Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Coalcliff Days

Coalcliff is a suburb of Wollongong, about an hour south of Sydney by train and a little to the north of Thirroul, where DH Lawrence spent some time in the early 1920s. From the late 1970s to the early 1990s, a semi-derelict house perched near the edge of a cliff became a kind of semi-official squat lived in by the writers Ken Bolton and Sal Brereton, followed by Alan Jefferies. The building has since been bulldozed, but for that brief period it was a centre of activity for both poetry and the visual arts. Apart from those mentioned above the building hosted many poets and artists including Kurt Brereton, Pam Brown, Denis Gallagher, Micky Allen, Anna Couani, Erica Callan, and myself among many others. The Wollongong City Gallery is presenting an exhibition covering that period early in 2011. Connected with the exhibition there’s a blog The Coalcliff Days, to which I shall be contributing.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

out of the box

The critic Jed Rasula noted in his (somewhat prolix) book The American Poetry Wax Museum the dispiriting feeling induced by those anthologies in which poets represent the nation. He was spot on with that particular comment. How the heart sinks when news is leaked of another Australian anthology purporting to represent the whole, yet in reality arguing for special interests. I fear the new John Leonard anthology is just that especially if, as it seems, he has included in it all the poets from his own publishing house. However, Out of the Box, coming from the same publisher (Puncher & Wattmann) is something else entirely. The subtitle says it is an anthology of ‘Contemporary Australian Gay and Lesbian Poets’. It seems to me that it is the best Australian anthology for some years now. Of course it includes some poets whose work I’m not particularly enamoured of, but the arrangement of the texts (in alphabetical order of title) while seemingly arbitrary avoids altogether the hierarchies anthologies inevitably impose on their components and this makes all the poems work to contribute to the whole. The introductions by the editors, Michael Farrell and Jill Jones, are exemplary and the volume is beautifully designed, i.e. it isn’t an insult to the writers whose work it contains (Penguin take note!).

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Bill Griffiths

Reality Street in conjunction with West House Books has just brought out the Collected Earlier Poems (1966-1980) of Bill Griffiths who died in 2007. It’s a major event in the world of British innovative poetry so you can be sure the weeklies won’t even notice. Last night the volume was launched in London at Birkbeck College and the ‘Cycle’ sequence was read in its entirety by editors Ken Edwards and Alan Halsey together with Geraldine Monk, Sean Bonney, Allen Fisher and Maggie O’Sullivan. Most of the work in the books appeared in small press editions so what’s been available recently has largely been later work: the selection The Mud Fort (Salt), Durham and Other Sequences (West House), A Book of Split Cities, and A Tour of the Fairground (both from Etruscan Books) to name a handful.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

sound and unsound

Last night’s Lamb reading, the second in two weeks, featured Paula Claire and Anthony John. Apart from the reversible names the two didn’t share much else. Chalk and cheese more like. Paula Claire has been working with sound (and visual) poems for forty years or so now. Yet, apart from ‘Ode’, a piece listing words of Greek origin, the work (in the first bracket anyway) was less than impressive. The audience were asked to join in though, being Blue Bus regulars, it was probably unnecessary to explain the poems to us as though we were a group of primary school children. While I should have been wondering at sound and the potentialities of language I instead felt as though my soul was departing outwards into the rain and the gloom, leaving behind it a lumpen residue enduring these tedious exercises in audience participation. I just hope that Bob Cobbing was a lot better than this! I left at the end of the first bracket but not before hearing Anthony John’s ten-part poem which in its way succeeded in doing everything the ‘sound’ pieces promised but didn’t deliver. I would very much have liked to buy his book but it was A4 or larger and it was very wet outside. He made the reading a worthwhile one. Still, the thought of enduring another bracket of Ms Claire was enough to send me scuttling off to St Pancras.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Wednesday, 10 February 2010


