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Tearing down walls

KoralyDimitriadisBenJohnSmith

Sometimes I get so tired of words. They pour out of me. It is not words that I lack. It is the discipline to arrange the words in a way that best articulates what it is I am trying to say. I’m trying to tear down walls, layers and layers of walls. Emotional walls, cultural walls, female walls, writing and publishing industry walls. But sometimes it’s best just to shut up and say everything you want to say in a single photo. So I’m going to keep this post brief, and let the photo say the rest.

After the debate here on Overland in response to my post ‘Poetry or Pornography’ I had a long think about things. I do that a lot. Sometimes I comment or post things that I regret later. There are a lot of things I want to say but I am only going to stick with one and let the photo say the rest. Many people ask me, why Ben? And the reason is simple, and there is no need for me to bring feminist theories into it and get all political. I am drawn to his honesty because I too am an honest writer. I am drawn to his artistic freedom because I too follow the same philosophy. The question is not whether or not Ben is sexist. The question is what kind of society do we live in that Ben, an honest, decent man, is writing what he is writing.

poster_2_sizedThis photo shoot, conceptualised by Jenny Poulakos, photographed by Art of the State Filmworks with hair and makeup by Kaliopi Malamas, was executed with the literature both Ben and I have created in mind, and the chemistry that brings both of us together. All parties involved are familiar with mine and Ben’s work and intentions. The full series can be seen on Ben’s website, Horrorsleazetrash. This photo was also chosen to promote the gig Ben and I are doing together at Polyester books on Friday 11.11.11 at 7:30pm. Just as we did at the launch of my poetry chap book, Love and Fuck Poems (which has been picked up by a Cypriot publisher to be translated into Greek), Ben and I will once again engage in a poetry war, poem for poem, only this time we will be taking the poetry out onto Brunswick Street, to the people. The gig has been promoted by RRR and in Beat magazine where the photo was featured on their home page when our interview was first published.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate.

Koraly is a widely published Cypriot-Australian writer and performer. She is the author of the controversial Love and F**k Poems. Koraly received an Australia Council ArtStart grant. She presents on 3CR radio and has a residency at Brunswick Street Bookstore. Her 2013 La Mama show is Exonerating The Body. She is mentored by Christos Tsiolkas.

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  1. Pingback: Tearing down walls « One lifetime is not enough, for all my words – Koraly Dimitriadis

  2. hi koraly.

    after reading this short piece i was curious to read the earlier debate you spoke of. one thing i noticed and became concerned about was the way you seem to represent a dichotomised contemporary poetry between ‘academic’ poetry and the ‘raw, emotive poetry’ of poets like yourself or ben. perhaps you’ve had enough of debate, or somebody have may already made comments similar to the ones i’m about to make but i just feel that this kind of claim is completely unfair and am compelled to put some of my thoughts to you.
    first of all, as a young, new poet writing in melbourne i would disassociate myself from both categories put forth. to draw an ‘us and them’ line is to simplify a complex and grey-shaded art form (or just art in general) – perhaps you realise this, just choose to ignore it? also, i think that ‘academic’ poetry can be every bit as raw and emotive as any other genre, perhaps less accessible or direct but to those who can access it, or enjoy it (whatever it is – i’m just going off much of what’s published in most lit-mags) it can be very emotionally powerful. just because YOU don’t find emotiveness within ‘academic poetry’ does not mean such a comment can be considered as objectively valid.
    perhaps obviously, this blanket generalisation about two different and opposing forms of contemporary poetry you’ve made, you understand to be overly simplifying. however, i think this perception comes from a difference within the audiences each ‘side’ has in mind when they write. personally, i don’t give a shit about an audience beyond myself as i write, i simply write what i want to read and would distance myself from any traditional notion of writing with any intention to engage with anybody else. (perhaps i do unconsciously, but then, how can i tell?).
    one of the rhetorical questions you ask is ‘After all, words are words; why does literature have to be academic writing?’. and i should think it is obvious that it doesn’t. your poetry has an audience, as you state in the comments, ‘plenty of people enjoy mine and ben’s poetry’ (paraphrase). if you decided to start up a literary journal which focussed on publishing poetry exclusively like the genre in which you place yourself, i’m sure it would do fine. the fact that a magazine like overland would hesitate to publish yours does not mean it dictates what is and isn’t literature within australia, and to assume it does suggests that perhaps your embarrassed by your own poetry? there’s no need to look up to established lit journals if you consider yourself writing for a completely different audience to the one that they publish for. i suppose one of the main problems with the question is how to define literature. in my view, poetry like yours is pretty common and has been around for a long time. in terms of innovation with form or technique, there doesn’t really seem to be much originality in your work, in-fact i feel like i’ve read poems similar to the one you previously posted many times before. not even the content was that new (as a number of others repeatedly felt the need to point out to you, so sorry to do so again!), though it was mildly interesting considering its jarring nature with contemporary society. however, the same is applicable to much of what gets published in ‘academic journals’ – i often get bored also with what is being published in island or meanjin or wherever (even overland). but this may just because i’m young and impatient…
    i say this because from where i stand, one of the most important contributing factors to what ‘literature’ consists of is originality, innovation etc. – stuff people aren’t used to (whether or not it becomes valued is impossible to predict and part of why traditionalism is often reverted to – because it is already safely established within literary or popular discourses as acceptable). perhaps this is why poetry such as yours isn’t lit-mag regular content (i don’t know, maybe it is? sorry, not too familiar with your poetry, just your articles here and there), not because it doesn’t fit the establishment, but because it fits the establishment too much?
    hmmmmmm

