Contemporary Australian Poetry Profile: Walleah Press (Australian Poetry Journal 2016)
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Profile: Walleah Press
I have been in good company recently, reading 13 of the 30 or so volumes put out in the three years to 2015 by the Tasmanian small press Walleah. I have enjoyed the feel of them, their production quality and the vivid artwork that adorns their covers (and sometimes their pages), and enjoyed, too, learning more about the remarkable Ralph Wessman, literature enthusiast and driving force behind Walleah. The books offer one personal engagements with a series of distinctive voices – invitations to share lives, landscapes, and emotional journeys.
There is, for example, so much life and fun as well as sadness in the late Lesley Walter's Life Drawings (2014 –she sadly died in 2016) that I found myself eagerly anticipating the next irreverent conversational opening lines, whether they turned out to be "My father walked with his feet at 10-to-2 / like his father did / and as I tend to do" (79) or the throwaway "when mum comes to stay these days, it's with a clutch / of plastic bags" (11). Then one watches what Walter does with these openings, and the directions in which she takes her train of thought – often travelling into profound realms. "Country Drive" is a good example; its casually neat opening view of paddocks rolling past with "grey sheep on the distant hills / (77) indistinguishable from rocks" and "lambs on guy-rope legs" modulates into memories of a childhood model farm and its lead animals, before coming to rest in lines that evoke the mysteries of life, of family, and the passage of time.
Then there is Gina Mercer's Weaving Nests with Smoke and Stone (2015). The cover image of a bird's nest is reflected in the sequence of poems, almost every one of which is connected in some way to the life of birds. The birds are creatures in their own right, existing in glorious parallel to the human world -- like the silvereyes of Tasmania, "Eleven grams and eleven centimetres of bird" (50) that migrate from Tasmania to Noosa, or the apparently commonplace LBJs ("little brown jobs" in birdwatchers' parlance) with "eye-resting hues of grey edging to brown" (44). Then the outer world shades over into the inner one, as in "The Effects of Immersion", where bird life seems to inhabit the human in a kind of hybrid "where a woman's wings might sprout" (24). There are poems here of relationships, sadness and celebration, conceived throughout in terms of the wider world, so that the misted binoculars of the birdwatcher pick out the glories and the suffering of human existence as well the feathers, claws and flights of a hundred birds. The writing is humane and observant; it earns the term "eco poetry" without resorting to hectoring or platitudes.
Something similar could be said of The Nonchalant Garden (2014), a first collection by Liz McQuilkin, a fifth-generation Tasmanian born in Launceston. Her poems are bathed in the landscape, sights and sounds of McQuilkin's home state, and contain, like a number of other Walleah books, astute touches of memoir (like the way she "waited to be invited" as a child to the manly outdoor activities of her father ) that capture a socio-historical moment. Domesticity, aging, the natural world, family relations and retirement are all explored unselfconsciously and with a disarmingly quiet intelligence. Most writers would be happy to receive the affectionate tribute McQuilkin dedicates to the American poet Billy Collins: "Nothing is too small, nothing too large / for him to ponder as he sips his glass of red / while I lie – richly satisfied -- in bed" (57). A slightly cheeky clinching last line, and in fact the notion of paying close attention to things both large and small could stand as an epigraph to many of the books published by Ralph Wessman and Walleah.
