Island Press: the Story Continues

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After we republished Phil Robert’s memoir of the origins of Island Press (https://rochfordstreetreview.com/2015/10/01/ten-year-on-an-island-by-philip-roberts-the-beginnings-of-island-press/), in conjunction with the celebration of Island’s 45th Birthday Party, we received a number of inquiries from readers wanting to know the history of the press post Phil Roberts. The following is a brief note on the story since then: 

Martin Langford, Les Wicks and Phil Hammial with MC xxxx at the microphone during Island Press' 45 birthday celebrations.Picture ....

Martin Langford, Les Wicks and Phil Hammial with MC Roberta Lowing at the microphone during Island Press’ 45 birthday celebrations. Photograph by Michele Seminara.

Fortunately, the actual physical production of the book has become a lot easier since the first days. The problems around poetry receiving an audience remotely commensurate with the skill and vision that go into it, however, remain as intractable as ever.

After Phil Roberts returned to Canada, leaving his work as a lecturer at Sydney University to freelance, as poet, and writer about poetry, in Nova Scotiaproducing many more poetry collections, and achieving renown as the author of How Poetry Works (Penguin, 1986) – Phil Hammial continued the work of the press, overseeing the publication of titles such as John Tranter’s Dazed in the Ladies Lounge (1979) and J.S. Harry’s A Dandelion for Van Gogh (1985). Hammial consolidated the press’s original policy of being prepared to take risks with younger poets, publishing titles such as Adam Aitken’s Letter to Marco Polo (1985), and, if anything, increased the extent to which it was prepared to publish work which would not be acceptable to mainstream presses. Examples of the latter include Anthony Mannix’s Erotomania (1984), and Hammial’s own Vehicles (1985).

Dazed in the Ladies Lounge, John Tranter 1979

Dazed in the Ladies Lounge, John Tranter 1979

Running a press by oneself is a big responsibility, and there was a hiatus in Island activities between 1985 and 1992; when Hammial decided to get things moving again by inviting a small group of fellow poets Jutta Sieverding, Les Wicks and Martin Langford to join him in turning Island into a co-operative. In this, Island was fortunate to have access to the skills of Phil’s partner, Anne, whose expertise in the newly-legislated format was ideal for the press. Anne has been an essential element in the success of Island: each year she has reviewed the accounts and prepared the annual returns. Having someone who has been willing to offer us her knowledge about co-operative accounting pro bono has been a huge asset, and the press is extremely grateful to her for her generosity. Island’s aim had always been to provide an outlet for new poetry, to make a contribution to the artistic world first and foremost. So the new structure, which minimised business and governance costs, and which allowed it to get on with the job of providing an outlet for its poets with as little distraction as possible, was just what was needed.

Blonde and French by Ken Bolton was published by P. Hammial & P. Roberts in 1978 before Phil Roberts left Australia

Blonde and French by Ken Bolton was published by P. Hammial & P. Roberts in 1978 before Phil Roberts left Australia

The period since Island was incorporated as a co-operative has turned out be its most productive time – 37 books in 22 years: a little less than two a year (readers interested in the complete list should consult the Island website). It hasn’t published every year: it has not always been possible to obtain funding, and sometimes the directors have been caught up in other activities.

The nineties were to prove a busy little period, with publications from Lizz Murphy (Pearls and Bullets), Marcel Freiman (Monkey’s Wedding), Jutta Seiverding (Uneasy Weather) and Leith Morton (The Flower Ornament), amongst others. And then, as has sometimes happened, there was a break for a couple of years, while the press struggled to obtain funding.
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The 21st Century

Island poet Carolyn Gerrish reading at the 45th Birthday/Book launch celebrations. Photograph Michele Seminara

Island poet Carolyn Gerrish reading at the 45th Birthday/Book launch celebrations. Photograph Michele Seminara

Be Straight with Me from Langford saw the millennium in; this was a departure from our normal audience and focus as it sought to address and speak to the often neglected teenage male. Lizz Murphy, Leith Morton and Carolyn Gerrish rejoined the Island tribe with dynamic new titles and Philip Hammial’s exploration of the more lawless boundaries of language continued with several titles including In the Year of Our Lord Slaughter’s Children and Voodoo Realities.

Australian poetry occupies a tiny niche market. The secret to longevity in the editors’ minds was to retain a tight focus, to keep our output manageable. Australia Council support was fundamental to our decision each year to commit to the next one. The process of obtaining that support was never simple and had some substantial on-costs related to our corporate structure etc. But support did come most years and it was frankly this input that was the deciding factor in the press’ ability to continue.

Adam Aitken’s first collection, Letter to Marco Polo, was published by Island Press in 1985.

Adam Aitken’s first collection, Letter to Marco Polo, was published by Island Press in 1985.

The editors have had the honour of performing in countries where our artform is somewhere near the core of those nation’s culture, even self-identity. Poetry in Australia is not a “popular” public entertainment; it needs support. One supposes one can make the choice that we will be a society without poetry and withdraw that infrastructure. But this will have long-term implications on what we are as a people. In New South Wales there will be billions spent in the years ahead on stadium upgrades. Poetry asks for just a trickle of tightly focused help.

With small presses, every corner that can be cut is cut. Working collaboratively with the chosen poets each year we reduce the burden at “head office”. Copies of the books are kept with the individual poets thereby circumventing the need for warehousing. We work closely with printers to obtain not just the best quality product but also a reasonably priced one. Often, book design is done in-house.

Uneasy Weather by Jutta Sieverding. Island Press 1993

Uneasy Weather by Jutta Sieverding. Island Press 1993. Her final book, A Dangerous Place, was published by Island in 2005.

In 2005, we were proud to publish the final book from Jutta Sieverding, one of the original four in our incorporated entity stage. The loss of her editorial and production expertise was felt deeply both by her fellow Island editors and the literary community generally. Her A Dangerous Place was a moving reflection on life lived and losing. A pinnacle of the first years of the 21st century was the publication of David Brooks’ Urban Elegies. David went on to provide strategic assistance for a number of years. There was somewhat of a history of Island publishing revered poets coming back to their practice after a hiatus, we jumped at the chance to put out Rae Desmond Jones’ Blow Out. David Musgrave, after spending so much effort publishing others, was a welcome addition to the Island stable with Concrete Tuesday. Roberta Lowing’s The Searchers is an important step in her development as a poet as well as a real contribution to the community generally.

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Ticket to Ride by Philip Hammial. Island Press 2015

Whilst tending to have Sydney focus for purely practical reasons of organisation, we felt it was important to have a regional or non-capital city component in our lists. Barbara Petrie, John Watson, Barbara de Franceschi and Rob Reil were invaluable additions to our catalogue from that grouping.

Publishing someone’s first book of poetry is a unique honour. Some of those we published in the 70s and 80s have gone on to be major figures in the canon. More recently, we were proud to be midwives to some fine titles in this category – Barbara de Franceschi’s Strands was a superb book. Christine Townend’s Walking with Elephants has had critical acclaim in the months since its launch and Susan Adams’ Beside Rivers was commended in the Anne Elder prize. We plan to continue with this as part of our selection criteria.

The Future?

Walking with Elephants by Christine Townend was launched at Island's 45th Birthday party

Walking with Elephants by Christine Townend was launched at Island’s 45th Birthday party

More recently, we have sought to include books from interstate poets both to better reflect the community’s output as a whole and to expand the Island Press footprint. Jeltje Fanoy’s Princes by Night is a glorious postcolonial exploration.

All three of the current editors “get around a lot” and are always on the lookout for potential additions to our list. Invitations are extended on the basis of obvious literary strength, a diversity of voice, mix of regional/capital city, gender balance, at least one first book and a proven track record of professional activism in the art form (i.e. giving something back). Our tentative 2016 program reflects this. Michele Seminara is a relative newcomer to poetry but already has an impressive following due to her energetic work within the community. Mark Roberts has been an engine for the dissemination of poetry for decades and is long overdue a book of his own. David Gilbey is of incalculable benefit to literature, particularly in regional Australia. Lauren Williams continues to be a loved voice over four decades and she also comes from regional Victoria. Les Wicks makes up the fifth title.

