Poems and Possums

July is here; we’re at the halfway mark of 2014 already.

I had a great time last week reading new poems at Ruckus! Slam and a few of 2014 Arts Queensland poet-in-residence Warsan Shire‘s poems at Riverbend Books. And today Scum Mag has published one of the poems I debuted that night: “Blood Spells“.

Lots of projects will come to fruition in the year’s second half: Rachael Briggs and I will trouble you with two-voiced monster-poems at Queensland Poetry Festival; my friend Kit Loke will launch the poetry blog we’ve been working away at together; and Walleah Press will launch my book Salt and Bone.

Here’s a sneaky preview some of Bettina Marson‘s cover art for Salt and Bone, partly to celebrate the half-year and partly because I can’t wait to share Bettina’s amazing work:

by Bettina Marson

by Bettina Marson

Stay tuned for launch deets — coming soon!

Ruckus! (and a poem)

Ruckus! Slam, having left its beloved Hideaway, has found rad new digs at the New Globe Theatre. The Whitny Kapa Band and I feature — and there are 16 coveted open mic spots. See you there at 7pm, 25 June.

In the meantime, I’ve chucked a new recording up on soundcloud for your listening amusement: “Cimetière Des Innocents, 1786” (previously published in Ricochet Magazine). No, I have no idea if I’m pronouncing the French bit right. But the gory details therein are a true story. Human-fat soap. Good times.

REVIEW: a library for the end of the world


sonder
, n. “the realisation that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own” (The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows)

Vena Cava presents an unusual work-in-development devised by Brisbane’s own Sarah Winter.

a library for the end of the world is a interactive work that challenges each solitary participant to explore memory and theory of mind. Through headphones, a guiding voice asks us some big questions — amongst them: if the world were ending today, what one memory would you leave behind?

Each half-hour session­­­ takes one traveller on something of a treasure hunt, guided by audio, to the library’s hidden location. The Anywhere Theatre Festival event page shrouds the library in mystery, but in doing so excludes important accessibility information: the production’s first half is a walking tour, with stairs.

This show embodies the spirit of ATF. Winter (disembodied) stages her performance outside of a traditional space — with the participant at the centre of the experience. West End is made strange and new through its frame as theatre. I am hypnotised: a great lover of audio books and spoken word, I follow Winter’s voice down the rabbit hole. It is simultaneously a meditative and thrilling experience to be led by someone unseen into unknown places.

a library for the end of the world

The library itself, once you find it, is an enchanting space. Its design hints at an outside-of-time otherworldliness — with the sensation that whoever works there may return at any moment. I can’t help but finger through curios and ephemera while listening to the library’s growing collection of memories. The analogue crackle of audiotapes is at once ghostly and fire-warm.

Throughout the show, I search through my own memories for the right one to leave behind. But when the time comes to hit record, my brain decides to tell another. That sudden memory seems as revealing as a tarot card. I leave the library pensive — even melancholy; I want more time alone within that experience to consider all the questions I’ve been asked.

A day on — at the time of writing — and the memory of the library has taken on the surreal, ephemeral glow of a dream.

Anywhere Theatre Festival runs from 7 to 17 May. Due to popular demand, a library for the end of the world’s season has been extended until 24 May.

YOOF ARTS NEWS

I nearly called this YOOF ARTZ NYOOZ and I’m sorry. Maybe it should have been “They Have It Coming”. Anyway. It’s been a fortnight of arts-work by the young and the restless. This is definitely more of a discussion than a series of reviews. I especially welcome input from others who’ve seen or are involved in these shows.

BRISBANE (A DOING WORD)

Brisbane (a doing word)

Vena Cava has outgrown QUT’s Woodward Theatre; the student theatre company launches its new season in the Judith Wright Centre’s intimate Shopfront space. Here, we meet Matty (Patrick Hayes) and his share-housing frenemies, negotiating their place and purpose as 20-somethings in Brisbane. This coming-of-age story unfolds in pieces, benefiting from writer David Burton’s structural experimentation.

Burton’s characters are painfully relatable but never sterotypes. Claire Christian directs a strong cast; we’ve all lived or studied with these eager, energetic, argumentative people. We’ve probably been them. Overall, a little more polish and restraint will allow Brisbane (a doing word) to deftly handle the sensitive topics it tackles without losing its sense of absurd humour.

BRISBANE (A DOING WORD) ran at the Judith Wright Centre from 20 to 22 March 2014.