While I would not say that there is a single style or a subject for all Walleah books, there is here a thoughtful attentiveness that combines the domestic and the intimate with the world 'out there'. The matter-of-fact can be a route to the glory of things, as suggested in Paul Mitchell's little manifesto "Give the Poem Room to Speak" from Standard Variation:
Please, sit down. Let's talk. I know
you might be put off by line breaks
and other conventions, but let's look
past these to see what really shines:
a car roof at midday, a streetlight
in afternoon fog. That wasn't too hard. (1)
It is not difficult to imagine an encouraging and guiding editorial hand behind the whole output of the Press, setting one poem against another, one poet next to another, and helping designing the books themselves so their distinctiveness shines through. I worked my way towards a sense of the co-editor of Walleah Press, Ralph Wessman, coming from books to editor, as it were. Many were generous with their tributes to his energy and supportive role. The distinguished Tasmanian poet Tim Thorne, whose volume The Unspeak Poems and Other Verses was published by Walleah in 2014, told me that "Ralph Wessman has probably, more than anyone in Hobart over the last twenty years, been the driving force behind poetry. Remarkably, he does not write poetry himself (or at least has never had any published); his enthusiasm is purely that of the reader/listener, and his role has always been that of promoter, facilitator and connoisseur. Even more remarkably, for most of those years Ralph has been in full-time employment elsewhere".
Then there is Wessman's magazine, Famous Reporter, which received relatively little outside funding, and which he kept going for some 44 issues. "Walleah Press has been a delight to deal with compared to some Australian and UK small presses," says Tim Thorne. "Ralph's thoroughness as a copy editor is legendary, as is his generosity when it comes to discounting copies for authors. In addition, Ralph has been a strong supporter of poetry as spoken word, coming to Launceston on many occasions to attend the Tasmanian Poetry Festival".
In conversation with Ralph Wessman himself, I asked what State of Australia he sprang from -- and was it true that he spent some time as a naval seaman?
"It was Queensland," he replied. "The backblocks – up in Innisfail, near Cairns. And yes, I spent six years in the navy. I saw publishing as my way of making sense of the world."
I had read Ralph's interview in The Rochford Street Review about his years of
running The Famous Reporter magazine. It sounded like fun, as well as hard work. Was he nostalgic for that kind of multi-genre publication, and would he ever take it up again?
"I'm nostalgic," he replied, "but no, I wouldn't take it up again; it belongs to the past. It's a little sad that digital publishing came late for me, at least with the sort of quality of physical production I could be proud of, and that authors could be proud of. If that sort of digital print quality had arrived maybe ten or 20 years previous I'd have possibly done a lot of things differently. The last few years of publishing, Famous Reporter became an expensive exercise . . . it wasn't paying for itself -- had never paid for itself, even with continuous grants from Arts Tasmania."
Why the name Walleah? Where does that come from?
"I'm sure you'll find the answer disappointing … a simple combination of 'Walter' (a Christian name) and 'Leah' (my ex) . . . I liked the sound, too."
And how did the Press come to specialize in poetry?
"More or less because poetry was underrepresented in the lists of major publishers, in fact – take Penguin for example – they were getting rid of poetry. I let it be known that I was interested in poetry and non-fiction. But non-fiction is a difficult model; it's far easier to find a decent poetry collection coming your way than an essay collection. So, although I've a half a dozen non-fiction titles, there have been far more poetry titles."
How many of copies do you print for the first run of a volume?
"As few as necessary . . . what I can afford. I like the UK small press model of Tony Frazer's Shearsman Books – and to quote Tony, 'sales tend to occur in dribs and drabs over a long-ish period and thus, having stock sitting in boxes is tantamount to tying up large amounts of cash. In the p-o-d, or short-run-digital model, you spend only at the outset for what you need. There's a certain minimum number of copies required for any title at the beginning, so you print that number and restock quickly when you need more. The fact that the cash flow is freed up means that one can produce far more titles than would otherwise be possible.' In fact, Shearsman puts out a lot of books annually. Frazer is more interested in making available the individual author/poetic voice, as opposed to publishing 'safer' books more likely to guarantee a profit. It's a heart-felt approach. But at the same time, I sympathise that for many poets the question of 'how many copies are you going to print of my book?' is important. 'As few as I can get away with' usually means a number of around 150 to begin with. Enough to cover a launch, say 75 copies (you never can tell), another twenty to send out to reviewers, and a further 50 contributor's copies. If the book sells, it's a simple enough process to order extra." Fifty copies for contributors is an odd number.
