QLD Writers Week Feature #2: Carmen Keates

Day 2 of QLD Writers Week and we are leaving the landscapes of Central QLD, to hurtle, full-on into the hustle of Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley, a place that has been a creative force in the life of Carmen Leigh Keates.

Carmen Leigh Keates: Fortitude Valley

I’ve lived in my unit in Fortitude Valley for about seven years. I’m in Harcourt St, widely known as Prostitute Laundromat Street, because of the well-known business on the ground floor of the Avalon Apartments up on the corner where this street intersects with Brunswick.

I’m 32. Ten years ago I moved into an old New Farm art deco flat down by the park with a friend from high school when I got a job around here as a production assistant (glorified receptionist, or ‘shit kicker’, as we liked to say) in a corporate video house. After a year or two, I realised I wasn’t taking advantage of the Valley. Living here, I could drink and then walk home; certainly my workmates were jealous that I didn’t have to run for the last train, but could just keep on enjoying the band. When I moved to Harcourt St, even closer to the Valley, I started reviewing bands for the street press.

Now, my time in the Valley is almost over. The Troubadour’s gone, and Ric’s has been bought by the Royal George… I have the same complaints as most people who love what music used to be in the Valley. Now, even the long-vacant piece of land next door to me has an apartment block that is just that – a block—it blocks my view of where I used to be able to watch the Ekka fireworks over the RNA showgrounds.

I used to keep a blog, a kind of diary about going out in the Valley, and I think giving a sample from it would be the best way to show what it was like, rather than trying to remember, as I sit here with no view, listening to a tile-cutter putting finishing touches on the white-and-aluminium units no Valley person will be able to buy…


Went to bed last night at about 11pm so I could get some proper sleep, but just woke up before at 4:49am and laid there like a dying horse until it was clear I should just get up.

Yesterday afternoon I went with my remaining $23 to see Spencer P. Jones’ 3pm set at Ric’s. It ended up being a 4:30pm first set, then another around 6pm, so in between 3pm and the start I bummed around drinking two slow beers (which went down like medicine – I’d really drank enough that weekend, but I had nothing else to do) and reading Vice Magazine. Then some of the Ric’s people I know from during the week turned up and we smoked like Iraqi oil wells all afternoon.

Beers are $6 so on my last bit of money I was $1 short but it was ok as there was a buck sitting there on the bar. I think Blake [the bartender; he often gave me triple vodkas for $4] had kept it aside when some dude bought a drink earlier and forgot to pick up his change, but then Blake swiped some of my fags, he said, to cover the dollar. What goes around comes around.

Spencer P. Jones [best known from The Beasts of Bourbon] was apparently in his second week of mourning for a dead friend, and drank messily but no more messily than everyone else. Naomi said last time he was there they took him to a burlesque show after his gig and he just sat there in the crowd, she laughed, “like a bored old guy”. I should point out how unsexy Brisbane burlesque shows happen to be at the moment; it’s just like a new kind of Tupperware party for some women. So clearly Jones displays impeccable taste even when wasted. Bravo.

The night before, I was watching ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ while sipping a big tumbler of scotch and marveling at Marlon Brando’s young body. How did that get destroyed? It looks invincible! (etc) and O phoned and said she would like to do some vodka shots. I had been watching the movie because on Friday I got a bunch of old films out in preparation for an indoors, virtually alcohol-free weekend where I could recoup, and listen to Radio National documentaries. But when O said “Are you in a staying home mood?”, I just said “I used to be” and we got to Ric’s just before 10pm, where she ordered like this:  “Vodka! 2 shots! No, 4 shots! No, 2 shots! No! 4 Shots!” and that about paints a picture of the rest of the evening’s drinking.

Ric’s was full of really young people so we went to the Troubadour where there was a Gram Parsons tribute, which might have been interesting if it had been interesting. It was hot in there so we hung around outside for a bit to get some air and when we got back we’d missed Jacob S. Harris, one of the few sets we definitely wanted to catch. Kate from Texas Tea was at the bar and I stretched out to tap her hand to ask when she would be playing and I realised she has the tiniest little thin white hands in the world. She has a big death-scythe of a voice so that surprised me. Anyway, turns out she’d just played one song with Jacob so we’d missed both of them. Shit.

O could no longer abide the bad country fashion efforts – they were really freaking her out – so we left and got home by about 1am, and stood around suddenly talking about involved sexual details for what must have been over an hour. O said “Why did we start talking about that?” and I said “I dunno. It just came out.”


Appearing Tonight

Down in the Valley Mall 
through the crowd’s Cyanean Rocks
there’s a corridor of bricks
with a high-protein glaze
and strings of lights all over it
like a calendar punctuated
with incandescent hangovers.

The tables are people lumps,
and everyone’s looking
for someone who hasn’t arrived.

A new phone number’s on the toilet wall,
the DJ ignores all requests,
and finally, the band comes on.

(A deleted poem from the draft of the verse novel Second-Hand Attack Dog.)


Carmen Leigh Keates received a commendation in the 2010 Josephine Ulrick Poetry Prize for her poem ‘One Broken Knife’. She has recently completed her MPhil in Creative Writing, for which she wrote the verse novella Second-Hand Attack Dog.

Carmen’s work will be featured in Brisbane New Voices III, which will be released in April 2012.


Filed under events & opportunities, poetry & publishing

3 responses to “QLD Writers Week Feature #2: Carmen Keates

  1. Once again thanks for the introduction to Carmen’s poetry.

  2. thanks for introducing carmen to us…a fine poem…and everyone’s looking
    for someone who hasn’t arrived….this is really cool

  3. I love that line too 🙂 I have a love-hate relationship with the valley and a thousand stories (which will remain in my head for now) – the live music scene was the best thing about that place (in it’s heyday) and having worked closely with the User Groups and the needle and syringe program in the main street (that side of the Valley is the not so good side of the place).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s