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Last night was the launch of the Southern-Land Spring series from Garron Publishing at the Halifax Café.  And the place was bursting at the seams, with people flocking to hear the latest work from some fantastic poets – Mike Hopkins, Alison Flett, Steve Brock, Judy Dally and Louise McKenna.

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MC’d by Gary MacRae from Garron Publishing with Sharon Kernot on book sales, which incidentally went like hot cakes, Mike Ladd introduced the line-up, another outstanding local poet.

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First to read was Mike from his ingeniously titled Selfish Bastards and other poems, a collection described as a ‘parody of parodies’ and so naturally Mike read the title poem, which required audience participation.  My favourite line has to be ‘Poets at poetry readings who go over time with their boring bloody confessional poems about their boring bloody tragic lives – Selfish Bastards!’ (shouted by the audience).  Mike’s work is clever, witty and engaging, and there’s a very poignant poem in the collection called ‘My Father’s Blood’, which won a first prize at this year’s Salisbury Writers’ Festival.

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Next up to the mic was Alison reading from Vessel and other poems, and again like Mike Alison read the title poem, two of its three stanzas, which I’ve heard Alison read before and just love.  The poem is about a girl, with each stanza marking a different chapter in her life, beginning with ‘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’, epitomising childhood.  Alison reads like a dream, fashions poems brimming with feeling and soul, which both haunt and enrapt with their quiet beauty.

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After a short break, Judy shared some poems from Lost Property and other poems, a collection about her late father, her relationship with him and the impact it has on their family dynamics.  Judy started with ‘My father on a January morning’, where we see him ‘hunched on the sea wall’, hiding, ignoring, clearly not wanting to be there, ending with ‘refused an ice cream, cast a shadow’.  Judy’s poems belay the quite often heartbreak of parental relationships, lives spent, moments lost, asks the question, how did we come to this?

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Steve read next from Jardin du Luxembourg and other poems, a collection about travel and his time spent in Europe.  In Steve’s poem ‘Still Life’, he compares writing poetry to ‘a bowl of lemons’ where ‘you need the optimism of the lemon’ and ‘the ability to lend yourself like the humble lemon to season other parts of your life’.  A clever thought-provoking piece, leaving us poets with a literally tantalizing image – that ‘one day you have enough lemons to live off alone.’

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To finish the set Louise read from The Martyrdom of Bees and other poems, which draws on her nursing career.  Louise also started with the title poem and like Alison read two of its three stanzas, where a bee ‘alights upon his arm, testing for sweetness on the inside of it, as if it is the pale throat of a flower before the white hot pain’ and then later, they become ‘airborne tigresses, poised to kill.’  I particularly liked ‘A Nurse’s Meditations in the Sluice Room’, where ‘ your contempt is like a needle waved in my face’ to the final stunning lines – ‘I have carried my anger in your bedpan – now I open the tap, rinse it away.’

These chapbooks are exquisitely rendered pieces of art, both inside and out, and once again provide perfect poetic snapshots, a credit to the South Australian poetry scene.   

East Avenue Books was the venue Thursday night for the launch of three new additions to the Picaro Poets series published by Ginninderra Press, namely Cary Hamlyn, Russ Talbot and Shelda Rathmann.

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Joan Fenney, partner of Peter with whom she owns the bookstore, opened the launch by saying these particular poets are great friends of hers and how delighted she was to host the event.

Unfortunately Stephen and Brenda Matthews from Ginninderra Press were not able to be there so Louise Nicholas shared a note with the crowd passing on their appreciation to the newest members of the GP family.

So Cary was first up with her chapbook Scraping the Night introduced by Sharon Kernot who helps Gary MacRae run Garron Publishing. Sharon mentored Cary for a time and explained how her collection contains a variety of styles and themes – psychological, humour, loss, love – so a little something for everyone.

Cary began with the title poem ‘Scraping the Night’. There is so much to love in this gorgeous poem, which is essentially about a couple getting familiar – ‘moonlight leers through the car window etching the valley of your cheek’ while ‘outside the stars open and shut like clams’. Cary then shared ‘The Neighbourhood is Ajar’ where we find her waiting ‘for the evening to end’ and where ‘time has flattened itself between memory and expectation / it hides behind the clock / like a thief / ready to steal my last good hours’, a wonderful image. ‘Descending into Psychosis’ was next based on a true story of Cary’s schizophrenic flatmate when living in Sydney and is the longest poem in the collection. Here we find Suzanne who ‘in her room at the top of the stairs…wasped between shadows / like a hornet in a web’ part of her descent ‘into her Jungian hell’ which ends with ‘she slammed the door shut / on her sanity’, a brilliant stanza. Cary finished with ‘A Social Worker’s Lament’ inspired by the film Wolf of Wall Street, where she is ‘a glut of compassion…with a terrible need to nurture’ longing to be ‘full of loud-mouthed, shiny charisma’.

Russ was up next with his chapbook Things that make your heart beat, his first published collection, from which poems were read by Jennifer Liston due to Russ’s acquired brain injury from a tumour. This was tear-jerking stuff, to quote Joan ‘poems that hit you in the heart’, and boy they did. Jen began with ‘Ache’, a very clever and poignant piece comparing the physical ache in the arms from holding a baby to the one from remembering – ‘This isn’t the life I chose / it’s the life that chose me. / It’s a good life / it really is. / Just sometimes I’m reminded of the other one’. A stunning poem called ‘Rope’ was next speaking of a relationship ending where the other person is watched as they ‘drift away, your mooring / rope unravelling into the / moonlit water, / not quite holding you’. The next poem ‘Spyder’ was a William Blake satire, with an apology to said poet as a sub-title, before leading us through a lovely little ditty of running into a spider’s web and having to ‘do the spider-panic dance’. Russ’s last poem shared was ‘Your face’, describing how it is more than just the sum of its parts, the final stanza fantastic – ‘Your face is the watch / that tells me / I’m wrong, there’s time’.

Shelda was last to read from her chapbook Fleeting Fragments. Shelda teaches creative writing, is somewhat of an entertainer and on the best selling poetry list, and began with a poem called ‘Birkenhead Bungalow’ about her grandma who is ‘a constant traveller of the night’ haunting its rooms. It’s a poem of sadness and longing – ‘like a lost spirit, her mind wandered, a confused nomad who / repeated the same stories and pined for the past’. ‘Ode to the FruChoc’ was read next and was literally that, ‘fruit centres / of apricot and peach / melt in my mouth / like summer showers’ (there’s also a poem on the opposite page about the Haigh’s chocolate frog, my favourite nibble!). ‘Battle of the Bulge’ followed, a humourous rhyming poem about trying to control the ‘spare tyre’ where ‘at night I indulge in leafy green feasts / in order to fight this untamed beast’. With Shelda’s last poem, ‘Accordion’, props were required – a music stand displaying a photo of an eight year old Shelda with her first accordion and then the instrument itself today. Both the poem and music were very entertaining.

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And there endeth the readings. East Avenue Books is a beautiful little bookstore with a wide range of reading material. Started in 2009, one of its many aims is to make poetry accessible to all, one such way is by posting a ‘Poet of the month’ in the window, one of which was Russ’s whose poem drew people into the shop to find out more about him and his work. If you haven’t already visited, I recommend you do, and indulge in some superb little chapbooks.

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