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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THE LEE MARVIN READINGS

at
Dark Horsey Bookshop
Australian Experimental Art Foundation
Lion Arts Centre, North Tce [West End]
Adelaide
South Australia

This coming Tuesday
JUNE 10th
at 7:30pm for an 8pm start
$5 entry

LEE MARVIN in
ON BEING JOHN MALKOWICZ
Cath Kenneally
Ken Bolton
Pam Brown









Sunday, April 6, 2014

Pam Brown Authentic Local (SOI3 Modern Poets, 2010)

very slightly edited extract from a club sandwich review
by Les Wicks in Famous Reporter #42 , February, 2011


Late last year Pam Brown started a bushfire with her blog the deletions. She questioned the uncritical acclamation of what some claim is a "new Australian lyricism". Over the course of the weeks that followed we were treated to a rich discourse of wildly differing views often focusing on lazy reviewing, inherent conflicts of interest (particularly amongst academics and those who study with them), gender in the 21st century, the effect of campus based writing courses and where writers stand within the spectrum of the various camps. Many raised the point that most of us have a voice that has elements of the Lyric, L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E etc. Ours is a "mongrel" inheritance, we are free to pick whatever rags and ribbons that we like. Other disciplines are beginning to formally study intuition and I think this is the rudder to so much good poetry coming out now irrespective of the poet’s chosen platform. That combined with veracity; maybe even ferocity sees a vital, engaged and engaging book.

Reading Pam Brown's latest book Authentic Local is a kind of market experience; we're almost guided to that analogy with several references to shopping within the book. The reader wanders the aisles/laneways of the poems, picks treasures that personally resonate whilst wandering past other explorations with barely a nod. However, I'm almost sure the next along at that stall will pick up something quite different. This is a catalogue of concepts and experience.

The poet's voice, for so many decades so masterful, continues to enrich and astonish the reader through its deft use of deceptively simple language successively put up then burnt away by the incandescent.


in a gadda da vida
and other stormy music

*

a million droplets,
influenza
                                                                  Dry Tropics

a semi-droop enfolds
	the golden lens
of the globe
	in a halogen headlight
	caressing a shining
		chromium bullbar
                                                                          Thanks

Authentic Localhas much commentary on the quotidian, but is full of marvellous surprises. In 'Polka Squares' a film on climate change is described as "a snuff doco". Brown asserts
     I want to come back as
      a false witness
                                         Self-Denial Never Lasts Long

At her mention of having had 36 addresses, I found myself counting my own (24), this is a classic example of Brown’s deft explorations across language, enticing us into reflection and recollection.


	randomised,	double blinded
	dose and duration,
			pin drip red

	it worked
                            for the rat
                                                                     Pin Drip Red
Age, health and loss are all explored with a mix of white-light objectivity and vulnerability. She has a remarkable sense of play on various poetic styles.

A personal favourite is the final poem in the book: elegant, privately public, universal. She offers:
     knowing nothing,
     the true thoughts
     of an amateur thinker

     unconcerned
     with identity
     this is all
     I have to work with
                                         Alibis




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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

