Erin Thornback Reviews “Selfish Bastards”

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To be precise, Cordite Poetry Review’s Erin Thornback reviews “Selfish Bastards and Other Poems” by Mike Hopkins and “Jardin du Luxembourg and Other Poems” by Steve Brock (both Garron Publishing, 2016).

The full review is here.

It can be intimidating to have your work reviewed, especially by someone  you’ve never met who writes for a prestigious publication like Cordite. It’s interesting that people often pick out lines that you regarded as ordinary, and (presumably) regard as ordinary, lines that you felt a bit smug about. That happens at readings too – the biggest reaction can sometimes be to lines that you underestimated, and, by turns, lines that you thought were belters produce little reaction. As they say, once you put a poem out there, it’s out of your control.

Here are a few snippets from Erin’s review from 13th December 2016 :

“Displaying an impulse that is communitarian and geographic by turns, Mike Hopkins’s Selfish Bastards and Other Poems, and Steve Brock’s Jardin du Luxembourg and Other Poems address the quotidian of the present under the notion that place-based does not necessarily mean place-bound. ….. Hopkins’ collection … unfolds in a specific place, articulating a contemporary critique of the Australian present. The poems are inflected with the volatility of political lyricism in ‘Selfish Bastards’ and ‘Anzacery’, and Hopkins’ ‘In the Beginning was the Cliché’ terrifically probes and parodies popular culture.

… Mike Hopkins’s Selfish Bastards places his truth within the perception of Australia’s political stage. This truth can compete in the public arena with the ‘truth’ that is portrayed by politicians, such as:

Politicians who tell us we need to tighten our belt, and then
use a helicopter to go to a cocktail party — Selfish Bastards

…. Being free from the same existential competition that obligates politicians to indulge their constituent public, Hopkin’s doesn’t flatter and indulge his audience in the eponymous slam poem:

People in the audience who don’t shout out “SELFISH 
BASTARDS” when politely asked to do so — Selfish Bastards! 

Rather, the poem performs in front of the reader’s eyes, the musicality of the concluding refrains unpacking the realities of our monotone and formulaic reality:

People who like their own posts on Facebook — Selfish Bastards!

Indeed, Selfish Bastards signals a condemnation of contemporary society. Reinforced in ‘The Template’ and ‘In the Beginning was the Cliché’, we are confronted with thick hectic prose, sentence fragments and the hackneyed that has taken ‘the world by storm, though it was a small world, when all is said and done’. These clichés humorously gain momentum in ‘In the Beginning was the Cliché’, as the people ‘did not stay glued / to the one true cliché’ but ‘ took to false clichés like ducks to water’. In ‘The Template’ Hopkins satirises the public treatment of our magazine society and paper-politicians:

Another soldier dead. Pull
out the template and we’ll 
knock off the news story in 
a flash. First the headline: 
“Digger” and “fallen” are
mandatory words. “Brave”
and salute are excellent 
accompaniments.

Structured like a traditional newspaper spread in two columns side by side, such portrayals are confrontational to the say the least, but there is also a sense of warning that is conspicuous here. Hopkins, in similar tonality to Brock’s ‘Hollywood Hotel’, takes an itinerary of the cookie-cutter Australian media and divisive political scene:

Get a shot or two of 
the politicians in the pews, 
and the comforting the next 
of kin outside the church. 
After all they’ve sacrificed 
their precious time to
attend the service, and 
they like to see that we’ve 
stuck to the template.

The words ‘cliché’ and ‘template’ are key here. The tired terminology is fixed in repetition, an endless ventriloquy hovering over texts, criticising and energising in turn. The geographic impulses that these texts address is one of renewal, the language resonating with a precise duplicity that recognises regardless of the place, we encounter distance, we are always a tourist on the outskirts of a template, political, humorous or based in the explorative:

This rule is our rule: 
THIS DAY IS NOT FOR YOU

(‘Anzacery’, by Hopkins).

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Copyright Mike Hopkins 2017 except content from Cordite Poetry Review 2016

 

How a comedian had over 1,000 paedophiles indicted

Barry Crimmins is a comedian. His aims in life are to overthrow the Government of the United States and to close down the Catholic Church. So you can see he thinks big. After establishing himself as the edgiest comedian in the U.S.A in the ’80s, especially in terms of political satire, Crimmins turned his attention to waging war on paedophiles.

He was called as an expert witness to a Senate Judiciary Committee in 1995 and provided evidence that resulted in over 1,000 indictments against people trafficking paedophile images and online stalking of children. He exposed the then leading American internet provider, AOL, as being complicit in, and profiting from, online chat rooms for paedophiles.

