Poetry Journal

Issues / Volume 5 Issue 1 , July 2015


Black Pepper Press: Spice and Grit

Margaret Bradstock

Black Pepper obviously knows what is the spice of life.
—Andrew McCue, Ulitarra 14, 1998

Back in 1995, when the major publishing houses began withdrawing poetry from their lists to concentrate on more lucrative areas, small presses stepped in to fill the resultant gap. Black Pepper was one of these. Kevin Pearson, who describes himself as a ‘troubadour poet’, was born in Melbourne, spent time on the road travelling between states and, while working in Adelaide during the early ’80s, established a reputation for his poetry. Publishing projects for the Wakefield Press gave him the experience needed to start Black Pepper when he returned to Melbourne and settled in North Fitzroy.

Gail Hannah had worked as administrator, assistant manager and publicist for the Almost Managing theatre company in Melbourne, and had begun her own creative enterprise by the time she met Kevin Pearson. She became the artistic director for Black Pepper and is credited with the high quality of book design for the press. The seed funding for Black Pepper was provided by the sale of Kevin Pearson’s parental home. The offices, warehousing and design room are courtesy of Gail Hannah’s large Victorian house, giving Black Pepper rent-free premises. Neither receives a salary from the business venture, which employs part-time assistant editors, web designers, publicists and book producers.

To begin with, Black Pepper did not have the advantage of assistance from the Literature Board of the Australia Council but, once established as a significant publisher of works of literary merit, the press had a long run of support on a fairly regular basis. In the case of Tasmanian authors, Black Pepper has also received assistance from Arts Tasmania. With the recent reduction of Government funding for the Arts, publishers again face the difficult task of keeping poetry afloat, and it is noteworthy that three fine collections from Black Pepper in the past year do not bear State Government or Australia Council logos. On the other hand, print runs have become easier now technology has caught up. A minimum of 500 copies was once necessary, when text and covers were both printed offset. With digital printing, according to Kevin Pearson, his first run will now be 200 to 250 books, which is fairly standard for small presses, and after that copies can be printed as required. Poets are not asked to contribute to the cost of publication, and receive royalties of ten percent of RRP. They tend to buy copies for readings, which are a major outlet for sales. ‘Almost all the press’s poetry titles break even’, says Pearson, ‘or generate a small profit which is recycled into ongoing production’.

In 1995, Black Pepper published ten titles—short stories, a novel, novellas, a book of meditations and five collections of poetry, two of which were Pearson's own. When asked whether one of their reasons for this generic mix was to establish a sound financial basis for the press (since poetry tends to have a limited popularity and saleability), Pearson responded:

While we were hoping for a boost from fiction sales, it was also the fact that we felt there was neglected prose work going unpublished. Sales did not generally match expectations, as fiction is a more contested market where the Big Boys can more incisively wield advertising dollars and influence. However, there was the success of Wayne Macauley, now regarded as a crucial Australian novelist, first published by us when no one else would touch him. This has been a historical function of the small press—the discovery of the unknown.

Jennifer Harrison’s first poetry collection, Michelangelo’s Daybook, was launched to strong critical acclaim (with reviews by Jennifer Strauss in Australian Book Review; Alan Gould in Quadrant; Catherine Bateson and Barbara Giles, judges of the Anne Elder Award, won by Harrison in that year). Laurie Clancy, in an Age interview with Kevin Pearson about the Melbourne poetry scene in 2000, is remembered as saying ‘If Black Pepper had done nothing else, its discovery of Jennifer Harrison justifies its existence’.

