Thursday, December 31, 2015

Compulsive Reader is 17 years old!

Hi fellow readers and happy new year to you! Can you believe that The Compulsive Reader  is 17 years old?  Internet years are like dog years, so I’m a bit proud of the site’s longevity and rapid growth.  It has been an amazing journey from our very humble beginnings to our current stage with nearly 10,000 subscribers (all book lovers), and some 20 exceptional reviewers from around the world. This month’s newsletter has the usual glut of literary news including the winner of the Bad Sex in Fiction award (always an annual favourite, though not with the winner - who was especially bad tempered about it this year),  the Grammys for best spoken book, the Australian Prime Minister’s Literary Awards, and much more.  We also have reviews of some exceptional new books including The Last Wife of Attila the Hun by Joan Schweighardt, Seven by Antonio J. Hopson, Fainting with Freedom by Ouyang Yu, an interview with Welcome to the Arms Race’s Justin Isis, a review of the album Diawara & Fonseca’s At Home (Live in Marciac), and a whole bunch more.  You should be receiving it shortly if you haven’t already but if you can’t wait, or if it got diverted, just grab a copy in our Archive.  Happy reading and all the best for a joyous, book-filled 2016.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Quick video update on Charity:Water Birthday Fundraiser

Hi everyone, in Oct 2014 I promised regular updates on the impact of your donations for my birthday fundraiser.  The money went directly to funding a water tower in Mali to provide water for people in the Segou region of Mali.  More than two million people live there, but only 72% of the population has access to clean, safe drinking water. Charity:Water (who is working with World Vision now on this project) is changing that, and your support has been critical.  So thank you!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Compulsive Reader News for Dec is out

The December issue of The Compulsive Reader newsletter has just gone out. This month’s issue features 10 new reviews, including, among others, M Train by Patti Smith, A Regicide by Alain Robbe-Grillet, and The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante.  There are also 3 book giveaways, as well as a round-up of November’s hottest literary news.  A copy should be arriving in your in-box very soon, but if you can’t wait, just drop by the Compulsive Reader Archive to grab a copy directly.  Enjoy!

  photo credit: Monday Morning via photopin (license)

Monday, November 30, 2015

Poetry Monday: Anna Kerdijk Nicholson’s Everyday Epic

I’ve always thought that legal language and poetry were somewhat inimical to one another. Legal language is all about exactness, authority, and the weight of historical context. There’s no place for imagery, co-existance of multiple meanings, and vagaries.  Instead legal language tends towards the use of precise technical terms with Latin roots, phrasal verbs, and pronominal adverbs, none of which tend to work so well in poetry. Anna Kerdijk Nicholson is a rare blend of lawyer and poet, making full use of her awareness of language and it’s real-life importance, but allowing the full multiplicity of poetry’s linguistic and demilitarisation qualities to shine in her poetic work.  Kerdijk Nicholason makes full use of her linguistic skills in her new book Everyday Epic, exploring globally relevant current affairs and domestic scenes with the subtlety and complexity of a poet’s awareness of the difficulty of communication and the need for multiplicity in meanings.  Everyday Epic explores both the grand events of history such as the not-so-everyday epic of Burke & Wills, immigration, current affairs, but also a number of poems that explore cross-media including ekphrasis, love, grief, the beauty and occasional terror of the domestic front, and perhaps above all, the nature of language - its limits, its potential, its rhythms, and the way we can create new spaces through it.  For example,
this little taster from the poem "Although,”:
I step on the interstices
and sing in your hollows
you resound on me
and refract
I’m in discourse
although alone
I’ve yet to fully and deeply explore this collection in the way I like to with poetry: reading and re-reading, allowing time for the work to come around with me, and permeate the way I perceive things.  I’m doing that now, and enjoying it very much.  More soon.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

John Cage’s Mesostics through The Sound and the Fury

image from:
The last ModPo assignment for 2015 is now complete and we’re in our final week on Conceptualism and Unoriginality. I’m particularly looking forward to some heady conversations about the morality of appropriation - something that has been concerning me for some time. Before going there, here is my attempt at producing a “Mesostic” using Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. I then had to analyse the output.  If you’d like to try making one of your own - it’s kind of fun, you can do so here:
TPlease do feel free to post yours into the comments if you can, or put them up somewhere and link to them.  I’d love to see them.

After reading through many of John Cage’s mesostics, most notably his writings through Finnegan’s Wake it seemed to me that a large part of what makes these mesostics beautiful rather than random lay with the choice of source text. A good source text seems to create a powerful mesostic because the words it contains combine in ways that work in distillation.  To this effect, I chose a source text that I found to be both rich linguistically and moving, but not already reduced. I thought it might be fun, even though a bit outside the rules, to use a source text that was not poetry, since poetry generally is already condensed. I chose the first paragraph of the second chapter of William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury because it seemed dense enough to distill, but I also wanted to remove the work from its plot, character, and the overarching ‘voice’, thereby changing it.  Since the Cagian process involved removing words by intention, I felt comfortable working  through the original mesostic to further simplify it, taking out words I felt hampered the rhythm and overall meaning of the work – in effect, further condensing it.  The end result was as follows:

I found the result of this process to be surprisingly moving and rhythmic, using the progression of the clock to enhance the motif of time and timelessness, with an interesting turn between the first and second stanzas.  The mesostic removes the subject. Instead of the pervasive voice of Quentin Compson, we have only this lower case i.  The narrative i is not only un-named, but un-defined, thereby becoming everyman: a more universal and godlike figure who invite the reader to take on the role of “you”, recipient of the mausoLeum. The appearance of the sash heralds a the arrival of seven o’clock.  The work moves within that hour - which could be a lifetime perhaps, as indicated by “the mausoleum of all hope and desire”: a classic Faulkner phrase that was left unchanged by the Mesostomatic.  This concentration of the essence or “intensity” of the passage focuses on this notion of being and out of time. The alliteration of the L sound slows the progression through the poem as we move from cLock to MasoLeum and then “excruciatingly”. This creates a gentle quiet, and a lolling quality that reminds us, with the mausoleum image, that death is the ultimate argument ad absurdum.

