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.


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 ...

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,
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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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Interview with Lyrikline August 8th, 2013

Pam Brown recording for Lyrikline in Redfern, Sydney

Lyrikline : Can you name one or two (non-English language) poets who have been particularly important for your work, and say something about how they’ve been important?

There are many Europeans but a few that come to mind are

Pier Paolo Pasolini. His Roman Poems - I liked these poems especially in the 1980s, when AIDS was beginning to become prevalent in Sydney and poetry was evident in gay political performance. Pasolini seemed to be someone who could write emotionally and politically at once.

Early on, I liked Europeans as various as the SerbianVasko Popa, the Czech Miroslav Holub, French Paul Valery, Russian Vladimir Mayakovski then later, the French Valery Larbaud, who wrote as A.O. Barnabooth, his travel poems but, for me, the European stayers are Guillaume Apollinaire and Blaise Cendrars, who I still read.

Apollinaire is ironic, sometimes a little bit bitter, witty, elegant. He got rid of punctuation early on in the C20th and experimented with calligrammes and so on. Cendrars is louder, more visceral, but also funny and smart - I love his energy, there's something boldly chaotic and colourful, almost synaesthetic, about his poems. I guess I like them both also for their wry sides.

My favourite contemporary foreign poet is the Flemish postmodern poet Dirk Van Bastelaere. His book of poems translated into English, The Last To Leave, is terrific - speedy, percipient, funny, sceptical.

Lyrikline : Do you read them in the original, in translation, or both? What role do you think that plays, reading them in translation or not?

I read them in translation but I have written a poem - My father the pope, Mon père le pape - in English & French that emulates Apollinaire. I have also emulated Blaise Cendrars, in English. I can read French reasonably well, although I'm out of practise at the moment, and rust can form.

I trust Ron Padgett's translations of Blaise Cendrars because Ron Padgett is a clever, minimal humorous poet himself and he 'gets' Cendrars. With Apollinaire, I read various versions - Donald Revell, Pepe Karmel and so on but I like the old Oliver Bernard translations from the1960s most. And then I often ask my partner, Jane Zemiro, about the poems - she is a French language expert. She has translated a collection of my poems into French. It's a bilingual edition called Alibis coming out with Société Jamais-Jamais early in 2014.

Lyrikline : You’ve been active in a lot of influential poetry/art scenes, self-publishing and printing, the Coalcliff group, Jacket. Was there always a lot of exchange between those groups and writers and artists from overseas? Has the situation changed with things like internet communication/communities, etc.?

No, although we were reading widely from foreign material, there wasn't much exchange with overseas poets in the early days. I began corresponding in the 1980s - meaning sending postcards, exchanging books and writing short letters - with US poet Eileen Myles before the advent of email. We didn't meet in person until 2003. Ken Bolton published some North Americans in 'Magic Sam' magazine in the late 70s, early 80s. Kris Hemensley and Robert Kenny were publishing European and UK poetry in their magazines in Melbourne in the 70s and, in the early 80s, Melbourne University's 'Scripsi' magazine had a European focus - so I read those.

I worked at the 'experimental art foundation' in Adelaide in the early 80s and there was much more exchange with overseas practitioners in the conceptual (post-object) experimental art realm than there was in my particular scene of literati.

In 2002, when I was 'Overland' magazine poetry editor, I edited a small feature of overseas poets as a co-production between 'Overland' and 'Jacket'- obviously it appeared online in 'Jacket' and in print in 'Overland' - at the time 'Overland's motto was 'Temper democratic, bias Australian' - I thought my feature opened the magazine up to international poetry a bit.

The internet changed everything. I have become friends with overseas poets whom I met initially on the web - people like Susan Schultz, Maged Zaher, Rachel Loden, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Jane Joritz-Nakagawa and others.

I worked for six or seven years as an online editor for 'Jacket' magazine and have guest-edited an issue of sound poetry for 'Ekleksographia' online magazine. Jesse Glass from 'Ekleksographia' and Aha Dada Books published an e-book of my poetry called the meh of z z z z - it's free and always available. Like everyone else, I am online talking, publishing, commenting, joking, getting annoyed, being swamped by poetry information etc etc. I have a blog called 'the deletions'. Collections of my poems are also still made as hard copies.

