writing of readerly reviews of writings

Tag: :Poetry:

Review: “Moments of Desire: Sex and Sensuality by Australian Feminist Writers”, edited by Susan Hawthorne and Jenny Pausacker

hawthorne, pausacker (ed.) moments of desireI was delighted to relocate this on DC’s bookshelf, possibly hers, possibly mine, but gifted to me now. I’d be on the look-out for some months, wanting to track down Hawthorne’s poem ‘Erotica Alphabetica’ that I’d read and remembered as an undergraduate: it happily stood the test of time. I also enjoyed Rosemary Jones’ prose-poem ‘The Woman in the Moon’ (source of the citation below). Unfortunately, that was about it. I found almost none of the pieces erotic, which is always a risk of “erotic” writing, but worse, I found that they nearly all were too damned cerebral, thinking too damned much, working too damned hard to break down the stereotypes of what constituted the erotic. (Which, fair enough, has been feminism’s modus operandi – making the status quo uncomfortable with itself.) Worse, even, most pieces weren’t actually terribly good, and I eventually got too bored/irritated to keep reading. I will keep it for the sake of those two pieces, however, and it makes a reasonable addition to the feminist / lesbian / women’s / writerly history section of the Keeper Shelf.

Where it came from: DC’s Bookshelf as a gift
Time and manner of reading:
Kaleidoscopic bed reads with a final train frustration
Where it went: Keeper Shelf
Best line of the book: “She was dream / she was silver / she was tough” (p.66)
Reminds me of/that: Erotica is *terribly* subjective
Who I’d recommend it to:
Historically feministly curious
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Peeling the Onion by Günter Grass; Returning the Gift edited by Joseph Bruchac


Review: “Car Maintenance, Explosives and Love, and Other Contemporary Lesbian Writings”, edited by Susan Hawthorne, Cathie Dunsford and Susan Sayer

susan hawthorne et al car maintenance, explosives and loveI confess: I bought this for the fabulous Tina FiveAsh cover photo. I’d owned this book when I was young and impressionable, passed it on in some travelling bookshelf cull, and was recently reminded how great this photo was. Unfortunately, the internet’s language–image interface is not yet sophisticated enough to let me key in “lesbians car kissing 1950s” and have this shot delivered to me, so I’ll be happy to keep it in book form.

I confess more: having reread more than half of the anthology, I thought I’d *only* be keeping it for the cover. This is a 1997 compilation of Australian and NZ lesbians’ writings, with a healthy representation of Maori and (one) Aboriginal woman. Many of the pieces are stylistically dated, quite a few are downright average, and it is unflattering to the reviewer to find one’s own writing good by comparison to others’ poor offerings (naughty me). However, by the end I had been convinced that there were enough smart, witty, well-written pieces among the drama, poetry and short stories compiled here to justify a couple of inches on my shelf. I think the book is best considered as a contribution to an ongoing dialogue of lesbian writers, a way of dejando constancia (leaving a record) of lesbian life, lives and culture. And as such, it is valuable and necessarily of its time. Recommended on those terms.

Where it came from: Market stall
Time and manner of reading:
Twenty-five hours of every-spare-minute reading, more because it existed than because it was fantabulous
Where it went: Keeper Shelf
Reminds me of/that:
Who I’d recommend it to: Dykes and dyke-curious
Also reading: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; The Seven Sisters of the Pleiades by Munya Andrews; The Politics of Ecstasy by Timothy Leary

Review: Rabbit #4

rabbit4A sympathy and enthusiasm subscription (the editors were nice to me) which has taken me a nice, slow year to get through. One of the forms of poetry which I find most inspiring is “documentary poetry” or “poetry of witness” as it’s sometimes called, and I was hoping this journal of non-fiction poetry would help create an audience for it. In this edition, I enjoyed Rob Walker, Mark O’Flynn and Peter Tranter’s poems, and really liked the visual poetry of Anne Lynam, but most of it I found to be wanky, overworked, crazier-than-thou experimentalism – which clearly doesn’t float my boat when there’s no soul to underpin it. It was useful to have regular poetry to read between chapters or essays or stories of other tomes; I enjoyed exercising my discernment and helping learn what I liked and how I wanted to write; the few really good ones were worth the read, so I’ll carry on with the next three editions is (probably equally slow) increments.

Where it came from: First of a one-year subscription to Rabbit
Time and manner of reading:
Numerous kaleidoscopic poetry reads over, oh, about a year
Where it went: Keeper Shelf
Reminds me of/that: To be a writer, one must do writerly things (including, of course, writing)
Who I’d recommend it to: Fans of experimental new voices
Also reading: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; The Seven Sisters of the Pleiades by Munya Andrews

Review: Diane Wood Middlebrook’s “Anne Sexton: A Biography”

diane wood middlebrook anne sextonA confronting read: it sets out the ambition and the craziness of Anne Sexton, tracing her life as she strives to cure her multiple mental illnesses and become a renowned poet. Yes to the latter achievement, no the former. This superstar suicidal female poet, who was able to perform and write her poetry but not care for herself, her home or her family, is one of those who gives artists a bad name. Confronting, as I say, because AS is part of writers’ history, and because she was a driven, successful, technically skilled poet – but she’s no model of how to be a good human. But then, neither was Rilke, or Berryman, or any of those pill-popping drunk New England confessional poets, or or or … I must say it is intimidating and downright impressive to read of her rates of “production” and publication (40 poems in her second year as a published poet!), and one can only hope that those levels of professional writing don’t require her levels of screwed-up-ness.

