Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Reasons you will love him - Re:reading the dictionary

Tim Sinclair is brilliant. He is the Captain of Poetry at PAN magazine and also a poet. A good one, not one of those crap pretend ones. I've been waiting ages for his new verse novel to come out. His last verse novel, Nine Hours North, a verse novel for young adults, was fucking great, which is weird because I hate both verse novels and young adults.

When Tim announced he was releasing an echapbook, in the middle of revising drafts of his second big book, I became angry. Surely it is the duty of a Tim to finish a book as quickly as possible so that a Dale may read it? When I asked him about this he said no, no it's not actually a duty and he is working diligently on said new novel, as I bloody well know.

The new echapbook (I will make that a word) is called Re:reading the dictionary. Tim said something along the lines of it being an accidental book that came about as a result of his unnatural love of the dictionary and the more natural human desire to do other things when they really ought to be finishing their new novel. At least I think that's what he said.

Tim is very busy and important so I have taken the liberty of interviewing myself* as Tim Sinclair about his new book.

DS: Hello 'Tim'.
DSasTS: Er, hello.
DS: Right, so the cover art is good. Who did that?
DSasTS: Kitty & Rosevich but you already knew that, seeing as how they collaborate with PAN magazine.
DS: Yes, fine. The words inside the book are also quite good. Who wrote those?
DSasTS: I did! You already know that too.
DS: No need to get tetchy. You seem rather violent for a poet. You're supposed to be all peaceful.
DSasTS: I am peaceful.
DS: So are you saying you're an elitist or something?
DSasTS: No. No, that's not at all what I'm saying. What are you doing?
DS: I'm practicing to be a hard-hitting reporter.
DSasTS: Fine. Good. Now about the book. It's an echapbook.
DS: I agree. It is an echapbook and it is brilliant. Why are you a poet?
DSasTS: It's available from my website Cottage Industry Press for a very small sum of money. Don't want to know about the book?
DS: You didn't answer my question. You're being very uncooperative. I think I should terminate this interview now for my own safety.
DSasTS: I don't think that's really necessary. If you would just sit still a second and stop doing that jumping around thing. You're being very distracting.
DS: Good. Fine. You can see how this is. The mind of the poet is a mysterious and important place. I have risked my life to bring you this hard-hitting inside view of a poet in his natural environment. It is with reluctance that I have had to cut the interview short and retreat to a safe distance. Interview over.
DSasTS: For fuck's sake!
There's a lesson in here. Poets, not as easy to impersonate as you might have thought.

Here's a proper interview with Tim about Re:reading the dictionary. Just in case you weren't satisfied with the above hard-hitting one.

You can find the real Tim Sinclair at Cottage Industry Press.

* I did not actually ask Tim for an interview, he probably would have said yes but that's really not the point. Right now it seems like a brilliant idea to pretend to be Tim. It would do well to note that the above is not at all what the real Tim Sinclair is likely to have said.  Hopefully this will not cause the real Tim Sinclair to become cross with me. Let's see what happens.

Go ahead and jump

Warning: Do not read if you are recently bereaved, possess an overly sensitive nature or are one of those people who enjoy yelling at writers when they write something you do not like (in fact piss off if you are a person who enjoys yelling at writers).

People are concerned about me, which is nice, but unnecessary. I'm entering a research phase on suicide prevention for my manuscript, hence the incessant talk about the topic. There is a little twist to my research, I want to find out what not to do in the case of coming into contact with a suicidal being. In fact I am determined to put together a large volume of information about pushing someone past their tipping point and right off the old cliff there.

Whoosh. Straight down. See ya later alligator. Splat, crunch, splatter, gasp, death rattle, gone. Hallelujah and good riddance.

I'm thinking about the kinds of things one could utter to a person perched on a precipice to encourage a good old jump off the mortal coil. Reading research papers on the topic of suicide has been so far quite unhelpful. They are full of the usual charts about risk factors, tipping points and the no-good nature of social isolation. What I want are some ideas for sentences cruel or callous enough to cause a confused being to stop their calculations and put all their eggs in a death-bound basket. What are the kinds of things it is crucial not to hear at a moment of indecision? How can one person talking to another fail to offer even a small pocket of hope or comfort when faced with such drastic circumstances? What is the string of words least welcome to a consciousness in agonising mental pain?

