Book Review: Aboriginal to Nowhere, by Brentley Frazer
Aboriginal to Nowhere is a love-letter to a world that ultimately rejects its people. It is a celebration of grunge, and a roll call of those things that are lame, cast-off, defunct and unlovable. It is about people divorced from the places they inhabit, and people who are disorientated in their own homes. Like those Talking Heads lyrics, ‘And you may tell yourself / this is not my beautiful house’, its people are bewildered. It also speaks to the profound loneliness ‘of the post-modern dispossessed’, the sort of grubby solitude that finds itself in a throng queuing for the Portaloos.
Frazer’s poems find beauty in the brokenness of things. Like Kintsugi, the Japanese practice of repairing fractured pottery with gold, Frazer conjures rich images from the ‘buckets of colonial rubbish’. While much of his poetry is sprawling and untethered, there are hushed moments:
‘The sky bruised over
slate roofs, the wind
moaning through louvres
leaves brown as coffee
Most of his verse has a sort of musical harangue feel to it. The first poetic set, Aboriginal to Nowhere – Song Cycle of the Post Modern Dispossessed, pairs the technological and the ecological, through anxious reflections about man-made worlds and the alienation they can create. Frazer’s characters are watched by CCTVs and crows. They chart a course through a shifting Australia, one where ‘The indigenous goddess exits / stage left’ and people ‘bulldoze dream time for a freeway’. It is a rousing, rambling, and often irreverent, address to the nation. ‘Are you my mother, Australia?’ his speaker asks. The Australia that we find in the poems is more insouciant parent than maternal presence. And yet there are images, beyond the ‘broken hopes’, ‘generational displacement’ and ‘collapsed footpaths’, a sort of nostalgia for an Australia that may never have existed.
Aboriginal to Nowhere explores existential themes. Freewill and determinism wrangle in the cityscape. ‘Man, I didn’t get a choice where my consciousness / landed’. Cultural appropriation is prised open, xenophobia explored. There are questions of meaning in a world where the ‘Eternal Being’ is ‘an angry cynic’. ‘I don’t know what I am doing here’, the speaker exclaims. People depersonalise, aliens in their own skin. ‘Most days I feel like an actor ‘. And in a nod to Plato:
‘You are a piece of nothing,
shadows on the factory wall’
Frazer invites life’s dissonances to the table. Sometimes ‘the music and the lyrics / don’t match the visuals’. He entertains a ‘happy drowning feeling’. In all of this he steps lightly, capering around concepts, toying with the reader’s ability to hold two contrary ideas in mind.
Mostly, though, Aboriginal to Nowhere is about people – all sorts of folk. We meet hipsters and junkies, the mentally ill, beer guzzlers, strippers, rednecks, millennials, academics, immigrants, city slickers and farmers. Frazer’s is a world populated and full of noise, but ultimately nobody’s.
This is a thoughtful and fierce collection. Frazer is a visionary at a time when humanity risks losing touch with its core animality, and the real-world places in which it finds itself.
Reviewed by Elizabeth Morton
Aboriginal to Nowhere
by Brentley Frazer
Published by HeadworX
BUY ONLINE NOW
Scoundrel Days (UQP, March 2017) is one of the most exciting, exhilarating, excessive and exhausting books I’ve read in a long time… this extraordinary memoir of a wild adolescence – a wild ride of wayward days and wayward ways – is told in a compelling poetic voice, where language shifts and changes and ages as the narrator ages and changes, where new words enter the writer’s world and work their way into his vocabulary and into his storytelling and pile up onto each other like his life experiences, gaining speed and momentum as the narrative unfurls, as his worldview unfurls and uncurls itself over and around him, building with disillusion, balling forward with self-destruction, driving at high speed down highways of oblivion in search for something more, something else, burning with the beat-like urge to be and feel and lust and love, for kicks, bawling with the punk-like rage to rant and rally against it all, clamouring and clashing with the anarchy of not giving a fuck… burning out and smoldering when the comedown comes and hits you… like a car crash you can’t help but look at…
E-Prime is the fuel that drives this narrative, gives it a primed-up immediacy and immersion… hyperbole is the turbo-injection that gives the story its real and lived sense of full-on excess and exuberance… there is real joy here in all the indulgence and living and loving… and there is so much living in this memoir, a life lived like the starring role in a film, a life written like a novel, where the author is the protagonist and the protagonist is a writer, like Sal or Chinaski, where people inhabit the narrative like characters in a novel, written about ‘like characters in a book’, life and experiences are viewed as poetry… ‘been busy livin the poems I haven’t written’…
And underlying it all is a sensitivity, a sensitivity of the lost wastrel… to the downtrodden, the disenfranchised… a rejection of the system and authority and entitlement that excludes… an affinity and affection for outsiders, fringe dwellers, gypsies and convicts and peasants and the washed–out that washed up on the shores of this vast harsh beautiful land, and those that were here first, a respect and reverence for the first people… scoundrels all.
