Monday, December 22, 2014

CRUX #3 - PETER LACH-NEWINSKY


When I first moved to the Southern Highlands of NSW in 2009, celebrated poet Jennifer Compton (who I'd met through the Broadway Poetry Prize 2004; she was a judge, I was a runner-up) suggested I look up Peter Lach-Newinsky, who was living in Bundanoon. Jennifer had lived in Wingello in the Southern Highlands and knew Peter. I followed Jennifer's advice - Peter and I hooked up for tea in the Primula Cafe, Bundanoon. Since then, Peter and I have been good friends. I've searched - without success - for Little Bitterns on his twenty acre property, tasted many types of his heritage apples, discussed all things poetry with him and laughed a lot. Peter has provided me with perspective when the slings and arrows of poetic success have battered me. Peter is many things: husband, father, grandfather, farmer, naturalist, activist, thinker, eccentric, comic, rebel. To be with Peter is to be with a man who is fully aware of the world around him, thrilled to be fully alive. 

Peter has published several chapbooks with Picaro Press. He has won the Vera Newsom Poetry Prize and the Melbourne Poets Union International Poetry Prize (2009 and 2010). His latest full-length collection, Cut a Long Story Short, was recently put out by Puncher & Wattman in Sydney. Peter's reading at the launch for Cut... was electric. 

Peter was born in Germany and came to Australia with his German mother and Russian father. 

------------

What was there before poetry?

Before poetry there was the poetry of the Void then the poetry of the Big Bang then a lot of noise/silence as the universe revved up. Then poetry again. 

Tell me about your earlier life in Germany.

Well Germany is great technology so they’ve got Autobahns everywhere that allow you to experience the pleasure of having a Mercedes sitting on your tail bumper at 180 ks and a semi-trailer right in front of you while the car radio comes on automatically to tell you where the 30k-long traffic jams are so that everyone can try and avoid them and thus create another traffic jam. Deep in German woods I still heard traffic noise from freeways. There’s postcard Germany and there’s depressing Germany, like everywhere else. The people are different and the same. They also had a radical youth and student movement in the 60s and 70s which I found was where the energy was, where it was at, at the time. I was in my 20s and 30s, so I was into energy. I kept reading English, writing English poems for myself, teaching English in English in order to keep the English neurons connecting inside a German head. They do great philosophy in Germany. They also invented Aldi. News broadsheets didn’t have personal stories or photos but only solid print: people tend to be more serious. Here, I sometimes miss that, although humour is essential in remaining sane.

Describe your writing process.

Um, lotsa ways. Maybe early morning pen on paper, maybe editing old poems on computer, maybe none of the above. Anything can trigger this weird activity. I have no set routine or methods, except I usually come inside when it’s too hot to work outside on the farm and sit at the computer and write away for a few hours at something or other (poems, essays, blogs).  I have books strewn all over the place which I’m using or intended to or intend to, dog-eared, marked, awaiting processing/quoting... Often I’m working on several things at once, or just drop them for long periods or never finish them. Sometimes I can’t stand reading poetry (like eating cake all the time), prefer prose, novels, non-fiction, science.

What has kept you in Bundanoon for so many years? 

The farm. The commitment to place and growing roots there. Maintaining the trees I have planted. Why would I go elsewhere? I no longer need to find paid work. I’ve had to move too much in my life. There’s a spiritual and ecological limit to modern nomadics. Moving, you just take your boring old self along again anyway. Although even just travelling can be nice, it is much overrated. Like most places, Bundanoon is a very special place. Suburbanisation, aka development, is the usual danger.

What troubles you? 

The survival of civilisation, humanity, great sections of our plant and animal cousins, a livable planet. The continuation of capitalism, imperialism, nationalism and mainstream majority obedience and voluntary slavery. The survival of books, solitude, concentrated reading and knowledge in the deep sense in a world of totalised screens, info overload and so-called social media.

What brings you great happiness? 

The farm and all its beings, trees, some animals, the ocean, books of all kinds, some music, some art, a few poems, some writing, most little kids but especially my two grandsons.

Which of your chapbooks are you most proud of? 

Chapbooks or books? Pride? Can’t say I favour one over the other. Has to be equality in a family, no favouritism. Each book a product of its time and state of mind. Out of my hands once published. Not mine anymore. Becomes a bit of the collective mind, well that is if there’s at least one reader.

Cut A Long Story Short - give me the big picture. 

This last book is subtitled  ‘ A myth in 80 poems and four seasons’. Maybe that’s the gist of ‘the big picture’. Kind of a structured ‘memoir’, also containing some poems I wrote in my 20s, 30s and 40s, so kind of a New & Selected in some ways. It attempts a reading of the personal/autobiographical (as poetic myth of course, not ‘truth’) against the public/political of the last 60 years, as I don’t think the two can really be separated. It also references a lot of other favourite poets because we all write ‘intertext’ whether we know it or not, standing on the shoulders of many others.

