The sometimes ironic perception of 'things'

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As a general rule, poets don't have much time for administration and its discontents and Alan Wearne, the award winning author of among other narrative poems, The Nightmarkets and The Lovemakers, runs pretty much true to poetic form. Referring to the mission statement of his brain child, Grand Parade Poets, he concedes parenthetically that 'mission statement' is a 'dreadful term', but quotes it anyway. It is characteristically uncompromising, vibrant and witty:

Robert Harris' The Gang of One: Selected Poems'Poetry for Grand Parade Poets is the imaginative use of language under pressure for the enjoyment of both others and yourself, and as such we believe there are plenty of readers who don't wish that contemporary Australian Literature, let alone its Poetry, be turned into a sideshow booth at some 365 Day Writer's Festival, or a dingy, cramped branch office of Cultural Studies.

'It is too serious an occupation to be beholden to such ephemera, though with a wonderful perversity there is no section of the arts better suited to not taking itself too seriously. For poetry can and indeed must be both elitist and democratic, with this wonderful combination being able to bring high-powered imaginative entertainment and intellectual pleasure to those willing enough to meet it at least part of the way. Our aim being to publish poets of music, passion and wit/intelligence, we trust you enjoy the results.'

As a poetry publisher, Grand Parade Poets lives up to its promises: it is passionate, witty, serious, individual, and it is enlivened by Wearne's own commitment to his art, his benign eccentricity and inexhaustible energy. As he explains, the venture had a daring start:

'After the death of University of Wollongong poet Benjamin Frater in 2007 many of us felt the need to see this wonderful and unique writer out there in book form ... He was not well known throughout Australia and so the best way to publish him would be to start up our own company. I was able to kick start it with money from an inheritance [about the cost of a second car] and in 2011 we commenced publishing with both Benjamin's Selected Poems and a volume from the exuberant and witty Pete Spence. The company has now published 13 volumes.'

One of these volumes and the most recent is Robert Harris' The Gang of One: Selected Poems, which ranges through Harris' five published books and includes a number of uncollected poems. Early work grows from his occasionally lonely, knockabout life at that time and reveals not only a talent for catching the essence of fleeting memories and perceptions but also a saturnine wit, a mordant touch that gives edge to memory. In 'A Reader of Poetry Comes on a Tea Warehouse':

 

When I was nineteen I worked there awhile,

skulked, cut my hands, shouldered the sacks,

staggered them out to the truck ...

... Nothing was fancy

but oddments of sky. Even the sun worked too hard.

 

Or, tedium relieved by almost surreal detail in 'The Splash':

 

pumping gas at Newmarket —

all day serving the bowsers sucking the juice

at omega, at ground zero ...

... one old guy

Whose cabbage-laden truck clagged on the tarmac

Tried and failed to say something wise ...

 

The Collected shows Harris' rapid growth into poetic maturity. As Peter Craven observes in The Oxford Guide to Contemporary World Literature, Harris 'wrote distinguished work and, at the end of his life, a masterpiece, Jane, Interlinear and Other Poems'. Along the way there is The Cloud Passes Over in which the precise, sometimes ironic perception of 'things' is subjected to greater tonal control than in 'Splash' or 'A Reader of Poetry ...' achieving thereby a richness that transcends detail.

 

The high spring winds

arrive unannounced,

sparks bowl superbly

and dangerously

as heaving power-cables rub,

cars lurch

on the mountain highway

children and dogs

are restless,

water flows sideways

from faucets outdoors.

 

The Cloud Passes Over and Jane, Interlinear and Other Poems are arguably the peak of Harris' art but there is much more to conjure with in Uncollected Poems — there is the fractured outrage of 'The Bible', the deftly managed conversational vernacular of 'Christians', the magnificent elegiac 'Bush Cemetery', and so on.

In an engaging, scholarly introductory essay, Philip Mead salutes 'This overdue Selected Poems' as 'a record of one of the most distinctive and accomplished poets of the 20th century in Australia'. And Judith Beverage emerges from the customary editorial backroom to deliver a fascinating insight into the craft of presenting Harris' works.

So with characteristic Wearnian energy and panache, The Gang of One: Selected Poems of Robert Harris becomes Grand Parade Poets' 14th publication.

 

 

Brian MatthewsBrian Matthews is honorary professor of English at Flinders University and an award winning columnist and biographer.

Topic tags: Brian Matthews, poetry, Robert Harris, Alan Wearne

 

 

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Existing comments

I've just had a look at Grand Parade Poets website, thanks for the alert to this most interesting place. Certainly "The Gang of One: Selected Poems" of Robert Harris deserves to be read by discriminating lovers of poetry. I will order and wait impatiently.
Pam | 31 July 2019


Love the flow and intermingling of nature and the hard knock of life...'even the sun worked too hard' - just grand.
Jorie Ryan | 01 August 2019


Thank you, Brian.
John RD | 01 August 2019


Thank you for your show of support for that resilient but often embattled literary enterprise, poetry, and those who appreciate its pleasures and pains enough to publish it.
Jena Woodhouse | 04 August 2019


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