Monthly Archives: July 2012

July Pin-Up Poet (part II): Max Ryan & Where Were You At Lunch

Let’s kick things back into overdrive with Max & Kishore Ryan! This time around we talk formalism and bringing new life to a poem through music…

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ALS: I am glad you mentioned how the title track, Before We Lose Each Other Again came together. For me, it is a stand out track. One of the things that really fascinates me about you choosing this track to record with WWYAL is that it is a poem that adheres to a formal structure, something that at first, seems a little at odds with WWYAL’s musical ethos and the project in general. But in the hands of WWYAL, the poem takes on a new life, almost as if the music and the vocal interplay has brought a greater depth to the words; particularly the image of the hunter… so quietly menacing. Listening to this track made me want to ask how you selected the poems to take to the band for this project. Can you shed some light on that for us? And from the band’s perspective, were there any poems that really surprised you in the way they took shape musically?

Kishore Ryan in the studio

Kishore: During the recording we all had our favourite Max Ryan poem that we wanted to turn into a song. Mine was “Kenny”. It is a poem that is less formal in its structure than some of Max’s other work. But what is uncanny is the fact that we, WWYAL, wrote our parts to completely different lyrics, namely a poem called “The Dancer, Burning Ghat, Varanasi”, that didn’t make it onto the album. But I wasn’t willing to throw the whole thing away. I had the idea that the instrumental parts might work with the unstructured prose of “Kenny”. Performance wise, I think Max locks into the rhythm that Peter and I are playing just enough. It’s loose. The way he recites it adds this distress that is perfect for the narrative. On this track (and others) Samaan plucks the strings with a 10-cent coin instead of a pick and the way he plays his melody gives beauty to what is otherwise a pretty dark track. “Kenny” is probably the song I’m most proud of on the album.

The first time we tried to record “Before We Lose Each Other Again” it didn’t work because the parts Peter, Samaan and I were playing were difficult for Max to lock into. So we recorded some other songs and just before we finished on the last night we had another go at it. The second time was a bit of a struggle too. It was really hot that day. Perhaps the simplicity of the song’s structure came from our desperation to get a good take and go home. I’m glad that everyone persisted with that one because it adds something special to the album. But the first version of “Before We Lose Each Other Again” wasn’t disregarded completely. We used a portion of the instrumental parts as an outro for “Kenny”. So “Kenny” recycles two different musical ideas. That’s not the reason I’m proud of it, but it’s strange how things come together sometimes.

Max in the studio

 

Max: Ha, notice Kishore’s fond of kenny track. Pretty sure that was one they went for other than me but I like the surging rhythm and Samaan’s great riff on that, also the way the voice keeps slipping out of the downbeat captures the sense of the boy narrator struggling not to be enmeshed in Kenny’s dark scenario somehow…

We all had pieces we favoured. I wanted to try leaving newcastle though, like I said before, the way it ended up being sung (rather than recited) happened quite spontaneously in the studio. The band were really keen to have a crack at leela (a rather acerbic dig at a certain kind of Byron Bay poet) but I thought it was a bit too nasty or something then on the last day (must have been the heat again) I thought ‘why not?’ and we nailed it in a couple of takes. The band are going full throttle here and my voice blows a gasket. All good clean fun and, spontaneously again, the band cut out at the end leaving the voice barking in the air: ‘don’t call it poetry!’

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And now for a real treat… here’s a preview from the album, the bristling, Kenny by Max Ryan & WWYAL.

 

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QPF 2012 Feature Poet: Ray Liversidge (part ii)

Let’s pick up the chat I started with Ray Liversidge last week, by talking about Yu Xuanji and the voices of the dead!

ALS: I loved that you made mention of Yu Xuanji in your response. She is a poet that I have only discovered recently by stumbling across an ebook of her complete poems. A poet from the late Tang Dynasty, it seems there is not a lot of reliable information to be found about her. What was it about her life that drew you in?

RL: As you say details about Yu Xuanji’s life are very sketchy. My research showed that during the Tang Dynasty women had a fair amount of freedom of choice and social mobility compared to earlier and later periods. Yu Xuanji played a number of ‘roles’ in her very short life such as concubine, nun and courtesan. She seems to have been a free spirit who was unflinching in what she did and I admired that about her. Many of her poems dwell on sorrow, loss and longing, however she never feels sorry for herself and celebrates the joy of living even if it involves pain and suffering. There is a playfulness about her poetry which I love. She died when she was only 25 but she was obviously a mature woman. However, the flirty, mocking tone of a lot of her poems suggests she loved playing the little girl!

NB: You can download a 120page ebook of Yu Xuanji’s complete poems here. And there’s some interesting reading about here life here.

ALS: I am also interested to know whether each poem you wrote in some way took on the voice of its subject?

