Category Archives: Black Rider Lines

Black Rider Lines: Hyaline launch speech by Dr Glen Phillips

I am honoured to be asked to launch Hyaline, Matt Hall’s fine new poetry collection, and must first congratulate not only Saskatchewan Matt for his formidable poetic talents, but also our enterprising publisher (and indeed mentor) in Black Rider Press, led so well by Jeremy Balius. It is a beautifully crafted book and the cover images derive from mid-20th century family photographs, rejected and left in an old camera for seeming blurred and out of focus. But in their ephemerality they suggest careless attitudes to environment that now haunt us.

I myself apologise at the outset that I come from another and distant country, theoretically speaking, merely because of my relative antiquity amid the exuberance of contemporary and comparatively youthful ideas of space and place in this world today.

I have theorised elsewhere (and in particular in my own PhD), that, since humans once did not have language, but did still need, as a matter of real survival, the mental potential to know their environments extremely well (and make their detailed landscape maps in the mind), so their potential to thus ‘learn’ landscapes might well have preceded our present amazing human abilities to acquire and use languages.  So learning your birth landscape would be a very ancient but expected developmental task, reflected perhaps in the interest, even obsession on the part of some individuals to render landscape as visual art or poetry.  Therefore I argued further in my treatise that learning second landscapes is potentially a second but still vital order of survival skills.  Every birth territory has its adjoining foreign territories. And since skills can be taught or at least learned more efficiently through applying a process, it seems to follow that there would have to be additional skills related to the ones acquired in early life. These would involve adjusting the pre-existing skills for mapping and imaging an environment.  Just as we experience ‘interference’ from existing languages when we acquire new ones, and have to erase (at least temporarily) the old habits and vocabularies, I believe we can (and the better artists do) adjust to new landscapes by responding in new ways to them.  Thus a palimpsestic process takes place, one of partial erasures and replacements.

In the case of Matt Hall’s poems in this collection (note the working title was A Pastoral Artifice), there is a dazzling range of what I call both first and second landscape learning displayed. The laudatory comments about Hyaline of poets as illustrious as John Kinsella, Peter Larkin and Louis Armand confirm there is much more than a touch of genius in Matt’s evocation of both Canadian homeland and Australian landscapes here. As you turn the pages, the reader’s delight increases poem by poem. No doubt the influence of Matt’s own PhD preoccupations, namely Jeremy H Prynne and violence, could be discerned by many of his readers. It was Prynne himself who wrote or quoted in his fascinating recent work Kazoo Dreamboats (or On What There Is) (2011): ‘To be this with sweet song and dance in the exit dream, sweet joy befall thee…’. But maybe my reading of Hyaline is taking a too personal track? Again no doubt reflecting the ghost country seven decades ago where I (like Matt) come from—as wheatbelt-born, the son of a country schoolmaster and, therefore, one of Matt’s ‘other ghosts’, perhaps.

The construction of this beautifully designed and produced artefact of a book of poetry into its sections ‘Harm’s Light’, ‘The Graceful Accident Which Cities the Field’, ‘Flight Call’, ‘Tenantry’, ‘Language and Sentiment’, ‘The Pleasures of Forecasts’ and finally, ‘Hyaline’ is key to the poet’s gift to his readers. The eight implied themes of these eight parts provide a substantial component of the extraordinary assemblage of layered responses to ‘old’ and ‘new’ places. And as one reads on, it becomes clearer that these places are not merely some samples of autobiographical mapping but in many senses a mapping for all of us of the place or places to which our environmentally troubled contemporary world has come.

Even if I had the capability, my function is not to review Hyaline, nor to deliver a learned treatise on this veritably encyclopaedic work of poetry and eco-philosophy. It is to recommend it for your enthusiastic attention and delight —as discerning readers of a poetry that is at the cutting edge of modernity, embodying the highest standards of poetic craft. However, I do claim the right to mention some of the poems that strike a special chord for me. But before I do that, I want to reference ‘Kickin’ it with Matthew Hall’, the recent so-titled internet ‘viral interview’ with Matt about the conception and substance of Hyaline. In it, Matt explains the origin of Hyaline as follows:

‘The project sprang from my reading and trying to avail myself of Australian literature during the first years of my living in Australia, so it sprung from reading Kinsella, Louis Armand, and any number of other experimental poets (such as Michael Farrell), eco-poets (Stewart Cooke) and landscape poets. It came out of contemplating and mediating a relationship with the natural and trying to find a means of expression which mattered and which challenged the hegemonic constructs of the creation of language-meaning.’

Matt defines Hyaline as generically ‘Poetry. Pastoral. Eco-poetic. Radical pastoral. But depending on your definition these might also fall under the rubric of anti-pastoral. In terms of forms, the book is a collection of serial poems, some in bound prose, and some in freeverse, some in formalised patterns.’

And that is exactly what we do find. But more, much more than that, we find each poem complete in itself. Naturally I was first drawn to the book’s  ‘title section’, Hyaline, where the poem ‘Triptych: landscapes’ seems to range not so much over Matt’s birth country as our own country of Western Australia, a second profoundly influential landscape for the poet to learn to love—and love enough to care deeply about its potential destruction.

In ‘Triptych: landscapes’ he writes in Part II of,

‘the reddened landscapes;/upon a rock face, before defense or slaughter

Actions are prodigious streaks of ochre and ash/ numinous motions of a fire-lit night’.

Such images clearly evoke the rock art of the Kimberley region of WA in which Matt shares a passionate interest with J H Prynne and which he claims to be the part of our country to which he feels most drawn.

On the other hand, in the ‘Harm’s Light’ first section of the book, in the  poem ‘artifice’, he writes of a ‘fertile land endangered/ by saline encroachment’ and in the aforementioned interview he recalls: the loss of connection to land which I felt strongly when relocating from Canada to the Australian outback… Therefore the poems and their language reflect destruction, reflect damage, in lexicon, in description, in the failure of a model of lyric to measure up to the world. The corporeal body as damaged poem, the damaged poetic as the earthen dream.

Yet if we go back now to the ‘Hyaline’ section we come across, in the book’s title poem, ‘Hyaline’, lines which, presumably, cannot but refer of his birth country, Saskatchewan:

‘…where once/ you passed through the haulm unaccompanied/the orchard’s           sounds through a dusty kitchen/ where what was learned before we learned/ to bury this earthen dream outside, the winds, also,/ share this wealth of no necessary language’. Here the ‘haulm’ seems to refer to the stalk toppings of certain crop plants such as peas or potatoes, or what we might call stubble after a harvester has been through our wheat crops. But more importantly what we see is the cumulative process of first landscape and habitat learning. And they also underline the essential palimpsestic process by which we make, unmake  and remake our landscapes in actuality. And in our poetic responses to them.

Enough of analysis! I am sure that shortly, and in response, the author is going to select to read some whole poems which we can enjoy as they were meant to be enjoyed when he composed them. They must stand alone as poems can and should.

My duty is formally to launch Hyaline in Western Australia. This then will be, quite appropriately, its first Australian launch. For the next will be in Melbourne. And in my launching tonight I recommend most heartily that you take possession of your own signed copy of Hyaline as soon as possible if you have not already done so!

Hyaline, you are launched.

– Glen Phillips, 21 March, 2013.

