Thursday, September 21, 2017

Captive and Temporal
Nguyễn Tiên Hoàng 
(Vagabond Press, Sydney, 2017)


Bài giới thiệu của Pam Brown, đọc nhân buổi ra mắt sách tại Trường Đại học Sydney, 8 tháng 9, 2017

Translated into Vietnamese by Quang Hominh


Sinh năm 1956 ở Đà Nẵng, Việt Nam, Nguyễn Tiên Hoàng nhận học bổng Colombo Plan, qua Úc du học năm 1974. Hoàng từng làm việc với đài phát thanh Radio Australia và sau đó trong ngành kỹ thuật tin học. Trong hơn 30 năm, Hoàng viết dưới bút hiệu Thường Quán, cộng tác rộng rãi với nhiều tạp chí văn học lớn ở Việt nam, Hoa kỳ và Úc. Hoàng vẫn giữ liên hệ chặt chẽ với văn giới trong nước Việt Nam và đã dịch nhiều thơ sang tiếng Việt. Gần đây, anh mới hoàn tất biên soạn một tập thơ từ ba nhà thơ Việt, ấn hành với Vagabond Press Asia Pacific Poetry Series, vừa ra mắt giữa tháng 8, 2017 tại Sydney.

Năm 2012, Vagabond Press xuất bản tập thơ khổ nhỏ (chapbook) Years, Elegy của Hoàng trong Loạt Thơ Rare Object. Vài năm trước, năm 2014, sáu bài thơ trong tập Captive and Temporal được chọn vào tuyển tập Những Nhà Thơ Á Úc Đương Đại (Contemporary Asian Australian Poets), do Adam Aitken, Kim Boey và Michelle Cahill đồng biên tập.

Thơ Hoàng nhuộm đầy những hình ảnh, đôi khi 'siêu thực' hay dường như đến từ trong mơ. Và mơ với những ngôn ngữ khác nhau. Michael Brennan, với Vagabond Press, nhận xét: "Thơ Hoàng triển khai từ những mảnh vỡ ngôn từ, qua những ảnh hình, đưa đến một cảnh quan dùng một ngôn ngữ đã được 'lựa chọn' cho thích ứng với những giằng co và trải nghiệm."

Hoàng giải thích: 'Cảnh quan nơi tôi 'vào' thường quyết định thứ ngôn ngữ được chọn. Rất có thể nó là một tổng hợp những cảnh quan nhìn thấy và cảnh quan khơi dậy từ nhà kho tâm tưởng và/hay tưởng tượng ra trên tâm trí. Những tâm ảnh này tạo ra những căng thẳng, giục giã ngôn từ với một đà đẩy, được duy trì nhờ một thứ âm nhạc tư duy có từ ngay chính sự chuyển động này.

Nhiều bài thơ trong tập Captive and Temporal được đặt trong thành phố 'sống được' nhất trên thế giới lần thứ 7, Melbourne. Tập thơ mở với bài 'November, end of a street, Melbourne' ('Tháng Mười Một, cuối một phố, Melbourne') -

"Những đảo từ mây góm ghém và gió nhẹ vỗ bờ, ngợp trong nắng sớm, một đường cây, đầy và xanh mướt một kẻ bước trái phép, giữa những dung lượng và khối hình"

Chẳng bao lâu sau đó, thi điệu và bút pháp tập thơ biến đổi với một bài 'thơ liệt kê' (list poem) ẩn mật, chỉ trích giới quyền thế, nói đích danh là 'nhà cầm quyền cao nhất trong vùng' - một thế lực tòa án mải-chìm-trong tơ-tưởng, sẵn sàng buộc tội bị cáo của nó. Và, những thủ pháp biến thể này đã gieo hạt nẩy nầm nội dung tập thơ.

Suốt tập thơ, Hoàng bày biện một tổ hợp những hình ảnh, đa phần là tư riêng (dẫu vài bài trong đó không-phức-tạp). Một trong những thi pháp của anh là trộn lẫn và diễn đạt một cách ấn tượng, rồi ngưng bỏ, cắt một lằn ngang rồi bỏ lửng. Gig Ryan, một nhà thơ/phê-bình ở Melbourne, nhận định rằng với thơ Hoàng, 'nhiều bài hầu như là những bí ẩn về tương tác và triệt thối, trong đó sự giằng co giữa chiêm nghiệm và trải nghiệm đời sống không bao giờ có thể được giải minh'.

Có những lúc, qua thơ-về-thơ ('meta-poetry'), anh cho chúng ta thấy cách anh ta nghĩ về chuyện viết. Một thí dụ: bài 'Autumn Writing' ('Viết Mùa Thu'), một bài thơ lạ, đầy kịch tính, bắt đầu với một câu hỏi khá thông thường -

"Có thể nào mình chỉ đơn giản viết về một đám lửa để làm ấm một buổi sáng,..."

rồi chuyển qua một hình ảnh bất ngờ của một cái đầu lớn -

"Giản dị, chắc nịch, một đầu của một người, một thú di chuyển trong đám cỏ cao-ngang-cổ. Một đầu khác nhắm đích. Mắt căng, tập trung, thở chầm... chậm. Lúc này, trái tim chữ thập (+) Một tiếng, gọn, kim loại."

Vậy đây là cuộc chiến - những người này ẩn núp trong lùm cỏ cao, rình nhau? Hay là một kẻ săn rình thú?

Nó tiếp tục - và đây là mặc khải về quá trình bài viết - "Bài thơ nằm ngoài cái đầu, một khoảng xa. Như cường độ tổn thương đến sọ, máu huyết được bảo dung, những tế bào mềm, những màng óc - những dữ kiện bệnh lý này chưa bao giờ được xem là một phần của ngôn từ mùa thu." Một số bài, như 'Memory Flash' ('Chớp Trí Nhớ'), trực tiếp nói về chiến tranh.

Thơ Hoàng biểu hiện nhiều hình ảnh siêu thực - thí dụ, qua nhiều yếu tố linh hoạt trong 'Quagmire' ('Vũng Lầy') -

"tiếp tục đào xới không tìm khoai tím, ếch cát, mạch nước ma, vết cắn người cổ sử, chỉ là cừu cái [& xương thú chết] và quạ rao ngày mới.

Đôi khi một bò sát đổi hình, đôi khi một cợt đùa hương hoa, một tiếng sấm đập im, những chớp

sáng hừng lên sau những đám mây dầy (Apollinaire có thể nhầm với tình nhân)."

Nhiều nhà thơ Pháp có mặt trong thơ anh - Guillaume Apollinaire, Paul Valery, Charles Baudelaire và, trong những khoảnh khắc siêu thực, có tiếng dội của Andre Breton. Chắc bạn cũng biết, Việt nam dưới quyền đô hộ của Pháp và được biết là Đông Dương từ 1887 đến 1954, khi Việt nam đánh bại Pháp và lấy lại độc lập. Dấu tích từ thời đó hình như có ảnh hưởng. Hoàng cũng có dịch rộng rãi thơ Pháp.

