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

REVIEW: Delicacy

Director Lucas Stibbard warns audiences that Delicacy is not a nice play — a wonderfully delicate phrase to use. This two-person, one-hour play, inspired by the life of German cannibal Armin Meiwes and his lover/meal, will make you squirm and cringe for what feels like hours. Although the show turns on the question of “will they or won’t they consummate their cannibalistic plan?” — a morbid twist on the old romantic trope — the characters’ domestic exchanges generate some of the most keenly felt discomfort.

Neil (Cameron Hurry), the character to be eaten, flits between psychotic bursts of aggression and agitated silence. Even when utterly still, as when he watches porn at the dining-room table, he vibrates with explosive unpredictability. Denny (Gregory Scurr) is a picture of passivity, absorbing Neil’s physical and verbal abuse to respond with praise and apologies, attending to Neil’s every whim. A review of an earlier production of Delicacy compares Denny to a manservant. In contrast, Stibbard and Scurr’s Denny, though servile, also achieves a fine layer of menace. If he feeds, praises and dotes on Neil, he does so in the manner of a attendant to a human sacrifice.

Costume designer Rachel Cherry transforms the mostly vegetarian Denny into a butcher figure with a simple transparent plastic apron. Their monochromatic clothes — Denny in pink, Neil in red — continually remind us of the blood, its flow and its release, that is at the heart of this play. Elongated silences punctuate Neil’s outbursts; in these silences Denny’s mask slips. Deep shadows in his eyes, created at these precise moments by Cameron Parish’s clever lighting, reveal a brooding and impenetrable core. These indirect touches sustain a brilliantly tense and uneasy mood in a play that is quite coy about the cannibalism that forms its gothic centre. Early on, our only clues are cryptic references in otherwise domestic dialogue.

Delicacy

Similarly, Bec Woods’ set is ever so slightly unnerving: recognisably domestic — a dining room and a kitchen — but exaggerated, distorted. The kitchen bench extends too far and ends up looking industrial. When Denny cooks, the kitchen dwarfs him. The dining room table seems huge with Denny and Neil crowded together in one corner. In stark contrast, a single, preposterously strong light above the dining table occasionally constricts the stage to illuminate just the table, creating a claustrophobic mood where before the space had seemed unmanageably large.

My one problem with the play involves its script. The story diverges quite significantly from the events that inspire it, which is not in itself a problem. The problem is that these divergences strip the original story of its interesting nuances. To recap the headlines, two otherwise likeable and normal-looking men, who shared affection, consensually agreed that one should eat the other. The men were well-regarded in their neighbourhoods — likable, relatable cannibals. It’s a true story that raises compelling questions.

On the other hand, Julian Hobba’s script turns both of these people into eminently unlikeable characters — selfish, childish, and violent — which immediately throws up a wall between them and the audience, letting viewers off the hook. There’s no chance that they will empathise with either Denny or Neil, short-circuiting the original story’s moral quandary.

Ultimately this play is not so much about cannibalism as it is a play that involves cannibalism. This story doesn’t plumb the depths of what it might mean to perform the act of eating another human, but it is a well-told gothic tale — tense, suspenseful, and shocking.

Delicacy runs at the Brisbane Arts Theatre until Jun 15. http://www.artstheatre.com.au

JEREMY THOMPSON was assistant arts editor at OffStreet Press. His work has been published in Small Packages, Rave Magazine, Voiceworks, and Notes From The Gean.

Winding Down

It’s 3am again; there’s been a lot of sleeplessness during and post-festival. Queensland Poetry Festival filled my head with so much stuff it’s like there are ants crawling around under my skull: Sawako Nakayasu, Chloe Wilson, Kevin Gillam, Helen Avery, Jacob Polley, and (of course) Jeremy Thompson were highlights. So was the bookstore, though my wallet will disagree. I previewed some gravepoems on the Sunday, including what we’ve decided is a love letter to Govenor Sam Blackall; thank you to everyone who came along.

This year, QPF published a limited-edition anthology containing a poem by every poet on the program. There were 100 copies available on Friday…and five left on Sunday evening, so rather a successful little venture! Here’s my poem from the collection, in case you weren’t one of the lucky 95. (It’s 5/7 of a sonnet, and was published in Overland last year as part of a collaborative poetry mash-up.)

Before the Funeral

You find her in the kitchen and your lungs empty.
This is the room where they cornered the fox,
the fox that panicked through the hall in the storm,
that your brothers crushed into unsealed wood:
that stain there. The window is open.
Evergreens are all puffed up. Nothing grows
from the bones of the fox. Dishcloths are stiff
on the rail where she split her head; the blood
has frozen before it could stain. Your legs try
to turn you. The volta catches in your throat.

My first collaboration with Jeremy Thompson, Petrichor, also disappeared quickly from the bookstore. Thank you kind souls! There’s only one left of the print run — perhaps we will get crafty and put together a second edition in time for our trip to Victoria later this year. I’ll be appearing at Passionate Tongues, at Melbourne’s Brunswick Hotel, on September 26.

This post-festival winding down is only an illusion. Brisbane Festival launches this week, so if you are looking for me, I’ll be in the Spiegeltent all month, madly scrambling across tightropes, balancing deadlines. For now, the John Marsden Prize closes at 5pm, so my last task for tonight/this morning is to choose a poem. Me?! Make my mind up about something?! Bah!

Countdown to QPF

Suddenly it is August. I’m not quite sure how that happened, but here we are.

Queensland Poetry Festival is this weekend (August 26–28). I’ve just spent two weeks on the couch entertaining the EKKA flu with six seasons of Red Dwarf and a little bit of The X Files. I’ll be emceeing opening night, Of Rhythm and Rapture, so I’m coaxing my voice back with pot after pot of lemon and ginger tea.

