30 October 2014

Writing poetry: A spring school at the University of Tasmania

Writing poetry:
Spring school at the University of Tasmania

12 November 2014 to 12 December 2014

Writing poetry (unit code HEN207) is HECS-free for alumni of the University of Tasmania (alumni can take up to two undergraduate units HECS-free annually). HECS fees are also waived for teachers at the state's Department of Education, and also for some at the state's Health department (for details contact the university, email: Arts.Faculty@utas.edu.au or phone 03 6226 7814).
About the unit: "Writing poetry" (HEN207) is an intermediate elective unit. It focuses on both the reading and critical analysis of poetry, as well as the writing of poetry. Students will learn how to write poetry while studying the craft of poetry, approaching poetry from the outside in as readers, and from the inside out as writers. By learning how to apply a close reading of a poem selected from a wide range of work, and how to critically reflect on their reading and develop their understanding of poetry through keeping a class journal, students will also learn how to apply their new learning by providing constructive criticism of peers’ work. Students will have the opportunity to create their own poetry, learn how to edit and revise their own work and participate in workshopping their own work during tutorials. Students apply this learning of the poet’s craft to their own portfolio of original poems.

WHEN: Wednesday and Friday mornings, 10 am - 11.50 a.m. from 12 November 2014 to 12 December 2014. Timetable:

Teaching staff: Anne Kellas
For full details see the university website,  http://courses.utas.edu.au/portal/page/portal/COURSE_UNIT/UTAS_UNIT_DETAIL?P_UNIT_CODE=HEN207&P_YEAR=2014&P_CONTEXT=NEW or
contact: Arts.Faculty@utas.edu.au or phone 03 6226 7814

15 October 2014

Blue Giraffe: Launch speech from Anne Kellas, for issue 13 of Blue Giraffe (guest edited by Pete Hay)

Venue: Hobart Bookshop
Date: 25 September 2014
Launch: Blue Giraffe, guest editor Pete Hay; general editor Peter Macrow
Launch speech: Anne Kellas

Editorial details at the end of this page.

I want to begin by saying congratulations to the guest editor of this edition, Pete Hay – you have done a wonderful job. Congratulations of course to Peter Macrow too, for presenting this offering of exquisite poetry periodically for the appreciators of poetry and for poets alike. It is a precious object to my mind.
Our little grandson and I had a conversation about space recently, as one does with someone who is 3. He told me he lived on planet earth. Which planet did I live on, he asked? Planet earth, I answered – We all live on planet earth. No no, he insisted, and proceeded to tell me very seriously that one of his grandparents "lived on another planet" ! I thought we had better leave any further discussion of this concept for another time. But let’s think for a minute: we know in the scheme of things our planet, when viewed from the outermost edges of the galaxy, is just one tiny blue dot. From the general perspective of the vast  landscape of poetryland, looking across the sea of poetry magazines, let’s contemplate that little planet we know as Blue Giraffe. Like our own small blue dot of a planet, when you get up close and personal with this magazine and put your hands in its soil, it is so amazingly full of rich and diverse life. What I hear in Blue Giraffe is original. Varied. Diverse. The best of the blue planet of poetry. How refreshing it is to read this collection. That is always so with Blue Giraffe. I know I will be able to read it, in one hit, and without feeling nauseous. I feel satisfied, rewarded, filled, inspired.

The analogy holds from another point of view: Blue Giraffe spins along in its orbit, beholden to no one. You can be fairly sure of its consistent quality of output, under guest editors too: it keeps its hallmark qualities. Those qualities are hard to pin down. They are not to be found in lists, like the top ten tips for successful poems that Mike Ladd recently put out (https://sawriters.org.au/2014/09/09/ten-tips-successful-poem/) Now I know what pleases Mike Ladd … but what pleases Blue Giraffe, who knows, except that for sure it is fine craftsmanship.

