Popular mechanical Brisbane poet Liam Ferney, not content with the status quo, has upped his career options and established a new four month boom poetry readings series in Brisbane called, “Saturdays with…” and the first event “Saturdays with Charles Bronson” took place yesterday at the Can You Keep a Secret bar on Stanley Street, Woolloongabba. The bar is decked out like your aunt’s and uncle’s kitsch home from the seventies, lots of wooden cat statues, cane chairs, African-styled figurative floor lamps, macramé tapestries, mid-century ceramics, but most importantly, it has an impressive black painted bar.
Walking through the entrance was akin to slamming open those wild west saloon doors, (something Bronson was attuned to do in epics like The Magnificent Seven and Once Upon a Time in the West) where the protagonist is met with silence and squint-eyed suspicion. This was my first gig back in Brisbane since the notorious ‘securityguardgate’ of last year, but there were at least a few friendly poetry pilgrims – Nathan Shepherdson, Damen O’Brien, Stuart Cooke, Brentley Fraser and Duncan Hose (who hopefully is becoming a local sheriff) and no Queensland Protective Services lawmen in sight.
Liam introduced his new reading series by acknowledging Woolloongabba’s rich poetic history and its galvanizing effect on him as a younger poet. He remembered reading at Melissa Ashley’s and Lidija Cvetkovic’s poetry event, “New and Selected” in the late nineties and even mentioned the ancient poetry reading, “Chalice Poets” from the early nineties where I first met legendary Brisbane poets like Brentley Fraser and Rebecca Edwards. The old building where they both were housed has now made way for the expanse of the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital. So hopefully enough poetry vibes still remain in that place to help with the littleuns’ healing.
The timing of Liam’s new gig couldn’t be better. Regular readings like ‘speedpoets’ seem to have faltered for the time being in Brisbane, and if you hate slam poetry as much as I do then it’s pretty thin on the ground for page poets in this ‘anonymous’ city that could be any city in the world according to our film bureaucrats who try to sell it to the international market. As for funded events like ‘Couplet’ and the ‘Riverbend Poetry Series’ controlled by the QPF, well you’re either in with the ‘in’ crowd or you’re not. You are me. Therefore, ‘Saturdays with…” is a pure page poetry gig, that unashamedly programs poets based primarily on their quality, track record and publications. The thing is, Queensland has a burgeoning plethora of young, new, emerging and even some established poets who have new books out with interstate poetry publishers, particularly it seems with Vagabond Press. Three of this month’s readers – Anna Jacobson, Angela Gardner and Stuart Cooke all have books published by this press, and I believe Pascalle Burton has a forthcoming title from Cordite Books, About the Author is Dead to be released in June. Then there’s some fabulous emerging poets like Shastra Deo, Chloe Callistemon, Rae White, Vanessa Page, Carmen Leigh Keates and Zenobia Frost. So Liam has his work cut out for him only having space to program 16 poets in the first year of his new event.
Thus, four poets read their own work, plus were invited to read/respond to two poems by poets they like. So we not only were privileged to hear old and new works from Stuart Cooke, Angela Gardner, Damen O’Brien and Anna Jacobson, but the audience also heard poems from Seamus Heaney, Kate Lilly, Marianne Moore, Fay Zwicky, Anne Sexton and Andrew Marvel. First up was Damen O’Brien, whose name you’ll find on the lists of many poetry prizes around the country. His poem ‘Fruit-picking’ was a fine imagistic response to Heaney’s ‘Digging’ that he read out as a favourite. Next, Anna Jacobson, read for the first time from her new poetry collection, The Last Postman (Vagabond Press – deciBels Series 3) and it felt like being in a flowing, transcendent Jim Jarmusch film – Night on Earth maybe. I bought a copy for $15, again very happy to support Queensland poets at the ground level. Angela Gardner and Stuart Cooke are both frighteningly accomplished poets – Opera is Cooke’s latest collection from Five Islands Press and he read the title poem ‘Opera’ too, brilliant work and I admit, it’s a book that I need to get my hands on immediately.
