Tag Archives: Gleebooks

Jennifer Maiden’s Metronome (paper)

Jennifer Maiden, The Metronome (Giramondo 2017)

metronomepaper.jpegI don’t have anything new to say about The Metronome since I posted about the ebook version in January, and sadly I missed the launch at Gleebooks on the weekend. But for the sake of completeness, this is a short post to tell my readers the book is now out in the world, launched by Robert Adamson at Gleebooks on 26 March 2017. There are photos of the event on the Quemar Press website, and here’s a video of Jennifer Maiden reading ‘Mary Rose’ from the book:

One of the many things I love
about Gen Y is that they’re ready to accept
transgender in anything, as if Caitlyn Jenner
was the best fan fiction ever.

Tranter and Lilley: Rare Objects

John Tranter, Ten Sonnets (Vagabond Press Rare Objects Series No 90, 2013)
Kate Lilley, Realia (Vagabond Press Rare Objects Series No 91, 2013)

This series of elegant chapbooks finishes up this year at No 100, which means that John Tranter and Kate Lilley at 90 and 91 respectively are leading us into the straight – which may be the only straight thing about either of them (no reference to sexuality intended).

I went to the launch at Gleebooks on the weekend because I am generally baffled by the work of both these poets, and hoped for some guidance on how to read them, and I got it. John Frow, Eng Lit and Cultural Studies scholar, who did the honours, commented that in both books – and in The Tulip Beds by A J Carruthers, Rare Object No 92, which he was also launching – the poems were generated using a mechanism: in Tranter’s case the rhyming sonnet form and in Lilley’s a found-object framework.

10sonnetsFive of Tranter’s ten sonnets have an additional mechanical dimension: they list the five vowels and assign each of them to a colour. And other mechanical elements turn up in other poems: for instance ‘Poem Beginning with a Line by John Anderson’ was written, we’re told in a note, ‘while listening to a paper on his poetry given by Ella O’Keefe at the University of Auckland in March 2012’, and incorporates lines from Anderson and from Ms O’Keefe’s talk. (I hope she’s flattered by being incorporated into the sonnet rather than offended by the lack of attention.)

Speaking of notes, six of the books 16 pages are taken up with notes, which quote liberally from Wikipedia. It’s hard to tell for the most part whether these notes are meant to inform the reader, to mock the reader for wanting information, to slip an extended prose poem or two under the radar or simply to get the book’s pages up to a multiple of eight. One note explains what ‘Scuba’ is an acronym for, but is no help in explicating the couplet in which it appears:

U, olive green of underwater hair –
Scuba, the acronym, in a crowded room.

Another manages to compare Tranter’s work to Shakespeare’s, if only on the matter of complexity. On the other hand, a good half of the very long note on ‘Poem Beginning with a Line by Bunting’ is a lucid explication of a poem that at first I found impenetrable, which begins:

Boasts time mocks cumber Rome.
Roasts thyme scents set on ledge.

Interestingly enough, the note explains, that first line (from Basil Bunting’s ‘At Briggflatts Meeting House’) can be decoded into standard English. So can the second, but the rationale for its existence is that it echoes the first – it’s not clear if its sense matters at all.

realia001Following John Tranter’s lead, I’ll now quote Wikipedia and tell you that the great modernist American poet William Carlos Williams ‘summarised his poetic method in the phrase “No ideas but in things”‘. It’s tempting to say of the poems in Realia, ‘no ideas, just things’. The longest poem in the book. ‘GG’, is mainly a list of items from the estate of Greta Garbo sold at auction last December, presented without commentary:

Greta Garbo flatware
Greta Garbo cordial glasses
Greta Garbo Sherbet stemware
Greta Garbo Swedish butter press
__Viking mould imprints 14 5/8″ x 4 1/4″

and so on.

