Friday, December 31, 2010

So much to talk about...

Hello all,

Hope you had a great Christmas and that your New Years is equally wonderful. On Boxing Day our internet died, the line to the house is dead and will not be repaired until the 2nd of January - so no telephone and no internet at the moment.

The washing machine is still broken and I am typing this in an empty little laundromat in Paddington while my clothes wash; this is the slowest computer I have encountered in years. I type and then I look up and watch the letters slowly appear one after the other like old fashioned magic. It would be novel if it didn't cost $2 for 20 minutes. That is the price of half a load of washing... anyway, television tells me that laundromats are interesting places, interesting things happen in them. I had an idealistic, somewhat romanticised vision of what going to the laundromat was going to be like - I was wrong. I guess because the last time I needed to use a laundromat was in Paris and everything is romantic and wonderful in Paris. That and the fact there was a cafe next door and I just had coffee while I waited and it was an experience, not a chore.

Anyway, being cut off from the outside world I have been reading more than ususal, for uni and for pleasure. I finished the Hemingway novel, read a Graham Greene novel and a book of Charles Bukowski's poetry - excellent. Will tell you all about them soon. I also got Stephen Fry's autiobiography for Christmas! I have also been very diligently transcribing the interview also, more than half way through now. I will catch up when I can as there is so much to talk about.

Until then,
Happy New Year!!!
Love Fiona

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Garden of Eden...

Hope you had a great Christmas and Happy Boxing Day. I am still transcribing the interview and I am now more than half-way through Hemingway's The Garden of Eden. It is the kind of book that I don't want to read too fast, because I have no more Hemingway to read after I finish it. I need to track down some more. I have read: The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, The Old Man and The Sea, A Movable Feast, Men Without Women, Death In The Afternoon and now The Garden of Eden. (Which has recently been made into a movie).

There is a great quote in chapter eleven: "Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know." Considering Hemingway's end it seems somewhat prophetic; however, it is difficult not to read foreboding into the way Hemingway writes about death. I don't find him depressing though, I enjoy Hemingway immensely and don't want to run out of books of his to read. I need to find copies of For Whom the Bell Tolls, To Have and Have Not and his books of short stories. Do you have a favorite Hemingway work?

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas from Brisbane...

Merry Christmas from Brisbane, Australia! No snow here. Christmas Day is expected to be a warm-ish 26 degrees (78.8 Fahrenheit) with some rain.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Laurie Duggan...

I am busy transcribing an interview I was lucky enough to be able to conduct with Laurie Duggan recently while he was in the country, he is a foremost Australian poet, currently residing outside London. He was warm and friendly and answered questions candidly and was very forgiving of the fact that it was my first interview (ever!). Thanks to his professionalism, my lack of experience didn't seem to affect the quality of the interview which will be utilised as primary research for my PhD thesis. It was an exciting experience for me also getting to talk to him and he generously gave me two of his books of poetry and (is this too uncool?) - I got him to sign them for me!

It was a real delight to meet him and to discuss his poetry from his early career up until now. His latest book is Crab and Winkle, a great little book of poetry written in Duggan's wonderful journal/ collage/ I do this, I do that, style of writing. There are some good reviews on it here (Jacket magazine) and here (Australian Poetry Review). His writing is an ecclectic mix of so many influences, styles and models; I best way I can describe it is if you can imagine Ezra Pound and William Carlo Williams co-authoring work with Frank O'Hara, Jack Kerouac and Kurt Schwitters. That description pails into insignificance beside his actual work, but his works offer lovely observations, over-heard conversations, quotations from history websites and even graffiti, he combines moments, with reflections, questions, thoughts , etc. etc. to create a really interesting writing style that is all his own. You can also check out Duggan's blog.

I have a new found respect of researchers/ journalists etc. everywhere who transcribe recordings, it is a long, slow process; probably made more tedious but my made-up touch typing style, that can either be fast or accurate, but not both. Have spent a couple of hours typing up the interview and I am only seven minutes in - the interview goes for over an hour - this may take a while!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Man Who Hated Children...

