Tag Archives: Mark William Jackson

Mark William Jackson reviews Your Looking Eyes by Emilie Collyer

19 Apr

I’m not sure how I feel about the Australian Poetry Café Poet Program. On the one hand any publicity that poets and poetry receives is a good thing; on the other, the idea of sitting in a café like an exhibit while people come to marvel at the atrocity chills me to the bone.

However, if the Café Poet Program can produce works like Your Looking Eyes then I am definitely all for it.

Your Looking Eyes was written during Emilie Collyer’s residence at c3 contemporary art space. In keeping with the visual feel of the collection, the design, layout and artwork of the collection is provided by visual artist Eirian Chapman.

The first poem of the collection, ‘The Reader’, presents the issue of how a writer must create images in a reader’s mind. The poem is from the reader’s perspective. In this piece the writer is stuck for words:


She wants you to remember the thing that makes you squint

Sucking a lemon wedge

Fingernails on a blackboard


Draw a picture of your eyes


I hate the cliché Show. Don’t tell. It is too easily offered as advice but all it does is present the problem, what can be done with words? Collyer opens an illustrated collection written while surrounded by visual art by asking a question, what can a writer do to present an image to the reader, to get inside the reader’s head and make the reader smell the image, to hear the image. The poem closes with the reader’s fear:


Art that asks me to do something. Am I doing it right?

Is someone watching? Will they laugh at me?


‘Frames of childhood’ laments the lack of film of a childhood and expresses the limit of still images and memories.


There are no films of us as children

just photos and stories

how fast did my brother

sprint into that stone wall?


But the memories are stimulated by the photos and the associated questions; how fast? what expression? Remember lemonade icy poles, smelling skin, running hot tracks in the sun. The poem races like a barefooted girl through childhood:


children don’t grieve change

we crave it


Notice the voice/tense change, the opening stanza presents an adult looking back on childhood photos, lamenting the lack of film. The second and third stanzas are present tense, first person child narration. The fourth stanza drags us unwillingly back to adult present:


when does rear vision begin?

the trawl through albums and drawers and boxes


The poem closes ‘this thing we call childhood / belongs to adults’, this is a wonderfully sad ending, the technique Collyer employs in the piece regarding voice and tense takes us on a free-for-all joy ride as children. At the end we don’t miss our childhood years because we never knew we had them. Only now, as adults, can we recognise the years and paint them in a fond light.

And now, pure opinion… the best poem in the collection, spanning pages 22 & 23 – printed sideways so that you have to turn the collection as if you’re leering at a Playboy centrefold.

‘What does it mean?’ is visual, experimental, almost L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E, presenting a quizzical jumpiness into a central epiphany which makes the ride out of the centre like post meditation breathing exercises.

Now, here is what could possibly be the world’s first meta-referential review. I stepped out of the writing of this review to contact Alec Patric, asking him to seek permission from Emilie Collyer to reprint ‘What does it mean?’ in Verity La the day before this review appears.

Permission sought and granted. ‘What does it mean?’ is printed sideways and appears like a concrete poem. I don’t know what is says of my state of mind but it looks to me like a Rorschach test and given the title I wonder what it means. When you read the poem, turn your head sideways and you’ll see what I mean.

In technique, the poem drips letters upon letters, forming words, words forming indecipherable sentences, until the central epiphany:


One of the artists I spoke with considers it a positive thing when people don’t recognise his work as art. He says it means he is creating something new that has not been seen before. He likes this phenomenon. Can the same be said for words?


And then back out, the words fall away, fading like the Star Wars opening crawl.

Your Looking Eyes is a great introduction to Emilie Collyer’s work; 14 poems with strong visual aspects, the art space literally infused in the words.

The first print run of 100 copies sold out. The second run is selling fast. Available for $12 (including postage) from select bookstores in Melbourne or via Emilie’s website Between the Cracks.

Vox: Mark William Jackson

8 Dec

I’ve been assisting with the selection of stories for an e-book that will be associated with an established literary journal. All pieces submitted to the print journal are being considered for the e-book, if accepted, writers will be asked if they are happy to be published electronically, they will be paid the same amount as the print edition.

Surveys have shown that it is older writers that are more acceptable of electronic publication. I don’t know if this is because they have already been published in print, probably to a limited readership and are excited by the wider distribution potential of electronic media. Younger writers might either be enamoured by the perceived credibility of print, or feel that they could vanity publish electronically and avoid the submission path.