  3. Will, firstly, I actually enjoy reading academic poetry, if it’s really good, but not I’m not familiar with your work, where exactly have you been published? You say you are young, how long have you been active in the literary industry? To be honest, I’m quite offended by the sarcasm in your comment. In reference to the ‘us’ and ‘them’ camp, why don’t we first start by having a look at the Australian literary landscape? When people think literary journals they think meanjin, overland, southerly, yet most, if not all of their poetry is academic. Or books like Australia’s best poems, or the recent copy of the Australian poetry journal: academic names. Why can’t there be a bit of variety? So that when someone in a bookshop picks up a literary journal and has a look they can say ‘oh, that’s literature’. Do you know why? The truth is that most ‘academics’ think that poetry like mine lacks quality. In fact, you proved this point when you said and I quote

    ‘poetry like yours is pretty common and has been around for a long time. in terms of innovation with form or technique, there doesn’t really seem to be much originality in your work, in-fact i feel like i’ve read poems similar to the one you previously posted many times before’

    how exactly do you draw that my poetry is pretty common and has been around for a long time? Would you like to please provide me some examples of writing that is like mine? A woman, from a migrant background, in Australia, speaking honestly about culture and sexuality? Have you actually read any of my work besides the one poem I posted on Overland, or come to one of my gigs and seen me perform to draw such a judgement? No, I didn’t think so. And if there wasn’t ‘much originality’ how come I have sold 250 copies of Love and Fuck poems since I launched it in July and how come by book stockists keep growing, and that my book is going to be published and translated to Greek, and how come I was featured on the home page of beat magazine? How come? To be honest, I don’t think you know what you are talking about. I think you should do some research first before writing a comment like this.

    and this comment: ‘one of the most important contributing factors to what ‘literature’ consists of is originality, innovation etc. – stuff people aren’t used to’

    Are you kidding me? Every time I pick up a literary journal and look at the poetry section I am never surprised. It’s always the same old thing. What constitutes originally and innovation? According to what? The rules taught at universities? Breaking the rules?

    finally I’d like to leave you with this comment you made ‘perhaps this is why poetry such as yours isn’t lit-mag regular content (i don’t know, maybe it is? sorry, not too familiar with your poetry, just your articles here and there), not because it doesn’t fit the establishment, but because it fits the establishment too much?’

    I have been published in journals and anthologies, but it’s my more traditional poems, the ones that fit THE ESTABLISHMENT

    • koraly,

      you’re 100% right, i’m naive. i’ve poetry forthcoming in overland and the age, and present in a couple of small melbourne-based poetry zines and mags like ‘steamer’ ed by sam langer, and ‘rabbit’ ed by jess wilkinson. i’ve been submitting for about 6 months, i’ve been reading (australian poetry) and writing for about three years. the reason i am bold, and recklessly bold at that, (perhaps too bold! i assure, no sarcasm was intended anywhere) is because i am naive. stepping into the australian literary landscape, i am afraid, and a little annoyed by the factionalism and finger-pointing. i understand this is only one aspect of it, there are heated debates and discussions about poetry genres within ‘academic’ poetry that are critical of one another as well.

