Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Andrea Goldsmith on Dorothy Porter's Love Poems

Love Poems is a collection of Dorothy Porter's most powerful love poetry. It was compiled by writer Andrea Goldsmith, the late Dorothy Porter's partner. We talk to Andrea about the collection.

Why did you decide on a collection of love poems?

Dorothy Porter – Dot – worked hard. With each new book, her poetry - which I always thought wonderful - seemed to get even better. Periodically over the years she would float the idea of a selected or collected poems. I would immediately dismiss the idea: collected and selecteds mean you’ve either run out of puff or you’re dead, I would say, and you, Dot, fit neither category.
With Dot’s death in December, 2008, everything changed. She left a nearly-completed collection of poems (The Bee Hut published by Black Inc in September 2009) and a long essay (On Passion, one of MUP’s little books on big ideas, published in May 2010), plus a number of unpublished poems. Dot and I often used to talk about the longevity of a writer’s work: who had it; whether their work warranted it, and most particularly what we would want for our own work. And Dot wanted what all serious writers want: for her work to live on. The time to consider a selected or collected had arrived.

I wish it hadn’t.

Given my long antipathy to selecteds, I knew I had to come up with a novel approach, one that was distinctly Dot. There are a number of themes that reoccur in her work from her first volume of poetry, Little Hoodlum, published when she was just 21 (with her looking like a little hoodlum in the cover pic) to her last poems. Primary among them was love. In fact love’s entire pantheon figures largely throughout her work: desire, sex, danger, flirting, humiliation, loss, rapture.
Love is Dorothy Porter territory.

How did you choose which poems to include in Love Poems? And the structure?

I’ve always loved Dot’s work – indeed I fell for the poetry before I fell for the poet. I gathered over the years an increasing number of favourite poems, including what Dot referred to as her Andy-poems, so from the beginning of this project there were certain poems that would automatically be included such as the sequence ‘Summer 92’, ‘Why I Love your Body’, ‘Lucky’, and many others. But making this selection took me deep into the whole of her work. Dot’s poetic imagination thrived on love. I found poems I had forgotten; I rediscovered old favourites. I had such a good time. And I discovered recurring patterns: when filtered through Dorothy Porter’s poetic imagination love always comes laden with risk, with edge, with the real possibility of humiliation and the eventual fall – even at the rapturous beginning. As I read through all her work it occurred to me to shape the poems to echo the arc of an affair: from the first excitement, through rapture, disillusionment and finally wisdom. Thus the sections in the book:

O flash! O honey!
The Big Sexy Risk
Hot and Cold
The Labyrinth of Intimacy

Throughout our seventeen years together I was closely involved with Dot’s work. I was her first reader and her last. Dot trusted me as a critical reader. Working on her work both in the past and now brings me enormous pleasure. I plunged into her work, all 35 years of it.

And the final selection? It was easy. Dot prized lucidity in poetry – and practised it superbly. I wanted lucid poems with punch and passion, and I wanted wisdom too. I wanted the collection to read with whoosh! I wanted people to experience the push and pull of love, the excitement and fear, the tremor and disappointment. I wanted readers to feel love.

I was faced with the problem of what to do about the verse novels. It just wouldn’t be right to have a volume of Dorothy Porter on love without the steamy affair between Diana and Jill in The Monkey’s Mask, the obsessive pull that Alex feels for Phoebe in Wild Surmise, and the charged eroticism in Akhenaten – between Akhenaten and Nefertiti and most particularly between Akhenaten and his brother Smenkhkare. Briefly I considered splitting up the verse novels and inserting individual poems into the appropriate sections of Love Poems, but this would have undermined the narratives (and by extension, the integrity) of the verse novels. So I have kept the selections from each verse novel separate, and have arranged them in such a way together with a brief introduction so that the poems can be read with a sense of the narrative.

And I have included many of the song lyrics written to Paul Grabovsky’s music and sung by Katie Noonan in their album ‘Before Time Can Change Us’. In fact, it was this album that gave me the idea for the structure of Love Poems.

Do you have a favourite poem in the collection?

