By Kate LilleyPoetryVagabond Press

Tilt

Tilt follows the skewed itinerary of attachment and loss, possession and dispossession; the movement of people and things, from Greta Garbo’s Manhattan exile to the Green Bans of 1970s Sydney to the precarious passages of deracinated subjects. In its detours through the copia of material history, lived experience and the archive of poetic forms, the book itself becomes a teeming repository of the real.

Portrait of Kate Lilley

Kate Lilley

Kate Lilley has published two books of poetry, Versary (Salt 2002, winner of the Grace Levin Prize) and Ladylike (UWAP 2012), two Vagabond chapbooks, Round Vienna and Realia, and is the editor of Margaret Cavendish: Blazing World and other writings (Penguin Classics) and Dorothy Hewett: Selected Poems (UWAP). She is an Associate Professor in the English Department at the University of Sydney where she directs the Creative Writing program. Kate is a widely published scholar of queer, feminist textual history and theory from 17th century women’s writing to contemporary poetry and poetics. She is also the poetry editor of Southerly. Follow her work at https://sydney.academia.edu/KateLilley.

Tilt is Kate Lilley’s third full length collection. Both of her previous books were shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Prize and received multiple citations in the Book of the Year lists in the Sydney Morning Herald/Age and Australian Book Review. Her edition of Dorothy Hewett’s Selected Poems was shortlisted in the WA Premier’s Awards and also cited as a Book of the Year in the SMH/Age. Major invited readings include the University of Chicago, Indiana University, the Holloway Reading at the University of California at Berkeley, the Fannie Hurst Reading at Brandeis University, Cambridge University Poetry Festival, Adelaide Festival Writers Week, Perth Festival and Sydney Writers Festival. She publishes poetry regularly in major national and international journals.

Judges’ report

Tilt is a complex poetic exploration of types of abuse; an archive of memory. It’s divided into three sections. The first is an autobiographical catalogue of abuse, rape, and everyday harassment of women and girls. The second section expands on other forms of abuse – from Australian asylum-seeker policy cleverly rendered in Catch 22 pantoum, to the psychiatric medicalisation of the inconveniently non-conformist. The third section relentlessly lists items from Greta Garbo’s personal effects auction. Each section questions and subtly ridicules attempts at punitive categorisation by those in power.

As with all Lilley’s work, Tilt bristles with intellect in a whirlwind of styles from subversive elegy to crisp sapphic form. She bracingly interrogates, sheds, yet also commemorates, a disappearing past.

Extract

Fonzies Fantasyland at 31 Oxford St
(now a disappointing IGA)
opened in 79 next door to Patches
a few months after the Ghost Train fire
at Luna Park killed seven.
It was Alan Saffron’s brainchild:
Mr Sin’s legitimate heir (later disinherited) 
dreamed of a chain of Leisure Centres
to clean up the family name.
I was an original Fonzies girl:
blue polysatin shorts, nude stockings.
Prior experience none
unless winning a poetry competition
or playing Fire Power at Reggio’s counted.
The kitchen hands from East Sydney Tech
approached their work as an installation.
They wore kinky white nurse’s uniforms
and Dolly Parton wigs
like something out of Richard Prince.
They perfected psychedelic ice cream sundaes 
and gave out quarter tabs of acid gratis.
They were cool:
I looked up to them
and heeded their advice.
The hard men got together
in the glassed-in office (Cone of Silence).
Abe stopped by for a sandwich: ‘Keep it simple’.
A silver stream owed through my hands.
When the red pay phone rang
it was Susie, Alan’s wife, checking in from Hawaii.
If I accidentally locked the till
one of the street kids who hung around
jumped the counter with his wad of keys.
In the quiet early hours of the morning 
punters lay on their backs tripping
in the rainbow neon tunnel,
Donna Summer blaring into the night.

When Brooke Shields came to town
for the premiere of
Tilt
(in between Pretty Baby and Blue Lagoon)
we rolled out the red carpet
and formed a guard of honour.
She was sweet, tired, five years younger than me.
The movie flopped and she ended up
in St Vincent’s with bronchitis.
Space Invaders had landed
and the mood was introverted.
The art students were the first to go,
taking their joie and their LSD.
I was reprimanded for reading
and stayed too long on my break upstairs at Patches
watching the drag show and drinking Bacardi.
I wore the wrong stockings and didn’t care:
the dark bit at the top showed under my shorts.
The junior manager I’d reported for sexual harassment
lectured me on pride in appearance.
The writing was on the wall and I was ready to go.
To show there were no hard feelings the boss
handed me a scrap of paper.
‘If you’re ever in any trouble, call this number.’
I thought of Juanita Nielsen
last seen entering the Carousel Club July 1975.

Two year later it was Fonzies’ turn to burn.
The chief suspect was Les Murphy,
youngest of the three Murphy brothers
jailed for life (‘never to be released’).
It was the trial of the century.
Anita Cobby, 26,
a nurse at Sydney Hospital,
arrived at Blacktown Station
just before 10pm, February 2 1986, 
found the payphone out of order
and started walking.
She was found two days later
in a Prospect paddock
almost decapitated.
Kidnapped, tortured, raped and murdered
by five men in a Holden Kingswood
as detailed in their confessions.
According to the NCA report
Les was working at Fonzies when the fire broke out
but no charges were laid.

Around that time I went to a weird party
high up in Victoria Towers
on the street where Juanita Nielsen had lived.
It was an empty shell suspended
over the wharves of Woolloomooloo
said to be owned by a dealer.
I felt bad and left straight away,
heading for my second home,
the Academy Twin (3A Oxford St:
opened with Polanski’s
Macbeth in 1974,
the year we moved to Sydney,
closed for good in June 2010).
Heatwave was on starring Judy Davis
as ‘Kate Dean’, a Nielsen-style activist heroine.
Takings were low but it won for Editing
and Cinema Papers called it ‘subversive’.
By then Luna Park was back in business,
the Green Bans were history
and Alan was long gone
(see Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares for the LA sequel).
In the dim auditorium
we were part of another time, watching it burn,
and I was on my way to another life.

The Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards shortlist