Issue 15 July 2015 – September 2015

Kate Just, Venus, 2011. Hand knitted twine, cardboard, tape 90x600x50cm. Photo by Clare Rae. Kate Just is represented by Daine Singer.

Kate Just, Venus, 2011. Hand knitted twine, cardboard, tape 90x600x50cm. Photo by Clare Rae. Kate Just is represented by Daine Singer.

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Teasing Threads – Sundry Film and Literary Criticism: ‘Red Dirt Talking’ by Jacqueline Wright

Chris Palazzolo rereads Red Dirt Talking by Jacqueline Wright. Fremantle Press 2012.

red dirt talkingJacqueline Wright knows the Kimberley. Her novel is stuffed with so many details about everyday life in the big towns of Broome, Kununurra and remote aboriginal settlements that it’s hard keeping track of the various plots and subplots that wind their way through the book like goanna tracks in the red dirt. Climate rules everything in this world, the cycles of heat and wet constrain all the projects of civilisation from plumbing to the best intentions of well-meaning white female PhD students. They force it all to submit to a time that bears no relation to government plans, budgetary and electoral cycles, and university deadlines.

The novel’s narrative structure consists of two distinct stories. The first story is a first person account by a council worker and notorious scrap hoarder called Maggot. The gossip between Maggot and his buddies is about a local girl who has gone missing. The girl is aboriginal and the object of a bitter custody battle between her white mother and aboriginal father. Everyone suspects foul play. The second story, told in restricted third person, is about Annie, a PhD student from Perth who has come to the Kimberley to research a massacre that took place in the area early in the 20th century. Her project is enthnomethodological, which means recording and examining transcripts of elders talking about the massacre. Things don’t go to plan however, as the elders avoid talking about wicked things, and Annie has to confront the fact that the scientific method she’s wedded to is another way of expropriating indigenous people’s memories. In the course of her researches she gets to know the little girl who will later go missing, while the teeming, busy, moment by moment event-filled extended family chaos of indigenous, mixed and white fella life in the Kimberley diverts her from her thesis and covers over the painful memories of massacres like sand covers goanna tracks.

Annie’s and maggot’s stories cross and interweave with each other over the same landscape, but are separated by different times. The times converge at the end when the reason for the girl’s disappearance is revealed. This convergence occurs because the two stories are told at different speeds; Annie’s story is told over a longer stretch of time (a year) in the course of which the girl disappears, whereas Maggot’s story is about a week or two, after the disappearance. This makes the book difficult to enter, and the confusion is compounded by the fact that one story is first person and the other third person. This is not a shortcoming as such; just a peculiarity of this book. First person and third person narrations, running side by side reveal that bottomless trench of Cartesian alienation (those dimensions of interior and exterior which can never interact) which doesn’t seem to serve any noticeable narrative or philosophical purpose here, though I was curious, as the two narrative lines converged and Annie’s and Maggot’s paths crossed, which perspective would prevail; would Maggot’s subjectivity swallow Annie’s world, or would the third person open Maggot onto Annie’s world. There is also very little convincing psychology in the book, except for a half-hearted attempt to psychologise Annie’s motives, which is to say guilt over an estranged daughter. But the girl is so rude I just wondered why Annie keeps trying. I guess it is her neediness rather than her daughter’s that motivates her, which is the beginnings of a proper character.

The movement is the real achievement of this book. The sense of time wasting over the stretches of red dirt and bitumen, the teeming busyness that ropes Annie into writing grants for the missions or taking the kids to buy fish and chips, as if she’s some inert molecule bounced around in a Brownian motion (except the heat slows the molecules down rather than speeds them up) makes it an example of one of those strange mongrels, phylogenetic and literary, that grow in this most remote part of the world.

– Chris Palazzolo

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Teasing Threads is Chris Palazzolo, novelist and poet, editor at Regime Books in Perth, radio host on 6EBA FM North Perth, and manager of one of the last video shops in the world – Network Video, Roleystone.

You can find out more about Teasing Threads here: https://rochfordstreetreview.com/2015/07/10/introducing-chris-palazzolos-teasing-threads-sundry-film-and-literary-criticism/

Red Dirt Talking is available from https://www.fremantlepress.com.au/products/red-dirt-talking

island 45

Ten Years on an Island by Philip Roberts – The Beginnings of Island Press

Island Press was founded by by Canadian poet, musician and (then) Sydney University lecturer Philip Roberts in 1970. In 1979 Roberts returned to Canada and gave Island Press to Philip Hammial who ran it by himself until  1993 when it was transferred into a Co-operative. This year the Press celebrates 45 years as an active poetry publisher – probably making it the longest running poetry press in Australia. It is celebrating its birthday on Saturday 3rd October at 3.30pm at the Harold Park Hotel in Sydney with with readings from Island Press poets, & the launch of the latest poetry books from Philip Hammial, Christine Townend and Roberta Lowing.

The following account of Island Press’ first ten years was written by Philip Roberts after he left Australia and was originally published in Poetry Australia Issue 74-75, 1980. Rochord Street Review thanks Philip Roberts for permission to republish this article

The Island Press Co-operative website can be found at  http://islandpress.tripod.com/ISLAND.htm

**…..**…..**

island logoI started Island Press in 1970. It was an act of defiance, in a way. I had been ordered back to bed for a month after a relapse of suspected incipient multiple sclerosis, but instead set out from the neurologist’s rooms to Dolphin and Hannan on the outskirts of Parramatta and bought a Jewel treadle platen press and six fonts of Garamong type. During that month, not only did symptoms of my supposed ailment disappear, never to return, but I became a printer, a traveller of the Gutenberg galaxy, with all its miraculous reality.

I had always been fascinated by print and printing. When I was two I picked up an “error” of spelling in my own name (on the label of a bottle of Phillip’s Milk of Magnesia). Not many years later I was “printing” books on an ancient typewriter, and “binding” them on my grandmother’s treadle sewing machine. (This is not good for the needle, I was later informed.) I recall that the magic of the transformation from flat sheet to openable book was my principle source of pleasure. At high school I was editor of the annual Retropect’s first printed (as opposed to mimeographed) edition, and went on to become the editor of two undergraduate student publications (one, The Acadia Athenaeum in Nova Scotia in 1959, and the other the Jesus College, Oxford, Dragon a few years later). I became a professional, so to speak, during a couple of frustrating, and, ultimately, dull, years as a sub-editor in the chaos of Reuter’s Central Desk in Fleet Street. I also sub-edited and ghosted on the side. Correcting printer’s proofs was a common task for me.

Moreover, I had friends with an active interest in printing. An undergraduate friend at Oxford, David Bridges, had a small Adana Press, on which he planned to print (but only got as far as proof stage) my renderings of four Anglo-Saxon poems (these ultimately appeared in Crux, my third book). Also at Oxford I met Robert Graves, then Professor of Poetry. Early in our Friendship he presented me with three books he had printed with Laura Riding at their Seizin Press. The first, the smallest, was An Acquaintance with Descriptions by Gertrude Stein. They had printed this in Hammersmith, and Gertrude had had to sign bits of numbered paper in Paris and then post it back to Hammersmith to be stuck into the books. The second and third had been printed in Deya, Mallorca, where Robert still lives. They were To Whom Else by Robert himslef (he was very apologetic about the quality of the poetry in this) and Laura and Francesca by Laura herself.

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island 45

Finally, in 1969 my first book of poems, Just Passing Through, had been handset and printed by a young couple of poets in Canada, Sean Haldane and Marnie Pomeroy. Their Ladysmith Press was on their farm in Ladysmith, Quebec, near Ottawa. Their interest in printing was entirely coinci dental, but it was a boost to my own—redoubled when I discovered in later correspondence from Canada that both Sean and Marnie had known Robert well. This led to a lively exchange of correspondence between Ladysmith, Sydney, and Deya, the main topic of which was printing.

