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Where does all that fluff

come from for heaven’s sake?

They say it’s flakes of skin.

Take care – someone might

collect it all

and make little models

of you.

I have stated before on the blog that I am reluctant to review poetry for ‘A book a day…’, because I feel it cheapens the value of it. Poems should be enjoyed in quiet reflection, the reader should take their time to let the meaning of the verses sink in. Unfortunately time is one thing I do not have. Still I have made exceptions while writing this blog for two reasons. Firstly I enjoy poetry and want to include it here, despite my misgivings; and secondly I believe modern poetry especially is something that should be celebrated more.

Linda Coggin – who according to the publisher’s bio starred in Ken Russell’s Gothic, which is such a wonderfully weird film (though not up there with his demented take on Bram Stoker‘s The Lair of the White Worm) that she is immediately awesome in my eyes – presents a short collection of poems that are drawn from ordinary life. The poems also exhibit a notable quirkiness, a welcome skew on day to day events.

The opening quote chosen above is taken from a piece titled ‘Fluff in the Ideal Home‘, which begins with a list of household objects and with each verse makes these things seem more lifelike, ending with the admonition to take care – in case of some voodoo animation coming into play.

‘Dead Man Walking’ eulogises the second hand clothing of dead men that has gone on to have new life after their owners are deceased. Once again there is this curious notion of object, ordinary items, becoming invested with the stuff of life.

Death is also ordinary, the small mercies that can be offered to the dying – ‘We made small gestures/ of comfort/ water on the lips/ morphine in the veins/‘ – but also how a life can pass out of the world without any impact. ‘Alice Dunn – an obituary‘ describes a simple existence within a small village community, that began in a house numbered four and ends two doors down at number six. The poem ends with the line ‘It must have been the gypsy in her soul.

‘Job Exchange‘ describes the roles people play in their lives, sometimes in conflicting and at times in secret.

The janitor, who was really

a poet

pushed a perambulator in iambic pentameter

In ‘Entirely Spider‘ a woman is transformed from a lonely arachnophobe to a courageous defender of her children from that same fear. Becoming a mother has taught her to appreciate the small life of the spider, who is also raising a brood. It is a wonderful little fable disguised as a poem. Not as a Friend has the poet compare herself to her own mother, trying to imagine if she had known her as a child, would they have become friends.

but I can recognize in the pictures

the shape of my mouth

the way you stand awkwardly

on one leg like I do.

So in a way I had been there

‘Lilith’ is a departure, which describes the casting out of Adam’s first wife as a liberation –

She watched soft, compliant Eve

smoothing Adam’s bed

Lilith is occasionally utilised as an anti-patriarchal symbol, her insistence on coupling with Adam on top being the reason for her rejection. Coggin has her be transformed into a bird, but feel relieved not to have to submit to Adam – and by association his male descendants.

Coggin’s poetry is both incisive and quirkily humourous. Well worth investigating.

With thanks to Zer0 Books for my review copy.

All passion in the end enslaves you, and if I felt in bondage to Bach and music at that time, it was because I still had doubts about my ability to make beautiful music each time I decided to play.

(taken from ‘bach (pau) in love’ by Subhas Jaireth)

I am sick and tired of hearing about the ‘death of the short story’. To my mind short fiction is in very rude health, having already colonised the virtual plains of the internet years before the lumbering novel woke up to the danger posed to the physical book by online writing. The e-book  represents an opportunity for poets and authors to be more radical, to present their ideas in a new, novel format that does not carry the same expectations as the physical novel.

Etchings, published by Ilura Press, is an excellent showcase for up-and-coming writers and artists. Like many anthologies it does not limit itself to a certain genre, but it also pieces on art, photography, interviews and book reviews. Seeing as the cover image for this issue is Adam Elliott‘s Mary and Max, I will lead off with Janelle Moran’s interview with the film-maker. It treats not only of Elliott’s career as a storyteller/animator/director (he pauses to query how exactly he should describe himself given his many roles), but of the processes involved in launching a career as an independent in today’s film industry, as well as his pride for Melbourne and its artistic reputation. The interview itself is a very insightful and enjoyable one, as the subject gives very generous material, explaining that he looks forward to interviews as a form of ‘free therapy’.

