Sunday, April 7, 2013

Grace Leven Prize

Some exciting news: my book Rawshock has recently been awarded the Grace Leven Prize for Poetry, one of Australia's oldest poetry prizes. The prize for 2012 was also awarded to 4 other books of poems, and apparently may not be given out again. For more info about the prize, click on the link. And, congratulations to the other poets, Michael Brennan, Laurie Duggan, John Kinsella, and Michael Sharkey! 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Dry, Mainly Sunny

For those of us left behind 
on Earth, autumn has devolved into 

scrap-heaps; the ocean has mostly 
transpired. No one remembers exactly 

when dry ice began to fall on this 
no man’s land where sleep is

barren, geography redundant, 
history blotted out, where

huge insects and deep-sea creatures 
wage war in surround sound, 

bombarding each other with black  
holes and white dwarves  

while we mutate below — 
our haven a heaving underworld 

from which the lucrative few take off 
in their pleasure craft, their hyperbole,

in search of greener planets. What we know 
’s contrived — channelled, naturally, down 

thru the digital feed, with the marketing 
snuff, hoodwinking anyone 

cranked up on dark matter, or hooked 
on live bulletins — terrorism as 

prime-time sport, talking
heads popping each other off —

schrapnel and tits the memorabilia for sale
on a website designed to look like

a crumbling art museum. One click links you
to a pornsite of the gods where Zeus, 

the Minotaur and Madonna coexist and love 
lingers as a computer virus,

a glitch in the mainframe that you, 
babe, with your trigger finger 

glued to the gaming console, drift off with 
into cloud-fracking cuckoo land, free

radicals running amok, your dreams in 
bits and pieces, in compromising positions, 

emulating the projections of our divine
plasmas that dance, ecstatic,

on the cave walls around us. Look! —
Our children’s children, stick-figure monsters, 

are throwing shapes and grinning like roadkill. 
They flicker, they rally in vain, for who

-ever’s held at ransom in these pixelated 
shade-haunted, red-carpeted jaws of 

hell-bending doublespeak. A wag’s tongue
somewhere is tickling the multi-coloured 

drips of fat, the blips and bleeps, and 
the coffee-stained corpse in the fridge

is getting nostalgic for what that glitch
in the system felt like, or for some other

feel-good story. Such divinations 
are loony tunes to the beaming prophets

who’ve evolved into our puppets —
their gravitas is ancient string 

theory, bankrolled by the gods
for spoon-feeding the not-knowing

what they’re saying when they say 
we are resuming normal programming:  

your forecast for today is dry, mainly 
sunny, but tomorrow will bring a spell 

of rain coming in from the east, 
and the west, which will continue 

at least until the weekend.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Diamond and the Thief

My deconstructed prose poem 'The Living Daylights' was published recently by Black Rider Press in their 'Diamond and the Thief' online minizine. It's an almost impossible poem to code with HTML because it disperses down the page like a building losing its foundations, but somehow Jeremy Balius, chief thief, has done it. Click on the link to read.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Review of Rawshock in ABR  

Peter Kenneally, September 2012

As a result of the public works of Puncher & Wattmann, it has been established yet again that a book of poetry can and should combine meaning and design in a shock of pleasure. Toby Fitch’s first full-length collection, especially the central title poem, does this in spades. Orpheus returns to Hades to rescue Eurydice. In ten poems, each mirroring the original Rorschach ink blot on the page facing it, they spark and spar in a very modern way that has the dankness of Hades clinging to it.

There are pitfalls at almost every step in this kind of undertaking, and Fitch avoids all of them. He defibrillates the hackneyed theme, and creates sculptured poems that play with shape, stutteringly, and yet are living things, not merely rearrangements. Close the book, and watch as the poem folds into its ink blot, producing an almost physical sensation of collapse and coition.

Either side of this perfectly realised notion the book feels inevitably peripheral, especially as Fitch is so good at conjuring the monsters and strange atmospheres, as well as the quiet pleasures, of the inner-city edge. He lets every poem have the shape it needs, and, more to the point, knows when to let things be.