"Yes I agree. But initially I'd begun with 15, along with agreeing to go halves with authors in entering their books in major awards. But that became too expensive. I found myself one year entering 8 or 9 books in a major award at $100 a pop, and turning round a couple of months later entering a similar number of books in another. Eventually I found it simpler to supply authors with sufficient books to enter most of the major competitions around the country, and to take care of entering the books in awards themselves, if they wished."
Does Walleah receive any funding assistance from, for example, The Literature Board of The Australia Council, or Arts Tasmania?
"There was early funding assistance for three or four books by Arts Tasmania, published using offset print. Later books, i.e. the last five or six years, have been produced POD publishing which is a relatively cheap form of production and I haven't felt a need to approach arts bodies for funding."
I've just been reading Andrew Burke's fine collection One Hour Seeds Another from 2014, and noticed that you also published his Undercover of Lightness in 2012. Does Walleah often produce multiple publications by the same author?
"No, not often – on three occasions -- with Tim Thorne, Andrew Burke and Pete Hay."
Is it difficult to get the books distributed and reviewed, or does that depend on the author's profile? I did read an insightful review by Geoff Page of Anne Kellas's The White Room Poems in The Australian recently. "It's extremely difficult, in my experience, to get poetry books distributed – I've failed authors in that regard I'm afraid. As for reviews – sometimes a book is fortunate enough to find multiple reviews, at other times – even with books you feel are most deserving – there's nothing, or at least, the response is mute."
Are there any Walleah Press books you are especially happy with and proud of?
"Well I've always liked Tim Thorne's poetry and, as mentioned above, have published a couple of collections of his. I appreciate the inherent irony, wit, and social satire of his writing. And Vanessa Page's Anne Elder award-winning collection Confessional Box-- it wasn't the award, it was the writing. Philomena van Rijswijk's collection Bread of the Lost is surprisingly underrated by the critics, but nevertheless special. Paul Summer's poetry collection Primitive Cartography feels pretty special too, as does Nicola Bowery's Married to this Ground, along with essay collections by Pete Hay, and Martin Edmond, and Rodney Croome's non-fiction book in support of marriage equality. But each of the books the press has published stands out for me in its own way."
Which have been most successful in terms of prizes, awards or sales?
"There've been a couple of poetry collections that have made it onto the shortlist for national awards. Judy Johnson's collection Stone Scar Air Water (2013) was short-listed for the WA Premier's Awards a couple of years ago, and Paul Mitchell's Standard Variation shortlisted for the Adelaide Writers' Festival Awards in 2016. And there was Vanessa Page's Anne Elder Award with Confessional Box a couple of years ago. Only a handful of Walleah Press poetry titles have sold in excess of 300 copies - Jill Jones's book was one, Kevin Brophy's and Nathan Curnow's joint collection Radar another; titles by Nicola Bowery and Lorraine McGuigan have also sold well – basically because the books' authors have been very positive in marketing their titles. And one or two have sold extremely poorly – though they're good books, very good books. And a couple of the non-fiction titles -- by Pete Hay and Margaretta Pos - have sold 750 or so each."
Can you say a few words about the submission of manuscripts and the selection process?
"Maybe a third of the books published were manuscripts I asked for – poetry by Pete Hay, Tim Thorne, Andrew Burke, Jill Jones, Dael Allison, Nicola Bowery, Vanessa Page and Nathan Curnow, to name a few – but most were submissions, a case of being open to manuscripts and making choices about the material that came in. With regards poetry publication, I had a mental image of the press as being 'down at the coalface', sorting through material on hand rather than making conscious decisions about seeking out specific authors or styles of writing. To some degree, I can't help but feel a little inauthentic in responding to this question, because it would seem to suggest Walleah Press is still down at the coalface, sorting through manuscripts coming its way, when in fact that's no longer the case. The sheer number of manuscripts arriving - and consequently published (something like thirty or so in the three years to 2015) -- forced me to no longer accept unsolicited manuscripts. I couldn't keep up."
