Sunday, December 30, 2012

Poetry Monday: Best Australian Poems 2012

My son bought me the John Tranter edited Best Australian Poems 2012 for Christmas this year and I've been delving in, with much pleasure.  Anthologies are fun for a number of reasons. In the case of this one, I knew many of the poets and was already a fan of their work, but there were also new names to discover, and new poems from those I already enjoyed.  Tranter is, as one would expect, an excellent editor, choosing a diversity of work - some light and funny, others intense and powerful. One thing he comments on in the introduction, and which is borne out in the poetry, is the inherent stories that the poems contain. Although the poetry chosen generally isn't prosaic, and sometimes edges the experimental, the musical, the visual even, there are many tiny moments in these works that present a little tale.  I haven't read every poem in the collection yet, but some of the poems that stood out for me were Felicity Plunkett's "Confetti by Dada" which I recognised as hers immediately (I was enjoying playing "guess the poet" as I read through these pieces) and which you can read in its entirety here:  The poem was written after Tristan Tsara’s ‘dada manifesto on feeble love and bitter love’, a typically strange Tsara offering that is more interesting than it is moving. Plunkett's poem however, is utterly beautiful:

Place yourself gently
in a bag and shake:
your portrait emerges
rare, ordinary, interchangeable:
lips, adore, golden, dark, I.

Another poem that I instantly took to was Luke Davies' "At That Moment" which doesn't appear anywhere online that I could find, but which, in the context of my own recent visit to Disneyworld, really captured the mingling of crowd consumerism and utter loneliness that one feels at these places (even with children):

"I was like the Bower Bird on the Branch of Being.
Swaying, surveying. There being no back
                                                                to go back to,
it felt like the essence
                               of my loneliness, or the world's."

There were many other wonderful poems in this collection, including Jennifer Maiden's "George Jeffreys: 11: George Jeffreys Woke Up in Langley" which is from her Liquid Nitrogen collection that I reviewed here (and also featured on this blog last poetry Monday - you can hear my interview with Maiden at The Compulsive Reader Talks). 

There were many other poems in the collection that I really enjoyed, and others that I suspect I will begin to enjoy on second, third or fourth readings, perhaps discovering some new poets and poetics that I can explore in more detail by following up on them.  That's the joy of this kind of anthology - dipping in repeatedly for a poetic break in the midst of a busy day (don't tell anyone but I kind of like slipping into my room when the house is full of guests and spending 5 minutes lost in that intimate place that poetry can take you - it's like a delicious secret). 

As this is my last Poetry Monday (or indeed blog post - it's the 31st here after all) for 2012, I'd like to take this opportunity to wish you all a very happy new year.  May 2013 be your best year ever.  Thanks for your fantastic company through 2012. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Digital Publishing: The Grinch Who Stole Christmas?

Guest blog by Tony Viardo

So how many articles have we read about E-books and Digital Publishing this year? For anyone who generally follows the book world (rabid booklover, book-blogger, industry pro or casual reader), we’re literally inundated with the amazing numbers—“E-book sales up 125% (again) over the 175% they were up from last year’s 225% increase!”—and equally amazing technological announcements—“Next Fall, the new ZimWittyZoomDitty tablet not only updates your Facebook and Goodreads friends whenever you snort in disgust … it cooks dinner for you at the same time!”

This leads many to take at least casual stock of what’s going on/going to happen to the “Publishing World” as we know it.  And if your friends are like my friends (hardcore print book consumers), that stock is usually pretty morbid (sharp Greenwich Village angst not included): “Print books are doomed, so are brick-and-mortar stores.  Goodbye literary quality. Oh and some pajama-wearing techie living in a basement with a laptop is going to be the new Sulzburger; we’ll all have to bow down!”

If you (or that good friend of yours) fall into the mortified category, my take (for what it’s worth) may come as positive news:  E-books are not, and will not be, the Grinch Who Stole Christmas; in this case, the “Print World’s” bacon. Now, as the owner of a “Digital First” publishing house (Astor + Blue Editions, my opinions may easily be written off as self-serving and invalid.  But bear with me for a minute… these are fact-based observations and I might just make sense (Someone tell my mom and dad).

As someone who earns a living from publishing, I have to follow numbers and industry trends as closely as possible.  And while some see doom and gloom for Print, I see exciting developments for both Print and E-book formats.  What do the numbers show?  Digital book revenue is skyrocketing, print revenue is declining.  Natural conclusion?  E-books are killing print books. But not so fast.  Historically, Print revenue has always seemed to be declining (even before E-books were invented), but that doesn’t mean the book market is dying or shrinking.