John Anderson, whose experimental text the forest set out like the night had been rejected by Island Press, Paper Bark, Angus & Robertson and Penguin Books, ultimately found, as a rejection letter from Penguin Books intimated, ‘the right publisher and audience’ with Black Pepper. In 1999, Gary Catalano wrote in Ulitarra that ‘Pearson suggested that the length of the original manuscript was an issue’, yet he chose to print it in its entirety (complete with illustrations). Clearly, Pearson saw the merit of the collection and was willing to take a gamble where bigger presses were not. Anderson was not widely known, but was admired and respected by fellow poets and published alongside Kris Hemensley, John Tranter, Robert Harris and John Jenkins in Robert Kenny's first (1974) volume of Rigmarole of the Hours. He is compared favourably with Les Murray by Catalano, and Murray himself, in The Poetry Book Club of Australia,1 said of the forest set out like the night, ‘I would highly commend John Anderson’s distinctive experimental text, one which is bound to be influential’. Anderson’s next collection, the shadow’s keep, was also taken up by Black Pepper, in 1997, the year of his early and unexpected death.

The pattern of across-genre publishing has continued up to the present day. In three years only (2007, 2008, 2012) there were no poetry collections, but in 2013 four of the five titles were poetry, and in 2014 two out of three were poetry, all from well-known poets. Overall, the press aims to maintain fifty percent of the mix as poetry titles. Books selected for publication throughout Black Pepper’s history reflect the publisher’s eclectic taste, but include a number of established and significant poets, who have chosen to remain with the Black Pepper ‘stable’. Repeat appearances come to us from Jordie Albiston (Botany Bay Document, 1996; The Hanging of Jean Lee, 1998); Adrienne Eberhard (Agamemnon’s Poppies, 2003; Jane, Lady Franklin, 2004; This Woman, 2012); Stephen Edgar (Other Summers, 2006; History of the Day, 2009; Eldershaw, 2013; Exhibits of the Sun, 2014); Jennifer Harrison (Michelangelo’s Prisoners, 1995; Cabramatta/Cudmirrah, 1996; Mosaics and Mirrors, with Graham Henderson and K.F Pearson, 1996; Dear B, 1996; Folly & Grief, 2006; Colombine, 2010); Homer Rieth (The Dining Car Scene, 2001; Wimmera, 2009; 150 Motets, 2013); Andrew Sant (Album of Domestic Exiles, 1997; Tremors, New and Selected Poems, 2004; Fuel, 2009; The Bicycle Thief, 2013); Nicolette Stasko (The Weight of Irises, 2003; The Invention of Everyday Life, 2007).

Four poetry collections are listed on the Black Pepper website2 as bestsellers: Jordie Albiston’s The Hanging of Jean Lee, Homer Rieth’s Wimmera, Jennifer Harrison’s Colombine, and Stephen Edgar’s Eldershaw. The story of Jean Lee, the last woman hanged in Australia, as late as 1951,3 proved inherently fascinating and disturbing to readers, and critics almost unanimously praised the poetic skills and techniques involved in presenting the narrative as dramatic monologue. No fewer than fifteen reviews appeared in Australia’s most prestigious literary journals at the time, and in August 2006 a new opera was performed at the Sydney Opera House, based on Albiston’s ‘verse biography’, with Andrée Greenwell as composer and artistic director. In November 2013, Radio National presented a two-part feature in which Albiston walked the streets of Melbourne re-visiting Jean Lee’s haunts, and in December of the same year Lee’s story was played out in a dramatic post-pop concert version, such was its hold on the public imagination.

But was it the melodramatic nature of the subject matter, the lyric power of the poetry, or a combination of both, that destined this book to be a bestseller? Perhaps the best answer to this is Judy Johnson’s comment that she saw Albiston’s work ‘as an example of how accomplished poetics and sensational story line can come together to create something memorable’.

