1991 Geraldine Doogue "Offspring" BGS Residency ABC Radio National
Now, right now, down around the town, up and down the street, when to go, now, right now, need an upper, downer to go, round the town, swinging up and down and round and round and round, spinning, right now. Sound, round and round the town, now, run, up and down the town, right now, Iíve found a home [drum beat] a place to roam, a down-town sound lounge, right now.
Geraldine Doogue: Well now that was Ed Davis writing that and saying that and he learnt how to WRITE like that with Komninos, a rather unorthodox poet, who is known to Offspring audiences for his baby rap. Komninos was a writer in residence at Brisbane Boys Grammar and this is what Ed, Christian, Gareth, Rowan, Aaron and Laurie thought of his teaching.
Ed: Most people um, sort of think poetryís got to be strict rhymes and things like that but with Komninos you get a sort of broader picture of poetry. Like just free verse and things like that.
Geraldine Doogue: Much more about you?
Ed: Yeah, a lot less about abstract things and more about concrete realities. Like, Iíve done a lot, Iíve written a lot of poetry in the past and I took that to Komninos and he said it was full of outdated metaphors and it was sort of not very good. [laughter] And, so he suggested that I should try and make my poetry more sort of concrete, real sort of everyday things like he writes.Ē
Geraldine Doogue: It sounds to me as if itís a bit like Mr Keating in Dead Poetís Society Ė is that right Aaron?
Aaron: Yeah, that would be true to say thatís correct. Itís good because Komninos speaks our language and itís sort of like talking to one of your mates.
Geraldine Doogue: Yes. Did he, well, did he pay any attention to what youíve been taught before or was he very Mr Keatingesque and sort of ripped it out? I mean, in effect, did he sort of say forget what youíve learned before?
Aaron: He didnít rip it, he burnt it! [laughter] Yes, he did say to just forget everything youíve every learnt!
Geraldine Doogue: [laughter] What else happened in class Ė maybe Laurie, I could bring you in here, were there any other sort of memorable events?
Laurie: I suppose the language that people used was slightly different from what people normally use when discussing poetry, especially grammar. Komninos himself has got you know Ö.[pause]
Ed: interesting vocabulary.
Laurie: Ö. interesting vocabulary Ė thank you Ed [overtalking]
Geraldine Doogue: Which improves your words?
Laurie: within this writing. Yeah! My English teacher, who my poems about, is very conservative and using those words in the classroom, he wouldnít be up, he couldnít, he just physically couldnít use the words. But, Komninos, he used as Ed said, he used dealing with concrete realities, so he used the words that people, that the people he was writing about use. So, I found that was quite good and quite interesting.
Geraldine Doogue: Maybe you could read your poem Laurie and that will give us a bit of an idea of what you are talking about?
Laurie: Okay. Itís called Johnno.
Young, young, young, young Murphy, well done on your work down at Sware [not sure of word] with those poor disadvantaged people. Yes, yes, very well done, young Halton. No, no, no your nameís not Murphy. Now this very interesting book, Animal Farm, was written by a very interesting writer, George Orwell, and was such an interesting book. Now, there are two points of advice that I must give you boys, have I told you this before? Anyway, you must always start your sentences with short, sharp words and your essays with short, sharp sentences. And, always remember that this Communism rot is absolute nonsense Ė how could you possibly believe a man who couldnít even look after his own family. George Orwell, that very interesting writer proved this to us. Or, have, have I ever told you what an interesting writer Orwell is and how he uses simple words and always starts his sentences with short, sharp words. And is paragraphs with short, sharp sentences. Itís sort of like cricket you know, young Clackham will tell you that, when you go out to play for the Firsts, you cannot start off swinging on the back foot at every ball you face. You must start off on the front foot, taking short, sharp pushes and prods at the balls as they come at you. So you get to know the pace and the bounce of the pitch.
Geraldine Doogue: I wonder if this poem is slightly defamatory? I mean does this teacher actually exist at Brisbane Boys Grammar?
Laurie: No comment! [laughter]
Geraldine Doogue: Is this sort of well known around the school, your poem?
Laurie: Well I performed it on Saturday at our Open Day and there were teachers there and I havenít heard any derogatory comments about what I wrote or about what I said. So, hopefully itís acceptable.
Geraldine Doogue: So, youíve made a lovely use of sort of repetition I think and youíve been able to recreate the way that person spoke. And, I suppose, recreate a whole tone. Did you, do you like sending people up like that, is that something that you like putting into your work?
