Border Security – Bruce Dawe PLUS bonus poet interview

BorderSecurityIt takes many types to make up the poetic landscape in Australia, and Bruce Dawe is one of the unique characters in that landscape.

His latest collection forms part of the University of Western Australia Publishing’s (‘UWAP’), Poetry Club, their first release being four books and all of them have been reviewed here. As per most of my recent Australian poetry reviews I have contacted the poet to conduct and interview and in Bruce Dawe’s case I was hoping to get an understanding from an ageing man about the progression of poetry in Australia over the last 60 or so years (Dawe was born in 1930) but my attempts at depth were in vain.

To start off with Bruce Dawe is, in his own words, “a PCP (pre-computer-person), so these answers will come courtesy of my wife, Liz” not the same person who receives a credit for typing in his collection “Border Security” (that’s Mary Coffey). He was also not that willing to share a whole lot, but I believe the simplicity and shortness of his replies gives an insight into his character and also into his poetry so I have chosen (as always) to publish my email interview verbatim.

The collection itself is not really my style of poetry with poems about Australian Rules Football matches “The Cup and The Lip”, walking the dog “Dog Heaven”, knitting, simply “Knitting”, or a poem titled “Considering Clouds on a Sunday Morning”, these examples, titles only show you that the collection has a very earthy, suburban, battler feel.

How do we sum up just how much we owe
To those who care for us when we are down,
When nights are long and days just come and go
And the sick body bids the spirit frown?
– taken from “Caring”

“Caring” the poem an “appreciation of my experience as a patient at Sunshine Coast Private Hospital, August 2008”

The least favourite of mine from the first four books in the Poetry Club collection, I can fully appreciate that there would be numerous Bruce Dawe fans out there who would relish a new collection, and can understand that this style of honest “battler” Aussie bloke poetry is something people appreciate. Unfortunately it’s not my thing. Therefore I will leave my comments short and head straight over to the interview – apologies for the curt, short replies

Q. You show that the everyday can be poetic, in this specific collection we have broad subjects such as an AFL match, walking the dogs, can you explain how you identify with something being poetic and how that translates into the urge to write?

I don’t ponder over the possibility of the poetic – I have never had a distinctive view of the term.

Q. Even though the title of this collection is from one poem, a number of your works contain “borders”, for example blocks of land, how did you choose the title of this collection?

Like most people, I see ‘borders’ everywhere in the world: social, political, personal. I watch the TV show Border Security regularly, aware of how often people seek to redefine or challenge borders.

Q. Rather than a sequence of poems this book appeared to me as a collection, how do you order the poems in a collection of this sort?

I don’t choose the final poems for a collection, believing I’m often ‘too close to the scene of the accident to be objective’ – I get a trusted (ie unbiased professional) friend to make the final choices.

Q. Referring to “Employment Problem” have your legs returned to employment?

‘Yes. The legs are okay again. Bursitis is slowing them up a bit, despite acupuncture.

Q. You’ve probably been asked this many times before, however I’m interested in your sequence of “careers”, how does one move from the RAAF to poetry?

I joined the RAAF because being a postman (on a walk round) took up a lot of the day (sorting at 6.00am, on the round until 10.30; back again at 2.00pm until 4.30pm…). What the RAAF gave me was time to study – not being much of a drinker. Uni study was a good discipline for me in my spare time.

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

I’m reading possible texts for my next U3A course – Mythology. I teach new texts every year, thus retaining most of my U3A students who are like a third family. I’ve taught U3A now for over twenty years, before that I taught for 20 years at tertiary level.

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

I’ve worked (over several years with a fellow dramatist) on various versions of my two political verse plays (published originally by Picaro Press): Blind Spots (Gillard/Rudd) and Kevin Almighty (guess who!).

As always I thank the poet for his time in answering my questions. I am hoping to run with an interview after approaching a more experimental poet in the coming weeks, stay tuned.

Star Struck – David McCooey PLUS bonus poet interview


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.



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


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’


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.