You mustn’t miss:

  • Of Rhythm and Rapture: Friday, 7.30 pm — Sandra Thibodeaux, Sawako Nakayasu, Jacob Polley
  • A Babble of Skywalkers: Saturday, 10.30 am — Jeremy Thompson, Red Room
  • Filled with Ink: Saturday, 1.30 pm — Ron Pretty, Jaya Savige, Jacob Polley
  • A Tattoo of Light: Saturday, 4 pm — Joanne Featherstone, Matt Hetherington, Zenobia Frost
  • All is Roar and Crash: Saturday, 4 pm — Kevin Gillam, Andy White, Marisa Allen
  • A Million Bright Things: Saturday, 8 pm — A short set from every poet on the program
  • That Profound Machine: Sunday, 5pm — QPF Filmmakers showcase
  • Onwards to Infinity: Sunday, 7pm — Closing night, with encore performances

In other QPF-related news, I will have a new chapbook available at the QPF: a handmade, limited-edition collaboration with poet Jeremy Thompson. Look out for it at the bookstore — it’s called Petrichor: Two Poets, and it sports gorgeous cover art by Bettina Walsh (The Voyage). Petrichor contains new work, including some co-written bits and pieces, and revisits a few old friends. Reward us for a whole weekend spent folding and stapling by grabbing one — there are only 20 in existence! And they have magic semicolons on the back!

In less-QPF-related news, Head over to the Australian Women’s Book Review to read my review of Pam Schlinder’s debut collection, A Sky You Could Fall Into. Then go and do yourself a favour by reading Pam’s book (Post Pressed, 2010).

Personally, I’m looking forward to a festival weekend. And losing the cough means getting back to the theatre: Animal Farm (QPAC) this week and The Hamlet Apocalypse (La Boite) next week. Fortunately Cabaret kept me happy — and thoroughly earwormed — in between episodes of Red Dwarf, curries, and lager milkshakes.

Boy Girl Wall Accordion

It has been the kind of month that invites adventure in and won’t let it leave till it’s properly sloshed—by which stage it’s difficult to ever get rid of. I’ve been to see some outrageously good shows, rambled around cemeteries, written lots, and re-manifested myself as the love child (imagine that) of Tank Girl and Delirium. Hullo, April—where did March go?! This is where:

Jason Webley @ The Zoo

Early last week, Jason Webley arrived in Queensland to finish the Down Under leg of 2011’s epic world tour. Finally seeing him perform, after four and a half years of waiting, was a singular joy. Webley’s Brisbane show at The Zoo on March 23 attracted around 200 punters, all very ready to stomp and sing and become his makeshift orchestra.

When he’s on stage, the slogan on promo posters, “post-apocalyptic fun,” makes perfect sense. I can imagine Webley—in his beloved, battered dancing hat—as the kind of musician that would get us through the apocalypse and still have us dancing even after the sky had long since crashed down.

Those who came along to Webley’s farewell house party (/hosts’ housewarming) were in for an extra treat. The night turned into one long, glorious jam session. (I even got out my trumpet! And toyed with an unsuspecting ukelele!) You’ll find a garage-full of people playing Eleven Saints floating around on YouTube, no doubt.

Jason Webley @ The Zoo—photo by Zen’s dodgy phone

Poetry & Graveyards

Earlier in the week, I was very pleased to be able to drag Mr Webley and a RagTag group of Brisbanites around my favourite of haunts, Toowong Cemetery—an adventure in itself. After several months of guilty neglect, I’ve been visiting the graveyard much more often. (I don’t know how I manage to forget the necropolis down the road–inside the gates it is always cooler and quieter than it could ever get in our sweltering house.)

More gravewalks means more grave poems—a good thing, since last year’s ramblings are beginning to see the light. Issue 35 of Cordite Poetry Review, Oz-Ko (Envoy) is online as of today, and I’m super excited to say that there you’ll find Warning. Consider it the introduction to that forthcoming cemetery collection I so often talk about (see! bits of it exist!).

And in extra shiny, super-duper rad breaking news, our own Jeremy Thompson is one of three poets commended by judge Peter Minter in 2010’s Overland Judith Wright Poetry Prize, rising above over 1000 entries into the realm of Awesome. Whee!

boy girl wall @ La Boite

Bear with me, because my segues for this blog are about to get worse. In fact, non-existent. Run with it. You might remember me raving away last year about a wonderful little Brisbane show called boy girl wall. Well, it’s back on this year at La Boite, and last night’s opening performance proved its just as marvellous as we thought the first time around. Maybe a bit more marvellous.

Lucas Stibbard in boy girl wall—photo by Al Caeiro

In 2010, The Escapists’ one-man show, performed by Lucas Stibbard—with live music from Neridah Waters—relied on the walls of the Sue Benner Theatre at Metro Arts (the set was literally drawn on with chalk), so I was interested to see how they’d handle La Boite’s in-the-round set-up. Fortunately, The Escapists have made something gorgeous out of a potential problem: a chalk-board green stage hits the horizon line and becomes a collage of blackboards rising into the rafters. In the vast La Boite space, Keith Clark’s lighting really helps to hold everything together (I only wish he could use his lighting powers to rig up a more powerful OHT).

Beyond the venue, not too much has changed, and it was lovely to visit the 20-something characters again (especially dear Power Box and the lovely, but somewhat gothic library assistant). The script is clever, life-affirming, and above all, maddeningly funny. Seeing boy girl wall again, the influence of Under Milk Wood (which Stibbard and I chatted about recently in Rave Magazine) becomes delightfully clear. If you enjoy being happy, you should grab tickets before the rest of the season sells out.