Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Where to submit your poetry - Bareknuckle Poet

This is the first in a series of posts focused on possible markets for Australian Poets (mind you I don't think any of these markets restrict poets by country).  Some of them are paid markets, some of them aren't but they all feature quality poets.

Start reading now 
Bareknuckle Poet - Journal of Letters

A free online journal, not just limited to Poetry. They don't pay (see their submission page for details) but they feature quality poets/contributors.

They don't have a set publishing schedule so submissions are open all year round.

They tend to favour "the cutting edge over the blunt of the handle, the avant-garde over backward walking, the delinquent genius over genre".

But if your unsure what that means then read the posts under their Poetry Category. I must admit I am somewhat tickled by the "attitude" of the page.

They have also released their first annual anthology that received a good write up from Geoff Page in the Australian.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Collector - An audio poem by Stacey Larner

Please have a listen to Stacey's poem.  She's responsible for both the poem, the flute and the post production.

You can check out her poetry and her speculative fiction writing at Forego Reality.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Poetry Bargains at Booktopia.

Booktopia are having their annual end of year sale and I thought I would take a look through their poetry bargain listings.  I am not sure how long the sale is going for but I hope to get my hand on some of these below.

There's a good mix from international best sellers and small collections, to some current Australian poets.

 Radiance by Andy Kissane from publishers Puncher & Wattmann.  Radiance was shortlisted for the 2015 Victorian Premier’s Prize for Poetry.  

Sale Price $13.50

Salad Anniversary by Machi Tawara.  Released at the end of the 1980's Salad Anniversary sold about 2.6 million copies and reinvigorated Tanka Poetry.

Sale Price $13.50 
Poems by Iain Banks and Ken MacLeod.  A book of poetry by SciFi authors and dear friends Iain Banks and Ken MacLeod.  Published shortly after Banks' death. 

Sale Price $8.50
Instant Winner by Carrie Fountain.  I have not heard of Fountain but this is her second collection.  You can read some of her poetry here.  

Sale Price $12.35 
Open House by David Brooks published by UQP.  I love the covers of the current UQP series of poetry.  Open House is basically a new release in poetry terms, having been published in January of this year.  He's curently co-editor of Southerly. 

Sale Price $ 10.75
The Bees by Carol Ann Duffy.  Buy it.  I did earlier in the year and at wuite a bit more than the price below.  You can read my thoughts on it here.

Sale Price $7.50 
Selected Poems by Kenneth Slessor.  If you went through the Australian Schooling system in the 80's and 90's, Slessor's work was on the curriculum. A bargain at this price for a good range of his poetry.

Sale Price $1.00

Among the Regulars by Andy Jackson.  This is his first collection and an absolute steal at $1.00. I don't really need to say more do I?

Jen Campbell Poetry Chat

This video by poet and author Jen Campbell gives the viewer a passionate introduction to poetry, interrogates the issues surrounding modern education’s approach to poetry.

If video’s not your thing you might like reading her article on poetry education here.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Year of Poetry - Trust the Process

A confession.

There's a small voice that keeps nipping at the edge of my thoughts. It's my fear talking.  Fear that this project will not eventuate. Fear that it won't make a difference. Fear that although the plan looks great in practice or on paper, the reality is going to be different.

Fear of failure.

So to combat this fear I do what I have always done when the odds seem insurmountable and that is, take a small step.

Last night I read the introductory chapter to A Poet's Guide to Poetry by Mary Kinzie, as I would if I were studying according to the plan.  Now prior to this I have been avoiding making any start on the plan apart from organizing and the fear or anxiety has been slowly growing.

The end result?

Within 15 minutes I had already made some connections to my own work and initiated some motivation/inspiration for a poem that had been left in the draw to compost.  This is the sort of cross fertilization/interplay that I wanted to generate with my approach.  So I have reconfirmed my trust in the process.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Year of Poetry - Writing Space

This is the "Writing Space" noticeably clear of the laptop which reside at the other end of the table.

I feel it's important that I have a dedicated writing space away from the computer because I know that eventually I will be tempted to check email/Facebook/Twitter.

I tend to distract myself when I hit a point in the writing that might not be flowing or when I feel I need a break.

I want to develop a little more focus and stamina so the computer is out of bounds during writing time.  If I need a break I'll be heading out to the gym or watering the garden.

I also want to mix up the way I compose poetry.  I carry a journal with me at all times and my ancient Samsung has a note taking app but I also want to try longhand composition and see what sort of effect writing with a dip pen might have.

Similarly I'd be interested to hear of  any lifehacks you might have that encourage creative productivity.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Being Smart with the Year of Poetry

As I near kick off date and the excitement generated from having a "great new idea" subsides, it occurs to me that I better have a look over the "Plan" and see if it's SMART or more specifically will it result in goals I want to achieve.

So why am I dedicating a year to poetry?

