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Friday, 6 December 2013

Acceptance by Southerly is strong encouragement

Wherever you are on Australia's east coast it's hard to ignore the Great Dividing Range, a geological formation that reaches 3500km along the edge of the landmass pretty close to the water the whole way, so it's always close to the cities and their populations. In early November 2010 I was thinking about a trip I'd made to New England in New South Wales, where I'd attended the Myall Creek massacre ceremony, an event that takes place in June each year. While I was thinking the words "botanic paws" came into my mind and that worked to form the skeleton, or the embryo, of a sonnet I wrote on 4 November and which has just been accepted by the literary journal Southerly, published out of the University of Sydney, my alma mater.

This is a big endorsement for me. I started writing sonnets on 13 December 2007 on the day after I met someone, so my formalist urge began within the realm of love poetry but it also branched out into what I call "concept" poems, like 'On the way to New England', the sonnet that has just been accepted for publication. It's a major fillip especially since I have perhaps stubbornly stuck to formalism despite contrary urgings from various quarters, but as my Myers-Briggs assessment says of me illogically cleaving to an apparently counter-intuitive position is natural. The Elizabethan sonnet form is exploited loosely though. Though the model is over 400 years old there are concessions made in order to avoid excessively unnatural diction. The rollicking "weak-strong" rhythm has been jettisoned as unworkable although there are always 10 syllables in each line and although the rhyming quatrains (abab cdcd) are observed.

It occurs to me that merely needing to explain these arcane details indicates how perverse my fixation is.

The acceptance by Southerly is also a strong form of encouragement. I now have thousands of lines of poetry written and a mere 14 will be published. Many of those lines of work are, furthermore, parts of what I call "sequences", so all those love poems written between December 2007 and October 2013 belong to a sequence of 39 sonnets that form a single narrative chronicling a relationship. Another sequence chronicles the wet season at the beginning of this year, and spans January to March. A further sequence of poetry is in the heroic stanza form (the sonnet rhyming scheme but without the 14-line sonnet length; these chapters can go on for pages) and chronicles my amatory education. This last work has almost 1700 lines of quatrains and took two months to complete.

How marginalised the writer of formalist poetry is can be best understood if you consider that it's something of a miracle that any poetry is published in Australian journals these days. That observation can, if you like, be qualified when you think of all the rhyming lyrics that writers of popular music make every year in Australia. Elsewhere in our big cities there are spoken word events where poetry designed uniquely to be recited aloud can be listened to.

My poems are designed to be read on the page. Talking here about the project I began in December 2007 makes me remember telling a coworker a half-decade ago that I considered poetry to be the acme of literature, a mode of expression situated above the novel or drama. But if my endeavour smacks of hubris take comfort from the fact that the next acceptance from a journal might lie years in the future. For me it's just tremendous fun. Like writing a blog, writing poetry enables me to actualise parts of myself that otherwise lie dormant. So it's a felt need rather than a mere conceit.

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