The Searchers by Roberta Lowing was also launched at Island's 45th birthday celebrations

The Searchers by Roberta Lowing was also launched at Island’s 45th birthday celebrations

We cannot say with certainty whether any or all of these titles will emerge. Like so much of the literature community, cuts to government funding have made the future profoundly uncertain. At a time in this press’ life when we would ordinarily be discussing expansion and bringing in younger blood to the editorial process we can’t with any certainty plan towards our 50th year of operation. As the oldest still functioning poetry press in Australia this is not an enviable position. After all these decades of Quixotic optimism, strategic promotion, pennypinching, thankless pursuit of funding et cetera will Island be nearing its end?

 – Martin Langford & Les Wicks

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Martin Langford’s recent publications are The Human Project: New and Selected Poems (P&W, 2009) and Ground (P&W, 2015). He is the editor of Harbour City Poems: Sydney in Verse 1788-2008 (ed., P&W 2009). He is the poetry reviewer at Meanjin.

Les Wicks has toured widely and seen publication across 23 countries in 11 languages. His 11th book of poetry is Sea of Heartbeak (Unexpected Resilience) (Puncher & Wattmann, 2013), his 12th (a Spanish selection) El Asombrado (Rochford Street Press, 2015). http://leswicks.tripod.com/lw.htm

For the full list of books from Island and to order titles see  http://islandpress.tripod.com/ISLAND.htm

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Poetry & Performance at the Blue Space Poetry Jam

In our first look at a regular poetry reading/performance Rochford Street Review has focused on the Sydney based Blue Space Poetry Jam. We would love to cover readings and performances across Australia (and indeed internationally as well). If you are interested please get in touch!

Blue Space Poetry Jam – A brief history….

blue spaceThe Blue Space! Poetry Jam (http://www.thebluespacepoetry jam.com.au/) was conceived over a stroll down New Canterbury Rd Dulwich Hill late 2011. On this walk, a rare looking building with an orange facade and blue circular window frames presented itself to me again as a too quiet large chunk of real estate. Rumours existed thick between real estate agents who became almost camera shy when I asked about that fallow secretive building.

In November of that year a meeting was brokered by a poetry fan between myself and Miles Merrill at Petersham Bowling Club. It was a funny meeting – I, in homeless vagabondage and the others, blew a jazz cigarette and Miles was overcome by a temporary but concerning dizziness. He asked for water and I ran to the nearest tap and filled my leather coin purse and gave him water. After that kafuffle, the three of us wandered backed to our transports and the Blue Space Poetry Jam was born.

The venue for 2012 was the Petersham Bowling Club. They were very gracious and helpful – and the beer and bistro was great. A hi to the management and staff John, Peter, Lizzie and Craig.

In 2012 we’d hosted some great artists and figures – Candy Royalle, Randall Stephens, Tug Dumbly, Benito Di Fonzo, John August, Bernadette Smith, Lou Steer, Angela Stretch, Catherina Behan and a few more. We even had actor William Zappa give an impromptu performance, fine poet Owen Kirkby recite verses, travel writer Paul Giles evoke Baudelaire, Jack Peck from Word in Hand sing – and Bowness Fellow in Photography (and erstwhile poet) Alex Wisser relating some minority philosophies that weighed on his mind that day – all on the open mic.

The distinctiveness of The Blue Space Poetry Jam is that it includes live music performance as accompaniment or dialogue with the poetry. Musicians like Fergus Furlong (drums) from Harold Park Jazz, Brianne Curran (violin) from Takadimi, Kyle Taylor (bass), Matt Crane (guitar), Renee Falez (guitar/cajon) and Eden Ottignon (bass) were somewhat regulars and some later went on to perform at other gigs with poets they meet in The Blue Space Poetry Jam community. ZED or Zvonko Jovicic kept on and we’re really thankful for that continuity. We even had Sydney visual artist and Glebe Drawing Group mentor Geoffrey Goodes make his inimitable and charming sketches at one or two of our events.

2013 then burst onto the scene with an incredible opening event featuring head of the Australian Poetry Slam Miles Merrill and an international visitor –the widely published and translated Iranian poet exiled in London, the polymath Ali Abdolrezaei.

It seemed to be a hard act to follow and after three more events we petered out. For that year I applied myself to writing and made solid achievements in publishing from neomodernist journal Former People to Pete Spence’s wonderfully loveable ETZ and upcoming appearances in Southerly, 21D and Arena Magazine –who are celebrating 50 years!

I read online a musician who wrote “good artists invest in themselves” –such a simple and elegant maxim. I’ve kept to it and I don’t rest on my laurels too often. The Blue Space Poetry Jam finally returned in 2014 thanks to Marrickville Council, the blue window frames of the conspicuously quiet orange building in Dulwich Hill, the blue card I carry for concession signifying to some office worker that this guy too sometimes gets the blues but that art, music and writing are like three crowns of a sailor.

For details of upcoming ‘Jams’ go to http://www.thebluespacepoetryjam.com.au/upcoming.html

– Ariel Riveros Pavez

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Belinda Lopez reflects on the first Blue Space Poetry Jam for 2014, St Peters Town Hall February 20th

Jordana-Arndt

Jordana Arndt (aka ‘Iunno’) performing at the Blue Space Poetry Jam, February 2014

Jordana

It seems as though an ecosystem of spoken word has evolved in Sydney. This ecosystem is real and raw, it lives and breathes in events and people, poetry and stories, scattered around the city.

I suppose this ecosystem could have just as easily sustained itself online. Yet I suspect it is precisely because so much of our lives now are already compressed into digital form that spaces like Blue Space Poetry Jam are sought after by those who love the tangibility of words.

The physical location of Blue Space seems just as important as the idea behind it– or rather, the location is the idea. So let me describe it: A bright room at dusk. Sound ricocheting off floorboards and clean walls. Planes overhead. Poets armed and ready.

Blue Space turned out to be my favourite kind of performance space: free from theme, it’s a safe place to be risky. The range of poetry presented demonstrated that: Ariel Riveros Pavez warmed up the audience with his contemplative and sensual poems; Mark Roberts followed with poetry at once warm and wise.  As one of the featured poets, I was grateful for the space— of all varieties— to test out poems that had previously only lived on the page.

And finally, the passion of Luke Beattie aka Ellie Beats and rhythms of Jordana Arndt cut through the night (and the peak hour rush before Sydney’s night time aircraft curfew). We were regaled by the lyrical sea shanties of singer-songwriter Zed to see us on to the break on the balmy balcony overlooking parklands.

The open mic then took flight – starting off with Rae Desmond Jones and including poet, satirist and playwright Benito Di Fonzo; and even a finalist from the Brisbane heat of the Australian Poetry Slam, who improvised a staged vignette. Miles Merrill, head of the Australian Poetry Slam was to be seen in the audience enjoying himself.

It reminded me, once again, why this kind of revolution shouldn’t solely be digitalised.

– Belinda Lopez is a writer, storyteller, documentary maker, adventurer…and can be found at http://belindalopez.net/

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Benito Di Fonzo’s Quick Recollection On The Blue Space Poetry Jams‘ Inaugural St Peters Town Hall Appearance.

Ellie-Beats-aka-Luke-Beattie

Ellie Beats aka Luke Beattie in full flight

And then, as the school shirt and tie began to come off, you saw what looked like blood on the juvenile’s chest. He continued to announce his impending suicide and Life’s part in its occurrence through a free-verse mildly tainted by 4/4 common time too much hip-hop. Apparently the blood was only lipstick, most likely from the young gothette watching him eagerly as he awkwardly pressed page-down on his MacBook.

Then there was the fellow who channelled Kurt Schwitters’ style phonetic Dada and scatted the magic through the banal instructions from the back of a Health Care card. It made you happy and you weren’t sure why, that’s what art should do.

Another highlight was the musical storytelling of an urban pirate in dark glasses and Spanish guitar. It was like watching Tom Waits do ice at Jack Kerouac’s wake on a Manly ferry.

Sure, the space itself, and elderly town hall, was not reeking of romantic ambiance. The lighting was reminiscent of Redfern Centrelink, and the un-amplified sound was percussively accompanied by a constant stream of low-flying Richard Branson Aero-buses. Given a tweak or six the gig has much potential. I should know, having co-hosted Bardflys at various pubs for a decade). For in the end spoken word and poetry has that great advantage over theatre in that you can, in theory, do it anywhere – from pub to piazza to portaloo. Like a book over a movie, it relies on the words and delivery to set the imagery, not costly revolving sets (although a little costume never hurts.)

