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Richard James Allen
Issue 39 Poetry Australia and New Zealand
Selected By Editor, Denise O’Hagan
It’s been an honour to be on the receiving end of all the submissions for my first stint as Poetry Editor for Australia and New Zealand for The Blue Nib. Writing is, as I know, an act of courage; sharing your work sometimes even more so. Given the quality of poems, it was no small challenge to narrow down a small wedge of them for publication.
I was thrilled to read the work of young and emerging talent, such as Rosie Bogumil and Erin Frances, alongside that of established poets such as Peter Bakowski, also our featured poet in this issue, and the very strong presence of a host of promising poets such as Fotoula Reynolds, Julian O’Dea, Warren Paul Glover, Anni Coyne and Glenn Whalan. I was also struck by the sheer variety in both themes and styles. As the weeks wore on, the poems that emerged combined a characteristically laconic flavour with themes that are both local and universal, topical and timeless. A sensitivity to the Australian and New Zealand landscape runs through this body of work, and with it an urgent sense of the preciousness and precariousness of our environment – and an implicit plea to do something about it. Sharp observation is blended with lyricism and a deep feeling for language and the sound of it. Many of the poets are regulars at open mic events, and it shows. Typographically and in terms of layout and design, the poems are similarly adventurous and imaginative – challenging as this can be formatting-wise, the reader will undoubtedly appreciate its visual excitement. There’s an impressive variety of styles, too, with free verse, haiku, acrostic poems and villanelle. These are truly poems of the first order.
A sampling of the words of the poets themselves, however, showcases the quality and breadth of work better than any description of it. Thus, for example, to CS Hughes’ artful eye ‘a symphony of final straws and camel backs’ is effortlessly juxtaposed with ‘broad-rimmed hats and lawnmowers’; Anne Gleeson notices how ‘the river mouth becomes mirrored / as a cliché’ which is preceded matter-of-factly by ‘reports of worsening floods and blame’; Peter Rimmer depicts the slow beauty of ‘Te Marama the moon … / Now climbing her way / To her place / Among the firmament of old, cold stars’ yet employs the gritty ‘I sit before a Hobo fire / Sipping beer’; the delicacy of Anne Casey’s imagery ‘Modest as a novice / Autumn slips in’ is both complemented and extended by the haunting quality of lines such as ‘A grey gash of ache / for the lost babe’; the elasticity of language and thought inherent in James Walton’s ‘the caviar piles of yabbies / speak of other things’ is delightfully present in ‘the way I can hear you thinking … / hooking the whole argument in the tide between the lines’; the poignance of Peter Bakowski’s ‘Hands are / Raw which once played the piano’ is set against the blunt humour of ‘Find a way out of the fog of your pyjamas. Get vertical. / Flex an eyelid.’; Ali Whitelock’s wry and witty turn of phrase in ‘twenty kilos dropped from him / like leprosy’ blends with the tender perceptiveness of lines such as ‘the thing is i didn’t know what it was i couldn’t quite say’; Richard James Allen strikes a lofty tone with ‘In your last delirium, / you orchestrate / gravelly totem sounds / for your funeral’ but also an intimate, conversational one in ‘I sleep with two hot water bottles / when you are away’.
These poems have it all – and there is something here for every reader! To those poets who took the time and effort to contribute whether or not we were able to accept your submission this time round, we are deeply grateful.
In terms of literary analysis, too, we are indebted to Ada Wofford for the first part of her incisive three-part commissioned series looking at poetry of the twenty-first century which complements the work of the poets themselves and challenges us to be more aware of how we respond to this art form.
May you, the reader, enjoy all the poems and emerge, as I did, the richer for the experience. Please continue submitting and let us all work together to make our artistic community as strong and vibrant as possible.
Thank you and happy reading.