Monday, September 28, 2009

"I Know You" by Henry Rollins (with commentary) -29/09/2009



I know you.
You were too short.

You had bad skin.
You couldn’t talk to them very well.

Words didn’t seem to work, they lied when they came out of your mouth.
You tried so hard to understand them.
You wanted to be part of what was happening.
You saw them having fun, and it seemed like such a mystery, almost magic.
Made you think, that there was something wrong with you.
You’d look in the mirror trying to find it.
You thought that you were ugly, and that everyone was looking at you.
So you learned to be invisible, to look down, to avoid conversation.

The hours, days, weekends, ah the weekend-nights alone.
Where were you?
In the basement, in the attic, in your room, working some job, just to have something to do, just to have a place to put yourself.
Just to have a way to get away from them, a chance to get away from the ones that made you feel so strange and ill at ease inside yourself.

Did you ever get invited to one of their parties?
You sat and wondered if you would go or not, for hours you imagined the scenarios that might transpire.
If they would laugh at you, if you would know what to do.
If you would have the right things on, if they would notice that you came from a different planet.
Did you get all brave in your thoughts, like you were going to be able to go in there and deal with it, and have a great time.
Did you think that you might be… the life of the party?
That all these people were going to talk to you, and that you would find out that you were wrong, that you had a lot of friends, and you weren’t so strange after all.

Did you end up going?
Did they mess with you?
Did they single you out?
Did you find out that you were invited, because they thought you were so weird?

Yeah, I think I know you.
You spent a lot of time full of hate.
A hate that was pure as sunshine, a hate that saw for miles, a hate that kept you up at night, a hate that filled your every waking moment.
A hate that carried you for a long time.

Yes I think I know you.
You couldn’t figure out what they saw in the way they were living.

Home, was not home, your room was home.
A corner was home, a place they weren’t, that was home.

I know you, you’re sensitive, and you hide it, because you fear getting stepped on one more time.
It seems that when you show a part of yourself, that is the least bit vulnerable, someone takes advantage of you, one of them, steps on you.
They mistake kindliness for weakness, but you know the difference, you’ve been the brunt of their weakness for years, and strength is something you know a bit about, because you had to be strong to keep yourself alive.
You know yourself very well now, and you don’t trust people, you know them too well.

You try to find that special person, someone you can be with, someone you can touch, someone you can talk to, someone you won’t feel so strange around, and you have found that they don’t really exist,
You feel closer to people on movie screens.

I think I know you.
You spend a lot of time daydreaming and people have made comment to that effect, telling you that you’re ‘self involved’, and self centred, but they don’t know do they?
About the long night shifts alone.
About the years of keeping yourself company, all the nights you wrapped your arms around yourself, so you can imagine someone holding you.
The hours of indecision, self doubt. The intense depression, the blinding hate, the rage that made you stagger. The devastation of rejection.

Well, maybe they do know.
But if they do, they sure do a good job of hiding it.
It astounds you how they can be so smooth, how they seem to pass through life, as if life itself is some divine gift, and it infuriates you to watch yourself with your apparent skill in finding every way possible to screw it up.

For you, life is a long trip, terrifying and wonderful.
Birds sing to you at night, the rain and the sun, the changing seasons are true friends. Solitude is a hard-won ally, faithful and patient.


I think I know you.

-Henry Rollins, “Black Coffee Blues”


A couple of reasons why I’m putting this on my blog… I’ve performed a cover of this a couple of times at gigs now, its quite satisfying and edifying, when people afterwards tell me how much they liked it.

Incorporating covers of other people’s poetry into your own feature is potentially hazardous, putting your own material up alongside that of Ani DiFranco or Saul Williams can make your own stuff look incredibly lacking in comparison (and of course, it is… in comparison). A more serious problem is confusing the audience into thinking that it is your own writing.

I always reiterate –both on stage and in person, that I didn’t write it (wish I had), certainly don’t want to go around place-to-place giving people that impression. I mean shit… enough of my material and physical stage presence is a cheap Rollins-knock off as it is, but therein lays the answer.

People do respond to this piece, I’ve seen it resonate in the eyes of people as I perform it in a way that is both very uplifting and surprising. I know my experience is pretty clearly articulated in Rollins’ writing here. I first heard this when I was 17 and had never before been hit by such a thunderclap of empathetic/sympathetic understanding by a piece of media (now I’ve tallied up three experiences of this, the other two being ‘The End of Evangelion” and “The Matrix Reloaded”) where I truly felt my guts turned inside out by absorbing the material.

