December 9, 2008, Posted by Cat in News
I’ve made brief mention of this before, but last week after I typed the whole story out in an email to a friend, I realised it was kind of a cute story. So here it is:
Sometime in the early 90s I lived in a share house on Wigram Road, the usual sort of arrangement with a relentless stream of artsy stereotypes coming and going. One of the residents was a guy called Brian, a mild mannered chappie who worked in a library, wrote poetry and was the unlikely lead singer of a punk-industrial rock band. Brian was into the poetry scene & was friends with a Kiwi guy called David who was a dead ringer for Brains, the super smart scientist puppet on the Thunderbirds.
David is best described as a poet’s poet. He worked for years as a mail sorter at Strawberry Hills post office. He’d been a postman before that, but he preferred to sort mail because such a mindless repetitive task left his brain free to work on poems, the true calling of his life. David was older than the rest of us and did not share an interest in all the ridiculous inner city antics with which we were content to amuse ourselves. But we liked him and Brian, who had known him for years, suggested that what David really needed was to be dragged from his lonely Chippendale garret and integrated into a fun household where he could have better access to socialisation, whether he wanted it or not.
After much consideration, the Poet, as I tagged him, joined our merry band and although he didn’t partake of our drugs or our music, he did
fit well into the house and everyone was happy.
The Poet regularly sent his poems out into the world in search of publication and mostly they were rejected from quality venues. This made him angry and disappointed. Occasionally I would pull my head out of the bong to read them. I knew I didn’t understand much about poetry, but they did to me seem like fine examples of the craft. They were witty, clever and insightful, and I still remember lines from some of them today. Oh well, thought I, they can’t be all that good really if all the classy magazines and newspapers knock them back. I felt the Poet’s pain but wasn’t sure how undeserved it was.
Over time, the Poet self published a few collections. I took the author photo for book number 2, for which he dutifully insisted on paying me a fee even though I was happy to do it for nothing. Time went by, the household broke up. A bunch of us moved into a warehouse in Redfern and the Poet found himself another garret, a one bedroom flat above a shop on King Street. The Poet owned few possessions. When I asked him if there was anything he coveted, he paused before answering and told me ‘a worm farm’ as he really dug the concept of total recycling.
It was sometime around this period that I started taking my own writing seriously. I did a few classes, started a writing group and began work on what, in my great ignorance, I presumed to be a novel, which I entered into the Vogel award. It was pretty hard to convince anyone to read the thing and give me critical feedback, but the Poet suffered through it and he told me bluntly to my face that it was utter garbage. 35,000 words of humourless wank did not a novel make — what did I think writing was all about anyway? I was miffed but eventually understood that he was right. It wasn’t a novel at all. It wasn’t even good enough to qualify as a story. So I shoved it in a cupboard and concentrated on short pieces while he continued to experience rejection from upmarket poetry magazines.
When he went to self publish collection number 3, he once again asked me to take the author photo. This time, he wanted a full frontal nude image of himself on the inside cover. I never quite worked out why — something to do with honesty and openness — but I took the photo and it went into the book. I read the poems and, with a bit more literary theory and appreciation under my belt by this time, once more wondered why he couldn’t sell them elsewhere. They really did seem awfully good to me.
Time passed. The Poet attended all our parties and developed a crush on my very attractive drug crazed club bunny friend. The Poet got angry with me when I tried to explain why his affections were misplaced — all he could see was a pretty girl and thought I was being mean.
It’s all a bit of a blur now, but I do recall clearly one of my birthday parties and the gift I received from the Poet. I used to visit my grandmother once a week and take her videos of her favourite TV shows that I’d put together in my media monitoring job. I grew amused by and attached to one particular show, Angela Lansbury’s Murder She Wrote. In my interpreting of the text, the protagonist Jessica Fletcher was a serial killer who managed not only to knock someone off each week, but also cleverly convince someone else that they had, in fact, done the deed. For my birthday, the Poet wrote me a young Jessica Fletcher adventure story in which I was the star! It was fucking awesome and I’ve still got it, kept because I was so touched that he would give up a slab of his precious poetry time in an effort to make me smile.
The warehouse eventually broke up and the house party shifted to a series of residences in Balmain and then, finally, Leichhardt. By then, my writing group had been going for ten years. Natural attrition had removed all the poets, children’s writers and serious literary types, leaving a solid core of spec fic enthusiasts to tough it out. I had started to notice that the other women in the group had one clear advantage over me. They lived in sane, stable environments. They knew exactly what they were going to find when they got home from work each day. Whereas me… one day there might be a band rehursing in the living room, another time there’d be people rooting in my bed. Or playing games on my computer, or whatever. I’d gotten myself off the dope by then, but I had to fight for space to write, fight the constant partying and conversation and steady stream of visitors. I don’t recall what the Poet was up to, but I don’t think I’d seen him in a couple of years.
I was finding myself drawn further and further into the Aussie sf writing community. I started going out with Rob, upped and moved down the coast with him, started a small press and gave spec fic fiction the serious attention I’d finally decided it deserved. For awhile I was coming back up to Sydney on Saturdays for Raq Sharqi classes in Newtown. One afternoon I ran into the Poet on King street. He wasn’t very pleased to see me and I soon worked out why. I’d just vanished off the map, forgotten all about him and his poems. I was guilty of not keeping communication channels open — it had been my job. That was the sort of thing I did.
March 2008, I’m reading emails on a spec fic message board. Someone announces a non spec fic related news story, one he wants us all to share because its one of those feel good stories that cheer miserable artists up with the hint that there might just be some justice in the universe after all… A NZ poet had just won a prestigious poetry prize, $65,000 and the dude was a mail sorter, of all things!
Yep, the poet in question was my former flattie David Beach, who had gone back home to NZ to sort mail and write sonnets. And in all honesty, I was far more thrilled by his good fortune than by any of my own lucky strikes because David the Poet never once wavered from his true calling, yet somehow managed to find recognition of his talent in this shiny, noisy, shallow fucked-up world.
I blogged about it and told all the old crew but didn’t bother trying to track him down & offer congratulations. He’s probably still mad at me. I doubt he owns a computer or an email account or anything more electronically sophisticated than a landline. But I’ll bet he’s finally got a worm farm. I’d like to think so, at least.Tagged with: writing