Farewell poetry@fedquare

Words by Benjamin Solah

Poetry gigs come and go. It’s always so exciting when a new gig comes up, in a new venue, or if we see someone taking the initiative to keep our scene chugging along by setting up their own gig. I’m in awe of some of the gigs and their organisers that have kept gigs running for so long, for their hard work and determination but also convincing venues and organisers to keep supporting spoken word when it doesn’t always seem like the most booming art form. Some gigs have survived many venue swaps, as one pub decides to shun poetry, that convince another to keep it alive.

It’s also especially sad when a gig has to wrap up. Dimitris Troaditis has been running poetry@fedsquare for the past two years, where he hosted a monthly poetry gig, inside the Atrium at Fed Square or upstairs at Beer DeLuxe, and was especially encouraging of poetry in other languages, himself writing and performing poetry in Greek. Melbourne Spoken Word was very happy to support this event, publicising it along with all of the other gigs, and doing our little bit to get people along. I hope some of you got the chance to make it along one Saturday. I had the pleasure of performing alongside some refugee poets there one Saturday afternoon, and it was always a pleasure to meet the regular open mic readers that had called this event home.

Unfortunately, Fed Square have chosen to discontinue to the event from this year and so we’ve lost this treasure. Like Australian poetry as a whole lost ABC Poetica, and everyone remembers losing The Spinning Room due to the venue being refurbished, we hope that Dimitris continues to host a new gig at a new venue when he’s ready. As one venue decides to not support poetry, we’ll find another that does and continue to find people to support it so we can keep on performing.

Let’s make 2015 big for poetry in Melbourne

It’s been a busy year for the Melbourne poetry and spoken word community in 2014, and especially here for Melbourne Spoken Word. As usual, Melbourne was full of events on most nights of the week, we had special features and lots of open mic, and international poets and slam champions and people released books and CDs into the wild. We would love to see more of all of this in 2015. Melbourne has a reputation as one of the most vibrant, busy and exciting poetry and spoken word scenes not just in Australia but around the world.

In 2015, Melbourne Spoken Word hosted a number of events, 6 in fact. We held a showcase of Melbourne poets at the National Gallery of Victoria as part of the Melbourne Now exhibition in January, where we performed behind the waterfall entrance and lots of people came past and became exposed to a wide variety of poets. We were also very proud to host US slam poet Bill Moran, alongside local features Fury and Andy Jackson and many of those faces in the crowd were totally unfamiliar to us. We hosted our first ever ‘Poetic Lab’ with feature Steve Smart, where open mic poets get feedback on their poems, and we hosted two workshops, one with Brisbane poet Scott Wings.

But by far our most successful event was in September with our Drag Slam. We sold out Hares & Hyenas, and with Fury MCing the night, it was spectacular and very much in the vein of the unique poetry events we want to put on in 2015. We were event lucky enough for it to be the subject of a documentary, ‘Slam Poetry – Dressing the Medium.’

Our public goal right here, and we hope you’ll hold us accountable to it, is we want to host at least one event a month all year round, whether that be a feature poet, a special event, a workshop or a Poetic Lab. We’ll try to announce the events as soon as we know. We’ve got some cool ideas in tow.

2014 was also the year of the Crowdfunding campaign. We were pretty proud and excited to raise over $5,000 for the new website and our audio system and once again, we thank everyone who donated to us. Our goal in 2015 is to continue to collect ongoing donations, apply for funding, and run events and produce publications that can help us do what we love most, which is promoting and expanding poetry and spoken word in Melbourne.

Of course in 2015 our big project is the release of our new website. Our designers, Phil and Toby, are working hard on bringing our design to life where all of the gigs in Melbourne will become front and centre of what our website is all about, with individual event pages for each event, alongside more content. We hope more people will contribute reviews, interviews, their opinions and advice to make this truly a community website, plus we intend to get out and record more spoken word videos at some of Melbourne’s top events.

And of course, Audacious will be launching in early 2015. Our first spoken word audio journal or album is still looking for submissions. We’ll have a pop up recording studio in 2015 for submissions and we can confirm that the first issue will include touring American poet, Emily Weitzman plus the Victorian Finalist of the Australian Poetry Slam Championship and Slamalamadingdong Season Champion Brendan Reed Dennis. We’ll be opening pre-orders soon to help us pay for printing and the pressing of the CDs.

