Tag Archives: Jennifer Compton

2016 Australian Poetry Anthology 

Lisa Gorton and Toby Fitch (editors), Australian Poetry Anthology Vol 5, 2016 (Australian Poetry Ltd 2017)

AP2016.jpgThis is Australian Poetry Ltd’s fifth annual anthology of members’ poems. It’s neither a ‘Best of 2016’ nor a kind of open mic in print. The foreword says the book aims ‘to recognise and mark the organisation’s vitality and range’. When it goes on to quote G K Chesterton, ‘Poets have been mysteriously silent on cheese,’ it signals unmistakably that a further aim is to give pleasure. It worked for me on both fronts.

There are sixty poems by 49 poets, award-winners cheek by jowl with people you’ve never heard of. There are neat sonnets and sprawling surreal narratives, elegy and sarcasm, poems previously seen in places as unalike as Overland and Quadrant and, the majority, poems previously unpublished.

Here are some highlights:

An opening line, from Jordie Albiston’s ‘³’ (one of three poems by her with that non alphanumeric title): ‘war is divisible only by war’.

A poem I was compelled to quote in an earlier blog post: Julie Chevalier’s ‘waiting with dignity’, which started with a reference to Anne Carson.

A piece of social commentary: ‘On average’ by PS Cottier plays devastatingly with the statistic that in Australia on average one woman a week is killed by an intimate partner.

A poem on ‘the pornography of suffering’: Ron Pretty’s ‘broken’, which looks into the abyss of humanity’s capacity for violence.

A poem that’s affecting for extraneous reasons: John Upton’s ‘On Shoes Encountered in a Museum’, a beautiful poem about ugly history that gains extra force from the fact that John Upton, author of the excellent collection Embracing the Razor, died in January.

A contrarian poem: ‘Why we shouldn’t trust birds’ by Chris Palmer begins with birds’ dinosaur ancestry and ends with parent-approved siblicide and cannibalism.

A poem I’d read elsewhere and was glad to see again: Jennifer Compton’s ‘Two Women’, previously published in Australian Poetry Journal November 2016, brilliantly renders the ambivalence of a relationship.

A dictionary query: From Amy Crutchfield’s ‘Egg’,

What shall the mother of the dead be called?
As widow is to wife,
what of the woman left behind?

Stand-out single line: Brett Dionysus’ ‘Bees Fleeting’ brought tears to my eyes with the line (about bees), ‘They are absconding from the planet’s giant hive’.

Unsettling single poem: Alex Skovron’s ‘Prognosis (1189 BCE)’, in which a Greek at the siege of Troy is convinced that the wooden horse ruse won’t work:

The Achaeans understand nothing of History,
they laugh, carouse, their Horse grows daily more arrogant;
some nights I weep for the fate that I know attends them.

Ekphrasis: Laura Jan Shore’s ‘A Little off the Top’, in which a group of people with dementia responding to an Edward Hopper painting.

Elegy: ‘Walking man’, a tribute to the late Martin Harrison by Brenda Saunders that begins:

He walked this country with the eye
of a newcomer, showed us how to see
close up, take in the sweep of distance
the shimmer on a paddock in drought

Those words, ‘country’, ‘newcomer’, ‘shimmer’, take on wonderful resonance when written by an Indigenous woman about an English migrant.

That is to say, there’s a lot to enjoy here

Australian Poetry Journal 5.2 and 6.1

Michael Sharkey (editor),  Australian Poetry Journal, Volume 5, Issue 2 (2015)
———,  Australian Poetry Journal, Volume 6, Issue 1 (2016)

Australian Poetry Journal is the nearest thing we have to a community newsletter for Australian poets and poetry-readers. It is delivered twice a year to paid-up  members of Australian Poetry Ltd. My copy tends to wait until I’ve got a book on the go that’s too bulky to read while walking. Thanks to a couple of hefty books, I’ve recently caught up on two issues, as well as last year’s anthology (also covered by the cost of membership). In case you’re interested, the joys of these journals aren’t restricted to members: anyone can buy copies, and the entire contents of issue 5:2 are up online. I’ve included links.