poetry today: position and process : a montage


I am going to present a montage. I'm going to read it. In this montage of a selection of quotations everything will probably sound like an 'aside'.  But as you know, a lot of things can happen in an 'aside'. Poetry now belongs to a subculture. It is no longer part of the mainstream of intellectual life, it has become the specialised occupation of a relatively small and isolated group. (Dana Gioia, Can Poetry Matter, The Atlantic 1991)...isolated from a larger engagement with society, 'with a lack of connection to the reader' and readings attended only [mainly] 'by other aspiring poets'. 'It's an unsustainable system. Even the most niche of niche artforms has a- [public] audience. Not so with contemporary poetry'. (Daniel Nester, The Morning News, Sept 2009/June 2010) Sometimes it seems as if there isn't a poem written in this nation [country] that isn't subsidised or underwritten by a grant either from a foundation or the government or a teaching salary or a fellowship of one kind or another. (Joseph Epstein, Commentary Magazine, web 2011)...the questions of relevance, of audience, of efficacy, will always haunt us. (Susan Schultz, A Poetics of Impasse in Modern and Contemporary American Poetry 2005) One of Malcolm McLaren’s art teachers told him : “We will all be failures. But at least be a magnificent, noble failure. Anyone can be a benign success”  not sure about magnificent and noble there, it was Britain in the 70s!  But we could all name dozens, maybe hundreds of “benign successes” and everyone knows what Samuel Beckett said : Try again. Fail again. Fail better. Only what does not fit into this world is true. (Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory)“…I feel whatever I say will be inadequate to articulate the hours we spend in a condition of poetry, or I find it difficult tonight to separate myself from my work and my work with the world. It is an unruly drama of desire and its depiction. A shape, or a sound, a sentence to compose what is and what isn’t. A circulation that travels an ellipse; sometimes it wobbles and then breaks and from that a poem will begin to take form. A figure announcing itself beside itself. It needn’t be fancy: not unlike a dog barking at its shadow, confusing its own sound as the other’s. Or a solitaire in front of the television speaking back to it out of habit. A mother singing in the nursery. A stoner at the light talking to himself with the radio blasting ‘it’s like this and like that and like this and a.’ I balk at description. It fails me just now. I question even this rhetoric.”(Peter Gizzi, from “An Open Letter of Poetics to Steve Farmer") Novelty is now so thoroughly established as an aesthetic virtue that "innovative," "experimental," "fresh," "original," and the like are all terms of praise. It was not ever thus: in the eighteenth century Lord Shaftesbury could write about beauty as a timeless, natural harmony, and condemn innovations in the arts such as orientalism or the gothic with the epithet 'novel'. Even as late as the romantic period (late C18th early C19th), when the concept of originality or novelty was gaining philosophical ground, it could still be looked upon with suspicion...much of the suspicion had to do with whether the new kind of art would be of lasting interest. In fact, this sense of the moment-bound nature of the interesting has continued down to our own time, although without the accompanying suspicion. (Robert Archambeau, Harriet blog August 2013)And here's a plug for the Elizabethans (the golden age of the late sixteenth century) :...the journalistic critical cliché about a young poet is to say that [these days] “[s]he has found his her own voice,” the emphasis being on his [her]differentness, on the uniqueness of his [her] voice, on the fact that he [she] sounds like nobody else. But the Elizabethans at their best as well as their worst are always sounding like each other. They didn't search much after uniqueness of voice…. It would hardly have struck them that a style could be used for display of personality. (Thom Gunn,‘Nowadays’) the poet's discourse can be compared to the track of a charged particle through a cloud-chamber. An energised field of association and connotation, of overtones and undertones, of rebus and homophone, surround its motion and break from it in the context of collision...Multiplicity of meaning, 'enclosedness', are the rule rather than the exception ...Lexical resistance is the armature of meaning, guarding the poem from the necessary commonalities of prose. (George Steiner, 'On Difficulty')Poetry shows the ink the way out of the inkbottle  - (Charles Bernstein) the way out of the hard drive - (Pam Brown )
Poetry’s social function is not to express but rather to explore the possibilities for expression. Poetry is difficulty that stays difficult.(Hank Lazer via Pound/Williams)
Conservative anti-modernism continues and appeals to those who claim they can't understand the dislocation, post-subjective non-narratives in much contemporary verse, for the conservative complaint often refers back to a supposed golden age of the coherent, stable "I" of a writer who has straightforwardly true things to express. (Al Filreis, March 2013) So much depends on what you mean by failure, what you want from success, and what you imagine poems do. Insofar as a poem is successful, it fails to fail, but, in failing to fail, it also succeeds at failing. That's a lose-lose scenario (which in the alchemy of poetry we imagine as win-win). Poetry is to the classroom what a body is to a cemetery. If reading poetry is not directed to the goal of deciphering a fixed, graspable meaning, but rather encourages performing and responding to overlapping meanings, then difficulty is transformed from obstacle to opening. (Charles Bernstein - NO: A Journal of the Arts #6, 2007, and in Recalculating, 2013) Mallarmé says he uses “the same words that the bourgeoisie reads every morning” – in the newspaper – “exactly the same! But… if they happen to find them in this or that poem of mine, they no longer understand them.” (Roger Pearson) Poetry anthologies pile up by the side of the internet, rusty as a prayer belt while witches dance around them in army uniform.(Michael Farrell, An Australian Comedy) Now I'd like to quote myself  about poetic process, extracting a few short stanzas from a poem called 'Twitching': 

atoms of language

'her cinematic oeuvre'
     sounds like
    her breakfast

We appear to be reduced 
to apostrophe : the elegant
                       Gee Whiz

interstitial thinking -                                   
    everything's
                a particle
                ('Twitching' p31 Dear Deliria)


and this poem -

Retarded pretensions

        "They won't come through. Nothing comes through. The
death
          Of every poem in every line
         The argument con-
                                                 tinues."
        Jack Spicer

nothing more untoward
than monotony
has occurred

my process commences
without instruction,
with an artless question
"anyway, why communicate ?"

