Closer to the Centre of Things: Rochford Street Review Previews the 19th Byron Bay Writers Festival

The 19th Byron Bay Wrtiers Festival runs from 7th to 9th August 2015

Rochford Street Review at the Byron Bay Writers Festival

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Once upon a time, many, many years ago, a poet friend stood on a beach at Byron Bay and, gazing wistfully out to sea remarked “this is as close as I can get to the New York poets without leaving Australia”.  Looking back I wonder if, technically they were correct. Would you be closer to the New York School if you stood at the top of Cape York, or Lord Howe Island, or even Sydney in 1968? At the time, however, it seemed strangely appropriate to think that we were closer to the centre of things balanced, as we were, on the very edge of Australia.

Of course such seriousness did not last long. I believe the next comment had something to do with Frank O’Hara being run over on a beach and noticing some ominous tyre tracks leading down from the dunes. This was well before the event of the Byron Bay Bluesfest, or the Byron Bay Writers Festival, but there was still a lot of creativity happening in and out of town, in cafes, bars and parks. In those days the trains still ran through to Murwillumbah and I have a distant memory of a poetry reading on the station platform.

But Byron Bay, like the rest of us, has grown up at least a little and, while there may still be vibrancy on the streets, most of the cafes are now upmarket and poetry and writing a little harder to find. That is until the annual Byron Bay Writers Festival comes around. This year marks the 19th year of the festival which is held in the Arts & Industrial Estate (turn left as you head towards Byron along Ewingsdale Rd after turning off the Pacific Highway (is the upgrade finished yet?).

The Festival proper kicks off this Friday (5th August) but some events are already under way. A series of workshops, run by Moya Sayer-Jones,  Zanni Louise, Mandy Nolan, and Krissy Kneen among others will run at various locations around Byron in the 4 days leading up to the festival. The Five Writers Road Trip (5 Writers, 5 Towns in 5 days) kicked off on 1 August in Coffs Harbour before moving to Grafton on 2 August, Casino on the 3rd, Astonville on the 4th before finishing up at Murwillumbah on the 5th. The five writers undertaking the tour are Lian Hearn, Zohab Zee Khan, Ellen van Neerven, Mark Dapin and Chris Flynn who conduct workshops and discuss books and reading during panel discussions at each stop.

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These days, of course, the prestige of a Writers Festival depends on their guest list, the balance between international and local names, established and emerging and so on. After Sharon Olds recently made the trip to Mildura it was with some interest to see who was making the trip to Byron Bay in Early August. I shouldn’t have been worried because, despite a handful of last minute cancellations (Helen Garner, Joanna Rakoff and Osamah Sami), there is an impressive line up of local and international talent at this years festival.

One particular highlight for me would have to be British-Pakistani Political commentator Tariq Ali in conversation with Kerry O’Brien (Bush in Babylon must have one of the best cover designs of the last two decades). For the more literary minded other international guest include the 2015 Booker longlisted Nigerian writer Chigozie Obioma and the Mexican-based writer, Jennifer Clement, whose novel, Prayers for the Stolen, was shortlisted for this year’s PEN Faulkner Award for Fiction.

For the local writers Kate Grenville speaking on her most recent book, One Life: My Mother’s Story,  on Saturday at Byron Bay Library would have to be high on the list of must sees. I saw Kate speak on One Life at the Sydney Writers Festival this year and I can tell you you are in for a treat.

David Hallett with special guests Daevid Allen (at his final public performance)  at Writers at the Rails, Byron bay 1st March 2015.  - Photograph by David Hancock

David Hallett (left)with special guests Daevid Allen (at his final public performance) at Writers at the Rails, Byron bay 1st March 2015. – Photograph by David Hancock (http://www.davidhancock.com.au/)

The tribute to poet, guitarist, singer, composer and performance artist Daevid Allen on Saturday at the Lone Goat Gallery is also something to pencil in. Allen, who died in March this year, founded the band Soft Machine (named after a William S. Burroughs novel) in the 1960’s and took part in the 1968 Paris uprising where he apparently handed out teddy bears to police. After touring and performing and living in a hippy commune Allen returned to Australia in 1981 he returned to Australia and took up residence in Byron Bay. He continued to work on performance pieces and poetry as well performing Jazz, Acid and psychedelic rock as well as a genre called space rock. His official website can be found at http://www.daevidallen.net/daevidallen/ index.html. The tribute to Allen will be MCed by poet David Hallett who organised Allen’s last public reading in Byron Bay on 1st march this year. Also reading and remembering  will be  Vasudha Harte, Riddhi, Frank Khouri, Willie McElroy and Robert Gibson.

Other writers to keep an eye out for include Emily Bitto, winner of the latest Stella Prize, James Bradley (http://cityoftongues.com/), Jane Caro, Matthew Condon, Robert Drewe. Ramona Koval, Sofie Laguna, winner of this years Miles Franklin, Angelo Loukakis. Moya Sayer-Jones and many many more.

The Arakwal Bumberlinpeope gathered for thousands of years on the land we now call Byron Bay to tell their stories and sing their ceremonies. If think of the Byron Bay Writers Festival of existing in such a tradition then it becomes much older than the 19 years of the current festival. Lets see this gathering of writers and creativity in a much larger and longer tradition in the Northern Rivers and maybe we can build some links to the ancient stories in this land. Rochford Street Review  wishes everyone taking part a happy 2015 Festival!

– Mark Roberts

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For further details on the Byron Bay Writers Festival go to  http://www.byronbaywritersfestival.com.au/

The program for the festival can be found at  http://issuu.com/nrwc/docs/bbwritersfestival2015-program-v7

Sara Khamkoed will be covering the 19th Byron bay Writers Festival for Rochford Street Review

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Australian Films Centre Stage at the 62nd Sydney Film Festival

The 62nd Sydney Film Festival kicks off on 3 June. In the first of three pieces over the next week Mark Roberts previews some of the festival highlights. In this first piece he concentrates on some of the Australian films that will be screening at the festival.

