It’s hard to pin down someone with the name Ivy. Just when I thought I’d found her, first in Oz, then in Wales of all places, she pops up in New Zealand where she’s  taken root for now. I’m always a little envious of global souls, like Ivy. It seems like one of life’s greatest freedoms and pleasures, getting to know new cultures and peoples.

Ivy and I came together on Clare Carlin’s elegant blog Pieced Work but I have long admired Ivy’s poetry for its muscle and mischief. Full of the Christmas spirit and remembering the joy of decorating the mantelpiece with ivy in a northern clime, I bring you the ultimate pop-up poet, Ivy Alvarez who tells us how Michael Jackson danced into her latest collection. Merry Christmas!

Ivy                                   Photograph by Rachael Duncan

a memory of breasts

I show my mother a book of breasts. At first, she’s shocked and pulls away. But then, she returns to them and looks at the pictures on the cover. She points to one. The breasts are creamy and voluptuous, arms gloved to the elbows, crossed in front. ‘I like these ones,’ she says. ‘They are elegant.’

(from Mortal)


dumb

baby brother brings me booty
booty I do not want
blood out of squirrels’ mouths
blooms from a badger’s back
broke spine splinter bones
blown wide apart
belly open of a fine snout fox
bleached fur stiff fuzz
better not show baby brother
briny pinpoint pupils’ glaze

brings me his killing jar
bees, spiders, hornets and wasps
brave his fingertips’ acetone smell
dumb husks in a glass shell

(from Disturbance)


The School of Physics

the kiss that does not exist will exist next door
in a house that houses the kiss, most likely in a vase
exuding a scent in passing
as if from the unlikeliest, shyest woman in the room
forcing me to ask, Is that your perfume
she smiles, eyes downcast, and hands me my change

you and I will sit in a green sofa and admire the kiss
its shapeliness, how it wrings
inadvertent sighs just from listening to it grow
into its fullest power
a tiny nova of desire compacting in on itself
pulling us towards its center


And could you comment on who or what influences your practice, Ivy?

While putting together the final incarnation of Disturbance, I kept thinking about Michael Jackson’s album Thriller, how every song released from it found its audience. I always keep that in mind. I find it helps me trim the dead wood from a manuscript.

For poetry, Sylvia Plath is my foundation stone, as are Dorothy Porter and Ai. I will continue to build and create because of what I’ve learnt from them, and from the future influences I hope to still discover.

 Ivy

disturbance

Bio
:

Ivy Alvarez is the author of Mortal (2006) and Disturbance (Seren Books, 2013). Both Literature Wales and the Australia Council for the Arts awarded her grants towards the writing of Disturbance.

She is both a MacDowell and Hawthornden Fellow, whose poems appear in anthologies and journals in many countries and online, including Alquimia del Fuego (Spain, 2014), Best Australian Poems (2013), and A Face to Meet the Faces (USA, 2012). Several of her poems have been translated into Russian, Spanish, Japanese and Korean.

In the past few years, she has received invitations to speak at the Oxford Literary Festival, the Dylan Thomas Festival (UK), and the Seoul International Writers Festival (Korea).

Born in the Philippines and raised in Australia, she spent time in Scotland, Ireland and Wales, before settling in Auckland, New Zealand in 2014.

Links:
Website: http://ivyalvarez.com/
Disturbance: http://www.serenbooks.com/book/disturbance/9781781720875

Review What Days are For by Robert Dessaix

I’d like to thank Random House for inviting me to review Robert Dessaix’s latest memoir.

Dessaix

I came face to face with Robert Dessaix in the early nineties when he came to speak to us about ‘Night Letters.’ What he had to say was engaging (more European than Australian in directness and flair) and witty in a candid, self-deprecating way. He reminded me of nobody else.

Conversational and derisory, this latest memoir is both playful and reflective. It’s a style relished by keen readers of his works. Each of the thirteen chapters is assigned a day of the week, playing into the title and line of Larkin’s poem ‘Days’ and tracking his recovery after a massive heart attack. When a semblance of rational thought returns it ignites ideas of the spiritual.

What, he muses, have his days been for? What and who has he loved – and why?

