the age - thomas shapcott
Spirited performances that jump off the page
The Age - Thomas Shapcott,
KOMNINOS, by Komninos Zervos
(UQP, $10.95, with cassette $19.95)
LIVE SENTENCES, by four performance poets (John Ashton, KerN, Scuffins, Myron
Lysenko, Lauren Williams)
SELECTED SONNETS, by Geoff Guess
(Angus & Robertson, $12.95)
sharing. Early in this cen- tury the 'Bulletin Reciter' was a best-seller and
even the advent of radio took a long time to kill the old bush ballad tradition
of recitation in pubs, around the camp fire, and anywhere else at the drop of a
Radio and television, though, profoundly affected how we responded to
incantation, to the mysteries of rhyme, and to the other hidden sub-texts that
made the old oral traditions potent for so long. Slnging Commercials overtook
the Nursery Rhyme, and later, television ads were turned into an art form in
Poetry became sequestered, an art form for meditation and personal introverslon and, later, an academic exercise or a scoreboard of the new Everyman
(as In Everyman's Library). It became accused of being obscure, although I think
the real charge was that it seemed often enough more a boast than a votary
In the 1950s the American West Coast Beat poets made a cocktail with jazz additives and performance poetry, as we know it now, really took off.
Two of these books are dexterous illustrations of how far it has come In
Australla. The past 25 years have been a lively training ground and have thrown
up the odd disc, tape and published book along the way, for the archives, but
there seems to me a range, a spirit, and an assurance in this new generation of
performance poets that jumps up out of the grid of the printed text.
The tradition by now is quite. Iarge and various, from the "us against you"
cheekiness of Pi O and the early poolroom laconics of Garrie Hutchinson (now
speechwriter to the Prime Minister) to the American inflections of Jas H. Duke
or the word-Cages of Chris Mann.
Komninos has in recent years emerged as an amiable grizzly bear of a poet, great
with kids. His UQP book reflects the development in his skills, From early fun
sounds and repetitions to genuine verbal fireworks in "the
and sharp social comment in "i'm convinced that a.i.d.s. is a c.i.a. plot" or
the funny and touching poem that begins "once/ i thought I was a lesblan".
What comes through, in fact, is a warm and generous spirit, not a karate-
chopper hit and knock. This is a poetry of the new tolerance, and all the more
effective because when it makes a target of bigotry or racism it does so not
wlth anger but wlth pity.
'LIVE SENTENCES' the work of poets John Ashton, Kerry gcufflns, Myron Lysenko
and Lauren Wllliams, Is an altogether more meaty collection.
Each poet Is given sufffclent space to demonstrate voice, personality, ap-
proach and particular skills. You get four books for the prlce of one. Myron
Lysenko has a touching vulnerabillty as disarmlng as Komninos, but his verbal
dexterity is greater.
Kerry Scuffins has a real inner-suburban angst and anger but it is tempered by
a genuine Iyrical voice. Lauren Willlams, also, knows how to blend protest
wlth personal pleasure. I particularly liked her poem "local" which begins
signs and ads. He turns these into more a collation than a collage.
In all these four poets the printed page does not hold back our enjoyment of
what are demonstrably "performance pieces". They work well in text because
they have worked well among audiences. Poetry needs to be taken out ot the
garret or the blackboard-room and given such an airing. These poets certalnly do
that. It is the most exciting anthology In a long time.
Like the old 'Bulletln Reclter', 'Live Sentences' invites readers to get up and
read the poems aloud. If I were a teacher, I would grab it and try it out with
my class tomorrow.
GEOFF GUESS is a South Australian poet who has been making a name for himself as
a qulet observer of the domestlc and small-town scene. His 'Selected
Sonnets' have a haunting quality and add to his achievement, but they are poems
"for the page".
Poems of medltation, terse and succinct. They Intend you to return to them, or
to lines and images in them; they are poems for the bedslde table. There is
space for those, too.