THESE books record the recent resurgence in performance poetry, bear testimony
to the nexibility, of publishing, and remind us that the stringencies of
economic recession can generate ingenious solutions. But most importantly,
they present refreshing alternatives; their shared message is a resounding "vive la difference!"
Poets are among the best-trained to deal with a recession since, regrettably, so
many of them are permanent residents of that state. So it's not surprising to
find poets and their publishers devising creative schemes to make the most of
hard times. In the case of four
performance poets from
moving in with friends and sharing a book.
Live Sentences. by Myron Lysenko Lauren William~, John Ashton and Kerry Scuffins
(Penguin, $14.9S), operates rather like a night at Writers in the Park or La
Mama Poetica. What you miss out on in terms of voice quality, bodily movement
and facial expression is compensated for by the inclusion of idiosyncratic
biographical notes, statements on performance poetry, a photo of each poet "in
action", and a
All four poets are committed to bringing poetry to the people, making it
accessible, relevant and fun, a rival to a night in the pub with a band. They
stress "the elements of music and theatre" so essential to this art form.
Acknowledge- ment is made to radio stations as much as to literary magazines.
The work differs from poetry for the page in that it is far less dense,
abstruse, metaphorical, and complex. Of neces- sity it must convey its message
to the audience and strike a chord there and then, otherwise the poem has
failed. As Lauren Williams points out, reviews are"instant" and "written on the
faces of the audience". Thus performance poetry tends to be extremely direct,
rather literal, inclined to joke, humour, challenge and shock the audience, and
to refer to topical and current events. Rhythm and rhyme come to the fore (most
strikingly in Williams' wonderful raps). The personality and opinions of the
poet are out front, on display ã though in "Making a Baby (The Separatist Way)"
and other poems Myron Lysenko plays up the modern "sensitive" male's
disproportionate sense of inadequacy and guilt by adopting a comic persona ã the
gullible, nice, but not too bright guy. Myths are ~leefully debunked and worn
phrases recoined, as in John Ashton's observation that the "Sleek inherit the
earth". The dark side of living outside the "System" is revealed in Kerry
Scuffins's poems about oppression, depression, poverty, addiction, and police
The quality of the poetry is at times uneven and the demands upon the reader not
great; nevertheless, congratulations to Penguin for bringing these poets to a
UQP has come even closer to recreating the experience of performance poetry in
the Komninos package of book and cassette tape ($19.95). The former intersperses
texts of Komninos's most popular and well-known pieces with photos of the poet
on the road, before his adoring audiences leaning into the mic, with school kids
and old codgers, and as a young boy amid his immigrant Greek family. To turn the
pages is to be constantly in the presence of this dynamic performer - an effect
intensified by listening to the tape of his "rich raspy voice . . . Iike the
bottom of a whisky bottle". The poet's consideable charisma and deep commitment to converting those who would normally have no truck with literature (let alone poetry !) accounts for his indisputable popularity.
The grapevine has it that the Little Esther Books were printed on off-cuts hence
their chequebook shape. Whether this explanation is apocryphal or not, these are
delightfully whimsical pocketbooks, both as physical objects and as literary
experiences. Ken Bol- ton, publisher of Lil Esther Books and editor of Otis
Rush. adopts an approach to things literary which is innovative, inteltectually
sprightly, and artistically refreshing. So too do the poets in this series
(Sestina ~o ~he Centre of the Brain. by Ken Bolton; The W~ld WhiteSea, by John
Jenkins; Adventures in
peppered with amusing references to artlstic movements or contemporary
The tit!es are tongue-in-cheek, the illustrations comic (Boofhead is a key
experimental. These works appear to be written with consummate ease, yet they
tirelessly push at boundaries in order to claim more territory for poetry.
reprinting of his 1982 work Duggan tackles "The Great Tradition" and "The New
Australian Poetry, Now !" John Jenkins offers a verse equivalent of B-grade,
action-packed thrillers, splatter movies, and comic books.
Hazel Smith is a text-sound artist, a musician and an academic. Abstractly
Represented: Poems ~ Performance Texts 1982-90, (Buttetfly, $11.95) includes
systemic, collage and permuting poems, as well as performance texts complete
with musical notations and instructions for performance.
Smith explains how systemic poems begin with a prose passage which is then
"dislocated and progressively transformed by layering, word associa- tion,
punning and permutation to produce new verbal continuities".
What emerges from this process of transformation is at times so dependent on the
poet's particular associations and unique experiences that for long stretches it
can be virtually impossible to garner meaning from the words. For the most part
the exercise was lost on me as I floundered through a dream- babble that at
times promised to convey sense, but then drifted off.
Heather Cam has performed her poems on radio, in res~aurants and in public.