Love Letter to Professor Brian Cox

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Dear Professor Brian Cox,

I have an absolute man-crush on you. I am not ashamed to say that I love you and what you stand for. Although I am a married man with three children and a loving wife, I feel I need to share my thoughts about why I love you so much. My family laugh and roll their eyes whenever I mention your name. Whenever I sit alone at night and watch one of your documentaries, or quote one of your lines, my children tease me. They think that my love for you is daft, but I believe that it is pure. As pure as science.

Firstly, I love your mind. It’s the kind of mind that I wish I had, but know that I’ll never have. I don’t have a maths brain you see. I write poetry. I can’t get my head around figures. When I was in grade seven my teacher, Mr Turvey, used to humiliate me in front of the class for my poor maths quiz results. I was the School Captain. I was so frightened of failing each Friday morning test that I resorted to cheating. It didn’t help. Often, there was only the sole Aboriginal girl at the school and I left standing. He said he couldn’t believe that I was the School Captain and he made the Indigenous girl look him in the face. She reacted as if she’d been burnt by boiling water as he forced her to look at him. We were both ashamed. I love you because I know you would never do this to a child. I love you because you inspire children with your words, not destroy them.

I love how you connect the audience with your early awakening of science by sharing your childhood memories. Pictures of supernovae painted onto rock faces in South America that you saw in Carl Sagan’s grand book, ‘Cosmos’, you have gone and seen for yourself, sharing your youthful dreams with us, your adoring viewers. I love it how you are selfless. I love it how we both have kept books from our childhoods that meant something more than we could know. Texts that mattered then and still matter to us now. Mine is, “The Osborne Book of the Future” that my children now pore over, their fingers dog-earing intergalactic space. Sadly it is out of date. Science has caught up with the fantastic concepts of my past. Green cities with lush gardens and solar panelled windows are now commonplace. I point out the ‘future’ technology that has come to pass for my son and daughter, my youthful naivety slipping away into fiction, as their scientific present turns these memories into fact.

Yours with that photo taken by Sagan, of the rock art depicting the last star to die that was seen by human eyes hundreds of years ago in Peru maybe. I admire the pride you felt when you finally saw it with your own eyes, holding up your battered childhood paperback, the page with the photograph open, so that we could see the real and the facsimile that forged your early sense of wonder with the universe. After your rock and roll career that is. That grin of pure joy on your face, a pilgrim’s delight in reaching some holy place only dreamt of in distant legend. That point where childhood fantasy intersects with adult reality. Your smile, the same one you kept as a child in your corduroy pockets, wide as the Milky Way, white teeth twinkling like neutron stars. I love that.

Your love for space and astrophysics has driven me to write poetry about the history of space exploration. I’m writing poems about the Voyager spacecraft drifting out of our solar system like a plastic bottle kidnapped by the ocean’s currents and washed into deep space, from their point of view. The gold record of Earth’s sounds, songs, greetings and images welded to the fuselage, a small round sun glinting as other stars brush it with their faint light; silent as space, only waiting to find the right player to bring our planet to life.

The cicada hum of the cosmos microwave background serenading the frozen, fragile craft. Sagan was clever and left instructions for how to build one and how to find our galaxy, our pale blue dot. He attached a nude poster to its locker room door. He planned ahead. I love that you love what he did, as our tiny probes carry our love out into the vast universe. A single bee making its circuit throughout a field of eternal flowers. The dust of dead stars collecting like pollen on the delicate legs of radar antennae and their titanium exoskeleton.

I love your accent. The way Manchester’s protein gradients have evolved your pronunciation of ‘ing’ words to accelerate last ‘g’ sound. So I love it when you say words like ‘everything’ and ‘something’ in your mesmerising narration. You’ve repopularised the word ‘vast’. I find myself now using ‘vast’ in my own writing. I love how you inspire me more than some Facebook video of cats squeezing into boxes. Although to you, these could be Schrödinger’s cats, neither here, nor there. I want to dedicate a collection of poetry to you. Hopefully the space one, if I ever finish it, as it’s quite vast in scope. I’d love to meet you, book in hand and stare into your eyes, though I feel I would be the first one to lower my lashes; your intensity awes me at times, your passion for logic, and your feverish pursuit of knowledge. I wonder what you’d make of these poems. These inky atoms that bond together on a page and make up my admiration for you. I wonder what you would write if you ever autographed it. When you autograph a table setting with your calculations in some hot café outside a desert, I wish that I could understand them. I wish I could send you this love letter as an equation that you’d use as an analogy for some point about the gravity of my love.

