My Poetry Rules: Reality Shows for Artlovers

studioWhy are reality shows always about cooking and building? Why not a reality show for writers? Challenge the contestants to come up with a poem or first chapter and have it critiqued by the other contestants and two professionals. Not a Frenchman in a badly fitting suit or a paleo addict who’s been painted a shimmery shade of bronze, but a publisher and a working full time writer who will try not to look bored/horrified while listening to the contestant’s musings.

Instead of a menu of inedible food, have a menu of indigestible poetry – a limerick or a haiku for the entrée, a ballad or saga for mains and a sonnet or villanelle for dessert. And why stop at poets and novelists? Let artists create a menu of pastels, oil portraits and watercolours; musicians can present a light ballad, a rousing anthem and a sweet love song; crafters can fashion pot holders, quilts and soft cushions – it could go on and on.

instead of instant restaurants the contestants could create instant galleries in their own homes and stress over a broken conte crayon or a squished tube of paint. Poets could sob over their iambic pentameters and novelists could have meltdowns because they can’t spell pneumatic (is that right?) You could have the usual suspects for contestants – the snotty Melbournites looking down on the other plebs; the eager to please puppies hoping for a pat on the head and a Schmackos; the wild outbackers piling up installations made of hay bales and rusty old tractors; the ‘villains’ rating everyone else’s art as passé so they can climb further up the leaderboard – oh, come on, it would be so much more fun

 

Halloween countdown: The Trees

The Trees

ghost gums

The trees are driving me crazy. Can’t anyone else see what they are up to? They are colluding, whispering together. Getting closer, I could walk between these two a week ago. Now they block my path, like threatening sentinels.

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Even in the city they creep up, they invade, they terrorise humans going about their business. What do you think these two are up to?

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At night I fear them most of all. They gather around my house, rustling and muttering, shaking their branches and leaves in the moonlight. What do they want? Why are they becoming so bold and intrusive?

ghostly gums

At night the ghost gums come haunting, creeping through the darkness toward the house, drawing close to each other in conspiratorial silence, yet I can hear them whispering to each other, rustling and creaking, and watching us.

I think they are angry. I think they want us to know that they have had enough of us. I think they want to cut us down as we have been cutting them down, to uproot our houses and our lives and reclaim the land from us. I think they hate us because of this…

Note: The idea of this is to use the photos I’ve taken of random objects that have ‘faces’ embedded or have a spooky or weirdly human quality, as prompts for Halloween prose and poetry. Feel free to copy the images and use them as prompts for your own stories. Leave me a link so I can see the results 🙂

Halloween Countdown: How did I get here?

Another Halloween story suggested by a photo in my collection.I spotted this sad eyed stag at a twilight market, and I have been thinking about it ever since.

how did I get here

How did I get here?

Stop. Stop! Don’t just walk past. It’s me! Look closer! You can see it’s me.

Stop sniggering at your new husband. His joke was lame, and you know it. “Oh dear, oh dear. I think he lost his head.” Pathetic. You actually laughed. Do you think it’s funny that I, Antonio, the love of your life, is nailed to a piece of wood? Look at me! Don’t you recognise my moustache?

Oh Laura, what happened to me? Yours was the last face I saw on that night, with the full moon shining in the window, before everything went black, and I woke up on the wall in my father’s house. That huge ornate mirror he bought in Florence was on the opposite wall, and I could see what had become of me. I didn’t realise at first – only after days of staring at that damned mirror did I understand that my head looks like this now. And it isn’t attached to my body.

I have been thinking that my papa mistook me for one of the deer on his estate. These are a fine pair of antlers, I must say. So big. He must have spotted me and shot me, not knowing it was I, Antonio, his only beloved son. For years I hung there, unable to communicate, watching you visit Papa’s estate and take care of him in his old age. Every time you came he asked you the same question. “Have they found my son?”

I watched you weep at his funeral, and laugh when they read the will and he left everything to you. Then the men came, the buyers and the dealers, and everything was sold and bundled out. Including me.

Oh look, the little one is speaking again.

“So, Laura, did you tell him, at the last, of your powers? Or was he still too dazzled by your beauty to know you are a witch?”

