Category Archives: Poetry

What A Piece of Work by Dorothy Porter

What A Piece Of WorkWhat A Piece Of Work by Dorothy Porter
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a portrait of a bad psychiatrist. He exploits his patients, conducts experimental therapy, and, all in all, What A Piece Of Work charges the psychiatrist to ‘heal thyself’.

Dr Peter Cyren smokes cigarettes while on duty, so perhaps the doctor’s god-complex belongs to another era, along with the critical R.D Laing anti-psychiatry perspective held by his lover, Fay.

Perhaps if I’d read What A Piece Of Work when it was first published in 1999, before literature and television had offered more complex portraits of psychiatrists and their methods, I would have appreciated the narrative and characterisation of Porter’s verse novel more; as it is, for me, it draws upon untenable stereotypes and misrepresentations of treatment–especially electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).

That said, Porter’s portraits of Peter’s patients, Frank and Penny-Jenny, are true and compassionate, and give rise to the very best verse.

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Requiem for a Stray Cat

She said, ‘It’s still alive’ and
Went to see if the neighbours 
Were home. 

I looked down at its 
Open eyes, measuring
The symptoms of shock.

It’s mottled, patchy fur
Didn’t heave as it lay there,
Ears warm and soft, 


Refresh: January

I started my reading year by signing up for things:

I rejoined Good Reads, mostly out of curiosity to know how many books I read.  There was some discussion over at Facebook on my book club’s group page about people’s individual book counts.  Our most prolific reader had a total of eighty-eight, which made the person who had read thirty-six feel very humble in comparison.  I had no idea how many I’d read, but I’m fairly sure it was fewer than thirty. I’ve set myself the very modest goal of reading twenty-six books in their 2014 reading challenge.

My reading count would almost certainly have received a boost in the last months of 2013 after I rejoined the local library.  I’d avoided the library for years after accruing a fine for keeping a copy of American Psycho out until they sent me a bill to replace it.  I returned the book (yes, I did read it), but avoided the library out of shame for at least a decade.  Yes, I knew all about the end-of-year amnesty, but I was too scared to face them.  Anyway, I plucked up my courage and it turns out there was no record of my misdeeds in their system at all. And in the meantime, the ebook has arrived, so I’ve been spending my time happily catching up on the Harry Potter series, both books and films, as well as The Hunger Games series, and a few missed childhood classics, including The Narnia Chronicles.

It’s through the library that I’ve been able to supplement my book club’s first novel of the year, the Man Booker Prize winner for 2013, The Luminaries, with some eye-saving audiobooks for the Australian Women Writers Reading Challenge, which I’ve signed up for again in 2014.  So far, I’ve read and reviewed Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites and I’ve just started listening to Christina Stead’s The Man Who Loved Children. 

Actually, neither of these books are part of the official challenge I’ve set myself, which is again focussed on creating audiobooks via Librvox of works in the public domain by Australian women writers. I started the first book for this project, Human Toll,  towards the end of last year, with the intention of completing Barbara Baynton’s catalogue. I have planned to record another two works in addition to that for the AWW2014 challenge, but I haven’t decide which.

I’m looking at anything I read or listen to and review beyond the Librivox recordings as a bonus with respect to the AWW challenge.  I’ve come to the conclusion that just as writers must read to be better writers, then audiobook readers must listen in order to become better readers. It’s with this thought in mind, in addition to the pleasure of the stories themselves, that I’m listening to other audiobooks, taking mental notes of the various factors that make for a good telling of another’s story.

Meanwhile, January is also the Month of Poetry, an event I only became aware of via the tweets of Penni Russon and Anna Ryan Punch. I’m following both of their MOP14 efforts  and attempting to retweet the links to their poems via my @ReadingSheilas account. I’m not sure how I would count these if I included them in the challenge; perhaps, as two anthologies? No matter. As a reader, I look forward to the tweeted announcements of both of these writers. It’s a great way to ease into a new year of reading.

Happy New Year!

I thought I’d begin the year with a round up of my reading so far and the announcement of a reading resolution or two.

In the first instance, I’ve signed up for the Australian Women Writers Challenge again in 2013. I was going to continue doing the Librivox recordings and writing about them here anyway, but what fun to do it in company!  A couple of people have expressed an interest in listening to the stories from ‘The Detective’s Album’ by Mary Fortune that I’m currently recording—unfinished business from AWW2012—for their own AWW2013 challenge, so there’s continued incentive to finish that sooner rather than later.

There has, however, been something of a pause in finishing that recording. Christmas, marking, and noisy garden machinery are some of the reasons for the delay, but now I’m working on reading Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies for my January book club, so that too has diverted my attention. At this point, I’m finding that having watched The Tudors has helped enormously with keeping track of all the characters and intrigue. I do think that The Tudors is quite an extraordinary television achievement, which is in accordance with the critical assessment of Mantel’s work. It’s certainly a hell of a story, irrespective of execution. (No, I didn’t mean that pun. Initially.)

Meanwhile, on other fronts, I’ve been listening to Australia Felix by Henry Handel Richardson aka Ethel Florence while I’ve been out walking. I thought I’d listen to this as a prelude to doing a recording of The Getting of Wisdom. I noted in a couple of tweets that one of the people from book club had nominated to read The Getting of Wisdom, irrespective of the AWW2013 challenge, which we’re not doing as a book club this year (if the Mantel choice didn’t give it away). In a desperate ploy to get someone I know to listen to one of my recordings, I thought I’d make a solo recording of it for the Librivox catalogue. I figure if there are six versions (and another forthcoming!) of Pride and Prejudice, then two of The Getting of Wisdom is downright restrained. Anyway, I’ll write a bit later about Australia Felixsince I’ll count that as one of my AWW2013 books.

I’ve also decided to count towards the challenge a series of poems that Penni Russon is writing over at her blog, Eglantine’s Cakefor  the month of January as part of her participation in the Month of Poetry 2013 challenge. I’ll just read them rather than reviewing them, however. Partly because I’m not qualified to review poetry—it seems to take a special kind of sensibility and knowledge that I’m not sure I have—but also because, as social media has enabled relationships that might otherwise not exist, we’ve followed one another on Twitter for some years now. Now, that’s not to say I would write a negative review–I think her poems are wonderful (‘exquisite’ I believe I tweeted)—but perhaps I’m not the most impartial judge. A-a-and I think I’m about to go down a rabbit hole of self-justification and embarrassing apologies, so I’ll stop.

The whole conundrum makes me wonder about people who review professionally. Can they avoid reviewing the work of someone they know? How do they distance themselves? Or isn’t that necessary?

Another thing that’s occurred to me while writing this is about the presence of poetry in the AWW challenge. I haven’t really thought about this before now. I’ll investigate.

Alright, that’s it from me. Here’s to a happy new year of reading ahead! *raises glass*

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