TINA 2010 Tales (Part Two)

In a town far, far away, my boyfriend and I are walking down the street, holding hands. Heading in the other direction, an old Asian man sees us and shouts, ‘Hey!’ He glares at our smallish public display of affection with a mixture of disgust and incredulity, and continues to do for the next three hundred metres.

The moral of the story: interracial dating is not the done thing in Asia Newcastle.

Racism aside, Newcastle CBD is a Gothic town. Its streets are a mixture of Georgian, Victorian, and Art Deco. There’s a sense of decay. In every strip of shops, there’s a building that has been abandoned. Some advertise rental reductions, whilst others are unsalvagable husks—windows boarded up, ceilings blackened with soot, walls vandalised.

Naturally, there’s signs of revival. New apartments have popped up along the foreshore. Darby Street is a collection of trendy cafes and kitsch boutiques. But this is only a veneer of gentrification. The town and its inhabitants still seem rough and unpredictable, and I never feel safe. In some ways, it’s a bit like St Kilda…

There once was a lass from St Kilda

Who went by the name of Brunhilda

Of the gentlemen there

She had nary a care

As they tried with small cocks to fulfill her.

And that’s a craicin’ limerick about St Kilda. Okay, so that wasn’t my best segeway, but that was my partner’s best (and possibly only) limerick, which was the result of Thomas Benjamin Guerney’s ‘How to Write a Craicin’ Limerick’ session at TINA 2010.

During the session, Guerney spoke about form. Limericks use the following meter:

– – / – – / – – /

– – / – – / – – /

– – / – – /

– – / – -/

– – / – – / – – /

This meter is to be strictly adhered to, though there are exceptions to the rule (wtf). Limericks also follow A, A, B, B, A rhyming and their content should be witty and bawdy.

He then followed up with a limerick workshop in which we came up with folks from Helsinki being flexible like slinkies and losing their primary/secondary pinkies. It was a fun session, but perhaps it was not as fun as ‘Lit Journal Survivor’, where windows were broken and genital-constricting shorts were worn.

‘Writing About Place’ was a more serious workshop. Run by Voiceworks, it consisted of various writing exercises. For instance, we had to think of the worst place we had ever been to and write an advertisement for it. Another exercise required us to use industrial-sounding modifiers to describe natural settings and vice-versa. The exercises were great but the size of the workshop was intimidating. I don’t know about everyone else but my responses to such prompts tend to be shit, and I’d rather not share them with a score of strangers.

Socialising has been less fun. This year, Newcastle has been invaded by packs of writerly hipsters and the occasional lone wolf. It feels like my pack of two is having a bit of a standoff with the other packs. Or maybe we’re just standoffish. Who knows?

‘The American Gothic Ball’ was less crazy compared to last year’s Great Gatsby, while the Zine Fair was again full of pretty things. I picked up a Lets Learn Lao with Mechelle B zine, which teaches one how to say important things like ‘your undies smell’ (‘salip-jow-men’) and a pair of awesome scarves from her sister.

Hosted by Benjamin Law and Michaela McGuire, this year’s ‘Spelling Bee’ featured ‘Who am I’ dinosaurs, and ‘Televangelist or Dental Product?’ It also challenged contestants with words such as ‘jurisprudent’, and ‘verisimillitude’. I managed to fluke my way through ‘gleet’, but not ‘ukulele’. Anyway, reigning champ Geoff Lemon was deposed by the word ‘beryllium’, and Garth, last year’s runner-up, took home the trophy.

I was wondering whether it was time to go home yet when we decided to try the Royal Exchange reading. Thank dog we did. Guest speakers Rochelle Jackson, Will Kostakis, Mandy Beaumont, and Patrick O’Neil entertained their mellowing crowd with tales of crims, inappropriate jokes, Brisbane’s West End, and supposed human rights abuses. But the best tale of the night and the highlight of my festival was open mic’s Ben Jenkins who spun us a story about fearlessness, cat poo parasites, and ice addicts. While his reading was perhaps overly long, he captivated his audience until the end with his manner of speaking and his factual asides, and won a standing ovation from Mister Geoff Lemon. Thanks Ben Jenkins for putting my faith back into the open mic section.

And that’s it folks. I’ll be attending a couple more events, and hopefully finding some prompt tucker in this dogforsaken place. Bloody public holidays. Grrr.

