Sunday, November 30, 2014

Buy a Tincture with me in it :p

cover_small Tincture Journal have been very good to me again agreeing to publish my Shepherd Mourning poem in the final journal for the year.  Looking at the TOC I’m in some smashing company as well.  Issue 8 featuring myself will be out shortly (depends when you read this) but take a look back through all the back issues, as there’s sure to be some discounts.

The TOC for Issue 8:

  • Editorial, by Daniel Young
  • Inferior Bedrooms, by Meg Henry
  • Crazy Town is a Happy Place, by Deborah Sheldon
  • Post-mortem, by Elizabeth Allen
  • Delicious, by Elizabeth Allen
  • Looking for Links, or: On Imagining What I Would Talk About If I Met Stuart Barnes (Elizabeth Allen, interviewed by Stuart Barnes)
  • Red Flowers of the Exodus, by Amy Ward-Smith
  • Folded Peace, by Adam Byatt
  • One Small Step, by Matt Smith
  • What I Write About When I Write About Dance, by Sophie Pusz
  • Teddy Bears’ Picnic, by Emily Craven
  • Ms Robyne Young requests the pleasure of the company of Ms Janis Ian to dine, by Robyne Young
  • Shepherd Mourning, by SB Wright
  • First to a Hundred, by Jodi Cleghorn
  • Barn Burners, Fire Vans, by Stephen Koster
  • inevitability, by Ashley Capes
  • Simmering, by Katelin Farnsworth
  • On the skin, by Rebecca Howden
  • Bringing Experimental Text to the Mainstream: Kirsten Krauth’s just_a_girl, by Julie Proudfoot
  • The Monologue, by Nicholas Lawrence
  • Live Cam, 42nd Street, Times Square, by Francine Ruben
  • One Bronx Morning, by Patrick Fogarty
  • Hunting With Masai, by Charles Bane, Jr.
  • Knock Knock, by Edoardo Albert
  • A Night Inside, by Kathryn Hummel
  • The House of Little Things, by Grant Tarbard
  • 11 Months in London, by Tony Walton
  • Oh, La, La! by Barbara Donnelly Lane
  • Reply Hazy, Try Again, by Kevin Brown
  • The Moth, by Abhishaike Mahajan

You can purchase Tincture from the website direct or get a small discount through Tomely if you use social media to spread the word.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Decommissioning Culture – Australia without a national poetry broadcast.

You may have heard that the ABC is decommissioning Poetica (along with a raft of shows) in a bid to weather the cuts inflicted on it by the LNP.  I can’t help but think that this is the thin end of the wedge, or perhaps the middle, who knows.  Both sides of politics have continually sought to get aunty on the treadmill and make her efficient.  I am sick to death of governments privatising public services (and long term,  I think this is where it’s going), it never works out better for the public. 

I don’t know why the decision was made to axe Poetica, leaving Australia without national poetry coverage, was it ratings, was the size of its staff, the likelihood that poets would not protest in the streets? It had a listenership of 60,000 which is about 50,000 more than I was thinking. So…

Let us reflect on this for a moment, Australia without a national poetry program.  What does that say about us as a culture?  What message does it send? What does it project about us internationally?

It’s not the death of poetry in this country of course, the scene(s) is/are still pretty vibrant.  But in a country as big, as geographically challenged as ours, poetry and host of other non-commercially attractive pursuits, benefit from the lift national coverage gives, benefit immensely from the piddling amount that is spent on it.

I am underwhelmed by the response in general from the public and I’m talking about the poetry reading public here ( I realise that Poetry is a pastime shared by a dedicated few). I expected a bit more…fire in the belly. Some metaphorical rioting.

I expected some big names to come out swinging. I expected our poetry elders to sharpen their quills. Perhaps they are still reeling from the other cuts inflicted or instigated by a government that seems determined to push a nasty ideological agenda.

Thanks to Australian Poetry who made a statement here and to the Sydney Morning Herald, who carried the only mainstream media story I could Google on it here.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Luncheon on the Grass or Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe

300px-Edouard_Manet_-_Luncheon_on_the_Grass_-_Google_Art_Project

Free to air television being what it is I have taken to borrowing  documentaries from the local library.  This week I picked up Every Picture Tells a Story, distributed by Readers Digest and hosted by Waldemar Jansuzczak (apparently the David Attenborough of the English speaking art world).  Once I get past the sped up, handheld filmed title sequence, it’s been good, very good in fact.

