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Saturday, August 23, 2014

'One Hour Seeds Another' brag post


When I was young, I wrote a book. I enjoyed the launch so much, I wrote another one. Then, another. The habit caught until I couldn't kick it. So when I wrote my twelth book, I took it around the country. It also coincided with my 70th birthday, so I stood tall and proud, especially in front of works by one of my favourite Australian artists, Brett Whiteley at the gallery that holds his name in Sydney. 

Now I am back in the country town where we see out our days - Corowa, New South Wales. There are about six pubs here but no bookshop, so I know how difficult it is to go fishing for interesting books.My I boastfully claim mine to be very interesting - Take a look yourself at http://store.walleahpress.com.au  It is a bargain at $20!

Here's one launch speech, by Lyn Reeves, in Hobart - 

Another by Andy Jackson at Collected Works in Melbourne

Novelist and long-time friend, Nicholas Hasluck, launched ONE HOUR in Perth with these words:

REMARKS BY NICHOLAS HASLUCK AT THE LAUNCHING OF ‘ONE HOUR SEEDS ANOTHER BY ANDREW BURKE AT MATTIE FURPHY HOUSE, SATURDAY 2 AUGUST 2014

We are here for the launch of Andrew Burke’s book of poetry One Hour Seeds Another. It might also be said that ‘one book seeds another’, for this is Andrew’s eighth [Ed: 12th] book of poetry and, as I aim to show in the course of my remarks, there are links between the various books which say something about the poet’s style and the nature of his preoccupations.

I am conscious, of course, that any attempt to review a particular poet’s output over many years bring to mind that age-old lament so ably voiced by the poet Wordsworth when he said: ‘We poets in our youth begin in gladness / but thereof at the end comes despondency and madness.’ Fortunately, there are exceptions to nearly every rule. It will emerge from what I have to say that Andrew is an exception to Wordsworth’s dire warning. And when it comes to writing he is more than willing to break any rule that might stand in the way of reconfiguring his life and times. As he notes at page 3 of the book: ‘In poetry, being off duty is part of the job.’ [Bernstein]

I first met Andrew at a poetry reading in Tom Collins House given many years ago. A report of the occasion dated 2 December 1967 refers to the Fellowship of Writers holding its annual ‘wind-up’. It goes on to say that ‘among members who have had books published this year are Katherine Susannah Prichard, Henrietta Drake-Brockman, Griffith Watkin, John Barnes, Vincent Serventy, Gerry Glaskin and Lucy Walker.’ The poets represented at the reading included Ian Templeman, Bill Grono, Andrew Burke, Viv Kitson, Noelene Burtenshaw, Merv Lilley,  Dorothy Hewett’ and several others. So we were in good company that night, and it pleases me to recall the occasion for several reasons. It marked the beginning of some long-standing friendships, and I am conscious also that Andrew has dedicated the book being launched today to his friend and fellow writer Viv Kitson who was there that evening but unfortunately, like some of the others, is no longer with us.

I forget how Andrew introduced himself back then but it may well have been along the lines of his poem Self Portrait which was later published in Soundings, the first book put out by the fledgling Fremantle Arts Centre Press. The poem in question is a deeply introspective piece of soul-searching which reads as follows: ‘mainly have always lived in Perth / have mainly always lived in Perth / have always mainly lived in Perth / have always lived mainly in Perth / have always lived in Perth mainly / born Melbourne 1944.

The photograph that accompanied this and other Burkean poems in the anthology is a head and shoulder shot of a youngish poet with a splendid ‘Ginsbergian’ beatnik beard.  There are traces of that era in the present book when Andrew mentions ‘riding a Greyhound bus / I think of Kerouac and co / in this sparse / Australian landscape on / an air-conditioned coach / reading AA recovery stories / socking water back.’  There was certainly a touch of Ginsberg, Snyder and some of the other ‘beats’ in Andrew’s first book Let’s Face the Music and Dance  which was launched by Peter Jeffrey at the Old Fire Station Gallery in West Leederville, shortly before the Soundings anthology came out. It’s a great pleasure to see Peter Jeffrey here today and to recall that earlier launch, attended by a jazz band and a clamour of general revelry.

