Monday, December 21, 2009

The Carnival (Second Instalment)

A friend of Master Cano’s, a bishop, had died and left the old man a trunk full of manuscripts, although it would seem the manner of the good bishop’s death left his servants confused and some of the manuscripts lay prone by an open window in the worst of the January blizzards. All in all, though, the damage was slight, for it was good vellum, well cured.
  For a man who never seems to leave his chair Master Cano has a good many friends. Rosa curled her lip at me and bore those perfect teeth when I happened to pass the hour with this. I am used to the road, whistling what I like. It’s only goats like you who chase the world sinking your teeth into everything! And she spoke with such authority on the matter I let it rest. The world has so many corners, I doubt I will ever quite get the shape of  it.
  With her proceeds from the Carnival, Rosa paid for the old man’s gift to be bound in leather, with the added innovation of cloth sleeves to limit any more damage from the elements. This final gesture softened her in the eyes of many as they licked their greedy fingers and opened the volumes as heavy as a child.
  They have become Master Cano’s pride and joy, those seventeen books of velum and cloth, and when he thumbs through them of a night, the fire dances in those eyes at once radiant and forbidding as old wells with love of his old friend and his new, this strange girl who happened one morning like a kitten on the stairs.
  Of all these books it is the fables of Phaedrus to which he turns when we are all gathered round. And of all the fables it is “The Eagle and the Crow” that he turns to with the same wry grin whenever Rosa staggers home flushed with wine and hungry for the smoke from the fire, barking curses at us bent over her bowl of straw and smouldering dung.

Opimam sane praedam rapuisti unguibus;
Sed nisi monstraro quid sit faciendum tibi,
Gravi nequiquam te lassabit pondere.

  The fate of that hapless tortoise always seems to bring a tear to her dark, lustrous eyes, dropped from the stars, from the eagle’s talons, at the behest of a crow, so that he who had been protected by nature would offer up a feast to the lion of the skies and that shiver of death in the world.
  “Nature is a cold, dark place,” she would hark at us as though her heart were already flapping in the crow’s beak. “Nature is a bully. Look where I am! Your crows are monsters and your children never cry!”
  And so she would go until the smoking dung had put her to sleep or made her purge herself all over Maser Cano’s Flemish rug and she would berate us with lolling eyes and a tongue heavy as vellum for making her smell like this. She is a strange creature indeed, but she loves Master Cano like I have never been fortunate to witness love in my short sorry life, and for that I am glad.
  Come May and the first crow clouds of summer, a fresh garrison brings news of the mysterious hill in Hungary and of the river vanishing as their horses drank, taking their reflections with them. Pistoa has gone to investigate, or so they say, but I suspect he has been locked up again. On the first day of Lent I saw him in a new coat and shoes, but where would a journeyman find money for such things in winter?
  I only say out loud what the fire is asking, but Rosa scalds me until old Cano shoos her out of the house with his largest plate of silver. He wants her to see if this story of the horses is true or just another wide-eyed tale carried like a cough with these farm boys from the east.
  “Your friend is a magician,” he snarls at me when she is gone. “To make a girl like that love anyone. One day here, one day gone. Psssst! That is love!”
  But the old man is wrong about at least one thing. I have no friend Pistoa. He is a man I pass on the road sometimes. Mostly south of the old watchtower, and with the sun still low in the east as though the world were just being born. That is the only place I know him, despite his breath on my neck as we grind and saw in a dozen different towns, his wall-eyed stare through the drunken Chinese sentries, and all those twisted chisels.
  “So?” asks Master Cano when Rosa finally returns.