Honestly, I have been hiding a bit from my writing, from my reason for working part time.  Taking on responsibilities and projects that while beneficial to myself and others in a number of ways take away from that dream of writing good or even great poetry.  I need to take this seriously.

Sh*t or get off the can.

I have had some success this year, 3 poems published (some even paid - Thanks Tincture Journal) but I feel as if I have wasted a lot of opportunities.

But write good or great poems is a very broad goal.

So being specific, what do I want to accomplish?

I want to exceed publication credits for this year so that's 4 + published poems.  I want to write at least 12 poems of publishable quality.  I want to increase my own poetic understanding through reading technical material and through reading of other's good poetry.

How am I going to do this and how do I measure it?

Stay away from the internet where possible.  I am notoriously bad at letting myself get distracted so I will be reorganizing my day so that I take advantage of the times when I am most alert.  I intend to give a couple of hours each morning to writing and reworking poetry.  This is the corner stone of the whole project.  I can easily see myself being lost researching technical/craft details if I let it happen.  I will then split the day into close reading and study again in periods of 1.5 to 2 hours.  I will end the day with reflective journaling.  I want to spend at least 18 hours a week focused on poetry so I will be monitoring how many hours worked.

The publishing of poetry is to a large degree out of my hands. It's possible to write good poetry that doesn't get published for a number of reasons, hence the low target.

Far more within my sphere of control is the ability to write poems hence the target of 12 poems of publishable quality.  I wrote 5 this year and that was when I wasn't nearly as focused.

I will monitor the increase in my understanding through the monthly reflective journal entries.

Are these goals achievable? 

I think so.  I can dedicate 3 days out of seven to writing, reading and studying poetry.  I know I can produce poems of publishable quality, I know that I can write poetry full stop.  There's enough wiggle room to be flexible if paid work comes along and there's enough time built in for down time if I find the situation is too much.


To the broad dream of being a poet and writing poetry.  Very much so.

Time Bound?

I have a year to achieve these goals but I have also allotted specific time/hours per week and I will be monitoring/reflecting on a daily and monthly basis.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Finishing Your Poem

or how to know when you should stop redrafting your masterpiece.
Jackson Bates talks to Simon Armitage’s Checklist for producing a quality poem.

The link to the Simon Armitage piece can be found in Jackson’s video.
I would also suggest Jo Bell’s Big Ruthless List for Poetry Composition to be found here and Roy Marshall's Drafting Poems Re-drafted.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Year of Poetry - The Reflection

I will confess here that a considerable amount of the impetus to write reflections was to enable me to hand write with quill and ink in some kind of journal.

I seriously enjoy writing in this fashion.

But as I looked into the process in greater depth I realized what an essential part (on par with the actual writing of poetry) some sort of reflective journaling would be.

There wasn't a great deal of focus on learning journals when I got my degree (not that I can recall anyway) but it seems it's de rigueur nowadays.

So I have visualized my process as follows: 

So what will this reflective journaling look like?

Well as indicated in the diagram above I will be reflecting on all of the parts of my plan.  On both a daily and monthly basis. In Daily terms -  I have a series of questions I will ask myself in regards to the activities carried out on any given day.  Bearing in mind that this course of study needs to be flexible and that if push comes to shove the Writing bit gets the focus.

The monthly reflection will be a chance to look over the previous daily reflections, discern patterns, learning realise and celebrate epiphanies etc.  It will also look forward and make predictions about the coming month.

I will hopefully include some examples of my reflections here on the blog.

There's also a reflective entry I'd like to formulate at the beginning and end of the process.  One outlining my aims and goals and what I think the challenges might be and one finalising and assessing the project.

Any suggestions? Links to resources?  Potential issues?  Let me know in the comments

H/T to the excellent Jodi Cleghorn for inspiring this aspect of the plan.

The plan in posts, as it is so far: 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Book Review - Black Country by Liz Berry

Buy from Booktopia
The Black Country of this book's title refers to an area in England's West Midlands that became a powerhouse of industry during the Industrial Revolution - coal mining, foundries and steel mills.

Despite that background and a considerable amount of the poetry that is rooted in descriptions of working class life, there's also a reasonable focus on elements of nature, particularly bird life.

Black Country won the Forward Prize for Best First collection in 2014 and is published by Chatto & Windus who also brought us my favorite English poet Helen Mort.

What is striking about Black Country is Berry's use of what I assume is Black Country dialect.  To get a idea of what I am talking about have a listen to Bird performed here by the poet.

It should be noted that not all poems feature the use of dialect.  I quite like this feature of Berry's poetry, I think it helps broaden our definition of poetry or of what some might consider to be appropriate language for poetry.

As mentioned, Black Country does have a considerable focus on aspects of life in the West Midlands, but I still found a wide variety of subject matter and poetry form.  Bird kicks off the collection with what I see as a metaphorical escape from the confines of that life and perhaps perceived gender roles. The 5th Dudley Girl Guides twangs the strings of nostalgia.  There's poems about motherhood daughter hood, gender and sensuality.

