Intense blues walking above Hawker Beach early this morning. There’s a strong offshore blowing and, beyond the shelter of the shoreline, I see the swirls of wind on the water in sprays and eddies, like watercolour paint booms, the sheoak in the foreground.
I was delighted to attend this week the short film festival Flickerfest in Melbourne featuring a range of short films focused on Melbourne, or by Melbourne film-makers.
One such film was Nicholas Denton’s film, The Pillars, set in Mt Martha and featuring a poem of mine as part of the script. The film was well made, well acted and beautifully lit. And it was nice to hear the poem read by an actor, and really interesting to see it in a new and different context.
Its rare for a poet to have work transformed in another medium, so it was a privilege to see my poem in this new light.
This year I began listening to audio books more earnestly, with Reece Witherspoon’s southern-accented reading of Go Set a Watchman and Kenneth Brannagh’s passionate reading of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness showing just how important a good narrator is to this experience.
Elsewhere, I kept reading non-fiction, what my daughter calls ‘landscape memoir’, in particular, and it’s here where I found most of the really enjoyable things although enjoyable is not the word for Primo Levi’s horrifying memoir of life in Auschwitz.
Winner: A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
I’ve enjoyed Anne Tyler’s work for a long time so I was surprised, when I looked back at my list of books over the years, that this is the first time she’s won my book of the year prize. A Spool of Blue Thread is like lots of her work: family, change, the passage of time, the minutiae of a relationship. All the same, someone criticised her; all the same I said, just like Dickens’ work is all the same. It’s tender and moving, held together by the threads of family, tradition and the untugging forces of time.
Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
Like a House on Fire by Cate Kennedy (short stories)
Winner: If this is a man …’ / ‘The Truce’ by Primo Levi
This is a harrowing account of Levi’s immersion into the hell that was Auschwitz in World War II. I’ve wanted to read this book for a long time but felt I have not quite had the strength. I’m sure part of that reluctance was a kind of holocaust fatigue; the Year 12 English course has regularly featured works of this kind, but also, more personally, a fear of facing again these dark sides of our nature. I’m glad I did face it, though several times I found myself in tears.
Sadly, this is not just a dark chapter of history but has lessons here and now, in the alienation and exclusion of the other or, as Levi puts it early on: ‘Many people, many nations, can find themselves holding more or less wittingly, the idea that every stranger is an enemy.’ I’d like to say that this is a story or triumph, recovery and the survival of the individual spirit, and there’s elements of that, but it’s a place of death and defeat and humiliation of the human too. Levi also writes here: “We cannot understand Fascism but we can and must understand from where it springs, and we must be on our guard…because what happened can happen again…For this reason, it is everyone’s duty to reflect on what happened.”
Our Man Elsewhere: In Search ofAlan Moorehead by Thornton McCamish
Rising Ground: A Search for the Spirit of Place by Philip Marsden
Rain, a natural and cultural history by Cynthia Barnett
A Land by Joquetta Hopkins Hawkes
Winner: Have Been and Are by Brook Emery
I’m a fan of Emery’s poetry (he won this award back in 2001 with and dug my fingers in the sand) and this book delivers on earlier writing I’ve enjoyed.
These poems are a little looser, more talky, less certain somehow and a voice of man questioning things that have always felt certain.
Meditations in Time of Emergency by Frank O’Hara
Headwaters by Anthony Lawrence
This list © Warrick Wynne (2016)
Another moment of stillness and calm beauty. Two swallows circling around the little jetty that juts out into the Estuary. I’m nearly finished a longish poem about a journey up the estuary and the beauty of all that, but I doubt I’ll capture that as well as the swallows did this morning.
The same night, a little further along the beach, a sandbank with tiny waves flickering along, transparent and alive as little fish.
I found it very calming, for a few minutes, to watch these lines of energy arriving and dispersing in the late afternoon sun.
I recommend looping this!
It’s been a recurring thread for me in my writing and thinking: the idea that there are things hidden or buried, or forgotten and still intact beneath the surface of things. It’s there in some of my earliest writing, the very title of my first collection, Lost Things, and in images like the abandoned picnic place, the lost highway, Atlantis etc.
So, of course I’d be fascinated to see, last Friday when I walked to the beach after a busy week at work, the fragments and wreckage of past structures that had emerged over the winter at my local beach.
I’d seen glimpses of early constructions before; perhaps a pier, or foundations for a jetty of some kind, but nothing like these full and intact structures that had been beneath my feet all along, all these years.
I took these photos to preserve them, before they’re buried again.
I finished the monolithic biography of Ted Hughes by Jonathan Bate this morning and thought I’d reflect on some of that. At 672 pages it’s an effort, but mostly worth it, except for some of the more arcane analysis, particularly close examinations of notebooks and notebook poems and some tenuous links between life and art.
It’s a bit of a defence of Hughes against the ‘Libbers’ and, despite the fierce instance of the value of Hughes’s work in its own right, he remains a figure connected always with his relationship with his first wife, Sylvia Plath, a connection that’s evident in both the writing and the life lived forever after.
Bate argues that the release of Birthday Letters, late in Hughes’s career, marks a freeing up moment but Hughes didn’t live long enough after that to benefit from that clarity.
As a writer I was very interested in Hughes’s own working mode, his self-scrutiny and reliance on detailed notebooks, and observations of people and nature, many of which seem like poems themselves. This is an unauthorised biography, and it seems the estate did not give Bate permission to use poems in the text, behind the notebooks quoted a lot.
Most importantly, it’s drawn me back to a poet I thought very highly of when those first books came to my attention in the 1980s, and I pulled these two down from the shelf and re-read them both.