PERSPECTIVE/WOOLF PACK

Khalid Warsame at Brisbane's VOICEWORKS Launch

Express Media (or its Queensland representative … me) launched Voiceworks #96, the Perspective issue, at Avid Reader. Voiceworks Mag publishes and offers professional development of the work of Australian writers under 25. This was such a great night with superb readers (pictured: Khalid Warsame). Avid put on the ritz for us — what a wonderful venue. Wine all round! We also launched Woolf Pack, a new feminist zine edited by super-cool Brisbane ladies. Good times.

VOICEWORKS and WOOLF PACK launched at Avid Reader on 28 March 2014.

HOMOS IN KIMONOS

Homos in Kimonos

James Halloran and Will Hannagan’s double-bill cabaret (Melbourne Festival Comedy) has come under fire this week regarding its title, which some feel appropriates Japanese culture in a way that is racist. I’m hesitant to weigh in personally — as a white person I realise my privilege means I have blind spots — but I felt the creative team gave a measured, respectful public response in which they apologised and clarified their intentions. It was disappointing to see uncritical responses on both sides of the fence (personal attacks on the young performers and, on the flipside, tiresome attacks on “the PC brigade”).

I rarely feel qualified to comment, but I think there’s space right now in Australia for lots of context-based, critical discussion on cultural intersection in art. I hope that the show’s run stimulates more thoughtful, respectful discussion and fewer facebook shitstorms.

HOMOS IN KIMONOS runs at Melbourne Comedy Festival until 13 April 2014.

BOY&GIRL

Boy&Girl by Oscar Theatre Company

Oscar Theatre Company presents “a steamy cabaret of musical theatre, contemporary and pop where gender is bent and rules are broken” at Brisbane Powerhouse, after a season at Lightspace. Boy&Girl features 25 talented and diverse cast members with a Broadway/contemporary jazz vibe. Jason Glenwright’s moody lighting sets the right tone for a trip down the Weimar rabbit hole.

Now, I can’t call these thoughts a review, as I did not stay for the full show. For me, the highlight of the first half was a 40s wartime swing rendition of “Call Me Maybe” by three charismatic male performers, followed by an emotive solo covering Rizzo’s “That’s the Worst Thing I Could Do” from Grease. Overall, though, Boy&Girl only flirted with the idea of gender-bending: pronouns were swapped, sure, and the boys (but, curiously, not really the girls) dabbled in drag. The jokes were about as cheap as the lingerie. All up, a pretty conservative affair, with the cast unable to nail the sense of sexy-grotesque integral, in my opinion, to queered cabaret.

But none of this would be a fair reason to walk out. Generally, I think it’s pretty poor form to leave a show’s opening night midway. However, just before the interval, 10 men (plus the male host and four men in the onstage band) performed Chicago’s “Cell Block Tango”. This is a song that deliberately subverts language used against female victims of intimate and sexual violence; its power, humour and sense of the uncanny succeeds because, in the context of the song, women have what is normally masculine power. In Boy&Girl, “Cell Block Tango” becomes a deeply unsettling song about domestic violence. In Australia, where one woman a week is murdered by an intimate partner, loosely “gender-bending” the song puts the power back in the hands of those who already have it. I left because I couldn’t sit with an audience that found that funny.

BOY&GIRL runs at the Visy Theatre at Brisbane Powerhouse until 19 April 2014.

Voiceworks launch: Brisbane edition

 

A rare Brisbane Voiceworks shindig — in one week’s time! Helllls yeah! This is editor Kat Muscat‘s and designer Elwyn Murray‘s final issue — and my final spin on the editorial committee — so make sure you come along to raise a toast to the end of an era and the start of a glorious new one. Welcome VW’s new ed, Elizabeth Flux.

Features: VW Perspective contributors James Butler, Sophie Overett, Emily O’GradyKhalid Warsame and Zenobia Frost; John Marsden Prize-winner, Jeremy Poxon; and the launch of new FREE Brisbane femmo zine, WOOLF PACK.

When: 6pm for 6.30pm, Friday 28 March 2014
Where: Avid Reader, West End
Tickets: Bookings essential online or on (07) 3846 3422. $7.50 entry fee includes a free drink.
Share: Invite yo’ friends along via facebook

Interview: BRISBANE (A DOING WORD)

Writer David Burton and director Claire Christian team up for Vena Cava’s latest production, BRISBANE (A DOING WORD). I caught up with David and Claire to find out more.

 

ZENOBIA FROST: People like to denigrate Brisbane as a place to live or make art, but it sounds like this play identifies the ways in which Brisbane has much to offer. Is that correct? Tell me about the play’s relationship to Brisbane.

DAVID BURTON: The play’s relationship to Brisbane is complex. Every artist I know has a complex relationship with this city. I’m a big Brisbane fan too, and a large part of this play is showing that Brisbane has a lot to offer but that it also has a lot to overcome. Brisbane’s main challenge is the relationship it holds with its artists, many of whom are looking to book a flight to Melbourne or Sydney! I was interested in why that it is — not on a political level, because that’s discussed enough — but on a personal, emotional, creative level. That’s what the play explores.

