On the last day of the Sydney Writers’ Festival I went to the launch of the new edition of Luke Davies’ four plots for magnets. The first and much slimmer edition of four plots for magnets containing Luke’s teenage poetry was published by Glandular Press in 1982 with one of my all-time favourite book covers, featuring a chart of American football plays from a 1970 NFL yearbook that, as Luke puts it, he ‘had long cherished as having talismanic qualities’. (See picture below.)
It contained 13 poems, including one of my all-time favourite Davies poems, ‘The Death-Fires Danced at Night’:
O to be in the Arctic
with an albatross in the air
I’d load my blazing cross-bow
and tie it to my hair
The new edition reprises the original 13 poems along with a foreword by Luke, an afterword by the original publisher poet SK Kelen, and 53 additional previously uncollected poems. It is a beautiful book, published by Pitt Street Poetry. It’s fantastic to have the original poems back in print and widely available (there were only 300 copies of the 1982 edition) as well as the extra 53 poems to see what else Davies as young poet was dreaming up and putting into words.
Irish poet and writer Dermot Healy launched four plots for magnets to a packed out Brett Whiteley Studio – half the crowd stood in the street outside – with a poetic flow of his own musings and fragments of Luke’s poetry. I hadn’t planned to write about the launch so I didn’t take notes or photographs – but I SO love the new book with all its additional material that I was moved to write something about it here.
The foreword by Davies and Kelen’s afterword are smart, funny, vivid ruminations on finding one’s poetic voice, early inspirations human and otherwise, the burning need to write, the obsessive reading of poems, the poetry scene in 1980s Sydney and Australia. For example:
Davies: ‘I’d been obsessed with poetry from age thirteen, when I’d written what I would describe now as the first poem I ever composed in full consciousness of being – I thought – an adult: that is, a poem conceived of as an act of will, intended to be a work of art, available for public scrutiny if necessary … At fifteen, as the furnace of adolescent intensity reached hazardous temperatures, my poetry-writing went into overdrive, and for a couple of years, while never writing a good poem, I certainly wrote a lot of them.’
Kelen on first meeting Luke: ‘Luke happened to have with him a hand-written journal of his poems and reading them was refreshing – they were clear yet imaginative and of course (in retrospect) very, very youthful and celebratory in their subject matter. Some of the poems had a way of making a spiritual invocation but were pleasingly cognisant of the commercial gods.’
And Kelen again: ‘For a poet all the traditions offer nourishment, and writing – composing – is akin to breathing. As the Chinese proverb tells us: “Who reads a hundred poems writes like a hundred poets; who reads a thousand poets writes like himself.” Back then we read the thousand poets, and more.’
I love this.
And I can’t recommend four plots for magnets too highly.
I should add that as part of the same event David Malouf launched Michael Brennan‘s new poetry collection Autoethnographic, published by Ivor Indyk at Giramondo Publishing. In his launch speech Brennan read two poems from his new book which took my breath away and silenced the room.