I have just finished reading Christina Stead's 1940 novel, "The Man Who Loved Children". This was one of those reads born from guilt... why hadn't I ever read any Stead before now? Stead (1902 - 1983) was an Australian novelist who wrote at least sixteen novels and four books of short stories. Stead is described as "Australia's 'lost' novelist", partly because of her travels and partly because of her belated success. "The Man Who Loved Children" is considered to be her best novel and although it was published in 1940, it wasn't acclaimed a success until it was republished in 1965. Taking the 56th place of the 100 ALL TIME novels list, Time magazine described the book as:

"one of the most truthful and terrifying horror stories ever written about family life"

Stead had an interesting life, and lived in America and Europe from the 1930s up to 1974 when she returned to Australia, she wasn't published here until 1965. "The Man Who Loved Children" is an auto-biographical fiction, based upon Stead's childhood. The novel follows the social decline of a family, and the painful interactions between the estranged parents and their six children. It was remarkably well written, I was completely absorbed by the narrative, but it was very depressing and ultimately made me question humanity. She must have had an utterly horrid childhood, the father is based off her own father and the step-mother off her own step-mother.

Even though it was depressing, am I glad I read it? Yes.
Could I have put it down and not finished it? No.
Do I ever want to read it again? No.

It was like reading "The Sound and the Fury", mixed with "The Power and the Glory", but on speed. It makes Faulkner's Compson family look like the Brady Bunch and the children's misery in Stead's novel is almost on par to the misery the whiskey priest endures throughout Green's paradoxical novel. I have moved on now to Hemingway's unfinished, posthumously released novel, "Garden of Eden", so far, much less depressing... but only so far... What are you reading at the moment?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

I wish...

We went to the new exhibition at the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane today, 21st Century: Art in the First Decade. It was fantastic, very fun with lots of interactive art works, like the ribbon wall and the lego table pictured above. There were many other works that visitors could participate in and great children's activities, including a room filled with balloons, bird nest making, drawing tables and touch screen activities.

We saw Rivane Neuenschwander's installation called I wish your wish and I got a ribbon that said "I wish I could be invisible" and Dylan's ribbon says"I wish I could make a time portal" and he also picked up another one that said "I wish my family was normal."

I love the way galleries are curating exhibitions that are interactive and also cater for little ones. The exhibition is on until next year, so if you get a chance, it is a lot of fun.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Stolen Space...

Chris Stain ‘Grapes Of Wrath’
An Under Pressure Art Production ‘20,000 Leagues Under The Sea’
Alexander Korzer-Robinson ‘Inner Life II’

StolenSpace Gallery in London has an exhibition of book covers on at the moment called "Never Judge...?". A group exhibition in association with Penguin Books UK where artists were invited to create an original artwork for the novel of their choice the size of a traditional Penguin book (198 x 129 mm). A great concept for a show and some marvelous artworks also. Apparently the 20 Thousand Leagues Under the Sea sculpture/book cover has mechanical parts that move the tentacles - very cool. All of these images were found on the StolenSpace Works From the Show page, there are about a hundred more books to look at if you have the time!

PS. Happy Birthday Dylan!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Rivane Neuenschwander...

On Saturday the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) is opening its latest exhibition, called 21st Century: Art in the First Decade. There are more than 200 works by 140 artists, including an installation by Rivane Neuenschwander called I wish your wish. The work is based around an old Brazilian tradition, visitors select a ribbon with a wish printed on it and tie it to their wrist, when the ribbon falls off the wish is supposed to come true. I am really excited about this whole exhibition, but this installation in particular.

PS. We have moved now into the little old terraced house - almost all unpacked - great to be so close to the city, the university and Dylan's work. Loving the 1920s gas stove and the claw foot bath tub.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Classic Travel Writing and Smut...

Hemingway image credit

I am currently reading Immanuel Wallerstein's World-Systems Analysis: An Introduction, as well as Christina Stead's The Man who Loved Children. Which was a largely ignored 1940 novel by an Australian author; however, the novel won critical acclaim when it was republished in 1965 and subsequently made it onto the TIME magazines 100 Best English-Language Novels from 1923 to 2005. And just arriving in the mail box this morning was a copy of Ernest Hemingway's The Garden of Eden which was the second Hemingway novel posthumously (there have been many more) and it has recently been adapted into a film.