Personally, I have a million ideas for what we could do, but it’s often limited by funding or time, and so one our goals in 2015 is for more people to be involved in Melbourne Spoken Word and to help support people in their own projects. We’re very happy to reply to emails and chat to people at events if they have questions or need help if they want to put on a gig, publish their work in either audio or print form.

I’m issuing a challenge to all poets and spoken word artists to make 2015 big, let’s push ourselves, push ourselves in our own writing to produce new work, get it out there, on the open mics, as feature gigs, producing chapbooks and CDs, or submitting to Audacious, Going Down Swinging and any place that will take spoken word. Let’s push ourselves to put on new events, to cross promote and support each other’s gigs and projects. Let us all work together to bring us together even stronger as a community.

All that may sound very sentimental and over the top but there’s something in the do-it-yourself and community-minded nature of our scene that attracts people to it despite not having the backing of arts funders and big money promoters. Of course, if you have any ideas to improve our website or Melbourne Spoken Word, or the scene in general, we’d love to hear it, either in the comments or by submitting an article to our website.

A few tips on submitting your recorded poems to Audacious

So you think you’ve got a vivid poem or passionate spoken word piece that would be perfect for the first edition of our audio-journal Audacious being released next year, but not quite sure how to record it? Well, we’ve got a few tips to help you record your piece and submit it right to give it the best chance of getting in.

And to give you the best chance of getting your submission in, because we’d love a wide range to choose from, we’re extending submissions until Sunday, January 18 and before then, we’ll have a workshop with time for an open mic/submission recording session for those who can’t access recording.

  1. Follow the submission guidelines.
    The submission guidelines can be found on our Submittable Page here. Please read them carefully and submit your piece via the form. Please do not email us your poems. Please include a bio with your piece, but do not include a cover letter or a note in that box. We just need your bio. Also it’s really important that we get your recording in the highest quality possible which is why we only accept WAVE (.wav) files to produce our CD and upload the album to Bandcamp. Please don’t make a .mp3 and convert to a .wav file. Read on to see how to record your poem.

  3. Find a recording device.
  4. A microphone like this will only cost you $10
    A microphone like this will only cost you $10
    You don’t need a professional recording set-up to record your piece. If you have something like that, say a housemate has a microphone that they use to record music, or someone you know has a recording set-up, that’s great but not essential. You can purchase inexpensive microphones that plug straight into your computer from a computer store or off somewhere like eBay. Something
    like this(pictured) might be ideal for someone on a budget. You can also find microphones that plug into your smartphone to increase your quality of recording. You may also just record your poem via your computer or smartphone with the inbuilt microphone but it might not be as high quality, and it might be hard for us to hear it properly. When recording on your computer, you can download a free program like
    Audacity to record your poem onto and save it as a .wav file.

    For those looking to do more professional recordings, say if you wanted to produce a spoken word album yourself, you can buy audio recording interfaces for $100-200 and a microphone and cable for another $50-100 and record that way.

  5. Find a place to record.
    It is really important that the recording is as clean as possible so find a quiet place to record, with no background noise whatsoever. Some microphones will pick up sounds from the next room, or from outside. Best to stay away from windows and ask anyone in your house to be silent for the couple of minutes you’re recording. And it’s best to listen to your recording over after you record it, and then re-record if you stumble a bit on a line or hear someone cough in the next room, and stuff like that.

  7. Come to our recording session in January.
    We’re going to host a casual workshop in January at Under the Hammer, to help people get some writing done, with a few exercises and theatre workshops and a chance to share and ask questions about writing. In that time, we’ll allocate a section so people can record their poems and submit them. It’s preferable you bring a poem already and don’t just submit the thing you wrote that day. Fill out our poll below to let us know the best day to host it on.

    What day is best for our workshop and recording session

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    If you’ve got any questions, leave them below and we can help you out.

Can You Kill A Poet? “Our government” Kills Poets!

Words by Kylie Supski

For ABC Poetica

Perhaps, I attracted you, with this eye-catching title, but
it is up to you. You can take The Blue Pill, and continue
to live in a coma, a coma induced by words of Murdochs
and Packers, endorsed by “our government.” Or You can
take The Red Pill, read my words, “and I show you how
deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I’m offering is
the truth. Nothing more.” (Matrix.)

