False Nostalgia – Aden Rolfe PLUS bonus poet interview

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

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

 “Glasshouses” – Stuart Barnes (UQP)

“Sydney Road Poems” – Carmine Frascarelli (rabbit)

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

“Lake” – Claire Nashar (Cordite)

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

I’m looking forward to the
memories of right now

DRAKE

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

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

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

We are who we are because of
what we remember —

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Onto the interview…

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

And what if I said I did…?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Sydney Road Poems – Carmine Frascarelli PLUS bonus poet interview

SydneyRoad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SydneyRoadPoem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Lake – Claire Nashar PLUS bonus poet interview

Lake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over to the interview;

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Lemons in the Chicken Wire – Alison Whittaker PLUS bonus poet interview

LemonsChicken

Today another collection from the 2017 Mary Gilmore Award shortlist and a bonus poet interview. Indigenous pet Alison Whittaker’s debut collection, “Lemons in the Chicken Wire”, has already been lauded as the winner of the State Library of Queensland Black & Write Prize and the plaudits are well deserved, this is a complex, multi-layered collection of poems.

Opening with a dedication “To the land, and those who grow from it.”, the Aboriginal connection to country is placed foremost in your mind, the opening poem, “Land-ed”, continuing the theme;

land
takes dead skin from my feet
and slips
from under me
while the city
puts dead shoes on my feet
and slips
right into me

this train, the wind, ploughs on
through suburbs I barely glimpse
but there is
land and land and
I am landing

There are many laments and hints of tragic nostalgia, as the subjects move through domestic violence and the importance of family, in “Ext Int.”, memories and celebrations of deceased relatives, as seen in “Preface: Another Funeral”, or emotionally draining moments as in “Growing Soon” and “Tidda//Jidgja”. Mix this with the powerful feminist rant as presented in expected female behaviour in “Whatcha”, a poem of tampons, shaving and dark towels, the reader has in their hands a Pandora’s box of wonderful breadth and depth.

The ‘lemon’ metaphor reappears throughout, switching meanings depending upon the setting, the poem “Lemons : Metaphor” hinting at a few of the references:

Lemons : metaphor
juicy, weeping, squirting, tart
flanked neighbour’s orchard

Like Stuart Barnes’ collection “Glasshouses” , which I reviewed earlier in the week, there is a “fear” of being openly homosexual, in the poem “Silver Pillow”, the proud gay woman still has reservations, “we lie but never rest”.

Using a range of techniques and styles this collection is not all politically motivated, there is humour, playful moments, and joy. The poem “Do Ya?” opens with;

Do you think that tenderness lies at the end of this?
When ankle pins like Christ wounds tether
you, with motion, to the road? Perhaps wherever

that motion yanks you, there will be tenderness
if only where your wounds become a fat, soft mess.
What awaits us when this ends – pleasure?

 

Ultimately these poems are a love story, neither black, nor queer, it is plain love, including all the associated confusions and concerns, Alison Whittaker showing a maturity well beyond her young years, an assured and very enjoyable collection, one that demands re-reading and revisiting many times. I am very grateful to the judges, and chair, of the Mary Gilmore Award for introducing me to a range of newly published poets, all of their collections exciting in their own way, pushing new boundaries with the artform and provoking a raft of emotions.

As always I would like to thank the poet, Alison Whittaker, for her time in answering my question, her honesty in her replies and the revelations about her work that are contained in her responses.

If you are interested in her work, she was the guest editor for the latest Rabbit Journal (number 21) the indigenous issue – a collection that contains twenty-five poems.

Here’s our interview:

Q. As a proud Gomeroi woman can you tell us your story and the story of the Gomeroi?

Maarubaa nginda for asking this question first off. I can’t tell you ‘the’ story of the Gomeroi nation, but I can tell you mine! I was grown up on country near the banks of Ngamaay (the Namoi River), and then in Tamworth on a guniyal (plain). My mum is Gomeroi, and my dad is non-Indigenous. Our language, Gamilaraay, and its linkage to country and kin is what underpins and accounts for all the work I do – in both poetry and law. It’s a supporting structure, but also kind of like an ecosystem – it supports you because you support it. If you break away from it or drain it, you can no longer call yourself part of it. At its core, my story in this sense is about feeding in and out of a bigger one.

