Saturday, December 31, 2016

CR Newsletter for Jan now out

Happy New Year fellow book lovers.  Just a quick New Year’s posting to let you know that Compulsive Reader’s January newsletter has just gone out, chock full of new reviews and interviews including Cynthia Manick’s latest poetry book, Jen Karetnick, Wolfgang Carstens, Stefan Zweig, and many other , literary news, and two fantastic giveaways (including one containing Sue Duff’s entire Weir Chronicles series).

If you can’t wait for it to arrive or somehow missed your copy, you can pick it up in the archive here:

If you’re not a subscriber already, just drop by and sign up gratis.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Poetry Monday: Women of Words

I have, on occasion, been called a literary activist. I have to admit I’ve never been entirely certain what that is, or whether I really deserve this moniker.  In so far as I feel that art can create a space for positive change, and in so far as I’m always excited about being involved in those efforts, perhaps the label does fit me. On the other hand, I  feel that polemic should remain separate from art, which has its own aesthetic, often far more subtle and complex than politics. That in itself is perhaps a kind of activism: the notion that art can open us up, allowing us to think more deeply, and see one another as utterly connected - so when someone in this world is hurt, we also are hurt.

People like Janette Hoppe and her Papatuanuku Press provide literary activism of the best kind.  The not-for-profit press exists to provide support for indigenous writers, for making silence and pain heard, and as a catalyst for healing.  The press has done all sorts of powerful activities this year including Poetry Bombs, Free Art Fridays, Books on the Rails, and the Women of Words poetry happenings to name a few.  I was lucky enough to participate in Women of Words, and I have to say that the five events were managed superbly, engaging a large number of local poets (boy do we have some talent in this area), and raising over $700 for the Hunter Women’s Centre and the White Ribbon Organisation, both great causes. But wait, there’s more.  One of the outputs from those events was a print book called Women of Words: eat, stray’d, love, a collection of poetry.  The cost of the book is $20, with the profits split equally (and entirely) between The Hunter Women’s Centre and the White Ribbon Organisation.  If you’re looking for a unique, ethical present for someone, this might well be it.  To order a copy, just Paypal $20 to Janette Hoppe at, or visit her Facebook page and send a direct message if you have questions or special instructions for sending.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Compulsive Reader Newsletter for Dec is out

The December Compulsive Reader newsletter has now been full distributed and if you’re a subscriber, a copy should have already arrived in the inbox.  If for some reason you haven’t gotten it, or are still considering whether to subscribe, you can check it out in the  Compulsive Reader archive.

The newsletter features the usual round-up of literary news, ten fresh reviews, new author interviews, and another great book giveaway.  If you aren’t a subscriber and would like to be, just drop by and sign up - it’s easy!

photo credit: cseeman Kresge Library Collection Transfer - July 8, 2014 via photopin (license)

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Poetry Monday: Squeezing language like honey - on Eileen Myles’ "The Honey Bear"

I’ve got Eileen Myles’ I Must be Living Twice by my bedside, and every night before I go to bed, I read a poem from it. This very slow reading allows me to take a bit more time than I usually would over each poem, really delving into them and sometimes giving me interesting dreams.  Someone asked me the other day if I was a speed reader or found myself reading faster the older (and presumably more experienced at reading) I got.  My answer was that I am a slow reader and am getting ever slower.  Slow is good, I think.  It’s not so much speed, but the amount of attention I give to what I read.  I want to really experience the things I read - not merely scan or skim over the surface.  That will often take time, and one reading is often not enough for me, especially with poetry.  I have to mull and then return.  I was particularly happy about the opportunity to go even deeper into one of the poems in Myles’ latest collection, which, by serendipity was on the list of essay topics for the ModPo course I’m doing.  The poem is called “The Honey Bear” and you can read the full text of it here:

Following is my 500 or so (bit more...) essay.  If you have opinions about the poem, please feel free to comment.  I’d love to open a dialogue on this one.