I really enjoyed the collection and I'll be returning to Berry's work as part of my Year on Poetry, to engage in some close reading.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Helen Mort on the Poetry Review Podcast

Maurice Riordan talks with Helen Mort about her literary background among other topics.  It's interesting to note that she didn't study Literature at university.

Year of Poetry- The Study Bit

So far the plan is:

  • Read more poetry, read more closely, read out loud
  • Write poetry or rework poetry daily (if possible) using exercises as a crutch to facilitate growth.
And so I get to part 3 which is some fairly in depth study of poetry.  I expect there to be a little cross over with part 2.  I am sure completing exercises will result in studying technique through action. But I also wanted to engage my brain from another direction.

So I will be hunting resources that are more from a crafting technical perspective.  I have some good books that I have read but not really engaged with.

These are:

A Poet's Guide to Poetry by Mary Kinzie.  It's very dense, in the sense that Kinzie packs it full of concepts.  I come to this book after writing poetry seriously for two years and having some success with publication.  It's the only work that I have seen that really gets down in the nuts and bolts of Free Verse, that talks about tension between sentence and line.  This book shows you as a reader and a poet how much you don't know.  It gives you the critical tools to analyse your's and other's poetry.  Not for the beginner but a must have if you are serious about poetry - Free verse or Form

Making Your Own Days by American poet Kenneth Koch.  Here's the marketing blurb:

In "Making Your Own Days, " celebrated poet Kenneth Koch writes about poetry as no one has written about it before -- and as if no one "had" written about it before. Full of fresh and exciting insights and experiences, this book makes the somewhat mysterious subject of poetry clear for those who read it and for those who write it -- and for those who would like to read and write it better. Treating poetry not as a special use of language but, in fact, as a separate language -- unlike the one used in prose and conversation -- Koch is able to clarify the nature of poetic inspiration, how poems are written and revised, and what happens in a reader's mind and feelings while reading a poem.

Koch also provides a rich anthology of more than ninety works: lyric poems, excerpts from long poems and poetic plays, poems in English, and poems in translation -- by poets past and present from Homer and Sappho to Lorca, Snyder, and Ashbery. Each selection is accompanied by an illuminating explanatory note designed to complement and clarify the text.
In this book, Kenneth Koch's genius for making poetry clear and for bringing out its real pleasures is everywhere apparent.

So expect there to be a bit of crossover with the last book especially and point 2.

But I'll note a reminder here to myself, that the emphasis must be on the writing.  I will have to be flexible, life being what it is and so when push comes to shove the writing of poetry must win out against all other activities.  I know what I am like and I expect that I will attempt to hide from the work when things get tough.

The plan in posts, as it is so far:

Monday, December 14, 2015

Writing to improve your poetry

Want to be a writer, then write.  Want to be a poet, then write poems. Want to be good at either, keep

Astoundingly simple and ultimately solid advice.  You get good at anything by practicing.  In a video by Jackson Bates from the Poetry Show he talks about the assumption we make with regard to poetry and our writing ability.

We have been writing words, sentences, prose for most of our lives and hence we expect success with poetry to come fairly rapidly.  What is poetry other than words  organised differently on a page?

And here is the misconception; poetry is quiet fundamentally different from prose and schooling perhaps even university has been significantly weighted in favor of prose.

One of the issues I have of course is that the words don't always come.  "Sit down and write a poem" can be more difficult than it seems, more so when you are putting pressure on yourself to write good poetry.

If I return though to a lesson I learnt 2 years ago with the Post-It Note poetry event, it's that you need to give yourself permission to write poorly, woefully.  It's the practice of writing that helps.

Now to the other part of the equation which is on the job training, learning by doing.  I'd say I'm not going out on a limb to suggest that we don't educate people to write poetry, indeed in most cases I think poetry is used to teach mechanics of writing and to act as a subject of analytical study.

So really some guided writing is in order.  If I had the contacts, the money and the proximity I'd try and hunt down a mentor or a group. But in lieu of those I have been gathering some resources to provide a framework for practice.

Two books that I hope to use are:

Teach Yourself - Writing Poetry - as the title suggests a way to teach yourself how to write poetry. Some 20 odd chapters with examples and exercises that focus on a range of things like metre, visualization, choosing subject matter. 

52: Write a Poem a Week. Start Now. Keep Going brings together the 52 prompts written by poet Jo Bell and by guest poets, so that you can pick up the challenge yourself. With poems to illustrate each prompt, it's an anthology as well as a book of lively and engaging exercises for all poets.

The focus though is on writing not just on completing exercises.  So my hope is that these exercises will broaden my tool set and trigger inspiration. 

I intend to devote a more weighted portion of the "working day" to the writing and reworking of poems.  There shouldn't be a shortfall in material here.

Have you any resources to suggest dear readers?