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Black Rider Lines: Matthew Hall on ‘enjambment sisters present’ by Michael Farrell

Michael Farrell - enjambment sisters present coverWhen reading Michael Farrell’s new collection enjambment sisters present, I find myself casting my mind to the work of Pierre Macherey, whose theory of literary production stressed the inherent incompleteness of the text. That, “the book [or the poem] is not self-sufficient, it is necessarily accompanied by a certain absence, without which it would not exist.”

The collection is, itself, a structure of complexity, demonstrative of both growth and decay; it is at once about the acquisition of words, assembling into the joy of the literary, and at the same time about control, contortion, the finite articulation of syllables, its careful dissection. In Farrell’s collection, then, we find a disarticulation, a pensive joy which attends the simplest utterance.

The challenge of the work is to ascertain the disarticulations of meaning, of a language which is heading in two directions at once, trading the polyvocal utterance, which stresses and strains against the limits of language, for a syntax of response, which dynamically gathers in and infolds relations with other elements.

Farrell’s poems are as set on the acquisition of language as on the construct of the domestic.

Oedipus the King, Hoicking (excerpt)

(Oedipus the King, Hoicking)

Which, playing with the notions of containment, punishment and the territorial, of the notion of home for one who argues, in ‘Schopenhauer , Ford’:

Schopenhauer Ford (excerpt)

makes the compossible claim that the lyrical ‘I’, the eyes of the poet, are tied both to the “mouth” as well as to “youth”. That the claims of articulation are tied to the past, to that which might only exist in fragmented utterances, in glimpses, in an uncertain, testing, and experiential wholeness, that allows an apprehension and renewal in retrospect.

The necessary incompleteness of the text means that the reader is a constant in the flux of the collection, a constant brace to its stutter and pulsing language. The forms and patterns break with an unceasing, teasing velocity, to which Farrell’s voice adds a sense of calm lucidity.

The repetitive patterns of ‘Some Enchanted Odding’ and ‘Schopenhauer , Ford’ are reminiscent of Marinetti or Hugo Ball, but the real treasure of Farrell’s work is in casting the world through the eyes of a child. In that, I am reminded of Hejinian’s line: “ I cannot separate lucidity from undressing” which makes a riddle out of a grammatical proposition, characteristic of her work in ‘The Composition of the Cell’.

Farrell’s fantasmic and creative imagining have the whimsy of childhood, “try this donut made out of doll rubber, tarpaper , and seaweed”; “I want to climb ha / lf an a / lpa / ca”; “If I could r / each the star / s”, which strikes me particularly as playing Wittgensteinian language games, to which children render a language malleable, mold it, create with it, stretch it over the world, and hand it back to you. As Gertrude Stein asked in ‘Arthur a Grammar’: “What is the difference between resemblance and grammar. There is none. Grammar is at best an oval ostrich egg and grammar is far better.”

Farrell’s enjambment sisters present is a brilliant plaything, it is lithe and agile, it turns and twists and jumps across the room, finally falling in a writhing heap on the rug. It contains all the joys and “sounds [of] the nest”. Reading it will put the melody in you.

– Matthew Hall


enajambment sisters present by Michael Farrell will publish as a free download on Monday 31 December 2012. It is the fourth instalment of the Black Rider presents Lyrics series.

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Black Rider Lines: Preface to Carnivalesque, And: Other Stories

These Kids Today, David Foster Wallace & a Reflection on Style

by Kirk Marshall (2009)

A MISSPENT YOUTH (circa 1996)

Like the percussive reverberence of prize marbles colliding with hopscotch slate: Let us invite the image to materialise behind our shuttered retinas, phosphorous and striking. Like a chorus of one hundred, one thousand Christmas crackerjack crackling together in a perpetuitous sequence of one-second delays: Let us call up this truth, activate it, conjure it from the swimmy consciousness which possesses it. Let us fashion onto it a cloth of some importance, let us attribute to it volumes of marvel and mystery. Like a dragon with the heart of a powderkeg firework imploding into a pyre of smoke and St. Elmo’s fire over an open body of still water: Let us quieten our collective pulses and reign in our searching hands, and listen to the sound of this eleven year-old boy’s pencil as it describes the wide hemispherical language of his densely-packed prose, whittling away the negative space on his ring-bound Foolscap notebook – his first – with the cultivated discipline of an ice-sculptor, perhaps, or an Inuit architect.

The child’s words are polysyllabic ones, and the character of his glyphs are travestied and lurid, round and slightly, peripherally aslant. There are more curves here than on English economy class. And owing in no immodest part to the fact that the kid had only developed wrists about two years prior, his sentences dribble at weird and disconcerting trajectories down the length of the page. These are, as the teachers of this prepubescent catastrophe with the furrowed forehead and the set jaw have exhaustively attested, not orthodox sentences; not really the sort of material that they’d anticipated; not the phylum of philologic play which these primary-school academics’ three-year degrees had promised would exist their end of the workforce trail. To abbreviate and collapse the multiplicitous opinions of all his teachers into a unitary consensus view, this kid was surely some spectacular freak species – you couldn’t claim ears like that normal – but it was the way he’d fury away with that pencil grafted firmly to his unflagging fist which provoked Nightmare On Elm Street flashbacks.

Hoo-boy, did he provoke them into fits of discomfiture. There wasn’t a solitary Catholic childhood educator amongst the notoriously haunted pack of them who enjoyed a full and unadulterated night’s sleep after reading some of the lunatic shit he composed during class. It wasn’t just robots battling gelatinous men composed entirely out of snot which startled them out of their salubrious academic apathies, nor the unprecedented plot digressions involving Parasauralophus (some kind of pre-Jar Jar Binks dinosaur equipped with a head which can shoot out torpedoes of goo at enemy ninjas) and the Bicyclops (He has one bicycle for a head, and when he’s super-mad the bell rings an attack-warning!). Nossir – it was the tireless invention and the haggard devotion invested in these narratives which sustained the trauma experienced by his teachers. He didn’t really seem to appreciate their brand of puritanical Christian-school discipline, like being asked to rigorously rewrite his fiction before it was designated sufficiently devoid of all that crazy verbiage – proboscis, for example, or vomitous – to justify a golden star or an immaculate red tick.

In fact, and this generated genuine fear amongst their affronted lunch-hour staff committees, the little grey-eyed spook appeared to thrive off being afforded a new opportunity to “polish” his prose. His phrase-making would become more elaborate, more polyphonic, shirking thrift and economy for noise and rabble, but the clincher was in the quality of his demented imagery. As vivid as Rapture, as loquacious as a sky teeming with angels and ravens, the kid’s stories scored hot, horrible visual epiphanies into the tissue of his every teacher’s brain, and when these victims were finally unburdened at the advent of his grade-school graduation, not one doubt gestated within their rhapsodic hearts. This monstrous little despot of dreams would be a writer. Like the scene in The Fifth Element where the newly-formulated, sentient, obsidian satellite grows bigger, vaster in circumference by being blasted at with nuclear warheads, this kid’s energy continued to prevail. Criticism only reinforced his trajectory. Editorial dismay arising from the proliferation of adjectives, neologisms and damaged characters littering his work only helped to feed the kid’s monkey.

Like a cannonade of buckshot being dispensed into the unfaltering phalanx of a spider army: Let us tell it how it was. Everyone was soon entangled in and engulfed by the sticky filaments of his spew of words. The boy would be a writer, a fictioneer. The stain was on the inside, on his soul, like the Mark of Cain.