I have just finished reading Flaubert In Egypt translated and edited by Francis Steegmuller, it contains Gustave Flaubert's travel notes and letters as well as excerpts of his travel companion, Maxime de Camp, and his book Souvenirs Litteraires. They traveled from Alexandria to Sudan and back again (and then onto Palestine, Syria, Turkey, Greece and Italy - however these journeys are not recounted in this collection). I marveled at the various narrative voices, not just because there is more than one author, but because Flaubert is full of contrasts. He is so candid in his travelogue and so saccharine in the letters to his "dear old darling" Mother. Yet it is the letters to his friend Louis Bouilhet that are the most charming and informative; the letters are warm, familiar, honest and at times vulgar. He writes to Bouilhet about his brothel adventures, about the dancing women and the famous courtesans.

In one letter he writes about his visit to a Turkish woman in silk robes embroidered with gold, he tells Bouilhet that "This is a great place for contrasts: splendid things gleam in the dust. I performed on a mat that a family of cats had to be shooed off - a strange coitus, looking at each other without being able to exchange a word, and the exchange of looks is all the deeper for the curiosity and the surprise. My brain was too stimulated for me to enjoy it much otherwise. These shaved c***s make a strange effect - the flesh is hard as bronze, and my girl had a splendid arse."

Flaubert also shares tall-tales about public displays of coitus and buggery, with men, women and animals alike, that he has heard stories of and even a man dying of masturbating too much. For every drop of semen, Flaubert informs his friend, costs a litre of blood. Contrasting the sexual liaisons of Flaubert and du Camp are wonderful descriptions of the desert, the Nile, camels, stubborn donkeys and always monuments covered in bird droppings (Flaubert never fails to describe the way the white lines of the poo are wider at the top than the bottom the of the monument).

In 1849 and 1850 when Flaubert was making this journey, Madame Bovary was still along way away, he had so far had little success as a writer and Egypt was still being "discovered" by the West. Places like Abu Simbel were yet to be fully excavated and the Sphinx was still mostly covered in sand, with only the head and part of the neck uncovered, the entire body was yet to be rediscovered. This was a time of slave trading and cudgels (sticks to hit people with - Flaubert found these most amusing). And du Camp was busy photographing every monument he could, and was actually the first to photograph the Sphinx.

It was also a time when European travelers were able to behave in ways that would be unheard of today. For example, Flaubert writes of his adventure to a cave of mummies, where he walked over the bodies in the dark, breaking bones beneath his feet, and he took a foot as a souvenir. The foot went back to France with him and had pride of place upon his desk and apparently a well meaning servant even cleaned it up with some boot polish. Flaubert's companion took home with him two feet, two hands and a mummified head because he liked its hair.

So smut and European racism and barbarism aside, it is a wonderful collection of letters and reflections, full of history and colour. I enjoyed reading this book and I didn't struggle with the sexual nature of it as much as I did with the 19th century European world-view. The letters to his Mother are a delight - what she must have thought sitting at home waiting for him! - and du Camp's milder, much more edited reflections (he left out all of his encounters with women), corroborated the exotic nature of their travels together. It is difficult to imagine how little Flaubert and du Camp would have known about Egypt before their travels there - Flaubert was armed with a copy of Herodotus' Histories (written in 450 - 420 BC) - and they missed many of the sites now known to European tourists, simply because they had not been re-discovered yet. It really was an amazing adventure, even though Flaubert admitted to being bored often, I wasn't.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Friday Wrap Up...

J.N photographed by Christina

I have spent most of this week with my sister, as we come to terms with the loss of our friend. The funeral was on Wednesday, a Lutheran service with hymns, prayers, a choir and piano pieces. The music was beautiful, as was the eulogy, but seeing three of my friends as pallbearers, their beautiful manly faces contorted with grief, as they walked out of the church with the body of our friend, that was the most painful part. The friends and family stood collectively outside the church for one last prayer as J.N's mother touched his coffin for the last time and as the car pulled away and there was complete and utter silence. Then it rained, and the funeral party stood about in the rain, lost for a while, before finding shelter back inside the church or under awnings, no one ready to leave just yet.

