Friday, October 23, 2009

to speak, to orient

"In this language I have sought ... to write poems: so as to speak, to orient myself, to find out where I was and where I was meant to go, to sketch out reality for myself."

- Paul Celan

woodcut of Celan by Dirk Hagner.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

videopoem #6

Where protest and performance meet:
Everything is OK.

Go here for more videos by Charlie Veitch.

Thanks to Kat Flanagan for linking me to this.

Monday, October 19, 2009

whatever comes into

"The poem is not a stream of consciousness, but an area of composition in which I work with whatever comes into it. Only words come into it."
- Robert Duncan

Below: The Enamord Mage, Translation #6, by Jess (Burgess F. Collins), 1965.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Reader

The Reader of the Emerging Writers' Festival is now out in the world.
Congrats to everyone involved in putting it together, especially Dion Kagan, who's done an excellent job as editor.

Here's the blurb:

The Reader is a new collection that combines highlights of the 2009 festival with general writing information and new creative works across various writing forms.

The Reader is about the craft, the approaches, the techniques and processes; the discipline(s), the forms, the experiments; the inner life, the social life, the lifestyle; the ups and downs, the tricks and the tribulations, the fun and the failure…

The Reader is Steven Amsterdam on writers’ workshops, Clem Bastow on freelancing, Jen Breach on writing comics, Mel Campbell on pitching to editors, Kathy Charles on shameless self-promotion, Stephanie Convery on writing Black Saturday, Olivia Davis on fear and writing practices, Lisa Dempster on how much writers earn, Koraly Dimitriadis talks to Christos Tsoilkas, Caroline Hamilton compares writers’ festivals and music festivals, Stu Hatton on his mentorship with Dorothy Porter, Jane Hawtin discusses publishing academic research for a general audience, Andrew Hutchinson recalls the Emerging Writers’ Festival, Tiggy Johnson on parenthood and writing, Krissy Kneen on not writing about sex, Benjamin Law on failure, Angela Meyer reviews books for writers, Jennifer Mills on the politics of publishing and engaging with readers, Anthony Noack on good grammar, John Pace on re-drafting your screenplay, Ryan Paine on the role of the critic, Ben Pobjie on writing comedy, Robert Reid on the role of the contemporary playwright, Aden Rolfe on the emergentsia, Jenny Sinclair on the landscape of her book research, Chris Summers talks to Lally Katz about theatre writing, Mia Timpano on how to cultivate the ultimate author profile photo, Estelle Tang on Christopher Currie and blogging fiction, Simmone Michelle-Wells pens a letter to her younger self, Cameron White reviews alternatives to Microsoft Word.

And new creative works by Maxine Clarke, Chris Currie, Chris Downes, Claire Henderson, Kirk Marshall, Scott-Patrick Mitchell, Alice Mrongovius, Meg Mundell, Warwick Sprawson and Cameron T.

Monday, October 12, 2009

highlights of This Is Not Art

The three-hour group reading of Gertrude Stein's Stanzas in Meditation began in the park and was still going strong when I got there, about an hour before it was supposed
to finish. Later we moved indoors, out of the rain. There was no chance of getting through Stein's work in its entirety within the allotted time, so having got maybe a little past half-way, we opted to read the last two stanzas to round things off. I'm fascinated by Stein - for me she represents a pivotal moment in experimental writing. Stanzas wards off any attempt at cursory reading (or extended reading for that matter) through Stein's characteristic use of repetition, ludic syntax and pronoun-play. An intensive group reading of such a text was, for me, perhaps the best way to approach it, especially given the opportunity to discuss it afterwards. It was an honour to be able to play a small part in this event. Pictured (l-r): Tim Wright (sitting), Michael Farrell, Aden Rolfe, Ella O'Keefe, Jal Nicholl, Penny Duff (sitting).

Landscaping Aesthetics: an experiment which involved artists working more or less independently within the same space, responding to the environment and each other. Maybe it was a loose concept, but it definitely raised possibilities (at least in my mind, and in the chat I had with Derek Motion about it). Derek was incorporating whatever was going on and being said into the poem he was writing on his laptop. Dion Kagan was working on an editing project - perhaps something to be approached differently within such an 'arty' atmosphere? Also 'working the room' were a photographer, a sound artist and a cello player. Creative vibes, creative rushes. What makes a space (potentially) 'creative'? Interesting, interesting...