Discussing the HSC syllabus in Quadrant, Alan Gould commented that the committee ‘might do well to place The Hanging of Jean Lee […] before its students [...] a thoroughly compelling, incisive and finely wrought sequence of poems’. He expands this suggestion with reference to Albiston’s ‘acute eye for period and sociological accuracy’, her impressive constraint, an ear ‘as finely tuned to childspeak as it is to Australian working-class argot of the 1930s and 1940s’ and her ‘great art in structuring her story’. Such considerations find an echo in other critics’ responses. Judy Johnson claimed for Albiston ‘a particular gift for conjuring immediacy through unerring colloquial voice and a historian’s concern with re-creating time and place accurately’. Shane Rowlands commented in Meanjin that ‘Albiston is scrupulous in avoiding anachronisms. A meticulous researcher, she has a thorough understanding and sure grasp of the broader socio-historical context, economic conditions and significant public events’. David Wood drew attention to the ‘elegance and technical accomplishment […] a highly refined sensibility, a deft poetic talent with a sensitive ear for cadence and tonal modulation’. Structure, it is agreed, is not linear narrative, but thematic, varying and integrating perceptions, disrupting the reader's expectations. Judy Johnson, in particular, noted how Albiston ‘dislocates the story line—time and perspective leap deftly forwards, backwards and sideways’.

A fine reception indeed, but there were reservations. Writing in Antipodes, Julian Croft drew attention to the way in which ‘occasionally Jean Lee’s voice sounds more like a radio drama of the time […] which though it makes sense in a way, sounds thin and trite at times. On others, Albiston gets the right register and makes her subject’s voice move away from flat prose into poetry’. He concedes that ‘the blend of direct and indirect narrative through real and imagined sources and revelation from Lee herself create a finely realised and sympathetic account of a blighted life. And there is the added benefit of some very moving and intelligent poetry’. By contrast, David Wood concluded his review with the remark that ‘It is a pity that the collection does not climax more effectively’, attributing this shortfall in part to the lack of strict chronology, and partly ‘because Albiston’s technique lacks sufficient muscularity’. Barry Hill questioned the quality of the poetry:

As a whole, the book works in the mind like a novel […]. Poem by poem, though, it is patchy, and only breaks out of its tabloid strongly in the poems about God. That is the challenge to which the book has only partially risen: how to tell a tabloid story without the tabloid murdering the art?

Dorothy Hewett declared herself ‘dissatisfied with the verse novel in general’, and asked, ‘why this fascination with a particular genre, apparently growing in popularity? […] The result is a tendency towards a flattening of diction, a uniformity of tone, that it seems difficult in the long run to transcend’. Gig Ryan, requiring both narrative tension and convincing poetics, is more specifically damning in her Age review:

These monologues […] never entirely jell […]; there is little suspense or explanation. Lee’s character seems intermittently bland, religious, superficial but strangely not tragic and Albiston's insistent rhythm and rhyme seem at odds with the subject.

She concludes, ‘This book does what it intends, calling Lee and capital punishment (abolished in Victoria, 1975)4 to our attention, but Lee remains somehow incomplete’. Geoff Page noted in The Canberra Times that, ‘perhaps disconcertingly’, a number of the poems are written from the vantage point ‘of an omniscient narrator or from the point of view of other key figures’, and suggested that they ‘diminish the claustrophobic intensity that might have been achieved if the reader had been confined to Jean Lee’s head throughout’. Page points out that ‘Traditional metres and rhymes set up firm expectations which are interestingly, and often frustratingly, denied, and draws attention to ‘a curious kind of moral ambivalence’, but agrees that ‘the book certainly succeeds […] mainly through its original poetic technique, in creating a sense of Lee's humanity’.

The feminist perspective is introduced by Bev Braune in HEAT, adding a further dimension to the controversy: ‘It is the judgement of Lee as an “unrespectable woman” that has captured Albiston’s imagination’—a stance underlined by Edward Reilly’s contemporary memories of the event: ‘there was some sympathy amongst the local women: most of them thought Judge Duffy was too harsh in applying the law […] to do that to a woman was considered to be little more than judicial murder’.