When we did leave, "the kids" (J.N's friends), went for our own wake for him at a nearby pub, we filled a courtyard and stayed for hours, sharing stories, memories and condolences. And trying to understand, coming to terms with the finality of his last act and forgiving him. A moving scene; his university lecturers beside his ex-girlfriends, school friends, fellow artists and musicians and house mates.

Yesterday I spent the day with my sister again and our school friend Woody, who flew down from North Queensland for the funeral, he was very close to J.N. Woody has grown into such a beautiful man and it was wonderful to see him, and such a pity about the circumstances.

On a final positive note, we have found a little rental and been approved. It is an old little two bedroom terraced cottage right in the heart of Brisbane, built in 1873. A little run down, but has a lot of charm, cheap rent and a great location.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


Photographs by Christina

Some things defy understanding, some things the mind just cannot grasp because they go beyond our limits of experience, empathy, logic and reason. Grappling with such difficult things the mind just shuts down, thoughts become repetitive, circular and even pointless. J.N has taken his own life. There is no understanding it. No way of making sense of what happened.

He was brilliant, a musician and talented artist; a loved friend, brother, uncle and son. He studied visual art with my twin and we would go and drink coffee at his house that backed onto the university and he would be using the last clean coffee cup as an ashtray, so he would make you a coffee in a bowl or a jar, whatever could be found. Later he moved in with my sister in a little old Queenslander in Camp Hill, they lived in student poverty together, taught each other, shared, learnt together, loved each other. In all the years since, they always remained strong friends.

Not so long ago we all met for coffee together, he was my friend through her. We were in West End and sharing recent stories and adventures. J.N now missing a tooth but smiling broadly. He was at times erratic and frenetic, unpredictable, unfathomable, but always charismatic and engaging. He could draw elegantly and evocatively and also with the grit and sensuous line of Egon Schiele. He was the genius that we all thought would "make it", seriously, no one I know has ever come near the talent he had. He was the one that you thought people would be writing biographies on one day, and you'd be answering interviewers saying "Yes, I knew him through my sister" and "I thought he was brilliant". I remember the view from his rental in West End... all these memories keep coming back.

This is the email he sent me a few months ago:

Czech out Lydia Davis- good short stories. Nice translator. All round good read.
P.S- If you are still researching early bohemian Australian writers, I was befriended by Shelton Lea, who I never realised was a thing until the ABC interviewed him and the gaff-boys hung out and bought illicits off him during one of my archive sessions at his bookstore.
Shortly after, he died. I got sad, but anyway.
Congrats on the academic success- use it well. Be good

Well I bought and read a book of Lydia Davis' short stories and never had a chance to discuss them with him. And I knew that J.N had a history of mental illness and I would never have pegged him as a living to 89 in a nursing home kind of guy, but I never thought, and still can't believe, that this wonderful, talented, twenty-eight year old took his own life.

There was a 4ZZZ (radio station) tribute to J.N, start at 4mins 44secs - they played some of his songs.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Poetry @ Confit Bistro

Last night I went to Poetry @ Confit Bistro, a delightful little mediterranean/European restaurant in the Valley, where I enjoyed poetry with tappas and wine. Trudie Murrell was the first reader, Sheish Money played guitar, Graham Nunn read, as did Rob Morris, and then the highlight of the night was when the three boys all performed together. It was marvelous; Confit has a wonderful atmosphere, there was great food and lively conversation between readings. I caught up with a long lost friend, who though I haven't seen her for some 12 (!) years, it was like we had only spoken last month.

I also met new and interesting people and enjoyed the change of reading poetry by myself all day to seeing and hearing it performed live. It reminded me about something I read some time ago that Gary Snyder said when interviewed after Ginsberg died. He was asked what Ginsberg had taught him, and he said that Ginsberg had taught him the importance of poetry being read aloud, that it was meant to performed. Not much compares to hearing a poet read their own work.

