you dress young but then you doubt it take a look at the band & think who are these idiots? you remember dressing young & feel slightly allergic to music while all around you (idiots! fawning over you & new order yes now i remember the way you dressed when you were younger (although not as young as your sister was the night you accompanied her to bikini kill at the wollongong youth centre (would 'chaperoned' be a better word? you remember kathleen hanna shoving an old-school telephone down the front of her undies you remember what it felt like to feel old as cool blasts of chill-wave air smacked your face head- on ... you were too old to remember the proton energy pills but nevermind i mean forget it i saw the future in a room full of moshing girls & the minor threat of sk8rs hanging outside (bored boys who told stories about sk8tn & shit (did they also dress young - you betcha (of all people! you grow old, you grow old you shall trade in that dud album by bob mould for a second-hand copy of theatre of gnomes who knows shakedown’s finale like me (i’ve seen spew coming out of a port kembla sky it’s just steam some idiot once claimed (yeah there’s nothing polluting about it ... you grow old but continue to dress young like some fifty-year-old drunk wearing okanuis extra bitter still got it still yearning for that clayton’s moment (whatever it was - nevermind redux dress young grow old & die smiling
Never thought I’d use these four ‘terms’ in the same sentence but there you go – if life was a Venn diagram, there are several shaded areas in which me and neenish tarts would intersect.
For those who’ve been living under a rock for the past century or so, a neenish tart (see picture above) is a delightful Antipodean invention featuring a pastry base, jam and cream filling and distinctive, two-coloured, almost-yin-and-yang-style icing. It’s the kind of cake you’ll find in any halfway decent country town bakery, and one that (courtesy of my mother’s fondness for them) I’ve developed a fair hankering for over the years. Matter of fact, I could murder a neenish tart right now.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, Wagga Wagga. It must have been over a year ago that the Booranga Writers’ Centre in Wagga Wagga, Australia (publishers of the magazine FourW, in which I’ve had a few pieces published over the years) put out a call for poems to be displayed on bus shelters in the town. The call for works immeditely ‘piqued’ my interest, as we say in the industry, as I’d spent a fair bit of time in Wagga Wagga as a young grasshopper, either driving through or else strapped into a dentist’s chair.
While my memories of Wagga are not all fond, I wrote three poems and sent them off. The first one (brace-face) was about getting braces in Wagga Wagga. The second one (“Riverina”) was about playing Aussie Rules in Wagga. And the third poem, the one they accepted, was about a neenish tart. It’s called, surprisingly enough, ‘neenish tart’, and for the benefit of all non-residents of Wagga Wagga, I’ve pasted it below:
There used to be this cafe around here
somewhere – maybe it’s still going, do
you know the one I mean? You could buy
a good neenish tart there, with inch-thick
pastry and an ooze of too-sweet jam. Then
there was cream they must have laced with
sugar and icing to die for. I used to live in a
town to the north of here, it doesn’t matter
which one. What matters is the neenish tart,
the one my mum used to buy me whenever
we drove through Wagga Wagga on our way
home from time trials or footy, it depended
on the season. That tart always tasted good.
I especially loved the icing, it reminded me of
yin and yang. I wonder if it’s still there. One day
I’ll come back and walk down the main street,
ask a few people if they remember the place.
Maybe you do?
The sentiments in this poem almost make me feel a little bit teary now – I remember the taste of that neenish tart as if it was yesterday. Recently, I got an email from Derek Motion, the director of Booranga, informing me that
While I unfortunately won’t be able to make it to the launch, the idea of a bus tour sounds like a great one and I really wish I could be there. As a kind of substitute, Derek sent me this photo of the bus shelter where my neenish tart poem is currently living.
It’s almost like being there, don’t you think?
As some of you no doubt know by now, I’ve formally stepped down as Managing Editor of Cordite Poetry Review to make way for a new editor, Kent MacCarter. In this post, I look back on my years as editor, and pick my top eleven choicest moments from what has been a thrilling, exhausting and ultimately life-affirming rollercoaster ride of love and passion. Or something.
*wipes away tears*
1. Cordite 29.1: Haikunaut
I first met Haikunaut co-editors David G. Lanoue and Keiji Minato at a conference of the World Haiku Association in Ten’ri, Japan in 2004. We really hit it off and it was also a delight to meet up again in Sofia, Bulgaria the following year. Fast-forward to 2009 and the need for a Haiku-themed issue of Cordite became clear. What started out as a mini-feature blossomed into a collection of over one hundred haiku in English, Japanese and Bulgarian. Haikunaut was our first issue to feature poetry in non-Western scripts, and it remains one of my favourite Cordite issues of all time, not least because it has embedded the word ‘haikunaut’ in the English language – also (hopefully) for all time.
