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Saturday, 5 December 2015

IPOZ: Writing in Elsewhere, Graham Reid is impressed wit...

IPOZ: Writing in Elsewhere, Graham Reid is impressed wit...: Writing in Elsewhere , Graham Reid is impressed with Jeremy Roberts' Cards on the Table, despite the fact that Jeremy lacks the profile...
Writing in Elsewhere, Graham Reid is impressed with Jeremy Roberts' Cards on the Table, despite the fact that Jeremy lacks the profile of Big Name New Zealand poets...

Pity the poets.

While musicians bemoan the fall-off in sales, for decades poets have had to accept that selling 200 copies of a collection is actually a pretty good result. Most have to do with considerably less than half of that, unless they have a very big extended family.

And in the poetic landscape there are the Big Names whose work can be acclaimed but largely unread (the late Kendrick Smithyman comes to mind) or are admired but often the reader can be made to feel unworthy for not actually “getting it” (Bill Manhire).

There have always been the volume dealers (Sam Hunt, James K Baxter) whose lives, personae and approachable work means they can shift the units and every now and again get their compilation out for Christmas.

Poets have been "indie" for decades in that because major publishers don't see a dollar in poetry collections other than by Big Names or those with some cachet (Brian Turner, Hone Tuwhare), they are obliged to produce their own work. It's called vanity publishing in the book trade, and for the most part it is ignored by mainstream media (which actually ignores most poetry anyway). 

Spare a thought then for expat Jeremy Roberts who is part of this broad spectrum but doesn't even have the advantage of being around to have a profile.

Jeremy Roberts
He is currently teaching in Jakarta where this large paperback – about 70 poems at a guess – had its launch.

Roberts – an Auckland uni graduate way back whose subsequent career seems to have involved doing most things (oyster farmer to picture framer) and time spent in Australia, Canada, the USA, Britain and Europe – has been influenced by the soundtrack of his times: soul, classic rock, punk and beyond.

And it seems in Jakarta he has formed a couple of bands with local musicians.

So he has a lot to write about, from reflecting on films like Surf Nazis Must Die or Warren Zevon's fatalistic acceptance of death in the song My Ride's Here to a Zen-like detachment or quiet, pared-down observations.

He picks up stones and shells from the beach of life, looks at them careful, turning them in his gaze, then places them back . . . but never in exactly the same position.

In 'Whimsical Vegetables' where he contemplates a city of traffic and psychic energy he says, 
“the moving parts of life swirl in yellow oil/thru car windscreens/& shopping lists ricochet inside skulls of/thought/there's hope in that feeling of sun on the steering wheel . . . turning warmly through choices . . .”
'Driving With Terry' opens like this: 
“the cassette tapes I play as I drive around the city/in my1984 Toyota Corolla LE/are a dead man's tapes . . .”
He is in a Spanish railway station, an Irish bar in Takapuna, on a balcony in Indonesia (“sipping vodka with Trotsky in old Batavia”) and on the road to somewhere else.

Musical references pepper these poems: Jimmy Page's soundtrack to Death Wish II, Neil Young, 

Hank Williams, the second side of Abbey Road, Marvin Gaye and Ian Curtis and the Pet Shop Boys all appear in Cafe List . . .

Pop culture as much as philosophy is here, sometimes in deliberately jarring collision or simply coexisting in harmony.

'Rainy Season Poem' pulls all those threads and ideas together in monsoon season where the Adagio in G Minor plays in a Starbucks while outside are frogs, rats and monkeys . . .
it was an old year falling.& I kissed the residue& waited.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Gemma White's poetry collection Furniture is Disappearing was released in 2014, but here's a thoughtful review by Roxanne Bodsworth that will hopeful renew interest in it:

When living with the threat that the tactile experience of reading may be subsumed by the digital era, this book recalls the sensual experience. It feels good to hold, like handling suede or ancient vellum, and the image of the wine-dark tulip against the window looking onto an overgrown garden invites the reader in. 