While the Faulkner passage itself ends with death and despair (and the fruitlessness of war), this mecrostic presents a more affirmative outcome in the second stanza as the poem ends with a kind of waking up, perhaps through hearing the continued ticking of the clock (“hearing”) into desire (hearing being "the father of desire").  The repetition of the adverb “then” in the two stanzas gives us a sense of change and connection, also forcing us to focus on the transition between the two passages as important.  In the first stanza time stopped, and we were out of time, and then in the second stanza, we’re reborn into time (“i was time again”), heaRing (perhaps the ticking) re-opening the desire that was lost in the first stanza.  The capitalization of the R in “heaRing” also calls attention to the ring in that word, so it’s almost as if we heard a gong, sounding the bell that woke us into time.  The three single words at the start of the second stanza slow the reading down dramatically. The death or stoppage of time only lasts an hour.  At eight o’clock we come back into time, and by association, life: reborn.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

New CR Newsletter is out

Hello fellow book lovers.  Just a quick note to say that the Compulsive Reader newsletter for November is now out.  This month’s issue contains, as usual, 10 fresh reviews including the latest Ishiguro, a bevy of fantastic new books, several literary films, and an interview. We’ve also provided our usual extensive overview of literary news around the world and 3 book giveaways.  If you haven’t gotten your copy yet, you can grab one here:
Compulsive Reader Newsletter Archive

If you’re not a subscriber, why not drop by The Compulsive reader and subscribe. It’s free, easy, and just one newsletter a month.

photo credit: PixeLegis_2008_0203 via photopin (license)

Monday, November 2, 2015

Poetry Monday: O’Hara’s Why I Am Not a Painter

Last week I wrote my third ModPo essay on Frank O’Hara’s phenomenal “Why I Am Not a Painter”.

You can read the full text of the poem here:

Following is my essay.  Please feel free to add your thoughts in the comments.


Frank O’Hara’s “Why I Am Not a Painter” uses the “I-do-this-I-do-that mode” to create a narrative context where meaning is created through conjunction, and contrast.  Both of these notions play out with ironic power as O’Hara tricks the reader into the verbal through the visual. For correspondence we have the artistic process of two artists placed on an equal plane: one who creates through a visual medium and begins with the verbal or the word and the one who creates through a verbal medium and begins with the visual or the colour.   In both instances, the painting and the poem’s subjects are condensed into the work, from the visible origins to a highly distilled invisibility that is no less present or powerful for its absence.   The very proximity of these two different artists, friends, who move from “I drink” to “we drink”, becomes a catalyst for the work they create, in the explanations that charge the work through its negation.  The subject is “too much” in both instances, and it is through the artistic process that the subject is distilled beyond recognition.

Beyond the correspondence between the two artists, there is the contrast, which is presented almost as a competition.  Mike Goldberg’s work appears to develop through time in present tense linguistic repetition and conjugation of the verb “go”.  When the work, apparently in progress, is finally so abstract that SARDINES disappears, the only trace we have of the original idea is the label, which remains necessary to impose an organising principle: “it needed something there”.   O’Hara’s work, on the other hand, ends up with a label that is both visual and verbal, a clever bit of trickery that shows us the power of language. Goldberg’s SARDINES is already subverted into this poem, which encompasses the very thing it abstracts: “All that's left is just letters.”  All of this self-conscious irony goes hand in hand with the seeming natural prosaic quality of the work.  While it may, at first glance, appear to be a simple recount in present tense about the meeting of two artists and their mediums, it is, and O’Hara reminds us of this very clearly, actually a “real” poem. The narrative construct, like the progression of time (“the days go by”) is artifice.  This artifice is further emphasized by the line breaks and artificial sentence structures that create a stuttering quality that undermines the natural rhythm of the sentences: “he/says”; “days/go by”; “just/letters”; “be/so much more”.  Each of these word groups breaks at the least natural spot, further heightening the irony and undermining the conversational tone it sets out to parody.  At this point, the artistic process becomes obvious, the work becomes self-consciously meta-poetic, with a victorious twist at the end as the poem circles back to its origins and engulfs the painting.  This poem is autotelic: it transcends its referent - it needs nothing there.  “Why I am Not a Painter” manages to be simultaneous funny and serious, lighthearted but somber (orange is truly terrible, reminding us, in this poem, of death), superficial and deep.  This is a poem that succeeds brilliantly at illuminating everything it claims to elude, making itself the subject.


And just because this is a blog and not an academic site, I’m also appending a wonderful rendition of another Frank O’Hara poem, “Lana Turner Has Collapsed" from Lunch Poems. This song was my first exposure to Frank O’Hara, played for me by the composer, my dear uncle, who I’m fairly sure you can hear laughing at the end of the clip.  I had this song in my head the entire time I wrote that essay and it’s still there now.


Oranges - photo credit: Early morning sunshine via photopin (license)

Monday, October 26, 2015

Poetry Monday: Ouyang Yu’s Fainting with Freedom

One of the things I like to do when I get a new book is to get the measure of the thing.  I like to look the whole book over, skim through the pages, get a feel for its girth, its style, its feel.  This is particularly the case with poetry.  I like to orient myself to the book and have a few tasters before I go in again more slowly, taking each poem in turn.  That’s what Poetry Monday is all about: the initial reading before the reading.  I also like to think of it as my little own version of “gathering paradise”, to steal a phrase from my favourite poetry site PoemTalk, where it was nicked, of course, from Emily Dickinson’s “I dwell in Possibility”.  It’s a little bit of poetry paradise into which I’m about to immerse myself.

