Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Dot to the Rescue (once again)

The following arrived in my inbox this afternoon. Few greater poets, nor few greater causes, could I imagine for this sun-kissed, rain-drenched yuletide, in an otherwise smoky, fireless, Ashes-less country. 

Spears is a valedictory poem for someone I imagine to be a long-lost family member (they cross your mind when death crosses your path, believe me), and the draft is on auction in Melbourne (details below). The poem in question forms part of what I consider to be Dorothy Porter's most  succulent collection, an effect for which I suspect she was always aiming, but perhaps held in abeyance with one eye on the husk-eyed drones who ran the show throughout her long and electric career.
Drafts of a late poem by Dorothy Porter titled, Spears, will be auctioned as part of the Collected Works Bookshop Christmas Benefit at the Nicholas Building on Wednesday 8 December between 5:30pm-7pm.
‘Spears’ appears on page 64 of Dorothy Porter’s posthumous collection of poetry, The Bee Hut, which was published by Black Inc. in 2009.
Generously donated by Andrea Goldsmith, the auction item consists of:
* Draft 1: Original hand-written version from notebook, initialled and dated 17 August 2008
* Draft 2: Original hand-written version from notebook, initialled and dated 20 August 2008
* Draft 3: Original typescript, initialled and dated 20 August 2008 with editorial comment from Andrea Goldsmith
* One copy of The Bee Hut
Goldsmith said, “Spears is a particularly personal poem. It was written not long after the death of Dorothy's uncle, Hal Porter, and it is dedicated to him.
“The poem recalls a gift of spears presented to Hal by a group of Papua-New Guineans with whom Hal worked closely during the war. It was a gift of which he was rightly proud. On his return to Australia, the spears were burned,” Goldsmith explained.
“Sixty years later, as he was dying, he said: ‘I want my spears.’ Dot found this incredibly moving,” Goldsmith said.
Known for her passionate, sensual and edgy poetry, Dorothy Porter was one of Australia's truly original writers. She was twice short-listed for Australia's premier literary award, the Miles Franklin, and her verse novel The Monkey's Mask is a modern Australian classic. The Bee Hut, her fifteenth book, brings together the poems she wrote in the last five years of her life. By turns expansive and intimate, effusive and contemplative, these poems roam widely: there are journeys into history and to sacred places both mythic and deeply personal.
This generous donation will help to keep Collected Works Bookshop alive.
Plus, customers who spend $25 or more at Collected Works Bookshop between 1-8 December 2010 will go in the draw to win a fabulous range of literary feasts, including:
* Annual memberships with Australian Poetry and the Victorian Writers’ Centre
* Delicious hampers filled with wine, nibbles and books generously donated by publishers and writers
Lovers of literature are also invited to celebrate the importance of Collected Works Bookshop as a part of Melbourne’s literary heritage on Wednesday 8 December 2010 (5:30pm-7pm).
Collected Works Bookshop is a much loved Melbourne institution, which specializes in poetry and literary fiction from Australia, the USA, Canada, Britain, Ireland, Europe, Japan, China and other regions. Founded in 1984 Collected Works Bookshop is a home for readers and writers, a home for little presses, and a venue for launches and readings.
Collected Works Bookshop
Nicholas Building, Level 1, 37 Swanston Street, Melbourne
T: +61 3 9654 8873   E: collectedworks@mailcity.com

Saturday, November 20, 2010

New Poetry by Phillip Ellis

"Dedication (for Clare)"

This is a simple sonnet for you, Clare,
since I have the time to write, and presume
you have the time for reading. I would dare
something spectacular, but that assumes
it is the flash and sizzle that is there
momently, not the lasting taste that grooms
your tongue, that attracts you. I would not dare
speak other than plainly: there is no room.

I have not been brought up to be fancy
or fanciful, but to be honest, plain
and sensitive; that is my nature. When
you hear I had been called nancy
boy, and worse terms, then turn not to disdain:
remember I was still this poet then.


"Polestar (for Clare)"

Time has been passing me with white wine's strength
on a hot summer's day. Such are the ways
of this world: some seasons are cold and wet
or cool and dry, and others are hot, heavy
with sweat, or hot and tinderbox dry. Why,
there are very few seasons which are pure
with beauty, without some sorts of mistakes,
misprisions of climate, such is nature.

But the thought of you can make all my seasons
bearable, the heat, humidity, dryness,
cold and wetness bearable, by some magick,
because, like some fixated, creaking weathervane,
only one direction matters to me,
oh yes, only one direction matters.


"What Truly Never Ends (for Clare)"

I keep wanting to begin these sonnets
with "Time is like..." and so forth. Suddenly
it seems less amusing than wearisome
to me, as if I cannot think about
anything other than this theme, this one
never-ending refrain of story. This
is what it is like for me, echoing
so softly, like cat purrs in hollow rooms.

But what truly never ends for my mind
are the echoes of your name in my room--
the word 'fern' reminds me of your country
for one thing, and ferns are etched in my mind--
and I can't stumble around in my head
without these joyous reminders of you.