700x350It has been a few years since I actually covered the Sydney Film Festival as opposed to attending screenings without the intention or requirement to write up a review or to provide and overview of the festival. This probably explains why I have been remembering the first time, back in the mid 1980s, when I received a media pass and found myself rushing back and forwards from the office to the State Theatre with a notebook, a pencil and an ever growing list of deadlines. From memory it was 1985 and I was working as the reviews editor of Tribune. I had a list of films to write on, most of them political documentaries or features from the Eastern Bloc countries plus the occasional East German musical. It was also the year that the Jean-Luc Godard film Hail Mary was screened at the festival. On day two or three of the festival I was rushing along George Street to get to a screening of, I think, one of the East German musicals and took a shortcut down the little lane way that came out next to the State.

As I emerged onto Market Street I was confronted by an angry mob – but it wasn’t your normal angry mob. There appeared to be large number of chanting nuns and banners proclaiming that the ‘Legion of Mary’ was not happy. I was trying to figure out what was going when I was struck heavily on the back of head with a large wooden crucifix. I remember dropping to my knees and then being helped into the theatre by a security guard. I was then caught up in the rush of people who had made it past the increasingly violent protest and carried into the theatre where I found a seat and tried to focus on the screen.

Still feeling the effects of almost being knocked out it took me some time to realise I was not watching a East German musical. Finally breaking a film festival taboo I asked the person in front of me what was showing. It turned out I was watching Hail Mary which had been due to be shown some four hours earlier but had been delayed due to a series of bomb threats. I can’t remember much about Hail Mary and spent the rest of the afternoon and some of the evening at RPA being checked for concussion and missed the next three days of the festival.

Looking through the program for this festival I couldn’t find a movie which, by itself, would bring the crucifix bearing mobs into the streets. That is not to say however, that the 62nd Festival lacks excitement .

I recently heard, during a discussion about the impact of the budget cuts on the Arts, that Australian cinema has lost the “punch” it had 30 years ago, and that this lack of vitality, which is reflected across the arts, was one of the reasons why governments found it much easier these days to attack the funding base of Australian culture. While such a comment probably reflects a slightly selective memory of recent Australian cultural history, one could also point to the strong line up of Australian films in this years festival as evidence that we still have important stories to tell and we can tell them with passion and skill. Perhaps the thing that is missing is the committment from governments to provide a viable funding structure to ensure these stories can be told into the future.

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Patrick Brammall in Ruben Guthrie

Ruben Guthrie, the directorial debut of award-winning playwright, screenwriter and actor Brendan Cowell, opens this year’s festival. Cowell adapted the film from his own play which premiered at the Belvoir in 2009. The film follows the main theme of the original play – Ruben Guthrie is an advertising man leading a party boy lifestyle with a model fiancée and a house on the water. He also likes a drink or three. He’s at the top of his game, until some drunken skylarking suddenlly brings him down. His mum hits the panic button, and then his fiancée  leaves him, but not before issuing him one final challenge: If Ruben can do one year without a drink, she’ll give him another chance” With a strong cast featuring Patrick Brammall, Alex Dimitriades, Abbey Lee, Harriet Dyer, Jeremy Sims, Brenton Thwaites, Aaron Bertram, Robyn Nevin and Jack Thompson, Ruben Guthrie is a film to look out for.

Another potential standout Australian film is Jeremy Sims’ Last Cab to Darwin. The film, which is loosely based on an actual event, follows Rex, a Broken Hill cab driver who is told he has less than three months to live, as he drives his cab from Broken Hill to Darwin where he believes that the recently past euthanasia laws will allow him to end his life on his own terms. Once again there is a cast that suggests that this will be a special film featuring Michael Caton, Mark Coles Smith, Emma Hamilton and Jacki Weaver. An added bonus is that Ed Kuepper has provided the original soundtrack to the film – something that by itself would ensure that Last Cab to Darwin would be on my must see list.

Michael Caton in Last Cab to Darwin

Michael Caton in Last Cab to Darwin

Strangerland, a joint Australian/Irish production, is Australian director Kim Farrant’s feature debut starring Nicole Kidman, Hugo Weaving and Joseph Fiennes. The film follows Catherine (Kidman) and Matthew (Joseph Fiennes) and their teenage children following their move to the remote outback town of Nathgari. When the two children mysteriously disappear just as a huge dust storm hits the town, Rae, the local cop, attempts to solve the case and uncovers layers of dark history.

Turning to documentaries one of the more interesting Australian documentaries at this yerar’s festival is Gayby Baby. Director Maya Newell has said of the film “I am a gayby (a person with same-sex parents) and I want to make a film about kids growing up in families like mine”. Told from the perspective of the kids, the film is about the experiences of the newest generation of gaybies, as well as a film about what family in the 21st century might mean.

Among the other Australian movies to look are  – directed by Shakthi Sivanathan and Guido Gonzalez and set in Cabramatta, Simon Stone’s The Daughters and Neil Armfield’s Holding the Man which will close the Festival on 14 June. In addition there are ten Australian documentaries competing for The Documentary Australian Foundation Award and another ten leading Australian shorts competing for the Dendy Awards for Australian Short Films.

So while comparisons between the vibrancy of the Australian film industry in the 1980’s and that of today might be problematic, the depth of Australian talent on display during this year’s Sydney Film Festival would suggest that any decline is not due to lack of talent, commitment or passion on behalf of our filmmakers or actors.

– Mark Roberts

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Mark Roberts is a Sydney based writer and critic. He is the editor of Rochford Street Review.