Reading first about David Foster Wallace’s suicide by stumbling upon the pithy entry of an online weblog two days after the event, I sat with knuckles balled on the sweat-warped knees of my grey jeans and reeled.

Unashamed, I’ll concede that I only timorously dipped into Foster Wallace’s self-reflexive, Rabelaisian, 1,079-paged exhaustion of prose, Infinite Jest (1996): I tested the waters, equipped with trepidatious toe, demonstrating the same inseizable horror of the osprey in descent towards a bloom of fish. (See, an osprey, – to mix metaphors with the artifice of a literary barman, – having gambled its hand, knows with some prognosticative certainty that the moment it thrusts its talons into the back and dorsal fin of a thrashing codfish, it can drown. Fuck eugenics: My hereditary fondness for ornithology, compounded with an alarming long-term memory which archives even the most dispensable nonsense-conversation, has ensured I now retain a fact about ospreys I learnt in primary school, sixteen years ago. The blue eagle of the seas will surrender herself, risk the carnivorous embrace of the ocean, so that she may capture a meal for her children; if the codfish proves too heavy for the osprey’s swift frame and wingspan, the bird cannot retract her talons: she submits herself, snap, to an Icarean death.)

So that’s the general sense of gravity and commitment which I artfully surmised went hand-in-glove (talon-in-flesh?) with braving Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. Reading his chimerical novel was no sun-soaked, desert-island enterprise. You certainly don’t brandish paperback editions at friends as suggested holiday fare (not unless you secretly harbour a deep-seeded loathing for them, or perhaps are seeing them off prior to their disembarking to the moon). And you won’t prove anything to the devout, chai-swilling Christian readership of your altruistic suburban bookclub by recommending Infinite Jest, not a single inky-dink, unless it’s that your soul’s as black as Lucifer’s desktop screensaver. And you don’t, you just don’t tell the girl with the heartbreaking cascade of strawberry blonde hair sitting with paranoid unease next to you on the public bus, Now I don’t know you, but I overheard you laughing on the phone, and if you think he promises amusement, you ain’t yet laughed the way the Fine Almighty, David Foster Wallace, and Little Brown Publishing intended! No, it’s a sad case: You won’t make friends, you won’t advertise your genetic predisposition as an efficient hunter or a chieftain walking loftily amongst more feeble men, you won’t describe your aptitude for boring tasks or your potentially illegal intelligence, you won’t secure the implacable hearts of all the world’s Farrah-faced female temptations by revealing that you’d stuck it out through Infinite Jest.

Reading Foster Wallace’s novel is an indisputable achievement, but it’s also a demonstration of brazen risk, and probably not something to stimulate the covetous inclinations of dawn-headed strangers on public transport. To resuscitate our youth-woozy analogy, Infinite Jest is some deep-water Goby fish with a chasmic mouth to instil a chill in a God-fearing Ahab, let alone a bird-of-prey like the osprey. Foster Wallace tests his reader throughout, creating a reading experience which is both disconcerting and vertiginous, willing you to drop the leviathan and seek higher ground. I’d hazard that the few who succeed maintain their commitment to the text by immersing themselves in the comedy of Foster Wallace’s literature, not the complexity.

I can’t claim to have possessed the sufficient gamble to get much further than the first seventy pages. It was the unbroken three-paged list of medical and pharmaceutical drugs – a concordance of polysyllabic biochemical words that interrupted the narrative in a self-reflexive literary attempt to describe the breadth of one character’s pill-popping addiction – which finally exhausted me. At the time of purchase, two years prior, it frustrated, if not violated my obligations as a reader of experimental prose. Consequently, I buried Infinite Jest’s lurid and mocking spine, as wide as a baby’s handspan, in my protesting bookshelf and contented myself in the delusion that Foster Wallace’s novel hadn’t bested me, that I’d extracted what was essential to the work and had discarded the remainder. But when you’re a writer, and so questionably imbalanced, lies can only nourish you for so long. Soon your pride flares up like the head of an adder. My failure to read David Foster Wallace’s book began to develop symbolic overtones. There was more at stake, here, then just my integrity as a reader or as an appealing bus passenger. My patented inability to delight in a tome of postmodernist autodidactic fiction which The Sydney Morning Herald averred as “literary genius” advertised something about my capacity as a reader. I wailed. I gnashed my teeth. I built shrines to Raymond Carver and Ernest Hemmingway. Eventually I waded with lunatic eyes through Infinite Jest’s hundred pages of addendum and encyclopaedic footnotes in an effort to decipher the enigma, to coax out the sphinx, to channel the certain epiphany abandoned to dormancy from out of Foster Wallace’s heavy text. I failed again, and immediately transferred my attention, I think, to The Little Prince. Something with pictures, anyway.

It was more than half a year later, after my post-traumatic Infinite Jest distress had finally subsided, when I initiated my first conversation about Foster Wallace with a friend who I’d always determined could in fact be entirely crazy. It took five minutes for him to convince me that, despite all the psychic scarring and the arsenal of reservations I’d stockpiled, Infinite Jest was still entitled a semblance of literary value. Of course, most of those five minutes involved him gratuitously wallowing in his success at having finished the novel, but to my genuine shock and abasement, I started to laugh when he discussed a scene in Foster Wallace’s work whereby the central protagonist’s father commits suicide by inserting his head into an operational microwave. How could I have denied myself the glee generated by such terrible and terrific satire, by stopping short? I decided, therefore, that Foster Wallace was merely a writerly jerk-off. But assuredly not a write-off. Thus, upon entering badly-stocked bookstores and bewildering the counter-staff with my aggressive and irritating laughter, I soon found myself forging a personal conviction to read the more digestible examples of Foster Wallace’s musings.

There were stories of linguistic pyrotechnics! Essays of formal subversion and generous silliness! With humble pie fermenting in the pit of my stomach, I realised that Foster Wallace wrote similarly to myself. He committed himself to the architecture of interesting, shambling, discombobulating sentences. His was a sesquipedalian syntax, as verbose as a baby whose Alphabetti Spaghetti contained hidden Mary Poppins references: supercalifragilistic-expialidocius! Described here were the territories of the Difficult Wordsmith: nothing was lazy, was easy, no phrase was divorced of character, every analogy or zeugmatic sentence bristled with convolution and erudition. Did people like this? For my part, I wrote challenging literature because that’s how my mind operated; when I’d finished all withstanding homework during class-time in primary school one teacher had thrust an outdated Websters Dictionary at me and instructed that I read. My vocabulary expanded exponentially, like a puffer-fish adopted by a family of volleyballs. Soon I knew too much obscurantist phraseology, too much arcana, to be able to write a story without it informing my personal stylistic; I could read six novels simultaneously, and did, frequently, but such a tumultuous spume of words meant that when it came to creating my own fiction, I wrote with a thesaurus for a heart and with a pantheon of authorial gods inhabiting my soul. Like a monopoly of clowns hijacking a limousine out of nothing but pure hedonistic impulse, it was my new-born vocabulary which piloted the flight of my words. I was a victim of verbiage. And yet somewhere along the line Stockholm Syndrome kicked in: I embraced the literary abuse, I made it work for me.

