INTRODUCING THE 2017 MBIP SHADOW PANEL

mbi2017-logo

Doesn’t March each year come around quickly? Despite spending the last few months tackling massive tomes such as Arno Schmidt’s “Bottom’s Dream”, Pierre Senges “Fragments of Lichtenberg” and “I Stared AT the Night of the City” by Bakhtiyar Ali, all of this has to be put to one side as the Man Booker International Prize announces their longlist.

The award (formerly known as the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize before it merged with the Man Booker International Prize and the criteria changed from a body of work to a single work published in Britain) means it is time for the Shadow Jury to reconvene and keep the judges honest.

Personally I am into my fourth year of being a Shadow Jury member and I join familiar faces casting our eyes over, well reading cover to cover, the twelve (or thirteen) novels that the judges will announce as a longlist on 15 March 2017. If we feel they have omitted a worthy work we may even call in our own books to make our job even more arduous.

Below are your 2017 Man Booker International Prize Shadow Jury members, the folk I will be debating books with right up until 14 June 2017, the date they announce the winner (yes we have a longer window this year!!!)

 

Stu Allen is returning to chair the second Man Booker International Prize shadow jury after hosting four shadow IFFP juries plus the first MBIP shadow award.  He blogs out of Winstonsdad’s Blog, home to 500-plus translated books in review.  He can be found on twitter (@stujallen), where he also started the successful translated fiction hashtag #TranslationThurs over six years ago.

 

Tony Malone is an Anglo-Australian reviewer with a particular focus on German-language, Japanese and Korean fiction.  He blogs at Tony’s Reading List, and his reviews have also appeared at Words Without Borders, Necessary Fiction, Shiny New Books and Asymptote.  Based in Melbourne, he teaches ESL to prospective university students when he’s not reading and reviewing.  He can also be found on Twitter @tony_malone

 

Clare started blogging at A Little Blog of Books five years ago. She does most of her reading during her commute to work in London and reviews contemporary literary fiction and some non-fiction on her blog. She particularly enjoys reading French and Japanese fiction in translation. Twitter: @littleblogbooks

 

Tony Messenger is addicted to lists, and books – put the two together (especially translated works) and the bookshelves sigh under the weight of new purchases as the “to be read” piles grow and the voracious all-night reading continues. Another Tony from Melbourne Australia, @Messy_tony (his Twitter handle) also reads Australian Poetry, interviewing a range of poets on his blog, which can be found at Messengers Booker (and more) and at Messenger’s Booker on Facebook – with a blog containing the word “booker” why wouldn’t he read this list?

 

Lori Feathers lives in Dallas, Texas and is co-owner and book buyer for Interabang Books, an independent bookstore in Dallas. She is a freelance book critic and board member of the National Book Critics Circle.  She currently serves as a fiction judge for the 2017 Best Translated Book Award. Her recent reviews can be found @LoriFeathers

 

Bellezza (Meredith Smith) is a teacher from Chicago, Illinois, who has been writing Dolce Bellezza for eleven years and has hosted the Japanese Literature Challenge for 10 years. Reading literature in translation has become a passion of hers since she began blogging, when she discovered writers from many other countries through fellow bloggers and favorite publishers. Her Twitter name is @bellezzamjs.

 

David Hebblethwaite is a book blogger and reviewer from the north of England, now based in the south. He has written about translated fiction for Words Without Borders, Shiny New Books, Strange Horizons, and We Love This Book. He blogs at David’s Book World and tweets as @David_Heb.

 

Grant Rintoul is a Scottish reviewer who lives on the coast not far from the 39 steps said to have inspired Buchan’s novel. Luckily the weather is generally ideal for reading. He blogs at 1streading, so-called as he rarely has time to look at anything twice. He can sometimes be found on Twitter @GrantRintoul

Star Struck – David McCooey PLUS bonus poet interview

starstruck

The University of Western Australia Publishing (“UWAP”) has this week released six new poetry titles, the second release from their new “Poetry Club” imprint. Before I get to these titles I still have two from their October releases to look at, Bruce Dawe’s “Border Security” and David McCooey’s “Star Struck”.

A few months ago I looked at J.H. Crone’s “Our Lady of the Fence Post” and Alan Loney’s “Melbourne Journal: Notebooks 1998-2003”, both reviews also including interviews with the poets.

Today I have a wonderful extensive interview with David McCooey and thank him for the amazing effort he put into answering my questions, the full interview is at the end of this short review of his collection.

“Star Struck” opens, and closes, with “This Voice”, not forming part of the four sections of poems, these 2nd person poems act as parenthesies for the whole collection, the sounds of “phantom traffic, and the/enduring noise of a goods train” letting us know that the everyday noise drowns out our voices. Although the tone is isolating, removed, the reader knows that the singular multitude of voices throughout the collection are being amplified over the mundane.

Section 1 “Documents” opens with an epigraph from Renata Adler’s “Pitch Dark” (1983), advising us of the innocence of children, with the fifteen following poems, again using the second person, relaying the poet’s experiences whist in hospital for cardiac surgery. Clinically removed, the poems open with a family reality, the possibility of being entombed in a labyrinth, this juggles against childlike play where the realities of the impending critical surgery loom.

The human connection is brought home in “Music for Hospitals” and “Cardiac Ward Poetics” where numbered catalogues and lists suddenly move to “The Hunter” where the ‘male nurse’ shows photos on his phone. From “1. Hospital light, like any other/light is rarely ‘lemon coloured’” and “v) Everything happens at once;/a nurse with a needle;/the synaesthesia of breakfast.” to “ Then he turns to the other patient/who is sitting in bed in his striped pyjamas/and too far away to see anything./He holds the phone aloft like an offering/or a promise.”

“Second-Person”, although isolated, removed, explores the post-surgery rebirth, a new future:

Delivered by green-clad
medical staff to this place,

you enter the realm
of second-person singular,

a new you
to ghost the old,

the one on the other side
of a recalibrated life:

a body lying in
a bed, alive to

the homespun sounds of
each unprecedented sunrise.

Section 2, “Available Light” explores extremes, not simply light and dark, but man and woman, space and underworld, shouting and silence.

A collection peppered with literary references including Calvino’s “Invisible Cities”, Muriel Spark’s “Not to Disturb”, “The Takeover”, “Territorial Rights”, “The Driver’s Seat”, Tomas Transtömer’s “Selected Poems”, Roberto Bolaño and Georges Perec. Readers will be digging into their bookshelves with renewed vigour, looking for the references, and enjoying another reader’s view on them.

Italo Calvino’s “Invisible Cities uses a rigorous mathematical structure, and McCooey touches on these themes in his poem of the same name, also using the Oulipo approach to his poem “Georges Perec: A True Story”.