Full detials on the Sydney Film Festival can be found at http://www.sff.org.au/ 

Ruben Guthrie official site http://www.rubenguthrie.com.au/
Last Cab to Darwin official site http://www.lastcab.com.au
Strangerland official site http://www.transmissionfilms.com.au/films/strangerland
Gayby Baby official site http://thegaybyproject.com/
The story behind Riz http://www.curiousworks.com.au/stories/blog/see-story-behind-riz/
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Adding it all up: Mark Roberts considers ‘Eight + One’ at The Shop Gallery

Eight + One. Featuring work by Lynne Barwick, Edwin Easydorchik, Nola Farman, Barbara, Halnan, Sahar Hosseinabadi, Kate Mackay, Bette Mifsud, Cecilia White, and Elke Wohlfarht. Curated by Dr Willian Seeto. The Shop Gallery, 112 Glebe Point Road Glebe NSW. Open 1-7pm Tuesday to Sunday from 27 February to 19 March 2015

Eight + One. Front Room - Week One. Photograph Dr William Seeto

Eight + One. Front Room – Week One. Photograph Dr William Seeto

The Shop Gallery is a new gallery on Glebe Point Road and is in a building that used to house The Cornstalk Bookshop and a bookbinder. Cornstalks Bookshop would be well knows to anyone familiar with Glebe during the 1980’s (I can remember a reading consisting of young poets who had been published in Neos Magazine being held in a very dusty upstairs room at the bookshop). Cornstalks continues as an online shop (http://cornstalk.com.au/). The bookbinder, Newbold and Collins which was also well-known now operates in Yagoona (http://www.bookbinders.com.au/).

The crowded space I remember has been transformed with two rooms opened up as exhibition spaces – a larger room fronting the street allowing a good view from two large windows each side of the door and a smaller room behind it with what looks like a working fire place. Curator William Seeto has taken full advantage of this space in the first major exhibition in the gallery (there was an earlier saloon type open exhibition to launch the space). Over the three weeks of the exhibition the nine different artists will circulate through the two rooms with a different grouping of three of sharing the larger front room each week. While this allows each artist to highlight their work in the larger space and to ‘call out’ to the passing foot traffic on Glebe  Point Road, it also sets up some exciting possibilities in the back room as the other works are forced into a closer relationship. Of course this relationship will change every week as the artists move in and out of the front room.

For the first week the front room contains work by Bette Mifsud, Nola Farman and Kate Mackay. The left wall of the room is dominated by Mifsud’s photographs derived from 1950 and 60s family slides. The images are familiar to anyone who grew up in 1950’s or 60’s Australia, beach scenes, the family house, lawn bowls all with that exaggerated colour that seemed to occur when kodachrome slides started to age. Mifsud has played with the images scanning, cropping , editing and and manipulating then to “create visual resemblances to impressionistic memories”. They recall a lost time, the myth of Menzies’  post-war white Australia. There is also a strong sense of family as the images reflect intimate glimpses of family – and it is no surprise to discover that the original slides were taken by  Mifsud’s late father-in-law, Doug Shearston who became a keen amateur photographer when he returned from World War Two. This family connection also creates a bridge through generations to the multicultural present as we can’t help reading the images of an imaged perfect past through a contemporary lens.

Kate Mackay’s constructions stand guard in the windows of the front room, one each side of the doorway. The larger one is a cube tower made of coloured cardboard wrapped in yarn. There is a simplicity to the structure which functions almost as a totem at the front of the exhibition. On the other side of the door is another cube construction. this time made of knitted yarn cubes formed into a larger cube. This is a playful piece, almost suggesting a children’s toy. This fascination with geometric shapes is continued in her other works which are also hanging in the front room during the first week. Rather than using space these works use the canvas as a space to spread patterns of squares, circles and triangles.

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Nola Farman takes us in a different direction with her work The Hermit’s Tablecloth. Based on a section of Eugene Ionesco’s only novel Farman’s work takes as it’s departure point a red wine stain on a tablecloth:

I stared as hard as I could at a red wine stain on the paper tablecloth. I had already tried that experiment and made it work before. It was all a question of looking at something until you no longer remember what it was. It was supposed not to be a wine stain any longer, it was supposed to become something, I don’t know what, on that other thing, the tablecloth, which was no longer a tablecloth, nor a white space, nor the site of a stain.

– Eugene Ionesco, The Hermit, Trans., Richard Seaver,

In her work the redness has become much more than a red wine stain, though it is, of course, still possible to understand the source. We have a series of works spread across a wall of the gallery, different ‘splashes’, Pollock like hakiu abstractions, a single colour on a small canvas. Up closer however the notion of a stain, accidental or otherwise, disappear. These works are carefully constructed, layered and crafted. Complex hakius , no longer a table cloth, a white space or the site of a stain.

Photograph - Nola Farman

The Hermit’s Tablecloth – Photograph Nola Farman

Moving into the back room we are confronted with at what first appears as a delicious confusion. The other six artists in the exhibition are crowded into this smaller space with little space to spare. Boundaries are not respected but it all seems to work.

Unsurprisingly given my writing background I was immediately drawn to the two artists who incorporate words and letters in their work. Words are central to Lynne Barwick’s work in the past she has covered a Marrickville Garage in text – Marrickville Garage, ‘Like A Structured Language’, May 2014 (http://lynnebarwick.blogspot.com.au/2014/05/marrickville-garage-like-structured_22.html). Here her works are more manageable in the small space with a number of concrete poems painted onto wooden bases.

Cecilia White has three installations vying for space in the small room. ‘make them space’, the most expansive, stretches across the original fire place and consists of over 200 drawings, two sculptural wordworks and small objects. The title of the work ‘make them space’ is taken from Italo Calvino’s novella Invisible CIties and, like Calviino, White is seeking to explores the “manifestation of space between the seen and unseen of everyday urban landscapes” It is an intricate work covering the space above the fire place, the mantelpiece and the space above the actual fireplace.