Of course, the art is in the selection. I looked up the actual 302 page catalogue, and the poem got even funnier. You can almost hear Kate Lilley saying, like Anna Russell, ‘I’m not making this up!’ The weirdness of starting each item with ‘Greta Garbo’ is not her invention. I didn’t check that everything in the poem is genuinely from the catalogue, but I did search for the line that most aroused my suspicions

Greta Garbo Stim-U-Lax Jnr Hand-Held

and there it was, hidden in plain sight:

ggm

Some liberty taken as befits a poet, but an honest steal.

Neither of these books appealed to me much on first contact, but when I came to write about them, even so spottily, I warmed to them both. My own fiddling with sonnets has taught me that there’s a lot of mechanics in poetic form, and it’s interesting to put the mechanism front and centre and see what you get. And listing found verbal objects without comment or interpretation can create interestingly comic or disturbing effects.

The Vagabond Press facebook page predicts another five titles by the end of the year, by Emma Lew, Bella Li, Emma Jones, Ania Walwicz and Jennifer Maiden. To be launched in Melbourne.

The Poetry Train

Australian Poetry Ltd, the recently formed peak industrial body for Australian poets, has declared this to be National Poetry Week. I’ve been too preoccupied with fighting off a virus and feeling sorry for myself to pay much attention, though my impression is that NPW hasn’t been quite as big as the State of Origin week. Some days have had a theme word – one day Read, another Write, and today Buy. I dutifully rose from my tissue-bedecked bed, caught the bus to Gleebooks and bought two slim volumes. But, I hear you protest, surely you could find something more interesting than a trip to a bookshop to get out of the house for? You’re right. There was also the Poets’ Train.

From the CountryLink website:

To celebrate National Poetry Week and the joys of train travel, a group of Canberra poets are catching the train to Sydney to join forces with like-minded bards for an exciting program of social and literary events.

Those events included composing poems during the train journey today for later publication in a chapbook, a dinner and a poetry slam. The thing that caught my attention was a poetry recital on arrival at Central Station this afternoon ‘with media attending’. Gleebooks was just a stop on the way.

The country trains concourse at Sydney’s Central is a lovely space, full of light and air. As I came through the main entrance the first thing I saw was a group of about twenty people, significantly more warmly dressed than called for by the Sydney spring weather, looking like a small choir with a conductor standing in front of them. It was Train Poets, and one of them was reading to the rest. A woman who turned out to be Poets Train Coordinator, Fiona McIlroy, gestured a welcome, and I became, as far as I could tell, the only member of the public to join the audience. There was a young man taking photos – presumably he was the attending media, and if I find any pics on line I’ll add a link to them.

And you know, it was fun. Poems were read that were variously witty, comic, fanciful, and elegant, and most hot from the oven. I chatted to the people closest to me, who said that the train poets had sat working away at their notebooks, taking a break every hour (it’s roughly a four hour trip) to read the work so far. As a result, at the reading I was privileged to attend, they had already established a palpable sense of communal bardship. Contemporary poetry is often criticised as being a matter of poets writing poetry that is read only by other poets. Even if that description were accurate, if it signified the kind of warmth, generosity, mutual appreciation that featured in this event it wouldn’t be an entirely bad thing. No one seemed disappointed at the absence of TV cameras. It was culture without commodification, and I look forward to the chapbook.

I doubt if I’ll get to the slam tomorrow night, as I’m not taking my germs out after dark, but if you’re in Sydney you could do a lot worse than head for The Friend in Hand Hotel, Glebe, at 7 pm.

To cap off my participation in National Poetry Week, there was an email waiting for me when I got home to say that my pre-ordered copy of Bob Dylan’s Tempest, official launch date Tuesday 11 September, was ready to be downloaded. So I’ve been typing this up, home alone on a Friday night, listening to croaky Bob, ‘It’s soon after midnight, and I don’t want no-body but you.’

Happy National Poetry Week!

Added on 1 October: Fiona McIlroy reports on the Poets’ Train at the Australian Poetry website, with photos and the text of one of the poems.

