Monday musings on Australian literature: Supporting genres, 6: Poetry

As with the last post in this series, which was on novellas, poetry isn’t so much a genre as a form. However, to repeat what I said then, when I started this sub-series, I couldn’t find one all-inclusive word to cover all the types of literary works I thought I’d cover, so settled on “genres”. With August being National Poetry Month, it seemed a good time to do the poetry post.

I’ll start by saying that over the years of this blog, I have written several posts that could be seen to cover ways in which poetry is supported in Australia … so I’m going to begin with some of those posts, all Monday Musings:

  • Australian Poetry Library: In 2011, I wrote on a wonderful initiative, the online Australian Poetry Library which was launched that May. Unfortunately, as those of you who have read last week’s Monday Musings comment trail will know, the site is off-line at the moment. It’s a fabulous site, and we believe the hiatus is technical rather than permanent. We urge that “fixing” it be given priority.
  • National Poetry Month: This has to be a major initiative for supporting Australian poets and poetry and I have written two Monday Musings posts on it, one in 2021 and one in 2022.
  • Poetry Awards: In 2014, I wrote a Monday Musings on Poetry Awards, in which I listed many of Australia’s best-known poetry awards.


In my 2021 National Poetry Month post (linked above), I mentioned two publishers which focus specifically, or heavily, on poetry – Giramondo and Pitt Street Poetry – so you can read more about those there. Other more general publishers also support poetry. There are too many for me to include here, but I will exemplify with a few:

  • Black Inc: an independent Melbourne-based publisher which supports poetry, with a focus (I’d say) on established poets. They have published annual Best Australian poems anthologies (though not since 2017 it seems); they publish The best 100 poems of [poet, like Dorothy Porter] series, and they also publish poetry collections, including, most recently the posthumous Les Murray collection, Continuous creation.
  • Fremantle Press: an independent Western Australia-based publisher which publishes poetry regularly, both as single poet collections (including John Kinsella and Tracy Ryan) and anthologies.
  • UQP: a university-based publisher in Queensland, which is also a strong publisher of poetry. Not surprisingly, given their track record in publishing First Nations writing, they are a major publisher of First Nations poets, like Evelyn Araluen, Tony Birch, Jazz Money, and Ellen van Neerven, alongside many other new and established poets.

I have reviewed poetry from all of the above. For more publishers, check out this Poetry Sydney page which includes these, plus more, like Ginninderra Press, Magabala Books, and Wakefield Press.


I covered several of Australia’s significant poetry awards in my dedicated Monday Musings post linked above, and Wikipedia has a useful list too. I love that the majority of poetry awards are named for poets. Here I will share a few that I didn’t include in my 2014 post:

  • Anne Elder Award has gone through some changes since its establishment in 1976 by the Victorian Branch of the Fellowship of Australian Writers. It goes to the best first book of poetry published in Australia, and since 2018 has been managed by Australian Poetry.
  • Biennial Helen Anne Bell Poetry Bequest Award is a more recent poetry prize, with the inaugural award being made in 2013. The original prize was $7,000 but it’s now described as Australia’s richest poetry prize, with $40,000 going to the 2021 winner. It is “dedicated to celebrating women poets”, with, says AustLit, the award going to “an Australian woman poet for a collection of previously unpublished poems”. It is managed by the University of Sydney.
  • Mary Gilmore Award has gone through a number of permutations and slight name changes since it was established by the ACTU (Australian Council of Trade Unions) in 1956. Love this. It is currently an annual prize for a first book of poetry published in Australia, and is managed by the Association for the Study of Australian Literature. The 2022 winner was Jelena Dinic’s In the Room with the She Wolf published by Wakefield Press.


Many writers festivals include a poetry panel or two, and those of you who attend folk festivals will know that these festivals often include poetry sessions (mostly, in my experience, of the bush verse variety).

However, there are some specialist poetry festivals, like the following:

  • Perth Poetry Festival, is an annual festival with this year’s being its 18th. Its webpage is brief but you can read more about it there. It is run by WA Poets Inc.
  • Poetry on the Move is a festival that was established in Canberra in 2015 by the University of Canberra. Its website describes its aims as being “to promote poetry as a vibrant art form through the engagement with international, national and local poetry communities”.
  • Queensland Poetry has operated as an incorporated association, the Queensland Poetry Festival Inc, since 2007. Their aim, according to their home page, is “Supporting poets on page and stage across Queensland”. Check out their website for the range of their activities, but as far as I can tell, this year’s festival, Emerge, ran from June 3rd to 6th.
  • Red Dirt Poetry Festival has already appeared on this blog, through Glen Hunting who often comments here. As its website says, it is a “4-day International poetry and spoken word celebration in Mparntwe/Alice Springs”. It’s a hybrid festival offering both in-person and digital sessions, and involves national and international poets. The sessions include “presentations, workshops, showcases and exclusive commissioned works”.
  • Tasmanian Poetry Festival is a longstanding festival which started in 1985 ran its 37th event in 2021.

It goes without saying that many festivals, including these, have been significantly affected by COVID and so what were annual, in-person events, have in some cases missed a year or two, recently, and/or become hybrid events. Some are run by poetry associations which offer many more programs than “just” the festival. You can find out more by navigating the links I’ve provided.

Do you like poetry and, if so, how do you engage with it?

Previous supporting genre posts: 1. Historical fiction; 2. Short stories; 3. Biography; 4. Literary nonfiction; 5. Crime; 6. Novellas.

Monday musings on Australian literature: Poetry Month 2022 and Verse novels

Having launched their Poetry Month in 2021 which I wrote about at the time, Red Room Company (or, Red Room Poetry) clearly felt it was successful, because they are back again this year with another Poetry Month. Its aim is to “increase access, awareness and visibility of poetry in all its forms and for all audiences”, and it will run throughout the month of August.

