PB : non-causal, expressive correspondences

So Pat had access to a typesetting machine + layout facilities + there was an old offset press in the office where she worked. We scrounged the paper to do the book from offcuts or somewhere + asked a friend if he'd print it. So four of us went to occupied the office after hours with a flagon of wine + probably a few joints + printed, collated + stapled the book in a night. With that book there was no copyright - this was because of my wonderfully noble + idealistic anarchism — + the opening statement in the book read "if anyone wants these poem use them" + they were used - they turned up in magazines and so on. So the book cost very little, I think we spent about $20 + I also learned a bit about layout, printing + collating. So I had had the big light bulb go on for me, a highly illuminating experience + I loved the idea of publishing + the freedom of self-publishing where you could design + construct a book in any way you wished, you could say whatever you wanted to — NO LIMITS, no restriction.            

The next year Pat drove moved to Sydney, driving up from Melbourne with an offset press in her V.W. – with a few clothes, no furniture or other possessions – the press taking priority in the car. She moved into the our house + the offset press was set up in the front room until it became too chaotic + a space in an old ex barbershop in Glebe was found for it. this was the So that's part of the story of the beginning of Tomato Press.

(Pam Brown, notes from a talk on self-publishing, given at the Women & Arts festival, Sydney, 1982. 'Pat' refers to Pat Woolley, publisher with Tomato Press and later, Wild & Woolley. I transcribed these notes from a scan of Pam's handwriting that she was kind enough to send to me. Apologising for the roughness, she commented on pre-digital note-taking, when "PowerPoint was a nightmare up ahead somewhere." I've honoured the cross-outs and false-starts because they are perfect records of almost-instaneous edits. Note the shift from "went to" to "occupied.")

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It feels quite lovely to be threading PB into this archive. She's been a mentor of mine for many years, though I'm not sure she even knows it. And, full disclosure: I have a review of a PB book forthcoming in this very magazine (a magazine whose first and long-running iteration as Jacket had PB as associate editor and was run out of rooms here in Sydney). Suffice to say, PB is in my orbit, critically and poetically and socially and intellectually. Part of my motivations for doing some fossicking around the Syd-po pockets here, in fact, was to uncover some of PB's mythical materials: screenprints, tape recordings of Clitoris Band (for which she was the bass player), chapbooks and zines, relics of the Coalcliff anti-poetry-poets and evidence of her various activisms. When I got in touch with PB, she told me that she'd recently donated boxes of ephemera to the NSW State Library. Before I delve into those findings (stay tuned!) I wanted to talk to Pam more generally about the 70s and 80s in Sydney. The photographs I have seen of her, more or less inventing insouciance in a doorframe with a rollie, are often accompanied by minimal text that suggest all the things that I want to know about: convergences of anarchism, DIY print, feminism and queer politics in Sydney.

(I should add here, by way of an aside: I've been reading a lot of Leibniz lately for my doctoral dissertation. And I am struck by the kinds of non-causal, expressive correspondences that Leibniz describes as monadic relations. I'm coming to imagine that the entries of an index are monads, with exactly these kinds of relations. Each entry is its own entity, and it might come into contact with, but will never enter into, another entity. The relations are expressive, and not penetrative or revelatory. We read the entities, and read their contact-relations, as contributing to a constellation from which we think. As I am composing this project as a kind of index, so too am I imagining each entry as its own index: in the case of PB, I perceive her work and her affiliations as monads. I won't try to crack them open or graft them onto each other. As Leibniz wonderfully says, (and this is a paraphrase), qualities don't just detach themselves from substances and stroll around solo ... we gotta deal with it all together. PB's poetics are substances, and my perception of them here are substances. I'll let you use this index as you choose.)

