VERITY LA POETRY PODCAST
Episode 7: David Stavanger

Posted on July 28, 2017 by in Verity La Poetry Podcast

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In this edition of the Verity La Poetry Podcast Alice Allan and Tim Heffernan talk with with David Stavanger about the launch of the 2017 Queensland Poetry Festival along with his poem The Electric Journal, published as part of our Clozapine Clinic project.

Ahead of the Clozapine Clinic’s presence at QPF this year, we also talk about the question of writing as therapy and whether such writing has, or needs to have, ‘merit’ (and who gets to decide what that means).


Missed our earlier episodes? Listen here!

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David Stavanger is a poet, performer and cultural producer. In 2013 he won the Arts Queensland Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize, resulting in the release of The Special (UQP), his first full-length collection of poetry which was also awarded the 2015 Wesley Michel Wright Poetry Prize. David is the Co-Director of the Queensland Poetry Festival. His recent prose-poem ‘The Electric Journal’ was a finalist of the 2016 Newcastle Poetry prize. At the 2014 Queensland Literary Awards he received a Queensland Writing Fellowship. He is also sometimes known as pioneering Green Room-nominated ‘spoken weird’ artist Ghostboy, winning the 2005 Nimbin Performance Poetry World Cup and establishing poetry slam in QLD via his work with the State Library and Woodford Folk Festival.

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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 and produces her own regular podcast, Poetry Says.

POETRY IN THE MINEFIELDS
(Iraqi poets translated by Haider Catan and Tim Heffernan)

Posted on May 30, 2017 by in Book Extracts, Discoursing Diaspora

(edited by Ramon Loyola & Michele Seminara)

An Extract from Introduction to The Poetry in the Minefields
By Abdulrahman Almajedi, Iraqi journalist and poet living in the Netherlands

Organizers of poetry and drama festivals in Western countries may organize poetry readings on a lake or in a field, but have their poets read in the middle of a minefield? Or inside a destroyed nuclear reactor, surrounded by walls filled with radiation? Or in an ambulance?  Or in a hospital bed?

This may sound shocking, however this is what is happening today, in Iraq, organised by a valiant group of young poets — The Militia of Culture — who are using their poetics to fight against the transmission of the deadly semantics of the militia which has consumed the lifeblood of Iraq since 2003.  These poets organise ‘festivals’ in order to express what is no longer allowed to be talk about in Iraq — but these festivals take place in the middle of the numerous minefields still littering the country, amongst nuclear reactors still sending their deadly radiation across civilian neighborhoods, and surrounded by the trauma of bombs intended to maim and kill innocent women and children.

These painful poems have been neglected by the local media in Iraq, but now they are crossing the border and drawing the attention of Arab and European nations, confirming the role of literature as a powerful creative and political tool for expressing the nightmarish daily reality of death in Iraq.

 

terrorist
(kadhem khanjar)

when the policeman checks you at the market, you feel like a terrorist.

when your eyes try to cross the barbed wire that separates the house and the street,
you pass like a terrorist.

whenever you walk near the concrete blocks leading to your work, you walk like a terrorist.

whenever you give the rent to the owner he treats you like a terrorist.

and when watching tv with your children, you see your terrorism in the mouths of others.

when you visit your brother in prison, the guards check your name on the wanted list and find that you are not a terrorist.

when you park your bike on the sidewalk, shop owners believe it is a bombed bicycle and that you are a terrorist.

when you go with your wife to see a doctor about fractures and they keep you waiting and waiting, like a terrorist.

when from terror you buy a bottle of whisky, creeping it under their eyes, you feel like a terrorist.

daily, swallowing tablets of terrorism—in the morning, the afternoon, at night—just as the pharmacist recommended.

Kadhem Khanjar

a bombed car
(kadhem khanjar)

wings for the cat on the fence of the power station.
wings for the fence.
wings for seven construction workers.
wings for the vegetable shopper.
wings for vegetables.
wings for the little girl’s legs on her way to school.
wings for her backpack.
wings for the skin of bus passengers.
wings for the bicycle and the cyclist and his bread.
wings for the asphalt and power poles and signboards.
wings for the eardrum.
wings for the urgent news.

bombed cars grant wings to everything.

Wissam Ali

6 pm / street 40
(wissan ali)

death’s fingers prick our feet and we are running like dancers carrying the shells
of bombed cars to get them to the survivors.

from your palm to the earth’s palm is a lake of dettol and gauze stained with blood.
i doubt my upper body, especially my mouth.

i was the last in line at the morgue where everyone returned to ice-filled eskies.

“both whisky and organs are served with ice.”

how will i be after three tons of explosives? and with which grin will i face the lord?
no guarantee, my face will not scare him. any geometric shape will take the coffin.
if i survive i will cheat everyone by buying jeans and the best dentist for my teeth.
i will still look strange but at least not the same as the one who liquefied above me.

bombs lick my body after the door finishes sucking my finger.

we are coffins strapped with safety belts.

