Fire Diary

by nike, November 30, 2010

Last night, I had the pleasure of launching Mark Tredinnick’s book of poetry, Fire Diary, at Avid Reader in West End. It was a beautiful, early summer evening. As usual, Avid Reader was the perfect venue: a real bookshop, filled to bursting with books of all kinds, from poetry to philosophy, architecture, art, politics, biography and fiction. A glass of red wine, some nibblies, a smiling and enthusiastic crowd of poetry-lovers and, of course, the author himself, came together in one of those evenings you wish you could hold on to for a long, long time. The poet John O’Sullivan flew in from Bali, participants in Mark’s workshops at the QWC over the weekend came, as well as old friends and new. We chatted about poetry, poetry cafe’s, performance poetry, shoes, dreams, Christmas and wine, as well as the possibility of launching a Poetry Picnic event, if the enthusiastic group of people who came up with the idea can find the perfect tree under which to spread their blankets.

Mark’s new book – his first book of poetry – is a wonderful addition to the bookshelf where his earlier works, including the writing handbooks The Little Red Writing Book, The Little Green Book of Grammar, and The Black Book of Business Writing, rest alongside his landscape memoir, recently shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards, The Blue Plateau.

I introduced Mark with a few words, following which he read from the work before we raised our glasses and celebrated the launch with some lovely nibblies, chatter and book signing. Below is a transcript of my little launch speech…

The audience for new poetry is, so they say, small these days, in this country, so it’s gratifying to meet some of those readers of poetry willing to come out on a November evening to hear poetry, read poetry, speak about it.

Mark Tredinnick came to poetry late, in some sense. Once upon a time, he writes on his website, he was a lawyer, before working as a publisher and editor. And it seems to me that that coming late to writing, and to poetry, makes all the difference in his work. Some poets are all early flame – burning bright and quick before they burn out altogether. The value of their poems to some extent lies in our awe at the awful passions and grand follies of youth, and the way they capture those fleeting passions. Mark’s work as a poet is far more long-burning: a steadier flame that honours the necessity of simple things, of maturity that is not mellowed into meaninglessness, and the rewards of long and constant attention to the way things are.

Though Fire Diary is Mark’s first book of poetry, it is by no means his first entry into the field of poetry. He has won several prestigious poetry awards, written about poetry, and poets, and of course his prose work – particularly his landscape memoir – is deeply infused with a poet’s awareness of landscape, imagery, and the rhythms of language.

Even his books on grammar – on the mechanics of language – are works about the poetry of language. In the opening of his Little Red Writing Book, he writes about the connection between the rhythms of walking, the experience of walking, and writing. He writes:

If you want to write, take a walk. Take it again, sitting down at your desk.

This sense of the active nature of writing, of the way writing mirrors the actions of the body in the landscape, the simple gestures of walking is, it seems to me, woven throughout Fire Diary, which is infused with the articulation of experience, and particularly experience in and of the landscape, and of the landscape of literature.

It is a book that is not so much about, but is, an instance of the encounter between the human and nature, a record of having lived, a testimony to simplicity, honesty, the truth of a good poem.

In an article with Krissy Kneen about poetry, Mark talks about poems being architectures of utterance. He writes: you’re meant to feel them in your body as well as hearing them in your head. Poems, then, good poems, should be visceral, complete, released into the body the way heat and energy are released into your body after a long walk and carry you forward into yourself.

Mark has also written that poetry is an art more perhaps than any other, that depends on large tracts of silence and solitude. I think this is true both of poets and of readers of poetry. Fire Diary requires and contains wide tracts of silence. Reading this book of poems is, then, like taking a long, solitary walk: it is filled with beauty, strangeness, it demands things of you, but is generous in reply. It is actual and simple and meditative. It releases you, in the end, into a world that is subtly different to the one you left, as all truly wonderful works of art can do, and perhaps even to a self that is changed.

In one of the poems in this work – Eclogues – Mark writes:

…Verse can’t change
the future’s mind. You write it like rain;
you enter it like nightfall.
It isn’t for anything; a poem is country,
and it needs you to keep walking it …

I am deeply grateful to Mark Tredinnick for having written this book, for inviting me to launch it this evening, and for having taken – at an impossible remove that includes a sense of intimacy – this walk with me.

I am deeply grateful to Puncher & Wattmann for publishing it – a courageous enterprise in these times when selling poems is almost as difficult as writing them. I am grateful to each of you for being here to welcome this book into the world, and hopefully to take this map and begin the long walk of reading it.

I would also like to extend my thanks to Avid Reader – a vital hub of literary energy in Brisbane’s literary landscape – for supporting the launch of this book, and for their ongoing support of writers and readers.

And, of course, I would like to thank all of you for coming out on a Monday evening to celebrate with us the launch of Mark’s new book: Fire Diary. I would like to encourage you to join me in raising a glass to celebrate its birth. Congratulations, Mark!

We drove home, through the inevitable roadwords, refreshed and revived, reading aloud both from Mark’s Fire Diary, and John O’Sullivan’s Odd Poems and Slogans until my daughter fell asleep, spread out on the back seat in a tangle of tulle and polka dots. Sometimes, there is so much to be grateful for.

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