Monthly Archives: December 2016

Year’s end

In Melbourne where the
jacarandas still flower
at December’s end

a pub in Carlton
promises European
yum cha on Sundays

With an afternoon to spare in Melbourne the Emerging Artist and I have drawn up our Best of 2016 lists.

Movies

Feature films (I saw 36, the EA slightly fewer)

The Emerging Artist’s top three: 

Paterson (Jim Jarmusch 2016): ‘A wonderful portrait of someone with a rich internal life integrated with normal functioning.’

Spotlight (Tom McCarthy 2015): ‘This was taut as a thriller and had new things to show about how the story of child sex abuse in the Boston Catholic Church was brought to light. A reflection on institutional power.’

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Taika Waititi 2016): ‘Made me laugh.’

My top 3:

I, Daniel Blake (Ken Loach 2016): Some people have described this as relentlessly grim. I know what they mean, but what that description leaves out is its tremendous warmth.

One-eyed Jacks (Marlon Brando 1961): I saw this with my big brother more than five decades ago and didn’t understand his reverential tone. Seeing it again at this year’s Sydney Film Festival was a joy.

Rams (Grímur Hákonarson 2015): So bleak and bitter cold, and so full of humanity.

Documentaries (we saw 13):

The Emerging Artist’s top three: 

Constance on the Edge (Belinda Mason 2016): ‘Constance is a wonderful character. The film shows the trauma of war and its after effects, especially for women, once you’ve settled somewhere peaceful. The loss of cultural identity in the process of becoming a refugee and how hard to create a new one. Also, how the CWA is changing.’

Sonita (Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami 2015, seen at the Sydney Film Festival): ‘A most amazing film. Where did this young woman emerge from that she had the confidence to hold out against so many cultural taboos against singing, let alone rapping. She was exuberant and full of life.’

Where to Invade Next (Michael Moore 2015): ‘This is one of the best of MM’s films. It reminded me how much we’ve lost in Australia. It’s good to get a perspective on how other places do things differently from what we take for granted.’

My top three:

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week (Ron Howard 2016): I was in a monastery during the Beatles’ touring years; for me this was a surprisingly moving and explanatory visit to my contemporaries’ teenage years.

Weiner (Josh Kriegman & Elyse Steinberg 2016): Funny, tragic story about the devastating effects of a sexual compulsion.

Wide Open Sky (Lisa Nicol 2016): Michelle Leonard teaches music to children in remote and isolated northwest New South Wales. The movie follows four young people from audition to performance in her choir, and we learn an awful lot about music education, about being different in a small community, about discipline and expectations, about many kinds of big-heartedness.

Worst film of the year:

The Emerging Artist: Sunset Song (Terence Davies 2015, seen at the Sydney Film Festival): ‘It was just so bad. I don’t know where to begin. Where were the other women in the main character’s life? The lingering drone shot over the corpses was so terribly done with that shocking music behind it.’

Me: Up for Love / Un homme à la hauteur (Laurent Tirard 2016). I didn’t understand what many people in the audience were laughing at. Maybe it lost a lot in translation, or the idea of a very short man is irresistibly funny to some people, or (a kinder hypothesis) they were fans of the lead actor and were constantly amused by the trickery used to make him look short.

Theatre

DroversWife.jpgWe both picked The Drover’s Wife (written by Leah Purcell, directed by Leticia Cáceres at Belvoir Street): ‘Completely riveting, powerful theatre that worked on so many different levels, and Leah Purcell in the title role was stunning.’ I’d add that it worked beautiful variations on the Henry Lawson story of the same name, and played wonderfully with audience expectations by having an Aboriginal actor playing a character who has always been assumed to be non-Indigenous.

Books

Fiction:

The Emerging Artist’s top three:

The Signature of All Things (Elizabeth Gilbert 2014): ‘Having hated Eat, Pray, Love, I picked this up with low expectations, but found myself enthralled by a story of mosses, scientific discovery and a woman out of her own time.’

