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Our New Blog: Poem Monday

For the last few Mondays Oonagh and I have been writing poems together. We pick a topic and then write one poem each, reading them out to the family when we’re done.

Our first poems were about blue hamburger fish.

You can check them out over at our Poem Monday blog, and stay tuned for more poems every Monday from now on.

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Attoreview: Patricia Lockwood – Balloon Pop Outlaw Black


The cartoon reaches deep into a pocket, deep into a hole in the pocket, into “hammerspace”, and retrieves a huge pair of scissors. His mother, who lives there, hands him what he needs. Touches the tips of his fingers.

A few of the poems in this, Lockwood’s first collection, are highly prosaic, long-lined stanzas stretching out over many pages, puntuated by what seem to be subsidiary poems within the body of the larger poem. There are a number of shorter poems here too, but the longer pieces make the strongest impression with their deep Whitman / Ashberry-esque explorations of surreal premises that use intelligence and humour to co-opt and dissect the conceits of received wisdom, cartoons, storybooks and schoolbooks, pursuing the implication of things like what it is to be an ink drawing, or what it would mean to live inside a whale, to profound conclusions. These poems are weird, unsettling, confident and beguiling. There are no poems here that directly speak of lived experience, but in her deep consideration of bizarre scenarios Lockwood unearths resonant emotions that will stay with you long after you finish reading.

Highly Recommended.

Buy Balloon Pop Outlaw Black from Octopus Books.

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This Week I Are Mostly Been Reading…

Grendel by John Gardner

GrendelCoverThis short novel reimagines the the old English poem Beowulf from the monster’s point of view. Grendel is the eponymous protagonist, in the original a bloodthirsty giant ape-man cannibal with a mad-on for anyone who hangs out in a mead hall, here instead a solitary philosopher of a monster who watches the rise of the court of Danish king Hrothgar in all its bloody self interest and wonders where he stands in relation to it.

The first half of the book has Grendel introduce himself (and his mad, monstrous mother) to the reader and take us with him on his rambling journeys as he travels the land, developing pet theories to explain the nature of existence at the same time as experiencing its violence and enacting violence upon it.

The arrival of a storyteller at Hrothgar’s court begins to codify Grendel’s place in their society as an avatar of evil and, though initially resistant and a little resentful, after an encounter with a powerful dragon who lives outside of time and who can see the future, Grendel embraces the role thrust upon him and devotes himself to becoming the murderous – though still skeptical – villain of the piece, spying on court intrigues, passing silent and cynical judgement and murdering soldiers – until his inevitable encounter with Beowulf, the hero destined to slay him.

I first read Grendel 20 years ago without knowing more than the bare outlines of the legend (something along the lines of “monster kills heaps of people until a hero rips his arm off”). I was prompted to come back to it after finally reading the poem that inspired it, and I’m really glad I did. Turns out Gardner was a Beowulf scholar – his intimacy with the source material is evident if you know what you’re looking for (not that I claim to have fully decoded this intricate work – cursory examination of criticism of Grendel has shown me that there’s a lot to this little novel, which doesn’t surprise me). It feels smart. Also funny and playful and kind, if you can say that sort if thing about a book starring a literal monster who tears people apart with his hands and eats them. In this instance I’m confident you can.

The “internal monologue of the badguy reveals them to be not so bad after all” trope is pretty played out these days, but Gardner’s take on humanising the monster doesn’t feel obvious or forced – maybe because it was written in ’71 or maybe because he’s just a really good writer. I wasn’t as convinced by his portrayal of Beowulf as an avatar or death or Fate (or the Dragon – it’s a little complicated to be honest) – I thought it did disservice to the depth he has, and the journey he takes, in the original poem. Still, you could make a case for this being Beowulf at the height of his youth and arrogance at the start of his own transformation from brash unthinking hero to (spoilers?) wise and weary king or something if you wanted to. It’s not a biggie – this is Grendel’s story, not Beowulf’s, so a depiction of Grendel’s murderer as a baddie is kind of fair enough.

