This year’s reading (in pictures)

Such lovely covers. This is what GoodReads said was my reading this year. You can follow my reading here

This year's reading

My 2013 Books of the Year

Just in time for Christmas shopping, my books of the  year awards!

Non-Fiction – Robert Macfarlane – The Old Ways

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Fiction – House of Earth – Woody Guthrie

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Poetry – Picnic, Lightning – Billy Collins

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Read the details of why I liked these, and the other contenders HERE

A Place in the Country

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So, it was back to WG Sebald this week and another book, A Place in the Country. You don’t have to have read this blog the very long to know that I’m a big fan of Sebald, so anything new, after his tragic early demise, is a bonus.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a new novel, the but does Sebald even write novels anyway? They describe this book as ‘fusing biography essay, and finding, as ever, inspiration in place.’ In this text Seebaldt reflects on six of the figures who shaped him as a person and as a writer, including Rousseau, Robert Walser and Jan Peter Tripp

Like all good books, this one had me scurrying to the internet to find more about the people I was reading about, and sent me to some bookstores to order more books. I known about Rosseau and his terrible exible, but much of this text especially around Keller and Robert Walser was new to me.

But just as important for me was the way this text opened up new windows and new insight into Sebald’s own work. When talking about Robert Walsler Sebald writes: ‘I slowly learned to grasp how everything is connected across space and time … Walsler’s long walks with my own travels, dates of birth with dates of death, happiness with misfortune, natural history and history about industries…’ Sebald depicts artists, like himself, who have an interest in locality and exile. Sebald is fascinated by those who, like himself, devote their lives to literature, ‘the hapless writers trapped in a web of words’ who, in spite of everything, nevertheless ‘sometime succeed an opening up vistas of such beauty and intensity a life itself is scarcely able to provide’.

Place matters intensely for me too, but also very the ordinary detail of life that appeals to Sebald: the mundane, minute details of beauty and sadness are also here.

Nest

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I called in to the ‘Nest’ exhibition at the McLelland Gallery near Frankston this weekend, and was glad I did. It was a bit wet for a real walk around the sculpture garden, but the ‘Nest’ exhibition was good enough by itself.

It consisted of two parts: “Nests: the art of birds”, curated by Dr Janine Burke, which describes itself this way:

What are nests if not art created by nature? Guest curator Dr Janine Burke has devised an exhibition which explores the beauty, ingenuity and originality of birds’ nests – from magpies to honeyeaters, from chaffinches to parrots, from hummingbirds to African weavers. Sourced from the collections of Museum Victoria and from the private collection of Gay Bilson, these exquisite constructions reveal the lives and habits of our closest wild neighbours. They tell the story of birds’ survival and adaptation to our ecologically fragile planet.

Nest displays the architectural skill of birds, their consummate ability to make work that is both delicate and durable, as well as the astonishing array of materials they use. This exhibition invites audiences to connect with nature in a new way – observe nests in all their resourcefulness, diversity and elegance.

The actual nests are beautiful and diverse, sometimes haphazard looking as a pile of leaves, other times as precise as a piece of pottery. I loved one that was wrapped in silken spider web and lined like an elaborate cushion. They were presented in glass cases, labelled, like they were art. Which was the point I guess.

The accompanying exhibition is called ‘Air Born’ and is described as:

AIR BORN brings together a vibrant collection of 19 contemporary artists’ work who through their varying artistic disciplines are inspired by birds, either as subject or who emulate through their work aspects of avian habitats and rituals.

Birds have played a vivid role in the conceptual and spiritual life of many cultures. AIR BORN inspires an exploration of these cultural traditions and symbology by unravelling varying ideas surrounding the bird and our interaction with them. The themes presented in these works traverse art and cultural history as well as ideas of adornment, volatility, migration, environment, place and identity.

My favourite piece here was John Wolseley’s larger watercolour. I’ve seen his work before, and have a copy of ‘Lines for Birds’, a collaboration between Wolseley and writer Barry Hill, which I also really enjoyed. There’s a short profile of Wolseley here.