“Not a full time witch, Paulo. Only when there is a full moon at Halloween. Then I can do anything I want. Poor, poor Antonio.” She reached over and stroked the dark mark beneath my nose, the exact replica of my moustache. “Come, Paulo, now you have come into your uncle’s fortune, you can afford to buy me a peach gelato, no?”

Yes,” he said adoringly. “Gelato, and diamonds, rubies, anything you want.”

Her laughter tinkled as they walked away. Poor, poor Paulo, too besotted to realise that tonight was Halloween, and the moon was full.

Halloween Countdown: Nevermore

In the lead up tp Halloween this year, I am going to be posting photos of ‘found’ faces – you know how you look at some random object and there seems to be a face peering out at you. I have been making a collection of such objects, and some of them are inspiring me to write as well. So, without further ado, here is my first offering. This isn’t a gravestone, although it looks like one – it is a monument at one of our local parks and the closer I got, the more I felt I was being watched – b y Edgar Allen Poe, maybe…Honestly, I haven’t touched it.

who is that in there

Nevermore

I am haunted by Edgar Allen Poe. Everywhere I go I see his face, peeking out at me from bushes, clouds, gravestones…as I drift off to sleep, I hear his voice – nevermore, nevermore.

I toss and turn, I throw off the blankets because I am too hot, I shiver because I am too cold…nevermore, nevermore.

As a sickly grey dawn seeps through the curtains, my eyes spring open, unable to close. I stare up at the ceiling, where the growing light coils and snakes across the darkness, filling my soul with dread, my mouth with the taste of graveyard dirt.

I am no stranger to fear, but I have never known anything like this. This is no mere sickness of the body, no mere derangement of the mind – this is a malady so bone deep, so soul centred, that I weary of life.

Nevermore, he whispers. Nevermore.

It cannot be true. I drag myself from my bed, across to my writing desk and press the switch above the keyboard. The grey screen echoes the grey morning outside and my mood. The last photo I took, Poe peering at me from a headstone at the cemetery, his eyes following me as I walked among the graves.

Nevermore. Nevermore.

I crash my fists on the keyboard. He continues to mock me as I struggle with the words that won’t come. Of course he mocks. He must have known this terrifying abyss, this pendulous pit of dried up inspiration, this ghastly wasteland of a head empty of any ideas at all.

The well is utterly dry, the grave barren and the screen remains blank. Of  all the horrors in the human mind – nothing compares to writer’s block.

He laughs and whispers – never more. Nevermore.

Live Music and Cultural Values

AC/DC Lane
AC/DC Lane (Photo credit: zoonabar)

 

It is really not surprising that Gypsies performed live entertainment as they travelled – making live shows in one place gave you the coin to move on to another place. I was born into that life. My father and his family were travellers. In his time, he was a musician, a magician, a carnie sideshow operator, an actor – whatever it took to make the coin to keep moving.

 

I grew up listening to him playing the and the banjo. I heard Chuck Berry and Sonny Terry and Barnie McGee on the radio when he tuned into the American Forces Network to learn new songs. Later my own children were similarly brainwashed with blues and rock and roll. We regard busking as an honorable profession (because my dad was a busker in Dublin before and after the war). My daughter Lucia is the lead singer with A Girl’s A Gun. One of the highlights of my writing career was being entertainment reporter for a Western Sydney newspaper, and meeting people like Adam Rawson of Normal Day and The Australian Music Industry Forum, who is passionate about creating more live venues for Western Sydney bands. Yeah, music means a lot to us.

 

More than that, more than what it means to my family, live music and entertainment are an essential part of the cultural life of a place. I get angry when developers and newcomers move into a city area and demand that the life and zest of the place be changed to suit them, as happened at AC/DC Lane in Melbourne. I detest it when people claim live music is dead. Sit at Brisbane’s South Bank with me and tell me that. There is plenty of live music in Brisbane, and plenty of people who want to listen. Only culturally lazy people say,”Yawn, no one wants live music anymore, we have the Internet…” Rubbish. Couch potatoes and Internet Heads are excluded from this conversation. While you are glued to your screens, people are out having a good time and looking for more places to go.

