Universal Andalusia, B.R. Dionysius
" Join narrator-supremo Baldwin (mutant chimera of Alexander the Great and Bazza McKenzie) and his energetic wife Roxanne on a backpacking tour up over. Slapstick picaresque travelogue, self-ironising big-man’s blast Universal Andalusia makes Lonely Planet look like Gideon’s Bible. I’m excited! "- Peter Minter
The third published book of Brisbane-based poet, editor and arts administrator B.R. Dionysius, Universal Andalusia is a verse novel that traces the backpacking holiday through southern Europe and India by two Australian thirtysomethings, Baldwin (one part Alexander the Great, one part Barry McKenzie) and his 'energetic' wife, Roxanne. Their picaresque travels are an amalgamation of history, nationalistic clichés, cultural (including pop-cultural) imperialism (and heresy!), 'otherness', and shallow backpacker tourism in the pre-9/11 world. According to Dionysius, "Readers can expect a fast-paced action thriller with a bit of sex thrown in for titillation."
About the book
When asked to tell us about his third published volume, and first verse novel, Universal Andalusia, B.R. Dionysius described it as "a discontinuous verse novel that traces the backpacking holiday through Southern Europe and India by two Australian thirtysomethings: Roxanne, a fitness instructor, and Baldwin, some kind of unfit middle manger for the public service. It's basically your straight 'fish out of the water' story of two Australians trying to survive cultural difference overseas. To survive 'otherness', tourists often resort to promoting their own sense of national pride and this can bring out the ugly side of people. In Australians this may be excessive drinking and having a good time at the expense of others. For Americans it may be belittling everyone else's cultural achievements, hogging cues to art galleries, museums and toilets, and talking abrasively and loudly. Universal Andalusia maps these nationalistic clichés and stereotypes that people tend to fall back o n when confronted by other cultures. It's not pretty."
"The main bulk of Universal Andalusia was written on a new work grant from the Literature Fund of the Australia Council in 2000 and 2001. The manuscript wouldn't exist without this funding as it allowed me to travel and the verse novel is loosely based on that experience. Rewrites generally petered off in 2002, though about 4-6 new poems were included in a further draft around 2004. Strangely enough, it was mainly finished pre-September 11 and therefore embodies the spirit of a bygone era - when one could travel relatively hassle free and not worry about suicide bombers, body cavity searches and the 'War on Terror'. Andalusia's drive is about the West's cultural imperialism as exploited through shallow backpacker tourism and our mass assumption that everything (art, culture, lifestyle, our sense of 'freedom') is better in 'civilised' Western society. In Spain, for example, I saw graffiti which said 'tourist you are the terrorist'. 9-11 changed all this, however. The covert cultural invasion of the world by America was overshadowed by Bush's overt display of political, economic, military, and nationalistic sabre-rattling after the collapse of the WTC. America (and its allies Australia, Britain, etc.) had their excuse to no longer be as covert as they had been since the end of the Vietnam War. So, 9-11 paved the way for the West to 'other' a new enemy (Islamic fundamentalism) and give rise to the war in Afghanistan, the Iraq war and the 'War on Terror'. Andalusia hints at what would happen to the world if Bush won the 2000 election, but I think no poet would have ever realised the degree of that affect - from the covert illegal to the overt illegal - Guantanamo Bay, mandatory detention, children overboard, WMDs, shoot-to-kill response, anti-terror legislation, racial profiling/vilification; basically everything the West accused the Eastern Bloc of perpetrating during the Cold War era. Same hat - different Sheriff (and deputies)."
Compared with his earlier collections, Fatherlands and Bacchanalia, Dionysius said that "Universal Andalusia is a departure of sorts for me, but possibly also the result of a natural progression. A largely narrative-based project that looks at those novel elements - characterisation, setting and story - more than I have before in poetry. Fatherlands is mostly short, personal-based lyric poems of a dark and serious tone that could be uttered as a kind of litanous recollection of childhood and fathering. I still write those sort of poems today. Bacchanalia marks the start of the transformation from observing the intensely lyrical 'self' in my work, to exploring more narrative variety with other characters and their own stories. Incidentally, the character of Baldwin pops up in two poems in Bacchanalia as a kind of prequel to his inclusion in Andalusia - a teaser maybe (though I don't think anyone noticed!). He is also the unemployed hero of another shorter discontinous verse project, The Negativity Bin, which is about his struggles with finding a job, and having to go through Centrelink's compulsory, but humilitating, three week jobsearch training program. Andalusia has far more humour in it than either Fatherlands or Bacchanalia - and addresses the reader all the time to suck them into the narrative. So readers can expect a fast-paced action thriller with a bit of sex thrown in for titillation."
Excerpt from the book
(Roxanne daydreams on Crete.)
There, that island crouched down
ready to pounce on the blue Mediterranean
bull, raising salt-dust off Crete with its stampede
of breakers; that’s a granite panther of some kind.
Not the Eastern winged variety that hovered like an
engorged dragonfly over Babylon’s Hanging Gardens –
but wingless, as in the carved reliefs that stalked across
the Parthenon’s archaic pediment. No, not the new
monument raised by Pericles to Pallas Athena either –
the earlier one, Geometric period frescoed with giants,
harpies, tritons, snakes, deer, lions, bulls & of course
You can see the big cat’s muscle tone clearly;
the sun-dial snout pointed, a flick of bluff ear,
ridge of terracotta neck, burial mound of shoulder,
terraced spine jagged as a grave stele, haunches (inc. paws,
knees & ankles) anchor strong. A proverbial 1970s
Bridgestone Cat as a single promontory of claw
extends down to a bay’s water dish.
This manx of the Minoan imagination.
Formless now, occupied by a litter
of blind poets mewling to be fed.
(Baldwin daydreams on Crete.)
Like Dionysius I & II of Greek Syracuse
Oh, to be a tyrant of wine, women & song
Now that’s a career path even I could choose,
Free from that oppressive bureaucratic pong.
B.R. Dionysius is a poet, editor, arts administrator and educator born in Dalby, Western Queensland in 1969. He was the chairperson of Fringe Arts Collective Inc from 1994 to 2001; directed the Brisbane Writers Fringe Festival from 1993 to 1996, and directed the Subverse: Queensland Poetry Festival from 1997 to 2001. In 2004, he completed an M.Phil (Creative Writing) at the University of Queensland. He is currently enrolled in a Bachelor of Education (Secondary) Grad Entry, again at the University of Queensland. He lives in Gordon Park, Brisbane, is married to the writer Melissa Ashley and has two daughters, Rhiannon and Sylvie. Universal Andalusia is his third poetry collection.