We have to remember that in fact the book market is growing. Readership always grows because population always grows.  Every year, new readers enter the vast pool of the club that is “adult readership,” (despite Dancing with the Stars). And every year more readers are being born and theoretically being inspired by Ms. Crabtree’s elementary reading class.  **So why the decline?  Readership grows gradually, but the sheer number of books and book vendors grow exponentially, showing an investment loss almost every year. (Basic statistics: the widening universe makes it look like a shrinking pie when it isn’t).

So what does this mean?  If you look at the numbers (historically), revenue for print books may have declined, yes, but not more than “normal,” and not significantly more than it did when there were no E-books around. (This is arguable of course, but the long term numbers do not show a precipitous drop-off). The yearly revenue decline, if there is one, can just as easily be written off to economic conditions as to E-book competition.  Bottom line:  Any drop in print revenue that may be caused by E-books are not significantly sharp enough to declare that E-books are destroying print book sales.  (Hence no Grinch).

What may be happening, and what I believe is happening is that a whole new market for E-books is developing, while the print book market growth, like Publishing as a whole, is still growing at a historically gradual pace. (Boringly flat).  Come up with your pet anecdote here, but I believe that more new readers are entering the market (who otherwise wouldn’t have) because of E-readers; existing readers are consuming more books (both print and e-book) than they did before; and while it would seem that a certain print title is losing a sale whenever readers buy it in E-book format, this is offset, at least somewhat, by the fact that more print titles are being bought (that otherwise wouldn’t) because of the extra marketing buzz and added awareness produced by the E-book’s cyber presence.  All of it evens out in the end, and I believe, ultimately fosters growth industry-wide.

So take heart Print fans, E-books are not the dark villain you think they are.  And here, I should correct my earlier analogy—that E-books are not the Grinch Who Stole Christmas.  They may actually be the Grinch…in as much as, at the end of the story, the pear-shaped green guy ended up not only giving all the presents back to the singing Who-villers, he created a flash mob and started a big party as well.

Tony Viardo is the CEO of Astor + Blue Editions, which has put its entire first season's list of e-book titles on a holiday promotional sale for $0.99 or $1.99.  The sale will continue through January 7, 2013.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Another Kindle Freebie gift: Black Cow!

I've been guest blogging about the traps about KDP Select, which I've been trying out.  All last week the Christmas themed poetry book I co-wrote with Carolyn Howard-Johnson was free on Amazon, and this week, my novel Black Cow is free (until the 24th of Dec).  In case you aren't familiar with KDP Select, it's Amazon's program for authors who are willing to make their e-book available exclusively on Amazon for 90 days. KDP Select has a number of benefits, including allowing authors to give away their ebooks for 5 out of the 90 days. Why would I want to give my books away free? There are a few reasons. The first and simplest one is that writers write for readers, so getting more readers is always a worthwhile exercise.  The second is that, if people like the book, the word begins to spread, and that's the best way to get new readers, which may ultimately become buyers, sharers, promoters, reviewers. It's all good.

Does it work?  It certainly worked for Blooming Red, which hit #1 in its category several times during the free period, and also got a number of sales after the free period - maybe people who downloaded it liked it and bought it as gifts for their friends. Maybe it was just the additional buzziness around our names. We also got a ton of publicity, including being a hand picked best free book of the day on OneHundredFreeBooks, lots of retweets (thank you everyone!), and recommendations.  Above all, it was fun, because I love giving books away (ask anyone).  Please go and help yourself now (just click here: Black Cow), before the promotion ends. Happy holidays!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Rational poetry freebie for the holidays

My writing partner Carolyn Howard-Johnson and I figure nothing is more meaningful at any holiday than a poem—a real poem, not sing-songy impersonal verse from the shelves of card shops. We also noticed that many folks remember people they forgot when it may be too late. To remedy that, we are offering you our "rational" Christmas chapbook. Enter the KDP Select free e-book feature. All you do is go to (or click on the cover to the left) on Dec. 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18 and click.

Anyone can send a copy free to anyone they'd like to have a thoughtful—and fast—Christmas gift with a click of a mouse (no not the same mouse that's in "The Night Before Christmas" poem). The booklet Blooming Red: Christmas Poetry for the Rational was honored by the Military Writers Society of America and USA Book News award. It's a mini gift and greeting card in one!

