Birdcall

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As I blogged about earlier, I joined a good sized audience this week at 45 Downstairs to hear some short fiction loosely focused on the idea of ‘love and loss’, short story readings from Carrie Tiffany, Arnold Zable and Toni Jordan, which were all interesting and 45 Downstairs is a great place to hear writing.

However, I was really there to hear Liam Davison’s work read. And I was so pleased with the choice, a story called Birdcall which was featured in the Best Australian Short Stories 2013, (Blackinc)

It’s a beautiful story, classically about love and loss, but imbued for all of there with the heard-rending sadness at the loss of the author.  It’s a beautiful story, about a father and son, about putting away the past, about connections and disconnections. The central image of the birdsong, and the bird-caller is wonderfully balanced and subtle and restrained, like his best writing so often was.

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It was also beautifully read by actor Paul English (above). It’s not an easy story to read, with its birdsong (see the opening below) built into the story. Easy to get wrong. And Liam’s voice is also hard to read sometimes, the tone matters, and English got it just right.

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It was very moving to hear Liam’s words out loud again, with lots of his family and friends in the audience too. And I thought I held it together pretty well; I really wanted to hear the story and listen to it, listen to it as a beautifully written piece of fiction and not get all mixed up with thinking about everything else around it.

And I mostly did that, but when we got to the passage below I couldn’t help but think of all the writing that we now won’t get from Liam and that hurts. And maybe I lost it a little then.

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Liam Davison featured at Shorts@45

I saw this week that a forthcoming event at FortyFive Downstairs (Flinders St, Melbourne) is going to feature a reading of a short story by writer Liam Davison, tragically killed last year. In my opinion Liam’s stories were among his very best work; his collection The Shipwreck Party is one of my favourites. It will be interesting to see what story they choose and no doubt moving for his friends and admirers to hear his work aloud again and reflect on the work that didn’t get written.

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More details here.


Remembering Dylan Thomas

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I couldn’t let this year slip away without dedicating something to the Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas, who was born 100 years ago in 1914, and who meant a lot to me when I was a young writer trying to develop my own voice, or grow out of his.

Thomas is a bit out of fashion now; that lovable, hard-drinking, hard-partying, womanising? thing looks a bit self-indulgent now, and his poetic legacy remains in some uncertainty; a lyrical poet or someone too in love with the sound of their own voice?

Still, for me, some of Dylan Thomas’s poems were always important, and I was drawn to their voice and lyricism as well as the sense of ‘place’ and the sea that has always mattered in my own writing.

For a little while, when we were first married, we rented an old weatherboard place that overlooked Port Phillip Bay and I spent a charmed summer writing poems that tried to sound like him. While I hope I eventually found my own voice, I still admired Thomas, and even named him in my 2011 list of My Top Ten Poets (though I might revise that list now a bit: Auden up, Donne down)

And, in that first literary pilgrimage, that first trip to Europe when the kids were little, Dylan Thomas was firmly on the trail, along with Wordsworth, Yeats, Eliot, Hardy, Austen, Shakespeare and Bronte. We travelled to Laugharne especially: had a pint of Guinness at the local (I did, the kids didn’t!) and then walked up the hill to the The Dylan Thomas Boathouse and the small, humble white cross of his grave.

Later, I taught Under Milk Wood to senior students and dragged my tattered old Everyman paperback version of his Collected Poems around with me a lot; I even remember someone asking me what I was doing with a book of poetry at a surfing competition at Bells Beach a one stage.

There’s some links below, if you want to read more about Thomas, and below that, one of my favourite Thomas poems, Fern Hill: the text and an audio of Thomas reading that poem.

And, I’ve dragged that copy of his Collected Poems out to look at again today too, before the year tilts away.

The Dylan Thomas Official Website

The Poetry Foundation site on Dylan Thomas

Dylan Thomas 100 Years Festival Site

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Fern Hill

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs

About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,

The night above the dingle starry,

Time let me hail and climb

Golden in the heydays of his eyes,

And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns

And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves

Trail with daisies and barley

Down the rivers of the windfall light.

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns

About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,

In the sun that is young once only,

Time let me play and be

Golden in the mercy of his means,

And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves

Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,

And the sabbath rang slowly

In the pebbles of the holy streams.

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay

Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air

And playing, lovely and watery

And fire green as grass.

And nightly under the simple stars

As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,

All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars

Flying with the ricks, and the horses

Flashing into the dark.

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white

With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all

Shining, it was Adam and maiden,

The sky gathered again

And the sun grew round that very day.

So it must have been after the birth of the simple light

In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm

Out of the whinnying green stable

On to the fields of praise.

And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house

Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,

In the sun born over and over,

I ran my heedless ways,

My wishes raced through the house high hay

And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows

In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs

Before the children green and golden

Follow him out of grace,

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me

Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,

In the moon that is always rising,

Nor that riding to sleep

I should hear him fly with the high fields

And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.

Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,

Time held me green and dying

Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

Dylan Thomas, 1914 – 1953


2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,600 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 43 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.


Abandoned picnic places

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I’ve always been fascinated by those places that time and history has passed by: Industrial archaeology, the stone circles of Celtic Europe, or the smaller, more intimate places, derelict houses or picnic places that have been by bypassed and abandoned.