I have been reading the publications from 2003-2015 and admire the diversity of the poetic voices, though it seems that you are drawn to work that explores relationships, landscape, belonging, the natural world, region and place. Is that a fair comment?
"Yes, fair comment, though there've been divergences -- collections by Jill Jones and Paul Scully for instance - that don't so readily fit the mould."
During that interview, Ralph had drawn my attention to Philomena van Rijswijk's "surprisingly underrated [but] nevertheless special" collection Bread of the Lost (2012). I would agree that it's a unique collection. I was drawn in by its roller-coasting sensuality, and its depiction of amour fou that starts as early as the first poem "Time's a Wild Thing", where the sun "sprawls, /spreadeagled and unselfconscious", "the world is full of sap on the rise" and the December sky is "throbbing with blue" (1). The pathetic fallacy was never so erotic, nor the landscape so intoxicating. This is writing the body in an unabashed way, but also full of wit and vividness as the poet sits upon her bed looking round a bedroom that seems to have been visited by some "kindly, hard-working poltergeist" (4). "How I wanted to be touched", she says in the poem of that title, where everything in the bedroom fizzes and blooms with a delicious sensuality. With the wrung-out physicality of loss at the end of the affair, ". . . I am bleeding you away / in terrible, in horrifying /sluicings, / in gushes" (73).
Love is everywhere; it lights her with "luminous sap" and is "the unseen rip" that lifts her off her feet and drags her "up the beach", though there is always the threat of abandonment, and of being left on the tide line by "the blue, outrageous muscle / that is the flexing, bulging virility of the sea" (21). One very original poem, "Looking at Degas", is about reading a book of Degas prints together with her lover, testing out the limits of their male and female reactions to the drawings, with her provoking him to admit he likes the image of the woman "standing in a low tub" (25); one senses the erotic undertow of the conversation, and the difference between them. "I'm drugged on this lust" she asserts in "Tar-paper Air" (26). van Rijswijk is able to play numerous variations on the commands of desire and its manifestations, so that, in an echo of the famous scene in From Here to Eternity, the waves of life push her down "until I think I might drown" (31). Or she can ride the "leviathan called love, / this ancient mammal" (88) that seems so potent and timeless.
I became aware of the thematized collections encouraged by Walleah Press, whether they involved the exploration of a love affair as in Bread of the Lost, or the narrative of Nicola Bowery's Married to this Ground (2014) whose twin themes are signaled in the title and in the dedication "To Harry, and to Geebung". Ralph Wessman has commented on how difficult it is to have Walleah's poetry books reviewed, so it must have seemed pleasing to have Jeff Guess review this volume in Plumwood Mountain. On the whole, though, the volume did not please Jeff Guess, who used the fine opening untitled 13-line poem to belabor the rest of the collection for not living up to its promise. The 22 poems on Nicola's marriage to Harry, which make up the middle section of the volume, Guess found "competent and agreeable but [with] few surprises or fresh perspectives". I was interested to see that Nicola Bowery herself, and a number of other readers, had responded on line to this review, and on the whole I found myself agreeing with them. Married to This Ground had struck me as a unified collection. Even though the first section focuses on place, the second on marriage and the third on "elsewhere", the three do intertwine. There are many well-observed natural details in Section 1, but also an account of the poet's room of one's own, a "tiny writing house" of cypress boards and "five cheeks of glass" (2), -- a "woman's place" (3) that she is hungry to enter. She describes in a wry way how this space defied her attempts to name it:
too lowly (4)
and provides a lovely catalogue of the sounds that inhabit it, or inhabit her, when she 's inside. Huntsman spiders slowly mounting the wall, thornbills at a bird bath, dogs barking, the act of yawning, the grebes, whose call resembles "the chink of glasses on a tray" (10) –these have seldom been so charmingly described. In fact, I've seldom seen them described at all. No wonder that a trip overseas is followed by thankfulness at being back home in Braidwood and hearing "the king-parrot's / pinpoint note / pricking the silence" (17). Nicola Bowery, like a number of other Walleah poets, belongs. Which is why Section 2 "a geography of marriage", is such a finely dovetailed extension of the sequence. Here all the missing, unspoken elements from the first section – the sharing, the domesticity, the difference, the love – swim into focus. There is a heartening, bluff intimacy, an admiration for the other, and of course a joint belonging to place and terrain. It would be