About Ashley Haywood

Ashley Haywood is a writer, researcher and poet. She is an Associate Editor at Rochford Street Review.

Imagined Worlds: Luke Fischer Launches ‘Ghostspeaking’ by Peter Boyle

Ghostspeaking by Peter Boyle, Vagabond Press (2016) was launched by Luke Fischer at Gleebooks, Sydney on the evening of Friday 23 September 2016.

9781922181787_boyle_ghostspeaking_front_cover_1024x1024It is a great honour and joy to have the task of launching Peter Boyle’s extraordinary new book Ghostspeaking. At the outset, I’d like to thank Peter for this invitation.

Launching this book also places me in an impossible situation. It is difficult enough to shed light on a new collection by a single poet in a ten-minute speech. In the present case, the collection is a 370 page anthology, which includes selections from eleven poets and writers. Moreover, all of them are Peter Boyle and none of them is Peter Boyle.

With the publication of Ghostspeaking, Peter appears to me as an Australian poet whose work is unparalleled in its imaginative range and depth.

Ghostspeaking is in certain respects a sequel to Peter’s groundbreaking and multi-award winning Apocrypha (Vagabond, 2009; second edition, 2016), which comprises a vast array of fictive ancient texts presented as translations by the late classicist William O’Shaunessy, with Peter Boyle as their editor. Ghostspeaking collects works by eleven ‘heteronymous’ poets and writers, mostly born in the twentieth century, in Latin America, Spain, France, and Canada. Peter Boyle appears in the book as their translator. With its multiple personas and explorations of questions of identity, selfhood and otherness, Ghostspeaking makes a major contribution to the tradition of heteronymic poetry, of which Fernando Pessoa is the most well-known representative.

 Ghostspeaking is a multi-genre and genre-defying book. David Brooks aptly describes it as ‘somewhere between a brief, succulent anthology of the best twentieth century poetry and a rare contemporary novel …’. It contains letters, interviews, biographical notes, memoirs, prose poems, free verse, as well as some song lyrics by the Puerto Rican singer-songwriter Ernesto Ray, who achieved fame early in his life, but later sought anonymity and turned to poetry. There are numerous, outstanding prose poems, a genre-defying genre, and the style of the mysterious author known as ‘The Montaigne Poet’ is a peculiar admixture of prose poetry and essay form. There are the splendid, experimental memoirs of Cuban-born concert violinist and poet, Antonieta Villanueva, titled ‘I am not going to write my memoirs’. In short, Ghostspeaking both mixes genres and redefines individual genres. Nevertheless, in its linguistic brilliance and imaginative intensity it is best described as a work of poetry.

The book’s complex intertwinements of fictional biographies, autobiographic material from Peter’s life, actual historical events, and the influence of various poetic traditions on each fictive poet, calls for the critical attention of many scholars. Ghostspeaking blurs, and invites the reader to reconceive, distinctions between fiction and reality, invention and fact, imagination and memory, literature and history. I’ll offer a few examples.

The poet Antonio Almeida, born in Ronda, Spain in 1899, is asked at the age of thirteen to be a guide for a visiting poet, who we learn is Rilke. Almeida has a speech impediment in his childhood and only finds his poetic voice late in life. Nevertheless, magical things happen during his time with Rilke, which, I think, must have influenced his later poetry. Almeida’s poem ‘The Time of Weeping’ in its tone and imagery bears strong resemblances to certain poems in Rilke’s early major works The Book of Hours and The Book of Images.

On a train trip, shortly before his twenty-third birthday, Almeida discovers that one person in his compartment is the poet Antonio Machado, and, several years later when he buys the book Nuevas Canciones, he realises that he had witnessed the scene described in Machado’s poem ‘Iris de la Noche’ (‘Rainbow at Night’).

Entanglements of the fictional and the autobiographical are evident in the memoirs of Villanueva. Peter, in the guise of translator, draws connections between Villanueva’s biography and his own writing:

What particularly drew me to her work, besides the flair in her style and a certain haunted quality, was the series of coincidences between our lives. Both of us contracted polio in early childhood – Antonieta just after her third birthday, myself just before …

Peter has no doubt drawn on his own life experiences in writing Villanueva’s emotionally powerful memoirs.

While none of the poets in Ghostspeaking is born in Australia, the Quebec-born Gaston Bousquin spends periods of his life in Sydney, and there are scattered references to Australian poetry. Those familiar with recent debates and polemics around the value of obscurity will appreciate Ernesto Ray’s standpoint. In the preface to his posthumously published collection A Cloak for Pauline, in which he aims to write poems that have the efficacy of healing spells, he states:

… what can be understood immediately, is incapable of casting the deep resonances that make magic happen … Where to start if I am to weave spells? Not with the old linear, one-dimensional poetry. Neither transparency nor wilful language games. I need new alignments.

The fictive poets collected in Ghostspeaking present a broad spectrum of difficulty. Readers who prefer more accessible, narrative writing will love the elegant prose and Proust-like evocations of childhood memories in the ‘Excerpts from the Unfinished Memoirs Du Côté de Vercinegetorix’ by the French poet Federico Silva. Readers with a sympathy for surrealism will love the dense, symbolic worlds of Elena Navronskaya Blanco’s sequence of (mostly) prose poems titled An Exquisite Calendar for the Duke of Madness.