The poems are equally as sensual; looking through the window into the poet’s experience of sex, adventure, longing, relationships that begin, end, and where the “furniture is disappearing” as lives are packed up and removed. White, in sharing her experience with such beautiful poetry, engages the reader in the experience of her life.

The first poem in any collection, like the opening paragraph in a novel, is the most important for capturing the interest and enticing you to read on. ‘Guru’ does this:

Peopleon the streetseem to likeasking me questions.

Like the people on the street, we’re prepared to follow White’s directions into the rest of the book, and her engaging personality comes through each one. That personality is nice, likeable, open and trusting, with a child-like sense of play, playing with language and images. Which all can make you very angry, upset for her, when she comes up against the inevitable bastards like in ‘Crimson Encounter’. Sex that isn’t what it should be, instead is meaningless and messy, and non-consensual, leaving her debased, devalued. Paradoxically, White’s strongest poems are the ones that leave behind that child-like state and engage with the darker aspects of life. 

Gemma White
And there is nothing child-like about her skill with language and imagery. These poems are the result of careful and disciplined honing of her craft, evident in ‘Love Poem for London’, arranged in rhyming couplets but with the rhyme in the assonance, giving it a soft, rounded sound that matches the emotion and the aesthetic of the memory. And the excellent pantoum of ‘Ardent Lovemaking’ where she also plays with a juxtaposition of the phrases that works to avoid the monotony of repetition while strengthening the connection between the quatrains. The erratic rather than regular rhythm adds to the topical chaos. 

Some attempts haven’t worked quite so well. ‘Father’s Breath’ is another pantoum but it feels contrived and awkward. And ‘Sonnet for my Lover’ is cloying in its romanticism, though breaking away from the metrical requirements does effectively move it into contemporary modernism. Others such as ‘Friendship’ are just snapshots of her life, encounters, relationships, friendships. There’s a lot of sex, drinking, and drifting, and it does start to feel a bit voyeuristic in the reading. 

I don’t know what this friendshipIs based on, maybe justThe drinking of SmirnoffInto the early hoursAnd the promiseOf your skin.

But there are few enough collections where the poet hits the mark with every offering and here there are enough very good poems to make it worthwhile reading. 

One of my favourites is ‘Where I grew up’ that begins:

The trees had their wings clipped,lumbering amputees with leaves.

Her poem, ‘Mum’ about a mother’s degeneration into senility is aesthetically simple, pared back, but fear-filled and poignant:

Your thoughts likescrambled egg:
I wonder where.I wonder where the pieceswent?

The closing of a collection, for it be a satisfying experience holistically, is as important as the opening and White achieves this with ‘Furniture is disappearing’. With the furniture goes her optimism and this collection has been a rite of passage into adulthood. Despite the disappointment expressed in the last poem, readers can confidently, and optimistically, expect more poetry from White in the future that will reflect an increasing depth, maturity, and mastery of the craft. 

– Roxanne Bodsworth, Goodreads

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

We're delighted to share this review by Susan Constable of Deep in the Valley of Tea Bowls by Kathy Kituai and Fergus Stewart, which appears in the latest issue of Expositions.

In this collaboration, the Australian poet, Kathy Kituai, travels to Scotland to spend three months interacting with the potter, Fergus Stewart, who produces beautiful art through the use of his hands and creative eye. While appreciating the time and patience he exhibits with his craft, Kituai displays her own artistic talent by using images and words to express what she sees and feels.

they limber up …
he with clay centred
on the wheel
she with pen on paper
steadying each word 

In the introduction, Kituai notes that “although poets use less physical energy they can be weary at the end of a day’s writing. Fergus and I came to the conclusion that the main difference between pottery and poetry, was only an extra ‘t’ in pottery.”

