Monday, 27 July 2009

vagabond holes

It was a great pleasure to receive in the post this morning the collection of writings on or for David McComb and The Triffids, Vagabond Holes, edited by Chris Coughran and Niall Lucy. The book has been a while coming due to the vagaries of the publishing world rather than the sterling work done by the two editors (though at last it found the perfect – and most appropriate – slot with Fremantle Press, just up the road from the cover of Born Sandy Devotional). It contains an unusual cast of characters: fellow musicians, poets, cultural critics and historians as well as variously well-placed people around the music world and presents visual images, memoirs, critical accounts, poems and other moments of illumination, all of it a testament to the regard in which David McComb is held. I can’t say how pleased I was to be invited aboard on the strength of a mention the band received in my long poem ‘Ornithology’. I noted the song ‘Chicken Killer’ but it could have been one of many other pieces The Triffids produced, like, say, ‘Hell of a Summer’ or Jerdacuttup Man’. They were a great band and it’s good to see that their work is mostly available again after languishing awhile in copyright neverland. The book will be on sale from September 1st and can be ordered through or the US and UK Amazon sites. Published simultaneously is Beautiful Waste, a collection of David McComb’s poems.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

birthday boys

I’ve noted before now the delightful custom around here to produce books celebrating particular poets. Last night at the Blue Bus reading David Annwn (top) presented Alan Halsey and Gavin Selerie (above) with Salamanders & Mandrake, a publication roughly coinciding with their 60th birthdays. A cast of thousands (well, 29 – 30 counting the additional piece by Johan de Wit included in an attached envelope) contributed to the volume. And despite the near tragedy of a double booking at The Lamb, all was well.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Hackney Downs

On Saturday afternoon a group of us gathered at a studio in Hackney where Amanda Welch’s recent work was on display. The Hackney Downs pieces were initiated in 2005 as a kind of release from a previous group of works. Sketches based on the artist’s frequently cycled routes across the park were produced from memory rather than on location. A large number of these, executed on paper of varied quality were hung in calendar-like batches from a central pole and from the ceiling in the stairwell of the studio, while some were grouped closely on the walls at the top of the stairs. The idea was not to be precious about these images; they were all aspects of a process of accumulation over time. Some larger painted works and three-dimensional pieces also partook in their own manner of this philosophy of impermanence. A model of a fountain that no longer exists, together with larger and smaller shapes of the park itself were made of papier-maché while a flimsy wooden structure revealed the shape of the park together with its present and previous pathways. These pieces could be catalogued in various ways as some written lists revealed; their arrangement in this particular case was contingent.

After decribing the genesis of the project and its methodologies, Amanda led us from the studio down a lane and under a pedestrian tunnel to the park on the other side of the railway line. Most of us carried items from the exhibition, in my case a small torchlike object which followed the shape and contours of the park on its green upper surface (the park is downland in the strict sense of the word: a rise, slightly off from the middle of the space, makes it impossible to see its opposite border). At certain points we would stop, signalled by the raising of the park ‘torch’ and Amanda would flip to the relevant image from a group of sketches hung together on a rod. The drizzle mostly held off so there was no need to rush for shelter or to protect the more delicate papier-maché items with plastic sheeting. The passage of time had already made some changes to the park, the most notable of which was the presence of a fairground on the rise. Groups of police officers were no doubt bemused by the parade of objects; the artworld’s variation on a Masonic march. Here are some more images. For further detail go to John Welch's blog.
In the studio. Sketches grouped, hanging from the rails. Amanda Welch centre:

Some sketches in the stairwell:

Two of the paintings:

The modelled fountain:

Painting of high-rises (only one of these now exists), white paper shape of the Downs (left), painting of the fountain pediment (right), wooden model of the downs showing existing paths (in wood) and earlier ones (in string). The white stretcher under the model is for transportation:

One of the lists:

My hand holding the small model of the downs:

The progression through the park:

Site of a former fountain:

The temporary fairground:

Friday, 10 July 2009

onedit 13

This month, Crossing the Line held their reading off for a week due to a competing event. Instead it happened last night at the usual venue and celebrated the launch of the latest issue of onedit. I only caught the first half of the evening featuring oneditor Tim Atkins (top, with lightbulbs going on), Jennifer Cooke, Emily Critchley (seen in mirror image with co-reader Jow Lindsay), and Harry Godwin (bottom). A great turnout for one of the better online mags. On the table were some new booklets from The Arthur Shilling Press - additional proof, if it were needed, that poetry is alive and well.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

post early for christmas

I’ve noticed that a number of blogs lately have been agonising about newness: what is new, what do we call it etcetera. We wallow these days in job descriptions like ‘post avant’ that indicate not much more than the fact that various writers of the past are now unavailable (if they haven’t been appropriated to death). Those who invent the labels often enough seem to be suggesting that all that came before themselves is fit for the dustbin of history. In an environment like this younger writers naturally feel that they should mark out spaces for themselves. Every few years there’s a new take on ‘realism’, which is fair enough I suppose because realism is always already the impossible project. The ‘dirty realism’ of the 1980s has now mingled its dust with flarf, becoming a new ‘edgy’-ness (a bit like the laughable pop term ‘emo’). It is understandable now that writing schools are churning out poets of all descriptions that this concern with branding should be with us. If I were a younger writer I might want to avail myself of some of it. But I think that soon enough I would be running for the hills. Only the originators of these house styles ever really want to hang onto their designer labels, and they often enough become embarrassments in their dotage.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

the soul years

At the beginning of the 1980s I was living in Sydney and very much into the pub band scene. At the Forest Lodge pub in Glebe the Magnetics would play. They were, for the most part, a three piece apart for the period when the guitarist from Dragon joined them. The audience’s response to this addition tended to echo the gestures of the teenage audience of the popular ABC TV show Countdown, on which Dragon (a NZ band) appeared. We would wave our hands above our heads (the Magnetics themselves would never appear on Countdown). Elsewhere, in places like the Rose of Australia in Erskineville, or various other inner city pubs in Surry Hills, Rozelle and Newtown, the R & B (in the old sense) Ratbags of Rhythm might appear, or the Bopcats (a band focussing mostly on rockabilly). I loved all of them, but the ones I loved the most were the soul bands. At various pubs in the inner suburbs one could see the Dynamic Hepnotics (whose singer Robert Seuss was one of the only people I can think of in that music scene to wear a cummerbund. He was a great singer, no doubt still is, and the band was as funky as it’s possible to get). My favourite band of them all though was the Champions, an impossibly tight soul group who never really made it onto record. The Hepnotics produced (as far as I know) one live and one studio LP (the live one didn’t really capture their style; the studio one was ok). The Champions only recorded an EP which didn’t in any way reflect the power of the band. You just had to have been there at the time. I was secretly in love with Sally King, the Champions’ singer, though I don’t think I ever spoke to her (the band did, however, play in their sets a couple of tracks that I’d passed on to them via cassette – ‘Soulful Dress’ was one of these). Most of these bands are mentioned in my long poem Memorials, published by Little Esther (appropriately enough) in 1996. I had a line therein about the impossibility of not dancing while the Champions in particular were playing. It was a bit clumsy till John Forbes, looking over the manuscript, gave me the right phrase: that these bands ‘made dancing your condition’. Some years later I came across a worthy aural survivor: a CD of Bridie King’s band. She was the younger sister of Sally King and a wonderful pianist, and on this album, My Blues, dating from 1999, a handful of great singers appear (including her sister Sally).