What might be concluded, in response to the varied critical reactions to The Hanging of Jean Lee, is that, in this case, the momentum of the whole is greater than the sum of its highly ordered and uncompromising parts. Fortunately, Kevin Pearson recognised its potential, and the book’s widespread public recognition speaks for itself. What we are left with is an image of finality, reminiscent of the awful precision of Bruce Dawe’s ‘A Victorian Hangman Tells His Love’, or the newspaper accounts of the execution of Chambers and Barlow in 1986, the mindless reassurance of ‘a good death’:

                               I tie her carefully to
      the chair    that she may feel held as
       she falls    Adjust the hood    and get
      the nod    then let the trapdoor go 

Homer Rieth’s Wimmera (2009) was an even more significant publication for Black Pepper, selling over 5,000 copies. Wimmera is an epic poem in the classical mode about the Victorian district in which Rieth came to live, replacing the battles of heroes and gods with the struggle of human beings against the environment. In his foreword to the book, Justin Clemens suggests that ‘in its spiritual vision, it is reminiscent of the cosmic speculations of Wordsworth and Whitman’. Brian Edwards, in Australian Book Review, likewise rated it highly: ‘Grand in conception and impressively detailed in execution, this is a significant achievement indeed, and a major contribution to Australian literature’. Geoffrey Lehmann had also reviewed the publication positively, and Landline (ABC-TV Broadcast on 21 February 2010) featured a reading and discussion, with Tim Lee as reporter and input from Dr. Brian Edwards and Kevin Pearson. Pearson’s account of Wimmera’s rise to fame is memorable:

Theoretically the book was totally unsaleable. It is a 374-page unpunctuated epic poem dealing with the flat dry land region of its title. Like every other title, we valued it for its worth firstly and took our chances with its success. However, we deliberately promoted it to the ABC. Landline made a twenty-minute documentary about the author and the book, called ‘Homer’s epic’. The minute after the program ceased we sold thirteen copies by telephone order. We sold to every quarter of Australia, from Groote Island to Bruny Island. The important thing is that it was selling to the common reader and not to the literary elite. We believe all poetry which has clarity has this potential.

Pam Brown was less impressed:

Although divided into 12 sections, at 360 pages the poem is a bit relentless, having little variation in tone throughout.... No matter how judicious and broad the reportage, range of form and topic, antithesis of allusion and the literal, I found that I began to flip through sections and felt that it might be easier to come to know the Wimmera by reading an actual history of the district.

Jennifer Harrison’s Colombine: New & Selected Poems (2010) represents a very different kind of collection. Reviews were fewer, but were more unequivocally positive, and the book was shortlisted for the 2011 Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards. As a New & Selected, it includes poems from Harrison’s first four poetry collections as well as new work, comprising two long sequences, ‘Fugue’ and ‘Colombine’. Poems like the haunting ‘Glass Harmonica’ (from Folly & Grief, 2006) are well worth revisiting and serve as a prelude to the next stage of her poetic development. In ‘Fugue’, as Geoff Page remarks, ‘the poet employs a variety of forms which rely on repetition, most notably the pantoum and variations of it. The cumulative impact of repeated lines (or nearly repeated lines) can be considerable but much depends on the quality of the line itself’. He cites a line that fails to make the grade, and admittedly the repetitive nature of the pantoum, experienced en bloc as here, rather than adding meaning to the opening stanza has a tendency to detract from the overall emotive force of individual lines. Against this, a repetition of some lines, or parts of lines, in many sections of the sequence ‘Colombine’ works powerfully and cumulatively towards the success of the dramatic monologue, building on figures already met in Folly & Grief. At this point it might be appropriate to pay tribute to Gail Hannah’s stunning cover design for Colombine, with its evocation of sorrow behind the mask/masque, reflecting themes and preoccupations of the book as a whole.

Martin Duwell believes Harrison's fourth book, Folly & Grief, ‘contains her best work so far and deserves to be celebrated as one of the books of the decade […] marked by an extraordinary richness of invention and poetic performance’. Based on the selection in Colombine, however, it is difficult to agree that the earlier poems overshadow the new, standing instead as sketches for the more cohesive yet thematically complex ‘Colombine’ sequence. As Susan Healy has said, ‘“Columbine” as a sequence is a remarkable, original achievement and is worthy of being extended and published as a single volume. When “Colombine” stands alone her resistance to easy meanings can be better understood on her own terms’.

