Posted by: Lisa Hill | February 15, 2020

Poetry & Ideas, Text and Images (2015), edited and drawn by Raffaella Torresan

Sometimes, it’s just a case of being in the right place at the right time…

The Spouse and I went to a book launch today at the Victorian Artists’ Society in East Melbourne.  The book is called Pictures and Prose, Existentialists and Atheists Speak, and the reason we were interested in this somewhat esoteric publication was because The Spouse is included in it.  As I’m sure readers have gathered by now, he is a man of many interests and from time to time he has given a talk at the Existentialists’ Society (even though he isn’t one of them).  And he was giving a talk there when Melbourne painter, printmaker and photographer Raffaella Torresan was there sketching the presenters and that is why he is in the book which is a collection of talks given at the society.

His talk was titled ‘Skepticism, Science and Scientism, and I don’t need to read it because I already have.  (I have proofread all his items for publication, and his philosophy essays for uni as well.)  There are other talks which look quite interesting but my eyes aren’t up to close reading today, so that’s for another time.  What I was able to do today was read the other book I bought, which is called Poetry & Ideas, Text and Images, and it’s a beautiful collection of illustrated poetry.  While The Spouse was doing his ‘Swing and Sway’ radio show at 3CR I went round the corner to a beaut restaurant called Lladro in Gertrude St, and over a scrumptious lunch and a very nice glass of wine, I browsed through what is a very fine collection of poems (in well-spaced, easy-to-read print)…

The back cover includes a blurb from Bruce Dawe, and a list of the poets:

Raffaella Torresan’s Poetry & Ideas is a very beautiful integration of Raffaella’s dramatic artwork with specially chosen, theme poems, by many of our most notable poets, whose work has been specially chosen by Raffaella for the book.

Poets: Jordie Albiston, Eric Beach, John Beaton, Patrick Boyle, Kevin Brophy, Jen Jewell Brown, Edward Burger, Grant Caldwell, Dimitri Cingovski, Jack Charles, Libby Charlton, Domenico de Clario, Jennifer Compton, Robert J Conlon, Eddie Dalton, Bruce Dawe, Jim Dodd, John Flaus, Gary Foley, Sybelle Foxcroft, Anna Gruenz, Lynn Hard, Jennifer Harrison, Kris Hemensley, Matt Hetherington, James Hickey, Jeltje, Marietta Elliott-Kleerkoper, Komninos, Chris Lawrance, Geoffrey Lehmann, Kerry Loughrey, Patrick McCauley, Maurice McNamara, Ian McBryde, Phil Motherwell, Les Murray, KF Pearson, Nick Powell, John Ridland, Homer Rieth, David Shepherd, Pamela Sidney, Leon Shann, Lish Skec, Alex Skovron, Kerry Scuffins, Steve Smart, Kenneth G Smeaton, Gavin Sanderson, Fiona Stuart, Yvette Stubbs, Colin Talbot, Peter Tiernan, Tim Train, Michael Ward, Lauren Williams.

The themes declare a preoccupation with conservation and environment, grouped by issues such as nuclear power, whales, trees and sustainability.  In ‘Keep it in the Ground’, Bruce Dawe has two poems, ‘The Way to Chernobyl’ and ‘Going to the Ball’:

Will you be my partner at the Nuclear Club Ball?
Everyone’s going this year…
There’ll be free Strontium-90 for one and for all
and if you say Yes I’ll be happy to call
and we’ll dance the fandango of fear!

There’ll be new folks a-plenty from East and from West,
and there’ll be room for big parties and small:
Kim Jong-il will foot it along with the best,
while in Tehran they’re planning another big test
and hoping no fall-out will fall.  (p. 2)

Dawe goes on to list the other members of the nuclear club who will be there, all of them oblivious to the problem of plutonium and what on earth will we do with it all.

The late great Judith Rodriguez has a poem called ‘Leave it in the Earth’ in this section too.

‘Weep Leviathan’ has poems about whales by Les Murray and by Melbourne performance poet Komninos who manages to pack a great deal of thoughtful commentary into just nine lines—and there is also a brilliant poem called ‘Imagine’ by Patrick Boyle, which begins like this…

Imagine the wailing
imagine the furore
if an elephant was harpooned
its body dragged across forest floor (p.15)

Imagine the outrage he exhorts us, and pleads for us to imagine then/the death of a harvested wild whale.  

Lauren Williams has IMO the standout poem in the section called ‘Trees’.  In ‘History Lesson’ her poem of seven stanzas begins like this:

The last people of E___ kept building
a big economy, a great stony-faced economy
forever gazing offshore, their slogan
mantra, buzzword: More.

The great stone economy was hungry.
It devoured trees and oil, whatever the people
could wrest from the soil, and for dessert, desert —
a crumble of salination and extinction, served hot. (p. 29)

In the section called ‘Greed’ there are poems whose themes you can guess from the titles: ‘Plastic hangs in the trees like fruit’ by James Hickey is heart-breaking, and ‘Mars Realty (it’s Gotta be Red) by Bruce Dawe comments on the absurdity of colonising another planet once we’ve ruined our own.  But Lynn Hard’s ‘State of the Union’ is brilliant too…

Everything must go,
except the lies.