Eileen Myles’ “The Honey Bear” presents what appears to be a straightforward narrative.  A twenty nine year old woman is standing in the kitchen on the eve of her thirtieth birthday, smoking her last cigarette before quitting, making a cup of herbal tea, and sweetening it with honey from a plastic bear dispenser.  On the radio, first we hear Ivy Anderson and then Billie Holiday – both torchy jazz singers.  The scene is suffused with a sense of time passing, both in terms of growing older and with the progression of the clock as the evening moves towards the next day.  The use of the continual present tense, and the prosaic and domestic activity depicted calls to mind the New York School of poetry.  It’s clear by the bathtub being in the kitchen that this is an older style New York City apartment, and the darkness of the music, the tea and the surroundings is offset by the brightness of the artificial lights.  
 It’s impossible to read a poem that follows this sort of progression and urban sensibility while referencing Billie Holiday, without thinking of Frank O’Hara’s “The Day Lady Died”.  O’Hara’s seminal New York School poem becomes a touchstone for this one, evoking the slow sensual pleasure of immediate sensation, from the combination of the music, the scented tea, the honey, and the tactile grooves of the bear’s face.  We know that tomorrow is the speaker’s birthday, that the speaker is alone and using the sensual aspects of the scene to offset the melancholy.  These elements, and even in the little pun in the repetition of the letter O all provide a homage to O’Hara.
 The poem, however, is suffused with rhythm and repetitions that are more stylized, musical and less prosaic than you’d usually find in The New York School. The repeated use of the present participle of verbs like hanging, smoking, singing, squeezing, standing, dripping, starting combines with the assonance of the O sound in Holiday, radio, smoking, odd, suppose, older, and the O in “O it’s very quiet”, “O very sad and sweet”, and “O honey”. Though the poem is only one stanza, about mid-way through it turns at “I’m not a bad looking woman”, interrupting the voices of the jazz singers and changing the form.  Though the scene doesn’t change, there is a progression from the clipped line breaks in the first half of the poem, to the looser structure of the second.  The O sound creates a sense of longing that progresses to sexual desire, intensified by the noodle of honey dripping down the bear’s face.  From this point onward, the poem begins to flow, opening out with mid-sentence spaces that creates a more dramatic, breathless energy: “I suppose     O it’s very quiet” or “in my kitchen tonight      I’m squeezing”.  Other words also repeat: older, sweet, odd, honey, late, kitchen, as the words drop down the page like the honey into the tea.  This dissolution breaks the narrative quality of the first half, becoming more surreal as it zeros in on the nexus of desire, the room’s silence, and the intensity of the moment in which all of these separate senses come together to the final climax of “I’m staring at the honey bear’s face.”  

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Compulsive Reader Newsletter for November is out

The Compulsive Reader newsletter for November has now gone out to all subscribers.  This latest issue contains two new book giveaways, ten fresh reviews, and a lot of literary news.  If you haven’t received your copy, you can grab a copy from the archive here: Compulsive Reader Archive.  If you aren’t a subscriber and would like to be (it’s a very nice worldwide community of book lovers!), just drop by Compulsive Reader: and sign up.  It’s free - just one email a month and plenty of free books.  Enjoy!

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Poetry Monday: Joseph Massey and “Polar Low"

As I’m sure anyone who reads this blog knows, I’m in the midst of a 10 week (annual!) poetry course being held at the UPenn on Modern and Contemporary American Poetry.  One of the many things I like about the course is how different it is each year.  This year is particularly fresh, with a lot of material I haven’t come across before, including, to my delight, the work of Joseph Massey, whose book Illocality is on its way to me now from the US.  The poem that really got to me was "Polar Low”, and rather than try to summarise it, I’ve put the text of my essay on this poem below, not only because it covers what I want to say about the sparse complexity of this poem, but also because it provides an example of a close reading of a poem - the sort of thing I tend to do when reviewing a book (and why I’m continually drawn to reviewing, and the way it forces me to take time).

I've found a full text version of of this lovely poem here:  More on Joe Massey can be found at his website.

The nothing that is: approaching nirvana in Joseph Massey’s "Polar Low”

There’s a precision in Joseph Massey’s “Polar Low,” that owes much to the Imagist tradition.  For one thing, Massey’s “direct treatment” of the trailer is described with stark clarity. The poem could be a painting, with its single image of a “yellow double-wide trailer”.  There is “nothing else”, aside from setting: the winter sun, the snow, and the sparse vegetation. The singularity of this observation and the absence of an ‘observing self’ is pure Imagism. The contrast of the colours between the yellow trailer and the white snow becomes luxurious in such a desolate scene, calling to mind William Carlos Williams’ “The Red Wheelbarrow”.  However, there is much in this work that takes it outside of the Imagist tradition.