On the third day, Wednesday (Chapter 3), he rises again, and whether this is fact or fiction it is such a delicious nod to the Bible for a writer like Dessaix. He is thinking of things spiritual, after all, as he regains consciousness, at the same time grooming us for one of his customary forays into a foreign land,

..in my case there is usually a kind of Shinto side of travel. Although I know nothing about Shinto.’

Of course, he knows a lot about Shinto when he goes on to talk about his ‘torii’ as his front door where his ‘sando’ begins, but undercuts this knowledge in self-parody.

‘(goodness me, I nearly said ‘spiritual’)…restoration.’

Dessaix mentions that some people find him ‘pompous’ and suffering from ‘rigorous snobbishness.’ This might be evident in lines like…

‘…India is awash with comfortably-off Westerners decked out in crumpled dhotis and shalwar kameezes like down-and-out Bollywood extras, ecstatically pretending to be what they patently are not.’

Observations like this, and there are many, could just as easily be seen as funny, even hilarious and true. They certainly represent one side of Dessaix’s writing prowess. He seems to take great delight in creating these tableaux in which he pokes fun at Asian spirituality, bureaucratic torpor and veiled criminality (the light-fingered magician). Later, you can feel him squirming when he receives ‘a poem about a goddess’ from his friend, Prakash, then renders the situation humorous in the act of it being ‘emailed.’ This juxtaposition of the exotic against the pedestrian makes for entertaining reading and while he is often blunt he is never cruel, recognising folly as necessarily or inherently human, perhaps.

Occasionally, we are yanked from Dessaix’s meanderings and dumped back, unceremoniously, to his hospital ward where the inmates smell ‘strongly of takeaway’ and are glued nightly to Channel 7 punctuating the air with,

                           Nurse! Nurse! Nurse! Nurse! Nurse!

At quieter times the language is pared back as he considers the big questions.

‘I can feel my old eagerness to learn more and more about love falling away.’

And ….’there must be good ways, and also how to die, what days are for, in other words, when you’re old and death is in the offing.’

These moments are well placed in the narrative and give the text gravitas which balances the more Baroque aspects of his writing.

In an interview with Gail Bell in ‘The Monthly’ in 2012 he says of his own writing,

Anyone who reads a large number of my books gets used to this kind of spiralling shape, and so I just take my time, and I just spiral around. I try to mention the main things I want to talk about in the first chapter, and then I spiral and come around and talk about them from a different angle again later. That’s what I’m doing.

There is more than spiralling around going on in this memoir. A linear narrative is played out at two levels below the circuitous.There is a chronological path as we witness Dessaix’s recovery in days and chapters and, alondside the anticipation of opening night of his first play, and which he will undoubtedly miss. The presence of the play adds another stratum to his story where it’s hard not to think of Shakespeare’s ‘Tomorrow’ speech and man who struts and frets. Through clever segues between one vignette and another Dessaix shifts cannily from death to life.

Along the way we are in the august company of Jane Austen, Francis Bacon, Dario Fo, Alan Bennett, Samuel Johnson, Hilary Mantel, Voltaire and Turgenev, often in quotes or scenes from their works which convey a point and add yet another layer to his embroidered text.

Taking his title from a Larkin poem, which means he was actually reading a Larkin poem, I was curious to read in this memoir that he states he does not like poetry, so little moves him. Given his breadth of reading this is hard to believe. He certainly writes poetry because every word, every phrase has been carefully crafted to maximum effect and frequently an elegant symmetry.

from glowing nub to glowing nub, joining what’s Western about me to what is Eastern…’

Over the course of thirteen days/chapters  we travel with Dessaix outwardly to India then back in time back to his childhood, always the return to his enduring relationship with Peter. In this way the memoir functions as a tribute to the longevity of this union while pondering spirituality, love, infatuation, intimacy and what matters in the end.

What matters to Dessaix in the face of death comes back to simple things expressed in prose which can teeter on the sentimental, but juxtaposed against the down-to-earth is reined in, giving the reader time to pause for breath.

