Includes book reviews and bits from writer's journal. For the professional stuff, see website link below left.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Books from Melbourne: 2




From City Basement Books

The Book of Francois Villon: The Little Testament and Ballads, translated into English verse by Algernon Charles Swinburne, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and John Payne.

I have two copies of Villon at home, but I like this translation better than either. Not that I have ever read the original, but when you look at who the translators of this edition are, perhaps that explains it. There is also an introductory essay by H. De Vere Stacpoole. and on the facing page a poem on Villon by Andrew Lang. Swinburne, too, has written a poem about Villon, which is included after Stacpoole's essay. So many famous men of letters! These poems seem to me to flow more naturally than other translations. The publication date is 1914 and the language is of that time, yet is readily understandable today. 

Bellbirds: A poem by Henry Kendall with watercolours by John Caldwell.

The poem was first published in 1869. This beautiful illustrated edition from Angus & Roberston appeared in 1982. What a treasure! What a find! For non-Aussies, the back cover blurb tells it best. And for everyone, a sample of the illustrations.





medium security by Louise Wakeling

Louise Wakeling, the book tells me, is a Sydney poet, teacher, freelance editor and novelist. I knew the name but not the work. The book looked far too interesting to pass up, and now that I'm dipping into it I'm glad I got it. There's plenty to like, not least her poems of place, including some about places near where I live (albeit written before 3002). But as I'd best stick to a short piece here, this is a place I know only through the poet's words: 



As It Was by Bruce Beaver

Yet another Australian poet, an award-winning and very highly regarded one, who lived from 1928 to 2004. He was also a novelist, but I didn't know he had written a memoir of his early life. This is it, in both verse and prose. I'm looking forward to a lovely read; and I sometimes think that if I ever succeed in writing a memoir, it might have to be partly in verse, so it will be interesting to see how this one works. (Some of the lines have been numbered by a previous reader, mostly in pencil, a few in biro. I'll rub out the pencil very gently, and for the ink I'll send foul thoughts to the person whose name is written in the same hand on the inside cover.)

archly and mehitabel / archy's life of mehitabel by don marquis 

I was brought up on these gems. I have one at home, but it's a long time since I looked at it. I think it's the first but I'm not quite sure. So I will have a duplicate, but no matter; it will make a great gift for someone. For those who don't know, archy is a cockroach and his friend mehitabel is a cat, and archy tells their story by jumping on the keys of Don Marquis's typewriter at night while the writer is asleep. (Hence no upper case letters as he couldn't be in two places at once.) Just as well it was before the days of computers or we might never have known these two charming characters!

Amongst the Graffiti: Haiku by Janice Bostock

Janice Bostock was a world-renowned Australian haiku writer. The book has a foreword by her equally famous mentor and friend William Higginson. Both have now passed away, but this book was published in 2003, around the time I first (briefly) met Janice Bostock, who happened to live in the same region as me. I also encountered her later on MySpace, where she kindly tried to mentor me as I began attempting haiku. Unfortunately we couldn't get the technology to do what we wanted. So I never did really get to know her, but became very well aware of her work, which was highly acclaimed and rightly so. She was innovative, exploring both one-line and occasionally four-line haiku, and was among the first to recognise that Japanese and English syllables are very different, so that short/long/short lines (when using three) are preferable to 5/7/5 English syllables. This book is illustrated with her own pen-and-ink illustrations, which have an Oriental feel. She was a prolific poet, author of many books. I'm thrilled to have found this one.





A gift from my friend Linda

Kin, by Anne Elvey



When I stayed with my old friend Linda Stevenson recently, she gave me a signed copy of this recent, acclaimed book of poetry. She knows the author in real,life; I know her online and had seen some glowing reviews which made me think I'd like to read this book. Yes, it's beautiful poetry. The language is very spare and economical, yet the effect is by no means sparse. This is poetry of depth and resonance, with much craft and no pretension. See for yourselves! One, about the suspension bridge over the Cataract Gorge in Launceston, Tasmania, takes me straight back to childhood -- she is speaking me; me then. However, I'll give you this short piece which says so much in so few words:






Thursday, August 27, 2015

Indulging My Vice: Books I Got In Melbourne

I'm on holiday. That's when you get yourself little treats, right? 

