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Poems of a Feather

A bird’s eye review of Australian Poetry Journal 4.1

Mitchell Welch

 photo

The recent launch of Issue 4.1 of the Australian Poetry Journal took the form of a webcast panel discussion featuring APJ’s new editor Michael Sharkey in conversation with four prominent poetry editors (ABR’s Lisa Gorton, Seizure’s Fiona Wright, Mascara’s Michelle Cahill and Cordite’s Kent McCarter). During the discussion, McCarter admitted a certain degree of editorial ornithophobia, citing an over-representation of ‘bird poems’ in each issue’s expansive slush pile. Bird poems are so prolific that they scarcely need defending, but I think it’s helpful to remember that all poems are somewhat auspicious in nature (in the Greco-Roman sense). They are, or can be, prophecies of momentous clarity bounded by gestures through timespace, and after all, there are few gestures more earthly or universally captivating than the arc of a bird in flight.

Sky gazing is a thoroughly (though not exclusively) human behaviour, and there are birds of flight on every continent. Of course, language can never contain the universal, but perhaps the experience of staring into space, deep in a thought suddenly underscored towards its epiphany by the unexpected swoop of birdlife is about as close as we can get. It’s hardly surprising that ancient sky-gazers assigned meanings to patterns of birdflight, which are as cursive as any written language. The practice of reading these meanings is older than Rome itself. Perhaps this is why Michael Sharkey, a scholar no doubt well versed in the classics, has scattered birds all through the new issue.

Anne M. Carson’s Yula: the return captures the annual repatriation of migratory shearwaters to Phillip Island, a routine auspice that is nonetheless filled with ‘so many birds their wingbeats / are palpable in the dark’. Elsewhere in the issue, birds appear in brief cameo roles: Andrew McDonald’s birds address us in exultation, while Rose Hunter conjures pelicans, and Duncan Richardson pairs ‘stirring gulls / and rusting chains’. Jenny Blackford’s penguins don’t stir or sweep or soar, but ‘beat strong wings / under the ice’. Even Philip Salom’s fond biography of the ‘major minor poet’, William Hart-Smith, can’t ignore his poetry of birds, his cormorants and herons – even a Boomerang is ‘wood into bird and bird to wood again. / A brown-winged bird from the hand of a brown man’.

Perhaps Charlotte Clutterbuck’s Post-modern, in its fittingly self-conscious way, best captures the relationship between augury and art: ‘Brancusi’s wingless birds / suspended above the water / so that art exists fully / only for the one moment / in which you kneel on the rim / of the pond’.

Later in the discussion, when conversation turned to the idea of themed issues, Michael Sharkey flagged his intention to abandon them, a departure from his predecessor Bronwyn Lea’s approach. Indeed, birds are more motif than thematic anchor in this issue; APJ 4.1 presents the work of more than fifty Australian poets, and only a few are augurs. Though some are prepossessed by birdlife, it’s perhaps worth noting that even when the skies aren’t filled with feathered wings, there are still the auspices of so many moths, bats and biplanes left to read. But after those, there are poems that look earthward instead of skyward, and those that gaze to the horizon. Some of the most arresting poems manage to fold these three dimensions into origami kites that remain for the most part anchored in reality, which I suspect is where Michael Sharkey’s editorial thread will keep future issues carefully tethered.

Ricochet Preview: Baby My Baby by Alexandra Scale

This was the winner of our book pack for favourite Australian poem. 

Baby My Baby

Bunched up, blighted,
Clutched tight against
My breastbone.

This, our coveted life-light,
With finger clams,
Apple cheeks and
Glossy moon-eyes.

This, our tiny creation,
Apportioned to you—
Unwitting father.

This, our little
Love spawn.

*

Alexandra Scale is a keen word enthusiast studying a Master of Arts (Writing and Literature) at Deakin University. She is currently on exchange at the University of Iceland; you can catch up on all her wanderings and ramblings at 150daysiniceland.wordpress.com.

What Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel Can Teach Us About Poetry

grand-budapest-hotel-book

Let me start by saying that this is not a movie review, and I’m not a movie reviewer. I also have to declare my bias here as a dedicated fan of Wes Anderson’s whole oeuvre.

But for what it’s worth, Grand Budapest Hotel is a particularly great film. And while I’m being upfront, be aware that while this post doesn’t contain plot spoilers per se, fans of Wes Anderson will know that sometimes the plots of his films take a back seat to their cinematic execution – the how is often as important, or more important than the what. It’s how Anderson uses poetry in this film that tells us something about how poetry functions, and so some of you might feel spoilered if you read on. Incidentally, all of the poems in the film – which are admittedly parodic, though often quite arresting – were scripted by Anderson himself.

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