Alex Skovron

Alex Skovron was born in Poland, lived briefly in Israel, and emigrated to Australia in 1958, aged nearly ten. His family settled in Sydney, where he grew up and completed his studies. From the early 1970s he worked as a book editor for various publishers in Sydney and Melbourne, and was general editor of The Concise Encyclopaedia of Australia (1977–79); since 1980 he has lived in Melbourne, and works as a freelance editor. Alex is married with two grown-up children.

His five published collections to date are: The Rearrangement (1988), Sleeve Notes (1992), Infinite City (1999), The Man and the Map (2003), and Autographs (2008), a volume of prose-poems. Awards for his writing have included the Wesley Michel Wright Prize for Poetry (twice), the John Shaw Neilson Poetry Award (twice), the Manuel Gelman Memorial Prize for Literature (1997), the Australian Book Review Poetry Prize (2007), and, for his first collection, the Anne Elder and Mary Gilmore awards. His prose novella, The Poet (2005), was joint winner (with Kate Grenville) of the FAW Christina Stead Award for a work of fiction; it has been translated into Czech under the title Básník (2014).

Alex Skovron’s poetry has been published in many journals and anthologies in Australia and overseas. The numerous readings he has given have included appearances in China, Serbia, India, Ireland, and on Norfolk Island. The Attic, a selection of his poetry translated into French by Jacques Rancourt, was published in 2013; and a bilingual volume of Chinese translations is underway. His next book, Towards the Equator: New & Selected Poems, is forthcoming. He has also completed a collection of short stories, as yet unpublished.

August 2014


The Rearrangement Sleeve Notes Infinite City The Man and the Map
Autographs The Poet The Attic Towards the Equator

The Rearrangement

First published 1988 by Melbourne University Press (hardback, 112 pp., $19.95, out of print). Reprinted 1996 by Octave (paperback, 112 pp., $14.95). Available from the author.

Alex Skovron's first collection of poetry presents a diverse poetic landscape in which some of the major preoccupations of our time are explored. Central to these is the journey towards self- knowledge. It is a journey that moves through the discovery, questioning, perhaps even judgment, of history's lessons, both personal and collective; through relationships, observed, intimate and estranged; through music, art and the creative impulse; through faith. The Old World, with its complex legacy, is a recurring concern.

Each of the three sections opens and concludes with a longer poem. Within and across the sections, themes overlap and echo, contend and mesh. By means of this framework, epitomized in the structure of the title poem, the circle of experience is drawn together. But the circle is never closed; like the pattern in the glass of a kaleidoscope, it remains restless, open, and ready always to rearrange itself into new patterns and possibilities.

"... the individuality of Skovron's voice is remarkable and disconcerting. Poems like these amount not so much to an extension of our poetic traditions as a rearrangement of them.”
— Philip Mead, Age

"... a poet of great resourcefulness and erudition, one who brings to Australian poetry an originally European sensibility together with an impressive panache in the music he is able to make from English vowels and consonants."
— Alan Gould, Canberra Times

"Like the Roman god of doorways, Alex Skovron's poetry faces both ways, towards both the past and the future. His conservative, discursive self is a courtly presence, like that of a highly civilized tutor to a princely house of the Enlightenment ... But under his radical aspect Skovron is a restless scientist of language, an inventor of beautiful new taxonomies and even a psychologist of violent impulses …
      I have now read
The Rearrangement many times and the riches it has to offer seem to me inexhaustible ... It can be strongly recommended to all readers of poetry, as well as to general readers who do not care for poetry, as a rule, but who like to have their intellect led on into fresh pastures and other lives."
— Chris Wallace-Crabbe, Australian Jewish News


Sleeve Notes

Published 1992 by Hale & Iremonger in association with Golvan Arts (paperback, 88 pp., $12.95, out of print). Available from the author.

This highly orchestrated collection – in both the thematic and the musical sense – features three longer poems: the symphonic meditation ‘Quadrilateral’, the autobiographical sonnet sequence ‘The Waterline Poems’, and the twelve-part title suite inspired by the life and music of Mozart. These and the thirty-three other poems that make up the book offer a rich poetic journey – a journey that takes in Berlin and Beijing, Dublin and old Venice, Vietnam, Uluru and the Garden of Eden; a journey where Sisyphus and Nietzsche rub shoulders with Eliot and Hopkins, where Elgar and Mahler encounter Karl Marx and Clark Kent. We come across photographers and fools, flying-boats and fledgling poets, apples, chess games, grammarians, circuses and sleep; there are ants, moths and spiders, flowers and faces – the imagined, the actual and the surreal. And there are the shores of childhood, with their magic, their promise, and their song …

