Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Steve Smart's launch speech for "One For The Road' - 14/07/2014


For Monday night's launch there was simply no question of whom I would ask to do the actual 'launching' speech for me (a book isn't actually "launched" unless someone important says something important about it), the only human who could have possibly done this was Steve Smart.

(Photo by Andrzej Sobieszczuk)

The following is a transcript of his launch speech: 

The history of self-publishing is a rich, albeit chequered one, from cave paintings to Sufi mystics to Queensland action novelist Matthew Reilly.

In 1967 Valerie Solanis self-published her 'Scum Manifesto' in hopes to change the world and its patriarchal ways, or at least get Andy Warhol to pay her some lip service. Andy's lips were apparently busy with more important matters like sucking his own cock. The work reached wider readership when she tried to kill him and has since been reprinted and excerpted many times.

(I'm told the SCUM Manifesto may have been a misunderstood joke - many of Randall's jokes are also misunderstood.)

Through the second half of the 20th century and early part of the 21st Lawrence Ferlinghetti published many of his contemporaries (beats and otherwise) through his City Lights imprint, but also found time to publish his own work to great acclaim. He is widely considered to be one of the finest of the Beat poets. So far as has been recorded Lawrence never tried to kill anyone.

And in the 1700s William Blake eked out a living contributing illustrations, etchings and engravings to other people's literary works, meanwhiles he was often to be found illustrating his own self-published books of poetry, known as 'illuminated books' (a lineage 'One For The Road' continues). Yes, even the author of 'Innocence and Experience' published his own shit! A controversial figure, considered mad during his lifetime, Blake's poetry is now considered to be among the greatest in written history. We're fairly sure William Blake often wanted to kill publishers.

Hmm... So, next time somebody says self-publishing is vanity publishing you may feel free to quote the works of William Blake. And Randall Stephens. Who has probably never tired to kill anyone either, not even me and we were on tour for aaaages.

Randall Stephens is better known as a 'performance poet' or 'slam poet' (which he rightly denies). This diabolical back-handed compliment is supposed to indicate someone whose work does not sit kindly on the page and can only be considered in a more theatrical construct. As you will discover when you buy the book, Randall's work has evolved very strongly on the page. However it is true that his poetic output up to this point has largely been channelled through live performances and audio recordings. He is also a prodigious blogger and often road tests his work on social media. (Yes, that bloody Twitter account.) He has been published in print in Little Raven's online and print anthologies and in Australian Poetry’s online journal Sotto. His first chapbook was supposed to be a split book with local bon vivant Steve Smart entitled 'Fuck These Guys' but due to the pressures of work, travel and an evolving aesthetic FTG was temporarily shelved pending a contextual overhaul. Yep. Well, and there were the death threats... 

And so we come at long last to 'One For The Road', Randall's first collection of poetry. The one before the next one, which he is already working for that will come before the one after that which may or may not be 'Fuck These Guys'. 'One For The Road' is reflective of a more reflective side of Randall's poetic ouvre (Bam!) while still highlighting a number of the poems that make his live show so dynamic. But no dinosaurs or insults about 'your' boyfriend.

From the opening poem 'We'll Always Have Paris', well known to many of you, 'One For The Road' is a series of journeys and of love poems, so often both at once. There is hope and frustration, often both at once, and there is a will to continue, to find meaning. Of course there is anger at times (see Auckland, unless you're from Auckland, in which case you may want to skip to the closing verses of 'Auckland' which will make you want to punch Randall much less; people from Auckland being sometimes a bit touchy about... Auckland) but the anger is tempered with the understanding that things are not always so clear cut and even where it seems unlikely still there are moments that make things less shit.

Following Auckland there is 'In Sydney', which is a balanced view of a city that is often painted in too few shades. Randall captures Sydney in a way that perhaps only a fond outsider can, with many different snapshots making a satisfying whole. From there to Borneo, where the pith helmet makes its first appearance. Thailand, India, Nepal... I'm not going to list all the places 'One For The Road' travels through, or the people that populate them except to say that each one is given its own space, its own focus as part of the whole continuing journey. Taurangan Armpit battle-rams through countries, continents, all the places Randall has been foreign (including Brisbane and Canberra) taking few prisoners and indicating that the planet is not necessarily 'Lonely' so much as dank, sweaty, half-crazed and very loud, but fun at the same time. There are conversations real and imagined, there are moments just staring at one horizon. And there are jokes, oh lord there are some stinkers!!

And yes, there is more of the pith helmet.

This is at its heart not a book of travel poems, because books of travel poems suck, it's a book of personal experiences, of moments that you expand into.

The book ends with a book-end poem, a rejoinder to 'We'll always have Paris', returning home with the sadness that can entail. It's a fitting close to a book of such breadth and a fine poem.

But wait, it ain't over, there's more to come... check out the preview of the next book!

Randall would like to thank Alex Scott for the cover, back and title page photos and Grace Brosnan and Steve Smart for editing assistance.

It's launched, now buy it, or he really will kill the puppy!

For more information on Steve Smart, check out his website




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