On April 17 we were excited to host the launch of Mike Ladd’s new collection Invisible Mending right here at Wakefield Press.
Rachael Mead had the honour of launching Mike’s book. We recently hosted an exhibition of Rachael’s photography alongside the launch of Cassie Flanagan Willanski’s Here Where We Live, and it was a pleasure to have her back.
If you weren’t able to make it to the launch, don’t worry we’ve got you covered. You can read Rachael’s speech below!
Hello and thank you all so much for coming. It is my great pleasure and honour today to be launching the latest book by one Australia’s most loved and lauded writers – Mike Ladd.
I’ve just used the label “writer” and while we are here to celebrate the launch of Mike’s ninth book, to call Mike a writer is to try to squeeze him into a box that doesn’t properly contain him. Don’t get me wrong, Mike is one of Australia’s most esteemed poets and you can find his work in just about every anthology of Australian poetry in existence. Mike started his career as a poet at seventeen and by 25 he published his first collection The Crack in the Crib.
Just as he was launching his literary career, he started work for the ABC in Adelaide as a sound engineer and by 1997 he’d worked his way up to creating and producing his own Radio National program, Poetica which ran for 18 years until 2015, when it was taken off the air much to the outrage of Australia’s literary community. Mike’s current role with Radio National is in the features and documentary unit but once again the box of documentarian doesn’t contain him either.
In the 80s Mike was a musician in the new wave band The Lounge and he frequently collaborates with musicians and artists, writing poetry for the screen and live performance with groups such as The Drum Poets, newaural net, and Max Mo. He writes, films and edits video poetry and I would recommend finding Zoo After Dark, and The Eye of the Day on YouTube.
Most recently he and his partner the wonderful visual and installation artist Cathy Brooks have been running projects that put poems on street signs as public art and you can see their work in the Adelaide Bus Station and Tram Stop 6 on the line to Glenelg.
Now the reason I’ve gone on about Mike’s rich and varied creative career is that the book we are here for today, Invisible Mending, draws the many threads of his past work together. Invisible Mending is more than a poetry collection; it contains essays, creative non-fiction, personal vignettes and photographs. While on the surface this seems incredibly diverse it is a remarkably coherent mediation on themes of human impact on the natural world and how to mend the rents that grief, loss and change tear in our lives.
The book weaves together poetry and prose pieces, picking up and elaborating on themes that Mike has explored in past work; displacement and marginalization from Picture’s Edge, family and suburbia from Close to Home, and politics and social injustice in Rooms and Sequences. However, the themes of his most recent works clearly still preoccupy him. Transit explored the compounding effect of momentous life events in the construction of identity and healing after loss is a thread that weaves its way through Invisible Mending. Mike also continues to draw on his deep cultural and ecological understanding of Adelaide that was so beautifully expressed in Karrawirra Parri. Environmental devastation, particularly human impact on our natural world is another of Mike’s ongoing preoccupations. With these themes in mind we can see his choice of title is perfect. It is taken from a line in the final piece, “A Country Wedding”, where Mike notices the landscape healing itself after the devastation wrought by flood. This book is an intensely personal account healing after wreckage – both ecological and emotional.
To me, one of the most significant aspects of this book is that all these pieces are non-fiction. Mike is a documentarian and this book showcases his skill at observing subjects from different angles and digging at the surface until what lies beneath is revealed. The piece that best illustrates this is “Traffik” – a story set in Malaysia and Japan that resembles short fiction but is in fact drawn from real events. Mike produced this work of creative non-fiction from television and newspaper reports while he and Cath were in Malaysia and faced with the unavoidable evidence of deforestation and species loss as a result of the palm oil industry. But even so, the documentarian sees that not everything is black and white. At the heart of this piece is the understanding that emotional bonds can exist between species, and that as humans we do things, often inexcusable things for love and connection. While the ends don’t justify the means, those ends can be understandable, even beautiful. It is not easy, being human. Mike as documentarian observes and reports but does so with empathy and it is his ability to interweave reportage with compassion that makes this book both compelling and insightful.
I’d like to read you one of my favourite poems from the book now – “Travelling the Golden Highway, thinking of global warming”.
I read this to you not only an example of Mike’s brilliance as a poet, showing his mastery of minimalist style and his potent combination of natural and industrial imagery to powerful political effect. But to me this poem demonstrates how Mike, with so few words can embed us in an experience with him. We are there, both crammed into the backseat and crammed inside his head in that moment, thinking about the landscape and climate change. Again, Mike the documentarian is working with Mike the poet to translate his sensory experience of the world into such effective imagery that the reader is given an almost visceral understanding of being Mike Ladd at that point in time. It is this ability to transport us that also makes him a brilliant radio documentarian – in a world where sight is the prime sense he delivers stories that engage the mind by stimulating the minor senses, giving us access to experiences and situations that inspire and fascinate us, allow us to perceive the world differently, peel back layers and feel our way to understanding what lies behind the things we see.