I was recently at “Dan Poets,” one of many Melbourne
Spoken Word events. The theme of the day was
      “Dead Poets Society”.
We read words of poets who are no longer alive. No,
they are not dead. Poets live within their words, and
as long as we read and listen to poets words they never,
nonever die. So a question is
      Can you kill a poet?
“Our government” by shutting down ABC Poetica did
just that. They killed poets whose words were spoken
and listened to during Poetica shows.

Perhaps, you may ask
      Why? Why Poetry is so important?
      Can we live without Poetry?
Years ago, I was studying mathematics, specialising
in Logic. At that time, I was often asked why would
you study Logic. I can answer this question now.
Logic is the DNA code for science. Without Logic
most of the things that we use today would not be
possible. Poetry is like Logic to science. Poetry is
a DNA code of our culture that develops through
words which are spoken and written.

One of the greatest writers, W. H. Auden, once said
in his poem “In Memory of W. B. Yeats”
      “poetry makes nothing happen.”
Perhaps, some of you would consider Auden’s words
as a dismissal of poetry. But I think, what Auden
meant was that poetry can make anything happen.

The avant-garde composer, John Cage, in his work
“Lecture on Nothing,” said
      “I have nothing to say / and I am saying it /
      and that is poetry / as I need it.”
To paraphrase, all words we say and write are poetry
as we need it. Poetry is everywhere. In our letters to
friends and lovers. In our personal diaries. In our daily
conversations. Words are often considered the best
form of therapy. Words help us cope and survive
many adversities we so often face in our lives.

Couple of years ago, I was at a point in my life ready
to give up. My concerned daughter gave me an empty
diary. Only one page was covered with words, her words.
Here is what she said:
      “I am giving you this book so maybe you will
      write again. The book is red, and red means
      love. And I love you, so the colour is perfect.”
The pages stayed empty for a while, until one day words
started to flow onto the pages of My Red Diary. Initially
words of other poets, but these words inspired me to write
again. The words, that you are reading now, were written
in My Red Diary.

My daughter recently told me, that she is receiving emails
with poems written by children currently being held in
Australian detention camps. They said to her, that writing
and knowing that perhaps, someone will read their words,
helps them to survive
      The Horror of
      Australian Detention Camps.

So what happened to “our country?”
     Why are we no longer
          “Land of the Fair Go?”
     Why is golden soil and wealth no longer
          for all of us to share?
     Why for those who’ve come across the seas
          have we built detention camps to share?
     Why is our culture once so rich and full of growth
          now being destroyed?
     Why does “our government” kill poets and take
          away the freedom to speak and write words?

Perhaps by now you’ve noticed, that when I write
the words
     “our government”
these words are enclosed in quotes. “Our government”
is not ours. It is not even a government. It is an assembly
of spineless puppets whose strings are pulled by

     The 1%.

The 1% who controls all the resources and wealth.
They have no interest in our culture or words.

Their ideology is
     “growth for the sake of growth, like Edward Abbey
      once said, the ideology of the cancer cell.”

Now when we know, it is up to us, to find the cure.

Interview: Randall Stephens on riding across Australia and touring poetry

Melbourne Spoken Word’s Benjamin Solah checked in on the controversial Randall Stephens as he begins the toughest leg of his cycling and poetry tour, riding across the big expanse of desert in the middle of Australia.

So you’re riding across the Nullarbor on a bicycle, tell us when and why you decided to do this?

indian pacificThe idea came to mind mid-2010, during my first poetry tour over here in WA. I was talking to a local Perth poet after a gig who’d just come back from cycling throughout Europe, and what an amazing time she had had doing that. I’d flown over to Perth and felt very little sense geographically of where I was, I mean considering Perth was touted as the world’s most isolated capital city. I thought a follow-up trip that involved going coast-to-coast on a bicycle would make for great experiences in getting to know and understand Australia, which was becoming more important to me, after having done a big bought of overseas travel.

But you know there’s never a singular reason for doing anything, there’s lots of whys wrapped around this. Partly to shake up my somewhat stagnant urban work-a-day lifestyle. Partly to (force myself to) get into better physical and mental shape. To have the life experience, and hence interesting things to write about in the future. But the forefront reason is to inspire other Haemophiliacs (and by extension, anyone suffering under limitations on her or his health) to attempt something that defies those limitations. So in conversation with our national Haemophilia organisation, I decided it was worth attaching a fundraising effort too. But also… yeah I just thought it would be fun. Life’s short, get some kicks.

