On Skywatching

Geoffrey Ricardo is a friend who I came to know through my housemate's father. The first time I met him, he allowed us to sleep in his attic which was filled with colourful toys and other knick-knacks that would be out of place anywhere. In fact Geoffrey's house is a bit like that, there is detail everywhere, every surface is covered with something which catches the eye and implores you to notice it. On this first meeting I was able to walk through Geoffrey's workspace which is a beautiful old shed in the bottom of his garden. It is covered in lithographs and prints, as well as small sculptures. It was a fascinating look into his practice, which is both industrial and delicate, to the extent that I even refrain from calling it his 'studio' that we visited, because there is so much poly-filler, plaster, steel and copper strewn everywhere that you feel like you're in a 'factory or a workshop, more than you do a traditional artist's studio. I knew that he had been commissioned in the past to do larger scale sculpture works for public spaces as well. As we were leaving his house I noticed a giant copper elephant in his driveway, too big to fit under his car-port. That is the kind of thing that can only happen at Geoffrey's house. 

We kept in touch, and earlier this year he told me that he'd been commissioned to do a series of sculptures in the area along Kororoit Creek, near his house in Altona. I lived in Williamstown for a year or so when I was 19, so I was familiar with the space where his sculptures would reside. He asked me for a short piece of writing about one of his eight figures. 

To digress for a moment about ekphrasis (poetry written in response to works of art), this was a particularly interesting challenge. Because often the artist is absent and will never read the poem about the work, there is some room for the poet to experiment without needing to appease the artist. In this case, given that I was submitting the poem about the artwork to the artist himself, I was more than a little concerned about making it adhere as closely as possible to what I thought Geoffrey might have been intending.

I read up on Geoffrey's other work, I went through my diaries about living in the area and went on google maps to remind myself of the landscape. I read some artist statements that Geoffrey had made on receiving the commission and asked him a few questions about the piece in emails. 

When I started writing the poem, it seemed like there was a very obvious way to approach the subject of the poem -- from the perspective of the figure looking up. So I wrote this poem. Given that the figure is anthropomorphic, but not 'human', I treated the subject as a sculpture with thoughts, not as a person. Given that the sculpture gets to experience daytime and nighttime staring up, I tried to convey in the poem a suggestion to passers-by, who, it felt to me, were being compelled by the arrangement of these sculptures along this path, to take a moment and reflect. 

 

Looking Up
 
the upshot is       when you’re gone         I’ll be here
still trying     to stare down       these orienting stars
my heart    is open       like my throat    as I drink
the promise of it in        I find       enclosed spaces
don’t     give my thoughts    the air         they need
recounting my limbs  as if forgotten         how long
have I been here?      in the daylight    I will clouds
into being   each an anxiety   I enjoy watching alight
I might stay  a little longer  still     before rejoining
the downside is     you’ll be gone.

 

But I wasn't completely satisfied with this poem. It seemed too sensible. Ginsberg has a great quote that says something along the lines of: poetry is not supposed to toe the party line. Lacan says: we do not come to poetry for the getting of wisdom, but for the dismantling of wisdom. So I thought about what someone in the clouds might be experiencing. Whilst the people walking on the path have stopped to read these poems and look at the sculpture, I felt like the sculpture would itself be enough to encourage them to look up. I wanted to write about what someone looking down would be thinking. In this way, it carries the same message as the first poem (to take stock of your surroundings), but this poem is different in that it rejects the premise that things are better in the sky, away from the rush of human life, and that instead, the beautiful things in life are contained in the space around us.  In this way I wanted the two poems to read first as an invitaiton to look up, and second as an invitation to look around. To hold the reader in a moment of contemplation of what they couldn't see or touch, and then leave them with the things that were right in front of them.

 

Looking Down
 
is it hope you seek in vain?             your imagination
limitless as the flight of birds?      what would you do
with it all?    endlessly       I yearn for your intimacies
feet firmly on the ground       the warmth of fingertips
but a myth(to me)         when all I see from up here
are yourfreckled noses     thinning scalps     leaves
on treeseven when it seems the stars are twinkling
please know I’d trade it all       to look into your eyes
 

I probably should also explain why the poems have such odd space between the clauses. Given that I knew the words were to appear in concrete, I wanted the poems themselves to be sculptural, so that when they appeared on the ground, they would have their own unique and 'concrete' (in the Apollinairean sense) shape. This stems from a lot of the research I have been doing into ekphrastic poetry, in that it should aspire to the same status as the artwork that it is responding to. I thought it would be fitting to have a 'sculptural poem' alongside an actual sculpture. 

