Collusion Book Launch

I’ve always enjoyed Brook Emery’s writing so a new book is always a bit of a treat. Couple that with a trip to my favourite poetry bookshop (Collected Works) and you’ve got me.  Emery’s new book is called Collusion and is published by John Leonard Press. It will be launched on the 4th of September at 6.oo pm.




Roman Wall Blues

It’s funny how one thing leads to another, in life, and in reading. And in writing too, sometimes.

So, sitting down at last to read Luke Davies prize-winning collection Interferon Psalms this week, which I’m luke-warm about (though I get what he’s doing I think, with all the Biblical language and over the top imagery, what they call on the back cover of the book ‘ an oracular language of incantation’) I’m drawn to something other than the Davies work I’m supposed to be reading, a reference to Auden in:

Soaking wet by Hadrian’s wall
I dreamed of sunlight and olive trees
And a comfortable pair of sandals.

[thus said the wise old Wystan Hugh] in Davies…

and I’m drawn back to that poem of Auden’s that I hadn’t read for years.

At first I thought the reference was from ‘The Fall of Rome’, a favourite Auden poem, but a quick refresh finds that Davies’ is referring to ‘Roman Wall Blues’, number 11 of ‘Twelve Songs’, written around 1937, the twelfth song being the famous ‘Some say that love’s a little boy … ‘.

I like Auden, the early things particularly. In my ‘favourite poems’ section of this blog, for example, I’ve talked about ‘Sonnet from China’ and a few others (including, to my shame, the same poem twice, Hopkins’s ‘The Windhover’.!)

So, I was thinking, what is it about this poem that I like? Something of the personification of the great histories of the world into a disgruntled Roman soldier getting a cold in the rain in Scotland? Or, how the great forces of the world (empire, war, the march of history) stand up against time, cold, winter, the forces of nature and time? Landscape, ruins, the decline and fall.

Like the end of ‘The Fall of Rome’, where Auden cinematically cuts to the great uncaring herds of reindeers locked into their own vast migrations, and in other poems like Arnold’s ‘Dover Beach’ and Shelley’s ‘Ozymandias’ there’s something about the sweep of history, the fallibility of the human, the illusion of progress.

All those poems I’ve mentioned above are worth entries of their own, and maybe I’ll get around to that. But, here’s ‘Roman Wall Blues’, which I was reminded of by reading Luke Davies’s book this week. I’m an admirer of Davies work but not this one, but it was worth buying just to be brought back here to Auden

Roman Wall Blues

Over the heather the wet wind blows,
I’ve lice in my tunic and a cold in my nose.

The rain comes pattering out of the sky,
I’m a Wall soldier, I don’t know why.

The mist creeps over the hard grey stone,
My girl’s in Tungria; I sleep alone.

Aulus goes hanging around her place,
I don’t like his manners, I don’t like his face.

Piso’s a Christian, he worships a fish;
There’d be no kissing if he had his wish.

She gave me a ring but I diced it away;
I want my girl and I want my pay.

When I’m a veteran with only one eye
I shall do nothing but look at the sky.

W. H. Auden

Photo: ‘Looking West along Hadrian’s Wall’ from Flickr by Tyler Bell

Australian Poetry Journal

Received the inaugural copy of the Australian Poetry Journal this week. This is the new journal to be published bi-annually by the Australian Poetry Ltd group and it’s a nice start.

I haven’t read it all yet but the first edition pretty much contains a ‘who’s who’ of contemporary Australian poets: Tracy Ryan, Robert Adamson, Sarah Day, Brook Emery, Paul Kane, John Kinsella, Mike Ladd, Anthony Lawrence, Les Murray, Geoff Page, Ron Pretty, Peter Rose, Alex Skovron et. al. If I have a tremor of doubt it’s because it is such a typical sounding line-up in some ways, but I’m hoping to find some new voices too.

I suppose that’s the tight-rope a journal walks: to balance the new writers with the established and well known. The back cover lists four writers: Robert Adamson, Christian Bok, Maria Takolander, Clive James and Les Murray.

It’s mainly poetry too, with a ‘spotlight’ feature on Robert Harris and three pieces of lit-crit. The editor is Bronwyn Lea and it’s a nice start though how it stands up agains the new ‘gorgeousness’ of the new Meanjin or even Island is up for grabs. It doesn’t look as good; in fact, this is defiantly text-only and I’m not convinced of the paper either, nice recycled idea, but a bit plain somehow. Like the cover, which may be doing some kind of academic retro thing and mimicking an early edition of Poetry Australia or New Poetry. It will be interesting to see how it develops.

