Sunday, June 3, 2018

Fiona Hile
(Vagabond Press, Sydney, 2018)

Launch talk at University of Sydney, 28th May 2018

I last heard Fiona Hile read poetry here alongside six other shortlisted nominees for the 2017 Helen Anne Bell Poetry Bequest Award. It's a bequest that offers a modest cash prize and publication for the winning manuscript by an Australian woman poet. Fiona received the award and so that also funded the publication of her poems with the dedicated, diverse and dynamic publisher Vagabond Press.

So now we have this book called Subtraction. Of course, in arithmetic, 'subtraction' is the operation of removing objects from a number of them or, simply, taking something away. Given the title, the book's fascinating cover is apt - it's a detail from Helen Johnson's painting called 'Things People Say They Should Give Up'. A woman leans back with one arm extended upwards in a feline stretch as she's engrossed in reading Karl Marx's Das Kapital. The other woman is using a laptop - we can speculate on what she's doing - there's a bunch of 50 and 100 dollar notes and what I take to be hunks of tuna under a trailing vine and, in the corner, just slipping off the cover, there's a very canny product placement - a bottle of Penfold's Gr... 'Gr' - it has to be 'Grange'. One question is - Who would have a bottle of Grange in the first place? Probably not a poet. The only person I can think of who 'gave one up', so to speak, was Barry O'Farrell (that's a New South Wales joke). Perhaps the poet, the painter, or the publisher might send an invoice to Penfolds for the product display? What would Karl Marx say?

Anyway - to the poems! (I should preface what I'm going to say with 'I could be totally wrong'.) A phrase 'the alembic of her line' was once used to talk about the poems in Fiona's first book Novelties and in this new collection she continues to transform and refine language through image and even to amplify that technique as she delves into an examination of an age-old, complex conundrum. I'll quote from the online flyer notes for this launch because they're more succinct than I might be - 'Taking its cues from Rimbaud’s call for the reinvention of love, Subtraction tours the hologrammatic labyrinths of the English language to ask again: What is love? And what does the other want?'

'Hologrammatic labyrinth' is a great term for Fiona's poetry. The intensity of these poems' persistent and kind of heady rush of imagery might cause a minimalist poet (like me) to lose sleep. The rush can sometimes seem like you're streaming glossolalia but happily Fiona's poems, although forceful, aren't actually charismatic, so they're not trying to persuade or sway anyone - they're investigative - of both poetry and their topic, 'love'. There is a sense of method in the clusters of images and scenes, or vignettes. The idea and the main question is foregrounded, so once you tune in to the theme you can surrender to the totally impressive offbeat and unpredictable connections and abutments.

Fiona gestures to philosophy in these poems. Though we know that philosophers and poets haven't really got along very well since at least the 4th century b.c. when Plato banished poets from the republic. Nonetheless, Fiona does read philosophy. Plato's academy had an inscription engraved above the door - 'Let no one ignorant of geometry enter'. The still-living French philosopher Alain Badiou might have had an influence on Fiona's writing. In his book on twentieth century writing, The Age of The Poets, he revisits the Platonic antagonism between poetry and maths. Fiona's book's title alludes to a connection with mathematics. She also selected the poems for a recent issue of 'Cordite Poetry Review', her chosen theme was 'Mathematics' - though Fiona has said that she's not really into maths.

In Subtraction an occasional guest is the precursor to existentialism, early 19th century philosopher Georg Hegel. Along with his theories of the spirit or the 'geist', Hegel had things to say about the connection or function of desire in the everyday world. And these poems consider exactly that.

In Fiona's poem 'Recollections of the Mortal Body' - set in the local swimming pool - some lines go - 'your silicone shadow glimmering against the hurricane,/ like love as the fiction of a sublime pragmatics,/ the aluminium waters sinew and repeat: shame enters/ only through the recollection of the body.' That last line, direct from Hegel.

And in that poem, from Greek mythology, Leander, the young lover of the priestess Hero, is introduced. He drowned swimming across the Hellespont* to visit her. From the poem -'So let the wisdom of folly unfold in lettered wings/ and tell me again how Leander crossed the hellespont/in a flurry of greased-up limbs.'