Section three, “Pastorals (Eighteen Dramatic Monologues)”, a collection of poems using pop culture, music (Mick and Bianca Jagger, Brian Eno, Tori Amos, Man at Work to name a few) as well as movies (Easy Rider). Who would have thought William Blake’s “Oothoon” could be compared to Kate Bush’s “Never For Ever” album?

The collection closes with “Two Nocturnal Tales”, with a Tove Jansson epigraph (from “The Summer Book”) these longer poems exploring romance, identity, the supernatural and, again, returning to the innocence of the child’s observations.

A very assured, enjoyable and varied collection, that contains a plethora of layers to explore.

Over to the interview I conducted with David McCooey via email, again I thank him very much for his time and efforts in putting together such extensive and interesting replies.

David Mccooey

February 2017

Q. Two poems titled “This Voice” act as parentheses to your collection, and the work contains a multitude of voices, for myself the use of the 2ndperson in these two poems creates a feeling of isolation, alienation. This also becomes very apparent in the opening section “Documents”. What is your attraction to multiple voices and forms of voice?

A. Yes, there are plenty of voices in Star Struck. The third section, ‘Pastorals’, is made up of dramatic monologues; that is, poems in which the speaker is not me. This was largely a reaction against writing autobiographical poetry, which I was getting a bit tired of. It was fun to pretend to be another character (including real people such as Joni Mitchell and Jim Morrison), and it allowed me to do things that I had never done before. It also allowed me to be a bit more expansive at times. By taking on a persona, I inevitably became more interested in narrative. My first book of poems, Blister Pack, is full of very short poems, but in Star Struck I struck out a bit more, and I enjoyed the prospect of a poem going past 20 lines!

But to get back to the use of the second-person address in ‘This Voice’ and ‘Documents’, I think there are a number of things going on there. In ‘This Voice’ I consciously wanted the use of second-person perspective to be alienating, and to undermine simple ideas of my poems simply expressing ‘my voice’ (whatever that is). In ‘Documents’, which is made up of poems that deal with my time in a cardiology ward and having surgery, I used the second-person because I didn’t want the poems to be too much about me. The poems are in part about the experiences (including some observations about the oddness of hospitals), rather than how I felt about those experiences. I wanted a sense of distance to avoid ‘confessional excess’, if I can call it that. Also, at some level, one does feel somewhat estranged from difficult or traumatic events as they happen to you. I guess I also wanted to put the reader in the position I was in, so that might account for the feeling of isolation that you mention.

Lastly, I am interested in the voice from a sonic point of view. My album of audio poetry (or ‘poetry soundtracks’), Outside Broadcast (2013), is in part a response to my frustration with the limitations of the poetry reading or the ‘straight’ recording of a poet reading her or his work. As in Star Struck, I wasn’t interested in my ‘real voice’ per se. Rather, I wanted to use audio technology (and music and sound design) to process, distort, and ‘stage’ my voice in ways otherwise impossible.

Q. When I interviewed Melbourne poet Michael Farrell about musical references in his work “Cocky’s Joy” he said “Pop music is a big part of the way I think about words/phrases, and to some extent poetic form…. I want to write equivalents of great songs – the feel as much as the form.” Reading section 3 of your collection, “Pastorals (Eighteen Dramatic Monologues)”, and with your musical background, I have a sense that you have a similar view. Is that correct?

A. Absolutely, though the poems in ‘Pastorals’ are mostly responses to my life-long immersion in popular music, rather than attempts to find a way of writing song-like poetry or to compete with the last 50 or 60 years of song. Many of the poems in ‘Pastorals’ are about finding a place somewhere between the lyric and narrative poetry. But in all cases, the song or musician evoked informs the imagery or architecture or concept of the poem. ‘Before and After Science: Brian Eno in Hospital’ is a good example; quite a few ‘tropes’ from Eno’s songs (as well as the liner notes from one of his records) inform that poem. I wanted it to be, perhaps, the poetic equivalent (impossible though that is) of Eno’s album, Before and After Science, which has been one of my favourites since I was 14.

Q. Who would have thought Roberto Bolaño writing about gazelles could be linked to Manus Island and Australia’s refugee policy, can you explain how you came up with that link?

A. The poem in question, ‘Election’, was written for Writing to the Wire, which was an anthology edited by Dan Disney and Kit Kelen. The anthology is a collection of poems about, and in some cases by, those seeking asylum in Australia. I very strongly wanted to be part of that project, but like a lot of poets, perhaps, I was struggling with writing a poem about such a charged political issue. My anger was making me inarticulate. I was re-reading Bolaño’s By Night in Chile, which is a short, powerful novel about how writers can and can’t write of, and against, repressive regimes, and how they can be complicit with those regimes. (Obviously, despite the contempt I feel for our current Federal government, they haven’t yet, thankfully, reached the criminal depths of Pinochet’s regime, but nevertheless, some of what is going on here is criminal in a literal sense.) Anyway, I came across the line about gazelles in Bolaño’s novel—‘We move like gazelles or the way gazelles move in a tiger’s dream’—and it seemed to open up a way of thinking about these things that retained the anger, but was also poetry. Of course, the epigraph (the translation of which is by the Australian translator and poet Chris Andrews) is the best thing about the poem.

Q. “’Whaling Station’ Redux” has vivid imagery and the story a child being shown the whaling industry as a “tour”, this is now too shocking too graphic to show a child. Is this simply a reflection of progress or a reflection of different generational sensibilities?

A. Hopefully it’s both. In 2017 it can sometimes be hard to think of progress, but it still shocks me to think that in the early 1970s it was considered acceptable for an operational whaling station to also be a tourist attraction. That’s profoundly shocking. And equally shocking is the fact that my parents thought that this was something appropriate to take their children to see. I have now written two poems about that experience, which suggests I have really struggled with the awfulness of that experience, in part (as you suggest) because of what it says about the assumptions people had in the past.

Q. You are obviously extremely well read with a large number of literary references throughout this collection (Italo Calvino, Muriel Spark, Tomas Transtömer, Georges Perec, Roberto Bolaño to name just a few), there is an attraction to the OulipoSchool, do you use any Oulipean constraints in your work? And I always ask this question, what are you currently reading and why?

A. Well, my day job is an academic in literature and writing, so I suppose it’s not surprising that writers and writing should feature in my poetry. But all literature, one way or another, is a response to other people’s writing. The writers who are named-checked in Star Struck are there because they fulfil a function in any given poem, though it’s true that they are all writers I admire a lot. Perhaps I’m trying to get a little bit of their magic by evoking their names. Evocation is an ancient poetic form of power, after all.