Since getting into performance poetry, I always had it in mind to present this to people, but purely for my own cathartic and evangelical (flag-waving) reasons, but imagined it would be dismissed, as so much of Henry Rollins work and the above two examples are, as self-indulgent adolescent/infantile garbage, but hey… welcome aboard the good-ship Randall.

That this piece speaks to an audience of poets is very gratifying, and humbling, to help Rollins reach a broader audience or throw a different light on him. The catharsis is still there to be sure, I still find it exasperating (and sad) that the slightest hint of testosterone in poetry/spoke-word will instantly make the majority of people switch off to you/your work. I really believe we have a long, long way to go in dealing with gender and sexuality in this society, and it’s not as one-sided as either Iron John or The Female Eunuch would have you believe.

So, if I scored a concordant win for Henry and I on stage, why not attempt to extend that onto the page (err screen, that is). Also, I do like to acknowledge the help I receive, pay my dues and respects, to what I see as the constituent foundations of my poetry.

So, in summation, I love this piece of writing, I love its beguiling simplicity and directness, the way I love the directness of Hemingway’s writing or the un-styled execution of Clint Eastwood’s directed films. I like stuff that speaks to you (me) and is less concerned (if at all) about showing up how technically fancy it can get.

It’s important to remind myself, in public notice, to keep aiming for that directness. Say something when you’re talking, and say it clearly.

Anyway, hope you enjoy it, that it makes you give Henry Rollins a second (or first) look.



Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Carrier -23/09/2009


“Brother, I am your moments...”

-Jon Sands, (I Am) Being Human Being

My end will come without an encore,
Life without the after-party,
No happily ever-on,
Second Samsara spin,
Or magical reset button,
All I believe to be at stake here,
Is what I am carrying from one moment,
To the next.

A moment in time,
Is all life has ever been,
Or ever will be.

Seen so many who need to believe,
In more than what they seem to be.
I have seen nothing else,
Nor am I looking,
My beliefs are based on the empirical,
The infinitely re-testable and watertight,
So they stretch about the length of my arms,
As far as my feet,
As high as the hat on my head.

But that body of beliefs, has left me right where I started,
If the only spirit I have is in a bottle,
How can I work to become more than what I am,
Without believing that-that more, is possible?

Find me then in my footprints,
Expressed here in thoughts and ideas,
In the photographs,
And times that we touched,
Anything I have to give,
I will allow that to be called my spirit,
For wont of a definition’s better fit.

So I will be here, right here,
And after death these words will become,
What I was,
These words are the spirit,
Of what I am.

Until then my life is an embrace of moments,
-This moment-
Carrying my experience of it over,
To the next one,
And that,
Is enough for anyone to carry,
Your only real possession,
Yet the most impossible of all things you ever try,
To hold on to.

A wealth beyond cataloguing,
My life will come to contain itself,
In spirit,
In any moment,
That I have chosen,
To write these things,

To you.




Fine Thanks -22/09/2009


Now invisible to the check-out-chick,
While struggling to get change back into my wallet,
Quickly slipping four fingers through green-bag handles,
To get out of the next guy’s way,
Who’s being served with the same,
That we’d exchanged mere seconds ago.

Didn’t feel dehumanized,
As much as glad,
That these rigidly polite formalities,
Stopped either of us really interacting.

Because I could tell,
Just by looking,
That her day had been as lousy,
If not more,
Than mine.

And truth is,
I really didn’t care,

To hear too much about that,





Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Professional / Heckler -22/09/2009


“At least I have a day job!”
Was the last thing said between us,
Not answering back,
My face simply presented a cocktail smirking disbelief,
A shot of eyes lacking any pity,
Mixed in with a big, self satisfied smile.

Yeah I got nothing’ else to say,
So you turned your back and sat down,
I mean, I could go on,
But the day job thing though…
That shut me up,
That, and you were already so annoyed at me,
I don’t know why you assumed I don’t have a day job,
Or why you assumed, assuming I didn’t have one,
That I’d be somehow bummed,
That you did.

And I realise now…
From that ‘day job’ comment,
You assumed I was a professional poet
In turn, you assume that a professional poet,
Would take heckling and being ignored in their stride,
They would not be so petty as to get revenge on a heckler,
By waiting for their turn on stage to start screaming out:

“You’re shit! You’re shit!
Get off! Get off!

...(I am not a professional poet, as it turned out)

Because… ironically,
Had you actually bothered listening to me,
Realising the sorry caliber,
Of mediocre ego-centric shit I put out there,
Well… you may have anticipated this.

