False Nostalgia – Aden Rolfe PLUS bonus poet interview

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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

DRAKE

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
GEORGES PEREC

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

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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

SydneyRoadPoem

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.

Deluxe Paperweight – Holly Isemonger PLUS bonus poet interview

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A couple of weeks ago I interviewed Alison Whittaker about her Mary Gilmore shortlisted collection “Lemons in the Chicken Wire”, whilst we were communicating back and forth and finalising the interview the Judith Wright Poetry Prize winner was announced. Alison Whittaker’s poem “Many Girls White Linen” shared first place in that Prize with Holly Isemonger and her poem “OK cupid”.

The judges of the Judith Wright Poetry Prize, Jill Jones and Toby Fitch (stay tuned here I have a Jill Jones interview in the pipeline), said of Holly Isemonger’s poem;

‘OK cupid”…is a dark, post-digital love poem in which the words of three stanzas are recombined to tell a warper tale about the split-second decisions one makes in the world of online dating. The poem could be seen as a nocturne: the words rotate almost musically, but the recombinations also deconstruct the events within the poem. ‘OK cupid’ shows how repetition is really, in Gertrude Stein’s sense, insistence. (‘Overland Journal’ issue 226 p 28)

‘OK cupid’ can be read online here or better still support Australian writing and buy a copy of edition 226, or even better still subscribe.

Holly Isemonger’s “Deluxe Paperweight” was published last year, by Stale Objects Press, and is available to download here  (when at that page click on the word “link”)

Opening with a page of reviews of Lars Von Trier films, the collection engaged me from the off, as a filmgoer, who has both loved and loathed Lars Von Trier’s movies, Holly’s views on films “Breaking The Waves”, “Dancer In The Dark”, “Dogville”, “Melancholia” and “Nymphomaniac” brought my own experiences back to life;

Dancer in the Dark

Some reasonable people will love this film and others will despise it… but we are not reasonable… we have spent too long reading the little box that describes the art. We know the arc of tragedies, and musicals — we dread, so here we find ourselves with Bjork in the depths of hell. We raise our fists and look for Lars who has left. He is scooting away on the surface of this shallow film to the spiritual sequel, featuring Nazis, his mother, a communist and a swan that will leave him wondering how to get out of this sentence.

We then move into more formal psalms, onto images from iconic movies and then “Hip Shifts”, where repetition features again, the Tom Waits references bringing a broad smile to my face;

I am Tom Waits’ dumb teenage girlfriend.
We live in a shopping mall.
A car park surrounds our house
like a bruise. I drive.

Technology and the digital age is never far from Holly Isemonger’s work, manipulating an online translation tool to present the decay of language and meaning in “Free Online Translation Service”, an insight into the poet’s world where the essence of meaning is eroded by our current digital environment, the poem a stark reminder that text and language is ever shifting, faster and faster the more we utilise technology.

Finishing with “Failed Screenplays”, more images from art, film and the poet’s personal collection and then the questioning “Five Obstructions” the collection is a humorous as well as horrific take on our modern lives, when do we have time to simply live and love?

A further poem by Holly Isemonger was published earlier this week in the eChapbook “Tell Me Like You Mean It: New Poems from Young and Emerging Writers” – this online chapbook also featuring Alison Whittaker – you can access the book free here  and Holly Isemonger’s poem here a continuation of the “Sad Witch Psalms”, three which appear in “Deluxe Paperweight”;

museum incantation
let autumn crust the skin
on egg yolky afternoons
note hoe light leaks like
pus though windows
onto nudes burst the
culture blister only let
him touch u if u do him
the shit busker believes
you want him imagine
bob dylan is dead

Another young poet who is pushing the poetic boundaries and bringing a refreshing change to the flavour of the written word, to read a collection of poems that uses a raft of techniques to bring smiles to my face, and that questions the limits of language is an enjoyable exercise indeed. With recent recognition of her work, Holly Isemonger is a young poet to keep your eyes on, one that will challenge and amuse.

As always I would like to sincerely thank the poet for their time and honesty in answering my questions, Holly Isemonger being more than generous in her replies and time. I personally found this one of the more revealing and amusing interviews I have conducted and look forward to reading many more published works.

Over to the interview:

Q. 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.” Some of your work is “unsettling”, do you think that’s a harsh or fair assessment?

Oh yeah for sure, unsettling is apt! I don’t ever set out to write things that are a bit gross, sad or creepy but those themes always seem to float to the top. I guess it says a lot about my psyche and interests?? Pleasure and repulsion are at the core of a lot of my poems but I don’t mean to write them like that. I guess it stems from the fact that I have an extremely ambivalent attitude toward poetry.

Some of my favourite poems convey both attraction and repulsion (with a certain sense of humour and wisdom) and I think those themes are particularly salient to people who identify as women. Too much can be made of the whole ‘hatred of poetry’ thing but I think there is something to it. To hate something, you have to respect it on a certain level. I love poetry, but it’s frustrating. I think my complicated feelings towards poetry is what makes me so interested in it… which perhaps says more about me than the form.

As for the quote you mentioned, I agree. Poems have a long history that is tied to the very nature of being human. There is a reason Ring Around the Rosie is still sung by children. It’s a form of play, it helps kids learn the rules of social interaction and teaches them about language- yet this is a song about the plague, but those sun drenched memories in pre-school and kindergarten are beautiful and they pass all too quickly- plus sometimes it’s v funny watching kids figure out language and coordination! So in this one nursery rhyme (which I would call a poem) you have this intersection that brings so many different elements of life together: humour, beauty, death, history etc. – plus there are the meditative and chant like qualities of poetry and rhyme. Combine all of these qualities and you have a précis of the human species. And I find that pretty unsettling! Like how in Jurassic Park the old dude has a fossilized mosquito caught in amber. To zoom out and see humans like that. It’s dark.

Q. Your Judith Wright winning poem “OK Cupid”, featured in the latest “Overland” Magazine (issue 226) uses a dating app as a subject, can the everyday be poetic?

Yeah this is my ongoing beef with poetry, it should reflect our everyday life! I think this is why lots of people don’t like poetry- it’s not that they don’t like poetry per say – it’s that they had to read a fuck tonne of Keats, Wordsworth etc. So people are like, ‘how does this relate my life? I have no time for this ivory tower bullshit.’

However, sometimes the idea of making poetry ‘relatable’ can be misconstrued. Ok Cupid is an ‘experimental’ poem, I used an exercise (or constraint) where I rearranged the words in three stanzas in three different combinations, but (I hope) it’s still relatable. Being relatable doesn’t mean that you that you can’t engage with form. We all spend a LOT of time manipulating text. Whether it is a text message, facebook, twitter or an email. Each medium demands a different kind of sentence or phrase. So poetry should engage with that process.

