Monday, December 17, 2012

Poems in the wild #34

Poem #34 (Joker!) was released in the foyer after Regina Spektor's (excellent) gig.

We thought ourselves
the most complex creatures
butting some slip of a world
built on slender concepts.
We plodded along like we were
weighted with scones
dragging Devonshire ballast
in a slipstream of jam slather.
Asleep by four, we dreamed
the cheese dreams that sprout
mould during long lunches where
the same conversation is held.
And here they overtook us:
awake, unknown, younger.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut

From the favourer: "I always find it difficult to say why I like a book - it's so much easier to talk about the books you don't like. And maybe this book has an unfair advantage, being about war—even bad war stories can't help but be moving on some level. But Vonnegut's story has such an energy to it; and though it's the story of one man's degradation and mental disintegration it somehow manages to be both light and tragic. Which pretty much sums up the human condition. Something like that, anyway."

Listen: Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time. A witness to the fire-bombing of Dresden, he becomes an optometrist after the end of WWII, but finds himself increasingly displaced in time after his abduction by the alien race of Tralfamadorians, who house his naked self in a nicely furnished impression of an earthly suburban home, and introduce him to a lovely female mate (the Earthling movie star Montana Wildhack), with whom he...mates. After his abduction, every doorway can lead into another time and place for Billy. Sometimes he steps back only a few hours and watches a movie run in reverse, then forwards again. Sometimes he steps back into the horrors of being an American POW. Sometimes he steps forwards to the fate of his earthly wife. As we see, a lot, so it goes.

Vonnegut was himself a witness to the fire-bombing of Dresden, and the first chapter frames the rest of the book partly as his own story, told through Billy Pilgrim. I can be a bit daft about these sorts of things, so there were a few tentative questions from me to Tim, along the lines of "Is the guy who starts talking in the first part meant to be Vonnegut himself or something?"

Someone get this girl a Cliff's Notes.

Anyway, once I got the hang of this book, I slipped into its irresistible rhythm of tragedy, comedy, absurdity and deep sadness. At one point I stopped reading, and said to Tim: "I think I love this book." He said "Just as well, that could have been a deal-breaker." Fair enough, yo.

While vastly different in both tone and the amount of references to hairy legs, Slaughterhouse 5 reminded me a lot of Spike Milligan's writings on war - that sense of ridiculous comedy teamed with an almost unbearable sensitivity to both human suffering and human absurdity. There's a not-very-famous Milligan book (not about war) called It Ends With Magic which Slaughterhouse 5 called to mind: it takes a situation that obviously won't end well, and makes it 'end with magic', or, in this case, makes it come unstuck in time.

There's a quiet belligerence in what Vonnegut does with an 'anti-war novel'. He writes light-heartedly of horrific events, pulls the reader out of heart-breaking scenes into another decade or galaxy, and requires of us, if we're going to read the damn thing properly, that we give over to the internal logic of Billy Pilgrim's experience.But, as one character remarks in the initial chapter, writing an anti-war novel is about as much use as writing an anti-glacier novel, so we're never going to get off lightly. The depth of feeling that Vonnegut writes into a short novel with such clarity and elegance is often page-stopping:

Even though Billy's train wasn't moving, its boxcars were kept locked tight. Nobody was to get off until the final destination. To the guards who walked up and down outside, each car became a single organism which ate and drank and excreted through its ventilators. It talked or sometimes yelled through its ventilators too. In went water and loaves of blackbread and sausage and cheese, and out came shit and piss and language. Human beings in there were excreting into steel helmets, which were passed to the people at the ventilators, who dumped them. Billy was a dumper. The human beings also passed canteens, which guards would fill with water. When food came in, the human beings were quiet and trusting and beautiful. They shared.

The Tralfamadorian view of time (probably 'themed' and 'motifed' to death in the Cliff's Notes I haven't got) only deepens Vonnegut's view of life and war. To these aliens, all moments in a life exist at once, so everyone is always alive. And yet Vonnegut writes, within this semi-ridiculous framework, so elegantly of suffering and death - from expiring in a box-car, to the pain of ill-fitting shoes.  It's hard to articulate (even if you're as long-winded as me) how in such a short novel, this balance of humour and horror, heartbreak and absurdity can co-exist.

He repeats it: so it goes.

And since reading Slaughterhouse 5 I've had in my brain the Elvis Costello line:

If I'm lost or I'm forgiven, the birds will keep on singing.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Tolly needs a new home

UPDATE 26/11/2012
Tolly has been adopted by a lovely Twitter peep @matonman1, to be a friend to his younger cat Mamie (who looks a lot like a young Vada, Tolly's old housemate!) I am so pleased and I hope they will be great friends. Thankyou to everyone one who has helped out here, and thankyou especially to @matonman1


Due to [redacted rant] beyond my control, I'm once again looking for a new home for my cat Tolly. He has lived with my with my ex-husband since we split, who now isn't allowed to keep him. I can't have him either.