In spite of the astonishing diversity there are many threads that run through this book. One unifying element appears to be Peter’s interest in dismantling borders of all kinds, borders between the personal and the political, the self and others, the human and the natural, waking consciousness and dreams, life and death, the physical and the metaphysical. His poetry articulates an expanded awareness of ourselves and the world.

Here is an example of an opposition to borders, with a satirical, political resonance, from Blanco’s An Exquisite Calendar for the Duke of Madness:

They were racing to fortify the borders though no one knew what to put in, what to leave out. Should this tree be in or out? This river, this tangled passionfruit vine? Just as unclear was where to place the barriers of time – only what belonged to last year or twenty years back or a hundred? Outside the borders would be everything we would have to abandon and agree to call “enemy”…

If only our politicians and the majority of citizens would learn from Elena Blanco.

In various places Ghostspeaking addresses the ecological crisis and suggests a deep continuity between the human and the other-than-human. One of my favourites passages is from the ‘Unfinished Memoirs’ of Federico Silva:

More memories of Tours. A primary school outing: a fancy dress party by a lake, for the headmistress of the school was an enthusiast for the imaginary participation in the lives of animals. Trapped inside the suit of a cat, the mask pulled down so my altered eyes alone look out. As my breathing tightens, the horror that I would never come back from some place entirely outside the human.

Here an almost shamanic power is attributed to the imagination’s capacity to transport us into the animal other.

There are many evocations of dreams in Ghostspeaking and even when the poems are not directly thematizing dreams, their images often resemble dreamscapes more than physical settings or compress physical space and psychological space into one another. The poem ‘Of Books and Silence’ by The Montaigne Poet explicitly draws a connection between the source of writing and dreams. It opens as follows:

He is guiding me,
a man in a red fez,
beside what seems to be a line of bookcases
but what he holds in his hand is a long curved oar
with which he moves our flat-bottomed skiff forward
between the windows and spires, the winding façades of the
drowned city.

Yes, he says,
all the books of the earth are here,
including those that to you
are not yet written.
Your books are here too somewhere
though we have not come for them.
I want most of all for you to feel this place,
to have the sense that it is here
on the earth’s other side.
When you wake
you will remember the feel of the water under you,
the freshness of the air
in this moment of always beginning
and these delicately tinted mirrors of glass that are books …

Peter is more of a Surrealist than an Imagist. His startling metaphors, which knit together seemingly incongruous elements, ask the reader to make imaginative leaps and are an essential aspect of the semantic density of his writing. For example, the first stanza of Robert Berechit’s sequence of poems ‘Love Letters from a Vanquished City’ includes these lines: ‘In the supreme innocence of evil / life frolics / juggling the skulls of the dead’.

While resembling dreams, Peter’s poetry is grounded in deeply-felt existential concerns and in a search for meaning and coherence. Peter is awake in his dreams, the lucid dreamer conducting an orchestra of resonant symbols. The symbols are not directing themselves. This poetry is not automatic writing but deftly crafted language.

Another expansive quality is evident in what could be called an interest in the cosmic or the universal. Peter is sympathetic to the idea of a Poetry of the universe, which poems can tap into and embody. Consider this passage by Villanueva, who was a concert violinist before an accident that precipitated her turn to writing:

Where does music go when it ceases to be channelled through you? My hands no longer want to touch violins or strike the keyboard of a piano. There is a rhythm in speech, in words themselves I want to unleash. And, even more, there is a rhythm in the world itself as it circulates around me, but not specifically around me – around itself, around people, birds, trees, like the wind realigning the leaves on a path by the pond in the Jardin du Luxembourg …

Many ghosts, apparitions and spiritual presences are conjured in Ghostspeaking. While these often reflect the psychological states of the speakers—their grief, sense of loss, and mourning for those who have died—there is also a genuine openness to the visionary and the spiritual.

The collection is pervaded by a concern for mortality, suffering, illness and death. Yet, its final tone is not bleak. Here is Ernesto Ray’s poem-spell ‘My Lover’s Shoes (This Morning)’ for his partner Pauline, who is ill with cancer:

flip flops thongs jandals
sandal of many names and a single
plastic loop
orange they open
a platform of butterflies and spirals
fivefold petals brushed in white
sun’s intense childhood radiance
on a winter floor

although this dark world grabs at you
you have stepped
onto the soles of an altered shining
that these simple swirls of colour may
spiral up your legs into your inmost
core of being

others have spoken of the “shoes of wandering”
for this morning, my love, you have chosen
dazzling splotches of summer
bearing the grace of all you were,
of all you are

Peter’s poetry aims to affirm life and existence in a deep awareness that transcends the opposition of pain and joy. This is dramatically encapsulated by Villanueva when she writes: ‘… what lies the other side of the scream? … Even now the best I have ever found to say is that the other side of the scream is magic, the silent inexplicable unfolding of magic’.

Not one of the poets in Ghostspeaking is ‘typically Australian’. Reflecting Peter’s immense knowledge of Spanish, Latin-American, and French poetry, the works of these fictive writers expand the sensibility and imaginative range of poetry in English as though they were, in fact, translations. However, in this instance there is no problem of translation and the foreign has found itself entirely at home in English.

My heartfelt congratulations to Peter on this astounding achievement. I’m delighted to declare Ghostspeaking launched.