By the time I performed a couple of new pieces, namely a Valentine’s number for Molly and a little riff on the darker implications of positive affirmations, our suicidal school boy was gone. Hopefully not to his death, but more likely to watch episodes of Crown of Dwarves or whatever it’s called on his MacBook from under the pretty gothette’s bed-sheets. More power to them.

I shall watch the Blue Space and its avant gardening of Marrickville’s kitsch municipal venues closely.

– Benito Di Fonzo is a Journalist, playwright, poet, performer and satirist – find him at http://www.benitodifonzo.com/
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“Let There Be War Between Us”: Robbie Coburn reviews ‘Decline and Fall’ by Rae Desmond Jones

Decline and Fall by Rae Desmond Jones, Flying Island Books. 2011

Decline and fall098When I got a hold of Rae Desmond Jones’ pocket-sized collection Decline and Fall I knew from the moment I opened it and began reading I was in for an interesting and affecting ride. Yes, I’m a fan, and I was excited at the prospect of a small gathering of his previously published works (this was, of course, prior to his recent New and Selected Poems, It Comes from All Direction Grand Parade Poets, 2013).

To those who read Australian poetry, Jones is a fascinating presence, who has carved out his place in our literature as a unique, important and challenging voice, simultaneously relevant and visionary, often writing outside of the usual subjects or taking them from an obscure angle, and addressing those that are so often shied away from. Just look at Jones’ infamous poem “The Deadshits”, for example, which narrates a gang rape through the eyes of one of the perpetrators. Not Wordworth’s usual choice of subject, that’s for sure, but this is what distances Jones from the pack and makes him increasingly special, if that’s the right word. Although this poem is not included in Decline and Fall, there are plenty of others that address the unaddressable in a way that is intelligent, beautiful, humorous and more often than not, haunting.

Jones has a few bones to pick within these pages, and he wages these wars through his words very convincingly. “i hate them/the truth is out! & they hate me.” begins the title poem of Decline and Fall. The poet directs this piece at the youth of today and the decline and fall of our society. Jones, born in 1941, isn’t a young poet anymore, and his view is one shared by many older generations (and those with brains from the younger) observing the changed attitudes, self-destructive and anti-social behaviours of newer generations, while also being conscious of how these views are seen by those in question. The poem goes on to address the lack of interest in history and education, which contrasts with Jones’ own generation:

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

Jones’ lines are evocative and powerful, and his signature style is original and startling. The work showcased here is dark and doesn’t stray from controversial topics, which has always been Jones’ approach to poetry. I’ve learnt since reading this that Jones was at one stage a secondary school teacher, which could explain how he built these clear views.

Released by Flying Island Books, Decline and Fall is a beautifully presented pocketbook that gathers a collection of work written over a number of years, some of the pieces previously collected in Jones’ 2008 book Blow Out and his earlier collections Orpheus with a Tuba and The Palace of Art. Each poem is accompanied by a Chinese translation on the opposite page, and the message in the poem is universal, spoken directly to the youth who’s behaviour Jones despises:

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.

An important wakeup call from a voice well worth listening to, it’s tragic to realise this message will more than likely never reach the generation Rae Desmond Jones is calling out to, which just so happens to be my own. Our culture really does appear to be on the decline, and the fall depicted here is truly devastating.

Even with the recent publication of Jones’ New and Selected Poems at last in print, Decline and Fall is still a fine introduction to the work of one of our finest poets, consistent and filled with standouts.

Another of the strongest poems is “The Poets”, exploring the niche audience modern poetry attracts, mainly made up of other poets, and alluding to the fact that those who do not read poems are worse off for it. Jones believes that poetry understands us, a notion I can get behind wholeheartedly. The use of deceivingly simple language is raw and confronting, and as a reader of poetry, you begin to further appreciate the art form as Jones so obviously does:

they speak to a vast audience
consisting mainly of one another
all of whom nervously shuffle
manuscripts and 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.

Despite the dark reflections that make up some of Decline and Fall’s contents, Jones also presents us with his unique take on natural imagery in poems such as “Ice & Fire”: ‘When the moon drops/Like a biscuit/It might be time/To dab your lips/With a napkin of cloud’.

But the bleak is never far away, such as in another of Jones’ best poems “We are in a Mess (O Lord)”. Although he’s always had a great sense of humour, Jones’ most important poems are the ones that reach into the darkness and pull out something that speaks for the masses, even if the majority of them sadly don’t read it.

Even the artwork of Decline and Fall is bleak, showing a skeleton in ancient armour waving to a man of a future civilisation on a beach. This pretty much sums up what the future looks like through Jones’ poetry.

So who is Jones declaring war on, really? Youth, a society gone wrong as a whole, or is he simply writing about that which we prefer to leave in the dark, because it is important for poetry to say something?

I don’t think I’ll ever truly understand what makes Rae Desmond Jones tick, but I do understand that he is one of the most important poets writing today, one of my favourites, and one that should be a permanent staple in the reading of Australian poetry.

– Robbie Coburn

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Robbie Coburn lives in the small farming district of Woodstock in country Victoria. His first full collection of poetry Rain Season was published by Picaro Press in 2013. Find him online at http://robbiecoburn.wordpress.com/

Decline and Fall is available from Flying Island Books: flyingislands.org/books/flyling…/rae-desmond-jones-decline-and-fall/

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Rochford Street Review relies on the support of its readers to continue. If you like what we are doing please consider making a donation.

Cornelis Vleeskens: towards a retrospective – Mark Roberts

This is an edited version of a article which will appear in the special Cornelis Vleeskens issue of P76 which will be curated by Pete Spence http://rochfordstreetpress.wordpress.com/p76-literary-magazine/
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Trivial Pursuits, PressPress 2012. 
Broken Glass & Driftwood, originally published in Riverrun Vol 1.No 3 1977. Republished Earthdance/Donnithorne Street Press 2012,
Hong Kong Suicide and Other Poems, Gargoyle Poets – Makar Press 1976

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Trivial PI first read Trivial Pursuit in April 2012 and felt like I had rediscovered a friend. I had meet Cornelis Vleeskens a couple of time in the mid eighties – around the time of Fling poetry. He was one the poets whose work I had read in various magazines and admired and I remembered being very impressed by Full Moon over Lumpini Park. Then suddenly it seemed he disappeared from the poetry scene, the work in magazines all but dried up and there didn’t seem to be any new publications. This was, in fact, not the case. Vleeskens hadn’t stopped writing and creating. He was still working, but at a very personal level. He was writing some very fine poetry and circulating it among a select group of friends and colleagues. At the same time he had expanded the scope of his work and was actively involved in producing mail art and a body of very impressive Visual Poetry.

Then about the time I read Trivial Pursuits in 2012 I heard that Vleeskens was very ill and that the prognosis was not good. I had intended to write on the new book immediately after finishing it, instead I hunted out his other work, his earlier books, his visual poetry – whatever I could find. Perhaps I felt it was important to put this late work into some kind of context, perhaps I just wanted to catch up on some of what I had lost. While it was not unexpected, Vleeskens’ death on 11 May 2012 did came as something of a shock.