PB grew up in Queensland and Victoria, on military bases. She read poetry from a young age, via older relatives, and had an enduring interest that led her later through Beat flurries and into punk. She moved to Sydney and began to make things with people: I say this vaguely because she was, and is, a generous and industrious poet, who has collaborated on and constructed works in many different directions. In the 70s and 80s, Pam was "the poet" (or one of "the poets") in a group of people more or less organised via politics. So the communities were built around the desire for action, and action was engaged by making things, and people made things according to what they were into. PB was into poetry, so she made books and zines and papers and talks and screenprints and vis-po. She also played music and worked jobs and joined campaigns around feminist issues (to do with childcare, reproductive rights, etc.). I guess this kind of collective-oriented poetic praxis is a kind of poetry-as-method: as a poet, you approach the scene, the politics, the culture, the fuck-ups, the war, as someone interested in language and the conditions of its being-made and being-framed and being-enforced. 

In our discussion, we wondered how notions of collectivity had changed. These days, PB is a poet working within a de facto poetry community, a community that is most certainly not bound by political affiliation. It's a cultural shift: poetry, while still a wonderfully (and productively) negative economy, today has an odd professional aspiration that excites a lot of competiveness and antagonism. And it's not just at the level of fracasing for scant jobs and scant funds. It's also at the level of identification. (Of course, it's not just poetry that finds itself in this position, where politics has become a micromanagement of bureaucratic relations and desires.) I wonder whether now she's "the political" of the poets lumped into this broad community-category.

PB has talked a lot about anarchism, especially in the past (she had contact with the Jura Books crowd -- I asked her if they made and shared poetry, and apparently they did, especially chaps and zines--I saw a pamphlet on her shelf and found some tiny, minimalist anarcho lyrics) and she remains, I think, an exemplary anarchist (methodologically and poetically).

Anarchism, she told me, appealed to her for its emphases, apart from (but related to) the political aims of decentralised organisation. She was interested in an emphasis on making a good life; on finding ways that a decentralised, self-directed-yet-collectively-run, scene could make things and take pleasure in doing so. She's still like that now, when censorship isn't so much an issue, and DIY can be digital and lo-fi. Now, she works subtly but diligently against the centralising coagulants that rally for an official and sellable poetry.

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Now for the delicate confessions:- and as that press went bankrupt or disa has (at least) now completely vanished from the face of the earth without a trace – now that it is just a flickering memory in the counter cultural department of the collective unconscious I can say that in order to cover costs we did or someone did, the a book bounty fiddle …. A prevalent temptation to petty crime was prevalent in small press the underground in the 1970’s + we could hint, just hint that it still goes on – so the book bounty fiddle is where you bump up the number of copies you’ve printed, you state that you’ve actually printed a couple of hundred more copies than you have + your printer collects a small subsidy for the book. I think we used to feel that this was a highly political thing to do and after all we all paid far too much tax + and this was one way of recuperating some of that + anyway as we all knew, money corrupts + big business was more corrupt than we were. Enough said.

 […]

Another of the 1970’s phenomena was the assembly book. In the mid-70’s a number of people, mostly male poets (this was all before I.W.Y. [International Women's Year, 1975]) began to experiment with self-publishing : Alexander Chaos in Adelaide was producing loose-leaf collections of poetry + drawings called “Mere Anarchy,” Richard Tipping, Rob Tillet also both in Adelaide, Ken Bolton was producing a beautiful gestetner + silk screen magazine called “Magic Sam” (which is still going strong) Rae Jones was doing “Your Friendly Fascist” + Nigel Roberts had one called “Free Poetry” – in 1974 Nigel approached me about doing an assembly book – we had seen one from the states which Richard Kostelanetz had done. So we formed a collective Nigel + 2 other men + me, the token woman. There were not editorial responsibilities, we the ‘artworkers collective’ sent off a printed letter asking contributors to print a thousand copies of one page, foolscap size of anything they wanted to (print) include, printed at their own expense. I’ll quote from that letter “The collaborative structure of such a production engineers a redistribution of risks + responsibilities. The world of writing + all publishing continues merrily in its old fashioned ways where writers write + editor-publishers rule. So the power structures of publishable art forms remains unchallenged” and “This is not a literary magazine or vanity press for poets, but breeding place and ground where all artists, writers, poets, silkscreeners can present their work, be responsible + have total control over it.”