Search results

THE THINGLINESS OF THINGS: an interview with Jen Webb and Paul Hetherington

Posted on July 17, 2015 by in Lighthouse Yarns

FullSizeRender (93)The scholar who admits to taking images on her phone when tipsy. The poet who exhibits his work in art galleries. A little capital city that was boldly designed from the ground up. And the book the three of them have created. No, this is not the start of a joke; it’s a very serious business. (Well, mostly.)

Jen Webb is Distinguished Professor of Creative Practice at the University of Canberra and Director of the Centre for Creative and Cultural Research. She has published 18 books, some creative, most of them scholarly, with several translated and republished for Chinese, Korean and Indian readerships. Her scholarly work for the most part deals with art, visual culture, and representation. She also makes and exhibits artist books, incorporating her photographs and fragments of creative writing, and has published and performed her poetry across Australia and New Zealand, and in Canada, the UK and the USA.

Paul Hetherington has previously published eight full-length collections of poetry, three poetry chapbooks and a collaborative book of poetry and digital imagery with Anita Fitton. He won the 2014 Western Australian Premier’s Book Awards (poetry) and was a finalist in the 2014 international Aesthetica Creative Writing Competition. He was also shortlisted for the 2013 Newcastle Poetry Prize and the 2013 Montreal International Poetry prize. In 2014 he was awarded an Australia Council for the Arts Residency at the BR Whiting Studio in Rome. He is Professor of Writing in the Faculty of Arts and Design at the University of Canberra and head of the International Poetry Studies Institute (IPSI) there.

What is it that they have created? And why?

Interviewer: Nigel Featherstone

INTERVIEWER

Congratulations on the publication of Watching the World: impressions of Canberra (Blemish Books, 2015). It’s a beautifully produced collection of images and poems focussing on one of the world’s most intriguing designed cities – in a way it is both a unique coffee-table anthology and an exploration of a place. What was the motivation for the book?

WEBB

The motivation was the Centenary of Canberra, 2013: the celebration of a hundred years since the establishment of Australia’s national capital. There’s a lovely line in a Dorothy Porter poem: ‘Imagine a city/where it’s mostly/imagine’ (from ‘On Reading EM Forster’s Guide to Alexandria’, in her collection The Bee Hut, Black Inc., 2009). A small group of us here at the University of Canberra wanted to put on an exhibition as part of the Centenary celebrations, and riffing off Dorothy’s line, we called the exhibition Imagine Canberra.

Paul and I decided we would do a collaborative poetry + photography piece, works that reflected our own personal and idiosyncratic Canberra(s), and we exhibited these in little balsa-wood cheese boxes, their circular shape mirroring Canberra’s endlessly circling roads, and the great circles on the Griffin-Mahoney designs of Canberra. Getting the work together forced us to spend quite a bit of time moving around in, looking at, and thinking about this place: at once our hometown, and the government centre of the country.

We showed the work twice: in the Belconnen Arts Centre, as part of Imagine Canberra, and again at a creative writing conference held at the end of 2013. By this point we had come (a) to really like the ideas in the work and (b) to want to improve it – change the saturation in the photos, for instance; sharpen up some of the lines of poetry; develop it all a bit more.

HETHERINGTON

Jen has nicely summed up how the exhibition and publication got underway, and what we then did. It was a chance to extend my collaborative work with a poet and artist I admire a great deal – and someone who is a very supportive and generous colleague, too. I thought Jen’s photographs for this project were wonderfully engaging from the first time she showed me a few of them – representing views of Canberra, a national capital, that were at once intimate, observant, unexpected, and full of the quotidian stuff of the city.

Yet, this was not so much the quotidian doings of Canberra’s citizens – although Jen’s images do represent those doings in judicious and creative ways. The images captured the quotidian life of the city itself as expressed in buildings, places, monuments, scenes and occasions. There are large views and vistas, and small, exquisite details. Some of the images have a relaxed and deceptive apparent casualness that welcomes the viewer while being sharply observant.

They were superb images to work with as a poet; and posed the challenge: how shall I find words that will have their own life and poetic structures while also complementing Jen’s visual imagery, and which will create some sort of implicit dialogue between image and poem? I did not wish my poems to be ekphrastic or descriptive works; I wanted them to be companion pieces; pieces that spoke to what Jen had seen and made; and which saw and were made differently, but in strongly connected ways. The original project title, ‘Circles and Intersections’, acknowledged this process – of the way we both circled and intersected with each other’s work, and its creative imaginings; how we didn’t try to find too many straight lines of connection; how we made a book that celebrates the circuitous and lateral connections that Canberra as a designed city embodies and expresses in various ways for all of its occupants – and for visitors, too.

In such ways, the book is certainly an exploration of place; and it is an exploration of how seeing double sometimes has a multiplying effect. Our joined imaginings about Canberra are an attempt to provide multiple perspectives that arise from the nearly simultaneous consideration of laterally related visual and verbal imagery.

INTERVIEWER

The Porter line about cities and imagination seems fantastically appropriate to Canberra, especially when paired with the stated ambition of Walter Burley Griffin, the American landscape architect Walter Burley Griffin who, in collaboration with Marion Mahony Griffin, won the international design competition for Australia’s national capital: ‘I have planned a city that is not like any other in the world.’ I wonder if you both could talk more about the intersection between the urban imagination – or the imagination of the urban – and the visual/poetic imagination. By this I mean, do you believe there is a direct link between Canberra being a place of such imaginative deliberation and how you produced the work in Watching the World?

watching-the-world-cover-01-(outlines)HETHERINGTON

That’s a good question, and one that’s not easy to answer. This book is a culmination for me of nearly 25 years as an inhabitant of Canberra, and it incorporates many years of responding to the city on a daily basis – responses that are no doubt embedded in the rhythms and cadences of my poetry as well as in its observations.

In terms of the city more particularly, I have always been attracted to poetry, and to art in general, partly because it is made – because it is designed – and I remember when I arrived in Canberra a key aspect of the attraction of this city for me was the attractive strangeness of finding a place that would be a home in the usual informal ways associated with homeliness, while also being conspicuously and rather grandly conceived and ‘made’ – even if not made entirely in Walter Burley Griffin’s and Marion Mahony Griffin’s original image.

Exploring the city poetically for this book constituted a re-engagement with what I knew in this way – as a citizen of a city who had carried my impressions of its original and attractive strangeness with me for two and a half decades but who also wished to reappraise it. In doing so, I realised that I’d never relinquished the sense that Canberra was not like other cities and that I enjoyed this idea of its difference (some people criticise Canberra for that – they suggest that it is sterile, or too organised, or what-have-you – but I have always liked the sense of reserve the city possesses). I used this sense of difference as my point of departure for the poems I wrote.

I was also reminded that Canberra is a city that is in the throes of growing up – simultaneously a fully-fledged national capital and a mixture of suburban and semi-rural spaces. Much of its current charm comes from the way the grid-lines of its original design, and the beauty of its landscapes, are sprawling in ways that are creating a more modern, more haphazard place, despite the efforts of planners to control and moderate such development.

Jen’s photographs capture this in-between, sprawling moment in our city’s life very well and with considerable subtlety, and I love that about them. My poems respond to that quality; as well as to the thoughtful, sometimes playful, sometimes almost quizzical spirit of her work and, as a result, they are about her images of the city as well as about the city as I know it.

I suppose, then, that the poems are written out of an attempt to say, isn’t this interesting – to be here; to see a city like this in its current stage of development; to live in a place that’s so extraordinary but which I mostly know in a daily, ordinary way and which Jen has helped me see freshly. I tried to find words to speak directly and simply of such things – a complex city’s complicated life.

INTERVIEWER

Jen, was this shifting between the ordinary and the extraordinary, as Paul describes it, something that you tried to work with when producing your images?

WEBB

I don’t think I ever aimed to shift between the ordinary and the extraordinary. My conscious aim was to find images of Canberra that were entirely quotidian, even banal. If there is a shift to the extraordinary here and there, that’s quite likely because the everyday world itself is extraordinary, or at least contains the extraordinary. I used my smaller camera and my phone camera, and deliberately just took snapshots – a shameful thing to do, no doubt, but I had a vague idea that this would allow me to be very ordinary, and to capture images en passant, as it were: not capital P Photos, but the everyday glimpses of the city we Canberrans see, often without noticing them, because they are so very familiar.

