Tag Archives: Kate Middleton

Sydney Writers’ Festival: My Day 5

Sunday morning gestured vaguely in the direction of imminent winter. The sky was overcast and the breeze was making a stab at being chill. By the middle of the day, we were back in balm once more, but don’t anyone mention climate change. If I was  a truly conscientious blogger I would have managed at least three events, but non-SWF life called, so I’m reporting on only one:

10 am: Real Worlds / Imagined Worlds
This poetry session was chaired by Ivor Indyk, whose Giramondo Press publishes all four poets on the panel. (It also publishes at least two of the #threejerks from yesterday, which says a lot about the diversity of its list.)

Having acknowledged the traditional custodians, Ivor also acknowledged the slipperiness of themes at the SWF. The title and description of the session were what he had come up with for the program, he said, but the poets might well decide  to read something else altogether. The theme, which might or might not hold, was to be travel – either to other places or to other realities. Actually, it’s hard to imagine a poem that can’t be tied to that theme somehow so it was fairly safe.

Judith Beveridge took us to ancient India in readings from her new book, Devadatta’s Poems, written from the point of view of the Buddha’s cousin who tried to kill him three times, and in his voice: many intensely physical images of unpleasant things, delivered in Judith’s cool, self-effacing manner.

Ali Alizadeh ruminated a little about whether the whole idea of travel poem amounted to some kind of commodification, then read a number of what I think were unpublished works, plus ‘Robespierre’ from Ashes in the Air (my blog on which is here).

Kate Middleton’s most recent book, Ephemeral Waters, is a trip down the Colorado River, so she fitted the theme exactly. I especially liked a poem about Monument Valley, bristling with movie references (the Valley and the poem both). My sense is that we got the barest hint of the richness of this book.

Ivor Indyk introduced John Mateer as Australia’s main traveller poet. He read from his most recent book, Unbelievers, or ‘The Moor’ and other places, taking us to mediaeval Spain and Portugal, and then to those modern places.

There was time for questions. Poetry readings always seem to provoke questions that are either profound or silly, or both. Here the first question, something like, ‘What use does poetry have in the West, for us … for me?’ provoked interesting responses. Ali Alizadeh took it as a challenge – ‘You obviously think it doesn’t have any use, from the way you asked the question’ – and went on to argue that poetry is useless: it doesn’t make any money in the novels do, and it doesn’t give information like non-fiction. He then ruined his own argument by telling us he was working on a poem called ‘The Wink’, so that people would never forget what kind of man we have as Prime Minister right now.

The other question was even more profound/silly. ‘How do you work out what words to use when you write poetry?’ As the questioner explained what she meant, it emerged that as someone from a complex cultural background, she was wrestling with how to write when it felt as if she had to choose between languages and cultures. Again, Ali Alizadeh played the enfant terrible: ‘I disagree with you about cultural difference. If someone came here from Mars and looked at us, they’d say, “You all look the same to me. Get over it.”‘

And my Festival was over: three poetry sessions, two movies, one evening of stand-up, no rain; the world as a battlefield, the heart and mind as tools for liberation; a lot of laughter, a quantity of rage, some tears, and one or two gasps of delight. I got to see a fraction of it, but I intend to see more by way of the blogosphere and podcasts as I seek them out or stumble across them. Plus, I’ve got a swag of books either already bought or on my list to buy.

I love this Festival.

 

Southerly 72/2: True Crime

Melissa Jane Hardie (guest editor), David Brooks and Elizabeth McMahon (editors), Southerly Vol 72 No 2 2012: True Crime – Every Contact Leaves a Trace

Southerly 72-2 cover_Layout 1

The Southerly of my youth, whatever its contents, always had the same staid, non-committal design: a single colour cover with a small blowing-wind logo the only decoration. (For non-NSW readers, the southerly is a cool and often rain-bearing wind from the south-east, famously welcome for its sudden arrival on stinking hot summer days.) Those days are long past, though the little wind is still there above the title. This issue’s cover, featuring an enigmatic photo from the NSW Police Forensic Photography Archive, is a perfect teaser for an issue built around true crime stories, more than one of them drawing on that same archive.

The archive, consisting of 130 000 photographs taken in the first half of last century, found without any accompanying documentation and now held at the Justice and Police Museum in Sydney,  is an Aladdin’s cave for researchers into Sydney’s criminal history. Peter Doyle’s ‘Detective writing: mapping the Sydney pre-War underworld’ is a fascinating dip into it, complemented with an account of a couple of relatively long-lived publications, which he describes as ‘kind of ‘ trade papers for cops, full of vivid and sometimes lurid portraits and narratives from the criminal scene. In Southerly‘s online section, The Long Paddock, Ross Gibson’s ‘Collision Course‘ plays with the narrative possibilities of a selection of images – though none of them are as queerly suggestive as the one on the cover – and refers the reader to his ongoing project with Kate Richards, Life After Wartime. Marise Williams, in ‘Women’s Work’, explores the same milieu, though without drawing on that archive: the women of her title are Kate Leigh and Tilley Devine,who ran organised crime networks in Darlinghurst in the 1920s and 1930s. It’s not just the covers that have come a long way since the staid 1960s.