Listen to Pam Brown reading poems on Lyrikline here.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Interviews & foreign languages

Selected interviews with Pam Brown:

  • foam:e - interviewer Angela Gardner - March 2015

  • The Conversant - interviewer Jane Joritz-Nakagawa - February 2014

  • Australian Poetry Library - interviewer Claire Nashar - March 2014

  • Lyrikline - August 2013

  • Cordite Poetry Review - interviewer Corey Wakeling - May 2012

  • 12 or 20 Questions - interviewer Rob McLennan - February 2011

  • Poetry International Web - interviewer Michael Brennan - July 2011

  • Jacket - interviewer John Kinsella - July 2003

  • Australian Book Review - interviewer Rosemary Sorensen - April 1994

  • Honi Soit - interviewer Anne Talve - April 1977 (Pam Brown & Joanne Burns)

  • Pam Brown - selected works & interviews in other languages :

  • Alibis - selected poems in French & English, translated by Jane Zemiro, Sociéte Jamais Jamais, 2014

  • Poem in Spanish translated by Luis Alberto Arellano - Santa Remedio, May 2014

  • Authentic Local: A global referential, Aryanil Mukherjee, Kabisammelan : Poetry Conference
    Bengali Language Monthly, November 2014

  • Six poems in Chinese, translated by Iris Fan Xing - Wombats of Bundanoon - Twenty Australian Poets,Association of Stories Macau, 2011

  • Poem in Chinese, translated by Ouyang Yu - Contemporary Australian Poetry, Australia - China Council 2007

  • Berlin 2001 : Prague 2009 : Hanoi 1992

  • Here in Berlin - Overland #165, Summer 2001

  • 'City' translated into German by Jurgen Brocan - Die Welt uber dem Wasserspiegel - Berliner Anthologie, Berlin, 2001

  • Two poems translated into German by Jurgen Brocan - Internationales Literaturfestival Berlin Katalog, Alexander Verlag, Berlin 2001

  • return to the deletions

    Thursday, May 29, 2014

    Launch talk for Louis Armand : 'Indirect Objects' (Vagabond Press 2014)
    (Saturday May 24th, 2014 at Sydney Dance Lounge, Sydney Writer's Festival)

    Louis Armand is one of the most productive writers I know. He's seemingly irrepressible. He has so far, published eleven collections of poetry, sixteen critical books and four novels. He is also the publisher of Litteraria Pragensia and founding editor of the extraordinary VLAK magazine, which is a big fat international omnibus of incisive articles on happening culture, wonderful post-punk graphics and terrific poetry. Louis has lived in Prague in the Czech Republic for twenty years. He works there at Charles University. He has also been a James Joyce scholar. Louis is also a visual artist, and this is reflected in many of the poems in Indirect Objects.

    Louis' ekphrasis is not made from any critical distance - it's an immersion - he gets in to a painting like an all-night drug tripper gets in to the dawn. For instance, the bluesy punk impressionism of the opening poem 'Acid Comedown & John Olsen's Five Bells'

         Call it topographic, eyeball to eyeball with invisible fidget wheels, the whole
         blueprint in acid-dissolve.

         Intelligence reports arrive from remote space colonies dot-dash-dot
         on tree-branch telegraph wires,

         meteorites and pool hall metaphysics.

    This is John Olsen's painting 'Five Bells' - a tribute to Sydney Harbour and the famous Kenneth Slessor poem. The poem's associated with venues just around the bay from here - the Opera House and the NSW Art Gallery make their appearance. Jorn Utzon's Opera House is seen as 'cranes/stooping/over the quays' - where, for me anyway, the cranes can be both the birds as the so-called 'Opera House sails' and literal construction cranes about to alter another tiny bit of Harbour. And the party's over, coming down in the tickertape detritus, like a starry New Years Eve under the fig trees, Louis offers a televisual, possibly-empathetic, political gesture to what's happened to cities in this country -

                  Slow-motion videos of a city
         in mid-construct - Wandjina Man drunk under a wall

         dreaming of blonde missionary ancestor spirits
         turned to coruscated glass and steel

    then everything goes grey and rainy and a little grim as dawn arrives.

