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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Recommended Photography Book: Ray Collins Found At Sea (2014)

I attended Ray Collins’ book launch at Ryan’s Hotel in Thirroul on Friday 12 December. He is a brilliant local ocean photographer who turns variable sea conditions into extraordinary visual sculptures. Although originally a surf photographer, Collins has evolved into a serious visual artist. I enjoyed the night: no speeches- a cool but innocuous DJ out the back & a nice roll out of quality grub- & the affable Ray happily signing many boxes of books & copies of his impressive prints.

Found At Sea is packed with hundreds of sparkingly sharp images. Roughly about half of the still photos are surfboard related  and the rest- to me more spectacular- of the jagged, wild contours of the sea.

Collins is clear and sparse in his commentary. He establishes for the reader the specific context of most shots, but thankfully, he provides no grand statement of his artist intent. Near the end of the book Collins says that while shooting the mad Pipeline waves in Hawaii from the water in February 2008, he realised “that I wanted to shoot empty waves.” Find the Pipeline photo here:


Find Ray Collins' website here:

Have a look at this excellent video of Ray at work from his site:

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Recommended Poet: John Bennett. HCOLOM Press/ Outlaw Poetry.

John Bennett is a living legend who started writing and publishing during the mimeo revolution of the 1960s, and to date, he has published over forty books, mostly through his HCOLOM Press, formerly registered as Vagabond Press. You can find the homepage for his books here:

Over the last year or so I have subscribed to Bennett’s vast outpourings of shards and poems. His stuff is remarkably consistent & fresh. You should expect 5-10 emails of creative material from him each week. Subscribe here for free:

I noticed recently that Outlaw Poetry now has in its systems about 1000 of John Bennett’s poetry, short jabs and shards. Find it here:

Find an extended Word Riot interview with John Bennett here:

Find an excellent, broad in scope 2002 Rain Taxi Magazine John Bennett interview here ‘Rebel Without a Pause’:

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Book Review: John Yamrus ALCHEMY. Epic Rites Press, Sherwood Park, 2014 (188 pages).

This is John Yamrus’s twenty-second book of poetry and his fifth published by the Canadian publisher Epic Rites Press. You quickly get the impression while reading this collection that Yamrus lives & breathes poetry. A solid core of the poems are about poetry but Yamrus takes his inspiration from anywhere- a headline in the local paper, a visit to a nursing home, trying to swat a fly, cleaning a pool, staring at the wrinkles in his face and the like.

Yamrus’s poetry always stems from the blood of his lived experiences. As he told BM in an earlier interview, “i try and write every day, but it doesn’t always happen, and the poems come from what’s happening around me. i don’t make stuff up. i’m not that smart. i see things… i write them down … and move on. i’m not one of those guys who thinks that being a writer is a big deal… all I do is hold up a mirror and hope.”

In reference to the title ALCHEMY, Yamrus recently noted, “Alchemy was the attempt to make gold out of base metals. This book was my attempt to make the same out of everyday subjects.”

ALCHEMY hits gold in several of the 118 poems in this collection- his largest since doing cartwheels on doomsday afternoon (2010). Many of the poems have previously appeared in about two dozen small publications, such as the iconic underground magazines- Gutter Eloquence, Florescent Stilts For Your Uncle, Beat the Dust, Lummox Journal and Zygote in My Coffee. The black & white exterior cover was created by Julie Michelle Sparenberg and the collection also includes fourteen full-page illustrations from the Swedish artist Janne Karlsson which skilfully complement Yamrus’s poetry. A sprawling introduction by Professor Mark Statman of Eugene Lang College links Yamrus’s poetry to that of Frank O’Hara, William Carlos Williams, Hans Shan, Ezra Pound, John Keats and others. I see Yamrus more as a one-off poet who has developed his own unique style.

Yamrus’s poetry is characteristically minimalistic. The guts of his writing have incrementally been filleted to the bone over the years. You won’t find much figurative language in his writing. Forget about extended metaphors or symbols or obscure allusions. Yamrus deliberately reduces language to its purest form. In an earlier review with BM, Yamrus argued that he wasn’t dumbing down the language and robbing it of its beauty and complexity, “what i’m doing…what i’m trying to do…is give the poem back to the reader. i want to get THEM involved in the process. like i said…i’m not very smart. i want their input, so i leave holes in my poems…holes that they can fill with their own ideas.” As with any skilful writer, when we read Yamrus, we are enjoying what he is saying about people and their relationships, but also as readers, we are also intuitively translating his words and creatively forming associations based on our own relationships and search to join the dots in our lives.

The poems characteristically are written in lower case, hug the left hand side of the page and are less than a page in length. Close to fifty poems are less than twenty words and you will also discover several micro poems. My favourites include: 





the most unexpected thing
about beauty,

finding it



every man’s death

a crime.

(reprinted with the poet's permission)

These are wise contemporary aphorisms and each of us can think of people who aptly fit these sayings.

