‘There is an assumption that real art only comes from the city,’ writes Winnie Siulolovao Dunn in her 2017 essay, ‘FOB: Fresh off the Books’. Dunn is writing about the stigma of hailing from both Mt Druitt and Tonga. For the young Dunn, the ethnically diverse Western Suburbs of Sydney seem far removed from any cultural centre.
I once read that the word ikebana (生け花), denoting the Japanese art of flower arrangement, can be roughly translated into English as ‘living flower,’ or ‘bringing life to the flowers.’ This summary sounds too easy, too graceful; there is an air of internet mythology to it, the truth of it smoothed and polished like a well-handled stone until it becomes convenient, small enough to tweet or swallow.
Sometime in 1953 my parents bought a house in Clayton (Victoria, Australia), then on the edge of south-east Melbourne. We moved there from a decidedly different environment: the guest house that my Grandmother owned. This was on Beaconsfield Parade in South Melbourne.
This is going to be a rather disordered list of undeveloped and not closely connected thoughts about ‘the suburban’ and its binary partner ‘the urban’. Not my thoughts, for the most part, but my list of thoughts generally available.
There is a preconception that small presses, existing as they do outside the mainstream, publish poetry that is wilder, stranger, more political, and more ethnically diverse. Poetry that the university publishers have turned away, or whose genius such presses have failed to recognise.
Cul-de-sac 1 When I was 17 and finishing my high school exams the petrol station around the corner from our house exploded. I didn’t hear it but my twin brother did: he jingled the keys and we drove in his …
I was already quite a few years into a creative writing PhD titled ‘Generic Engineering’ and flailing around quite spectacularly in a galaxy of words when an academic friend, perhaps hoping to spare me the indignity of a completed thesis and potential employment, flipped to the middle of the 526-page book he was reading and wordlessly pointed to a single sentence. ‘Due to a predilection whose origin I will leave it up to the reader to determine,’ he read, ‘I will choose the symbol ♀ for this inscription.’
In 1973, I was a post-graduate student at the University of California, San Diego, working on my Master’s degree in music composition. My principle teacher at the time was Kenneth Gaburo, well known for his work in compositional linguistics which crossed boundaries between music, language, writing, performance, and dance.
‘Only idiots and government leeches live in Western Sydney,’ Zekay said to me as he tied up his oily brown hair into a topknot. He was standing in the middle of the grass at Central Park Mall, his hairy arms spread out like he was Jesus on the cross. Zekay was a University of Technology Sydney film student who lived in Surry Hills and loved to call himself the Son of Man while scratching the wiry pubes under his arms.
Rather than rehash reasons why mathematics and poetry are closely linked fields of intellectual practice, this essay assumes their relationship is the case and focuses on one of mathematics’s and grammar’s many functional figures, the parenthesis.
When delivering a thesis presentation based on rethinking the methodologies for reading Aboriginal Australian poetics, a fellow postgraduate student asked me, ‘Do you consider your thesis political?’ I was momentarily floored. It was a question I had expected, and yet had not been adequately prepared for. In fact, as it turned out, the question was meant sincerely.