My favourite single prose piece in this issue is Cassandra Atherton’s ‘Raining Blood and Money’. Classified as fiction, it’s a graphic imagining of New York’s terrible 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist fire, in which 146 people, most of them women workers, died in 18 minutes. The fire was hugely significant in the history of women and labour in the USA, and in the century since it happened it has given rise to innumerable songs, stories, monographs, rallies, and organising activities, as the links on its Wikipedia page demonstrate. Some stories need to be told and retold, and Atherton’s telling feels as fresh and visceral as if it happened yesterday.

Of course, Southerly is still a scholarly journal, so: there’s a theoretical consideration of sensationalist 19th century crime writing; the formidable thinking of Deleuze and Guattari is brought to bear on Ned Kelly’s Jerilderie letter; a Black Saturday arsonist is considered in the light of the different understandings of the notion of  ‘abjection’ in the writings of Julia Kristeva and Judith Butler; Schapelle Corby is the subject of abstruse reflections that include such highly technical language as: ‘To be where you are … requires a sense of affective difference, understood as either the Spinozan–Deleuzian mapping of co-ordinates of intensities or as the forms of projective identification required in nominating and refining the arbitrary and violent constitution of the nation-state.’ Lit crit has moved on since my day.

There’s forty pages of reviews, including Kate Middleton in elegiac mode about the late Peter Steele’s Braiding the Voices, and a swag of poetry, of which Adam Aitken’s ‘The plein-air effect (after John Clare)’, Michael Farrell’s ‘Disapproval’ and Hazel Smith’s ‘Experimentalism’ stand out for me.

A dip into the Long Paddock  came up with not only Ross Gibson’s piece, but also Melissa Jane Hardie’s review of A Tragedy in Two Acts: Marcus Einfeld & Teresa Brennan by Fiona Harari. I met Teresa Brennan once, and am glad to see that this book makes more of her than a name in a false alibi: it doesn’t mention that she was at one time a writer for Barry Humphries/Edna Everage.

Heat 22: The Persistent Rabbit

Ivor Indyk (Ed), Heat 22: The persistent rabbit (Giramondo May 2010)

This issue of Heat has much that is wonderful. The title, following tradition, is a phrase chosen apparently at random from the contents, in this case from π.O.’s exuberant nonsense poem ‘Rabbit Proof Fence’:

The average person blinksoooo22 rabbits a minute.
Burke & Wills went into the desertoooowith a dozen rabbits
Obsession isooooa persistent rabbit.
The causes of a rabbitooooaren’t clear.

Perhaps Ivor Indyk, the editor, is quietly suggesting that the seemingly  miraculous persistence of Heat owes not a little to obsession.

I understand Heat to be about diversity, about presenting a version of literary Australia that is open to the whole planet. It often includes, for instance, travel writing, translated pieces, news from abroad, and fiction, essays or images that grow from places where cultures intersect. In this issue there are examples of each of these – respectively, Barbara Brooks’s self-styled fictional memoir ‘Lost in the House’ (which powerfully combines tales of travel, dementia, memory and intergenerational relationships); Stuart Cooke’s ‘Two Mapuche Poets’ (the Mapuche people are indigenous to parts of Chile and Argentina); Priya Basil’s ‘My Home is Our Castle’ (about a communal housing project that won a major architecture prize in Berlin last year); Michelle Moo’s colonial historical fiction, ‘New Gold Mountain’ (white women and Chinese men on the Australian goldfields); Barry Hill’s ‘Ezra Pound: The tragic orientalist’; and the centre section of art by Guan Wei, ‘Longevity for Beginners’. (The last three provide a nice example of the kind of counterpoint that Edward Said recommended.)

Apart from Barbara Brooks’s memoir three pieces stood out for me.

Brendan Ryan (whose book of poetry, Why I Am Not a Farmer, I am now actively seeking) has a gripping personal essay on the 1983 Ash Wednesday fires in western Victoria, which is enough by itself to justify the price of the journal. Sadly, not even part of it is up on the Heat website.

Lee Kofman’s essay, ‘Revisiting the Geography of My Body’, just as gripping and as intensely personal, includes incidental elements of a migration story, but is mainly about scars, particularly scars on a woman’s body, and their almost complete absence from literature and visual arts: wounds, scars as something to be healed, scars on men (she doesn’t have to mention Coriolanus), but scars as such, particularly on a woman’s body, reside ‘outside the linguistic and public realm’. By sheer chance, I happened to walk past this piece of graffiti in Newtown just as I finished reading the essay. I hope Ms Kofman would enjoy it:

I said I wouldn’t whinge any more about proofing errors in this Heat, but there is one good old-fashioned belly laugh in this essay. The pursuit of bodily perfection, it tells us, ‘can be traced back to Pluto’s ideal of human beauty as the “natural”, unmarked body’. Roman myth, presumably, rather than Disney.

Of the poetry, Kate Middleton’s poems on a Hansel and Gretel theme stand out for me. They are billed as excerpts from Where Dingoes Tread. I look forward to seeing the whole thing:

Remember when hunger
was simple?
ooooooooooooThere was nothing
and we ate nothing. Then plenty returned
and I turned
to austerity.