Q. From the first poem the reader knows that land, your country, is important, with a dedication to land and the opening poem being “land-ed”, can you tell us a little more about your connection to country?

I kind of can, and I appreciate that you ask, but I won’t here. I think these conversations are best had outside of a broadcast setting.

Q. You speak of a lack of passing on of cultural knowledge, “I had to Google to understand // where is the diaspora of my people?” and as seen in the poems “Heavy Tongue” and “Sharp Tongue” you speak of loss of language. Is this a nostalgic passing, a sadness or an activist outrageous voice?

All and none, I guess! Cultural knowledge is still passed on, but its varied flows have been interrupted by colonisation. Maybe reflecting on these voices now, being a little older and a little further down the path, I can see the work being done to heal the flows. There’s no nostalgia for it – there’s a yearning. It’s fundamental to being who we are, and more than that, to doing what we need to do. There’s no other English name for it. Maybe it’s not nostalgia or outrage or sadness you feel in these circumstances, it’s bereavement and dislodgement.

Q. The importance of family comes through via reflections on their passing, and the “fear” of homosexuality being uncovered, as in the line “we lie but never rest”, and you touch on the family knowledge of your sexuality in “Insider Knowledge”. Is this baring of the soul in the collection cathartic, stressful?

It is stressful! Actually, it’s more stressful now than it was before. Writing some of this collection was reckless because I was quite driven to catharsis. It felt good in the shorter term to write about this experience, this life I lived and shared with others like me from birth to my late teens. The problem with life writing is that you live with the self you create in the public domain. Others live with it to, and communities, and the selves you make for them.

I don’t give a shit about being out (just kidding, I love it!) – but I care about how I represent queerphobia and colonisation and racism and trauma and relationships. That’s more than being out. That’s almost like inviting people in to someone else. Now, I’m much more careful and slow in the things I write. I want them to mean less to me, and mean more to other people.

Q. You use rhyme playfully, as in “Do Ya?”, personally this lifted my spirits, and you use a range of poetic forms, are there any particular formats you enjoy playing with?

Oh, maarubaa nginda! That’s kind of you to say. I love playing with wordwork and storywork, there’s so much packed in there that you can weave into all kinds of terrain. What’s my favourite? Not a clue! I have features that I especially like toying with – rhyme, rhythm, repetition, time, negative space, line length, punctuation, phonetics – but I now like leaving myself out of poetic forms (like haiku, sonnets, whatever) as much as I can.

Q. I know you are studying right now so the answer may just be “text books”, but I ask all my interviewees this, what are you reading at the moment and why?

Not just yet! I’ll head over to Turtle Island North America to study in August, but for now I’m reading old loves like Home by Larissa Behrendt. I’m reading Home because I’m packing up everything I own, and completely forgot I borrowed it from a friend four years ago until I pulled it from my bookshelf last week. One last read before I give it back to her!

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

Yes! My next collection – blakwork.

 

 

Glasshouses – Stuart Barnes PLUS bonus poet interview

GlasshousesBarnes

Next month the Mary Gilmore Award will be presented by the Association for the Study of Australian Literature, it is for the best first book of poetry published in the past two calendar years, it was awarded annually until 1998, reverted to bi-annually and now appears to have reverted back to an annual prize. The shortlist was announced recently;

Stuart Barnes – Glasshouses (UQP)

Carmine Frascarelli – Sydney Road Poems (rabbit)

Aden Rolfe – False Nostalgia (Giramondo)

Alison Whittaker – Lemons in the Chicken Wire (Magabala)

Claire Nashar’s “Lake” (Cordite) was highly commended by the chair Michael Farrell and judges Ann Vickery and Justin Clemens.

I am hoping to interview each of the poets on the shortlist over the coming weeks and today start with Stuart Barnes, again I thank him for his time, the effort he put into answering my questions and his honesty and poetic instruction. His interview follows my personal thoughts on his book.

Stuart Barnes’ collection is split into four sections, “Reflections”, “Five Centos”, “Cyclone Songs” and “In a Beautiful Place Out in the Country”, and from the opening poem in “Reflections”, “Fingal Valley”, you are hit with a sense of nostalgia, with glass swans, “mother-of-pearl veneer”, “Nan’s budgerigar” and “Pop’s prized green” along with the iconic “leering toilet roll doll”, images of a grandparent’s country home are immediately brought to mind, you can settle in a comfortable environment and indulge in Barnes’ reflections.

