Sunday, July 19, 2020

VLAK Magazine, Issue 5, 2015

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VLAK Magazine, Issue 3, 2012

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VLAK Magazine Issue 2, 2011

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Monday, May 18, 2020

This time of pandemic brings my mother's young life closer to me, now, as I'm about to turn 72 in a week or so and we are living in such a difficult time.

                          my mother, Jeanette Barclay Brown (née Vinnicombe),on the left - her toes in the sun

                           mum, on the left, in February 1952

In the late 1940s, the Commonwealth Government Health Department took over the Heatherton Sanatorium in Cheltenham, Melbourne, in order to address a tuberculosis epidemic.In the early 1950s, the increase in the number of people suffering from tuberculosis created a need for additional beds. To alleviate overcrowding at Heatherton two new modern hospital blocks were built on the site. One was known as "North Block", where female patients were accommodated and the other was called "South Block" where male patients were housed. Children infected with tuberculosis were hospitalised in Wing 2. The sanatorium housed around 300 tuberculosis patients. A five-storey nurses’ home was built. Tuberculosis reached its peak in the late 1950’s and the patient intake was on the decline by 1958.

My mother was one of the long term tuberculosis patients. She was in her 30s. She had surgery to remove the damaged upper lobe from one of her lungs. These are photos of mum in confinement in 1952 - getting some outdoor sun and air (with other women, several of whom became her lifelong friends). She would send cheerful photos to me and my brother and sister. I only knew mum from photographs and felt toys that she made and would send me. My brother and sister lived with our maternal grandparents. At this time my dad was oceans away for some years in the U.K. obtaining a military promotion. I lived with my paternal great aunt and uncle in Brisbane from the age of 18 months until I was six. When we reunited, in spite of her trials (& whatever unknown troubles to come), the mother I met was determined to look after & nurture us kids. I loved her dearly.

                                               Pam Brown, Sydney, 18th May 2020

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Saturday, November 16, 2019

Turn Left At Venus
Inez Baranay

(Transit Lounge Press, Melbourne, 2019)

Launch talk - Pam Brown at The Old Fitzroy Hotel, Wooloomooloo, Sydney, 3rd October 2019

I’ll start with a poet’s disclaimer -
I mostly read non fiction and I should say I’ve often not finished reading some contemporary Australian novels so I have no proper knowledge of where a novel as unconventional as Turn Left at Venus might take its place in the genre. Perhaps I’m not really the most appropriate person to talk about the work, but I am pleased to be here to celebrate the book’s publication and to salute Inez Baranay’s unwavering commitment to writing over many years.

Given the exigencies of a book launch I think it would be impossible & would probably take way too long to give you a full account of what’s between the covers so I’ll make a kind of precis –

You should definitely know that this book is eccentric and that the tone is conversational. It totally disrupts narrative and proceeds via segments. We meet the main character – a very old Ada lying prone in a care home. She’s tended by two nurses, one of whom realises that the patient Ada is actually A.L. Ligeti, a science fantasy author.
Linked with Ada’s condition in the first segment there’s a swift segue to a new section that’s a mini treatise on the ageing body’s symptoms and indignities. Then the next section is what we discover is an extract from A.L. Ligeti’s science fantasy of a space traveller’s expedition to somewhere in the galaxy named Otzey - a planet where elderly women celebrate with a glittering festival leading to a final ceremony called ‘The Going Out’ – meaning death.

Next, and, again, quite swiftly, the reader is on a ship that was introduced in the book’s prelude. This is the ship carrying, among the passengers, two little eight year old girls from different backgrounds, Ada & Leyla, heading for Australia – quote - ‘a country where it is always summer, always sunny, where they would go to school and speak English all the time.’ Leyla declares that she & Ada will always know everything about each other. They’re European migrants and will live at first in a hostel and then in separate houses in the outer suburbs of Sydney.

As teenagers, Ada and Leyla dream of becoming respectively, a writer and a dancer. Ada will become the science fantasy writer and she’ll travel to many parts of the world.

Soon it’s back to the care home where one of the nurses relates their discovery of Ada’s identity as A.L. Ligeti by reading an online pdf of the story that we, the readers, have just read - about the planet Otzey.

