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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Negativity Bin: Opening speech by John Acutt, Head of English at Ipswich Grammar School

Ladies and Gentleman
It is with a great deal of pleasure that I say few words about Brett’s latest poetic release.

Brett is a rare individual. He possesses a vast knowledge of the world, its history, geography, cultures and its mythologies and he combines this knowledge in his poetry with a fanatical obsession of a diverse range of subjects that include: Steve Irwin, Astro Boy, other extinct species, Victoria Cross winners, the US Space Program, the Bremer River, American kidnappers and He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. All of these things, and more, have been grist for the mill of Brett’s pencil. A pencil he grips tightly in his left hand and through some alchemist’s art is able to transubstantiate words into poetry. Very bloody good poetry.

The knowledge and the obsessions in this work, The Negativity Bin, that have come together in some process of liquefaction, are a disparate band of individuals in a Job Search Training scheme and the 1974 documentary series, “The Ascent of Man”. Those of you who are as old or older than me will remember Jacob Bronowski, the presenter in the series, who walked the audience through the phases of homo sapiens’ intellectual development. These phases became the 13 episodes of his series. The titles of these episodes have been taken by Brett as thematic headings in The Negativity Bin.

Bronowski describes evolution, man’s socialisation, his discovery of fire and agriculture through to the burgeoning fields of Mathematics, Astronomy and Physics – hundreds of thousands of years of progress. The irony is that for Brett, Bronowski's “The Ascent of Man” template fits neatly over a small slither of our world. There are many of us who are still proto-apes, foragers, tool makers and a rare few, at the top of our ascent, who are visionary artists and scientists.

Jacob Bronowski's heroes in “The Ascent of Man” were radical physicists who believed passionately in their theories in the face of controversy and violent attacks by conservative elements in the Scientific world. Bronowski says the ascent of man is entirely dependent upon these people of passion, who devote their lives to enlightening the non-believers. Poets too enlighten the non-believers, they reveal truths to us that are at times unpopular and force us to alter our view of the world.

In his last reflection on the program Bronowski doesn’t look to Science but to poetry to articulate the vision of his heroes. He finds in William Blake’s, Auguries of Innocence, the language to express their vision:

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.

So it is the great achievement of modern science that has led us to our knowledge of the physical world.

It is however the great challenge of poetry to make us understand the worlds within the world.

Bronowski and Dionysius have wed Science and Poetry.

Jacob Bronowski said that “Cultural evolution is a constant growing and widening of the human imagination.” Brett asks us to grow and widen our imaginations. He asks us to see “The Ascent of Man” superimposed on the lives of a group of Job Seekers.

And more than that – he gives to us social observation in accelerated montage, a flickering collage of suburban narratives, historical artefacts of the then and now pasted onto a fast moving mirror ball – If you know Brett’s work, you’ll know, “he's plugged into the galaxy! He's got the power cosmic!”

Brett, congratulations. And with that I am very happy to launch the good ship, The Negativity Bin.

John Acutt
Head of English
Ipswich Grammar School

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