Having edged the new Jewel into our laundry up by the road at 9 Bayview Street, Lavender Bay, in Sydney (an act for which I was later—over a year later—to be evicted), I now had no clear idea of how to proceed. I had a few books, including a rat-gnawed Victorian manual given to me by Mr Edwards of Edwards & Shaw, Sydney, publishers of many fine collections of Australian poetry, and was able to distribute my founts into their respective cases, but I still was unable to print even a single line. One day, a stranger, a bass guitarist on his way to a session in a neighbouring flat, stuck his head into the laundry where I was wallowing in despair. It turned out that he was also an apprentice in printing at Sydney Tech. In an hour and a half he had taught me virtually everything I have ever needed to know about basic printing (I have to assume that I am still ignorant of many of the finer points), enough to think of doing a small book of poetry. I never thought of printing anything other than poetry.

I already knew a few Sydney poets and one or two others in the other cities of Australia, and the idea came to me of doing a small booklet, with one poem from each poet, the copies to be sold or else given away, and the proceeds to be equally split between us. One of these poets was David Malouf, a colleague at Sydney University, where I taught. He suggested a few more names. Eventually I ended up with 22.(These were Robert Adamson, David Campbell, J. M. Couper, Bruce Dawe, Robert D. FitzGerald, Rodney Hall, J. S. Harry, Gwen Harwood, Martin Johnston, Geoffrey Lehmann, David Malouf, James McAuley, Roger McDonald, Les A. Murray, Geoff Page, Philip Roberts, Thomas W. Shapcott, Vivian Smith, Andrew Taylor, John E. Tranter, Chris Wallace-Crabbe, and Judith Wright, for the record). The guiding principle was that each poet had to choose his or her best poem written during the previous year. Hence the significance of the position of the apostrophe in the title chosen for the anthology: Poet’s Choice — many choices, perhaps, but each of them singular.

This new enterprise needed a name, especially if we (by now I had taken up referring to Island Press and myself together as “we” rather grandly) were planning to sell books and open a bank account. I had a block of land on Scotland Island, and had been planning to build and move over there in a year or two: “Island Press” seemed the right name. The fact that I ended up instead in Bundeena, in the Royal National Park south of Sydney, did not seem significant enough to cause me to change the name later, especially as it so well fitted my personal picture of myself as isolationist. I even drew a printer’s device, waves surrounding a book: the book as island.

So I set out, armed with my new name and a sheaf of contributors’ mss., with a pile of brown-paper parcels of newly cut paper from B. J. Ball, each sheet the size of a two-page spread of the finished book. Then the fun began. I cannot possibly go into the minute and painstaking attention to detail that printing demands. One thing, however, the bass guitarist had told me, and the most important: be ready to resort to anything to achieve the best. Arm yourself with talcum powder, chewing gum, hairpins and rubber cement. Even the newest and most sophisticated Japanese offset press won’t give perfect results without a lot of prior fiddling-around and even witchery-pokery. The tao of printing is attained during the make-ready stage if it is to be attained at all.

The cover of Crux by Philip Roberts. Island Press 1973

The cover of Crux by Philip Roberts. Island Press 1973

The business of typesetting is printing’s most time-consuming aspect. You stand there, hour upon hour, holding a metal composing-stick in your left hand, your right fingers fumbling endlessly among the 89 compartments of the case, picking up the desired piece of type, turning the character end around to face you, and then checking the face itself to make sure it’s the right way up, three operations to be repeated for each letter. It is gratifying to discover your fingers becoming quite used to this new routine, to the point where you no longer have to consciously consider the whereabouts of any particular piece of type. Next, each line of set type must be adjusted for spacing (happily, this is not a major problem in poetry, where the right print margin is seldom justified, or lined up evenly), then a one-point lead is dropped in and a new line begun. After five or six lines are set (this could take up to 15 or 20 minutes) the whole load is manoeuvred gingerly out of the stick and onto the “stone” (a sheet of thick glass, in my case) to sit level until the whole two-page spread is complete and in place, surrounded by other pieces of metal and wood (“furniture”) and locked up tightly with two expanding clamps (“quoins”). (By now I also had a whole new vocabulary to play with.) After the whole thing is clamped into the press, with all errors of typography and spacing now in the past, the process begins. A spin of the flywheel, a stomp on the treadle, and away she goes, with stops only to replenish ink or paper. Each sheet is placed on the platen by the right hand, and removed after printing by the left hand as the right is on its way over with a new sheet. You have to keep your eyes open to make sure none of the type is clogged, or that the rollers don’t need more ink.

For me, the printing was the most enjoyable and relaxing part of the process. Friends used to call and marvel at my furious energy as I treadled away, clang-clang went the ratchet escapement of the circular ink plate, kerthwoosh went the two ink-sticky rollers across the plate then down over the type itself and back, just instants before the mighty jaws of the platen and bed crunched shut on the paper. One summer afternoon I cracked the knuckle of my right middle finger while diving for a piece of paper that had slipped down while the press was closing. I should have known better. I came to later with a lump on my head (the cement floor of the laundry) and a finger that has never been quite the same.

It used to amuse me, at these times, that so many of my university and other literary acquaintances, who prided themselves on their knowledge of books and even gave WEA courses on communication, had never thought about the final part of the printing process—the distribution, or putting-away, of the type afterwards. They often appeared amazed, watching me at work, to see that once you take a piece of type out of its compartment and use it, you must clean it and put it back before you can take it out and use it again. But in fact, this was the easiest, and fastest, part of the process: with a copy of the newly-printed sheet before you, you don’t actually have to look at the type at all while you distribute.

I have no idea how long Poet’s Choice 1970 took me—many weeks longer than I had first imagined, I’m sure. I used to spend all my free hours at the press, on the weekends, in the evenings, and whenever else I could find time. What makes Phil print? people were wondering. The flexibility of my time table at the university was a great advantage, though I did encounter some negative reaction over this from my immediate superior, and in general felt rather unsupported by the upper levels of the English Department, whose fodder is, after all, books, and particularly books of poetry. In 1976, when I gave up handsetting, I offered my press and type to the English Department but was told they had no interest in acquiring a press. Presumably they feel that students interested in bibliography should travel to Oxford to study letterpress printing, as generations have already done.

A detail from Crux by Philip Roberts, drawings by Margo Lewers. Island Press 1973

A detail from Crux by Philip Roberts, drawings by Margo Lewers. Island Press 1973

From this beginning the Press just grew. Poet’s Choice 1970 was the first and only book from the Jewel press under my operations: I sold it to Michael Dransfield the following year (1971), and replaced it with a somewhat more sophisticated machine, an Arab treadle with adjustable platen. (The Jewel’s adjustments were made by adding or subtracting single sheets of the news paper I used for platen packing.) Michael got some Times Roman type (I think because it was more workable than my own Garamond, where founts are pretty limited), and printed a small book of poems for his father. I never saw the book, but I have a commemorative sheet we printed the afternoon we moved it over to his place in Paddington and got it working.

From then until the end of my hand-setting days I produced nine further books, a total of 10 in all. Aside from the annual Poet’s Choice, which went on selling well each year, chiefly by mail order, I did four individual collections: End of Dreamtime by Kevin Gilbert in 1971; Ithaka by Martin Johnston and Crux by myself in 1973; and Swamp Riddles by Robert Adamson in 1974.

The use of artwork introduced a theme that became common to many of the Island Press collections. Martin Johnston’s perceptive translations from modern Greek poetry, Ithaka, included drawings by himself and Nevill Drury, now a high prophet of extrasensory phenomena and sci-fi. My book, Crux, had drawings by the late Sydney artist Margo Lewers, a good friend from my first days in Australia; she also designed the cover. And Robert Adamson’s Swamp Riddles, which I would now submit as my best piece of printing, had a cover by Robert Finlayson. This cover was a real headache—Adamson had asked for Efanta cover board for the paperback covers. I had never printed on paper with this finish, and, much to my consternation, discovered that my usual black ink (regular jobbing variety) refused to sink into the paper or to dry. We even baked some of the sheets all night in the kitchen oven, to no avail. I finally had to buy a whole new order of cover stock and have a professional printer do the job. So my best book is not wholly mine, at that.