That’s great, but what does this have to do with poetry?

on the roadWell, the very first poem I ever wrote was about my bicycle, so poetry and cycling have always had been inextricably linked for me. However, in less tangible/quantifiable terms I thought the best thing I could do for my poetry at this point was stop doing it for a while. I think I’d gotten to the point in Melbourne where my writing was really reacting to reactions to what I was writing, or venting, or attempts at caricature of masculine ideals, and I’ve been feeling very burnt out.

As you know I’ve caused controversy at times in some circles, a lot of it came down to misinterpretations of what I was presenting (in terms of typical heteronormative male attitudes) and looking back at this, I question myself what was really achieved. Not to disavow anything I’ve said or done, it’s all part of a continuing journey to find my voice and better articulate my concerns in life, but certainly now I wouldn’t be writing what I did a few years ago, and I have quietly retired a few performance pieces that no longer speak (no pun intended) to me.

So yeah with all that it seemed like a good time to go do something else worth writing about, y’know? Get back to what started me as a poet those seven or eight years ago, that is writing as a bi-product of the living you do, as opposed to what you’re living to-do. My mantra used to be “you can’t be half a poet” later it became “you can’t be just a poet” now I feel like you need to have, or to get, personal/life experiences worth writing about. I think I lost that along the way, in the last few years becoming more interested in characterisation and satire, as performance. An intellectual game that I know for a fact not everyone followed along with, or shared any interest in.

This trip is about gathering material for later use, keeping up an online journal (through the Facebook page), and I’m really enjoying this style of writing, an ongoing stream of consciousness, not wrapped up in any of the stylistic/performative trappings I’ve used for so many years. I just… say what I’m thinking. I know that sounds obvious, but for me it’s been a big deal trying to get to that place of pure expression.

But you’ve been performing too, right? Tell us a little bit about the poetry tour?

Enough Said -photo courtesy of Lorin ElizabethOh yes, of course. For better or worse (and probably contradicting everything I’ve just said haha) any time I go travelling now has to involve poetry somehow, either writing it or performing while I’m away – it’s too much a part of me to neglect.

There was no way that I could go through the six or seven cities on this route (Brisbane, Newcastle, Sydney, Wollongong, Adelaide, Perth, Fremantle) and not do at least some performing. Over the years I’ve made friends with lots of poets around Australia, and in some cases it was as much about dropping in to see them as getting feature spots.

Even though the logistics were difficult to organise on east coast… making sure that the dates I was performing were far enough apart that I could definitely cover the distance between destinations on my bicycle. Ultimately, I love performing for an audience, and it’s too much fun to miss out on.

On that note, any tips for poets thinking of touring in other cities?

Yeah, in terms of dos-and-don’ts there’s lots of advice to give. First of all you’ve got to be brave, inasmuch as not being afraid to ask for things, and secondly you need to have lots of patience and tempered expectations of what you’ll find in other states.

All the touring I’ve done has been completely DIY, no one organising any solo or supported gigs on my behalf, no agents or anyone one helping out with publicity or admin or sponsorship etcetera, it’s just been a matter of meeting people as they came through Melbourne, or being introduced to friends of friends.

I started touring as a double act with Steve Smart in 2009/10, he was already a fifteen year veteran of this stuff, the couch surfing, the late night buses, getting a few hours sleep at train stations, and he introduced me to a lot of great people. So he helped ease me into that world and on stage he and I played off each other really well as a double act. I was Kirk to his Spock, or the other way around.

So yeah, it helps to have someone to go with, who’ll hand-hold you and show you around. It helps to have merchandise to sell, both because it makes you more attractive as a feature and it shows people that your work is to be taken seriously enough, that you believe it’s worth paying for.

Do your homework… Facebook is invaluable like that, for finding out what and where the poetry gigs are, and who you may already know. Tell anyone and everyone what your plans are, because they might be able to help, or know someone else who can.

A big one (maybe the most important thing, actually) is when you’re contacting poetry conveners interstate, give them plenty of notice. It’s no good writing to someone saying “hey I’m going to be in Brisbane next Friday, can I have a gig, please?” Most poetry gigs worth their salt organise a few months ahead, and maybe they’ll have some wiggle-room, but really I think people deserve at least three or four months’ notice, if you want to find a good feature somewhere.