surrounded by scenery.
why don't those
migratory birds
leave here ?
is it such
a beauteous ecology ?

having landed in times
when the usual response
to beauty
is to buy it
or to try to
          win it,
I make my clunky gestures
towards
a build-a-bricks outlook
(construction, not architecture)

how do I do this thing
& appear not to ?    at least
never be seen doing it.

not writing
for any cause
& feeling
consequent guilt
about it.

(exactly
how well-motivated
are you?)

an epiphytic magnavox box
clings to a telegraph pole
beginning the link outwards

transitive and optimistic -     
flick that crow off the antenna !
head pell-mell
for the grammar !

               (p150   Dear Deliria (Salt Publishing, 2003)

Now to return to some quotes:

Referring to John Ashbery - "I think he demonstrates more what poetic thinking is. It’s both a jumble and coherent."(Alice Quinn New Yorker poetry editor 2013) And John Ashbery says : For better or worse, I do not think that writing changes things very much, if at all. For the most part, I think it leaves everything as it is. What does your poetry do - I guess it gives a kind of blue rinse to the language. At John Cage’s 1952 New Year’s Day concert put on by the Living Theater. Cage played “Music of Changes,” an atonal, rhythmless work for solo piano - “I was completely taken by surprise,” Mr. Ashbery said. “It was just arbitrary bangs on the piano over quite a long period of time. And long pauses. I had been in a drought with my writing. I felt I hadn’t written anything good in almost a year. It really gave me ideas about how to write poetry again.”
_____________________________________________________________________

A critic's question: What would I like about this poem if I liked it? (Peter Schjehldahl)
_____________________________________________________________________

A change:
Distraction and digression as process :-

Poetry '... that can be seen to demonstrate [a] dynamic process; it is both distracted, and attends to that distractedness. That is, it is able is to detach, drift off, and to simultaneously observe those operations as they occur. Distraction as a mode of thought and perception is consonant with the ‘process poem’. The emphasis ideally bringing out something of the texture, the individuality, of one’s own thinking, a kind of ‘hearing the gears change’. (Tim Wright on Distraction) Distraction ‘allowed me a way to find out what connections my mind did make.’ (Ken Bolton, 2011) Distraction and digression are... methods – as well perhaps, as ethical, democratizing stances - from which to write, and which enable a reader to chart the movement of thought. That a process poem contain – or live with - the contingent knowledges it admits is part of the poem’s contract, and, actually, part of its process. The connection between thought and affect or feeling is important.(Tim Wright on Ken Bolton) Digression has something like the form of bliss. Repetition of the theme is the very opposite of that. (Friedrich Schlegel, Literary Notebooks 1979-1801) Any digression enacts (although it may not intend) a criticism because, once one has digressed, the position from which one departed becomes available to a more dispassionate or ironic analysis: it must have been in some sense inadequate or one would not have moved away from it. The option in favour of digressiveness implies a general critique... critical of modes of authority (let's say kingship, or the power of the law, or academic authority) that depend on cultural conventions. (Ross Chambers, Loiterature) While poetry is, in theory, available to anyone, it is demonstrably not for everyone. (Ted Pearson) 

Ludwig Wittgenstein said 'Explanations come to an end somewhere'
_____________________________________________________________

Friday, March 21, 2014

Kerry Leves reviews True Thoughts

Click on the image to read the review :



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Astrid Lorange reviews Pam Brown, True Thoughts, Salt Publishing 2008


Vigilant under fluoro

    Half-real
    We blow the sentence pure and real
    Like chewing angels.
                           -- Jack Spicer, “Song for Bird and Myself”


