Thursday, September 30, 2004

Miriam Lo's 'Against Certain Capture'

Five Islands Press does a magnificent service to Australian poetry by publishing first editions by promising young poets. Not only that but (if I remember the gig right) they workshop the manuscripts they choose to publish live, one-on-one with each poet, in Wollongong.
I taught last year with a charming young mother, Miriam Wei Wei Lo - and now I hold her first book in my hand from Five Island Press (otherwise known as FIP). It is a beautiful collection - yes, I mean 'collection' - centreing on the stories of two women from different worlds whose 'histories and genes coalesce in the body of the author, as she stands at the far reaches of her family tree and looks back with wisdom, courage, and always with tenderness' - these quoted words from Bronwyn Lea on the back cover. Dennis Haskell says above these words, 'Miriam Lo's work provides a new voice in Australian poetry, that of an Asian-Australian woman, with a woman's sensitivity towards family and the relations between women down the generations.'

It is certainly a big book in intention and scope even though it is just 32 pages long. I find Miriam's syntax gentle yet strong, and sensitive to the tale at hand each time. And her diction is so unobtrusive you never notice the words - just what they're saying. This is narrative poetry in a contemporary manner, with imagery that works particularly well because it is so accurate. I get the feeling these poems come from much talking and emotional research - although I would hate you to think they are showy or flashy. They are subdhued yet strong as befits the tales they tell.

Enough of my waffle: a quote is called for here. A Chinese son has received a letter from an Australian girl, Susan, and the mother is apprehensive ('Someone strange has come in and sat down in their coffeeshop.'):

His mother thinks of how words
flow out of a body and carry the ghost
of fingers, a face, a heart.
She thinks of the words that have etched themselves
on the walls of her life: I surrender,
We are at war; the words that weigh heavily
on her tongue as she stands and watches
the face of her son: I love you, Come home.
Come Home.

- from The Letter, pg 15, Against Certain Capture (ISBN 1 74128 055 9)

This tenth series of 'New Poets' from FIP makes a total of sixty poets who have had their first poetry book published through this innovative program. The list is difficult to choose from, but many of the names have gone on to publish further books and to win prizes and make a name for themselves. To be published at all as a poet today in Australia is an achievement in itself!
The other poets in this tenth series are Lucy Alexander, Janine Fraser, Katarina Konkoly, David Musgrove and Jen Webb - names we don't know of - yet. This series is highly competitive as you can guess - so Miriam Lo's achievement is even greater.

Strangely enough, the idea of Miriam as a novelist popped into my mind as I read these poems - just as Michael Ondaatje has developed along both lines. But for the moment, Against Certain Capture is certain to win much applause and (hopefully) many readers.

This is Lilly, shot by Conor O'Brien in Vancouver - poster girl for 'The Ceiling Is Getting In The Way Of The Sky' Posted by Hello

Cassandra 'Traveling Miles'

As workmen bend domiciles around me to the shape of their owners' dreams (with weapons of mass demolition) I'm trying to listen to Cassandra Wilson singing tracks either composed by Miles Davis or played by him. It's titled Traveling Miles, and is a brilliant CD, given to me as a gift by Murray Jennings for a milestone of some sort recently. My favourite track is ... changing everyday. Some of the titles that Miles' fans will be familiar with include Run The Voodoo Down, Time After Time - yeah, the Cyndi Lauper one - Seven Steps to Heaven, Someday My Prince Will Come - She does take a few lisences, like renaming tracks, so Blue In Green becomes Sky and Sea, and Tutu becomes Resurrection Blues ... But she tells you this, and puts the old title in brackets behind the new ... It is a wonderful CD from Capitol Records (1999). Go listen - I think you'll buy it.

