Warrick Wynne’s Poetry Pages

reading, writing and the connections

2012 Books of the Year

Warrick’s 2012 book of the Year

I read 42 books this year, not bad given the distractions of the modern world I thought! And, for the first time I read several full books on the iPad, most notably the disconcerting world of Iain Sinclair’s London Orbital, which seemed to track forever through the iPad, much like the M25 itself, which the book documents.

Once again, a good smattering of poetry and non-fiction and that vague sense of unease and foreshadowed disappointment whenever I picked up a book of fiction. Sometimes that feeling wasn’t fulfilled and there were great things found. So, here’s the winners.



Richard Ford – Canada

And this isn’t because I lined up at the Writer’s Festival like a Southern Americana fanboy and got my book signed when he was in Melbourne this year! I’ve always admired Ford’s Carveresque fictional heritage from the early days of Rock Springs and The Sportswriter through the later novels like Independence Day (no relation to Martians). Canada is nevertheless a significant departure from some of Ford’s recent work but is a wonderful symbolic journey from the opening lines: “First, I’ll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later.” I liked the coldness of the Canadian landscape, the birds, the disorientating journey of it all.

Highly recommended

Gerald Murnane’s A History of Books is frustrating, annoying, provocative, exasperating and makes me wish I had a ‘find and replace’ built in so I could edit it. Pretty much like lots of good literature makes you feel. It’s filed under fiction, but Murnane crosses boundaries and would have to be Australia’s best living fiction writer (IMHO!). This is classic Murnane, will drive you crazy and stay in your head for ages.

Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway (1925) shouldn’t really have crept under my radar for so long but teaching it, and reading it again for the first time in ages this year) really opened my eyes to this wonderful book again. What did surprise me was how many of my students also responded to this evocative and poetic re-creation of a day in London. Heavily influenced by ‘Ulysses’ it’s infinitely more readable.

Oh, and whoops! Andrew Motion’s Silver, a remaking of Treasure Island is embarrassing. Just goes to show that being a poet laureate and all that doesn’t necessarily give you any self-editing ability.



Christopher Ricks – Dylan’s Vision of Sin

This book explores Bob Dylan’s music. Seriously. If that sounds good so far, read on. Ricks is a literary critic who applies the same kinds of fierce insights he’s brought to Keats, Beckett and Milton to Dylan. No easy read; this book is a literary critique of some of Dylan’s key moments. And it made me go back so some songs I thought I knew, and hear them for the first time. And aint that grand!

Highly Recommended

Iain Sinclair’s London Orbital combines two of my favourite preoccupations: walking and poetry, with a new thing: psycho-geography. Simply put, he decides to walk the M25 ring road freeway that circles London. Simple it isn’t. Sinclair’s rollicking, paranoid, poetic journey mixes history, social criticism, politics and place. Overpowering and wonderful.

Robert Penn’s It’s All About the Bike is a nice antidote to the fall and fall of Lance Armstrong. Another simple premise, imagine your perfect custom bicycle and then go around the world sourcing the bits and pieces, chronicling the history of the bicycle in the process. The dream of every cyclist who hasn’t got a dream to ride the Tour de France.

Journals by English poet Michael Langley is just that; his journals of thinking, writing and walking in the English woods. You can see poems bubbling up in the narrative and it brought me to look at the poems too. I liked that Langley was teaching in a high school for lots of these years and says things like ‘Had period 6 off so I walked home … ‘ Some people can see things that others can’t.

Tony Taylor’s Fishing the River of Time divided those who I shared it with. The story of a grandfather teaching his grandson life lessons through fly fishing appealed more to those who liked fly fishing than those who were grandfathers. This is a very small survey result. There are lovely moments in this lovely looking book but too often the narrative voice is just annoying.

James Boyce’s evocation of a turning point in Victorian history 1835 deservedly won the Age Book of the Year. It’s a book that turns your understanding of something you thought you knew, and makes you realise that Victorian, and the great basalt plains to the west particularly, might have been very different had things gone differently in 1835.

Paul Carter’s Ground Truthing: Explorations in a Creative Region (the Wimmera, the Mallee) does tend to strain a little at its own deep theoretical constraints, but it is a very different kind of local history (psychogeography even?) and I read it on the way to and through Mildura, which matched up nicely.