Perhaps that’s true, for it seems there are many similarities between these two artists, including knowledge and skill for their chosen art form, as well as prolonged concentration, patience, and a willingness to experiment and takes risks with their pots or poems. Just as potters take handfuls of wet clay and mould it into vases, bowls, cups, and pots for us to use in our daily lives, poets use words and images to mould their thoughts and ideas, enriching the world in which we live. Stewart shows us his work through colourful photos, Kituai reaches us through the printed word, and there’s a lovely balance between the two throughout this collection.

for all their talk
on poetry and pots
the wheel spins …

look at what might be said
simply without words 

no handle
or spout for this vessel
just five lines
pouring from the nib
to sip or savour 

Kathy Kituai

For the reader, Deep in the Valley of Tea Bowls is like arriving at an intersection where a visual art meets a verbal one. Such a lovely place to stop, sit for a while, and simply enjoy what’s going on when cups, bowls, and pots seem to live lives of their own.

they linger
in the corner of the kiln
tea bowls
glazed in deeper hues, 
smoke the colour of sorrow 

hands on hips
facing each other
on a wooden shelf 

There’s a musicality to these poems and a smooth flow of words that seems to match the rhythm of the potter’s wheel. Many of the tanka sound effortless, which is surely not the case, but rather the result of a great deal of practise and considerable talent on the part of the poet. It takes time and attention to get the wording, the line breaks, and the use of sounds ‘just right.’ Consider the following tanka with its alliteration of 3 hard C’s and 4 W’s, the consonance of P’s in line 1 and the assonance of long A’s in line 5. And then there’s the sound of the

wind itself. 
teapot and cup
her only companions
close by
the wind wailing 
with loose window frames 

Also in the introduction are these words from the poet:

“… the daily task of working with clay, be it plugging, glazing or trimming pots are much the same as writing zero drafts in a journal and moulding them, first to last draft, into poetry ready for publication.”
Her tanka go well beyond description. They leave the reader with dreaming room – a space to evoke our emotions and an invitation to ‘finish the poem’ which she’s begun.

to which 
would Buddha bow …
this bowl
fitting the palm of her hand
or those the potter discarded?

every night 
she raises to her mouth
his tea bowl
whose idea was it
to glaze it with the moon? 

Deep in the Valley of Tea Bowls is a welcome addition to my tanka library. Nicely laid out with usually only one or two tanka per page, the book is broken into numerous sections, including ‘pots and poetry’, ‘a mantra of pots’, ‘no other spice’, and ‘set with a linen cloth’. The many pictures, by various photographers, add a wonderful splash of colour, while providing a good look at the potter’s workplace and finished products. The tanka, including the title poem, stand well on their own and speak for themselves.

Fergus Stewart

Oh! to rest 
deep in the valley
of tea bowls
the clay … the kiln
and craftsmanship 

Kituai says, “I embarked on this journey wondering if I could take a handful of words, five lines, no more than that, and like potters, set out to create vessels in which to offer up food for thought.” Considering the consistency in the quality of her writing, the poignancy of many of her tanka, and her ability to convert imagery into words, her success is readily apparent.

– Susan Constable, Expositions

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

How did an Auckland poet living in Indonesia come to publish with IP?

Jeremy Robert's book Cards on the Table is about to be toured in New Zealand, along with David Reiter's latest Timelord Dreaming: tweetems from ward 8b.

We asked Jeremy to blog for us about his adventures as a poet in a strange land – or should we say, a strange poet in a stranger land, and here's what he's posted for us, and you.

BAJAJ BOY STORIES: Star Deli Gig, 2013

Even after a few months in Indonesia, we were still very much strangers in a strange land - experiencing things unknown in our former lives. It felt like we’d been given the key to a mystical city - the colourful Jakarta landscape alive with the sound-track of a million motorbikes & Bajaj, blaring minaret towers & calls of “Hey, mister!” Our eyes were full: female smiles filled with mystery; exotic-looking food we weren’t brave enough to try; the sight of a ‘rubbish-picker’ hauling his wooden cart - loaded with several hundred kilos of trash, barefoot, in driving rain with lightning overhead, straining uphill into oncoming rush-hour traffic; foreigners drunk on free beer; snakes slowly waking up at dusk. Of course, we were itching to keep playing live.

