Australian Literature 1975 – 2000
(Pi O, Peter Oustabasides, Peter Oustabasidis)
(22 July1951 )
Fitzroy Brothel (Melbourne: Fitzrot, 1974)
Shade with Stephanie Bennet (Melbourne: Khasmik, 1974)
Emotions in Concrete (Melbourne: Flying Duck and Born to Concrete, 1975)
Street Singe (Melbourne: Privately printed, 1976)
P.O. Revisited (Sydney: Wild and Woolley, 1976)
Panash (Melbourne: Collective Effort, 1978)
The Fuck Poems (Melbourne: Collective Effort, 1982)
Fitzroy Poems (Melbourne: Collective Effort, 1989)
24 Hours (Melbourne: Collective Effort, 1996)
THE NUMBER POEMS and other equations (Melbourne: Collective Effort, 2000)
Call it Poetry/Tonight, P.O., Billie Marshall Stoneking, and others, Sydney: STC Studio at the Wharf, 1991
Bonegilla, radio, ABC Radio National, 1983
Fitzrot, Edited by P.O. (Melbourne: Strawberry Press, 1 – 3, 1972 – 1973)
925, Edited by P.O. (Melbourne: 925, 1 – 20, 1979 – 1983)
Missing Forms, Edited by P.O. and Peter Murphy (Melbourne: Collective Effort, 1981)
Off the Record, Edited by P.O. (Melbourne: Penguin, 1985)
P.O. has had a thirty year involvement as an Australian poet. He has gained the respect, and sometimes the wrath, of his peers, academics and literary critics. Always provocative and confrontational, P.O. must be regarded as one of the most interesting and challenging Australian poets of the second half of the twentieth century. Not only does his poetry address issues of style, presentation, representation and the nature of the authentic Australian voice, but it also reflects and confirms his polemic public actions on issues of class, ethnic discrimination, literary elitism, and personal and sexual liberation. While being the least anthologised poet compared to poets of his generation he is definitely the most infamous.
P.O.'s family migrated to Australia from Katerini in northern Greece in 1954 when he was just three years old. Greece had been occupied by German forces for two years during the Second World War and was left a poor and depleted country after the war. Many Greek migrants, along with Yugoslav, Italian and Turkish came to Australia in the 1950s, 60s and 70s as part of an Australian Government 'populate or perish' program. P.O.'s father had been a partisan in the left-wing Greek Resistance, his hero status quickly reversed after the war when British forces helped in the reinstating of the Greek Monarch and the disbanding and disarming of the pro-communist partisans. Many Greeks migrated from Greece after the bitter civil war that ensued.
I/ came/ to a ward of horses,
bloated on cake, relaxed in front of, t.v.s
the king of kings, their therapy
wax horses, wax horses
the city is burning its horses.
Thematically the poem is obscure and filled with flowery imagery, something that P.O. has himself used as a criticism of mainstream Australian poetry later in his career. It is evident in this poem and many of his earlier poems that appear in magazines like Fitzrot, the young poet is experimenting with style and theme and language with a certain naivity, ie from Prisoner in Fitzrot 2;
looking at you, little girl
this twisted world.
I have to laugh, to keep from crying.
Following the increased poetic activity in Australia in the late 1960s there was a boom in small independent poetry publishing. The boom was fuelled by the influence of anthologies of contemporary American (USA) poetry of Donald Allen and Donald Hall; with the demise of the orthodoxy of the academic clique of A D Hope that had actively resisted any change in Australian poetics and aesthetics; a sympathetic group of older poets who had been marginalised by the Hope clique; a newer younger group of poets eager to experiment; and improved reprographic technologies. The 1960s and 1970s were also times of political unrest in Australia where nearly every aspect of life was being challenged: opposition to Australia’s involvement in Vietnam; the electoral pressure of women’s rights movements; formation and lobbying of ethnic rights organisations; and the push for greater personal freedoms. In the early 1970s P.O. was involved in several politically active alternative publishing collectives like Fitzrot, Born to Concrete, and Khasmick Press and his poetry appeared in many small inner city Melbourne and Sydney poetry magazines. Shade was published in 1974, in Sydney with poet Stephanie Bennett (a.k.a. Uwohah, Igaehinvdo; Piper-Bennett, Stefanie 'Sun Eagle') and contained poetry, illustrations and concrete poetry.