At the Poetry and the Contemporary conference held in Melbourne this July [2011], Pam Brown inaugurated an evening of readings and book launches with a talk titled “The Complaints Department.” She spoke about a number of issues – from large-scale disputes and factional warfare to small, petty-gripes – that have been the topic of recent back-channelling and private conversations in and around Australian poetry and poetics. Brown, by airing the variously grotty flotsam, brought some of the chronic dysfunctions bifurcating and ailing ‘the poetry community’ out from gossipy corners and into an amplified, populated room. And then she claimed that poets do not, actually, belong to a ‘poetry community,’ but write in (and largely for) small coteries. This means that problems are not solvable by wholesale therapies, but require constant negotiation between different coteries and their eccentric, oddly-shaped umwelts. Poets often labour as reviewers, pedagogues, publishers, typesetters, designers, critics and editors in addition to writing poetry, and this simultaneity and feedbacking produces the orbit known as poetics as well as a fracas of jostling, rubbing and/or bickering coteries. Brown’s point seems to be that these coteries, when imagined together, don’t automatically suggest a community, nor does any one coterie necessary behave as a community. There are intimacies, alliances, attractions and antagonisms: these do not constitute a community. Brown’s insistence on coteries as the organising unit of poets is interesting, and no doubt objectionable to some. My point here is not to discuss her claim, but to begin by saying, by way of a disclaimer, that the very act of reviewing might support such a claim: a review is a critical attempt to locate and relocate the logics of a poet and their work according to associations, resemblances, equivalents and opposites. A review attempts a reading that suggests countless other readings, brings other texts to the conversation, looks for convergences at the smallest possible unit. A review does not affirm the stakes, territories or limits of coterie, but is a gestural reading-event that argues for the consideration of the conditions of the production of text: including, but not limited to, issues of coterie.

--
“Something that’s changed for me … is that I am now fully informed about the use of the first person in poetry and I’m bored to the back teeth with discussion about that. I have also tired of ‘the quotidian’ as both a descriptor and topic.” Pam Brown told Michael Brennan in a recent interview that she is no longer interested in discussions of I or the everyday, as far as her own poetry is concerned. As a reviewer, I am relieved by this, and out of respect for her gutful, I will not mention first persons or quotidians. Except to say: I is a funny little clusterfuck, and we all have everydays. (Like Gertrude Stein says about emotions, life is full of them!) And also to say: the irony of Brown’s claim to now being “fully informed” about the use of the first person in poetry is interesting. Or, wait, is it ironic? (This is the problem with irony, you suspect it’s hanging around, but it’s impossible to know what it’s doing, or why.) If Brown is being ironic, “fully informed” is a bit of a gag, since full knowledge of the ‘I’ must be an impossible claim. In this case, what she is fully informed about, and seriously bored by, is the conversation about the impossibility of ever being fully informed. Perhaps, in typical cunning Brownian form, this is a call for non-participation in the form of participation. Or, she’s not being ironic, and it’s a straight-up assertion: she’s well aware of the conversation, having been a participant, and now she’s withdrawing, because it’s dull territory. In this case, the claim to be “fully informed” is a closing remark. Either way, I support the right to leave the discussion. I’m right behind, you PB! I’m taking my little grubs for Is and I’m leaving this thread!

--
Reading True Thoughts led me all over the place. O’Hara, Koch and Schuyler. Spicer. Myles. Bolton. Forbes. Beckett. Benjamin. Little nuggets of Deleuze. I listened to Nick Cave and remembered Frenzal Rhomb. And O, the 2000s in Sydney! Sydney in panic about Bill Henson, Sydney threatening to bulldoze The Block, Sydney emptying out all its Video Ezys and Blockbusters. Sydney, touching itself from the water. Sydney on a train. Sydney cemeteries, now housing old friends. Sydney, full of screensavers, cables, glass and smack. Even when poems are “in” Hobart, Melbourne, Auckland, Rome, they’re still refreshing the SMH website, as though there might ever be something there to find. I wondered, along with Brown, whether I should carry my papers and books in a plastic sleeve, to combat the humidity. I wondered, along with Brown, whether there’ll ever be relief for Sydney from the rank banality of war considered distant, unreal and irrelevant, or from the festering lewdness of shock-jock pseudo-politicking.


		turrurrism
	
	war on turrurrism cramped
			by cost bungling

	cost cuts to vital weapons programs
		and border control demands

	war on turrurr setback 
                                                                       (“Amnesiac recoveries,” 8)

