Warrick Wynne’s Poetry Pages

reading, writing and the connections

2007 Books of the Year

The 2007 Warrick Book of the Year Awards

Back again, and bolder and brighter than ever, the Warrick Book of the Year Awards, just in time for your Christmas shopping planning. It’s been another tough year for the judge with plenty of good reading in 2007 but here are the final results of my best reading for 2007 in the separate categories of fiction, poetry and non-fiction. These are books I read for the first time in 2007, not necessarily published for the first time this year. I can usually manage only about 40 books a year, so I’m sure there’s some I’ve missed (let me know!) Meanwhile, enjoy!

Fiction: The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford
Bloomsbury, 2006, 978-0747581888

A kind of ending to a kind of trilogy that began with The Sportswriter and continued much later with Indepdendence Day, this is the American man in the suburbs trying to figure out what it all means. Fifty-something, selling real-estate, watching the place change, and remembering what it was. I’ve admired Richard Ford for a long time so it’s about time he won this prize. Whether Ford has ever managed to recapture the punchy athleticism of his first short story collection Rock Springs, and whether Ford is really the heir to Raymond Carver, who’s the heir to Hemingway, and all that stuff, in the end doesn’t matter. This is a rich, sometimes beautiful, novel but you might need to be a man and 50 something to get the most out of it!

I also liked:

Cormac McCarthy’s, The Road (2007-ISBN -978-0307387899)is no easy road to travel, no easy way home. McCarthy has won the Warrick Book of the Year Award twice already (only the master himself W. B. Sebald has won THREE times!) and he almost matched it with this dark parable; a man and his son walking the desolate post-apocalyptic road towards what darkness. I had it by the bed for a while almost unwilling to face this journey, but it’s not totally desolate or bleak. It’s not that promising a future, and it’s not ‘bleak and exhililarating’ as the Guardian called it, but there is something other than the darkness of inhumanity, and maybe that’s love. This doesn’t quite match if with his masterpiece, All the Pretty Horses, but an instant classic nonetheless. I see it’s already on the fourth year Monash University American Literature course; it sits nicely with those other great American journeys there.

I went back to the future again this year to what you could loosely call science-fiction and J.G. Ballard’s, The Drowned World (1962) I thought I’d read this years ago but I’m sure if I had some of these striking image would have stayed with me. When I thought about it I realised that I’d read Ballard’s debut novel, The Wind from Nowhere. Easy to mix them up, think catastrophic future disaster where the weather goes really bad. Interesting to think of Ballard prefiguring global warming in this novel where the cities of Europe are buried beneath the sea, the ocean’s rising from a warming world. But it wasn’t the environmental connection, but the strange beauty of third drowned London and the powerful imagery of some of the scenes, especially one where they drain a block of the old London and the sodden streets are looted by pirates.

I was prepared not to like The Secret River by Kate Grenville. A poor man’s Remembering Babylon I’d heard it described as. And hadn’t Robert Adamson already mapped the Hawkesbury into the Australian Literature? But I had to read it for teaching next year. So, imagine my surprise when I liked it! The AGE review says it ‘heaves into drama eventually’ and maybe it’s the worse for that. Oddly enough, I liked the early London sections better than the Australian. They seemed more real somehow.

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Non Fiction: Wildwood: A journey through Trees by Roger Deakin
Hamish Hamilton, 2007, 978-0241141847

This is one that ticked all the emotional boxes for me: an exploration of the local, the wood and wood of the village, Wildwood by Roger Deakin is eccentric and wonderful, a lot like his early book, WaterLog: A Swimmer’s Journey through Britain, which I liked a lot a couple of years ago. Wildwood is an adventure in the forests of England, Australia and Kazakhstan, camping out in the sacred groves of Devon, re-finding old woodish rituals or searching for the origins of the apple tree high in Central Asia. It’s part down-beat English style adventure (‘we stripped down some branches to defend us against the farm dogs as we walked’), part natural history of wood, part one man’s very boy-scoutish world of moths, walnut, driftwood, artists, water holes and lonely cabins deep in the woods. It’s a frustrating, individual, half-finished kind of book which is only partly explained by the fact that Deakin died suddenly in 2006 and this book was published posthmously. It’s the celebration of the little and the local I like most and it follows, as we all do, in the fashion of Gilbet White, Henry Beston, Thoreau and maybe even Into Thin Air. You can read more about Deakin HERE where they write:

Roger belonged to that tradition of topographical and literary writers who had one foot in the library and the other in distant fields. The poems of Keats, Shelley, Wordsworth and Lawrence were as immediate to him as today’s newspapers. In his introduction to the Common Ground anthology, The River’s Voice (2000), he wrote: “Mutability is also evident in all the forms of things in the river, which always wants to round everything to its own patterns of flow and is forever in a state of flux itself. Where others might meditate on their mortality with the help of a skull, my desk is cluttered with stones and sticks from rivers I have explored and swum all over the country.” Roger’s writing and campaigning opened up the woods and the rivers for many others. He changed the weather.

I also liked…

Woody Guthrie’s Bound for Glory is part rollicking autobiography, part road movie. It’s a man and his guitar, stripped down to the essence, crossing the countryside hitch-hiking on freight trains or walking in to sad busted-up towns where he meets up with his ‘brothers’. Sure, it’s hokey and melodramatic and exaggerated at times but this is the guy who wrote classics like This Land is Your Land and Dustbowl Refugee. Put the songs on in the background and let them wash over you as the lure of the road speaks to you. We sure do need stories like this now.

Some fans called Marco Pantani the pirate because of his distinctive bandana and earring. Other called hm ‘dumbo’ because of his giant ears. Whatever you called him he could climb mountains on his bike, and this story, The Death of Marco Pantani by Matt Rendell of the man who fell to earth, the shy young boy who became a cycling hero and ended up dead and alone in his hotel room at 34 is the classic riches to ruins story. Until the Ben Cousins story arrives, this one should get you through.

I like lists. You’re reading one! But twitters (those bird watchers who aim is to list as many birds as they can), like train spotters, take it to the next level.Dan Koepell’s memoir To See Every Bird on Earth: A Father, A Son and a Lifelong Obsession. This is one son’s story of his dad falling into obsession, but also of their precarious relationship. And, like those people who tell you stories that reveal more about themselves than their subject, this is revealing of the son’s need and what he does to get through it. Oh, and there’s some birds too!

Last year it was Gallipoli, this year it’s the whole bloody The Great War by Les Carlyon. These stories are slipping from memory, the names even. I remember some of them from stone memorials and family folklore. My grandfather fought at Villers-Brettoneux though I remember him as the old man in his favourite chair, reading the SPorting Globe. I remember saying naively for years that I was the first Wynne to go back to the old country but he’d been there before, on leave from the carnage. There’s battles here that shouldn’t be forgotten for their waste and stupidity.

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Poetry: The Goldfinches of Baghdad by Robert Adamson
Flood Editions, 2006, 978-0974690285

Robert Adamson’s first book to be published in America (you an even buy it on Amazon!) is a compelling collection that focuses around birds. Adamson is one of Australia’s finest living poets, best known for poeticising the Hawkesbury long before Kate Grenville got into the act. It’s that celebration of the local and the natural world that appeals to me. As even more big name poet Robert Creeley says of the book, ‘Robert Adamson is that rare instance of a poet who can touch all the world and yet stay particular, local to the body he’s been given in a literal time and place. He is as deft and resourceful a craftsman as exists, and his poems move with a clarity and ease I find unique.’You can read more in that line in an onlne review in Jacket magazine. Enough to say that Adamson likes the fish and birds of that region and he’s even written some aritcles for Australian fishing magazines. They’re on his website.