There is so much to say and this book is so diverse yet so coherent I’m really struggling to make this concise so I’m just going to pick out one more thread from this book – a thread that runs through the whole collection – that of grief over the rents and losses that accrue throughout life and the ongoing work of mending to make oneself whole again. While the book moves geographically from Adelaide across Australian highways to the east coast then on to Malaysia, Sydney, South America, Spain and back to Australia the themes of family and loss travel with us – reinforcing that the things make us and break us in life are inescapable – love and grief.
Mike introduces us to his father and the heartbreaking progress of his dementia in the book’s first section, which is grounded in Adelaide and family. We are in Malaysia with Mike as he is researching the Malaysian roots of the pantun form when he hears of the death of his father. Like the Malaysian journey, the essay on the pantun veers into the personal as grief overwhelms all else. “The Book of Hours at Rimbun Dahan” is one of the most moving pieces on grief I have read. Please read it. Then look up the award-winning video poem Eye of the Day on YouTube. It is a gorgeous combination of a selection of tunggal pantun, sound and film and an immersive illustration of the experience grief, regret and distance.
I’m going to read for you now Winter Light.
This book illuminates a writer’s commitment to the mending of grief, the work to close distances that gradually widen in families, the reclamation of lost histories, and the healing of land after centuries of abuse. We look at Mike and see the laid-back, generous, thoughtful man we think we know. But like all of us, this is just the coherent skin we show the world. Turn us inside out and you see all the darning, all the messy stitching holding us all together. And, to me, that’s what this book represents – these poems and stories, insights and observations – these words are all the stitches that hold Mike together. Turn him right side out and it’s Invisible Mending.
Congratulations Mike. It is truly brilliant work and I am honoured to declare Invisible Mending officially launched!
A guest blog from our adventuring novelist Stephen Orr, who’s currently conquering Europe.
You can check out Stephen’s award-winning novels here.
Sitting on a train from Berlin to Munich, it seems a good time to ruminate (lack of cows in fields, although plenty of wind turbines) on the nature of lit-tourism. Just past Dessau, villages, birch and the fiery glare from the white-blue eyes of an old man (what? what am I doing wrong?) across the train.
We can search for writers, we can go to the places they lived (for short times anyway) – but can we ever really find them? Evidence, everywhere, but most of it makes them seem too ordinary. Then again, what was I expecting?
It started in Dublin. The James Joyce House in North Great George’s Street. Joyce never lived here, but parts of several stories from Dubliners are set close by. Belvedere College at the end of the street, where Joyce was first taught by the fearful Jesuits. Eccles Street, Molly and Leopold wandering. A walking tour took me to Hardwicke Street, where Joyce once lived (opposite ‘The Boarding House’), although Joyce’s home has been consumed by council flats. It didn’t seem very, well, Joycean. A couple of kids on a motorised scooter kept circling the tour, and we had to move.
Leipzig. Cast iron train station. Fifteen platforms with no one in sight.
So what was I expecting? To actually see Joyce? Work out why (and how) he wrote what he wrote? Nope. None of that. Just Dublin’s ever-present seagulls, rain, Liffey-chilled breezes, tourist buses. As I reminded myself this was the place he (like Samuel Beckett) escaped from. Maybe he wrote not because of Dublin, but despite it? Maybe that’s what writers do.
Swift would save the day. Bus to St Patrick’s Church (where he was dean, giving sermons about people falling asleep in church, meanwhile writing Gulliver’s Travels and pamphlets such as ‘A Modest Proposal’, about the necessity of eating your children to save the country money – the first and best satirist). I saw where he preached, lived, worked, was buried, but I didn’t see Jonathon Swift. I saw pictures, furniture, but not so much as a ghost.
London would save the day. A quick walk to Bloomsbury. 48 Doughty Street, where Charles Dickens lived during the first flushes of his success. Now, here was a writer’s house. All preserved from when the great man wrote several early novels. Sitting room (where wife Catherine was exiled with the kids), dining room (long boozy nights with Forster), then upstairs to the great man’s study. The actual desk where he penned Oliver Twist. But, it just seemed to be a desk. Shouldn’t it have been greater, grander, deskier? Bedroom, where he sired his generous brood, and up to the nursery. All so ordinary. The kitchen, laundry, cellar. Mm… I left feeling I knew Dickens no better. A sort of anti-climatic walk back to Trafalgar Square through theatreland. A stop at Russell Square, to gaze in the window where T.S. Eliot worked at Faber and Faber.
