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I was invited to the launch by Rachael Mead of Mike Ladd’s new book from Wakefield Press, Invisible Mending. It was held at the publishers down a pretty street in Mile End in what’s known fondly as ‘The Laneway’. I’d never been there so was eager to look around, buy some books and of course, learn about Mike’s new work.

Michael Bollen, who runs the local press, MC’d the event inviting Rachael up who did, as always, an exquisite introduction of Mike’s new book. Rachael referred to Mike as ‘loved and lauded’, stating this was his 9th book with his first collection being published at the tender age of 25 called The crack in the crib part of the Friendly Street Poets series.  Rachael explained how this new collection draws many of Mike’s past threads together in a series of non-fiction pieces, a combination of poetry, prose and photos, saying ‘it’s not easy, this being human’. What I love about Rachael is her ability to really connect with the material she’s launching (having experienced this firsthand!) and to share new insights into the poet’s work.

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Mike only read three pieces, beginning with a request, ‘Learn to Speak the Language’, which he recited from memory. This was a humorous piece, an answer to a question posed by a young man Mike encountered on a bus who, on overhearing ‘two women chatting in Punjabi’, states ‘If you come to this country / you should learn to speak the language.’ And so off goes Mike starting with ‘Yeah. You’re right…So how’s your Kaurna?’ (the native language of the Adelaide Plains and one of 150 Indigenous languages still spoken today) before reeling off a number of other Indigenous languages the young guy should try. This was a striking way to highlight ignorance, for Australia, its heritage and culture, and quite rightly received a round of applause.

Mike then shared a poem called ‘Adelaide’, a wonderful finite description of the city, a promotion of sorts – ‘We always have to talk you up, / get your festival clothes on’, ‘I like you best in November / when you spill buckets of jacaranda’ and when it rains after our infamous heat there are ‘chuckles in the gutter / and applause from the rooftops’. My favourite part is where Mike describes the city view from Windy Point (which I discovered only for the first time recently for my birthday dinner) where ‘It’s better up here than Los Angeles, / that hot glitter, all the way to the Gulf’, just gorgeous.

Mike finished with prose, ‘A Country Wedding’, the last piece in the book and one that contains the title. Here we find Mike in Queensland for his nephew’s wedding ‘Now a two-hour flight, it was once a three-day journey, when the children were small.’ The mobile phone plays a significant part, where Mike tries to justify his absence of one – ‘I am not the only one on the planet without a mobile phone’. What stands out for me here is Mike’s sense of place when describing the creek where ‘An hour before, the groom was getting his hair cut…holding a smoke and a cup of tea, like a last man’s wish.’ This is the image I was left with – ‘The she-oaks still look ravaged, as if attacked by blunt axes. But the firetail finches have returned, and the rainbow bee-eaters. There is invisible mending here all around me.’

This is an outstanding book, rich in every way, from it’s sometimes poignant subject matter, in particular Mike’s pieces on his father, to the mediums they’re expressed in. And the cover image was also there in the flesh, literally, a painstaking embroidery of a thumbprint by his multidisciplinary artist partner, Cathy Brooks, which I believe went up for sale after. So I will end by saying this – hats off to you Mike for another stunning collection, every page holds treasure.

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.

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