Một số bài trong tập tìm lại - cả với nghĩa đen và trong trí nhớ - Hà nội, bạn cũ, đồng nghiệp, thân mẫu Hoàng, nhớ lại những lần vào rạp chiếu bóng thời mới lớn ở Đà nẵng xem phim hài, cao bồi viễn tây, và một phóng sự lạnh người về Auschwitz.

Có những bài tưởng niệm cảm động về những nhà thơ như Joseph Brodsky, Garcia Lorca, kịch gia Úc Bruce Keller. Và có bốn bài tưởng niệm rất đẹp, đầy tình cảm nhớ về những nhà văn/thơ Việt nam: Thanh Tâm Tuyền, Lê Đạt, Nguyễn Chí Thiện và Phùng Nguyễ̃n.

Trong phần cuối tập thơ, bài 'By accident' phân tích cuốn phim 'Heaven's Gate' của Michael Cimino. Hoàng bảo đúng ra nên đổi tựa là 'Thất Bại Lớn Nhất', nhưng anh tiếp tục viết, về thực dân Mỹ và ảnh hưởng của sự khuếch trương kinh tế từ những nhà tư bản khai thác đất đai đến người di dân và công nhân. Anh nhắc đến một sách của Alexis de Tocqueville (nhà khoa học chính trị và ngoại giao thế kỷ 19), về nền dân chủ Hoa kỳ và chấm dứt bài thơ với một quả quyết -

"Tôi viết đây trong quán cà phê cạnh Thư viện Baillieu, nghĩ đến một sưu tập gia đình kế bên về nghệ thuật Úc, và cảnh nghệ thuật quốc gia này đã chẳng ngang đâu so với Wyoming, hay Naples trên bình diện bạo lực hay xung đột

để rồi tôi nhận nhanh rằng: Không, đó là một phân tích dễ dãi. Tôi phải cố gắng tìm học

một thổ ngữ, chưa chết vì bị quên lãng trên đất này, đúng, một ngôn ngữ, vẫn dùng dù ngược với vận may lịch sử."

Những bài thơ của Hoàng đi khắp hoàn cầu, từ Instanbul đến Chợ Lớn, qua Paris, Moscow đến Việt nam, Canberra, Nam Sydney, rồi trở về phố St Kilda ở Melbourne và đến một đại học trong thành phố đó với 'A dedication poem to my alma mater, Monash' ('Một bài thơ tặng trường cũ của tôi, Monash') -

"Ngôi trường cũ của tôi, tôi nhớ trường khi tôi rớt, chữ 'Rớt' tôi bắt đầu nếm được với trường Môn nào đòi hỏi dùng thước đo, hay cái bàn tính thô sơ thuở đầu. Bởi vì điều may từ những cú sốc khổ nhọc là: Kant, Wittgenstein, Mill và Marx, Peter Singer và Dr C. L. Ten

Chắc hẳn rằng, chỉ với tình yêu, cạnh bên ý nghĩ, đơn thuần, sẽ có được

Những tản bộ đêm, dặm dài, từ nhà ga Clayton về lại sảnh cư xá, từng mảnh bùng lên, niềm hân hoan tuyệt vời."

Sau khi bảo rằng anh sẽ trở lại, khi tuổi già, để được đọc sách dưới cây khuyên diệp trong khuôn viên trường, mấy câu cuối trong bài này nghĩ lại -

"Ta được phép sai và dị, kỳ. Mọi hiền nhân đã qui Đông (sau những vùng núi non) Mọi triết gia tôi từng biết dưới mái trường đã thành giáo sư danh dự."

Nhà lý thuyết gia về truyền thông người Ý Franco 'Bifo' Berardi có nói "Thơ ca là sự mở lại của bất định, một cử chỉ châm biếm của sự vượt quá ý nghĩa vốn đã thiết lập của chữ" và trong tập thơ bao quát và phức tạp này, tôi nghĩ rằng đó là điều Hoàng đang làm. Một ngôn ngữ đặc trưng và đầy sáng tạo trong Captive and Temporal sẽ giúp bạn chú tâm một khoảng thời gian dài. ,p> ------- vi lãng dịch từ bản nguyên tác tiếng Anh

http://linkeddeletions.blogspot.com.au/2017/09/captive-and-temporal-nguyen-tien-hoang.html

Pam Brown là một nhà thơ Úc. Từ 1971, bà đã ra mắt nhiều tập thơ & văn xuôi. Bà cũng có viết nhiều phê bình sách, tiểu luận, văn bản kịch, làm video & phim ảnh. Bà đã từng biên tập cho tạp chí Overland, Jacket, Jacket2, Fulcrum và VLAK Magazine. Thêm vào đó, bà cũng là biên tập khách cho nhiều tạp chí khác như Ekleksographia, Cordite Poetry Review

và Vagabond Press. (http://pambrownbooks.blogspot.com.au/)


Return to Extras or Pam Brown site

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Archipelago
Adam Aitken
(Vagabond Press, Sydney, 2017)

Launch talk at University of Sydney, 8th September 2017

Adam Aitken has been writing and publishing for a long time now. In the early 1980s he was involved in editing P76 poetry magazine with Mark Roberts. They named the magazine after the P76 - a big car with a rushed assembly - the poor build meant that the car was a lemon - it's only remembered because it was a dud - so Mark & Adam memorialised it. (Briefly) In 2013 Adam co-edited, with Kim Cheng Boey and Michelle Cahill, the important Contemporary Asian Australian Poets anthology. He's also currently a part-time teacher of creative writing at this university. Last year Vagabond Press published Adam's memoir One Hundred Letters Home. Archipelago is his fifth book of poetry.

As you know France has been in the news - unfortunately, for terrorist attacks - just over a year ago in Nice in the south and also in the capital Paris, and more recently in the news for a change in political direction when a youngish neoliberal banker Emmanuel Macron beat off the nationalist right wing led by Marine Le Pen and, as we know, France will be contributing to the Australian war machine by building the submarines that kept Christopher Pyne elected.

A curious traveller, Adam Aitken is an annual visitor to France - usually to a small village in the south, actually just north of Nimes, where some of his partner Neela Griffith's English family are permanent expatriate residents. But during the period of the compilation of these poems Adam was lucky enough to also spend some time in Paris on an Australia Council residency at the Cité des Arts. Adam, as a continuous student of the French language has attended Alliance Française language classes for some time now.

So that's a sketchy background to this collection. There are a couple of quotes that introduce the collection - one from Roland Barthes 'Comment vivre ensemble...?' translates as 'Like living together...?' - an ellipsis and a question mark - hmmm - what augurs here? I'm not sure. I guess it's interculturalism ?