Walter Abish has a sort of a treatise on this in his wonderful novel How German Is It (W W Norton & Co Inc, 1980) where one of his characters presents a lesson on the familiar, and how very hard we – or the familiar things themselves – must work to achieve that status. I’ve always been taken by the idea that, when looked at aslant, everything becomes new and strange. And that because photographs – even snapshots – freeze the moment, they afford a sudden stasis in which we can look again at what has just flickered past our eyes, and in looking, come to see.

AirforceMemorialAfter Paul wrote the first group of poems that responded to my photos, I was quite captivated by the almost delicate tiptoeing into his lyrical versions of Canberra. Especially in a couple of the very short poems, there was a sort of catching and releasing of breath. His response to my shot of the RAAF memorial on ANZAC Parade, for example: ‘Hands that have left/no print/being wings’ seems to me to be a sort of sob, or stutter of breath; a hesitation in Paul’s articulation that reflects the stutter, or perhaps shudder, in history caused by all those unnecessary deaths, and all the sorrow and rage that accompanied them.

After reading his poems, I went out and took more photos, still aiming at the banal but perhaps a little more infused now by lyricism; and then in the process of preparing the photos for the exhibition – cropping and cleaning – I deliberately over-saturated them to make them un-real, more like 1960s picture postcards, more like an evocation than a record – attempting in that way to creep a little closer to the poems themselves. It seemed to me that the process we followed in this collaboration – back and forth, show and tell, revisit and reshape – led to the poems and photos leaning closer and closer to each other until they became less two discrete bodies of work, and more a single statement, if that makes sense.

INTERVIEWER

Another example of the image and the poem merging to become a single statement is ‘Conversations’. Could you both talk a little about how this particular work came together?

HETHERINGTON

These works – Jen’s photograph and my brief poem entitled ‘Conversations’ – began with her image of chairs on a table in what looked like a cafe. I liked this image immensely, not only because of the shapes of the chairs, but because of the way the image foregrounded them. A detail that is usually overlooked or taken for granted – the putting up of chairs at the end of the day, often for cleaning purposes – was placed centre stage. And it was placed in such a way that the usual narratives associated with such details were obscured – was this, indeed, a cafe; if so, where was it; and what was the connection to the shop where, as the sign says, there was a ‘suit sale’; etcetera?

Conversations (1)The image was like a quotidian fragment with almost no contextualising narrative. It said to me: ‘Look at this. This is what happens every day in many, many places. And, ordinary as it is, there’s something noteworthy about it; and even a kind of beauty inherent in the daily rhythms of the opening and closing of shops; and of people coming and going.’ And, as I looked, I thought the chairs were like faux gold crowns – not only in their upturned shapes and colour, but in the way the act of placing them on tables at the end of a day ‘crowned’ the day’s business. The image also reminded me that conversations in cafes are often of a particularly ephemeral nature; that cafes are frequently less than entirely satisfactory; and also that there’s a certain drabness about the decor of many such places.

In my poem I didn’t want to say everything suggested to me by the image; rather I wanted to make a work that might complement the image and provide the reader/viewer with the chance to look twice, as it were, at what Jen had made – once to ‘read’ the image in the first place; and then to read it again through the poem. In this way the poem was written to be at the image’s service.

However, I also wanted the dynamic to work the other way, so that readers of the poem could afterwards attend to the image, importing its visual information back into my words. The poem is deliberately restrained as a result – to allow such a dynamic to occur. It says what I hope is just-enough-and-no-more to be part of that larger conversation between image and word:

Conversations

The café was more drab
than he’d remembered,
neglected conversations
strewn in awkward pride
like yellow crowns.

WEBB

Ditto to all Paul said. I took that photo extremely late on New Year’s Eve, slightly tipsy, when we stopped off at the Belconnen shops to pick up milk for the morning’s coffee. The place was almost entirely deserted, with everything but the grocer shut down and asleep. I loved the colour of the chairs and the shape of their legs in the air. When I showed Paul, he responded as he said, which led me to revisit the chair images I’d shot, change the saturation, change the cropping etc. I decided, after reading ‘Conversations’, to pull in very tight around the chairs so that it was AllAboutThem. They are, of course, awkward in that upside-down context – gawky, inelegant, and yet entirely chairs. Thinking about the ephemerality of conversation in cafes, I came to feel that the chairs were utterly uninterested in what we have to say, and that perhaps what matters to them are the long quiet nights when they commune only with each other. (I know of course they are only made objects and not sentient beings, but you know . . .)

INTERVIEWER

Do you see the publication of Watching the World as the end of this project?

WEBB

I think the Watching the World project is over; we’ve exhibited the work (twice), reworked it, and now published it. But the notion of watching the world is by no means over. Paul and I worked on two other photography+poetry collaborations last year, and are presently working on another, and all have involved, to a very great extent, looking closely at the everyday things of the world, and responding to them. I find myself uninterested in whatever is ‘grand’, whether it’s abstract theories or material objects that are labelled as such. I tend to photograph the un-grand: water, street signs, graffiti, leaves, stones. I like to see what they might say to me in their small voices. Paul has a wonderful ability to find the smallest gesture, the most ordinary story, and translate it into a clear and captivating poem. So many of his poems treat the everyday: family relationships, something someone once said, the look of a jar or cup or dress. I think our two different-but-related aesthetics work well together.

I have been very interested, for a long time, in phenomenology as a way of pursuing research projects, and therefore interested in the thingliness of things, in ways of figuring out what it might mean to be. Related to that is a body of reading I’ve done in the writings of scholars like Humberto Maturana and Franscisco Varela, who described the reflexive mechanisms that operate in all living beings that allow them to interact with everything in their environment; this interaction means there is a constant flow of knowledge between living beings and environment, and that each is continually changing the other. They were writing as biologists, but the concepts they posited have been adopted by sociologists and philosophers et al, because they open up a very interesting space to think about cognition: knowing, being, seeing. They offer a great phrase: ‘Anything said is said by an observer’ – and in that seeing and saying, the thing is changed. I’m intrigued by how the act of observing – of watching the world – might change both me and that part of the world I am observing and ‘saying’, and might afford new ways of understanding. That’s probably enough said on that!

I very much doubt we’ll ever take the original Watching the World objects out for a spin again (in fact, I’m keen to burn them ceremonially!). I’m confident that we have more projects to come that demand we bring ourselves very close to those everyday objects, converse with them, watch what they do, and have a bash at rendering them in photos, poems or other modes of representation.

HETHERINGTON

I think the answer has to be yes and no. The Watching the World book, and the related exhibition that the book grew out of, have now been produced – although, as this interview is taking place, the book is yet to be launched and it has yet to fully find its place in our literary and visual culture. But I suspect that those projects are unlikely to reappear in any other guise or manifestation.

On a broader level, the book is one of a number of joint projects that Jen and I have embarked on, all of them connected to poetry, imagery and collaboration, and in that sense – as one manifestation of that larger collaborative enterprise – it is perhaps a kind of staging post: a place where we may pause and reflect prior to producing further work.

More generally, still, I tend to think that making art is a more-or-less continuous process in which new work builds on and develops previous work; and in which there are cycles of development and recurrence. I suspect that the writing and photographs in Watching the World have already enabled other kinds of creative work for both of us, and that they will return in some form or another, perhaps years hence – and possibly when we believe that they belong only to the past. In such a recurrence they will no doubt be reinflected and perhaps even wearing disguises of some kind, but in that way they are likely to continue to be part of a future conversation that Jen and I have with one another; and they may help us make further work at that time.

I believe that artists are almost always looking back as well as forwards; that the forwards-backwards dynamic is, indeed, how the engine that drives creativity works. As we watch the world today, we understand where we have been a little better; and we also prepare for what we will do in the future.

 

__________________________________________________________

Watching the World: Impressions of Canberra by Jen Webb and Paul Hetherington will be launched on Tuesday 21 July at the National Library of Australia in Canberra. The publication can be purchased directly from Blemish Books.

 

 

 

QPF PHILIP BACON EKPHRASIS AWARD WINNERS 2017

Posted on September 26, 2017 by in Arrests of Attention, Events, Heightened Talk

Queensland Poetry Festival’s Philip Bacon Ekphrasis Award, now in its third year, is named after one of Australia’s premier art dealers. All the paintings used in the competition are personally selected by (and from the collection of ) Philip Bacon, the patron of Queensland’s only ekphrastic prize.

The word ‘ekphrasis’ comes from the Greek ‘ek’ (out) and ‘phrasis’ (speak), as well as the verb ‘ekphrazein’, which means to call an inanimate object by name. Artistically, ekphrasis is a rhetorical device in which a visual object, usually a work of art, is vividly described by another artistic medium — in this case, a poem of under 12 lines in length.