For me Trivial Pursuit became a way back into Vleeskens’ work and a way of trying to piece some of the fragments of the last 20 years together. It is a single poem, made up of many parts, running through a 32 page chapbook. The first thing that stands out about Trivial Pursuit is that it is funny. It is a long time since I found myself laughing out loud with a poem (as opposed to laughing out loud at a poem!) but I did find myself giggling on the bus while reading this book. Not all of the jokes, however, are one liners. In a long sequence half way through the poem we read:

I misunderstand the cold!
I struggle to misunderstand warmth!
I often misunderstand 11.30 in Glen Innes
I misunderstand my misspent youth
I misunderstand youth!
and hiphop and bodypiecring and tattoos
except on sailors in sleazy bars down the docks
I misunderstand D.O.C.S
I’m pretty sure I misunderstand angels!
I misunderstand the strawnecked ibis
I misunderstand breaking the bank at Monte Carlo
but I’m not sure I’d misunderstand a windfall!
I misunderstand why bats turn left at the exit
I misunderstand “no right hand turn”
I never misunderstand ORANGES! But
I sometimes misunderstand my kelpie
I think I misunderstand Rob Kars’s smirk
I definitely misunderstand this poem!
………………………………………….(p16)

While this section is quite humours in itself with the repetition of “I misunderstand” setting up a rhythm which is only associationally broken, the real word play lies in how this section relates to lines in other parts of the poem. For example the reference to the time “11.30 in Glen Innes” contues a pattern in the first part of the poem where Vleeskens places sections of the poem by referring to the time: “it is 12.20 in Glenn Innes and a Friday” (p3), “it is 1.35 on a new day/and I’m walking on the sunny side/of the street:” (p6), “it’s 12.40 in Glenn Innes/(lunchtime) I need a break….(p11), “it’s 10.50 in Glenn Innes/and there’s a knock at the door! (p15).

The actual reference which caused me to disturb the serenity of the morning bus commute, however, came a few pages later:

the gang’s all hair and another
strenuous hike takes us to the edge:
did the Brisbane River break
the bank at Monte Carlo?

……………………………(p24)

Suddenly the earlier link with the bank at Monte Carlo is made, is this the misunderstanding, or is it the earlier meaning? I was too busy giggling to worry.

These word plays run through the poem. One of the most obvious and successful begins on page 4 when Vleeskens links orange the colour to orange the fruit and orange the national colour of Holland (his birth country):

………..I think it’s kosher
to eat an ORANGE while
listening to a Dutch composer!
On page 10 he expands the word play to include place
and ask myself did the defeat
of the Boers create an ORANGE-free state?

Then there is the reference to misunderstanding ORANGES in the section already quoted from page 16, a line on page 18 “how many slabs for an ORANGE hangover”, then place is referenced again on page 22 when he asks: “do they grow oranges in Orange?” And given the number of mentions of Orange in this poem one can’t help but think of Frank O’Hara.

Running through this of course is the reference to Vleeskens’ Dutch background. He listens to Dutch composers, discusses Dutch artists and pulls in a Dutch reference when you least expect it:

well blame it on my eyesight
or Ashbery or the schizochroal eye!
Which works like a series
of aplanatic corrective lenses
(as if designed by Huygens in
the 17th century Netherlands)

………………………………………(P8)

While the poem appears at first reading to be loosely structured, the word play and the interconnectivity of the text suggests that there might be more than first meets the eye. The poem actually layers image on image, carefully building so that the mundane act of walking down the street becomes a discussion on poetry and poets, on art and artists, on food, about place and history – among many other things.

While Pursuit highlights the skills of the later poet it is interesting to turn to his earliest work which appeared in Hong Kong Suicide and Other Poems (Makar Press 1976) and Broken Glass & Driftwood (Reprinted Earthdance/Donnithorne Street Press 2012 – originally published in Riverrun Vol 1.No 3 1977).

There is a gentle lyricism to a number of poems in these two collections, indeed ‘Poem for Celia’ in Hong Kong Suicide, recalls Dransfiled’s ‘Pas de deux for lovers’:

the quiet of the dawn;
lost in the fishermen’s lights
trawling harbour waters;
seabreaze blowing mosquitoes;
& stars through the open
window. we lay side by side
i, dreaming clouds of smoke;
you dozing in your quiet
music; skin gently played by
the knowledge of goodbye.

While Hong Kong Suicide was Vleeskens’ first published book (part of the original Gargole Poets series which featured poets such as Alan Wearne, Antigone Kefala, Rae Desmond Jones, Kris Hemensley, John Tranter, Jennifer Rankin and many others), the work in Broken Glass & Driftwood belongs to roughly the same period and, I some ways, introduces some of the elements which we find in Trivial Pursuit.

The title poem ‘Broken Glass & Driftwood’, for example, is a poem about making poetry. The physical world becomes a metaphor for the writing process:

1.

words pass like seconds & minutes
of days spent. they’re like a taunt
line in harbour tides, not always

a catch: mullet nibbling the torn
edges of poems: broken glass &
driftwood. (for robert adamson) lies

of years blowing in the trees. the
blues of nothing caught off jetties &
the rocks. my line lies on the bottom

2.

driftwood memories have been laid
out in the sun to dry. i’ll need
them to fry my catch. maybe I can

forget the broken glass. it’s drawn
enough blood already. washed up on
beaches & islands & harbour shores &

always leaving pieces behind when a new
tide pulls me out again. I wonder if
there’s enough left to build a poem.

Interesting the reference to Robert Adamson provides an immediate echo of this poem in Trivial Pursuits through the lines:

throw in a line Bob the mullet
are running:

…………………………………….(p. 10)

Broken glassOnce again there is a unforced lyricism to this poem, at times almost haiku like. The link between words and time “the seconds & minutes/ of days spent” moves easily into the image of fishing (and during the mid to late 1970’s references to fishing could not but help to suggest Robert Adamson who was riding high at the time as editor of New Poetry and the writer of poems such as ‘The Mullet Run’. Interestingly there is a line in ‘Mullert Run II which refers to the river “turning orange with mud”)). In the second stanza there is the unexpected use of the word ‘poem’ “mullet nibbling the torn/edges of poems”. For anyone who was every taken fishing as a kid, the expectation was that the mullet would be nibbling the torn edges of prawns (I remember the feeling of the line tugging gently and reeling it in only to find the prawn still on the hook but torn all around by small fish mouths too small to take the hook). The poem becomes something more at this point, the image in the first line “words pass like the seconds & minutes” is recalled and extended and becomes much more ambitious.

Interestingly the next direct reference to poetry does not occur until the final line but the imagery runs right through the poem. The fishing line that lies on the bottom, the “driftwood memories…..laid out in the sun to dry” suggest the struggle to find the words, to create the poem. But in the final instance the easy link between writing a poem and catching a fish is denied. It is not the mullet waiting to be hooked or the memories of driftwood – “of years of blowing in the trees,” that represent the poem. Instead in is the broken glass, which at first is to be discarded “maybe I can/forget the broken glass. it’s drawn/ enough blood already”, which becomes the core of the search of the poem. Blood has been drawn, but obviously there must be more, as after each tide fragments of glass are washed up on the shore. “i wonder if/there’s enough left to build a poem’.

So while at first reading ‘Broken Glass & Driftwood’ appears to be a relative simple poem relying on some strong imagery to draw the reader in, on closer reading it is actually much more complex. The creative process is linked to ebb and flow of tides, and of time which turns fallen trees into driftwood and wears broken glass down into fragments of colour washed up on the shore and, in the end, the poem itself comes from an unexpected source.

In most of these early poems the actual act of writing is nearly always central to the poem. In the second poem in Broken Glass & Driftwood, ‘Between Sleep & White Uniforms’ there are, once again, moments of almost intense lyrical beauty:

(waking again: chalkdust
blown over the harbour
like unwritten poems

the chalkdust echoes the fragments of broken glass – though this time they are blowing over the water rather than being washed up on the shore. They are being blown over the harbour, fragments of unknown/unwritten poems. Later, however, the poem does materialise

waking again: new chalk
& typewriter poems for
dusty lovers

‘Between Sleep & White Uniforms’ is a longer poem running over a number of pages, each section is a different waking, a different attempt at a poem or a relationship with a lover or probably both. There is a transience to both the poems and the relationship here as chalk poems can disappear in a flash

…………..chalkwritten words wiped for

falling short. i came to these pages for

explanations ……………..there are none

This transience is emphasised in a later, unnamed, poem in the book:

a rewrite of old poems scribbled on the
outgoing tide while we were digging for

olive shells.

The poems in Hong Kong Suicide, while still retaining their lyricism, have a sightly harder edge to them. The title even hinting a something a little darker than driftwood and broken glass. The title poem is subtitled ’10 preludes’ – is this a wink at T S Eliot or Wordworth or Katherine Mansfield? Probably not, though it is an interesting train of thought. I suspect Vleeskens was bypassing the other ‘famous’ literary preludes and going straight to it’s musical roots. Each of these ten pieces can stand alone as a poem, but they also work as a sequence with everything working up to a final flip of the corn.

