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