I was in town. I went with Jennie Fraine to say hello to Kris Hemensley at Collected Works bookshop. And, as you do, I cast my eye over his wondrous collection of poetry. This is a shop that exists for poetry! I found four little treasures, things of magical beauty, small and light enough to take home easily on the plane. The total price shocked me a bit. I have been spoilt by the price of ebooks. But I didn't flinch. I haven't had to spend much on myself this trip, thanks to my generous family, and these books are undoubtedly worth it. 

I asked Kris if by any chance he might have a copy of The Book of Bellerive. I inherited my Dad's cherished copy, which I foolishly lent years later to someone who lost it! Bellerive was the pen-name of a now long-dead Australian poet who was our version of the famed Scotsman McGonaghal -- so bad he was good. He used to get published in The Bulletin, even. The lines I still recall came from a poem about weevils: 'those jumpers, white jumpers / whom live in old cheese.' Of course Bellerive was a very serious poet; it was everyone else who found him funny. I love whimsy, shaggy dog stories, satire, absurdity  ... of course I love him too!

If I were to find a copy nowadays it would probably cost a heap. But Kris had not heard of him, and I suppose few have by now. However he suggested I try City Basement Books, a really good second-hand bookshop. So next time I was in town, I dragged my son David in there and went straight to the poetry shelves (in this shop as small a section as in most book shops; *sigh*.) I didn't really expect to find it, and I didn't. Nor did the  woman at the counter when she did a computer search. I did, however, find other treasures I couldn't pass up -- and David kindly bought them for me. This time I got seven, and being second-hand the total cost was little more than half the ones from Collected Works. I still went for small, light volumes, but most not quite so slim as the first lot. I MUST NOT add anything else to my luggage! It was only just under maximum weight when I left home.

And these are the treasures I found --

From Collected Works:



haiku waterfront city, by marina scott and patsy m. bush

I hadn't heard of this poet. Exquisite, perfect, contemporary urban haiku. The prints illustrating them are just right too. And the format of this tiny black-and-white book is also just right: one haiku per page with accompanying print on facing page. It's a gem, a joy. We are told the haiku were 'written at - sushi, ramsays, geelong hospital cafeteria, cafe go, the chocolate room, dish, cafe on the common, and wesley church, johnstone park, and at home'. The women describe their book as 'a text and image celebration of their waterfront city, geelong, australia'. It makes me want to revisit and rediscover Geelong. Above all, it gives me pleasure in itself.




A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas. 

One Dylan Thomas work I didn't know before. I bought it thinking I would read it and then pass it on to a grand-daughter. I read it fast and decided to keep it. I like to treat myself to beautiful language. I'll be re-reading. It's childhood tales but they are poetry too. Dylan's Thomas couldn't write without making poetry. The little woodcuts add an extra touch of magic.



Still Life and other poems by Suzanne Edgar

Intriguing, well crafted poems by an Australian poet I'd vaguely heard of long ago, whose work I had not encountered. She is accomplished in both free and formal verse; sometimes tragic, sometimes funny. The language is simple and clear, yet she uses it in ways that create striking effects and can seem lush and rare. This I may give away, to someone I know will appreciate it too, but I'm glad to have read it. On the other hand, it has a haunting quality and I've already re-read it several times, so perhaps I'll keep it.



eMailing flowers to Mondrian, by Alan Loney and Max Gimblett

A fascinating book! It is poems made from parts of emails between Loney (poet) and Gimblett (artist) when they were working on a volume called Mondrian's flowers, a long poem with pictures published by a New York publisher in 2002. I dare say that would be an expensive book and I'm sure it would be a very beautiful one, but I can't find any record of it still being in print, let alone for sale. Meanwhile, the Melbourne-published book I have is beautiful too. There are two wonderful roses by way of illustration, and the words are delectable. I am not always certain which man wrote which words, and in the end it doesn't matter; it all comes together as one whole poem. But it is in sections, each given its own page. Any of them would be good to quote, so, opening at random, I give you this (you might need to zoom in):



And from City Basement Books -- look for my next post.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Travel Tales and Observations: Under Difficulties

I am waiting to fly to Melbourne from the Gold Coast. The plane I'll take has just landed, its incoming passengers beginning to disembark, trickling through the Arrivals door.

Things you recognise because you've been there -- an elderly couple holds hands, conversing naturally; I see that realły she is leading him by the hand. Either mentally or physically, he cannot manage by himself. Also, they are used to this and have adapted.

The next elderly couple I see, he's pushing her in a wheelchair. She looks alert but frail. He looks handsome, fit and assured despite the grey hairs. They both have an air of elegance. 

