, and I was trying to work out whether she was a pollutant or just some more, natural, welcome matter. She’d become both human and not. That thought created the weave for the book, my mind dipping in and out of human and ecological narratives. So in the end, maybe it was easy.

Q. Again, in the preface, you speak of necro-geography but prefer the term “necropastoral”, one, in simple terms, being burial practices, the other a more inclusive poetic term “a strange meeting place for the poet and death”. In my reading your work is more a celebration of nature and the living, the many layers and uniqueness of the “lake”, intermingled with memory. Have I missed the point completely?

Hahaha no, not at all. I suppose my clichey response is that in some places and states the categories of ‘alive’ and ‘dead’ become swapped. Grief is like that, so is Tuggerah Lake. When I name all those animals and plants in my book I am thinking of them as having the ability to be both dead and alive—both swimming/flying/eating and in any state of decomposition you can imagine. That’s one of the nice (but also sad) things about language. I can still write “Beryl” even though she’s gone.

 Q. I ask all my interviewees this, what are you reading at the moment and why?

Lately I’ve been reading a bunch of translation theory for my phd and Pierre Vilar’s A History of Gold and Money. I’m investigating the relationship between the economic metaphors historically used to describe translation (debts, credits, losses, gains, etc) and economic theory.

I’ve also been reading Louis Zukofsky’s 80 Flowers, just for pleasure.

Q. Finally what is next? Are you working on anything you can tell us about?

I’m not sure poetry-wise. I’d been toying with a series of Bush Studies after/through Barbara Baynton, but I don’t know. I think after Lake I might need a break. Instead I’m working on a translation of Louis Aragon’s Le Fou d’Elsa, which was originally published in 1963, and is both this great love story and a reckoning with Muslim/Catholic relations on the Iberian peninsula.  Along with my phd, it’s keeping me pretty busy for now!

 

Self imposed book buying ban

Whilst I took my annual trip to central Australia, to organise the yearly fundraiser for the retention of indigenous women’s culture, my wife secured and built significant bookshelf space in our front lounge room. Earlier this week I tidied up piles and piles of books and before I know it I had filled those bookshelves. The activity itself meant I was dwelling on certain titles, ones I had read many many years ago, ones I bought and never got around to, others that I’d never finished (they formed a “donation” pile) and yet others that I would like to reread at some stage.

This exercise had me dwelling on the practice of reading, raising numerous questions;

  • Why did I buy this book in the first place?
  • Did I enjoy this one so much I will reread it?
  • Why did I buy this title?
  • Why so little Australian fiction?
  • Who on earth gave me this one?

It was a nostalgic and memorable exercise, a little like spring cleaning, cathartic but also educational. The whole process highlighted something that I’ve known for quite sometime, however one I hadn’t quantified;

How many unread books do I own?

Without spending a considerable amount of time counting them, the obvious was brought home this week as eight new books arrived in the mail whilst I continued on with reading one, Marcel Proust’s “The Guermantes Way” (translated by Mark Treharne) part three of “In Search of Lost Time, there will be more posts about my Proust journey in the coming days. This stark fact meant that each week I finish one title and collect eight, meaning if the current trend continues each year I will add between 300-400 unread titles to my shelves!!!

Simply unsustainable, my house just isn’t that large.

Earlier today I floated the idea, on Twitter, of a personal ban on buying new books until I have read at least fifty titles from my existing shelves, this post was met with a range of responses from incredulity to laughing through full support.

Therefore, I am making a public announcement;

I AM NOT GOING TO BUY ANOTHER BOOK UNTIL I HAVE READ AT LEAST 50 TITLES FROM MY CURRENT SHELVES.

Now, with many independent publisher subscriptions this may still mean that I fall further behind, however I will keep a tab on the progress of reducing my unread bookshelves and it may even lead to a realisation that I need to reduce my subscriptions too.

How do I intend to remain firm is a decent question raised by more than one Twitter follower? I think I will implement the following strategies;

  • Tell my wife. She will certainly assist with curtailing spending
  • Keep a progress tab via Twitter (eg. “My book buying ban still requires 49 titles to be read before being lifted” etc. etc)
  • Before picking a title from my shelves to fill the “fifty book ban” I will ask myself “Why did I buy this?” helping me to understand my moving trends
  • Give myself an incentive book, something akin to a treat, to purchase once I have finished my fifty books

One title that is excluded from being completed is, of course, Arno Schmidt’s “Bottom’s Dream”, where I am making slow progress, dipping in now and again and revelling in the breadth of wisdom. I have been very remiss in my progress posts but plan to publish an update in the next couple of weeks.