The colours themselves are more than what they seem. The yellow of the trailer mirrors the yellow of the winter sun, which has been anthropomorphised into amnesia, while the morning becomes inarticulate.  Suddenly the reader becomes conscious of a human presence, whose suffering (coldness/poverty), and inarticulate amnesia is suffused into the scene by reversal of the pathetic fallacy, as if the human were transforming into the sun and morning rather than the other way around.  The white of the ice sheathing the trailer mirrors, both literally in terms of the light being reflected, and metaphorically in terms of matching, the white of the snow and the implied white of emptiness (the dimming scene as the piece progresses), and perhaps the white of an unwritten page. These “variations” also contrast with the green/brown of the winter thicket, a dying remnant of spring.

Rhythm is created by repetition of sound and structure, with short couplets that don’t necessarily couple up.  The first stanza has two hyphenated constructions, which are semantically opposite—half-sheathed versus double-wide—as well as being metrically and syllabically reversed.  The word “mirrors” also becomes a connector linking the trailer with the much more abstract morning – disparate images equated.  Massey uses punctuation between stanzas to slow the reading down and force a pause for reflection at each full stop.  We stop after morning as almost a shudder in our movement across the scene, and then again after sun, so that the two phrases, “The inarticulate morning” and “The amnesiac sun” are paralleled rhythmically and semantically, creating a breathlike quality to the reading.

The next sentence begins with the conjunction “And”, the point at which the poem begins to move, the trailer receding. The repetition of sound becomes stronger here, taking on a more regular rhythm that doesn’t pause until we reach (the) “perimeter”, creating a meditative effect.  This is further heightened by the soft rhymes of thin, dim, perim-eter.  Alliteration throughout the poem also adds to the deepening of breath, with the m sound in “mirrors", “morning", “amnesiac"; the s sound in “else", “contrast", “these"; the k sound in “thicket" and “choked"; the o sound in “other" and “over"; and the n sound in “noun” and “frozen".  These sonic connections give the poem a deep unity that not only creates motion in the stillness of the scene, but also draws the reader into the inarticulateness - a meaning beyond semantics, as if all we could see is white and all we can hear is our own heartbeat. At this point, the entire poem transforms the present moment itself, rather than the trailer, into its subject, and the dissolving of those names (or “nouns”) into a kind of mindful emptiness or the realisation of non-self, and both the reader and writer’s union with the scene, as the denouement.  

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Charity:water Project Completed (final update)

It has been two years since my Charity:Water 50th Birthday campaign and I’m very happy to report that the project is now completed.  Together, we raised $1,670 to help drill a well so a community of 360 people in a village in The Republic of Mali, West Africa, could have access to clean water (something I have plenty of and tend to take for granted).  Every penny of what we raised went to this project (no admin fees!), the total cost of which was just under $14,000 (lots of other generous donors got involved some matching what people raised).  I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday present, and the value of this gift continues to provide value throughout the community, especially the women and children who used to have to walk up to two hours to collect water, which often wasn’t safe and made people sick.  It’s very gratifying to see a project through to its completion and to see how many people came together to make this project a success.  If you’d like to see more specifically how you helped, who else got involved, and where the project is located on a map, you can visit the project page here:  Tomikoro F2 Community Water Project.  Thanks so much to all of you and if you decide to do some similar kind of fundraising project, do please feel free to hit me up.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Poetry Monday (Sunday): Michele Seminara’s Engraft

I have no idea who decides on days-of-the-week things like Throwback Thurs
or Poetry Sunday.  I had just assumed it was some kind of alliterative thing, though there’s no real alliteration in Poetry Sunday.  Operating across geographical boundaries does means you can kind of double up - celebrate your birth twice without growing older, have a Poetry Sunday on Monday, and basically break any semantical rule you want on the grounds that they do it differently somewhere else.  If any day of the week is in need of a poetry injection, it’s Monday which is often sadly devoid of poetry.  So herewith is Poetry Sunday which I’ll continue to do on my Monday but which is most definitely Sunday somewhere else in the world (North America for example).