Vanity publishing electronically releases all manner of worms from various cans. Apparently, a new blog is created every two seconds, obviously these are not all literature but it does make for a mammoth pile of crap to sift through in order to find the ‘good’ stuff. Most noticeable in the blogosphere is the omission of editors, that is; copy editors, proof readers, selection based on aesthetic guidelines etc.

With the works I’ve been reading, the e-book will be associated with an established and respected literary journal and will go through the same editing process as the print version in the interest of ‘brand’ protection.

This potential free-for-all vanity publishing threat leads me to Laurie Steed’s comments in this forum. After print dies (which I don’t believe it will entirely and will explain later) who will control distribution of e-works. An hegemony is forming, a three-headed Cerberus, Google-Apple-Amazon. Digital rights management (DRM) considerations threaten to bottleneck an otherwise infinite distribution channel, honest consumers could be punished for buying a book through legal means rather than choosing the bit-torrent, pirate channel and taking a non-restricted “free” version.

With a rigorous editing process, electronic media does offer amazing possibilities. Apart from the technological advantages – such as cross-media creations and active links within text – the distribution potential could reinvigorate the market. Not only the fact that a book could be released simultaneously around the work, but simple considerations like shelf space. Traditionally, unless you were Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, or, dare I say, Stephenie Meyer, the chance of a book store stocking your 200,000 word, wide spined book was next to nothing. It’s all about real estate, and shelf space is very valuable, shelf life for a new release is three to six months, then it’s back catalogue or the dreaded bargain basket. E-books remove the restriction on size. This works equally for smaller publications. As Nigel Featherstone wrote in this Forum, by quoting his interview with Mandy Brett, the cost considerations of print will no longer be an issue. This is great news for poets and short story / novella writers, and in turn, great news for readers who haven’t had this purchasing option for a while, the shorter form being ideal for the pace of today’s world.

Print will not die. This morning I listened to a podcast of the Book Show where the move of comics from 22 page single editions, to multi edition graphic novels, to electronic media was discussed. One panel member recalled that radio did not kill newspapers, television did not kill radio and the internet / e-book will not kill print. Print will find a niche market, to a large extent it has already – in a survey conducted by the Jenkins Group (US), 70% of adults in the US have not stepped into a book store in the last five years. Ironically this same survey found that 80% of the US population want to write a book (WTF?). The Book Show panel members spoke of the print future with regards to the e-distribution of comic books. A question at the end of some electronic graphic novels asks “like what you read? Buy the hard copy.” Click a link and you’re taken to hard copy distributors, both online and shop front.

There will always be people who like to be surrounded by books, floor to ceiling bookshelves, walls “wallpapered with savages”, words threatening to leap and choke you when you least expect it. The new media merely offers a cheap, but infinite, distribution channel which will ultimately lead to a wider readership.

The e-form is the future and will hopefully revitalise an industry that is otherwise in demise.


Thoroughly modern poets in triptych: review by Mark William Jackson

12 Nov

On my bookshelves, after my chronologically ordered issues of Overland, Meanjin, Going Down Swinging etc., after my poetry collections, alphabetised by poet’s surname, sit the anthologies in no particular order other than size. An anthology could easily get lost in the melee, unless it is read frequently. I can always put my hand on my copy of Penguin Modern Poets issue 5 featuring Gregory Corso, Lawrence Felinghetti and Allen Ginsberg. The Penguin Modern Poets series of books were published between 1962 and 1979 to introduce contemporary poetry to new readers. This was a first as, before Penguin, poetry was published in obscure chapbooks or expensive hardcovers.

The Triptych Poets series, published by Blemish Books, returns to this tradition. An annual release started in 2010, issue 2 was released on 6 October 2011 and features the work of Stuart Cooke, Bronwen Manger and Ouyang Yu. From the Blemish Books website, ‘We’re hoping to highlight the contrasting and often complementary nature of contemporary poetry.’ This goal is certainly achieved in issue 2.  Three very different poets that work well together; the anthology flows beautifully.

Paying homage to Neruda and Chilean poetics, Cooke’s poems are steeped in surrealism but he also retains a grip on an Australian tone. These combine to create a unique voice.

In ‘Sonnet to Rain (son del silencio)’ Cooke draws the image of a dry land:

Hushed metal crescendo hear the cowbells clang

ing occasionally for the hell of it as if f
alling spirits weren’t caught by anyone but picked

 up from earth by hard white hands it’s

hard, yes, to talk about the dust, about what

Cooke’s enjambment is jarring and breathless, the lines are roughly iambic, the standalone ‘f’ at the end of the second line doesn’t count as a foot but adds to the stammering, thirsty drawl of the poem.

