Category Archives: LoSoRhyMo

Overland 227 & 228

Jacinda Woodhead (editor), Overland 227 (Winter 2017)
—-, Overland 228 (Spring 2017)

overland227It’s not that I read Overland out of obligation, but I do feel guilty if I leave an issue sitting on my to-be-read pile for too long because – among other things – Overland offers left perspectives that aren’t all that easy to come by elsewhere in the Australian media. So here’s a slightly guilty blog post about the two most recent issues.

The star of the winter issue (No 227) is Evelyn Araluen. The journal kicks off with her article ‘Resisting the Institution: On Colonial Appropriation, which takes recent activism around statues commemorating colonial ‘heroes’ as a starting point, and develops into a (for me at least) powerful introduction to the field of decolonial theory (as opposed to postcolonial theory):

Decolonial theory provides the Indigenous subject with the tools to deconstruct and challenge colonial infiltrations into our worlds and minds, but decolonial practice within the academy is restrained to that which the institution regards as profitable. In other words, it is safely contained within the classroom, in the form of critical frameworks, unsettling questions or creative-thinking asseignments. Outside of the university, I have given late-night workshops on decolonial theory to anywhere between two and 200 people, often squished together in a leaky tent.

Later in the journal her short story Muyum: A Transgression, winner of the Nakata Brophy Prize for Young Indigenous Writers, is equally powerful and challenging.

There are the regular columnists, Giovanni Tiso (on owning and keeping books), Alison Croggon (on kindness as a political act), Tony Birch (on his family history, racism and the Australian constitution) and Mel Campbell (on where writers’ ideas come from –  ‘an idea is a promise, not a commodity’). There are solid articles on the gambling industry (by Dan Dixon), tiny presses that publish poetry in Australia (Kent MacCarter), GLBTQ+ politics in contemporary Singapore (Ng Yi-Sheng), Professor Richard Berry and scientific racism (Helen Macdonald), and how much social transformation we can really expect from technological advances under capitalism (Lizzie O’Shea). ‘Pregnant in Mexico’ by Tina Cartwright is a tiny memoir that feels as if it was carved, to good effect, from a longer piece.

There are two short stories in addition to Evelyn Araluen’s prizewinner. ‘Broken zippers‘ by George Haddad, which could serve as a grim companion piece to SBS’s Struggle Street, stands out for me.

There are fourteen pages of poetry. The two poems that spoke most strongly to me are ‘Crossing Galata, Istanbul‘ by John Upton, a tourist poem acutely aware of the limits of its touristic perspective (that’s a mangled quote from Adam Aitken), which captures the feel of Galata Bridge in Istanbul; and ‘The Apology Day breakfast‘ by Ali Cobby Eckermann, which is what it says on the lid, but with a deep, bitter-sweet twist.

The winter issue features the weird photomedia work of guest artist Yee I-Lann.

overland228Sadly, I hadn’t read all of the spring issue (No 228) before it mysteriously went missing on a trip to the supermarket. as a result my vote  for the outstanding items mightn’t be completely valid. But I recommend this edition for Eileen Chong’s poem ‘The Task’ and Olivier Jutel’s article ‘Paranoia and delusion‘.

The Task‘ (do read it at the link; it’s short) is at first blush a straightforward childhood memory of eating crabs, but it drew me in on a number of levels. First, a splendid moral complexity: the crabs have eyes, so we – and the remembered child – know they’re sentient, so there’s no minimising of what’s involved when they are killed and pulled apart, but at the same time there’s frank enjoyment of eating them. Then the opening – ‘We fished with lines, not nets’ – suggests a whole other, metaphorical reading: so by the time we reach the final couplet there’s a strong sense that we’re not talking about crabs any more, at least not only crabs, but something about Chong’s creative process as well:

I left the claws to the others,

preferring only what I could mine
through my own precise undoings

Olivier Jutel’s article is a formidable intervention into the general conversation about Donald Trump.

Domestically, he has mobilised, however chaotically, the most retrograde forces in American society, who experience through him a carnivalesque transgression in ‘Making America Great Again’ one tweet, post and triggered liberal at a time.

He had me at ‘carnivalesque’. The article goes on to rip into the ‘liberal’ media’s obsession with the Russia connection, seeing in it a revival of Cold War emotions, and argues that the Democratic Party is completely at a loss for an adequate political response to the Trump phenomenon, falling back on, among other things, ‘the libidinal deadlock of politics as comedy’. I can’t claim to have followed the whole argument (Jutel is a PhD candidate who quotes Lacan), but if you feel the need of a gust of fresh air amidst the abundant Trump-based sarcasm and despair, this could be the article for you.

