Monday, January 29, 2007

The Search for the Perfect Pub

Two comments on my Australia Day Massacre post seem to assume that serious poetry and pubs - at least Aussie pubs - might not seem likely combinations. Of course, London's Mermaid Tavern is well-known as the venue for brisk well-lubricated debate among such Elizabethan aspirants as Ben Jonson, John Donne, John Fletcher and Francis Beaumont, Richard Carew, and William Shakespeare. But an Aussie pub? One commenter on my Massacre post wrote
Strangely enough, I wouldn't have expected an Aussie poetry reading to be any different from what you described. At least not one held in a pub...

Another cruelly remarked that the denizens of such a scene would likely devour Gérard de Nerval's pet lobster. And yes, I must concede that would be a possibility.

But pubs and poetry do have something of an association in Australia. The following is from John Tranter's review of Nigel Roberts' In Casablanca for the Waters:

It is a journalistic cliche that literary and artistic movements have their birth in particular suburbs — the beatniks in Greenwich Village, the Paris intellectuals of the Left Bank, the San Francisco Renaissance. The real focus is usually not a group of suburban dwellings, but the meeting-places: the restaurants, clubs and especially the coffee houses.

But the story of the Sydney intelligentsia is writ in alcohol, and its odyssey was the search for the perfect pub. Most of the good songs, stories, novels, poems and little magazines in the 1960s and 70s were born in the haze, good cheer, raging arguments and cacophony of pubs — the legendary Royal George, the Newcastle, the United States, the Criterion, the Vanity Fair, and in Balmain the Forth & Clyde and the London. Out of that school of hard knocks and hangovers grew the Balmain Renaissance.

Like all cliches, it is hard to define clearly, but a few main features stand out. The time was the late 60s and early 70s, the place was more often than not Balmain, the form was mainly avant-garde poetry and prose. You could see it all at the Annual Balmain Poetry and Prose Readings, held at different venues around the locality.

This event was something like a blend of literary amateur night, floating brothel, and the nastier parts of World War II, and no writer was considered really in until he or she had suffered something dreadful at one of the readings...

I met Nigel Roberts on his first night in Australia, back in 1964 I think, where he had arrived (obviously a little dazed) from New Zealand. It was at the room of Swiss Walter in a crash pad in Woolloomooloo. Swiss Walter was a man of great revolutionary energy, who kept several sticks of gelignite under the floorboards of his room. He had purloined them from the Water Board, where he was working as a labourer. I don't know what he ultimately did with them. Nigel arrived - I can't remember how, or why - and spent some hours there as a group of blow-ins jabbered frenetically on into the wee smalls, fueled by bowls of yippee beans thoughtfully placed around the room. Nigel impressed me because of his quiet good manners, and his obvious extensive knowledge of poetry and poets (including my own favourite at that time, Robert Graves). I met him on and off around the scene quite a few times after that - I was a little jealous that he became the partner of the exquisite Daphnette, whom I knew from The Royal George, and whom I had long ardently admired myself.

In the 70s Nigel was one of the founders of the Poets Union, which was formed with the aim of "revitalising Australian poetry with a new attitude to one of the oldest of all artforms. Poetry was taken off the dusty bottom shelf and into the streets, being read in pubs, cafes and parks, and finding new shapes and sounds to reflect a changing world" (Poets Union site).

Poetry readings at pubs around Balmain, like the Rose, Shamrock and Thistle, were thus an important feature of the Australian poetry scene.

Submissions for March 2007 Edition

The Shit Creek Review is seeking submissions of poetry, critical articles, reviews and original images for its March 2007 Edition, which will go online in late March. The submission deadline is February 11th, 2007. There is no particular theme for this issue. Free Range!

But read the Submission Guidelines first!

Friday, January 26, 2007

The Australia Day Massacre: Poetry in Oz

"Paul, I'd love a perspective on how poetry is thought of in other countries/regions and whether that's bad or good" - Don Zirilli.

When I learned that there was a meeting of a Poetry club in a pub not too far from where I live, held the last Tuesday of every month, I thought this would be a great opportunity to combine two of my favourite obsessions: beer and poetry. I saw myself sitting, schooner of ale in one paw and scroll of Metaphysical poetry in the other, declaiming sonnets and discussing anapaests and tropes, odes and villanelles, and debating the works of A.D. Hope and Ern Malley.