Anyway. Great book. You should read it, then read the poem it’s based on, then read it again. Then read the poem again too.

Highly, HIGHLY recommended.

Compare prices for second-hand copies of Grendel over at booko.com.au.

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This Week I Are Mostly Been Reading…

Doctor Who: Fifty Stories For Fifty Years – An Unauthorised Guide To The Highlights Of Doctor Who

50StoriesIn the lead up to the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, music, politics and pop culture blogger Andrew Hickey wrote 50 essays about the show, each one focusing on a different year in the show’shistory. I was most interested in the essays about the post-1989 pre-2005 time in Who history when there was no TV show being made, during which fans and creators continued to tell Doctor Who stories in novels, comics, fan-made videos and audio plays (it’s interesting to see how many of the authors – and even how many of the ideas – from that time  have turned up as major players in the making of the current version of the show).

Sometimes close reading of pop culture reveals the subject of its investigation to be insubstantial and incapable of standing up to such analysis, but this collection doesn’t quite fall into that trap. Sure, it probably thinks about its subject a little too deeply, but Hickey’s prose is engaging and compelling and never too opaque (though I may be coming from a sympathetic perspective since I’m already a long-standing fan of the show in all its iterations).

Hickey’s enthusiasm obviously lies with the “classic” 1963-1989 version of the show, and he also demonstrates affection for the spin-off comics, novels and audio plays, but even though he’s clearly down on New Who, he has interesting things to say about the show’s current incarnation as well. As I read through this book I put together a list of episodes, comics, novels and audio plays to dig up and/or rewatch, and I’m going to enjoy working through that list with Hickey’s thoughts and interpretations in mind.

This is a great intro for people fans of the show who are interested in taking the plunge into the deeper levels of who fandom.

Highly Recommended.

Download Doctor Who: Fifty Stories For Fifty Years – An Unauthorised Guide To The Highlights Of Doctor Who from Smashwords here.

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“…a ruck of other soldiers died around them.”

                                                       Now Amarinceus’ son
Diores – fate shackled Diores fast and a jagged rock
struck him against his right shin, beside the ankle.
Pirous son of Imbrasus winged it hard and true,
the Thracian chief who had sailed across from Aenus…
the ruthless rock striking the bones and tendons
crushed them to pulp – he landed flat on his back,
slaming the dust, both arms flung out to his comrades,
gasping out his life. Pirous who heaved the rock
came rushing in and speared him up the navel –
his bowels uncoiled, spilling lose on the ground
and the dark came swirling down across his eyes.
                                                                                          But Pirous –
Aetolian Thoas speared him as he swerved and sprang away,
the lancehead piercing his chest above the nipple
plunged deep in his lung, and Thoas, running up,
wrenched the heavy spear from the man’s chest,
drew his blade, ripped him across the belly,
took his life but he could not strip his armour.
Look, there were Pirous’ cohorts bunched in a ring,
Thracians, topknots waving, clutching their long pikes
and rugged, strong and proud as the Trojan Thoas was,
they shoved him back – he gave ground, staggering, reeling.
And so the two lay stretched in the dust, side-by-side,
a lord of Thrace, a lord of Epeans armed in bronze
and a ruck of other soldiers died around them.
                                                                                     And now
no man who waded into that work could scorn it any longer,
anyone still not speared or stabbed by tearing bronze
who whirled into the heart of all that slaughter –
not even if great Athena led him by the hand,
flicking away the weapons hailing down against him.
That day ranks of Trojans, ranks of Achaean fighers
sprawled there side-by-side, facedown in the dust.

– Homer, The Iliad (trans. Robert Fagles, 1990), Book IV, 599-630.

For Remembrance Day.