Last night was the last poetry reading at Confit for the year, but it will start again in the New Year, so I will let you know when it begins again. It certainly is a great way to spend a Thursday night.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Short History...

I finished reading Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything and I really enjoyed it. I learnt new and wondrous things about the solar system, the search for the age and weight of the earth, how the elements were discovered, atoms, the use and abuse of lead, the current thinking about the big bang theory, volcanoes, clouds, evolution, cells, genes, DNA and the list goes on and on. 574 exceedingly readable pages about the history life, the universe and everything.

Bryson traveled extensively, read widely and in-depthly, and met key figures in many different fields to compile this eclectic, scientific tome. He writes with such wit and awe about these many topics and provides amusing side stories or back histories that textbooks wouldn't dream of including. As you may well guess, this isn't a text book, it is a layperson's guide to understanding a little bit more the universe around them and how we got here. Bryson is the first to offer some idea of what we (collectively) also don't know, which is refreshing. You get the sense that we hairless apes have come a long way in our understanding, and still have a long way to go; but in the overall history of the world we have been here only seconds.

Here is one of my favorite informative passages, with a wonderful quirky aside, the kind that it prevalent in the book. This is about DNA...

"... researchers performed some rather bizarre experiements that produced curiously unbizarre outcomes. In one, they took the gene that controlled the development of a mouse's eye and inserted it into the larva of a fruit fly. The thought was that it would produce something interestingly grotesque. In fact, the mouse-eye gene not only made a viable eye in the fruit fly, it made a fly's eye. Here were two creatures that hadn't shared a common ancestor for 500 million years, yet could swap genetic material as if they were sisters.

The story is the same whereever researches looked. They found that they could insert human DNA into certain cells of flies and the flies would accept it as if it were their own. Over 60 per cent of human genes, it turns out, are fundamentally the same as those found in fruit flies. At least 90 per cent correlate at some level with those found in mice. (We even have the same gene for making a tail, if only they would switch on.)"

I wonder who is working on switching on that gene? A tail would come in very handy at times. Suffice to say, if you are like me and interested in science, but it is not your field, this is a handy introduction aimed at the interested and confused. But beware, you may never look at the stars or even dust in the same way again! Bill Bryson, he is charming, witty and amusing and so easy to love; I am sure that is why more people don't like him.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Literary Vendors...

BellemeadeBooks visited the Maisonneuve website and made a quirky poetry find that I wanted to share because I liked it so much. Poetry vending machines! Read all about it here!

It reminded me of the book vending machines that I saw in Paris a few years ago - do they still have those? They were so much fun, with everything from classics to crosswords!

PS. Happy Birthday to my twin sister and me!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Instant-tea and the white abyss...

Robert Adamson

In line with my advice from my supervisors, I have been reading poetry daily. I have now read through six books of Robert Adamson's poetry: Canticles on the skin (1970), The Rumour (1971), Swamp Riddles (1974), Zimmer's Essay (1974) coauthored by Bruce Hanford, Selected Poems (1977) and Where I come from (1979). Adamson is a well established Australian literary figure and is probably most known for his poems that deal with his incarceration, his drug use as well as his friendship with the poet Michael Dransfield and being the editor of the New Poetry magazine.

As you can see, I have just started reading his back catalogue, and while my reading of his work has not been exhaustive, I have enjoyed the different approaches he takes to each book of poetry. In his early work he names his influences and pays homage to them, in stark contrast to the more personal, autobiographical poems in Where I come from. His list of influences are wonderful, from Rimbaud to Bob Dylan, Shelley to the Black Mountain Poets. Canticles was his first book of poems and I loved the poem "Your magazine husband"; here is part three:

I hardly see you these days
& when I do you have that

'ah, Rimbaud - you'll grow out of
him' look in your eyes.

Because I prefer silence, spooks
of fallen-heroes drift away

in sunlight, even Rimbaud disperses
like curls of hashish

on a draught - I have no sense
of seasons anymore, only

crumpled balls of typing paper
clenched in my fists:

I miss your cups of instant-tea.

