Wednesday, May 4, 2016

New Compulsive Reader Newsletter for May

Compulsive Reader’s latest newsletter is now out, featuring a new batch of ten reviews including Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, David Vigoda’s Re-enchanting Nature, Arsen Petrosyan’s Charentsavan, Tesserae by Mathias B Freese and many more, plus a full round-up of the literary news for April, and some great book giveaways from Mary Kay Andrews and Sharon Nir. If you aren’t already a subscriber, you can sign up for free (always!) here: http://www.compulsivereader.com.  If you are a subscriber and haven’t received your copy, or would like to try before you ‘buy’, you can view it online at Compulsive Reader Archive.
Image: (license)


Monday, April 11, 2016

Poetry Monday: ModPo 2016 Registrations are Open

In case you’re one of the few people who haven’t heard me gushing about The University of Pennsylvania’s Coursera based Modern and Contemporary Poetry (“ModPo”) course, let me start by saying that this is the best literature course I’ve ever taken (and believe me, I’ve taken a lot of literature courses including a couple of degrees).  I’ve ‘done’ ModPo like 5 times, and every time has been different and intensely stimulating to me as reader and writer.  I’m excited about doing it again this year.  For those new to the course or to the study of contemporary poetry, you won’t be out of your depth.  The course caters to all levels and those whose struggle with the English language, who have not done much study, who have learning disabilities, or any other reason that might otherwise prevent you from enrolling in a formal course, are all welcomed and encouraged heartily - there are plenty of people and resources to help.  For those who have post-graduate degrees, you won’t be bored or find the course too easy.  There are many academics and teachers participating in ModPo, some of the most erudite and smart thinkers you’ll ever come across, including some of the poets we study (the likes of Christian Bök, Tracie Morris and Charles Bernstein to name a few).  You can participate at whatever level suits you and there are a wide number of spin-off groups to join if you’re so inclined  If you’re busy, you don’t need to read everything, or even do the essays and quizzes. You can just dip in, dabble, and play.  You can also go full hog, read everything and do ModPo Plus, which is like an extra area for those who want new poems, new challenges, and more complex questions and even make your own community videos for upload.  It’s all open, all free, and if you want it to be, totally immersive.

ModPo opened up my perception of what a poem can do (and I thought my perception was already pretty open), and taught me to read “difficult" modern poetry in ways I never thought possible.  I actually became a Steinian.  I found myself really enjoying experimental forms of poetry that I would have rejected before.  I became a better critic, and, I like to think, a better poet.  In addition to all the goodness of ModPo itself, if you go through the course (at whatever level of engagement), you become an “alumni” and are then able to sign up to any number of Kelly Writers House discussion groups that are held throughout the year.  I’ve participated in groups as diverse as Pink Floyd’s The Wall, Elaine Myles, Anne Waldman, and Emily Dickinson (to name a few).  You’re also welcome to visit The Writers House at UPenn in Philadelphia for their many events, or just drop by to use their facilities, drink their coffee and eat their food - all free; all open; all wonderful.  The goodness just goes on and on, and it makes you want to share too.  So I’m sharing.  Go - sign up:  https://www.coursera.org/learn/modpo  It starts on Sept 10th.  You can thank me later (you will...and you wouldn’t be the first).

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Saturday, April 9, 2016

Compulsive Reader Newsletter for April has gone out


In all the excitement of the Newcastle Writers Festival, I forgot to mention that the April newsletter went out, as usual, on the 1st of the month.  If you didn’t receive it or would like to check the newsletter out before subscribing, you can grab a copy in the newsletter archive.

This issue contains ten brand new reviews including Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, Brigid Delaney’s Wild Things, James Fry’s That Fry Boy, and many more.  We also have the usual extensive roundup of literary news from the month of March, and three fantastic book giveaways.  If you are a subscriber, you’ve probably already read it (unless your spam filter has been upset by the word “compulsive” - it does happen sometimes).  If not, you can subscribe for free at The Compulsive Reader.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Newcastle Writers Festival day 2: poetry and the wisdom of crowds

The second day of the NWF16 was a little more laid back for me than the first. I didn’t arrive until midday so had a bit of time to look around the packed and very tasty bookstore set up by Macleans Booksellers.  The weather continued its beautiful streak, even though it was raining back home, and it was nice just to walk around past the cafe setup outside of the Civic theatre and City Hall and feel the buzz of literary excitement as people walked around holding books, talking about books, and generally waving and smiling at one another.  I felt like I knew everyone I saw even if I didn’t know them.  It was that kind of atmosphere.

Then it was time for the Home Grown session where I had the great pleasure of reading poetry with Ivy Ireland and Keri Glastonbury.  Keri’s poetry was fresh and exciting, enriched with current affairs and chance operations from Facebook and other social media influences, and Ivy’s was like my own in ways, blending science, spirituality and skepticism, humour and domesticity.  Jenny Blackford was the perfect host, fielding some pretty heady (and sometimes unanswerable) questions and keeping us all to time.

