Thursday, October 21, 2010

Peter Bakowski Reads

As all writers know, books don't sell themselves. Writing and getting published are only the beginning of the process. How do you find readers? How do readers find your books?

This applies across all genres, but particularly I think to poetry. My guess is that the poetry section of the bookshop, tucked away in the back corner, would be the least visited.

Peter Bakowski, a Melbourne poet, meets that challenge head on. He takes his poetry directly to the public, specialising in readings in private homes for audiences of more than eight people.

About four years ago I heard that Peter was in Tasmania and I wrote to him asking if he could come to us in Mole Creek. It didn't work out that time but when Peter was arranging his recent trip to Tasmania for the Launceston Poetry Festival he wrote to me and this time we succeeded.

Farmdoc and I put our heads together and made a list of our friends who we thought would enjoy a potluck poetry dinner. We scraped together every chair and makeshift table we could find.

And our guests contributed plenty of delicious food and drink.

Peter is a relaxed reader and generous with his time and explanations. He provided a wonderful insight into his life as a poet and his technique. It was also lovely meeting his wife, Helen, and their son Walter.

Peter's aim is to 'write clear and accessible poems, to use ordinary words to say extraordinary things...about what it's like to be human.' His latest book, Beneath Our Armour, a collection of portrait poems, was short-listed for the Victorian Premier's Prize.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Feast and Famine

There is an interesting series of human interest videos on the ABC Northern Tasmania website. The overall topic is 'Change' but this has been interpreted in many ways.

I provided the producer, Richard Pree, with some scanned photos from our family albums, and a recording of me reading a couple of extracts from my book. He then put these together to produce a very moving short video.

The piece begins with a kiss. My father was in the Air Force, transferred from his home state of Western Australia to Melbourne, when he met a beautiful girl. My mother was 16 when they met and 18 when they married.

While I was looking through the albums I came across a photo of my mother at a party with the television star Graham Kennedy. Look how beautiful she is.

The piece ends with another kiss. This time my father is 90 and my mother 84. She has only months to live, but their love burns as brightly as it did at their first embrace. Even her Alzheimer's Disease cannot quench its flame.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


Gorgeous weather here in northern Tasmania. Perfect for sitting on the kitchen deck with a cup of tea and a good book.

I've just finished reading Otherland by Maria Tumarkin. This is an account of Maria's trip back to Kharkov in the Ukraine, a city she'd emigrated from about twenty years before as a 15- year-old schoolgirl. She is accompanied on this return journey by her daughter, 12-year-old Billie, and the book is as much about their relationship as it is about the trip itself and the politics and often tragic history of the region.

Otherland is engrossing. It jumps around in time and space, never getting bogged down in travelogue or historical accounts or political explanation, though it includes all these things.

The book is written in a clear conversational style that makes it easy and mostly enjoyable to read, although it does deal with some dark episodes such as the Siege of Leningrad where over a million people starved to death, and the murder of 33,000 Jews at Babi Yar.

The inclusion of Billie's diary entries is delightful, but I did wonder, as a mother myself, whether Billie, as she enters more fully into adolescence, might not feel exploited.

Towards the end of the book the pair visit the apartment block where Maria had grown up. Billie is disappointed in the dvor, the communal courtyard she'd heard so much about, 'where the old and young coexisted in their separate corners of the same world'. Instead of the garden she'd imagined, there was 'to tell you the truth...a rubbish tip.'

But Maria does not wish this trip to be about pitying the poor deprived Russians. She writes:
We are born into spaces and we grow up in them. We are blessed not to know any better...We play with the puddles in which grown-ups step, cursing bad roads and general disorder and decay.We fit whatever size is given to us. And the dirt is much more fun to play with than the sand. We are not deprived. We are not to be pitied. We are on top of the world.
The journey (and the book) is an attempt to synthesise the life in Russia that Maria didn't live with the life she lives in Australia; the world she grew up in and that formed her and the world where Billie lives. It's hard to know about the trip - after all, although Billie is delightfully intelligent and sensitive she is also a typical Aussie adolescent and homesick most of the time for friends and comforts - but at least the book is a success.

Friday, October 1, 2010

What's Cooking?

The last weekend Farmdoc and I were in Victoria we taught a cooking class at the Daylesford Neighbourhood Centre.

I used to be a keen cook. I did a course at the Cordon Bleu School of Cooking in London back in the day, and I cooked for our household of six for years, sometimes serving up five different meals to cater for vegetarians, dieters and those who wouldn't eat anything that was coloured orange.

Once the kids left home writing became my priority. I began to look on cooking mostly as something that took me away from what was important.

But our community-minded daughter Meg believes that everyone has something they can teach others, and she is very persuasive. There are dishes that have remained part of my regular repertoire and it was those that Meg thought I could teach. Teamed with Farmdoc's great bread-baking skills we put together a class that went into the program as Basic Jewish Cooking. We taught challah (the plaited egg loaf eaten on the sabbath), chicken soup, matzah balls and honey cake.

It was a lot of work to prepare. Farmdoc broke every recipe down into individual actions and compiled lists of ingredients and equipment we'd need. We weren't sure dishes would turn out well because the centre's oven cooks unevenly. But the food was delicious and the class was a lot of fun. I think our students enjoyed it; we definitely did. We were lucky to be assisted by Meg and our granddaughter, Indigo.

I'm grateful to Meg for giving us the opportunity to share some of the knowledge and skills we have and encouraging us to teach the session. There's something elemental about preparing and breaking bread together and it was nice for Farmdoc and me to combine our artistic and scientific approaches. We're already planning what we'll teach next year.

Stormy Weather

Back at Onemilebridge after a few weeks in Melbourne, I dreaded seeing the damage caused by the wind storm that kept Farmdoc awake at night while he listened to the wind's howl, fearful something would fall on the house. For a couple of days he couldn't get our car off the property because six or seven huge trees had fallen across the driveway. Others had landed across tracks and paths, and of course onto fences.

By the time I arrived a lot of the mess had been cleaned up. Our neighbours from Blair and Sons Sawmill had come with chainsaws to clear the road and one of the tracks, and to block the timber up ready for use as firewood. In true neighbourly fashion they'll be back with some heavier equipment in a week or so to clear a couple more tracks. Another friend helped repair some of the fences.

It's sad to see these massive old beauties uprooted from the soil where they've stood for decades, and to witness the destruction they caused as they came down, crashing into smaller trees and bringing them down too. We won't see others of their size grown up to replace them in our lifetime.

We were lucky too. Our neighbour's barn lost its roofing iron. Our house and buildings were safe, and we have good and generous friends and neighbours to help us repair the damage. But it's hard not to feel diminished with some of the majesty gone from our patch of bush. The storm has reminded us yet again of how small and defenceless we are, helpless against the forces of nature.