Warrick Wynne’s Poetry Pages

reading, writing and the connections

2011 Books of the Year

Once again it was a year where my reading was dominated by non-fiction and fiction didn’t get much of a look in. But, as I look at books here like the collaboration of art and poetry in ‘Lines to Birds’ and some of the poetic writing in Prouix and others I begin to wonder whether some of the divisions between writing forms makes as much sense as I once thought it did. I’ll keep the divisions, because I started doing this list back in 1985 and it seemed to make sense then, but maybe the older you get the less sure you get about some things.


Lines for Birds – Barry Hill and John Wolseley.

What’s this? A coffee-table book as poetry book of the year? It seems that way. This collaboration between poet (Hill) and artist (Wolseley) is a beautiful looking book and deserves pride of place somewhere near the Nescafe, but it’s more than pretty pictures and more than an illustrated guide to Australian bird-life (not that I’ve got anything against that!) It’s the product of a interesting and provocative collaboration and the poetry and the art stand alone, burt seem to bounce off each other too. I was interested to hear them speak about this book at the Melbourne Writers Festival this year, a strange double-act and two very different sensibilities that come together beautifully here.

Other Poetry

Australian poet Diane Fahey produced another fine book of poetry in ‘The Wing Collection’ and I enjoyed the re-emergence of a national poetry journal in the unimaginatively titled ‘Australian Poetry Journal’. I can’t resist mentioning BlackInc’s ‘Best Australian Poems 2011’ either, edited this year by John Tranter, and not only because I made the cut this year either!


Mark Twain – Autobiography of Mark Twain

Mark Twain determined that his official autobiography should not be released for 100 years after his death; so he could be honest about the people he talked about! (mainly himself) Of course, lots of fragments and pieces have been published over the years but the University of California’s official ‘Autobiography’ (Volume 1 mind you at 737 pages!) is the first time the whole thing has been published in the way Twain originally envisioned (and that isn’t a birth to death singular narrative either). It’s a wonderful, rollicking, eccentric, egocentric celebration of the man and his times. Twain wrote bits of this over many years, and dictated large sections of it near the end of his life. Goodreads says: ‘His innovative notion–to “talk only about the thing which interests you for the moment”–meant that his thoughts could range freely. The strict instruction that many of these texts remain unpublished for 100 years meant that when they came out, he would be “dead, and unaware, and indifferent,” and that he was therefore free to speak his “whole frank mind.” The year 2010 marks the 100th anniversary of Twain’s death. In celebration of this important milestone and in honor of the cherished tradition of publishing Mark Twain’s works … presents Mark Twain’s authentic and unsuppressed voice, brimming with humor, ideas, and opinions, and speaking clearly from the grave as he intended’

It reminds me a lot of Dylan’s ‘Chronicles’ in some ways, and I can’t wait for Volume 2 of that one either!

Other Non-Fiction

Runner-up to my book of the year was certainly Paul Kelly’s ‘How to Make Gravy’ an autobiographical abacaderius of his songs and life. I shouldn’t have been so surprised that he can actually write, but I was, and he can.

Annie Prouix’s ‘Bird Cloud’, a memoir of her project to build a house in the wilderness, had some nice moments, especially when she got away from the continuing difficult interactions with various builders, to focus on the landscape, the eagles and the intense weather. Her determination to complete this project reminded me of those faintly obsessive builder-designer couples you see on those shows like ‘Grand Design’.

Simon Garfield returns with a light-weight but enjoyable book on typefaces and fonts, ‘Just My Type’. Who knew that a discussion of serif and sans-serif could be so good? Actually, I did!

Sophie Cunningham’s ‘Melbourne’ is a gorgeous looking antidote to e-books, with its sense of design and sense of intimacy with the place.

I went back to 1927 for one of the most pleasurable reads of the year, Stephen Graham’s ‘The Gentle Art of Tramping’, ‘My secret’s in the sand and open sky’. The original walking book, Graham relishes the journey and sets out his principles for the walking person. I particularly liked his zig-zag walk expeditions where he’d leave home; turn left, then take next right, then next left etc etc. leading to journeys on the far side of London. Funny, that I did read this 1920s seminal text on the natural world, on my iPad.

I also enjoyed Gunter Grass’s next chapter of his autobiographical recolletions, ‘The Box’. Using the clever but, by the end, slightly tiresome device of telling his story through the recollections of his children gathered around the table interview style, there’s nevertheless some telling moments, and a powerful magical camera (the box) that is a thread of the Gunter Grass of old.

Finally, I was inspired by teaching ‘Frankenstein’ to Year 12 again to go back to some of the sources of all that, and to Shelley’s mother, Mary Wollstonecraft and the journal of her journey north: ‘A Short Residence in Sweden’. Good Reads says: “A Short Residence in Sweden” is the record of Wollstonecraft’s last journey in search of happiness, into the remote and beautiful backwoods of Scandinavia. The quest for a lost treasure ship, the pain of a wrecked love affair, memories of the French Revolution, and the longing for some Golden Age, all shape this vivid narrative, which Richard Holmes argues is one of the neglected masterpieces of early English Romanticism.’ Amen to that. It comes in a nice looking Penguin Classics edition with a sailing boat on the cover and coupled with William Godwin’s memoir of his life with Wollestonecraft.


Paul Auster – New York Trilogy

I have this theory that Paul Auster would have been a great novelist in Victorian times when telling a good story didn’t have to be worked into post-modern layers of post-perspective, deconstructionism and the death of narrative. He writes compelling page-turning stories and has a nice sense of place. Trouble is, he’s so intent on making sure we aren’t sure which layer we are reading and making sure that no quaint notion of ‘truth’ emerges, that we can end up lost, or feeling that none of this really matters. Sighs. Still, this bit of anti-detective fiction was the best fiction I read in a year when I didn’t read a lot of fiction.

Other Fiction

I did read some James Lee Burke, which I always enjoy as a guilty pleasure but didn’t feel that ‘American Rust’ by Philip Meyer was worth all the hoopla. Springsteen said all that much better!

Your handy Christmas shopping list (print me out and wander off to Readings)

Non Fiction
Annie Prouix – Bird Cloud
Simon Garfield – Just My Type
Mark Twain – Autobiography of Mark Twain
Mary Wolstonecraft – A Short Journey to Sweden
Gunter Grass – The Box
Stephen Graham – The Gentle Art of Tramping
Paul Kelly – How to Make Gravy

Barry Hill and John Wolseley – Lines for Birds
Diane Fahey – The Wing Collection

Paul Auster – New York Trilogy

Written by warrick

December 10, 2011 at 1:44 pm

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