Tuesday, August 5, 2008


LAUNCHING OF LORIN FORD'S A WATTLE SEEDPOD (published by POSTPRESSED, Queensland, 2008), at Collected Works Bookshop, 25th July, 2008

Thank you Lorin for asking me to launch your little book tonight. Poetry & the little book, poetry & the small press, are inseparable. At Collected Works Bookshop we're partial to little books -- although I do recall Bill Butler, ex-pat American poet, replying to the very excited George Dowden, ditto, in Bill's celebrated Unicorn Bookshop in Brighton, UK --and it was the day that Jack Kerouac's death was reported in the New York Herald Tribune, October,1969, and a shocked Bill Butler had pointed it out to us --and George showed off his new pocket-sized note-book and said he'd write a poem in it, straightaway, about Kerouac's death --Bill said, coldly, I've always thought only small poems get written in small books! George was Ginsberg's bibliographer at the time and even more earnest & expansive in his confessions than his master --but that's another story entirely!
Lorin's isnt a small book in that sense, but perfectly efficacious & elegant within the constraints of its production --and the moments it contains are infinite in their extent.


As ever, an occasion like this book-launching is an intersection of lives & stories. I hope you'll permit me to range around & about book, person & poetry.


We do go back a long way, as they say. Lorin was the daughter of the house I boarded in, back in 1966, in Park Street, South Yarra, around the corner from the Botanical Gardens which she may know I called The Gardens of Sunlight in my personal myth & writings of that first Melbourne winter of my Australian emigration. We became acquainted in the pre-hippy Bohemian Melbourne and from there the trail takes in the La Mama poetry scene of the late '60s, and the counter-culture '70s, and our respective baby sons & their irregular schooling, and our different vantages in the education system... From youth's dream of poets & poetry to the grim & glorious actuality! -- of which A Wattle Seedpod is a shining example... And so into the dream once again...


Thirty-odd years ago, Jim Davidson asked me to write a survey of the new Australian poetry, to introduce my poetry editorship of Meanjin Quarterly. Every few years I have a peek at it as I did the other day. On this occasion I've been embarrassed by my carping & cleaving & general belabouring! I sound like the "wrathful deity", which is how my Buddhist & haiku enthusiast brother Bernard characterizes me when I'm aroused!
In retrospect I've come to realize that militantly pushing a literary programme, a la Pound & Wyndham Lewis, Olson, the Language School et cetera, as I did myself in the '60s & '70s & into the '80s, doesnt necessarily serve poetry well, if at all.
The reason I'm mentioning this is because included in my poetry review of 1976 was comment on some Australian haiku, which might be interesting to recall now.
Having earlier in the article berated Peter Porter & Graham Rowlands, and railed at Richard Tipping & Tom Shapcott, I turned to, or upon, Robert Gray's Creekwater Journal. To quote, "Though the direction is valid [by which I meant the embrace of Japanese but in Robert's case also a Chinese sensibility concerning human affairs & landscape] the contents are lacklustre." I continued, "The motor of the collection is three sets of three-liners [I dont even call them haiku] (...) which instead of firing rather enervate the entire book, ranging in tone from soft to silly, so cliched are some of the subjects and surrounding sentiments. It is these wee ones' failings that explains the demise of the long poems."
Next, I approvingly held up the "meagrely published Gerard Smith" for comparison; and then commented on Janice Bostok's haiku collection, Walking Into the Sun : "though naive and nowhere near as loaded as Gray or Smith," I wrote, "[it] is palpable : 'in summer meadow / this bird silence' is its most exciting and resonant instance. Six words with which to launch a world. Which is the requirement of the forms Gray attempts. Even when you have enough words, they must be the right words" I finger-wagged..
In the years since 1976, I've re-thought & revised my general literary position. I realize, for example, how wrong i was about Robert Gray's haiku & certainly the longer poems. He's said to me that I probably had a point back then, but I think he's being gracious (as befits his name), & possibly facetious too!
Gerard Smith died young, without a book as such. His friend Janice Bostok, who's especially thanked by Lorin in her book, is now a major force in the Australian haiku world.
By 1976, the Sixties' generation of La Mama poets, amongst whom Lorin once numbered, had long dispersed, but their individual paths continued & the spirit carried over elsewhere.


