Tag Archives: Ray Liversidge

QPF 2012 Feature Poet: Ray Liversidge (part v)

It has been a real thrill talking with Ray Liversidge this past couple of weeks and I am now looking forward to seeing him step on to the QPF stage so that I can hear his ‘dead-poet-portraits’ come to life. Ray and I wrap up our conversation today, talking the art of collaboration and future projects.

Catch Ray Liversidge live at QPF 2012 in the following sessions:

Strands Upon The Pillow (Sat 25 Aug 1.30pm) and Unseen Strings Connecting (Sun 26 Aug, 2pm). Ray will also read as part of A Million Bright Things, along with every other artist on the program, on Saturday August 25 from 8pm.

ALS: As I have mentioned before, with No Suspicious Circumstances, you collaborated with artist, Kathryn Bowden. I would love to hear more about how you worked together to produce the book and how you found the experience.

RL: When I first set out on this adventure of writing about dead poets it was always my dream to have illustrations of the poets to complement the poems. I did think that the dream would remain just that as it is hard enough to get a book of poems published let alone have the luxury of it being illustrated. Well, the planets aligned when I found Littlefox Press which is the publishing arm of Alice & Co run by Christine Mathieu. They specialise in books which may not be suited to the commercial requirements of larger trade publishing houses.

Kathryn would consider herself more of an artist than an illustrator, however she accepted the challenge of producing the portraits of the poets. We sourced photos and images of the poets and Kathryn insisted on reading my poems and even undertook research to find out more about the poets. The best way to describe our working relationship is to say that we were on the same page from day one! I couldn’t be more happy with the illustrations, and working with Kathryn and Christine has been the most exciting, satisfying and enjoyable experience of my writing career.

ALS: Will you be incorporating Kathryn’s images into your live performance of the work?

RL: Yes. Unfortunately, the book will not be ready for the festival, but at least the audience will get to hear me read some of the poems and see the relevant illustrations projected on a screen.

ALS: With No Suspicious Circumstances due for release, what projects are you currently working on?

RL: I have recently finished a 400 line poem on an incident which took place in Oradour-sur-Glane, France, towards the end of WW2. I am currently doing reseach for a poem on a 4th century martyr. I’m experimenting with the long line… And so it goes!

**********

Ray and I both agreed it seemed most fitting to sign off with a poem and one of Kathryn’s images.

The path ends where the wood ends

Like Dylan, you died in your thirty-ninth year.
Like Dylan, born with the same name, the same
Urge to live the writer’s life, however austere.
Yet, to you, nature was no metaphor, feigned
Or fabled dingle; but dell, down, wind and rain
Of your beloved Hampshire. Robert Frost moved next door.
So did the war. More than a hundred poems came.
In one you stepped out … into an April morning, called
Into a dark and cloistered wood on your last Wordsworthian walk.

[Edward Thomas was born in 1878 in London to Welsh parents. Although a Georgian poet he wrote with a modern sensibility about the impact that time and war have on country life. Thomas enlisted in 1914 and was sent to France in early 1917. On the first day of the Battle of Arras on 9 April 1917 he was killed by a bomb blast.]

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QPF 2012 Feature Poet: Ray Liversidge (part iv)

Ray and I keep the co0nversation rolling, talking festivals and their importance.

ALS: Speaking of influential poets, how does being part of a festival such as QLD Poetry Festival, affect you as a poet?

RL: I have been involved in several festivals over the years such as the Melbourne Writers Festival, Tasmanian Poetry Festival and Overload Poetry Festival. I see them as a wonderful opportunity to meet and see poets who you have read and not read, and heard of and not heard of. I’m not sure how it affects me as a poet. You sometimes hear of major writers whineing that their agents make them attend festivals. However, for us lesser known writers it’s a chance to be part of the Commissariat of Poetry.

ALS: Are there any poets on the program that you are particularly excited to see?

RL: There are some familiar names on the program and a lot I’m not familiar with so, as I say above, it’s a great chance to rub shoulders with the known and the unknown.

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QPF 2012 Feature Poet: Ray Liversidge (part iii)

Last time I spoke to Ray Liversidge, there was talk of Spenserian stanzas, so let’s pick up that thread and keep the conversation rolling.

ALS: Can I ask what drew you to the nine-line Spenserian stanza as form?