Poet’s Choice 1975 was my last hand-set effort. By now the press itself had become physical drudgery. I hate to think of how many hours during those six years I spent balancing on my left foot while my right treadled up and down, four times for each impression, multiplied by 25, 30, or even 50 for each two-page spread in the book, multiplied (again) by 250, 500, or even 1000 for each copy of the final run. I was developing curvature of the spine and varicose veins in the left leg. It was getting to be a drag. I grumbled and threatened to chuck it all in, but in the end continued to allow myself to be persuaded (by other poets, mainly) to continue publishing even if I gave up printing the books myself. The deciding factor was the IBM typesetter, a kind of glorified “golfball” typewriter which produces pages of print ready, via photographic plates, for an offset press. So I could continue to do the typesetting, at vastly increased speed and comfort, while a commercial printer did the less exciting work of mass production. I soon hit upon Southwood Press in Marrickville, Sydney, a small, sympathetic, and generally competent printer and binder, and found that life as a publisher could be bearable.

The first of the IBM jobs was Poet’s Choice 1976 (its cover is disingenuously a crude facsimile of the old Poet’s Choice cover, done just before I dismantled the press forever, and looking more rustic than anything I had ever printed myself). The move into mechanisation which this represented was a big step. It meant losing a number of bibliophiles and rare-book collectors as standing-order customers. On the other hand, I was now able to print, in a relatively short time, a range and diversity of poetry which I could never have managed in the old handset days—books by Philip Hammial (since July 1979, with his wife Karen,, joint owner of Island Press), Ken Bolton (a past editor), Andrew Taylor, Michael Witts, Keith Shadwick, Andrew Huntley, Denis Gallagher, Kris Hemensley, and Jan Harry.

Cover of Swamp Riddles by Robert Adamson. Island Press 1974

Cover of Swamp Riddles by Robert Adamson. Island Press 1974

Running a Press this way means you can decide on a book and have it out in as little as six weeks—impossible for a large publisher. Moreover, you can give your poets and artists encouragement to plan all aspects of the book themselves—cover design, page layout, page area, illustrations, decorative typefaces, and so forth. I feel that Island Press poets have been, on the whole, happy with their books (though one of Brandon Cavalier’s memorable ink drawings for Michael Witts’s Sirens got printed upside down, a fact not too many readers seemed to pick up).

Most of my other energies in running Island Press (aside from the continual chores of correspondence, order-filling, and account-keeping) have been devoted to running negotiations with two agencies: the Book Bounty Section of the Business and Consumer Affairs Department, which, up to the end of this year (1979), refunded one-third of the actual cost of production of any book in Australia, provided it fell within certain guidelines of length, print run, etc. Unfortunately, this bounty is now being phased out, and small presses will now find it harder and harder to survive. The other was the Literature Board of the Australia Council, formerly the Commonwealth (of Australia, that is) Literary Fund.

The Literature Board scarcely needs introduction here. Its function is to apportion allocated funds from federal revenue to poets and other writers so they can continue their labours without starving (even though, as has been known since Larkin, “no one actually starves”), and to publishers so they can continue the otherwise financially unrewarding job of publishing the above-mentioned Australian poets and writers. In the C.L.F. days, the tricky bit was getting onto the official list of approved publishers. Usually this meant showing proof that you were capable of producing books which would elicit some (preferably favourable) critical attention. In spite of a great deal of reluctance on the part of the C.L.F. to consider an Island Press application seriously, I got nowhere in four years. I had a strong ally in this struggle in Alec Hope, and I remain grateful to him for his support, which culminated in our recognition just prior to the death of the C.L.F. and the rise of the newly-created Literature Board (Australia Council).

Although my relations with the Board have at times been less than cordial, I nevertheless look upon its participation in Australian writing and publishing as a good thing. All correspondence with the Literature Board, along with all other Island Press letters, mss., printers’ proofs, and other papers, is now housed in the archives of the National Library of Australia.

So far I have written as though I had been mainly alone in my labours. This is not true. From the earliest I had the strong support of a number of friends, of whom the chief of these, may her name live forever, was Norma Crinion of Sydney. Norma, long a behind-the-scenes worker in Sydney’s “alternative” publishing scene, had secretarial and accounting experience, and was so enthusiastic over the inception of Island Press that she volunteered to become its full-time secretary, accountant, and public relations manager. Unpaid for any of this, she continued her work for five years, on two different periods handling all the business affairs of the Press for many months while I was overseas. I occasionally later used to come upon a carbon copy of some letter she had written to an enquiring customer or to one of our contributors. They are invariably full of warmth and wit, and often elicited paragraphs of appreciation from her correspondents in return. I can never thank her enough for her help and support during the early years.

Other friends aided during certain periods of the Press’s history. My old friend Robert Brakspear, colleagues Stephen Knight and Don Anderson, Ken Bolton and Anna Couani (who edited the Gallagher and the Hemensley books respectively) gave freely of their time and energies. Poet John Millett, a trained lawyer and accountant, was always available for legal and financial advice when it was needed. Encouragement has come from every quarter, including from my dog Jason, who was just a pup on the day I first printed, is still with me now, a printer’s devil of ten years’ standing.

I can hardly conclude this reminiscence without mentioning that band upon whose very existence Island Press has -depended for its survival—the poets, contributors of poems and of whole collections. In general, I think I have been lucky in hitting it off rather well with most poets in Australia, usually being an observer rather than a participant in the frequent feuds and other hostilities that characterise the scene, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne. (The Canadian poet Margaret Atwood was told it was just a way Australian writers had of enjoying themselves.) That old war-dog, Roland Robinson, had bad feelings towards me, so I had been told for years by other poets who knew him. One day, at a function organised by Walter Stone in the city, I met Roland face to face for the first time and told him my name. He stared at me in amazement for about five seconds, then said in tones of deepest sincerity: “What a difference it makes to meet a person!” Other poets have shown bad feelings at not being “invited” to contribute to Poet’s Choice, even though the “invitation only” rule was dropped after 1975 when I stopped hand-setting. (In 1976 and 1977 I advertised nationally for poems, on the understanding that I would make the final choice of the “best” poems submitted. Since then, poems have reached me chiefly through word of mouth, or through the efforts of previous contributors.) Moreover, and this must always be the fate of any editor, I am continually being taken to task for my final selection for Poet’s Choice—one poet likes only poem A and rejects the rest of the book, another likes only poem B, and so forth. It seems pointless to suggest (particularly to another poet) that one is after something representative, some thing catholic even, as far as possible, something for everyone—and that any one reader will probably not warm to more than a few of the total chosen. Of all the poems in the ten editions of Poet’s Choice which have appeared since 1970, I have been entranced by only five or six at the most (Purely as a matter of record I could name David Campbell’s “Hotel Marine” (the complete version, which only we printed), Robert Adamson’s “Action would kill it/ A Gamble”, Roger McDonald’s “Incident in Transylvania”, Michael Dransfield’s “Saying Grace”, J. S. Harry’s “what if the big blue day”, and Judith Rodriguez’s “Eskimo Occasion”).The other poems were chosen for other readers, and just as no single one of them has been universally praised, so no single one of them, as far as I know, has been universally deprecated. Perhaps what has surprised critics most is the large proportion of “unknowns” being published for the first time, particularly in 1977 and after.

A detail from Swamp Riddles by Robert Adamson. Island Press 1974.

A detail from Swamp Riddles by Robert Adamson. Island Press 1974.