Lovely Tolly needs to find a new home! Can you help? Please?

He's a male domestic short hair, de-sexed and microchipped, 9 years old. Healthy as a horse, very affectionate and used to children (he's had the trial by fire of growing up with my 3 year old Luka!)

He is used to spending a lot of his time outside (and prefers to do his business outdoors, but he knows his way around a litter tray too).

If you can give him a home, or know someone who can, please contact me at Tolly is currently living in Ivanhoe, Vic.

Here's some happy snaps of the boy himself:

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Poems in the wild #33

Poem #33 (9 of clubs) was released at the cash register at The Mess Hall, after a very nice glass of the verdicchio.

Knit two, purl two
Knit two, purl two:
Curve of baby shoulders
certainty in newborn cardis.

Knit two, purl one
Knit two, purl one:
Beanies for the footy
bobbled with a pom-pom.

Knit one, drop one
Knit one, purl one:
Mitts to wear to school
mandatory greys and blues.

Knit one, drop one
Purl one, drop one:
Gifts to take away to uni
a scarf of empty needles.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Boo! A Halloween Podcast for some creepy listening

The multi-talented and decidedly awesome Tim Howard (aka @timsterne) has put together a Halloween podcast with lots of different contributors: "Fifty minutes of gothic tales, ghostly anecdotes, urban legends, nursery rhymes and appropriately spooky tunes."

Should your 31st of October need some creepy listening (and honestly, whose doesn't?), I highly recommend you download or stream it here!

(Also, two of the recordings on it are by me, so you really really should download it. And not just because I end up sounding a bit like Drusilla on one of them.)

For your amusement, here I am recording, about to engage my home-made sound effect.

"The Funny Old Box" by Christopher Miles
"Halloween: Some Prefatory Remarks" by Tim Howard
"Meeting Mum" by Jon Buckingham
"You Can Never Leave" by Alice Cannon
"The Green" by Mat Larkin
"The Stables" by ernmalleyscat
"A Gap in the Shadow" by Anna Ryan-Punch
"Snapshots" by Tim Howard
"Zaldock the Dread" by Timothy Train
"Passing Notes" by Anna Ryan-Punch
"End of Messages" by Sean M. Elliott

Happy Halloween! Enjoy! Or die...

Monday, October 29, 2012

Poems in the wild #31

Poem #31 (Jack of spades) was released in the Rowden White Library, in a Sylvia Plath book. (Lazy release I know - I meant to release this in Flinders on the weekend, but between fish n chips and playing with crabs at the beach I darn well forgot.)

I used to think if I went blind
in just one eye I would only see
one side of every thing: 
dogs propped steady on two legs;
a half-loop of my mother’s smile.
At night in bed I tested divisions:
pressed each palm to a nervous eye.
The night stayed whole
but I slept uneasy.
I am wary of the waxing
and the waning moon,
fear is half a star.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Poems in the wild #30

Poem #30 (8 of clubs) was released in the poetry section of Alice's Bookshop on Rathdowne St, North Carlton

all voices blur and beat
Georgian crystal;
audible sugar cubes.
eardrums touch in the middle:
press, and are pierced.

padded speakers draw
out poison, decibels
rip chaos into choirs, one
phrase resolves to a
single note; discordant.

Poems in the wild #29

Poem #29 (4 of diamonds) was released outside the shop in Carlton on Drummond Street where the guy makes all sorts of stuff out of short lengths of wood.

morning rains grind
early half-dark
truths in a waterfall.
shouts peel out blinding
bass tenor alto soprano:
tears like cataracts.

caffeine not fast enough
no smash of tea leaves
quick against china.
the kettle waits
for me to look away.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

From the favourer: "This collection of reimagined fairy tales has stuck with me because of their dark, visceral, beautiful, comical and subversive qualities. It stands out as my favourite of her works. I discovered Angela Carter as an impressionable Arts undergraduate, and devoured the majority of her oeuvre in a matter of weeks."

Somehow, I managed to do an entire Arts degree without ever reading or studying The Bloody Chamber. (I also managed to never go to Goo on Thursdays at the Metro, but that's something I believe works in my favour.) As such, my post here is going to attempt to avoid all forms of undergraduate-essay-style-analysis - I'm sure there's enough of that out there if you want more information on role-reversal of 'the hero' and symbolic reinforcement of oppressive social mechanics. In fact, if you just read the marginalia in the copy I got from the library (with its somewhat unsubtle cover), it's pretty much all there for you in pink pencil*.

