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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.

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.

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