Monday, June 20, 2016

Poetry Monday: Hazel Smith’s Word Migrants

I’ve just started reading Hazel Smith’s Word Migrants and am already hooked by the richness of the poetry’s presentation: performative modernity coupled with an almost painful intimacy:
Before you disappeared my aloneness was the vibrations of a coastline, I could feel the pitches of the waves beneath my feet. Now the soles of my feet sink into the sand.  And it sticks. (“The Disappeared”)

Smith's The Writing Experiment is one of the best writing manuals available for teaching writers the techniques of experimentation (I use it regularly), and it’s fascinating to see some of those principles in play in Smith’s own poetry as she explores topical issues include the refugee crisis, climate change, political and social abuses, aging, grief, and the nature of privilege and power.

The poems I’ve read so far maintain a lovely delicacy, drawing the reader into worlds which are often dystopian (all too real at times), but also playful, experimental, enlivened by sound and an awareness of the space on the page, exploring the nature of language, semantics, referentiality, and genre, without ever losing their immediacy, contextual relevancy, or coherence.  Here’s another little sample:
Every conversation is a gentle misfiring
   An abacus points beyond method or counting
      An exchange derails, eyes averted, glancing (“Encounter”)
I’ll be reading more deeply over the next week or so and will follow with a full review at Compulsive Reader.  In the meantime, you can found out more about Hazel Smith here:

Friday, June 3, 2016

Compulsive Reader Newsletter for June is out

The Compulsive Reader newsletter has now gone out to our 10,000+ subscribers. Along with the usual compendium of reviews, there are 3 new giveaways, a big literary news roundup that includes the Miles Franklin shortlist, the Ondaatje prize, The Man Booker International Prize and plenty more. If you haven’t got your copy yet (check the spam folder and if you find it, please whitelist me!), you can grab a copy here: Compulsive Reader Archive

Also don’t forget to drop by and “like”our new Compulsive Reader Facebook Page. We have a few special treats coming up soon.

If you aren’t a subscriber, you can sign up here:

photo credit: Coffee and water via photopin (license)

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Poetry Monday: Poetry Magazine’s Australian issue

This is a bit late, as I decided to write about the May issue of Poetry Magazine some weeks ago and got waylaid by a few other literary activities.  This month’s issue was guest edited by Robert Adamson, one of Australia’s best known contemporary poets, and features beautiful portraits from Juno Gemes.  If you aren’t already familiar with the fresh, often beautiful, sometimes shockingly uncomfortable poetry being produced from Australian writers at the moment, this issue is an excellent place to start, as it features the work of some of the most innovative and powerful poets writing today including Bonny Cassidy, Ali Cobby Eckermann, Jaya Savige, Gig Ryan, Robbie Coburn, Luke Davies, Lisa Gorton, Anthony Lawrence, and many others.  If you are already familiar, then you’ll know this issue is a massive treat, full of rich and powerful work.  But don’t take my word for it.  Drop over the website and listen to the podcast, which includes poets like Lionel Fogerty, Jaya Savige and Ali Cobby Eckermann reading from their own work in a way that adds a great deal of depth to the poems.  There’s not a single poem in this collection which isn’t exquisite and moving.  Some, like Luke Davies’ "Heisenberg Saying Goodbye to Mum at Lilyfield”, or Lisa Gorton’s “Empirical IV” left me struggling to swallow from the lump in my throat.  But to pick and choose a few poems to highlight would not be appropriate.  Every single one of these poems deserves to be read slowly, savoured and pondered.  Adamson has done a superb job with his selections.  Podcast is here:

You can also check out each poem via the table of contents or subscribe here:

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:  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:  It starts on Sept 10th.  You can thank me later (you will...and you wouldn’t be the first).


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.