Breaking the Days – Jill Jones PLUS bonus poet interview

BreakingTheDaysToday’s post is longer than usual; however I urge you to read the interview, you will not be disappointed,

Adelaide based Australian poet Jill Jones has just released a new collection of poems titled “Brink”, however as part of my reading of the 2017 New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry I read her 2015 collection “Breaking The Days”. As I have been featuring recently interviews with Australian poets, I approached Jill Jones about her earlier book and she was extremely generous giving her time and an extensive in-depth interview follows my few short thoughts on her book.

A collection that contains forty-five single page poems, closing with a fifteen sectioned sequence “The plover in the poem and what meaning does not mean”. The book opens with “Lose Your Grip” where the unreliability of memory, “if you forget what you forgot”, and ageing shimmer throughout, with a core message of enjoying the moment, the “pleasure”. “Telltale” continues the theme:

The past might be connected to
pines, matchboxes
indistinguishable songs

As does “Evidence”;

The past is something a prisoner
might want to forget, or maybe
it uncovers, but what?

Through measured and stark poetics a number of seemingly insignificant observations are questioned, “appliances/pieces of a house”, and “Any life is accumulation/things, hair, fat, disequilibrium/traces where the drugs went on their way”, and “Even the fridge sings”, these examples across three different poems. But the collection is not insignificant, it is an appeal for the reader to dwell, to notice, to dissect and analyse and to enjoy the present,

Cold is colder

Feedback isn’t really food
thanks isn’t hope
feet are also traffic
stars are predictable, if also
and concurrently, untrue.

Political debate is no more stupid
on one day or another day
there’s always an excuse to
mention breasts.

Trains can bring out
the worst in people
noise is always noise
(there’s always noise)
traditions were once

I actually like writing, when I like it
the temperature takes it time.

Choice is kin to boredom
cold is colder than it looks
talking to yourself really helps.

If only I could stop dreaming about poems.

The seasonal, the weather, creep into most poems, in a lot of ways decay, “Some bug is eating the violets”, but the one constant is the weather, the sun, it contrasts with the ephemeral shopping malls, with material goods. Clouds and birds, themes we often see in poetry occur throughout, welcome visitors to the page, again a call to slow down, live in the present moment.

Touching on the political, “Email is record” a plea to address climate change, as well as being a collection that questions the reader, if you could observe your life as art, “if you were more open/would it make a difference?” Thoughtful ruminations where you need to abide and contemplate the poems, deeper works than the stark lines imply.

Recently I have been exploring more experimental poetic works and it was a breath of fresh air to read Jill Jones’ book, whilst not “traditional” the rhythm and cadence of these works left a lingering foggy feeling, a collection to be revisited, a collection to be read outdoors (in all types of weather), poems that you finish and return immediately to the beginning to gain further depth. A worthwhile addition to the Kenneth Slessor Poetry Award and I very much look forward to reading Jill Jones’ new collection “Brink”.

As always, I am indebted to the honesty and openness of the poet in giving me their time as well as contemplating my questions. Based on recent email exchanges I do know that a few of the interviewees have found the “unpicking” of their works an interesting exercise in itself and I am grateful that all of them have been so approachable.

This interview is presented (as always) unedited, hopefully it helps readers of poetry understand the art a little more, demystifies the process and gives the reader another level of understanding of their work. In the case of “Breaking the Days” I hope you read the interview and then seek out the book from “Whitmore Press Poetry”, you will not be disappointed.

Here’s the interview

Q. You challenge the reader, in the first poem, “Lose your grip”, to let go and live in the present, “fall into its pleasure/every time”. Was this a conscious decision to ask the reader, throughout your collection, to dwell?

The first poem is always important, yes. And the book is very much made around the idea of a continuous present – if not in the strict Steinian sense of that. But the thought behind ‘lose your grip’ could be as much directed to myself as to a reader. I’m always interested in ideas of what is ‘the present’, which is always becoming the past. That is, how do we grasp the ‘now’? Although presumably we do sense that ‘now’ is the only place we are, continually. I think I need to let go a lot more, in many ways, and get out a bit more. Writing, living. A sentence from Robert Duncan’s The HD Book springs to mind: “There must be currents of meaning as well as particularities of meaning”. I think my work moves within currents and particularities.

Q. You boil everything down to its essence, music becomes the smell of instruments, shivers painful cells, why this interest in minutiae?

Boiling down sounds a bit gruesome. This book was deliberately fined down, though, for sure. Still, I wouldn’t say ‘essence’. I’m not sure I believe in essences, at least in that sense. I’m interested in detail – image or sensual detail of things, as well as the details of language. It’s a way I connect to things, which can then spark off memory or reminiscence, maybe like Proust’s madeleine. Or it’s simply that there’s often one aspect of experiencing something that’s uppermost, that comes first, that leads you in. A smell, a taste, some sound. It’s also a form of materialism, in a sense. There’s also the part that stands for the whole (synecdoche, metonymy, I guess).

And do I always do that, boil down? I also use generalities – for instance, sky, rain, clouds – without always being specific, or locating them. One reviewer of the book felt it wasn’t specifically located – I know, a slightly different issue – and I found that interesting, and bemusing. It wasn’t a criticism, just how he felt it. To my mind the book is very located in where I live now, in Adelaide (with one or two exceptions of older poems originally written in my Sydney years). But I don’t add in street names (I do mention West Beach, however) or obvious landmarks so, sure, it could be anywhere, but there are Adelaide effects in there – the hills, the gulf, level crossings, provinciality, bad drivers, endless festivals – I do want my poems to seem as though they occur in a real, specific place where specific bodies and other entities exist and feel as though they are ‘real’. Even if my writing may seem at times syntactically complex, or linguistically intricate, or conceptual (these are things people have said to me about my work, by the way, not just how I might think of it). This book is less like that than some of my others, deliberately so. The new book, Brink, is more a big mix of detail and dislocation, images and word play, a lot of play, actually.

A lot of the poems in Breaking the Days originated from brief daily notes I posted on Facebook (I no longer post on FB) or as lines/ideas in an actual daily paper diary I kept around 2014 and early 2015 (again, I no longer do this). So, I wanted the book to have a sense of the quick (in its various senses) and the daily. Thus, a present thinginess. Also, apart from the final poem sequence (which is, in fact, a series of short fragments, ie daily notes), I wanted each poem to be no longer than a page. It took a bit of wrangling and rejection to get it to that. If Whitmore Press’s book design had been other than it was, ie if the pages and/or type had been larger or smaller, it would have changed some of the choices and, therefore, arrangements of the poems in the book. I have absolutely no problem with the design, it’s absolutely fine, but every book has its particular size, design, feel, and the way the poems fit into that is important to me.

Q. I used a quote in a recent question to poet Holly Isemonger, and given the cover of your book uses the word “unsettling”, I’d like to recycle that question for yourself. Icelandic author Jón Kalman Stefánsson says, in his latest novel, “The poem surpasses the other literary arts in every way: in its depth, potency, bitterness, beauty, as well as its ability to unsettle us.” Your work is described as “unsettling”, do you think that’s a harsh or fair assessment?

Haha, I was the one who wrote the cover blurb. I’ve never had a publisher write one for me, at least not so far. Most poets, I suspect, are in the same boat. You have to write yr own publicity and, mostly, schlepp yr own stuff around the place. So, I think it’s a fair assessment. I’d rather be unsettling than anodyne. The world is unsettled, even in its settlement. We surely see and hear and taste that every day. Besides, all is change, if I can get a bit Heraclitian for a moment, so nothing can settle. Even in stillness, bodies move, minutely, and internally it’s a continual flux. Unsettling, resettling. And in a very literal sense, I suffer from a form of vertigo (it’s an inner ear problem), so I’m always potentially off-balance. A bit ironic for a Libran, eh!

