Abandoned Picnic Places


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.



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.


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


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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philip_martin 9

Back cover with brief biography.

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

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Roger Bannister and the Four Minute Mile


I was sad this week to hear of the passing of Roger Bannister, the English athlete who famously broke the four minute mile in 1954. I grew up a little after that, in the shadow of World War II, the British Empire’s last gasps, the ascent of Everest and the four minute mile.

Bannister, boyish looking, amateur athlete, running around the track at Oxford, represented a particular Englishness for me, partly because my father was a runner and told me these stories too. I remembered this week that I’d written a poem that included Bannister a few years ago, so I thought I’d include it here, now.


Child of the Empire

I was born under
The Illusion of Progress,
raised on the outskirts
of a great empire, believing
things improve,
built things endure.

I was schooled in
The Great Tradition
near an airport
where the bright silver vehicles
of the future
descended from the blue.

I was coached in the exploits
of Roger Bannister and Baden Powell
and the self-determination of
Look and Learn
or the steady resolve of Churchill
in the Blitz.

All that certainty unravels slowly
and tangles as it does,
things change before you know them,
a stone, nestled beneath the tongue,
wont get you through all this.


Coming soon, my books of the year

I aimed to read 40 books this year. According to the good folk at GoodReads I’ve read 35, with a couple on the go. I might not quite get there.

Nevertheless, I will be publishing my annual book of the year awards soon! I enjoy looking back on the year and what I enjoyed and, as so often happens in reading, one book leads to another.

You can see my previous winners listed HERE.

Hello iA Writer

One of the constant preoccupations of the procrastinating writer using technology, is finding he perfect writing program.

It’s been a long time since I gave up on the souped-up MS Word to be that tool, and moved to applications that focused on distraction-free, minimalist approaches.

I also didn’t want to end up with all my writing in a proprietary format, even one so seemingly ubiquitous as .docx. For example, I’ve had my poems all archived in a FileMaker Pro database for a long time, but it’s been crashing a bit lately and I began to worry again about having all that writing in a format I couldn’t access easily, and through a variety of software. Hence, the argument for plain .txt files for poems that can be opened by a wide variety of programs. Text is unlikely to go away.

For a while I was recommending the text editor Ulysses, but then it jumped the shark and wanted to start charging on a subscription basis (I’m even reluctant to use that model for huge,complex software bundles like Adobe Creative Cloud and Microsoft Office let alone a text editor), so I started looking around again for a writing tool that had to have the following essential qualities:

  • Writes and saves in plain text (.txt) format
  • Can use simple markdown text commands (I know it’s a bit esoteric, but great if you prefer keyboard command typing and hands off the mouse)
  • Can output to standard file types: PDF, Word, etc.
  • Can output to my standard blog system (WordPress.com)
  • Can be used on iPad, Mac and iPhone using some sort of cloud-based architecture (iCloud, Dropbox) with the main aim being I want to be able to pick up my writing on any device and just take up where I left off.
  • Has a kind of distraction-free mode so that I can focus on just the text on the page and not tons of tool-bars, windows, pop-ups and buttons.

There’s a few that do most of these things, including Byword, but in the end I opted to go back to iA Writer, an app I’d enjoyed a while ago, and has come a long way since I last looked at it closely.

iA Writer is simple to use and good to look at. It doesn’t paralyse you with a thousand typographical choices and can be driven with some simple keyboard commands giving you access to other files and folders (Ctl-E) and a preview of the markdown (Ctl-R) It saves in plain text and you can use markdown commands. All your files are synced in the background and accessible via iCloud syncing that seems to just work. There is some syntax highlighting which I only find vaguely useful (highlight adverbs in the current document and delete them all!) and quickly outputs to Word, PDF, and WordPress.

For longer pieces, iA Writer isn’t perfect, and for those things, and particularly for the creation of Epub files, I’ve recommended Scrivener for a while now. Scrivener seems to be designed primarily for novelists and playwrights, and is a bit over-powered for writing individual poems, but ideal for putting together collections. I’ve used it to create ebook anthologies really successfully.

But for most of my daily writing: poetry especially, but articles and reviews and long prose as well, I’ve settled on iA Writer as that well designed application that does what you want it to do, then stays the background and doesn’t demand your attention.

Writing is always challenging, so anything that can help make the process more natural feeling, and more fluent, is welcome.