Friday, April 25, 2008


On Thursday, 1st May, 08, at the Bookshop, Giramondo Books, distributed by Tower Books in Australia, in conjunction with Collected Works, presents the launching of Michael Farrell's new collection, A RAIDER'S GUIDE. Justin Clemens will do the honours. Time : 6 for 6.30; Venue : Collected Works Bookshop, Level 1, Nicholas Building, 37 Swanston Street, Melbourne [adjacent to the Victorian Writers Centre & Retro Star Clothing]. Enquiries & rsvp, Kris Hemensley, 03 9654 8873.
We've hosted a spate of book launchings over the past few months, including THE BEST AUSTRALIAN POEMS 2007 (published by Black Inc) in November, with Peter Rose, this year's editor, m/c-ing the proceedings; Paul Kane's A SLANT OF LIGHT (published by Anthony Lynch's Whitmore Press, Geelong), launched by Chris Wallace-Crabbe, in January; Ouyang Yu's collection of prose, ON THE SMELL OF AN OILY RAG : Speaking English, thinking Chinese and living Australian (published by Wakefield Press, Adelaide), launched by Rodney Hall, in February; CROAK & GRIST (published by Paroxysm Press, Adelaide), featuring the short stories of Shane Jesse Christmass & Hop Dac, presented by Daniel Watson, kicking off March, followed a fortnight later by another Whitmore Press event, the double launching by Philip Salom of THE PALLBEARER'S GARDEN by A. Frances Johnson & A TIGHT CIRCLE by Brendan Ryan; Stuart Armstrong's THE MYTH OF OPHIUCHUS (published by Rebus Press), launched by Garth Madsen, at the end of March; and in April, two books published by Salt (UK), John Mateer's ELSEWHERE, launched by yours truly, & Javant Biarujia's POINTCOUNTERPOINT : New and Selected Poems, launched by Dmetri Kakmi.
These launchings represented one of the busiest periods of the Bookshop's recent history. There's a business angle of course : as the bricks & mortar bookshop continues to be threatened by the internet, we need the occasion of the book launching to attract people through the beaded curtains. The event reminds old friends that we're still in existence and introduces new people to the Shop. Good turn-outs, good sales boost the Shop's morale as well as its coffers! We continue to pay our bills, order new titles, and so the show (nearing 25 years) goes on! The launchings are also our contribution to Melbourne's poetry culture. Collected Works is the poets' bookshop after all : our original sub-title was "Writers & Readers" (replaced many years ago by "Poetry & Ideas"). Different manifestations of the scene gather, accessible to the readers, the poetry lovers. Poetry is read & discussed, the wine flows, people mingle.
Our events are part of Melbourne poetry's public weave, sharing the stage with Readings bookstores, the Melbourne Poets Union events held next door at the Victorian Writers Centre, the Australian Poetry Centre's events at the Glenfern mansion in East St Kilda, the St Kilda Eco-centre readings, and the regular gigs at such venues as La Mama, Passionate Tongues, the Dan, Babble & many, many others.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


"The Merri Creek
A wise wince in the landscape
A complex cavalcade and gallery folded into the
Melbourne plain"
[John Anderson, the forest set out like the night, Black Pepper Press, 1995]

"The braille of the poet's words brushes my fingers and moves through them into my different calligraphy. The calligraphy tells less than the fingers feel; 'sumptuous despair' loses its dark glamour as the hand falters after it. But the hand loves the contour, tracing obscure lineaments, translating them into language. Is the language signed? Only namelessly by its century & its country of origin, influencing invisibly the contour it felt. The hand is anonymous, mine and not mine, even if my name signs what it has written."
[Helen Vendler, from the introduction to Soul Says, Harvard University Press, 1995]

"In the wintertime the Rat slept a great deal, resting early and rising late. During his short day he sometimes scribbled poetry or did other small domestic jobs about the house; and, of course, there were always animals dropping in for a chat, and consequently there was a good deal of story-telling and comparing notes on the past summer and all its doings."
[from The Wild Wood, chapter 3 of Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows, 1908]




Quest for the morning
In dingy establishments
Yearning, crying, missing
Watch the gold woman
So sad to be left out


Stapled to the lapel
Were found the only words
She'd ever written
In a fit of rage
A pilgrim's song


Seething with anger
He mowed more furiously
Revisiting the sordid
Collection of clappers
Transparent as glass




getting wrapped up into a mermaid's tail of newspaper
in Ettalong Scout Hall, in the shadow of Blackwall Mountain
a place before known to me only from the outside, waiting
for my brother, carried in for a needle and carried out wailing
when he was of that age,
but when I am there, I am chosen for my smallness,
to be turned into a half-fish, half-girl
poured into broadsheet newsprint, exultant
to be swaddled in paper, with my feet inching forward
half a floor board at a time, so happy it is me
from all the supplicants to be the winning Brownie mermaid,
and then so perfectly, when it is done
someone comes in a car and takes me home.