The poetry scene during the past 10 years in Australia has been particularly lively and exciting. The period of the birth and development of Island Press has paralleled such notable events as the launching of UQP’s Paper back Poets series, the opting-out of establishment publishers Angus & Robertson and others from all but the “safest” poets, the burgeoning of a plethora of small magazines and presses, and even the founding of a Poets’ Union. I also recall with pleasure such events as the annual Balmain Reading (a whole chapter could be written on this movable feast, first held in 1967 and going on to the early 70s) and innumerable other poetry readings —in the city, in the country, everywhere.

It occurs to me at times that the poet is undoubtedly reading the particular poem aloud for the first time ever, that the actual sound of the poem comes as a surprise, even to the poet. There is a widespread ignorance of the fact that the primary appeal of poetry is its sound. Poets growing up under the Olsen-Creeley-Duncan aegis of Australian verse in the mid-70s often tended to overlook this.

This might also seem an opportune time to unload a few remarks on the general divisiveness of poets. As an immigrant, a creature of another (and I think gentler) culture, I was spared much of this misplaced energy. At times, keeping track of the feuding and fighting, who was in and who was out, the Melbourne-Sydney axis, the various personal animosities (sometimes resulting in physical violence) called for more time and attention than I was able to give, particularly with my foot on the treadle and my hand in a type case. Consequently, while I was often the last to find out about such things, I was also pretty safe from direct attack. At one stage I remember gazing at some passing clouds (we were meeting on a lawn) and praying to be delivered from the poets of Australia. I pictured myself lying in a small boat five miles offshore. Who anywhere else but here could have the slightest interest in these people and their problems?

In the second half of the 70s we have witnessed an ever-increasing willingness, on the part of Australian poets, to ape all that is supposedly trendy and fashionable overseas. More and more, “overseas” comes to mean the United States, and, even then, only selected pockets of that vast and polyglot population. The rise to importance, in the Australian poetic consciousness, of any particular American poet will almost certainly be the result of a British publisher’s decision to distribute this American poet in the UK and the old Commonwealth (including Australia). In this way, Robert Creeley and Robert Duncan came to light here only after London publishers had already “pipped” them. The recent rise of the late Frank O’Hara and the New York/ Bolinas school of the 50s and 60s as a supposedly viable inspiration for the 70s in Australia (the time lag is expectable) may be attributed to the same process. I complained to Phil Hammial (by birth an American) about this recent trend. “Did you ever look at Francis Webb?” he asked. “Pure Hart Crane.”

My interest as a publisher has always been in the poem, not the poet, in the continual search for that so-rare piece of work that makes you see the world, or a part of it, in a radically new way. Without the actual, tangible success, the birth of some real poem, the words “poetry” and “poet” are like clapperless bells. The publisher’s staying power is directly proportional to his optimism and faith that new work of power and originality will con tinue to be written. His object is to bring that work to its readers as efficiently and effectively as possible. A perfect poem with no readers, like Waller’s rose, is of small worth. Bestowing the regularity of print upon it, like putting a frame around a painting, shows that it is at least to be taken seriously.

– Philip Roberts 1979

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Canadian Philip Roberts studied as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, taught English in Spain and worked for two years as a sub-editor for Reuters. He moved to Australia in 1967, taught English at the University of Sydney between 1967 and 1979, when he returned to Canada. Roberts was poetry editor for the Sydney Morning Herald from 1970 to 1974. Roberts founded Island Press in 1970.

Reviews of Island Press books on Rochford Street Review:

The Island Press Co-operative website can be found at  http://islandpress.tripod.com/ISLAND.htm

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Distilled Into Three Lines of Ink: Tash Adams Reviews ‘For Instance: A Haiku & Senryu Collection’ by Matt Hetherington

For Instance: A Haiku & Senryu Collection by Matt Hetherington. Mulla Mulla Press 2015.

For InstanceFor Instance, a haiku & senryu collection by Matt Hetherington traverses “three journeys”. Spanning 2004 to 2011, it is an account of observations through India, a significant relationship and Morocco. The 60 pages are broken into 3 sections; “sweeping the dust”, “puddles” and “the horizon”.

Initially, I wanted the haiku to maintain the short, long, short line length structure of classical haiku. The author addresses this in his introduction. He states “these are not traditional haiku or senryu but are, essentially, English-language versions inspired by what I understand as the spirit of these two classical Japanese forms”

The result is a series of “snapshots” recorded in the English language style of modern haiku.

country station platform
just a goat
and a man brushing his teeth

They are not “desk haiku”.  Written from direct experience, the collection is the essence of a journal, distilled into three lines of ink. It is simple and honest. When I asked to comment on his style/process Matt Hetherington wrote “it’s my (limited) understanding that haiku comes from one’s senses, not one’s imagination”

Rose Van Son in her book Three Owls and a Crescent Moon 2014 states, “The key is to simply write and to write simply” and this is what Hetherington does. Bravely, he opens his heart and invites us to share his journeys, both literal and metaphorical.

my marriage over –
separating artichoke leaves

In her “3CR Spoken Word” interview with Haiku Poet, Myron Lysenko 24th May 2015, Ela Fornalska recalls Matt Hetherington saying on a Ginko (paraphrased) If it’s not written from experience then it’s not haiku, it’s just a short poem.

the child’s wide eyes –
a puddle

The font is easy to read. The layout is spacious; three haiku per page allows room for the reader to ponder the layers of meaning they provide.

Whilst the structure and shape differ from the traditional masters of classic Japanese Haiku 17th – 19th centuries, the process of the pilgrim poet is the same. The collection includes classical elements of “sabi” beauty in loneliness and “wabi” beauty from living simply.

mountain river –
the patience
of stones

For me, For Instance contains a lesson on how to write interesting, unique haiku. This is Matt’s authentic, intimate account of three journeys. It’s not Eat, Pray, Love and that, is refreshing.

With haiku, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The same is true with For Instance. Lines of observation provide the weave and the layout, the weft for an honest piece of material.

Footnotehttp://spokenword3cr.podbean.com/e/myron-lysenko-and-haikus/#  from conversation at 5.30mins “…and I remember Matt Hetherington saying No no no if it’s not true, it’s not a haiku, it’s just a short poem.”

 – Tash Adams

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Tash Adams has a scientist’s eye for discovery; she hopes to name a new species. Tash can be seen investigating nature with her children or counting syllables on her fingers (Walking whilst doing so may result in injury). She blogs infrequently at tashadams.com

For Instance is available from  http://www.mullamullapress.com/for-instance-by-matt-hetherington-mulla-mulla-press

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Teasing Threads – Sundry Film and Literary Criticism: American Hustle

Chris Palazzolo works an angle on  American Hustle, Directed by David O. Russell, 2013.

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‘The Seventies’ is not the same thing as the 1970s. The 1970s is a decade in modern history when certain stuff happened. That stuff is the events (recorded and inferred) that historians assess and categorise, tracing developments from preceding decades and consequences in subsequent ones. These events perhaps can be telescopically reduced to a handful of big things; the end of the Vietnam War, the period of stagflation and oil shocks, the awakening of China, etc. In other words, what happened during that decade. ‘The Seventies’ on the other hand is a completely different sign. It is not a product of the decade of the 1970s but is in fact a product of culture industries from decades after the 1970s. For a long time ‘The Seventies’ was the sign of anti-fashion; the name given to a superseded style (flares, afros, prog rock) that fashionistas in the 1980s renounced. In the 90s, and particularly in the euphoria that immediately followed the opening of the Berlin Wall, the musical and fashion tropes of ‘The Seventies’ returned in the European House music scene. Now, in 2015, ‘The Seventies’ lives on in movies and music as an era of political corruption, hard drugs and sleaze, but also as a pre-AIDS idyll innocent of homicidal religious fanaticism and climate change.

This is ‘The Seventies’ of David O’Russell’s American Hustle. New York, ‘The Seventies,’ Christian Bale and Amy Adams play dodgy insurance brokers busted by a hot-shot FBI agent played by Bradley Cooper. Bale and Adams are offered indemnity if they agree to help ‘sting’ corrupt politicians, in particular the popular mayor of New Jersey (Jeremy Renner) who is trying to redevelop the casino district of his municipality by using highly questionable Govt/Business Inc type deals. The plot of American Hustle, squarely in the tradition of the American Noir which can be traced back to The Maltese Falcon, means that everyone is working an angle, but all is revealed at the end.

