fourW: a regional press


fourW

Nearly a quarter of a century ago fourW was established by Wagga Wagga Writers Writers as an anthology of new writing and graphics, to provide opportunities for regional writers to be published in the company of other writers from elsewhere in Australia and overseas. Most of the issues have been edited by David Gilbey, with the assistance of two groups of selectors. These days around 600 pieces of work are submitted from around Australia and  overseas. All work is read ‘blind’ for the first cull. Usually there will be about twenty short stories and about fifty poems in each anthology.

Derek Motion, the immediate past Director of Booranga Writers’ Centre (into which WWWW evolved) and David Gilbey wrote about fourW in Angela Ragusa’s recent Rural Lifestyles, Community Well-being and Social Change: Lessons from Country Australia for Global Citizens collection of essays (published in the US and launched in Wagga by the VC earlier this year):

The anthologies … provide several slices of contemporary Australian literary production. There are persistent preoccupations with locality – the Murrumbidgee, streetscapes in Wagga, drought etc… And it seems Wagga produces poets, whereas Albury, 140km ‘down the road’, on the Murray River, produces prose writers. But writers also hearken to New York, Africa, international politics, and styles range from traditional ballads to postmodern and experimental poetry. Regional writers read internationally acclaimed authors such as Salman Rushdie, Jonathan Franzen, Times Literary Supplement, and Harry Potter as well as Australian authors Patrick White, Les Murray, Alexis Wright and Christos Tsiolkas. Indeed, ‘local’ writers have successfully used the new digital medias as part of their writing textures (‘googling’, ‘twitterature’, ‘blogology’, ‘@’ and ‘#’) as well as strategies by which their work is known and as platforms of influence for their own work (in this sense there is a two-way influence between locality andtransnationality).

(‘From the Home Paddocks to the Digital Universe: The Competiing Voices of fourW’)

fourW twenty-four was a unique issue in that it included the eight Bus Shelter Poems, originally published on large posters around Wagga Wagga as part of a cultural collaboration between the Wagga Wagga City Council and Booranga Writers’ Centre on the Wagga Wagga campus of Charles Sturt University. It also had the benefit of editorial and creative input from poet and Lecturer in Poetics at Newcastle University, Keri Glastonbury, who was Scholar and Writer in Residence at Booranga and the School of Humanities & Social Sciences at CSU in the early part of 2013, and poet Lachlan Brown, Lecturer in English at CSU.

fourW is usually launched in Wagga, Sydney and Melbourne (the region strikes back?) and in 2013 fourW twenty-four was launched in Melbourne by poet Corey Wakeling. His particular take on the significance of fourW positions it as a distinct presence within (trans)national conversations and literary production.

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– David Gilbey

David Gilbey is Adjunct Senior Lecturer in English, School of Humanities & Social Sciences, Charles Sturt University

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Accompanying this are three poems from fourW twenty-four, by David Gilbey, Keri Glastonbury, and Lachlan Brown. The opening lecture by poet Corey Wakeling was given in Melbourne to launch fourW twenty-four, and is published here for the first time.

The cover of four W twenty-four is by recent BA (Photography) graduate from CSU, Peter Tsang.

 

fourW

anthology launch speech, Corey Wakeling

I am delighted to be launching this year’s fourW anthology, and must first of all thank the editorial board, those from Booranga Writers Centre and Charles Sturt University, for asking me to launch this impressive volume of new Australian writing.

Theorist John Frow articulates via cognitive scientist Walter Kintsch that genre is a knowledge system or “net”, dynamic as a node through which new knowledge finds being:

Knowledge nets. . . allow, then, for the activation on an ad hoc basis of relevant knowledges, distributing resources at any point in time between a foreground of active meanings and a more stable (although still constantly changing) background of encyclopaedic knowledge and beliefs. Concepts, in this model, do not have a fixed and permanent meaning: rather, ‘the context of use determines which nodes linked to a concept are activated when a concept is used’.[1]

The presence of genre in this new fourW struck me in its dynamic role to knowledge as explored here by Frow and his use of Kintsch, especially the multimedia nature of genre here in this anthology, with ekphrasis, poems proposed as deleted film scenes, stories like episodes in crime drama, poems based in song lyrics, the overhearing of songs, and musical icons appearing in profusion. Frow’s theoretical discussion wants to get at the roots of the operation of genre, and to what extent genre is the interface of knowledge. This conceptualisation is eminently meaningful to literary genre, genres of fiction and fact-making in writing. For example, Michael Dignand’s “Hard to Tell, Really” is an espionage/spy thriller, but within the short story form manipulates the form’s suggestion, by negation, of a back story and the anticipatory delights of the story-to-come that never makes it on to the page. A host of stories in this collection write in such beloved genres of fiction, from crime fiction and the unresolved narrative to contemporary literary romance of psychological depth and the unsaid. Fiction by necessity and restrictions of word limit to plot utilise conspicuously these “knowledge nets” which in turn constitute the readability and thrills of the particular short story form of their iteration.

