Monday, April 14, 2014

Poetry Monday: Maria Takolander's The End of the World

Maria Takolander's poetry seems to be both lush and spare at the same time. As the title of her new poetry book, The End of the World, suggests, the poems have an apocalyptic feel, taking us forward to a world where the "game is over"; the excesses and villainy of our past has wrecked the future, even as it explores the past with archeological fervor. While the scope of the book is grand, taking in a kind of chequered history of the human race and its foibles, a transcendent beauty continues to shine through, mostly in domestic moments:

" to my body you hulk and settle. There you lie,
strangely hungerless, intense as a nucleus.

alive with an intelligence of I know not what.
Men wage war to make something this real,

but it was life, pure and gluttonous, that committed
this glorious violence upon you and me."

Takolander's vision is taut, dark and powerful, moving easily between a micro and macro perspective that eliminates the dichotomy and shifts the point of transition and power from the grand sweep to minutae. Though I've yet to fully delve into every poem in this book (which I've only just received), The End of the World has drawn me in quickly, particularly the first part, which explores childbirth and motherhood in a way that is entirely unsentimental and as intense and beautiful as it is painful and fraught. Without losing any of the seriousness or density of her subjects, Takolander manages a sharp, black humour that weaves its way through the book.  The poet is a degenerate, and "those hysterics moved by her influence/are already, ipso facto, degenerate subjects".   Indeed.  I look forward to developing my hysteria and delving more deeply into the degenerate (and "perplexingly beautiful") poems that make up The End of the World

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Books in the Macleans Bookshop at the NWF

Just a few images I couldn't help capturing (I tried not to, but my camera is a little vain) of my books on sale in the Maclean's extensive Newcastle Writer's Festival bookshop on the bottom floor of City Hall.  They'll still be there tomorrow if you're so inclined.  If you can't find me to get an autograph, let me know and I'll make sure you get a personalised autograph - one way or another.  Even if you don't buy one of my books, there are lots of fine books from even finer writers, most of whom are local and all of whom are immensely talented.

You can get hold of a free cloth carry bag (stickers and bookmarks too) from the 1233 ABC Newcastle folk, who have done a terrific job of supporting the event (been enjoying their interviews all week), at their 1233 Chill Out Zone, just outside of City Hall.   That way you'll have something to carry your haul home in. 

Newcastle Writer's Festival Saturday Re-cap

I spent a lovely, indulgent day at the Newcastle Writers Festival today.  I started my day by attending the Rough and Tumblr session with Siobhan Curran, Mark MacLean, and Michael Newton, hosted by Newcastle University creative writing lecturer Keri Glastonbury.  The three bloggers talked about the start and evolution of their blogs, and showed a selection of images from their blogs. For me, the biggest takeaway was that no matter what the medium (images or words), at the end of the day, what's most evocative to readers is the story that emerges.

Photo by Leonie Rogers
Then was the magnificent Kate Forsyth. Kate was not only enchanting (as you might expect), warm, and open, she also provided so many tips for writers (including some exceptional ideas for writers block) that I wish I'd recorded every word on tape.  Some of the advice I intend to implement immediately is to write a little synopsis each evening of what I plan to write the next day before I go to bed to get the subconscious to work for you.  I love her use of notebooks too to keep track of story ideas and create a working scrapbook for each novel. She showed us a rather pretty slim one she's carrying with her, but you can have a look at the completed notebook for her latest book The Wild Girl at Kate's blog.

Following that, was my session How Does Poetry Survive with John Knight, Christopher Pollnitz and Rob Riel. David Musgrave was held up in Sydney - we missed him (no one else wore a funny poetry t-shirt for one thing), but the show went on and my three panel members were extraordinarily lucid, offering insights on what it means to be a modern poet, poetry publisher, and poetry editor. Our discussion was wide ranging, including such things as publishing slam poetry, on critical editing, the tricky dance between editor, reader and poet, Pollnitz' gorgeous exploration of part II of Auden's "In Memory of WB Yeats" (one of my favourite poems) which he aligned perfectly with the topic, and lots more. The room was packed to the wall and we went just a bit overtime due to the enthusiasm of the rather diverse crowd and my desire to take all questions. 

Finally, I ended my day by attending the Newcastle, City of Poets poetry reading at Agosti Espresso on Darby Street, compered by the wonderful Judy Johnson, and featuring readings from a number of local poets including Ivy Ireland, Mark Tredinnick, Robin Loftus, Kathryn Fry, Glenn Beatty, Cassandra O’Loughlin, Jean Talbot, Clark Gormley, Linda Ireland, and a few others (including myself).  Judy did an excellent job of keeping us on track (even if not all of us kept strictly to our 5 mins...). It was certainly a delightful way to end the day for me, though there are more sessions this evening and another whole day of it tomorrow

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Compulsive Reader Newsletter for April is out

Just in case you haven't received yours (or it's sitting in your spam folder - I'm afraid the word "compulsive" does sometimes trigger it), the new Compulsive Reader newsletter for April has gone out with the usual cache of ten eclectic reviews including My Journey by Olivia Chow, Random Acts of Kindness by Lisa Verge Higgins, The Heroism of Pakistani Poetry,  Nice Girls Still Don’t Get the Corner Office by Lois P Frankel, Valerie June’s Pushin’ Against a Stone, The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth, Get it Done — From Procrastination to Creative Genius in 15 minutes a day by Sam Bennett, The Rule of Knowledge by Scott Baker, the Sternthal-Klugman film The Words and Lucy Fischer’s book Body Double, and It Came! by Dan Boultwood.  How's that for diversity?  There's also a big roundup of literary news (lots going on this month), and three new book giveaways for subscribers to enter. You can grab a copy from the archive here: and if you aren't a subscriber, go and subscribe already:  It's free, it's informative, it's artistic, it's a global worldwide network of book lovers and if you aren't already subscribed, we're missing you. 