Oh no, no more Sospeso

I caught up with Laura Smith a week or two ago and found out that this Friday will be the last Sospeso Reading:

The readings have run for over a year, which I reckon is a pretty good run given that it was originallly conceived as just one or two events at the end of a Cafe Poet residency. Now I’d like to move on to other projects. (22 June 2010)

I asked Laura why she hadn’t brought in someone to replace her. When it comes to organising your own poetry night, most people want to start from scratch; apparently secondhand poetry nights aren’t as appealing as secondhand tea cosies.

So, if you haven’t been to a Sospeso Reading, this is your last chance. Seat yourself at one of the tables at Caffe Sospeso around seven this Friday for a quick meal and get treated to a ‘first taste’ of Tiggy Johnson’s latest poetry collection as well as spoken word from Anna Fern.

For those who wish to reminisce, here’s some thoughts on Healing (February’s Sospeso night) and a video of Michael Reynolds’ performance.

Review: Ampersand Magazine’s Issue Two (aka ‘Janus Faces’)

I picked up this pocket-sized magazine with its ‘Penguin novel gone wrong’ cover not knowing what to expect apart from ‘good’.

It was better than good: I actually enjoyed all of it, even things I usually fail at like visuals and poetry.

The illustrations peppered throughout the magazine range from outsider art to portraits from military hospital archives to tourist pics of the Mexican-American border. There are various time travel advertisements by Simon Greiner that are interspersed with real ads, nicely complementing the text ‘A Time Traveller’s Guide’.There’s also a particularly disturbing series of ‘found photos’ by Erik Kessels, following one woman over several decades. In each photo, she’s holding the same pose, eying her target while staring down the barrel of her gun.

Erik Kessels' 'In Almost Every Picture: Found photographs of Ria Van Dijk, 1936-2008', published in Ampersand's Issue Two (Autumn 2010)

In terms of words, Ampersand Magazine is mix of non-fiction and the nonsensical. Its non-fiction reflects on fascinating subjects such as interstellar messaging, facial surgery in the early twentieth century, the invention of inflatable costumes, and the Rapture. Sometimes, I felt like I was reading a collection of How Things Work for adults. Of particular note, I thought, was Lisa Pryor’s ‘Twin Cities At War’. Tightly written, Pryor’s reflections, comparing and contrasting Australia’s and America’s insularity and the illegal immigrant situation, overturned my ennui towards ‘travel narratives’: it’s a highlight in a selection of very strong non-fiction pieces. Have I mentioned the review by Christos Tsiolkas…?

Nonsensical pieces are printed in portrait rather than landscape format: some playful poetry, a eulogy written in the first person, and a violent Bollywood soap-opera. There’s also an ‘Adventure Story’ by Jazz Andrews that comes across as veering left of normal. Think penises imprinted into tubs of ice cream.

Throughout Ampersand, there are rewards for the observant reader. Briohny Doyle’s footnotes are not to be glossed over: ‘Check out the Left Behind series of post-Rapture Christian bestsellers by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins’ and ‘Mum was right! Apart from Hobart, Melbourne is the most irrelevant city on Earth!’

The Ampersand index is often poetic:

life,

as affirmed by points of cruelty, 133

as a train wreck 52

as conveyed through a biopic, 29

as degraded by forms of cruelty, 133

as improved by moving to a first world country, 40-1

as scarred forever by seeing a naked man smoking and holding a knife in the supermarket ice-cream section when you are a kid, 105

that grief makes a warren under it, 51

And I had a giggle when I spotted the note under Abhishek Chuadhary’s bio: ‘Ampersand received this unsolicited submission from Chaudhary and was thereafter unable to get in contact. *Ampersand is not officially outsourcing content* – Ed.’

Anyhow, I am now approaching the 500-word mark. This review is getting hairy. I always preferred short and sweet rather than long and unkempt, so it’s time to cut it.

Ampersand is like a compact Lifted Brow. There’s a wonderful miscellaneousness to it. There’s also a willingness to look beyond geographical borders; the writing isn’t limited to purely Australian concerns or the Australian literary scene, which is rare for a local journal. Three cheers to Ampersand. Or three f@$%s for free, whichever you prefer.

Slowly getting back to work

Being antisocial pays off occasionally. I actually wrote something. Now whenever someone asks me, ‘So what have you been working on?’ I’ll be able to reply, ‘A second-generation Vietnamese Australian’s observations on the gentrification of Footscray.’

I’ve also read the latest Charlaine Harris book, rewatched most of season two of True Blood and the iView documentary on Krakatoa. Yep, I’ve been super-productive, yes I have.