What will tomorrow bring? 

Rain, drought. Noise, silence. Life, death. The usual. The unexpected. Change. The illusion of time passing. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

CRUX #2 - JOHN FOULCHER



How do I introduce John Foulcher? He is an icon, a luminary. So many Australians have devoured his work, hungered for more. My words here won't do him justice! 

I first read John's lyricism in the early 1990s. It made an indelible impression. I return to John's poems when I want to find serenity in my day. I also open his work up when my own writing seems rudderless, hollow, inadequate. John's writing is economic, crisp, honest, open to interpretation and deeply evocative. There is nothing sentimental or preachy there. When we digest a Foulcher poem, we immerse ourselves in so many wonderful things, find ourselves transported entirely. He understands the Australian people, he understands Australian landscape. 

John's poetry has been widely published and anthologised; he has published nine collections. From 1986 to 1994 several of his poems were set for study on the NSW HSC Syllabus. John has been granted four Australian Council Residencies, the most recent at the Keesing Studio in Paris during 2010-2011. He has a brand new poem in The Best Australian Poems 2014 through Black Inc. John has taught English to many students in Victoria, the ACT and NSW. 

                                                                                   *

Before writing poetry, what were you doing to make sense of the world?

That’s a difficult question. I wrote my first poem when I was about sixteen. Before that, the world didn’t make much sense at all; everything seemed like wind, and I had no control over anything. Poetry was like riding the wind – that sounds melodramatic but it was like that, initially. I suppose I looked to religion as well, or, more precisely, the story of Jesus. All that unendurable suffering at the heart of the story resonated with me, I think. I’ve always had a religious sense of life, though I’ve remained on the margins of conventional Christianity, occasionally falling off the edge. I’m not sure poetry has helped me make sense of the world – more exactly, it’s made the ambiguities of the world more bearable. Turn anything into art and it becomes more bearable.

What have you learnt about yourself and teenagers after many years teaching English in high schools?

I’ve learned we never really grow up, that the tempestuous concerns of teenagers are all our concerns. Familiarity, though, makes them easier to negotiate. I’ve learned that young people help you in seeing the world in fresh, invigorating terms. I’ve also learned that I never want to be eighteen again. Why would you go back there?

People are divided on their opinion of Canberra, where you now live. Why do you think that is?

When I first moved to Canberra from Sydney, many of my Sydney friends were, well, a little bewildered, I think. ‘Why would you want to do that?’ one asked me. ‘It’s the world’s largest lawn cemetery.’ I think there’s a kind of cultural cringe in that sort of response – ‘oh Canberra’s so boring’, that sort of thing, as if life only occurs in the freneticism of big cities. I hate the way people sneer at Canberra because it’s ‘sterile’. Interesting that many overseas visitors, many the ones without the agendas of youth, like Canberra. It’s a soft focus city, it has a calm. I think it also suffers from the conflation of government and place. I’m happy in a way, though, when people deride Canberra, and often agree with them – it keeps them away. Canberra, in a sense, is one of Australia’s best kept secrets. I like it that way.

You often return to the Snowy Mountains in your poetry. Is it the landscape in Australia that most impresses you?

That was a seminal landscape for me. I first walked the Snowy Mountains at a time in my life which was pretty difficult and it took me out of myself, my anxieties. Somehow, I think, the Snowy mirrored the barrenness I was feeling at the time, but it also showed me that the barren could be beautiful, breathtaking. It’s my soul country, and the contours of the soul are often pretty harsh.

In 2010 you had a rewarding residency in Paris. Could you live there?

Definitely. You never have only one soul place, and Paris feeds another part of my inner life. I love its sense of the past, and it has a spiritual underbelly I didn’t expect to find there. When we lived there, most evenings my wife Jane and I would go to vespers at a church called St Gervais-St Protais, in the fourth arrondisement. There’s a working community of nuns and monks there, and I’ve never experienced the depth of spiritual experience that I did during those chanted silences at St Gervais. I’ve come to think that all church services should be conducted in a language the congregation doesn’t understand. As soon as you understand, some fool will take it literally. The churches - that’s one great thing about Paris, though there are many others. Having said that, I found I missed space, the sky, expanses. I think I’d like to live in Paris for six months every year. The rest of the time, somewhere with a big sky.

What has kept you writing poetry since you were a teenager?