As the author of some 75 (!) books of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, translation and criticism (the number continues to grow), Ouyang Yu’s literary influence is undisputed.

interviewed Ouyang Yu back in 2007, after he published his book On the Smell of an Oily Rag.  During that time, he told me that the wasn’t in  the habit of putting himself into pigeon holes: "I might as well call myself a poetnovelisttranslatoressayistcritic". I think that label, if one were required (of course it isn’t), could be applied to his new book Fainting with Freedom.  Many of the poems read like little stories or narratives, full of (often subversive) fun, dismay, intensity, longing, and Ouyang Yu’s characteristic word play that always breaks linguistic boundaries.

Here’s a very brief sample:
Hills flow in wavelets, brown-green, yellow-red, pink-dark.  Empty sticks of trees, through which glimpses of clouds topping the hills.  One lone tree, another, another, a shadow stretching across the tableland, darkening the feeding sheep.  Dots of grey.  Sudden water sky. (“Biography”)
Full review, as always, to follow.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Poetry Monday: Condensation and stillness: two versions of WCW’s Young Woman at a Window

Continuing on from the last Poetry Monday post, I thought I’d post up my second ModPo essay.  Again, this is is the second time I’ve written on this poem, but I haven’t pulled out my old essay (not sure I’ve kept it), and as it has been some years, I have come at this task with beginner’s mind.  I found this essay to be a relatively easy and enjoyable one to write (much easier, for example, than the poetry book review I’m working on - a wonderful but slow and complex read).  The process of writing this has helped me clarify not only the principals of Imagism which we’ve studied, but also allowed me to trace the transition of a poem from good to excellent.  Feel free to add in your own essays, responses and comments.  

There has been much written about William Carlos Williams’ “Young Woman at a Window”, and while we know that second version is the one that Williams ultimately published, it is fascinating to trace the condensation from the first poem to the second, and to explore why the second poem not only adheres better to the imagist manifesto, but is also objectively speaking, a more powerful poem. While both of the poems feature the same objects: a woman and a child at a window, and both have similar structures and the same number of stanzas, the second version has been reduced to 23 words from 29, with a more even cadence and couplets, beginning and ending with 3 words.  The first version is more narrative, leading the reader towards a sentimental conclusion.  The second version of the poem allows the reader to make his or her own inferences, leaving the image clear of inference. In version 1, specific words and sentence structures are used to evoke sentiment. The reader is told that the child has “robbed” the woman, and is unaware that he’s done this.  Also the child rubs his nose – an unappealing act linking the woman’s tears to the boy, and something about the demands of parenting.  That the boy needs his nose wiped becomes the denouement for the poem. In addition, the delicate early rhythm of the poem and its first word repetition is marred by words like “this”, “who,” and “knows” which break the cadence with sentence structure type inclusions that further progress a narrative. 

In the second version of the poem, Williams has condensed the image and removed extraneous words or “vague generalities” like ‘robbed’ and ‘knows nothing’, and actions like ‘wiped his nose’.  Instead the image is static—frozen in time like a statue, and is rather more beautiful as a result.  There are no runny noses here or self-pity.  The reader is confronted with, in the words of the imagists, an “exact visual image” which makes its statement completely. The reader is left free to make inferences about the nature of the tears, about the symbolism of the window which hints at inside versus outside without stating it overtly, and about the reason for the two sitting together in such a pose.

Though there is no expression of ‘robbery’, the image is suffused with sadness and longing, but only by virtue of the imagery. Ending the poem on the word “glass” creates a perception of being cloistered, without the need to state it.  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the second poem not only uses the image itself to convey meaning, but it is structurally and rhythmically aligned, using repetition and alliteration of the words “her” at the start and “on” at the end of the first three stanzas, and the sibilance in “nose”, “pressed”, “glass” which convey both silence and tears.  This poem works perfectly when read out loud, encouraging the reader to just look, to just feel and just participate directly in the subtle longing and sense of cessation conveyed by the poem.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Poetry Monday: A liquor never brewed

Those of you who have followed this blog for a while (or who know me) know that I’m a massive fan of the annual event known as Modern and Contemporary American Poetry or ModPo run out of Coursera by the University of Pennsylvania.  The event masquerades as a course, run for 10 weeks by the amazing Al Filreis and his exceptional team of Teaching Assistants and Community Teaching Assistants. You can certainly attend, get your certificate of attainment (or just follow along), and go on your merry way at the end of it (with a totally new approach to reading and appreciating poetry that extends way beyond the syllabus) - that’s enough of course.

For me and many others, once is just not enough.  The course has become an annual excuse to revisit some of the most seminal poets of all time, to do close, but not too close, readings of some exceptional and challenging poetic work.  Al has encouraged former students to come back and keep playing every year, through new material, through mentorship opportunities, new live ‘meet-ups’, new opportunities for interaction, and new approaches.  Though the numbers get larger each year, the intimacy somehow seems to grow too.  This year, there’s a new section for those who either want something a little different or who want to go further and deeper into the work.  It’s called ModPo Plus and it features complementary poetry and its own discussion forum.  Since I’ve done ModPo before, I’m working through all of the normal ModPo material and all the poems in ModPo Plus but focusing most of my discussions around the ModPo Plus material at the ModPo Plus forums.  Most of my essays will have the same topic as they have in previous years, but I’m enjoying revisiting the work and coming to it with beginner’s mind - maybe going just a bit further as I explore my assignment topics.  I thought it might be fun to post those essays up here.  Please feel free to put your own thoughts or essays into the comments.  I like the idea of these discussions spreading outwards and repeat ModPoers are encouraged to facilitate that.  Oh, and if you want to join ModPo it actually isn’t too late.  You can’t get a certificate as the first assignment date is passed, but you can jump right in at Gertrude Stein and join in now.  The community is very warm and inclusive and nothing is mandatory.

