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I have just finished reading a beautifully written book called Cleanskin by Gay Lynch.

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This is Gay’s first novel, published by Wakefield Press, and I remember Gay reading an extract from it at a Lee Marvin, which was so captivating it enticed me to buy it.

The protagonist is Madeleine who, along with four other women, attends a playgroup run by one of them where they offload their lives to one another, until one of them starts an illicit affair after which everything unravels.

The story is based in Port Lincoln, and I think what I particularly loved was the sea as a point of reference throughout and indeed in Madeleine’s life, a respite that keeps pulling and calling. In the extract below, Madeleine is driving home from the airport having collected her parents for a short stay, one she has not been looking forward to:

“As she swept around the last curves, the water swathed the coastline like grey silk moving over an undulating body. Sun burst between the clouds, spilling silver on the inky shales and the soft grey pebbles in tiny coves. Dark cloud shadows chased across the shallows. Bobbing in a red dingy, a rounded back shrugged and bent over a fishing chore.”

The picture this paints is a rich and vivid one, but I think what makes it so is the almost lyrical language used, the eloquent words carefully chosen to depict each aspect, spellbinding. Read it aloud; it sings. And this is just one of the many wonderful descriptions you’ll find in this book.

I won’t say anything more as a friend wants to borrow it, so don’t want to give too much away. Just buy it, read it and fall in love.

I was invited to an exclusive gathering at Heather Taylor Johnson’s house last night to listen to the poetry of Andy Jackson, here from Victoria to complete his PhD at Adelaide University. I hadn’t read any of Andy’s work before the invite and once I did, was looking forward to hearing more.

Andy Jackson

Andy has performed widely, received awards for his work and been extensively published; his first full length collection, Among the regulars, was shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Prize for Poetry in 2010 and in 2013, his collection, the thin bridge, won the Whitmore Press Manuscript Prize. Andy has Marfan Syndrome, a genetic disorder of connective tissue, and the impact of this on his life is explored in much of his work.

The thin bridge

Heather introduced Andy, who started with a new poem, ‘What I have under my shirt’, which he told us had been rejected by a few journals and after hearing it I thought, more fool them. The poem offered several ways to explain his ‘body shaped like a question mark’ to use Andy’s words, comparing it to ‘a speed hump your eyes slow down over on approach’, followed by other explanations such as a ‘backpack’, ‘nothing’ or ‘infinite shirts’. It was a thought-provoking piece, really quite profound.

Next came a poem about parenthood called ‘Double helix’ in which Andy used line repetition; ‘what looks like a pattern is composed of chaos’, ‘I didn’t think of having children until I met you’ and ‘you can be so lonely you don’t want to be touched’. Powerful stuff.

Andy then shared what he described as a kind of love poem for his partner Rachael, a poignant description of them taking a bath, with the beautiful line of ‘I slipped, bumped my thinking on your actual body’ as he is almost dumbfounded by what’s happening.

‘The elephant’ was a poem about the proverbial one in the room, literally, where ‘there isn’t much room for us’ and so they are forced to ‘inch along the wall’, culminating in the wonderful last line of ‘He reverently lifts my arm, as if it were a tusk, lifeless’.

Andy closed his first set with a poem about the decomposition of a bike in Coburg called ‘The bike itself’, telling us how pieces were taken away over time so he finds ‘beauty in absence’, leaving ‘memories not even lavender-patterned wallpaper can hold onto’.

Unfortunately I didn’t stay for the second half (more fool me!), but it was a delight meeting Andy albeit fleetingly and to hear him read. It was a gorgeous event, filled with candles, soft lights and bright stars, both above and of the SA poetry scene, with Jill Jones, Rachael Mead, Alison Flett, Kathryn Hummel, David Mortimer, Mike Hopkins, Pam Maitland, Aidan Coleman and Amelia Walker, who were also invited to share a poem or two.

But lets return to Andy. His work is achingly beautiful, haunting, conjuring images you just want to put your arms around or slip into your pocket to take home to keep. If you’re not familiar with Andy’s poetry, I would strongly encourage you to get familiar; his collections have already been ordered.

This year’s line-up at Adelaide Writers’ Week were all from South Australia – Aidan Coleman, Jelena Dinic, Jill Jones, Kate Llewellyn and Thom Sullivan – who shared poems from their own collections as well as from a poet who has influenced them.

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Peter Goldsworthy compered the event, telling us about the new state-by-state anthologies from Australian Book Review (ABR), in which these poets feature, before moving on to introduce each of them.