The Oulipo poem (‘Georges Perec: A True Story’) was another case of a writer fulfilling a function. I wanted to tell quite a banal domestic story, but I wanted to do it in an interesting way, so I simply gave each member of my family a letter (‘A’, ‘B’ etc). When I realised that my daughter, who now lives out of home, could be ‘E’ and therefore absent (like the missing ‘e’ in Perec’s lipogrammatic novel, La Dispiration, which was written entirely without the letter ‘e’), I thought that was a nice joke. It also seemed like a happy Oulipo outcome. But no, I don’t usually use constraints like an Oulipo writer would (though I am very interested in writing programmatically to a degree; that is, to have a project and write to it, rather than wait for ‘inspiration’, which I largely don’t believe in.)

I’ve just finished reading Rachel Cusk’s latest novel, Transit (2017), which is quite simply one of the best novels I’ve ever read. It’s one of those books that makes you think, ‘I’d happily give up writing’ if this is what one has to aspire to. I’ve also recently read Rod Jones’s first novel, Julia Paradise (1986), which is part of the Text Classics series. I was completely bowled over by that, too. I think Jones’s work breaks down the boundaries between prose fiction and poetry. I’m currently reading the Selected Poems of the New Zealand poet Jenny Bornholdt, whose work I admire enormously.

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

A. That’s a good question! I haven’t quite got into my next poetry book yet. I’ve written a few poems, but I’m not sure what shape a whole collection will take. Meanwhile, I’m finishing off my second album, which is called The Double. It isn’t audio poetry this time, but it does use samples of voices and some text-to-speech synthesis. I’m very interested in the way the spoken word—which isn’t a poem or rapping—can work within music. I think that interest comes out of my love of the complex soundtracks of movies, which mix together music, voices, and sounds. I love the observation by the French film director Robert Bresson, who writes the following in his Notes on the Cinematograph (1975, as translated by Jonathan Griffin): ‘The eye (in general) superficial, the ear profound and inventive. A locomotive’s whistle imprints in us a whole railway station’. That almost gets us back to the beginning, and talking about voices.

 

 

“Calamities” by Renee Gladman & “Violet Energy Ingots” by Hoa Nguyen

calamities

Incomprehension is usually the result of obfuscation, the words refusing to slip into focus
–  (Foreword Annie Dillard’s “The Abundance” by Geoff Dyer)

My recent enjoyable excursion into the world of Mary Ruefle via “My Private Property”, exposed me to the publisher Wave Books, and, as I frequently do, I purchased a couple of other books from Wave Book’s recent catalogue. September 2016 releases, “Calamities” by Renee Gladman and “Violet Energy Ingots” by Hoa Nguyen. First up let’s look at Renee Gladman’s latest release, “Calamities”.

The Poetry Foundation website describes Renee Gladman:

Born in Atlanta, poet, novelist, and publisher Renee Gladman earned a BA at Vassar College and an MA in poetics at the New College of California. Gladman, whose work has been associated with the New Narrative movement, composes prose and poetry that tests the potential of the sentence with mapmaking precision and curiosity.

Author of the poetry collection A Picture-Feeling (2005), Gladman has also published several works of prose, including Event Factory (2010), The Activist (2003), Juice (2000), and Arlem (1994), and a monograph of drawings, Prose Architectures (2017). She has edited Leon Works, an experimental prose chapbook series, as well as the Leroy chapbook series. Gladman lives in Massachusetts and teaches at Brown University.

A collection that is an attempt at defining the problem of “where you are in a defined space and what your purpose is for being there”, the work at times feel liberating (as you find the space) and claustrophobic at other times (as the definitions pin you in). The book opens with forty-four short essays, narratives all opening with the phrase “I began the day…”, it closes with “The Eleven Calamities” which number fourteen in total?!!?

I closed the inner essay to look at the outer. I wanted to find a word or sentence that would prove there was an even larger essay that was further outside of this one. I closed the quotes of lying in the bed with my eyes closed, and opened my eyes, looking literally into the face of the question of narrative, which was the emptiness of my apartment and the long stretch of the day that lay ahead.

A collection that muses on the fringes of human existence, the spaces you never read (or write) about, there are a few difficult passages as there is an assumption that we all understand the idiosyncrasies of specific United States geographies.

I began the day reading the third section of Eileen Myles’ Inferno. I was in “Heaven,” and had been awake only a short time, still in bed, lying on my side. I hadn’t yet had coffee, so after a line or so of the book my eyes would close. I’d be sleeping, except also reading. The book would go on in my mind as I slept (how much time passes in this state?), until suddenly I’d be awake and would find the book fallen to the floor (it wasn’t a high bed) or sitting at an impossible angle in my hand. I’d right the book and try to find my place. The lines I’d been reading would not be there. Where had I gotten them? They continued the story perfectly, but not, it turned out, in the direction Eileen had wanted it to go. But, why? My additions were not terrible, and they seemed bodily connected to her text, and what’s further, they stayed with me as I went on reading, mingling with the lines that actually were there. I woke up again. I was thinking this and not reading the page I was reading and I didn’t quite know what I was thinking though it made sense with what had been on my mind before I’d fallen asleep. I’d been reflecting on how your mind writes what you read and lays it out only one or two steps ahead of you, so that there’s always a risk of taking a step that isn’t there yet.

An exploration of location, exploring structures in fiction, these are luminous creations, that explain the art of writing poetry (“Poetry comes out of nothing…read the nothing”), and novel writing (“asked it to step out of its hiding place, its refusal place, and come to me.”). These are multi layered essays, layers of an onion, “each one thicker as you moved outward, away from the core, though onions have no true core, or rather, no core that survives our trying to reach it.”

A revelatory, hallucinatory read as you work your way through space, there are large passages I simply did not understand, however this became part of the reading challenge as I moved through the day to day mundane minutiae of Renee Gladman’s life “for much of the day nothing happens, nothing ever happens”, luminous sections, confusing sections, sometimes the works “refusing to slip into focus”.

violet_energy_ingots

Hoa Nguyen’s poetry collection, also from Wave Poetry, “Violet Energy Ingots” is even more confusing, opening with the dedication “For Aphrodite, deathless and of the spangled mind”, the luminous nuggets scattered throughout the poems are like searching for flecks of gold, only once you have enough can you create an “ingot”.

In “Mekong I” (pg 6) A poet’s birth is like a delta spreading into strands “become/mangroves stranded/and braid your oiled hair” the poems containing vivid imagery of silt, sand, stone, a “River as sift/ and sorter”, the poem containing the lifeblood of floating markets, but still an area to be traversed.

