Social Work: Brentley Frazer
“The case for E-Prime rests on the simple proposition that ‘isness’ sets the brain into a medieval Aristotelian framework that makes it impossible to understand modern problems and opportunities.” – Robert Anton Wilson 1
At a tender age, while attending Primary at Greenvale State School in Northwest Queensland, Brentley Frazer learns the meanings of the words suicide, rape, jacking off, growling out, and a number of common swears, with which he promptly attempts to shock his parents. His parents belong to a Protestant, Anti-Trinitarian cult called The Truth. He remembers his own circumcision. Soon, while part of a rebellious schoolyard gang called The Wreckers, he discovers tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, amphetamines, pornography, madness, family violence and death.
Frazer’s first long-form work, Scoundrel Days, is a memoir that employs a literary constraint known as English Prime, or E-Prime, as a method to overcome the “static hum of reflection” … “with an adult voice reflecting back on childhood, telling the viewer what the characters are thinking and feeling.”2
This constraint, which prohibits use of the copula (the verb ‘to be’ and it’s tenses, including the words am, are, be, been, being, is, was and were), has proven highly effective in providing Frazer’s first person present narrative with a sense of immediacy, and strength of connection to the characters and events portrayed. The book is brutal at times yet articulated with a poet’s voice. Importantly, it stretches itself occasionally beyond the purely personal account to comment on the social and political aspects of Australian life: “They stand around on their own side of their picket fences saying things like Oh, the Abos, they don’t participate … if only they’d stop drinking and integrate. You see the irony, people talking about integration over fences.”
How do your values differ from those of your family?
Brentley Frazer: I value making art and enjoying life very highly. I’m not sure art rates a mention in my family’s value system.
Do you have a favourite family story?
BF: There are plenty of stories including a great grandmother who was ambidextrous and could write two different letters at the same time, a great uncle or something that invented the can opener, and the time we all got kidnapped by aliens.
What do you hope for?
BF: Personally, to live long and prosper and die before my children; and for the place we call the world, I’d love all the animals to play nicely for a change.
What do you think is your main purpose in life?
BF: Bill Hicks and Buddha explained to everyone that life is just a ride and Einstein proved time is relative, but no-one wants to believe them.
Do you think its ok to lie?
BF: Truth is the most important thing we have, so I try to conserve it.
What does freedom mean to you?
BF: The realisation that there are no gods and no masters in the real world and that the real world is a savage garden full of people who are half animal and half angel. As Mike Tyson said: everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.
What do you think are the most important social issues today?
BF: The rise of egomaniacal lions and fascist idealism appealing to their prides.
Do you think things happen for a reason?
BF: Yes . . . but for not for a purpose.
What beliefs do you have that you think will never change?
BF: That every humanimal alive is divine and fallen.
Do you believe in the supernatural?
BF: Just because you believe something doesn’t mean it’s true.
Is any religious text important to you?
BF: Yes, Flowers of Evil by Charles Baudelaire.
What do you like the best about your body?
BF: It’s three-dimensional . . . it must suck being a cartoon.
What do you think would be the best thing about being the opposite gender?
BF: The ability to judge the male human harshly without appearing a traitor.
Who is the best teacher you have ever had?
BF: Some withered beaten old person of indeterminate gender at a bus stop in the middle of nowhere who said to me that no matter what any god, master or holy book says, knowing the truth can only happen in your own experience.
Have you ever been lost?
BF: I feel lost in this stolen nation in which I was born. I recently had a collection of poems published, which I titled Aboriginal to Nowhere. According to a Google exact phrase search, I am the first person in history to write those three words together. I think I articulate how lost I feel quite well in that book.
What was your favourite book as a child?
BF: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
If I asked a good friend of yours what you were good at, what would they say?
BF: Something cliché because you put them on the spot.
What stays the same in your life, no matter how much other things change?
BF: My joie de vivre and my inability to pronounce French words.
BRENTLEY FRAZER is an Australian author whose poems, prose and academic papers have been published in numerous national and international anthologies, journals, magazines and other periodicals since 1992. He holds a MA (writing) from James Cook University and is completing his PhD (experimental creative non-fiction) at Griffith University. He is also a lecturer at Griffith University and the editor-in-chief of Bareknuckle Poet Journal of Letters. He lives in Brisbane. Scoundrel Days will be released in March 2017 as a C-Format Paperback, 312pp, $29.95 – brentley.com
1 Wilson (1990:98) as quoted in Brentley Frazer’s Creative Writing with English Prime. 2 ibid.
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