Category Archives: Kickin’ it with

Kickin’ it with Matthew Hall

Matthew Hall“The Next Big Thing” is a viral interview making its way across the literary landscape. Michael Leong tagged Edric Mesmer, who in turn tagged Matthew Hall.

What follows is Hall’s interview, published here in anticipation of the launch of his debut poetry collected Hyaline next week.

What is the working title of the book?

The title of my book is Hyaline. The working title was A Pastoral Artifice, which took its inspiration from Veronica Forrest-Thomson’s ‘A Poetic Artifice’, which I was given to reading and rereading at the time of composition.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

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.

The notion of the radical pastoral that the book tries to engender in the poems came from Kinsella’s book, Disclosed Poetics, which contains astonishing readings of Australian literature. Particularly I was taken by Kinsella’s reading of ‘Speed, A Pastoral’, by John Forbes. In the book Kinsella lays out a definition of the radical pastoral and an engagement with the land that subsumes anthropomorphic hierarchies and privilege, and demands new ways of mediating our relationship with nature in a manner which is non-exploitive, finally moving towards an activist poetics, which would become his next large theoretic project.

Hyaline, I believe I first read in a poem of Jeremy Prynne’s, and you will see the word used by a number of poets who read his work with some dedication. The definition is chiefly anatomical or zoological and pertains in this way to cartridge, as resembling a glassy or translucent surface. In literary works the word is usually used in the description of landscapes: a hyaline sky, or such, which entails a vitreous characteristic to the surface described, that is, both reflective and refractive. And that is how I began to consider the relationship with nature of which I was writing, as both of reflecting a personal ethics, and refracting back a portion of the natural through an ethical prism, reflecting the promise and failures of humankind.

It is also a collection about loss, analogously the loss we face as humans with the continuing global destruction of ecologies for profit, and about the loss of connection to land which I felt strongly when relocating from Canada to the Australian outback. In this sense the poems which focus on the Australian landscape are dominantly about finding new ways of reading the land, of understanding how traditions, rituals and concept of land have been affected by colonialism, have been affected by the rise of the technological, by dislocation. 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. The damage and limitations of intent.

What genre does your book fall under?

Poetry. Pastoral. Eco-poetic. Radical pastoral. But depending on your definition these might also full 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.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

There are only a small handful of poems in the collection with people in them. Most are reflective of landscape, as endangered by and damaged by human inhabitants, but people remain predominantly absent from the works.

Regarding this absence, during my work on the book I got the opportunity to spend some time with the Glasgow/ Montreal based photographer Fiona Annis, who works in, alongside people like Tacita Dean, and formerly– Jas Ban Ader, what is referred to as Romantic Conceptualism. I took to thinking about my creative and critical process, and thinking about Romantic Conceptualism in contemporary art as a balance point between Sol LeWitt’s emotionless conceptual object and the pervasive emotional and subjective registers of Romantic art, and started to reconsider my own work in this manner. So I’d start by perhaps introducing the phrase Ecologic Conceptualism (note: we’re going nowhere near Goldsmith’s Conceptualism here), or Eco-conceptual poetics, by which I mean a poem which utilises and engenders voice and authoritative presence to speak about landscape and ecologies, and that the positions of the poems are contained within an artifice, a meta-structural frame which shapes and directs reading comprehension. The political and poetic impulses of conceptualism therefore determine the structure of the communicative exchange over the poem and pre-establish the theoretic and thematic positions wherein the lyrical or experiential poem functions. The ecological register of the poem is positioned within the working model, which asks for a re-evaluation and reconsideration of the structure of communication–under the effect of the conceptual register.  Thus the materiality of the poem is determined by the conceptual platform.

Most readers, I trust, will read the poem for the lyrical-ecological aspects of it, and this is the normative reading; whereas the conceptual frame renders the poem with a different reading stratagem, a different register on the processes of the poem which results in a supplemental, political, or emancipatory reading.

I believe that the Forbes poem referenced above could provide an early register of this type of ecological conceptualism. ‘Speed, A pastoral’ (for those of you unfamiliar: http://jacketmagazine.com/03/speed-jf.html ) asks of the reader to consider the poem as a pastoral, despite the obvious fact that the poem is about drug use and Michael Dransfield’s mythos within Australian poetic communities. So the title entails a conceptual and poetic register that directs our reading of the urban, and vernacular poem. It is, in this way, also an anti-imperial poem, as the conceptual strata of the work forces the reader to reconsider antecedents, literary history, and the hegemonic and imperial presage of the “pastoral” as it defines and affects an Australian concept of the pastoral. Thus the concept works to actively subvert the poem’s intent by layering meaning and registers upon the poem.