easy to point to a line like "You're replenishing the wood basket" (23) as mundane, but in context it becomes magical, alongside a description of rainfall in the gloom and the loving detail of his "chin bristles glinting wet" as he goes about the task, and the minor miracle of getting the generator to work again. "Lichen is another miracle" adds the final line of this poem ("Country Life"), switching our attention in a canny way from human tasks to the lichen sleeves on the blackwood branches. This is an unsentimental and grounded evocation of living together and living in the country. It seems very Australian; I can hardly imagine it being set elsewhere. I sympathized with Harry's temporary rejection of the new place in the country, as he flung the mug with its kitsch inscription "I've got you where I want you / in my heart" into the bracken (24), enjoyed the memories of meeting each other for the first time, and liked the way the poem "Who Are You?" defines him by saying what he's not (he doesn't own a navy blazer, for example). I enjoyed visualizing him in the yellow uniform he donned for grass fire training, and appreciated the tenderness allied to ruefulness of "A Geography of Marriage", another poem set in the "delicious disorder" of the vegetation around their New South Wales country home: him in his stringybark hut, her in her octagon; her making up his bowl of muesli with small diurnal variations. This section of Married to this Ground ponders all the slightly embarrassing details of love and marriage, and all the glory. I've never read anything quite like it.
There is a shared aesthetic in many of the Walleah volumes of paying attention to the moment, of concentration and observation. Andrew Burke's One Hour Seeds Another (2014) does this – partly because of the elegiac note it strikes in its homage to his friends Viv Kitson and Malcolm Surry, which makes the determination to observe and celebrate life all the more urgent and poignant. "Another friend died today. Yesterday / an Ibis flew from the reeds at the lake / when the dogs and I walked by" (87), Burke writes in "Requiescat in pace", hitting the right note of unobtrusive symbolism combined with realism. His approach is well-suited to renka and haiku, taking what's on offer in life, as in his collaboration with Jill Jones:
As if that's all there is
Glimpse of water through trees (100)
But that is not all there is to this collection. Andrew Burke is good company; he notices things that seem for mysterious reasons to matter, like the snow in the satellite dish (35) or the white goods left out for collection on the grass verge and knocked about by the bored boys (31). He likes jazz, and is apt to capture human emotions and pathos in a few words, as in the elegy" If the World Is Thought":
your wife blames
your body for
your death –
We're cremating the body today
her tone accusatory
she has a point (40)
Here the three possessive pronouns at the start of those lines point towards themes of possession, belonging and lost control. It's an aesthetic that Lorraine McGuigan's Blood Plums shares, in part. This Ballarat poet draws on years of experience of writing and editing success, but shares elegiac subject matter with Andrew Burke – and with Anne Kellas, whose The White Room Poems (2015) I will come to later. This may make it seem that Walleah poets are elder statemen and stateswomen of letters, mulling over loss and the consolation of close observation, though the Press has, as Ralph Wessman is quick to point out, also published younger writers like the gifted and multi-talented Nathan Curnow. McGuigan's carefully-crafted snapshots can be startling, as in the memory from 1957 of grandmother drowning kittens, while Lorraine as a young mother breast-feeds her child in a disturbed, dream-like state: "In bed my son claims my breast, sucks / strongly, is doused in milk; his nose, / throat, full of it. He struggles for air" (1). The Portrait of "the iceman" who "always came on Fridays" (3) is plain and affecting; but before we settle into too comfortable a relation with the poems, along comes "Games", a confronting and understated poem about child abuse that takes a startling turn at the end, with the child lying in bed hearing her abuser-uncle lie with her aunt, the woman's voice "crying out as if hurting, / I love you. Over and over again" (9). A number of the poems delve back into the 1940s, confronting the past with restraint and wisdom; if some of the reminiscences, such as "B & B in London", seem a little flatly written, one registers the power of the plain style, and the utterly convincing detail, in the elegiac poems for her husband. In "What You Tried to Tell Me" she the strives to hear his words in hospital behind the "breath fogging up the mask" (22); in "December Morning" there is the loving gesture of reaching into the coffin to "carefully undo / the top button of your shirt so that now / you look more like you" (23). Nor is pathos the only tone in the palette of Blood Plums. The poems can be wry, spry and ironic, as in the book's final section.
