Neos

In September 1981 Rob Duffy (19), John Hawke (15), Michael Stevenson (16) and I (age indeterminate) started Neos Young Writers, a magazine for — you guessed it — young writers. Raina MacIntyre (17) provided some spectacular art-work based on Eliot’s “Gerontion”.In time other editors joined us: for issue 2 (February 1982) the team was the same. The magazine continued until 1985, published by Gleebooks. Later editors included Gavin Murrell, Richard Allen, Hung Nguyen, Matt Da Silva and Lyneve Rappell. We won a Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Award for service to young Australians, and a Literature Board Grant. We had the odd subscriber in England, Ireland, Italy and the USA! We even score a little entry in The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature (ed.2).John Hawke has continued to write and publish poetry, but has not yet had a book published (aside from editing a number of issues of the Newcastle Poetry Prize anthologies). He studied at the University of Sydney where he tutored for a while in the English Department. The last I heard he was working in the Creative Writing Department at Wollongong University. Richard Allen (with his wife Karen Pearlman, whom he met in New York where he lived for some time) is very active, with several books published, dance works performed, and multi-media dance/poetry/video works achieving some success.

Here are some highlights from the first two issues. This is just a sample. And keep in mind that John Hawke was still 15 when Neos 1 was published!

poets

FOREWORD TO ISSUE 2

Since the publication of the first issue of Neos, in September 1981, the concept of a magazine devoted to original writing by young people has met with considerable enthusiasm. Letters of encouragement have been received from a number of academics, as well as the Australian poets A D Hope, Chris Wallace-Crabbe, Judith Wright and Bruce Beaver. Judith Wright said, in part, “I enjoyed the poems very much … I think they are fresh and exciting,” while Bruce Beaver noted: “The work throughout is colourful and inventive–a hopeful sign… The editors (particularly John Hawke) were delighted when Patrick White [Nobel Prize winner] responded by praising the prose poem “Obituary” and enclosing a subscription for the next three issues.

 

OBITUARY

John Hawke

Fifteen years spent in a small flat on Parramatta Road with his mother and two brothers (his father died in 1975) the second son John killed by a car to become the hundred and first road accident victim of 1981 (15 up on the same time last year) chewed on asphalt as sharp steel sheared his skin and tore him on the edges of concrete he had walked for fifteen years sucking at the same grey air to find breath for screaming through a mouth full of tar screams bouncing off ugly bricks a hot moist panting into his brother’s lungs helpless on the sidewalk and his mother who saw the crumpled white body and dropped her groceries he spent fifteen years in a small flat on Parramatta Road lived Parramatta Road until Parramatta Road chewed him up sucked between its teeth like wet cement until an iron girder scraped him away from Parramatta Road though the rest of the world passed him by.

[Neos 1 1981]

 

CHAIN MAIL

Richard James Allen (Written 1977. Richard was born in 1960.)

He stood skewbald and moulting
a jeopardy, an enemy,
stunting the round of my run
round the stars.

Friendly as a hungry cat,
sober as a sideboard,
Cold potato.

Could not saddle
my stallion body with:
“There’s nothing wrong with being friends
I don’t see any reason why we can’t be.
Let’s lunch some time, don’t worry about the expense.”

Friends?
I contracted to chain mail,
dared not wait to see
if he was lonely.

[Neos 2 1982]

 

SECRETS

Richard James Allen (Written 1981)

i used to think
if you were in a bad mood
it was because of me

it was i
who had upset you
who had ruined your day

i used to think
it was up to me
to make you happy

now i realize
you have problems
all your own

quite separate
& apart
from me

thoughts
into which
i can never enter

worlds
on whose horizons
i never appear

[Neos 2 1982]

 

JERUSALEM 1918

John Hawke

The wind was always dry and hot,
sweaty and dusty and we were always squinting:
the sun would bounce off the white baked roads
straight into your eyes; I felt so dark–
probably just the dust, but it never seemed right, it seemed
so empty and inhuman.

I don’t know if I saw a leaf all the time I was there:
the trees all stunted and bare and twisted;
never many animals: the occasional snake,
and sometimes those long-necked birds, graceful,
but brown and dappled so that
they were never very beautiful.

You couldn’t say the country was either,
but there was something about it–
a sort of majestic calm, lifeless and menacing,
as if it were the starkness of the earth itself
that could suck you dry, twist you like the trees
and leave you as colourless as everything else.

[Neos 1 1981]

 

DOVES

John Hawke

Now the slap of white wings catches
unpleasantly in my memory:
the days when doves would flock around the brewery,
Those rushing curves
that sliced the sky in a fine white arc
became a few old birds,
smooth porcelain faded to feather and muscle.

[Neos 1 1981]

 

VALIUM MOTHER

John Hawke

Memories slap against your bed
in dark waves every night
crawling through your head,
clanging the iron fibres of your brain,
echoing. Stiff pale faces
snatch at you from the darkness;
The wind slopes through your open window
a slow white flame is clawing through you.

[Neos 1 1981]

 

FOR JUSTINE

John Hawke

I

If only for as far as you can estimate
Life goes on, the universe tumbles
beyond our lifetime, trembles
within its hard mask of expression and gesture,
As wide as you can throw your arms or your voice
before you settle again into the brittle shell of language.

Man’s only weapons are his dreams and memories,
dry, unsatisfactory things, that separate and isolate.
All light is drawn into the dark:
There is only survival and rejuvenation–
even the artist would not die for art.

II

This is the dream. Silent curtains of light
isolate us.
Only the stillness of shadows and masks
are left behind.
Black water rushes beneath the city:
The voice of the river clatters into darkness.
This is the dream.