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Use of Sound in Poetry

I present to you today another video from Jackson Bates, this time on Alliteration, Assonance and Consonance.  Now if you are a writer/poet or perhaps an English teacher then I still recommend the video. 

Most people in those categories should know what those terms mean but I think this video does a very good job or going past surface definitions and exploring the effect that different sounds have on the meaning and shape of words.

Now I think when I use these techniques myself its often something that I do naturally or intuitively.  I tend to avoid alliteration because I think it can become too obvious, but assonance I know features in my long form poetry.

I think drawing our attention to the sound of poetry is just as important for readers.  In plans for a project next year I had already made a decision to start reading poetry aloud to myself.

I think there’s an important aspect of the poem imparted in good poetry when it’s read. It’s too easy to miss the aural qualities when just interpreting from the page.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Want to improve your poetry? Then read.

This is is the first piece of advice that most people who know what they are doing with regards to poetry(or any writing really) give.

You want to learn to write good, you gotta read and read widely.

So this post is about me figuring out how to structure the reading part of my Year of Poetry.

Now I have taken the above advice to heart and to date this year have already read some 25 collections of poetry ranging from the poetry of Heian era Japan, to modern American, English and Australian poetry.

I can't be bothered trying to work out how many poems that is - over 2000 easy.

I haven't noticed a huge difference in the output or the quality of my work.  So I'm thinking that perhaps its the way I am reading that needs some attention.

I read primarily for entertainment or for review which tends to result in quick and perhaps shallow reading.  There's a pressure to read and get it done and then write about it.

So step one is to slow down the reading.

My first idea is to commit to reading one poem a day and reading that poem multiple times, reading it out loud to hear it as well.  Then to engage in some close reading and perhaps some written reflection as well.

To that end I have found
The Close Reading of Poetry A Practical Introduction and Guide to Explication 
to give me a rough guide(or to aid my recall of University days gone by) to keep me on the straight and narrow.

So to write well I need to read well and that means reading with both breadth and depth.  Feel free to offer suggestions on reading, techniques etc stuff that you know works.

Inkerman and Blunt Notebooks...

or How I am trying to resist my Notebook fetish.

There's a number of ways the romantic notion of being a writer affects me. One in particular is writer's accessories.  Writing and poetry writing has one of the lowest barriers to entry of all the arts. A writing implement and something to write on is all you need.

Still that hasn't stopped me from amassing a pile of fancy journals/notebooks which I don't write in because they look too "purty".

I have got around this problem with some home made methadone in the form of a cloth journal cover sewn by my wife that slips over simple Spirax notebooks.

Still when Inkerman and Blunt emailed me with their Notebooks I had to resist the urge to purchase them. Can you?

There is nothing more magical than putting pen to paper and letting an idea slip down your arm and onto the page. These beautifully crafted notebooks finished with elegant foil are created for those with a passion to sling words around on a page.
The smooth artisan paper will not smudge the writer's thoughts, bleed their words into the paper, or clog the tip of their nib, whether they use a pencil, ball point, felt tip, a fountain pen or feathered quill. The subtle grey lines will guide the writer's thoughts as he, or she slides into that mysterious zone from which all creativity flows.
Available as single notebooks or a pack of two, these red stitch-bound pages will lie flat and provide plenty of space to let the imagination fly. 
These notebooks are destined to become the choice of all who are driven to put words on paper, to structure ideas, tell a story or pen a poem.

You can order direct from Inkerman and Blunt (lovely local publisher).


from Booktopia *

*Yes this is a shameless plug and I get kick backs from affiliate links with Booktopia.  But hey enough of this writing for free/penniless artists crap.

Friday, December 11, 2015

My year of Poetry

Next year I will be taking a break from reviewing over at the main blog.  Unsolicited reviews that is; I’ll no doubt read and review some novels of my own choosing.

I will be posting reasonably regularly here on the poetry blog because, as the title might suggest I have decided to be extremely focused on poetry.  I will be reading, writing and studying poetry in structured and reflective fashion.

What sparked this?  A number of things, notably the realization that part of the move to SA and going part time was to enable the pursuit of writing  and while I have had increasing success in the past two years I think I need to focus more and get a bit more serious.

So I will be posting more about my ideas for keeping on track in the coming days.  If you have any suggestions and resources let me know in the comments.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Book Review–Clay by Mandy Coe

mandy_clayI bought Clay on the recommendation of Anthony Wilson in his book Lifesaving Poems.  It featured the poem Let’s Celebrate.

It was hard to track the book down, owing, no doubt to a short print run by a dedicated small press (the fate of almost all poets).

It was worth it. I loved and am still falling in love with this collection.  I finished reading it and then continued to reread; experiencing that rare moment of joy that occurs when a poem really grips and alters you.

Her poetry is disarming, subtle, honest and original. You feel the joy she has had when composing these poems.

I hesitate to name some favourites because I keep going back and finding something in different poems.  The poem Let’s Celebate is one but When We Found Flowers Could Speak is another.


