Born in Modernity: David O’Sullivan Reviews ‘A Vicious Example’ by Michael Aiken

A Vicious Example by Michael Aiken. Grand Parade Poets, 2014.

GPP_Aiken_A_vicious_exampleRecently I was told by an author that there is nothing original to be said in literature. I disagreed and stated that there are at least three types of people who have the ability to create something original; the crazy, the lucky and the genius. The genius is the rarest and most sought-after. People all over the world flock to cities to see if they have the ability to offer something new and to be a success. I received a terrible shock when I left my home town and moved to Sydney at eighteen. What I found was loneliness, crowds and excitement, I found new worlds of people involved in the arts, in the same streets as city violence and overpowering competition. A Vicious Example took me to the places I had been in my years of city life.

Michael Aiken conceived many of these poems while working nights as a security guard. He would spends hours watching the world around him while guarding trucks or parking spaces. It was in these nights that he saw in the city of Sydney, the people who inhabit her and the wildlife that have just as much a claim.

Aiken, in this book of poems, is not crazy, lucky or displaying the qualities of a genius. There are moments of outstanding and memorable work in the poetry, also there is quality, great reflection and joy.

It is relatable. Throughout the work, a sense that I have been to the places he talks about returned to me:

A Sparrow sips
………………… a puddle

on a plaza overrun
………………… signs

forbidding everything,
…………………..except smoking
and sitting.

He captures the reader and presents them with the nature of Sydney. The poems which brought the city to life are the most enjoyable and powerful of the work.

The early pages of the book are no match for the last pages. In ‘Night music, the mall’ we are presented with the essence of the work without the joy, “and the c.d. in the mall/ was opera avant garde:/some dame, but skipping.” and “at ten pm/a cloud of gulls/ in silence/ surrounds the mall.” These are familiar scenes but without love.

Perhaps these are weakest, but have been left in the collection just in case they are found and loved by the reader. They do not seem to have been crafted as honestly as the more powerful poems, they are littered with weaker words that have not been bled over. The work would be as strong without them.

The concentration on the wildlife was at times great and striking. In ‘Sixty-nine poems’ the contrast between power and loss were placed side by side;

Spring: sunlit footpath-
a tiny skink quietly chews
a writhing bull ant.

Heard an ibis call
my name out across the park

But at times weak or tired as the animals are called on again and again without saying much

Flying fox crosses
the half-lit city skyline
…..all that clear Spring air.

The full grown koel
not knowing what it looks like
screams in dismay.

But the work soon comes alive.  Excitement comes as if, like the city of Sydney, we have arrived in the right part of town at the right time of night: just as the lights come up and the interesting folk awake. The greatest work is ‘Sydney: 1934 1392k1 – 1811 1682k2’. Aiken, a poet of reality and dreams overcomes the challenge presented to all writers and speaks directly to the reader. Here he achieves all he set out to, combining the city, the people and the wildlife.

The gulls above Anzac bridge
draw ragged spirals of pursuit;
the multitude of swarming bugs
-one thousand for each bird
cloud in towers founded on
the arches of the bridge
brightly lit by electric lights
nobody pays for.

While I lived in Sydney, I would wander to a vantage point and watch the Anzac Bridge at night. I would marvel at the gulls as they swooped and feasted in the great lights of each tower. I once wanted to take a girl I liked down to see the birds and was rejected mercilessly for such a strange offer. Aiken allowed me to touch the soul of the city I knew. Here his words were chosen carefully for full effect.

His lines are sharpened steel:

I love to watch the cats creep out
………….at 3am
……..on bare pad-paws.

Here is the full strength of tying the people, city and nature,

A mixed line of women stand
petulant at the QVB

Where he examines people, behaviour and motivation

Hey champ
if I sell you half a dozen cigarettes
will you give me a dollar
for the bus ride home?

He carries the reader in the night world of bright lights, where hungry cats must find food or die, where people are lost on the streets, out of the warm living rooms and kitchens of their homes, if they have one.

Then we turn a corner and find



through the head
of a used pop-rivet

along with:

…..pretty   blue  eyes
and  a  surly  face
…..eating  a  banana
on    the  town  hall

The work is born in modernity, yet has an ageless quality. There is some fat which should have been trimmed but it shows the reality, horror, beauty and struggles of city life. He has achieved the honesty that artists must achieve. The cold and changing city of Sydney has been brought to my bookshelves. This is a book to see. He is a poet to watch.