So why am I talking about art and presenting you with a painting by Manet on my poetry blog?

Well, The Luncheon on the Grass or Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe is the masterpiece that the first episode focuses on and while viewing it I had a personal epiphany…perhaps that’s too strong a word. It got me thinking.

Take a good look at the picture above without Googling any info, maybe do an image search and get a better quality picture.  Take a good look at it.  What do you notice?

While you are doing that I am going to blather on about how this picture sums up some of my difficulties with poetry, contemporary and historical.  This painting (and the same would go for almost any masterpiece) is a metaphor for my experience.

The Casual Observer/Reader

On first impressions it is a pleasurable painting to look at and understand (certainly easier than say abstract work).  You might notice that the women are naked while the men are clothed.  You might notice that one of the women is looking directly at the viewer, you might notice that she is of fuller figure.  You might notice other things.  You don’t have to really know anything about art(and here art may have an edge over the written word) to get some basic enjoyment/wonderment from looking.

I find some poetry to be like this ie broadly accessible, its syntax and diction fairly straightforward. I am thinking of Thomas Gunn, Billy Collins, blog visitors Michele Seminara and Ash Capes also come to mind.

We could leave the painting and poetry at this point and have an appreciation, an enjoyment.

What Jansuzczak does in this video is start to educate us in this painting, its artist and its context.  Thus we learn that:

  1. The figures in it are relatives and friends
  2. That it is referencing two classical paintings
  3. That the bird that sits in the top centre of picture is taking the place of the dove of peace and makes the painting sacrilegious.
  4. That the woman bathing has actually just finished urinating.
  5. That the central women looking out is challenging the viewer
  6. That this painting by referencing the classics (which displays similar levels of nudity) reveals the hypocrisy in modern mores.
  7. etc.

I find much contemporary poetry a little removed.  Now, I’m no idiot but I am not an academic or an academic poet but I love it when I understand what a poet is doing and saying.  I often feel that I could benefit from a Jansuzczak of the poetry world.  A lot of the analysis and reviews I read come across as academic and a little dry.

I find that I enjoy and understand the poetry of my friends and poetic colleagues because I understand them and where they are writing from.  As my circle of poetry reading expands though I find the process more difficult.  Sometimes I get lucky and a poet will blog and post videos, like Helen Mort (my fave English poet).  Sometimes you will get someone who verges on being that Jansuzczak like figure - an example of  that might be academic and poet Anthony Wilson writing in his post Introducing Chrissy Wilson.

I have been reading Plath lately and without a substantial study of her as a person, the context of her writing I feel a disconnect with a lot of her work. Is the only place that will find this information in a lengthy (and expensive) course of study? Is there a poet, a blogger out there that can communicate the body of contemporary or modern poetry in an accessible fashion?

I can’t help getting the feeling that a lot of poetry criticism and learning is locked up in texts aimed at other poets of the same persuasion that I am looking at  A Luncheon on the Grass and missing out on what the poet is doing and why it might be important. 

Your thoughts?

Monday, November 10, 2014

eBook Review – Picnic, Lightning by Billy Collins

picnic-lightningCollins was U.S. Poet Laureate from 2001-2003, and still is one of America’s most loved and successful contemporary poets both in monetary and critical terms. 

I am, as I have stated before, attracted to formalist poetry, to fairly distinct and repetitive rhyme and rhythm.  My enjoyment of Collins then, came as a bit of a surprise. 

Picnic, Lightning is a collection of everyday musings in poetic form and from what I can ascertain, this is standard for Collins’ kind of poetry.  Indeed his poem In the Room of a Thousand Miles presents us with a manifesto.  Though perhaps that’s too strong a word:

In the Room of a Thousand Miles

I like writing about where I am,

where I happen to be sitting,

the humidity or the clouds,

the scene outside the window—

a pink tree in bloom,

a neighbor walking his small, nervous dog.

And if I am drinking

a cup of tea at the time

or a small glass of whiskey,

I will find a line to put it on.

 

My wife hands these poems back to me

with a sigh.

She thinks I ought to be opening up

my aperture to let in

the wild rhododendrons of Ireland,

the sun-blanched stadiums of Rome,

that waterclock in Bruges—

the world beyond my inkwell.