All those brave blue mornings that I was,
all those hopelessly soft sunsets
you fell through, the blaze of lastness
with the lake bleeding into twilight's black and white
while the highway sped past all sharp corners,
speed and mesmerism, as something waltzed languid
and wondering through our blood,
burning the idea of ecstasy into a slow reverberatory neural
loop bridging two hemispheres of cells
that was me, the language that we are.




At the small

Figure perched

On the cave's ledge


Her hair

A bundle

Strapped with

Cord and

Saffron robed

Marking a life

Over seventy years

Facing Ganesha

[Batu Caves, Malaysia, 2006]




It's a Lewisham mid-afternoon,
clear-skied mid-winter. In the park,
reading poetry and a British non
photographer's history
of American photography.
There are children
running noisily between the trees,
bored with the see-saw,
the roundabout, the sandpit.
Page nineteen of Pam's Selected Poems 1971-
is now a palimpsest.
At the start of the poem,
Pam quotes Ginsberg, and,
pencilled-in below, -- poet.
They have circled Pam's benzedrine /tequila,
and scrawled beneath, also circled, drug
and alcohol. The children's father
is naming the eucalypts to his wife,
and she calls to the kids : Jaiden! Brianna!
Back to the table!
Their shadows lengthen.
Pam proclaims, and our reader,
the book's first owner,
has inscribed : Pop star (cult heroes -- drugs, etc).



Laurie Ferdinands, lives in Melbourne. Contact,
Carol Jenkins, lives in Sydney. Her work is published in Island, Heat, Southerly, Cordite, Antipodes, & various online journals. First book f'coming in '09 with Puncher & Wattmann (Sydney), Fishing in the Devonian. She is the publisher of the River Road Press audio-CD series of contemporary Australian poets (including P. Boyle, V. Smith, J. Beveridge, S. Hampton amongst others).
Anne Kirker, lives in Queensland. Mostly writes haiku-like verse, collaborates on artists' books with digital printmaker Normana Wight; sometimes they produce 'stand-alone' text/prints. Their books are held in special collections in Australian state & university libraries. Website,
Greg McLaren, grew up in the Coalfields of NSW's Hunter Valley and has since escaped to Sydney. Publications are Everything Falls In (Vagabond,2000); Darkness Disguised (Sidewalk, '02); The Kurri Kurri Book of the Dead (Puncher & Wattmann, '07).


Thursday, April 17, 2008


LAUNCHING SPEECH for John Mateer's ELSEWHERE (Salt, UK, 2008), at Collected Works Bookshop, Melbourne, Wednesday,April 2nd, 2008.

I'll begin by congratulating John on his new book -- [APPLAUSE]
It's his fifteenth all up --books & chapbooks, commercially published &/or privately circulated --and it's adding up to his work, to the John Mateer oeuvre, so to speak .
Notwithstanding certain ironies & paradoxes, on the social surface as well as deeply inscribed within his poetry, he writes & publishes with a regularity one could call prolific. As far as publishing is concerned, he is out there --out & about. I wish I had now some of that zest for the writing & publishing life --
I have written at some length recently on John's book, Southern Barbarians (published by Zero Press, South Africa, 2007), and dont want to repeat myself here. Actually, when John told me he'd read my long blog I was intrigued he wanted me to launch this new book! But, whatever our differences, I welcome at least a couple of important things -- One, is John's essayistic line --not always employed of course, but often enough to have impressed me into feeling that his was a sustained alternative to the imagistic or expressionistic phrase composition abundant elsewhere! I mean, misusing a comment about a poet I like a lot, namely Robert Creeley, John could never be described as an asthmatic poet! So, I've enjoyed the sense of a whole sentence --of space for the poet to walk & talk & think in --and congratulate him for this essayistic, discoursive poetry.
Secondly, he has something to say --issues he needs to explore --and in that way is political. And he, necessarily, invites us to react. So I praise him for enabling thought & discussion. Agreeing or disagreeing is one's own privilege --but being enabled to think & discuss is everyone's.


