HUSH, My New Chapbook, From Blank Rune Press

HUSHcoverenhancedI’ve recently had a chapbook—HUSH—published by the wonderful small Australian Blank Rune Press. The publisher, Valli Poole, was a dream to work with—she’s so passionate and particular about what she does, and as a result the books (which she hand-makes) are exquisite. Blank Rune only do a very limited print run, and Valli has told me HUSH has almost sold out. But I have a few copies to sell, so if you’d like one, please hit me up! They’re $15 (which includes postage). Here’s a little taster from the book.

Facetune

I crop your girth of grief
so it won’t show.
Coruscate your under-eyes
in the hope that hope might grow.

Destain your teeth, raze blemishes,
out damn spot!
Blood the lips, lend bloom
to what’s worn off.

I pray I could move deeper—
sweep the lungs. Restart
the heart, the mind;
unspool the past.

Return us to the prescient game
I played,
when my unconscious
conjured you this way.

 

I Have My Say on Bishop on Poetry Says

elizabeth bishop

I had a blast talking to the lovely Alice Allan on her new podcast, Poetry Says. We spoke about a poem I’ve become rather obsessed with, Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘Giant Snail‘. I liked the poem so much, in fact, that I wrote one of my own inspired by it! You can listen to the podcast here and read my homage to ‘Giant Snail’ below. And please subscribe to Alice’s podcast! She records a new episode each week.

On Reading Bishop

after Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘Giant Snail’
(for PS Cottier)

A peaceful life is arduous
to attain; desire’s
not enough, nor positive aim —
one side’s withdrawal is always the other’s gain.

What germ inside us inclines towards hate?
It seems to me there must be something
rank and spindly
tangled in the hub of our hearts
disordering their true rotation
until we become beings whose frequency
is attuned to blame.

Therefore, I hold my words
on a parsimonious rein.

Reading Bishop, a distinctive stillness comes.
Like her giant snail I too inch forward
my own amorphous, unguarded
foot absorbing sharp barbs of gravel
avoiding rough spears of grass
as I push, bull-headed, to gain a crack
in God’s sanctuary before sunrise.

Grafitti

7a3bc954b0f2243401c52a2bbe456476I’ve had an angry little poem published over on the excellent Bluepepper — the place for poetry with bite. This poem certainly has some! Thanks to editor Justin Lowe for his unfailing support.

Graffiti

Degrade degrade degrade yourself
take care to curl up small.
Have I grown
compact enough?
Unfurl me at your peril.

In the lengthening autumn
of my shadow skirl reams of discontent—
Am I sitting meekly?
No? Forbid me speak!

Deface deface deface yourself
until you disappear.
Leave no glyphs to sign this space
(she wasn’t even here).

My review of Hook and Eye, by Judith Beveridge, published on Mascara Literary Review

HookandEye.jpgJudith Beveridge’s Hook and Eye is a collection of previously published poems selected to showcase the highly regarded Australian poet’s work to an American readership. The poems are for the most part imaginatively — rather than autobiographically — conceived, lyrical while still remaining largely outward looking, and full of the sensual imagery and sound-play for which Beveridge’s work is prized. Yet what is most striking about the book, comprised of work written over a twenty-five year span, are the enduring and distinctive spiritual concerns of the poet, and how these inform her praxis.

As Maria Takolander points out in a recent review[i], the book’s first poem, ‘Girl Swinging’, seems deliberately placed to give the reader insight into (perhaps even guidance for entering) the poet’s creative practise.

I often think about
the long process that loves
the sound we make.
It swings us until
we’ve got it by heart;
the music we are.

(‘Girl Swinging’)

The process of creation rather than the creation itself is paramount, a process which (like Beveridge) ‘loves’ playing with ‘the sound we make’ and which ‘swings us’ until we come to understand, at a heart level, ‘the music we are’. There is a profound desire for personal transformation: the speaker, longing ‘to be a symphony / levitated by grace-notes’, turns quietly within, ‘listening to myself’ until ‘that feeling comes / of being lifted into the air’. Takolander has convincingly argued that lyric poetry is fundamentally a poetry of embodiment and senses a paradox here in the way the remembered sensations of the girl’s body ‘swinging’ generate the adult speaker’s spiritual disembodiment. Yet it is not merely sensory experience which leads to this state – it is the poet’s attentive focus upon the girl’s sensory experience which foreground a form of mindfulness and lead the narrator of ‘Girl Swinging’ to her own kind of lyric elevation. Beveridge’s poetry could perhaps be called a poetry of conscious embodiment; here, physicality acts as tool for deepening the narrator’s awareness until she rises into a space of ‘…clear singing / …above / the common rattle / of chains’.

 

You can read the rest of the review over at Mascara. My thanks to editor Michelle Cahill. 

Your fierce face

BabyFaceBlueYour fierce face

on the pillow—
brows spearing down towards
wide bisected koala nose
succulent lips
acute resilient chin.

Tonight you are troubled
by concerns beyond your scope:
baffling sorrows
pervading childhood’s lair…

Felt inside the strident pitch
of your father on the telephone;
the tremulous tone
of your mother’s lullabies.