If you can help in any sensible way drop me a line.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

A letter to F. in Western Australia

Dearest F.,

I've been slaving in an office for a few weeks, editing video titles and adding the appropriate rating. G. PG. M. MA. Tedious just about covers it. As usual I am dubiously and sporadically employed by real organisations. The rest of my time is spent more wisely on editing PAN magazine, making notes and drafting things for my manuscript and generally running about looking at things and wishing I didn't notice every tiny detail about everything. The footpath just three houses down the street has begun to exaggerate its folded crease as the tree roots underneath swell with time.

Last weekend I travelled to Canberra with my brother and his girlfriend to visit Dad and the other wonders of our nation's capital. I found them to be much the same as last time I saw them, which is good in the case of my father. My brother and I planned to take advantage of Canberra's lax stance on smoking pot and get high in a hedge maze by the lake. When we got there the hedge maze was missing. The miniature train driver said the government had the hedges removed. I was wondering if maybe too many people had the same idea and there was a meeting in parliament about whether or not the government ought to provide a large hedge maze in which stoned people frequently ran about in and got lost. It was a great shame about the hedge maze. I was hoping to able to sell my brother to someone dressed as David Bowie.

Several weeks ago I was invited to read a short story at Penguin Plays Rough. I decided definitely not to do it due to high internal levels of fear. I was however forced to do it by the inimitable Pip Smith who runs the show. In the end I did not vomit, faint or run away and the thing was got through tolerably well. After the reading Spencer and I drank an enormous volume of beer, Pip folded a sum of money into the palm of my hand and it turned out to be the highest paid ten minutes I have spent in my life. Unless you count inheritances, of which there have not been many, but it doesn't take more than a minute for someone to die. On second thoughts that's not really earning is it? Now if I murdered someone and inherited money from that act then it might be considered earning I suppose, so no earning at all in this case.

Yesterday my mother telephoned to yell at me. Fortunately I was not the topic of her yelling, she needed to express some violent anger on a topic and decided I would do. After the yelling ceased she instructed me to get myself down to the harbour and report on the water. In an amazing coincidence that had been my intention all along. I rode the train down through the tunnels under the city until it emerged suddenly, without seeming to climb, at Circular Quay. The day looked a grey one but I was unsure as to the real colour of things as I was wearing unfamiliar sunglasses. The sunglasses belong to a friend of mine. He gave me a lift home in his car and in order to avoid sitting on the things I stuck them in my pocket. My only failure was I did not take them back out of my pocket again until I was inside The Peach. I have confessed my accidental crime to him so I do not feel as guilty as I otherwise might.

My only purpose for going down to the harbour was to visit the Satyr statue by Francis (Guy) Lynch. It was placed in the botanical gardens, just near the Opera House gate sometime in the 1970's, I believe it was originally sculpted in the 1920's. The face of the statue is reportedly based on Guy's brother Joe Lynch. Joe is the subject of Slessor's brilliant lament Five Bells. Five Bells is of course wildly popular, one of those Australian poems repeatedly set in the school's English curriculum forever and a day but I don't think you should hold that against it. The first time I properly read the poem I was at university and definitely uninterested in all things poetic. At the time I wanted violent contemporary fiction and wildly intellectual essays and nothing else at all would do. I read the thing because I had to, but made no internal note of it.

It wasn't until I was hanging over the railing of a ferry searching for jelly fish and ghosts that I remembered this line, "Deep and dissolving verticals of light". I hung perilously over the ship's railing reciting, "Deep and dissolving verticals of light", and watching the light split the "waves with diamond quills and combs of light" and plunge single-fingered through water, fish and ghosts and time waving weed that I remembered the poem at all. Bloody hell a lit match head just flung itself off the end of the match and scorched a permanent mark between the 'v' and the 'b' on my laptop. I suppose I should give up on matches and move across into lighters but I do love the sound of match being struck, nothing quite like it.

