Tag Archives: Cameron Lowe

Australian Poetry Journal 7:2, Work

Cassandra Atherton and Benjamin Laird (editors),  Australian Poetry Journal, Volume 7, Issue 2: Work (2017)

cover image

I mainly read this issue of The Australian Poetry Journal on my computer screen. It sat on my desktop to be dipped every now and then, a bit like Twitter only more than 280 characters, more nuanced, less infested with outrage and snark, and more nourishing. Here are some of the bits I enjoyed a comment on the front cover and then some snippets from poems that struck me (though not the only ones that did).

The cover illustration, a photo taken by artist Albert Tucker of artist Joy Hester watching art patron John Reed milking a cow at the artist’s colony Heide in 1942, is rich with metaphorical implications in reference to the journal’s theme of work. It reminds me of Jerome K Jerome’s famous quip about liking work: ‘It fascinates me. I could sit and look at it for hours.’

From Jill Jones, ‘This Could Take a While’: 

How do you get through days
that have already curved too far? 

From Andy Kissane, ‘The Study Before the Major Work’: 

I finish one sketch and start another, in love
with the repetition that is the texture of my life, 
waking each morning to currawong calls,
raising the blinds to the shifting architecture
of light, dressing in loose clothes, keen to dwell
in the lilting halls of wonder.

From Geoff Page, ‘In medias res’: 

I should perhaps have warned you all
my death will be in medias res:
a carload of musicians 

driving up from Sydney
and being switched to voicemail

From Judith Beveridge, ‘The Pest Inspector’: 

He gave good advice: ‘Always listen at night, 
and if you hear a sound as though you’ve left
a record on after all the songs have played,
the ticking of a needle as it tracks in a groove;
if you hear what you take to be the scratching
of a mouse, the contractions of a cooling
tin roof, or click beetles snapping their thoraxes
and abdomens to flip themselves right way up –
take note, they could turn out to be the mandible-crafted
ticks of termites eating along the grain
of your floorboards.’

The whole of Cameron Lowe’s ‘Botanic / Beginning with four words from a poem by Joseph Massey’, which maybe I love because there was a giant fig behind my childhood home in North Queensland: 

There’s little
to say
. The fig –

giant – leans
across the

bridge, reaches
up into 

itself, names

from the love

scored in its 

Cameron Lowe’s poem is part of ‘New Shoots: Garden of Poems’, a special feature that takes up nearly half of the journal’s pages. In 2017, under the auspices of Red Room Poetry, Australian Poetry Inc and the Melbourne Writers Festival, Tamryn Bennett commissioned ten poets to create a new suite of poems each, inspired by plants and histories they encountered in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne. The poems they produced have had other outings – at the Festival, as a poetry trail at the Gardens, and in an online recording accompanied by interviews (here). They make a brilliant feature here: first the poems, then nine pages of ‘Reflections’ by the poets, which mostly allow for a much deeper reading experience. Just for one example, Bruce Pascoe’s powerful poem, ‘Kuller Kullup’, about the 19th century Wurundjeri elder of that name, becomes even richer when read in the light of his reflection, which begins:

  It is very hard for Aboriginal people to get through a day without being reminded of loss, sometimes accompanied by a profound sadness, sometimes by mere elevated irony. When I was walking around the gardens with the other poets dread was dragging at my heels, feeling for my throat. The talk of last and natural and heritage was clutching at me with scrabbling fingers.

There’s much more, in the ‘New Shoots’ section and in the journal as a whole. Copies are available for sale from Australian Poetry Inc.

Ken Bolton’s London Journal London Poem

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


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

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).