Out Here, Alan Wearne

I know, the top half of the cover photo is warped. Blame my phone. But to the best of my memory, that house, just around the corner from Mum’s retirement village, is the one the Wearne’s lived in when I was at school in Blackburn South (Melbourne) and where I would occasionally deliver the newspaper when I worked at Pentland’s newsagency in Canterbury Rd, putting the rounds together for the paperboys at 5.00 in the morning.

Alan was a couple of years ahead of me, in his little arty clique, but I was good friends with his brother, so knew him to say hello to, saw him occasionally later on as we made our separate ways through uni.

Out Here (1976) is Alan Wearne’s first verse novel. The Nightmarkets followed 10 years later (when Out Here was reissued and I’m guessing, revised) and after that The Lovemakers (2001,4). He has other titles, collections of verse, I think, some of which I own. I recently saw a new title, Near Believing (2022) in the bookshop, and bought it, but it’s just a best-of of old stuff, so I thought why not go back to the source.

Out Here is one story from multiple points of view. Brett Viney, 17, has stabbed himself in the stomach in the school toilets and nine people around him have a say. The first is Lucy Martinson, deputy principal [From memory, our headmaster at Blackie South was Mr Martindale, and his deputy, whose name I don’t remember, was a woman at of around 70]: “I viewed the eddies of the Viney maelstrom.”

Some small crisis; at once
with bandages, the ambulance completed,
I rang adults: Brett’s mother and father, home
and, as they say, ranting.

In the staff room a teacher tells her “Viney seemed attached to/young Tracey Izzard. Tell her?/Before rumours, it would be best,/you know how women …”

Brett’s parents, Marian and Russell, have just broken up. Alan is quite clever, both at giving them different voices, and in showing through their inner monologues, and that’s what each section is, how Brett is only one of, and probably not even their main concern. First Marian: “I held to Russ,/had kids not opinions”

O Brett, son, we were, are crazy for
playthings, and pocket money, but
your father and I, until recently, held,
we tried. Try and care Brett. Care.

So, to my son’s Tracey: she has a long
pale neck, slight ginger hair and
this unnerving abundance, poise.

Then Russell, on the road to stay with his “has-been brother: ex-league-star and slob” [‘league’=NSW, so he’s heading interstate]: “Could say: ‘You did a fool thing,/call him mate, the stock/ ageing man response to/ sonny Brett”; but then goes back to thinking about his girlfriend Cheryl, and good times past with Marian.

Segue to Cheryl: “Calls me Chezz, too often now/ and I join his his school at times/ knowing they want to touch me up,/men, ten, fifteen years older, wishing/and hoping”. She’s told about Brett, but Russell leaving his wife is her big chance, her only thought to grab it with both hands. “You know, I’ve many men/Miss Cheryl Browne’s had many men,/but this is the, what, first starring role.”

We go on to Marian’s father, a millionaire house builder living in an expensive bayside suburb, and then Marian’s ‘commo’ younger sister; all of the voices reflecting not so much on why Brett may have harmed himself but on their own relationships and interrelationships.

Nothing halts, when Brett took out
the blade, lives continued, parents
kept their spar and interchange
boiling: the rest, I, his
sister and brother, you Tracey, stood
not knowing.

Tracey and then Brett follow, and I am still not clear what Brett was upset about – his parents, Tracey, life? Is that deliberate, or is it just me? Tracey suggests that Brett was depressed, “the Viney gloom”, and that she had had to take a week off during term, which may have led to: “I suppose pregnancy rumours/ have flung my name and Brett’s/ around the school.”

She turns to her father:

You know what I like, liked the best
apart from being with Brett, you know?
Dad’s greenhouse, Saturday morning.
Where we’ve talked about Brett
and Mum, her delicate problems ..

Brett speaks from some time in the future, from another suburb: “My childhood terminated hunched up/ in Martinson’s office, bleeding,/ it seems so long ago and/ such a mess.” He remembers his family visiting him in hospital – “no never ‘how could you do this to us etc’/never that, rather a wallow/ that they enjoyed their blame.”

And finally Mr Izzard, Tracey’s father: “I may be asked to, as were, round off/ though don’t expect some he did this,/she said that, happy ever after slice.” Though, perhaps he does: “O Tracey, it’s all right/ everything is going to be, all right.”