…[read on]

This focus on the everyday, the mundane, the “suburban” as Collins himself calls it, has led some to view his work as a bit bland.  For sure, you won’t find rage here or angst.  You might find humour, wit and playfulness though and perhaps that puts people off that think poetry should be about important things (as If laughter and lightness aren’t important) or about “plumbing the depths of one’s soul”.  Collins is far more contemplative.

Personally I get the same sort of feeling reading Collins that I might reading Japanese forms like Haiku and Tanka, in that they are often very particular observations of the ordinary and yet more than that as well.  The diction and syntax is fairly straight forward, enhancing his general appeal and accessibility. The poems tend to seep in under your defences and a poem that first is about returning to the house for a book, walks you gently into a meditation on alternate possibilities/realities. 

Readers of speculative fiction might not view the following as all that strange but if you are fairly linear in your thinking, then this poem opens up possibilities:

 

I Go Back to the House for a Book

 

I turn around on the gravel

and go back to the house for a book,

something to read at the doctor's office,

and while I am inside, running the finger

of inquisition along a shelf,

 

another me that did not bother

to go back to the house for a book

heads out on his own,

rolls down the driveway,

and swings left toward town,

 

a ghost in his ghost car,

another knot in the string of time,

a good three minutes ahead of me—

a spacing that will now continue

for the rest of my life.

I enjoyed Picnic, Lightning for its relatively easy “entrance exam”, almost any lover of good written words could pick Picnic, Lightning up and enjoy it.  Many of the poems could have been formatted as prose, as flash fiction, but there is something to be be gained by the arrangement of line breaks, in drawing you eye and pacing your reading.  Collins draws your attention to the ordinary and most of the time finds for us the extraordinary. It’s his consistency in delivering this to the reader, I suspect, that grants him success. 

Death and pain are big themes in poetry but sometimes we need to be reminded of the extraordinariness of life.


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Sunday, November 2, 2014

Book Review – Selected Poems by Thom Gunn

thomgunnThom Gunn has been one of the happy discoveries wrought by my self imposed regime to read more poetry and to read more widely.  I can’t remember how I stumbled across the name but I am glad that I did. 

I am very glad to have picked up this particular Selected Poems edited by August Kleinzahler, because I think, in my limited knowledge of the poet, that Kleinzahler has done a very good job of presenting a cross section of Gunn’s work.  I also found the introduction by Kleinzahler to be one of the best I have read in a book of selected poetry in recent times. I was left with a very well rounded sense of the poet. While that in itself was not necessary for enjoyment, I felt it beneficial nonetheless.

I am a fan of form poetry, of rhythm and rhyme.  I like writing and reading it and although I write free verse as well, I never seem quite so happy as when I discover a well wrought form poem or manage to crank out one myself. 

Gunn, writing from the mid 19,50’sright up to the turn of the century begins as a formalist, transitions through syllabic poetry and ends up writing free verse.  And looking at the whole of his work (as presented here) I can gain an appreciation for all of it.  An appreciation for what’s possible along that continuum.

This collection spans some 50 plus years but I did feel as though I was reading a very contemporary poet, much of this is owed, I think to the content. With my penchant for nostalgia I really enjoyed Last Days at Teddington (which sadly doesn’t appear online anywhere) and likewise Hug, although Hug is as much a love poem.

The Hug

It was your birthday, we had drunk and dined

    Half of the night with our old friend

        Who'd showed us in the end

    To a bed I reached in one drunk stride.

        Already I lay snug,

And drowsy with the wine dozed on one side.

 

Gunn covers the big topics, like love and death.  There’s also a strong vein of poems that focus on nature or a simpler life.  Indeed, a poem like The Night Piece reminds me very much of Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.

 

Here are the last few streets to climb

Galleries, run through veins of time,

Almost familiar where I creep

Toward sleep like fog, through fog like sleep

 

and

 

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   

But I have promises to keep,   

And miles to go before I sleep,   

And miles to go before I sleep.

 

The collection is broad enough to have something for all readers.  What I like in particular though is his consistent use of rhythm and rhyme.  The content and the language changes from earlier to later poems but to me shows what’s still possible with form poetry as we edge into the 21st century. If you like poetry that sounds like poetry, that plucks at emotions and that doesn’t shy away from topics like sex, suicide and illness, then I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

 


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Saturday, November 1, 2014

Kate Tempest – Performing an extract from Brand New Ancients

I listened to this and immediately got an American Gods feel.

 

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