Wow… you know now that we’re talking this could be a whole other article. I mean I’m only talking about the small-time grass roots stuff that I’ve done. It’s a different thing again if you’re part of a festival or putting on your own book launches, fringe festival shows, doing workshops etcetera. That’s outside my experience, for the most part.

Yeah big topic that, so you mentioned before a fundraiser you’ve attached to the bike ride?

Oh yeah, it’s for the Haemophilia Foundation Australia (HFA) to contribute towards social programmes to help people with bleeding disorders, in terms of education, advocacy, material aid and international aid in developing countries too.

Thanks Randall. If you’d like more info or to contribute a small donation to the fund, check out his fundraising page.

To follow along with Randall’s’ online journal and photos, check out his cause page on Facebook. And Randall’s poetry website.

Submitting doesn’t mean submission

Spoken Word artists just get asked to do gigs, so are we out of practice of submitting our work? Melbourne Spoken Word’s Benjamin Solah ponders.

If you’re like me, one of the attractions to the spoken word scene was actually that you just weren’t getting rejected all the time. It can seem like a bit of a sad thing, but the truth is being an ‘emerging writer’ writing alone and sending your work out to strangers only to receive rejections with no feedback can be extremely disheartening.

The democratic space of the open mic can therefore be welcome but potentially misleading if you’re the kind of writing who’s looking to develop their own writing. It can be a good way to get initial feedback, reading the attention or lack of from the audience, or their body language and comments after. All of this can be useful. Though ‘politeness’ and social niceties can sometimes mean you might want to take advice or praise with a grain of salt (or sugar) unless you have a relationship with other writers where you can be honest, sometimes brutally so, without taking it personally.

But we’re accustomed to not really submitting to do gigs, unless in the rare instances of festivals, and so the open mic is a kind of no pressure approach to being published. And yes, it’s being published. More poets potentially reach more of an audience performing in a pub on a Monday night that if they were put in print, though funding bodies and other arts organisations might not see it like that.

Spoken word artists aren’t reliant on ‘gatekeepers’ in the same way other forms of writing are, we can just put on our own gig and self-publishing your collection is more acceptable, but submitting and being published outside of performances can still be useful. I’ve been thinking about this when producing Audacious, our new audio-journal. Are we a little out of practice of submitting? Do we brace ourselves at the thought of putting our work out there for potential rejection?

There are very few publications that accept spoken word recordings. Going Down Swinging is the best of them and one of the only places that has been doing it regularly. Audacious hopes to become the second. But other places do special editions where they might produce a CD with their journal as a once off. Overland have done two ‘Audio Editions‘ published online.

Having your piece as part of a CD and downloadable album of spoken word, alongside other writers, opens you up to new audiences and is a treat to existing ones. People that can’t attend gigs get to listen to you, those that enjoy your work live can take a piece of you home, listen to your poem as they’re on their way to work, or at home, without your physical presence not needing to be there. It’s like a gig but you not needing to be there. Perhaps it’s not as good because you don’t get to see or hear the reactions of people as they listen but they will remember your poem that’s played in their head as they do the dishes and when you’re next feature comes around, they’ll more than likely come along.

It’s best not to think about it as being rejected or accepted too much. From our point of view, we hope to listen to more poems that we want to publish than we possibly can and sending you an email saying we chose not to publish it is not a sign we thought the poem was bad.

We really hope the birth of Audacious can exist side by side with the likes of Going Down Swinging, begin to encourage further publication of spoken word, compliment the live gigs and perhaps begin more of a culture where poets record their work and produce their own albums.

Submissions for Audacious can be made through Submittable and close December 19, 2014. Though we might extend submissions.

Joel McKerrow & The Mysterious Few launch crowd funding campaign to produce their debut album

Melbourne Spoken Word’s Benjamin Solah had a chat to Joel McKerrow about his recent Pozible campaign launch, where alongside his band the Mysterious Few, they hope to launch an album blending spoken word and music.

What inspired you to form a band and collaborate with musicians? How does it enhance or support the poetics?

