Tuesday, April 7, 2009

THE MERRI CREEK : POEMS & PIECES, #10, March/April 2009

[EASTER, 2009]


Sitting at small table in what I call hole-in-the-wall coffee place in Elizabeth Street, above the staircase of City Basement Books, and like the manager, whom I've named The Guy, once-upon-a-time Pasolini ragazzi or Caravaggio naughty-boy, I'm relaxed into survey of the street, totally acquiescent to the way the world passes by, as though just meant to be, a frame of the world's movie or a novel called The Day (not Joyce's but equally inventorial) or even This Minute (Warholean then?) --for example, that group of back-packer girls, raucous with the telling of previous night's adventures, leggy, goldened by holidaying sun, setting out from the hostel across the street whose upstairs balcony- bar's being hosed or vacuumed by its manager, a similar do-everything guy like my guy, and The Guy adjusts his posture as though to wave to the other guy, implying their perennial conversation about the takings, the punters, the street, the girls...

But I've brought monstrous news to my table, front page of Thursday, 15th of January's Age, headline "Schizophrenic set alight in Rosebud arson horror" and a series of photos in which the innocent man, variegated by tubes & bandages, propped up in hospital bed, is juxtaposed with five teens & twenties, gormless cherubim, dolts & drongoes, perpetrators of what one defence counsel described as "a cruel & nasty prank that's gone horribly wrong" (--which brings to mind Graham Greene's story, The Destructors, studied at secondary school in the UK, in an anthology which included Katherine Mansfield, D H Lawrence & Saki amongst others, in which Greene's even younger pranksters were in no doubt at all about the goal of their game, recounted as the same type of evil as this latterday but real life campaign) --and what makes it even worse in the reading is the name of the victim, Richard Plotkin. In the paper Steve Butcher reports, "A bright boy, young Richard had won poetry prizes, excelled at writing and played musical instruments at Wesley College. It was, says his sister, a 'middle-class, educated background'. Their father,Irving Samuel Plotkin, was a solicitor, Melbourne city councillor and ALP member until his death in 1976, Labor leader Arthur Calwell had been a family friend..." --indeed, it's the very same Richard Plotkin who was Michael Dugan's friend and whom, I'm pretty sure, I met --I'd need my diaries or, better, an assistant to read through them for mentions of Michael & accounts of his conversation which surely contained references to Plotkin, What's in my head is the Plotkin known to Michael since their Wesley schooldays, part of his myth, --poet & dreamer to whose place in the country Michael'd repair, for wild times or respite? --certainly author of a line, quoted by Michael at the head of his own Finished Poem (published in his collection Clouds, Outback Press, 1975) , "An unfinished poem is like a dead child." And Plotkin is probably to be counted amongst the devotees of Van Gogh, Rimbaud, Brennan & Blake in his poem, worshippers of "the supposed madness of genius / until identification becomes reality, / till success / and the love of your friends / becomes hollow mockery, and you turn / to spit in their faces, then cry alone." The figure in the first stanza ("The woods spit forth their child, / scribbler across city walls") seems to me that of Charles Buckmaster, "Poet of gentle images / whose nightmares slash at the hearts / of friends, and turn his own brain / to perpetual fear of its own visions." --but such aspects might well have enrolled Richard & Michael too...

I finish hot chocolate & fruit toast, brush off crumbs far easier than the atrocious story, trot downstairs into the bookshop on a mission, inspired by Carol Jenkins's email, to find Ian McEwan's novel Saturday, so to discuss an idea about poetry or a question asked of poetry by prose (what did I think, she asked, of McEwan's proposition in the book, "Novels and movies, being restlessly modern, propel you forwards or backwards through time, through days, years or even generations. But to do its noticing and judging, poetry balances itself on the pinprick of the moment. Slowing down, stopping yourself completely, to read and understand a poem is like trying to acquire an old-fashioned skill like drystone walling or trout tickling."?) --but it seems there's a McEwan famine in Melbourne! Almost immediately, though, I've scored two compensatory gems, out of the blue as they always are --Helen Adam's San Francisco Burning : A Ballad Opera [Book by Helen & Pat Adam, lyrics by Helen, additional lyrics by Pat, music by Al Carmines, &, my o my, drawings by Jess] (Hanging Loose, pb, 1985), and an inscribed copy of Louis Johnson's Bread and a Pension : Selected Poems (Pegasus Press, New Zealand, 1964).