From what I can tell, they are following a similar plan to last year with their 30in30 daily poetry commissions, poetry ambassadors, online workshops, prizes and residencies, and more. Do check their page, which includes a link to a calendar, to find ways in which you can take part, or, simply, introduce yourself to some new poets and poems.

Meanwhile, I thought I’d celebrate the month by writing a little tribute to verse novels.

Verse novels

When I decided to write this post, I found a good introduction to verse novels at The Australian Poetry Library. However, when I checked the link I’d saved, it said “currently unavailable”. I will share what it said, but you may not be able to find it online any more. (They do still have a Facebook page.)

A verse novel tells a long and complex story with many characters, much as a prose novel would, through the medium of narrative verse. The verse may be blank verse in the manner of Shakespeare, or free verse, or (less often) formal rhymed verse of any type.

The ancient epics were verse novels, of a sort, and so were the Alexandrian epyllia such as Apollonius’ Argonautica, but the modern verse novel, like the novel itself, is a fashion that found a large audience in the nineteenth-century: Don Juan (Byron), Amours de Voyage (Arthur Hugh Clough), The Ring and the Book (Robert Browning).

Movies, paperback novels and television seem to have killed it off in the early twentieth century, but it found a strong revival after the 1970s: Another life (Derek Walcott), The golden gate (Vikram Seth) and The changing light at Sandover (James Merrill).

Notable Australian verse novelists are Alan Wearne, Dorothy Porter, Les Murray, Steven Herrick and John Tranter.

A selection of Australian verse novels

Susan Hawthorne, Limen, book cover

Wikipedia’s article on the form provides a brief history, going back to epics like Gilgamesh. After appearing to have declined with Modernism, it has, Wikipedia continues, “undergone a remarkable revival” since the 1960s-70s, and is particularly popular in the Caribbean, Australia and New Zealand. I wonder why these particular regions?

I should add, though, that verse novels do have a longer history in Australia than this later 20th century revival suggests. CJ Dennis’ The songs of a Sentimental Bloke (1915) and The moods of Ginger Mick (1916)(my post) are earlier, and very popular, examples.

Of course, I did a little search of Trove, but, given the form’s apparent recent revival and the fact that Trove is not so useful yet for recent decades, I didn’t find much. However, I was intrigued to find reference to a satirical work called Solstice, by 20-year-old Matt Rubenstein. It was shortlisted for The Australian-Vogel award (in 1994, I presume). Sen, writing in The Canberra Times, was reasonably positive, saying that “the narrative has its share of sentimental blokes as well as philosophers like the homeless Arthur, and the relationships and issues it explores are treated relevantly as well as entertainingly. It could start a verse-novel cult. Could, I said.”

I’m not sure that there’s been quite a cult, but my little list below confirms some level of ongoing popularity in Australia. But, back to Rubenstein’s Solstice, I also found through Trove that it had been adapted by the author into a play to be performed at the Adelaide Festival of Arts in 1996, with Kate Ceberano as the featured singer. That says something about the quality of the work. I note that the play is available from Ligature Digital Publishing.

Anyhow, I do enjoy a verse novel, and have reviewed several on my blog, as have some other Aussie litbloggers. Here is a selection of some of the verse novels we have reviewed on our blogs:

  • Ali Cobby Eckermann, Ruby Moonlight (2012) (my post, and Lisa’s): this is particularly interesting because it is a First Nations historical fiction verse novel. It is a moving, and generous read.
  • Lesley Lebkowicz, The Petrov poems (2013) (my post): also historical fiction, this work tells the story of the Petrov affair providing a personal perspective on a very political event.
  • Susan Hawthorne, Limen (2013) (my post): Hawthorne’s quiet yet forceful work explores women going camping, the threats and vulnerabilities that confront them, and how they navigate the lines that appear.
  • Geoff Page, The scarring (1999) (my post): Page has written other verse novels, including Freehold, which I have also read, but The scarring is particularly strong and gut-wrenching about war, the mistakes people make, and the power men can wield over women.
  • Dorothy Porter, El Dorado (2007) (Brona): Porter’s last verse novel is described by Brona as “another dark crime story with a psychological twist”.
  • Dorothy Porter, The monkey’s mask (1994) (Brona): Porter’s most famous verse novel is also a psychological crime story, and, says Brona is “gritty, exciting & passionate”. It surely qualifies now as a classic, particularly given it is taught in schools and universities. It was also adapted for a feature film.
  • Alan Wearne, The night markets (1986) (Bill): this book was highly praised when it came out, and won significant awards including the ALS Gold Medal and the National Book Council Award. Bill knew Wearne at school, and has read this book a few times “because it feels so intensely familiar”. The Canberra Times reported on its ALS Gold Medal win, saying the judges ‘were impressed by the ambition and confidence with which Wearne approached his task. The novel’s subject, political and social change in the past two decades, had rarely been approached, they said, and its verse form was “bold and exciting”‘.

Readings Bookshop has provided lists of Australian and non-Australian children’s and YA verse novels, for those of you interested in these audiences.

Do you read verse novels? And if so, care to share your favourites (Aussie or otherwise)?

Jeanne Griggs, Postcard poems (#BookReview)

If you love travel, you would enjoy Jeanne Griggs’ poetry collection, Postcard poems, which comprises postcard-sized poems ostensibly sent from locations around the USA, and further afield. Like all good travel writing, though, these poems offer more than just simple travel.

However, before I discuss them, I should introduce the poet. Some of you will already know her, because Jeanne Griggs is the blogger behind the wonderfully titled Necromancy Never Pays … and other truths we learn from literature. How could a reader not love this? You can read about her and her blog’s name on the blog, so I’ll just add that at the back of the collection we are told that besides writing her blog she directs the Writing Centre at Kenyon College, and plays violin in the Knox County Symphony.

