poems, abnormality, puppetry & reviews

What do those four words have in common?  In the best blogging tradition – me. 

October’s been a huge month.  I’ve been adjusting to a new job, ten hours a week (2.5 hrs x 4 days) at a medical library.  Plus, planning and preparing for the tour of the Australian Poetry Omnibus Mobile Library – which included a trip up the Maldon Folk Festival (a fantastic, vibrant, daggy, rain-enduring festival).  And I’ve also been preparing my application for Masters of Arts (Creative Writing) at the University of Melbourne.  If the door’s open (and if there’s a pile of scholarship money awaiting), I’ll be researching and writing about how unusual/abnormal bodies make themselves known through contemporary poetry.  Any thoughts on this topic would be hugely appreciated – from any angle – theoretical, poetic, personal, political, etc…

This week – I’m performing at La Mama Theatre in Carlton – that wonderful, iconic, intimate theatre venue.  They do a series of short seasons for experimental works-in-progress called “Explorations“.  I’m performing an adaptation of my poem “9/10/1973 M3”, called “Ambiguous Mirrors” – it’s a puppetry and poetry collaboration with Rachael Wenona Guy.  Details below.  An edited clip of an earlier version is here on You Tube

  • Ambiguous Mirrors (in a double with Home Stretch, by Tom Davies)
  • @ La Mama Theatre, 205 Faraday St Carlton
  • Thursday 11th, Friday 12th & Saturday 13th @ 7.30pm
  • Bookings on-line or on 03 9347 6142.

Also, now that my book “Among the Regulars” has been out for a while…  how does anyone get reviewed?  Is this because reviews are rarely published?  Is it because people write more than they read?  Do we just not have much of a reviewing culture?

thanks to a founding member of the Australian Communist Party

As some of you know, I’ve been, as the euphemism goes, “between jobs”. Nine months after finishing a post-graduate course, I’d lost count of the number of positions I’d applied for, I’d been to about a dozen interviews and been knocked back in many varied polite and complimentary ways. What I’d wanted was to have interesting part-time work that would leave me with enough energy and time to write. All I had so far was time. And, perhaps paradoxically, I wasn’t doing much writing.

I did have something to look forward to, though.  A four-week residency in Perth.

When I arrived at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre, it was dark and one part of me was still in the plane, another still in Melbourne. This clean, simple room was to be my home for four weeks. I went for a walk – found suburban mansions, barking dogs and a rushing freeway. But, with a healthy dose of disorientation making things seem a little super-real, I also started to find my feet, and the start of a first poem.

As time went on, I covered a lot of territory. I walked through quite a chunk of the John Forrest NP, up and down almost all of the surrounding Greenmount suburban streets, around Midland’s shops and bus terminals, through the city in the shadow of cranes, and across the surface of Fremantle, wondering about its depths. I was also (thankyou Mardi!) driven around the Swan Valley, as the sun broke across vines and a still-being-completed Memorial Park for Yagan. I also went a long way while just sitting in my room – language and silence, human and animal, solitude, racism, public transport, parenthood, love, history, and more.

I wrote more poems in the four weeks of the residency than I wrote in the twenty weeks before it. This got me thinking – what is it that makes the difference? In what conditions does creativity flourish? It can’t be purely a question of the amount of time on my hands. It seems to me that it’s a complex cocktail – a blend of elements that is impossible to define precisely. But the most important factors to me seem to be a balance of familiarity and strangeness, home and holiday, stillness and stimulation. Plus, that most invaluable resource, time.

There is never any guarantee, but KSP helped bring these elements together. There is a wide window that draws in the sun, the trees, the flashes of parrots flying past. There’s a kettle for coffee. There’s internet access (to track down secondhand bookshops, plot a public transport journey, do important and trivial research, and stay in touch with home). Just up the hill, in the house, there’s a fantastic library, and a host of friendly and passionate writing groups. And further, in the National Park, the other wisdom of the bush. There’s a comfortable chair. And an occasional gentle, friendly knock at the door. Here is a place founded and maintained on an understanding that writing is a valuable, human, political, communal act – a reminder that writing grows not out of thin air, but in the soil of an encouraging and critical community. I arrived home not just to a new part-time job, but also thoroughly reinvigorated about what people can do with words.

