September in New Zealand

I'll be visiting Auckland for the month of September as a guest of the University. There's a packed schedule of events during my visit including a symposium with poets from Australia, Hawai'i, Singapore and New Zealand. Links to the information to date can be found below - and please click on the posters to enlarge them for reading:

For the full symposium program with information on the speakers and the associated public reading please visit this link.
For my schedule please visit this link


Tuesday nights in Adelaide :

click images to enlarge


1969 : The Black Box of Conceptual Art

Ian Burn, Installation Photograph for Xerox Books,1969

Currently on at the University Art Gallery, Sydney University
Information, gallery address, times, catalogue download : here

Here's a poem I wrote after seeing the retrospective of Ian Burn's work at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney in 1997:

At the Ian Burn Show
        MCA 1997

at the Ian Burn show
  there's a badly recorded
b&w video of Ian Burn
        & colleagues        performing
 anti-authoritarian art spiels -
drumkit, keyboards, guitar, voice -
  it's the 'Art & Language' days,
the mid-seventies -          recorded,
    most likely,    on a Sony portapak
         (I set one up -      a tripod
    in the lounge room
      of our communal house
& let it run       full twenty-minute
      brackets   to film   quotidian comings
   & goings).
ah -         here's Terry Smith
   with plenty of hair - a stringy beard
&, possibly, an Afro -  singing along
              in the refrain -
'...ee...gal - it - tar -i - an...ism...!"
I'm chuckling now - this is
   amazingly cheering -    I feel
      it's my culture - or was - &,easily,
 could become
                 karaoke !
as it contains,   for me,
    equivalent nostalgia.
ingenuous, idealistic
                  and schismatic !
direct-action practising populist artists
theoretical conceptual post-object artists
   (yet not always nor certainly pro-academic)
it was my schism too,       our exegesis,
      "artists think" ?        well, maybe -
 they did,           for a decade
all under the same
                   tin roof

from Text thing (Little Esther Books, 2002)

Ian Burn, 1969

Read a newspaper article here

Roger Cutforth, Noon time-piece (April, 1969)


'Boom' by Liam Ferney
(published by Grand Parade Poets, August 2013)

I had read the first eleven poems in Boom before they were collected here. In 2011 they were published in a neat chapbook called - how ironic is this for a poetry title? - 'Career'. I don't want to sound totally naive, but I didn't know for certain whether 'first eleven' meant something sporting though I had an inkling it did. So I actually looked it up - of course, it's a cricket team. Sport is an important component in Liam Ferney's poetry. A sports fan is happy being part of a crowd and in fact probably really enjoys the metaphysics of mass companionship so I think it's reasonable to say that Liam is not primarily driven by individual subjectivity. But reading his poetry I deduce that neither is he blinded by latest-literary-fashion-following tribal poetry behaviour. Perhaps living in Brisbane protects him from any such competitive, impenetrable and rarefied stuff. In other words, Liam probably gets enough of a dose of competition from being a competition spectator so his poems can remain characteristically distinct from a poetry mob.

However, there are influences and, rather than replicating them, Liam synthesises his influences. Among others, there are traces of the wonderful contemporary sonneteer Ted Neilsen, the bold vim of the adventurous 20th century-modernist travelling poet Frédéric-Louis Sauser whose well-known pseudonym was Blaise Cendrars, and, especially, the critical wit of the exceptionally vital and original twentieth-century Australian poet, John Forbes.

In fact Liam and his friend, poet Jaya Savige, read poems from John Forbes' last book 'Damaged Glamour' each day for a week during Liam's visit to Jaya at the poets' flat in Rome in 2007. Jaya told me in a recent email he is "certain [that way back in 1998-99] no teenager in Qld at that time, and few before or since, had read as much contemporary Australian poetry as Liam had." He also told me "Liam's first reading was in fact at the 'Warana Festival' - before it became the Brisbane Writers Festival (!) - WHEN HE WAS 14!!". Jaya went on to say "he was probably the most informed teenage poet of his generation in his state, and in hindsight, one of the most serious, committed teenage poets Qld's ever had." By his early 20s "Liam knew everything there was to know about contemporary Oz poetry, especially the 68-ers."