The influences on Barnes as a poet is brought home in “Ebon Cans”, an homage to Gwen Harwood, where her quote “In the twinkling of and eye” becomes the personal, “in the twinkling of her eye”. Moving to playful poems such as “13”, a rondeau to the number thirteen, and “Horus and Set” a playful use of form;

Horus and Set
for Zachary Humphrey

From his ebony eyrie
the moon is salubrious,
round as the white lotus’ root.
The desert’s his adversary.

The moon is salubrious
with his godly left eye.
The desert’s his adversary,
spiteful, like a hippopotamus.

With his godly left eye
the moon is neither ossuary,
nor spiteful, like a hippopotamus,
a shape-shifting crocodile.

The moon is not an ossuary.
The desert us a troglodyte,
a shape-shifting crocodile.
The moon’s a fresh apothecary,

the desert is a troglodyte.
From his ebony eyrie
the moon’s a fresh apothecary,
round as the white lotus’ root.

With homosexual references, including the appearance of the “Grim Reaper”, which, in 1987, was a controversial advertising campaign in Australia about the spread of AIDS (if you’d like to watch the ad click here), there are poems of being bashed, being ostracised, “It’s immense the fear/of gay men”, there is also depression and mental illness as in the poem “sad”, mixed with poems about the chemicals (medication) required to create the mood altering states.

It is through these personal reflections, the voyeuristic peering into the life of another that the poems have a deep human touch, the ordinary, for example the musical references and homages, sound like any kid growing up in 1980’s/90’s Australia, but beneath the happy veneer there are dark secrets and messages aplenty.

Stuart Barnes uses innumerable references, literary and musically, to create a sense of time and place, and the use of different fonts, shapes and placement always keeps you entertained and intrigued, boiling works down to their essence, creating a depth well beyond the fifty poems (plus a proem) in the collection. A book I can thoroughly recommend.

As always, I thank the poet for their time and honesty in replying to my questions, Stuart Barnes giving detailed explanations of his work and the various forms used, therefore it is better to hear this from the creator’s lips instead of from my mere thoughts, over to the interview.

Q. Form throughout the collection is prevalent, as evidenced by “13” where you have 13 lines, 13 syllables in each line, presenting examples of 13 culturally and in the last poem in the collection “Double Acrostic” spelling out “the place where clouds are formed”. Do you find these “constraints” feed the creative?

 

In Glasshouses there are 51 poems. Of these, 15 are sonnets: ‘10.15 Saturday Night’ is kind of Bowlesian; the 17-line ‘Deep Sea Love’ and the 18-line ‘Bees’ are what I call slightly broken (the latter might also be kind of Heroic); ‘Mr Gingerlocks’ is a bouts-rimés.

Other forms include cento (‘Walking Wounded’), pantoum (‘Horus and Set’), senryu (‘Blackout’), sestina (‘Snowdrop in the Tropics’), terminal (‘Cups’) and villanelle (‘The ice storm’s’). ‘You do what you can, or Eleven Steps’ adheres to an 11-line, 11-syllables-in-each-line regulation. ‘eggshells’ and ‘colour wheel’ (dedicated to the memories of my paternal grandmother and grandfather, respectively) have four 7-line stanzas and similar end-rhymes. ‘In a Beautiful Place Out in the Country’ was influenced by the rhythms of the Boards of Canada song of the same name, Lana Del Rey’s ‘Born to Die’ (PDP / 13 Remix) and ‘Rings Around Saturn’ (Peshay & Decoder Remix) from Photek’s Form & Function.

‘Double Acrostic’, a sonnet, was occasioned by reading Ofelia Zepeda’s ‘The Place Where Clouds Are Formed’ and by re-reading Gwen Harwood’s acrostic sonnets ‘Eloisa to Abelard’ and ‘Abelard to Eloisa’. When I 1st read Shakespeare’s sonnets at high school I was as turned on as Anne Sexton when she saw on television ‘I. A. Richards [a poet and literary critic] describing the form’ (https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poets/detail/anne-sexton). A couple of years later my then-partner gave me Shakespeare’s Sonnets (ed. Katherine Duncan Jones) for my birthday. In 2009, when I started writing poetry seriously, the sonnet was the 1st form I explored. At the time, I was seeing a psychiatrist who played several instruments and composed scores and who believed my writing poetry would weaken my depression and anxiety (it did). Like Sexton’s therapist, he encouraged me ‘to write between our sessions about what I was feeling and thinking and dreaming’.