But I really should get back to work. I’ll be meeting with Laura Smith later this week to see if she’ll review something for me. I always feel bad about not paying enough attention to poetry in my journal reviews, but I feel underqualified when it comes to critiquing poetry. Hopefully Laura will be more attentive towards the poetry side of things.

I’ll also try to get onto that Ampersand review. Issue 2 has been been sitting on my shelf, looking forlorn from its continual rejection, when it really shouldn’t because it’s such a handsome-looking journal.

Hurrah, it’s The Last Hurrah

You’re all probably psyching up for Thursday’s Wordstock or pints at tonight’s In the Pub, but in the spirit of all things EWF, Black Rider Press has put together its own emerging writer lineup for its gig, tonight at The Willow Bar.

Officially, it’s A.S. Patric’s eBook launch, but it’s also The Last Hurrah: there will be MC-ing by Lifted Brow editor Ronnie Scott, support acts from Allison Browning, Eric Dando, Kirk Marshall, myself, plus others, and an appearance from Black Rider Press’ founder Jeremy Balius*.

Words will start flowing after eight. Entry is free, but as Allison likes to say ‘your sweetheart donations help us print books’.

*Yes, the wonderful JB will be gracing us with his presence. I had hoped to make Kirk and myself ‘I Heart Jeremy Balius’ T-shirts for the night, but I’ve been too busy working. *sigh*

Review: [untitled] – Issue Two

When I ran out of fresh literary journals to munch on, A.S. Patric was kind enough to give me a review copy of [untitled]’s second issue. [untitled] is a new Melbourne literary journal headed by Blaise van Hecke and Les Zigomanis from Busybird Publishing & Design.

Issue Two and Issue One getting cosy

The cover is stylistically similar to the previous issue’s, again using work from Busybird’s inhouse illustrator, Kev Howlett. The cartoon figure reminds me of Principal Skinner for some reason, and I think this has coloured my expectations of the stories inside. For instance, I couldn’t switch into a serious enough mood to take in Bella Ellwood-Clayton’s earnestly penned relationship-dance, especially after reading the journal’s tongue-in-cheek editorial. And again, Camilla Nurka’s delicate rendering of white man’s guilt and Indigenous Dreaming in ‘The Beach House’ felt more Etchings than [untitled]. I would have preferred more light, humour, and suspense, and a little less shade.

Thankfully, the second half of the issue felt more [untitled] and less [insert random literary magazine here]. The stories did manage to ‘take you away in the reading, …engross you, maybe even make you forget the world around you…’ They had ‘no pretensions’ and were ‘not on a mission to enrich the literary community’; instead, Therese Mobayad’s ‘Blonde Appetit’ made me laugh, van Hecke’s ‘An Unfortunate Series of Redheads’ and Hilaire’s ‘Out of Kilter’ kept me entertained, while Lee D Gordon’s ‘Coffins’ punched in the gut.

So what’s my verdict on [untitled], the Second? A mixed bag of short stories and poetry that might read better out of order. There are some great pieces that don’t belong in this publication, and some great pieces that definitely do. This is something that will undoubtedly be rectified in future issues once the editors and contributors finish nutting out a distinct voice for the journal.

[untitled] is available at selected bookstores (Readings!) and on their website. For those who want sneak peek, Violet Kieu has posted her story ‘Chardonnay’ online.

April 12: What’s happening, Melbourne?

According to my personal assistant, Facebook, there’s a poetry gig going down at Readings Carlton 6.30pm tonight. It’s free and it’s featuring Jodie Albiston, Jennifer Harrison, and Josephine Rowe.

The launch for Miscellaneous Voices: Australian Blog Writing # 1 will also be held at Readings Carlton. Miscellaneous Voices # 1 showcases writing from writer bloggers such as Angela Meyer,  Lisa Dempster, and A.S. Patric. Things start happening at 6pm on Wednesday, 14 March.

Storytelling @ Dog’s Bar is now free and we like free things. We also like the starving artist’s specials in the restaurant next door. The likes of Angela Meyer (Literary Minded) and George Dunford (Lonely Planet) will be in the comfy armchair this Thursday, so have your $16 meal+wine and listen to some quality rambling.

The leather armchair at Dog's Bar (courtesy of Storytelling).