I would like to consider the ‘Cairns’ series in Hyaline in a similar manner, in thinking about the physical object, the cairn, as an object denoting a path to an unknown destination ( usually to a sacred space, or closed cultural space). Whether this cairn, by the road side, or on a bush trail, is encountered, is noticed, is followed, and if the sacred space is discovered physically by the visitor are all possibilities related to the intentionality of the signifier. Even if followed, and a sacred space noted (in the Yi Fu Tuan concept of sacred space) the contextual, religious, and ritualistic understanding of the space will very rarely be culturally understood. This may be intentional on behalf of the person signifying, or the group whose space is being marked, protected. And I take a “cairn” to be a vernacular version (an example from Australian rural life) of signification which happens in urban and rural environments alike. We encode the spaces we occupy with signifiers which are only decodable by a certain portion of the populace. A piece of graffiti, a hidden book store in Melbourne’s back lanes… these are all embodiments of a particular conceptual framing of communication– its apprehension is there for the viewer to perceive, to begin to understand, even if this is not automatically or easily registered.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

Hyaline is a poetic framework for ecological codices.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

The book has been in the works for years. The collection, as it is now, is a selection of some of the poems which were published during my focus on the radical pastoral. The earliest publication was four years ago, more or less. At the time I was writing with a tremendous velocity, and publishing at the same rate. Things have slowed since, due to any number of factors. There was a level of excitement which drove the work, an excitement driven by a constant and continuous correspondence with John Kinsella, Peter Larkin, Mark Dickinson, Ali Alizadeh, Edric Mesmer, and a few other poets who share the same interests and the same sense of community. Much of the work was spurred on by them, by my readings; much was created out of these interactions and discussions.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

A damaged planet. A damaged ontology. A damaged humanism.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

I hope the book provides entryway for most readers. It contains lyric work, prose work and procedural work, all focused on ecologies of language, language usage, and mediations with the natural.

 

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Kickin’ it with Toby Fitch

This edition of the ‘Kickin’ it with…’ series is different.

Instead of a dialogue, we’re presenting a pattern poem called ‘nightcap’ by Toby Fitch. Toby kicks it with us by sharing some thoughts about the poem and the long road to everywhere.

(click the image below to enlarge)

About ‘nightcap’

My pattern poem ‘nightcap’ is the last poem in my book Rawshock (Puncher & Wattmann 2012) and is a kind of ars poetica, and a tongue-in-cheek one. Icarus makes an appearance as the “I” in the first half of the poem, though this “I” could also be the speaker, the subject being spoken to, or the poet. In the first half, I paraphrase Baudelaire’s ‘Get Drunk’. I was reading poems with Icarus in them by William Carlos Williams and W H Auden. In earlier drafts, I had allusions to these poems, but they didn’t work so I stripped them out. I was also reading ‘Drunken Boat’ and ‘Genie’ by Arthur Rimbaud, and I think the allusions are pretty obvious but necessary in the second half of the poem. Besides the sentiment that the poem teases out — the desire to let go of control in order to create — the dualities in the poem are probably the most important bits: the conflation of “I” and “you”, and then of “you and I” to “we/our”; the road of the conscious world doubling as the black river of the subconscious (think Ashbery, think also of the Underworld); the surface of the water with a child’s boat on it, as in the end of ‘Drunken Boat’, that in my poem transforms into a porthole and then doubles as the sky; and, of course, the two wings mirroring each other. I also like to think that ‘nightcap’ mirrors the first poem in Rawshock, ‘On the Slink’, which can also be read as an ars poetica, but with less intoxication.

About Toby Fitch

Toby Fitch was born in London and raised in Sydney. His first full-length collection of poemRawshock was published with Puncher & Wattmann, 2012, while a chapbook Everyday Static came out with Vagabond Press, 2010. He was shortlisted for the Peter Porter Poetry Prize in 2012 and has published poems in anthologies, newspapers and major journals, nationally and internationally, including Best Australian Poems 2011 and 2012, MeanjinThe Australian, Cordite, and Drunken Boat. He is poetry reviews editor for Southerly journal, and is a doctoral candidate at Sydney University. http://tobyfitch.blogspot.com

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Kickin’ it with Levin A. Diatschenko

Hunched over little sewing tables in a cafe a while back, a friend said to me “There’s this guy up north – you gotta read his stuff, Balius. This guy is the real deal.”
He was talking about Levin A. Diatschenko. And I read his stuff. And he is the real deal.
I imagine Levin as this mystic journeyman way up north in the Territory, conjuring up these stories out of the ancient land and heat. I imagine him orchestrating little men made out of sticks and twine, dancing and shrieking around and around him. I imagine Levin looking up at the night sky and wonder what would reflect in his eyes.
We published My Soul Cried the Spaceman as an ebook (hit the link for the stores it’s at) and it’ll be out as a physical book in the near future.
It’s space, it’s mystic, it’s magical realist, it’s cool. It’s not for the squeamish, it’s not for the faint of heart (and not for kids!) and it doesn’t pull punches.
The Black Rider caught up to get down to the heart of the matter.
This is us kickin’ it.

