The wrap: poetry in the news (w/e 25 apr 2013)

In Los Angeles, a Harvard poet wondered ”Is this too loud, is this too soft, am I going on too long?” while Sharon Olds put the ideal of her husband to rest and won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Anne Carson published a poem composed using a random integer generator in the London Review of Books, and James Franco released a poem on the occasion of his 35th birthday. Bollywood heartthrob Farhan Akhtar penned a poem after hearing a five-year-old girl in Delhi had been raped and tortured by her neighbour. Dresden Dolls singer Amanda Palmer penned “the worst poem of all time“ in her musings on the younger Boston Marathon bomber. Historians noted 397 and 189 years have passed since Shakespeare and Byron, respectively, died of fevers.

newspaper-icon-thumb10559428In Los Angeles, a Harvard poet wondered “Is this too loud, is this too soft, am I going on too long?” while Sharon Olds put the ideal of her husband to rest and won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Anne Carson published a poem composed using a random integer generator in the London Review of Books, and James Franco released a poem on the occasion of his 35th birthday. Bollywood heartthrob Farhan Akhtar penned a poem after hearing a five-year-old girl in Delhi had been raped and tortured by her neighbour. Dresden Dolls singer Amanda Palmer penned “the worst poem of all time” in her musings on the younger Boston Marathon bomber. Historians noted 397 and 189 years have passed since Shakespeare and Byron, respectively, died of fevers. The only known poem by Winston Churchill, “Our Modern Watchwords“, failed to sell at an auction at Bonhams. The priest who found Malta’s earliest poem died at age 97, and Irish rare-book collector Rick Gekoski prayed that the poem James Joyce wrote as a little boy – “Et Tu, Healy” will never be found.

Simon armitage: walking home backwards

Review of Walking Home by Simon Armitage

Wordsworth – poet–walker par excellence – had the best legs in the business. As his friend Thomas de Quincy noted: ‘Undoubtedly they had been serviceable legs beyond the average standard of requisition. For I calculate, upon good data, that with these identical legs Wordsworth must have traversed a distance of 185,000 English miles.’ In contrast, Simon Armitage’s legs, by his own admission, generally ‘do very little other than dangle under a desk’ or propel him from the multi-storey car park to the railway ticket office. ‘Even if I’m writing about the Sahara or the Antarctic,’ he confesses, ‘I’m usually doing it in a chair, in a room, behind double glazing.’

Simon-Armitage-297x300Wordsworth – poet–walker par excellence – had the best legs in the business. As his friend Thomas de Quincy noted: ‘Undoubtedly they had been serviceable legs beyond the average standard of requisition. For I calculate, upon good data, that with these identical legs Wordsworth must have traversed a distance of 185,000 English miles.’ In contrast, Simon Armitage’s legs, by his own admission, generally ‘do very little other than dangle under a desk’ or propel him from the multi-storey car park to the railway ticket office. ‘Even if I’m writing about the Sahara or the Antarctic,’ he confesses, ‘I’m usually doing it in a chair, in a room, behind double glazing.’

In 1994 Armitage swapped social work for poetry and quickly became the most recognisable face in Britain’s so-called New Generation poets. Since then he has written fifteen collections of poetry, eleven radio documentaries and verse dramas, two novels, and several non-fiction titles. He has also edited five poetry anthologies – including a new selection of Ted Hughes’s poems – and published new translations of The Odyssey, Sir Gawain and The Green Knight, and The Death of King Arthur. But by 2011 the stodginess of routine had set in; the sediment was building up. So Armitage decided to take a walk.

The Pennine Way, measuring 256 miles (410 kilometres, or roughly the distance from Coff’s Harbour to Brisbane) of adversarial terrain, is generally considered the most demanding long-distance walk in Britain. The route begins in the peat moorlands of Kinder Scout, Bleaklow, and Black Hill, stretches along England’s unbroken spine of bleak hill country, across Hadrian’s Wall and traversing half the Cheviot ridge before terminating in the Scottish border village of Kirk Yetholm.