2. Cordite 31.1: Post-Epic
From the shortest of forms to the longest – Cordite is nothing if not consistent. Or binary. Or both. After guest-editor Ali Alizadeh slayed all comers with his selections in the Epic issue, we decided to switch things up, with a selection of Post-Epic poems written, a line at a time, by our readers. It didn’t take long for the resident Cordite commentariat to latch on to the idea and, within a short space of time, over one thousand lines of poetry had been written. Just wow.
3. Cordite 21.1: Robo
Okay so this one’s a little obscure; in 2005, Nick Whittock came up with the idea of a Robo-poetry competition as part of his job at the St. Kilda library. He and I acted as judges, and we published the winners as Cordite 21.1: Robo. As Michael Caine would say, “Not many people know that.” In any case, I think it’s a very cute little collection of poems.
4. Cordite 16: Search
This one is also going back a bit in time; I think it must have been 2002 or 2003 when I was a member of the Poetry Espresso online poetry mailing list. List moderator Cassie Lewis invited me to be poetry editor for a month, and I invited list members to send me poems ‘composed’ using search engines. The result was Cordite 16: Search. While I’d like to think this issue came out long before Flarf was even thought of, the truth is rather more prosaic. Still, I think it’s a really cool issue, with some amazing pieces, including Carlie Lazar‘s stone-cold classic, ‘A Prank Call to John Howard’.
5. Cordite 23 & 34: Children of Malley I & II
We knew we were onto something when in December 2005, just after the release of Children of Malley, we received an email from Jen Jewel Brown, one of the contributors to the issue, in which she said: “May I say that, fun aside, these poems respresent an enormous mind-fuck of the first degree? That is to say, they really really get me off. Poetic excitement continues, courtesy of all Malleys and their intellectual whirlpools, and the brilliance of Cordite for dreaming this up and editing it.” It’s probably the most fitting testament I can think of to the editorial genius of Liam Ferney, who originally suggested the idea and then went on to select some awe-inspiring poems. Of course, the fun didn’t end there, with a protracted series of revelations as to the identities of the poets in the issue, who had chosen noms de Malley such as Flannery O’Malley, Sylvia Malley, Ouyang Malley and my personal favourite, Ern Malley’s Cat. Five years later, Liam reprised his role as Chief Malley Expert with Children of Malley II. This time around, the speculation as to the true identities of the Children of Malley was even more fierce. Stay tuned for Children of Malley III in 2015!
Image: the cover shot for Children of Malley (2005) by Flannery O’Malley (aka Adrian Wiggins)
6. Haikunaut Island Renga & Zombie Haikunaut Renga
Around the time of our Haikunaut issue, something very strange and wonderful happened. Co-editor Keiji Minato posted a series of essays on haiku and other short forms including renga, and then suggested a special Haikunaut Renga with himself as moderator. Just as would happen in the Post-Epic issue, we invited readers to leave their comments on the post and Keiji would hand-choose each of the thirty-six verses required to make the renga. We were completely overwhelmed by the response: over 1200 comments were posted, and the resulting Haikunaut Island Renga remains a staggering testament to crowd-sourced poetry. While the follow-up Zombie Haikunaut Renga, with Ashley Capes at the helm, only attracted some 600 comments, that’s still six hundred comments. Come on!
7. Cordite 22: Editorial Intervention
It may appear by this stage that my top Cordite moments have more to do with my own role as editor than with anyone else’s efforts. While that’s certainly not true—and I’d strongly recommend you check out the full list of Cordite issues to see for yourself the depth and range of talents involved in the journal—when it comes down to it, the job of an editor is a fairly thankless one, and you’ve frankly got to take every opportunity to blow your own trumpet. This was the philosophy behind Cordite 22: Editorial Intervention, which featured a selection of poems by Australian and international poetry journal editors. Because they’re awesome.
8. Cordite 33.1: CC the Remixes
Our thirty-third issue was the first to be issued under a Creative Commons license, which was kind of fitting, as its title was Creative Commons too. We made the poems in the issue available for download and then invited contributors and readers to remix the words in whatever style they liked. Our guest poetry editor for the issue, Alison Croggon, read through all of the remixes before making her selections, the result of which was Cordite 33.1: CC the Remixes. I really enjoyed this issue, although I can’t really explain why now.