Levin, when we first started discussing My Soul Cried the Spaceman our conversation filled with ideas stemming from esoteric systems, political thought, primal desires of man, spiritual matters and a range of other fields. I’d like to start here by asking about the concept of space drunkenness which I remember we spent quite a bit of time debating. What does it mean to be space drunk?
In the book space drunkenness is a condition that astronauts get from being in deep space too long. They usually get temporary amnesia, forgetting their own identities. Sometimes they awake from it as from a daydream, vaguely recalling uncharacteristic escapades they’d been on while in the trance. I wanted the spaceship and its actions to be metaphorical of mental activity. We all go on daydreams (perhaps of fights, arguments, sex, and so forth), and then snap out of these imaginative adventures. In the book I’ve made it physical; imagine if your body wandered like your mind does? You might snap out of it after doing something you regret. The astronauts open fire on cities, commit piracy, or just wander the universe lost in space drunkenness. Mastering control of the spaceship is therefore an astronaut’s equivalent of concentration or yoga.
Can you tell me a little bit more about this idea of accumulative or total human knowledge? I don’t think of this as omniscience, but rather, I see the last Thirteener character representing and being the summation of all experience of his people group. What role does this character fulfill in the story?
Borges said that on an eternal timeline all people would eventually do all things. I think this idea is very useful in terms of viewing humanity as a single being (or organ of the Earth being), as well as implying non-judgment. The idea with the last Thirteener, the last child of his race retaining all his ancestor’s memories in his head, is my experimentation with that concept. He is something of the Eternal Wanderer, or Adam Kadmon in Cabalistic philosophy. His appearance was the visible evidence of an abstract quality in the Earth Chain (the aspiration to unity) just as the appearance of the UN, say, is the visible manifestation of our desire for some kind of unity and cooperation in the world. The desire is there, and the existence of the UN is proof even though the ideal has not been accomplished yet.

Another layer to this concept is the spiritual idea about the external and internal worlds mirroring each other. Since this single being retains the memory of a whole human race, when he gives a speech in front of a huge crowd of people from another human race it seems to him that he is viewing the contents of his own head.
You’ve got themes of unity permeating through the book as you explore in multiple contexts. I’m thinking of the androids, the sect, the pilgrims seeking out the last Thirteener. Do you see your main characters in their lonely states seeking to belong to something?
Yes, the androids are seeking acceptance as sentient beings, so that it becomes a human rights issue: if they’re deemed alive, they should be entitled to rights as a new form of human (since they ‘evolved’ from humans). Professor Bleak switches the argument to say that we humans are also only artificially intelligent, reactionary, and mistaking complexity for consciousness. This puts humans on par with the AI either way.
The Hidden Moon Cult was founded by a native of Earth 13, the race which dies while passing their collected memories onto the next generation until there’s a single child left. This is a huge sacrifice of the many for the one (or whole). This woman did not want to give her own identity up and so had a struggle with that. The theme of sacrifice comes up throughout the book as linked with unity or unifying.
Which main character do you mean? The astronaut or the Child? both have their share of loneliness, since both are living lives unusual to the rest of humanity. They are therefore the closest things to peers to each other than any other characters in the book. These two are not seeking belonging in the usual sense, but more like those who aspire to greatness (the astronaut) or feel greatness has been thrust on them (The Child) and thus belong to the historically great among us.
Something I particularly like about the story is the repetition – it’s as if situations repeat themselves or become shadows of themselves with each reoccurance. What is happening to the astronaut amid this repetition?
The repetition has a few ideas behind it. One is that hypnotism and trance occur with repetition, and so these repeated scenarios add to the Space Drunk feel of the book. Another is the idea of writing prose like music, with repeated motifs. Motifs in symphonies or free jazz often repeat motifs with variations or in different keys and so forth. Russian fairy tales are actually written with this rhythm. There are lots of repeated phrases, endings, and occurrences. The result feels very poetic and rhythmic.
I also like the idea that repetition is a way of thinking non-linear. With each repetition something is different, as if these are the same moment revisited, spiting into two potential choices or realities. Imagine an editor’s view of reality: If someone keeps doing the exact same thing each day then all the days in between the first and last day would be deemed redundant. So the editor-god takes them out. Time becomes transcended like a wormhole from the first day to the last. We experience such a (subjective) loss of time when we do repetitive activities. We also lose our cars when we park in the same parking lot at the same supermarket year after year. This is because the incidents of parking there have become redundant or melded into each other.
What role does the Hidden Moon Cult play in the story. Does it exist?
The last Thirteener says that everyone has a Hidden Moon inside them. This place was his subconscious, with its extreme sexual traits and its reluctance to give up its last desires. The woman who founded it, Hegemony, is a Thirteener herself and the last to give herself up to the process which ended in unity. So, it was like the Child’s last temptation or Dweller of the Threshold (as some traditions put it).
It does exist but the question is whether it is an actual physical place or an astral or ghostly illusion. I think it had aspects of both since some people, such as Miss Glare, return in the flesh.
How does a Gleamer challenge humanity?
Gleamers challenge humanity firstly by their mere existence: it forces a clear definition of sentience, and there isn’t one. Professor Bleak  claims that they are merely very complex programs with a huge number of potential programed responses, and this tricks us into thinking them sentient. The problem is that this may well describe us humans. We live by programmed or learned responses to similar situations. So, if we deem them machines, we could deem ourselves that too, and if we deem them sentient then they have grounds for human rights. The humans do not want to grant this in the book.
The Gleamers themselves consider themselves the next evolutionary step from humans, and therefore our superiors.
Tell me about The Veil – what is it and how do people get their hands on it?
The Veil is a magazine (or zine, I’m not sure on the difference) that I produce and edit. It’s devoted to occultism, mysticism, obscure science, philosophy, Freemasony, comparative religion, and things like that. It’s designed by Nico Liengme and is about to release its fifth issue. We do small print runs of about 150 copies, and distribute it online too.
For a hard copy email aybrus@hotmail.com or go to Polyester books in Melbourne, and various cafes around Darwin.
What are you working on these days?
Right now I’m working more in theatre. We’re trying to tour my first play Darwin Vs. Matilda to venues around the country, and my second play Jehovah’s One Table Restaurant is going into production. As I said, issue 5 of The Veil is coming soon as well, and so is a book of Swagman’s fables.
Thanks Levin!!!