-Luke Fischer


Luke Fischer’s books include the poetry collection Paths of Flight (Black Pepper, 2013), the monograph The Poet as Phenomenologist: Rilke and the New Poems (Bloomsbury, 2015), and the forthcoming poetry collection A Personal History of Vision (UWAP, 2017).

For details on how to obtain a copy of Ghostspeaking by Peter Boyle go to: http://vagabondpress.net/products/peter-boyle-ghostspeaking

Featured Artist: Georgina Pollard Biographical Note

As energy, the paint does not restrict itself to my process, and our dialogue has turned to the form of a shared ecology—Georgina Pollard (Artist Statement, A-M Gallery)

Pollard Newtown Hub

Georgina Pollard, Mistint (2014), acrylic house paint, 45cm x 60cm (each), Newtown; image courtesy of the artist.

Georgina Pollard is an artist who works with reclaimed house-paint as a weaving or sculpting material. With a background in theatre, Pollard finds a relationship between theatre philosophy and paint—in the way that paint can take on a life of its own in process—like an object or prop in a stage performance. When Pollard is responsive to paint in this way, the art-object she makes is a kind of record, or transcription, of the gestural dialogue she has shared with paint, in context of place and time. Pollard describes her work as highly self-aware. Gestures, action and reactions in drips, drops, lines and layers express subjects in process: paint becoming-subject and an identity in flux with/in a shared ecology.

Pollard is co-founder of Cementa Arts Festival, with artists Alex Wisser and Ann Finegin. Cementa is a contemporary visual arts festival held in Kandos, regional New South Wales (inland from Sydney, toward Mudgee). Since 2013, the festival has been held biannually, and has achieved giving regional and city-based practising artists the opportunity to experiment with their proposed material or text in a landscape very different to the urban experience. At the heart of Cementa is the idea that artist-shared spaces are naturally generative.

The festival facilitates bringing artists together, and making more things happen—especially in the region. Clandulla State Forest, for example, opened as Clandulla State Gallery to exhibit The Survey Show (2014), curated by Margaret Roberts. Along a winding track through the state forest, visitors experienced artworks made for the bush setting. Pollard exhibited in this group show with her work Chandelier for Ants (2014), a branch painted with toffee, made to disintegrate as ants swarmed and consumed the artwork.


Georgina Pollard, Chandelier for Ants (2014), toffee and found branch, exhibited at The Survey Show (2014), Clandulla State Gallery; image courtesy of the artist. Photo credit: Alex Wisser.

Pollard’s collection of recent solo shows—Through Line (2011; A-M Gallery, Sydney), Through Line II (2012; At the Vanishing Point Gallery, Sydney) and Through Line III (2014; A-M Gallery)—are named after Stanislavsky’s description of characterisation. A ‘through line’, according to Stanislavsky, links character objectives, irreducible to the performance or narrative. Through lines can be interwoven with other through lines, including the ‘lines’ of props and other elements of stage design. The performance as a whole is a network of through lines, and, in the sense of being interwoven, like a fabric. So when we look at Pollard’s work, we are ‘reading’ a deeply personal nonverbal dialogue—as all conversations are at heart—between the artist and paint.

Pollard Song Sung 2

Georgina Pollard, Song, Sung (2014), house paint and curtain fabric, 1.1m x 2.4m; image courtesy of the artist.

Pollard’s work is about being receptive to the paint, or, better, how it responds to her, in context of their shared environment. So, each work is a dialogue and index: gestures, weather, gravity, accidents, interruptions, and so on, are all recorded in the making until the performance comes to an end—the paint facilitates the action.

When Pollard talks about her relationship with paint she describes a dialogue that is full of stops and stops much like the fabric of inner thought: ‘sometimes the paint stops when I’m not ready for it to stop’; ‘it chooses different pathways’ to me; ‘it’s like watching a tear go down someone’s face’; ‘paint comes out more confused than you’d like it to’; ‘when it starts strong, I can determine the pattern’; ‘when it slows and deteriorates, it’s outside of my control’; ‘the wind blew it, and it stuck to itself, turning into this other being’. ‘We gesture more when we can’t find the words’ to express our inner thoughts.

Black one_Pollard

artwork by Georgina Pollard (2013), house paint; image courtesy of the artist

Pollard has exhibited with Modern Arts Projects (MAP) in the group show, Eco-Spirit held at Morton House in the Blue Mountains, curated by Jaquelene Drinkall (2014). MAP open in venues chosen for their architectural history, making something more of the art experience by bringing to the fore place and design. Pollard has had work exhibited at INDEX., Factory 49, Kaleidoscope Gallery, ESP Gallery, Mary Place Gallery, Oxford Art Factory, among other places. She held the Newtown Art Seat 2013/2014. Other honours include: the Callen Art Prize (Highly Commended), Fisher’s Ghost Prize (Finalist), and Marrickville Contemporary Art Prize (Joint Winner). Pollard has held the position of co-director at INDEX. and At the Vanishing Point Gallery. At the former, she co-curated a retrospective for the artist Melanie E Khava in 2011. Following art residencies in Hill End and at Kandos Projects, Pollard moved into what is becoming a regional arts hub.