My feeling, having read and reread and written this far is that Out Here is not a novel (or novella), so much as a suite of voices telling a story, no not even a story, and certainly not Brett’s story which is largely lost in the voices washing over it, but a feeling for parenting in 1970s suburbia. Which is interesting, as Alan grew up in 1950s and 60s suburbia, matriculating in 1966. And The Nightmarkets which he wrote next, is definitely the story of his, my, generation, the boys made to go to war – or jail – in 1968,69,70.

I read Alan Wearne because he, his subjects are familiar. But I like his poetry too, that slightly awkward mixture of poetic rhythm and vernacular is both unique and reminiscent of CJ Dennis and AB Paterson – but without the galloping ryhmes!

The last lines of Miss Martinson’s, section, the ‘Miss’ is mine, but none of our teachers was ever ‘Lucy’, are perfect:

‘But why Brett (isn’t it?) why?’
Oh his shrug and oh just, just
mucking around with a knife.

.

Alan Wearne, Out Here, first pub. 1976. This edition, Bloodaxe Books, Newcastle NSW, 1986. 50pp

see also my reviews:
Alan Wearne, The Nightmarkets (here)
CJ Dennis, The Sentimental Bloke (here)

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25 thoughts on “Out Here, Alan Wearne

  1. If Wearne was in the arty click, and you’re someone I associate with books, science fiction, and protesting, which group did you belong to, and how was it different from Wearne’s? You have this amazing ability to be a shapeshifter in my mind, Bill. It seems that you’ve undergone many changes and growth, and so I feel lucky to be able to read about that, and that you share with us.

    Side note: Biscuit and I are reading Carmen Dog. She asked why I picked such a book, and I said, “Bill recommended it.” She responded, “Oh, that makes sense.” I have no idea why that makes sense, but I did have a laugh!

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    • Alan was a couple of years ahead of me so I was never going to be in his clique. School uniform (for boys) was a grey serge suit, and he and his two or three mates always looked so brooding and impressive, especially Alan with his black fringe hanging over his eyes.

      I was never ‘arty’ – it was a constant war with my father to stop him forcing me to have 1940s style short back and sides – firstly I was in the maths science stream; and then I always played sport, was in the school (field) hockey and swim teams. Just when I might have gone on to be more rounded, I played chess well for instance and debated Fabianism with our librarian, and atheism with Alan’s brother (who never did become a minister), my father dragged us out into the bush again, to Mudsville, where you either drank, played football, and rolled in the mud with girls or … there was no or. The school hero was a 15 year old who was obviously going to go on and play professional football. Some got to flock around him, the rest of us stood around waiting for the year to end, for childhood to end, for the bloody rain to end.

      I’m glad Biscuit sees that I’m a Carmen Dog sort of guy. I hope you both enjoy it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I finished My Brother Jack a couple of days back and am glad to have read it in my mid-sixties as apposed to have been forced to read in the mid 70’s at high school, it would have been wasted on me back then. By gee your reply reminds me of the themes I took from My Brother Jack.

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      • I never took to George Johnston, and now you make me wonder am I like him. He gave Charmian Clift a hard life, though Milly is pretty upset with me I didn’t drag her and our kids off to a Greek island.

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      • Interesting, you don’t mention much reading or writing in your school days. That’s cool that you were fairly diverse though, as an athlete and a math/science person AND a chess person. I knew of no such people in my school, and there were about 1,000 of us there.

        I was more expected: violin, drama, art, advanced English classes. Not great in math or science, though I LOVE Earth sciences. I couldn’t care less about memorizing the periodic table or algebra, which is where most of us landed in school.

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      • Ooops. Not really meaning to compare you to Johnston and Clifts relationship, more your comment about the school years and the possible thought process as to what might have been after the comment about being a shapeshifter. I actually knew nothing of Johnston and Clift till I read up on them after finishing MBJ.

        I will also say that I am also impressed with the fact you had an author of some repute at your school. The best I got was a future rock star, Billy Thorpe, whose music I was not really into. Strangely, many years later I had a client who insisted I read Billy’s bio, “so rock and roll you will love it” was the insistent client. Biggest load of poppycock I ever read. It seemed like he spent the entire bio telling about the girls he pulled, just not my kind of stuff. I will take Alan Wearne any day of the week.