I've been immersed in Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons for ModPo, and have been loving it as always, but reading Stein is never relaxing for me.  I always have to work with it.  It’s tiring.  Michele Seminara’s Engraft is beautifully written poetry, smart, elegant and in many ways post-modern, conceptualist and rich, but it’s not hard work.  The poems are immediately familiar to me in terms of their landscapes, and the domestic sensibility of their concerns: love, loss, aging, death, illness, motherhood, and literary intertextuality all presented lightly, and sometimes with humour, even at its darkest.  I have only read through the book once, and usually read through several times before writing a full review, but by way of a taster, here’s a snippet of one of the poems that hit me immediately:
How is it that we came to be locked
in these bodies, lives ossifying
not rights of fat, rigidity and suffering?That man was once a boy
light as a dandelion, the body
barely given thought. 
Now it’s a trap, and death the escape.
The doctor says my oestrogen is low.
She prescribes hormone to alter
the cruelty of my vision. (“Zhuang Zhou Dreams in Pink”)
Full review will follow at Compulsive Reader soon, but if you can’t wait, the book can be purchased in both hard copy and ebook form at Michele Seminara’s blog here:
or from the publisher here: or at Michele Seminara’s blog:

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Compulsive Reader newsletter for Oct is out

Compulsive Reader Newsletter has gone out and is making its way to your inboxes at this very moment.  As September was a busy month for literary awards, this newsletter has rather a lot of global literary news including the First Novel prize, the Toronto Book Awards, Academy of American Poets, Wallace Stevens award, The Man Booker Prize for Fiction and a whole lot more.

There are also ten new reviews being featured including, Thug Kitchen, Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things, How to Be a Writer by John Birmingham, Undying by Michel Faber, interviews with Madison Windsong and Shannon Baker, and many others.  There is also a giveaway for a copy of Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris.  If you can’t wait for the newsletter to arrive, or if it ended up in spam, you can grab a copy here: Compulsive Reader Archive

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Friday, September 9, 2016

Serialised e-fiction: The Jewel Sea

Though nothing will ever replace the joy of a book-in-hand for me, there are situations when only an electronic device will do.  I almost always have my phone on me, so ‘sneak-reading’ (that’s another blog post) is a bit easier when a big open book isn’t visible.  Recognising the ubiquity of the smart-phone, the clever folks at The Pigeonhole have come up with a pretty innovative way to deliver their books. They send it to you in segments which they call Staves (a nod to Dickens’ A Christmas Carol I think).  The staves are delivered directly to your phone in their free app, and you can read them anytime after they arrive, or read along with their online bookclub, discussing the book with others, and making use of bonus content which they’ve incorporated - things like interviews, maps, pictures, little tidbits of information directly embedded into the text.  The conversations are also embedded into the text - all very discretely - you can ignore it or read as you go or read later.  

Not that I don’t already have a massive TBR stack - some on the go already - but the site was so slick and nicely designed, that I was tempted to check it out by joining in the reading of Kim Kelly’s The Jewel Sea which  started yesterday. So far I read the first stave and am enjoying it quite a lot.  The story is set in 1912, mostly on a fictionalised SS Koombana, a real boat that disappeared on a journey from Port Hedland to Broome. So far the narrative has drawn me in, and I’m looking forward to reading the second stave, which arrived in the past hour, tonight in bed (with the lights off - sometimes backlighting makes a lot of sense - sorry Kindle and paperbacks - I still love you - more the paperbacks than the Kindle).  One thing I noticed which was particularly cool about this reading, is that the author is joining in the conversation, and I’m pretty confident she will respond to questions if they arise.   Another nice thing is that the release a number of slots free for each book.  If you get in quickly, you can join in the readings that interest you free (there are lots of free classics too), and even if you don’t, the cost is pretty reasonable.  The Jewel Sea had 200 free slots, and there are still 3 free ones left.  If you’re quick, you can still join in at no cost and check it out here:

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Compulsive Reader Sept Newsletter is out

The latest issue of Compulsive Reader News has now gone out.  The newsletter contains 10 new reviews, a copy of Paul Mitchell’s just released We. Are. Family up for grabs, as well as a pretty thorough round-up of literary news including the Miles Franklin, the Ngaio Marsh, the James Tait Black, and the Arthur C Clark. If you’re a subscriber, a copy should be hitting your email inbox soon if it hasn’t already.  If you don’t want to wait for the monthly newsletter you can read the reviews and interviews the moment they come in on our Facebook Page (thinking I might do a few Facebook giveaways soon too, so go forth and like if you want to win some books).  If you’re not a subscriber, you can sign up free at the website:  If you can’t wait for email or you want to check the newsletter out first, you can grab yourself a copy here (but giveaways are subs only): Compulsive Reader Archive.  Happy reading!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Poetry Monday: Michel Faber’s Undying