Alongside short stories, fourW has established itself as a major example of the choicest innovative poetry in the landscape of Australian poetics, this annual illustrating the dynamic and manipulable role genre has to writing; more so than genres of poetry such as the confessional, the lyric, or the pastoral finding variety here, which indeed do all appear, genres in sum and genre in Frow’s surmising, as cognitive-textual “knowledge net”, find experimental conditions and reconception within these poems.

I think especially of Keri Glastonbury’s “Poem ‘Sally Can’t Dance’”, which in my view makes light of the homage poem, Frank O’Hara’s “Poem (‘Lana Turner Has Collapsed’)”, a genre. I think it is the making genre of another cultural entity which might be said to open up what is unsaid in a particular cultural history, which has implications in the case of Glastonbury’s poem, a poem which conceals its reference to a murder which took place in Wagga Wagga in the Eighties, both Glastonbury’s hometown and Charles Sturt University’s homebase. Perhaps we need a word for montage in poetry since pastiche is different in kind, pastiche being a collage where there is no evident order structuring it; in this context, we might call such a thing non-generic collage. Instead, Glastonbury’s poem is a montage of its own being thought, a montage of the experience of thinking a poem into being at a moment of, I think in the case of Glastonbury, the observation that Lana Del Rey looks quite a bit like bygone Hollywood starlet Lana Turner. Of course, it could simply be the shared first name. The poem effloresces cognitively and textually as a knowledge net the closer one looks. Just like Frank O’Hara’s poem, famously written on his way to a poetry reading offers a counter-biography to the cultural capital of the figure as the figure becomes the subject of the poem.

When you read this poem, you will notice that rather than use the headline for the title as in the O’Hara poem, Glastonbury uses instead the Lou Reed song ‘Sally Can’t Dance’, which tracks a lower East Side socialite, Sally, who “took too much meth and can’t get off the floor / now Sally, she can’t dance no more”. Is it because Lana Del Rey can’t dance? Is it because Lana Del Rey, a fleeting cultural icon of style collage that brings along with it the history of Golden Age cinema, has lost her cultural capital, just as O’Hara suggests Turner has in his poem? That would make sense of the Cold Chisel quotation in Glastonbury’s poem, “Ita’s tongue never touches her lips”, since it conjures another popular cultural sex icon, Ita Buttrose, but again of a bygone era. I think, and here I return to the fourW anthology more broadly and the subject of genre, is that Glastonbury opens the recombinant nature of cultural production specific to a certain history – glamour or sex icons in the West – and contextualises it in its becoming a poem, another genre, in its site of being thought, which is Australia, but also Tarcutta, a bar, Maine, a “gumtree university”, which is probably Charles Sturt University. If Glastonbury’s poem also illustrates how O’Hara’s spontaneous poem has become a genre for thinking cultural agglomeration and texture, I consult Frow on what genre reveals of the unsaid:

This generic framework constitutes the unsaid of texts, information which lies latent in a shadowy region from which we draw it as we need it. It is information that we may not know we know and that is not directly available for scrutiny. One way of understanding both the cognitive and the textual processes involved in the supplementation of given information by this broader frame of background knowledge is through the concept of the schema. [2]

To use genre then is to be schematic, thereby not necessitating convention, as would produce conventional writing, but is also to draw upon an unsaid cognitive and textual framework true to life as it is true to writing. In Glastonbury’s “Poem ‘Sally Can’t Dance’”, genre then is a means of making new genre, or at least highlighting genre as it comes into being as knowledge. Graham Rowlands in “Max 3 1/2” literalises this with the  characterisation of the new Prime Minister as ‘The Mad Monk’ appropriated by a child in a litany of permutations that hybridise first language acquisition of a child with Gertrude Stein. New phraseology. Language acquisition. Frameworks of knowledge. One always writes from an inherited cultural knowledge, but unlike capitulation to the idea that nothing is new, perhaps the work of these writers within the volume express how one might innovate out and towards new genre which gets at a traumatic or contemporary truth.