In a subsequent poem, 'Swimming to Leander', using tercets Fiona imagines young Leander - '...If stung by jellyfish,/ carry on. The last time I saw you, unbuttoned to the whale,/ caressing like a chook on heat./ To whose banquet were you hurrying?' //'Keep your eyes underwater when next you swim'// 'As for love, stop worrying, I am potential/ biological immortality in at least one species" - the poem ends with an oxymoron -'Grow me a science of emptied hieroglyphics/and I will pinpoint your location with stochastic accuracy'

'Stochastic' - a term used in statistical analysis. It's about having a probability distribution, usually with finite variance - so it's imprecise.

In a recent conversation Fiona mentioned a part of the Greek myth in Homer's classical epic poem 'The Odyssey' that's perhaps an analogy or at least a suggestion of what function writing these poems might have proffered. While Odysseus's consort Penelope waits for a decade for him to return home from Troy to the island of Ithaca, she uses weaving as a device to turn away over 100 advances. Penelope tells these many suitors that she will marry one of them when she finishes weaving a burial shroud for Laertes, Odysseus's father. It's a fib. She weaves the shroud during the day, at night, away from the attention of the suitors, Penelope undoes the weaving that she'd done that day - it's an artful yet labour-intensive defence - the weaving and unweaving perhaps similar to the process of making poems. In Subtraction the conundrum of encounters with the possibilities or absence of love is unravelled, but here the threads or lines haven't all been discarded.

The poem 'Muster' is about this process, this 'unravelling' - I'll quote the final section of it - 'I stand at the rim of a system of infringements, codes/ and punishments to rival the ancient Greeks. Talking down/ from a position to differential, the coxcomb coral of six/ fingered bounties makes love to the idea of the voice/ making love to itself, establishes an iconic, incurable/ distance. Now I dream during the day and write all night,/sewing a template for the region of your delirious.//While you spiral freely in the conundrum of lost territories,/ harbourless wanderings distill my ingrown love.'

To change tack now and briefly reveal Fiona's breadth of interests - Situationism gets a look-in here too. In the 1950s the Situationists wanted to disturb the categorization of art and culture as separate activities and to transform them into part of everyday life. A poem called 'The Inevitable Beauty of the Viewer When Faced with the Partitionist Tactics of the Situationist Lover' is astonishingly deductive. Again, to quote : 'Nothing to see in the spectacle of your lips/ but the insistence of the letter in the mire of situationist abandonment./ Keep telling yourself that/ the poem is a container for the formless horror of your eyes as emotion/ skinning you to the scrutiny of the automaton as inadequate/ representation of the poem as a container for the formless/ horror of the delimited passion of the never stops not being written'

But myths, maths and philosophy are just three components in a myriad. There's much experiment with language - there's dada, metonymy, proper nouns as verbs and so on - plus, the poems offer plenty of humour. Popular characters appear - Bob Dylan, Hank Williams, Emily Bronte, Lady Chatterly, Steven Spielberg, Kate Winslet - whose last name becomes a verb - Chrissy Amphlett - 'now that Chrissy Amphlett's gone/ what more is there to say?'

Given the exigency of my alloted 10 minutes that I've probably gone over, here are a few favourite lines, without comment -

'If the syntax won't admit us we will have to break it.'

'The slum landlord in your bed massaged you to tenancy...'

'Micro-chipped nature is a beautiful thing;/beauty of art is a beautiful representation'

'Handing you the jumper leads inevitably proposes connections...'

'A handful of wax and a fathom of chain means/love is close, desire is far away.'

'The appeal to nature confines us within the limits of natural numbers./There is something mundane about the way we love./ And yet, in the hedged bets of our narrow beds we are alive to thrill.'

These poems are doing a lot of thinking around both the renunciation and the pursuit of love and/or desire. That's a big topic. Some say poetry resists the concept of use value - its function is to make culture - poetry is thinking about thinking. It's something that I'd say Fiona Hile does round the clock.

These are wonderfully difficult poems - I can't say that I've figured out everything about them and I've presented only a smidgen of their references and concepts - I didn't even mention Heloise and Abelard, John Keats, Edmund Spenser's Calidore, the knight of courtesy, (adlib : not even maybe o I dunno - Michel Foucault?!). Which is exactly why I'd suggest that this book will be read, reread, and read again. There's plenty to impute, to love, to think about, to laugh with, to be both perplexed and charmed by and, overall, to take pleasure in appreciating the superlative artistry of a poet whose presence in Australian poetry signals a unique rejuvenation of the genre. It's a complex, fabulous set of poems - congratulations Fiona!

*Hellespont - the ancient name for the Dardanelles, named after the legendary Helle, who fell into the strait and was drowned while escaping with her brother Phrixus from their stepmother, Ino, on a golden-fleeced ram.

