Category Archives: Writing & Publishing

When the Cat Speaks

CoverDetaiBron Nicholls’ latest work is an intricately crafted novella that tells a gentle and moving tale of growing old alone in regional Australia.

Nell, in her seventy-ninth year, narrates the story of her past and her present as a thoughtful watching of the world, and participating in it on her own terms; continuing to learn from her day to day challenges. There is a plot, but it subtle, uncontrived. There is drama, but it is organic, marvellously mundane and, above all,  entirely real.  Bron Nicholls excels in a style of writing that makes us look again at the familiar. This work has the eloquent simplicity of Kent Haruf’s Our Souls At Night, coupled with the womanly psychological observations of an early Doris Lessing.BronMoll

Bron writes in terms that make this book suitable for any age group, and, because she captures the minutiae of ageing that society and media often prefer to ignore, this is a book that would make a marvellous study piece in schools.  For older readers, living alone, it is a must.

It is now available from Pomonal Publishing, or, for locals in the Grampians, from the Stawell Library’s new ‘local author’ shelf.

 

 

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Coming Soon: Bron Nicholls’ latest.

cat_cover_2

Next month we will be releasing Bron Nicholls’s delightful Novella: When the Cat Speaks.

Nicholls is an acclaimed author of both adult and children’s literature. Her previous books include: Move; Three Way Street; Mullaway: Reasons of the Heart; Zeno’s Paradise; An Imaginary Mother; The Humming Tree; Currawong Calling.

Watch this space for release date, reviews and purchase details.

 

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Christopher Konrad

We are proud to announce the release of a new poetry collection, ‘Argot’  by the powerful voice of Christopher Konrad, a Western Australian poet, whose work has been published in numerous journals and has won several poetry awards, he now lives and works on the south eastern strip of this big continent.  See earlier post August 8Argo-3d-cover.

I first read Konrad’s work a year ago when he contacted Pomonal Publishing with the manuscript of ‘Argot’ and I knew immediately that this was one I wanted to turn into a book.  But my health has slowed me down . . . so I also knew this was not going to happen . . . unless I changed the way things are done around here.   I must demand more hands-on involvement from writers who wish to publish with us.

Chris Konrad rose to that challenge and did all the layout himself, even designed his own cover (with quite a bit of interference from me) and organized the print run. He hopes to properly launch the collection in Western Australia, where both he and his work are better known, but in the meantime it is available here.

Here’s one of from the collection:
 
Liminal

Crashing waves carry us onto the crushed sand to find there, on the
shore – something’s missing. Just out of reach, always at finger-tip
edge, singing out like buildings tumbling down into the sea. Never
quite there – Angels nod towards the dry dirt. Not quite or, she,
standing upon the bridge looking skywards, like a plea, like
inevitability & somewhere in-between another race we cannot
conceive but somehow so remote, & their celestial music. I feel the
wind salty through my fingers & the graining waves through my toes:
it is not in vain this edge, this ligature & liminal of day. Not for
nothing, the sculptures of the heart or mind.

 

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Coming Soon!

Christopher Konrad’s latest poetry collection soon to be released by Pomonal Publishing!

 
Argot_Cover

In this collection of poems Konrad explores the domain of the personal, perhaps even secret speech; the half hidden languages derived from culture, family, and desire. Employing that slippage of language which only poetry can properly convey – the liminal, free-floating or tangled structure of the written or spoken word – enabling it to be just what we make of it.

 

Watch this space for launch details

 

 

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3 days to book-launch

As we count down to the launch of ‘Shots from the Chamber’ here is what Myron Lysenko, Chamber Poets convenor, has to say about the poetry/poets included in this publication:

We hope that this anthology will capture something of the atmosphere prevalent at Chamber Poets: the highs and the lows, the established poet and the emerging poet; sometimes poets come out of the closet and read for the first time in public, sometimes somebody inadvertently caught up in the reading while trying to get a glass of wine ends up being inspired by what they hear and goes off to write their own poetry. The anthology is inclusive as it showcases poets at the height of their careers or at the beginning, and everything in between. It can be read from start to finish, or just by dipping in from poet to poet.