Reading NourbeSe Philip’s Zong! for the first time really made me understand how poetry, and particularly experimental poetry, is not an abstract academic idea. It opened up a whole new way of thinking about form, experimentation, history and subjectivity. AND it makes me SO angry that Kenneth Goldsmith is the go-to guy for “experimental” or “conceptual” poetry for many people.

Q. “Deluxe Paperweight’ opens with reviews of a number of Lars Von Trier’s films. He is seen as a “bad boy” of world cinema, and has said, “A film should be like a stone in your shoe”, are you poems “stones in shoes”? Are you the “bad girl” of Australian poetry? And, I have to ask this; did you watch the 5.5-hour Director’s cut of “Nymphomaniac” or the equally gruelling 4-hour version?

 I hope my poems are like a stones in shoes…I think. Or maybe like grit that slowly transforms into a pearl? I dunno, I lose all my jewelry anyway. It would certainly be an honour to be the “bad girl” of Aus poetry but realistically it’s more of a gang, or perhaps a coven. There are so many great poets pushing the form in Australia, like Emily Stewart, Alison Whittaker, Amelia Dale, Elena Gomez and Astrid Lorange- all have taught and inspired so many writers, artists and poets. And of course- the one and only Pam Brown! I don’t think Australian poetry would be where it’s at now if not for her, she is a huge inspiration to so many poets. If I could (and one day I hope I can) I would make her writing compulsory on every syllabus along with Ali Cobby Eckermann.

In regards to Lars, he is one really painful stone. Or maybe he’s like having an ulcer in your mouth but you keep touching it anyway because although it is a bit gross and painful it’s kinda satisfying? I don’t like that many of his films, and he is clearly a bit of a jerk, but I am glad (against my better judgment) that he and his films exist in the world.

And yes I did see the long version of Nymphomaniac at the movies. I liked the first half because it was fun, the girls were just trolling everyone and I loved it- and who doesn’t like to watch hot people root? But the second part was garbage: a woman who loves sex is crazy? And then she is slowly and gruelingly punished. It’s like- really? We’re still doing this?

But god bless Charlotte Gainsbourg, she’s such a trooper ❤ ❤

 Q. Your bleak imagery is also peppered with humour, “best buy your own beer”, or your acknowledgements containing the comment “and other stuff I can’t remember”, is it a fine balance between horror and humour?

 Well I’m glad you thought they were funny. I don’t really think about it, in general I have a pretty dry sense of humour and that seems to infect everything I write. Most of the writing I really love is a combination of comedy/melancholy (e.g. Lydia Davis, Russell Edson, Chelsey Minnis and Matthew Welton). Life is pretty funny – if sometimes painful- so I write poems like that.

Also, I wrote “and other stuff I can’t remember” because I literally couldn’t remember. I’m glad you found it amusing.

Also, Gone Girl was the best rom-com of 2014 and if u don’t agree I’ll see you in court 😉

 Q. Film obviously plays an important role in your life, with references to many classics, Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby, Badlands, Chinatown just a few. Can you explain a little about your love of cinema?

 When I used to work at the local IGA in my home town I would ask every person who came through my checkout what their favourite movies were, I would keep a tally on the back of receipts and blue-tack them to my register. It was fun because I would have so many interesting conversations and bypass inane chats about the weather. It really opened up an unusual space for empathy, I met so many fascinating people with a wealth of knowledge about movies, books, life experience- I would have never had those conversations if I didn’t ask them about their favourite movies. If they came through my checkout and I just said ‘how are you’ I would have judged them, not in a bad way, but like: you are a dad, or mum, or grandmother or kid or a creepy guy from the RSL. And they probably would have done the same to me. Through this one question about movies, I learnt so much from a bunch of really wise and interesting people that I would never otherwise talked to. Don’t get me wrong there were still customers that were a pain in the ass, but most people were open and kind. That was a pretty formative period.

One shift, the people who owned the video shop (TOP VIDEO) next door came through my checkout and offered me a job there. Needless to say, I accepted. I adored that job. I compiled folders that had lists of all the different movies that had won awards, I wrote up little introductions to various directors and actors. I don’t think many people read them when they came into the shop. But it was fun nevertheless.

One of my favourite dick moves was when groups of women would come in to get a fun rom-com for a ‘ladies night’. They would hire stuff like My Best Friend’s Wedding, 27 Dresses, Runaway Bride etc. But people would often see Kirsten Dunst in a wedding dress on the cover of Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia (a movie about depression and the end of the world) and hire it thinking they were in for a delightful marriage plot. How I wish I could have witnessed their faces as Kirsten Dunst flees her wedding in a golf buggy and pisses on the green as the end of the world looms.

There are a million reasons to love movies but my passion for them came kinda late. It was through a subject at uni taught by the brilliant Sarah Attfield. I was introduced to films by Tarkovsky, Lars von Trier, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Agnes Varda, Claire Denis, Chris Marker, Wong Kar Wai, Tsai Ming-liang, Roy Andersson- and watching Elem Klimov’s brutal war film Come and See still haunts me. Discovering these filmmakers really changed the way I thought about film. (N.B I watch so much trash- all these fancy directors could indicate otherwise- I’m terrible).

I think there is a correlation between poetry and movies. What was such a revelation to me was that some movies- like Tarkovsky’s for example- make you think in a very unusual way, and I think it is the same way you think when you read poetry or look at a painting. If you think of novels as linear/horizontal thinking, reading a poem is a kind of vertical thinking. You don’t think about the forward motion of the story. You don’t process the content, sound, image and temporal qualities separately. It’s an experience where you hold all these elements in your head at once and the meaning comes from a spooky place at the back of your mind. I don’t know much about art but I am obsessed with Hunters in the Snow by Bruegel the Elder. There is something in all the layers of meaning, which operate simultaneously, that I find super unsettling. That painting turns up in Melancholia and Tarkovsky’s film Mirror, which also features a voiceover reading Tarkovsky’s father’s poetry. So it’s all linked I guess?!

I could bang on about movies forever but I’ll spare you!

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

 The last book I loved was Transit by Rachel Cusk. I have never read anything like it. There’s not much in the way of plot but she just examines the interactions that happen around her, and how people are accidentally cruel to each other. I think she is trying to figure out a different way of formulating what the ‘self’ is: it doesn’t come from within but it’s how you relate to the people around you. It’s cutting yet compassionate. The book is filled with a deep sense of wisdom. And besides that- it’s a delight to read!

