LAUNCHING SPEECH FOR LITERARY CREATURES
[Literary Creatures : Drawings, Poetry, Group Terms : A book of animals in alphabet; edited & drawn by Raffaella Torresan; published August, 2009, by Hybrid Publishers, PO Box 52, Ormond, Vic. 3204]
+ Raffaella Torresan's exhibition, Book Animals (8-19 August,'09)]
Saturday 8th August,'09 at the Victorian Artists Society, 430 Albert Street, East Melbourne.
[Not all of the following notes were used in the speech, nor do some of the spoken comments appear in these notes, as is the way of speeches!]
Congratulations to Hybrid Publishers on the publication...
And congratulations to Raffaella on bringing her idea for the book through to this gorgeous fruition!
I was explaining to a colleague recently my continuing reticence to publish in what can be called authorised anthologies, but had to say I did have a couple of poems in an animal anthology... The 'Contemporary Australian Poetry' perspective gives me problems but 'Animal Poetry' evidently doesnt! There are reasons for this, which I'll touch upon in a moment...
All of us grew up with 'literary creatures' in the poems we encountered at primary & secondary school... For me it was the likes of Shelley's Skylark --"Hail to thee, blithe spirit! / Bird thou never wert...".
And D H Lawrence's Snake, which I'll always remember for giving me the word 'expiate'; that final stanza --"And so, I missed my chance with one of the lords / Of Life. / And I have something to expiate : / A pettiness."
And, of course, G M Hopkins' The Windhover --"I caught this morning morning's minion, king- / dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon..." --Hopkins whom I didnt understand at the tender age but in my young 30s finally got!
The poets in Raff's book are mostly not the Australian canon --apart, say, from Bruce Dawe & Les Murray... And there's Bernard Smith from the highest echelon of Australian art --his Place, Taste & Tradition written when he was 21 or 22 years old, published 65 or so years ago? --as legendary, I suppose, as Phar Lap, the subject of his own poem in the book... But no Judith Wright & co., or what the wider Aussie net could catch.
Literary Creatures is Raffaella's own anthology, a personal anthology of predominately Melbourne & Victorian poets, invited by Raff... As Alan Wearne says in his introduction, "What really grabs me about this book is the wonderful off-the-wall combination of contributors she has been able to assemble; from Les Murray to the late Geoffrey Eggleston via Robyn Rowland and Lynn Hard is quite an accomplishment."
Alan distinguishes between 'big survey' or 'state of the art' anthologies & such a collection as Raff's, the genre collection...
Well, it's the season of the big numbers --the Nicholas Jose Macquarrie, the John Kinsella Penguin, Jamie Grant's 100 Australian Poems, Geoff Page's 60 Classics, but the genre anthology is something else...
I've been thinking about this recently, in another context, & came up with the notion of the affection for the subject propelling the work (the poem, the painting) into whatever expression... As Alan says of the genre collection, "that's when we really get to discover plenty [of works] that are refreshingly different, be they naive or sophisticated... a lot like discovering a new species"...
Readers are in for a treat...
At the risk of offending by omission I'd like to mention some of the poetry to delight me...
No better place than here to quote from Jen Jewel Brown's Nest of Vipers, beginning "Like a hiss of poets snaky at being overlooked / their unpaid brilliance rears / Glittering scales of justice rattling inflate / bare fangs spit venom angst ennui" etc
Becca Kellaway's Ode to a Wombat had me in fits, especially "O! for a cool slab of VB, that hath soaketh / In an esky, chilled by its icy embrace / tasting of angels' piss; but it so inebriateth / Mine mind, that I no longer see her face. / Instead tis thee, Wombat...."
A different kind of poignancy with Kerry Scuffins' Totem Horse, especially the last line, "Let her run, let her think she's free." --which raises enormous & philosophical issues, & the relation of reality & conceit in which we humans hold all animals...