Here is a fantastic video of Geoffrey talking about his work, which is shot mostly in his studio/factory/workshop. 

Geoffrey Ricardo - Spirits of Time & Place (Full) - Handmade Films : Handmade Films

Here is a link to his website: http://www.geoffreyricardo.com/

Also here are some pictures of the installed works.

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It's pretty cool to think that these poems get to live outside and that I was able to work with Geoffrey, who's art I find absolutely fascinating and inspiring. 

 

 

On Hybridisation

This is a story about how I ended up reciting poems in an echo tunnel wearing a blue suit -- or, how I came to be engulfed in the surrealistic chasm of 'iMMi', a collaboration with artist Kaspar Schmidt-Mumm. 

 Photo Credit: Emmaline Zanelli

Photo Credit: Emmaline Zanelli

 

My poetry for 'iMMi' is the actualisation of a idea I've long held about collaboration that comes from my research into ekphrasis. Ekphrasis is basically writing poetry in response to a painting. The problem is, mostly, that you can't ask the painter what sort of poem they would like. This leads to various interpretive speculations, a lot of research into the art-historical context of the painting, including the biography of the painter, their intentions (perhaps, but this is dangerous territory), and a lot of contemplation (and re-contemplation) of the painting. But, when you get a chance to work with an artist at every step of the artistic process, from the conception, through the production and finally in the exhibition, the poet (me) is able to make a response to the artwork that is much more informed and that (perhaps) achieves the sort of synthesis that is so prized (or completely unattainable) in writing poetry in response to a painting -- that it can become part of the artwork, not something external to it. 

Kaspar wanted 'iMMi' (titled to highlight the common prefix in words like: immigration, imitation, imagination) to be about creating a new hybridised culture by appropriating the archetypes of existing cultures. This extended the cargo-cult metaphor taken from various Melanesian tribes who attempted to rebuild objects left behind by colonial explorers, but devoid of any useful function; employing a 'post hoc ergo proptor hoc' logic, relying upon pure appearance. 

This drew upon Kaspar's own experience as being someone who came to Australia as a child and had to grasp at whatever pervading cultural norms he could in order to try and 'fit in'. He reiterated often, that there is no textbook for culture, it just morphs and re-morphs. The idea was to create an experience that was like a fake anthropological exhibit at a museum. One absurd coup that followed as part of the exhibition was getting John Carty from the Museum of South Australia to come and give a talk at the opening.

The poems that I wrote for this exhibition came from conversations with Kaspar about what his main influences and references for the project were, to help me establish some content for the work, and about how the work was going to be presented (as video, as performance, as an accompanying book) to hone in on the form of the work. There are three poems and each coincide with a section of the video, which is available below. 

I wrote the first with the intention of cutting it up in post-production, so each line was intended as a stand-alone phrase. A lot of the imagery in this section was taken from anecdotes that Kaspar told me about his childhood. I also included a number of foreign language phrases - the German phrase is from a Sesame Street song ('one of these shapes is not like the other ones'), the Italian phrase is from Ungaretti, a poet of the first World War and translated means, 'just an illusion that will make you brave', and the French phrase is a quote from Rimbaud's Illuminations, 'only I have the key to this savage parade'. The poem may read in a strange way here, but the video makes much better use of this reservoir of non-linear, fragmented writing. For the video, I read each phrase into a microphone and then let Kaspar treat the soundbites however he wanted as he continued to editing process. 

 

#1
 
wheels up:  naming, throbbing
 
clutching at straws with thirsty fingertips
 
I’ve never been a video
 
there’s two kinds of onions in this salad
 
the first obstacle is bubble wrap
 
the spectacle is lunch
 
what have you brought?
 
swimming in the shallow end
 
we do things different here
 
keep driving until you find some music
 
like the ocean but murkier
 
you write it in the margins
 
this diamond is diffracting
 
my mouth is a door
 
with the hinges falling off
 
je suis seule a tenir la cle 
 
de ce défile sauvage 
 
flattery and sincerity on arrival 
 
this feels like a foreign country
 
for christmas I bought you pegs
 
who are we hanging today?
 
repetition is another recovery
 
the prince has peeled before
 
beside their selves
 
this is the altar native
 
where’s your ticket home?
 
where should we put the snapping turtles?
 
how do you spell temperature
 
where you’re from?
 
take another slice, really
 
you’re more fruits of the forest
 
than rocky road, don’t you think?
 
ti basta un’illusione per farti coraggio
 
even though it’s concrete
 
it’s mostly tasteless
 
the half-life is still impressive
 
pearlescent flutes are playing
 
we play we play we plunge
 
you can’t camp in this absence
 
what do you figure for this?
 
