Tag Archives: David Michôd

Michael Farrell Loves Poetry

Michael Farrell, I Love Poetry (Giramondo 2017)

ilovepoetry.jpgSomeone said (on Twitter) that if a reviewer doesn’t get the thing they are reviewing, then no matter how long the review is, it will just be a whole lot of different ways of saying ‘I don’t get it.’ So, though I think of myself as a reader with a keyboard rather than a reviewer, I’ll make this brief.

I don’t get a lot of Michael Farrell’s poetry. That is to say, in some of his poems I really can’t tell what’s happening, apart from random phrases appearing on the page. It’s not like it’s a foreign language – I can’t tell if it’s a language at all. For instance, here’s the start of one poem (punctuated as in the book):

K In The Castle

I

Like a food documentary from 2013
Know something of your life
———and character. giraffes cry

Australian giraffes – third generation. everyone has
coconut in their tears, saliva and blood

Apart from recognising the reference to Kafka’s The Castle in the title, I draw a blank. I’m not even puzzled. My guess is that this is doing something that’s discernible to readers who are versed in contemporary poetics, but certainly not to me, and a fair amount of this book is as inaccessible (to me) as that.

Then there are poems that work for me in a tantalising way that makes me think of the fan dancers who performed in sideshow tents at the Innisfail Annual Show in my 1950s childhood. As a nine or ten year old I wasn’t oblivious to the performances’ salacious dimension, but I was mainly enthralled by the dancers’ amazing skill at waving ostrich feathers around while keep their presumably naked rude bits hidden. I don’t mean (obviously) that the poems are salacious, but that the frequent brilliant phrase and the pervasive, if sometimes annoying, playfulness are what keep me going, along with a feeling that often just out of sight there’s something coherent and beautiful.

There are some enticing opening lines:

Blue Poles and INXS shuffle into a bar. ‘What’ll you have?’
(‘Into A Bar’)


In Newcastle a businessman half-disappeared into another life.
(‘Death Of A Poet’)


The boxer has great hair, a great beard, great ink
jobs down both arms. He likes to pull up his
shirt when he’s with his friends: just above the nipples
(‘The Boxer’)


Bending over in shorts forever, Australianything
can remind us more of a country and western
song than a rap
(‘When Arse Is Class, Or Australianything’)

The poems then reliably take off in reliably unpredictable directions.

Sometimes I think I catch a glimpse of what lies behind the fan-dancing. ‘Cate Blanchett And The Difficult Poem’, perhaps the most straightforward of the book’s narrative poems, is a case. In it Cate Blanchett chats ‘laconically, fragmentedly’ with Waleed Aly while preparing to go on stage to read a difficult poem. Partly I feel relatively confident with it because I get most of its references.I know who Cate Blanchett and Waleed Aly are, and also Judith Wright and Patrick White who are both mentioned. The reference to ‘Jackie Weaver’s eye manoeuvres in Animal Sconedom / as they scorched their moving targets’ would be lost on anyone who hadn’t seen David Michôd’s Animal Kingdom, but it a great description of that performance in that film. I’ve even seen Julian Rosefeldt’s multi-screen video work Manifesto, in which a protean Blanchett performs a multitude of artistic manifestoes, and which may lurk in the background of the poem.

But those are all part of the ostrich feathers. The thing that I have glimpsed is possibly an account of a poetic method. After Cate has read the text silently then aloud, trying out different tones and accents, an actor preparing, the ground shifts beneath our feet and she starts inserting lines from Judith wright’s ‘Woman to Man‘:

Blanchett’s jaw connects to a signal tower in her brain
that produces a pas de deux between the difficult
poem – but does it exist? – and the Wright poem, which
she gradually replaces with – not exactly quotations from
she’s not a complete freak – paraphrases of scenes from
Patrick White novels

A couple of lines later, Cate says to Waleed:

You have to fake it with a difficult poem: be like
I ain’t easy either, me. Treat it like a camera or
call it to the stage for an award and trapdoor it.

I like to think that’s a description of Farrell’s method: there’s a text (in the sense that everything we experience is text of one sort or another) that he has some difficulty with (for values of difficulty that include interest in a complexity), or maybe there’s nothing there at all (‘but does it exist?’); you make a poem from it by faking it, being like ‘I ain’t easy either, me’, that is tosay, by assuming you’re on equal terms with it – perhaps inserting bits of other texts (childhood memories, bits of pop culture, literary allusions), improvising a performance around it. By this method, of course, the original text / idea/ emotion will be hard if not impossible for the reader to see: what we are reading is a pas de deux between it and the poet, or perhaps only the poet’s side of the pas de deux. And maybe it’s a danse des éventails  de deux.