With this approach, Blue Giraffe has always been more about the poem than the poet. I suppose that is why there are no author biographies, though I for one miss their guiding presence — guiding by way of a map, who lives where, because I am curious to know the geography of poetry land, that’s all).  I do want to know something about the poet. I want to know if Diane Hicks Morrow IS Canadian as I guess she is (I just happen to know Laurie Brinklow is Canadian. I also happen just to know that Laurie Brinklow has always been a prose poet, and here she is breaking out in a different style … and how excellently too).
What can explain the mystery of why a poem works in its totality, and why an editor should choose it, and not another? By their works we shall know them. I quote from earlier launch speech for Blue Giraffe:  Ivy Alvarez (geographic note: now living in New Zealand) wrote:
"Here, in this quiet publication, it is poem pitted against poem. We are away from the drama of the poet as persona. We often make too much of the personal in our Poetry Land: the cliques, the fashions, the schools, this or that group."
This gives every issue of Blue Giraffe its own unique flavour. A poem must stand on its own legs regardless of its author. I confess though that I took to Google and found it really interesting (not useful for understanding anything, but just that, interesting) to know that Lyndon Walker is involved in psychotherapy, that J K Murphy has been published by Puncher and Wattmann, and John Carey by Picaro Press. That Maureen Scott Harriss is Canadian, that Nola Firth is an advocate for dyslexia awareness, that John Upton has extensive drama credits for TV and stage over 25 years and has recently returned to poetry, that Ross Jackson is a retired teacher living in Perth, that Monique Serada works in northern Tasmania. These facts don’t alter how I react to their poetry, but they don’t detract from them either, and show how this magazine works hard to include work from a wide range of voices. But back to the publication — after all this IS a magazine that forces us away from orienting our reading by the name of the poet, back to the page, to the poem, to the words, to the image, the art of the poem itself. Something builds. Something strong.

All these poems have one thing in common: they do not use tricks.  For instance, the sheer simplicity of a snow scene is captured by MAUREEN SCOTT HARRIS in her poem, ‘here (Saskatchewan)’:
where the road turns at the corner
towards the bush

at the edge of the bush the land
rushing off in all directions

how shadows seep across the fields
away from the sun

wind sounding the spruce trees and
scouring the snow

each morning a new drift
a different light
See? No tricks. No striving. Just being poem. 

Make no mistake that is not to say there is anything simplistic here. Chris Wallace Crabbe once said, IF POETRY can only capture the withness, the feathers, of dreams, it still can produce those remarkable liminal sensations of our whirling, falling or flying into the unsaid; it can hand over to us momentary swatches of the mystical; it can outflank linear discourse."

LIZ McQUILKIN uses language to do this, to work to a high pitch of richness. What her poem achieves for me is an almost tactile impression of words making their own natural landscape: she tells me she invented some of the words – after all, Shakespeare did so! Perhaps she will read it for us herself:

Directions for Trip
(in Tasmania’s Central Highlands)
Strike out north, then west,translicing button-grass plains.Beware the sub-terra creeksas eyebound you footle a tussock,
hazard another and another.

Follow the almost-pathinto hillopes of sclerophyll.Legloose in skyling eucalypts,your boots will snapple branches,ringdoom rock and stone.

Pick up the river gurglance
on your right. Let it lead you
through banksia and tangster ti-tree
to a hand-deep, swifting stream
swirling on opalsome pebbles.
North now, along its shorethen west, scambling a ridge.Pause to viewfest the peaks:
Ossa, Cradle, The Walls,Frenchman’s perhaps – weather willing.
Weaveskirt the boulders, the gumscrub,crossfooting contours, downthrough a garden of windelled heath.Springstep on sphagnum but veervoidcushion plants – venerant ancients.
Softing (still west) over sedge,
sightlock two tarns to your right.Wendal the forestful hill,then drop to a blackdeep lakeand airbed across it. You’re there.
The poems in this collection leave me with the experience of having read something genuine, whole, complete, achieved without a striving for effect. The poems simply ARE. As landscape is. And that can be fierce. Take this striking poem about the aftermath of a fire:
His is a summer hamlet struck
By spry lightning
And wind-fed fire

And he retrieves from ash
What stark-stubborn chimneys comprise –
Masses of bricks, clinging:

A settlement of them.
Each neighbour bills his own pocket
And four walls

Will shoulder life again,
Time willing.

And time is civil.

JOHN CAREY’s poem, Shunted aside, has this superb portrayal of a young person’s involvement with their digital device:

…  the fine-motor skills in their slim
fingers put me to shame, I who only learned
to tie a fish-hook at the tenth attempt.