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Published: She Called Up Her Mind’s Fire And Watched Him Burn

I’m pretty stoked to have a story in This Mutant Life an anthology of NeoPulp writing – specifically, short stories about superheroes – published by the inestimable Ben Langdon.

My story in TML is one I wrote years back as part of a residency I did at the State Library of Victoria that was all about using their collection of 1940s and 1950s australian superhero comics as a starting point for a bunch of flash fictions.

It features a short-lived superhero called Kazanda the Jungle Queen, originally created by the legendary Archie E. Martin and Edward Brodie-Mack and featured in Rangers Comics in the ’40s as well as a reprint volume in the ’70s.

Continue reading “Published: She Called Up Her Mind’s Fire And Watched Him Burn”

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Published: The Moon is Not Talking to Us

I’ve got a poem in cordite 43.1, also known as PUMPKIN, which would make it their Halloween issue I guess. Which is nice.

According to the editorial, this issue of cordite explores “the quasi-transmedia intersection of the literal and the visual, and how the latter might interpret the former”. As you do.

In plain speak I’m pretty sure that means there’s 8 comics in there, each created in response to a poem of the comic artist’s choosing.

In my case the artist doing the choosing was Gregory Mackay, internationally lauded author of the delightful polylinguistically published Francis Bear comics (aka bande dessinee de la ours au Francis?). Greg took my poem about the indifference of the Moon and added a parallel layer of narrative about childhood deception that is quite lovely. Plus it has Lego in it. Space Lego.

Working with Greg was a great experience. He shared his drafts with me, inspiring a redraft of the original poem that I think made it much stronger. Greg was open to all of my questions and suggestions, even when they began to encroach on his own artistic territory, for which I am grateful.

You can see the finished comic here, or read the poem sans illustration here. I’d love to know what you think.

While you’re there you should check out the other comics as well, particularly

  • Bruce Mutard’s precise, detailed, far-ranging and breathtaking adaptation of A. Frances Johnson’s anti-drone warfare “Microaviary” suite
  • Marijka Gooding’s heavy inks and curvaceous linework accompanying Michael Farrel’s tweaky reality-TV-style “TV”
  • Bernard Caleo’s frenetic retelling of two encounters with Jack Hibberd, one literary, one literal
  • Mirranda Burton’s surreal depiction of a cat that’s also a window or a mirror stalking the streets of fitzroy to the tune of Kevin Pearson’s “His Quarter”

Profuse thanks once again to Greg for asking me to be involved in such a fun project. It’s a pleasure to share space with such a talented mob of poet-types and comic-sorts.

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“I Hate Correcting Somebody, But Someone Has To.”

I got an email from John Tranter about my latest “Why Do You Write Poetry?” post on The Blue Corner.

From: John Tranter
To: me
Subject: Innumerate… and what it means.

Dear Adam,

I hate correcting somebody, but someone has to.

You write: “They answer in innumerate ways, as poets are wont to do.” I felt there was something wrong with that “innumerate”… it seemed related to “illiterate”. So I checked with a dictionary:

Innumerate: “Without a basic knowledge of mathematics and arithmetic”

You probably meant “Innumerable”: “Numerous, too many to be counted.”

John Tranter

Thanks to John.

I’ve contacted The Blue Corner and we’ll have things fixed up soon.

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Canonical: The Rig Veda

So back in ought-eleven I started on this little self-improvement project whereby I would read the English language poetical canon in order from start to finish.

Here we are in ought-thirteen and I’m exactly one and a half books into that list, or two (where two equals one plus a half plus a half) if you count the slight detour I took after Gilgamesh to have a go at the Rig Veda.

Continue reading “Canonical: The Rig Veda”

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Review: Thirty Australian Poets

I completely forgot about this one, but aaaaaaaaaages back I had my review of Thirty Australian Poets, a new University of Queensland Press anthology of Australian poets who were born after 1968 and who have had one collection published, published on cordite. Thanks, cordite!

Short version: I liked some of it not so much and some of it heaps. Long version here.