Book Review: The Application of Pressure by Rachael Mead

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The application of pressure by Rachael Mead

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This is, in equal parts, an insightful, jaw-dropping, hilarious, horrifying novel about the lives of two paramedics in Adelaide, South Australia. Mead leads us through the careers of two paramedics, Joel and Tash, from their initial training through to their becoming veterans of the profession. She does this using fairly self-contained chapters, each recounting part of a day in the life of the heroes of the book. And heroes they are. After reading this book, you will have a new-found respect for this profession, because Mead pulls no punches in describing the blood, gore, faeces and other bodily fluids they deal with on a day-to-day basis. She also sheds light on the vast range of people treated by paramedics, from the innocent victims of car crashes to the druggies and domestic abusers. But she does this by placing front and centre the humanity of the paramedics, the toll on their personal lives and the mental strain on them and their partners. She also leavens it with a healthy dose of humour – at times a wry humour, at other times outright belly laughs.

This is Mead’s first novel, and all the more impressive for that. But she is already an experienced and highly-respected poet and reviewer. This experience is evident in the quality of the writing, the depth of characterisation and the easy flow of her story-telling. You can count on the authenticity of the stories because her husband is himself a paramedic, so she has an unparalleled level of insight into the life of what Australians simplistically refer to as “ambos”.

Above all this is a rollicking good read which you will not want to put down.

Tip: never again refer to a paramedic as an ambulance driver. But read this book and if you ever need to call emergency services, you will hopefully be in the capable hands of a Joel or a Tash.





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What did you do in the …?

Number 6 in the weekly poems written with the “Poetry in a time of Pestilence” group.

What did you do in the …?

A Golden Shovel using part of “Speech To The Young : Speech To The Progress-Toward” by Gwendolyn Brooks

 

We wrote for distraction and we’d say

“let’s meet for wine and gossip”, to

drink in words, to laugh at them

and to bless us, to crush sour grapes, to say

“another bottle”, to walk the city dark, to

find the last bar, the last resort, the

place for desperates and down-keepers,

to string out the night like Christmas lights, to coax the

right words, to praise the sun-slappers,

to empty ourselves and our souls, to overshare the

daily drama, berate the self-soilers,

the donkey-men, the lairs and pikers, to sift the

possibilities, drown out the harmony-hushers

decant our thoughts and Lord knows we even

hugged and held hands and danced, as if

that would be enough to save the world for you.

© Mike Hopkins 2020

In Which I Confess To Plagiarising Many Poems (PiatoP#5)

 

In Which I Confess To

Plagiarising Many Poems

Plagiarising Ross Sutherland

On my way home from the poetry reading,

I call into The Austral for a steadying drink

and marvel at the fact that I, Michael J Hopkins,

have not yet been exposed as a plagiarist.

 

Even though my bio states that I have been heavily influenced

by certain other poets, that I’ve read widely, that I may be channeling

Gertrude Stein and Kenneth Koch, that I attend séances

where my pen is possessed by the spirits of dead poets,

 

the critics still praise me as an original talent. In my early period

I would make at least some effort to cover my tracks. Lifting whole slabs

of works by obscure Canadian poets was my favourite gambit. Thankfully,

not many people have a copy of Best Manitoban Poetry 1997.

 

I just replaced snow with red dirt, Douglas firs

with Blue gums, grizzlies with kangaroos, Pierre Trudeau

with Paul Keating and was careful to remove

all references to Mounties. Over time I became bolder.

 

I incorporated well-known lines unchanged: I wandered lonely

Shall I compare thee …, It was the man from Ironbark …  But my audiences

smiled at my cleverness and applauded. These days I steal poems

wholesale. I can hardly be bothered to change the title. I won the T.S. Eliot

 

with a clone of The Waste Land, (opening line: August is the shittest month)

the Blake Prize with a knock-off of And did those feet in ancient time,

set to a mix of cockney rhyming slang and ocker (And ya reckon those plates back in the day…?),

the Montreal Prize with a sonnet commencing Shall I compare thee to a winter’s night?

 

My proudest achievement is putting a third-century Chinese classic through

Google Translate and publishing it as my own original homage to Tao Yuanming.

SQuadrant described it as poetry of ennui, shifting towards sustained

transcendental inclination. It’s great they can find jobs for these critics.

 

When people ask me to autograph books of my poetry, I sign

with someone else’s name: Keats, Collins, Armitage, even Heaney.