Monday, March 31, 2014

You're Invited: New Flying Island Books from two superb poets

This Friday, April 4th, the wonderful Jean Kent and Judy Johnson will be launching their new books Exhibit and The Language of Light, both published by Flying Island Books from 5 pm to 6.30 pm, and you're invited.  The event will take place at:
The Press Book House
462 Hunter St

These two poets will launch each others books, in what I expect to be a rather wonderful session (and aren't the covers beautiful?). 
MC: Karen Crofts, Director, Hunter Writers Centre
RSVP: or

These Flying Island books contain a selection of poems from Judy and Jean, with translations into Chinese by Iris Fan.

Judy Johnson, who launched my own Black Cow novel some years ago, has been writing and publishing poetry in Australia for twenty years and has won a number of prizes including the Victorian Premier's Award, Wesley Michel Wright Award (twice), Josephine Ulrick and Val Vallis Prize. In 2011 she was awarded a month's long residency at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Ireland as a part of the Varuna Alumni Exchange Program. She taught Creative Writing at Newcastle University for several years and is currently working on a book of narrative poetry supported by a Literature Board Grant.

Jean Kent, who was one of my panelists at the NWF last year, has published four collections of poetry. The most recent is Travelling with the Wrong Phrasebooks (Pitt Street Poetry, 2012). Her books have been set for study at university and in secondary schools. Awards she has won include the Anne Elder Prize, Dame Mary Gilmore Award and Wesley Michel Wright Prize for books, and the National Library Prize, Josephine Ulrick Prize and Somerset Prize for individual poems. In 1994 and 2011, she was awarded residencies at the Literature Board's Keesing Studio in Paris, where she completed some of the poems in this selection.

I personally count both of these poets as mentors and hugely inspirational.  They're writing is always powerful, distinctive and rich, and having both together in one session is a treat. 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Slightest Hint of Magic: Kate Forsyth

As many of you will know (probably all too well as I keep cracking on about it), I'll be 'in-conversation' with Kate Forsyth next Saturday at the Newcastle Writers Festival. Kate is an amazing writer whose work seems to bridge every genre gap. She's written some 26 books, some for children, some for adults, and some that work perfectly for both children and adult.  A number of her books are true fantasy, rich with magic and myth, adventure and quests. Others are historical fiction, love stories, fairy tale re-tellings, picture books.  Kate also writes, and has had published, a number of essays and articles, and even poetry. 

Whatever she writes seems to have a touch of magic in it - sometimes just the magic of epiphany and character transformation, and sometimes overt magic of the sort that comes with high fantasy.  No matter how much magic Kate has in her work, it's always natural, subtly handled, and integral to and integrated with the plot.  Her latest novel is The Wild Girl, which I've reviewed here: The Wild Girl is set during the Napoleonic Wars and tells the story of Wilhelm Grimm and Dortchen Wild, the young woman who told Wilhelm most of the fairy tales that made him famous.

Next weekend, Kate and I will talk about a wide range of things, including her 'creative journey', how she manages the balance between publishing and research, about what draws her to fairy tales, about the "silent" but fascinating women in history, about storytelling and what it means to be a professional storyteller, the conjunction between reading and writing, and many other things.  There will be plenty of time for the audience to ask Kate their questions and interact with us.  To get hold of tickets, either drop by here: or you can spend a little more and chance a sell-out, by getting them at the door.  Either way, I expect this to be a fascinating and enjoyable session with just the slightest hint of magic.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Anthony Lawrence gets intimate

I hope you're not getting tired of my continual harping about the Newcastle Writers Festival (4-6 April), but I have to admit that, as we're inching closer to the date, I'm getting pretty excited.  Not just about my own sessions, which I've been talking about over the past weeks (I'll do one final blast on Kate Forsyth shortly), but also about all the other interesting events taking place over the two days. I'm particularly pleased by how many poetry sessions there are. The Festival is poetry rich, with some of Australia's finest poets leading workshops, talking poetry, and reading their work. One of those poets is Anthony Lawrence, who will be reading love poetry in the intimate setting of The Press Book House (462 Hunter St), a charming bookshop/cafe in the heart of the city. The session runs from 11:15am on Saturday

Lawrence has published 13 poetry books, including, most recently, Signal Flare which was published in 2013 by Puncher & Wattman, and has won a swag of awards for his work, including the Josephine Ulrick Award, the Queensland Premier's Award, the New South Wales Premier's Award, the Newcastle Poetry Prize, the ABR Poetry Prize, and the Gwen Harwood Memorial Award to name just a few.  For a little taste of Lawrence's work, you can listen to him read on the wonderful ABC Radio National show Poetica (which I recommend):

To grab tickets to this event, or find out more, drop by