So, the collection. It’s divided into three parts, and each poem occupies a page – on the left of the page is the poem and on the right is the addressee (like “To Allen/Crystal Lake, IL”) plus that little rectangular box you get on postcards for the stamp. It’s a clear, simple layout, which maintains our focus on the poems’ context. The titles of the individual poems ground us further, with each referencing its subject, such as “Note on a postcard of Cypress Gardens” or “A postcard of Antelope Canyon” or “A postcard with ornamental pear tree”. There is also an epigraph, and I’ll share it because it’s perfect. It’s from Tennyson’s Ulysses: “I am a part of all that I have met; / Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’ / Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades / For ever and forever when I move.”

Regarding the trigger for this collection, besides the obvious travel that is, Griggs wrote on GoodReads that “I was writing poems and fitting them onto the back of actual postcards and then sometimes I would send them to my friends and family. Very soon it became clear that this was a collection, that together the poems told a kind of story”.

Now, all this might sound a little cute, but the idea has not resulted in something formulaic or overly structured. Indeed, the poems roam through place and time, and encompass a variety of holidays and trips, some overseas to, say, the Alhambra in Spain (“Note on a postcard of the Alhambra”), and others closer to home, like visiting a child at college (“Note on a postcard of Wellington, Ohio”).

What captures the attention, however, is that alongside the expected description of a place, most poems contain more. There are reflections, some delightfully wry and some pointedly ironic, on the experience of travel – the joys and challenges, the misses and triumphs, the surprises and the ordinary – and their impact on the traveller. I enjoyed, for example, poems about attending festivals, like:

We’ve come to hear about books,
drink bourbon, and eat crawfish,
casting aside our inhibitions
like layers of clothing, extraneous
in the bloodworm Louisianna night.

(from “Note on a postcard of the St Francisville Inn”)

There are also the personal stories that made these trips worth writing about, such as memories of family holidays followed later by cards to children now grown up. There’s the mother remembering her own mother, only to recognise the pattern is repeating:

and thinking about my mother
how she would take me
to fancyhotels and
sit, saying she was content
with the view, watching me
disappearing over the horizon,
like my daughter, now.

(from “Note on a postcard from the El Tovar hotel”)

Letting go isn’t as easy when it’s you doing the letting go!

… so it was the first trip
we took without you. I missed you,
loosing my regret out of earshot,
drowned out by water roaring,
wishing I could watch you
see this …

(from “Notes on a postcard of Niagara Falls”)

The Contents list, in which a poem on Santa Monica Pier, for example, is followed by one containing a piece of the Berlin Wall followed by one from Waikiki, might suggest, on the surface, something quite random. However, reading the poems reveals subtle segues in nearby poems, from simple things like mentions of cereals (Froot Loops and Cheerios anyone?) to concepts like growing older. Books feature too. Few are named, but keen readers will spy the likes of Tolkien and Shakespeare within these pages.

There’s also some politics. One, “Note on a postcard of the Mount Vernon public square”, documents weeks of protesting, of wanting neighbours to realise that their congressman “is voting against / their health benefits, our water supply”, while another, “Note on a postcard of the Marie Laveau Voodoo Museum”, shares how a human skeleton brings to mind “desperate people feeling / no control over their lives, / the deck stacked against them”.

A couple of the poems particularly resonated with me – in addition to those dealing with family, ageing and children growing up. “Notes on a postcard of Mesa Verde”, for example, captured my own wonder about that amazing place and the people who lived there, while the opening poem, “A postcard of a mirrored room”, makes that poignant (there’s no other word for it) point about

… all the places
we’ve been, until
we get to the last one
and who will know
where that is until after
we reach a final destination.

The last poem, “A postcard from the Getty Museum”, offers a different sort of finality – the arrival of the pandemic. It’s not named, but when Griggs writes of not thinking about the crowds until “After, when the press of all / those people became unimaginable” followed by “all future plans suspended”, we know what she means.

Postcard poems is an engaging and accessible collection that uses something as relatable as writing postcards to explore things that matter. It’s nicely crafted, but also accessible. Well worth reading.

Jeanne Griggs
Postcard poems
Frankfort, KY: Broadstone, 2021
ISBN: 9781937968885

(Review copy courtesy the author)

Evelyn Araluen, Dropbear (#BookReview)

The final line of “Gather”, the opening poem in Evelyn Araluen’s collection Dropbear, announces her intention – “got something for you to swallow”. Well, I can tell you now, if you haven’t already read the book, she sure has.

Dropbear, self-described by Araluen as a “strange little book”, won this year’s Stella Prize, the first year, in fact, that poetry was included as an eligible form for the prize. It has also been highly commended or shortlisted for several other significant Australian literary awards. I can see why. It is a fiercely intelligent, confronting and discomforting read that tells truths we all need to hear – and feel. It is also, however, a literary feast, replete with allusions to Australian literature from May Gibbs to Kate Grenville, from Banjo Paterson to Peter Carey, and more. There is a reason for this as Araluen explains in her Notes at the end. Dropbear should, she writes,

be read with the understanding that the material and political reality of the colonial past which Indigenous peoples inherit is also a literary one. Our resistance, therefore, must also be literary.

In other words, you fight fire with fire! What this means is that in this collection, Araluen, from her Notes again, “riff[s] off and respond[s] to popular tropes, icons and texts of Australian national culture”. In doing so, she upends prevailing attitudes, challenging the colonial project and making it very clear that it’s still in play. This all starts with the title which comprehends the myths and dishonesties at the core of Australia’s settler culture.

In the collection’s second piece, “The ghost gum sequence”, she revisits Australia’s early colonial history, concluding with

Tench’s gaze is still there – but so is ours staring back.

Simply said, powerful in impact. Araluen, and her peers, are no shrinking violets.