And all of this set against the backdrop of Queensland, that sunburnt soundtrack, the outback, the tropics, Townsville, Cairns and Brisbane (and Perth, Melbourne, Sydney and PNG), but it’s Brisbane and QLD, that unique landscape that has produced some of Australia’s greatest writers of grunge and gritty realism and the experiences of the Australian male, McGahan, Earls… some of my favourite authors, and now I have a new one. Brentley Frazer. I can’t recommend this ride highly enough. It’s one helluvva road trip. Read it.
Circa 1990 something a skinny young punk with fresh acne scars and waaay cool hair stood in the crowd at The Zoo in Fortitude Vally and watched witch goddess and lead singer of electro pop band Def FX launch Strange Rain by Venero Armanno. The ultimate writers name I thought when I saw the poster. At the time I worked at The Zoo running a poetry reading named The Rose Croix. The poets featured tended to celebrate decadence and debauchery in their verse. I met several reincarnations of Marquis de Sade there. The thirty litres of free Spanish wine The Zoo provided only lasted hours. A band, I cannot remember their name (no surprise, really) who dressed as fallen angels with wire wings smoked joints right there on stage. To keep the story skinny like the faded punk writing this, I have ever since admired the writing of Venero Armanno. Now, twenty years later I’ve had the honour to not only meet Veny but to edit, typeset and publish a collection of his fantastic short stories for my fledging indy press Bareknuckle Books. No critic can argue with good writing and this Armanno provides in this beautiful collection of stories about . . . well, outsiders and so much more. Arnold Zable, acclaimed writer, novelist and human rights advocate reviewed the manuscript for Bareknuckle Books and what he had to say (one of the best uses of an LY adverb possible) sums up the power of Venero Armanno’s work, one of the greatest ever Australian writers:
“Venero Armanno is a writer who fearlessly explores the primal urges, pressed desires, and the intense, contradictory cravings that drive human behaviour—and the betrayals, family breakdowns, violence and tragic misunderstandings they leave in their wake. While the settings, and the social and cultural references are contemporary, there are echoes of the ancient Greek melodramas in his work. Armanno’s stories probe beneath the explosive surface. and in unmasking his characters, he exposes the elemental human need for intimacy, connection, and a sense of belonging.”
Launches November 18 at Avid Reader, West End, Brisbane. There may still be a ticket or two but I’m pretty sure it booked out.
Bareknuckle Poet Anthology Vol.2 launched at the Brisbane Writers Festival September 09. This is the second volume I have edited for Bareknuckle Books and it contains some of the best writing you’ll read, ever. I’m not kidding. Get yourself a copy –
BKP ANNUAL 002 2016 1st Edition 2016 Edited by Brentley Frazer & A. G. Pettet. Publisher: BAREKNUCKLE BOOKS. IMPRINT: Bareknuckle Poets. ISSN: 2205 – 7218. PUBLISHED: 09/09/2016. Copyright: Bareknuckle Books & Contributors. Language: English. Extent: 300+ pages. Binding: Perfect-bound Paperback. Interior Ink: Black & white. Dimensions: (inches) 6x 9 – AUTHORS: Hasti Abbasi, Venero Armanno, Mandy Beaumont, John Birmingham, David Ades, John Ashbery, Peter Bakowski, Bill Berkson, Ashley Elizabeth Best, Robbie Coburn, Deborah Conway, Stuart Cooke, Brett Dionysius, Michael Dransfield, Liam Ferney, Cal Freeman, Andrew Galan, Amy Hempel, Matt Hetherington, Rose Hunter, Lachlan Jarrah, John Kinsella, Robert Lort, Sophie MacNeill, Margaret Malone, Ian McBryde, Frank O’Hara, Chuck Palahniuk, Angela Peita, Laura Ellen Scott, Tom Shapcott, Tom Spanbauer, David Stavanger, Mark Terrill, Samuel Wagan Watson, John Wainwright, Ashleigh Watson, Edward Willes, Ouyang Yu + more
Come join me at QPF 2016:
Poets work in mysterious ways, not just in their poetry but in their vocations, working not just as poets but as publishers, editors, academics, or all of the above. Join four such poets, Felicity Plunkett, Brentley Frazer, Dr Jeanine Leane and chair Justin Clemens, as they read their work and discuss how they work. Presented in conjunction with the Australian Poets Festival.
Nine poets, five minutes each. Featuring Bronwyn Lea, Chloe Wilson, Brett Dionysius, Stuart Cooke, Ellen van Neerven, Stuart Barnes, MC Wire, Brentley Frazer, Melissa Lucashenko, Matt Hetherington, and hosted by Toby Fitch.Presented in conjunction with the Australian Poets Festival.
A joint poetry reading by Bareknuckle Books founding editors AG Pettet (author of Improvised Dirges) & Brentley Frazer, whose experimental memoir Scoundrel Days is due out with UQP next year. Hosted by Matt Hetherington.
The second edition of Kulturkampf New & Selected Poems with a new cover by Anthony Lister is now available!
Getamungstit Magazine, Griffith University Student Guild Page 55