Paul Foot Meets W. G. Sebald in a Light Blue Pencil

by Luke Beesley

footThis is the first time I’ve ever “blogged”, and it included a false start. I wrote a whole “blog entry” and then I looked back on it only to realise that it was too much in the tone of previous essays or reviews of books etc I’d written in the past. It’s a necessary tone in the context of a literary review which requires a certain objectivity or more a formality such as a collared shirt. But increasingly given over the last many years I’ve worked at home or in a small studio casually wearing jeans through my week and also on my one-or-two days of day-job work that help pay the bills I’ve ridden my bicycle or walked from home into those workplaces where if you at least wear smart shoes and a shirt with the mini-buttons at the collar you can get away with jeans, particularly if you’re the guy who only works Mondays and Wednesdays. I don’t even own a suit. For weddings I usually wear say woolen trousers and my best shirt and a good thick sports coat, or something, with my favourite shoes – mahogany-coloured and polished. It’s fine. I don’t really like weddings, besides this is a blog entry where I assume you can probably wear your dressing gown. Or perhaps a blog pivots on the idea that you’re writing in more of a pajama game? I’ve never been one for wearing pajamas around the house other when sleeping (see jeans wearing mostly, above) but when given the job of Southerly Monthly Blogger, where you get to post links and stuff, I was alert to thinking I could relax away from the task of writing an exegesis about the sculptural visual art processes of the poet Barbara Guest. My first blog attempt, though, was a more considerate piece with, as mentioned, a formal vibe, about the stand-up comedy of Paul Foot and how his techniques – surrealism, confected free-association, meta-fiction – which although interpreted by major newspapers as “wonderfully weird” and “crazy,” are really just the bread and butter of contemporary literature. Foot, himself, during his shows, wears a dugong-coloured leather jacket, with large-ish pale grey (shark-underbelly) cotton trousers. There’s always a wide florid unfashionable tie with white boots and unmatched candy-coloured socks. I guess he’s dressed not as a blogger or for a wedding but as a comedian. This is often where overlaps with fellow comedians end, and his own idiosyncratic confected automatic-seeming stream-of-consciousness associative ramblings begin, and how he gets from one “joke” or story to another. It’s really funny. But what’s particularly fascinating is how he sells out seven nights in a row at Melbourne Town Hall, all-the-while maintaining a proximity, I believe, to literature, or dare-I-suggest-it, the contemporary poetry (TCP).

Paul_Foot1One way he does it is to couch or frame his TCP in terms such as “nonsense” and “my madness” or “disturbances”. Foot says something like: “these are phrases I came up with when I was in a disturbed frame of mind.” What he really means is these fragmented, Dadaist moments are art, everyone, but don’t worry – laugh.

Foot goes as far as to attempt to footnote (!) the international comedy festival audience by reassuring them that if they laugh without knowing why, it’s ok. Essentially this is how fringe TCP or literature is, in that Foot needs to let the audience know that although they may not have had any experience of a punning Joyce, or the wild chunky otter-waisted phrasing of Breton or the odd-funny vignettes of a Russell Edson or local poet Michael Farrell’s witty deadpan, that by placing two disparate objects/things/words together, one might find literature, surrealism and hilarity. “Grief sausage!” Foot shouts, as part of what he calls “my madness” sketches, and the room is in stiches, and I think to myself, where is TCP going wrong? Do we need to get out of jeans?

It’s reassuring to hear the devices of TCP working. It helps, too, to have a humorous context, some gentle handling of expectations, and physical theatre (or a physical haircut), perhaps, to prep people in. The same goes for learning poetry – it’s a bore until the student finds the phrase or poem that sits up for them like a bow tie.

It occurs to me to do a drawing. Because it’s the kind of thing blogging allows for.

SebaldI haven’t done it yet but I plan to place it into the text just like Sebald. I’ll try my best not to refer to the drawing, I’ll just let it sit in this blog-piece, perhaps early on in this blog piece somewhere in the middle of the never-ending first paragraph; sit it quietly, detached from explanation, like a menacing low-quality Sebald photo – snug, up there, within the text. I guess if you keep referring to Sebald’s style in a satirical context, it might make the next author who tries to put grainy photos into their novel hesitate because Sebald did it best, first, and it’s hard to go anywhere from there. I could make it a drawing of a foot. I’ve drawn feet before and I quite like drawing them. The toes encourage a certain freedom with the pencil as you begin to speed up in filigreed lost patience with something a little more studied and realistic such as the tone of an essay or a review of a novel or small poetry collection… Although I’m not quite convinced by this bloggy-trouser approach, it’s a little closer to the voice of my own TCP where I might put my hands up to a passing ocean liner, or end a joke, a one liner, on Boris Becker’s nickname. It pleases me to reference tennis players of the 1980s. I’ll try to, also, over the month, match the personal nature of the blog, with socks. Becker, now the coach of Novak Djokovic, was my favourite tennis player growing up.


Drawings and images (C) Luke Beesley 2016