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 http://thedeletions.blogspot.com.au/2013/08/boom-by-liam-ferney-published-by-grand.html

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

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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 http://thedeletions.blogspot.com/

Boom is available from http://grandparadepoets.com/

“Lots of energy here, not much control”: Your Friendly Fascist – 1970 – 1984. Rae Desmond Jones remembers…..

Cover of Your Friendly Fascist Issue 2.

On an evening in 1970 my friend John Edwards and I were lamenting our fate. The literary revolution of 1968/9 had happened, and we had been passed by and pissed on, left in the wash as the great ship of poetic modernism steamed further into the distance. We complained and felt sorry for ourselves. I wrote a really bad play full of pretentious bullshit: the only good thing about it was the acting, especially by John and Patrick Alexander. I learned from this invaluable experience that I had been writing crap.  All young writers would benefit from such an experience.  I learned what I had been doing wrong: I was just starting to do a few things right. I was 29. John was 25.  The first poem in which my voice came through was published that year by Nigel Roberts. From memory, it was all about Mother fucking and drugs and truck drivers who wanted to get fellated in return for a lift. The future was rolling out before me, but I didn’t know it.  We decided to publish a magazine. Neither of us had much money. Finding poets wasn’t hard. Finding good ones was difficult.

We trawled. What we got was, mostly, terrible. We looked at it, and thought deep about not doing anything. After smoking something illegal, we came up with some incoherent inspiration: take bad poetry and make it an assault on the bland and the comfortable. What could be more in your face in 1970 than Fascism?  The first issue was so badly printed on a gestetner that it is impossible to copy. It was cheap, and it was fun. John Tranter gazed thoughtfully at it and pronounced “mmm. Lots of energy here, not much control …” He was right. We were making a virtue out of energy taking us … well, where ever. It was about 5 years before punk.

Despite all of our worst efforts some interesting poetry came out of the bubbling sink of Your Friendly Fascist. Andy Rose, a young man of Jewish extraction, wrote for the magazine for several years before going around Australian with Allen Ginsberg: he died of dysentery in India a few years later. He became a friend, and his poetry has a lyric quality rare in the pages of YFF:

today

……….a young californian

alone

………climbed into a Cessna

took off

………aimed the plane pacificwards

& flew

……..till he ran out of

tears &

……..fuel

crashed into the sea /

It reflects something of the deliberate naivety of the time. Andy had the intensity of an early Bob Dylan. It would become cliché quickly, but he wrote well, with more control than most.

Some of those who appeared in the grimy early pages of Your Friendly Fascist went on to establish themselves as respectable poets: Joanne Burns,  who adapted her comic sensibility to the self- mockery of the magazine:

lonely galleries / i aspire

clay models of desire

i’ll huff and i’ll puff

…………kick their roofs in

(YFF 11th issue)

In the same issue, Graham Rowlands was a pupil who

.. later … knew why

he threw palm tree nuts at God …

Carol Novack, who published in the fascist, eventually went back to the USA to become a lawyer in New York. After several years, disillusioned with the Democratic Party she returned to poetry and began the Mad Hatter’s Review, and the Mad Hatter’s Press.  Her literary career was just beginning after the publication of Giraffes in Hiding (Spuyten Duyvil, published September 15, 2010), when she passed away in December 2011. In the Fascist she wrote as

the last of the sirens

she was born too evolved

the monster genes had receded

into memory with her mother’s death …

The young Debbie Westbury put her head above the sand dunes of the South Coast to confess all:

……….We were making love,  / or something, / when his name escaped / from my mouth / open against your throat //you chose to ignore it / my love faltered / but you never missed a beat / that’s the way we are / these days.

The Fascist had a serious side. Patrick Alexander (who passed away in 2005, and is much remembered) tended to write with a sonorous rhetoric distinct from the robust outpourings elsewhere:

And for the presentee this trivial

Screeding on the glass has a trite importance …

In YFF 6, Patrick did find himself in curious company:

Peter Brown was a dope smoking colleague of mine on the night shift at the then international telephone exchange. Brown’s creativity was stimulated by the shrieks of transvestite telephonists who congregated in the exchange after closing time. His cartoons found their natural place in Your Friendly Fascist.

Michael Sharkey put in an early appearance:

Jack be nimble

Jack be weird

Jack hides roaches in his beard

As did Gig Ryan:

See, in my head, the hole they’re shooting?

What happened to those buildings, that maze?

Does everything crumble, or hurt?

A youthful Richard Tipping wrote especially for the magazine, a poem titled FASCIST COOKING (a recipe for violence) :

SHARPEN YOUR BLADE, ADJUST THE GAS…..

