Friday, November 20, 2009


The Argument

The new head of Opera Australia said "I think we've become conservative and predictable to the audiences that we're playing to..." A few days before this comment was spewed forth by the Daily Liar, I went to the ACT Heats of the National Poetry Slam, a few days after I went to the ACT Writers Centre Poetry Awards. How well do these words fit in the ACT poetry scene?


So first I stepped into the 2009 ACT Heats of the National Poetry Slam. This was held in the foyer of the National Library of Australia.A very showy and in many ways an appropriate venue for the ACT heats of the SLAM contest. There was a jolly fair crowd in attendance, with beer and wine being served. Speaking only from my constrained vantage most people seemed to have had a good evening.

I am tiring of the idea of the slam, and do not intend to perform at any more slams. This evening did nothing to dissuade of my growing antipathy towards the very idea of a slam. It was nothing to do with the poets nor the poetry, although as in all open venues, there are pieces that one likes more than others.

Three people (all male) tied for first place - so this gave us a 'slam off.' And each of the winners had to read a second poem, and so be judged. After this a winner was declared. Now the winner gets to go to Sydney to battle it out in a contest to see who is the best slammer in Australia.

While not disagreeing with rap being the 'dominant' form of poetry these days, whatcan one say when the hip hop lifestyle is for sale at any suburban shopping centre, when all sorts of Disney advertising and misogynist Hollywood content is pumped out daily to a hip hop beat? Is this a dominate form or a form of domination. Malcolm McLaren once repeated the comment that the forces of production extend until discontent itself becomes a commodity. Mild mannered suburban children act out in safety the life and death struggles of the urban poor old skool rappers straight out of South Bronx or Compton.

Two rappers tied for first place,last years winner was a rapper, is this not also conservative and predictable? Is this giving the 'young people' what they want? Do slams encourage the idea of poetry as entertainment? There is no need for me to answer these sorts of questions as I have found myself on the wrong side of many of the arguments that have raged around me.

Twenty poets and twenty three poems, a wide mix of poems showing a rich spread of styles and voices, weighted towards the rap poets. There is very little to compare to a rich flowing litany of words. The bounding repetition of our age, the boundless songs of survival.


Bright blue Morning
Yellow tipped
Garish red
Bottle brush

The long crack song
Of the damp gully.
Uncontrolled screams
Of the Currawong.

An aeroplane flies over head.

Rhythmic back and forth two
Stroke lopping the poppies.

A bridge above
A tunnel below
A drying creek

A barking dog.

A family. Four children wait the bus.
Two boys chase and pretend to wrestle.
The elder sister sits
And swings her legs
The younger sister orbits the tree
Gathering bark.

The little boy crouches the
Upturned trolley and laughs.

Reading the paper
Fiddling with phones
Starving out windows.
Tumbling hills of green

Drinking coffee in cafes
Hanging colourful flowers
Cheques cashed
Payday advances.

Congregates. She puts on her glasses.
Makes a fist - It was him or me.
Staff step outside for a cigarette.
Ever make love in the back seat
Of a car?

A leaf falls from the tree, in front of me.
Three junkies scream a rolling fight
The doorways and alleys of the flats.

Two golden coins into the roughened hand
Of the pensioned off ex garbage man.


Nine days later I was at the ACT Writers Centre Poetry Awards, now called the Michael Thwaites Poetry Prize. An Officer of the Order of Australia, academic, Intelligence Officer for ASIO, Member of Moral Rearmament, Poet and author.

Conservative and predictable?

The judge was a local poet, well published, has worked as a teacher in NSW and ACT. This method of only one judge, which was used in the previous year at least, is to my mind not a good method. Poetry as we all know is very subjective, and so from the point of view of poet the system appears as a random number generator, which takes as an input a poem and gives as an output a judgement.

The self selecting of judges in the slam format also has some problems, but it has the advantage of a well worked system. Five judges, the highest and lowest scores are set aside. The final score being the total of the middle three numbers. This stops the single person liking or disliking a particular poem, and so biasing the judgment.

The entries were judged for:

  • Emotional force.

  • Vivid and sharp images, language etc.

  • Original language.

  • The judge also talked about making the familiar new, and the unfamiliar familiar. Visions of Ezra Pound splashing in his bath tub, painting on the wall with the soap bubbles, 'make it new' (in clear and common language) danced through my head. To be honest I thought all of the poems failed on the use of original language, but as to being vivid and clear in image making, all poems were of a very high order. Leading us back to the wildly subjective 'Did this poem move me' as criteria for winning or losing. In which case there is no need to worry about how well formed the metaphors; as I can
    think of many instances where a poorly crafted poem may have an emotional impact worthy of a positive judgment.

    Which of course is a wandering Yorick way of saying the entires should have to be looked at by a panel of judges, at least three. This will keep a single judges mood (good or ill) from unduly awarding a prize.

