LAUNCHING SPEECH FOR JOEL DEANE'S SUBTERRANEAN RADIO SONGS (published by INTERACTIVE PUBLICATIONS), AT THE VICTORIAN WRITERS' CENTRE, October 21st, 2005
I first read Joel in the 4th issue of the sad-to-say defunct Melbourne poetry mag, Salt Lick Quarterly. I was launching it --reemerging from a period of 'retirement'! I probably had Joel in mind when I commented upon the "poets of every type" publishing in the magazine, including, I said, "the no-type-at-all (who seem to me to be finding form for their spoken, spieling poems)"--
I have a memory of Joel, in a huddle with Retta on the bare boards at Dante's in Gertrude Street, saying he hoped he wasnt one of those 'non-poets'! But no, I hastened to console him, I was welcoming the non-affiliated poets & their new poems, and I sincerely meant that they were story-tellers coining forms --I wasnt disowning them at all --
At that time I didnt know Joel, and didnt have a handle on his poetics --but influencing my proposition was a feeling that the traditional pleasures of poetry, found in the music or shapeliness of the words & ideas, had to reaffirmed in order that there was a point in calling a story a story and a poem a poem! Ultimately the writer makes the call, whether or not satisfactory to the critic or the reader; but constructively raising the question is always to the good, especially in a time of wholesale relativism & the abandonment of specific value & distinction.
Conversation on the Midnight Stream (on page 18) --which is soft & limpid as the sleep-talk or dream-talk it emulates --is an unusual poem to be written in Melbourne in this time. Poets rarely stray from monologue --and here is this dialogue, as fleeting & confidential as nocturnal exchanges can be. "'Are you sleeping?' / 'I want to, / I've been trying to, / but I cannot / sleep.' / 'Don't worry. / Time's black tide will catch us soon, / then we'll both be sleeping.' // 'A welcome sleep?' / 'A welcome knowledge.' / 'I'd rather a welcome memory- // Like Ubud.' /"
Another kind of story is told on p32, Under Westgate, whose form resembles a James Dickey poem --that great poet of rage & rampage, --that is the poet most intimate to the energies of human occasions --
Joel's poem is the Melbourne auto-poem, par excellence. I'm probably the only person in this room who doesnt drive and has never driven --but why do I need to with this kind of literary experience? "As the lights slowly roll green to red and back again / we wait in the outside lane for our turn / and when it comes I gun it to the floor / Through first second third fourth then overdrive / with the landscape towering and throbbing through / my one-way mind at the speed of / but watch me now / double-clutch then handbrake slide into Lorimer Street / with the chassis squealing in expectation of / Never mind"
Of course it's a poem of a state of mind, of abandon & distress via the agency of the car.
This first book of Joel's poems is preceeded by his novel, Another, also published by David Reiter's Interactive Press [Queensland]. It's a book of short episodes, practically self-contained --they're almost like prose-poems, except that prose-poems arent usually full of action & dialogue.
I wonder if one could say : Joel's novel is written by a poet; his poetry by a novelist?
In the novel it's his ear for the music of the speech of the characters he's invented that impresses one. He creates a space --call it poetic --around their non-reflective interaction. He makes a musical construction of monosyllabic utterance, a musical theatre of a one-dimensional world.
In his poetry we would, traditionally, assume his ear, his rhythm, his cadence, his craft and then be ready to be surprised by the stories, reveries, snatches of conversation, dreams & day-dreams; and to be moved by his thought and his perspectives.
Because the first poem I read by Joel was Lager Pistol, for William Burroughs [as published in Salt Lick Quarterly], here in the book on p48, I always associate him with Burroughs & the Beats. Burroughs is the only major literary dedicatee in his book so perhaps one can assume a certain significance --
"We play William Tell.
What better way to mark Burroughs' passing
from Beat to truly beat, we decide over Tequila,
salt crystals and diamond hard methamphetamines."
(Talking with our Beat scholar acquaintance George Mouratides recently, I posed the question : What would the Beats make of the current political situation --international terrorism and the War on Terror including the Allies' war in Iraq? George said we knew what Ginsberg would think --others were less predictable --but coming out of Spengler (the author of The Decline of the West), Burroughs would say it was always doomed, the whole box & dice, no surprise. Kerouac & Corso maybe neo-cons we thought, to balance the leftism of Ferlinghetti & Ginsberg --but, and I said, it sems to me that Spengler's philosophy of history plus oodles of Buddhist & Catholic compassion is the relevant Beat attitude for the day!)
"For the members of my family; living & dead" writes Joel. He means the ancestors and the contemporary old ones & young ones. The hearts of all those who know Joel go out to him & Kirsten in respect of the tragedies that have befallen them... As a poet, Joel has no choice but to make wine of the tears of grief --he makes poems, he remembers his stillborn, his would-have-been children along with those who survived, indeed everyone who survives as Family.
From my own experience of being a parent and losing a grown-up son, I've learnt that dead does not mean cease to be. The world, as I said at Tim's funeral, is, after all, composed of the living & the dead. One carries one's dead child, as well as one's ancestors, within one until we too die...
The counter-culture biographer Miles describes Burroughs' Navaho sweat-lodge ceremony late in his life; the shaman praying, "Family, all one family, no matter what race we are from. All relatives together in a room."
Joel writes, "There is no country. Only family."
This epigram informs the major structure of Subterranean Radio Songs : the family, history, Australian place of the 1st half, South; and North, in which the poet-narrator is travelling abroad in the USA & Latin America, in Britain --an acutely felt & observed travel-diary but one constantly interjected by the concerns, the Angels & Demons of Family.
In a way it's all there in the first poem of the book, The Bridge at Avenel.
The crossing of water, the grave that water can be, the lure of crossing, the necessity (and I'm thinking now of the poetic rather than the economic or political necessity) --the necessity of crossing.
In this poem Joel Deane states, "I cannot find a way across" because of the particular reasons for that poem. But the poet will, --and certainly will attempt that crossing again & again in his career --a career begun tonight with this collection, which it is now my great pleasure to declare launched.