After that I joined Cassandra Page, Jan Dean, Leonie Rogers, Tallulah Cunningham, and Janeen Webb for a reading at the launch of Novascapes Volume 2, a speculative fiction anthology.  As with the Sproutlings launch, I got a strong sense that this was a community of supportive writers who were looking after one another.  For me, that sense of connection and support was the overall theme of the weekend.  Apparently there were 6,500 attendees for over 65 sessions, exploring a very wide range of genres, issues, themes and ideas, but the whole thing felt intimate and inclusive.  Of course I got plenty of inspiration for my own writing and my fingers are itching to get back to it, but it also felt like there was a real sense that this year's festival was about the power of the collective: that the answers to the big questions are all around connecting (in the EM Forster sense):  coming together, supporting one another, and talking/writing openly, even about difficult, painful subjects and seemingly intractable issues. I heard this refrain again and again through nearly every session I attended.  The dates for NWF17 are 7 to 9 April, 2017 and I’ve already got it in my diary.  Huge kudos once again to the amazing volunteers who kept everything running smoothly and to the festival director Rosemarie Milsom, who did a superb job with the program.


Newcastle Writers Festival day one: bullying, memoir aftermaths, climate change, mothers and fathers, and killer plants

NWF16 is over, and in the post-festival glow, I thought I’d do a quick write-up on my sessions and a few of the key insights they yielded.  First and foremost, the festival as a whole was incredibly slick.  Even when the fire alarm went off and we had to evacuate during my first session, the superb and well-inducted volunteers kept things moving, and got us out and back in with minimal disruption. At every point during the session and without exception, the volunteers were smiling, helpful, and generous with their support.

My first session was Playground Politics with James Fry, Rebecca Starford and Brigid Delaney. The panel spoke about bullying as it plays out in James', Rebecca's and Brigid’s books, and I think the biggest takeaway for me was that bullying can have far reaching and extreme consequences that can be difficult to trace back. but talking openly and coming to understand the roots of bullying can be very powerful, not only in terms of individual well-being (that of our children and selves), but of our society as a whole.

I had a brief break before my next session and was lucky enough to get into the sold out session The Economy vs The Climate with Tim Flannery, Ross Gittins, Dennis Glover, Scott Homes and Paddy Manning.  What struck me about this session was the optimism of the panel even as they made it absolutely clear that urgency was critical and that failing to take action now to reduce emissions would have significant risks to growth and prosperity (e.g. the economy).  The key is in managing the transition before we reach crisis point (though that’s very close).  Flannery in particular provided examples including Sundrop Farms in Queensland.

This was followed by my session with Kate Holden, Michael Sala and Rebecca Starford on The Aftermath - what happens when the private becomes public?  I suspect that the heavily engaged crowd for this session contained a number of memoir writers, and the questions asked included litigation, morality, and process, but what really stood out for me was a point that Kate made that while memoir writing does indeed have aftermaths, in many ways it is also a tender and generous act.  By openly examining and then accepting/forgiving ourselves, we provide the means for others to to the same - it’s a way of not only personally, but collectively, healing.


With an hour’s break between my own sessions, I managed to slip into "Mothers and Fathers: Why so complicated" with Rod Jones, Mark MacLean, Rosie Waterline, and Meredith Jaffé before the Sproutlings launch, though I was near the back so didn’t take any photos. There was an intensity to all of their stories but I was certainly not surprised by the ongoing impact, beneath the skin and into the fingers of the writer, of the parental relationship, both as children, as children of children, and as parents in the case of Mark and Rod (Rosie always spoke about her nieces).

Day one ended with a very enjoyable ‘launch’ for the Sproutlings Anthology with editor Morgan Bell and illustrator Tallulah Cunningham.  As many of the audience members were also authors in the collection (some of whom were dressed as plants!), this turned out to be full of camaraderie, with lots of nodding heads, and some really focused questions in the end.  The discussion focused a lot around process and promotion and my overall takeaway from this was that, while writing may be a solitary process, being part of a broader community (and anthologies are a great tool for that) is vital.  I’ll talk more on that in my day two write-up, as this theme of connection and understanding, for me, was the real takeaway from the festival overall and it came up again and again, in many different genres, structures, and contexts.  That was the end of day one, and I felt quite bloated with delight after that, and ready for a glass of wine and feet up before a slightly more relaxed day two which I’ll cover shortly.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Poetry Monday: World Poetry Day + Eileen Myles Live

Happy world poetry day.  The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) made the decision to proclaim today as World Poetry during UNESCO’s 30th session held in Paris in 1999.  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.