Let’s Celebrate

the moments

where nothing happens.

The moments

that fill our lives.

Not the field bright with poppies, but

the times you walked, seeing

no leaves, no sky, only one foot

after another.


We are sleeping

(it’s not midnight and

there is no dream).

We enter a room – no one is in it.

We run a tap,

queue to buy a stamp.


These are the straw moments

that give substance

to our astonishments;

moments the homesick dream of;

the bereaved, the diagnosed.


Mandy Coe, from Clay (Shoestring Press)


Sometimes the subject of the poem can be fairly straight forward as in that above - a directing of your attention to the little things in life.  In others she creates surreal imagery.  Field of Crows in which the poet is lying in a field surround by Crows, her eye drawn to their big thighs could have gone in a number of directions but Coe presents them as holding down a “tatty green carpet”  and redistributing their weight, changing their position to account for her weight.

On her third collection it’s obvious to me that Coe is an original perceiver and relater of the world around her. If you can find Clay I heartily recommend it. 

I also recommend searching for her on YouTube.

The effect of the “Melbourne Voice” on Australian Poetry

This article by Jonno Revanche at Kill Your Darlings has some interesting things to say about the shaping of writing in Australia as it’s determined by the “scene” of major cities.

Right Place, Right Time: How the Melbourne Voice shuts writers out

If every city has its own unique culture, it’s also true that most people who grow up in that culture internalise the ideas that are considered important within that particular time and space. Melbourne is one of the strongest examples of this that I’ve ever come into contact with. Writers from Melbourne are romanticised as individuals, locations in the city itself are romanticised, and particular concepts that resonate there are prioritised over everything else.

Discussions about the concept of Melbourne-centrism have been a strong cause of division in my personal and artistic lives. Whenever I bring it up, people either respond with enthusiastic and empathetic agreement, or derisively tell me I’m ‘just projecting’.

read more


I am wondering (if we take the scenario as true) what the effect is on Poetry in Australia?  A small fragmented poetry culture skewed toward a particular aesthetic? A continually smaller, insular poetry culture divorced from wider Australian culture?

Monday, December 7, 2015

Poetry writing - Must have tools

or do I need a schmick journal to write great poetry?

I am really enjoying watching the video series by Jackson Bates, poet and teacher from Melbourne.  In the video below he talks about the tools necessary for writing poetry.

The answer of course is that anything that can be relied upon to write with and on, that is robust and available at all times is sufficient.  Jackson has some interesting ideas though on how different implements might influence the way you write.

shot_1449359076306For myself I tend to flow between composing on a laptop and saving the work in the cloud and writing notes in a spirax A5 notebook.

From a reasonably early age though I fell victim to stationary marketing and have a collection of beautiful blank journals that I don’t write in because it would seem a shame to defile such works of art with my first drafts.

I have taken the middle road though and compromised by getting my other half to sew a bespoke journal cover that slips over my spirax notebook.

What do you write your first drafts in?  Do you have a stationary fetish?

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Defining success

shot_1431752795759When I first began writing publication was a measure of success, it still is to some degree.  That external validation that you actually do write something that other people think readers might like to read. 

Roy Marshall, a British Poet and someone with a few publications(collections as opposed to single poems) under his belt has just posted a piece called More thoughts on success.

He talks about external and internal success and the realities of being even a popular award winning poet.

There’s some choice advice there and I recommended it for Poets, indeed all writers.

Defining success for me at the moment is getting some long form poetry written. How about yourself?

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Can anyone be a better poet? Why is poetry so hard?!

Here is Jackson Bates on The Poetry Show talking about starting to write poetry and having some realistic expectations.

On buying poetry

shot_1425954358063I am musing (and not for the first time) on how and why I buy poetry i.e. the decision making process.

Poetry is big.  When people say they dislike poetry I like to challenge them.  To me it’s like saying I dislike movies or novels, the category is too big, too diverse in form and content to really make that claim.

I do understand that what they are probably saying is they haven’t liked the poetry they have thus far been exposed to (which if they are Australian is precious little).

It’s taken me a while to find the poetry and poets that I like and as I look back over my collecting I note the following:

  • none of my purchases stem from critical industry reviews
  • some stem from having heard the poet read their work(podcasts/YouTube)
  • some from having borrowed a work from the library and decided that I want a copy for myself
  • some from blogs where people indicate their reactions to certain poets and poems

What about other folk interested in poetry?  How do you decide what to purchase?

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Stars Like Sand shortlisted.

sls_covThe Stars Like Sand, an anthology that I had the pleasure to be included in has been shortlisted for the 2015 ACT Writing and Publishing Awards.

For other shortlisted works please check Tim Jones’ blog.

