Monthly Archives: December 2008

New Year/New Poem – Queen Street

What are you up to this New Year? Check out what is happening in downtown New York… Now that is one hell of a way to celebrate the New Year!

http://www.poetryproject.com/calendar.php

So until 2009, here is a new poem, my last for 2008.

Happy celebrating!

 

Queen Street

The woman in the ragged
straw hat at the top end

of Queen Street, squints
over the crowd, no longer

in hope of reunion. Her
grandson, in white shirt

and blue jeans, still
believes the world he maps

out in chalk will survive
the galloping tides.

As sunset and street-
lights, colour the horizon

she dips her brush in
the rush of people

sends them crashing
over the canvas edge.

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3 haiku

lone goat
the paddock
eaten tidy

 
 
 
                                  deep river
                                  six black stones sink
                                  the unwanted litter
 
 

 

 
                                                                    waving goodbye
                                                                    last leaves
                                                                    on the willow

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Jumping the Poetic Hurdle (part 2)

The first article generated some interesting discussion around the idea of collaboration and the ‘poetry reading’ as a way of connecting with audiences and breaking down the publication barrier. This brought to mind a quote by Les Murray:

“The public reading is the real hope of poetry at the moment. Far more people will come to a reading than will buy a poetry book. Gathering warm bodies for a public reading doesn’t automatically translate into more people heading to a bookstore or poring over poems on their own time. And of course, if a poem is ill-presented—as so many so often are, since a majority of poets either act as if they’re encountering their own poems for the first time, or else histrionically wring every atom of significance from them—potential book-buyers can be driven away from poems that work wonderfully on the page.”

taken from the article, The Peril of the Poetry Reading by David Groff (http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/5913)

This, as Groff points out, is at once a double edged sword, as on one hand, Murray praises the poetry reading as the real hope of poetry and on the other, outlines the risks associated with a poor reading.

In the coming weeks I will be talking with several poets who have had success both on and off the page about poetry and the spoken word and whether there is a line that separates them.

Until then, let’s consider this… if conversation is what humanises the world, is it not the responsibility of the poet to bring poetry back to the public sphere in its spoken form to increase the visibility and audibility of all manner of dissenting ideas about poetry?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

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Lost Shark Interview #1 – Sean M. Whelan

sean-m-whelan

Woodford Folk Festival is just days away and one of this year’s featured acts is Melbourne artist, Sean M. Whelan. This Lost Shark took some time to have a chat to Sean about his last shows with The Mime Set, Spoken Word and his plans for 2009.

Spoken Word is one of those terms that encompasses an incredibly diverse range of styles. Where do you think your work with The Mime Set fits?

I hope it doesn’t fit anywhere too comfortably.  There are slight elements of theatre involved in our shows, but mostly it’s about the music scoring the spoken element. It’s pretty carefully constructed. A lot of attention is provided towards creating spaces for the words to breathe in. I’ve always been a bit frustrated whenever I’ve seen poetry and music together and the music is drowning the vocal. I figure music already has it’s natural voice, but when you can’t discern the words of a poet then that voice is diluted. Everybody in The Mime Set had a real intuitive feel for it all. As a poet I hate to deliver such a pun bomb, but… we were definitely on the same page. Ouch.

I don’t think much about spoken word in terms of different schools. It’s never a healthy act to get into the whole comparisons thing anyway. I’ve certainly enjoyed the results The Mime Set and I produced when we stepped into a rehearsal room together. It wasn’t always an easy process, rehearsal rooms sometimes had stormy skies, but whenever something good is at stake, there’s some risks involved.
 

What can an audience expect at your shows?

I hope a damn good hour or so of their lives. We’ve had such wonderful, generous and warm audiences over these past few years. They’re the moments that are why I love performing. When a kind of river opens up between you and the audience. It sounds kind of airy-fairy new age mumbo but for me it’s often the difference between a good and bad show. I think maybe I’m overly sensitive to the mood of an audience, I certainly have a hard time having fun on stage if the audience isn’t. I’m not suggesting one should pander but if you don’t have any feelings at all for an audience then I can’t work out why you would want to step onto a stage in the first place.
 