However, she also recognises (as does Larissa Behrendt in After story), that she too was brought up on these same texts she uses in her resistance. Hence

the entanglement: none of this is innocent and while I seek to rupture I usually just rearrange. I arrange the colonial complexes and impulses which structure these texts but it doesn’t change the fact that I was raised on these books too. (“To the parents”)

“To the parents” is one of the more autobiographical pieces in the collection. In it she reconciles her younger self’s frustration. She had seen her “parents as easy victims of the colonial condition, and not agential selves who had sacrificed everything” for their children, whereas in fact:

While my siblings and I consumed those stories, we were never taught to settle for them. My parents never pretended these books could truly know country or culture or me – but they had both come from circumstances in which literacy and the access it affords was never a given. They just wanted me to be able to read.

The resourcefulness of First Nations people is palpable in experiences like this. For Araluen, there is challenge in teasing out the “entanglement” of her own “black and convict ancestors” (“The Ghost Gum Sequence”). This includes that hard “yakker” of connecting with black heritage lost through generations of dispossession: “It is hard to unlearn a language / to unspeak the empire” (“Learning Bundjalung on Tharawal”).

Another autobiographical piece is “Breath” in which she writes of being overseas with J when the 2019-2020 bushfires hit and the pandemic starts. She is confronted by her personal dreams in dystopian times:

We came to talk about temporality, about literature, about the necessity of art in the time of crisis … We spent our youths imagining this kind of life, dreaming of ourselves as writers and thinkers who travel the world to tell stories. Being here tastes sour and hollow – it feels like relic-making. What use is a poem in a museum of extinct things, where the Anthopocene display is half-finished? … What use is witness at the end of worlds.

And yet, she doesn’t give up. In poem after poem she witnesses and shares what she sees. It’s exhilarating to read, if that’s not too positive a spin on tough content. “The trope speaks” addresses the many ways in which settler literature has usurped place, ignorantly and arrogantly:

The trope feels a ghostly spectre haunting the land, but smothers it with fence and field and church

The trope thinks every tree is a ghost gum

Later, in “Appendix Australia”, which comprises bitingly funny footnotes, this latter point is referenced again in “37. sic: not a fucking ghost gum, ibid”, reminding us yet again how little we settlers really do know country, as we muddle, if not stomp, our way around it.

The collection is divided into three parts – Gather, Spectre and Debris – which reflect a thematic and narrative trajectory that takes us from historical imperatives in Gather, through more personal reflections in Spectre, to marrying present and past in Debris, though I am making this sound more clear-cut than it really is, because the connections are more organic than formal.

The pieces vary significantly in form and style, and include prose poems, upper-case poems, a redacted poem, and memoir, but there is a coherence that transcends this difference. This coherence lies in the book’s overall unrelenting exposé of the workings of a colonial-settler society that still avoids the truth, and it is supported by recurring ideas and multilayered images, like banksia men and gumnut babies, ghosts/spectres, smoke/ash, and haunting/hunting. Each of these contain opposing ideas that jolt the reader into stopping to consider the meaning and argument being presented. It’s not easy reading, but it is worth persevering.

The final piece in Gather is “The Last Endeavour”, which tells the Cook story. It’s a prose poem that makes no bones about what these “ghosts” were doing: “we have the promise of history, the order to bring light to the dark”. It’s dramatic, ironic and, like most of the collection, satiric.

Immediately preceding this is the telling “Dropbear Poetics” which concludes with:

you do wrong        you get wrong
you get
gobbled up

Can’t say plainer than that.

The book, then, conveys ongoing loss, and critiques how deeply settler-driven history and literature is implicated in that, but it is also a hymn to country. Araluen is Bundjalung-born and raised in Dharug country, and her descriptions of the birds, trees and rivers of these coastal-riverine places are paradoxically beautiful when set against the overall narrative.

Dropbear is an impossible book to review, because every time I pick it up to consider how to end this post, I see something else I want to share. I must finish it, but I must also mention the irony and wit to be found in the collection. Poems like “Acknowledgement of cuntery” and “Appendix Australis”, for example, are breathtaking in their use of humour to skewer settler hypocrisy and obliviousness.

In a final act of deconstruction and, perhaps, reconstruction, Araluen ends her book with the defiant poem, “THE LAST BUSH BALLAD”, that sees the Banksia Men, the Bunyip, and the Dropbear defeated. It concludes on a reminder of the opening poem:

I told you I was prepared to swallow.

Araluen’s Dropbear might be a “strange” book, but it is certainly not little. It’s audacious, erudite and unsettling (pun intended), and warrants every bit of the time and attention I gave it – and more. Recommended.

Brona (Brona’s Books) has also posted on this book. However, I don’t think she will be offended if I say that Jeanine Leane’s First Nations analysis in the Sydney Review of Books comprehends and explains this work far better than we ever could.

Evelyn Araluen
St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 2021
ISBN: 9780702263187

Written for Lisa’s First Nations Reading Week

Monday musings on Australian literature: World Poetry Day, on anthologies

Last week, Brona (This Reading Life) wrote a post on Eve Langley’s poem, “Native-born”, in which she shared the statement from Wikipedia that it appears regularly in Australian anthologies. As I responded to Brona, I checked my three “modern” Australian poetry anthologies and only found it in the most obvious one, The Penguin book of Australian women poets. This got me thinking about Australian poetry anthologies. I’m not an expert – by any stretch – on these, but it’s World Poetry Day today, so I thought to explore them a little.

Cover, Four and twenty lamingtons

This will be the fifth post I’ve done on World Poetry Day. In my first, I mentioned that I bought many children’s poetry anthologies when my children were young. I loved reading poems to them, and loved that these anthologies would include poems not written specifically for children.