The book as a whole, especially in the latter part, refers to and appropriates the full pantheon of French poetry. Fitch works hard to create a kind of knowing, absinthe-coloured haze, but the tone and language of his glimpsed and off-kilter world often feels more Roger McGough than Apollinaire. In ‘Library Animals’, as two lexically enhanced lovers delve among the stacks, he is put on the spot — ‘“Put some more more English on it” / she whispers, with / my finger on her forepart’ — and he can’t help but oblige. 

Review of Rawshock in
The Australian newspaper

Geoff Page, August 2012 

Toby Fitch's first full-length collection, Rawshock, has a ludic quality but a darker atmosphere. Many of the poems have dream-like geographies and meteorologies, owing a lot to the French surrealists.

As in the opening poem, On the Slink, they often have an inner-city resonance, not unlike an up-dated version of T. S. Eliot's Preludes ("Bottles in gutters, / alley cats on the slink / under streetlamps that crystallise / in the corners of my eyes . . .").

Following the surrealist influence of Guillaume Apollinaire and others, Fitch is plainly a poet who sees the shape of a poem on the page as at least equal in importance to its sound. Many poems in Rawshock, including the title sequence, are "concrete" poems, weaving their snake-like way down the pages or, as in The Living Daylights, diffusing into a scattered text to match the meaning of what's being said. While such devices are not new (George Herbert employed at least one of them in the 1600s), Fitch doesn't use them spuriously.

The technique is taken to an interesting extreme, however, in the title sequence, which retells elements of the Orpheus-Eurydice myth -- while exactly matching the form of each poem to an en face Rorschach inkblot.

The strategy reminds us of the link between the subconscious and myth but it's not clear to this reader how much is gained beyond what would be apparent through more orthodox lineation.

Despite the enthusiasm of David Brooks and Robert Adamson on the back cover for Fitch's innovations, the best poems in this collection may well be the least shocking and adventurous ones, such as Fluff, which convincingly renders an inner-city dating scenario, and Mannequins, in which shop dummies mimic the mindlessness of those they're designed to appeal to. "If we stand anaesthetised by the / cleaning lady's spray gun, // dressed in the latest, we might blend in, / and late at night, when we're blind, // security guards will make love to us, / though only with their torches."

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Gig Ryan's Launch of Rawshock

@ The Alderman, Melbourne, May 2012

Influenced by the French poets, particularly Rimbaud, Apollinaire and Mallarmé, Fitch’s poems bathe in the green light of imagination. Colourful, picturesque, partly visionary, his poems take us on a journey in which the city is revivified through the lens of poetry, in fact invented through poetry: shopping trolleys like giant ice-skates, the "brittle night taken out of the fridge”, the “tooting owls, / beyond the rooftops / into the twisting funnel of stars — / I could almost crack open the night // and swig” (On the Slink),  where “the faculties lose their facility” (Floe) (which echoes Rimbaud’s “immense derangement of the senses” that he proposed as necessary for poetry: or, more simply, this is what poetry does to us). The book opens with  a quote from Lewis Carroll’s The Red Queen’s emphatic “Off with his head” — which also refers to Orpheus, who ends as a head floating down a river singing his songs, after being attacked by the Maenads. The first poem On the Slink begins at night, the following poems gradually moving into morning — “and then comes the morning when it dawns on you / the sun is not going to rise any more than you will / above yourself...where self-abandonment is out of vogue, tunnel / vision is the new black” (Narrows). So Fitch refers to the poet as a disembodied head, yet parodies any idea of disengagement: “Whatever you say, say nothing — / as a bystander / amongst the panic and the vomit, / do nothing and nothing will bend.” (Parallels). This book is split into three sections with the first and third imprinted on each other, mirroring each other, as in the Rorschach test, but not repeating — the first can maybe be seen as Orpheus in happier times, his honeymoon period, when his poetic power can move the rocks and trees. The middle section, or nightmare sequence,  is the Orpheus and Eurydice section with its explosion of raw shock / Rorschach test, as if whatever is happening is open to multiple interpretations — each burst of line and colour echoing the catastrophic events of the myth, the poems literally breaking open, breaking down into single letters scattering around the page, into almost wordless cries, as Orpheus’s powers of persuasion, that is the power of poetry/of art,  leave him. The shapes of the poems echo the freedom and omnipotence of Orpheus’ ability — unglued from the left margin, these poems shape themselves, best shown in Oscillations which literally oscillates down the page, its lines and meanings bending accordingly. 

