Plenty of support for Gayelene Carbis, when Marion May Campbell launched her new poetry collection—’I Have Decided To Remain Vertical’—at Readings in St Kilda last month.
With Claire Gaskin MC-ing the event, local choir The Red Hot Singers — (‘This is not a choir, it’s a singing group … in other words, informal’, someone clarified; another pointed out ‘We’re all part of Soul Song’, a subset; we get out and about!’) — provided an African musical intro as a prelude to Marion May Campbell’s launch address. Much like Kevin Brophy in Melbourne (and Pete Hay in Hobart and Cameron Hindrum in Launceston), Campbell is a favoured ‘go to’ person when it comes to launching poetry in Melbourne, (she launched Susan Hawthorne’s ‘Dark Matters’ at Collected Works five years ago, back in the days when Kris and Retta welcomed all & sundry to their fabulous bookshop, ‘up the stairs and to the left: or take the lift!’)
Claire urged punters to ‘buy a book, to support Gayelene, to support poetry, to support Readings, to support the wonderful publishers who publish poetry’ before introducing Marion May Campbell, whose bio she proceeded to read. ‘If you haven’t read all those books [of Marion’s], you know, you really haven’t lived so you have to make sure you do that … a wonderful writer, a beautiful person who’s won many awards and supported many a writer … (Gayelene’s nodding!) Please warmly welcome Marion May Campbell.’
Marion spoke of the miracle of several key poems in this new collection presenting an integration ‘of a kind of terror and of comic Alice-like defiance. Surreality is presented with hyper-real acuity…. Poetry-making often snatched from the doors of disaster is both agent and catalyst for the I-persona — and I won’t call the ‘I persona’ Gayelene, because it’s so variable as well, and protean … takes on different shapes all the time. Her triumphant survival, no matter into what pits life and love have thrown her, is always done with great comic brio – and often hilarity, all the more liberating for the near-catastrophe that she skirts.’
‘I had a much longer version of this already-too-long speech, which quoted a lot of these poems—I would have liked to write about every poem in the collection….
. . . . .
‘In various inventive ways Gayelene’s work, so far—in her plays, stories, and now two poem collections—has explored both the comedy of feminine identifications, and the devastation wreaked by models of masculinity that men, and boys, strive to enact, or refuse at their peril.
. . . . .
“Again, the last line is an unmitigated triumph. ‘I hold my pen like a knife’.
. . . . .
“Here fabulism triumphs over sadness with magical metamorphosis, yet the humble domestic broom, remembering its origin, offers a retreat. And I’m reminded here of that Turkish proverb, When the axe came to the forest, the trees whispered—the handle’s one of us.’
‘Oh Gayelene, thank you for such fabulous, transfiguring work. Congratulations, from the heart.’
‘Marion … thank you for your beautiful, and passionate and erudite response to my work, and for launching my book into the world in words that are so uniquely you, thank you—from my heart, thank you.’
‘I think we should all go home now…. I mean do I need to say or read anything? Yes I do, Yes I do. I need to say thank you. These poems were written over many years, some a very long time ago. I spent years and hours working towards this book, and it’s just … me and the work … but it really takes a community to create and make a book. I’d like to firstly thank Puncher & Wattmann whom I’m thrilled to be published by, huge thank you to David Musgrave….
‘A huge thank you to Marion May Campbell, and Kathleen Mary Fallon, for extraordinary generosity over many years. Kathleen, thank you for suggesting the title, Marion really pushed for this one amongst the Kathleen Fallon list of possible titles … well not pushed, that’s not Marion’s style: she presented ‘elequent arguments’. Initially I thought, it’s too long, it sounds weird … and then I thought, ooh, I wrote that line. Now I think it’s a perfect title for the book….’
Gayelene proceeded to read a number of poems from her book, a reading of which Lyndon Walker has since written generously and reflectively, “A fine and powerful reading of your work. Very moving, and very funny – you have that balance there. You are one of the best readers/performers of your own work in this country.”
Bringing the event to a close, the Red Hot Singers once again took to the floor. ‘Gayelene … do you wanna? … come and sing with us.’
‘Oh, yeah sure. You twisted my arm….’