Tag Archives: Contemporary Australian Poets

winter sun: a haiku sequence

This morning, while thousands pounded the pathways of the City Botanic Gardens as part of the Brisbane Marathon, eight of us walked, sat and opened our minds to the lush green landscape, the chorus of birds, the emptiness of sky. This was the third in the QPF ginko series, and while it was officially the ‘winter ginko’, the sun had a sneaky bite to it. I will be posting a handful of poems from the eight poets who joined me this week, but for now, here’s a handful of poems I collected today.

brisbane-city-botanic-gardens-482x298

winter sun
the ball in
the collie’s eyes

*

shooing the ibis
she lets the toddler
cry

*

V of gulls
in love with the shape
of the river

*

finish line
the marathon runner drags
his shadow

*

crows
in the bamboo grove
the wind rattles on

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nature trail: a haiku sequence

To follow on from yesterday, here’s a selection of my own haiku from the Karawatha State Forest ginko…  the place, the poets and their poems continue to resonate…

[photographs by Cindy Keong]

Nature Trail CLK

nature trail
the song of crickets
becomes a stream

*

summer sky
seen through eucalypts
seen through

Karawatha CLK

ants
on the fallen eucalypt
all moving

*

leaves
among them
the lizard’s tail

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August Pin-Up Poet: Max Ryan and Where Were You At Lunch (part v)

With the QLD Poetry Festival 2012 knocking on the door (that’s right, it starts this Friday!), it’s time to wrap up my discussion with Max & Kishore Ryan. It has been nothing but a pleasure rambling with both of these gentlemen and I have a stirring in the gut that there show together this coming Saturday (August 25), alongside avant-blues trio, Bremen Town Musician is going to be talked about as a festival highlight!

So with that said, let’s check in with the Ryan boys one last time…

Don’t miss Max Ryan and Where Were You At Lunch + Bremen Town Musician at QLD Poetry Festival 2012, Saturday August 25 from 10:00pm – Midnight as part of the session, Pierce the Salty Darkness.

ALS: The way we listen to music and read poetry has changed so much in the last 5-10 years. As artists, how does this affect on you? I am also interested to know how the experience of working together on Before We Lose Each Other Again has influenced you.

Max: The more it changes, the more it stays the same I guess. A great poem or a great song in the right hands will get you every time but I suppose in terms of music and poetry coming together there’s definitely more collaboration these days. Maybe we’re just reaching back to the roots of all verse which was chanted or intoned in some kind of musical setting? Poetry with music has never gone away really in terms of popular song, especially in the hands of the great songsmiths. Poetry recited in a more loose and not strictly song-structured form can be something else again. In some ways, without the defined structure of verse, chorus, bridge etc it can be harder to pull off and can easily run off the rails or, just as badly, end up with the music and words chugging along together but never really merging or sparking off each other. So I do hope our collaboration can’t be accused of that, which leads me to your next question…

One of the real delights of working with WWYAL has been the overall sense that we’ve been creating something bigger than the parts: it isn’t just their making some kind of background sound to my reciting the words. This kind of performance demands a deep listening, especially, I’d suggest, from the musicians and I think the band (and producer Nick Huggins) have managed this splendidly. There are so many little instances where I can sense a real dynamic between the music and the poetry (Kishore’s organ chord on the line ‘the tide moves one step closer’ in the poem halfway home is one off the top of my head). I think we’ve made a fine little album and I’m happy with the way we’ve captured a strong sense of spontaneity in it all. As Bob Dylan says though: ‘Time will tell just who has fell and who’s been left behind!’ Still, one of the best things to come from this project for me is how we sailed through with a deeper sense of trust and openeness with each other which often ain’t necessarily so.

Kishore: The way I read poetry hasn’t changed much in the last decade. For the most part I still read it in books and rarely on the internet. But the moments when I sit down at home, put on a record and listen to it in its entirety without doing something else at the same time are rare. Despite the fact that listening to an album with friends, as an event in itself, is such an incredibly nice thing to do, I have only done this a handful of times in my life. But people must have done this more often in the past. Surely. Max has said that as a child he would sit around the radio with his family. I often listen to albums in their entirety by myself on my ipod while riding, driving, etc. but concentrated listening to recorded music with others is a rare thing. As a listener I can see the change you’re talking about, but it’s hard to know how this affects my creativity. I’ve never collaborated with anyone over the internet. Samaan has though. He’s done some small releases with people he’s never met. He did a small release with a noise artist called Soma from Japan and another one with with Rolf Wong from Hong Kong.