Again the regular columnists are worth reading: On coal by Tony Birch (who quotes Murrawah Johnson, spokesperson for the Wangan and Jagalingou community, ‘We’ve seen the end of the world and we’ve decided not to accept it’); On experimentalism by Mel Campbell; On confusing reason and authority by Alison Croggon. Giovanni Tiso has a full-blown article, ‘Dynamite for the people‘, a lively piece on the European anarchists of the late 19th century, and how they differ from 21st century terrorists.

There are, as always, solid articles: Jessica Whyte on the politics of human rights; Mark Riboldi on virtual reality in fact and fiction; Roqayah Chamseddine on conspiracy theorists, those that are nutty and those that turn out to be right. I lost my copy before I got to Michael Brull on Saudi Arabia and Qatar or Chris di Pasquale on religious freedom under the Soviets: they’re up on line or soon will be, but I have trouble with sustained reading from a screen, so I’m sadly giving them a miss.

I did read the winners of the VU Short Story Prize: the winner, Breeding Season  by Amanda Niehaus, and first runner-up, Wharekaho Beach, 1944 by Allan Drew are both excellent. I missed the discussion between Jennifer Mills and Peter Carey about his short story ‘Crabs’, first published in Overland an amazing 45 years ago. It’s a nice idea for an institution like Overland to revisit past glories – I hope there are more interviews like this in the pipeline.

 

November verse 14

November verse 14: Diary poem
We smear the dog with steroid ointment –
soothe her angry tummy rash.
Then off to Glebe for my appointment
after weeks of steroid flush
to tackle nasty nasal polyps
(fleshy, veiny, solid dollops
I’d seen gigantic on a screen
like solid snot, but pink not green).
The doctor’s waiting room is crowded
but soon: ‘Jonathan, welcome back!’
The flushing worked, I’m off the hook,
his mirror shows my nose unclouded.
Sing the praise of Andy Wills
E N T wizard, who bulk bills.

Jennifer Maiden has written a number of what she ironically calls Diary Poems. There’s no such irony in the title of this verse. I’m uploading it just after 9.30 on 30 November: I’ve met my goal of 14 14-line verses in the month. Normal blogging will resume shortly.

 

November verse 13

A lot of my reading recently has seemed to be about ways of being in a place: Journey to Horseshoe Bend is deeply place-specific;  peasants chose to return to their land near Chernobyl even though it had been poisoned by the nuclear accident; Adam Aitken’s Archipelago is largely about his connection to parts of France; James Rebanks’ The Shepherd’s Life (I’m still reading it) is, among other things, about belonging to the Lake District in England. Somewhere I read that Wendell Berry, poet–farmer from Kentucky, told Naomi Klein:

Stop somewhere and begin the thousand-year process of knowing that place.

Seems as good a place as any to start a 14 line rhyme:

November verse 13: In reply to Wendell Berry
A thousand years? Time’s wingèd chariot
hurrying near calls that one’s bluff.
To find a place and marry it
might last a lifetime, not enough.
So here’s the work of generations,
fifty by my calculations.
My grandfather managed three
in sugar country. Two for me
in the Inner West.
___________________But that’s assuming
we’re the starters. All around
are people who’ve lived on this ground
for sixty thousand years. A human
humbly learns from others’ stories,
humbly shines with others’ glories.

 

Adam Aitken’s Archipelago

Adam Aitken, Archipelago (Vagabond Press 2017)

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Adam Aitken is a Sydney poet whose work often deals with aspects of living, working or travelling overseas. He has written about time spent in Asia, particularly his mother’s birth country, Thailand, in England and Hawaii. Most of the poems in Archipelago have to do with Paris or tiny villages in the south of France.

Aitken has written about his own work (in ‘A poetics of (un)becoming hybridity’, an article in Southerly Nº 73, 2013):

I would say that like many Australian poets who live and work overseas, I write as a temporary sojourner who is acutely aware of the limits of a touristic perspective.

In most of the poems in Archipelago, the voice is that of a temporary sojourner who may at times be a tourist (and part of the pleasure of the book for me is that evokes my own time in the south of France a couple of years ago), but is generally more engaged.  Possibly the closest thing to a simple tourist poem is ‘What (not) to do in St Victor-des-Oules’, in which the (non-)attractions of a tiny village are enumerated with wry humour:

Out of reception we stroll to the recycling depot
through a pall of burning autumn leaves.
A shooter lets off his blunderbuss
in a village with no twin – no cafes, no post office,
no fountain in the square.