The other opening quote is a nice French graffiti joke -'Egalité Fraternité Beyoncé'

The book begins with the poet exposed to extremely cold weather and becoming obsessed with thermometers. The movement of the mercury along a red scale leads to a trail of images that conjure a watercourse, the tributaries of the river Seine, and slides from there to some boys growing up along rivers in the south of France - the lusty sons of big drinking farmers whose histories are lent dramatic monologues.

Cold weather persists in these poems. The Mistral, the famous strong, cold, northwesterly wind that blows from southern France all the way to the northern Mediterranean appears a couple of times. Farmhouses traditionally face south with their backs to the Mistral which has a mythical reputation for causing 'madness'. One line in a touching poem about a hoarder reads - "If you could buy the wind and store it forever/you would.' Archipelago "One key question is what France (and Europe generally) mean to an Australian writer, which leads the poet to consider the ‘French inspired’ work of other Australian writers." So, in poems like 'Reading Menus in Paris (After Ouyang Yu's ‘Reading Magazines’)' Adam adopts aspects of Ouyang Yu's directness and vulgarity as he (Adam or, the poet) suffers a kind of linguistic alienation from the place he's visiting -

"Not coming here to become what they see in you/you window shop till you’re broke or just pissed off – /(shit you really meant to write that)/reading phrasebooks over and over again/to a non-appreciative dog.

It is wonderful/‘cos you make yourself into a Frenchman/scanning the menus in the windows"

the poem ends comically with -

"To keep on doing this and never actually sit down to eat/or talk to anyone in French. But still,/Bengali’s more useful, or Swahili./You are about to starve, sweat-shops beckon."

Another instance of the question of Australian poets and France is in 'Letter from Paris' where "Slessor imagines Heine's Paris full of spires" - Adam jokes quoting Kenneth Slessor "'Ten thousand chimneys spume'-/a metaphor for the libidinous, maybe," and he wonders in his own 'spireless' version of Paris "Why in Slessor's poem all the women are gone from their 'miserable' lives?"

Adam tells us, and it's a relief, "I do not promise to make sense of predecessors/ who can't make Paris theirs" and, with that he lets it go and instead reports on yesterday's Alliance Française lesson's popular culture interview with Carla Bruni.

He ends the poem recounting that the 19th century poet Heinrich Heine, who spent nearly half his life living in Paris, "kept writing in German" and his partner couldn't read his poems - "Translating them into French/didn’t help her, but didn’t hurt./She was German, and only ever spoke in German./ The way the 10th is African, the way the 4th is poodles."

'Old Europe(2)' is a pacy poem about tourist Paris - filled with travel cliches - it's cynical and it's funny - "The Romanies sell puppies to lovesick tourists" and "The Eiffel Tower a blingy earring/on the ear of Europa." There's a drama being filmed beneath a "millionaire terrace" - - "the road a crime scene below, a day-for-night/with Citroen and cafe shoot-out./You might have to step over the body./I only come here for a summer,/for language, macaroons,/delicious cod. Good thing Cheryl/got the handbag she wanted she's/so persistent we filmed it."

Adam's personal poems here are clear and heartfelt and avoid the devices of artifice. 'Avignon-Paris TGV, Winter 2012' is a thoughtful, graceful poem for Adam's partner Neela -

"...that I am passing you by/and leaving you/in your deeply orange sunset/over the Auvergne //in some high-speed/French railway after-effect/that radiates the idea of you //that compensates for all that is too/distant and dark as matter//But we can see it, barely –/the way it brings us to ourselves/into the one thing,//our selves/all within the skin of the thing/I think about."

And the following poem 'Maruejols' memorialising the death of a hoarder who, although the poem doesn't spell it out directly, I happen to know it's Neela's mother for whom he's writing -"Some days we would farm our way/through your legacy/dipping into your library/brushing off a kingdom of silver fish,/working through the junk,/ in some sort of rhythm/and catch the intermittent bandwidth/ bouncing off the local mountain – an ecology.// Later, coming to empty your home, we felt/ the dark matter of your brain/and what came through it:" and there I'll leave it for you to read the things Adam records that made an important part of this woman's life.

There are poems dedicated to other poets - to Vietnamese poet Nhã Thuyên, for Aotearoans Jen Bornholdt and Greg O'Brien and a romantic poem or, rather a poem about Romantic French poets, for Sydneysider Toby Fitch - "where a homesick chauffeur wept/ for Verlaine's verse,/for the friend with the gas blue eyes" who can only be Arthur Rimbaud -

The final poem is called 'Rimbaud's spider - Lake Toba, Sumatra'. Some time in 1875-76, just after he abandoned poetry and a few years before he became a trader in Ethiopia, Arthur Rimbaud traveled to England, Germany, Italy and Holland where he enlisted in the Dutch army - but he deserted from it in Sumatra. This is an imaginative poem using a classic male/female metaphor, while gesturing (possibly?) to the Dutch takeover of Indonesia a couple of years earlier -"With all of Java’s crimes/(that history none must speak of)/hanging there like tear drops,/suspended in her web ..."

Arthur and his Sumatran spider -

"she carried on, the web/made perfect and complete./he her guest who overstayed/who never left, the one she chose to lay her brood within// that eats him from inside/infused with an acid to keep him fresh./For he would survive/on a spider’s sliding scale,/paralytic with affect/for each hour of night/sucking nothing else but violets..."

Archipelago offers an abundance of fascinating imagery and observation evoking many aspects of contemporary and historical life in France. I've mentioned only a mere modicum of the references and ideas in these poems. I encourage you to get a copy of the book and discover its breadth.
I congratulate Adam Aitken and wish his book a smooth trip onto the bookshelves of many readers.


Return to Extras or Pam Brown site

Captive and Temporal
Nguyễn Tiên Hoàng 
(Vagabond Press, Sydney, 2017)

Launch talk at University of Sydney, 8th September 2017

(To read Quang Hominh's translation of this talk into Vietnamese click here)


Born in 1956 in Danang, Vietnam, Nguyễn Tiên Hoàng arrived in Australia in 1974 on a Colombo Plan scholarship. He has worked as broadcaster and in IT. For over thirty years Hoàng has written under the pen name Thường Quán and has published widely in major literary journals in Vietnam, the USA and Australia. Hoàng has maintained strong links with Vietnam and has translated many poets' work into Vietnamese. Very recently he edited a collection of three poets in the Vagabond Press Asia Pacific Poetry Series - it was launched just three weeks ago in Sydney. Bottom of Form

In 2012 Vagabond Press published Hoàng's chapbook Years, Elegy in the Rare Object series. A few years ago, in 2014, half a dozen of the poems included in Captive and Temporal were published in the Contemporary Asian Australian Poets anthology that was co-edited by Adam Aitken, Kim Boey and Michelle Cahill.