'make them space' 2015 Detail - Photograph Cecilia White

‘make them space’ 2015 Detail – Photograph Cecilia White

The dynamic of the exhibition will, of course change dramatically as the work moves in and out of the front room over the three weeks of the exhibition and  multiple visits will be required to comprehend the full scope of the works.

Speaking to the curator Dr William Seeto after the opening I became aware of how Eight + One fits into a larger strategy. Seeto is looking to establish a series of curated exhibitions combined with an online artist database. In the first phase, the emphasis will be on curated exhibitions in a primary location; and in the second phase, the focus will move to the artist database to promote artists and their work. The database will assist in forming ongoing links with artists to promote their work and will also assist in presenting work; assisting with grant applications and to facilitate new opportunities and possibilities for showing work in Australia and overseas. Remuneration from sales and projects associated with exhibitions and database would attract a small commission.

It will be interesting to see how this concept develops in an Australian context. In any case the work in Eight + One suggests that Seeto has a firm foundation on which to develop this concept.

Considering Bette Mifsud's images at the opening of Eight + One - Photograph Dr WIlliam Seeto

Considering Bette Mifsud’s images at the opening of Eight + One – Photograph Dr WIlliam Seeto

Exhibition Website:
http://onepluseight.blogspot.com.au/

Artists Websites:
*  Lynne Barwick http://lynnebarwick.blogspot.com/
*  Nola Farman http://www.nolafarman1.com/
*  Barbara Halnan http://bhalnan.blogspot.com.au/
*  Sahar Hosseinabadi http://saharhoss.weebly.com/
*  Kate Mackay http://kate-mackay.blogspot.com.au/
*  Bette Mifsud www.bette-mifsud-artist.com.au
*  Cecilia White http://ceciliawhite.com/
A review of Cecilia White’s chapbook, N THING IS SET IN ST NE, appeared  in an earlier issue of Rochford Street Review (https://rochfordstreetreview.com/2012/06/07/torn-papyrus-and-weathered-stone-mark-roberts-reviews-n-thing-is-set-in-st-ne-by-cecilia-white/).

– Mark Roberts

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Mark Roberts is a Sydney based writer and critic. He currently edits Rochford Street Review and P76 Magazine. He also has a number of manuscripts looking for a publisher.

The Shop Gallery can be contacted through its website: http://theshopgalleryglebe.com/#!/home

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‘Der Kreis’ Opens the 22nd Sydney Mardi Gras Film Festival

The 22nd Sydney Mardi Gras Film Festival runs from 19 February to 5 March 2015 at Event Cinema 505-525 George Street, Sydney (http://queerscreen.org.au/mgff/)

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The Circle – Zürich in the 1950s

The 2014 Swiss docudrama Der Kreis (The Circle) opened the 22nd Mardi Gras Film Festival in Sydney last night. The film, which won the Teddy Award for Best Documentary at the 2014 Berlin Film Festival, is both a touching love story of a lifetime relationship and a poignant reminder of the life and death struggles that underpin any freedoms or acceptance that we might enjoy today.

The CIrcle follows the relationship of a young trainee teacher Ernst Ostertag and transvestite singer Röbi Rapp in post war Zürich. Their romance is set against the backdrop of The Circle, a gay magazine and movement which was founded in the 30‘s.  As one of the few homosexual organizations to survived the Nazi period in Europe, it became a model for similar organizations in many other countries in Europe and even in the USA. Zürich in the 1950s was something of a haven for gay and lesbians, homosexuality was not illegal and, if not actually accepted, it was at least tolerated.

Using archival footage, dramatic recreations and contemporary interviews, The CIrcle traces the collapse of the limited freedoms that existed as a series of gay murders brings the gay community in Zürich, and the members of the Circle in particular, to the attention of the police. Same sex dancing is banned, known homosexuals are questioned and outed in public, destroying their careers and in some cases their lives.

Through this turmoil Ernst and Röbi’s relationship continues to develop. As a teacher Ernst has to hide his homosexuality to keep his job, he also feels that he can’t come out to his family, so he is forced to live a double life – only coming out after the death of his mother and his retirement from teaching. Röbi, on the other hand, embraces the lifestyle of the entertainer and has always been openly gay. Finally, after decades of struggle and hiding they become the first same sex couple to partnership legally recognised in Switzerland in 2003.

While The Circle at times feels like a thriller and at other times moves back to a more traditional documentary I was left with a little unsure as to whether the docudrama format really was the best format for the film. While the interviews with the elderly couple are touching and powerful and provide an anchor for the rest of the film, the recreated scenes from the 1950’s featuring the increasing drama as the police begin to move against the gay community suggests that perhaps there is still material here for a future feature film.

The buzz as the audience left the cinema after the opening screening suggested that much is expected of the festival over the next two weeks – and I suspect only some of that buzz was due to anticipation around the after party. This year’s festival boasts an impressive list of both local and international films and it a testament to the strength of the program that many screenings are already booked out.

Among local highlights will be a screening to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the cult Australian film The Set, directed by Frank Brittain.The Set was the first local production to have homosexuality as its central theme, and is the story of Paul (Sean McEuan) who is pursuing his dreams in the Sydney art world when he falls in love with his cousin’s handsome boyfriend, Tony.

All About E

All About E

Other local films to watch out for include All About E, directed by Louise Wadley (http://www.girlsown.com/), Skin Deep from director Jonnie Leahy (http://www.screenlaunch.com/film-category/skin-deep/) and Drown by Dean Francis (http://www.drownthemovie.com/).

