Sam van Zweden



Josephine Rowe

It Started With a Beach Backdrop…

It’s been a big weekend. It started with a beach backdrop about 25 metres long taped to the back of a stage, and the general excitement that comes with Piranha Party – if you ever get an opportunity to see these guys, for the love of God, do it! They’ve only been around for about 6 months, but this party ska band will make your feet move without asking you and your smile will switch on. They’re heaps of fun.

This was the last night of Madonna‘s August residency at the Royal Derby Hotel in Collingwood, and what a month it’s been. I’ve seen Madonna many times, and the once-a-week offering at the Derby hasn’t disappointed. This band has an explosive energy driving their music, and total abandon to making shit work. While this week’s set was a bit short, it was packed full of pure awesome. Somehow crowds give themselves over to Madonna – foot-tapping, swaying, or all-out moshing. This gig there was even something akin to excited galloping. Madonna’s urgent effects-swirl and constant forward push pays off. While they’ve been their best in front of very responsive crowds (more so than any other band I’ve seen), even when crowds are reticent to start with Madonna blow the roof off any venue they touch. Their next gig is at the Birmingham Hotel in Fitzroy, and will be a Joe Strummer tribute night with a slew of other amazing bands – get down there, it promises to wrinkle your skin with how good it is. So good your toes might fall off. (Take spare toes.)

Saturday night was a truly fantastic gathering of RMIT Creative Writing students – we got together, someone bought cupcakes, others bought goon, we read poetry and stories out to each other, astounded as always by how great everyone’s work is.

Sunday night saw the Toff in Town pack out for Dog’s Tales, a storytelling night that usually happens each Tuesday down at Dog’s Bar in St Kilda. For the MWF it’s took up residency at the Toff for the evening, and my goodness it was lovely! I haven’t been down to the St Kilda event yet, so it was very exciting to see the set up there on the Toff stage: a wonderful “real plastic!” chair wrestled for lovingly at an MTC garage sale, and a little green lamp that I think everyone remembers from their grandparents’ study. Such an unassuming set can only mean good things, thought I.

I was right. The night had readings from both local and international artists, and a really wide variety of stories being shared, from Josephine Rowe’s ad-libbed account of her relationship with her father, to DBC Pierre’s tale of the adverse (perhaps…) effects of tequila at storytelling events, where people sprout tails and wings, and step right out of their own skin. Carmel Bird stuck out to me as an incredibly strong reader, with such an obvious love of sharing stories. I discovered Carmel many years ago, when a literature teacher slipped me a copy of Automatic Teller and I fell in love. A few years later Red Shoes confirmed my suspicion that Carmel is freaking amazing, and then it was on. I think she’s great, and absolutely loved the fact that she read as well as I imagined she would.

Kalinda Ashton read a story about a girl working in a Christmas department store hell, which provided many laughs but these were perfectly juxtaposed with some great poignant moments. Kalinda is my non-fiction lecturer at RMIT, so I’ve only ever heard her speak in a lecture setting before. Her reading is really engaging, it sucks you into the story world for the length of the piece and you forget that you’re listening. I’ll be looking out for her events in future.

This evening finished up with a story from Tiffany Murray, which absolutely knocked my socks off. It was brilliantly honest, and Tiffany made me want to quit my course and move to the UK to study under her. I wish I could tell stories half as wonderful as hers!

This bonza weekend finished by scooting around the corner from the Toff to Shanghai Dumpling House (the one with the pink walls in China Town, not the laneway one! I don’t like the laneway one. I know others do. They haven’t discovered the pink walls one yet). $27 dollar feed for two people – a great way to finish a weekend!

Poetry to Pages

I’m not sure why this event was called “Poetry to Pages“… It should have been called “Poetry to Ears, Heart-Strings and Tear Ducts”, cuz that’s where it was going.

Whatever it was called, last night at Readings in Carlton, some lovely poetry reading went down.

The readers in question: Jordie Albiston, Josephine Rowe and Jennifer Harrison.

All of these ladies are quite accomplished Melbourne poets, but up until last night I’d only heard Josephine Rowe’s poetry.

Jordie Albiston read five sonnets from her The Sonnet According To ‘M’. Her poetry on a page is a lovely thing, and she herself has identified many of her “works as works for the voice”. However, listening to Jordie’s reading, I had to wonder if perhaps they were a little too much for the voice? Her poems are lovely-sounding and rhythmic, but Jordie’s performance of her pieces focussed so heavily on rhythm that I was unable to hear any words after a while, and only rhythm. Whether this is what Jordie intends is a question I’d love answered.

Josephine Rowe shared some short pieces of prose from her forthcoming novel, which feels a little like verse but I imagine will work well as an extended piece. She also shared some of her “love poems”, which she told the audience she’s trying to steer clear of lately… I wish she wouldn’t though; she does them so well! Josephine uses simple language in highly condensed, precise and confessional type pieces. It’s tight. Really tight. And she reads magnificently – it feels like she’s telling secrets meant only for your ears.

Last up was Jennifer Harrison. This lady has an absolutely impeccable ear for language. Usually I don’t like writing that talks about the land and connecting with it. I can appreciate a connection with the Earth, but so much of the writing on this subject is dry and trope-y. Jennifer Harrison does it masterfully though. She’s written about Uluru, about New Zealand, about being with nature and the outback and becoming one with it. And she’s done it in a really immediate way that puts you there. I’d never realised the lyrical possibilities of Maori words until last night. Jennifer’s poems also look at motherhood; another kind of ancient and essential connection, and she does this lyrically but not in an overly-flowery way.

Readings managed to bring together a really fantastic lineup of poets last night. This “Poetry to Pages” event will be happening on the second Monday of every month.

Literary crushes and excitement

I have had one particular literary crush for a long time.

On a writer, and on everything that comes out of her pen. Her laptop… Her mind.

Her name is Josephine Rowe. I saw her reading at the Emerging Writer’s festival 2009… She opened something up to me that I’d never known was there. Some writers are amazing readers, and Ms Rowe has it down pat.

She’s an amazing Melbournian poet. She writes small moments, she writes life-changing moments, she writes her own and she writes other people’s. And when you read them, you almost believe they’re yours.

So this evening when I came across a Readings event involving Josephine Rowe, I got very excited. The write-up is very vague, and indicates little to nothing about what the event actually is… But I’ll be there anyway.

If you want to discover the literary lovin’ that is Josephine Rowe, you should come along also.

Readings Carlton, 6.30pm on the 12th April.

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