Michele Seminara and Nathan Sheperdson announcing the award winners at QPF 2017

This year’s Philip Bacon Ekphrasis Award judges were Nathan Shepherdson and Michele Seminara. First prize went to Dael Allison, second prize to Magdalena Ball, and Joe Dolce and Maddie Godfrey were highly commended.

The judges commented that ‘because the award is for a twelve line poem, its constraint can be both a challenge and an advantage. This is counterbalanced by the fact that the poets have five paintings on offer as their subject. For the poet and reader this allows a multiple lane approach. All the shortlisted poems are works whose sum is greater than their descriptive parts. It’s not a simple process to make successful poetry from artworks that are already high calibre images of self sufficiency. The insight and contemplation of the poet invites us to step inside and outside of each frame. This was particularly evident in the case of Dael Allison’s winning poem, ‘Gethsemane, Bribie Island 1958′, which impressed the judges by responding not only to the artwork, but to the life of artist Ian Fairweather. The judges were struck by the analogies Allison’s poem drew between the last reclusive years Fairweather spent on Queensland’s Bribie Island, and Christ’s final night spent praying in the garden of Gethsemane. This multi-layered approach was what ultimately set the 1st prize winning poem apart.’

Congratulations to the shortlisted and winning poets, and thanks to Queensland Poetry Festival for allowing Verity La to publish the poems and artworks that inspired them.

Ian Fairweather, ‘Gethsemane’, 1958

Gethsemane, Bribie Island 1958 (Dael Allison)

after ‘Gethsemane’ by Ian Fairweather 

evening draws sludge-grey over bribie’s huts and bungalows. soon men will lie
in attitudes of the dead, night a purpose to give themselves up to. all day black
cockatoos – yellow-tailed and red – gossiped in the island pines, cracked cones
hard as olive pits, dropped them to the sand. sharp points pierce my naked feet.
how to convey geometries of this lonely place, trampled paths, grubs burrowing
oblivious under bark. can abandonment be measured on cardboard? lamp-light
makes time and colour fugitive, load the brushes before the kerosene runs out.
paint an offering, a chalice of wine or blood, poisoned in hindsight. all things
can be renounced: jam-jar, row-boat, life – that grand obsession. escape fades
into distance. mopokes hoot three denials, no knowing if they watch, or sleep.
line and resolve circle and meet at the point of surrender, marked with a cross.

 

Agony in the Garden (Magdalena Ball)

after ‘Gethsemane’ by Ian Fairweather 

it’s here, just this spot, soft breath of life against my cheek, insistent, the way you
break into angles against my hips, your lips moving unwilling through the maze
darkness comes from within, inherent, so when night finally arrives, this grove of
olive trees resolves to lines and shapes, your eyes shaded by the weight
blood tears, the world broken into abstraction, there is nothing I wouldn’t do now

scale the walls you’ve placed around yourself, find you in the spaces the cracks
where starlight bends, where nothing is visible, not even your face, sensing only
the edge of your jaw, your shrugging shoulders, thin as a ruler’s edge, tortured
into the confines of an ever repeating death, waiting, slipping, your prayer
layered in green tissue, envy, solace, and just this spot, waiting always for
another word, another breath, the trees creak sweet agony, soft, ready to submit

Garry Shead, ‘Homage to Rembrandt’, 1999

Homage to Shead (Joe Dolce)

after ‘Homage to Rembrandt’ by Garry Shead

Come now, Erato, and I’ll tell you, not
of Matthew’s angel, Jacob’s wrestling,
the Shepherds’ vision, or old Abraham’s
entertainments, departures from Tobit
and Tobias; nor will you see phantoms
of the Master’s darkness, the three of four
children dead (with their mother), seductions
of nurse and maid, the pauper’s burial;
not chiaroscuro’s light and umbra,
but Boyd’s Tinkerbell muse, held by a leg,
the painter’s eyes closed, about to be slapped,
Saskia/Judith watching at the door.

Michael Zavros, ‘LS06’, 2011

Three Winters (Maddie Godfrey)

after LS06, by Michael Zavros

I am not thinking about his hands, only how promises turn cold
like forgotten tea cups on bedside tables. I am thinking about
all the warmth I have held without knowing its shape, how empty
palms wait like tarmac. I lost so many lovers like house keys
I stopped locking the door. Knew that the wind would prove itself
a companion, of sorts. I am not thinking about those Roman remains,
excavated skeletons still holding hands after two thousand years.
two thousand winters. I am not thinking about you as skeleton,
all the ways you remain. I’d invite scars of soil beneath my fingernails
just to excavate the shape of your hands. it has been three winters.

 

Too Late for Taxidermy (Joe Dolce) 

after LS06, by Michael Zavros

No nerves, arteries or veins,
no Versace, dressage or pretty boys,
Lion Skull Number Six,
free of bare ass,
stares outward, turbinate bones
of nasal cavity,
once enhancing a hunter’s sense,
now immune to cologne,
bodiless, six hundred pound bite,
clamped tight,
hearthole in the head,
bone bowling ball trophy.

 

____________________________________________________________

Dael Allison is a poet, fiction writer, essayist and editor who is undertaking a Doctorate in Creative Writing at the University of Newcastle. Her research focus is the literature of the Hunter region, and her creative project a short-story cycle based in the region. She has won prizes for poetry and essay, including the Wildcare International Essay prize. Her Masters in Creative Arts at UTS (2012) researched modernist painter Ian Fairweather. The result was a volume of poetry, Fairweather’s Raft, published by Walleah Press in 2012.  In 2014 eleven of Dael’s Fairweather poems featured in a soundscape in the ABC’s Poetica program. She has also had two poetry chapbooks published by Picaro Press (2010 and 2013).

Magdalena Ball is editor-in-chief of Compulsive Reader and is the author of several published books of poetry and fiction. Her latest novel is Black Cow (Bewrite Books) and her latest poetry collection is Unmaking Atoms (Ginninderra Press).


Maddie Godfrey
is an Australian-bred performance poet, writer and theatre maker. At 22 she has performed at the Sydney Opera House, The Royal Albert Hall, The Bowery Poetry Club and Glastonbury Festival 2017. Maddie was recently a writer-in-residence at St Paul’s Cathedral in London. She is not a morning person. For more information visit Maddie at her website or on Facebook.

Joe Dolce was born in the USA and moved to Australia in 1979. He is a singer, songwriter, composer, essayist, poet, and the writer and performer of the most successful Australian song in history, ‘Shaddap You Face’, which went to number 1 in fifteen countries. He is the winner of the 2017 University of Canberra Health Poetry Prize, with an 8-part choral libretto, and was long-listed for 2017 University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor’s International Poetry Prize. He was shortlisted for both the Newcastle Poetry Prize and Canberra Vice-Chancellor’s Poetry Prize in 2014, and was the winner of the 25th Launceston Poetry Cup. His poetry has appeared in Best Australian Poems 2015 & 2014, and has been published in Meanjin, Monthly, Southerly, Cordite, The  Canberra Times, Quadrant, Australian Poetry Journal, Not Shut Up (UK), North of Oxford (US), and Antipodes (US). Joe is a recipient of the Advance Australia Award. He is presently on staff at the Australian Institute of Music teaching Composition (with special emphasis on setting poetry-to-music). His latest book, On Murray’s Run (Ginninderra Press), comprising 150 poems and song lyrics selected by Queen’s Gold Medal for poetry winner Les Murray, will be launched on Oct 14, at Collected Works in Melbourne. For information visit Joe’s website.

Poems From Glasshouses
(Stuart Barnes/Leigh Backhouse)

Posted on July 18, 2017 by in Book Extracts, Heightened Talk

Untitled, 2016, by Leigh Backhouse


ENDONE® Oxycodone hydrochloride 5 mg

Blister-white tablet engraved with ‘ENDONE’
on one side, break bar the other.
It does not take the place of your doctor
or pharmacist: opium or morphine:
Accident or Emergency.

Store it below ground, above ground, in
an unlocked cupboard. Store it in the bathroom,
store it near the sink. Leave it on every
window sill, leave it in the car. Swallow
it before meals with a glass of nausea.

Do not show your pupils, abnormal,
do not show your restlessness, do not show your goose
-flesh, do not show your fast heart rate, do not show your new
-born child to a doctor or pharmacist.

