is today! Initiated by UNESCO in 1999, the aim is a simple one – to honour and promote poets and poetry around the world, and to recognise poetry as an international language with the ability to unite.

Copyright @ Slideshare.net 2017

Love it or hate it, poetry is an important historical instrument, an invaluable form of expression, which can challenge, heal, humour and change, but above all connect us to our very existence. Here’s this year’s message from Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO:

Poetry is a window onto the breath-taking diversity of humanity

So I want to share one of my favourite poems by one of my favourite poets with you. Having recently revisited her work, Sylvia Plath is undeniably one of the world’s finest poets and below is one of many reasons why. Plath wrote this poem a month before her separation from Ted Hughes and just six months before her death:

For a Fatherless Son

You will be aware of an absence, presently,
Growing beside you, like a tree,
A death tree, color gone, an Australian gum tree —-
Balding, gelded by lightning—an illusion,
And a sky like a pig’s backside, an utter lack of attention.
But right now you are dumb.
And I love your stupidity,
The blind mirror of it. I look in
And find no face but my own, and you think that’s funny.
It is good for me
To have you grab my nose, a ladder rung.
One day you may touch what’s wrong —-
The small skulls, the smashed blue hills, the godawful hush.
Till then your smiles are found money.

Copyright @ Sylvia Plath 1962

So I urge you to write, read, speak and share to help celebrate all things poetry, not only on this day, but every day.

I went to the launch by Carol Lefevre of Jean Harley was here last night at Dymocks bookshop.

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This is Heather Taylor Johnson’s second novel, Pursuing Love and Death her first published in 2013 by Harper Collins, a domestically rich story with the protagonist suffering from Meniere’s disease, a debilitating condition of the inner ear causing vertigo and tinnitus, which Heather herself battles with. So Heather’s second novel has been hotly anticipated.

Published by the University of Queensland Press, it explores love, relationships and the impact of absence. Jean Harley – wife, mother, lover, dancer – is sunshine in the lives of those around her, but when tragedy strikes they are forced to continue without her. Despite a little unravelling and a few storms, Jean leaves a powerful legacy to abate them. I’ve heard it’s a tear-jerker

Heather is first and foremost a poet, with a number of sole and collaborative collections to her name, and her lyricism is reflected in her exquisite prose.  I recall Heather sharing an extract from the draft of this book last year at a reading with other poets, which has stayed with me, and Heather’s knack for scene-setting is like an intimacy shared, demonstrated by the excerpt she read yesterday from the chapter “Emotional Fishing”. Here’s a snapshot:

Charley sat as far back as he could, feeling out of place, though that was nothing new. His bald head shone under the fluoro lights and the back of his neck itched – an eczema problem that flared up when he was nervous. He kept smoothing his long beard to a point – another nervous tic. One might think he was made of tougher stuff because if this was an eye-for-eye world, here was a man who’d seen things that should’ve blinded him, a man who’d done the sort of things people don’t talk about at the dinner table but read about in newspapers over breakfast…”

Quoted as being “a book to savour” by Hannah Kent, it’s clear this will be another stunning read from an extraordinarily talented writer. A visceral narrative with complex, relatable characters, Heather offers us a world to get lost in, absorb, making us ponder our place in our own.

Adelaide’s Writers’ Week kicks off this Saturday with an impressive program full of all things literary, so there’ll be something for everyone.

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Held in the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden, there’ll be a plethora of poets, novelists, playwrights, historians, biographers and memoirists, all genres to captivate and challenge the crowd.  Notable events are; Mike Ladd chatting about his recent collection of poetry, Invisible Mending, published by Wakefield Press; an interview with Ken Bolton, ‘a laconic and discursive poet’, aswell as art critic, editor and publisher; and the coveted poetry readings presented by Peter Goldsworthy, with a stunning line-up.

Jan Owen and Cath Kenneally, stalwarts of the South Australian poetry scene, are joined by Steve Brock, Jules Leigh Koch, Louise Nicholas and Dominic Symes.  Jules and Louise I know well and are incredibly talented poets; Jan I’m learning an invaluable amount from through her monthly workshops; Cath and Steve I’m still relatively new to their work; and Dominic I believe is an up and coming poet, one to watch.

Unfortunately, however, I’ll be en route to New Zealand to explore the South Island so will miss the entire week! Note to self for next time – avoid holidays in March.

I went along to the launch of Paint the Sky by Kristin Martin last night at Henley Beach.

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Kristin writes poetry and fiction for children and adults.  This is her first full length poetry collection for adults published by Ginninderra Press. Launched by Lynette Washington, the room was packed and thankfully air-conditioned in the forty-degree heat!  Lynette began by reeling off Kristin’s many roles – wife, mother, daughter, teacher, writer and poet – and it’s with the latter hat on that she ‘untangles the world with her words.’

