Michael Farrell

Australia, Fitzroy

Material criticism

Peter Minter on the exclusion of modern Aboriginal poetry

Anthology endpapers
Anthology endpapers

At a recent Australian Poetry symposium, Peter Minter showed the importance of a different kind of close reading, the material reading. A video of his talk can be seen below.

Minter points out the numerous Indigenous poets excluded from Australian Poetry Since 1788, a recent anthology (as well as pointing to some other exclusions). He frames the anthology itself as an editors' folly (the editors being Geoffrey Lehmann and Robert Gray, who have made anthologies together before) and as kitsch. But while such terms are subjective, and arguments about the exclusions from anthologies - thought objective facts - seem to boil down to the subjective in the end: it is the ends, finally, that Minter takes issue with. Minter's presentation was a model criticism, in terms of disarming those in the audience who were included in the anthology (assuming any needed to be disarmed) — but the kicker is Minter's discovery that the endpapers (shown as the image for this post, above) are actually fauxboriginal themselves, a folly of settler curtainmaking from the 1950s: they are, if anything is, kitsch. They suggest an Aboriginal design, but merely serve to give a frisson of nativism to a settlement verse project.


'Round Vienna'

Sample image by Melissa Hardie
Sample image by Melissa Hardie

Round Vienna is the title of a new chapbook from Vagabond by Kate Lilley, and reminds me that Vienna airport, (my only experience of Vienna) is round. As far as I know, it's the first solo poetry publication from Lilley since her 2002 Salt book, Versary. It is just 4 poems. Yet the elegant production aside - and the splendid (yet understated) sample of images by Melissa Hardie - it does not feel meagre. Titles are important: and if Vienna conjured Freud for you, the first poem title, 'Fraud's Dora' would confirm it. The title is in a sense a balancing of the intellectual weight of the poems: for we are in the realm of psychoanalytic assemblage. There is a similarity here to the poems of Emma Lew in that the lines seem drawn from disparate (if perhaps fictional) sources, yet they present a tonally structured verisimilitude rather than the feel of a field of fragments. Otherwise they are very much their own woman - distinct in terms of rhythm, sensibility and humour:

she did not scruple to appear

in the most frequented streets

she was in fact a feminist


Sidonie was a lesbian patient of Freud's, and there is a homoerotic coupling between the poem on the left and Hardie's image on the left. (These images are not just illustrations but poetically apposite in themselves, encouraging a reading of the book as visual poetry.)

Magazines #8

overland 204

overland 204 cover
overland 204 cover

My favourite poem from Jill Jones's recent Dark Bright Doors (Wakefield 2010) was the uncharacteristically (relatively) aggressive 'Leaving it to the Sky', which included memorable lines like 'I'm having a yak with a piece of paper'. It showed another side to the generally more philosophical - if problematising - poet. A new poem 'Misinterpretations/ or the Dark Grey Outline' in overland 204 continues to work this mode.

Magazines #7

Steamer 3

Image by Andrew Atchison from Steamer 2
Image by Andrew Atchison from Steamer 2

The third issue of Melbourne magazine Steamer — edited by Sam Langer — features a number of one line poems: my favourite is ‘rocker’ by Will Druce: ‘sssssstay onlike a roa deeeeeee afterrrrthash ow.’ It could be drunk, it could be the beginning of ‘Cherry Bomb.’ Neologisms like ‘onlike,’ ‘roa,’ and ‘afterrrrthash’ suggest a mutating rocker vernacular that gets more interrrresting the more the rocker thinks about what they’re saying. 

Another poem from the issue, ‘token’ by Ella O’Keefe, is one that knows it was written on a keyboard (as much as the hands may remember ‘duck-egg formica’). It interrupts what becomes retrospective lyrical droning to jump up and want something a: ‘Fresh!/Fruit!/Shake!’ Three exclamations suspended by the question of wondering … Having energised the line and mood, new implausibilities may be murmured. We attend to mockery, then we’re collaged onto a tarmac. Single quotes turn into double: a successful ‘lawn-a-concept-centre’ date then.

when a rooster crows

the whole body is used

& it puts you back

in your own

This could be O’Hara with clipped wings or Williams with the strength reversed to the end.

Magazines #6

The Age

The Age: Melbourne daily newspaper
The Age: Melbourne daily newspaper

'Hello darling,' is the enjambed title of Fiona Hile's poem, published in the 'Life and Style' section of The Age (Melbourne's daily broadsheet) last Saturday. This is what I want poems to say to me. At least on Saturday morning. A bonus of being a poet in Melbourne is that the newspaper publishes a weekly poem (selected by poetry editor, Gig Ryan): that week's poet's chance to reach beyond their usual audience. I had a sense that I'd made it (though the underground has many mansions) when I first published in The Age. People read the weekly poem that may never buy a poetry book. They even cut them out.