These are the last shows you will perform with the band. How are you all feeling about this journey ending?

There have certainly been moments of deep sadness about it but that’s grasping onto the past. Mostly I feel completely blessed, blessed to have been involved with such talented and incredibly good looking musicians. We toured, we worked hard putting on good shows, we did it all off our own bat and we fucking loved every minute of it, yes, even the bad minutes.

Sam Wareing, Andrew Watson, Justin Avery, Jonathan Shannon and Chris Chapple; I salute you. I also strongly salute our special guests Bec Armstrong, David Cox and Emilie Zoey Baker.
 
Do you have plans to continue collaborating with musicians?

Most definitely. I’ll be working with members of the The Mime Set again. It’s not something I’m even thinking about until next year, but I have no plans to stop working with musicians. All of my most rewarding experiences in literature have been through collaborations. There’s no reason why I would want to stop doing it. What I really want to do is develop it further. I was also involved in a collaborative show this year at the Melbourne Writers Festival called Static. This was with writers alicia sometimes and Nathan Curnow. Also director Kieran Carroll and Quinn Stacpoole. That was an amazingly rewarding experience. The show was specially commissioned by the good folk at Going Down Swinging. And we’d all like to develop that show further next year and possibly tour it too.

Jonathan Galassi, President of the American Academy of Poets referred to spoken word poetry as a “kind of karaoke of the written word.” Legendary poet Amiri Baraka has also been outspoken about the spoken word movement, despite his ties to the Nuyorican Poets Cafe: “I don’t have much use for them because they make the poetry a carnival … They will do to the poetry movement what they did to rap: give it a quick shot in the butt and elevate it to commercial showiness, emphasizing the most backward elements.” What is your take on this?
 
Well let me say first the last thing I want to get into is a slinging match with the President of the American Academy of poets! Military action might be taken! (Joking! Guys I’m joking really.) Humour is difficult in print sometimes isn’t it?
I digress.  I’m not interested in getting onto platforms and defending the virtues of spoken word. For many reasons really. I don’t identify myself as a champion of spoken word because it’s only one of many things I do. There’s also the printed work, photography, plays, novel writing (it’s coming! it’s coming!). Also spoken Word is exactly the same as every other art form you care to mention. There’s the most undescribabely precious jewels at the top of the mountain and a river of shit flowing through the valley below. With all the extremes inbetween. And just like every other art form when you really find the jewels, the chase is definitely worth it. I feel so blessed to be able to enjoy the pleasures of seeing my name in print and touching the paper it lands upon and also being able to personally deliver those same words to a room full of people. Especially work that is memorised. I’ll always be in debt to the wonderful NY poet Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz who really pushed me into getting off the page. It’s an incredibly liberating act for a writer to read their work from memory.  And to be swaying on stage with a bunch of beautiful people all plugged into the same electrical socket that you are is a special kind of bliss.
 
You also often perform in solo mode. How does your work differ without the band?

It’s certainly different. I wouldn’t rate one as better than the other. Just different. If I’m coming off doing The Mime Set shows then it can feel a little naked. But performing solo is what I do most. There’s so much involved in putting the music shows on. It still goes back to what I said before about establishing a link between you and the audience. The same rules apply. The advantage of the music shows is that you can perform a lot longer. It’s difficult to do a dry reading longer than 20 minutes.

What’s on the horizon in 2009?

Plenty! Firstly a tour of Canada and the United States. With Emilie Zoey Baker, alicia sometimes and Justin Ashworth. We’ve all been specially invited to perform at the Festival Voix d’Amériques in Montreal. A festival specially dedicated to spoken word, it runs from the 6th to the 13th Feb. We also have more shows in Ottawa, Vancouver and Toronto. After that there’s shows at The Bowery in New York and The Green Mill in Chicago, the birthplace of slam poetry. So that’s pretty damn exciting.

