Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Leonard Cohen Live at the Rod Laver Arena, 2013

Leonard Cohen Live at the Rod Laver Arena, 2013
James WF Roberts

The house lights go down, purple, blue and red filters change slowly one the black curtain. A black clad figure moves across the stage, an old fedora and a pin-stripe suit.  The light catches his shadow like a predatory shadow in a noirish film. The fusion of jazz, blues, gypsy folk and modern balladry begins.
It is hard to review a live concert. I will say that from the get-go. It is like reviewing a football match, not from the comfort from a press box or the over-privileged   God’s view of the game from the commentary team. Sitting in the throng, the mass of people at Rod Laver arena, all in riotous chanting, applause and devotion to the craggy-faced, troubadour, the would-be self-styled prophet, Leonard Cohen.

The crowd is mostly middle-aged, or older. Very well dressed for a pop-concert. Trilby and fedora hats flood the hallway, when you are trying to line up for a beer.  For someone like me, still regarding himself as an emerging poet/writer and an amateur musician and would-be song-writer. It is a dream come true to see Mr. Cohen on stage. For 79 years old he is spritely, and charismatic. He jokes with the audiences, he bows in reverence, he crouches on his haunches, like in prayer and offers his benediction of song to the audience.  He is rather captivating to listen to and to watch.  Even though his standard and somewhat minimal vocal and range of movement is repetitive.  The first half of his first Melbourne show saw seamless transitions between songs – songs that we all know if you have ever gone to an open mic night or know a few singer-song writers, Cohen’s canon is almost as popular with emerging musicians as Lennon/McCartney songs.

Cohen’s electic style of writing and influences is echoed by the fusion of jazz, blues, gypsy folk, rock, pop and electronica. Cohen is flanked by some of the best musicians in the world, all experts and some professors in their field; bassist and musical director Roscoe Beck, guitarist Mitch Watkins, violinist Alexandru Bublitchi, keyboardist Neil Larsen (on Hammond organ), guitarist Javier Mas on Bandurria guitar, drummer Rafael Gaol and vocalists Sharon Robinson and Charley and Hattie Webb.

Cohen is a very generous performer. Generous with his audience and with his ensemble, many times throughout the show,  the Webb sisters and his long time song writing collaborator Sharon Robertson do their own solo work. He allows the spotlight to shine on the rest of the band, like no other solo artist I have seen. You get the feeling there is that gypsy/jazz sense of a wandering band of musicians on stage.
“Thanks friends for your warm welcome and those who have climbed the heights. Tonight we’ll give you everything we’ve got,” promises Cohen and he remains true to his word. On occasion, Cohen kneels towards the floor. During “Tower of Song,” the throng claps after his amateurish keyboard solo. “You must be kidding”, retorts Cohen. 

Cohen’s career and canon and quite interesting from a historical and a pop-cultural sense. His songs reflect life, death, sex, revenge, compassion and the spiritual ennui that we have found ourselves in over the last few decades.  With a twenty-six set song list, a 3 and a half hour show and many encores it was truly an impressive and emotive spectacle.  The older songs in the middle of the set list and at the end of the show, were the stand outs for me. “Suzanne” was powerful and beautiful, as it always is, as was “Bird on a wire”, I still find Cohen’s original version, though there are several versions he recorded, his rendition of “Hallelujah “, to me has always been the best, it has a satirical and edgy dark humour to it, that I think is often missed in many of the covers of that now standard/ almost torch song, as my fellow Writer Joe Dolce wrote on here a few weeks ago, that Cohen’s most famous song has now become almost a party-favourite, a show-stopper on American Idol and the X-factor, and people treat it as a prayer—much like I find they treat Cohen as a would-be prophet, Nick Cave is often revered in the same way for much of the same and wrong reasons, I think.

 Cohen’s music and songs, and indeed his poetry is often quite complex to get around, highly sexual and masculine, yet soul-searching and full of reverence.

  One of his  most sexually explicit, which also one of his most  one most famous songs, “Chelsea Hotel # 2”, which as Cohen admits in interviews now is his most un-gallant song, it’s basically about getting a blowjob from Janis Joplin in the stairwell of the famous New York hotel. I like the darkness in Cohen’s work, “Future”, famously used in the soundtrack of the Oliver Stone film, Natural Born Killers,  “Democracy”; these are fire and brimstone songs, apocalyptical prophesies of the highest order. Even, things like the Euro disco style New world order call to arms, “First We’ll Take Manhattan”. Cohen is still very much the old school folk singer, he is just electrified and modernised.  The new stuff he was doing in the first half of the set did get a bit repetitive. His new stuff is trying to be his old stuff, and it simply isn’t. it’s not the same time, or the same world it was when many of his major hits were written and performed. 

