Abandoned Picnic Places

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On my walk this morning, along the bay near Safety Beach, I looked away from the sea for a moment, and there was a picnic table half-hidden in the ti-tree. A concrete picnic table, and the stump foundations of the benches that must once have been located along either long side. A forgotten little object, never important even on the day it was built, and mossy monolithic concrete now.

But, for me, there’s always been something about these lost and abandoned places. I’ve written about this before; on Abandoned Picnic Places, Buried Things and The Lost Highway but for some reason they still move me somehow: the transience, the hopefulness, the idea, I’m not sure. I do think that there’s something particular about the picnic place too; that families, or couples, or friends sat here by the sea, in moments that are long gone now.

I stopped, took a couple of quick photos and walked on. But the image stayed with me for the rest of the day. One day someone constructed this. I’m reminded of that lovely imagist poem by T.E. Hulme:

Old houses were scaffolding once
and workmen whistling.

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On Philip Martin and criticism

I was talking to my Year 12 Literature class this morning about Heart of Darkness, its initial critical reception and the polarising re-evaluations since, by Achebe largely, and others as well.

It’s a part of the course called Literary Perspectives, that I initially had lots of reservations about (can we just stick to the text) but I’ve actually enjoyed teaching it and seeing familiar texts in new light.

Later, as I was looking online for post-colonial and feminist readings I thought of a conversation I had with the poet and teacher Philip Martin a long time ago. Martin taught me at Monash University and I’ve written about him here before.

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On this occasion we were talking about the value of critics and I think I said that I liked it when a critic said something that I’d thought or felt, but said it in a way that I never could.

He considered that and replied that, sometimes a good critic can make you see or feel things that you could never have thought of yourself. I liked that answer, and I liked teachers who do that too.

All this made made me think again about Martin and his work. I’m the proud owner of three of Martin’s books, but they’re hard to find, and there’s not much available online.

There is an interview from In Other Words: Interviews with Australian Poets by Barbara Williams available onlinefrom Google Books and a brief biography of Martin on the UNSW site as a guide to his papers. It reads:

Philip John Talbot Martin was born in Richmond, Victoria on the 28 March 1931. He was educated at Xavier College, Kew, 1937-1950, and graduated with a B.A. from the University of Melbourne in 1958. Prior to his teaching career Martin worked at the Titles Office, Melbourne, 1953-1956, and as a Publication Officer at the University of Melbourne, 1956-1960. His teaching career began, firstly as a Tutor in English at the University of Melbourne, 1960-1962, followed by a position as a temporary Lecturer in English at the Australian National University, 1963. In 1963, he returned to Melbourne as a Senior Lecturer in English at Monash University where he worked until his early retirement due to ill health in 1988. During his teaching career he was also a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Amsterdam in 1967, Visiting Professor, University of Venice in 1976, and Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota in 1983. He was a member of International P.E.N., Fellowship of Australian Writers, Association for the Study of Australian Literature, member and former Chair of the Poet’s Union of Australia, Melbourne Branch, 1978-1979 and 1981-1982 and Amnesty International.

From 1962 Martin was a frequent broadcaster of poetry and features on Australian and overseas radio. He read poetry in Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney, Hobart, Denmark, Sweden, Italy, Yugoslavia, England and the United States, and conducted several poetry workshops. He began publishing poems as a student at the University of Melbourne and his poems, articles and reviews were widely published in Australia, Europe and the United States in journals and anthologies. He broadcast both as a critic and poetry-reader, and wrote the scripts for several television features produced by the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

Martin’s publications include:

  • Voice unaccompanied : poems (1970)
  • A bone flute (1974)
  • From Sweden : translations and poems (translated by Martin, 1979)
  • Strava : poems on Attila and the Huns (photocopied from Southerly and published by the author, 1980)
  • Directory of Australian poets 1980 (edited for the Poets Union of Australia by Philip Martin … 1980)
  • A flag for the wind (1982)
  • Shakespeare’s sonnets; self, love and art (1982)
  • Lars Gustafsson (translated by Martin, 1982)
  • A season in Minnesota : poems (1987)
  • Lars Gustafsson : the stillness of the world before Bach (translated by Martin, 1988)
  • New and selected poems (1988).

Philip Martin died in Victoria on 18 October 2005.

I remember Martin as a gifted, articulate, generous teacher who surprised me by revealing that poets really did live in the world.

Some scans from my books of his are below

The cover of A Bone Flute (ANU, 1974)

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A Flag for the Wind, 1982

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My copy signed by Philip

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Back cover of A Flag for the Wind

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The cover  of New and Selected Poems (Longman Cheshire 1988)

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Acknowledgments

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Back cover with brief biography.

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‘Bequest’, the final poem in A Bone Flute, and fitting farewell.

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Walking Discovery Bay

There’s much to be said, and has been written, about the virtues of walking in nature. I’ve written about it myself, read about walking, and it’s something that I’ve always connected with writing.

This holiday break I spent a few days walking sections of the Great South West Walk, a trail in south-west Victoria that’s been developed over the last twenty years. We walked bits of it, day-walks and nothing too arduous, but memorable nevertheless.

Two things resonate me now that I’m back at home: the site of an wedge-tailed eagle making its way along the dune-line. We stopped and watched for whole minutes. There’s a poem coming, though I doubt I can outdo Hopkins’s The Windhover, which was in my mind over and over as I watched.

And, the long walk along the wild ocean beach of Discovery Bay. In the distance the sky was getting black and blacker, surely a storm was coming, and the white of the surf became almost luminous. In four hours on the beach we saw no other human beings.

You can see more of my walking-related posts HERE

Stopping by a lake on a frosty morning

Driving back from Beechworth, via Lake Eildon, I passed this scene of stillness on a cold morning on Lake Nillahcootie. I pulled over and grabbed the camera and a moment later another man pulled behind me for the same reason. We had a conversation, mainly about the need to stop and look when you see something special, and then went our separate ways.

Here’s a couple of the photos. The trees looked to me like ink on paper, calligraphy of a kind.

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Windy afternoon

Went for a walk down to look at the bay after work tonight, with a strong easterly blowing almost straight offshore from the cliffs, making the bay look cold and blue, like metal, and swirling, eddying shapes on the water as the wind rushed over the cliff where I stood.

There was a boat anchored just offshore, just where the wind would have felt a little uncontrollable, and nobody seemed to be in it. Maybe they were diving off it.

Then, walking back, I was struck by the wind high in the gum tree and the sounds the wind made as it filtered through the leaves. I took some videos on my phone and put them together.

There may even be a poem in it.

 

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

Walking in nature

I’ve spent the last five weeks or so travelling, in England and Scotland mainly, doing lots of walking, thinking and some writing. The walking has helped a lot, even though I’ve come back with a sore knee which I think was due to all the steps on Arhur’s Seat.

I’ll post some more about this later, but the two most memorable places for me were the Lake District, with its wonderful walking and Wordsworth connections and Skye (see below) for the sheer beauty of the landscape.

Walking in nature is refreshing, reviving, consoling and inspiring. And, even if it makes your legs sore, or because it does, so so important.

Skye, Scotland