Anyhow, I’ll start by sharing my four (adult) anthologies, listing them in the order I acquired them:

  • Ian V. Hansen, The call of the gums: An anthology of Australian verse (1962): my first year of high school poetry text. I treasure/d this book (loved the title, of course). It’s organised by subjects/themes.
  • Susan Hampton and Kate Llewellyn, The Penguin book of Australian women poets (1986): produced partly in reaction to years of male-poet-heavy anthologies; organised chronologically.
  • Jamie Grant, 100 Australian poems you need to know (2008): organised by themes.
  • Bertram Stevens, Golden treasury of Australian verse (1912): my oldest, but most recently acquired, it was given to my grandmother in 1914.

And here, I lost three hours work, when WordPress suddenly told me I don’t have the right to save my work, and I hadn’t noticed that it wasn’t saving! I feel defeated as I just can’t sit down now at 8pm and rewrite the whole thing. I usually copy and paste my content elsewhere when something like this happens, but I didn’t tonight and lost it all. So, a summary instead, to which you may all say, phew!

Essentially, I was writing about the value of anthologies, starting from the point of view that national anthologies can play a role in defining a canon (putting aside whether defining a canon is a good thing or not). I had found an excellent article in JSTOR, written by poet Geoff Page in 1994. He discusses Australian anthologising through much of the 20th century, focusing particularly on the impediments to their canon potential. Impediments include the times in which they were compiled (such as the nationalistic/imperialistic tenor of one in 1922), and, in Australia’s case, differences of opinions between poets. This has been well documented over the years but he simply alludes to it here, making the point that different prejudices have played out in the anthologies produced. He says:

No editor, of course, can really escape his or her own subjectivity but it is remarkable how many ones seem to feel it was not worth the effort anyway.

Page’s survey and analysis of inclusions and exclusions in several anthologies is fascinating.

He suggests that anthologies compiled by academics have tended to be the “fairest”. He also talks about the gaps in representation – such as of women, First Nations, and non-English speaking background poets – and notes some slow improvements in these areas.

He also makes the obvious-when-you-think-about-it point that it’s not just who is included or excluded but what poems are chosen. Page recognises the impact (on canon formation) of

the universal anthologist’s desire to discover what has not been anthologised before–which often, when space for only two or three poems is available, means passing up a classic for something less central.

I can understand this desire from both the compiler’s and reader’s point of view. However, there can be a darker side to the choice of a, perhaps, “lesser” poem, or, say, fewer poems for one poet over another. With anthologists becoming, Page writes, “more cautious about omission […] it’s not so much about exclusion now but branding by short measure”!

Anyhow, the end result is that “there is no generally agreed canon; various traditions contend or, increasingly, coexist”. This is not necessarily a bad thing, particularly if, as Page suggests, “the quality of the best work bears comparison” with that of other countries, and if, as Page also suggests, poets who “represent, or identify with, minority groupings … are slowly [my emph] being more widely represented in major anthologies”. Page concludes

the situation is lively and in flux, and is likely to continue that way for some time. Some allegiances are changing, some borders are being crossed, but the presence of long-established loyalties and demarcations are not about to disappear.

And, it seems, he was right, because, nearly twenty years later, in 2012, academic and poet Ali Alizadeh wrote a negative review in Overland of a 2011 anthology, Australian poetry since 1788 by Geoffrey Lehmann and Robert Gray (whose earlier 1992 anthology Page had discussed). Alizadeh writes that the anthology

is not only a collection of some of the more timid and uninteresting poetry produced in this country since British invasion, it also propagates ideological notions that are comprehensively trite and reactionary …

He comments not only on who is included, but also what, noting, for example, that

the only poem by the radical avant-gardist Ania Walwicz included in the anthology is ‘travelling,’ a poem that is, according to the editors’ notes, largely bereft of the ‘socio-political intent’ present in ‘much of Walwicz’s [other] poetry’.

This is just one example of unrepresentative selection he provides to support his assertion that the editors’ “key objective … may have been much more ideological and tendentious: to present – or even shape – an image of Australian poetry as a cultural milieu devoid of ‘socio-political intent’.” Strong words. And they garnered strong, but mostly very interesting, if lively, responses. Do read them if you are interested.

Meanwhile, I will just share a response by critic Alison Croggon (whose Monsters I’ve reviewed). Picking up the point about “what” has been included, she argues that “the creation of context [is] another crucial aspect of anthologising”, and agrees with Alizadeh that what has been created here is the idea that “poetry is apolitical, a contextless aesthetic object”. This reminds me of Susan Hampton and Kate Llewellyn who, back in 1986, introduced their anthology by calling it “part of a history of women’s writing and of cultural politics which are creatively disturbing the conventional view of our literary heritage.”

Ah, poetry in Australia! It’s still a lively, contested place, and, really, that’s a good thing.

Now, do you enjoy – poetry anthologies? Care to talk about them?

Poetry Month 2021: Your favourite poems

Earlier this month, I wrote a Monday Musings on Poetry Month, at the end of which I asked readers to name their favourite poem.

Poetry Month finished yesterday, 31 August, so I thought I’d close out the month by listing the nominated poems, alphabetically by poet. I should add that some commenters cheekily named more than one (so I did too). Links on the poem title takes you to an online version

If this list has suddenly inspired you to add your own, please do so in the comments, and I will add it to this list.

Meanwhile, here are some thoughts about poetry posted on Instagram by the month’s organisers, RedRoom Poetry

“Poetry … brings me great comfort and discomfort, and I’m thankful for both” (David Stavanger, Lead Producer))

“Writing is also an act of reading–not only books but all forms of textuality: the ground, the vegetation, the ‘world around us’. (John Kinsella, #30in30 writing prompt)

“Poetry for me is the project of trying to put into language ideas and states of being that feel unnameable or uncontainable” (Izzy Roberts-Orr, Digital Producer)

“Poetry has no limits or positions. It is a freedom. It can be one word or many.” (Tenzin Choegyl, #poetryambassador)

And this, a challenge for Bill:

“I’m not interested in hearing people read other people’s poems. I’d rather listen to a truck driver read out a poem about his truck, than the world’s finest actor read out the world’s finest sonnet. It’s about the poet for me.” (Brendan Cowell, #30in30)

And finally, to close out Poetry Month, an image from RedRoom Poetry’s Instagram account of one of the many poems posted during the month (as part of the paired-poets #fairtrade project). (I think it is ok, copyright-wise, for me to share this)

And remember, it’s not too late to share your favourite/s.