The need to scrounge for gig venues led us to the Star Deli, which is a gritty music bar in Kemang, South Jakarta - frequented largely by a mix of seasoned ex-patriot oil industry workers, with a sprinkling of Jakarta ‘greenhorns’ & staffed by young Javanese beauties decked out in cute little matching outfits. It is locally famous for being the bar where patrons have literally died while sitting at the bar. It serves as your typical seedy watering hole, where a good dose of bullshitting, cheating & gold-digging goes on, as the beer & spirits flow & the cigarettes are sucked off, one after another. There’s also a bit of violence, on occasion. The Star Deli’s stage is home to everything from tattooed punk bands to Country and Western. It was the location of the most in-your-face gig the Bajaj Boys ever did.

Jeremy Roberts - Poet's photo.

We talked our way into the gig by selling the idea to the owners that we were poetry & Rock ‘n’ Roll. Which was true. Not poetry trying to be Rock ‘n’ Roll; not Rock ‘n’ Roll trying to be poetry, but poetry AND Rock ‘n’ Roll. I thought our sound was maybe a little different to what I’d done before. It was a step away from ‘soundscapes’ & jazz influence & the free-form improvisation thing, where the musician stood there waiting for the moment to be cut free so they could largely play whatever they felt like. The two of us were tied together. You didn’t need a full band. ‘Manchester City’ man Derek was a good enough guitar player to create a memorable riff or borrow a suitable one from somewhere & it would set up a productive tension under the words. It worked. Our creative process was simple: I’d read a poem out loud & Derek would listen & try a few chords or notes – usually striking the right feel very quickly. The other way was for me to listen to a riff or tune Derek had come up with which we both liked & then I would rifle through the files & pick a good match for the music. The Bajaj Boys were simpatico.

It was the last gig done with Derek playing his Jakarta, Blok M-purchased rubbish guitar, too. Within a few weeks of buying it, the neck had warped in the constant humidity & the cheap strings threatened to go out of tune at any moment. After fruitlessly searching the streets, he’d been forced to part with a few hundred thousand Rupiah to buy the piece of shit, in a shop where the manager refused to turn down bad booming club music, when Derek asked if he could check out this guitar more closely. Have a play. Urgent necessity meant that he had to buy it.

So, at the Deli, we took a few grateful sips on our free-drink-of-choice (Scotch & dry for Derek; vodka, lime & soda for me!) & got into our work on stage. Just this side of ‘in-tune’, Derek’s picked-up acoustic twangs bounced off the walls & flew like dazzled mosquitos into the eardrums of unwilling listeners. Right from the start, it was clear we had only about a third of the audience in our pocket. The others really were just there to puff, drink & talk. Sometimes I yelled into the mic, blasting words into those same ignoring ear-drums: “Who surfs porn out there?”, “Who’s been to Paris?”, & “Hey, is there any cherry brandy behind the bar?” to cut thru the noise & indifference. If those fat beer-drinking expats didn’t want a mental floss, they were suddenly stuck in a room with two messengers who came to get the job done. It never really worried us if we met disinterest & we often did. The Bajaj Boys once played to an audience of one. But I felt that if I actually sat down with these nicotine junkies & alcohol sponges & gave them a copy of a poem to read, they would most probably relate to the content & say something positive. Was it bad memories of crappy, boring poetry teaching during ancient school days? One notorious local piss-head had commented to me a few days before our gig: “Poetry? Shit! - isn’t that something that people did about 500 years ago?”

During the gig, our eyes constantly scanned the dark, smoky room – past our own little posse of supporters, watching the sauntering, sideways-looking waitresses & chain-smoking regulars who would turn their startled heads every now & then, when a particular phrase caught their attention. Probably a dirty word. The whole scene seemed to unfold in slow-motion, while outside, the Java night hummed - busy as a gargantuan hornet’s nest, but filled with friendly, grinning teeth instead of threatening stings. Constant inspiration hung in that fertile, steamy air, which was always ready to be breathed in, absorbed. 

The truth is you never really know who might be listening & what people are thinking. I once chose to perform a piece about 911’s infamous pilot Mohammad Atta (in which I say “I’m glad you died”) at a PC, life-affirming Oxfam fund-raiser, where one poet actually apologised for being an American & for the existence of George Bush. There was surprise & dead silence after I finished my short piece - the last two words being ‘jet fuel’. Later, I was slightly shocked to have two female audience members approach me separately, with thanks & to say how much they loved it. No, you never know what people have in their heads.