 

Port Curtis Road’s End

The inability to weep furrows the
pit of my gut like a plough. I, a bull’s-eye,
Port Curtis Road’s end. Why won’t you return my
calls. Cows gawk. Wind scallops algae-

green water, grass and fingers. Pop … Pop … Fish?
My heart, too, is scalloped. The A1, a crane
pirouettes. The iPhone pumps Let England Shake.
I scratch at a plump mosquito bite, inner

right knee. My mind pumps also: Why won’t you re-
turn my calls, return my calls, ret
Ducks startle, zip the river as though a dredge
were suctioning their webbing. Heehaw. Heehaw.

Hush. Hush. I marvel at my indifference.
I also gawk, at the cows’ simplicity.

*

I turn to a gathering murmuration.
Starlings dip below this bridge then boomerang,
passing over easy meat, to Uluru-
shrewd Mount Archer. Dead white gums. Tonight you’ll wail

Your neck’s burnt, yet proffer no aloe. Bottle-
green shards, hectares and farmhouses. Shadows
crane from left to right, lengthen: I gabble O’s,
sculpture a hedge of tiny white stones: Oxy-

codone: bulging disc: God, I’d kill for a drink.
Something larger’s taken to the air: a rap-
tor, black against unmoving clouds. A foolscap
saccule swishes: Thoroughbred horsehair: a syn-

chronization: Grey Goose, Raven Ale, Wild Turkey. I
narrow blinders: tropical boondocks widen.

 

Black Cockatoos

after David Brooks

Red-
tailed Bedouins
of Poetry, black
cockatoos embroider
the sun into us,
seam-rip it asunder.

*

On the Fitzroy’s
bank at midday,
cracking seeds of eucalypts
that outrank Council, a hundred
Banksian black cockatoos,
a paroxysm of commas.

*

With their subtler
complex-
ions, the females infinitely
more beautiful
than the ludic-
rously coloured gatherers.

*

The gospel according to the locals:
‘Four black cockatoos
kreeing seawards
means four days of rain’
(burkesbackyard.com.au confirms it).
I am not a God-fearing man.

*

Should black cockatoos
know
that theirs are the colours of life?
Indefatigable black
and needlepointed into this
starry orange and yellow.

*

Imprisoned
black cockatoos
long-lived as man
neglectful beneath the same
white sun, its ROYGBIV illusion
destroyed by the tiniest prism.

 

Matrimonies

Their delicate armies sway
   the ambiguities of space.
Feel in your hands, before you play,

trembling in warmth, and rising,
the agitation of the strings.
It would be comforting to sing

      to the solid mercy of water.
Grasshoppers click and whirr.
      I am high on acid rock, on wandering glitter.

I feel your pulsebeat through my fingertips.
Look, where the grass grows more intense:
grows luminous in distance,

shaping my lips. I lie
      among dazzling visions, lying
to the fine edge of clarity:

The season for philosophy draws on.
Sparrows flock to my pond.
Verses flow in a never-ending torrent.

Death has no features of his own.
Music’s much more than flesh and bone.
What’s all this but the language of illusion?

 

These poems are excerpted from Stuart Barnes’ award winning collection Glasshouses (UQP).

Note: ‘ENDONE® Oxycodone hydrochloride 5 mg’ is a remix of ENDONE® oxycodone hydrochloride CMI

‘Matrimonies’ is a cento from Gwen Harwood’s ‘Reed Voices’, ‘The Wasps’, ‘A Music Lesson’, ‘Songs of Eve I’, ‘Moonlight’, ‘An Old Graveyard’, ‘Looking towards Bruny’, ‘Carnal Knowledge II’, ‘Mappings of the Plane’, ‘Night Thoughts: Baby & Demon’, ‘Oyster Cove Pastorals’, ‘Shellgrit’, ‘Dust to Dust’, ‘Night Flight’, ‘Littoral’, ‘Thoughts before Sunrise’, ‘Three Poems for Margaret Diesendorf’, ‘A Public Place’, ‘Death Has No Features of His Own’, ‘A Music Lesson’, ‘After a Dream’

____________________________________________________________

Photo: Leigh Backhouse


Stuart
Barnes
was born in Hobart, Tasmania, and educated at Monash University, Victoria. His first poetry collection Glasshouses (UQP, 2016) won the 2015 Arts Queensland Thomas Shapcott Prize, was commended for the 2016 FAW Anne Elder Award, and was shortlisted for the 2017 ASAL Mary Gilmore Award. Stuart‘s learning Catalan and translating Imma Tubella’s Un secret de l’Empordà into English. Since 2013 he has lived in Central Queensland and been poetry editor for Tincture Journal. Visit his website and follow him on Twitter.

*

Leigh Backhouse is a photographer and can be contacted on Twitter.

 

 

 

 

Interviews

Posted on June 2, 2017 by in

THE INDUSTRIALS:

MELBOURNE REVIEW INTERVIEWS 2010-2012
(by – or facilitated by – Alec Patric)

CLOZAPINE CLINIC—THE FRATER PROJECT

Posted on November 18, 2016 by in

3495241893_347905540c_z

image credit: Cole Young

Verity La presents Clozapine Clinic—The Frater Project, an editing collaboration between Alise Blayney and Tim Heffernan. The Clozapine Clinic Project, inspired by the surreal poetry of the late Benjamin Frater, seeks to publish writing which engages with experiences of individual and societal madness, and which highlights the creativity, synchronicity and meaning that can come with that experience. We aim to support writers with mental health issues who are wanting to HOWL and explore the relationship between creativity and madness. 

So, go against your brainwashing grain. We want ‘over-acuteness of the senses’ (cheers Edgar). We want political INcorrectness, we want more RAW mind. As real as you can stand it. We’ll cop it. We want passion and pen-ink stain, we want rage and hurt and tenderness, we want synchronicity and dignity of RISK. We want vulnerability, honesty and how that redeems itself on the page. We want empowerment and transformation of consciousness, we want AGAPE that stands the heartache of time. So draw back your bow — WE want YOUR arrow!

For this project, we primarily welcome submissions of poetry, but are happy to consider fiction, nonfiction, essay, multimedia — and anything in between.

We welcome previously unpublished works by emerging and experienced writers from anywhere in the world.

Submissions via our Submittable. We accept submissions during the months of February, May and August. For examples of work published on Clozapine Clinic, see our Vault.

Psst…to find out more about Tim, Alise, Ben and the origins of the Clozapine Clinic Project, listen to our Mad Poets Podcast.

To purchase Ben’s poetry collection, 6am in the Universe, visit Grand Parade Poets.

alise-blayney
Alise
 Blayney graduated as a Creative Writing student at the University of Wollongong in 2007. She is intrigued by the relationship between mental and emotional distress, and creativity.

Her chosen medium to explore this is through poetry, by exploring break-down and moving towards break-through. She is interested in the different explanatory frameworks of how people make sense of what has happened to them, and how the power of language can shape, transform and rebuild identity. She is deeply moved by seeing people become the director of their own recovery journey.

 

tim

Tim Heffernan first went mad in 1983 when Reagan was President. He first published in the Wagga Daily Advertiser in 1985 and has since got other poems out of the Cold War and into the mainstream. It is fitting that the Clozapine Clinic coincides with another actor as president — poetry needs to be political. Tim works as a peer support worker in mental health and wishes he could prescribe poetry.

ben-frater1Benjamin Frater (27 February 1979 – 4 July 2007) was a talented and original poet who, after many years suffering from schizophrenia, died at 28. Pretty much unknown to the wider poetry community, his only publication was Bughouse Meat (2003) a chapbook. At the time of his death he was working on Preyed Hotel, a fragmentary epic centred on the Green Acre Tavern (where his father is licensee) but which also grows out of the joys and sufferings which marked so much of Ben’s life. From the age of 19 he kept returning to the Faculty of Creative Arts, University of Wollongong, where he was about a semester away from finishing his degree. (Having him on campus for nine years was like having a permanent Writer in Residence!)