At the moment I’m reading some feminist theory on horror films. It’s so weird to me that the genre is often perceived as a bro-ish genre (well, I thought of it like that) when it is, usually, quite literally about women overcoming all the awful shit that they have to deal with irl, but on an allegorical level. There is still a lot of annoying horror sexism stuff… but hey- beggars can’t be choosers and I love my female leads!

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

Hmmm. I’m just trying to figure out how to make this whole writing career thing work. And it’s kinda tricky. I’m working on getting a collection of poetry together. And I am trying to get a daily schedule together- I’m not sure which one is harder! Can someone give me a job where I get to talk about movies and literature? (CALLING YOU SBS & ABC IF TURNBULL HASN’T GUTTED YOU ALREADY).

 

 

 

 

Lemons in the Chicken Wire – Alison Whittaker PLUS bonus poet interview

LemonsChicken

Today another collection from the 2017 Mary Gilmore Award shortlist and a bonus poet interview. Indigenous pet Alison Whittaker’s debut collection, “Lemons in the Chicken Wire”, has already been lauded as the winner of the State Library of Queensland Black & Write Prize and the plaudits are well deserved, this is a complex, multi-layered collection of poems.

Opening with a dedication “To the land, and those who grow from it.”, the Aboriginal connection to country is placed foremost in your mind, the opening poem, “Land-ed”, continuing the theme;

land
takes dead skin from my feet
and slips
from under me
while the city
puts dead shoes on my feet
and slips
right into me

this train, the wind, ploughs on
through suburbs I barely glimpse
but there is
land and land and
I am landing

There are many laments and hints of tragic nostalgia, as the subjects move through domestic violence and the importance of family, in “Ext Int.”, memories and celebrations of deceased relatives, as seen in “Preface: Another Funeral”, or emotionally draining moments as in “Growing Soon” and “Tidda//Jidgja”. Mix this with the powerful feminist rant as presented in expected female behaviour in “Whatcha”, a poem of tampons, shaving and dark towels, the reader has in their hands a Pandora’s box of wonderful breadth and depth.

The ‘lemon’ metaphor reappears throughout, switching meanings depending upon the setting, the poem “Lemons : Metaphor” hinting at a few of the references:

Lemons : metaphor
juicy, weeping, squirting, tart
flanked neighbour’s orchard

Like Stuart Barnes’ collection “Glasshouses” , which I reviewed earlier in the week, there is a “fear” of being openly homosexual, in the poem “Silver Pillow”, the proud gay woman still has reservations, “we lie but never rest”.

Using a range of techniques and styles this collection is not all politically motivated, there is humour, playful moments, and joy. The poem “Do Ya?” opens with;

Do you think that tenderness lies at the end of this?
When ankle pins like Christ wounds tether
you, with motion, to the road? Perhaps wherever

that motion yanks you, there will be tenderness
if only where your wounds become a fat, soft mess.
What awaits us when this ends – pleasure?

 

Ultimately these poems are a love story, neither black, nor queer, it is plain love, including all the associated confusions and concerns, Alison Whittaker showing a maturity well beyond her young years, an assured and very enjoyable collection, one that demands re-reading and revisiting many times. I am very grateful to the judges, and chair, of the Mary Gilmore Award for introducing me to a range of newly published poets, all of their collections exciting in their own way, pushing new boundaries with the artform and provoking a raft of emotions.

As always I would like to thank the poet, Alison Whittaker, for her time in answering my question, her honesty in her replies and the revelations about her work that are contained in her responses.

If you are interested in her work, she was the guest editor for the latest Rabbit Journal (number 21) the indigenous issue – a collection that contains twenty-five poems.

Here’s our interview:

Q. As a proud Gomeroi woman can you tell us your story and the story of the Gomeroi?

Maarubaa nginda for asking this question first off. I can’t tell you ‘the’ story of the Gomeroi nation, but I can tell you mine! I was grown up on country near the banks of Ngamaay (the Namoi River), and then in Tamworth on a guniyal (plain). My mum is Gomeroi, and my dad is non-Indigenous. Our language, Gamilaraay, and its linkage to country and kin is what underpins and accounts for all the work I do – in both poetry and law. It’s a supporting structure, but also kind of like an ecosystem – it supports you because you support it. If you break away from it or drain it, you can no longer call yourself part of it. At its core, my story in this sense is about feeding in and out of a bigger one.

Q. From the first poem the reader knows that land, your country, is important, with a dedication to land and the opening poem being “land-ed”, can you tell us a little more about your connection to country?

I kind of can, and I appreciate that you ask, but I won’t here. I think these conversations are best had outside of a broadcast setting.

Q. You speak of a lack of passing on of cultural knowledge, “I had to Google to understand // where is the diaspora of my people?” and as seen in the poems “Heavy Tongue” and “Sharp Tongue” you speak of loss of language. Is this a nostalgic passing, a sadness or an activist outrageous voice?

All and none, I guess! Cultural knowledge is still passed on, but its varied flows have been interrupted by colonisation. Maybe reflecting on these voices now, being a little older and a little further down the path, I can see the work being done to heal the flows. There’s no nostalgia for it – there’s a yearning. It’s fundamental to being who we are, and more than that, to doing what we need to do. There’s no other English name for it. Maybe it’s not nostalgia or outrage or sadness you feel in these circumstances, it’s bereavement and dislodgement.

Q. The importance of family comes through via reflections on their passing, and the “fear” of homosexuality being uncovered, as in the line “we lie but never rest”, and you touch on the family knowledge of your sexuality in “Insider Knowledge”. Is this baring of the soul in the collection cathartic, stressful?

It is stressful! Actually, it’s more stressful now than it was before. Writing some of this collection was reckless because I was quite driven to catharsis. It felt good in the shorter term to write about this experience, this life I lived and shared with others like me from birth to my late teens. The problem with life writing is that you live with the self you create in the public domain. Others live with it to, and communities, and the selves you make for them.

I don’t give a shit about being out (just kidding, I love it!) – but I care about how I represent queerphobia and colonisation and racism and trauma and relationships. That’s more than being out. That’s almost like inviting people in to someone else. Now, I’m much more careful and slow in the things I write. I want them to mean less to me, and mean more to other people.

Q. You use rhyme playfully, as in “Do Ya?”, personally this lifted my spirits, and you use a range of poetic forms, are there any particular formats you enjoy playing with?

Oh, maarubaa nginda! That’s kind of you to say. I love playing with wordwork and storywork, there’s so much packed in there that you can weave into all kinds of terrain. What’s my favourite? Not a clue! I have features that I especially like toying with – rhyme, rhythm, repetition, time, negative space, line length, punctuation, phonetics – but I now like leaving myself out of poetic forms (like haiku, sonnets, whatever) as much as I can.