Still, this Bajaj Boy set list was put together specifically for a Rock ‘n’ Roll bar: THE PUNK M O (anti-politician); THE TACO EXPRESS (drinking Margaritas in Texas); LENA (a young woman using men); PERMANENTLY TEMPORARY (watch out – change is coming); CICCIOLINA (how a famous Italian porn star once tried to save the world); SHE NEVER KNEW (falling in love with a woman who barely knows you); CHERRY BRANDY & THE LEAP OF FAITH (religion, alcohol & spirituality); IS ALL RAIN THE SAME? (life can be so full of PC, culture-respecting bullshit); THE FREAKS OF VENICE (homeless people who live outside the mainstream with their addictions know as much about the meaning of life as anyone); FADING WITH THE NEON FLOWERS (guys on the town, drinking & trying to pick up women); HE’S GOTTA SEE US, HE’S GOTTA STOP (live fast, die young - à la James Dean).

The Bajaj Boys did well that night.

Due to the pushing of the wrong button on the Sony Dictaphone on the darkened stage, no recording exists.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

It's not often that poetry gets reviewed in the major newspapers any more, so we were very pleased to see The Sydney Morning Herald's review of our recent anthology of speculative poetry, not to mention their characterisation of IP as 'risk taking', which reminds us of Sir Humphrey's notion of what it means to be a 'courageous' politician in Yes, Prime Minister.

Peter's review speaks for itself, and we hope it'll prompt you to buy the book to reward our risk-taking, if you haven't already done so, and also to share the news.
One of the most enterprising, unusual and rewarding anthologies of the last year is The Stars Like Sand: Australian Speculative Poetry, edited by New Zealand writer Tim Jones and Australian poet PS (Penelope) Cottier. The key word in the sub-title is defined with an appropriate generality: "the speculative is the area in which we attempt to write what we can't possibly know". 
The poets included range from the 19th century to the present, a much narrower temporal span than their poems, which travel millennia into the future and across galaxies. Bearing the latter point in mind, the editors note that theirs is a book "with a wide geography and an interesting fauna". They continue: "Here be dragons, true, but also zombies (traditional and vegetarian), werewolves, swagmen, poets small enough to fit into pockets, aliens of various sorts, angels, people made mostly of spare parts, or preserved wholly in DNA, and intergalactic tradies."
Though the book covers so much territory (and given the list above, unsurprisingly has several poems set in museums and zoos), it is tightly and wittily organised into five thematic sections, each taking its name from a notable nineteenth-century poem. The first, dealing with "space travels and related pursuits", is "We don't know where he's at" (from Banjo Paterson's "Clancy of the Overflow"); the second, "Howsoe'er anomalous", concerned with "aliens, weird creatures, surrealism and magic realism", comes from a poem as strange as any that is to be found here: Barron Field's "Kangaroo". Next – with its title from Henry Lawson – is "On the Wallaby (temporal)", whose subject is "time travel and visions of the end of the world". It is followed by "The fifth part of the earth" (Field again): "Australia in various lights".  Last is "His ghost may be heard" (Paterson – in a version of Waltzing Matilda – and the ballad is here in its entirety too), whose business is "ghosts, fairies, myths and legends".
P. S. Cottier
The collection opens with the controlled whimsy of "Tea and Stars" by the always engaging John Jenkins: "The mouse travelled to the stars/in a blue teacup". John Dolce's "Job for a Hyperdrive Mechanic" works with a wry matter-of-factness: "As I recall the ambient temperature/of the angular discharge tub/airlocked the anode rod". David Adès' travel to "The Three Moons of Tenoa" ends plangently: "how unimaginable a world/with placid seas, and no capacious moons/to sing serenades by". Travel is also the affair of S.K. Kelen's brilliant parody of a tourist brochure in "Flying Toasters". This of Kursa in Beta Eridani: "booking accommodation well in advance is wise though entirely futile". This first section also contains "The Last Planet Out" by David Reiter, who is also the publisher of the admirable risk-taking Interactive Press that we can thank for this book.
As promised, aliens roam in Part Two. Diane Fahey's "Silverfish" imagines the Thysaurans, while Benjamin Dodds' "Others" muses of a possible arrival from so-called outer space and then decides "Perhaps they'll simply pass us by/indifferent in sleek behemoths/on the way to a place less/parochial than here". Emilie Zoey Baker presents "The Vegetarian Zombie – the undead salad beast" – while there is homage to a master of the weird, H.P. Lovecraft, in Jude Aquilina's "Cthulhu Calls". Jan Napier's "Poets in Pockets" shows how "they shrill and argue/like an aggravation of lorikeets", while there are poems by Philip Salom and Lisa Jacobson about Daedalus, the space traveller who flew too close to the sun. A number of the poems in The Stars Like Sand were invited. Much to the editors' pleasure, one of those who accepted was Les Murray, whose superb poem "The Future" begins: "There is nothing about it. Much science fiction is set there/but it is not about it. Prophecy is not about it … Even the man we nailed to a tree for a lookout/said little about it".
Tim Jones
In this splendid anthology, that entertains from start to finish, we find such colonial poets as J. Brunton Stephens in "The Courtship of the Future" (AD 2876) depicts a world where – even though people coupling have been "taught to draw the whole soul though/A foot of gutta-percha tubing"– sexual misconduct has not been eradicated. Tim Sinclair's vision of the future in "Silent City" is quietly mournful: "There is no sunrise or sunset in the city,/just a uniform, sourceless glow". In "The End of the World", Lawson's contemporary Victor Daley reveals a peevish and disappointed God who brushes Man off his knees: "With all its glories ripe/The Earth passed, like a spark/Blown from a sailor's pipe/Into the hollow dark". The Stars Like Sand shows us, in the work of the more than 80 poets included, much of that illimitable dark, as well as the flights of fancy and hope that can give brief and brilliant illumination. Seek out this book – admirable, and one of a kind.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Why did Jenny McFadden pass up a book talk with Richard Flanagan?