Monday musings on Australian literature: Poetry Month 2021

I have posted on World Poetry Day, which occurs in March, several times in recent years. And I have written about Australian poetry various times, including about the Red Room Company (or, Red Room Poetry). Their vision is very simple: “to make poetry in meaningful ways”. They have initiated and supported various projects over the years, and have now come up with a new one, Poetry Month. It seems the perfect topic for another Monday Musings on poetry in Australia.

Many of you are probably aware that the US has various months dedicated to literary/humanities/justice issues, like Black History Month in February. One of these is their National Poetry Month which has been going now since 1996. I’ve often thought it would be good for Australia to emulate some of these. We do have NAIDOC Week, of course, but that could be a month, eh? Anyhow, now Red Room has initiated a Poetry Month which is exciting:

Our goal is to increase access, awareness, value and visibility of poetry in all its forms and for all audiences. The inaugural Poetry Month will be held during August 2021 with the aim of an ongoing annual celebration.

What are they doing?

A lot, in fact. They say that they have

an electrifying lineup of poetic collaborations, daily poems and writing prompts, online workshops, poetic residencies and live to live-streamed showcases, designed to engage everyone – from veteran poetry lovers to the (for now!) uninitiated.

There is a calendar. They have 8 poetry ambassadors, who are an eclectic and appropriately diverse bunch: Yasmin Abdel-Magied, Tenzin Choegyal, Peter FitzSimons, Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, Stephen Oliver, Grace Tame, Megan Wilding.

My love of reading and writing poetry is guided by a lifelong attraction to the seemingly simple and unadorned.

~ Tony Birch

Specific events are …

  • 30in30 daily poetry commissions: every day there are/will be “new original text/video poems, poet reflections and writing prompts from some of the country’s leading poets, authors, spoken word artists and playwrights”. They can be accessed on the site, and on social media (with the hashtag #30in30). Today, for example, there’s a 2-minute video from First Nations author, Tony Birch, on what poetry means to him. He talks of poems that can have new meanings each time you read them. 30in30 will include commissions from their larger Fair Trade project which involved First Nations poets from around the world.
  • Line Break: a weekly online show, on Tuesdays through August, 7pm AEST, on Facebook and YouTube, providing previews from feature poets, publishers, spoken word artists, and musicians, and more.
  • Poets in Residence: a program, supported by City of Sydney (how great is that). The poets were to be located at Green Square Library “for a period of writing, reading and performing poetry on site, engaging the general public in various ways and showcasing COS library collections”. Unfortunately, Sydney’s current lockdown has forced the postponement of this.
  • Showcases: a “raft” of live and online events across the country, including the inaugural Poetry Month Gala supported by The Wheeler Centre. Click on the Showcases link to see events from, indeed, around the country, including in South Australia and Western Australia.
  • Workshops: weekly online workshops, on Wednesday nights 7-9pm, via Zoom, catering “for all poets at all levels … anywhere in Australia”, with the topics being “stripping poetry back, breath and beatboxing, the intersection of poetry and comedy, and a special older emerging voices workshop”. They suggest a donation of $10. The workshop leaders are Sarah Temporal, Hope One, Vidya Rajan and Tony Birch.

What an exciting-sounding and diverse program.

Here is a taster … Australian of the Year, Grace Tame, with her strong 30in30 contribution, “Hard pressed”.

A little value add from me …

If you are looking for contemporary Australian poetry, you could start with two independent publishers:

Ali Cobby Eckermann, Inside my mother
  • Giramondo, which published Jonathan Shaw’s chapbook that I reviewed recently). They have also published Ali Cobby Eckermann, Jennifer Maiden, Gerald Murnane, Gig Ryan, Fiona Wright, and so many more known and unknown to me.
  • Pitt Street Poetry, which published Lesley Lebkowicz’s The Petrov poems (my review) and Melinda Smith’s Drag down to unlock or place an emergency call, which won the 2014 Prime Minister’s Literary Award for poetry. They have also published Eileen Chong, John Foulcher, Peter Goldsworthy, Geoff Page, and Chris Wallace-Crabbe, to name some of the better known (to me) from their stable.

There is also the Australian Poetry Library, about which I’ve written before. It now contains, the website says, “tens of thousands of poems from hundreds of Australian poets”. You can read poems free online, but if you want to download and print poems, there is “a small fee, part of which is returned to the poets via CAL, the Copyright Agency Limited”. This resource is particularly geared to teaching poetry, but is available to anyone.

Lesley Lebkowicz, The Petrov Poems

If you are looking for Australian bloggers who write about poetry, try Jonathan Shaw at Me fail? I fly. This link will take you to his poetry tagged posts, of which there is now a substantial number. Also, blogger Brona (This Reading Life) is planning to support the month, so if you don’t already subscribe to her blog, do check her out if you are interested in poetry and/or in what Red Room is trying to do for Australian poetry.

Finally, you can also find poetry reviews in the Australian Women Writers database.

And now my question: do you have a favourite poem to share with us? (And do you, like Tony Birch, go back to it again and again, and find something different each time?)

World Poetry Day 2020

I have written two World Poetry Day posts before, in 2016 and 2018, so why not again in 2020, particularly given, more than any year, we are probably in need of hearing what poets have to say – of being soothed, inspired, entertained, or yes, even admonished by them. says of World Poetry Day:

Poetry reaffirms our common humanity by revealing to us that individuals, everywhere in the world, share the same questions and feelings. Poetry is the mainstay of oral tradition and, over centuries, can communicate the innermost values of diverse cultures.

