Tag Archives: Emily XYZ

The road ahead…

Last night at Confit Bistro will go down as one of the best gigs I have ever been part of. Straight up, I want to thank everyone who could be there (and everyone who wanted to be there). The energy in the room was sparking all night and the smiles beaming back from the floor shone brighter than the lights. And the performances…

Fern Thompsett brought the spirit of emily xyz into the room, with a stunning performance of her poem, Interview with Syd Barrett, Janaka Malwatta kept the beat going with his superb Jazz Man, David Stavanger growled like a dog in a storm and breathed like a dying asthmatic as he belted out Tom Waits’ What’s He Building In There? and his own, When the Devil Comes for Tea, Nathan Shepherdson took us on a T-Rex trip with his piece, Bolan Variations and Sheish Money spilled a little ‘Blood on the Tracks’; his versions of Simple Twist of Fate, If You See Her Say Hello and You’re a Big Girl Now, were unforgettable. To quote Bob, they twisted like a corkscrew threw our hearts.

So again, thank you… it was amazing to stand up in front of a room filled with people I love and do the thing I love. It will make the trip out to Blackall this afternoon fly a little faster. And of course there’ll be no phone or internet out in the beautiful west, so will be back with news early next week.

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Lenny

I’ve watched this city drown
twice in my lifetime
and the thing I remember most
is the politicians; how they mourn
our loss, clamber through the debris
proclaiming a new start for the wet masses.

Nothing changes.

Life, as it is, remains
watermarked, stories of how high
stretch up the wall.
You never forget what’s lost
and the smell, it never goes away:
the smell and the politicians.

***********************

This poem is based on a conversation with a family friend after the January floods here in in QLD. Lenny lost everything in 1974 and again this year, even though he had rebuilt at a level that was supposedly ‘flood-safe’. I decided to post this, as just yesterday, I received news that the towns of Vicksburg and Natchez are holiding their breath as the mighty Mississippi threatens to burst its banks. It sure has been a year of it… So say a prayer for the people who are under threat.

And a big thanks to emily xyz for also sending through this great clip of Little Brother Montgomery singing Vicksburg Blues. He sure can wail!

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Emily XYZ talks about her experience as Arts QLD Poet-in-Residence

Tomorrow night (Tuesday Sept. 21) is the launch of Emily XYZ’s legacy item and farewell party at The Edge, so whether you have RSVP’d or not, I recommend pulling on your disco boots and coming along. Full details of the event can be found here: EVP Launch

With Emily’s time in Australia sadly winding up, I asked her a few questions to get her thoughts on her time as Arts QLD Poet-in-Residence.

How has living in this beautiful city of ours influenced you and your writing over the past couple of months?

Australia generally is a more upbeat place than much of the US right now, especially SE Michigan, where I’ve been living lately. The housing crash, the Detroit auto industry implosion, and the financial crisis all hit the midwest particularly hard.  Australia is in a very different place economically than the US right now.  That alone is nice!  You don’t have the social rifts we are dealing with, either — all the terrible debris of the Bush years.  The US is so polarized right now that forward movement is impossible, and so things are at a standstill.

Being in Australia reminds me that there is hope for the world.  That may sound funny, but it is very encouraging to me the amount of consciousness, on a mundane level, for things like the environment — As a simple example, you have the half/full flush toilets everywhere, which do not exist in the US, I’m sorry to say.  There is also less poverty here, less desperation, and a LOT less gun violence.  It just seems like the place still has a soul, and still cares about doing the right thing.

So all that has a subtle but powerful effect on one’s state of mind.  You find yourself kind of “calming down” here.  I worry less.  Of course, I’m in a special situation as Poet in Residence — visiting artists are treated well — but even so, I find it a very pleasant, civilized place in so many ways.  In terms of Brisbane specifically, it’s an easy city to live in with many things that make daily life good.  Like the Riverwalk, which is maybe my favorite thing here.  It is so unique — I don’t know of any American town that has a walkway like that all along their waterfront!  And it’s so fun — to walk in the air, to see the beauty of the city and the river and the weather.  It just cheers me up every time I’m there.  Just a great thing to have.

So I guess to answer your question, I’m not sure how it’s influenced my WRITING yet — as that is a much bigger, slower-moving thing, an influence on one’s output — but I can say that being here has definitely improved my state of mind.  It’s given me hope.  I feel like maybe Australia is the next great standard-bearer of democracy.  It’s a “young” place in a way that the US is not right now.  You are not afraid to confront things and find answers, or at least take the questions seriously.

