Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Andrew Burke reviews Pam Brown’s
‘click here for what we do’

Southerly | 6 Nov, 2018 | Long Paddock |

One can only write if one arrives at the instant towards which one can only move through space opened up by the movement of writing.                         Maurice Blanchot

Two books sit on my desk with my favourite pages marked like kite feathers: Pam Brown’s click here for what we do and Ken Bolton’s Starting At Basheer’s, both published by VAGABOND PRESS in 2018.

These two poets have been publishing through many different publishers at regular intervals since the Sixties [Seventies], both with titles numbering [if pamphlets & chapbooks are included] in their twenties. The world around them has changed markedly and yet their creative personalities still shine through these new collections as it did in yesteryear. And their secondary creators in this creative stream are their readers – an ever expanding coterie who delight in the seeming simplicity of these pages and enjoy the cumulative effect of their collections one after the other. They write in the moment without conclusion in mind.

‘The means is as much part of the truth as the result … the true quest is the unfurling of a truth whose different parts combine in the truth.’ Karl Marx (quoted in Georges Perec’s THINGS: A Story of the Sixties)

Pam Brown’s title – click here for what we do – is illustrative of her use of today’s language and her sense of humour. The ‘here’ is highlighted as if you could get into the text by pressing it. With a smile I’m tempted to try it. And the ‘we’ is plural – maybe speaking for contemporary poets? And readers? Or simply her urban colloquial clique (including Ken Bolton)?

Pamela Brown was born in Victoria, grew up in Queensland and now lives in Sydney.

I have read many of Brown’s collections: over 20 since her first publication in 1971, including French, Italian, Irish and Vietnamese editions. The advances I notice here are not so much content – her everyday world, including world news and the local arts and environment– but the sharpening of her style. Example: as she reads an essayist:   

muttering irritations

irritated by the essayist -

I'd say 'second last'                       
               rather than 'penultimate'
 maybe 'brokered' or, even, 'supervised'
                         for 'proctored'
(context depending)

             (when did ‘proctoring’ begin?)

      I don't like the 'pur' in 'purview'
                 - 'scope' would be fine -
        there are
    lots of these -

 oh well            my slip of flair
       (ipse dixit)
                    it's a style thing
             from 'Left Wondering'

Here we are focused sharply on language, down to the syllables themselves.

Reading her intimate musings is highly entertaining, as are the various registers of her language, all enriched by narrative streams as cross currents in the journal-like entries. At one stage Brown is …

saving for a spoiler
& sheer line 
    panel design
cool rooms
       to make the money

It follows on from this a page before –

sold to a wrecker
   for a speck
   carless in car city

Robert Graves said, a long time ago, that there’s ‘no money in poetry’ – so like many Australian poets not caught up in academic limitations, Pam Brown has had many jobs, from teaching English in Vietnam to stacking shelves in supermarkets. All these life experiences have found their way into her poems, delighting readers with many environments (exotic and local) and a gallery of characters. Illuminating little snatches of autobiography are woven in to the fabric of this rich language, with allusions to all avenues of culture – television, film, literature and alternative music.

Here she personalises her reaction to a TV documentary on Chomsky, a contemporary American linguist, and philosopher –

documentary –
  the teabag tag
  jiggler dangling
Noam Chomsky’s


Brown’s understandable language sings in a gentle way about life – its many moods, its paradoxes and surprises – people’s actions, her reactions.

The best definition of her poetic comes from an interview published by International Poetry Web in 2011:
‘I hope to ‘BE poetic’ without being ‘rarefied’; that is, to say what I mean rather than obfuscate with some over-embellished line or phrase. I expect a critical engagement that even while using apparently fairly straightforward words, doesn’t exclude language play or surprising, unexpected use of language, or, say, the elision of odd and exciting concepts and images, and digressions from the general drift in a poem. I guess, like my early influence, Mayakovsky, I’m not ‘TIED’ to it but I can’t deny that the poetic is very much a part of social and cultural critique.’ * (Quoted from

There are not many collections of poetry that echo in today’s supermarket aisles, but Brown’s lines leapt out at me as I shopped yesterday afternoon:

lonely bowl 
of tom yum goong

makes your life

steepening chicken
with spicy slaw

steamy     yet

Depending on the order in which it is put/read, the previous verse can be seen as a great metaphor or a jump-cut narrative: I read it as consecutively both. This is one of the ‘poetic’ tricks in Brown’s toolbox.

Lou Reed’s song ‘Some Kinda Love’ has a pertinent lyric: “between thought and expression lies a lifetime.”

I can see Brown smile as she edits, adding little witticisms to spice the text:

there’s a saying in russia –
     the past
     is unpredictable

click here for what we do displays such moments of laughter, moments of joy and sorrow, and flashes of experience mixed with unpretentious intellectual asides – it’s a rich and lively collection , poetic without stylistic scaffolding and poetic flourishes. It is a further Brown gallery of wit and life, extending a 47 year writing career.

[...] annotations in blue are by Pam Brown who, although writing poems, was still in high school in the mid-late 1960s.
Pam Brown has never worked as a shelf stacker in a supermarket - the situation in the poem is imagined...