I juggled a hundred elements to make a writing workshop – “writing through the body” – a success.  I spoke and read poems at a Literary Dinner, which was friendlier and more informal and fun than the name might indicate.  And mentored an emerging poet.  Oh, and spent time with some superbly keen writers groups – so down-to-earth they were almost subterranean.

So, thankyou to KSP the Writers Centre, but thankyou to KSP the person – Katharine Susannah Prichard, founding member of the Communist Party of Australia, impassioned novelist, scriptwriter, poet, thinker and doer.

Also, thanks to Janet and team at the Perth Poetry Club.  A great spot to check out the rich poetic grass-roots of Perth.

the words vs sleep equation

Last weekend, I did something foolish.  In the good sense.  As in, something that the rational Andy would have backed out of.

The 24 hr fix: Poetry Play Challenge is a joint initiative of Red Eight Creations and the Australian Poetry Centre.  They select five poets, five directors and ten actors, put them into five teams, and give them 24 hours to brainstorm, write, devise, rehearse and perform a 10-15 minute play.  This year the play was to respond to the theme “Glass Clouds”, the title of Grant Caldwell’s just-released book.

Now, I rarely write outside the 10am to 4pm window.  And I’ve never written a play.  But I need a stretch.  And a stretch it was – the constraint of time, theme, lack of sleep – all added up to mean that when I’d been writing for four or so hours, at 3.30am, I couldn’t tell what I’d done.  Was it any good?  Did it make sense?  Would an actor cringe as my words came out of their mouth?  I woke up at 7am to go to a group meeting wanting to delete some lines, but it was too late!

It’s an exercise in trust and release from ego, really.  You have to give up over-editing.  You have to push through the blank uncertainties, the writer’s disorientation.  And you have to allow your work to be placed into the hands of others.  

As it turned out, “my” play was somewhat abstract and perhaps over-ambitious, but the actors Rachel Taufa and Luci O’Brien (along with director Bronwyn Dunston) took it’s emotional and psychological core, it’s sense of journey, and made something quite haunting.  Thanks, people!

I also have to say I agreed with the Judges’ decision – Elise Hearst‘s piece was a classic, humane, focussed work and deserved to win.  Steve Smart too proved again his skill in fusing pathos and humour.

I can’t say I’m rushing to write at midnight again, but the process was like a drug – euphoric and addictive.  So, if you’re thinking of doing it in 2011, don’t think too much.  Do it.

PS.  I was also very encouraged by the crowd’s welcoming of the judges’ criticisms – we don’t critique in this culture regularly enough, and with enough consideration and clarity.  We (especially I) need more than just encouragement.

launch season 2010 – or, why just do it once?

Earlier this week, I heard the sweet thump of a box of books landing on my doorstep.  So, time to announce the launch of “Among the Regulars”, and also to mention a few other readings I have coming up.

Friday, June 11th @ 5.30pm for a 6pm start – Brunswick Bound Bookstore, 361 Sydney Rd Brunswick.

Hosted by the inimitable Maurice McNamara.  Launched by the inestimable Jennifer Harrison.

If you’re that way inclined, you can find the event (and me) on (de)Facebook!

Other feature readings this year include – 

  • Saturday, June 5th @ 3pm – Word Tree, Burrinja Gallery, Olinda.
  • Monday, June 14th @ 6.30pm, Readings at Readings, Carlton.
  • Saturday, June 19th @ 2.30pm – Dan Poets, Dan O’Connell Hotel, Carlton.
  • Sunday, July 4th @ 3.30pm – EcoCentre, St Kilda Botanical Garden.
  • Monday, July 19th @ 6.15pm – Wheeler Centre, Debut Mondays.
  • Saturday, August 14th – Perth Poetry Club, The Moon, 323 William St, Northbridge, WA.
  • Tuesday, August 17th, 7pm – Literary Dinner at Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre, Greenmount, WA.
  • Last weekend in August – Queensland Poetry Festival, Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, Fortitude Valley, Brisbane.
  • Wednesday, October 27th – Somewhere in Sydney.
  • Tuesday, November 9th – Somewhere in Canberra.