The imagery here is grittier, more crowded and a little more desperate. The images are that of a crowded city with people piled up on each other:

the more people in the room/the less room.
four chinamen bent over mahjong; the back
room sending sweet smoke signals and the
occasional laugh; Sesame Street sounds
strange in chinese, the kids don’t seem to
notice it;

………………………………………………prelude 1

and

suzie quatro
carpenters
don mclean
& chinese opera
blaring forth
scratchily
from cheap speakers;

………………………………………………prelude 2

The list in prelude 2 recalls a poem in Broken Glass & Driftwood ‘ – Another Chalk Poem – which simply refers to a shopping list written out in chalk. But here the list is part of a slightly larger whole. Prelude 2 is a simple capture of an image, almost like an extended haiku, but it is a dynamic opening image, the clashing of sounds and cultures which lead into the final lines:

……..……………..Shangai Street
haggling over the price of a bowl of won ton mi

And we are led into the other Preludes and we are reminded that Vleeskens’ Hong Kong is the British Hong Kong before the handover. There is the feel of a ‘frontier town’ of border guards and searches and spying. There is also a playfulness here in Prelude 3 we are told:

not after the shock of seeing
the police superintendent up on illegal earnings charges
the night after
i slept with
his daughter.

and then in Prelude 5.

sketches like this don’t work without
some sex-appeal, another girl friend perhaps?

give her the same name/……. i lie every time

…………………………………………..i use it

give her a guitarcase/ …………the lies come easy

…………………………………………..once you admit to them.

So as we piece the preludes together, the narrator/poet’s voice is undermined by the poem itself. In Prelude 9 there is a description of an early morning dash across Hong Kong by two lovers in search of breakfast. But we sense the narrative starting to unwind:

i live in Jordan Road, Kowloon
with an empty refrigerator/she
stays with her uncle (foreign
office or something). he doesn’t
like me, even my poems have
become third person, singular

first person, plural:
we alight from the peak-tram,
have a champagne breakfast &
soil borrowed white sheets (the
maid’s on our side, she’ll wash
them for a bribe, Hong Kong’s
like that…..

first person, plural:
we are an inveterate liar.

so what/who to trust the ‘I’, the poet, has declared himself a liar, but the poem is still there – jumping from the first to the third person and back again. But what of the suicide? The tension builds through the Preludes – after all the sequence is called ‘Hong Kong Suicide’ so there should be a suicide somewhere, unless the poet is indeed an “inveterate liar”.

So, like a good thriller it all comes down to the final scene, or the final prelude in Vleeskens case:

he stands exhausted penniless.
(the poem has turned impersonal
but refuses to reach a conclusion.
he’s tried to swallow his pride
hoping to choke on it
but the little he has left
went down without complications.
(throw in his three year old son
if you really want complications.
they stand on the roof of the
newly completed Connaught Centre,
overlooking the Star Ferry.
he flips his last coin…….

There is something almost filmic about this last prelude, the image of the lone person standing on the edge of a tall building making deciding what to do. Once again the poem has changed to the third person, something that Vleeskens announces bluntly in the second line. Like a story teller developing his plot as he goes Vleeskens intrudes once again by adding in the man’s three year old son – so that he “he stands” of the 1st line changes to the “they stand” of the 10th line.

The ending of this last Prelude leaves us hanging, literally. The coin has been flipped but we don’t see it land. Does he jump? Does he take his son with him? Or does he turn around, take he elevator down to the ground floor and disappear into the crowd to return to his room to start writing the poem? The sequence is called Hong Kong Suicide, so he must have jumped, but we already know that he is “an inveterate liar”.

Like a piece of good music ‘Hong Kong Suicide’ improves with multiple readings. While at first it appears like a sequence of good but loosely connected poems, it soon becomes clear that there is an underlying structure to the sequence which propels it forward, like a post modern film noir, to leave the reader dangling on the precipice. But Vleeskens’ structure is not an easy one, as he says in another poem:

there’s more form crept in
than i intended to allow:

……………….– The Motorcar as Poem in Two Parts

hong kongIt is a jumpy structure which may run for two or three lines and then suddenly change. An unexpected line break, a dropped line or a section that is indented and/or cut up adds to the jagged feel of the sequence. One senses that Vleeskens was struggling to keep the poem out of control as much as the character in the poem was trying to keep in control.

There was allot of poetry between Hong Kong Suicide and Other Poems, Broken Glass & Driftwood and Trivial Pursuit – in most cases at least 36 years worth of poetry. Some of that poetry can be accessed in collections such as Full Moon over Lumpini Park (Fling Poetry 1982), The Day The River (UQP 1984), Treefrog Dreaming Fling Poetry 1990 and many others (a non exclusive bibliography is included at the end of this paper). While some of these works can be traced through libraries, many others were published in very limited print runs and are almost impossible to locate. There is a definite need for a major poetry publisher to bring out a collection of Vleeskens’ work.

In the end I have come back to Trivial Pursuit and a piece that seems to bring together a number of the themes running through Hong Kong Suicide and Other Poems and Broken Glass & Driftwood:

OH! cast down your eyes
on these scraps of paper:
they’re blowing on a brisk Westerly
like hamburger wrappers
they’re covered in scribbled notes
indecipherable like a foreign language
or poetry! you recognise a score
and orchestrate the notes
it’s symphonic! it’s mindblowing!
it’s a rip-off!! (AND you’re tonedeaf)
what happened to the I?
is he the first person asleep?
all this time I’ve achieved so little!
it’s 12.40 in Glenn Innes
(lunchtime!) I need a break…..

…………………………………………….(Page 11.)

There is the echo here of the chalk dust poems blowing across the harbour and the slipping between the first and third person. In the end I am left thinking about the title of this last chapbook, Trivial Pursuit. Throughout his work the act of writing and reading poetry was central to his thinking. For Vleeskens the act of walking down down the street was poetic and chalk dust or waste paper a potential poem. For him the trivial acts of life, checking he mail box, catching a tram in Hong Kong or writing out a shopping list was the stuff of poetry. As he says on the final page of Trivial Pursuit:

(it’s all smoke and mirrors!)

-Mark Roberts

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Mark Roberts is a Sydney based writer and critic. He is currently undertaking Post Graduate studies at the University of Sydney and currently edits Rochford Street Review and P76 Magazine (http://rochfordstreetpress.wordpress.com/p76-literary-magazine/).

Other books by Cornelis Vleeskens that are still available include:

CVpic

Cornelis Vleeskens – picture from the back cover of Hong Kong Suicide and Other Poems 1976.

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Rochford Street Review relies on the support of its readers to continue. If you like what we are doing please consider making a donation.

A message from the “AND”: John Edwards speaks at the launch of The Selected Your Friendly Fascist

The following is a slightly edited version of a speech delievered  by John Edwards (co-editor of the Your Friendly Fascist magazine from 1971 to 1986) at the launch of The Selected Your Friendly Fascist (October 2012).

It was always,”Rae Desmond Jones and John Edwards.” Over the years, I have become used to being catalogued as the “and.”  Already in the 60s, Rae was rehearsing his role as the Mayor (Rae Desmond Jones was Mayor of Ashfield from 2004 to 2006) and I had to be content with the role of Deputy Mayor, but there are some advantages in being Deputy Sherriff, Deputy Prime Minister or Deputy “Duce.” In organising the technical production of the magazine, “Il Duce” often lived up to the name of a “friendly fascist.” However the actual editorial side of producing the magazine was, on the whole, congenial and relaxed. Both of us knew that this was something we didn’t have to do – it was not going to earn us any money or anything beyond a certain notoriety. Either of us could have opted out at any time but we chose to stay with the task of producing this silly magazine for a couple of decades before it died a natural death – not a painful death as so many little magazines do.

It is difficult now to understand the poetry scene of the mid 60s, especially the publication environment. The only poetry outlets were university based, a place for dons to publish each others scribblings – it was all very “Eng Lit.” and Anglo-academic. What chance did a couple of scruffy upstarts like us have of seeing their work in print?  One day we were crossing Green Park and heading (appropriately enough) for the wall of the old Darlo gaol – the infamous gay pickup Wall. We were having our usual whinge about rejection slips and the bastardy of the literary establishment in its failure to recognise our true genius, and then Rae uttered those magic words, “Why don’t we start our own magazine?” I was a little cautious but soon warmed to the idea.