These kinds of regional hubs don’t happen overnight, and they can be difficult to sustain. After working on the inaugural Cementa, Pollard and Wisser opened Coffee Concrete, a café located in Rylstone’s community gallery, which is about local food and local art. They are dedicated to opening up spaces for artists, bringing artists together from all over, and bringing audiences to experience art in the Mudgee region. As part of the next Cementa Art Festival (2017), for example, Wisser is opening Future Lands, a new art residency, which is about making links between art and agriculture. When Pollard talks passionately about what artists can accomplish given the space—any kind of space—to materialise their ideas, or make links between art and other areas of thought, it’s easy to think of her artworks, which are about being receptive to the environment and responding with humility. ‘My network with the object is about an awareness of its capabilities’, and ‘we are capable of empathising with our environment, as it empathises with us’ its way, said Pollard. She shows us how paint can be receptive, promiscuous, reproductive, much like the process of coming to a new idea.

Whose afraid of Ellsworth Kelly is the working title for Pollard’s latest collection in process, drawing upon the concept of making art as an index of its environment.


– Ashley Haywood

Territories Within a Political Ecology: Ashley Haywood reviews ‘Hell Broth’, ‘All of Them in There’ & ‘Automated Reasoning Paradigm’ at Firstdraft

Firstdraft gallery exhibitions for February are open from 3-26 February 2016.
Hell Broth artist talks 25 Feburary 2016 6-7 pm at Firstdraft: 
13-17 Riley Street, Woolloomooloo NSW 2011.


Firstdraft’s February 2016 exhibitions—Hell Broth, All of Them in There, and Automated Reasoning Paradigm—trade and share and dream in territories within a political ecology (capitalist, socialist and other economies acting within the human Umwelt). There is linkage between the shows, each interrogating in their own way the consumer currency of things and no-things: literature, algorithms, social feeds, time, sadness, conspiracies, arrangements, the personal and the crowd, who likes it, who takes it, who eats it, who is turning away—from what?


Curated by Astrid Lorange and Vaughan W. O’Conner (2016)
– with Lily Chan, Aston Creus, Mashara Wachjudy, Eddie Hopely, Hamishi Farah, Ivan Ruhle, Zoë Sadokierski, Giselle Stanborough and Tom Melick.

Broth is a stock. A water-based brew with bones and some vegetables, which is usually made in preparation, an ingredient in itself, for something more: a recipe belonging to a recipe—to what end?

Astrid Lorange and Vaughan W. O’Conner’s curatorial writing, installed alongside the exhibited artworks, is an index and introduction, is poetry and paratext, inciting the potential of lists. The artists incorporate, theoretically or materially, the concept of the list as form, and, to some degree, the concept that there are other kinds of contemporary art that work politically to deny expectations of art. Collectively, Hell Broth invites ‘revolt’ and togetherness.

In addition to Lorange and O’Conner’s curatorial poetry, they reproduce the prose poem ‘What resembles the grave but isn’t’ by Anne Boyer as a collective artist’s statement, which is an influential paratext to the group show. Boyer’s recent collection (Garments against Women, 2015) pursues an understanding of (the endlessness of) survival, and scarcity beyond survival, from the negative and the alone in the capitalist economy of not-enough hours to be, and to be revolted and radical—to even read.

You are not alone consuming Hell Broth. You may be the bit in ‘What resembles a grave but isn’t’ where you are not alone:

… falling into holes with other people, with other people, saying “this is not our mass grave, get out of this hole,” all together getting out the hole together, hands and legs and arms and human ladders of each other get out of the hole that is not the mass grave but that will only be gotten out of together …


Firstdraft, Feb, 2016

Photo of Hell Broth installation Gallery 1 (of 2); clockwise from the left: Hell Broth curatorial writing, SCHEHERAZADE by Lily Chan & Aston Creus, War Memorial by Clare Milledge, and, hanging centre, Apologies by Hamishi Farah, Firstdraft, February 2016. Image by Zan Wimberley.


When can and will we, together, resist wearing corporate logos and insincere apologies (thinking of Hamishi Farah’s work Apologies)? When can and will disillusionment become collective action, be more than looking out from, and away from, windows (Zoë Sadokierski’s 26 Views from the 7-train and 17 Views from the Trans-Mongolian, and Eddie Hopley’s c)? When will we, together, care about increasing rates of extinction (Zoë Sadokierski and Kate Sweetapple’s Avian Taxonomy works), increasing rates of anthropogenic disasters and mutations (Clare Milledge’s War Memorial)? When will we, together, take back the 24/7 hours given to our personal care and surivival, the hours we give to our own personal dystopian adventure (Lily Chan and Aston Creus’s SCHEHERAZADE)? (These are a few of the exhibited works that do cross-talk, are listing together.)

‘In the kitchen I was chopping vegetables and thinking about how discourse is a conspiracy, then how discourse is a conspiracy like ‘taste,’ then how taste is a weapon of class’ writes Anne Boyer (Garments against Women). You are more or less consuming art in the gallery space, but the ‘taste’ of Hell Broth is not palatable by necessity. These works are not the kind of conversational pieces that can be used to divide and exclude at dinner parties, but the kind that can potentially excite ‘revolt’ and togetherness.