The fourth poetry bestseller from Black Pepper is Stephen Edgar’s Eldershaw (2013). Eldershaw was shortlisted for the 2013 Queensland Literary Awards, came equal first in the 2014 Colin Roderick Award, and was shortlisted for the 2014 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards. The story of the Colin Roderick Award is an interesting one. Novelist Ashley Hay asked Edgar, whom she had never met, to write a poem for her 2013 novel The Railwayman’s Wife. She sent him some of the imagery required for the poem and information about the character to whom it was to be attributed, and Edgar obliged with a poem which she said ‘fitted the voice of my poet so perfectly and contained all the imagery and ideas I'd sent’. By a strange turn of fate, Hay and Edgar met for the first time as joint winners of the Colin Roderick Award, for ‘the best book published in Australia which deals with any aspect of Australian life’. It is a tribute to Stephen Edgar and to Eldershaw to have won this award across all genres.

Like Dorothy Hewett, I would have to admit that I’m not, ‘in general’, a fan of the verse novel. It lends itself too easily to the prosaic when important information has to be conveyed to the reader, as in:

  Martin had been engaged as union brief
  To fight the Marshall case, in which the two, 
  Marshall father and son, were holding out
  Against compulsory union membership
  In a union which, they claimed, was being run
  By communists. And Lex was, truth to tell,
  A member of that party, as were all
  The national executive at the time. 

However, as Martin Duwell points out, ‘the whole poem works alarmingly well. Unlike a conventional genre piece, it is alive and convincing at every point, crackling with engagement and intensity. Working out why this should be the case is a tricky critical issue’. In the same review, Duwell also looks extensively at Edgar’s earlier books, identifying many pieces as preludes to this final coming-together of recurrent themes, ‘one way of approaching Edgar’s work as a whole’.

It is perhaps for this reason that the middle section of the sequence, ‘The Fifth Element’—dealing with the empty relationship between Luke and his father, Evan’s war memories and impending death—soars above conventional narrative verse, arriving at moments of pure lyrical poetry:

  [… ]    this surge of recklessness
  He’d call exhilaration if it weren’t
  Such folly for the lives he might be risking
  Compels him to fly upwards, up and up
  To the ceiling, thirty-seven thousand feet,
  As high as the Mosquito’s built to stand.
  Up in the cold clear night, floating between
  The two bright galaxies, he breathes again
  And looks out at the sky bending around
  The shoulders of the world, lit by a moon
  That has its back half-turned to him. If they
  Can only fly beyond that curvature,
  Tangential to the folding dark […]

Part II of Eldershaw comprises sixteen poems in Edgar’s familiar rhymed and scanning style, encapsulating many of the themes and scenarios that continue to haunt him: time, the past and memory, significant moments lost forever, or transmuted into art. As such, they are closely linked to, and present in sharp relief, the concerns of the opening sequence. The text is beautifully produced and will no doubt see re-editions or re-printings, as its enthusiastic reception to date foreshadows. If so, I’d like to suggest that the line ‘Silent upon a peak in Darien’ (p.9) appear in italics or quotation marks.5

Hard on the heels of Eldershaw comes Stephen Edgar’s Exhibits of the Sun, as a Black Pepper current release for 2014. In many ways, the poems in it are in the Stephen Edgar style we are familiar with, similar in their stanzaic patterns of rhyme and rhythm. Like the Australian artist Lucy Culliton, Edgar looks from the microscopic to the macrocosmic and sees beauty. His familiar subject matter, flooded with light, frequently challenges the ambiguous effects of light. In ‘All Eyes’, as the Huygens spacecraft approaches:

  A ghostly Ferris wheel frozen in space,
  Saturn comes looming at the satellite
  With all its shattered rings of icy lace
  Exquisitely beyond repair.  

Light itself is tempered by time, as in ‘The Clues’:

  The green light in the leaves
  At evening, cloud like breath upon the sky’s
  Dark windowpane, the slate-grey reservoir
  And the shadow of the heron it retrieves.
  Such recollected scraps will rise
  And haunt them with the quest of what they are [,]

as time is adjusted by memory:

  That in between one eye blink and the next
  Time paused, allowing time to be installed
  Within that countless interim,
  Coiled up, on hold,
  A memory predicted and recalled.       (‘The House of Time’)

Mention should also be made of Patricia Roche’s beautiful cover photograph, Paperbarks, which introduces and illuminates individual sections of the text.

