Another recent release from Giramondo Publishing is Alan Wearne’s “These Things Are Real”, a very different read from a number of recent poetry books that I have reviewed here. The collection contains two sections, “Five Verse Narratives” and “The Sarsaparilla Writers Centre”. The back cover advises the reader that “Alan Wearne specialises in monologues and verse narratives” and although this collection contains five narratives and fifteen other titled works, the narratives are the “speciality”, they make up more than the half of the book.
Opening with five epigraphs, alone a secret into the work, the narratives commence with “They Came to Moorabbin”, a tragic post war story of a widow, a mother of four, and a couple with three children and their “friendship” in suburban Melbourne. A doomed relationship features next in “Anger Management: a South Coast Tale”, a discourse on domestic violence with no end “through regional Australia”. All of these narratives a complex detailed studies with a lot compacted into a small space, whole lives in 15-20 pages, complex lives explored, the people who are generally living on the margins. Of the five, two are monologues, three are “verse narratives”.
The epigraphs for the second section “The Sarsaparilla Writers Centre” include Ezra Pound, Irving Berlin, Graham Kennedy and Kevin Sheedy. For overseas readers Graham Kennedy was a television host for many years in early television in Australia and Kevin Sheedy a player and then a long-term coach for Australian Rules Football.
You can spot a bad critic when he starts by discussing the poet not the poem. EZRA POUND.
So I here’s part of a poem:
…it happens quick and (even stranger) smooth,
for it’s a suggestion, a suggestion which you follow
from a slightly oiled, brush-backed man,
with just that few more years of life about him,
who may have read some books and starts by sneering ‘Goose’
at you, this year’s smug term of derision.
Later of course you’ll need to wander home, More than
half-hoping it had happened.
The opening of “Memoirs of a Ceb” one of the verse narratives, where the story of Peter’s sexual awakening, aligned to the “Holy Trinity’s Outreach Program” is explored.
The second section containing many humorous, satirical, playful pieces, including limericks, short rhymes, and formal poetic structures:
Lines (Really) Showing my Age
(for Laurie Duggan)
What care I for Kylie, Kurt or Bono?
I’ve Satanic Majesties…in mono!
The 1987 Victorian Premier’s Prize for Poetry recalled
What you see is what you get:
Runner-up to Lily Brett
The enjoyable satire may require an understanding of Australian literature, poetry or politics, however this sections contains a number of “laugh out loud” moments, including Les Murray’s introduction to D’arcy Niland’s The Shiralee where he speaks of Robert Mitchum, “in the heyday of his career” being “The first American actor we’d ever heard get an Australian accent right”;
The taken mile reverts to inch:
That actor, Les, was Peter Finch.
Or former Prime Minister Tony Abbott;
On the Deposing of Tony Abbott
Dumped in that ditch himself has dug,
The smart-arse Catholic schoolboy thug.
The “Notes” section is a worthwhile read, even if you know of people like Kevin Sheedy, as it contains some real gems of biting satire.
As mentioned above, not the standard work that I usually look at here, however one that brought many smiles, and a few cringes, to my face. The dichotomy of the narratives to the playful satire an interesting balance.
As always I thank the poet for their time, and honesty, in answering my questions. Yet again a great interview that reveals another layer to the writer involved. Thanks to Alan Wearne for making the time to reply to my meagre questions.
Over to the interview.
Q. The title of your book, and one of the epigraphs, is from Ern Malley, a literary hoax, is this book a literary game?
‘I am an elitist, I am an entertainer’ I’ve often announced, so I suppose a solid part of my writing is indeed a game, though whether it’s the elitist or entertainer who plays…take your pick.
If you wish to see the ‘game’ element I refer you to the latest volume from Grand Parade Poets, (GPP) With the Youngsters an anthology of Group Sestinas and Group Villanelles assembled by my students from over 18 years. These are indeed examples of out and out game.
Another game I suggested they perform was after my lecture on Ern Malley and his Australian descendants (the Free Grass crowd, Timothy Kline, Billy Ah Lun, Toby Nicholson etc.).
The students were to invent a poet, write a brief bio and then some of the poet’s work.
The greatest game players in poetry were Fernando Pessoa and The Heteronyms. He and they were glorious one offs.
Q. You don’t hold back in your book, with opinions in “Hail! Muse! Et cetera” one example, do you ever wonder if the subjects of your satire may not be easily amused?
Do I wonder? No more than Dryden, Pope or Byron did. Sometimes I wish I could be more rampaging but realise that restraint is one of many weapons in a satirist’s arsenal. Besides those being satirised can always reply in kind, or ask a friend to do it. I know that describing in a review a bad book of verse by the late Dorothy Porter as ‘conservative free verse doggerel’ didn’t endear me to her and probably others. Well she should have written much better poetry shouldn’t she? Of course I try to balance this poetaster obsession with backing a variety of good emerging or overlooked poets, see my GPP list for starters.