The most consistently elegiac of these volumes is Anne Kellas's The White Room Poems, a very distinguished collection of poems revolving around the drug-related death in Switzerland of Anne's son. At the Melbourne launch of the book, at the admirable Collected Works Bookshop, I was struck by the mixture of qualities in the poetry as it was read aloud: the frailty and anguish alongside the resilience and creativity, and the intimacy of tone allied to an obliqueness of approach. The book travels through memories, dreams, fears and premonitions of disaster to confront the death itself, the reactions of others, and then on to a still coda set in various Tasmanian settings including Cornelian Bay and Tinderbox Marine Reserve. The halting, musical, brief lines demand to be read slowly, and release their meaning gradually. This is a text to be read and re-read, for its patient anguished exploration of grief, the interaction of its literary contexts (Coetzee, Basho, Celan, The Cloud of Unknowing), and significant contrasting locations in South Africa (where Anne Kellas was born), Europe and Tasmania. It is hard to do justice here to the ominous snatches of dialogue ("You don't like my friends!" says son to mother at one point ) or the regrets and questionings:
If I had listened well, would you be here?
Typing, with your castanet fingers,
rests at the end of the bar, treble clefs and silences, pauses
And expert word falls
--all your silent silent, silent poems
You never shared with me . . . (68)
It is a tribute to Walleah's processes of selection that they can accommodate both The White Room Poems and Martin Edmond's prose pieces Histories of the Future (2015), with their atmospheric accompanying photographs by Maggie Hall. This a thoroughly entertaining and engaging series of essays-cum-reflections-cum-speculations that had me hooked from the opening piece, "Second Hand Life", with its homage to books on junk shop shelves. "The books you find in second hand shops," it says, "either have no relationship to fashion, or a negative one: they are books people bought or were given by mistake, never wanted in the first place, don't want any more; many, from deceased estates, are in the ultimate sense abandoned" (2). Martin Edmond is a fine stylist, with a love of the lost, and I warmed to the vision of his life where "the pots and pans I cook with, the plates I eat off, the cutlery I use, the glasses I drink from all came to me from some known or unknown previous owner" (2). I enjoyed the aside of "known or unknown", and the way the essay takes off from here to the idea of ghost signs for Bushells Tea or Craven A and the "inches thick archaeology of the emphemeral" in peeling posters. I can't record here the further ramifications of this 15-page meditation, via the books of the forgotten (or here remembered) author Charles Frances to the existential "freedom" attendant on the act of hoarding; suffice to say I enjoyed every word of it. Edmond's prose contains startling turns of phrase, many of them poetic in a bravura way. At Tallow Beach he takes off all his clothes and runs out into "the choppy, violent, broken surf, catching a series of waves that pummelled [him] shoreward as if under the wrenching hands of a sadistic masseuse" (57). A brief search reveals that Tallow Beach is 3.2 Km from the heart of Byron Bay, and I like it that this and the other locations and place-names in Histories of the Future are seldom identified geographically for the convenience of the readers. Just as some writers drop New York locations into their work, assuming that we will all be familiar with and fascinated by them, or be prepared to do some spade work, so Edmond does the same for his Australian locations. It gives a particular kind of intimacy to the writing, and one soon cottons on to the fact that there is a depth of erudition and historical awareness in the essays. Not that this stops them seeming somewhat rambling at times, but that seems to be a by-product of his formidable style.