SWF 2112: Tabloid – David McKnight on Rupert Murdoch

The Sydney Writers’ Festival has started. In recent years I’ve been kicking my festival off by attending the Premier’s Literary Awards dinner on the Monday night, and it’s been a great way of getting momentum up. This year, the dinner – if there is one – will be in November, so I began with a visit to the State Library on this cold cold night to hear David McKnight talk about Rupert Murdoch in a conversation with Jonathan Holmes. It was good to see Mr Media Watch in person, and David McKnight has read and watched an awful lot of a certain kind of journalism so the rest of us don’t have to. And written a book, Rupert Murdoch: An Investigation of Political Power.

My pick for quote of the evening was David McKnight on the anti-elite ideology pushed by Murdoch and his allies: ‘A librarian living on a pension is a member of the elite if she has liberal views, and Rupert Murdoch is not. It’s a beautiful move ideologically.’

In the Q&A, someone remarked that the  Australian‘s columnists seem to have contempt for their readers, considering them incapable of rational thought. Jonathan Holmes said something to the effect that the columnists see themselves as speaking to the concerns of those readers, echoing and amplifying their anxieties and prejudices; if they have contempt, it is for people like the questioner, who is clearly one of the ‘elite’.

No one asked David McKnight if he there was anything he admired about Rupert Murdoch, but he told us anyway, saying that he had prepared the answer and in all his presentation about the man no one had ever asked the question: he has never heard him be racist, and he seems to be a genuine believer in free speech, as he has never sued anyone, or even threatened to sue them, for libel.

It was like a top level Gleebooks evening – which would cost maybe $5 and  be free to Gleeclub members. I don’t know if either of the presenters was paid for his appearance, but each of the mainly silvery heads at tonight’s sold out event  paid $20. I guess the money went to a good cause.

Madlands launch at Gleebooks

Last night we went to Gleebooks for the launch of Anna Rose’s Madlands. This is her book about the experience of going on ABC television’s I can change your mind about … climate with Nick Minchin. I confess to not watching the show: there was enough condescension on the basis of age and gender in the trailers to do me for a lifetime, though Anna Rose seemed remarkably unflustered by it. He called her a warmist! It was as attractive as an hour ‘debating’ whether the earth is flat or passive smoking is a health hazard or Rupert Murdoch is rich.

Last night was not a ‘debate’, though it was largely about the vested interests, economic and ideological, that keep talking that way.

Louise Adler of Melbourne University Press referred in passing to the current debasement of political life and we realised that this was not the ABC, where Balance rules, and all opinions are equal.  Incidentally, she confessed (under a cone of silence so as not to build up other writers’ expectations, but us bloggers know no shame) that the book was written in two and a half months and then proceeded from manuscript to the bookshops in another couple of months.

John Hewson, once leader of the Liberal Party and sufficiently neo-liberal to have been called the Feral Abacus by Paul Keating, launched the book. (Incidentally, to have been insulted by Paul Keating must be a little like having been caricatured by one of the greats – it might not portray you in a good light, but the artistry is so fine that you will tell people about it for the rest of your life.) Hewson  talked quite a bit about his own activism in the business sector. He’s currently involved in a project, for instance, which will result in a published list of the top thousand superannuation funds rated according to their investment in sustainable enterprises – a listing which, he hopes, will result in a significant increase in investment in non-carbon energy options. But he wasn’t so much taking the opportunity to blow his own trumpet as to contextualise Anna’s book and her activism as co-founder and chair of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition: it’s no good waiting for government to act, was his message, but if you look around you’ll see that there are alternatives.