John Edwards hard at work editing one of the early issues of Your Friendly Fascist.

Looking today at the anarchic content of the Fascist, it is perhaps difficult for you to realise that both of us took poetry rather seriously. I was heavily into William Blake, whilst Rae was more of a T S Eliot man. But, unlike the academics who produced the establishment poetry magazines, we thought that modernism had not stopped with Pound and Eliot. We were also aware of the American writers – of Kerouac, Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti and their British cousins like Adrian Mitchell and Roger McGough. We knew that some young Australian poets were beginning to write in this mode and that they too lacked any outlet. But we had no agenda. If poets chose to write in rhyming iambic pentameter, that was fine – they too could go to the ball. But not many did. The iconoclasm of the 60s ensured that the Fascist would habitually flout the canons of good taste.

And it was great fun. To produce a little mag with attitude gave us a lot of satisfaction and, along the way, a surprising amount of good stuff got published which would, in all probability, have sat in someone’s drawer until it got thrown out. Of course, some of  it should have been thrown out before it even got to us. The world would not be a poorer place without the works of Billy Ah Lun, but then we could not resist having a satirical dig at much of the pretentious crap that was the “hippie” version of poetry.

Then in 1971, I went to London for 6 years. In a pre-internet environment, my role as co-editor became rather detached. I soon found a group of English writers who were not averse to having their work published in the colony. Occasional despatches would be sent off to Sydney, where Rae would pick the poems he liked and blend them into the Australian material. Eventually another pile of badly printed Fascists would turn up in London and I would mail them around the UK to the poets who had by then forgotten they had written the stuff they now saw in print.

John Edwards speaking at the launch of The Selected Your Friendly Fascist.

It was something of a relief to get back to Australia and to resume the normal function of  joint editing, if anything concerning the Fascist can be described as “normal.”

And so, whenever we felt like doing it again, we would meet and go through a large pile of paper, exercising our Friendly Fascist policy:

“We shall decide which poems to accept and the order in which they will come!”

Early in this period, my wife Ruth did a lot of typing onto Gestetner stencils and she is something of an unsung hero of the Fascist. Then came the era of the photocopier and the surreptitious use of the machines at one’s workplace – it was all in a good cause. It all seems so crude now in an era of scanners, digital printers and USB plugs but that too was part of its endearing charm.

Ladies & Gents – I give you Il Duce Amichevole!

– John Edwards

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John Edwards was a co-editor of Your Friendly Fascist from 1971 to 1986. During and after eidting YFF John was content to occupy various public service jobs. He claism that his Social Security Tax Manual was much more widely read than his poetry ever was. In recent years, he has replaced the juvenilia of poetry with the objective research of history, with particular focus on Australia’s colonial history. The result has been four books, the latest as yet unpublished.

The Selected Your Friendly Fascist is published by Rochford Street Press (Note: Rochofrd Street Press is also the publisher of the Rochford Street Review). Copies maybe ordered by the Rochford Street Press On-line bookstore: http://members.optusnet.com.au/rochfordstpress/

More details of the launch of The Selected Your Friendly Fascist can be found at the Rochford Street Press web-site http://rochfordstreetpress.wordpress.com/2012/11/08/the-selected-your-friendly-fascist-pictures-of-a-launch/

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

The return of the Gestetner Revolution……sort of… The double launch of: P76 Issue 6 (The Lost Issue) & THE SELECTED YOUR FRIENDLY FASCIST edited by Rae Desmond Jones SUNDAY 21 OCTOBER 2.30PM FRIEND IN HAND HOTEL GLEBE

Rochford Street Press is proud and slightly surprised to announce the double launch of: P76 Issue 6 (The Lost Issue) – Chris Mansell to launch –  & THE SELECTED YOUR FRIENDLY FASCIST edited by Rae Desmond Jones.

SUNDAY 21 OCTOBER 2.30PM FRIEND IN HAND HOTEL GLEBE.

P76 was founded by Mark Roberts and Adam Aitken and the first issue was published in Spring 1983 and over the years has featured work by some of the leading poets and writers of the time. Over the next 8 years another 4 issues were published. Issue 6 of P76 was scheduled to appear during the summer of 1992/93 but, due to a number of issues/incidents and circumstances, it never appeared. Now almost 20 years later P76 Issue 6 is about to finally appear.

P76 magazine was an influential literary journal during the 1980′s and the publication of the lost issue 6 will provide a kind of ‘time capsule’ highlighting some amazing writing, some of which would have been lost if the issue didn’t finally see the light of day.

Issue 6 has been edited by Mark Roberts and Linda Adair. It contains work by M T C Cronin, Adrian D’Ambra, Rae Desmond Jones, David J Cookson,  Gary Dunne, James Bradley, Coral Hull, Margaret Bradstock,  John O’Brien and joanne burns. Review of Victor Kelleher’s Wintering and Andrew McGahan’s Praise. Cover Design and art work by Narelle Adair. Artwork by Karin Jackson and Lucie Adair-Roberts. Issue 6 will be launched by Chris Mansell.

For further information on P76 Magazine go to http://rochfordstreetpress.wordpress.com/p76-literary-magazine/. An announcement about submissions opening for Issue 7 will be made after the launch.

P76 Issue 6 will be available for purchase from the Rochford Street Press On-Line Shop later this week: 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

Concentrated ‘Ratbaggery’: Mark Roberts reviews ‘Barking Wings’ by Les Wicks

Barking Wings by Les Wicks. PressPress 2012

Chapbooks have a tendency to concentrate a poet’s work into a ‘confined space’ with little margin for error. While a collection of between 60 to 80 pages allows a poet to spread out, take a breath and look around, for a chapbook of around 30 pages to be successful, the poet has to hit the ground running and keep running flat-out. Les Wicks does precisely that in his latest collection, Barking Wings.

One has the sense that Wicks has taken a very deep breath at the beginning of the book and not taken another breath until the final full stop on page 31. But that is not unusual for Wicks. Following the publication of his first book, The Vanguard Sleeps In (Glandular Press 1981), Wicks’ work was described in the following terms: “ frantic beat of rock music” (Access magazine), “Successfully evokes….atmospheres of ratbaggery” (SMH) and “good sleazy fun” (Rae Desmond Jones). I was sorely tempered to recycle some of these statements in this review of his tenth book.

There is more than a touch of the performance poet about Wicks. While his poems work fine as traditional poems on a page, they are constantly demanding to be read aloud, shouted even, so that the sounds of the words can be considered as equals along with their meaning. In ‘Luck hard’ for example, we are told:

My GP has warned
I must face an occasional
Illogical exuberance….

This exuberance quickly becomes a series of word/ sound plays:

Ignore the Bad Thoughts
during a commercial break.
4 is a jagged number, we are
impaled impala.
Always a fine line, suppression of mind (the
filthy brumby) & requirement to be open, queerly, qwerty.

To fully appreciate these lines they need to be read aloud to allow the sounds of the words to bounce off each other ….”queerly, qwerty”.

But Wicks can slip easily back into a what seems to be a more conventional form:

It is raining somewhere else
& the world wont finish yet.
Over breakfast
a lite  northerly  wind grooms
crimson rosellas.  Joy is deceptively busy.

   ‘Enough’

But the ordinariness of this poem is only skin deep. The deliberate misspelling of ‘lite’, the image of the wind ‘grooming’ rosellas, and is he talking about a person or an emotion when talks of ‘Joy’ being deceptively busy? If this is ordinary it is the ordinary of a Reg Mombassa painting.

Suddenly the poem changes gear and a borrowed rhythm picks us up and sweeps us towards the end of the poem:

The back-bone’s connected to the
sky-bone. The wish-bone’s connected
to the home-loan…..”

Barking Wings shows Wicks at his playful best. In the 18 poems crammed into this pocket-size book we have image piled up on image, words and sounds crashing to together and, even when we can see ‘blue sky’ for a few lines, we are always aware that another surprise is only a line break away.

After 10 books surely its now time to start asking when will we see a Collected/Selected volume of Wick’s work? It would be fascinating to trace his development from his early poems in those out of print collections to mature playfulness of his latest collection.

