local by Anna Couani

A review of “Local” By Anna Couani

Reviewed by Beatriz Copello

Source: Compulsive Reader

Jon Anderson in Understanding Cultural Geography: Places and Traces, Routledge, 2015 said: “Places come by their meanings and identities as a result of the complex intersections of culture and context that occur within that specific location.” Local, a fascinating book of poetry by the well-known artist and poet Anna Couani is about place. Place in Couani’s poetry is about Sydney and the Inner City and she has the knowledge, the experiences and the connection to allow us to say that she has a ‘sense of place’.  That sense of place not only stems from the poet but also from her parents and grandparents’ experiences, memories and attachments.  The poem “Earliest Memories” is a clear example of subjective memories or using the cliché ‘walking in her ancestors’ shoes:

my earliest memories of Glebe
my parents’ memories
of first meeting at Sydney Uni
studying medicine
my father recruiting Mum for the Labor Club
bastion of progressive politics
a heady mix of ideology and romance
Mum lived with her sister in as rooming’ house
in Arundel Street
run by Miss Sherack, the hoarder 
of Depression era handkerchiefs, men’s underwear
and walks
common Glebe pastime
walk to the city, walk to Paddington
walks through the Uni especially
my own feet trading the same footpaths
30 years later
down all the way to the water

Anna Couani’s artwork illustrates local. Her life as an artist is also married to her poetry, evident in many of her poems. The joy of mixing with other inner-city writers and artists is also apparent in the poetry as is the fact that artists and poets are never too far from politics. The past of the inner city, how it was and how it is, is brought to light … nostalgia? … loss? … anger? is all made clear in the following excerpt from the poem titled “ibis sanctuary”:

the ibis sanctuary was there
before the new excavation started
and before that
there were ugly two-storey flats
and before that
there were workers’ cottages
before that it was an ibis sanctuary

Couani, in her entertaining narrative poetry, sees, reflects, describes, ponders and imagines. Vivid images, poignant lines, and a sense of balance moves the reader from place to place. The poet gives a voice to images. It impressed me how she is able to bring the personal into the poetry without sentimentality. The following poem titled “the flats in Leichhardt Street” illustrates this but also the strength and determination of the writer:

escaped from family trauma
dropped out of Uni, age 20
out of 4th year Architecture
a soft landing with my gentle partner
in hard places
finally found the flat with the dark blue lounge room
just near the old mansion
down in Leichhardt Street
that wound down to the water
turning off Glebe Point Road
exactly where the taxis do a U-turn
as I had done three years before
driving taxis out of the Red Deluxe depot
in Kings Cross

The last poems in the book are titled “ideas for novels” and go from 1 to 10. In these poems the reader enters moments, fragments of time, the land, life and culture. In local Couani gives a voice to images and place, she is an observer, a witness, the reader will be absorbed in her poetry. local is a ‘must read’!

About the reviewer Dr Beatriz Copello is a former member of NSW Writers Centre Management Committee, writes poetry, reviews, fiction and plays. The authors poetry books are: Women Souls and Shadows, Meditations At the Edge of a Dream, Under the Gums Long Shade, and Lo Irrevocable del Halcon (In Spanish), fiction books are A Call to the Star and Forbidden Steps Under the Wisteria. Copello’s poetry has been published in literary journals such as Southerly and Australian Women’s Book Review and in many feminist publications.  She has read her poetry at events organised by the Sydney Writers Festival, the NSW Writers Centre, the Multicultural Arts Alliance, Refugee Week Committee, Humboldt University (USA), Ubud (Bali) Writers Festival. 

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Towards the Open Sea: Martin Langford launches  ‘The Leaving’ by Brian Purcell

Martin Langford launched  The Leaving by Brian Purcell, Flying Island Books 2021 at a COVID impacted Poets Picnic at Markwell on 19 December 2021  

I’d like to begin with the acknowledgement of a debt. It was Brian who first guided me towards the community of other poets. In the early eighties, I had been living on the South Coast when I returned to Sydney keen to find other people interested in poetry. It wasn’t so easy then, without the net, or the filings of poetry organizations. Not knowing where to start, I did the dumbest, most obvious thing, and put an ad in the paper for anyone interested in a workshop. The workshop didn’t take off, but I did receive a phone-call from this guy who said he knew a few people who were interested in poetry, would I like to go and have a drink. These were the days when Sydney still had a David Ireland feel to it: when Bruce Springsteen was an underground whisper about an urban Bob Dylan from New Jersey. The upshot was I was alerted to the Poets Union readings at the Performance Space, and before too long, both of us became involved. So thank you Brian: it’s actually a big debt indeed – for me at least.