You have taken in plenty of poetry events during your residency, so how does the Brisbane scene stack up?

Very well.  There’s a very lively local poetry & writing scene, which I have really enjoyed getting better acquainted with.  There’s a lot to do and participate in if you are a writer, a poet, a spoken-word artist here.  And there’s room for more!  So people should definitely be starting new things, as well.  New readings, new workshops, new venues, new events, new approaches to presenting stuff.  You have to PUT IN to keep the thing growing.  Ask not what the poetry scene can do for you — Ask what you can do for the poetry scene.
 
You have been busy recording some of your new two-voice poems at the moment… what can we expect?

I recorded two new two-voice poems, “EVP” and “A Little Revolution” (which I wrote here) with no accompaniment, then asked two local guys, Darek Mudge (a producer & sound engineer who also plays in the band Disco Nap) and Matt O’Neill (a music journalist who also creates soundscapes; he works w/ a dance duo called Nostalgia) for remixes, which they very graciously did in a ridiculously short time.  I love the remixes, they are very different responses to the original poems but both very cool.  I think the poems are good, too.  “EVP” means “electronic voice phenomena” and is inspired by those recordings people make of background noise in haunted houses; sometimes you can hear hear strange, unexplained speech-like sounds and those are called EVPs.  Peripherally it’s also about confusion & loss. “A Little Revolution” is a fun song, I call it imaginary disco, partly inspired by the Commodores’ song “Brick House,” a funk classic.

Looking back on the residency what have been your highlights… What will you miss most?

The workshop, no question about it.  I’m pretty happy with the writing I’ve done here, but the workshop was the thing I most enjoyed.  It kept me sane and on track, and I will really miss that group of people.  The twitter poem, too — 90 DAYS IN BRISBANE  (@xyzpoem).  That’s been funny, coming up with a poem in 140 characters or less, every day since July 1, the day I got here!

I was also very happy with the performances Myers & I did, especially at QPF and at the Red Chamber during the Brisbane Writers Festival.  And the slam that night was also pretty wild — Been a long time since I was in a room that loud and lively!

Beyond that, I will miss you and Julie, and Pascalle and Ian.  And Ghostboy most of all.  You guys have all been so great. 

And the laksa at Wok Inn on Brunswick St., and the french fries at Burger Urge.  And caramel slices.  And murraya.  And Speedpoets.  And the walk from Story Bridge to the State Library.  And the Wednesday market at Queen Street.  And the roses in New Farm Park.

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Emily XYZ – new poems & her final Australian reading

Avid Reader’s (193 Boundary St West End) Poetry Month celebrations continue tomorrow night (Thursday September 16) with readings from Tessa Leon, Jeremy Thompson, Bruce Dorlova and 2010 Arts QLD Poet-in-Residence Emily XYZ. This will be Emily’s final reading in Australia in 2010, so make sure you are their to get your last hit.

Details are:

Date: Thursday September 16
Time: 6:00pm – 8:00pm
Venue: Avid Reader, 193 Boundary Rd, West End
Cost: Free
Bookings: Call 3846 3422 or book online at: http://www.avidreader.com.au/index.php?option=com_registrationpro&view=event&Itemid=0&did=86

Here are two brand new poems from Emily XYZ written during her 2010 residency to give you a taste of what tomorrow night will bring…

See you there,

 

 

motionless

 
those clouds are motionless overhead
it doesn’t seem possible
they sit in their white gold ness
unmoved by winds aloft
how is that turning force
suspended / has god told this
airspace position and hold
for a moment / is it an error?
for heaven’s sakes drift
in some direction / your
breath-held pause is most
unvaporlike / you’re not really
mountains, and you’re making
me nervous

 

 

climber
 

he likes to go up
he likes to climb
it’s in his nature
 
he wants to do better in life
he wants to see things from above
he wants perspective
 
the vertical is transcendent
ascent is musical
the ceiling goes underfoot
 
clouds obscure you
but I know you are there
 
I know there is a path, a plan,
an imaginary line in the sky
in the night stars a compass
 
a way in the chasm and the chaos
that must be taking you higher
even as it takes you away
 
rocks are steps that propel you to the top
the top is a place to visit
ambition in the abstract
the summit is relative,
you cannot live there
it is only a place from which you can see
further

 

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Why Poetry? The discussion begins…

Avid Reader (193 Boundary St West End) have declared September, ‘Poetry Month’ and to celebrate they are putting on some mighty fine events. The first of these is a discussion / reading taking place this Thursday night. To pick at the seams of the question, ‘Why Poetry?’ they have assembled Bronwyn Lea, Nathan Shepherdson, Ross Clark, Arts QLD Poet-in-Residence Emily XYZ and this Lost Shark.