For me, music is, among other things, a way to express emotion that you can’t express elsewhere. It is an expression that is perhaps impossible to accurately describe with words. But even though it escapes description, to a certain extent, it can of course have a solid relationship with words. Great songs and poetry come close to we might call the sublime, whatever that is. I will always have an interest in music, with and without lyrics. I love poetry and I love music, but they don’t necessarily work together. But I’m proud of our album. Working with Max underlined the fact that limitations can be helpful. Writing music which is based around great lyrics is very fun. Making this album was a special way to spend time with my dad and also my friends.

ALS: And what’s next for Max Ryan & WWYAL, both individually and as a collective?

Max: I can only speak for Max Ryan re your last question… just to keep on truckin I guess. There’ll be more collaborations with us all I’d say, can envisage maybe something more thematically structured even. Main thing is to be there on the night at QPF. I’m really glad there are four of us. If it was just me I’d be terrified!

Kishore: I’d love to record many more albums with Max and WWYAL and because of the inexpensive nature of the recording process, that is, an absence of overdubs, this is very foreseeable. In fact Peter is already talking of recording another one when Max comes down for our Melbourne album launch in November. Pete is one of those humans who has endless enthusiasm for music and life in general and we have him to thank for making this collaboration happen without too much procrastination.

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

With Max and Kishore Ryan, you feel like you could talk endlessly about the possibility of music and language. These guys are the real deal! So let’s keep talking…

ALS: As I mentioned Rilen’s X in the last question, and Max, you hint at the possibility of throwing some Modern Lovers or Velvets into the live set, let’s talk influences… I know they tend to change through the years, but who’s currently creating a stir in your respective world’s? And where do you see yourselves fitting into the artistic landscape?

Max: I listen to a lot of things, often on my little analogue radio in the middle of the night. Currently I’m enamoured of Leonard Cohen’s Old Ideas, I think it’s some of the best work he’s done. I can’t recognise any immediate influences on our album. Way back in India days I studied classical vocals (all Indian music is based on the voice); one of the features of this music is that it’s all improvised from the basic melody and probably this has sunk into the vocals on our pieces.

Don’t really see myself as part of any artistic landscape; I’m just delighted to be part of this venture with WWYAL. I’m down in Melbourne just back from a rehearsal with the band as I write this it’s more than warmed up my night.

Kishore: This is a hard question to answer. One of the only albums I haven’t grown tired of since hearing it as a teenager is Tabula Rasa by Estonian composer Arvo Part. It gets me every time.

Earlier in the year I listened to Toward the Low Sun by Dirty Three while driving and it sounded so good I had to pull over so I could concentrate on it properly. Now that I’m writing this I am reminded of an interview I saw on TV as a child. The interview was with Eric Clapton about some blues guitar hero – Stevie Ray Vaughan, or someone like that – and he said he heard a song on the radio (by whichever guitar hero he was talking about) and had to pull over because it sounded so good. At the time I thought to myself, “As if he actually pulled over. What a dickhead.” But now the same thing has happened to me. (I really hope that people don’t speed-read this and just see “influences … Eric Clapton … Stevie Ray Vaughan…” That kind of music really doesn’t do it for me. ) But anyway, returning to Dirty Three’s latest album, the first three tracks, Furnace Skies, Sometimes I Forget You’ve Gone and Moon On The Land, are my favourites.  Stupidly good.

