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In Conversation with Rob Harle
|by Prof. Jaydeep Sarangi|
Rob Harle is a writer, artist and academic reviewer. Writing work includes poetry, short fiction stories (some experimental and co-authored by a computer), academic essays and reviews of scholarly books and papers. His work is published in journals, anthologies, online reviews, books and he has two volumes of his own poetry published – Scratches & Deeper Wounds (1996) and Mechanisms of Desire (2012). Recent poetry has been published in Rupkatha Journal (Kolkata), Nimbin Good Times (Nimbin), North Coast Poets (Byron/Lismore), Deakin Literary Review (Geelong), Beyond The Rainbow (Nimbin).
His art practice currently involves digital-computer art both for the web and print. His giclée images have been exhibited widely. He is especially interested in promoting the inclusion of visual art in academic and scientific journals.
Formal studies include Comparative Religion, Philosophy, Architecture, Literature and Psychotherapy, his thesis concerned Freud's notion of the subconscious and its relationship with Surrealist poetry.
He is currently an active member of the Leonardo Review Panel, Editorial reviewer for the Journal of Virtual World Research and an Advising Editor for the Journal of Trans-technology Research.
His awards and honours include :
Hello! Would you please tell us about your childhood?
I had a great childhood 'till about 13 or 14, no major traumas - nice comfortable stable home and parents, uncles, two very indulgent aunts and so on. Three grand parents had died before I was born so only ever knew one grandma, as a child she taught to me listen to and appreciate bird song. Per Shelley
Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!
Adolescence was a turbulent time best described as an “agony and ecstasy” situation.
I have no heroes but mentors would be (sculptors) Constantine Brancusi and Henry Moore, (writers) Leonard Cohen, Jean Paul Sartre, Charles Simic (painters) Girgio de Chirico.
When did you come to Nimbin?
I arrived in Nimbin 1989, so 24 years ago!
I’ve never gone there but heard a lot about the town and its vibrancy. Please tell us about Nimbin.....
Long story, but briefly Nimbin has a long colorful history. First as a farming and timber getting area, then a dairy farming area. The village was basically finished late 60's but was recycled in 1973 with the Aquarius Festival – hippies, artists, alternative seeking pioneers changed Nimbin to the alternative capital of Australia. It's very small only a couple of thousand people but has a powerful creative energy and many important “firsts” have come from Nimbin people. It is not at all like a normal Australian rural town – it's vibrant, cosmopolitan, creative, cutting edge in many ways, and an important voice in environmental sustainability and community relationships. One friend said if Nimbin was in India it would designated a “sacred village”.
Who are important Nimbin writers these days?
There are many excellent writers but the most important ones specifically living in Nimbin I would say are: David Hallett, Nathalie Buckland, Tamaso Lonsdale, Christine Strelan and Barbara Taylor.
Is there any written record of the history of Nimbin literature?
Not specifically literature that I'm aware of. The history of Nimbin is recorded in quite a few studies, Margaret Olley a very famous Australian artist has roots and connections with Nimbin, Arthur Pike wrote some important stories about the place.
Your formal academic studies comprise: Philosophy of Mind, Comparative Religion, Architecture and Psychotherapy. How did these subjects help you as an artist?
Immensely! They gave me a broad and deep base from which to draw inspiration. These disciplines really do try to get to the “heart of the matter”, obviously from different perspectives. Artists and writers I believe need a broad education not a tunnel vision education such as a molecular biologist might have.
Do you have any dilemma in expressing beauty and truth?
This is a hard question to answer because I'm not sure what truth is! If we take truth to possibly mean honesty, or true to oneself, no, no dilemma at all. Despite the notion of post-modernism to the contrary I believe beauty is an intrinsic human quality like “common decency” and I have no problem expressing beauty even in the most bizarre of my techno-surrealist artworks and poems.
How is beauty attached with truth in the expression of art?
Again, if the work is coming from the heart it will have honesty and a beauty that is discernible regardless of the subject matter.
You are an artist, writer and researcher. You are a multifaceted and multidimensional man with diverse interests. How do you modulate your interests?
With difficulty! I've worked very hard for many years - serving three mistresses is not easy. I'm now putting research very much on the “back burner” and I'm no longer creating artwork specifically for exhibition. My plan is to concentrate on poetry and review writing work. And to create artworks when the need compels me to do so.
Your art practice includes: drawing, sculpture and recently, digital images - both for the web and print. How did you start all these rare forms of artwork?
It is a bit of a mystery why I started making sculpture and drawings early on, there were no influences or encouragement from anyone at all in this regard, I made my first “sculpture” when I was 4 years old. Loved drawing, especially of a technical nature at school, worked in a drawing office after I left school then studied architecture. Too many bureaucratic rules and nonsense influenced me to leave architecture and to become a sculptor. I have serious spinal health problems so had to stop sculpture after twenty or so years. My digital images are a sort of combination of drawing and sculpture but with light (not paint or pencil) in fact I often have used scans of my sculptures in my digital artwork. Some of my images can only exist or be made with a computer, like fractals they only exist because of the digital computer.
