포악: Atrocity

Imagine a city with no streets 
     but networks of amputated limbs. 

An officious city of criminal investigations 
     and inquests whose soul is a square of cheap, 
     grey carpet 
          and a water dispenser. 

The tinkle of pachinko, 
     the sudden sirens of attack. 

Those women with the hand bills, 
     so stubborn and intent upon their mission, 
     invading the bodyspace of the factory workers like an influenza. 

Sheets of steel carried by a dozen men at a time 
     towards the railhead. 

Rain in bursts of noise upon their heads. 

Somewhere there is a map of the city's improvements 
     but no one I speak with has seen it. 

Wheelchair-bound ladies protest at 
     the new constructions rising up around them 
          in terrifying spirals. 
     No-one is allowed to see them. 

Behind their riot shields, 
     the policemen are only boys. 

Some of them wear white sneakers, 
     as if they have been called in from basketball practice. 

Sleeping street people 
     curled up like scraps of paper 
          on the subway stairs, 
               trusting that the spirits will protect 
                    their small change, 
                         their street salaries. 

Mandarin peels in the gutters. 

Sewer smells that hit the face like a nervous pigeon, 
     the frightful proximity of disease. 

A hollow city, 
     stained with sad skirmishes 
     and pickled fistfights. 

Gouged-out eyes that speak. 

Tables hoarded under orange shelters. 

Old men dancing in parks for citizens, 
     while other citizens peer out at the sky 
     like lost kittens in bamboo. 

Squeals. 

     Drums. 

          Discarded cloths, 
               blood-stained. 

News of another separatist attack filters through 
     stale cups of coffee, 
     cigarette butts neatly stacked like bullets. 

A simulated odyssey through virtual historical battles 
     gains popularity in the parlours. 

No one speaks of it; 
     these things require no advertisements. 

Beware the reconstituted cutlets of crumbed meat:
     that way annihilation lies. 

Pull back the tarpaulin to reveal today's wares— 
     a rack of twisted and burnt squid, 
     dried suckers and flattened jerky. 

Remove hospital identification barcode. 

Shoulder arms.

대담시: Audacity

Signage advertising a PC Bang (Internet gaming room) in Jongno, Seoul (2005).
City of burnt grass and black limousines. 

City of nudes and spider lilies, 
     where the grass stands up even though it is on fire, 
     whistling a harvest tune. 

By the railway lines, 
     entropy rules: jagged weeds 
     and mystery melons scramble for space, 
     riddling the rails, 
     disguising the sleepers with their fantastic tendrils. 

Like a smoker's signal, 
     brave and futile. 

Trains slice these ribbons into tendons, 
     timetabling history, scattering seeds, 
     accelerating some abstract chaos. 

Trampled soccer balls like snakeskin or leather on the shining road. 

Dressed as inspectors, 
     we climb the stainless steel stairs, 
     pass the plastic clinic and the coffee mall, 

     then enter the machine room. 

Here, the rumble of traffic is merely a shiver in your bowels, 
     barely shaking the keys. 

Predicting story arcs is what it's all about. 

     Prisoners, 
          good deeds and friendships betrayed. 

The studios will be eating out of our hands. 

Privately, 
     we model alternate scenarios: 

     the prisoner escapes; 
     the can of boiled beef falls from the adjutant's hand; 
     a friendship is consummated in a bloody latrine scene. 

Here, 
     the streets are viewed as if through 
     the screenshots of an amateur photographer: 

     the perspectives slightly skewed, 
      casting one's eye off balance. 

Jets scramble overhead, but no one notices. 

The flags of a thousand federations 
      burst into the blue sky, 
      unfurling like false spring! 

The sound of trickling water consumes 
     bus drivers and cart pullers alike. 

Insanity is okay, 
     although mistakes are sometimes made. 

Usually, these thoughts disappear. 

Slowly, a city comes to know itself by 
                                            the bend of a river, 
               the argument of a steel canal. 

Behind us, mountains; 
     ahead, 

     cartwheels of conversation,                   

                                           opening.

PC Bangs (Slight Return)

>> Page not found. Viva!
>> Blissful and breathless in daylight’s profusion,
>> Brims of water and the morning.
>> Human city of bacterial plants.
>> Clothe me in the colour of my departure.
>> Dusted with a subway smear.
>> We will make stories from the pork and vinegar.
>> But the Imaginary Cities have been silent and sad for a very long time now.
>> This is your guarantee.
>> Zookeepers have forgiven animals for lesser escape attempts.
>> Alone, in this newest of love-hotel streets.
>> Driveways old and empty, bollards wrapped in multi-coloured wire.
>> Twenty eight times upon a time there was a dead city
>> A multicity referring and cataloguing itself again and again.
>> Odes and elegies, sung in minor keys.
>> For once I hear nothing.
>> Typical.
>> Strawberry soju forever.
>> The burning resin between us.
>> Lonesome peaks, jet-lagged.
>> They can be compared with other cities.
>> These are the times when you would like to run.
>> When will you cross that line thatched with straw?
>> Caught in the updrafts of belching subways,
>> I’ve turned my safety off, having no further use for disguises.
>> The city is full of us – fistfights galore.
>> Money strafes us all.
>> You.
>> Something tells me no one would try to stop me.
>> Splashing, exhausted, into a pool of algae and carp.
>> A city no one living in my home town has ever heard of, nor ever will.
>> Await the final outcome.
>> This little piggy stays home.
>> You’re not the only one praying for dawn.
>> Couples stroll under the avenues of greening trees.
>> Blast.
>> But their dreams – ah! If only you could see them!
>> Behind us, mountains; ahead, cartwheels of conversation, opening.
>> Shoulder arms.
>> Night comes, and the neon day begins. ——>