Political, these works become even more focused in these uncertain times…

Who was Andrew Jackson?

He was the seventh president of the United States
He was responsible for the Indian Removal Act
He was poor but ended up rich
He was an enslaver of men, women, and children
He was given the nickname “Indian killer”
He was put on the twenty-dollar bill

Like Renee Gladman’s “Calamities”, where each of the opening essays opens with “I began the day…”, we have the poem “Week of Words” where a few insignificant snippets of a week’s activities are presented, the news, a number of seemingly unconnected events all broken with spacing, where the reader is unaware of the activities, the spaces where the action resides, it is not (cannot be?) put into words, “snow all day/snow all day”

A collection that blends the solstice, the seasons, star signs, the mystical, blended with the sceptical. The collection of sixty-one poems are, at times, incomprehensible another work where the result is “obfuscation, the words refusing to slip into focus”. You know these are important statements, the fragments moving into your consciousness, but residing elsewhere.

I’ve covered this collection here, and purposely chosen one of the more formal, recognisable poems, as I would like to highlight some of the poetry collections I do read, where I am simply out of my depth. An enjoyable book, however one I cannot explain.

Excerpts of both books are available at the publisher’s webpage here.

 

 

Bottom’s Dream – Arno Schmidt (tr. John E. Woods) Pages 141-170

bottomsdream

More of my journey into the realms contained in Arno Schmidt’s “Bottom’s Dream”, it’s been three weeks since my last update on my progress and in that time I’ve managed to make it through a whole twenty-nine pages!!!

I’m onto Book II, “In The Company of Trees”, and the butterfly theme continues straight off the bat, the section opening with “A satyr asaunter” and as Dan, our narrator, undoes a button on his short, he welcomes the ladies to do likewise, the sexual banter between him (in his 50’s) and the sixteen year old nymph Franziska continues, gaining heat each page we encounter. The narrative is unusually simple here with the four characters coming across “the path of Blue Stones”, Dan inviting Franziska to put a large heavy green one in her pouch (not just a simple agate), Wilma continually butting into the conversation, here Franziska urges here to get the “simple stone”. After Franziska finds a fallen bird’s nest there is a long discussion on “moonstones” aligned to a reference “WILKIE COLLINS”, his novel “The Moonstone” published in 1868, another work widely considered to be the first detective novel.

The discussions continue about beliefs during Poe’s era, of volcanic eruptions on the moon, causing precious stones to appear on earth. There is a note “MUSPILLI/ELIE DE BEAUMONT proved in 1831 that the massif in Ceylon’s interior must be part of the moon fallen to earth!”

A warning that we shouldn’t apply our current wisdom to Arno Schmidt’s of 50 years ago, just as our narrators are not to apply their to Poe; “Y’ dare not apply Your wisdom of 1900=sixty=x to POE.”

We learn from this reference and a later reference to Rückert, the 100th anniversary of his death, that the current year is 1966.

Franziska asks if anybody has been hit and killed by a meteor “according to the BRITCANNICA (which surely must kno) and aborigine in Mhow=India was struck dead by 1 in 1827)”

The moon eruptions are referenced to Poe’s “The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall” (a story that appeared in Section I – a balloon traveller to the moon), this reference contains quotes from the story about moon eruptions.

With the sexual allusions continuing, Franziska sings “To linger at Your side would not be right: yet gazing from afar is wrong!”…Dan commenting…”wading in the highest grass ; had raised her skirtlet (& offered Me newditty so dainty : ?)”. Here is the reference to the poems of Friedrich Rückert, I scanned to poems that are published on line, at poemhunter, but couldn’t find the specific reference, although all his poems published there are about adoration, and love.

Our four characters during their walk climb a “plankt chamberlet” to admire the view (more on these structures can be found at The Untranslated’s blog). The view leads to a lengthy discussion on the etymology and Poe’s usage of the word “panorama”.

There is a history of pamorames, diorama, mareoamas, cycloramas, pleoramas and more, with a reference to Jules Verne’s “Voyage Au Centre de la Terre” and a panoramic reference on P111 (this would of course depend on the edition of Verne’s book that you are reading!!!

The ongoing debate of etyms, the subconscious use of words, is used on the word “panorama”, here is a snapshot of such taken from page 168 (BD):

panoramaIn 1792 “ROBERT BARKER of EDINBURUGH built the world’s first PANORAMA”.

We then have a discussion about waxworks “CHARLES DICKENS, > Master Humphreys Clock< : Whix=is véry important!<<”

And Don Quixote enters our narration with a discussion of the farce where Don Quixote enters an inn mistaking it for a castle, with damsels awaiting him. Back to Poe and links to the stories “A Tale of the Ragged Mountains” and that leads onto “Landor’s Cottage”.

The last twenty-nine pages not as challenging as the first one-hundred and forty, although I’m not 100% sure if that is because I am becoming used to the writing style, or if the tale itself is becoming simplified, or the references to Poe’s works and the quotations are taking up a lot more of the work, it could also be my deeper knowledge of Poe’s stories and poems, or simply know the references and have to look up less!!!

As the journey continues I hope to be able to bring you more frequent updates, it may mean shorter posts, it may mean further distractions from my other reading, which is unfortunately falling behind, my “to be read” piles I have recently savagely culled, adding a focus on more erudite works and Australian poetry. Although I fully intend to participate in reading the longlist for the upcoming Man Booker International Prize and as many works as possible from the Best Translated Book Award, as I do each year. I do have Pierre Senges’ “Fragments of Lichtenberg” (translated by Gregory Flanders) sitting there distracting my dedication to Schmidt, at least that work can travel to and from work with me each day, something to read on my commute. I’m yet to take “Bottom’s Dream” onto the suburban train, I think my backpack it too small anyways!!!

 

Melbourne Journal Notebooks: 1998-2003 – Alan Loney PLUS bonus poet interview

loneymelbourne

Earlier in the week I reviewed the debut poetry collection “Our Lady of the Fence Post” by J.H. Crone, a publication which forms part of a new initiative by UWAP (“University of Western Australia Publishing”), the “Poetry Club”. The Club was established last year “in response to the reductions in poetry publishing nationally”, with eight collections published each year, released as a set of four. Today I look at another book from that collection and feature another interview, this time with Alan Loney and his “Melbourne Journal : Notebooks 1998-2003”.

Last year Loney won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for his book “Crankhandle: Notebooks November 2010 – June 2012” (which I reviewed here), the third part in his notebook series, at that stage the second part was yet to be published, this work is that missing piece (Note I will review “Sidetracks: Notebooks 1976-1991” the first of the collection at some stage soon).

