Neenish tarts, bus shelters, Wagga Wagga and me

Never thought I’d use these four ‘terms’ in the same sentence but there you go – if life was a Venn diagram, there are several shaded areas in which me and neenish tarts would intersect.

For those who’ve been living under a rock for the past century or so, a neenish tart (see picture above) is a delightful Antipodean invention featuring a pastry base, jam and cream filling and distinctive, two-coloured, almost-yin-and-yang-style icing. It’s the kind of cake you’ll find in any halfway decent country town bakery, and one that (courtesy of my mother’s fondness for them) I’ve developed a fair hankering for over the years. Matter of fact, I could murder a neenish tart right now.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, Wagga Wagga. It must have been over a year ago that the Booranga Writers’ Centre in Wagga Wagga, Australia (publishers of the magazine FourW, in which I’ve had a few pieces published over the years) put out a call for poems to be displayed on bus shelters in the town. The call for works immeditely ‘piqued’ my interest, as we say in the industry, as I’d spent a fair bit of time in Wagga Wagga as a young grasshopper, either driving through or else strapped into a dentist’s chair.

While my memories of Wagga are not all fond, I wrote three poems and sent them off. The first one (brace-face) was about getting braces in Wagga Wagga. The second one (“Riverina”) was about playing Aussie Rules in Wagga. And the third poem, the one they accepted, was about a neenish tart. It’s called, surprisingly enough, ‘neenish tart’, and for the benefit of all non-residents of Wagga Wagga, I’ve pasted it below:

Neenish tart

There used to be this cafe around here
somewhere – maybe it’s still going, do
you know the one I mean? You could buy
a good neenish tart there, with inch-thick
pastry and an ooze of too-sweet jam. Then
there was cream they must have laced with
sugar and icing to die for. I used to live in a
town to the north of here, it doesn’t matter
which one. What matters is the neenish tart,
the one my mum used to buy me whenever
we drove through Wagga Wagga on our way
home from time trials or footy, it depended
on the season. That tart always tasted good.
I especially loved the icing, it reminded me of
yin and yang. I wonder if it’s still there. One day
I’ll come back and walk down the main street,
ask a few people if they remember the place.

                             Maybe you do?

The sentiments in this poem almost make me feel a little bit teary now – I remember the taste of that neenish tart as if it was yesterday. Recently, I got an email from Derek Motion, the director of Booranga, informing me that

” … the second groups of poems will be going up shortly in bus shelters around Wagga Wagga. We have been able to procure an extra 4 shelters to use for the project, so all 8 poems will be on display at the same time. To celebrate this event we’ve planned another event – a bus tour of all (or selected) shelters, featuring poetry readings on location, with wine / refreshments at the terminus. We will be holding this event on Saturday 14th April, with the bus departing from the Wagga Council Chambers at 2pm.”

While I unfortunately won’t be able to make it to the launch, the idea of a bus tour sounds like a great one and I really wish I could be there. As a kind of substitute, Derek sent me this photo of the bus shelter where my neenish tart poem is currently living.

It’s almost like being there, don’t you think?

Cordite–Prairie Schooner Fusion: Work (2012)

Work: A Cordite–Prairie Schooner Co-Feature

Prairie Schooner is a Nebraska-based literary journal currently edited by Kwame Dawes. The Cordite-Prairie Schooner co-feature involves Kwame and myself each selecting 15 poems from the archives of our magazines on the theme of ‘work’. And if you don’t know what cerebral delectation is you probably shouldn’t be here.

But seriously, as Kwame explains in his introduction, the idea of this co-feature came up in the following way:

“I met David Prater at the Struga Nights Poetry Festival in Macedonia last year. We hit it off, enjoying the peculiar jokes about writers and the business of writing. But when he pointed me to the project he had been working on, the Cordite Web Magazine, I knew I wanted to have some pretext to collaborate with David and Cordite.”

When I read these lines for the first time I was immediately taken back to that pleasant week spent in Struga, on the shores of Lake Ohrid, during which I did indeed meet Kwame and we did indeed hit it off. I recall in particular the sense of excitement I felt when I realised that we were both cricket fans, and West Indies cricket in particular. I had just seen the epic documentary on the West Indian cricket team, Fire In Babylon, and our conversations on the subject were probably the most exciting thing that happened to anyone in Struga that week.