The Helen Adam (--Robert Duncan's poem to her, an angelic letter as he described them, recently in my mind : "An imaginary woman reads by her lamplight, inclining her head slightly, listening to the words as I write them : we are there, as the poem comes into existence -- she and I -- losing ourselves in the otherness of what is written. I too then am imaginary..." [ Letters :Poems 1953-56, republished by Flood Editions, 2003]) --mysterious outside of concentric circles of San Francisco (though more of her history than I'd ever read before appeared in Sydney magazine Boxkite a few years ago --to be expected? --Scottish editor James Taylor, teenage prodigy here in the 60s, publishes his Scotch lady, as she would describe herself, in Australia, as the ripples of the Magic Workshop found their furthest shore) feels to me like a blessing after the reading of Richard Plotkin's diabolical saga & the sad associations it throws up regarding Mike Dugan...

The Louis Johnson instantly recalls Nigel Roberts's recommendation at the Free Poetry magazine reading, as I recall it, at La Mama cafe-theatre, mid '69, when I introduced to our crowd Nigel, Terry Gilmore, possibly Johnny Goodall & Martyn Sanderson too? & Allison Hill with Terry by then? "You ask me what's happening in Sydney and here we are at La Mama?!" Nigel exclaimed. He talked as a New Zealander as much as a Sydney poet, praising Louis Johnson, who seemed from his description to have been a Kiwi connection with the wider poetry world, mentioning Bruce Beaver & his own contemporaries, and the Americans Wantling and Blazek too...

And so it's Nigel in my head now, rarely seen in Melbourne for years but here for two funerals recently --well, one, because Shelton Lea's event wasnt a funeral but the book-launching, a week before he died : a life-thumping fist in the eye of death if anything, with Dorothy Porter, only the other day dreadfully snatched from the poets herself, leading the defiance that night with her rousing speech in favour of Shelton's selected poems, Nebuchadnezzar (Black Pepper Press, 2007), which would have given him wings. Dorothy's words & Shelton's so-stately final fling inspired the loudest & most sustained cheering I've ever experienced at a literary do. Nigel was snapping away --first I saw of him that incredible night was on top of a table, wedged above the throng to my left, just through the doorway of the inner bar at the Rochester, looking down & along the tops of bobbing heads. Later, after Shelton & his helpers had left the stage, I noticed the line a group of us made along the wall, the serendipity of myself, Nigel, John Jenkins, Robert Kenny, Michael Dugan --& Geoff Eggleston too? --perhaps Geoffrey was in the public bar, with Michael Hudson, or au solitaire... I exclaimed that this would make a rather special photograph, especially if Ken Taylor were to join us (he was stuck in even thicker scrum a wide arc to the right)... Did Nigel snap us for the posterity that's even now closing in? He had his digital at Montsalvat for Geoff Eggleston's memorial service in December '08, & was showing around an album of historical photos --era of the younger Bob Adamson, John Tranter, John Forbes, Rudi Krausmann, Vicki Viidikas, Bill Beard, Richard Tipping, Rae Jones, Ken Bolton et al... Like that first conversation, 40 years ago, he brought as much New Zealand as Sydney news, for example the plaintive story of poet David Mitchell's current plight ... A drink, a smoke, then off to the airport for his flight.


