The 2018 Event Horizon of Micro Press Poetry Publishing in Australia

5 December 2017

Moving west to Adelaide is a newish outfit named Little Windows Press. With this project, Jill Jones and Alison Flett, the publishers, have commandeered the ‘little’ from neighbour Little Esther Books – a Ken Bolton project that is currently dormant, although its resuscitation is always a possibility, and indicative of the hibernation periods that chapbook-producing micro presses crawl into and awake from – and has created a series of little books of her own. LW1 is four ‘handsome chappies’ (Jones’s words) that feature work by Andy Jackson, John Glenday, Jill Jones herself and Alison Flett, the Scottish poet who is hanging out in South Australia for a spell. (Those flukes are what build local scenes.) LW2, the next four chapbooks are handsomer still, and feature writing from Ali Cobby Eckermann, Kathryn Hummel, Jen Hadfield and Adam Aitken. I agree with Jones; the chapbooks – while not as commercially slick at Recent Work Press’s publications – have a solid and well-considered handmade genesis. They are because they can be – ‘little books, big horizons’ is the press’s tagline – and succeed as the instrument of a well-established poet who’s been around the traps, has taught umpteen students, has a considerable oeuvre and wants to create a space to get work out there in craft scale. It’s as likely as not that the poetry presented here has not won a prize, won’t be appearing in the authors’ future full-length collections, likely not BAPped (Best Australian Poem-ed), and enjoys a decent chance of never appearing in a 500-page 2025 singularity. These publications provide a space for poetry to be published without further expectancy. No other form of literature has this pressure valve release the way poetry does.

Adelaide has another active chapbook producer in Garron Publishing, which, like Little Windows Press, is keeping the attention close to home. These chapbooks remind me a great deal of the former Picaro Press’s Wagtail series, a chapbook subscription service that covered an extensive array of work in a solid, template-driven production (the remnants of which are now with Ginninderra Press). Here we have offerings by established poets like Steve Brock, Rachael Mead, Mike Ladd and Aidan Coleman, hometown stalwarts that get out and about beyond the SA borders, and also writers like Jelena Dinić, Judy Dally and series publisher Sharon Kernot, who also get out and about but with perhaps not with as high an author profile. But that’s a good thing. Of all the micro presses I know operating in 2017, Garron Publishing taps into the greatest breadth of writers from its front and back yards, publishing, as it does, economists, archaeologists, social workers and, yes, academics who also write poetry. It features transplants from the Britain, the States, the former Yugoslavia and Scotland (once again, Alison Flett). It’s a motley list, organic and sans the thunder strike of Recent Work Press’s near-vertical trajectory of ambition. There is nothing else like it happening in Australia right now.

The closest would be Dangerously Poetic Press, which is ‘seeking to encourage, publish and promote poetry from the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales, Australia’. (For me, one of the more flummoxing oddments of the Australian idiom is a claim to be ‘seeking’ to do something that is, quite clearly, already being accomplished by the claimer.) Too – while not defunct, but certainly in dormancy – is Perth’s Black Rider Press. Its father-of-five publisher, Jeremy Balius, has published an array of writers, predominantly Western Australians, but not strictly, in a succession of chapbooks, broadsheets, full collections, pop-up shindigs and Outcrop: Radical Australian Poetry of Land in 2013. May it reawaken when the publisher has a nanosecond of time to do so, but perhaps by pruning off its publishing mantra as a reopening volley, ‘We’re the cats backed into a corner, banding together, publishing like thieves in the night. We’re wild bleary-eyed. We were funded from the sale of two drum machines and some other stuff. We’re the Black Riders. And we suspect you are too.’

There is always a critical intensity of publishing activity in Melbourne, and the density of a black hole – anything but vacuous – is an apt analogy. Venerable institutions like Express Media always have a presence near the event horizon, and largely in the form of first-time publications of any ilk. Too, the Wheeler Centre hot desks incubate projects that orbit freely outside of the event horizon – efforts that sometimes come to fruition in printed poetries – and established small presses like John Leonard Press morph into new houses like GloriaSMH (although JLP still exists on paper). The Rereaders is actively redefining the media of literature … Is it a poem? A short story? A cast? Yes, yes and thrice yes. Or, none of these. That’s the unfettered beauty of new explorations happening in Melbourne now.

The Incendium Radical Library in Footscray posits itself as a ‘collective started because we wanted to challenge the commodification of libraries, whether government, university or council based. We see a mass production of a certain type of thinking which reproduces the structures of oppression that we live under.’ With this manifesto, its zine and book holdings, along with events, combine to electrify the voices of under-represented writers to overcome the din of flaccid citizen blog journalism, the ever-threatening glaciation period of post-consumerism kept in phony check à la wispily veiled NGOs and their carpetbagging prospectuses peppered with do-gooding talking points. Right. It even has a mobile library. IRL Press, a new extension to the library, has its first publication just out, a mélange of poetry, experimental writing and critical thesis from Chi Tran. May it be the first of many to follow.

Near IRL, albeit less overtly political, is The Slow Canoe, a series of events that began a few years ago, stopped, and re-emerged with gusto under the direction of Oliver Driscoll, Angus Keech and Bella Li. A chapbook press is now part of the mix. While the publishing tentacle of Slow Canoe has only begun to unfurl into the ether, the two chapbooks that do exist seamlessly slot into poetry’s canon of Australian chapbookery. What makes Slow Canoe’s publications distinctive is that each features five authors, a minority of whom would identify as poets first. Yet the curation of text found within, written by novelists, editors, journalists and musicians, bundles pleasingly into a mini art book/journal dressed up for Halloween as a fetching chapbook, and directly reflects the readers programmed at their events. This is a terrific live/print-publishing hybrid model. To date, writers include Miles Allinson, Jo Case, Will Cox, André Dao, Zoe Dzunko, Erik Jensen, Laura Maitland, Paddy O’Reilly, Lucy Van and Fiona Wright.

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