Q. I know you are studying right now so the answer may just be “text books”, but I ask all my interviewees this, what are you reading at the moment and why?

Not just yet! I’ll head over to Turtle Island North America to study in August, but for now I’m reading old loves like Home by Larissa Behrendt. I’m reading Home because I’m packing up everything I own, and completely forgot I borrowed it from a friend four years ago until I pulled it from my bookshelf last week. One last read before I give it back to her!

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

Yes! My next collection – blakwork.

 

 

Glasshouses – Stuart Barnes PLUS bonus poet interview

GlasshousesBarnes

Next month the Mary Gilmore Award will be presented by the Association for the Study of Australian Literature, it is for the best first book of poetry published in the past two calendar years, it was awarded annually until 1998, reverted to bi-annually and now appears to have reverted back to an annual prize. The shortlist was announced recently;

Stuart Barnes – Glasshouses (UQP)

Carmine Frascarelli – Sydney Road Poems (rabbit)

Aden Rolfe – False Nostalgia (Giramondo)

Alison Whittaker – Lemons in the Chicken Wire (Magabala)

Claire Nashar’s “Lake” (Cordite) was highly commended by the chair Michael Farrell and judges Ann Vickery and Justin Clemens.

I am hoping to interview each of the poets on the shortlist over the coming weeks and today start with Stuart Barnes, again I thank him for his time, the effort he put into answering my questions and his honesty and poetic instruction. His interview follows my personal thoughts on his book.

Stuart Barnes’ collection is split into four sections, “Reflections”, “Five Centos”, “Cyclone Songs” and “In a Beautiful Place Out in the Country”, and from the opening poem in “Reflections”, “Fingal Valley”, you are hit with a sense of nostalgia, with glass swans, “mother-of-pearl veneer”, “Nan’s budgerigar” and “Pop’s prized green” along with the iconic “leering toilet roll doll”, images of a grandparent’s country home are immediately brought to mind, you can settle in a comfortable environment and indulge in Barnes’ reflections.

The influences on Barnes as a poet is brought home in “Ebon Cans”, an homage to Gwen Harwood, where her quote “In the twinkling of and eye” becomes the personal, “in the twinkling of her eye”. Moving to playful poems such as “13”, a rondeau to the number thirteen, and “Horus and Set” a playful use of form;

Horus and Set
for Zachary Humphrey

From his ebony eyrie
the moon is salubrious,
round as the white lotus’ root.
The desert’s his adversary.

The moon is salubrious
with his godly left eye.
The desert’s his adversary,
spiteful, like a hippopotamus.

With his godly left eye
the moon is neither ossuary,
nor spiteful, like a hippopotamus,
a shape-shifting crocodile.

The moon is not an ossuary.
The desert us a troglodyte,
a shape-shifting crocodile.
The moon’s a fresh apothecary,

the desert is a troglodyte.
From his ebony eyrie
the moon’s a fresh apothecary,
round as the white lotus’ root.

With homosexual references, including the appearance of the “Grim Reaper”, which, in 1987, was a controversial advertising campaign in Australia about the spread of AIDS (if you’d like to watch the ad click here), there are poems of being bashed, being ostracised, “It’s immense the fear/of gay men”, there is also depression and mental illness as in the poem “sad”, mixed with poems about the chemicals (medication) required to create the mood altering states.

It is through these personal reflections, the voyeuristic peering into the life of another that the poems have a deep human touch, the ordinary, for example the musical references and homages, sound like any kid growing up in 1980’s/90’s Australia, but beneath the happy veneer there are dark secrets and messages aplenty.

Stuart Barnes uses innumerable references, literary and musically, to create a sense of time and place, and the use of different fonts, shapes and placement always keeps you entertained and intrigued, boiling works down to their essence, creating a depth well beyond the fifty poems (plus a proem) in the collection. A book I can thoroughly recommend.

As always, I thank the poet for their time and honesty in replying to my questions, Stuart Barnes giving detailed explanations of his work and the various forms used, therefore it is better to hear this from the creator’s lips instead of from my mere thoughts, over to the interview.

Q. Form throughout the collection is prevalent, as evidenced by “13” where you have 13 lines, 13 syllables in each line, presenting examples of 13 culturally and in the last poem in the collection “Double Acrostic” spelling out “the place where clouds are formed”. Do you find these “constraints” feed the creative?

 

In Glasshouses there are 51 poems. Of these, 15 are sonnets: ‘10.15 Saturday Night’ is kind of Bowlesian; the 17-line ‘Deep Sea Love’ and the 18-line ‘Bees’ are what I call slightly broken (the latter might also be kind of Heroic); ‘Mr Gingerlocks’ is a bouts-rimés.

Other forms include cento (‘Walking Wounded’), pantoum (‘Horus and Set’), senryu (‘Blackout’), sestina (‘Snowdrop in the Tropics’), terminal (‘Cups’) and villanelle (‘The ice storm’s’). ‘You do what you can, or Eleven Steps’ adheres to an 11-line, 11-syllables-in-each-line regulation. ‘eggshells’ and ‘colour wheel’ (dedicated to the memories of my paternal grandmother and grandfather, respectively) have four 7-line stanzas and similar end-rhymes. ‘In a Beautiful Place Out in the Country’ was influenced by the rhythms of the Boards of Canada song of the same name, Lana Del Rey’s ‘Born to Die’ (PDP / 13 Remix) and ‘Rings Around Saturn’ (Peshay & Decoder Remix) from Photek’s Form & Function.

‘Double Acrostic’, a sonnet, was occasioned by reading Ofelia Zepeda’s ‘The Place Where Clouds Are Formed’ and by re-reading Gwen Harwood’s acrostic sonnets ‘Eloisa to Abelard’ and ‘Abelard to Eloisa’. When I 1st read Shakespeare’s sonnets at high school I was as turned on as Anne Sexton when she saw on television ‘I. A. Richards [a poet and literary critic] describing the form’ (https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poets/detail/anne-sexton). A couple of years later my then-partner gave me Shakespeare’s Sonnets (ed. Katherine Duncan Jones) for my birthday. In 2009, when I started writing poetry seriously, the sonnet was the 1st form I explored. At the time, I was seeing a psychiatrist who played several instruments and composed scores and who believed my writing poetry would weaken my depression and anxiety (it did). Like Sexton’s therapist, he encouraged me ‘to write between our sessions about what I was feeling and thinking and dreaming’.