‘I smell rain. I smell wet wool. I open my eyes, It’s Peter. He’s back. My continuance. My wholeness. His happiness at being here again fills the room. ….
‘You flew again,’ I say

‘And what about the dog?’”

This is the kind of memoir that speaks to me; exotic yet familiar, colourful, philosophical and ultimately life-affirming.

books

Following Pascale Petit I am bringing you the joint winner of the Geoff Stevens Memorial Poetry Prize from 2012, Preston poet, Terry Quinn. He was recently runner- up in the BBC Proms Competition with a clever and droll poem.You will find  him in the menu under Guests.

This blogging business can throw up  surprises. Random House invited me  to review Robert Dessaix’s latest memoir What Days Are For which was fun since I enjoy his writing so much and had the entire book read and reviewed  in 24 hours. I’ve decided that this is  a very effective way of getting books read. I usually procrastinate.

Dessaix

Last week I ran a poetry workshop and 18 people turned up to practise their craft. I was thrilled and really enjoyed myself and hope to run a lot more over the next year. We looked at memoir poetry and Japanese forms.

This Sunday, Nov 9, my pamphlet, Kiss of the Viking, published by Poetry Salzburg, will be launched in Geelong by Cassandra Atherton so if you’re anywhere near please drop in.

3pm 3/329 Paton Books
Pakington Street
Geelong

viking

This week I’ve been reading the poetry of Tony Hoagland, Billy Collins, Emily Dickinson and the whole of Cordite Poetry Review. I’ve also just read and adored Colm Toibin’s Nora Webster.

I spent one afternoon making submissions after a few weeks’ break when I got my garden into shape. The bush fires have already started around Sydney which does not bode well.

In this time I spent a lot of time looking out for baby hares-we have triplets-three generations in all, and fledglings tottering all over the place. Pruning one tree, a nest fell out with two speckled eggs belonging to a wattle bird. Oops! On the other hand, they are territorial and seem to scare a lot of the smaller birds away so two fewer won’t alter the balance too much.

Parrots have been making a racket-corellas and galahs swooping and diving around the house. Lorikeets are quiet and squat in the bird bath like Toby jugs.

I planted kangaroo paw, iris and pulled out bin-loads of weeds. It’s going to be a long, hot summer judging by the insects in the garden; the mozzies and chunky blowflies lurking so have to mulch and trim pronto.Veggies looking good but not my domain. I just pick and cook.

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Terry Quinn

oldbury1 (2)

In June 2013,Terry and I met for the first time at Digbeth Bus Station, Birmingham, as joint winners of the Geoff Stevens Poetry Prize (Indigo Dreams) and on the eve of launching our big collections.

I’d come from Melbourne, Australia. He’d come from Preston, Lancs, although he told me later he was born in Brum, a few streets away from out launch pad. I’d been at teachers’ college with a recent honorary degree from Brum Uni so all a bit of an uncanny coincidence. I hated Brum in my youth-a shithole of a city, all concrete and horrible accent.The day Terry showed me the new Brum I was brought to my knees. I loved it.

We’d been emailing our hopes and fears for months organising out joint launch at the Oldbury Rep. By the time we met I felt like I’d known Terry all my life. We met again in Bristol, my home town, in June this year, the day after Banksy’s latest was posted in Bristol Museum. We had a great day when I got to appreciate and love my city for the very first time. Terry is the kindest and funniest poet at a time when humour is at a premium in the poetry world. On the eve of launching my second collection and remembering our joint win of the Geoff Stevens prize, I am very happy indeed to bring you the wit and wonderful whimsy of Terry, friend and co-poet.

 Going

And she’s gone.
I can’t tell you where
or when she’ll be back.
But here’s a few clues.
Here’s her ski boots,
there’s her woollen sweater,
here’s the scarf I bought in Prague
and there’s the ballgown
I’ve to take to the cleaners,
precise instructions attached.
Well you don’t need a ballgown
when you’re off to fight in the wars.
Not that she’s fighting.
She’s there for the wounded,
she’ll strip the bloody clothing
from any bloody skin
and stripping an assault rifle
was taught as a precaution.
A precaution against what?
I know against what.
All those jerks finding themselves,
shooting into manhood,
those guys know what they want
and it’s not TLC from a blonde.
I wandered into the kitchen
getting a feel for emptiness,
putting her mug away,
it’s only a few months.
Finding themselves for god’s sake,
and then finding her,
ten quid in a tin hat lottery,
she just won’t get it.
And then I found the envelope,
under the phone,
the last Will and Testament,
left when I left her alone.