Ahmed Diaa

i didn’t care about the bombing, as all survivors are casualties anyway
(ahmad diaa)

i      death

this silent bombing
tickles half of my hat.

ii     beheaders

it has not started yet
encapsulating tears,
becoming a ladder which the casualties climb.

iii    bullets

tears are war strings
so don’t hesitate to pick the head.

iv    continuers

from the cage of my ribs, i carved the meat from the bone
and the dream from the awakening.
This is how we learned slaughterhouses.

v     apprehension

a scar
pain
in
the memory.

vi    claws

eyelids bleed tears, wallowing, coagulating above
a handful of dust.

vii   prisoners of war

stupid death is sweeping the place as the gates of paradise push back their heads.

viii  graves

our backs are riddled with bullets and the blind man sees
things with his ears.
the blind are walking inside the minefield and this old man
teaches me to sleep on the shoulder of dust.

ix    violation

i turn to water when i hear the ambulance scream.

x     barbarism

the officer releases convoys of the slaughtered soldiers
while receiving convoys of those who seek to die.

xi    primitive leukaemia

my feet are a thermometer
measuring the heat of the mine’s lips.

xii   tension

no escape from death
that’s what i was told
at the execution washing line.

Mohamed Karim

an 81 magazine
(mohamed karim)

25  in the body,
25  in the body,
25  in the body,
5  random shots,
fired from a kalashnikov’s mouth…!

Ahmed Jabbour

c-4
(ahmed jabbour)

by the name of allah,
by the name of bullets,
by the name of the wise,
by the name of the group,
by the name of the militias,
by the name of the gun muffler.
opening the factory of improvised explosive devices
in a country that has become a divided sewer.

Mazen Almaamouri

osirak
(mazen almaamouri)

in the street adjacent to osirak
i saw people coming out from the cancerous cells and the bellies of wires,
and the remnants of mutants
hung on the doors
adorning the houses with the colour of the new dawn.

scorched earth.
dead people sneak one by one
towards the last paper,
transparent as the colour of their skin,
its edges like remnants of meat flying over the graves and shoulders
of the cloaks that shroud mourning mothers
with scattered fragments and acid rain.

school clothes are torn on street’s wires.
the dead sneak toward the white paper
to absorb an old nectar dream.

i came out of the barrel of a cannon, i think it was russian-made.
it was cold and at its edges rust trembled at the sound of the shell.

***

when i was a fish,
i approached the sand—my scales began to soften,
my tail became two long legs and my eyes grew close to each other.
i grabbed the ground with two long hands,
because the world is the lavishness of the sea,
and so i’m the shit of a shark, old, but i breathe.

***

the cockroach tasted the stool of the corpse jammed into the sewer tunnel,
it tasted of bullets and the spice of gunpowder.
its joints constricted after its stomach decayed,
then the soldier’s boot fell and fled.

***

ants are coming out of the soldier’s pocket while he sits on the train bench.
the girl, sitting near the soldier, opens her mouth to breathe from the window
above the bench where the soldier is sitting.
people are moving rapidly toward the dim light far from the soldier and the girl—
they are diving into deep sleep.

Ali Taj Aldeen

the structure of fragmenting
(ali taj aldeen)

bones are rolling from the mouths of lizards whenever they throw the nets on us. one has vomited everything it has eaten in the last 2400 years, so it doesn’t leave any sidewalk without painting it the colour of its lust. then we find the streets have gathered their cloaks and they wait at the morgue, smoking their last pipe.

a second lizard comes out of the earth like a volcano with seven heads, dragging a trifork and inserting it into the stomachs of millions of shells emptied from the rust, staring, visiting my dreams, waking up with blood, dazzling with death, i wash my body with devastation and debris, the same devastation and debris i use to build my house located on the opposite side of the seventh gate of this world, close to the nail where manhood was hanged while those gathering were drinking wine. they fear every checkpoint on the entry to each city. cities are bombed everyday by the fingers of āyāt, before they are lit  by a thousand suns. suns that are shut by the sharia of single-celled algae, containing nothing but the rocks covered with black cloth in the morning.

Ali Thareb

from a paper left by a passenger in the bus
(ali thrab)

(1)
the body is not reflected in the saliva of the hungry people.
friends do not think of suicide.
a god does not develop without meaning.
a mother is standing by the clothes line
with a good heart.
another chance to escape from this moment.
a woman does not fall into the mouth of an animal.
a shadow becomes a tree,
climbing to escape from the land.
stepping toward his childhood
his mouth gone at once
into a whole apple.
all this for a man who would live.

