15 August 2021

The Canberra bookshelf: poetry, pregnancy and Who Fed Zed?

| Barbie Robinson
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Where the Heart is book cover

Where the Heart Is, a charming book about a penguin and his. Image: Supplied.

It is fearfully difficult to get poetry published in Australia. For this reason alone it is such a wonderful thing to see that Recent Work Press in Canberra is a small publisher interested mainly in poetry and other short-form textual work.

They were founded in 2015 and aim to produce attractive paperback editions of all their publications. Read more about them on their website https://recentworkpress.com/books/

Published in 2021 by Recent Works, What we Carry/Poetry on Childbearing is a superb collection, edited by Ella Kurz, Simone King and Claire Delahunty, focussed on what they refer to as ‘the ineffable mosaic of wonder, fatigue, love, elation, discomfort and tedium experienced during pregnancy, birth and early parenthood’.

The book’s introduction tells us that acclaimed poet Sharon Olds was rejected by a literary magazine in the 1970s with a note that read: ‘This is a literary magazine. If you wish to write about this sort of subject, may we suggest the Ladies’ Home Journal. The true subjects of poetry are … male subjects, not your children.’ Perhaps the publishing world has moved a little since then.

In any case, the female experience of birth and its associated subjects, which are the business of all people, are variously and diversely represented in this book. It is a long overdue vehicle for these powerful and intensely moving voices.

Majura Cafe poets Toast

The Majura Cafe Poets’ Toast to Poetry is a strong compilation. Image: Supplied.

While on the poetry wagon, Clint Wright from the Majura Cafe Poets has edited their latest collection entitled Toast to Poetry (self-published, Canberra 2021, with cover design by Karen May and foreword by Fiona McIlroy.). The group had been in the habit of meeting weekly in various venues around Canberra since its inception in 2009 but was interrupted by the restrictions of COVID-19.

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Rather than this presaging poetry’s ‘being toast’, however, the situation simply threw up a challenge to the poets to keep in touch via other means. What they have produced is a so-called chapbook, traditionally a short collection of poems bound by a unifying theme or experience – the principal one here being the now 18 months of COVID’s reign.

It’s an insubstantial object containing very substantial work. Some of the poets have cast a humorous eye over life’s current vicissitudes, as for example in Clint Wright’s A Think at the Sink. Others like Christopher Dorman’s Newton’s Measure may be wry but are also a strongly evocative memory. Marilyn Hutchinson’s heartfelt lament for the willow Why Weeping? becomes a metaphor for the current malaise and melancholia in a COVID world.

In a collection of more than 50 poems, each reader will find something here that touches, amuses or strongly resonates. These are practised poets whose love of word and rhythm is regularly tested, critiqued and supported by the group.

The Majura Poets group welcomes new members. Inquire about this and how to buy the book with Fiona at mcilroy77@gmail.com

And now for my regular dose of children’s picture books by locals, this time both with strong ties to the sciences.

Amelia McInerney Who Fed Zed

Amelia McInerney’s Who Fed Zed is a rollicking tale with a serious underlying theme. Image: Supplied.

Irma Gold and Susannah Crispe have already had a runaway success with their delightful Where the Heart Is, a charming tale based on true events. This heart-warming story is about the relationship between a Magellanic penguin Dindim and Joao, the man who rescued him from an oil spill off the coast of Brazil.

Greater issues are close beneath the surface – environmental degradation and its effect on the creatures of the world and our fragile natural places. As with so many of our favourite picture books, there is lots for adults and children to talk about in this one.

Amelia McInerney and Adam Nickel tackle the issue of the need for careful reading of food and other household product labels, of good package labelling – and more subtly the effect of food allergies in a domestic setting – with the jolly rhyming Who Fed Zed? A product mix-up could easily have led to disaster for both Zed, the unfortunate goldfish, and his owner.

Rollicking rhyme will have children joining in on this one and again there’s lots to discuss with children of all ages in this bright and cheery book.

Barbie Robinson is co-founder and a content creator for Living Arts Canberra, a not for profit media outfit supporting arts and community in the Canberra region and books worldwide through its website, podcast interviews and a 24/7 internet radio station, at https://www.livingartscanberra.com.au/

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