RL: I think it would have been a mistake to imitate the cadence, rhythm, tone, etc of the poets I have written about as the portraits could easily have become like cartoons or caricatures, and this would have been very disrespectful to those poets. Having said that, the opening poem on Dylan Thomas deliberately echoes his “bardic, bawdy hwyl and yawp, syntactical high jinks”. Of course, there’s a huge nod to Whitman in that line too! Within the constraints of a nine-line Spenserian stanza – in which all the poems are written – I was more interested in capturing the essence of their lives and work.

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Grace (for t.h.e)

photograph by Cindy Keong

At the front of the queue
mother and daughter
curse the mouth
that has swallowed the last
of their ping-pong balls

You and I look on
amazed at the generosity
of the clown
who through all this
keeps smiling

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dawn sky
in the reading lamp
summer’s moths

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Note: The picture above links to an article about carnivorous furniture… and yes, before you ask yourself, did you read that right, you did! It’s art meets design, meets the dark side of humanity…

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Set your tongue on fire at QLD Poetry Festival 2012

It’s only weeks away people… so wherever you are, start circling your program and plotting a course through this extraordinary weekend of words. It all kicks off on Friday August 24 and yes… you are invited! In fact, here’s your invitation:

So don’t forget to RSVP to qldpoetry@gmail.com

The official opening is followed by festival showcase, Tongues of Flame featuring one of Australia’s true poetry superstars, a man who has made the Hawkesbury sing like no other, Robert Adamson; the politically charged, jazz poetry of L.E. Scott and the sonic art of  2012 Arts QLD Poet-in-Residence a.rawlings. To close the night renowned Australian singer-songwriter, Holly Throsby will play an intimate set… and you know, a lineup this good just might change your universe!

Here’s a hit of Robert Adamson and Holly Throsby to brighten your day… Tickets you ask, well you can buy them here!

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QPF 2012 Feature Poet: Ray Liversdige (part i)

As I have mentioned, QLD Poetry Festival 2012 is only weeks away, and I have the great privilege of interviewing several of the featured artists as a preview to what you can experience at the event. The interview with Max Ryan and WWYAL is currently rolling and now, I chat to Melbourne based poet, Ray Liversidge about uncovering the lives of dead poets.

ALS: Your latest book, No Suspicious Circumstances, collects together a series of poems that look deeply at the lives of some mighty fine poets whose words live on despite their passing. It also features portraits of each selected poet by the incredibly talented, Kathryn Bowden. How did you go about selecting the poets you wrote about? And though I am certain, you already had a great deal of insight into the lives of these poets, what were some of the surprises you discovered in your reading?

Ray Liversidge: When I first thought about the book the principal criteria I set were that the poet be dead and:

1. Have taken their own life

2. Have been killed by circumstances out of their control; and

3. Have died because of intemperate living.

With some poets such as Emily Brontë, Keats, Rimbaud and a couple of others I have taken liberties. Nevertheless, as Peter Porter said of Auden, my aim was to take on the challenge of ‘selecting the crucial moments in the lives of people and civilisations and forcing home their psychological truth’ – to channel the spirit of these poets, if you like.

Once I had set the criteria, I had to decide on which poets to include. This was not an easy task as there are so many poets which fit these criteria – especially the intemperate living ones! Selecting the obvious and well-known poets would have been easy; however my research revealed that there have been many talented poets who have not got the credit they deserve. So, one of the aims of the book is to pay homage to some of those lesser known and largely ignored poets, and in doing so enrich readers’ lives and my own by exposure to their writing, lives and times. I plan to have a biographical note in the book explaining what attracted me to the poets I have written about.

The life and work of poets like Dylan Thomas, Rimbaud, Plath and Keats were well known to me so there were no surprises there. However, as I said earlier, during my research I came across poets who I had never or half-heard of. It was a surprise – and a pleasure – to discover and read poets such as Charlotte Mew, Christopher Smart, Sidney Keyes and Yu Xuanji.

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Gravity and waggery

In the Age of Reason you just had to be mad:
Cross-dressing as Mary Midnight, hitting the bars,
Praying in public places, being a lad,
Punching out poems of unconditional praise.
‘I’d as lief pray with Kit Smart as anyone else’,
Dr Johnson declared – but he was not your quack!
When Anna runs off with the kids you return to grace
Your prison walls with poems. Crazy, or not,
We give thanks for your song, and the adventures of Jeoffrey the cat.

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Christopher Smart, born in 1722 in Kent, England, spent several years in asylums mainly because his habit of praying out loud in public was considered irrational behaviour. His ‘A Song to David’ is considered one of the most original and powerful religious poems of the eighteenth century. Smart died penniless in a debtors’ prison on 21 May 1771.

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in the chill of morning
a magpie
closer to the truth

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