Hoàng's poetry is filled with imagery that is also sometimes 'surreal' or seems to have been dreamed. And dreamed in different languages. Vagabond Press publisher Michael Brennan says : 'Nguyen's poems evolve from fragments of speech through images into a landscape that 'chooses' the language suited to its particular tensions and experience. ... '
Hoàng explains : 'The landscape I am 'in' often determines the choice of language. It could very well be a combination of landscape viewed and landscape conjured up from mental storage and/or imagined out on the mind-frame. The tensions caused by these mental images move the words along, a momentum maintained by a kind of reflective music created by this very movement'.

Many of the poems in Captive and Temporal are located in the world's seventh most liveable city Melbourne. The book opens with the poem 'November, end of a street, Melbourne' -
"Islands of forming clouds and minuscule breaking eddies, washed in first lights,/an avenue of trees, full and abundant /a jaywalker among volumes and cubes"

Soon though, the poems moods and style changes with a cryptic list poem critiquing authority, in fact 'the highest authority in the region' - an abstracted judicial force that finds its accused guilty. So the book's tenor is set by these variant approaches.

Hoàng presents a synthesis of almost private imagery throughout the collection (though some of the poems are straightforward). One of his methods is to mix and describe impressionistically and then halt the process, to actually cut a line and leave it. Melbourne poet and reviewer Gig Ryan remarked about Hoàng's poetry that 'many poems are almost riddles of communication and withdrawal, where the tension between reflection and living experiences can never be resolved.'

There are instances of meta-poetry where he lets us in on how he thinks about writing. One example is a strange very dramatic poem called 'Autumn Writing' That begins with a fairly usual question "Can one simply write about a fire/to warm up a morning,..." then progresses to an unexpected image of a big head -
"Simple, concrete, a head/of a person, an animal/ moving in the neck-high grass./Another head takes aim. Eyes strained, focussed, breathing slowly... slowly./ Now, the heart of a cross (+) /A sound, terse, metallic."

So is this war - are these people skulking around in the long grass stalking each other? Or is a hunter stalking a beast?

It continues - and this is the processual revelation -

"The poem is thought lying outside of the head, by a distance. Like the degree of damage to the skull, the protected blood and the soft cells and membranes these pathological facts one put down as having never been part of autumnal lyrics."

Some poems here like one called 'Memory Flash' do depict war directly.

Hoàng's poems manifest many instances of the surreal - for instance in a jumble of enlivened elements in a poem called 'Quagmire' -

"keep digging/ Not into purplish yams, sand-frogs, ghost-aquifers, bites/Neanderthal, but ewes [&carcass] and crows heralding daybreaks.

Sometimes a skink shifting, sometimes a damask dalliance, a muted rasping of thunder, aglow flare-up flashes behind blanket-of-clouds (Apollinaire may have mistaken for his amour)."

French poets appear in his work - Guillaume Apollinaire, Paul Valery, Charles Baudelaire and, in the surreal moments, there are echoes of Andre Breton. As you know, Vietnam was colonised by the French and known as Indochina from 1887 up until 1954 when the Vietnamese defeated the French and reclaimed their independence. Traces of that period would seem to have an influence. Hoàng has also translated a range of French poetry.

Some poems here revisit, both literally and in memory, Hanoi, old friends, colleagues, Hoang's mother, remembering going to the cinema as a youngster in winter in Danang to watch comedies, westerns, and a chilling documentary on Auschwitz.

There moving elegies to poets like Joseph Brodsky, Garcia Lorca and to Australian theatre maker Bruce Keller. And four beautiful elegies that are directly expressive and openly affective in memory of Vietnamese writers Thanh Tam Tuyen, Lê Đạt, Nguyễn Chí Thiện and Phùng Nguyẽn.

Towards the end of the collection the poem 'By accident' analyses Michael Cimino's film 'Heaven's Gate' that Hoàng says could be renamed Biggest Flop but he goes on to canvass US colonisation and the effects of the development of capitalism's land barons on migrants and workers. He signals 19th century diplomat and political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville's book on American democracy and ends the poem in an extrapolation with a resolution - "I write this in the café next to the Baillieu Library, thinking of a nearby family collection/ of Australian arts, and that this country’s arts scene/ has been nowhere near Wyoming, or Naples/in terms of violence or conflicts, then I quickly realize:/ No, that was a facile statement./I should better make an effort to learn/one tongue native, yet to die out of neglect/in this land, yes, a language, being spoken against historical odds."

Hoàng's poems move all over the world from Istanbul to Cholon to Paris to Moscow to Vietnam, Canberra, South Sydney and back again to St Kilda Road in Melbourne and to one of that city's universities with 'A dedication poem to my alma mater, Monash' -

"My alma mater, I remember you when I failed, the word ‘Failed’ I started tasting with you/Any subjects which demand the use of a sliding ruler, or the early rudimentary calculator./Because the upside of such miserable shock was: Kant, Wittgenstein, Mill and Marx, /Peter Singer and Dr C. L. Ten. /Predicated on love alone, besides thoughts, pure thoughts, one is allowed/Nightwalks, miles, from Clayton Train Station back to halls of residence, in bursts, of sheer joys."

After saying that he'll return in old age to read books under a campus gum tree the final lines in this dedication are reflective - "One is allowed to be wrong and quaint, queer. All the sages have gone East /(behind Hills)/All the philosophers I once knew under your roof have gone Emeritus."

The Italian media theorist Franco 'Bifo' Berardi says "Poetry is the reopening of the indefinite, the ironic act of exceeding the established meaning of words" and in this altogether eclectic and complex selection of work I think that's what Hoàng is doing. The distinctive, inventive language of Captive and Temporal will keep you occupied for hours on end.
Congratulations Nguyễn Tiên Hoàng.


Return to Extras or the deletions or Pam Brown site

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Present
Elizabeth Allen
(Vagabond Press, Sydney, 2017)

Launch talk at University of Sydney, 8th September 2017

Elizabeth Allen is well known to the Sydney literati for her recent work as the events manager at Gleebooks bookshop but I remember Liz co-organising, with Greg McLaren, lunchtime poetry readings when she was a student here at University of Sydney in the 1990s. She also has a long association with Vagabond Press - generously taking on tasks like storing many boxes of newly published books in her home, doing mail-outs and organising & hosting book launches for the press. In 2016 she edited the New South Wales poetry selection for ABR's online states of poetry project. And also last year Liz spent time on a writing residency in Finland. Present is her second book of poetry.

The ambiguity of the title represents the poems - they are present, meaning wide awake and here, they are present meaning that they are a kind of gift and they are present meaning that they are of their time.

The book opens with a poem called 'Emergency' - but it seems that the accident never happened, although a scar, real or imaginary, was always a possibility. It's a dramatic opening but its affective opacity is made lighter by the contrasting second poem that's a portrait of an inner-city greenie who displays every worthy trait or alternative-culture cliché in her clothing, habits and actions - a tote bag diplaying an owl, a keep cup, Saltwater sandals, a Monsterthreads jumper, organic produce from the market and so on. It's funny in a stand-up way but unlike most stand-up comedy it's not mocking, it's an empathetic poem.

