Through the process of reading, reviewing and interviewing Australian poets I have come across a range of styles, genres and approaches. Interviews have varied from Bruce Dawe not using computers (and getting his wife to type short replies) through to the in-depth engagement of experimental writer Holly Isemonger.
The poems themselves have taken various forms, including traditional sonnets, street poetry, experimental and digital. I can assure you that there is a vibrant community of young emerging poets in Australia using numerous tools to present their work, not everything is available in a bound paper book!
Giramondo Publishing has recently released Oscar Schwartz’s collection “The Honeymoon Stage” and describes it on the back cover as:
“…a collection of poems written for friends on the internet over a five-year period. These friends were spread across the globe, and most of them the poet had never met, and will never know. Poetry was the method by which the correspondents felt they could authenticate themselves to one another, despite their separation in space, and their friendships being mediated through screens. The poems engage with the flattened syntax of internet language, registering its awkwardness while bringing human qualities to the centre of the exchange.”
Opening with the title poem and then moving into three parts “Us”, “You” and “Me” the poet warns us;
The I, You and We in these pages do not belong to me, but came into being inside the boundless, invisible space in which we now spend much of our time.
These modern, digital, email texts are addressed to the anonymous, but address the anonymity of self in the digital world, through poems that have subjects such as a relationship with clones of yourself, the very nature of relationships is questioned deeply.
How much do we know of ourselves? How much do we know of each other? Does this blur even further with the presentation of self through social media? These poems use language such as; “my thoughts about you”, and “if there is one thing you know without doubt” questioning out real knowledge.
The thirty-four poems are mostly addressed to other people, littered with memories, but through this lens we slowly see the writer coming into shape, his views on love, nights spent clubbing, a nostalgia for a lost youth, ultimately revealing a singular lonely core. A writer in cyberspace, our social profile/image.
god will send you nudes
if you’ve been feeling guilty
about the sinful things
you’ve been enjoying on the internet
try to seek consolation
in the presence of your ancestors
in time, god will send you nudes
A collection that is full of questions, playing with the immediacy of information, with lines that juxtapose items such as coconut water and climate change, addressing the sheer volume of data, these are poems of immediacy that are littered with pop references such as rihanna, who has diet pepsi for tears, poems about “game of thrones”.
There is a connectedness between the three sections “us”, “you”, and “me”, there is a human relationship, but at the same time the exploration of social media and the immediacy of the poetry gives you that feeling of loneliness, all the connections are in cyber-space.
Another readable and enjoyable experimental work, addressing our current age.
Over to the interview with Oscar Schwartz, who I need to thank for the immediacy of his replies, I read the book on a flight to Sydney, emailed him the questions upon landing, before I was home again the same night there were the replies in my in-box!!! A poet who practices what he preaches!!
As always I appreciate the effort the poets put into talking about their books and I hope yet another interview helps you to understand the art form a little more, if you think poetry is too daunting, I suggest you read through these interviews, they will make it more accessible, maybe you’ll find the time to buy a book or two, poets can certainly do with more sales!
I know you open the book with “The I, You and We in these pages do not belong to me, but came into being inside the boundless, invisible space in which we now spend much of our time.”, so hopefully the questions do not miss the mark completely….
Q. Memories play an important role throughout your collection, as in “your new diet” which contains a diet based on memory, are we simply the sum of our own past?
I wouldn’t want to speak about all people, but for me, I’ve always enjoyed the process of reflecting on my life and crafting it into small narratives. It makes life more meaningful, for me. The risk is that I do this about my future, too. That I come up with narratives about what I want my life to be. But I try to avoid doing this because it generally just makes me feel anxious. Small narratives about things that have happened are interesting to me. Grand narratives about the future not so much.
Q. Whilst reading your poems I had a real sense of the future being quite grim, are you plotting “the downfall of the human race” or is it already too late?
The joke about planning the downfall of the human race is really kind of just a stab at a type of writing or discourse that seems to be really popular at the moment where some “genius man” makes a prediction about the future in a really ridiculous time line. For example, in 2019 we will have robots that we can fall in love with; in 2029 we will have a computer that is better than Picasso; in 2039 we will merge into computers. This form of prediction literature strikes me as a really cheap way of getting a lot of attention,. People listen because the future is unknown; it’s a cheap (and very old) trick to pretend to know how to tell it. People who talk with certainty about the future in terms of concrete events are snake oil salesmen in my opinion.