This calls for a discussion on the politics of transgression. Ferdinand de Saussure, the French semiotician and linguist, has a lot to say on this subject, as does the philosopher and intellectual Michel Foucault. Now, most learned readers like to believe, as it relates to cultural epistemology, that they’re Saussure, but I’m convinced the vast majority really know Foucault. (This is an old joke, which means I’m not to blame.) What seems readily apparent within their literature, after pursuing dangerous liaisons with an untrustworthy French dictionary, is that subverting the conventions of a social contract can only work when the text refers back to what it’s shunning, dismissing, dissing – on into perpetuity. For me, this constitutes the monsoonal and bountiful heartland of comedy. A writer who rearranges the pro forma for Lit 101 willingly submits him-or-herself to an act of sabotage. Kicking sacred cows is a political operation, not something you do when Farmer Joe is on the john. Perhaps I chose to rebel against the notion of the “simple story, well told” because I found freedom in disrupting the orthodoxy. But the anger has subsided from my work, and still the commitment to my style prevails. A joke doesn’t get old because it’s retold.

For his part, what David Foster Wallace’s shorter (and correspondingly, punchier) stuff attested to was that an elusive and heretofore illusory readership existed for him to feel comfortable in adopting his personalised style. The discovery was ungovernable. There were people who championed his work like it signified the frontier of literature, and even some of them composed reviews for important publications with names like The New York Times and The Daily Telegraph. When the impetus for plot progression dissolved in one of his fictions in order to foreground an authorial interjection on the most effective way to dismantle a bed, say, or when an essay on gourmet-cooking teemed with high-falutin’ footnotes describing the biological sensory system and pain threshold of the lobster, it was a cruel and awkward demand upon me not to feel a symbiosis with the man, not to celebrate my own work vicariously through his. If Foster Wallace had readers, then so must I! I was jazzed, incendiary, my time beneath the strobes of some future limelight was secured. In the meantime, whilst the portentous star of my future validation was rising, I’d occupy my time dreaming of spontaneous conversations on buses, invent problematic analogies involving osprey, and write fiction about gypsy caravans in Japan to provoke somersaults from the clouds and incite the fish into fits of laughter. The world spun about me like a galaxy of Roulette wheels, like the ghosts of Galileo and Copernicus. I eased into the seductive upholstery of Kirk’s Writing Chair and surrendered myself to the choreography of dancing fingertips.

My novella, “Carnivalesque”, an elaborate frame-narrative filtered with polyphonic ambition through the perspectives of ten multiethnic protagonists, came together under three months, after three drafts, with excursive re-reading of Chaucer, Bulgakov, and Faulkner. Directly prior to or following my traumatic writing sessions, neither possessing the funds nor the savagery to get drunk and exchange numbers with a particularly ugly hangover, I’d play the albums of Beirut aloud at maximum volume and gambol up and down the corridor in the pretence that I was a gypsy from the Caucasus. This did nothing to improve my writing, but it made returning to a novella-in-progress concerning an itinerant sideshow-caravan, extinct wolves, Irish midgets and decapitated Frenchmen seem sane in contrast. Being a notorious Maximalist, my story was dense, multi-layered, bombastic, populated by prodigies and dunces, and despite the verisimilitude to cake-baking instructions, it was self-satirising. If I were a responsible writer, I could have identified my readership in a twinkle, in a periwinkle. It wasn’t until my procrastinatory trawl through the opaque waters of untrustworthy websites, having intercepted news of Foster Wallace’s suicide, that my reading audience became apparent.

As far back as the moment when my magpie-brained raving secured me first-place in the Brisbane writers award for youth under the age of 17 in 2000, as far back as the tortuous process of maturity which both me and my writing had to endure to come into our own, I’ve been inspired by the taunting of teachers. Albeit sometimes I resemble (and act like) a hillbilly highwayman, and though occasionally I send readers into convulsions of miscomprehension, I’ve picked this path because it’s the one that was manifest to me ever since I was old enough to transgress the rules of my earliest critics. I write now, today, in an effort to prove that my vision, voice and violence against convention is valid, is worthwhile, even if there are certain circles who maintain I signify the corruption of the “transcendent signified”, the universal yarn. In fact, my writing hasn’t altered much since I was eleven, when I used to bite people and fall out of trees. I still use words like “vomitous” and “proboscis” but I’ve cultivated an appreciation for doing so sparingly, and only when it’s necessary to vault the reader into reveries of intellectualisation over creatures composed entirely of snot. Certainly, “Carnivalesque” favours Siamese twins and undead European hunters over the Bicyclops. Nonetheless, in the same way an arborealist can trace the evolution of a tree by making a transversal cut into its rings, if you squint hard enough whilst reading the novella, it’s not hard to delineate that the blueprint for this most recent fiction shares an awful likeness to those stories I shat out at my terrified grade-school teachers all those years ago. I can’t claim to understand why David Foster Wallace killed himself. Maybe he didn’t think anyone out there was actually listening. But I resolve to believe that for every style there exists a readership. Even if they’re hiding beneath the desks in their staff-room offices.

Foster Wallace, like the osprey, now sleeps with the fishes. His conviction and determination to bend rules has provided me an understanding of what my writing is permitted to do. A great man who met a sad end, may he enjoy his final and eternal joke whilst we maintain to grapple with his Infinite Jest*.

* The essayist would appreciate it if, upon reading this conclusion, you play Beirut’s “After the Curtain” and pirouette down the nearest corridor. For your convenience, a courtyard will do at a pinch. Thank you.


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Black Rider Lines: Corey Wakeling on Royal Jelly by Matthew Hall

This is a tremendous thing. Fecund and overwhelmingly tactile, wounds and absences precede sensibility, and yet within it drives thought busy with topographies and feeling-its-way-through. No, even feeling-its-way-through would be wrong, more like drawn along, compelled by a series of shocks and moments of uncovering. This poetry excites me because it occupies a space between the cryptic lexicon of the Cambridge School and Aussies like Louis Armand and John Kinsella, and visionary poets modern and Romantic, like Walt Whitman, Alice Notley, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Matthew Hall in the studio reciting Royal Jelly sounds like a sage engaged in public oratory, though the sounds of an inner echo tells us he is alone. It is an excellent recital, and for those wanting to hear Hall possessed by his text they will not be disappointed. But it is not the curses, the hymns of Royal Jelly as I heard them. Its voice for me mutters, wonders, allays, albeit in fear, declaims uncertainly, and atrophies. I hear a very tentative voice, a ghost voice. But, it is always meaningful to have the poet read in a manner utterly different from what one expects, producing a broader dialectic incited by every reading, a dialectic based on the question: is the poem speaking through the poet?

An exciting thing!

– Corey Wakeling, 2011

Royal Jelly

You can buy Royal Jelly as an ebook from Black Rider Press.

You download Royal Jelly as an audio book (for free or pay what you want)  from The Sound of the Black Rider.

Poem extracts from Royal Jelly were featured on the Black Rider Podcast 03.