    So from the start, this is an atmospheric, moody set of poems. And that's just the beginning.

    This book is loaded with attempts to build something different out of a kind of destruction or destroyed world (this one) and it shares with the reader the proposition that some new thing can be made. But not without regard for the past.

    Snake Bay is a bay in the Tiwi Islands, up north, past Darwin. Fifty-five years ago Russell Drysdale painted indigenous figures in his 'Snake Bay at Night.' In Louis' poem about this painting

                 ..occasionally memory creeps in,
         like an irrational return to a point we started from.

    and the 'great montage' in the painting might have been made by
              ...some demon of history like a mind gone astray
         in the night, mad with visions of sexual punishment.

    There's a fabulous aggregate of extraordinary, iconic Australianisms in this book : - a northern river meeting a night sea in a kind of dreamy humid methadone metaphor, the tropical erotic-exotica of Donald Friend's Balinese pen drawings, Richard Lowenstein's classic-80s rock film Dogs in Space alongside a junkie Darlinghurst Gauguin selling his drawings to get money to score in a poem for John Kinsella that proceeds by a seedy Sydney-urban philosophising and aspires to a better life, 'Patrick White as a Headland', Charles Blackman, Francis Webb, and in Melbourne - a monologue from an Aboriginal boxer in Fitzroy, freeze frames at St Kilda Beach, Swanston Street, Brunswick Street and so on.

    A critic * speaking about Louis' novel 'Canicule' recently, said "Armand uses language to paint a picture just as vividly as if we were watching this unfold on screen...." which is a good way of putting it. Some of these paintings-in-poems are in the first section of the book called 'Realism', which, in my view, is an odd heading for a collection of poems definitely located in Australia. 'Realism' in some ways seems a sombre tag to the book's title 'Indirect Objects'. Indirect objects can be rare. You can sometimes read for pages before you encounter one. Everyone can recognize a direct object when they see one, but an 'indirect object' is an odd grammatical concept. I'm not an expert but the term seems stretched enough here to mingle with the melange of allusions, similes, descriptions and metaphors that contribute to these vivid, image-rich, hyper-real poems.

    I'm aware that I won't have time this afternoon to talk about everything in this fantastic book but I want to mention one poem that had an especially powerful effect for me.

    It is 'Realism' - the extraordinary title poem that ends the first section - a poem comprising four preludes three in couplets, and one in quintets (or five line stanzas). It begins with a quote from William Carlos Williams that says in part - 'The only realism in art is of the imagination'. I'd say, in Louis' case that it's also art's relationship to emancipation that registers strongly. This remarkable poem moves in its preludes through an initial anxious energy as an exhausted persona/the poet travels through harsh sheep country where alcohol and over the-counter-drugs smother the numbness and anomie a young jackeroo or farmhand, say, might feel in the face of slaughter yards and endless plains' horizons broken by occasional silos and surreal sunsets that eventually seem conventional, leading to a sense of desperation -

         A hundred pages on
         through plotless outcountry

    There's a turn in this road trip in arriving at the east coast's 'flat edge of pacific breakers'. Then the collision of the ocean and urbanity reminds the jetlagged-yet still-thinking prodigal of lost political causes

         We could've been the children
         of Whitlam and Coca-Cola.
    which is an Aussie remark on Jean Luc Godard's intertitle between chapters in his 1960s film 'Masculin-Féminin' - "The Children of Marx and Coca-Cola".

    One of the challenges of minimalism is finding a way to gouge relatable connotation from simplicity and Louis is really good at doing that. The poem traverses grinding hard yakka and the tedium of distance - hauling along through the dead of night between outback mining towns and salt flats pushing past 'a punchline without a joke' until daybreak reveals 'barbiturate cloud patterns' and 'unfamiliar / regions of cross-sectional debris'. Attempting to get a grip on this place, he asks the question - is 'the scene ironic or insincere?' The reply -

         An ambiguous terrain, its objectivity
         is a thing of the mind, una cosa mentale.