His Orpheus and Eurydice sequence utilises the original inkblot (Rorschach) test in technicolour, dragging these mythological creatures up to date, bickering and pre-empting each other, often humorously yet murderously. Where traditionally Eurydice is silent, being rescued from Hades by loud-mouthed Orpheus, here Eurydice gets equal billing  “remind him I’m not quite the damsel in distress” (Rawshock, 1.), “blue lyrics hack us apart again and this time it’s terminal” (Rawshock, 3.) but rather than feeling heartbroken at losing Orpheus, she says “finally I can hear myself think”(Rawshock, 3.) so we see a double-sided myth, and like all poets Fitch gives voice to the once-voiceless ... while Orpheus responds: “Glue me to your wedding gown ... Where’s our pre-nup I sing and bite, come / back to us, Bacchus, come back!” (Rawshock, 2.). Using both voices also resembles the inkblot, two sides of the same coin, of the same smudged images that dance before our eyes turning into whatever we wish to perceive. Orpheus is torn apart “possessed by nothing / but art, stripped  by drunk women / of all I took for granted./ Bones & borders / countries    comfort / mean zip to me now...” (Rawshock, 10.). Fitch also sees poetry as open to interpretation, as a series of images flattened onto a page — a murky reed-filled mirror in which we see ourselves. 

After the Orpheus and Eurydice, we return to the poet’s bed in Apnoea, thus emphasising the idea that what we have just been through is nightmare. Yet there’s also a sense that that section has been an apocalypse, as he imagines a future in the poem Dry, Mainly Sunny — this poem also seems to take from Baudelaire’s Le Voyage —  “from which the lucrative few take off / in their pleasure craft, their hyperbole, //in search of greener planets...” where “the coffee-stained corpse in the fridge / is getting nostalgic for what that glitch / in the system felt like, or for some other // feel-good story...” The book ends on Nightcap, and much of this final section seems to tip the world upside down. Here, in Finding H, a poem after Rimbaud, the poet is jammed into the contemporary world:

      I stood on a mountain with my tablet
          downloading the seasons
      and spun from new-fangled spinnerets
          a pop song with themes and variations
      to raunch the riverbeds, undulate concrete
           and shepherd the galaxy
               into a single omniscient cloud.
      And I streamed it to everyone!...

His lover now “tormenting the swivel chair ... pressing her own buttons.”  This section also reminds me of Baudelaire’s albatross, the poet is too heavy for the earth, his outsized wings that impede his ability to walk on earth ... that is, the poet’s natural habitat is in the air, flying. But Fitch’s vision is more irrepressible than tragic I think, the poet remains unvanquished by the trappings of the modern world — he adapts it: (Le Pont Neuf) — “Romantics, werewolves, lunatics — / eat your hearts out! / So cries the city, pretty night-/ lights twinkling ... Paris is howling! — even / the moon is puking its delight!” 