Tom Cho's reading from
Look Who's Morphing at 'Bless Me Reader, For I Have Sinned'. Go Tom!

The Contemporary Poetics (Looking In) panel on Saturday morning, which I blogged about here.

Frame Up, on the place of the arts, was probably the most spirited discussion I witnessed the whole time I was in Newcastle. Hats off to Scott Brewer for facilitating such a fired-up panel. One of the thorns was the place of creative writing in universities, a topic which I'd like to discuss further here at some point.

Breakfast Poetry Collage Reading with Michael Farrell, Jill Jones, Stuart Cooke, Tim Wright, Jal Nicholl, Duncan Hose and Ern Malley: "I have split the infinitive. / Beyond is anything."

The Contemporary Poetics (Looking Out) panel featured Michael Farrell on 'pre-co
llage and cut-up in Christopher Brennan and Mallarme', Joel Scott on 'translation as exemplary writing practice' and Stuart Cooke on Neruda, Lienlaf and poetic ecology. Three excellent papers, all providing directions for the future which I'm still processing.

I didn't catch all of Constellations: Weather, UFOs, Telepathy and the Cosmos, but enjoyed Jennifer Hamilton's paper on meteorology, its history and representations in literature. Astrid Lorange's paper 'Paronymous Attraction' is available on her blog. It's a must-read: an exemplary, exploratory piece of creative research.

The Launch Pad for Lisa Dempster's Neon Pilgrim and Michaela McGuire's Apply Within turned out to be the 'Giraffe Room' (pictured). I'm not sure the giraffes appreciated the interruption, but they (and we) were treated to excellent teaser readings. Was great to be at the Melbourne launch of Neon Pilgrim on Wednesday. Go Lisa!

The brainchild of Emma Konnaris, Diversity Dinners was an opportunity to share food, ideas and a bit of booze with fellow Critical Animals. I prepared a vegan avocado and lima bean salad under Spartan conditions, which in itself was an exercise in improv and working within constraints. I met some cool people, sampled their signature dishes, and I reckon this event should become an annual fixture.

At the Lock-up Gallery (which itself was a highlight) The Artist as Family (Patrick Jones, Meg Ulman and Zephyr Jones) gave a wake-up call re: waste, permaculture and Future Scenarios in a post-climate change and peak oil world. The talk took place alongside their ten-days'-worth collection of waste from Newcastle's beach and streets (pictured). For me this was another push in the direction of eco-consciousness and eco-poetics. What other direction is there?

Finally, the Newcastle Mattara Art Prize 2009 in St Andrew's Church Hall. This wasn't part of TiNA; I'm only mentioning it here because it came as something of a reality check. I decided to take a look because I had half an hour to kill before heading to the airport to catch my plane home. The paintings on display were predominantly realist or (post-)impressionist. Landscapes, portraits... lots of paintings of flowers, animals, boats and bushland. Amongst the awardees, the emphasis seemed to be on precision of rendering and technical mastery. This was also the emphasis of the one-sided conversation I had with one of the organisers, who was pointing out the use of light and colour in a couple of works from the miniatures section. Maybe I can draw a facetious (and long-bowed?) analogy with what Pam Brown has called the 'new Aussie lyric'. But there were a few leftfielders and oddities in the mix too. I voted for one of the these in the People's Choice Award. Hmmm... This is Art vs. This is Not Art...

I'm sure there's stuff I've forgotten, so I may expand on these or add others later. This blog knows no stasis. (Well duh, it's a web page.)

Thanks again to Aden & Britt for making everything run so smoothly at CA. And shoutouts to all the mad (and not so mad) folk I met up there. You know who you are...