Purity (Jonathan Franzen 2015): ‘Nothing much to say beyond that I really loved this.’

The Museum of Modern Love (Heather Rose 2016): ‘A fabulous find. An Australian author who is very daring: she approaches Marina Abramovic’s The Artist is Present from many point of view, and gets to the heart of what was happening in the piece both for the artist and for the people who sat with her. Equally interesting for people who know nothing abut Abramovic’s work.’

My top three (links are to my blog posts about them):

A Brief History of Seven Killings (Marlon James 2015)
Fables Books 6–10 (Bill Willingham and others 2005–2008)
The Natural Way of Things (Charlotte Wood 2015)

Non-Fiction

The Emerging Artist’s top three: 

The Unravelling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq (Emma Sky 2015): ‘I heard Emma Sky at the Sydney Writers’ Festival. The book is a detailed picture of life on the ground in Iraq after the invasion, and helps to make sense of the news stories.’

The Art of Time Travel (Tom Griffiths 2016): ‘This is a beautifully written story of how Australian history is still being discovered and is so different to what I was taught in school. It has inspired me to go on and read the historians he talks about, including Grace Karsken’s The Colony.’

Hope in the Dark (Rebecca Solnit 2004, 2016): ‘I’ve read this book maybe five times this year and each time it’s like getting another vaccination against bleakness.’

My top three:
Talking to My Country (Stan Grant 2016), especially as followed up by his Quarterly Essay, The Australian Dream
Missing Up
(Pam Brown 2016)
The Art of Time Travel (Tom Griffiths 2016)

I feel obliged to say that such ‘best of’ lists are pretty arbitrary. No sooner had I drawn up these lists than I was aware of so much joy and enlightenment that had been left off them.

Happy New Year, dear reader. May 2017 be filled with good things and victories against the forces of darkness, some perhaps decisive.

Jason Aaron & Jason Latour’s Southern Bastards

Jason Aaron & Jason Latour, Southern Bastards: Volume 1: Here Was a Man (2014) and Volume 2: Gridiron (2015)

1632150166_b.jpg163215269X.jpgThe first two volumes of this Eisner winning series are a gift from a son who has been an excellent gift-giver since he was very young.

Without detract from the excellence of the gift, or indeed of the series, I have to say they’re not my cup of tea. They tell interlocking hyper-macho stories of sons dealing with violent legacies from their  fathers in a small southern US town, one a hyper-violent sheriff, the other a no less violent fringe-dwelling criminal.

The art is powerful, but generally murky – and though there is one poorly registered image the murkiness isn’t something that can be laid at the printer’s door. In the frequent passages of violence, everything turns red, as in the covers above, a deeply unpleasant effect, and the drawing style, appropriate though it is to the subject, is crude and, well, repellent.

The first volume (issues 1–8 of the original comic) has a story line very like the movie The Judge: a son returns to Southern home after long absence and is reconciled with his father  – though in this case the father is long dead, and the reconciliation takes the form of the son becoming a spectacularly violent vigilante. The second is like the vicious underbelly of Saturday Night Lights: the murderous college football coach is held in very high esteem so long as the team keeps winning.

In forewords to the first volume, the creators (Jason Aaron writer and Jason Latour artist, I think) acknowledge their Southern roots, and their love–hate–fear relationships with the South. The hate and fear are a lot more apparent than the love. The foreword to the second volume is written by a US football player and is largely incomprehensible to me.

The final images of the second volume hold out hopes that things will be different in Volume 3. A young African-American woman soldier is returning home from Afghanistan. Does this prefigure a departure from the ugly-masculine mode of the first two volumes? Or will the violence continue, now with added boobs? I don’t plan on finding out.

Australian Poetry Journal 6:2

Michael Sharkey (editor),  Australian Poetry Journal, Volume 6, Issue 2 (2016)

APJ62.jpgThis is Michael Sharkey’s sixth and final issue as editor of Australian Poetry Journal. I’m missing him already.