Aidan opened the session with two poems from Asymmetry published by Brandl & Schlesinger Poetry, a collection that focuses on his painstaking recovery following a stroke. ‘To play’ is a parody of putting himself back together, asking us to ‘catch a face before it slides from the plate’ and in ‘New York’, the last poem in the collection, they were ‘leaving an afternoon of coloured glass and temples’. Next Aidan read his ‘Secondary’ series about these colours, where in ‘Green’ ‘lungs are scoured by brillo air’, ‘the heart is a wound or badge’ in ‘Purple’ and how ‘Orange’ ‘is the light of a cupped match.’ From his new chapbook, Cartoon Snow available from Garron Publishing, Aidan read the title poem asking us to ‘go where a blue night is snowing to itself’ followed by ‘Barbarian studies’, where ‘kids jostle, shove and swing like wrecking balls’. Aidan’s influence was John Forbes, an Australian poet, and he finished with a poem of his own about motivational posters, where ‘scent falls upward like helium.’

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Next up was Jelena whose work I just adore, influenced by Vasko Popa, a Serbian poet. Jelena started with ‘Dawn chorus’, a sinister poem about her ancestors from her chapbook, Buttons on my Dress also by Garron Publishing, where ‘under their tall hats time waits’ followed by ‘Visiting’, describing a time Jelena returned to her hometown culminating in the fantastic lines ‘Lamp-lit photographs are mute. I pretend to know the answer’. Next up was ‘Wedding’ where she asks the obligatory question ‘stepping on his foot just in case’ and then one of my favourites ‘Portrait of Olympia the Prostitute’ which is just that, ‘her black-cat eyes mastering the craft of the second hand love.’ ‘Ballad retold’ was a longer piece from the chapbook, as well as its final one, in which she walks ‘fine lines where beauty hurts’. Jelena finished with a poem by Popa called ‘Before the game’, which she read in English and then Serbian, in particular for her parents in the audience.

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Jill’s work is exquisite, her poems have been described as ‘tapestries of the present’, and she didn’t fail to impress. She began however, with her influence Peter Gizzi an American poet producing layered poems both intimate and global. Jill then read ‘Bent’, her poem in ABR’s state anthology, where ‘I make sense then drop it, it gets dirty, it breaks, the ants carry it’, a very poignant piece and with the poems that followed, Jill went on to paint equally vivid images – ‘maps of rain and passage of stars’ and ‘the sky is as opaque as reality’. Jill shared a few poems from her new collection Breaking the Days published by Whitmore Press Poetry, starting with ‘Happy families where ‘your own genius spooks, it runs to the cupboard and breaks all the plates’, followed by a sense of separation in ‘Fractions’ where ‘you could be tempted to fold’ and in ‘Not all choices’, she is out ‘to relieve the dog of its chasing thought and the business in the head’.

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Now I must admit Kate is new to me, I’ve not heard her read before, but she was introduced as SA’s most popular writer, known to her friends for her legendary letters. Kate started with ‘Harbour’ about both sailing into Sydney and growing old, where ‘the little casual things I see grow into a roar.’ Kate’s next poem ‘Dirt’ was very amusing, with which she falls in love through gardening, comparing it to Mr Right with a subtle rhyme throughout. In ‘Oxytocin’, included in the new ABR anthology, the line ‘last night I strode among the stars’ is repeated at intervals creating a profound effect and in ‘Seeds’ we hear the story of Demeter and Persephone, where the latter is a ‘creature of light, the sun and beaches’. Kate then read ‘Older men’, a poem she wrote years ago before, in her own words, she got old, where he is ‘courteous with your mother whom he could have married’, another humorous poem ending with the line ‘consider this a shopping list’. To compliment this, Kate finished with a poem by David Campbell, her influence, called ‘Younger women’ with their ‘blue stare of cool surprise’.

Thom I’ve heard before at Lee Marvin, and again was moved by the pieces he shared. After Peter spoke of Thom’s good use of colons to separate snatches of thought or dreams, he opened with a poem called ‘Homosuburbius’ and its repetitive line of ‘you’re dreaming still’, with ‘post boxes gagging junk mail’ and where ‘late night programming is flickering under their eyelids’. Thom’s next three poems were pastoral ones about his hometown in the hills presenting us with different aspects of it. In ‘Threshold’ there is ‘a fine grain of stars’ and in ‘Freehold’ there are ‘a pair of eagles riding the thermals’. The poet A R Ammons was one of Thom’s influences so he read one of his poems called ‘The city limits’ followed by a two-part one of his own called ‘Carte blanche’, where there is ‘death with a moon in her pocket’ to prove a poem can be serious without being solemn. Thom finished with his poem ‘Nothing doing’ from Australian Love Poems 2013 published by Inkerman & Blunt, where we find that ‘a bowerbird is hoarding memories’.

It was an amazing session (both the first and only one I will unfortunately have time to attend at this year’s Writers’ Week) with some damn fine poems, plenty to absorb and ponder.