Reader-in-Residence: David Stavanger

The human half of the Holy Ghostboy, David Stavanger is Brisbane Square Library’s new Reader-in-Residence. I spoke to David to find out what this spoken word explorer has in store for our central Biblioteca.

ZENOBIA FROST: What was the book your forced your parents/babysitters/fairy godmother to read to you over and over as a child?
DAVID STAVANGER: The Story of Bip by Marcel Marceau. It is only lately I have realised what a subliminal influence it has been on the development of my alter-ego / other-self Ghostboy . . . not just in the look but even more so in the sense of play and absurdity of sadness. I also really loved Where the Wild Things Are and Green Eggs and Ham — again, both poetic, dealing in surreal imagery / other worlds and a sense of the outsider and their abandonment.

ZF: Can you name one book change you’d say changed your life or outlook when you read it?
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. I was in my late teens and it is just brimming with sex and the nature of desire, the way we ingest the world and what that does to us. I love its take on vanity and society too, and (later in life) these as a metaphor of self-doubt and the ongoing gratuitous need to be validated, noticed and loved by others. All artists should read it, then keep lying to themselves. [I stole Dorian Gray from the school library before it was remaindered and it had the same effect on me. — Z.]

Also, got to thank Mum for leaving the collected works and Bratsk Station by Yvengy Yevtushenko around at home. “Waiting” and “Colours” are two of my favourite love poems and “Weddings” still resonates as a great war poem for me.

ZF: Which letter in the alphabet is your favourite and why?
DS: I love V. Mainly because it was taken from my surname Stavanger, which had been truncated to Stanger in Australia back when. As Stavanger is a Viking name and that is my lineage, I decide to put it back via deed poll before I attacked any more villages. Also, villainous and vile and voluptuous rent in the same street.

Holy Ghostboy

ZF: The residency will deliver free workshops, competitions, events and performances. Tell me more!
DS: I came up with the idea based on a similar project that Edinburgh City Library in Scotland created about four years ago. I became good friends with Ryan Van Winkle, the poet behind the idea (we are bringing Ryan over to do a workshop, reading and installation as part of the project here). I went over and was mentored by Ryan in their program then spent months adapting and extending on it before pitching it to Brisbane Square Library as part of The Lord Mayor’s Writer-in-Residence initiative. And they said yes. The premise is kind of simple and direct — base a writer in a central library and get them to engage all library users with a chosen writing genre: in my case, poetry and spoken word.

I plan to use the Brisbane Square Library residency as a chance to spring poetry, in all its diverse forms, onto people. That includes me being a “live” reading and writing installation every Thursday, programmed and guerilla poetry performances throughout the building, workshops and collaborations with other local poets and artists, and even a poetry speed dating event so people can really get to know the poets in this town. We have some distinct voices and I have always been about poets getting more of their work out to people outside of the traditional poetry settings of the cafe reading or pub slam.

ZF: Where do you expect/hope to be (as a reader, as a writer, as a human, as a creature) at the end of the 12-month residency?
DS: Lots of things — I tend to start big then go bigger. Better to fall a long way than jump over the same picket fence. I am working on a number of possible legacy projects that are yet to get the green light but will involve a number of local poets; we will have given voice to the everyday poetry of the library via competitions and installations using text created by them; Brisbane Square will hopefully have one of the best poetry and spoken word collections in Australia; and more poets in Brisbane will not only see their work in Brisbane library catalogues but also borrow and read more poetry themselves (if poets aren’t, then why should anyone else?).

ZF: Which body part would you be willing to sell to fund your poetry? (Recently a Columbian poet announced he’d sell his testicles for $20000 to fund his upcoming tour.)
My kidney. I only have one and it is 90% fit, but man can it tell you some stories . . . plus, it would make for a great pie.

The year-long residency launches at Brisbane Square Library on 4 July, 2013, with live music from The Stress of Leisure and poetry from Eleanor Jackson and David Stavanger.

REVIEW: Live on Air (Anywhere Fest)

Live on Air is the only Anywhere Fest show this year to truly go anywhere. Comedy-poet Telia Nevile’s pirate radio show streams from her lounge room into yours, wherever you are. 

Logging into Live on Air feels like checking in to Skype with a friend. Nevile turns on her webcam and broadcasts live from a homely couch in a Melbourne living room. Black-and-white posters of writer-rockstars plaster the rear wall; Oscar Wilde features, along with his epigram: “I have nothing to declare but my genius.” Nevile wears a homemade shirt that says, “Rimbaud Built My Hotrod”. From the get-go, we know this is erudite comedy. Bring it on.