Most of the poems in the collection are based on Yamrus’s personal anecdotes and reflections and the poems can be comfortably be read in one leisurely sitting. In a recent conversation, Yamrus explained how he assembled the order of the poems, “As for structure, i wanted to put together a volume that could subtly almost read as a novel, with each poem leading into the other.”

You will find a wide mixture of other poems in ALCHEMY, including some excellent portrait poems, usually about quirky, down & out people, such as, ‘jeremy’, ‘his work’, ‘for’, ‘she’, ‘everybody’s got’ and ‘tony’. There are also many solid poems about relationships- ‘tanya’, ‘i ain’t nothin’ and a few good love poems which Yamrus presumably wrote for his wife Kathy (who he dedicated this volume to), such as, ‘i love you’, ‘she keeps’, ‘i found’ and ‘i’ll’.

I find the most interesting poems in the selection are about Yamrus’s working life as a poet and his reflections on writing and poetry in general. His perceptions on writing, as on other issues, is always multi-faceted and need to be read in the context of his overall vision.

Yamrus’s offers many contrasting views on his own poetry.  In ‘this poem’s a mess’ the speaker of the poem, Yamrus derives a sly satisfaction in the notion that some readers think that his writing “violates/ every rule.” In ‘he said to me’ he agrees with a fellow writer that he’s “kinda glad/ our books don’t sell” because “we’d end up/ just like/ them,//  worrying what to/ write about.” In ‘Newman said’ he has a satiric dig at his own stuff:

Newman said

you’re right
maybe they are
catching on…but
they’ll never catch up.

that’s the thing
with people like you…

you keep on

it’s like that letter
you got the other day…

the one
where the guy said
reading one of your poems
was like walking thru dog crap.

they always
want it neat
and pretty
and safe.

but, i’ve been watching you.
that’s not what you do.
nothing’s off limits.
not even the crap.

i smiled at him
like I cared

he was a good enough guy,
but, I hoped to god
he wasn’t finally
catching on.

(reprinted with the permission of the poet)

Yamrus also provides the reader with his views as to what makes a good poem. In ‘Jesus Christ’ Yamrus acknowledges “poetry/ isn’t about// perfection” … “it’s/ about/ taking that// corner/ on two wheels// and/ never/ looking back.” In ‘they all expect’ he says that good poetry “is all about/ surprises.// giving them/ something new.”

The opening poem in the collection ‘give me poetry’ serves as a clear manifesto for Yamrus’s best poetry and that of his contemporaries:

give me poetry

that’s new
that fails.
that makes mistakes.
give me poetry
that you don’t know
what in the world you need to name it.

give me poetry
that bleeds from the eyes

shouts at the world

give me poetry that stands naked and beaten,
with its back against the wall,
still screaming

(reprinted with the permission of the poet)

Echoing some of his earlier work, Yamrus also cheekily but firmly sinks his boots into the rump of the literary establishment. In a series of playful, highly entertaining poems, he rails against poetry contests (‘don’t put me’), traditional verse forms (‘this poem’), writers’ festivals (‘it was another one of those’), pretentious poets (‘the famous poet’) and university professors- who are good at discussing literary theory but who do not have “any real heart or soul” in their own writing (‘they talk a good game…’).

Yamrus also pokes fun at struggling poets who attempt to write the stuff but who lack the talent to become enduring professional writers. He reads an anthology of small press poems and is disturbed by the sameness of the “bad-ass” shit (‘sitting in’). He scoffs at the internet poet in ‘when i said to Frankie’ who wants to post his work for free. He slams the “slumming god” poetess in ‘she could have been great’ who assumes she can write whatever she wishes without considering her audience. In ‘he said’ a fellow writer can’t understand why his poem- now 12 pages long- isn’t working. Yamrus does. In ‘he had no’ he criticises a writer who overly tinkers with his poetry, “sooner or later we all/ turn up like Michael Jackson, // face up/ and naked/ on an autopy table. // and/ all those/ rewrites and/ changes won’t ever matter.” In the portrait poem ‘Hardy said’ Hardy gives up smoking, drinking, red meat- “everything” in the pursuit of his writing career. Ironically, the wry speaker concludes, “try/ as he might, / Hardy will never (ever) figure out// the only thing/ he really should give up.” This is shrewd, dark humour at its best.

In ALCHEMY John Yamrus continues to build on his already substantial body of work. This collection of poetry is vibrant, diverse and cohesive. He uses stark, deceptively simple language to distil his thoughts. As a modern day alchemist Yamrus seeks to transform his “base metal” of words into gold and he uses everyday incidents to fuel his craft. Yamrus has reached high and he reminds us all that there is a thin line between success and failure. 