  “Nothing,” she says looking like one of those puppets at the Carnival, the strange flush of a peach picked a little too early. “I stood as close as I am to you. Closer. Look, that’s where I wrote my name in the fog from their breath. I could see their flanks, every hair every bristle, but not their faces. They’re so tiny and frightened. Father, how could anyone whip them all that way?”
  And so her voice will rise that pitch now Pistoa has gone east the way of winter, the way those tiny horses have come.
  It was about this time that the gargoyles began to disappear from the cathedral in Perugia. The previous summer we had worked to shore up the southern wall of the nave which had subsided so suddenly and so dramatically that a man could pass a pig’s bladder through the cracks. It was an arduous couple of weeks in the Umbrian sun under the remorseless gaze of the Bishop who had us marked down as vagrants and thieves the moment we arrived with Pistoa’s drunken body lolling about in a cart.
  When the first gargoyle disappeared, the good Bishop naturally assumed one of our party had pilfered it, although we had been clear of his parish for weeks by then as a simple check of the Chinese records would have told him. The Bishop, though a man not so much more gone in years than myself, has assumed the air of a much older man. And although such assumptions have profited many a man before the good Bishop, and will no doubt do much the same for young ambitious men a thousand years from now, it does not serve a man well in such changed times. All the same, the Chinese posted a guard on our camp at La Spezia while we mended the sea wall, and that seemed to be an end to the matter.
  The gargoyles sit, as gargoyles will, atop the tallest spire in Perugia leering down over the square hundreds of feet below. To reach these ugly, slimy creatures a man would need to grapple himself in an elaborate arrangement of ropes and pulleys, all of which would have to be acquired through the guild, requiring the signature of the Captain of the Watch and the obliging citizens to avert their collective gaze while the man made his ascent and collected his prize of a ton or more of ugly, slimy stone. And yet the gargoyles are gone and we have been summoned back by the Prefect on the Bishop’s behest, for the one is convinced there are dragons where the other only sees thieves.
  Good to his word, the Prefect has delivered four large slabs of stone to the southern corner of  Piazza Piccinino. They have been lying in wait for us for quite some time, because the local women have taken to beating out their washing on them long enough for those great bleached slabs to have the faint tang of a cistern.
  Pistoa is in one of his more conciliatory moods as I and Guido the One-Eyed and the young boy Francesco hammer out a price with the pie-faced Bishop and his tremulous flock of clerics with their fat ledgers and hooded arms bloodless and shiny as a licked plate.  Since his last trip to the Magyar plains to see for himself this miraculous hill, Pistoa is a little more forgiving of the world, as he often is after one of these “pilgrimages” of his. He even offered to step in when I began to lag at the saw, at which young Francesco, covered head to toe in fine white powder, laughed all stiff-necked like one of those ghosts the Chinese chase with their paper dragons.
  It was decided as the clouds came over that we would drag the sawn stone to the cathedral steps, where Pistoa and Guido the One-Eyed could begin carving those horrid things townsmen deem necessary to safeguard their souls. There the washerwomen would not trouble them, for the church stands on the far edge of the square where the stones stop and the dust starts. We were given ten burly sentries to help us, silent red-skinned men with eyes like donkey’s arses who showed us an ingenious way of rigging two poles so that we could carry the stone in a kind of cradle between four of us, even showing us how to march in step so that the huge stone wouldn’t swing and throw us off our feet.
  There are tiny, feathery cracks in the stones of Perugia. I have noticed them before, but never in such numbers. Last November I was passing through this square with the watchman’s bell and a blizzard on my heels, for Perugia is very much the Bishop’s town and even the Chinese are billeted at his leisure.You couldn’t help but notice them; as though the town were built on a slowly thawing river.
  Today, at the foot of the church, one of their gigantic beet-faced sentries got down on his knees and began running his thumb over those cracks like a tiny child. The Chinese shrugged their shoulders at the spectacle, for he was Armenian and not strictly speaking one of theirs, and so we all laughed until Pistoa spat for want of anything better to do. Because kindness exhausts him like a pretty girl will an old man, and because we were working to the Chinese watches, as is their custom in Perugia. And because their captain refused to take off his shirt.
  There was a time Pistoa commanded a bevy of men to cut and grind on his orders, but that was all a long time ago before the world got picked up and put down. I often try to imagine him carrying the rod and gloves barking orders in the square at Orvieto, all puffed up like a peacock, but I can never quite put his face to the gestures. Pistoa had a wife, they say, but we have all lost something.
  The moment we arrived in Perugia, people have been asking us whether we have seen the dogs. Since the Chinese came dogs are not left to free roam as they used to, which I deem another strange blessing of these times. To be set upon by dogs on a lonely road was once the abiding fear of journeymen, but for a long time now even the wolves have kept to the far side of “Jade Terrace”. However, it seems a pack of dogs has found its way under the walls of Perugia and has taken to roaming the streets at night. Why they would choose to do so when the surrounding hills are brimming with sheep, no-one seems to know. Needless to say, the usually festive streets of Perugia in Spring are deserted and at night our sleep is broken only by the incessant howling and neighing of every four-legged creature in the town.
  As we work the clouds begin to build until the world is weighed with a steely light that seems to make each hammer blow a little crisper. Those of us who lack the delicate hands of Pistoa or Guido slowly make our way into the vestry where the Chinese have taken to piling their helmets and boots. Such things are tolerated in Perugia and Orvieto because the Chinese pledge a coin for each boot they do not lose. The Umbrian watches are old men for the most part, and have little else to spend their money on.
  Pistoa has told me of stones so old and cured of their cutting that they smell like the forest floor. Perugia smells a little like that before it rains, like the rose water old whores throw on themselves. Pistoa often begs me for a word, only to throw it away in the gutter like that. But when he does so he stoops low over his work like one of those clowns at the Carnival the children throw fruit at because there is too much wind for the paper dragons and the wooden birds.
  In the vestry stands a mound of helmets as high as a man and stacked so neatly they look as though they could stand there as long as a blind man’s stare. They have the black and the sheen of a wolf’s eyes, of all those empty miles with which Pistoa goads me when I know our night has ended and our long grey morning has begun.
  A milk-faced novice titters at us trying to catch the sand leaking from the vaulting. What I assumed was the whisper of an old soldier’s stocking rubbing the stones to keep warm is in fact beyond even God to put right. The Chinese slumped like mules after their twelve hours on the walls hiss at him to be quiet. The choir is tucked away in a corner practicing for the Prefect’s visit in two weeks’ time. He will probably cancel, as he usually does. He should never have left home, Pistoa says. But then he says the same of me, and I no longer have a home to speak of. The Chinese in Umbria are all old. Master Cano begs me to be kind, and I believe I am, but his eyes tell me otherwise. They are asleep in our country, these old men weeping while our children’s voices rise to a crumbling heaven and the sand rains down on their stockinged feet.
  Outside the animals have begun to cluck and howl under the weight of the gathering storm. The air in the cathedral is heavy with it, and the choir break off their singing, their crisp voices darting like sparrows into the farthest crumbling reaches of the vestry. What I thought were the peals of Pistoa’s expensive new chisel on the stones outside is in fact the bells of Perugia sounding danger.
  We seven are elbowed out of the nave by a company of tired sentries bustling to find their boots and helmets in the eerie twilight. They seem strangely accustomed to the summons. Outside I find Pistoa hurling fragments of stone across the square as Guido scrambles around to scoop them up into his pouch while a large pack of dogs sidle toward them, bigger than a King’s hunting pack, some baring their teeth, but most simply licking their balls or scratching at doors or fighting amongst themselves. As Pistoa strikes one and then another with a glancing blow, the dying sun breaks through the cloud for a moment and lights on their ribs almost showing through their mangy piebald hides. Master Cano would probably feel one of his flatulent, beet-faced pities for them, but then he is not here, a fact he will no doubt find great comfort in when I tell him the story of my last visit to Perugia, and how the ghost of his dead friend flew away with the gargoyles.