RL: Without sounding wanky I wanted to set myself a challenge. I have written poems using traditional forms before but have not attempted anything on this scale. As I see these portraits as ‘biography as a thumbnail sketch’ (Peter Porter) I thought it might be interesting to discipline (punish?) myself by using the same poetic form for all 30 poems. The traditional Spenserian stanza uses a specific rhyme scheme and has the first eight lines in iambic pentameter and the last as an alexandrine. That final line of six feet gives the poem a stately and meditative movement which I thought ideal for  writing about the lives – and ultimate deaths – of the poets. However, my poems are not Spenserian stanzas in the purest sense as there is a mixture of rhymes and half-rhymes, and I employ a syllabic count for the lines rather than the traditional five and six beat metre.

ALS: I am also interested in whether any of the poets you have written about have become influences since discovering more about their lives and work?

RL: Several of the poets (Dylan Thomas, Rimbaud, Plath and Crane for example) were huge influences early on in my writing, but one learns – and indeed needs – to move on from these giants of the literary world. As I said in an earlier answer, it was a joy to discover and read poets who I hadn’t read before or for a long time but I can’t say they have had an affect on any poetry I wrote during the time I was writing the portrait poems or the ones I’ve written since.

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QPF 2012 Feature Poet: Ray Liversidge (part ii)

Let’s pick up the chat I started with Ray Liversidge last week, by talking about Yu Xuanji and the voices of the dead!

ALS: I loved that you made mention of Yu Xuanji in your response. She is a poet that I have only discovered recently by stumbling across an ebook of her complete poems. A poet from the late Tang Dynasty, it seems there is not a lot of reliable information to be found about her. What was it about her life that drew you in?

RL: As you say details about Yu Xuanji’s life are very sketchy. My research showed that during the Tang Dynasty women had a fair amount of freedom of choice and social mobility compared to earlier and later periods. Yu Xuanji played a number of ‘roles’ in her very short life such as concubine, nun and courtesan. She seems to have been a free spirit who was unflinching in what she did and I admired that about her. Many of her poems dwell on sorrow, loss and longing, however she never feels sorry for herself and celebrates the joy of living even if it involves pain and suffering. There is a playfulness about her poetry which I love. She died when she was only 25 but she was obviously a mature woman. However, the flirty, mocking tone of a lot of her poems suggests she loved playing the little girl!

NB: You can download a 120page ebook of Yu Xuanji’s complete poems here. And there’s some interesting reading about here life here.

ALS: I am also interested to know whether each poem you wrote in some way took on the voice of its subject?

RL: I think it would have been a mistake to imitate the cadence, rhythm, tone, etc of the poets I have written about as the portraits could easily have become like cartoons or caricatures, and this would have been very disrespectful to those poets. Having said that, the opening poem on Dylan Thomas deliberately echoes his “bardic, bawdy hwyl and yawp, syntactical high jinks”. Of course, there’s a huge nod to Whitman in that line too! Within the constraints of a nine-line Spenserian stanza – in which all the poems are written – I was more interested in capturing the essence of their lives and work.

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QPF 2012 Feature Poet: Ray Liversdige (part i)

As I have mentioned, QLD Poetry Festival 2012 is only weeks away, and I have the great privilege of interviewing several of the featured artists as a preview to what you can experience at the event. The interview with Max Ryan and WWYAL is currently rolling and now, I chat to Melbourne based poet, Ray Liversidge about uncovering the lives of dead poets.

ALS: Your latest book, No Suspicious Circumstances, collects together a series of poems that look deeply at the lives of some mighty fine poets whose words live on despite their passing. It also features portraits of each selected poet by the incredibly talented, Kathryn Bowden. How did you go about selecting the poets you wrote about? And though I am certain, you already had a great deal of insight into the lives of these poets, what were some of the surprises you discovered in your reading?

Ray Liversidge: When I first thought about the book the principal criteria I set were that the poet be dead and:

1. Have taken their own life

2. Have been killed by circumstances out of their control; and

3. Have died because of intemperate living.

With some poets such as Emily Brontë, Keats, Rimbaud and a couple of others I have taken liberties. Nevertheless, as Peter Porter said of Auden, my aim was to take on the challenge of ‘selecting the crucial moments in the lives of people and civilisations and forcing home their psychological truth’ – to channel the spirit of these poets, if you like.