I have been performing poetry for years now and I absolutely love the synergy that happens between a poet and the audience in that moment of delivery. When the audience is right there with you and you feel as though you are on a journey together. Well, a few years ago I had the opportunity to do something with a musician and the same thing happened. Synergy. Connection. A fusion that surged me on in my performance and brought it to a whole different level. I have performed and collaborated on and off with muso’s since and in the last year found some that I just absolutely gel with and ‘Joel McKerrow & the Mysterious Few’ was born. The music, sets up a foundation for the poetry to sit upon. If its too overwhelming then it drowns out the poem, but if it is levelled just right and given the right tone to match the feel of the poem then it really adds another emotive punch to the lyrics. If poetry is about evoking a response and touching emotion then musical backing does the same, just as it does within a movie. It sets the feel that the words can then ride upon.

The other thing is that bringing in a band complete with muso’s and female vocals into a fusion of spoken word with acoustic, folk, rock type sounds is really not an expression that many others in the world are doing. There isn’t really a genre for it. Shane Koyczan would be the person doing this the best with his band, ‘The Short Story Long’. So its quite a pioneering field we seem to have found ourselves within.

What’s inside the poetics? Are these new pieces developed or older pieces with music mixed in? What kind of messages and stories are you hoping to tell?

The poetry of this new album is predominantly new pieces. There will be one or two renditions of older poems totally reformulated with the band, to the point where they feel like totally new poems. But it is mostly new material. Of late I have become increasingly obsessed with the power of stories and their ability to change the world around us. I even recently got a to do a TEDx talk focussed on such. I have been teaching lots of workshops in high schools all over Victoria in the last year and seeing what sharing story can do in their lives- it is EPIC! So much of the poems revolve around this general theme of stories and their ability to change the individual and the society. There will also be a few socially focussed pieces urging us to stand up for what matters in this world.

Why crowd funding? Do you think funding spoken word is harder than other art forms?

My band and I have decided to crowdfund for this album for a few reasons. Firstly it gives us the ability to bring about a really great professional album without having to take out a loan or sell a kidney. To bring together a quality album does indeed cost a lot of money and Spoken Word isn’t really at the point that music labels would pick it up. In this way Spoken Word is a lot harder to find funding for than many mainstream art forms. Though, unlike mainstream art forms it is not a saturated market. Instead of being one in a million trying to make it as a musician, we are one in a thousand trying to make it as a poet. And whats more we get to take a blossoming art form to a people that has, by and large, not heard it before. The moment when some experiences spoken word for the first time and falls in love with it and it changes their life. This is a way better reward than being able to get funding easily.

But more than the money side of things, through crowdfunding, the album becomes a community gathering point, a communal product. I am not going at this alone. I have my friends and my family and my poetry community backing me all the way. This is how it should be. The performance poetry scene is known for its community and its support of each other and I feel like crowdfunding really holds up such communal values.

Any advice for spoken word artists keen on collaborating with musicians?

Go for it. It absolutely stretches your artform in ways you dont even realise till you are performing so much better than you have in the past. It changes the delivery of poems and forces you to see them in a new light, in new rhythms. Make sure you find some muso’s who love improvisation and freedom and also who have a good ear to listen to what you are doing in the poem and so be able to follow you. Don’t let the music over-compensate. Let it be spacious- not to fill the silences between words, but to deepen the space between words. Experiment and have fun. You will be surprised.

Joel McKerrow & The Mysterious Few are trying to raise $7,000 to produce their album and have until the 15th of December to reach their target. You can find out more about their project, see the rewards on offer and make a much needed pledge on their Pozible Page.

The Last Word with Andy Jackson

Amanda Anastasi talks to Andy Jackson about The Thin Bridge

A bridge is an object that connects and provides passage, and you have combined it with a term that denotes fragility and perhaps constraint. What does the image of “the thin bridge” represent for you?

10733690_10152794914264329_327870466_nFragility, constraint and connection are exactly the sort of things I’m trying to capture with “the thin bridge”. The title of the book is the last line of one of the poems, and it’s a literal thin bridge, but of course, it’s also a metaphor. I’m thinking of that visceral sense of risk, anticipation and uncertainty which you feel in your bowels when you cross a bridge over a deep ravine or river. The bridge for me is poetry, but also our own bodies – a link between the way things are and the way things could be. A thin bridge is small, intimate and its success isn’t guaranteed.

The title to me seems fitting as your poetry is also so finely crafted. One of my favourite poems in the book is Elephant. What is the great ‘elephant in the room’ for you (individually/personally or collectively for us as a society)?