The first group of poems in Boom were written in South Korea and the blending of images and the sensuality of a hectic city is everywhere in them - like the poem 'sign on the dotted line' where many things are happening as the poet, drink in hand, watches tv and reports the goings on

chase the fishmonger’s asthmatic truck
clogging the warren’s chambers
susan sangsters lounging on the hoods

 of hyundais ajumma lugging cardboard

 ajeossi stoop smoking mild seven(TM)

 scooter delivery kim chi and pizza boy
sideways under a truck a michael bay hero
when you consider it skynet only considers itself
so we say to the fish go forth and conquer
they prosper on the fourth floor of the flophouse
propped between the bathhouse and the driving range
after the funeral they confirm it you were always
better than your caste there is no substitute
 for thinking
but abc asia and soju come close

Please explain? Okay. Google tells me a couple of language things - 'ajumma lugging cardboard' - 'ajumma' in Korean is a middle-aged woman, 'ajeossi stoop smoking' - 'ajeossi' is a middle-aged man. Michael Bay, as you know, is a high budget special effects action film director (he made Pearl Harbour, Armageddon, Nightmare on Elm Street and so on). The scooter accident where the boy dies must be horrific. It's all, together with Susan Sangster, a jumble of images in real life and on tv - the poet is drinking 'soju' -a Korean liquor that's a bit like vodka.

So you get the general crazy language mix and copious idiosyncratic pleasures of Liam's poetry. It's often a kind of freely-associated speedy world-travelling word salad of tumbling imagery and is exciting to read.

the subways empty for the quarter-final
while the postman is kept busy with dispatches
bullfights and canals from the melted western front

post-it notes flapping on the microwave:
you are your own cinema verite
all the rushes make the test screening

towards the denoument is a flourish - another sporting reference -

lennox lewis stops mike tyson in the eighth
and you invent an answer to your inadequacy
a postdoc thesis on rollercoasters and bliss
(Say Anything)

Liam's abbreviations, Korean and other languages-other-than-English terms, and colloquial acronyms will keep your search engines busy. For example, in 'Expecting Turbulence -

HMRG ( heavy metal? I don't know) Deep in my heart First chance I get I'm SoCo mofo (U2??) - JDAM's first,/questions second - I think I've decoded that part - 'Joint Direct Attack Munition or smart bombs first / questions second'

So although it can be puzzling figuring out some of these especially particular references, the poems provide so much imagery, humour, comment and movement that you can probably skip deciphering and enjoy the reading ride.

The same goes for the cricket references, hardly any of which I 'get' but that didn't stop me from thinking along and chuckling with Liam. But for actual cricket fans I'm certain it has many rewards. It's a local genre - the North Americans have poems about baseball, Liam includes cricket.

but the lights go out on us/ as lazily as a midwicket poke in the annual boxing day game/ michael slater has never known such a tragedy
(The Secret Life of Them)

and in a different poem -

The High Court straight drives its ton
/with the panache of a Bill Lawry knock, /tipping its bat to the bored crowds /
swatting at flies with cultivated indifference. /Wiping the leather & green off their creams /they decide the occasion calls/for a bleary barbie on the banks/of Lake Burley Griffin.