What is most interesting here is the persistence of the tropes of ‘The Seventies.’ They are all here, in the mise-en-scene (the fashions, the furniture, the big cars), the sound (groovy hits; never the crappy forgotten songs that would’ve filled up the airwaves in the 1970s), and the dialogue (a kind of baroque overlapping New York rap peppered liberally with ‘fuck’). Stylistically the movie is a compendium of classic New York street movies from the 1970s, Saturday Night Fever, Mean Streets, The French Connection, as well as subsequent ‘Seventies’ recreations such as Goodfellas and Boogie Nights. But it contains little of the historical and moral dilemmas of those movies. What is foremost in this ‘Seventies’ is fun; this world is fun, even when the characters are most anxious and verbally ripping each other to shreds, even when they’re doing business with a ruthless gangster who would kill without compunction (Robert De Niro no less) it’s still just fun; fun because they dress like they’re going to a disco every night, fun because they can say ‘fuck’ all the time, fun because they only hustle Moral Majority businessmen and try-hard hipsters. If there is any weight in the film it belongs to the mayor (because this is where the filmmaker’s politics lies); a politician prepared to get down and dirty with shady syndicates in order to bring jobs and investment to his constituents.

‘The Seventies’ in American Hustle is the reassertion of the urban space as a site of adult fun. If ‘The Sixties’ (an equally artificial sign that bears only a contiguous relation to the decade of the 1960s) was an image conflicted with the countercultural schism between established urban norms and the hippie arcadian dream of the rural, ‘The Seventies’ returns us to the city, but expunged of the shackles of children and family life, and the conservative short-back-and-sides existence that follows from that. It’s as if the counter culture did a double shuffle, shrugging off the responsibilities of children and family in the hippie pilgrimage to the country, and then shrugging off the hippie utopianism by returning to the city to party.
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 – Chris Palazzolo

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Teasing Threads is Chris Palazzolo, novelist and poet, editor at Regime Books in Perth, radio host on 6EBA FM North Perth, and manager of one of the last video shops in the world – Network Video, Roleystone.

You can find out more about Teasing Threads here:  https://rochfordstreetreview.com/2015/07/10/introducing-chris-palazzolos-teasing-threads-sundry-film-and-literary-criticism/
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Pursuing the Elusive Whole: Ashley Haywood Reviews ‘3 Painters: Collected Works Volume 5’ by John Watson

Three Painters: Collected Works Volume 5 by John Watson Puncher and Wattmann 2014

three_paintersAlbert Marquet, Pierre Bonnard and Max Beckmann are early modernist artists who have in common a resistance to categorisation. Belonging for a time with the Paris-based Fauves, Marquet would go on to forge his own artistic path into outlier-wilderness with an obsession for coastal waters. After a time, Bonnard took a couple of side steps from Les Nabis, and went his own way, too. As for Beckmann, his artistic associations are, more or less, for the sake of comparison and art history, verist, anti-Romantic, Neue Sachlichkeit. However, we can imagine all three of them crossing paths in Paris, perhaps via Henri Matisse, with whom they each shared a friendship.

John Watson’s collection Three Painters brings these three artists together in three parts: ‘The Invisible Albert Marquet’, ‘Bonnard’ and ‘Carnival: 40 Max Beckmann Poems’. Suites of ekphrastic poems on the subjects of Marquet and Beckmann bookend a lengthy, middle prose poetry engagement with Bonnard and his paintings.

Resonating in each part’s distinctiveness are concepts: to visit and revisit, arrival and departure, glimpses and residues, completeness and incompleteness, ‘diverse harbours’, ‘diverging impulses’—complexity. ‘Fragments, interludes, tropes, anecdotes, sketches’ become more than the sum of their parts in this poetry collection.

*

Watson’s ekphrasitic engagement with Marquet’s ink sketches is introduced as a ‘loose collection of glimpses’: fictionalised biographical fragments based on ‘a detail or incident’ in the life of Marquet, a painter-traveller. From the opening long poem Sketches in Ink the reader is drawn into Watson’s pursuit of Marquet in pursuit of his always-elusive subject:

… The waves appear to be doing something
They’ve never ever quite precisely done before.

This surely must validate the endless attempts
To capture them in a few strokes …

Marquet’s flight is always to the next coastline, seaport, dockside or harbour. Seaside brothels continually promise shoreline subjects, as voiced by Marquet’s wife, Marcelle Matinet, in ‘Marcelle Enters the Picture’:


In Marseilles the brothel is near the water.
His subject is accordingly the fluidity of form
And its arrest in fitful moments of stillness,
Waves which curl and slide under one another.

We follow the rapid-sketching Marquet as he journeys—often by train—back and forth across most of Europe and North Africa. Marquet’s voice is also employed which gives breathing space to this restless pursuit, for example, again from ‘Marcelle Enters the Picture’:

… It’s late. I haven’t drawn a single line
That’s not expendable. But the window without curtains
Gives upon the harbour. Therefore, Yvonne, if you
Would stay like a mirror reflecting the snow
I’ll draw instead the seawater turning to ice.

Bodies are given the qualities of water in all its forms: they are ‘flesh-toned water’, things that ‘wake and turn entwining … like a stream’. Cephalopodan bodies—‘Within, the gaslight shines / Darkly white on white reflecting bodies / Requiring pen and ink’—also foretell what more like this is to come when we reach Beckman and his ocean.

In ‘Marquet’, and throughout, terrestrial landscapes are enveloped in aqueous metaphors, wherein they mingle (‘Hydrangea blue or hydra blue’) and become something singularly terraqueous: ‘Fields like harbours and harbours like fields’ or ‘The water / Is like a ploughed field’.

Watson’s concept of the poetic ‘glimpse’ evolves with Bonnard, but with Marquet it’s like catching a glimpse of the sea from a train window before the landscape quickly rushes in to obscure the view.

As we embark for Watson’s Bonnard, there may even be some anguish or admiration felt for this characterisation of Marquet who is so obsessed with coastal waters (and light)—who, furthermore, ‘delights in reacting’ to these subjects that epitomise the certainty of change.

Watson’s Marquet is less invisible than he is seemingly always a step-ahead, chasing change, while giving chase—‘And vanishing into the woods / Of ships tied up at anchor’—which can be a pleasure for the reader-in-pursuit.

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On arrival at the subject of Bonnard, we encounter a new narrative voice. Contrast to pursuing Marquet, the narrator is inviting and forthcoming, very much like T.S. Eliot’s Prufock: ‘Let us go then, you and I’. And so we go into the ‘middle ground’ of Bonnard’s paintings: into ‘echoes, revelation, playful asides, forgetful lapses, abrupt transitions’. These modes of thought are proffered to the reader in the form of an admirer and storyteller’s ‘journal’, ‘written over a long period of intoxication with the paintings of Bonnard’, and in the style of prose poetry (for the most part).

With the narrator, we visit and revisit symbols—Bonnard and his paintings, oranges, flowers, water, weather, harbours, momentum itself, for example. Subjects or objects or ideas are sites of poetic reiteration, sites of telling and retelling, points of continual arrival and departure, where what has come before is added on to, allowing for an almost fractal-like narrative to emerge.

As the narrator claims: ‘ I conceived the idea …[to] make repeated attempts on the same subjects’. Or, in other words, allow for things to ‘grow in the telling’. This driving concept, or philosophy that embraces complex emergence, is explicit in the narrator’s storytelling; take, for example, this extract from the prose poem ‘Winter Days’:

There were days in winter where only ideas ventured out. While everything else struggled just to maintain the sum of its parts—the assailed garden, rooms with closed doors—ideas conspired to something vastly greater … They did not go outside all day and during the morning Pierre mixed a particularly warm vermilion laced with Naples yellow and spent much of the day finding places to use it up.