Full details of the event are:

Date: Thursday September 9
Time: 6:00pm – 8:00pm
Venue: Avid Reader, 193 Boundary Rd, West End
Cost: $5.00
Bookings: Call 3846 3422 or book online at: http://www.avidreader.com.au/index.php?option=com_registrationpro&view=event&Itemid=0&did=80&shw_attendees=0

Avid’s monthly magazine is also brimming with poetic musings, reviews and other articles. You can download a copy of it from their website: http://www.avidreader.com.au/ but I thought I would post my article answering the question ‘Why Poetry?’ to get the discussion started…

Why Poetry?

Brisbane is definitely a bright star in the poetry sky, hosting major events such as QLD Poetry Festival: spoken in one strange word (August 27-29), The Australian Poetry Slam and the annual Arts QLD Poet-in-Residence Program alongside a number of regular events, including Brisbane’s longest running poetry/spoken word event, SpeedPoets. And now, Avid Reader are throwing a month long poetry party in September, featuring a panel of established poets (incl. Bronwyn Lea, Nathan Shepherdson, Ross Clark, Graham Nunn and 2010 Arts QLD Poet-in-Residence, Emily XYZ) talking about the importance of poetry in our lives and readings from some of the bright new things currently setting the Brisbane poetry scene on fire. So why all this interest in poetry? Well, to give you a short answer, I couldn’t go past this quote from ‘poet laureate of the down and out’, Charles Bukowski:

Poetry is what happens when nothing else can.

For me, what Bukowski is getting at here is poetry’s ability to embrace and elevate all that makes us human. When you hear it, you should be able to see, as if in a flash of lightning, the words crystallise, and if you are open to it, the poem will contain more than images. Poetry invites us to cast off habit and reconsider life with new eyes and at its best, as Emily Dickinson put it, can take the top off your head.

I strongly believe that enjoying poetry is as natural as drawing breath. As a boy I spent many summers sitting beside my father watching Australia’s great fast bowler, Dennis Lillee tear through various batting lineups. Each time the stumps would buckle or Lillee would throw himself into his trademark appeal, shouting ‘Howzat’, my father would look over at my brother and I and say, ‘that was poetry’. Of course my father did not mean that it was literally poetry, he was simply pointing out that Lillee’s bowling had the qualities one normally expects of poetry – grace, surprise, beauty, rhythm. My father was not much of a poetry reader, but he, like all of us, had an idea of what poetry is and should be.

We know this because poetry is not firstly in the words; it is there to be discovered in the current of the river, the rush of the street, the strange angles of a spider’s web, a home cooked meal. Our senses are bombarded with literally thousands of stimulants on a daily basis… poetry is about stripping this back and getting in touch with the things that really matter; finding the truth in the everyday.

When I tell people that I write poetry, a common response is, ‘I don’t really get it’, but the truth is, that is just a reflection of society’s needless mystification of the art. A poem is not an obscure code or linguistic puzzle, if it works, it will speak to you. But remember, it’s a matter of chemistry. Not every song you hear or film you watch will speak to you, likewise, every poem you encounter will not hit the mark, but don’t let that deter you, there is an infinite number of voices and styles waiting to be discovered and when a poem hits, it will cast its spell and make the mind sing; it will engage your imagination and draw you into its universe.

As there are a myriad voices writing poetry today, I thought I would ask a handful of the poets participating in the Avid Reader Poetry Month festivities to get their thoughts.

One of Brisbane’s new voices, Jonathan Hadwen offered this:

“…it’s the way thoughts line up in our minds, a way in which we finally make sense of experiences and situations that have been difficult to understand.  The real power of poetry is in the sharing, as by doing so, we pass on this understanding. Poetry has been around in one form or another since we have had the ability to think and communicate those thoughts, and will be around until we lose those abilities.”

