Keepers (Trilogy)


Puncher & Wattmann, 2010

2011   The Age Poetry Book of the Year – Honourable mention

Keepers is highly entertaining and serious; there are brilliant flashes and reflections, ironic observations and a lot of humour. The poems form stories and portraits of recognisable and unrecognisable people who teach and study in a School of Arts. You may know them: the intense, the terse, the drugged and the eccentric. Upstairs is the Health and Safety Novelist, and The Face, a narcissistic academic; and down in the basement, in lower registers, Fish, the cleaner and print-room assistant, working away among the students, including Gillian the sculptor who is suddenly successful and Jess the writer who some have questioned. The ironic observations of Fish, flâneur and Go player, form a narrative underlying the poems. Interspersed throughout are figures from history: Balzac, Gentileschi, Shostakovich, Orlan, Klima… After the shadowy voices of The Well Mouth these poems by Salom have come up into the light.

The Keeper of Fish

Puncher & Wattmann, 2011

2012  Prime Minister’s Prize for Poetry – Highly Commended

Alan Fish was writing poetry before his life went dark. He let it collect like a tank of rain-water. His subject matter? Love and death. His poetry is deeply haunted and lyrical in its privacy but also ironically observant and public. After all, he is not only a lover, but a flaneur. He can snap his fingers. He can play Go. There has always been a largely hidden group of closet poets, people who read and write in private. Poetry knows this and addresses them tacitly as its own, but sometimes such a poet says enough, grabs the poems and speaks back. Alan Fish left his basement in the Print Room, left his Keepers behind him and struck out on his own. His work is seriously beautiful, or beautifully serious, in its imagery and shadows; he is in some ways lost, but he is no push-over. He is to one side of the optimists. He is addicted to free verse couplets. As the cliche says: a compelling new voice. Listen.

Keeping Carter

Puncher & Wattmann, 2011

A new poet on the block, M A Carter is uncaring of the niceties and the pat expressions of much poetry within the status quo. Instead, Carter is mordant, immoderate, opinionated and likely to offend. He writes in a style that is distinctly musical and even lyrical but his observations stray wildly and eccentrically from the expected. His poems don’t mind being rude, or chauvinistic, even a bit scary. He admits this will not make him popular or admired, but he doesn’t care for popular or admired, he prefers to say what he thinks and be done with it. Until the next poem, that is. Carter thinks poetry plays safe, is less about integrity than it sounds, and is more about wooing the reader with phony affectations, those sequences of cliched and rhetorical love poems, nature musings with poets too fond of themselves … or self-congratulatory claims to ethics, books obsessed with the politics or landscape or both. M A Carter makes claims too, ironic, false claims usually. But what a bracing thing this is. What fun. Read him now.

Praise for books in the Keepers trilogy

Keepers is a prodigious act of imagination and thought. It’s a work of poetic virtuosity that wickedly undoes its own virtuosity. It’s a witty, beautiful and moving series of reflection on art and artists that is itself a work of art, that enacts its own argument: “Art is a strangeness come to wake them”. It’s a work of fiction, creating in its slim 100 pages an entire world, populated by a cast of immediately memorable and recognisable characters. It’s a satire of contemporary academia and culture, sometimes stingingly funny, sometimes scathingly black, that exposes and mocks the “health and safety” culture that represses and marginalises the dangerous reaches of the imagination. It’s a memento mori, that reminds us, as the poet says in a meditation on the Japanese board game Go, that the “game of poetry is mortal / accretion”. Perhaps it is, in the end, an opera, a story of love and death.

Alison Croggon

In his Keepers trilogy, Philip Salom is an Eliotian Fisher King, exploring the fissuring of identity in a triple play of plurality. The first book, Keepers (2010), was written by Salom, but authorship of The Keeper of Fish and Keeping Carter is attributed to Alan Fish and M.A. Carter,respectively. In his role as editor for these two poets, Salom becomes their gatekeeper or, as he states, their ‘amanuensis, editor, mentor and promoter’…

…Salom has published fourteen books of poetry and two novels, and has won many awards. He is a charismatic performance poet and lecturer. Fish and Carter are more than Salom’s clients; they are his heteronyms. Fish is a character in Salom’s Keepers; the voice in (and from) the margins. Carter has not appeared in any text prior to Keeping Carter. Salom defined his use of the term ‘heteronyms’ as ‘personalities or identities which I have established because they actually allow a different poetry. Fish and Carter are not me in the sense that I wouldn’t have written those poems.’ The trilogy highlights the ways in which multiplicity can create complexity and richness in a poet’s oeuvre. Fish and Carter allow Salom the freedom to explore different registers in his writing, without taking full responsibility for their poetry…

…Salom ‘does not believe that any one poet has any one voice or sound to make’. Fish and Carter are Salom’s homunculi; it remains to be seen if Salom is harbouring any other poets. For their fierce poetic intelligence, their experimentation and their comedy, these books are ‘keepers’.

Cassandra Atherton, Australian Book Review 

Philip Salom is that rare thing in Australian poetry: a true avant-gardist, subverting the ‘lyrical I’ (or perhaps the lyrical narcissist) with Pessoa-like heteronyms who have no time for the niceties of contemporary poetry. Though he keeps a handle on his heteronyms (the ‘offensive’ MA Carter and the ‘love and death’ fixated Alan Fish) by having his own name on the cover as ‘editor’, Salom expands from his own identity as a poet and succeeds in producing two new, different styles and kinds of poetry for each heteronym – which he may not have written as Salom, yet paradoxically are unmistakably his own. Perhaps the function of the heteronym is that it severs not only the poet from the ‘I’, but also the reader from the poet – challenging our readerly habits of attachment to a ‘voice’ (and some readers may find this off-putting). The books are presented with piss-taking blurbs, bios and introductions to the ‘poets’ who, like Ern Malley, seem tantalisingly real and fully-formed. Salom has fun with his heteronyms, but this is not a self-indulgent or whimsical exercise: the poems are real and this is more than just an exercise. The poems present a challenge both to readers and to poets (and poetry). They don’t set out to charm the reader: take MA Carter’s ‘Poetry and Beauty’, with its concluding lines ‘Playing honest? Yes? In our hearts we are all fakes,/ which is something not said by the sentimentalists’. These are the final two volumes of the Keepers trilogy – the first of which was written by Philip Salom.

Petra White, SO LONG BULLETIN of Australian Poetry and Criticism

The Keepers trilogy as a whole is a full-frontal attack on the autobiographically authenticated poem that, all the same, often masquerades as precisely that kind of poem. Salom seems to be having his cake and eating it too. But what matters most is the language itself, the attention paid by Salom to ‘the word as such’: at its best, this distils into a formal spikiness and liveliness that makes these collections an experience of perpetual surprise.

Alison Croggon, Overland