But that’s another assumption,
And maybe I really didn’t deserve a full 30 seconds of attention,
Before you and your lame friends started giving me a hard time,
Anymore than you deserved the full force of screaming abuse,
You received,
The very instant I realized you were getting up on stage.

But there we were,
With you stepping down,
Looking utterly indignant,
At having your two minutes on stage completely ruined,
By me.

Fair chances and thick skins,
But how else could you have known,
That, for any question of day jobs,
Or whether or not my work was worth listening to,
Man, did I sure turn out to be a way-way-better heckler,
Than you.

So whatever that vaunted day job of yours is,
I’d say,
Stick to it.

Leave heckling... to the professionals.




Sunday, September 20, 2009

Outside -(redux) 27/10/2009

(originally written and blogged 19/09/2009)


At late hours,

It seems like art is everywhere,

Junkies pass you in slow motion,

Apparently waiting for their stories to be written,

Clubbers wail by like sirens on,

Everything bathes in the vibration,

Of pitch Doppler shifting doof doof doof...

Mercifully passing you by,

And you are completely, utterly, soberly here,

Trying to absorb.

Rain makes the streets smell fresh again

And every puddle that light hits,

Reflects a perfectly un-framed photograph,

Each mouthful of food hides a nostalgic anecdote,

Every muffled conversation overheard through a door,

Could becomes experimental music,

Every sentence heard is a line,

And every moment waits for your rapture to burst,

Even as the clock spews forth another,

And another.

Late at night this profound world floats out of reach,

~ Too late for your art to find it,

You won’t be able to transplant it to a blank page,

Or an ambitious tongue,

The person beside you stopped listening.

It will just become a mumble you make,

Ah never mind.

It was a moment,

Only able to be held in your own cold hands,

Never meant to be anything else.




Thursday, September 17, 2009

What Gives -17/09/2009


This is no place,
A non-location not intended for memory,
One in the thousand other painted-on windows,
The city back drop,
For someone’s stage time.

Where people have gone-home from,
Leaving for somewhere else to go,
Weekends and late afternoons.

No place to live,
Nothing is done here,
Nothing waiting here,
Nothing is at stake,
Nothing is given here,
And nothing is worth taking,
No wind blows,
Nothing will fall from the sky,
Not an unexpected noise,
An inside without a ceiling,
Possessions without any owners,
And for all the clutter,
Not one dirty dish or piece of paper stands out of place.

In this place paint is not drying,
And grass has never grown,
Nothing here in-comparism,
To anything else,
Not a spark of life nor a stench of decay,
That might note a potential turning to waste,
Or watch days possibly grow shorter,
As lists appearing longer,
Or losses slowly mount.

A photograph taken will become part of this collection
A decision could slowly dissolve,
Into another dusty document never to be read,
No one here would keep score anyway,
A figment of imagination that ceases to exist,
Once it leaves your mind.
Connected on all sides to nowhere,

This is no place to go,
Conversely one impossible to leave from,
Absorbing all that might have happened here,
As something else, you don't remember,

If you ever really did.


Got an upcoming gig in Canberra which is centred on 'ends on the earth' so I'm trying to develop/redevelop some stuff related to the idea of places ~ and you know I don't just mean "Istanbul by sunset looked liked... (fuckoff)" and I'm so sick of trundling out the Paris-poem (so far my best expositional place-as-emotion/emotion-as-place thing). I have 5 days. I am rock n roll.


Saturday, September 12, 2009

You Know You're a Poet When... -13/09/2009



Then again, if it was me reading, that would be a pretty good hook. But that is the point... and the problem. And yeah guys, they're always has to be a problem, okay? Like I told Alex flippantly (and erroneously) the other night: I'm a better poet than him because I'm nastier, moodier, pettier far more egotistic and have a magnitude-more beefs with people than he does (if indeed he has any). You could tell me I'm joking by virtue of not really being funny... if you want. But yes, problem, this poet resides in a perpetual problem state. (the sound of one keyboard shrugging)

Okay, so here goes: I was in the novel position of having to write a short 'bio' for myself the other night, because a gig promoter/organiser needed it for his website, and incidentally, here it is:

"...approximately 15 billion years ago for unknown reasons a point of infinite singularity exploded and the universe was formed. Then not much happened for a while. In 1980 "The Empire Strikes Back" came out and Randall Stephens was born. Somewhere a lot of fairies died, all at once.