Q. The poem “Email is record” although a plea to Governments to stop global warming, is a resignation that they won’t listen, is this a defeatist attitude?

I once worked in Government bureaucracies as a public servant, and at times close-ish (more –ish than close, but nonetheless) to Parliamentary decision-making. I don’t ever think you can shrug off the cynicism that kind of experience engenders. Sadly, it’s a cynicism that’s also realistic. Especially these days, when the ‘government’ bit doesn’t actually seem to happen. It’s as though parliamentarians have forgotten that word ‘govern’. Instead, there’s a lot of bully-boy tactics, social media screeching or preening, one-up-personship, and simply noise.

I admire those activists and lobbyists who try to influence politicians about global warming or any number of other issues that need attention. Some times things get done but I realise it’s usually due to trade-offs (you win some …, etc), or being in the right place at the right time, or out-and-out push-and-shove, or blackmail. That’s politics as it’s ever been done, for sure, but at the moment I think it’s more toxic. That’s simply being a realist rather than being resigned. Though, essentially, I think we are defeated on climate change. I see no point in pretending otherwise. The only things that can be done now are adjustments – the climate has changed, and it won’t go back, or not for a long, long time. There can be/should be/is, however, a big salvage operation or series of them, that one hopes, might delay the magnitude of the disaster. Don’t know if it will save all the islands in the Pacific, or Miami or Bangladesh, or the beaches of Adelaide, let alone the poles, but there’s plenty to do and should be supported by politicians but they let petty point-scoring or religious manias or personal inadequacies over-ride community good, you know, the government thing. For instance, the Federal Government’s ridiculous blathering about power issues in South Australia – most of it lies and none of it constructive nor having any relationship to reality, the lived reality of individuals, nor the needs of communities, nor the environment. ‘Clean coal’ – please, spare me!

The poem, however, was also a take on the stupidities of media and technology (and, by implication, all of us as partakers of these) as well as politicians. I was trying to have a laugh at it all, but that maybe doesn’t come across. The references were local, it was a time when a past SA Premier was having a few public personal issues, as much as federal (it was the time of the Godwin Grech Utegate affair, in fact). Actually, I’m not sure people get my jokes (or perhaps they just ain’t that funny – note to self ).

Q. Neruda’s upbringing is said to be the blame for the domineering images of rain in his poetry. Did he influence your work or are your rain images from your upbringing or a more sinister place?

Have people really said that? How curious it is to blame poets/writers for their choices of words. It’s like blaming them for their subject matter or choice of genre. But, no, I wasn’t aware that Neruda’s childhood led him to such heinous acts and, thus, ‘no’ his writing in that regard doesn’t bear any relation to my choices. And I have no negative or sinister relationship to rain. It can be annoying even dangerous, of course, as well as welcome, and good to watch. I guess, being Australian and now living in a much drier city than Sydney, rain or the lack thereof is something you notice and worry about.

Also, thinking back to my answer to the previous question, rain is obviously weather and, thus, climate, and thus, something I’m concerned about, a preoccupation in my work. It’s why there’s also a lot of sky, clouds, and, yes, birds various, in the poems.

I realise I write less directly about specific dramas of human relationships and don’t tell stories or anecdotes as much as some other poets, or not in recent years, anyway. I’m not that kind of poet (nothing wrong with being whatever ‘kind of poet’ one thinks one is, by the way). I’m more drawn to the discursive, or the reflective, sometimes the conceptual (in a very broad sense), rather than the narrative or purely descriptive. I sometimes try to move out of those modes, so, presenting shorter poems in Breaking the Days was a little in that direction, to my mind at least.

But what I think I’m doing and what readers read me as me doing can be two quite different things, I’ve found. And that’s perfectly fine, though disconcerting. I realised this quite recently when I got at least one of the endorsements back for my new book, Brink. The comments made me realise there was an obviously sensual/sexual, relational (and strange) thing going on throughout the book that I knew was there but saw as undercurrent, rather than the kind of thing someone else would go ‘oh hey, here’s what Jonesy’s really on about this time’.

Q. The art of forgetting, an unreliable memory, “Progress is better with forgetting” is another recurring theme. Why this connection to an unreliable memory?

Memory is a preoccupation of a lot of poets, and writers in general. It’s obvious, I guess, as we all live in memory time. But most memory is unreliable, or skewed. The line you’ve quoted, however, is more about how ideas of progress focus on ‘the future’ and that involves a lot of effacing of or forgetting of the past. My old city, Sydney, is a great city of forgetting. Australian history, white settlement, is all about forgetting, forgetting it’s based on theft, rape and murder. So, it’s not so much about unreliable memory but a refusal to face it, or telling lies about it.

Also, it’s generational. My relation to events I’ve lived through, have been close to, is clearly different to my relationship to events I’d only been told about, say by my parents, or teachers, or whatever I’ve read in books, seen on TV. Of course, each generation probably thinks they ‘own’ certain experiences because they lived them, and that experience still remains ‘true’ in the body somewhere, although the specific recall can often be pretty faulty.

On another level, there is woven through the book a lot of memory, including references to very old songs and music. There are poems in the book that directly reference or even quote from music, such as Brian Eno’s Another Green World and The Beatles’ Rubber Soul (‘Nowhere in Another Green World’) or a song by an old 1960s Sydney band, Phil Jones and The Unknown Blues (in ‘Negative Theology’). So, from the obvious to the obscure. That’s not to say that’s all music I like – my tastes are very broad if slightly odd or obscure at times – simply that, for one reason or another, that music wandered in and around the poems, whether I was playing it, or it was overheard somewhere, or part of a topic of conversation in the media, or I simply had an earworm thing happen. None of that’s recent music – but newer music lurks in other of my poems, I hasten to add. I’m not stuck in the 60s and 70s.

Q. I ask all my interviewees this, what are you reading at the moment and why?

I’ve been re-reading Marianne Moore and just got the very recent New Collected Poems which I’ve yet to truly delve into. But I was using her work with students earlier in the year and noted that they seemed quite drawn to at least one of her poems, ‘The Fish’. OK, there was also one student who hated it. But I dug out an older Selected of hers I had on the shelf and it made me think again about syllables, shape and line break, and the ways appropriation or collage has been around for so long, as well as her characteristic precision and irony.

I was also looking again at HD’s poetry, partly because there’s a link between her and Moore as well as her and DH Lawrence (whose poetry must be due for a revival!), and partly because I finally sat down with Robert Duncan’s The HD Book, and am still slowly going through its dizzying thought (vertiginous in a good way), as well as HD’s own Tribute To Freud, which covers a great many things but certainly ideas of remembering, plus it shows a different kind of Freud than the one I’d been used to, less patrician, more collaborative.

I suppose this area of reading shows I’m thinking again about modernism, as you tend to do every so often, both from a formalist perspective, from the perspective of all the connections between so many of these writers, and also, in the broadest sense, the occult or ‘magical’ perspective – of what might be magical in forms as well as symbols, masks and ideas of metamorphosis. Yeah, OK, a dangerous area, which means it’s been an old fascination of mine. Besides, I was always rotten at maths so ideas around numbers and systems in poetry, magical or not, make me challenge my innumeracy. Regarding HD, I’m interested for instance in how one of her later works, ‘The Walls Do Not Fall’ as part of Trilogy, comes out of communal crisis, the very real and devastating experience of the bombing of London during World War II, yet is layered with its appeal to ancient wisdoms, a thinking through of recurrences, or a kind of palimpsest, as she stays also in the now: “though our books are a floor / of smouldering ash under our feet”. And, of course, she was working through her own personal crises using masks/personae and, at different times in her life, ideas of lyric or epic. So, yes, ‘currents of meaning’ and ‘particularities of meaning’.