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      • No worries, 4ZZZ, I made that comparison, not you. We spent one lovely day on Hydra, looking for places mentioned by Clift, the cafe where they met Leonard Cohen, and of course ‘the bird on the wire’ house. I’m probably alone in thinking George Johnston is all bombast.

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  2. I love the sneak peak into young Bill’s teenage years that you reveal here. I was a maths person too, until the senior years when they lost me. But most of the time I was reading or playing handball – I had a mean service game!

    I am a huge fan of the verse novel. Writing in multiple voices seems to be a standard form from what I’ve seen. I enjoy how condensed and concentrated each person’s story becomes in verse. Every word counts and usually packs a punch. From what you’ve highlighted, Steven Herrick appears to be the modern day writer of this genre. I think you’d like him as well, Bill.

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    • I suspect I might be a fan of the verse novel – I don’t read enough to be sure. But I prefer to read books/writing which are almost poetry, eg. Benang
      I’ll write Steve Herrick into my recommended by bloggers list, thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. From your description of yourself above Bill, I’m wondering if you were a challenging kid for the teachers! You certainly had diverse interests and abilities and must have been a very smart student; you sound like a bit of a maverick. How interesting!

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    • I was a bit of a smartarse! But one teacher at Blackburn South I admired kept me occupied reviewing the maths text book he was writing and took my comments seriously. I loved Blackie South, I loved the atmosphere, I was in my element. It is a matter of enormous regret that I was unable to do my matric there.

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      • You must have been an impressive maths student then Bill! I was appalling at anything mathematical, in fact I got a special dispensation from studying it for the HSC as I knew it would mess up my passing grades. Both my brothers, on the other hand, are absolute wizards at mathematical stuff – that particular gene must have skipped me! Why weren’t you able to matriculate at that school?

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  4. This brings back memories of publishing the book itself in 1986, and Alan coming to the UK to launch it. However, I need to point out that Out Here was published by Bloodaxe Books then in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, not Newcastle, NSW!

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  5. Oh darn it … I read this when you posted it but somehow didn’t comment. I do love a verse novel, and I recollect your knowing Alan Wearne, but I’ve never read him.

    This comment interested me, “is not a novel (or novella), so much as a suite of voices telling a story, no not even a story, and certainly not Brett’s story which is largely lost in the voices washing over it, but a feeling for parenting in 1970s suburbia.” I guess it depends on how you define a novel? Like, say, Winton’s The turning which is connected short stories, though this one seems to have a strongly unifying centre, Brett’s action?

    I love the comment about Milly being cross you didn’t drag your family off to Greece.

    And, for the record, I was definitely in the English-Humanities stream, but I liked Maths and was in the high maths stream until 4th form (year 10). I dropped science then but kept on with a middle level maths until the end. It was light relief from all the reading/writing subjects. I liked the challenge of maths problems.

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    • I’m certainly a fan of treating The Turning as a novel. I forget now whether that is how Winton describes it. You’re right, if Alan says it is a novel then it is a novel – what I was trying to get at was its theme: I got the feeling that ultimately Alan was trying to say something about parent child relationships (in middle class, Anglo, Melbourne) and that Brett’s self-harm was just a way into that.

      The orderliness of Accounting sucked me in, I wonder if it was a similar inclination that propelled you into librarianship – all that cataloguing!

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      • Re Wearne, yes I got that. I guessed you were saying it doesn’t have a strong novelistic plot but it does have connected characters and a unified theme.

        Re orderliness, you’ve seen through me! I went into librarianship partly because I loved reading and “information” but as far as the professional side of it I really enjoyed working behind the scenes to manage and structure the information. It was a great intellectual challenge … and there was always some more routine aspects to do when my brain needed a rest or I just wanted to produce something measurable!

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  6. DEAR BILL:

    The author replies with thanks.

    1: The house on the Out Here cover is not the Wearne’s but one of a series by artist Jenny Watson chronicling places she lived in as a girl. In this case not Blackburn but Box Hill North I believe. Another Watson is the cover of my latest book, Near Believing.

    2: Didn’t you play footy for Blacky South with my brother Bruce?

    3: The Bloodaxe volume is the same as in New Devil, New Parish; the UQP production of 1976, not revised.