I wrote hundreds of sonnets, but impatient for change I started to flirt with other forms such as villanelles, pantoums and centos. When I returned to writing sonnets I decided they had to have regulations (e.g., sonnets with double acrostics); when I stopped writing sonnets altogether I shifted my focus to other forms such as double acrostics with 13-line, 13-syllables-in-each-line regulations; one was published as ‘Double Acrostic’ in Glasshouses, another as ‘Double Acrostic’ in Southerly Journal’s Writing Disability issue (http://southerlyjournal.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/76.2-Stuart-Barnes.pdf).

I adore writing in form, be it fixed or one I’ve altered or one I’ve conceived; when writing in form I feel as if I’m at my most creative; I feel liberated, not constrained.

Finally, that Glasshouses’ last word is ‘formed’ wasn’t decided consciously.

Q. Shape also plays a role, for example “Doubleness, with anagrams” shaped like a weather map depiction of a cyclone, is shape an enjoyable format to use in your poetic imagery?

 

Yes. Making concrete poetry (temporarily) satisfies the wannabe painter in me.

‘Doubleness, with anagrams’, from Glasshouses’ Cyclone Songs sequence, was drafted on February 22, 2015, the 2nd of 5 days without electricity after Tropical Cyclone Marcia ripped through Rockhampton. At the time, I couldn’t get the meteorological symbol for a cyclone out of my head.

I won’t explain every doubleness and every anagram but I will say that David Lynch’s doubles and doppelgängers partially inspired this poem; that the number 22 is significant and is mentioned in the 1st line of this poem and the 2nd-last line of ‘Prelude’; and that ‘latent forecasts’ (a phrase from ‘Doubleness, with anagrams’) is, rather alarmingly, an anagram of Settlers of Catan, a board game I played with friends before (but not after) Marcia.

I enjoy experimenting with font, too. ‘Doubleness, with anagrams’ includes the phrase TWIN CYCLONES! which I hope mirrors spinning-quickly-into-focus Marvel movie tabloids’ headlines. I wanted the poem to move on the page, I wanted it to capture the post-Marcia vertigo and chaos. Earlier poems such as ‘Screaming Skull’ and ‘The Complaint’ (http://the-otolith.blogspot.com.au/2012/01/stuart-barnes-complaint-is-being-made.html ) were informed by shape and font, respectively; fans of Sonic Youth will recognise another inspiration.

Other Glasshouses poems—‘из России’, ‘another journey by train’, ‘Deep Sea Love’, ‘10.15 Saturday Night’, ‘Drums’, ‘The Mixtape’—experiment with shape, font and symbol.

Q. The band ‘The Cure’ are referenced throughout your poems, I never thought I’d ask a poet this but is Robert Smith an influence?

 

Each time I’m asked about my musical influences a wonderful Dorothy Porter quote comes to mind: ‘Music has been the key for me since I was a teenager … I wanted to tap into that dark potency of rock‘n’roll.’ Music has been the key for me since I was a little kid; I’ve always been open to the energies of varied genres: alternative, blues, classical, country, dance, electronic, indie pop, jazz, Latin, opera, pop, rock, soul, soundtrack, opera, world.

I inherited my craving for music from my parents; I remember their playing oodles of country when I was a kid so it’s apt that Johnny Cash’s ‘A Boy Named Sue’ surfaced in Glasshouses’ title poem. Ghastly songs by Warrant and Poison, which my cousins played to death on long stifling summer days, inspired ‘Fingal Valley’, the collection’s 1st poem; Art Department’s glittering, minimal ‘I C U’ shimmied into another. ‘i won’t let the sun go down on me’ takes its title from the Nik Kershaw song of the same name, and the five poems from Cyclone Songs from the five songs—Grace Jones’ ‘Hurricane’, ‘Pulp’s ‘This Is Hardcore’, L7’s ‘Pretend We’re Dead’, Snap!’s ‘The Power’, ‘Antony and the Johnsons’ ‘The Horror Has Gone’—that echoed in Tropical Cyclone Marcia’s wake. ‘Blackout’ pays homage to Kate Bush’s ‘Babooshka’, ‘Coda’ to Gounod’s Faust. I wrote ‘The Mixtape’ after listening to the mixtape my 1st boyfriend made for me; Pulp’s ‘Disco 2000’, Portishead’s ‘Roads’ and Suede’s ‘The 2 of Us’ all get a mention.

I 1st encountered The Cure on rage—‘Never Enough’, 1990; I found Robert Smith’s vocals and make-up both alarming and alluring—but it wasn’t until 1992, when my friend T made me listen to every album (Three Imaginary Boys through Wish), that I became hypnotized. I took up guitar and piano and wrote dozens of (very terrible) songs.

Since then, Smith’s influenced my writing more than any other singer-songwriter-musician.

His elastic voice is a shot in the arm; he throws it like the instruments—bass, flute, guitar, 6-string bass, synthesizer, violin—that he plays. Years ago, a friend who used to sing and score opera praised his vocal harmonies (‘gorgeous’).

For me, no other songwriter captures addiction (‘Open’), ageing (‘Secrets’), arachnophobia (‘Lullaby’), death (‘Bloodflowers’), dreams (‘Kyoto Song’), fame (‘Dressing Up’), hate (‘Shiver and Shake’), hope (‘Faith’), loss (‘Anniversary’), love (‘Siamese Twins’), loneliness (‘10.15 Saturday Night’), sex (‘Jupiter Crash’) and suicide (‘The Reasons Why’) the way Smith does.

He’s mastered alt-rock, cold wave, electronic, funk, house, indie rock, new wave, pop, post-punk, post-rock, psychedelic rock, shoegaze and synth-pop, yet his band remains uncategorisable. At its core, though, is ‘The Cure sound’, described by Smith as ‘songs based on 6-string bass, acoustic guitar, and my voice, plus the string sound from the Solina’ (‘a multi-orchestral machine with violin, viola, trumpet, horn, cello and contrabass’). For me, this sound is intoxicating, as are Smith’s howls and Ows, his Doo-doo-doo-doo’s.

He’s been influenced by some of my favourite novelists, painters, philosophers and poets: Iain Banks, Baudelaire, Camus, Capote, Cocteau, Penelope Farmer, Mary Howitt, Kafka, Robert Lowell, William Mayne, Edvard Munch, Thomas Nagel, Mervyn Peake, Plath, Christina Rossetti, Salinger, Shelley, Dylan Thomas, Patrick White.

With the media he’s warm, thoughtful, articulate (his triple j interviews with Richard Kingsmill introduced me to the music of Nick Drake, another inspiration); live, extraordinary (I’ve seen the band 4 times; not 1 concert’s run under 3.5 hours).

Robert Smith’s compelling, brilliant adventurousness continues to inspire me to bend to new styles.