(2)
because we do not have a weapon at home
renegades in the neighbourhood
hang their shoes on the door knob.
my father and i are fighting,
who will wear it first?

(3)
when i kiss my burned hand
i make fun of my futile flesh
and touch this lost life
as my fingers cry a distorted knowledge.

(4)
i want to annihilate newspapers
and complete life naked.
i just wish to sell lingerie
and for my mother to stop cooking her hand
for us every night.
i wish to defecate in our neighbour’s toilet,
and to fall from eyes that walk
and legs that see.

(5)
the dead angel i saw
in the house’s sewer
could flee on my bike
so i would not be frightened
of these rooms anymore.

(6)
the hook in the room’s ceiling
catches me whenever i disappear into sleep.

(7)
i was running in a coffin
when life finally visited.

.com
(wissan ali)

i still burn in vain,
my song is over,
my dance has melted into wheezy footsteps.
insert your hand inside the knife to find my lost neck,
then hold the clouds softly
so as not to overlap the cries of my friends when they watch my head roll over
the bottom of the youtube screen.

the tie of the power pole,
rope gallows,
i refuse to be hung on it, i don’t want my face to touch the bar.

fragments looking for a toilet.
fragments settling in me.
bomb and car and gun muffler
packed with stones from the kidney of the lord.

Hasan Tahsin

the pages of sidewalk
(hasan tahsin)

browsing the pages of the sidewalk with my burnt fingers
i found tears,
then i watered the sand
and wished it could give birth to an eye to guard the earth.

tired, i walked,

and i saw bunches of burnt heads like black grapes.

i walked more and, hearing a whisper,
found my body sounded good and asked,
is there any person who can plant me to grow again?

 

The Poetry in the Minefields (in Arabic) can be purchased  from Amazon

View more footage of the poets reading here.

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Haider Catan
, an Iraqi-born poet and academic, came to Australia to work on a research project in psycholinguistics and memory. Catan has enriched his experience of poetry in English by working with Wollongong poet Tim Heffernan. Their translations have been published by Red Room Company and Verity La.

Tim Heffernan is a Wollongong poet and recipient of the 2016 joanne burns microlit award. Tim was very proud to have his poem ‘Butterflies in Iraq’ published with Haider Catan’s ‘Purple Breeze’ in Out of Place, Spineless Wonders’ 2015 prose poetry and micofiction anthology. As well as joining together in translation we borrow from each other in our lives and our poetry

 

 

 

 

Mad Poets Workshop Winners:
The Wollongong Writers Festival

Posted on November 18, 2016 by in Clozapine Clinic — The Frater Project

6117c695d5dc016ea93468b433bd3418Verity La are proud to publish the three winning entries from the 2016 Wollongong Writers Festival Mad Poets Workshop. These poems are the first to be published as part of Clozapine Clinic, a new ongoing project established to honour the work and life of poet Benjamin Frater. Project editors Alise Blayney & Tim Heffernan aim to support writers with mental health issues wanting to howl!!! Check it out & listen up.

 

Spinning (Kyra Thomsen)

 

I spin myself into a frenzy
legs lurching in and out like a spider building a web
unravelling my inner-silk
exposing my underbelly.

The tea is too hot to drink but thank you and
no
I don’t take sugar
anymore.

You used to help me sweep the old cobwebs
the ones still held together with pride
after all this time.

Incisors and molars gnash in a bony crush.

You wake me at midnight
to tell me I’ve been tossing
again.

 

Dissatisfactions (Andrea Persico)

 

I’m not happy with my body.
With the muscle tone I lost in childbirth.
The scars that I got in childbirth
The fear that I felt in childbirth

I’m not happy with my clenching jaw
With stress spasm shoulders
With my broiling acid gut
That all this comes from my head.

I’m not happy with the pain I’ve caused
Speaking up, lashing out, unremembered outbursts.
Casting off smothering attention
To cry terrified, alone and shaking.

I’m not happy with the perfect life I have created, seeking happiness.
Working so damn hard for happiness.
Labouring, screaming, fighting for happiness
Never reaching a calm at the centre of the storm.

 

Grief for hire (Alise Blayney)

 

I AM grief for hire, a Poetess – not PTSDs marauded Duchess, nor the Black Dog’s mistress. I used to be the clinical Countess of Distress!

I HAVE a broken aorta, which under hypnosis ticks with postmodern tacky-cardia.

I HEAR absinthe’s green fairy whirlpool crash like car smash glass into community houso’s observation hole.

I SEE invisible cloaked entities dressed as spiritual emergencies, infecting those whose senses are not anaesthetised. They incubi and succubi my white hospital gown like a djinn and tonic lullaby.

I WOULD drop vowels for Rhett Butler, do post traumatic time behind the fishbowl for Scarlett O’Hara.

I WANT soft asylum, 33 inch vinyl and spinning Roy Orbison.

