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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.

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.

I haven’t had much time recently to focus on writing but seeing the Lee Marvin line up for Tuesday at the Dark Horsey BookshopMike Ladd, Alison Flett, Jelena Dinic and Peter Goldsworthy – my priorities quickly changed.

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Mike read more from his Dream Tetra series, developed using phrases he remembers from his dreams, which he then inputs into Google to see what it generates. Mike began with ‘Dream Tetra No.4’ centered around the line ‘the crack in the crib’ and featured a priest as ‘a black-cloaked grandfather’. He then followed with ‘Dream Tetra No.8’ preceded with an apology to any German speakers in the audience and then described his mum who is ‘alive today in her aloneness’, a beautifully poignant statement. ‘Dream Tetra No.10’ explored the concept of emoticons and how it would be wonderful if we could plug our heads into a machine to show our current emoticon, an interesting idea.

Alison was up next to share what she described an experimental set, which is exactly what these readings are about. Alison has recently been awarded a writers grants from Arts SA and is using this to develop a collection about home and belonging, and the connection to land. Her poem ‘The map of belonging’ explored the sense of being lost, ‘finding yourself landless’ and asked thought-provoking questions like ‘where do your belongings come from?’ ending with ‘the hulls of boats will always be filled with bodies’, a haunting image. Alison’s next poem, ‘Colour difference’ compared the Australian yellow to the British yellow an interesting comparison culminating in a buttercup. ‘Five ways to dream a country’ was a five part series with ‘bare feet ticking on bare floorboards’, followed by ‘Songs of the outback’ featuring road kill and distance, making even the horrendous sound stunning.

Jelena began by explaining how, being from Serbia, English is her second language, and that she wanted to be a doctor but no, her parents insisted she be a poet! Jelena’s first poem was simply called ‘Back’ and indeed was about going back home, what she saw and felt, quickly followed by ‘Hotel room nightmare’ featuring ‘illusions of faces in places’. ‘Gypsy travels’ opened with the line ‘her golden feet lost in direction’ and continued the vivid imagery with ‘a caravan of wishes’. In Jelena’s next poem, ‘Skin-kissed’, she shared her experience of dealing with psoriasis, a debilitating skin condition causing her to spend time ‘scrubbing and scrubbing her mermaid body’. ‘Duck’ Jelena read first in Serbian and then provided a translation, where the duck ‘carries the restlessness of water’.

Peter book-ended the session by reading excerpts from a novel he’s been writing for 3-4 years and which, he confessed, he has been annoying his partner with. Before however, Peter read from part of a series which posed that age-old question is there a god and described how ‘church bells sing in the far blue itching’, evoking an almost traditional country scene. Turning to his draft novel, Peter shared a section about a blind cop returning home from hospital following an “accidental” overdose, but not before collecting his dog from the dog’s home. With lines like ‘soft eggs of the eyes’, ‘half a packet past nine’, ‘the nib whispered across the pad’ and how an underlying growing anger causes ‘a volley of barks’, this was atmospheric gritty stuff, which I look forward to being published.

 

 

 

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.

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.

Well it’s that time of year again when the Lee Marvin Readings start up. Running every Tuesday in alternate months at the Dark Horsey Bookshop, poet and host Ken Bolton always delivers an eclectic variety of readers.

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The first evening was with Matt Hooton, Kelli Rowe, Shannon Burns and Rachael Mead. Canadian writer Matt read a piece of prose that centered around his grandpa, the kind you could get lost in, as did Kelli in her piece about a dollhouse. Shannon also read prose, his window imagery stayed with me, so Rachael was the only poet of the night and regardless of being a friend (really!), my favourite. Rachael read a series of poems about the overland walk she made with her husband in Tasmania earlier this year. These were striking pieces, drawing you into moments of wilderness, haunting in their beauty – her work is inspirational.

The second evening saw regular Steve Brock, Jim Moss, Susan Hawthorne and another of my favourites, Alison Flett. Steve read a variety of pieces of varying length, one notable one about walking along the Torrens while waiting for a call from the hospital to say his wife had come round from surgery, the river representing his consciousness, the ducks his thoughts. Jim read poems literally comprising lines from well-known songs, cleverly done and entertaining. Founder of Spinifex Press Susan read poems from her collection Lupa and Lamb, an intriguing series of real and imaginary texts. Alison was at her dazzlingly best, reciting three poems from a series called Vessel, in which the body is just that – sometimes full, other times empty – with intimate evocative imagery.

Unfortunately I’m not able to make next Tuesday, missing the likes of Jill Jones, Peter Goldsworthy and Jelena Dinic, but definitely plan to attend the final evening in May when another poet friend Louise Nicholas will be reading.

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