The first poems of Dot’s I heard her read were from Akhenaten. ‘Scarab’, which is included in the Love Poems, remains one of my favourite poems of all time. At least once a year Dot would include it in one of her public readings as a private gift to me.

With her death it has acquired additional significance.

‘Lucky’, a recent poem, is another favourite. Dot wrote it as a private poem to me. As soon as I read it I saw that it had legs – that it could withstand a public outing. And it has. Many people cite it as one of their favourites.

Why is poetry important?

Dot, like many poets, placed poetry at the top of the literary pile. But then she would. I’m a novelist, I don’t. But I am a novelist who has always read a lot of poetry. Poetry concentrates and distills human emotion, indeed all of human experience like no other written form. It is this quality above all that lends poetry its mysterious power. And central to this effect is the use of surprising, sharp, flamboyantly imaginative imagery. Consider these images of Dot’s: Your kisses like ‘smashed glass’, or the wonderful ‘Strawberries Sonnet’ – all imagery, all edgy love.

You’re all bones
You’re all quicksilver skin
Rough as a wild night
You’re not strawberries.
Your hands are ice
Your tongue cuts my face
Into conquered turf
You’re not strawberries.
You’re a determined wasp
Dying on my sting
You’re my murder and my delight
You’re not strawberries.

Your fingers play my windpipe
You’re not strawberries.

Many of us reach for poetry in extremis. We do so because a single poem can illuminate an aspect of human experience with a clarity and punch that is without equal.

Was Dorothy inspired/influenced by any particular authors when it came to writing about love and desire?

Oh yes. Catullus. Sappho. Shakespeare. Lorca. Cavafy. Neruda. She returned to these poets over and over again. Dot read a huge amount of poetry. Her best poetry-reading time was in the morning while her mind was fresh. In 2003 she started learning Spanish in order to read her favourite Spanish poets in the original. And there she would be in the morning, propped up in bed, with a couple of dictionaries and a half-dozen volumes of poetry scattered across the quilt.

Do you see Dorothy’s love poems as part of a bigger tradition of love poetry?

Yes, I do. Her work is romantic without being sentimental; it’s lyrical, insightful and emotionally resonant. And it is sharply contemporary in its honesty, its imagery, its unwavering grasp of the jugular. Most of all it illuminates love, which is, after all, the most powerful of human experiences.

Love Poems is available in all good bookstores.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Arabella Forge discusses Frugavore

We talk to Arabella Forge about her first book, Frugavore: How to Grow Your Own, Buy Local, Waste Nothing & Eat Well.

What is a frugavore?

A frugavore is a person ‘who loves all things frugal’. From a cooking perspective, this means that they shop locally, buy good quality produce, but waste nothing along the way.

What inspired you to write Frugavore?

I have a background in health sciences and am a registered Nutritionist, so I have always been interested in good quality, healthy food and the importance of eating well.

Yet, the real inspiration for writing Frugavore came after I had been teaching a series of cooking classes for kids in temporary housing estates out in the outer suburbs of Melbourne. I was forever in a debate with the co-ordinator of the class about how to shop and cook effectively on a low budget. They kept wanting to include processed and pre-packaged foods for their menu, and I kept arguing against it, stating that people could eat just as well, if not better on a low budget if they ate frugally.

So I decided to put together a guide on how to eat well and save costs. I wanted to communicate to people that nutrient-dense, healthy foods are within everyone’s grasp; it might involve starting a vegie patch, keeping some chickens or developing some peasant-style cooking methods in your home kitchen, but the end result is always worth it. I also wanted to alert people about many of the grass-root food movements that currently developing throughout Australia. In an effort to access better quality produce, people are creating networks such as land-shares, farm-shares or community co-ops. This can be a great way to access better quality produce at a cheaper price.

Can you tell us a little about your book, Frugavore?

Frugavore is a ‘hands-on-guide’ to everything frugal about food; there’s information on how to grow your own produce, keep chickens, start a vegie patch and compost all of your waste.