Eine dieser Formen ist nicht Kike die Anderen
 
it might just be a town full of sand
 
asleep by the traffic cones
 
the crescent moon caught you
 
by your collar (hold on!)
 
what’s going to come in handy later?
 
speech balloons 
 
waiting for a power failure
 
who are we waiting for?
 
life has been a slow morning
 
in the dream we are eating
 
broken glass together
 
it’s a yard sale of imagination
 
a yoyo only for special occasions
 
filling a room means never having
 
to vacuum that place again
 
don’t let’s get carved up encore
 
I wish the meal wasn’t served cold
 
freeze the seagull first 
 
spinning like a gentle typhoon
 
beware the grapefruit’s bite
 
it’s going to be hard to put this
 
on a wall I used to believe
 
could this be the new new?
 
New Zealand
 
New York
 
Nouvelle Calédonie
 
New Polyester
 
French Polynesia
 
French toast 
 
the approach is a potato gun
 
keep out the shadows
 
this sounds like an echo
 
in a tunnel
 
am I accountable?
 
a fuzzy elaboration
 
a crispy realisation
 
this seems like 
 
a good break for applause 

 

The second part of the video features another poem which I wrote for iMMi. Kaspar kept talking about a 'blue screen of death', which is what happens when a computer is completely at the point of collapse. The aesthetics of this part of the video will appear familiar to anyone who has experienced such a frustrating technological breakdown before. I wrote a piece of flash-fiction about a dolphin in the Port River called 'Jock', who loved the tourist boats so much that even though his fin was mutilated by one of them, he always kept coming back to swim next to them. This desire for affection and acceptance in spite of horrible consequences was something that I wanted to explore as part of Kaspar's experience of trying to understand a culture that was foreign. 

 

#2
 
There’s a dolphin in the port river called Jock. Jock would follow the boats along the river, he would swim right up to them. Year’s ago, Jock got tangled in some fishing line.  He was run over by a boat. Jock’s dorsal fin was mutilated. He still comes to swim with the tourist boats and all of the tour guides know him and point him out to tourists. His horribly disfigured dorsal fin makes him instantly recognisable.
 
trance and transcendence wear the same cloak, don’t you think? It might
 
in some circumstance, against your will, your eyes might be closed. don’t panic. go with it. our going across will at least be together
 
trance: from the latin ‘transire’ means go across. try crossing the border another way. 
 

The final poem, in the last scene of the video is a poem written to sublimate all of the ideas that we had been talking about in one (almost) coherent poem. The structure of the poem is supposed to follow a choreography where the speaker is retreating further and further into themselves: from this initial naming and grasping at objects, the iMMi actor has no choice but to retreat into obscurity -- in a way that 'successful' immigration is unfortunately often considered as assimilation. The attempt here was not to suggest that culture cannot survive migration (in fact, a lot of what Kaspar is trying to express by making a work so closely linked to his own story, is that is CAN), but that this video, played before the exhibition's official opening, placed the iMMi as history, which allowed the exhibition itself to take the form of an anthropological survey. The poem twists and turns, turning back on itself with each emphasis of the word 'BUT', which is the beginning and ending of each stanza. It maintains a syllabic structure (one on the first line, three on the second, nine on the third) in each stanza that through repetition gives it some illusion of structure, as well as suggesting how easy one becomes three becomes nine -- how the expansion of culture can be so rapid. 

 