Blogger's Note: This is Jenny's launch speech for The Copyart Murders

It’s a pleasure to be here to introduce a new novel by Geoffrey Gates – The CopyArt Murders.  Of course I did have tickets for another book event this evening –as we speak Richard Flanagan is conducting a book-talk with Jennifer Byrne at the Town Hall on his Booker Award winning novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North.  Understandably, I ditched this big-ticket gala once I was made aware of the opportunity to speak on behalf of Geoffrey Gates. 

 The Copyart Murders is a work of Crime Fiction. And I’m sure Geoff would be pleased to hear me say this, it’s a work of “intellectual” Crime Fiction. As most readers know, Crime Fiction has enjoyed a massively extended period of readership popularity. Possibly this is because we are all, by nature, nosey busybodies who like the opportunity to peek into the private, illicit doings of seemingly upstanding people. And certainly it’s also because, given the state of existential uncertainty in which we all live in the modern era, we all crave the sense of closure and certainty that the average Crime Fiction novel affords us. Even if we don’t know what the hell is going on in our own lives, it’s nice to read about an orderly, if blood-soaked world, where hidden actions can be deduced from small amounts of evidence and perpetrators can satisfactorily be brought to justice. It gives us some sense of stability and safety to think that there are still noble searchers-out of truth somewhere in the world – the Poirots, the Miss Marples, and all the rest who will stop at nothing to set an uncertain and often dangerous world to rights. And you only have to look at any random television program to know that, after concocted ‘reality’ cooking and building shows, crime rules the remote control.

However, how can the often ill-regarded, stock-standard, pulp-fiction elements of Crime Fiction find a place in the more intellectual realms of modern literary fiction? If you’re ever suffering from some serious disease which requires a long period of bed-rest you could try reading Foccault, or Derrida or Roland Barthes, in an effort to understand post-modernism before you die. And then you’ll die anyway. Yet the playfulness of postmodernism, so often alluded to in theory, does exist in practice. So, purchase a copy of Geoff’s novel before you hit the groaning shelves of post-modernist theory.

