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So Tuesday night’s Lee Marvin line up was Alison Flett, Aidan Coleman, Banjo Weatherald and Jennifer Liston, another one not to be missed.

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Ken Bolton’s introductions get funnier and funnier as each writer becomes a character in a film with often hilarious consequences. And again, the Dark Horsey Bookshop was full to the brim with the poets drawing a big crowd.

Alison was up first to read five poems, three from a ‘Five ways to…’ series with the first on ‘Five ways to understand the outback’, urging us to ‘drive hard into the dark’, ‘learn the word house and how it can mean no more than your body’…or ‘how it can mean the world’, and where there’s a ‘rhythm of spent dreams mumbling through the soil’, gorgeous last line. Alison then read ‘Five ways to hear the ocean’ where we are asked to ‘remember the 95% below…the bathypelagic zone’ and to ‘forget shells, they’re empty echoes’ as ‘sky presses a face to the ocean’s window’. Next it was ‘Five ways to breathe in the CBD’ where ‘high above the high rises the sun jellyfishes past’, and there is music and shoes as you add your own steps. Alison finished with two new poems about Antarctica – ‘Idea of North’ and ‘Polynyas’, which are areas of open water in a sea covered mostly by ice. Both were very atmospheric, where the dark and ‘space opening in brackets’ prevailed, and where there is ‘curtained water lifting, revealing us as we are.’ Alison’s poetry is simply stunning.

Aidan was up next who shared all new poems, albeit with some ‘dodgy rhythms’ he warned us (but then these readings are experimental!). These were all short pieces, almost like elongated statements, so I have to confess I did struggle to keep up with my notes, but captured some wonderful lines – ‘a song, no louder than the room, lands with damaged wings’, ‘like toddlers hovering at the margins where dragons used to be’ and ‘I cried on so many levels’. And there were some interesting titles – ‘Oracle’, ‘Draw’, ‘Milk Teeth’, ‘Chain’, ‘Memorial’, ‘Band Aid’ – all finite snapshots in expertly fashioned frames. Aidan then read a four part series called ‘Adventures in Reading’ after John Forbes, where ‘meanings flash past like jet skis’ swiftly followed by a very surreal poem called ‘Nth’, where ‘you crowd into the taxi and the plates fall off’ (I felt like I’d stumbled into a Salvador Dali scene!). Then there was ‘Parent Rock’, a short piece based on the Corona advert of a place you’d rather be and the final poem Aidan shared had the audience in stitches, about when he gets a single encyclopaedia for his twelfth birthday but ‘can’t remember if it was F or U!’

Banjo took to the desk after the short break, an enigmatic writer I’d never heard read before. Banjo began with a poem called ‘Man and Galah’, which had some lovely images, culminating in ‘the driver is wearing a pink polo. We are all Galahs. I’m going home.’ The second poem focused on a scene by a river and a kiss, where the one rebuffed ‘picked up my little body that couldn’t breathe’ as ‘the earth rotates a million moons’. In Banjo’s next one, ‘Garden Island Boat Club’, there are ‘three dolphins by the mooring, lunching’ as ‘waves caress the hull’, and when Banjo’s two year old sister Ivy pokes the eyes out of a catch, it’s noted ‘life is short.’ In ‘A Mile on my Shoulders’ there is ‘dirt for roses’ and a clever repetition of the line ‘I walk in the rain’ throughout. Banjo also read ‘Genocide in the Kitchen’, essentially a poem about not going anywhere, about neurosis and anxieties, which was then juxtaposed with a final short humorous piece called ‘IPhone Orphan’ inspired by the Garden of Unearthly Delights, one of the many annual festival venues here in Adelaide and was literally this – ‘Dad. Dad. Dad. What? This would be a really good place to fly a helicopter.’

Jen finished the evening with a collection of narrative poems from her PhD based on the life of Grace O’Malley, also known as Gráinne, who was a chieftain of the Ó Máille clan in the west of Ireland. Jen gave us a bit of context of Grace’s life, how she married at 15 and had three children, and then met a certain Hugh de Lacy, the subject of the first poem. Jen warned us before starting it was quite steamy, where after Grace finds Hugh washed up on the shore, she initially thinks ‘you haven’t the look of a male man’ but then later, as she nurses him back to health, he becomes ‘a feast to my starved eyes’ and his voice is ‘as deep as 20 fathoms in a swell’. Jen then shared a poem called ‘The Birth of Tibbot’, Grace’s son, where Grace feels ‘the weight of the last nine months drop from between my legs’ as she ‘roars like a banshee’, listening to the rest of her clan ‘muttering their trollopy turkey tongues’, love this line. The final poem Jen read was ‘Birth and Communion 1600AD’ based on Grace’s death as she imagines it, where the swan is a vehicle for the soul and so there are ‘seven beauties…out of moon wet water’ from which a kind of apparition rises, with ‘timeless eyes (that) read my restless mind’. Grace appears to be erased from history and as Ken said after, ‘Jen is reanimating lost history’, in a beautifully haunting way.