I have also slowly been working my way through CD Wright’s last book Shallcross, published posthumously. Though I believe there may be other work still to follow. She was such a loss. I have followed her work for years. Her work is earthy and embodied (all those particularities of individuals and places), yet never afraid to play amongst language, approachable yet never afraid to experiment. I love her iterations, her grit, her compassion, her love of music, the way she makes fragments really work. There’s so much to love in it.

Q. Finally what is next? Are you working on anything you can tell us about?

What is next is happening now. As I mentioned before, I have a new book out from Five Islands Press, titled Brink. It’s longer than Breaking the Days, although the title is shorter. It’s the first time I’ve ever used just a single word for a title. I had a great time editing it with the folks from Five Islands. They challenged me about a lot of things, from spelling and grammar minutiae through to deleting and replacing poems. It was a terrific experience in thinking through poem ideas and arrangements. The book covers a lot of ecopoetic territory, as the title Brink would suggest, but it’s more than that. There’s more formal experiment as well.

I have a couple of other things in the works. One is a chapbook but I don’t know when it will be available. The publisher, I think, is aiming for later this year. It’ll contain 17 pages of poems, some previously published and a few newies, and will be launched with titles by other poets but, to be honest, I’m not sure who all those folks are yet (well, I think I have some idea about one or two, but nothing official-like). Also, I have a new full-length book definitely lined up but that won’t be out until later in 2018. I’m writing towards that now, obviously. Both of these only have working titles, so there’s not much more I can say at the moment. I know that sounds a bit vague but until things have a name I feel they’re under the surface and should stay a bit secret.

Also, the project that poet Alison Flett and I started last year – a series of chapbooks from our Little Windows press – is continuing. We have four poets lined up again, three Australians (one of them from Adelaide) and one Scots poet, but again it’s best not to make announcements until it’s all ready to go. Life has a habit of intervening in plans, even well-sorted ones. But if the plan works, we’re hoping to release these later this year. And they’ll be great, definitely. All the poets are wonderful.

I also have a couple of other ideas for my own small projects, I suppose you’d call them chapbooky type things, that I’m hoping some one or another might be interested in. They involve the more odd or playful or just weird end of the spectrum of my writing, so maybe they’ll never surface. And I’m always writing … something. I’ve been a bit dissatisfied with my recent writing so I’m trying to loosen up – hey, ‘lose your grip’ – and see if something different may start happening. Paradoxically, some of that writing involves thinking about form and constraints. Let’s just say form never settles. Let’s just say I’m busy.





Reservoir 13 – Jon McGregor


Tzameti, lines to a rondeau, chapters in The Art
of War
. Cards per suit, steps to the gallows, loaves in a
baker’s dozen. Diners at the Last Supper, gods at
Valhalla’s banquet, dismemberments of Osiris.
Studio LP’s by The Cure, lunar months every
calendar year, primary members of The Thirteen
Club. Olives, olive leaves, arrows and stars on the Great
Seal of the United States. Players in a rugby
league team; teenagers starring in 13, the Broadway
musical; letters in Bixby, Oklahoma, the city
where Scott Westerfield’s Midnighters trilogy,
gripped by this troublous number, is set. Syllables till
the broken motif of this poem. Lucky for some.
– Stuart Barnes (from “Glasshouses”, UQP, 2016)

Jon McGregor is also obsessed by the number 13 too, his latest novel taking place in a small ex-mining village that is located near Reservoir 13, a region where, on page one, a thirteen-year-old girl goes missing, the book follows the impact of this disappearance and the lives of the villagers (there could possibly be thirteen main players but my mapping couldn’t reconcile to that number) over thirteen years, using thirteen chapters, each containing thirteen sections or paragraphs.

Readers of Jon McGregor’s other works will know his ability to play with shape and form, using the written language as his tool to convey messages that go beyond the simple sentence structure and his latest work is no different.

Using a detached, snappy style, almost journalistic, the short sharp sentences reveal more than what is simply presented on the page, for example, “It was only when they saw the first children on their way to school that Will Jackson remembered he was due at his son’s mother’s house, to fetch the boy for school.” The “son’s mother’s” revealing an ex-partner, somebody removed from Will, not a character in our tale. Each sentence likewise gently crafted, giving you a melancholic and ruminative work.

Winnie’s grandchildren came to visit at the end of the month, and she took them out picking elderflowers in the old quarry by the main road, filling a bin-bag with the foamy white flower-heads and carrying it home on their shoulders. She sat them at the kitchen table and had them zesting the oranges and lemons she’d bought ready, while she picked the flower-heads clean and set them to soak overnight. By the next day they’d lost interest, and refused to leave the television when she added the sugar and fruit juice and heated it gently through. When her daughter came for the children she gave them a bottle of the cordial. IT was still warm and the light shone through it, and Winnie knew it would never be drunk. Her daughter hugged her lightly and kissed her cheek and said they’d see each other soon. The children waved from the back of the car.

The tone and structure lends a lonely air to the whole work, as each sketched character laments their own isolation, all internalised as they move in and out of each other’s orbit. The ghost of the missing girl hovering on the fringes of their world. A desperately sad work, the themes of isolation and internal turmoil bubble along, but never descend into melodrama.

Even though there is a missing child, life in the village continues, returns to “normal”;

The room emptied and the chairs were stacked away. The floor was swept and the lights turned off and Tony went back to the bar.

Throughout this reflective work the ever present changing seasons also feature, nature continues with the birth of badgers, pheasants, foxes and a myriad of birds, also revealed alongside the annual fireworks, cricket match, Mischief Day, harvest display and other recurring community events.

At midnight when the year turned there were fireworks on the big screen in the village hall and the sound of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ along the street. The Cooper twins were out for their first New Year, watching the fireworks from the Hunter place, their mother hurrying them back to bed as soon as the last rocket fell to earth. In the morning the snow was ankle-deep but by noon a hard rain had washed it away. The change came quickly, thick piles of snow falling in on themselves and hurtling away down drains and run-offs to the river, the river bright and loud with it and the streets left scrubbed and darkly gleaming and everywhere the first green tips of snowdrops nosing out of the soil. After the rain there was a quiet, the melting of roof-snow down drainpipes, and the calling of birds on thawing ground, and the whine of a chainsaw up in Hunter’s wood.

A novel that expertly draws on the slow passage of time, the recurring and the constants the features with the insignificance of individuality bubbling along like the local stream. I continue to remain a fan of Jon McGregor’s work, his book being one of the few novels written in English that I have read in the last twelve months, this book not changing my views on his ever-expanding oeuvre, meaning I will be searching out further new releases of his in the future.

The structure around the unlucky number “13” an interesting and haunting approach, with the “paragraphs” not forming a usual expected construction, concurrent events blending into one another as the lunar months pass, the passage of time ever present in the reading.

Longlisted for the 2017 Man Booker Prize, an award that this blog was originally established to follow, it is a book that is a worthy inclusion, and although I no longer follow the award itself it is a book that I would happily include on past shortlists. Given the style differs greatly from your standard “English Literature” fare, I believe it is a work that should go far when the winner of the 2017 award is debated.