Seoul Redux, Asialink and PC Bangs 2.0

In the northern summer of 2005, I caught a plane from Frankfurt to Seoul to undertake an Asialink residency at Sogang University. This summer, I’ll be doing it all again, only this time my host for the residency will be the Korea Language Translation Institute (KLTI) in Gangnam.

I’m really looking forward to returning to Seoul. The four months I spent there in 2005 were really beneficial in terms of the amount of writing I got done, as well as the rewarding (if challenging) experience I gained while teaching in the Korean educational system.

This time around I’ll be doing something completely different, namely assisting the KLTI with the editing of English translations of Korean texts. And if that sounds like a bit of a tongue twister, you’re probably saying it right. I mean doin ir rong.

The KLTI is located in Gangnam, on the other side of the Han from Sogang University and Insadong, the touristic part of Seoul where I lived in a hostel for the duration of my stay in 2005. I’m hoping this time around to find somewhere in Hongdae or even closer to Gangnam itself …

The Seoul metro system, which I caught every day to and from Sogang University, is fast, cheap and reliable. It’s a great buzz to ride the metro at peak hour, and to see the fantastic cross-section of Korean society travelling together, slowly waking up. In that sense it doesn’t really matter where I’m staying anyway.

Seoul is of course a networked city in several other important respects. The city boasts one of the highest rates of broadband internet usage in the world; while at street level this excess of connectivity flows through the PC Bangs and via roaming mobile broadband networks. The flow of people and ideas.

In 2005 I spent a lot of my time in PC Bangs, probably too much time. I’m not sure whether I want to spend up to four or five hours each day writing in these places like I did then. I wrote about thirty poems (a selection of which were later published as Morgenland) and forty prose poems in PC Bangs.

I also took a lot of photos of PC Bangs signage and logos, of which the example above is possibly the most exuberant.

Since then a few of the poems, and several of the prose ‘Imaginary Cities’ have been published in various journals. In another respect however, these pieces now seem more like first drafts than anything else – dense, over-expressive, abstracted, occasionally unintelligible.

I’m looking forward to finding ways of building upon the ideas expressed in these early pieces, and it might be fun to see how many of the original PC Bangs I can re-discover – just as long as there’s a cold beer waiting for me in some shady beerhof afterwards.

Till next time, annyeung.

My poetry in the real world

It’s been a while since I updated my publications page, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been busy sending stuff out. Well, actually, I’ve been busy waiting for journals and magazines to respond to my submissions. All writers know this drill: in fact, I know of about 300 submissions to Cordite that I’m currently unable to respond to, due to our email being on the jitch.

Nevertheless, things have been happening. My (list) poem ‘new space seasons’ was published last year in FourW, the journal of the Wagga Wagga Writers Writers (or whatever they call themselves now). Editor for the issue was Derek Motion, whose selections were at once bold, engaging, eccentric and a lot of fun. Another list poem, ‘Travelling Types’, was published in the last issue of Overland to feature John Leonard as editor (an interview with whom will soon appear on the Cordite site).

‘Snowy’, a poem about the experience of working as a storeman over two summers in Wollongong when I was still a teenager, was published in the ever-cool online magazine Snorkel (you can read it here). I’ve been a bit lax recently in sending stuff off to online mags but hope to rectify this in 2008.

In other news, The Age today published my poem ‘Yer Morningness’, and in typical style, it is printed at about the size of a postage stamp. I don’t want to be too critical (after all, it’s great for a major metropolitan newspaper to feature poetry at all!) but could somebody please ask the layout designer to ditch the italics? Honestly, the poetry carries with it its own emphasis, and doesn’t need to be further emphasised by placing the whole fricking poem in italics. You can read an early version of the poem (in 13 point Georgia, without italics) here.

In less whingeful news, I’ve also got poems coming out this year in a variety of publications. ‘Rain Loop’ will appear in Meanjin, ‘Kerry’ will grace the pages of Famous Reporter, ‘De Kraai en het Paard’ is coming out in Going Down Swinging, ‘Nieuw Holland’ will be published in Island and ‘imaginary cities: capa’ will be in the next issue of Southerly. As far as I can tell, this will be the sixth or seventh imaginary city to find a home.

Now all I need is a poem in Quadrant so that I can retire from the poetry game in peace.

Finally, in prose news, I’ve written a review of Diana Georgeff’s “Delinquent Angel”, a biography of poet Shelton Lea, which will appear shortly in Overland. I’ve also written a rant based on my PhD thesis, entitled “Bonfire of the Vanity Presses” that should hopefully be appearing in The Weekend Australian very soon as well. Keep your eyes peeled for the Review section!