- Phillip Ellis 2010

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Collected Works

It has just come to my attention that the bookshop that more than any other has kept poetry alive in this country in recent years has received the red slip from the landlord. 


Collected Works, for those off the eastern seaboard, is a specialist poetry bookshop run by the inestimable Kris Hemmensley, a legendary poet in his own right, and a selfless proprietor, as I can attest from my many dealings with him. 

For those even farther afield, Bourke Street, Melbourne has been prime real estate in the Anglosphere for the best part of two centuries, and I must admit that the survival of a specialist poetry bookshop right in the heart of Bourke Street has helped sustain the illusion in my car park of a head that south of the Murray lies another country........

.......and all it takes is a little custom to sustain the illusion....... 


A recent rent increase has caused Collected Works Bookshop to reassess its future. Make sure this much loved Melbourne institution survives.

Spend $25 or more at Collected Works Bookshop between 1-8 December 2010 and go in the draw to win a fabulous range of literary feasts:
* Annual memberships with Australian Poetry and the Victorian Writers’ Centre
* Delicious hampers filled with wine, nibbles and books generously donated by publishers and writers

Plus, you’re invited to come and step beyond the beaded curtain! Celebrate the importance of Collected Works Bookshop as part of Melbourne’s literary heritage on Wednesday 8 December (5:30pm-7pm). Buy great Christmas gifts and enjoy wine, nibbles and a great night of lit love! A special (free) gift-wrapping service will also be available on the night. Raffle prizes will be drawn at the end of the evening.

This special event is a Friends of Collected Works initiative proudly supported by Australian Poetry, Victorian Writers’ Centre, Hunter Publishers, University of Queensland Press, John Leonard Press, and over twenty writers including Kevin Brophy, Alison Croggon, Joel Deane, David McCooey, Robyn Rowland, Alex Skovron and Chris Wallace-Crabbe.

Collected Works Bookshop is a much loved Melbourne institution, which specialises in poetry and literary fiction from Australia, the USA, Canada, Britain, Ireland, Europe, Japan, China and other regions. Founded in 1984 Collected Works Bookshop is a home for readers and writers, a home for little presses, and a venue for launches and readings.

Collected Works Bookshop –
Fiercely proud
Fiercely independent
Fiercely vital for this City of Literature

Help keep Collected Works alive!

Collected Works Bookshop
Nicholas Building
Level 1, 37 Swanston Street, Melbourne.
T: +613 9654 8873

We look forward to seeing you there!

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

My sense is your non-sense

Alison Croggon makes an oft-repeated yet nonetheless interesting point in her editorial for Cordite magazine's addendum "remix" issue 33.1.

Alison, the only poet of whom I am aware attended Kevin Rudd's hidebound, and for no other reason infamous, "People's Summit" of 2008, conjectures, maybe a little on the cuff, in "Creative Commons 33.1":  We all like to think that we are makers of language, but anyone poking around in the engine of poetry uneasily realises that it is just as likely to be the other way around, that just as DNA shapes our morphology, language is the shaper of our consciousness. Like I said, not the most original thought you are ever likely to encounter, perhaps more prim than piquant, but then this blog is full of them.

Alison makes the point (once again, well worth repeating) that the act of writing can take possession of us, that we become a poem, story, or novel in ways that we never expected when we first put pen to paper. I myself have been a 12th century stonecutter by the name of Lonzo "The Priest" for the past 18 months, a sensation I am struggling to work out of my system now the tale is told and all I have is your bruised ear, dear reader. I am sure anyone who has been in this game long enough knows the feeling. It is, after all, why we persist when the fat cheques keep getting lost in the mail. 

Ms Croggon then introduces the equally familiar Cartesian fugue of body/mind, all in an effort to arrive at the conclusion that poetry's great contribution to the human experience has been its ability to elucidate the otherness of so much of even the most trivial encounter. As so many Ashberrians out there have attempted to prove time and time again, even a trip to the corner shop can be an exercise in this. At the expense of a footnote,

John Ashbery (born July 28, 1927) is an American poet.[1] He has published more than twenty volumes of poetry and won nearly every major American award for poetry, including a Pulitzer Prize in 1976 for his collection “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror". Recognized as one of America's most important poets, his work still proves controversial. In an article on Elizabeth Bishop in his Selected Prose, he characterizes himself as having been described as "a harebrained, homegrown surrealist whose poetry defies even the rules and logic of Surrealism." Although renowned for his complex, post-modern and opaque work, Ashbery has also stated that he wishes it to be accessible to as many people as possible - not part of private dialogues.[2][3]

Thankyou, Wikipedia.......

That much of Ashberrian poetry is dull and nonsensical is neither here nor there, for such poetry invites the mash-up, and that is all our priviliged, miraculous lives really are in the Ashberrian universe. A perfect storm of nothing but physicality and sound and the predictability of another poseur writhing around on some wine-bar stool, open mic in hand.