Of course it wasn't like that at all. Instead it turned out to be a meeting of practitioners of Bush Poetry. Australian Bush poetry is a fairly popular performance art which is found not in the cities much but in the bush, at Country Music festivals (such as the Tamworth Festival), enjoyed between line-dancing marathons and crooning singers who sound more American than Australian.
Ahhh am, yewww ahhh
We ahhh
There is a deep schizophrenia in the "Country" culture, that just doesn't know whether it is American or Australian. More accurately, it seems to think that the two are the same thing.

The most Australian element of the whole culture, though, is the Bush Poetry. It is declaimed with the broadest possible Strine accent, and manifests such dominant Australian characteristics as sarcastic irony, self-deprecating humour, pessimism and sentimentality. It is firmly proletarian in tone and vision, honouring the Good Bloke and his Sheila, and the Battler. It is nearly always formal poetry in its use of rhyme (though these are often inexact and strained) and of regular meter, often anapaests. It is often dated in its use of old-fashioned diction and phrase, and of inversion, and heavily end-stopped, all of which are seen as being poetic and lofty. Here's an excerpt from one example of the genre by "Blue the Shearer":
It’s good for killing blowflies on the barbecue or stove,
And it’s great for crushing garlic. Just belt it on the clove,
And wipe the garlic laden thong on chicken, beef, or pork,
Inhale the pure aroma of that garlic when you walk.

A thong for early evening, to wear with hipster tights,
I can see the jingle in my mind, as though it were in lights.
Just a thong at twilight, when the tights are low.
With a string of diamantes, ’twined artistic round each toe.

A thong to wear to worship. I’d call it even thong,
The strap is very holy, and the soul, so very strong.
A thong to wear to football, to cricket, or the shops,
To shearing sheds, to factories. Steel capped thongs for cops.

I’d move away from footwear, create a new design,
For a chocolate coated thong, to give my valentine,
And way into the future, when the years have moved along,
She will show her grandkids, her love’s old sweet thong.

And when we go republic, and we’re looking for a song
To celebrate our Icon, let’s hear it for the thong.
Forget Waltzing Matilda, Advance Australia Fair,
A brand new National Anthem will be wafting through the air...

And here's the closing stanzas of "The Christmas Wish" by Kym Eitel:
...Mum says that even God himself can't cure my sister, Anne.
So Santa, here's my Christmas wish, please help me if you can.
I'll never ask for toys again, if just one thing you'll do
... give Annie one last Christmas please, before she's an angel too.

I found both of these poems by the proverbial quick google, and quoted from them because both are good examples of their genre. I find them both very successful at what they set out to do: Blue the Shearer's riff on thongs is funny, and would go down well as a pub song or an open-mic crowd-pleaser; Kym's poem is touching and poignant, and deploys the techniques of its genre very skilfully. It is a poem that people would simply respond too because of its humane values and compassion. Bush Poetry is truly a living art form that lots of people connect with: it has an audience who genuinely respond to it, a far greater audience than the sort of poetry I was after could ever hope to achieve. By the criteria of reaching a far wider audience and of having instant appeal, it is much more successful poetry. It is celebrated and validated by the mass media and the community at large. I salute Bush Poetry, which I have read and listened to since I was a kid in Condobolin. I especially admire its genuinely Australian character - it is not a grovelling imitation of American style and values as so much "Australian" Country Music is.

But where does that leave skulking oddballs like me? My visit to Tuesday Pub Poet's club might be seen as an emblem of the poetry scene in Australia. Poetry here is valued primarily as a nationalistic expression of "Old Aussie Values", now applied to the modern world. Tortured metaphysicians and sonneteers have no part in such a scene, and are soundly and roundly ignored by the population at large. Poetry of the type published in The Shit Creek Review and similar zines is just not on the radar of Australians in general. They study some at school, though, and when Don Zirilli and Michael Cantor become classics, students will doubtless chew the ends of their pens over their poems too, producing such critiques for the examiners as "Zirilli uses words and sentences in this poem to make his language flow smoothly, revealing his hidden meanings..."

Well, I listened at the pub to a few theatrically declaimed rousingly patriotic or wistfully ironic Bush poems, but to be honest with you, the Little Creatures Pale Ale I was drinking was by far the most interesting part of the evening. That is my limitation, and my curse.

