Friday, June 3, 2022

Jane Joritz-Nakagawa's capsule review of Pam Brown’s Endings & Spacings
for The Argotist Online 2021

Endings & Spacings by Pam Brown
Never-Never Books, Sydney 2021

The very prolific Pam Brown has a signature style that she continues in her latest, Endings & Spacings, but each time while maintaining her distinctiveness she comes up with something fresh, new and intriguing. How does she do it? In part I think it is because the world keeps changing and her books reflect the world beyond the reader. In this book people can't sleep and make herb tea in the middle of the night. It seems to be the perfect COVID book-there is a restlessness here, a kind of jazzy improvised feel yet polished. There is a great deal of movement from image to observation, to details then abstractions. The whole thing works very well; I can't seem to get enough of this book-each time I pick it up I find something new and attractive. I feel the world spinning around me as I read this book, like a camera going in a circular motion. Brown is as magnetic witty and smart here as ever as in this excerpt which illustrates how deftly she moves from observations to ideas to reflections to details:

   'cementing a position
          as one of the country's leading researchers
    with the launch of a first book
                      a raft of fellowship and grants'
   `with wry wit    the emperors of the anagram
 invent imaginative formal constraints
                        not decor but credence`
 alright then  got that
               at 4 a m
 - - -  
 white white teeth
       ping perfectionist bleats
 artist talks
 on the lonesome internet
 - - -
 new romantics rusting in the wine bar

 - - -

Every page of Endings and Spacings is a captivating and fun journey into Brown's observations about the world around her and us.

Return to Reviews, or Pam Brown site

Monday, May 9, 2022

Chris Arnold reviews Pam Brown’s Stasis Shuffle
for Australian Book Review 3rd May 2022

Stasis Shuffle by Pam Brown
Hunter Contemporary Australian Poets, $24.95 pb, 107 pp, 9780648848110

What colour is bitcoin?

The reader of Stasis Shuffle is immediately confronted with the collection’s naming convention. Titles of poems and sections are parenthesised, for example, ‘(best before)’, ‘(weevils)’, ‘(& then). More than simple stylisation, this convention suggests that every poem is a fragment, a meander through consciousness. "e first poem, ‘(best before)’, begins ‘liberated / from the drudgery / of usefulness’, a quote from Walter Benjamin. From there, Stasis Shuffle wanders flâneur-style through language, politics, and many different kinds of plant life. The central arc of Stasis Shuffle, however, is its self-consciousness about subjectivity and process. ‘(best before)’ asks ‘is your slowly accreting poem / morphing into a larger cloud yet’? As the collection unfolds, poems begin to comment on themselves and the writing process.

Stasis Shuffle is divided into three sections. The first, ‘(one idea on each dragée)’, roughly does what it says on the tin. The notes explain that a dragée is a hard-shelled confectionery that often has a second purpose. Each poem dwells on a relatively contained locale or time, and thinks through a cluster of connections. ‘(the real)’ considers linguistic connection itself. Its speaker wakes ‘in my / kind of golden / kind of biscuity / actually kind of / bitcoin-coloured pyjamas’ and works toward a Jack Spicer quote from After Lorca, ‘the imagination pictures the real’. The quote comes from Spicer’s letter on the separation and correspondence between poetic images and their referents. As Brown puts it, one ‘can’t / make poems / out of real objects / that’d be sculpture’. This reasoning throws the representation of the pyjamas into question: what colour is bitcoin? It’s a fascinating question about the nature of phenomenal experience in a world saturated by digital media – what colour is “bitcoin”, a currency that only exists in 3D render?

Nouns are unstable in Brown’s poetry. The correspondence between a thing and its name is always under pressure, and punning is a serious game. John Kinsella interviewed Brown in 2003 for Jacket 22, when she spoke about enjoying spelling as a child. Nouns carry an ‘undercurrent of meaning because whatever you spelled, it had a significance for you’. To tinker with spelling and syntax – to produce ambiguity – aligns with deeper questioning of her subject matter. In ‘(canberra drains)’, a ‘blood red & blue / [super] moon’ dates the action to 31 January 2018. The poet takes refuge from barking dogs and humidity in a room with too many clocks. Time and place coalesce as political reds and blues are absent: ‘it’s still / holidays here / progress / is a phantasm’. Progress, here, refers coincidentally to a ferry on the lake, but also to the fact that ‘nobody’s governing / no barking dog / eat barking dog’. This tension is characteristic of Brown’s poetry: the tranquil scene contrasts with a turbulent period of government (or lack thereof ) around Australia’s same-sex marriage plebiscite.