I watch them negotiate the ticket-scan
at the exit gate, their free hands still
texting or tweeting with a desperate

intensity to hold off the hypnotic
snake-stare of an inner life ………..

Talking of snakes here, LORRAINE HAIG and GINA MERCER’s poems give us almost visceral accounts of encounters with animals

Gina Mercer’s swamp snake is ...

lying luxurious — all anyhow.
The grace and lap of slowly feeding,
no haste, no chase, no ache-needing,
fig-opulent, skin stretched pregnant,
full-length, lustrous, joy-tight serpent.

Lorraine Haig’s red-bellied black snake is …

galvanized on its tail. Its flicking tongue
surely tasting my fear.
Face to face I am struck
by the hard shine of its underbelly.
Someone once told me
if confronted by a snake stand still,

I obeyed
the fists pounding retreat
in my chest and the voice in my ears
screaming flee!

The snake seized the moment
and vanished to the undergrowth.
I am filled
with the sweet fragrance

of the frangipani’s white flowers
and the pink opal of a snake’s belly –
a pale jewel wet and shiny
and my surprise it wasn’t red.

Every poem deserves its placing, none disappoints, every word counts, none are superfluous, every poem is one I return to, and that is something I cannot say of many other poetry publications I attempt to read. I would like to tell you how I generally approach new poetry publications: it is with suspicion born of disappointment. Most usually I take the book and let the collection fall open where it will, a kind of game of chance I play with myself. Practice has taught me that this will often mean I slam the collection shut and never return to it. But when you have to launch a magazine you have to read every poem in it and read it very finely. Let me assure you this was NO CHORE but a sheer delight. Every single poem was a pleasure to read and I would read them all tonight to persuade you to buy it but then you might not having heard it all. Is it enough to say that at no point did I get what I sometimes get, a feeling of rising disturbance, an unsettling distaste that I cannot explain? But here, it is an instant locking in, locking onto … and a returning and returning to the poems; curiouser and curiouser said Alice.
So where did the pages fall open when I first opened this edition? My landing point was Leanne Jaeger’s poem, ‘Naked:

My piano has a pulse.
Black seams breathe in and out,
a mouth baring its teeth –
you make them gleam.
Your naked music,
the wild mechanism that is you –
nothing more real than this.

Real. How interesting to do business with the real in the rather surreal art form of poetry making.
Here are some more snatches from the poems to tempt you: from ANNE MORGAN’s 'Pedra Branca and Eddystone Rock':
Beneath a bruising moil of thunderclouds,
kited with mewling albatross and gannets,
Pedra Branca could be an upturned yacht
adrift in a turquoise churn of Southern Ocean,
its keel glazed with guano.

KAREN KNIGHT’s poem ‘Stretching the Heart Walls’ has images that stay with me long after the reading of the poem

My Scottish cardiologist has told me
my heart is fine. It just skip-hops
and double bounces when I think
of my brother, not much older than me.
All he would have seen as he fell
from his armchair onto the floor
was the carpet of big, blue flowers.
Nothing more.

MAL ROBERTSON also uses language with a solid foundation and linguistic flare, In ‘Felling pine’
(for timber gatherers from the West Coast of Tasmania who lived and died at Gallipoli) – If you are one of the poets included in this collection and I have not singled out your poem please take that as my being driven by the clock and nothing more.

I have but one regret: that Blue Giraffe is not bigger. But then, as Chris Wallace-Crabbe has said of poetry, “The books that contain it are lamentably thin; they fill shelves slowly” (in Read it again, p.49). Long may Blue Giraffe continue to fill our shelves.
In its quiet way, it achieves an enormous amount. It has character. Like a good wine. It does not have any flavour of braggadocio. It carries, like a good voice across a room or across a ravine. Blue Giraffe is another ball game. Let’s celebrate the achievement of this small magazine. Thank you again Pete Hay for a fine selection for this edition.
----------- Editorial details --------------
Blue Giraffe is available for purchase at the Hobart Bookshop, Salamanca Place, Tasmania 7000.
Editorial inquiries to Peter Macrow, 6/16 Osborne St, Sandy Bay, Tasmania 7005.
Submissions in hard copy to the same address for the next edition, also to be guest edited by Pete Hay.

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