Several of Glasshouses’ poems address The Cure directly. ‘Reflections’ takes its title from the band’s 2011 Vivid Festival gig of the same name, ‘another journey by train’ and ‘10.15 Saturday Night’ from two of the band’s songs of the same name. ‘13’ and ‘из России’ mention ‘The Cure’, ‘ValproateFluoxetineClonazepam’ ‘the cures’.

 

Q. The very personal ‘coming out’ poem, “I”, is placed sideways on the page. Is this to signify “off kilter”, “Different”, as the poem uses lines such as “You’ll fucking die of AIDS”, “My spine’s weak” and “poof”, questions of “fitting in”?

 

It’s interesting you read ‘I’ as a coming out poem. To those who don’t know I’m gay it might be; to me it’s about astrology, meditation, and an infatuation with a man practically paralysed by his fear of coming out to family and friends who he knows aren’t homophobic and already know he’s gay.

There was much umming and ahing on my part about including this poem in Glasshouses because of the phrase ‘You’ll fucking die of AIDS’, the 2nd thing my mother said to me after she asked ‘Are you gay?’. The reasons for including it were twofold: my mother and I have an honest relationship and we were able to talk about and to laugh about the past; some people still think HIV/AIDS ‘a gay disease’, which is, I believe, both naïve and repugnant.

‘My spine’s weak’ refers to my bulging disc. ‘Poof!’, of course, is a pun, intended to lighten the poem’s tone.

‘I’ appears sideways on the page, i.e., in landscape orientation, so that ‘my’, ‘quantified’, ‘final’, ‘fine’, ‘why’—the words that rhyme with the poem’s title—would end their respective lines. I wrote ‘I’ after listening to Björk’s ‘Five Years’; three lines from this song feature in the original version of my poem (https://walleahpress.com.au/communion3-Stuart-Barnes.html).

Q. Your centos show a massive breadth of reading, from Donne to Shakespeare to many recent poets, you’re obviously well read, how long did these free flowing word sculptures, homage in many lines, take to create? Can you take us through the process?

 

My parents and my father’s parents encouraged me to read widely (the Bible, comics, Encyclopedia Britannica, National Geographic, newspapers) from an early age; later, several teachers, including brilliant poets Gwen Harwood and Liz McQuilkin (http://walleahpress.com.au/Liz-McQuilkin.html).

Each of Glasshouses’ centos was crafted over many weeks. Surprisingly, the 6-line ‘Forcento’, about gravity, was pieced together quicker than the 21-line ‘Matrimonies’, a cento from Gwen Harwood (matrimonies is an anagram of Miriam Stone, one of Gwen’s pseudonyms).

The process: I choose a theme; I choose lines from poetry collections and online literary journals which I type into a doc; from these I sometimes succeed in creating a narrative I’m happy with; I sometimes don’t, which is better than fine—writing, not having written, is what’s most pleasurable for me.

Q. You also include a “proem”, a cento of nine of your own poems. A spiralling, a boiling down to the bare essentials. Is finding the “essence” of a work a key to your creation?

 

Yes. One of the 1st found poems I forged was ‘Stern Man’, a remix of some of the proem from friend and novel/la/ist Nigel Featherstone’s Remnants which I hope encapsulates the core of this novel. Nigel wrote about Remnants and ‘Stern Man’ at his blog (https://nigelfeatherstone.wordpress.com/2014/04/04/three-cheers-for-literary-miracles/); while you’re there, order his latest highly praised novella, The Beach Volcano.

My proem’s lines are taken from ‘The Raising of the Dead’, an unpublished poem, and 8 of Glasshouses’. 1st line ‘Bay of Fires’’ is from ‘colour wheel’, a day in the life of my paternal grandfather and 9-year-old me; last line ‘might inscribe similar discs of stillness’ is from ‘Snowdrop in the Tropics’, a transformation of a Grimm fairy tale.

My proem, ‘Stern Man’ and Glasshouses begin with conflagrations and end with crystallisations.

Q. Following on from the centos question and your breadth of reading, I ask all my interviewees this, what are you reading at the moment and why?

 

Writing by friends and poets Benjamin Dodds and Felicity Plunkett, and Shanghai Wedding, a novella-as-manuscript by friend Daniel Young: ‘swap-edit’, to borrow a phrase from Felicity. Robert Adamson’s Inside Out: An Autobiography, a gift from friend and poet Matt Hetherington. Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell and Kwame Dawes and John Kinsella’s Speak from Here to There because I enjoy their poetry and poetic interlocutions. Re-reading a.j. carruthers’ Axis Book 1: ‘Areal’, Melinda Smith’s Drag down to unlock or place an emergency call and Alison Whittaker’s Lemons in the Chicken Wire is like opening the largest matryoshka doll and finding inside differently painted, more detailed ones. Gail Crowther’s The Haunted Reader and Sylvia Plath, which focuses ‘on the readers of Sylvia Plath, not the historical figure herself’. Christopher Isherwood’s Diaries, Volume 1: 1939-1960: bold, witty, intriguing. Tyehimba Jess’ Olio ‘weaves new and reimagined facts with poetry, prose, and biographies of first-generation freed slaves who performed in minstrel shows.’ My contributor copy of Shaping the Fractured Self: poems of chronic illness and pain (ed. Heather Taylor Johnson): small essays and poems by 28 Australian poets who happen to live with chronic illness and pain. Pedro Pietri’s Selected Poetry because I’ve never read his work. My favourite female novelist Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. Jeet Thayil’s Collected Poems and Narcopolis, both recommended by Matt Hetherington. Imma Tubella’s Un secret de l’Empordà, which I’m translating into English.

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

 

Glasshouses begins with a section called Reflections and ends with In a Beautiful Place Out in the Country; the poems I’m writing for my 2nd collection look to the future. I’m learning Catalan and translating Imma Tubella’s Un secret de l’Empordà into English. I’m preparing 2 poetry workshops—my 1st, very exciting—for CQ University’s Idiom23 Writing Retreat to be held on nearby North Keppel Island in early July.

 

 

 

Bone Ink – Rico Craig PLUS bonus poet interview

BoneInk

I am back from my adventures in central Australia, another successful trip organised where thirty-two people walked the Larapinta Trail to raise awareness and funds for the Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Women’s Council (‘NPYWC’), this year raising over $107,000 for the retention of indigenous women’s culture in the region. However, my return means a backlog of blog updates for you, numerous books to review and several interviews to publish.

Today I look at a recent new release, Rico Craig’s “Bone Ink” and through his generosity and speedy replies I have another wonderful interview to present to you after my thoughts on his book.