Photo by Catherine Opie

From UNESCO’s website: "Poetry reaffirms our common humanity by revealing to us that individuals, everywhere in the world, share the same questions and feelings.”  I couldn’t agree more.  So why not take the opportunity to celebrate?  The Academy of American Poets has put together a list of links to poetry organisations and festivals around the world, that you can explore - each has lots of resources.  You could take one of your poems and trade it for a cup of coffee or tea courtesy of Julius Meinl coffee: http://www.meinlcoffee.com/paywithapoem.  You could spend far too long perusing the many quotes, images and events on Twitter.  You could drop by UNESCO’s page which has lots of background material and some featured poets.  You could buy someone (yourself, perhaps) a book of poetry from a local bookstore (or order one up from the library - bonus points if it’s a poet who lives in your city).  You could read one of your favourite poems, aloud, to the delight of all your family (mine certainly enjoys it when I do that, not, but it generally doesn’t stop me :-).  Or, you could enjoy two "Writers House Fellows" events featuring none other than Eileen Myles.  These will be streamed live through KWH-TV at http://writing.upenn.edu/wh/multimedia/tv/.  The first is on the 21st of March (probably today for most of you) at 6:30 PM US eastern time (9:30 AM AU EST if you happen to be on my timezone) and will feature Eileen reading her work.  The second is an interview/conversation on Tuesday, March 22, starting at 10:30 AM US eastern time. Apparently you’re invited!


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Newcastle Writers Festival is coming very soon!

It’s just 15 days (probably less by now) until the Newcastle Writers Festival begins!  The 2016 program is the best yet I think, and that’s no small accolade since 2015, 2014 and 2013 were all exceptional.  I’ve been to quite a few literary festivals, and this one is, hands down, my favourite.  Not just because I know a lot of the writers and attendees and it’s an opportunity for me to catch up (I feel very much at home here), but because it’s an intimate and down-to-earth event even for those who aren’t locals (I’ve brought guests with me in the past and they’ve confirmed this) - you tend to get pretty close to even the most famous writers, and there’s a very comfortable and welcoming vibe.  The queues for the free events aren’t outrageous, and there’s a perfect mix between genres, sessions aimed at readers and sessions aimed at writers, current affairs and politics, poetry (always lots of poetry at the NWF), family events, and performance.

This year, I’m involved in several sessions.  On the Saturday the 2nd of April, I start the day at 10am in Hunter Room, City Hall, with Playground Politics, a free session with Brigid Delaney, James Fry and Rebecca Starford in which we’ll be discussing bullying, particularly as it plays out in institutions like schools.  Brigid Delaney’s novel Wild Things is set in an elite university college where hazing and bullying are endemic.  James Fry’s memoir The Fry Boy looks at the long term ramifications of school bullying on him in chillingly honest detail, and Rebecca Starford’s memoir Bad Behaviour looks at the bullying at a school camp, taking a very close look at the complex and often subtle factors that underlie bullying.  Each of the settings of these books is very different, as is the impact, but they are all equally powerful and I expect the session, which remains absolutely topical, to be fascinating.

At 1:30 in the Playhouse at Civic Theatre, Rebecca Starford rejoins me, along with Kate Holden and Michael Sala for The Aftermath, a session in which we’ll be looking at the impact of memoir - what happens when the private becomes public.  Kate Holden’s memoir Under the Skin is both gorgeous and intensely confronting.  I’ll be reviewing it shortly (before the festival, hopefully!) as soon as I’ve finished Kate's follow up - The Romantics, which I’ve just started.  Michael Sala’s memoir The Last Thread is partly set in Newcastle, and is a poetic and novel exploration that plays with the memoir form.  I expect this session to appeal to both readers and writers - particularly those who are working on memoir.  It’s a growing and very popular form, and as someone who has personally felt the aftermath as a named “character” in a family biography, I’m looking forward to exploring this topic more.

Since Rebecca Starford is in two of my sessions, we did a pre-session podcast to talk about her memoir Bad Behaviourhttp://www.blogtalkradio.com/compulsivereader/2016/03/15/rebecca-starford-on-bad-behaviour

At 4:30pm in the Cummings Room, City Hall, I’ll be joining Morgan Bell and Talulah Cunningham for the Sproutlings Book Launch.  Sproutlings is a wickedly funny anthology, and Morgan has very successfully crowdfunded the publication, so we’ll be focusing our conversation on self-publishing, crowdfunding, on creating an anthology, selecting pieces, illustration, and lots of other topics.

Finally, I’ve got a session on Sunday at 1:30pm in the Mulumbinba Room City Hall titled Home Grown.  This is another free session hosted by Jenny Blackford in which I have the great pleasure of reading poetry along with the wonderful poets Ivy Ireland and Keri Glastonbury.  I’m not sure I qualify as home grown, but after 26 years in the Hunter, I certainly feel like a local.  Blackford is, of course, a fine poet herself, so again, I think this will be a superb session with perhaps a few little surprises.

All of these sessions will be interactive and the audience will be encouraged to join in with questions, so if you’re able, please come, say hello, and join the fun!

Grab a full program here: http://www.newcastlewritersfestival.org.au/program-2016/ (or request a printed one).