Anna Rose spoke too. Asked about her calmness on the TV show, she said that she kept remembering that her aim was to speak to the people watching the show, and if she allowed herself to be rattled by unpleasantness coming at her she wold probably lose those people. She invited us to applaud her mother (in the audience, almost as alarmingly young as Anna Rose herself), who over many years had given her a brilliant example of talking to people respectfully and changing their minds. Evidently she has received an enormous amount of hate mail since the show went to air – she commented that the anonymity of the Web allows some people to behave very badly, but shrugged and said you get used to it. (She’s married to Simon Sheikh of Get-Up, also there with a big smile on his face, so I guess she has some forces countering the hate.)

There was some talk about hope. Anna Rose quoted Paul Kremer (I looked it up and found the context here):

If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand the data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse.

Any time we are feeling discouraged, she said, we should visit http://aycc.org.au/, see what the Australian Youth Climate Coalition is up to and make a donation. At the moment they’re raising funds to give a copy of this book to every member of the Australian Parliament.

We bought three copies of the book and went off to dinner knowing that we had pulses.

Revisionism?

Along with about 30 other people, the Art Student and I heard Paul Ham talk at Gleebooks last night. It was one of the smallest Gleebooks turn-outs I’ve seen, and it’s hard not to think the subject may have had a bit of a deterrent effect: his new book Hiroshima Nagasaki. In fact it was a terrific talk. I’ll save whatever I have to say about his argument for when I read the book, which may be some little time. (He was on Lateline recently – here’s a link if you want his gist.)

What I want to note here is that he described what he does as Narrative History. I’m sure learned historians have many finely nuanced definitions of  that, but I liked his version, which is that it is history told without benefit of hindsight – that is, trying to get to the story as it was understood by the actors themselves. He is categorised as a revisionist historian, but objects, saying that the orthodox version (that the bombs were the ‘least abhorrent option’, that they saved a million US lives, that they brought about Japan’s unconditional surrender) is itself revisionist – a recasting after the event that distorts what actually happened on almost all counts.

Fortuitously, I have just been reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’s article in the Atlantic,  ‘Why Do So Few Blacks Study the Civil War?‘ I can’t recommend this article strongly enough for its eloquent challenge to received versions of history. The bit that chimed with Paul Ham’s talk, and with some reading and thinking I’ve been doing about massacres in Australia, was this, in reference to the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Battle of Gettysburg:

Speakers at the ceremony pointedly eschewed any talk of the war’s cause in hopes of pursuing what the historian David Blight calls ‘a mourning without politics’. Woodrow Wilson, when he addressed the crowd, did not mention slavery but asserted that the war’s meaning could be found in ‘the splendid valor, the manly devotion of the men then arrayed against one another, now grasping hands and smiling into each other’s eyes’. Wilson, born into the Confederacy and the first postbellum president to hail from the South, was at that very moment purging blacks from federal jobs and remanding them to separate washrooms. Thus Wilson executed a familiar act of theater—urging the country’s white citizens away from their history, while continuing to act in the spirit of its darkest chapters.

Urging the country’s white citizens away from their history, while continuing to act in the spirit of its darkest chapters. Familiar indeed, but ne’er so well expressed.

In praise of bricks and mortar bookshops

Last night, slightly stir crazy from four days of post-seroplasty languor, I went with the Art Student to a book launch at Gleebooks. The happy hour we spent there makes me realise all over that buying books online (not that I do it that much) strips away a whole wonderfully human dimension of the book-buying experience.

The book was Compassionate Bastard by Peter Mitchell. Upstairs at Gleebooks was crowded with a marvellous combination of family, friends and colleagues of the author, and almost as many again with no personal connection. The launch managed to have an intimate feel and at the same time be the kind of thing that should have been filmed and put up on Slow TV or whatever. [Later addition: Peter Mitchell turned up in the comments to say that all three speeches were videoed, and can be watched on his website.]

Ian McPhee, Minister for Immigration in the Fraser government in the early 1980s, launched the book, and John Menadue, head of the Department of Immigration then and later, spoke. Peter Mitchell, who is a poet in another incarnation, went to work for the Department of Immigration in 1990, getting ‘a real job’. He became Director of the Villawood Detention Centre until he resigned in 2003 – so he was there as the bipartisan agreement on immigration and refugees was torn apart by John w Howard, and the new harsh and inhumane treatment that persists until now was ushered in.