Notes On Suicide – Simon Critchley

NotesOnSuicide – an opening word, on a blog post, that will either fascinate, revolt, intrigue or cause you to reel away. As regular readers of this blog would know I have visited a number of works by writers who have taken their own lives, and most recently I read and reviewed Sadegh Hedayat’s “The Blind Owl”(translated by Naveed Noori), the Iranian writer who gassed himself in his small rented apartment in 1951.

The natural flow lead me to a book that has been sitting on my shelf since its release by Fitzcarraldo Editions in September 2015, “Notes on Suicide” by the English philosopher, Simon Critchley.

This short book contains four sections, exploring the religious and national views, community views, the suicide note and finishes with a section addressing the question “What if one simply wants to die?” The publication also includes an “Afterword” by David Hume from 1777 “Of Suicide”. Interestingly enough a writer explored a number of times by Jorge Luis Borges, whose “Labyrinths” I read just prior to Sedegh Hedayat’s “The Blind Owl”.

This essay opens with a reference to Eduard Levé and his novel “Suicide”, a book he delivered to his publisher ten days before taking his own life (I reviewed the translated version here). Early in the essay the subject of honest, open discussion about suicide is approached:

We lack a language for speaking honestly about suicide because we find the topic so hard to think about, at once both deeply unpleasant and gruesomely compelling. When someone ends their own life, whether a friend, a family member or even a celebrity who we identify with – think about the confused reactions to the deaths of Robin Williams and Philip Seymour Hoffman in recent times (although I suspect we could identify stories exerting a similar effect in any year) – one of two reactions habitually follow. We wither quietly think that they were being foolish, selfish and irresponsible, or we decide their actions were caused by factors outside of their control (severe depression, chronic addiction, and so on). That is, if they acted freely in killing themselves, we implicitly condemn them: but if we declare that their actions were constrained by uncontrollable behavioural factors like depression, we remove their freedom.

Against this tendency, I want to open up a space for thinking about suicide as a free act that should not be morally reproached or quietly condemned. Suicide needs to be understood and we desperately need a more grown-up, forgiving and reflective discussion of the topic. Too often, the entire debate about suicide is dominated by rage. The surviving spouses, families and friends of someone who committed suicide meet any attempt to discuss suicide with an understandable anger. But we have to dare. We have to speak.

Yes, this is a thoughtful and incisive insight into a subject that is often avoided, or uncomfortably discussed. A work that uses historical insights to show how has society moved from “admirable” suicide to a subject that is now considered taboo? Using self-reflection and open, honest musing (whilst the writer observes the coastline), this is a personal journey, why the fear of death, what has led us there?

Perhaps the closest we come to dying is through writing, in a sense that writing is a leave-taking from life, a temporary abandonment of the world and one’s petty preoccupations in order to see things more clearly. In writing, one steps back and steps outside life in order to view it more dispassionately, both more distantly and more proximately. With a steadier eye. One can lay things to rest in writing: ghosts, hauntings, regrets, and the memories that flay us alive.

As a philosophical essay the rhetorical is never far away, throwing up a raft of questions…”But how can I be autonomous in relation to suicide? Am I not making an autonomous decision to rid myself of autonomy?” etc. This is a probing, prodding exploration into a subject we too often sweep under the carpet. Naturally the subject of depression also plays a role here, as does a study of the “suicide note”;

One always speaks to someone in a suicide note. Suicide notes are attempts at communication. They are a last and usually desperate attempt to communicate – final communications. They are also failed attempts in the sense that the writer is communicating a failure to communicate, expressing the desire to give up in one last attempt at expression. The suicidal person does not want to die alone, but wants to die with another or others, to whom the note is addressed.

The final section of this essay addressing “What if one simply wants to die?” and touches on Robin Williams, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Kurt Cobain, Hunter S. Thomson, David Foster Wallace but returns to a more detailed study of Eduard Levé, the performance artist, photographer and writer who was used as an example to open this collection of “notes”

This is a thoughtful, maybe controversial and interesting publication, an essay that doesn’t get bogged down in melodrama, nor sensationalises a moving and controversial subject. It is only through continued discussions and questions, as posed in this essay that further debate on suicide can occur, hopefully progressing our understanding.  Yet another worthwhile release from independent publisher Fitzcarraldo Editions.



The Blind Owl – Sadegh Hedayat (translated by Naveed Noori)


Early in Mathias Énard’s wonderful novel “Compass” the protagonist Franz, on a lonely night of despair, takes the thesis by his love Sarah and reads:

“There are certain wounds in life that, like leprosy, eat away at the soul in solitude and diminish it,” writes the Iranian Sadegh Hedayat at the beginning of his novel The Blind Owl: the little man with round glasses knew this better than anyone. It was one of those wounds that led him to turn the gas on high in his apartment on the rue Championnet in Paris, one evening of great solitude, an April evening, very far from Iran, very far, with as his only company a few poems by Khayyam and a sombre bottle of cognac, perhaps, or a lump of opium, or perhaps nothing, nothing at all, aside from the texts he still kept, which he carried off with him into the great gas void. (Pg 14)

Continuing with references to Proust and Kafka and reflecting upon Hedayat’s suicide the reading of Sarah’s prologue concludes:

By opening this article with Hedayat and his Blind Owl, we propose to explore this crevice, to look inside the cleft, to enter the drunkenness of those men and women who have wavered too much in alterity; we are going to take the little man by the hand to go down and observe the gnawing wounds, the drugs, the elsewheres, and explore this between-space, this bardo, this barzakh, the world between worlds into which artists and travellers fall. (p16)

The 75th Anniversary edition of Hedayat’s “The Blind Owl”, translated by Naveed Norri, has an extensive introduction by the translator, with a detailed explanation of the various texts available, the reasoning for using the “Bombay Edition” and a reference to the opening line across three translators:

Costello: “There are sores which slowly erode the mind in solitude like a kind of canker.”

Bashiri: “In life there are certain sores that, like a canker, gnaw at the soul in solitude and diminish it.”

Noori: “In life there are wounds that, like leprosy, silently scrape at and consume the soul, in solitude –“

We now have a different version presented by Énard (I assume from a French translation of Hedayat’s Persian) and translated by Charlotte Mendell.

“The Blind Owl” opens with a frontispiece “The printing and sale (of this work) in Iran is forbidden” which has apparently resulted in a black market for Hedayat’s book and whilst bleak, dark and extreme it is not as confrontational as recent works from the region, for example “The Iraqi Christ” by Hassan Blasim.

A book narrated, in two parts, by an opium smoking painter of pencases, the slow spiralling thoughts of a man wracked with drugs, is a measured destructive piece. Peppered with dashes, as our narrator pauses, switches thoughts, it is reminiscent of a work by Edgar Allen Poe or Jorge Luis Borges. The story itself is quite simple, our reclusive narrator writes the tale we are reading, for his own shadow, a story where he sees, through a non-existent hole in his wall, “a Hindu yogi, wearing a cloak with a turban wrapped around his head, squatting underneath a cypress tree, who, with an astonished look, placed the index finger of his left hand to his lips – In front of him a damsel in a long black dress, bent over was offering him a morning glory flower – for between them there was a small stream” –  the same  image he paints on his pen case covers. The “damsel in a long black dress” then becomes the focus of our narrator’s tale, his adoration of her, and her grizzly end. The second half of the work is the same narrator writing his story – yes spiralling, labyrinthine, Borges…

From where must I begin? For all the thoughts that are presently boiling in my head are from this moment, they are without hour, minute or history – an incident from yesterday may be older and less moving than an incident from a thousand years ago.

