Tuesday, January 31, 2023

TtD supplement #232 : seven questions for Pam Brown

Pam Brown has published many chapbooks, pamphlets & full collections of poetry, most recently Stasis Shuffle (Hunter Publishers, 2021). Pam has been poetry editor of Overland magazine, co-editor of Jacket (2004-2011) & a guest editor for Vagabond Press (Rare Objects & deciBel Series), Ekleksographia, Jacket2, Cordite, Past Simple & Minarets. Her poetry has been the recipient of several awards. She lives in Australia in a Sydney suburb built on reclaimed swampland on Gadigal country.

Her sequence “W h a t   i s   t h i s” appears in the thirty-sixth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the sequence “W h a t   i s   t h i s.”

A: This is a poem expressing my interminable skepticism & ambiguity about what art or poetry can actually do, other than record, document or act as an inventory of the times, if they’re seeking to have any effect on, in this case, ecological disaster & its consequent displacements (Ai Wei Wei’s refugees life jackets). At best, some of the artists mentioned actually make art from recycled found materials. I’m not sure that the poem itself is of any use.

Q: How does this piece compare to some of the other work you’ve been doing lately?

A: It’s very different in a way. Rather than describe artworks, or list artists I’d probably gesture towards them a bit more cryptically. I did want to ‘say something’ about the problem of a very defined wholesomeness in ethical yet often alluring artworks. There’s a kind of veil of righteousness that could be ripped through by rage or wild humour making work that’s impossible to hang in a corporate boardroom.

My other recent poems are less stable, more indefinite, as they traipse through the sidetracks of digital wilderness and everyday detritus.

Q: What prompted this particular shift to ‘say something’ in your work? You suggest that you aren’t sure that “the poem itself is of any use,” so the question becomes: what are you hoping to accomplish?

A: It wasn’t really a shift to ‘say something – the poems always do that. I meant that it was a more topical poem than I’d usually make.It was a reaction to a trend I’d noticed in visual art. Not a new trend but definitely an insistent one.

As for accomplishing anything, if your publication’s readers take something away from it then the poem might have found a function.

Q: You mention Ai Wei Wei: are there any other artists or writers you’ve looked at for the kinds of work you’ve been exploring lately?

A: Not specifically. Ai Wei Wei is a front page artist isn’t he? Visual art, performance, screen, poetry – all part of my outlook. In the past, I’ve taught in art schools (as a casual), worked in audio visual departments in art institutions as well as having different roles in ‘alternative’ (polite word for ‘oppositional to status quo mainstream’ art) or collective art venues like the Tin Sheds in Sydney and the Experimental art Foundation in Adelaide. Like many poets I know artists of varying kinds. That’s an enormous topic to talk about rob and I haven’t had breakfast yet.

Q: With numerous books and chapbooks over the years, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: It’s difficult for me to sum up when or how my poetry writing has changed over the decades. Perhaps that’s up to somebody else to do. But there are points in time that I can look back at and see different turns, consolidations, change in style and even method. One instance could be that I used to think I aimed for ‘intelligibility’ in the poems. I had a lightbulb moment about that idea at some time in the 1990’s and decided not to worry about intelligibility. That was liberating. Poetry is thought of as a difficult art anyway so why chase after comprehension. I think the poem in Touch the Donkey, ‘W h a t   i s   t h i s', is pretty obvious. Other poems have become more fragmentary in the last decade. But I’ve also made things like sequences of twenty-eight line freely associated fake double sonnets.

I’m not sure where it’s all headed. Lines, images, bricolage accrue on A4 pages on the desktop file and need reassembling, compiling. There are also occasional notes I make in small notebooks to add to that. They work or they don’t and if the poem works it feels like a fortunate accident in spite of all the rearranging that’s occurred. I hope there’ll be some more chapbooks in my future.

Q: You seem to favour longer pieces, longer sequences; poems that accumulate to form a larger project or idea. What brought you to these particular forms?

A: Prompted by watching and reading news of the 2011 riots in England where disgruntled citizens rose up without a focused, central issue protest and smashed windows and looted shops and set fire to buildings, I wanted to write something situated in a place of ‘Worldlessness’. Somewhere where meaning is elusive or where it’s not easy to locate meaning in a life. But the situation in my poem is a place where it appears that nothing much happens. No consequent rioting.  The poem doesn’t foreground a rationale or agenda and ends without fanfare or conclusion. It was called ‘Worldlessness’ (which some people mistook for ‘wordlessness’ – it being a poem). So that’s how I came to write longer and more fragmentary poems. One of my recent books, Click here for what we do, is a loosely-connected group of four longer poems.

Q: Finally, who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?

A: I have various favourites whose books I’ll re-read often – Etel Adnan, Jane Joritz-Nakagawa, Kim Hyesoon, Philip Terry, Chris Nealon, Anselm Berrigan and, from way back, James Schuyler. Locally, that is Australians, I am currently amazed by Emily Stewart, Tim Wright, Evelyn Araluen, Rebecca Jessen and Jake Goetz. I’ll always re-read poets like Ken Bolton, Gig Ryan, Ann Vickery, Greg McLaren, Kate Lilley, and I love  experimenters – Toby Fitch, Chris Edwards, Amelia Dale, Amanda Stewart, A.J. Carruthers, Dave Drayton, Louis Armand  etc. Of course, these kinds of lists are in flux and they’re worrying because I’m sure to leave a few friends out if I don’t make it an incredibly long list. I should say that I do get incentive for poetry from reading political aesthetics – Esther Leslie, Claudia Rankine, Franco Berardi and so on. Sometimes, in a small act of gratitude, I might borrow a line from all of the above.

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