Linen Tough as History review

Rhiannon Hall has been kind enough to review my latest collection of poetry on her blog.

http://bit.ly/LOddYY

Rhiannon is poet-in-residence at Gilbert’s in Mittagong on Friday afternoons until November.

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Linen tough as history launch photos

Most poetry launches don’t begin on the veranda of an art gallery with a dozen kids listening to a poet reading about some crazy monkeys named Fredericka and Fred . Writing and reading this poem was my way of thanking … Continue reading

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Linen tough as history

Michael Sharkey
photo by Brian Everingham

Michael’s speech makes me blush, but here it is. Thank you Michael.

Michael Sharkey’s launch speech

In a poem called ‘Advice to Poets’, Kevin Brophy says in relation to other poets, ‘Tell them nothing. They steal everything. / They are thugs and desperately / short of ideas, even words.’ Well, I’d like to steal a lot of Julie Chevalier’s ideas, even words. She has an enviable take on the world that makes me wish I’d said half the clever things she says about it. As Fiona McGregor wrote in a review of Julie’s short stories, Julie is ‘wry, gritty, knowing and true’. I guess we’d all like to have such a collection of positive qualities attributed to our writing. And since it’s glowing testimonials time, I’ll say here that along with other readers, I’m struck by Julie’s terrific sense of the absurd: some of the people and situations she presents are plain funny.

T.S. Eliot said that ‘immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better or at least different’. Julie has read more poets than many of her better-known peers, but she is beyond imitating them; like Eliot’s ‘good poets’, she transforms what she takes from poetry of all periods and places. She’s crafty in the best sense – like Fleur Adcock, Gavin Ewart, Carol Anne Duffy, and Anne Rouse: poets I imagine she’d get on with famously, talking a storm about poetry, celebrating humour and having a ball. Like them, she knows that poetry can be serious without being sombre, comic without being a joke, complicated without being obscure – that it can be, in short, all the things that have captivated everyone who has read her poetry for years, especially those who have come to celebrate her collection.

She shares her fascination with language with us. She turns words around, throws us new one to consider, and takes us to places whose names are exotic to us no matter how comfortable or drab they seem to the people who inhabit them, and no matter how familiar we are with them because we’ve glimpsed them in movies or brochures.

What you get in a Chevalier poem is life in a gow gee. What’s a gow gee, you ask? It’s a bowl for a yum cha—something elegant, unique, crafted, in Julie’s account, by a glassblower obsessed with a handsome Chinese waiter and inspired by the shapes of poisonous jellyfish cast up on a beach. The result is something sexy, edgy, and dangerous. Julie makes the literally ordinary into something strange and profound.

Her characters speak of koi (what’s that? an ornamental fish, for heaven’s sake), a stem christie (a skidding ski turn, of course), a dutchy tee shirt (o how trashy, a word from the slums). We travel to Venice, Towradgi, Segovia, Globe (Arizona), ancient Rome, Roselle (New Jersey), Hell’s Gate and Parramatta Road (not the same thing).

All these are magical places, including Parramatta Road: we won’t read Frank O’Hara’s poem ‘The Day Lady Died’ again the same way after hearing Julie’s extraordinary riff on Frank O’Hara’s performance. Her poem, ‘the day we almost hung’, pays homage to an admired poet, and it’s a funny and sardonic comment on our culture. Her poem is one of many impressive takes on paintings, sculpture and photographs – a series of meditations on what art and poetry can do in their different ways.  She also produces rabbits out of hats worn by other poets – Sylvia Plath, for one, and she writes a riveting extended narrative that takes off from Anne Carson’s poem on the beauty of the husband, transforming the experience in the exciting way that great poems overtake their origins and leave us admiring a unique work, far beyond an imitation. The technique is versatile and canny, conveying more than visual effect: such poems are ripostes.

Subtle intelligence matches the verbal pyrotechnics of these poems. Words make patterns and shapes including concrete and playful Cummingsesque appearances, prose, prose poems, Williams-step-stanzas and lines, formal quatrains, even a Harwood-seeming sonnet.

And the narratives are as beguiling as the structures they appear in. We meet William Blake, in a chat with the writer. Elsewhere, a Towradgi girl dreaming of Hollywood travels there, comes back and lives in a drama more real and poignant than fancy can supply. Poems that draw on American actuality imprint fresh images on us – displacing whatever half-recognised scenes we might conjure from locations in road movies and others of rural and city life. Julie moves through then and now visions of what it was like to be in such places as a child, a young woman, or a returning visitor. A brief poem called ‘the fall’, grounded in some American couple’s experience, has all the poignancy and possible tragedy of living with deluding dreams of romance that occur anywhere.