Three things dominated Ben’s life: poetry, his illness and the devotion between him, his family and friends. Of course, schizophrenia could make him a very demanding person at times (though the greatest demands were alas on Ben) but he was also extremely giving. As a friend and as a poet he was not a snob, and although his work was high powered and erudite, to the point of appearing elitist to some, this was a man who loved the work of Nick Cave and The Doors, who could surprise everyone by bursting into country and western numbers, and who loved playing the pokies at the Illawarra Leagues Club accompanied by a schooner of Guinness. He could use the world ‘yes!’ in conversation with great force, with his other aural trademark being a good natured giggle.

benWith the exception of the great Francis Webb, it is not in an Australian poet’s job description that they be rhapsodic, surreal and visionary. Well this is where Ben came in and even went one better, creating ‘visions’ out of Campbelltown (his home town) Greenacre and Wollongong, with acres of his imagination populated by, among other beings, threatening minotaurs, scorpions and, above all, life affirming yaks. (For whatever reason he called himself the Catholic Yak, whilst this writer was the Protestant Elk!) At times Ben’s poetry may have been large, unwieldy and frequently nightmarish, but with his extraordinary humour to back proceedings, they were always written for an audience’s enjoyment. Anyone who heard him at his best (his joint book launch with fellow poet Rob Wilson or his recent, and last, recital at the Five Islands Brewery) will attest to this, though the power of his performance was such that like Hendrix at Woodstock, he had to go last: no one could follow Ben.

His close friend Habib Zeitouneh tells how at Airds High School Ben was part of an ‘arty’ group which was respected because of their ability at winning debating competitions and academic prizes. In year 12 he organized a reading in the Matador Room at his father’s Golf View Hotel, Guilford, where over one hundred heard him read his own work, with his grandmother Florence Bond as special guest. Habib describes Florence as Ben’s first ‘go to person’ in poetry. Ten years later it was Ben who had this role, however briefly, among many younger writers of Wollongong. Earlier with Rob Wilson, Tim Cahill and Ben Michell, he had formed the Syntactical Activists, a group dedicated to poetry and undergrad goodtimes. With Rob he instituted ‘shoot outs’ marathon phone calls where each bombarded the other with words, phrases and indeed poems. Ben, although forced by his illness to so often operate on his own, was still a very loyal colleague to all.

A Photograph from Ben's Notebook

a photograph from Ben’s notebook

Ben’s love of poetry started with such adolescent staples as Pound, Eliot, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, and the Beats. This expanded to include the Russian Futurists (who helped him find new verse directions) Francis Webb (whom he felt was Australia’s greatest poet) and the problematic Antonin Artaud (who could cause him great suffering). His great love was Allen Ginsberg, about whom and whose work Ben probably knew more than anyone in the country. Even better Ben’s Ginsberg was not that tiresome beatnik/hippy media construct but the serious, well educated poet who saw himself in a tradition extending back to Walt Whitman, William Blake, John Milton and Edmund Spenser. This was a club that, at no matter how junior a level, Ben wished to join. I once called him at the Greenacre Tavern, as basic a pub as any in southwest Sydney, and there he was in the bar reading Spenser’s The Faerie Queene! It was out of such (seeming) incongruities that much of his verse was assembled.

Ben’s illness combined with a quite strong reserve meant he never appeared throughout Australia on any reading or festival circuit. Nor did he submit many poems to journals. Outside of Wollongong he once read in the open section at Melbourne’s John Barleycorn Hotel and last September in Campbelltown at Mad Pride, an event centred around artists and writers suffering similarly to Ben who wished to show that psychotic afflictions didn’t invalidate what they produced. His success there was a great fillip to Ben and this, plus the love of his fiancée poet Alise Blayney and the friendship of many Wollongong writers, helped in the promise of greater things. Only hours before his death all were discussing an appearance at the forthcoming Newcastle Young Writer’s Festival.

Like similar ambitious poets (Fernando Pessoa, Thomas Lovell Beddoes) who died with gigantic plans less than fulfilled, Ben left boxes and notebooks of poems, drafts and fragments. Will Australian literature be able to accommodate a young, near to unknown, non-careerist, yet extremely prolific deceased poet? We hope so. Volumes are being planned. He is survived by his parents Howard and Denise, siblings Mathew, Nicole and Shane, a niece and nephews, Alise and many friends.

(Alan Wearne, in memoriam, 1998)

_________________________________________________________

 

VERITY LA POETRY PODCAST
Episode 4: Ben Frater

Posted on October 21, 2016 by in Verity La Poetry Podcast

podcast2 (1)This month we’re celebrating the work of Ben Frater with Tim Heffernan and Alise Blayney.

To kick off, Tim shares his plans for the upcoming Mad Poets Workshop, Panel and Performances, inspired by Ben’s own original ideas and experiences. Then we question the romanticisation of the mad poet vs the unromantic reality, and talk about what it takes to reshape pain and trauma into something that might actually move an audience.

We hear Ben perform ‘The Argument’ (watch Ben in action here), while Alise talks about its creation and Tim discusses how hearing the poem affected him. Finally, Tim reads and discusses his own mad poem, ‘Reasonable Delusions of a Religious Nature’.


Missed our earlier episodes? Listen here!

To purchase Ben Frater’s collection, 6am in the Universe, visit Grand Parade Poets.

And if you loved the music check out Alise’s Mad Poets Playlist.

____________________________________________________________

alice-allan

Alice Allan’s poetry has been published in previous issues of Verity La as well as in CorditeRabbit and Australian Book Review. She is the creator and convenor of the Verity La Poetry Podcast, as well as producing her own weekly podcast, Poetry Says.

img_0871


Tim Heffernan
lives in Wollongong. He was born in Hay, on the banks of the Murrumbidgee and after spending most of his life swimming upstream, has mysteriously ended up on the coast.

image1

Alise Blayney is a poet and peer worker. She was the key to YEK’s semordnilap and Ben’s favourite Yakkity Yak. Glimpse her through 11:11, where there awaits a synchronistic soundtrack.

ben-frater1

Benjamin  Frater
(27 February 1979 – 4 July 2007) was a talented and original poet who after many years suffering from schizophrenia died at 28. Pretty much unknown to the wider poetry community, his only publication was Bughouse Meat (2003), a chapbook. At the time of his death he was working on Preyed Hotel, a fragmentary epic centred on the Green Acre Tavern (where his father is licensee) but which also grew out of the joys and sufferings which marked so much of Ben’s life. From the age of 19 he kept returning to the Faculty of Creative Arts, University of Wollongong, where he was about a semester away from finishing his degree. (Having him on campus for nine years was like having a permanent Writer in Residence!)

Three things dominated Ben’s life: poetry, his illness and the devotion between him, his family and friends. Of course schizophrenia could make him a very demanding person at times (though the greatest demands were alas on Ben) but he was also extremely giving. As a friend and as a poet he was not a snob, and although his work was high powered and erudite, to the point of appearing elitist to some, this was a man who loved the work of Nick Cave and The Doors, who could surprise everyone by bursting into Country and Western numbers, and who loved playing the pokies at the Illawarra Leagues Club accompanied by a schooner of Guinness. He could use the world ‘yes!’ in conversation with great force, with his other aural trademark being a good natured giggle.

With the exception of the great Francis Webb it is not in an Australian poet’s job description that they be rhapsodic, surreal and visionary. Well this is where Ben came in and even went one better, creating ‘visions’ out of Campbelltown (his home town) Greenacre and Wollongong, with acres of his imagination populated by amongst other beings threatening minatours and scorpions, true, but above all by life affirming yaks. (For whatever reason he called himself the Catholic Yak, whilst this writer was the Protestant Elk!) At times Ben’s poetry may have been large, unwieldy and frequently nightmarish but with his extraordinary humour to back proceedings they were always written for an audience’s enjoyment. Anyone who heard him at his best (his joint book launch with fellow poet Rob Wilson or his recent, and last, recital at the Five Islands Brewery) will attest to this, though the power of his performance was such that like Hendrix at Woodstock he had to go last, no one could follow Ben.

His close friend Habib Zeitouneh tells how at Airds High School Ben was part of an ‘arty’ group which was respected because of their ability at winning debating competitions and academic prizes. In year 12 he organized a reading in the Matador Room at his father’s Golf View Hotel, Guilford with over one hundred hearing him read his own work, with his grandmother Florence Bond as special guest. Habib describes Florence was Ben’s first ‘go to person’ in poetry. Ten years later it was Ben who had this role, however briefly, among many younger writers of Wollongong. Earlier with Rob Wilson, Tim Cahill and Ben Michell he had formed the Syntactical Activists, a group dedicated to poetry and undergrad goodtimes. With Rob he instituted ‘shoot outs’ marathon phone calls where each bombarded the other with words, phrases and indeed poems. Ben, although forced by his illness to so often operate on his own was still a very loyal colleague to all.

