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Tuesday evening saw the launch at The Howling Owl of the second series of chapbooks from Little Windows Press; a small local publisher with ‘little books, big horizons’.

Launched by Jill Jones, an extremely talented and acclaimed poet herself, these chapbooks are exquisite – pieces of art in their own right – and in this limited-edition print run present work by Ali Cobby Eckermann, Kathryn Hummel, Jen Hadfield and Adam Aitken.

Ali read first from The Aura of Loss, a collection of poems exploring the stolen generation and its impact on those survivors who carry its grief. Ali is a Yankunytjatjara Aboriginal poet and author of seven books, including the verse novel Ruby Moonlight. Her poem ‘My mother’s love’ is a painful insight to maternal absence – ‘her touch is devoid and I am frantic’ – followed by a peeling of the self until ‘my fingers now bones dipped in blood I etch the lines of my first poem’, a haunting final image.

Kathryn’s diverse award-winning work spans poetry, non-fiction, fiction and photography, published and performed both here and overseas. Her last collection, The Bangalore Set, delves into her time in India. Among others, Kat shared ‘Wharf’ from her chapbook The Body that Holds, a poem about Port Adelaide where ‘time is a sinew to be thinned between thumb and forefinger’ and ‘rumination has its own magnifying silence.’ With nothing to do, two men wait while ‘between a jacket and its lining a flat light comes’.

Alison read poems from Jen’s chapbook Mortis and Tenon, a fellow Scottish poet whose own work is simply brilliant, while Jen lives in the Shetland Islands. As well as poet, Jen is a visual artist and bookmaker, winning the T.S. Eliot prize with her second collection Nigh-No-Place. Jen has language in landscape, beautifully evident in ‘Two Limpet Poems’ in which ‘above the rockpool everything is tilt or rough glazed in weed like afterbirth’ and where ‘This is no place to turn up without a shell / all that protects us from the press of heaven.’

 

Jill read some of Adam’s work in his absence who lives in Sydney and has had a number of poetry collections published, in addition to short fiction in journals and anthologies. Adam’s chapbook, Notes on the River, are just that; vivid snapshots that explore its nuances as in the title poem where ‘It is not a river but a question.’ A plethora of images flow thereafter, culminating in a favourite – ‘Eels find their way to flood. They dream of babies, stalk the shadows and lay each other down in them.’

With eye-catching covers and painstaking production, these chapbooks really are a gift, and in this series with the wonderful addition of pull out poems to keep handy when you need a little bliss.

I was invited to an exclusive gathering at Heather Taylor Johnson’s house last night to listen to the poetry of Andy Jackson, here from Victoria to complete his PhD at Adelaide University. I hadn’t read any of Andy’s work before the invite and once I did, was looking forward to hearing more.

Andy Jackson

Andy has performed widely, received awards for his work and been extensively published; his first full length collection, Among the regulars, was shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Prize for Poetry in 2010 and in 2013, his collection, the thin bridge, won the Whitmore Press Manuscript Prize. Andy has Marfan Syndrome, a genetic disorder of connective tissue, and the impact of this on his life is explored in much of his work.

The thin bridge

Heather introduced Andy, who started with a new poem, ‘What I have under my shirt’, which he told us had been rejected by a few journals and after hearing it I thought, more fool them. The poem offered several ways to explain his ‘body shaped like a question mark’ to use Andy’s words, comparing it to ‘a speed hump your eyes slow down over on approach’, followed by other explanations such as a ‘backpack’, ‘nothing’ or ‘infinite shirts’. It was a thought-provoking piece, really quite profound.

Next came a poem about parenthood called ‘Double helix’ in which Andy used line repetition; ‘what looks like a pattern is composed of chaos’, ‘I didn’t think of having children until I met you’ and ‘you can be so lonely you don’t want to be touched’. Powerful stuff.

Andy then shared what he described as a kind of love poem for his partner Rachael, a poignant description of them taking a bath, with the beautiful line of ‘I slipped, bumped my thinking on your actual body’ as he is almost dumbfounded by what’s happening.

‘The elephant’ was a poem about the proverbial one in the room, literally, where ‘there isn’t much room for us’ and so they are forced to ‘inch along the wall’, culminating in the wonderful last line of ‘He reverently lifts my arm, as if it were a tusk, lifeless’.

Andy closed his first set with a poem about the decomposition of a bike in Coburg called ‘The bike itself’, telling us how pieces were taken away over time so he finds ‘beauty in absence’, leaving ‘memories not even lavender-patterned wallpaper can hold onto’.

Unfortunately I didn’t stay for the second half (more fool me!), but it was a delight meeting Andy albeit fleetingly and to hear him read. It was a gorgeous event, filled with candles, soft lights and bright stars, both above and of the SA poetry scene, with Jill Jones, Rachael Mead, Alison Flett, Kathryn Hummel, David Mortimer, Mike Hopkins, Pam Maitland, Aidan Coleman and Amelia Walker, who were also invited to share a poem or two.

But lets return to Andy. His work is achingly beautiful, haunting, conjuring images you just want to put your arms around or slip into your pocket to take home to keep. If you’re not familiar with Andy’s poetry, I would strongly encourage you to get familiar; his collections have already been ordered.

At the beginning of the year, I reviewed my subscriptions to journals and magazines to make sure I’m getting as broad a spectrum of contemporary poetry as possible. A new addition is Tincture Journal.

Tincture banner

The journal is edited by Daniel Young, also the founder, and is published quarterly as an e-book showcasing work of both established and new voices in fiction, poetry and creative non-fiction. Stuart Barnes is the poetry editor, who I was thrilled to hear from after he selected my poem ‘Bordertown’ to appear in the current issue.

It’s true what they say – read a copy of the publication you’re submitting to – and having purchased an issue and finding brilliant work from the likes of Kathryn Hummel and Heather Taylor Johnson, I wanted to join them. And have  🙂

I would recommend a subscription to Tincture. It offers a unique cost-effective way to read the journal, which delivers a wide range of thought-provoking work, a finger on the literary pulse of now.

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.