Translation and Experiment and Translation: Some Girls Walk Into The Country They Are From by Sawako Nakayasu (and Friends)
This review concerns poet Nakayasu’s most recent major collection (as of March 2022), the self-translated hallucination that is Some Girls Walk Into The Country They Are From (2020). Some Girls is one of the most advanced realizations of an experimental writing practice informed by modernist approaches to literature explicitly between languages, sensitive to a multilingual compass.
Bella Li’s hybrid poetics of text and image are instantly recognisable. Her third collection Theory of Colours follows on structurally and stylistically from her well-received earlier works: Argosy (2017, Vagabond Books) and Lost Lake (2018, Vagabond Books). Here, as with her previous collections, alchemical concoctions of form and genre blend source materials into sequences with a commitment to the surreal and uncanny.
In ‘Wintering’, the closing poem from her posthumous collection Ariel, and the last in her quintuple sequence about bees, Sylvia Plath writes: ‘will the hive survive, will the gladiolas/Succeed in banking their fires/To enter another year?’ At the time of editing, Plath was enduring one of the coldest English winters on record, one so cold that the Thames froze over.
White Clouds, Blue Rain (2021) is Oliver Driscoll’s second poetry collection, appearing a short year after his 2020 I Don’t Know How that Happened. Like his earlier work, it is concerned with the everyday: small moments of domesticity and care; conversations both mundane and profound; fleeting interactions with, but more often, observations of, an outside world whose parameters are undefined, but which nonetheless feel tightly bound, contained. To say that this is a result of the pandemic, which has certainly imbued domesticity and its imaginary with a gravitas denied to it when it was considered womanly, would be incorrect insofar as Driscoll has always had an eye for the ordinary, has always been pulled by the intimate, the close.
Petra White’s poetry has been highly and widely praised, celebrated for its seriousness, its engagement with poets like Petrarch, Dante, Coleridge and Donne, its ability to ‘recall’ these famous European names and their famous poems. She is presented as a serious poet, and has managed to get her ‘kind of Collected-poems-so-far’ onto the VCE Literature text list.
‘The actor is a heart athlete,’ Antonin Artaud wrote in 1958. He was writing about theatre, but I wonder if the same could be said of the poet. ‘To arrive at the emotions through their powers instead of regarding them as pure extraction, confers a mastery on an actor equal to a true healer’s. A crude empiricist, a practitioner guided by vague instinct. To use emotions the same way a boxer uses muscles. To know there is a physical outlet for the soul. (93 – 95).
Gareth Morgan’s Dear Eileen, is a focused yet restless collection of epistolary-poems addressed to the American poet, Eileen Myles. Published in 2020 in Puncher & Wattmann’s poetry chapbook series, Slow Loris, it is the Naarm-based poet’s first title.
There is a humour to Slow Walk Home that interrupts solemn atmospheres with a wry warmth, comedy and tragedy unfurling like contrasting petals of the same bloom. The second collection of verse by Young Dawkins, an American-born poet who has lived in Scotland and now resides in Tasmania, Slow Walk Home also pays homage to Beat poets of his generation, evident in poems such as ‘The Real Lion—Ginsberg’ and ‘Kerouac, Raton Canyon’.
Experience of mental illness presents a paradox that feels impossible for representation in language: it is at once both too personal and yet too universal for easy translation. Everyone has a measure for how it can be done; from Sylvia Plath to My Chemical Romance to Robin Williams, if we have not experienced mental illness ourselves, we have seen a multitude of others grapple with it and have become (we think) discerning arbiters of the real.
In the ‘Reflection from the author’ at the beginning of Dona Juanita and the Love of Boys (Buon Cativi Press, 2020), Gabrielle Everall states: ‘The main struggle of the novella is about the protagonist’s love of boys. Some of the poems are written about two guys I had crushes on’, as well as, ‘there is lesbian erotica … as my best sexual experience was with a woman.’
The writer Phillip Hoare, celebrated author of The Whale and self-confessed sea obsessive, once wrote: ‘Our bodies are as unknown to us as the ocean, both familiar and strange; the sea inside ourselves.’
Despite the publishing limitations in 2020 caused by the COVID-19 restrictions, Melbourne Poets Union remarkably released seven chapbooks last year in its new Blue Tongue Poets and Red-bellied Poets series, all under the auspices of the soon-to-retire editor, Tina Giannoukos.
The blurb of Jennifer Mackenzie’s 2020 collection Navigable Ink (Transit Lounge) begins by introducing Indonesian writer and activist Pramoedya Ananta Toer, who died in 2006.
In Infernal Topographies, Graeme Miles traverses mythology, landscape and notions of selfhood to reveal moments of approachability and tenderness that are rare in Australian poetry.
Reading Alice Savona’s Self ie feels a bit like taking a vacation inside a palindrome. It’s a wonderful escape, albeit sometimes fraught with all the rocking movement, backwards and forwards, until you aren’t sure what the runes and symbols that make up the words even mean anymore.
‘HELLO FAERE CUNTIES!’ we are hailed in the opening lines of this rough-and-tumble volume, which swings between the campy and the choleric, the vatic and the venereal.
The achievements of the poets who started publishing in the early 1980s in Australia have tended to be overshadowed by those of the generation immediately prior to them.
Is the future something to fear, or is it our saviour from the present? We have no idea what’s coming; we hope it’s something better, but suspect it’s only getting worse.
The presence of John Ashbery shines over contemporary literature, for many as an enigma, indisputably as a catalyst. Part of the post-World War II wave of new American poetry, his name is grouped not just alongside his contemporary poets but among their literary schools and movements: the L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E school, the New York School, the San Francisco Renaissance, the Beats, the Black Mountain poets, our own ’68ers and J.A.
The reader will have to imagine for themselves what Maria-Àngels Roque, editor-in-chief of Quaderns de la Mediterrània, a twice-yearly journal focused on authors from the Euro-Mediterranean, must have felt upon hearing these words.
Alice Allan’s debut collection opens with the declaration, ‘A sonnet is always a love poem.’ Absolute statements like this tend to attract consideration of their opposites, gesturing to their qualities and equally calling to mind all that they are not: always/never, empty/full, lost/found or wrong/right.
2020 is a hectic year, ay? Severe bushfires, Covid-19 outbreak, the subsequent lockdown, the colonial government funding an idolised re-enactment of the starting point of the invasion of these lands, Black people being harmed and murdered by state agents such as the police and those same police protecting boring statues of colonisers all while Rio Tinto destroys a 46,000-year-old sacred site.
Darlene Silva Soberano Reviews When I die slingshot my ashes onto the surface of the moon by Jennifer Nguyen and wheeze by Marcus Whale
Jennifer Nguyen’s debut chapbook, When I die slingshot my ashes onto the surface of the moon, investigates the multifaceted natures of pain and sadness.
Noonday is an intriguingly built set of poems. As a reader, I am looking to be jolted into a new paradigm. I want the poet to raise the stakes and am generally looking for puzzles I cannot solve.