When I get back from the tour I have plenty of other projects to sink my teeth into. Shannon Ryun, a film maker from Brisbane is making a short film based on one of my poems. I also look forward to working more with Beck Wheeler, an incredible illustrator from Melbourne who has produced many works based on my poems. We are looking at releasing a book together and some short films too with Neil Sanders. There’s also an ongoing series of readings myself and the Babble crew have been putting on together called Liner Notes. Which are spoken word tributes to iconic albums of our time. The last one we put on was dedicated to AC/DC’s Back in Black album and was an amazing night. I think we’ll look at developing that show more, maybe putting together some kind of compilation CD. One other project I can’t even talk about, it’s so red hot! A trip to Berlin could be on the cards too.

Should be a great year I expect.

 sean-m-whelan-cover-art

Sean’s latest book, Tattooing the Surface of the Moon can be purchased at www.smallchangepress.com.au

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Desert(ed) Island Poems #1 – Ashley Capes

The concept of a Desert Island Disc is something that I have always loved. Which 10 songs would you take to a deserted island? Is it possible to take only 10!?

To take the concept into the world of poetry, this lost shark has asked some of his favourite poets to compile a list of of Desert(ed) Island Poems as a way of having each poet explore what makes a poem sing to them and to share with us the poems that are embedded in their mind, body and spirit.

First up in the series is Melbourne based poet Ashley Capes. So… which 10 poems will be sailing with Ashley to his deserted island?

Marriage – Gregory Corso

On the island, if I needed cheering up I would read Marriage. I first read this some years after getting married and found it highly amusing (though not because my experiences were similar, quite the opposite) but it has a very 1950s America vibe, the fear and the ‘goodness’ Corso is discussing does what good poetry often does – it examines and challenges social norms. And with great wit too.

Read it here: http://www.litkicks.com/Texts/Marriage.html

Hadda Be Playing on a Jukebox – Allen Ginsberg

I seem to enjoy repetition and variation within political or socially aware poetry and Ginsberg was one of the first poets to show me that these two could be combined. While Howl would last me longer on the desert island, Hadda Be Playing on a Jukebox is a little more direct and sets the bitterness and outrage in very familial settings (the kitchen, the basement, the streets, the factories, (workplace) the Mafia etc) and is all the more terrifying for it.

Read it here: http://www.musicfanclubs.org/rage/hadda.html

China – Bob Perelman

There’s so much room for the reader in this one. Every time I read it I can bring something else to the piece. Words, lines and images bounce off each other, bounce off my understandings (or lack thereof). When I looked at China in uni, there wasn’t a single student in the class that gave the same interpretation when asked to discuss it. 

Read it here: http://www.murgatroid.com/china.html

Pas de deux for Lovers – Michael Dransfield

This poem is so delicate, so complete. The language seems to have an echo of the Romantics but lacks pretension. It opens and closes strong. I’d take this to a desert island and feel both homesick and awed.  

Read it here: http://www.angelfire.com/me3/jackispage/lit/dransfield.html

I’d Shoot the Man – Gig Ryan

The words in this poem smoulder on the page. I first read it in a high school literature class and asked the teacher if we could study it. I was fascinated by the use of repetition and the honesty, the ‘lived’ nature of the narrative, and by the way gender was challenged in it. This really showed me that poetry could accomplish much.

Read it here: http://www.austlit.com/a/ryan-gig/doa.html

Clear – Viggo Mortensen

Someone at uni showed me Clear. I read it alone, and when I finished I actually said ‘wow.’ Doesn’t sound like a big deal, but when I thought about this I went back over a lot of work I’d read, and tried to recall what my initial reactions had been. There are very few poems that made me express my appreciation verbally, especially when there was no-one around to discuss it with.