More green fields, still no cows. The old man reads Die Welt, as die Welt passes us by (maybe he’s seen it too often). The conductor checks our tickets with the brutal efficiency that seems to characterise most things German.
As I ponder. The pattern repeats in Edinburgh (the cafe where Rowling scribbled The Philosopher’s Stone, the medical school where Conan Doyle learned all about deduction from his teacher, Joseph Bell, Stevenson’s old haunts, Scott’s house etc.) Then to Berlin. The Brecht House. The rooms where he wrote his plays and poems, the bed the threepenny playwright died in.
But Brecht wasn’t home. None of them were. Maybe the writers were in my head. One thing was interesting though. The important role these writers still play in their native countries. T-shirts, mugs, walking tours, the lot. In Ireland, most bookshops save the most prominent display at the front of the shop for Irish writers.
More turbines. Green, green grass. A few distant factories. Not really what I thought the German countryside would look like. But what did I expect?
This year, Giles Bettison was the SA Living Artists Festival’s featured artist and the subject of our beautiful monograph.
Giles made a speech that brought the house down on opening night, and he’s kindly allowed us to share a bit of it with you here …
Good evening everyone. Tonight I would like to acknowledge the Kaurna people, whose land our ancestors occupied and on whose land we are standing now.
It is an amazing honour to be the featured artist for the 2015 SALA monograph. I never imagined that there would be a book about my work: it’s amazing and a bit overwhelming. Part of the price I have to pay for that honour is that I get to give this address tonight.
I never thought anyone would let me loose on a crowd like this. […]
Being recognised in South Australia and Adelaide like this is a very humbling experience. I hope that Margot Osborne and my contribution to this great series of documents will be both a useful addition to our South Australian cultural history as well as to artists and crafters alike all over the world. The opportunity to chronicle my work in the monograph is of inestimable value to me and I hope to the rest of the art and glass appreciating public.
I want to share with you ways that I think about the glass things I make and how I think about art. The things that keep me going and what I see as important things about art and what it does.
One of the things that I think art is for is to engage people. Art is a tool to help us to see ourselves and our world. More than ever, in these busy times people look without seeing, which is sad and dangerous. There is so much to see and know around us; we need to recognise it for our health and the health of others, our souls if you like.
Art helps us to know our world and engage with it. It gives us a different perspective than our own. It is people making representations of things and telling stories, something we have done for millennia. It shows we are seeing and thinking, that we are engaged.
We notice art because it is a different point of view than our own, it can take us outside ourselves and be a point of contact with others. We can see the difference between what we see and the perception of other people. It is also a perception of time. When you really see art you become part of a discussion about different ways of seeing things. When we are engaged and connected like this we are better able to care and to take care. With art the conversation begins and the dialogue goes on – if you let it …
In our high-tech and hyper-connected world people are more disconnected and disengaged than ever. Increasingly people are overloaded by the speed and intensity of the barrage of information being slung at us, most of it arbitrary and irrelevant at best. The so-called social media is actually anti-social media. People are interacting with screens more and more and interacting with actual people and things and their environment less and less. I have been to parks, restaurants and art galleries where most of the people there are on their devices, not interacting with each other. It’s tragic. It’s like they’re blind.
The more disconnected and disengaged we are, the easier it becomes to make decisions that don’t take the care of other people into consideration. We become isolated. It becomes easier to make decisions that are informed by fear and misunderstanding that do not have broad positive outcomes. I’ve experienced how destructive people working this way can be. I think we have all seen it and are aware of it.
It seems to me that there is a trend for people to isolate themselves from other people and from their environment. We need to engage and to commit to each other and to turn this trend around.
There are a whole bunch of things that happen when you are engaged by art. When you listen to a piece of music that moves you, you get tingles down your spine and your hair stands up. Your brain and body are being activated and it is usually a very good experience. I experience this when I attend great music concerts. At the beginning of the show we are just people trying to get to our seats or to a good position close to the band, but at the end of the show when we have all shared this expanding musical experience together and as we are all leaving, I feel a kind of connection to everyone. I imagine that my fellow concert goer feels this also. We have all shared the same experience and had similar uplifting feelings and everything feels right. We’re connected.
I have similar experiences with visual art. It can happen in nature, in crowds, in many ways in many different situations, but art specifically is the gift of people trying to elicit this connection and engagement a discussion with other people – one of our survival tools I believe.
When we are moved by art it is exercising our engagement muscle. The more we have these experiences and recognise them the better we are able to attain and maintain this condition. When we are in this state we are empathetic, we are more likely to make smart and caring choices. Art is good for the environment.
One of the important things about art and artists, this art gallery and all other galleries, is that they are places where discussions and engagement can happen. There is all the potential to engage and to be present and to give back. We need to engage and we need to make careful and compassionate choices.