The poems also critique the shallowness of our fast-fix lives and are sometimes imbued with nostalgia for a better version of contemporary urbanity in the boom-time years and their myriad distractions -

that was the eighties nobody stayed for the dailies
(Think Act)

and in an early millennium poem: - he asks 'who says the naughties can't be fun' (riffing on both 'nought' - zero and 'naughty' - wicked) :

rather than celebrities the glossies give us notorieties
the gossip in the weatherboard suburbs

is as periodical as a cold sore
the pleasant machines
in the bourgeois estates
get whacked on irony and debt
play prime time remote control keno
if it comes up rove everybody wins
(The Secret Life of Them)

These poems are crammed with ideas and popular culture like zombie movies, all kinds of songs, all kinds of movies, 1940s films' wholesome romantic misadventurers like Andy Hardy and Jimmy Stewart as well as the previously mentioned Hollywood action movies. There are many places, cities, odd behaviours, politics, food, language, there's daily news, tv characters, spies, artists and more.

There is also much humour and occasional ironic self-deprecation as in quips like this one -

I learned surrealism
from travelling exhibitions
then did my best to forget it
hoping I could come off

 easy and casual

 like terry towelling hats
or cold beer.
(some nights the heat)

and other funny failure lines like 'my saison en enfer & the get rich schemes/evaporate like colonial best intentions/ or foraging all over town for Vegemite'
(Seoul Survivor)

Sometimes Liam's poems also display formal characteristics. 'Day of the Robots' is a pantoum or a villanelle (they're similar forms) - I think it's a pantoum - here are the middle quatrains -

An early riser’s athletic mystery

determined by a detective’s defective method.
An embedded cultural reference

 weaves the fabric of R. Mutt’s famous joke.

Determined by a defective detective method,
the curbside lunch, meat pie and Coke,
weaves the fabric of R. Mutt’s famous joke,
trademarked like a familiar sentiment.

The curbside lunch: meat pie and Coke;
a checkout chick’s smoke break lament
trademarked like a familiar sentiment:
kitsch is truth as we know it.

In 'No Room At The Inn', Liam's lines of thought take the reader from definite impressions of Blaise Cendrars, he opens with a quote from the trans-siberian prose - we know we're momentarily in Paris, and then, with a turn that's similarly visceral to Cendrars', we are suddenly in an exotic east or in a suburb

where our stomachs rattle like cathedrals
shuddering shocked earth of an invading artillery advance.
Over a breakfast of champagne sherpa-ed from the Crimea,
          Siberian pastries and unlikely fruit,
we expect good things to happen to good people:

and further along -

Sometime later, after the long early dark,
with the help of a hitchhiking tundra tamer
       we’ll shunt out of the station with a long march

 of Chinese commerce boxed for trade in Ulan Bator.

 Finally, a fan belt snapped on some post-industrial Leichardt’s Kombi,
as we slide our best silk stockings into place
that cough, more welcome than tubercular,
     tolls the glory of our departure.

Boom is Liam's second collection after Popular Mechanics was published in 2004. In a recent interview he was asked "How long do you generally spend writing an individual poem?" He replied - 'Five or six years. The initial composition generally only takes about fifteen minutes (I write short poems) but the polishing and tightening and drafting can take years. One of the reasons I am able to balance a demanding professional career and poetry is the fact that I write predominately short, experimental lyric poems which I can scribble off in a lunch break or in the couple of free hours I get an evening. If I was writing The Iliad I might struggle to find some balance but I’m not.'

These poems, although carefully constructed, never appear laboured or contrived. They move as easily as songs.

A few years ago Liam was 'Cordite Poetry Review's' editor. He edited a feature of newly-written Ern Malley poems. I think that was a demonstration of his light-heartedness - his ability to be genuine while not taking things too seriously.

There is much more in the collection but I hope I've given you some idea, a sample of the multivalent range of Boom. Liam's is a punchy, a-d-h-d-y, original poetic energy that is steeped in urban imagination.

The final poem 'K61: Beijing – Kunming' - is a vivid diaristic record that transits various locations - China, Brisbane, the UK, Nigeria - and several years. Here is the final part of the poem -

now slipstreamed it’s five o’clock fireballs

like a marshmallow forgotten on a twig

the villages are all dank water anonymous toil
bicycles with bent spokes they reduce pollution
for the olympics piped flutes harp in my eyes

i will wake to mountains or plains

 & twenty-four hours to go

The last line of Liam's bio note, which is also the last line in the book, says 'His passion is life.'