Hell Broth resists closure and isolation in the process of combining ‘lists’, like ingredients, and in the act of making, like cooking or incantation, especially when that act is shared and amplified with others as it is here. Hell Broth is accumulating, is ‘More than the sum of parts by way of intensity’ (Lorange & O’Conner), emerging by way of small differences/disturbances with/in the whole complex twenty-first century capitalist body.


Kuba Dorabialski

All of Them in There is a video installation and essay film (2016), shot in Serbia, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Romania during October 2015.

Kuba Dorabialski presents a political ecology in an architectural landscape. All of Them in There is a filmic dialogue between city and household, where concrete, walls, multilayered floors and staircases, repetitive balconies and windows, are (ex)changed via the crowd, observed by the narrator.

The narrator’s voice could belong to a 1960s laboratory demonstrator, or an extended Werner Herzog documentary ‘epilogue’ (e.g. the end of Cave of Forgotten Dreams), mingled with Elias Canetti’s literary narrator who speaks as if to a stranger outside the human race in Crowds and Power (1960). Kuba Dorabialski positions you, along with his character narrator, outside the crowd, observing the life of the crowd. They can’t see you, though they are like a singular multi-eyed organism, like all the windows to their apartments, looking at each other, making one.

According to the narrator, according to Canetti, the crowd is a pack at best, a mob at worse. The crowd is inherently violent. The crowd is unpredictable in that they are so predicable that any sudden course change in direction is seen as violent to those in the privileged position of being outside the crowd—‘so you put the crowds in, you put them in, you stand back, and you survey the crowds before you’. You are in suspense, waiting, you who are sitting outside the crowd, waiting, watching the predictable mob so capable of (un)mediated sudden violence. You become surveillance.

Dorabialski presents the labour of the crowd as singular, as if labour were indistinguishable, as if the labour of the crowd delivered a singular product—wealth—so long as there is no violence.

What are they all thinking? The crowd, according to Canetti, desires growth, density, equality and direction. So you give them what they want: ‘You put the crowds in, you put them in … All of them in there’. They like it in there, the narrator will tell you. ‘They actually really like it … Their animal nature actually likes it best like this’. Do not appeal to their animal nature, the narrator will tell you. The crowd cannot exist if it is allowed to spread, allowed to be in the forest, the woods, the meadow.

Smaller details and rituals are accentuated by the stillness of the buildings: a caretaker walking up and down external stairs, checking that the outside doors to each floor are locked, a pink rug being shook over a balcony, a woman leaning out her window, walking past her window in a mass of windows. And moving clouds, too, seem of great importance.

The problem with surveillance is that you slowly start putting yourself ‘in there’ and maybe you’ll stop registering difference. And what they’re thinking is what you’re thinking, and maybe when you make eye contact you see yourself looking back wherever you turn. And maybe things start to get disturbing, get really disturbing after a time, and maybe you want to be liberated (Dorabialski gives homage to Chantal Akerman, who died while this film was being shot, and this viewer’s thoughts went to Akerman’s film Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles).

A singular pigeon is perched on a rooftop. More pigeons arrive. They become a flock. They take flight, circling the rooftop. More arrive, and the flock becomes waves in the sky (pigeons take turns as navigator dependent on skill). And maybe ‘to produce works that belong to everybody’, and maybe every living thing, we have to make new opportunities from within, so writes El Lissitzky, who continues in The Reconstruction of Architecture in the Soviet Union (1929):

One of our utopian ideas is the desire to overcome the limitations of the substructure, the earthbound … The idea of the conquest of the substructure, the earthbound, can be extended even further and calls for the conquest of gravity as such. It demands floating structures, a physical-dynamic structure.

Katy B Plummer writes for Dorabialski’s artist statement (after listing the many things ‘it’s about’): ‘I don’t know what it’s about. // I really don’t know. // You tell me. / You tell me.

Flight. I want to say, flight. The final image inspires, without spoiling the ending, desire for strange flight together.


All of Them in There (37 minute UHD video, 2016) video excerpt, curtesy of the artist.


Kynan Tan

Kynan Tan’s video installation Automated Reasoning Paradigm (2015) examines, as Kynan states, ‘human relationships with digital technologies’, and, creatively, how ‘computation senses the human’. Automated Reasoning Paradigm incorporates multiple texts, including audio-visual renderings of computational data, and interviews with artists/thinkers. The following quotes were transcribed while viewing the video artwork.

‘What is your data profile’, what is your data body (this viewer’s term); what are your ‘abstract complications’ and complexities based on ‘algorithms that society runs on’ and in turn powers more algorithms? Your data body serves servers serving your body: ‘algorithms talking to algorithms’. Your data body grows like a living thing (which may be the best way this viewer can begin to relate to her data body, or profile).

Servers need their electrical circuitry consistently kept moderately cool to survive. Your data body relies on an atmospheric temperature of around twenty-one degrees Celsius—a highly productive temperature for data making in life. As long as the hardware can breathe, your servers serving your data body will thrive between eighteen to twenty-seven degrees Celsius. This viewer knows little of her irreducible data body and the extent of her complexities—is this a problem? Therein is the felt and stated urgency behind Kynan’s work.

Our general lack of understanding of technology, or, better, our inability or unwillingness to consider ‘computational processes occurring beyond our perception’ does not neglect culture’s ability to grow. Algorithms have each other for company; code can play all day, and is continually fed by us, is continually growing and becoming more complex. Website source code visualisations (there are a number of examples online) look like botanical illustrations; similarly, software artists’ (e.g. Casey Reas) endless emergent visualisations can be easily associated to biological structures. What we may be denying culture is healthy growth. Just how is your data body is being used without your awareness or consent for lack of understanding?

