This song has been the soundtrack to my week. It has moved all its furniture in some already-crammed hallways of my mind and played out on repeat. Particularly the piano solo. And the force of his voice when he sings so roll up and see. And now you get to read about all my schemes and adventuring, but is it well worth a fee?
Last night Nathan Curnow read a poem about his girls ‘…imagine this/there are mysteries you cannot imagine’, and their faces were bright, standing right where Ned Kelly swung at Old Melbourne Jail. It was the launch of The Ghost Poetry Project, where Nathan (whom I nicknamed the poet-bunny-rockstar at the Emerging Writers’ Festival) travelled Australia for a year staying at ten haunted sites and writing about them. But just as Supertramp’s song is not really about a crime but about capitalist oppression of there’s you and there’s me, Nathan’s poems are about fear and time and bravery and questioning and separation and closeness and about many individuals… but I haven’t got to all the poems yet. I would prefer to read this book many times before even attempting to review it. I would like to savour it like I savoured his last book.
The jail was dark and the unbelievably miniscule cells had plaster casts of prisoners’ faces. Kevin Brophy launched the book, and how wonderful it must feel for Nathan to have his words read like that, so closely, and seen as wearing ‘jeans and sneakers’. Nathan began his reading above us all, where prisoners walked to their deaths, and I sat on the cold floor to let the words into my bones. Later at dinner, a group of us drank Cockfighter’s Ghost merlot and talked about the hangings – the broken necks and the twitchers. A week of exhaustion caught up with me as I spooned risotto into my mouth and found myself dizzy and shaking a little, sipping water frantically and trying to hide the flush on my chest. Why do I stay around? I ask myself. I always want more moments. I wait for the moments when eyes lock in conversation, when it becomes a little bit passionate or controversial. When it becomes about death, for example. But another part of me already wanted to be inside the book and away from faces.
Thursday night’s launch was a packed-out Trades Hall bar, warmly hung with red velvet curtains. Everyone was buoyed and benevolent and championing those phrases not so intellectually fashionable – ‘truth’ and ‘honesty’. Christos Tsiolkas was the launcher of Kalinda Ashton’s The Danger Game, a book I’ve already had the privilege of reading. Tsiolkas was nervous, his voice shaky, as he launched the book, wanting to do it justice. He spoke about how the character Jeremy became a part of both his waking and sleeping life – entering his dreams. Tsiolkas related to the young, lonely, imaginative cast-out. Kalinda treated the room to a taste of three passages from the different characters’ chapters. She spoke about the process of working with Tsiolkas as a mentor, and learning to read his facial expressions – knowing whether he liked a passage or not.
For some reason, a couple of people have been surprised hearing about how generous, open, and just generally beautiful Christos Tsiolkas is in person. I’ve met him very briefly twice now (this time I got a hug). I suppose because some of his characters in The Slap are quite horrible, they expect him to be rude and arrogant. But what about the joyous last chapter? I think the force of his ‘niceness’ is like the force of his imagination. He seems to be one of those writers who can make so much out of exploring what they don’t understand about other people (or what they do understand in a part of themself, being human, but know it’s harm to others and would never indulge it). Anyway, I guess what I’m trying to get out there is – he’s a champion. And a keen supporter of good young writers.