      you’ve cleared up how you view academic poetry (thanks) – you enjoy some of it. i’m on par – i only enjoy some as well. and you say journals like overland, meanjin, southerly etc consist of mostly academic content. i should have asked this before, but what exactly do you mean by ‘academic’? ‘why can’t there be a bit of variety?’ there can! that’s one of my most emphatic points. not all of australian ‘literature’ is academic (you’re a testament to that), in-fact, when i mention to most of my friends at uni or wherever that i write poetry they immediately think of spoken word poetry, and mention going to events like passionate tongues at brunswick hotel which i did see you at in september.
      the reason why i am concerned about your representation of this divide between the ‘academic’ and perhaps what i should term simply as the ‘non-academic’ is that i get a sense you’re implying that australian literature consists of ‘academic’ writing, or poetry, and that this is unfair, whereas i think the majority of people who engage with poetry engage with it at spoken word events, precisely because it is accessible. i assume that ‘academic’ is often more abstract, intertextual, abstruse and less blunt, direct and obvious (obvious in terms of meaning) than what we’re comparing it to, and it has its own audience, which access it via mags like overland, island etc. people don’t go to spoken word events such as passionate tongues and read ted berrigan, or guillaume apollinaire or even john forbes (if they’re reading stuff they haven’t written themselves). would you consider these poets ‘academic’? ginsberg, or something by the beats is more likely to crop up, and they clearly influence much of spoken word poetry massively, and i notice similar techniques of para-rhyme, repetition, rhythm and flow, an element of spontaneity in some of your own work. i’ve read your work previously through your blog, though this was a couple of years ago when i was new to poetry, though i’ve just gone back and read some more now. i first encountered you in ‘the reader’ ed by dion kagan, writing about christos tsiolkas i think… i really enjoyed your poetry then, though my tastes have changed markedly. i would liken your style of poetry to the beats mainly, in my experience. apart from various spoken word events i’ve attended at festivals, along with viewing things like def poetry jam,online with people like saul williams etc there aren’t many people i could directly liken you to, only that i feel a similarity between much of your poetry and what i initially encountered when i became interested with poetry. i think i moved away from spoken word because after a little while it began to feel too generic, i got tired of it. i think where you family came from, your gender, your situation – your identity basically doesn’t necessarily make your work original. this of course depends on whether originality is even relevant to what becomes defined as ‘literature’. as you point out, poetry in lit-mags is pretty boring and same-same as well, i absolutely agree. i stated before ‘i often get bored also with what is being published in island or meanjin or wherever (even overland)’. however, just because your poetry sells does not mean it is original. poetry sells sometimes because it is original, but mostly because it is trendy, just like music.
      actually, your criticism of my statement is great, it made me rethink whether ‘this is why poetry such as yours isn’t lit-mag regular content’. that was a stupid thing to say. sorry. a better question to have asked would have been;
      perhas lit-mags may not publish work like or similar to yours because it does not fit their particular establishment? but when it does, they do…
      hmm, it seems like there are a bunch of ‘establishments’, one of them ‘academic’ which focus on themselves. and of course, you try to get published wherever you can, but i think that criticising the ‘academic’ literature establishment is unfair when the ‘academic’ establishment does not seek to assert itself within spoken word communities (i have no idea how to term where you’re coming from, sorry koraly).
      i don’t know what constitutes originality and innovation koraly, i think that’s part of originality and innovation’s nature. i would definitely go with breaking the rules though, as opposed to rules taught at uni.

      i’d again like to stress my regret at appearing sarcastic. my intention was to be critical, as critical as i can be with the experience i have, but in no way antagnositic.

      will

    • i’ve actually read this before, last year on your blog. i agree with you koraly, you’ve guts. and i’ll be honest, i’m questioning how wise it was to be up front and critical with you and am a little shocked in the face of your passion. i really am just trying to make sense of things. hopefully i may meet you some time so that that intention is more clear.

  4. ‘whereas i think the majority of people who engage with poetry engage with it at spoken word events, precisely because it is accessible.’ my point exactly. why can’t printed poetry also be accessible? why does it have to be abstract and academic? why can’t some printed poetry in literary mags be raw and accessible? by the way, i thought you said you were only familiar with my work published on overland? suddenly you were at my passionate tongues feature and read my article in the reader…unless you just read all about me on my blog during this debate. Look, it’s all okay, no hard feelings, I just like a good debate.