– David O’Sullivan


David O’Sullivan is a writer who loves reading, walking in forests and philosophy. His debut novel The Bomber was released June 24th with Pen Name Publishing.

A Vicious Example is available from


A Hammer With Which to Shape Reality: Kit Kelen Launches ‘It Comes from All Directions: New and Selected Poems’ by Rae Desmond Jones.

Kit Kelen launched It Comes from All Directions – New and Selected Poems (published by Grand Parade Poets) on 11 August 2013 at the Summer Hill Hotel. The 11 August was also Rae Desmond Jones’ birthday.

raeWell firstly, Happy Birthday to Rae. (All sing ‘Happy Birthday’)

Singing to the arid stars!

I’m honoured to have the opportunity to praise this book today – and when Rae asked me to do the honours, it wasn’t so much that I relished getting onto the encomium mill, it was that I thought ‘I get to read lines of Rae’s that I like and I get to read them the way I like’, so that’s what I’ll mainly do.

Rae and I go back a long way; in fact, Rae, I believe, holds the record for holding one of my poems (juvenilia naturally) the longest before publishing (somewhere between five and ten years). I have considered forgiving him – not for holding it but for publishing it – but I’ve thought better of this. The time is not right. We are, after all, both still alive.

So to read a few favourites and favoured fragments. First ‘The Poets’ – words of the seventies as true today as they will be tomorrow.

The Poets

they speak to a vast audience
consisting mainly of one another
all of whom nervously shuffle
manuscripts & wait their turn

meantime the masses who are
as usual blind deaf & stupid
just keep walking to the bus or
into the office reading newspapers
& quite obviously don’t give a fuck,

& who can blame them?
for of course they have real
problems, the problems of carrying
on the business of carefully
& unselfconsciously

living & dying & paying off the
telly getting tired disillusioned
& old but nonetheless keeping
the nose to the grindstone etc.,

but if one should by some incredible
mischance happen to actually read
one of the poems published
as an occasional cultural piece

but not too prominently
in the corner of the review page
of one of our Saturday morning papers,
he nods, baffled, & turns back to
the real problem he has of the second
mortgage or thinks about his wife

swollen with the third
or the legs of the office girl
so tightly clenched he thinks
her pussy must almost pucker &
blow him kisses

but rarely he might think
at how unreal the world has
become & how beautiful & how
soon he must leave it which is

also beautiful & how time
passes but in any case perhaps
just for a minute he thinks
poetry & knows himself
dwarfish, blind & ugly &
returns once again to the real.

Elsewhere Rae tells us the poets are the ones with the little knives hidden in the pages of their manuscripts. Homer, Rae tells us, was this blind old fart wandering about singing and banging on a garbage tin lid. And what is poetry? For Rae, it’s Brecht’s not the mirror held up to reality but the hammer with which to shape reality. Thinking of different realities, of the différend between them, I’d like to read Rae’s ‘Decline and Fall’ – title poem of a recent book and the ultimate high school teacher’s poem, which, Leunig-like, I know, with the aid of magnet, adorned many a teacher’s fridge, especially in the later eighties.

Decline and Fall

i hate them
the truth is out! & they hate me.

them, the barbarians in baseball hats,
twisting in chairs lined up in artificial order,
and carving their loathing on the tabletops.

do you know why the roman empire fell? i ask.
who cares? a boy giggles.
that is the reason, i say.

you are old & fat, they say.
they are young & fat, I don’t say.
because i don’t want them to get healthy.

they can stay ugly and stupid so i can despise them.

why envy the awkward root they didn’t have
or their perfect wet dreams pearling
……….on the television screen?

outside the aluminium rimmed window
a crow strops his beak against a tree trunk
so that it will be sharp to dig
soft white worms from the dark earth.
i yearn for that brutal freedom.

the students resist my will although their heads bow,
broken for a second.
the room constricts us all.
i almost say get out.
go back to your bad videos & your hopeless dreams:
be unemployable.

daub graffiti on trains
& put as many needles in your arms as you want.
die if it seems romantic.

let there be war between us.