To clarify from the outset, within the novel written by Geoffrey Gates lies a novel written by his hapless and sometimes truth-challenged Australian protagonist, Blake Knox.  Geoff’s novel concerns, and I quote, “A would-be novelist found unconscious on the grave of an artist who very much resembles the victim in the novel he had come to France to attempt to write.” Thus, the novelistic endeavours attempted by the would-be author within the novel, Blake Knox, prove to be somewhat fraught since the at-the-time “fictional” death that he writes about predates by 23 days the death of the very artist who is the victim depicted in Blake’s crime fiction novel. Detective Sauveur who is investigating this murder of the artist immediately presumes it to have been committed by the would-be novelist Blake Knox himself. Sauveur, with a considerable degree of cynical self-reflexivity points out, that this is ‘a most unfortunate case of foreshadowing.’ Blake Knox himself notes ruefully that ‘stumbling upon the plot of an actual crime was an occupational hazard of writing he had never considered before.’

To boot, the death imagined and then written about before the occurrence of the matching “real” death upon which the novel-outside the-novel turns, is a very postmodern death. It is a death seemingly brought about by the very material that so plagues the royalty-dependent modern novelist of the real world – death by photocopy.

Indeed, the novel concerns itself to a considerable degree with the problem of re-presentation. In discussing one of the artworks of the murdered artist Jean Genet, the narrator, the sometimes fumbling but nevertheless intelligent Blake Knox, notes that Eyes (2003) was a landscape painting with a camera lying in the grass in the foreground, and Mount Ventoux in the background. There was an immediate tension over subject, whether it was the work being painted or the representation of that work in the camera lens where a reflection of the mountain and sky had been carefully matched. This pretty much sums up the problem at the heart of the novel. What is “art” and what is merely reproduction? And, more to the point, how can the detective work performed by the fictional detective/detectives be separated from the detective work done by the novelist/novelists in the creation of the very novel in which the detectives and novelists are represented? It’s all a puzzle – but then so is the world.

The Copyart Murders is also a demonstration that, outside the kind of single-minded pulp fiction, which brooks no deviation from formula, there is no such thing as the single-genre novel. Sprinkled liberally throughout this work of crime fiction is an entertaining mix of travelogue, laconic Australian humour and French for Beginners (not to mention sex, lies and videotape.) For instance: ‘…it was a short walk to the village’s main attraction, the Notre Dame de Cadenet. Legend has it that a former farmer was ploughing his field here in the 12th century when his cows suddenly knelt down in front of a row of century old junipers (“Cade” in French) and the farmer decided to build a chapel here in response to this minor miracle. (But perhaps his cows merely had dodgy knees.)’ And elsewhere;  ‘Whatever evidence the French police had against him, it was a matter of common sense that a lanky intellectual like Blake would hardly be the type to commit a murder for the hell of it. For what possible motive could he have? A deep hurt in response to the painter’s manner to him during their dinner together? A pathological hatred of landscape paintings?’ You get the drift. The novel will engage your intellectual faculties, but it will also entertain you.

The novel begins with a memorable statement from Italo Calvino; “Who is each one of us, if not a combination of experiences, information, books we have read, things imagined.” And indeed when the renowned novelist Geoffrey Gates is remembered and lauded in biography, perhaps his own description of his young, inexperienced but very readable and entertaining writer-protagonist Blake Knox, on his journey from Innocence to Experience, will preface those memories: ‘a teacher and (very occasional) writer whose only earthly possessions were his acoustic guitar a mustard-coloured sleeping bag, and an ever-expanding collection of paperbacks.’ Given his parlous state Blake concludes ‘I’ll write a book… because everybody likes an author!’

The Copyart Murders is a memorably entertaining and engaging novel on many, many levels. I recommend it to you most highly.

– Jenny McFadden

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Rebecca Kylie Law: A Contemporary Metaphysical Poet

Rebecca Kylie Laws talks intimately about her new IP book In My Days and In My Sleep from her perspective as a poet and Catholic.