9. Cordite 30.0 & 30.1: Custom | Made
I have no trouble explaining why I liked this issue: I was thrilled to bits when joanne burns agreed to edit the issue, and in fact I can reveal that the day this issue was released, Cordite achieved its highest ever number of hits. Cordite 30.0: Custom constituted a stellar assembly of poems and poets, and Cordite 30.1: Made was the icing on the cake, with each of the contributors to the issue re-mixing each other’s works. You can tell I’m into the remix concept, right?
Cordite 32: Zombie 2.0
Including this fabulously weird issue of poems was a real no-braaaaainer, heh heh. Reprising Terry Jaensch‘s original Zombie issue, published way back in 2003, guest poetry editor Ivy Alvarez managed to creep out pretty much everyone who came near Cordite 32: Zombie 2.0. Did I mention braiaaiiinzz?
11. Cordite 35: Oz-Ko
Another no-brainer. Some might say that Cordite 35: Oz-Ko should be at the top of this list but I’m not that into numbers and, besides, life is one big circle anyway. That being said, if there’s one issue of which I am the most proud, it is Ok-Ko. Originally conceived as a straightforward selection of twenty poems in English and Korean, Oz-Ko ballooned into three separate issues featuring over one hundred poems (eighty of which were in both English and Hangul), a series of features and interviews, beautiful images, poets’ tours of Korea and Australia and (hopefully) a long-lasting sense of inspiration and exchange. Ever since first travelling to Seoul as an Asialink resident in 2005, I had harboured a dream of producing such an issue. My second Asialink residency in 2009, during which I met and interviewed Ko Un, only fanned the flames. The fact that we managed to pull off such a feat is down to the hard work of the editors, translators, poets and arts administrators involved in the project. The same can be said for my time as Cordite’s editor. I seriously don’t think I will ever be involved in such an extraordinary adventure again.
*gives up trying to wipe away tears, looks back with pride and amazement instead*
Naturally, with over two thousand posts published on the Cordite site since I became editor in 2001, there is an awful lot of untold content that is not covered by this quite arbitrary Top Eleven. You can check out the Simply the Best: Cordite’s Top Thirty Posts for 2011. If that’s not enough, why, just click on a random post. What have you got to lose?
Words are bullets. Poetry is code.
Even if Player One’s ‘Space Invaders’ was the only song to have ever been written and produced in Australia, I’m pretty sure I’d still die a happy man. This stone-cold classic hit the charts in 1980 (although it was released in 1979), and has been ingrained in my consciousness ever since. The video for ‘Space Invaders’ is also very much of its time, complete with special effects intended (I think) to resemble light sabres, kooky little space invaders frog-marching across the screen and a whole stack of dry ice.
If you check out the track on Youtube (double bonus points for the 5:50 12″ remix), you’ll see a link to a bizarre (but touching – the author of the site has now passed away) web page devoted to interpretations of the lyrics to ‘Space Invaders’. Not that there’s a whole lot to interpret, actually. Sing this with me:
Space Invaders ooooooooooh
Of course, there are more complicated lyrics to ponder. The following ‘explanation’, from the same page, should set even the vaguest of minds straight:
I see another pale sunrise
(This probably refers to those crazy people who stayed up all night playing)
Surrounded by soldiers, glued to-the screens,
(Meaning all the other space invaders players in the arcade)
Hold back the invaders, their infernal machines.
(“Player One” is getting sick of the repeated gameplay and wants to stop but can’t. The Infernal Machines are the arcade cabnets (sic))
We fight to survive,
Running to stay alive
Our bodies aching and tired
There’s nowhere to hide
Our cover’s been blown away
(There are no more of those green base things to protect your laser, and everyone is tired from playing the game)
They’re closing in on me
Dark forces cold and unseen
Oh my hip pocket nerve, is aching again
I must go back in and fight it out to the end
(He is starting to ache from standing up and bent over playing Invaders)
Just though (sic) this would help.
Equal parts late 1970s disco, pre-Bronski-Beat falsetto and Kraftwerk motorik chug, there’s something goofily brilliant about the whole thing, including a virtually two-bit song structure that makes me crave those early arcade games – Moon Patrol, Galaga and the rest.
Indeed, I’ll take my cheesy analysis one step further by stating that without ‘Space Invaders’ there would have been no ‘Great Southern Land’ (the sound-effect from which is very similar to one of the Space Invaders sounds).
But seriously, I just thought I’d post this number in honour of Invasion Day (previously known as Australia Day), because given the events of today in Canberra in connection with the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, the idea of invasion is clearly still very poignant.