Ben’s love of poetry started with such adolescent staples as Pound, Eliot, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, and the Beats. This expanded to include the Russian Futurists (who helped him find new verse directions) Francis Webb (whom he felt was Australia’s greatest poet) and the problematic Antonin Artaud (who could cause him great suffering). His great love was Allen Ginsberg, about whom and whose work Ben probably knew more than anyone in the country. Even better Ben’s Ginsberg was not that tiresome beatnik/hippy media construct but the serious, well educated poet who saw himself in a tradition extending back to Walt Whitman, William Blake, John Milton and Edmond Spencer. This was a club that at no matter how junior a level Ben wished to join. I once called him at the Greenacre Tavern, as basic a pub as any in southwest Sydney, and there he was in the bar reading Spencer’s The Fairy Queen! It was out of such (seeming) incongruities that much of his verse was assembled.

Ben’s illness combined with a quite strong reserve meant he never appeared throughout Australia on any reading or festival circuit. Nor did he submit many poems to journals. Outside of Wollongong he once read in the open section at Melbourne’s John Barleycorn Hotel and last September in Campbelltown at Mad Pride an event centred around artists and writers suffering similarly to Ben who wished to show that psychotic afflictions didn’t invalidate what they produced. His success there was a great fillip to Ben and this plus the love of his fiancée poet Alise Blayney and the friendship of many Wollongong writers helped in the promise of greater things. Only hours before his death all were discussing an appearance at the forthcoming Newcastle Young Writer’s Festival.

Like similar ambitious poets (Fernando Pessoa, Thomas Lovell Beddoes) who died with gigantic plans less than fulfilled, Ben left boxes and notebooks of poems drafts and fragments. Will Australian literature be able to accommodate a young, near to unknown, non-careerist, yet extremely prolific deceased poet? We hope so. Volumes are being planned. He is survived by his parents Howard and Denise, siblings Mathew, Nicole and Shane, a niece and nephews, Alise and many friends.

(Alan Wearne, in memoriam, 1998)

BEN FRATER AND THE MAD POETS OF THE GONG

Posted on October 12, 2016 by in Events, Heightened Talk

ben-portrait

A Portrait of Benjamin Frater by Martin Davis, 2014

By Tim Heffernan

It is significant that the poetry of Benjamin Frater is reprised for the 2016 Wollongong Writers Festival and that he will be an integral part of the Mad Poets Workshop to be held on 22 October, as well as the Mad Hatters Tea Party to be held on 27 November. It is as if Ben never left Wollongong University and the process of immersion in Ben’s poetry has been serendipitous – so much has come together, so magically.

Just last week I learned from Alise Blayney, Ben’s wife, that he wanted to run poetry workshops while people were waiting hours for their blood test results so they could receive their appropriate dose of Clozapine, the powerful anti-psychotic that eventually defeated Ben. These Clozapine Clinic Workshops were planned for Banks House in Bankstown but Ben became unwell and they never got off the ground… until now. Ben’s workshop program will inform the Wollongong Writers Festival’s Mad Poetry Workshop, which will include:

  • Surrealist games and Q & A
  • Automatic writing ‘first thought, best thought’
  • Poetic/Prosaic sketching – mind is shapely, art is shapeless
  • Response to stimulus – process of imaginative / symbolic association
  • Cut up experiments
  • Group collaborations
bens-writing1

Benjamin Frater – Benefits for patients/Benefits for me

I have a long term interest in the poetry that emerges from individual experiences of madness. The first time I went mad in 1983 I took with me to the psych ward copies of Peter Kocan’s, The Other Side of the Fence and Kurt Vonnegut’s, Slaughterhouse Five. Back then I knew that the world would end if I did not live past my 24th birthday, so this was to be the only voluntary admission of my psychiatric career as I sought protection, asylum, from those who sought to kill me and end my world. It was a mad world then – a cold war, Reagan’s Star Wars, the invasion of Grenada, the bombing in Beirut, the downing of the Korean airliner KAL 007 over Russia, and my love had left me for good. That madness bit me again in 1985, with a couple of admissions to Kenmore Hospital. My poem, ‘Reasonable Delusions of a Religious Nature’, originally published in 2007 in Coral Hull’s Thylazine and reinvented as a prose poem earlier this year in Verity La was my way of making sense both of the world’s and my own madness. The poem finishes,

you look into a mirror and recollect a face.  confess  your  grand
delusion: leave  this  unholy place. promises  of  armageddon to
be unleashed when you were dead. the  asylum  had  been  your
shelter: the  atoms split inside  your head.  read  six  sane  years
later,  how we just missed world war three.  this was  your  mad
delusion. is it  truth  that  you now see? each  spring-time sense
the surge of see-saw swings  to  be swung: tranquilise sensation
so these spring songs can’t be sung.

Sadly, our world seems even madder now, a world where our very being, the ‘is’, explodes and decapitates itself on our YouTube feed. And sadly too, 2007 was the year that Ben Frater lost his life to the medication that was prescribed to save him from the horror that some call schizophrenia.

I’m not sure if Ben ever listened to the radio, but if he did I’m thinking that he probably never would have thought he would one day be performing his poetry on Radio National. I came to hear Ben one Sunday morning just over four years ago as I listened to Lisa Nicol’s award winning radio documentary Pray Ho’tell, quickly entering a surreal world of poetry, madness, medication, love, yaks, domestic violence, Catholicism, Campbelltown and Wollongong University. Suddenly here was a poet whose poetry was madness, whose madness was poetry and much of his story had been played out in places so close to me.

The next time I heard Ben read was at a mental health consumer conference in 2014, So You Want To Change The Worldorganised by a fellow consumer worker Douglas Holmes. Douglas had videoed the footage of Ben reading at a Mad Pride concert in Campbelltown in 2006, and so I got to read my poetry with Ben and his partner Alise, also a mental health consumer worker. I think all those present understood how Ben’s poetry could still change our worlds and some of us promised to keep pushing the change. Ben’s Clozapine Clinic Workshop qualifies him as a mental health consumer worker too, I think.

Since then Alise has shared Ben with me in conversation and emails full of mutual coincidence and connections. While we are familiar with Ben’s love of Blake, Artaud and Ginsberg, with ‘visionary poetics’, it was through the work of Charles Bukowski and through the music Alise and Ben loved that I learned more of this man and this beautiful poetry charged relationship. Ben was Bukowski’s ‘The Man With the Beautiful Eyes’. I see Bukowski’s poem as a metaphor for the way the world and psychiatry traditionally responds to madness and I think that Ben’s poetry sought to change this.

but his eyes
were
bright.
they blazed
with
brightness…

our parents,
we decided,
had wanted us
to stay away
from there
because they
never wanted us
to see a man
like
that,
a strong natural
man
with
beautiful
eyes…

they had been
afraid of
the man with the
beautiful
eyes.

and
we were afraid
then
that
all throughout our lives
things like that
would
happen,
that nobody
wanted
anybody
to be
strong and
beautiful
like that,
that
others would never
allow it,
and that
many people
would have to
die.

(From ‘The Man with the Beautiful Eyesby Charles Bukowski)

Alise tells me that one of Ben’s favourite lines was from Arthur Rimbaud – ‘the poet is a thief of fire’. And Rimbaud could have been describing Ben when he wrote, ‘I say one must be a seer, make oneself a seer. The poet makes himself a seer by an immense, long, deliberate derangement of the senses.’

A Photograph from Ben's Notebook

A Page from Ben’s Notebook

By Alise Blayney

Ben’s life was poetry and when it comes down to it that’s all that really matters, right?

The verse. One can be immortal as long as one leaves some work behind. I’m so glad Ben did. We made a secret pact, and promised each other that, ‘Poetry is the bottom line’.

I remember him saying at his Dad’s hotel: ‘We’re gonna eat, breathe, live, shit, piss and bleed poetry!’ After all, words and art are the only things which remain immortal.

These past 9 years I’ve been looking for signs of Ben everywhere. I catch glimpses of memories in flashback – the fiery flick of red hair on a bus, a sidewalk dweller whose eyes flash fever, a stranger on the train echoing a ‘hideous heckle of hoot hysteria’.

When I look back on his experiences of mental and emotional distress, I am reminded of the quote from R.D. Laing: ‘The laugh’s on us. They will see that what we call ‘schizophrenia’ was one of the forms in which, often through quite ordinary people, the light began to break through the cracks in our all-too-closed minds.’ (Laing, R.D. The Politics of Experience and the Bird of Paradise. Harmondsworth, 1967, Penguin.)

That’s exactly what one could call Ben’s relationship with madness – a light that was cracking through, a light so powerful it penetrated through the everyday mundane and transported him into other dimensions. Ben was clearly ‘lifting the veil’ and having a consciousness expanding experience. His fascination with esoterica and the occult world can be seen throughout his poems.

benI was 24 years old when I met him at Wollongong University and he introduced me to these other worlds, quickly becoming my mentor, guide and peer, especially when it came to literature.