The book zig zags through a kind of continual enquiry - from examinations of how to die, what death might be, and building a life towards it. Many of the sections are only two or three or four pages long. Some passages are longer. It’s a fragmented narrative and it’s metatextual – the actual writing process is often dissected.

In Europe somewhere Ada’s deceased father had been jailed for his anarchist activities – so there is a short introduction to anarchism which leads briskly into an explanation of the origin and uses of the title for Ada’s-as-A.L. Ligeti’s novel Turn Left at Venus. The phrase has various euphemistic uses. For instance, I’ll quote a few of them - it can indicate ‘where not to tell the joke about how you know where the anarchist in the room is...’ or function as ‘actual directions on another planet on which the story takes place’ (but A L Ligeti insists that you do not arrive at one of the planets, Lueshira, by following directions in three dimensional space). It can also mean ‘leave your usual way of seeing things behind’ or ‘you are not making any sense’.

As young women Ada & Leyla go dancing together at a multicultural night club, the Club of All Nations, where they meet a camp society dress designer called Charles who befriends them and begins to make interesting clothes for them to wear. This is their entry to the world of bars and drag that once was Kings Cross, Sydney.

The book circles unceasingly through time and place. It moves from mountain villages in Bali, to Randwick race course, to galactic planets in outer space where gender is mutable just like Kings Cross where Ada meets Ray. They marry for a short time and in that time Ada spends the nights writing her book Turn Left at Venus which she posts off to a publisher in San Francisco. It gets into print and is noticed briefly before it simply vanishes.

Ada is a dreamer – she walks around the streets of Kings Cross fantasising - quote – ‘She did not ever want to describe what she barely saw around her, the dun-coloured world, she only wanted to describe the conjurings of her mind’ - which is a clue to the entire novel and to the imaginary other worlds like Lueshira, a gender-fluid utopian planet where there is no evil and where the idea of underestimating a woman cannot exist.

So - Kings Cross figures prominently – Leyla returns here after seven years of living in Los Angeles. She and Arda become happily reacquainted. Then Ada is inspired to move to San Francisco and, once there, she declares ‘People come to San Francisco to be free’. Here she learns, via a vibrant literary agent called Sophie Stein, that the publisher of Turn Left at Venus had become defunct which explains that novel’s sudden disappearance. Following Sophie Stein’s suggestion, Ada decides to write a sequel.

Ada encounters many kinds of people - an anthropologist, a neighbour who’s a cadet reporter, Roger and Gail, the witnesses at Ada’s wedding, an influential maker of very dark movies known only as SK who suggests that her sequel novel could be called Turn Right at Mars. Ada also meets Julius, an artist, a painter seeking fame. They engage in an affair of “extreme heterosexuality”, for a time, until Ada stops going to see him and starts to plot her sequel. She also has a close friend and confidant, Noemi, who writes about architecture, has an answer for every proposition put to her, and will become Ada’s lover.

Meanwhile, her lifelong friend Leyla turns up in San Francisco. As they make their reconnection and remember times past Leyla encourages her to write the sequel. So Ada’s, or A.L. Ligeti’s book The Shelf of Bone is finished and will be published.

Having experienced a brief lesbian sexual encounter at a women-only party in San Francisco Ada next time-travels to Denpasar, Bali and on to Rome, Italy where through a whirlwind of reminiscence Leyla makes a final appearance. Portals open onto memories and to further discussion of gender, feminism, the body, the purpose of writing, the concept of utopia, relationships with life-like robots, and dying.

Poignantly, Ada and her close friend Noemi make love and form a close relationship. I won’t reveal their dénoument except to say that this is where the story concludes - but not before it turns full circle as Inez gives the fictional future to the younger people we met at the beginning, the two nurses who work at the care home.

Turn Left at Venus is labyrinthine and often quite puzzling and at times confronting as it keeps the reader alert and wondering ‘where will it lead?’ It’s a sprawling spontaneous tale that embraces the long, imagined and real, unplanned life of a fiction writer and the enduring connection between two women and their life long friendship across many changes in many years and in many places on earth and elsewhere...