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Kickin’ it with Claire Potter

Last year Claire Potter diagrammed Matthew Hall’s ‘Dawn Falsely Observed’ for Black Rider (hit the link for the full size diagrammitised poem – go back and have a look – it’s pretty special). In the words of Graham Nunn: “I have been like a spider going back and back and back to this and each time something reveals itself in the web.”

All along the intent has been to publish big ole posters of these, but it’s taken a while – still looking for a printer who can handle the kind of paper we want to use. I can’t wait to have this on my wall though.

Hey, so in the meantime Claire and I got to talking about diagamming. Here’s us kickin’ it.

1610s, from Fr. diagramme, from L. diagramma, from Gk. diagramma “geometric figure, worked out by lines,” from diagraphein “mark out by lines, delineate,” from dia- “across, out” (see dia-) + graphein “write, mark, draw” (see -graphy). The verb is 1840, from the noun.

This diagrammitised poetry reading… what exactly is it? How did you come to diagramming?

Initially, diagramming came out of distance. It was a way to sketch a dialogue – curved, peregrine and spontaneous – across time. I had finished the Cours de Civilisation Française at La Sorbonne, and part of the language classes were devoted to studying literary texts. An excerpt, usually canonical, was read and then, in that very French way, pulled apart. At the end of the week, after five days on one excerpt, the text was a forest of notes resembling a new document.  I liked how it looked: the graffitied text was beautiful in its matrix of colours, diagrams, lines and notes. It was as though the filaments linking the poem and the reader were displayed as such, like the architecture of the Centre Pompidou where the mechanics and scaffolding – usually reserved into cavities and walls – are displayed on the outside of the building. I liked the look of this spider’s web, with its spider-poem in the centre, but I knew was that I was not trying to reveal anything about meaning: I didn’t want to pretend to fill in authorial intent or practice – it was very much a work-in-progress between a poem in-itself and the reading self, a practice which tried to borrow from the gravity of the poem, so to speak, and balance precariously with it there.

When working on the diagram poems, I often have Virginia Woolf’s character Lily Briscoe (To The Light House) at the back of my mind, and her canvas ‘scored with running lines’. It’s true that the diagrammed poem changes the poem in question, alters it and defaces it, which is not terribly respectful, but it’s exactly what I think is most useful about the activity – the feeling one gets when confronting a poem, especially a canonical poem we are (pedagogically) told we must be familiar with, and, as a result, one’s thoughts and writing hand are arrested mid-air not knowing how to approach this revered and delicate looking object, surrounded by a moat of white page. Until within that moat of white page, thoughts and footsteps can be recognized, heard – Lily Briscoe’s ready canvas poised before her echoes, reverberates, revealing how full the canvas already is:

Where to begin?— that was the question at what point to make the first mark? One line placed on the canvas committed her to innumerable risks, to frequent and irrevocable decisions. All that in idea seemed simple became in practice immediately complex; as the waves shape themselves symmetrically from the cliff top, but to the swimmer among them are divided by steep gulfs, and foaming crests. Still the risk must be run; the mark made… Down in the hollow of one wave she saw the next wave towering higher and higher above her. For what could be more formidable than that space? Here she was again, she thought, stepping back to look at it, drawn out of gossip, out of living, out of community with people into the presence of this formidable ancient enemy of hers — this other thing, this truth, this reality, which suddenly laid hands on her, emerged stark at the back of appearances and commanded reluctant… For the mass loomed before her; it protruded; she felt it pressing on her eyeballs. Then, as if some juice necessary for the lubrication of her faculties were spontaneously squirted, she began precariously dipping among the blues and umbers, moving her brush hither and thither, but it was now heavier and went slower, as if it had fallen in with some rhythm which was dictated to her (she kept looking at the hedge, at the canvas) by what she rhythm was strong enough to bear her along with it on its current.

And in what ways does the diagram become its own piece, I mean, in what ways is it the response in a dialogue?

It does and does not become its own piece.

Lines from Woolf come again to mind in terms of the work being dialogic:

From this I reach what I might call a philosophy; at any rate it is a constant idea of mine; that behind the cotton wool [of daily life] is hidden a pattern; that we – I mean all human beings – are connected with this; that the whole world is a work of art; that we are parts of the work of art (‘A Sketch of the Past’).

If it is a dialogue, in what way could the poet now carry on the discussion? Diagram the diagram? Deconstruct?