Lest I give the impression of a parochial Australian-ness or Tasmanian-ness in recent Walleah books, it is worth pointing out the cosmopolitan nature of Kathryn Hummel's Poems from Here The title of Hummel's' collection cunningly provokes us to assess "here" as (a) within the poet herself, (b) as rooted (a feature of a number of the books reviewed here) or (c) cosmopolitan. "Poema: Lessons in Japanese" engages with Japanese culture through subtle details of writing Japanese characters under the "amused watching" of her mentor (6). The rickshaw man knots his lungi and allows the smoke from his cigarette to drift "ice-white" into his "hot heavy eyes" (10). One of a number of poems from Bangladesh focuses precisely on the feel of lychees, with their "round silver flesh / like light-veined angel nipples" (13); others explore sights and sounds, the intimate way the body and mind reacts to that country. Back home in Australia, the poems often centre on relationships of various kinds, sometimes in an interestingly edgy or uneasy way. It is rewarding to watch the lines develop an argument, a reflection, come to a conclusion, at times wary, at other times (as in "Thinking about writing about you") generous and alert to the nature of the other. Hummel's poems are intensely sensual and exploratory and cosmopolitan.
Ralph Wessman has said that the beautiful colour illustrations produced by the late Marianne Stafford for Anne Collins's The Language of Water (2014) were something of an experiment for Walleah: "I'd not normally consider colour within a book because it's twice as expensive," he remarked. "It certainly wasn't straightforward. The colour resolution of the initial images wasn't up to scratch so we assembled the six paintings together again – those that had been sold being duly 'borrowed' from their owners – with Pen Tayler kindly doing a professional reshoot. The proof copy duly arrived – I couldn't look, asked Jane to open the box and inspect it having rarely worked with colour interiors before, certainly not with Lightning Source – and it was fine. Bloody excellent actually!"
The Language of Water is, then, a collection with a design; its narrative traces the life of Irish immigrant Sibéal, whom we first meet "walking on water" en route for Australia as a girl, sensing "the swell and heave of the sea beneath the ship" (2), and whose aquatic-themed adventures in many locations, from temporary return to Ireland with mother Neasa to their more permanent return to Australia and father Cullen, followed by world travels and settling in Tasmania, form the substance of the book's six sections. The tightness of the theme gives the collection an onward momentum, and the scenes from Japan, Granada, Hong Kong, Connemara push one forward to the final celebration of Tasmania as Sibéal embraces Pyengana, Wild Rivers National Park, Macquarie Harbour and Leeawuleena, where the lake "nudg[es] its myrtle shore damp, dark, delicate, / where once her weak winter shadow moved / along paths gnarled with tree-roots" (76). It's a bold design and conception, historically, geographical and thematically – the water theme allows for a vivid interlude on Sibéal's tears. At times the language seems deliberately withheld and flat, and at other times, particularly at the end, flares into colour and passion.