Lynette then read four poems from the collection – ‘Time and Space’, ‘Never Happy with the Weather’, ‘Belonging’ and ‘In the Back of Emily Dickinson’, the most poignant of the four, where even during labour a poet will fight pain to scribble down words that also vie to exist.

Kristin also shared four poems – ‘She Paints the Sky’ done ‘when the stresses of her days on earth press between her shoulders’, ‘The Shed’ a witty fictional poem about her dad, ‘Whistling Kites’ previously published in a Friendly Street Poets Anthology and then possibly my favourite in the collection ‘The Catch of the Evening’, where we find a young Kristin playing cricket with her family in the backyard and competing for catches, the ending simply brilliant:

‘Then, as the mosquitoes herded us indoors,

I turned to grab the stumps and saw the uncontested winner:

our blue gum. It had caught the moon

and was holding it triumphantly

in the crook of a branch.’

This is a comprehensive debut collection brimming with family, love and loss, and fellow poet Rob Walker’s review on the back sums it up perfectly – ‘Kristin Martin reminds us that rare moments between ordinary people are precious gems, and lovingly holds them up to the sunlight.’

I planned to go along to Poet’s Corner Monday evening to hear fellow poet and friend Cary Hamlyn read, but unfortunately couldn’t make it.

Attending this event would have been a first for me, which runs six times a year at the Effective Living Centre in Wayville.  A guest poet is invited to read, share their poetic journey and any particular creative process they follow.

Cary is a wonderful poet, who I got to know through the Lee Marvin Readings, and after chatting to her a few times found out she was relieved to now know who the girl in the green coat is!

I heard Cary captivated the audience and the event was well attended, more so than when Cary read at Lee Marvin.  And I’ve no doubt Cary shared some poems from her debut collection Scraping the Night published by Ginninderra Press in their Picaro Poets series, and what a fine first collection it is.

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Cary’s poems explore pertinent themes – psychology, humour, loss, love – and in the title poem ‘Scraping the Night’ there is much to admire.  Essentially about a couple making out, ‘moonlight leers through the car window etching the valley of your cheek’ while ‘outside the stars open and shut like clams’; such vivid images.

So I’ll be keeping my eye out for who the next guest poet is, as it sounds like a wonderful way to spend an evening.

is a must have collection. Published by Puncher and Wattmann and edited by Martin Langford, Judith Beveridge, Judy Johnson and David Musgrave, this 658-page book anthologises Australian poetry for the last 25 years.

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Taking 10 years to compile over 200 poets and 500 poems, it really is a landmark publication, a credit to the Australian poetry scene, and includes some incredible poets – Ken Bolton, Jennifer Compton, Peter Goldsworthy, Jill Jones, John Kinsella, Mike Ladd, David Malouf, David Mortimer, Les Murray, Jan Owen, Dorothy Porter, Mark Tredinnick, Fiona Wright, not to mention the editors themselves.

It’s being launched in Adelaide at the SA Writers Centre next Friday, which unfortunately I can’t make (off exploring Noosa), so I promptly ordered a copy. Flicking through for the first time, because this will need endless reads, two poems caught my eye – ‘Grief’ by Elizabeth Allen and ‘Snowflake’ by Anthony Lawrence.

Elizabeth is a Sydney-based poet and her chapbook Forgetful Hands is on my wish list.  Hers is a powerfully poignant piece about her sister, who having lost her ‘Botticelli curls’

‘…has been looking into people like mirrors

but does not know how to make a face

that resembles the pain inside her.’

Anthony I saw at Mildura’s Writers’ Festival the year Sharon Olds headlined, who I was lucky enough to meet.  His poem centres around his mother who cultivates a snowflake in the freezer ‘between the peas and the ice cream’, setting sapphires into her teeth:

‘At dinner I would pretend

to be a good son, and her smile

enameled the table

with points of dark blue light.’

This is a remarkable anthology, to be read, smiled, laughed, cried and absorbed between breaths, bit by brilliant bit.

I’m a bit behind the times, having only just gotten around to reading The Outcast by Sadie Jones.

 

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Originally published in 2007 by Vintage Books, the story is a harrowing one punctured with beauty.  Lewis is a young boy trying to cope with the aftermath of a tragic accident, surrounded by people who don’t understand him nor want to.  With the exception of Kit, four years his junior, suffering stifling domesticity herself and who has him on a pedestal, until the day he falls and saves them both.