I like Cohen immensely. I guess what he is doing now, is what I want to do eventually. But, I do get the sense that he is repeating himself with some of his new pieces. Even, on stage much of the backing music to the new stuff sounds remarkably like Bird on a Wire, Tower of Song and So, Long Marianne. But, of course that could just be the MD trying to give the performance stage scope and symmetry.
Overall, I quite liked this concert and I do recommend Cohen as a stage performer and a song writer. I agree with Joe Dolce though, that I think Cohen still has the potential to be one of the great poets, but I think fame and anxiety and the mythology surrounding Cohen has made him less of a poet and more of a man playing the part of a prophet/poet song-writer.

But, please do yourself a favour and go see Cohen on his Nov/Dec 2013 tour and listen to his music, especially if you are an aspiring poet and/or song writer. There is a lot from Cohen you can inspire you and teach you what to do and what not to do.

Red Wolf Press Australia: Our First two anthologies

What better way to end the busy Silly seasons, and see 2013 to its inevitable end then by coming down to the Brunswick Hotel, having a drink, buying a book, reading a poem, singing a song, you can do it all on Monday 30th of December, 2013...

Red Wolf Press Australia, Lulu,the Brunswick Hotel and Passionate Tongues proudly brings to you, two new poetry collections by James WF Roberts, Ten Poems and The Preludes. Red Wolf Press Australia is a new experimental and dark prose/verse publisher. These first two publications are the foundation stones of what will hopefully become part of the Melbourne and Australia literary scenes.

 So what are the books about? Ten Poems, is an experimental collection of ten poems written in a variety of different voices, textures and tones; ranging from a bank heist gone wrong, the miracle of birth in the tragedy and banality of a war zone, drug addiction, the trials and tribulations of love and relationships, to Indigenous Australian Land rights and spirituality.

The Preludes, by James WF Roberts, is a work of more serious literary and artistic pursuits. The Preludes are series of 50 individual pieces that are connected by narrative, structure and ideas. A philosophical work meditating on what it is to be an artist living in the world today, how do we cope with the loss of a loved one, the loss of the soul, the mechanical nature of society, does God exist? Is love real or just a chemical in-balance. Preludes is a cross-genre work, based on the traditions of TS Eliot’s Four Quartets, the Psalms of the Bible, Classical mythology and modern contemporary pop-culture—the poet is going on a journey in this collection, he is trying to find meaning in homogenized, digitized, corporatized world. Will he find what he is looking for?

Passionate Tongues, (aka The Brunswick Hotel, 140 Sydney Rd Brunswick, Melbourne VIC) on Monday 2nd DECEMBER 2013 at 8:30pm.
 Free entry.

Book prices:
$5 AUD: Ten Poems.
$10 AUD: The Preludes
$20AUD: Blue Electric Dusk.

or buy all three books for only $30 Aud on the night.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Poets Corner: Catherine ZIckgraf Ambient


I’m demented from exhaustion again.
It’s 5 am, and my conscious mind
is scaling my skull to find its own kind.

            And I think I’m turning
wild in this wilderness,
tired of restlessness—
everyone’s abandoned the roads.

            The wind rolls in like tides, like sin—
            and I’m stalked by eyes inside these lines.
            I want to run, erase all of it—
            but I’m caged here till time unwinds.

                        So I’m fighting fear,
            fighting tears tunneling my ears,
            fighting demons that fill the stability
            they’ve prescribed me over the years.

And those screams in last night’s dreams
lead me past the graveyard path tonight
where my goals and plans once traveled my head.
I’m unraveling sanity, tossing in bed.

I’m desperate to settle down my bones,
desperate for eyes to close,
so I can float in my ocean of sheets.
But even when I finally sleep,
my mind still roams the streets.

And I’m trying to sleep.
But I run through rooms
where lights are flashing.
            I’m smashing through doors,
            soaring over the floor,
            twisting through carpeted corridors,

fleeing a roar, my folks screaming whore,
I’m unsure if I’m awake or asleep.
            And even weed doesn’t seem
            to work anymore. . .

Flooding blood swells around me.
Hell pulls me down to drown me
in the soundlessness of coffins
sliding out to sea.

Catherine Zickgraf is a writer first, a performer second.  As Catherine the Great, she has shared her spoken word from Madrid to Boston, from Miami to San Francisco, and on scores of stages in between.  See her perform at

Yet the written word is her first love.  Her writing has appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Pank, Bartleby-Snopes, and GUD Magazine.  Her chapbook, Every Clock Has Its Place, is forthcoming from Sweatshoppe Publications

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

2012 and other poems. Amanda Anastasi’s first collection of poems.

2012 and other poems.

Amanda Anastasi’s first collection of poems.

