Adam Ford: Damn & Be Published (Part 2)

24 April 2002

I Fall in Love with a Beautiful Newcomer … by Susan Fereday
The Still Company by The Still Company
Excerpts from Teach Yourself Atomic Physics by Phil Norton
Beware the Balsa Chair (number one) by Ebony Truscott
Humans, Animals & Objects by Edward Burger

My printer ran out of ink yesterday and wouldn't accept the refilled cartridge as legit. The ink light kept flashing until I spent sixty bucks on a new cartridge. A curse on the head of cartridge manufacturers and retailers. Ink is a valuable commodity, and we salute those who choose to use their ink to put their work out there, somewhere where people will read it.

I Fall in Love with a Beautiful Newcomer Hiding a Deadly Secret by Susan Fereday
2000, self-published, approx. $12.00

'A trip to the movies lands me in serious trouble.'

A book with a distinctly anonymous feel, 98 pages in length, featuring synopses from daily television guides rewritten in the first person and present tense. The text is set out sparsely, and is grouped in tentatively thematic arrangements. 'I use a soccer game to cover my daring escape/I find the farm of my dreams/I go to Mexico for a holiday/I start a petition to save a 200 year old tree.' There's a distinctive rhythm to the text; the repetition of the first-person assertions contributes a liturgical feel – you could imagine the whole thing being read aloud as a hypnotic performance piece. Fereday has constructed an omnipresent everyperson as her protagonist, a protagonist who has incredible adventures, faces terrible adversities, and suffers in the small and human ways that we all do. It's an interesting question that's posed by this book: What if the star of every story you ever heard of was the same person?

The Still Company by The Still Company
CD 2001, approx. $20

'the first smoke rising/his fresh seed wet on the leaves'

The Still Company is poet/musician Ian McBryde and musician/producer Greg Riddell. On this, their debut CD release, eleven of McBryde's poems are presented accompanied by music created by both McBryde and Riddell. McBryde's words are as strong as ever, depicting dark stories of arsonists, murderers & the despair of loneliness. His voice, heavy with grit and sexual intent, sends shivers down the listener's spine as it whispers directly into the ear. The accompanying music, however, is a homemade computerised funk intended as an atmospheric accompaniment, but which fails in its task. It's littered with cheesy handclaps, orchestral stabs and synthesized bass reminiscent of Godley and Creme or long-forgotten Canadian novelty/spoken word band 2nu.

Music that accompanies poetry should ideally enhance the words, but in this case the disparate qualities of the Still Company's music and McBryde's words are so at odds with each other that one distracts from the other. The strength of this CD is the poetry it presents, but the music is dismissible – odd then that almost every track indulges in a one-minute instrumental fade after the last line of the lyrics is delivered. That the last sense impression of each track should be not the quiet, disturbing, remarkable words of McBryde, but a loop of sequenced basslines seems to be somehow missing the point. McBryde's words are strong, deftly placed and evocative. They should be at the forefront of this collaboration, but instead it's the less-than-remarkable music that makes the strongest impression, dissipating the power of the poetry on offer.

Excerpts from Teach Yourself Atomic Physics by Phil Norton
2001, Stuff Done With Words, approx $8.00
PO Box 716 Belgrave, Vic, Australia 3160

'So, this means, of course, inevitably,/Christmas at your place, again.'

Phil Norton is a veteran of the spoken word, and as such a lot of the work on offer here bears the marks of the spoken word piece: litanical construction, a loquacious tone and a strong punchline sensibility. These are all pieces that work well in performance. On the page, however, there's a slight feeling of a lack of precision. The humour and taste for the unusual that Norton exhibits, however, manages for the most part to encourage the reader to overlook this weakness.

This is a beautifully-designed book, featuring collages of science textbook material interspersed among the poems, and an appendix explaining the basic idea behind each concept addressed in the poems. Delving into the actual poems, however, reveals that while there's a lot of science in the titles, most of the actual poems are essentially riffs on the names of the concepts rather than explorations of the metaphorical possibilities of the concepts themselves. The poems work best when their metaphors map closely onto the concept under consideration. This happens a few times, as in the sexually charged 'Interference by Observation', which considers the dilemma facing a peeping Tom; in 'The Strong Force', which uses the force that holds atoms together as a metaphor for a dysfunctional family; and in 'Speed of Light', which explores the nature of thought and memory. On the whole this is a beautifully-rendered collection that's playful and inquisitive, and which boasts two or three superb examples of the successful merging of two traditionally disparate languages.

Beware the Balsa Chair (number one) by Ebony Truscott
2001, self-published, approx. $5.00
PO Box 5067, Brunswick North, Vic, Australia, 3056

'The house was lit up, as bright and saddening as a 24-hour florist.'

A gentle and charming illustrated collection of meandering writings, mostly poetry but some prose as well, concerned with the minutiae of everyday life in inner-city sharehouses: eavesdropping neighbours in the flat above, moving house, irritating housemates, childhood reminiscences and old boyfriends. Truscott also occasionally delves into the world of surrealism with pieces like 'The Museum of Bedrooms' and 'What Does it Want', the latter being about a cursor that embeds itself in her body. There's an absent-minded, stream-0f-consciousness feel to Truscott's writing, making it an easy read. Something to keep on the bedside table for late-night-flicking through.

Humans, Animals & Objects by Edward Burger
2002, self-published, $2.00

'pit pat/yip yap/yop yop yop/plat form/cow form/the 'L' in pop'

As the subtitle suggests, this is a collection of 'odd &/or experimental stories poetry prose-poems & illustrations'. It would be easy to categorise all of the work in this book as nonsense, but if that's the case it's a similar kind of nonsense to the nonsense that established the reputation of writers like Edward Lear, Lewis Carroll and Spike Milligan. A few examples are probably pertinent.

1) Witness the cutup sensibilities of 'Humans-like': 'Chimpanzee have loving for families, grooming and ape-talking everyone with there own language.'

2) Behold the linguistic games of 'Strange Signs': 'I could only suppose that, since breaking wind was a term used to describe the act of expelling gas from the anus, then to break glass must mean to expel glass or glass-gas from the anus.'

3) Revel in the pure creative strangeness of 'The Loathsome Song', which comes with its own musical score: 'I was in a tram, full of geniuses? no, it was a wagon? a cart, full of livestock and vegetables?'

While there's no denying the compelling strangeness of Burger's writing, what makes it so worthy of note is that each piece of writing is possessed of its own internal logic, which Burger applies consistently throughout. It's not so much that he's just being weird because it's fun to be weird (though it is fun), it's more that he is continually coming up with new rules to apply to his writing. Burger's work is not like the work of pseudo-surrealists and pseudo-experimentalists, who simply blurt it all onto the page without further consideration. Humans, Animals & Objects is a fine-tuned machine, a Rube Goldberg of a book filled with hidden mechanisms and odd contraptions all working toward a single goal.

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About Adam Ford

Adam Ford lives on unceded Dja Dja Wurrung Country in the Central Victorian town of Chewton. He is the author of the poetry collections Not Quite the Man for the Job and The Third Fruit is a Bird, the short story collection Heroes and Civilians, and the microfiction photoromance zine Science Fiction Barbarians in Love. Dance to the Anticlinal Fold, Adam’s self-guided spoken word walking tour about history and landscape, is available online. His poems have been published in Asimov’s, Best Australian Poems, Strange Horizons, Going Down Swinging, Overland, unusual work and Cordite Poetry Review.


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