Laurie: Oh, not really. It was a character rave we had to do and we had to take on the role of the character. We had to write down different things about a person and then we had to take on their personality and think about what they would say and, this is what came to mind.
Geraldine Doogue: Did you write poetry a lot before?
Laurie: Not a lot, I have written it before. Iíve entered a couple of competitions and Iíve written some stream of consciousness, if you like, poetry at times when Iíve been really depressed or in a bad mood. I just donít feel like anything else, I just feel like writing, I just feel like letting it all out, so Iíve sat down and just written you know for a couple of pages. You know, itís not necessarily the greatest poetry but its poetry nonetheless and it helps. Iíve enjoyed it.
Geraldine Doogue: What about for you Ed, does it do that function for you, does it help you just to get out of yourself?
Ed: Yeah, Iíve been writing poetry for a while now and I find that itís good to be creative, itís good to sort of put things down on paper where you can see it.
Geraldine Doogue: Could you read ĎHideí for me please?
Ed: Yeah, okay.
Hide. And seek me if you can. I doubt you will and then perhaps, you will see that the school is not made for me. The covers up above my head keep out the world, within its school. I am warm. The bed is big. The school is cold. I am not old enough to lie and say Iíve got cold, so, sshhh.
9 oíclock. Now as I get to school I hear the late bell ringing
the teacher got upset and screamed out
Itís off to the Principals office you goĒ.
Geraldine Doogue: Do you enjoy writing?
Ed: Yeah, I do.
Geraldine Doogue: Is it - has it been encouraged at home and at school or is it something that you just picked up?
Ed: Well my father is a journalist and he has always encouraged me to write and Iíve received a lot of encouragement through school as well to keep on writing.
Geraldine Doogue: And what about Komninos, how did he help or change you?
Ed: Yeah, well he tried to mould me into more of his sort of poet because I, some of the poetry I used to write was along classical lines and sorta things like that. But, he prefers, I showed him that stuff and he said,
no, you know, its outdated metaphors and itís no good sort of thingĒ and he tried to change my poetry to more things that are concrete and real.
You know parents are the same, no matter time nor placeÖ.. she said youíre only 16 you donít have a rep yet. I said mum letís put these clothes back Ė please! She said no [fade out]Ē
Geraldine Doogue: So Christian, can you please read me your poem about your father.
Christian: Okay. This poemís called Dadís Hairy!
Dadís hairy like a porcupine without the gel in its prickles. Heís embarrassing like a crazy clown and lonely as a Sunday night in town. Heís sweaty like a disco. A cigarette and smokey. Sarcastic as a saxophone. Homely like a doona. Removed as a beacon. Close as a nightshirt. Warm as a tea cozy. Poignant as a memory. Lie as a stage show. Heavy as a hippo. Puffing like a smokestack. Sweating like a waterfall. Best since sliced bread. Clever as a gueyer(?spelling). A schoolwork messiah. Up here for thinking. Pensive as a picture. Moody as a thunderstorm. Droopy as a French moustache. Caring as a rocking chair. He is jelly fish, beach fish, climbing frame, splashing rain. Daddy smelling after tea. On his knee at the table. Tum thwapping, belching, burping, pardons pleasing, thunderous sneezing. Black and white photograph in his youth. My father.Ē
Geraldine Doogue: Thatís terrific. Is this how youíd like it to be or is this your actual observation of him?
Christian: Well I sort of, when I was writing this, I was combining probably some of the present situation with what I remember before. Like when he was living with us.
Geraldine Doogue: Yes, I see.
Christian: And a lot of itís like memories of when he was with us, like at the table what he used to be like and when we used to climb over him when we were kids in the swimming pool and stuff like that. While,
up here for thinkingĒ is a term he comes over sometimes and helps us with homework, and
up here for thinkingĒ is more a term which he uses when he wants to try and get us to understand a point. You know,
use your head Ė up here for thinking!Ē And so, I was sort of combining both of those ideas into the one poem. Like that.
Geraldine Doogue: Yes. You like him a lot obviously.
Christian: Oh yeah. Well he is a source of, a lot of admiration for him, I mean its, itís a lot of both actually you know.
Geraldine Doogue: Yes, yes.
Christian: I suppose thatís expected from a relationship between a father and child.