We are very proud to present a wonderful representation of the readings that have been staged with such famous poets and identities such as Judith Rodriguez, Chris Wallace-Crabbe, Claire Gaskin, II. O., Alice Savona, Kevin Brophy, Jennifer Compton, Joe Dolce, John Flaus, John Bryson, Gaylene Carbis, Ross Donlon, Andy Jackson, Klare Lanson and John A. Scott.

We are pleased to republish John A Scott’s four sonnets, which won the Peter Porter Poetry Prize of 2013, a poem each from Anna Fern and Maurice McNamara who both wrote a poem about their shared experience of being caught in a railway tunnel and being surprised by on unexpected oncoming train. There are poems from other poetry couples: Lish and Paul Skec both writing about Minyip, Myron and Jade writing haiku about their relationship, poems from poetry twins Emily Polites and Bronwen Manger, father and daughter Ben and Soleil Oost, who is the youngest poet at 9 years old and John Flaus the oldest at 82.

Thank you to all the feature poets and open section poets who submitted to the anthology. We received over two hundred poems. Many addressed the general theme of life in Central Victoria. The book is a combination of poets living in Melbourne and poets who encircle Woodend.

Thank you also to our sponsors and people who donated to the costs of the book: Macedon Ranges Shire Council, Bendigo Bank and the patrons at the Village Larder who threw in coins and notes into a jar beside the till. Thank to Philip Holgate for the use of the premises and we welcome the hospitality of new owner Remy Shpayzer.

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Woodend’s Chamber of Poets

B_col_balancedWoodend’s Winter Arts Festival will kick off on June 10 – just another way we try to keep warm in here Victoria – and with it our next poetry publication: ‘Shots from the Chamber, An anthology from the Chamber Poets’.

The titular chamber was once Woodend’s Council Chambers but long since has been home to a delightfully arty cafe: the Chamber Art & Coffee House. Once monthly it hosts an open mic gathering of poets in a warm friendly atmosphere where many varied voices and all developmental levels of poetry are equally welcomed.

Each month a more established poet is also invited to read, so the venue has seen some of Australia’s most renowned poets. The anthology reflects this diversity and the philosophy of inclusiveness that is the Chamber Poets hallmark.  From Judith Rodrigues to Chris Wallace-Crabbe; from John Flaus to Pomonal Publishing’s Christopher Race (pictured) whose first collection we launched only a year ago.

Festival goers are invited to attend the launch of this latest publication. Entry is free and the anthology will be on sale for $20.  Meanwhile, watch this space for more about the anthology, its editors and contributors.

 

 

 

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A splendid kind of darkness

Bright autumn sun interspersed with showers, inclement cloud the darkly spectacular backdrop to a radiance of red/gold foliage – Clunes is at its magical best in moody weather. The lighting seemed purposely tuned to shades of Annie Drum’s collection of stories, ‘Like Trees’, launched at the festival on Sunday. See previous posts.

A cold wind did not deter Clunes Booktown festival goers. The upper room of ‘the Warehouse’ where Neil Boyack‘s segment of the program unfolded was packed with readers of, and true believers in BOOKS. Yes, that good old fashioned printed word.

Introduced and lauded by Boyack, Annie assured us that the sometimes darkness of her stories was no cause for the concern that had been (kindly) expressed; she was in fact quite okay in herself. Then she read the story: Hero And The Machine, from the collection, and from which I’ve quoted in an earlier post.

Two days previously Annie had spoken about Boyack’s support of her writing in an interview on VOICE FM Ballarat. Neil is a Central Victorian author and convenor of the Newstead Short Story Tattoo, a small literary festival that features both known and emerging writers, with a substantial sidedish of music and fireside storytelling. His particular support for new and emerging voices was substansiated on Sunday by the inclusion of a very young writer indeed: Zach Haywood, a student of Maryborough Education Centre, reading for the first time with remarkable poise.

Other readers were Nathan Curnow, and Bronwyn Blaiklock both published poets and consummate poet-performers.  Kirsten Boerema charmed us with her powerful voice and magical ukulele accompaniment.

Those wishing to purchase a copy of LIKE TREES may do so by contacting us through Pomonal Publishing’s main website.

