Sunday, October 4, 2015

Poetry Monday: A liquor never brewed

Those of you who have followed this blog for a while (or who know me) know that I’m a massive fan of the annual event known as Modern and Contemporary American Poetry or ModPo run out of Coursera by the University of Pennsylvania.  The event masquerades as a course, run for 10 weeks by the amazing Al Filreis and his exceptional team of Teaching Assistants and Community Teaching Assistants. You can certainly attend, get your certificate of attainment (or just follow along), and go on your merry way at the end of it (with a totally new approach to reading and appreciating poetry that extends way beyond the syllabus) - that’s enough of course.

For me and many others, once is just not enough.  The course has become an annual excuse to revisit some of the most seminal poets of all time, to do close, but not too close, readings of some exceptional and challenging poetic work.  Al has encouraged former students to come back and keep playing every year, through new material, through mentorship opportunities, new live ‘meet-ups’, new opportunities for interaction, and new approaches.  Though the numbers get larger each year, the intimacy somehow seems to grow too.  This year, there’s a new section for those who either want something a little different or who want to go further and deeper into the work.  It’s called ModPo Plus and it features complementary poetry and its own discussion forum.  Since I’ve done ModPo before, I’m working through all of the normal ModPo material and all the poems in ModPo Plus but focusing most of my discussions around the ModPo Plus material at the ModPo Plus forums.  Most of my essays will have the same topic as they have in previous years, but I’m enjoying revisiting the work and coming to it with beginner’s mind - maybe going just a bit further as I explore my assignment topics.  I thought it might be fun to post those essays up here.  Please feel free to put your own thoughts or essays into the comments.  I like the idea of these discussions spreading outwards and repeat ModPoers are encouraged to facilitate that.  Oh, and if you want to join ModPo it actually isn’t too late.  You can’t get a certificate as the first assignment date is passed, but you can jump right in at Gertrude Stein and join in now.  The community is very warm and inclusive and nothing is mandatory.

Here’s the little essay I wrote on Emily Dickinson’s “I taste a liquor never brewed”.  The full poem can be found here:

Of all Emily Dickinson’s poetry, “I taste a liquor never brewed” is one of the most exuberant, piling image upon image in an extended metaphor.  This poem is somewhat less condensed than much of her other work, freed from constraints by the drunken slur of dash and the repetition of exclamation mark. The quatrains use a ballad form but only rhyme the second and last word of each stanza, and the initial rhyme (“Pearl” and “Alcohol”) is off, which adds to the slightly arrhythmic, wild feel as it flows from first taste to the full satiation of inebriation.

In the first stanza we we’re introduced to what the poet is drinking: a rarified drop, stronger than any produced in the famous Rhine wineries. This ‘drink’ is delivered from “Tankards scooped in pearl”, which is more evocative than specifically semantic, but suggests something like a large shell (mother-of-pearl lined), or perhaps a cloud formation with the sun shining behind.  This intoxication comes from the exquisite beauty of the natural world (eco-poetics at its best).

There’s a sense in the second stanza, through rhythm, image, and punctuation, of a little subversiveness.  The poet has become debauched and drunk, though not on brewed liquor, but on air, on dew, and on the blue sky of summer.  Each dash functions as a pause or even a hiccup, coupled with extensive alliteration to create the rhythms of drunkenness that invite the reader to also partake.  The multi-sensual impact of a blue sunlit sky captured with such precision in “Molten Blue”, provides both warmth and visual appeal, but it’s more than the flower, the sights and scents of a striking summer day. It’s the impact of that day on the poetic imagination that turns it from a moment of experience to something permanent. This is the creative flow or wellspring that the poet taps into (to keep the liquid metaphor going).  It is Emily’s meta-poetic implication that turns this otherwise heady pastoral poem into something quite post-modern.

The extended metaphor of a drunkard at the inn is stretched further in the third stanza, as day becomes night and the poet continues the creative spree.  The landlord might be the foxglove itself, closing petals so that the bee and butterfly, that have had their fill of sweet nectar, can drink no more.  For the poet, the “high on life” inebriation doesn’t end because there’s always more beauty in the endless creative flow in this figurative inn where the tap is always open.