The correlation between Énard’s novel and the themes in Hedayat’s are obvious, to readers of both novels. This work using association and metaphor that spirals out of control as you delve deeper, lost in the labyrinth of Hedayat’s subconscious. Through repetition and distortion, you cannot hope to see the truth…

He got up. I went toward the house. I went into my room and, with much effort, brought the dead’s suitcase to the edge of the door. In front of my door I saw an old and dilapidated hearse that had hitched to it two black horses, emaciated like cadavers. The hunched-over old man was sitting up on the seat and had a long whip in hand, but he never turned to look in my direction – With much effort I placed the suitcase in the carriage, which had a special space for a coffin inside of it. I got in and lay down in the coffin’s space and rested my head on its ledge so I could look at the scenery – Then I slid the suitcase on my chest and held it tightly with my two hands.
The whip sounded in the air. The horses, taking long and soft leaps, started moving with labored breaths. In the rainy weather their misty breaths looked like pipes of smoke coming out of their nostrils – their slender hooves, like fingers of a thief that had been cut off and dipped into boiling oil according to law, slowly rose up and silently touched the ground – the sound of the bells tied around their necks played a peculiar song in the damp air – a type of indescribably and reasonless comfort enveloped me from head to toe, such that the water in my stomach did not stir with the movement of the carriage – I only felt the weight of the suitcase on my chest. –

Hedayat’s long and meandering sentences, the narrator’s thoughts, marked by dashes, dwell in the darkness or the shadows. The character development is almost non existent, it is simply a tale, a revelation of our narrator, all others are in relation to him, although the story contains butchers, peddlers, “the whore” (his wife), his nanny, they are all fragments of the narcissist narrator’s mind,…

I smoked all the opium I had left so that this strange opiate could scatter all the problems and veils that were covering my eyes, all these massing, grey and distant memories – The state of being that I was desirous of arrived and it exceeded my expectation: – Slowly my thoughts became exacting, grand and magical, I entered into a state of half sleep and half unconsciousness.

Readers of Énard’s “Comapss” will note the correlation here, and I am grateful to the French writer for referencing this book in his latest, much awarded, novel, without such I would never have entered the dark world of Hedayat’s mind.

If you are after a simple narrative tale to celebrate I suggest you look elsewhere, if you are looking for a dark, bleak fable from the “East”, one filled with opiate driven dreams and metaphorical, historical references to Iran, then this is a work you will truly appreciate. Although only 78 pages it is not a quick read, if you want to fall under Hedayat’s spell and personally I read it twice to appreciate all the nuances, pauses and references.

For some reason, literature associated with suicide seems to appear quite frequently in my reading, with Edouard Levé, Osamu Dazai, Qui Miaojin, Stig Sæterbakken just a few writers, who took their own lives, that spring to mind. The theme continues with the tortured thoughts of Sadegh Hedayat, a writer worth visiting, especially for those who have appreciated Énard’s latest novel. I do have Simon Critchley’s “Notes on Suicide” on my shelves, maybe it is time to read an essay on the subject.

False Nostalgia – Aden Rolfe PLUS bonus poet interview


Today I complete the full suite of shortlisted and highly commended books from the 2017 Mary Gilmore Award, an award for the best first book of poetry published in the previous calendar year. As all of the poets shortlisted and commended for this year’s award, Aden Rolfe has participated in an interview about his collection “False Nostalgia”.

The interviews, and my thoughts on each book, can be found by clicking the links in the list below:

 “Glasshouses” – Stuart Barnes (UQP)

“Sydney Road Poems” – Carmine Frascarelli (rabbit)

“Lemons in the Chicken Wire” – Alison Whittaker (Magabala)

“Lake” – Claire Nashar (Cordite)

Aden Rolfe’s book commences with quotes, epigraphs, by Drake and Georges Perec and before you’ve read a single poem you know you are in for an interesting ride.

I’m looking forward to the
memories of right now


the picture is cut up not only into inert, formless elements
containing little information or signifying power, but
also into falsified elements, carrying false information

A collection made up of poems, essays, notes, reflections, it is broken into four sections, “Anamnesis”, “Ars memoria”, “False nostalgia” and “Autoplagiarism”, and closes with a quote by Eliot Weinberger.

Immediately the reader’s own memory is called into play, in the opening poem “Anamnesis”;

We are who we are because of
what we remember —

The opening poem also advising us, “the trees out of breath”, the second poem “The woods/wet and not quite real, breathe us out”. A collection that needs to be savoured, the realities of the present moment are interspersed with the facts of the future, laced with the inanity of social media; “Instead we set the scene / take the photo, update our statuses.” (p16)  preceding “but one day you’ll find a lump / with searching fingers // you’ll change your health cover / at last come to appreciate / the things you can’t buy your way out of // which is the dawning realisation / of our time / “ (p 19)

Similar to a number of the works featured on the Mary Gilmore Award lists, the spacing, the open page plays an important role, “a pause is a thoughtform”.

With snatches of Andrei Tarkovsky and David Lynch, the humour is also apparent, , for example a mnemonist and erratum appear only a few pages apart, the questioning of memory, the impact of time becoming all too apparent, is this a false nostalgia?

The wryness appearing to interrupt your immersion; “i’ve never / really known solitude / i even drove round all night looking for it” and “if I say apple / do you picture it as red or green? / With a worm or a snake or an archer?”

The same process underpins what Oliver Sacks calls ‘cryptomnesia’, a kind of unconscious plagiarism where you mistake a received idea for an original thought.

Through the poetry, essays and musings, the reader becomes trapped between the theoretical, the real and the present, and of course poetic licence. Masterfully constructed, your mood peaks and troughs as our poet waits, or reflects on the concept of time, or memory, I found myself bringing my own memories into the experience. Personally a playful work, thoroughly recommended.

As always I would like to thank the poet for their time and their honesty in answering my questions, and hope this series is continuing to inform you about the poetic art form and educates you about the work of contemporary Australian poets.

Onto the interview…

Q. I found your collection immersive, playful, so I’ve formed my questions along those lines, I hope you don’t mind…

And what if I said I did…?

Q. With references to Marcel Proust, Oliver Sacks, Plato, Socrates, Italo Calvino (to name a few) you’ve obviously been fascinated by time and memory for some time. Tell me about how that fascination came about.

The theme developed organically, or rather, unintentionally. It started with this concept of false nostalgia – the idea of looking back with fondness on something that wasn’t particularly great the first time around. I had a handful of poems that wrestled with this idea, poems that betrayed an interest in it, a desire to unpack it, but which had also come about as a result of the way I write. I tend to approach ideas sideways, composing by bricolage, sifting through notes and scraps and phrases until enough of them cohere into a poem. One of the consequences of this approach is that different parts of an idea can find themselves in different poems. At some point it occurred that I was returning to the same ideas about memory and forgetting – a kind of autoplagiarism about autoplagiarism.

My initial reaction was embarrassment. You can only write so many melancholy beach poems without seeming like a one-trick poet, right? It struck me as lazy – to keep going over the same territory. Only later did I think that this might become a sustained or focused investigation, later still before the pieces took on the shape of a collection

Q. Is this collection of your memories “a theory of your life, not a proof”?

Very little of the book actually stems from my direct experience. There are some autobiographic parts in “Ars memoria”, but the focus there is more on Simonides of Keos, who invented the memory palace technique, and Solomon Shereshevsky, the famous Russian mnemonist. They embody the idea of infallible memory, while I feature as their foil, as someone who forgets too much and recalls too little. I can’t even remember what I’ve already written.