At least that is the way it is supposed to go. But Armitage – sporting a bad back and the ‘small lungs’ he inherited from his mother – sets out from Scotland to walk the Pennine Way south toward his hometown of Marsden in West Yorkshire. Instead of the weather at his back, Armitage walks headlong into a wind so powerful he has to lift his knees high and cycle into it. Crossing Haughton Common, the wind is so adamant in its opposition that ‘any progress is progress upstream, against the flood, into the rapids, with boulders and logs of hard air’ piling into him and knocking him sideways. It is the medicine he has been looking for:

And I think: this is why I came, to stumble into the unexpected, to feel the world in its raw state. I open my mouth to shout MORE, but the force of air just rams the word back into my mouth and down my throat.

Walking the Pennine Way backwards not only allows Armitage to air his poetic bent for perversity, but also launches the titular metaphor that makes this narrative a homecoming. Armitage was born in 1963 in the West Yorkshire village of Marsden, nestled not far from the trailhead. It is the pull of home – the promise of returning to his wife and daughter – that keeps him walking when his loneliness bites and his sense of humour fails.

Armitage trudges through England’s most literary landscapes – passing by Wordsworth’s Aira Force (‘what a sight it is to look on such a cataract’) and sleeping in Hughes’s childhood home in Mytholmroyd – but Walking Home is not a literary pilgrimage. Homage, if any is to be paid, is to Odysseus and his legendary yearning for home.

In the course of ten years, Odysseus outwits the Cyclops, is spellbound by the Sirens, sees his crew turned into pigs, is kept as a love-slave, and slays his wife’s suitors before reuniting with Penelope in the marital bed. Armitage’s conquests are not quite so formidable, nor as eldritch. He keeps careful inventory of his wounds: five horsefly bites, a bloody thumb, soreness in big toe of right foot when bent backwards, windburn, chapped lips, and wounded pride. Happily, he is spared blisters.
For reasons best described as masochistic, Armitage elected to finance his journey by giving nightly poetry readings at pubs and in private homes along the way. His Sisyphean efforts netted him nearly £2000 for his trouble and provided endless opportunities for poetry gags: ‘In the presence of the spoken word,’ he observes, ‘the scrape of knife against plate or the opening of a packet of salted peanuts are nuclear explosions.’

It is not giving anything away to say that the journey is not entirely successful. Neither is the book. It is – to use an Armitage word – a little bit ‘boring’, partly because each leg of the journey follows the same formula: a walk, a quirky fan, a beer, an awkward poetry reading, the scrutiny of his takings (not always cash); and partly because the narrator is often damp, chilly, shaken up, and in a bit of a sulk.

‘In many ways,’ Armitage says, ‘the Pennine Way is a pointless exercise, leading from nowhere in particular to nowhere in particular, via no particular route and for no particular reason.’ Asked if he would walk the Pennine Way again, his routine answer is no. ‘But if I did,’ he relents, ‘I’d rely more on my feet and less on my tongue.’

He would also take someone brave and intrepid with him: ‘Someone not daunted by mist or intimidated by dark clouds, to guide me across the Cheviots, to hold my hand over Cross Fell, and to part the black curtain which hangs over Kinder Scout and lead me through.’

This article was originally published under the title ‘A Pack of Salted Peanuts’ in Australian Book Review 348 (Feb 2013): 56-57.

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Carrie tiffany wins a stella prize of her own

The Stella Prize, which comes with a whopping $50,000 purse, is Australia’s newest literary prize celebrating Australian women authors. Australia’s other “gendered” prizes for literature include The Kibble Literary Award ($30,000) for a fiction or nonfiction book by an established Australian woman writer; and The Dobbie Literary Award ($5,000) for a first published work by an Australian woman writer. Australian women writers are also eligible to enter Britain’s The Women’s Prize for Fiction (AU$45,000), awarded to a female author of any nationality for the best original full-length novel written in English. It is not impossible that a first book by an Australian woman author could sweep all of these prizes in a literary superfecta amassing a tidy $130,000.

stella-logo-largeThe Stella Prize, which comes with a whopping $50,000 purse, is Australia’s newest literary prize celebrating Australian women authors. Australia’s other “gendered” prizes for literature include The Kibble Literary Award ($30,000) for a fiction or nonfiction book by an established Australian woman writer; and The Dobbie Literary Award ($5,000) for a first published work by an Australian woman writer. Australian women writers are also eligible to enter Britain’s The Women’s Prize for Fiction (£30,000/AU$45,000), awarded to a female author of any nationality for the best original full-length novel written in English.