Liz uses humour to undercut or avoid the maudlin tinges that could muddy the tone in confessional poems. These poems are often confessional but they're also often classically comedic. Meaning that they use a mood swing method of starting brightly, gradually chipping away acerbically at any build up of happiness and then collapsing into some kind of hilarious failure. 'Exit Stage Right' is just this particular type of poem, a monologue, yet addressed to a friend, and in the poem Liz writes "My drama teacher at school used to tell us that you should never turn your back to the audience." There is an audience. It is us. And Liz faces up every time.

A long poem about absence, longing, disconnection from someone very close reminds me of, well, shades of, Roland Barthes' 'A Lover's Discourse'. But there's a wry detachment in Liz's poem that eschews yearning and in the end it's an acceptance of unpredictable absences as its subject's modus operandi.

And I guess a segue from that almost-Barthesian poem to the following section with poems under the title 'FORMALLY INTRODUCE (SOMEONE) TO SOMEONE ELSE' where internet dating, disappointing sex, memories and encounters with lovers brings us right back into a pragmatic rather than philosophical realm.These poems are full of wit and gentle comment.

One of the book's blurbs mentions a 'Derwent pencil moment'. It is a beautiful poem called 'Golden Delicious' and, in it, applying coloured polish to toenails triggers time travel to childhood -

"your eight-year-old friend’s coveted tin/ of seventy-two Derwent colour pencils laid out in a wooden rainbow. Your hand would hover as you made your selection—anticipation that you might find the right shade to match the emotion you held inside; might access a moment of sweet /accuracy."

'Hello Lizzie' is another poem that evokes childhood with a list of youthful fantasies in a secret world borrowed from 'Hello Kitty' bumper stickers.

As well as plenty of verve, there's a variety of styles and content in this collection. Beside the poems there are micro-fictions - one a fantasy of meeting a stranger-lover in a bar, a romantic encounter that goes wrong. There's much regard for the everyday - like mansplaining in Bunnings warehouse that must be endured, though only briefly. And there's much more - a valentine poem, a questionnaire of psychological vulnerability, lost love, missed & mixed messages, translation failures, desire, sex and advice on what to eat, how to cook, poems about and for family, old school friends, contemporary friends and workmates. There is everyday anxiety and lack of confidence - "people will discover how stupid you are/how fundamentally/different/how you are/silently/fucking/things up" - although the entire collection disproves that paranoia simply in its very present existence.

Most of these poems open out to us and sometimes they're quite vulnerable.

The final poem, 'Inpatient (Impatient)' is a long one - a prose poem divided into segments that documents time spent in psychiatric care where, Liz reports, 'We are not patients, we are 'clients'.' In this shelter Liz invokes protection from Frida Kahlo and we are given the key to her choice of cover image -

" I put a photo of Frida on my dressing table so that she can watch over me. At home when I am in the bath I often look at my feet down the end of the tub and think of her feet in her painting, What I Saw in the Water. It isn’t a visual illusion, I just imagine it."

Although the poem notates the process and details of hospitalisation it never overwhelms, partly because of the seamless writing, and partly because of Liz's always intelligent discernment. It ends, beautifully and optimistically -

"I have seen quite a few of the minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving and hysterical. I am not sure if they were the best minds, it is hard to tell when you are in the midst of it, and they were all wearing clothing for the most part.

I let it all wash over me. I write myself one big fat reality cheque and hope it will be enough to live off for the rest of my life."

And in the spirit of that 'big fat reality cheque' I'm very happy to commend Elizabeth Allen's new collection Present to you.


Return to Extrasor Pam Brown site

Saturday, August 20, 2016


Knocks by Emily Stewart
(Vagabond Press, Sydney, 2016)

Launch talk at Frontyard, Marrickville Sydney, Sydney 14th August 2016


I met Emily a year ago at a lounge room reading called 'cell' that Elena Gomez hosted. Emily gave me a copy of her chapbook LIKE published by Marty Hiatt's bulky news press in Melbourne. This is the scale I've loved all my poetry life - lounge room readings, chapbooks, generous book giftings and it's great that Emily's poems have been brought out via a quietish no-big-fanfare competition (in memory of Noel Rowe) at Vagabond Press - a genuinely independent small press. Meaning that Vagabond doesn't ask for money from institutions, government or private, to publish books. Much praise goes to Michael Brennan, Jane Gibian and Kay Orchison at Vagabond Press. 

The cover art for Emily's book by Liang Luscombe quotes Linda Marrinon's famous early 1980s abject post-punk anti-aesthetic painting "SORRY!". In the thirty or so years since the initial artworld-shock-effect of that deliberately faux-naive picture everything has become super-corporatised and 'marketable' and these days the painting functions as an acceptable kind of cool apology offering comfort to no-longer-shockable gallery visitors. Emily's poems carry something of the initial disruptive intention of Linda Marrinon's statement as a kind of continuum of subversion.

Jumbled popular culture, immediate and anxious in its self-consciousness of certain decay, and highly-mediated imagery fills up 'our' internetted lives. Contemporary poems seem compelled to constitute various personal conditions and reactions as 'we' push to realise 'our' distinctive individuations in an often inattentive, impulsive, demanding and exhausting quest for 'newness'. Without inflating the term's retro connotations Michael Farrell says Australian poetry has a 'new wave' and that Emily's poems are part of it. He says 'the generation you didn't know you were disappointed in not arriving has arrived'. That's a very good middle-aged perspective on it. A long view might be that recent imagist ozpo is paying its dues to the old Anglo-American modernist guys with an added pinch of French symbolism, a dash of James Joyce & Gertrude Stein, a teaspoonful of the Beats, a squeeze of  the Johns - maybe Yau maybe Ashbery, a ladle of Gig Ryan (grand mistress of metaphysical metonymic artistry), all garnished with feminist influence like, say, the gurlesque. I'll explain - though many of you are probably already familiar with the term -

Over a decade ago, U.S. poet Arielle Greenberg developed an aesthetic theory that she called the "Gurlesque".  That's  'gurl' with a 'u' - a mild mimicry of burlesque. The term describes women poets raised during the feminist years of the 1960s, 70s and into the 80s, who now, although they're from different backgrounds, share a commonality in their writing. Poetry that combines "the serious and the frilly" and that has "a particular way of writing through and about gender". Greenberg says "In Gurlesque poems, the words luxuriate: they roll around in the sensual while avoiding the sharpness of overt messages, preferring the curve of sly mockery to theory or revelation. Gurlesque poems are thoroughly enmeshed in the visceral experiences of gender; these poems are non-linear but highly conversational, lush and campy, full of pop culture detritus, and ultimately very powerful".