Rico Craig’s debut collection is split into two sections, “Bone Ink” and “The Upper Room”, opening with the Western Suburb’s homage “Angelo”, a tale of young men from the west, stolen cars, graffiti, cigarettes and hanging around car parks, a lament for a lost mate;

Soon we’ll give up, drive to the BP near the corner

of Victoria & James Ruse; where they do the kebabs
Angelo liked, & we’ll lean on the car, & listen
to traffic, & watch the safety lights spit insects,

& we’ll feed his ghost.

The poems aren’t all petrol heads and yahoo’ing by rough teenage boys, the hint of nostalgia, the encroachment of progress and suburbia on the innocence of you, where our poets hides eats blackberries and steals kisses, is presented in the following poem, a story of lost innocence, one that was wild AND sweet. But the indestructibility of youth, surfing in a cyclone, drugs and stolen cars also repopulates the pages, all finely balanced with a dash of humour;

…If we meet again
it will be unexpected, as will-less shoppers,
caught lingering in front of a cheese cabinet,

shocked, seeking salvation in a slab of brie.

With the benefit of hindsight Rico Craig looks back on turbulent times, rebellious activities with a wise omnipresence, presenting moments of youth with a mature distance, as in “Life Savers”;

We’re trapped in the vodka decade,
battered by the aftertaste of Skinny Bitches,
lime between our fingers, septums
scraped raw, my Burberry scarf
louche around your neck all summer.

You’re so Sid Vicious you make
the cyber-dykes swoon. Your tongue
is a luxury car sweeping around
a manicured hedge, your lips taste
like spirit poured from a crystal skull.

I’m on your trust fund diet. We’ve
been talking to the warehouse doctor;
chicken, pork and Life Savers
the only food that’ll pass our lips. Each
dawn you pace the gritty floor barefoot,

searching for the right pill. You push me
to my knees so we can make another
bullshit narcotic pact. We’re full of holes,
but I promise anyway, something
about being beaten clean with sage bush,

drinking ouzo and being weathered
by salt air. I lie and listen to the birds
that roost in the roof above, they coo
at the empty din rushing from our bodies.

The restlessness of youth gives way in the second section, “The Upper Room”, to more adult pursuits, including the ekphrastic “With Chris Ofili in The Upper Room” where Rico Craig visits the works of the controversial artist and gives the multitude of monkeys a life in the streets of London. A section including mythology, shaped poems;

like me                 water
doesn’t hold shape          or settle to being

and a conclusion that promises a more settled future, six poems making up “Lampedo”, the tale of the “one-breasted warriors” the Amazonian archers.

This is a very readable and multilayered collection, moving through numerous phases of the poet’s life, the experiences that have constructed him, from a wild youth to a cultured adult, a journey that is well served by Rico Craig’s style, enough angst, sprinkled with humour, but open enough to allow the reader to fill in the spaces and draw their own conclusions.

Onto the interview, as always I thank the poet for their time, and their honesty, my questions always attempting to demystify poetry, hopefully allowing enough room for the poet to explain their craft to you. I’m very grateful to Rico Craig for making the time to answer my questions, his honesty, openness and promptness.

Hopefully I will be back later in the week with another Australian poet review and interview, stay tuned.

Q. Who could have imagined a Bunnings sausage sizzle as the subject for a poem, and you’ve done a heroic version. How does the everyday become a poetic subject for you?

I’m really interested in the myths that individuals build to explain the world they live in, the personal stories people use to fortify various aspects of life. It’s the starting point for a lot of the poetry I write, I try to think about the myth, the anecdote that is more than an anecdote, the story people tell over and over, then I try to twist it a little – like I’m trying to turn it inside out so I can see what makes the story work and what gives the story a heartbeat.

This poem comes from a time I was doing some work at a children’s hospital; I was working with a group of kids and the parents kept dropping by to check how things were going. What hit me were the guys who were hanging around watching their kids, big tatted up guys, tradies in hi-vis, you could see they were heartbroken and on the edge of busting up because their kids were so sick. I couldn’t get the guys out of my head, I kept wondering what they’d do, if they spoke to each other. So the poem in a way comes from them trying to find a way to keep busy, to stop themselves from thinking too hard about what was happening with their kids.

Outside that, Bunnings carparks are just bizarrely interesting places, the mix of people is just weird, and if there are gods at Bunnings it’s the tradies so I thought I’d put them behind the bbq.

Q. “Spaniards Road” uses shape and form to convey a wistful message, a soul flying like a kite, (this being only one of a handful of similar poems in the collection), does the creation of space/shape intrigue you?

The short answer is yes, I’m interested in the way the shape of a poem works with and against the content of the poem. In this poem I wanted the shape of the poem to reflect the image of the kite and to also say a little about the wispiness of memory; even, eventually, the wispiness of desire and loss. I guess in this case the shape is also me wondering what a memory might look like when it’s cut from all the other things that are happening in a life. The white space around this poem is the emptiness surrounding a memory when you’ve stripped the rest of life away. In a way, Spaniards Road is like a weird tissue sample that’s been cut from a body and sent off for a biopsy.

Q. Other “shaped” poems include the tidal “Abruption – near the bear northern”, and the map in “Hand in Glove”, do you think form and space, or even a pause, can create vivid imagery, without the use of language?

I work pretty hard on the shape of poems, be they in the a more regular form or the slightly unusual shapes of Abruption and Hand in Glove. I was aware of the shape of each of these poems on the page and how the shape worked as its own image, but I have to admit that wasn’t the primary reason for the shape of the poems. What I was mostly focused on was using the space within the poem to intensify and clarify the images.

I struggled a lot with both these poems, particularly Abruption, in drafts they’ve existed in heaps and heaps of different forms, with different degrees of punctuation etc. What I found with both these poems is I wasn’t getting a clear enough sense of the images when I used a regular structure, the images felt too jammed up against each other and the poems felt too cluttered with punctuation. Spreading the poems on the page and using spaces within the lines allowed me to create internal line breaks; I got to separate facets of images into smaller fragments without pushing them onto different lines or filling the poem with punctuation.

Q. The collection includes the ekphrastic “With Chris Ofili in The Upper Room”, a controversial artist (I loved his “The Holy Virgin Mary” which I saw at MONA in Tasmania), but your poem is thick, like his work, layered and lacquered. Was this effect you were after?