For the most part Etchings showcases poems and short fiction from a range of international authors. Subhas Jaireth’s tale, quoted from above, is a delicate and sensitive investigation of mortality and artistic legacy, with the life of Bach becoming a fascination for two men. Kafkaesque by Nora Nadjarian is itself both a pastiche of Franz Kafka’s paranoiac Freudian fiction, as well as a short mediatation on his literary legacy. I have always hated the adjective ‘kafkaesque’, which brings to mind a Robert Crumb drawing of tourists in Prague wearing t-shirts with a profile of Kafka on them. Yet Najarian’s choice of title is perfect:

The man said: Let me tell you this. I am the reincarnation of Franz Kafka.

I believed him because his ears were pointed and his voice was melancholy.

Simonne Michelle-Wells presents a story on body dismorphia, Catching the Drops, which explores not only the suffering caused by the condition, but the degrees of deceit routinely employed against family members. The story ends on a surprisingly surreal note more in common with horror fiction. It Could Have Been Any Party by Amelia Schmidt also mines tropes of body horror, reminiscent of Brian Yuzna’s Society, or William Gibson‘s The Belonging Kind.  Alice Godwin’s The Apothecary is more magic realism than horror, but excels at achieving a surreal sense of disturbance. Out of the stories on offer, Godwin’s is my pick of the bunch.

toy heart charnel house by Autumn Christian is both fantastical and melancholic, describing a family wracked by the suicide of a child in a futuristic setting. A process known as ‘reconstruction’, has been invented, designed to help the grieving process by rendering the personalities of the dead into a artificial body construct. This of course only introduces more problems:

One of my co-workers told me once that there’s this syndrome where people think members of their family are being replaced by impostors. It’s called Capgras syndrome. Ever since we started reconstructing people, the frequency has skyrocketed.

What does that mean.

It means nobody is really who we think they are, and we know it.

The poetry collected here is also notable for the delicate imagery on show. Kevin O’Cuinn’s Untitled #11 describes the creeping dischord that can enter into relationships, with little resentments building into a divide between partners. He ends a description of an uneasy night spent in bed with the image:

a today will

appear in the window

like an uninvited guest

Anthony Noack’s Milk is beautifully understated and unpretentious in its sense of wonder. It made my wife smile when I read it out, so thank you Mr Noack.

Etchings is an excellent series, a welcome showcase for some excellent writers and artists and comes strongly recommended. With thanks to Ilura Press for my review copy.

While she’s in the toilet

I check out her books,

On the shelf

thick books

fresh-smelling paper

academic stuff.

A muddle of novels

by the bed

French and South American

no thrillers, no crap.

Detective novels have a fairly set format. This is why they can be dismissed in such an offhand manner by critics on occasion. They are the definition of formulaic, and no amount of true life mysteries, vampires, sf future noir settings or even Hippo detectives can change that. The stories all begin to look the same from a certain remove. So Dorothy Porter’s solution is to write her detective tale entirely in verse!

Jill is an ex-cop who has moved into private investigation. Living out in the Blue Mountains she just barely manages to pay her bills, but she likes the quiet life. Eventually Jill’s finances force her to take on a missing person case. Nineteen year old Mickey Norris is a poetry-loving student, just another shy girl with ambitions of finding a patron and fame. Her parents are worried, but Jill reckons it will be a simple case. She travels to the college Mickey attends and questions her friends about her lifestyle. They all give the same report. Mickey was a quiet, retiring nondescript sort, who had recently discovered poetry.

Then Jill meets Mickey’s tutor Diana, who proves to be something of a distraction from the case. Married to an ambitious legal eagle Nick, she seems way out of the world weary private eye’s league, but surprisingly the two begin a torrid affair. Jill enters Diana’s more refined world of academic scandals and hobnobbing at book launches, feeling out of place and even slightly vulgar. Is this nothing more than a silly fling for Diana? Jill’s feelings continue to grow until she loses all perspective on the case. Then the police find Mickey’s body.

Detectives deal in simple, hard facts. Detective stories must contend with the dry, logical structure of deduction and the prose employed in these tales reflect that. Porter’s story opts for slippery free verse, embracing an Otherness in keeping with its lesbian protagonist to set it apart from plodding flatfoots and shamuses.

Porter also is having quite a lot of fun at the expense of ligging poets and pretentious artists. By adopting the standard plot of a detective novel, with the hero descending into a criminal world to avenge the death of an innocent, the literary scene is transformed into hellish trap for the young and beautiful, exploited by the corrupt and venal.

It is a funny little joke and Porter’s erotic content adds a frisson of excitement to the proceedings. Overall though I found the book a bit too cool, too detached. This is an assembled satire that lacks the necessary earthy punch of the best kind of mockery. Still worth a gander though.

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