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Top Ten Poetic Moments of 2011

The following is a list of my ten favourite moments in Australian poetry in the past year or so. I call it a list of moments because not all of these are poems; a few of them are discussions of poetry which I enjoyed for various reasons.

In a recent entry on my own blog entitled ‘Some Thoughts’ I made a few points about my sometimes awkward relationship with contemporary Australian poetry. I will refrain from quoting myself here but I will preface the following list by admitting that if permitted I would spend all my time reading books by my favourite poets and authors, almost all of whom are international and dead.

However, I will also admit that on occasion it proves a blessing to be forced to delve into contemporary Australian poetry and the following is a list of ten things that failed to make me wish I was born in another time and place:

10. ‘Poetry or Pornography’ by Koraly Dimitriadis. This blog post on Overland back in June has inspired 107 comments and counting. Frankly, I don’t like the poems quoted in the article and I disagree with three quarters of Dimitriadis’ argument. But even if it is only because like schoolboys sniggering at swearwords whispered behind the bleachers people are titillated (pun intended) by any talk of sex (ooh-er) – at least they are simultaneously thinking about what makes poetry. The saying is ‘sex sells’ not ‘good sex sells’, and anything that might pique the interest of a potential broader poetry readership is alright with me. After all, even the most discerning reader of poetry had to start somewhere.

9. ‘Two Years On’ by Elizabeth Allen. This poem was published in the spring 2011 edition of Overland. I don’t know whether it was the intention of the poet to include references to a bunch of other contemporary poems – but every other line in this poem seems to be a tribute to other poets. I smiled and thought of Jaya Savige’s ‘Posture’ in the lines ‘… To write a poem / about yoga: feeling vulnerable, inflexible, / briefly graceful …’ and of my own poem ‘It’s Raining Chem’ when she writes:

while the neighbour’s
opera floods through the wall and
the children across the road have a
screaming contest. It would never be
published & wouldn’t be recognised in
either edition of The Best Australian Poetry.

8. ‘The List Grows’ by Emilie Collyer. This poem was published on Verity La (ed. Alec Patric) in November. I love that a female poet can use an erection simile in the first stanza of a poem, fall into a rhythmic stream of consciousness about John Lennon and Yoko Ono, and then bring it back to the hard-on metaphor to tie it all together neatly at the end, while remaining halfway subtle the whole way through.

7. Ali Alizadah’s review of The Simplified World by Petra White published on the HEAT Poetry Online website in February. This website was off to a very slow start in 2010 and appears to be grappling with the infinite possibilities and demands of the digitalisation of literary journals, having to date featured a mere nine reviews. This particular review, however, inspired some lively debate about what constitutes ‘conservatism’ in poetry (among other things).

6. ‘Don’t be Stupid’ by Ouyang Yu. This poem was published by Cordite (ed. David Prater) in May. The delightfully awkward speaker in the poem stumbles over his own indiscriminate racial prejudices and admonishes himself for doing so in the same breath, then confronts his social anxieties about being misunderstood and left behind with a taxi driver. If you happen to speak Korean, a Hangul translation of the poem by Kim Gayhiun appears beneath the English.

5. ‘The Freedom Fighter’ by Misbah. This prose poem appears in the December issue of Cordite (ed. Jill Jones). To simultaneously deliver a gripping narrative and evoke such vivid imagery all in fewer than 350 words is to be a poet. The poem opens with an intriguing exposition of the poem’s protagonist who ends up capturing my heart as well as the heart of the speaker:

In case you die and they don’t know whose side you are on, you have an identity card that states your distinguishing features, like the mole on your neck. At night you and your friends smoke hashish and then jump in the soft snow.

4. ‘Some Random Notes About Contemporary Poetry’ or ‘Some things I hate’ – Gig Ryan’s speech at the 2010 Overland Judith Wright Poetry Prize presentation as part of the Emerging Writers Festival. As well as appreciating her summary that ‘all art reflects and contains that which has gone before’ – a point which I drew from in my own review of Roger Sedarat’s Ghazal Games – I found this whole speech entertaining and honest. I admire Ryan for not holding back in her criticisms of contemporary Australian poetry (or perhaps she did hold back?) and I hope to someday have the guts and the authority to be just as bold about telling everyone what I hate about contemporary Australian poetry.

3. ‘Self-Portrait’ by Helen Cerne. This concrete poem in the shape of a woman was published in Offset no. 11 (eds. Samuel Ryan and Alexandra Schleibs). While I hope it isn’t strictly a self portrait, it inspired me to try writing my own concrete poem. I decided to stick with free verse but anytime I read something that makes me want to write, I am infinitely grateful for the lesson.

2. ‘Seven Last Words of the Emperor Hadrian’ by David Malouf. This suite of 7 short poems appears in Out of the Box (eds. Michael Farrell and Jill Jones) published by Puncher & Wattmann Poetry in 2009. I first discovered Malouf’s poem when reviewing this collection for the Overland blog (I was a little late to the party).

1. ‘The Suspect’ by Ali Alizadeh. This poem appears in Alizadeh’s latest collection of poems entitled Ashes in the Air, published in 2011 by University of Queensland Press. I first mentioned this poem in my review of UQP’s The Best Australian Poetry 2009 on the Overland blog. In that review I said that this poem ‘takes the top of my head off’ (as Emily Dickinson recommends good poetry should do), and it continues to do so.

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