Once I had set the criteria, I had to decide on which poets to include. This was not an easy task as there are so many poets which fit these criteria – especially the intemperate living ones! Selecting the obvious and well-known poets would have been easy; however my research revealed that there have been many talented poets who have not got the credit they deserve. So, one of the aims of the book is to pay homage to some of those lesser known and largely ignored poets, and in doing so enrich readers’ lives and my own by exposure to their writing, lives and times. I plan to have a biographical note in the book explaining what attracted me to the poets I have written about.

The life and work of poets like Dylan Thomas, Rimbaud, Plath and Keats were well known to me so there were no surprises there. However, as I said earlier, during my research I came across poets who I had never or half-heard of. It was a surprise – and a pleasure – to discover and read poets such as Charlotte Mew, Christopher Smart, Sidney Keyes and Yu Xuanji.

*****

Gravity and waggery

In the Age of Reason you just had to be mad:
Cross-dressing as Mary Midnight, hitting the bars,
Praying in public places, being a lad,
Punching out poems of unconditional praise.
‘I’d as lief pray with Kit Smart as anyone else’,
Dr Johnson declared – but he was not your quack!
When Anna runs off with the kids you return to grace
Your prison walls with poems. Crazy, or not,
We give thanks for your song, and the adventures of Jeoffrey the cat.

*****

Christopher Smart, born in 1722 in Kent, England, spent several years in asylums mainly because his habit of praying out loud in public was considered irrational behaviour. His ‘A Song to David’ is considered one of the most original and powerful religious poems of the eighteenth century. Smart died penniless in a debtors’ prison on 21 May 1771.

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Triptych Poets #1 (Blemish Books) reviewed by Patricia Prime

Here’s a review of the recently launched Triptych Poets #1 from new Australian Publisher, Blemish Books. A big thanks to Patricia Prime for sending this through.

Triptych Poets: Ray Liversidge, Hilaire & Mary Mageau.  Blemish Books, GPO Box 1803, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia.  www.blemishbooks.com.au  2010.  76 pp.  ISBN: 978-0-9807556-1-9   RRP: AUS$15

Reviewed by Patricia Prime

The poems in Triptych Poets are divided into three sections: Things to (and not to) do, Ray Liversidge, Things Mended, Hilaire and Moments in a Journey, Mary Mageau.

The poets of this collection show themselves impelled to experiment: the poems are vigorous and successfully innovative.  Ray Liversidge’s energetic poetry teases the reader’s receptiveness: not only momentarily: with a found poem, a poem punctuated by slashes and a lengthy poem, “The divorce papers,” which is divided into eight parts.  Here is part 4 “Envoi”:

          In thy beauty is the dilemma of flutes
         e e cummings

         There are no love poems;
         only lyrics on love gone,
         or going, wrong.  I know
         no sonnets written in
         celebrations of your beauty
         (just blank verses of cruelty);
         no lines to your eyes,
         limericks to your lips,
         similes to liken you to
         one thing or another.

         These days I find myself
         Lip syncing to songs about
         I’m-losing-you-blues.
         The days write themselves.

Hilaire inclines more than Liversidge to a frolic of words though.   As with Liversidge, the playfulness is perfectly capable of serious resonance, mingling, as in “Listen and Repeat” darker suggestions with the idyllic:

         Madame Fong ruled the language lab,
         doubly exotic in crepe de Chine
         and discreet jade jewellery.
         Cupping a hand expectantly
         around her petite and foreign ear,
         a coquettish tilt to her head,
         she trilled
         Ecoutez et repetez.
         Clunk of tape machine. 

Mary Mageau’s haibun and tanka prose presents patterns in prose and poetry which draw the reader into a reality in which nature, human nature, music, travel, history, Australia and convicts have their part to play.  In “Winter Magic,” for example, the focus is on a child peering through a window at hoar-frost:

 Ice shapes resembling small fir trees stretch across the glass, while delicate  snow flowers sparkle around them.  Lost in its beauty, I move through this crystal  garden as my warm fingers trace up and down, leaving a smudged pathway . . .

This is the kind of childhood scene in which many of us will have participated.

As well as poetry, Liversidge has published a verse novel The Barrier Range.  His poems in Triptych Poets are written in clear, narrative free-verse, and explore a corner store, relationships, a lawn mowing neighbour, a painting, familial faces and more.  His poems are muscular – unfailingly terse, disarmingly simple, often funny, as we see in “Goya’s dog”:

         You think is it swimming or sinking?
         You obey the dog blindly and mimic
         Its movements.  And you? You dust
         For animal prints, suggest the ‘lonely pooch’
         Sleep outside its frame of reference.