Think of a poet, I’ve copied them. But people don’t bother to read

the scrawled inscription: All their own work or the badly forged signature.

 

Ira Lightman will track me down eventually,

but I’ll transfer the prize money to the Cayman Islands and decamp

to a south-east Asian country where poetry is valued more than the poet who claims

to have written it and where they appreciate a genuine charlatan.

 


Er… © 2020 Mike Hopkins. Image from here

Listen to Ross Sutherland’s poem here

Crackertown (PiatoP#4)

 

No photo description available.

I’ve started, with a group of friends, writing a poem a week during these strange Covid-19 days. I’ll share mine here, regardless of quality. This is the fourth. 

Crackertown

I’m drinking in Crackertown

because teaching a class of bored, phone-fixated teenagers makes me thirsty

because riding home on my motorbike takes me through Crackertown

because Crackertown is full of cheap bars and cafes and reprobates, lots of reprobates

because of the waft of dope, the construction dust, the security guard who looks like my favourite uncle, the fairy lights around the doors

because the bar staff remember me from when I was here ten days ago and might be the only ones all week to ask “how are you?”

because of the brown-snouted, hairy-backed pig trotting from bar to bar, snuffling nuts dropped on the floor

because of the sense that something outrageous has just happened or is about to happen and I want to be there, to witness

because of the low purr of the fridge full of Saigon Specials and Hudas and the sound of the cash drawer clicking out and in and the shuffling of hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese dong

because the fellow teacher, who is a dick, walks in and says “Got any spliff man”

because the bar owner went upstairs and got some

because his wife has the shortest shorts I’ve ever seen

because the amateur singers are really, really good

because I can Shazam the music all night

because the two wasted old expats, skinny as rakes, tattooed on every limb, are throwing roundhouse punches in the street but soon will be hugging each other like lovers

because not once in nine months have I ever seen police in the street but rats every night, rats as big as cats, dozens of them, and most weeks motorbike crashes at the crossroads and still no police

because of more old expat guys gazing through an alcohol haze at half-their-age Vietnamese girlfriends

because I meet N and G at Taco Ngon, just a shack by the side of the road, and we choose from the menu of only four types of taco and four types of sauce and beer at $1 a can which we help ourselves to from an ice-filled esky and line up the empties on the low table on the pavement to show how many we’ve drunk

because the waitress counts our empties and paper plates at the end of the night and pencils up a bill for us and on a quiet night the owner invites me to play some incomprehensible board game which I always lose

because everybody in Crackertown is waiting for something, even the pig and the rats and the security guard who looks like my uncle.

 

“Crackertown” is a name given to the area around the An Thuong streets near where I lived in Danang.

 


Copyright Mike Hopkins 2020 except photo from here

I Can’t Swear There Wasn’t Love (PiatoP#3)

 

This is the third of the weekly poems written during the Covid-19 social distancing. The prompt this week was to write a poem which might be entered into one of several competitions. The subjects included place, water, mysticism and love. I don’t write many (serious) love poems, so this is a rarity. Its also a Golden Shovel, a form invented by Terrance Hayes in tribute to Gwendolyn Brooks. It takes lines from a Gwendolyn Brooks poem and uses each word as the last word in each line of the new poem. So if you read down the last word of my poem it will reveal part of the Brooks poem. And of course, the voice in the poem is not necessarily the voice of the poet.

I Can’t Swear There Wasn’t Love

(A Golden Shovel – using part of Gwendolyn Brooks’ “when you have forgotten Sunday: the love story”)

We undressed

our childhood wounds and

bared the stripes whipped

into our skins and held out

our scarred wrists. I can’t swear there wasn’t love at the

start, or even in the middle. I confess to conjuring a light

in her eyes, to loving the lilt in her voice and

being charmed by the way we flowed

across the dancefloor. It turned into

love of a kind, a shared bed,

a sense of being different and

being outsiders as we lay

in a tight-knit town, clinging, loose-limbed

to each other, mistaking alliance for

something deeper. I took on a

co-star role, but could not sustain the moment

-um or remember my lines. Outcasts in

a city of priests and zealots, we scorned the

wafer-thin piety, the schizophrenic week-end

binges of alcohol and devotion. In the bright

light of Sunday, the mothball aroma of bedclothes

and best suits was suffocating then.