Very similar to “Crankhandle” this collection is a meditation on fragments, a collection of what appear to be scattered thoughts and contemplations, but rest assured, there is plenty going on one each page:

all my writing life I have regarded poetry as heightened language, in every way. I want the writing to be technically sound – no, better than that, I want it technically brilliant whatever one’s imperfections. Of course we get labelled ‘clever’, as if there is nothing else happening on the page. And decorum, always (page 8)

This quote forms part of the opening section “October 1998 – May 1999” which opens with “nothing’s familiar” (p8), Loney moving from New Zealand to Melbourne, part of his journey taking him to the country town of Daylesford:

/can you hear the quiet

/can you see the dark (p9)

These are statements, not questions, Loney playing with every fragment, each statement lingering on the page…in your mind…

Unlike “Crankhandle” this work contains a lot more detailed notes about the writing (and reading) process, the poetic form, his current reading, the qualities of printing and binding.

to what extent can one have access to deep cultural information without reading? Or, what access does the culture already provide to deep cultural information outside of reading? (p14)

Poems that form from statements, dipping into locations, roots, culture, native soil with possibly a hint of nostalgia…of jingoism? As you digest Loney’s “notes” (poems) a question about his sense of place comes to the fore, he is an “infinitesimal / flare / in / the / inconceivable / fire / of / creation” (p16), this statement broken up with each word appearing on a separate line. As always with Loney’s work the space on the page playing a role, but once you’ve read the words the form has changed, the space has vanished, and reading these works aloud it becomes altogether something else. You ask; is the “white page”…”a mirror to the self”? (p16)

Another feature is the open parenthesis, as a reader you are to muse on the gaps, the possibilities that are unsaid, unwritten.

Masterful in creation Loney’s background in printing shows through his appreciation of the printed form, as opposed to the written form on a screen. When you read the interview at the end of this post you will notice Loney has an opposition to his works appearing in electronic format, a whilst I was going to attempt a “review” without referring to any of his poetics, to give you a feel for what is happening on each page is impossible without some references.

Section II of the book “New Zealand, May 1999 – May 2001” opens with the epigraph “Grief keeps watch” (Maurice Blanchot) (p28) and muses on death and mortal existence, as well as alienation in one’s own territory, again a hint of the nostalgia coming through. Loney then returns to Melbourne in “May-December 2001” (p36) and a confession about the enormity of moving away from New Zealand. In 2002;

for a long time now I have wanted, at times desperately, to begin again. It’s impossible of course. But some kind of nostalgia for a beginning, a new beginning, as if I could clear the mind and start all over. As if the past was no more than a weight, not the accumulations of past experiences, thoughts, feelings, events etc, but simply a weight, a great stone slab on the back or shoulders one might simply throw off in a single shrug (p50)

As mentioned the written work, books, come in for Loney’s observations, as well do random people, are these observations or are they imaginings? Poems that are “experiments in manner, and thereby bad-mannered, improper” (p62)

“December 2002 – July 2003” reflects on ancient Chinese and Japanese poetry, Heart Sutra, Zen, Yamata no Orichi and includes Greek Sappho’s (and the space again leads to the question; “what’s missing?”).

The book closes with “New York London” journals “11 November – 7 December 2003”, the notebooks containing thoughts on the plane trip, the night time, the day time, the clouds, the reflections in windows, as the physical form of a book is a reflection of Loney’s thoughts, a collection of observances and awareness of current time and place, the periphery plays an important role, words are signs, as you read you are frequently outside of yourself.

Another wonderful revelation of Loney’s work, as was “Crankhandle” this is a book to be revisited many times, mulled over, these are jottings without an end.

I have become an unabashed fan of Loney’s work, also buying his novella “Anne of the Iron Door” and have been attempting to source his latest book “Beginnings” published in the United States by Otis Books but their distributor won’t send to Australia!!!

I know a number of followers of this blog who would adore Loney’s work, can I suggest you find one of his books, you will not be disappointed.

Again, I would like to thank Loney for taking the time to answer my questions, as per all of the poets who have been appearing here recently, I really appreciate their support and time. Hoping their replies are providing you with a nice reference site for understanding the poetic works in a little more detail, I’m hoping to expand on this feature over the coming year – stay tuned, more interviews to come.

Here are the unedited questions and answers from my email exchange with Alan Loney, as per his wishes, this interview is presented as he sent it to me, spacing, and line breaks all included.

Q. The “notebooks”, Sidetracks (’98), Melbourne Journal (’16) and

Crankhandle (’15), are, in your words, preparatory gestures, “on the

way to…”. Can you explain this concept a little more and how that

approach impacts the finished poems?

A. First, I think I should apologize if I gave the impression that the

Notebook pieces were ‘preparatory gestures’ – for me, part of the point

of the Notebooks is that each ‘piece’ is complete in itself. I’m aware

it is usual to think of notebooks or diaries being records of stray

notes, jottings, observations etc, that might later lead to finished

works, but I have never thought of the Notebooks in this way.

In this sense, the Notebooks are full of ‘finished poems’. The only

rider to this is that there are occasions when a piece in the Notebooks

has been incorporated into another larger work, and that has always

been the work of memory being triggered rather than any deliberate

compositional process from note to poem. There’s a wonderful precedent

in the Notebooks of Joseph Joubert (1754-1854, and translated by Paul

Auster). Auster writes : ‘At first, he looked upon these jottings as a

way to prepare himself for a larger, more systematic work, a great book

of philosophy that he dreamed he had it in him to write. As the years

passed, however, and the great project continued to elude him, he

slowly came to realise that the notebooks were an end in themselves’.

Q. Space is something that you use, your works created over a whole

page, the blank space having significance. I feel it becomes more

prominent in later years, do you think that is a fair assessment?

A. I think so, altho the question of space was critical in my first

book of poems, “The Bare Remembrance” (Caveman Press, Dunedin 1971). I

discovered space as a compositional process when I first read Charles

Olson’s “Maximus Poems” at the end of 1970. I had an initial

fascination with the formal mechanisms in e e cummings, but Olson

showed me that space could do two major things – 1) register how the

work was to be read, that is, what to sound, and when, somewhat like a

musical score, (or, if there’s a big space between words, then shut up

for that space), and 2) space, along with the open parenthesis,

permitted the introduction of new material into the poem by way of

juxtaposition (Pound had said somewhere that placing one thing beside

another thing can make a third thing) and Olson learned a lot from

Pound (in the Cantos) about the use of space. As I read my work aloud

very slowly, and in as neutral a fashion as possible, I can read the

spaces as I go – they also serve to allow a variety of reading options

– where to begin, where to continue, etc – in Crankhandle is the most

radical use of space I have come up with, I suspect.

