JUN 09

Famous Reporter # 39







Famous Reporter # 39 launch : 11th June 2009, Hobart

When Ralph stopped me in the street and asked me if I would consider launching the next issue of Famous Reporter, my first reaction was to question whether I was the right choice. I am after all an architect, and although I write, it comes less easily than the marks made through design. Being professionally absorbed in the spatial layers of the world takes precedence over the literary, … even the delights of photography and sketching have become tools to interrogate place. He wasn’t to know that decades before I naively edited and published community newspapers (notably The Tasmanian Free Press in the mid ‘70’s) and for a time as a student worked in London as an architectural journalist.

So in that moment where request became a halting acceptance, "Well OK, if you think I can do it justice’ …we parted. As I continued up the Bathurst Ridge my thoughts returned to what I had been doing before the request on the street corner. I had been thumbing through a book at another bookshop – this one on the other side of the Macquarie Ridge – don’t worry Chris I didn’t buy it – it was the recent book by Richard Florida an American academic and one time urban planner …now resident in Toronto, entitled ‘Who's your city? ‘.

Florida’s thesis is that where you live can be the most important decision of your life because it affects all other choices – work, education and love will as a result, he contends, follow. Of course this may be of no particular moment to those of us who acknowledge the importance of place and seek to reveal it through our work, but Florida is less the creative operative, than the social researcher. Place is not only more important than ever he contends, but as it exerts a powerful influence over the jobs and careers we have access to, it is of itself life affirming.

He goes on to suggest how dimensions of quality of place – as well as tolerance and openness, are in fact shaping the geographic distribution of human capital and (what he terms) the ‘creative class’. He then asks questions such as :

Does the place match your values ? Is there tolerance of differences ? Do people seem to trust one another ? Do people seem to feel free to express their individuality ? And how important are these things to you ?

In seeking to answer these questions and in pursuing a deeper understanding of their expression in my own city, I can confidently use Famous Reporter as a reference.

It's not that I have read it frequently, but it is important for me to know that it exists… confirming that creative expression within this place not only has varied outlets, but in Florida’s terms is an example of the diversity that makes particular cities liveable…..

For me then I consider Famous Reporter part of the ‘public domain’ of my city, a location for what Paul Carter terms ‘situated thinking’. An accessible literary ‘pocket park’ contributing to, but separate from main-stream infrastructure. And remembering that public space even from Greek times was the realm that formalized the acceptance of difference, Issue 39 has much to offer.

Take for example Derek Motion's contention that ‘poetry is curiously appropriate during times that seem to offer ‘no balance’, (p.47) or of Terry Whitebeach’s investigation of her own literary and cultural origins in ‘Revisiting an old idol: Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin ‘ ‘I have been known to snarl at metaphors, demanding the thing itself and not the ineffable ‘other’ it semaphores’. (p.18)

Reconciling difference of opinion in this state has no sharper focus than in the polarizing debate around wood production and forest practices. And ‘In Conversation with Mark Neyland’, (p.64) Ralph Wessman reveals the benefits of scientific research pursued by committed individuals in the industry. ‘Because of green pressure over the last two decades, there isn’t any doubt that forest management in Australia is outrageously good’, concludes Neyland.

The situated thinking and place-based focus in many of the contributions are perhaps less contentious, but no less sharply focused. Take Mary Jenkins' poem: ‘Erosion’…. ‘below … far below …. a solitary weatherboard cottage holds on’. (p. 30) or Lorin Ford’s Haiku ‘..first sunny day - children and gulls take turns - in the puddle’ (p.1). and in Mal Robertson’s essay ‘Post Script’ searching for a misplaced letter he contends : ‘I will do anything for genuine communication’ … ‘a letter is a line, at each end a friend’. (p.99)

While Famous Reporter emanates from Tasmania, its content is geographically diverse being drawn from across the nation and beyond. David Stavanger’s poem ’28 days of rain’ (though perhaps a portent this week) is tropically derived where the ‘cane toads will dance on our hearts’.(p.151) Sheryl Persson’s poem ‘Satellite Spirits’ (p.92) refers to ‘silhouettes and x-rays / engraved on rocks / traced in desert sands’, while blogs from New York and Israel speak of familiar routines from less familiar places. David Kelly‘s review of several recent poetry books reminded me of my own tendency to read for information rather than pleasure: ‘Poetry works at a different level to explanatory prose. There’s nothing wrong with explanatory prose – It's very good on paint tins, in non-fiction books and in reviews, but poetry does something different. ‘ (p.23)

And I can think of no better reason to commend the current issue of Famous Reporter to you – it provides not only something different but is itself a special place.

LEIGH WOOLLEY is a practising architect and urban design consultant, and an adjunct professor in the school of architecture and design UTAS.