APJ-5-2.jpg Issue 5:2 leads with a wonderful profile (here) by Dan Disney, Un Gyung Yi and Daye Jeon of some contemporary Korean poets, including octogenarian Ko Un, whom Allen Ginsberg called ‘a demon-driven Bodhisattva’. In other articles, Nicolette Stasko farewells JS Harry, who died last year, quoting generously from her work (here); there’s a knowledgable article about Stuart Cooke (here) and a number of reviews, including a piece on US poet and activist Denise Levertov by Felicity Plunkett (here); Adrian Caesar tells the story of David Musgrave’s Puncher & Wattmann (here).

I can’t resist mentioning that Adrian Caesar, who is enthusiastic about most of P&W’s publications, has misgivings about some of the criticism they publish. After quoting a paragraph of dense academic writing from a recent book, he lets fly:

In its determined promulgation of specialised language, its astonishing lack of wit or irony … and its pervading sense of high-minded seriousness, it made me wonder if the writers were not like adherents of some gnostic sect seeking to articulate their search for the numinous through their ‘belief’ in literary theory.

Shades of the Dunciad Minor.

Then there are the poems, roughly 50 of them. I turned down the corners of too many pages to talk about all the poems I responded to, so I’ll just list some of the raisins from the pudding.

Susan Hawthorne interrogates a photograph of her grandmother in ‘unknowing‘. Jennifer Compton’s ‘Two Women‘ explores the difficulty of the ‘inconstant narrative of bewilderment’ created by, well, is it dementia or just habitual white-lying? Ivy Alvarez, in ‘N‘ riffs on ‘n’ words chosen as if at random from the dictionary:

noctambulist:
_______I once walked out a sleeping house
_______to see the moon
_______trees tethered their shadows
_______and I was the only one that moved

Kit Kelen’s ‘In my incunabula‘ reminisces about technologies past, beginning:

TV was eternity.
There was always the promise of snow

Tom Morton’s ‘November‘ is a very Sydney poem, sweet to read on a cold July day:

The days get longer, a sudden heatwave
And the outrageous heavy sweetness
Of the jacarandas on the river path
Jiggles the deadlocks on
Whole rooms of me
I’ve not been in, this long winter

Jordie Albiston rings in the 2015 New Year in ‘strontium‘. Vanessa Proctor celebrates  a plant in ‘Bathroom Orchid‘. Ron Heard tackles birdsong in ‘currawongs‘. John Stokes offers an oblique love lyric in ‘She feels him at a seaside motel‘ (‘The curves of his buttock / and the moon / are the same’). There’s Andy Kissane, Eileen Chong, Ron Pretty … Michael Sharkey has put together a feast that has something for everyone.

APJ-6-1.jpgHe does it again in issue 6:1, which has a focus on women poets and their concerns: a lively article by Carol Jenkins brings an epidemiological approach to gender and age distribution in Australian poetry anthologies; Heather Taylor Johnson profiles Susan Hawthorne, poet–founder of feminist Spinifex Press; Tegan Schetrumpf argues that writing groups offer an alternative to the patriarchal lone-genius-poet paradigm. Off-theme, but who would complain, is a fine tribute by Helen Nickas to Dmitris Tsaloumis, Greek Australian poet who died in February aged 94; and reviews of work by πO and Lesbia Harford, among others.

And there are another 50 or so poems. I got tears in my eyes (though I defy anyone to guess at which poem), I smiled, I gasped, I felt moments of my own experience vibrate into new life.