The postcolonial --whatever it is to be called, although it seems now to have changed from adjective to noun, become the place where the end of the "hegemony of the West" is assumed --and for literature that means the repositioning of the so-called Western Canon, often its side-lining if not repudiation -- : this "postcolonial" appears to be where John Mateer is at -- : as the blurb, he may or may not have written himself, states, "one person's poetic & moral accounting of the past 500 years of Western colonization" [INTERJECTION, John Mateer : "And why not?"]
Yes, indeed, that's your prerogative, just as there are, of course, different positions held & espoused in this place --and I guarantee that the readers of John's book will find their own thoughts & feelings reacting to the --and I struggle for the word --the sensation-ism? the vibrancy? the vivacity? the visually seductive & authoritative language of Elsewhere --indeed, of all his work hitherto. The reader cant fail to rise to the intimacy each poem invites. By the same token, the palpability of the poet's scenes of life are accompanied or informed by the identity questions which assuredly course their author's being. And because of John Mateer's place of birth, in South Africa, his Western genealogy & its dramatic face-off with the risen African heritage in the new South Africa & in this place of the postcolonial everywhere, these matters of identity are conduits of revelation -- : of the conventional personal type & of the person-as-body-of-the-political (--a trope well known to even dilettante browsers of Continental philosophy or theory!) -- : they are unpredictable --and this I think is a strength, despite an occasional howler or let's call it a John Lennonism, -- this unpredictability is a strength of a writing which often elsewhere is an exercise in control, from first line to last. For many "political" poets, the poem is basically therapy & political opinion (as of George Oppen's famous comment) and not one of consciousness and the perception which flows from acute consciousness, from nerves-on-end attention to what is given --
To be sure, John is often riven --his heart aches. At this level of pain he doubts the efficacy of communicable language even as he plays his hand in poetry's compulsive and, indeed, required game. Because he is a "poet", isnt he?
I'm reminded of my New Left / Counter Culture youth, coming across this comment by John Dewey, and whether I've misquoted him or not this is what I've always remembered : "community is defined by the ability to communicate what is held in common." What a delicious spanner to be thrown into the works, mid 60s, when "community", "communication" & "commonality" were assumed by so many to be as natural as the flowers in one's hair?!
You may recall this poem, which I'll read, Dark Horse (for J M Coetzee), from the Calyx anthology published in 2000 -- : Calyx, 30 Contemporary Australian Poets (--and John's also been in a new South African poets anthology --the more the merrier, perhaps, in the postcolonial?!) --


As I write this line it is in a foreign language.
As I think What does this mean? I remember a sentence
by the allegorical novelist who is said not to speak.
He was a linguist, and his wife is said to interrupt party conversations
by saying : "John has something to say." Can I say,
I oppose all civilization, without being in a city under siege,
without being a Trojan horse?

As I write these words,
the sentence I DO NOT SPEAK MY OWN LANGUAGE is in my head
like the line of an ascending aeroplane piercing through cloud.
But I must tell (who?) --

Beware of those bearing grief in comprehensible words.
Beware of your mouths.

--in a way, this is the John Mateer poem par excellence. It carries a vulnerability, a tentativeness --but it reads to me didactically. Yet it is also lyrical --slightly mysterious despite the strength of its closing words. It is candid of the poet --it admits his vulnerability and relinquishes the usual control of the didactic author. It refers to the famous novelist but as tho the narrator were also at the party --he's made the information an essential piece of gossip (as Robert Duncan might have said)! He admits the vulnerability at his core and makes it his strength --"I DO NOT SPEAK MY OWN LANGUAGE" -- : he might be talking about Dutch-South African, he might be talking about the Mateer version of the pure poetry which the 19thCentury & into the 20thCentury French & others aspired to; he might be alluding to political shackles & burdens and their psychological corollaries --think of Paul Celan for an awful moment --the Paul Celan who is one of the very, very few Western poets referenced in any of John Mateer's writing --but that's for an academic paper, not for this book launching!


From the blurb, "Elsewhere is an exciting introduction to a poet whose work has been receiving international attention for the past decade." I imagine this means an introduction to the British readership in the first instance, for whom John Kinsella's Salt is one of the big three poetry publishers alongside Neil Astley's Bloodaxe & Michael Schmidt's Carcanet, or four when you add Tony Frazer's Shearsman, from Exeter. Shearsman, by the way, have begun publishing a complete edition of Pessoa who just happens to be a key reference in John Mateer's previous book, Southern Barbarians --the Pessoa he quotes at the head of that book, "I write to forget"; and the Pessoa John addresses in a poem, "You are my self captured in this photograph / And I am your sole surviving heteronym."
It would be deeply ironic, tho very Mateerish, if one were introducing John to an Australian or, specifically, Melbourne readership! He's lived & published here extensively after all --
But he's the peripatetic poet --never happier, perhaps, than when on the move, which could cast him as Romanticism's iconic subject, the other half of the exoticist, the adventurer, the traveller, namely the Stranger, a stranger on the earth, stranger to society --and maybe there is some of that in the postcolonialism I've given him here.
He'll often quote expressions of negativity, e.g., heading The Ancient Capital of Images in the new book is the Japanese poet, Tamura Ryuichi, "because there is no answer but emptiness."


I'll close on that theme (--the academic paper if anyone here wants to write it will be called something like "John Mateer's Azanian Poetics of Negativity"!) and read the poem on page 77,

--an aquarelle series by Eugene Carchesio

Whether collected from the gardens or temples
fallen leaves are an undoing of substance,
a subtle melancholia, an almost unheard of music.

Bell-solid and a whispering, little deaths and the Chinese whimperings of memory,
those leaves under intense light on a city desk, observed
by a miniaturist's eye or a composer's ear, prove existence
as in the mind they are perpetuated in aquarelle,
each life-size on a page large and white and void.

A chronicle, a diary?

The poet's mouth opens slowly, releasing the leaves and the wind
that these words are.

--I declare this book, Elsewhere, launched --and invite John to speak & read to you.

Kris Hemensley, April 2nd, 2008