It feels like collectively there are many – the situation of indigenous people, the plight of refugees, the marginalisation of people with various (visible and invisible) disabilities. Sure, they may not seem like “elephants in the room” because there’s a lot of talk going on. But I’m not sure we really know what these imposing presences really are or mean. As in the poem, we’ve adapted to the presence and to our own silence. Perhaps we’re just holding the trunk and thinking it’s a snake (to paraphrase a Buddhist parable).

When do you know the sculpting of a poem is complete?

Ooh, tricky question. I think it’s when that slight wince I feel in my forehead whenever I read the poem has disappeared. Of course, sometimes I’m wrong, and I realise months or years later that there are things I could change. The editing process these days for me is shorter than it used to be. Perhaps I’m getting better at getting it down, translating that weird poetic impulse into language, but it’s probably more that I’m more comfortable with a poem that has space in it, that’s a bit wonky, a bit “unfinished”.

In Two Portraits, No Black Rectangle, you quote Hugo Williams: “Given that poems themselves are metaphors, I find overt metaphors more and more embarrassing in poems.” In your opinion, how does a poet guard against the overly conscious metaphor?

Ironically, probably by not “guarding against it”. The best metaphors are intuitive and strange. We write them without quite thinking. They can even be clichés or overly conscious. They just need to come out of your own particularity, whatever that is, whether you know what that is or not.

Name the poetry collection that you have kept returning to.

Adrienne Rich’s “The Fact of a Doorframe” and Sylvia Plath’s “Collected Poems”. Yes, I know, I’m cheating – not only have I picked two books, but they’re both multiple (selected and collected).

What is your favourite word?

I really want to come up with a splendid, rare word, but there are too many. I’ve noticed recently that I say (and write) “interesting…” quite a lot, so that must be a favourite. Including the ellipses – they’re important too. And “ellipses” is also a pretty delicious word…

Poetic self-portrait: in no more than seven words, describe Andy Jackson.

Another thin bridge trying to be here.

The Thin Bridge by Andy Jackson (Whitmore Press) is available online from whitmorepress.com and from Collected Works Bookshop (Nicholas Bldg, 1st floor, 37 Swanston St, Melbourne). It is a limited print-run of 200, each numbered and signed.

Photo by Nicholas Walton-Healey

Review: Zenobia Frost’s Salt and Bone

Review by ReVerse Butcher

Zenobia Frost’s debut collection of poetry Salt and Bone bricks out a space for itself and builds from ideas that Brisbane as a place is not usually instantly linked to. Death, longing, love, the risks of being intelligently unconventional, the chafing of history, and the act of contemplative observation are very far outposts from the sunny, sporty, beachy, conservative town its official facades decry. Frost’s verse balloons and gasps with an overwhelming sensitivity and sighs out a fog of metaphor that cloaks only to reveal the harmony and fragility of human life.

lowres_cover__47590.1407536915.1280.1280 (1)The Brisbane that Frost has conjured from the salt circle of her pages is not the Brisbane that you or I are likely to see unaided. It is one that has been stripped down to its skeleton and wholly examined. Salt and Bone, true to its title, is like an emotional autopsy, but not one in which the spirit seeks to escape the body. It is calculating, methodical, naked, and wholly beautiful. As a poet, Frost has placed its very heart in our warm palms, gifted us a twin city borne of her own capacity to see beauty through layers of history, regressive politics and meaning. And the sharp accessibility of Frost’s writing kindly lifts the veil for the rest of us to get a glimpse.

In Brisbane in Pictures (pp. 22-23), Frost floats short stanzas describing the inner-city after the floods in 2010-11, dredging powerful images of what was lost, changed or damaged from what was left behind, in both the massive:

“in car park basement
lake of sludge
a nurse shark drowns…”

and in the short, quick shocks of returning to the devastation of (un)familiar mundanity:

“…from the oven,
a second flood
of unscaled fish…”

“…a wheelie bin
trapezes from a power line…”

Also included in this collection is The Hobby (pp. 4-5), which won second prize in the John Marsden Prize for Young Australian Writers. Frost delicately explores the fine line between grave robbing, exhumation, archaeology and obsession in this poem, which she dedicates to Anatoly Moskvin, a cemetery enthusiast of an entirely different kind.:

“our histories are six foot in all their rot
I’ve exhumed and slept in coffins for this art
I have walked for miles with my chisel
I’ve eaten dirt and sipped from graveyard puddles

yet with one bag of much loved bones
you find me, and you call me mad”

The themes of residue, archaeology, history and narrative are ones that Frost investigates in both a wider context and in a more personal one. In Archaeology (pp. 6-7) she compares two kinds of being studied, one post-mortem, desiccated and academic, with another kind, being stripped back and admired by a lover. The similarities are both moving and uncanny.