I got started in poetry in 2007, by writing a love poem about my bicycle. I went away travelling in mid 2008, and returned to Melbourne a few months ago with a pile of notebooks, and a safari hat. While travelling I discovered a new enthusiasm for performance poetry, entering a few slams in New York and London. Since being back I've done a couple of features in Melbourne at the Dan + Passionate Tongues, and openers for a few plays and music gigs. Recently did my first interstate feature in Adelaide, which coincided with the completion of "Product", a CD of live recording from some of the above mentioned stuff.

I don't know how to categorise what I write, certainly varied in subject matter, sometimes funny, other times I really try and expose darker subjects, but always personally. Emphasis on substance over form, and it's all fairly raw and crude, and I try to make it entertaining and give it a broader appeal, unashamedly.

I'm defiantly more a stage-than-page poet, but I do keep a blog at http://"

... I don't know. Reality check. I really really need one. I have no idea how I became a poet, and still wake up sometimes (particularly in the delirium of this fever/flue I had recently) and gone... what the fuck? A poet?

I mean, yeah okay, 2 things here:

1) Obvious quip: yes Randall~ you're stunted because, well you're not really a (fucking) poet -ha ha! And for all intents and purposes, and in the deepest held social/vocational sense, yeah I agree. Moreover, my fondness for poets, or lack thereof, is made clear at any avail, miserable nasty cunts. The few exceptions know who you are (and indeed big hugs go out to all a y'all). Nonetheless: 'poet' or not, I go to venues with established poets, get up in front of collections of them, and say werdz in a laboured or rehearsed and organised series of statements, and engender some reaction to that. Quacks like a duck... sorry to all the elitist folks out there, but I am one.


2) Yes, I pride myself on exceptional recall of date, document and circumstance and could illustrate with any required degree of detail the precise incidents and seminal moments over the last twenty six months that "have lead you inexorably... here".

But still, in an earnest and deeply ontological sense, after being asked for my bio, I am stopping here to ask: WHAT THE FUCK? I used to... monitor my superannuation, wash my car, snuggle up with (girl) on our actually-store-bought-and-paid-for couch in front of my huge LCD and watch alotta DVDs... man. Now, I work scant days of the week, often walk around mumbling to myself in public trying on all these permutations of phrase, trying to find gems to recite later, I... record my own voice and study it like a lab technician, I rehearse blinks and pauses, so I'm then prepared for spending weeknights telling assembled strangers and nutters my problems, in the vainest and truly most futile attempts known to civilisation to -get- love, fame, money, sex, recognition or at least a nod of complicity when I fall off stage afterwards. Fucking poet!

I mean... I'm really struggling with articulation here without being verbose, but, there is only a relatively to my position anymore. I believe I've truly forgetten how to objectively conceptualise 'poet' as other, the way the word "electrician" or "police officer" or "woman'" or "African" are all identifiers of -something- for people that I am utterly distinct and removed from, enough so as to say: yeah right, that's what they are, operate and/or represent ~ and I have little sympathetic experience of them, I understand they are phenomenologically beyond me.

"Poet"? ... after writng that bio something in my head screamed that the descriptor still should fall into the same category. But increasingly, on hearing the word "poet", I autonomically respond: "yeah what? I'm a poet... what do you want to know?"

Ah man, I don't know ...maybe this discourse has no value, and is just me talking circles around stuff to keep myself awake during this night shift I'm working... but... I don't think so. Anymore than when a child asks their parents: "why am I me and not someone else?"

I don't know about you gentle reader, but I never got a truly satisfactory answer to that question. So I hold little hope of really satisfying this one either: Why am I a poet? Why am I still being one?

It sure as fuck hasn't helped me get laid or find love (surprise). It has not helped my need for the emotional, spiritual or humanistic reconciliations I desire from the past few years. It has not made me any money. It brings me no wider social recognition (the way my welfare work can, by comparison) and often after big events ~not the least tonight, I'm left feeling absolutely lonely, frayed, spent, angry, impotent and foolish, and I don't see any of the above ever changing. Poetry is, in many respects, an anti-social, pessimistic and rewardless exercise, guising as catharsis through art. But... I love it... I hear words stringing themselves together everywhere, I think of things to say, as near to 'instinctual' as that word is useful, and I hunger for more.

I imagine this will flag this because of the title. And so somewhere a bunch more experienced and seasoned poets sit (assuming they would bother to read Randall even now) will be shaking their heads, thinking I'm wrong on all counts above, and I represent some adorably (or hideously) naive take on this whole thing, embarrassed on my behalf for actually putting this musing up here where it can be freely accessed. Furthermore, they will be less impressed by my flippant attempt to second guess them herein.

Well fuck guys, I am again four years old looking up to you my progenitor and asking why are you-you and not someone else?