All the notes and drafts for my manuscript cross and recross the harbour. The idea of Joe Lynch seems submerged not just in our national poetic consciousness and the harbour itself but in all of my recent thought. It is possible that I have fallen in love with the man, this "Joe, long dead, who lives between between the five bells."

I was distressed to hear of the recent loss of one of your friends. I hope that you can find some solace in your impending adventure overseas.  Write to me dear F. for I always miss you. Here now is a photograph I took of myself with Old Joe.

Thursday, 11 August 2011


Did you know there was such a thing as The Awesome Foundation? Well there is and they have just awarded PAN magazine a $1000 no-strings-attached grant. Awesome.

Combination lady death-farmer tea party

I wore a slip today. All day, for the first time. One of those white nylon slippery things with lace trim and darty bits around the bra area. When I remembered I was wearing it under my dress I felt vaguely like a lady, a proper grown-up lady who is organised and dabbles in witty inappropriateness. But that was only when I remembered.

When I arrived home at The Peach I was tired beyond reason. Tired beyond the ability to make even a stab at pretending to be polite, like a potato digger returned from twelve hours hard labour in the field. That's when one of The Peachettes declared she would not pay one third of the electricity bill but some other mad proportion that she would calculate based on fuck-knows-what and then email to me.

I wanted, no, I desired with all my being, to magic a pitchfork out of the air so I could stab her like a sack of grain and toss her to her bloody death off the edge of The Peach Deck. It occurred to me at that point that I was not so much of a proper lady. More like a combination death-farmer lady bringing bloody physical destruction and organising tea party settings for witty appropriateness followed by gin drinking at my desk in nothing more than a slip and some pearls. I'm fairly happy with that combination.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Communal ridiculous celebrates cat AIDS, in her hand

I don't know who's idea it was to start singing but we were all doing it. Spencer was cranking out song after song on the guitar and somewhere along the way we all lost our shit and just sang as loud as we could. Waving around our arms and creating one hell of an unharmonious racket.

It might have been the cold, the hours we spent UFO spotting in the park in the middle of winter, Spencer's idea of an ace birthday party, or the sheer volume of drinking under our belts. After the park where Spencer spotted fifteen UFO's and nobody else any at all we congregated in Spencer's lounge room. There were already people there, drunk as fuck and making little sense to anyone but themselves. One small woman in the corner held up her hand in greeting, showing off a fresh looking graze on the heel of her palm. She said 'I've got cat AIDS' then went back to the bottom of her glass.

Someone explained on the small woman's behalf that she had slipped on some pavers and grazed her hand. She was convinced that there was cat urine somewhere in the mix and now she was telling everyone about her new dose of hopefully imaginary cat AIDS.

Songs turned into time and we sang our way through three more bottles of wine. There were highlights, old favourites, songs nobody at all knew the words for so we all just made noises that kind of sounded like the right words were somewhere underneath the almost melodic synchronised guttural utterances.

Spencer started playing 'Zombie' by The Cranberries. It seemed like we all knew the words, everyone jumping in with;

But you see, it's not me, it's not my family. 
In your head, in your head they are fighting,
With their tanks and their bombs,
And their bombs and their guns.
In your head, in your head, they are crying...

In your head, in your head, 
Zombie, zombie, zombie.
Then came a pause in the singing, no one remembering the next verse, some of us started just humming and harmonising the right sounds but from the corner a clear voice started ringing out singing.

'I've got cat aids, in my haannd, in my hand, in my hand
I'm still fighting'.

There was a communal shrug then everyone, and I mean everyone, all fifteen of us, fell into the song with enthusiasm so wild it was frightening. 

'She's got cat aiiiids in her haaaaand, in her haaaaaaaand, cat aids cat aids, but she's fighting'.

Spencer had his wits about him and started playing us in a loop. The small woman in the corner repeated her solo verse, holding her injured palm out and rising from her chair like she was on wires. Three drummers in the room started banging beer bottles on the table and someone picked up another guitar. The chorus swelled again and again 'She's got cat aiiiids, in her haaaaaand, cat aids cat aids, but she's fighting'.