 

 

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Annie’s Stories Hitting the Highway

AnnieFaceOnly hours to go now, and I bet Ms Drum is feeling a tad nervous – as any emerging writer would be with the launch of her first published book. Fortunately she’ll be singing with her Acappella group in ‘the singing room’ (St Thomas Aquinas) shortly, and that ought to relax the diaphragm.

The Clunes Booktown 10th anniversary festival is well underway, despite a damp weekend. Annie’s collection of short stories, LIKE TREES will be launched by Neil Boyack in the Newstead Poetry Short Story Tattoo Presents segment, at 3.00 in the warehouse.

Annie spoke about her writing and the publication of this collection on community radio station Voice FM Ballarat during the week and I’ll put segments of her interview up here as soon as I’m back at my desk. Meanwhile get down to Clunes and buy some, buy lots of books, enjoy the long-awaited rain and support small publishers

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one week to ‘take off’

Like Trees inner

 

Annie Drum ‘s first collection of short stories will be launched by Neil Boyack on May 1st at the tenth anniversary festival, Clunes Book Town

These are razor-edged stories investigating the bounds of identity, provoking questions: How do we travel? And more importantly: What do we travel as?  Read the full Press Release on the Pomonal Publishing website.

…when she gave birth there was a sense of something sacred and almost like order. Throughout the labour Hero kept asking – how big is the egg? The large nurse said – a baby, you’re having a baby. The other nurse laughed, a sort of a crazy sound, and Hero thought she must be a bit off centre. When the large nurse presented her with a darling little bird in a tight white blanket Hero thought her heart might burst…

The launch will take place in the ‘Newstead Literary Tattoo Presents’ segment, in the Warehouse at 3.00 pm. To attend you will need to purchase a festival ticket. This will enable entry to all of the many exciting literary events of the weekend.  See the festival website for further details.

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‘Like Trees’ by Annie Drum

Like Trees_smallTwo weeks till we launch Annie Drum’s first collection of short stories. An event I’ve anticipated for nigh on thirty years, after reading an early story by ‘the girl downstairs’ in a block of East Melbourne flats.

Why has this taken so long? Well, the radical change in the ideology of publishing houses, for one thing. In this advanced stage/age of capitalism, in a society obsessed by the concept of perpetual-growth-driven profit, a beautiful voice is easily overlooked.  (This, of course, is exactly why small, non-profit publishers like us had to come into existence.)

And perhaps also life itself has intervened, slowing down the pace at which Drum could pursue her career in literature. But this slower maturation of her voice will perhaps, like a good wine, prove worth the wait.

Today I am a tree, tall and alive, with sap crystals on my body. The wind is strong but I sway with it, we are the same. My trunk is wide and my jewels wink and glint in the sun. People walk by and never see me amongst the other trees. A little way up the street is James Owen, he is also a tree. That’s where he went, you see. I smile at him, and he waves a branch at me.

Watch this space for more about this magical collection of stories over the next two weeks. Maybe I can entice Annie to speak to us about her work on this blog.

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Projects 2016

Let me tell you about some exciting new books we are working on for the first 6 months of this year:

Annie Shearing has been writing a series for younger readers, each focusing on a thorny or critical event challenging a group of friends in the outer suburbs of Melbourne; each book features a different member of the group. The first – ‘Anna & the Last House in Melbourne’ – will be ready later this month.

Pomonal Publishing’s Anthea Nicholls is the designer and all round hands-on person for this series.

Next up: ‘Like Trees’ short stories by Annie Drum – an emerging writer of literary fiction, whose close observation of life, coupled with quirky, moving depiction of people in fragile mind-states makes for poignant reading.

It is a personal pleasure to see this first collection of Drum’s stories carrying the Pomonal Publishing logo, as her writing has enchanted me for many years.  It will be launched 1st May at the Clunes Booktown 10th anniversary.

The ‘Like Trees’ book design is being done by the talented Lin Tobias. We are delighted to have her expertise on this and, hopefully, future projects.

Chamber Poets (known to us for hosting the 2015 launch of Christopher Race’s ‘Still Life With Grandmother’) are producing a members’ poetry anthology. The theme is ‘Place’ and submissions are now closed. The editing team are Ben Oost, Christopher Race, and convenor Myron Lysenko. Hands-on layout will be done by Ben Oost with my input. It will be launched at the Woodend Winter Arts Festival in June.