Sharks on King Street trawl past indifferent in their steel bodies. In Darlinghurst they tap for ambulances. Now if I were a Summer Hillian I’d be able to wax on about the local content and the post-mayoral revisioning thereof in the Rae oeuvre. In fact I do myself have two Summer Hill connections; one is with the Table Tennis Centre in the early seventies (ah, nobody remembers), the other is with the now IGA supermarket just behind here, the shelves of which I was helping to stack I think in 1979 or 1980, before it first opened, and where I learned a lot from first hand accounts of sexual abuse of students in Hunter Valley schools by Catholic clergy, but that as they say is another story… complete non sequitur in fact, yet part of the temporal fabric we’re tearing through here… One is struck coming here at how much – how unusually much – of this suburb is intact – I mean has not been wrecked by developers and much of this is down to Rae! I mean Mayor Jones. It looks better than it did in 1979 because it’s all been painted and some tiles have been replaced and now there are trees.

rae 2

Rae Desmond Jones reading from It Comes from All Directions – New and Selected Poems

In Rae’s work there’s frequently the embarrassment of the gritty corporeal and from all directions. You were my first between two fences off a lane in Darlinghurst. From Rae one gets that awkward feeling and that sweet tease built into the hip structure is still effective at 71 and 72 (and beyond?) naked in the dancing synapses of the Rae brain. You (the reader) find yourself preparing to cringe and then you think ‘fuck it, this is real’ because there was a time when I could have been you and I am truly but I’m going there.

I readily admit I haven’t read all of the new poems and that’s because I wanted the pleasure of reading a new poem when I finally got hold of a hard copy of the book in my hands – as in, from this time on. Still, I have read enough to say that in Rae’s book singing to the arid stars turns out to be something we might ourselves not be able to do. After all, we homo sapiens are saps and this lonely night we got it coming. And again, the multiplying universes are happier now because they are recognized as they give birth to subtle gods.

And so it is with pleasure I introduce to you – Mayor Jones, R.D.J., birthday boy, survivor of the siege of Bundanon, sometime acknowledged legislator, now lost somewhere between Parnassus and Helicon, with ever a backward Eurydical glance. When he speaks – a waterfall in sunlight, nothin’ but fire rockin’ in meat. The grim bloke looking anxiously for the tuba – Rae!

– Kit Kelen


Christopher (Kit) Kelen is a poet, scholar and visual artist, who shuttles between his home at Markwell via Bulahdelah and a position as Professor of English at the University of Macau in south China. Over the last five years Kit has been bringing Chinese poets and translators to Australia to translate Australian poets. So far five large scale anthologies have been published as a result. Over the last twenty years a dozen books of Kit’s poetry have been published in English and volumes of his poetry have also been published in Chinese, Portuguese, Italian, Swedish and Filipino. His next volume of poems Scavenger’s Season will be published by Puncher and Wattman in Australia in 2014.

It Comes from All Directions – New and Selected Poems can be obtained by contacting Grand Poets at

Enjoying the Reading Ride: Pam Brown Launches ‘Boom’ by Liam Ferney

Boom by Liam Ferney. Grand Parade Poets, 2013. Pam Brown launched Boom at the Summer Hill Hotel on 11 August 2013. This speech originally appeared on Pam’s blog

BoomI had read the first eleven poems in Boom before they were collected here. In 2011 they were published in a neat chapbook called – how ironic is this for a poetry title? – Career. I don’t want to sound totally naive, but I didn’t know for certain whether ‘first eleven’ meant something sporting though I had an inkling it did. So I actually looked it up – of course, it’s a cricket team. Sport is an important component in Liam Ferney’s poetry. A sports fan is happy being part of a crowd and in fact probably really enjoys the metaphysics of mass companionship so I think it’s reasonable to say that Liam is not primarily driven by individual subjectivity. But reading his poetry I deduce that neither is he blinded by latest-literary-fashion-following tribal poetry behaviour. Perhaps living in Brisbane protects him from any such competitive, impenetrable and rarefied stuff. In other words, Liam probably gets enough of a dose of competition from being a competition spectator so his poems can remain characteristically distinct from a poetry mob.

However, there are influences and, rather than replicating them, Liam synthesises his influences. Among others, there are traces of the wonderful contemporary sonneteer Ted Neilsen, the bold vim of the adventurous 20th century-modernist travelling poet Frédéric-Louis Sauser whose well-known pseudonym was Blaise Cendrars, and, especially, the critical wit of the exceptionally vital and original twentieth-century Australian poet, John Forbes.