Bruce Dawe's "This dog and this cat / weave their lives / within our own..." ; "we have by now been thoroughly integrated / into their mutual strangeness / (as they into ours)" might extend Kerry's thought...
I liked two kinds of beautiful poem --Eric Beach's wonderful vernacular ear, rhythmic & tonally perfect --"they would've laughed marco polo out of town / if he'd tried to describe a flock of emus / as busy as a fat lady's bum in a tight pair of slacks / in an egg & spoon race..." ; "larrikin bird, disdaining fines, eating fences / strange to see you smoke through an exercise yard / wheeling in humped, broken ranks, one eye cocked / to a sun drilled like a rifle bore..." --And Lorin Ford's courtly, romantic pantoum, Like Bees in the Lamplight, "Too beautiful to put away in the wardrobe, / the Chinese silk dress on the wooden hanger / caresses the mind as water soothes the skin. / Gold butterflies swarm like bees in the lamplight." etc
Many, many others... Robyn Rowland's cuttlefish & sea-horses, Les Murray's Two Dogs, Jenny Harrison's Showering Together, Aileen Kelly's Domestic Geese, Jenny Compton's hens, Phil Motherwell's Cuckoo-bugger sitting in his gum tree, Alex Skovron's possums, Patrick McCauley's platypus, Jordie Albiston's Whale Song...
Some of which we'll hear very soon from the poets themselves, though most are for the readers of the book to discover...
So, let me repeat my congratulations to Hybrid Press, to Raphaella, & to all the poets for a lovely book --which I hereby declare launched!
[Bernard Smith spoke about poetry & painting, & read from memory some of his poem, followed by Jordie Albiston, Kevin Brophy, Barry Dickins, Jennifer Harrison, Marietta Elliott-Kleerkoper, Ian McBryde, Patrick McCauley, Grant Caldwell & Kerry Scuffins. Raffaella Torresan's thank yous closed the formalities.]
*One Summer holiday, when I was about 10 years old, my father & brother Bernard & I, visited Sandown Zoo on the Isle of Wight (then part of Hampshire, in the UK). Mum must have been with the babies. Dad was a fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan stories, which enthusiasm Bernard & I inherited. I had learnt the word 'kadoga', which was how the great apes demanded surrender when they fought their enemies. As we walked around the zoo we passed a pen of llamas. I cant remember whether we were talking about Tarzan, but I looked over the fence and caught the eye of one of the llamas. "Kadoga!" I said threateningly. The response was swift & violent. The llama spat at me full in the face. My hair was matted in llama vomit! My father & brother fell about laughing. We returned to the chalet for me to wash & change my clothes! What is the moral of this story and how does it relate to the relationship of poets & animals?
*The Victorian Artists Society is situated in Albert Street not far from where the offices of the AEU (the Amalgamated Engineering Union) used to be on a terrace in Victoria Parade. I would visit the gallery in 1967 in the company of Loretta Garvey & sometimes Peg Cregan, who worked in the office at the AEU and needed such a place as the VAS to repair their spirits at lunch-time! A particular painter impressed me greatly with his water-colours --wet looking earthy landscapes. McAlpine?
* With Raff's anthology in mind I looked at the beautiful edition of Judith Wright's collection of poems, Birds, republished by the National Library of Australia, illustrated by historic paintings from their own natural history collection. Judith Wright & her lorrikeets... "On the bough of blue summer / hangs one crimson berry. / Like the blood of a lover / is the breast of a lory." Once upon a time when I was a poet, I read on a bill with Chris Wallace-Crabbe & Judith Wright at the May Daze poetry festival at the University of Melbourne, 1974. Her poetry-speaking voice that day reminded me of a crow. She wore a hearing-aid of course but I didnt immediately think of deafness, rather, my English ear registered Judith's caw-caw as essentially Australian --as (Anglo) Australian as the long, long faces of the figures in Drysdale's paintings. "But 'The heart's red is my reward,' / the old crow cries / 'I'll wear his colour on my black / the day the lory dies.'"
August 7/8th, 2009-