Astute followers may notice that I may even read and review a book that has only recently been released, this does not mean I have lifted my ban, it simply means it was either pre-ordered, forms part of a subscription or was kindly sent to me by the publisher to review. One title that I think will fall into this category is the forthcoming “Letters to his Neighbor” by Marcel Proust (translated by Lydia Davis) and published by New Directions, currently I am making my way through his masterwork “In Search of Lost Time” (I will write more about that journey in the coming days) and have pre-ordered the forthcoming letters, a book I am very much looking forward to reading. Title one on the list of fifty books will be “The Guermantes Way” by Proust, I am sort of cheating here as I am currently 218 pages in but being less than half way through I have bent the rules to make this book one of my journey.

I do not intend to list the fifty titles I will read as my tastes will move as time progresses, however I do have four poetry titles I need to read as interviews with the poets are lined up, add in the four Proust books (volumes 3-6 inclusive) and I only have to source 42 more books to hit my goal!!!

Wish me well and keep tabs on my progress (or utter failure) via my Twitter handle @messy_tony – let’s see if I suffer withdrawal symptoms!!!

 

2017 Man Booker International Prize Shadow Jury Winner

mbi2017-logoLater today the official judges of the Man Booker International Prize will announce their winner, and to steal a little of their thunder the Shadow Jury is a few hours ahead of the official jury in announcing our favoured book from the thirteen titles that made the longlist way back in March of this year. It is a blessing that we had a decent amount of time to work our way through all the nominated books as there were several weighty tomes in the list.

With eight members on the Shadow Jury the views were always going to be disparate, the debates and discussions lengthy and the observations into other’s reading tastes enlightening. I can assure you that there was healthy discussion on many titles, some of us hating one title, others ranking it highly, and vice versa.

Our shortlist was announced in early May and consisted of the following six titles:

“Compass” by Mathias Énard (France), translated by Charlotte Mandell

“The Unseen” by Roy Jacobsen (Norway), translated by Don Bartlett

“Fish Have No Feet” by Jón Kalman Stefánsson (Iceland), translated by Philip Roughton

“Bricks and Mortar” by Clemens Meyer (Germany), translated by Katy Derbyshire

“Judas” by Amos Oz (Israel), translated by Nicholas de Lange

“Fever Dream” by Samanta Schweblin (Argentina), translated by Megan McDowell

The official shortlist differing only slightly, with “A Horse Walks Into a Bar” by David Grossman (Israel), translated by Jessica Cohen and “Mirror, Shoulder, Signal” by Dorthe Nors (Denmark), translated by Misha Hoekstra taking the place of “Fish Have No Feet” and “Bricks and Mortar”.

After long, and frequent, deliberations the Shadow Jury was similar to election night in the United Kingdom and the last Australian election with the real possibility of a hung Parliament. With only a hair’s breadth separating four titles, the voting and deliberations continued.

However there can only be one winner and although it may have been tempting to name a “joint winner” the Shadow Jury has made a decision…

Highly, highly commended is “The Unseen” by Roy Jacobsen (Norway), translated by Don Bartlett

But close enough wasn’t quite good enough and we have decided that the 2017 Man Booker International Prize Shadow Jury winner is…. drum roll (don’t they do that in primary school?)…

 

“Compass” by Mathias Énard (France), translated by Charlotte Mandell

Compass1

Not speaking as part of a Jury here, however personally, I am extremely happy with this announcement, for me this was the standout book of the 2017 list, a work that includes a soundtrack (if you take the time to play the frequent musical references whilst reading you will notice another layer added to an already outstanding novel). With homage to other great literary works, through deft references and an engaging plot line this work encompasses you, makes you think of the possibilities of literature.

After four years of being a Shadow Jury member for both the Man Booker International Prize and the preceding Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, I think I will make this my last year of involvement. Whilst I enjoy the debate and the opinion of others, I feel a “jury” approach doesn’t really suit my opinionated behaviour. I will probably continue to read the longlist and post my views however I will be a “lone ranger”, blurting out my dislikes left right and centre without the fear of offending a fellow jury member.

It has been fun being involved, but time to move on…