Robert Adamson

How evocative and wonderful is that last line especially? "I miss your cups of instant-tea", so beautifully mundane. I also read today an interview between John Tranter and Robert Adamson from the late 1970s, published in Martin Duwell's A Possible Contemporary Poetry. Right at the end of the interview, Tranter is questioning Adamson about his approach to writing and Adamson says, "You know, writing has never been a great life for me, it's been a terrible task. I've had to use the small amount of self-discipline and everything in my power to say 'Look, sit down and write!'" Tranter responds saying, "I think most writers have felt that about poetry, and yet they keep on doing it." To which Adamson wonderfully ends the interview by saying: "Yeah... there's no such thing as a virgin white pages for me... it's a white abyss."

Free community Woolf lectures...

“…on or about December 1910 human character changed.” – Virginia Woolf
The School of English, Media Studies and Art History
is pleased to invite you to a UQ Centenary Ev

This event celebrates 100 years of the Humanities at UQ by exploring Woolf’s intriguing pronouncement.

What does her work tell us about what it means to be human? How does the study of the Humanities help us to investigate our own humanity? Please join UQ and international and national experts in exploring these questions.

Date: December 10-11, 2010
Venue: The University of Queensland Club,
Staff House Rd, UQ St Lucia.
Cost: Free
Please RSVP for Catering Purposes to by Monday 6 December

Schedule of Events

Friday, 10 December
Eleanor Room, University of Queensland Club

4:00-5:30pm – Keynote Address:
“Mrs Brown’s Body: Virginia Woolf and Human Change”
Prof. Melba Cuddy-Keane (University of Toronto)

5:30-6:30pm - Opening reception

7:00-8:30pm - Staged reading of Virginia Woolf’s The Waves
Adapted by Dr Tony Thwaites and performed by UQ drama alumni and current staff

Saturday, 11 December
Kathleen Room, University of Queensland Club

11:00am-12pm – Keynote Address:
“Creaturely Things”
Prof. Gillian Whitlock (UQ)

12:00-1:00pm – Keynote Address:
“Virginia Woolf’s Ordinary Humans”
Dr Lorraine Sim (University of Ballarat)

1:00-2:00pm – Lunch (provided)

2:00-3:00pm – Roundtable discussion on Australian Modernisms
Prof. Carole Ferrier (UQ), Prof. Veronica Kelly (UQ),
A/Prof Rex Butler (UQ) and Prof. David Carter (UQ)

3:00-4:00pm – Plenary discussion of what the future holds for
the next 100 years in the Humanities at UQ

UQ Art Museum
4:30-5:30pm – Floor talk: “Multiplicities:
Self-Portraits from the Collection”

5:30-7:00pm – Closing reception (UQ Art Museum)

Virginia Woolf and the Nature of the Human is proudly presented by the School of English, Media Studies and Art History, in conjunction with the UQ Centenary, the Cultural History project in the Faculty of Arts, and is kindly supported by the Brisbane Writers Festival, and Avid Reader Bookstore.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Ginsberg Action Figure...

I received an early Birthday present today - thanks Dylan! - something I have been wanting since I saw it posted about on The Allen Ginsberg Project last year. The Allen Ginsberg Press Pop toy figurine. Yes it is a little bit tacky and very kitsch, but what is not to love? The Ginsberg action figure (it's arms move) comes with a CD of Ginsberg live at the Knitting Factory in 1995, a little papercraft hat and poetry book covers. He is wearing his iconic glasses, fabric shirt, tie and jacket, as well as some real beads. What a wonderful pop culture homage to a modern literary master. I love it!

Ginsberg is a poet that I have loved and admired for many years. Last year I was able to turn this interest and passion into a Master's thesis. I researched Ginsberg and the Beats; in the process travelling to America, going to San Fransisco, Palo Alto and New York. Being a tourist and an amateur researcher in Public and University libraries. I spent a week reading through Ginsberg's archives at Stanford, I went to the infamous City Lights bookstore, the Beat Museum and visited many sites of interest. I met Peter Hale from the Allen Ginsberg Project in Ginsberg's last apartment. I met author Jonah Raskin for breakfast in San Fran. I posted home boxes and boxes of books, DVDs, CDs and a signed (by Ginsberg) Holy Soul, Jelly Roll boxed set.