Here’s the little essay I wrote on Emily Dickinson’s “I taste a liquor never brewed”.  The full poem can be found here:

Of all Emily Dickinson’s poetry, “I taste a liquor never brewed” is one of the most exuberant, piling image upon image in an extended metaphor.  This poem is somewhat less condensed than much of her other work, freed from constraints by the drunken slur of dash and the repetition of exclamation mark. The quatrains use a ballad form but only rhyme the second and last word of each stanza, and the initial rhyme (“Pearl” and “Alcohol”) is off, which adds to the slightly arrhythmic, wild feel as it flows from first taste to the full satiation of inebriation.

In the first stanza we we’re introduced to what the poet is drinking: a rarified drop, stronger than any produced in the famous Rhine wineries. This ‘drink’ is delivered from “Tankards scooped in pearl”, which is more evocative than specifically semantic, but suggests something like a large shell (mother-of-pearl lined), or perhaps a cloud formation with the sun shining behind.  This intoxication comes from the exquisite beauty of the natural world (eco-poetics at its best).

There’s a sense in the second stanza, through rhythm, image, and punctuation, of a little subversiveness.  The poet has become debauched and drunk, though not on brewed liquor, but on air, on dew, and on the blue sky of summer.  Each dash functions as a pause or even a hiccup, coupled with extensive alliteration to create the rhythms of drunkenness that invite the reader to also partake.  The multi-sensual impact of a blue sunlit sky captured with such precision in “Molten Blue”, provides both warmth and visual appeal, but it’s more than the flower, the sights and scents of a striking summer day. It’s the impact of that day on the poetic imagination that turns it from a moment of experience to something permanent. This is the creative flow or wellspring that the poet taps into (to keep the liquid metaphor going).  It is Emily’s meta-poetic implication that turns this otherwise heady pastoral poem into something quite post-modern.

The extended metaphor of a drunkard at the inn is stretched further in the third stanza, as day becomes night and the poet continues the creative spree.  The landlord might be the foxglove itself, closing petals so that the bee and butterfly, that have had their fill of sweet nectar, can drink no more.  For the poet, the “high on life” inebriation doesn’t end because there’s always more beauty in the endless creative flow in this figurative inn where the tap is always open.

The final stanza shifts from the nature metaphor into a more frigid heavenly one, away from the immediacy of sensual pleasure.  From these lofty heights, beyond the window, an angel (“Seraphs”) or teetotaler saint might look down from a frosty (“snowy Hats”) heaven and disapprove of such excesses of sensual joy. The reader too, who has been encouraged in the first three stanzas to partake, might disapprove of such poetic licentiousness. After all, this is the full sensual experience – sight, sound, smell, touch and taste are all evoked in a reeling swirl that is quite overwhelming.  Of course, we might just join in in this moment of creative power and shared delight and let ourselves be seduced.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Oct Compulsive Reader has gone out

The October Compulsive Reader newsletter has just left by owl, and should arrive in your inbox shortly.  By way of a preview, the newsletter contains the usual bevy of 10 fresh reviews and interviews, including my own long overdue review of Ali Alizadeh's Iran, My Grandfather and Fiona Wright's Small Acts of Disappearance.  We've also got Nicole Trope, Lee Holmes (it's all about the gut), Lars Gustafsson and Agneta Blomqvist, and much more.  If you haven't kept abreast of all the literary news this month, don't fear, because I've got a very thorough global round-up including the new Ritchell prize longlist, Mao Dun Literature Prize, The Scotiabank Giller Prize, and on it goes.  If that doesn't entice you, we've got 3 new giveaways, including the 200th limited edition anniversary version of Austin's Emma

If you haven't gotten your copy yet, and don't want to wait (or if it went into your spam tray...), just go here and help yourself:  The Compulsive Reader News

If you aren't subscribed, you should be!  Just go to The Compulsive Reader and sign up.  It's free, you just get one newsletter a month, and it's a fantastic community of book lovers.  We'd love you to join us. 

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Poetry Monday: The Poetry Magazine Podcast

In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m a bit of a podcast fan.  They’re easy to slot into the day, listening while you cook, clean, iron, drive or do other chores that engage your body.  Some of my favourites which I try not to miss and have blogged about before are Regime Books’ Australian Poetry Podcast and Jacket2’s PoemTalk, but today I’ve enjoyed The Poetry Magazine’s podcast run by the Poetry Foundation.