Crimmins is still active as a performer and campaigner. He was raised a Catholic, but now regularly tweets the Pope, asking to be excommunicated.

His amazing story is told in the documentary “Call Me Lucky”. It is, at turns, hilarious, heartbreaking and inspirational.

Songs that Benny Hill could have written -1

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I wrote a poem once called “The bands you’ve never heard of”, which describes my habit of losing interest in bands once they become famous. A classic example is Fleetwood Mac, who, before they became a chart busting pop band, were a great British blues band. They were led by the brilliant but tragic figure of Peter Green. Peter was a great guitarist and singer, and had significant success with Fleetwood Mac (initially known as Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac) with big selling tracks such as “Man of the World” and “Green Manalishi”. But he couldn’t handle fame and money, and especially drugs. A fascinating documentary tells the sad tale of his fall.

Which is an off-topic introduction to what I think will be a series of posts about songs I’ve heard that could have been written by Benny Hill. The first is an early Fleetwood Mac track, “Lazy Poker Blues”. Great blues shuffle, with lyrics that Benny would approve of, and typical Peter Green vocals and lead guitar. I bought the vinyl album “Mr. Wonderful” in South Harrow market in about  1968. Why might Benny Hill have written the lyrics? Bleedin’ obvious innit.

 

Copyright Mike Hopkins 2017

Titles (probably a bad title for a blog post)

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Interesting judge’s comments from the 2016 “Over the Edge” literary competition in Galway. Niamh Boyce writes:

A word on titles, in general they were awful. Weak, with a last minute feel about them. The title allows you to direct a reader through your work. In a poem in particular, it allows you to say something that you have not said ‘in’ the poem. This does not apply to some of the winning and commended – but in general the titles were horrific. With such a high quality of writing, and such strong various voices in the entries, weak titles were a constant. They should not be an afterthought, the work deserves better, have fun, work on them. It didn’t affect my judging I might add, it’s just a general observation. “

I feel a New Year’s resolution coming on: take more time thinking about titles.

 

Copyright Mike Hopkins 2016

 

 

December 3rd at SPIN in McLaren Vale

Along with a number of talented performers, I am guest poet at the SPIN gig in McLaren Vale on December 3rd 2016. I’ll be reading from my recent chapbook, “Selfish Bastards”, plus other work. Thanks to Julia Wakefield-Houghton for inviting me. She’s given me a 20 minute slot, which is long by poetry reading standards. Perhaps an opportunity to respond to world events of 2016!

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Donald Trump, Poet

From The New Yorker

Dispatches: Aftermath: Donald Trump, Poet

 

DONALD TRUMP, POET

—Mary Karr

AT THE RISK of sounding like a total candy-ass, I swear I have developed P.T.S.D. from the venom of this election. O.K., even before voting season began, I was wobbly enough to be seeing a shrink. But when I confessed to her, a month ago, that I was sleeping less and checking news outlets compulsively, like a rat pushing a bar down for a pellet, she said, “So are a hundred per cent of my patients.” Then she added, “So am I.” A friend’s cardiologist told her that patients had been flooding into his office or calling from emergency rooms with false reports of tachycardia.

 

Those of us who experienced trauma as children, often at the hands of bullies, felt old wounds open up just hearing Trump’s fierce idiom of outrage. All of us used to be kids. All of us were, at some point, silenced by someone bigger and louder saying, “Wrong, wrong,” but meaning “It’s not what you’re doing that’s wrong—it’s who you are that’s wrong.”

Language is key. Trump’s taunting “nyah-nyah”s are the idiom of threat and vengeance. For him, it’s not enough to ban abortion; women who have abortions should be punished. It’s not enough to defeat Hillary Clinton; we have to hate, jail, and possibly even kill her. Eric Trump responded to David Duke’s endorsement not by saying, “We don’t want his vote,” but with the line “The guy does deserve a bullet.”

 

This violent poetry has been gathering force on our airwaves for decades. It started with shock-jock radio and moved to Fox News. Then, there’s the ubiquitous browbeating by social media, which, I suspect, has contributed to the tripling of the suicide rate for adolescent girls in the past fifteen years.

 

It was only a matter of time before a hair-triggered guy took this vernacular to the national political stage. Nasty talk didn’t start with Trump, but it was the province of people we all viewed as idiots— schoolyard mobs, certain drunks in bars, guys hollering out of moving cars.