All sorts of things, I suppose. The less admirable reasons include insecurity, ego. But there’s more to it than that – yes, I suppose poetry does help me make sense of things, and there’s nothing so exciting as the feeling that you’ve created something genuinely good, or as good as you can get it anyway. The urge to create is one of the most powerful and fulfilling instincts we have, whether it’s poetry, a garden or making a kitchen. Poetry’s no different from all other creative endeavours – and, let’s face it, almost everything can be creative. I hate this ‘shaman’ concept of the poet – I think it’s nonsense, this idea that the poet is somehow a special being. A poet builds with words; a carpenter builds with wood. Each to his own.

Tell me about your relationship with John Knight and Pitt Street Poetry.

John and I have been friends since we co-led the Drama group on Scripture Union Arts Camp in 1973 – sounds bizarre, doesn’t it? We actually ran a magazine together in the mid-70’s about poetry and religious experience (a lucrative market!) called ‘The Eye’s Habit’. That was fun. I recall doing interviews with Les Murray and Robert Gray for that magazine, and both of those poets have remained lifelong friends. John and I went our separate ways soon after that – he to medicine, me to the classroom. But we remained friends, and, years and years later when John told me he wanted to go into publishing, I knew he would do a fine job of it. He’s a man of prodigious talent. When he asked me if he could publish my book, ‘The Sunset Assumption’, as his first book, I had no hesitation at all in agreeing. I knew John, and I knew I would be on a winner. Still, I expected Pitt Street Poetry to take years to get to the place it’s in now. Right now, I feel, it’s mounting a challenge to be the best poetry publisher in the country. Quite some feat in such a short time. John and Linsay are the best editors I’ve ever had. Without question.

What do you want your writing future to hold?

As I enter my sixties, I hope I can write with less attachment. I’ve always been subject to other people’s opinions, I think, far too much. In the past, I’ve needed the approval of others as justification to write. I don’t have that so much any more. I write because I can’t imagine life without it, and as long as I can look at my books and say, ‘That was the best I could do at that stage in my life’, then to hell what people think of it. I hold no illusions about my work, and couldn’t care less about ‘posterity’. It’s for now, here. As my friend the poet Steve Kelen once said to me: ‘Why write? Well, why breathe?’

Sunday, November 2, 2014

CRUX #1 - FIONA WRIGHT



Welcome to Crux - Interviews with Australian Poets.  

In this first edition we meet Sydney's Fiona Wright. Fiona's multi-faceted work captivated me the moment I found it in Gleebooks. Her poems are witty, pithy and poignant. At the south-west Sydney high school where I teach, I recently set several of Fiona's poems for Yr 11 Standard English to study. The students found her poetry accessible and honest, and were most fortunate to have Fiona visit them. 


Fiona's work has been published in various journals and anthologies both here and overseas including Black Inc's Best Australian Poems 2008, 2009, 2010, Overland, Heat, Australian Literary Review and Going Down Swinging. She was runner-up in the 2008 John Marsden Young Writer's Award. She received the Dame Mary Gilmore Poetry Award in 2012 for her debut collection Knuckled. 


                                                                             * 

What was there before poetry?

For me, not a lot. I started writing poetry in earnest in my last year of high school, although I realised later on that I had been writing things that I didn't know were poems, of a kind, at least, for years before that. I kept it up through university, and started getting my first publications too, which was a blessing, really, because I was studying media with an eye to becoming a journalist (because what else do you do with good marks and an aptitude for English?) and realising very quickly that it probably wasn't the field for me. Instead, I started working on student lit-mags, and interning with a few arts organisations and I met people who were making a viable living as writers or editors or arts workers - a thing I'd never thought possible before - and so I set out to do so myself. Which has essentially been making it up as I go along, but I love what I do and I know how lucky I am to be able to say that.

How did poetry captivate you?


I hadn't read much poetry when I started writing, but I quickly found a few books that I really loved - the fierce and sexy Dorothy Porter; a feisty Russian poet, Yevgeny Yevtushenko - and that was it, really. There's an intensity to both of those poets - personal and political - that was really important to me at the time. I was a very intense teenager - I'd like to say that I've outgrown that, but I'm not sure that I ever did - and it was a rare occurrence for me to find that intensity matched. But I also found poetry a really playful form, or a form with a lot of room for humour and surprise, I'm still having a lot of fun with those things.


I've also always liked the way poetry so often resists the kind of closure you find in fiction, the way it's ok, or even better most times, to leave things unexplained and unresolved, the way so many things in our lives are. It's ambiguous and puzzling and contradictory, like people are; and that can be fascinating and incredibly potent too.

Describe your writing process.