The whole journal – a wonderful variety of poems, four articles, two reviews and a handful of photographs – is a pleasure.

It feels almost mean to single any poems out, but I will. In Jane Williams’s ‘Show and Tell’ a sea eagle’s appearance quells a group of tourists’ ‘compulsion to frame / the endless, abridged version of us’. Carol Jenkins’s seven-poem sequence ‘A History of Zero’ revels in the metaphorical possibilities of  paradox that the invention of the zero – of nothing – had vast consequences. Les Murray’s ‘The Scores’ is a characteristically abrasive account of Australian social history, beginning with 2001, then skipping ahead 20 years in each of the remaining five stanzas. Ron Pretty’s ‘Parks & Wildlife’ is a country pub conversation full of sly puns and genial observation. There are a couple of villanelles (and who doesn’t love a villanelle) of which Sarah Day’s ‘Sea Ice’ is seriously splendid. Jules Leigh Koch’s ‘Monastery’ describes a monastery somewhere in Asia, the kitchen full of backpackers about to head off to distant places,

while outside a monk walks along
The Path
chanting a mantra
journeying from one end if his world
to the other

As in previous issues, there are articles on small-scale publishers of poetry and translation, two each.

The presses are Ralph Wessman’s Walleah Press (article by Chris Ringrose) and Kent MacCarter’s Cordite Books (article by Greg McLaren). Reading about these enterprises, I’m impressed all over again by the generosity of spirit and financial daring of these cultural stalwarts. The big surprise for me is Ralph Wessman’s reply when asked how many copies he prints for the first run of a volume of poetry. ‘As few as necessary,’ he says, andgoes on to say that that usually  means 150 copies. That’s not much bigger than my self-published glorified Christmas cards!

The essays on translation are both excellent introductions to the poets being translated: Carol Hayes on the contemporary Japanese poets Hiromi Itō, Toshiko Hirata and Takako Arai, and Zeina Issa on on the Kurdish poet Khalid Kaki. They both quote generously from the translated poet and give fascinating insights into the specifics of translation from Japanese and Arabic respectively.

The next issue will be edited by fabulous  Aboriginal poets Aly Cobby Eckermann and Ellen van Neerven. That makes the missing of Michael Sharkey a lot easier to bear.

Membership of Australian Poetry Ltd gets you a subscription to the journal, and individual issues can be bought via the web site.

Stan Grant’s Australian Dream

Stan Grant, The Australian Dream: Blood, history and belonging (Quarterly Essay 64)

qe64.jpgThis Quarterly Essay topped the poll when Brisbane’s Avid Reader Bookshop asked customers what Malcolm Turnbull should read this summer. I hope he and every member of his cabinet do read it, including Peter Dutton, who famously shunned Kevin Rudd’s Stolen Generations apology. It might spark something in even those hearts. (You can read the bookshop’s letter accompanying the copy they sent to the Prime Minister here.)

The essay is framed as a commentary on a speech Stan Grant gave a little over a year ago, at an Intelligence Squared (IQ2) debate staged by Sydney’s Ethics Centre. The speech was unrehearsed and unscripted because, Grant says, he wanted ‘to look the audience in the eye and hold them’ when he talked about Aboriginal exclusion from ‘the Australian dream’. Surprising no one except Grant himself, it went viral. (If you’ve missed it, here’s the video).

Beginning with the text of the speech, which he tells us he hadn’t previously seen written down, Grant observes that commentators tended to focus on the parts of the speech that fit the litany-of-horrors version of Aboriginal history. He refers us to a dozen writers – historians, novelists, song writers – who have told the horror stories of continuing dispossession, exclusion and brutality, and takes as his subject the contributions that Aboriginal people have made to Australia society, the prospects for a better world. He doesn’t disown the horror stories – far from it – but he sets out to tell ‘a more complete story of the dynamism and potential of Australia and its first peoples’.