The recipes in Frugavore have been developed in my home kitchen and they focus on traditional cooking techniques that enhance the available nutrients in food. If you are going to eat frugally, you may as well choose the best foods possible, and make the most of what you have. Frugavore explains clearly what “healthy” food is – how to access it and prepare it in home kitchen, whilst simultaneously keeping the grocery bills down!

When did you become a frugavore, and how has your life changed since becoming a frugavore?

That’s a tricky one! I think I have always been a frugavore at heart. Growing up, I lived in a very busy household in the suburbs. We kept plenty of chickens, had our own vegie patch and despite my mother working full-time we cooked all our own meals and very rarely bought take out. My family instilled in me from a young age, the importance of not wasting food, never throwing things out, and always looking to buy the best quality produce possible.

Yet it was not until I was in my early 20s, when I was living in a busy household and doing most of the cooking and sourcing of food myself that these peasant habits of frugality suddenly became useful. I was keen for everyone in my house to be enjoying the best quality food (we loved organic and locally-produced produce!) but our food bills began to escalate with a big household and plenty of mouths to feed.

So instead of buying ‘cheaper’ food, I just made a decision one day that we were going to be more ‘frugal’ with what we bought.  We started by pulling up our front lawn and building a vegetable patch, then getting some chickens that were ‘on sale’ from a local battery farm. I also did some investigating and started to connect directly to a local farm for much of our produce. We invested in a large freezer and bought much of our food directly from the farm and kept it there in bulk.

In terms of my life ‘changing’ from this experience – I have to say it has changed for the better. If anything there is actually a lot less work involved in cooking and running a household once you become a frugavore. I find that shopping and going to the supermarket is incredibly tiring – particularly if you need to go there several times per week. As a frugavore, you are able to run your own mini-ecosystem in your backyard.

There are  always fresh vegetables on hand, some eggs in the chook-house, and plentiful storage in the freezer. So you need to plan your meals in advance, but with peasant-style thrify dishes and less contact with the supermarket, you actually can prepare meals that are a lot healthier, and easier to cook. As my grandmother used to say, ‘simple food, is always the best!’

Is being a frugavore hard work?

Yes and no. Sure, it takes a lot more energy and time to produce a meal instead of buying take-out but you also pay a certain ‘price’ each time you buy inexpensive, nutrient-empty food.

Ironically, I actually started writing this book as a means to save time and money when I was cooking and sourcing food in a busy household. I really hate driving to and from the supermarket or organic foodstore every few days – it is not only expensive, it also takes a lot of energy to pack the car, get the shopping, unload it home, then cook a whole meal! So I started developing habits of ‘frugality’, I started growing some of our own produce, keeping chickens, and buying meat, directly from the farm in bulk. With this change in cooking habits, our household started to eat the most nutrient-dense foods possible, but what’s more, these habits actually made it a lot easier to prepare simple, healthy meals for every night of the week.

I’ll give you an example – if you live in a small or standard-size block, you should or could have the capacity to grow some of your own produce, or even keep a few chickens – our house is the size of a postage stamp, and we’re still able to do all that!!

So, you get home late from work, you’re tired, exhausted and you start to reach for the phone to find your local dial-a-pizza, BUT, if you are a frugavore, you will find the answers much more easily at your fingertips. Last night for instance, I got home late, but I went to our chickens, sourced out 2 eggs, then I went to the vegie patch and picked various greens to make a delicious and nourishing omelet.
Just like our parents or grandparents used to do, I make a lot of nutrient-dense food in bulk, that I can store for these last minute dishes – I make a big pot of stock on a weekly basis, and store this in recycled containers in the freezer together with excess meat and sausages from our local farm (despite popular opinion, meat freezes and stores extremely well), there is always sauerkraut and pickled foods in my pantry and plentiful herbs and fresh greens on my doorstep.

So back to the question – is being a frugavore hard work?  Sure, setting up a herb garden initially takes time, making stock in advance takes time, visiting your local farm once per month takes time – but the result – you spend less time driving back and forth to your conventional retail outlets buying over-priced and nutrient-empty food, you become connected to your food source and have a better understanding of where your food comes from, and finally, you have less trips to the Dr’s, Dentist, weight loss clinic, and less days off work!

How can someone living in the city or in apartment become a frugavore?