CLAIRE CHRISTIAN: I like to think that the play metaphorically high-fives Brisbane in a way too. And that by the very making of the work, Brisbane artists are doing their thing in Brisbane and loving on Brisbane.

 

ZF: Tell me about the play’s protagonist, Matty. What sets his story apart from your average coming-of-age?

DB: We’ve all met Matty. He’s the hopelessly ambitious, idealistic artist who believes theatre can change the world. He’s loved, funny, and imaginative, but he’s sadly lacking some sensitivity. I think he’s an interesting protagonist because he’s recognisable, and not necessarily likeable. Not likeable, but loveable. I’ve been Matty, I’ve been friends with a lot of Mattys, and I’ve watched many grow up, and many stagnate in a Matty-state. It’s funny and interesting to me.

CC: I think those of us in the arts all have an inner Matty at some point of our career: the people in our lives loving us, us hating ourselves, being a wanker about our art — perhaps that’s part of the process.

 BRISBANE (a doing word)


ZF: Matty explores comedy, slam, theatre, therapy and Jesus. Which part of his adventure is most memorable/resonant for you as writer and director, respectively?

CC: Matty’s overall journey, but the people around him are also on a journey because of him and his impact on their lives. He’s a pretty blissfully unaware of the ripple effect he causes. I hope audiences just wanna give him a hug — and tell him he’s okay. I think all artists need that. Scrap that, I think everyone needs that.

 

ZF: JWC is a distinctly Brisbane venue (and definitely a doing-wordy place). How does “Brisbane (a doing word)” use the space?

CC: We’re in the shopfront space, which has its challenges and limitations, but is also forcing us to be creative. I’ve done a show in this space before — I love the intimacy it forces, the proximity of the actors to the audience. Plus, I think it’s fantastic that Vena Cava are getting away from their home turf and spreading their wings. I think it makes a great comment about how they see themselves within the Brisbane landscape and about the work they want to make.

 

ZF: Vena Cava is a student theatre company; have the play’s themes resonated with the cast? In what ways?

C: I think so, yeah. I think it is spinning a few of them into an existential art related crisis. It’s a little confronting in that Matty’s essentially on their path, in their classes, possibly them — even though I think they all hope not. It’s probably inspired a whole lot of reflection about why they do what they do, and how they talk about what they do. I think it’s nice to be reminded not to be a dickhead. I think they get that now.

 

ZF: Does the play reveal anything unexpected about Brisbane?

DB: I don’t know what people’s expectations are of our city! I think we all have different perspectives on our town, and the play looks at that. None of the characters have the same relationship with this place.

CC: I don’t know, I’d like to think the play speaks more about being a young, confused twenty something — which could be applicable in any town. I think what makes the play speak of Brisbane is the ‘plight’ of artists here and their questions about where to place themselves for success. Maybe it speaks about the perception of success as an artist and how place and space contribute to that.

 

BRISBANE (A DOING WORD) plays at the Judith Wright Centre from 20 to 22 March.

 

THEATRE REVIEW: The Mountaintop

Photos by Rob McColl

It’s after midnight on Martin Luther King’s last night on earth. There’s still work to be done — but the good doctor has run out of cigarettes.

Dr King (Pacharo Mzembe) has just given his famous and final address at Mason Temple in Tennessee — in April of 1968. We find him kicking off his shoes in his Memphis motel room, calling room service in the hope of a late-night cup of coffee.

Delivering caffeine and cigarettes to Dr Martin Luther King Jr. was not what Camae (Candy Bowers) expected of her first day on the job as a motel maid. Lonely and, after all, only human, King insists Camae stay for a cigarette. He gets far more than he bargained for.

Candy Bowers as Camae and Pacharo Mzembe as Dr Martin Luther King in QTC's The Mountaintop  shot by Rob Mccoll

In his director’s notes, Todd MacDonald quotes writer Katori Hall: “This isn’t the ‘I Have a Dream’ King. This is King, the man, not the myth. I want people to see that this extraordinary man — who is actually quite ordinary — achieved something so great that he actually created a fundamental shift in how we, as a people, interact with each other.” Mzembe, with his sonorous voice, perfects Hall’s vision of King-the-man. His ego, wit and flaws make King’s terror, in facing death, all the more moving.

The Mountaintop’s strength hangs on its dynamic leads’ playful intimacy. Bowers’ brass and sharpness keep the play on the right side of sweet as Camae’s true identity is revealed. The more fun Bowers has with her character — giving her own Dr-King-esque speech, for instance — the more she settles into her Tennessee twang.