I also grabbed a copy of Burke’s book Nest (Allen & Unwin, 2012) while I was there. It was a nice way to spend an hour or so and really interesting blend of the natural, the art and the written word.

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First look at Regime

Even in the digital age I’ve always felt that paper wasn’t going to go away; and that the physical object still has a nice kind of solidity and texture all its own.

So, it was good to get the first edition of new WA magazine ‘Regime’ in the mail this week and actually get to touch and feel it, and to see my poem there included too.

First impressions: nice paper, creamy kind of, good choice of fonts (printed in the USA?) and a really interesting (and contemporary, given the recent landing of Curiosity) cover: an image of the surface of Mars, courtesy of Mars. I always knew Western Australians felt isolated at times, but Mars?

And the content? Well, I haven’t read it all yet but am impressed so far with poems by Andrew Burke, Virginia Jealous, Rosalie Kiely, Yannis Hondros and Peter Jeffery (I always start with the poems!).

And, if there’s a theme or distinguishing kind of feature here, maybe its hint is in the cover and its reminder of worlds beyond ours, as some of the interesting stuff I’ve noticed here first has an almost historical kind of long-lens at work; of worlds before, after and alongside ours.

You can order your own copy of Regime #1 here.

Dylan’s Visions of Sin

It too me a while but I just finished Bob Dylan’s Visions of Sin by Christopher Ricks; a pretty intensive literary critique of some of Dylan’s work, and its poetry. It takes the idea of sins: envy, greed, sloth, lust and also some virtues: justice, prudence, temperance, fortitude to frame a close critique of Dylan as poet.

And, ultimately, that’s what I like most about this book; that it takes the idea of Dylan as poet completely seriously and begins from that premise. Ricks has written on Milton, Keats, Tennyson, Housman, Eliot and more and he weaves that understanding into the study of Dylan’s work as well as others too, like Larkin and Wordsworth particularly.

And, like all good criticism, it took me back to the original songs/poems again. To Dylan as an ‘heir to the romanticism’ of Blake and Keats, to the subtleties such as Ricks’s favourite Dylan rhyme, ‘Utah’ and ‘Pa’ in Sign on the Window and to extended explorations of key songs such as impressive extended line by line comparison of Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale and Dylan’s Not Dark Yet which sees Dylan as a natural ‘succession’ from the Keats poem, just at Keats himself might be seen as a successor of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73: ‘To set Dylan among the poets, there with Keats, is to give both poets their due. Not as a matter of the culture wars. But because gratitude to Dylan is at one with his gratitude to Keats. Gratitude disowns envy’. (369)

And, I wish I’d had this answer last year when I was asked by a student, for the twentieth time in my literature teaching career, ‘Do you think Shakespeare REALLY meant all this?’, about intention:

‘And then there is the age-old difficulty and problem of intention. Briefly: I believe that an artist is someone more than usually blessed with a cooperative unconscious or subconscious, more than usually able to effect things with the help of instincts and intuitions of which he or she is not necessarily conscious. Like the great athlete, the great artist is at once highly trained and deeply instinctual. So if I am asked whether I believe that Dylan is conscious of all the subtle effects and wording and timing that I suggest, I am perfectly happy to say that he probably isn’t. And if I am right, then in this he is not less the artist but more. (7)

I found new songs too; how did I miss ‘Blind Willie McTell’ all this time? In fact I’m putting a playlist together, based just on the songs that I’ve looked at freshly again from reading this book.

Patience (after Sebald)

I’ve always been a W. B. Sebald fan (just check my Warrick Book of the Year Awards if you don’t believe me!) so it was a real treat this week to see the film ‘Patience: After W.B. Sebald’, a doucmentary that traces some of his walking through East Anglia for his wonderful book, The Rings of Saturn, which was on as part of the Melbourne Film Festival.
A grainy, mainly black and white, rather creative homage to Sebald and the landscape that inspired and somehow frightened him, I recomend it highly and it did that thing that all good homages do: make you want to go back to the original text and read it again.