Other ‘touristic’ poems are less ironic. In ‘At Maruéjols’, for example, the speaker’s stroll through the town is also a stroll through the centuries, beginning in the 5th Century, and arriving in 2012 with ‘two men on extended leave /around a fire / growing beards in a silk worm attic’.

Mostly, though, the poems engage with their places more intimately, as from the perspective of someone visiting family. Pam Brown told us at the launch of this book that Aitken has visited the south of France regularly because his partner’s parents lived there, but even without that information, that kind of connection is palpable in the poems themselves. ‘Postcard’, for example, which made me laugh out loud, could only be addressed to someone of whose affection you were confident. It starts out ‘Chère Margaret, / Thank you for letting us stay so long’, and goes on to a litany of complaints – not about the hospitality, but about the winter weather:

I am yet to cough up blood.
The other day I found a dead thrush in the letterbox.
I swept a few frozen comrades off the driveway.
Every day they are falling out of the sky.

‘Maruéjols’ (a different poem from ‘At Maruéjols’) captures the eerie process of going through the possessions of someone who has recently died:

Later, coming to empty your house, we felt
the dark matter of your brain
and what came through it.

The poems move beyond touristic engagement with place in other ways as well, mainly by engaging with other writers and artists associated with the place, and with its history.

The book drew me in and held me. I spent time reading around it, looking up the places, artists and poets described, addressed, mentioned or imitated, and then rereading the poems. My copy of the book is now bulked up with printed-off photos of tiny French villages – including Maruéjols-lès-Gardon (population 179 in 2007), Saint-Victor-des-Oules (pop. 254), Notre Dame de la Rouvière (pop. 410), Mareuil (pop. 1130) –  and images created by Alfred Stieglitz, Henri Rousseau, John William Ashton and Charles Méryon. I’ve read or reread work by or about Jean Jacques Rousseau, Roland Barthes, Ezra Pound, Raymond Roussel (including Adam’s blog post, which is a very useful gloss to his poem ‘Rousselesque’), Jules Renard, John Clare, Kenneth Slessor, New Zealand poet Jenny Bornholdt (the poem quoting her being one of the few with no French connection) and Australian Ouyang Yu, among others.

November verse 12: from Twitter

November verse 12: From my Twitter feed
Here a toxic timebomb leaking,
there the art of monstrous men.
The President’s no longer seeking
Time’s acclaim, hates CNN.
Tony tells us there’s dishonour
in the darknessMal’s a goner.
Evil Peter wields a stick
and won’t let doctors tend the sick
and injured. But there’s also blankies
worn by baby jumbos
Kelp
is not a plant
, and this may help:
change socks at lunch. Sweet granny’s hankies!
So much noise. But then there’s news
direct from people like Behrouz.

Links are there if you need an explanation or, in a couple of cases, entertainment.

 

November verse 11: Kurnell

First, my 14 lines, and later explanations in case they’re needed:

November Verse 11: At Kurnell, birthplace of modern Australia
Oh excellent foundation story!
‘We thought you welcomed us ashore
but oops! we were mistaken. Sorry!
Now let’s move on. What we’re here for
is water. We’re prepared to parley.
Put down those spears and don’t be surly.
Twenty minutes – far too long.
Our muskets put you in the wrong.’
Righteous Cooman faced the strangers,
shouted ‘Warra warra wai!
(Go away now!)’ Futile cry,
it seemed, but still he braved the dangers.
Wounded on Gweagal sand
he championed this ancient land.

Yesterday some friends and I went walking around Kurnell. There’s an unpromising roadside sign, ‘Welcome to Kurnell, the Birthplace of Modern Australia,’ but from then on, the marking of this as Cook’s first landing point on this continent is remarkably complex – which probably goes some way to explaining why it’s not a big tourist attraction. There’s a memorial that was raised in the late 19th century at a cost of £100, with two plaques added over the decades; a flagpole which yesterday sported three remarkably tattered flags – of Australia and New South Wales, and the Aboriginal flag; and a plethora of plaques telling stories of the place from many perspectives, including quotes from elders from La Perouse on the other side of Botany Bay.

My favourites are the quotes from the journals of Cook, Banks and Sydney Parkinson, brilliant reminders of the dubious beginnings of British dealings with the east coast of Australia. and encouraging signs that despite Tony Abbott’s pessimism ‘our’ British history is being remembered and memorialised.

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In case you can’t read the images, here’s the text. First plaque:

‘WARRA WARRA WAI [go away now]’
Aboriginal meeting party, [29] April 1770, as recorded
in the journal of Endeavour artist Sydney Parkinson.