I hope I’ve conveyed some of the myriad aspects – now there’s no more for me to do than encourage you to buy a copy and to say     Congratulations Inez – & now over to you -

Return to Extras or Pam Brown site

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Anna Gibbs launches Home by Dark
at Parkview Hotel, Alexandria, Sydney 28th April 2013

I’ve always been a huge fan of Pam Brown’s special mix: ‘country and eastern’ with its ‘automatic sad’, the ‘true thoughts’ that come with being ‘authentic local’ in ‘this world, this place’ on which she opens ‘a small blue view’ of something that could go either way, ‘50 – 50’. Even her titles are so quotable collaging them in this way is irresistible. It’s a ‘text thing’, ‘dear deliria’, this ‘correspondence’, this between you and I play that Pam Brown sets up. ‘Keep it quiet’ – if word gets out there’ll be trouble, and besides, a certain stillness allows something else be heard and something more to happen.

In Home by Dark we start out with ‘Windows Wound Down’, a ’white paper poem’, an authoritative guide to this particular kind of Brownian motion in which you’re ‘parked under/a chalky old light pole/windows wound down/dozing on the front seat/on the radio/ Chinese classical music’. Rather than roaring through the world in a perpetual rush of hot air towards the ‘latest in new’, the world comes to you through the open window and you’re given the opportunity both to be part of it, feeling the music, and to observe what’s going on a short distance away, ‘as across the road/a man is wearing/his hat, indoors’. There’s always an oscillation in Brown’s writing between being porous to the world, completely in tune with its rhythms, and those moments of pulling back a little to observe and comment on it. There is also mimetic relation ‘so you want/to write in a cave/ _&_/take your source material/with you?’ Small incidents and images like that of the man wearing his hat inside come to represent the signs and symptoms of the times, a ‘Holiday Guide to Everything’ - when a holiday means you’re staying home cleaning, since after all ‘recessions [either the economic or the back of the fridge kind] don’t stop/for Sunday’.

Brown is renowned for being a poet of the local, but what this way of thinking about her work runs the risk of forgetting is that the local like other things is not what it used to be. Once one might have been able to equate it with the parochial, but in these days of mobile phones and pervasive media, the local is always permeated by the wider world (‘way too many/concurrent points of view’), and even, sometimes, indistinguishable from it.

From this vantage point, the present is adroitly diagnosed – for example through witty recalibrations of the hortatory imperatives of magazine speak. After receiving this suggestion: ‘why not/ recalibrate your life?’ the possibility that occurs is clearly not something anticipated by the rhetorical question. ‘How did Jean Genet/live in hotels/for so long?’, the poet wonders. Taking things seriously, taking them at their face value and taking them to their logical conclusions – all these ways of being a model citizen - ‘a unified I’ full of ‘anecdotal sincerity’ – turns out to make them unravel, exposes all their pretence an pretention so much more effectively than turning terrorist and chucking a Molotov.

No cures or conclusions are offered, only ‘imaginary solutions’ in the pataphysical way, where the prognosis remains open and who knows what will become of the present in the future. ‘The past/the past/is heritage brass//Now is always/only now’ in the ‘dog and bub burb’ (37). Nevertheless, ‘You’re the same age/as the ugg boot’, one more piece of the ‘schlock of the old’ and even more yourself than you were before. This is not armchair expertise, in spite of Brown’s disclaimer: there’s a hard won wisdom when you’ve put your body on the line and done a postgraduate degree in the university of life. You don’t come out of this educational process unchanged, with your ‘gamine haircut/for older persons.’

Need I say that these are really funny poems? They make you just want to quote and keep on quoting. There’s a certain laconic, understated, sly dry wit, and a wry irony that derives from this very engaging, conversational style of writing and the witty repartee it creates between voice and voice. In this constantly moving montage of voices it’s not always clear ‘who says that’ about this or that and who is talking to you when you feel yourself interpolated. Who’s speaking?, you have to ask when the poetry phone rings. Sometimes the lines are crossed (as we used to say in the 70s) and you get to eavesdrop on conversation between peers, for example in the form of Brown and Bolton, but in this b & b there are many rooms and it could be pretty much anyone prowling the corridors disguised as some one else, and spreading gossip.