Geraldine Doogue: I would say it would be Ė indeed, but youíve just conveyed it terrifically. Has your father seen the poem?
Christian: Oh yeah Ė he didnít like the heavy as a hippo bit! [laughter] He got a bit angry about that but apart from that he thought it was good.
Geraldine Doogue: Now Gareth, youíre the school Vice Captain I understand.
Gareth: Yes, thatís right.
Geraldine Doogue: And if youíd like to read your poem, which is another sort of stream of consciousness poem about your father.
Gareth: Yes, oh, itís actually a combination of a few people. Okay, itís called Brixton Town.
Brixton town. The ideas form, strict, harsh, no way, left or right. Sometimes I pity him, so ignorant, no understanding. Yet who am I to say whether I am right or wrong? His father, and fathers before that, generations of the same man. It seems like Iím caught in a cycle just another lad in the line. Sometimes I disagree, openly, loudly, but then I think I can hardly change him, itís been born in into him, its genetic, the ideas, the greed, the simple things are all from the past. Impossible to reverse. Certainly, I myself try to change, different thoughts, patience. But as I grow I can see bit of him coming out in me, at this stage I donít know whether to fight it or be proud of it Ė which way should I go? Time will tell but I donít know whether I can wait. Sometimes I get such different perspectives. Around him I can feel open, vibrant, yet also uncomfortable and even disappointed and pissed off at his point of view. Then I say something to him, cracking down for a second his image, his lifestyle, threatening the very things he holds dear. For a second he comes through but then he curls up into his big shell, once again the selfish, greedy, big car, big house, big salary lad few people know. But, Iíve seen what heís like, if only for a second and I cannot ignore that. Iíll never hate him, I couldnít but I wish he would just see the world from my perspective for a minute, a second. I hardly see him these days but when I do he talks of his job and salary, thatís all he cares of, maybe thatís the way to go Ė I donít know.Ē
Geraldine Doogue: Has your father seen that?
Gareth: No, he hasnít, he hasnít.
Geraldine Doogue: Itís, itís a combination of anger and control and efforts to understand. Is that, you know, does that really reflect the way you are coping or managing this stage of your life?
Gareth: Yes, yes. I actually, I just wrote this just after I had a little bit of a discussion with him. An angry discussion.
Geraldine Doogue: Oh really?
Gareth: Yeah, and I was just sort of trying to get a few of my feelings out.
Geraldine Doogue: Yeah, is there very much that sense of continuing in the cycle of respectability in a way that seems to be?
Gareth: Yes, yes. Thatís the way, thatís what I try to get through.
Geraldine Doogue: Do you think that poetry helps you do that more than say, a straight prose?
Gareth: Yes, especially this sort of poetry. This poem was called a rave and it was just something that I started writing and there is actually all different people that I was, like I had opinions of at that stage, were coming out in my writing, all different lines and all different, all different perspectives.
Geraldine Doogue: Yes. The use of the term, say greed, like every know and again you put in things that are really quite strong and then, then you try to almost try to counteract it,
Iíll never hate him, I couldnít but I wish he would just see the world from my perspectiveĒ, so there is a really good debate going on within yourself. Again, do you think why is it that poetry helps you get this out Ė is it just so freeform?
Gareth: Yes Ďcause itís not formal, you donít have, you donít have to use certain words and you donít, youíre not restricted in the way you write or the sentences that you use and you donít have to write in paragraphs and you donít have to have the sentences here or there. You donít have to follow one thing or one sort of argument, you can change and criss and cross.
Geraldine Doogue: Do you think itís helped your prose writing?
Gareth: Yes. You can, because, what I find is that you, when you, introduce this sort of writing into your prose, it often sounds a lot better, it flows more freely and thatís the idea of writing to make it sound so that itís free and flowing. Geraldine Doogue: Rowan Davidson, youíve written a lovely poem called the Red Dirt Road, can you read that now please?
Rowan: Okay, The Red Dirt Road. [set to music]
I tread the red dirt road, and the gum trees, I can crane my neck to see. And the red grass and a distant mountain with the red flame licking a farm and the smoke baffles the noise of a small plane. And the dingo steps I find printed on the red dirt road and the sun sheers violently through the leaves and the roos fight to desecrate the slender red grass. I want to be the red, red road as the bees fumble my wattle and the pines spear sweet-scented needles into my red contours. I want bushfire to burn barren cracks across my red texture. When the water birds play while I flood and drown in a pool of red, red mud and the green reeds spring as innocent as a flitty white swallow from my parched red breast and the nights sound breathe over my red ears but the red, red road is not me and the red, red road takes me home.Ē
Geraldine Doogue: Where are you from Rowan?