Artrage Photography

I'm looking forward to seeing an exhibition of photography from Ben Sullivan, Michael Payne, Amanda Maxwell, Ed Whatling, Ryun Archibald, and Conor O'Brien as part of the 2004 Artrage Festival in Perth. The exhibition is called The Ceiling Is Getting In The Way Of The Sky, and it is on at Art House Gallery, rear 51 James Street, Northbridge (behind the Blue Room Theatre). So it is easy to access by train ... It opens 8 October and runs until 1 November - 10.30 to 4.30 daily ...

The photo on the poster is good but isn't attributed. I'll try to catch it to post it here.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Not fair to take a girl's photo when she's just got up ... (Leia before the Big Walk) Posted by Hello

Rosa looked up from Bela's camp ... Posted by Hello

Instant Poem

Snapshot (out of sink)

today has been
topped off with
two pork pies

after a morning
doing a community
centre wash-up

with a one-armed
young lady wiping
up. At uni I put in

claims for teaching,
and talked drumming
with a first year

percussion student
with pill-popped eyes
in spring sunshine

who wanted to know
if I had any African
equipment ... I have

masks, I told him,
many masks, but
you've seen many

of them already.
He looked puzzled
then broke into a

smile. Ahh, he said.
Yes, I said. And
we stood there goofishly.

Off Silliman's Blog

Ah, this caught my eye this morning ... on Ron Silliman's blog:

The argument Duncan wishes to make is this: poetry fails when it seeks only to include the rational.

I must say I like poems when they are untranslatable into prose. It's not exactly the same thing, but in the same ballpark - or footy field, as we'd say.


Yesterday I went to see 'Somersault', the first full-length movie directed and written by Cate Sutherland. I wasn't as enthusiastic about it as many reviewers I have read. The direction was great; the acting by Abbie Cornish and Sam Worthington was excellent - very credible characterisations; the sensory detail was very physical, as it should be; but the storyline let it down. It started nowhere and returned there without really shaking me up at any point. I wasn't surprised once, and this from a man who reads a lot but doesn't go to movies all the time ... It is easy to surprise me in a movie, and this one didn't at all. Not once. (Have I made myself clear? :-)

But it did what filmic art should do on one basic level: it looked great. The dialogue was good, and the acting was good, so what am I griping about? I was disappointed in the plot. If I saw it as a script, I would have asked for a whole lot more 'story'.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Gwen Harwood Competition

Hurry! Deadline fast approaching for entry into the Gwen Harwood Poetry Competition. Details and entry form available at

I met Gwen over here in Perth once when she was visiting our writers' festival as a guest. The schools had bussed in loads of senior high school students, and their teachers were enjoying a day in the sun out of the classroom. No doubt they expected Gwen to 'do' In The Park and Suburban Sonnet - but the mischievous Ms Harwood read parodies of her work instead! I must say I was disappointed too, but after so many years of being asked for the same poems and reading them time after time, I can see her position as well. She IS a great poet. Enter the competition in her memory. I do hope you get second prize ...


‘o rose / thou art / sunburnt’

blake’s out
on his longboard
catching the rhythm

ezra’s returning
serve to
back of court

frost’s on the porch
paddock one

while eliot’s
in the hatroom
desexing cats

steven’s has a special on
single cones

looking for a jam

released in
a new jacket

while cassady
is pouring
over maps

smiles buddhaly -
such goings on!

Monday, September 27, 2004

Lorikeets singing 'Inside Looking Out'

