2012 Auckland 2: early Thursday

‘The Longest Poems in the World’, on the beach at Waiheke Island in Auckland Bay. Part 2. Early Thursday.

You can read detailed abstracts of all the papers delivered at this symposium

Thursday Morning
Facing: Helen Sword, Robert DuPlessis, photo by John Tranter.

Thursday 29 March: 9.15 am Welcome. Venue: Federation of University Women Suite, Old Government House

9.30-10.30 am session 1. wider deeper further. Chair: Helen Sword.

Jacob Edmond.
Jacob Edmond: Long, Wide, Deep, Heavy.

This presentation took the form of a visual and digital display or graphing of measurements and calibrations of long poems. Jacob measured and compared poems according to various dimensions including area, weight, file size, and hours, minutes and seconds of recording.

Pam Brown. Duckwalking but no guitar

Logged right in to a long poem called “Duckwalking a Perimeter”, the penultimate section of Kevin Davies’ «The Golden Age of Paraphernalia», my attention is riveted to fragments. Does it make sense? Does it “catch the interrogative”? “The Golden Age of Paraphernalia” was published by Edge Books in 2007.

Lucas Klein, David Howard, Ella O’Keefe, Andy Carruthers, Pam Brown, unidentified. Photo John Tranter.

Pam Brown is a Sydney-based poet, currently an associate editor of «Jacket2». Her recent books include «True Thoughts» (Salt, 2008), «Authentic Local» (SOI3 Modern Poets, 2010) and her blog is «the deletions»

Ya Wen Ho
Ya-Wen Ho. | is spliced with |

A kind of word association performance recitation, interrupted by one moment of forgetting the text, and by the fact that any word association performance must compete against the landmark example of the genre, the unforgettable performance by John Cleese on the Monty Python album “Matching Tie and Handkerchief” (“Tonight’s the night I shall be talking about of flu the subject of word association football. This is a technique out a living much used in the practice makes perfect of psychoanalysister and brother and one that has occupied piper the majority rule of my attention squad by the right number one two three four the last five years to the memory. It is quite remarkable baker charlie… ” and so on.)
See YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WwdYCX60GRk

In the context of the symposium, Ya-Wen Ho’s piece was more “poetic” and held far more contextual value for the appreciative audience; the Cleese performance is of course meant to be very funny, and little more.

10.30 am Morning tea

11.00-12.00 am session 2. landing the alien craft. Chair: John Newton.

Philip Mead, photo John Tranter.
Philip Mead. The poetics of reterritorialisation: John Kinsella’s West Australian Commedia.

“In his 400-page «Divine Comedy: journeys through a regional geography» (2008) John Kinsella takes Dante’s cosmographic epic and lands it, like a space ship, on five acres of family land on the outskirts of York, a wheatbelt town in Western Australia. How do readers (contactees) respond to this strange craft from another time and hemisphere? It seems to be made out of elements we recognise, but according to what kind of alien technologies? How do we decipher the rows of strange symbols all over it?” Philip Mead is inaugural Chair of Australian Literature at the University of Western Australia, Perth. Recent books and projects include «Networked Language: Culture and History in Australian Poetry» (Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2010), and «Teaching Australian Literature:» from classroom conversations to national imaginings (with Brenton Doecke and Larissa McLean Davies). Philip is currently working on an Introduction to the Literature of Tasmania.

John Tranter. The Anaglyph.

Here we go: from my loose notes: Poetry began with the long poem: the Mahabarata, the Upanishads, the Ramayana, and in Europe, Homer: the “Iliad” and “Odyssey”. These forms depended on memorisation and recitation (writing was not invented until about 600 B.C.) and campfire culture; with no movies, an epic will have to do to pass the long winter nights.

A factoid I remember from forty years ago says that the two cultures with the highest consumption of poetry per capita are Iceland and Macedonia. Well, they are/ were both sheep herder cultures, with long cold winters and no television. Of course you make up poems.