#3
 
Stay
 
somewhere familiar
 
out of town, in your mind, on the edge
 
we’re only always about to sink into ourselves
 
watching the planes fly overhead and feeling nothing but nausea
 
eating the onions to try and acclimatise 
 
the way you remind me of home
 
patterns so vivid it’s hard not to believe the painted world
 
BUT
 
Don’t 
 
listen too closely
 
to the river, to the radio, to your conscience
 
we’re only always about to find something new
 
brewing coffee on the ceiling sweating in a new shirt
 
attentive and anti-inflammatory
 
the way the comfiest pillows are always white
 
black dots that follow your eyes across the page
 
BUT
 
Think
 
past the illusion
 
the plinth, the plaque, the traffic cones
 
we’re only always one more masque away from being truthful
 
worrying about the air conditioningbathing in patchouli 
 
I think there’s more than meets the eye
 
I want to believe in something that hasn’t arrived yet
 
the safest thought is still years away from being here
 
BUT
 
Graft
 
some other story
 
don quixote, catch 22, the go-between
 
we’re only always a word or so away from meaning
 
emigrating the first time was harder and not encouraged
 
the windmills got closer and we made names for things
 
I know the kettle rattles the loudest just before it boils
 
I guess I’m just improvising 
 
Taking a lesson from books
 
I’m not ashamed anymore
 
If you want one I can make it for you
 
the experience is to display experience
 
BUT
 
Don’t
 
try too hard
 
to get it, to feel it, to own it
 
we’re only always arriving the same day as the postcard
 
it stops being about me or about you or about expatriation
 
I’ve cooled and cooled again, I’m leftovers
 
I’m exotic until I’m fed-up  
 
I’m filling this box with darkness
 
I’m drafting you an email
 
I’m prepared for the influx
 
I’m slipping deeper and deeper into my weltzshmertz 
 
BUT
 
deeper
 
as I go
 
deeper, deeper, deeper

 

So this was my attempt at hybridisation -- at the level of cultural hybridity, but also at the level of interpersonal creative hybridity, working with Kaspar. 

Kaspar's work is available here: http://kasparschmidtmumm.com/IMMI

And this is the video here:

On Contributing a Poem for a Friend's Record

Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to be asked to contribute a poem for a very good friend's record. Kaurna is someone whom I have travelled all over the world with and with whom I've shared some of the best and worst experiences with -- if these (the poles of 'best' and 'worst') are the only ones we remember, then it is no wonder that experiences I have had travelling and playing music with Kaurna are at the forefront of my consciousness.

We travelled across Australia countless times, first driving together and busking on the streets, then bigger concerts and flights inevitably followed. We travelled overseas together, following a similar trajectory from the concerts in streets to concerts more frequently indoors. We found ourselves in situations that I would never have approached with the same confidence and open-mindedness had it not been for his friendship -- meeting new people and being confronted with unique problems ('opportunities for new solutions' he would have called them at the time).

Whilst no longer travelling as much (ironically I'm writing this from Sydney, where I am researching at the moment) I reflect upon those years we spent as touring musicians together (he of course is still touring -- more frequently and successfully, in fact than ever!) as being as much about the travel as they were about the music. So much of Kaurna's music, as an extension of his very considerate and self-reflexive personality, has come to be an expression of his life on the road, and his concerts, which are an opportunity for him to speak candidly with a new audience every night, invariably become an opportunity for him to share more tales from the road. In this way, the travel and the music, the music and the travel have become so wonderfully intertwined, that they are now impossible to separate.

In a way, I think we have attained a similar inextricable quality to our friendship, through the celebration of our shared experience, in spite of the many months of the year we go without seeing one another (he recently completed a 100 date tour of Europe). The following poem then, is my celebration of those experiences we had together. It is also a gesture of support to encourage anyone who finds themselves in the hysteria of travelling to keep going, to stay present and to always be moving forward (the command of the super-ego of 'so what next?').

I wrote the poem on a bus in Myanmar with the lyrics from Kaurna's album open on one screen and my notebook on the seat next to me which contained some quick maxims that I had stumbled across whilst being away from home. Most of them were in this very commanding voice -- Don't stop, Keep going, Pay attention -- and for better or for worse, these found their way into the poem, along with riffs on Kaurna's own writing and some ideas that he and I had spent years mulling over.

The poem 'Euphoria, Delirium & Loneliness' appears on the inside sleeve of the album and the album is available digitally, on CD or vinyl at www.kaurnacronin.com 

 

'Euphoria, Delirium & Loneliness'

 

it begins in the untold darkness

we could be anywhere in the world  /  it begins

as soon as you close your eyes and start listening

this is your first task from now on:

take a picture of every bed you sleep in

just before you get into it (why not?)

start collecting things  /  objects

matches coasters ticket stubs

things that will remind you

it was real  /  and put them

in a box marked 'for when I’m getting comfortable'

find a friend who likes railway stations

but not necessarily trains

find a calendar that leafs through itself

remember love is supposed to free us

but too often it is used as an argument for staying put

& sure  /  there are things we can't leave behind

these are familiar shadows

that play on an unfamiliar wall

just like how the stars are different here

you know them but not what they mean

we miss all of their mythology in the translation

hell  /  be someone completely different if you want

we’re all strangers here or why not have a test run

at being yourself? experiment

'is this coherent?' 'what about this?'

it begins when the globe stops spinning

& you lift your finger up to see where you have landed.

On Personal Philosophy (A Mixtape NOV '16)

ONE: The branch will not break

 

I want to start this section with a poem by American environmentalist poet James Wright.

