Poet and Novelist


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Sydney Double for Ghost Poets

Double it is, or they are. Alan Fish and M A Carter are happy to announce they will have their first poetry collections launched in Sydney on the weekend. They don't exist. Their books do exist - and Philip Salom (in this blog space, I reserve the right to use a third-person reference just this once) will finally be launching these two poets free of his head. David Musgrave of Puncher & Wattmann has taken on this strange endeavour and has, with his designer Matthew Holt, produced two beautiful books.  Fish and Carter are happy, but invisible. I was going to say they as happy as ghosts but we always imagine ghosts as permanently unhappy (like many poets, come to think of it) and these two are thrilled silly.

They are heteronyms and as such write through quite different personalities. We are each of us different. (Underneath the launch details I will add their back cover blurbs to better describe the poets in a form they have already approved.) 


The Sydney launch is part of the Puncher & Wattmann Xmas party and therefore we are not facing the launch-every-night problem happening in Melbourne at the moment. The Melbourne launch will be in warmer (in weather) but cooler (in book launch) February. And I will blog again to announce that. Plus use Facebook, and email. Simon West's new book is also being launched at the P&W party. Quite a day.

Saturday, December 10

The Friend in Hand Hotel, 58 Cowper St, Glebe. From 3.30pm.


Alan Fish was writing poetry before his life went dark. He let it collect like a tank of rain-water. His subject matter? Love and death. His poetry is deeply haunted and lyrical in its privacy but also ironically observant and public – after all, he is not only a lover, but a flaneur. He can snap his fingers. He can play Go. There has always been a largely hidden group of closet poets, people who read and write in private. Poetry knows this and addresses them tacitly as its own, but sometimes such a poet says enough, grabs the poems and speaks back. Alan Fish left his basement in the Print Room, left his Keepers behind him and struck out on his own. His work is seriously beautiful, or beautifully serious, in its imagery and shadows; he is in some ways lost, but he is no push-over. He is to one side of the optimists. He is addicted to free verse couplets. As the cliche says: a compelling new voice. Listen.

[For most of his life Alan Fish has lived in Melbourne and though he spent several years on a small orchard in rural Victoria he doesn't go in for the "I have two dogs and live on the coast in a corrugated-iron beach-shack" kind of bio. His poems have appeared in print but he isn't widely published in journals or on avant garde websites and he hasn't won numerous literary awards in obscure towns or at small agricultural shows. He does keep fish and realises this sounds silly.] 


A new poet on the block, MA Carter is uncaring of the niceties and the pat expressions of much poetry within the status quo – instead, Carter is mordant, immoderate, opinionated and likely to offend. He writes in a style that is distinctly musical and even lyrical but his observations stray wildly and eccentrically from the expected. His poems don't mind being rude, or chauvinistic, even a bit scary. He admits this will not make him popular or admired, but he doesn't care for popular or admired, he prefers to say what he thinks and be done with it. Until the next poem, that is. Carter thinks poetry plays safe, is less about integrity than it sounds, and is more about wooing the reader with phony affectations – those sequences of cliched and rhetorical love poems, nature musings with poets too fond of themselves ... or self-congratulatory claims to ethics, books obsessed with the politics or landscape or both. MA Carter makes claims too, ironic, false claims usually. But what a bracing thing this is. What fun. Read him now.

[MA Carter resides in Melbourne and has the upper floor of an apartment to himself. He and his sister Mary keep two cats who often sit, as he notes, "like apostrophes" on either side of him. His work has been read in public very occasionally and there is a very brief publication online, but he hasn't been published widely in journals, nor in haiku form all over the world, and nor has he been translated into twelve languages. This is his first major collection but won't be his last if he can help it. His other profession is not stated though he admits to being a stirrer.] 

Philip December 08, 2011

The Most Unlikely Poetry Prize

Last Thursday I performed my cricket poem-entry in the unlikely (and amazingly international) Cricket Poetry Prize - with the paintings from the Cricket Art Prize as backdrop. Strange? Yes. This unexpected award is run somewhat mysteriously with help from several patrons including the board of the Sydney Cricket Ground. It seemed to me a very likeable bit of mischief: to entice poets with a modest but handy prize of $2000 to play the sporty possibiltities of poems about a national obsession. After all, Warnie has been more newsworthy than any poet, so why not let a poet hit the news with a poem about Warnie? None did, it seems, but then he was going to press with his own bad poetry. It seemed like a good lark anyway. 

