A few weeks ago, I was asked to launch a series of chapbooks for Garron Press. The whole deal was a bit nerve-wracking since two of the poets are pretty famous, and not just Adelaidean famous – I’m talking significant national cred. Anyway, the whole speech malarky seemed to go well. The poets were happy. People laughed. Chapbooks were sold.
One of the poets couldn’t be there on the day and had been bugging me for a copy of the speech ever since. Today, I eventually got around to sending it to her. The response was ‘good on you’. So all I can take from that was I guess you had to be there.
Now that the launch is done and dusted, I’ve been thinking that launch speeches are quite a bit of work – a considered combination of analysis and promotion – that only those who turn up on launch day get to hear. It’s a bit like a bridesmaid’s dress. It’s expensive and you only get to wear it once. So I thought that I’d post the speech, along with a link to Garron’s page, so that if you read this and feel inclined to buy the chapbooks in question, you can. And I get a bit more wear out of a piece of writing.
Here’s the link – Garron Press Series 5. Good on you.
Launch of Garron Publishing chapbook series 2017
Hello and thank you all so much for coming. It is my great pleasure and honour today to be launching the latest series of chapbooks from Garron Publishing. And what a series; five of South Australia’s most acclaimed and exciting poetic voices. In poetry world, this line up is quite a coup and in one of those true Adelaidean moments, I was there when Gary bagged his poetic prey. It was during Writers’ Week, at the party ABR throws after the reading that features South Australian poets. The crowd had started to thin and I was edging for the exit when I spotted Gary with this enormous grin on his face – very much like a cat with a couple of feathers sticking out from the corners of his mouth. With extreme excitement, he told me he’d just cornered Jill Jones and Peter Goldsworthy and they’d both agreed to be part of the Garron line-up for 2017. I’m pretty sure David Mortimer and Cary Hamlyn were at that party too, as was Heather Taylor Johnson. So, I can well believe that Gary and Sharon went home that night and cracked open a bottle of champagne having secured a selection of South Australian superstars for Garron’s stable of poets.
Chapbooks are enjoying a renaissance in Australian poetry publishing. According to Kent MacCarter’s recent Overland article on micro-publishing, from the east to the west, poetry publishers are producing a spectacular selection of chapbooks, ranging from DIY style zines to magnificent, objets d’art, publishing all manner of poets from emerging and outsider voices to the internationally acclaimed. It’s a flourishing underworld in poetry production.
Here in SA we have our own selection of micro-publishers – but Garron are doing something a little different. Not only is this local production – it’s also local focus. This is their fifth series and Gary and Sharon have exclusively published South Australian voices. But this does not mean a lack of diversity. If you live here, you’re South Australian, regardless of cultural heritage or which other state you’ve blown in from. Nor do they privilege one particular style. You can’t read someone’s work and say “oh, they’re such a Garron Poet”. If you write poetry, live in South Australia and have an original, interesting voice – then you’re in the running to be corralled by Gary at a party. Beware of getting drunk at Writers’ Week or you may find your name on the front of a chapbook.
Not only are all of these writers brilliant poets but they’ve all taken clever advantage of the chapbook form. You can tell that all of them have considerable bodies of work since they’ve been able to choose poems that work together as small, cohesive collections. To use a music analogy, rather than take the easy option of a greatest hits selection these are tiny, perfectly considered concept albums.
Peter Goldsworthy’s Anatomy of a Metaphor illustrates this perfectly. I’ve been annoying my husband by continually reading bits of it to him when he’s trying to do, well, anything else. It’s so clever. The whole collection focusses on the body and the way in which, through metaphor, our physical bodies feature so potently in our language – whenever we try to explain anything complicated or powerful, chances are we’ll relate it back to the body in some way. The title poem is broken into two recurring sections: diastole, which is the phase of the heartbeat when the heart muscle relaxes and allows the chambers to fill with blood and systole, the phase in which the heart muscle contracts and pumps blood from those chambers out into the body. The diastole sections are narrow, slow-paced lines, a measured flow of meaning. The systole sections are thick, powerful surges of imagery, words almost tumbling over each other, all dense with meaning, our myriad metaphors for the heart thrust together with Goldsworthy’s original metaphors, aneurysms of prodigious wit and lyrical imagination.