I wrote hundreds of sonnets, but impatient for change I started to flirt with other forms such as villanelles, pantoums and centos. When I returned to writing sonnets I decided they had to have regulations (e.g., sonnets with double acrostics); when I stopped writing sonnets altogether I shifted my focus to other forms such as double acrostics with 13-line, 13-syllables-in-each-line regulations; one was published as ‘Double Acrostic’ in Glasshouses, another as ‘Double Acrostic’ in Southerly Journal’s Writing Disability issue (http://southerlyjournal.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/76.2-Stuart-Barnes.pdf).

I adore writing in form, be it fixed or one I’ve altered or one I’ve conceived; when writing in form I feel as if I’m at my most creative; I feel liberated, not constrained.

Finally, that Glasshouses’ last word is ‘formed’ wasn’t decided consciously.

Q. Shape also plays a role, for example “Doubleness, with anagrams” shaped like a weather map depiction of a cyclone, is shape an enjoyable format to use in your poetic imagery?

 

Yes. Making concrete poetry (temporarily) satisfies the wannabe painter in me.

‘Doubleness, with anagrams’, from Glasshouses’ Cyclone Songs sequence, was drafted on February 22, 2015, the 2nd of 5 days without electricity after Tropical Cyclone Marcia ripped through Rockhampton. At the time, I couldn’t get the meteorological symbol for a cyclone out of my head.

I won’t explain every doubleness and every anagram but I will say that David Lynch’s doubles and doppelgängers partially inspired this poem; that the number 22 is significant and is mentioned in the 1st line of this poem and the 2nd-last line of ‘Prelude’; and that ‘latent forecasts’ (a phrase from ‘Doubleness, with anagrams’) is, rather alarmingly, an anagram of Settlers of Catan, a board game I played with friends before (but not after) Marcia.

I enjoy experimenting with font, too. ‘Doubleness, with anagrams’ includes the phrase TWIN CYCLONES! which I hope mirrors spinning-quickly-into-focus Marvel movie tabloids’ headlines. I wanted the poem to move on the page, I wanted it to capture the post-Marcia vertigo and chaos. Earlier poems such as ‘Screaming Skull’ and ‘The Complaint’ (http://the-otolith.blogspot.com.au/2012/01/stuart-barnes-complaint-is-being-made.html ) were informed by shape and font, respectively; fans of Sonic Youth will recognise another inspiration.

Other Glasshouses poems—‘из России’, ‘another journey by train’, ‘Deep Sea Love’, ‘10.15 Saturday Night’, ‘Drums’, ‘The Mixtape’—experiment with shape, font and symbol.

Q. The band ‘The Cure’ are referenced throughout your poems, I never thought I’d ask a poet this but is Robert Smith an influence?

 

Each time I’m asked about my musical influences a wonderful Dorothy Porter quote comes to mind: ‘Music has been the key for me since I was a teenager … I wanted to tap into that dark potency of rock‘n’roll.’ Music has been the key for me since I was a little kid; I’ve always been open to the energies of varied genres: alternative, blues, classical, country, dance, electronic, indie pop, jazz, Latin, opera, pop, rock, soul, soundtrack, opera, world.

I inherited my craving for music from my parents; I remember their playing oodles of country when I was a kid so it’s apt that Johnny Cash’s ‘A Boy Named Sue’ surfaced in Glasshouses’ title poem. Ghastly songs by Warrant and Poison, which my cousins played to death on long stifling summer days, inspired ‘Fingal Valley’, the collection’s 1st poem; Art Department’s glittering, minimal ‘I C U’ shimmied into another. ‘i won’t let the sun go down on me’ takes its title from the Nik Kershaw song of the same name, and the five poems from Cyclone Songs from the five songs—Grace Jones’ ‘Hurricane’, ‘Pulp’s ‘This Is Hardcore’, L7’s ‘Pretend We’re Dead’, Snap!’s ‘The Power’, ‘Antony and the Johnsons’ ‘The Horror Has Gone’—that echoed in Tropical Cyclone Marcia’s wake. ‘Blackout’ pays homage to Kate Bush’s ‘Babooshka’, ‘Coda’ to Gounod’s Faust. I wrote ‘The Mixtape’ after listening to the mixtape my 1st boyfriend made for me; Pulp’s ‘Disco 2000’, Portishead’s ‘Roads’ and Suede’s ‘The 2 of Us’ all get a mention.