? are you a numb (2009)

? are you a numbered neighbour not a joiner [? need walk of air to pique] avid junkmail reader trad tradie ad such vertising material conditioned greenery crunched debate who’s first hitter on the team let’s care at least once [? that a glass isn’t waterproof] whose good look sticks washed our time with don’t trouble the radar ask us about lightweight a silken jigsaw done at the day spa [? seduced by precision] the dogbowl filled with toner a sun-enhancer

% of men (2009)

1% of men are afraid of dogs
2% of men say that they have been stalked at some point in their lives
3% of men disagree with the statement ‘real men cry’
4% of men fear dating a woman with a higher income
5% of men consider themselves bisexual
6% of men say looking at pornography is cheating
7% of men make it to heaven
8% of men are deceived about the paternity of the child they’re raising
9% of men are left-handed
10% of men in the Kinsey data were more or less exclusively homosexual
11% of men report general dissatisfaction with their looks
12% of men had inadequate intakes of the nutrients studied
13% of men think they have it easier
14% of men admit they exceed the speed limit most of the time
15% of men reported expressing love
16% of men describe themselves as being on diets
17% of men relied primarily on self-support
18% of men said they were motivated by the law
19% of men did housework on an average day
20% of men are afraid of spiders
21% of men refuse to listen
22% of men die from natural causes
23% of men experience impotence
24% of men go through andropause
25% of men are circumcised
26% of men work in professional specialty or executive, administrative and managerial jobs
27% of men said that violence against domestic partners was unacceptable
28% of men are commonly affected by premature ejaculation
29% of men say they look at pornography on occasion
30% of men stated their income had increased
31% of men are high scorers on religious engagement
32% of men smoke
33% of men say they trust average-looking women
34% of men had an affair with a co-worker
35% of men admit they received an unwanted Father’s Day gift
36% of men suffer from erectile dysfunction
37% of men are overweight
38% of men pay more attention to online ads
39% of men reported incorporating a vibrator into sexual activities
40% of men were dissatisfied with their physiques
41% of men are single
42% of men think talking to one’s ex on a regular basis is cheating
43% of men reported feeling work-life conflict
44% of men replied they would buy flowers to make women happy
45% of men said having meals and spending time together as a family made them happiest
46% of men have faked an orgasm
47% of men report having a gun at home
48% of men have suboptimal erections
49% of men fall into the personality temperament known as ‘guardians’
50% of men snore
51% of men were either overweight or obese
52% of men are nostalgic for the days when a handshake in business meant something
53% of men would take the male birth control pill
54% of men will have an affair at some point in some marriage
55% of men voted to re-elect Bush
56% of men consider themselves knowledgeable football fans
57% of men say they enjoy shopping for their wives
58% of men who access the internet from work admitted to accessing non work-related websites during work hours
59% of men drink coffee daily
60% of men have two or more chronic illnesses
61% of men said they have "more money than they expected"
62% of men say they would consider staying home
63% of men would not cheat
64% of men accepted that "men should participate more actively in housework so that women are able to work"
65% of men play games
66% of men had participated in oral sex
67% of men reported high satisfaction with their emotional relationship
68% of men would like to get flowers
69% of men are confident they could train another person to drive
70% of men were back to normal sexual activity
71% of men do not rape
72% of men were faithful to their spouses
73% of men believe in heaven
74% of men said “my brain is more important than my body”
75% of men observed did wash their hands
76% of men were satisfied or very satisfied with their overall living conditions
77% of men want home improvement related gifts
78% of men saw military service
79% of men admit they sometimes interrupt others in conversation
80% of men use the internet
81% of men were successful
82% of men report that they have not been involved in any consultation
83% of men believe that they should pay for the majority of dates at least until a relationship is established
84% of men who die of heart attacks during intercourse are found to have been cheating on their wives
85% of men achieved significantly improved erections
86% of men reported money as a significant stressor
87% of men having sex with men
88% of men consider themselves happy people
89% of men reported knowledge
90% of men describe themselves as "shy"
91% of men would have sex with a robot
92% of men were likely to marry
93% of men washed their hands with soap and water and then used paper towels to dry off
94% of men showed a preference for thin partners
95% of men reported having masturbated
96% of men indicated that they had heard of AIDS
97% of men originally had iron intakes above 100 percent RDA
98% of men don't really want to answer
99% of men reported working at some point
100% of men could meet

Process notes: This is something I put together a few weeks ago. You could call it flarf. I Googled "[x]% of men" for numbers between 1-100, and used phrases from the first page of results only. The most interesting aspect of this for me was the recurrence of themes, and what these recurring themes might say about men, masculinity, sexuality, the internet, surveys, statistics, sampling and context.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Critical Animals panel discussion

I have plenty to say about my weekend at TINA, but in this post I’ll talk about the Saturday morning panel on the place of the experimental in contemporary Australian poetry. The panelists were Jill Jones, Derek Motion, Michael Farrell and myself. Aden Rolfe was facilitator.