For him the most important line in the speech was the last:

And one day, I want to stand here and be able to say as proudly and sing as loudly as anyone else in the room, Australians all let us rejoice.

The essay turns on the hinge of that sentence: while acknowledging the devastation that has been wrought on Aboriginal peoples and the continuing bleakness of many Aboriginal lives, it argues that substantial change is happening and the future could be bright. It doesn’t quote William Gibson, ‘The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed,’ but it could have.

Grant takes issue with W E H Stanner’s view that Aboriginal culture – the Dreaming – is essentially unchanging and timeless, so cannot survive contact with the market. He backs his argument with beautifully told stories of his great-great-grandfather, great-grandfather, grandfather and father, each of whom responded to devastating invasion and continuing dispossession with creativity, resourcefulness, courage and wisdom, and each of whom made significant contribution to the broader Australian community – as workers, soldiers, teachers, family men, communicators.

Taken out of context, some passages read as shockingly Pollyanna-ish – like this, from the section titled ‘The Boys of Don Dale’:

The Indigenous experience bends and shifts with the growth of the country. In the midst of catastrophe, Aboriginal people were adapting to this utterly foreign intrusion. The survival and resilience of the descendants of the people of the Australian frontier should be seen as part of the pioneer mythology of this country. At Federation the Indigenous people were assumed to be dying out and would not be counted among the numbers of the Commonwealth. Now Australian law acknowledges native title, Indigenous people sit in our parliaments, and Indigenous art, music and dance have a unique, treasured place in our national culture. We may have rubbed uncomfortably against each other, but together we have enlarged the idea of Australia.

‘We may have rubbed uncomfortably against each other’ must be a contender for all-time world champion understatement. But Grant knows what he’s doing. He insists that the monstrous treatment of the young men in detention in the Northern Territory should not be treated as emblematic of a homogeneous Aboriginal experience. Without denying the bad stuff (‘those tyrants who reduced talk of genocide to a whisper in Europe find their equivalent in those who deny atrocity here’), he argues that to narrowly identify Aboriginality with victimhood plays into the oppression: he calls this the ‘identity trap’. He rejects ‘reliance on a narrative of historical grievance and exclusion’.

It’s a nuanced, passionate, courageous essay. Like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Stan Grant writes about the danger of a single story. He would agree with Rebecca Solnit (whose Hope in the Dark I’m now reading), that despair can be unrealistic, that hope and the recognition of change are necessary and realistic.

I won’t try to summarise the argument any further, but note that Grant doesn’t present himself as a lone voice. On almost every page he is in dialogue, usually amicable and always respectful, with other Aboriginal writers as well as a number of non-Aboriginal ones. Here’s a partial list:

Aboriginal writers in order of appearance (with some links): Noel Pearson • Jack Patten • Charles Perkins • Gary Foley • Chicka Dixon • Marcia Langton • Jackie Huggins • Michael Mansell • Amy McQuire • Ellen van Neerven • Anita Heiss • Kim Scott • Alexis Wright • Bruce Pascoe • Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu • Frank Yamma • Archie Roach • Gavin Andrews • William Cooper • Cecil Grant (Stan’s paternal grandfather) • academic Maria Lane • Yin Paradies • Kerryn Pholi (who publicly renounced her ‘Aboriginal identity’) • Bronwyn Carlson (The Politics of Identity) • Kevin Gilbert • Warwick Thornton • Bess Nungarrayi Price • Larissa Behrendt • Dr Sana Nakata

Writers who aren’t Aboriginal, also in order of appearance: Czesław Miłosz • W E H Stanner • Vietnamese writer Viet Thanh Nguyen • Henry Reynolds (maybe in the wrong list) • Lyndall Ryan • Rosalind Kidd • David Rieff (In Praise of Forgetting) • Charles Rowley • George Megalogenis • Robert Manne • Gaynor Macdonald • Bain Atwood • Robert Ellis • Peter Kabaila (Survival Legacies) • economist Christopher Lloyd • anthropologist Ruth Fink • political scientist Terry Moore • Tony Judt • Jacques Le Goff • Amartya Sen • Geoffrey Blainey • economist Jon Altman • Nicolas Peterson • Michel de Certeau • Julie Lahn