 

The book won the Costa First Novel Prize, was shortlisted for the then Orange Prize and is a number one bestseller; you can see why when you read it.  Jones is a talented insightful writer with the ability to deliver haunting prose in vivid fluidity:

 

At the top of the stairs he stood in front of the door and it seemed to him that his mind was so noisy it would shake the air in the still house…

 

Similarly, after a particular brutal event at home, Kit reflects on her situation:

 

Her head hurt, under her hair, where she had hit the floor, and it made her whole head feel full of tears that she couldn’t cry. 

 

Jones conveys the pain and struggle of both Lewis and Kit with conviction and compassion; it’s absorbing from the start – the repression and menace elegantly done.

 

So I’ve just ordered Jones’s latest novel Fallout, which I anticipate to be just as enthralling.

I’ve recently discovered a series of interviews with poets in The Paris Review through one of my poetry groups and what a find it’s proving to be.

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The Paris Review is a quarterly journal out of New York all about the arts – be it poetry, memoir, fiction, photography, film, painting, theatre – anything creative they’ve got it covered.

With the first chatting to T.S. Eliot in 1959, The Art of Poetry interviews provide an invaluable insight into some of the world’s finest poets – A.R. Ammons, Elizabeth Bishop, Billy Collins, Allen Ginsberg, Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, Philip Larkin, W.S. Merwin, Marianne Moore, Les Murray, Robert Pinsky, Anne Sexton to name a few.

An interview to stand out was with Henri Cole, a Boston-based poet who’s published eight books of poetry to date with the next out shortly.  Cole describes himself as an autobiographical poet finding pleasure ‘from assembling language into art’ and believes a poem is something to be made.  When not writing, Cole maintains an ideas envelope – snippets of thoughts, lines, images, overheard conversation – essentially an array of prompts to help him ‘when he sits down cold.’

Which has inspired me to start one of my own for the new year, so best get to it.

Last night I went to the launch of Heather Taylor Johnson’s new collection of poems, Meanwhile, the Oak, at The Mockingbird Lounge.  This is Heather’s fourth book of poetry, this time published by Five Islands Press, with the cover photo by Rachael Mead.

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The collection was launched by Alison Flett, another brilliant local poet, who spoke about some of the themes in these poems; family, pets and most noticeably the belly, a symbol of health and fertility.

Heather stepped up to share just two poems – ‘They said’ and ‘This old house’ – the first for her three children who did an excellent job of bookselling and the other for her husband, whose home brew proved very popular.

‘They said’ is an expertly crafted braided poem, weaving Heather’s thoughts with those of her children to give us a snapshot of their lives:

‘Crawling beside me, a tiny question mark

in uncertain darkness says

There was someone in a box

It was raining

It was in my dream

And then later, to reinforce the parent/child dynamic:

‘Because I hold fear in my teeth like old fillings, I listen when they say

It’s scary at night, so dark.

I wish the moon would sleep with me

‘This old house’ is essentially a love poem, but the kind that has thorns as well as the flower to really make you feel.  It’s bursting with passion, movement and heat:

‘In the living room / let’s rub together like carpet and shag.

Let’s read each other in the study.

On the woodpile / let’s aim for splinters.’

And the final lines are simply stunning:

‘On the veranda / let’s be stars and go oooo and ahhh as we shoot off in

every direction.’

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Heather’s work always draws a big crowd because it’s visceral, gritty, absorbing. Imagine gorging on a piece of fruit, the juices running down your chin, the tang in your mouth, the colours in your head.  For me, this is Heather’s poetry; in the moment, unabashed, full of life, sharing the very essence of herself and what it means to be human.

I was thrilled to find out a couple of months ago that two of my poems were selected for inclusion in Driftfish.

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This is a Zoomorphic anthology of poetry, prose and pictures about marine life – to celebrate it in all its fantastical forms and to commiserate it in its dwindling numbers. Hundreds of submissions were received from around the world and I was lucky enough to be one of its international contributors, thanks to poetry editor Susan Richardson.

Driftfish is Zoomorphic’s first print anthology in which they aim to convey the magazine’s core principle: “to defend non-human species, we must reconnect our imaginations to them.”

The launch was yesterday at ONCA in Brighton, UK as part of its current exhibition Do you speak seagull? and I was one of four to Skype in to read. This was a first for me and unfortunately, no doubt due to our temperamental connection, I wasn’t able to hear them and had to go by visual prompts to begin reading! The main thing however, was that they could hear me perfectly, and I was shown around the room to claps and waves afterwards thanks to Ellie, ONCA’s tech guru.

A copy of the anthology is swimming its way to me as we speak, so if you’re interested in the stunning life the oceans hold, grab a copy and dive in!