Of course, we were there for a poetry festival, which is a form of work, and as I recall for many participants the festival was very hard work indeed. Personally, I was happy to be there and to have scored what quickly turned out to be a sweet one week holiday, given that I was not called upon to read at all in Struga. Good for me, surely, but a situation that others – including Kwame, who I think had travelled from Nebraska just to be there – found a little frustrating.

Kwame Dawes and Katerina Iliopoulou at Struga, 2011

Image: Kwame Dawes and Katerina Iliopoulou at Struga, Macedonia (2011)

Anyway, I won’t go into the ins and outs any further, as I’ve already managed to distract from what was the original focus of my last paragraph—work. If you’re feeling game, you might consider checking out my editorial for the co-feature, in which I get slightly sentimental for the days of my youth:

“I got my first paid job while I was still at school, working as a milk delivery boy in the suburb of Wollongong, an industrial city in Australia where I lived with my family in the 1980s …”

Then again, you’re probably more interested in the poems. Poets in the feature whose work previously appeared in Cordite include Tom Clark, Lorin Ford, Derek Motion, Brendan Ryan, Adrian Wiggins, Jennifer Compton, Ivy Alvarez, Barbara De Franceschi, Liam Ferney, Peter Coghill, M. F. McAuliffe, Benito Di Fonzo, Esther Johnson, Geoff Page, Emily Stewart and Margaret Owen Ruckert. Plus audio poems by Sean M. Whelan & the Interim Lovers, Maxine Beneba Clarke, komninos zervos and Benito Di Fonzo.

Poets from the Prairie Schooner corner include Hedi Kaddour (translated by Marilyn Hacker), R. F. McEwan, Ander Monson, Linda McCarriston, Toi Derricotte, Marvin Bell, Marcella Pixley, Ted Kooser, Moira Lineham, Sandy Solomon, Jenny Factor, John Engman, Gary Fincke, Dannye Romine Powell, John Canaday, James Cihlar, Nance Van Winckel, Floyd Skloot and Roy Scheele.

Special bonuses (bonii?) include illustrations by Michelle Ussher and Watie White; interviews with Derek Motion, Jennifer Compton and Nance Van Winckel; and, over the coming week, eight more interviews on the Cordite site.

I strongly encourage you to get clicking immediately.

Cerebral delectation awaits!

Six poems find a new home …

Back in October I decided that I’d no longer post new poems on this site, choosing instead to set up a poem of the week newsletter (subscribe today!). One of the reasons for this decision was that despite the fact that not many people visit my site (no, this is not a plea for hits) I still felt slightly awkward sending poems off to magazines under the assumption that they were ‘unpublished’.

In fact, pretty much every poem of mine that’s been published over the past decade has appeared first on this site in some shape or form. So it seemed like a good time to stop doing that and to instead concentrate on writing new poems for my subscribers.

Of course, there remained a handful of poems I had submitted to magazines in the weeks and months leading up to my ‘tabula rasa’. This month I’ve received the great news that six of my little babies have found new homes – four of them in Jacket2, another in the Swedish journal Shipwrights Review and the sixth in online zine Stillcraic.

The poems in Jacket2 are part of a much larger feature on contemporary Australian poetry curated by Pam Brown. Pam’s decision to post poets in reverse alphabetical order means that I’m nestled between Peter Minter and Gig Ryan – a rare thrill! Of the poems, ‘Algae’ first ‘appeared’ in Southerly and is taken from my as yet unpublished collection Leaves of Glass.

‘TL;DR’ and ‘Övergången’, on the other hand, were both written while I was living in Karlskrona and also appeared in my chapbook Övergången. Lastly, ‘Sunshine for Kim Dae-jung’ was in fact composed in Seoul, on the day that the former President of the Republic of Korea died. Read all four poems at their new Jacket 2 home!

I discovered the website of Swedish journal Shipwrights Review quite by accident but was taken by the editors’ emphasis on second-language (by which I assume is meant ‘non-Swedish’) writers. On this basis, I decided to send them some poems, of which they chose my free transliteration of the famous Macedonian poem ‘Т’га за југ’ (‘Longing for the South’). I wrote this poem after returning from the Struga Poetry Evenings in August 2011, and it’s an attempt to describe my own mixed feelings of homesickness and ‘longing’ when it comes to Australia. Read ‘Т’га за југ’ on the Shipwrights Review site!