A  middle-aged couple emerges now. Again, the woman holds the man's hand, leading him; but also he taps with his white-tipped stick. He is blind.

Others are using walking sticks. (Mine is folded in my bag, only for emergencies.) Two different women have those great big knee-length padded boots, 'moon boots', strapped on one leg, denoting injury or operation.

Wonderful how we all get around despite these hindrances. They haven't stopped us from getting into aeroplanes and flying from one city to another, traversing the country.

On board, I find myself seated next to the wheelchair lady and her husband. I have to squeeze past them to get to my window seat (because of course they were ushered on board first; wheelchairs go to the head of the queue). He steps out into the aisle to let me through. She stands and pushes herself back as far as she can against her seat. 'She's hurt her leg,' he explains, and I realise the wheelchair isn't a permanent fixture. I see that one thin leg is twisted even further back out of my way. I manage not to bump it.

Her hair is improbably curled and golden, just the right degree of artfully tousled. From a distance it had looked beige; up close it shines with rich, deep glints. I decide it has to be a wig. Sitting next to her so closely, I see no obvious place of joining, yet her thin neck looks as if it must have wisps of grey hair concealed beneath the perfectly coiffed gold.     

I note the details of that 'air of elegance' I'd observed earlier. The gold circlets in her ears are not the usual fine hoops; they are small in diameter but thick and chunky, as if someone had taken actual bars of gold and curved them. There are several bright gold rings on her fingers too, some with diamonds, in conservative, traditional designs. Her grey pant-suit and leopard-print scarf have an understated chic. 

During the flight, apart from some polite murmurs, we barely converse. We both read. The man, on the other side of her, rests in his own thoughts. 

As we begin the descent into Melbourne, she takes a lipstick out of her handbag, in one of those exquisitely decorated metal lipstick cases with mirror. She paints her mouth the perfect shade of mulberry to complement her scarf and hair. I can't help myself. 'What an elegant lady you are!' I tell her. 'I hope you don't mind me saying.' 

She gives a slight smile. 'One does one's best.' Then, the smile widening, 'I'm 81.' 

'No!' I say, meaning it, and suddenly we are in conversation about the fact that she and he have just come back from a trip overseas, and are now travelling to Melbourne for a funeral after the sudden death of a dear friend.

I murmur condolences, pause, then ask where they went overseas. Ireland and Spain, I learn; in Ireland they were visiting family. 'Two countries I haven't been to ... yet,' I say, then tell her why I am going to Melbourne: a big family reunion with my foster-son and his wife, who live in Switzerland and have not been back to Australia for nine years.  

Only later it occurs to me to wonder if the man is her son rather than her husband. He is slightly plump, his white hair receding, but seems vigorous. I wouldn't have put him anywhere near 80 – but I wouldn't have picked her for that age either, despite the slimness which makes her look frail. 

I lose sight of them when we disembark, but then as I'm about to take the down escalator to the baggage claim area, I see them awaiting the lift, she in her wheelchair again and he pushing. We wave goodbye merrily, like old friends.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

And Then There Was One, Part 3

Already, kind people are asking if I will get another cat. No I won't, and not because of any feeling that no other cat can possibly replace the one I've lost.  Of course no cat can replace any other; they are all individuals. But I have learned by now that I can love each one with all my heart.

Guinivere and Isolda, Ishtar and Sam, Freya and Levi – beautiful cats all, each with their own unique personality. Guinivere was the smartest of the lot, so intelligent and aware that I used to say she must have been human in her last life or would be in her next. Isolda and Ishtar were gentle, pretty girls who never gave a moment's trouble, but much joy. Sam and Freya were both highly assertive, highly intelligent, and devoted to me despite some power struggles. And Levi was basically cheerful and cruisy but also incredibly sensitive, an intrepid explorer with a learned timidity following some adventures that didn't turn out so well. It seemed he was intent on using up all his nine lives before he finally died!




I realise, now that it is past, how stressful it was looking after him in his final months. He had arthritis for many years, following an adventure with a fence and a torn ligament. Later he developed kidney disease. Though these things were well controlled, I was constantly concerned for his wellbeing and vigilant to his needs. I didn't even realise how much until it abruptly became unnecessary.

And before that, a year ago, I was looking after a sick and dying Freya. And two years prior to that I was carer to my darling husband as he became more and more incapacitated and eventually passed away. In fact, in his case and in Levi's, the extra care started happening some years previously. I was only too happy to do what I could for all my family, and distressed that I couldn't do more than was humanly possible. Now, however, I feel it's time to focus on looking after me.