More details as soon as they thump onto my inbox, but for now, here’s the book cover….  If you can’t make these, and you’d like to buy the book, click on the Papertiger link on the right.

Rosebank – “out Cobaw way”

I’m very keen to tell you about the imminent arrival of “Among the regulars”, but for now it’s Rosebank.  I’ve just come back from a 3-week stay at “Rosebank Retreat“, generously granted through the Victorian Writers Centre, Mary Delahunty, the Sidney Myer Fund and Helen Macpherson Smith Trust.  And as the old cliche goes, it’s not a retreat as much as an attack.  The idea being, give a writer a place to stay and very little “real world” commitments, and the writer will write.

Before I tell you if that actually happened, let me give you a few images of the place and the surrounding area…

Rosebank Retreat
If you ride a trailbike through this, there's a lot you won't hear...

 

a curious and talkative local...
Macedon Ranges from the Cobaw State Forest

 

I had no strong plans for what I’d do here.  I wanted to write poems, maybe a dozen if I’m lucky, hopefully at least a handful.  I didn’t have any subjects, ideas, not a single rhyme scheme either.  The plan was to let the plan emerge out of the place, see how it affected me.  If you can put yourself into the photos above, you can guess – while it’s possible, it’s highly unlikely you won’t be refreshed and stimulated being here.  Oh, yeah, and by “here”, I mean between Woodend and Lancefield, not far from Hanging Rock.  Or, as we were told by someone at the nearest (8 kms away) General Store, “out Cobaw way”.

It may be way too early to talk about the quality of what I’ve written up there, but I did come out of it with a lot – something approximating the quantity of work I’d hoped for, but two other things happened.

I learnt more about how to work with my own creative energy – took breaks when I needed to, observed how my moods affected my writing, and above all, was reminded of “the power of the walk”.  Every time, without fail, if I went for a walk, some small or large poetic problem would be solved, especially if I wasn’t deliberately trying to solve it.

I also took on some new approaches.  More of that another time.

Big thanks go to George Dunford, novelist, travel writer and The Wire afficianado.  We shared Rosebank, and he gave me space when I had that “I’m getting creative” body-language, and we filled the evenings with food and drink and audio books (yes, believe it or not) and numerous in-jokes.

If you get a chance to spend time at Rosebank, do so.  Bring all your writing tools and something to take your mind off the writing too.  And remember that when you come back into the “big smoke”, you’ll feel a little weird, and you’ll miss the echidna, the kangaroos, the cows, the rosellas, the rusted old farming equipment, the wind shivering over the hills, the open spaces of the day…  and you’ll have to work out for yourself how to re-create little miniature retreats in your everyday life.

the future is somewhere

2010 is not the end of the world, nor is 2012.  Though I have no idea what it will entail for any of us, let alone me.  What I do know is that I’ve been offered two splendid residencies – one at Rosebank Retreat just near Macedon (an hour north of Melbourne) – http://www.http://vwc.org.au/services/rosebank-retreat – and the other at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre in the Perth Hills (see the blogroll for link).  Looking forward to both, and hoping that any pesky hurdles don’t suddenly lunge in between me and them.

So, this is just a tiny update.  I’ve added a few useful links at the bottom right blogroll (he says, wincing at the name…) – I’d recommend checking Adam Ford’s blog each week for answers to the question “Why do you write poetry?”.

Home > Poetry > News

Finally. How long has it been since my last confused and bemused post on returning to the grey streets of Melbourne? Too long. So, of course, there’s a bit of an unhealthy build-up of news. I myself don’t like to read long tracts of text on the internet, so I’ll try not to afflict you too much with the blowing of my own trumpet.

Before that, a few reading recommendations.  First, Robert Pinsky’s deceptively deep and broad short book, written in reflecting on the impact of the USA’s Favourite Poem Project, Democracy, Culture and the Voice of Poetry.  Pinsky has a lot of intelligent things to say about exactly what it is that poetry is and does, in distinction to other artforms, but especially in its unique role in the culture, its ability to reconcile the individual and communal.  Read it.