Laing also wrote that ‘Madness need not be all breakdown. It may also be break-through’. This quote reminds me so much of Ben’s work, and informs the nature of the peer support role Tim, I and many others do in the mental health sector today. We aim to support people through their recovery journey by empowering them to see that mental health issues are a profound part of the human experience. We don’t ask the question ‘What’s wrong with you?’ Instead we ask ‘What happened to you?’, which can in itself be a ‘breakthrough’ compared to the way traditional services have operated in the past.

I think Ben would have made an extraordinary peer worker, and this is the time to celebrate his work. He was dedicated to exploring the relationship between automatic writing and the schizophrenic vernacular, within which he saw the subconscious mind merging into consciousness. He lived between worlds, and wrote in his notebook how he considered the ‘Poet is Priest; Poetry as confession; Performance of Poetry is exorcism’.

Confession and exorcism are evident throughout all his verse, particularly in his first published work, Bughouse Meat. Here is an excerpt, entitled ‘The Argument’.


THE 
ARGUMENT

                      the dreamer who butchered his arm to challenge his reality,
                             now butchers his reality to challenge his arm.

My forearm is a wounded shark
My forearm is a crippled highway
My forearm is an imaginary tool
My forearm is a Nocturnal ballad of hieroglyphs,
                           a battered-birdwing,
                           a supplicatory of bleeding ghosts,
                           the end of a lion’s tyranny,
                           an ancient Crocodile skull,
                           the nightmare and war of Spring,
                           a Catholic Yak’s exorcism,
My forearm is our Golden fingerless child
                           a piece of Apocalyptic debris,
My forearm has closed eyelids,
                           is an Anti-american-warcraft,
                           the memory of wild horses,
                           its own executioner,
My forearm is Hell’s kiss of smothered lips,
                           your lack of perception,
                           the rage of a Blind Salamander,
                           a voyeur while I sleep,
                           a breast-less woman
                           and a toothless old man tapping his foot to the
                           rhythmic convulsions of a
                           dead ocean,
My forearm is the active desires of Akhenaton,
                           the left wing of Christ, the right fist of Allah
                           and a Sanskrit-stitch-path,
My forearm is the bloodblack-Sunrise,
                           a dead man’s trepidation, a dread man’s trepidation,
My forearm is A Subaqueous Prison,
                           the mind that eats your leg,
My forearm is tomorrow’s bitch, today’s whore and last night’s insomniac,
My forearm is a multitude of trenches and razor wire fences with the flesh
                           STILL HANGING ON!
My forearm: a Luna ladder,
                           a gutted reptile,
My forearm forces electricity down the blue throat,
My forearm is an arrow dreamt beyond this cell,
                           a Chinese Red Rhapsody,
                           an African Gunrunner,
                           an Alcoholic automobile,
My forearm is an Aborigine wounded by the white FleshFlash of numerous
                           Endeavours,
My forearm is our unclear nuclear future,
My forearm bleeds its own delight
My forearm refuses to bomb its enemies and dives into the rubble
My forearm is a solar backlash
My forearm invites refugees, provides none but exists in asylum
My forearm is the culmination of Hissing Apples and rotten skin,
My forearm is a docile blonde occupational therapist
My forearm is an Alcibiadian: the father of Flagellation
My forearm: a Hysterical Spartan Junkie
My forearm includes four thousand, seven hundred and eighty one billion,
                           seven hundred and ten million, four thousand four hundred
                           and twenty two Tentacles and as many years of Marineric tradition,
My forearm breathes through incisions also known as gills
My forearm is Marvell’s dog,
                           a bashed cherub,
                           a thick vibrating web of Agony,
My forearm is a headless cemetery of flesh,
                           affected by a 205 year old poet,
My forearm is a liar and tomb; a Miltonian Mutiny that groans t’ward
                           the heavens,
My forearm is the unfurled Dragon abdomen with its five heads of blood and gristle,
My forearm remains remorseless for its mutilation
My forearm belongs to nobody
My forearm is a cut worm and blind maggot,
My forearm is a desperate corpse and Rabid carcass
My forearm desires the God of panicked birds and difficult Pyramids
My forearm is a sleepless cannibal,
My forearm is a liturgy of psychotic hooks displacing my mental weight
                           and suspends me nowhere in imagination,
My forearm is a meek neck waiting for the last train; our long red guillotine
My forearm bares the burden of backyard industry and institution,
My forearm witnessed the locusts under Paul’s eyelids
My forearm can’t wait for the gun to become a Mushroom
My forearm depicts a dappled sky and sickly horizon,
My forearm will inoculate your reams of dreams
My forearm leaves your clitorial gland Yowling!
My forearm requires “more legs!”
My forearm remains defiant in the face of C.B.T and E.C.T
My forearm cannot lose or loose this RAW-Shackle
My forearm is a pillar of assassination and Masturbation
My forearm is a burning song-stick,
My forearm is Wracked and demented with Seraphic sinew;
                           the exalted Koala-Gut,
My forearm is a preter-mortem-Islamic-nocturne,
                           a bulging dead foetus,
                           a legless Noctambulist,
                           a deformed tiger eye,
My forearm releases its ghost in gaseous-dead-dove
My forearm is a syntactical activist
My forearm eats its own sores and admires the half baked moon
My forearm sleeps on rubber pillows,
My forearm is my brother
My forearm is a Kangaroo Blood Cult
My forearm is my mad hairless dog
My forearm exposes limp wrists to solar blades – My RA executioner –
My forearm observes the bomb-hollowed-world holding hopeless candles,
                           invites the world’s collective Terror into its veins, up arterial trenches,
                           perforates my soul and shakes fire between trembling scales,
My forearm stinks of Shark-Cunt, feels underbelly stingray sex, withholds
                           Moray Eel masturbarion and all the corporeal grandeur of 
                           Marineric Mating
My forearm is the chant of a dead Nun, a tortured priest and dying lama
My forearm is the impure amazement and living memory of BLEEDING VEINS
                            AND BEATING WINGS!

Ben Frater’s full-length collection 6am in the Universe (which encompasses poems from Bughouse Meat) can be purchased from Grand Parade Poets.

Visit Wollongong Writers Festival for more details about the Mad Poets Workshop and Mad Hatters Tea Party.

To support the activity of the Mad Poets at Wollongong Writers Festival, donate here.

______________________________________________________________

img_0871
Tim Heffernan
lives in Wollongong. He was born in Hay, on the banks of the Murrumbidgee and after spending most of his life swimming upstream, has mysteriously ended up on the coast.

image1
Alise
 Blayney is a poet and peer worker. She was the key to YEK’s semordnilap and Ben’s favourite Yakkity Yak. Glimpse her through 11:11, where there awaits a synchronistic soundtrack.

ben-frater1Benjamin Frater (27 February 1979 – 4 July 2007) was a talented and original poet who after many years suffering from schizophrenia died at 28. Pretty much unknown to the wider poetry community his only publication was Bughouse Meat (2003) a chapbook. At the time of his death he was working on Preyed Hotel a fragmentary epic centred on the Green Acre Tavern (where his father is licensee) but which also grows out of the joys and sufferings which marked so much of Ben’s life. From the age of 19 he kept returning to the Faculty of Creative Arts, University of Wollongong, where he was about a semester away from finishing his degree. (Having him on campus for nine years was like having a permanent Writer in Residence!)

Three things dominated Ben’s life: poetry, his illness and the devotion between him, his family and friends. Of course schizophrenia could make him a very demanding person at times (though the greatest demands were alas on Ben) but he was also extremely giving. As a friend and as a poet he was not a snob, and although his work was high powered and erudite, to the point of appearing elitist to some, this was a man who loved the work of Nick Cave and The Doors, who could surprise everyone by bursting into Country and Western numbers, and who loved playing the pokies at the Illawarra Leagues Club accompanied by a schooner of Guinness. He could use the world ‘yes!’ in conversation with great force, with his other aural trademark being a good natured giggle.