Rowan: Iím from Brisbane and I was raised in Brisbane most of my life. The poem is actually about a spot near Beerburrum in South East Queensland. Itís in the middle of the Australian bush really and I just love the Australian Bush.
Geraldine Doogue: Because it is so vivid, youíve just got so many different sorts of imagery in there and the words you use, suggest to me that youíve mulled over this for many years. Is that right?
Rowan: Yes, I guess, itís partly to do with, my generation is the first generation in my family who wasnít raised in the bush and Iíve just heard so many beautiful things and so many experiences that my parents and grandparents have had in the bush and I just love the bush so much.
Geraldine Doogue: Yes, I mean itís Ė do you normally write as emotionally as that? I, I, to me, itís a very emotional poem and very powerful because of that. Do you think your teachers were surprised when they started seeing this come through?
Rowan: No, Iíve always tried to write in that sort of form. It sometimes doesnít really work out that way but I usually try to write that way.
Geraldine Doogue: And do you feel, it is, the rest of your writing has been affected? I mean, do you feel that by gathering, gathering the confidence to write like this and really use all these words Ė your verbs in particular I think are terrific Ė has it helped you in your general assembly of thoughts elsewhere?
Rowan: Yes, I think it does. The practice helps with writing and the confidence builds up the more you write. So I think it does Ė yeah.
Geraldine Doogue: Do the teachers actively help you? Some?
Rowan: Force you Ė but not really actively. Itís hard to say really.
Geraldine Doogue: Youíve got them sitting around you, so you canít!
Rowan: Yeah, watching me!
Geraldine Doogue: I was going to come back to you there, to Christian. What about you, do you feel that, whatís your comment on the way poetry is taught?
Christian: Well, in our school, it seems to be taught, depending on the teacher, it seems to be taught rather rigidly. When someone present, you can either present a poem so that, like read the poem out, what does this do for you, what does it mean, pick out the words, shut the book, thatís it. Some teachers do it like that, other teachers, deal with the poem because they have a passion for what the poet is saying, or they really love the way the poet is saying it. We were taught Dillon Thomas by a teacher and it was clear that he loved the poetry and that was taught really well. So, depending on the teacher and how, what they feel about the poem and the poet will depend on the passion to which itís put across to you and thatís reflected about the ease in which you learn it to I think.
Geraldine Doogue: Is there any embarrassment do you think among of say, boys, sitting together, at the sort of, you just used the word yourself, the passion and the intensity of feeling and the emotion that really is in the best of poetry. Are there sort of giggles in class and so on and so forth or are people really into this now?
Christian: Well, if the people who are studying the poetry already have maybe a contact with the poetry and understand or like that sort of poetry then usually there isnít the giggles and stuff like that. But if you get a group of boys that maybe, that havenít been associated with it, or are new to poetry and they pick a word out of it and something like that, that may be suggestive or of a suggestive nature, then youíll get the [cut in tape] and take it to heart.
Geraldine Doogue: Now Aaron, your poem, My Friends, I was going to ask you to read an extract of that, itís the first bit, I suppose of politics as such, that weíve read today. Have you, do you think a lot about current affairs and politics, do you think of yourself as being quite motivated in that score?
Aaron: Oh, not really, no, itís just, this was just something that I felt pretty strongly about thatís all, but essentially I donít really worry too much about politics.
Geraldine Doogue: Oh well itís interesting if you donít, because obviously this brought it out on you. Maybe you can choose the extract that you think is the best part of it and read it for us?
Aaron: Oh, thatís hard to say.
Geraldine Doogue: Do you want to start from the top then?
Aaron: Yeah, Iíll probably just start from the top and then you tell me when to stop.
Geraldine Doogue: Okay. [interjection from one of the boys: set your watch! laughter]
Aaron: Okay. My Friends:
My friends watch TV and listen to Suddam and Bush doing their best to put each other down, and we saw the scuds falling and heard the sound as they were zapped by patriot defense systems or hit the ground in some Israeli suburb. My friends thought the pictures of anti-aircraft fire over Baghdad were cool [voice fades and canít be heard]
[end of tape]