 

Getting the Point

It’s getting to the point
of a small rearrangement
in how things were.
Not exactly a lie,
I did have a girlfriend,
she was called Eileen,
and she did, does, live in Hammersmith.
But she didn’t,
as far as I know,
drive a Ferrari
into the lake at Kew Gardens
after an argument
about a duel I’d fought
with Simon Armitage
about her honour
or the placing of a comma
in the Dead Sea Poems.
One or the other,
it doesn’t matter.
The point is that these days
you need an edge,
a little something
that’s hard to find
in another poem
about finding your Father’s pipe
or a lost letter from a lost love
about snow falling on Blackburn
or a night spent talking
about that Al Gore film.

 

Accountants

2 sheep plus
3 goats plus
1 bushel of wheat
equals what?
I don’t know,
I don’t even know what a bushel is
and neither did these guys in Uruk
who had a bit of a problem
explaining that one of their goats
had already been sold
to a bloke from Lagash
and they only had enough tokens left
for three jars of oil
and this stupid sod from Kish
still didn’t get it
till they pressed them down
on a bit of clay
which seemed to help
so they did it again
just to show off
to their mates in the pub
and would you believe it
it caught on
and the next thing is
they’re selling the farm
doing whole tablets of the stuff
so their neighbours
could count whatever
while they charged a fortune
then putting in security
after the not so stupid
son of the sod from Kish
scraped a sheep shape
off the waxy surface
which they couldn’t prove
so they baked them
which stopped that nonsense
and then got a bit cocky
adding symbols they made up
for this girl in Umma
they both fancied
till her Dad replied
using even clearer signs
that he’d also made up
so they made some more
and before you know it
there’s scrabble and lawyers
and Carol Ann Duffy.

Terry Quinn born in Birmingham and is now living in Preston, UK, has travelled widely through the UK, Europe and the Middle East. A former engineer he is the author of ‘Away’ and ‘The Amen of Knowledge’ (published as joint winner of the Geoff Stevens Memorial Prize; Indigo Dreams). In 2014 he was one of the winning entrants to the Royal Academy’s Ekphrasis poetry competition, the Guernsey International Poetry Festival competition and the BBC Proms Poetry Competition. He co-presents the Arts Scene Show on Preston fm. He follows Birmingham City Football Club.

017

Please contact me via Facebook or Twitter.

I am available for mentoring and the following workshops at all levels;

 Poetry
Short Fiction/Flash fiction
Creative Non-Fiction
Memoir

Participants have said;

‘It’s the best workshop I’ve ever been to.”

‘It was excellent. I found it engaging and creative.’ 

‘….a fabulous workshop…thank you. Everyone appreciated your teaching skills, the material you prepared, ideas and suggestions…and your general empowerment and encouragement of every member of the group.’

Anne M Carson

Whenever I see Anne’s name in a poetry journal I know I am in for a treat. Her poetry is elegant and edible, sparse and thoughtful. I always enjoy the human perspective in her observations of the natural world. She paints with words which isn’t surprising since she’s an accomplished visual artist.

We met over coffee when she was poet in residence in Kew, a suburb familiar to us both. We talked about many things; of her life rich in teaching, writing, art and collaborations and of the pain over the loss of her life partner which would later galvanize her beautiful and well-received first collection, Removing the Kimono. Anne is my guest for October.


anne

Mother-stone is womb
i.m. EK, remembering a friend, Lake Mungo (Willandra Lakes), NSW