2010 Arts QLD Poet-in-Residence, Emily XYZ responded with zeal:

“Poetry, like all art, is part of the human condition.  The reason people say they ‘don’t get poetry’ is because we are not usually called on to use our minds that way.  Quite the opposite:  ‘daily life’ generally requires us to dumb down and stay in the lower registers of what is possible for the human mind. ‘Why poetry?’ is a question that must be answered anew every few years, and yet the answer never really changes:  because it is resistance to misery.  Because it is a swing against dehumanization and an affirmation of freedom and possibility.  Because it makes jailer-minded people uncomfortable—and that really is something that can (ultimately) (maybe) change the world.”

And, John Koenig answered with a poem of his own:

“trembling under a love blue sky the thesaurus tree bears alphabetical fruit ripening and falling to be caught by slender feminine hands of faith held up in front of inquisitive gun smoke eyes with intriguing lashes curling over the words of sweet sorrow and joyful redemption making darkness and light fill the flowering iris with colour overflowing to flood the optic nerve becoming a raging river running along neural paths synaptic sparks jumping high and igniting the fire of imagination framing the question what does this mean poetry yes that’s right it’s magic”

The one thing each of these responses has in common is the passion and belief in which they are delivered. That is the power of poetry… when it hits, you are never again the same. So why not get along to one of the many poetry events happening in this fine city of ours or to your local independent book store and embark on your own quest to answer this question. The journey could just be life changing.

Look forward to reading other people’s responses to this question,

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In the Red Chamber

Just back from a cracking reading held in the gorgeous Red Chamber of Old Parliament House.

The evening opened with a reading from Ross Clark, who read a great new poem, The Death of Jazz (one to keep your eye out for). Next up were Emily XYZ & Myers Bartlett who totally nailed their set, opening with bill of rights: prologue, the whole room reverberating as they echoed, ‘You are called upon to deliberate those things which are essential to liberty.’ Never has a poem seemed so at home… every politician needs to hear this poem! They then went straight into the second part of the poem, Separation of Church and State. So good! Here’s a clip of them performing it at Cornelia St Cafe in 2008.

And to close the night, John Tranter gave us a selection of poems from his soon to be released collection, Starlight: 150 poems. His reimaginings of Charles Baudelaire’s poems from Les Fleurs du Mal (The Flowers of Evil) were a real highlight. I totally recommend checking out the selection Tranter has published on his website: Starlight Selection. His reading of Paradise was particularly mesmerising. Can’t wait to get my hands on this collection.

And now, it’s time for dreaming…

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QLD Poetry Festival Fever: interviews with Emily XYZ & Jeremy Balius

Well the street press are brimming with interviews with some of the artists who are just days away from turning Brisbane into the poetry capital of this country.

So for those people who can’t pick up a copy I have decided to repost them here. First up here is the interview with Jeremy Balius from this week’s Time Off Magazine:

A MAN OF HIS WORDS

The Queensland Poetry Festival takes over the Judith Wright Centre next week; HERE HELEN STRINGER talks to one of its performers, Perth poet Jeremy Balius.

The mention of spoken word poetry might conjure images of a smoky basement room filled with black-cloaked figures gently clicking their fingers in approval as a pale, malnourished, art school dropout woefully laments the demise of intellectualism in rhyming couplets and a dry monotone, but it’s a misconception that Perth-based poet and performer Jeremy Balius – soon to be in town for the Queensland Poetry Festival – is quick to dispel.
The reality, he explains, is a lot more engaging and evocative than the traditional “Beatnik berets and black turtlenecks” perception would suggest.
“Spoken word as a scene or an experience is a lot closer to what you would experience in theatre,” he says. “So the reasons for going to the theatre would outweigh the reasons for going to the cinema because the actual human emotion element is happening in front of you. That’s what’s going on with spoken word poetry. You’re experiencing it in real time; it’s happening in front of you. It’s a whole lot more engaging than the cliché back-room hokey perception.”
Originally from Los Angeles, Balius – who describes his own work as “more vehement and excitable than the usual” – came across spoken word through music: “the writing of it came from being heavily involved in music and being lyrically bent. The more and more you head down that path you end up coming to the end result which is poetry.”
His immersion in the world of poetry – aside from writing and performing he’s also ventured into indie publishing with Black Rider Press – has lead to his appearance at the Queensland Poetry Festival, an honour, he jokes that must be a “clerical error”. As he says, “it’s completely amazing that of the people coming from WA I’m coming up with Andrew Taylor and Andrew Burke, two stalwarts in WA. These guys are pinnacles in the poetry scene and that alone is a huge honour for me.”
While performance is obviously inherent to all spoken word, Balius is particularly diligent in delineating between printed and spoken poetry.
“I’m probably more militant on this issue than most people… It’s hard to separate myself from the performance aspect. When I read work that I’m going to perform bound within it is the delivery and the movement and the drama of it all and the personal engagement with the audience… It’s about being able to step up on stage and deliver and people just being so blown away that they’re actively responding; they’re so in the moment and not containing themselves.”
Indeed, he’s probably one of the few poets who can claim the dubious honour of having evoked a response so uncontained they’re forced off stage for fear of provoking a riot. Admittedly, the event in question occurred after a band Balius was performing spoken word with was mistakenly booked to play a Bhangra – a very specific type of Indian dance music – festival.
“It went sour so fast and people responded with such vehemence and youthful jubilee that quickly the pandemonium rose to where there’re guys starting to fight and there’s just complete chaos. We got cut after the second song.”
Thankfully, audience responses are usually more positive and rarely involve violent retaliation.
“My favourite response is not even a favourable one but I use it as my mantra. Someone came up to me and he said, ‘You should probably know that we don’t get people like you around here that often…I think I liked it but I don’t know if I should.’” It’s an apt mantra for a spoken word poet: I liked it, but I don’t know if I should.

