DF: When we met, you appreciated my name, as I do yours. We’d taken on ‘Debris Facility’ as a way to re-write the practice/identity, a material linguistic ritual to reinscribe the multiplicity of embodiment including gender. I understand that you’d taken π.ο. as a name while a student. What is the process and thinking behind your name, and what has it enabled for you?
π.ο. : Generally i don’t indulge a lot in explaining my name except to say that when i was a Collingwood Tech, i suddenly realised that altho a lot of kids like me couldn’t pass English subjects we were everyone’s equal in Maths classes if not better cos we were the great white hopes of our families and science and mathematics was the way out of the slum/slump. I fell in love with Pythagoras, and still do and am. And then i fell in love with ‘the ratio of the diameter of a circle with the circumference’ and it was given the letter π and it was Greek, and it was me: my initials π right next to the circle O, the most compact of visual signifiers with symbol-mathematical-pretentious, and ½ Greek, ½ English, ½ calculation, ½ visual (later understood as ‘poem’), and ½ mine. No other name was possible for me. I will not allow anyone to ‘re-Write’ me. I alone ‘write’ me. This has its interesting problems, in that no one wanted to accept it – not even POETS for god sake. A poet is a worker in language – this is my material, that’s my work – i didn’t/don’t want to be squashed into the size of a matchbox and filed away into someone’s pocket. This is no arty game – i’m playing for keeps! All or nothing, no translation, transliteration, explanation, histrionics or otherwise – of course, there are those seeking brownie points with ‘exposes’, and ‘insider knowledge’ – i hate clever people. You don’t tell ‘me’ who i am – i tell ‘you’ who i am. The ½ way house (the default) almost everyone goes to is ‘Pi O’, and as such over the years people thought i was that famous Chinese Poet ‘Pi Oh’ – i love how π. ο. is not gendered, i love how you can (and those that do) change their name into who they are – No God! No Church! No Country! in other words – no other explanation necessary, it’s just an ‘is’. As it eventually and gradually became apparent to me, in my trying to hold onto my identity and name, the last bastion of racism in this country was in its alphabet, in its language – hey! That’s my playground your playing in – Get off my cloud!
DF: Your affinity with numbers, measurements, data, code and mathematical language is evident throughout your work, and has a striking and varied effect. Big Numbers uses these tactics heavily and The Number Poems goes further, using a grid of 24 x 11 numbers along with a title as the format throughout the book. There is a certain concrete reality which is evoked by the numerical. The ways in which numbers, measurements and statistics have social, political, historical and affective contours is highlighted and put into use by you. How did numbers come into your writing, and how do you think they operate within it?
π.ο.: I should point out that my name ‘realisation’ came when i was at school, not when or because i became a poet – in fact when i was at school i hated artists and poets (not that i knew there were such things as live poets), so it wasn’t an issue of me trying to look ‘cool’ or ‘different’ or as they use to say a ‘little pink’ in my left-wingism. My name is a poem. My name is also a mathematical concatenation. My first book of poems Fitzroy Brothel, featured mathematical influences including a concrete poem what was also bilingual and mathematical. It was only natural i guess, since my first love was and still is mathematics. Big Numbers is my selected poems, and in that i showcased my vast range of poetic forms and concerns, including poems about work. In 1978, we started a workers/poetry magazine called 925. we did 20 issues, and it became the biggest poetry magazine in Australia with a print run towards the end of 3000 copies. It was massive. In the process, i came to realise just how ‘numbers’ were being used against the working class. Politicians do it all the time. So i went to the Bureau of Statistics (there was no google in those days) and asked them for ‘one of everything’ – (there’s a poem about it in my book). What i found amazing was that i could use numbers and mathematics not just as ‘information’ but more importantly as ‘image making’ and as ‘metaphors’. Most poets who use numbers or mathematics tend to talk ‘about’ it as a ‘subject’ whereas my practice ‘constructed’ poems out of the very ‘fabric’ (or grammar) of mathematics. In The Number Poems i truly achieved greatness, cos i married concrete poetry to it (as in my first book) in other words you could “see” the image like some kind of extended haiku – and as it was in a grid pattern, it referenced the ‘floppy disc’ or the computer screen (hence its cultural importance to the new millennium). But the ‘image’ creation alone wasn’t what was important what was important was the poem was ‘a number’ and that ‘number’ now had a ‘name’ (as per its poem title), so now i could (for example) add ‘dead cert’ to ‘fat chance’ – or more importantly i could tell you to multiply ‘dead cert’ with ‘fat chance’ and you’d know exactly which numbers to do that with – large corporations in the digital age ‘copyright’ their numbers, cos their numbers represent their programs – i’ll be fucked! – good, now i’m copyrighting MY numbers cos MY numbers are POEMS and if those arseholes land on MY poem i’m going sue GOOGLE something shocking! There’s more to this than what i’ve just said, that includes the movies i made with them, and their ‘streaming’ etc etc. The truth is most people are happy to exercise their ‘literacy’ but rarely do they think it important to exercise their ‘numeracy’. Most people are numerophobic (if there is such a word).
DF: Hearing of the textile workers and the clouds being some audience for your rooftop poetry is great, along with the broadcast of the documentary. I understand that you’ve also done poetry readings in factories, as well as a range of other locations. How have those kinds of events come to be? How does performing in various contexts change your work?
π.ο.: When we did 925 we worked with Unions and people in factories and read to them on shop floors and offices. It also corresponded with our inauguration of “performance poetry” in Australia and very soon after with the establishment of the ‘Poets Union’ – this had a huge impact on Australian poetry and was vehemently derided and dismissed by the establishment – i wrote about it in my anthology with Penguin Books in 1984 called Off The Record – Performance Poetry was important cos it underlined the importance of the ‘utterance’ in poetry, and married ‘sound poetry’ back into the stuff cannon of Australian literature, which it still hasn’t really been able to swallow. Please NOTE i don’t ‘perform’ my poetry ‘i read’ it – i’m NOT an actor – too often the noun ‘performance poetry’ suggests ‘acting’ or else some kind of meta-poetic technique that is ‘alien’ to the rigours of ‘real’ literature. This ignorance is astounding!