‘Old haunts’, a haibun by Sam Wagan Watson, evokes childhood terrors at the sounds of the night. J. Richard Quigley’s ‘Fondue’ utters the thought one dare not speak when offered that cheesy dish. Heather Taylor Johnson’s ‘They Say’ makes poetry that transcends its ‘kids say the darnedest things’ source material. Rod Usher has serious fun with Italian verbs in ‘The imperfect’. My own peculiar edginess about kitchen knives is echoed uncannily in Claire Rosslyn Wilson’s ‘Cooking for Two’, and the precise language of ‘Stories from the kampong’, Mindy Gill’s narrative about a chicken-coop-raiding python, captured my own childhood memory of a similar incident (a significant difference being that, though we talked about the possibility, we didn’t eat the snake or the chickens it had eaten). Rozanna Lilley’s ‘Early onset’ touches on the pain of having someone close affected by dementia.The first poem of Brendan Doyle’s that I read began, from memory, ‘Sittin on the gasbox, / waitin for me dad’; in ‘The Wooden Gate’ here, his father ‘dead these sixteen years’ pays a reproachful visit in a dream. ‘Hearts and Minds’ by Stephen Edgar, master of rhyme, bounces beautifully off an artwork currently being created by the Emerging Artist. Dick Alderson’s ‘nail holes’ reminds me of my youthful fascination with the way holes in an iron shed ‘throw circles / on the floor / like soft pennies’.

There’s history: Virginia Jealous visits Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop’s war diaries in ‘Weary’s Birds’; and Judith Beveridge’s ‘Ode to Ambergris’ does what it says on the lid, with lovely light musicality. There are elegiac moments, as in Pam Schindler’s ‘Like someone who is leaving’. In the twelve delicate short lines of ‘Jumhoori’, Hessom Razavi describes a cat and laments the state of his native Iran.

Paradoxically, given that I get no sense at all that these poems are competing with each other, there is a prize fort he best poem published in the journal each year.This issue includes 2015’s winner, Andy Kissane’s ‘Alone Again’, reprinted here with commentary from Andy.

I expect if you were asked to make a list of stand-out poems from these journals  your list would be different from mine, but I’m pretty confident you’d find something here to nourish you and give you pleasure.

Now You Shall Know the Newcastle Poetry Prize Anthology

Dennis Haskell and Jean Kent (editors), Now You Shall Know: Newcastle Poetry Prize Anthology 2013 (Hunter Writers Centre, October 2013)

1nysk The Newcastle Poetry Prize is described on its website as ‘the richest and most prestigious stand-alone poetry competition’ in Australia. It has existed for more than three decades under one name or another, and for some years now the Hunter Writers Centre has published an anthology comprising the winner and a selection of other entries. This year’s anthology, named for Jennifer Compton’s winning poem, contains 27 poems and runs to 140 pages, so it’s distinguished from other annual anthologies by including mainly longer poems.

The book is a feast, and even though it owes its existence to a poetry competition it’s a beautiful demonstration of the silliness of pitting poems and poets against each other so that one must emerge as The Best. Not that I challenge the judges’ decisions: all the prize winners and commended poems deserve to win. But so do almost all the others.

Among many pleasures, there’s a strong element of place in the collection. Jennifer Compton’s ‘Now You Shall Know’ kicks things off with a brilliant evocation of the non-place of a passenger plane in mid-flight. Of the two other prize winners, Karina Quinn’s ‘Always Going Home (a domestic cycle)’ has a section named ‘A nowhere place’, which refers to a very specific not-quite-room in the family home, and among other things the poem is about the power exerted on the speaker by the place that is home; and Mark Tredinnick is in full Blue-Mountains-bardic flight in ‘Two or Three Days with Claude Debussy in Late October’. In Kathryn Lomer’s ‘Vapour Trails over Sassafras’ the speaker visits the Tasmanian landscape of her childhood. The dialogue in Ron Pretty’s ‘Picnicking on the Safety Ramp’ creates a gloriously recognisable rural masculinity; Christopher Kelen’s ‘The Shed’ is a location where a similar masculinity finds solitude; the title of Rachael Mead’s ‘Lake Eyre Cycle’ doesn’t mislead.

Two pieces resonated strongly for me as a north Queenslander.  B R Dionysius’ ‘Unicorns Cross Here’  is a sonnet sequence that tours the north, beginning with the giant statue of James Cook in Cairns and visiting the Daintree and the Atherton Tableland. Here are the opening lines of the third sonnet, describing the environment of my childhood:

Through the silk thin mist, sugarcane fields stand as Roman armies
At the end of empire. Forlorn, thirsty, they occupy the flat ground,
Blades held stiff as they form up, row upon green row in perfect
Drilled unison. A thousand years of domesticating iron has tamed
the wilderness. Axes bite deeper than words, saw teeth whisper in
Death’s white noise. On the hills behind them, the rainforest seethes
In undisciplined chaos; disordered ranks thrown back in confusion.