Available here


Speaking to Blue Winds

Following on from the recent posts and comments on John Shaw Neilsen, I was pleased to the ABC Radio National program ‘Arts Poetica’ featuring Neilsen’s work this week. They describe it this way, and I think you can listen the program online HERE

John Shaw Neilson is widely regarded as one the great Australian poets. Neilson was himself the son of a bush poet. He was born in Penola in South Australia in 1872, and became a bush labourer at 14. He worked for many years alongside his father as a surveyor and fencer in Victoria and South Australia. On one occasion the pair nearly died of thirst near Scorpion Springs when they ran out of water while out in the field. As he walked, Neilson composed verse, committed to memory and refined them over long periods -up to two years in some cases. Such was his attention to the metre that he would often have to dismount from his horse in order to find the appropriate rhythm through his feet.
John Shaw Neilson interpreted the Australian landscape with awe and wonder, capturing the mystery and beauty he saw in the harsh Mallee country. Many of his poems also celebrated the birds of the district, notably the Smoker Parrot; so it comes as no surprise that his poetry has an uncommon musicality. His emotional landscape encompassed the isolation, loss, loneliness, joy and contentment of bush life. Neilson was active as a poet for the first thirty years of the new Commonwealth of Australia, and died in Melbourne in 1942.
In Speaking to Blue Winds, ABC producer Christopher Williams joins writer Paul Carter and painter John Wolsely as they retrace Neilson’s footsteps in the North-East Victorian Mallee country around Lake Tyrell. Neilson’s poems are read by Rory Walker.
John Shaw Neilson is also a central character in Paul Carter’s radiophonic drama Mac, which will be broadcast in Airplay to coincide with the 2011 Mildura Palimpsest, where a re-mixed version will be featured as a sound installation.

Top: Wimmera light, photo by Warrick (2011)

The Wing Collection

I was pleased this week to be able to get to the launch of Diane Fahey’s new and selected poems, The Wing Collection, published by Puncher and Wattmann at the venerable Collected Works Bookshop.

I’ve known Diane for a long time (I met her originally at residency in Varuna in the 1980s) and have admired her poetry, especially her poems of place and the natural world. And, with nine collections already out, a selected poems was about due.

It’s a nice looking book, and it was good to see some of her best poems all together in one place. She read some of them, including a series from the Hummingbird series, which I enjoyed.

Below: Diane, reading from the new collection at the launch.

Lines for Birds

I took the opportunity this morning to head into Melbourne on a beautiful Sunday morning for a session at the Melbourne Writers Festival. I haven’t been in the last couple of years, and good poetry seems to be in scant supply in this age of fashionable fiction, but the collaboration between poet Barry Hill and artist John Wolseley on a book about birds did appeal to me.

I wasn’t disappointed. Lines for Birds is a beautiful collaboration. The poet and artist spoke for about an hour, showing images from the book and reading poems. It was an odd and amusing double-act and one of those rare occasions when the poet sounded sensible and rational alongside the artist who was eccentric and somewhat rambling and ill at ease with the workings of the projector, but whose work shone with vividness and lucidity that occasionally elicited audible gasps from the small but appreciative audience.

And the poems were good too, mostly it seems following the artist’s vision and responding to the works of arts even more directly than they were responding to the birds. It was well worth the short journey in and great too to see the long lines of Melburnians waiting to hear Jonathan Franzen in another venue. Writing, it seems, is alive and well despite our uneasiness about the rise of the e-book.

And this lovely looking book, with its colour illustrations and beautiful use of white space, is not any time soon going to be replaced with a digital version. I bought a copy and was happy to have it signed and happy too enjoy the delicate little ink drawings Wolseley had put around the title page of some of the copies for sale.

I should add too that it was interesting to hear the artist talk about John Shaw Neilson and his poetry given that I’ve just been thinking about Neilson and his work and that I’d even quoted from one of Neilson’s poems about birds in the previous blog post and that was before I even knew about this session. Birds, landscape, poetry, art, they all ripple out and echo in together somehow at the moment.

John Shaw Neilson

The recent discussion about great Victorian poets, and in particular the Wimmera poet John Shaw Neilson prompted by comments from Daid, has got me thinking about Neilson again.

He came out of the Wimmera in Victoria. I was up his way earlier this year and for me he’s always a presence for me in that landscape. There’s a small memorial to him near Nhill that I like to visit when I can. He came out of that featureless landscape and his poetry is quintessentially part of it and beyond it. Some of his best pieces, like ‘The Orange Tree’ have a beautiful lyric quality that seems to come out of an older culture: Ireland or Scotland to my mind.

There doesn’t seem to be a collection of his in print, if Amazon is any guide, so you have to look at anthologies of Australian poetry to find his stuff. Which is a pity. You’d think in these days of e-books that publishers would be looking at their back-collections and releasing them in digital format. I’d love to be able to donwload Neilson’s selected poems as an e-book and look at those poems all together again.

I’ve got Chris Wallace-Crabbe’s anthology The Golden Apples of the Sun – Twentieth Century Australian Poetry  (MUP, 1980) and he includes ‘The Orange Tree’, ‘Song be Delicate’, ‘Native Companions Dancing’ and ‘May’. Hard to see these as twentieth century poems in some ways, but lovely nevertheless. This is one:

Native Companions Dancing

On the blue plains in wintry days
These stately birds move in the dance.
Keen eyes have they, and quaint old ways
On the blue plains in wintry days.
The Wind, their unseen Piper, plays,
They strut, salute, retreat, advance;
On the blue plains, in wintry days,
These stately birds move in the dance.

There’s not much around about Neilson; an entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, a small Wikipedia article, a reading list from Middlemiss, which does have link to about half a dozen poems, and that’s about it. I suggest if you see one of his poetry collections in a second hand bookshop in your travels, that you grab it.