What Melbourne writers are saying about Amanda Anastasi’s first collection:

“2012 and other poems is a richly contemporaneous. Amanda Anastasi takes on various occasions as various as saving a great tree, Fukushima and the tragic shipwreck at Christmas Island. But the key to the book is the poet in person, a skilled wordsmith exploring, with candour and some irony, herself and the subtle extended life of her experience” Judith Rodriguez

“Amanda Anastasi is passionately committed to the emergence of the individual and directs a sharp philosophical critique towards anything which blocks this emergence, whether insitutions in society, consumer culture or sheep mentality. This philosophy is delivered in rich language which is nonetheless plain-speaking and avoids saccharine expression. These meditations on what it means to be an individual have their greatest impact precisely on the individual who thise collection privately and reflectively, perhaps in a bath of still, warm water”.
Santo Cazzati, 3CR Spoken Word.
“In 2012, Anastasi invites you to question the social and political constructs we take for granted in our day to day lives and over generations. Don’t turn a blind eye to this impressive collection. Amanda Anastasi is an emerging poet to watch”. Tiggy Johnson, Editor Page Seventeen Magazine

Nothing excites the blood, in my opinion more than seeing inside another person’s mind, going to the weird, wild, wonderful and sometimes downright whacky imagination of another creative spirit. This is real excitement, not the cheap thrills of a roller-coast or a ghost train at Luna Park, but real danger. The danger of allowing yourself to feel as another person feels, to love, to hate and to think the same way as that person. It is intimate, passionate, distant and ravishing. And this is how you will feel when you read this fantastic premiere collection by one of Melbourne’s finest Spoken Word Performers, Amanda Anastasi, 2012 and other poems, published by Lulu, 2012.

A lot of people, especially in Australia I think, are distrustful of poetry. I want to say that they don’t understand it, or they afraid of it, or they just don’t care. But that is too harsh and also quite elitist on my behalf. Deep down I think though, that people are distrustful of poetry because it is thought of as something far above everyone’s own daily struggle. That it is for people with University degrees, wear black turtle necks and drink Chardonnay, go antiquing in the Grampians or at Daylesford and enjoy the spectacle of mass sport as masturbation or a modern church, I think you get the point, ( a note to any of my friends who suddenly want to beat me up after reading that last line, if you recognise yourself like that—it’s time to change your clothes)

But, poetry in its ind ividual and unique form is quite different than what most people are exposed to, say at school, or what they see on TV or movies about poets. Poetry is essentially the vehicle of direct language meeting direct emotional response. Beauty, truth kind of thing. The rythms, and structures, the cadence and form of good poetry are desgined for the reader, or the listener to build images up in their mind, without the audience knowing what tools, what road map the writer is using. This is very much the case with Amanda’s poem, Poets. [originally published in 2011, Short and Twisted, anthology, Celapene Press, then in 2012 Horizons anthology, Poetica Christi Press]


We run our fingers over the shell

of humanity, feeling for the pulse

of its mettle; the rhythms of its

prejudices, the beat of its concord;

drunk on the beautiful, redefining its

boundaries: its height, its breadth

and its colours, worshipping a

horizon’s sweep and the vein

of a leaf, the collected light

of a city and the glisten in

an eye; capturing a moment in the universe

and the universe in a moment.
I have heard a colleague and friend of mine, Michaeal Reynolds, say that Amanda doesn’t necessarily use words, it’s more that she honours them. And I agree with that idea. Read this poem aloud and you will feel that seduction take place.

Yet, there is irony in her words as well. Look where the word ‘boundaries’ appears, it is not on the regularly accepted position, or boundary at the end of the line. It is at the beginning of it, so maybe not so much a boundary rather a door, or portal, a journey towards a new realm of thought maybe?
Without spending too long on this poem, I can see many of the same ideas flowing through her pen, as one of the great English poets of all time, certainly in the top four of the Great Romantics, S.T. Coleridge. I think this poem, certainly falls within the same scope of ideas and utilizes the same seductive language that S.T. Coleridge uses in Kublai Khan. One of the arguments I have heard about that piece by Coleridge is that the Poet is witnessing the sexual fury, the giant release of the creative spirit, as the Pleasure Dome rises from the tumult, ie: the Dome is actually the poem itself.
In literature today, there is pretty much no, real no-go areas for writers of any gender, orientation, age group or religious background to explore. I am in favour of this occurrence. The global world is shoved down our throats 24/7 and I know a lot of poets feel the same as I do, that we have a right, if not a responsibility to respond to this new over saturated world. And Amanda certainly does that, with quite expert hands. She takes on a trip of emotional expeniture. Ranging from the first contact between Europeans and Aboriginals, the wreckage of Fukishima and of Cyclone Yasi, to our own shopping centres and suburban gardens and to marvel at the ‘Saturn’s rings’ of a thousand-year-old tree. She shares with us her own wonderment of our capacity for seeing, remembering, grieving and joy. This is a collection of wide scope, a path with many turns which constantly asks the reader to go just a little further every time.
First Boats is a prime example of the way Amanda builds up images with a simple yet refined way we find ourselves longing for understanding and being filled with compassion and I think a lot of shame.