 

Two Hangovers



Number One



I slouch in bed.

Beyond the streaked trees of my window,

All groves are bare.

Locusts and poplars change to unmarried women

Sorting slate from anthracite

Between railroad ties:

The yellow-bearded winter of the depression

Is still alive somewhere, an old man

Counting his collection of bottle caps

In a tarpaper shack under the cold trees

Of my grave.

I still feel half drunk,

And all those old women beyond my window

Are hunching toward the graveyard.

Drunk, mumbling Hungarian,

The sun staggers in,

And his big stupid face pitches

Into the stove.

For two hours I have been dreaming

Of green butterflies searching for diamonds

In coal seams;

And children chasing each other for a game

Through the hills of fresh graves.

But the sun has come home drunk from the sea,

And a sparrow outside

Sings of the Hanna Coal Co. and the dead moon.

The filaments of cold light bulbs tremble

In music like delicate birds.

Ah, turn it off.



Number Two (I Try to Waken and Greet the World Once Again)



In a pine tree,

A few yards away from my window sill,

A brilliant blue jay is springing up and down, up and down,

On a branch.

I laugh, as I see him abandon himself

To entire delight, for he knows as well as I do

That the branch will not break.

 

I came across this line after reading Wright’s book which is titled ‘the branch will not break’. I think that in this instance, in the context of the poem, called ‘Two Hangovers’, here is a sense to the idea that this metaphor should be considered as something self-inflicted. The branch not breaking suggests the capacity for the branch to absorb the change in weight distribution of the blue jay (perhaps a conduit for the mental/physical process of the speaker of the poem) and then to bounce back, much like Wright suggests in the subtitle of this poem ‘I try to waken and greet the world once again’, he will bounce back from the hangover.

 

I’ve found this as really useful metaphor for understanding the oft overused term ‘the human experience’ - well at least MY human experience. To me, the idea that a branch, a natural thing has an unquantifiable capacity to bend, adapt, to be malleable is so similar to the way that we humans are so readily able to surpass our own perceived limitations and to adapt to change. We often underestimate our carrying capacity – such that if someone were to ask us what is possible, we would not know unless we were within that experience to be able to test or have real knowledge in order to say one way or another what was possible. 

 

Are we able to forgive people who have wronged us? Are we able to love people that we didn’t think we had the capacity to love? Are we able to overcome injury, heartache, loss, guilt? In short: Are we able to adapt to different circumstances? 

 

Morbidly, I think that the break is death; the break is breakdown. There are only two states – broken and unbroken –and so much of our lives (in fact all of our lives) is lived within this unbroken state. There are gradations of unbroken-ness, but only one stage of being broken – there are many states of being, but only one state of non-being. I guess this idea for me feels like the best way of understanding human life, as this physical thing, which obviously has a mental/spiritual aspect, but in some way we can reduce it to saying, at whatever stage one’s life is – it’s bending somewhat, but not broken. If we’re still here we’re not broken. 

 

I thought about this after a friend of mine was talking about how she was dating two guys at once, and after I asked her how that felt, she said, it felt fine – but if I’d asked her before she’d tried it out, she wouldn’t not have been able to tell me. I think in this way she was able to make the branch of her own life bend without it breaking – she recognized a new carrying capacity for her own experience. I think that this has implications in my own world view – not toward polyamory – but more so toward the conceptualization of things as being just at different levels of unbroken-ness, the bend is possible to create, but we have no idea just how much something will bend before we start bouncing up and down on it, or putting things on it to test it out. I think for a long time I had the opinion that it was possible to look at a branch and say: that’s not going to hold. Whereas now I feel quite curious about the way that our experience might surprise us – Q: how can we know? A: We can only try, we can only bend. 

 

And so ‘the branch will not break’ has become a bit of a motto for me; I’m less calculating about things – I’m just interested to see how my own expectations can be surpassed. I’m concerned with reserving judgement, avoiding preconceptions and trying things out – hopping up and down on the branch. This approach might be more dangerous, but requires confidence – that this branch will bend, and is always bending – but will not break. This I find quite liberating.

 

As a caveat, and because I can’t stop thinking about it – the whole Trump President thing, makes me think, ‘stop pretending like it’s the end of the world – giant proclamations about the end of the world are all very well, but remember instead, the branch will bend, the branch will not break – life will go on and people will adapt, and this will create a new status quo and a new parameter for which people see things to be tolerable. We don’t know our own carrying capacity. And as a slightly less developed tangent to this idea, I also don’t think we know our capacity to recover and rebuild.