Q.Your three “notebooks” have appeared under three different

publishers and not in sequential order. Can you explain why?

ANothing deliberate. Kent MacCarter had been asking me for some time

for work for the online Cordite Poetry publication, which I regularly

declined on the grounds that I had no interest in publishing online at

all – I write to see the work in a book, and my small experience of

publishing online in Jacket was not satisfying to me, so I decided not

to do it again. I did, however, send him “Crankhandle”, simply as an

index of what I was up to these days, but with a strict prohibition on

publishing any of it online. It was with this that he decided he wanted

to publish poetry in book form, and “Crankhandle” became one of the

first four Cordite Books. It was only after “Crankhandle” was

published, and the flurry of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards

had settled, that I sent “Melbourne Journal” to Terri-ann White at UWA

Publishing. There is a final work in the Notebooks, titled “Heidegger’s

bicycle”, which has just been accepted by Matthew McKenzie (son of the

great bibliographer and textual critic D F McKenzie, who also ran the

Wai-te-ata Press at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand

for many years). Matthew runs the Paekakariki Press at Walthamstowe,

England. “Heidegger’s bicycle” will be the last of the Notebooks for a

long time as my attention has now turned to a new and rather longer

work. As Don McKenzie has been one of my literary and printing heroes

for many decades, it’s fantastic for me that I will be printed

letterpress by Matthew.

 Q. Your move from New Zealand (Sidetracks 1976-1991) to Melbourne

(1998-2003) sees unease: Melbourne opens with the words “nothing’s

familiar”. Tell us a little more about the move.

A. In a small literary community like New Zealand’s, it’s very hard to

change one’s image in a field that has generally already decided who

and/or what you are. One problem that had been occurring to me in the

1990s was : How might I continue to grow as a writer when I had already

become something of a fixed identity in a small environment.

The answer came : move out, and Australia seemed to be a good place to

go. I knew other New Zealanders who had come here and did well, and

beyond the identities they had acquired in New Zealand. As it happened,

it was the best thing to do, and I have since been able to develop and

write things I would never have written if I had remained in New

Zealand. I also enjoyed the multiculturalism of Melbourne, as one who

has never identified with place or culture or class or ethnic

background at all. And yet it was true : nothing was familiar, even to

the sheer sound of the voices around me. If one was ‘at home’ in an

alien environment, then this was a great place to be. So, part of the

impetus of the early stages of “Melbourne Journal” was to register that

unfamiliarity so it stayed unfamiliar, yet it also became recognisable.

I have never had, and still do not have, any sense of ‘belonging’

whatsoever.

Q. Traditionally printing is dear to your heart, however you have given

the art away, does that mean Gutenberg will no longer appear in your works?

A. Well, ‘many of my best friends are printers’ – and I will not

abandon the talking that we ordinarily do. I will occasionally teach

letterpress printing, certainly here and possibly  New Zealand. And the

book itself, as it says somewhere in “Melbourne Journal”, ‘remains an

issue’. I was a printer of poetry for forty years, and printing ink

still occupies my sense and senses, and while the printing press will

no longer figure in my activity, printing ink and paper remain deep

attractions for me. At this stage of my life, who knows what that

attraction will bring. But both for me and for the culture at large,

the Gutenbergian revolution is a long way from over.

Q. What are you currently reading and why?

A. I hope you will forgive me if I bypass this question. My life in

recent years, with Electio Editions, Codex Australia, and Verso

magazine, has meant I have had little or no time for reading at all.

Now that those three activities have come to a close, the question of

reading has become a serious matter, and I am still in process of

working it out. It’s not that I haven’t opened any books over this

time, but I have merely pecked at them, like the sparrows that haunt

our city cafés.

Q. Can you tell us what you are currently working on?

A. Two works. One, a long poem titled “The Unpermitted”, which will

occupy me for ‘the foreseeable future’. Two, a long prose work on an

aspect of  ‘the book’ which has come to interest me a great deal over

the last few years, and I expect this work to be completed by the end

of 2018.

Our Lady of the Fence Post – J.H. Crone PLUS bonus poet interview

fencepost

This may sound like something from “The Twilight Zone”, the image of the Virgin Mary appearing in a fence post at Coogee Beach in Sydney, at a monument to the terrorist attacks in Bali, one year after the 9/11 attacks in New York, killing 202 people including 88 Australians. Yes we do things a little differently here in Australia – if you’re interested in the newsworthy event here is a link to a commercial news report of the time.

J.H. Crone’s “Our Lady of the Fence Post” debut poetry book is a “response” to the news reports. Taking the Marian apparition report, the documentary maker and poet, has created a collection of poems using part fact, part poetic licence to reflect on a range of political issues, the “war on terror”, the ingrained and ignored domestic violence, ISIS suicide bombings, terror cells in Australia, and a whole lot more.

A narrative sequence of poems, using a range of poetic forms (more on them later), the main players are; Joe, who paints the memorial, Mari who runs the local bakery and sells photographs of the apparition, Jesus (short for Maria de Jesus) who lost a son in the Bali bombings, and Mae the news reporter.

Jesus originally notices the apparition and points it out to Mari, and early in the collection we know that domestic violence is prevelant, even though ignored, in ‘Dough’ “Joe gave her the briny taste of a fat lip.” And in ‘An Odd Looking Sight’… “…she’s too full of grief to notice the tawdry,/mauve-rose bruise on Mari’s lip.”

Inherent racism is also simmering just below the surface, for overseas readers the East of Sydney was the scene of race riots in 2005, with the poem ‘The Silly Season” telling us “Squinter, towel-heads even/ crawling over Sunshine’s clean sand,/ looking to a post to save us./He’s not a racist, but who can say/ they’re not terrorists? Wogs should have/ never been let in this country.”

The feminist themes coming to the fore in the long poem “The Inquisition”, a verse exploring the Virgin Mary through many historical lenses;

…The more the
Virgin
is elevated, the lower the status of women of ordinary birth.’

Feminist theologians discover that the ‘Virgin’ was given birth
by a Greek mistranslation of the Hebrew word
for girl. Yet, even as virgins,
we are not allowed to breathe
a homily to life.
Wearing dresses, you priest appropriate the female sex.
Mary’s rebirth at Sunshine Bay encourages our sex.
Trick of the light, or apparition, our words are freely given life.
Cardinals, tend your marble Virgins with bated breath!

As J.H. Crone explains later this narrative includes many poetic forms, the French triolet and rondelet and the English roundel, a Ghazal, a triple sestina (the poem quoted above “The Inquisition”). For the non-poetry readers here how about a short lesson to demystify three of those terms?