(116 - 117) (156 - 157)
(116 - 117)
(156 - 157)
The poems in Fitzroy Brothel, self-published in 1976, are really a manifesto, a declaration of allegiance to the working class slum suburb of his childhood and a celebration of the people that live there, as this exert from Live On! displays;
YOU ARE THE REVOLUTION, THE REVOLUTION
TO FREE FREEDOM, FROM PHILOSOPHIES
GET OUT OF FITZROY
You've side stepped the blood pools,
& raised the rents
Other poems explore relationships with poets and lovers and flirt with gender politics.
lie-er, lie-er, my choolden
In 1976 Sydney publishers Wild and Woolley published P.O. Revisited which re-published some poems from self-published Fitzroy Brothel and Singe. There were also some previously unpublished poems that represented his more recent work. As such this volume provides us with a very good picture of the poet and his poetry over the span of his early career, before his polemic encounters with the print publishing industry. In these poems and in these years we see the development of the poet and his politics. The collection was dedicated to two women poets, a.c.r. and joan whom it is implied in the poetry were also lovers. Strong women feature prominently in P.O.'s life and poetry; firstly his mother whom he referred to as “the mother” and who died in 1985; secondly his lovers; and his sisters; poet Thalia (aka T.O.) and astrologer Athena.
Poems from the section POems delve even further into the ego of the poet as the young writer seems to be searching for hidden identity through his poems. The poems in the last section, unpublished poems, are personal to the extent of being indulgent and could easily have remained as diary entries in a personal journal.
In 1978 P.O. published Panash and showed what he was best at, documenting the voice of a New Australia, a different Australia that he had found on his arrival, a pluralist Australia with many points of views and many cultures and languages all forced to live and work together united in the endeavour of living the best life they can. And he went back to Fitzroy to find this voice and this life. The forty pages that constitute 'the Fitzroy Poems' are difficult for the English speaker/reader to understand at first. The phonetic spelling of words spoken by people trained to different alphabets under stressful conditions is what P.O. achieves. He documents the snatches of conversation overheard between the migrant population, the indigenous population, the anglo-Australian low-income earners and welfare recipients, and often the police, at illegal card games, in coffee lounges, pool halls, cafes and the streets of Fitzroy. In this year P.O. also travelled to the Adelaide Writers' Week with other members of the newly formed Poets' Union where they attracted attention by interjecting during David Malouf's talk on the state of Australian poetry with cries of ‘bullshit’ and ‘traitor’. It is at this session that P.O. claims, in the introduction to Off the Record in 1985, that the term 'performance poetry' was first used to describe a poetry activity other than print published poetry. The idea of performance of poetry was not in fact new to the Writers’ Week of Adelaide Festival as it had been host to Russian Yevgeny Yevtushenko in 1966, Walter Ferlingetti and Allen Ginsberg from the USA in 1972, Adrian Mitchell from the UK in 1976; all of whom were accomplished performers of their works. In fact one of the founding organisers, Geoffrey Dutton, after the1970 Writers’ Week, is quoted in Readers, Writers and Rebels as saying ‘If poets are going to perform in front of audiences, then they ought to learn to project their voices, or how to use a microphone;’ So P.O.’s claim that the term ‘performance poetry’ was coined in 1978 is debatable but it is more likely that ‘performance poets’ were first identified and named as a group at this session.
In 1979 P.O. first published 925, a magazine dedicated to the poetry and creative output of workers, paid or unpaid, employed or unemployed, distributed free and produced by the contributors. This was a very noble anarchist experiment that saw the magazine grow to a distribution list of 3000 copies per issue, running for 20 issues and ending in 1983. In issue 15 of 925 P.O. announced he had approached Penguin to publish 'The Works', all 20 issues in one volume, and they had refused, considering the project not commercially viable. The front cover of issue 15 bore a penguin with a red cross through it and a call from the editor for a ban on Penguin. Issue 16 followed with a similar serving of vitriol towards Penguin and mainstream publishing in general.
P.O.’s interest in experimental concrete poetry is evidenced throughout all his publications and his involvement in the Born To Concrete magazine and publishing collective. In 1981 he edited Missing Forms - Concrete, Visual and Experimental POEMS with Peter Murphy and published by the newly formed Collective Effort press. The anthology documented a range of poetic activity from the late 1960s to the early 1970s and in his editorial P.O. chastises Australian academics and anthology editors for overlooking concrete poetry and dismisses as feeble Tom Shapcott’s inclusion of Alan Riddell’s work in his Australian Poetry Now (Melbourne: Sun, 1970) which in itself was quite radical as it was the first time concrete poetry was featured in a major anthology. P.O. neglects to mention that Poetry magazine (Of the Australian Poetry Society) edited by Roland Robertson and later Robert Adamson included concrete poetry in almost every issue in the late 1960s and early 1970s as well as an issue dedicated to that form. None-the-less Missing Forms remains as the only anthology that documents the concrete poetry activity of that time.