A number of international films also leap out – She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry from US director Mary Dore resurrects the buried history of the outrageous, often brilliant women who founded the modern women’s movement in the USA from 1966 to 1971. She’s Beautiful takes us from the founding of NOW, with ladies in hats and gloves, to the emergence of more radical factions of women’s liberation; from intellectuals like Kate Millett to the street theatrics of W.I.T.C.H. (Women’s International Conspiracy from Hell!). (http://www.shesbeautifulwhenshesangry.com/).

A Girl at My Door from South Korean director July Jung looks well worth a look as does Anita’s Last Cha Cha, a Filipino coming-of-age movie. Then there are the documentaries and shorts to consider. A hectic fortnight awaits the seasoned festival goer!

A complete program and booking details are available from the Festival’s website http://queerscreen.org.au/mgff/.

– Mark Roberts

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Mark Roberts is a Sydney based writer and critic. He currently edits Rochford Street Review and P76 Magazine. He also has a number of manuscripts looking for a publisher.

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F for Fake: Poetry and Plagiarism

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Nicole (Audrey Hepburn) and her forger father Charles Bonnet (Hugh Griffith) in the 1966 movie How to Steal a Million. It is unlikely that the current Australian Poetry plagiarism ‘scandal’ will have a happy ending.

A few weeks back I rewatched the 1966 movie How to Steal a Million.  I first saw this movie when I was a kid, probably soon after it was released. In it Audrey Hepburn plays the daughter of an art forger (Hugh Griffith) who makes his money producing copies of old masters and selling them to underground art dealers. But when a forgery of a small sculpture is put on display by a Paris art gallery his daughter realises that the insurance company will probably discover the forgery when it is assessed. She decides to ‘steal’ the art work back before it can be discovered and teams up with the Peter O’Toole character (who is an ‘art detective’ who is hot on the heels of her father) to steal it back. Of course the two fall in love and eventually everyone lives happily ever after.

Unfortunately life rarely emulates art (even if it sometimes does copy itself) and it has been said that poetry only makes the news when there is a death or a scandal. Well Seamus Heaney died and grabbed a few column centimetres –  and then along came a small to middling sized poetry scandal which ensured that poetry and the arts in general were caught fully in the headlights as the new conservative government started sharpening their knives. Only this time there was no Audrey Hepburn or Peter O’Toole to relieve the tension, add a touch of glamour and to provide a few laughs.

First off the rank was Newcastle based poet Andrew Slattery. Slattery has won or been commended in a number of awards over the past few years, among them 2nd prize International Awards in the Bridport Prize 2011,  Shortlisted for The Newcastle Poetry Prize 2010, and the Winner of The Arts Queensland Val Vallis Award for Unpublished Poetry. He also reeceived Literature Board Grants — Grants for Emerging Writers in 2008 and 2010. His downfall was, in fact, another award  the Josephine Ulrick Poetry Prize which he won earlier this year for his long poem Ransom. According to media reports one of the judges, Anthony Lawrence, became suspicious and, with the help of another judge (M T C Cronin) started googling lines from Slattery’s poem. They discovered that about four-fifths of the lines appeared to be the work of other poets.

Further investigations suggested that this was not an isolated incident and so in June when Slattery won the Cardiff International Poetry Prize his winning poem was closely analysed. It also turned out to contain many lines borrowed from other poets including the singer songwriter Tom Waits. Slattery was again stripped of his award.

Slattery’s original defence appears that he was simply using cut up, sampling or Cento (works composed of pieces taken from other works and reformatted), however it does appear that he has accepted that he made a major mistake by not acknowledging the source of his borrowings and has accepted that his actions have hurt other poets. My understanding is that he has also withdrawn from writing poetry.

Within days of the storm breaking over Slattery another poet was named as a serial plagiarist. Graham Nunn, a respected Brisbane poet and past organiser of the Brisbane Poetry Festival was originally ‘caught’ when it was revealed that his poem, ‘Fortune’ from his 2010 book Open Hearted, appeared to mirror and contain direct quotes from Canadian Don Mckay’s poem ‘Philosopher’s Stone’. While Nunn, at the time described this as “extremely careless” and apologised, he seemed to try and adopt the Audrey Hepburn/Peter O’Toole defence when confronted with further evidence.  English poet and ‘plagiarist sleuth’ Ira Lightman apparently tweeted Graham Nunn some questions about a number of other poems he was suspicious about – it appears that Nunn then started pulling down a large number of poems from his blog Another Lost Shark (http://anotherlostshark.com/ – Note it apppears Nunn has now completely deleted his blog and this link is not active.) and pulled his books from sale. Unfortunately for him many of them had already beedn archived online.

For most poets I know the initial reaction was one of shock. Nunn was a well-regarded figure in the Queensland Poetry community, he published a number of books (both by himself and other poets) and many spoke of the role he had played as a mentor to them. But as the evidence emerged it became more and more difficult to give him the benefit of the doubt. (for those wanting to make up their own mind a record of Ira Lightman’s Twitter posts relating to Nunn can be found at http://storify.com/iralightman/graham-nunn-poems-and-their-often-close-resemblanc). Adding to this was the fact that Nunn had removed much of his work from easy public scrutiny.

Nunn has posted a response on his blog:

In response to a number of statements made online and in the media about my poetry, I’d like to tell you about my creative process. I was not given the opportunity to respond to some of the claims before they were made, so I am doing so here, and I am doing so now.

Reading and listening to music are a vital part of my process. And there are times when I’m reading a poem or listening to a song that a door opens and my mind flashes with images from my personal history. It may be a phrase, a line, a metaphor that triggers this, but when it occurs, I give myself over to the images and ensure I capture them. In doing this, the framework of the poem is used to tell my own story and parts of the original text are creatively appropriated in the formation of a new work.