But perhaps I am being unkind, for serve up any tosh and someone out there will be prepared to devote their lives to it. Poetry has a good deal to answer for in this regard, although I offer in its defence Alison's point that poetry's great strength is its ability to bring out the otherness in ourselves and the world around us, tearing down the veil between universes, mercurial as chance, to which our esteemed editor seems to hinge all hope of success in the issue concerned. As far as the quality of the issue Alison "remixed", I will leave that up to you to decide. The thought of putting any sort of value on it, either in the red or the black, gets me about as dizzy as an ARIA steward in a portaloo.

Which brings me a little closer to the nub of this blog.

I have a long and reasonably-documented history of vertigo. It has plagued me consistently since late 2003 and does not look like going away anytime soon. The world will keep on turning. All my public pronouncements on the subject have been in poetic form, so I was interested to come across an essay by Tony Hoagland in the September 2010 issue of Poetry Magazine out of Chicago. There has been a marked tendency with this august publication in recent years to tend toward the Ashberrian and vertiginous, and it has turned a lot of readers off, but the ambulance chaser in me has kept up my subscriptions in the hope either I or the editorial board in distant Chicago would see the light. My persistence has been rewarded by many poetic jewels, but it is essays such as Hoagland's that I tend to thumb straight for whenever another handsome little A5 issue arrives in the mail.

In his essay, "Recognition, Vertigo, and Passionate Worldliness", Tony Hoagland gets straight to the gist of the matter:

Here are two well-known descriptions of what a poem is, and does, one by (William) Wordsworth, one by (Wallace) Stevens:

Type A: Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings; it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility. 

Type B: The poem must resist the intelligence/Almost successfully.

For the moment I will leave that "almost" of Wallace Stevens to one side. The parentheses are there for the wine bar poseur mentioned above who adamantly refuses to read anything "literary" in which her name does not appear. 

Hoagland asserts rather boldly only three paragraphs into his piece that there are in fact plenty of readers alive and well who seek "a kind of clarification". I assumed at first he was referring to that "otherness" Ms Croggon made such a point of making seem so, well, other. He is speaking, however, of poetry that "helps you live" in this world, and asserts rather boldly that to "scoff at this motivation for poetry because it is "unsophisticated" or because it seems sentimental - well, you might as well scoff at oxygen." He is referring here, I assume once again, to that much maligned school of plain-speaking poetry for which Billy Collins is the poster boy. Neither harking back with any great poignancy, nor looking forward with any great hunger. America as it is. 

Against this, Hoagland sets what he calls the poetry of "dis-arrangement", the school of Ashberry et al. Not so much estranged as flummoxed by the object seen up close. It is "the world in a grain of sand", I suppose, except with strobe lights and microscopes rather than reading glasses and candles. "In our time," Hoagland goes on to say, "this bifurcation of motives among poets has become so pronounced as to be tribal." Once again, not the most original thought that will pass your desk today, but Tony has a point, even if it appears to be at first glance a very American point; the Great Society polarising before our very Spielberg-ed eyes.

As an example of Type A, Hoagland offers up George Oppen's "The Building of the Skyscraper", written in 1965 at the very apex of American triumphalism.

The steel worker on the girder
Learned not to look down, and does his work
And there are words we have learned
Not to look at,
Not to look for substance
Below them. But we are on the verge
Of vertigo.

And so and so and so......

The apotheosis of the artist divorced from the lying, vertiginous world around him. I am beginning to see where Ashberry got his audience. According to Hoagland, Oppen "performs the role of tribal father here...", although he offers no solution, merely a place to stand while the storm whirls around our heads. King Lear or the Falling Man? Well, 

You think you can begin as if it were ten years ago & you were still that person

A woman turns her head to catch a glimpse of her former lover

I offer you the key to a city without words

The guy on trial for rape wears glasses to make him look studious

And thus the world of disjoint according to Lewish Warsh in a poem called "Elective Surgery".

This being Hoagland's primary example of Type B. 

The vertiginous effects of such poetry, the stark and bitter randomness of the associations, Hoagland seems to be saying, is merely a poor substitute for tenderness, merely substituting one conceit for another and leaving the world even more polarised than before.

It is a long essay. A long, long essay.......replete with many examples, and much back-tracking, a compulsion spared we bloggers. But for all his American filibuster, Hoagland still manages to end with something even the most toothless of us can chew on for a while.

Even if we are falling, we can feel fortunate that we have some human company in the descent. Ah, poetry.

Surely, he seems to be saying, poetry's brief days as a divisive force are at an end. If not, then all real talk is at an end, for all stories have reached their conclusion and there is nothing left but sleep. For where poets go the truth will follow, even as far as Fox News, the blogosphere, or that milksop speechwriter waiting in the wings.

King Lear and the Falling Man. There in two tragic icons lie the two schools of contemporary poetry and much else beside. The former screaming toward the heavens and the latter toward earth, neither expecting much for all their howling, but a want of tenderness.