Q. You wait a lot and contemplate whilst doing so, are you an overly punctual person? Did I make you wait too long before sending through these questions?

When it comes to appointments, yes; less so with deadlines, as you’re well aware. So no, you were not late at all.

Q. The opening section of your book is titled “Anamnesis” and we move through to “Ars memoria” straight to “False Nostalgia”, the unreliability of memory the theme throughout. Having said that you use a number of formats and poetic devices including argument, this “scrambles” the reader’s experience. Do you enjoy these “games”?

When I started work on the book in earnest, I was trying to find a form between poetry and essay. A space to explore the relationship between memory, identity and narrative more deeply than I could in poetry, but without losing its movement, the ability to jump between disconnected thoughts and images.

The different forms in the book – standalone poems, poetic sequences, essay, commentary – emerge from my failure to find such a form. In its absence the various modes and genres are a way to explore different aspects of the same idea. The title essay, for example, considers the concept of false nostalgia from a theoretical standpoint, but captures little of it as a sensation, a mood. This comes across much more strongly in poems like “How we tell stories about ourselves” and “We Watched the Waves”, which embody the concept without explaining it.

Q. The opening lines of the opening poem “Anamnesis”, “We are who we are because of/what we remember – ” leads to a blank space. Is there an implication that we aren’t who we think we are?

It’s not an implication, but it’s also not that simple. You are who you think you are, but only because of that thought. Or perhaps: you are only who you think you are. The idea of the objective self is a fiction. We build stories about ourselves to serve present needs and future trajectories, deploying memories as evidence. But what we leave out is as telling as what we include, what we forget and elide and edit.

Q. The collection is peppered with questions, forcing the reader to dwell, recall, add their personal journey. Is immersion part of your poetic toolkit?

The question is an important poetic – and rhetorical – device, don’t you think? In some senses all questions are rhetorical. So are compliments.

Q. Your collection includes a lot of pauses, and “a pause is a thoughtform”, could you explain that a little more?

Pausing is the active form of waiting. Both are loaded with potential, but while waiting is passive, pausing is always active. To hesitate, to think, to contemplate is to do nothing and everything. You arrest the flow, threaten a drastic shift, even if you end up resuming the course.

Q. Any reader can tell from your book that you are well read, I ask all my interviewees this, what are you reading at the moment and why?

In terms of poetry, I just picked up Melody Paloma’s In Some Ways Dingo, which I’ve been looking forward to for a while, and I’m revisiting Bella Li’s Argosy and Monica Youn’s Blackacre.

I’m also in the middle of a couple of series: Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan tetralogy and Edward St Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose novels, both of which have been on my reading list for a while.

I was reading Patrick White’s The Vivisector, in an attempt to finish it before the Centre for Deep Reading’s White Out weekend, but work got in the way. So it’s back on the pile while I have another stab at Roberto Calasso. I got nowhere with The Ruin of Kasch, but I’m finding The Marriage of Cadmus of Harmony more rewarding, at least so far.

Q. I normally ask my subjects “what’s next” is there something you are working on that you can tell us about?”, however I’ll ask it this way, are you continuing to “write to forget” or are you now an “empty vessel”?

Writing to forget, always. Both in the sense that an idea or a line, once written, ceases to tap me on the shoulder and ask to be remembered, and in the sense that it then risks being erased from memory altogether. How often do you go back through a notebook and find that a thought you had that morning is the same as one you had four years ago? But writing is also thinking, and I’m always reading to remember, so the important things come back eventually.

At the moment I’m working on a poetry and poetics project called the Heavenly Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge, the title of which comes from a certain Chinese encyclopaedia uncovered by Jorge Luis Borges. In its distant pages, he writes, animals are not divided into mammals and fish and birds, but more creative categories like “those that belong to the emperor” and “those that have just broken the flower vase”. Each poem in my Heavenly Emporium corresponds to one of the encyclopaedia’s categories, proposing an Australian animal that could fit that particular classification.


Sydney Road Poems – Carmine Frascarelli PLUS bonus poet interview


Carmine Frascarelli’s collection “Sydney Road Poems” would have to be one of the most visually arresting, multi-layered collection of poems that I have encountered in the last few years. Shortlisted for the Mary Gilmore Award, along with Stuart Barnes’ “Glasshouses”, Aden Rolfe’s “False Nostalgia” and Alison Whittaker’s “Lemons in the Chicken Wire”, I have been fortunate enough to have the poets answer my questions about their works, and today I bring you another amazing interview with an Australian poet, as always the responses follow my short views on the book and appear unedited below.

For non-Melbourne based people, Sydney Road is a busy stretch, that runs from the north of the city, towards Sydney, past the old gaol and has traditionally been an area for migrants, recently becoming “gentrified” and hipster.

Carmine Frascarelli has captured the history and make up of this interesting part of Melbourne through concrete poetry, visual layering, blended with historical documents, shapes and so much more. This book is not simply poetry, it is a work of art.

Covering the history of the road, from pre white settlement, through to chain gang constructions, gold rush traffic, migrant population, controversial war moments, to the present day tram trips, cars and multi-culturalism, this homage to an area of Melbourne is both compelling and educational.

The loss of history is marked from the opening poem “#1”, “we poke up & down this road,/ where the old prison & religions ran out // (the walk home) / Gentrified     no gentlemen / Hill side of the Green Field” . “#2” takes us back to the traditional owners and the possession of their land; “they drew a line on a sheet of paper  & here =, they’d pave a way  :  in    :  out    in order to settle / they would be unsettled”. Onto “1838” and the convict gang who commenced building the road, and then “1896” and religious riots.

The sense of time is portrayed through the use of now redundant language, “Bukko”, “Dagoes”, but it is not a collection that simply recreates a history of Melbourne, although there is the inclusion of the treatment of returning diggers, dissidents, women voters, the north of Melbourne becomes a microcosm of general society. Using the open (one sided) parenthesis throughout, the implication of a half finished story unsettles you on almost every page.

As it is impossible to quote a poem here without the visual layering, here is an example of one of the pages


A timeline of ownership of the original property called “Brunswick” (including subdivision), shows the fleeting existence, the passing of time, through layers, images and historical records.

The collection is not all visual, with poetic lines overlaying the present day with the historical, the activism peeping through, the current treatment of migrants becoming echoes of the past. This is a book all Melbourne residents should own, a collection that would resonate with many readers who live in the suburbs of Brunswick, Coburg and surrounds, a document that adds to the vibrancy of our city and through careful research and stunning presentation celebrates the multiculturalism that is weaved through our current time and place, without ignoring the traditional owners of the lands where we currently live.

Another brilliant collection from the Mary Gilmore Award list of 2017, again I thank the chair, Michael Farrell, and judges Ann Vickery and Justin Clemens for bringing these works to my attention.

As always, I would like to sincerely thank the poet, Carmine Frascarelli, for his time and honesty in answering my questions, I feel this is another dazzling interview to add to the collection I am slowly building here at Messenger’s Booker.

Q. One of the first things a reader notices is the visually stunning work you have constructed. I am sure there were many hurdles in getting a work like this to print, can you take me through the printing process, proof reading etc.?

It worked out much easier than expected. I was initially a bit worried with definite sympathies for the typesetter. I’d had a piece published in Rabbit before that had ‘visual’ text in it with some images as well and it got a slightly messed up with bits missing, a line repeated that I didn’t do, things out of whack etc. but Jess Wilkinson wasn’t fazed and had confidence in Megan Ellis, the new typesetter.