People who live in inner city areas are showing an increasing demand for better quality food at more reasonable prices. They are using ‘frugal innovations’ to develop systems such as landsharing (where people build gardens on neighbouring properties), rooftop and community gardens and guerilla gardening (where people start planting in local parks or even on nature strips). Growing food in this manner – with little available space, but plenty of enthusiasm, is one of the best ways to be a frugavore and access better quality produce at lower prices.

Similarly, people who live in inner city areas are often craving a closer connection to local farms. I have plenty of frugavore friends who buy their produce in bulk from local organic farms and car-share the drive so that they only need to make the trip out there once every month or so. So even though they live in the city, they still have all the benefits of good-quality, local produce. Along this theme, there are plentiful farmer’s markets in inner city areas now.

There are also new systems of food access developing such as Buyer’s Clubs and Farm-Shares, which allow city people to buy food directly from farms from either a warehouse, or home-delivery. In many of these cases, these systems have developed to make certain foods (ie raw milk or farmer-made sauerkraut) legally accessible. They also allow city folk to enjoy the best quality foods possible, and avoid the added prices of going through a retailer.

What are benefits of being a frugavore?

The primary benefit of being a frugavore is that you are able to cook and prepare the most nutrient-dense foods possible. This means that you will feel healthier, stronger and have less days off work!

Being a healthy person and keeping my grocery bills down was my primary motivation for becoming a frugavore, but as my household and chicken coop developed I also realized that there were several other benefits. As a frugavore you can significantly reduce your waste output – which means that you will lessen your impact into local landfills. Did you know, that just by buying less processed and pre-packaged foods, and by keeping a compost heap or wormfarm, waste output can be reduced by 1 tonne per person every year?!

We are a society that is becoming increasingly aware of its environmental impact, but for us to truly make change, we need to think a lot more carefully about how we dispose of our waste. By composting or keeping a worm farm there is double benefit – not only do we reduce our waste output, we also create a superb garden fertilizer for our plants.

What kind of recipes will readers find in your book?

Frugavore is intended as an overall guidebook for the frugal kitchen, so the recipes are based on traditional style cooking methods that are thrifty and easy to prepare.

Readers will find recipes for vegetables dishes - using vegetables that are easy to grow at home, egg dishes -from your lovely hens, meat dishes – using thrifty cuts of meat and whole-animal cooking, grain dishes – using  traditional grain preparation methods such as sourdough bread making and leavening, milk dishes – using good quality dairy products, and of course wonderful and easy sweet dishes using natural sweeteners.

There are many frugal ingredients and cooking techniques, which are aimed at maximizing your produce and wasting nothing! For instance – peasant-style soups, stock-making and cooking with lentils, beans and pulses.

What are your favourite recipes in the book?

I love peasant style soups, as they are so nourishing and easy to prepare. I have plenty of recipes along this theme such as minestrone, stracciattella and pea and ham soup. But of course, I also love desserts – so my two ingredient chocolate mousse is always a winner!

If we looked inside your pantry right now, what would we find?

In my pantry you would find plentiful preserves that I made from last summer when fresh fruit and berries were in season. I also have large jars of sauerkraut, home-brewed beers and other fermented foods that I put together in winter. I also keep plenty of long-life storage foods in there such as dried beans, lentils and chickpeas, which are wonderfully economical foods to cook with.

Frugavore: How to Grow Your Own, Buy Local, Waste Nothing & Eat Well is out now in all good bookstores.

Arabella will be discussing Frugavore at 6.30pm on Thursday 16 September at Readings Hawthorn bookstore, 701 Glenferrie Rd, Hawthorn, Victoria. For bookings and further details click here.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Anna Krien discusses Into the Woods

Photo credit: Jesse Marlow
We talk to Anna Krien about her first book Into the Woods: The Battle for Tasmania’s Forests.

What’s your book about?