Recent positive reviews of Exhibits of the Sun have appeared from Peter Goldsworthy, who says of Edgar, ‘There are few as accomplished in the English-speaking world, or with as large a command of forms’, and Geoffrey Lehmann, who suggests that Edgar ‘is now ripe for a major Collected Poems’. Clive James has recently (28 November 2014) nominated Exhibits of the Sun as one of the TLS picks for ‘Books of the Year’, stating that ‘The sudden lyricism of his images grows even more amazing, not just for their accuracy, but for their impetus’.

Paths of Flight (2013) is Luke Fischer’s debut collection and, as such, is subject to varied critical responses. Ian McFarlane noted that ‘Luke Fischer is described as a poet and scholar, and the poems […] reflect the intellectual gravitas of the label, which made things difficult for me, since I’ve always believed poetry is more akin to dreaming than thinking’. For MacFarlane, ‘These poems embrace a wide-ranging pastoral philosophy […]. The result is a curious cornucopia that shimmers with brittle beauty […] but struggles to escape a studied air of academic function’. Geoff Page is kinder: ‘Like most first books, it heads in several directions at once and it is not yet apparent which will be the next, or the ultimate, one’.

Many of the poems are, in fact, highly reliant on description, and written from the first-person perspective; the best of these culminate in a volte-face, or unexpected reversal, as in the following:

  Even as I write
  my pen

Other poems personify nature, birds, insects and there are some excellent similes:

  you stood with wing-feathers slotted
  like Swiss army knives,                      

My favourite poems are ‘In Late Winter’, which reverse the relationship between artist and artwork (‘my hands etched in a pentagonal plate of silver’), ‘Grasshopper in a Field’ (‘your legs,/ folded leaves like origami/ to make a pair of wings?’), ‘Band of Cockatoos’, 'Augury?’ (winner of the 2012 Overland Judith Wright Poetry Prize for New and Emerging Poets) and ‘Owl’, which I quote in full:

  Its frontal eyes
  (new moons)
  kept us under watch
  long before we noticed.
  Vigil in a cell
  of twisted boughs
  habit like forest
  mottled under a crescent
  More or less than stillness
  an omission (like death),
  an eraser pushed
  until a hole was
  in the page; 
  feathered disguise
  of Night’s contracted 
  No light source
  other than your face
  revealed you,
  presiding and flat
  as the moon’s chalky
  You stared without a blink, while
  we turned and never lost
   your look. 

As well as its compelling imagery, this poem hinges on a duality of perspective that epitomises the persona’s familiar stance—that of the watcher watched.

As Peter Minter has said in his Overland judge’s report on ‘Augury’, ‘we need all the good poetry we can get’, and Black Pepper Press continues to fulfil that aim, creating opportunities for good new poets to establish themselves.

Todd Turner’s Woodsmoke (2014) is another debut collection of poems published by Black Pepper. Turner is described by Anthony Lynch as ‘a younger poet’ although, at 43 years of age, this is surely in relation to the longevity of many of our ‘more mature poets’ today, or perhaps to his emergence as ‘new kid on the block’. Nonetheless, he is referred to as the heir of Geoff Page (by Lynch), of Philip Hodgins (by Geoff Page) and also both Hodgins and Brendan Ryan (by Autumn Royal). This is not a bad line of descent for a debut poet.

The collection has a number of different, but interrelated thrusts. There is the pastoral, arising from the landscape of the poet’s family history; the anti-pastoral (whereby the persona escapes to the city, but never quite succeeds in leaving behind memories of a natural world); and there is the metaphysical, celebrating a ‘benediction’ or ‘grace’ in nature. Poems like the eponymous ‘Woodsmoke’ are couched in lyrical images more revealing than those of the more pragmatic anti-pastorals, and invoking that third, more abstract, spiritual dimension:

  I think of it as what
  passes for benediction; the tenured
  door through which seasons pass, 
  Somewhere lost among the welcome
  arms of the woodland trees I see it,
  adrift in a smock of ribbons....