 

 

TWO: I see right through the ground. (The real)

 

I want to start this section with a quote by Jack Kerouac, taken from a lecture he gave in 1958 entitled: ‘Is There a Beat Generation?’

 

We should be wondering tonight, “Is there a world?” But I could go and talk on 5, 10, 20 minutes about is there a world, because there is really no world, cause sometimes I’m walkin’ on the ground and I see right through the ground. And there is no world. And you’ll find out.
— Jack Kerouac, “Is There A Beat Generation?" forum at Hunter College, New York. (8 November 1958)

 

What got me thinking about this quote, was walking along the footpath in Ubud, where I am at the moment in Bali and seeing right through to the ground beneath the footpath – realizing that underneath this path, there is an endless flow of rainwater, junk, detritus. While Kerouac says that you can see through the ground and there is no world – I would argue that you can see through ground and there is nothing BUT the world: where these gaps appear, there is only a shattering of illusion. Trying to watch my feet and dodge these huge holes in the footpath; gaps where one false step and I would have a broken leg, or would fall two meters into running water forced me to think about the reality of this fall and what the consequences of this would be, in so far as I realized I was no longer protected by illusion.

 

This follows on from what I was saying about the branch breaking just before – when we understand the breaking of the branch to be ‘death’ then what I am concerned by here is the idea of confronting the break. This means establishing a full and frank awareness of what Slavoj Žižek and other contemporary philosophers have called ‘the real’. 

 

As a consequence of comparison, walking through the streets of Ubud made me aware of our very comfortable society in Australia – where a gap in the footpath would be covered by cones, or tape. Who would even think about what’s happening underneath the ground, under the road, under the footpath? Here I confronted reality, but this was by confronting extremes.

 

I’ve tried to explain this dichotomy in a poem – it doesn’t have a title yet, and it’s only a few days old.

 

Poem (death/the real/humidity)



not watching and it’s one step away

the real - not that there’s any rules to break

only legs, ankles, you are walking distance from

the truth & as you tramp it could be snatched

from you as easily as a handbag, or an ice cream

so hold it close, there’s this two stroke taste

you can’t get out the back of your throat, your

nostrils coated with incense from the offerings

the bad spirits warrant the same amount of

wooing as the good - you’ve been feverish

in the night, sweating through sheets & in the

mini-marts the cold air gives you shivers before

you’re hocked out the glass door & into the real

melting into your own warped reflection, thinking

do I really look that thin? everything else appears

obvious, except the humidity - the moisture

& the heat working together - two

faux ami held in check by pull of their

extremes.

I think my point here is that it is possible to have a greater experience of one’s own life when in full awareness of the limitations of that life. In the poem I talk about things that shouldn’t work together working together – the idea of paying homage to the good spirits as well as the bad spirits is this. The way to keep life balanced is to maintain an awareness of extremes. A good life is dependent on a healthy amount of thinking about death – As WB Yeats said: ‘Sex and Death, that’s all there is.’

 

THREE: The past is a foreign country.

 

I want to start this next section with a quote by LP Harvey. The following was the opening line from his 1939 Novel ‘The Go-Between’. 

 

“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”

 

I came across this quote when I was waiting at the airport and trying to pass the time by reading through a collection of the best 100 opening lines in novels. I had read The Go-Between when I was younger, maybe 16 or so, but I couldn’t remember much about it. Yet when I read this opening line, I think about what this means in terms of how we are able to relate to the past. 

 

Firstly, I think of why Hartley would have said ‘a foreign country’ and not just, an unknown place, or a faraway place. There is a suggestion that it is a ‘State’ where people live, they act, they have lives – in this sense, he advocates a “cultural relativity” of the past: meaning that the morals, rules and ways of thinking that we have in the present are not sufficient to apply to the past – they do things differently THERE.

 

This quote has functioned as a central part of a work that I have begun with Kaspar, where we are writing a ‘Manifesto of Hybridity’. Kaspar has a desire to do away with mono-culturalism and to set up a world within a world where everything is only allowed in if it is the hybrid of something. We are playing with the idea of how place relates to time in a hybrid creation because culture is both a time and a place. It is not just something from one culture and another, but something from the past and the present moment.

 

An offshoot from this point is that living in a developed Western country like Australia, we are continually complicit in thinking that foreign countries are the past – because people do things differently where they are, there is a sense that they must be backward. Yet, there are other circumstances, where travelling to a foreign country opens us up to how things are being done better than they are in Australia. In this way, the future is also a foreign country. Nonetheless, it is a strange frame that we apply to difference; that there is a temporal aspect to how people live in other countries.