Rebecca's book will be launched at Bookoccino Bookshop on Sunday, 17 May, from 3 p.m. You can RSVP here.

The organ in St Mary’s Cathedral, St. Mary’s Road, Sydney has a beautiful console in the nave, designed I think by Eric Wisden and consisting of brass piping across horizontally slatted wooden backings that form part of a complex wooden sound structure. The piping is remarkable for the precision of its varying heights, remaining consistent in the increments by which they become taller and by which they recede. Indeed, they seem, toward the back, almost fan-like in their arrangement and the stronger, bigger and taller pipes at both sides add to this symphony of the delicate with the robust. 
When I first saw it I thought it was, aesthetically, a little like a book of poems, some short, some medium and others long. My new book essentially began here and became the reason for the religious overtones of the poems within. 
Of course, I was not at St Mary’s by accident but, rather, was attending a weekly service as a Catholic. To the non-religious person it truly is impossible to explain what it means to worship God in this ritualistic fashion other than to profess a faith I have had since a child, a faith that was given to me by my parents, vis-à-vis my education. 
The experience is extremely personal and rewarding in the sense the quietude of prayer, that dark space behind closed eyes in which you are with your soul, your heart, your feeling, directs you toward calmness. It is as though in drawing together your hands and kneeling you are facing yourself at your most composed and most beautiful: your most un-self. This is integrity and through prayer and worship, I follow it as my God and my light, my truth. 
At the same time I am with God, I am recognising a divine presence and sharing my most private life with him. I sometimes laugh at how useful that word, God, is, because it means in the one address, for instance, the beginning of prayer with “dear God”, I am really saying hello to the Trinity, to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Which in this sense means I am also addressing my church. So you see, prayer can be complicated! 
This point brings me to an important question a few people have recently asked: “how can you reconcile what has been happening in the media lately with your own faith?” This, more precisely, refers to the innumerable sex crimes the church tried to hide.
Well, my answer is very simple. Sexual abuse is everywhere. It is happening next door or over the street from where you live. It is happening to your best friend or friend of a friend. It is perpetrated by lovers, by strangers, by new acquaintances or teachers; and, sadly, by priests. In light of this, to my mind, the church has been disproportionately singled out by a media spotlight that, almost through bemusement, won’t beam the light of exposition elsewhere. So I continue in my relationship with God and go to Mass etc. because there are a lot of people in the world and some are bad, some so-so and some good.  
Now to poetry… 
My prayers are not poems. One comes to mind that could be with potential but, no, onthe whole they are quite different. They were written to share with others the experience of prayer, of being quiet with yourself and looking around at the world, of appreciating life and the loves you have in it, the people, animals or favourite moments. 
Some of the poems were inspired by walks in the botanic gardens, others at the beach whilst others were more sudden, for example, a child break-dancing or at my feet, sunlight catching the iridescent colours of a pigeon’s neck. 
One of the greatest tests, I think, for any person, is accommodating tragedy into the pace of everyday life. Halfway through the book, my dad became quite sick with cancer and died after a four-month battle. Spending time with him during his illness and in the last weeks whilst composing my book I remember making a very firm decision that this would not ‘become’ the book. I wanted to be sure the book showed enough resilience and faith to take my life past what I was about to lose. So there are a few dad poems, but not too many! 
To be honest, when I was first bedside with dad (an architect and later, church architect) I didn’t want to write any poems about his illness or last days. I was annoyed at Dylan Thomas for writing his exquisite poem “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” because to my mind he had cashed in on a personal tragedy. Yet write about it I did. And take the book past the fact, I did too.  
I have always written poetry. In my early twenties I tried out short fiction and was published, even shortlisted for a national prize; but, in all honesty, this is not my genre. Nor would anyone want it to be if they read any of my attempts. 
This book is poetry because it is the closest I get to prayer without telling the world my most private, intimate thoughts or worse, introducing you to the God I talk to before falling asleep.In My Days and In My Sleep is personal but not private, shared publicly because I think what I have witnessed, lived and loved is important.