"Those who have not previously read this scrupulous and inventive poet will now have to do so, and those who already admire his work will find new depths and lustres in these fresh explorations into life, art, and the surprising exchanges to which they are subject ... Skovron's poetic voice – formal without undue formality, serious yet always open to wit and humour – has been recognized from the start as clear and companionable. With Sleeve Notes it becomes authoritative."
— Kevin Hart

“The attentive may feel that some obscure plan is being played out around them (as indeed we know it is, in the more ambitious poems …). While a lot of the work stays covered, one begins to trust it because of its manifest care.”
— Les Harrop, Generation

“There is a roundedness, a variety, to Skovron’s poetry that makes it both accessible and yet challenging … These are lucid and frequently moving poems, their language the controlled result of the often difficult marriage of passion and intellect.”
— Shane McCauley, Fremantle Arts Review

 

Infinite City

Published 1999 by Five Islands Press (paperback, 118 pp., $13.95). Reprinted 1999. Available from the author.

Infinite City is a collection of 100 poems in a ten-line form for which Alex Skovron has coined the name ‘sonnetina’. These sonnetinas speak in many voices, though certain motifs recur and intersect. Rhythm and colour shift from page to page; rhyme-schemes vary, or vanish; fact and invention jostle each other as the form is explored from many angles. The poems reflect upon time and destiny, on culture, language, sex, music and art, on the sacred and the mundane. They investigate terrains both social and inner, probing our daily confrontations with the self. The relation between thought, language, symbol and meaning is a central concern.

Although each sonnetina is self-contained, the book can be read as an unfolding journey through the realms and layers of experience. It can also be entered obliquely, along paths that subvert the printed sequence but uncover unexpected echoes and links; or dipped into at random, with individual poems rotated under the light.

“This book is remarkable in two respects: its high standard of craft, and its strong and flexible intellectual quality … The overall effect is of a fluid whole which is impressively large in its reach, both in tone and in thought.”
— John Leonard

“Reading the poems singly, in their complete sequence or in their thematically-arranged groupings, the reader is rewarded by their extraordinary range of intellectual rigour, emotional experience and subject matter, as well as the satisfaction of encountering extremely accomplished poetry.”
— Marcelle Freiman, Australian Jewish News

“Structurally, these are flawless poems: economical, and beautifully put together … [They are] almost like modern-day psalms.”
— Paola Bilbrough, Heat

“… Infinite City is an impressive and masterly book.”
— Peter Boyle, Cordite

 

The Man and the Map

Published 2003 by Five Islands Press (paperback, 136 pp., $21.95). Available from the author.

In his fourth volume of poetry, Alex Skovron revisits many of the concerns explored in his earlier collections: history, language, music, our exchanges with one another, the everyday surrealities of life – and the elusive relation between memory, time and self. The poet probes the terrains of his own past (its truths and fictions), and navigates the territories beyond. His map encompasses the old world and the new; his journey traverses the crossroads of childhood, the webs of adolescence, the jolts and comedies of experience. It takes in strange landscapes and illustrious cities, restless dreams and ghostly fantasies, the outskirts of eternity and the road to hell. Across the horizon, like a distant range discerned from a moving train, hovers the shifting backdrop of the twentieth century.

“This is Skovron’s fourth book of poetry, and he continues to delight and astonish the reader with his deft and elegant work.”
— Ian McBryde, Artstreams

“It is the author’s ability to use the quick and ‘dangerous’ metaphor, efficiency of form and subtle but insistent flow which brings each poem to unique life … Skovron is able to encapsulate an image in a fleeting and angular manner, not unlike the shutter of the photographer or well-placed brush stroke of the painter.”
— Kevin Gillam, Five Bells

“Irrespective of its subject, a Skovron poem manifests fundamental decency, self-awareness and civilisation ….”
— Oliver Dennis, Island

 

Autographs

Published 2008 by Hybrid Publishers (paperback, 80 pp., $19.95).

The 56 prose-poems that make up this collection explore provinces of the self – time and the allure of memory, the mosaics and masks of identity, fantasy’s realms, eros and the affections, the will to imagination, our shifting perspectives on ‘reality’. The autographs vary in tone and texture, colour and pulse; some resemble miniature stories, others are freely autobiographical, while others again present strange tableaux, searching meditations, or introduce a named, presumably fictitious protagonist. Of especial interest to the author are the poetic dimensions and musical possibilities of prose. While the order of the pieces across the book’s three sections has been carefully plotted, they all stand as self-contained compositions linked, sometimes, by recurring motifs and echoes from one voice to another. Autographs is a book of many voices – and of the many signatures that underwrite our times.