Again, in the concluding poem, ‘Fieldwork’,6 the poetry soars to match the complexity of thought and emotion:

  I know what the cycle 
  serves, but what is being served by

Two poems to do with the everyday working world have been interpreted by critics as possibly having reference to the making of poetry. In ‘Shelling Peas’, suggests Autumn Royal:

the ‘rhythm at hand’ puns on the crafting of poetry and also emphasises the cadences of domestic labour, the obligatory cycles that can inform our imagination […] one may understand the metaphorical process of ‘the run of the thumb’ as a means of extracting a moment or idea from its ‘hull’ and containing it—like the ‘peas into the pot’—within a poem.

Martin Duwell considers that 'the repetitive nature of the activity […] might be no more than the conventional trope of the artist finding the valuable fruit inside the dry shell’, but thinks ‘the emphasis is rather on the poet’s use of his hands “intent/ and nimble as a lace maker’s”’. Duwell posits a stronger case for ‘Apprentice’, a poem about the making of jewellery—the profession Turner himself practises: ‘“Apprentice” might—“in its blueprint of allegory”—be about making poems’. (Carol Jenkins makes a similar case in her recent review in the Australian Poetry Journal.) These are both fine poems in their own right. If they have that added numinous dimension, and they can certainly be read that way, this interpretation further contributes to their function within the collection. Poetry, like pea-shelling or jewellery-making, is arduous but skilled toil.

As well as current releases and the more recent bestsellers, several other titles are still available from Black Pepper Press: K.F. Pearson, The Apparition at Large; Andrew Sant, The Bicycle Thief; Homer Rieth, 150 Motets and Bron Nicholls’ memoir, An Imaginary Mother, among others.



  1. The Poetry Book Club of Australia, vol. 1, no. 2, December 1995. December 1995. See Black Pepper website All reviews cited in this essay are available on the website. 

  2. Black Pepper website. Two novels, Miranda Burton’s Hidden (2011) and Susan Hancock’s The Peastick Girl (2012), are also listed as bestsellers. 

  3. By comparison, the last woman hanged in NSW was Louisa Collins, in 1889. 

  4. The death penalty for federal crimes was, in fact, abolished by the Whitlam Government in 1973. 

  5. From John Keats, ‘On first looking into Chapman’s Homer’. 

  6. ‘Fieldwork’ was co-winner of the inaugural Jean Cecily Drake-Brockman Prize and was highly commended in the 2011 Blake Poetry Prize. 

Select Titles reviewed

• Jordie Albiston. The Hanging of Jean Lee. ISBN 9781876044251. Melbourne: Black Pepper, 1998 [reprinted 2013, 2014]. RRP $22.95

• John Anderson. the forest set out like the night. ISBN 9781876044053. Melbourne: Black Pepper, 1995 [reprinted 2013]. RRP $24.95

• Stephen Edgar. Eldershaw. ISBN 9781876044787. Melbourne: Black Pepper, 2013. RRP $23.95

• Stephen Edgar. Exhibits of the Sun. ISBN 9781876044886. Melbourne: Black Pepper, 2014. RRP $22.95

• Luke Fischer. Paths of Flight. ISBN 9781876044855. Melbourne: Black Pepper, 2013. RRP $22.95

• Jennifer Harrison. Folly & Grief. ISBN 1876044454. Melbourne: Black Pepper Press, 2006. RRP $25.95

• Jennifer Harrison. Colombine: New & Selected Poems. ISBN 9781876044657. Melbourne: Black Pepper Press, 2010. RRP $28.95

• Homer Rieth. Wimmera. ISBN 9781876044619. Melbourne: Black Pepper, 2009. RRP $39.95

• Todd Turner. Woodsmoke. ISBN 9781876044862. Melbourne: Black Pepper, 2014. RRP $22.95