Anyway, yous blokes and sheilas, ere's me own bash at a pome for Australia Day. It's about our beautiful Wide Brown Land's fantastic birdlife - the feathered variety of course. Hope yous all like it! Up a gum tree Sport! Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oi! oi! Oi!

The Song of the Sulphur-crested Cockatoo

Each night I'm enthralled by the barking owl's call
I have come to admire so well;
I awaken each day in the most pleasant way
to the plaint of the amorous koel.

But there's one lilting tune sends me over the moon,
no matter how oftentimes heard:
such a musical note as cascades from the throat
of a soulfully poetic bird.

Can you believe it? Can you conceive it?
I wish you could hear, as I do,
the ravishing song of the sweet sulphur-crested
delicate white cockatoo!

Image courtesy of Patricia Wallace Jones

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Bright Side of Obscurity

I have been known to spend some time on a certain on-line photography forum, one in which photographers, would-be photographers and wannabe photographers all congregate to rate and critique each other's photos. As part of this judgmental sort of communication, I often hear the word "artistic" bandied about by people who think they know what it means. They will make comments like "this might be good as an artistic photo" or "if you don't center the subject this will look more artistic." They seem to know what "artistic" looks like.

And how exactly does one know what something looks like? By having seen it before, of course! They think they can recognize "artistic" the same way they recognize a landscape or a portrait: by comparing it to what they've already seen. For them, the appreciation of photography is a matter of pattern recognition, and that's where the pleasure comes from, much like the pleasure of recognizing a friend in the public square, an anticipation of a comfortable, comforting experience.

Is this what you want your art to be? In striving for popularity, that is what you strive for: the creation of something familiar. True art, true poetry, is the opposite. It is an attempt to create something utterly unfamiliar. This is the only way to achieve anything spiritual, otherwise your audience will never leave the comfortable realm of the material, where they comfortably understand everything around them, comfortably pigeonholing every experience. This is, after all, how we survive the chaos of existence. Otherwise, our brains would be overwhelmed, we would be unable to consume, to produce, to obey. Society would crumble. Why do you think poets are so often persecuted? They try to untie the fragile, self-contradictory knots we are using to hold our world together in our tired brains.

So when people talk about the disgraceful unpopularity of poetry in the United States, I can't help but think of the bright side. I see it as the failure of our society to pigeonhole poetry, to make it a comfortable, familiar experience. Perhaps that is a sign of the success of our poets.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Submit to Issue #3!

We are calling for submissions for Issue #3 of The Shit Creek Review. Please submit original work in the fields of poetry, critical and analytic prose, reviews, essays, art and photography.

Submissions for Issue #3 need to be in by the 11th of February, 2007. Please read our submissions criteria here before submitting:

Issue #3 will go online in late March as we move from a Bi-Monthly to a Quarterly publication scheme.

We hope to implement a downloadable .pdf file option for each issue, and are investigating ways to put the SCR into print every so often, so that contributors and readers may have a hard copy if they wish. Any ideas for achieving the printed version proposal are welcome.

Submissions should be made to

Nigel Holt -

Visual arts submissions should be made to

Don Zirilli -

The Shit Creek Review is at

The Shit Creek Review blog is at

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Investigation is a foot

I am Mr. Paul Stevens, Convenor of the Shit Creek Corruption Commission (Australian and Nigerian branches). It has come to my attention that there are serious allegations concerning the corrupt and nepotistic practices of one of the editors of The Shit Creek Review, a certain Mr. Paul Stevens. These are currently being rigorously investigated by myself.

In the meantime I should explain The Shit Creek Review's philosophy. The whole sorry venture was inspired by this remark of Steven Schroeder's:

If [the fledgeling poet] is willing to accept rejection, have him shoot high at first--better than starting out with The Shit Creek Review, where publication is barely better than nothing.

It has been our mission ever since to live up to this Vision of Poetic Achievement. Indeed we have sought to transcend it, so that publication in The Shit Creek Review is actually worse than nothing. Many have remarked that it is a far better publishing credit to have been rejected by The Shit Creek Review than to have been accepted. As Peter Richards, Emeritus Professor of Solipsistics at Oslo University, so sublimely put it:

Beware, if this publication comes anywhere close to living up to its name, then the problem won't be getting into it...

If Mr Stevens turns out to have been contravening our very strict policies regarding nepotism, corruption, bribery and the like, or to have been compromising the integrity of our Vision, I personally will bring the full force and majesty of the Shit Creek Code to bear upon him.

