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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.   

Amelia Walker and Mike Ladd were this month’s featured poets hosted by Friendly Street at the Halifax Café, two fantastic local poets who I thought complimented each other very well.

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Introduced by the lovely Jelena Dinic, Amelia was first up, but not before distributing a piece of paper to each table with a request to write down five things (in our case, five abstract nouns). Amelia actually started with a poem by someone else, something she often does apparently, and it just happened to be one of Kathryn Hummel’s who has recently returned from India where she published her second collection, The Bangalore Set. The poem focused on winded birds whose ‘feathered tips articulate their shock’, a vivid image.

Amelia had her first collection published at the tender age of 19, Fat Streets and Lots of Squares, essentially about Adelaide which has proved very popular with teachers in schools. Amelia shared ‘Him’ from the collection about a well-known local character who walked up and down Rundle Mall in white gum boots, referring to him as ‘an isolated hiccup’ and she ‘had heard from a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend, he does it for a laugh’. Amelia then read an updated version written now at the age of 32 called ‘For Johnny’, where he is ‘real like fairies’ with a ‘body dressed in loud undress’, a far more introspective piece that asked questions, culminating in the memorable line of ‘a made in China koala always monkeying your back’. This was followed by another new poem about an old poem inspired by the war memorial on North Terrace, which spoke of looking after soldiers in a nursing home, ‘with brushed teeth and perfect parts’ these were ‘old men unhinged from time’.

Amelia then collected the paper from the tables, put them in order and created a poem before our eyes. Beginning with our abstract nouns, for example ‘homesickness’, she connected each with a colour, an animal, a place and a time, producing some very thought-provoking lines. This was clever stuff and further enhanced the fact Amelia is an amazing performance poet who captivates her audience.

Mike read old work, from his second, third and fourth collections, which is what these readings are about, the antithesis to the Lee Marvin ones. Mike started with a poem called ‘Vasectomy’ where the doctor ‘chattered golf, his slice and splice, tapping the balls in’ which his, after, swelled to resemble ‘a witch’s fruit’ culminating in the poignant image of ‘me on the cliff top with empty arms’. Mike’s next piece was a ‘Poem for two brickies’ who threw bricks to the other with movement reminiscent of some kind of dance as they ‘placed to weight on an invisible shelf of air’. ‘Waiting room’ was just that, where the walls were ‘duck-egg blue’ and a girl was ‘scratching her name with a 20 cent bit’. Mike then shared four poems in one about water, which ‘has no voice tonight’, where ‘water cats’ loitered and resembled Siamese from whom you could ‘drink their eyes’.

Mike had written some semi-surrealist poems about objects inspired by a surrealist artist whose name I didn’t quite catch, one being ‘Dreams of a pillow’ in which the pillow imagines being ‘hard and sharp’, and another simply called ‘Spare chair’ which plays ‘wooden horse in secret’. Mike moved onto more naturalistic pieces – ‘Murray bend’ where ‘sand fire colours warm the eye’ in a ‘big fish dreaming place’, and ‘Parable of a farmer’ written in long lines to symbolise those made by cattle traversing a field so that ‘shambling cows turned hills into verse’. ‘Spinal unit’ Mike wrote after his partner fractured her spine, where ‘beds are altars for flowers’ and ‘patients brace for their separate nights’.

Mike finished with some beautiful snippets about vegetables in ‘A vegetative life’ – beetroot, asparagus, potato and parsnip, the ‘pale digits of the damned’, and red onion that he told ‘you contain infinity and make me weep’. Mike was just as engaging as Amelia, no doubt honed from his years hosting ABC’s radio program Poetica. This was a brilliant line up.

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.

Wednesday saw Rachael Mead and Peter Goldsworthy reading at the Halifax Cafe, two really big names in the literary scene, introduced by the lovely Jelena Dinic.

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First up was Rachael, whose work I just adore.

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Rachael is such an amazingly talented poet, conveying the relationship between humanity and the natural world in stunning sequences. Rachael began by sharing some poems from her overland trek series, the first called ‘These clouds that cap the world’, with delicious lines like ‘our whole worlds hanging from our collarbones’ and ‘hair netting sky’, and then onto day two enforcing the strong sense of place ‘as the dark falls wildly over everything’. Next up was ‘Polar tent’, which Rachael wrote after doing some field work in the Antarctica, threading images of the winds, the cold and eventually sleep in engineered darkness.

Rachael has just had a new collection of work published by Garron Publishing, The Quiet Blue World and other poems, part of the Southern Land Poets series, and so read ‘The Lake’ from her ‘Lake Eyre cycle, which incidentally has recently been set to music. Again so many dazzling images – ‘ankle deep in sky’ and ‘we are flying in the lake’ – we are there with them with ‘no edge, just here’. Having braved a shark diving experience Rachael shared two sonnets about the Great White from her chapbook, beautifully rendered pieces where the ‘density’ and ‘blackness’ of the eye becomes the focus. A couple more were shared from her chapbook, including ‘Behind locked doors’, a haunted poem about a cemetery with its ‘lonely scratching of the living on the locked doors of the dead’, and then Rachael book-ended her set with another from her overland series, ‘The wild grammar of leeches’ where, after a long awaited swim, they ‘edit her body’ with commas and apostrophes, what a wonderful comparison. Rachael read beautifully and produces exquisite pieces, I can’t praise her work highly enough so you’ll just have to buy her chapbook.

