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Adelaide’s Writers’ Week kicks off this Saturday with an impressive program full of all things literary, so there’ll be something for everyone.

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Held in the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden, there’ll be a plethora of poets, novelists, playwrights, historians, biographers and memoirists, all genres to captivate and challenge the crowd.  Notable events are; Mike Ladd chatting about his recent collection of poetry, Invisible Mending, published by Wakefield Press; an interview with Ken Bolton, ‘a laconic and discursive poet’, aswell as art critic, editor and publisher; and the coveted poetry readings presented by Peter Goldsworthy, with a stunning line-up.

Jan Owen and Cath Kenneally, stalwarts of the South Australian poetry scene, are joined by Steve Brock, Jules Leigh Koch, Louise Nicholas and Dominic Symes.  Jules and Louise I know well and are incredibly talented poets; Jan I’m learning an invaluable amount from through her monthly workshops; Cath and Steve I’m still relatively new to their work; and Dominic I believe is an up and coming poet, one to watch.

Unfortunately, however, I’ll be en route to New Zealand to explore the South Island so will miss the entire week! Note to self for next time – avoid holidays in March.

is a must have collection. Published by Puncher and Wattmann and edited by Martin Langford, Judith Beveridge, Judy Johnson and David Musgrave, this 658-page book anthologises Australian poetry for the last 25 years.

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Taking 10 years to compile over 200 poets and 500 poems, it really is a landmark publication, a credit to the Australian poetry scene, and includes some incredible poets – Ken Bolton, Jennifer Compton, Peter Goldsworthy, Jill Jones, John Kinsella, Mike Ladd, David Malouf, David Mortimer, Les Murray, Jan Owen, Dorothy Porter, Mark Tredinnick, Fiona Wright, not to mention the editors themselves.

It’s being launched in Adelaide at the SA Writers Centre next Friday, which unfortunately I can’t make (off exploring Noosa), so I promptly ordered a copy. Flicking through for the first time, because this will need endless reads, two poems caught my eye – ‘Grief’ by Elizabeth Allen and ‘Snowflake’ by Anthony Lawrence.

Elizabeth is a Sydney-based poet and her chapbook Forgetful Hands is on my wish list.  Hers is a powerfully poignant piece about her sister, who having lost her ‘Botticelli curls’

‘…has been looking into people like mirrors

but does not know how to make a face

that resembles the pain inside her.’

Anthony I saw at Mildura’s Writers’ Festival the year Sharon Olds headlined, who I was lucky enough to meet.  His poem centres around his mother who cultivates a snowflake in the freezer ‘between the peas and the ice cream’, setting sapphires into her teeth:

‘At dinner I would pretend

to be a good son, and her smile

enameled the table

with points of dark blue light.’

This is a remarkable anthology, to be read, smiled, laughed, cried and absorbed between breaths, bit by brilliant bit.

are an essential part of any poet’s toolkit.  So why I’ve only just joined some I don’t know.  And now I’m a member of three!

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The first is more of a workshop run by Jan Owen, a very prestigious local poet, in which poets share any poems they would like feedback on, discuss the poems produced from the homework task set, any other model poems suggested, techniques, style, etc.  Jan really is a mine of poetic wisdom.

The second group I was invited to is held at East Avenue Books and facilitated by Joan Fenney, co-owner, in which again poets share any poems they have for feedback surrounded by a beautiful array of books, forever a purchase risk where I’m concerned.

The third group, Poetica, also invited me, with the vote to be a unanimous one, so an exclusive group with some of the finest Adelaide-based poets I know (feel very privileged to be a member!).  Again homework is set every month with each member taking a turn to run the session.

Thankfully they’re all held on a different Sunday of the month so no clashes, but they really are a wonderful source of skill, insight and inspiration, generating some very thought-provoking work.  And I’ve learnt, and am still learning, so much about other poets, form, technique, movements, etc., knowledge I feel is enriching the poetry I write.

So there you go, I can’t stress enough the importance of poetry groups.  If you’re not currently a member of one, I would strongly recommend you try to be.

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.