Farewell Autumn, welcome Winter! April & May have come & gone! We'd better advertise Bloomsday then, the annual June 16th celebration falling this year on the Tuesday, which will be the next event at the Shop. In recent years, the profusion of Bloomsday events elsewhere leads us to concentrate our reading into the lunch period, midday til 2.30 or so. All James Joyce fans welcome!
The Autumn report, begun late March, was put to the side while I composed The Divine Issue (published in April), and though I took up the former again in early May, I was then wonderfully diverted by correspondence flowing from TDI as well as revisiting the same period's literary material, some of which research accrues now as its Addendum.
Had I been better organized I'd have flagged the two May events, namely the launch of Mary Napier's spoken-word CD, Open Thoughts, on the 15th, and the tribute reading for Dorothy Porter on the 28th.
A major distraction has been Loretta's health glitch (--an irregularity detected via breast screening which led to needle biopsy and then surgery for breast cancer; disappointingly this is a continuing story with further though smaller surgery in the offing)... On the day Dorothy's tribute took place at Collected Works, Loretta was having her operation at the Peter Mac. What I called 'exquisite irony', Jenny Harrison (who, with Gig Ryan, curated & catered the Tribute) named a 'symmetry' in which Dorothy was linked to Retta & all women touched by the illness. There was never a thought to cancel the event; Retta would have been appalled. She was certainly at the shop in spirit just as all her well-wishers were with her at the Peter Mac...
Disaster & disease affect everyone; the poets die the same kind of deaths as everyone else. Today I've read a notice posted by Lorin Ford on the Overload Nation poetry site concerning the death of Andrea Sherwood. We catch our breath, then breathe again... Geoff Eggleston, Dorothy Porter --mourned & celebrated by their families & literary communities in December... In February the fires came. Entire hamlets, towns disappeared. Family & friends were burnt out &/or killed. Young poet Ella Holcombe's parents perished in Kinglake. The subsequent memorial service at Montsalvat, attended by Melbourne poets in solidarity with Ella, was also a grieving for that whole community... In Redesdale, Robert Kenny faught for his house for ten minutes before abandoning it to save his own life. His academic work-in-progress was backed-up at La Trobe University but library, archives, art work & studio are all gone... From Berlin the shocking news of artist, print-maker Julia Harman's tragic & untimely death --she was Tim Hemensley's first serious partner, and felt that however separated by distance in life, & then by his death, she was always with him, and now she is I guess... Concentric circles of all whom one considers family. A good friend of the Shop, Tim Sheppard, died on the 11th March after illness. A great devotee of poetry, especially the 1st World War British poets, he also wrote poems although a collection never saw light of day...
For the poets, as I'm fond of saying, t'was always so. All of this in the midst of life. And life goes on (--and it does go on despite the traumatisation of survivors --so well and still do I recall the experience of 6 years ago when the fact of my son's death was like an imposed nakedness upon me -- worse : I felt skinned, scourged of my skin, wearing only the fact of his death, feeling as I stood there in the world that only I knew the catastrophe and no one could see what I was feeling)... Some of the life that goes on, for the poet, involves the readings & launches, gatherings of the clan... For the Melbourne poet these are all around town, constantly, if the handbills or emails I see are any indication.
Collected Works' Autumn season kicked off on the 12th March with the first of two new poetry collections published by Barry Scott's Transit Lounge : Kent McCarter's In the Hungry Middle of Here (--launched by Jenny Lea, whom I dont think I've seen since I dropped in on a Meanjin/Overland cricket match on the Domain Oval in South Yarra --early 90s? --I'm not sure whether she was playing or barracking but we chatted at tea in amongst the trestle tables & eskies --and what a dynamo was Meanjin's skipper, Chris Wallace-Crabbe, clapping for attention, darting hither & thither in the field when he wasnt bowling --but that's another story!), & Jennifer Mackenzie's Borobudur (launched by Tim Lindsey from the Asia Law Centre) on the 20th. Good attendances for both, more local poets at McCarter's, lots of Asian Studies people at Mackenzie's.