That’s a great question – after I diagrammatised two of Andrew Zawacki’s poems for VLAK, he wrote saying that he had thought to send me his own annotations of my annotations and as a workshop project, continue to pass around annotations of annotations of annotations, in a collaborative chain. That is very much in the spirit of the work.

Do you stand on the shoulders of those gone before you to see a wider horizon?

I’d have to say that I definitely don’t stand on the shoulders of those gone before and nor do I want to. The wider horizon exists already between us and the blades of grass, to borrow an image from the French philosopher Luce Irigaray, so climbing is not necessary! This perpendicular axis formed by standing and lying down, verticality and horizonality, is important, and I try in my creative practices to balance and pay attention to both, and not just one – verticality – which appears privileged in Western culture. By verticality I mean how the world around us is arranged so as to require a scapegoat, someone or something that is at the bottom. I really don’t like that way of arranging things, or seeing the world, and so practices which permit inter-relations interest me greatly. I like ways in which influence can be an organic entity – performative inasmuch as it opens and engenders possibilities rather than pinpoints them, or it can come directly from people you know or don’t know, and open one onto and into emotions that voyage and grow differently thanks to specific encounters. The element of uncertainty is essential to this process for me, as is the notion that from uncertainty important questions can arise which open dialogue rather than stultify it.

On the other hand, when diagramming a poem, turning it into an infographic, it is impossible to avoid imposing – however minimally – a new sense of order or assimilating incongruent ideas into an arch-narrative. And yet, when I’m doing a diagram poem, I’m aware that no matter how much I fill the white space of the poem, it is always standing all the more brightly there. All I feel whilst working is what I don’t  know and what I don’t and can’t fully apprehend, or approach, in the poem. This negative consciousness drives the work onwards, but also requires an amount of resignation to be tolerated, albeit with difficulty, that reserves space for the unknown and the unknowable in the poem to rest and come to the fore. This inclination towards the ineffable is necessary – it is precisely what engenders dialogue to enter into the discussion.

On a more technical note, there are works with which I feel diagramming has some affinity: Sol LeWitt’s wall and lines drawings, Mark Lombardi’s fascinating narrative structures which move like water, and Alfred Barr’s chart of Cubism and Abstract Art which I find exciting and beautifully drawn, albeit for its content which is a perfect example of how information appearing dynamic and fluid can at the same time be rather omissive, instructive and one-directional.

Last year, I was also fascinated by the cover artwork on an issue of Artlink, where my friend Lucas Ihlein had hand-drawn a radish.

From Lucas’ radish sprang lines and words such that the radish was the imaginary centre of the page and framing it were all different kinds of thoughts and musings on the topic of the ‘Underground’. I really liked how the information was pushed out to the sides of the page, and loved how the radish was brought alive not only by its own suggestive outline, but by the gap created between object and name, radish and word, which the hyphen-like lines and words led to, and from.

When we last spoke, you were outlining your intrinsic love for London and Paris. Has location changed your artistic pursuit? Has it changed you?

My heart is in Paris, more than in London, although both cities are magnificent. London, however, has such imposing parks, like Hampstead Heath, and my writing has tended towards longer forms, which perhaps represents the pleasure my feet take in making rambling, itinerant journeys into the thickets.

Language in London has really affected me, although it is mostly English, it’s an English which remains a foreign language. It is not only inflected with the most vivid array of accents and cultures, but also ways of saying things which can be fascinating to Australian ears. The pronunciation here is much more tonal than Australian English, which is generally flatter and lower, and the English language, like French to a degree, is replete with the conditional, the subjunctive, which means it can be slow moving, and not very straightforward. I find people here use more words to say things and you can have some really great conversations. But hearing an Australian accent, or any accent for that matter, and I confess that my ears swivel magnetically.

Being in London has without any question changed my writing in English – language here feels sharper, formalised, and closed sometimes – the power and dominance of the English language, over regional languages especially, is palpable and becomes cloying. Location in this sense has changed my relationship to the English I write and hear and has made my ears, which had certainly lost some of their English from having lived in France, feel enthralled by the depths and variances of English, and also a little more understanding of the colonial and colloquial English I grew up with in Perth.

What’s a non-literary art piece that has challenged and/or moved you recently?

There was an Elisabeth Frink exhibition that I visited a few months ago with a friend, and there was a sculpture of one of her Birdmen which really intrigued me and I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind since. Her birdman was made out of bronze, blackened and only about 40cm tall. It was a menacing piece with a shiny patina and angular strokes and dents as though the chiselled metallic feathers were armoury, but alongside the smooth feathers, on the underbelly of the bird, were cragged stone-like surfaces reminiscent of rough cliff faces or clods of dirt. There was an energy and flight to the piece, as though it were caught in space, perhaps like Icarus one can imagine, during his charred freefall. The blurring of the human and the bird was significant and made me think about Frink working in the post-war years, the 50s, and about how the idea of who it was to be human had essentially been dismantled by this Birdman entity reassembling the grace, and, too, the disgrace, of a fallen angel.

