Randall Stephens: poet, idiot, cyclist

Words by Nicki Reed


Self-interest. It got me here. Self-interest isn’t only mine, you have it too. We are propelled by it; money, sex, art, sex, money. Self-interest has propelled me on a wet Wednesday afternoon to The Moat.

The Moat is a small café in the subterranean space of the State Library. As part of an Emerging Writer’s Festival and Australian Poetry collaboration, The Moet is involved in the Café Poets program. Randall Stephens is The Moat’s poet in residence.

I’m here to see Randall do his thing. He’s MCing a panel I’m on. We are to talk about erotic writing. Randall’s gonna life preserve me and you know, I’ve got to see if he’s up to it. Like I said, self interest.

I’ve met Randall. On his lunch hour at his day job. We met at the corner of Johnston and Smith, tram tracks, traffic, I stood on a corner and looked about for him. Is that him? What do poets wear? He probably wondered what does a novelist wear? This one wears jeans and a t-shirt and nerves around parking fines.

I guess I would have liked a cape.
Maybe Randall would have like a Fedora.

And back to The Moat.

My poet turns from man in the street to Poet Superhero. He’s Clark Kent morphing into Superman. Randall might say I’m overstating it. I’m not. Pith helmet, big brown leather coat, he sweeps into the cafe his poem already begun, a man in loud conversation.

Randall holds that tiny, deep space.

Buddy Wakefield’s ‘Information Man’ is seven minutes of eloquence, and anger, and imagery and challenge. The whole thing is a challenge. I make notes in the dark, ‘It takes a long time to make love with someone who hates themselves’ and ‘If you’ve never been rocked back by the presence of purpose
this poem is too soon for you’. The words are awesome, yep, but it is their delivery that amazes.

It’s not a recital, it’s an act, it’s not an act, it’s a performance. It’s a fucken gift, is what it is. It’s a poet digging another poet and he has dug hard to give the poem to us. Arm waving coat swishing hot doffing, a stutter, a raised voice, a stretched silence. ‘Information Man’ is mine now.

Poem two is one of Randall’s own and it’s called, ‘Because’.
I put down my pen. It’s all Randall, I don’t wanna make notes, I want to feel it.

‘Because’ is about a woman. A real woman? Someone he knows? A made-up woman? Somebody he’d like to know if only she rode into his life? Hey, I’d like to know her too. I took this stanza (Randall? stanza ? I don’t know) from Randall’s blog, Tales told by an Idiot

brown sugar not white
she’s films not actors
books not authors
she’s bikes not cars
a cyclist not a fix-ster
and a cyclist
not a lycra-ist

It’s not until Randall finishes his poem that I realize I haven’t taken a breath. I sit at my table and wait for my heart to get back to its sleepy regular.

Superhero poet? Rock star cyclist? Idiot? I don’t think so. Check Randall out – he’s working – and you decide. Me? I’m rapt. I have chucked any worry I have about our erotic writing panel in the bin. And at The Moat, on a wet Wednesday afternoon, I have made a discovery.

Self interest. It got me here.

Annie Solah