And you have no real answer. Because now: I have a bio, and sell CDs and am travelling interstate express for this and just tonight got to compete internationally, and I spend business hours writing and writing and my family has forgotten that I even do in fact have a professional job and (fuck me dead) occasionally so do I! I wake up in the morning and my assignment for today: write about last night finally kissing the woman on the playground in the rain after a whole day of sexual tension... and THAT is what I see as work.

I mean, here I am. And please do not misinterpret this discussion: I love my life, my execution of it, and furthermore love WELL PERFORMED poetry, either as audience or medium. But... thinking back to how the world worked for me all my prior adult life, and how I worked it, completing this bio was like taking a break from trudging up a winding staircase, then looking down for the first time in a while and realising that the ground, and all its intrinsic comfort, is nowhere near you.

But here I am, and all I can think to do is keep heading up...



Thursday, September 3, 2009

Why I Haven’t Written About This Before -04/09/2009


Phone rang,
Domestic violence.

Roaring traffic behind payphone voice,
Tells me more than the voice does,
Hear own voice and its fat chances replying,
While calming that voice down,
More words less breathing ,
Turning point,
A plan now,
From a steadying voice.

Voice doesn’t hear and can’t see,
Growling at kids in the other direction,
Stop bugging me.
Go back to bed you little bastards,
Gotta a voice here who needs an everything,
More than you need cold water not tap water.

Sniggers stop,
Scared when I growl,
Easily throw my weight around,
Know it.

Can intimidate most under six foot,
Short hair thug,
Long hair vagrant.
Smiling I’m sleazy,
Frowning I’m angry,
Masculine means I look violent,
To you,
The one at home asleep right now,
Who wants more details about the phone call,
That voice’s situation,
How I helped it,
If I helped it.

Want social realism.
Random detail like… “Hawthorn Road”
Want ammunition for cocktail conversations,
Want to also shoot me down,
Would kill for this goldmine of sad stories,
Poets could write masterpieces from this.
Want to know why I haven’t.

You want,
Warriors with words and pill sized anecdotes,
Going down as smooth as a Ken Loach film.

I want,
Bullets and condoms and more muscles,
All of it pumping out from me like a Tony Iommi guitar solo.

That's how I would fix the world,
Would be out there fixing everything,
That fucking phone would never ring,

Ever again.

Should see this meat-head holding that phone,
As Rollins looks perched, huge hands daintily pecking at his iBook.
Should hear what a meathead sound like,
Would ridicule me,
For suddenly confusing the fit of your pigeonhole.

But masculinity ~
Shouldn’t throw rocks,
When you live under glass ceilings.

Femininity claims and co-opts all feeling,
Anything of his truth and beauty then becomes some feminine side,
Don’t see it, truthfully,
Beauty isn’t a myth,
Just a belief,
Not the same thing at all.

Not that one can’t believe in myths however,
But ~
Good people aren't social workers.

People who want to be good people imagine social workers are good people,
Social workers are people who want to be good people too.
People who want to be good people imagine good people exist.
Good people are asleep right now.

Good people probably don’t look anything like meat-heads,
Or think like them either,
Good people probably got here early,
Gave up their seats gladly,
And then got-off well before the crash.
Rest of us left... are just people now.
And good itself, is just as well,

I have this to confide:

A meat-head still answers the phone whenever it rings,
Whatever happens to the voice on the other end,
After the call,
The writer of these words,
Made it easier for the owner of that voice,
To go on doing whatever it needed to do to tonight.


Haven’t written about this before,
Because never-or-rarely read the book,
Heard the poem,
Seen the play,
About human misery arching its way from child abuse to substance use,
That made me want to laugh out loud,
Inasmuch as it tried to make me cry.

I'd rather you laughing with me,
Not at me,
And they are paying me to be here,
By the way.

Haven’t written about this before,
Because it just won’t read the way you want it to,
And having no desire to let you in on this,
Anymore than letting you in on my masturbatory fantasies,
Because, you know…

It’s a strange thing,
That sometimes,
Hearing a person heavy breathing down a phone,
Struggling for breath when they’re crying,
Still evokes the idea,
Or sounds horribly like,
The same as that of masturbation.

Somewhere out there good people are asleep,
While I,
Am wide-awake waiting for phone calls.

If one type of heavy breathing,
Didn’t make my male brain,
In some way think about another,
I could write you a fucking-masterpiece.
But it does,
And I’m not writing masterpieces tonight,
Just whatever I can get down in between calls.

Somewhere out there good people are asleep,


I wish them a goodnight.