PS I am reminded that I am reviewing the book, not AS’s life. Well researched, unprecedented access to primary sources — including tapes of psychiatric therapy sessions, not salacious or sensationalist despite the abundant material AS provided in terms of bisexual adultery, incest, drugs and mental illness. A fine biography, commended.

PPS I just listened to this complementary audio: http://thirdcoastfestival.org/library/1015-re-sound-154-the-painters-and-poets-show.

Where it came from: Opshop
Time and manner of reading:
Trainy, bay-ey, recuperatory reads
Where it went: Left on a train to Bondi Junction
Reminds me of/that:
Who I’d recommend it to: Poets who want inside info
Also reading: Rabbit #4; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; The Seven Sisters of the Pleiades by Munya Andrews; Rainbow Pie by Joe Bageant; The Polished Hoe by Austin Clarke

Review: Edward Hirsch’s “How to Read a Poem: And Fall in Love with Poetry”

edward hirsch how to read a poemThis has been a long and delightful read. When I first started it, ooh, over a year ago, I’d industriously tag all the pages that had profound or beautiful words on them, but after flipping every few pages, I thought it better to assume that the whole book was pre-tagged. Hirsch, poet and critic, provides explanations, samples, analyses, elucidations of powerful words, and why the poetic craft ought matter to the logophilic (word-loving?) reader. So many gorgeous poems, with such crafted thoughts attached to them: a must-read for poets and loving readers. Delighted to recommend it.

Where it came from: Gift from HG: “Good luck with getting your hands dirty”
Time and manner of reading:
Months and months and months of kaleidoscopic samples, a few deep pages at a time
Where it went: Keeper Shelf
Reminds me of/that: Forgive the triteness, but: the power of poetry
Who I’d recommend it to: Word-lovers
Also reading: Rabbit #4; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; The Seven Sisters of the Pleiades by Munya Andrews

Review: Dorothy Porter’s “The Monkey’s Mask”

dorothy porter the monkey's maskFinally found a copy of my own! Snaffled in an opshop this morning, devoured this afternoon, this lesbian-detective-verse-novel was even better the second time around. PI Jill Fitzpatrick is investigating the disappearance of 19 y.o. wannabe poet Mickey (female). She enters a torrid affair with Mickey’s poetry teacher, Dr Diana Maitland, meets her lawyer husband Nick, and hobnobs at a few entertaining poetry readings. The plotting is smart, the affair is sexy, Sydney is gritty and real, the poems are bitey and sharp – a damned fab book. And I can finally have this poem on my very own shelf:


In love I’ve got no style

my heart is decked out
in bright pink tracksuit pants

it weaves its huge bummed way
through the tables to Diana

she’s reading something
with very fine print

she doesn’t need her glasses to see me.

So highly recommended. (Although I don’t like the str8t-acting front cover, or understand the fascination in the weird straight almost-sex scene.)

Where it came from: Opshop
Time and manner of reading:
Afternoon devourment on a sunny couch/bed
Where it went: Keeper Bookshelf
Reminds me of/that:
Who I’d recommend it to:

Also reading: Rabbit #4; How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Delaunay by Hajo Duchting; The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul by Deborah Rodriguez

Review: Lady Murasaki’s “The Tale of Genji”

lady murasaki the tale of genjiOne that ticks the boxes of KAM’s List and the Global Women of Colour Challenge, reputedly the world’s first novel, written by a lady-in-waiting to the Japanese Imperial Court in the 9th or 10th century. Lady Murasaki (a pen name) wrote this ten-volume work – the first is plenty for me – with the glorious, beautiful, poetic, musical Prince Genji as the hero. Characters are highly confusing and the plot is desperately slim, focussing only on late-adolescent Genji’s romantic trysts with everyone from his father the Emperor’s wife to an elderly waiting maid to slum dwelling dream lovers to ten-year-old girls he kidnaps so they can marry when she’s old enough. U-huh. Anyhoo, the reason this book was interesting was the rites and rituals and social performances which were standard court fare in mediaeval Japan. Most fascinating was the recital and writing of poems – couplets, acrostics – as a prime means of communication, either when flirting with a potential lover (that’s most of the time, if this novel’s anything to go by), and the evaluation of people’s worth according to the calibre of their handwriting and the wit of their poetry. Two details I just loved. Has its historic value, and isn’t all terribly written, Genji is just a shallow twat and 189pp of his romances is a bit thin.

Where it came from: Bookshop
Time and manner of reading:
Multifarious mildly curious snippets, generally small because it was quite dense and densely printed = hard to read
Where it went: KAM
Reminds me of/that: So many other cultures and alternatives for the social uses of poetry
Who I’d recommend it to:
Antique cultures buffs
Also reading: Rabbit #4; How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Being Alive edited by Neil Astley