While I’ve been taking a back seat on all these projects, I’ve been focusing on reading submissions, and on the editing and book design for:

‘Macka’ a story about the adventures of a tame cockatoo Cocatoos.small that gets caught up with a wild flock and swept away in a colossal storm. This is a story for adults to read to children, written and beautifully illustrated by Peter Voice.

Peter Voice is an artist known for his work with Chalk Circle. He is currently involved with the founding of the WAMA, the Wildlife Art Museum (to be located near Pomonal).

Watch this space for more about each of these projects.

 

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Talent in the Wings

As mentioned in a previous post, I edit a community newsletter as a sideline to my publishing ‘hobby’.  It was in this context that I discovered the talents of a remarkable 11 year old, living down our dusty road a little way – a young person intending to become a writer when she finishes school, and already turning out work of staggering maturity. Below is a review piece she wrote recently for the newsletter about Pomonal Publishing.  Her byline: Evie 

Pomonal News.B&Wmaster

This local organization consists of a group of talented writers, editors and artists who publish their own books and sell them (mostly) online. They are also responsible for the monthly Pomonal Newsletter, which helps to inform the community of what’s been happening and events coming up. With a population around 350, our small town has lots going on!

Pomonal Publishing has a website where you can view new book releases and also read their blog. Fellow writers review the books and offer constructive feedback to the writer. One aspect I loved was reading about the world of writing and publishing.

I was asked to read and review their latest publication: ‘Currawong Creek’ by Bron Nicholls (who has written two other books for young readers). I loved this book and would describe it as heart warming and sophisticated. I particularly liked the main character Alice, with her different thoughts and the way she saw the world. I loved the bit where she finally made a new friend, and the type of relationship they had (not being in each others faces). I also liked the caring and warm relationship she had with her grand parents.

Pomonal Publishing is a fantastic establishment and I hope it continues. Make sure you check it out on: http://www.pomonalpublishing.com and look out for their books, now available at our local shop too!

newlettergrab

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Launching: Still Life With Grandmother

File 17-03-2015 5 47 04 pmOn a balmy autumn day, after a magical journey through the Wombat Forest to Woodend, I met up with Christopher Race in an odd little cafe, ‘The Chamber Art & Coffee House‘. He and Myron Lysenko were doing something obscure with microphones, in readiness for the first half of the afternoon: the gathering of the Chamber Poets, live music from Black Forest Smoke and an open mic segment. Greetings, hugs, introductions, cheek kissing…

We were off to a racing start for the launch of Pomonal Publishing’s second volume of poetry: Christopher’s ‘Still Life With Grandmother‘. By 3pm the rooms of ‘The Chamber’ had filled with a heart-warming crowd. Myron MC-ed proceedings with an inimitable flair. He also launched the collection of poems into ‘the universal world of books’ with just the right touch of theatre.

I then gave account of Pomonal Publishing; the whys and wherefores that readers of this blog are already familiar with – not wanting us to be taken for something we are not and probably never can be. Not a business venture, rather a collective adventure. (Appreciative nodding.)

Christopher read from his book, including an extract from the long title poem, was duly applauded, and we were on to the champagne and nibbles. Both author and publisher relieved it had all gone off without mishap or disappointment. Such a grand turn out and more than 50 copies sold (should just about cover the cost of the champagne and nibbles. Author’s expense!) And Christopher had read very well, even (as I heard afterwards) drawing tears. So that was it: Pomonal Publishing’s first ‘event’.

I want to thank Myron Lysenko, convener of Chamber Poets for enabling and hosting the day. (His review of the book is posted here already – see below.) Also present was Michael Foster, who compiled and edited this collection. It was good to be able to publicly acknowledge his excellent work. Thanks are due to the Chamber Art & Coffee House owners and staff for their part in making this a splendid gathering. How they managed to prepare food and serve customers in the midst of all this is a mystery. A special thank you also to my driver – friend of many decades, Carole Wilson – who enabled me to get there without undue stress to the body of form.

An finally, to readers and publishers everywhere: I introduce you to the work of Christopher Race.