The final stanza shifts from the nature metaphor into a more frigid heavenly one, away from the immediacy of sensual pleasure.  From these lofty heights, beyond the window, an angel (“Seraphs”) or teetotaler saint might look down from a frosty (“snowy Hats”) heaven and disapprove of such excesses of sensual joy. The reader too, who has been encouraged in the first three stanzas to partake, might disapprove of such poetic licentiousness. After all, this is the full sensual experience – sight, sound, smell, touch and taste are all evoked in a reeling swirl that is quite overwhelming.  Of course, we might just join in in this moment of creative power and shared delight and let ourselves be seduced.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Oct Compulsive Reader has gone out

The October Compulsive Reader newsletter has just left by owl, and should arrive in your inbox shortly.  By way of a preview, the newsletter contains the usual bevy of 10 fresh reviews and interviews, including my own long overdue review of Ali Alizadeh's Iran, My Grandfather and Fiona Wright's Small Acts of Disappearance.  We've also got Nicole Trope, Lee Holmes (it's all about the gut), Lars Gustafsson and Agneta Blomqvist, and much more.  If you haven't kept abreast of all the literary news this month, don't fear, because I've got a very thorough global round-up including the new Ritchell prize longlist, Mao Dun Literature Prize, The Scotiabank Giller Prize, and on it goes.  If that doesn't entice you, we've got 3 new giveaways, including the 200th limited edition anniversary version of Austin's Emma

If you haven't gotten your copy yet, and don't want to wait (or if it went into your spam tray...), just go here and help yourself:  The Compulsive Reader News

If you aren't subscribed, you should be!  Just go to The Compulsive Reader and sign up.  It's free, you just get one newsletter a month, and it's a fantastic community of book lovers.  We'd love you to join us. 

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Poetry Monday: The Poetry Magazine Podcast

In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m a bit of a podcast fan.  They’re easy to slot into the day, listening while you cook, clean, iron, drive or do other chores that engage your body.  Some of my favourites which I try not to miss and have blogged about before are Regime Books’ Australian Poetry Podcast and Jacket2’s PoemTalk, but today I’ve enjoyed The Poetry Magazine’s podcast run by the Poetry Foundation.

This one includes an analysis of several the poems in the September issue, which focuses on Irish poets.  The podcast looks at three of the poems in the magazine - specifically Michelle O’Sullivan’s “Bespoke", Billy Ramsell’s “Things No Longer There", and Victoria Kennefick’s “Paris Syndrome".  There’s also an interview with Patrick Cotter, who guest-edited the edition and wrote the introduction.  Though The Poetry Foundation don’t go into the kind of depth that APP or PoemTalk do, listening is still a good way to find new poets, explore a few poems in a little more depth than a solitary reading, and always fun, I think, to hear poets read their own work, and to listen to poetry being explored and unpicked a little. You can also pick up copies of each of the poems discussed at the website, which is here:

If you haven’t come across the Poetry Foundation before, I recommend it.  I think that their database of poets and poems (particularly American poets and poetry) is probably the most extensive on the internet - certainly the most extensive and valuable that I’ve come across.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Compulsive Reader for Sept is out

Just a quick blogpost to let you know that the latest Compulsive Reader newsletter has now gone out an is making its way through the online superhighway to your inbox even as I type this.  This month’s issue features the usual bevy of 10 new reviews including my own reviews of Jean Kent’s phenomenal  The Hour of Silvered Mullet (Jean and I will be chatting about the book later in the month) and The Eye of the Sheep by Sofie Laguna (a book that made me cry so hard, I had to remove myself from the living room for a bit so I wouldn’t frighten my family).  We’ve also got interviews with Val Brelinski, Andrew Joyce, and Mary E Martin (our guest blogger last week), and additional reviews from my fantastic review team including Harper Lee’s very popular Go Set a Watchman, The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham, Hell and God and Nuns with Rulers by John Collings, and plenty more, including 5 book giveaways for our subscribers.  If you can’t wait for your copy or if it got blocked by your spam filters somehow, you can grab one here:
Compulsive Reader Newsletter link

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Sunday, August 30, 2015

Poetry Monday: Tincture Journal

The acceptance for publication in Tincture Issue 11 was probably the best acceptance I’ve ever received.  It not only came within a day of my submission, but in addition to a very warm acceptance, poetry editor Stuart Barnes said something to me along the lines of: “I’ve been re-reading Quark Soup, and was hoping you’d submit.”  I know another more well-known poet used to such accolades would not be so ecstatic by the idea of someone re-reading my first traditionally published chapbook (Picaro Press - who have have kept it “in-stock” all these years), but I don’t often hear the phrase “re-reading Quark Soup”, much less in conjunction with “hoping you’d submit.” 