New Poetry by Vanessa Page


I would write you
an elegy about love
if I could transcribe the way
your hands  would curl silence
around reason, or lend the planes of your
body to eyes, to move over the Braille of me
or then, how your choice would spawn acidity
over sublimation and the wait for perfect ellipses,
because it was the simplest piece for you to play
and even later, when it’s all down on paper
the only surety that can be written is fortune;
so instead I’ll fold these lovers’ notes tiny
and affix them to the top left of you.

- Vanessa Page 2009

Friday, December 11, 2009

New Poetry by Ashley Capes

not just you

but a lover's camera
poses everything:

from the pack of longbeach 20s
crushed into the stone wall

to the city-sanctioned fernery
with its green rattle of spring,

or the toddler with an inevitable
ice-cream smile

a bystander pointing out

and the mass of school uniforms
bottled up at ATMs

- even the buildings lean
to get in shot.

- Ashley Capes 2009

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Call for Submissions

I am dizzy with the bushfire wind and shooing away fat yuletide flies sated on drought carcasses, so for the first time in a while I am CALLING ALL POETS! Refer to the sidebar for guidelines, then click here

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Well I had one solid vote on the question of prizes and festivals and their intrinsic value, and that was a solid NO. Meaning a 100% dissatisfaction rating with the cultural circus as it stands. Arts Facilitators be warned!

Word has filtered back to me via a number of different channels that poets and writers are relieved at the recent decision to leave the publishing tariff in place. One industry insider cited the example of the Australian music industry and its success under differing forms of protection, although I was too polite to point out that the Musicians' Union relaxed those conditions years ago and that musos could teach your literate types a thing or two about kicking against the pricks. Other very successful bookshop owners cited the relief over copyright, as though they gave a tinker's cuss.

All I see is another example of the riches of our culture being kept out of reach of the young as they struggle too too long to find their feet in this increasingly top-heavy world, while the purveyors of that culture hold on to their priviliges and damn the consequences (oh, and pen the occassional piece for some daily rag bemoaning the sub-literacy of our youth).

To paraphrase my old song-writing mate, Bow Campbell, more of the same isn't the thing we were asking for.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Boy's Own

One of the big movers at my local remainder store, London's Kathy Lette, has ventured a step closer to the zeitgeist by raising that old evergreen of her generation, sexism. More specifically, sexism in the publishing world north of the line, homing in on the latest top 10 list from US Publishers' Weekly (does anyone still pay attention to these things?). Lette is her usual measured and considered self in deeming the staff of said institution a bunch of dinosaurs, although on casually perusing the list it strikes me there is more matter for concern here than the men in question's hoary genitalia.

It is one of those questions that just keeps getting asked: what purpose do such lists serve? Who is gaining from being on them? Certainly not literature, judging by the current crop. The same question could be asked of literary prizes. Sure they raise the profile of literature for a day here and there (oh, are people still doing that stuff?), but has literature itself ever really benefited from such prizes and festivals? The same question was being asked around the Paris Academy in the 1880's, but the people asking it had the courage to strike out on their own.