 

 

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Emerging Australian Poet

Our forthcoming publication, the second in our poetry series, ‘Still Life With Grand-mother’ by Christopher Race,  is  an  event  of  some  significance  for   Pomonal Publishing: it will be the first time we have held a public launch for one of our books, complete with posters, press releases, invited guests, drinks and nibbles.

I have known Race since we were both in our late teens, poised without dignity on the cusp of our adulthood and holding that spurious conviction (you may well recall it)  that one actually sees the world clearly.  We have watched each other grow up, both as writers and as a members of our species; arriving at the tail end of the booming-babies with our own particular tales to tell.  Christopher has worked with books and writing for all these years – both on personal projects and professional jobs (including in-house and freelance editing). He is now a qualified librarian.

It was with considerable elation that I discovered, just a few years ago, that my literary friend had  also found his voice as a poet. Now it is with pride and great pleasure – and the help of a mutual friend, Michael Foster, who has selected and edited this collection – that Pomonal Publishing announces the forthcoming release of this book: STILL LIFE WITH GRANDMOTHER.  It will be launched on Saturday 14th March at the (locally legendary) monthly Chamber Poets reading, at The Chamber Art & Coffee House in Woodend, Central Victoria.  Race will be the featured poet reading poems from this collection.

 

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Ethnographic Early Years

UnknownI Dream of You Still: Early Years in Bath
by Kimberly Labor.

 

This is a charming memoir based on diaries kept by a very  (it says so in the blurb)  young American woman. This fact, along with the narrative’s time frame, and its location, (significantly not America) is key to fully appreciating Labor’s book. It reads like ethnography, with the staggering revelations of another time and culture.

The realities of those good old 70s gender roles, the struggle intelligent women put up against them, and the changing – and therefore confusing – sexual dynamics of that period in Western social history, all contribute to an engaging narrative.

Had this been a novel I would have quickly grown impatient with the young woman’s introspective brooding and egocentric concerns. As it is, the universality of the quest for love and a place in the world ensures that this narrator’s ever hopeful struggle, and repeated disappointment, is moving – at times deeply so.

Despite the legendary freedom of the 70s, the young Kimberly is not promiscuous, and she is no Bridget Jones – she has too much self-confidence to be any comparison. It is a remarkably chaste diary for the times, and when the author does embark on a physical relationship, she learns sophisticated lessons and ends the affair because it is ‘only desire’.

Her battle to let go of an unreciprocated attachment to the key player in her drama is a familiar theme (explored in numerous mediums) and it is drawn out painfully and compulsively on these pages. Compellingly too, it would seem, as I couldn’t put the book down until it had been finally resolved.

But it would be too simplistic to call this a story of unrequited love. The object of Kimberly’s desire constructs himself as such, by courting her then stepping back – then drawing her in again as soon as she has regained her equanimity. This lends a touch of psychodrama to the daily, weekly, monthly narrative. Kimberly is no fool, or this scenario would become excruciating. Her efforts to understand herself are both touching and intriguing, and finally (thankfully) liberating.

It is this ability in the young writer to draw us into her drama, and take us with her on the journey from naivety to maturity, that makes this a highly competent piece of writing, and much, much more than the chronicle of confessions we might have expected of a very young woman’s diary.

 

Jane Nicholls
Editor
Pomonal Publishing

[Note: This book is not one of our publications.]

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A review: The Blind by Christine Murray

1-front-200x300There are new voices on the wind, and their singing is to vastly variant tunes.

When I first opened Murray’s ‘The Blind’ I entered into the rhythm of this – for me – new voice eagerly and was immediately delighted by the imagery, the succinct phrasing, the unfolding drama of the first poems… and then I hit a wall.

Suddenly the mise en page confused me. I couldn’t locate a destination or follow her meaning (in the manner I expected) in the refined simplicity of her phrases; couldn’t read the implications of/the unfamiliar placement of the slashes, dashes, dots enclosed by brackets, and the cryptic lines that offered me so little clues to her narrative.

citadel

rings rim bears the swish of silks
it witnesses the ravel/un of thread

from its metal mouth/ its iron lung
a gap will open at a point north -west

slow the revolve to an avenue / a road
nearby a waystation/

there is the constant presence of the dead
in their soul-cocoons / needing caressing

I had to go back and read from the beginning again…

And with this re-reading my excitement mounted. Like a photographer suddenly gifted with eyes that perceived previously unseen spectrums of colour, I entered into a new country, and my ears began to hear its language.

