WORDS FOR MICHAEL DUGAN (9/10/1947-16/3/2006)
In his darkly humorous poem, How To Succeed in Death Without Really Trying, from his booklet Returning From the Prophet,published by Robert Kenny & Philip Edmonds' Contempa Publications in 1972, Michael imagines the dead poet reincarnating as his own biographer! Now that his biography is beginning we, his biographers, must welcome his benevolent spirit.
I'm honoured to have been asked by Michael's dear sister Sally to say a few words about those late 1960s when our lives as poets in the world began.
I wish, of course, that this was another kind of occasion, twenty years on from now let's say, and Michael & I meeting with all of you for a long jar & jaw about the good old days including these. But it's not to be.
Now we must remember. "Remember to remember..." For instance, Ken Taylor showing me at his Parkville home or telling me on the phone from the ABC, April'68, to visit him because he had something very exciting to show me --me who was working on the production of the first issue of my little poetry magazine, Our Glass --I ought to know, he told me, that one, Michael Dugan,had just published a little poetry mag from a Heidelberg West p.o.box address, called Crosscurrents. Astonishing!
Something was indeed happening!
The something-in-the-air of the 1960s, which had impelled one towards performance & publication, -- that imperative for the New, particularly with war around us, had simultaneously inspired two 21, 22 year old poets on opposite sides of the city!
Dennis Douglas, poetry editor at The Age, later called this the "mini-mag explosion" --the start of the Poetry Revival! I introduced Michael to Betti Burstall's La Mama cafe-theatre --and "his people" & "my people" met! And the rest is history!
I remember Michael then as someone already on the inside of a Melbourne literary world and with a similar passion for the new & young poetry & art & music as me. I was a migrant from the U.K. to whom the ins & outs of Heide & Ern Malley & Meanjin & etc had to be explained. Michael explained.
I remember Michael enjoying the Counter Culture but advocating change through education & literature, the schoolroom & not the street. He spoke as a Fabian Socialist I suppose. My own revolutionary aspirations flourished then dissolved. His Fabianism continued. I think he was on the right track!
He was also right about Jimi Hendrix! I momentarily allowed me head to be swayed by a musician friend who said anyone could waa-waa like that! I should have believed my belly & my heart like Michael --and bit my tongue on smart-arse rhetoric. Hey Joe was & is a brilliant anthem!
I remember Michael as the most loyal & dependible friend & ally --opening up the venue, La Mama, if no one else was around --always attending the reading or the all-night eating & drinking and usually providing most of it. As it was around La Mama so too in the rest of his life, especially at the Fellowship of Australian Writers. Many times too when Michael would leap & shout without restraint, responsible for his own happiness rather than others'.
Michael rang me a few weeks ago to run past me, he said, a sketch for the autobiography he'd decided it was time for him to commence. With some feeling he said : "I dont know if you agree but I've always considered my relationship with you & Retta & Tim very important." I took a deep breath and said it was the same for me because despite different directions, different opinions, despite breaks in contact, what we'd experienced & shared was real --it was the beginning of a great many marvellous things-- it's a reality that can't be denied --it's inscribed in our hearts--
As, dear friends, Michael himself now can only be, but for always.
Michael's funeral service , Wednesday, 22nd March,'06, at Le Pine, 1048 Whitehorse Road, Box Hill. The celebrant was Lee Burgemeestre; other speakers included Doug MacLeod, Sally Dugan, Jo Swarc, Petro Georgiou, Jane Tanner, Barry Dickins.