Warrick Wynne’s Poetry Pages

reading, writing and the connections

2006 Books of the Year

The 2006 Warrick Book of the Year Awards

There is no prize, no red carpet and no discernible marketing advantage, just the kudos of winning, but the Warrick Book of the Awards reflect the best of my reading for the year. Why do I need to sort and categorise these things and turn it into a quasi-Booker for no good reason? I don’t know, you figure that out. But for twenty years now I’ve been thinking about my reading and trying to sort out what I liked best, and why.

This year the toughest call was in the non-fiction area where Nabokov and Berger; a couple of old heavyweights, slugged it out. The poetry was also hard to come to a judgement about. There was a familiarity about some of the work from Les Murray and John Tranter which didn’t make it bad, but didn’t make it new, and I sometimes struggle with whether all the books here should be new, or just new to me.

Fiction Winner – John Banville – The Sea

A controversial choice because some other reputable folk have read this book and thought it was slow and tedious. It isn’t! It’s a beautifullly written meditation on the past, which reminded me a little of L. P. Hartley’s The Go Between and its evocation of the pivotal moments that change our lives. Banville is Irish and is writing about the sea; what more could you want!

You should read this lying on a battered old beach house couch on successive slow, hot afternoons over summer with the sound of the sea coming faintly through the old wooden blinds. Granted, you’ll fall asleep at times in that delicious afternoon seaside way, but it wont be because of the book.

Not a lot happens, that’s true. An older man returns to a beach house he stayed at as a kid. It’s sad and beautiful, and just because my non-fiction choice is also sad and beautiful doesn’t mean I’m sad, or beautiful! I’m happy I found these books.

Some reviews that support me! I haven’t included the ones that don’t.

Guardian review
Washington Post
USA Today
Daily Telegraph
Boston Times
Independent Online
Also recommended in the world of fiction:

Well, Paul Auster keeps coming up with the goods. After winning with Brooklyn Follies last year, he almost did it again with Oracle Night, firmly in the Auster world of coincedence, tales within tales and worlds within worlds. He’s got a new book out I notice; so look out for it here next year!

I’m not a detective fiction fan (life’s too short to read bad books etc…) but I have a weakness for the Dave Robicheaux series by James Lee Burke; Robicheeuax is a a New Iberia, Louisiana, detective, wracked with his own personal demons, inhabiting the swamplands and the sunken Civil War battlefields of the rotted away south.

I took a trilogy of ‘the early years’ – The Neon Rain, Black Cherry Blues and Heaven’s Prisoners to Japan and was glad I did. More than just airport fiction. I also read Crusader’s Cross, his newest book, but I see he has an even newer one out now. But don’t get seduced by the new; if you’re new to James Lee Burke, start at the start.

Non-Fiction Winner – Here is Where We Meet – John Berger

John Berger was known to me as the guy who wrote Ways of Seeing, a book on art and art criticism that was huge in the 70s. They made us read it in Education Sociology at Teacher’s College and it’s the only thing I remember from that course.

I didn’t know he had written anything else, until I found this little treasure. Part fiction, part non-fiction, part autobiography, it’s a series of encounters with friends and family in key places around Europe. Did I mention they’re all dead? So it’s about the past, it’s about place, it’s reflective, ruminative and well written. It also includes the most beautifully written recipe ever.

Other non-fiction I liked this year:

Vladimir Nabokov’s Speak, Memory, just about won it, but the last third fades a bit, and it’s not new even though I just discovered it.

That said, it’s beautiful! There is no other word for it. It’s beautiful language. I can’t believe the intensity of the memories, the fantastic language, the poetry! The section where he describes the imaginative resonance of colours is worth the price of admission by itself! I arrived at this via Sebald somehow, and have shared it with everyone I can. It is the most beautifully written autobiography I’ve ever read; and that includes Boby Dylan’s Chronicles 1,which won last year!

Peter Timms’ Australia’s Quarter Acre looks a bit like a coffee table book, but it’s an evocative exploration of the Australian suburban garden. Part history, part autobiography, it made me plant tomatoes and wish I had chooks; how much more powerful could a book be?