Have I credited the original work the way academia would have? No. Does poetry and music have a long history of sampling, of re-purposing, of homage? Yes. Will I continue to seek inspiration and motivation and keys to my memories and experience from outside of my own head? Yes. It’s impossible to do otherwise. But let me be clear, my motivation has always been to charm the moment that has found me into a poem and only that, not to steal and never to cause harm.

For many in the poetry community this still leaves many questions unanswered. I, for one would like to see Nunn refer to specific examples and explain how his process resulted in what appears to be in some cases very close resemblances between his poem and the work of other poets. Rochford Street Review has also emailed Graham to ask why he has removed so much of his work from his blog. We have yet to receive an answer.

While always wanting to maintain the presumption of innocence it is difficult in this situation when Nunn has effectively gone to ground. Among with others in the Australian poetry community we are concerned that there maybe others poets in similar positions who have yet to be identified.

The bottom line is that sampling, Cento, paste-ups etc are all valid art forms, but they are only valid if the original source is acknowledged. It would appear, that at the very least, a number of poets seem to have been very loose with their definition of the form – at worst they have just been copying.

UPDATE 23 September 2013

Brisbane based poet Vuong Pham posted an admission on his blog last thursday that he had “offended people by not acknowledging properly in my creative writing”. (http://versesoftheinnerself.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/acknowledgements-and-apologies.html  – Note. It appears that Vuong has made his blog Private and access is by “invitation only”). Once again Pham uses the poetic influence argument

“Throughout my poetry studies, I have come across ways in which to approach writing a poem, some of them, were writing styles like Cento, Found Poetry, choosing certain words from a chosen poem to form one’s own (the name of which, of the style it’s called escapes me)”.

There have been some suggestions that Pham may have been mentored by Nunn (he has been published by him), if this is the case one has to start to question exactly what Pham has been taught.

Pham singles out “She Speaks”by Sam Byfield which had been published in Meanjin in 2010. Pham apologises for not acknowledging this poem as the “original source” for his poem ‘She Speaks’, which was commended in the 2012 Ipswich Poetry Festival. Pham is a devoted Christian and seeks forgiveness from both Byfield and Christ.

Since this acknowledgement appeared a number of other allegations have been made. Following a tip off from Ira Lightman English poet Ian McMillan accused Pham from steeling from his poem ‘Ten Things Found in a Shipwrecked Sailor’s Pocket’. (Pham’s poem is also called Ten Things Found In A Shipwrecked Sailors Pocket). Lightman has also called into question ‘Contemplation’ which, he claims appears to have borrowed heavily from ‘Words, Wide Night’ by Carol Anne Duffy. I suspect the investigation is continuing.

– Mark Roberts

F for Fake was the last major film completed by Orson Welles (released 1974).

Some media links

Poet uses defence of ‘collage poetry’ after recycling Plath lines Stephen Romei From: The Australian September 13, 2013 http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/books/poet-uses-defence-of-collage-poetry-after-recycling-plath-lines/story-e6frg8nf-1226718041674

‘Plagiarism the word that can’t be uttered’ Susan Wyndham SMH 13/9/2013 http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/plagiarism-the-word-that-cant-be-uttered-20130913-2tpha.html

Newcastle poet under siege over ‘patchwork’ poetry 14/9/2013 http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-09-14/newcastle-poet-under-siege-over-27patchwork27-poetry/4957998

‘“Of borrow’d plumes I take the sin”’: plagiarism and poetry’ By Justin Clemens  Overland 16/9/2013  http://overland.org.au/2013/09/of-borrowd-plumes-i-take-the-sin/comment-page-1/

Mr Poetry” Graham Nunn is facing fresh allegations of plagiarism Daryl Passmore The Courier-Mail September 17, 2013 http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/national/mr-poetry82178217-graham-nunn-is-facing-fresh-allegations-of-plagiarism/story-fnii5v71-1226720499267

Brisbane poet Graham Nunn denies accusations of plagiarism Robb Kidd   The Courier-Mail  16/9/2013  http://www.news.com.au/national-news/queensland/brisbane-poet-graham-nunn-denies-accusations-of-plagiarism/story-fnii5v6w-1226719604925

Award-winning young poet caught plagiarising By Kathy Marks The New Zealand Herald 19 September 2013 http://www.nzherald.co.nz/lifestyle/news/article.cfm?c_id=6&objectid=11126726

Plagiarism scandal has revealed an ugly side of Australian poetry Toby Finch The Guardian Monday 23 September 2013 http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/sep/23/australian-poetry-plagiarism?CMP=twt_fbo

Michelle Cahill on ‘The Prize Addiction’ http://michellecahill.com/2013/09/19/the-prize-addiction/

Graham Nunn’s reponse to allegations of plagiarism  http://anotherlostshark.com/

Vuong Pham – Acknowledgements and Apologies http://versesoftheinnerself.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/acknowledgements-and-apologies.html

Happy Birthday Rochford Street Review!

On the 2nd December 2011 the first three reviews/articles were uploaded to the brand new Rochford Street Review site. The articles were:

I had a vague idea of what I wanted RSR to be. I wanted, for example, a site that would pick up small press publications and try to place them in some sort of context. There seemed to be a rise in the number of chapbooks being produced for example and, for the most part they were being ignored by the major reviewing outlets (the Saturday papers, ABR etc). The mainstream literary journals had limited capacity to run reviews and it seemed that a lot of good stuff might be slipping through the gaps. A new on-line journal seemed to be the way to go so I began looking for the easiest (and cheapest) way of setting it up. After checking out a number of blog sites and templates I settled on WordPress for some reason – so far it seems to have worked OK.

At the time I was aiming to publish a review a week if possible. After a year there have been 87 posts of which 73 have been reviews, articles or launch speeches (the others have been admin posts – desperate appeals for money, desperate appeals for reviewers or table of contents for special events). We have had 19,800 hits up until 8pm on 2 December 2012 (which means we have averaged just over 50 a day!).

