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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing Special Australian Edition August 2023
A dawn chorus of Australian poetry, guest editorial by Audrey Molloy.
When Live Encounters editor, Mark Ulyseas, invited me to reach out to thirty poets for their contributions to a special Australian Edition of the journal, I knew I had my work cut out. Live Encounters has long been recognised and appreciated for taking a spirit-level to the joists and beams of poetry journal publication by featuring new and emerging voices next to the work of poets with international reputations.
What I’ve tried to do is showcase just how rich the poetry scene is in Australia – rich in technique and subject matter, in voice and style, in aesthetic and perspective. I’ve selected a small but by no means narrow sample of this richness. There are easily another thirty names I could have added. I invited poets whose work has moved me, either on the page – in collections, journals and anthologies – or, when read aloud in the small back rooms of the vibrant local poetry scene. Here are poets just starting out on their journey; to quote a line from C.P. Cavafy’s ‘Ithaca’, Hope your road is a long one. [i] Here also are poets at the height of their considerable powers. And here is everything in between.
I’m grateful to Mark for trusting me to invite the Australian poets included (among other marvellous poets) in this edition. And I’m indebted to the poets from across this vast continent who have been generous in their willingness to share their work, on a tight deadline, for an international audience. I hope these poems will bring as much joy to their readers as they did to me, and that this publication will continue to extend the reach of Australian poetry across the globe.
As I began to compile a list of the bird species in this issue alone, I was reminded of waking at dawn in a strange bed in a holiday rental someplace far from the city where I live. Kookaburras tune up first, then magpies, butcherbirds, currawongs, wrens and parrots and so on. I was also reminded of Mark Tredinnick’s poetry masterclass, and his now-famous suggestion for poets to put a bird in it. Mark knows that poems are all the better for having birds in them.
There are birds in these poems. The poets, too, are birds, with their rich variety of voices – neither a choir nor a cacophony; not even an orchestra. With no conductor but nature herself, their voices spar and marry. To misquote Raymond Carver, this is what I’m talking about when I talk about Australian poetry.
Just like the giraffes in Gary Fincke’s ‘Upon the Death of Sons’, humming to each other, at night, below the frequencies audible to the human ear, there is an undercurrent of conversation between the Australian poets featured in this issue, and others, alive and dead. When Anthony Lawrence writes of a fox on the flats, or Alison Gorman of a newborn calf, they could be in long-range string-and-tin-can conversation with Ted Hughes or Dylan Thomas. Direct attributions abound (John Keats, Sharon Olds, Ada Limón, Denise Levertov, Sylvia Plath, etc.) as do allusions (to William Carlos Williams, W.B. Yeats, Edna St. Vincent Millay among others).
Uncannily, there are poems by Australian poets that closely resonate with the previously-unpublished work of other poets in the issue: Tricia Dearborn’s ‘The Long Miles’ and Richard W. Halperin’s ‘A Thing of Beauty’ surely vibrate to the same struck tuning fork. Daragh Byrne’s ‘The Decision’ could be a response to Halperin’s ‘The Book of Ruth’. And Bibo and Jakov in Judith Beveridge’s ‘Two Brothers’ could be the tragic brothers mentioned in Edward Caruso’s ‘Towards Duino’. All this is a reminder that poets don’t exist in isolation, regardless of where they are writing from. Poetry has always been a lively chattering across countries, cultures, and even centuries.
Diaspora. Even the word itself conjures the air currents that blew migrants across the seas and airways to the world’s largest island continent. Almost half of Australians have at least one parent who was born in another country. [ii] For many newcomers to Australia, life here can be at odds with their early experiences. The ‘Two Brothers’ of Judith Beveridge’s poem ‘express a longing for spruce and birch forests, the scent / of orange bellflowers, the taste of bramble gin, the calls // of the marsh tit, the river warbler, and nuthatches that build / mud nests and climb down trees head-first…’
There is a sense of displacement in many of these poems. Gary Fincke’s ‘Upon the Death of Sons’ gives us ‘Tesknota, “the pain of distance” in Polish, a longing, beyond nostalgia, for more than the past’ – a word that would resonate with diasporas the world over. Paris Rosemont writes of a grandfather who ‘woke up to the wassail of a koel each dawn.’ And there is discomfort here too. The sense of ‘otherness’ is palpable in several poems, and no more strangely and beautifully than in Debbie Lim’s work, with its promenading jellyfish and giant, colonizing fungus.
Across the issue, themes are oddly consistent. There are train journeys, road journeys. Poets write about their roots: filmic scenes from their childhood, the good and the bad of their families. And they write about the plight of others – children, endangered animals, the dispossessed. Art and music – classical, baroque, jazz, rock – are prominent, with their powers to inspire awe and evoke memory. Reading through the final proofs, my own personal obsessions stood out – the sea, the heart, family, diasporic dislocation, and home. While there is not a lot of sex in this issue (my gratitude to Scott-Patrick Mitchell, Geoff Callard and LaWanda Walters for addressing this) there is great love – romantic, as well as deep love for one’s children, notably sons.
In this selection, native Australian animals, insects, flowers and trees – possum, witchetty
grub, banksia, ti tree – appear, not necessarily comfortably, alongside introduced plants and animals – fox, calf, sheep, trout, gorse. There are skinks, leeches and koels. There is a dingo that has stalked me since I first read Judith Nangala Crispin’s poem. (And have I mentioned the birds?)
It should come as no surprise that one of the most consistent themes throughout the issue is death: dead fathers, dead wives, dead sons, dead animals, dead species. And there are poems that acknowledge that this is where we are all ultimately headed. In ‘Prayer’, Peter Boyle asks: ‘that I may find my way / into that citadel, to surface with the fish / in the cool waters of a sheltered pool, / held safe at the breath’s /still centre.’ Less soothing and more chilling, perhaps, are the final lines from Judith Beveridge’s ‘At Barrack Point’ where adversity is ‘a wave generated elsewhere, but reaching us eventually no matter whose hand / we hold, how careful we are, no matter where we stand.’
[i] Translated by Edmund Keeley
© Audrey Molloy
Audrey Molloy is an Irish poet living in Sydney on Gadigal land. Her debut collection, The Important Things (Gallery Press, 2021), won the Anne Elder Award and was shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney First Collection Poetry Prize. Ordinary Time (Pitt Street Poetry, 2022), a collaboration with Australian poet Anthony Lawrence, was one of Australian Book Review’s ‘Books of the Year’. Her second solo collection, The Blue Cocktail, will be published in late 2023 in Ireland and Australia. She has an MA in Creative Writing (Poetry) from Manchester Metropolitan University. Her work has appeared in Meanjin, Cordite, Island, Best of Australian Poems, The Stinging Fly, The Moth, Magma, The North, and Poetry Ireland Review. She was awarded a Varuna Residential Fellowship in 2020, and was shortlisted for the Red Room Poetry Fellowship in 2022. She is the grateful recipient of a Literature Bursary Award from the Arts Council of Ireland. http://audreymolloy.com/
The Important Things by Audrey Molloy.
Available on Amazon and https://gallerypress.com/product/the-important-things/