Austin Kleon’s Steal like an Artist was a blog that became a book, recommended to you by a young novelist who was inspired by the maxims about writing, creativity and finding your voice that are contained here. Nothing startling, but a good affirming kind of take on creativity in the age of re-mix and insta-me.

Maya Ward’s The Comfort of Water traces a walking journey the length of the Yarra, from the shining sea and Docklands up into the hills. A bit too overtly ‘hippy’ for me at times, the re-discovery of familiar landscapes is worth the journey.

Geoff Nicholson seems to be a journeyman non-fiction writer who hits on project after un-related project for his books. The Lost Art of Walking is the ‘history, science, philosophy and literature of pedestrianism’. A bit patchy, but more than enough good moments to justify this if you see it on the bargain table in Readings.

Oh, and what was Michael Veitch up to in The Forgotten Islands taking a very ABC sounding project: a whistle-stop guide to Tasmania’s Bass Strait islands and making it so very clunky?



Fire Diary – Mark Tredinnick

Tredinnick is an Australian poet who seems to have come of age in the last couple of years. He is a kind of ‘nature poet’ I guess, and has written about local and specific places like the Blue Mountains in ‘The Blue Plateau’ and edited an anthology of nature writing called ‘A Place on Earth’. ‘Fire Diary’ is his first full book of poetry, a lovely looking 101 pages published by Puncher and Wattmann. These are poems of place and walking and meditation. Like: ‘The first ten steps from the house to the shed, I break / two of three promises the night has strung / like spider’s webs across my path’. and from ‘Rules for Walking’ – Theory / I have a general theory: keep going. / I have a rider: watch for transitions. / And another: beware false summits’.
You can read more about him on his website here: http://www.marktredinnick.com.au/index.php/mark/more/brief_life/

Robert Adamson’s The Golden Bird is a substantial ‘new and collected’ from another Australian poet of place. A great place to begin with Adamson if you don’t have him already on the bookshelf.

John Tranter is up there with Adamson as one of Australia’s best poets but Starlight is an all new collection: 150 new poems from University of Queensland Press that will reassure that you poetry is very much alive in the world.

Lisa Jacobson’s new collection The Sunlit Zon‘ is also substantial, and one of the best looking books I’ve seen come out of Five Islands. It’s a nice mix too of narrative and poetry, the kind of ‘verse-novel’ that Dorothy Porter and Les Murray have worked with in recent years.

Michael Sharkey’s Another Fine Morning in Paradise (Five Islands) was recommended to me by Collected Works maestro Kris Hemensley, and is a wonderful topical, newsy, Swift-like satire of modern life from one of Australia’s elder-statesman of poetry.

Brook Emery’s Collusion is a more personal sounding journey than some of his earlier work, but is perhaps more powerful because of it. I was lucky enough to get to the launch of this book this year, and hear Brook read some of these poems, which added another layer to their meaning for me.

Oh, and don’t forget BlackInc’s Best Australian Poems 2012, especially the opening poems!


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Christmas shopping list.

Take this to Readings or Collected Works

Richard Ford – Canada*
Gerald Murnane – A History of Books

Christopher Ricks – Dylan’s Vision of Sin*
Iain Sinclair – London Orbital
Robert Penn – It’s All about the Bike
Michael Langley – Journals
Tony Taylor – Fishing the River of Time
James Boyce – 1835
Paul Carter – Ground Truthing
Austin Kleon – Steal like an Artist
May Ward – The Comfort of Water
Geoff Nicholson – The Lost Art of Walking

Mark Tredinnick – Fire Diary (Puncher and Wattmann)
Robert Adamson – The Golden Bird
John Tranter – Starlight (UQP)
Lisa Jacobson – The Sunlit Zone (Five Islands)
Michael Sharkey – Another Fine Morning in Paradise (Five Islands)
Brook Emery – Collusion
John Tranter (ed) – Best Australian Poems 2012 (BlackInc)


Written by warrick

December 19, 2012 at 10:35 am

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  1. […] can read the full list, and past winners on my website here as […]

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