    ‘i think i moved away from spoken word because after a little while it began to feel too generic, i got tired of it’ I feel the same way about literary journals! I think the spoken word seen is much more exciting! But I think some over the poetry delivered by spoken word artists also works tell on the page, for example, my poetry!

    ‘however, just because your poetry sells does not mean it is original. poetry sells sometimes because it is original, but mostly because it is trendy, just like music.’ anyone in the literary world will tell you that unless you are TT.O or dorothy porter poetry is bloody hard to sell so when it DOES sell it means that the work has risen above the perception of what society believe poetry to be(an old man reading abstract verse of about birds and trees) and in order to do that the writing does have to be something original. Woven within my poetry is my identity, my background etc because all my poetry is so honest and raw so yes, my identity has a lot to do with my writing, and if you were at my passionate tongues reading for the overload festival you would have known that.

    congratulations of your literary publications by the way!

    • what is academic poetry?
      i think that there is printed poetry which is accessible, and it sells, like yours does. but poetry in literary journals is simply accessible, and designed to suit to a less broad (and perhaps academically oriented) audience. i could ask in reply why don’t people read more abstract, abstruse and disjunctive poetry at spoken word? because nobody there wants to hear it. obviously there’s a cross over and many people’s tastes (like yours) go beyond any single area of poetry.
      i said i wasn’t familiar with where you’ve been published in lit-mags. i haven’t read your poetry for years so i wouldn’t say i’m up to date with it, only i’ve noticed you write articles around here every so often. the passionate tongues you read at was the third i’ve attended. i have no idea how i cam to read the poem you mentioned above, on your blog last year…
      in 2009, at the NYWF i was part of a mentoring program at TiNA. dion kagan was my mentor, that’s how i came across you in the reader, he gave me a copy, along with the death mook.

      so our subjective bias also comes into it. where i find excitement and originality, you obviously find it elsewhere. i tend to find more in lit-mags than spoken word. there’s a rough separation of our tastes so we could expect to find different groups of people with which to relate to. i have no interest in sharing my work with your audience, why would you want to show yours to the audience which i am party to? perhaps this is too simplistic?
      you don’t have to be part of the literary world to understand poetry is hard to sell, but why it sells when it does is way harder to pin down. i was suggesting it’s a combination of traditionalism – what people are familiar with and accept as good, usually traditionalism done really well, along with being challenging. though i’m not really sure, i’m not going to put anymore forth on this, i lack the knowledge.

      society’s perception of poetry is skewed anyway, i’m not from melbourne, i’m from the blue mountains and only here or in pockets of sydney will people engage with poetry and the vast majority of them with spoken word. writing does not have to be original for it to sell. original in content perhaps, original in form – nobody gives a shit. take a look at the crime section in any bookshop as an example, a genre which has surely exhausted itself of any formal originality. slight variations within plot, setting etc at best. yet it’s more or less the most consumed form of literature. actually i think debating whether originality is a prerequisite for people’s engagement with your work would be a debacle. i prefer to find originality within form, it seems you prefer to find it in content. it depends too much on what each of us sees as original – it’s purely subjective. i prefer to find originality within poetry’s form because originality within content can be found anywhere, novel, film, monologue, visual art etc. but we are talking about poetry and engaging with it as an art-form specifically so form is the most interesting thing for me.

      on your comment below, i think that should change. i mean, i think it shouldn’t be so exclusive. however i don’t think the root of the problem is the lit-journals, i think it’s the government, and where people are looking to give their grants, along with where people look in order to figure the worth of publishing someone. and i think it will change.

      thanks. i can’t help sensing irony in that congrats, but that kind of makes it better. i thought i said this before but i didn’t, that’s great you’ve sold 250 copies of your book. that people respond to your work is wonderful for you.

  5. And, I also would like to add that in this country, the only way to get arts funding or to get a book published with a publisher or to get an agent is to show a substantial publishing history, and it all starts with the literary journals. If the literary journals are publishing academic writing then academic writing is what gets published and what receives funding and then this is projected onto society which in turn has society believing poetry to only BE academic.

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