It is not impossible that a first book by an Australian woman author could sweep all of these prizes in a literary superfecta amassing a tidy $130,000. Which is exactly what Carrie Tiffany – who last night was awarded the inaugural Stella Prize for her novel, Mateship with Birds – looks set to do.

Of course Tiffany can’t win the Dobbie because Mateship with Birds is her second novel. But that shouldn’t worry her greatly, as she already won it in 2007 for her debut novel, Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living.

In addition to last night’s win, Mateship with Birds is currently longlisted for the Kibble and the Women’s Prize for Fiction. And it might even pick up The Barbara Jefferis Award – a $35,000 prize for “the best novel written by an Australian author that depicts women and girls in a positive way or otherwise empowers the status of women and girls in society” – which is yet to release a shortlist.

It does’t end there. Mateship with Birds is also longlisted for Australia’s most prestigious literary award, The Miles Franklin, which fueled the gender debate when it served up all-male shortlists in 2009 and 2011. Perhaps in response to these criticisms, this year’s longlist sees the largest number of female authors selected since the longlist was first introduced in 2005.

Of winning the Stella Prize, Tiffany said: “It is astonishing and lovely to be the first recipient of this new prize. The Stella Prize is an opportunity to fete and honour writing by Australian women.

When I sit down to write I am anchored by all of the books I have read. My sentences would not have been possible without the sentences of Christina Stead, Thea Astley, Elizabeth Jolley, Beverley Farmer, Kate Grenville, Gillian Mears, Helen Garner and the many other fine Australian writers that I have read and continue to read.

At the award night, Tiffany announced that she wanted to donate $10,000 of the Stella prize money back to be split equally among the other five shortlistees:

  • The Burial by Courtney Collins (Allen & Unwin)
  • Questions of Travel by Michelle de Kretser (Allen & Unwin)
  • The Sunlit Zone by Lisa Jacobson (Five Islands Press)
  • Like a House on Fire by Cate Kennedy (Scribe Publications)
  • Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan (Allen & Unwin)

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.

 

May 31: shoalhaven literary award

The Shoalhaven Literary Award for short stories 2013 is now open. The judge this year will be Moya Simons. First Prize $1000 plus a two-week artist’s residency at Bundanon. Closing date: 31 May 2013.

The Shoalhaven Literary Award for short stories is now open. The judge this year will be Moya Simons. First Prize $1000 plus a two-week artist’s residency at Bundanon. Closing date: 31 May 2013.

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May 24: queensland literary awards

The Queensland Literary Awards (QLA) is Queensland’s most significant suite of literary prizes. A $5,000 prize will be awarded in each award category. Nominations close 5pm 24 May 2013.

The Queensland Literary Awards is Queensland’s most significant suite of literary prizes. A $5,000 prize will be awarded in each award category. Nominations close 5pm 24 May 2013.

2013 Award Categories

May 31: elizabeth jolley short story prize

The Australian Book Review Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize is for a short story in English of between 2000 and 5000 words. The prize will be judged by Tony Birch, Maria Takolander and Terri-ann White and first prize is AUD$5,000. Entries close 31 May.

The Australian Book Review Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize is for a short story in English of between 2000 and 5000 words. The prize will be judged by Tony Birch, Maria Takolander and Terri-ann White and first prize is AUD$5,000. Entries close 31 May.