A year or so ago I wrote --wrote? but certainly spoke with John Jenkins about Geoffrey Eggleston in the context of gathering up as much history as one could from our own friends & colleagues, specifically the La Mama era poets, before they forgot everything or didnt care or died. Geoffrey was fighting for his life, either before or after entering hospital for cancer --the ideological decision he had to make between natural healing & general medicine's drugs, radiation & surgery. I mentioned to John the valuable job it would be to get a tape-recorder and to reminisce between ourselves, perhaps include Geoffrey, Lorin, Ken Taylor, Garrie Hutchinson & doubtless others. JJ responded positively --we'd remind one another. And soon. But it hasnt happened yet, and Geoffrey, for one, is another sadly gone. Historians in the midst of ever demanding life --perhaps that's a nuance of Olson's comment concerning the difficulty of being both poet & historian...

The occasion of the particular conversation with JJ was the launching of Lorin Ford's haiku chapbook at Collected Works bookshop (July,'08)--an event Geoff had said he'd of course attend, agreeing she could count on the support of the friends from the La Mama days. He didnt. Should have realized then things werent well. He'd popped into the Shop not so long before, almost on closing-time and stayed an hour. Unlike previous visits, when he was dining out on the truly amazing circumstance surrounding his ultimately successful operation, happy with recovery, thanking his lucky stars & the world around him (--it was a visiting specialist who just happened to be the husband of one of Geoff's Eltham friends, who recognized our patient's name on his round & immediately adopted him) --on this occasion it was his shadow, rueful, dismissive, insisting the show was over, all gone & pointless. I said I was sorry to receive him so dejected, but the fact remained, good prognosis or bad, that as long as one was alive, the poet-artist or anyone with spirit had life to live --no point in brooding --only time now, more than ever before, to do what you like & have to do : write, draw, read, meet friends, have a smoke & drink a whiskey... Surely? And so we talked, and Geoffrey got into the pleasure of the conversation during which of course he mentioned Montsalvat in its highs & lows --his love & simultaneous anger with its principals, the derrogation of the original dream-- and about other possible festivals & meets he was going to organise or have others organise in his stead. He spoke about the possibilities of the internet --the networking he had promoted as the core of the culture, the web-site he wanted to develop for news & historical archive...

And suddenly in my mind a memory of a letter from Geoffrey to me in England, around 1970, --"we're learning to use the microphone", as of Melbourne Arts Co-Op programmes, the poets tripping over the rock'n'rollers' leads, as it were --or maybe that wasnt Geoff but wunderkind Paul Adler? The only La Mama poets' precedent I can think of is Andrew Jach, who directed the readings for the few weeks the Hemensleys were grape-picking in Mildura, February/March '69 --remember returning to the Tuesday night fixture to find Andy perched on a ceiling-high platform the current play's actors had built, with his girl-friend Deirdre Kesteven, performing poems with a microphone, amplified & distorted, not at all the La Mama style! --Andy's performance probably only appreciated by Michael Dugan of the inner circle, perhaps due to shared Pop enthusiasms --Dugan led his own King Hippo Poetry Band at the Melbourne Arts Co-Op & the legendary T F Much Ballroom & other venues, all gone I fear but for brief footage on Corinne & Arthur Cantrill's film, The Skin of the Eye... The point of this aside merely to note Geoff's intention always to be right where It was and often succeeding!

Geoffrey left the Shop, his swag over his shoulder, containing heaven knows what mass of papers --poems, handbills, correspondences with the powers-that-be at local, state, federal & who knows international level, concerning housing rezonings, forests, arts funding, all or any of his issues. I needed that, he said --I know what I've got to do, I'm back on track now... That was the last time I saw him, hauling his load down the stairs of the Nicholas Building as I shut the landing's doors for the night...