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Black Rider Lines: a Language we will always remember

“A Language we will always remember”; or… ‘the parody of you and me’ – complexity, colour, sensation and what’s said: Michael Farrell’s thempark (Book Thug, 2011)

by Matthew Hall

the arc high malletting through onyx: plush toys & the excitation. the ventral sights. “test your strength” and never winning, fair in the civilized remnants of what past?

as we are want to be reminded, ‘we don’t need another hero’ here; it is an address of absence, unvoiced in the assemblage of spirited divergence, the tailended day punctuated by globule lights, colourwheeling the imagination back to the volume of sensibility in a promissory tract, feedback lopping the charnel air, that husk-singed scent, the entwining of content confectionarily mimes the imprint of loss, the colours, the winnowing punctuated faces, the darkness. the ceremonial ritual of trying to remember a night in the flash of colours as a sudden kind of seeing, that he, in spectacle, spots leaking light, leaking in a pearly acquiesce, that twine as ‘terza rima’, your fibre songs, all is carnivalesque where wind teeth chatter. that material in reverse not perishable in the raft of discard but strophic, an origami through the vocable, crash in my mouth … appreciating the piled up world around me, that, bakhtinesque reverie, of curt epigraphs and skies waterbrushed by cockatoos, and the lights, the pornography of sentiment, in a scythe cut never, by that halogen degree, colours bearing all, but the universality of hearing with this volume. It is the jouissance of perception, that sweet taste… my doss, that looming mnemonic precision that does not entail the necessity of reverence in the long glance, but in the bell march is the footfall of chthonic tracts, learned and unlearned like braided and unbraided sisal twine; memory cords entailed by past twists and turns, every mirrored self distorting. when homesteading drives in delight bigtopping up at the edge of day, and the curious eyes of childhood peering down gasoline winded alleys for a sight, at the edge of town, a prodigious vision beyond reach of the imagination… and would the Australian landscape be seen as such? recollection entails no certitude. both nowhere and here the cordage of the child abounds in these poems, and “concepts of landscape remain central to the mythologies of a purported Australian identity.” there is also the argotic broken utterance blowflying the vocables. the sardonic depiction of nationalisms, a zealotic portrayal almost Nolanesque. Instepping through American history. though Australian, without reverie, or effrontery. the contrafactive and parabasic stance of other poems, Ashberrying their way in, embedding a further sense of dwelling as a self-sealed category, but in essence: made. statuary. a construct of affects and percepts, & in darkness morning and the fibre song not evocation, but connotative memory, abrasive yet unifying, a truth to landscape, in the growth and want for the abundance of spirit.

This zoo has no rules but we bring them anyways. hesitancy. all splendor that sights its costume, all excitement unified to presence, what aches under inverted commas. how it changed, outstretched. plasticine and candy and the encaustic texture of mouthpiecing cries, joyous, an afterthought for nameless sugar in a palace starved for elocution. but also, and calculatedly, a meager withdrawal, a subtlety, oh Michael, to awake in your music, post-operative. T. Raworth: subtlety is only what you see looking around inside your head with a torch: beating your radar pulse there to yourself and back and describing the journey. the echolaic qualities of memory.

so now, Michael, where else do we begin?

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Black Rider Lines: A masterpiece of the Maranoa plain

A review of Patrick Holland’s The Mary Smokes Boys

By Kirk A.C. Marshall

While we are at an inextinguishably critical juncture in which the function of reviewing contemporary literature demands a sincere reassessment within the aperture of the global media — do we readers succumb to engaging in a measured and industrious critique for the underlying purpose of endorsement, of publishing promotions, of exclusively contributing to the generation of future book sales, without an oblique investment in actually framing the literature in the context of its substance? — one must always be wary of the motivations of journalistic hyperbole. This is an arduous task for a reviewer to perform with any degree of insightful consistency, of self-reflexive discernment, but it’s especially the case in the context of reading a great book.

Patrick Holland’s The Mary Smokes Boys is one of these. In fact, it’s easily one of my three favourite books this year (the others are Jack Kerouac’s Big Sur and Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom), and like those two triumphs of modern American fiction, Holland’s novel is a lyric testament to the power of a single writer capturing the world through the eye of his quill. Even in this age in which, at every fleeting moment, the economically-governed “progress” of global technology and commercial industry consumes an individual’s means to hypostatise the present — to capture an irrefutable vision of the place we hold in our millennial world with fire and eloquence and valour and violent intelligence before such a perspective is occluded entirely from view. Patrick Holland has proven himself robustly attuned to this task, and his second novel, The Mary Smokes Boys, swarms with the value of integrity and sensation in a way that works of fiction so rarely do, in our daily margins of profit and financial gain.

I can promise you that this will be the most significant new work of novel-length Australian fiction you will read from 2010 (I will not disparage nor diminish the vitality of other great and powerful works of original fiction, and from Alex Miller to Chris Womersley to Jon Bauer to Wayne Macauley to Emmett Stinson to Joel Deane to Daniel Ducrou to James Laidler ad infinitum, I know there are many), but Patrick Holland’s The Mary Smokes Boys vibrates beyond the realm of nepotistically-inclined marketplace comparisons, because the novel offers a reality so achingly wrought, so decisively rendered, so incendiary in its heartbroken hunt for human morality that the book, and its relevance, could only be tarnished by the limitations of analogy. So what about Holland’s narrative is so relevant to you or I?

First among many reasons is that he has crafted a story to chill the bones, one in which the haunting bildungsroman of Grey North — sole son to an emotionally-insensitive self-penitent Australian stockman given to vice, and an inexperienced but soulfully generous Gaelic mother devoted to Christianity whom we only come to know through retrospect — is transcribed to page with a trembling fidelity of purpose, and with an urgency and economy of phrase which intensifies the iconographic culture of Mary Smokes, foregrounds its symbolic heft as an almost apocryphal town to which all modern Australia has either originated from or retreated to: the locus of the heartland of our country.

Second among my rationale is that a story of these same dimensions, of a sharp-eyed boy growing up within a forsaken community to endure and transcend the emotional compromises of adolescence — which is to say, a premise almost originary in its vivid overuse within the context of Western literary fiction as to now be a mythology of our culture, a cipher of the way in which we look to writing to self-identify — supplants all prior constructs in the veracity of its articulation. Holland elevates the genre by exploiting the silences manifest within this project of adolescent growth: for example, Grey feels such an obligation of love for his younger sister, Irene, with such an unquestioned sacralising kinship as to channel an almost possessive pathology, as if Grey’s nondistinct (but always apparent) wounded reckoning to protect Irene was beyond the role of territorial older sibling and dancing on the cusp of desire (but this is of course the very point, for to bear human witness to something so beautiful is also to simultaneously engage in the conviction to attain that which is desired).

This isn’t a philosophical, psychological or psychosocial desire, either, but a physiological one; an embodied paean, engendered in a man’s breath and heart, to intervene on the behalf of that object of beauty, so that nothing can intrude to damage it. Irene is Grey North’s touchstone for the person he strives to become: a dependable protector, unlike his alcohol-crippled old man, an independent scholar of experience, like his best friend Ook, a wayfarer to the land of those same wild-prairie Queensland horse districts in which Holland himself enjoyed a boyhood, immersed for twenty-odd years in the music of a bluff of silent tussock, of a solitary fox padding away from the corona of the town’s menacing shadow, of the rumbustious meander of Mary Smokes Creek.

I could will myself here, as a discriminating reader, to broker a précis of the plot for Patrick Holland’s brilliant book — a small rural town, persecuted by bankruptcy, and simultaneously haunted by both the threat and deliverance of a new council-auspiced highway which will disrupt the sleepy isolation of Mary Smokes forever; the emergence of a love triangle which must by the consequence of its geometry only signify horrifying consequences for Grey, his blood brother, Ook, and his sister Irene; a rash attempt on Grey’s father’s behalf to salvage a family he himself unintentionally dismantled; a youthful ache to reconcile the difference in racial and political experience felt by oneself and one’s friends, to spurn the ubiquitous scorn of conservative values in the Abaddon-like outpost that is Mary Smokes; the fragility of something, a place, a heritage, a people, a melody, a life more precious than all others, being beset upon by those who, from their own dimensions of heartbreak, are already sickened by loss; a world weakened by one’s familiarity with it, until what originally made it spectacular has become a normativity, so that its votive of flame ends up guttering — but such attempts would only reduce the complexity of Holland’s emotional landscape to a thumbnail impression.