In my great tidy-up and shelving of books, I came across an anthology of poems in a very simple format: A5, photostated pages, many typed all in caps, plastic spiral binding, simple typographical cover, with the title printed lower case in 10 pt Palatino or similar many times down the page as a column, then larger over the top in a hand-script typeface: Inside Looking Out. It provoked mixed thoughts in me as I held it and flipped through the poems and very short stories. These were entries in a competition for the Lorikeet Clubhouse Poetry and Prose competition 1999.
The Lorikeet Clubhouse is a facility where people who are set adrift from a psychiatric ward or other hospital ward for pyschological or emotional problems can come and learn new skills, or simply socialise - with guidance - with others. When I was involved in judging this great little competition, the clubmembers had a lot of help from staff in computer skills and people-skills. I thought at the time how many other people in our society could do with such guidance - learning to get on with each other, and accepting other people's rights and 'place in the queue'. But I won't pretend to be a social worker - I was simply judging a competition where the entries were from people with less opportunities and often less education than other competitions I had judged. Did I say 'simply judging'? There was little simple about it. What yardstick do you bring to bear on such work? Literary judgements pale into insignificance in the face of the emotional whack of some of these poems. In the simplest of diction, and often with tortured syntax that John Berryman would have been proud of, they lay their emotions on the page. (By the way, when pondering what to print in the booklet, we decided to print the lot - they were all winners! We did give out prizes, and commendations, etc., but we printed all the entries in this delightful booklet.) Any arrogance I may have had in the role of judge in the many other competitions I had judged before went quickly out the window. I was floored and brought to tears often. The entrants didn't have the techniques needed to hide their emotions or to dress them up in layers of literary allusions and fancy figures of speech. I felt inadequote and all at sea - these people had 'the drop on me' (to use a Western expression), and it opened up my heart: I was used to judging with my head.
So that experience has made me now careful how I judge students' work, and how I respond to new work friends may send me for some response. The kindness and encouragement other poets have shown me in the past - and I think particularly of Dorothy Hewett, Tom Shapcott and Les Murray - I now try to pass on to others. Of course, some people recoil at any criticism you may make, but even they (often) come back later and say they agree with you.
I think it was Ezra Pound who said he didn't like 'professional poets' - he preferred 'amateur poets' - and he named about three or four. I wish I had a better memory, but I think the list included William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore and (perhaps) DH Lawrence. What do these poets have in common with my Lorikeet entrants? They delight in the simple things of the world, and express their delight in straight forward language that doesn't put the reader through unnecessary linguistic or literary hijinks. But I had better check-up on who those poets were Pound classed as 'amateur'. (If you know, I'd be pleased if you sent them to me via the Comments device at the end of this posting.)
This is not to say I only respect the simplest of simple poems. (Or, indeed, the abstract and self-serving critical explorations of such poems by literary hawks.) I enjoy wrapping my head around complex notions and feeling the force of a strong, vibrant intellect working. But I do take issue with poetry that is simply a head trip.
One of the greatest delights I get in Oz poetry is the work of Kevin Hart. He can make abstract thought a physical reality - not simply a superficial physical mask, but thought as a living organism transported to the reader through language. Ah, my expression doesn't do him justice, but if you go to his work you will see what I mean - and enjoy it too, I trust.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Shelving books

Yesterday I wrote to 'PoetryEtc', a poetry discussion list - 'But, like Doug B(arbour), the books I need to reference this are in boxes. Still. I'm a lazy sod. Andrew' This admission somehow got me off my butt and I spent last night shelving books - not in the right order, mind you, just as the hand found them out of their carton boxes. As usual, surprising juxtapositions came up: 'The Dance of Intimacy' next to 'Teach Yourself Writing Erotic Fiction'; 'The Art of the Tale' sits next to 'Waiting For Godot'; and a comfortable coupling with 'Over The Fence' neighbourly with 'Standing With Friends'. I had to do it 'blind' or I would have stopped and reread Vallejo, Popa, Beaver, Oz ... ahh, I've forgotten a lot of the content of books I once read.

Sleep is not so much a necessary item at the tail end of the day you're in as the next day ... today.

In my shelving of books, I came across an old notebook. It started out so tidily with a quote from Donald Hall: Every flesh is flawed and poems are flesh (from 'The Poet's Notebook'). Then there are instant notes written at some outback poetry reading, somewhat messier, but still vaguely tidy ... My favourite from these pages is this:

There's a cow in our words
at the rural reading -
Chinese ancients,
four wheel drives ...

Then all tidiness dissolves and there are notes written rapidly in a client meeting for a copywriting job. One of these notes resonates for me about the contents of this notebook, and perhaps all my wide-ranging writing - 'Check out for menu changes'. Different moods bring different meanings to the same phrase (there must be a swag of literary theory on that somewhere!)