But these poems are not about Sydney, any more than they’re about books, trains, or wartime. Brown lives in Sydney, and this is not inherently meaningful. To be born somewhere, to live somewhere, these are curious things, curious because they could always have been anything else. It’s a unique fact, at the same time that it’s a very mundane one, like having a nationality: “it confounds me / to come from there, / to have, simply, / been born there” (“One day in Auckland,” 46). The Sydney of True Thoughts is an archive, and Brown is fossicking. And she’s always giving back to the archive: giving names, giving lip, giving grief.

there you are, 		back again,
	at the printer		as covert,
		reading the back of the recycled paper,
				cipher and sign,
vigilant under fluoro
	scrutinising discarded files of dissent –
		a single fist raised to the world
expressionist texta
	‘greetings from the resistance’
but nobody’s watching, 	just shadow,
					nobody’s thinking
	that you’re here	reading reports
on indiscriminate transmissions –
	avian flu, Hendra virus, lyssa virus –
insensible species’ leaps,
		no-bargains-pandemics,
no clues in the notes from darkening science 
                                                                    (“Darkenings,” 43)

--
Brown’s poems are populated with proper nouns. Some are surnames, like Stendhal or Nietzsche. Some are first names, like Ken, Eileen, Kurt or Sasha. Some are uncapitalised and smeared together, snap-toothed, like littlejohnnyhoward.


Hi Kurt,					hi John T,
	hi Nick, 	Paddy, 	hi Shakespeare,
		peel me a zibibbo
				would you,
	one of you guys? 
                                                                 (“Peel me a zibibbo,” 51)

Brown once said, in conversation with John Kinsella, that this ‘naming’ has two functions: to send the reader elsewhere, should they feel the tug of a particular reference; and as homage, a writing-in of friends, real and imagined. In both cases, for Brown, naming also lessens the shame of writing alone. If Brown is interested in poetry, it’s poetry that is produced from, and for, partial attention. Partial in the sense that it is not-whole (because attention does lots of things and finishes few), and partial in the sense that it is invested, oriented, and liable to make claims. Writing alone runs the risk of mollycoddling a poem as though it were a fragile one-off. Writing alongside others ensures that partial attentions find each other. To paraphrase Spicer, poems, like sea otters, don’t want to be alone any more than we do.

And maybe there’s another reason why Brown doesn’t write alone: because she can’t afford the solitude. This book is written between work, on the way to and from work. In fact, some of the more uncomfortable moments in True Thoughts come from poems that Brown wrote during a residency in Rome. These poems tend towards the vague, diffuse, agitated, amnesiac or glum. They ask lots of questions, and break at a jab. “urticaria ghosts / my once-pale forearms, / calcium scum smears the glass, / everywhere seems brutal, / historically, / from steam torture / (how is that done?) / to hanging” (12). The Rome-poems exhibit the oddness of professionalised poetry, in the same way that skin exhibits a case of hives. They hound for relief, lifting flakes from themselves.

--
“[I]n my idealised world, I would prefer classical anarchism,” Brown says to Kinsella. Anarchism emphasises the fact of incommensurable things co-existing. In the same interview with Kinsella, Brown offers a name for the mode of thought that shapes partial attentions into poems: on the qui vive. Not just ‘on the look out,’ but also ‘who’s side are you on?’ Brown’s poetry works to elaborate these partials into high-stake claims. If Brown’s into anarchism, it is of the methodological variety, like Feyerabend’s anarchistic science in Against Method. It calls for a specific kind of approach (to the construction of propositions, in Brown’s case, making a poem) that is properly prepared for any kind of unexpected outcome, by product, breakthrough or breakdown. This kind of approach makes poems like “No Action,” which begins with a humid day in Rome, and, via the armpittish bodily memory of humidity in Sydney, moves through a scrum of associations: French television, a biography of Beckett, a postcard’s image, satellites and dirigibles, Bill Henson’s photographs and rip-off CK undies. The poem ends with Brown reading about Beckett becoming active, “not fighting for ‘France’, / fighting for his friends’ liberty’ (19). An anarchic methodology for composing poems (with associational, rather than causal relations, and an emphasis on affiliation and encounter rather than familial structures and inheritance) speaks more broadly of an anarchic sociality. (I am reminded of John Cage’s call for a new compositional mode in A Year from Monday: “I’d like our activities to me more social – and anarchically so.”)

