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I went to the launch of Shaping the Fractured Self: Poetry of Chronic Illness and Pain on Wednesday, a stunning collection edited by Heather Taylor Johnson, and the first of its kind in Australia from UWA Publishing.

Launched by Peter Goldsworthy, this is an exquisite book; to be absorbed, examined, shared and treasured.  In his foreword, Peter explores poetry as a cathartic process, the ‘cleansing of emotional wounds’, with ‘much hard-earned wisdom and hard-wrung poetry in the pages that follow.’

A plethora of diseases and conditions are represented – cancer, mental health, disability, postnatal depression, ageing and dementia.  Heather herself suffers from Ménière’s disease, an imbalance of the inner ear, and one she writes about here.  But what makes this anthology so special is its structure; three poems from each poet preceded by a narrative describing their illness and the impact it has.

And Heather has gathered together some fine Australian poets – the likes of Fiona Wright, Andy Jackson and Stuart Barnes alongside those who read at the Adelaide launch – Gareth Roi Jones, Ian Gibbins, Rachael Mead, Rob Walker and Steve Evans.

Gareth suffers from migraines, a debilitating condition painfully conveyed in his poem ‘aching’:

hours when simply standing up

is a pickaxe

when the growling dog

won’t let you through the gate.

Ian is a neuroscientist so knows about the body, how it works and how it doesn’t, demonstrated by his brilliant performance of ‘Cataplexy’, a poem which explores this rare condition where extremes of emotion trigger a switch from consciousness into a waking dream-like state.

Rachael was diagnosed with anxiety and depression, states eloquently expressed in ‘What lies beneath my skin’, which opens with:

The ringing telephone ratchets me into tension.

providing an insight into her daily management, when walking the dog offers some relief:

I put myself in the path of wildness

let it fill my long and hollow bones.

Rob’s condition is chronic osteoarthritis, a degenerative bone disease, where in his poem ‘radiology’ (composed with Magdalena Ball), ‘holding our future in nervous hands, we come with X-rays’, likening this process to ‘reading the stars within’, an ‘internal astrology’, a captivating image.

Steve suffers with temporal epilepsy, experiencing Alice-in-Wonderland-type moments of surreal forgetfulness.  In the ‘Body Electric’, he shares what it feels like:

My body is short-circuiting.

a tumultuous journey culminating in the final stunning lines:

And my words are brittle copies

Of what I used to do. My fingers fail.

I just can’t make a fist of this.

These snapshots are enough to tempt anyone living with chronic illness and pain to seek the bigger picture captured in this collection.  And they need not be a fan of poetry to be able to appreciate the unequivocal raw beauty of the afflicted self.

I went along to the launch of Paint the Sky by Kristin Martin last night at Henley Beach.

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Kristin writes poetry and fiction for children and adults.  This is her first full length poetry collection for adults published by Ginninderra Press. Launched by Lynette Washington, the room was packed and thankfully air-conditioned in the forty-degree heat!  Lynette began by reeling off Kristin’s many roles – wife, mother, daughter, teacher, writer and poet – and it’s with the latter hat on that she ‘untangles the world with her words.’

Lynette then read four poems from the collection – ‘Time and Space’, ‘Never Happy with the Weather’, ‘Belonging’ and ‘In the Back of Emily Dickinson’, the most poignant of the four, where even during labour a poet will fight pain to scribble down words that also vie to exist.

Kristin also shared four poems – ‘She Paints the Sky’ done ‘when the stresses of her days on earth press between her shoulders’, ‘The Shed’ a witty fictional poem about her dad, ‘Whistling Kites’ previously published in a Friendly Street Poets Anthology and then possibly my favourite in the collection ‘The Catch of the Evening’, where we find a young Kristin playing cricket with her family in the backyard and competing for catches, the ending simply brilliant:

‘Then, as the mosquitoes herded us indoors,

I turned to grab the stumps and saw the uncontested winner:

our blue gum. It had caught the moon

and was holding it triumphantly

in the crook of a branch.’

This is a comprehensive debut collection brimming with family, love and loss, and fellow poet Rob Walker’s review on the back sums it up perfectly – ‘Kristin Martin reminds us that rare moments between ordinary people are precious gems, and lovingly holds them up to the sunlight.’

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.

A wonderful event hosted by the adorable East Avenue Books – a beautiful mix of poetry, champagne, friends and sunshine, what better way to spend a Sunday afternoon!

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Peter, the bookshop owner, MC’d the event and started by introducing talented local poet Jill Gower to officially launch eight of the 11 chapbooks in the Picaro Poets series published by Ginninderra Press (those from South Australian poets).

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Jill briefly spoke about each poet in the series, quoting specific lines and sharing snapshots of their work to convey the variety and depth the new line has to offer. Next up was Brenda Matthews, editor of the series, and who is a fine poet herself with a chapbook of her own in there (published under her maiden name Brenda Eldridge). Brenda paid special thanks to her partner Stephen, who was lurking in the corner and later, I discovered, prefers to stay in the background, for his advice and hard work in producing the new-look chapbooks. Brenda also made special mention of me, who was the first to be accepted in the new series and got pulled in by the first poem I found out after!

So I was first up and read three poems from Smashed glass at midnight – ‘Admission’, ‘Offspring’ and ‘Visiting hours’ – all of which some of the audience had heard before at my launch and there were a few familiar faces – Jules Leigh Koch, Heather Taylor Johnson and Rob Walker.

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Next up was a reading from Kate Deller-Evans’ collection Open Inspection, who unfortunately was not able to attend, quickly followed by Margo Poirier who read an entertaining poem about Centrelink from her chapbook Wellspring. Zenda Vecchio was up next reading from her collection Luminous, followed by Lyn Williams and Rosemary Winderlich reading from their collections Stray Thoughts and Suspended Lives respectively. Finally it was Brenda’s turn, who shared a delightful piece about how even the toughest nuts can have a soft centre from her chapbook Not what they might seem.

Jude Aquilina, an amazing local poet, was also not able to attend so I brought a copy of her chapbook, Ship Tree, to read at leisure when I have chance to breathe again. I have also been asked to be guest poet at a local poetry group, so watch this space for further details!