I AM Rimbaud’s THIEF of FIRE, a Poetess. Not PTSDs marauded Duchess, nor the Black Dog’s mistress. I used to be the clinical Countess of Distress.

I PRETEND that 9 years ago, I wasn’t a sensory deprived TANKED mess.

I FEEL ambidextrous with the crookedness, and RAGE over the cuckoo clock’s rooftops.

I TELL Blake his RINTRAH has gone too far – knockout pills and acute amnesia wrack with wrath, a reprobate wrecking ball.

I TOUCH marriage of perception through chemical incarceration and sink into delirium – the quack tells me I look like the spokesperson for vandalism!

I WORRY that the rough of the dialogue does your head in and that the curse of the coarse is coercion of sin.

I CRY because Mr Disney never told me the looking glass felt so like sheer fucking fear.

I SMILE when you spit delirious “the road of HER excess leads you to the palace of resilience.”

I AM the serrated jaw of Dante’s grand larceny circle. I lurk between the 5th of anger, the 7th of murder.

I UNDERSTAND when God gives you a gift, the angel of shibboleth gives you a whip.

I SAY drink the sweet elixir and watch your syntax sizzle off my rapid cycling tongue, to a beat that just belts on and on and on.

I DREAM of astral travel and meeting you in the ether, lucid and tender, where

I TRY to exalt this zyprexa stupor into the stars / release my pressure points into the ooh la la stars.

I HOPE to enter your white wonderland chamber, but your syntactical activist tongue SHIPWRECKS my lips, until I’m trembling and sick.

I LOVE that you said poetry is both confession and exorcism – so we should Houdini out of the syntax straight jacket by sticking it to big pharma!

I am GRIEF FOR HIRE. Tell seclusion and restraint I want ceasefire.

 

*

Want more Mad Poets? Go to the Wollongong Writers Festival website for details on the Ben Frater Retrospective and Mad Poets Readings and Tea Party, to take place on Sunday 27 November.

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kyra_thomsen_author_pic

Kyra Thomsen is a writer and editor from Wollongong who currently works full-time as a content manager and is deputy editor of Writer’s Edit. Her work has been previously published in print and online for several publications including Tide, Kindling, Mascara Literary Review and Seizure, and her short story ‘Buzzing’ was recently published in Spineless Wonders’ Slinkies e-series.

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Andrea Persico is returning to Australia and creative writing after a long hiatus in Italy. She hopes to have a longer bio before too long.

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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Reasonable Delusions of a Religious Nature (Tim Heffernan)

Posted on March 18, 2016 by in Heightened Talk

FullSizeRenderwalking      

reality  or  phantasmagoria,  desperate  love  on   a  rented  bed.
insanity or elated perception, a numbed litany that will be said.
lie that winter  freezing on oil stained concrete.  she  would not
let  you  in  nor anoint your wearied  feet.  dreams  escape from
night  time persuading  you  to  begin  to  see  the  visions  from
without as the visions from within. lyrics spiral from your head
and you tell that they too would see, but your mind  is  jammed
on 45 while the world revolves on 33. thirsting  for  guidance at
4am you tear  the  news  from blinding twine.  this  will  be your
medium now you are drawn to the divining line.


escorted to jerusalem

spit syllables at your father and blaspheme the missing lord  in
the antiseptic stench of some sterile casualty ward. wake up  in
an  ambulance  moving  somewhere  they won’t explain. escort
lights  pulse  blues ahead and charge the wiper-scourging  rain.
pause in a half-way  hospital  and  repel  the  dribbling  syringe.
feel the weight  of  mocking wardsmen:  needle  stabs  to  make
you cringe.  strip past your nakedness once they’ve pushed and
shoved you in.  squat in the blurred baptismal bath while some
angel records your sin.


mainstream communion

smile weeping in the rec room as music sings  your fame.  each
new lyric is offered  in  devotion to your name.  queue for mad-
house confectionery  fed  from  gleaming   stainless  steel. pick-
me-up on obscured mornings:  at night-time so you-wont-feel.
attempt to  read  her  letters  through  dazed, dilating eyes. you
cannot write the answers as you know that someone lies.  walk
rigidly  with  parkinson: you are dealt  another  pill  to  counter
common side-effects  of  chemicals that hold mind still.  slouch
the light-time  in  a  stupor in  between  the  times  you  are fed.
you  wish  to  obliterate  the  hours  before  escape – a  ward  12
bed.


revelation

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.

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Tim Heffernan lives in Wollongong where he is an active member of the South Coast Writers Centre. 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. He first published in the Wagga Wagga Daily Advertiser in 1985 and in 2015 was commended in the Joanne Burns Prize for his prose poem ‘butterflies in Iraq’, published in Spineless Wonders’ anthology Out of Place.