SALA was and is visionary. It gives a huge cross section of artists across South Australia a valuable opportunity to engage in a dialogue with the broader public, a very important thing. I hope there are all kinds of discussions started and carried on as a result. We are all here to celebrate this kind of positive dialogue.
So, on that note please look and please think, please care and please speak.
Enjoy this event and as many other SALA events as you can.
This part of tonight’s entertainment is over. Thank you.
To read more about Giles and purchase his monograph, head over here.
Adrian’s written a wonderful meditation on these two characters, and he’s given us kind permission to share this insightful essay with you all —
Our past is full of old stories, the kind that go wandering about and are very often just out of sight, or memory. There’s a delight in retrieving these, whenever we come across them; and another in determining how to re-present them.
Samuel Thomas Gill and Henry Colless then: two figures who couldn’t be more disparate if they tried. They both inhabited an all too recognisable Australia, the colonial Australia that gave rise to our culture, our ideas and stories about ourselves. Gill observed the colonial world closely, and drew his conclusions. Henry Colless lived right inside the culture of the outback, the Australia of Russel Ward’s Australian legend. In part, he helped to make it.
Gill was an onlooker, Colless was a doer. They both took a lively interest in their country, and neither was disheartened by adversity or downturns of luck. Indeed, that was part and parcel of the colonial experience. That is why in The Profilist I give prominence to the theme of the adventitious, not just in Ethan Dibble’s/S.T. Gill’s fortunes, but also in the lives of governors, explorers, entrepreneurs of all cuts of cloth. Henry Colless took a gamble and made his fortune; then the hard times of the Federation drought withered it away. But what a heady ride he had along the way.
One of the things I like about Gill is that he is remarkably verbal in his sketches. Which is not quite the same thing as narrative art, though he does that too. The details of his scenes are explained when we translate them for ourselves, the reason for the arrangement becomes clear. The tensions between the different parts declare themselves conceptually just as much as visually.
And there are all those punning titles to encourage us down that tricky path too.
Gill saw his world in precise and colourful detail. He took it all in, and delighted in it. That is where he is so out of the ordinary. He was not interested in doing those grand heavily varnished quarter-acre sketches in our major galleries, and before which we are meant to genuflect – the ones that gave rise to Marcus Clarke’s view that weird melancholy is the keynote of the Australian landscape. Gill is all about light and life and energy. He had his own view of what to draw – people, all sorts of people, people on goldfields or in burgeoning towns, or people in landscapes. What we see through his eyes is what he thought about it all. He had a very intriguing sense of wry amusement.
Henry Colless on the other hand was as large as life and twice as busy. He was one of the Cornstalk boys from along the Hawkesbury who evolved the type of colonial independence that gave grief to officers and officials – not just from being curmudgeonly (undoubtedly a touch of that though) but from refusing to be bossed about. At quite a young age he was moving large herds of cattle about, trying to dodge the worst extremes of drought. Eventually he took a large mob across the Corner country to establish Innamincka station, and build the first stone building anywhere in that country. And the cattle he raised and fattened there were amongst the best on the market.
In Bourke, where he had been mine host at the Tattersall’s Hotel, he busied himself in the town’s affairs, a leading figure at the times of the various floods, a councillor, a pastoralist and a respected appointee to the Pastures Board. And a long serving member of the local Jockey Club. He loved his horses, even when they kicked him, bit off his finger, rolled on top of him. He was a complete pioneer, and was buried with his swag and stockwhip.
Both were worn out by life. Gill died on the steps of the GPO, Melbourne, and the deposition at the coronial enquiry makes for sorry reading. Henry Colless outlasted all his many siblings but died equally impoverished, of what used to be called senile decay. There wasn’t enough money in the family to put up a headstone; which makes his ending comparable with Gill’s pauper’s grave. Death the great leveller indeed.
So, Sally Hunter (née Foster) is about to swim in the Commonwealth Games, Kate Strohm‘s casually ambling all over the world, and Sally van Gent has so many author events coming up that we’ve been considering sending her a few cases of energy drinks to help her out!
Phew! We can hardly keep up with these guys!
And, for no reason other than it’s Thursday and everyone’s been so amazing this week, here’s a little bit of funk to get us through to the weekend (courtesy of Geek in Residence, Simon!).
Ready for a bit of jealousy for your Monday morning?
With an audience of family members and professionals, the seminar was a lively and rewarding day. It is interesting that the issues are the same for families the world over. This particular event was so well organised by the Serafico Institute, and included simultaneous translation which made things so much easier. We had some adult and teen siblings tell their stories, always moving, but especially so this time when a young sibling expressed herself through music.
And some photos —
Not finished yet, Kate is soon to present in Scotland.