The combination of the two tones is evident again in ‘The Love Song of Judith and Pablo’ where text is taken from Judith Wright’s ‘The Man Beneath the Tree’ and Pablo Neruda’s ‘Oda a la Bella Desnuda’ (the author’s translation). Cooke takes from the two poems and marries them wonderfully.  However, what I found most amazing, aside from the perfect flow that is achieved, is what the lines chosen reveal about the poet. Like a child of divorced parents it is difficult to live, and indeed, love, two countries. Cooke merges lines from Wright’s first stanza:

Nothing is so far as truth;
nothing is so plain to see.
Look where light has married earth
through the green leaves on the tree.

And the first line of her last stanza:

Oh, love and truth and I should meet,

with Neruda’s first lines:

With chaste heart, with eyes pure

and the closing lines of his second stanza:

Your eyelids of wheat
who discover
or close
two countries deep in your eyes

to create a longing for the two countries that hold his love:

Oh, love and truth and I should meet
with a chaste heart, with pure eyes
holding the sea-music. Nothing is so far
as truth: your eyelids of wheat revealing
or hiding two deep countries
in your eyes – love for which the wisest weep.

Bronwen Manger’s section of the anthology takes is into the reality of Australia. In ‘Kinglake 2011’, for example, the memories of the Black Saturday bushfires remain two years later, but the signs of rebirth are beautifully illustrated, especially in the opening stanza:

The charred stakes of former trees are now haloed
in soft green leaves, each cell a vial of sunlight
glowing out defiant optimism. The secret heartbeat
of this old land is too young & too foolish
to stay sombre.

In a nice twist, Manger provides an ode to St. Kilda (‘St.Kilda’), a love/hate relationship sounds too balanced as Manger shouts from the start:

This place,
gaudy as an open wound,
wears its weather beaten halo

and continues with such barbs as ‘regurgitated out/onto the footpath’, ‘shadeless, limbless trees/strain into a stricken sky. Fevered/ cafes sweat people with brass skin /and concrete eyes.’  But the close provides a knowing smile to the face of the reader:

But I found one night
once, years ago we
laughed immortal and absurd,
disbelieving and joyful in some vineless

We laughed;
and St Kilda,
I forgive everything.

While reading Ouyang Yu’s section he immediately jumped into my favourite poets category. Yu writes in the deceptively simple, yet multiple interpretive Chinese style. Short poems are titled only with numbers, they read like a softly moving creek, and flow like a comfortable conversation. Yu shares his thoughts, such as:


unless you want
to be
the greatest of obscure authors
waiting to be discovered
for the rest of your death

I adore the humour in the work:


it’s now time for commercial break, we’ll be right back:
buy poetry bye poetry buy poetry bye poetry buy poetry bye



to think of some of my favourite writers
to think of how forgotten they are
unlike shakespeare who is being exploited without getting paid

Yu uses Chinese characters, which cannot be copied here, but are mentioned purely because they are interesting in that they don’t need translation; they offer a mystique to the poetry, a licence to interpret as you see fit.

The depth in the deceptive simplicity is highlighted here:


all i need to do

to prove eternity doesn’t


is to strike this



Last quote from Ouyang Yu:


how many people does one make love to all his life
how many friends does he make
how many enemies
how many strangers does he
encounter how many pigs
or cows does he eat
i had a head-on collision with this question
when my car reached the end of the freeway

I wish I could go into more detail here – these three poets deserve reviews in their own rights as each section of this anthology is a worthy collection in itself. Suffice to say, the Triptych Poets Issue Two holds its own in the tradition of the Penguin Modern Poets series, allowing the reader to compare three very distinct voices that combine to flow in one wonderful collection.

Triptych Poets: Issue 2
Blemish Books,100pp
, $15

Candles (Mark William Jackson)

7 Sep

The first candle she lit was for Poppy. She doesn’t remember much about the old man. She remembers a baritone hum and the smell of tobacco. And she remembers being carelessly happy.

The next candle was for Daddy, or more specifically for the kiss he gave her when he said goodbye. She sat by the window for days waiting for him to come home. Once she realised he wasn’t coming back she lay on her bed holding the cheek where he’d kissed her.

There was a candle for the boyfriend. The boyfriend she’d loved, not the same boyfriend who drank too much one night, threw her down, and took what can only be given.