That of course cuts both ways. You could set your clock by Levi and Freya. Now I have no-one to remind me when it's lunch-time. Looking after me without their help will require some self-discipline!

In any case, I'm 75. I'm getting too old to be certain I could meet a new pet's needs adequately into its own old age.

Then there's the wild life. I would not originally have got a cat after moving to this part of the world. It was only that Levi and Freya's first owner had to leave an abusive relationship fast, and we offered temporary respite to her, her daughter, their puppy and their cats. She found a new home for herself and her daughter but wasn't allowed pets. A friend was glad to take the puppy. By that time we'd had the two young cats for a fortnight. No-one else seemed to want them. 'I've been catless too long,' I said to Andrew. 'You couldn't possibly split them up,' he said. And so, after vowing to have none, I had two for 16 and 17 years respectively. I don't regret a minute of it – and I still don't think a cat is a good idea here.

Not only that, but the Abbott Government has brought in new laws to control the feral cat population. That's a good thing – except that it can also be applied to any domestic pets found outside. But now I no longer have to worry about a cat of mine falling foul of that law, and I am very happy to keep it that way.

I'm about to make a trip interstate for a big family reunion, and hope to make another at xmas. I wasn't easy in my mind about leaving Levi for so long, in his recent state of health, even though the house sitters, whom he was acquainted with, would have looked after him lovingly. Now I am free to travel as I wish, whenever I wish, without a backward glance.

And there are surprises. Yes I am still very much grieving over Levi, very much missing him, despite the fleeting ghostly visits. However, alongside the grief is astonishment at how clean the house is looking – and staying. I vacuum once and the carpet looks pristine for days! Who would have thought? (I have had cats most of my adult life, including the last 17 years. I guess I'd got used to the way it was.)

Finally, I had been racking my brains as to how to stretch my pension, as I wished to retire from doing psychic readings in the market every month. It occurs to me now that the absence of pet food and vet bills is one effective way to stretch the pension!

A dog barks outside. For a moment I come to attention, then realise I no longer have to worry whether Levi's outside and whether that's a cat-chasing dog. Eventually I won't startle like that at a bark any more; the habit will gradually fade. One less thing to worry about.

I eat my lunch. It's 2.30 in the afternoon. That's OK, it won't kill me to be eating late – and eventually my stomach will notice that it needs to remind me about meal times. We are not wired to let ourselves starve forever.

I walk up the passage and am confronted by the empty spot where he used to nestle in the corner. I cry. I remember how unwell he was looking lately, and cry some more but in a different way.

I start packing my suitcase for my trip away, and I'm thankful not to feel torn but free.



Friday, August 14, 2015

And Then There Was One, Part 2

So now I'm alone in the house. Or am I?

When Andrew was alive, and working long hours in his office, at his computer, Levi was in the habit of lying under the desk at his feet.

In the last weeks of his life he began to come and lie at my feet under my desk sometimes, when I was working at my computer. I wouldn't always know he was there. Black cats can be almost invisible in shadowy places. I would sometimes stretch out my foot only to have it encounter a soft body. Then I would instantly move my foot back and apologise – though actually it was always just a gentle touch, not a kick or anything.

On a recent evening, while I was working at my computer, I stretched out my foot and it came up against the familiar soft body. I drew it back immediately as usual, a reflex action by now. Then I was sorry I did, as my mind remembered that Levi had been dead for 24 hours. I reached out cautiously with my foot again, but it was too late – only empty air. And when I looked under the desk, of course there was nothing to be seen that could account for what I'd felt, although I scrutinised the space thoroughly.

Still, I was very glad of that fleeting moment, reminding me he was still around.

Subsequently I walked into the spare room one day, where he used to like to sleep on one of the beds with the sun coming in the window. The bed he favoured in his final weeks had an impression on the top blanket, as if someone had sat there recently – or a cat had lain there. But I had washed that blanket after he died, and replaced it on the bed smooth and straight. I hadn't sat there since, nor rested a hand or knee on it, and no-one else had been in the house in the interim.

Cats often hang around a while after death, or revisit soon: little ghostly presences. Some people see them, some hear familiar murmurs of greeting as they pass a favourite nook. I have experienced both, with other cats. But feeling my foot touch him, seeing that impression in the blanket – those are unique to Levi.

He always was a very special individual!





