Bannister poet Russell Erwin’s 'Maps of Small Countries' shortlisted for 2017 ACT Book of the Year

Bannister poet Russell Erwin’s recent book, Maps of Small Countries, has been shortlisted for the 2017 ACT Book of the Year Award.

The self-effacing Erwin said he was a “bit surprised” to be shortlisted, considering he was up against a range of books on a variety of subjects, not just poetry.

“It was across all categories and genres, so maybe I am the token poet?” he quipped.

“I have been concentrating on farming and environmental issues. I constantly ask myself, what is more important to spend your energy on: writing poetry, or making a difference with sustainable farming?

“Then I think, I live on a part of heaven, so I am just trying to do the right thing by it.”

Maps of Small Countries has been described as: “Memoir and celebration, meditation and exploration, sketches and simple vignette”. It is his fifth book of poetry.

It contains some beautiful images in ordinary moments, such as the breath of a bull of a frosty twilight, or headstones arranged like chess pieces in a graveyard.

The title comes from a poem, which contains a strikingly beautiful image of water dripping from children onto hot concrete at a country swimming pool, possibly Crookwell’s pool. The puddles forming at their feet are like "the drying maps of small countries”.

Erwin said he selected this as the title because he felt like each poem was like a small country, complete in itself. “They are reflections from a whole life really,” he said.

"Writing poetry is such a solitary pursuit, especially if you are not assured of your talent and skill, as I wasn't when I was starting out.”

Erwin has previously received awards for his poetry, such as the Dorothy Porter Prize in 2015. His book Taken By The Enemy was also shortlisted for the Age Book of the Year Award. Other books include: Clear Hills Empty Sky, From Here, Taken By The Enemy and Towards An Imminent Arrival.

Maps of Small Countries is published by Ginninderra Press and available from their website for $22.50. The 2017 ACT Book of the Year will be announced on Thursday, December 7.

I live on a part of heaven [in Bannister], so I am just trying to do the right thing by it.

Poet Russell Erwin

‘A Country Swimming Pool’ by Russell Erwin

This substitute for a beach, for the blue,

incomprehensible blue-other place of ocean, 

-its infinity, its ozone, its insolent competition 

bodies stripped to their confidence,

and the defeat of the shy,

this inland water is an island:

three mothers, their toddlers,

kids on summer holidays skylarking

and me.

My children run, giddy from turquoise water,

which spills in large pearls as each shakes

the shaggy, loose drapery of it off,

runnels working down their backs,

-the Chanel country shining silver in flood;

cold-shivery pimpling their skins, their white skins;

their hair, rust-streaked, ropey, sticky, finger-combed,

or lacquered flat – with that louche sickliness affected

by models. Their heads sculpted back to bone,

bare and fraught as when they were the infants I’d held;

and maps of small countries drying at their feet,

like those they slip into as they shelve into sleep,

Chlorine clings like a crust; they smell like a laundry floor.

Through chattery teeth, 

‘Come in, dad. Come in,’

then immediately dive back

like darters ducking under the surface of the dam,

breaking splash all over in a spray of cool glitter.

They are animal with water, with being in water,

with water being as easy as air, with their bodies just being:

they’re yet to know what currency it is other than this – delight.

I stand at the edge, and look as they surface,

feeling foolish and pleased, and somehow lost, and old

as light dazzles little stars from the crinkled water their heads 

poke through,

their water-puckered, old person’s faces as dreamily

they look up at me:

“It’s beautiful in, Dad. It really is.”

This sapphire lagoon fringed by squeals and splashes,

-its water smashed and scattered and smashed again

by their giggling, unsuspecting bodies.