I look forward to reading what some of the people on those lists have to say in the correspondence section of Quarterly Essay 65.
—–
The correspondence up the back of this issue deals with Don Watson’s The Enemy Within. It went to press before the US presidential election, and bristles with assumptions that Hilary Clinton would win. It’s interesting reading all the same.
——
Added later: Lisa Hill has an excellent review at her blog ANZ LitLover’s LitBlog, which quotes liberally.

AWW 2016 challenge completed

AWW2016 This is my mandatory round-up post about the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge 2016. I undertook to read 10 books by Australian women writers. I read 14, which ranged from revelatory and richly entertaining to definitely meant for readers who aren’t me. Here they are. I’ve tried to be clever with the lay-out. My apologies if it shows up on your screen as a jumble.

Poetry:

img_1551

Pam Brown
Missing Up

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

frag.jpg

Antigone Kefala
Fragments

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

Novels:

seahearts

Margo Lanagan
Sea Hearts

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

Short Fiction:

lp

Michelle Cahill
Letter to Pessoa

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

Memoirs:

njb&w

Lesley and Tammy Williams
Not Just Black and White

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

A comic (that’s a graphic novel to those who think ‘comics’ means superheroes or Disney):

alli

Lee Whitmore
Ada Louise

 

x

x

x

x

x

x

Essays:

qe60

Laura Tingle
Political Amnesia

1925355365

Helen Garner Everywhere I Look

 

x

x

x

x

x

x

I’m signing up for the 2017 challenge.

My general gender stats: This year I read 39 books by men and 31 by women.This includes at least five (the Y: The Last Man series) that were jointly written by a man and a woman.

Looking Gift Horses in the Mouth

Morgan Parker, Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up at Night (Switchback Books 2015)
Mindy Nettifee, Sleepyhead Assassins (Moon Tide Press 2006)
Mindy Nettifee, Rise of the Trust Fall (Write Bloody Publishing 2010)

These three books don’t have a lot in common besides being written by young US women and having been given to me as gifts. They do have a lot going for them, but I’m not their ideal reviewer: my experience of reading each of them wasn’t a million miles away from how I felt recently when I was almost completely unamused by a French rom com in a theatre full of laughing people. Horses for courses.

The equivalents of the laughing cinema-goers were the books’ extravagant blurb-writers.

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Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up at Night was a gift from a Book Group member who had just spent a couple of weeks in Brooklyn. On its back cover Eileen Myles (on whom the formidable poet character in Transparent is based) says of Morgan Parker’s poems, in part:

They make me high and think like this: Her mind and her thoughts can go anywhere in a poem. She pulls us up short, and when she says ‘the sky the sky’ I feel that expanse … I start taking notes: She is making a map of what human can be … she’s raucous and engaged … indeterminate, visceral … collisions … these are full adventures in scale. There are piles of masterpieces here.

Um, you might be less enthusiastic than Eileen Myles if you’ve never watched an episode of Real Housewives of Anywhere or followed a Miss Black America competition with or without hipster irony, and aren’t titillated by titles like ‘How to Piss in Public and Maintain Femininity’ or ‘On Children, How I Hate Them and Want to Corrupt Them, How You Know I Hate Them, and What That Could Mean’. But the book is alive and vigorous and smart, with plenty of sharp observations about sexism and racism (Morgan Parker is African American). It’s coolly literate, with reference points including Gwendolyn Brooks, Bill Murray, Roy Lichtenstein, Jay Z, and Jean-Michel Basquiat. My impression is that the poems are meant for performance rather than for the page.