And in this notebook is a page of Japanese sayings, cadged from a book in an upstairs study at Varuna Writers Centre when I was there (set in the Blue Mountians at Katoomba). I'll share a saying a day, starting with - 'It is better to be the beak of a hen than the tail of an ox.'

16 to 60

Talking to my childhood sweetheart
on my mobile phone
I remember the sweet smell
of her sex

and get a pimple on my nose ...

The body has memories

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Playing the Haiku Game

Here are some rushed notes on haiku I wrote for a local magazine, Word-Thirst (from KSP Writer's Centre's Thursday group, ed. B.J.Thomasen). A friend of mine just asked me for notes on renga, and I came across these. Hope it is useful to somebody ... I'll post some renga notes up tomorrow.

All literature is a game. And as with PlayStation games and great sporting contests, a game wouldn’t be anything without The Rules. Some games are light on rules – like draughts; some games are laden with rules and traditions – like chess. Some games are competitive, like footy; some are simply there for their process – solitaire. In literature, we have a mixture of this – some of it is partly a team effort with the reader and some of it is the satisfaction of ‘winning’ the game yourself. Literature is not a contact sport – well, not often!
So, haiku is an esoteric slice of literature. It is a game which is short to the eye but may be long for the hand. There are thousands of rules, and most of them don’t translate well into English from the Japanese. So we shall have but a few rules.

Way back in Japan, the rule was first line, five syllables; second, seven; third, five. In modern times, haiku has relaxed this rule. But from the outset, Japanese onji – the equivalent of our syllable – was never as long as a lot of our syllables – eg, bough, slow, discrete. It was more like the syllables in ‘po-ta-to’. Five seven five English syllables could be half a novel to a Japanese person! Modern haiku in English attempts three five three – and sometimes in one line.
Another time-honoured Japanese rule was a season word in the first line – like cherry blossom or the snow on Mt Fuji, a heron flying over, or a still lake. They have dictionaries of season words in Japan – but a simple nature reference is now equally acceptable in modern haiku in English. And a local Australian nature reference is NOT a cherry blossom – more like a wattle in bloom or a redrock breakaway.

The essence of haiku is more important than its hat size. It is more important to get a couple of images working against each other to create a moment of 'illumination' for the reader. (Sometimes one of the images is only implied and not stated.) Be specific. Don’t tell things – Show them.

Not-a-haiku would be –

I am sad
Because my cat
Died …

Haiku would be –

Dead cat –
Open mouthed to
The pouring rain …

So the reader feels sad – it is transference of emotion in as little amount of words as possible. Now – don’t look haiku up on the Internet. Mainly they are horrible. Look up these addresses first: , and this one with lots of links in it

References: I must acknowledge that most of what I have said is said much better in The Haiku Handbook, by William Higgenson (Kodansha International (JPN); Reissue edition (February 1, 1992) ).

Comments on Comments

There seems to have been some problem with Comments. I can only think that the earlier postings had an obligation to join-up whereas I stopped that and made it so anyone can comment now. Hopefully if you wish to comment you will comment on the item itself, and therefore avoid the earliest postings. That may well fix it. Here's hoping!

Friday, September 24, 2004

Comments easier

Well, we live and learn. Jill Jones of gave me the clue to adjust my 'comments' settings so readers don't have to sign in to speak up. Great. Now it is so easy for readers to contribute ...

Thanks, mate.


I've been reading a production version of a collection of poems and prose reminiscences this morning - dabbling with it when I should have been writing. I pick up books to put them away - and read them. I know I'm not alone in this, but it made me rather sad this morning to think of all the people who will never see this feltschrift. It is a wonderful collection for a good friend of Western Australian literature - William Grono. (His sense of humour is one of his many graces - I once wrote a review where he featured as a poet, and I called him 'Bill Grono' in the review. He wrote me a letter (snail mail) in which he said: Dear Andy - my name is William. Regards - Bill.)
This book is to mark Bill's 70th birthday. Phew. How the years flick by ... He has retired from teaching at ECU and a million other outback schools and teachers colleges, and a million past students are thankful for him for any of their interest in WA lit especially poetry.