RETURN

June 7: Newcastle Poetry Prize

One of the most lucrative poetry prizes in Australia, the Newcastle Poetry Prize offers $20,250 in total prize money with a first place award of $12,000, a second prize of $5,000 and third prize of $1,000. In addition, the $500 Local Award is given to a poet who resides in the Hunter Region and the Harri Jones Memorial Prize awards $250 for the best poem by a poet under the age of 36. Entries close 7 June 2013.

One of the most lucrative poetry prizes in Australia, the Newcastle Poetry Prize offers $20,250 in total prize money with a first place award of $12,000, a second prize of $5,000 and third prize of $1,000. In addition, the $500 Local Award is given to a poet who resides in the Hunter Region and the Harri Jones Memorial Prize awards $250 for the best poem by a poet under the age of 36. Entries close 7 June 2013.

• First Prize: $12,000
• Second Prize: $5,000
• Third Prize: $1,000
• Local Award: $500
• Harri Jones Memorial Prize (Under 36): $250

May 17: alan marshall short story award

Australian writers are invited to enter the Alan Marshall Short Story Award, which celebrates the art of writing and honours the life and work of Alan Marshall. 2013 Judge: Arnold Zable. Open first prize: $3000, Local first prize: $2000, Youth first prize: $400 (14 to 18 years of age). An award ceremony will be held at 4pm on 24 August 2013. Entries close 17 May 2013.

Australian writers are invited to enter the Alan Marshall Short Story Award, which celebrates the art of writing and honours the life and work of Alan Marshall. Judge: Arnold Zable. Open first prize: $3000, Local first prize: $2000, Youth first prize: $400 (14 to 18 years of age). An award ceremony will be held at 4pm on 24 August 2013, at Eltham Library Community Gallery with a reading of the winning stories by Dennis Coard and Debra Lawrence. Entries close 17 May 2013.

May 15: montreal international poetry prize

Entries are now open for the Montreal International Poetry Prize. The winner of the prize will receive a cash prize of CA$20,000 (AU$19,000). The prize is open to original, unpublished poems up to 40 lines long. Entrants can be from anywhere in the world. Entries close 15 May 2013.

Entries are now open for the Montreal International Poetry Prize. The winner of the prize will receive a cash prize of CA$20,000 (approximately AU$19,000; US$19,500; or GBP £12,900). The prize is open to original, unpublished poems up to 40 lines long. Entrants can be from anywhere in the worldEntries close 15 May 2013.

Entries will be judged by the prize’s editorial board. A total of fifty poems will be selected for publication in the prize’s anthology. The judge for the 2013 prize is Scottish poet Don Paterson.

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Foreword: australian poetry journal 2.2 #art

Not surprisingly – poets being aural creatures – the #art issue of Australian Poetry Journal thrums with music. In Philip Hammial’s ‘Walk that Walk’ Afro-Cuban jazz-king Machito (Crowded Fingers) Smith thinks, along with Zelda Fitzgerald, that ‘Al Jolson is greater than Jesus’. In Philip Salom’s ‘Counterpoint with Red’ Glenn Gould guns through Bach in a triptych of waltzes showcasing the pianist’s architectural tics and copious pharmaceutical predilections. ‘The purpose of art’, Gould wrote in 1962, ‘is not the release of a momentary ejection of adrenaline but is, rather, the gradual, lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity’. Always more concerned with the effects of art than the product itself, Gould argued that art’s ‘justification’ (should it need one) is ‘the internal combustion it ignites in the hearts of men’.

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issue 2 volume 2 2012

Not surprisingly – poets being aural creatures – the #art issue of Australian Poetry Journal thrums with music. In Philip Hammial’s ‘Walk that Walk’ Afro-Cuban jazz-king Machito (Crowded Fingers) Smith thinks, along with Zelda Fitzgerald, that ‘Al Jolson is greater than Jesus’. In Philip Salom’s ‘Counterpoint with Red’ Glenn Gould guns through Bach in a triptych of waltzes showcasing the pianist’s architectural tics and copious pharmaceutical predilections. ‘The purpose of art’, Gould wrote in 1962, ‘is not the release of a momentary ejection of adrenaline but is, rather, the gradual, lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity’. Always more concerned with the effects of art than the product itself, Gould argued that art’s ‘justification’ (should it need one) is ‘the internal combustion it ignites in the hearts of men’ – a fire that Peter Lach-Newinsky’s poem, ‘Ode to Joy’, extends to the hearts of women who hummed, in solidarity, Beethoven’s ‘bright other half of humanity’s dream’ in Tiananmen Square and outside the gates of Pinochet’s prisons.