– Mark Roberts

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

Barking Wings is available directly from PressPress. http://www.presspress.com.au/Wicks.html

Carol Novack – A life remembered. Tributes from John Jenkins and Rae Desmond Jones

Carol Novack, ca. 1974 / 1975, Adelaide, Australia (photo: Terry Bennett). Source Mad Hatters' Review

Carol Novack, writer, poet, editor and luminary publisher of the alternative and edgy Mad Hatters’ Review, MadHat Press and the MadHat Arts Foundation,  died on 29 December last year. Although she was born in the USA, and spent much of her life there, she spent a number of years in Australia during the 1970’s and made a major contribution to the development of Australian poetry during those years. During these years she worked as an editor for the Cosmopolitan, and began publishing her poetry.  Makar Press published her collection, Living Alone Without a Dictionary, as part of the Gargoyle Poets Series in 1974, and her work was included in The Penguin Book of Australian Women Poets.  She was the recipient of an Australian Council of the Arts writer’s grant. She left Australia in 1977.

After a traveling in India and Europe, Carol returned to New York City where she completed a law degree. As an attorney, she worked first in the Criminal Appeals Bureau of the New York Legal Aid Society and later as a solo practitioner, championing the causes of artists and the underprivileged.

She went on to receive her master’s degree in social work (community organizing), and teach lyrical fiction writing at The Women’s Studio Center in NYC, returning to the serious pursuit of her own writing in 2004.  “The muse just suddenly reared her jerky head again,” she said.

From the mid-2000s, she began publishing her gender-bending hybrid metafiction— “her little aliens,” as she called them—in many journals and anthologies, including: American Letters & Commentaries, Exquisite Corpse, La Petite Zine, LIT, Missippi Review, Notre Dame Review and Caketrain.

In 2005 she founded the Mad Hatters’ Review, one of the first online journals with a true multimedia approach, marrying literature, film, art and music in an annual collage of some of the most explosive arts on the web.“

Carol curated the successful Mad Hatters’ Review reading series at KGB Bar in New York, and performed herself at many venues in New York City and elsewhere.  After re-settling in Asheville, North Carolina in 2010, she began a new reading series at The Black College Museum & Arts Center and founded a non-profit arts organization, MadHat, Inc., which now includes the Review; MadHat Press, a print publisher; and an artist’s retreat at her mountain home in Asheville.

Before her death,  Carol was working several new projects, including the novella Felicia’s Nose, in collaboration with Tom Bradley.  Both Felicia’s Nose and a collection of  Carol’s shorter works are anticipated for publication in the near future.

Thanks to Marc Vincenz for allow Rochford Street Review to run an edited version of his tribute to Carol which was original posted on Mad Hatters’ Blog on January 5 2012

Carol’s impact on Australian poetry can be measured by the number of moving tributes posted on the Mad Hatter Review following her death. John Jenkins and Rae Desmond Jones have given Rochford Street Review permission to republish their tributes.

Tribute to Carol Novack by John Jenkins

I first met Carol Novack in 1974 in Melbourne, at a literary party hosted by Meanjin magazine, an Australian literary institution published by Melbourne University. The new editor wanted to refresh and revitalize it by including new talent and directions. I had recently had a short story published, and was introduced to Carol by the novelist, Finola Morehead.

I remember leaning beside a settee, drinks poised; people chatting intelligently around us, as Carol and I hit it off from the first word: the attraction immediate and mutual, our conversation bright and animated. I was delighted by Carol’s effortless style: her quick intelligence, zany humor and ready smile. She was indeed a New Yorker and pure oxygen to me. Her urbanity was polished and real, yet refreshingly free of anything po-faced or ponderous. Indeed, there was always a hint of something wicked and unexpected: together with an infectious relish and enjoyment of people, life, conversation, everything.

She was on a visit to Melbourne, down from Sydney for just a few days. So I invited her to dinner, to discover if the attraction wasn’t something I had imagined, or just the sort from a wine glass. A few days later, we agreed that I should accompany Carol back to Sydney. Everything was moving very fast: but such throw-the-dice impulsiveness was often the badge of our relationship.

We set off in my old car, which nearly ended the story at the very start. At one point, I became fatigued, and asked Carol to take the wheel. She readily agreed, then struck something on the next bend. We ended flying through space and emerged, somehow, by the side of the road, as my car span slowly around on its roof in the middle of the highway, and a truck blared down upon us. The world might have stopped shunting into eerie slow motion by then, but—miraculously—neither of us was hurt.

We just sat by the roadside, wide-eyed, in utter disbelief to still be alive. It seemed we sat there forever, and might still be there today, but it was really only minutes. There was a pub nearby, with a tow truck parked outside. Almost casually, as if it happened every day—and maybe it did—the tow truck driver put up some barriers, righted our car and towed it back to his workshop somewhere. ‘It’s a total right-off mate’, he said, ‘but I won’t charge you if you let me strip it down for parts.’ I agreed, and the driver of the truck that nearly ran us down offered us a lift to Sydney.

Carol had been living in the palmy suburb of Woollahra, in a comfortable house she co-rented with the poet Joanne Burns, but the lease was almost up, so Carol and I moved into a small and comfortable place not far away, in the fashionable suburb of Paddington. We lived together there for about a year, and Carol told me how she came to Australia. Apparently, not long before we met, she had married an Australian academic in New York. Her husband then took a senior post at an Australian university. Carol said he was a terrific person, but she soon realised the path marriage paved for her was not the one she really, ultimately, wanted. The domestic life of housewife was not to be her destiny. She was much more artistically inclined; and very adventurous: so had parted from her husband after mutual agreement.

Our life together in Paddington was certainly never dull, as it happened, and not very domestic either. There were many parties, which we either hosted or attended; ferry voyages around Sydney harbor to meet poets and writers; always lively discussions of art, politics and writing – and it was sometimes hard to say whether the arguments or agreements were the more heated. A heady round of restaurant and café meetings where the wine and conversation flowed freely, and spirits were often high. Generally, the mid to late ‘70s were sunny and exciting years in Sydney literary life. Even when we moved from Paddington, after finding lower-rent places in down-market Ultimo then Glebe, the excitement continued.

We met, and often socialized and partied with, some of the most talented and interesting people connected with poetry and writing of those years: Frank Moorhouse, Joanne Burns, Michael Wilding, Rae Desmond Jones, Ken Bolton, Pat Woolley, David Malouf, Bob Adamson, Clive Evatt, Nigel Roberts, Anna Couani, Dorothy Porter, Kerry Leves, Bruce Beaver, Dorothy Hewett, Merv Lilley, Rudi Krausmann, John Tranter, Mike Parr, Dave Marsh, Vicki Viidikas, Dennis Gallagher, Laurie Duggan, Alex Danko…far too many to list here…but collectively creating an effervescent milieu both absorbing and upbeat.

Of course, Carol and I had also to earn a living. This proved relatively easy for Carol, who had always been an academic high-achiever, and proved an equally fast learner when moving from one profession to another. Her research skills were considerable, and she put them to work for Lachlan Vintage Village, a re-created historical attraction in Forbes, New South Wales, built according to historically accurate specifications Carol supplied to the architects. Meanwhile, I worked as a book distributor; before we somehow hit on the idea of writing (or sometimes co-writing) articles for Cosmopolitan magazine.

Cosmo liked Carol so much, they happily hired her, as staff writer and sub-editor; and she then arranged full-time work for me in the mag’s umbrella company, Sungravure, which had a big stable of magazines; and was further owned by the Fairfax group of magazine, newspaper and radio media. And this, effectively, is how we both entered well-paid commercial journalism. In parallel with this, we both continued writing poems, articles, stories and whatever took our fancy.

I remain forever grateful to Carol for opening this new career door for me, as I was rather directionless at the time, never quite knowing how to balance means and ends, or make the latter meet. It was only in the last few months of our time together, that things got really rocky. One of Carol’s favorite movies was Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and we would sometimes have hilarious mock arguments in a parody style of Albee’s famous play. But it was sometimes too real, too close to the bone; such as one night Carol’s dramatic finale was to throw all my clothes out a second-storey window, down into the street. No doubt I had committed some misdemeanor or other, and thoroughly deserved it. I was often ‘a handful’, and emotionally unpredictable. Such as the night I splashed Vodka over dumbstruck friends, while staggering into an incoherent and feverish tirade against the world, with Carol chuckling wildly to one side.