This book carries salutations from Peter Porter, Roger McGough, Robert Drewe, Randolph Stow, Fay Zwicky, Merv Lilley and lesser knowns like Phil Salom, Hal Colebatch, Adrian Caesar, Lou Klepac, Glen Phillips and myself ... and pieces from his family and teaching colleagues. It is all so damn witty and skillfull that it would make a fabulous book to publish.

Bill's beautiful and charming wife, Janet, did a grand job in lassooing all the contributors, and fielding their contributions, which were then put together by their techno-whizz grand neice, Jodi. Of course, the photos are amazing - going right back to 'First Day at School'.

The only piece I am probably authorised to print here is my own, so bear with me.

Playing Knuckles

They're selling postcards of the hanging ...
Literary movements were slower then,
The Fifties took till the Sixties to hit town -
They're painting the passports brown -

First pub, then publishing, the work
In network sub-textual, the forked-tongue
Of language tripping over its dancing feet,
dragging itself through the Negro streets

at dawn
, and landing like The West
on dew-decked, sunburnt lawns.
To teach, we must first learn -
And in the learning, earn.

To play knuckles, someone must lose.
Volumes yellow and gather dust.
It's no trick of daylight arguments,
Or the brief disguise of midnight mints.

Time is in our blood, halting rhythms
Thick'n'thin like copperplate writing.
Rumours lie in fact. To many, the same -
Faceless dice in a bored game.

Oh time enough when the blood runs cold ...
How are your trousers? Cuffed or unfurled?
'New' poems are neglected and old,
The New Critics repackaged and retold.

It always was dangerous, tying
Time to titles - like trying to hold
The tides back. Each moment new
Unwrapped, and placed between two

Other presents. The literary tree
Grows from its bucket, decorated
And daubed with schools and schisms,
The aging pages of the ... isms:

The 'logues of life lick by
In their passion and spit.
At midnight it comes down to this:
A last shout and a quick digress.

... but how I wish I could show you the entire manuscript.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

day one

Today I was looking at Jill Jones blog Ruby Street and wished to comment on something she'd said. So I pressed buttons with my usual amount of care - none. Here I am with a 'blog'. Go figure.

So now to fill it with meaningful comment. I'm mostly into poetry and poetics, so that'll be the main focus, but my recent sojourn into novel writing may lend some sidelights about the relationship between prose, poetry and the 'real' world. These are my concerns on a daily basis, so drop in occasionally and see what I'm ranting about, meditating on, or shamelessly stealing.


Shopping with Leia

Here's a little 'snapshot' poem I wrote yesterday after babysitting my grand-daughter Leia. I love taking her for a walk and, even though it was overcast, we went walking again yesterday up to the local shopping centre. She loves bananas and fairly screamed the supermarket down when I was busy trying to pay for the shopping and not giving her her next 'nana!

Shopping With Leia


her lip hasn't healed from last week
but i dress her in
day nappy, striped tights,
purple turtle neck
-now, hold your head still! -
the littlest jeans
and a denim jacket
fringed with fake fur -
'L.O.V.E' embroidered on the back -
shiney new dark tan shoes ...

last week she fell
down the little steps:
I wheel the perambulator
(hightech model, three giant wheels)
carefully to the path
where little drops of rain
tell me its raining -
so light
we don't feel it,
so warm
it evaporates as it falls ...


the check-out chap
raises both eyebrows
as she screams for more 'nana
and i ignore her,
paying the total,
trying to stay cool in
public embarrassment ...
sweetheart that she is!

grand-daughter and grand-dad -
what a picture -
not for the back
of my next book ...

there again -
maybe it's the cover shot