In celebrating World Poetry Day, March 21, UNESCO recognizes the unique ability of poetry to capture the creative spirit of the human mind.

They explain that the day was adopted by UNESCO in 1999, and that one of its main objectives is “To support linguistic diversity through poetic expression and to offer endangered languages the opportunity to be heard within their communities.” Observing the day is, they say, also “meant to encourage a return to the oral tradition of poetry recitals, to promote the teaching of poetry, to restore a dialogue between poetry and the other arts such as theatre, dance, music and painting, and to support small publishers and create an attractive image of poetry in the media”. Wonderful goals, all.

UK’s Global Dimension website provides ideas for recognising the day, including, of course, “organising readings of poems from different cultures, including from pupils’ own cultures.” Well, that’s not going to happen now, in the UK or anywhere, is it, with COVID-19 and the cancellation of public events. However, the page points us to the Wikipedia Poetry page as a good starting point for investigating different forms of poetry. They also, and this is just what we need, provide a link to a site called Poetry Station which offers “poems to view on video”. It was established after the English & Media Centre (EMC) was awarded in 2009 a small Arts Council of England grant for a pilot project to create “a freely accessible web-based video channel and portal for poetry”.

What a lovely aspirational site it is – and, it is also available as an app, simply called Poetry Station. For each poem, as well as the videoed performance, there is a link to information about the poet (often from Wikipedia), to suggested activities (for educators) and also a list of related poems which, of course, are linked to performance of this poems. The site also lists the poets, titles and topics for the poems on the site.

And in Australia?

A Google search brings up various cancelled events in Australia, run by organisations like the Geelong Library and Heritage Centre and Gosford Library. As in previous years there are also non-poetry reading activities being promoted or run. Golden Carers has a page of activities on their website (as I also noted in my 2018 post), and Reading Australia, which regularly support the day, is running a World Poetry Day competition for primary and secondary students and teachers, with the support of Red Room Poetry. (I’ve mentioned both organisations here before).

For those interested in Australian poetry, there are many sites and sources of information – many that I’ve mentioned here over the years – but for today, I’m sharing a list of Australian poetry books from the National Library of Australia bookshop.

Finally, not specifically created for World Poetry Day, but unfortunately applicable, is Australian comedian Sammy J’s recent offering, “The ballad of the dunny roll”, which riffs off the classic Australian balladeer Banjo Paterson. I think both Aussies and non-Aussies will appreciate this:

Leonard Cohen, 2009

Leonard Cohen, Bowral, January 2009

I’d love to hear about any poetry you like, or your favourite poets.

Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with what seems a very appropriate line, from Leonard Cohen’s “Dance me to the end of love” (available at the Poetry Station.)

Dance me through the panic till I’m gathered safely in.

Keep safe everyone.

World Poetry Day 2018

Did you realise that today, March 21, is World Poetry Day? I’m not asking this to catch you out but more because I wonder how well promoted it is – particularly here in Australia? I must say that, as in previous years, I’ve heard very little about it. Perhaps, though, if I went to my local public library, they might be promoting it? You never know.

I have mentioned this day before, including dedicating a Monday Musings post to it in 2016, when I gave a brief explanation of the Day. It was designated for 21 March by UNESCO in 1999, but has been celebrated for much much longer, often in October to align with the birthday of the birth of the Roman poet Virgil. Its aim is to promote the reading, writing, publishing and teaching of poetry throughout the world. There is, as I wrote back in 2016, a Facebook Page for World Poetry Day, but the posts there are an eclectic bunch.

I enjoy poetry, but I don’t write a lot about it here. However, most years I write a few posts and I have a small book by a Tasmania poet on my TBR now that I hope to get to soon.

Now though, I’ll just share a three Australian initiatives I discovered via our good friend Google, and which cover us almost from cradle to grave!

Reading Australia

Leah A, Ten silly poems by a ten year oldThe Australian Copyright Agency’s wonderful Reading Australia, which I’ve mentioned before, is doing its bit. In late February it announced that it would spend “the entire month featuring the diversity and brilliance of our Australian poets, contemporary and classic.” They list five works for primary school students, including a picture book featuring a poem by Australian classic balladist Banjo Paterson, and five for secondary students, including a verse novel I don’t know by Steven Herrick, and works by well-known Australian poets Robert Adamson, Judith Wright, Bruce Dawe and Kenneth Slessor.  For each work, they provide teaching resources, along the lines of this one for Judith Wright’s Collected poems.

They also provide an “extra reading list” for those who want to explore further. This includes a verse novel for primary students, Bully on the Bus by Kathryn Apel, which won the 2015 Australian Family Therapists’ Award in the Young Readers/Picture Book category, and the now classic feminist anthology Mother, I’m rooted from 1975, comprising works from over 150 poets. They say about that that “You’d be hard-pressed to find a collection of poetry that so completely represents the diverse spectrum of being a woman.”

The website doesn’t make clear how they are making this is a month-long focus, but it’s a start – particularly for teachers who are uncomfortable with or unconfident about teaching poetry.

Coffs Harbour Regional Museum

Google also revealed that the Coffs Harbour Regional Museum (up there on the NSW mid-north coast) is celebrating  the day with an event they’re calling Celebrating World Poetry Day with a Rime and an Open Poetic Mic. The word “Rime” comes from their feature poem – Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner – for their. The event, which has a sea theme, comprises an art exhibition named for Coleridge’s poem; a conversation between a poet and the exhibition’s artist; and the open mic session for people “to perform an original or much regarded poem – under 4 minutes please bards” (and sea-themed of course).

What I particularly like about this is that it’s example of the way regional museums and galleries work hard to actively engage their communities in culture, rather than simply present static exhibitions.

