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This took place yesterday in the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden, as part of Adelaide Writer’s Week, with a spectacular line-up – Alison Flett, Nelson Hedditch, Rachael Mead, Rob Walker and Manal Younus.

Facilitated by Peter Goldsworthy, a stalwart of the South Australian poetry scene, each poet was introduced to share some of their work with a packed audience. Alison was up first.

I love Alison’s work, particularly her fox and vessel poems, of which, among others, she shared both. ‘Liminoid’ is from Semiosphere, Alison’s Little Windows chapbook, and describes an encounter with a fox where there was still all the noise going on around me but there was a pencil line of silence running between me and the fox.

Alison then shared the first part of the trilogy ‘Vessel’, which symbolises the stages of womanhood and opens with:

No one else              has seen inside        this child.

She is small. The sky does            not yet            come down

around her.   It is still           contained

in a blue strip            at the top       of the page.

Nelson was up next, a performance poet I wasn’t familiar with, who has a passion for rhythm and words, which punched through. With his collection Never Finish Anything, Nelson began with ‘End to the Means’, which, like any brilliant performance poet, he recited from memory. ‘Homeostasis’ slowed down the pace from a song, ending in the line when I was born, I looked into my dad’s eyes like I’d been here before. Nelson also shared a poem written by his grandmother, ‘Words are dry shells, which presented a series of evocative images. When not poeting, Nelson is a hip-hop artist by the name of Dialect, at which I’m sure he’s just as talented.

Third to read was Rachael, another of my favourite poets, sharing some of my favourites too, starting with ‘The wild grammar of leeches’ from her new collection The Flaw in the Pattern, UWA Publishing :

I shed my clothes like an awful first draft, splashing river

on my face and into places used to their own company…

I look down to find my body being edited, its pages

harshly corrected with black punctuation.

Rachael also read ‘Powerless’, an award-winning poem I’ve shared on here recently from the Grieve Anthology along with ‘The dog, the blackbird and the anxious mind’, which was published in Meanjin, where while walking the dog, he drags me like I’m emotional baggage he’s desperate to escape.

Rob took to the podium next, again whose work I admire. He opened with ‘An accident waiting to happen’ from his collection Tropeland, Five Islands Press, which relayed a series of bad things, including I am the scissors in the hand of the running child. Rob also read ‘A Clarity of Smog’, which won Friendly Street Poet’s Satura Prize in 2015 (the year one of my own was shortlisted), followed by ‘radiology’ from his chapbook Policies & Procedures, Garron Publishing, where:

holding our futures in nervous hands

we come with xrays – ikons

in large envelopes with corporate logos…

 

this arcane analysis

reading the stars within…

Manal finished the set, another unfamiliar poet to me, her poise and delivery impeccable. Manal began with ‘Girl’, in honour of International Women’s Day tomorrow, further emphasised by the readings being held where they were. A particularly poignant piece, it compared woman to tree where ‘flowers are bi-products’ culminating in the stunning lines:

The burden is not who you are

but who you are asked to be.

Manal then shared a poem she had performed earlier that day, ‘Colour me in’, at a high school, in which we’re asked to colour me kind, colour me strong and colour me conscience so I see things others do not.

The readings were followed by the essential book buying and signing, so once again, I’ve got me some reading to do!

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.

Friday evening I went to the launch of Louise Nicholas’s first full length solo collection, The List of Last Remaining, published by 5 Islands Press.

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The event was MC’d by Jude Aquilina in the stunning home of some of Louise’s friends, with the book officially launched by Jan Owen. Jude and Jan, like Louise, are local poets, stalwarts of the SA poetry scene both having been published widely. Jude began by acknowledging the huge crowd there, and it really was, before introducing Jan.

Jan described Louise’s work as fresh and spontaneous with outrageous originality, combining humour and poignancy culminating in strong endings. There are poems about Louise’s father, mother and children, and Jan cited a few of her favourites – ‘Think of a violet’, ‘Whom the gods love’ and ‘Death by Wikipedia’ before reading ‘How to scale a fish’, a beautiful piece in which Louise links this to thoughts of her mother:

‘Notice the scales – how perfectly shaped,

translucent, like a baby’s fingernails.’

And then comparing the delicate skin of the fish to her mother’s:

‘Like her skin, buried

these past five years

beneath bed-ridden blankets,

 

her knees, when the blanket fell away,

gleaming

as if unearthed in moonlight.’

Louise then took the mic to read four poems after a long list of thank you’s, sharing that this launch was particularly special due to it being on what would have been her mother’s 99th birthday.

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Louise started with ‘Coffin Bay’, the first poem in the collection, describing ‘the day our parents went out in the boat and didn’t come back’, how in their throats ‘hard lumps of fear had risen like gelatin / in home-made ice cream’ and when their parents were finally sighted, how her mother was ‘sitting in the stern as still and serene as the figurehead / from a long-forgotten ship.’