As the site has evolved over the last year one of the more pleasing features has been the number of people who have been willing to either write for RSR or offer us a launch speech or an article they haven’t yet been able to place. The diversity of the people who have contributed, from young and/or new reviewers to more established writers and critics, has been particularly pleasing – more so when you realise we are not in the position to pay people for their work.

There are, of course, a number of things I wanted to do over the past year but haven’t as yet. One of the highlights was the special Dransfield piece in April which attracted almost 200 hits on a single day. I had wanted to do something similar on Vicki Viidikas and Jennifer Rankin but haven’t been able to organise it. I also wanted to do a series of interviews – I did one with Johanna Featherstone from Red Room on their ‘Disappearing’ project but am only half way through transcribing it.

As we begin our second year I have thrown together the following stats:

OVERALL POSTS

Number of posts 87
Number of Reviews 73
Number of Admin posts 14

GENDER BREAKDOWN BY AUTHOR (author of book being reviewed)

     
issue 1 Reviews Gender Breakdown by Author  
     
  Male 6
  Female 0
  mixed (eg joint) 0
     
    6
     
     
     
Issue 2 Reviews Gender Breakdown by Author  
     
  Male 5
  Female 2
  mixed (eg joint) 2
     
    9
     
     
     
Issue 3 Reviews Gender Breakdown by Author  
     
  Male 8
  Female 5
  mixed (eg joint) 7
     
    20
     
     
Issue 4 Reviews Gender Breakdown by Author  
     
  Male 6
  Female 4
  mixed (eg joint) 5
     
    15
     
     
Issue 5 Reviews Gender Breakdown by Author  
     
  Male 8
  Female 5
  mixed (eg joint) 4
   
    17
     
Issue 6 Reviews Gender Breakdown by Author  
     
  Male 3
  Female 2
  mixed (eg joint) 2
   
    7
Total Male 35
  Female 18
  mixed (eg joint) 20
     
    73

GENDER BREAKDOWN BY REVIEWER

issue 1 Reviews Gender Breakdown by Reviewer  
     
  Male 5
  Female 0
  mixed (eg joint) 0
     
    5
     
     
     
Issue 2 Reviews Gender Breakdown by Reviewer  
     
  Male 7
  Female 1
  mixed (eg joint) 1
     
    9
     
     
Issue 3 Reviews Gender Breakdown by Reviewer  
     
  Male 15
  Female 3
  mixed (eg joint) 2
     
    20
     
     
     
Issue 4 Reviews Gender Breakdown by Reviewer  
     
  Male 7
  Female 8
  mixed (eg joint) 0
     
    15
     
     
Issue 5 Reviews Gender Breakdown by Reviewer  
     
  Male 9
  Female 8
  mixed (eg joint) 0
     
    17
     
     
     
Issue 6 Reviews Gender Breakdown by Reviewer  
     
  Male 3
  Female 4
  mixed (eg joint) 0
     
    7
Total Reviews Gender Breakdown by Reviewer  
     
  Male 46
  Female 24
  mixed (eg joint) 3

GENDER BREAKDOWN BY REVIEW (Excluding Mark Roberts – editor)

issue 1 Reviews Gender Breakdown by Reviewer  
     
  Male 1
  Female 0
  mixed (eg joint) 0
     
    1
     
     
     
Issue 2 Reviews Gender Breakdown by Reviewer  
     
  Male 5
  Female 1
  mixed (eg joint) 1
     
    7
     
     
Issue 3 Reviews Gender Breakdown by Reviewer  
     
  Male 7
  Female 3
  mixed (eg joint) 2
     
    12
     
     
     
Issue 4 Reviews Gender Breakdown by Reviewer  
     
  Male 4
  Female 8
  mixed (eg joint) 0
     
    12
     
     
Issue 5 Reviews Gender Breakdown by Reviewer  
     
  Male 5
  Female 8
  mixed (eg joint) 0
     
    13
     
     
     
Issue 6 Reviews Gender Breakdown by Reviewer  
     
  Male 2
  Female 4
  mixed (eg joint) 0
     
    6
Total Reviews Gender Breakdown by Reviewer  
     
  Male 24
  Female 24
  mixed (eg joint) 3

Torn papyrus and weathered stone: Mark Roberts reviews ‘N thing is Set in St ne’ by Cecilia White

N THING IS SET IN ST NE by Cecilia White Picaro Press 2012.

The title of this chapbook suggests a weathered stone tablet, or perhaps a headstone. The permanence of the words chiselled into the hard stone having slowly been dissolved away by rain and wind and moss so that now only fragments of the original message can be read. For now the original meaning can still be pieced together, but soon the action of time, on both the stone and the meaning of the carved words, will make understanding the ever more fragmented text more and more problematic. Thus the saying that ‘nothing is set in stone’ is an attack on permanency, similar to Marx’s statement “all that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned”. Even the permanence of words carved into stone can be fleeting.

Reading the first poem in Cecila White’s N thing is Set in St ne, ‘Flight out of Egypt’, I was reminded of Henry James’ famous ‘House of Fiction’ quote in his Preface to The Portrait of a Lady:

The house of fiction has in short not one window, but a million

But while James’ house has a million windows, White’s poetry monument is a house built “from the outside”. We have the image of the pyramids, windowless and with secret chambers full of stale air. So rather than the windows of fictions we have the introspection of the poem, internalising:

her tongues convene in dust
splitting air in the pyramids
of your lungs.
and pursue your self
down chambers of dislocation.

Cornered in these chambers we have memory that “cuts like glass” (broken windows?), “a swoon of nightvowels” and  the

grinding desert between lunar apostrophe
and reverie’s question mark.”

