City of Stars

City of Stars

I was delighted today to attend the launch, and read a poem, from a new collection called City of Stars, an ‘anthology of love poems for Frankston’ edited by Avril Bradley.

The new collection is published by Gininderra Press and features poems from Garth Madsen (the unoffical poet laureate of Frankston), Jennifer Compton, Ann Simic, Glenn Harper and others.

I was fortunate enough to have three poems included in the collection: Beginnings, The Day it Snowed in Frankston and The Wedding Train, about the train journey on the Frankston line, loosely inspired by Philip Larkin.

I read the one about the day it might have actually snowed in Frankston, inspired by a story a student named Eloise told me a long time ago.

It was good to hear some of the poems being read aloud, and to get together to celebrate a place that seems an unlikely catalyst for poetry at times. In praise of place.

You might be able to get a copy of City of Stars from local bookshops like Robinsons.

Below from left: Avril Bradley (editor) launches the collection, Jennifer Compton, Garth Madsen.

Avril Bradley Jennifer Compton Garth Madsen

Poetry of the Thirties

What so often happens to me in reading is thar one thing leads to another. As it should.


I recently picked up a copy of Poetry Notebook 2006-2014, by Clive James at Readings and enjoyed most of the essays on poets that he’d felt were important to him over the years; Frost, Edgar, Eliot, Les Murray, Auden. James has a bit of fetish about form and all that, which is repeated a bit, but he always has something interesting to say. At one point, he waxes lyrical over a Louis MacNeice poem, Meeting Point and recommends the Penguin Classic anthology, Poetry of the Thirties, edited by Robin Skelton.

So, I dug out my old copy of that anthology and re-read the introduction and that poem and dippped into those poems from a decade haunted by the rise of fascism and the coming of another war. They are familiar names: Betjeman, Dylan Thomas, Spender, but as Skelton says in the introduction, Auden ‘dominates (this period) from first to last’, and he certainly has more poems in this anthology than any other poet.

My favourite, Lay Your Sleeping Head, later published as Lullaby.


Coincedentally, picking up my copy of The Monthly today, I read Late Styles, a review by Justin Clemens of Les Murray’s Waiting for the Past and Clive James’s Sentenced to Life.

The review labours to make the unsurprising point that Murray is a better poet than James, and takes James to task, describing his work in this collection as ‘sentimental’, ‘self-pitying’, ‘pretentious’, ‘platitudinous’, ‘narrow’ and ‘almost infantile’. My guess is that Clemens see himself as not shirking the truth of the review but really …?

I’d rather not end my thinking about poetry this week with the mean-spirited superficialities of the review of a dying man’s book, but go back to Auden again, and this poem, from 1937, which seems beyond politics, personal or otherwise.


Lay your sleeping head, my love,

Human on my faithless arm;

Time and fevers burn away

Individual beauty from

Thoughtful children, and the grave

Proves the child ephemeral:

But in my arms till break of day

Let the living creature lie,

Mortal, guilty, but to me

The entirely beautiful.

Soul and body have no bounds:

To lovers as they lie upon

Her tolerant enchanted slope

In their ordinary swoon,

Grave the vision Venus sends

Of supernatural sympathy,

Universal love and hope;

While an abstract insight wakes

Among the glaciers and the rocks

The hermit’s carnal ecstasy.

Certainty, fidelity

On the stroke of midnight pass

Like vibrations of a bell,

And fashionable madmen raise

Their pedantic boring cry:

Every farthing of the cost,

All the dreadful cards foretell,

Shall be paid, but from this night

Not a whisper, not a thought,

Not a kiss nor look be lost.

Beauty, midnight, vision dies:

Let the winds of dawn that blow

Softly round your dreaming head

Such a day of welcome show

Eye and knocking heart may bless.

Find the mortal world enough;

Noons of dryness see you fed

By the involuntary powers,

Nights of insult let you pass

Watched by every human love.