But I don’t think I feel grim about the future.
Q. From where does the thought of sitting on a giant pair of lungs at a gathering of vegetarians spring?
I was just thinking about the breathlessness that sometimes accompanies very intense social situations. And the idea of having my lungs as a type of external companion just emerged from that. Also I saw lungs on display at an exhibition of the human body and they look pretty weird and amazing.
Q. Do you have “a book that allows you to dissociate fully from past conceptions of yourself”? If so what is it?
The book I had in mind was The Power of One by Bryce Courtney. When I was 10 my sister, who is two years older than me, read the book. She really liked it and when I asked to read it she said “you won’t get it. It’s too old for you.” Up until that point I had mostly read “kids books”, which I never really connected with. I found a lot of them kind of silly just for the sake of it, and that annoyed me. Against my sister’s advice I read The Power of One. It was the first book I lost myself in. I felt a sense of separation from my family and from other people. I guess it was like the first moments of identity formation. I remember this one scene vividly when a prison guard puts a baton up another man’s anus, and he haemorrhages to death. The violence of that was visceral for me. I guess my sister was right. I was probably a bit young. I was probably slightly traumatised by that image. But I’m glad I read it, and from that point on I only read “adult” books. At the time of reading it, I became obsessed with boxing (the main character is training to become a boxer). I decided I wanted to be a boxer. I used to make my dad and friends box with me for hours. This kept happening to me with every book I read after that. I wanted to become whatever the main character was. Eventually I realised I wanted to be a writer, because then I could pretend to be anything I wanted to be in my writing.
Q. Is it ironic that you’re being “interviewed by a … small literary blog”?
I don’t think so. I really love small literary blogs. They were how I met lots of the people that inspired me to write The Honeymoon Stage. I felt so excited that people were talking about and sharing my work and my friends’ work. Small literary blogs create community and friendship. For me poetry is all about community and friendship.
Q. The internet is a bottomless resource for your work, can you tell me a little about your research and “the intersection between technology and culture”?
The intersections of technology and culture was the focus of my academic research. I wrote a PhD exploring the question of whether computers can write poetry. When I started my research I thought that this question was a contemporary one, that it spoke to the cutting edge, or the speculative future, where sentient machines would learn to “feel” and then write poetry. What I realised, after around a year, was that people have been using computational methods and mechanisms to create poetic texts for millennia. From the Kabbalistic permutations of God’s name, to Ramon Lull’s combinatory poetics, to Ada Lovelace’s creative programming languages, to Edgar Allan Poe’s formula for generating The Raven, to the avant faddists obsession with algorithmic proceduralism, up to our present moment where programmers are making poetry bots on Twitter. Throughout the history of this practice – what I call computational poetics – I found that boundaries become blurry: boundaries between the sciences and the arts, but also boundaries between the human and the non-human. It is the limits of these boundaries that I am interested in exploring.
Q. I ask all my interviewees this, it is helping to build a great reading list, what are you reading at the moment and why?
I’m reading a book called A Son of the Red Centre. It’s the memoir of Kurt Johannsen, a man born just west of Alice Springs in 1915 who invented the road train, those massive trucks that move stuff all around Australia. The reason I’m reading this is because I’m writing a chapter for a book I’m working on about humans being replaced by machines. Specifically I’m looking at how autonomous trucks will disrupt employment in logistics, but also destroy a way of life, that of the truck. I live in Darwin now. There is a strong sense of our dependance on trucking freight to get our supplies, more so than down south. When autonomous trucks come in, we will lose not only a type of employment, but a way of life up here, just like when the trucks replaced the old bullockies and cameleers.
Q. Finally, another question I ask all interviewees, what’s next? Are you working on anything you can tell us about?
I’m working on the above book for Scribe. It’s about humans being replaced by machines. I’m not just looking at this phenomenon from the perspective of workers, but also as carafes, companions, creators, decision makers, and as a species.