Recent ozpo seems to be a considered continuum rather than a brash arrival which is why, apparently, we didn't know we were disappointed. Emily's poems are a definite and special component of an enlivened continuum.

I read recently that Paul Valéry said something like 'the purpose of poetry is to recreate the poetic spirit in the reader' - a kind of transaction occurs - poetry makes poets - and when that occurs the poems can be called 'generous' - for me Emily's poems have that effect. Or what, to make yet another quote, Chris Kraus says -  I am 'struck by the thrill of transmission'.

So - Knocks - about, back, on the door, on wood, school of hard ?  There is no title poem - it's up to you. And meaning can be as various as the poems.

I won't go through an interpretation of each of the poems (you'll be pleased to know) but I will single out the tonesetter - the first poem presents the familiar and exasperating dilemma of how to live in this world that we've all had a hand in so-entirely fucking-up. 'My Place in the Anthropocene' is set in the recent past, it's dated '2014', but like a flashback from the future it's a report and a lament that navigates the troubles or anxiety around a destiny of failure without seeking solution - 'The capital's new arboretum/made us see peril mortality-wise/so we sopped up legalese via/television  ...'   and 'Recapping further/we were told to 'thank Edward Snowden'/and embraced another Wiccan craze/while Siberia began to turn into 'Swiss/cheese' not because of magic but/climate change.'
Emily's poems are urgent but the tenor isn't. Most of them are packed with cryptic imagery so they come into focus gradually like Canberra does from the Federal Highway. They are 'a thinking thing' - meaning, and this is also about poetry in general, that a poem is something instrumental, a thing to think with and it's processual - meaning that it is part transference part temporality - made of moments, spots of time (from W. Wordsworth's 'The Prelude'), part of the scatty continuousness of living.

What is a poet's intuition  - an integrative intelligence, tracking, offroading, unfastening imagination. Does Emily track, pick, pinpoint, isolate? Yes she does and she also erases. The erasures are fun, plus, they 'make sense'. They're condensed renditions, discerning digests for smooth reception. Lydia Davis's stories get down to 'I sit/I will/I will/I found/I go/ I have' or 'he lives/his car/he's not/his apartment'  & VirginiaWoolf - 'the reflections one might have let glom. it was impossible .'... Susan Sontag's Where the Stress Falls is erased to the quick - 'Collect poems, produce superior poems/writing poetry is writing prose but it is the margin/Poetry kills in the province of the difficult' - well, that's saying something isn't it?

Emily mostly avoids aphorism but it's great when it does appear 'A good honeymoon/is when the vacay lasts longer than its transit.' ('Always the Bride')

There are a number of holidays/ short trips/flights in this set of mobile poems. In the skinny poem 'Red-Eye' - 'inflight enter-/tainment guide/say 'chillax'' 'chillax./we're/not going to the/moon./more hum/drum locale & vicious/civic primacies call/now next aisle over/son argues with/father/attendant inter-/venes, bends/& tone firm/confiscates/his gilded wings'. I like the way Emily lineates on enter & inter with hyphens like enter dash tainment, inter dash venes. She cuts into the quickening poem, draws your attention - what's coming next ... And another poem that is the, quote, 'Now I need a holiday from my holiday' poem is 'The Fish Underwater Had Great Colour' - 'Did you see my photo of the horizon?' to its summation 'But I missed my pets/ All of my postcards were mailed from here.'

Emily uses a Steinian or Brainardian or simply a repetition-device for her long poem 'Today' (which appropriately quotes the grand dame de longpo - Rachel Blau duPlessis - 'multiple exposure to the bright debris').The word 'today' begins each line in a series of sonnet length stanzas that run on at a good pace. The word 'today' gives the experiment a slight breather. It's over eight pages long. It's a great list poem - 'today an employee tries on Judith Butler's chapstick' - 'today a princess bites off her plait' - 'today a group of friends witness bioluminescence' - 'today absenteeism is an ongoing problem' - 'today I give away my copy of Barf Manifesto' (actually, that's by Dodie Bellamy, I don't know why Emily would give it away...)

Is 'blue' for poets -  is it our word -  is it our colour? Just like 'yellow' is there poetic implication in simply saying the word? 'Blue'. Emily has a distinctive take on this truism and on blue associated with Sydney in particular, like, say, the clichéd association of exaggerated "harbour" blue in, in my opinion ghastly, Brett Whiteley paintings. In her poem 'Blue' Emily says  'Yet the word blue I can't stand thinking about/though I can mouth - blue - on or off mainland.'

Emily Stewart's poems provoke all kinds of connotations at the edges of meaning. They knock into each other both by design and by chance. The blurb says "this is poetry that moves" - it does - but I'll change that to "this poetry has kinesis".  These poems provide a variety of stimulants for any time of day and any kind of mood. I wish Knocks every best possibility and open reception on its coming trips through the ozpo zone and I wholeheartedly commend this remarkable debut book of poems to you.

______________________________________________________
Notes:

arielle greenberg, "On the Gurlesque", a talk delivered at Small Press Traffic, San Francisco, April 2003

paul valéry - fin de siècle French poet & philosopher (1871- 1945)

'a thinking thing' - karen volkman via brian blanchfield to here...

William Wordsworth   Spots of time

There are in our existence spots of time
That with distinct pre-eminence retain
A renovating virtue, whence . . . our minds
Are nourished and invisibly repaired;
A virtue, by which pleasure is enhanced,
That penetrates, enables us to mount,
When high, more high, and lifts us up when fallen.
This efficacious spirit chiefly lurks
Among those passages of life that give
Profoundest knowledge to what point, and how,
The mind is lord and master–outward sense
The obedient servant of her will. Such moments
Are scattered everywhere, taking their date
From our first childhood.
                                            from The Prelude









Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Australian ravens by Greg McLaren
(Puncher & Wattmann, Sydney, 2016)
Launch talk at Benledi Room, Glebe Library, Sydney 15th May 2016


My totally predictable response when Greg McLaren told me his book's title was 'Stone the crows!' Anyone who knows Greg knows that in everyday life he is an extraordinary punster. So he kind of asked for it.

I guess that in order to be a persistent punster you also have to know correct English - so Greg is pedantic about the local, familiar, big shiny blue-black birds in calling his book Australian ravens - of course, 'Australian ravings' is another really far-too-obvious paranomasia any fun-loving poetry fan might make.

Anyway, crows, whom most people already know are pretty smart and can remember and recognize faces, are also actually capable of analogical reasoning. That's usually attributed uniquely to humans but, crows can solve higher-order relational matching tasks just like humans and other primates can. Crows also gather in a group around the bodies of their dead, holding 'crow funerals'

Superstitiously, or spiritually, birds are generally known as messengers or spirit guides. I guess they could also be called 'angels'. Greg's ravens appear early in his book in a poignant poem written in memory of a friend, the late University of Sydney teacher and poet Noel Rowe -

     Five days, I was followed by ravens:

     on fences along New Canterbury Road;
     perched on a hospital’s sandstone wall
     at Paddington; in the air

     above Villa Maria.