I'm a scribbler. I'm always carrying around notebooks in my handbag, because I've found that I write a lot in my head when I'm walking, or waiting, out in the world. And during those strange times before falling asleep or waking fully. I always draft poems by hand and edit on computer, although it's the opposite when I'm writing prose. I've developed a really lovely habit over the past few years of writing mostly in the mornings, in a cafe, for a good two-hour block, as many mornings per week as possible. I find working in a public space really helps me focus (or that could be the coffee), and it's also great for eavesdropping and people-watching, which are two of my favourite things to do. And then the afternoons are for editing, reading, and planning. Some poems don't need much editing, others have to kick about for months, and be pushed through any number of different variations and permutations before they find their final form.

What did you most hope to achieve with your debut collection Knuckled?

The flippant answer to that is that I most hoped to have a book! I think most first collections aren't put together with a specific project in mind, rather they tend to bring together the material-so-far, as it were. And that is partly true for 'Knuckled.' But I also wanted to make a collection that had a strong voice and a sense of humour, and I was really intent on mapping as well. Most of the poems are very firmly about place and about the way places can carry stories for us, as sites of experience and memory and emotion. And of course, I was working a lot at the time with a writers' group in Western Sydney, a group that's now become the Sweatshop Literacy Movement, and we were all working on writing about the western suburbs, from the inside, and bringing that particular place into our literature more prominently.

Tell me about your involvement with Red Room Company.

I first got involved with Red Room through their Toilet Doors project, in 2004. It was a project that teamed up six poets with graphic designers and illustrators to make a series of posters for display on the backs of public toilet doors, instead of the ads for urinary tract health or gambling helplines that you're more likely to see there; the project really appealed to my sense of humour, and it was the first large-scale publication or project I'd ever been included in. After the project ended, I started working with the company as an intern, of sorts - I needed to do an internship as a part of my ill-advised media degree, and the company needed more hands, so it worked out quite well. Red Room is a really vital and energetic organisation, and I'd certainly never seen anything like it at the time; and because it was still quite small, I was able to be involved on all kinds of levels - from researching project partners to helping out at events, to media work, reading submissions, and, of course, meeting and working with the first poets I'd ever met. It gave me a great grounding in contemporary poetry, and really gave me the confidence to pursue my own work, which I'm still so grateful for. Red Room now runs a really great poetry education project alongside their other work, so I still get to be involved, sometimes, in their workshops and projects within schools, which is always a joy.

What have you learned from all your years in publishing?

I think there are two really important things that I learnt really quickly, which are essentially, don't take it personally, and don't be lazy. Don't take it personally I say because I've seen the other side of submissions, in terms of both how huge and competitive the slush pile really is, and how some of the decisions that magazines make about what is accepted and what is rejected come down to factors that are almost outside of the writing itself. By that, I mean that some decisions come down to themes that have become apparent within that particular issue, the number of pages still available, the fact that the gender balance might need correcting, or because they're not quite right for that particular publication - so some works might miss out by a tiny margin, and not necessarily because they're bad pieces of writing. 

Don't be lazy is also, I guess, related to the size of slush piles - because you're reading so much writing, as an editor, it becomes quite obvious that there are some little tics and tricks that writers fall back on when the work just isn't working, as it were. It gets to the point where you can spot a cliche in an instant - and of course, any kind of cliche isn't going to make a piece stand out from the huge pile of slush that it's been plucked from. I guess what I'm saying is that reading bad writing, or sloppy writing, really helped me recognise some weaknesses in my own work, and to work harder to overcome them.

What role does poetry play in Australia in 2014?

I think poetry is always going to be a small force, in terms of its reach and readership, but that doesn't make it any less vital or important for the people who love it and live by it. What I love, and have always loved about poetry is the strength of the community it has, how passionate and intelligent that community is, but also how generous and supportive it can be too, when it is at its best. I don't think poetry is ever going to be a commercial force, but in many ways, that is its very strength - it's a counter-narrative, and a thing that is always defiantly and even perversely itself. My favourite kinds of people are like that too.

Is Sydney your home for good?

That, I don't think anyone can ever tell! For good is a long and definite thing! But Sydney is my home, I love it here, and it's where my community is too. I love the way this city is so various, that it has so many little pockets and enclaves that are so different from the others, and that it's so fiercely tribal too, perhaps as a result. And it's beautiful, I love living in such a beautiful place.

When can we see another poetry collection from you?

I do have something in the pipeline, which will probably be appearing in early 2016, after I finish the PhD that it's a part of. In the meantime, I have a book of essays scheduled to be published by Giramondo next year, which I'm very excited about. It's a very personal little book, about illness and hunger, and about writing as well, really, and something that has been both exhilarating and incredibly difficult, at times, to write - and I'm quite proud of it as a result.





Thursday, October 16, 2014

POEM #33

EXIT

Maddy and Trev
pulled their six year old

daughter out of Steiner Education
because there were too many rainbows. 