Another tension in Brown’s poetry concerns the lyric. Brown spoke to Kinsella about her practice of ‘undermining the notion of this “important figure”, the author’. Despite an unwillingness to privilege her subjectivity, Brown’s poetry is rooted there. As such, associative thinking speaks to personal questions of value:

acupressure chia seed 
the closest you’ve come 
              to gentrification 
in australia
     it’s all profit & bigotry 
               & weevils

Associations are personal, but they are also connections to bigger, transpersonal issues. Another way that Brown undermines ‘the Author’ is with humour; not taking the self seriously. Stasis Shuffle doesn’t disappoint in this respect: ‘duchess / pops her muesli / on instagram / (we are not / a muesli)’.

For a volume that, according to its back cover, ‘plays with style and form’, much of Stasis Shuffle is recognisably Pam Brown: uniformly short lines, shifting indentation and alignment. The second section, ‘(pressure’s on)’, is different: a series of six double sonnets. Each begins with the same line, ‘memory seafoam’, and spears off in a different direction. The poems are, if the collection’s title poem is to be believed, ‘fake double sonnets, / free-associated / a while ago’. These poems don’t make the thematic or tonal turns one might expect from sonnets. Rather, it’s as if they’re entirely made of turn. They are relatively light, and much of their appeal is their refusal to distinguish between linguistic and political connection.

The eponymous poem ‘(stasis shuffle)’ also lends its name to the final section, and it’s here that the collection comes together. Brown’s rhizome spreads wide, and these final poems explore tensions in relationality and process. Correspondences and relationships generate energy: a long passage is dedicated to Amelia Dale, ‘whose strategy is to retire / from poetry’. Dale’s performances are hilarious, but they are also thoughtful reflections on authorship and performance – a good fit for Brown’s poetics. Community has its disappointing side, too, as ‘at the reading / everyone / seemed to be under pressure / to be experimental [...] I realised / there’s nothing funny / about comedy / that misery can’t cure’.

‘(stasis shuffle)’s melancholy tone simmers through the collection. Stasis Shuffle works with fatigue: the poet persistently wakes groggy, feels alone, suffers mondayitis. It’s a tribute to the sheer torque of Brown’s language that fatigue is never boring. If Pam Brown is suffering Covid fatigue, Stasis Shuffle doesn’t show it. This is a lively, sharp, and entertaining collection from a veteran poet who has mastered her craft.

Return to Reviews, or Pam Brown site

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Toby Fitch's Slightly Impromptu Launch Speech for Pam Brown’s Stasis Shuffle
at AVANT GAGA #51, Sappho Books, Glebe, Sydney. 14 Dec 2021

Welcome back to the book launch part of the night. No one was invited to give a launch speech, partly because this event is less of an analytical space and more a performative one, and I wasn’t invited to either because I’m sure Pam didn’t want to impose, but I’m going to say a few words anyway to give this excellent book, Stasis Shuffle, a polite nudge into the world …

Pam Brown is an adept, probably the best in Australia, at writing poetry using very subtle surface effects. Accumulating observations, found language, punning, and self-conscious questioning, building each poem fragment upon fragment, she is able to critique a vast array of things, across politics and culture, including, most centrally in my opinion, how we see and interpret the real. The opening poem of the book, ‘(best before)’, in one of its fragments, alludes to this poetic process:


question is -

   is your slowly accreting poem
morphing into a larger cloud yet -

  a major poem
         ghosting in to sydney
    past the heads,
making its way to ashfield
            darker & darker
 birds swirling around in it -
              rubbish & debris
full of menace & meaning?

(what to answer -
         I wish?)

It’s difficult to say what any one Pam Brown poem is about, because they are always about lots of things, as the best poetry is. Their multiple meanings are found in the rubbish and debris of each poem, as she undercuts the inclination of poems and poets to be deemed “major”, preferring a much more “interesting” poetics of the minor, the fragmentary, and the “slowly accreting”. Once you “get” how a Pam Brown poem operates laterally, you start to see the “darker & darker / birds swirling around in it / … full of menace & meaning”.

To give you an idea of her use of form, Stasis Shuffle is in three parts, each with their own titles, titles that are thematic but that also work as metacommentary. The middle section, called ‘pressure’s on’, is the most formal of the book with its 6 thin double sonnets across 6 pages, which are cleverly disjunctive and pressurised in their use of bricolage and the restrictions of the sonnet form, restrictions that she also manages to elude by doubling the sonnet form to 28 lines. This light middle section acts as a neat divider between the first and third sections, which are each full of poems in Pam’s more signature accretive, fragmentary, discursive late style.