I’d also say hunt down, at any cost, the poetry of Eunice De Souza.  A wise, courageous, precise poet from Pune, India, who I read in an Oxford anthology while I was in India.

And, go and see Kafka’s Monkey at the Malthouse.  A provocative, multi-layered allegory, performed in stunning physicality by Kathryn Hunter.  If you want it reduced, it’s about the process and cost of becoming human.

OK, so now me.  I’ve just come back from the Woorilla Poetry Prize.  Congratulations Bob Morrow on winning.  I carried away the runner-up certificate, but also the glow of being in good company.  Kevin Gillam had two poems commended (Hi, Kevin, if you’re out there!).

The other thing that’s just arrived this week is confirmation of the Australian Poetry Centre’s Cafe Poet in Residence program.  It’s extended to (now) five of us in Melbourne.  After A Minor Place in Brunswick mysteriously baulked, I approached a little joint on Albert St, La Paloma.  Actually, perhaps I shouldn’t say who they are.  They’re not interested in publicity.  It’s a lowwcal place for lowwcal people…  Great coffee, and a place to sit regularly and write, and watch, and write, and listen, and be…  Thankyou APC.  Check out http://www.australianpoetrycentre.org.au/?page_id=379 or http://www.facebook.com/pages/Cafe-Poets/6899549657 for more.

I also won the Rosemary Dobson Prize for an unpublished poem, for Secessionist. http://www.arts.act.gov.au/pages/images/Secessionist.pdf

Oh, please, that’s enough!… 😉

post-India post

Before I reminisce and debrief myself, I’ve put up a few photos – go back to the individual pages, and you’ll see photos on most of them…

India leaves me with distinctly Kolkatan memories.  Rachael is leaving a day before me, so we take a taxi out to the airport, organised by where we’re staying – the Sunflower Guest House.  They load her luggage into the boot, then realise they have a flat tyre, so immediately set to swapping it with their spare.  Lungi-ed men stagger up to the car to watch and scratch themselves.  Nearby, a hjira propositions a truck-driver.  Piles of rubbish burn.  On the way back from the airport, 2 am, the taxi stops at a mechanic to get the flat tyre repaired.  Ah, India.  Maddening and wonderful.

Kolkata International Terminal is hilariously slapdash – it has a strong 1960’s vibe to it, there are very little actual counters and signs, there are I think four shops…  The local terminal is much more equipped and welcoming.  Even the pre-paid taxi sign is more obvious.  Intriguing.  Makes you wonder if Kolkata expects any visitors.

After waking up at 6am in Ali and Penny’s loungeroom in Dubai (thankyou so much – it was a superb stopover), I packed myself into a smooth, air-conditioned, conversationless Emirates taxi, then into a smooth, air-conditioned, conversationless Emirates airplane – for around sixteen hours of limbo.  The land around Melbourne is yellow from a harsh summer.  The light is yellow, somehow more open, broad.  As the plane lands, burly airport workers punch each other playfully.  At customs, a peroxide-mulleted woman shouts in her best “Kath & Kim” accent to a man filling out his declarations form at the front of a queue, “yous carn’t fill that out thayre, sur!! You’ll haf ta go over thayre!!”.

Walking around Melbourne with India still in my body is strange.  Everyone seems slower, fatter, bigger, more cumbersome and clumsy, yet also self-consciously “cool”.  I ride a tram and there is only one conversation happening; the others strain to surreptitiously listen in, keen to somehow assuage their boredom and detachment.  The streets are impeccably clean.  There are footpaths.  It’s windy and cold.  Lunch at an organic cafe costs as much as a double room at Hotel Derby, Puri.