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Kickin’ it with Jill Jones

Photo: Annette Willis 2007

A while ago I was at this li’l festival where I met Jill Jones when we were on this panel about something. There weren’t really any readings going down that weekend, so we threw a guerilla poetry event with some like-minded sweethearts, including Michael Farrel, Scott-Patrick Mitchell, Thuy Linh Nguyen, Kirk AC Marshall et al. All of whom are subversive and rebellious in their own way/right.

I remember it being cold that weekend in Melbourne.

At the guerilla gig Jill read from her collection Dark Bright Doors, which had just come out. In the meantime it’s been shortlisted for the Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry. She’s won that before…

Bleary-eyed at the airport, homeward bound, I ran into Jill in the ticketing queue. Then my flight to Perth was delayed. Then her flight to Adelaide was delayed. And for the record, getting stuck in a departure lounge for hours with Jill Jones is an awesome experience. We discussed Ron Silliman, we debated the motivation behind or the inability of some to be poetically risk-taking, we talked about Dark Bright Doors, we Talked.

Wanna know why Jill rules so much? ‘Cause she says things like “The I is in the flow. The river always shifts. I, too, I am, and am wherever.” And her wisdom flows deep.

This is us kickin’ it:

What are the most beautiful sounding words?

The words that sound are all beautiful, but that sonic is surrounded by all that depends. Context, how said, who said, why said, and the rest. So it may be ugly or terrible sounding words that are also beautiful.

Where do Dark Bright Doors open and close to? Where do they take us to? What are they made of? Who is wise/foolish enough to grasp their handles and pull?

The dark bright doors of that book open on through. As there’s more than one door, it’s not all opening only or closing solely. These dark bright doors are made of language, words, phrases, lines, sentences, letters, punctuation marks, spaces on a page. Not all doors have handles. If I was the fool as writer (fool in sense of motley or the vagabondage or precipitousness of the Tarot fool), then a reader is wise to fool around in the words, to ask more than the normal questions, to take the risk of the doors, to try things on. The fool’s journey is the journey.

When “I” shifts from the centre, whereto does the river flow?

When was I the centre? The I is in the flow. The river always shifts. I, too, I am, and am wherever.

Spelunking into the sensual, in what ways are written words viscerally experiential?

You see them, in dark, through tears, in brightness. You sound them in your mouth or head and that is part of breathing. You could even trace them with your finger. On some pages the type is raised ever so slightly. You could tear them from the page, and that makes sound as well as movement; then you could put them around you to make other words.

Have you ever accidentally quoted yourself or a line from one of your poems in conversation with someone?

I may have. If they are words that I like, undoubtedly. It would be the sound of them, individual syllables and the words formed into phrases, syntaxes, and to have them happen as part of a conversation not about poetry would be welcome. I should make sure I do it. No-one need know, or would know.

Oh, how to breathe fresh life into a sonnet form?

Be in love with the old ideas and break their heart. Breathe. Collaborate with the canon then turn it around. Be promiscuous. Keep talking line by line. Steal. Love your patterns and blow them off. Sing – sonet is a little song. Repetitions and echoes. Permutations. Obssess. Detach self from making, sing outside yourself.

What kind of poetry excites you that may get dismissed by conservative editors?

To move through some negatives first: I prefer poetry that is not in love with the need for metaphors or big booming symbols, poetry that is not over-willed (this includes a lot of so-called avant-garde works as well), poetry that is not self-expression. I’m excited by poetry that is imperfect and undetermined, poetry that plays in the world, ie. is porous, poetry that loves language enough to muck it around.

High-brow, low-brow or mono-brow?

Plucked. You get different sounds in mono, hi-fi and low-fi.

What are you trying to get better at or improve?

Brevity.

And also to sprawl more on the wide space of the page in open and fresh-made ways.

How to steal from myself, brazenly.

Whereto from here? What are you working on?

Always working, even if in the head or my dreams. I have a series of poems without titles, this is new for me. I am retrieving, re-forming and re-purposing my own work, and any other words I like the look and feel of – breaching, colliding, dissassembling. I’m not a project person so the above is as close as I come. I have several small and large collections (literally) on the go and am doing the constant jigsaw game of arrangements.

Thanks Jill, for your kindness, and for this poem:

yes,no, yes

While it seems crazy in the spider season
not possessed not forsaken
perhaps it starts with the ravens

To a dream of your old clothes
these afternoons that do not, that bring you pain
perhaps the boxes will fall only for you

Knots in night, trinkets leaning
get along, little dreams, get along
if it wasn’t for the rumours

You could be anywhere pushing or lugging
and leave, I can’t show you exactly
into the rain, I haven’t had that dream

Again, bodies
the least of my preparations
I ate the song positions
as I go a slow coast doesn’t differentiate

With a stolen leather jacket
the air is noisy on the stones
light is not always its light

The forecast has showered me
and will be thankful to walk is to
remain confused but now is enough

The factories of the road continue
feeling foolish to be free
left out in the rain and no longer white

The house is full of waterfalls
falling like this forever
back east they’ve got thunder

Is living days a pale back
not dreamed

you should never talk about
the lightness of the light

(from Jill’s Ruby Street)

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Kickin’ it with JJ Deceglie

It took me about a year to track down JJ Deceglie.