Is it mere coincidence, for instance, that the burgeoning of festivals and prizes was contemporaneous with the rationalisation of the publishing industry both here and north of the line? Of course, small publishers would argue that they need the exposure, but their stable are rarely the marquee event at such gabfests.

Anyway, just a thought. I have posted a survey on the topic in the sidebar.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The cost of a canal

Strange Meeting 

It seemed that out of the battle I escaped
Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped
Through granites which Titanic wars had groined.
Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned,
Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.
Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared
With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,
Lifting distressful hands as if to bless.
And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall;
With a thousand fears that vision's face was grained;
Yet no blood reached there from the upper ground,
And no guns thumped, or down the flues made moan.
"Strange, friend," I said, "Here is no cause to mourn."
"None," said the other, "Save the undone years,
The hopelessness.  Whatever hope is yours,
Was my life also; I went hunting wild
After the wildest beauty in the world,
Which lies not calm in eyes, or braided hair,
But mocks the steady running of the hour,
And if it grieves, grieves richlier than here.
For by my glee might many men have laughed,
And of my weeping something has been left,
Which must die now.  I mean the truth untold,
The pity of war, the pity war distilled.
Now men will go content with what we spoiled.
Or, discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled.
They will be swift with swiftness of the tigress,
None will break ranks, though nations trek from progress.
Courage was mine, and I had mystery;
Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery;
To miss the march of this retreating world
Into vain citadels that are not walled.
Then, when much blood had clogged their chariot-wheels
I would go up and wash them from sweet wells,
Even with truths that lie too deep for taint.
I would have poured my spirit without stint
But not through wounds; not on the cess of war.
Foreheads of men have bled where no wounds were.
I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
I knew you in this dark; for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
Let us sleep now . . ."


Friday, October 09, 2009

Congrats Emma

Earlier this year I trumpeted young ex-pat poet Emma Jones' first collection, The Striped World, and so not only am I happy to announce that it has been awarded Britain's prestigious Forward Prize for a first collection of poetry, but that the judges actually offered a relatively coherent, cliche-free justification for their choice.

Josephine Hart, who chaired the Forward Prize judges, described Jones yesterday as ''an ambitious and intriguing new voice''. Her poems ''are both elliptical and visionary - inhabiting a parallel world of strange, disjointed images within which we nevertheless find echoes of familiar experience''.

What Sydney "critic" Jaya Savige meant by his comments that follow in today's SMH article is anyone's guess. Something about Dead White Males, presumably. Maybe someone should tell the kids at Darlington that po-po-mo is done and dusted, because if there is one thing Emma Jones' collection does not smack of in the least it is any effort to please the professors. In other words, it is genuine and heart-felt and profound. Maybe that's what Jaya meant in his glib reference to the "yellowed pages of tradition".

Click on the post heading for the full article.

John Hospodka's South Side

I received a welcome gift in my inbox recently from the Chicago poet, John Hospodka. Titled "South Side Trilogy", it is a fascinating multi-media collection of immaculately wrought free verse accompanied by audio and illustrations, mostly in pastel. Not so much a verse-novel as a poetic snapshot of life in Hardscrabble, the legendary slum of Chicago, the work somehow manages to exude a wistful air of nostalgia while bringing the day-to-day life of contemporary Chicago to the foreground, as though you didn't just rub shoulders with ghosts in the windy city, but walked right into them.

The Night They Tore Old Comiskey Down

Middle-aged men in a sagged circle
of unplanned stillness outside a funeral
parlor: one visualizes the deceased’s use
for a nicknamed slang, the other four weigh
temptations affected by the nostalgia playing
a heady deaf tongue to their collective grievance.
Two elderly ladies share a cigarette and gossip
spiritedly about a lesson about something
other than a headlong retreat into the hunched
idealism that declares one must never trust
a fellow who tucks in his shirt on the weekends.

Within the parlor a new widow scans
her only child’s altar boy eyes, but she can
-not yet locate any semblance of biography.

A spleen-driven spasm redirects the foul
trail of a cop’s demystified secret from his spine
to his colon: “I’ve gotten to the least of me!”
His partner, troubled by this overdue reaction,
half-mouths: “Relax, that scum’s ghost is going
to turn out to be the best friend you’ve ever had.”

Last week’s church bulletin comes to a respite
upon the tar-pimpled sidewalk that red-carpets
an unnamed Hardscrabble saloon. An untried
front page from the Chicago Tribune tumble-
weeds audibly atop the bulletin, pauses against
the slightly glass-speckled breeze, clutches
the bulletin’s unbiased ink, steals away for
the unresponsive gutter at Fibs and Teeth St.
A college dropout struts by the saloon, peeks in
through the smoke-mirrored window, spots
an unspoken-of relative:  You’ll see, one day
I’ll be an historian.