There are triumphs too, clearly observed, sharp and small – “Care for nothing except poetry” (“Things to (and not to) do”).  Liversidge is hungry for experience – “I’ll be poured out like used water.  Then, like water, / which always finds its level, settle, recycle.”   (“The baby and the bathwater”).  He is unafraid to serenade us with “You found your touch just once.  Once was enough, / Our paintings hang together – mine below, yours above.”  (“The painting”).  This is a poet who offers considerable honesty and a deal of expertise in his verse.  His subject matter is traditional in all its rampant, unmitigated strength.

Hilaire hoes a different row.  Her poetry has been widely published; she has published short stories, a novel and was awarded an Emerging Writer’s grant by the Australia Council.  Her spare, delicately paced lyrics depict a poet with a vivid, exacting eye.  Her lyrical gifts are considerable.  Her poems linger in the mind and her images are tantalizing – “In truculent teenage, / ten bucks bribed us / to do less than our share, / saving the hankies till last.” (“Ironing for One”) and “stands padlocked and shuttered, / without a plaque, not for sale.” (“the house by the well”).

For me, the most successful of her poems “The Colonel’s Daughter’s House” epitomizes the inherent beauty of this poet’s work, a glimpse of the shifting unease she brings to her poetry:

         It is six months since the ambulance
         beat its slow retreat
         from the colonel’s daughter’s house –
         down the lane,
         along the B road,
         no siren just
         a faint pulse of blue light
         struggling against the sun.

Mary Mageau is an award-winning composer and writer.  Her writings in the Japanese verse forms of haiku, tanka and haibun are included in several anthologies and journals.

Mageau is even more ambitious than the other two poets.  Not just linguistically.  Her haibun and tanka prose play with prose and poetry.  She sees them as elements of equal force, recombining discourses from a myriad experiences and recollections. Life here is lived.  Landscape, history, personal experiences, memories are this poets’ themes.  All this is subsumed in her inventive approach to language, individual words, pacing and phrasing.

In “The Persistence of Memory” she recalls her father’s final words – “’take something before you leave, to remember us by.’”  In “Point, Counterpoint” she teaches us about music:

On my desk lies the music for a fugue.  Its opening line of single notes     threads  across the page.  Played first by one hand then the other, accompanied by a  variation of itself, multiple lines wave a texture of horizontal strands.

In the tanka prose piece “Home Again” she recollects a memory of childhood evoked by the familiar scent of jasmine:

         winter afternoon
         a grey washed sky
         on the wind
         the fragrance of jasmine
         from a woman’s perfume

Suddenly I’m in the bedroom of our family home standing at the window, enjoying  the heady scent of five star jasmine that grows over our back fence, admiring the  lace pattern of the curtains.  In the next breath, just as I expect to hear my  mother call, ‘It’s time for bed now,” I’m back in a bleak city fifty years away.

In “The Armistice Way (Parts 1 & 2)” the history of the “rugged Australian hinterlands” is explored.  In Part 1, for example, she tells us how returning servicemen named their settlements after battlefields:

The scenery of these rugged Australian hinterlands lures us to Amiens Road and  its string of villages.  Baupaume, Pozieres, Passchendaele and Messines became returning soldiers’ settlements, each bearing the name of a French battlefield.  Though these places were established in 1918, little remains of them  today.  Immigrants now cultivate the delicious stone fruit and grapes here for the  region’s wineries.

It is obvious that this is a wrier of impressive agility and insight.  You may delight in her juxtaposition of poetry and prose.  You may drift through the strength of history, nature and human nature tumbling through the work.  You may wonder where she is taking you on this journey.  Mageau might reply, on a

ginko walk
           ringing with resonance
   of bell birds

The day ends with a late afternoon meditation.  Time for our ‘walk about’ in nature to dream, touch, smell and capture a last haiku moment.  Armed with notebooks and pens we set out, as a sliver of pink and gold widens on the rim of  the horizon

setting sun
                each eucalypt wears
     a golden halo

 Our pace quickens as rich foliage deepens into shadow.  The bush suddenly falls  silent, the horizon flames into orange red, the open sky provides just enough light  to guide us back safely.

        (“A Poet’s Journey”)

All three poets in this collection beguile us with their insights.  There is, I think, a journey here for anyone – for everyone.  The paths are all clearly marked:  Liversidge’s lives, Hilaire’s sweet lyrics and Mageau’s marbled truths.

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