Barnes is no slouch as a poet himself.  After being a runner up last year, he’s just won this year’s Arts Queensland Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize for his manuscript The Staysails, which will be published by the University of Queensland Press in 2016.  I intend to grab a copy as soon as it becomes available (I’ve read many of the Shapcott award books and they’ve been, without exception, superb), and I’m sure I’m not the only person who feels personal pride at Stuart’s well-deserved win. The poetry world is a small one, and one of the things I like best about it is that poets tend, in the main, to support one another through reading each other’s work, publishing, reviewing, and promoting, and above all, connecting over it. Despite the solitary nature of the writing process, there’s something particularly communal about poetry, perhaps because it allows such deep and instant insight into emotion, meaning, and beauty, converging the personal with the universal.

Small journals tend to encourage the communal response, and Tincture does it particularly well.  It’s impeccably edited, beautifully presented (a perfect example of how electronic media should be presented), and offers a wide range of carefully curated work: poetry and prose, fiction, nonfiction, interviews.  Issue Eleven, which I’m reading right now, is Kindle or iPad friendly (so you can carry it with you), easy to read (while, for example, waiting for the dentist and other otherwise lost moments), and basically wonderful. I’m proud to have my work published alongside such company.   You can buy a copy of Issue Eleven for just $A8.00 (on today’s xe that’s 5.70usd - such a bargain) here:

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Guest blog: Who Has Seen the Cosmic Egg?

Today we are being visited by a virtual blog tour celebrating the completion of author Mary E. Martin's second series, The Trilogy of Remembrance. We would like to welcome followers of the tour joining us from JD Holiday's World of Ink Network BlogTalkRadio interview with Mary E. Martin, on,  and from other sites on the tour.

Followers of the tour have an opportunity to enter in a $200 Amazon gift card giveaway, sponsored by the author, as well as to receive a purchase incentive package donated by the tour sponsors. Entries in Mary's $200 Amazon gift card giveaway will be accepted until midnight on August 31, 2015 with an announcement of the winner posted from Mary's Blog on September 1, 2015. Anyone submitting a proof of purchase entry in the giveaway draw will receive as an added benefit the tour purchase incentive rewards package of free e-books and discount coupons donated by tour hosts. For a full tour schedule of events, as well as details on how to enter the lottery drawing for the gift card and receive the purchase incentive rewards package, visit Mary E. Martin at

We encourage our guests to follow the tour further by visiting Lisa Haselton's Reviews and Interviews,, for a Q&A Interview with Mary. Mary E. Martin is the author of two trilogies: The Osgoode Trilogy, inspired by her many years of law practice; and The Trilogy of Remembrance, set in the glitter and shadows of the art world. Both Trilogies will elevate the reader from the rush and hectic world of today and spin them into realms of yet unimagined intrigue. Be inspired by the newly released and final installment of The Trilogy of Remembrance, Night Crossing.  

A painter in his studio

Alexander Wainwright, Britain’s finest landscape artist, has been pacing his studio overlooking the Thames.

Disgusted with his feeble efforts at painting, he
flings his palette at his new half-finished canvas. He cannot, in his heart and mind, create something new. But then—in all its shimmering glory, the cosmic egg floats up before Alexander, the visionary artist.

He caught some movement—a shadow or shifting shape dancing on the wall. As he turned toward the shadows, his mouth grew slack. His breath deepened and a blissful, innocent smile spread across his face. His legs grew weak and he staggered toward his vision as if drawn by irresistible but unknown forces. Against the tall windows, now blackened in the night, a golden egg rose up, shimmering with beautiful gems—diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds which sparkled like the purest sunlight. Turning slowly, this marvellous object throbbed with life as if it contained all the energy in the world. His lips parted and he spoke three words—“the cosmic egg.” 

The third in
The Trilogy of Remembrance
It was perhaps three feet in height and, at its widest point, two feet in breadth. It rotated majestically several times and then drifted upward toward the ceiling. Although stunning, it was as insubstantial as a rainbow and began to dissipate before his eyes. Awe struck, he stood motionless. The cosmic egg was the seed heralding new creation. Everything necessary was at hand and contained within that egg. For eons, it had tantalized humankind with the secret mystery of creation, life and death and the promise of immortality— From Night Crossing.

And so, Night Crossing, the third in The Trilogy of Remembrance begins. Alexander has experienced a very real vision, which propels him on a hero’s journey from London to Paris and also St. Petersburg.