Jacket, the online magazine, is moving to Philadelphia in a few months. It’s a pity in a way, though inevitable if the magazine is to continue. It’s understandable that John Tranter should wish to move on after setting Jacket up and piloting it for so long (for which kudos), but the move is at least partially happening for other reasons. Funding bodies in Australia have always been loath to support journals that either cross disciplinary boundaries or are unabashedly ‘international’. Ken Bolton, years back, had trouble getting continuing funds for Otis Rush, a magazine that devoted space to both literary and visual arts. The bodies responsible for these areas didn’t want their cash spent on anything else and presumably you couldn’t get funds from more than one of them. Scripsi magazine was in continual trouble for including too much ‘non-Australian’ writing, and Jacket has been dogged by the same problem. As a virtual journal it seems even more ridiculous that the arts bodies want it to be resolutely parochial (though some other Australian-based journals have gladly acquiesced). But the hate of internationalism has been with us for a long time now; it was one of the reasons so many people wanted to get rid of Angry Penguins in the 1940s. AA Phillips’s ‘cultural cringe’ still exists. Certainly the magazine is going to a good home (at the University of Pennsylvania) and I wish Al Filreis and the new editorial board the best. Pam Brown will be staying on as an editor for Australia and the South Pacific, so in a sense there’s no loss for those like me who write poems that hardly anyone elsewhere can pronounce.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

reeds, wires, voices, weather

Snowflakes drifted across the upstairs windows of The Lamb last night, though condensation soon enough rendered them invisible. The Blue Bus reading within, the first I’ve been able to get to for a while, featured James Harvey and Harriet Tarlo, with David Miller and Ken White playing pieces for clarinet and guitar. James’s work includes Temporary Structures (Veer) and From: ‘Workings from Marx’s Capital’ (a Kater Murr pamphlet). He read mostly new work including some sound pieces. Harriet Tarlo has published Poems 1990-2003 (Shearsman) and nab (Etruscan Books) and is the editor of a forthcoming anthology The Ground Aslant: Radical Landscape Poetry (also Shearsman). I’d not heard her read before as she seldom comes down to London, but it was worth the wait. David and Ken played pieces with improvisatory structures, the score for one of which appears below. After the break they were joined by Jeff Hilson, who read from Bird Bird to their accompaniment.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

two books

Two new books: Ken Bolton's Circus (Adelaide, Wakefield Press) and Jess Mynes' Sky Brightly Picked (Nottingham, Skysill Press). Ken Bolton's narrative work centres round a small circus arriving near Trieste. The blurb notes a nod to Robbe-Grillet's Jealousy, the movie The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, and A Bad Day for the Sung Dynasty. I think in its shifts of register it could also be compared to Nazim Hikmet's Human Landscapes. Jess Mynes' book is a spare set of pieces that take off from Mark Rothko's paintings. There's not a wasted word here. I'd recommend both of these books highly.

Friday, 5 February 2010

two gigs in wharf road, N1

At the Victoria Miro Gallery there’s a smallish exhibition of photographs by William Eggleston that is well worth visiting. Eggleston (b1939) has lived and worked mostly in Memphis, Tennessee and from early on made use of colour. His works have become images of choice for discerning rock musicians and chances are you’ll have seen some of them on album covers without thinking about who did them (here’s an example, above, from a 2004 Chuck Prophet disc). The work tends to focus on the funky end of town: the shower recess in a cheap motel, trash in a dumpster, a wall of centrefolds. In one shot Santa, bearing a wreath, appears to float above a tyre depot but we’re alerted by initials in the dirty glass that the figure is a decal on the window itself.

Later I went next door to the Parasol Unit to hear Peter Riley read new work. This consisted of longer pieces: parts of an ongoing poem that tackles knowledge in a distinctively non-Poundian manner nonetheless proceeding in an open form and returning constantly to the area around Halifax, not far from Riley’s own place of nurture, Stockport. It’s a project that he will not be done with for some time so I’ll have to be patient and accept that parts of it appearing here and there over the next few years will be as much as I see (or hear) of the work for a while.