Into the Woods is about getting past the stereotypes, slogans and spin-doctoring that tend to swarm around most environmental stories. Specifically - my book is about the forests and the people of Tasmania. I wanted to investigate if it is reasonable – not just economically but also environmentally and socially – to be harvesting native forests for woodchips, and also why Tasmanians in particular, seem so entrenched in a vitriolic battle over 'their' trees. What was initially meant to be a story about activists versus loggers soon became a book about one woodchipping company's influence not just on the Tasmanian state government, but on the entire island.

What first made you interested in the forest debate in Tasmania?

Actually it was this footage that first drew me to Tasmania's forest issues. A warning – it makes for some ugly viewing.

The video (filmed by a forest activist hiding in a tree) shows Tasmanian logging contractors smashing a gutted car that is blocking a forest access road in the Florentine valley with sledge hammers. There are two young activists are inside the car. The loggers are yelling and grabbing them through the broken glass, trying to pull them out of the car.

An activist friend of mine working on the island sent me the footage and I booked a ticket within an hour of watching the video. I had intended on staying in Tasmania for five days, and was still there a month later.

What made you decide to write a book about this issue?

My dad is a newspaper editor and one of his favourite pearls of wisdom that he likes to share with me, is his response to journalists when they ask how many words he wants them to file on a story. What's the story worth? he likes to reply cryptically. This came to mind when I found the story of Tasmania's forests to be much larger than I'd expected. Initially I had gone down to the island and thought – 2000, 3000 words maximum – only to end up writing quadruple that without even touching the core of the issue. And unfortunately for me, once I've waded into a story, there is no going back, I'm mentally stuck in the story until it's finished. So, in a sense, the ongoing nature of the issues in Tasmania, the sausage string of political decisions and free kicks to forestry, the entrenched hate and division between the two sides, gave me little choice but to write a book about what I discovered there.

Who are some of the main people you interviewed for your book?

I spoke to so many people – there were the usual suspects such as 'Big Red' – also known as Paul Lennon, a former Labor premier and union boss, and Bob Brown, political leader of the Greens party. But as I often find in reportage, the known names don't give much away – and it was the ordinary Tasmanians – loggers, scientists, activists, foresters, police, vets, small business owners – who spent time with me and patiently explained the issues to me. Of note, I met with Bill Manning, a forester with Forest Practices Authority until he blew the whistle on what he saw as a completely negligent forestry agency in 2002. There were many people who didn't make it into the book but their help was crucial to the writing of it – such as Lindsay Tuffin – editor and founder of the online news site Tasmanian Times (which Paul Lennon described as 'fucking useless' after the site broke the story of renovations the then premier had done on his house by woodchipping company Gunns.) 

What’s the most memorable moment from the interviews you conducted for the book?

Possibly meeting a baby wombat rescued by Kevin Perkins, a well-known furniture designer. He had to use a chisel to pry open a dead mother wombat's pouch to free the baby and he and his wife took turns nursing the wombat throughout the night for three months.

What was the most surprising thing you learnt from writing and publishing a book?

I have learnt many things during the course of writing this book. I discovered the 'mess' thresholds of my partner and housemates. I learnt how many dishes I can use before being forced to wash up. I've had the unfortunate pleasure of learning about the ailments of my elderly neighbours – blood pressure, a shonky ticker, one eye isn't working, and sore calves. And finally I also have to acknowledge that my cat is obsessed with me and she is probably organising another book contract just so we can spend more time together on the couch, her purring and trying to crawl on top of my laptop.

What advice would you give to other aspiring, non-fiction writers?

I was asked this same question a few years ago at a student media conference and had replied 'Be Original' only to watch as 100 heads looked at their notepads and scribbled this down. I'm not against note-taking – but something felt amiss. The idea that originality is something that can be prescribed was naive of me. So today's advice? Maybe it's more a plea than advice but if you want to write non-fiction, then please actually write something that hasn't yet been published. The amount of content in newspapers that has simply been copied and pasted from other news sources, then tweaked so it appears relevant to a local audience, is obscene. The internet has invented the 'hyperlink ' for a reason – to send a reader directly to a source. There's no need to put out rehashed version.

Oh no, have I just written a long-winded version of 'Be Original'? I have, haven't I? My apologies!  

Into the Woods: The Battle for Tasmania’s Forests is available now in all good bookstores.