According to the publicity, the "South Side Trilogy" can be obtained in traditional hard copy as well as accessed online. Just click on the post heading for details.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Dorothy Porter was never going to go out with a whimper. The Australian poet who once claimed to write best to the tribal din of Melbourne's Hunters & Collectors was a poet utterly transfixed by life. I only knew her in passing, but from what I can glean Dorothy seemed to regard death (her own came earlier this year after a long and courageous fight against breast cancer) as merely one more aspect of life, not its polar opposite. Her last, and perhaps her finest, collection of poetry, The Bee Hut, was written very much in this spirit

have I the strength
to pay suffering its due?

she asks in "The Ninth Hour", one of the most technically accomplished, moving and strangely exhilarating poems about death and dying I have ever read. There is Porter's characteristic tone of defiance here, but for once she is not raging like Xerxes, for

I have come to a river
of blood and vinegar

I have come to a river
where only pain
keeps its feet

and she appears transfixed by this new challenge life has thrown up at her. It is a courage perhaps unique to poets, a courage that knows its limits, and by this very knowledge seems amplified.

Let me join the frilled and flying

and live vivid
as a wet dog.

- "After Bruegel"

After her final verse novel, El Dorado, I wasn't so sure what to expect from Dorothy Porter. Despite a perception in some quarters, I buzz far from the inner circle of Australian literati and simply assumed she had recovered from whatever it was that ailed her. My first instinct was that Dorothy was caught in no-man's-land with a few too many quivers in her bow - poet, novelist, librettist. - but with the phallanx of Australian literati to protect her. For, as compelling an achievement as her best-selling verse-novel, The Monkey's Mask, undoubtedly was, the two that followed will slowly fall between the stools. I doubt I was alone in missing the edgy 3 am dance of Porter's earlier collection, Crete, the deliciously tender mischief of

No sensible woman eats poppies

            or else

she'll dance
she'll fall over

she'll wake up

         with a woman in her arms.

- "Or Else" (from "Crete", 1996)

A poet living in the very act of writing, of picking herself up just as she is falling. I can't tell you how many times I have heard writers complain about how writing drains them when, as Dot Porter knew only too well, it should in fact do the very opposite, for

You can't preserve love
behind foggy windows.

Often when I read American ex-pat, Linda Gregg, I think of Dorothy Porter back in her Crete days of the early 90's, so tender with love, and I can almost sniff the light dancing on that almost interstellar blue of the Mediterranean, but Gregg always manages to break the spell because beneath it all dwells something intent on pulling her down, on harvesting her flesh, her womanhood (by which I, as a man, cogitate freedom). Dorothy Porter's poetic spirit, on the other hand, shouldered up to the breeze and laughed with the ripples and spat in the face of the necromancer casting a shadow over her towel. She could not help herself, for she was mad with life, or at least the poet in her was. Beauty was everywhere in her dusky, wide-set eyes, and in this an early trill in her parting song, we have the imprimatur of Dot Porter's distinct brand of living ( dare I say a very Australian brand of living?)

I can't shake
that ghost-town pub
whistling empty-bottled
through its black windows,
and its strangled verandahs
creaking with a terrifying
ancient thirst
under a two-storey coat
of bristling blackberry.

Is it taunting me
with the dancing skeleton
of my own life's mystery
struggling for rhythm
and lyrics?

I hold in my hand
the greedy, bleeding
that has always
gorged itself.

The bliss-mouthed
gluttony miracle -
that stained Keats
that had cynical Byron
reeling on the ceiling -
when the plump berries
and your pen slashes ahead
like a pain-hungry prince
hacking through
the bramble's dragon teeth
to the heart's most longed-for
comatose, but ardently ready

- "Blackberries" (from The Bee Hut)

Well, I imagine you can sleep easy princess. Your legacy is safe.


Monday, September 21, 2009

From the outside looking in

I am beholden to my daemons to presage this article by stating for the record that I am usually wrong.

Considering the state of law reform in this country, and the moral turpitude of many of this country's self-appointed stewards, it surprises me little that Bob Ellis has finally decided to sue the playwright Louis Nowra over his June 2009 article (one could hardly call it a review), Making a case for the unexamined life. 

Though the article caused quite a stir at the time, the whole thing passed me by largely due to the fact that I only read The Australian if trapped in a lift, and anyway Bob Ellis holds little interest for me either as a man or a writer.

As far as I can make out, however, Louis Nowra has a problem in regards to the article in question, and that problem is that he opens with the seed of a slowly flowering contradiction. The only time Bob Ellis has impinged on my life, his fateful article begins, was when I was in a solicitor's office.

Not the most musical of openings, but I won't quibble over syntax here. What is important is that Nowra goes on to relate how Bob Ellis did not in fact impinge on him personally in said office, but rather via the sage words of said solicitor, who found it pertinent to remind Nowra that Ellis had shifted the goalposts for publishers in Australia after passing off a piece of lewd gossip as salacious fact and landing his publishers in court. Nowra's solicitor was cautioning him against making the same mistake with his own book. Even though the stories were true, he said they would have to go unless I could back them up factually.

