by Lisa Gorton and Toby Fitch
Every year, Australian Poetry publishes this anthology: a selection of poems from its subscribers. This anthology does not claim to define Australian poetry at large at this moment. It does aim to recognise and mark the organisation’s vitality and range. Australian Poetry, with its thriving biannual journal, its national program of events, and its membership of nearly 1000, is now a community of poets of different ages, from different places, working in different styles. This book of 60 poems exists to bring that community together.
For that reason, we decided not to organise this anthology by name, region, or any such category. Instead, we looked for fluky, sparky, sometimes adventitious connections between poems—often, between very different kinds of poems. First one editor wilfully put a sequence of poems together; then the other added and intervened. We built on each other’s proclivities, accumulating connections, resonances and themes across the chosen poems, perhaps in the way a single poem might grow rhizomically from fragments of language into a larger whole. What we’ve ended up with is an anthology that we’re very proud of, and which, as with many of the poems within, is hopefully more interesting for its quirks and idiosyncrasies. Speaking of which, G.K. Chesterton once wrote that, ‘Poets have been mysteriously silent on cheese’. Well, in this anthology there are cheesecakes, eggs, spuds, lilies, aspirin, puffer fish, saffron, cicadas, blue tongue lizards, and all manner of other morsels that revel in their tactility as things in the world and words on the page.
Trains, highways, city streets, kitchens and gardens: these are the characteristic places of this anthology. It includes as many poems set in museums and galleries as in the bush or at the beach. As in last year’s anthology, edited by Brook Emery and Sarah Holland-Batt, there are many ekphrastic poems—representations of representations. Perhaps this reflects not only how intermedia has proliferated in the post-digital age, but also a concern with how indirectly Australia has represented its history to itself. So, Alex Skovron’s ‘Prognosis’ embodies the materialist historian’s desire to recover lost futures, in a poem that reverberates between prophecy and memory without escaping a vision of triumphal violence: ‘Can glimpse already / the horrified occupants, aflame and mutilated, tumbling from its hold, all their spears and machines / useless against a conflagration whose acrid fumes / will challenge even mighty Olympus…’
Throughout this anthology, there are startling glimpses of sky. ‘Heaven without the earth / is air…’ writes Amy Crutchfield, in the poem which opens this anthology. ‘Smug inverted parachutes, / they devour sky…’ (Susan Fealy). ‘He prayed / for rain but the heavens let fall Tithonus…’ (Joel Deane). ‘All the while flying away like galaxies…’ (David Adès). ‘A bunch of vertical brown sticks forking / skyward like a war-torn hand…’ (Miro Bilbrough). ‘Morning does a line on the horizon’ (K. A. Rees). ‘Quite unlike / the night beyond, snowing / sheet after perfect sheet of stars…’ (Aidan Coleman). With these sudden openings, glimpses of sky, these poems open wider perspectives out from their self-closed settings and the shape of their print on the page. Jordie Albiston’s poems in decasyllabic lines bring that sense of rift into the poem itself, and intimately recreate the feeling of language coming into being: ‘now all through the night & all through your brain / is alive to this word word word word & …’. The domestic settings of so many of these poems nowhere set them apart from politics.
An end-of-year anthology provides an opportunity to reflect on the past year in Australian poetry. Here are winning and short-listed poems from various poetry prizes: Helga Jermy’s ‘Three Synchyses in a Single Malt’ marks a strong new presence in Australian poetry. Here, too, are poems that recall the publication of Hunter Publisher’s landmark anthology, edited by Bonny Cassidy and Jessica Wilkinson, Contemporary Australian Feminist Poetry (2016).
Other poems mark this anthology as a valediction. Although esteemed poet and critic Martin Harrison died over two years ago, it is only now that many in memoriam poems are making their way into the world. It is with great pleasure that we received and can now publish two of these deeply felt poems. On January 19, toward the end of the editorial process, one of our chosen poems’ authors died. John Upton was a dramatist and poet who won the Australian Bicentennial National Play Competition, the Australian Writers Guild Award for Best New Play, and New Theatre’s 50th Anniversary Play Competition, and wrote for more than twenty TV series over a twenty-seven-year career. His poems were published in Best Australian Poems 2014 and in publications from the Australian to Cordite. We acknowledge John Upton’s many contributions to Australian literature.
Thank you to all who submitted. It has been a pleasure to encounter these poems, from well-known and unknown poets alike. We hope that you find as much to enjoy in reading them.
Cover image: In September 2007, the Northwest Passage was ice-free for the first time since satellite records began. The passage is a direct route from Europe to Asia for ships travelling through the Arctic. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this image of the ice-free Northwest Passage on Sept. 15, 2007. Credit: NASA
We are so very excited to announce that Australian Poetry Anthology Volume 5 2016 is now launched, edited by Toby Fitch and Lisa Gorton.
Australian Poetry Anthology Volume 5 2016 is part of a new journal and anthology series.
Australian Poetry Anthology and Australian Poetry Journal is designed by Stuart Geddes who is a graphic designer and occasional publisher, mostly of books, and occasionally other kinds of projects (magazines and journals, exhibitions and websites). He also co-publishes/edits/designs/prints motorcycle magazine Head Full of Snakes, and is an industry fellow, researcher and PhD candidate at RMIT University. Stuart’s research interests converge around the form of the book, through collaborative practice, emerging histories, and unconventional economies.
Print copies of the Australian Poetry Anthology will be posted out late April, and digital subscribers will find their copy in the inboxes after the Easter weekend.
You must be a subscriber to receive Australian Poetry Anthology Volume 5 2016.
If you aren’t already a subscriber, do so here.