Peter began by reciting some colour poems with his eyes closed, encouraging us to do the same, in aid of the charity Sight for All.

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Beginning with the orange of lanterns in the dark and peel under fingernails, Peter took us through ‘a yolk yellow sun’ to violet, which is ‘more iodine than violin’ where all we can see is ultra. It was a poignant performance. Next Peter read some older poems from a 1988 edition of Ash magazine, a very clever one of the day in reverse ending with the alarm and ‘Penis sympathy’, a humorous poem about other parts of the body keeping that one happy! Peter’s next poem ‘Journey of the Magi’ was based on a trip taken on The Ghan, where ‘a dollar ring stuffed in a suitcase buys amnesia’ and then shared one of his favourites called ‘The Blue Room’, which had ‘clear aquarium air’ and was also referred to as ‘the morning room’ and ‘the wide waiting room’. In ‘Statistician to his love’, a husband explains to his wife how more men kill in the bedroom whereas women favour the kitchen, a stream of facts that ended with ‘the person to avoid the most is mostly you yourself’, a powerful line.

Peter also shared poems from his recent collection, The Rise of the Machines and other love poems, published by Pitt Street Poetry, where ‘there is a bed of lovers ten thousand years thick’. In his poem ‘Australia’, Peter tells us about ‘forest fur itchy with green public lice’ and read a few Haiku before finally surrendering to requests to read ‘Dog day’, about an owner’s feelings towards its canine friend, who laps at a ‘cloak of liquid enchantment’ as the owner steps from the shower and then ‘dreams of fresh granny kill’, hilarious. Peter has been published widely so whatever you pick, you won’t be disappointed.

Wednesday saw a collaboration between wonderful local poets Mike Hopkins and Heather Taylor Johnson at the Halifax Café, reading a few poems written on their recent jaunt to the UK where they cycled, yes cycled, around the Yorkshire Dales.

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Introduced by Ian Gibbins, responsible for Friendly Street Poets communications, Mike was first up beginning with a poem ‘From Wensleydale’ (after Jen Hadfield), which was inspired by the place names they came across during their trip. A clever poem with a strong sense of the great outdoors followed by another called ‘Hills’ and ‘Walls, the latter closing with the gorgeous image of ‘the land’s flanks stitched with drystone ribs.’ Mike also read a piece called ‘Burning the Bartle’ about the annual tradition in a village they stayed in where an effigy of Bartle is burned – ‘Bartle the sheep stealer, Bartle the pig thief, Bartle the giant’ – and finished his travel poems with ‘The Fox and Hounds’, describing a typical British pub with its eclectic name and clientele. Mike is an entertaining poet, telling it how it is, wonderfully conveyed through the poems ‘I could yet turn into’ where he describes a recent eye test, ‘Taking off Tony Abbott’s clothes’ a hilarious commentary of just that, and finished with a piece about the kind of poems to avoid reading aloud, which left very little!

Heather opened with a poem called ‘Feet’, one of two poems written while away, which painted an almost surreal picture and yet was literally grounded. Using a theme of perceptions, Heather then read ‘How to identify an author at a reading’, a stunningly simple description, followed by poems about pregnancy with the fantastic line of ‘a belly that is feral with what it’s done’ and a three part poem that examined being pregnant from the outside, inside and bottom up, beautifully poignant. Heather has a lullaby voice, woos us into her world where ‘The kitchen floor’ gives us visceral images of home and heat and in ‘The cake is done, I am done’ a relationship is cooling. In ‘The sick room’ we watch as ‘he offers to feed you spoonfuls of himself’ and then takes us on a journey with poems about traveling through South America. Heather finished her set by advertising her ‘Fractured Self‘ anthology, a collection of poems that will focus on the different facets of human nature when impacted by illness, a brilliant concept and one I plan to contribute to.

Words@Wall, the event hosted by Friendly Street Poets, has changed a little. Mainly there’s no wall now. In its place a beautiful antique mirror complimented by a funky cube-enclosed gas fire on wheels and wonderful wooden floors. This is the cosy and eclectic interior of its new venue Halifax Café, where Alison Flett and Ken Bolton, introduced by Jelena Dinic, had a captive audience.

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Alison I could listen to for days. With her Scottish lilt and soft tones, when she reads she can take you away. Alison shared poems from her ‘fox’ series – one of several possible chapbooks she is planning to publish with fellow poet Jill Jones. Each poem varied in length and perspective, but with always a fox at its center. Some explored the European forest myth, one was in the voice of the fox and with memorable lines like ‘a pencil line of silence’ she experienced when seeing a fox up ahead at the roadside when her family didn’t, this is a collection that will no doubt prove very popular.

This was first time I had heard Ken read. Used to hosting such events in the Dark Horsey Bookshop Ken was entertaining, and began with a new poem called ‘Dark heart’, of which its closing line of ‘but didn’t’ still resonates. Ken then read a series of older poems about seemingly everyday things, his friends and one that had developed after he’d found a blank page with the words ‘Dear Lori’ scribbled on, the unwritten letter of which became a poem. Ken’s work has been described as a ‘stream of consciousness’, which indeed it was, and we were invited along for the ride.

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