Tag Archives: Julie Chevalier

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and sarcasm, poems previously seen in places as unalike as Overland and Quadrant and, the majority, poems previously unpublished.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

Anne Carson’s Float

Anne Carson, Float (Jonathan Cape 2016)

9781101946848.jpgSince I’ve read Float, the 2016 Australian Poetry Anthology has arrived in my letterbox. The opening of Julie Chevalier’s delightful ‘waiting with dignity’ on page 31 seemed tailor-made as an introduction to this blog post:

into one hostage story anne carson crams
a python named robert, zombie slaves,
chinese tourists in greece, putin,
extract of puffer fish, the urge to piss,
the british museum, how boring torture can be
& lapsang oolong falling off the counter.
what an exciting life anne carson must lead

I haven’t read the story the poem refers to yet (Sister Google found it for me here), but having read the 22 chapbooks in Float I’m not surprised that Anne Carson can cover such varied terrain in a short story.

Float is a clear plastic box that opens to the left. When you pick it up with your right hand, 22 saddle-stitched books plus a couple of loose pages cascade to the floor. As you scrabble them up, you wonder if they need to be in any particular order (mostly they don’t). Later you may discover that you missed one or two booklets and a sheet that bears the title page and the slogan: ‘Reading can be freefall.’ Boom tish!

It may sound like a gimmick. Wouldn’t it be cheaper, neater and kinder, to print the 22 pieces conventionally, between one set of covers? Maybe, but this presentation is peculiarly appropriate to Anne Carson’s multi-faceted work. She is a poet, a classicist, a translator, and a script-writer. The chapbooks include essays, performance pieces, the text of lectures, original poems, poems translated from French, and so on. One of the shortest booklets, a single spread titled ‘Performance Notes’, explains the occasions for which a number of others were written: a lecture accompanied by dance and music; various pieces composed for Laurie Anderson, including a poem for Lou Reed’s 70th birthday and another for a quiet occasion after his death; words to accompany or be incorporated into a range of artworks.

Because of the presentation as separate chapbooks, the reader comes fresh to each piece, or small subset of pieces, as a separate work. There’s no temptation to look for an over-arching narrative or other clear coherence. They are all produced by the same mind, but it’s a mind that can focus sharply and interestingly in a striking range of modes and on a vast range of subjects.

Your mileage will almost certainly vary, but the books that most appealed to me are ‘Contempts’, ‘Pronoun Envy’, ‘Merry Christmas from Hegel’, and ‘By Chance the Cycladic People’, though I did also like ‘How to Like “If I Told Him: A Completed Portrait of Picasso” by Gertrude Stein’, a plausible reading of a poem that at first blush looks pretty much like gibberish, and ‘The Designate Mourner by Wally Shawn’, a poem about going to the last night of a play by a friend.

I suspect I enjoyed ‘By Chance the Cycladic People’ because it made me feel smart. It consists of a series of short, numbered paragraphs – the first three are:

9.4. __They put stones in the eye sockets. Upper-class people put precious stones
16.2__Prior to the movement and following the movement, stillness.
8.0. __Not sleeping made the Cycladic people gradually more and more brittle. Their legs broke off.

You don’t rally need to be a genius to figure out that you should find 1.0 and read in numerical order rather than in order of appearance all the way to, as it happens 16.3.3, but I was very pleased with myself that I did figure it out, and discover that a weird, dreamlike story emerges, all the more dream like for the work one has to do to find each step of the way.

‘Merry Christmas from Hegel’ is more serious, a prose poem in which struggling to understand some of Hegel’s thinking offers some relief from the ‘icy horror’ of bereavement by way of a moment standing in snow in a fir wood.

‘Pronoun Envy’ is a poem that looks back in playful anger to November 1971 when a Harvard Linguistics Professor disparaged feminist objections to the pronoun ‘he’ being used to refer to both genders:

_______ ____________As if all
the creatures in the world
were either zippers

or olives,
except
way back in the Indus Valley
in 5000 BC we decided
to call them zippers

and non-zippers.

By 1971
the non-zippers
were getting restless.