There’s also an implicit invitation to readers to do their own pas de deux with Farrell’s poetry. This has been an attempt to do just that.

Once again, I’m happy to acknowledge that my copy of the book is a generous gift from Giramondo.

End of Year Lists

The Art Student proposed that I post about my best five books, best five movies and worst three movies for 2010. And hers. Being an obliging fellow, and at the risk of exposing myself as a philistine, here they are. Do nominate your own favourites in the comments.

The five movies most enjoyed in 2010 (in no particular order):

By me:

Animal Kingdom, David Michôd’s first feature, so human and yet so vile. (When Jacqui Weaver was being made much of in the US for this performance, Michôd reportedly said to himself, ‘About time.’ To which I cry Amen!)

Made in Dagenham, directed by Nigel Cole, what some people would undoubtedly see as a fundamentalist left feminist feelgood movie – and what’s wrong with getting to feel good about a victory?

Peepli [Live], directed by Anusha Rizvi & Mahmood Farooqui, a wonderfully ebullient satire on the way the media in India just like here makes spectacle out of misery – a comic commentary on P Sainath’s Everyone Loves a Good Drought.

Temple Grandin, made for TV by Mick Jackson, starring Clare Danes as Temple Grandin, the woman with Asperger’s Syndrome who revolutionised the treatment of cattle in US slaughterhouses.

In the Loop, exuberantly enraged, foul mouthed satire directed by Armando Iannucci and starring Peter Capaldi, which I found cathartic.

By the Art Student:

City Island, a genial comedy directed by Raymond De Felitta, starring Andy Garcia, and Julianna Margulies playing a very different character from Alicia in The Good Wife on TV.

The Yes Men Fix the World, featuring culture jammers Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno, and any number of corporation representatives being taken for a ride.

Me and Orson Welles, directed by Richard Linklater.

Peepli [Live]. At last we agree on one.

Fair Game, the pic about Valerie Plame, directed by Doug Liman.

The film that most cried out for a thumbs down from both of us

Rob Marshall’s Nine. At least they had the good taste to wait until Fellini was dead before defiling his work in this way. The fault lines in our unanimity of taste showed when the Art Student had trouble choosing between this, Inception and Scott Pilgrim vs the World, both of which I enjoyed.

Five favourite books read in 2010

By me:

I listed 121 books in my Reading and Watching blog during 2010. I didn’t finish all of them, but picking five favourites is necessarily pretty arbitrary because so many of them delighted and enlightened me. However, here goes.

China Miéville, The City and the City. Science fictional policier, marvellously taut and convincing us to believe in an impossible world.

Charles Happell, The Bone Man of Kokoda. Written by an Australian, this tells the story of a Japanese man who fought against and killed Australians in the jungles of New Guinea, and his resolve to honour his comrades who died there.

Amy Wilentz, The Rainy Season. I read this in the aftermath of the terrible earthquake in Haiti. It is a very rich introduction to the culture and recent history of the nation created by the first successful black slave revolt of modern times.

Jennifer Maiden, Pirate Rain. This may not be the best book of poetry published this year. Many people would probably give precedence to Les Murray’s Taller When Prone or Seamus Heaney’s Human Chain. But Jennifer Maiden gets my gong.

Marilynne Robinson, Home. If I ever convert to stern Presbyterian Protestantism, it will be because of this book and its predecessor, Gilead. I love the characters’ unrelenting quest to love with integrity.

By the Art Student, in her own words:
While I have read quite a bit of fiction that I enjoyed, the books that stand out are all non fiction.

Reza Aslan, How to win a cosmic war. I heard him speak at the Sydney Writers’ Festival this year. The book is a clear and compelling account of the past and current drivers of religious fundamentalism – Islamic, Jewish and Christian. It shows the common threads in religious fundamentalism while focusing on Islamic fundamentalist terrorism. What is interesting is Aslan’s description of the difference between Islamic nationalist groups (which the West should learn to love) and internationalist jihadism. By fighting the former, Aslan argues, we are pushing alienated young western-born Middle Eastern  Muslims into joining the latter and terrorism.

Carol Duncan,  Civilizing Rituals, Inside Public Art Museums. This includes a fascinating account of the development of public art museums after the French Revolution liberated the Louvre. It mainly focuses on the development of public galleries in the USA and England, but links these developments to a popular movement to have art galleries in all major western cities (including Sydney). But most interesting are the struggles about what galleries were and are for, how they should be funded and what they should show. In the USA, private philanthropists were the driving force in establishing galleries, allowing them to build spacious monuments to benefactors. The down side was that those benefactors wanted control beyond death, so that many galleries are filled with replicas of ballrooms and indifferent art that are never to be changed. Duncan’s final chapters critique current public galleries’ approaches to their art and audiences, making it clear why many people find the experience of visiting galleries unsatisfying and alienating.