I was working on a novel that seemed to be progressing well - right through my mother’s illness - writing chapters on the airplane, in the hospital after her kidney was removed, or at her house late at night through a jet lag haze in between taking her to the bathroom. But once my mother died, I couldn’t write prose anymore.  It seemed wrong: inappropriately linear; too beholden to cause and effect.  Only poetry worked for me, and poetry was a lifeline - a way to inhabit the entirely new space of grief and explore the complexity of the pain I was feeling. So I understand Faber’s move away from fiction and into poetry in the wake of his wife Eva’s death.  His new book, Undying, is almost like a memoir, centred around the last few weeks of Eva’s life, through the worst of her treatment and a remission, and that terrible space of mourning in the weeks and months after Eva died.  The poetry sometimes undermines itself with little rhymes, but mostly it’s a powerful expression of Faber’s anger, grief and sense of loss as he begins to make sense of life without his wife.  I sat blubbering through the book, crying right through to the end, which is transcendent:

And it is not for me
to show you that death is not the end.
But you left lucencies of grace
secreted in the world,
still glowing.  ("Lucencies (2)")

One of the poems that hit me hardest was “Don’t Hesitate to Ask” which you can hear Faber read on ABC Adelaide:

By way of a taster, here is a tiny bit of it, though I urge you to listen to the whole thing: 

since you offer, 
Would you mind driving me
headlong through the universe
at ten million miles an hour,
scattering stars like trashcans
scorching the sky?

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Poetry Monday: Round the campfire with Les Murray

Les Murray is arguably one of Australia’s best known poets.  His work sits very tidily in the gap between eco-poetics and bush-poetry, is wholly accessible, and often luminous with insight.  If ever there was a poet whose work should be recited over a campfire, it’s Les Murray’s.  Murray will be reading some of his poems to a relatively intimate gathering at the St Alban’s Writers’ Festival on Saturday the 17th of Sept around 9pm. The event is free, and I would think, the only one of its kind anywhere.  You can be part of the gathering, and many more literary events in this most intimate of literary festivals by dropping by:

In the meantime, here’s a sample from “Vertigo”, a poem from Murray’s latest collection Waiting for the Past.  For the full poem, just click on the title or visit:

"Later comes the sunny day when
street detail whitens blindly to mauve

and people hurry you, or wait, quiet."

Compulsive Reader News for August is out

I nearly forgot to mention that the new issue of Compulsive news has gone out.  The latest issue has reviews of new books by Wallace King, Joel Deane, Cynthia A Graham, Roland Albrecht, Robin Gregory, and Mary Kay Andrews, as well as interviews with  Tiffany McDaniel, Dane Cobain, and my podcast show with Joel Deane.  We also have several giveaways, music reviews, chess, and a literary round-up, as usual, of the big lit news.  If you haven’t received your copy, you can grab one here in the Compulsive Reader Archive.   If you would like to subscribe just drop by Compulsive Reader and sign up.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Poetry Monday: Verity La’s new poetry podcast (and Phillip Gijindarriji Hall)

Ooh I love me a good podcast. Verity La has just started up a new poetry podcast,
adding a bit of audio depth to their already wonderful free creative arts magazine. The inaugural podcast features Alice Allan interviewing Phillip Gijindarriji Hall, who talks about his time with Diwurruwurru (The Borroloola Poetry Club), and reads from his poem “Concourse for the Borroloola mob”:

"true god, we really are an arterial kaleidoscope
                                  of silt-laden language." 
Hall also reads one of his favourite poems, Dorothy Hewett’s “Inheritance
“I have travelled a long way from my origins...”  

If you’re not familiar with Verity La, you should be. Managing Editor Michele Seminara does a wonderful job, is warm and inclusive, and the journal publishes a new (free) creative piece each week, including lots of poetry, and is always stimulating, fresh, and exciting.