    4: Many thanks for buying Near Believing. Unlike say best selling novelists poets can still say and mean this.

    5: Yes there is an amount of old stuff in this Selected, though the final pages certainly are new. Given that much of my early work is out of print…why not?

    6: The Out Here story was initially inspired by events related to me by Bernadette Taylor [formerly my 6th Form English teacher] when she was Deputy Principal of Mount Waverley High.

    7: Your vision of it being a suite rather than a verse novel certainly fits, though what exactly is a verse novel? Or 100 years after Ulysses what is a novel?

    8: The Johnston-Clift family…was there none more tragic in Australian writing? Head to
    https://www.martinjohnstonpoet.com/ for more on the fabulous poet in that family, including the recently published selection Beautiful Objects

    9: 4ZZZ: My thanks for preferring me to Thorpie. Though most people I know would think you were crazy…

    10: Neil: Thanks for taking the risk all those years ago in bringing forth the UK Out Here. The British sales were certainly not your fault. I still have about a dozen of these volumes, remaindered, so if folk wish to obtain please contact at info@alanwearne.com.au

    11: Neil: I do have another UK publisher. After my verse novel The Lovemakers was produced in 2 Australian volumes, Tony Frazer of Shearsman brought out the one volume edition:
    https://www.shearsman.com/store/Wearne-Alan-c28271982

    12: Neil: The last time we met was at a reading you organized in London in 1987. I was on with Ken Smith and you and I were going to stay at his place that night. Going there however Smith & his wife got into such a drunken, boorish screaming match that I got out at some lights and headed to an hotel. Believe me my publisher had nothing to do with my exit.

    13: My publishing outfit is https://grandparadepoets.com/ though at present we are holding fire on further publications.

    14: Unlike my publisher https://puncherandwattmann.com/product/near-believing-selected-monologues-and-narratives-1967-2021/

    15: Alas I have never published my friend & colleague Pi O, who until recent time came out through his own Collective Effort Press: https://www.facebook.com/collectiveeffortpress
    or more latterly through https://giramondopublishing.com/books/heide/

    16: I tell Pi, that if he deals with the Working Class and I deal with the Middle Class, then all we require is someone for the Upper Class and we have the town covered.

    17: Now living near Fremantle I aim to have East Coast promotions for Near Believing next year, hopefully starting in February with an “In Conversation With…” John Hawke at Readings Carlton.

    18: Please stay tuned.

    REGARDS

    ALAN

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alan, It’s always a pleasure to receive feedback from an Author.

      1. I see now Jenny Watson was credited. My fault for not checking. I searched and found 2 more houses – Mont Albert and Geelong. I lived in Blackburn North (adjacent of course to Box Hill North) through the 1980s and 90s. Those old post WWII houses are disappearing very rapidly now.

      2. I did play on Bruce’s team for a while. Kicked two goals one match, the highlight of my whole career.

      3. Authors seem always to want to revise. Did you not want to/Was it easier to get republished if you didn’t?

      4. I often buy books ‘on spec’. Poetry volumes are likely to sit for years before I actually get to them. But I’ll try to read/review Near Believing in time for it to be useful.

      5. I only checked out the stuff I knew, and I thought it worked better in context, which gave me the incentive to re-read Out Here, and here we are. The problem is that I only know literature so I have no way of knowing if what I read works as poetry.

      6. I thought I’d remember if a kid stabbed themself at school.

      7. I composed a really long answer to this, then lost it while following your links from PiO. I do think Out Here is a novel. But you have to listen to the voices and form your own impression of what the story is. Which I suppose gets us back to Joyce.
      Which reminds me, a lot of the joy of reading verse novels and good writing generally is in the rhythm of the narrator’s voice, eg. Kim Scott’s Benang.

      8. George Johnston was an arsehole as a husband. But I’ve added Martin Johnston to my list of writers/novels I’ve been recommended to follow up.

      Let us know when your West Coast promotions are. Actually, when you’re ready, email me a list of all your readings etc for Near Believing and I’ll run it with my review (hopefully!).

      Bill

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    • “9: 4ZZZ: My thanks for preferring me to Thorpie. Though most people I know would think you were crazy…” Love it! Had my wife and I giggling like kids.

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