FH in an email to me: And maybe the whole book could be said to perform writing as a way of calling love into being and also keeping it at bay. Or writing installed as a more bearable fake obstacle to the absence of love.

more fave quotes - no time to say them :

'Raise high your melancholy and frigate, Tinnitus soundscape/your experimental chin cinders appetise when fenugreek soliloquoys/the aforementioned.'

'How can you say you don't believe in Spring/ when our trajectories collide with calamitous outbreaks/of Physics?'

'When the actuaries invent a diagnostic/ category for love, we'll Creon/ ourselves senseless, community sans/ jurisdiction, free. Enough about me-/Here comes the booze bus.'

'Caritas carved deep into shallow stone/ filters lime-wash through purple hashtag tunnels./ Am I a woman or a man?'

p.s - 'Stochastic'- incidentally there's a tea room in King Street Newtown called 'Stochastic' - I'm not sure what the service would be like.

p.p.s. - Everyone knows Lou Reed & John Cale's song for Andy Warhol - 'Trouble with Classicists' - yes?

Return to Extras or Pam Brown site

Sunday, April 15, 2018

A Reading

Ali Alizadeh     Pam Brown
Ella O'Keefe    Ann Vickery


Sunday 13th May

The Alderman
134 Lygon Street
Brunswick    Melbourne

everyone welcome

Ali Alizadeh was born in Tehran, the then-capital of the Kingdom of Iran, two years before the Iranian Revolution transformed the country into an Islamic Republic. His family immigrated from Iran when he was 13. He has published a number of books including Eyes in Times of War (Salt Publishing, 2006); with Kenneth Avery, translations of mystical poems of a Sufi master,Fifty Poems of Attar (, 2007),The New Angel (Transit Lounge, 2008),Iran: My Grandfather (Transit Lounge, 2010), Ashes in the Air (UQP, 2011), a fast poeticisation of Jacques Lacan called Acts (Black Rider, 2013), Transactions (UQP, 2013) and, most recently The Last Days of Jeanne D'Arc (Giramondo, 2017). Having decided to leave Australia in search of creative freedom and inspiration, he lived in China for two years until 2007, then in Turkey for another year, before moving to Dubai where he taught writing and literature for three years. He eventually returned to Melbourne, where he lectures at Monash University.

Pam Brown's many books of poetry include Text thing, Authentic Local, Dear Deliria, Home by Dark and Missing up. Pam, a dedicated amateur, has earned a living in a range of occupations. She has been writing, collaborating, editing and publishing in diverse modes both locally and internationally for over four decades. She has come to Melbourne to read a selection from her newest collection from Vagabond Press, Click here for what we do. Over the years she has moved around - living at various times in several towns and cities - but has always returned to live in the perpetually reconstructing city of Sydney.

Ella O'Keefe is a poet and researcher living in Melbourne. Her poems have been published in Cordite, Steamer, Overland Blog, Text Journal and Best Australian Poems. She is a former director of the Critical Animals research symposium. Ella's chapbook Rhinestone was published by Stale Objects dePress in 2015.Her work on radio has been broadcast by 'The Night Air' on Radio National, 'All the Best' on FBI Radio and 'Final Draft' on 2SER FM. She is Audio Producer for Cordite Poetry Review.

Ann Vickery is the author of Devious Intimacy (Hunter, 2015) and The Complete Pocketbook of Swoon (Vagabond Press, 2014). She is also the author of Leaving Lines of Gender: A Feminist Genealogy of Language Writing (Wesleyan University Press, 2000) and Stressing the Modern: Cultural Politics in Australian Women’s Poetry (Salt, 2007). She is co-editor with John Hawke of Poetry and the Trace (Puncher & Wattmann, 2013) and co-editor with Margaret Henderson of Manifesting Australian Literary Feminisms: Nexus and Faultlines (Australian Literary Studies, 2009). Ann was editor-in-chief of HOW2 and is poetry editor of Puncher & Wattmann. She is a Senior Lecturer in Literary Studies at Deakin University and lives in Melbourne

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

      You are invited to celebrate
      two new poetry collections
      from Vagabond Press


      with readings from

      Astrid Lorange
      Toby Fitch
      Ken Bolton
      Pam Brown

       Ms of Ceremonies - Melissa Swann

      Saturday 14th April

      Parkview Hotel
      corner Mitchell Road & Harley Street

      everyone welcome

      Click here for Vagabond Press

       How to get to Parkview Hotel
       Mitchell & Harley, Alexandria
       transport & map click here

