by Gerald Keaney
East Brisbane 2015
A recent incident at a poetry reading featuring Tug Dumbly and Kate Durbin (7th August 2015) confirmed the authoritarian, bureaucratic nature of the City Square branch of the Brisbane City Council libraries. It took me back in time to similar incident at a poetry reading way back in 2011. Personally I would never hold a poetry reading there. If you really must do poetry reading at a central Brisbane library, there are better options.
Tug’s reading actually included a poem which references me as a heckler, and during his 7th August reading I soon did feel a heckle a comin.’ Tug’s next poem was about atrocities of fundamentalist Islamic group in Africa, and I felt the need to yell out at the end
“They are probably sponsored by the CIA.”
The reasons I felt this particular heckulate urge is
1) mainly, because it is factually correct. Fundamentalism, as affirming faith in authority, work, family and conformity is good for social control, both at home (Christian) and abroad (whatever). The West always sponsors “good” Islamic and other fundamentalists overseas in their war against “bad.” Queer activists were a few years back highlighting the fact that US sponsorship of “friendly” fundamentalism in for instance Afghanistan has led to an increase in homophobic assaults and tightening of male dress codes compared to prior to The West’s invasion. Sponsored fundamentalists may well turn against their erstwhile benefactors and become the “bad.” The Taliban is the best-known example. There is also convert/conspiratorial sponsoring of fundamentalism by the CIA (false flags etc), though covert operations are admittedly hard to prove. But, no matter, what we can prove about the US sponsoring fundamentalism is sufficient to justify the heckle.
2) as a “handle with care” addendum to Tug’s poem. To justify bigotry which divides and then conquers the workers, and to justify oil wars, the corporate media stresses the evils of fundamentalist Islam. But to follow this agenda they must also downplay the comparable evils of, for instance, fundamentalist Christianity and fundamentalist Judaism. This is both to give us good guys as well as bad. Also because fundamentalist Christianity forms an important power base in The West (TV evangelists, Hillsong in Australia) while fundamentalist Jews proivide The West with a strategic ally in their oil wars (related to previous point 1)). So when Dylann Roof shot nine black people a few months back in a church in the media did not mention that he was motivated by fundamentalist Christianity. Similarly few know of fundamentalist Christianity motivating Andre Breivik’s murder of 77 in Norway 2011. The corporate media never acknowledge that the incursions into Palestine are violent excesses of Jewish fundamentalism. Yet fundamentalist factions drive Zionism. Tug was not wrong to also observe the evils of fundamentalist Islam, although it would be kinda nice if performance poetry did not give us even more of what we already get from the ubiquitous mainstream. My heckle evened the score by suggesting cynicism about the corporate line and, in context, thereby suggesting an alternative view.
This heckle, given it is against the grain of the official line towed by our “society,” is not the kind of interjection government types at the library in question dig. So I was shortly thereafter asked to leave by two security guards. The pretext was they had seen me having a swig from a small bottle of booze. But a smartly attired young businessman/engineer friend who had not heckled and also swigged and was not asked to leave. (Laudably, he did leave in solidarity. He is pictured above in more casual attire). This suggests an arbitrary response to a small matter on behalf of library security. If my swig of booze had to be dealt with at all, could equally have involved temporarily holding the bottle or giving me a warning. If you ask me, though, poetry and a little drink go together, library or no.
Having admitted to getting something out of my heckling in the previous poem, initially I felt a little disappointed Tug did not question security chucking me out. But I recognise it would have been hard for him to know exactly what was going down since he was performing. David Stravanger, the organiser, did query, but also would not have been aware of the whole story.
Anyway I do not think individuals should be placed in the kind of scenarios where it is hard for them to be supported if they take a stand (me ) or where they feel uncomfortable about not knowing what is going on (Tug, David). People should not have to worry about thuggish security or cops being called to a poetry reading. Thataway they are free to have their minds blown, their ideas challenged. Having become aware of what the City Square library is like, I certainly no longer relax there. One way I try to avoid the worst aspect of the branch is that every time I enter I am acutely aware I am on enemy turf.
Check it for yourself. The place looks and feels like a private prison. It is hard to find somewhere to simply read there. Screens display government propaganda in almost every nook and cranny. There seem to be less actual books than government manuals and glossy magasines. On a couple of occasions I have been accosted for falling asleep while reading there by security, though on one of these I successfully appealed to a rank and file librarian. The place is over-policed – usually at least two security guards wandering around, looking over people’s shoulders. If it was a book depository, it would be on the fifth floor in Dallas.
As concerns the 2011 incident at a poetry reading which I began this blog by mentioning, well no surprises. A librarian in a managerial role MC-ing the reading made I clear I was not welcome, presumably due to my dressing too “punk” or performing poetry that is too “crazy.”
So why have any readings there? In terms of council libraries the West End branch looks way more promising. Even the State Library (SLQ) is markedly less authoritarian despite the militaristic propaganda sometimes adorning the walls. Often I fall asleep reading the SLQ’s excellent new book section. No probs. The SLQ happily hosted a meet the author event I organised earlier in the year with Bob Blunt, which included anti-nationalist discussion, questioning Australian identity etc. At that event drinking was fine.
Of course it would be naive to place too much faith in the SLQ either. They have a similar governmental base to the Brisbane City Council libraries, just state instead of local council. But we can be wary of, and when the time is right we can confront, institutions on the vanguard of a more authoritarian society. This includes pubs that don’t like punk dancing (Grand Central Hotel), transit centres where there are attempts to enforce dress codes (Roma street) and, most of all, libraries that do not like ideas.