GRIND THE PEPPER, SQUEEZE THAT LEMON DRY.

THE OVEN IS NOW BLOODY HOT AND YOUR SIMMERING.

ENJOY AS YOU DESTROY. OUT OF THE FRYING PAN SOMETHING

DELICIOUS

SLOUCHES TOWARD BETHLEHEM TO BE BORN. BON APETIT!

Joseph Chetcutti forcefully made the case for gay seduction:

Distraught, I told him / we had to stop seeing each other // he, in turn, / switched off the bedside lamp.

There are lots more, but I’d better stop before accumulating too much kharma from furious poets regretting  their youthful fascist follies.

When my first marriage failed, Your Friendly Fascist found itself in situ in a downstairs room at 9 Arcadia Rd, Glebe, where mushrooms grew through the wall in wet weather.  Ken Bolton was artist in residence, along with Denis Gallagher and sundry others. Ken’s career was in its infancy and he needed a publication to practice on. While Ken understood very well the proto- punk seditious humour of Friendly Fascism, he brought a different sensibility to the process. This is most easily seen in a comparison between the cover of Number 2 (the one at the beginning with the eggbeater … ) and Ken’s covers:

Cover of Your Friendly Fascist Issue 12

The brutalist Brown-inspired drawings are by me. The layout is Ken’s: despite my best efforts he achieved just a touch of … elegance. Ken continued to refine his own interpretation of Fascist left wing anarchy:

Cover of Your Friendly Fascist Issue 11

From there, ken practiced further, editing his own edition of Your Friendly Fascist:

Cover of Your Friendly Fascist Issue 23

Voila! The most beautiful Fascist of them all.

Your Friendly Fascist survived a long time for such a magazine. It’s heyday was the age of the gestetner, but it continued even when the short, glorious gestetner spring was over. Most of the time the gestetner was borrowed through obligingly tolerant literary circles or marginal Trotskyite left wing groups. When photocopiers became available, graphix and layout become – well almost – sort of, professional:

By Number 17 we were publishing respectable poets, who wanted to be published there, with certain humourless exceptions: there was enough fun to go around. Or was it time when the kissing had to stop? John was an active overseas editor vigorously spreading Fascist propaganda during the years he was in England, and we published a lot of capable poms.

Andrew Darlington was one who is still around on facebook, but this was in YFF:

“at last,” she said newbridely,

“Our very own television set.”

So they poured themselves into it

And lived happily ever after,

Until the epilogue.

George Cairncross was another (are you on Facebook, George?)

………Summer just fell through / the grate / into the ashes of winter … even the breakfast flakes are frosted…

Steve Sneyd interviewed Genghiz Khan “to give his ‘tartar land investment & / securities’ latest near monopoly / take over bid /able paid for write up …”

We even had our own Ern Malley affair, in the form of Billy Ah-Lun of Kuala Lumpur:

DAKOTA 1966

Written on a rock /

,,,,,,,,,,,,,,In the indian reservation /

Colonel Custer / was

…………..Here / & still

Could be.

Like Ern, there were many who felt that his productions were infinitely preferable to the more serious literary efforts of his creator.

It wasn’t such fun when nobody much got pissed off and disgusted with us. I wrote a novel, then got into strife with my local Council: John returned from England with a most charming partner and became an extremely capable Historian. I enjoy poetry still, but this little kid inside me wants to take the piss. Your Friendly Fascist was great, and it stimulated even as it irritated and outraged. There’s nothing much in poetry long term, except for the prospect of boring the crap out of kids in school two hundred years from now, so why not? Poetry should be mocking, chaotic, satirical. it should give the upright middle finger to convention. There’s no such thing as immortality. That’s the serious lesson of Your Friendly Fascist. Just do it, be crazy. Like a kid.

Your Friendly Fascist Issue 4. Front and back cover design by Peter Brown.

Your Friendly Fascist cover design by Rae Desmond Jones. ". I was fresh out of ideas, but I had a post office date stamp & a stack of airmail stickers. I put one of each on every copy, while my ex-spouse and the gay person from down the road put on lip stick & kissed each one. "

Your Friendly Fascist. Issue 21

Your Friendly Fascist. Issue 16.

Your Friendly Fascist. Issue 17 - with a Queensland feel......

Your Friendly fascist Issue 24. The last issue.

Rae Desmond Jones

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Rae Desmond Jones is a major Australian poet. His first book was Orpheus With A Tuba, Makar Press, 1973. His latest books are Thirteen Poems from the Dead, Polar Bear Press 2011 and Decline and Fall, Flying Island Books 2011.There has been lots of poetry in between.