The first proof was great. With mostly minor things, and even the one bigger thing resolved easy enough (poem 26 had about 50 text boxes in it). I met with Megan and went through it all, I’m also a visual artist so conscious of the qualities text as a visual communication but in a very…I guess painterly way, so there was a lot of “up a bit” “down a bit” “left” “more” “more” “more” “go back” “can you get it as close to the edge as you can?…what?…let’s not worry what the printer’s gonna say” etc. Megan was great, patient, astute, knew what she was doing and had what looked like a professional computer.

I didn’t see the physical book until the launch. Some things shifted, namely the newspaper clippings which I wanted to haunt and pester around specific lines of mine. But no matter, I was (still am) more concerned with the bungled hurdles of how bad some of the poetry is than the visuals.

Q. Your collection opens with a stunning epigraph from Rebecca West’s “Black Lamb and Grey Falcon”, an inspiration to stop and to dwell. How long did you allow Sydney Road to sit in your unconscious before the poems birth, crawling “like serpents from their cave”?

Sensitivity to the ideas of place and relationships to it (social place, cultural place, environmental place, historical etc.) has been with me since childhood. I think the migrant heritage plays a big part in that hyper-awareness. There’s both a strong sense of estrangement mixed with an overcompensating urge to prove yourself & belong, all complicated by the hypocrisy of “Australian” as a benevolent reliable macho identity founded on dispossession & displacement. Then, after getting a grip, seeing it change, and what you grasped at, shift. There’s an inherited chip on my shoulder.

Add to that my reading of travel books with author philosophical interludes; West’s Black lamb Grey Falcon & Henry Miller’s the Colossus of Maroussi, Hunter S. Thompson & Walter Benjamin, then William’s Paterson, Susan Howe’s Europe of Trusts, locally π.ο’s, Thalia’s & Jordie Albiston’s stuff,  then even more influential was Olson’s Maximus Poems, also seeing Fellini’s Roma as a teen, an unresolved need for exploring or atomising what person to place was, is,& could be, was waiting then just sort of gradually unleashed for my own entertainment & catharsis (as private relief & distraction during a troubled relationship combined with that chip on my shoulder) then gradually more serious until Jessica asked if I had anything for a book, I stopped having fun and did deeper research and thinking and made a book. But time from the first poem to the finished manuscript was about 18 months. Though there’s more poems I wanted to do. I sort of consider it incomplete.

Q. The newspaper reproductions add yet another layer to your work, quotes like “famous previously for bricks, pottery, mud and poverty” revealing another depth to the suburb. Can you explain a little about your research process?

The first stuff I wrote was from my immediate experiences and daily observations of the place with some influence of local knowledge. Then it slowly built. I was personally, instinctively curious about it all so there was no academic or scholarly impetus or method to any of it. Secondary sources: Laura Donati’s book Almost Pretty: A History of Sydney Road being the main one which led to stories & primary sources both in the Local History Room at Brunswick library and going through digitised newspapers on Trove. The staff at the library were very helpful too. They have excerpts from the Sands & McDougall Post Office records just for Brunswick from 1885 to 1970 listing tenants & property owners for Brunswick addresses. Saved me a heap of time & trouble & let a piece I really wanted to do & felt vital for the work (poem 26) finally happen.

Because it was for poetry not dissertation, I wasn’t concerned with finding or justifying a conclusive position. So, I tried to have fun and throw all these sources against & in with one another to test & challenge and see what it all may or may not mean.

Q. In your hands a walk down Sydney Road and the encounters made is a “cluttered” experience, “the ordeal a footpath”. Did this “concrete poetry” and shape and form come easily?

A sense of self, others, place and their histories, present & futures as interconnecting unpredictable improvisations. Yes! With shoes on my hands. Also, that was a bad proof read on my part “the ordeal of a footpath” should’ve been the line. Shit.

I consider myself instinctively a visual artist, but having said that my sketch books have lots of text in them. Abrupt annotations. Sometimes the best way I felt I could capture & express my reactions & thoughts is through diagrams or keep myself from interjecting as much as possible & just do a kind of textual frottage or bricolage.

The “concrete” aspect, I feel, can aid and enhance the ideas expressed. Like how the assured projection of a line or a path may either continue to head wherever or suddenly morph & avert to remain relevant & existent. Though I tried to employ it fluidly, organically, erratically more than architecturally. Not for novelty sake either. Which is why I loved Jessica’s work so much. It’s a valid & vital mode. Believe it or not I wasn’t interested in being experimental or too recondite & I didn’t want to write a poem about a mouldy banana in the visual form of a furry teacup either, for example.

Q. Pardon my ignorance, can you explain your use of “pe,ople” to me?

It’s a clumsy (mis)appropriation of something Melbourne poets Thalia & π.ο do, where they use mathematical commas to group letters like digits. “pe,ople” as opposed to “people” was to try and refer to people as a number, a bulk of data, objects, statistics more than a collection of poetic personifications of humanity. Not sure it works.

Q. The poem “1991” shows a forward thinking and forthright mentality by the council on the issues of the Gulf War and “Moslems” in general, are you proud of Brunswick Council’s stance at that time?

I think I’m too cynical to be proud. And I was too young then to really remember first-hand what things were like for Muslim Australians especially with Middle Eastern heritage. But it seemed like an impressive gesture by the council to act from principle and passionately reach out, represent and defend the locals especially considering Brunswick’s intense & mixed migrant heritage all experiencing that agitation I mentioned earlier. That was Romper Stomper time as well.

Q. Are we all just visitors here, the “t-shirt/the white kids with the black sky red earth sunned chests (pseudo – “sorry”s & crypto-“so what”s” ?

Visitors is a soft, evasive way of putting it. Hard for me to answer assuredly. Probably why I listed some of what we are with question marks in that poem. The whole book could be considered a response. As in visitors or guests or invaders or fugitives in a planetary sense? Cultural? Geographical? Mystical? I dunno. (Falsed roots brings false fruits (hello Matthew Hall)

Again, I’m cynical, or maybe naïve, I believe it’s more in a nuanced awareness & self-awareness & integrity of relationship to place & people that goes further than simply waving a flag or putting on a t-shirt. Anyone can do that. It can be distortive. Ethical complexities reduced to (moral) fashion and not much really changes. Token appeasement & mutable affiliations are sugar (bulls)hits. Genuine engagement with the issues lay elsewhere, maybe inwards. For all my gentrifications & lush-haired-clean-shaven-Roger Moore-ness, I’m a cagey wog at heart.

Q. Is non-fiction, historical, “metaphysical hysteria”, poetry a genre?

One may, perhaps, consider it a nomadic non-linear line of trans-ideological enquiry more than a genre my dear Sir. A mode of consciousness that meanders in the rift between my inherited peasant strand of defiant nihilism & my constructed bourgeois conceited aloofness. I think what I do could be  a hyper-judgmentalist projectivism maybe. It’s also a nod to Rachel Blau Duplessis’ “hysterical masculinities”.

Q. With references to Ezra Pound, Joseph Brodsky, Howlin’ Wolf (to name a few) you are obviously well read and a music lover. I ask all my interviewees this, what are you reading at the moment and why? And for yourself, what are you listening to and why?

(I’m thinking of Bill Hicks “watcha readin’……for?”)