John Hirst, Sentimental Nation, the Making of the Australian Commonwealth. Federation? Surely the dullest topic in Australian history. But to my surprise this book was a wonderful read of the decades-long fight for federation. Depressingly familiar in some respects (the Murray–Darling debate, immigration, taxes, mining, Commonwealth–state power sharing) it was also a wonderfully inspiring account of democratic processes that gave Australia a constitution. There were three Constitutional Conventions, with 60 men voted from  the colonies to draft, debate and redraft the constitution over 12 weeks each time. Once agreed on, the constitution was subject to two referenda before being passed. Town hall meetings were held in every suburb and town in the country, each meeting often taking four hours while every section of the draft was read aloud,  explained and debated. Hirst makes the back and forth of politics come alive with a contemporary feel.

Richard in the Era of the Corporation

Patricia Hill, Alice Neel. Alice Neel (1900 to 1984) was a US artist who painted mainly portraits of ordinary working people over from the 1920’s until her death. She was a socialist and worked as part of the Federal Art Project (a New Deal initiative) during the Depression. She only received recognition of her work in the 1970s, partly because portraiture was out of fashion in Modernist American art circles,  partly because of her left wing views and partly because of her gender. I love her work. Her portraits are often distorted yet capture absolutely a sense of the person and their context. She saw herself as painting ‘definitive pictures with the feel of the era’, pointing to her portrait of her son in a business suit, ‘Richard in the Era of the Corporation’ as a good example.The book is largely Neel’s own words taken from interviews conducted by Hill. An inspiring read for someone at the very beginning of an art career as she approaches 60.

Do tell us your bests of 2010 in the comments

Animal Kingdom

We’re largely giving the Sydney Film Festival a miss this year. Again. We had two disappointing years in a row a while back, and now the Writers’ Festival seems to have filled the need for a bit of festive culture as winter comes on. What’s more, the big hits of each year’s festival mostly turn up in the picture theatres pretty soon anyhow. I do miss the fabulous State Theatre picture palace, especially that moment where a guest director steps out onto the stage and gasps at the sheer OTTness of it all.

Tonight my Movie-Going Companion was otherwise engaged, so I set off to the Palace Theatre in Norton Street, which is palatial only in name, for a 6.45 screening of David Michôd’s Animal Kingdom. At ten past seven, the lights hadn’t dimmed. People in the front rows started a slow clap, but it didn’t develop any steam, though there were mutterings – a movie starting 25 minutes late is a rarity in these fast turnover days. A young man stepped out into the space in front of the screen, walked up to a microphone that was standing there minding its own business and started complaining abut the traffic. ‘I’m in such a state,’ he said. It took me an hour to get here from Bondi. But you don’t really want to know about that.’ He was right of course. But who was he? ‘I really am all jittery. Maybe I should just sit down.’

‘It’s all right,’ called out a woman’s voice from the now darkened auditorium. ‘We’ve all been there. Take a minute to calm down.’

‘Thank you,’ said the man at the mike, who looked a bit like he’d been sent by Central Casting to play a hipster in a Tina Fey sitcom, only with an Australian accent. ‘Thank you. I can feel the sharing.’ And the chance to deploy some benign irony seemed to restore his equilibrium. ‘But really, it took so long to get here, and I don’t just mean the traffic. I finished the first version of the script for this in 2000.’ Now we knew he was David Michôd.

When he left film school and heard that Lantana and other films had taken ten years to get made, he thought those people must have been weird But now he understands. He thought this script was ready to shoot in 2000, and told us to be glad that we weren’t about to watch a movie made from that script. You just keep chiselling away, a bit here, a bit there. You try to get someone to direct it and are gracefully rejected. And then you make it, and expect every screening to be the one where people hate it. ‘Please don’t let this be the one,’ he pleaded in conclusion. ‘Please like it.’

He fuffled around putting the mike away and walked out through the audience.Whether by design or by chance he had charmed us to pieces.

The lights went down, the movie came on without any ads, and there was no point at all trying to reconcile all that self deprecation with the confident story-telling that followed. All the performances were marvellous: the marvels included Ben Mendelsohn better than I’ve ever seen him, and Jacqui Weaver as a personification of the wolf mother: protective of her cubs and heaven help anyone who threatens them.

I came home one satisfied punter.