One of Frost’s strengths as a writer is that she has found a vocabulary for what some may label as morbid, without being maudlin or over-indulgent. Her observations are exquisitely described, and remain as capsules of tender moments, a tantalising meta-history of personal moments that whisper their place in a much wider world. She has a brave and exciting voice, and it is no wonder that her first collection was shortlisted for the 2013 Thomas Shapcott Prize.

I would recommend Salt and Bone to poetry lovers both far from, and within Brisbane, as while it does evoke a very particular Brisbane tone, it does so in a manner and context that can be admired from anywhere. Personally, as a Brisbane ex-pat, I found myself moved by a strange familiarity haunting these poems. The descriptions of the city, suburbs and sense of place itself was true enough, but Frost, with a rare and fresh talent has resurrected an entirely different vision – one that hit me with waves of deja vu for a site/sight I felt melancholy for missing before. Be aware, this is no tourist brochure. Salt and Bone reads more like a grimoire written in saliva by the tongue of reverent memory, ancient schematics drawn in ash threatened by a sudden wind, or a epitaph, like the one so fittingly outlined by Frost herself in Arrivals/Departures (pp. 49-50):

“In some languages, hello
is the same as goodbye”

However, I certainly hope that we won’t be saying goodbye to Frost’s vibrant writing talent anytime soon. I believe Salt and Bone is an achievement that marks the beginning of what is sure to be a bright and shining future bibliography.

Salt and Bone by Zenobia Frost in published by Walleah Press where’s available online for $20. The book will be launched in Melbourne on Tuesday, October 7 @ 6pm at Hare Hole, 63 Johnston Street, Fitzroy.

Review: Magic Steven’s Try to Love Everyone

Review by Fury. First published at IllegitimateTheatre.com

When Magic Steven walked onto the stage, I’ll admit to being a little bit worried.

His opening music played and he pulled out a notebook of which he started reading from not unlike a fifteen year old high schooler might do for his out-loud homework assignment. I shuffled in my seat. I worried for him. This could all go so horrifically wrong. I felt like I would be spending the next hour trapped, listening to the smatterings of sympathy-laughs from the audience; something I find more cringe-worthy than The Office. I needn’t have been worried, however, as before I knew it I was full-belly laughing with the rest of the crowd.

Magic Steven: Try to Love Everyone is a very minimalistic show. The flashiest aspect of which is when he says “thanks Jess” at the end of each piece and Jess, presumably, plays the music. His really, really, really deadpan tone of voice and presentation compliments the style of writing to a tee. It’s quirky, sideways writing filtered through absurd half-logic that makes Steven so funny.

He describes talking to a girl at a party about how sometimes he pretends to drive his car: sitting in it behind the wheel completely stationary but pretending to be turning down streets and the like. This sort of childhood playfulness is completely lost on her – especially when he sees her later on that evening, parked in the driveway of his friend’s house. He toots at her, waves, then continues to pretend driving on.

Ultimately Steven’s Try to Love Everyone strikes startlingly close to A Complete History of My Sexual Failures –an auto-bio-documentary about Chris Waitt who spends the entire documentary trying to figure out why his romantic relationships failed so miserably. Try to Love Everyone, however, has less self-flagellation and better humour as the stories that Steven’s encounters are largely very personable.

I imagine actually encountering one of these odd instances Steven describes would actually be a bit intimidating and confusing. They were funny to hear from him, though, because Steven himself seems very intimidated and confused; harshly nudged onwards by an internalised idea of society’s expectation to find and keep a girlfriend.

It’s both endearing and unsettling to see him become aware of his own biases and objectifications of women. Compelled to be a better person and conflicted about how to do so, he comes across as torn; incapable of approaching or understanding both the biases he has and the symptomatic echoes of objectification.

This may well be a farcical act that he puts on – an extended characterisation of a facet of himself – but in an age where women are subjects of extreme harassment online (amongst other things) this sort of representation is interesting and really important in understanding how society shapes men’s actions towards sexual partners.

Magic Steven is performing his final show at The Toff in Town on Sunday, 5th October @ 8pm for $12. You can book on the Melbourne Fringe website.

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