Tag Archives: Ralph Wessman

QPF 2012 Feature Poet: Jill Jones

It’s edging ever closer… QPF 2012 feels like I can reach out and touch it. So to bring it even closer, here’s an interview with one of the featured poets, Jill Jones. You can catch Jill at the following sessions:

The Phrasebook of Silence (w/ Nicola Easthope and Robert Adamson)
Saturday August 25
4pm – 5pm

A Million Bright Things (a showcase of every artist on the program)
Saturday August 25
8pm – 9:30pm

Whisper Me Awake (w/ Vanessa Page and Nathan Curnow)
Sunday August 26
12:15pm – 1:15pm

ALS: Since Dark Bright Doors was released in 2010 (Wakefield Press), you have co-edited ‘Out of the Box: Contemporary Australian Gay and Lesbian Poets (Puncher & Wattman, 2011). I would love to hear about the process of editing such a major work.

Jill: Editing Out of the Box was a long process for a couple of interlinked reasons. We took a while to get a publisher sorted out, a few years, a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, initial interest from publishers not followed through for various reasons. We were finally happy that David Musgrave decided to take it on, but because the whole process was drawn out, we kept finding new poets to approach, or people we’d initially approached then having newer work to check out, and all of that sorting takes time. There were poets whose work we were interested in who were difficult to contact as well. Not everyone is within email distance. Some sent recent work from which we chose. Others didn’t want to do that, or we did not know how to contact them initially, so we went through their publications to find what we wanted. A lot of reading and negotiating.

The two of us also had to decide what it would look like, both physically and organisationally. I was keen not to have separate sections for lesbians and gay men. Luckily, Michael was of the same mind, though we toyed with it for a moment. It was his great idea to order the volume alphabetically by poem which got away both from age, and alpha order by poet and, therefore, an instant reckoning of who had more and who had less poems. So, less hierarchy and less generational.

We deliberately used ‘poet’ in the title. Both of us wanted poets who identified as gay or lesbian rather than poems with a specific kind of subject matter. So, although there is obvious subject matter there, a lot of the poems aren’t necessarily about sex, or identity, or coming out, or discrimination, or queer history, etc. I think some readers wanted more out-and-out (so to speak) sex writing, identity writing. That was never going to happen, not with the mix of writers we included and not with us as editors.

We had other constraints which are summed up in the ‘contemporary’ part of the title. There are other writers who would belong in an historical overview, obviously, but we wanted to present something new and fresh, and quite a few of the poems make a first appearance in Out of the Box. The other idea awaits the work it would take to do it.

We did divide the tasks so that, by and large, I edited the women and Michael men, but we came up with a pretty even amount of work, and shared what we were doing along the way, often by email but we met up plenty of times, mainly in Sydney or Melbourne. We agreed to do separate introductions and that I’d do a bit of historical overview as I’d had those connections going back a ways with gay and lesbian literary publishing.

Since publishing the book, and even as we were finalising the proofs, we came across other writers that we could have included but it was too late to take it all apart. We did have a last minute drama when another publisher insisted we withdraw poems by a writer they were publishing but luckily we saved enough, after a bit of negotiation. If there is ever a second edition, there are obviously other writers who would be in it. There were a couple of writers whose work was difficult to excerpt as well and we had to pass on that. It’s always hard to do justice to what’s out there and to bring it into focus in the limited space of an anthology. The anthology you do in your head is easier than the one that can get published.

So, the process was incremental and the shape of the anthology changed over time, either due to practicalities or changes in our own thoughts. The title also changed a lot. One idea was ‘paintbox’, picking up from a Malouf poem, so in a sense, ‘box’ led us to ‘out of the box’, which then led to the shape of the book.

ALS:  I also wanted to ask about the poems you are currently writing and the themes that are emerging for you. And is there a new book in the pipeline?

Jill: My own writing at the moment is fitful. Time is a problem but, in saying that, I do get bursts of ideas and lines that come together. I work, as I probably always have, in two kinds of ways. There are the poems that begin with a free flow of writing based around things, dialogue, ideas, images, that I’ve come across, or come across me, during a day. The sort of writing that begins in a notebook. It’s the writing that people want to mark, in my case, as writing about place, ie the material base of the writing is apparent.

The second kind of writing is more based around language play (not that the other isn’t), is more processual or very, very loosely conceptual. I’ve spent a bit of time collaging my own older work by using chance or constraint procedures. If in doubt, recycle.