Louise then read ‘Tunnelling into the light’, quite possibly my favourite in the collection (although there are many to choose from!) about the birth of her daughter, where ‘Every five minutes as I prepared our tea that night, / I felt you leaning on the lock of your release’, gorgeously expressed as is this:

‘When we sat down to eat, you too sat down

and waited until I had cleared the table to try again,

then rested once more in the snug stairwell of my rib cage…’

For balance, Louise then read a poem about her son called ‘The black one’, describing ‘a Sunday afternoon’ when she is ‘mark spelling tests’ while he is ‘hung-over, sprawled in front of the television’, a warm homely scene.

Louise finished with ‘Love Laughter’, a wonderful poem where laughter ‘is lightness itself’ advising that for ‘sombre occasions like funerals and other people’s / book launches, best leave Laughter at home / and take her conciliatory sister, Smile, instead.’

The cover image of the collection was taken by Robert Rath, an amazing photographer, and remains a mystery (we don’t need to know everything always). Louise is a fine poet, which is reflected in this collection, where poems have many facets, catching the light as a diamond would, dazzling in their brilliance.

Lee Marvin readers last night were Andrew Peek, Sergio Holas, Kelli Rowe and Linda Marie Walker at the Dark Horsey Bookshop introduced by Ken Bolton.

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Andrew kicked off the bill and was a tough act to follow. Having never heard him read before, Andrew described his work as bipolar poetry, starting with a poem called ‘On sitting down to that floored version’ in which he compared creating a poem to working in an abattoir, an interesting juxtaposition! Andrew then shared a poem about NSW rain with vivid images of ‘hail like angry fists’ and ‘cars jet-ski around corners’. His next poem was quite poignant given the current refugee crisis in Europe called ‘Everything will heal’ with the haunting line of ‘hearing his story quietly breaking its bones’. Andrew performed like an actor and is incredibly engaging and humorous, demonstrated in his poem for insomniacs in which he listed every aspect of night – spears of stars, partner’s snoring, dump truck noise – then ended with ‘shit, it’s 9am!’ Andrew finished with three short poems about love in his ‘Nature of the victim’ series and a poem in French dedicated to his granddaughter Scarlett on the front row. I was so taken with Andrew’s work I purchased a copy of his collection The Calabar Transcript published by Five Islands Press, which I’m looking forward to diving into.

Sergio was another first time reader for me, but again like Andrew, not to Lee Marvin. Sergio’s work was a series of short poems, statements almost, opening with ‘Spirit one’ about plastic bags floating in the skies of Adelaide and then ‘Spirit two’ in its oceans, simple yet thought-provoking stuff. In ‘It’s irrelevant’ Sergio advises us to get a computer ‘let it do your sums, correct your fails’ and in his next ‘Cave work’ there was a beautiful line of ‘trying to fix, with wasted tools, my reptilian brain’. Like Andrew, Sergio shared a poem alluding to refugees called ‘Dictation test’ and then a cute little poem about a parrot in the park, which ended with the line ‘as a 747 pollutes the canvas, the little parrot blesses enamored people looking out onto the giver of life’. Sergio’s work provides snapshots of life, feeling and thought, little tidbits to make you stop and think, something we quite often don’t do.

Kelli I’ve heard before and apparently started reading at Lee Marvin when she was very young (and is still a youngster!) Kelli read ‘The language of flowers’, a piece of prose based on an academic essay filled with striking images of ornamental cherry trees, almond blossoms and where flowers are humanised to become ‘bone flowers, fragile and suspended’. When Kelli reads she appears small and demure but her writing is far from this – it has impact, pulling you in and keeping you there. I remember the last time she read a piece about a dollhouse and it’s these intricate worlds she creates that are so appealing. The story took a somewhat comical turn when Kelli talked of racing worms and cutting up slugs, with a rather abrupt ending, just when we were getting comfortable, where her friend suggests salting as a better means of slug riddance and then ‘looks at me, looks down at his beer and does not look back’.

Linda’s work I fell in love with when I brought a copy of her little book The Woman, Mistaken published by Little Esther Books (which I should have taken along to get signed!) and so it was wonderful to actually meet her, more so when Ken explained that it was because of Linda these readings began. Linda read prose called ‘I can’t see a thing’ full of naked visceral images where ‘hills vanish like dreams’ and there’s ‘talk of trees’. It was reminiscent of her previous work, a patchwork of hauntings, conjuring up a line for me from one of Helen Ivory’s Waiting for Bluebeard poems in which ‘heartbeats are pressed into walls’, instilling life into inanimate things while balancing references to death ‘when someone goes away, days are eternal.’ And there’s ‘a little book of nothing’, ‘plans drawn wrong’, ‘terrifying visits of early mornings’ and opals mistaken for pearls giving the piece a fairy tale feel, along with a gorgeous line of ‘tender lost days of horror put among soft things’. As with Kelli’s piece, just as we were getting settled in, it ended with ‘and could be a tip, press into my thumb’.

I particularly enjoyed Tuesday’s readings, the breadth and depth of work shared yet at the same time with something held back, a certain restraint, an undertone, a sadness or longing, echoes of my own.