Where does biology stop and technology begin in terms of a data body? (This viewer is coming from the idea that culture is a complex, nonlinear and evolutionary symbol/system of relations, of which we are an irreducible part (e.g. biosemiosis, cybernetics, emergence, complex feedback systems).) Mingling code visualisations with quotes from academic concepts and news headlines, Kynan also introduces fiction (e.g. quotes from Don DeLillo), increasing the potential for conspiracy, the potential for humanness in the nonhuman and visa versa. What is being used against my (data) body? Are my bodies co-evolving into artificial intelligence? Am I more than biological and digital information? Me_allow_edits=true/false? Automated Reasoning Paradigm is disturbing, inspires questioning, and does successfully guide the viewer toward their unknown.

Firstdraft, Feb, 2016

Installation and still image of Automated Reasoning Paradigm (2015) by Kynan Tan, 3 channel video, 2 channel sound, 14:40 loop; centre screen is a quote from White Noise by Don DeLillo: ‘It’s your whole data profile. I tapped into your history. I’m getting bracketed numbers and pulsing stars.’ / ‘What does that mean?’ / ‘You’d rather not know.’; left screen: data like pulsing stars; right screen: image of artist Andrew Brooks. Image by Zan Wimberley.


– Ashley Haywood


‘After, there are the birds’: Anne Morgan Launches ‘Weaving Nests with Smoke and Stone’ by Gina Mercer

Weaving Nests with Smoke and Stone by Gina Mercer, Walleah Press (2015), was launched at the Hobart Bookshop, 25 November 2015, by Anne Morgan.

Gina Mercer

Even the title of this work, Weaving Nests with Smoke and Stone, sings. Gina Mercer’s whole collection sings. Like the eloquent title, the cover design by Lynda Warner gives you a frisson. Look at its photograph of a nest woven from grassy fibres, moss, feathers, horse hair, sheep’s wool and the secretions of spiders. The nest contains, not an egg, but a stone. Many more surprises await you in Gina’s collection of eco-poetry. This is a book of poetic surprises, a work to cherish, a present you will want to buy for yourself, and for others.

Gina has gone fossicking for inspiration through the landscapes of Tasmania, Far North Queensland, the karri forests of southern WA, the Blue Mountains, and Melbourne, for these poems. Having assembled her materials, she has seasoned her observations, emotions, insights and metaphors with the smoke of human existence and spun them into a collection which is as memorable and eclectic as the treasures in a bowerbird’s nest.

Weaving Nests with Smoke and Stone is the work of a skilled, inspired and mature poet, whose work illuminates, never obscures. From small natural wonders in suburbia to majestic expanses of mountains and ocean, Gina’s graceful and economical voice sings nature, and humanity, and the intersections between them, in pitch-perfect images, rhythms and tone. As poet Lyn Reeves so eloquently writes in her encomium: ‘Gina Mercer’s poems are a delectable feast. Roll her words on your tongue. Savour their sound. The delicious and satisfying feel of them in your mouth’.

In this bowerbird collection you will find treasures ranging from small haiku-like poems to prose poems, to works which are complex, profound and challenging. Gina’s poems sing marigolds, nasturtiums, rhododendrons and jonquils, fallen plums plundered by a fat waddling blackbird, the plurality of little brown birds, as well as majestic expanses of mountains and ocean. She sings frog song alongside the gnawing drawl of buzz-saws and angle-grinders. She sings weather and time, the songlines of birds, soundscapes of sliding light, the zinging air, the taste of citrus, paperbark trees, eucalypts and Tristania, raptors and raucous parrots in vivid plumage. She conjures intriguing metaphors: the ‘spider of affection’; ‘the sleek otter of sleep’; the wheeling ‘hawks of doubt’.

The last common ancestor of birds and humans lived more than 300 million years ago, yet humans and birds can be considered examples of parallel evolution. Like us, birds communicate using body language, calls and song. They flirt and mate, sometimes for life, sometimes not. They build homes and often share nesting duties. Like us, they can steal, squabble, and wage territorial battles. Some hunt in teams. Solve problems. Make tools. They lay down long-term memories, caching food, managing their time through the day, over seasons. They exhibit complex emotions, from joy to grief. They have advanced visual and navigational abilities. Their frail bodies belie their robustness. But most bird species have one super-power which most of us here would envy. Their ability to soar with their own bodies. To swoop, hover and glide. To air dance ‒ which is exactly what Gina’s poems do.

In this collection Gina gives us bird-like people and human-like birds. ‘We chat like lorikeets’ she writes. Silver gulls form commuter streams. Pacific gulls wear pink ‘lipstick’ on their saffron beaks. Birds are performers, acrobats and ballet dancers. They perform pirouettes and arias. They are also ‘ancient restoratives’. Their calls ‘renovate our beige-busy days’. A woman who walks constantly has feet as ‘resilient as elderly sparrows’. Rosellas perform ‘the laws of aerodynamics and propulsion’, thereby becoming ‘the brilliant red and blue arrows so beloved of physics teachers’.