Themes? I get bored with projects and dislike being bound by themes. Which probably says a lot for where my poetry sits. It’s fairly heterodox. ‘Hard to pin down’, I’m told some people say. I know what I’m doing and if it doesn’t conform to current poetry fashions, I’m certainly not bothered. Nonetheless, I did start a project recently, sort of, of writing poems that had one true autobiographical feature (often very insignificant) and were written deliberately in the first person but are essentially, lies, or somehow wrong. I called them ‘histories’. I’ve also been writing a lot of short poems, often begun with some kind of constraint (syllable counts, n+7, or abecedarian, for instance) These poems are then usually worked over while wearing my surrealist hat, or I simply break my own rules, get a bit of a swerve happening. I can’t imagine who would publish them, but some people have liked them.

I do have a book in the wings. I was hoping it would be out by the time of the Queensland Poetry Festival but alas not. It’s called Ash is Here, So are Stars. It’s based around a selection of poems that was shortlisted for the Whitmore Press Manuscript Prize last year but I’ve extended it significantly, rewritten parts of it. That’s the central part of the book called ‘In Fire City’. Then I’ve included three longer self-contained older poems. Nonetheless, it’s still a slim volume. I have another older manuscript in the wings, a larger work, but getting it to see the light of day has been, still is, umm, difficult. But I am most grateful to Ralph Wessman who asked me for Ash … Stars for Walleah Press and he’ll be getting it to the presses soon.

Here’s a poem, not published anywhere else yet, from Ash is Here, So are Stars:

Whose Words Did These Things?

Whose workbenches made these thirsts
pounding out like stereos, stiffening
the air-conditioner? Who can tell
when you’re lonely?
But we’ll survive wisecracks and wishbones
or loaf amongst the dead of the crossroads,
the proof to which we are not entitled.

There’s an expansion of sinew containing
the freewheeling we undergo;
loosening our gymslips we turn on kaleidoscopes
then watch our hands as the similarity electric
charges dryness — but we are not static
and we are not grief, but fill
our hands with the spill and as it fizzles
it frets and comes fullest ‘til it breasts
yes, you know how it breaches anew though
it’s old, much older than workbooks.

But breathe and merge, then lug down words
don’t pussyfoot round the sidelines. And if
you die a little here, you might embrace the wrench
and relish workdays again.

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Melbourne Round Up

The weekend in Melbourne was huge!

Musically, I discovered a Bob Dylan CD that I had not heard of called Folksinger’s Choice, which captures a 20 year old Bob live in the studio with Cynthia Gooding on March 11, 1962, prior to the release of his debut album. The performances are crackling, with Bob sounding like a blues singer, three (or more) times his age. His covers of blues standards, Fixin’ to Die (Bukka White) and Smokestack Lightning (Howling Wolf) have a wildness to them; the sound of a young genius, bursting his lungs. It is also the first ever known performance of his early classic, The Death of Emmett Till, which blows Cynthia away… and it’s the banter between songs that really makes this all the more special, Dylan already creating his own myth, spinning a yarn about 6-years spent with the circus and sounding completely believable. The other Dylan originals on this CD are Standing on the Highway (which riffs off the Robert Johnson classic, Crossroad Blues) and Hard Times in New York Town. I think this one is going to be on very high rotation in the coming weeks…

And to add to our Beat Collection, I picked up a copy of Poets on the Peak – Gary Snyder, Phillip Whalen & Jack Kerouac in The Cascades, which charts each mans time as a Fire Lookout and a lesser known gem, The Lowell Connector – lines & shots from Kerouac’s hometown, featuring poems by Clark Coolidge, Michael Gizzi & John Yau and photographs by Bill Barrette. I’m already dipping into Poets on the Peaks and loving it…

And to top all this off, the reading as part of the The Castlemaine Poetry Series, was up there with the very best interstate readings I have ever participated in. In fact, the day felt like a session at a Poetry Festival, featuring some of Australia’s finest voices including Jane Williams, Robyn Rowlands, Matt Hetherington, Maurice McNamara, Anna Fern, Ray Liversidge, Ross Gillette, Nathan Curnow, Gillian Pattinson, my lovely wife, Julie Beveridge and MC extraordinnaire, Ross Donlon. With all of these poets performing alongside esteemed translator, Richard Perry, who gave a stunning reading from the work of Ryokan & Ikkyu and another launch of Famous Reporter  (including readings from, BN Oakman, Lucy Williams & Lorraine McGuigan), needless to say, I was in seriously good company. I closed the day with a reading and believe me, you couldn’t wipe the smile off my face at the end of it. A large, warm, attentive crowd… it was blissful! Julie took some video footage of my reading so keep watching the site, as I plan to post that sometime this week.