For all of those people who prefer swimming to jogging, drinking to eating, and drowning to spontaneous combustion, Waterproof’s performers will be splashing about in the Melbourne City Baths, starting Friday 16 March. Prose is by Read You Bastards’ Bastard Simon McInerney, aka ‘that guy who reads about murderers disposing body parts in Williamstown and the Maribynong River’, so it should be dark, fascinating stuff.

And, for those in a monogamous relationship with their computers and aren’t allowed to see other people, Elena Gomez has reviewed Issue One of Kill Your Darlings. It’s interesting comparing other people’s reviews with mine. Ditto in regards to Gideon Haigh, girl!

More goodies from Sospeso’s ‘Healing’

Michael Reynolds has been nice enough at letting me post up this video of him performing his Dylan Thomas paradelle. For those of you not in the know, a paradelle is a parody of the villanelle, a highly structured poem. Read the Wikipedia article on paradelles here.

Oh and don’t mind the shaking too much in the video. That’s me trying not to laugh.

Some thoughts on healing from the Sospeso Readings

Due to staffing issues, this month’s Sospeso had to relocate to the Town Hall Gallery and consequently things felt a little more formal. I didn’t read last Friday, but a couple of regulars did, and I wonder if they felt intimidated by the art on the walls, the rows of seats, and the prohibition of food.

Artwork by Andrea Kaltwasser @ the Town Hall Gallery.

Wagga’s David Gilbey recited poetry inspired by his sojourn in Japan. The pieces were mostly personal observations of a westerner, though ‘Proctor’, a poem about a Japanese examination room, managed to transcend its geographical and cultural boundaries.

Blurry photo of David Gilbey as he performs at Sospeso's 'Healing' Reading (5/2/10).

Following Gilbey were a series of healing-themed open mics. Lovemaking was likened to swimming, and men were praised by Catherine Bateson, and Initially No vented about psychosomatic guitar strings; Jennifer Compton instructed us on open mic etiquette; there was talk about connecting the dots, and mushroom clouds when one opens one’s mouth; and Fiona shared her personal experience with cancer.

Initially No talks about the guitar string in her foot (5/2/10).

Katherine Phelps makes a heart-shaped balloon for Sospeso's open mic (5/2/10).

Jennifer Compton knits while listening to some kick-arse open mic poetry (5/2/10).

Randall Stephens capped off the night with his collection of ‘Plan Be’ poems. Poetic in parts, Stephens’ monologue is conversational, narratively driven, and earnestly delivered. He’s a seasoned spoken word performer, comfortable onstage (unlike the rest of us). His first poem was my favourite with its nervous optimism towards new love, mirroring my own fluttery state of mind.

Randall Stephens speaks of new love at Sospeso (5/2/10).

Overall, it was a great turnout. Congrats to Laura for organising things at such short notice (and for making corny jokes about being wounded by Caffe Sospeso). Laura Smith, you should MC more often.

Meanwhile, thanks to Zoe Renee for her awesome teacup badge, and her Man in a Shark Suit. Nabbed them off her while I was at Sospeso/Camby Market. They’re the best.

Zoe Renee and Man in a Shark Suit (5/2/10).

Me and my new teacup badge. Thanks Zoe! (5/2/10)

February 1: What’s happening, Melbourne?

Catherine Deveny will be talking about freelancing at the annual National Editors Workshop and Skill-Share Conference this Wednesday (3 February 2010) at the new Wheeler Centre. Deveny starts at 6pm, followed by a performance from my favourite musical philosopher, Justin Heazlewood. 🙂

Read You Bastards No. 4* is the hap afterwards (from 7.45pm) at the Empress with special guests Shane Jesse Christmass and Andrew Croome. For those of you who have not ventured out to a Bastards night and sampled Bastards cake, you can read my posts on previous RYBs (No. 1, No. 3). Get in early before the cool kids from Three Thousand steal all the seats.

Caffe Sospeso’s February event has temporarily relocated to the Town Hall Gallery up the road. Otherwise, it’s the usual deal: starts at sevenish on the first Friday of the month with guest poets (David Gilbey and Randall Stephens) and a prize for the best themed open mic poetry (a copy of The Lifted Brow’s latest issue).

The Etchings Indigenous launch is also scheduled for Friday. Like the title suggests, all of the journal’s content is by indigenous artists, so if you’re in the St Kilda area, head down to Readings from 6.30pm-8.30pm. (Thanks Ilura Press for the thumbs up.)

Now if only I could teleport from one Melbournian suburb to another, life would be pink alligators.

*Bastards, you need a website and not just a Facebook fan page. 😛