Watson’s philosophising narrator makes excellent use of Bonnard anecdotes, which, in a way, led to keys for the writer to enter the ‘middle ground’ of Bonnard’s paintings. Two anecdotes: Bonnard struggled to be in ‘the presence of the subject’, preferring to paint away from his subjects, and the artist also had a ‘habit of returning to paintings after many years’. With these anecdotes, the concept of the ‘glimpse’ as a key, for example, seems to grow or evolve with Bonnard and with his desire to detach from his subjects.

Watson’s narrator attempts, then, to deal with the subject, ‘glancingly, tangentially’, to leave it ‘intact, untouched almost’, preserving what was while it, at the same time, ‘takes us further on, away’. In other words, ‘residues’ of meaning are carried from one place to another (as in metaphor) toward the ever shifting ‘borders of the inexpressible … like things always about to be!’ As the narrator discovers: ‘Such … is the achievement of Bonnard—the preservation of possibility!’ The narrator returns to Bonnard’s paintings, revelling in his new discoveries with each viewing, similar to Rainer Maria Rilke’s experience with Paul Cézanne’s paintings in ‘Letters on Cézanne’.

Yes, falling apart at absolutely every point. Yes, falling apart like the distant vista of mountain slopes dropping down as we reach the top of the commanding hill. Yes, falling apart like the expanding universe celebrating the widening gaps between things. Like leaps of affection between objects.

As for Bonnard’s fetish for incompleteness—‘ he even carried a little paint-box with him to galleries or the homes of friends where he would discreetly add touches of colour to paintings sold or given away years before’—further gives the narrator cause to celebrate symbols’ potential for growth.

This is not the end. ‘Bonnard’ is concluded with an interlude: a narrative about a growing friendship between two characters, Barnard and Brunel, and the influence each has on the other’s philosophical thinking, thinking which is in vein of the mathematical and metaphysical philosophy sustaining ‘Bonnard’. This interlude is like a summary, but more like a new layer or outgrowing—and a delightful reading experience, wherein Watson settles most into his storytelling and philosophy.

*

We return to water with the Beckmann poems, ‘hovering between approach and retreat’, seeking the ‘inwardness’ the painter seeks, and maybe the ‘everything and nothing’ of a brushstroke.

Of the three ekphrastic engagements, Watson’s suite of poems with Beckmann were written the fastest over the course of, what I imagine to be, a feverish month. We are slowly taken further from watercourses and harbours, out into deeper womb-like waters, and ‘down into the realms of dreams and art’ and myth.

Beckmann’s character speaks: ‘I’m painting still lifes / Landscapes, beautiful women, visions of cities rising from the sea’. As like stage curtains, Watson parts these Debussy-like spectacles to enter behind the scene. We come to Beckmann-inspired sensations. The poem Pretty stands out to me as a poem about desiring to enter the sensation of painting:

We’re talking here about a pretty
Severe case of
We’re talking here about a pretty severe case

Of wanting to be where
Willingly compliant otherness –
I mean ocean-wave-waving nakedness –

Is like a sentient valley with uplands and fields;
We’re talking here about his wanting
To be part of, to enter, many abstract nouns

And to regard them as objects of desire,
Of his wanting
Of wanting to be where the action is.

The following quote is attributed to Beckmann: lf you wish to get hold of the invisible, you must penetrate as deeply as possible into the visible. ‘All over the midnight blue water’ there are sea-creatures and ‘dolphins bearing women, the men / Riding white swans into a squall’, women straddling birch on Walpugis Night, ‘Calypso walking on the water’, where ‘The half-naked siren must remain’. Watson’s ekphrasis attempts to plunge into momentum, happening, the interval between approach and retreat with a carnival of Beckmann symbols.

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Watson’s poetry and prose poetry is at its best and most inventive when he fully embraces narrative and his painter-subjects as characters—when his philosophy courses between his words with ease. This was my experience, for the most part, of this collection Three Painters. Additionally, ‘Bonnard’ is an experimental mode of ekphrasis and an excellent resource for interested readers. Watson’s ‘Bonnard’ is a creative meditation on the ekphrastic performance (‘out-speaking’, ‘pointing-out’), the relationship between writing and painting, and the concept that objects evolve with each ‘telling’—what ekphrasis in itself demonstrates. ‘Life is the sum of distracting contingencies’: with glimpses, glances and residues, Watson pursues this elusive ‘whole’, (more than) the sum of distracting contingencies and possibilities that a painter holds in their brushstroke.

 – Ashley Haywood

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Ashley Haywood is a writer with work published in Australia and performed in the streets of Paris. Recently, she received a PhD with her thesis Harlequin Blue and The Picasso Experiment. Most recently, her writing appears in Spineless Wonders’ anthology Out of Place. She also paints with pigments collected in her travels. Ashley currently lives between Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.

3 Painter: Colledted Works Volume 5 is available from  http://puncherandwattmann.com/books/book/three-painters

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A Poetry that Holds Great Power: Heather Taylor Johnson reviews ‘Immune Systems’ by Andy Jackson

Immune Systems by Andy Jackson Transit Lounge Melbourne, 2015

immune systemIn Andy Jackson’s new book, Immune Systems, we are shown India through three distinct lenses. Section one sees the Indian urban landscape through an overseas patient who is there to receive treatment and recover, whereas sections two and three use formed poetry as links to the country: haikus and ghazals, respectively. The haikus offer a break from the heaviness of the first section, consisting mostly of tiny Japanese odes to mosquitos. The final one, not about a mossie, is ironic existentialism, bringing us back to Jackson’s emphasis on his own identity in a country crammed with so many others. Perhaps it is because they are earlier poems (written 2008-9) or perhaps it is because they differ so much from the poetry in section one, which came out of a 2010 Asialink grant thus had a project focus, but the ghazals of section two lack both personal and political investment in relation to the medical tourist poems, so I don’t want take up time talking about them. I’d rather focus on the poetry in section one; it is those poems that I feel make Immune Systems such an important book and show Jackson, too, to be such an important poet.

The book opens with ‘Apollo Hospital’ – as much an invitation from Jackson to his readers as it is an invitation from the hospital’s signage to Jackson – to enter the world of medical tourism in India. Traditionally a scheme where people from underdeveloped countries travel abroad to receive better medical treatment from under- or less-developed countries, medical tourism now includes people from developed countries travelling to underdeveloped countries to receive cheaper medical treatment, which is the case in Immune Systems. In ‘Apollo Hospital’ there are brief glimpses of the surrounds, and they are those crowded, sensory-laden images we expect from a foreigner in India, a place where things break down, and it is not only bodies: umbrellas, bricks, ‘[t]he tamarind tree barely holds its seed pods’ (23). But Jackson’s purpose is not to offer city-street clichés of India. Throughout the poem he is focused on the hospital, telling us to cross the street, take a left, bypass the first building that might be mistaken for a hospital, pass a plethora of vendors. With all these directions, there is a sense that we do not want to get lost, that we must make it to the hospital.

The next poem begins his recovery. In ‘Everything went very well’, he writes:

An incision along – suture of – resectioning –

This line not only shows the inadequacies of language when describing the trauma of the body, but also seems to suggest the monotony of yet another procedure for someone so accustomed to surgery, as if he is saying, ‘does it matter which part of my body has been affected?’ This duality of meaning can only be achieved by avoiding the pathos so easy to embrace when trying to describe illness.

The poet’s treatment does not always include medical follow-ups and rest; often it is the simplicity of human interaction, the importance of human touch. There are two dream poems where language is either a barrier to understanding or completely unnecessary. But mostly the section is focused on illness: his own and that of others around him. The link between poverty and illness, between physical deformity and poverty, cannot be ignored in India, but the fact is that the poor are prone to the fakery of medicine and ill-equipped facilities so, in fact, they are being ignored. Jackson is a privileged patient in the country; he did not fly half way around the world to be ignored, but to get proper treatment at a lower cost. In the long poem ‘Whatever exists in the universe’ he posits the privileged tourists and the local destitute against one another:

In suburban Chennai, the husband and wife
take poison, give sleeping pills to their two children.
Only Janani, three, severely retarded,
survives.