This one includes an analysis of several the poems in the September issue, which focuses on Irish poets.  The podcast looks at three of the poems in the magazine - specifically Michelle O’Sullivan’s “Bespoke", Billy Ramsell’s “Things No Longer There", and Victoria Kennefick’s “Paris Syndrome".  There’s also an interview with Patrick Cotter, who guest-edited the edition and wrote the introduction.  Though The Poetry Foundation don’t go into the kind of depth that APP or PoemTalk do, listening is still a good way to find new poets, explore a few poems in a little more depth than a solitary reading, and always fun, I think, to hear poets read their own work, and to listen to poetry being explored and unpicked a little. You can also pick up copies of each of the poems discussed at the website, which is here:

If you haven’t come across the Poetry Foundation before, I recommend it.  I think that their database of poets and poems (particularly American poets and poetry) is probably the most extensive on the internet - certainly the most extensive and valuable that I’ve come across.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Compulsive Reader for Sept is out

Just a quick blogpost to let you know that the latest Compulsive Reader newsletter has now gone out an is making its way through the online superhighway to your inbox even as I type this.  This month’s issue features the usual bevy of 10 new reviews including my own reviews of Jean Kent’s phenomenal  The Hour of Silvered Mullet (Jean and I will be chatting about the book later in the month) and The Eye of the Sheep by Sofie Laguna (a book that made me cry so hard, I had to remove myself from the living room for a bit so I wouldn’t frighten my family).  We’ve also got interviews with Val Brelinski, Andrew Joyce, and Mary E Martin (our guest blogger last week), and additional reviews from my fantastic review team including Harper Lee’s very popular Go Set a Watchman, The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham, Hell and God and Nuns with Rulers by John Collings, and plenty more, including 5 book giveaways for our subscribers.  If you can’t wait for your copy or if it got blocked by your spam filters somehow, you can grab one here:
Compulsive Reader Newsletter link

If you haven’t yet subscribed but I’ve whet your appetite enough to tempt you, just go to and sign up.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Poetry Monday: Tincture Journal

The acceptance for publication in Tincture Issue 11 was probably the best acceptance I’ve ever received.  It not only came within a day of my submission, but in addition to a very warm acceptance, poetry editor Stuart Barnes said something to me along the lines of: “I’ve been re-reading Quark Soup, and was hoping you’d submit.”  I know another more well-known poet used to such accolades would not be so ecstatic by the idea of someone re-reading my first traditionally published chapbook (Picaro Press - who have have kept it “in-stock” all these years), but I don’t often hear the phrase “re-reading Quark Soup”, much less in conjunction with “hoping you’d submit.” 

Barnes is no slouch as a poet himself.  After being a runner up last year, he’s just won this year’s Arts Queensland Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize for his manuscript The Staysails, which will be published by the University of Queensland Press in 2016.  I intend to grab a copy as soon as it becomes available (I’ve read many of the Shapcott award books and they’ve been, without exception, superb), and I’m sure I’m not the only person who feels personal pride at Stuart’s well-deserved win. The poetry world is a small one, and one of the things I like best about it is that poets tend, in the main, to support one another through reading each other’s work, publishing, reviewing, and promoting, and above all, connecting over it. Despite the solitary nature of the writing process, there’s something particularly communal about poetry, perhaps because it allows such deep and instant insight into emotion, meaning, and beauty, converging the personal with the universal.

Small journals tend to encourage the communal response, and Tincture does it particularly well.  It’s impeccably edited, beautifully presented (a perfect example of how electronic media should be presented), and offers a wide range of carefully curated work: poetry and prose, fiction, nonfiction, interviews.  Issue Eleven, which I’m reading right now, is Kindle or iPad friendly (so you can carry it with you), easy to read (while, for example, waiting for the dentist and other otherwise lost moments), and basically wonderful. I’m proud to have my work published alongside such company.   You can buy a copy of Issue Eleven for just $A8.00 (on today’s xe that’s 5.70usd - such a bargain) here:

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Guest blog: Who Has Seen the Cosmic Egg?

Today we are being visited by a virtual blog tour celebrating the completion of author Mary E. Martin's second series, The Trilogy of Remembrance. We would like to welcome followers of the tour joining us from JD Holiday's World of Ink Network BlogTalkRadio interview with Mary E. Martin, on,  and from other sites on the tour.

Followers of the tour have an opportunity to enter in a $200 Amazon gift card giveaway, sponsored by the author, as well as to receive a purchase incentive package donated by the tour sponsors. Entries in Mary's $200 Amazon gift card giveaway will be accepted until midnight on August 31, 2015 with an announcement of the winner posted from Mary's Blog on September 1, 2015. Anyone submitting a proof of purchase entry in the giveaway draw will receive as an added benefit the tour purchase incentive rewards package of free e-books and discount coupons donated by tour hosts. For a full tour schedule of events, as well as details on how to enter the lottery drawing for the gift card and receive the purchase incentive rewards package, visit Mary E. Martin at

We encourage our guests to follow the tour further by visiting Lisa Haselton's Reviews and Interviews,, for a Q&A Interview with Mary. Mary E. Martin is the author of two trilogies: The Osgoode Trilogy, inspired by her many years of law practice; and The Trilogy of Remembrance, set in the glitter and shadows of the art world. Both Trilogies will elevate the reader from the rush and hectic world of today and spin them into realms of yet unimagined intrigue. Be inspired by the newly released and final installment of The Trilogy of Remembrance, Night Crossing.  

A painter in his studio

Alexander Wainwright, Britain’s finest landscape artist, has been pacing his studio overlooking the Thames.

Disgusted with his feeble efforts at painting, he
flings his palette at his new half-finished canvas. He cannot, in his heart and mind, create something new. But then—in all its shimmering glory, the cosmic egg floats up before Alexander, the visionary artist.

He caught some movement—a shadow or shifting shape dancing on the wall. As he turned toward the shadows, his mouth grew slack. His breath deepened and a blissful, innocent smile spread across his face. His legs grew weak and he staggered toward his vision as if drawn by irresistible but unknown forces. Against the tall windows, now blackened in the night, a golden egg rose up, shimmering with beautiful gems—diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds which sparkled like the purest sunlight. Turning slowly, this marvellous object throbbed with life as if it contained all the energy in the world. His lips parted and he spoke three words—“the cosmic egg.” 