My vague (and largely incorrect) notion of The Bloody Chamber was that it was a collection of feminist re-writings of traditional fairy tales. You know: girl escapes wolf, the end. The stories are in fact much more varied and amorphous than that - they pick up undercurrents in the original tales, what Carter calls the "latent content", and use them as a jumping-off place for stories that are sometimes reworkings, sometimes diversions, and sometimes only have a vague family resemblance to the tale that gave birth to them. It can be like looking at a long lost cousin who you only know is related to you because of the unfortunate genetic dominance of Uncle Barry's nose.

The title story is the longest and probably the most recognisable as a fairy tale (Bluebeard) treatment. Now that we've mentioned the title 'The Bloody Chamber', let's just all say it loudly: VAGINA VAGINA VAGINA. There. Can we move on now? The young bride is brought to her new husband's house, given the keys to the castle and told to explore while he is away - except, of course, for That One Room. We all know what's in that room, but Carter gives it a lush, torturous treatment that is far more interesting than some decapitated lasses who could have used a haircut. The story isn't left there, however, and in an abrupt (possibly too abrupt) turn of events, the new bride's mother steams in on a horse to take on the brutish husband.

In some cases, such as Little Red Riding Hood, there are multiple stories that spring from the one tale. In 'The Werewolf', the girl defeats the wolf but discovers her enemy is not who she thinks it is, and in 'The Company of Wolves' the girl faces down the Granny-imposter with an animal sexuality that matches his own: "The girl burst out laughing: she knew she was nobody's meat. She laughed at him full in the face, she ripped off his shirt for him and flung it into the fire".

The stories range from humorously farcical ('Puss-in-Boots') to stark and shocking: 'The Snow Child' inherits its colouring from Snow White but in two short pages fills it with incestuous necrophiliac grief.

Perhaps my favourite tale is 'The Erl-King', which is inspired by a German mythical creature (not a commonly known tale - which explains why I couldn't see Uncle Barry's nose anywhere in it at all). Of all the stories this one is the most uncanny and abstract. It feels like the ancestor of a fairy tale, a primal gestation among dirt, beasts and spirits of what will grow into a linear tale as it is passed along through centuries of mouths. It's an odd comparison to make, but it reminded me of how Robert Holdstock treats fairy tale characters in books such as Mythago Wood and Lavondyss - the wild, undependable creatures who bear only a vague resemblance to their later incarnations (and that's even without mentioning Disney).

The tales are often intensely sexual and richly described, but as these are still 'tales', as opposed to what we think of in terms of 'short stories', the language is more dry and formalised (you won't find any references to Cinderella's or Dev's 'slippery cave', thank Christ). I think this is why while I appreciate these tales and find them vastly interesting and accomplished, I don't find myself immersed in them in the way I prefer. As readers, Carter's choice of 'tale' format doesn't so much give us characters, it gives us figures. As the favourer notes, I think it would be a hugely formative book to read or study in undergrad, perhaps before you have experienced parallel newer treatments (Jeanette Winterson springs to mind) or research. The book's huge reception when it was first published (especially compared to Carter's previous work) probably has a lot to do with this too - this sort of revisioning hadn't been read before. As a feminist way of reclaiming traditional tales, they work beautifully, and it's no wonder they caused a stir. I was a little surprised at the heterosexuality of Carter's imaginings - there's all manner of sexual encounters from consensual to bestial to incestuous to rape, but Red Riding Hood is never going to jump into bed and ravish Grandma. But this is also to do with when the book was written, I think. Probably lucky for Grandma, too.

Favourite books are often ones that come to us at the right time and the right place in our lives (I know mine have). Sometimes it's childhood, adolescence, undergrad study, or when something is happening in our lives that just makes a book click into Favourites Territory. Sometimes we don't re-read them because we don't want to spoil the memory of the feeling they created, and I think that's fair enough. But sometimes we re-read them over and over, and the way they make us feel never changes. I think The Bloody Chamber is definitely one of the latter sorts, for people who strike it at just the right time in their lives. Which is pretty damn brilliant, really.

*It's occurred to me later this might sound facetious, but my copy actually was annotated in pink pencil.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Poems in the wild #28

Poem #28 (3 of hearts) was released in Markov Place (going over old release territory there, I know, but I was there, and there were drinks. Nuff said.)

Breathe through my mouth for weeks
Cutting off one sense too many
I draw the smell back into a grey
faecal fug. Predictively habit-forming
This chopping back wires into the world
No one lands in hospital
I prefer to disappear, block off 
nostrils with the back of my tongue
My jawline alters a split
You wouldn’t notice.
I smile as air whistles
through my teeth.