Famously, it is reported that Charles Bronson wanted to punch out Lee Marvin’s lights on the set of the WW2 film, The Dirty Dozen (1967) directed by Robert Aldrich. Marvin’s drinking was upsetting the production flow and Bronson was no longer going to stand for it. You can kind of forgive Marvin though; he was a WW2 Marine veteran of the Pacific theatre and was twice wounded in action in the Battle of Saipan, shot in the back by machine gun fire and in the foot by a sniper. Making all those violent crime, western and war movies afterwards probably triggered a few flashbacks now and then on set. Bronson had the gonads to threaten Marvin like this, as he was also a WW2 Pacific theatre veteran, having flown 25 missions as an aerial gunner on a B29 Superfortress bomber out of Guam, the same type of heavy bomber that later dropped the two atomic weapons on Japan.
There is a cool poetic moment in The Dirty Dozen, when Marvin, the commander in charge of recruiting and training these twelve death row American soldiers for a suicide mission deep inside Germany to assassinate some Nazis top brass, requires them to learn the final mission details off by heart through reciting a poem.
- Down to the road block, we’ve just begun.
- The guards are through.
- The Major’s men are on a spree.
- Major and Wladislaw go through the door.
- Pinkley stays out in the drive.
- The Major gives the rope a fix.
- Wladislaw throws the hook to heaven.
- Jiminez has got a date.
- The other guys go up the line.
- Sawyer and Gilpen are in the pen.
- Posey guards Points Five and Seven.
- Wladislaw and the Major go down to delve.
- Franko goes up without being seen.
- Zero Hour: Jimenez cuts the cable; Franko cuts the phone.
- Franko goes in where the others have been.
- We all come out like it’s Halloween.
Presently, I’ve found myself writing a bit more poetry about war courtesy of the ‘War History Online’ posts on Facebook. Many strange, tragic and terrible stories appear everyday through this feed (even the story about Bronson wanting to hit Marvin) and I am naturally drawn to those tales that seem quite unbelievable. A recent story concerned Mariya Oktyabrskaya, a Russian woman, who after her husband was killed by the Germans in the Battle of Stalingrad, was so angry that she wrote to Stalin personally and begged him to allow her to buy a tank, so that she could fight the Germans herself and take revenge.
Now you’d think that with all of the millions upon millions of pieces of correspondence and files generated by an event such as the German invasion of Russia, that Stalin would have had little time to respond to her request, being buried under the mountains of papers, reports and decisions that he would have had to deal with every day, particularly around 1941-42. But he did respond to her letter, moved by her patriotism towards the Motherland and her loss and granted Mariya her request. So, undaunted she sold all of her belongings, took what cash she had out of the bank and raised enough capital to purchase a brand spanking new T-34 medium tank right off the assembly line. She named it ‘Fighting Girlfriend’.
She trained and became the tank’s driver, was given a crew and put into a tank unit on the Eastern front. At first the men in her tank platoon thought that she was nothing more than a sad joke; a propaganda stunt devised by Stalin and that she wouldn’t really fight the Germans; just be driven around waving at the real troops. But they were wrong. Mariya saw action maybe three times. Twice her tank was hit by artillery fire and its tracks disabled. Twice she climbed out of her tank under intense shellfire and attempted to fix the problem, much to the astonishment of her crew. Her second attempt was her last, as she was hit by a piece of shrapnel and critically wounded. She fell into a coma and later died, joining her husband at last in a sacrifice worthy of a Brooke sonnet. Stalin even gave her a medal. My poem “Fighting Girlfriend” was recently published in Issue 3 of StylusLit at http://styluslit.com/poetry/fighting-girlfriend/
Next month’s gig is “Saturdays with Rosalind Russell” and features two Arts Queensland Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize recipients – Shastra Deo, (2016 ) and Rae White (2017), as well as newcomers Ella Jeffrey and Jake Goetz. I’ll be reading about Mariya and other heroes both on and off the screen at the June gig. Hats off to Liam Ferney for breaking me out of my poetic military prison. It’s been two years since I’ve been a featured reader in Brisbane; five years since I’ve read in Melbourne, eight years since I’ve read in Sydney, and I think nine years since I’ve read in Adelaide. Perth, Darwin, Canberra…ah not yet I’m afraid. One day perhaps… when I receive that wonderful suicide mission.