Jill Jones is one of Australia’s most esteemed and acclaimed poets and you can find her work in just about every anthology of Australian poetry in existence. Her work has a characteristic potency which takes an amazing amount of skill with language to create. This kind of poetry schools us in how poems should be read – slowly – taking time to absorb each one. I’m glad you will have the opportunity to hear her read this afternoon because to hear it, especially in the poet’s voice, reveals an often-overlooked aspect of Jones’ skill, which is the rhythm and musicality of her language. The Quality of Light, both the title poem and in a sense the whole collection, plays with light, time, language and weather – all elements that are mutable, endlessly interpretable and invisible – yet we can see their workings in these poems. These poems, each in their own way, are musings, playful and insightful meditations and interpretations of place, states of mind, turns of phrase. Jones explores connections: between the immutable and the physical world, between language and place, sensation and abstraction. It’s heady stuff. Read a poem. Then read it again. Let it sit with you for a while. Then take another. You won’t be sorry because this is work that deserves to be savoured.
David Mortimer is very much a contemporary version of a Renaissance man – particularly well versed in the classics of literature, theatre and music. The title poem, Act Three, shows this side of Mortimer in full flight, layering references to opera, famous tenors and opera houses to evoke his emotional weather while dealing with the death of his mother. This collection is a beautifully crafted portrait of a particular man living in a particular place – Cheltenham in Adelaide’s west. Biographical musings on composers such as Handel and Mozart sit side by side with ruminations on family and memory while on the Outer Harbour Line. No-one but David can squeeze Blake and Bowie into the same poem with such grace. When someone with such intellect and rich inner life turns their eye, then their pen to the landscape each line brims with cultural and ecological significance. Adelaide in general and the western suburbs in particular are sketched with that difficult equilibrium of precision, concision and depth.
Cary Hamlyn has lead a fascinating life and Ultrasound in B-Flat lets us see it through her eyes. These poems showcase Hamlyn’s talent for delving into experience and unearthing meaning, managing to create poems that resonate with sensitivity and depth yet cunningly avoid tipping into sentimentality. What strikes me about her poetry is her stunning use of metaphor and her technique of using both the body and inanimate objects as points of entry into memory. With imagist concision Hamlyn uses objects to construct histories of places and people: ultrasounds, lemon trees, Siamese fighting fish – and my personal favourite, the art deco low boy that witnessed the disintegration of a marriage. Her insight into unexplored corners of society, the areas of our shared narrative that often remain in the shadows, coupled with her potent of use of everyday objects to reconstruct memory is why Hamlyn is clearly one of Adelaide’s most exciting voices.
Heather Taylor Johnson’s Thump takes us back to the harsh reality of last November. If, like me, you were cocooned in a pleasurable little bubble where you and all your friends were aghast at the possibility of a Trump Presidency but quietly confident that Clinton would prevail then the word Thump really was the word for the result of the 8th of November. Heather’s experience of that day was different to those around her since America is her homeland. She cried for days. Railed at the television. Fell into a depression. Then she channelled that anger and grief for her birthplace into this powerful collection. Every poem in Thump critiques a different aspect of Trump’s presidency – from immigration to women’s reproductive freedom to climate change denial to frankly bewildering foreign policy. It’s all here – each poem introduced with a quote direct from that spectacularly orange face. For Taylor Johnson the personal is political and the political is personal. Her reaction to the Trump presidency is visceral and she works through the anger, disbelief and pain in every passionate poem.
My apologies to each of the five poets. There is so much more to say about each of these chapbooks. You have done brilliant work, producing such potent and cohesive collections. It’s been an honour to read them and spend time with them, drinking them in, mulling them over.
I can tell everyone right now, you will not want to walk out of here without the full set. In my humble opinion, this series is set to be a collector’s item. Buy them. Get them signed. Then, if you can bear to be parted from them, sell them in the coming years when all of these poets are household names and treat yourself to a flamboyant holiday somewhere with excellent weather.