    In the second prelude the prodigal poet returns to, in a way, the foci of his journey. In a kind of monumental segment of five stanzas of five lines each, he is in Sydney, addressing the Road Builders’ Obelisk and colonial history, or mis-history. It's the oldest true obelisk in Sydney, built in 1818. It's located in tiny Macquarie Place on Bridge Street and was designed by Francis Greenaway. This elongated sandstone pyramid's purpose was as the geographical milestone for the measurement of road lengths in New South Wales. Especially apposite to this circuitous road poem.

    As you might expect, soon enough, yet cautiously, the poem heads out again and the third prelude recounts 'The Effect of Travelling in Distant Places' where some experiential resolution or 'answer' is sought and

         the sick man groans,
         dragging his sack of instruments

         on into the immeasurable -
         beckoned by its fool's glimmer

    the problems of religion, greed, capital, false gods are all encountered in eight couplets then 'the eye too, is a product/of history'. Or you could say 'seeing isn't believing' as the poems' slightly abstracted ecological predicaments, like brackish bore water contaminated by alkaline salinity, are reduced - 'Being/ so much dreck and signage'. The body suffers in parallel with the land and, finally, there's a 'Reprise' -

         we reached the next turning point
         and came to a standstill:

         from centre dead up against periphery
          (no things but in relations).

    The reprise is of the times - briefly. It's a sleaze reprise, back in Sydney, a place once nicknamed 'Tinsel Town', - at the harbour -

                   A bridge to the
         promised land in perpetual
         strip-tease slung above the 100,000

         expiring light bulbs of LUNA P RK.
         undressing the blacked out scar of

         decommissioned navy yards, dry
         docks ... Our hungers for elsewhere

         were free to enlarge, conscripted
         to the Big Idea - not by ballot but by
         lottery -

    In the final twenty-or-so couplets the poem briefly laments American influence in Australia, revisits the outback journey, remembers earlier times - 'the halo formed/around the analogue dial/ wandjina like, and electric as/spirit medium shot at high speed.' There is no actual conclusion to 'Realism' but 'Escape was a sad parody of a film/ that's been running for a century' and the prodigal, back on the western highway, checks out the rearview mirror - 'testing the stringency/of what it means to be invisible - /though drawing no conclusion from it.'

    There's a big complicated mind driving the imaginary in these poems. Louis' analytical and motile thinking upsets conventional expectations. He arranges a kind of sur-or hyper-reality and fashions something new as images and metaphors tumble over each other and extensive transcultural classical and popular cultures combine to make poems that are often reminiscent of large colourful, layered, goopy oil paintings or stacked banks of video screens simultaneously playing different images.

    I've only talked about a small part of this book and although it might seem a bit exiguous after the time I spent on the great poem 'Realism' - but because you'll be wanting to hear from Louis Armand himself - I'll end by offering you a couple of sets of lists to give clues to what extraordinary congeries of ideas and things you will find here: - the poems embrace innumerable literary, philosophical, mythological and artistic figures like Arcimboldo, Rachmaninov, Aristotle, De Kooning, Blaise Cendrars, Charles Mingus and many others and they roam through many places, considering them as both actual and imagined - a sample includes Las Vegas, Cittavecchia, Manhattan, Paris, Bolzano, Rapallo, Ravenna and, of course, Prague.

    The dedicatees in this collection are as various as the poems' influences, themes and associations comprising a transnational ars poeisis - some of them are Gwendolyn Albert, Anselm Berrigan, Ali Alizadeh, the late Amiri Baraka, John Tranter, Karen Mac Cormack, David Vichnar, Kenneth Koch, Howard Barker, the late Mahmoud Darwish, David Malouf, John Kinsella, Charles Bernstein, Bruce Andrews, the late Cy Twombly and many others. This book pays its dues to a veritable pantheon of cultural figures - poetically, it's totally in the black.

    It's with tremendous pleasure that I'd like to welcome these amazing poems and Louis Armand back to Australia, and declare the collection, Indirect Objects, open for reading ...

    *Kristen Valentine

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