Where Dionysius is a visitor to cane country, the speaker in Victoria McGrath’s ‘Cane Smoking’  comes from there:

I was cradled deep within the blackened root of something
rank and rich in déjà vu, and my curves and crannies,
like so many cinerary urns, claimed without question
the confetti-ash that drifted inevitably to earth.

Carmel Macdonald Grahame’s ‘Wishful Thinking’ isn’t particularly a place poem, unless you count a certain kind of Catholic childhood as a place. From its first lines

You grew up learning not to say
things you were told you should not think

you know exactly where you are. The poem does what I would have thought impossible – it deals with child sexual abuse and keeps its head, even managing moments of playful wit:

it was never the cat that got your tongue,
it was the catechism.

There’s much more, as they say in the ads. Andy Jackson’s ‘Marfan Lives’, Ian Crittenden’s ‘The Red Soil Elegies’, … Really, it’s a wonderful collection.

Jennifer Compton, Parker & Quink

Jennifer Compton, Parker & Quink (Ginninderra Press 2004)

1pqJennifer Compton was in her mid 20s when she burst onto the Australian theatre scene with her play No Man’s Land, which shared the 1974 Newcastle Playwriting Competition prize with John Romeril’s The Floating World (distinguished company!), was produced by Ken Horler at the Nimrod Theatre in Belvoir Street and, redubbed Crossfire to avoid confusion with Harold Pinter’s play of the same name, was published by Currency Press.

Parker & Quink came 30 years, 3 plays and at least 3 books of poetry later, and has been followed by other plays, other books of poetry. I came upon it by chance, as one still can in bricks-and-mortar bookshops. Time passes, we grow older, times change: that’s a recurring preoccupation of these poems, from the three-line title poem to the 18 stanzas of ‘During the Power Cut I Read, by Candlelight, “Ballade” by Kenneth Koch’.

Parker & Quink: the young might stare at these words blankly, but for us sexagenarians they have unmistakeable nostalgic power to evoke the sensual feel of a fountain pen, the aroma of quality ink, the dubious joys of blotting and smudging, perhaps even the quiet pleasure of receiving one’s first Parker pen as a reward for doing well in a school exam. The title poem, just three lines, draws on those associations, but its tone is more bemused than nostalgic:

Parker & Quink
To write your email address
with a fountain pen filled with ink
like lighting a candle on the moon.

The past isn’t just another country, it’s a whole other celestial body, with unbelievably limited, even ineffective communication technology. Yet to my way of thinking a lot of the poetry in the rest of he book uses just that technology: the kind that needs the reader to come and sit with it for a while, rather than providing instant hits, instant links. The second poem, ‘Imposing the Chat’, starts out with a chat room report of attending a gallery opening where (the capitals are hers)

ALL THE ARTWORKS HAD BEEN MADE BY
THE PARENTS OF MURDERED CHILDREN

I don’t understand chat room jargon, but I think the speaker is thrown out of the room, presumably because her subject is unacceptable. She is left to write in a form where ‘the words do not evaporate out of the top of the page’, where she can’t just shout in performative horror but goes on to grapple with the complex and disturbing experience of attending that opening, talking with some of those parents, remembering at least one of the murders and driving home wordlessly with her husband to look in at last on her sleeping children. As the first line of the poem puts it, ‘It should be hard to write.’ Sometimes candles and moonlight, however ineffective, are what’s called for.