     The flavour of salt is slight,

     at the corners of my mouth:
     there is a word I meant to say.
     I could never get my mouth
     to move wholly around it.

The ravens are revenants. The poem is open, vulnerable - I think this elusive slightly-salty word could be 'love' but then in such an affective instance there's probably no word that could fit the feeling - there is simply a mysterious notion that language should work - but it's never authentic enough. This poem is sensitive -

     Here, the open church-front air,
     in the company of friends,

      a creaking wheel in the trees:
     cockatoos swooping, heavy,
     between buildings.

     My hand makes a silent language
     with my soft black hat:

     skin against felt, turning

      it slowly, a fidgetty symptom,
     giving away nothing.

In earlier poems in the collection Greg revisits the Cessnock region of the Hunter Valley, where he grew up. He checks the google map of his past and recalls friends - boys with specks of coal on their skin having a lark smashing bottles and riding bmx bikes in old quarries - these kids either out of touch now, or dead.

Coal mining was the local industry and poems like 'Pit time' record Greg's family's experience and his own youthful reaction. His grandfather -

     just shunted the coal skips,

      went on strike when his mates did,
     and stayed out of trouble.

     At the age he was

     when he was put on as a pit boy,
     I was thinking of cars, or trains,

     and how far away and how quickly
     that would take me

      past that close ring of towns,

I thought, for a moment, of the railway worker poet John Shaw Neilsen but then Greg's lyricism, or I suppose what could be called 'tone', is his own, and as he notates a singular yet familiar Australian kind of 'everydayness' he is also political. He presents a poem called 'Coon Island' - that disparaging name belongs to a place near Swansea on Lake Macquarie -

     its narrow tidal mudflats, its fat plank bridge

     a swing creaking with utes, and the Awabakal
     siphoned out of Swansea like a euphemism.
     Soldier crabs hive back into the grey mangrove
     grit at the slightest movement. A flap of colour

     from the caravan park across the dirt road,
     cars moving, tents going up, and in the annexe
     of one of the vans, your grandmother’s voice,

     recalling her trip around Australia, when she saw
     two aborigines fucking on a beach in daylight

      in the middle of nowhere: I know

     we treated them bad for two hundred years but when
     we seen that, that’s when I didn’t have no more pity
     for any of ’em.

Greg's poems are for and about friends, family, other poets, Peter Kirkpatrick, Bruce Beaver, about the wondrous stuff that's on the everyday ordinary boulevard like, say, New Canterbury Road.

He can be funny and critically so - especially in 'Not Being in Kyoto' - he has a go at two Japanista poets (one of whom Joanne Burns once called an 'Ikea Buddhist') -

             This is not the fertile
     soil of Aso’s plains, the paddies

     abutting on houses, clumps of them like
     crews of stumps, and the green plains

     where battle scenes from the north

      of a hundred and forty years ago

      were glazed onto celluloid, featuring

      Tom Cruise – gadgetised culture, which makes

     poets like Harold Stewart or Robert Gray
     unnerved: try reading their poems of Japan
     modernising, mimicking the Straya
     they’d put behind them.

This rambling-yet-precise long poem is a kind of ode to contemporary Japan. It also reveals mild traveller-envy in dialogue with someone who is in Kyoto at a time when Greg is clearly not -

     Crossing New Canterbury Road,
     I’m scanned by the fat shadow
     of a JAL airliner.

He's been reading Dogen Zenji, the 13th century Japanese Buddhist priest who was disappointed in Kyoto's Buddhism & so, went to China for five years, to seek out a more authentic Buddhism.

     Walking around Petersham
     under the full moon –
     what? it’s dawn already?

     In the thunderstorm,
     mid-arvo, currawongs gossip
     between the lightning.

     ---

     Hugging my knees,

      squat on the ground, grieving
     for my friend the priest.

     The haijin pissed, passed out
     on the wet cobbled laneway,
     covered in sakura.

     The raven on the wire
     all day in Petersham,
     pining for Petersham.

his last entry in this engagement is pithy-Japanesey -

     Thin stone bridge beneath

      a palm-sized magnolia – bonsai
     in Bunnings Artarmon

There is another incredibly various set of connected poems set in the outback, in Broken Hill, Silverton and surrounds. These poems are atmospheric yet detailed, they're crammed with imagery, attitude, folklore, and elegant description of a mass of things - the old diggings of mining towns and ghost towns and their popular culture - the Mad Max movies, saltbush shrubs in a cemetery. It's dry, it's colourful, it's totally recognizable. It's a travelogue, an outback adventure, a road poem complete with bugs all over the windscreen. It's a visual panoply, it's a mixture of myth, recombination and revision, and it's brilliant.

This leads into a final section called 'The Blue Gum' - which Greg says he wrote under the influence of Laurie Duggan's 'Blue Hills'. The sequence begins with a kind of ode to the Sydney blue gum - that great aromatic eucalypt that gives the haze to places like the Blue Mountains.

The notational Blue Gum poems comprise a very complex, very mixed impressionistic record of childhood days. A record of living in 'the country' before mobile phones, with references to darker deeds - rape and murder in the shade of an old Post Office - these things that freak children out for life - an oversized tour bus stuck all night on a country road, local drunken bullies, houses burning down, relatives that leave traces of a grease and oil everywhere they go, a ten year old boy fighting with his brother and attempting to hang himself under the house, a dead dog rotting behind a toilet block. These poems are powerful and often claim a kind of justified bitterness-

     What we call the country

     is a scatter of loose and planted suburbs
     where workers need to live – the outer rim
     of cities they hate to go to.

In the end the memorably unsettling situations in the Blue Gum poems are redeemed by contemporary love, a new life, a new born. La Vita Nuova in the inner west.

So - Australian ravens is actually quite wonderful. The poems don't need me to analyse or endorse them (though I do!). We can read and think and enjoy and savour and be disturbed, enriched and surprised by them.

I'm here to say that I think they're all terrific. I loved reading this book. It's a diverse and, even in its everydayness, an elaborate experience. Greg McLaren is an original poet - he's the real thing. I commend the book to you - it's definitely something for Greg to crow about ...

notes:
crows analogical reasoning December 2014 issue of Current Biology.
crow funerals - read this



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Sunday, February 8, 2015

Ron Silliman on Amnesiac recoveries by Pam Brown & Susan Schultz


“Job share archivists” Susan M. Schultz & Pam Brown have augmented the Department of Dislocated Memory with a new installment of their collaboration "Amnesiac recoveries." It’s a project that raises all kinds of interesting questions.