Brian has always been a poet, but he is one of those people who also has a wide variety of artistic interests: he was lead singer for the post-industrial band, Distant Locust, together with being their lyricist – there is an earlier book of song lyrics; he is a painter (as you can see from the cover) and a photographer. Couple this with the hard-slog years of putting a mortgage together, of the years working for the Lit Board and Varuna and as a festival organiser, and you can gather some idea of why, although he maintained a constant interest in the form – publishing in the literary journals throughout the decades – he should only now be publishing his first book of poems.

So congratulations: some books take a winding path before they find their way to clear air, and some births are badly overdue.

Overall, The Leaving is framed by a break-up – the leaving – and a new romance. As one can imagine from such sources, there are poems here of great unhappiness, and of ecstatic joy. The title is important: the title poem being one of the key pieces in the book. It is a response to Rick Amor’s painting, “Out to Sea”, which shows a motor-boat leaving for less sheltered waters while a menacing sky gathers. The poem – which is a superb one – ends:

He holds the rudder tightly, everything forcing him on
through the channel, out of the frame
and into the world beyond.

As I read it, this is the gesture which underwrites almost every poem here, irrespective of what its immediate topic is. We are all leaving anyway, out towards open sea, whether our lives are placid and well-organised or not. But if one has just experienced a time of great turmoil, and if one is determined to at least attempt to steer one’s way through, then one has a gesture of firmness, of insistence, to define oneself against. It becomes, as it were, the background image which is present even in poems of despair or instability.

The poems in this book are not so much interested in an event’s explanation, as in its emotional weight. If things are left unexplained, it is because explanation is not the point: the poet is more interested in recording the experience. This is a natural way, anyway, to engage with the welter of emotions in relationship-change. But it is also a powerful way for the imagination to engage with most experiences. The image is almost always more potent than the elaboration. So we recognize the pointlessness of all that low-volume earnestness, as the poem’s subject comes home to find a TV left on late: further commentary would only be deadening; likewise, his car’s shadow, “torn to shreds” by the roadside foliage, speaks so much more powerfully than any sociological analysis of his feelings about a difficult day at the polling booth.

Brian can drily observe that a Western Sydney audience responds more readily to a flick of Rita Coolidge’s dress, than to her music – alongside the unstated implication of how bleak this is for the performer, on what is presumably a difficult attempt to keep her career alive. He describes his boyhood enactment of the pieties required at church with exactitude:

A pious fraud, that eight-year-old
half-closed eyes slightly raised
above the arch of prayerful hands.

 The abruptness and insult of the way sister Euphemia attempted to get him to show more enthusiasm at communion, by pulling his tongue, is amplified in his memory by the way her collar pressed into her “white skin”.

 There is much lived experience here – more, perhaps, than Brian might have wished for. But he is consistently honest in the way he searches for the right word to capture it, and if he spares no finer feelings, it is mostly his feelings which he does not spare.

 Congratulations to Brian, and to Captain Kit and the flying island.

 This is a great setting for the launch of Australian poetry books. We define our spaces by the things we do in them. But it is also particularly suitable for the launch of The Leaving, with so many of its poems set in either Bellingen or the Central Coast, and with their tacit understanding that the human drama, at some point, is not separate from the natural world.

 I was going to say: Please do the right thing by Scott Morrison’s attempt to get the economy moving again, by investing in this volume with absolutely no sense of financial restraint. But I didn’t realise the “pocket” in “pocket books” referred to “pockets of socialism” – that the initial offerings would be given away free – so please: read this book and the others, without imaginative restraint.

 – Martin Langford


Martin Langford has published seven books of poetry, the most recent of which is Eardrum (P&W, 2020). The Boy from the War Veterans’ Home will be published in 2022. He is the editor, with J. Beveridge, J.Johnson and D. Musgrave, of Contemporary Australian Poetry (2016). He is the poetry reviewer for Meanjin.