To listen to or download the 30 min podcast, drop by here:

Monday, July 11, 2016

Poetry Monday: Joel Deane’s Year of the Wasp

I’ve just finished my first (and definitely not my last) reading of Joel Deane’s Year of the Wasp.  I’ll be writing a much longer review shortly, but can’t wait to talk about it.  The book is relatively short at 55 pages, but is dense, rich, intense.  The poems focus around the central theme of aphasia: Joel’s 2012 stroke and his struggle not only to renegotiate his language but to reevaluate the world and what it means to make sense in the aftermath.  The result is stunning, moving imperceptibly between the personal and the political, and creating new meaning in the gaps between language and sensation:
                 Night rain sweeps
from the west,
wearing a slip
                of silken smoke
                                   to mask memories.
For more, you can read three excerpts from Year of the Wasp at Verity La:  Joel and I will be chatting on air early next month at Compulsive Reader Talks.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

New Compulsive Reader Newsletter for July is out

Happy July.  The latest issue of Compulsive Reader News has now gone out.  This issue contains 10 fresh reviews including Hazel Smith’s Word Migrants, Researching Creating Writing by Jan Webb, Local Time: a memoir of cities, friendships and the writing life by Inez Baranay, Cure by Jo Marchant and lots of others.  There are also two music reviews, two interviews, and the usual welter of literary news on prizes like the Sunday Times Literary Award, the Bailey’s prize for Women’s Fiction, the Forward Prize for Poetry, as well as new giveaways.  If you didn’t receive your copy, you can pick one up in the archive.  If you aren’t a subscriber, you can do so here (for free, of course):
photo credit: Books - livres via photopin (license)

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.
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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.

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:  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  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 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: (or request a printed one).

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Compulsive Reader Newsletter out for March

The latest Compulsive Reader newsletter is now out and should be fully distributed.  This issue contains 10 fresh reviews including Kathleen Spivack’s Unspeakable Things, Michael Sala’s The Last Thread, John Bissello’s Raking the Dust, Candyland by Vicki Salloum, and a whole lot more including a fairly thorough roundup of February’s literary news and another great book giveaway.  If you didn’t receive your copy, just drop by the archive here: Compulsive Reader News and grab a copy.  If you’re not a subscriber, please go and sign up - it’s free (of course) and I won’t fill your in-box - it’s just one newsletter a month which will keep you abreast of the key literary award news around the globe as well as some excellent books to check out and we always have giveaways for our subscribers (I love giving away books).  To sign up, visit: and sign up on the upper right hand side.  Easy.

photo credit: Books via photopin (license)

Monday, February 29, 2016

Poetry Monday: Jane Hirshfield’s February 29th

How could I pass up the opportunity to pass on Jane Hirshfield’s “February 29th” which is’s (aka The Academy of American Poets) Poem-of-the-Day.  The poem comes from her newest book The Beauty and the full text can be found right here:, and while  you’re there, you can sign up for their fantastic service, which provides, entirely free-of-charge, a poem into your in-box each day.  I like to end my day with them.  Just one poem to go to bed with.  One poem to cogitate upon.  I don’t like every poem that comes, but I like a lot of them, and I love some of them.  There’s always time to read one poem more.  Here’s a single stanza by way of a taste (but you should really read the whole thing - there’s time for it today).  Happy leap year.

An extra day—
Not unlike the space
between a door and its frame
when one room is lit and another is not,
and one changes into the other
as a woman exchanges a scarf.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Poetry Monday: Justin Lowe’s Nightswim

have to admit that an electronic copy of Nightswim has been sitting on my laptop for many months now, patiently awaiting my much distracted attention.  Author Justin Lowe runs the phenomenal poetry site Bluepepper and has become something of a cornerstone in Australian poetry as both poet and publisher. The poems in his 6th collection, Nightswim, cover a lot of ground - from notions of home, aging, death, ghosts (a recurring theme), travel, the nature and power of poetry, poems of place, of the environment, loss, an ode to other poets, and above all, love.  Many of the poems in this collection are about love, and not just eros, but also Philia or friendship, Ludus or playful love, and Agape or selfless love.  Full review to follow now that I’ve charged up the Kindle, but in the meantime, here’s a little taste - just a few stanzas from “Vallejo”:

I have spoken to the ghosts:
they are clear on my predicament

coming in out of the sun
into the cool, dark void,

I glimpse them briefly
hunched around my table,

dabbing at crumbs
that will not rise to their lips.

