Emerging poet series: Robbie Coburn

Robbie Coburn is a poet and critic. He was born in June 1994 in Melbourne and lives in the rural district of Woodstock, Victoria. His poetry and criticism have been published in various Australian journals, and he has published two chapbooks, Human Batteries (Picaro Press, 2012) and Before Bone and Viscera (Rochford Street Press, 2014) and a longer collection Rain Season (Picaro Press, 2013). His current projects include a novella and a new volume of poetry.

The savagery of thought

the mirror is foreign
learning this language of the body, the ways it alters
in the throes of a deliberate brutality,

the savagery of thought, its driving influence over action,
harsh impressions left on the skin
as ash corrugates on the surface,
I climb into discolouration reveling in
the trance of pain, constructing a regressive agony,

standing before a transcendent reflection,
this language spoken in glass;
the physical dialect of my targeted body in the soft hum of blood-

harm is the cruel eye of the needle that the body threads through,
to ache is to witness being.


Eye of the Mother

the days here move from flesh to flesh, my fixed eyes
looking out into deeper winters seeing only
an intense frost build on my mother’s hands by the line
in the backyard.
I do not know where else to walk to, who I am
want to leave no trace of my flesh
looking out and being unseen, a ghost
that haunts rooms of strangers.

the snare of memory, alien enough
even at home for your eyes to meet mine, startled,
peering through your worn skin,
gently unmoved by sound, silent at my voice
and creeping warmth,
eyes steadied and averted as if shame
was a world not granted to you.
I can feel your love escaping my body,
a soft music leaving me, at once removed and present.

light coils, pits of colour pouring through
envy-green paddocks, drift of paled air,
too many years: the choked rasp of a drained voice shooting
through the sudden canal of morning.

and of course thought here is voiceless, a growing cavity

rain enters from an open window.
elongated shadows dance inside
for some lesser form of intimacy.

Who are you reading now and why do they turn you on?

I’m reading Rimbaud quite extensively, but this is nothing new. John Ashbery’s translation of Illuminations is superb. Everything about Rimbaud appeals to me, his voice is assured and precise, he writes in a way we all wish we could. I am also around the age he was when writing, which I suppose is a nice connection to have, though of course the connection could never become a comparison in any sense.

I’m currently reading a lot of Vincent Buckley. The way he marries the individual and the landscape is incredible, and he writes so vastly and covers so much ground. He writes a poetry that I can become completely immersed in, with such evocation and incredibly striking imagery. His Collected Poems gathers a lifetime of incredible poetic achievement and there is such depth and beauty, even when darkness clouds the page. I’ve really fallen in love with him. I’ve fallen in love with Philip Hodgins for many of the same reasons.

Also, I’m very attracted to the work that came out of 60’s and 70’s Australia, in particular Charles Buckmaster. He lived in Gruyere, rural Victoria, close to where I live in Woodstock, so I feel a very close connection to both the poet and his work. He is one of those beautiful poets whose work transcends time and any notion of style and trend. Much of my current work concerns the state of the body in time and within the landscape, and Buckmaster is a constant kindred spirit. He was a beautiful poet whose writing, though not much of it exists, I return to often.

And I am also always reading contemporary Australian work, as there is so much great work appearing all the time.  Many of the poets I admire and who inspire me most are the ones writing and publishing today.

I also listen to Bob Dylan constantly, but he requires no introduction or explanation, of course. I really find listening to and reading the work of lyricists and songwriters as essential to my work as reading poetry itself. It is all poetry.

How often do you write? Do you have a writing practice?

I’ve never had a strict writing practice, as such, though I’m always jotting things down. Most of my first drafts are written when I’m away from my desk. The practice comes later during the editing process, when I work the poems from the idea into form, but I am constantly writing. Working full time now, I find it harder to find the time to write within a timeframe, and to designate time to write, which is where I am grateful that I am primarily a poet, as my longer projects certainly suffer. As far as a practice goes, I read as often and as extensively as I can. I feel the best education for anyone wanting to write is to read.  In fact, I believe if you do not read you can’t write. I work in a library so that aspect of my practice is usually under control.

When you think of Australian poetry, do you see an elephant in the room? If so, what is it?

I don’t think so, as much as there is debate and many different views on the current ‘state’ of poetry in this country. My thoughts on Australian poetry change, but I tend to just focus on the work and on the form. The way it stands within society is irrelevant to me. Of course poetry is not read as widely as it deserves to be, but there are enough of us who keep poetry relevant. There is still so much wonderful work surfacing and some of our finest poets are still publishing, which is enough to assure me that the elephant is not a presence I want to take notice of.
Other works online:






Robbie’s website is http://robbiecoburn.com.au


Peter Minter

Peter Minter is a leading Australian poet and writer on poetry and poetics, and Overland’s outgoing poetry editor.

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