The ochre of Australian landscapes is pounded, mixed and stirred with an array of emotions. There is the joie de vivre of a mother-daughter rain dance. Poems of tender love. Poems infused by compassion or gentle irony. Her poems are playful and funny and occasionally savage. There are poems of grief and loss. Birds, to Gina, are companions and consolers. They can also be totems. Birds have long been thought to be harbingers of death in most human mythologies, and to carry the souls of the dead. In ‘Messenger?’ Gina writes of a visitation from a masked owl: ‘on hissing wings/ she circles thrice/ our bright-lit rooms –/ two weeks after your death’. The final poem of the collection, ‘After, there are the birds’, is an elegy to her sister. It may haunt you forever. Be sure to read to the end.

Because a book launch is a joyous occasion, I am going to read you ‘Tell us about Old Joe, the Galah’, not because it is representative of this collection (it’s not), but because it’s brilliant and hilarious, and we are in a celebratory mood this evening:

Well, old Joe, ’e was quite the meanest bird I ever knew. We saved ’im from a nest. The bloody ants ’ad eaten all the other nestlings. ’Orrible sight. Anyway, I know you science types don’t go much on birds ’aving their own personalities but old Joe, ’e was a mean bastard from the get-go. And bloody clever. Pretty quick smart, ’e learned to whistle the dog, sounded exactly like Dad’s whistle. And I mean, identical, bloody impeccable. So, the bird would whistle the dog, the mutt’d come lolloping over to the cage, all slobber and tongue and dumb enthusiasm. Joe’d hold out his biscuit through the wire, offer it to the fool animal. Well, what hungry farm dog can say no to a biscuit at the end of the day?

Soon as the dog’s face got close, eyes fixed on that biscuit, Joe’d go for it. ’E’d peck the bejesus out of the dog’s nose, mouth, eyes, any part of the poor bloody mutt ’e could reach. Talk about vicious. The dog’d be yelpin’, trying to pull away but old Joe, no way was ’e gunna let go. And you know how strong a parrot’s beak is? Well, let’s just say, them beaks, they’re designed to crack tough nuts. You can imagine what one of those bastards can do when applied, vicious-like, to a dog’s mouth. I tell you, it was on for young and old. The dog’d be yelping, Joe’d be hangin’ on, and Dad’d come runnin’ full pelt across the yard yellin’ blue murder, all us kids followin’. Complete bloody circus. Finally we’d drag the miserable mutt away, take ’im in for mum to patch up a bit.

Then Dad’d ’ave a good yell at Joe, curse ’im from ’ere to Sunday. And Joe? Well, ’e’d bung it on, lookin’ all downhearted, hunchin’ himself up in the corner as if ’e were the one hardly done by. Then ’e’d call out, “Joe wants a biscuit”. Course, Dad always said “No bloody way” to that, after all this malarkey. What do you reckon Joe’d do then? Well, ’e’d empty ’is water tin, stick ’is head inside, and cough. Why? Why do you reckon? Yep, you guessed it, the empty tin amplified the sound. Ever heard a galah coughing inside a tin? I can tell you, it sounds bloody dire, as if the bird’s at death’s door. I don’t know how ’e knew about amplification but as sure as my name is Bluey, that bird knew exactly what ’e was doing. Worked every time. One of us kids would feel right sorry for the bastard bird. We’d wait til Dad was off on the tractor, sneak by and drop a biscuit in Joe’s cage, fill his tin. It was ’ot out there, couldn’t leave ’im without water, could we? Then the stage’d be set for the whole bloody show to go again. Yeah, old Joe, he was one mean bastard of a bird, right from the get-go. But smart, bloody smart, you gotta give ’im that.

If you don’t know Gina already, you will glean from her writing that she is a woman of many facets and talents. She is a poet and writer of prose, an academic, an editor and teacher of writing. In her biographical note at the end of Weaving Nests with Smoke and Stone, she writes that she is ‘currently revelling in Tasmania’. As we launch her latest poetry collection on its fledgling flight, we hope it is greeted with flocks of critical acclaim. On behalf of Tasmania’s community of readers and writers, I would like to conclude by saying that Tasmania is revelling in Gina Mercer.

– Anne Morgan


Anne Morgan is a genre-hopping writer based on Bruny Island, Tasmania. She has a PhD in Writing, for which she won a university medal, and has been published in Best Australian Poems. Her poetry collection, A Reckless Descent from Eternity, was published in 2009. She is the poetry editor of the beautiful cross-arts anthology, BIRDSONG: A Celebration of Bruny Island Birds. She writes the Captain Clawbeak junior novel series published by Random House Australia, among other children’s books. She is a past winner of the Environment Children’s Book of the Year and is looking forward to the publication of her next picture book, The Moonlight Bird and the Grolken.

Weaving Nests with Smoke and Stone is available from http://store.walleahpress.com.au/Gina-Mercer–Weaving-nests-with-smoke-and-stone_p_71.html

Eccentric & Sustaining: Bernard Cohen launches ‘The Party of Life’ by Beth Spencer

The Party of Life by Beth Spencer is a bilingual (English and Chinese) collection of poems published by Flying Islands Books which was launched by Bernard Cohen at The Friend in Hand, Sydney, on 14th November 2015.

sm-edged-front cover-Party of life

The Party of Life is a big book disguised as a little book. It is the Tardis of books. The inside of Beth Spencer’s book is much, much bigger than the outside—and I speak as someone with access to just over half the words in this book, about which more soon.