I had been advised of my 'shortlisting' (ah, it was a 20-long list) a month earlier. This was announced as quite an achievement. Clearly the organiser isn't a literary person. Some weeks later I heard the short shortlisted poets had read their work at the SCG and a winner was announced. Lucky for the organisers no poet from the many international entries was shortlisted...

The travelling art show came to Melbourne: 40 paintings of the finalists were hung at The Age's head office and two local poets were asked to read their poems. Well, if you start a lark you should see it through. I could remind people just how great Wesley Hall had been. Free wine and handy hot nibbles. The paintings were probably better than the poems overall. It was never going to be surprising. But it got stranger. There were artists there who because they hadn't made the cut referred to themselves as failed artists. This stuff makes me run. 

And stranger - that night I heard that the 20 long-shortlisted poems had been performed in a Sydney pub with actors reading the works aloud and with audience whoops and howls taken as judgement. Howzat? This despite the organisers naming two judges - a poet and a PR person - as, um, judges. Very handy. Local poets could go along and cheer their own poems. And the top four poems are from NSW. 

It's only fun, or should be, but this does look like a loaded dice. Or biting the ball? It's wonky.

Philip December 05, 2011


Last week I became Poet-in-Residence for Creative Innovation 2011, a conference presenting the ideas and advice of speakers who have extensive track records in driving, facilitating and/or theorising innovation. Not in the artistic sense but in areas of the cognitive sciences, industry, institutions, business, etc. So this event became an increasingly strange experience for me: a poet more used to appearing as a writer/reader/speaker and lecturer ... than as entertainment.

Being less inclined to copy the main line and more amused by what I see as the ironies, I read a few poems that looked at the oddities and paradoxes of innovation and learning. Especially Artificial Intelligence and its masters. I think some of the audience followed my poems, but I really can't be sure. Audiences at poetry readings are hard enough to 'read' - unless they're laughing at funny poems - but at least they make a range of noises, from said laughter to that almost audible silence, and the range of ah and mmm sounds as the poem ends... 

The speakers were not only brilliant people in their own fields, they all spoke brilliantly. This is highly unusual. It was the only conference I've been at where I never once looked at the time in that vain attempt to pull the end closer.

Weeks later, it still feels odd to have been part of the frame. However, in years to come... it will be fascinating to see how the predictions of speakers such as Ray Kurzweil turn out. He is a man who seems to second-guess the future with alarming precision (and a swag of stats on rates of change and innovation as his guide). If there were Nobels in his fields of inquiry he'd have one. He is confident artificial intelligence will not only be with us but ahead of us, intellectually, within 20 years or so. That computer innovation will be astoundingly advanced. That we will have robotic T-cells circulating in our bloodstreams and spare-parts repair shops as standard practice. Practical immortality? As he says, it will come: so hang in there!

Philip November 21, 2011

More animals, briefly

Sitting with one of the puss cats tonight made me consider - for the first time - not how much I like animals but how long I've been sitting beside one. Or been in close contact with them.

As a child, my first 12 years on the farm meant we had several cats and at least one dog and all the cattle, which is a visual if not always a tactile harvest. When I went to high school I boarded in a larger country town, now a small rural city, and was without animals (except the teenage kind) nearby for four years. It was my first extended period away from them.

My years at an Agricultural College provided fortnightly contact with farm animals of the eccentric menagerie known only to staff and students of such places in such an era - on one farm there were: beef and dairy cattle, a range of sheep breeds, pigs, chooks, turkeys, horses, rabbits, cats and dogs. During my cattle research years I looked after 'experimental' animals - beef cattle - hands-on, every day for nearly three years. 

In the city I moved from house to house for another four years or so and no one had pets until I bought a pup in the mid 70s ... and since then I have had a cat or dog, or both, or two cats at any one time, with only one year gap in all that time. 

It makes, say, only nine or so years without them. Fifty-ish with them close by. Nearly forty years with animals inside the house. What a privilege.


Phil October 27, 2011

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