See, I love the way you illustrate points about the universe using sauce bottles and sandcastles. You treat me as a layman and I love you for that, because I am one. I love it how you don’t make me feel ashamed for not knowing things. You’d never make me stand up in front of a class and be humiliated. You don’t talk down to me, but always up. I don’t often understand things of a scientific nature, but you make me feel as though I could. Then there was that time that your coffee cup was not an analogy for anything, not a planet or a distant star or molecule, it was just a lukewarm cup of Jo. Your ironic wit and the liquid’s heat radiating out into space. I loved that.

Finally, you comfort me when I think about my own inescapable death. You reassure me that I won’t truly die in a physical sense. That although my body will break down, my atoms – the star stuff you call it, will be recycled by the universe. I am comforted when you say that my atoms are eternal and that I will live on in other forms of matter – trees, soil mainly, but maybe even in stars that have not yet been born. We were all born when a star died two suns ago. You make me feel that my death will be something worthwhile, something material, that I will give back the thoughts of the universe given. I love you for that. It softens my father’s blow when I was eight, the same age my son is now.

I guess it’s safe to love you from a distance. I’m 45 years old and no longer have any close male friends. They have all drifted away like asteroids bunted from Jupiter’s gravitational belt. I haven’t spoken to my best friend for six years now. I don’t call up anyone on the phone. Texts are rare. Facebook comments rarer still. I am the distant Andromeda galaxy to their Milky Way. I have become insular, a bit down, and talk to no one about my emotional state. I act out. My wife hates that about me. Calls it my ‘stupid country ways’ which incidentally I’m going to call my new and selected poems. I talk to you in my mind’s eye though, almost like an imaginary friend. I love you because you accept me for who I am without ever knowing me. You do not judge, but weigh up the evidence. I love the good scientist in you.

If only you knew that I existed, that my love for you was some theory, tested and proven. I know that we’d talk planets and poetry and childhood and space and dying and atoms and red shift galaxies. I now know that love is faster than the speed of light.

There are only two things that are infinite; the universe and love. You make both possible.

 

Yours universally,

B. R. Dionysius

 

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Travelling Sleight

 

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“As part of QPF2017 Distant Voices, some of Queensland’s finest will let the light in as part of a special tribute to Leonard Cohen, one of the greatest poets and songwriters the world has ever known. Acclaimed musicians Ben Salter, Ben Ely (Regurgitator), McKisko, Skye Staniford (We All Want To), and electronic trash trio Architects of Sound are joined by local poets Sam Wagan Watson and Pascalle Burton (The Stress of Leisure), as well as Canadian-born Australian poet Ian McBryde, to sift through the fire of some of Leonard Cohen’s finest work. To close the night will be a feature set by Hexham, fronted by seasoned poet and lyricist Max Ryan, showcasing their new album Close and Leaving.”

So in their tradition of broadening Brisbane’s poetic cultural cringe, the Co-directors of the 2017 QPF have released the details of one of their special events – ‘Travelling Light’ – a Leonard Cohen tribute night. Don’t get me wrong – I love the man, his voice, his songs, poetry and novels. He probably deserves a tribute night more than Prince or Bowie did in last year’s festival, however, while QPF favourites Sam Wagan Watson and Pascalle Burton headline for Queensland poets, and the Canadian godfather of Melbourne poetry, Ian McBryde also stars, I must admit that musicians certainly hold the microphone at this gig.

Let’s count them. Ben Salter (1), Ben Ely (2), McKisko (3), Skye Staniford (4), Architects of Sound (7) Pascalle Burton (8), Hexham/Max Ryan (12). Granted Burton and Ryan are at least poets who have published collections and individual poems in journals, yet they still front bands and so can be included in the ‘musicians’ tally. That’s 12 musicians to 3 poets, who will be paid for their cutting edge musical renditions of ‘So Long Maryanne’ and ‘Sisters of Mercy’ out of grant money allocated to poets.