Now isn’t that exactly what poetry should do? I cannot give a fellow writer higher praise than this – that she takes me by surprise and shows me things I never knew our common tongue was capable of.

Over a week I read ‘The Blind’ daily. Each time I began again at the beginning and travelled a little further into its unfolding mysteries. As each veil lifted, the sense of intimacy shared increased, but also the sense of wonder, the sense of being a privileged observer to a grander-than-personal drama. This I attribute to Murray’s unique sense of language as metaphor. Nothing essentially new to poets or poetry of course, but seldom have I found it in the work of my own generation to be as refined or as exquisite as in this collection.

from catapult

stitched in caul and head they will
use the steel tips to force him out

This is a work dense with layers of meaning that emerge gradually from crafted layers of text. Like a cubist painting, its parts make up a whole greater than their sum.  The images of women weaving or sewing, thread together all the elements: the living and the dead, the world weary and the unborn, in the stories and in the personalities that populate this collection. It is one poem and it is many, and it offers both detail and vista.

unleash the skein

red thread the open wound
and from it a thin red rivulet

will drain into a metal dish
and curl into water

and from  shadows

some say they sit behind mirrors watching lives
pass through a room:

that they spindle the threads / that they are blind /that
they have no emotion

they are simply bent to the work that they were given
and never a stitch is dropped /

that is not picked up and brought clean again / for they
simply do their job

by touch by hand by long and patient experience with
the vagaries of man

and woman

I have not enjoyed a new voice as much, or felt such excitement in discovery since I first read T.S. Eliot in high school.

[Note: This collection was published by Oneiros Books, not by us]

 

 

 

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Tales of innocence and experience:

DSCN0894

One of the reasons I got involved with indie publishing is because I miss the collaborative nature of film production; specifically that buzz which comes from a group of creative minds working together, reaching different (if not greater) dimensions than the solitary process.

As yet the collaboration here has been limited to an exchange between an author, their editor (if they have one) and myself.  You see, I am committed to the notion of allowing the author control over how their book will look.  But I’m beginning to realise that publishing isn’t like filmmaking, where a group of individuals skilled in different aspects of the process come together – each responsible for that one area of expertise but all working under the unifying vision of either a producer or a director. That process doesn’t yet unfold so neatly here.  My authors and I are still finding our way.

To begin with, I myself am embarrassingly inexperienced in publishing – my skills lie in photography and film production (and all that goes with those areas in terms of graphics and design sensibilities) and in writing. Putting out my own first novel – I was a screen writer in my previous incarnation – was how Pomonal Publishing came into being.  But I didn’t want to be just a self-publisher!

Now I’m realising that my authors are also inexperienced (in bookmaking, not in writing) and that together we are making lots of mistakes!

Here’s a doozy: Our next PP book will be a collection of poetry by Christopher Race. But I’ve been talking about it as an ‘anthology’ – I even used that term in my Foreword for the review editions already printed. And I used the term when I approached renowned Australian poet Chris Wallace-Crabbe, to ask if he would be willing to review the book.  He politely queried the word, which set me straight.

Of course the dictionary does define ‘Anthology’ as a collection of poems etc.  But it does not say (or at least mine doesn’t) ‘by different authors’!  However, this is the assumed knowledge that anyone in the industry, or any Humanities graduate would already have.  And this is exactly the type of pitfall I’m likely to make on entering an area in which I am untrained and still inexperienced.

Should I cease and desist my amateur attempts to publish beautiful (and professional) books?

Perhaps with kindness and patience (and a little informal mentoring) from such consummate professionals as CWC, we shall achieve excellence in time.  Until then, we’ll bumble on, and after we are gone Pomonal Publishing’s banner may be held aloft by more capable arms.

Christopher Race’s COLLECTION of poems, Still Life With Grandmother, will be out early in the new year. Please watch this space for more details.