Two jewels in Walleah's crown of late have been Paul Mitchell and Vanessa Page. Mitchell's Standard Variation (2014) is full of surprises. Seven years after Awake Despite the Hour, which was published by Five Islands Press, he has come up with an innovative collection for Walleah, full of twists and turns, mimicry and invention. He manages to be both distinctive in style whilst trying something new in almost every poem. He has a good ear for the language around him in Melbourne , as in "Clarendon Hotel, South Melbourne" and "Werribee Line, 5.36pm" (where the fragment "Does he want to give birth or something?" drifts across the carriage) without being patronizing; he can turn familiar phrases inside out and tuck them inside each other like newly-washed socks, as in "That Old New Saying"; he can put words into people's mouths, as in "From Jesus' Will" or "Peter Pan's Lament" or "Freud's Email". As you progress through the book you wonder what he's going to do next. Dwell on the human intricacies of footy, perhaps, as in "The Family Game"? Or hymn an unglamorous Melbourne suburb and its inhabitants? (Kingsville, as it happens, postcode 3012.) He is alert to the possibilities of our common language, can raise a smile, but also be tenderly observant in the Walleah tradition, when watching a father help his son dress at the winter swimming pool; he
peacefully unfolds his son's
dry clothes cherishes boy's
drenched beauty understands every
strand of showered hair jean pull
over damp flesh wrap arm in arm . . . (78)
Vanessa Page, currently based in Brisbane, has had successes in prestigious competitions and some near-misses in unpublished manuscript competitions; Walleah put out her first full-length collection, Confessional Box, in 2013. Siobhan Hodge reviewed it in Cordite 53, and Peter Keneally picked it up for an astute review in Australian Book Review 351 (May 2013), commenting that, whether writing about the slipping away of a relationship or about life in the bush, Page "combines a photographic exactness with a resounding turn of phrase". Keneally noted the move in the final section of Confessional Box to "a new love and a guarded happiness", but in terms that suggest the reviewer preferred the "control and clarity" of the explorations of a suburban relationship in the first section. These are indeed fine, in portraying the life and confidence leaving a relationship and a place. The scene is set by the opening poem "Cartography", where "the garden hose [is left] running in the afternoon rain. Yesterday, curled up in the letterbox." and "rain comes / arrhythmic shrapnel / tin-tin-tin" (3). There is a sense of release in the second section of the book, with the move to the bush, "big sky country / another hard-edged Friday night / hanging sweat-heavy / in a summer solstice" (30). As for the hard-won sense of fullness in the third section, "embers", I found the poems to her young son, in particular, brought the series of poems to a satisfying conclusion.
In her blog, Vanessa Page comments that "the idea for the book was born out of a conversation with Ralph Wessman from Walleah Press at the 2012 Queensland Poetry Festival. Ralph approached me asking if he could publish my two shortlisted Arts Queensland Thomas Shapcott Prize manuscripts in a single volume. The two manuscripts were almost companion pieces so it was a perfect fit". Bravo, Mr. Wessman. The musicality of Page's lines, and her insights into love, loss and hope, make this a volume to treasure. As well as being another example of Ralph's initiative, and his eye for good writing.
Married to This Ground, Nicola Bowery, Walleah Press, 2014, ISBN 978-1-877010-46-0, pp90.
One Hour Seeds Another, Andrew Burke, Walleah Press, 2014, ISBN 978-1-877010-60-6, pp112.
The Language of Water, Anne Collins, Walleah Press, 2014, ISBN 978-1-877010-35-4, pp78.
Poems From Here, Kathryn Hummel, Walleah Press, 2014, ISBN 978-1-877010-50-7, pp80.
Blood Plums, Lorraine McGuigan, Walleah Press, 2014, ISBN 978-1-877010-63-7, pp81.
Confessional Box, Vanessa Page, Walleah Press, 2013, ISBN 978-1-877010-31-6, pp78.
The Nonchalant Garden, Liz McQuilkin, Walleah Press, 2014, ISBN 978-1-877010-54-5, pp59.
Standard Variation, Paul Mitchell, Walleah Press, 2014, ISBN 978-1-877010-57-6, pp116.
Bread of the Lost, Philomena van Rijswijk, Walleah Press, 2012 ISBN 978-1-877010-24-8, pp92.
Life Drawings, Lesley Walter, Walleah Press, 2014, ISBN 978-1-877010-52-1, pp119.
Weaving Nests with Smoke and Stone, Gina Mercer, Walleah Press, 2015, ISBN 978-1-877010-71-2, pp64.
Histories of the Future, Martin Edmond and Maggie Hall, Walleah Press, 2015, ISBN 978-1-877010-67-5, pp98.
The White Room Poems, Anne Kellas, Walleah Press, 2015, ISBN 978-1-877010-22-4, pp89.