In fact these poems are obsessed with communication in all its forms: with telephones and television, with the internet and with poetry itself. Brown is an engaged participant in conversation as a pleasurable form of everyday sociability between equals or peers (or those rendered as such by virtue of the type of conversation in which they engage in certain situations – like the much vaunted democracy of Bondi Beach or the virtual neighbourhood constructed by the poetry magazine). This is what nineteenth century French sociologist Gabriel Tarde would call ‘voluntary conversation’. This kind of conversation is the medium of social contagion, making things spread. To be engaged in conversation, for a poet like Brown, means to be alert to what’s catching on, that is, to the traffic of opinion, the very stuff of conversation. Opinion, according to Tarde, it is ‘something as light, as transitory, as expansive as the wind’, palpable and potent in its effects and yet hard to grasp until it’s almost passed. It is in the nature of opinion to want to expand and spread: it always ‘strives to become international, like reason’ (299). Brown’s poetry is ideally suited to grasping it, at once able to get it and to seize and identify it. It is, after all, in the middle of its own conversation, fully engaged with a particular poetry world, one extending beyond state and national boundaries to the US and Europe (via her roles with with ‘Jacket2’ ,’VLAK’ & other magazines)

But Brown’s work also has an ear out for the ‘obligatory conversation’ (Tarde again) which regulates relations within social hierarchies, and which so often comprises ‘the monologues pronounced by superiors’ – and all those reports, predictions and warnings beloved of the media, of political leaders and experts of various kinds, perhaps most proximate, including art critics and curators. Brown’s work is alert to this and works to undermine its authority, for example with striking, accurate, little darts of feminist analysis: ‘men make man made/you can study them/making memoir/under the summit’ (70).

Of course it’s also been said that scholarship is a kind of conversation. The poet’s professed ‘lassitude’ when it comes to undertaking certain kinds of scholarly research is more than compensated for by wide ranging reading: this work is full of references to other poets, living and dead. Sometimes their words are taken and twisted, sometimes simply reported or repeated in another context. This is part and parcel of a reflection, after half a lifetime spent doing it, on what poetry can do, especially in the brilliant last sections (iv and v) of the book. Precisely because this is poetry and it is hyper-alert to the history of its own medium, this question always tends to suggest its own reversal, rebounding on the poet to ponder what you (the poet) can do for poetry: ‘maybe/leap/drop/slip and slide/like a penguin/on Antarctic ice’.

Try to understand things, or something, anyway, not to tune out but instead to ‘give popular culture another chance’, or simply try to get by on the tricky terrain of the present. It’s getting late now, though: shadows grow a little longer and it’s just starting to get dark. There’s ‘another phone call/more cancer/and another/a month later//like Michael said/now we’ll spend/ the rest of our lives/watching our friends die’

And as for ourselves, well sometimes ‘Leaving the World’ actually seems all too easy: it’s ‘not as bad/as you’d think// the grand movement/ masks/ the small movement/ you pull your swifty/ and disappear – it’s as easy, in fact, as putting your ‘body on a bed and/ going out of the room’.

After all this we realise that to be ‘home by dark’, as we were all no doubt enjoined by our mothers before being turned loose in – or on - the world in the days when summer holidays seemed endless… to be home by dark is about having somewhere to go and something to do in the face of the fact that we’re all going to hell in a handbag. Meanwhile, thank god, even though we’re in the end times and ‘all fuelled out’, at least we’ve got home with a box of wine.

So ‘get a half life/or whatever’s legitimate’ (37), read Pam Brown’s work, and you’ll never be short of a good line in either convivial literary small talk or serious talk about the state of the world.