It's a truism in the Melbourne writing & performance community now that with the scene's current proliferation there are always going to be new names, poets one hasnt previously encountered. Blurbs from Gig Ryan & CWC for McCarter underlined my ignorance. Conversely, my blurb for Jenny Mackenzie attests a long acquaintance with author & family punctuated for the times she lived in China.
I remember twenty years ago Jennifer thinking of Lawrence Ferlinghetti's City Lights as a potential publisher of her Borobudur project. This must have been canvassed around about 1985 since that was when Robert Kenny's Rigmarole Books withdrew from the fray, having to decline such new writers as Brian Castro as well as foreclosing what had become a new writing stable including John Scott, Anna Couani, Ken Taylor, Ken Bolton, Chris Barnett, Ania Walwicz, John Anderson, Laurie Duggan, Walter Billeter, Kenny himself & yours truly. Who knows how it might have developed had personal & financial conditions played out differently? Rigmarole might now still have been the major small-press in Australia that one or two publishers in North America survived sufficiently long to become over there. But then again, gaps are inevitably filled and the culture is always changing, implying different aesthetical & political imperatives for different times. Rigmarole in the mid to late 80s would have been a natural home for Borobudur. While congratulating Jenny Mackenzie's tenacity and sighing with her At last, at last, one realizes it was more the case of putting something aside than of battling for twenty years; even so, twenty years is quite a hiatus.
A note now on Tim Lindsey's comments (overwhelmingly in the poet's favour)... Inevitably it was an Asian Studies/Foreign Affairs appreciation of the book as a cultural-political object --that is, Mackenzie's poem was read as a long overdue Australian translation of a classic Javanese story subsuming crucial aspects of that tradition, a belated but worthy act reflecting Australian recognition of the antiquity & authority of an important geopolitical neighbour.
Lindsey's pitch was not uninteresting --indeed, in the context of an exotic literary publication, his political & economic language was an instructive counterpoint. However, as I quipped to him later, I'd contend Indonesian-Australian relations, as with East-West relations in general, are a two-way street. Interesting that Australian ignorance of Javanese epic is supposedly indicative of an Australian know-nothing arrogance which will marginalise us in the future; yet the lay observation of the Asian neighbours' voracious appetite for Western popular forms, from democracy & personal freedoms to t-shirts & rock & roll, is unmentioned. Actually, Western translation of Asian literary & religious classics is the typical form of the Anglo-European interaction with Asia over a very long period, and as fast as we gobble up their elite texts so do they our popular ones.
It also occurred to me last year, after meeting a Singaporean poet & academic, that his expertise in modern British poetry, from Hardy to the present, surely curries our conception of the post-colonial! Furthermore, the considerable East-West collaboration of artists & writers, including Australian & Asian, in my opinion significantly corrects the postcolonial ideological cliche. I offered Tim Lindsey the examples of Sandy Fitts (whose View from the Lucky Hotel (Five Islands Press, '08) has won this year's Anne Elder Prize for a first collection) & Jane Gibbian (Ardent is her first full collection, published by Giramondo Press, '08) as Aussie poets redeeming quality collaboration from their trips to Vietnam. I also mentioned to him Cathy O'Brien's description of her meeting in Vientiane, Laos with an Australian colleague's partner, the Iraqui poet Basim Furat, residing there after a spell in New Zealand where, according to Mark Pirie, he had impressed the local scene. They may well collaborate in the future. For me a tiny but interesting example of the hybridization increasingly possible in global culture.
Of course, violent displacement is also increasing & is one obvious explanation of such unlikely crosscurrents. Yet let's recall Ford Madox Ford's witty definition of English culture, against the xenophobia of his day, as the happy result of "successive periods of unrest amongst the Continental peoples".
March/May/June 4 '09