The first section is titled ‘one idea on each dragée’, a dragée being “a bite-sized form of confectionary with a hard outer shell—often used for another purpose in addition to consumption”. And here they are being used for another purpose: we have another metaphor for what’s going on in the poems, each fragment becomes a dragée, a morsel, that you can savour, turn over in your mouth-brain. Or, with the poems becoming bags-full of dragées, you can, like I did, binge on the lot all at once. But of course Pam’s dragées are not all sweet—she eschews all those cloying narrative and lyric conventions, preferring sardonic asides and ruminations: “whatever happens / don’t read me / any rumi poems / at my sick bed”.

The final section is the title section of the book, Stasis Shuffle, a title that alludes to the pandemic, isolation, the congealing of thought and body under various restrictions both local and global, contemporaneous and of a lifetime. The title also alludes to the urge or desire to move, to shuffle, within such restrictions. And so the book, while being about many things, is definitely concerned with living and observing and experiencing time. And time has been particularly discombobulated since the beginning of 2020. So, as ever, with Pam’s work, her timing is up to the minute.

To finish, I thought I’d read all the little dragées from the book that concern time. I read the book from woe to go, picking out all such instances and accreting them, in order of appearance, into a kind of index poem about time in Stasis Shuffle. It’s called

Nostalgic Block
(a supercut of all mentions of time in Pam Brown’s Stasis Shuffle)

my body will know what to do with the vaccine in two weeks’ time
warm winter night all wrong I borrowed history I’ve been to 1981
autumn started in the dark finally got you to sleep around 4 a m
by late morning you’re lying in a park the other side of the equinox
it’s maundy thursday morning not monday thursday morning
mournful maundy a shadow showing the time before quantum physics
brought telepathy to imagery that time you licked a saltbush
next time quantum physics might try different senses
it’s spooky knowing how it ends in advance goodbye january
too soon in the night blood red and blue moon coming much later
in the early hours five gadgets in this room display the time
the city’s lake fountain turned off every day before 11 & after 2
across some years it’s sIll holidays here progress is a phantasm
in full bloom illusion you spent ages learning to love
life’s more fun when you don’t know what the hell you’re doing
coming down with mondayitis as soon as tomorrow
so the apparent stability of the everyday isn’t actual, right?
it’s summer solstice it gets late early walking back around ten thirty
talking to yourself all the way in the dark seen any lately?
suddenly collected by a rogue wave trapped in an air bubble
woke up face down watching time dribble down the wall
as we stretch together into a timeless misery delay’s okay
the bus meanders arriving late in another city of spare parts
it’s happy new year again seven months since january
twenty-something years since that time in paris meanwhile
an instant harmony on imaginary pavements one year’ll be great
the next year you’ll have to travel through and then slam the door
on external memory is this 2003 again
memory seafoam
memory seafoam
take your time
saving daylight
memory seafoam
nostalgic block
memory seafoam
time & continuity
memory seafoam
memory seafoam
this is the way the portal works
prime time’s grotesque flash back july is the psycho month
keeps on aching telescopic nightlight robbery this afternoon
I shuffle in my room’s stasis from flux until sunrise a while ago
the other night at the reading everyone seemed under pressure
last week a friend recommended ‘aesthetic trauma’
                                             happy xmas suckas!
the sustained breath of time shared & ceremony invoked etcetera
cultural becoming anticipates futures inscribed in the present
& counters what we mean when we mean ‘pastime’
a myth machine retronymical everything’s different now
you bluesky the content & short lines get you
to the next day evolution leads to

Return to Reviews, or Pam Brown site

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Endings & Spacings

   fragmented poems from the lost months
   between the summers of 2019 and 2021
   what's 'summer'? a climate anachronism


   parts of the poems
   emanated from
   a nocturnal space
   not always 'at night'


   presented together -
   some underthinking
   a series of contingencies
   a small event -
   an uneven booklet
   endings & spacings


            photo by pb - road crosses - west perth 2019

Friday, August 6, 2021

Required reading

across the fly screen
	                   insects & I
           chase the breeze
as the big day shrinks
                   the cool is coming on

the book is sitting there,
                      its blue cover
with the tea towel's orange,

they've had their
the fading teatowel, 
          the book of poems   
      & re-translated

an aesthetics of the surface
                    sliding towards
      evening,     only one language
spoken here
 fructose to coma -
            undissolved granules
   in a grubby glass
                on the table top

the poems say
               than I want them to,
no clarity really,       can't decide
          which way to read them

everything left
                      as it is,
       the fridge compressor 

      Pam Brown  -   from Missing up (Vagabond Press 2015)

Sunday, July 19, 2020

VLAK Magazine, Issue 5, 2015

click to enlarge

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VLAK Magazine, Issue 3, 2012

click to enlarge

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