The French triolet:

The triolet is a short poem of eight lines with only two rhymes used throughout. The requirements of this fixed form are straightforward: the first line is repeated in the fourth and seventh lines; the second line is repeated in the final line; and only the first two end-words are used to complete the tight rhyme scheme. Thus, the poet writes only five original lines, giving the triolet a deceptively simple appearance: ABaAabAB, where capital letters indicate repeated lines. (Taken from Poets.org)

The sestina (triple is three of them)

The sestina is a complex form that achieves its often spectacular effects through intricate repetition…[a] thirty-nine-line form…[which] follows a strict pattern of the repetition of the initial six end-words of the first stanza through the remaining five six-line stanzas, culminating in a three-line envoi. The lines may be of any length, though in its initial incarnation, the sestina followed a syllabic restriction. The form is as follows, where each numeral indicates the stanza position and the letters represent end-words:

  1. ABCDEF
    2. FAEBDC
    3. CFDABE
    4. ECBFAD
    5. DEACFB
    6. BDFECA
    7. (envoi) ECA or ACE

A poetry publication that not only uses multiple forms it also approaches multiple themes, from the role of females in the church, terrorism cells in Australia, the role of the media, sexism, racism, violence, this is a complex multitude to explore. J.H. Crone is throwing out bait, can you take the little enticement or is it worth awaiting a tastier titbit offered by the very next poem?

This debut publication forms part of a new initiative by UWAP (“University of Western Australia Publishing”), the “Poetry Club”, established last year “in response to the reductions in poetry publishing nationally”, with eight collections published each year, released as a set of four. I will review the others from the initial collection here also, hopefully including interviews with the poets.

J.H. Crone kindly answered my questions on the collection via email, as per all my “interviews” I publish these unedited, the questions and replies are below.

Q. The violence happens on many levels, domestic, Bali bombings, Cronulla riots, what attracted you to this theme?

I wanted to write about the changes that I saw happening in Sydney’s eastern suburbs and more generally across Australia during the crucial ‘war on terror’ period, which has played such an important role in shaping the ways Australians understand ourselves and our place in the world as well as producing ongoing crises or perceptions of crises in relation to terrorism both domestically and abroad. We are still living through the era shaped by those events. It seems clear to me that these aspect of violence and ideas about violence don’t only play out on the world stage. They affect people on domestic and psychological levels as well. For example, I don’t think it is an accident that women became worse off in terms of equal pay and lost funding for crucial services such as women’s refuges and single mothers pensions during the period that Australia was responding to the tragic events of 9/11 and the Bali bombing by idealizing the Anzac spirit and repackaging it in the form of the contemporary Australian identity. I wanted to make those links explicit.

Q. The voice of Joe is quite often a simple one with repeated messages, for example “The current whereabouts of the founder/of Al Qaeda is a mystery”. Why this technique for Joe?

I used the French triolet and rondelet and the English roundel forms for some poems in the book. The triolet and rondelet have three repeated lines and the roundel has a refrain repeated three times. Some of these poems are in Joe’s voice but some are in Mari, Mae and Professor Maire McCormack’s voices too. In addition the book has a ghazal written in Mari’s voice which repeats the refrain at the end of each couplet. There is also a triple sestina in which the word endings of the first stanza are repeated in every subsequent stanza in a prescribed order. So I think it is fair to say that the book as a whole includes a lot of repeated messages. Certainly the media is full of repetition. That said, it seems to me that every time a phrase or word is repeated it acquires a subtly different meaning and I find that aspect of repetition quite interesting.

Q. Although Mae is the journalist in this collection, the whole work has a journalistic feel, do you think that may come from your documentary background? Could you explain that a little more?

There is no doubt that my documentary background had a big influence on shaping the work. I did a lot of research and many of the themes and much of the language came from factual sources that I reworked in the poems.

Q. Mari, although beaten physically, and threatened for the Mary being a hoax, is no “victim”, to me she is the tower of strength. Was it your intention to make her the “backbone” of this work?

I am glad that you found Mari so engaging. Yes I agree that her story is the backbone of the narrative and I found her blend of skepticism about organized religion combined with her idiosyncratic ‘spiritual’ beliefs quite intriguing.

Q. You’ve used many forms here, sculpted, shaped poems, prose poems, refrains, every second line a different text, do you enjoy using numerous explorative forms?

I love playing with poetic form. In ‘Our Lady of the Fence Post’ I used quite a lot of structured forms but there is quite a lot of free verse too. In the early stages of writing the book I couldn’t write a poem unless I had a form to work it into. Now I am more interested in finding form within the syntax and structure of the poem.

Q. This work is essentially a narrative with main players, Joe, Mari, Mae, how did this concept take shape and what was the catalyst?

Initially I planned a documentary poem. But then I realized that in order to explore all the themes that I was interested in I would have to fictionalize the characters. Being released from the need to adhere to factual accuracy unleashed my imagination and allowed the work to acquire visionary elements that I hope readers will experience as psychologically authentic. I was also fascinated with the fact that religion had become so central to events in the world and I wanted to try to figure out why that had happened.

Q. As I ask all my interviewees, what are you currently reading and why?

I am reading the American poet Alan Dugan’s Poems Seven which is more or less his collected works. I heard of him through an essay by Louise Glück, the poet who I am writing my PhD thesis about. His poems are tough and spare and daring and he has a completely original voice.

Q. And finally, is there anything in the pipeline that you can tell us about?

I am working on some new poems, working with a composer on a musical theater adaptation of ‘Our Lady of the Fence Post’ and I have to finish my PhD!

I would like to thank J.H. Crone for spending the time answering my questions and wish her well with her PhD completion. Trusting you’ve enjoyed yet another poet interview.

Carrying The World – Maxine Beneba Clarke PLUS bonus poet interview

carryingworld

After reviewing and interviewing the collections from poets Eileen Chong and Tina Giannoukos, “Painting Red Orchids” and “Bull Days” respectively, I am now onto the final poetry collection from the shortlist of this year’s Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards, Maxine Beneba Clarke’s “Carrying the World”.

At the end of this short review, I also have an interview with the poet, Maxine Beneba Clarke, about her work, and would like to thank her for taking the time in her very busy schedule to answer my questions.