From America I went to the UK, and while I was there I went to two William S. Burroughs' exhibitions in London, and took a train out to Birmingham University to see Kerouac's On the Road scroll which was at the time on a world wide tour. I read everything I could find about Ginsberg, Kerouac, Burroughs, Snyder, Corso, Hunke, Carr, Cassady, Ferlinghetti and more. I poured over books of poetry, journals, letters, biographies and autobiographies. I read about other poetry movements and related American writers. I read Whitman, William Carlos Williams and Ginsberg's other influences, like Pound, Crane and Blake (and more). And then I wrote, and wrote and drafted and edited and rewrote and pulled it all together into a thesis. I received first class honors for the thesis and subsequently I was accepted at the University of Queensland to do my PhD on Australian poetry of the 1960s and 70s. Lucky me!

Suffice to say, doing a thesis on Ginsberg was an incredible journey and it was an amazing year spent reading and writing while teaching art full-time in a High School in regional Queensland. As a side affect of the thesis, I have perhaps one of the best Beat libraries privately owned in the Southern hemisphere, as well as an ongoing passion for all things Beat and Ginsberg related. I am also lucky enough to have a partner who has endured all things Beat and poetry, study and work for the last few years and encourages me (still!) by buying me a Ginsberg toy for my Birthday on Tuesday! What a great present, don't you think?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Grey's Philosophy...

Yesterday for UNESCO World Philosophy Day I went along to a lecture at the University of Queensland, given by the philosopher William Grey, entitled "What does it mean to be a Philosopher?" I enjoyed the lecture and I wanted to share it with you.

Grey started off with an overview of the history of philosophy and name checked the philosophers from the Ionian Enlightenment: Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes, Herclitus and Anazagoras, with some information on each. As well as the Eleatic Metaphysics: Parmenides and Zeno and the Golden Age of Classical Antiquity; the philosophers most would be aware of: Scorates, Plato and Aristotle and so on through the Renaissance and nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

He also spoke about "why philosophy" and gave a wonderful list of whys, I only manged to write down a couple. But he argued that even if our needs were all met (for everyone, everywhere) we would still need to examine what sort of society we wanted and what sort of lives we wanted to live. Philosophy frees the mind from prejudice and promotes skepticism about dogmatism. He provided wonderful quotes by various philosophers including; "Philosophy is an activity that uses reasoning and rigorous argument to promote human flourishing." - Epicurus.

Grey went on to talk about the idea that one of the roles of philosophy is to address foundational value assumptions and that we need to do this with the environment. We are living unsustainably and he argued that the future isn't a predetermined destination to which we travel, the future is creation, not discovery. In other words, we can still make a difference. He spoke about ethical eating, population levels, the use of fossil fuels and reevaluating the social models we live within. He used this wonderful quote about climate change from a scientist, "The climate is an angry beast and we are poking it with sticks."

But Grey also talked about existence. Why do human exist is a fundamental question in philosophy; Grey says, they exist for the same reason as whales and lions. Does life have meaning? Another key question, Grey says, life is devoid of meaning, except that which we make ourselves. So life has no meaning? Yes, life has not meaning, but it does not mean an individual life has no meaning. Sounds pessimistic? Well, we live in an age of epistemological privilege. We ought not be pessimistic or optimistic, Grey says, rather we should be utilise rational skepticism.

One of the aims of the UNESCO Wold Philosophy Day is to inspire public discussion, I believe that William Grey's lecture certainly did that. The question time at the end was lively and continued outside with wine and cheese. What I got from the day was a feeling that we all need to live a little more philosophically, in this capitalist consumerist society in which we dwell, and reconsider the very things we hold as "normal" that are in fact very detrimental to ourselves, our environment, and our world.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Thesis Update...