Relia Nevile

Live on Air takes the format of a radio variety show, interspersed with power ballads, pop and even a bit of grammar grindcore (“Apostrophe Apocalypse”). Nevile’s poems form the heart of the show. Each follows an extended metaphor (e.g. “‘Eros’ is Just ‘Sore’ Spelled Backwards”) via one-liner witticisms. To the tune of Satie on piano, Nevile explains that she’s “deep (in thought)” but you’re deepest “when you’re six foot under.” As well as poems, there’s fiction — both flash and slash (West Wing fan fiction, to be precise).

Nevile is a strong performer and the setting (from her couch to yours) makes for an intimate performance. Rather than feeling tucked away in the privacy of home, I keep forgetting that the video is only one-way. It feels rude not to respond with, at the very least, applause. Perhaps we need a talkback line.

Comedy is an incredibly subjective beast. Nevile’s poetic brand of funny doesn’t quite tickle my funny bone, but I do appreciate her commitment to satirising form. The “poetry cabaret” variety show, delivered here via webcam in the manner of radio plays, is a fantastic format. Live on Air also proves that performance can be just as intimate online as on stage.

LIVE ON AIR ran from 8 to 16 May, 2013. Anywhere Festival.

Review: Growing Pains (Anywhere Fest)

Review by Nerissa Rowan

When you think of poetry, do you think Shakespearean sonnets or bush ballads? In Growing Pains, four writers show us there’s a lot more to spoken word than rhythm and rhyme. This is “poetry”. It touches on themes of ethnicity, relationships, religion and the trials of growing up.

They’ve taken over the Bird Gallery, a cosy space permeated with the smell of coffee and packed with chairs, cushions and beanbags. On the wall is a work in progress — a collage of baby photos and memories. The audience and cafe patrons are encouraged to add their own memories to the wall. Prompters like “what did you want to be when you grow up” and “what smell do you remember” are designed to inspire us to share our stories too.

“Herein you will find instructions on being an adult.” Martin Ingle’s hilarious piece about the rules of adulthood sets the tone for the next hour. He is confident and funny, bringing a stand-up comedy feel to the show, particularly when he asks the question: is it love or food poisoning?

His work is interspersed with that of the three other performers. Vuong Pham is quiet and reflective, bringing haiku and faith into the mix. The soft spoken but powerful words of Jo Sri make it obvious why he was the Queensland winner of the National Poetry Slam in 2012. His words are heartfelt, personal, humorous and often political.

We have to wait a little while before Josh Donellan takes the stage, but he brings more great slam and storytelling filled with wordplay and emotion. He’s the only one who comes close to fitting the traditional stereotype of a writer, with his 1984 t-shirt and a hat that, at first glance, looks like a beret.

There’s some creative metaphor, amusing wordplay and jokes at the expense of poetry. The audience laps it up.

The finale is a well-constructed collaborative piece which wraps up the show nicely. It brings the performers, their styles and themes together into a cohesive whole. Words are my thing, and I enjoyed this show immensely.

Growing Pains ran at Bird Gallery on 16 May, 2013. Anywhere Festival.

Nerissa Rowan is a poet, performer, Arts Hub reviewer, and former OffStreet PressGang member.

Review: Mixtape (Anywhere Fest)

Review by Nerissa Rowan

“I’ve made you a mixtape.”

Sure, it’s an old-school concept — but you may remember a time when there was nothing more romantic than getting a mixtape of music chosen especially for you. Each one had a special meaning, hidden or overt. It was an intimate journey for a couple.

Scott Sneddon and Angela Willock allow us to eavesdrop on their mixtape conversation, as they get to know each other through the medium of music. It’s a show punctuated with recorded music as they play each other the soundtracks of their lives. There are some touching stories and embarrassing confessions — there are always songs we loved that will come back to haunt us.

In short, it’s a series of poetic love letters to the good and not-so-good music of our youth. Each track has a story behind it, a rationale for being included be it a happy memory, a moment of discovery or an admiration for musicians who change our lives.

But it also examines the beginnings of a relationship, the fears, hopes and taboos that come with starting something new. There were a few moments of awkwardness which could have been excellent acting, or genuine nervousness. In this kind of performance it’s difficult to tell.

With a show like this there is plenty to relate to. It sparks memories of falling in love — be it with a girl, a boy or a song. It might make you think back on your own teenage years, consider the songs that shaped you and what your own biographical mixtape might contain. It celebrates awkward dancing and knowing all the words to the most embarrassing songs.

This is an enjoyable and well-constructed show that kept me captivated to the end. Mixtape will leave you with a smile on your face. Do yourself a favour…

Mixtape runs at the Rabbithole Cafe from 16 to 17 May, 2013. Anywhere Festival.

Nerissa Rowan is a poet, performer, Arts Hub reviewer, and former OffStreet PressGang member.