Prior to recording Before We Lose Each Other Again, I tried to imagine what this collaboration might sound like and Velvet Underground, among others, were a point of reference. Lou Reed is someone with a background in poetry, and his voice, it could be said, is somewhat similar to Max’s.  But of course in reality the connection between our album and Velvet Underground is murky. They are a legendary band and we’re making music in Australia 40 years later. They were a rock and roll band – a somewhat experimental one, but a rock and roll band nonetheless. Musically, a lot has happened since then. For example, Harry Pussy, Merzbow and 7 Year Rabbit Cycle have happened and we’ve absorbed that to some extent. Max grew up listening to very different music to us, the Stones and Dylan, for example, so it’s great that he’s brave enough to make an album with us. A lot of people his age can’t dig what we do.

I’m not sure if this is evident on Before We Lose Each Other Again, but I’ve spent a lot of time listening to Smog, Blonde Redhead and Deerhoof, and although these artists are very different to each other, what they have in common is a certain amount of experimentalism in their early recordings and a progression to what could very loosely be called “pop” in more recent years. But even the later, more “accessible” albums are unconventional in various ways.  All good music is an experiment to some extent. If it wasn’t an experiment, then it would sound cliched. But I’ve started using too many inverted commas so I’m going to stop talking about influences very soon. Some other bands that I’m fond of at the moment are Drunk Elk, Tren Brothers, The Balky Mule, Alastair Galbraith, xNoBBQx, The Dead C, Akiko Igaki, Pumice, Armpit, John Fahey, Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Silk Ears, Townes Van Zandt, Roy Orbison, Beyonce and Leonard Cohen. Samaan, Peter, Max and I have been listening to and studying music in quite an intense way for most of our lives so it’s slightly weird for me to write a list of influences on the internet.

A running joke during the recording session was that we were the Australian version of the Lou Reed and Metallica collaboration. But to answer the second part of your question, maybe that’s not for the artist to decide where they fit in. Or maybe we don’t fit in anywhere. We sent the first WWYAL album to a lot of labels and no one wanted to put it out. That’s why we started our own label Obei Gong. If you don’t fit into a scene you have to start your own scene. Before We Lose Each Other Again is Obei Gong 002.

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

With the rumble of Kenny, still prickling the neck, I kicked off part III of the discussion with Max & Kishore Ryan… this time round we talk sound and silence and playing live at QPF. Can’t wait!

ALS: What a blast to feature Kenny in part II of our chat… there is such a menacing energy about that track, makes the spirit bristle! There are some other real stompers on the album, namely, the acerbic Leela, you mentioned previously, and Wild Honey. Knowing that Samaan was going at his guitar with a 10cent piece, I couldn’t help but conjure images of the late Ian Rilen on stage with the wildly underrated, X. Ian often attacked his bass, playing with a 20cent piece, and there is that same raw magic that they created at play on both of these tracks… a beautiful aggression, if you may. Then at other times on Streets of Jogjakarta and The Way She Smiled it is the silences that speak loudest. How do you see it all coming together live on stage? Will QPF be the debut live performance?

Kishore: Beautiful aggression is good way to describe it. It brings to mind the cheekiness of Peter’s bass playing on the track Boy City. Even though we only rehearsed the song a couple of times Pete seemed to know exactly when to shift into the next bit and did so just before everyone else, in a graceful, yet slightly belligerent way. I love what he plays in the outro too. His melody floats between the drums and guitar, but glues them together at the same time.

One thing I’d like to add about Samaan’s 10-cent coin thing is that it doesn’t necessarily have to sound aggressive. On tracks like Wild Honey he does have an aggressive, metallic sound. But even when it’s loud, he pushes the coin into the strings on an angle in such a way that makes a sound that is different to other guitar players.

The album has some special accidents on it. There is no doubt that it will sound different when we play it live. We won’t have the ability to scrap things, like we did in the studio. But we’re good at listening to each other and I have a great trust with Peter, Samaan and Max so there’s nothing to worry about. QPF will be the debut live performance.

You also spoke about a silence that speaks loudest, Graham, but I’ll leave that one to Max…

Max: Well those quieter pieces have a markedly different feel and overall I think we struck a good balance with the CD. One of the things that came through to me right from the start is that the band were really in touch with the words of each piece and what my voice was doing at any given time.

One of the quieter tracks as you mentioned Graham, is The Way She Smiled. This piece is comprised of three tanka (written separately at different times) and I got the idea to put them together and then repeat the three pieces three times over. With the band’s spacious instrumentation there’s a lovely sense for me of circularity as if each tanka is part of a revolving story.

