EKPHRASIS: pictures for words and words for pictures

On Sunday 14 August 2016, I was privileged to read my poem Art of the South Western at the Art Gallery of Western Australia. This was part of the Perth Poetry Festival’s Ekphrasis project, which matched eight poems to eight artworks in the AGWA collection. As it happened, the occasion coincided with my seven week anniversary as a fully-fledged Perth resident. Happiness and excitement all round!

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/179631956″>EKPHRASIS: pictures for words and words for pictures</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user15261657″>Francesca Sasnaitis</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Film credits go to Alex Chapman with my heartfelt thanks.

Art of the South Western celebrates the painting South-west Landscape (early 1970s) by Reynold Hart, but also refers to Hart’s other paintings of the period, and obliquely to the legacy of white settlement on indigenous culture. Hart (1938-1981) was a Noongar artist who was taken to the Carrolup Native Settlement near Katanning when he was four years old. At the Carrolup school he was taught to draw and paint in the European realist manner. Hart’s style has been referred to as naive, but that meeting of European and Aboriginal sensibilities is what attracts me most to his work.


Art of the South Western

In the beat between systole and diastole cars disappear
swallowed by the ridge ahead, and ahead thoughts drown
under a parchment sky. Country flexes muscle slow-slow–
fast—faster——in foxtrot time, a granite thrust

and eucalypts pass too swiftly to identify, serpentine boughs
ridiculous in paint but correct in life, the tropes of trees
daubed across a slope as if Hart had a hand in creation
or destruction, depending on your point of view.

Paddocks steamroll over remnant scrub, mapped
in umber, ochre and titanium white, stripped of honey
like a blonde blurred by middle-age. If I take my eye
for a second from the road I might drive straight up

and over the edge of the picture plain into wall space
and never-never land : country tidied, tamed and parcelled up
by settlers who would have us applaud their efforts
without questioning the cost. I find no monuments here

nothing to commemorate a massacre no one agrees to
remember, no rudimentary cross etched into a boulder,
only surreal visions scratching like gravel under the chassis
as the wheels stray and the ribbon of the highway unspools

with the trrrrr t tt of a silent movie film. I wonder
if I were to fall asleep would there be time to wake
and turn the wheels back on track? One false move
a moment’s inattention and over I slip, a headfirst dive

through the guard-rail of Samson Brook Bridge, dead weight
dangling upside-down from the seat-belt and me listening
for the boatman’s call. Later they would erect a plaque
in memoriam and leave bouquets beside the road.

In that moment just before the sky-blue river fractures
into a riotous yellow shriek, I would remember the rituals
we shared, our loves and losses, a moment’s grace
before the cockies settle and galahs bow their ruddy faces.


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pete to perth


‘o cruel whirl
living that spin I’m in’
—pete spence

received from the east in the last few weeks
with thanks to pete spence, six Variations
on a Poem Beginning With a Misquote From a Poem
by Frank O’Hara

and via Special Delivery my ‘Fable 01 : The Fishwife’
and ‘Fable o3 : Worse Things’ in great company inc
Valli Poole, Mark Young, Cam Lowe etc etc
and a great example of ekphrasis in
Tom Weigel’s poem to Gerhard Richter…
a snippet of ‘East of the Sun’

‘I too was caught in
a scrape of color’

Gerhard Richter with homemade squeegee
from Corinna Belz’s documentary Gerhard Richter Painting (2011)

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a goodbye acrostic from pete spence, 1984

found just in time for another farewell in 2016… what a lot of years in between…


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Fillia Press publications

The only two publications of the short-lived Fillia Press project, a collaborative effort on the part of Berni Janssen and myself. I still like my design and cover art🙂

Janssen-possessives &amp; pluralsJanssen-possessives &amp; plurals-full

possessives & plurals by Berni Janssen, Fillia Press 1985
ISBN 0 9589541 0 0

Finlayson-peacock palaceFinlayson-peacock palace-back cover

in th azure room ov th peacock palace by Rob Finlayson, Fillia Press 1987
ISBN 0 9589541 1 9
published with assistance from the Victorian Ministry for the Arts

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one more from the archive…

Syllable No. 3 (& the last) Winter 1985… farewell to Carmel Bird. Berni Janssen & FJS carry on and publish a couple of books under the Fillia Press imprint up to 1987, after which many involvements come to an end, not least my dedication to Collected Works Bookshop. I suspect the necessities of life got in the way i.e. paid work, and possibly there was some divergence in opinion and direction. Best not to dwell… There might be a roman-à-clef in there one day😉

Not my finest artwork for this cover but I’m intrigued by my contribution to this issue, Guston Dream, a ‘sort of’ review of the exhibition of Philip Guston’s late works at the National Gallery of Victoria, 18.08.1984 to 16.09.1984. The piece is ‘sort of’ ficto-critical long before I’d ever heard the term; definitely ekphrastic; and determinately philosophical.

‘He is the Hollow Man – I made him          cardboard & clag body of cylinders, the puppet grows giant & strong          enough to crush. I would break him, but he holds the hammer          falls & the last nail driven in completes the scaffold…’ I believe this refers to Courtroom, 1970.


Read more here… FJS-Guston Dream-Syllable 03


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Marcus Breen. ‘Writing for Readers: The new, small magazines’.

The Age Monthly Review Volume 5, Number 1, May 1985.

In the few weeks preceding the Word Fest held in Canberra in March, a flurry of activity disturbed the under­belly of the Australian liter­ary co…

Source: Marcus Breen. ‘Writing for Readers: The new, small magazines’.

Thanks to Mark Roberts and Rochford Street Review for this article, in which Syllable and P76 make their appearance.

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… from the archives

Inspired by the Small Press Interview Project: interviews about small literary presses in Australia 1970-2000, instigated by Anna Couani, Sarah St Vincent Welch and Dylan Jones, I give you Syllable New-Writing-Magazine No. 1, Summer 1984. Ta-daaahh!

From the editors Berni Janssen, Carmel Bird and Jurate Sasnaitis:

Syllable intends to publish writing with a strong voice, strong images and strong rhythms. Because the editors are women, Syllable has a feminist emphasis, but welcomes contributions from male writers.’

We lasted three issues!

And my contribution to the first issue, a prose-poem called The Dying Colour, some of which ain’t too bad; bits of which are dreadful… ah, youth!

‘If god is good, and dead, and worming heavenly, angels are sun thorned and yellow bright and life… ‘ Read on here FJS-The Dying Colour-Syllable 01

PS cover art by me too… Foxing only adds to it!



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