a beautiful night...
A woman, is standing outside a Milk Bar
in the streamers..............
the traffic go by...
Coming out of a side-street
i startle (*!) an old couple: "You jus'
don't know who's who anymore!" i hear her say,
and walk away.
........in a Block of Flats
a man is whistling to his dog, from
across a "park".
I hail a cab
off the street, and get in...
The Driver tells me: "Ey'm sekon-dai
to Drayvus!" (:he doesn't know where
it is) - i tell him
to drive on!
Up the street:
The "Cut-Price" hole-in-the-Wall
cigarette-Attendant, at the Station is
his legs (behind the
Price-List), as people walk by.
At the lights:
in a Cafe (late at
night) rocking a baby, in her lap, and
looking at herself
..................in the window.
Blinking on'n'off (all
night) along the Frankston
buy and sell
buy and sell
buy and sell
buy and sell
buy and sell
buy and sell.
--24 Hours, πo.
I figure that that quote just turned off more readers than it did catch their interest, but that's how it is at times. If I was someone given to working out percentages (and lets pretend that for a moment I am), then about twenty percent of the regular readership for this blog would have been knocked off by the sheer fact that it was poetry. Another fifty percent dropped off as the improper use of grammar slowly occurred to them as something that my typing skills hadn't tossed up but was, in fact, deliberate. Another five percent would have been lost in e e cumming's flashbacks. The last five percent could be having a good time, but who can tell with those freaks.
The quote is taken from the Greek born, Melbourne raised poet πo who, unsurprisingly, had to self publish the seven hundred page epic 24 Hours as part of the collective effort press after it was "knocked back by six publishers and not assisted by the Literature Board." It's a real shame, as parts of it appear littered through literary journals such as Meanjin, but perhaps it's also unsurprising. I don't know how someone simply picking up the book off the street would react to it, especially if they hadn't been introduced to it and given the proper lens to view the book through. After all, if you didn't know anything about the book and πo, and you picked it up, you would probably think that it was the poorly written epic poem of an immigrant who didn't understand English properly. It would be another book that publishers around the world could hold up as an example of why self-publishing is a bad idea and why the world needs editors of all shapes and forms.
24 Hours doesn't give any reassurances to the off the street reader, either. The back of the book has the statement "The Day Language Stood Still" to explain the whole thing, and the front of the book has, as a blurb, "An Instant Classic -- The Author" and you might spend a couple of minutes staring at the πo until you realise that, fuck, this is the author's name. (It's pronounced Pio, in case you can't quite figure out that the pi symbol is there.) πo's bio at the back offers the maxim Fuck the Spelling. At nearly every angle you look at it first, the book comes across as a dirty, DIY book... it's only once you notice that the book has been in print by the author since 1996 that you might begin to think otherwise.
Most self published books aren't reprinted. Most aren't continually reprinted by the author and stocked in bookshops in Melbourne for nearly ten years. (I've seen copies in Sydney, but I bought mine in Melbourne.) If for no other reason than that, the book begins to become more interesting.
But it doesn't need that, because it's flat out brilliant.
It's long, intense, challenging, and I suspect it didn't have to be seven hundred and forty pages, but at the end of the day, 24 Hours is a complete immersion in mash of English and Greek culture and language unlike anything I have seen. Once you put the book down, you're left with the feel at the end of your fingers that you've sunken into something real, that you've gone beyond the concrete and steel and tar that form the bones and skin of the city, and hit the culture. Hit a culture, for there is never just one within a city. This culture is not one born out of the English language, and the writing captures that; if you don't believe me scroll back up to the front of this post and read out that quote, read it as if were being said to you by a middle aged Greek man for who English was not his first language.*
πo captures that perfectly. Once it is laid down, you follow the narrator (possibly πo himself) through the streets of his neighbourhood, and are introduced to mother and her daughter who play pool while waiting for customers in their bar, a shady milk bar owner, a group of Greek men who sit round playing cards, Australians, cops, each of them with something to impart, from an image of smoke rising from a daughter's mouth to the story of a man having just watched his son get sent to jail for hitting an off duty cop.
In fact, I just came across an interview with πo, and he explains the book wonderfully. The interview is here, but here's the quote I'm going to finish on:
One of the sexy things about 24 Hours, my book, is that it is a book that is incredibly difficult if you’re only monolingual but only apparently so. Because the book starts off quite complicated with a lot of Greek, and builds up into a kind of proper English" if you like. And the great thing about that is that no language is privileged or no words of another language by the introduction of another alphabet. Everything is subsumed to the English-Australian alphabet. That puts every dialect, everything that is spoken, onto the same balance. Now, having put everything on an equal playing field which is the page, the flatness of the page, I show you the contours that are existing in it. You’re sitting in a coffeeshop and you’re hearing noises, you’re hearing sounds, some of which you can work out by the volume levels or the distances they are away from you or the context in which you find yourself gives it meaning but not necessarily the language per se. So the idea of translation disappears. That’s one of my great achievements, a person who is polylingual, does not need translation, there is no loss in translation. Because you, within yourself, go from one language to another, and you lost nothing. Whereas if you have to have someone filtering what’s being said, you always get error. That’s another thing about the book, I was trying to put into it bodies and voices and language that was not allowed and not admissible within the culture, the official language of literature. It’s not there.
The book can be a bit hard to find, even online, as collective don't appear to have a website. But but you can get it from here if you're interested.
* Perhaps it is better read aloud. πo began his reputation as a performance poet in the seventies, and you can certainly see that in his work on the page, almost as if the page itself were a performance for his lyrically spoken tricks, rather than a space dedicated to prose based tricks.