The impulse to create artwork and to write creatively must be a genetic thing, or a genetic memory. I've only recently found out that my great grandmother was a poet and painter, my great uncle was an amazing painter in the romantic style in the late 1800s.
For P.B. Shelley, ‘poets...are not only the authors of language and of music, of the dance, and architecture, and statuary, and painting; they are the institutors of laws, and the founders of civil society...’...Do you that think this quote still holds truth in this age of cyber mania?
Yes even more so, I'm not saying the job is easier and I'm not suggesting right at this moment that many are listening, but I believe we are entering the post-digital era. This is an era when we have all the wonderful, seductive digital/cyber “things” but these are beginning to be seen for what they are, useful tools and aids for humanity, not ends in themselves. Check out Mel Alexenberg's wiki definition of the “post-digital”. Cyber mania is slowing and even the “dumbed down” masses are starting to realise human values, together with spiritual values (not religious dogma) are necessary for our survival. (per Shelley again)
Can the age of facebook produce a poet like John Keats?
Why do you write poems?
It is an inner compulsion and a complete mystery to me. I love the constraint of only a few lines to convey what I want to say in the most powerful, mystical, painterly way. This is why haiku is so amazing, Basho can impart the meaning of life in 3 lines! I don't write very much haiku but have read a great deal of Basho and the Japanese poets (in English). Love the French poets especially Baudelaire. And of course all the Surrealist poets, as my thesis concerned a Freudian analysis of Surrealist poetry comparing it to poetry which was written by a computer.
What are your seminal volumes?
Scratches and Deeper Wounds and very recently Mechanisms of Desire. I haven't been as prolific poet as I would have liked, as I mentioned serving three mistresses takes a lot of effort. Scratches deals with two themes; firstly our apparent “aloneness” in the universe and secondly; the dangers of genetic engineering, coupled with the recent insidious, digital technological invasion into traditional human life. Mechanisms also has a couple of themes; one is the absurdity of our supermarket society and the greed that underpins it; secondly, the damage done to true spirituality by bureaucratic, authoritarian religions; and thirdly, as with Scratches, the digital/genetic engineering/technological control of life.
Are you familiar with contemporary Indian poets in English?
Yes some, not as many as I would like but that is changing rapidly. Indian contemporary poets I'm familiar with seem to have a softness, perhaps a mystical feel which I greatly admire, I can sense this influencing my future work to some extent.
Do they write differently than an Australian?
Yes! I find Australia a hard country, that is, the landscape (beautiful as it is) is unforgiving. We are still culturally the Wild West, there are minor exceptions of course, poets and artists are ignored or barely tolerated. So this effects the way Australian's write most definitely, as I said above there is a gentleness about Indian poets even if they are describing scenes of abject poverty. Wonderful for me to understand and experience this!
You coined the term technoMetamorphosis. What does it signify?
The term means the changes that technology is bringing about are effecting what it means to be human. The more we advance technically the greater the possibilities and dangers of destroying or at best modifying things that we barely understand. It more refers to things like neural brain implants, genetic modification and augmentation than simple technical things like an advanced smart-phone for example.
Your poems dazzle with metaphors of supermarket society and modern day syndromes. Why do you use them?
Because I'm a contemporary poet living in this absurd (a la Camus) society we've created, I see it as a hideous bad joke, half the world is starving and we have a supermarket selling out-of-season mangoes for $4, together with 100 varieties of breakfast cereals, it's obscene and disgusting. I don't think poetry about the Outback or sheep or bloody kangaroos has any relevance at all anymore.
What is the future of poetry in the world?
I'm a poet not a clairvoyant but I hope it will be appreciated by more people as they realize we are in the post-digital era and we need to again live with a sense of wonder. That is, the new art and poetics in this post postmodern era must help restore our abandoned metaphysical and spiritual modes of being. This art, also now in the post-digital age must re-humanize the technology of the digital. We need to embrace sustainability and re-envisage the "mysterium, temendum et fascinans."
Do you write satires? How about and artist your fellow poets from NSW?
Some of my poems are somewhat tongue-in-cheek, having a bit of fun within this absurdity, not exactly satirical but close enough I guess. Hallet, Strelan and Robin Archbold are very good at satirical pieces.
Can writing poems be taught?
Yes and No! If someone doesn't have it in them to be a poet no amount of education and training will make them a good poet. Writing poetry is not like any other type of writing, for example anyone can be taught to write a newspaper article. But - most young poets can benefit from training, especially through constructive critique of their own work and exposure to quality poetry. The best book I ever read to nurture and hone a poet's skills was The Poet and The Poem by Judson Jerome
Rob, would you share with us one of your recent poems?
A pleasure. This one is very recent and unpublished.
Ledgers of Creation
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07/07/2013 07:06 AM
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