Congrats to all the other poets, the publisher and Tim and Penelope our hardworking editors.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Book Review–The Taste of River Water by Cate Kennedy


If you are a fan of Kennedy’s short fiction then I suspect that you will enjoy her poetry in The Taste of River Water

The collection presents poetry with a strong narrative structure and focus i.e. these poems tell stories, the diction and register is fairly plain/natural in its delivery.


I must plant the tree seedling
a friend left here on the step
find a place for the cards.
It seems important somehow
a matter of fumbling pride
to fold all this paper square for recycling
the florist wrap from such extravagant, unwanted flowers
the envelopes
I’m saving the envelopes
I forget why for the minute.

Kennedy has been criticised for this facet of her poetry and I certainly felt that some of the poems could easily have been flash fiction if not formatted into lines. 

Still there’s something to be said for poetry that entertains, that doesn’t require copious rereading for understanding, that gives you story and emotion.

This collection is fairly accessible to the inexperienced reader and I found it a  fluid and enjoyable read for me, combining an ease of understanding and artful narrative construction.  In terms of content it also ticked my boxes for nostalgia, history and emotional engagement.

Cate is a good storyteller and that shows in her fiction as well as her poetry.  There’s a solid sense of completeness in her poems, that she’s stopped at just the right point. 

That’s probably the biggest takeaway for me as a poet, her skill at crafting story through poetry. 

Are they memorable poems? I suppose time will tell.  They were all, however, enjoyable.

Not a wasted cent here.

This post previously published on Adventures of a Bookonaut.

A Hundred Gourds - December Issue

shot_1388709055240It’s the first official day of summer, though going by our recent heat waves and catastrophic fires, maybe we’d better vote to shorten spring. 

Any who…here’s the link to the latest edition of A Hundred Gourds journal featuring my two line Haiku.


Issue 5:1

My haiku…

Enjoy !

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Book Review – Lifesaving Poems edited by Anthony Wilson


In some ways this book is a very personal collection of poetry, an anthology for one.  Lifesaving Poems was a notebook that then turned into a popular blog.

Anthony Wilson’s inspiration came from a Seamus Heaney quote questioning how many poems a person can recall responding to over a lifetime.

Answering that question, as this book does for Wilson, is going to make for a very select and subjective collection of poems. What the success of the blog showed though was that this didn’t seem to matter.

Lifesaving Poems presents each of the selected poems that Wilson recalls having an impact on him followed by a page or more of commentary.  What I liked about the commentary was that it wasn’t academic analysis.  Sure Wilson may have directed the reader to technical proficiency but overall I found the commentary clear, concise, conversational and engaging.

Indeed, while some of the poems did not inspire a response in my own reading, a thoroughly enjoyed all the commentary.  Sometimes that commentary caused me to review what I’d read and develop a new understanding.

A side effect of reading Lifesaving Poems was of course being exposed to some UK poets who I hadn’t heard of.  I did experience some frustration upon discovering (and getting excited about) new UK poets only to find that their works were only out in short print runs or from small publishers whose operational costs were high and priced the works out of the market for me.

But Lifesaving Poems might just be my favourite poetry book of the year.  It’s approach to discussing poetry doing much more for me in terms of developing understanding and taste than the standard approach to reviewing and critiquing poetry.

If you’d like to sample some of the commentary go here.  The commentary text is similar if not the same to that in the book, though the formatting is different.

A worthwhile spend for lovers of poetry whether poets or readers. And as a bonus its readily available in Australia through Booktopia.


Previously published on Adventures of a Bookonaut.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Permission to write poetry by Jo Bell

Below is a 24 minute video about giving yourself permission to write poetry by Poet Jo Bell. It has wider applicability for all writers of course.


Sunday, November 1, 2015

Book Review–First Light : a selection of poems by Philip Hodgins


It’s perhaps a sign of how divorced from the larger Australian culture poetry is, that I missed Philip Hodgins’ rise and impact on the scene. 

The accolades don’t seem to gel with my experience: - “one of the major poets of his generation”, “a leading poet in any terms”. 

I knew nothing of him until two years ago.  And in my work as a relief teacher I have not once come across him being studied in classrooms (a crying shame considering the content and variety of his form).

This is not a criticism of the poet nor of the scene.  It is, I think the times we live in and they way that poetry survives as an art form in this country.

While much of Hodgins works can be viewed for free at the Australian Poety Library, First Light gives the reader the chance to hold a curated collection in their hand.  Something that’s suprisingly hard to do (there’s only one copy of one collection in the entire South Australian Library system)

I had searched the country for second hand copies of his Selected Poems to no avail.  That First Light is produced by an American publisher is also curious for a poet that is held with such high regard.

I am, however, an unabashed fan and although I think we may have had some differences of opinion on some things, he is my favourite Australian male poet.  I have read a library copy of New Selected Poems and in comparison First Light does as good a job of showcasing Hodgins’ best work: the skill with which he uses form and free verse, his updating of the realities of farming life in the poetry cannon and his poems on the subject of his own death.