I also liked The World if Flat, Thomas Frideman’s account of outsourcing and how we all better get used to China and India being around for a while and Alain de Botton’s The Architecture of Happiness, an exploration of how we create the spaces around us, and what they mean, is also good.

Poetry Winner – Sea Wall and River Light – Diane Fahey (Five Islands Press)

Diane Fahey is one of the finest poets in Australia and her latest collection is right down my poetic alley; tracking the river and the shoreline of the coastal area of Barwon Heads.

This is beautiful local poetry at its best, but with resonances that reach out beyond the locality into our relationship with the natural world. Full of light, birds, the poet walking the landscape, this book is a series of sonnets that trace the year in the littoral zone.

I was honoured to launch this collection in Barwon Heads late in November (no,that’s not why it won!) so it’s a book I thought about a lot. This is her eighth book and to my taste her best. You can read what I said at the launch here: http://people.aapt.net.au/~warrickw/poetry/fahey_launch.htm

Runner-up last year, John Kinsella has done it again in 2006 with his great collection, The New Arcadia. Some say that Kinsella writes too much and is a relentless self-promoter, and it’s true we could have all done without his forgettable, racy memoir, Fast Loose Beginnings, tall tales of drugs, sex and poetry around the Australian poetry scene. But poetry is what Kinsella does best and The New Arcadia is another big gorgeous collection (over 200 pages) firmly grounded in the real world of his West Australian past, which makes it work for me. He’s been harvesting this wheatland material for some time now, but it’s still bearing fruit. (does wheat have fruit?)

Other poetry I liked this year:

Canberra poet Geoff Page was more influential in the 70s than he is now; I though his 1975 collection Smalltown Memorials was seminal, and indeed the title poem of that collection is one of my favourites ever. But he can still write, and his thirteenth book is Agnostic Skies, a late, sometimes playful, mostly thoughtful exploration of his own agnosticism, poetry and a world where meaning needs to be defined by the individual.

Les Murray might be going through the motions a bit with his latest collection The Biplane Houses, but Les Murray going through the motions is still well worth reading. He is as verbose and maddening as ever, sometimes hitting a target, sometimes a nerve. And there’s a Melbourne poem here too from this poet of the NSW north coast, which opens:

Storeys over storeys without narrative
an estuarine vertical imperative
plugged into vast salt-pans of pavement
and higher hire over the river
ignited words pouring down live

The other book I keep coming back to, though I blogged against its political learnings at the time, was Jennifer Maiden’s Friendly Fire. It won the “AGE Book of the Year”, its timely, political and of the now. That’s what worried me, but it’s a fine book anyway.

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Your Handy Christmas Shopping List (all these books are great! – print this out and get down to Readings)

FICTION

John Banville – The Sea (book of the year!!)
Paul Auster – Oracle Night (for you cool nephew studying Lit 201)
James Lee Burke -Crusader’s Cross (well written detective fiction? It’s possible!)

NON-FICTION

John Berger – Here is Where we Meet (for those who understand the shuffling of the mortal coil kind of thing)
Vladimir Nabokov – Speak, Memory (for that person who rejected Nabokov after ‘Lolita’
Peter Timms -Australia’s Quarter Acre (for your mum who still plants roses)
Alain de Botton – The Architecture of Happiness (building your dream house?)
Thomas L Friedman – The World is Flat (and powered by China it seems)

POETRY

Dian Fahey – Sea Wall and River Light – Five Islands Press (the poet in the Barwon Heads landscape)
John Kinsella – The New Arcadia – Fremantle Arts Centre Press (wheatlands, grasslands)
Geoff Page – Agnostic Skies – Five Islands Press (rhym is back!)
Les Murray – The Biplane Houses – Black Inc (verbal linguistocity!)
Jennifer Maiden – Friendly Fire – Giramondo Press (the political can be poetic)

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Written by warrick

July 11, 2011 at 4:45 pm

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