 

So when PM Kevin Rudd says he is going to fight the good fight for the Australian live music industry, I am waving my cultural flag in support. Some may think it pales in comparison to saving other industries but Australian music has been very profitable for this country and deserves the same respect and support as every other. It provides employment, not just on the stage, but in many other areas of Australian working life. It is something Australia can be proud of – we know Australia’s got talent. Just give it somewhere to be heard, and keep party politics out of it. I don’t care who does it, as long as it gets done.

 

 

The Man Who Would Be Jack the Ripper

The "From Hell" Letter postmarked 15...
The “From Hell” Letter postmarked 15 October 1888 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is no shortage of books purporting to have been ‘discovered’ in a secret hiding place, rather than written by a contemporary author. It’s a popular conceit in the literary world, and sometimes it succeeds for a while. But The Autobiography of Jack the Ripper has a twist. The manuscript, it is claimed, was found among the possessions of a real person, the late S.G. Hulme-Beaman, who created Toytown and Larry the Lamb.

 According to the preface, Hulme-Beaman’s niece, Mrs. Jean Caldwell, called Alan Hicken, of the Montacute TV, Radio and Toy Museum in Somerset, and asked him if he would like a collection of memorabilia belonging to her uncle. As Larry the Lamb was a popular radio character for children, Hicken enthusiastically accepted. Among the items, he found an unpublished manuscript, The Autobiography of Jack the Ripper.

 The author of the ms. claimed to be one James Carnac, the son of a doctor who was briefly a medical student in his turn, and who, in the book, claimed to be the man who killed and dismembered several women in London’s Whitehall district in the 1880s. Part One of the book is about Carnac’s early life, while Part Two covers the period of the murders. Part Three appears to be Carnac’s last years before his death.

 After reading the manuscript and becoming convinced it was genuine, Hicken passed it on to crime historian and ‘ripperologist’ Paul Begg. His lengthy analysis also appears in the book, as well as a prologue by him, in which he states that, at the very least, this manuscript can’t be viewed as legal evidence, as it is not signed by witnesses.

I’m not convinced it is anything but a piece of fiction. It was likely written by Hulme-Beaman himself, who like J.K. Rowling, probably just wanted to do something different after writing for children. So the only question is – is it any good? And the answer to that is no. If you are looking for shock and horror, there are any number of books that will give you blood curdling descriptions of the crimes. This one won’t. It is claimed the manuscript was ‘edited’ by the executor of Hulme-Beaman’s will, which is very handy if you don’t want to into detail that might be proved wrong. As well, it is badly written, and here the author falls back on that old excuse that goes something like “I’m a serial killer, not a writer.” Ho hum.

Then there is the fact that James Carnac never existed at the time and place he mentions in the manuscript, nor is there any record of his parents, his landladies or anyone else connected to him (except the victims). Possibly he changed all the names – but why would he, if this is a confession only meant to be read after his death?

 So, on this occasion, the ‘discovery’ might actually be real, but what was discovered is still clearly a work of fiction. If you want to make the world think someone long dead wrote your manuscript, you are going to have to a hell of a lot more convincing than this.

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The book is available at Book Depository. My thanks to NetGalley for the review copy.

Living your life as a work of art

TheWheelHouse1-640x402Image from Where Cool Things Happen

I have always admired people who make art of living, but Jeni Bernard and Barney White have created a living work of art that literally rolls around the world. They do not travel in a house on wheels, their house is a wheel, a single wheel set in motion by their own acrobatic movements inside.

Acrojou has created and performed six different shows in nine countries, and it is an incredible spectacle, as this extraordinary circus rolls into town and people gather to watch the acrobats. It is an incredible physical feat as well, propelling the wheel house around Europe.

Here are some more links to stories about Acrojou and the wheel house:

Acrojou Circus Theatre in Sideshow circus magazine

The Wheel House at JunkCulture

Living is Queasy in a Circle Wheel House (Quite the pun, ABC News)

 

A Moment of Clarity

Writers experience many Aha! moments. Aha! That’s how this story ends. Aha! She’s in love with him, that’s why she hates him. Aha! A paying market!!!! (Lots of exclamation marks for that one, it’s so rare.)