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.

The launch of the Spring 2015 series of Southern-Land Poets from Garron Publishing took place last night at the Halifax Café. These are exquisite chapbooks from some big names – Rob Walker, Jelena Dinic, Aidan Coleman, Rachael Mead and David Ades – each a beautifully presented snapshot of their work.

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Gary McRae, founder of Garron Publishing, hosted the event and began by thanking Sharon Kernot, assistant at the independent press and a writer herself (and who also did a wonderful job of selling the chapbooks) for her meticulous work and commitment, and then Michael Bollen of Wakefield Press for his continued support of the series.

So first up was Rob Walker reading from Polices & Procedures.

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Now working in HR, I can so relate to this title and was looking forward to Rob sharing some of its poems. He began with the title poem, a short piece about hindsight in his teaching career, followed by ‘A drive to work’ ‘on a day when every dewdrop traps a rainbow’, a gorgeous image. ‘Time of your life’ was next, which captured the heady days of youth and then a few poems relating to Rob’s period of bad health, ‘Resolution / D-generation’, ‘Radiology’, and ‘Coming off the tramadol’, with some haunting lines; ‘I am an imperfect copy of myself’, ‘internal astrology’ and ‘racing through a black espresso night’, taking us to where he has been and come back from

Next up was the lovely Jelena Dinic with her chapbook Buttons on my Dress.

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Jelena began with ‘The Last Summer’, a wonderful poem about growing up with memories of ‘before’ ending with the stunning line ‘I learn to drink from the bottle and nothing tastes the same’. Her next poem ‘Crossing borders’ alluded to a time of discontent in former Yugoslavia from where she hails, by addressing a mother about her’ three sons the most wanted’ and how to keep them safe. Having studied art history as part of my degree I loved Jelena’s ‘Portrait of Olympia the Prostitute’ and once again could picture the ‘unattainable stretching herself like history resilient to the centuries’, an elegant comparison. I’ve never heard Jelena read before; she was captivating.

Aidan Coleman was up next just before the break reading from Cartoon Snow.

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Like Rob, Aidan opened with the title poem, which gave us an almost magical frozen land ‘where a blue night is snowing to itself, shushing the owl-wide forest’. The next two I recognised from Aidan’s Lee Marvin reading – ‘Primary’ and ‘Barbarian Studies’ – in the first ‘the teacher chastens gently in lowercase green’ and in the second, ‘kids jostle, shove and swing like wrecking balls’. Aidan finished his set with ‘Ham Radio’, a poem about his father working ‘the difficult braille of a circuit board’…‘until a voice comes clean of static, to talk in a clear bubble’.

Then we had a break where I noted some faces in the crowd – Mike Ladd, Peter Goldsworthy, Louise Nicholas, Jill Jones, Jennifer Liston, Jules Leigh Koch, David Mortimer, Mike Hopkins, Martin Christmas – and a crowd it was, the place was packed.

Rachael, closely photographed by doting husband Andrew Noble, who has just finished building her a writer’s cottage (yes you read that right, I want one!), read from The Quiet Blue World.

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Rachael shared a poem she hadn’t before called ‘White Blues’ about seeing Jack White at Federation Hall a few years ago. This longer piece was loaded with incredible imagery before the concert – ‘In Chinatown, customers with chopsticks lean over steaming bowls like fine-beaked birds dipping into sweet cups of magnolia’, a ‘man’s face is a crumpled tissue of experience’ – and then once inside, they are ‘driven to use (their) bodies as instruments as (they) open up’. Rachael’s last poem, ‘What the fire didn’t touch’, was about her parent’s house in a bush fire, beginning with ‘Mum, who was never late a day in her life, woke up early for her death and missed it’ to the stunning last line of finding her childhood books with ‘the years waiting like pressed flowers between the pages’.

David Ades, skyping in from Pittsburgh at 4:30 in the morning (now that’s dedication!), completed the line-up by reading from his chapbook Only the Questions are Eternal.