first boats
January 18, 1788

they sail across our waters
they sail across our ancestors
hair the hue of sand dunes,
skin white as a sea eagle’s belly

thin second skins sheathe
their arms, legs, torsos
the colours of billowing sea,
moon and dead eucalypt bark
sun-like rocks decorate their

chests in long vertical lines
shiny skins blackened, moulded
to shape their feet that now step
from bulky canoes; we wave spears
above our heads: warra warra wai
where are your message sticks
seeking invitation?

they look upon us as they look upon
the mangrove trees, without seeing
this rainbow serpent will form a
second world on our mountains,
our waterways and forests – full with
spirit – though they brand it as bare
they stride across our land
they stride across our souls.

This poem was Highly Commended in the 2011,Julie Lewis Biennial Literarary awards, presented at the Peter Cowan Writer’s Centre in Western Australia.The judging poet was Kevin Gillam and it was one of eleven poems shortlisted from the 212 entries. There are more poems I could discuss here but then if I did that I would be too tempted to post all of them, and you would have no real need to buy this lovely book and Amanda would be very cross with me.
What intrigues me the most with Amanda is her own sense of style in her verse. She uses concetre imagery, and allows that imagery to speak for itself, she doesn’t illustrate the point she is trying to make by hitting you over the head repeatidly with the metaphor until you are dull. She uses all of her stylistic and versification weapons, admirably and doesn’t seperate the reader from the unravelling mystery in our heads. We are with the writer, the entire length of every poem, this is more like a greatest hits album from a singer than a debut album, almost every poem is a gold record that is critically acclaimed. There is an upsurge in the Melbourne Spoken Word scene and indeed in most Poetry Scenes, I think of trying to make poetry more mainstream, more sales, from a desperate readership looking for truth in an over saturated world. I think so many people are sick of reality TV shows, mindless panel discussion shows and pointless politicians, if Poetry in Australia is to move into the mainstream of Art and Entertainment where it belongs, it will be the poetry of Amanda Anastasi, I think that will be the first beginings of said movement.
Amanda’s poetry also works if you are new to poetry, or you want to give someone not very familiar with poetry, or with Australia as it is today, their very first book of contemporary Australian verse. This is a direct writer-reader response experience on the page, it will leave you wandering and thinking for hours after you have one piece, or two or three lines, but that is the beauty of good art, once it leaves the hands of it’s creator it constructs its own world and views, images, emotional complexity around whoever is willing to take the first steps of the journey. After all, beauty and poetry—beautiful, instense poetry is not just in the eye of the beholder, it’s also reponses to the beholder’s heart.

Amanda is also very passionate about new and emerging writers. She is always there to lend a helpful and supportive ear and is someone who is very well beloved and trusted, from what I can see in the Melbourne Poetry community. 

She is the one who re-introduced me to the Performance Poetry scene in Melbourne, at Passionate Tongues, at the Brunswick Hotel. So we are friends and colleagues, but my opinions of her work are not reflected or maintained by my friendship with her. I would hold these views regardless if we were friends of not.

For more information on how to purchase a copy of this tantalizing collection please visit:

Amanda Anastasi’s Biographay:

After completing her arts degree at Deakin University, Amanda shed her former conservative self to embrace independent thought. She started a piano tuition business, Virtuoso Music, through which she teaches up to sixty students a week, runs recitals and performs at the occasional function. Although she had majored in writing at uni, it wasn’t until 2009/10 that Amanda threw herself into the wonderful world of words. In 2009 she was surprised to find herself shortlisted in the Page Seventeen Poetry Competition. This gave birth to an insatiable poetry monster, and Amanda subsequently had poems published in many Australian and international anthologies and magazines. She was even more astonished to find herself the winner of the 2010 Seagull Poetry Prize at the Williamstown Literary Festival, with a poem concerned with asylum seeker issues. Amanda often drops in at Passionate Tongues or The Dan O’Connell readings to perform her work.

Amanda has also recently begun working and performing a very extraordinary collaboration with Steve Smart, Composer  Yvette Audain and Violinist Sarah Curro on Loop City.

Venue: Deakin Edge Federation Square, Melbourne, Vic, 3000, Australia
    November 9, 2013 8:15 pm
    November 9, 2013 10:00 pm    

Loop City - Fed Square Performance and Album Launch Promo # 2