 


Copyright Mike Hopkins 2020 except image which is from here

 

 

What You Missed That Day You Were Absent From Meditation Class (PiatoP#2)

 

I’ve started, with a group of friends, writing a poem a week during these strange Covid-19 days. I’ll share mine here, regardless of quality. The second is a response to, or inspired by, or in parallel to the poem “What You Missed That Day You Were Absent from Fourth Grade” by Brad Aaron Modlin here.

What You Missed That Day You Were Absent From Meditation Class

after Brad Aaron Modlin

Rinpoché explained how to breathe, to notice the space between inbreath and outbreath,

and how to locate the part of the mind that sends a shiver down your spine when listening

 

to Sibelius. He spoke of the wisdom of doing nothing and about waking in a panic at four

every morning. He suggested you think about who you were before you were somebody.

 

The morning dharma talk was about how combing your hair can be a meditation on loss

or even on grief. After a long sit in silence, he gave instruction on how to study a picture

 

of yourself as a child – to focus on the area around your eyes and forehead where you may see

your life compressed. There was a question and answer session on how to manage self-esteem

 

when ‘self’ and ‘esteem’ are delusions, and how to reorganise your mental filing cabinet

(hint: not alphabetically). This prompted him to draw a rough schematic of Shakespeare’s mind

 

at the time he was writing sonnets. The group discussed how not to scream when sending

loving kindness to world leaders and could the Buddha have been wrong about rage

 

being impermanent? Before sounding the gong, Rinpoché set the task for the coming week:

to find a good home for the people living rent-free in your head.

 


Copyright Mike Hopkins 2020 except image which is from here

Poems in a time of Pestilence #1

Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) - United States Department of ...

I’ve started, with a group of friends, writing a poem a week during these strange Covid-19 days. I’ll share mine here, regardless of quality. The first was a response to, or inspired by, or in parallel to a poem about Covid-19 written by Simon Armitage here.

Let Me Count the Ways of My Virus …

… it causes men in pubs to speak at less than eighty decibels,

dogs to squeak like mice after three barks,

Americans to stop saying “reach out” (unless singing The Four Tops),

Australians to stop saying “that’s unAustralian”,

and shockjocks to receive a shock

every time they broadcast bullshit.


It turns politicians’ lies into pig grunts,

small children’s squeals into flute concerti,

football crowds’ racist chants into hymns,

sermons into words Jesus might have said,

suicide bombers into peaceniks,

soldiers’ rifle sights into pictures of their families,

dirty water into freshly squeezed orange juice,

cheap plonk into organic tempranillo,

dog shit into buttercups,

homelessness into homecoming,

cheeseburgers into vegan Bánh mì.


It causes bad poets to go hoarse,

spoken word poets to stop rhyming,

poker machines to pay out more than they take.

It amplifies choirs,

cools the Antarctic icecap,

gives pollen back to bees,

skims everything above a million dollars

from millionaires’ bank accounts

and spreads it like fertiliser

amongst the homeless.


Copyright Mike Hopkins 2020 except image which is U.S. Department of State

Book Review: “Don’t Skip out on Me” by Willy Vlautin, plus a few others

「Don't Skip Out on Me」(Willy Vlautin - 9780062799463)| 楽天Kobo

Don’t Skip Out on Me by Willy Vlautin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


A book with it’s own soundtrack by the author! I heard Willy Vlautin speak at Adelaide Writers Week a few years ago. He is an engaging speaker, I think a Vietnam Vet, and a band musician. That’s quite a combination of experiences for a still relatively young man. His book “The Free” was about a Vietnam vet, but I reviewed it as three stars “… I struggled at times to follow the narrative, which switches between reality and anaesthetic induced dreams.”

This book is really, really good. The arc of the story is straightforward – young man, Horace, who is part American Indian, part Irish, part Nevadan has been abandoned by his parents when young, and rescued by working on a remote sheep farm for a couple who we only ever know as Mr. and Mrs. Reece. He has a dream to be a boxing champion and, for some reason, be thought of as Mexican, because he is ashamed of his Indian heritage. The Reeces love him as their own son, but must let him go to follow his boxing dream. He is a good boxer, but is he a champion? The rest of the book follows his trajectory towards his goal.

Vlautin now writes clear, concise and deceptively simple prose. It is a gripping story and the relationship between Horace and the Reeces is heartbreaking.