Thus by this simple device, the reader is led to believe that Nowra is somewhat of a disinterested observer in the one-man circus that is Bob Ellis, the Aussie auteur.

Perhaps Nowra should have listened more closely to his solicitor, for later in the same piece he relates how  he and Ellis in fact played in the same cricket team.

Given Ellis's occasional misadventures with the facts, I was interested to read about something of which I had a first-hand knowledge (good to see that grammar improving, Louis). He says he played for a Sydney suburban cricket team called the Metros for more than 10 years from the late 70s. During the same period I played in the same team for three years and I only saw him turn up once (my emphasis).

I was going to quote more of this passage, but I fear doing so may land me in the same hot water as Louis Nowra.

Now, either Nowra's earlier statement that he was only ever impinged on by Ellis in the abstract is at best an obfuscation, or the Metros are one seriously dysfunctional cricketing family, or, more to the point, Nowra failed to heed his solicitor's advice and is relating in Murdoch print a piece of club house gossip as though it were a fact he could personally verify.

If read in this light, Nowra appears guilty of mixed messages. Either he knows Ellis well enough to while away a Saturday afternoon with him on a cricket field, or he knows him only as I do - as a name and a professional bugbear - and is happy to print in one place what he dare not print in another.

Now, let it be re-iterated quite clearly for the record here that I am no fan of Bob Ellis the writer or the man. He strikes me from a distance as that stamp of boomer male against whom I have been struggling all my creative life, and without whom the cultural life of this country would probably be none the poorer.

But read in the light of this apparent contradiction, Louis Nowra's article reads less like the "pure gold" of James Bradley's opinion ( and more like the vituperative snarl of one grand old dog at another through the gilded mesh of Sydney gliterati. That Bob Ellis' reply to this article only helps to underscore many of Nowra's points about him does nothing to alleviate the impression that he has not been totally forthcoming.  Passing acquaintance, after all, does not a passing stranger make.

But why does any of this matter?

Because so strict are the defamation laws in this state that, as Richard Ackland put it so succinctly in a recent article about New South Wales Defamation Law Reform,

When journalists see the word "reasonable" as the defining legal test they may as well pull out a gun and shoot themselves.....a journalist may think it "reasonable" to make 10 phone calls to check a story. The judge will say, "why didn't you make 11?"

Ackland regards this as a purely mainstream media problem, but as the recent use of NSW Defamation Law by a US citizen to sue a UK blogger proves, it is a concern for cyberspace as well.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Come join in an exploration of Bondi Beach
with 3 of Australia’s leading poets

joanne burns  Brook Emery Les Wicks
with music from Maryjane Leahy

accessible & engaging –
unique perspectives on  a world icon

@ Bondi Social
1st floor 38 Campbell Pde Bondi Beach
2.15 for 2.30  October 10


Open mike session where audience members can read their poem on or around Bondi. Prizes for the best poems. Winner will be published in “Guide to Sydney Beaches”.

This event is part of the celebrations for Waverley’s 150th Birthday. Proudly supported by Waverley Council.

joanne burns has had many collections of her work published, the latest being 'an illustrated history of dairies' Giramondo Publishing 2007. She grew up in Rose Bay and Dover Heights, Bondi was often her 'playground' from very early childhood into early adulthood. She was a member of the Bondi Ladies Swimming Club for a couple of years, and taught beginners in the 'Learn to Swim' classes at Bondi Baths in the summer of 1961-2. In her teenage years she also played tennis at the legendary Tib Dorahy Tennis Club of North Bondi. She attended 1st Class at Bondi Beach Public School, where her great aunts Beatrice and Marjorie Taylor were Headmistresses.

Brook Emery has published three poetry collections, and dug my fingers in the sand (FIP 2000), which won the Queensland Premier’s Prize, Misplaced Heart (FIP 2003), and Uncommon Light (FIP 2007). All three were short-listed for the NSW Premier’s Prize. Individual poems have won the Newcastle Poetry Prize, The Bruce Dawe National Poetry Prize, the Max Harris Award, and the Australian Sports Poetry Award. He calls Bondi Beach his second home. He was once a Beach Inspector there and is a Long Service member and former captain of Bondi Surf Club.

Maryjane Leahy has been playing classical guitar for more than 30 years and has been a composer for 15 of those years. Her current focus in composition is music for contemporary guitar. She is also pursuing her life journey through music in a Masters degree in Composition, looking at incorporating Indian rhythms into Western orchestral music. All of Mary-Jane's guitar pieces are a reflection of her personal experience and each has been written for someone who, at the time, had a great impact on both the direction and meaning of her life journey. Her recent collaboration with Dominic Wy Kanak has taught her a great deal about the relationships between white and Indigenous Australians.