My kitchen table is my desk/workbench. Currently stacked & sprawled across it are; the latest Rabbit Issue 21 along with Melody Paloma’s excellent book & Dave Drayton’s too. It’s all just so bloody bunny good. And what value! Flash Cove 4 & 5. I’m onto the second book of Rachel Blau Duplessis’ extraordinary Drafts which is becoming increasingly influential for me. Lionel Fogarty Selected Poems 1980-2017 (signed). Rosi Braedotti Transpositions. An old Japanese book with Japanese text (the photos are in Australian) a nice friend lent me about ceramics & tea bowls & the styles & traditions of glazing. Wabi sabi! That’s what I should have called “metaphysical hysteria”. I’ll just list the rest: The Essential Mary Midgley Reader; a stack of monographs: Soul of a Tree by George Nakashima; one on “prototypes, one-offs & design art furniture”; Robert Motherwell; Cy Twombly; Arte Povera; Yvonne Audette; Cy Twombly & Poussin; Cy Twombly Sculpture; Out of Hand: Materialising the Post digital & one called Post Digital Artisans.

Music’s always on. Music’s the best. I’m actually a failed musician. Howlin’ Wolf was a homage to my brother. I listen mostly to….jazz I guess. Everything from the 20’s to now. Mostly stimulated by the 50’s/60’s stuff. Eric Dolphy, Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk etc. I play a lot of Melbourne band the Hoodangers too because they don’t perform live so much these days. I usually get New York bassist William Parker’s music when it comes out. At the moment Marc Ribot Requiem For What’s-His-Name is on. Recently purchased: Mary Halvorson Meltframe, Marc Ribot Rootless Cosmopolitans, Charlie Haden & Liberation Music Orchestra Time/Life & Archie Shepp Blasé.

Why? Short answer is for pleasure, inspiration & vindication. Knowing there is & has always been fervent nutters after my own soul existing & expressing.

Q. Finally, what is next? Are you working on anything you can tell us about?

I’m currently completing an Associate Degree in Furniture Design at RMIT. No idea what’ll come of it though. I’ve just had a short burst of writing so I hope to do a few submissions, which I haven’t really done for a while. Also, gradually working my way back through a stack of short poems I did as a kind of journal/daily medicine a few years ago during the mercurial relationship that spawned the Sydney Road stuff. Actually, the book started in that stack. Maybe someday I’ll coax & hoax another manuscript of it.


Hopefully I will round out the set of Mary Gilmore Award shortlisted, and highly commended poets, Claire Nashar’s “Lake” being highly commended, with an interview with Aden Rolfe, about his book “False Nostalgia”, in the coming weeks.

The Way by Swann’s – Marcel Proust (translated by Lydia Davis)


As my followers on Twitter (@messy_tony) would know, I’m currently working my way through Marcel Proust’s masterwork.

Why Proust?

His massive book has sat hovering on my periphery for a number of years, frequent allusions, quotes and references have occasionally prompted me to start the seven book, six volume journey, however something more pressing, shiny and new has always distracted me.

The final push came the way of Matias Enard, and his latest novel “Compass”, where numerous Proust references were made. For the uninitiated his “masterpiece” is titled, “À la recherche du temps perdu”, translated as both “Remembrance of Things Past” or more recently as “In Search of Lost Time”. Finding Enard’s book a revelation I thought it was time to undertake my own personal Proustian journey.

I own the six volume Penguin Edition’s version, translated by six different translators, this collection alone has prompted many debates, with numerous detractors, as just as many supporters. I do not want to enter the debate about Scott Moncrieff vs others, as I have no intention of becoming a Proust scholar, nor an expert in French. As a reader of translated fiction, I thought the concept of six different translators would appeal, as I could pick up nuances between volumes that I may generally miss when reading a translated work. Maybe my appreciation of translation would improve through this exercise, an added bonus.

Given there are a plethora of reviews, opinions, and information about Proust, publicly available, I do not believe I will add anything credible to the material you can source elsewhere, however I thought I would highlight a little of my journey and present a few favourite quotes from each of the novels.

Starting with “The Way By Swann’s” (Translated by Lydia Davis), commencing with death, time…

I find the Celtic belief very reasonable, that the souls of those we have lost are held captive in come inferior creature, in an animal, in a plant, in some inanimate thing, effectively lost to us until the day, which for many never comes, when we happen to pass close to the tree, come into possession of the object that is their prison. Then they quiver, they call out to us, and as soon as we have recognized them, the spell is broken. Delivered by us, they have overcome death and they return to live with us.

It is the same with our past. It is a waste of effort for us to try to summon it, all the exertions of our intelligence are useless. The past is hidden outside the realm of our intelligence and beyond its reach, in some material object (in the sensation that this material object would give us) which we do not suspect. It depends on chance whether we encounter this object before we die, or do not encounter it. (pg 47)

On reading…

After this central belief, which moved incessantly during my reading from inside to outside, towards the discovery of the truth, came the emotions aroused in me by the action in which I was taking part, for those afternoons contained more dramatic events than does, often, an entire lifetime. Those were the events taking place in the book I was reading; it is true that the people affected by them were not ‘real’, as Françiose said. But all the feelings we are made to experience by the joy or misfortune of a real person are produced in us only through the intermediary of an image of that joy or that misfortune; the ingeniousness of the first novelist consisted in understanding that in the apparatus of our emotions, the image of being the only essential element, the simplification that would consist in purely and simply abolishing real people would be a decisive improvement. A real human being, however profoundly we sympathize with him, in large part is perceived by our senses, that is to say, remains opaque to us, offers a dead weight that our sensibilities cannot lift. If a calamity should strike him, it is only in a small part of the total notion we have of him that we will be able to be moved by this, even more, it is only in a part of the total notion he has of himself that he will be able to be moved himself. The novelist’s happy discovery was to have the idea of replacing these parts, impenetrable to the soul, by an equal quantity of immaterial parts, that is to say, parts which our soul can assimilate. What does it matter, thenceforth, if the actions, the emotions of this new order of creatures seem to us true, since we have made them ours, since it is within us that they occur, that they hold sway, as we feverishly turn the pages of the book, over the rapidity of our breathing and the intensity of our gaze. And once the novelist has put us in that state, in which, as in all purely mental states, every emotion is multiplied tenfold, in which his book will disturb us as might a dream but a dream more lucid than those we have while sleeping and one whose memory will last longer, then see how, for the space of an hour, he sets loose in us all possible happiness and all possible unhappiness, just a few of which we would spend years of our lives coming to know and the most intense of which would never be revealed to us because the slowness with which they occur prevents us from perceiving them; (thus our heart changes, in life, and it is the worst pain; but we know it only through reading, through our imagination: in reality it changes, as certain phenomena of nature occur, slowly enough so that, even if we are able to observe successively each of its different states, we are still spared the actual sensation of change). (pgs 86-87)

I have been peppering Twitter with the quotes, the format not ideal for Proust, where sentences can ramble for pages, here is one that didn’t fit the 140 character format:

For what we believe to be our love, our jealousy, is not one identical and continuous passion, indivisible. They are composed of an infinity of successive loves, of different jealousies, which are ephemeral but by their uninterrupted multitude give the impression of continuity, the illusion of unity. (pgs 373-374)

Approaching the work with a little trepidation, I should not have been so fearful, thoroughly enjoyable, immensely readable and captivating, I jumped straight to Volume Two. My journey has begun…

Enough from Volume One of the 3,296-page work, I will return with a few favourite quotes from Volume Two, “In The Shadow of Young Girls in Flower”, later in the week, along with my thoughts about the two different translators.