This is something like what Craig Dworkin theorises, via Louis Roudiez, as “paragrammatics” – a tactic for both reading and writing poetry that forms networks of signification otherwise unachievable by conventional habits of grammar-use and interpretation. True Thoughts is a collection of paragrammatic poems: Brown reads paragrammatically, composes paragrammatically, and arouses paragrammatic engagement.


			everything’s
	in the planning stages
		but I really should leach the gel
			that carries the signal
				from node to screen,
		add some figures
			to this year’s calculations,
		then add some lines
				to the homilies

			as follows

		Dear toddlers 		I loved the 80s
			(my true thoughts) 
                                                                                     (“Lab face,” 56)

--
Jack Spicer insists that poetry is written through the poet. The language comes from elsewhere, is alien, and the poet is a device for the transmission of this elsewhere-language. Like a radio, a poet transmits noise, sometimes from several channels at once. Poet-as-radio suits Brown, who often seems to be jiggling frequencies, somewhere between Radio National, triple j of the 90s and some top-40 loop, stuck on Cry Me A River.


	the tinnitis
		of traffic, industry,
	railway,    wakes me early
	to
		another red sun
	rising 		to backlight
	satellite dishes, phone towers,
		abstracted antennae —
	rooftop silhouettes 

	we do here
		what we do there
	except that here
		we do it in wrong décor

	on RAI2 tv
		the military does the weather.
	the next band does 
	  twenty-four hour no-stop 
			catholicism
	(if you need them) 
                                                                       (“Euro Heatwave,” 12-3)

These partial attentions, never quite making one statement, stack up, rabble for meaning, suckle the poems as parasites.

The poems of True Thoughts are arranged so that these partial attentions are typographically marked as distinct-from yet related-to each other. The marker is a kind of double-line tilde, and it occupies a line on its own, dividing and joining a poem into irregular poemlets. I like to read this typographical flourish as the mathematical sign for ‘almost-equal to,’ that wavy, dreamy equals sign: ~ It’s a marvellous symbol for its suggestions of approximation, resemblance, equivalence, difference and similitude. One way to read this book is to read each poemlet as an approximate equivalent of the previous.

--
In True Thoughts, the moon is visible behind a phone tower, and birds fly in screensaver patterns. Things are “microwave brown” (59) or “the colour of pharmaceuticals” (70). Flower petals are viewed through the windscreen of a car, and saplings are wrapped in tight plastic tubes. These are Brown’s anti-pastorals, forcing a reversal of association that privileges the immediate facts of being on the qui vive in a city. The reversals are not fetishy, or damning, nor are they particularly ironic or wry, as reviewers often say about these kinds of moments in Brown’s work. They, like Brown in a conversation, are direct, interested and against-bullshit. Living in a city, you’re more likely to know the particular mock-wood brown of a seventies-era microwave than the brown of a wild mushroom or peat bog or pheasant-breast. There’s no trick to this likelihood. True Thoughts resists bullshitting at many levels.

--
On this point, I will finish. Brown resists bullshitting, which can make it difficult to perform a close reading of an individual poem. For this reason, these poems do what the title claims: they are true thoughts. True in the sense that they are thoughts, and not representations of thoughts, or even thought-experiments. As such, like with any arrangement of thoughts – my own or someone else’s – there are some thoughts that get into my head and thrust me into serious action, and there are some that I can’t relate to, or else, reject by way of forgetting or misremembering. This affords me a certain kind of pleasure in reading, paragrammatically, her book. I move from one thought – one partial attention – to another, tugging other texts in as I go. As I finish this review I have a fat stack of books, a browser full of mid-90s music videos, the desire to read Beckett all day, a sour feeling for my thuggish, neo-con Sydney, and a set of things to think on further: like, how always to be reading and writing, more socially, and anarchically so. More socially might mean, working for and towards my coterie(s) and their discussion(s) about what the fuck is going on. More anarchically might mean, working away from official efforts to re-brand poetry as a cultural industry worth tapping.


(Thank you to Corey Wakeling and Tom Lee for their suggestions and contributions.)

References:
Pam Brown in conversation with John Kinsella, Jacket, 2003
Michael Brennan interviews Pam Brown, Poetry International Web, 2011
John Cage, A Year From Monday, Wesleyan University Press, 1998
Craig Dworkin, Reading the Illegible, Northwestern University Press, 2003
Paul Feyerabend, Against Method, New Left Press, 1975




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