 

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The Ruthless and The Lyrical

The following is an essay I wrote for ‘Undercurrents, paintings and drawing by Chris Nicholls’    Pomonal Publishing 2013

__________________

‘None of these are actual places,’ Chris once said to me when we were looking at some work in his studio. ‘They’re landscapes of the mind.’

That they were none-the-less very much connected to the real world was evident to anyone who had seen him in the bush, climbing a steep rocky trail as effortlessly as a bandicoot, standing for hours beneath a chough’s nest to catch a glimpse of the hatchlings, watching the sun go down or the moon come up – often with a camera in hand.

Now, walking along a dirt road or pressing through unruly scrub near the Grampians, close to where he worked in the Wimmera, I find myself confronted with Chris’s Landscapes of the Mind. I see them in patterns that spring out of apparent chaos – the difficult tangles of the Aussie bush – startling angles in a branch or a creek bank, the way the shifting light suddenly brings forward the trunk of a tree while the rest sit back in sombre harmony. So many ambiguous shapes playing across the mind like images from a dream – faces, animals, monsters … I recognize his brushstrokes with an exhilarating Aha!

Chris seldom spoke at any length about the concepts behind his work, though he was quick to vocalize other passions; among which was disgust for what extreme aspects of civilization had done, or might still do, to the natural world. He had respect for the old timers who had done things more gently, and he loved to fossick for remnants of that particular past. He was also deeply reverent of the many signs of Aboriginal occupation in the region. It is not difficult to connect all these threads with the work he would not, or could not speak about.

Chris did sometimes speak about the creative process itself, and how it related to the life he lived. Whatever I can say of his attitudes and intentions I owe to late night philosophy sessions over the phone. Brother and sister ‘putting the world to rights’. He often mocked ruthlessly anything he felt to be synthetic, contrived or pretentious. He sensed that the role of the artist was changing, being forced into step with interests more yoked to industry than to culture. He didn’t want any part of that, and feared that a public account of himself within that arena might be so removed from his actual experience of creation that it would, in some way, damage the process. And then that process, so precious and transformative, could no longer be authentic.

When we were building his website together, I witnessed his frustration as he attempted to write something about his work. It’s not that he couldn’t express himself in writing – he wrote poetry, and fantastic letters. But he found that whatever he said about his work one day, never felt quite as true the next. And of course, like many other artists, he simply feared misunderstanding and rejection. So he chose to remain silent.

There were many sides to his work, many voices that sometimes converged, sometimes contradicted. He gleefully confronted the darkness within himself, his family, and a wider social sphere; he could, especially in his quick drawings, be cutting, cruel, or intentionally shocking. (‘Border Protection’ for example.)

In ‘Grampians Wedding Party’ and his ‘Landscape with Lawn’ series he pits the timeless grandeur of the earth against a paltry attempt to elevate human vanities. This play of contrast between the man-made and the natural world is a recurring theme refined in ’Down River Drive’ and ‘Landscape with Lawn’ series, where towns encroach upon wild landscape, and wilderness threatens repossession.

Chris often spoke of his regard for the local poet John Shaw Neilson. When I finally read some of Neilson’s work I was unprepared for its level of romantic lyricism – because Chris seemed to edit out this quality from his work. Many paintings were destroyed, painted over, dumped with garbage at the local tip. Fortunately we still have photos of many of them, and, I find it is frequently these lyrical, romantic, somewhat sentimental works that have not passed his ruthless scrutiny.

The word he was most afraid of was ‘facile’. In 1985 he had an exhibition of post-bushfire Grampians landscapes at the Horsham Regional Gallery; 43 stunningly beautiful works, mostly on paper. The show almost completely sold out. Afterwards Chris said, ‘I’m not going to paint like that anymore!’ He was content to work in relative obscurity because it allowed greater honesty, and freedom from artificial influence.

He didn’t want to play the self-promotion game. I got the impression that the ruthless honesty he demanded from himself was his counter to what he perceived as an increasingly contrived and synthetic world wherein anybody with a camera or computer might exhibit their too easily hatched images.

Not withstanding my brother’s efforts to be ruthless, authentic and uncontrived, for me it is Chris’ more lyrical work that has most power. Those that rely upon a subtle play of light, or the contrast between light and darkness. In these he seems to have captured something potent and primitive from his source and distilled it into a tincture, a remedy for my overly civilized sufferings.

