Warrick Wynne’s Poetry Pages

reading, writing and the connections

2004 Books of the Year

The 2004 Warrick ‘Book of the Year’ Awards

In which we enter once again into the wonderful ‘no prize’ awards, carefully designed to be out just in time for Christmas. I read 40 books this year, a little down on 2003, but I suppose there were some fat non-fiction ones in there as well. Once again I’ve divided the Book of the Year into non-fiction, fiction and poetry, with some other ones I liked also listed. Reading and writing are connected. I hope that there’s something here that might appeal

Non Fiction Winner: Poets on the Peaks – Jon Suiter (Counterpoint 2003)

This book does everything you hope a book wil do; get you in, get you back to the original material. It traces the early poetic journeys of some of the beat poets of the San Francisco revival focusing on Kerouac, Snyder and Whalen and their early forays into zen poetry. Specifically, it focuses on their time spent as unlikely fire-watchers, alone high in the American mountains, giving them extended time for writing and meditating. I wouldn’t necessarily want my life to depend on Jack Kerouac being alert and alive for the signs of smoke, but these long times early in the lives of these writers helped shape them forever. Did I mention the great photographs, some of the now largely abandoned and ruined fire watching towers taken by John Suiter? I got me back to the poetry.

One reviewer said:

“This is a very cool book. Buy it. Read it. Let its story sink in, slowly, with appreciation, like watching a mountain at sunup. It is a scholarly book about the connections between people, places, cultures (and culture), politics, religion, scholarship, wilderness, mountains, rivers, poetry, literature, ecology, community, environment and revelation. It is full of information, insight, inspiration, history and wisdom.” —Dick Dorworth, The Mountain Gazette

and another: “John Suiter, Boston-based writer and photographer, has mined letters, journals and extensive interviews to recreate that time. His evocation of the North Cascades landscape in words and some 50 black-and-white photographs is detailed and authentic. He presents a fascinating look into the formative years of two major American poets [Gary Snyder and Philip Whalen], and a brief glimpse into a rare, golden time for Kerouac, a gifted novelist before his long plunge into self-destruction.”

It’s a little tricky to get in Australia, but you can order it. Publisher detailis are HERE There’s also a longish article and review with pictures at the SKAGIT RIVER JOURNAL site

I also liked…

The Outermost House (A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod) – Henry Beston (Owl Books 75th Anniversary Edition 2002)

A re-issued American nature writing classic originally written in the 1920s, Beston spends a year in a small cottage he makes himself, alive to the sounds of the sea and the birds around him as he walks the sand dunes daily through all the separate seasons. His chapter on waves is worth the price of the book alone.

The seventy-fifth anniversary edition of the classic book about Cape Cod, “written with simplicity, sympathy, and beauty” (New York Herald Tribune) A chronicle of a solitary year spent on a Cape Cod beach, The Outermost House has long been recognized as a classic of American nature writing. Henry Beston had originally planned to spend just two weeks in his seaside home, but was so possessed by the mysterious beauty of his surroundings that he found he “could not go.” Instead, he sat down to try and capture in words the wonders of the magical landscape he found himself in thrall to: the migrations of seabirds, the rhythms of the tide, the windblown dunes, and the scatter of stars in the changing summer sky. Beston argued that, “The world today is sick to its thin blood for the lack of elemental things, for fire before the hands, for water, for air, for the dear earth itself underfoot.”

In 1964 the still standing house was declared a National Literary Landmark. In 1978 it was swept away by a storm. It passes the first sentence test too: “East and ahead of the cost of North America, some thirty miles and more from the inner shores of the Massachusetts, there stands in the open Atlantic the last fragment of an ancient and vanished land.”

There’s a Henry Beston Society and a OUTMOST website dedicated to the book

and not only but also:

Mountains of the Mind – Robert McFarlane (Granta 2003) in which we learn how mountains were transformed in two generations from places of dark forboding to places that inspired reflection and seemed somehow beautiful.

MP by Sean Doherty (Harper Collins 2004) The surprisingly well written biography of Michael Peterson, one of the best surfers Australia ever produced and man troubled by his own inner demons, particularly a mental illnes that both propelled him and almost destroyed him.

England’s Dreaming (Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock and Beyond) – Jon Savage (Faber 2001) – One of those ones you kind of accidentally start reading, then can’t stop. The story of the rise and bloody fall of the Sex Pistols and their mysto manager McLaren is nicely dovetailed with a social history of Thatcherism, the Clash, fashion and much more. The arrival of the Saints song, ‘I’m Stranded’, all the way from Australia is a treat.


Fiction Winner Old School – Tobias Wolff (Knopf 2003)

The story of a young writer trying to make his way at an exclusive boy’s school is a twisting, irrestible exploration of the creative force and its beginnings as well as beautifully constructed and surprising novel. The visits to the school by American luminaries like Robert Frost, Ayn Rand and Ernest Hemingway cleverly chart the waters of American literature and life.

