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

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

sm-edged-front cover-Party of life

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

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

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

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

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

inside pp Untethered

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

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

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

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

The imagery is getting to me, too:

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

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

I let myself get tipsy
on two middies in the pub

and

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

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

For instance, a group of schoolgirls in shortened dresses

setting
the store detectives off like alarm bells
as we passed.

inside bit tunnels

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

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

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

, , , :
? , , ?
, , , : , , , ?
Glebe Point
Blackwattle
90
Glebe Point
Weeties ? ?
!
1900
? 1 2 100 3 4 5 6
7 8 & 9,
1972
A : , 500 : : B ? C !
… ? ! ? ! !
Wimera
2009 2 7
X Steeles Creek ? ? ?
? ? ? ? ?
Steeles Creek
?
?
1 : Snap
!
?
Creswick
Bobby Brady 5 25 ? ?
Cuisenaire

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

Sound –
Red socks and Jane’s wit.

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

(Perhaps my translation needs more work?)

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

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

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

– Bernard Cohen

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

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

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The return of the Gestetner Revolution……sort of…. The double launch of: THE SELECTED YOUR FRIENDLY FASCIST edited by Rae Desmond Jones & P76 Issue 6 (The Lost Issue)

The return of the Gestetner Revolution……sort of….Rochford Street Press is proud and slightly surprised to announce the double launch of: THE SELECTED YOUR FRIENDLY FASCIST edited by Rae Desmond Jones (to be launched by Alan Wearne) & P76 Issue 6 (The Lost Issue)

SUNDAY 21 OCTOBER 2.30PM FRIEND IN HAND HOTEL GLEBE

Your Friendly Fascist was a poetry magazine so deep underground that it caused tremors among persons of a pious literary persuasion on the dread occasions of its appearance. The magazine served as an outlet for views and feelings which are not expressed in polite company. Your Friendly Fascist was not the only outrageous small literary publication of its time, but it took pleasure in divergent views. Poetry can tend to sombre pomposity, or the self –consciously polite. If there is a secret to the Fascist’s modest success, it is in the energy with which it rode on the un-ironed coat tails of unruly expression. Rae Desmond Jones and John Edwards remained at the helm of the magazine despite frequent inebriation, from the magazine’s beginnings in 1971 to its final burial with absolutely no honours at all in 1986. Rae Desmond Jones has made a selection of material that appeared in YFF and pulled together an creation that sits well with the ratbaggery tradition that was Your Friendly Fascist.”

The Selected Your Friendly Fascist contains work by John Jenkins, Mike Lenihan, Rob Andrew, Denis Gallagher, Adrian Flavell, Peter Brown, Debbie Westbury, Carol White, Billy Ah Lun, Peter Brown, Lis Aroney, Patrick Alexander, Steve Sneyd, Ken Bolton, Nigel Saad, John Edwards, Robert C. Boyce, Rae Desmond Jones, Trevor Corliss, Kit Kelen, Rob Andrew, Jean Rhodes, Larry Buttrose, Joseph Chetcuti, Alamgir Hashmi, Anne Wilkinson, Jenny Boult (aka MML Bliss), George Cairncross (UK), John Peter Horsam, Steven K. Kelen, Irene Wettenhall, Chris Mansell, Robert Carter, Anne Davies, Nicholas Pounder, Cornelis Vleeskens, Andrew Rose, Joanne Burns, Les Wicks, Eric Beach, Ian, Gig Ryan, П. O., Barry Edgar Pilcher, Andrew Darlington, Dorothy Porter, Gary Oliver, Richard Tipping, Micah, Carol Novack, Peter Finch, Evan Rainer, Graham Rowlands, Christopher Pollnitz, Robert Carter, Philip Neilsen, Andrew  Chadwick, Stephan Williams, Rollin Schlicht, Philip Hammial, John Peter Horsam, Peter Murphy, Karen Ellis, Richard James Allen, Rudi Krausmann, Paul “Shakey” Brown, Michael Sharkey, Karen Hughes, Susan Hampton, Rory Harris, Pie Corbett and Billy Marshall Stoneking.

Your Friendly Fascist will be available for purchase from the Rochford Street Press On-Line Shop from 17 October: http://members.optusnet.com.au/rochfordstpress/.

Facebook invite for the launch http://www.facebook.com/events/419856534730684/

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Rochford Street Press in the publisher of Rochford Street review