It’s best to leave it to the following letter, which I wrote to Holland, myself, upon reading his novel, to express the fullness of my gratitude. This is not just a novel of breathtaking vision, but one which displays a humbling respect for his readers. He invites you into the folds of a personal memory, and asks that you respond in kind.

I’ve just finished reading
The Mary Smokes Boys — literally ten minutes ago, and it just galvanised the tinder of my gut and heart and wrought me asunder: it is such a profound and powerful little novel, so towering with empathy and human compassion, for an authentic, undeviating, unprepossessed and always sincere affection & concern for your characters, and it bristles with pain; the pain we witness exchanged between Grey, Ook, Irene, Vanessa and the unfurnished desolation of what has coalesced over time and through a chasm of misdirected intention into the interior desolation of Bill North, and the exile & fidelity of the wild boys. But it also rings with a yawning, bloodbuzzed, free-throttle authorial pain which I can only discriminate, with the innermost transparency, to the sacrifice you had to make to write that lucid, staggering, awful, incendiary, most honest, vast and fire-breaking ending. I could never allow myself to channel that much hurt, for an ending like yours; it is testament to your certainty in the love for the people who populate this world that you dare to render such heartbreak, and stir the lost, wheeling embers inside the most fierce reader. I think this is actually an artefact of immense creation, Patrick, a vivid and living book, and that aching penultimate-chapter sacrifice feels corrosive in the best way; like you’ve crafted a subversive Australian pastoral tragedy which earns both its grief and its wonder. I wouldn’t gnaw the inside of your cheek or give a prophetic fuck about any quivering, feeble criticism dispatched your way: you’ve written something I think amounts to one of the best works of fiction this year, and you can only be accused of defying comfort: you are a mad one, Patrick, a real furious exponent of the word, an important scribe and a heartfelt moralist. I’m fortunate to know you, and share in the passion you transfer to page. As for the convergence of ideological & theological expression in the novel, from the glimmer of reincarnation (both literal/embodied and allegorical); the skeptical urgency, yearning for and reluctant dispassion with religious faith; the four-antlered eros/phileo/agape/storge love felt, fundamental obsession and distorted loyalty between Grey and Irene deepening the conflict apparent in the themes of possessing that which is immediately lost; the seeming vacuity of domestic space; the racial condescension intentionally represented towards the likes of Ook and Pos; the violence of wanting something, perhaps sacred, so much that it seeds ruination — I’m sure this all culminated to will unsympathetic fools into convulsions of critical wariness. But such feelings are cruel, lacking in foundation and blind to beauty. If you’ve frustrated anyone, you’ve moved them. That’s how I’d choose to view it. But it would be compromising and counter-intuitive to take anything expressed in this vein in the unsweetened guise of truth. Your book is more than any of this. It is a song, and they have discerned more rousing pastimes than to hear it. This is their inefficiency; not yours, and certainly not that of The Mary Smokes Boys.


Kirk A.C. Marshall


Filed under Australia, Black Rider Lines, Black Rider Press, Fiction, Kirk AC Marshall

Black Rider Lines: Masquerade; Or, How I stopped worrying and learned to love the fact that I would never find the jewel-encrusted rabbit in England

by David Lynn Clucas

Ever read this book?

Masquerade, by Englishman Kit Williams, was as much a source of pain and frustration around my house when I was a kid as it was a wealth of entertainment and hours of escape into a truly weird, lush, awe-inspiring, and often nightmarish place.

I say pain and frustration because this book is actually a very intricately designed treasure map that led to an ornately jeweled golden rabbit buried somewhere on public land in Great Britain, and although my family was rich with some of the highest levels of intelligence ever assembled under one suburban roof, we just couldn’t crack the code of the great lost treasure of Jack Hare.

Okay, so here’s the gist: in the book, the Moon Chick falls in love with the Sun Dude [articulate gender delineation mine], and crafts a beautiful gold pendant for him, sending her trusted subject Hare to deliver the amulet to her Apollonian crush. Jack Hare braves many wild and woolly adventures to fulfill his quest, only to find upon his arrival that he has lost the trinket del amor, leaving it to the reader to decipher the clues strewn throughout the magical and befuddling illustrations.

The treasure

This riddle proved impossible for my family, and I’m pretty sure we had given up on solving it long before it was announced that someone had deciphered the puzzle and found the treasure. Of course, it turned out that the X marking the spot had been located through devious and cunning methods involving the former lover of Williams or somesuch. I’m not sure anyone would have figured it out in a reasonable timeframe, considering the solution rested in discovering that clues were revealed by drawing lines from the eyes of animals in the illustrations through the longest digit of the animal to letters on the borders. Or something.

At least it was pretty to look at.


Filed under Black Rider Lines, Black Rider Press, David Lynn Clucas

Black Rider Lines: A penchant for theatre and the perverse

by Allison Browning

The fascination started six years ago. There came a thrill, a hunger, to pull apart what was real from what was unreal after I’d attended a theatre performance. I had always felt high from theatre that crossed artistic genres but this was different. This was crossing boundaries, but it was also pressing buttons and messing with heads in the subtle kind of way that lends respect.

The Secret Room

I was in Perth back in 2004 and I’d been a dinner guest for The Secret Room. Between seven and twelve guests (audience members) arrived for a meal at a couple’s makeshift home. (Back in Italy or Melbourne they would use their own, more permanent home). Below was a gallery space, above, a small apartment where they were staying. Guests were greeted, seated, dinner was served and Bosetti quietly muttered, You will hear what you usually hear, you will see no play, there will be no playing here tonight.

Over dinner, Roberta Bosetti, who ‘plays’ herself, tells stories from her childhood. There is a point in the performance where she dumps a stack of paper onto a dresser in her bedroom mid-way through a dense monologue, explicit about sexual abuse. Bosetti had just given graphic detail about her past and now she casually slaps the paper down and states it’s all there in the script.

There will be no playing, we had been warned.

Not long after, we were told to leave and directed down a back stairwell. And the nattering began. How much was true? I can’t believe… But how could she…

The Institute for the Art of the Actor

The theatre company Institute for the Art of the Actor (IRAA) is composted of Bosetti and her husband Renato Cuocolo who blur lines and in confession their work resonates in a perverse yet familiar way.  Their work is drawn from their personal lives but as an audience member you’re never sure of what is real or just how much of their own lives is steeped in what you’re witness to. Their performances are often interactive and you can’t be sure if you are speaking to Bosetti the person or Bosetti the performer, perhaps another version of herself.

Founded in 1978, IRAA has created and performed a series of six trilogies that have been presented in 18 nations on 4 continents.

The most recent works of the company have been received with great success and critical acclaim in numerous Festivals such as: Vienna International Festival, Melbourne International Arts Festival (4 times), Adelaide International Festival, Sydney Olympic Arts Festival, Sydney Festival (3 times), Turin Festival (3 Times), Prato Contemporanea and Genoa European Cultural Capital 2004.