But my most recent Aha! moment had nothing to do with the story I was working on last night. It started that way – Aha! I know what’s wrong with this story. So in  spite of the fact I had my granddaughter Lyta chattering in my ear, relating for me the entire script of her favourite My Little Pony movie, I got stuck into it on my laptop, and gave the story what it lacked – emotion.

Lyta paused in her narration, looked at the words appearing on the screen, and said, “are you an author?”

My fingers hovered in the air. All my working life I had described myself as a writer, a simple humble wordsmith chipping away. I had even worked as a journalist and was happy to claim that title, but even then it was just a job. Mostly my writing had been regarded as a little hobby of mine.  J.K. Rowling was an author. Miss Read was an author. Fame and the ability to live off your writing (in Rowling’s case, with bells on) seemed to be a necessary component.

I looked at the dreamy eyed girl who was so much like me a very long time ago, making up stories, drawing and colouring, happily lost in her own world. One day, I thought, it’s going to mean a lot to her that she knew a real author, and that it was her grandma.

“Yes, I am,” I said. She nodded happily and went back to her narration.

I’ve mentioned before that I am in the third year of a five year plan, without even knowing exactly what it is I want to have achieved at the end of it. Maybe nothing at all – maybe just a better understanding of who I am and what I want to do with the third age of my life. Naturally after decades of writing, being a sometime journalist, and frequently getting disheartened and wondering if there just might be something else I can do, the idea of giving it all up has frequently surfaced. What have I ever really gained from writing? What have I ever given the world as a writer? Just a bunch more words, a lot more wasted trees and occasionally a memorable phrase or two that has been lost and forgotten in the sheer avalanche of words that pours out every year.

But – I’m an author.  My son’s an author, my daughter Lucia is a poet and a singer.  Lyta said, when I asked her, that she wants to be an author some day. It’s a family calling, it’s genetic, it’s in the DNA. and who knows where it will pop up and what it will reveal.

 

A Year in Spain

So I was looking for blog posts with this title and WordPress couldn’t find one, but suggested I write my own. As good a prompt as I have ever seen, because I have been thinking about my year in Spain lately.

What brought it to mind was watching Madagascar 3 with the kids. Hollywood rarely ‘gets’ the circus. Movies about the circus come up with all sorts of head scratching inaccuracies, that I get to crow about to my grandchildren because I grew up in the circus, but this time the laugh was on me. They got it all right, it was just packed with nostalgia for me, especially where they put up the circus tent in the Colosseum. During my year in Spain, we were at Barcelona Monumental Bullring, which is so enormous the six pole circus tent fitted right in.

bullring circus barcelona

In those days my father took the photos.He rightfully believed no one would believe a huge circus tent could be fitted into a Spanish bullring. Some bullrings were small enough for just the circus ring, but in something as big as this, there was no point.

overlooking avila

Dad took this picture as we were heading for Avila – it lay below, overshadowed by mountains, on a rocky, barren tabletop near the Adaja river, the walled city in this mountainous and barren wilderness such an amazing sight. That’s our mobile home, a converted Leyland bus, which hated every moment of its year in Spain, heating up and boiling over constantly. Hence the chance to take a snap or two.

americasno scrapboom 1962

This is a scrapbook page from 1961 – the year I was in Spain. I was only 16, fascinated by everything, and the polyglot of nations in which I found myself – German, Italian, French, Tunisian, Swiss, and so many more – it was wonderful! This was circus, this was the travelling life – we came from everywhere, yet we were all one,we were all circus. Madagascar 3 got that right too.

I realised, that in the world I belonged, there were no borders, no ghettos, and no room or place for racism, bigotry or prejudice. You could never judge anyone on their abilities or worth as a human being that way. One of the most talented circus artists I met in Spain had suffered polio in his youth, and still walked with a limp on a crippled leg. He was an inspired clown, a marvellous acrobat and a man who never, not in a million years, would have described himself as someone with a disability. What disability? He could do anything. He was circus.

emy goty canamon

That’s him on the far left – Canamon.

Yeah I know – I should write about my year in Spain. I really should.