It was definitely time to come home, and being in India reminded me of how Australian I am, how it is in my bones and muscle.  But I don’t feel I’m at home.  I feel alienated.  It’s as if I slipped into another time entirely, and have slipped back in to Melbourne and nothing’s changed.  I go straight back to my RMIT course, our home in Coburg, our bills in Coburg, and because I’m sick (a throat cold from someone on the plane, I think; how ironic!) I’m spending my time indoors and lethargic.  Maybe my soul is still lost in transit, circling some lonely baggage carousel somewhere.  I’m sure it will catch up with me someday soon…

So, was India what I’d hoped, expected, planned?  No.  It’s completely confounding and astounding.  It has its own agendas and energies, which force you to accommodate to it.  I’d wanted to go to the International Poetry Festival in Kolkata, but we got stuck in the West Bengal Hills.  I’d wanted to meet some friends of friends in Hyderabad, but they were away when we were there.  I’d wanted to go to Varanasi and Bodghaya, but underestimated how huge the country is, how “little” you can fit in in three months.  I’d wanted to find qawwali, but even the Andhra Pradesh Tourism Department don’t know anything about the Deccan Festival.

We did somehow, with only a few days notice, manage to meet up with a lovely Bangalore-based writer, Anjum Hasan.  Her poetry is evocative, lyrical and restrained, quite beautiful.  We had a very civilized dinner at the Jayamahal Palace with her and her partner Zac, talked about the arts and literature scene in India and Australia, cultural nuances and annoyances.

Would I go back?  Yes.  Not yet, but hopefully soon.  Next time, I’ll plan in advance, get some solid contacts, base myself in one place, do less trekking.  India reminds me of the luck of birth, how our futures are shaped so much by where we’re born.  Being born into my life, I have the mind and sometimes the financial ability to travel.  I’ve caught the bug, I think.  Who knows what it will do to me!

proximity

Why proximity? Well, apart from the mellifluous sound of the word, it rather understatedly describes the toy train from Darjeeling to Kurseong and it’s scenery.

Last time I talked about Darjeeling and it’s undeniable cliche-factor.  Well, I went one up – the toy train.  I booked a 1st class seat because I wanted to make sure I got not just a seat but a window.  I am so glad I did.  144 rupees is a bargain in my book.  It’s a three hour trip, slow and meandering down the mountainside, past sublimely breathtaking scenery.  Dramatic plunges of hills, snow-draped Himalayas, lush fernery, roadside temples and prayer flags, shops and houses literally inches away – yes, inches – there were tree branches being snapped off and falling into my lap.  I have footage (thankyou Norman, the camera is superb!).  It made me giddy like a schoolboy, I am not ashamed to admit.  The carriage itself is just three seats and an aisle wide, with detailed pressed-tin inlay ceilings and rickety fixtures.  We all have our windows open and our beanies and scarves on tight.

yes, this is how close the toy train comes
yes, this is how close the toy train comes

That’s it for this post.  I’m in a beautiful small town called Mirik, but it has dreadfully unreliable internet access.  Next time, the run-down on my time in Kurseong – the prison-cell-like hotel room, the aggressively friendly local improv tour-guide, monkeys, and more (really?!) mountain views!

The one other thing I’ll just slip in is that I’ve really felt poetry starting to come out so cleanly and freely recently.  At first, the words were frozen in a kind of shock, I guess.  India is, in a way, indescribable.  Not in an “Incredible India” tourism campaign type way, but just monumentally complex and confounding, full of facets that you just don’t expect to harmonise, but of course they do.  Anyway, I’m beginning to write more, make attempts to approach the indescribable….  a bit like this, but with line breaks, and able to be shaped into ghazals!

Oh, yeah, and Merry Xmas, internet people!  Today, I strolled around two Hindu temples, one on a tiny island in the middle of a lake, and felt a tear of uncanny sublime resonance lodge in my chest….  and later, gorged myself on mushroom butter masala, an 8% Sikkimese beer called “He-Man”, and assorted mithai!

So, now I’ve joined them…

Who’d have thought I’d be writing a blog.  I’ve already broken a few of the rules, though, having edited and re-typed my first entry.  Will I learn?  Who knows?

Two short things – 1) I’ve just handed in my last assignment for the Graduate Diploma in Information Management, aka Aversion Therapy for Apprentice Librarians.  I feel like my brain has cramp.  Poetry feels a long way away.

2) I am 24 days away from flapping my skinny wings and making my way towards Kolkata, India.  This blog will be serve as some kind of pseudo-documentation/virtual postcards/indulgence…  At the moment, I’m too busy feeling flat to get very excited, but I know I will be soon.