Yes, I keep forgetting, India has more millionaires
than any country. Why must we
focus on the negatives?

At the entrance to the ambulance bay, another shrine.
On the waiting room wall, a crucifix.
From the internet café, above the traffic, the call to prayer.
A man, on a nearby rooftop, does push-ups.
Whatever exists in the universe, exists in the human body.

They implant a pacemaker in her brain
when her body resists the medication.
No longer does she spend ten hours a day
washing off imaginary germs.

20,000 unlicensed medicine factories. Inspectors bribed. Up
to 25% of pills are fake. 1 child dies from encephalitis every
2 hours in Uttar Pradesh in a single hospital. 3 children per
incubator in an epidemic ward. Last year 60,000 women
died during pregnancy or childbirth.. 60% of the world’s
undernourished children live in India. Numbers stick in

the throat.

(32-33)

Further on he writes,

Sometimes I’m afraid all my scars will tear open
……………………..or worse, that they already have.

(33)

This couplet sums up what Immune Systems says to me. Poetry urges readers to feel, but good poetry does so while also forcing readers to think, to consider the human condition by way of the world around us. In this book Jackson not only shows us his own vulnerability through a needy, faltering body, but also through his questioning of ‘Why me? Why not them?’ in which the case of vulnerability is transferred to those around him, revealing a greater vulnerability of human kind, that which could be thought of as a question of identity, that which could also be termed as compassion. And because he can see his world and that of those around him with a fluid and, dare I say, balanced eye, his poetry holds great power. I highly recommend this book.
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Andy Jackson reading from Immune Systems (video Ralph Wessman – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7tCJPM5lrjw)

 – Heather Taylor Johnson

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Heather Taylor Johnson is the author of three books of poetry and one novel. Her fourth book of poetry will be published by Five Islands Press. She is the poetry editor of Transnational Literature and is currently editing The Fractured Self: Poetry of Chronic Illness and Pain. She recently gave a paper in Oxford discussing why poetry is the genre best suited to illness narratives.

Immune Systems is available from http://www.transitlounge.com.au/

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Complex, Surreal & Striking: Peter Thomas reviews ‘The Genderator’

The Genderator, an exhibition by Sissy Reyes and Jorge Mansilla at The Shop Gallery, 112 Glebe Point Road, Glebe until 11th September

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As the father of a four-year-old daughter, this new work by Mexican-Australian artists Sissy Reyes and Jorge Mansilla, debuting this week at the Sydney Fringe Festival immediately caught my attention. Despite our best efforts to keep things gender-neutral at home, our daughter is already starting to distinguish between “boys things” and “girls things”.

Enter The Genderator.

At the heart of the work is a kind of mythical pre-Colombian philosopher’s stone that turns everyday objects into a genderised or Genderatored pink. The location of the Genderator, somewhere in the middle of the Australian bush, seems absurd, and this lends a kind of pop-whimsical humour to this project. Juxtaposed as it is against this proto-landscape, the Genderator soon however takes on a sinister tone, as the faceless protagonist slowly transmutes random objects of non-defined gender into “female goods”.

Speaking on the night to Mansilla he said “boys are targeted with Pirate ship lego sets, cars or toy guns, while girls as young as 3 years old are targeted with pink kitchen and beauty sets and baby dolls.” Reyes added that “if girls as young as three years old are associating pink coloured products with a kind of permission to use, wear, play, and think, they are learning from a very young age to confuse who they want to become, with who they are allowed to become.” This was eerily backed up the next day when I opened up this Guardian article (http://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/sep/04/toys-aimed-at-girls-steering-women-away-from-science-careers) to see that researchers are finding that “passive” girls toys may lead women away from careers in Science and Engineering.

The Genderator is a visually satisfying and beautiful cinematic work, which is both thoughtful and never more relevant in this era of twenty-four seven gender-driven marketing.

Purple Moustacho is a Mexican art duo formed by visual artists Sissy Reyes and Jorge Mansilla who have been collaborating since 2008. Influenced by the raw, often tragic, desperately humorous and everlasting colourful nature of their native Mexico the artists bring a refreshed perspective to Australian visual arts by combining complex, surreal and striking aesthetics with themes of gender, sexuality, consumerism, cultural constructs and human nature.

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  – Peter Thomas

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The Genderator 4 – 11 Sep 2015 at The Shop Gallery, 112 Glebe Point Road, Glebe from Mon-Fri 10am – 6pm,  Sat-Sun 12pm- 7pm.  http://theshopgalleryglebe.blogspot.com.au/

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Teasing Threads – Sundry Film and Literary Criticism: Annette Haywood-Carter’s ‘Savannah’

Chris Palazzolo revisits Savannah Diected by Annette Haywood-Carter 2013

Savannah_1In Annette Haywood-Carter’s Savannah two things never change; the river that flows through the growing town of Savannah, Georgia, and Gil Talmi’s music. From the opening scene to the final credits the music’s air of sweet, rueful happiness remains unchanged. Perhaps the music represents the mindset of the former slave, Christmas Moultrie (Chiwetel Ejiofor) through whom the events in the film are narrated, as he lives out his immense old age in a rotting shack near the banks of the Savannah River in the early 1920s? It is meant to indicate an old man at peace with his long memories, forgiven all the wrongs done to him since his childhood, and now reflects on his own past and those he loved and lost with a magnanimity as broad as the river itself.

The recollections centre on the eccentric figure of Ward Allen (Jim Caviezel) the Oxford educated heir to a plantation, who renounces his inheritance to live a simple life as a duck hunter on the river. Allen constantly finds himself in court on charges of hunting out of season, where he delivers highly rhetorical harangues on the rights of duck hunters and is usually let off by an indulgent judge (Hal Holbrook). When he makes an ill-advised marriage to the daughter (Jaimie Alexander) of a prominent burgher (Sam Shepard), his jealously guarded life of freedom and irresponsibility comes apart. He is singularly unsuited to marriage, and his abominable neglect of his young wife (regularly abandoning their marriage bed to go and drink and act like a yahoo in town) is the tragic story at the heart of this narrative. During these terrible years Allen publishes a handful of articles in a newspaper where he espouses a philosophy of wildness and the ‘natural man.’ But as he’d already said to his fiancé early in their courtship (perhaps the only example of self-insight that he displays) he is “no latter-day Thoreau,” and so the argument feels like a justification for his failings as a husband. Ironically his wife would be happy to share his adventures on the river, but it’s him that insists she remains a homemaker, and so turns her into the very thing that he most wants to flee. In other words his continuing pursuit of life as a ‘natural man’ involves denying her the right to be a ‘natural woman,’ and as he’s unwilling or incapable of giving her children, the unnatural role he’s assigned her becomes a prison. It can only end in tears, and the sadness of the story is compounded by the fact that for all his eloquence Allen is deeply inarticulate, unable to express his impulses coherently. Ultimately he seems to me, not so much as a ‘natural man’ but at best a misfit, at worst, a delinquent. Any intimations of homosexuality, especially between a white man and a black man, remain as unspoken in the film as they would’ve been in Georgian society of the time. One wonders what Tennessee Williams would’ve made of this particular specimen of US southern masculinity.

Meanwhile, as this terrible story unfolds, the sweet music continues unperturbed, as if ultimately indifferent to the vicissitudes of human happiness, or perhaps more pessimistically, as if the tragic story we witness through the recollections of the old black retainer, is simply part of the natural order of life and death on the great river; that ‘natural man’ and ‘natural woman’ are profoundly incompatible, and that no human agency or civic responsibility can trouble the eternal flow of nature. Which is why the film’s most obvious lurch into hagiography (when Allen holds his arms up in supplication to the great river before throwing himself in) seems so hollow and selfish; a gesture of ownership rather than surrender. The God he’s supplicating may forgive him, the Foundations that perpetuate his memory as one of Georgia’s favourite sons may venerate him. But it’s very hard for me to understand what this man is about.