The train is Alex’s favourite
mode of transportation
Although Alex would tell you his inspiration comes from his muse, he learns much from his travels and the people he meets. Some quality of mind or spirit within him causes people to confide their stories in him and contemplate their own lives—in fact, the very nature of existence itself. In his presence, people experience a rare attentiveness and wisdom. But it is very much a two way street. Alex gains as much as they do and he comes away enriched by a profound respect for and love of the human spirit. He calls it searching for his light.

What is this cosmic egg? It’s not just a static symbol. It’s a potent living force or energy which we sometimes experience, if we are lucky, as our creative spirit. Alex very much needs it at this moment of extreme dissatisfaction with his work.

 “The shell of the cosmic egg is the world frame of space, while the fertile seed-power within typifies the inexhaustible life-dynamism of nature.” —says Joseph Campbell, the renowned writer and lecturer about mythology and story-telling.

Joseph Campbell
So many thoughts and directions! At the start of the novel, I was nearly overwhelmed. But there were a number of fundamental ideas which came from Campbell’s work and they kept me on track. He often spoke of the hero’s journey underlying so many stories.

In brief, the protagonist of the story, Alex, is living in circumstances which are highly unsatisfactory to him. He is hungry, if not desperate, for change. And so, an event occurs—envisioning the cosmic egg—which sets him off on an adventure. In that journey, our protagonist will meet many people, some who help and others who hinder.

In Night Crossing, Alex meets Miss Trump on the train headed for the ferry at Portsmouth. Who is this elderly woman who first appears to Alex as a rather simple or dull companion? She is part seer, part goddess of love and teacher of the power of synchronicity.

He will find many problems and challenges but learn much by overcoming them. Then he will return with something new and wonderful, which after all is what we want from any creative endeavour. The hero’s journey is the creative process.

Carl Jung
Speaking of synchronicity, The Trilogy of Remembrance is filled with many instances of it. Where did that concept come from? Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist spent much of his career exploring the idea of synchronicity.

It’s simply this—two or more events occur simultaneously or pretty close together with no apparent causal connection between them. In fact they seem unrelated in any way in time and space, but they come together to form a personal and meaningful message for you. Lots of people call it a “sign.” Others dismiss it as coincidence or happenstance.

Jung spent years considering synchronicity in his research and clinical practice. If a person has not had a synchronistic experience, then it is hard to really believe in it. But I can assure you that Alex does.

Here’s an example from Night Crossing. The very next day, after envisioning the cosmic egg, Alexander has lunch with his art dealer James Helmsworth. He is dumbfounded when his dealer shows him a painting of the cosmic egg—not just any old cosmic egg but exactly the same cosmic egg which appeared to him the night before. Who could not be stunned by these occurrences?

Alexander Wainwright
That event raises a question—if another artist has seen precisely the same egg, does that mean it exists in the real world as opposed to just in Alex’s imagination. Seeing this image of the same cosmic egg spurs Alex on to find the painter of the egg. What happens next is the story of Night Crossing.

From this you can see that both Campbell and Jung are great influence not only in the realms of mythology and psychiatry but also in story-telling. And story-telling, as Alexander Wainwright will tell you, is one of the favourite, age old pleasures of humankind that will never die.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Poetry Monday: Martin Langford’s ground

I’m very lucky in that I get lots of new poetry books sent to me.  I hope I never become so spoilt or jaded that I lose the excitement I get when opening up a new one - the sense of adventure it contains, the silky feel of the cover as I crack the spine open and begin exploring new words, full of promise, of new worlds - like a kind of travelogue into the human condition.  Martin Langford’s ground is a bit like that.  Though I have yet to fully digest it, the poetry takes the reader through so many shades - not just actual places, though there are plenty of those - all throughout Victoria and Tasmania and especially Sydney, with its “Layers” and lines, but through times and themes, colours and historical moments - sometimes pastoral, sometimes post-modern apocalyptic, always mingling personal perception and political impact. Many of the poems concatenate place, event and multiple interpretation into a single space--a plane of semblance that builds towards cumulative meaning (“as if there were only this moment of grassed undulations.” (“Looking East from the Castlereigh (London, 1820)”). 

I have a feeling that many of these poems will take time to open out fully for me, as is often the case with good poetry, though they’re eerily beautiful and engaging on first reading.  Here’s a very small sample:

From “The Detectives of Light”

For years at a time
they had breasted the could-dreams of shorelines -
the sky-bleed the storms -

and now they were home, the detectives of light,
shuffling, in rooms thick with interests:
boxes of artefacts, orchids;
charts dense with patronage;
moonrise distilled into ink -- (19)