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Castlemaine, here I come

I am jetting off to Melbourne tomorrow, so if you are anywhere near Castlemaine, I would love to see you at their monthly gig, as I am stoked to be featuring there this coming Sunday. All the details below:

Castlemaine Poetry Reading
Sunday,  February 27th
The Guildford Hotel
3pm – 5pm.

All Welcome. 

Into its sixth year, The Castlemaine Poetry Readings restarts on February 27th with a Triple Treat; a dynamic Queensland poet, a sage translator / presenter of Asian poetry, and the 2011 launch of one of Australia’s major poetry journals.

This Lost Shark will be joined by Richard Perry and the launch of Famous Reporter,  edited by Ralph Wessman, who will also be at the Guildford on the day.

Richard Perry will read his translation of Chinese and Japanese poems. A great presenter, Richard is Emeritus Professor of Fine Arts at York University,  Toronto, Canada, the institution at which he taught Asian art history  and humanities for over thirty years.  His academic degrees are from  Harvard University and the University of Michigan.  While residing in  Canada, he also served as chief music critic for a number of daily metropolitan newspapers, and as book and recordings editor for several journals.  Since moving to Australia, he has taught popular courses in Zen Buddhist painting and poetry at the Centre for Ideas, Victorian College of Arts, Melbourne, and has given a number of public readings of Chinese and Japanese poetry.  He claims to have written one or two commendable haiku himself. A rare chance to hear poetry from China and Japan in the hands of an oustanding academic and performer.

From Tasmania, Ralph Wessman brings Famous Reporter, one of Australia’s leading poetry journals, to launch the 2011 issue. Central Victorian poets, Lorraine McGuighan, B N Oakman and Ross Donlon will read poems.

Stellar poets, Jane Williams (Tas) and Julie Beveridge (Qld) will also be at the reading.

The Wow Factor is off the scale for this one. A great start to 2011… the best reading this side of Rocky Hall. Still at the Guildford Hotel, 15 haiku from Castlemaine – 15 minutes for humankind. Early attendance recommended for the best seats.


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The publishing game (part II)

A while back I posted details of a handful of literary magazines and journals currently publishing poetry in this fine country of ours. This time around I cast the net over the UK and bring you details of some of the hottest publishing opportunities currently on offer in that neck of the woods. Thanks to Ralph over at Currajah for sharing this great article: Notes from the Underground – a fresh breed of literary journals.

Some of magazines and journals well worth checking out in this article (+ a few others that I know are top shelf) are:

Popshot Magazine: Popshot is a poetry and illustration magazine gently intent on hoodwinking poetry back from the clammy hands of school anthologies and funeral readings.

Stingray Magazine: Stingray is a new bi-annual literary journal for both established and emerging writers from all over the world.  Each issue has a different theme, something very simple like ‘travel’ or ‘work.’  The content is then chosen for the writer’s unique and personal response.  Reading Stingray is like entering a conversation about a topic you thought was simple, and then realising that it’s not.  Fiction, reportage and illustration are all included – in fact, any style which gets the idea across.

Gutter: Gutter is a new, high quality, printed journal for fiction and poetry from writers born or living in Scotland. The editors believe there is a need for an energetic, ambitious magazine dedicated exclusively to the best in new Scottish creative writing.

Ambit:  Ambit is a quarterly, 96 page magazine which prints original poetry, short fiction, art and reviews. Ambit was started in 1959 by Martin Bax. Other editors include J.G. Ballard, Carol Ann Duffy, Michael Foreman, Henry Graham and Geoff Nicholson. Ambit is published in the UK and read internationally. It’s available through subscription and in selected bookshops and libraries worldwide.

Open Wide Magazine: First published in late 2001, Open Wide Magazine has gone on to become a highly regarded publication around the world. So far twenty-three issues of the magazine have been published. Issues one, two and three were print, then issues four to eleven online, with issues twelve to twenty in print. A hiatus occurred in 2009. But now back, and being published (for the time being) online, we hope to continue to stand out amongst the crowd, doing things a bit differently.

Agenda: Agenda is one of the best known and most highly respected poetry journals in the world, having been founded in 1959 by Ezra Pound and William Cookson. It is now edited by Patricia McCarthy, who co-edited the magazine with William Cookson for four years until his death in January 2003. She is continuing, as Seamus Heaney says, ‘to uphold the lofty standards of Agenda’. 