Near where I live, and cycle regularly, there is a short stretch of the highway that was diverted off perhaps thirty years ago now and replaced by a newer streamlined bit of more modern cornering. The original stretch of highway, that we used to travel on as kids, maybe 400 metres or so long, was just cut off and left to grow over.

Sometimes, riding in the area, I like to take that old detour and explore that old niche. Included in the off-cut was a roadside picnic table and stools, now being overgrown in grass and emerging saplings. Here, I like to think, families would pause in their travels, unpack a thermos and some sandwiches and take a rest. I blogged about it already in 2011 in a post about The Lost Highway.

It’s still falling apart gently. And, I was reminded of it recently when I saw a recent article on WebUrbanist about 150 Vanishing US Rest Stops, which a photographer had been documenting. An admirable project I thought. I heartily approve.

Below, another photos I’ve taken over the years on that theme, a drawing and a poem too. Seems that these ideas keep bubbling up in lots of versions.

Picnic table

Abandoned picnic table

Picnic Place

These families with their picnic baskets,
their kids weightless on the swings
legs flashing in the sun,
think they invented this place,
think they found this place near the bridge
by the estuary where the creek flows into the sea.
They think they found this place this summer evening,
but we were there.

I walk from the swings and the families,
their wine glasses and picnic plates
their kids racing to the jetty,
the last sun shining in their hair,
someone putting on a jumper against the cold.

Up ahead, up river somewhere,
I can hear the beating of wings.

Top: Picnic spot, near Mildura, VIC. Photo: Warrick
Middle: Abandoned picnic spot on ‘the lost highway’, Mt Martha Photo: Warrick
Bottom; Picnic table, iPad drawing. Warrick


My Books of the Year for 2014

I was reading a lot about landscape again this year, and walking. And landscape and walking, preparing to walk in the Lake District and in Scotland, especially in Skye. I wasn’t disappointed.

Non-Fiction

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Winner – Four Fields by Tim Dee

Four Fields is an exploration four different landscapes, from the fens of England to the wind-swept aridity of the African veldt. It’s what my daughter would disparingly call ‘landscape memoir’ or I might call topographical writing. It’s beautifully written, more like poetry than prose often, and in touch with the human and the natural and with a recurring them of birds (Dee is a birder after all) My favourite landscape of the four explored was the fens, mainly because I finally got to see that landscape earlier this year, but it is all beautifully handled.

You can read a review from the Guardian HERE They called it ‘enthralling and unexpected and one from The Independent HERE

Highly Recommended

Swimming to heaven: the lost rivers of London by Iain Sinclair

This began as a monologue delivered as a speech, a pocketbook about the rivers that used to run through London, where they are now, and why they matter still. Sinclair is a poet and walker, I read London Orbital, a while ago, which describes his circular walking journey of London tracing the M1?, and loved it. This is lesser, but any lover of river literature: I’m calling them river

Amsterdam: A history of the world’s most liberal city by Russell Shorto

Travelling to Amsterdam for the first time I’m glad I read this. It’s a kind of sweeping social history of Amsterdam from its earliest founding to modern times, always with an emphasis on what it was that made this city somehow different from everywhere else in Europe, sometimes radically so.

And, I can’t leave the list-making without mentioning Walking with Wordsworth by Norman Buckley, our trusty guide to the Lake District and the only physical book I took on that trip. The walks featured all follow the Wordsworth trails and travels, and are all easily done in a day.

Fiction

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Winner - A Million Windows by Gerald Murnane

Gerald Murnane is difficult. Or I find him so. A beautiful purist who pretends to be exploring the writing of fiction while he’s really exploring his old themes: love, landscape, our place, that place just at the edge of the fields with the road and the sun flashing off the windscreen of a car driving somewhere. However, whereas I found his most recent A History of Books almost unreadable, I found this also strangely moving as perhaps one of our best writers, struggles to capture the uncapturable past.

Highly Recommended

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

I would never have picked this up to read: ‘Meet Balram Halwal, the ‘White Tiger’: servant, philosopher, entrepeneur, murderer … See. I read it because I was writing something about it for a publisher as it is coming on the Year 12 English course next year. And it was better than I thought. A first person narrative that is part thriller but mostly expose of the modern India; a place in the fulcrum of a great change: or this is what the novel says. I’ve never been to India. And there are places described here that I definitely dont’ want to visit. But, after reading this book I also feel that there’s something happening across the Indian Ocean that’s pretty interesting

Poetry

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Winner – Bluewren Cantos by Mark Tredinnick

I like Mark’s Tredinnic’s poetry, an Australian poet based in NSW. He won my poetry award two years ago with Fire Diary, and this is just as good, a lovely looking and sounding collection of poems roughly connected with the ideas of birds. There’s a bit of a theme emerging here perhaps.

Highly Recommended

Swamp by Nadi Chinna

Topographical poetry is the NBT (next big thing) says I. Or is it pyschogeography? Hopefully. This series of poems is based on an imagine walking of the old, built over lakes and swamps of Fremantle, WA.

 


Evan Jones – Selected Poems

A ‘selected’ poems is always an achievement. A ‘collected’ probably more so. So, nice to see news about a forthcoming ‘Selected Poems’ from Evan Jones, to be launched at Readings in a couple of weeks. I’ll be there!

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Evan Jones launch


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