I have never seen a history of poetic collaboration. A search in Google for all sites that use both “poetry” & “collaboration” yields 199,000 sites. A search for the exact phrase “history of poetic collaboration” yields none – or will until the Google crawler finds today’s blog. My sense – and it may be quite incomplete – is that poetic collaboration arises truly with the surrealists.* It enters the U.S. largely through the writing of the one group most heavily influenced by surrealism: the New York School. You will not find any collaborations in the Allen anthology. Indeed, the only ones you can actually spot** even in In the American Tree are in the section of critical statements, first a collaborative manifesto for the French journal Change& later the famous list of experiments that Bernadette Mayer & several groups of students at her Poetry Project workshops created. But if you look to Tom Clark’s anthology All Stars (Grossman Publishers/ Goliard – Santa Fe, 1972), a combination of NY School & beat writers that reflected Clark’s view from the Bolinas mesa, Ron Padgett’s selection consists of 17 collaborations – with Dick Gallup, Ted Berrigan, Tessie Mitchell, Michael Brownstein, Anne Waldman, Pat Padgett, Bill Berkson, Larry Fagin, Jimmy Schuyler & of course Tom Clark.

The absence of collaboration among Beats & Projectivists***, and for the most part from the San Francisco Renaissance+, is worth noting. It suggests, I think, a stance toward the author & literal authority that is substantially different from that of other communities of writing. Allen Ginsberg may well have been the Kral Majales or King of the May in 1965 Prague, but he also appears to have been a meticulous & careful warden of his own literary production. At the same time, Ginsberg took no credit for the editing job that literally transformed the pages on William Burroughs’ floor into Naked Lunch – a stance that parallels Ezra Pound’s similar editing of The Waste Land.

But the New York School had no such hang-ups with sharing credit. As with Surrealism, boundaries existed only to be transgressed, albeit with more of a smile & wink than the Europeans generally brought to the process. Boundaries are precisely what are at stake in “Amnesiac recoveries.” Here, for example, is “Shut-Lip”:

The investment banker sewed his lips shut. He'd arrived in a leaky ship, having paid dues to the dark haired man who answered to no name he could pronounce. Pronunciation is over-rated, he muttered to himself as he eased into the hold, arms bound in fetal position. His middle passage was punctuated (never leave metaphors of language behind, he added, pensively) by hunger pangs. No-name man told him nothing of the end, though his origin had been clear (he remembered, at least, his hard-earned MBA). He wanted to escape big words, like globalization, like fraud. Crusoe's accountant had nothing on his, member of the magic club in high school, artist of the extraordinary bottomless line. In the end, it was hard to collect his story, through teeth clenched like broken-jawed Ali's. One had to assume consonants, or were they vowels, emerging as from some Afghan cave into the abortive syntax of a bombing run. What we heard had something to do with sea, and ground, and sickness. The south sea island that welcomed him (sic) has only years left before the flood (lawsuits are pending). On its coral, the banker sits, quiet as monk, though not so tranquil. He knows his days are numbered, so he counts them in his throat. If he were a poet, one might say he'd found his voice.

memoricide -
           bombing the library.
collective memory,
          the treasures of manuscript,
    the texts                 history, natural sciences,
      philosophy, poetry, mathematics
anthologies, dictionaries, treatises on everything,
            his story,
                                collected,
the bombing filmed
in the peace zone,
   Coca- Cola
       phones the film collector
seeking footage
                   of "real UFOs"

There is a political tone here that one hardly ever sees even with Gen XXXVII of the NY School, and it’s stronger even in several of the other pieces, which generally circle around the topics of oil, corporate corruption & U.S. imperialism in the Middle East, always impacted by questions of memory – & of why memory fails to beget a seemingly appropriate political response. Of course, neither Brown nor Schultz can by any remote stretch of the imagination be characterized as part of the old St. Marks scene – Schultz is as far removed from there as one can be physically & still reside within the United States, Hawai’i, while Brown is a well-known Australian poet.

Indeed, one of the most interesting aspects of this as a collaboration is how it challenges “the political.” Typically & traditionally, one key to the political has been what might be thought of as “angle of positionality,” which usually gets reduced to an idea of stance. This is visible at the surface in identarian texts of all manner: the poet writes from his or her historical/ethnic/social/gendered position & articulation of that position is often what the resulting text is about. But Schultz & Brown come from different nations with different roles in the oil = global domination scenario. Schultz may be marginalized in her role as poet within the hegemon, but within it she most certainly & visibly is. Brown is at least doubly marginalized, living in a country that the U.S. has been known to treat as a branch office. There are of course further complications: Schultz is a haole, an Anglo outsider functioning in a role as authority by virtue of the teaching profession. The relationship of Hawai’i to the mainland is exceptionally problematic & a separatist movement continues to percolate there. Australia’s history vis-à-vis an imperial center & its aboriginal population is no less convoluted. Both of these writers are perpetually aware of these conditions.

Part of what makes “Amnesiac recoveries” so interesting is that it’s not possible to tell who in the collaboration is writing at any given moment, something that is so discernible, say, in a work like Sight that its authors, Lyn Hejinian & Leslie Scalapino, two fabulous poets who grew up in the same town in the same country within a couple of years of one another & whose fathers both taught at the same school, actually initial their individual passages.

But if we cannot tell who is speaking, or at least writing, in ”Amnesiac recoveries,” how does the reader then position these texts with regards to the issues of globalization that are raised? This is what strikes me as so remarkable: Schultz & Brown have arrived at what I can only call a transnational voice, a position that steps quite clearly outside of the role of states precisely as it address the problem of the rogue hegemon. If there is a position of world citizen from which one might be able to write, this is it.

Brown & Schultz do this with wit, sharpness & élan. The entire project – I have no idea if the two sections that are up are all of the collaboration or only just the first portion of it – is gutsy & fun while being serious in the face of some extraordinary challenges.++ In connecting the dots north-south across the equator between their two homes, these poets are erasing lines that we often forget are “always already” there. & it’s fascinating to see what now shows through.

                                            *    *    *    *

* Some writers characterize the relationship between William Wordsworth & Samuel Taylor Coleridge, especially during the Lyrical Ballads period, as a collaboration. An argument can certainly be made for that, even though they didn’t publish poems as composed by both.
** I believe that the phrase that is used as the epigraph to the West section of the book, “Instead of ant wort I saw brat guts,” was itself composed during a collaboration.
*** Thus when Daphne Marlatt works collaboratively, as in the book Double Negative with Betsy Warland, it’s because she’s moved away from the Projectivism of her youth toward a political feminism.
+ The notable exception was The Carola Letters co-authored by Joanne Kyger & George Stanley. See Kevin Killian’s article on the row it caused in the SF scene. Killian raises the possibility that camp, the arch subgenre of gay culture, was a major thorn in the side of Robert Duncan. Camp as a discourse erases boundaries not unlike the ones that Schultz & Brown are tackling.
++ The web site captures this beautifully with a photograph of the two poets in Hawai’i staring at the apotheosis of the problem, a stretch limo in a setting in which no limousine should ever appear.

Thursday, February 13, 2003


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