Poet and Novelist


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Cats and Silence


I dislike those people who think people are divisible as liking cats or liking dogs, as if this liking only operated through us as preference – things being mutually exclusive. I have had three dogs as pets, over 20 years, and three cats over 25 years, with some overlap of dog and cat. None of these numbers include my childhood years on the farm, where we had several cats and one or two dogs all the time. And cows. It's just ... cows are hard work in an apartment. It's said that Newfoundland dogs are too, they will leap into the bath with you, onto the lounge, onto the bed... they weight up to 100kgs.

Cats have become my favourites now because we don't have to walk them, or pay them much attention if we're busy, they aren't breathily, breathlessly, or foul-breath needy. Dogs are shouters. And cats are quiet. Beautifully, marvelously quiet. Cats do silence brilliantly. They can walk silently, leap and land silently, wash, well, quietly, and move up against you softly and silently. So when they do make some noise – snoring whiffily as they sleep, or crunching biscuits, or chewing off their drying claws, or yowling with cat-existential concern - it becomes a delight and a burst of difference. Knowing how ferocious cats can be, and all have the potential to be, they are quite movingly gentle in their soft grace when affectionate, their silent co-coordinating stepping over obstacles, their wanting all four paw-pads touching you when they sit beside you ...

Our cats look us in the eye and the boy cat, Evan, is especially smart and even (no, really?) seems capable of uncatlike empathy (well, almost) in his attentions. Not quite as closely-attentive as a dog, no solace like dog licking solace, but some mysterious sense of coming when silent company is more than welcome.  

Phil October 12, 2011

How we do poetry

The Australian Poetry Symposium was held recently, in Newcastle, in tandem with the annual celebrations for the Newcastle Poetry Prize. The NPP was also celebrating its 30th anniversary: all those ambitious poems written and re-written and posted in, all 200 lines of them, for 30 years... something like 3,000,000 lines of poetry! The prize was originally established as the Mattara Poetry Prize by Paul Kavanagh and Christopher Pollnitz and they ran it for many years before it morphed into the current NPP. Congratulations to everyone involved for this magnificent and brilliantly long-lasting demonstration of Australian poetry and its tenacious poets.

The Symposium was a very full day of poetry and discussion, mainly discussion. A lot of time given early to poetry as entertainment (what the Americans used to call Extension in their professional organisations, ie: getting the public involved) and then a change of direction to give poets a chance to talk about... actual poetry. Given a program which ran from 8am (cafe readings) until 9pm (the final papers) and then moved to the pub for a further hour of Slam – the day was far too long and too densely laden with presentations. The program was made more unwieldy by the Director Paul Kooperman interpolating a 30 minute (ie: unscheduled) performance about the value of Slam poetry by Emily Zoe Baker into the middle of the day's events. This was a repeat of a performance she'd given at another event and seemed an unnecessary indulgence in a busy day already busy with poetry as performance (a persistent part of the AP agenda). It then made all subsequent panels and events run madly against the clock.

The feedback several of us received suggested the panel session on Inhabiting the Poem was a very welcome shift back to addressing the poem, and writing, rather than reception; and several of the night papers were also sharply interesting, especially Michael Sharkey adding critical suggestions to issues of professionalism/s in AP's modus operandi, and then Pete Minter's biting piece on the Lehmann/Gray anthology. Pete addressed the politics of the editors' anthologising of indigenous poets (or not), ie: their inclusion in/erasure from the anthology. Fascinating. Absurdist, even.   

Other than writing and reading and publishing poetry, we discuss it, award it and anthologise it, and each of these forms matter. Always worth thinking about.

Details of the events are available at the Australian Poetry website.

Phil October 10, 2011

Webb blog - Francis Webb Poet Extraordinaire

Celebration! On the final Saturday (Sept 3) of the Melbourne Writers Festival, one of Australia’s greatest poets came back into glorious print. To celebrate the occasion, several leading Melbourne poets were invited to read one or two poems each from the brilliant new Collected Poems of Francis Webb. This was a lush moment, a time to give full voice to Webb’s richly layered poetry through several different voices and reading styles. The original reading list was: Jordie Albiston, Diane Fahey, Jennifer Harrison, Philip Salom, Alex Skovron and Chris Wallace-Crabbe.

With the Collected Poems of Francis Webb now on sale, Australian poetry readers have available, for the first time in more than 30 years, the full output of this magnificent and influential poet. These versions of the poems are the latest, corrected versions, incorporating all of Webb’s intended alterations and changes (such as the thematic shift from death to one of light, or implied resurrection, in the final couplet of Nessun Dorma). These details have been studiously researched and presented by Toby Davidson, and the book itself is published by the University of Western Australia Press.

For the actual reading, Petra White read in place of Jordie, who was unable to make the event. Each of us spoke briefly of our experiences of Webb’s poetry and gave individual insights into its extraordinary power and complexity. It is not ‘easy’ poetry to read and nor is it easy to perform, but I feel it’s fair to say ... we gave it an unusually articulate and insightful performance. We admire his work; we made it a point of honour to prepare. Francis Webb is back in print where in virtual sense he has always been – as the poet many Australian poets name as their greatest national influence. He’s strikingly original – but very very real.

Phil September 08, 2011

All’s Write with the World

Always fascinating to find how the world fits in with the writing. When it does, I mean. When it does. Especially when a problem in the writing requires some 'helping' right answer from the world.

I was reading through the final versions of the MA Carter poems before Keeping Carter goes off for design: in one poem, Carter finally gets dressed and goes downstairs while the Goldberg Variations are playing on CD. The problem? Which variation is playing as he walks down the steps and (he) claims a chromatic scale is descending with him? Several numbers sounded nearly right in the phrasing, and others very wrong, until it seemed only one number (in rhythm/sound) worked in the lines, and that number was ‘eighteenth’. So the line is there, with the eighteenth variation referenced as playing. Being amanuensis for Carter, and being thorough, I selected Glenn Gould's famous CD of the Goldberg Variations, the same one Carter refers to. And played it. The main thematic structure of the 18th ... is of notes stepping down. 

Philip Salom for MA Carter August 25, 2011

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