LJ, October 17 2014.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

PLACES

A young German tourist just asked me which places in Australia were most worth checking out. Without hesitation, I volunteered Coober Pedy and The Olgas. I hope she likes them. LJ, October 11 2014.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

POSTAL HALL

I was in Melbourne for a few days last week. Visited Postal Hall on Russell St each day for gutsy coffee. I'd been there years ago and was impressed by their brew. The Middle Eastern breakfast they serve is a knock out. The young staff are welcoming, witty and chirpy (even when flat out). I'll be back over summer. LJ, October 6 2014.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

PAGEANTRY, BY GOD, PAGEANTRY

Yesterday morning, in Sutton Forest, I was stopped by a bloke in tweed and his seven or eight focused, excited pointers, as they galloped across Golden Vale Road. By the side of the asphalt, in low brush, was a bloke in a red jacket. In adjacent fields, two black-coated people were on majestic, muscled horses. My word, a good old-fashioned fox hunt, old boy. Jolly good show! 'I hope the fox will be alright', I said to the bloke in red as I brought my car to a standstill. I probably should've bunged on 'squire' at the end of the sentence. He replied, 'Oh, it'll be fine' with a grin. Where was I? Buckinghamshire in the 1800s? I'm no fan of fox hunts. Was that legal? LJ, September 22 2014.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

QUESTION

If I'm not in favour of Australia involving itself in a lengthy ground war in Iraq and Syria, am I off Team Australia? LJ, September 15 2014.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

LOUIS THEROUX



I've been watching a lot of Louis Theroux's documentaries lately. Essential, hard-hitting and gripping stuff. I love his measured, inquiring and light-hearted approach no matter the surreal or dangerous context. LJ, 12 September 2014.

Monday, September 1, 2014

SWANS V TIGERS


I went to see my first live AFL game last Saturday at ANZ Stadium. Swans v Tigers. Loved every second of it. It was a gripping game. Pity the Swans lost by 3 points. LJ, 2 September 2014.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

CITRINE WAGTAIL


I've just been in a forum conversation with a woman who reckons she's spotted a Citrine Wagtail at wetlands in Mudgee NSW. When I saw the photos, I was dismissive, believing it to be an Eastern Yellow Wagtail. Now, I'm doubting myself. Her record and photos have been sent to eremaea, the bird database. In time, experts will have to prove it's a Citrine. People are on their way to Mudgee to verify the sighting as I type (wish I was one of them). Citrine Wagtails are incredibly rare visitors to Australia. There have been 3 authenticated records. This is a big deal. I include a random shot of a Citrine which looks very similar to the Mudgee bird. LJ, August 29 2014.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

NO NORMAL MATTER

This quote from American theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss hits me - the imagination of the universe is much greater than our own. It would be a great creative writing starter for my Yr 12s. LJ, 23 August 2014.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

A GLITCH IN THE MATRIX

Walked my two spaniels down to the shops in Bundanoon this afternoon and saw a bloke - probably in his late 20s - sporting a top hat.  I wondered whether there'd been some peculiar shift in the whole space/time/context continuum thing for a minute and I'd arrived in Abraham Lincoln's America or a Dickensian nightmare or the set of Coppola's Dracula. What are the chances of seeing someone in a top hat in 2014? Apparently there was a wedding reception in the community hall. Strange days indeed... most peculiar, momma. LJ, August 16 2014.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

GONE

I'm disappointed that Mike Carlton has left the Sydney Morning Herald. He said it was because he'd been called a Nazi and an anti-Semite too often of late after his pro-Palestinian dispatches. Too many Napoleons - Orwell would be saddened. I read Carlton's Saturday column religiously. We need genuine, brave, gutsy voices like his, voices that ask us to be more compassionate and tolerant and demand answers from the controlling powers that be. LJ, August 6 2014.

Friday, August 1, 2014

MUSIC FOR MARKING


Repeatedly listening to track four of this classic Jean Michel Jarre album from 1990 while marking Yr 12 Trial HSC Exams. A perfect soundscape for concentrating. LJ, August 2 2014.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH

Jesus, Palestinian children and women killed by Israeli rockets while asleep in UN shelters. They'd already evacuated their homes to take shelter there. What a travesty. I'm reading that a Palestinian child is dying every hour. Where does it end? How does one come to grips with this? LJ, July 31

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

LAST NIGHT A DJ DIDN'T SAVE MY LIFE

An English teaching colleague and I were DJs last Tuesday for an event at our school. Great set list inc. The Chemical Brothers, Leftfield and The Prodigy. Dubstep-obsessed Yr 12s didn't get it, left the room early. Hilarious. Moral of the story - English teachers should just teach English. LJ, 24 July 2014.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