Felt in the streak of the cat,
the slink of the dog;
felt in the dangerous pulse

of our home.

A review of Robbie Coburn’s chapbook, Before Bone and Viscera.

 

blood-viscera

 

Before Bone and Viscera, the third of Robbie Coburn’s publications is, like its predecessors, an unsettling read. This slim but intense volume is comprised of a ‘Prologue’ plus ten poems, and explores the dual territory—previously traversed in his chapbook Human Batteries (Picaro Press, 2012), and first full-length collection Rain Season (Picaro Press, 2013)—of the tortured rural landscape of Victoria, and the similarly tortured mental and bodily landscape of the poet.

The title of the chapbook introduces decomposition and regeneration as thematic concerns of the collection, begging the question—what is it that comes Before Bone and Viscera? The answer (given in the epigraph) is “decay”, a decay which “becomes being.” The poems begin, then, at the end, with images of physical and environmental disintegration, such as these, from ‘Prologue’:

 

the dry end of the trees unearth

here, in a brittle manifestation

 

of husk and bone

endless ruin of dirt

 

hand stone and the distortion inside lingers,

the backbone of consciousness

 

bends into the distance

vagrant colourless grasses

 

and the stench of compost

motion lays beyond the body

 

the roots are plumed, open and featherless

drying out the blood of any water.

 

(‘Prologue’ 1-12)

 

It is unclear if Coburn speaks here of the body or the land (indeed he speaks of both), and this superimposition of the human subject onto the environment is a distinctive and striking quality of Coburn’s poetry in general, and of Before Bone and Viscera in particular. This almost metaphysical intertwining of the internal and external landscapes further deepens throughout the poem—and the collection—as the human subject merges with his environment:

 

the broad ground against the dead

weight of the body

 

widening pulses of light radiating beneath

the other veins, absolving a bromine fog

 

interpreting this new proximity, sundried vertebrae

rust divides on rotting skin, a carcass without teeth,

 

hair, carrion

a limitless game littered with debris.

 

(‘Prologue’ 15-22)

 

This decomposition of a body which is both tree and flesh arises alongside “the wish to have never lived” and serves to drive “the heart out into the fire. so it begins.” The concept of a new self arising from the debris of the old is then explored in the disturbing second poem, ‘Rebirth’, where the speaker imagines skinning himself before reassembling the “old body” into a new skin which fits “better and wore itself in around / my glad eyes and abraded insides.” Here, the spectre of self-harm in the form of cutting begins to emerge: it’s a theme which runs discomfortingly just under the surface of much of Coburn’s poetry, although in this collection it is presented not merely as a means towards a (potentially fatal) end, but, once again, as a kind of rebirth: “This was the beginning, the new became / normal before darkness could be heightened, / loosened into the clear shot of morning” (‘Rebirth’ 23-25).

Similarly, in ‘Death Games’, the self-harm which has been implied in previous poems is now dealt with directly:

 

I drive the blade into the plumed vein of my left wrist:

through the edge of a balance ache I emerge

prodding at the trail of blood,

painting with my index finger.

 

(‘Death Games’ 1-4)

 

It’s a confronting image, although not necessarily for the speaker, who observes that in the rest of his life, “I won’t feel anything as clear as this red stream”. Ultimately, however, cutting is presented as a dangerous choice: at this emotional low-point the speaker discovers that “poetry has become meaningless” and that he is “ready to commit to losing this long game”. Yet even here death and (self)destruction precede renewal. Just as the natural landscape may be wounded but still harbour potential for regeneration, so too does the body and mind: the “suicidal impulses” which “precede / the day, hidden in an unseen act, / escaping consequence”, morph as the “disturbance” of daylight’s “eye” is cast upon them, culminating in an image of the speaker:

 

… walking across the charred

plank again

quickly into the inferno,

cheating death and towards life.

 

(‘Death Games 21-24)

 

Fire, which has long been used as a tool for both destruction and regeneration in the Australian bush, is utilised here as a metaphor to express the phoenix-like rising of the speaker from repeated episodes of self-harm. The image of “walking… into the inferno” and emerging renewed on the other side is an affirmation of both the human and natural world’s ability to withstand and transform hardship—and is particularly pertinent when considering the horrific 2009 Black Saturday bushfires which swept through rural areas of Victoria, close to where Coburn writes and lives.

However, the chapbook is by no means solely concerned with the poet’s own internal and external landscapes, or experiences. In ‘She is Starving’, Coburn explores a different kind of bodily abuse and slow suicide:

 

face hollowed, balanced on weak pipe-cleaner limbs,

her skeleton breaks then aims to crumble

inside the dark’s window. the floorboards snap her shrunken

legs. I carry the decaying white bones breathing in the unfurling

winds to the tomb her lifeless hands managed to prepare as

she starved, suiciding for years.