‘Contempts’, subtitled ‘A Study of Profit and Nonprofit in Homer, Moravia and Godard’, is one of the larger booklets, a witty and instructive essay that runs to a little more than eight pages. It starts with an incident in 2007 when an unknown man punched an artist and called him a sell-out, and goes on to consider the difficulty of identifying the dividing line for an artist between selling out and making a living, by way of a fascinating discussion of the Odyssey, Alberto Moravia’s novel Il disprezzo (Contempt) and Jean Luc Godard’s movie Le mépris (also Contempt in English), which was based on Moravia’s novel. I learned an awful lot about the Odyssey from these pages, especially Odysseus’ manipulation of the aristocratic gift economy as the motive for his prolonged travels (who knew?), but the real kick was in the discussion of Brigitte Bardot in the Godard movie (young readers may need to be told that Brigitte Bardot was famous as a sex symbol way back, long before she was famous as an animal liberation spokesperson). Here’s an excerpt:

There are, I think, three places in the movie where Bardot puts on a bathrobe. In each case as a single action she shrugs it on, flings the belt around her waist, draws it tight with both hands and leaves the scene. It’s stupendous. She wraps herself and goes. She wins. Every time she does this, she wins the movie. Are you an innately unbounded thing? the movie asks Bardot and instead of answering she wraps herself in boundlessness and exits.

I you want to know what that has to do with Homer, I encourage you to seek out the essay, or indeed the whole collection. I am now determined to seek out Le mépris and watch it again.

Australian Poetry Journal, recent issues

Michael Sharkey (editor),  Australian Poetry Journal, Volume 5, Issue 1 (2015)
Bronwyn Lea (editor),  Australian Poetry Journal, Volume 3, Issue 1 (2013)

apj51

Australian Poetry Journal is a twice yearly publication of Australian Poetry Ltd, which describes itself, surely with a wistful edge, as the peak industry body for poetry in Australia. You don’t have to be a poet to join APL (the poetry industry includes readers), and membership fees cover a subscription to the journal.

This issue is attractively democratic. Award winners with many books on their CVs rub shoulders with people who have had poems published in newspapers and journals. I wouldn’t dream of singling any poems out as ‘the best’ but I do need to give you a taste of some. This is from Judith Beveridge’s ‘Clouds’:

Let blue skies stop their rhetorical grandstanding.
We know they’re filled with the breath of men cocked
and fettled by greed. One by one I call the clouds in.
A cloud for each child hungry, ragged, naked. A cloud

for all exiles whose voices can’t find a single raindrop,
whose eyes are stones that out-weather the past.
A cloud for those in war-ravaged places where shadows
terrorise doorways, and the old live between rubble
and crumbled bread.

Jeff Rich’s ‘Not getting things done’ deals with those to-do lists where some items just got moved from list to list, or projects dreamed of but never begun. The final lines bring it all home beautifully:

Whole careers, projects without plans.
Journeys of recovery and feats of weakness

Pile like chaos in the attic
Awaiting defeat

By distraction and habit and boredom and chance
Four deadly horsemen more real than the rest.

Fay Zwicky’s ‘Boat Song’ responds to the callous feral poetry of a Tony Abbott slogan with child-like rhyming that is anything but infantile. I’ll resist the pull to quote the whole thing:

Remote ideologies send bonnie boats
Like broken-winged birds to our merciful votes.

And we turned them away, yes we turned them away
As we went out to play
In our dead-hearted country, the bounteous place
Where neighbourly love puts a smile on each face.

Apart from the poetry, there are interviews – Paul Magee interviews Samuel Wagan Watson and Josh Mei-Ling Dubrau interviews Julie Chevalier; a personal introduction to Greek poet Tasos Leivaditis by his translator N N Trakakis; a review by Tim Thorne of eleven titles from Ginninderra Press – which expresses gratitude for the publisher’s ‘let a hundred flowers bloom’ policy while being unsparing of the blooms that aren’t up to scratch; a history of another small publisher of poetry, Black Pepper Press, by Margaret Bradstock, who paints a fascinating picture of the critical reception of a number of their books; and three review articles that I found illuminating, especially Bonny Cassidy on Spatial Relations, a two-volume collection of John Kinsella’s prose.

Bonny Cassidy begins her review, ‘It must be said, straight up, that this two-volume publication … is unlikely to attract the recreational reader.’ (And she might have finished it by saying that a smaller, more selective publication may yet bring Kinsella’s prose to a wide and appreciative readership.) I could have said, straight, up that while Australian Poetry Journal might not attract too many recreational readers, any who wander into its pages are likely to be pleasantly surprised.