 

The line, and its significance within a novel, means that there is a shift from the past which has now become obvious – so much so that the past no longer feels familiar at the start of the novel. Therefore, this suggests that the story will not only be talking to the past but also to the present. There is a suggestion implicit that in order to understand why the speaker believes that the past is a foreign place, they will first need to outline how the present is the real place. 

 

And this leads me into my final concept/section. 

 

FOUR: Home. This Must Be the Place. 

 

This fourth section involves a comparison between two texts; two texts that I am confident have never been compared to one another before. The first is a poem by a Slovak poet, Milan Rufus. He was born two years after my grandfather in the same region of Slovakia and he passed away 2009. This was a poem written in his final years, and is followed in his final book by only one other poem, which is called ‘a farewell to literature’. So the title ‘Testament’ should be understood in the sense of a ‘will and testament’. My grandfather is still living and I asked him to help me translate this poem into my own version using the original Slovak version of the poem and the standard English translation which had been quite poorly translated.

 

Testament



Don’t let yourself be misled

where people are giving, be there to receive

Home – is supposed to be something simple

Like the right word at the moment of understanding



It just means not feeling lost for a moment

the whole world is like this to someone

but home is the place for you

where it is easier to live – and to die



Home is to stand on the edge of a mountain

as a breeze is blowing; defiant

you aren’t shy of love or anger

for you wanted nothing else – just her.
This Must Be the Place



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E9aN93S8nl8



Home is where I want to be

Pick me up and turn me around

I feel numb, born with a weak heart

Guess I must be having fun



The less we say about it the better

Make it up as we go along

Feet on the ground, head in the sky

It’s okay, I know nothing’s wrong, nothing



I got plenty of time

You got light in your eyes

And you’re standing here beside me

I love the passing of time

Never for money, always for love

Cover up and say goodnight, say goodnight



Home, is where I want to be

But I guess I’m already there

I come home, she lifted up her wings

I guess that this must be the place



I can’t tell one from the other

I find you, or you find me?

There was a time before we were born

If someone asks, this is where I’ll be, where I’ll be



We drift in and out

Sing into my mouth

Out of all those kinds of people

You got a face with a view



I’m just an animal looking for a home

And to share the same space for a minute or two

And you’ll love me till my heart stops

Love me till I’m dead

The second thing that I’ve quoted here is of course, a song by Talking Heads called ‘This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)’. I see that these two pieces of writing, both which repeat the word ‘Home’ by itself, are able to create an angle on the idea of place. That the place is only relevant in the present. 

 

Compare Rufus’ line ‘Home like the right word at the moment of understanding’ against Byrne’s ‘I’m just an animal looking for a home / And to share the same space for a minute or two’. These both suggest that home is something simple – as simple as being awake and being present. It moves with you - it is wherever you are at the time. It is not always easy to remember this – compare standing ‘on the edge of a mountain’ in Rufus, the uncertainty of this unstable position, with the repeated ‘I guess’ in Byrne’s lyric – ‘I guess that this must be the place’ & ‘I guess I must be having fun’. Sometimes living in the moment is the hardest thing. But in that moment there is nowhere else you COULD be. Home ‘Is where I want to be, but I guess I’m already there’. Even if it is the ‘wrong place’ it MUST be the place.

 

This idea came to me when I was running an ultra-marathon (even if that sounds ridiculous). When I was running along this trail, there was not a lot of signage. Every now and again you might see a ribbon tied in a tree, but every 6kms there was a drink stop. It was pretty easy to get lost. I’m not sure if it was the exhaustion, the dehydration or the endorphins, but I couldn’t help thinking every time I saw a ribbon along this path that, ‘oh well this must be the place’. As much as the metaphor of the path is so ubiquitous and overused, when I was actually at the mercy of a path that I was literally/physically navigating, the idea of place and where I was in relation to that place became really important. When I stopped at a drink stop and spoke to the volunteers, I would slow down and say, ‘Oh, well this must be the place’. I think they were used to seeing weird disoriented people by this stage, there were 500 other people in the ultra-marathon, but my brain just felt very economical. That seemed like the only thing that I wanted to say: this MUST be the place. 

 

I guess how this ties in with my other points in the mixtape;

 

1)    The branch will not break: so we have a set up where it doesn’t matter where you are, wrong or right, you must be in the right place. In that way, lost or not, you have the ability to adapt your carrying capacity to accept wherever you are. Even if you’re in a strange place, you can bend, you can accept it – in fact much like putting weight on the branch, the branch has no choice but to bend around it – such that it forces the conclusion – the branch MUST bend, and this MUST be the place.