About Starting At Basheer's :
Starting At Basheer’s shows a determined ‘tightening up’ of the language and sentiment brought to writing and thinking: the book responds to growing tensions and growing animosities felt in Australian society: bleakly reductivist withdrawals of sympathy, and of automatic goodwill, are tested, examined and worked around. Still, the poems remain open to playfulness & aesthetic opportunism, which is good—so, jokes, rapid shifts of direction and attention, allusions to popular culture and to literature and the visual arts. Characteristically the poems think through experiences, issues, social, ethical and aesthetic problems, using the lens of the everyday. And, here's a plus, at the same time they refuse to preclude any one register—high, low, or middling, the casual or the seriously proposed, the specialist or the amateur. At all times the ‘Self’, the ‘citizen, is weighed and judged in the light of the imagined Other.

A loony tune, something of a zany, a yo-yo with money, Ken Bolton has been variously described. In truth, he is a curious figure— irascible, intemperate, vituperative, yet devoted, apparently, to an idea of 'the Beautiful', as somehow defined. Lord David Cecil held him to be 'the Hulk Hogan des nos jours' — and found in him 'a Pol Pot, perhaps the very Pol Pot, of the aesthetic.' Bolton has published many books, the most recent published in 2017 - Lonnie's Lament (Wakefield Press) and Species of Spaces (Shearsman Books).

About Click here for what we do :
Click here for what we do is a cluster of four loosely connected poems that are not only sceptical of the status quo's serial mendacities and hype but, in a way, they also attempt a coming to terms with the erosion of the idealistic conditions that once made non-mainstream culture, including poetry, so viable and, even, necessary. For Pam writing poetry is a habit, a disorganised ritual. Her poetic inventories begin in everyday bricolage. Real things interrupt the poems the same way thoughts and phrases do. She dismantles monumental intent and then, by mixing (rather than layering), splices the remains into a melange of imagery and thoughtful lyric. Hers is a friendly intelligence that clues in connections to the 'social' as the poems make political and personal associative links. Spurning any lofty design these poems debug the absurdities of contemporary materialism with surreptitious humour. Though disquiet is present it's usually temporary. Here, thinking about the future can be 'trickgensteinian' and yet the poems also offer a circumspect optimism.

Pam Brown's many books of poetry include Text thing, Authentic Local, Dear Deliria, Home by Dark and Missing up (the latter published by Vagabond Press in 2015). Pam, a dedicated amateur, has earned a living in a range of occupations. She has been writing, collaborating, editing and publishing in diverse modes both locally and internationally for over four decades. Over the years she has moved around - living at various times in several towns and cities - but has always returned to live in the perpetually reconstructing city of Sydney.

About the friends reading at the launch party -
Astrid Lorange is a poet, writer and teacher from Sydney. She is the author of Eating and Speaking (Tea Party Republicans Press, 2011), 'How Reading Is Written - A Brief Index To Gertrude Stein' (Wesleyan Univ Press, 2014) and Ex (SOdpress, 2016). Download or read Ex here. Astrid also writes critical articles and essays and lectures in art theory at UNSW Art & Design.

Toby Fitch is the author of Rawshock (Puncher & Wattmann 2012), which won the Grace Leven Prize for Poetry, Jerilderies (Vagabond 2014), The Bloomin’ Notions of Other & Beau (Vagabond 2016), Undulating Cloud Sonnet (SOdpress, 2017) and The Or Tree, a fictitious recreation of the fictitious poem, ‘The Oak Tree’, by Virginia Woolf’s character Orlando. See the first two chapters here. Based in Sydney, he teaches creative writing, directs the Australian Poets Festival, runs the Sappho Books poetry reading series, and is poetry editor for Overland.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

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

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

Translated into Vietnamese by Quang Hominh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

và Vagabond Press. (

Return to Extras or Pam Brown site

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Adam Aitken
(Vagabond Press, Sydney, 2017)

Launch talk at University of Sydney, 8th September 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the poem ends comically with -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arthur and his Sumatran spider -

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

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

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

Launch talk at University of Sydney, 8th September 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It continues - and this is the processual revelation -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Saturday, September 16, 2017

Elizabeth Allen
(Vagabond Press, Sydney, 2017)

Launch talk at University of Sydney, 8th September 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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