This book is also full of puns and deliberate ostentatious consonance, deliberately breaking the rules of poetic taste,  scattering wordplay  around like marbles, eg “cheek by jowl; no howl from the invalid mouth / stuffed with one insipid mouse; the toes, / unable to tow the two...” (Floe); or “Nyx    and the Styx      as stoned      as onyx. You caN / collude      with Chaos     all you like” (Rawshock, 4.), or in his last poem Nightcap: “The only way to cap / off the night / is to decapitate yourself...” again returning to Orpheus’s head as it floats down the river to Lesbos ... and Orpheus’s death somehow looks back over the book we’ve just read — “And I continue, wavering / till the dawn beyond the final night, / traffic piled up in the rearview / mirror like a whitewash of words, / none of which can tell me the right way” (Junction). But the book’s last lines speak of reincarnation of the poet in a sense, and looking back — “ Now / feel the fabric / of the clouds” — as his words wrap up the world and outlast him ... that is, the poet has now entered nature and become it, the world we see forever changed / heightened by his vision of it — but the poet’s world is made of words, the traffic is like a whitewash of words because it’s only words that poetry uses. The title and design  (the fabulous Chris Edwards) of this book are brilliantly appropriate as each part mirrors, reflects, answers and imprints on each, with the vivid  raw shock of the power of art (to move the gods in Hades, to rescue the dead back into life) hallucinating brightly at its centre.

       Gig Ryan, also published in Rabbit #5

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

David Brooks's Launch of Rawshock 

@ Brett Whiteley Studio, Sydney, April 22, 2012

(The first paragraph was read with tongue in cheek. -Toby)

I want to show you a picture, a detail from a painting from 1872 by Henri Fantin-Latour called ‘Le Coin de Table’. The detail, obviously, is of Arthur Rimbaud, sitting, though you can’t see it here, with Paul Verlaine, who would not long afterwards take a pot-shot at him. Now, I ask you, is that Toby or not? When Toby first came to see me about a possible Doctorate of Arts we went to the Courtyard Café for coffee and I asked him what he was proposing to write about. He said he wanted to write about Rimbaud. I looked at him and I thought to myself, what else could he have chosen?

Now to read something: 

       Now you stride alone through the Paris crowds
       Busses in bellowing herds roll by
       Anguish clutches your throat
       As if you would never again be loved
       In the old days you would have turned monk
       With shame you catch yourself praying
       And jeer your laughter crackles like hellfire
       Its sparks gild the depths of your life
       Which like a painting in a dark museum
       You approach sometimes to peer at closely
       Today in Paris the women are bloodstained
       It was as I would rather forget it was during beauty's

That’s not Toby, but Guillaume Apollinaire. I’ve already, on the back of this book, called Toby the Apollinaire of Avalon. Let me tell you a little about why. Amongst many other things, Apollinaire wrote a poem called ‘Zone’. A famous poem, about wandering the streets of Paris after the loss of his lover. And straight away, opening Toby’s book, there are images which remind me of Apollinaire’s opening lines (‘O Eiffel tower whose flock of bridges bleats at the morning’). But it’s not just that. This week you may have seen photographs, fresh from their publication in the LA Times, of US soldiers posing beside the dismembered corpses of Taliban suicide bombers. Hold the thought because I don’t want you to slip as lightly over my use of the word dismemberment as you might otherwise have done. Words can deaden with use, or be blunted and stripped of their power by the context in which they come to us. The context here, for example, is the launch of a collection of poetry. It’s in an art gallery. The words, at present, are coming from a poet/editor/novelist/ academic. All things – parts of a context – which can deaden. I’ve always been curious about the dismembering of Orpheus. That other part of the story. He loses Eurydice, goes down to Hades to find her, loses her again in the process of bringing her back. But later is torn apart – dis-membered – by a group of women followers of Dionysius. For a long time I’d heard or read that with a kind of mythic distance. Deadened by context. A myth. Ancient. Classic. Etcetera. But lately I’ve come to understand the myth of Orpheus differently. Forgive me if this has always been obvious to you; it’s only just become obvious to me. On one level it’s just a visual and tactile matter. I’ve stopped just hearing the myth and started to see it. There are fingers, parts of arms, sexual parts, parts of feet, there, on the ground, bleeding, in a clear space amongst the trees, and I hear the screams as it was done, clench my mind at the agony of it. Orpheus is always with us – surfaces (those LA Times photographs again) in complex and challenging ways.