I trust my satire goes more after narcissists than egotists. The latter I believe can often laugh at themselves, enjoying the idea that if someone makes fun of them they are still very much in the limelight. The narcissist detests being made fun of, as the current United States president shows.
Q. You write one monologue in the second person, ‘Anger Management: a South Coast Tale’. Is this specific example addressed to somebody in particular or is it a case of purposely putting the reader into a difficult situation, heightening the impact?
This poem is one of only two I wrote set around Wollongong during my eighteen and a half years there, the other being Seventeen Illawarra Couplets dedicated to the now famous Vanessa Badham and her then boyfriend.
For whatever reason Anger Management was written over three days (at the most five) when most of my works of this size take years. Only after the completion did I realise it was in the second person.
I knew the man who turned into the male protagonist, got on well with him, found him amiable, talented, with solid elements of the lost soul. But when told of his violent madman side I immediately thought ‘Oh yeah…that figures…’ though I can’t explain quite why I had this reaction. I didn’t know the woman he abused. I believe I saw her twice and felt that she and I would have very little in common. Which of course made it a necessity to be fair in creating the ‘you’; an approach which could be summarised as ‘I’m going to do the right thing by her.’ I also wanted to be fair to the man, for there was a tragic person, though always hoping that in the poem I was on the woman’s side.
Q. With lines like ‘I can think of any number of poetasters and promoters of doggerel (rhyming, blank verse or free) who should be charged with bringing poetry into disrepute’, do you feel you may be on the outer?
If being ‘on the outer’ means being with Gig Ryan, Pi O, Nigel Roberts, Pam Brown, Joanne Burns, John Tranter, Ken Bolton, Pete Spence, Geoffrey Lehmann, Anthony Lawrence, Liam Ferney, Jaya Savige, A J Carruthers, Bonny Cassidy, Kate Middleton, plenty of others within this general drift, plus the shades of Martin Johnston, Jas H Duke, Robert Harris, John Forbes, Benjamin Frater and Rae Desmond Jones…let’s move to ‘the outer’ right now.
Q. Your monologues are tightly edited, to make such a compact story so rich within such a short space. Can you explain the process?
This writing practise of mine can be equated with a footballer playing a game or a student sitting an exam. Does the footballer recall everything he did on the field? Does the student recall everything they wrote? Can you recall details of something so intense as creativity? You operate at a different level of consciousness, surely.
In Victorian secondary schools fifty or sixty years ago one of the units in Forms Four, Five and Six English was precis writing, wherein students had to cut back and back a slab of verbiage to its essentials. I don’t think I was all that good at it but I did learn plenty that would help me in later life.
Having some kind of structure behind the poem assists of course. My own blank-enough verse certainly helps in reigning-in and focussing. Other than that it’s a poem by poem enterprise with near endless drafts, all but the very final versions in long hand.
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 Gesell Dome by Guillermo Saccamanno, a large contemporary Argentinian novel set in a small city south of Buenos Aires. Its cast of hundreds brings to mind Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology, John Dos Passos’ USA, some of the better Robert Altman movies and indeed my own verse novels. Its inter-linked ‘noir’ tales the author tells are not so ‘easy-going’ at times (who need easy going?) but the volume does possess a certain sordid vigour. Mind you being translated into 21st Century American English with all its hideous dude-speak doesn’t help.
I try reading as many volumes from non-English writing authors as I can. I’ve no more interest in Contemporary Australian Fiction than, say, Messrs Flanagan and Winton have in Contemporary Australian Poetry. If I’m wrong and they read our poetry let them contact me and we’ll swap volumes and read each other.
Before reading the above book I read R J B Bosworth’s biography of Mussolini. Given the way the world might be heading, led by the quasi if incompetent Fascist in the White House I wanted to see what the original was like. Mussolini has of course been overshadowed by Hitler since 1933, and his is a sad enough tale for Italy, Ethiopia etc. but at least he was more an egotist that a narcissist and can be seen as human; for me Hitler can’t.
I try discovering new poets each year, and not just those bringing out volumes in Australia. In the past decade for example I was aware of Thomas Lovell Beddoes and Patrick Kavanagh as names and finally set about reading them. I’m very glad I did. Recently I borrowed the Farrar, Straus and Giroux Book of Twentieth Century Italian Poetry (a bi-lingual volume) to discover Raffaello Baldini (1924-2005) a poet of whom I’d like to read more.
Q. Finally, another question I ask all interviewees, what’s next? Are you working on anything you can tell us about?
I’m in the final drafting/typing stages of Near believing, a monologue spoken by a former Anglo-Catholic priest, now a Roman Catholic one, whose past as an Anglian sex abuser catches up with him. Of course I’m attempting to be fair to Father John, but his combination of narcissism, hypocrisy and sleaze, all propped with many a theological underpinning , make him a much more fascinating than his sex exploits, and thus ripe for satire.