    For the first time! (what can a singer do but sing?) the winners of the prizes were asked to read their works. In complete opposition to the NLA Slam night (where only three out of twenty contestants were female) all three winners were women. Two were able to read their poems, the first prize winner was not able to make it to the event. Even more interesting was the fact that of the two winners, both of them were older women, at that age when many women speak of becoming invisible, so it was good to hear some words from different poetic voices, and it was good to see the ACT Writers Centre reward these poets.

    All of the winning poems could not be faulted. Each was a well crafted, coherent, forward moving song full of images of everyday life, of the called to mind dead ones. Sharp crystals prised out from under the floor boards. The three poems were all worthy winners, but I could not suppress the feeling that they lacked the urgency that our present age demands.

    Friends, art, tranquilty.

    Lucretius used to speak of the life of tranquility (tranquilitas,) being grounded in friendship (suavis amicitia) and intellectual curiosity. Both events allowed me to hear new voices and think new thoughts, but not to the extent I felt I was being pushed, nor did I feel in any way confronted. I was able to talk to some friends and met some new people.

    Epicureans were well known for abhorring any sort of strife or violence, so in this way we can always thank conservative and predictable art groups for allowing us to avoid undue confrontation.

    Wednesday, November 4, 2009

    Hugh Selwyn Mauberley

    I really like this poem. from the internet archive.

    Monday, November 2, 2009

    Poetry and Prose at the Pub

    Poetry and Prose at the Pub

    A new event has appeared on the Canberra arts scene. Poetry & Prose at
    the Pub. To be held on the last Sunday of every month at Kingston's
    landmark Filthy McFadden's Irish Pub. This was to be, in a nutshell,
    'a new opportunity for ACT writers to showcase their skills in a
    relaxed environment.'

    Organised by a teacher at the Canberra Institute of Technology, this
    event was somewhat outside the norm. An event meant to be family
    Using the organisers words "There are several terrific
    poetry slams around town but they all happen in the late evenings and
    do not always suit people with families,” Lorese said. “These
    readings will be open to everyone, the venue is family friendly, and
    the readings include prose as well as poetry."

    So I trundled on down to the pub last Sunday for an inaugural gutful
    of art. An admittedly small audience, but it was a raw windy rainy
    spring time day, and as grandmothers around the world say 'from a tiny
    acorn comes the mighty oak.'

    Most of the afternoon carried a light subversive anti authoritarian
    feel around, but it is hard to be a fascist and enjoy Joyce at the
    same time, for at his core Joyce chaffed at fetters, and kicked
    against the pricks of his outrageous fortune. raising bootless cries
    to heavens, non serviam! Forever blowing what little coin he had
    chasing the green fairy.

    Poetry and Prose at the Pub carried none of the competitiveness of
    slams, and also none of the stuffy, awkward formalism of other types
    of readings I have attended. This was a purely open mic affair, anyone
    who wanted to could read, and several audience members joyfully took
    the opportunity.

    I have been slowly coming to the conclusion that I can no longer read
    at any but open mics, as I am daily growing more weary with the idea
    of the competition, with the idea of winners and losers. Jerry
    Seinfeld observed that at a funeral most people would rather be in the
    coffin than giving the eulogy, so it seems to me that calling anyone
    who is able to get up in front of a room of strangers and read a poem
    that they have written a 'loser' is at best wrong, at worst being able
    to do no more than dent peoples confidence. Poetry as we all know is a
    very personal, emotional affair, and as such does not deserve the judgement of the drunken rabble.

    There is no need to create more hierarchies, as forces already are
    busy extending hierarchies in all directions.Almost as much as the
    judging and grading of poets I resent the arbitrary time limits of 2
    or 3 minutes. The Poetry at the Pub limit was based around a word
    count - which allows for the poet to compress or extend time as he or
    she feels the piece warrants. I would like to see a situation where
    people would be able to perform freely, and would be only too happy to
    give up the microphone, as they were attending as much to listen, as
    to speak, as they had a feeling of community.

    All I want is an interest in language and a pleasure in the rhythmic
    creations. Where the line of verse is like the at once sweeping, now
    thrusting brush stroke of the painter captivated by a beautiful image,
    or the softly swaying musician swept away in a spark of creation, or
    the gymnast rising from the floor and leapflying across the air, or
    the child who throws the cup up and down into the sink. A poetry which
    is intimately bound up with politics, as all working people, all
    women, all minorities are pushed against everyday. This is when
    politics becomes more than a pale spectacle, but rather a constant
    fighting back, everyday. By acting as health and safety officers,
    planting gardens, planting trees, using public transport, attending
    rallies and meetings, home schooling, standing in the cold and wet
    passing out leaflets, volunteering at the local halls, laughing we can be building community and a new world every day.

    But I digress.