I 1st encountered The Cure on rage—‘Never Enough’, 1990; I found Robert Smith’s vocals and make-up both alarming and alluring—but it wasn’t until 1992, when my friend T made me listen to every album (Three Imaginary Boys through Wish), that I became hypnotized. I took up guitar and piano and wrote dozens of (very terrible) songs.

Since then, Smith’s influenced my writing more than any other singer-songwriter-musician.

His elastic voice is a shot in the arm; he throws it like the instruments—bass, flute, guitar, 6-string bass, synthesizer, violin—that he plays. Years ago, a friend who used to sing and score opera praised his vocal harmonies (‘gorgeous’).

For me, no other songwriter captures addiction (‘Open’), ageing (‘Secrets’), arachnophobia (‘Lullaby’), death (‘Bloodflowers’), dreams (‘Kyoto Song’), fame (‘Dressing Up’), hate (‘Shiver and Shake’), hope (‘Faith’), loss (‘Anniversary’), love (‘Siamese Twins’), loneliness (‘10.15 Saturday Night’), sex (‘Jupiter Crash’) and suicide (‘The Reasons Why’) the way Smith does.

He’s mastered alt-rock, cold wave, electronic, funk, house, indie rock, new wave, pop, post-punk, post-rock, psychedelic rock, shoegaze and synth-pop, yet his band remains uncategorisable. At its core, though, is ‘The Cure sound’, described by Smith as ‘songs based on 6-string bass, acoustic guitar, and my voice, plus the string sound from the Solina’ (‘a multi-orchestral machine with violin, viola, trumpet, horn, cello and contrabass’). For me, this sound is intoxicating, as are Smith’s howls and Ows, his Doo-doo-doo-doo’s.

He’s been influenced by some of my favourite novelists, painters, philosophers and poets: Iain Banks, Baudelaire, Camus, Capote, Cocteau, Penelope Farmer, Mary Howitt, Kafka, Robert Lowell, William Mayne, Edvard Munch, Thomas Nagel, Mervyn Peake, Plath, Christina Rossetti, Salinger, Shelley, Dylan Thomas, Patrick White.

With the media he’s warm, thoughtful, articulate (his triple j interviews with Richard Kingsmill introduced me to the music of Nick Drake, another inspiration); live, extraordinary (I’ve seen the band 4 times; not 1 concert’s run under 3.5 hours).

Robert Smith’s compelling, brilliant adventurousness continues to inspire me to bend to new styles.

Several of Glasshouses’ poems address The Cure directly. ‘Reflections’ takes its title from the band’s 2011 Vivid Festival gig of the same name, ‘another journey by train’ and ‘10.15 Saturday Night’ from two of the band’s songs of the same name. ‘13’ and ‘из России’ mention ‘The Cure’, ‘ValproateFluoxetineClonazepam’ ‘the cures’.

 

Q. The very personal ‘coming out’ poem, “I”, is placed sideways on the page. Is this to signify “off kilter”, “Different”, as the poem uses lines such as “You’ll fucking die of AIDS”, “My spine’s weak” and “poof”, questions of “fitting in”?

 

It’s interesting you read ‘I’ as a coming out poem. To those who don’t know I’m gay it might be; to me it’s about astrology, meditation, and an infatuation with a man practically paralysed by his fear of coming out to family and friends who he knows aren’t homophobic and already know he’s gay.

There was much umming and ahing on my part about including this poem in Glasshouses because of the phrase ‘You’ll fucking die of AIDS’, the 2nd thing my mother said to me after she asked ‘Are you gay?’. The reasons for including it were twofold: my mother and I have an honest relationship and we were able to talk about and to laugh about the past; some people still think HIV/AIDS ‘a gay disease’, which is, I believe, both naïve and repugnant.

‘My spine’s weak’ refers to my bulging disc. ‘Poof!’, of course, is a pun, intended to lighten the poem’s tone.

‘I’ appears sideways on the page, i.e., in landscape orientation, so that ‘my’, ‘quantified’, ‘final’, ‘fine’, ‘why’—the words that rhyme with the poem’s title—would end their respective lines. I wrote ‘I’ after listening to Björk’s ‘Five Years’; three lines from this song feature in the original version of my poem (https://walleahpress.com.au/communion3-Stuart-Barnes.html).