That’s the first two poems. After them, the book touches on many subjects, speaks in many voices, reflects many moods. There are memories of a New Zealand childhood, private acknowledgement from an eminent theatre critic (though we’re left not knowing if this was real or imagined), a touch of Bildungsroman, the imitation of Kenneth Koch I mentioned earlier (a kind of compressed, fragmentary, cryptic autobiography), dreams, dramatic monologues, and perhaps my favourite, an imitation bird call whose title is, perhaps accidentally, three words from James McAuley’s ‘Magpie‘ (the ugly bold here should be in italics, but I can’t make that work in my WordPress template):

Every Morning, Waking
Out in the zero velvet of the night
swinging deep into left field
the first interrogatory of the aubade.

A startle of – Where was I? What!
Then the anxious, enquiring flex,
And am I still a magpie? Yes!

awwbadge_2013 This is the seventh book I’ve read as part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013. I undertook to read six and review four, and I’ve now read seven and reviewed six, so I guess I’ve met the challenge, but as a matter of interest and google fu I’ll keep adding a note when I read an AWW title.

Overland 202

Jeff Sparrow, editor, Overland 202, Autumn 2011

I have one major complaint about this issue of Overland: it won’t be read by enough people. It gets classified, correctly, as of the left, and so there’s an assumption that only people who identify as left-wing should read it. It gets marginalised, when item after item in it deserves the widest readership and engagement. Rather than saying too much, here are a couple of excerpts.

From Guy Rundle’s ‘Open-eyed conspiracy his time doth take‘, a look at the theory and practice (‘praxis’) of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks:

In Assange’s model, the failure of the anti-globalisation movement to challenge the governmental conspiracies that emerged post-September 11 resulted from the very dispersal that they celebrated […] WikiLeaks, in that respect, represents a dialectical development: recognition that a counter-conspiracy,  to  be effective, must decisively reject openness  in favour of an ultra-conspiracy. […]
WikiLeaks’ massive category-shifting leaking is not intended to dissolve governance but to uncouple governance and conspiracy, to make it impossible for governments to fall back on conspiracy as a mode of action.

From Rjurik Davidson ‘s ‘Imagining New Worlds‘ on ‘New Wave’ science fiction of the 1960s and after:

The New Wave [demonstrates] that approaching culture politically (in the broad sense of the term) does not necessarily result in the production of dour and didactic texts. On the contrary, political interventions underpin many of the greatest formal
 revolutions, the most experimental and original work.

From Bob Gosford’s ‘They took our culture – now there is no law‘, one of three pieces on the Northern Territory under the Intervention:

[A] Northern Territory judge who in 2009 considered the effect of the changes to the Emergency Response Act 2007 noted that: ‘the precise mischief that [the section] is intended to remedy is unclear’. He went on to argue that because the legislation precluded consideration of a range of previously acceptable and relevant issues, it ‘distorts [the] well established sentencing principle of proportionality, and may result in … disproportionate sentences’.

From Alexis Wright’s ‘Talking About Tomorrow‘, an open letter to Bob Brown and Rachel Stewart:

I cannot believe that the Intervention can be  justified  when   families  are  leaving their
traditional lands – the lands where they have lived and that they have taken care of for tens of thousands of years – unable to endure the heaviness of government controls over their lives. They are becoming the new gypsies, vilified by residents of Australian towns and cities opposed to having them as neighbours.

She goes on to argue that ‘the only way forward is through treaty-making with individual nations and regions in northern Australia. in particular in the Northern Territory ‘.

From Patricia Gillespie’s ‘[In]Dignity‘, which is largely a graphic account of her elderly mother’s experience with the health system:

From a medical perspective, the treatment for her congestive heart failure – the reason for her admission to hospital – was a success. She was no longer ‘dying’ or ‘drowning’ in fluid. But Marie inherited […] problems such as vitamin deficiencies, suicide ideation, muscular weakness and mobility issues, chronic rash, a bleeding tongue, bedsores and ulcers, which made a mockery of the notion ‘do no harm’.

There are eight wonderful pages of images and pensées from Sean Tan. There’s poetry, including K A Nelson’s ‘Chorus of Crows‘ (winner of the 2010 Overland Judith Wright Poetry Prize, and another angle on the NT Intervention) and  Jennifer Compton’s sweet celebration of the quotidian, ‘I Came Home with the Shopping‘.

Almost teh whole lot is up on line. Have a look.