The third in
The Trilogy of Remembrance
It was perhaps three feet in height and, at its widest point, two feet in breadth. It rotated majestically several times and then drifted upward toward the ceiling. Although stunning, it was as insubstantial as a rainbow and began to dissipate before his eyes. Awe struck, he stood motionless. The cosmic egg was the seed heralding new creation. Everything necessary was at hand and contained within that egg. For eons, it had tantalized humankind with the secret mystery of creation, life and death and the promise of immortality— From Night Crossing.

And so, Night Crossing, the third in The Trilogy of Remembrance begins. Alexander has experienced a very real vision, which propels him on a hero’s journey from London to Paris and also St. Petersburg.

The train is Alex’s favourite
mode of transportation
Although Alex would tell you his inspiration comes from his muse, he learns much from his travels and the people he meets. Some quality of mind or spirit within him causes people to confide their stories in him and contemplate their own lives—in fact, the very nature of existence itself. In his presence, people experience a rare attentiveness and wisdom. But it is very much a two way street. Alex gains as much as they do and he comes away enriched by a profound respect for and love of the human spirit. He calls it searching for his light.

What is this cosmic egg? It’s not just a static symbol. It’s a potent living force or energy which we sometimes experience, if we are lucky, as our creative spirit. Alex very much needs it at this moment of extreme dissatisfaction with his work.

 “The shell of the cosmic egg is the world frame of space, while the fertile seed-power within typifies the inexhaustible life-dynamism of nature.” —says Joseph Campbell, the renowned writer and lecturer about mythology and story-telling.

Joseph Campbell
So many thoughts and directions! At the start of the novel, I was nearly overwhelmed. But there were a number of fundamental ideas which came from Campbell’s work and they kept me on track. He often spoke of the hero’s journey underlying so many stories.

In brief, the protagonist of the story, Alex, is living in circumstances which are highly unsatisfactory to him. He is hungry, if not desperate, for change. And so, an event occurs—envisioning the cosmic egg—which sets him off on an adventure. In that journey, our protagonist will meet many people, some who help and others who hinder.

In Night Crossing, Alex meets Miss Trump on the train headed for the ferry at Portsmouth. Who is this elderly woman who first appears to Alex as a rather simple or dull companion? She is part seer, part goddess of love and teacher of the power of synchronicity.

He will find many problems and challenges but learn much by overcoming them. Then he will return with something new and wonderful, which after all is what we want from any creative endeavour. The hero’s journey is the creative process.

Carl Jung
Speaking of synchronicity, The Trilogy of Remembrance is filled with many instances of it. Where did that concept come from? Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist spent much of his career exploring the idea of synchronicity.

It’s simply this—two or more events occur simultaneously or pretty close together with no apparent causal connection between them. In fact they seem unrelated in any way in time and space, but they come together to form a personal and meaningful message for you. Lots of people call it a “sign.” Others dismiss it as coincidence or happenstance.

Jung spent years considering synchronicity in his research and clinical practice. If a person has not had a synchronistic experience, then it is hard to really believe in it. But I can assure you that Alex does.

Here’s an example from Night Crossing. The very next day, after envisioning the cosmic egg, Alexander has lunch with his art dealer James Helmsworth. He is dumbfounded when his dealer shows him a painting of the cosmic egg—not just any old cosmic egg but exactly the same cosmic egg which appeared to him the night before. Who could not be stunned by these occurrences?

Alexander Wainwright
That event raises a question—if another artist has seen precisely the same egg, does that mean it exists in the real world as opposed to just in Alex’s imagination. Seeing this image of the same cosmic egg spurs Alex on to find the painter of the egg. What happens next is the story of Night Crossing.

From this you can see that both Campbell and Jung are great influence not only in the realms of mythology and psychiatry but also in story-telling. And story-telling, as Alexander Wainwright will tell you, is one of the favourite, age old pleasures of humankind that will never die.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Poetry Monday: Martin Langford’s ground

I’m very lucky in that I get lots of new poetry books sent to me.  I hope I never become so spoilt or jaded that I lose the excitement I get when opening up a new one - the sense of adventure it contains, the silky feel of the cover as I crack the spine open and begin exploring new words, full of promise, of new worlds - like a kind of travelogue into the human condition.  Martin Langford’s ground is a bit like that.  Though I have yet to fully digest it, the poetry takes the reader through so many shades - not just actual places, though there are plenty of those - all throughout Victoria and Tasmania and especially Sydney, with its “Layers” and lines, but through times and themes, colours and historical moments - sometimes pastoral, sometimes post-modern apocalyptic, always mingling personal perception and political impact. Many of the poems concatenate place, event and multiple interpretation into a single space--a plane of semblance that builds towards cumulative meaning (“as if there were only this moment of grassed undulations.” (“Looking East from the Castlereigh (London, 1820)”). 

I have a feeling that many of these poems will take time to open out fully for me, as is often the case with good poetry, though they’re eerily beautiful and engaging on first reading.  Here’s a very small sample:

From “The Detectives of Light”

For years at a time
they had breasted the could-dreams of shorelines -
the sky-bleed the storms -

and now they were home, the detectives of light,
shuffling, in rooms thick with interests:
boxes of artefacts, orchids;
charts dense with patronage;
moonrise distilled into ink -- (19)

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Poetry Monday: Ali Cobby Eckermann on Inside my Mother

A few poetry monday’s ago, I did a little feature on Ali Cobby Eckermann.

Following on from that, my full review of her gorgeous book, Inside my Mother was featured on Compulsive Reader here:  Heres a little snippet from that review: “Inside my Mother is a beautiful and moving collection, full of gritty pain, transcendent joy, celebration of the land and its animals, grief for all that has been lost, and a transformative reconciliation, both in its political sense and in terms of coming to terms with personal wrongs.”