I’ve started to see Eurydice differently also. The underworld is everywhere. Under the car you might be standing next to. Under those sheets. Under that piece of wet newspaper in the gutter there. Under that woman’s or that man’s foot. Under that tree. Under those leaves. And Eurydice, too, is everywhere. In that dream you had last night. Under this or that piece of consciousness. In that thing you have only just remembered about your father’s silence. Under the words of that poem. Under the things that, in a painting, grab and hold your attention. The Other of our systems of thought and categorisation. Thetrace behind and about the individual word. The shadow behind that actor’s shoulder – you put in the name (Gregory Peck? Ava Gardner?) – in this or that movie. Just as the dismemberment of Orpheus, whatever else it means, also means that Orpheus, the god, the divine spirit of poetry – but no, I mean the bloody, dismembered parts of him, and the raw immediacy of them – is spread through the world, so Eurydice, the woman he had tried to bring back from the underworld, is also everywhere.

There’s something about the task of poetry here perhaps, or one of them, there-membering of Orpheus, the perceiving and the gathering of parts and the assembling them into simulacra, copies without originals, of the dark wholenesses that we find otherwise impossible, especially in our postmodern era.  And the place where, according to the myth, Orpheus was torn apart was called Zone, in Thrace. That’s the point. And Apollinaire’s poem ‘Zone’, about the place where Orpheus’ bloody parts are scattered, the place still ringing with his agonised cries, is Paris, is the modern city, is Sydney. And I call Toby the Apollinaire of Avalon, a little facetiously, perhaps, because rarely have I found a poet in my immediate vicinity who seems quite so much, in the images he assembles – draws from this city – like a gatherer of small pieces of sometimes bloodied, Orphic, singing dark.
It’s appropriate, absolutely harmonic and to the point, that Rawshock is centered about a sequence based upon the Rorschach ink-blot tests which made their percipients draw upon – try to draw up – the Eurydice in themselves. In this beautiful edition, in which you can see Toby’s ink-blot-shaped poems beside the Rorschach blots themselves, you can see how Toby pixilates those blots with words – turns them into words, or, rather, images, in a way that makes them at once as metapoetic as they are deeply poetic. I could use almost any of Toby’s poems to demonstrate the points I have been making, but look at these lines, from the first of the Rawshock sequence, Eurydice speaking to Orpheus:

O                                                                                 E
 Orph                                                               e’s not
 an ortho                                                dox liar,
replete with his            newly          high-strung lyre
in the shape of a moth, or pelvis. His pincers thrum my box
as we coalesce  with our big bad wolf masks on, yowling  at the sky,
watching each   other morph    in the storm
  clouds, in the stains     on our      bed  sheets:  a pair 
of bats twirling through  the smoke  of a fallen  city.  Pity:  
despirit despite my spooky resemblance to purity, E perfect
I prefer              the white lies,       the chase, 
the dis       placement of his       face 
 when E  remind him  I'm not
quite  the  damsel 
in distress, O
The liar, and the lyre – the pun there, yes, and the need to see the poem as well as hear it, but I’m not talking about that. The lyre, the moth, the pelvis. The pincers thrumming her pelvis as if it were a lyre, or guitar, making it that. The wolves – note how the mere masks call up, make the wolves happen. And the storm clouds, the stains in the bed sheets, the bats in the sky over the smoky city. Images; words making images. They are parts of sentences, parts of arguments, parts of a discourse, certainly, and I could be talking about that – Toby’s meanings, Toby’s themes – but (and without any denigration), the poetry is not in the message.  What is that discourse, what are those sentences, those arguments, but the excuse for the Orphic gathering that the poems do? So many embers of duende, so many fragments of cante jondo. I’ve also called Toby a Lorca of the Inner West. It’s Lorca who talks most famously of the duende  and the cante jondo, the ‘deep song’ of Andalusia – Andalusia which was also, ironically, one of the breeding grounds (that movie, An Andalusian Dog) of surrealism.