With the exception of the great Francis Webb it is not in an Australian poet’s job description that they be rhapsodic, surreal and visionary. Well this is where Ben came in and even went one better, creating ‘visions’ out of Campbelltown (his home town) Greenacre and Wollongong, with acres of his imagination populated by amongst other beings threatening minatours and scorpions, true, but above all by life affirming yaks. (For whatever reason he called himself the Catholic Yak, whilst this writer was the Protestant Elk!) At times Ben’s poetry may have been large, unwieldy and frequently nightmarish but with his extraordinary humour to back proceedings they were always written for an audience’s enjoyment. Anyone who heard him at his best (his joint book launch with fellow poet Rob Wilson or his recent, and last, recital at the Five Islands Brewery) will attest to this, though the power of his performance was such that like Hendrix at Woodstock he had to go last, no one could follow Ben.

His close friend Habib Zeitouneh tells how at Airds High School Ben was part of an ‘arty’ group which was respected because of their ability at winning debating competitions and academic prizes. In year 12 he organized a reading in the Matador Room at his father’s Golf View Hotel, Guilford with over one hundred hearing him read his own work, with his grandmother Florence Bond as special guest. Habib describes Florence was Ben’s first ‘go to person’ in poetry. Ten years later it was Ben who had this role, however briefly, among many younger writers of Wollongong. Earlier with Rob Wilson, Tim Cahill and Ben Michell he had formed the Syntactical Activists, a group dedicated to poetry and undergrad goodtimes. With Rob he instituted ‘shoot outs’ marathon phone calls where each bombarded the other with words, phrases and indeed poems. Ben, although forced by his illness to so often operate on his own was still a very loyal colleague to all.

Ben’s love of poetry started with such adolescent staples as Pound, Eliot, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, and the Beats. This expanded to include the Russian Futurists (who helped him find new verse directions) Francis Webb (whom he felt was Australia’s greatest poet) and the problematic Antonin Artaud (who could cause him great suffering). His great love was Allen Ginsberg, about whom and whose work Ben probably knew more than anyone in the country. Even better Ben’s Ginsberg was not that tiresome beatnik/hippy media construct but the serious, well educated poet who saw himself in a tradition extending back to Walt Whitman, William Blake, John Milton and Edmond Spencer. This was a club that at no matter how junior a level Ben wished to join. I once called him at the Greenacre Tavern, as basic a pub as any in southwest Sydney, and there he was in the bar reading Spencer’s The Fairy Queen! It was out of such (seeming) incongruities that much of his verse was assembled.

Ben’s illness combined with a quite strong reserve meant he never appeared throughout Australia on any reading or festival circuit. Nor did he submit many poems to journals. Outside of Wollongong he once read in the open section at Melbourne’s John Barleycorn Hotel and last September in Campbelltown at Mad Pride an event centred around artists and writers suffering similarly to Ben who wished to show that psychotic afflictions didn’t invalidate what they produced. His success there was a great fillip to Ben and this plus the love of his fiancée poet Alise Blayney and the friendship of many Wollongong writers helped in the promise of greater things. Only hours before his death all were discussing an appearance at the forthcoming Newcastle Young Writer’s Festival.

Like similar ambitious poets (Fernando Pessoa, Thomas Lovell Beddoes) who died with gigantic plans less than fulfilled, Ben left boxes and notebooks of poems drafts and fragments. Will Australian literature be able to accommodate a young, near to unknown, non-careerist, yet extremely prolific deceased poet? We hope so. Volumes are being planned. He is survived by his parents Howard and Denise, siblings Mathew, Nicole and Shane, a niece and nephews, Alise and many friends.

(Alan Wearne, in memoriam, 1998)

____________________________________________________________

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SUPPORTERS!

Posted on September 30, 2016 by in

statelibqld_1_106448_celebrations_at_the_belle_vue_hotel_brisbane_january_1940Here is where we proudly display the names of our eighty-two generous supporters! Please join us in showering them with hugs, kisses, funny hats and undying gratitude. Their contributions have made paying our writers possible!

Due to their generosity, plus the help of many who’ve spread the word of our campaign, together we’ve raised $5592! Which means all works published in 2017 will receive $50 payment, with any remaining funds being split equally between our 10 hardworking volunteer editors. (They should just about be able to buy dinner with that, but hey, it’s a start!) 

A special thanks to the first man on our supporters list, and the first man to always support Verity La, our incredible (and humble) founding editor, Nigel Featherstone. His vision and behind the scenes assistance were instrumental in turning our dream of  paying the writers into a reality. 

Without further ado, we present you with the names of our very own Verity La heros!

Nigel Featherstone

Orazio Seminara

Lyne Davies

North Shore Cement and Sand

Ramon Loyola

Tamara Miles

Deb Wain

Tincture Journal

Magdalena Ball

Bluepepper

Anthony Macris

Anna Spargo-Ryan

Linda Godfrey

James Walton

Sydney Review of Books

Beth Spencer

Melinda Smith

Sue Terry

Jen Webb

Stella and Sandro Seminara

James Fry

Recent Work Press

Gabrielle Bryden

Meredith Pitt

Annie Blake

Andrea Goldsmith

Carmel Bendon

Fleur Beaupert

Stuart Barnes

David Ades

John Clanchy

Sean Crawley

John Stokes

Nathanael O’Reilly

Denise Young

Leanne Neill

University of New South Wales

Ariel Riveros Pavez

Martin Dolan

Phillip Stamatellis

Karen Middleton

Judy Horacek

Deborah Cleland

Sarah Mason

Amanda Hickey

Tamara Lazaroff

Kathryn Favelle

Adrian Caesar

Sean Wright

Ashley Capes

Tricia Dearborn

Tony Maniaty

Mascara Literary Review

Antidote Films

Craig Billingham

Gregory Piko

David Stavanger

Paul Hetherington

Chris Lynch

David McCooey

Ty Wynen

Anni Wawrzynczak

Leife Shallcross

Robyn Cadwallader

George Dunford

Duncan Felton

Robyn Cadwallader

Zeina Issa

Maria Esguerra

Susan McCreery

Gordon Peake

11 x Anonymous (we love you too!)

As Winston Churchill told the Royal Academy on 30 April 1938, “The arts are essen­tial to any com­plete national life. The State owes it to itself to sus­tain and encour­age them… ill fares the race which fails to salute the arts with the rev­er­ence and delight which are their due”.

winston_churchill_raises_his_hat_in_salute_during_an_inspection_of_the_1st_american_squadron_of_the_home_guard_at_horse_guards_parade_in_london_9_january_1941-_h6550The Australian government may be de-prioritising the arts, but its people are not.

We salute you!

____________________________________________________________

Langkawi airport (Amy Hilhorst)

Posted on May 4, 2016 by in Heightened Talk

FullSizeRenderOn the wall at gate 4
a Malaysian flag hangs sideways,
lower rod displaced and
scrunched at the bottom,
where the stripes stretch furthest
from the star.

Couples compare
passport stamps, tanned hands
leaf boarding passes. A child,
five or six, sits in a pram,
atop his uncomplaining
younger brother. The air is
cool, clinical; unlike outside.
A Mastercard billboard says
discovering the world
is priceless.

A hundred or so
face gridded windows,
oriented to our plane
as if at the cinema.
The P.A. declares delay
yet no one reacts,
mostly buried in books and phones.

Work is done on the metal mass
about to carry us through
thousands of k’s of
sparse sky traffic —
the absurdity lost
on us all.

 

____________________________________________________________

Amy Hilhorst is a Perth poet and PhD candidate at The University of Western Australia. Her research investigates poetic conceptions of psychosis in the work of Francis Webb, Bruce Beaver, and Michael Dransfield. Amy’s creative and critical work is published or forthcoming in Writ Review, Trove, Cordite, Westerly New Creative, and Rochford Street Review. amyhilhorst@wordpress.com @AmyHilhorst

The Professor and The Unnamed Stalk the Post-Apocalyptic Wilderness (Toby Davidson)

Posted on October 16, 2015 by in Heightened Talk

FullSizeRenderSo much is silent beyond sand and men

with pronouncements, low strains whipping

at our boots. Furs, exposed skin slipping

from precedence quietly when

fierceness can’t stand the pathogen

of recollection’s ravenous gripping.

Now we hunt lizards, re-arming, re-equipping,

in this arrestedness once called unbroken.

We surface no more to the grey names of lovers

yet hear their love, miniature as a shadow

under heretical ruins of the plateau

where, pronged or bladed, allure recovers

a beauty which misses us as we did oxygen.

 

____________________________________________________________

Toby Davidson is a lecturer in Australian literature at Macquarie University. He is the editor of Francis Webb’s Collected Poems (UWA Publishing, 2011) and author of the critical study Christian Mysticism and Australian Poetry (2013), part of New York publisher Cambria Press’s landmark Australian literature series. His debut collection is Beast Language (Five Islands Press, 2012).