‘Phrases hungering for another’s art’ – as Kevin Gillam calls the ekphrastic impulse in ‘Figue’ – stand at the heart of many poems gathered here. In ‘Gallery’ Mike Ladd wants to step into a painting by Camille Pissaro, circa 1901, to walk through a foggy morning, pink and blue, along the Seine. He’d warn women in black shawls that ‘the Wars were coming’ but ‘no one would listen’. Dispensing proprieties Brenda Saunders plonks herself inside Edward Hopper’s Room in New York and ‘tinkles a few notes’ on the piano, while Mark Tredinnick settles behind Matisse’s eyes to study ‘the lazy phrase’ of his model displayed across the sofa: ‘Every piece of the carnal world’, he observes, ‘takes the shape of a question’. Meanwhile in ‘Schmerz: An Exhibition’ Susanne Gannon interrogates the artsy idea that ‘pain builds community’ as she walks through a Berlin gallery housing, among other horrors, Marina Abramović’s ‘cutting edge’ performance in which she carves a star into her belly. Interleafed among European greats, the shock of the local arrives in Caitlin Maling’s ‘At the Ballarat Art Gallery’ – yet even Nolan’s Leda, it must be said,has its origins in the elsewhere.

As for the state of our art form – poetry – it appears to be marked, at least by these poems, by a sense of absenteeism: Davina Allison laments the absence of poets in her distressed address to the abused boys of St Joseph’s Industrial School in Ireland’s Letterfrack; Rosanna Licari finds Umberto Saba locked in silence on a footpath he once walked in Trieste; and Andy Jackson’s ‘Edith’ shrinks poets to something we talk about when ‘the dreadful silence’ presses in. With ‘The Perfect Malware’ Christian Bök returns to the pages of APJ with a tour de force that splits the nucleus: ‘What can poetry imagine’, he asks, ‘when poetry itself has gone extinct?’ But Bök’s black view gleams in the dark – ‘Let the death of verse be dated by the half-life of uranium-238’ – advancing a calculation that grants the poem another 4.47 billion years.

In ‘Francis Webb at Balls Head’ Robert Adamson constructs an arresting portrait of one of Australia’s greatest poets, whom Sir Herbert Read also deemed ‘one of the most unjustly neglected poets of the [last] century’ – an unhappy charge Adamson is bent on remedying in his ‘Spotlight on Francis Webb’ here and his criticism beyond these pages. In ‘Framing the Scene’ Kate Lilley looks at new books by Julie Chevalier and David McCooey; while in Stuart Cooke’s ‘Bright Nodes of Colour’, Lilley – through an unavoidable reshuffling – finds herself under review alongside Peter Rose. APJ’s resident critic, Martin Duwell, returns with a study of the ‘towering’ if ‘uncomfortable’ presence of John Shaw Neilson and finds Australian poetry’s most famous orange tree as luminous as ever.

In the previous issue of APJ David McCooey surveyed the digital world of poetry apps: in this issue Kerry Kilner and Angela Gardner look at the more tangible and fragrant world of artist’s books – from William Blake to Chris Wallace-Crabbe – as embodying the twin concepts of the book as text and the book as object. Fiona Scotney’s interview rounds out the issue with Laurie Duggan’s frank recollection of his poetry-writing days in Ken Bolton’s dilapidated cottage in Coalcliffe, New South Wales – which links serendipitously to Iman Mersal’s gorgeous poem, ‘The Idea of Houses’: ‘Let a house be a place whose bad lighting you do not notice’, she writes making a case for poetic vision, ‘a wall whose cracks widen until one day you begin to think of them as a substitute for doors’.

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