In fact Liam and his friend, poet Jaya Savige, read poems from John Forbes’ last book Damaged Glamour each day for a week during Liam’s visit to Jaya at the poets’ flat in Rome in 2007. Jaya told me in a recent email he is “certain [that way back in 1998-99] no teenager in Qld at that time, and few before or since, had read as much contemporary Australian poetry as Liam had.” He also told me “Liam’s first reading was in fact at the ‘Warana Festival’ – before it became the Brisbane Writers Festival (!) – WHEN HE WAS 14!!”. Jaya went on to say “he was probably the most informed teenage poet of his generation in his state, and in hindsight, one of the most serious, committed teenage poets Queensland’s ever had.” By his early 20s “Liam knew everything there was to know about contemporary Oz poetry, especially the 68-ers.”

The first group of poems in Boom were written in South Korea and the blending of images and the sensuality of a hectic city is everywhere in them – like the poem ‘sign on the dotted line’ where many things are happening as the poet, drink in hand, watches tv and reports the goings on

chase the fishmonger’s asthmatic truck
clogging the warren’s chambers
susan sangsters lounging on the hoods
of hyundais ajumma lugging cardboard
ajeossi stoop smoking mild seven(TM)
scooter delivery kim chi and pizza boy
sideways under a truck a michael bay hero
when you consider it skynet only considers itself
so we say to the fish go forth and conquer
they prosper on the fourth floor of the flophouse
propped between the bathhouse and the driving range
after the funeral they confirm it you were always
better than your caste there is no substitute
 for thinking
but abc asia and soju come close

Please explain? Okay. Google tells me a couple of language things – ‘ajumma lugging cardboard’ – ‘ajumma’ in Korean is a middle-aged woman, ‘ajeossi stoop smoking’ – ‘ajeossi’ is a middle-aged man. Michael Bay, as you know, is a high budget special effects action film director (he made Pearl Harbour, Armageddon, Nightmare on Elm Street and so on). The scooter accident where the boy dies must be horrific. It’s all, together with Susan Sangster, a jumble of images in real life and on tv – the poet is drinking ‘soju’ -a Korean liquor that’s a bit like vodka.

So you get the general crazy language mix and copious idiosyncratic pleasures of Liam’s poetry. It’s often a kind of freely-associated speedy world-travelling word salad of tumbling imagery and is exciting to read.

the subways empty for the quarter-final
while the postman is kept busy with dispatches
bullfights and canals from the melted western front

post-it notes flapping on the microwave:
you are your own cinema verite
all the rushes make the test screening

towards the denoument is a flourish – another sporting reference –

lennox lewis stops mike tyson in the eighth
and you invent an answer to your inadequacy
a postdoc thesis on rollercoasters and bliss

– (Say Anything)

Liam’s abbreviations, Korean and other languages-other-than-English terms, and colloquial acronyms will keep your search engines busy. For example, in ‘Expecting Turbulence –

HMRG ( heavy metal? I don’t know) Deep in my heart First chance I get I’m SoCo mofo (U2??) – JDAM’s first,/questions second – I think I’ve decoded that part – ‘Joint Direct Attack Munition or smart bombs first / questions second’

So although it can be puzzling figuring out some of these especially particular references, the poems provide so much imagery, humour, comment and movement that you can probably skip deciphering and enjoy the reading ride.

The same goes for the cricket references, hardly any of which I ‘get’ but that didn’t stop me from thinking along and chuckling with Liam. But for actual cricket fans I’m certain it has many rewards. It’s a local genre – the North Americans have poems about baseball, Liam includes cricket.

but the lights go out on us
as lazily as a midwicket poke in the annual boxing day game
michael slater has never known such a tragedy

– The Secret Life of Them

and in a different poem –

The High Court straight drives its ton
with the panache of a Bill Lawry knock,
tipping its bat to the bored crowds
swatting at flies with cultivated indifference.
Wiping the leather & green off their creams
they decide the occasion calls
for a bleary barbie on the banks
of Lake Burley Griffin.

– Ode/Deakin

The poems also critique the shallowness of our fast-fix lives and are sometimes imbued with nostalgia for a better version of contemporary urbanity in the boom-time years and their myriad distractions –

that was the eighties nobody stayed for the dailies

– Think Act

and in an early millennium poem: – he asks “who says the naughties can’t be fun” (riffing on both ‘nought’ – zero and ‘naughty’ – wicked) :

rather than celebrities the glossies give us notorieties
the gossip in the weatherboard suburbs
is as periodical as a cold sore
the pleasant machines
in the bourgeois estates
get whacked on irony and debt
play prime time remote control keno
if it comes up rove everybody wins

– The Secret Life of Them

These poems are crammed with ideas and popular culture like zombie movies, all kinds of songs, all kinds of movies, 1940s films’ wholesome romantic misadventurers like Andy Hardy and Jimmy Stewart as well as the previously mentioned Hollywood action movies. There are many places, cities, odd behaviours, politics, food, language, there’s daily news, tv characters, spies, artists and more.