I went searching for some lines to give you a taste, and wanted do do it with no expletives or references to drugs or alcohol. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it was interesting to notice how hard it was, and then I gave up. The shortest poem in the book, with its echo of Nina Simone, hints at an urge to break out of the dominant mode:

Young, Sassy and Black
I use these words
to distract you.

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The two Mindy Nettifee books were given to me by a niece who loved them (though evidently not enough to keep them). Sleepyhead Assassins features some of the most extreme blurbs you’re likely ever to encounter, presumably written by Nettifee’s friends before Donald Trump gave hyperbole a really bad name. Amélie Frank, for example, writes:

She’s poetry’s fierce guardian angel and every poseur’s worst nightmare. She’s goddess energy built for speed. […] Reading her work will give your soul a jump start that will smart for weeks. Prepare to have your molecules rearranged.

I don’t suppose any book could deliver on that promise, so it’s no disgrace that this one doesn’t. These poems are definitely meant for the stage rather than the page: they bristle with bravado and bravura, with striking similes and clever turns of phrase, evoking a clicking audience rather than a solitary reflective reader. The poems that most appeal to me are a little more reflective, especially the ones about Nettifee’s father, who we learn had a tragic life. In ‘The Time Machine Paradox’ she imagines travelling back in time to visit his mother:

i want to give her black stockings and rust red lipstick.
i want to loose her curls and numb her better judgment.
i want to say, Audrey, and show her how it could sound.

maybe, if she could have lived her life, just for a night,
i wouldn’t be here. my father wouldn’t suffer.
none of us would feel this way. instead i would be

just a possibility, a ghost, gathered with other ghosts
at the Armageddon lemonade stand.
i’d be the one that remembered the sugar.

That doesn’t rearranges my molecules, but it does linger after I turn the page.

0984251596.jpg

Rise of the Trust Fall comes with more sober but no less Trumpian recommendations. The LA litzine Poetic Diversity says simply:

Mindy Nettifee is destined to be the next Dorothy Parker.

Of course it’s no shame not to be Dorothy Parker. Hardly anybody ever has been. Mindy Nettifee isn’t, and I don’t think she aspires to be: too loquacious, too earnest beneath the veneer of cool, and no rhymes; nothing anything like Parker’s sublime ‘Resumé’ (do look it up).

The poetry in this book is boldly self-revealing: alcohol, recreational and prescription drugs, plenty of sex, nightmares, pop music, childhood memories, heartbreak, bodily functions, all are there along with an occasional touch of epigram (‘Every woman’s closet is a museum of her insecurities’). It’s unfailingly sharp and inventive, sometimes shocking: sure to be a hit at a Spoken Word event. For me though, reading it was more like reading a screenplay than seeing a movie.

There are moments where the words connect. For example, in ‘The Connection between God and Nature Beats Me over the Head with its Earthy Mallet’ (what is it with these long titles?) the city-dweller misses the stars. She chooses the city:

It’s a choice that makes itself for me
every time I am rescued by the warm clotted glow of art galleries;
by the imitation of Django Reinhardt that is really not that bad,
strumming rakishly out of the mood lit punk bar;
by the David Bowie juke-boxing the punchy patrons
at the cheaper bar down the street.

In the absence of starlight
you start looking for the shine in everything.

I can easily imagine Morgan Parker and Mindy Nettifee being sensational presence at Spoken Word events, each in her own way. On the page they’re both a bit too shouty and/or sweary for me. 

Ken Bolton’s London Journal London Poem

Ken Bolton, London Journal London Poem (Vagabond  Press 2015)

ljlp.jpg

There are just two poems in this book. In the first, ‘London Postcard – A Quiet Morning at the Wapping Project’, which is 24 lines long, the speaker describes the image of a woman on a postcard advertising what may be a film, and ruminates:

The fictive life of the tourist‘? Or would
I feel this way about this image
anywhere?