… THEY CALLED TO US very loud in a harsh sounding
Language of which neither us nor Tupia understood a word,
shaking their lanvces and menacing, in all appearance
resolvd to dispute our landing to the utmost tho they were
but two and we 30 or 40 at least. In this manner we
parleyd with them for about a quarter of an hour, they
waving to us to be gone, we again signing that we wanted
water and that we meant them no harm. They remaind
resolute so a musquet was fired over them …
Journal of Endeavour botanist Joseph Banks [29 April 1770]

Second plaque:

… AS WE APPROACHED THE SHORE they all made off except
two Men who seem’d resolved to oppose our landing… I
thout that they beckon’d to us to come a shore but in this we
were mistaken for as soon as we put the boat in they again
came to oppose us upon which I fired a musket between the
two … one of them took up a stone and threw at us which
caused my fireing a second Musquet load with small shott
and altho’ some of the shott struck the man yet it had no
other effect than to make him lay hold of a Shield or target …
emmediatly after this we landed which we had no sooner
done than they throw’d two darts at us this obliged me to
fire a third shott soon after which they both made off …
Journal of Lt James Cook, 29 April 1770

November verse 10: Dear Tony

On Sky News this week Tony Abbott said (and you can scroll to the bottom of the post to listen for yourself):

If you ask yourself what is the pinnacle of human achievement thus far, countries with democratic elections, with liberal institutions, with freedom and prosperity and a measure of fairness for all – in other words, western countries, particularly English speaking countries – this is the greatest human creation yet. We should cherish it, we should celebrate it. Unfortunately, too many of us are ignorant of that which has shaped us. We’re ignorant of the great books; we’re ignorant of Shakespeare, ah, the New Testament. We’ve forgotten so much of our history, particularly British history.

Different parts of that utterance will stick more strongly in different people’s craws. Here’s what I can manage in fourteen lines (I had to leave the tokenising of Shakespeare for another day):

November verse 10: Dear Tony
Come on, Tone, this great creation
was fought for, didn’t grow on trees
and it’s unfinished. Celebration?
Sure, but also honour, please,
the millions worldwide who’ve been murdered,
starved, betrayed, displaced or herded
cattle-like, by Empire Brits.
I know this thought gives you the shits
but how high on your fairness measure
are Don Dale, Manus, PNG,
or Nauru, CentreLink, or Bre?
Yes, history is rich with treasure.
Jesus? History fact for you:
brown, Aramaic-speaking  Jew.

November verse 9 / A birthday poem

November verse 9: Happy Birthday
(For my sister Mary Ann)
‘Sweet Leilani, heavenly flower,’
our father sang when you were born
and kept on singing. That’s girl power
after three boys. Time has worn
the sharp joy from your nickname Lani
but not destroyed it. Scratch the blarney,
underneath you’ll find the stone
of honest feeling, blood and bone.
Leonard and before him Harry
put your real name into song:
a mournful, agonised so-long,
a Caribbean won’t-you-marry.
Now I, as you turn sixty-nine,
invoke their rhymes with one of mine

Bing:

Harry:

Leonard:

And one Leonard made earlier:

November verse 8

Verse 8: At 35 weeks
You used to call each other Stinky
when first in love – as pet names go,
a little odd. But you were dinky-
di. We watched you thrive and grow
together, get jobs, win promotions,
make a home, fly over oceans
more than once. The sweet stink stayed
for fourteen years. The nest was made.
On Saturday a baby shower
marked the end of DINKish days,
and she-who’s-now-a-lump will raise
the stinky level, like a flower
that opens in the radiant dawn.
It’s just five weeks until she’s born

November verse 7

As one of my neighbours said, ‘The mean-spirited b***d didn’t get his moral victory.’

But it’s November so I’ve got to rhyme. Sorry, it’s not an Onegin stanza today, but once I had my first two lines I was committed (though I expect I’m not the only one to have them).

November verse 7: Yes, Today
To the tune of Lennon & McCartney’s ‘Yesterday
Yes, today.
Three-fifths of us voted yes today.
Soon LGBTQIA
can marry ‘cos of yes, today.

Certainly
things are less grim than they used to be.
Rainbow flags are flying fresh and free.
Oh yes today came certainly.

Such a nasty fight
such a blight
such hell to pay.
Then this massive vote.
I won’t gloat,
but it’s OK.

Yes, today.
Same-sex marriage is now on the way.
People aren’t as bad as pundits say.
Oh tears of joy for yes, today.