I also liked . . .Kevin Brophy’s Mr Wittgenstein’s Lion (Five Islands Press) is one of the last books published by Five Islands Press who are pulling up stumps and leaving Australian poetry without one of its major supporters. It’s like Warney retiring; there’s going to be a big gap in the poetry publishing landscape of Australia for a long while to come. I went to the launch of this book and heard a few of them read by the author at that event. I wonder if that’s why this book has stayed in my mind? There is something about hearing the voice of the writer saying the works, and nice too to be there when the book comes into the world.

As mentioned above, Five Islands Press are folding up their tent and moving into the night. For ten years or more they’ve been the staple of Australian poetry, publishing more books and more variety than any other Australian publisher. So, when I got an email saying there were selling off some of their old stock I bought up a pile of poetry I’d missed over the years and started grazing. One of the first books to strike me of the many I’ve missed over the years was Lorraine McGugian’s What the Body Remembers. I wont go into too much detail because it’s a little tricky to get now, but you can get it HERE, and it’s one of those intimate and beautiful books that make you flinch and want to look away. One reviewer wrote: “Lorraine McGuigan writes with discipline, rigour, and forthrightness on discomforting subjects including cruelty and disturbance experienced in childhood/girlhood. Her writing has a vividness and clarity. Her poems can be startling, yet she does not indulge in the ornamentalising of pain. The tone of this collection is modulated by tender, more lyrical moments.”

Sometimes (often?) you find something that reminds you of just how little you do know about the world, and even things you thought you did know a bit about. I picked up a nice hard-cover edition of Czeslaw Milosz’s New and Collected Poems at Readings bargain table during one cold winter walk home and was blown away by these beautiful and moving works. Milosz is a Polish writer who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1980 (that might hav alerted me that these were likely to be good!) I generally avoid poems in translation because you generally need the translator to be as good a poet as the original, but whatever these poems sound like in their original, they sound pretty good in English too. I didn’t know that Milosz’s poems weren’t in English until 1973 and I didn’t know they were so good. So good, I just had to finish with one, which reminded me a bit of Auden’s Musee des Beaux Arts, particularly the tone. It’s something only someone who’d lived a long time, and seen a lot of things, could write:

A Song On the End of the World

by Czeslaw Milosz
On the day the world ends
A bee circles a clover,
A fisherman mends a glimmering net.
Happy porpoises jump in the sea,
By the rainspout young sparrows are playing
And the snake is gold-skinned as it should always be.

On the day the world ends
Women walk through the fields under their umbrellas,
A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,
Vegetable peddlers shout in the street
And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,
The voice of a violin lasts in the air
And leads into a starry night.
And those who expected lightning and thunder
Are disappointed.
And those who expected signs and archangels’ trumps
Do not believe it is happening now.
As long as the sun and the moon are above,
As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,
As long as rosy infants are born
No one believes it is happening now.
Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet
Yet is not a prophet, for he’s much too busy,
Repeats while he binds his tomatoes:
No other end of the world will there be,
No other end of the world will there be.

Copyright © 2006 The Czeslaw Milosz Estate.
Translated by Anthony Milosz

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

FICTION

Richard Ford – The Lay of the Land
Cormac McCarthy – The Road
J. G Ballard – The Drowned World
Kate Grenville – The Secret River

NON-FICTION

Roger Deakin – Wildwood: A journey through trees (Hamish Hamilton)
Woody Guthrie – Bound for Glory (Penguin)
Les Carlyon – The Great War
Dan Koeppel – To See Every Bird in the World (Michael Joseph Ltd Publishers)
Matt Rendell – The Death of Marco Pantani

POETRY

Robert Adamson – The Goldfinches of Baghdad (Fleet)
Kevin Brophy – Mr Wittgenstein’s Lion (Five Islands Press)
Czeslaw Milosz – New and Collected Poems (Viking) – Try Readings, Collected Works, or the good people at McGills.
Lorraine McGuigan – What the Body Remembers (Five Islands Press)

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Written by warrick

July 11, 2011 at 4:45 pm

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