Shortlisted for both the Non-Fiction Award, for “The Hate Race” and the poetry award for “Carrying The World”, Maxine Beneba Clarke has had an extremely busy 2016, with numerous appearances at writer’s festivals, including the opening address at the 2016 Melbourne Writer’s Festival, getting her books ready for US release and a whole lot more. Read on to find out what else she is currently working on…

“Carrying The World” is a collection of 38 poems, arranged in alphabetical order by title, although spanning a “decade-long international poetry career” (from the back cover) the poems are not dated and besides the short explanation on the cover the sequence is not discernable. This is not a distraction as these are very powerful works indeed, the title poem appearing early in the book and covering racism, self destruction, an eternity in a rocking chair;

the rocking chair strains
under weight of it all
the ole woman’s frail
but she’s carrying the world
as she knits one purl
she knit knits one purl

with the African diaspora never too far away, Delilah advising us;

delilah / nobody cared
what happened behind
closed doors / with the body
of a brute who can’t bleed
bruised against yours

a fierce black woman
beating your way forward
in a world made
for mythical white men

sick of swollen purple eyes
washing bloody fingerprints
from curved thighs / scared
but ready to try anything

In the long poem “demerara sugar” Maxine Beneba Clarke recounts an overseas trip, an education of her children through visiting relatives in England and taking the kids to the “international museum of slavery”, this is powerful poetry, not beat poetry, not simply slam poetry but unflinching protest poetry an investigation of her roots and then an unwavering presentation of the uncomfortable facts. In “disappeared” there is the tale of insignificance of a black kid dying;

the immigration minister
of the day / he said
these Sudanese
have a real problem
with integration

a black kid did not come home that day
and that was his eulogy offering

Here is a confronting collection by a writer who pulls no punches, even the white prejudice of children’s literature does not escape the poet’s ire, “fairytale” opening with;

the teacher reads snow white
in our fairytale
my daughter will scar herself
with household bleach tonight
crying mirror on the wall
erase this face as black as night

A collection that forces the reader to stop, think, reassess your prejudices,, to look through the poet’s eyes at the racisms, the privilege, a situation less published in Australian poetry, the land of white male bush balladeers, and Maxine Beneba Clarke still has hints of the iconic poetic motif, the great Australian landscape creeping in, even homage to indigenous songlines (from “marngrook”);

back when songlines hummed
a way through grey-gum
(which was not yet called grey-gum)

This is a wonderful collection that addresses a raft of issues, including homelessness, poverty, feminism and more all outside of the black celebration and protest, presented in a very readable and moving style. Not a capital letter to be seen, there are even poems about poetry;

poetry and i / we broke up last week
we just kind of grew apart
it wasn’t him / it was me

Another diverse collection on the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award shortlist and another worthy contender for the award. I would like to thank the poetry judges, Samah Sabawi, Emilie Zoey Baker, and Alicia Sometimes (convener) for presenting a wonderfully diverse collection of poets, all females from migrant backgrounds, but all very difference in style and approach, one of the better shortlists I have worked through in recent years.

Why this work should win the 2017 Victorian Premier’s Literary Prize

Approachable, controversial, powerful and memorable, all components that could lead to winning the main gong, as well as being from the pen of a recently popular writer. Covering a decade ling period these works are multi-faceted and cover a raft of territory.

Why this work will not win the 2017 Victorian Premier’s Literary Prize

With “The Hate Race” also up for the Non-Fiction Prize the judges may sway towards more “conventional” poetic works, and the polished firm writing of Chong or the esoteric sonnets of Giannoukos. This is a very hard shortlist to break down, all three works being worthy winners in their own right, all for very different reasons.

I interviewed Maxine Beneba Clarke via email, and the questions and answers are repeated here verbatim. Thanks again to all three poets for taking the time to be interviewed by myself, I will be awaiting the announcement of the winner on 31 January 2017 with bated breath.

Q. In ‘demerara sugar’ you write of opening old family wounds whilst exploring your roots (“don’t she know/there things we ole folks/don’t talk about”), memoir, whether poetic or through your book “The Hate Race” forces you to wrestle publicly with many demons. Can you highlight a few of your “yes/no” memoir moments?

A. I think there are two very distinct processes for a writer – the process of writing or creating the work, which is usually a very closed, very private act; and the publishing of the work, which puts the finished piece of art into the public domain and which usually requires the author to then engage with their own work in public.

As such, I don’t consider myself to be wrestling publicly with demons. By the time my non-fiction work (including my poetry) gets to the shelf, the artistic process is already long finished. With memoir (and the suite Demerara Sugar in my book Carrying The World is also memoir, even though it’s written in poetry), I feel it’s important to be open and as generous with experience as possible – even with things that don’t particularly cast you in a glowing light. Otherwise, what’s the story for?

Q. You must be immensely proud of being nominated for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award, coming from handing out free poems “on the corner of gertrude and smith” in Fitzroy, not being a PhD bush man or a “working class hero”, you’ve broken the stereotypical poet’s image with your recognition. Besides the non-fiction listing too, I have a feeling your poetry shortlisting is special to you, can you tell us how you felt about the award listing?

A. Having been a publishing poet for a decade and a half, I’m particularly thrilled to be shortlisted for the 2017 VLPA for poetry. Poetry’s my first love, and always the first form I reach for. Attention to the sound and structure of words, and practice in the condensing and fracturing of language, is what’s made my fiction and non-fiction stronger.

Q. You’ve been extremely busy this year, with readings galore, opening night at the Melbourne Writers Festival, amongst the many appearances, do you find the role of spokeswoman on race, colour and African “diaspora” tiring? A mother as well I am shocked that you can find time to write! How do you juggle this workload?

A. For me, the impulse to write is almost like the impulse to breathe. I’m not precious about when and where I write. It can be on the back of a shopping docket in the supermarket line, on the fridge with a whiteboard marker while I’m making dinner, or at my laptop in my writing space. It’s much more difficult to negotiate public commitments than it is to find time to write at home.

I don’t really see myself as a spokesperson for the African diaspora. My experience, in terms of history, is pretty specific in that my family came to Australia from Africa via the Caribbean, then England. The African diaspora experience in Australia is so broad and varied. There are so many different stories that need to be told.

Q. What is next? Are you working on anything you can tell us about? What are you currently reading and why?

A. I’ve just finished collaborating on writing an adaptation of my memoir The Hate Race for stage at Malthouse theatre with Melbourne writer Erik Jensen. My reading list has been wedded to this collaboration: I re-read Jensen’s book Acute Misfortune (a biography of artist Adam Cullen), then read quite an extensive play list that included Jane Harrison’s Stolen, Tennessee William’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Kate Mulvany’s adaptation of the Craig Silvey novel Jasper Jones. It’s really exciting to be tackling yet another form, and also bringing the language of poetry and spoken word to the Australian mainstage.

Thanks again to the poets for their time, stay tuned for an interview with the winner of the Prime Minister’s Literary Award in 2016 Sarah Holland-Batt.