Spencer played us in a loop for an age but the song only gained momentum. We were for those minutes joined together in the height of a communal ridiculous. Together as one voice of call and response, all of us screaming words through laughter. The night and the songs went until just about dawn with moments so strong you could pen a book about them but that one, the impromptu chorus of cat AIDS, well that was really something.

Spencer turned thirty and thought nothing of it

Spencer turned thirty on Saturday. It was about fucking time. He's been in his twenties the whole time I've known him, first he was twenty-one and then a whole year at every age until thirty. It's been a long ride.

Thirty is one of those reflective birthdays where you sit down and have a little think. The first things I thought about were how much he has annoyed me, which is a lot but probably not quite as much as I have annoyed him. Friendship is sometimes a two-way annoyer-annoyee contract. I was thinking about making some notes about the annoying times but that would be easy and a little glib. Then I thought about the moments of support through sorrow, betrayal or ridiculous romantic muddles with hideously inappropriate men. Spencer was there for all of them but that too would be easy.

What is more difficult are moments of friendship and understanding that drop like a mantle pinning you still for just a second while the world glides on your own gentle axis.

Last Saturday I had to read a short story in front of an audience. I did not want to. I was petrified. I was coerced into going through with the deed by a horde of people, Spencer being one of them. I had friends in the crowd, all of them lovely, but Spencer was the one I knew I would go to if I fucked it up royally, made an irredeemable fool of myself and needed someone to make a fast exit with. I shouldn't have been so afraid, writers do this kind of thing all the time, but I was because before that night I've always said no, let my fear guide my answer and just said no.

The reading went with no major hitches, no one was more surprised than me. My next move should have been the bar, but the crowd seemed impenetrable. They were planted wall-to-wall like cross-legged rocks, jagged and unable to be stepped upon. I gave up on the idea of a drink but Spencer went over the back of the armchair he was holed up on and picked his way to the bar.

He strode back towards me, triumphant over the cross-legged crowd, holding two open bottles of beer. I saw he was heading for some difficulty, climbing simultaneously between the red hanging wall partitions and over the back of a sofa. I stood up to help and fell into a five second ballet. He came up suddenly over the back of the sofa rising gracefully as an eagle, passing a bottle into my open hand then placing his empty hand on the top of my head for balance. While he was up there, tall as a rafter, I looked up at the travelling arc of him and realised we were mirroring the same grin, shining and elongated with one long unlit cigarette out of the corner of each of our mouths. I kept looking and grinning as the flat palm of his hand centred his descent and he came to rest feet first on the ground.

It seemed to me that everything was communicated in that five second arc over the back of an old sofa with full beer bottles and unlit cigarettes and stupid grins. It seemed to me like we'd sat for hours talking, me saying how much I had needed him there, him saying of course he was going to be there and that I did alright. Me saying that for years it was him turning his back and taking three tall steps up and onto a stage and that it seemed important somehow that just this once it was me doing the climbing. Him saying that I did it, and he knew all along that I could.

I don't suppose it sounds like much, five seconds of grinning and balancing in the quest for beer but just in that moment it was everything. To be wordlessly understood as the somersaulting mix of fear and relief left me giddy. To know absolutely that his open palm on the top of my head was guiding him safely back down no less than his presence was safely guiding me.

Spencer is one hell of a friend. So happy birthday to him.

       I actually received an overwhelming amount of encouraging advice and support about mastering my stage fright and reading my story. From a whole bunch of people like Gemnastics, Geoff Lemon, Anushka, Spencer, Vanessa Berry, Thomas G Watts, my mum and especially Tim Sinclair who came to my house and got all Geoffrey Rush on my Colin Firth arse but right now this is about Spencer.
       I am grateful to the people who came up to me afterwards and said they liked my story, especially the people who quoted lines of it back to me, that was odd but nice that you remembered some of my words. And to the woman in the red coat at The Duke thank you for coming up to me and saying you liked my story, days and days and days after the fact. That was kind of great.
       Oh and erm, thanks Pip Smith and Penguin Plays Rough for making me do it, giving me free drinks and then paying me money. I hid the money in my sock drawer.