As befits its title, The Party of Life is also much bigger on the outside, existing in a warm social media space, which I think many of us have made our way through to get here. Typically, that space is bill-boarded by the generous tributes Beth pays to all who have helped with this book or may help even slightly at this later stage (thank you).

And from social media we are, in turn, linked to points in electronic media, including Beth’s radio/podcast performance of her moving and lovely poem ‘Forgetting’. Additionally, there’s the space mapped out by the Viscount Kit Kelen [ASM/Flying Islands Pocket Book Bilingual Series Editor] and Flying Island Books—to whom and which let us all raise a glass.

When Beth asked me to launch the book, she did this with her customary modesty and diplomacy, the request surrounded by disclaimers, but she also attached the text. I was actually hypnotised into it by halfway down page twelve. (I should note, though, that the text starts on page ten and that page eleven, other than three commas and a colon, is, to me, completely unreadable.)

In the very first poem of this big-little book, Beth manages to evoke an entire era with two words: ‘without helmets’. She gives us the totality of a way of existing with three words: ‘for eighty cents’.

inside pp Untethered

from The Party of Life by Beth Spencer. Photo curtesy of the author.

I have a vague recollection of the instead-of-a-suicide party. I don’t think I was there, but reading the poem, the milieu seems so familiar—the particular mix of music, song after epochal song, us all in black, that ghoulish bride—that I begin to recall the whole thing. Who I may have spoken with? No, no. The details of the conversations, hesitating about going to see Beth lying in a state?—did I know her well enough in those days to see her like that? Not knowing what to do with my hands other than to hold drinks, which in this possibly new memory I was gulping at much too frequently.

But not too much further into the book, Beth talks to me about this, she says:

This is a backwards poem,
an unreliable/selective memory poem.

The imagery is getting to me, too:

The shark coloured water
creaks against the bank
‘Hmmm… hmm…’
like a $90 shrink.

Here we are, rejected, confiding in the endlessly understanding bay. Beth’s easy control over the rhythms of Australian English:

I let myself get tipsy
on two middies in the pub


Michael says, ‘You’re a feminist,
but your sense of humour saves you.’

I could simply refer to half of this book, the left-hand pages, but there’s something lovely about bilingual texts, those that can be made out or at least sounded out and those, like this, which to me are visually beautiful; full of promise and of questions of what is possible to carry over from one vernacular to another.

For instance, a group of schoolgirls in shortened dresses

the store detectives off like alarm bells
as we passed.

inside bit tunnels

detail from The Party of Life by Beth Spencer. Photo curtesy of the author.

Something Claudia Taranto did not mention when introducing me was that I am the author of Mistranslations from a Chinese Vase’. Despite failing to read, completely, the right-hand pages [in Chinese]—these pages which join the book to a converging path through spacetime—I would like to read to you those parts [of the Chinese translations] which were accessible to me (knowing from the left-hand pages just what those missing words carried).

So I’m going to read to you [in English], from the Chinese, all the parts that I can understand:

, , , :
? , , ?
, , , : , , , ?
Glebe Point
Glebe Point
Weeties ? ?
? 1 2 100 3 4 5 6
7 8 & 9,
A : , 500 : : B ? C !
… ? ! ? ! !
2009 2 7
X Steeles Creek ? ? ?
? ? ? ? ?
Steeles Creek
1 : Snap
Bobby Brady 5 25 ? ?

And again, given the pleasures of translation, with its gains and decay of implication and universal possibility within this text’s generous playfulness and availability, I’m pleased to provide this alternative: ‘Multilingual Machine Mistranslation’ (so, one more misreading of Beth’s work):

Sound –
Red socks and Jane’s wit.

Miss George McIntyre
Sewing atheist work
Hanging clothes our dirty shoes.
a Blue – white T-shirt from T-shirt College.
(all Brown Female
According to the table), the following steps.
Wear $ 500
concluded Toorak Customers
as Researchers worry about shopping.

(Perhaps my translation needs more work?)

Finally, everywhere in this big little book there is love. The love in Beth’s poems is always eccentric and sustaining. ‘I loved the way / they leaned in towards each other / for stability’, she writes, of a mother and her suckling calf. ‘The rejected in love / come down to sigh in the park / at Glebe Point’ and, in ‘Love Poem’, which begins with fear, vomit, weeping, Bobby Brady’s donut and hairy armpits, really does resolve into love.

I commend The Party of Life to you. Everyone here should walk out with several copies, which are ideal gifts for upcoming festivities, for loved ones and for your employers, employees and amanuenses: highly portable, richly evocative, impeccably observed and moving.

And it is with great pleasure that I declare Beth Spencer’s The Party of Life launched.

– Bernard Cohen


Bernard Cohen’s most recent book, The Antibiography of Robert F Menzies, won the 2015 Russell Prize for Humour Writing. He is also founder and director of The Writing Workshop.

Beth Spencer’s previous books are Vagabondage, How to Conceive of a Girl, and Things in a Glass Box. The Party of Life is published by ASM/Flying Islands books and is available at events, at Booktopia, or direct from Beth at www.bethspencer.com for $12 including postage.