 

When a Presidential candidate mocks a disabled man or a Muslim family that has sacrificed a son for our country, the behavior is stamped with a big “O.K.” Some Trump supporters felt O.K. shoving and hitting protesters. At a Wisconsin football game, a fan wore an Obama mask and a noose.

 

If you ever doubted the power of poetry, ask yourself why, in any revolution, poets are often the first to be hauled out and shot—whether it’s Spanish Fascists murdering García Lorca or Stalin killing Mandelstam. We poets may be crybabies and sissies, but our pens can become nuclear weapons.

 

Like Trump, I trained early for the gutter brawl. I grew up in a huge state with an “X” in its middle, marking the place where the mouthy and the wellarmed crisscross the boundaries of propriety like cattle rustlers. Littler than my cohort, I learned that a verbal bashing had a lingering power that a bloody nose could never compete with. When a boy named Bubba said, “Your mama’s a whore,” I shot back, “So what? Your nose is flat.”

 

The vicious language of this election has infected the whole country with enough anxiety and vitriol to launch a war. American lawn signs used to be lowkey. You might see venomous slogans on bumper stickers, but not where anybody actually lived. In Florida this Halloween, one yard featured black effigies hanging in the trees above a Trump sign. Strange fruit indeed.

 

Whatever you think of Hillary Clinton, there’s no question that she was the more circumspect candidate, and that’s partly why her detractors hated her. She was “politically correct.” By my yardstick, that means trying not to hurt people’s feelings (whether Bubba said something mean about your mother or not). And yet, among a huge portion of our population, this registers not as civility but as insincerity.

 

We Democrats have mostly tried to follow Clinton’s example, but I confess that, among friends, I’ve often enjoyed making ad-hominem attacks on Trump and his family in a way that—on reflection— shames me. And, certainly, the left has made use of that insidious “If/then” construction that Trump favors (i.e., “If I were President, you’d be in jail”). A putative friend once told me, “If you eat endangered fish, I won’t be friends with you anymore.” I replied, “If I cared more about a fish than a person, I’d examine my values.”

Today, I’m examining my values. As a Buddhist pal said to me on Election Night, “America has spoken.” Now it falls to us to listen with gracious and open hearts. This is not giving in or giving up. The hardest thing about democracy is the boring and irritating process of listening to people you don’t agree with, which is tolerable only when each side strives not to hurt the other’s feelings. To quote my colleague George Saunders, let today be National Attempt to Have an Affectionate / Tender Thought About Someone of the Opposing Political Persuasion Day. And (please, God) every day hereafter as well.

 

 

Book Review: A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride

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“A Girl is a Half-formed Thing” by Eimear McBride

I could give this book a one star or a five star rating, so I’ve compromised and given it three stars, and alternative reviews.

One star review:
What an infuriating, depressing story, told in an almost unreadable, fake Joycean voice. It contains no names (except perhaps the name of a doctor?), no commas, no dates and no place names. The reader can work around these things, and, with a great deal of persistence, follow the fairly straightforward plot line. It tells mainly of the dynamics within a family in small-town Ireland, principally the relationship between the girl, her brother who is treated for a brain tumour at birth and grows up with learning difficulties, and their religion obsessed mother. The father disappears from the scene early on. From this depressing, claustrophobic start, things just get worse. The girl is raped (or is she?) by her uncle in her early teens, but then becomes obsessed with him. The brother is bullied at school and later develops another brain tumour. The mother falls victim to reborn Christians. The claustrophobic atmosphere of Ireland becomes even more cloying. The girl goes off to the big city and engages in more sex than you would think could be fit into a normal life. For a girl who has so much unprotected sex, it is astounding that there is no mention of pregnancy or STDs. Maybe the author thought that would be just too depressing, given the total misery of the rest of the book. The last book I read that made me want to have a long, hot shower afterwards was “Praise” by Andrew McGahern. This book made me feel like I needed a week of long, hot showers.

Five star review:
Original, gripping, earthy and with an astonishingly original use of language, this book is ground-breaking. Eimear McBride said that reading Ulysses changed her life, and it clearly set her off on a totally new direction in novel writing. Without using names, locations, commas or dates, she still manages to take us right inside the claustrophobic life of small-town Ireland. It is a shocking tale of how a girl goes completely off the rails. Her father is absent, her mother is church-obsessed, her brother is brain-damaged, her uncle abuses her. Her way out is through sex and alcohol. She is set on a path of self-destruction and achieves it. This is not a light read, nor an enjoyable one, but it is a book that will stay with you long after you have put it down.

Review on Goodreads

Copyright Mike Hopkins 2016