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 – Chris Palazzolo

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Teasing Threads is Chris Palazzolo, novelist and poet, editor at Regime Books in Perth, radio host on 6EBA FM North Perth, and manager of one of the last video shops in the world – Network Video, Roleystone.

You can find out more about Teasing Threads here:  https://rochfordstreetreview.com/2015/07/10/introducing-chris-palazzolos-teasing-threads-sundry-film-and-literary-criticism/

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Philosophical & Thoughtful Conversations: Brenda Walker launches ‘The Mind’s Own Place’ by Ian Reid

The Mind’s Own Place by Ian Reid, UWA Press, 2015 was launched by  Brenda Walker on 15 July at the  Lawrence Wilson Gallery, University of Western Australia.

TMOP_CVR_FA.inddThe critic James Wood seems to have spent most of his adult life writing about the novel, defending and defining the form. In his most recent book, The Nearest Thing to Life, he writes that ‘in fiction, we get to examine the self in all its performance and pretence, its fear and secret ambition, its pride and sadness.’ Ian Reid‘s three novels are brimming with character, with the intelligent and sometimes sombre demonstration of contradictions in fate, in history and in the way lives might be lived. In the first novel, The End of Longing, Will Hammond, a furious suffering child, wounds himself at his mother’s graveside, then grows up to inflict wounds on all who dare to love him. His wife’s relatives speak bitterly of his ‘real [bad] character,’ which they failed to notice, blinded by Will’s performance as a doctor and a man of religion. What Ian Reid’s novel shows, in fact what all his novels demonstrate, is that ‘real character’ is a complicated matter. A person, even a deceptive and in some ways shameful person like Will, is driven, in the words of James Wood, by fear and secret ambition, pride and sadness, and we as readers draw close, fascinated by the complications of the self. In That Untravelled World, Ian’s second and most sombre novel, a hopeful practical visionary, impressed with the possibilities of modernity: the aeroplane, the wireless, photography, exploration, lives an impoverished life while war and Depression slowly detonate his confidence in the future of humanity, and the love he cherished for the best part of a lifetime dissolves into an ordinary and practical separation. In this third novel, The Mind’s Own Place, which we are celebrating tonight, Thomas Browne, a character who begins his working life in a foundry witnessing the onset of the great institutions of industrial transformation: the railway, the infrastructures of urban life and mobility, witnesses, too, the madness of pointless consumerism and the collapse of his own economic enterprise.

Ian Reid’s fiction is grounded in an understanding of how complicated character can be, how tragic fate can be, and how lives that might seem inconsequential carry the immense force and power of history and personality; how each life is so much more than it might appear. James Wood writes about fiction as ‘the life-surplus,’ fiction has a way of demonstrating that individual lives overflow with incident and ‘push’ themselves beyond death.

Central to this is Ian Reid’s understanding of history and storytelling. His work is a sophisticated demonstration of the idea that each novel contains a kind of unspoken guide to the way it should be read. These novels are not dramatized historical events. They are philosophical and thoughtful conversations about history and storytelling. The End of Longing begins with a reconstruction of the past: an attempt by Edward and Frederick Phillips, and, later, by legal authorities, journalists and correspondents, to get ‘more information’ about the death of Frances Hammond. This information will not, in the end, explain very much.

The novelist, with the special instrument of a novelist’s imagination, travels between characters, explaining and enlivening, showing the reader how bizarre and seemingly impossible events can unfold, and how the imagination that can enable such understanding can also be seductive and sinister: the dead woman, Frances, is besotted with the scoundrel Will Hammond because he has ‘begun to enlarge her imagination.’ This novel shows us, too, the energy and mobility of nineteenth-century life: ideas about God and literature move through large and small communities, and personal transformation and self-invention are constant possibilities.

That Untravelled World is also eloquent about history and storytelling. In the terrible privations of the Depression, people read to try to gain traction on the collapse of their hopes. They read ‘serious novels,’ hoping to be shown ‘human resilience.’ The ‘power of storytelling’ consoles the hero, Harry, he remembers the novels of Dickens and the small potent transformations of family life that Dickens writes about: ‘In novel after novel, parents acted like children; children acted like parents; siblings turned into strangers; and strangers into siblings.’ Fiction offers a domestic model for the changes that Harry experiences in his own expectations, once so sunny and certain. I cannot leave a discussion of this novel without quoting its most beautiful paragraph, full of a hopefulness about history which is diminished as the book progresses but still faintly resonant: ‘Harry believed he could glimpse the world of tomorrow, when wireless – along with aeroplanes and other new inventions – would help to remove the barriers between different peoples, different places. He saw with his inward eye a planet encircled by waves, not only in the constant rhythmic undulation of mighty expanses of water but also in the pulsing and rippling relay of electromagnetic signals, invisible, miraculously rapid.’

Ian Reid.

Ian Reid. (Photograph from author’s website http://ianreid-author.com/)

Which brings me to The Mind’s Own Place. James Wood writes about fiction comes close to ‘giv[ing] us the awful privilege of seeing a life whole’ – he likens it to obituary. In Ian Reid’s third novel Thomas Browne, a boy who works in the heartland of early English manufacturing, so that the ‘adult world’ seems to be ‘regulating his pulse in accord with industry’s throb,’ a boy who sees the ferocious labour of railway workers as ‘heroic’ and the workers themselves as ‘transfigured,’ ends – well, I won’t spoil the story, but he ends in a way that could never have been predicted, given his youthful excitement, his enterprise, and his thoughtful understanding of social forces, his sensitivity to the demands of the masculine models of his time. I’m constrained here, because I don’t want to give the story away, but I can say that, as in previous novels, Ian Reid shows the grim side of industrial and social advancement and that, enmeshed with the great and often terrible forces of history he shows us the complication, the tenderness, the resignation or rages of a properly understood character. His hero, if that’s the right word, is not alone, because this novel is a great gathering of personality, character after character, in irreducible and fully imagined life, all shown making the journey from England to the staggering brilliance of Fremantle, where social certainties fall away, and people are not defined and penned in by old stories about themselves and their families. The Irish, Fenian political prisoners, have stable identities, but other characters are more fluid. Compared to England, to a short life ‘fur-pulling’ – or scraping the stinking carcasses of rabbits until the lungs fill with fine hair-dust; or a short life working with lead glazes in a pottery, to working in wooden clogs in winter on a drenched factory floor, Western Australia is magnificent. However it can be a desperate place, and this novel is filled with the tension of human fates played out in unexpected unison. As in previous novels, storytelling is a kind of touchstone – a successful family is ‘bound together within a comfortable circle of storytelling.’ And storytelling brings a necessary perspective: Thomas Browne says that when we tell stories we might be ‘taken away for a while from familiar everyday situations so we can see them in a different light when the story is over’. This distraction and refreshed understanding is part of what the novel, and this novel in particular, does. In The Mind’s Own Place Ian Reid once again gives us the ‘life-surplus’ of history: love and journeys and work and ideas, fear and purposeful action and sometimes, failure, all playing out before us in this big and beautifully balanced novel of character.

I haven’t said anything yet about the storyteller himself: Ian Reid, an acclaimed poet, a critic investigating narrative, an educator and administrator whose academic work has benefited so many young people in their own journey towards the accommodation of history and personality. I think only a writer of Ian’s accomplishment and experience could have achieved the brilliance of The Mind’s Own Place. It is an example of the imaginative understanding of character, fate and situation and a great cause for celebration.

 –  Brenda Walker

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Brenda Walker is a Professor of English and Cultural Studies at the University of Western Australia.

The Mind’s Own Place is available from http://uwap.uwa.edu.au/products/the-minds-own-place

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