I’d originally found him through following (and later publishing) Nathan Hobby’s work. For ages I’d been wanting JJ to climb up onto Cottonmouth’s stage. I couldn’t get a hold of him. I couldn’t  find him – too elusive, too non-descript.

See, JJ is exactly the kind of hepcat I dig. This cat’s work is so heavy – forget whatever you’re told anything is supposed to be. This cat is so heavy.

He’s concocted the novella the sea is not yet full, the short story collection In the Same Streets You’ll Wander Endlessly, Australia’s first novel about poker Damned Good, and his most recent novella Ennui and Despair. Plus lots of stories published all over the place.

Out of the blue a year later I heard from him, had crept out of the depths of Freo, and over jars in the Sail & Anchor then the flurry of maddening schemes, plots, codifications, defiant contrivances, irreverent. And mad for the High Ones in the Berryman sense.

So with JJ soon taking over the oncoming edition of The Diamond & the Thief, here then some of our conversation while kickin’ it.

Last time we spoke, we talked about how it was your love for poker that led to your novel Damned Good. The high stakes poker storyline goes that deep into the character’s psyche, how much of it is researched and how much of it did you live?

I think of it sometimes as a completely psychological novel; one that uses poker as a metaphor to detail a method of living one’s existence in a particularly intense way, and the agony that can come with that.
In another way it is a completely philosophical novel; guidelines to attempting life as an existential superman, and again the intensity required for that. Then again it’s also just a book about poker; also a veiled personal mythology of myself and my life and things I’ve felt and known. It’s about  failure mostly. Gambling and failing and having nothing left, but gambling yet again to get something back. There is no other way for the character, none that he can see anyway.

There’s an answer in there somewhere.

Damned Good’s ascendant and subsequent descendent arc is split by a guide to authentic poker, my fave sub-chapter being ‘In the End as in the Beginning’. How did this li’l guide come about both in content and where it sits in the story?

The actual poker guide was the publisher’s idea. I wasn’t particularly keen at first (and told them so) but went out one day and wrote some stuff down and it just flowed and I liked how it sounded. I thought I can do this and it can add rather than take away.

The way I see it is that it is something ‘The Rookie’ wrote during that period in which we aren’t with him. I had to pare down the story and took some of those parts out (sections that ‘The Rookie’ had written, along with a more surreal ending).

We know he burns a manuscript of sorts and this is what would have come outta him. In terms of content it’s a hybrid of mostly individual mysticism, throw in arcs along similar lines to that of Heidegger, Gurdjieff and Camus and you could maybe leave it about there. Perhaps a mention to old Nietzsche too.

I’ve become convinced you’re spelunking into the inner caves of what it means to be or become man while thrashing through life. (“A man is, or he isn’t.”) Do you find these protagonists are done and/or undone at their own hand?

There are, and are not. As is anyone really. For men such as these there may be no other method. Not to their eyes or hearts, not in their sphere of existence. They have to know, and will push until the bloom or wreck shows itself as the result. It is about living, how best to do it, how to actually know it and feel it and yeah to be a man, but to become a man as a result of prolonged authentic experience, not one by what you have stored up or borrowed or read about. It must be lived. I think I use the writing as a method of figuring these things out for myself; and I can tell you wholeheartedly that I have no definitive answers.

Ennui and despair, is this our inheritance?

Both are by-products of intensity and misplaced authenticity. Both are the run-off of failure and collapse. Both are the end result of abject misunderstanding and a vein of hopelessness that can be felt so strongly at times wandering about on this earth. Though both are battled with hope and beauty, and both are rendered next to dead by courage and individual responsibility acknowledged in one’s existence. If you are really trying, you have to feel them both at some stage, don’t you – I can’t see any other way.

Wherein do we find answers?

Find what you wanna do, do it with everything damn thing you got; but expect nothing without work. So work and work and work. You’ll probably still lose, and you will definitely die, but it’s better than dying while you live.

What’s next for you?

I got a novel called ‘Princes Without a Kingdom’ coming out with Disruptive Press real soon. It’s a 400 plus page work, and I spent 18 months on it over 2009/10. It’s my Dostoyevskian effort, hopefully the first of many. Big characters colliding like planets, different attempts at existence personified, talking it out, living it out, fighting life in drastic efforts to see what works best and most.

I got some poetry I’m working at too.

Also a hardboiled noir novel. 

Why press on? Why continue? What is it with obsession? I’m thinking about this: “All you have, the lot, before, now and after, the real gambler, the real artist, it is risked every time, and it is accurate living; the will to live burns most intense only in the moments of unchecked creation, or in the winning at the highest possible stake.”

I think you either understand it the way it is written above, or you don’t.

Confusion or bewilderment?

Bewilderment. Complete and absolute. You can clear up confusion, you can elucidate it. Bewilderment is akin to disorientation, to perplexity, and I know and feel it like one would a sibling. It cannot be altered, it can only be lived, accustomed and adapted to. We habituate it.

What’s coming around the bend? And how fast are we running toward it?

More of the same, unless you change it, so buckle up, or expire now.