I won’t try to summarise what was said. Enough to tell you that it was incredibly heartening to be in a room with three men who have had close-up experience and responsibility for thinking about policy on refugees and asylum seekers, who are scathing about by the focus group driven debate that dominates the subject these days (they named no names later than Howard, but they didn’t need to), who have been thinking deeply about the subject. They didn’t make huge claims for the book – but they did a great job of selling it to us as a well-written, often funny and sometimes heartbreaking collection of stories that show us the human dimension of Australia’s mandatory detention policy.

Ian McPhee said this book was an excellent companion read to Carina Hoang’s The Boat People and David Marr and Marian Wilkinson’s book about the Tampa episode Dark Victory. He said that the Greens are the only ones in Federal Parliament who have a credible, humane, practical position on refugees.

Some snippets from John Menadue:
‘Mandatory detention does not deter. It only punishes.’
‘I think we can get back to decency, but we’re a long way from it now.’
‘The decency of Australian people is not shown by opinion polls, but with leadership it will re-emerge.’

John Menadue mentioned (with appropriate apologies, the Centre for Policy Development, which has developed a paper with the self-explanatory title, A New Approach: Breaking the Stalemate on Refugees & Asylum Seekers. There’s a meeting in the Sydney Town Hall on 13 October to discuss this paper.

Beyond White Guilt at Gleebooks

Last night we cashed in a couple of our Gleeclub vouchers to hear Sarah Maddison in conversation with Jeff McMullen about the former’s new book, Beyond White Guilt. A couple of years ago, Sarah’s Black Politics drew on interviews with 30 Aboriginal leaders to give a kind of map of Aboriginal politics (the link is to my blog entry, which outlines some of salient points on the map). This book could be seen as a sequel, looking at non-Indigenous Australians.

A quick look at Wikipedia’s entry on Jeff McMullen shows him to be an eminently qualified whitefella to converse on this subject. He kicked off the conversation with two lists: on the one hand, invasion, dispossession, genocide, stealing children, and on the other denial, loss of memory and guilt. ‘We struggle in Australia,’ he said at one stage, ‘to have an honest and direct conversation [about the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians].’ This conversation was refreshingly free of indirection or quibble. I won’t try to summarise, but can offer a couple of notes.

Asked why she chose to focus on guilt, which is after all often a useless, self-punishing emotion, Sarah Maddison cited Bernhard Schlink’s Guilt About the Past which argues in the German context that every generation that doesn’t make a substantive break with the atrocities of its forebears is standing in solidarity with them. Her book doesn’t advocate that non-Indigenous Australians should wallow in guilt forevermore, but that we should ‘sit with’ our guilt for a time, not run from it either by taking action or by denial. Facing that discomfort is a necessary step to understanding and making thoughtful progress. [I liked this. I know a Native American woman who urges non-Indigenous people to put our minds to answering the question, ‘How have I personally benefited from genocide?’]

She talked about ‘high-identifiers’ – people for whom it is extremely difficult to acknowledge any negative dimensions to their national identity. Such people tend to think that the continuing disadvantage of Aboriginal people must be their fault, specifically must be because there’s something wrong with Aboriginal culture. She talked about the need for adaptive change, the kind of change that requires a change of perspective rather than a technological fix.

The questions were all excellent. Perhaps for the first time in my life I heard a very long question that was neither primarily self-promoting nor bizarrely tangential to the topic in hand. The questioner spoke of the problematic nature of the phrase ‘white guilt’ both because non-Indigenous Australia is very diverse, and ‘white’ covers only part of it, because the ‘we’ who actually experience guilt, as opposed to, say, denial, is very hard to define (is it only liberals?), and because guilt is a pretty dead-end notion anyway. These were interesting issues to raise, and, as Sarah Maddison acknowledged, weren’t going to be resolved in an hour before dinner on a Friday night.