For all this time we've lived in the magnitude of modern poetry. Even in its provinces, ancient Chinese & Japanese approaches (for example, the representation of nature to include human lives, particularly manifest as haiku) have never been too far away. And that's because it was brought out of the exoticised, but crucial, 19th Century interest & into our time by moderns like Englishman Arthur Waley & American Ezra Pound. And so it flows through the Poundian practice, particularly in the US --and it underscores the Objectivists (think of Oppen, Lorine Niedecker), Cid Corman, so also the Beats, Robert Creeley, Larry Eigner, and then the contemporary legions.
And translation of the ancients continues in the wake of Pound by numerous hands --Bill Porter & Sam Hamill amongst the best today. And then there's the Formalist revival, or revival of forms, from the '80s to the present. And coincident with this new formalism, haiku has proliferated as an English-language form. Poetry schools have aided & abetted the process. If pantoums, sestinas, sonnets & villanelles why not haiku, tanka & et cetera? Anyone for ghazals?!


Lorin has been an astonishingly active poet in the past few years of the English-language haiku phenomenon. It's rare not to see her haiku published somewhere in Melbourne, in Australia. She's equally well published in overseas' haiku magazines & anthologies. There seems to me to be something of the Welsh Eistedfott about the haiku scene if only in their competition for prizes & titles..! Lorin's been in the thick of that! She's published a couple of hundred haiku in print & internet magazines, and that spells tenacity & possibly addiction for the form & perhaps the comraderie too!
And at last she has a book! I am surprised something didnt come out earlier --but that's life, as many of us will attest...
A Wattle Seedpod is published by PostPressed in Queensland. John Bird, one of Australian haiku's stalwarts, contributes an instructive forward which contains Lorin's thoughts on haiku, describing her progress from the "so what?" we've all experienced to the "ah ha!" we long for. She refers to the "physical quiver of recognition" upon hearing a particular haiku : "It made me realize," she writes, "that haiku are meant to be 'seen through' by us as readers, to our own experiences in the world."
You'll observe with me that this transparency is in direct contradiction to the Western literary attitude, whether or not fully born out in practice. Poem as existential mirror is a wonderful challenge to the self-conscious postmodern manner, for instance. Of course, in practice, things are never so black & white, but the dichotomy bears thinking about.


"This poet," John Bird says, "does not live in Haikuland. She may well become a haijin who helps move English-langauge haiku closer to poetry." John Bird seems to be suggesting that there's a deficit between Haikuland practitioners & Poetry...
To be sure, Lorin is an otherwise formed poet who has taken up & taken to the haiku. And yet she does endorse haiku's traditional imperatives & their Western evolution.


I'll bring my remarks to a close by opening Lorin's little book upon a couple of my favourites in this first collection.
How poignant is this, for example :

"River sunrise
a girl's shadow
swims from my ankles"

What a beautiful allusion to the 'consciousness of the passing of time' (if I might misquote Gertrude Stein) --the chaste expression grants equanimity even as wistfulness presses on the heart...
Then there's the synaesthesia of :

"clear water --
a magpie's song drops
into the pond"

Simultaneously one sees, hears & feels the event.
And then there's the perfect one-liner :

"on a bare twig rain beads what light there is"

which is, I think, in the vicinity of what Judith Bishop often attains --not Nature Poetry pure & simple but how phenomena is apprehended; a poetry, therefore, of conscious & perceiving being.


And so, I'm pleased to declare this little book published, and now invite Lorin to speak to us &, hopefully, read.


Kris Hemensley, July, 2008.

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