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.
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.
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.
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. Read an early version of the poem (without italics).
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!
Two of the poems I wrote in Seoul, namely “Hoju Bihang-gi” and “imaginary cities: saga” have just been published in the second issue of Peril, the Asian-Australia literary magazine. It’s a pretty nifty site, actually, and you can even rate the poems out of ten! Other writers featured in this issue include Michael Farrell, Christopher Kelen and Adam Aitken, plus a tribute to Lisa Bellear. It’s also exciting for me that another imaginary city has found a home – this makes five so far this year!