Les Wicks’ 8th book of poetry is The Ambrosiacs (Island, 2009). Wicks has been a guest at most of Australia's literary festivals, toured widely and been published in over 200 newspapers, anthologies and magazines across 12 countries in 7  languages. He runs Meuse press, which focuses on poetry outreach projects, the latest being “Guide to Sydney Beaches”.  Les was a westie kid with family in Bondi. His main ambition in life was to live over east which he has managed to do for about 35 years.

Enquiries: 02 9580 4542

Monday, September 14, 2009


Received my copy of Issue One of the new Perth literary quarterly, dotdotdash, today and I felt a charge of energy waft out as I opened the envelope. Inside was a heart-felt letter from the editor, SJ Finch, and one of the sleekest looking literary publications I have thumbed through since Ireland's The Stinging Fly. In fact, if I had to bundle this 10-pound baby, I would call it half-Stinging Fly, half-Eddie Magazine of mid-90's Newtown, as the graphics are both shopping-list intimate and arresting as an ANZAC day plinth. And as you would expect of an issue entitled "Quicksand", there is poignancy and pathos running all the way through this issue, and not a little of that Gilliganesque slapstick as the truth is slowly dawning......SKIPPER! SKIPPER!

It may not have saved the SS Minnow, but it just may save you! Click on the post heading for subscription/submission/stocking enquiries.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009


Reading Anna Goldsworthy's article about the Australian National Academy of Music got me thinking about a great many things, but mostly about scale. It is a beautifully written article that launches itself from something of a default position in matters of Australian excellence  (ie that elite sportsmen are champions whereas elite artists are snobs), toward a stratospheric overview of the heights being scaled in that beleaguered institution I will  henceforth refer to as ANAM. We are a strangely Cartesian country in that regard, both body and mind striving for identity, and all in the great epoch of monumentalism where the deliberate project on all sides of politics has been to dwarf the human, as though if only power could purge itself of the human element it would run as cleanly and smoothly as that famous Pythonesque hospital without any of those mortally sick people in it.

Anna Goldsworthy should write more. I know she is a great musician, but rarely do musicians of any stamp write with such precision in the medium of the tongue laid flat.

Last year, when Peter Garrett announced the withdrawal of funding from the Australian National Academy of Music, he must have been startled by the response.

The usual flat-line tone all editors ask of their novices these days. And so I imagined myself wading through another plaint from the top end of town that is the performing arts in Sydney. Until...

He constructed an arc in loose parallel to Bach's variations, generated by texture and density rather than harmonic progression. His variations were not only polyphonic but hour after he sat down, the Town Hall clock chimed eight; he wove these tones into the texture of his improvisation.....

To a sunny exile of the East European defiles of Sydney's Castlecrag, this sings like a scrap of Zbigniew Herbert who witnessed mind and body colliding in a way I never. In other words, tender and thoughtful and unadorned.  

Peter Garrett, for those readers north of the line, is the Australian Federal Minister of the Arts, and the erstwhile lead-singer of the iconic rock band Midnight Oil. He otherwise fits the Westminster bill perfectly in being both bald, middle-aged and proud owner of a law degree. He is also passionate and intelligent and perhaps a little too scrupulous for Australian politics at the highest level. Anyway, as singer of Midnight Oil through that fecund post-punk era from 1978 to 1984 he could not put a foot wrong. As left-wing anti-nuclear activist from 1984 to 1989 ditto. But perhaps like the veterans of all wars, a piece of him misses the action.

I went looking for a war
and the only guns I saw
were never used in anger
- "Armistice Day" Midnight Oil 
The point about Pete Garrett and Midnight Oil, though, was that they somehow managed to bridge that divide between the body and the mind in the Australian polis at the time. Everywhere, from student digs to mechanic's workshop, echoed with the dissonant, rhythmic, strangely polyphonic eloquence of Midnight Oil throughout most of the 1980's. In hindsight, the only anomaly is the stretch it took for Garrett to, well, stretch his arms wide at the ballot box. His Christian proclivities aside, I will state my bias here as an older X-er with an enduring love for the man. I was not alone in finding his announcement regarding the withdrawal of funding from the ANAM a little more than confounding.

Giants are writ large in Occidental Culture, as is perhaps befitting the hemisphere where things are pressed tall only to topple into the dread sea of long memory and the dying sun of the Portugese.

Only giants could have moved such stones, amassed such armies, mustered such goodwill amongst the myriad and single-minded.

Only giants beyond our reckoning now could have mustered the courage to establish the institutions that maintain us. For those who can't live with them, the digital age allows you to live beside them. Not quite body, not quite mind, but a memory none the less.

Anna Goldsworthy brought me away from Ezra Pound's giant-killing, in-human couplets

Charm, smiling at the good mouth,
Quick eyes gone under earth's lid,
For two gross of broken statues,
For a few thousand battered books.

- Ezra Pound "Hugh Selwyn Mauberley"

John Cage playing his toy piano snatched a few startled sounds from the last sparrows of WWII. That was not his intention, for he was thinking always with his audience, a war before. We, on the other hand, though still trapped on the same old roller-coaster, seem to have opted for the perennial winter of discontent....