Wednesday, August 12, 2015

And Then There Was One






















Part 1

If you see my facebook posts, you'll know that I'm the last survivor of the small family my husband and I created with our two cats, who came to us as youngsters of seven months old in July 1998. 


Now, seventeen years later, my cat Levi had a sudden and rapid decline in health, and on Friday last he was put to sleep.  The same thing happened to his sister Freya eleven months previously. And her demise was only two years after my husband departed this plane.

For his last eleven months, Levi and I developed a very intense relationship. He was a cat of very intense feelings altogether. My late husband was the great love of his life, and it took him many long months to come to terms with that loss. Andrew adored him too; he was the favourite cat. That was OK, because Freya was my favourite and I was hers. Oh, don't get me wrong; the love went all ways between all four of us. It's just that there were these preferences, which we all knew and accepted.

After Freya, too, left us, I devoted myself to Levi. She had always been in his life. They had sibling rivalry, jealousy and little spats, but they loved each other dearly too and were good companions. I was afraid he would go into deep sadness at her death, as he had after Andrew's. I missed my little girl – my familiar – but I'd had some months to prepare myself for losing her, since her diagnosis of cancer, its remission and return. After she'd gone, I put all my energy into keeping Levi feeling loved and happy.

She was always the spokesperson for the two of them. When she wasn't there any more, he had to learn to speak up for himself. He had a funny little chirruping miaow which he had hardly used. He learned that with me this was not always sufficient. If I was at the computer working on a piece of writing, he would miaow at me and I would tell him, 'Yes, in a minute,' but sometimes it got to be a long minute. Levi learned that when I was at the computer, he needed to yell!

I had only just remarked that we had evolved new routines and established new habits pertaining only to the two of us, when all at once he was gone too. They seem to be quite good routines and habits which serve me well for myself, so at present I keep them.

If I was too late getting to bed, Levi would come and nag me. (As Freya was my familiar, he was my guardian.) After getting shingles three times this winter – an immune system issue – I conceded he was right and I must take better care of myself. Getting to bed at a decent hour is now incorporated into my routines, after a long life of being a night owl. I even added a brief afternoon nap in the spare room, where he occupied one bed, me the other; and that continues too – after a lifetime in which daytime naps were a great rarity. It's comforting, now, to close my eyes and imagine him still there on the other bed.

I miss my 'supervisor' checking out everything that was going on in the house to make sure it met with his approval.

I miss him coming in through his cat door, straight to wherever I might be, telling me vociferously all about his latest adventures outdoors.

He liked to come and sit beside me on the couch when I watched TV of an evening. This was smooching time – lots of pats, stroking and scratching behind his ears, telling him how beautiful he was and how much I loved him, while he purred and rubbed his nose against me, patted me with his paws, and tried to groom me as if I was another cat. On nights when I didn't watch TV, he would lie near my office chair or under my desk at my feet.

Bedtimes are hard now. So are waking up times. They were major cuddle times. When I started getting ready for bed, he would hang about, watching, until I was actually in bed. I'd be propped up against big pillows, with a cup of cocoa and something to read, and he'd join me on the bed and cuddle up, purring, for more of the same treatment as on the couch. Eventually he'd settle down beside me and go to sleep – until I put the light out.

Occasionally he would stay all night with me, but mostly, after I went to sleep, he'd find a spot elsewhere – by the heater on cold nights, or on my office chair, or even outside somewhere. He'd be back on the bed to help me wake up in the morning, and that was another big cuddle time. 


He liked to butt my forehead with his. I read somewhere that when cats do this they are laying claim to you. So I would do it to him too, telling him (a la Game of Thrones) 'You are mine and I am yours.'

The top step, at the front door, was a favourite spot. He enjoyed lying in the sun there. Even if he was inside the house when I went out, he would be on the top step waiting for me when I drove in, and would come padding down to meet the car. I was always scared he'd get under the wheels, but he never did.

That was not a new thing; it happened when Freya was alive, too. She preferred to enjoy the sun in the back yard, where she had her own special spot on the old blanket covering my mini-trampoline. When I arrived home, she would come from around the side of the house to greet me, picking her way daintily across the lawn while Levi majestically descended the front steps. They"d reach me together. But for the last 11 months it was only Levi. He seemed more intent and purposeful than ever in waiting to welcome me home. 


Simultaneously, now, I see in my mind his black shape waiting, rising and stretching, coming down the steps ... and I see the bare steps, and his absence.