I feel honoured to work with such intuitive players and it’s particularly delightful that they’re all into poetry and literature in general. I was always aware that Nick too was especially alert to a particular turn of phrase or intonation. He writes poetry himself and has published several collections.

We’ve got a good hour at QPF so we’ll probably stretch out some of our recorded numbers. We’re doing a couple of run throughs beforehand but, in keeping with the spirit in which before we lose each other again, was born, I expect there’ll be quite a bit of space for us to improvise. We may even throw in a bit of Velvet Underground or Modern Lovers!

**********

And now for another track from the album, the surging, Boy City

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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…

**********

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!’

**********

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

 

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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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July Pin-Up Poet: Max Ryan & Where Were You At Lunch

August in Brisbane is all about poetry… with the pinnacle event, Queensland Poetry Festival (QPF) held at The Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts from August 24 – 26. The full program is now online and over the coming weeks, I will be taking time out to chat to several festival guests. First up, I embark on another ramble with one of my favourite Australian poets, Max Ryan, who is no stranger to the QPF stage.

ALS: You are no stranger to recording your work with musicians; your debut CD, White Cow, recorded with Cleis Pearce, picked up a few accolades including Spoken Word and Ambient Music categories in The North Coast Entertainment Industry Awards. You also gave some incredibly powerful performances as a duo, one that I will never forget was on the QPF stage in 2008. And now there is Before We Lose Each Other Again… an album recorded with Where Were You At Lunch (WWYAL), featuring your son, Kishore on drums.

As you know, I am passionate about bringing poetry and music together in a truly collaborative sense. American inventor, Edwin Land famously said, “politeness is the poison of collaboration.” After listening to Before We Lose Each Other Again several times during the past week, there is nothing polite about your collaboration with WWYAL. The band moves from noir-noise to quiet brushstrokes across the course of the album and more than ever, you are really giving the vocal some energy, breaking out into full-throated song on occasion. This gives the album a feeling of spontaneity; it’s like you are capturing ideas as they form. So just how did the pieces come together? Was it a process of jamming ideas or something more methodical?

Max Ryan: WWYAL are, as you’ve discovered, a powerful combo, and they bring that group dynamic with them. Blake said ‘without contraries there is no progression’ and I feel that interface certainly brought out some new and surprising things in me.

That’s a spot-on observation about how it came together. Apart from a couple of jams in the week before the recording, we had very little in the way of planned material. I’d have to say this is pretty well a live album done in four fevered days in the basement of the manse at Richmond Anglican church where producer, Nick Huggins’ dad practises his ministry. It all just spilled out in the studio from the first track where I started humming along with Pete the bass player and ended up singing out the words which first appeared as a prose poem in Rainswayed Night. I had the idea to just add on the short piece Fragment about my father as a sort of segue from the Leaving Newcastle piece. When I listened to the final mix months later I was struck by how even the slightly tentative tone as the voice leans in on that first track captures the way the recording unravelled. It felt vey much like we were all in it together and the brilliant Nick Huggins is definitely an equal player. Even though Kishore’s my son it always felt we were just two pieces in the jigsaw. But yeah there was a strong element of a very tight outfit that is WWYAL wanting to rip.

I did have a few ideas about pieces such as Boy City (written on my mobile phone just before) being sort of wistful and lyrical but the band had other ideas and what a friend described as ‘the vocals called out against the ravaged pounding sound’ of the band really evokes the industrial swirl of that harbour city (Newcastle again). There are lots of lovely accidents like that on the recording and I could go on about each one. The last track on the CD (and album title track) Before We Lose Each Other Again was the very last thing we recorded. I just came up with the refrain but we couldn’t seem to move it from there. Then the guys started just started singing that one line (that’s Nick on banjo) and I just intoned the lines between and we all went home.