Late the following night.... A small audience had gathered in the darkness to hear Ross Bolleter, co-founder of the World Association of Ruined Piano Studies. "The piano was a great agent of social cohesion.....(it) was home and brought home with it." Were we celebrating or mourning the piano's demise? Was this a wake? Why was it so beautiful? "When a piano was sold or dispensed with, it was proof of imminent ruin and disgrace."

Monday, September 07, 2009

New Work by Wayne H. W Wolfson

Black Swans and Stars

After all these years, there is still a sort of defeat in winning. I had to go into exile, I kept bumping my head on the roof of the city. Everyone else preferred to stay small and could not understand my complaining.
Exile, I won and now I was spending time with her. My punishment? Or maybe I just thought too highly of myself. I did not want to repeat the same old patterns and so kept my circle of friends small.
Enza was always around and sort of fell into my orbit by default. She had two small black swans tattooed on the back of her neck, heads bent as if supporting hers.
At first I thought she had been pulling my leg about never reading. She often had no idea what I was talking about but liked listening to the sound of my voice.
We fucked but usually as an almost after thought to the night. We found plenty of other things to argue about.

"Triple X Theater" (ink&paper)

I had just met my deadline, editor happy, I now had the illusion of freedom.
Enza had a new scarf which she was anxious to dirty up. We went out.
The drinks were the prize, winners, losers; the only difference was who had gotten caught.
She tells me about her day, none of that matters.
I am talking to me again through her, a two drink chorus. Now she is just letting me talk. No matter how clear my thoughts, I can not get the stars to reflect off of my fingers.
She has to run off for a moment, probably to score. The waiter with sleepy eyes which people mistake for wisdom watches her go.
Under the awning the heater is snapped on, Votives are lit. I have won and now have nowhere to go. It is not for Enza, I sit at my table and wait. It is for yesterday but a specific one, a far older one than that which carried me empty handed, into today.
My fingertips read the table as of brail. Eyes now wander down, the surface, stars, lattice holes which allow me to see my shoes, their hunger, starving.
I could have another drink. I do not wait, for anything. That first kiss, music of our youth, twirling her on the dance floor, red dress blossoming out with the undulating current of her motion, that first kiss with her, ours.
Believe me, it isn’t coming around anymore. I have forsaken or forgotten it all anyways. How could I not, knowing it would be I who broke that fragile shroud of memory.
Enza comes back smelling of smoke. Her pupils are two large, black pools which when seen from certain angles reflect the stars.

"Le Millionaire" (pastel&paper)

- Wayne H. W Wolfson 2009
Click on the post heading for artist's web page.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Calling all Poets

Once again I am fresh out of rants, doubtless to the relief of many of those whose air of entitlement is only outdone by their vapidness. I will be reviewing Dot Porter's parting shot next week, so start curling your toes, oh milk-faced ones. In the meantime I am CALLING ALL POETS.

Just click on the SUBMIT tag at the foot of this post (I am still not getting a sidebar!!) and submit anything up to five poems, a 1000 word comment or review in the body of the email. NO ATTACHMENTS PLEASE. I have a very good turnover time, and that applies to most things I do. Just ask my bevy of exes.... The worse you will get is silence, as I won't comment on subs unless I can see some way of working with the author to make them more suitable for posting under the Bluepepper. There are no payments and thus no guidelines.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Blog probs

If you are looking for the submissions link, rather than trawl through this pre-industrial plaint, just click on the post heading.

But for any budding Paul Hardacres out there....

I have suddenly lost my sidebar to the bottom of the page, so anyone searching for links or archives are out of luck as I followed Google's advice and deleted it all. Anyone out there with a tip on how to rectify this problem is welcome to contact me through the submission tab now situated way down below (or to the right, depending on whether you have heeded my advice re the HTML gorgon in me).

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

New Poetry by Stuart Barnes

For Sale on Swanston Street

Indian diamonds
a rock of hammer
men in orange and
their swarthy God

but I'm not
in the market
for another banner,
to kick another dog

- Start Barnes 2009


sums me up programmed like
my mythical C-3PO

violin skinned
like a cat before breakfast Venn

overlapping like slapping hands in a manic kids'

game a kiss
on a murderess's cheek by the bus teeth

brushed at recess after school
on the oval take a punch

in the guts Centre
For Excellence {hyaena-

boys smoke} short-back-and-sides

suffering Messerschmitt-
jokes Pritikin

Program weekly mass "don't write!" not a friend
on my boy-Elektra back a criminal's

in my hand

- Stuart Barnes 2009

Stuart Barnes's unpublished memoir, A Cold Decade, was shortlisted for the 2009 Olvar Wood Fellowship Award. Living in Melbourne, he's currently editing his first collection of poetry and writing his first novel, a fable-fantasy.