The night before the panel, I’d only managed 3 hours sleep in my tent (which, funnily enough, wasn't soundproof... nor entirely waterproof), so found myself mildly delirious, scattered, running on adrenalin.

Having contested the claims John Kinsella makes about experimentation having become ‘the expectation rather than the departure’ in his introduction to the Penguin Anthology of Australian Poetry (2009), Jill Jones contacted Kinsella to elicit a response from him. Jill read excerpts from his response. He more or less stuck to the arguments he makes in the introduction, which can be read here.

There was some agreement amongst the panelists that the ‘dominant mode’ of contemporary Australian poetry is a mode dependent upon the sincerity of a lyric ‘I’.
A recent blog post by Pam Brown on the resurgence/prominence of the 'Aussie lyric' is very relevant to this discussion. After further reflection on this, I’d say that the lyric mode is definitely prevalent, though to call it dominant ... well, it depends on the territory. It’s dominant in certain publications (both print and e-journals) and venues, and in certain circles and organisations with a stake in poetry in this country. I think it's fair to say that it dominates prizes and awards. This mode has also tended to dominate the ‘Best’ anthologies (i.e. Black Inc’s Best Australian Poems and UQP’s Best Australian Poetry), although I look forward to reading Robert Adamson’s selection for the Best Australian Poems 2009 – which, if the list of poets is anything to go by, appears to provide a balanced and diverse cross-section of current work.

The ‘dominant mode’ I’m referring to is certainly represented in Kinsella’s anthology, although Kinsella urges the reader to reconsider the work of particular poets who might be labelled mainstream or conservative (e.g. Peter Porter) and reflect on the transgressive impulses that inform the poetry he's chosen to anthologise.

The panel included readings by all four poets. I read ‘post-rock’ and ‘reproduction infinitum’. I spoke about the composition of the unpunctuated collage-poem ‘post-rock’, where I sampled words/phrases from music journalism and other sources. My rule of thumb: it’s not theft if the appropriated material is not recognisable. Which entails the manipulation of samples (e.g. logical and word-order reversals, transliterations, swapping prefixes and suffixes, etc, etc.). ‘Post-rock’ is a term and music genre ‘invented’ by music journalists and critics to pigeonhole bands such as Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Sigur Ros and Explosions in the Sky. So-called post-rock music tends to be instrumental, dynamic, emotive (but not ‘emo’!). My poem was an attempt to put words to that music, but also to brainstorm around the term ‘post-rock’ and to mine the ‘poetics’ of existing writing on this form of music. The poem is a case of ‘dancing about architecture’, as Elvis Costello put it.

‘reproduction infinitum’ was introduced in the context of failure, which happens to be the subject of Derek’s PhD thesis. As Derek has indicated, when it comes to experimentation of any kind, failure is still a legitimate result, and potentially a very useful one. If all poems are experiments, then all poems admit failure. All poems fail to a certain degree (by which I don't mean to imply that failure in poems can be quantitatively measured). I spoke of how ‘reproduction infinitum’ fails from my point of view, because if anything it’s too comprehensible. Or maybe parts of it are too ‘instinctive’? Michael Farrell has spoken about using chance procedures to ‘escape a reliance on instinct (which often means convention)’. During composition I sometimes find myself seduced by narrative flow, or the urge to ‘tidy up’ the meaning of the poem – seduced by precision, you might say. I’m sure some poets would see precision (and perhaps also narrative flow) as necessary in the construction of a ‘successful’ poem. In the early stages of composition, the possibilities may seem endless. When working with collage, a phrase may glow with potential, with multifarious referentiality. It may seem to magnetise with certain other phrases in the ‘pot’, and to repel others. I usually find there’s an instinctive urge to ‘match’ phrase with phrase along narrative or thematic lines, but often the more interesting links are forged via a certain amount of randomness.