I went and saw my supervisors yesterday and they were both happy that I had a full draft of the Prospectus complete - that I can now ignore until next year - and wished me to get into reading more poetry now that the Prospectus is out of the way for the time being. They said, spend your days reading poetry and your nights reading theory, what a prescription! Some times I have to pinch myself that this is my "full-time job" at the moment! I feel pretty lucky, although I know others would hate to be back studying full-time and tell me that regularly, but I love it!

I have been reading poetry today and writing more, up to 4 100 words, but the word count probably won't move for a while now that I have orders to read poetry. I photographed the poor old books of poetry (above) and they look pretty sad, but I like to think they are just well loved and well traveled!

PS. Tomorrow (18th Nov) is the UNESCO World Philosophy Day, there are activities planned around the world. Even if you can't get to one, sounds like a nice excuse for a nice wine or coffee and some reflection with a friend or a loved one. The lecture I am attending asks "What does it mean to be a Philosopher?"; this could be a good starting question for a philosophical coffee date!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Singing In The Rain...

Oh, our engagement photographs are on the photographers blog! The wonderful Lizzy C took our photographs last month as a sort of pre-wedding-getting-to-know-you shoot. There are some wonderful and embarrassing photographs of us (who actually likes to see photos of themselves?), but I think they are great! Especially considering the conditions - it was pouring through the shoot - if you look carefully you may just see our wet hair matted to our faces! Lizzy was bold and brave and photographed from beneath an umbrella that her beautiful husband was holding aloft for her and only managing to get her wet occasionally. It was a lot of fun, thanks Liz and Dave for a great afternoon and some wonderful photographs!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Word Count...

Although not including my Prospectus, which is already 5 500 words, I have written the first 3 000 words of my thesis! I have begun chapters one and two, writing about Pascale Casanova and her theory in The World Republic of Letters and defining terms and key concepts like "world-systems theory" and explaining how Marx fits into it. First 3 000 down, does this mean I get wine now? Only 57 000 more to go!

Also reading (and still enjoying) Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Movie About a Poem...

Yes, we went and saw Howl last night at Palace Centro in the Valley for the Brisbane International Film Festival. It was a film about a poem, one of the most famous poems of last century by one of its greatest poets, Allen Ginsberg.

There are many, many reviews of this film: IMDB, Film Journal International, Current Movie Reviews, The Guardian, Film School Rejects, Rotten Tomatoes, Tiny Mixed Tapes, and to name just a few of the hundreds out there. I have also read a lot of the reviews posted The Allen Ginsberg Project blog.

What I take away from reading the reviews and seeing the film is how much people love Ginsberg and his poem and how much they didn't enjoy the animation within the film. The split narrative device utilised within the film enabled a whole reading of all parts of the poem, while cutting to a Ginsberg interview years later, as well as the obscenity trial that took place. We see the poem being read at the Five Spot Cafe and we see an animated version of much of the poem also.

Some reviewers loved the animation, but most didn't. There were other complaints about not seeing enough of other Beat writers etc. but I didn't feel that that was a problem given the narrow scope of the film. It wasn't clear that Ginsberg was actually in Paris when the trial was on and it wasn't clear when the tape recorded interview was taking place, but if you want to go and see a great documentary on Ginsberg then get hold of a copy of The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg. It is fantastic and covers his life and career in detail.

It is great that a film has been made like this, a film about a poem and a great poet. A film that introduces the Beat Generation to other generation (especially outside of America) and that speaks of the power of art, imagination and performance. It is a film certainly worth seeing, wonderfully filmed, entertaining and thought provoking and who knows, you might even love the animated sequences!

Friday, November 12, 2010

New Books for a New Adventure...

In light of our planned adventure to the Middle East, I have been collecting some related reading materials! The wonderful Gustave Flaubert's Egyptian travel writing collected in Flaubert In Egypt: A Sensibility on Tour, the essential travel guide for the Middle East, the father of history - Herodotous - and his The Histories and finally Ryszard Kapuscinski's Travels with Herodotus, a book of travel writing informed by dear old Herodotus. A little, but I think wonderful, collection thus far.

I need to get a copy of One Thousand and One Nights to add to the pre-travel reading collection - any other suggestions? We are going to Turkey, Egypt, Syria and Jordan and I have a year to read up!