A candle for Mum, found on the couch, the television blaring with some midday pop psychology talk show. She looked peacefully asleep. The empty sheets of zolpidem lay carefully placed on the coffee table, a glass of water lay spilled on the floor.

The last candle lit was for herself. Or rather for who she was.

She stared at the candles, watching the flames flicker, watching the wax liquify and drip.

Closing her eyes as the tears came she drifted into a dreamlike state and whispered a distant memory: ‘happy birthday dear sweetheart, happy birthday to you.’

When she woke she took in a deep breath and blew the candles out.

Hatton’s Hunger (Mark William Jackson)

25 Mar

Review of Stu Hatton’s collection of poetry, How to be Hungry.

Bukowski once said “don’t play with madness, madness doesn’t play.” Likewise, don’t play with words unless you know what you’re doing. Stu Hatton knows what he’s doing.

Hatton is far from a straight writing skid row poet. Instead Hatton travels a drug fuelled transcendental journey. Random names for comparative discussion would include the Beats; Burroughs and Kerouac, New York Schooler Jim Carroll and contemporary Melbourne poet π.o. Hatton lashes across the page with a stream of consciousness furore.

A tip for the reader: Don’t try to understand everything in the first reading. Instead, read it at pace and let the images swirl and form in your mind. I’ve spent too long away from poetry to attempt a dissection of metre and rhyme, so my first reading was for pure enjoyment, and that’s what I got. And more — I got a kick-in-the-head reminder of why I love poetry so much.

How to be Hungry is Stu Hatton’s first collection and gathers his poems previously published in some of Australia’s best literary journals, including Overland, Otoliths, Page Seventeen, [untitled] and The Age newspaper.

The collection highlights the variety in Hatton’s work, with themes ranging from situational (unplugged, digitalia, sharps and A train, outbound), severe introspection (self-portrait (with wires, city, no clothes), and down slow), loss (the breaking), to psychoanalytical (the masculine) and observational (WA Notebook, Three Brett Whiteleys, Berlin and hands/office).

The poems in the collection come from a tortured voice. The breaking tells of the speaker sitting in a bar sharing drugs with friends and consciously trying not to think about the death of a friend ‘didn’t want to know / your whereabouts / how you were captured / what painkillers stomached / what beds caught you when you fell.’ The speaker throws himself further into the drug hazed wake until the image of the lost one returns (and the pronoun changes from the possessive to third person modifier) ‘& in her eyes, / death that pretty young thing, / saw a way in.’

This piece’s poignancy lies in the speaker continuing the habits that took the friend, and flows with the uncontrollable urge of an addict.

Unplugged takes us back into the mind of the addict, this time trying to recover. The image is created of a rehab centre, ‘the raw bed / no exits / air soured by puke’ and the fury of detox, ‘ever try a sprint lying down? / (it’s exhausting)’. The poem breaks with an asterisk then reprises with a sledgehammer three lines, ‘outside of visiting hrs / a squad of ghosts / makes another sweep’. As if the environment wasn’t bad enough, with no external exits, only nightmares reside within the mind.

Hatton’s observational talent is displayed in WA Notebook and Three Brett Whiteleys. WA Notebook is in six parts and documents the speaker’s travels through Western Australia as an Environmental protester. Part I coastal describes the ubiquitous Australian flags, hoisted since the Cronulla riots giving licence for Australian nationalism to mimic the redneck belt of the United States. ‘fuck off we’re full’ sticker / on a ute’s rear panel’ sets the scene.

Part II development assesses the futility of suburban existence, ‘impermeable, unstirred, unmoved / these lives go on regardless / city of satellites’. This theme continues in the standout section, part IV, the days write themselves, ‘Listen: is that a shot off the fairway / or a big bloke preparing to spit?’ The sounds of weekend suburban life. ‘There’ll be folks over at 5 / for champagne & nibbles’, the simple language reflecting the ordinariness of the social calendar.

Down slow exposes the speaker, ‘naked / beneath the drugs / this is what I am’, this exposure is reprised in the closing piece self-portrait (with wires, city, no clothes). Poetic etiquette dictates that one shouldn’t assume the speaker’s voice in a poem is that of the poet, however, titling a poem self-portrait disabuses that rule.

Hatton closes with a confession ‘i am open / and open / and open’, an honest stanza opens the piece that closes an honest collection. ‘You asked to see a photo, but / i asked for paper / to write on’. If you want to see the poet you must read his words. The close of the poem, and collection as a whole is whispered in parentheses ‘(i’m so glad / you could make it)’.

