WORDS FOR BERNIE : An eulogy on the occasion of Bernie O'Regan's Funeral, 15th November, 1996
I'm here to bury a friend and inaugurate a remembering of him which I hope I'll attend to henceforth. Life is so ruthless in the service of the living; and the dead disappear so quickly...
I've lived with Bernie O'Regan's photographs for the 25 years, more or less, that I've known him --his portraits of the family dominate our notice-board and can be found scattered throughout the house. He's been an important family documentor!
The last photos he took of me were in the Collected Works Bookshop a few months ago. On the Bookshop wall is a photo he took of Collected Works' predecessor, Nick Kimberley's poetry department of Compendium Bookshop in Camden Town, London, around 1972. Nick sits at his table just as I stand at my counter now. Both pictures own that rich congestion of old-fashioned kitchens! I think Bernie would be very much at home with that analogy.
Although Bernie's always been around me with his photographs, he hasnt been as present for me for years as in the last couple of weeks of his life & death.
I thank John Anderson for keeping me informed over a long time of the ups & downs of Bernie's condition --and commend him for his good companionship to Bernie during this remarkable period of almost spectacular well-being as well as illness.
What ironies to contemplate : that one's life, sometimes, diverts one from old friends, develops one in different directions in which friendships are tested, and wax & wane; and that the shadow of death sometimes heightens one's sense of life and makes one live at one's very best.
Quality of life is one of those phrases one would love to abolish because of its over-use --yet Bernie seemed to have exemplified it at this end of his life, as though all the years of his restlessness, nervousness & anxiety had been worked through to both best & worst conclusions --as though Bernie really was fulfilled in his contradictions at the last.
I met Bernie in 1972, at the Totnes Arts Festival in South Devon in England. I was one of the poets and Bernie was the experimental filmmaker, both of us invited by our mutual friend, the poet John Hall. Cleo Laine & the Johnny Dankworth Orchestra was the other act!
It was a crucial meeting for both of us. Retta & I were preparing to return to Melbourne after three years in England, and Bernie was beginning to question his life in London after a decade away [from Melbourne]. As it transpired, our enthusiastic reports of life & art in contemporary Melbourne persuaded Bernie & Jude [Telford] to follow us back. I have to say that as often as I remember Bernie I think of Bernie & Jude. Dinners, outings, great raves, films, photographs shared together. I also think of their dog Bobby, but that's another story.
Bernie was a film-maker but more importantly a photographer among the poets, a photographer for whom poetry & the optic which poets have of the world was of major importance. In the '70s, in both England & Australia, this relationship was socially realized --but thereafter, as the visionary spirit of the '60s finally evaporated, it was internalised, adhered to as practice without expectation of social reflection.
I'd like to think that we were both becoming other kinds of person & artist in the last ten years --and that if & when our time-tables coincided we'd have been able to share & explore our new thoughts & works. I certainly agree with something Jude Telford said when Bernie died, that it was a terrible shame he wouldnt be taking any more photographs. Whatever his achievement is, I feel he was still working something out in his Letters to Friends project --involving a wonderful distillation or crystalization of intuition & collage, in which reality not only could be said to have "adhered to the photographic surface" [F. Sommer] but was created.
I'll read a couple of poems or parts of poems that touched &/or reflected Bernie, plus a couple of Bernie's own poems, which reveal him, poignantly...
When I ask Kris
should I be flattered or amazed
when he says he will publish my poems
I am amazed
I guess I am often amazed
in a soporific sort of way,
I am certainly not certain
of the reason why I am here
and here, for now is
At the Dental Hospital
there are 2 reasons, at least,
for not killing myself.
Gilbert Sorrentino is only 45
and just thinking what is to come
before he is dead.
Frank O'Hara is dead
but he has left 500 pages
of poems to be read before
I am dead
(by John Hall)
the things wrong with my car
are easier to talk about
than the things wrong with me, less
intimate perhaps, but more intimate
than other people's cars. the things
wrong with other people is
the best subject of all but needs always
the right audience, easy enough to gain
where we are all intimate
with each other's defects. the audience
for the conversation about the
things wrong with me
must think about it as I would like to
as offering grounds for a more intimate
& flattering interpretation. so the surroundings
must be quiet & the converation
not overheard the which conditions
are not at all necessary
for the things wrong with my car.
(by Ted Berrigan)
Stronger than alcohol, more great than song,
deep in whose reeds great elephants decay;
I, an island, sail, and my shores toss
on a fragrant evening, fraught with sadness
It's true, I weep too much. Dawns break
slow kisses on the eyelids of the sea,
what other men sometimes have thought they've seen.
And since then I've been bathing in the poem
lifting her shadowy flowers up for me,
and hurled by hurricanes to a birdless place
the waving flags, nor pass by prison ships
O let me burst, and I will be lost at sea!
and fall on my knees then womanly.
(by Robert Duncan)
Often I am permitted to return to a meadow
as if it were a scene made-up by the mind,
that is not mine, but is a made place,
that is mine, it is so near to the heart,
an eternal pasture folded in all thought
so that there is a hall therein
that is a made place, created by light
wherefrom the shadows that are forms fall.
Often I am permitted to return to a meadow
as if it were a given property of the mind
that certain bounds hold against chaos,
that is a place of first permission,
everlasting omen of what is.
[Bernie O'Regan (21/6/38-9/11/96), buried at Arthur's Creek, outer Melbourne, 15th November,1996.]