Furthermore, and this is where it all gets a bit cringy, we have another famous, dead international star/artist/poet/songwriter/musician, whose life and works will be celebrated in Queensland at the Judith Wright Centre for Contemporary Arts, and this year another iconic celebrity will drop dead (Madonna maybe? Heaven forbid Mick Jagger?) and then there’ll be another tribute night in 2018. You can see the inevitable programming pattern like Macbeth did, stretching all the way forward to the ‘crack of doom’.

Soooo, we can’t celebrate the life and works of a dead Australian poet at the Queensland Poetry Festival? Australian poets just aren’t that famous I guess. Not cool enough perhaps? Never mind about educating the wonderful new audience that has been attracted to the QPF by all the fab musical acts and slam poetry, about the great Australian poetry legacies of Kath Walker, Bruce Beaver, Dorothy Porter, J.S. Harry, Michael Dransfield, Dorothy Hewitt, Francis Webb, Gwen Harwood, John Forbes, Charles Buckmaster, Martin Johnston, Philip Hodgins, Judith Wright and Dimitris Tsaloumas, or about the aesthetic differences between poetry and song.

I’m sure this event will attract an appreciative audience who know nothing about contemporary Australian poetry, or contemporary poetry for that matter, and be a great success riding on the coattails of another dead music immortal.

 

 

Distant Voices Choking

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“In 2017 QPF moved to a new model of programming, with more curatorial artist invitations whilst still maintaining an open Expressions of Interest (EOI) process. QPF now engages volunteer Program Advisors to independently assess all EOI’s, as well as making program and artist suggestions. This year’s Program Advisors were poets Matt Hetherington, Rebecca Jessen, Stuart Barnes (Tincture Poetry Editor), Ellen van Neervan, and Eleanor Jackson (Peril Magazine & Stella Prize Board Member.)”

So this passage is from the revamped QPF website (About) section which explains an apparent new model of programming for future Queensland Poetry Festivals. I am wondering what exactly a ‘more curatorial artist invitation’ is? Are the Co-directors now going to hand pick some poet, artist, musician mates to curate sessions within the festival? Are these to be musical acts? Spoken word extravaganzas? Multidisciplinary events? What is the brief? It is all extremely vague and the lack of transparency around the new changes and lack of information about how this new model will work, should be rather disconcerting for poets and writers not aligned to the Brisbane spoken word hegemony.

Also disconcerting is the assumption from the Co-directors that ‘volunteer Program Advisors’ [independently] assess all EOI’s. I’m not sure how this process is really ‘independent’ considering Hetherington, Jessen and Jackson are (ex) members of the QPF programming committee and so are not really independent from the festival programming bias towards music, performance poetry and spoken word pushed forward by the two Co-directors over the last two years. What are they supposed to be independent from? Payment for their services?

It also begs the question as to what exactly Stavanger and Te Whiu do now in their roles as Co-directors of the festival (and how much they are paying themselves per year from the $360,000 in operational funding from Arts Queensland – not that we will ever know given that it is a closed membership incorporated association and only the arts accountant Brian Tucker and the QPF Board will probably ever know) given that the majority of the festival programming appears to be now managed and selected by unpaid volunteers and that the new Program Coordinator, Culver is responsible for the nuts and bolts admin stuff like gaining sponsorship, booking flights, hotels and printing programs.

It’s also interesting to note that the relatively new Queensland poet, Stuart Barnes who launched his debut poetry collection at the festival last year, and who also appeared at Riverbend Poetry Series this year, is now both a judge of the 2017 Arts Queensland Val Vallis Award and also one of the new Program Advisors for the 2017 QPF. If you’re ‘in’ with the ‘in’ crowd, then I guess the benefits start to roll ‘in’. Makes me wonder how many of the QPF ‘in’ crowd are also regularly published in Tincture Journal that Barnes also edits. Keep it in the family I suppose. I have nothing personal against Barnes, I just find it strange that someone with barely a debut poetry collection behind them winds up being a judge of a major national poetry competition, so soon, is all.

Distant voices should be choking in rage, at what again appears to be nothing more than blatant programming nepotism and branch-stacking on behalf of Stavanger and co. to control what is now a very lucrative little cash cow for some very amateur spoken word artists and musicians, who once upon a time, would not even have been heard at Australia’s premier poetry festival.