How to be Hungry is a strong debut available through the link below http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/how-to-be-hungry/13213146

Hell’s Band (Mark William Jackson)

29 Jul

Tom Waits’ bleeding knuckles

painting the piano keys,

Keith Richard slits a finger

soloing over the Devil’s symphony,

Bukowski stands at the mic

calling everyone up to fight,

the MC dressed in leather

promises one hell of a night

on drums Keith Moon is vomiting

while John Bonham waits his turn,

through trumpet Miles is jonesing

waiting for his shit to burn.

demon Beasts of Bourbon

piss elixir into your throat,

the barman spews intoxicant venom

through the wicked teeth of a goat,

The bar room’s fucked up crowded,

the bar maids are filthy mean,

but give me a smokin’ dirt house

to any sterile ku klux clean.

War by Candlelight – Mark William Jackson

29 Jul

I seem to have already established a pattern with these interviews. A bit of a preamble and introduction, and then the interview. And so we should begin–> Mark William Jackson is an emerging writer from Sydney–> But I’ve always thought the word ’emerging’ is pathetically passive when applied to writers. Something that ’emerges’ seems to imply a gentle and inevitable shift from one state of being to a higher plane of existence. Do we ever actually emerge in this way? I bought an intriguing collection of stories just yesterday by a writer called Daniel Alarcon called War by Candlelight. I haven’t read enough of the collection to know what Alarcon means by the title, but for me it’s the perfect expression for what the process feels like to ’emerging’ writers, like myself and Mark William Jackson.

* * *

Alec Patric: What makes all this worthwhile? What do we really hope to achieve? Is there perhaps an inborn hunger, dumb and brutal, that simply wants to grow and devour every bit of life, and poetry is just one way of doing this?

Mark William Jackson: You make poetry sound so appealing! I guess firstly I’d have to dispense with the concept that poetry is a conscious decision that we make, Leonard Cohen said ‘poetry is not an occupation, it is a verdict.’ Anyone who writes at length does so because they have to, because if they don’t they suffer some sort of internal decay. When I think about what makes all this worthwhile I have to think about what I would do if I wasn’t doing this. Poetry helps contain my addictive personality. I can take a bad memory, spew in onto a blank piece of paper, break it, enjamb it, manipulate it into what I want it to be. At the end of the process I own what threatened to control me. I don’t think its presence could grow and devour every bit of life but I fear its absence would. If I go any period of time without writing I am at pains to function in other aspects of my life.

Poetry also creates its own euphoria. The act of searching for the word, or the line that perfectly encapsulates a moment. When it’s found it calls for a post-coital cigarette and afterglow reflection.

What do we hope to achieve? For me, personally, if I was my only reader, as I was for the first twenty years that I scribbled attempts at poetry with no direction, then I would be satisfied. I still look back with a certain fondness on the teen angst riddled doggerel that I used to (and still do) write. But of course this sounds like defeatist, self-deprecating crap. More to the point I hope that people can read my poetry and it will in some way help them conquer the ubiquitous metrophobia that society seems to suffer as a consequence of a poor poetry curriculum within the school system. People outside of the poetry world have the impression that poetry is either strict form; Shakespearean couplets and Wordsworth rambling on about daffodils (fucking daffodils!) or deliberately obscure – obscure for obscurity’s sake.  I don’t want people to have to read every line four or five times trying to decipher what I’m trying to say. Poetry should punch into your head, or break out like your drunken father – as a reader I like poems that are short and sharp, within a few lines you receive a migraine clarity; as a writer the poems should come out fighting, Bukowski style, screaming about the whores of life and the dead men walking, they should break out because they can’t be contained.

I hope that people can read my poems and receive a flash of realisation in their minds, something that makes them think, or helps them remember. I like to craft homophonic lines, lines with dual meanings – a reader can choose to take in the first reading and feel satisfied or return for a second reading and hopefully it will echo with other meanings for them. The opposite of obscure, instead of struggling for one meaning I hope that my poems can convey multiple meanings to different readers.

Heroisch (Mark William Jackson)

28 Jul

In the dim fluorescent cubicle,
amid the urine smell
and graffitied penises
she spoke,
“did you know
heroin was legal,
it was developed
by Felix Hoffman
for Bayer Pharmaceuticals
as a cough suppressant,
it was sold over
the counter as
19th turned to 20th.”

His eyes rolled
into the back of his head,
and, in agreement,
he nodded.