Last night I went to the Sydney launch of Going Down Swinging No 28. As I may have mentioned, I have not one but two poems in this excellent publication, and I’d missed the Melbourne launch last Wednesday. So of course I made my way to Penguin Plays Rough headquarters in Newtown for last night’s event.
I’d left my PDA at home, so we had a little trouble finding the place. I remembered the address as 475 King Street. That turned out to be a convenience store, which didn’t seem right. My companion wanted to phone home for instructions, but my dim recollection of the Google Street Image made me expect to find a door down the side street. And sure enough there was one.
‘But look, through the windows, you can see that it’s someone’s home,’ said Madam Circumspect.
‘Remember the New American Vaudeville,’ I said.
‘That was fifteen years ago,’ she muttered, but the little New York adventure I was referring to had taken us to a door just as unlikely as this one in the Bowery, and it had opened onto a strangely enjoyable evening of fire-eating, Groucho Marx impersonations and bad folk music. So we climbed the stairs last night, to an evening that was at least as enjoyable, with its own kind of strangeness.
It turns out that we had been seeing someone’s home through the windows. The story as I gleaned it in the course of the evening is that two young women moved into the flat above the convenience store, and when they took a good look at the high-ceilinged, crumbly front room, they decided it was too big to waste as a bedroom or even as a shared living room, and should be put to work as ‘a space’. And so Penguin Plays Rough was born: at 8 o’clock on the third Sunday of every month five programmed writers and five wild cards sit in a red velvet wing chair and read from their work to a paying audience (a wild card is someone who puts their name on the blackboard at the door on arrival).
Last night the room was comfortably full of mostly young people drinking beer and what I thought at first was soup but was actually mulled wine. An assortment of chairs – wooden from the kitchen, wrought iron from the garden, upholstered and plastic – lined two walls, but most people sat in comfortable, picnic-style circles on the floor. My companion’s prediction that we would be the oldest people in the room proved correct by a good ten years, and we were possibly as much as 30 years above the mean. Klare Lanson and Lisa Greenaway, editors of GDS were there. I knew a couple of people, including Mark Tredinnick, poet, essayist and creative writing teacher, who was there to give moral support to one of his students who was reading. But mostly I had a sense that this was a thriving group of people who enjoyed each other’s work, had fun writing and reading and providing an audience for each other. We were treated, among other things, to the final instalment of a Philip Marlowe spoof serial drama with a zombie and cheerful gay male incest. My favourite PPR part of proceedings was a nasty homophobic encounter on Windsor Railway Station told in the language of Shakespeare (‘Ho, varlet, what music doth enter thine ear through yon iPod buds?’ ‘This be Anthony and the Johnsons’), and incorporating a giant green tentacled alien.
A charming young man introduced simply as Shag (who Google tells me is a Radio FBi personality) did the actual launching. He hadn’t actually seen a copy of GDS until he arrived at the venue, but that didn’t stop him from doing a nice job: he had written a piece of ‘Creative Writing’ entitled ‘What I Imagine It will be Like to Launch Going Down Swinging’ which managed to be funny, self-deprecating and devoid of actual reference to the subject of the launch. Nonetheless there was a sweet mood of celebration. Klare Lanson had a few moments in the chair, and managed to slip us a couple of factoids (Peter Carey and Brian Castro appeared in early issues, and in spite of the implied pessimism of the title, it’s now been going and swinging for 30 years). A couple of contributors read their poems and stories from the GDS, Literary culture is alive and well and having a good time in a room above a convenience store in Newtown.
Mark Tredinnick mentioned in a break that his book The Blue Plateau is to be launched tonight at Macquarie University. ‘Do you imagine it will be like this?’ I asked. ‘Absolutely not,’ he said, ‘and that’s not altogether a good thing.’