SHIFA

I have so much respect for the saintly doctors working in Gaza's Shifa Hospital under horrendous conditions. Looking at photos of the dead and maimed is hard enough -  imagine working there. Norweigan doctor at Shifa, Mads Gilbert, just wrote a report of what he's doing whilst Gaza is under constant bombardment from F16s, Apaches, navy boats and drones. He invited Barack Obama to visit Shifa (in disguise as a cleaner) so he could see the blood and agony first hand, be moved and maybe change history by rethinking what Israel's doing. Mads also says so many of Israel's weapons are made in America. Heartbreaking stuff. LJ, 21 July 2014.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

MH17

Man, what does one say, what does one say? What a miserable day. On top of Israel's ground offensive targeting Gaza (after so many recent Palestinian deaths inc. 4 teenage boys playing soccer on a beach), this Malaysian Airline flight downed by a rocket in The Ukraine. 298 people dead - 28 of them Australian. Man o man. Why the hell would a Russian separatist down a passenger plane? Some soulless thug with a missile system mistaking the MA plane for an enemy craft? Some soulless thug taking the plane out regardless? Jesus, I hope those responsible are brought to justice. I wonder whether that will happen. What will Putin do? What will be Obama's next move? LJ, July 18 2014.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

POEM #32

POEM

Linda cannot choose
between Kincoppal
and Kambala
for her daughter.

Badria cannot believe
a US drone
is staring
at her daughter.

LJ, July 17 2014.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

UNEVEN FLOOR

In 2003, when I was teaching at Oakhill College in Castle Hill, Sydney, two teachers, twenty-five boys and I ventured out in a Snowy Mountains coach to Balgo Hills (aka Wirrimanu) in WA (7 hrs north-west of Alice Springs), where De la Salle Brothers operated a primary school.

We were there for only 3 or 4 days. It was an illuminating, enthralling time. The indigenous people in Balgo Hills were having to contend with many things: youth suicide, alcoholism, petrol sniffing, domestic violence, dropping school attendance rates etc. While we were there a man was cut up badly by another man and flown to hospital, the school was broken into, a man set his wife's car on fire so she couldn't never drive away from him and a spinifex plain was lit up during the night. Teenage kids would drift around after dark sniffing petrol from modified 1.25 litre soft drink bottles.

On the flip side of all this, many indigenous people were coping. Older women were the backbone of the community, setting rules in place, pushing their wayward and desperate menfolk to get it together. Balgo had a thriving art scene: vibrant, startling works, often incorporating oranges and pinks, made big money internationally; I met Helicopter, a relatively famous painter, when he and others were out gathering bush onions.

Two poems now published with WA's online poetry blog Uneven Floor stem from that trip in 2003 and feature towns nearby to Balgo. The first, Yaka Yaka, is almost entirely drawn from reality. Lake Gregory (what a stunning spot - there were brolgas, yellow chats and pratincoles!) is fictitious, yet believable.

Many thanks to Jackson, Uneven Floor's editor.

LJ, July 9 2014.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

THE SECULAR WORLD

Assembling a poem on Southern Highland tradies admiring dawn for Inkerman & Blunt's new anthology of secular poems. Let's see what becomes of it. LJ, June25 2014.

Monday, June 23, 2014

JOURNALISM IS NOT A CRIME


Peter Greste sentenced to 7 years jail for doing absolutely nothing wrong. Are you bloody kidding? What a sham. What a disgrace. On Twitter, Mike Carlton is calling for the expulsion of the Egyptian ambassador and a change in our diplomatic/trade relations with Egypt. Not a bad idea. I hope international pressure forces the Egyptian government to somehow reverse their decision. LJ, June 24 2014.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

AT THE BASE OF PLUMWOOD MOUNTAIN

The following poem was shortlisted for the next issue of Plumwood Mountain. Sooty Owls are one of the Australian birds that most impress me. Charcoal-grey with white spots, they favour valleys sporting dense eucalypt woodlands, are rarely seen, offer up falling bomb calls and shifting trills, possess massive dark eyes and intimidating talons. Not a bird you'd want to piss off. The first Sooty I ever saw was in the Devils Coach House at Jenolan Caves, one of the most sublime/gothic places in NSW. The poem here is factual and from an experience in 2012. I dedicate it to an old mate who's a fine birder.

SOOTY OWL
For Steve Edwards

As you had never met
a Sooty Owl before,

I guided us to Kioloa's
thinning upland reaches

fifteen minutes after
the horizon gulped daylight,

targeted a knotted gully, cast
a long line of Sooty-mimicry

into bleeding emerald gloom
for ten shivery minutes,

slowly reeled in everything
you depended upon.