2)    Seeing right through the ground: I think that both pieces of writing, Rufus and Byrne talk about the challenge, or the acceptance of the real extremes. Rufus writes, ‘You aren’t shy of love or anger’, emphasising these two emotional extremes. And Byrne writes, almost desperately: ‘love me til my heart stops, love me til I’m dead’. Rufus begins the poem by saying ‘Don’t let yourself be misled’, and this suggests the illusion that I was discussing in this section, that when you don’t accept the real, it’s easy to remain comfortable without the extremes of life and death: ‘Home is the place for you / where it is easier to live – and to die’. 

3)    The past is a foreign country: I think that the most important sections of these poems are the acceptance of the necessity of the present. Byrne writes, “If some asks, this is where I’ll be. Where I’ll be”. Home is spatiotemporal. It is where you are at the moment. The ‘this’ in this must be the place, or in ‘this’ is where I’ll be’ is a relational property. It is malleable. It is relevant only where it is spoken and performed. The past is a foreign country. The present is wherever you are. Home is supposed to be something simple. Therefore the present MUST, this moment, this place MUST be the place.

On Personal Investment.

Despite the title of this post, what follows is not a discussion of finances or economics, but rather an exploration of what it takes to relate meaningfully to other humans. In a conversation, one who is able to invest part of themselves in the act of listening lets the speaker know they are being heard. Projecting empathy is evidence that you have walked a mile in that person’s shoes and that now you stand alongside them. Without the investment of one’s self into the conversational exchange, it will never progress beyond superficiality. 

Ancient cultures who offered sacrifices and dowries set a precedent for the deep conversational act. What one requires from a listener before they reveal a private concern is a gesture from the listener that cements their investment to the exchange; saying, ‘I will tell you something personal first, to prove to you that I am trustworthy enough for you to entrust something personal to me’. By investing part of one’s self, by making one’s self vulnerable in front of the other, the timid speaker feels much more confident in revealing part of themselves and thus the deep conversation act can take place. Being vulnerable is the first step toward establishing trust.

And vulnerability is vital component of making great art. I believe the artistic act should be a dangerous one. If an artist is not prepared to make a sacrifice, then what duty does the audience have to pay attention? There is no urgency or onus on the reader in a piece of writing that conforms with their world view and is couched in comfortable language. 

By naming some unspoken truth, poetry should illuminate the dark spaces in a reader’s consciousness. As the poet explores a thought or feeling that the reader has unconsciously had before but never followed or tried to name, the poem should come as an invitation for the reader to delve into their own experience. 

The poetic exchange should originate in a pretence of vulnerability, an honest supplication from poet to reader. In turn this should encourage the reader to shine the same light upon themselves in order to experience a moment of unique clarity; to explore a sensation that had receded into the background, with new eyes. 

In the end, the role of personal investment in poetry, falls upon the shoulders of both the poet and the reader as both are invited to be vulnerable in front of the other.

On Having a Website

Writing. It's a peculiar art form to share with people. It replicates speech, but in dedication to the craft of writing well, it rarely conveys the reactionary dynamics of conversation. When writing is taught in Universities, there is an emphasis placed upon the ability to select the right words and to be as convincing as possible, so that when you do write something down, it is clear, well thought out and (at least in the individual's opinion) exactly what they want to commit to saying. In another way, writers have a responsibility to make the most out of an activity that is not reactive. It is for this reason that writing should take time. Saying the first thing that comes to one's head might be applicable in a conversation, but it shuns the process of carefully selecting words and phrases that makes writing an art form. 

Understandably, finding a context for writing that is sculpted with respect to these conditions is difficult in an age dominated by proliferous social media platforms. Although microblogging and photoblogging have their part to play in our online existence, the good that they can do is limited by the uniformity of their presentation. Through 'feeds' these online spaces develop their own language, their own aesthetic, their own zeitgeist as a result of the combination of users. Anything inserted into these ‘feeds' is ascribed meaning by the posts that immediately precede it. 

As a writer I want for my work to be read and understood through a context that enhances it's meaning. The things that I think about, the emotions that I wish to express through my writing take place in isolation and are created in an equally isolated state. Instead of having a context unwittingly imposed by ceaselessly noisy ‘feeds', by creating this website my aim is to develop a space for writing of this careful nature to exist. Hopefully, by putting this writing here, it will be able to be read in a way that remains true to the way that it was written.