I’m never content to just read a book I like.  I also have to talk about it, re-read it a few times, analyse it, and chat with the author wherever possible (all part of the fun). This is especially true for poetry, where there’s nothing quite like listening to the poet read his or her own work.  Ali joined me today on my radio show to read from and talk about Inside my Mother as well as some of her other wonderful projects and you can now listen to the show anytime it suits you:

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

CR Newsletter for Aug is now out

This month’s Compulsive Reader Newsletter is now out and should have already arrived in your inbox.  This month we’ve got 5 brand new (some only just released this week books to giveaway (8 if you include the 3 copies of A Thousand Miles to Freedom by Eunsun Kim), a global round-up of literary news from the month of July, and ten fresh new reviews/interviews from all sorts of genres to keep you in the know, and booked up.

If you haven’t received the newsletter as yet, don’t fret, as you can grab yourself a copy from the archive:

If you’re not a subscriber, just drop by and pop your address in the box on the upper right hand side.  We only send out one issue a month, and our readers are the best bunch of book lovers - we’d love you to join us.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Poetry Monday: Lucy Dougan talks

I had the pleasure of talking with poet Lucy Dougan on my radio show, The Compulsive Reader Talks, today.  In addition to reading five exquisite poems from her new book The Guardians, Lucy talked with me about a wide range of topics. This included such things as the notion of masks as roles, poetry as archeology that uncovers layers of ourselves, genetic inheritance, poetry as a way of looking at biology, the metaphoric use she makes of animals, including her well-trained mice, poetry as craft and craft as poetry, on the subtle humour that runs through her work, on Agape or selfless love and its power, and the nature of health.  You can drop by for a listen here:
or click on the widget to the right on this blog or at The Compulsive Reader.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Poetry Monday: Poetry at the Lake Mac Pub

Last month was the inaugural Poetry In The Lake Mac Pub, and I was delighted at how big a crowd this first session drew. The pub was packed.  It wasn’t just poets either, though there were plenty of poets reading their work, including the wonderful Jean Kent, who read to us from her new book The Hour of the Silvered Mullet. People also came just to listen, to read the works of their ancestors, and to recite their favourite classics: one fellow did a reading of “Ozymandias" that Kenneth Branagh would be envious of, and another recited “Jabberwocky” perfectly, entirely from memory. Kudos to poet Linda Ireland - pictured on the left - who organised and beautifully MCd the session.  Poetry in the Lake Mac Pub is a monthly event, running on the second Sunday afternoon of each month from 3.00 pm to 5.00 pm.  The next one is this coming Sunday, the 12th of July. Come along and participate in open mic readings of your work or another's. Or simply come to listen and enjoy the relaxed and convivial atmosphere (food, drinks and coffee/tea all available from the Bistro). This is a free community event, which takes place in the Lake Mac Tavern in the main street of Morisset (opposite the station).  Hope to see you there!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Compulsive Reader news for July is out and about

I’m happy to report that the Compulsive Reader newsletter for July has now gone out and should already be in your in-box. This month’s edition features a new set of 10 reviews including Lucy Dougan’s The Guardians, April Bloomfield’s A Girl and Her Greens, Rebecca Makei’s Music for Wartime, Flash Fiction International, Beth Spencer’s Vagabondage, Graham Stull’s The Hydra, Raymond L Atkin’s Sweetwater Blues, along with interviews with Judy Reeves, Nuala  O’Connor, Phil Harvey.  There’s also tons of literary news from around the world, and four new book giveaways, including Kundara’s latest The Festival of Insignificance, a pretty little hardcover book which I’ve got in my hot hands at this very moment.  If, for some reason, your spam filter has eaten it, you can grab a copy online here: The Compulsive Reader News. If you aren’t already a subscriber, just drop by The Compulsive Reader and sign up for free. We only send out one newsletter a month so you won’t be inundated.  You also won’t want to miss our podcasted interview with Beth Spencer, who reads from Vagabondage, and talks about the book, and her year on the road.  You can listen to at the site or at the podcast here: 

Monday, June 29, 2015

Poetry Monday: Ali Cobby Eckermann’s Inside My Mother

I know it’s not Monday where I am, but my blog, being on US time, still says it’s monday, so I’m going to take the opportunity to showcase a poetry book that is being published tomorrow.  Some weeks ago I blogged about a poetry session My Mother’s Heart that I attended at the Sydney Writers Festival.  Ali Cobby Eckermann’s new poetry book, from which she read, has now arrived, and at first glance, I’m very excited by it.  The work is rooted in the earth, and rich with legend, many stories, love, fear, loss, lost vernacular, a beautiful, and at times terrible history, healing, and as the title suggests, the nature of the maternal, in all its metaphoric implications.  I’ve only skimmed the surface so far, but I’m looking forward to reading through it slowly and deeply and finding new meaning, and new ways of looking at the world through this work:

“there’s a whole ocean filled with sand
between what was and what will be”

More about Ali Cobby Eckermann and her work can be found in this recent interview at Mascara Review:

The book is available, from tomorrow, directly from Giramondo.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Poetry Monday: Australia Poetry Podcast at Regime Books

It’s a public holiday monday and you might just be lucky enough to have a few minutes available to listen to poetry and to poets talking about poetry. Not too long ago, Australian publisher Regime Books started a poetry podcast, in part as an antidote to the loss of ABC’s Poetica earlier this year, and they’re now on their sixth episode, featuring none other than MTC Cronin.  Cronin joins Robbie Coburn and Nathan Hondros from her organic farm (chooks, ducks, foxes and all), and talks about such things as thinking vs emotions, where her poetry comes from, motivation, about the nature of metaphor: “if you go into words--even if you go into a single word--you can probably follow it to another word...if you can find some way to really look at them and really get inside them you can find how things are connected to everything else”, on criticism (and where it fails), the relationship between poetry and law, the roots of words and language, on the joy of reading other people’s work: “I’d like to write certain things but haven’t been able to...”, her new book The Law of Poetry, on the nature of publication “if you put a book out, not many people are going to read it...”, and quite a few other things. She also reads a number of poems from her book: “The Wonderful Lawlessness of God”, “The Law of Wine”, “The Law of the Wound”, and a few others. You can hear the whole thing, which is just over an hour (about the time it took me to make bagels this morning, which was perfect), here:

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Compulsive Reader Newsletter for June has just gone out

Hello fellow readers and happy June.  Just letting you know that another issues of The Compulsive Reader news has gone out.  I know that the word “compulsive” occasionally triggers the spam filters so if you didn’t get you copy, just drop by the Compulsive Reader News Archive and pick one up.  This month we have ten fresh reviews including new books by Helen Razer and Bernard Keane, Brenda Bowen, Philip Glass’ memoir, Carolyn Martinez’ excellent new nonfiction book, several new interviews and a whole lot more.  We also have 3 book giveaways and of course the usual global literary news round-up.  Over at the radio show, there’s my latest interview, conducted live at the Sydney Writers Festival (in the back room of the former Sebel hotel, which was full of visiting authors that day) with non other than Ben Okri, who spoke with candour and intensity about his new book The Age of Magic (as you can see from the photo on the right, taken while we spoke, by Okri’s Australian publicist at HarperCollins).

Ben also spoke about his poetry and the relationship between poetry and prose writing for him, about the value of slow reading and attention, about why it is so important to retain magic in our lives, and so on.  The interview was only 30 minutes but we crammed a lot in!  To listen, just drop by The Compulsive Reader Talks.

If you aren’t a Compulsive Reader news subscriber, you can subscribe for free at - just on the front page (upper right hand side).  I only send out one newsletter a month, it’s a great way to stay on top of what’s happening in the book world, and we give out lots of books!

Books photo credit: Le Jour ni l'Heure 8537 : Francisco de Zurbaran, 1598-1664, L'Annonciation, 1638-1639, dét. (table de lecture de la Vierge), musée de Grenoble, Isère, jeudi 28 juillet 2011, 12:40:20 via photopin (license)

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Poetry Monday: A Mother’s Heart

This Saturday, at the Sydney Writers Festival, I had the pleasure of listening to some ten poets (11 if you count the English “heckler” who was invited to join in) reading to the theme of Give Me Back my Mother’s Heart at Wharf Theatre 2. The performers were from across the Aboriginal nations, with the exception of the ring-in, whose British/Caribbean work was in sync with the theme but infused with the pain of diaspora, rather than displacement.  It was so polished and powerful, I knew he wasn’t really a ring-in.

Ali Cobby Eckermann, Director of Aboriginal Writers Retreat, led up the group, whose work was confronting, intense, angry, funny, powerful, and often delivered with the memorable punch of Slam.  Ali’s own opening poem, “I Tell Ya True”, which you can read in it’s entirety on Poetry International Web, presented a moving reminder not to judge others:
you never know
what sorrows we are nursing
Eckermann’s co-collaborator at Aboriginal Writers Retreat was Lionel Fogarty, who, along with Maggie Walsh, Ken Canning, Lorna Munro, Elizabeth Wymarra, and a group of poets from the Redfern Writers Group, presented a varied selection of work, full of stories of loss, love, pain, about losing mothers -- sometimes through having been stolen away during the disastrous Child Removal Policy in 1969, and about finding mother’s heart beating in ones own chest:  “all here without our mothers...”.  I found myself laughing, crying, feeling ashamed and feeling proud throughout this session in various parts, and sometimes all of those things at once.   

What I liked best about the session was how tightly linked the poets were and how the poetry managed to bridge the gap between a deep timelessness and a very modern streetwise sensibility.  Though the work was inherently different: the voices, the ages, the level of experience, and even the backgrounds varied, there was such a powerful camaraderie and connection between the writers and their sense of being part of a single voice gaining collective strength through mutual support.  The audience felt it too: participating with whoops, applause, shout-outs, gasps, tears, and laughter.  It was a great session that left me feeling very excited by what I heard.  I’ll be hunting down Eckermann’s forthcoming book Inside My Mother (it’s Giramondo, who else), and books by other members of the group, as I was left wanting more. I just wish I could find the name of that British fake-heckler “ring-in”, as he was really good.  

Monday, May 18, 2015

Poetry Monday: Lucy Dougan

I met Lucy Dougan at a friend’s house nearly 20 years ago.  At that time she was already a published poet, though her first full collection Memory Shell wasn’t yet out.  I might be wrong (memory being what it is), but I recall her having a young child with her at the time. She was introduced to me as someone I should know - a fellow poet, and though I hadn’t yet heard of her, I’ve been following Dougan’s work since then with a great deal of admiration.  Her new book The Guardians just arrived in my letterbox.  As with Dougan’s other books, the themes in this one all resonate with me: genetic inheritance, illness and healing, the fuzzy link between the domestic and the universal, the interstices, absences and spaces that create moments of re-written meaning: “I rewrite my life/in grass-green drizzle round the rim” ("Nettle Soup”).  Reading “Mask,” the first poem in the book, I immediately thought of Hélène Cixous’ écriture féminine - this notion of writing through the female body of sensation - not just joyful, but painful too.  In “Wayside”, which opens with a Cixous epigraph, Dougan writes:
My body wants
the long way back
just to find lost land
rehearsing what it will be -
unexpected flowerings
locked tight in seeds.  (12)
Doug’s work is as tender as it is fierce, and I’m looking forward to exploring it more fully.