    AMOR MATRIS, subjective and objective genitive, may be the only true
    thing in life. Paternity may be a legal fiction. Who is the father of
    any son that any son should love him or he any son?

    I was given the opportunity to read a section from 'Finnegans wake' -
    not an easy task! When the audience members laughed it was hard not to
    stop and have a good laugh myself.

    Starting on page 483.

    Kickakick. She had to kick a laugh. At her old stick-in-the-block. The
    way he was slogging his paunch about, elbiduubled, meet oft mate on,
    like hale King Willow, the robberer. Cainmaker's mace and waxened
    capapee. But the tarrant's brand on his hottoweyt brow. At half past
    quick in the morning. And her lamp was all askew and a trumbly
    wick-in-her, ringeysingey. She had to spofforth, she had to kicker,
    too thick of the wick of her pixy's loomph, wide lickering jessup the
    smooky shiminey. And her duffed coverpoint of a wickedy batter,
    whenever she druv behind her stumps for a tyddlesly wink through his
    tunnilclefft bagslops after the rising bounder's yorkers, as he studd
    and stoddard and trutted and trumpered, to see had lordherry's
    blackham's red bobby abbels, it tickled her innings to consort pitch
    at kicksolock in the morm. Tipatonguing him on in her pigeony
    linguish, with a flick at the bails for lubrication, to scorch her
    faster, faster. Ye hek, ye hok, ye hucky hiremonger ! Magrath he's my
    pegger, he is, for bricking up all my old kent road. He'll win your
    toss, flog your old tom's bowling and I darr ye, barrackybuller, to
    break his duck! He's posh. I lob him. We're parring all Oogster till
    the empsyseas run googlie. Declare to ashes and teste his metch! Three
    for two will do for me and he for thee and she for you. Goeasyosey,
    for the grace of the fields, or hooley pooley, cuppy, we'll both be
    bye and by caught in the slips for fear he'd tyre and burst his
    dunlops and waken her bornybarnies making his boobybabies. The game
    old merrimynn, square to leg, with his lolleywide towelhat and his
    hobbsy socks and his wisden's bosse and his norsery pinafore and his
    gentleman's grip and his playaboy's plunge and his flannelly
    feelyfooling, treading her hump and hambledown like a maiden wellheld,
    ovalled over, with her crease where the pads of her punishments ought
    to be by womanish rights when, keek, the hen in the doran's
    shantyqueer began in a kikkery key to laugh it off, yeigh, yeigh,
    neigh, neigh, the way she was wuck to doodle-doo by her gallows bird
    (how's that? Noball, he carries his bat!) nine hundred and dirty too
    not out, at all times long past conquering cock of the morgans. How
    blame us?

    The end of the night. The two (HCE & ALP) attempting to make love, a
    muddle of yorkers and trumpers while Luke spies on the pair. The
    rooster crows and the hen laughs it off, it is time to wake. Time to
    feed puss and get some kidney from the butcher for breakfast. The
    ideal books for the ideal insomniac.

    After I read a woman read a section from Ulysses.

    Ithaca. After the interlude at the bus shelter, after the scene in
    Kirke's absurd venus in furs brothel.

    Bloom is home.

    Two o'clock in the morning, tired, with lemon soap in his pocket. His
    bones aching, one last catechism before sleep. In the half light of
    drowsiness, before the depths of sleep over take cut and dry grammar
    and go ahead plot. Before Finnegans Wake.

    The end of the day.

    In what final satisfaction did these antagonistic sentiments and
    reflections, reduced to their simplest forms, converge?

    Satisfaction at the ubiquity in eastern and western terrestrial
    hemispheres, in all habitable lands and islands explored or unexplored
    (the land of the midnight sun, the islands of the blessed, the isles
    of Greece, the land of promise), of adipose anterior and posterior
    female hemispheres, redolent of milk and honey and of excretory
    sanguine and seminal warmth, reminiscent of secular families of curves
    of amplitude, insusceptible of moods of impression or of contrarieties
    of expression, expressive of mute immutable mature animality.

    The visible signs of antesatisfaction?

    An approximate erection: a solicitous adversion: a gradual elevation:
    a tentative revelation: a silent contemplation.


    He kissed the plump mellow yellow smellow melons of her rump, on each
    plump melonous hemisphere, in their mellow yellow furrow, with obscure
    prolonged provocative melonsmellonous osculation.

    The visible signs of postsatisfaction?

    A silent contemplation: a tentative velation: a gradual abasement: a
    solicitous aversion: a proximate erection.

    What followed this silent action?

    Somnolent invocation, less somnolent recognition, incipient
    excitation, catechetical interrogation.

    A very pleasant way to pass an afternoon, heard some new poets, met
    some new people. What more could be wanted?

    What do I wish? Success and good luck!

    Would I return? To quote - Yes.