These early books were followed by On the Tip of My Tongue, Mother Waits for Father Late and Pushing at Silence. By then Andrew had become well-known for readings at venues all over the city from the Stoned Crow at Fremantle to the Stables in Mount Street and the decrepit upstairs loft off King Street, the exact location of which now escapes me. Wherever it was, it gave heart to poets young and old, although we were sometimes reading mostly to ourselves. In the midst of all this, in Andrew’s poetry, one caught the echo of the contemporary, metropolitan experience – fragmented rhythms, fleeting allusions, quips and parodies, a style affected by what was happening overseas, but with an Australian tone, and with an increasing emphasis upon the ups and downs of life on the home front, the gains and losses of domestic experience and of the workplace.  There is something of this in the books that Andrew brought out later including Beyond City Limits and Whispering Gallery.

Mentions of Whispering Gallery prompts me to recognise in passing the work done by Roland Leach of Sunline Press, a fine poet himself and the publisher of that book. At a time when poets are finding it increasingly difficult to get their works into print, he gave heart to many. I note in passing also that author’s photograph on the dust-jacket of Whispering Gallery presents a scrubbed-up and clean-shaven version of Andrew Burke, but the poetry within – fortunately - continues to thumb its nose at the rule book and goes its own way.

And so we come finally to Andrew’s latest work One Hour Seeds Another. It struck me immediately, upon a first reading of the book, that there were indeed many links to the earlier works, and echoes of former ventures and relationships. The first poem in the book commences: ‘You open my pages. Memories fly out, / roots still growing. Clouds  / float our globe in shapes by the elements. / Start here: we could render them meaningful … /. The reader will find that in many of the poems there is a poignant sense of the past revisited and the youthful foibles of other days. In ‘Under a Black Beret’, for instance, the poet is pictured ‘ … still in my school suit / ordering café noir, s’il vous plait at El Calib / or late night at The Coffee Pot / where they’d put on Oscar Petersen Plays / Porgy and Bess when I walked in.

El Calib. The Coffee Pot. Poems of this kind will have a special resonance for many readers, and it was this that prompted me to return to some of Andrew’s earlier works and various adventures. But one has to be careful in giving too much emphasis to the vagaries of biography. I was reminded of this while reading a piece by the American poet and novelist John Updike. He had this to say about the process of recording the ups and downs of a life, the jobs held, the worries confronted, and so on: ‘The trouble with literary biographies, perhaps, is that they mainly testify to the long worldly corruption of a life, as documented deeds and days and disappointments pile up, and they cannot convey the unearthly human innocence that attends, in the perpetual present tense of living, the self that seems the real one.’

There is much of value in these reflections, and they proved to be of use to me in singling out the merits of Andrew’s book. In this context Updike is using the word ‘corruption’ not as a synonym for malevolence, but simply as another way of describing a process of wearing down or distorting. I take him to be saying that an inventory of the external or worldly events of a life, the mundane matters that may be of interest to a biographer, will leave an incomplete or false impression, for a portrait of that kind is bound to omit a number of interior or ‘other-worldly’ facets of the life in question. For most people, underlying what happens on the surface, is the sense of personal joy or wonder, the moments of illumination, that influence their actions. It takes a poet to bring this home to us by enriching the scraps and fragments of the daily round that remind us of our ‘unearthly human innocence.’

These reflections help me to define a singular quality in Andrew’s poetry, in this book, and in his earlier works. In many of the poems there are autobiographical elements, be they haikus or longer pieces, episodic or carefully structured renderings, light or sombre, but underlying these elements there is a generally a sense of discovery and wonder, one could almost call it gladness. In this way he refutes the Wordsworthian rule I mentioned at the outset and underlines the wisdom of that other rule I quoted earlier: ‘In poetry, being off duty is part of the job.’

With these thoughts in mind it gives me great pleasure to declare that One Hour Seeds Another is now well and truly launched. I urge you to buy several copies, for yourself and for your friends.

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2 comments:

Frances Macaulay Forde said...

Congratulations, Andrew! Looking forward to reading your latest... sorry again I couldn't attend the Perth launch. Looks like NIcholas did you proud!

Anthony J. Langford said...

You've earned the right to brag. A nice speech for your 'eighth' book.

Great shot too, in an appropriate venue. Congratulations on a long career.