Tyrannus Nix? – Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Although I don’t have what it takes to write good social commentaries, I would keep this on the desert island so I had something to aspire to. If I could be as insightful, cutting and energised as this, I would be pretty pleased. Tyrannus Nix? is impressive too, in the way it reclaims the oral nature of poetry – the poem is written like a letter (or a speech) directly to Nixon, but it’s an open letter for anyone reading it (not just America) and does something to thrust poetry into a public sphere. The poem operates in a political fashion and it’s so effective for it.

This is Just to Say – William Carlos Williams

Simplicity often strikes me – that and openness or accessibility. The purpose of language is to communicate, so I don’t always enjoy a writer attempting to communicate, then clouding meaning by making language opaque. (It could be argued that China is too opaque) I would take This is Just to Say as a reminder for myself, to remain open when I write.

Read it here: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15535

Edge – Sylvia Plath

Revisiting some of the poems I first read in high school to see which ones I still re-read, I remembered Edge. It seems to be one of her most restrained/resigned (language wise) yet evocative poems, especially in regards to the images and the way they’re linked to thoughts and biography.

Read it here: http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/edge/

Watermelons – Charles Simic

In this poem the everyday becomes poetic – as is often the case in the hands of great writers. A clear and resonant image, the poem always makes me smile. And because it bears some similarities to haiku, I thought I would take this to a desert island in one folder, in case I wasn’t allowed to take a separate folder of 10 desert island haiku.

Read it here: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15260

Ashley Capes co-edits www.holland1945.net.au and recently completed studies in Arts and Education at Monash. His work has appeared in a range of Australian print and online publications and his first collection of poetry pollen and the storm was published with the assistance of Small Change Press in 2008.  

Find out more about Ashley and his work at:
 
http://www.mascarapoetry.com
http://www.styluspoetryjournal.com/main/master.asp?id=830
http://bluepepper.blogspot.com/2008/12/new-poetry-by-ashley-capes.html

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Who Listens To The Radio? part 2

Here are three more albums that have got these ears excited in 2008.

Forget the radio!

No One is Holding a Gun to Your Head (Songs To Run To): Bremen Town Musician

Bremen Town Musician are a three-piece experimental folk-blues freak-out. No One is Holding a Gun to Your Head (Songs To Run To) is the second album and charts new sonic territory for the band. This album smoulders, opening with the instrumental tracks Song to Run to and Governor Wren. The introduction of vocals on Steady lifts the intensity again and segues perfectly into Sailor Song; Marissa Allen’s voice bristling above the swirl of violin, drums, guitar/bass. Each song takes on its own character – the ethereal Love; the abrasive Disco Frogs and Shooting Stars Under Midnight; the delicate You Don’t Have To. No One is Holding a Gun to Your Head is one of those rare albums that demands high rotation. Every listen takes you somewhere new, uncharted… so throw away the map; this is an album of discovery.

 

 Tell Tale Signs (The Bootleg Series vol. 8): Bob Dylan

Well, here is a man who needs no introduction and with 40+ albums already available why buy another bootleg? Well first up, there is never a definitive version of any song for Dylan. Each recording is a time capsule; the song as it was at that moment. Tell Tale Signs captures 27 songs from the period 1989 – 2005, including 5 live tracks, 6 alternate versions, 3 songs previously only available on Soundtracks, demos and other unreleased gems. Red River Shore is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful songs Dylan has ever penned. Possessed by the love that damned him, Dylan spins an old school narrative with his trademark mix of religion and existentialism. Another stand out is the song Mississippi. Three versions are included and it is here that Dylan’s ability as a singer is showcased. By exploring tone and phrasing Dylan uncovers new possibilities for this song with each take.Version #1 a soft-spoken lament, Version #2 dog-tired and raspy and Version #3 a powerful last stand. Tell Tale Signs is not a fan only affair. This is Dylan capturing moments of truth.