Aden asked whether we consider ourselves experimental poets, and whether others had described our work in this way. At the time I said I couldn’t recall my work being described in this way, although on reflection it probably has been. Not that there’s a voluminous body of criticism on my work (in fact, this ‘body’ is pretty much limited to the comments on this blog)! I added that I don’t introduce myself as ‘Stu Hatton, experimental poet’ (and like Derek, at times I hesitate to even refer to myself as a poet – depends on the context). But when the conversation goes along the lines of ‘Oh, you’re a poet, what kind of poetry do you write?’ I’d probably use the e word in there somewhere, although I’d probably add that my work is fairly eclectic (another 'loaded' e-word). And I should note that I’ve certainly flirted (at length?) with the lyric I / the sincere subjective mode. All of this may become clearer if/when my book surfaces. Having said all that, people are more likely to ask, ‘What do you write about?’ to which I’ve been known to half-jokingly reply, ‘sex, drugs, rock & roll’. But if there’s a one-word answer it may be ‘desire’ – that’s the theme of How to be Hungry, at least.

I went on to say that I found the concept/metaphor of experimentation useful in terms of understanding my poetic practice. I gave a provisional definition of ‘experimental’ within this context: poetry where anything/everything is permitted/admitted – or better: poetry where any form of constraint is permitted. (Cf. OuLiPo). This is a broad and somewhat unsatisfactory definition, but I think it serves a modest purpose in terms of understanding the range of poetic practice, and the openness of outlook which I see as critical to an experimental approach. That hinge of unrestricted/restrictive poetics is important to me. Such a definition isn’t really helpful when looking at individual poems, though. More needs to be said regarding intent.

Jill’s ‘notes for a talk’ come in here. The quote from Gertrude Stein and Jill’s emphasis of certain words within it lead me to the one of the 'lessons'/reminders I've taken from the panel: the convergence of the experimental and experiential. At some point the question of the etymology of ‘experimental’ was raised. A member of the audience responded that it was from the Latin experientia. The history of the word ‘experiment’ aligns it closely with experience. I noted that it may be interesting to substitute the word ‘experiential’ for ‘experimental’ in our discussion, and see where that led/left us. I believe that Jill’s, Michael’s and Derek’s work could be profitably read through this tension (if indeed it is a tension) between experiential and experimental.

Talk of the experiential/experimental immediately led me to mindfulness and awareness, and the admission of the environment, noise and ‘the random’ into the poem at the time of composition. Also admission of the ‘meta’ – the poet’s thoughts during and about compositon, for example, but this covers reflexivity in general.

So far in this post I’ve talked about composition as if it were a discrete time, a cordoned-off period or activity, as if composition doesn’t occur at all times. But the poet is always composing, in so far as the poet is always being composed. Composed by and of. How does composure relate to composition? Back again to mindfulness...

The question of audience came up, namely: who makes up the audience for experimental poetry in Australia? I listed the obvious: other poets, creative writers, artists (particularly those with an experimental bent), literary critics. Beyond that I’d say the audience is largely unknown – but the audience can (and does) exist beyond these confines. Off the top of my head, there are readers of my blog who don’t fit into any of the aforementioned categories. And when we consider experimental poetry beyond the private reader and the public reading, in realms noted by Kinsella, such as installations, multimedia and performance, I believe the potential audience becomes wider. I see multimedia, visual and video poetry as ways forward – by engaging audiences on a audio/visual level that goes beyond perceived ‘limitations’ of poetry as language-art. I’m thinking media and performances which incorporate but are not delimited by the written word, the voiced word, the performative body of the poet.

Thanks to facilitator Aden Rolfe and my fellow panelists for an engaging discussion. At the end, asked to sum up, I said that I still didn't know what 'experimental' meant. I guess I was being flippant. If I were to arrive at a settled definition, maybe my own experimentation would cease at that point. Provisionality is important.

moral highchair (2009)

saved from that
head overdesiring
the guesswork’s sure
unsheer give them 3
kilos of ghost that
should be sufficient
how much they’ve
spent on their eyes
losing like they’re told
the dead body grazed
on the billboard
directed at drivers
overloaded with i
don’t knows lost
mission control those
careless astronauts