To facilitate this investigation I need to deposit a sum of $20,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000, 000,00010 into a US bank account. Send me your name and account details and I will, after transferring the above-mentioned sum to your account, prosecute Mr Stevens to the full extent of the law.

Be assured that our policy of accepting bribes and favours for publication in The Shit Creek Review will continue undiluted. Payments may be made through PayPal or Visa. I also assure you that the answer to the question, "Will the evil-doers be punished?" is an emphatic and vigorous "Roger!"

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Shit Creek Rising

The Shit Creek Review Issue #2, with the theme "Where I Live", is now online.

Don Zirilli and Patricia Wallace Jones have joined as Art Editors, and C.D. Russell as Guest Webmaster and Art Editor.

You'll find poetry by Mike Alexander, Mark Allinson, Kate Benedict, Michael Cantor, Robert Clawson, Brent Fisk, Angela France, Dennis Greene, Nigel Holt, Jan Iwaszkiewicz, Rose Kelleher, Janet Kenny, Jee Leong Koh, David Landrum, Dave McClure, Kei Miller, Tim Murphy, Thomas Rodes, C. D. Russell, Patricia Sims, Paul Stevens, Wendy Videlock, Tony Williams, and Donald Zirilli.

But you want more. There's also an essay by the solipsistic Norman Ball, and a review by the analytical Cheryl Snell.

Be careful though not to lean too far over the side of the canoe. And don't, whatever you do, trail your hand in the water!

We are calling for submissions for the March Issue. Submissions guidelines here - - please read them.

Submissions to

Monday, January 01, 2007

Issue 2 - Are We There Yet?

You'll be Up Shit Creek sooner than you think!

(Depending of course on how soon you think you'll be up it. But very soon.)

The Shit Creek Review, Issue 2, is Coming!

Watch for first sightings. It's almost there.

Raving Reviews on The Shit Creek Review's first issue!

From Eratosphere!

  • I'm incredibly proud to be in the first issue of Shit Creek Review. It's seriously good. I love the art work. Love the whole thing. - Janet Kenny

  • Sincere congratulations to all involved. It looks wonderful, and the quality of the work is no joke! - Maryann Corbett

  • was like Leningrad Cowboys Go America--I thought it would be good; I heard it was good, but what I'd heard was wrong. It was even better. Paul Stevens and Nigel Holt have put together a good, edgy e-zine, and they are examples for children to look up to and follow. - Quincy Lehr

  • Nicely done. Congrats. - Kate Benedict

  • You attracted some fine poets and excellent poems, despite the crappy title. - David Anthony

  • Well, I for one hope that Paul keeps the title. It was what attracted me from the very start, since it seemed such an appropriate name for a mag which considers poems rejected, for various reasons, by the poetry "establishment." Poems which are a bit "out there", or a bit too metrical for the predominant FV world, or too experimental for other mags. - Mark Allinson

  • I think the present title is a winner. It will be most powerful if the content contrasts with, rather than reflects it. - Janet Kenny

  • Long may it survive and provide a haven for the minor poet who doesn't care for reputation or prestige. - Jim Hayes

  • I was told, and firmly believe, that it could possibly be true that the authority created in 1900 to look after the welfare of Sydney Harbour was called the Sydney Harbour Improvements Trust. That is until they printed the initials in gold onto a blue riband and put said riband around the rim of boater to be worn by the Authority's inspectors... this is a serious title, let no wowser near it. Great job Nigel and Paul. - Jan Iwaszkiewicz

From Gazebo!

  • ...the idea of the Shit Creek Review tripped my trigger immediately... it has the work of some very fine, albeit brave, poets in it. - Patricia Wallace Jones

  • ...a nice balance of solid poetry, poo, and well-chosen photography and artwork. - Christine Potter

  • The quality makes me green with envy. What a great first outing. - Norman Ball

  • It's just damned wonderful! - Adam Elgar

From Sonnet Central!

  • I love the pics and background colours... The poems are good, too. They belie the journal's name. - Jankiewicz


  • Don't let the name fool you: this is a journal of excellence... the poems are great, the artwork is beautiful. - chrissiekl

And of course, the seamy and disreputable "Limericks Overboard Affair" from Poetry Free For All!

  • As the limericks sink from view, leaving only a few bubbles on the surface, the canoe proceeds on its stately voyage upcreek, penetrating deeper and deeper into the Heart of Darkness. - Caratacus