 

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What is this Freedom we so value?

Recently I found myself disturbed by the resignation of an Australian journalist, Mike Carlton, in the wake of attacks made on him – and his own response to them – arising from his take on the current Israel-Gaza conflict. It’s not that I’m a particular fan of Carlton, or have any beef against Fairfax…

For a while I couldn’t work out what exactly I found so disturbing – the slinging of terms such as Fascist, Nazi, Anti-Semite, Jewish Bigot, etc., among people one had regarded as somewhat educated? Possibly. Then I got it – It’s the fuss that is being made, and how it has degenerated into personality attack, rather than focusing on the issues Carlton had raised in the first place. The actual humanitarian issue in Gaza and the need to speak out about it.

So, to calm myself down, I submitted my own comment on the HeraldSun website. To wit:

I thought we valued freedom of speech in this society? And yet we go berserk when a journalist writes passionately about images of injured civilians in Gaza and reports the words of a surgeon struggling to cope with the rising toll. Surely an open and frank discussion of what is happening in Gaza – including an assessment of political policies impacting on the situation – is within a journalist’s province? Or are there still sacred cows, emperors without clothes, and elephants in our rooms?

Although Carlton’s does not include the entire history of the Arab Israeli conflict in his article, it is none-the-less a reasoned and humane response to what has been clearly witnessed. He speaks out against unbridled attacks on civilian populations and acknowledges that both sides have engaged it this.

The most damning remarks about current Israeli policies in this column were actually quoting an Israeli journalist whose life has come under threat for speaking out. Punishment for speaking out against atrocity has always been the hallmark of extremism (L & R) and I question the politics of those who would disallow this freedom.

I also question the policies of the current Israeli government, as I question all extreme nationalistic politics and powers – across all national, religious, or territorial divides. And right here at home!  Am I anti-Semitic because I use this freedom to judge an action, a policy, even war itself, on its merits or lack of them?

And look at the manipulation of language in this  fracas – forgetting that Arab peoples are also ‘Semitic’.

As for the cartoon so hastily apologised for – depicting Netanyahu in an armchair, remotely detonating a bomb – nobody takes offence when Australian, American or any other country’s politicians are depicted as, shall we say ‘war mongering’.  Within a democracy, the worthy tradition of political cartooning allows such commentary – and yet we are now told that this eloquent image was anti-Semitic and offensive.

What is really going on here?

Just how much freedom of speech, thought and discussion is left to us?

Mike Carlton’s ‘offending’ column.

Crikey’s report on the ensuing resignation.

Sample of reader response to Carlton’s article that set it all in motion.

In the interests of full disclosure:  I am neither Pro-Palestinian nor Pro-Israel.  I am simply Anti-war.  It is no longer an effective tool in conflict resolution.

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Just call me Rupert…

Last night I picked up PP’s latest project from the printer – the first edition of a community newsletter – and delivered it to the local store. I’m rather chuffed at the result because I’m not a journalist, and have done little writing of that nature, but when asked to take on this job I could see no good reason to say ‘no’.  Adapt or perish

Since retiring from my city life (as a filmmaker, script writer/teacher) living in the country has opened up a whole new way of being. Publishing, instead of making films, being just one of many adjustments. The local community sometimes seems like a 19th Century village, with its slower pace, tree-changer/farmer population combo, and quite a few older people whose forebears settled this reagon and who, consequently, have a rather different political outlook to my own. Lots of face to face contact with people at the shop, where we all have to collect our mail, has enabled me to watch and listen and take delight in these differences.

I guess I bonded with this community after surviving the big bushfire that went through here early in 2006.  People who barely knew me looked out for me because that’s the way they do things in rural Australia.  Many stories to tell – and one day will – suffice now to say that I’m delighted to be able to provide a newsletter for this community, as a way of giving back and getting to know it even more.

And this undertaking has already put me in contact with another local writer who has offered to help with the newsletter, and whom I hope to entice into PP’s indie publishing adventure.  This ‘small publishing house’ as someone so nicely called it in a comment here recently.

Community news

 

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