Monday, 31 December 2018

A memory of Mirka Mora

Today I wrote a 100-word piece on Mirka Mora, whose show is currently on at Heide Gallery. These words reminded me of being with Mirka one time, a memory that follows the 100 words:
Table (December)
It’s a noisy time at Tolarno, the tables discussing the rich tapestry of life, everyone in stitches. Is this an angel at my table, or another politician? December’s mad enough, but new year’s eve? That one with the ‘Q for Quest’ tee-shirt, how did she get in? Probably one of the family. Perhaps Quest is the answer to the question. That dragon on the far table must be one hundred if she’s a day. And that fellow there’s turning into a wine bottle. Bohemia has its limits and they are ragged around the edges. Who is your favourite French poet?
'Q for Quest' reminds me of the hour or so we spent with Mirka during the anniversary party for the Hill of Content Bookshop, sometime in the nineties. The party was upstairs next door at Florentino. Very good champagne. Mirka plonked down next to me. She was, as usual, a picture in layers of lace and cotton, similar in style and texture to one of her Parisian dolls. To say she was vivacious and inquisitive is to state the norm. At that time I was going through one of my weird acrostic phases, so she wanted to know what were the words on this piece of paper. We proceeded to invent a fresh acrostic poem together, but I cannot recall the subject. Champagne good very. But it could have included 'Q for Quest'. She ran off with a copy, who knows where it went. I wish I had known then that one of her favourite French poets was, like mine, Francis Ponge. We could have invented descriptions of champagne bottles and the like, very.

Later the next day:

Memory (January)
In December I reminisced about composing an acrostic with Mirka at a party at Florentino. On January 1st I recovered her memoir ‘Wicked but Virtuous’ from a shelf. These two photographs fell out. So it may not have been an anniversary party for the Hill of Content Bookshop, but her launch. The title page is signed ‘Mirka 6.10.00’, so not quite the nineties. There was certainly champagne, but Carol has moved on to white and me, red. Mirka is wearing some dark purple velvet creation and not, as recalled, layers of lace and cotton. That must have been another occasion.

Saturday, 29 December 2018

Collected Works Bookshop closes this week A BIBLIOGRAPHICAL HOMAGE

Here are the first ten books found here at home this morning that could only have been purchased in Australia at Collected Works Bookshop:

1. A Far Rockaway of the heart, by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. (New Directions, 1997)

2. Collected essays, by Antoni Tapies. Translated by Josep Miquel Sobrer. (Fundacio Antoni Tapies & Indiana University Press, 2011)

3. The Council of Egypt, by Leonardo Sciascia. Translated by Adrienne Foulke. (Carcanet, 1988)

4. Chemical cart, by Philip Hammial. (Island Press, 1977)

5. Country harbor quiet act around : selected prose, by Larry Eigner. (This Press, 1978)

6. Lost possessions, by Keri Hulme. (Victoria University Press, 1985)

7. The stories and recollections of Umberto Saba. Translated by Estelle Gibson. (Sheep Meadow Press, 1993)

8. Finding the islands, by W.S. Merwin. (North Point Press, 1982)

9. Hotel Lautréamont, by John Ashbery. (Carcanet, 1992)

10. Localities, by Robert Harris. (Seahorse Publications, 1973)

Thank you Kris and Retta for so many years of dedication to readers, poets, conversationalists, downunder beats, over-the-top rhythm sections, introverts and extroverts of every description.

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

‘Books that saved my life : reading for wisdom, solace and pleasure’ by Michael McGirr.

This review first appeared in the December 2018 issue of The Melbourne Anglican. ‘Books that saved my life : reading for wisdom, solace and pleasure’ by Michael McGirr. Text Publishing, 2018. ISBN 9781925773149

At university, friends of mine circulated lists of books thought necessary for any fully-educated person to read. More recently we’ve seen the phenomenon of the one hundred books we have to read before we die, as though life is a race to get through someone else’s favourite reading. Michael McGirr’s book is not like that.

In forty chapters he talks about forty books, and more, that have positively influenced his understanding of himself and the world. Read a chapter a day, it is recommended as a Lenten book with a difference, especially as we find him saying: “Reading will feed your hungry mind and take your heart on a journey. It will help you on the path of one of life’s most elusive and hard-won freedoms, freedom from the ego.” He reads Thomas Merton to “understand the exciting journey from loneliness to solitude.” Every page delivers new insights using a trained conversational style. It is the ideal answer to how and why literature can save you a lot of time.

Regular readers of McGirr will not be surprised to learn that the main character of this book is the author himself. His eye for the comic or absurd, the meaningful or even tragic, combined with a talent for turning his experiences into story, make for pleasurable diversion. Books have their own life and language. McGirr uses his reading as a means into autobiography; books agitate his idiosyncratic ability to educate and entertain. “Reading is among the few communal activities that you do on your own” he writes, a paradox that in his case is very much about giving back what he has read to the community, not just keeping it to himself. He convinces us that good literature improves our own world while existing so marvellously inside its own contexts. After reading ‘The Pickwick Papers’ he confesses “I still haven’t fully found my way out of Dickens.”

Books are intimately connected with our personal lives. Thus, McGirr’s comic takedown of Mrs Beeton (“I confess that I think of a cookbook as something to read while you wait for the pizza to be delivered”) turns into a reflection on his mother’s eccentric kitchen habits. For him, the key moment in The Iliad is when Achilles offers Priam a souvlaki, noting “Homer makes no mention of garlic sauce.” Jane Austen is important for what she teaches us about sex, money, and religion, but is equally important because of the sharing of gnosis among Janeites, starting in McGirr’s case with his unforgettable English teacher, the very probable Mr Deegan.   

It reminds me of Simon Holt’s wonderful book on food and spirituality, ‘Eating Heaven’, which shares the same vital character: Melbourne. All Melburnians should read these two books because contemporary Melbourne, its people and mores, enliven every chapter, teaching us new things. Holt’s attention is on the different tables where we sit, talk, eat and share. McGirr’s attention is on the power of literature to challenge and transform. His book is full of cheeky schoolboys, shrewd social workers, and poetic Jesuits. He quotes Jacob Rosenberg to the effect that “Language is the physical manifestation of man’s spirituality”, only to prove it by his eager and earnest analysis of his reading, an analysis tempered and strengthened by its connection with the people around him.