The Diary Project

Later in 2004, I spoke with the couple in Melbourne after seeing their piece The Diary Project. The show was situated in the Melbourne Arts Centre where they had set up home for two weeks. The Diary Project was premiered with full houses and rave reviews in Genoa (European Cultural Capital 2004) and in October it was presented as the central event of the Melbourne International Arts Festival, reaching a live audience of 35,392 people. Throughout their fortnight in the Art Centre’s open-plan gallery space they were watched by audience members through windows in their makeshift abode till all hours and, at scheduled intervals, the audience entered the space and Bosetti read from her diary.

During one diary reading Bosetti, while lying on the bed in the middle of the gallery-come-residence, recounted the beginning of a pregnancy, one that was never to come full-term. She confided that she had had a curette to remove the child whose heart stopped beating. She stood, clearly emotional, and walked to the back of the room to a dressing table where she undid the front of her dress. She drew a circle in red lipstick onto her flat belly and stared at herself in the full-length mirror. Bosetti, no hysterics or theatrics, cried audibly and visibly.

The audience were ushered out by Cuocolo who then went to comfort her. I was still standing there, awkward, due to speak with them about the work. It was clear that this was not scripted. This was not part of the performance. But then which parts were?

This is always the question.

And they wouldn’t have it any other way.

Standing in the gallery space I then became a performer of sorts—being watched through the windows I was in limbo, neither audience now nor performer, but both.  I was offered wine and a seat on a plump couch.

We had to stop a performance the other night; I was too emotional, Bosetti tells me. And I ask how she manages to get through the intensity of this work she chooses. Dah, she says. Do you have that word in English? I shake my head. I just do.

Private Eye

In 2005 the couple presented Private Eye in a Melbourne CBD hotel, part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival. To gather footage for the performance Bosetti was followed by a private detective who recorded her movements. Upon arriving at the hotel I am directed, alone, to Cuocolo’s hotel room where we are seated on single beds in front of a television. I am uncomfortable and sit politely as I watch footage of his wife in normal and more suggestive locations. He hands me a swipe card and room number. Tells me to take the lift and enter. Just enter? Yes, you use the card and enter, I am told.

And I do.

I walk in and Bosetti reprimands me for coming in without knocking. I am impolite I am told. She seats me on a bed anyway and begins to talk about this space. She asks me to lace her corset. What are your fantasies? she asks quietly. This is not an upfront seduction. This is not in your face tack, but it is provocative in the way I question my own discomfort, how I feel talking about myself in this strange place, how should I behave in this situation, how much to reveal.

I listen to Bosetti. I’m trying to take in words as I fight my discomfort, an audience of one. A while passes and then she shifts into another gear. I am shuffled into a wardrobe via a mirrored door, told to be quiet. Someone is coming. There is a small stool inside and I sit. I expect darkness and claustrophobia once I am settled but I realise I can see through the cupboard door. It is a one-way mirror. Someone leaves from the cupboard beside mine. They walk past my mirror and I realise I have been watched this whole time. I feel raw as I watch her next prey enter.

The Persistence of Dreams: The Sandman

This year I experienced IRAA’s piece The Persistence of Dreams: The Sandman.

The staging wasn’t a constructed space, a gallery or a stage; IRAA invaded your space. In this case, the stage was my own home.

An audience of ten were seated in my lounge room when the ‘couple’ entered, though this time we saw their relationship changed—they were brother and sister.

Is this the house? Cuocolo asked Bosetti. Is this the house you dreamt of? She said she was not sure and she wanted to be shown through my home.

We were then blindfolded.

What is your greatest fear? We were asked. After an opening preamble Bosetti moved into a monologue about memory and stories from her childhood. She relayed ETA Hoffman’s short story The Sandman as her mother had told it to her as a child. The Sandman is a dark character that would throw sand into the eyes of children who would not go to bed. The sand would make their eyeballs pop out and he would feed the eyeballs to his own children.

This character seems a symbol of Bosetti’s greatest fear, one that is only hinted at, but it is understood that this fear was realised, a fear that seems to echo the memories I had of Bosetti’s confronting Secret Room monologue

Bosetti describes her and her brother’s intense fear of The Sandman. The stories she tells focus on bedtime, though something far darker is alluded to, that fear, the happening, that is left unsaid. She often trails off, leaving sentences unfinished. This was not usual for IRAA’s work, where themes of loss and violation are described graphically and creep up frequently. The Persistence of Dreams was gentler on its audience than previous shows have been. The same darker themes were present, but in what was not said. There was a sense that something sinister had happened in Bosetti’s youth but, in this show, it’s nearly lost in the mix.

Bosetti held tension in the room as she threatened to leave many times over and I found myself fearful that she was going to. Cuocolo keeps her in check and while playing her brother in this story, he still maintained his usual role of ‘director’, controlling the action almost with his presence alone, just a verbal intervention here and there.

At one point he accused her of veering away from the script. She was only reciting something from Emily Dickinson, she explained. She was reprimanded; the script was presented to her and she resumed.

In The Secret Room this device, the reminder that there is a script, was necessary to relieve the audience. To take away some of the responsibility to feel some kind of ‘real’ pain. Bosetti’s confessions were raw, visceral and brutal. And so the script was referred to, shown to the audience. The script, the object that acts as a protector when needed, tells stories, lies, in the same way theatre usually does, ‘It’s ok this is not real,’ it says. Though the question always lingers after… Is it?

The chances are high that much of what you’ve been privy to has been drawn from Bosetti and Cuocolo’s personal lives. The Persistence of Dreams searched the traces of an ‘otherness’ that refuses to be completely tamed—the disturbing effect of the unfamiliar in the familiar, of the untameable or uncontrollable in domesticity.

Thematically the show moves quickly. An argument about the merit of fruit-and-nut-chocolate transitions to Cuocolo dispensing a block of the chocolate communion style. We were then quickly shifted into a dense Bosetti monologue wherein she removes her shirt. We remove our blindfolds as instructed and we find her this way. Naked, we were told, you have only your fears and memories to carry.

After our wrists are cut free and the duo leave there are questions lingering as usual. How safe do we feel at home? Perhaps, even if no one is there to cause threat, we are still haunted by our own fears? In true IRAA form, The Persistence of Dreams tacks references, moments and stories together with ragged thread to propel questions without any comfort of resolve or answers.

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Filed under Allison Browning, Australia, Black Rider Lines, Black Rider Press, Theatre

Black Rider Lines: In conversation with Maxine Beneba Clarke

by Mark William Jackson

Maxine Beneba Clarke is a fugitive on the run from conventionality. She’s been spotted in the dark corners of Melbourne’s literary scene where she takes hostages in various poetry slams. She demands to be heard. Her essays, fiction & short stories have been broadcast & published nationally, including Voiceworks, the Age, the Big Issue, Overland, Kunapipi, Peril & Going Down Swinging, on 3CR radio’s Spoken Word and Hip Sista Hop and on RRR radio’s Aural Text and Max Headroom. Maxine’s second poetry collection Gil Scott Heron is on Parole was published by Picaro Press in 2010.

Mark: What, or who, got you in to poetry?

Maxine:  Poetry always just seemed to be around. My favourite book as a kid was a picture book called Liza Lou and the Yeller Belly Swamp. I remember being amazed that writing could be so lyrical and poetic. Instead of Church clothes, there was Sunday-go-to-meeting-finery. Instead of being careful, plucky little ittle afroed Lou was told ‘mind you keep your wits about you’. The rhythm of it all was spell-binding.