For more information about John Yamrus find his site here:

To buy ALCHEMY contact Epic Rites Press here:

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Tony Abbott & Nineteen-Eighty-Four

In their Sydney Morning Herald article ‘Battlestations’, (News Review, 22-23 November 2014) Judith Ireland and Rick Feneley provide a concise and insightful overview of the events which led to the Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull recent announcement that the budgets for the public broadcasters ABC and SBS will be slashed by over $300 million over the next five years:

As you may recall on the eve of the Federal election almost a year ago, Opposition leader Tony Abbott made it absolutely clear to the Australia public that there would be “no cuts to education, no cuts to health, no change to pensions, no change to the GST, and no cuts to the ABC or SBS.”

Politicians, of course, from all persuasions tell grubby lies- but Abbott’s defence of & denial of his lies regarding his ABC cuts snakes more deeply into the rot than most. Tony is no Stalin or Hitler, but in regard to the ABC cuts Abbott seems to embrace George Orwell’s concept of Doublethink. In THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OR OLIGARCHICAL COLLECTIVISM, communally written by the tyrant O’Brien, he defines the term: “Doublethink…is to use conscious deception while retaining the firmness of purpose that goes with complete honesty.”

When the South African born Liberal Finance Minister Mathias Cormann insisted a few days ago that the cuts to the ABC & SBS were not cuts but “efficiency dividends” many jaws dropped in disbelief. Again I was reminded of Emmanuel Goldstein’s forbidden book: “To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies- all this is indispensably necessary.”

I am not for a moment trying to draw any parallels between the autocratic, Airstrip One, Oceania & Australia today. That would be ridiculous. But after telling the public a series of mistruths that there will be “no cuts” to a wide range of essential public services who can trust the bloke? As reported in the Sydney Morning Herald (24 November 2014), when confronted by the cuts to the ABC during question time by Opposition Leader Bill Shorten on Monday, Mr Abbott “denied that he has broken a pledge” and told Parliament that “his government had fundamentally kept faith with the Australian people.”

The Liberal government is cynical and divisive. At its core it relies on the apathy and stupidity of the masses. Again Orwell’s masterpiece Nineteen-Eight-Four helps us understand the party’s psychology. Winston Smith teases his lover Julia’s apolitical views by telling her, “you’re only a rebel from the waist downwards.” Winston then reflects on the possibility as to whether people will ever resist the Party in sufficient numbers to overthrow it. He concludes:

“In a way, the world-view of the Party imposed itself most successfully on people incapable of understanding it. They could be made to accept the most flagrant violations of reality, because they never fully grasped the enormity of what was demanded of them, and were not sufficiently interested in public events to notice what was happening.”

In the end Winston’s human spirit is stomped on by the Party.  His hope in the proles remains unfounded. If the Libs are given another term will they achieve one of their most cherished goals- to dismantle the ABC and sell it to private investors?

(Postscript: While watching Turnbull on Q & A (17 November) defending his leader on a range of issues, including climate change, I was reminded of another Orwellian quote:

“Applied to an opponent, it means the habit of imprudently claiming that black is white, in contradiction of the plain facts. Applied to a Party member, it means a loyal willingness to say that black is white when Party discipline demands this. But it means also the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary.”

Watch a short clip '2 Minutes of Tony Abbott Hate' appropriated from the film 'Nineteen-Eighty-Four' which substitutes Tony Abbott for Emmanuel Goldstein. Chillingly funny:

Update 30 November 2014:

One of the cuts announced by the ABC includes the weekly poetry radio show Poetica produced by Mike Ladd since 1997. Read Barry Hill’s article ‘Poetry flagship show Poetica struck down by ABC’ in today’s The Age here:

 Find out more about Poetica:

 The rationale behind the show:

 Poetica’s main page where you can upload dozens of podcasts of previous shows:

The last word on Abbott (for now) was made by a bloke I saw walking along Glebe Point Road a couple of weeks ago after attending the latest Grand Parade Poets releases at Gleebooks.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Featuring: Brenton Booth




The conservatives have taken
over Kings Cross. The drug
dealers, hookers, thugs, and
alcohol has been taken from
the street. There are cameras
recording every inch for anti-
social activity. Prams have
replaced blood on the footpaths
on a Sunday morning. No more
24 hour bars. No more getting
drunk. No more anything good.
Just a bunch of lifeless dead
people that have destroyed the
only good place left in Sydney.
The conservatives have taken
over Kings Cross:
and I am moving in a week.


The problem is we all
want to take
but don’t want to
sweating like fools
when we should be
dry and calm
our greatest pleasure
but to be successful
others have to be
so it’s a murderers
teaching children to
steal and desire sex
when they should
still be playing with
and not an ounce of
style in our way
all desperate and
willing to do whatever
it takes for wealth
with dead souls
and dead lives
that lose little
when the hearse
finally arrives.

Bio: Brenton Booth lives in Sydney, Australia. After over nine years of rejections poetry and fiction of his has appeared in over fifty publications in the past three years. If you would like to read more of his stuff, his complete published archive is available at