I don’t like launches where the launcher steals all the thunder by reading from the poems; that’s better done by the poet. Here I’ll say I’m captivated by many images, and I’ll leave you to reflect at your own pace on many pleasant discoveries. The

poetry is non-skimmable. I doubt that anyone can take in everything at a single reading. I took my time, leaving many poems for following days, and thinking of the ways she contrived to maintain so much good sense and tact in her character portraits of people we can admire, sympathise with or simply recognise and understand. She looks coolly and unflinchingly on the less attractive or downright repulsive characters – and she has a memorable collection of everyday grotesques and monsters.

I am more impressed by this collection that builds in intensity as it proceeds, than I have been with many volumes by longer established poets. It confirms my first impression of Julie’s poetry when I met her years ago at a Five Islands poetry workshop. I wish all new poetry I read could offer such freshness and variety.

If memorable poetry demands intelligent readers to turn with the surprises, take stock and wonder how they have been so pleasantly shocked into seeing the world another way, then this poetry has resounding depth and clarity of expression.

Puncher and Wattmann should also be congratulated for producing a book that looks good to the eye and is good in the hand. In every way, I think this book is a winning collection, and I’m sure you’ll think so too. I’m honoured to have asked to launch the book; it gives me pleasure to do so, and I wish it a welcome from everyone here and their friends.

Michael Sharkey

8 February 2012

(for book launch on 11 February 2012)

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Best Australian Stories

‘This awful brew’ from Permission To Lie is one of this year’s picks by Cate Kennedy.

Permission To Lie is published by Spineless Wonders. RRP $19.99 Ask for it at your local bookstore or buy direct from http://www.shortaustralianstories.com.au

Free postage anywhere in Australia or flat rate of $10 elsewhere.

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Review from The Australian

Australian short stories with global reach

“The incidents that serve as catalysts for the stories in Julie Chevalier’s debut collection Permission to Lie are steeped in unflinching realism rather than fable, but are nonetheless compelling and complex in equal measure.

A young writer living as a developer’s mistress in the opening story accuses the narrator of the second story, a 40-something executive who uses her vocational counselling diary to chronicle the real and imaginary lives of her fellow bus passengers, of stealing “her” characters.

Seven of the stories are loosely gathered around themes of imprisonment and freedom, beginning with a boy’s home on the NSW central coast, and ending with one foot on the road to re-addiction for a newly released inmate of Sydney’s Long Bay jail.

In between, through shifting narrators, perspectives and prose styles, we meet Kynon, a recent graduate from boys’ home to adult prison, Wanda the prison psychologist, Cathie the education officer and Gav the inmate clerk.

These stories, and Chevalier’s detailed portraits of her cast of wary yet surprisingly open characters, highlight the ways in which relationships of power and vulnerability operate in a state of flux, and how suddenly we can become needful – of shelter, of privacy, of understanding, of real human connections.

When this switch is flicked, Chevalier’s characters, just like the rest of us, occasionally need permission to lie, to themselves and to others. I look forward to meeting whichever characters Chevalier might next introduce me to.”

Reviewed by Josh Mei-Ling Dubrau, a Sydney-based writer, poet and editor. Weekend Australian Review, Aug 13-14, 2011

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Author Talks

Julie Chevalier

Julie Chevalier

Permission to Lie is a collection of stories set in places as diverse as a nudist colony, the corporate world and prison. A brilliant blend of humour, snappy style, insight and compassion fills these depictions of contemporary Australian life.
Julie is a former prison educator, home-school officer as well as a poet, creative writing teacher and writer of fiction.

Meet this entertaining and engaging writer at the library in July.
Free event – Light refreshments will be served
All Welcome – Bookings are essential
Download Leichhardt Council Library Flyer

Leichhardt Library
Italian Forum
23 Norton Street
Leichhardt
6:30 pm
Tuesday 19th July 2011
Bookings 9367 9266
Balmain Library
370 Darling Street
Balmain
6:30 pm
Tuesday 26th July, 2011
Bookings 9367 9211
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Launch

illustration by Paden Hunter‘A new voice in Australian fiction, wry, gritty, knowing and true.’ Fiona McGregor

Julie Chevalier’s Permission to Lie is published by Spineless Wonders and will be launched by Debra Adelaide in Sydney in 2011.

Saturday, April 30 at 3pm

Addison Road Art Centre

142 Addison Road Marrickville

Permission to Lie is a collection of stories by award-winning writer, Julie Chevalier. A keen observer of contemporary life, Julie’s edgy stories draw on her experience as an artist, prison educator, home school liaison officer, waitress, librarian and teacher. These days, she rides the 470 bus line  in Sydney’s inner west.

The paperback edition features six full-page illustrations by the talented young artist, Paden Hunter.

On sale at the launch, at selected bookstores or visit the Spineless Wonders website at www. shortaustralianstories.com.au Also available as an ebook from book.ish, Reading’s ebook store.

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