Blooming Red includes my somewhat science-inspired and Carolyn’s nostalgic poetry. It also includes some humorous poems for fair measure and has artist Vicki Thomas' gorgeous painting on the cover. For more of Vicki's work, you can go to

I do hope you'll take the opportunity to share around a little poetry this year, to wish all of your friends and colleagues a happy poetic and meaningful holiday. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Poetry Monday: Jennifer Maiden's Liquid Nitrogen

The poems in Jennifer Maiden's sixteenth collection,  Liquid Nitrogen, are hard edged and political, building from the domestic to the political in verse that weaves Australian, US, and British politics into a triumverate that is, at once, humorous, pithy, terrifying, and cumulative. The work is always immediately topical, bringing in references so diverse that the poems seem to contain a universe of modern affairs built, through strange parataxes, into a narrative of our times. Somehow, amidst all the public activity, the poems retain their personal, intensely female perspective, and also remain, almost consistently, self-referential (meta-poetic if you like). Take for example, this excerpt from "Carina":

...I touch her arm.
It is stunningly cool but alive
within with information, like
liquid nitrogen, I say gently,
'This is a story.      The binary
nature of poetry, it's two-sided
structure of negative and positive,
whether metre, rhyme, caesura
or enjambment, is the same as the machines that made you,
computers, telescopes.'

A full review (and interview with Maiden) will follow, but for now, I'm enjoying dipping in and out of the poems, looking up the many historical and political references, and the exquisite patter.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Paradise of Poets

I missed poetry monday...sorry!  It's been a little busy in the lead-up to year-end to say the least, but if poetry doesn't happen I get grumpy so here is a Thursday dose, and we'll get back to our regular scheduled monday poem next week.  I've been taking my own advice and listening to Poem Talk, and have just come across the marvellously succinct (called it 'condensed' if you like) poem "A Paradise of Poets" by Jerome Rothenberg. You can read the full text of the poem, which isn't long, here. The Poem Talk episode is here.  In the Poem Talk episode, Al Filreis is joined by Bob Holman, Jessica Lowenthal and Randall Couch, and their often funny discussion about the poem is well worth a listen, as is Rothenberg's excellent reading, which you can also hear in the episode. "A Paradise of Poets" manages to bring together so many threads - the history of poetry itself from Dante onwards, and the whole nature of poetic creation - in so few words. I see Rothenberg's Limbo as a positive place - a place of camaraderie where the poet mingles and performs and waits ("sitting here in limbo") for the poems to be birthed anew each time it's read, before moving back to the point of creation - that cyclical quality that Bob Holman speaks of in the Poem Talk episode. That private moment of conception (in the silent space of creation) is always solipsistic, but it opens out in the limbo space, and then back to creation again.

Just by way of a little promo, next Monday we'll be featuring Jennifer Maiden's Liquid Nitrogen.  The book cover alone, a picture of the Eta Carinae nebula, was enough to draw my attention, but the poems...oh just you wait. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Spirals and autographs


take that
a dirty incoherence of numbers and letters
your identity
crushed into a spiral galaxy
empty of dark matter
an absence of darkness
your exotic invisible substance

some would call that ‘light’
shake unwashed hair
and swear
no such thing exists

you hold tight to darkness
the hardening addiction
that clinks
against the side of your glass
each night as your hand drops
in spiralling slumber

rotation slows as you move
further out
from the crowded inner reaches
of your galactic core
motions sedated
gravity weakening
it might be the big bang’s
that leaves you gasping for air
a stone’s throw
from one galaxy full of dark matter
to another full of light
as you drift into another
dark sleep

"Spirals" references Messier 94, a spiral galaxy in the constellation Canes Venatici, and is taken from the book Repulsion Thrust.  If you'd like a personalised autograph for your Kindle copy of Repulsion Thrust (or for one you buy for a science/poetry loving pal as a pressie) just click on the link below. If you prefer a hard copy, drop me a line and I'll post out an autographed bookplate. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Poetry Monday: A Wind Has Blown the Rain Away

ee cummings' work has got to be among the most difficult to set to music.  It's strongly visual in its placement. It's complex rhythmically, and has such a strong, innate musicality that doesn't rely on the traditional rhyme but instead through sound and structure, and the confounding of traditional syntax. Nevertheless, Ellen Mandel has such a deep understanding of the work that she's managed to enhance and support it through her 15 compositions on a wind has blown the rain away. I've featured her CD the first of all my dreams in an earlier blog post, and one of the things I mentioned was that Cummings was the star of that CD.  In a wind has blown the rain away it's all Cummings. The music is so apt - mimicking the motion and themes of the work without ever detracting from it.  Todd Almond's voice is sublime too. The title song is one of my favourites. I've reprinted the entire poem, a Shakepearean sonnet, below, and you can listen to it by clicking onto Ellen's website here (just scroll down - it's the 10th song):

a wind has blown the rain away and blown
the sky away and all the leaves away,
and the trees stand.  I think i too have known
autumn too long

                  (and what have you to say,
wind wind wind—did you love somebody
and have you the petal of somewhere in your heart
pinched from dumb summer?
                            O crazy daddy
of death dance cruelly for us and start

the last leaf whirling in the final brain
of air!)Let us as we have seen see
doom’s integration………a wind has blown the rain

away and the leaves and the sky and the
trees stand:
             the trees stand.  The trees,
suddenly wait against the moon’s face.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Impossible Ones: We educated 30 kids!

