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
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!