Poetry Award Shortlist
Author: Simon Tedeschi
Publisher: Upswell Publishing
In 1917, a young composer writes a suite of twenty pieces for piano. They are short, violent and strange, the music of another world. In 1938, a young Jewish family flees Italy for Sydney, Australia. In 1942, another family, this time Polish, are nearly destroyed. Half a century later, a young man begins to understand the role these strange visions have played in everything that came before him and all that has come to be. Fugitive, Simon Tedeschi’s first book, straddles the borders of poetry and prose, fiction and fact, trauma and testimony, filled with what Russian poet Konstantin Balmont called the fickle play of rainbows.
Taking its title and its inspiration from a series of ghostly, minimalist piano pieces by Prokofiev, Visions Fugitives, Simon Tedeschi’s fugitive visions cover an extraordinary amount of ground: the everyday strangeness of the body, memories of childhood and the ambiguous gift of musical precocity, the traumatic history of a family partly destroyed by the Holocaust, and the inexplicable power of music and art. Fugitive is concerned with borders: between poetry and prose, meaning and meaninglessness, the self and others. Its intense, fugal style contains great humour and great pathos. It is a work of stunning individuality.
Even though I don’t get maths or physics, I have
an intuitive understanding that’s more sensation
than sense, more impulse than understanding,
the way a groove––both a feel and a furrow––is
captured in the body rather than the brain (or,
as the song goes, in the heart). The upturned air
of a grace note, the tacit at the end of a score,
a slow movement with all its little prickles of
doubt and desire.
(Prokofiev referred to his Mimolyotnosti as little
doggies-–because they bite.)
Some of the Mimolyotnosti are ridiculous, others
tender, all painful as an envelope that cuts your
Be careful of these little ones, Sergei seems to say.
Ballgown to clown, but always behind frosted
glass. Waiting for the dreaded knock––
and when we answer the door (which we
must), we’re found wanting. We’re staring at
screens, blunted by shock, less a momentary
apperception than a totalising force. What
Baudelaire and Benjamin saw is now a deafening
music. I cannot write this paragraph without
checking my feed. I need to scrape the scum
off the stove before midnight. My right toenail
hurts because I’ve picked at it. My cat lies on her
back, shows me her belly. She must once have
had kittens. Her teats make me uncomfortable,
one in particular. Three Catholic worshippers
have been beheaded in France. I crack my jaw
so loudly my wife hears it through her Ear Pods.
I’m attacked by regret for a bastard act twenty-
five years ago. I was just doing what was done to
- No excuse. I’ve lost the filigree of sentence
flow. My butt hurts, I wiped it too hard again.
I’m getting emails from a lonely older woman. I
stifle contempt. But one day I will be old.
Every child thinks the world was created when
they first looked at it. When I was a kid, I thought
that prior to my birth, the world was black and
white. Consequently, I associated my birth with
a spurt of colour. But we also don’t recall that
first, spasmodic journey through our mothers’
bodies, the same way we often don’t recall our
But when I woke up this morning, I remembered––
The work is everything. The work is nothing.
Modern music is trash. I like it. I loathe it. I
prefer music with a tune. That’s not music, that’s
noise. I found it interesting. It bored me. I didn’t
The Mimolyotnosti are not a mystery to be
solved––they are entrails unearthed.
Not only do the Mimolyotnosti mash up our
brains, they threaten our locus of control. They
disabuse us of the notion that we are little Gods.
Art is the ultimate narcissistic wound.
When I play the Mimolyotnosti, I am met by a
wall of faces, a gate of eyes.
I want these twenty pieces to send everyone to
hell or heaven. I want there to be nothing left
(to say), as if an atheist had seen the first spurt
of an amputee’s knee. Each Mimolyotnosti is
shrapnel boring through the body. We stand in
front of the Mimolyotnosti with our pudgy flesh
and our rotten angles, and we are all blown up
and distorted and we are no more.
I am less interested in what people say to me after
a performance of the Mimolyotnosti than by the
weave of their silences. After so many years,
instinct has taught me how to read breathing (as
poetry is a special kind of speaking, listening is
I play the Mimolyotnosti. I slide my eye to the
right. I read the room in a heartbeat. I tell from
the wind in a whisper whether someone I’ve
never met before is tired, bored or frightened.
Bring me boredom. I want the boredom of
Proust, the un(c)locking of time, the freedom of
associative speech, the sleepy dance of shapes, a
From a whisper one can sense the mood of a
crowd, how it feels (in) its skin, how it takes on
a certain shape, how it swells and snakes and
shifts. Whispering is the only way a human can
move through walls.
In Stalin’s Russia, there were two kinds of
whisperers––shepchushchii, who whispered
so as not to be heard through the walls––and
sheptun, who whispered so as to be heard by the
Petrograd. A house near the centre. Prokofiev
plays the Mimolyotnosti for the first time. I’ve
heard a recording of him at the piano and
it’s completely different to what I expected.
Disjointed. Wiry. Cakes of colours. A Petrov
pressed against a wet window. (I’ve only ever
played a Petrov in Siberia, in old halls that smelt
of wood shavings and fishbones). To the right of
the piano is a Japanese garden, untended. The
poet Konstantin Balmont is in the far corner, tall
and debonair, damasked in shadow––listening.
On a settee, Kira Nikolayevna, a friend of both
men, one leg over the other, smiling, craning her
neck towards the music. She is brilliant but will
only ever be known for this moment. Balmont
waits until the final chord unravels like strips of
gauze. Then he pulls out his pen––
I do not know wisdom — I leave that to others —
I only turn Mimolyotnosti into verse.
In each fugitive vision I see worlds….
There is no colour in the world.
It is August 1917.
About the author
Known primarily as a concert pianist, Simon Tedeschi has written for publications across Australia. When he is not writing or practising, he reads books and drinks coffee. He and his wife, the painter Loribelle Spirovski, live in Sydney, Australia with their cat. In 2022, Simon was awarded the Calibre Essay Prize for ‘This woman my grandmother’. Fugitive is his first book. www.simontedeschi.com
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