Philip Porter and Andy Kissane, eds, The Intimacy of Strangers: North Shore Poetry Project. Willoughby, NSW: Pret A Porter Publishing, 2018. ISBN: 9780648410706
The Intimacy of Strangers is the second anthology of the North Shore Poetry Project (NSPP established 2012) a group convened by Philip Porter which meets regularly for workshops, readings, dinners and performance of their poetry. Over the years as skills and confidence develop, a group such as this needs to make a permanent record of their achievement. What better way than an anthology? Their previous anthology A Patch of Sun (2014) is a vibrant testament to earlier achievements.
This new book covers the period of 2015 to 2018 and brings together poems of 33 poets, 25 of whom are members of the group and 8 are significant local and international poets who have read at NSPP dinners held at The Incinerator restaurant in Willoughby, North Sydney. It’s not hard to imagine senses heightened with the pleasure of delicious food, the tastes, aromas, sounds of crockery and clinking of glasses, the talking and laughter, tuned to absorb and relish poems shared in this venue. We don’t know how many poems are read for the first time but we do know that each reading came about through the individual poet deciding to take the leap and share the intimacy of their solitary endeavours with an audience all of whom in the true sense are strangers. In bringing them all together The Intimacy of Strangers allows the reader into the meetings, not quite the same as being there but somewhat like gazing into The Lacquer Room 1936, the image of a Grace Cossington painting which graces the front cover, to absorb the colours, rhythms, sounds, tone and sheer artistry.
The anthology is structured in 8 chapters of poems each starting with a copy of the menu, and excerpts from the guest poet(s) members who read on the night a feature which offers the option of reading poet by poet or chapter by chapter.
The highlight of the book is the range and diversity of poets. Almost always their most urgent preoccupation is with the ordinary everyday matters of living that affect all and each of us at some time and about which they write about and share their intimate experience. David Malouf finds daily enlightenment and forgiveness in a new loaf of bread. For Sarnie Hay it’s the seduction of whisky on ice in a crystal glass; for Helen Bersten lying in bed it’s the joy of new rain mixed with the irritation of wet washing; Tricia Dearborn with wicked wit explores elements of chemistry, perimenopause and sex. For her the onset of menopause is like sitting in a live rocket about to take off.
For others such as John Upton (1939-2017) to whom the book is dedicated it is his experience of a particularly personal turning point in his life:
You’re sitting in a mirror
in a wardrobe door
on the end of a double bed
mirror and bed both empty
John Carey writes of his daily confrontation with the advance of macular degeneration:
I stare into a sky of ever-reaching blue
Deep as my prior notion about it, furred sepia
Round the edges from traces of fires or the slow creep
of macular degeneration
Each poet contributes 1-6 poems. Anna Kerdijk Nicholson contributes five complete poems and one intriguing excerpt from a longer work: ‘The world is a handkerchief, today I spread it across my knees’ from her book: Possession: Poems about the voyage of Lt James Cook in the Endeavour:
I navigate the days in this place with the light of the sun
and sometimes stars, but my movements are not to-the-degree,
and once commenced, my track does not engage or lose
the Great Southern Land, neither am I under orders
nor have 94 in my care.
Whether you choose to read chapter by chapter or by individual poet it is not a book to consume in one sitting, rather it’s one that invites you to return again and again to savour its many intimacies or to catch that one poem you missed the first time around. With each reading it’s a feast of skills whether with strict form, sharp rhyme, free verse or the hypnotic, imagist experimentation in Rosemary Huisman’s
‘it is as if’
in dreams we return to the sea
down to the shore devolving
at the shore’s edge moving
into the warm white flow and ebb receding
This second anthology from NSPP brings fresh examples of how this community of dedicated poets see and hear the world whether funny, mystifying, magical, sweet, or deeply moving to share with everyone. The seasoned hands of editors Kissane and Porter ensure the overall perfect mix, a stimulating menu for every reader and a formidable challenge for any group planning a similar endeavour.
Wendy Fleming’s poetry has been widely anthologised and in May 2014 her first poetry chapbook Backyard Lemon was published by Melbourne Poets Union and launched by Kevin Brophy. She recently retired from service on the committee for MPU. She is currently working towards a new publication.