Kishore Ryan: I like your description Graham. I remember after the second or third day of recording, Samaan said to me that it was very trusting of Max to let us help him turn his poems into songs. Very much so when you consider the fact that he spent several years writing the words. The music on the other hand was ‘composed’ – for want of a better word – in less than a week. We had one or two jams and came up with the outline of “Leaving Newcastle” and “Boy City”, but the rest was improvised in the studio. We did a few takes of each track and later decided which were the best ones. The fact that there were no overdubs whatsoever was a revelation for everyone, including Nick Huggins, who said, even when he’d done albums which for the most part were live, he’d always chickened out with the vocals. But that wasn’t an option for us because it was so interactive. Even on songs like “Boy City” that have a verse/chorus structure, the form is really raw. We knew that after each verse there was a chorus but we didn’t have an exact amount of bars set out. Sometimes I would play a drum fill or Peter would shift into the chord change or Max might starting screaming the refrain, and then everyone else would follow a beat or two later. I think the lack of politeness that you mention Graham comes from a fear of making a spoken word album with background ambience. It could have turned out really bad if we were too polite. Who wants to listen to someone reading their poems with a bunch of musicians noodling in the background? Not me.

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What they are saying about home{sic}

With the launch of home{sic} set to go off tonight, I thought I would give you a sneak peek at what people have been saying about the collection. Here’s a few choice words from Matt Hetherington:

Beveridge doesn’t muck around too much.  From Kings Bridge in Launceston to Dundarave Pier in Vancouver, via Mount Gravatt, she’s at home with not being at home.  Here, you get her usual sharp, dark wit, but also a new and heartening sense of the hard-won riches of the spirit.  There’s a gratifying variety of styles, too, from understated prose poems on lust, pregnancy and love, to haiku/senryu, to lyrical recollections of sundry 20th century tomfoolery, which take in various cultural points of departure and arrival, from Yevgeny Yevtushenko to Burt Bacharach.  Read her book today, cover to cover.

*****

See you at Riverbend Books tonight for the launch. Doors are at 6pm!

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June Pin-Up Poet Week #3: Julie Beveridge anticpiates the launch of home{sic)

The launch of Julie Beveridge’s third collection, home{sic} is just days away, so of course, the anticipation of it all dominated this week’s conversation.

*****

ALS: It’s getting very close to the launch of home{sic} at Riverbend Books. What is it that is most exciting you about the launch?

Is it wrong to say going out without having to wear a feeding top? Launches are always strange things to lead up to but wonderful experiences. It is a very weird thing to have people come along and buy your work. It is both very satisfying and a little embarrassing really. Perhaps you get better at that the more you develop as a writer?

I am looking forward to handing the book over mostly, to putting it out there for people to read… to love or hate, to talk to me about or not, for people to want to tear it apart, or get parts of it tattooed on their body they love it so much. It’s exciting to see how people respond.

The work no longer belongs to me, which is the wonderful thing about releasing stuff really.

Also, I’m looking forward to all the other awesome poets who are reading on the night. And my baby being at home, asleep in bed, being very good for his grandparents.

ALS: I have always found the release of a book to be a time of flux…  after the rigours of editing, new poems seem to flutter into existence, making the current work seem strangely distant. Where is your head at, as home{sic} makes its way into the world?

I totally agree… home{sic} is dead to my mind now, which is already consumed with the third (and final) in the series Home Bittersweet Home. The closer I got to the end of {sic} the more I opened up to Bittersweet – I got a taste for the lines, direction and creative outcome I wanted for the work.

Writing is cyclical, like most processes, so it’s natural to start at the beginning of a new creative process while you are at the publishing end of another.

After a fairly long break from a dedicated writing practice, it’s great to be in a place where my poetic eye is taking snapshots again, I feel as though I am writing some of my best work to date, and feel that can only develop if I ride this train with vigour!

*****

If you have not yet booked your ticket for the launch, there is still time. Here’s both a sneak peek of the cover and the launch details so that you can be there in person to be one of the first people to get their hands on a copy.

Julie Beveridge launches home{sic)

Venue: Riverbend Books, 193 Oxford Street, Bulimba.
Time: Doors open at 6pm for a 6:30pm start
Tickets: $10
Bookings essential: 07 3899 8555

For all of you who cannot make it, watch this space for a launch special in the coming weeks.

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