Vlautin’s band, Richmond Fontaine, have a lovely alt-country album with the same title as the book, on which each track depicts a section of the book. Tailor made to be the soundtrack of a film of the book.

Highly recommended.

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A good read, but impossible to match “The Handmaid’s Tale”. I thought the ending was a touch “Harry Potter”-ish as if it was rushed to meet a deadline.

The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I found it a hard read. The story of a family (or are they) who have escaped a male dominated apocalyptic land to live alone on a remote island or peninsula. Interesting premise but, for me, not engaging, although I stayed with it to the end

Travelling in a Strange Land by David Park

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An interesting insight into the mind of a grieving man, centred around his journey from Belfast to Sunderland at Christmas, to retrieve his (probably) mentally disturbed son and bring him home. Not that engaging for me, but engaging enough for me to finish it.

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Book Review: “Stoner” by John Williams

21 Brilliant Books You’ve Never Heard Of | GQ

Stoner by John Williams

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


The New Yorker called it “the greatest American novel you’ve never heard of”. Lest the title of the book misleads you, John Williams’ “Stoner” is not a book about a drug addled no-hoper. It’s set in the first half of the twentieth century in Missouri, where William Stoner is born into a dirt poor farming family. He has no ambition, no set path in life except to carry on back-breaking farm work like his father. His father decides that William should go to university to study agriculture, in the hope that their poor farm can become more than bare subsistence.


Early in his time at university, William Stoner takes an English elective, without any expectation, and is so inspired by his professor and by reading Shakespeare, that he decides to quit agriculture and study English full-time. The rest of his life is in academia, teaching English Literature in the same institution in which he studied. He meets and marries a woman at an academic function. They have a daughter. The marriage is unsuccessful, the daughter being used as a pawn in the marital conflict. His career flourishes, he has an affair with a colleague, his career founders, he dies a painful death of cancer. This is no Gatsby-like hero.


This all sounds fairly depressing, and in a way it is. But it is depressing in the same way that a Thomas Hardy novel is depressing – by being incredibly insightful into the twists and turns of fate that alter any human life and create both pain and joy for the characters. The writing is beautiful and the main characters are skilfully portrayed. The observations of academic politics and chicanery are acute.


I can imagine alternative critiques of this book. One would be that all the female characters are damaged, difficult and unsympathetically portrayed. Some reviewers have accused Williams of misogyny. The same criticism could be levelled at the unsympathetic portrayal of two disabled characters.


“Stoner” was initially published in 1965. It sold fewer than 2,000 copies and was out of print a year later. In 1972 Pocket Books put out a paperback version, reissued again in 1998 by the University of Arkansas Press and then in 2003 in paperback by Vintage and 2006 by New York Review Books Classics. French novelist Anna Gavalda translated Stoner in 2011, and it became Waterstones’ Book of the Year in Britain in 2012. It has now sold hundreds of thousands of copies in 21 countries. Williams died in 1994, probably before the book received the wide acclaim it now enjoys.




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Book Review: “The Silence of the Girls” by Pat Barker

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Pat Barker is a great writer of both contemporary and historical fiction. The Regeneration Trilogy, (Regeneration (1991), The Eye in the Door (1993), and The Ghost Road (1995)), is a monumental achievement. It explores the First World War, combining history and fiction, using the poets Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon and psychiatrist W.H.R. Rivers as characters. She won the Booker Prize for The Ghost Road. However “Toby’s Room” and “Double Vision” were less to my liking, so I did not have such high expectations from this novel.

In “The Silence of the Girls” Barker retells The Iliad, but primarily from the point of view of the women involved. In particular, this is the story of Briseis, the wife of the King of Lyrnessus. Briseis is captured when the Greeks take her city, slaughter her husband, and sons, and award her as a prize to Achilles.


There is no romanticising of war in this story. The way women are treated as possessions to be bartered or given away when they are young and fertile, and cast aside when no longer attractive, is vividly described.

Barker uses modern idioms rather than archaic speech in writing dialogue. Initially this grated on me a bit, but as the novel progressed I became used to it.

Particularly moving is her description of the scene where the King of Troy, Priam, steals into the Greek camp and begs Achilles to return the body of Hector, Priam’s son. There is a great Michael Longley poem, “Ceasefire” which also describes the same scene. In both cases, Priam’s words are quoted and are particularly memorable:

“I get down on my knees and do what must be done
and kiss Achilles’ hand, the killer of my son”






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