Until, at the end of the poem there is the escape, the ‘flight’:

as you swallow light
and tear like papyrus

The ‘darkness’ that opens the poem and the dust and stale air that lingers in the chambers disappear in these last lines. Nothing is set in stone, the papyrus is torn, words are lost – or left behind.

This archaeology continues through the 16 pages and 19 or so poems in the collection. But White’s archaeology is a complex one, embracing the historical, the poetical as well as the personal. In ‘ex libris’, for example, we read of the “archaeology of knowledge” and confront a swirling catalogue. In the end, however, “it is all interpretation theory”.

Or in a seemingly simple poem like “reflection is a studio”  we find image piled on image, so a simple reflection in a mirror becomes a complex portrait. The notion of breath on the mirror, obscuring the image, the “small fogs of vowels”, recalls references in other poems of breathing, the stale interior air of the pyramids in ‘Flight out of Egypt’ or:

                         ….the drawing
Of breath, erasure of exclamation
‘breath’

There is much to enjoy in this richly complex little collection. The individual poems can be demanding but reward a careful reading (& rereading). But the real success of  N thing is Set in St ne is the strength of the collection as a whole. It is a many layered collection, fluid with images which flow both within and between poems and meanings which appear then fade into something else. It is an archaeology where new discoveries are constantly being made and old discoveries are being redefined. Torn papyrus and weathered stone.

– Mark Roberts

_________________________________________________

Mark Roberts is a Sydney based writer and critic. He currently edits Rochford Street Review.

N thing is Set in St ne  is available directly from Picaro Press. http://www.picaropress.com/

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Why Dransfield…Why now?

One of the things I want to do with Rochford Street Review is to make sure writers receive the recognition I feel they deserve. I can think of a number of writers straight away which I think should be front and centre….creative writers who we should all know about, writers who should be cast in bronze, like footballers and cricketers around the gardens of the SCG or MCG…..Poets such as Vicki Viidikas, Kerry Leaves, Jennifer Rankin, Charles Buckmaster and many others.

In choosing to highlight Dransfield in this first feature I am accurately aware of the comment Laurie Duggan made in foam:e Issue 8 when he commented on Louise Waller’s review of Vicki Viidikas’ New and Rediscovered:

“I’ve read Louise’s review of Vicki Viidikas. It’s right on the money. A whole book could be written about why a male poet like Michael Dransfield (who died of drug use) could be continuously lauded and republished while a woman like VV was largely forgotten If you don’t want a whole book, then one word might do: Romanticism.”

But despite Duggan’s comment I don’t believe Dransfield’s reputation is as secure as he suggests. My understanding is that only the Kinsella edited Selected Poems is still in print and much has been made of Dransfield’s exclusion from the Lehmann/Gray anthology.

For me Dransfield remains an illusive figure. He wrote some wonderfully lyric poems, some other poems (particular some that were published after his death) were not so good. All the time, however, there is the image of the ‘poet’. the romanticism (real or created) which has threatened to swamp his poems.

And I want to get to those other poets, Viidikas, Leaves, Buckmaster and, in particular Rankin who, I believe is one of the most under-rated Australian poets of the last 40 years.

When I started thinking about pulling this piece on Dransfield together I asked various people for their views on Dransfield. There were some interesting replies, many of which were pasted on various pages on Facebook.

.

Chris Mansell remembered: “First reading I ever went to was: David Campbell, Martin Johnston, and Michael Dransfield. What a reading. I still remember it v vividly. Bought his book later but was too shy to ask for him to sign it”.

.

Richard James Allen wrote: “I wish I had met him. His iconoclastic spirit seemed to haunt the corridors of his old school, Sydney Grammar, which I also attended, in liberating way – a nice antidote to the more traditional Banjo Paterson, also an alumni. I always recall, “a moving target is harder to hit”: http://www.poetrylibrary.edu.au/poets/dransfield-michael/ground-zero-0712045

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Richard Tipping recalls: “Michael and I were the youngsters in an anthology Twelve Poets in 1971, when I was 21 and living in Adelaide. Michael was a year older. We never met, though I lived in Sydney for two years (1969 and 1973) and we had friends in common. One of my favourite Dransfield poems is which I sometimes recite by heart – begins: “in the forest / in unexplored valleys of the sky / are chapels of pure vision” and includes ‎”i dream of the lucidity of the vacuum / orders of saints consisting of parts of a rainbow / identities of wild things / of what the stars are saying to each other up there / above idols and wars and caring … ” Apologies for ragged quoting. Just to say that Michael words remain an important part of the experience of Australian poetry.

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Juno Gemes recalls “My Aunt was Chief Librarian at Sydney Grammar for 40 years…apparently the library has strong holdings in Michael Dransfield’s papers…”

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Christopher Barnett writes “michael was a great lyric poet with a connection to the lyricism of js neilson, christopher brennan, james tulip & a parallel connection with robert (adamson). it does not surprise me that minor poets have tried to aggrandize their own reputations by excluding him & the little we have from charles buckmaster. what defined them was their generosity & a very real connection to people poetry had ignored”.

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Rosemary Nissen-Wade “I’ve been introducing Australian poets to an international online audience unfamiliar with them. All have been well received; Dransfield was the one whose poetry most overwhelmed them. They thought his writing beautiful, brilliant, and extraordinary. So do I.”

Philip Rees - This is a painting i did in Febuary-March last year ..it is inspired by the poem Bums' rush..its called ''out...to where the ice is thinnest'',acrylics,textas,pencils,house paint,dirt on wood, 1.2mtrsx 1.2 mtrs,
For me Dransfield poems have always since i first read him in the early 1970's invoked images in my mind's eye.

Issue 2: January – February 2012 Contents.

Rochford Street Press