Australian writing is proudly demanding attention here as it refashions genre. Stories of our country and our Country, our internationalism and our weirdness, are demonstrated with drama and éclat Its enjoyments are multiple. International writers such as Goro Takano, Yoko Danno, John Gribble, Dave Lewitzky and Lance Nizami appear as comrades among this fabulous admixture of genre reinvention. Wagga Wagga, quite rightly considering the provenance of this volume’s production, has pride of place as point of origin for writers in this collection, which within the kaleidoscope of genre makes for curious leitmotifs as the Wagga pastoral and urban landscape now and again recurs between lacustrine and mountainous settings, “Edward Hopper’s girls” (Josephine Rowe, “Not Quite New York Movie”) and “the bunyips that lurk in the billabong of the heart” (Brett Dionysius, “Mundagatta (Bunyip)”). Also, lots of titles with parenthetical additions. A curiosity! Such fascinating moments of harmony can be found between the local and the international, like, say, between Rosanna Licari’s Greek pastoral short story “The Inheritance”, Licari a writer I know more so as a poet, with the landscape of Fiona Wright’s “Riverine”.

But there is so much more here. I openly commend this year’s anthology to readers of many kinds.

Bio: Corey Wakeling lives in Melbourne. He is the author of Goad Omen (Giramondo, 2013). With Jeremy Balius, Corey co-edited Outcrop: radical Australian poetry of land (Black Rider Press, 2013). He is reviews editor of poetry journal Rabbit, and interviews editor of Cordite. He holds a doctorate in English and Theatre Studies from the University of Melbourne.


[1] John Frow, “Genre Worlds: The Discursive Shaping of Knowledge,” Arena Journal no. 23 (2005): 134.

[2] Ibid., 132.

 

Iron Men

(for Jeremy)

In a market in Pakistan, a bearded man works

with a traditional hot flat-iron and spit

for a lifetime. Impresses the haute reporter as he

transforms her blouse from crushed to pristine

amongst the crowds and limestone.

Even at this last minute of packing

I like to have my shirts pressed

before I fold them.

I am an ironing kind of guy.

Always start with the yoke, said Greg’s mum,

you can work out to the sleeves and panels.

I was sixteen then

and had my first serious part-time job

at Don Marshall’s Menswear

in an Arcade

off Penrith High Street.

Trendy, what!

Beatles-inspired stove-pipe hipsters

squeezing the balls of the young men to breathless impotence

enraged the evangelicals.

High collars: button-downs, tabs or pins

crashed through the flaccid business range.

In the 70s board shorts and luminous T shirts

eclipsed beatnik cords of the 60s

as Wipe Out bombora’d Sergeant Pepper.

Once we tried check shirts and shoestring ties

but Slim Dusty and dosido never really took off

in the suburbs – only the Levis stayed.

Moving out of home for the first time

for an English Honours year spanning Spenser to Harold Pinter,

my flat mate’s mother was impressed that

I could iron quickly,

said her son should learn from me.

I was embarrassed.

A selfish bastard, I once broke up with a girl partly

because she couldn’t iron properly.

An iron believes in order, pressing even rebellious seersucker into place.

Pleats are a challenge: in Japan my daughter’s school tunic

was my Sunday night labour of love,

threading camels through a needle’s eye.

Ironing is a drive from Adelaide to Alice Springs

colonialism disguised as domesticity

tricky if you’re falling/diving out of a plane

or skiing down a slope…

And what about a tie?

 

– © David Gilbey (Aug/Sept 2006, rev. 2013)

 

 

 

Poem (Sally Can’t Dance)

Lana Del Rey hasn’t collapsed, she’s just bent over

the pinball machine, a duck-faced moll

it’s like the setting is Australia, but the social milieu is pure Maine

local drownings over at the river – a 7 year old Sudanese boy

swirling among the ghosts of yesteryear, the current catching the women’s billowing skirts, a brother of twins’ suicide spot

I meant to instagram a photo for you from Tarcutta, but I was never

a very convincing jogger, I ran every morning I could though

down to the cattle grate, the smell of peppercorn trees

infusing a stretch of ancient bitumen with hometown heimlich

forever patching the potholes of the gumtree university

like an old pair of janis joplin jeans (later, so impressed by

the Miami Vice-Chancellor quoting They Might Be Giants)

I haven’t really been to many parties, though I was at the Johnny Mac

sitting at the bar when I heard, faking a kind of maturity I never reached

You went straight to New York, smoking Nat Sherman B&Gs

There’s the headline:

DRUGS, FRAUD AND THE MOB. A TOWN WITH FEAR IN ITS HEART

Ita’s tongue never touches her lips

Oh Lana Del Rey we love you get up!

 

– © Keri Glastonbury

 

Bifocal

 

4w24cover

The cover of four W twenty-four is by recent BA (Photography) graduate from CSU, Peter Tsang.

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