“Whether hyperbolic, philosophical, satiric, elegiac, nostalgic or autobiographical in theme, these prose-poems cast you adrift, far from the usual; and yet some invisible poetic pulley hauls you back to shore at the end of each page. Every metrical, grammatical, punctuated, alliterative, slant-rhymed nuance contributes to these elegant sculptures that hold together into tableaux of mesmerising virtuosity … The skill is breathtaking. The erudition unapologetic. As Bacon said to Burnleigh in a letter in 1592, ‘I’ve taken all knowledge to be my province’ … I believe this book is a masterpiece of prose-poetry.”
— Jennifer Harrison, launch speech

“Visually, the poems on the page resemble small opaque lakes, patterned with tiny ripples. Reading the collection feels like diving into water with barely a splash. This poetry flows where it wants to go, it invites a sense of immersion, a weightlessness. Like listening to music there is aesthetic pleasure in following the long, uninterrupted lines of melody, shifts in tone and pace across the collection.”
— Susan Fealy, Cordite

“In Autographs, Skovron demonstrates how the prose poem can do things which are impossible both in traditional lineated poetry and in normal prose fiction.”
— Geoff Page, Canberra Times

“Skovron’s achievement in Autographs is to have crafted poems that are at once intimately personal and yet reach beyond this to offer a mysterious vision of the world.”
— Cameron Lowe, Mascara

 

The Poet

Published 2005 by Hybrid Publishers (paperback, 144 pp., $19.95).

The Poet is a tale of obsession, art, and the thresholds between day and night. Manfred is a nondescript insurance clerk, inflexibly honest and imbued with a profound sense of order. He is also a prolific poet, but has never tried to publish – until now. The novella traces the events and experiences that befall Manfred in the wake of a single moment’s carelessness, a mistake that will change his life. He enters a maze he must negotiate, between action and paralysis, inspiration and despair, guilt – and the phantom, love. We encounter an eccentric stranger bent on a terrible mission, the publisher of a deceitful new author, and the city that forms a living, shifting backdrop to the interior drama, as Manfred struggles with his predicament, his muse, and the labyrinth of his implacable honesty. It is a journey from common daylight into a darkness flickering with both hope and oblivion; a journey across the fragile web of what we understand as sanity.

“It is a novella about the individual and the city; about the loss of meaning; about the way in which people are driven and altered by circumstances they cannot control. Manfred’s astonishing and sometimes irritating naïveté questions the kinds of sophistications most of us take for granted and how we would survive without them.”
— Paul Hetherington, Australian Book Review

“It is a resonant, perplexing tale of loss, love and complexity – a discomfiting, sometimes heartbreaking book that rejects conventional formulaic storylines in favour of other possibilities. Like its protagonist, it is honest in ways that shatter comfort zones. And, like its protagonist, it is gifted with dazzling moments of grace.
     
The Poet is a work of art (note as well the fine cover painting, also by the author). It is a work to be savoured, and yet my first reading was voracious, accomplished in a single sitting, for in addition to succeeding as literature, The Poet is also a gripping and compelling page-turner …”
— Deborah Miller, Australian Jewish News

“This book has a lot of light in it, it reads with seamless clarity and precision, is a wonderfully realised style, but there is also a darker set of echoes in it. And a pathos that I was, even after several readings, truly hit by. This is a terrific new addition to the small list of Australian novellas, the ones, I mean, that are so memorable; but even saying that, in Australian fiction it is unique ... You will be ever so subtly changed."
— Philip Salom, launch speech

 

The Attic

Published 2013 by PEN Melbourne (paperback, 48 pp., $10.00). Bilingual (parallel text), with translations by Jacques Rancourt. Reprinted 2014.

‘I translate the books of a famous author / before they are written. …’ So begins the title-poem of this parallel-text edition of ten poems by Alex Skovron, with French translations by Jacques Rancourt. Although the selection is not large, it traverses a rich poetic terrain in which some of the poet’s most pressing concerns are explored. The voices of night mingle with importunings from the past and memories of the future; the familiar grows suddenly strange; faith and fable challenge belief; myth and reality quietly intersect; there is longing, and loss, there is music, and the end of time; even a tree that grows from the sky. These are poems that probe the shades and borderlines of our lives, re-imagining who and what we are.

The Attic is classy. In it, we hear the genetic code of jazz … These poems know what Django Reinhardt did about composition and an itinerant ‘Manoir’ between realms, what Bix Beiderbecke knew about time signature and form … and when a train might come, and what Eddie Condon knew about artfully breaching all of the above when needed. All the arrangements involved in this book seem to spell your name.”
— Kent MacCarter, launch speech

 

Towards the Equator: New & Selected Poems (forthcoming)

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