Q. Your centos show a massive breadth of reading, from Donne to Shakespeare to many recent poets, you’re obviously well read, how long did these free flowing word sculptures, homage in many lines, take to create? Can you take us through the process?

 

My parents and my father’s parents encouraged me to read widely (the Bible, comics, Encyclopedia Britannica, National Geographic, newspapers) from an early age; later, several teachers, including brilliant poets Gwen Harwood and Liz McQuilkin (http://walleahpress.com.au/Liz-McQuilkin.html).

Each of Glasshouses’ centos was crafted over many weeks. Surprisingly, the 6-line ‘Forcento’, about gravity, was pieced together quicker than the 21-line ‘Matrimonies’, a cento from Gwen Harwood (matrimonies is an anagram of Miriam Stone, one of Gwen’s pseudonyms).

The process: I choose a theme; I choose lines from poetry collections and online literary journals which I type into a doc; from these I sometimes succeed in creating a narrative I’m happy with; I sometimes don’t, which is better than fine—writing, not having written, is what’s most pleasurable for me.

Q. You also include a “proem”, a cento of nine of your own poems. A spiralling, a boiling down to the bare essentials. Is finding the “essence” of a work a key to your creation?

 

Yes. One of the 1st found poems I forged was ‘Stern Man’, a remix of some of the proem from friend and novel/la/ist Nigel Featherstone’s Remnants which I hope encapsulates the core of this novel. Nigel wrote about Remnants and ‘Stern Man’ at his blog (https://nigelfeatherstone.wordpress.com/2014/04/04/three-cheers-for-literary-miracles/); while you’re there, order his latest highly praised novella, The Beach Volcano.

My proem’s lines are taken from ‘The Raising of the Dead’, an unpublished poem, and 8 of Glasshouses’. 1st line ‘Bay of Fires’’ is from ‘colour wheel’, a day in the life of my paternal grandfather and 9-year-old me; last line ‘might inscribe similar discs of stillness’ is from ‘Snowdrop in the Tropics’, a transformation of a Grimm fairy tale.

My proem, ‘Stern Man’ and Glasshouses begin with conflagrations and end with crystallisations.

Q. Following on from the centos question and your breadth of reading, I ask all my interviewees this, what are you reading at the moment and why?

 

Writing by friends and poets Benjamin Dodds and Felicity Plunkett, and Shanghai Wedding, a novella-as-manuscript by friend Daniel Young: ‘swap-edit’, to borrow a phrase from Felicity. Robert Adamson’s Inside Out: An Autobiography, a gift from friend and poet Matt Hetherington. Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell and Kwame Dawes and John Kinsella’s Speak from Here to There because I enjoy their poetry and poetic interlocutions. Re-reading a.j. carruthers’ Axis Book 1: ‘Areal’, Melinda Smith’s Drag down to unlock or place an emergency call and Alison Whittaker’s Lemons in the Chicken Wire is like opening the largest matryoshka doll and finding inside differently painted, more detailed ones. Gail Crowther’s The Haunted Reader and Sylvia Plath, which focuses ‘on the readers of Sylvia Plath, not the historical figure herself’. Christopher Isherwood’s Diaries, Volume 1: 1939-1960: bold, witty, intriguing. Tyehimba Jess’ Olio ‘weaves new and reimagined facts with poetry, prose, and biographies of first-generation freed slaves who performed in minstrel shows.’ My contributor copy of Shaping the Fractured Self: poems of chronic illness and pain (ed. Heather Taylor Johnson): small essays and poems by 28 Australian poets who happen to live with chronic illness and pain. Pedro Pietri’s Selected Poetry because I’ve never read his work. My favourite female novelist Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. Jeet Thayil’s Collected Poems and Narcopolis, both recommended by Matt Hetherington. Imma Tubella’s Un secret de l’Empordà, which I’m translating into English.

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

 

Glasshouses begins with a section called Reflections and ends with In a Beautiful Place Out in the Country; the poems I’m writing for my 2nd collection look to the future. I’m learning Catalan and translating Imma Tubella’s Un secret de l’Empordà into English. I’m preparing 2 poetry workshops—my 1st, very exciting—for CQ University’s Idiom23 Writing Retreat to be held on nearby North Keppel Island in early July.