Sarah Holland-Batt on bearing witness

Shortly after Sarah Holland-Batt’s father Tony was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease – and told he was no longer fit to drive – he bought himself his dream car. A Jaguar. He made the purchase via eBay, sight unseen; the first his wife knew about it was when it was delivered to their front door. It was an impulsive act of rebellion, but also symptomatic of the loss of judgement and compulsive spending that can accompany the early stages of the illness.

In the title piece of her third volume of poetry, The Jaguar, Holland-Batt writes that the vehicle – an emerald green vintage 1980 XJ – “shone like an insect in the driveway”. Sometimes, her father would defy doctor’s orders and his family’s wishes and take off, ignoring his tremors and impaired vision. More often, though, the former engineer tinkered obsessively with the machine, until, eventually, it could no longer be driven:

… it sat like a carcass

in the garage, like a headstone, like a coffin

Holland-Batt’s grief for her father, who died in March 2020, is at the core of The Jaguar. She describes the collection as an act of bearing witness. “It is a profoundly intimate thing to watch someone you love go through a long decline and then die,” she says.… Read more..

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Birding with Paul Kelly

Down by the mouth of Laverton Creek, at the Altona Foreshore Reserve in Melbourne’s west, songwriter Paul Kelly is watching about 150 gannets as they mass on Port Phillip Bay. From where we stand, even through binoculars, the gannets are just big white blobs on the water, about 500 metres offshore.

I’m not convinced Paul can even see the blobs through his binoculars, which he refers to as “Kellogg’s brand” – something he got out of a packet. Kelly has taken to watching birds in recent years, but, in the field, frankly, he’s a noob.

With us is Sean Dooley, editor of BirdLife Australia’s quarterly magazine. Sean and I have been watching birds almost all our lives; we met in early 1983. I rib Kelly that he would have been playing in his first band the Dots back then, but Kelly corrects me: he’d already broken the band up. I don’t think he likes being reminded about the Dots.

Lately, Kelly has been touring a stage production, Thirteen Ways To Look At Birds, now an album and his 25th studio recording: a collection of poems set to a neo-classical pop score, co-written and arranged with composer James Ledger, multi-instrumentalist Alice Keath and the Seraphim Trio.… Read more..

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Paul Kelly’s avian epiphany

Songwriter Paul Kelly spent most of his life “not noticing birds very much at all”. Then suddenly he opened his eyes and they were everywhere. To some extent, the songwriter’s eyes were opened for him. One influence was his partner of the past four years, Siân Darling.

Another connection was friend Sean Dooley, editor of BirdLife Australia’s quarterly magazine and author of The Big Twitch. Kelly met Dooley kicking a footy around St Kilda with a bunch of other locals. (Dooley remembers Kelly’s prowess: “He’s very skilled – runs low to the ground, deceptively quick, and from memory a raking low, left-foot kick.”)

Then Anna Goldsworthy, from the Seraphim Trio, contacted Kelly suggesting they team up with classical composer James Ledger. Kelly had worked with Ledger on an earlier collaboration, Conversations With Ghosts, and the latest idea was to set poems about animals to music.

Kelly liked the idea and wanted to work with both the Seraphim Trio and Ledger (with the addition of multi-instrumentalist Alice Keath) but thought the subject too broad. Narrowing it down to the avian world, he began poring through hundreds of poems.

The end result is Thirteen Ways To Look At Birds, which adapts works by Emily Dickinson (“Hope” is The Thing With Feathers), Judith Wright (Thornbills; Black Cockatoos), Thomas Hardy, W B Yeats and others for musical performance.

Read more..

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