The (100) things that sustain us

I’ve followed Austin Kleon’s blog for a while now, and have a copy of his book Steal like an Artist, which even made my 2012 Book of the Year Final Lists, on my stack of references for core texts about remaining creative.

This week, he released his exhaustive (and exhausting!) list of things that sustained him through the wild, pandemic year of 2020′ 100 Things that Made My Year. It includes things like making collages, re-mixing Peanuts comics, making music with his family and the black-out poetry that first grabbed my attention about his work.

It inspired me to think freshly about the things I enjoyed and sustained me through a challenging year. I often do summary kinds of lists of the year (the year in numbers) and, of course, my favourite books and music of the year, but Kleon’s eccentric, introspective list made me think again about those almost invisible things that makes life livable.

One of the ones in my 100, if I can manage that many, is living by the sea. There’s something about being able to walk to the edge of something, to find that thing that borders and shapes and defines and restores.

Now, for the next 99!

Abandoned Picnic Places

IMG_2144

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.

IMG_2142

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.

martin_2018-06-05_19-48-16

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)

philip_martin 3

A Flag for the Wind, 1982

philip_martin

My copy signed by Philip

philip_martin 1

Back cover of A Flag for the Wind

philip_martin 2

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

philip_martin 7

Acknowledgments

philip_martin 9

Back cover with brief biography.

philip_martin 8

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

philip_martin 5

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.