On the English exam

Well I expect I was just as surprised as my nephew was, sitting down in Sydney for the Year 12 English exam, to see a poem by Uncle Warrick on the paper. He said it was a bit surreal. I said he should have listened more attentively to my infrequent family poetry readings.

The poem chosen was ‘Tractor and Father and Child’, a poem of mine that appeared in my book The Colour of Maps, but I expect they found it because it has been anthologised in a collection called ‘Family Ties’, that came out a few years ago.

I didn’t know it was going on the paper, I expect for security reasons, and got a copyright agreement to sign after the event. All in a good cause I suppose, but I’m torn between fascination with what some of the forty thousand young readers doing the exam might have written about this poem, and fear at discovering what they did write! Or that they’ll all look me up and hunt me down for making their life miserable!

I don’t mind the copyright use for education and all that; and I don’t expect that I’ll be paid much, if anything. Still, it would have been nice to have a QR code or something on the exam for all those kids to look at afterwards: ‘Want to read more? Click here to buy Wynne’s poetry’. Now that would be a marketing coup!

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 Ocean

I heard James Bradley on the ABC Book Show last night talking about his editing of a new book, The Penguin Book of the Ocean, featuring writing from people like Charles Darwin, Elizabeth Bishop, David Malouf and Tim Winton among others.

I’m not usually much of a fan of these theme-based collections (book of the beach, book of towns etc) because I don’t like reading what are usually extracts from longer pieces, of whole novels, out of context. I think it works for a collection of self-contained short stories about a theme, but that’s about it.

But, in the interview Bradley did talk about what he closed the collection with, which was the final scene from David Malouf’s novel Fly Away Peter, where the woman in grief sees a strange image of the future, a surfer skittering across the face of a wave. It’s a beautiful moment and, despite the complexities of some of the ideas, I’ve always enjoyed teaching that novel to Year 12 students over the years. It’s not a novel that’s much about the sea at all really; it would fit just as well into The Penguin Book of the Sky, if one was ever to exist! But that moment was worth remembering, and made me reach for the book from the shelf and look at it again.

Gerald Murnane talks about ‘The Barley Patch’

This week I finally got around to listening to Gerald Murnane talking about The Barley Patch, his first book for 14 years, from the ABC Book Show (October 12). It’s a fascinating insight into the intricate symbology of Murnane’s ‘fiction’: race colours, grasslands, the plains, marbles, meaning within meaning.

The conversation is still online at the ABC for downloading HERE

Syllable To Sound: Poetry As Defiance

Nice to turn on the telly today and see, and hear…poetry. This ABC program focused on the poet as social conscience, rebel and even activist and produced by Grant Fraser and featuring sensitive readings of poems by a great range of poets including:

  • Mandlestam
  • Emily Dickinson
  • Primo Levi
  • Marjorie Agesin
  • Charles Milosz
  • Grant Fraser

Not sure if the piano playing interludes were entirely necessary; I think that poetry isn’t necessarily aligned with classical music, but I wasn’t complaining!