No doubt I’ll blog about this again when I read the book.

Five audiences

The Art Student doesn’t blog, except by remote control, as in saying to me, ‘You should write on your blog about…’ This is one of those posts.

In the last week, in spite of my otherwise debilitating head cold, we’ve been to five cultural outings. This is a brief review of the audiences. (Distances in brackets are from our house to the theatre.)

1. The Drama Theatre of the Opera House: Nina Conti’s Talk to the Hand (7.9 km)
We got a pretty good look at the front row of this youngish, well-heeled crowd, as Nina and her monkey held them up to ridicule one after another. The foul-mouthed monkey made a series of outrageous remarks, shocking sweet, well-bred Nina. ‘Are you married to her?’ the monkey asked one man, indicating the woman next to him. ‘Sometimes,’ the man said, which I think you’ll agree is a pretty good response. ‘What do you mean, sometimes?’ Nina asked. ‘Well, at other times she’s [insert your own misogynist end to sentence].’ Even the monkey was taken aback, and moved on quickly. The joke was in danger of failing as the audience promised to be even more obnoxious than the monkey. The same man called out further insults about his wife later in the evening. Of course, it would be wrong to tar the whole audience with his brush, but whenever Ms Conti or one of her dummies called for suggestions, the replies were mostly sex- or bum-themed. The show was fabulous, but the audience had a significantly vocal leavening of misogyny and middle-class yobbery.

2. Gleebooks: Gerard Windsor and Giulia Giuffrè in conversation about the latter’s book, Primavera (3.7 km)
The smallest, most serious and most mature of the five audiences. When we arrived, the two performers were mingling with the audience-to-be. Someone asked me, ‘How do you fit in?’ and told me Giulia had commented with pleasure when she saw some strangers arrive. (I probably count as a stranger: I met Giulia a couple of times in the early 70s, but she didn’t remember me.) Someone from Gleebooks  introduced the event in 10 seconds flat (‘perfunctory’ doesn’t begin to cover it), leaving Gerry to say who he was. This only deepened the sense that we were at an intimate gathering – friends, family (Giulia’s 20-something daughter was there, and spoke briefly), colleagues.

3. Seymour Centre: iOTA’s Smoke & Mirrors (3 km)
In many respects similar to the Nina Conti audience, this crowd were hip rather than heeled. An older woman in the front row opposite us kept her face fixed in a scowl the whole time except for one brief smile. She applauded politely at the end of most items, and winced when the stage lights fell on her, as they did often. But the great bulk of the audience applauded enthusiastically not only the songs, acrobatics and magic tricks, but also iOTA’s sexually ambiguous clown-crying-on-the-outside musical performance. When the lyrics got, as they say, explicit, the crowd was unfazed, but when a decorous striptease ended with the unveiling of the stripper’s beard there was no noisy clamour for more intimate exposure. This audience, with nothing to prove, seemed happy to be entertained and challenged.

4. Dendy Cinema Newtown: special advance screening of Sunshine and Oranges (1.6 km)
This was a 6.30 screening for Club Dendy members, of a movie about Margaret Humphries exposing the secretive deportation of 130 000 children from the UK to Australia. There was a lot of silver hair in this packed house and, at least near us, a smattering of English accents. The Art Student thought there was a preponderance of women, not young, but not yet of a certain age, who could have been social workers. I was struck by the number of phone screens that stayed lit up until the last possible moment, by which I mean several seconds after the film began.