LJ, June 19 2014.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

FIONA WRIGHT

Sydney poet Fiona Wright visited school last Thursday and shared many insights and anecdotes with the Yr 11 Standard English cohort who are studying five poems from her terrific collection Knuckled. She also spent time with my two Extension 2 girls, both of whom are penning poetry. The students dig her work. We were privileged to have her visit. LJ, June 14 2014.

Monday, May 19, 2014

ARMADILLO


Still seduced by all things Scandinavian, I recently watched Armadillo, a Danish documentary on Danes fighting in Afghanistan. It was engaging, confronting. It made me question why the hell the west was/is over there. That big question isn't tackled in this documentary. Perhaps it's too big a question to ask - for the answer is too much to swallow or too infuriating or too overwhelming. How does one best come to grips with American imperialism and its ripples?

In Armadillo we watch Danish soldiers defend their compound (Armadillo), complete routine patrols, engage in firefights, follow up on drone intelligence, hang out, admit they're bored, talk to family back home via sat phones, tease one another, meet locals whose animals and homes they've destroyed, talk about compensating locals whose animals and homes they've destroyed, execute members of the Taliban, then be awarded for executing these members of the Taliban. We feel the soldiers' pain when one of theirs is killed. Somehow, we feel for the Taliban - still human beings - when they're brought down by heavy fire from automatic weapons, then dragged from ditches. We get the impression from the local Afghan men who speak that any western intervention will do nothing.

A couple of years ago, I spoke to a retired army colonel who said Australian forces didn't need to be in Afghanistan. What were the numbers? 40 dead? 260 seriously wounded? And so many with mental trauma. What a disgrace. I'm sure a lot of good work was done over there, but what have been the major consequences of our involvement? What great good has come of it?

So what will be the west's next great mission? Who will be the next target? Will we soon have US, British, Australian and Danish soldiers fighting in Russia or Iran? America seems to be itching for conflicts there. I feel for the thousands of vulnerable people who will one day suffer from the west's might. We need to do what we can to fight for these precious souls.

As a final side note, a hard-working student of mine recently left school to join our armed forces. I hope his journey is a safe one.

LJ, May 20 2014.

Friday, May 2, 2014

COMING SOON

Crux.

Interviews with Australian poets.

LJ, May 2 2014

Saturday, April 19, 2014

BEARD DREAD


What's with all these young Sydney blokes and their Alfred Deakin (pictured) meets ZZ Top meets South Carolina hillbilly meets lost Nimbin soul meets European philosopher beards? Everywhere you look, there's another mountain man who has never trekked to a mountain's summit. There's even a tumblr site celebrating the beards of Sydney. I don't get it - I'm off to have a shave. LJ, Easter Saturday, 2014.

WHAT I'M TURNING UP TO 11...

Chet Faker. The Knife. Chvrches. Foxes. Kate Miller-Heidke. Tycho. Coldplay. LJ, April 19 2014.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

POETICA

Mark Tredinnick is the featured poet on this weekend's episode of Poetica on RN. Mark talks with Mike Ladd about birds, landscape, love, life etc. At one stage, they walk a track near Fitzroy Falls in Morton National Park and Mark recalls when he and I were there a few years ago and I was clarifying bird calls for him. My thanks to Mark for his kind words on my birding abilities. I'm keen to read his new volume Bluewren Cantos. LJ, April 10 2014.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

PAUL RYAN



I've just finished a catalogue essay (entitled Dandies and Lions) for Paul Ryan's upcoming show at Gallery Ecosse, Exeter. This is the first art essay I've put together and it's come up well. Paul's happy with it, that's the main thing. We've corresponded via email and phone, but I'm yet to meet the Thirroul-based artist. His fresh canvasses (mainly portraits in thick oils) are confronting, bizarre, polarising and absolutely essential. Paul has a lot to say about Australian masculinity - much of this show addresses how men need to find their sensitive sides through nature and dressing up in extravagant clothes from bygone eras. Some of it is also a comment on our dark white-indigenous origins. Make sure you see get to Ecosse in April.

LJ, 26 March 2014.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

POEM #31

Parenting, 2014.

To Wii or not to Wii:
that is the question.

