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The 17 Group – Alienation

The June meeting of the 17 Group will take place on Wednesday the 6th of June at 7 pm in unit 6 at number 20 Drury St, West End and will be addressed by the writer Lesley Synge, who will read/perform 17 poems influenced by radicalism, the first being a meditation on Marx’s Theory of Alienation inspired by the discovery of a bundle of workers’ ‘Sick notes’ at an abandoned coal mine in Central Qld.

Here is some background material on Lesley’s development and present situation:

After radicalizing in the 1970s, like many others, I started writing political documents within the socialist feminist tradition. On and on I wrote, tying to ‘win’ my fellow radicals and others to my (superior) position. The possibility that I would one day abandon this missionary labour and devote my time to creative writing did not enter my head. While at UQ studying Arts I became involved in the Womens Liberation Movement then joined the Communist Party of Australia. During an extended working holiday in Europe, I jumped further Left. On return to Australia at the end of 1977, I re-engaged through the campaign for civil liberties. As time went by, I began questioning the Marxist conflict model of social change, and the Brisbane manifestation of aggression and sectarianism. Could it be that I was somehow hollow in seeing the human experience solely through a framework of Rights and Wrongs?

As I started to value the inner self more I started to write short stories. Prose continues to be my usual genre; poetry just arrives serendipitously; raw, urgent and individualistically subjective. (Is this its value?) Whatever the genre I employ, service is still the framework and socialism and feminism remain strong influences. ‘The Nature of My Illness Being’ is a meditation on Marx’s Theory of Alienation inspired by the discovery of a bundle of workers’ ‘Sick notes’ from the 1950s at an abandoned coal mine in Central Qld. ‘Our Friend has Died in Cuba’ is an obituary for a Chilean refugee who settled in Brisbane. ‘Can You Guess?’is a howl of rage against Patriarchy.

Libertarian influences shaped me and new work evolved from inner change. In ‘Advice to a Dead Poet’ namely Sylvia Plath, I suggest a way to avoid giving up in despair. How should a radical woman give birth? At home? ‘A Radical Proposition’ if ever there was one! Many of my poems are devoted to the subject of romantic love but Big Picture dilemmas are never far away. When the World Trade Centre in NYC is bombed and the US retaliates by bombing Afghanistan, I write ‘This Tiny Space’, a poem advocating peace.

I continue to feel concern about the toll that conflict takes on bodies as well as the human psyche and Buddhism and radical ecology are now powerful influences. How does one achieve inner peace? ‘Housing Commission Summer’ asks. In general, is it possible to adopt a hopeful tranquility in the midst of life’s violence, injustice and oppression, greed, hatred and ignorance? ‘How to Walk a Path’ in Mountains Belong to the People who Love Them suggests that walking in the wild can liberate a troubled heart.

We really have such a short time to make a contribution. John Knight, educator, academic and publisher at Post Pressed and longtime poetry editor for the journal, Social Alternatives, makes this point eloquently in Big Man Catching a Small Wave, his last collection of haiku (2006). John died in February 2012.

LESLEY SYNGE was first encouraged to write by the Qld Teachers Union back in the 1970s when it published her essays about education in the UK in the QTU Journal; QTU later made her ‘Contributor of the Year’. Lesley is now published in many genres including her award-winning novel Cry Ma Ma to the Moon. Her two collections of poetry, Mountains Belong to the People Who Love Them and Organic Sister, published by Post Pressed run by the late Dr John Knight, are poetic personal stories. She is frequently commissioned by community groups to edit their publications: Black Possum Diaries for the town of Maleny, Nine Lives: Personal Stories of Mental Illness for the charity Open Minds,and Essence of Mind for the Queensland Zen Centre. She has a Master of Arts in Creative Writing from UQ. In recent years Buddhist philosophy has been an influence. See her poet’s film about walking in Gondwana Rainforests of SEQld on YouTube.

Leon, photographed here greeting our invitation sub-committee from his desk, is showing a lot of interest in this one. When our chaps turned up he got excited at the topic and did a lot of quoting from his 1924 opus Literature and Revolution. At one stage it was all provocative stuff like:

“Such terms as “proletarian literature” and “proletarian culture” are dangerous, because they erroneously compress the Culture of the future into the narrow limits of the present day. They falsify perspectives, they violate proportions, they distort standards and they cultivate the arrogance of small circles which is most dangerous”.

And so on at length to no certain termination until dusk. He particularly wanted to know if any Proletkult liners would be at the meeting. Our people said they didn’t know if there were any left in Brisbane after the big Campbell Newman victory. But he still looked doubtful when they left, and they say we can’t be any more sure of his fronting than in the past. But you shouldn’t be scared of the Proletkult anyway. Firstly, they couldn’t possibly have the numbers, and then not many of them have fluent English, and in any case Lesley has their measure. So do make sure you come.

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