To quote from one of the poems -

and it is true that flowers are better than bombs

Peace & Lerv - here's Liam Ferney ....

For further information visit Grand Parade Poets


Five years ago I wrote about Susan Schultz's book Dementia Blog on 'the deletions'. You can find that blog entry here. Now, I have just finished reading the recently published Dementia Blog Volume Two, subtitled "She's Welcome to Her Disease".

This complex project records Susan Schultz's mother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s disease and Susan's life alongside and within that circumstance. 'Volume Two' follows the final stages of her mother's gradual surrender to this perplexing terminal disease.

Susan Schultz is such an intelligent, observant, inclusive writer that this book is rich, philosophical, graceful and capacious with so many intriguing poetic facets. It's often heart-rending, sometimes droll, always involved. It's also occasionally downright funny when she describes some of the unpredictable incidents and conversations between residents of the care home. She wryly encounters the absurd language of formal documents requiring payment, permissions and decisions that have to completed by the sufferer's next of kin. In this case, Susan is her mother's sole guardian. In the midst of a complicated jumble of emotions that are reportedly experienced by carers and relatives, the official forms seem ludicrously inane.

And then there are everyday incongruities like watching Planet of the Apes or Bonanza, lounging on the heavy generic healthcare-furniture in the TV room at the care home, juxtaposed with the tenderness and comfort of a soft toy dog that is reminiscent of a once-living pet that had met a sad end, and of Susan's mother, Martha's drawing of some perky terriers.

The general situation is complicated by Susan's living in Hawai'i and her mother's care home being located on the United States mainland, making efficacious responses and communication difficult. The daughter-to-mother telephone calls are poignantly minimal. The relationship inevitably depends on additionally stressful considerations like plane flights, hire cars, accommodation, places to eat while visiting.

Susan includes an array of thinkers and writers who have been engaged with either Alzheimer's disease or grief, mourning or memory in their various ways as she traces the daily lines of her mother's life and decline. There's a critical dialogue with literary historian Oren Izenberg's Being Numerous - Poetry and the Ground of Social Life. There are scientific and clinical writers, there's Thomas DeBaggio's autobiographical Losing my Mind blending with lines from poet George Oppen, who died of Alzheimer's disease in the mid 1980s. There are literary figures - King Lear meets The Little Prince - and more poets - Chad Sweeney, Alice Notley, Susan Howe's That This, Albert Saijo, Norman Fischer, and even, briefly, Allen Ginsberg. There's the wisdom or solace of The Tibetan Book of the Dead which Susan's friend, Sina, gives her at the airport when she arrives for what will be her final visit to her mother (who is, by now, in a hospice) and which, later, Susan accidentally loses.

Then there's the beginning of the abject state of grieving. Susan conducts a 'shadow-talk about mourning' with the late French philosopher Roland Barthes (she recalls attending a lecture at the Sorbonne thirty years earlier but doesn't remember anything other than Barthes himself, sitting addressing his audience).

Susan, who says 'It's hard to believe in memory when you see someone lose it' finds her memories of Martha that she had not, until now, included in her blog that 'memorialized her forgetting'. She makes a list of short paragraphs, several pages long, that fondly depict her well-educated, story-telling, witty mother's diverse, adventurous and lively life.

To quote Canadian poet, Fred Wah's endorsement of Dementia Blog Volume Two - "It is a poignant treatise on dementia written with grace and compassion, as well as a story that honors death and dying with intelligence and art.”

Both books are published by Paul Naylor's Singing Horse Press.
You can contact the press via the website.


Grand Parade Poets presents -

click image to enlarge

new books by Rae Desmond Jones, Rachel Munro and Liam Ferney
Sunday 11th August 3pm
Summer Hill Hotel
1 Lackey Street
for more on Grand Parade visit the site