WHAT: Queensland Poetry Festival
WHERE & WHEN: Judith Wright Centre Friday 27 August to Sunday 29

And here is a recent interview with Arts QLD Poet-in-Residence Emily XYZ from this week’s Rave Magazine:

New York performance poet EMILY XYZ tells ZENOBIA FROST about her residency at The Judith Wright Centre.

You could call Emily XYZ a punk poet – a brilliant spoken word renegade who’s been making words sound good for 30 years. Brisbane wasn’t even on her radar before 2006, when an invitation from the board of the Queensland Poetry Festival came “completely out of the blue.” The poetry community liked her so much that four years later we asked her back, this time as Queensland Writers’ Centre poet-in-residence – a coveted three-month stay in an apartment above the Judith Wright Centre to write and to engage with local poets and audiences.

But XYZ didn’t start out life wanting to be a poet. “I was in a punk band in my 20s,” she tells me, “but the band broke up. I wanted to continue writing lyrics – but I realised that in order to do that, for the lyrics to stand on their own, they were going to have to be really compelling.”

XYZ studied poetry in college (dropping in and out of a few degrees before dropping out for good), but found more inspiration in the music of Patti Smith and David Bowie than on the page. “Somebody lent me Ziggy Stardust when I was 17,” she muses, “and it just made sense to me – the whole idea of a concept album, something with direction.” So it was that words came to be “secondary to music” in Emily XYZ’s work. Rather than detracting from its poeticness (I hereby deem that a word), XYZ’s influences and aims culminated in a powerful, rhythmic style, further honed once she joined forces with performance partner Myers Bartlett.

I was very much a beginner when it came to poetry in 2006, and until then I’d found more solace in print than on stage. Seeing XYZ and Bartlett perform was just damn cool, and certainly made me reconsider the way I thought about the sound and rhythm of my work, even on the page – but their 2006 visit spanned a mere weekend. This time we have 90 days to learn from Emily XYZ. Weekly workshops at Queensland Writers Centre have been such a success that XYZ hopes to extend the series well into September. Her performances around Brisbane have taken her from Avid Reader to SpeedPoets to alongside Ghostboy & The Golden Virtues at Swallow & Exit.

“People actually care about the writing scene here,” says XYZ, putting Queensland’s dwindling arts funding situation in perspective. “In the US, there’s the Lincoln Centre and the Getty Museum, but that’s about it for funding. No arts organisation the size of Queensland Poetry Festival would be able to import talent!”

Since 2005, QWC and QPF have been making sure international poetry makes a zing in the lives of local poets through the residency program, and each writer has left a unique legacy. One of Emily XYZ’s major writing projects is an unusual venture – a Twitter poem called 90 Days in Brisbane. Dip into it for a daily taste of her vibrant work: that ride home after workshop is sweet / focus over, story bridge is like a carousel & judy glows at other end friendly blue in the dark.

Book a workshop through the Queensland Writers Centre: www.qwc.asn.au, or come and see EMILY XYZ at the Queensland Poetry Festival, August 27 to 29: www.queenslandpoetryfestival.com

And finally here is a link to another interview with Jeremy Balius in Scene Magazine.

The excitement is building…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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