Golden Carers

You can probably guess what Golden Carers is – and you’d be right. Based in Brisbane, Australia, its tagline is “Supporting carers of the elderly worldwide since 2007”. The organisation caters for “Diversional Therapists, Recreation Therapists and other caregivers of the elderly, including volunteers”, but to get full access you need to pay. Fair enough.

Wonderfully, they have a page for the 2018 World Poetry Day, and provide a list of activity ideas which look doable for non-experts. The ideas include:

  • Ten Tips for Celebrating World Poetry Day
  • Poetry in Popular Song
  • Poets and Poems Quiz
  • Funny Poems by Roald Dahl
  • Multicultural Poems
  • Share Your Poems

There are resources for all the listed activities, behind the pay wall.

Before I conclude, I’d like to share some lines from a couple of poets* (one Australian, one not). Who would not benefit from thinking and talking about what Emily Dickinson has to say:

If I can stop one Heart from breaking
I shall not live in vain …
(Emily Dickinson)

Or, Judy Johnson:

Listen to which footsteps

on the heart’s risers
produce a squeak

and which treads
are noiseless.

(Judy Johnson, from “Words, after an absence”)

And now, back to the UN and its aims for denoting this day:

One of the main objectives of the Day is to support linguistic diversity through poetic expression and to offer endangered languages the opportunity to be heard within their communities.

The observance of World Poetry Day is also meant to encourage a return to the oral tradition of poetry recitals, to promote the teaching of poetry, to restore a dialogue between poetry and the other arts such as theatre, dance, music and painting, and to support small publishers and create an attractive image of poetry in the media, so that the art of poetry will no longer be considered an outdated form of art, but one which enables society as a whole to regain and assert its identity.

What a comprehensive goal! I wonder if they are doing anything to measure whether or not the Day is achieving anything.

Happy World Poetry Day everyone!

* Emily Dickinson, from The School of Life’s boxed set, 20 poems; Judy Johnson, from Prayers of a secular world.

Monday musings on Australian literature: World Poetry Day

Well, folks, Trove has let me down, which is a very rare occurrence when I’m doing historical research. I looked for the phrase “world poetry day” and I looked for all the words “world”, “poetry” and “day”, but nothing apparently relevant appeared. Hmmm, because …

Interestingly, a Google search did retrieve a photograph on flickr of a World Poetry Day function held in 1963 Australia. The photograph says “all rights reserved” so I can’t reproduce it here, but you can see it online. Clearly World Poetry Day has been known about here for some time, but, oh dear, it’s only poetry so why write about it in the newspapers, eh?

I did find a few more recent references to the day via Google (using “world poetry day Australia”, without the double quotes), such as:

  • an Australia Council for the Arts news item on World Poetry Day in 2013. The item says, among other the things, that the day is for us “to acknowledge the role of poets around the world who are unable to speak openly and freely and who strive to build a better world.” Amen to that.
  • a news item from the United Nations Information Centre in Canberra on World Poetry Day in 2014 stating that “One of the main objectives of the Day is to support linguistic diversity through poetic expression and to offer endangered languages the opportunity to be heard within their communities” but it doesn’t list any activities planned to achieve this in 2014 Australia.
  • an article in the Sydney Morning Herald titled “World Poetry Day 2015: a chance for children to embrace the power of words” but it doesn’t mention any events encouraging children to do just that.
  • a World Poetry Day program (Eureka!) for the 2015 World Poetry Day, fun by the Queensland Poetry Festival. The web page starts with a William Hazlitt quote: “Poetry is the universal language which the heart holds with nature and itself. He who has a contempt for poetry, cannot have much respect for himself, or for anything else.” I don’t see anything for the 2016 day.

That’s pretty much it for the first page of results on my Google search. I guess these results tell me that Trove let me down for a reason. There really doesn’t seem to be much interest in the day here. Most of those links about seem more lip service than commitment, don’t they?

Before I continue, a brief explanation of World Poetry Day. According to Wikipedia (and some of the links above), it was designated as 21 March by UNESCO in 1999. The day, though, has been celebrated for much much longer, often in October to align with the birthday of the birth of the Roman poet Virgil. The UK, says Wikipedia, still celebrates it in October. There is a Facebook Page for World Poetry Day, but I can see nothing on it for Australia in 2016.

And yet, Australia – like many countries – has a rich poetic tradition. We have, to name a very very few, the bush balladists of the 19th century, early twentieth century poets like CJ Dennis and Dame Mary Gilmore, indigenous poets like Oodgeroo Noonuccal, later poets such as Judith Wright, Dorothy Porter and our grand old man Les Murray, and new poets-cum-rappers like Omar Musa*. We have poetry events and slams, poetry prizes, poetry websites, poetry magazines and poetry in literary magazines, and publishers specialising in poetry. I’ve written about many of these over the life of this blog. (See my poetry tag which tags all my poetry-related posts, not just Australian.)

Cover, Four and twenty lamingtonsAmong the first works I read to my children when they were babies were poetry books – AA Milne (of course), Dr Seuss, TS Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, and poetry anthologies, of which I bought many. A favourite Australian one was Four and twenty lamingtons. And picture books too, many of which are told in verse. Poetry is such an easy way to introduce children to the fun of language and words and to reading together. Poetry like music is something you can introduce to babies from the beginning.

I’m going to keep this post short – give you an early mark this Monday! And, anyhow, I’m sure you’ve got my meaning.

But, just for a straw poll, no matter where you live, can you tell me whether you’ve heard of any World Poetry Day events in your neck of the woods?

* I hate naming names here, really, because there are so many wonderful Aussie poets I’d love to mention.

POSTSCRIPT: After I drafted this post, the UK-based International Business Time published, for this year’s World Poetry Day, a list of “Famous non-English poets you should read”. Not Australian, but of interest to us all. Check it out.