5. The Factory: Fear of a Brown Planet Attacks (.7 km)
Another packed house. My guess is that the vast majority of the audience were young Muslim Indians or Pakistanis.Here we were definitely in the minority, as white people and also as people over 40. There were plenty of hijabs and other headscarfs, but I didn’t see any older women in saris or salwar kameez. Aamer Rahman’s performance of a Bollywood song in (I’m guessing) Hindi provoked a lot of recognising laughter. And when Nazeem Hussain, the other half of Fear of a Brown Planet, did a caustic impersonation of a white Australian calling him ‘Zeemo’, ‘Nazzer’ and so on, he had the audience right there with him. Racism was mocked. A child ran about noisily at the back of the large auditorium for most of the show’s second half, and no one got into a state about it. Perhaps the White People were a little more subdued than usual as we left, but my impression is we were among people who not only had been entertained but also had had significant issues named out loud.

All but the first of the events happened within walking distance of our house. It’s as if we live at the junction of different worlds. Ah, city life!

In which I go on a bit about buying two books

I happened to be in Glebe this morning, and as I had earned a little bit of money last weekend I allowed myself to yield to the allure of the bookshops.

First, the secondhand poetry shelves of Sappho’s beckoned. There were a number of tempting morsels – enough to make me think that a Sydney poetry lover had recently died or radically downsized. There was a book of Philip Martin’s, inscribed in a shaky hand  that suggested he had already embarked on the disease that was eventually to kill him; Adamson’s Waving to Hart Crane signed ‘affectionately Bob’. But the one I bought was a selection of Stevie Smith’s poems. When I worked at Currency Press, our Editor in Chief Phillip Parsons impressed me hugely by reciting the last page of Stevie Smith’s Novel on Yellow Paper, and I became a fan on the spot (of Phillip, yes, but also of Stevie Smith). I recently saw a copy of her slected poems on a friend’s bookshelf – I took it down, and behold it was inscribed on the inside cover as a birthday present to a different close friend – a birthday present from me. The birthday girl later denied all knowledge of having given the book away, so I was left with a nagging sense that one or other of my dear friends was a book thief, a liar or an ingrate. Somehow when I saw this book in Sappho’s today – same selection, different cover – it seemed that buying it would make everything all right again. So I bought it.

Oh I am a cat that likes to
Gallop about doing good.

And then next door to Gleebooks. I’d listened to Poetica’s excellent two part broadcast on France Webb recently, heard Geoff Page deliver a  lukewarm account of him on the Book Show (Maybe you need more than one poetry reviewer, Ramona! But I don’t need to say much, as commenter named Junius has given you the rounds of the kitchen on this one.) and been prompted to open up my 1969 Collected Poems. This is one of my favourite books – I mean the actual battered, slightly foxed object on my shelf, which I love because I spent quite a bit of intensive time with it in my mid 20s. I was planning on writing an MA thesis on Webb’s poetry. It didn’t happen, but I did a bit of work that left its traces in the margins of my copy (as well as in a little exercise book in which I pasted photocopies of poems by Webb that had been published but not collected). His explorer poems sent me off to read the published journals of Leichhardt, Sturt, Grey and Edward John Eyre. My book has notes on when and where poems were first published, textual variations and any annotations, and occasionally there’s a commentary from me. For example, in ‘Leichhardt in Theatre’, just before the explorer’s party is attacked by the people whose land they have invaded, the poem goes:

————————————Gilbert, the naturalist,
is planting some precious flowers that he has found,
Cradles them in his hands like diamonds

There’s a pencilled note in the margin:

This indicates he had probably not read the Journal – Gilbert was learning to plat (sic)

Presumably it was Leichhardt who misspelled ‘plait’. I imagine these notes would annoy anyone else, but they fill me with an affection for my younger self.

But back to the visit to Gleebooks. On the display table in the poetry section was the new Collected Poems, published by UWA Publishing and edited by Toby Davidson. I flipped it open and had to buy it. Not only does it include the poems I had found in my postgraduate days, plus more. It also promises to correct errors Webb had noted in the 1969 edition (his notes evidently came to light in the 1980s). Am I doomed to read with both books open – one for the poetry and the other for young Jonathan’s occasional comment?

I thought you’d like to know.