So we’ll keep the flag
and let the country go,
we’ll board up the libraries
and keep the bumper stickers,
we’ll buy prejudice
and sell wisdom
we’ll lose the farm
but keep the name for the housing development
we’ll invest in last week
and asset strip for tomorrow. (p. 47)

Her poem ends, so pertinently: and no one/will get back to you.

There are lots of really thoughtful poems in the section called ‘Beauty’ including John Ridland’s ‘Pear’ which challenges our ideas about what we think ‘beauty’ is.  The pear survives the gentle fingers of the pickers and the careful checker at the supermarket, and it bears itself with the dignity/of one who can boast My great-great-great grandpère/was painted by Cezanne. That pear had decomposed/(before Cezanne got the composition right but Cezanne still saw him fresh off the tree, unblemished, ripe. Such a gorgeous image… beauty unchanging despite the ravages of time.

It’s somewhat similar to Patrick Boyle’s ‘[there beauty is]:

there    beauty is
in the trust shining from your eyes
in the generous warmth of your body’s coiling
in the gentle lilt of your voice’s joy
in the welcoming smile that finds shape
on these defining edges of your being
these manifold curves (p.55)

This is just a taste of the lovely poems in this collection, thoughtfully illustrated by the artist.  I’ll leave you with some words from Lynn Hard, ‘To a Lady Who Does Not Like My Poetry’ because it’s a good reminder that reviewing poetry is always risky!

She does not think straight
this critic of mine,
her thought has too little meat,
too much wine.  (p.62)

Contact Raffaela at her website if you are interested in buying a copy of this lovely book.

Edited and drawn by Raffaella Torresan
Title: Poetry & Ideas, Text and Images
Publisher: Devil Dog Castlemaine, 2015
ISBN: 9780646940397, hbk., 166 pages
Source: Purchased for $10 at the launch of Pictures and Prose, Existentialists and Atheists Speak, also drawn and compiled by Raffaella Torresan.



  1. I greatly approve of “I went round the corner to a beaut restaurant called Lladro in Gertrude St, and over a scrumptious lunch and a very nice glass of wine”. That’s exactly what I would do in the same circumstances. And I’m very glad that the book was “in well-spaced, easy-to-read print”. It sounds like a really interesting – and pertinent – book. (BTW With tricky eyes, now’s probably the time for the Kindle with its text-enlarging function? Just saying.)

    Anyhow, your mention of Komninos sent me straight to my poetry shelves where I knew I had a book of Kominos poems. It’s titled just Komninos and was given to me by my brother in 1992. There are still sticky notes marking poems I liked – many about being immigrants an an anglo land. Sounds like addressing contemporary “issues” is important to him.


    • Noooooooooooooooooo!
      I hate the Kindle. I will only use it if there is no other access to a book I want to read. And I’m not there yet.
      I can read The Silence of the Girls at the moment because it’s a trade paperback. I can’t read for very long, about 30-45 minutes at most, but that’s better than yesterday when I couldn’t read at all. (I could hardly keep my eyes open).
      Tomorrow will be better.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Just saying, that’s all! I don’t like e-books either – but they have their place and this seemed like one of those. However, I am glad you can still read, and don’t need to resort to the kindle. There could come a time though; I’d prefer their bigger print option to audiobooks, which I dislike even more. They have the same problems and then some (for me anyhow).

        I do love trade paperbacks.


        • I know, and you’re probably right, though there are large print books, even though the range is limited.
          I love trade paperbacks too, except for one thing. When I first moved into this house, Daddy built some bookshelves for my paperbacks which were all the original Penguin size. When we renovated the house, the shelves were (literally) the only thing except the loo which remained in the same place. They fit snugly into a narrow space and they are the first thing you see when you open the front door. I use them for my best-loved books in proper alphabetical order but the trade paperbacks don’t they have to live in the library. Which doesn’t seem orderly at all…

          Liked by 1 person

          • Oh yes, their size does make shelving far less efficient too. Those shelves though sound special. We have furniture made by my grandfather, one bookcase has gone to our daughter in my mum’s downsizing. They were made for her when she was a girl … they are for smaller books too, though there are a couple of deeper shelves. I am so glad my daughter wanted them.


            • I bet it drives booksellers crazy, trying to shelve all the different sized books that there are today…


  2. Reblogged this on penwithlit and commented:
    Some interesting lines here.


    • I bought it because I saw Judith Rodriguez’s name, and then Bruce Dawe’s but I had no idea what a treasure it was until I starting reading it.


  3. Here is my essay Lisa refers to above:


  4. Well, how interesting – and your Spouse is obvs a man of talents. Those quotes are just wonderful and thank you for sharing! :D


  5. […] recently I wrote about my love of Bruce Dawe’s poetry when I reviewed Poetry and Ideas, Text and Images, by Raffaella Torresan. His two poems in the chapter ‘Keep It In The Ground’ —’The Way to Chernobyl’ […]


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