There is also much humour and occasional ironic self-deprecation as in quips like this one –

I learned surrealism
from travelling exhibitions
then did my best to forget it
hoping I could come off
easy and casual
like terry towelling hats
or cold beer.

-some nights the heat

and other funny failure lines like

my saison en enfer & the get rich schemes
evaporate like colonial best intentions
or foraging all over town for Vegemite’

– Seoul Survivor

Sometimes Liam’s poems also display formal characteristics. ‘Day of the Robots’ is a pantoum or a villanelle (they’re similar forms) – I think it’s a pantoum – here are the middle quatrains –

An early riser’s athletic mystery
determined by a detective’s defective method.
An embedded cultural reference
weaves the fabric of R. Mutt’s famous joke.

Determined by a defective detective method,
the curbside lunch, meat pie and Coke,
weaves the fabric of R. Mutt’s famous joke,
trademarked like a familiar sentiment.

The curbside lunch: meat pie and Coke;
a checkout chick’s smoke break lament
trademarked like a familiar sentiment:
kitsch is truth as we know it.

In ‘No Room At The Inn’, Liam’s lines of thought take the reader from definite impressions of Blaise Cendrars, he opens with a quote from the trans-siberian prose – we know we’re momentarily in Paris, and then, with a turn that’s similarly visceral to Cendrars’, we are suddenly in an exotic east or in a suburb

where our stomachs rattle like cathedrals
shuddering shocked earth of an invading artillery advance.
Over a breakfast of champagne sherpa-ed from the Crimea,
……….Siberian pastries and unlikely fruit,
we expect good things to happen to good people:

and further along –

Sometime later, after the long early dark,
with the help of a hitchhiking tundra tamer
…….we’ll shunt out of the station with a long march
of Chinese commerce boxed for trade in Ulan Bator.
Finally, a fan belt snapped on some post-industrial Leichardt’s Kombi,
as we slide our best silk stockings into place
that cough, more welcome than tubercular,
…..tolls the glory of our departure.

Boom is Liam’s second collection after Popular Mechanics was published in 2004. In a recent interview he was asked “How long do you generally spend writing an individual poem?” He replied – ‘Five or six years. The initial composition generally only takes about fifteen minutes (I write short poems) but the polishing and tightening and drafting can take years. One of the reasons I am able to balance a demanding professional career and poetry is the fact that I write predominately short, experimental lyric poems which I can scribble off in a lunch break or in the couple of free hours I get an evening. If I was writing The Iliad I might struggle to find some balance but I’m not.’

These poems, although carefully constructed, never appear laboured or contrived. They move as easily as songs.

A few years ago Liam was ‘Cordite Poetry Review‘s editor. He edited a feature of newly-written Ern Malley poems. I think that was a demonstration of his light-heartedness – his ability to be genuine while not taking things too seriously.

There is much more in the collection but I hope I’ve given you some idea, a sample of the multivalent range of Boom. Liam’s is a punchy, a-d-h-d-y, original poetic energy that is steeped in urban imagination.

The final poem ‘K61: Beijing – Kunming’ – is a vivid diaristic record that transits various locations – China, Brisbane, the UK, Nigeria – and several years. Here is the final part of the poem –

now slipstreamed it’s five o’clock fireballs
like a marshmallow forgotten on a twig
the villages are all dank water anonymous toil
bicycles with bent spokes they reduce pollution
for the olympics piped flutes harp in my eyes
i will wake to mountains or plains
& twenty-four hours to go

The last line of Liam’s bio note, which is also the last line in the book, says ‘His passion is life.’

To quote from one of the poems –

and it is true that flowers are better than bombs

– Heartbreaker

Peace & Lerv – here’s Liam Ferney……

– Pam Brown


Pam Brown recently edited Fifty-one contemporary poets from Australia for Jacket2 where she is an associate editor. She has published many books including Dear Deliria (Salt, 2002), True Thoughts (Salt, 2008), Authentic Local (SOI3 Modern Poets, 2010) , a pocket book of ten poems, Anyworld (Flying Island, 2012) and a booklet, More than a feuilleton (Little Esther Books, 2012). Her latest collection of poems, Home by Dark, has just been published by Shearsman Books in the U.K. Pam lives in Alexandria, Sydney and blogs intermittently at

Boom is available from