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A review of Pretend I Don’t Exist by Morgan Bell

Reviewed by Magdalena BallCompulsive Reader

Anyone who has read Morgan Bell’s first poetry collection, Idiomatic for the People, will not be surprised by how innovative her new poetry book Pretend I Don’t Exist isThe book was written as a poetic response to the nonfiction book Wild Koalas of Port Stevens edited by Christina Gregory and uses a range of diverse linguistic techniques inspired by a deep and whimsical anthropomorphism. The immediate impact of Pretend I Don’t Exist is visual, almost instantly funny as words move about in Koala-like ways.  This is augmented by the varied rhythms of the words, which slur, drip, become staccato, slide, halt, slip into silence and then into a machine-gun patter that calls to mind rap and jazz. The work calls to mind a wide range of styles from Joycean stream-of-consciousness to the sonic poetry of Jayne Cortez (I’m particularly thinking of “She Got He Got”) and includes paraphrases from William Faulkner and Cardi B as well as actual citations from wild koalas as mentioned in Wild Koalas of Port Stevens or taken from volunteers and carers who work in the Koala hospital. The result is both irreverently funny and deeply empathetic. Of course it is impossible for humans to know what a koala thinks and feels but in spite of the whimsy, the book feels true, not overtly humanizing the koalas but allowing their inner monologues to remain a little bit wild and chaotic:

Emptiness like two currants floating motionless in a cup of weak coffee their eyes ordered certitudes long divorced from reality as if a breath of that air which sees injustice done a damp steady breath out out whose every breath is a fresh cast dusty death with dice already loaded against them…

The book is structured into five sections: Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing and Adjourning, immediately setting up a sense of playfulness with the off-rhymes and linguistic puns. The poem titles are Similarly humorous and punny, playing on book or film titles, for example, “If on a Winter’s Night a Joey”, “The Long Dark Roadside of the Soul”, “We Need to Talk about Morton”, “Full Metal Scent Glands”, or “No Country for Old Bears”.  The poetry utilises sonic effects like alliteration, rhyme and rhythm, with extensive repetition, unconventional punctuation and sentences that trail off.  Then there are the visuals. For example, “A Tale of Two Joeys” spreads in jumping formation across two pages, the words moving in opposite directions.  Words here are sometimes semantical but they are also art, sliding across the page, wiggling, bouncing, marching, and vanishing in ways that evoke the movement of the koalas, guiding the reading into a non-linguistic sense of joy, fear, loss, and discovery.

There are many stories in the book, with its own cast of real named Koala characters who open the book.  They often work in groups of two or more, like like Dust and Breeze whose story of loss and discovery darts in alternate directions, or Mason, the orphaned joey who “aced the world’s audition but his credits played too soon”.  Horse and Cherry are all in upper case, their names forming a story in grunted single words, punctuated by the use of bold typeface. 

The rhythms throughout the book are decidedly funky, with bass beats, staccato, prose and rap sounds working together to create an innate music as in “Bear, Interrupted”’s: “Timmy got ripped from a Pouch dream” or the rap vernacular of “So Long, and Thanks for All the Leaves”:

Sammi took your gift, she wrap best, Diesel, Sammi got big, they impressed, Diesel, Sammi put the scamper on young Jeff, Diesel, Sammi be scratchin’ on young Jeff

Who you know leap like this?
Who you know feast like this?”

There’s so much richness in these twenty-five poems, words criss-crossing, melting down a page, shifting direction, causing the eyes to zig-zag up, down, sideways and across, disappear like an eye chart, stimulating the senses like a bush menu, changing font, bursting forth or fading gently. It feels throughout like animals in motion.  Pretend I Don’t Exist is a delight to read – the kind of book a parent can have a lot of fun reading to a child (or vice versa) but also one that tells a serious and important story about the beauty of animal sentience, the rich interplay of the human and the natural, animate world, and perhaps most importantly, the precariousness of the latter, particularly when it comes to koalas who are increasingly vulnerability, facing a significant and rapidly increasing loss of habitat. Because Morgan Bell takes a Koala-eye view, this is done with an anthro-centric perspective that is very powerful.  We play along with these creatures scurrying down casuarinas and upside down along branches and the edges of roads, or relaxing in high-canopies, and we also experience their failing vision, the loss of parents, hunger and intense thirst, and the difficult path to re-acclimatisation.  It’s a terrific book, and one that will appeal to readers of all ages

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