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is an exceptional collection by Angela Readman published by Nine Arches Press, one I couldn’t put down for the song calling and still hear.

The Book of Tides is Angela’s third collection of poems, described as salt-speckled and sea-tinged, they lure with their rhythmic magic and ability to weave the other worldliness with the normalcy of now. There are mermaids and fishermen, folklore and loss, love and murder, even a beard of bees:

The swarm began to flow uphill, a dark lace over the apple stuck in my throat (‘The Preacher’s Son and the Beard of Bees’)

each and every poem glittering with a visceral, yet incandescent, quality.

Angela’s work leaves indelible images, the titles alone capitulate these – ‘The Museum of Water’, ‘The House that Wanted to be a Boat’, ‘Our Name in Pebbles’, ‘Confession of a Selkie’ – and with sublime lines like:

Sometimes she stared at wolves chasing the window, landlocked clouds circled the house (‘The Book of Tides’)

and:

My fingers dry and uncurl, flakes fall. I leave freckles on the snow (‘The Woman with No Name’)

and:

The horizon is a closed ballroom where days of the week refuse to dance (‘The Woman Who Could Not Say Goodbye’)

these poems are keepsakes, the kind to net and stow in a sturdy, waterproof box.

The detail in Angela’s work is enviable, as the snippets above demonstrate, down to the quote she selected by Leonard Cohen by way of introduction – “If you don’t become the ocean, you’ll be seasick everyday.”

The title poem won the Mslexia Poetry Competition in 2013, but I want to leave you with ‘To Catch a Fisherman’, one of several favourites of mine for its sculpted perfection, like the seashell you found as a child whispering wonders:

 

To Catch a Fisherman

 

The Singer grunts another steel shanty.

Mother puts a foot down on fish skins

bucking the light, an ocean in the room.

 

It’s a fine day to catch a fisherman, let

fog spritz a veil over a squirm of tail, shells

cutting patterns in my chest like dough.

 

I can cut a fisherman out of his boat,

if I sit still long enough, dangle the bait of

a song off the rock to a man looking for a story

 

to reel. There’s none who won’t come,

reach out for a myth to writhe in his hands.

I serenade the speck of my house, sad

 

as a woman who can’t dance, wind rinsing

out recollections of sinking in the bath

pretending to be half-anemone, half-girl.

 

The keel of my voice creaks song

of Mother’s bad back, logs aching to be lugged,

a cold foot in bed inching for a warm sole.

 

She catches the lone fisherman in her net,

a sprat of man who sees me strip off my tail,

harpoon licking the hollow in his neck.

 

Together we bundle him back to the house,

Mother’s laugh is a shoal. It slips over us,

a glint of mermaids bringing the silver home.

 

Copyright © Angela Readman 2016

And so the second session I attended at the Mildura Writers Festival was an insight into the work of Eileen Chong and Anthony Lawrence facilitated by Judith Beveridge.

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I must confess I had never read either of their poems before and so was very keen to be introduced to them. Judith began by asking them how they write. Eileen explained how she allows a poem to ferment and doesn’t normally write until it is almost fully formed. She went onto confess she is a compulsive reader, books, packets, labels, really anything with words, and that she casts around for ideas to find a voice or mood to fit the subject matter. Anthony said his poems begin with an emotion, giving the example of driving from work one day when two gulls angled away from his fender and he knew at that point a poem was on its way. He also explained that he read a lot of lyrical poets, citing Leonard Cohen as one of his favourites (mine too!).

Both read poems about their grandmothers – Eileen about her paternal grandmother in ‘My Hakka Grandmother’ from her debut collection Burning Rice and Anthony read ‘Need’ from his forthcoming collection Wax Cathedral.

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When asked by Judith about the actual process of writing, Eileen said she usually goes straight to the keyboard, whereas Anthony has a passion for paper and fountain pens, making meticulous changes by hand, although did confess that for his new collection he went straight to a Word document for the first time. Judith also explored if either have any particular rituals when writing, to which Eileen replied she has to have a clean house before starting and is not able to write if she’s anxious about something. Anthony said he can write anywhere without need for a formal structure and read a poem called ‘Murmuration’ about the movement of starlings. Eileen also read a poem from her forthcoming collection Painting Red Orchids to be published by Pitt Street Poetry who also published her first.

After hearing Eileen read her work it resonated with me, so I purchased a copy of Burning Rice and asked her to sign it, which she happily did. Having read it from cover to cover there are so many delicious images weaved within, and I particularly like her style of writing, succinct and yet so much depth is shared.

And so my first experience of this particular festival ended with a quick review over wine with two very good poet friends – Jennifer Liston and Louise Nicholas – who opted for the early bird package, something I plan to do next year.