 
This Culture Of Background Noise: Because of Ghosts

This is the second long player from innovative Melbourne 3-piece. Recorded at the legendary Hotel2Tango, This Culture Of Background Noise, is anything but (background noise, that is). Each track (all instrumental) is a soaring mix of inticiate guitar, drums and live sampling. Each creates an atmosphere, somewhat akin to that electric feeling that prickles the skin just before a summer storm cracks open. The drums gather and build the momentum, the guitars stir and tremble. Importantly, this album has space for the mind to create its own narrative. The sound never too busy, never too dark, never too moody. Just the right amount of melancholy and raw noir introspection to hold you entranced.

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Jumping the Poetic Hurdle

 

Sadly today, it would often be easier to buy a book on permaculture, knitting or bee keping than it would be to buy a collection of Contemporary Australian poetry and although these are all worthwhile pursuits, I can’t help asking the question, “how has poetry publication & distribution reached such a low point?”

Right now there are many interesting and reputable practising poets, yet few of them can enjoy an expectation of their poetry being published, distributed and reaching a wider audience. Poetry, an art that arguably best reflects the speed at which we absorb ideas, information and imagery, is being neglected by corporate publishing houses and distributors throughout Australia.

Over the next few months, I plan to speak with editors, poets and you… the reading audience to try and create some discussion about the challenges facing poetry publication and distribution in 21st Century Australia.

First up, let’s take an historical look at one of the methods independent publishers have used to try and keep poetry in the public eye – the chapbook. This is part of an article co-written by David Stavanger, first published in Writing QLD (July 2008)

 

If you want to buy, I’m your chap!”

This was the cry of the chapman, itinerant pedlars and hawkers, who cheerfully sold anything, including printed ephemera, or chapbooks, at fairs and markets, on street corners, or by traveling door-to-door. Such chapbooks, generally consisted of a single sheet of paper, folded and simply stitched to make a small book of between eight and thirty-two pages. They were crudely fashioned and definitively coverless, but in the early 1500’s they moved our pre-print, oral culture forward and quite literally, made the word flesh.

From the 16th to the 19th century, the chapbook flourished as a locus of popular culture, poetry, religion, myth and story. Many of these ‘penny dreadfuls’, were looked upon as dangerous by the political and religious authorities, as they were a means of distributing radical ideas. The chapbook was not confined to the English speaking world and the phenomenon spread throughout Italy, Spain, France, Germany and China, becoming a vehicle for the democratisation of folklore and the melding of myth and imagination across national divides. Many would argue the chapbook is responsible for recognising the value and power of reading, regardless of class.

In the late 19th century, the popularity of the chapbook began to wane. The passing of laws banning hawking and singing in the streets put the chapman out of business; new print technologies, the rise of the novel and the popularisation of the newspaper, all contributed to their decline, but it was not long until the chapbook found its place in the burgeoning world of contemporary poetry. Pamphlets distributed by the international Dada movement and elegantly designed works of Russian avant-garde poets set a new standard. The second coming of the chapbook continued on through to the establishment of City Lights book store in San Francisco and the publication of the internationally renowned Pocket Poets series, which took the popularity of the chapbook to new heights.

In Australia, the Gargoyle Poetry series (Makar Press) saw many of our finest contemporary poets such as John Tranter, Shelton Lea and Billy Jones published and widely distributed, some for the first time. The Wagtail series (Picaro Press) continues to publish high-quality, affordable poetry chapbooks and set the benchmark alongside productions from publishers such as PressPress, Sweetwater Press, Post Pressed and Small Change Press.

Whether it be self-published zines, studiously hand stitched, letter-pressed works or works published in conjunction with a reading series or to fund tours, the chapbook continues to occupy a crucial space in the publication of poetry worldwide.

References:

Gordon, Noah Eli. Considering Chapbooks: A Brief History of the Little Book. Jacket 34, October, 2007.

Shepard, Leslie. The History of Street Literature. Detroit, MI: Singing Tree Press, 1973.

Morton, Chris. A Pleasant History of Chapbooks. The Books Blog. January 4, 2007

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