 

(‘She is Starving’ 17-22)

 

The interior habitats of Coburn’s poems—the houses and sheds—are, like the one in this poem, often haunted places: they shelter and harbour private and familial secrets and sufferings. The lines of this, and many of the poems in the collection, are long and lyric, and the poet eschews capitalisation: his verse, rather than announcing its arrival, glides like a ghost into the reader’s mind, and lingers there: “Sleep now inside your skin of silent ghosts. / your voice will still trace my throat, your absence will starve me / like a famine of memory” (‘She is Starving’ 23-25).

As in this example (“your voice will still trace my throat”) Coburn’s poems often employ synaesthetic imagery, and his work in this regard is reminiscent of the French Symbolists. In Before Bone and Viscera, Coburn’s use of symbolism is particularly powerful in poems which deal with family and relationships. In these poems, romantic or familial separation is conveyed through images of geographical distance and obstruction: the landscape is a map of internal memory and time, not simply of place. In ‘Loneliness’:

 

at this distance memory exists only in my head,

miles and years from you

as I foot the clustered pathway back where

all is unchanged and everything vanishes

but the jagged crown of rock parting the heightening mist.

 

(‘Loneliness’ 19-23)

 

Here the vast, unforgiving spaces of rural Australia function as symbols for the emotional and temporal distance Coburn wishes to express. Similarly, In ‘Sororen’ (Latin for sister), we find the speaker walking in search of his long-lost half-sister, a figure who haunts several of the poems in the collection:

 

I woke from months of searching

at a distance that is unimportant.

my still dreaming mind walked a flat

and uninhabited stretch of road

past the hollowed gum trees lining her

property…

 

(‘Sororen’ 1-6)

 

However, the distances which thwart the speaker’s desire for reconciliation are closed somewhat in ‘The Invisible Sister’, a poem where he and his sister “grow aware of each other”, and bridges, rather than “burning”, are now “lengthened”—the revelation dawning that it is possible (impossible not to?) “love blood from   such distance”.

This fractured family history is further explored in the poignant poem ‘Father, Daughter’, where, once again, synaesthetic imagery blurs the division between the wounded inner world and the natural landscape:

 

Father, listen to the years

ploughing the grass at your feet encircling

creases in your skin melded by long winds,

a gathering of drought and memory that knots

in the horizon, a kink in the land you worked.

 

(‘Father, Daughter’ 1-5)

 

In this hypnagogic poem, “the gallery” of the father’s “raw mind / shapes the sinking backyard” and “the merciless past floods through” his “interrupted veins”, which harbour the “unnamed wound” of a “nameless half-sister”. For the sister, the father is similarly abstracted, existing as “… a stranger / whose skeleton passes through memory”. As they did for Rimbaud and Baudelaire, objects in Coburn’s outer world function as recurring and deeply personal symbols to express the poet’s mental preoccupations and emotional states. A potent, almost totemic and sometimes paradoxical system of language emerges to describe internal states in relation to the body and the land: blood and sap are memory; bone, roots and trees are family; the skeleton is foundation as well as closeted experience; the skin is both potential union and separation; fire is birth and death; breath is life, and so on. These images are used so often and so reverently that they extend beyond metaphor and fall into the realm of metonymy, simultaneously deepening the hidden meanings of the poems and, in the case of ‘Father, Daughter’, lifting them into the realm of the archetypal:

 

the longing belongs in the foregathered illusions,

shadows I will watch sweep back into your suspended skin

the distressed close up of a father’s lips stitched into his

daughter’s hair, which the eyes have sacrificed in order

to live. we all dance for less—

it’s nothing you hadn’t foreseen.

 

(‘Father, Daughter’ 40-45)

 

Just as the poems in this short collection begin at the end—with “decay”—now the final poem of the collection, ‘The Blood is only Memory’, ends at the beginning—with “breath”. While the speaker’s “… pain / does not fade”, he finds that “this blood / is only memory” when set “against the warm pressure of breath”. In the language of symbols, breath is life, and it is both comforting and uplifting that a poetry collection so concerned with death and suffering should end on this more hopeful note. Pain is still present—of course it is—but something stronger than it exists, and just as our natural environment has the capacity to endure and regenerate after trauma, so, Coburn affirms in these poems, do we.

*

Robbie Coburn’s Before Bone and Viscera can be purchased from Rochford Street Press.

This review was first published in the excellent Australian journal of ecopoetry and ecopoetics, Plumwood Moutain. Please pay them a visit to read more reviews and fine poetry. My thanks to editor Anne Elvey.

 

 

 

Mourning Morning

 

jules-pascin-sleeping-woman

 

My mother’s house surrounds
me in a shroud: the tinkling
of the teaspoon as my father stirs
his tea, his tea; the chug of the washing machine
that never dies. The tubular wind chimes casting
their cool auric spell around us; the complaint
of the floorboards bearing up our lives.
And the busyness, of the birds in bush nearby… I

lie with eyes shucked open, not turning
to what waits to be let in.
I hear the phone shriek—and again—
then footsteps up the hall; the sound
of hesitation at the door—
as I elongate this moment,
try to dwell inside before.

 

*first published in Bluepepper