W.H. Auden

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.



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.



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



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.


Flying Poems

I’ve put together a little e-chapbook of some poems about flying, some old, some new. Looking back at my poetry over a number of years, I was surprised to see the wonder and joy of flight has interested me for so long. It’s on AMAZON at the bargain price of $4.99 in the Kindle Store.

I’ve got another couple of mini-collections that I intend to publish in Kindle format in the first half of this year, so if you’re not interested in flying, maybe something else later on will get your attention. You can read more about the ‘Flying’ poems below:



Notes on the ‘Flying Poems’

The poems in this mini-collection are all based around flight and flying, something which has always fascinated me, and I’ve mixed up some photographs and sketches in all that too.
Here’s a brief outline of what’s in the selection.

The first poem is ‘Tullamarine Gothic’, a poem that tries to recapture the gothic glory of flying before it became all laminex. Tullamarine is the name of the airport in Melbourne.

‘Prom Bird’ is an imagist piece on the Superb Blue Wren, a beautiful bird often seen at Wilson’s Promontory where I spend some time very summer.

Bats couldn’t be more different to the beautiful blue wren but there’s something beautify and fascinating flight of these big fruit bats that come up from the river every night, so ‘Bats’ is next.

‘Eight Swans’ is a little bit inspired by the Sufjan Stevens song ‘Seven Swans’ and a little bit inspired by the birds themselves, flying high over Port Phillip Bay one night.

‘Swallow’ is another short, quick poem that tries to capture the elusive flight of the swallow as it flits over water.

‘Blocked’ is based on that thud you sometimes hear, when a bird has flown into a window of your house and found it’s path blocked.

When the kids were little I got really interested in kites and we flew them a lot. ‘Kite Flying’ is about the tug of the wind in your hand.

‘Fronts’ describes that jolting feeling you get sometimes in an aeroplane when you hit turbulence and wonders where that turbulence comes from.

Clayton is pretty ugly and industrial, mostly. In ‘Flying Over Clayton’ I felt like I was flying through an alien landscape.

‘Flying Over Europe’ is inspired by a recent trip to Spain. From the air Europe seems a landscape without national borders.

Earlier in 2013 I went to Malaysia and wrote ‘Flying Over Australia’. You seem to fly over Australia forever, and if you have a window seat, you can be hypnotised by the surreal landscape below you.

I love looking at the little map on flights, seeing where you are. On one flight we flew over Borneo and I looked down and saw it. I knew the word ‘Borneo’ because my grandfather went there to fight the Japanese in World War II. And there it was; that’s ‘Flying Over Borneo

In ‘Flying Over American’ I was captivated by the clarity of the landscape and the American names, which are so familiar to those of who grew up with American movies and songs.

‘Flying Over Malaysia’ is more about a brief conversation with the taxi driver than the flight itself.

The final poem in the selection, ‘On the Beauty of Airliners’, like the opening poem, laments the passing of style and elegance in our notions of flight. I do think airliners are strangely beautiful; I’m always amazed they can fly.

Taking Flight


2013-03-25 20.54.16

I got home last night to find two copies of the new anthology Taking Flight on my desk. Edited by Janette Fernando, this is a new collection of poetry from various writers held together by the theme of ‘taking flight’, some more literal than others! My two poems in the collection, Swallow and Flying Over Europe are inspired by the literal idea of flight but other poems in the collection have titles like Flight of Fancy, Climbing, Pilgrim etc. Many of them are faith-based in some way.

Good timing, since I’d just flown in from Malaysia where I’d been at a conference and was still gently swaying to and fro from the eight hour flight. I don’t like much about flying (the queues, the x-rays, the lack of leg room!) but I never tire of looking out the window when you happen on a clear day and a window seat. I took the shot below with my iPad.

Taking Flight is published by Poetica Christi Press Oh, and I’m taking flight again, to Vietnam on Friday, which I’m pretty excited about.