The words in purple are in italics in the book – it’s the best equivalent I can figure out in WordPress. The italics seem to signify that the phrase is a quote, but quote or not, it’s a nice way of naming a habit of mind common among tourists – a tendency to make up stories about things you see while passing through, or to see patterns in them. A couple of lines later the speaker rephrases that idea:

I attend to her in the idle moment.

The second poem, ‘London Journal’, begins with a reference to the first poem:

I have an intuition, that maybe that
particular poem – very short –
could serve to hang this – or anyway ‘a’ –
longer poem from. And this is by way
of being that long poem.

I’ll rush in where a proper critic might fear to tread, and say that this longer poem (more than 200 five-line stanzas) enacts touristic fictivity (if that’s a word): it attends to many details in a time that, however busy, could be described as an extended idle moment, a time spent being a tourist.

The speaker and his partner Cath are visiting her son Gabe and his partner Stacey in London, with excursions to Berlin and Barcelona. Tourist destinations  – the Brandenburg Gate, for example, or the Miro Museum – are mentioned, but so are tiny particuliarities of the travelling life: an odd show on television (Pointless as it happens); the book you’re reading; a quest for a strange place someone has told you about, and the anticlimax when you finally find it (a ‘fanatics’ ping-pong club’ in East Berlin); street signs and advertisements that are unsettlingly unfamiliar; evidence of poverty and the problematic status of immigrants; restaurants and bars; encounters with locals; information about the work life of one’s host (in this case, Gabe); lots of people-watching: pieces of a giant puzzle that are fun to play with but are unlikely ever to form a unified image. There are poetry readings, and an occasional moment when Bolton’s colonial status is made clear to him – maybe. The travellers go to museums and art galleries. It doesn’t take a lot of Web research to find out that Bolton is an art historian, but one doesn’t feel obliged to understand all his ruminations on the art he sees – enough for me at least to enjoy the way his experience as tourist connects with his abiding interests.

There’s a scattering of photographs, some of them blurry, as if to emphasise that this is a journal. And a scattering  of lines refer to the process of writing the poem, wondering if it will come together – yes, it’s also a poem.

Scanning for something to quote to give you a taste, I keep coming back to this at Canary Wharf:

of power and judgement. Shopping, food, all take place
underground: no-one seen outside. At lunchtime
vast crowds are disgorged below, moving at speed

to their destinations – all very much suited (men and women),
largely under 35, dressed in black for the most part: very
Brave New World, and much whiter than the general population
(only 45% of London identify as white anglosaxon).
We go with Gabe to a Jamie’s Italian. Good food.

Very noisy. In the toilets I come across a middle-aged,
middle-management type, seemingly doing an Al Jolson
‘Mammy’ impersonation, to the hand-dryer – down on one knee,
both hands smacking his chest, then flung out – Drying
his shirt front
, he tells me. I think for a moment

of joining him – ‘Mammy, how I loves ya, how I loves ya!’
etcetera. I nod encouragement.

In an excellent review in Cordite Poetry Review, Cameron Lowe suggests that ‘London Journal’ is a parody of a travel poem. He may be right, but ‘parody’ suggests a kind of formal imitation and/or mockery. There’s plenty of self consciousness about form and plenty of humour – like the photograph described as ‘Stacey with the author’, which appears to include only a solitary young woman, until you see half an arm almost lost in the page’s gutter. But I had no sense of a ‘proper’ travel poem that this was referring to. It’s just good fun, and interesting, in its own right.

In his elegant speech at the launch of Puncher & Wattman’s Contemporary Australian Poetry, David Malouf observed that while the poetry scene in Australia is extraordinarily vibrant in terms of the amount and quality of poetry being published, at the same time what he calls common readers have been turning away from poetry as if it is a foreign land, possibly because poetry has been turning away from them.

I think of myself as a common reader. And I want to say to other common readers: you can pick up this book without fear of being snubbed or made to feel somehow lacking. Cameron Lowe put it very well:

The poems here – as in Bolton’s other work – appear to imply that the process of writing poetry is an everyday activity (even while on holiday).