Finally, my poem ‘Cute’, which is also a part of Leaves of Glass, and which recently found a home in Best Australian Poems 2011, has now been reposted over at Stillcraic, a NZ-based site currently curated by Jennifer Compton. It’s nice to think of my version of Walt Whitman kicking around the online traps …

Apart from one or two forthcoming poems, these are the last to have been published first here on In the future, I’m hoping to be a little more generous when it comes to journals, and will be sending them only fresh poems that have not previously been ‘read’ by either human eyes or crawling bots.

Lavender Zine: in a matchbox!

Last week I got an untold message from Pascalle Burton:

I am delighted to announce that the Bumper Poetry Issue of The Lavender Room Zine-in-a-Matchbox is here! Thanks again for participating in the project; I am thrilled with the issue and love the range in the collection. And at over three times the size of my regular issues, it really is Bumper!

And I’m delighted to say that my poem ‎(On the tomb of) José Sara­m­ago is a tiny part of said Laven­der Room Zine-in-a-Matchbox Bumper Poetry Issue (2011)! I’m in some pretty kewl company. Check it:

Natasha L Adams / Alana Brekelmans / Sally Browne / Amanda Coghlan / Jason Darling / Connor Dee / Bruce Dorlova / Emma Farry / Andrew Galan / Joy Green / Hadley / Matt Hetherington / Sasha Jessop / Carmen Keates / Mai Lin Li / Chris Lynch / Corrie Macdonald / Vern Mitchell / Graham Nunn / mr oCean / Andrew Phillips / Jacob Polley / Doug Poole / David Prater / Tessa Rose / Nathan Shepherdson / Dawn Joy Silversides / David Stavanger / Michael D Tees / Bianca Walsh / emily xyz

And this is what the zine looks like, for realz:

You can follow The Lavender Room on teh evilz, or check out LR products on etsy. And here’s just one more look at what you’re currently missing out on:


Thirty Australian Poets

The new University of Queensland Press poetry anthology, Thirty Australian Poets, is out now and features, well, thirty Australian poets. The anthology has been edited by Felicity Plunkett and while I haven’t actually received my copy yet, I’m kind of thrilled to know that I’m in it and curious as to just who else is hiding away in there.

The blurb for the book on the publisher’s website states:

1968 marked a turning point in Australian poetry, when a dynamic wave of new poets sought to revitalise a ‘moribund poetic culture’. At the helm of that generation was John Tranter who argued that there would be cycles or generations of poets with peak moments where new poets would emerge to revitalise the culture.

Forty years later, with a spate of superb debut collections, Australian poetry has never looked so energetic and vital. From the imaginatively mind-boggling to the exquisitely lyrical, from tender and edgy erotic currents to wild feats of intellect and playfulness, the dynamism of contemporary Australian poetry is abundantly evident.

Thirty Australian Poets is the first anthology to celebrate the generation of poets born after 1968 and includes a wonderful diversity of voices and styles, from re-imagined versions of traditional forms to the experimental and avant-garde. This groundbreaking anthology captures the spirit of an exciting generation who, between them, have won every major poetry award, and made the renaissance of Australian poetry impossible to ignore.

I think it’s a very interesting premise for an anthology – and it’s also a relief to see no mention of the word ‘best’ in this blurb – but I suspect some people may have a problem with the ageist cut-off date! Again, I haven’t seen the anthology yet (I presume it’s winging its way slowly northward as I type this post) and so I’ll be very curious to see just how representative it is of my so-called generation.

In a sense, any anthology’s premise is going to be a loaded one, and I personally am not a huge fan of generationalism in any guise. However, I also suspect that the use of the term here is slightly tongue in cheek and also deliberately provocative, as Tranter’s The New Australian Poetry (1979) perhaps was. In any case, it’s nice that Felicity selected five of my poems – ‘Sun­bathing’, ‘Oz’ ‘Lady Land’, ‘Lurker’ and ‘A821.4′ – for inclusion in the book, particularly as the first three of these are from a manuscript (Leaves of Glass) that I am beginning to think will never be published.

This is, I think, the unspoken truth about the current so-called generation of poets, in that for every anthology that’s printed, maybe a dozen quality collections by emerging or lesser known poets fall by the wayside. While this is a bittersweet truth, it’s still great to know that at least one publisher is willing to showcase poets that the general reader may never have heard of, and I can’t wait to delve into it and discover the works of my faraway peers in a new and hopefully vital context.