When Bone Ink was launched I went on what was probably an unnecessarily extended rant about the paintings that this poem is based on. They were first shown in London in 2002. To get to the Upper Room exhibition you had to walk up a thin flight of stairs into a darkened, windowless room, there were thirteen paintings in the collection all illuminated from above, six paintings each along the left and right walls and one larger painting at the end of the room. All the paintings were of rhesus monkeys, all different colours, using paint, paper, pins, lacquer, elephant dung and I’m sure other materials. The paintings are big, I remember them as pretty much human size; as you walked up the room there was a real sense, because of the way the paintings were lit, that you were looking out through the darkness into a totally different world. For me the paintings created this other world and when I left the exhibition, I took that feeling with me, so for me a lot of the work the poem is doing and that density you mention is about trying to capture the experience of walking around in the world with the aura of excellent art still surrounding your perception. I think really good art alters your perception of the world in the same way that strong emotions can alter your perception. For me the awareness that you’re seeing the world in a different way, but accepting that (even temporarily) as your new reality is really layered and complex. I’m trying, in this poem, to capture a little of that strange, new world opening up within the day to day.

Q. Blending the working class with mythology is a unique approach, how did a western suburbs kid end up a poet?

He started as a prose writer trying to write ridiculously long and complex stories, it didn’t go well, but I kept trying, maybe for too long. I finally clicked with poetry as a form when I understood that it gave me a way to tell a fragment from a longer story, but tell it in a way that was satisfyingly rich. Most of my poems are cuts from imagined longer stories and I’m using the less narratively constrained space of poetry to explore the story through images and characters’ myth creation. I also feel like I have a lot of bad debts with the Western Suburbs, there are people I owe and I think maybe poetry is my way of paying off the debt.

Q. The collection ends with “Lampedo”, the one breasted Amazonian archers, blended with images of a hunted fox. An ending that promises more mysteries to come, what is next for you? Are you working on anything you can tell us about?

Lampedo is a pretty good example of the characters creating strange stories to wrestle sense from what they’re feeling, sometimes with the poems in Bone Ink it seems like the more intense the emotions of the characters the more the realism in the poems is cut with images alien to that reality. I’m glad you picked up on the promise of more at the end of Lampedo, I wanted to leave the collection with a sense of opening into something new.

There are a few things on the go: I’ve got a stack of poems that look like they might form the core of a second collection; I’m working on a chapbook of poems that follow an animal smuggler through a series of unpleasant events in the south of Spain; I’ve also got a feature length film script set in the Western Suburbs of Sydney that I keep playing around with. So yeah there’s stuff, but I don’t know what will get across the line first.

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

It’s pretty much all poetry at the moment, I bounce around a bit so I’ll give you the ones that are hitting me hardest this year: Caitlin Maling – Border Crossing for the voice and the way she makes her poems simultaneously about so many things; Michelle Cahill – The Herring Lass for the craft, thought and wonderful flare of images; Alison Whittaker – Lemons in the Chicken Wire for the structures, the way she toys with form, the vivid sense of country and people; Layli Long Soldier – Whereas for totally blowing me a way every time I pick it up, it’s so adventurous in terms of form, and commits itself utterly to the belief that poetry can fight back, amazing collection; Ellen Van Neerven – Comfort Food for the sparseness and real world beauty; Solmaz Sharif – Look for the way it claims language and reshapes what poetry of protest can look like.

 

Antígona González – Sara Uribe (translated by John Pluecker) – 2017 Best Translated Book Award Poetry

AntigonaGonzalez

Today more from Mexico, moving from Valeria Luiselli’s latest book “Tell Me How It Ends” back to the 2017 Best Translated Book Award Poetry longlist. Sara Uribe’s “Antígona González” uses the daughter/sister of Oedipus and the tale where she attempts to secure a respectable burial for her brother Polynices who was killed in battle, and transposes the search for a corpse to the present Mexican landscape where numerous people go missing.

My name is Antígona González and I am searching/among the dead for the corpse of my brother. (p7)

A work that is a grieving book, for a missing brother, for nameless bodies, for an uncaring society that allows disappearances to become the norm.

I came to San Fernando to search for my brother.
I came to San Fernando to search for my father.
I came to San Fernando to search for my husband.
I came to San Fernando to search for my son.
I came with the others for the bodies of our people. (p103)

Our poet’s missing brother is Tadeo and Sara Uribe uses a raft of inputs to explore disappearance, “the verb to disappear”, this is a heart wrenching work gives voice, and life, to the nameless, the anonymous;

 In my dream, I’m certain one of those suitcases is
Tadeo’s. Mamá gave him that name because he was
the one who struggled most at birth. She promised
ninety novenas to Saint Jude if he would save her son.
She prayed those novenas and baptized him in his
honor so that the hope of the hopeless would always
shine on him. So that the smallest of her children
would never forget that from his very birth he had
overcome adversity. (p43)

Through extensive use of space, some pages with central text, others from the top, others from the bottom of the page, the English translation appears alongside the Spanish text. The all-encompassing vastness of the Mexican desert, the missing persons and a fruitless search is relayed through the visual open presentation;

So I head out to my job on an empty stomach and as
I drive I thank of all the gaps, all the absences no one
notices and yet are there. (p81)

The stress, tension of not knowing comes through in the tight language, it is easy to imagine the poet ranting these lines at you, yelling her frustration at you. The book contains fourteen pages of references and notes, a detailed explanation of the resources used to create this multi-layered work, quotes from blogs, italicised text an interloper’s voice, facts including testimonies from victims and family members as compiled by journalists and quotes from other writers, including a sequence of questions by Harold Pinter from the poem “Death”, such as “WHO WAS THE DEAD BODY?” with answers coming from various other sources, the book resembles a performance art piece rather than simply a poetry collection.

All of us here will gradually disappear if no one searches
for us, if no one names us.

All of us here will gradually disappear if we just look
helplessly at each other, watching how we disappear one
by one. (p 165)

A book that explores the impacts of people disappearing, the grief that remains behind, the questioning, “the interpretation of Antigone is radically altered in Latin America – Polynices is identified with the marginalized and disappeared” (p23)

Also including seventeen pages of translator notes;

There is a startling specificity to this Antígona. We are in Tamaulipas, a state along the Gulf coast in Mexico and bordering the Río Bravo/Rio Grande in South Texas. It is a time of brutal violence that strains the very definition of the word “war,” as it evades any previous understanding of what “war” might be. A specific moment and a specific horror.

Antígona González is not Sophocles’ Antigone, though Uribe’s book is inexorably tied to the long trajectory of Sophocles’ tragedy. In his version, Antigone could not bear the dictate of Creon to leave her brother’s dead body exposed and unburied on a dusty plain. In Uribe’s version, Antígona González is bereft of a body to mourn, a body to bury. (p191)

Including a rationalisation process where the poet wonders what to do with Tadeo’s killers, the various stages of grieving are walked through as you become further and further frustrated at the lack of knowledge, the unknown and the endless missing persons, this is a very complex and moving book. Yet another worthwhile inclusion on the 2017 Best Translated Book Award longlists.