Belatedly... ~ theatre notes

Thursday, August 17, 2006


I ought to read Andrew Bolt's blog more often. I'm not sure whether I should be flattered - it seems that I'm a "much talked about poet" who has made it to his list of pinko enemies (as a result of my defence of Kristy Edmunds and MIAF). Perhaps it's a little petty to respond, but I do feel compelled to make a couple of points to, as it were, defend my honour.

First, Bolt uses John Slavin's review of Diamanda Galas to "prove" that my response to Galas' performance is, um, invalid. Well, I wrote about the inadequate critical response to Galas, including Slavin's very fuzzy review, at length last year. It's more than an aesthetic difference: Slavin clearly didn't know what he was talking about.

That aside, in my Age piece I was pointing out that, despite the canard that no one was interested, last year's MIAF was enjoyed by crowds of Melburnians, and that an awful lot of shows were actually sold out. (I won't re-enter the tired old argument that commercial viability equals artistic excellence. Tell that to Milton, who struggled to sell 3000 copies of Paradise Lost in his lifetime.) But Bolt claims, at a more personal level, that I wouldn't have a hope of knowing what's popular anyway, being an elitist poet and all. I am apparently all bristles because I've had too many Australia Council grants and don't have enough readers.

Bolt naturally neglects to mention that I do actually write popular literature. As well as the elitist stuff. Hey, just this week I made it to a best seller list for the first time, with my latest YA release The Crow (NB: I'm not sure how long this link will remain current). According to this week's UK Publishing News charts, in the Bertram's Children's lists The Crow is at Number 6 in the UK. That's above JK Rowling, folks, who clocks in at Number 9. I'm quite chuffed, really. Plus book number two, The Riddle, this week scored a starred review (for exceptional merit) in the US trade mag Kirkus on its release in the States this month (again, this link will go out of date....) Not bad for an old anti-populist.

To clinch his argument that I am an undeserving recipient of public money, Bolt even quotes a poem of mine. Well, half of it, anyway. He could have had the grace to mock the whole thing. (Note to Andrew: if you're going to clock me for being obscure, do it honestly.) As regular readers of Bolt's writings will know, leaving out the important parts of an argument is a key part of his rhetoric. I'm not going to defend my poetry: it's never going to please everyone, and people of more integrity than Bolt give it enough recognition to be going on with. But I thought that I'd post the whole thing, just for the record (minus indentations that I can't do on this blog). It's called Bread.

Whatever drags downward, the heart hampers:
hands softer than dough
may leaven massy weights, o delicate
knucklings of love,

those confusing perfumes, wafers taken
out of the fragrant ovens
to be laid on muteness, on whatever starves
in crowds of noise

or between walls neither silent nor friendly
where restless shadows
take refuge from themselves, wherever
no rains fall,

there may the tongue flood and flower:
harsh the stone that cracks
the seed, harsh the fire, harsher still the heart’s
voiceless need.

Why did Bolt mutilate it so, I wonder? And this is the man who keeps protesting in hurt tones that he's not a philistine.

6 comments: said...

I think you are a great poet!

Ben Ellis said...

The Bolt Badge of Honour, perhaps? The man thinks that reading von Hayek qualifies him to be a free-market intellectual. If he read von Hayek the way he's mangled your verse that explains something.

Of course, he'll keep taking Mr Murdoch's money to sing Mr Murdoch's songs - and presumably be subsidized by government money to appear as the angry clown on Sunday's Insiders on ABC. That we would all be so lucky.

Anonymous said...

Alison, I suggest to anyone to only take Mr Bolt in small measured doses. Its a fact that even limited exposure to his writings/rantings will induce nausea and feelings of paranoia.
He's our Rush Limbaugh I guess, a plangent popping noise amongst a forest of stupidity. Yes, a badge of honour like muso's being abused by any member of Oasis - once Liam and Co get stuck into you you've made it!

Alison Croggon said...

A dubious badge, nevertheless. Sometimes I do wish for a better class of assailant. But you're right, Nazid, I shouldn't take too much notice. I just worry a little bit - as a recipient of public money - about my being used to discredit arts funding. It's Bolt's mantra, of course, since he thinks that artists really should starve since they don't deserve to be supported - well, poor old ST Coleridge would have without Wedgewood, Florence would have been nowhere without the Medicis, etc - patronage has always been part of the game.

Anonymous said...

Oh dear; the last thing I want is to defend the indefensible Bolt. But it does cross my mind as an ardent consumer of the arts that artists really aren't the best judge of their worthyness to receive funds. The thought began growing in about 1990 when research at Ozco suggested that 80% of funding grants to the creators of theatre and music had produced works that were only ever heard once. It made me believe that, in both artforms, perhaps the presenters of such works, with a financial stake in its excitement, intellectual appeal or entertainment value might be the best judges of commissioning.
In a poet's case, perhaps that would be a publisher?
That way, a decent artist shouldn't have to starve, overwork to buggery or be able to afford to smoke! Get well wisely!

PS> Two vales = one valete. Jim Hall was also a generous (and discerning) patron of my own writing in no fewer than 3 magazines. There are few like him about today!

Alison Croggon said...

Hi Jeremy. I would suggest, looking at other funding models in other coutries, that the fact that most works funded are produced only once is only tenuously to do with the quality of the work. It may be that the quality is one factor. But more pertinent would be the particular difficulties Australian performing arts have in touring or publishers have with distribution in a geographically large country with a small density of population. Cf with France, where a new work can tour for over a year, or the population can, for example, support several large publishers solely devoted to theatre publication. Daniel for instance has one show that has been touring almost constantly since around 2001. That kind of thing is simply impossible here, for many reasons that are impossible to list here.

So it seems a bit narky to me to zero in Bolt-wise on vague "quality" issues when there are funding and structural and cultural dilemmas that are much more obviously problematic.

No one is suggesting that arts funding here is beyond criticism. But I've looked quite hard at several European models as well as the British Council and its regional affiliates. I think the Ozco does extremely well comparatively speaking - it is very accountable and transparent, and moreover easy to negotiate, unlike English funding which is bizarrely bureacratic. Its major problem - as has been borne out by studies - is that it is underfunded. Peer review - which in fact involves publishers/promoters of art as well as artists - seems to me a pretty good way of going about it. What do you suggest instead?

Fwiw, I've never had any problems getting pubished. I have never even had to send out manuscripts, since publishers have always asked me. I presume that's for the same reasons that I have received arts funding. I don't make judgments about my own work. To echo Eliot, the trying is what I do; the rest is none of my business. I would rather be paid than not for my trying. The fact is that most of the time I am not paid, and I am grateful when I can be. Like most artists, my "career" has been subsidised out of my own pocket and represents a lot of lost income. I'm not complaining, that is just how it is.

Bolt's view is that art that doesn't make money immediately shouldn't be supported by public money. Is that what you think too?