Hope these links help get your words some attention in the overseas market!

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Jumping the Poetic Hurdle (part 3) – an interview with Ralph Wessman

As part of the ongoing discussion about the publication and distribution of poetry in Australia, this lost shark has fired off a few questions to some of our country’s fine independent publishers to get their view on the future of poetry publication and distribution and to see what they are up to in 2009.

First up in this series is an interview with Ralph Wessman from Walleah Press. So, let’s hear from Ralph…


As a small, independent publisher, what do you see are the major challenges for the publication and distribution of poetry in the 21st century?

Speaking personally – about poetry distribution – I’ve never been a good marketer of the titles I publish, though it’s an area I intend to improve on. Not sure if having joined SPUNC – the Small Press Underground Networking Community (SPUNC), self-described as a representative body for small and independent Australian publishers – will help much in this regard, from what I can gather SPUNC doesn’t see itself being involved in the distribution side of poetry; I listened in to a Melbourne forum in October – ‘Trends in Poetry Publishing in Australia Today: Is poetry worth publishing?’ – which was part of the Festival Franco-Anglais de Poesie. Heard Antoni Jach and Susan Hawthorn (both involved with independent publishing, both members of SPUNC) suggesting SPUNC’s role as an organisation would remain that of a representative body acting to promote the views of small press participants and not as a distributor. Nevertheless, I’m hopeful SPUNC will prove a source of marketing ideas or strategies.

I get the impression that distribution is problematic not just for poetry publishers but for journals as well. (As publisher of famous reporter, I’m interested in journals). At the festival just mentioned, I spoke to the editors of a couple of Melbourne-based journals (Etchings, Harvest) about their distribution methods, both said that at this stage they were committed to doing it themselves. Etchings’ editors had journeyed across to Adelaide and up to Melbourne in an effort to flog their magazine (one comment was ‘We found Sydney very different, unlike Melbourne where there are chains such as Readings … in Sydney it’s more commonly the independents.’) with Harvest also doing the rounds locally, for the moment at least.

As for challenges to poetry publication, it seems in a state of flux at the moment. The Oz Council are in the process of making (as yet unknown) changes to its support mechanisms. I think increased web publication is the way of the future, but the print medium feels good in the hand, seems pretty safe at the moment. I think if I had an inclination to make another investment in time and energy into publishing another journal, (which I don’t), I’d go the way of a web journal; it doesn’t surprise me so many do, and with good results.

Why is it that poetry, an art that arguably best reflects the speed at which we absorb ideas, information and imagery, is being neglected by corporate publishing houses and distributors throughout Australia?

Because they’re businesses? Back when Penguin made its decision to cut its poetry list in Australia, it seemed to crystallise the notion that an investment in poetry – in poetry’s worth – didn’t extend beyond the profit margin. Well, maybe I’m being tough on them. Some people argue if poetry made itself ‘more accessible’ it might just capture the public imagination and thus the interest of the publishing houses. But it’s argued elsewhere – and just as persuasively – that poetry isn’t a commodity as such and would do well to forget marketing and concentrate on its raison d’etre.

Do you see a light at the end of the tunnel? What is the future of poetry publishing and distribution?

A hard one. I’m a small player on the scene, take things on a day to day basis, I’m not sure if I have an eye for the bigger picture – though speaking of the immediate future: there’ve been a few instances of publishers sending their books to printers overseas – to Hong Kong, for instance – because they can get a better price, but I’ve heard of a couple of occasions where that’s been knocked on the head because of the recent savaging of the dollar.

What is on the horizon for Walleah Press?

Well, I’m pleased to have come to grips with the software publishing package, Indesign. For two or three of the collections I’ve published the typesetting has cost $800 or $900 (and I’m sure they were bargain basement prices) but I’ve since learnt to manage that side of things myself. Not ‘professionally’, but at least comfortably; insofar as the economics – what I can afford! – of publishing is concerned. Having that skill is wonderful; (empowering! don’t laugh). I’d hope that I can continue on with my magazine, I enjoy that even though the last few weeks of putting it together (June and December) drive me crazy; as to a lesser extent does my mailout cos that usually takes me a month. I’m not quite ready for a more concerted effort at publishing poetry, at this stage; perhaps within another eighteen months, two years.

About Ralph Wessman:

Ralph Wessman frets over typefaces and paper stocks, publishes books of literary merit – poetry collections primarily – and since 1987, the literary journal ‘famous reporter’.

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