In 1982 P.O. published a small pamphlet of poems dedicated to jeltje, entitled the Fuck Poems that celebrated their relationship and explored literary eroticism. The small poem in which the clothes of the lovers are embracing at the end of the bed remains strong in the memory as does the driving rhythm of “cock” and “cunt” being repeated successively to simulate the sexual act. Jeltje Fanoy was active in the 925 collective and edited Migrant 7 after the 925 magazine ceased publication in 1983.
Despite P.O.’s declared state of war with Penguin in 1982 he accepted their offer to publish an anthology of performance poets from the 1970s. The book was different in look and feel from most poetry anthologies; square in shape rather than rectangular; and employing a variety of typefaces, font sizes and arrangement of letters on the page. The book’s designer, Mimmo Cozzolino, had made his name in advertising but was an early contributor of concrete poetry to the 925 poetry magazine. The book was also unusual as it came with a 45rpm vinyl record, thus the name of the anthology, Off the Record, a perfectly fitting inclusion in an anthology of poetry that was performed to public audiences. The record contains a version of P.O. reciting Tekish Men, a poem that has been anthologised and quoted and included in school curricula on poetry and identity.
(56 – 57)
(56 – 57)
goot for dis kuntri
Dai bai dai
Dai bai dai
gon in da
Awl mai kitz
as shown here in ‘Two Men In A Corner’.
In comparison to the Fitzroy Poems, P.O.’s next publication 24 Hours (1996), a massive 740 page volume of more and more and more of the same, is sadly disappointing. It is disappointing because it does not take the project any further but instead rehashes some of the earlier Fitzroy poetry and adds some more, attempts a fly-through of the landscape, jumping between decades and eras of thinking and experience. Although the narrative is continuous there is never any hint of development of plot, and the only recurring character is ‘the boss’ and even that character is not one person but a collage of bosses from a variety of different shops and times in history.
THE NUMBER POEMS is P.O.’s most recent offering - published in 2000, this volume is different from any of his earlier works. All poems are made up of numbers, twenty-five numbers across by twelve lines down. Each poem is roughly square shaped. Is it concrete poetry or merely basic graphics? The poems were obviously produced with the use of a computer, there is no evidence of photocopied typewriter written poems here, and each number could in fact be replaced by pixels as they are arranged into grids that make images, like a heart made from zeros in a background of ones and fours for a valentine’s poem, very clichéd and reminiscent of the early computer calendar girl printout made of letters. This volume tortures the point and seems to contain pieces which don’t belong, don’t have relevance or are simply too clichéd. One suspects that this volume is another protest, a protest against computers and the World Wide Web of which he has been critical of late, claiming that publication on the internet exploits the copyright of poets. This is seemingly contradictory to all of his earlier publications that proudly claim ‘no copyright’.
P.O.'s contribution to the poetic culture of Australia over the last three decades has been significant. He will be remembered as having delivered stirring projected passionate performances of his poetry to poetry audiences and for promoting the dialect language of inner-city post-war non-anglo European Australians as a valid and poetic Australian language. He has demanded and polemically campaigned for the acceptance of performance poetry, and performance poets, as a separate yet equally valid form of representation of poetry as that of the print published poetry industry. The recognition that a person's work, paid or unpaid, is a worthwhile and rewarding activity that is a worthy topic of poetry has also been one of his passions and based on the belief that everything is a political act including and especially poetry.
P.O.’s latest project is called the Everything Poems, and he continues to live, love and write in Fitzroy, but these days it is more likely to be in the trendy cafes and bookshops of Brunswick Street rather than the ethnic cafes of his youth.
PiO interview 1992
Koval, Ramona (a.k.a. Hill, Rivka )
Appears in: One to One - Koval, Ramona
Sydney, New South Wales : ABC Enterprises, 1992 (pp.49-60)
A Brilliant Fantastic Great Interview with Pi O interview 1984
Brophy, Kevin (a.k.a. Brophy, Kevin John ) ; Lysenko, Myron (a.k.a. Lysenko, Myron Orest )
Appears in: Going Down Swinging no.6 Spring 1984 (pp.52-60)
Starke, Ruth Readers, Writers and Rebels (Adelaide: Wakefield, 1997).
Pi O interview 2000
Evans, Brad (a.k.a. Evans, Bradley A. J. )
Appears in: Cordite Poetry Review no.6-7 2000 (pp.44-45)