Alexandria and the Epyllion: Around 280 B.C. writing had been invented, and a great research institute was developed in Alexandria. Academic and scholar Apollonius wrote what he called a long poem, «The Argonautica»; in fact an Epyllion or short epic. Wikipedia says “The Argonautica differs in some respects from traditional or Homeric Greek epic, though Apollonius certainly used Homer as a model. The «Argonautica» is shorter than Homer’s epics, with four books totaling less than 6000 lines, while the «Iliad» runs to more than 16,000.” It was also written down instead of memorised. Most modern long poems are Epyllia.

I’ll quickly pass over Virgil’s «Aeneid»and the Anglo-Saxon Skald epics, and indeed Malory’s magnificient «Le Morte D’Arthur», because they don’t support my shaky thesis.

Here are some Romantic long poems: Shelley: “Prometheus Unbound”; Wordsworth: philosophy with a human face: “Recluse” (Including the “Prelude” (1850), and “The Excursion”) Byron, “Don Juan” (see Kenneth Koch, if you have time, I don’t), and my favourtie Matthew Arnold’s “Sohrab and Rustum” which I studied at school when I was thirteen: somehow Arnold contrived the ending in the form of a Cinemascope long rising crane shot. Who needs the movies? All these Epyllia are driven by narrative, but then, just as they were being born, the novel and the movies and then television took over and performed the narrative function they depended on much more satisfactorily.

Two John Ashberys, Photo by John Tranter. New York City, 1985.

And in the fragmented aftermath of the French Revolution, the Scientific Revolution, the Industrial Revolution and the Romantic Revolution, which were in fact all aspects of the upheaval of the modern, European society fragmented in all directions.

By the Twentieth Century, with Eliot’s «The Waste Land» and Pound’s «Cantos», we have longish poems that avoid narrative, which the popular novel did much better, and dealt only in fragments: indeed their subject is cultural fracture in every area of life.

Zipping on past Zukofsky’s “A”, avoiding narrative, or Kenneth Koch’s “Ko, or A Season on Earth”, and “The Duplications”, which revel in mad narrative; Frank O’Hara’s non-narrative “Seventh Avenue”, Ashbery’s discursive essay “Clepsydra”, and his even more discursive “Three Poems” — no narrative anywhere in there, so move along.

Let’s detour around Australia’s ballads and explorer poems, which are nearly all narrative: Banjo Paterson: “The Man from Snowy River”, “Clancy of the Overflow”, Kenneth Slessor’s “Five Visions of Captain Cook”, James McAuley’s “Captain Quiros”, Webb’s 1961 “Eyre All Alone”, Webb’s “Leichhardt in Theatre”, Douglas Stewart radio verse drama “The Fire on the Snow” (from Answers.com: “A verse drama by Douglas Stewart, was written in 1939, and published in part in the «Bulletin» on 13 December 1939. Produced as a radio play by the ABC, 6 June 1941, it was published with «The Golden Lover» in 1944. The play traces Captain Robert Scott’s Antarctic expedition from 4 January 1912, when Scott and his four companions, Wilson, Bowers, Oates and Evans, set out on the final dash to the South Pole, to the last entry in Scott’s diary on 29 March 1912. As the tragedy unfolds, the omniscient announcer traces the historic journey, whose glory the participants themselves are fated never to know. «The Fire on the Snow» is remarkable for its radio drama technique and for its skilful verse variations, which range from the colloquialism of the blindly struggling mortals to the solemn tones of the announcer reporting the progress of their fate.”). There’s also C.J.Dennis’s mock-heroic long poem “The Sentimental Bloke”, with its sly digs at «Romeo and Juliet». These poems don’t survive because (1) they go out of fashion, (2) they’re too long, and (3) you can’t anthologise them.

My Generation in Sydney 1965-1975: Apart from Michael Dransfield who, like the grasshopper in the fable, only ever seemed to live for the moment and write brief lyrics, many male poets attempted long poems: Martin Johnston “The Blood Aquarium”, Robert Adamson “The Rumour”, Alan Wearne’s verse novel “Out Here”, John Scott’s lyric sequence “A”, John Tranter “Red Movie” (1972, fragments), then “The Floor of Heaven” (1986-92, film noir melodrama narratives), then “The Anaglyph” (2006, lit crit with a human face). I could read «The Anaglyph» but it would take 48 minutes, as it did when I read it at a conference in Melbourne in 2008. Instead I’ll talk about it briefly. [Later!]