III

These things are very nearly words,
almost palpable, like marble
glowing in the darkness,
Something we can understand
and never communicate.
The stars are very cold, and the wind
bitter and bare: Small velvet birds[Neos 1 1981]

 

AFTERWORD TO NEOS 1

If you have enjoyed this first issue of Neos as much as we have enjoyed bringing it to you, then our aims are achieved. We have had to select from material at hand; we hope you, our readers, will become contributors, widening the range on which we can draw. Yet we have been able to give you, in this initial sample, work in whose quality we believe…

We do not have rigid preconceptions concerning what and how you should write. But if we were to offer advice, it might be that of Ezra Pound*:

Use no superfluous word, no adjective which does not reveal something. Go in fear of abstractions… Use either no ornament or good ornament… If you are using a symmetrical form, don’t put in what you want to say and then fill up the remaining vacuums with slush… the proper and perfect symbol is the natural object, … if a man use “symbols” he must so use them that their symbolic function does not obtrude; so that a sense, and the poetic quality of the passage, is not lost to those who do not understand the symbol as such, to whom, for instance, a hawk is a hawk.

Advice we aim at; we do not always succeed.

Second, expect to discover things as you write: that is the joy of writing, as Australian poet Robert Gray observed in Island Magazine (June 7 1981):

All those details [in the poem “Telling the Beads”] which sound as if they’re the record of an experience I’ve had of walking into a garden in the morning are things that actually I never knew I’d observed, and when I sat down with a white sheet of paper those things came into my mind like a new experience. They’d obviously been things I’d encountered somewhere, in some form, but then I really saw them for the first time on the white page as I wrote, which is one of the reasons one enjoys writing so much.

Third, revise what you’ve written. Of this Robert Gray said:

I keep the drafts, and I just trust to my response to know if and where I’ve overworked it, but usually I haven’t. To me, to write well is to have the exact word. It’s absolutely essential to choose only the words that are appropriate and nothing else… I just try to always work for the feeling of clarity… I think if you’re going to say something, if you’re going to open your mouth at all, you have to be prepared to really examine and define and refine what you’re talking about until you get it right.

If then we decide to use your work, you may get from us some suggestions for further revision. This is not meant to discourage you. Rather, see us not as “experts” (which we’re not) but as your writing partners, dedicated to bringing out as well as possible what you want to say.

* Charles Norman (ed), Poets on Poetry, NY, Collier 1962, pp 320-333. John Hawke reminded me of Pound’s important statement. Robert Gray became a regular reader, I might add, and a keen supporter.Not everything in Neos was deadly serious, as the first poem to follow shows:

 

MULTICULTURAL NATIONAL SONG
To “Waltzing Matilda”

Lenny Dunn (14) and Chris Papakosmas (14) 1980

There once was a zorban camped by a caravan
Under the shade of an olive tree,
And he sang as he cooked, watching his souvlaki burn,
“Who’ll come and eat spanikopita with me?”

CHORUS: “Spanikopita, spanikopita,
Nearly as good as baklava.
Eating spanikopita and chewing a stuffed olive,
Who’ll come and eat spanikopita with me?”

Down came an arni to drink at the parthenon
Up jumped the zorban and grabbed it in glee;
And he sang as he stowed the arni in his doggy-bag,
“Who’ll come and eat spanikopita with me?”

Down came the agrotis a-riding on his moulari,
Down came stratiotis — one, two, three:
“Whose is the arni you’ve got in your doggy-bag?
You must come and eat spanikopita with me!”

But the zorban he up and he jumped into some olive-oil,
Drowning himself by the olive tree;
And his ghost may be heard as it screams out “Spanikopita!
You’ll come and eat spanikopita with me!”

NOTES by the poets.
zorban:
typical Greek
caravan: Greek abode
souvlaki: Greek national food
spanikopita: spinach pie (yuk!)
baklava: sweet Greek food
stuffed olive: Greek indigestion
arni: lamb
parthenon:: Maths Building; milk bar
agrotis: farmer
moulari: donkey
stratiotis: soldier

[Neos 1 1981]

 

FOR DAMIEN

Justine Bern (14) 1982

Again

Dead. Stop.

As if you could remember where the pain came from.
It was a mere flash,
The final slicing of air.
(Bang Bang)

27th
of
January,
Telegrammed silence.
I cannot forget the yellow of paper
or the three sparse lines
that ran into the black edges.
I heard it.

The walls were clean

Again.
(Bang Bang)
I heard it burn.
(Bang)

I awoke,
my lips numb,
dripped purple fever,
The morning heat:

Again
It’s not easy to say why the sun screamed.

I never saw it,
could have been the morning,
I wasn’t watching,
I wasn’t
sure.

The distance echoed gold
Again.

[Neos 2 1982]

 

TRAIN

John Hawke

The mountains have been washed away.
Our train
Projected through the storm
on wires of grey
thunder. The old hiker
speaks through glass,
“It’s raining violets”.
The flowers stand out like torches.
I’m thinking of you, a taut red line,
Fourteen and strung out on Eliot nightmares.

[Neos 2 1982]

 

HALF-LIGHT

Richard James Allen (Written 1979)

Half-light
and the curtains are still drawn.

Close the door, I hate the footsteps
in the hall,
knocking like a dry heart.

Touch the black-wood chest
its grain breaking through the stain
like streaks of sunset through clouds,
tides seeping across another sky.

Scattered inside are ragged scroll-stories —
wet light across the floors
of their glazed grey eyes,
black knights dwell on windy mountains.

Open the dying sun
let us climb inside.

[Neos 2 1982]

 

  • It was a joy and a privilege working on this with these talented young Australians.

Advertisements