Ankle-deep in history, following your receding, check-
shirted back. Landscape scraped and gouged out of the
rock of the planet – long-dry lake-bed, lunettes pitting
the terrain with moon-shaped hollows. Heat makes it
harsh, rises in blurry waves. The sun has flayed the pelt
right off the land, leaving it leather-like; baked and cured

with patches of spilling sand. Trees have no foothold –
there’s no shade to shelter under. All I can see is pristine
nature – nothing tells me a human story. Each time I lever
a buried foot free I peel back another decade, another
century, another contested millennium – to you too
short an estimate. Part park-ranger, part hierophant, you

turn and say: our technology, swinging your arms in an
inclusive 360 arc, it’s all around us! Your words conjure
modernity, electronica, bamboozling what I think I know.
Underfoot the sand slips again. You’re already squatting
ready to give the next lesson. You pick up a hand-sized
rock, point to a mound shaped like the heel of the thumb

on a palm. Bulb of percussion you say proudly, triumphantly,
anointing the bulb with its true technical name. So much
force, you say, and precision to flake a chip the shape and
fineness you want. You’re introducing me to an Aboriginal
Rosetta – text notched and nuanced by human hand, ancient
translation tool. Portal to the long-gone past. You hold

out a handful of flakes, show me how convex fits into
concave, as if mother-stone is womb to flake, containing
it all in nuce. Now I see pieces of worked stone all around
us, stone dedicated to specific uses – knives, points, axes,
blades. This a kind of awl for piercing, this a blade for
scraping and this would be tied and glued to a spear!

What I took to be sand dune and random rock has turned
into a quarry with work-stations and knappers plying their
trade, like a cartoon – while I watch it comes to life, morphing
into three dimensions, gaining depth of field, veracity.

This poem was long-listed in the inaugural Canberra University, Vice Chancellor’s International Poetry Prize

Two green parrots

Two green parrots wing across a granite sky.
Grief and hope together again, as close as
fingers on a hand, feathers on a wing.
They don’t fly straight as arrows do into
a standing target, they are not ammunition
fired out of the sky’s dark mouth. They dip
and rise, weaving sinew and delight into
strands of effortless grace, calling as they go.
What do humans know of the calls of birds?
But it sounds like liquid pleasure, it sounds
like they laugh and make merry against
the backdrop of the approaching storm.

First published in Plumwood Mountain

The marmalade fox

The fur on the marmalade fox is as bright as the jam
sent back to Paris from the orange groves of Marrakesh.
The globes of thousands of Moroccan suns squeezed
into jars. All that compressed bitterness and sweetness
casbahs the colour. Hold a jar up to the light, see pith
swimming in amber transluscence.
So much life still in him, dead and maggoty
by the side of the road. Wind riffles his fur, sun combs his
marmalade coat.

 

Kimono

Anne M Carson is a Melbourne writer and visual artist whose first full-length collection of poems, Removing the Kimono, was published by Hybrid Publishers in 2013. She has won and been commended in numerous poetry prizes including most recently being long-listed in the inaugural Canberra University, Vice Chancellor’s International Poetry Prize. In 2014 she established the SecondBite Poetry Prize.  She has curated two programmes for Radio National’s PoeticA and hosted a series of poetry and music soirees, most recently the River Soiree on Herring Island which raised funds for the Melbourne River Keepers.   As a Creative Writing Therapist she has edited and facilitated the group process which has resulted in the publication of three books. She teaches Poetry Writing and Appreciation to adults.

Her visual art is based on photography and botanical specimens.  Her photographs and art panels have been exhibited in galleries and florist shops and used as greeting cards, a literary journal cover and book-mark.

Removing the Kimono is available from Amazon US and her website: www.annemcarson.com

Reviews of Removing the Kimono available at: http://cordite.org.au/?s=anne+m+carson

http://plumwoodmountain.com/marissa-ker-reviews-removing-the-kimono/

Art of Dying

hans

They do death good
Walk among phantoms

with a spring in the step
Take kids in royal prams

for a picnic   Light candles
for night strolls when the snow

falls in duck down   Etch
a rock, snip a hedge into

a green armchair   Profiles
of Nan and Pa  face-to-face

in an almost-kiss.
Even the Angel of Death,

fat cherub, grins from a shingled
roof.  Hans Christian looks on

from a plain brown stone,
clipped and smart.

They make it art,
not like Sylvia, but good.

They make it sing.