If you want more, autographed copies of the book (which could be a perfect valentines day gift if you’re struggling) are available directly from:

Monday, February 1, 2016

Compulsive Reading for Feb

The Feb edition of The Compulsive Reader newsletter has now been delivered all subscribers.  It contains two brand-new book giveaways (for subscribers only), ten new reviews, including great books by Jarrett Kobek, Rebecca Starford, Guido Mina di Sospiro, Charlene Jones, Holly Seddon, a superb new poetry collection by Anna Kerdijk Nicholson, Hank Philipi Ryan, Peter James, Rebecca Scherm, and Jim Proser.  We also have a roundup of the global literary news that happened through January (I comb the trade journals and read all those press releases that come my way so you don’t have to). If you’ve missed your copy or want a preview, please feel free to grab a copy from our archive. If you’re not a subscriber, why not visit The Compulsive Reader and sign up.  It’s free, you can unsub anytime, and we just send out one newsletter a month - nothing else.  Happy reading!

photo credit: Two Shelves via photopin (license)

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Poetry Monday: PoemTalk does Allen R Grossman’s My Radiant Eye

I’ve said this before and will no doubt say it again, but Jacket2’s PoemTalk is my favourite podcast.  I  try to listen to every show, not just to discover a new poet, but to listen to the way in which poetry - even poetry that seems cryptic and confusing at first, can be explored, unpicked, and opened out towards its full beauty.  In this issue the team, consisting of Kathryn Hellerstein, Peter Cole, Ariel Resnikoff, and of course, Al Filreis, who drives the discussion, looks at Allen R Grossman’s poem “My Radiant Eye”.  The discussion is informative, including ancillary but relevant information (the “inter text”) to both the poem itself, and to Grossman and the book that contains it, Descartes’ Loneliness, as well as an analysis of many aspects of the poem - its resonances, its “way of seeing”, the meta-poetic elements of the piece, the  and the revelations.  I think it was Cole who said:  [This is] “a poem of retrospection...a eulogy for the lone poet.  The theatre of the absurd within the drama of the poem  is what redeems the impossible situation the he finds himself in.”

You can listen to the episode of PoemTalk here:

The full text of My Radiant Eye can be found at Google Books.  Here’s a taste:

Or is it on account of my radiant eye
I have lived so long--I never slept

in the study hall, or called anyone
by an improper name. I never urinated in

a desolate synagogue.  I never ate or drink
in a desolate synagogue or picked my teeth.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Poetry Monday: Imperfect Echoes by Carolyn Howard-Johnson

For Poetry Monday this week I’m going to give a shout-out to my writing buddy Carolyn Howard-Johnson, who has a relatively new poetry book out called Imperfect Echoes: Writing Truth and Justice with Capital Letters, lie and oppression with Small. The book includes a few reprints from our Celebration Series collaborations, and is beautifully illustrated with images by Richard Conway Jackson, who is currently in prison in California.  All proceeds from the book are being donated to Amnesty International.  The book was inspired by Czeslaw Milosz' The Captive Mind and includes a range of poems focused around the utterly relevant topics of Peace, Tolerance, Hope, Truth, Justice, and Acceptance (note the capital letters).  Carolyn’s poems, as always, manage the delicate balance between easy accessibility, and deep complexity as they explore big concepts through everyday events.  Here’s a sample from the last poem in the book "Interpreting Fairy Tales"

From That to This,
the connection.
How what I didn’t know
and how the knowing 
changes things. Riotous 
orchids, baa baa black sheep,
ugly ducklings. Here, a single
troll waits under a bridge.

His name is Time.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Poetry Monday: Eileen Myles' School of Fish

I’ve been participating in an Eileen Myles poetry discussion group (kind of an offshoot from the marvellous ModPo course which I, um, might have mentioned a few times) in which we read and discuss one poem every few days (sometimes every day).  I’ve enjoyed every poem we’ve discussed, and if you haven’t heard of Eileen Myles, who has suddenly become something of a poetic superstar, I have to recommend her to you.  So far my favourite is the title poem from Myles’ School of Fish (Black Sparrow Books, 1997), a poem which was recently featured in the series Transparent, in which Cherry Jones plays a character loosely based on Myles. There’s something so liquid and rich about this poem - the way it explores homelessness in such a personal and even subtle way, while also going deep into notions of the self and belonging (without leaving out her dog).  Here’s the last part of it:

the deeper and deeper we go and the harder
it is to turn the key and eventually we
go and it is very very dark
we just get used to the light
but the blues and the greys and the feelings
of lostness, it's like home, it's like family.

The entire poem can be found here:
or you can listen to Myles’ own rather intimate reading here:

(and yes I know it’s Tuesday, but it might still be Monday where you are...or when you get here)