I’ll leave you with links to some select poems contained within this collection:

Shooting the Dogs


I think any serious Australian poet should know of Philip Hodgins, particularly any one writing of a rural experience. First Light is a good compact collection that I think would appeal to lovers of more traditional form, rhythm and rhyme as well as free verse. 

First Light is available at all good bookstores and online via Booktopia.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Morning Chill Haiku video

Please excuse my first attempt at a) recording a haiku and b) turning it into a very short YouTube video.

Haiku in English–The First Hundred Years

haiku-in-englishI previously reviewed The Haiku Anthology by Cor van den Heuvel, Haiku in English is perhaps best seen as a companion collection to it. 

Some of the content is duplicated in each volume but they both have different objectives. 

The former is a third edition of mainly North American Haijin (the third edition IIRC dropped some important early contributors like Janice Bostok from Australia) and it tends to provide a number of poems from prominent Haijin, enabling the reader to get a real sense of each poets oeuvre.  I believe Cor attempted to choose the best examples of the form he could.

Haiku in English broadens the field of poets to include European, UK and Australian Haijin (current and historical) and attempts to reflect the history of the form, showcasing proto-English Haiku at the beginning and highlighting experiments in short poetry that stem from this Japanese form.

Indeed the jacket copy calls it “the first anthology to map the full range of Haiku in the English tradition”. So, as the editors forewarn in their foreword, it’s not a collection of the best of the best in the form. Which is not to say that those haiku selected are deficient in any way.

Where a Haijin may have made an impact or pursued a variation to great enjoyment and success, only selected poems have been chosen to illustrate the achievement. Some poets only have one Haiku listed and it may not be that which is considered best from their body of work, more that it might illustrate an important step in the tradition.

To that end Haiku in English is more about the form and its English history than individual poets or groups of poets.

We begin with Pound’s:

In a Station of the Metro

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

Examine parts of Wallace’s Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird:

Amoung twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird

and then it’s more or less off into more familiar Haiku territory.

There’s some 800 poems here including those from many top poets still active in the form.  The collection is capped off with a comprehensive historical essay by Jim Kacian, which in conjunction with the various introductions collected in The Haiku Anthology, serve to preserve the history of the form and the important achievements of its Haijin. 

There is a very real danger that due to a lack of interest from the core of Western poetry tradition (despite works being included from Heaney and Collins) that much could be lost. This collection serves to head off this possibility.

Haiku in English should form part of a core reading cannon in anyone seriously attempting the form.  There’s also sufficient variety in the Haiku selected, that as a reader of The Haiku Anthology I don’t feel as though I have paid for the same material.

Haiku in English is currently available in hardback, though a paperback version is slated for release in January.

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Many- By Shane Koyczan

Another great poem by Shane. Enjoy.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Extended Sabbatical

shot_1445208325463As you might be able to tell from the lack of writing after last mention of my Sabbatical, said Sabbatical was longer than I intended. 

In all it took five weeks to repair my laptop (knocks wood) and with only limited access to public computers it feels distinctly odd settling back into old routines, of reviewing and reading.

You would think that with all that free time ( I was also on term break) that I would have seized the opportunity to do something creative; read, write poetry etc.

Sadly this wasn’t the case, but further reflection of the nature of a wired/connected life was entered into.

So this post is a test post and an attempt to get back into the groove.

Until next post…

Friday, September 25, 2015

An Unplanned Sabbatical


Not that you’d be able to tell from the amount of posting on this blog, but recently I was forced to go without access to the internet and my laptop for 2 weeks.

While hardly in the realm of a life threatening problem it affected me more than I would like to admit.  Indeed the anxiety it produced was frightening. 

Now, I have happily gone without access to a computer and internet for periods of a week.  But this was different.  This was a loss of control, a not knowing when/if I could get things fixed.  A not knowing whether or not all the programs that I use in my various activities would still work/be available to download.

As an example I am currently reinstalling software.  The Live Writer Program I am using to type this blog post is a latter version of the one I was using and I have lost all the plugins from the previous versions.

I still don’t know if the recording software I use for my Galactic Chat interviews will work… and so on.

So reading this now, with perspective, it seems such an inconsequential thing but the disruption to my wellbeing highlights for me an issue.  It’s a signpost that too much of my creative self uses the computer and internet in its processes.


while I was offline, isolated (apart from brief visits to the nearest town library) and participating in a writing workshop/program facilitated by Jodi Cleghorn, I did a couple of things.

I began writing longhand.  And not just grabbing any old pen but usingenough the Nib and inks (pictured above).  I found the act of writing, particularly with the tools above, almost meditative. My anxiety certainly reduced.

I am contemplating writing short stories and at a later stage perhaps a novel in longhand.

The second thing I did was dig out an old book by John Naish called Enough.  It had some interesting things to say about living a life of “Elegant Sufficiency”.

I am keen to implement some of his suggestions to see if there’s a positive affect on my creative life.

