Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 11, 2017

Introducing Tony Messenger and his poetry reviews

As you may have noticed, for some time now I’ve been linking to reviews of poetry at Messenger’s Booker when poetry collections are nominated for prizes in the awards that I follow.  I’m not confident about reviewing poetry, but until Tony started doing it, it was hard to find a reviewer who was not a poet himself and who wrote reviews accessible to general readers like me.

When Tony started a series of interviews with notable poets, I asked if he’d mind if I reblogged them, so that you, dear readers, would discover them too, and when he agreed, it seemed like a good idea to introduce the gentleman himself. So I asked Tony for a profile, and here he is, in his own words!

Lisa has asked me for an introductory profile, and immediately a similar exercise springs to mind, when an established Australian literary journal asked the same thing for a “bio”. I wrote:

By day Tony Messenger works in an office, by night he procrastinates about  reading his books which are greater in number than the days he has left as a  living being. His motto is “You are a very strange man, and I should like to  be more closely associated with you.” (from Undine –  Fouqué). An autodidact, he blogs haphazardly about books at  Messenger’s Booker and More and tweets about reading fiction and poetry from @messy_tony.

I was informed that the journal is “serious in tone” and could I please rewrite appropriately. This experience shows my flippant and dismissive, and at times dogmatic, manner.

I can proudly say that I am honoured to have established a fundraising  event, the Larapinta Extreme Walk, that raises funds for the retention of  indigenous women’s culture (including language and song cycles) for a not-for-profit in central Australia. In three years my event has raised over  $370,000 specifically funding an annual Law and Culture camp for hundreds  of empowered and proud Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara  women.

How do I juggle a very senior full-time executive role, with my charity work  and the heavy load of reading, blogging, interviewing? The simplest answer is I don’t watch television.

My literary interests began in high school with a teacher who would prompt  me to stretch my reading, and even though I have formally studied  “literature” I would call myself an autodidact, given I have learned a hell of a lot more since my university days in the dim dark ages. I started a blog to track a personal challenge to read every shortlisted novel from the  Booker Prize between 1969 and 2013, and I have a full collection of all those books, only missing three!!! When the Booker changed the rules to allow writers from outside of the Commonwealth in 2014 I stopped that pursuit and have been reading and blogging about other literary awards, primarily for  translated works, ever since.

Having an interest in poetry and realizing that there was a “gap” in  down-to-earth opinions about the artform in Australia, I decided to add poetry collections to my blog, and to further demystify the art I approached several poets for interviews. Every poet I have approached has been very accommodating, both with understanding why I ask “simpler” questions and with their time, building a nice catalogue of Q&A’s.

I’ve added a photo of my notebooks, I use Moleskine’s and have different colours for different subjects, forms. Orange is my own personal journal of quotes I like, poetic thoughts, yellow for translated literature, purple for poetry, pink for Arno Schmidt’s “Bottom’s Dream” and green for daily doodles, thoughts, notes. I do own a red one – that’s for work (ANGER!!) All notes written with my Waterman pen. Yes I’m yet to move into the digital age, phone notes, emails to self, just get lost in some cloud!

Bookshelf photos are of my poetry collection, part of my Booker Prize collection and a few shelves of translated books, most still to be read!! Needless to say this is only a snapshot of my book collection, I have a housefull.

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Now, I really do recommend that you do the sensible thing and subscribe to Tony’s reviews at his blog (because he is also reading Arno Schmidt’s masterpiece and lots of other interesting things) but I am very pleased to have his permission to reblog the poetry reviews because that has been a glaring omission from this blog for far too long.  There will be quite a few while I catch up with the most recent ones and then things will revert to normal.

Thanks, Tony, you are a legend!

Update (later the same day): Ok, I’ve reblogged all Tony’s poetry posts that include interview with the poets here, but wait! there’s more!  If you click the ‘poetry’ tag on Tony’s blog you will see there are dozens more reviews of Australian and international poetry including those nominated for major prizes here and over seas.  It is a real treasure trove for poetry lovers and also a user-friendly guide for those who want to learn about how modern poetry works.

 

 

 


Responses

  1. Thanks Lisa, great to have further exposure for Australian poetry and the poets themselves. A “gap” I hope to fill.

    • You know, it wasn’t until I went through your whole archive that I realised just how much you’ve done…
      Is your blog archived by Pandora? It should be…

      • No Pandora, I’m not that fussed to be honest, it’s done out of appreciation for the form, no recognition required (or sought). If archiving is appropriate it will be found.

        • Yes, but they need to know about you. I’ve just nominated you now so they should eventually email you and ask your permission to archive it.
          It’s important: the reviews you are writing are part of Australia’s cultural history and researchers will find them more easily if they are archived.

  2. Thanks so much Lisa. . You are a treasure. I look forward to discovering the amazing Tony.

    • Thank you Fay, but really, the thanks go to Tony:)

  3. Tony’s reviews and interviews are very astute. Remarkably I am building a fair collection of Australian poets. I have several of these books and even had lunch with the charming Rico Craig in Sydney. I have connected with a number of these poets through Twitter. Here in town we have a fair number of respected poets but it feels so cliquish when I go to events (chances are I’d feel the same in Melbourne or Sydney—I think literary circles are tight in most places).

    I am most inclined to review translations of established poets (Celan, Trakl, etc, where one can consider the impact of the translation—a tricky but worthwhile endeavour, I think). When I review contemporary poetry I can really only respond to it as a reader, but then, that’s not a bad thing.

    • Yes, Tony’s good at it, and I like his personal responses, that’s what a poetry review should do, I think.
      Translated poetry is even harder to do, I agree. I read a new translation of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin recently and it was horrible, but I don’t think that was Pushkin’s fault!


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