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Filed under Australia, Black Rider Press, Fiction, Interview, Kickin' it with, Perth

Kickin’ it with Julian Shaw

Julian Shaw as John Kirwan in 'All Blacks Don't Cry'

Award-winning director and author Julian Shaw is a cat who is cooler than Kool & the Gang.

At a publishers’ panel session at Melbourne’s Emerging Writer Festival, a session many later called ‘The Last Supper’, Scott-Patrick and I more or less said ‘write to us, we wanna get to know ya’.  And sweetheart people did write us.  One of whom was Julian Shaw.  And thank goodness he did.

Julian had been at EWF talking about his ‘movie in book form’ Modern Odysseus.  Right now he’s over in New Zealand with his camera on the sidelines filming the All Blacks.  He’s documenting their journey to the rugby World Cup 2011.  The film’ll be called Cup of Dreams.

This cat is the Young Australian Filmmaker of the Year 2010 according to the Sydney International Film School, has won a British Film Insitute Award, a Panorama Audience Award at the Berlin International Film Festival, and an Australian Film Insititute Award, among a slew of other awards.  Plus he throws down speeches at places like Harvard University.

Here’s me kickin’ it with Julian.

You wrote a contemporary story based on an ancient narrative and made it visually visceral.  How do you think we as readers engage with this?

Well, I think it’s been really exciting and invigorating for readers who are up for a new experience. It is part novel and part visual art, as you say, and the frisson and excitement is about where those two art-forms intersect. We call it a ‘movie in book form’ – Colin Friels brings the character of this Modern Odysseus to life with his performance. The images anchor it and take us on an emotional journey. I think the photos are never about telling you what to think – the images really create different sensations and emotions for different people. I’m trying to bring to life my story in a  very visceral, emotional way. It’s about showing how in the 21st century, in the era of GOOGLE maps and GPS, the physical world has been mapped out but the inner world is more treacherous than ever. That is the case with the title character Thomas, who is facing a corporate burnout of the worst kind.

What’s a challenge you faced with creating that and how’d you get through?

Colin Friels as the modern Odysseus

It was tough to find like-minded people – I think Colin Friels was the first person who really understood what I wanted to achieve, and he backed my vision 110%. I think people couldn’t visualize the book until they actually held it in their hands, and that was a big challenge in getting potential collaborators or distributors excited about what I was trying to achieve. So when I was initially pitching the book to publishers there was just a blank look. If you are ever trying to break ground you only need one person on your side though – you. No one else. So I had to learn to persevere through all those blank looks and back myself. A great lesson as an artist. You just have to believe in the finished product and always hold that in your mind and heart. In the end you get there. The same people who thought it would never work are the ones who have bought copies and been sheepishly saying – ‘now we know what you were trying to do!’ This is actually a really simple book in some ways – it’s a bit like a picture book for adults. I think people didn’t anticipate what an enjoyable experience  it would be. This book is fun and full of feelings – it is not just a head trip. I think it has a big heart. It’s about a guy trying to find himself after all.

Change of pace: who’ve you found inspiring?  The twist is that you can’t say anyone who does film, literature or photography.

This might shock you, but Shawn Michaels the WWE Wrestler. I live and breathe movies. I am a filmmaker and film commentator and sometimes it doesn’t help me unwind to watch movies. It can sometimes feel like work, no matter how much I love it. Since I was five years old I’ve watched WWE Wrestling to unwind. It just lets me escape. And I think I love everything about it – the spectacle, the raw emotion, the operatic storylines. I think they are artists. So I’d say the Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels has been a lifelong inspiration! You’re shocked aren’t you!?

And how’re you going with Cup of Dreams?

I am getting on a plane to New Zealand in a few hours to do my last round of filming in New Zealand, with my characters and with the All Blacks. It’s been a long process – I started filming this flick in 2007. I love how it’s developed. It’s become something I didn’t anticipate. I’ve got to say, it’s not a sports movie. It’s a character study that happens to be set in New Zealand and revolve around rugby and the World Cup. My producer Jonathon Green put it so well when he said ‘the All Blacks are the object of the story, not the subject.’ This is a story about home, it’s about what we all find in sport, it’s about all the ineffable, wonderful and irrational things that can hold a community together. It’s exploring nationalism and obsession. It’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever done but every few weeks a new dream comes true. I’ll be sideline filming the All Blacks play the Springboks in a matter of days, and that is a dream come true – I can’t wait to be out there and be so close to the haka. It’s a childhood dream come true.

What’s the story behind Seven Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started?

I think it is so important to share what you’ve learnt as an artist. I believe as an artist you receive when you give. In this new stage of my career I’ll be using my website www.julianshaw.com.au a lot more to release short films and new content.  Seven Things I Wish I Knew When I Started is a mini eBook that is me really being super honest and telling you all the mistakes I’ve made since I started my career as a 15-year-old would-be filmmaker and how I was able to achieve some of my proudest moments. I guess it is there so hopefully you don’t make some of the mistakes I did. I hope it is inspiring and candid, and I think whatever type of artist you are – a filmmaker, a musician or an actor – there will be something in there you’ll get out of it. The book is free if you sign up for the mailing list on the home page of my site.

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