Someone said: “Artful and moving . . . The novel’s appealing and morally complex narrator [withstands] a series of shattering lessons that have as much to do with life as with literature. . . . Not a word is wasted in this spare, brilliant novel about the way that reading changes and forms our lives, and about how one learns to become a writer—and a conscious human being.” —Francine Prose, People.

Wolff teaches Creative Writing at Stanford and is better known as a short story writer. Read an interview about that from SALON magazine or another interview from the Stanford Today magazine.

I also liked:

The Discovery of Slowness -Sten Nadolny (Cannongate 2003) – One of the best openings I’ve read in years, and that from a translation. The book is based around the life of the Arctic explorer John Franklin but that hardly does this novel justice.

The Accidental Marriage – Anne Tyler (Chatto and Windus 2004) – She keeps cropping in my favourites ever couple of years without ever winning the major one! A bit like Geelong in the AFL. I think it’s her sixteenth book and if they’re a bit familiar, there also strangely moving for me at times too.

Burning Angel, Cadillac Jukebox, Dixie City Jam, Purple Cane Road – James Lee Burke. (Orion Press) – I’m not a big detetctive fiction fan, but every now and then I have a binge. James Lee Burke’s writing is set in the south and is atmospheric and tense at the best of times.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Mark Haddon (Jonathan Cape) A strange journey but also a strangely beautiful journey as a young boy with Asperger’s syndrome faces life as he sees it.


Poetry Winner: Mangroves – Laurie Duggan (UQP, 2003)

Mangroves deservedly won the AGE Poetry Book of the Year for this book that takes him out of his Melbourne home to an exploration of Queensland and the tropics in some beautiful and fragmented recurring poems. Duggan’s last book was in 1996 and Duggan is a previous winner of the Warrick Book of the Year Awards with Blue Notes in 1991. I also loved his early book, The Ash Range which almost won from Seamus Heaney in 1987. Welcome back Laurie!

ASAL wrote about this text: In 1994 Laurie Duggan abandoned writing poetry, beginning again in 2000 after a hiatus of six years. Mangroves is the stunning outcome of this interrupted then renewed creative effort, with half of the poems drawn from the earlier period, the other half fresh departures on similar themes, so that the volume as a whole has an uncanny balance and symmetry. Mangroves offers a wide range of poetic styles and moods—from the ‘Blue Hills’ poems that create vivid verbal snapshots of different parts of the Australian landscape, to epigrams about contemporary cultural life, to translations from Soffici, to the staccato prose of ‘The Minutes’. Sometimes the poems comment on specific cultural or political moments (the death of Don Bradman, ‘The Last Days of Déjà vu’, ‘August 7th’), at others they reflect more generally on art and its relationship to society (‘Cultural Studies’, ‘Louvres’). The placement and patterning of the different sections of the book create a depth of engagement that makes a particularly satisfying reading experience.

Duggan’s joyous density of figurative language matches this structural complexity as he unpacks metaphors across the several layerings of genre, subjects and styles. The title’s metaphors provide one of many delightful examples—mangroves and/or ‘man-groves’ acts as signal figure of borders, margins, liminalities, exposed and hidden roots, and all kinds of edges both vertical and horizontal, crossed and recrossed, transgressed and translated. Indeed, the translations from Soffici were outstanding, and the book as a whole is a structured complete statement: witty, political, urban but not urbane, at times loutishly offhand, at others gnomically aphoristic. With his previous work, such as The Ash Range (1987) and The Epigrams of Martial (1989), Mangroves confirms Duggan’s position as one of the most versatile, politically aware and entertaining poets in Australia.

I also liked

Dark River – John Jenkins (Five Islands Press 2004) – Well, I would like this wouldn’t I? Not only is an exploration and evocation of a new landscape for John Jenkins; the Yarra Valley and all that, it’s also published by those doyens of Australian poetry: Five Islands Press. I reviewed this book for the latest issue of FIVE BELLS, or you can read in on my WEBSITE

R.A Simpson – The Sky’s Beach (Five Islands Press 2004) – A fitting finale to a fine poetic career. The Sky’s Beach was completed just before Simpson’s death but is a book that is rich and very much alive.

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas break and there’s plenty of reading under the tree this year. Don’t forget you can also follow my thoughts and impressions on reading and writing during the year on my poetry weblog at poeticise.blogspot.com also accessible from my poetry website at warrickwynne.org This list and all previous winners are also available online at this link: http://warrickw.customer.netspace.net.au/poetry/reading.htm

(C) Warrick Wynne 13/12/200

Written by warrick

July 11, 2011 at 4:47 pm

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