In my early years, my mother was a sometimes-actress. Sometimes, not because she wasn’t formally trained, but because she was a young, black actress in seventies and eighties Australia, with three young children. When we were old enough, we helped her with her lines and I remember then, loving the repetition and rhythm of calling out the line before hers, hearing and checking her response.

I guess I never started writing what I’d deem to be real poetry until I was a teenager though. And predictably, most of what I wrote in those early years was cringe-worthy. I wrote enough to realise though, that if I persisted then one day I just might have a chance of being be half decent, and that I loved writing. Later, there was a Creative Writing degree which was instrumental in honing my writing skills.

Awesome response!  And a great insight into the birth of one of my favourite poets – no grovelling intended, a simple statement of fact.  Are you addicted to poetry? If there was a Poets’ Anonymous, would you attend?

Yes, I’d say I’m a poem addict. There are times, months even, when I either don’t read, write, blog or perform poetry, but these times have never all coincided – poetry has always been there in some way at least over the last six or so years.

As for poetry rehab: that would entail some kind of willingness to change, or an admission the addiction was somehow detrimental to my health, so I’d say no. I’m the Amy Winehouse of poetry addicts. My loser gold-digger hubby could be in jail, my beehive could be dreaded into a skanky rats nest, my boobjob could be caving in, tacky tatts could be inching their way around my rapidly shrinking body, and it probably still wouldn’t occur to me to kick the shit.

Let’s rip it off the page and take it to the stage.  Can you put together your ideal backing band, musicians, poets, actors, anyone you’d want up on stage with you for a slam to end all slams. Your backers can be living or dead but cannot be Jon Bon Jovi!

Great question. Okay, Let’s see. I’ll go Ben Harper, The Last Poets, Tracey Chapman, Staceyann Chin, Gil Scott Heron, Imiri Baraka (aka Leroi Jones) Leadbelly and Odetta…and that’s just for starters. How much space is there on stage? Could we add Ladysmith Black Mambazo – the whole entourage of them?

Cool, I’d make the stage huge to contain all that talent, Leadbelly is angst personified, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s version of Amazing Grace is the definitive. I might‘ve thrown Nina Simone up there with you and had you slamming over Strange Fruit, bringing home the history. Just between you and me, and the Black Riders, what’s the Melbourne literary underbelly like?  I’m no lawyer but I don’t think slander exists on the internet so please let fly!

Incidentally, in my ‘Clark Kent’ life I am a part-time lawyer, and I’m not so sure about your interpretation of cyber-slander laws, but here goes…Melbourne Literary Underbelly? Well, it’s seedy as all hell, violent and as dangerous and volatile as a bob-cat let loose in a crowded elevator. Only the clever and cunning could ever hope to survive it.

Seriously? There are so many branches and sub-branches of ‘literary Melbourne’. The spoken word scene here is amazing: supportive, engaged, innovative and always evolving. In the broader Melbourne ‘scene’ there are so many literary events on all the time though: launches, performances, festivals, poetry slams, that it can become a real effort to stay engaged with everything that’s going on, and there’s a danger that that engagement comes at the expense of creative time, which when you have other paid work and a family, is something that’s already so limited.

With literary Melbourne I’m like a kid in the candy store: I have no self control, will soon be morbidly obese, and I’m almost always on the verge of slipping into a diabetic coma.

When you look back on your career, are you on track, is there anything you would have changed, and what works in the pipeline and dreams can we expect in the future from Maxine Beneba Clarke?

At the moment it’s one of those times for me where I stop at take stock of my writing. I’ll probably be leaning towards more freelance journalism in the coming months, out of necessity. Poetry is my first love, but unfortunately in Australia it’s one of those fields where no matter how many ‘accolades’ you get, how big of an audience you draw, it’s still extremely unlikely you can make a decent living from poetry alone.

I’ve performed on stage at the Arts Centre, on a soapbox in Federation Square, at the Melbourne Writers Festival, in a Buddhist temple in Sunshine, via Skype to a literary festival in Singapore…done some really amazing things through spoken word… and frankly, while it’s been an absolute blast, I’m bloody exhausted.

I’m am excited, though, about my upcoming performance at the Melbourne Writers Festival – a Going Down Swinging Commission – because it’s taken my spoken word (back) into narrative form, and longer format (I first started out performing my work as poetry monologues on the theatre stage in Sydney’s Short & Sweet New Short Works Festival some five or six years ago). In this sense, my performance work has almost come full circle.

I’m also both excited about, and distracted by, another creation of mine – the impending birth of my second child in two months. So writing-wise, I feel like I’m at a cross-roads, and will probably be also focussing over the next year a little more on my prose and non-fiction writing, and on pushing a couple of in-progress prose and non-fiction manuscripts forward to publication.

Thanks for your time Maxine. Good luck, especially with baby number two!


Filed under Black Rider Lines, Black Rider Press, Mark William Jackson, Melbourne, Poetry, Spoken Word

Black Rider Lines: Mark Kurlansky; Or, How I stopped reading and learned to soak it all in

by David Lynn Clucas

If you know the name Mark Kurlansky, kudos to you. If you’ve even read his books, please take a moment to high-five your screen.

Ever been completely engrossed in a book that was totally devoted to the history of one breed of fish?

I have.

I can’t recommend this book enough. It’s been about a year since I last read it, but I liked it so much I’m constantly talking about it to friends, who, I’m sure, think I’m a moron for getting all pumped up on Gorton’s Fisherman.
At any rate, my enjoyment of this work truly speaks to the talent of Kurlansky, who has the wondrous ability to take the histories of seemingly mundane subjects and create page-turners out of them. Passages like the following somehow put me on the edge of my seat:

The Basques were getting richer every Friday. But where was all this cod coming from? The Basques, who had never even said where they came from, kept their secret.

Kurlansky has my head filled with images when I read something like that. Dark men in dark clothes in dark boats, nurturing a secret commerce and winking to each other when their less-than-successful market-stall neighbors grumbled about the Basques’ mysterious source of product.

The last fish to truly stoke my imagination in this manner was this guy:

Although I was surprised by many of the things I learned about cod, I was not at all surprised by the fact that there was so much to learn. Kurlansky had done a fine job of prepping me for that by writing this book, which I had read prior to reading Cod:

Yep, you guessed it. It’s about salt. And it’s one hell of a story. Kurlansky, through the tale of the only rock we eat, even turned me on to the language and poetry of the Basque people (who factor in largely to this fish story) to the extent that I had a poem by Basque poet Gabriel Aresti tattooed on me, and my wife and I have plans to have another of his poems done together. There’s blood and ink and pain and love all bound together in those little white crystals.
Next on the Kurlansky list?
If he can turn a fish and some flavor into two of my favorite reads, I can’t wait to see what he does with this.  Read Kurlansky, and I promise you, you’ll never look at these little guys the same:
David Lynn Clucas had ‘Porch Kiss’ appear in The Diamond & the Thief – Ocotber 09 edition and ‘Buttermilk Road’ in The Diamond & the Thief – March 10 edition.  Hear Clucas read ‘Porch Kiss‘ as part of The Sound of the Black Rider.


Filed under Black Rider Lines, Black Rider Press, David Lynn Clucas