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I knew of Cassandra and Paul, having read some of their work, and met them at the Poetry on the Move Festival in Canberra last year. Garron Publishing have published a chapbook of their poems in their latest Southern-Land Poets series, the launch of which they joined via video link as both were overseas.

An award-winning poet, Paul is head of the International Poetry Studies Institute and Professor of Writing at the University of Canberra. Wedding Dress and Other Poems takes us on a journey of nostalgia, each stop a place of potency with a spectrum of feeling. The majority of poems are prose, with a few in tercets and quatrains, and their literary admiration for one another is clear, with both dedicating a poem to the other. In ‘Peeling (for CA)’, ‘Peeling an existence is easier than it looks’, which continues into an exploration of self, culminating in succinct advice – ‘When words fall from through your mouth listen to what they say.’

The nuances of other relationships are explored from different perspectives. In ‘Holding’, intimacy is balanced with unfathomable distance:

They held each other at slow arms’ length in the morning’s

indistinct light. So many words; a year of feeling their way.

Histories no longer kept known arrangements; their hands

were charged with intricacies of absence.

‘Apartment’ is an atmospheric poem, not just of place, but of the linear connection between people. From the start of something, when ‘their sense of themselves became vapour’ making love ‘against the damp bathroom wall’ to the break – ‘After weeks they knew they’d leave their mutuality there…He inspected the rooms and found no history he could keep.’

Cassandra is a prose poet and passionate about it. Her work has been widely published, she’s judged numerous awards, including the Victorian Premier’s Prize for Poetry, and is the current poetry editor for Westerly magazine. In Pre-Raphaelite and Other Prose Poems, there’s beauty and chaos, an ethereal quality fracturing edges, as Cassandra gives us poems about loss, desire and resolve in various stages. In ‘Bonds’, representing both the brand and the tie between people:

I promise to unbind you and gather you in my arms. Skin on

skin. My sweat will be our glue as I rip off that t-shirt and

bond you to me one last time.

In ‘Plum(b)’, food smears thoughts in a stream of consciousness – plums are kept in the fridge, farmyard animals are too ‘cute’ to devour, chicken, fish ‘and sometimes beef’ are eaten, bringing us back full circle to the drupe:

He doesn’t understand the importance of a big, red, expensive fridge.

He thinks they are just for keeping things cold. Like plums.

Cassandra reciprocates Paul’s dedicated poem with ‘Pineapple (for PH)’, where ‘Pineapple gives me atlas tongue. But I eat it and travel the world on my tastebuds’. A personal favourite of mine is ‘Heartbreak Spondee’ on the opposite page, a powerful piece in two parts in which the first is of a union – ‘We leave the lights off and let the sun trace our bodies on the bed’ – and the second separation – ‘Too many new moons have set without your touch.’ The grief in this piece is palpable.

I don’t do resolutions as a rule, but like to have goals, so this year I’ll attempt some prose poetry, aim to pack a punch, leave a mark, like the work in these collections do. And just to note, Melbourne University Press will be publishing The Australian Prose Poetry Anthology, edited by Cassandra and Paul, in 2020 (work submitted must have been previously published). I’ve no doubt it’ll be a fascinating read.

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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