LJ, March 13 2014

Monday, March 10, 2014

MEMORY WEAVING

A Tip, a straightforward, yet evocative little poem I penned last October, has just been published in Memory Weaving, an anthology addressing dementia and all it entails. The poem offers up a suggestion on how best to deal with loved ones when they fall victim to their mind's deterioration. My thanks to ed. Carolyn Vimpani.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

BLUE JASMINE


Cate Blanchett deserves to win an Oscar for her riveting portrayal of a damaged Manhattan socialite in Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine. The film has much to say about the effects of men's infidelity, treachery and gluttony. It had a real Tennessee Williams feel. The dark, ambiguous ending was unexpected, refreshing. Perhaps, our Cate's performance will draw some empathy from male viewers and have them think more seriously about how they treat their wives/girlfriends. LJ, 3 March 2014.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

MOSH BETWEEN THE PINK FLAGS


A couple of mates and I are off to see Britain's acclaimed, edgy and demanding post-punk outfit Wire tonight at Oxford Art Factory, Sydney. Colin Newman's solo stuff and work with Wire during the late 80s inspired me. Wire are known for playing unique gigs where previously unreleased material and re-workings of vintage tracks clash. Let's hope the Pink Flag Orchestra (many, many guitarists at once) turns up. LJ, February 20 2014.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

LAUNCH

I'll be reading some of my work from The Southern Highlands Poetry Anthology at its launch next Tuesday afternoon at the Council Theatrette in Moss Vale. Peter Lach-Newinsky will also be reading. I hope to see you there from 5pm... LJ, February 16 2014.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

AUSTRALIAN OF THE YEAR BASH

On the 25th of January, I attended the Australian of the Year bash outside Parliament House in Canberra. Ita Buttrose (genuine; cheery), Adam Gilchrist (straightforward; serious), Megan Washington (angelic; what a voice), Adam Goodes (why did he receive the big award?) and Tony Abbott (stockier than I imagined) were some of the many guests there. I was uninspired by Tony's choice of words and his presentation of them. A great public speaker he's not. He spoke - in a dreary voice - of Australia being the land of 'having a go' and giving everyone 'a fair go'. These principles are essential, but frankly, I've heard it all before. Cliches. Where's the unique vision? Where's the passionate delivery? A  lot more of an acknowledgement of our First Australians was also needed (particularly as there were many Indigenous Australians present). He conveniently side-stepped that. LJ, 12 February 2014.

Monday, February 10, 2014

DEAD ENZ


Some of the first records I bought were Split Enz albums. Back in the very early 80s, Split Enz sounded like nothing else around. I loved a lot of what Crowded House gave us - Together Alone (recorded at Kare Kare on the North Island of NZ, where Jane Campion's The Piano was filmed) is an often thrilling album. Neil Finn's quirky, unexpected work with brother Tim and his first two solo albums, often had stirring moments. Neil's lyrics can have a surreal edge and poignant core.

Dizzy Heights, Neil's new long player, is receiving accolades from everyone (no surprises - the man can't put a foot wrong in critics' eyes). I think it's the most lacklustre, uninspired thing he's ever given us. There are no memorable I've-gotta-sing-this-right-now-to-get-through-my-drab-morning harmonies, heart-lifting guitar moments or unexpected beginnings or endings even though the music presses are saying it's a soulful, innovative thing. Critics have applauded him dabbling with electronica and using samples this time around. So what? It's about as electronic as a dead Ikea AA battery on the side of the Stuart Hwy. The samples that he has chosen are utterly predictable: Divebomber includes the sound of a diving plane; Lights of NewYork features traffic noises. God help us.

About a decade ago, Neil was working with some of Radiohead's boys when touring. Maybe they should have hung around and offered up some insights that could've taken him into rockier, edgier, more slippery terrain than this.

With Dizzy Heights, Neil has given us a flock of NZ sheep staring blankly at one another. His imagination better be home soon.

LJ, February 11 2014.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

MEETING

I had a most insightful and valuable meeting with my poetry publisher last Sunday morning... we looked intensively at my nature poems... I learned a lot... more info soon... LJ, February 6 2014.

Monday, January 27, 2014

TWENTY YEARS

I'm about to begin day one of my twentieth year teaching English to students in Catholic secondary schools. There's a lot I can say about my teaching career, but I'll save it all for another post... LJ, 28 January 2014.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

VRETA AREA, APRIL 2013











UPPSALA, APRIL 2013








STOCKHOLM, APRIL 2013













SWEDEN


The five days I spent in Sweden during April 2013 were five of the greatest days of my life. I adored so many things about Sweden - birch trees, roe deer, melting snow, bobsledding, cranes returning from the north, the drumming of woodpeckers, Stockholm's mind-blowing architecture, Uppsala Cathedral, Uppsala's rune stones, Nils Oscar ale, herrings, rye bread, blueberry soup, cool modern trains, tramping across frozen lakes and swamps etc. I was very fortunate to stay with friends (respect Nat and Rob) in a small town called Vreta, not far from Uppsala, a university town north-west of Stockholm. The following posts will feature photographs from those five days. I hope you like them. LJ, January 5 2014.   

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

KOSCUISZKO

I tramped to the summit of Mt Koscuiszko on New Year's Day. Sublime stuff. A tremendous way to start off the new year. LJ, January 2 2014.