Through my Pencils of Promise campaign, I raised enough money to educate 10 children.  Then I won a $500 scholarship which I donated back to the program, so now we're up to 30 children!  There are currently more than 61 million children without access to education, but Pencils of Promise is doing something about it - building schools around the world - they've built 50 already and are working on the next 50.  At $25k per school, it seems like an impossible goal, but at Impossible HQ (and ModPo!) we know nothing is impossible and we're aiming to pull together enough funds to build an entire "impossible" school in Guatamala.  I met my own modest target, but the overall campaign is only at 71%.  Joel has now raised $17,732 towards the full cost of a school and he's doing all sorts of outrageous things to earn the rest (like running ultramarathons).  It's not too late to help.  Drop by, donate whatever you can, and help make the world a more literate place.  Thank you!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

ModPo is finished, but ongoing

It is with some sense of sadness that I note the ending of the ten week ModPo course this week. Though it does mean I can now catch up on the rapidly growing stack of alternate reading material awaiting my attention, I'll miss the guided, well-structured close readings; the immersion into the avant garde, and above all the camaraderie of poetry enthusiasts from around the world. Our discussion forum will remain open for a year, and poetrypanicked students are busy trying to set up ongoing variations on ModPo - with mini study groups, self-run podcasts, anthologies - you name it so the fun won't end. I'm excited about being involved in some of those, but also excited about now feeling capable of tackling some of the poetry already on my bookshelf that has perplexed me in the past (and writing some of my own - a deadline is fast looming...).  One resource that we've used throughout the course is Jacket2. There's a whole year's worth of amazing work and analyses to explore on that site and I urge you to go and check it out. On the front page today is a dozen of Australia's most respected poets from the ongoing "Fifty-one contemporary poets from Australia". If you aren't sure where to begin, try the wonderful Judith Bishop ("The sky/would pool in our hands"). I'll be doing a whole feature on her pretty soon (and hopefully chatting with her in person in the near future - more on that later - don't want to spill the beans before I'm allowed to). I can't begin to praise the ModPo gang enough - and in particular, the great Al Filreis, who, throughout this amazing course, has created a perfectly wonderful syllabus, recognised and remembered everyone's name, and who has always taken the time to guide us, gracefully, to our own answers. He's the kind of teacher who makes people (and by people I mean me) want to spend a lifetime studying Literature. If you missed the first ModPo, you can register sometime soon for the next class here: You won't regret it.

I'm going to end this week's Poetry Monday with Tracie Morris' "Afrika". Morris herself joined us on the forums (along with many other of the poets we were studying including Christian Bök, Kenneth Goldsmith, Jackson Mac Low, Jenna Osman, Ron Silliman, Charles Bernstein, Lyn Hejinian, oh my...I half expected Emily Dickinson to put in an appearance) and responded, with enthusiasm and warmth, to nearly every post on her work (including those that were confused and uncomfortable). Her voice on this piece is quite extraordinary - shocking and familiar all at the same time. I'm not sure I would have been able to listen to it before doing ModPo. Now, this work leaves me breathless. "It all started..."

Monday, November 12, 2012

Poetry Monday: Uncreative writing

So we're now in the final week of ModPo and I have to say that I feel like every pore of my skin has been opened through these 10 weeks. Something inside me has indeed shifted and I'm looking at poetry in ways I couldn't when I began this course. Before I say something about chapter 9.3, which is focused on the most challenging topic for me of all - unoriginality, I promised that I would put up my Mesostic - the one I created for the final assignment. Here it is:


    plaY, there

As you can see, it's a very small tribute to WB Yeats, written through "Lapis Lazuli".  Though creating it was easy, I spent a long time finding something that would work. I was (perhaps wrongly) conscious of using something so modern that the original author might object to me using their words (yes, I know that copyright is part of the challenge of the chance and conceptualist poets, but it's a challenge I'm not ready to take on). I really wanted to chose an Australian poet, but the software was buggy and Yeats was the only one who worked, so there it is.  I think it's actually quite evocative.

Moving right along though, this week we're leaving the Aleatoric poets and moving into the Conceptualists.  Conceptual poetry has its heart in the notion of unoriginality. The concept (hence the label) takes priority over the execution.  The first poet we're studying is Kenneth Goldsmith.  In the following little clip, taken at The White House (with Michele Obama as the listener), Goldsmith describes himself as "the most boring writer who has ever lived...", and perhaps proves it with his 900 page book Day, created from rewriting the NY Times. And yet, as Kenny G says in the clip below, there is a kind of freeing quality to this process: "The whole world is yours to write."  The burden of originality has been lifted.