There’s also some positive news on the pubication front, but I’ll leave that for another post.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Charles Trumbull on African American Poet Richard Wright

More well known for his novels such as Native Son, Richard Wright living in self imposed exile in France, wrote some 4000 Haiku in the last 18 months of his life. The video below shows outtakes of a lecture delivered by Charles Trumbull.


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Robert Hass reading translations of Issa

A short and humorous video that shows the humanity and relevance of Issa’s Haiku.

Friday, September 4, 2015

A Hundred Gourds – September 2015 Edition

shot_1440813347645 The next quarterly edition of A Hundred Gourds is out.  No appearance from me in this issue but there’s plenty of Haiku, Haibun, Tanka and Renku from around the world and it’s free.

A Hundred Gourds 4:4 September 2015

Monday, August 31, 2015

Book Review – For All My Walking by Taneda Santōka (Trans. Burton Watson)

walkingTaneda Santoka was a tragic figure - his mother and brother suicided, his father squandered the family fortune and Taneda himself battled an alcoholism that he knew had the better of him.

This tragic life, Burton Watson suggests, is part of the reason he is reserved a place in Japanese literary history (the Japanese apparently have an appreciation for those that mess up their lives completely) the other is his contribution to and continuing development of, Japanese Free Verse Haiku (Haiku without Kigo and syllable* restriction). 

For All My Walking is a collection of Taneda’s daily diaries and the Haiku he wrote, including travels that he intended would echo Basho's own .  The Haiku are presented in chronological order and when taken from published collections Watson notes this.  Interspersed between the Haiku are diary entries which Watson has included to give some context to the poems and to give us a sense of the poet.

In that regard I find similarities with earlier works such as Basho’s Narrow Road to the Interior but perhaps this owes something to Watson’s arrangement rather than the intention of the poet ie Watson’s selections create a narrative whereas Basho creates his own.

Basho is more reserved and in the main directs his gaze outward.  Taneda’s diaries seem to focus more heavily on himself, his battle with alcoholism and his struggle to maintain a living.

In presenting the Free Verse Haiku Watson has this to say:

My own interest in Santōka’s work centers more on the poetry itself, particularly the manner in which it experiments with different poem lengths and syntactic patterns, and the challenge that these present to the translator. Since free-style haiku do not adhere to the conventional 5–7–5 sound pattern, the translator is free to break them more or less wherever he or she wants or, like Hiroaki Sato in his translations of Ozaki Hōsai’s free-style haiku, to translate them as a single line in English. I have regularly broken my own translations into two or three lines in the hope that this division will help readers grasp the syntax of the poem and slow down the reading.

Modern Japanese in nearly all cases requires more syllables or sound symbols to express a given idea or image than does modern English, and so English translations of Japanese haiku, if not deliberately padded, will almost inevitably turn out to be briefer in wording than the originals. And when confronted with a poem such as Santōka’s haiku “oto wa shigure ka,” one comes out with something looking like this:

that sound

the rain?

My initial impression of the Haiku were that they felt a bit flat.  By the end of the book, whether it was through sympathy with Taneda or familiarity, I did gain some appreciation.  He reads at times like English Language Haiku (possibly because of the lack of Kigo or allusion) or perhaps I should say that some English language Haiku start to resemble Taneda’s work.

I can’t help but feel though that the change from Traditional to Free Verse Haiku would be more keenly felt in the original Japanese and that in translating, quite a lot is lost.  Take for example the beautiful sound that the poem above makes in Japanese, which owing to its brevity can’t really be replicated in English.

Taneda can be extremely self involved at times and at others he captures what is going on around him in reverent detail:

July 11, 1938. Today is the day the ashes of the dead soldiers arrive. I caught the 10 o’clock bus to Yamaguchi…. At Yamaguchi Station, a guard of honor, families of the deceased, onlookers standing around under the glaring summer sky, waiting, myself among them. Hot, hot! Now and then, spatters of rain, like tears from the sky.

A little past twelve the train arrived. Ah—two hundred and thirty or forty some dead, a “triumphal return” with no hurrahs, a pitiful scene. Alongside the white boxes, two or three memorial bunches of bellflowers, two or three pigeons appearing, circling in the sky above. Sounds of muffled weeping, muted volley of rifles, sad notes of bugles, as the procession moves solemnly through the crowd, taking the dead men back to their home unit.


(“Home Front”)

valiantly—that too

pitifully—that too

white boxes



(“Home Front”)

drops of sweat


on blank white boxes



(“Home Front”)

town festival

as bones

coming home for it?



(“Home Front”)

scarecrow too

bravely waving

the Rising Sun flag


Taneda is still popular in Japan today, so I think that in addition to suggesting he be read to improve a Haiku poet’s historical knowledge, there’s an argument to be had for studying the work of someone who must surely still have an effect on the writing of modern Haiku.

*Note I am using the term syllable loosely here to represent the Japanese symbol sounds
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