Eventually, we decided neither of us was ready to settle down, into even a casually de-facto version of married life, as we both had wild oats to sow, if not so carefully nurture or cultivate. Besides this, I wanted to travel to Indonesia, while Carol began longing for family, and familiarity, in New York. Eventually, we sat down together, and after a long, sober and rather melancholy conversation, agreed to part; but it was in a spirit of true friendship, and without bitterness.

Carol always had a wonderful sense of humor. She was also naturally kind-hearted and had a great capacity for joy and happiness. She was generous to a fault, both in spirit and materially when people needed help. Though always a ‘straight talker’, very frank and to the point when she needed to be, she was also a fiercely loyal friend. Once she liked and trusted you, you were there for life. All these fine qualities in her nature, and many more beyond listing here, were always evident to me, as they were to all who knew her well. And Carol had a talent for attracting friends to her warm and generous and outgoing nature, which always illuminated her wonderfully buoyant and creative life.

I saw Carol on two occasions after we had split up, and she had returned to New York. The first time was at her West 13th Street apartment in New York, when Carol introduced me to her (decidedly zany) friends, then took me around town to see the sights. At that time Carol was a member of ‘The Party Line’: nothing political, but a group of amusing ‘party animals’, who rang each other to pass on addresses of the best gigs in town.

I went along for the ride, ending up at a ‘do’ thrown by novelist Joseph Heller, at the swank Four Seasons Hotel; and another bash for friends of Lou Reed in some ratty, black-painted room downtown where the amplified sound of smashing bottles rang from the walls as one-time Velvet Underground singer Nico wailed into a frenzied, feeding-back microphone.

The very last time I saw Carol was in Ireland, in 2004. A quiet meeting. We both happened to be in Dublin at the time, and our paths crossed almost by chance. It was a happy reunion; and we took a coach tour, on a rare sunny day in Ireland, to some interesting historical sites. We were clearly both older and wiser by then, and spent a gentle afternoon reminiscing about good times and bad, about what had come to both of us, and friends past and present. Carol studied Asian culture, and even spoke a little Mandarin. She often quoted one of her favorite poems, I think it was by the Chinese poet Ouyang Xiu: ‘Life is best like a drunk falling off the back of a wagon, who rolls to the roadside, and by chance sees only the star-filled sky.’ I can’t remember the exact quote, but this might be close: and I always think of it when I think of Carol.

—John Jenkins, Melbourne, Jan 2012

Memories of Carol Novack – Rae Desmond Jones

I set eyes on Carol Novack one warm evening late in 1972. My first chapbook had been published, and I was invited to read at a forthcoming Adelaide Festival of Arts. I had never read out loud before, and needed practice. This took place in a semi derelict Protestant Church in one of Sydney’s less desirable suburbs (things have changed). I was sitting in the front pew shuffling poems when a striking woman draped in flowing clothes with long raven hair walked onto the stage and began to read. Her poem was a tapestry of chthonian images, showers of light and darkness.

Our friendship proved deep and enduring. Through 1976 she shared a small white terrace house near Bondi Junction with the poet Joanne Burns, where the conversation and the wine flowed well into the early hours. The house was a vibrant centre of literary and cultural ferment. Carol loved the company of poets and artists and frequently encouraged others before fully developing her own considerable talent. The late poet Vicki Viidikas heard her read in a small studio and asked her pointedly why she had not written and published more of her truly astonishing poems. Carol was unable to respond, a rare event.

Carol had courage. After she returned to the United States she contacted me from New York. On 9/11 I phoned her. She was calm and controlled, despite ash and dust and smoke in the air. She also was able to know and accept individual weaknesses and failings with humour and sensitivity. Once you were Carol’s friend, it was for life. This may have been linked with her literary gift, in which she examined and sought to reconcile her own complexity and ambiguities. Like her personality, her writing is complex and demanding: it lives.

– Rae Desmond Jones, Sydney, 2012

Other tributes from Australian writers have also been published on the Mad Hatters’ Review Blog:

Link to Mad Hatters' Blog

Link to Mad Hatters' Review

The Beautiful Dead – THIRTEEN POEMS FROM THE DEAD by Rae Desmond Jones

Thirteen Poems from the Dead by Rae Desmond Jones, Polar Bear Press 2011

First impressions are always important and in the case of Thirteen Poems From the Dead, first impressions create very high expectations. This is a beautiful book, printed in a very limited run of less than one hundred. It is printed, we are told, on Magnani Velata Avorio and set in Minion and Gill types. And if that isn’t enough there is apparently a deluxe edition on its way – twenty six copies “lettered a-z”, signed by the poet and artist and each with an original print by Michael Fitzjames.

But while it’s all too easy to be seduced by the way this book looks and feels I have, after all, come for the poetry – and fortunately I was not disappointed. Rae Desmond Jones has led a rich and varied life. I first became aware of him as a poet courtesy of Robyn Archer’s 1978 LP The Wild Girl in the Heart. On this album Archer put the poetry of a number of Australian poets to music – among them was Jones’ ‘The Deadshits’. This poem is a fairly graphic account of a pack rape at a suburban party and, at the time, resulted in calls for the entire album to be banned. Jones’ was already an established poet in 1978 and over the ensuring years released a number of books of poetry, two novels, a book of short stories as well as a video. In addition he found time to become involved in local politics, being elected to Ashfield council and serving as mayor from 2004 to 2006.

Jones’ of course is no longer a young poet. Born in 1941it is perhaps understandable that many of the poems in this small collection deal with issues of aging, mortality and death:

body when it is young:

how lush it is when in decay

hanging from the bush too long

‘How sweet the layered blossoming rose’

Like the rose in the title of this poem, Jones’ poetry in this collection is multilayered and and rich. The rose, traditionally a symbol of love, in this poem becomes a metaphor for an aging body that can still remember that it “once tingled/ to the eager hungry touch”.

With age comes the richness of memory and in ‘The Fairies of 520 Williams Street” there is the memory of a childhood home – images of a history that can only exist in the poet’s mind, now committed to the page:

I write to bequeath my part of this history to you –

remake it in images you own.

‘The Fairies of 520 Williams Street”

‘Ash Wednesday’, dedicated to the poet Kerry Leves who died in May 2011, is a stunning poem. Combining a rich Catholic/Christian imagery with everyday observations of Darlinghurst, the poem recalls a visit to the dying Leves at the Scared Heart Hospice. Jones’ states in the poem that he is not Catholic: (forgive me,/ Irish Grandfather), but one suspects that the poet’s grandfather would have found much to appreciate in this poem. The poem opens with the striking imagery of:

the moving stairs at Kings Cross station

groan upwards from deep beneath Victoria street

but to finally leave the darkness of the underground station and emerge into the light of Kings Cross the poet has to pass the barrier, in the same way as a Catholic has to accept the sacraments:

I have a ticket, which allows me

to pass an unlikely Angel at the gate,

a heavy middle aged man in blue

who glowers as the machine

chews my ticket like a broken biscuit

(Give us this day our daily bread)

The unexpectedness of the ticket machine becoming a metaphor for the communion sacrament is effective and surprising and prepares us for the imagery that continues to build up, layer on layer, as the poet nears the Hospice. There is the man with the “Satanic tattoo on the back of each leg” and the “demons revving engines.”

While the sadness that accompanies the process of dying is all to apparent

but you wait with your mind

sharp as ever even while your body

collapses softly, elegantly into the ash

on your forehead

There remains a sense of optimism in the almost Audenesque conclusion:

around us hover those we have helped

& a little distant, those we have failed

their lives assemble quietly,

clothed in light.

Of course the irony is that neither Jones, or Leves was/is Catholic (See Pam Brown’s memory of Leves in The Overland Memorial) adds yet another level to this already rich and complex poem.

While there are only fourteen poems in this collection they are of such quality that it is possible to spend hours reading and reading them. The richness of the imagery, the almost virtuosic display of poetic technique coupled with a beautifully design and produced book makes this limited edition collection one to queue up for.

Mark Roberts

To enquire about availability contact: books@nicholaspounder.com