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David also shared the title poem from his collection, which compared the relentlessness of questions to baby birds ‘chirruping in their nests, pointed beaks raised upwards, insistent’. His next poem, ‘The bridge I must walk across’ was very apt considering the ongoing refugee crisis, culminating in the provocative stanza ‘I am becoming a stranger inside my own skin, my children becoming the bridge I must walk across’. David’s final poem, ‘A father’s call’ stems from becoming a dad unexpectedly, and describes how over the years he searched for his yet-to-be-born children – ‘I flung my call at your absence’ – a very touching piece.

And so the new series had been well and truly launched in what will be a memorable evening, and with the chapbooks retailing at a mere $7 each, I felt it only right to complete my set (adding to Rachael’s and Rob’s), because they really are an amazing read.

Tuesday’s Lee Marvin had a line-up of Ian Gibbins, Aidan Coleman, Cath Kenneally and Anna Goldsworthy, introduced in full Lee Marvin style by Ken Bolton.

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I’ve never heard Ian read before. A neuroscientist and poet, Ian captivated the audience with his performance (and it was just that, due to years of teaching he told me after). The first poem Ian read was from a collaboration with Judy Morris called Floribunda, in which his scientifically expressed poems are paired with her beautiful pictures of flowers. Ian pauses at just the right moments with the last line delivered dramatically – ‘always lost at sea, find anchorage’. With his second poem Ian selected random words from The Advertiser and ordered them alphabetically, producing a thought-provoking summary of the news. Ian then read a short story, ‘Last shave’, which opened with ‘The ants have returned’ and continued to draw us into a world of infiltration and conspiracy. Ian finished with ‘After thoughts’, a poem that was shortlisted for the Ron Pretty Prize with striking images of ‘fairies running on schedule’ and ‘favourite islands displaced.’ Ian really was a delight to listen to.

Aidan I’ve heard before and read a series of sonnet length poems beginning with ‘Crossing the bar’, followed by six poems about colour, which he felt slightly daunted about sharing with Peter Goldsworthy on the front row (who has, I’m told and have yet to read, written exquisite poems about colour). The series alternated between ‘Primary’ and ‘Secondary’, opening with a description of a red car compared to a ‘half-sucked Jaffa’, with the next primary installment likening yellow to ‘easy pour of olive oil’ and ‘a tiny Easter’. Interestingly the primary pieces struck me more than the secondary, hence no reference to the latter! Aidan then read a poem called ‘The end of weather’ with a delicious line of ‘summer stops short of nudity’, conjuring beach scenes and heat, and then finished with another two poems, only one of which I caught the title, ‘Jolt’ (trying to listen, appreciate and make notes takes some doing, all while balancing a glass of wine!).

Cath has a variety of guises – art critic and journalist, novelist and poet – and shared a couple of poems from her ongoing Australia – London compilation, the first being ‘Creatures of the forest’, with some beautiful lines like a woman of ‘all nerves and steely perm’ and ‘my legs fizzing with the urge to run’. Cath’s second poem cited parts of inner city London – Marylebone, Baker Street, Highgate, Brick Lane – making us ex-Londoners feel slightly nostalgic! Cath finished her set with a three part piece each told from a character’s viewpoint, beginning in the first person, the second from that person’s sister and the last from their mother. This is the first time I’ve heard Cath read and found her almost breathy style alluring.

Anna, I found out, is Peter’s daughter and read an excerpt from a book she originally shared at the Festival of Ideas a while ago, in which she describes the first holiday her and her partner take following the birth of their first child. The piece is beautifully written and conveys her hysterical (in terms of humour) obsession with their holiday home’s long drop toilet! Lines like ‘clumsiness ticks over into disaster’, ‘the baby must never go in there’ and the repetitive mantra of it would never be her to drop the baby into the composting toilet therefore it must be Nicholas to drop the baby into the composting toilet – fuel her irrational fear of the baby ending up in the composting toilet! Anna takes some extreme measures, barricading her partner into bed with suitcases so she would hear if he stirred and trying to stay awake to prevent her from accidentally sleepwalking the baby into the composting toilet! I do not do it justice, but it was highly entertaining and unfortunately not in stock in the Dark Horsey Bookshop, so I have it on order to enjoy its entirety.

And then I just wanted to end this blog with, you know, something about me. I was told I read very well by Peter Goldsworthy, learned that David Mortimer enjoyed my debut collection so much he has recommended it to his poetry group and sold a signed copy to Shannon Burns to get his thoughts! Enough now. Long post. Exhausted. But happy.

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