I could develop that a little. I could also talk about the sources or resonances of Toby’s spatial arrangements – his refreshing use of the page – in Apollinaire’s Calligrammes and, behind them, in Mallarmé’s Un Coup de Dés. And behind that, of course, I could talk about Rimbaud, and then try to pull all these things together. But this is probably enough. I don’t have to hold these things together. Toby’s poems hold them together. I invite you now to purchase them, if you haven’t already done so, and to take them with you – to a suitable bar or café, first, to talk until dark – it is April 22nd, 2012, after all, probably the anniversary of some important thing or another (the Battle of Catania, perhaps, or the birthday of Vladimir Ilich Lenin) – and then to stroll out with them – the poems, that is – into the Sydney night. The conversation you have with them, I assure you, will be memorable.

David Brooks

Saturday, October 6, 2012


Due to the tricky formatting of my visual/pattern poems, it's often hard to find publishers willing to create the time and space to publish them, but sometimes I strike gold.

Jeremy Balius of Black Rider Press has taken on my "wings" poem, called 'nightcap'. Click on the title to read the poem and for some thoughts on how I wrote it.

Best Of Australian Poems...

My poem 'La Fée Verte' has been chosen for Black Inc.'s Best Of Australian Poems 2012, edited by John Tranter. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

La Fée Verte

(after a line by Apollinaire)

My glass has shattered like a burst of laughter,
pale green light sprinkling rain.
Seasick flowers bloom through the floor
while across the room
lips of a steamy creature fall
agape, her eyes grinning in my direction,
blonde hair awash.
O fey licorice, paregoric
of my second childhood, ease the pain —
take me to the cloudburst
and the gushing of her name.
I can see my reflection
in the blurred Van Gogh to the left
but that’s not the liquidation I seek.
Not even the sugar and ice I spill down
her cleavage can make up for it.
Take me away! What has been seen
cannot be unseen (the cameras will
babble and froth come morn,
hail or shine), so when I’m asked to leave
I stand up and pass out
into the street — heavy-headed tulips
brushing against my shins.

(published in The Australian, 2012)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Rawshock Book Launch

On Sunday April 22nd, 2012, I'll be giving a reading at the Brett Whiteley Studio in Surry Hills, Sydney, and having my book Rawshock launched! From 2pm...

Not all details are finalised, but the book is about to go to the printers. In the meantime, if you can find yourself a copy of the March edition of Australian Book Review, you can read my poem 'Oscillations', which has been shortlisted for the Peter Porter Poetry Prize 2012 (I'd publish it on this here blog if I could, but it's particularly tricky to format, what being a massive 2-3 page cyclone).

Everyday Static

Driving along alone
between unforgiving buildings,
raindrops flicked up by tyres,
airwaves breaking

like rain on a windscreen,

reminded me of you and me
in the car, in static:
windscreen wipers tired;
the tyres flat;

the fire and its mountain-flames

hovering in our minds
like a back-seat driver gone to sleep;
the world at water level as we pulled up
and gazed out into the harbour,

mountains and rain dissolving in lumpy waves.

(published in Everyday Static, Vagabond, 2010)


From a drunken cruise on the harbour
comes a bouncing melody: I wanna
have sex on the beach. You can

see it on everyone’s (anyone’s)
mind as the summertime trees nod assent
in the Botanic Gardens,

their scent wafting up to the nostrils
of skyscrapers breathing in fumes,
pumping out bucks,

relaying UV to the ant-sized joggers
who bound up and down along the shoreline
on sand grains jostling for legroom.

Above them, birds, checking out the goods
of a small grey woman staring at the bridge,
thinking: I wanna walk across water

like sound, as her skin remembers a distant 
prickling, another season,
a sun and a wind that lifts her hairs.

(published in Overland, 2012)

Monday, January 30, 2012


(after Reverdy)

To pull up
at the lights,
yield my shadow
to the sun,
lean back on the wave
and take the lip
for a pillow...
Or to pull up and hesitate,
amber lights
filling my eyes
till my head’s a
haunted house,
till the wheel like water
escapes through my fingers...
And I continue, wavering
till the dawn beyond the final night,
traffic piled up in the rearview
mirror like a whitewash of words,
none of which can tell me the right way.

(published in Everyday Static, 2010)