1apj31Having been pleasantly surprised by Volume 5 No 1, I realised Volume 3 No 1 had been wallflowering on my bookshelf for a year. It turns out to be another treasure trove. I’ll just mention two very funny poems by Anthony Lawrence –  ‘The Pelican’, in which the eponymous bird snatches a Jack Russell puppy, flies off with it

clearly visible through the lit
_____transparent pouch beneath its beak

and swallows it in full view of a horrified human crowd, and ‘Lepidoptera’, in which a gift of butterflies to the speaker’s sister meets with a dreadful fate, with an implied analogy to the frequent fate of poems.

There’s  a section on the poetry of the late Philip Hodgins – an introduction by Anthony Lawrence and then a selection of poems, mostly in some way to do with farming life, and death. A section titled ‘Criticism’ includes, among others, David McCooey on Jennifer Maiden; Martin Duwell – always worth reading – on a book about postwar US poetry; and an essay by Stuart Cooke about stray animals in Central and South America, which I enjoyed but whose title suggests I missed the point: ‘A Poetics of Strays’.

Julie Chevalier’s Linen Tough as History

Julie Chevalier, Linen Tough as History (Puncher & Wattmann 2012)

1lthI just couldn’t get on this book’s wavelength. I appreciate the cleverness of many of the poems, but very few of them speak to me personally. I’m glad I read it to the end, because the poems I most respond to occurred in the final section: ‘crease’, about enduring tensions between mother and daughter; ‘fifteen kinds of infidelity’, which is what it says on the tin; ‘the moon and the stars were our chandelier’, which lives up to its excellent title.

A number of the poems are self-described ‘responses’ to other poems or works of art. ‘Corner of Glebe Point Road and Broadway’ and ‘the day we almost hung’, for example, play with Gwen Harwood’s ‘Suburban Sonnet’ and Frank O’Hara’s ‘The Day Lady Died’ respectively, each line (with one exception in each case) ending with the same word as that line in the earlier poem. It’s clever, and fun, but the effect each time was to send me back to the earlier poem, in whose light the present poem seemed a pallid, arbitrary thing. Similarly, when I read the poems responding to work by Ron Muecke, Diane Arbus, Cy Twombly, Hans Bellmer and Giorgio Morandi, I went to those works, either in memory or by Google, and felt no particular urge to come back. Maybe that’s a problem inherent to ekphrastic poetry, or – more likely – there’s something I’m not getting.

awwbadge_2013 This is the sixth book I’ve read as part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013, but I won’t add this post to the website, as it’s not really a review – more a note that I’ve read the book.

Julie Chevalier: her Darger: his girls

Julie Chevalier, Darger: his girls (Puncher & Wattmann 2012)

1dhgThe Art Student, who professes to hate poetry, recently went to a talk by Julie Chevalier about this book, and was so fascinated by the subject of Henry Darger she bought me a copy.

Darger is a fascinating man. He has a Wikipedia page. There’s a movie. John Ashbery wrote a long poem inspired by his work. Very briefly, he was a reclusive eccentric who lived in poverty and imagined a vast epic in which little girls take on armies and interplanetary beings. Shortly before his death his landlord discovered the bulky volumes of handwritten manuscript, along with the copious illustrations, and recognised a work of weird genius.

This book is an impassioned introduction to his story, or rather Julie Chevalier’s poetic record of her encounter with him. A six page introduction tells Darger’s story, defends him against hypotheses that he was a potential or actual child murderer, and argues that it’s incorrect to think of him as an Outsider Artist. The introduction is exactly the kind of courtesy I often yearn for in poetry books – but paradoxically the prosaic information was so interesting that I sometimes had trouble telling what the poetry was doing beyond reiterating it. Paradoxically again, the single poem that I found most satisfying is ‘an unusual child’, a prose poem made up entirely of phrases taken from Darger’s writing. It’s full of cliché, but generates an enormous emotional, quasi-erotic force:

she seemed for a moment to remind him of his own guardian angel in disguise _ she was smiling up again into his face _ hardened with the desperate struggle he was just then having with himself __ you resemble a guardian angel to me _ when I should be grown _ a man should protect a child _ how come you protect me _ the truth surging over him like the waves of a stormy sea _ breaking down the breakwater upon which he was seeking refuge _ a force mightier than his own will _ a voice in his soul crying out the truth _ that above all else he wanted to reach out his arms to the glorious creature

and so on.

awwbadge_2013 This is the fifth book I’ve read as part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013.