QTCM1279

Kieran Swann’s design and Ben Hughes’ lighting combine to create a singular effect: Room 306, with its mildewed pink curtains, seems to exist between worlds. Swann subtly evokes both the wonder and terror of what lies beyond. Tony Brumpton’s sound design has us enter the theatre to the swell of King’s various addresses; in a sense, this will prepare us for the powerful sensory overload of the finale (composed by Busty Beatz).

Queensland Theatre Company is off on the right foot with its 2014 season. Ultimately, The Mountaintop celebrates King’s reverberations on Earth, but challenges us not to forget that we share his human ability to change the world.

Candy Bowers as Camae and Pacharo Mzembe as Dr Martin Luther King in QTC's The Mountaintop  shot by Rob Mccoll

“Well, I don’t know what will happen now,” says King, in his final address on 3 April 1968. “We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land.”

The Mountaintop (Queensland Theatre Company) runs at the Playhouse, QPAC, until 16 March 2014. Tickets $33–80.

not that poetry is a trap but prayer

I’ve just finished reading Nathan Curnow’s half of Radar, a 2012 Walleah Press collection shared between Nathan and Kevin Brophy. (The title of this post comes from “Gently Against the Grain”.) Great way to spend a spare sliver of a Tuesday. I should be reading more. Great poetry always reminds me I should be reading more. On to Kevin’s half!

I have some thrilling news I’ve been struggling to keep quiet: a poem of mine has been shortlisted in the Overland Judith Wright Prize for Emerging Writers. It is a wonderful feeling to be included on this list, alongside 11 very talented poets, especially as this is a personally significant poem. Our house-Francis (aka Jeremy Thompson) was shortlisted for this same prize back in 2011; he’d actually forgotten until today, so now I’m doubly pleased. May the odds be ever in our favour, shortlisters!

I’ve been darting back and forth between New Farm and everywhere else this week, with World Theatre Festival on at Brisbane Powerhouse. Thus far I’ve managed to catch All That Fall (Pan Pan Theatre), JiHa Underground (Motherboard Productions) and She Would Walk the Sky (Company 2). Here’s my review of the latter for The Guardian UK (the show is on its way to London after Brisbane) and here’s my friend Nerissa’s Arts Hub review. And here’s an overview/preview of WTF14 Tahnee Robinson and I cooked up for Theatre People.

Make sure you catch at least something at this innovative festival! I’ve never experienced anything like All That Fall, which I think I’d categorise as “listening theatre”. Audience members sat together in rocking chairs (I took the photo above to show you) and listened to Samuel Beckett’s first radio play commissioned for the BBC. I’ve heard The Great Spavaldos is a unique experience, putting you in the role of trapeze artist via, I presume, immersive science-magic. She Would Walk the Sky experiments with Brisbane Powerhouse’s wonderful and challenging spaces (read both reviews above to read some contrasting thoughts on that).

In other news, I have an essay on consent and ethical nonmonogamy included in the upcoming Sex Issue of The Lifted Brow, which you can pre-purchase here (or, if you’re in Brisbane, at Avid Reader after March 1). There’ll be launches in Melbourne and Sydney early in March, too. 88 pages of awesome writing by awesome writers (and also me). Woooo!

Zen x

P.S. I have bought a stack of crafting supplies and I am super excited to start creating horrifying regresty-able works of art for friends (and maybe also some poetry crafts). Stay tuned for BROOCHBACK MOUNTAIN.

Poem: “Brisbane haiku”

accordion’s squall
twisting through bunched streets
crow’s neck distends

unexpected rain
the humid walls exhale
roast queenslander

slick black umbrella
bounces at a snapped joint
fallen bat

toowong traffic yawns
ghost-tram arrives earlier
than council bus

crowded station
arched spines against metal
bare tracks curve away 

backyard mangoes
swell, yellow and fall
in your absence

bushland
ironbarks one by one
telephone pole

Francis Thompson and Zenobia Frost
First printed in Petrichor, 2011

Poem: “Finding/Losing”

This is the land of your poems.
The trees covet sky and water;
droplets leap from miles up
and wash away our windshield.

This road is overwhelmed, bumping
its shoulders with the ankles of trees
who don’t perceive the winding below.
We slip by unnoticed,

too small to be considered
anything but ground dwellers
snuffling for mushrooms.
Really, we are here to gather ourselves.

We pass seven cordoned rockfalls:
a sign to scratch off the seven days
we have gathered like barnacles.
We hide in the scent of the forest,

relearning stillness with a quiet engine.

 

Zenobia Frost and Francis Thompson (in collaboration)
First printed in Petrichor, 2011