Australian poetry

Nuggets from the interstices

‘Fossick’ is a word I never knew was specific to Australia until I moved to America, used the word, and was met with the subtle flash of confusion that I quickly identified as a polite reaction to alien slang. Fossick is a goldrush word, and it refers to the fine-tuned searching for tiny pieces of gold from rock already processed by other prospectors. Specifically, it is the act of hacking out “nuggets from the interstices” of leftover rock fragments. Idiomatically, for me, it simply names the process of cannily rifling through flotsam for treats: at a book shop, inside the fridge at mealtime, or in the rattish confines of one’s own bedroom. 

When I first conceived this archival project, I immediately understood it to be an exercise in fossicking. My working concept of an archive of poetry and poetics is that, firstly, it exists as a decentralised, often isolated, set of cells. Secondly, the only way to contribute to the archive, much like maintaining a good wet compost heap, is to uncover the matter underneath and contribute new stuff on top. So this project, over the next three months, will aim to discover nuggets otherwise buried and will add new nuggets: by way of these texts as well as mp3 files, scans and images. And finally, my archive is very much an alt-archive, interested in the histories of Sydney that have not otherwise been represented in the city’s official and bureaucratic annuls. Where poetry is concerned, this means I am less interested in bibliographic remains of anthologies, well-known poets or poetry as it is occasionally and uncomfortably grafted onto public events and municipal ceremony. As a researcher, I am always interested in peripheral or lateral relations over hierarchical or generational succession.

John Kinsella

Australian poet John Kinsella. Photo by Andrew De La Rue.

PennSound’s new John Kinsella page features three recordings. One is a reading he gave at Buffalo in September of 1996, introduced by Susan Schultz (5:11): MP3 .

Here are poems Kinsella read:

Warhol at Wheatlands (2:53): MP3
Bluff Knoll Sublimity (2:54): MP3
Aspects of the Pagan (4:43): MP3
Editing (0:51): MP3
Disclaimers (2:19): MP3
Echidna (2:45): MP3
from “Syzygy” (4:57): MP3
Skeleton weed / generative grammar (3:35): MP3

He also took a moment to comment on the tradition of classical poetry in Australia and the slaughter of aboriginal peoples (1:05): MP3. The complete reading (26:19): MP3 is of course available also, but note that  the recording cuts off at 26:19.

Magazines #4

More Rabbit 1

Colour version of a b/w photograph by Nicholas Walton-Healey in Rabbit
Colour version of a b/w photograph by Nicholas Walton-Healey in Rabbit

Tim Wright's poem (see previous post, Magazines #3) plays off a fusion of open field and New York poetics pioneered by poets such as Laurie Duggan and Pam Brown; yet 'Suns' subscribes to neither, nor is antiformalist in the way of his precursors. Rather, I suggest Wright is conceptual, aformalist, in employing a kind of relaxed proceduralism. Which might sound like Ashbery by another name - yet the poem produced is unlike Ashbery's - for one thing, the tone is very different, its play both more random and more active.

Magazines #3


Colour version of b/w photo from Rabbit 1 by Nicholas Walton-Healey
Colour version of b/w photo from Rabbit 1 by Nicholas Walton-Healey

Rabbit editor Jessica Wilkinson has fusslessly put together some of the best newer writers around in this new print-on-demand poetry journal (based at the University of Melbourne). The poems are generously spaced, each poet has their own title (or name) page; there are photographs, reviews, an interview with American visitor Lesley Wheeler (as well as her cracker poem 'Virginia is for Heterosexual Lovers').

Rabbit 1 includes a couple of long, what I call aformalist poems, such as Tim Wright's 'Suns'. The poem is in dialogue with the form of a list, but Wright counteracts that with different deployments of single lines, enjambed lines, short couplets, such as:

sun on John Ashbery, flipping an LP

at a party in the 1960s

Magazines #2

More cordite 35: Oz-Ko

Pattern Recognition 2 by Sebastian Gurciullo
Pattern Recognition 2

Since the proliferation of internet magazines it seems there has been a corresponding proliferation of visual poetry. I'm not sure why. That colour reproduction isn't a money issue is perhaps one, and that we have stopped seeing the visual aspect of text in print. The internet wants to be a movie. One aspect of reading visual poems online is that of movement and perspective.

Magazines #1

Cordite 35: Oz-Ko

cordite 35: oz-ko
cordite magazine

One effect of the virtual departure of Jacket from Australia is the bringing forward of other internet journals such as cordite. cordite has been an innovative presence for years, but I think really took off with its collaborative issues, involving reworkings of each issue, beginning with 30: Custom/Made. They are not the only magazine to invite remixes but they are possibly the only one to invite contributors to post their own poems, and to use comment streams to create collaborative works. This is largely thanks to the genius of managing editor David Prater, currently resident in Sweden.

Born to Concrete

Heide II till 25 September

Eclipse by Alan Riddell
Eclipse by Alan Riddell

Heide Museum has a distinct relationship with Australian poetry. Formerly Heide was the residence of John and Sunday Reed. John was the publisher of Angry Penguins, and so Heide became one of the nodes of the Ern Malley saga.

Poet and editor of overland Barrett Reid also lived at Heide. More pertinently for this post is the fact that the Reed's adopted son Sweeney grew up there and became a concrete poet and poetry publisher. His work forms part - you could say the heart - of the Heide collection of concrete poetry. Reed made explicit use of both Stein and cummings in his poetry; the influence of Ian Hamilton Finlay is also apparent. Reed had plans to collaborate with Finlay when he died in 1979. Though not, apparently, prolific his conceptually dense works suggest a commitment to both the construction of his work, and the construction of a place for his work within poetry (rather than within art which was the more immediate influence: his adoptive parents being art patrons and early supporters of Sidney Nolan, who also lived at Heide. Reed's biological parents, Joy Hester and Albert Tucker were also painters).

Pam Brown on Philip Mead's book about Australian Poetry

From Jacket #37 (early 2009)

Philip Mead, Melbourne, 2008 [photo by John Tranter]

Refuting Critical Bewilderment in Twentieth Century Australian Poetries

Philip Mead’s Networked Language: Culture & History in Australian Poetry is a much needed, dynamic ingression in the tiny field of Australian poetics. Critical writing on poetry in Australia is incredibly scant considering the sizeable publication (and associated activities) of poetry. However, as tiresome as it is to note once more, in spite of its volume and vigour, poetry itself remains marginal to Australian culture.

Practising poets need to read poetics. My own bookshelves house many books of essays on poetry by contemporary North American poets and critics, some European and some from the UK, yet relatively few books on Australian poetics. Strategically, Australian poet-editors use their introductions to infrequent anthologies to gesture towards a poetics. So, Philip Mead is working in a disappointingly small world. In his introduction Mead discusses the dearth of critical writings on poetry and, in fact, of Australian literary theory in general.

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