Return to Reviews, or Pam Brown site

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

    And What?
    Ken Bolton and Kurt Brereton

    (Jellied Tongue Press, Currarong, NSW, 2019)

   Launch talk at Woodburn Creative Space, Redfern, Sydney, 11th August 2019

Ken Bolton & Kurt Brereton have been friends and accomplices in the unpredictable realm of art, poetry, culture and circus for over forty years. The question they have asked each other, their friends, their families, their fans and even, very occasionally, their foes, remains unsatisfactorily unanswered – ‘And What?’ or ‘And What?!?’ This friendship & its resultant entanglements are clearly re-presented in this book -    (pb shows audience A3 prints of tangles)

I know this is supposed to be a farewell at the end of nostalgia but allow me some nostalgia as I recount the cultural background to this book (which, by the way, is replete with nostalgia ...) -
A few decades ago Ken became the founder of the leg-pulling school of Australian poetry. Not long after, having tinkered with the concept of leg-pulling while studying at art school, Kurt spent some years as a keen participant. Together the friends extended the application of leg-pulling to other media – video, photography, embroidery, drawing, painting, writing, son et lumière, slam, folksong and so on. However, due to an unforeseen national incremental increase in Australian poets’ serious self-importance accompanied by a quest for old traditions, the leg-pulling school, after putting up a strong resistance, started to pare back its opposition to those wearying trends and so began its gradual organic demise. But Kurt, being of an idealistic & utopian outlook, defied this turn and began anew. He created the forensically-researched, inclusive & influential Pathetic Manifesto. Over the past 10 years or so both Kurt & Ken have utilised this important manifesto’s approach, not only in their daily perceptions of the world-at-large but also in their own prolific practices of art making.

In this collaborative work And What? alongside contemporary tv celebrity sunday painters like Anh Do, you’ll find plenty of nostalgia as several pathetic & well-loved age-old motifs recur throughout. One of these is the early twentieth century comic strip character Krazy Kat. Krazy was a simple-minded, “heppy go lucky” cat of indeterminate gender. Non-binary Krazy was passionately in love with Ignatz Mouse. Ignatz, though, hated Krazy – so he invariably, & often, demonstrated this sentiment by throwing a brick at the ‘fool kat’s’ head. The third player in this bizarre love triangle was the gruff, ‘kanine constable’ Offissa Bull Pupp, who secretly held a candle for Krazy and tried to protect them from Ignatz’s brick-throwing violence. Affectionately, portraits of Krazy Kat appear a couple of times in this small volume.

There are also many references from across the centuries. Like 17th century French Baroque in Nicholas Poussin’s et in Arcadia ego, also Krazy Friedrich Nietzsche, Paul Cezanne (anyone nostalgic for him?), Oskar Kokoshka, cool artists like Ed Ruscha, famous for his book full of pictures of gas stations, & New York School abstract cartoonist Philip Guston’s famous sideways painting of a big-headed man smoking a cigarette, together with many more famous figures - philosophical, poetic, arty – but but - what? no Giorgio de Chirico!!?    unless – this?    (pb shows audience A3 print of head curly haired woman or a putti...)

This book is utterly irreverent in its revelatory application of the comical to the weighty enquiries about philosophy in our age –
one poem asks –
     Who’s funnier, Sloterdijk
     or Adorno? Or is that like
     ‘Who’s funnier, Jennifer
     Saunders, or Jack Benny?’

     Or is it somehow different?
     Is it philosophy’s task
     to make us laugh, properly speaking?
     Or is that poetry’s.

And in an earlier poem there’s a useful note, almost a warning, on living in Australia -
     Shit-faced & stung by a zillion flying gnats
     Australia has a super dry brownish complexion
     Cracked, lined, flushed, ruddy and burnt –

     if you live here long enough you will wear
     The stare of Existentialism

Prominent in their appreciations and analyses are the personal tributes Kurt & Ken make to two beloved symbols - the enduring ampersand, the origin of which can be traced back to old Roman cursive in the first century AD & the exceptionally useful question mark that, in the late 8th century, was known as punctus interrogativus.

The authors revel in jokes, lots of them – they do a lot of what used to be called ‘goofing off’ as they speak to us with jellied tongues of times past and of their current pastimes.

Not one of these books is the same as another – there are different images in each one (so everything I’ve just said could be completely irrelevant to the version you acquire). But do buy one today and you’ll get a bonus linocut and a bookmark. ‘And What?’ is a uniquely goofy spoofy hoot - enjoy a chuckle & don’t go away after the performance without getting your copy signed & your own personal dedication.      Congratulations Ken & Kurt.

Click here for The Pathetic Manifesto - it's free!

Return to Extras or Pam Brown site