In a recent letter to Bernard Hemensley, in the context of discussing the English side of the Beats, I asked/joked what kind of Bums could there be without the Dharma (especially if the devotional be part of that term)? When one reviews the 1960s New in Melbourne or from a Melbourne point of view, it's obvious that Eastern inspired (say Chinese & Japanese) poetry, & the devotional attitude, looms large. For example, the second issue of Crosscurrents magazine could be said to have featured the inside-cover drawing of Meher Baba by Karl Gallagher as well as introduced poems by Paul Smith & Geoffrey Eggleston, all three of whom were Baba followers. At the time what would an English blow-in like me know or make of this? Michael it was who first told me about Baba & the Australian group. I think I understood Baba as a kind of guru-saint situated between the faiths --Hinduism, Sufism, Buddhism. Baba, I gleaned, was the teacher who hadnt spoken at all for years, and whose best-known Australian followers were the older generation poet Francis Brabazon, the somewhat younger Adrian Rawlins & younger still Paul Smith... Like my brother Bernard, I'd inherited our father's interest in Paul Brunton, Theos Bernard, & the Master Theiron, from whence we'd found our own way to Suzuki, Alan Watts, the Beats. By those late Sixties, however, what had been the 'mysticism' of Dad's appreciation was now a generation's lingua-franca, for example the Maharishi's TM halo around the music-&-drugs nurtured youth culture. But years would pass before 'god-realization' reentered the prospectus, in my case via studies in transpersonal psychology, theology, Buddhism et al, my mid-1980s "enlightenment reading"! --and more or less where I am today...

Could be said that right in the middle of one's consideration of the question in respect of '60s, '70s Melbourne is Paul Smith. But such is the ignorance --the cultural forgetfulness that characterizes the kind of society we have become, and due to what : mere mass of population & media, simple diversity & density, burying if not destroying a specific identity as the acme of history & place? --the wherewithal of which defines all one's ever been about as remembering what is so quickly forgotten -- one could be tempted into full scale Lives of the Poets (which is partly where I think the Kerouacian project is situated, the secret history, but through no omission of its players, --secret because personal & forgotten, which requires its poet & chronicler now to tell it and not at all to the exclusion of non-poets but to include in & as that epic telling everyone & everything , --and in Paul's case where better beginning than "bookseller poet" --which was, surprisingly, not his biographical note in Crosscurrents number one (April, '68) --"22 years old, lives at Eltham (Vic.) with his wife, dog and cat.", but typical of his modesty. Some great bio, though, in the clarion opening para of Geoff Eggleston's rave in the first issue of the Whole Earth Sun Moon Review (ca1973), entitled (echoing Mailer), Advertisement for Ourselves or further Notes to Understand the New Humanity; or we were rough and ready guys but oh how we could humanize. Thus, "As youths Paul Smith went to a Catholic school and I attended a nearby Protestant one. A friend across the road from Paul became my friend, during my last year at Secondary school. So Paul and I became friends. But 'Micks and Prodos' were discouraged from fraternising so we became rebels. We argued a lot but it is the same argument we have been having for over 10 years, so we refine it, a continuing dialectic. We (at 17 years) read Rimbaud, Verlaine, Huxley, Orwell and all about the Beat Generation. We listened to Jazz...New Orleans, Modern, Bop and the Blues and Folk Music. And we concerned ourselves in chasing some strange quality found in the fastest spaces called Zen."

Returning to 1967/8, doing one's own thing, reading & writing, surviving, and always on the look-out for a scene! Imagine finding & reading in Dugan's little mag the contributor's notes for Eggleston & Terry Gillmore! I quote, "TERRY GILLMORE, born 1944, working towards open universe. Poetic influences - Pound, W.C.Williams, Olson, et al. Wandering poet/gardener. Rest should be in the poems." "GEOFFREY EGGLESTON, born Springvale, 1944, studied commercial art before doing the 'On The Road' Sydney/Adelaide/Melbourne circuit. Worked at the printing industry and in 25 hang up jobs. Now works in ceramic industry, studies pottery and studies at the National Gallery Art School. Writes for something else to do, hopes to make poems with a movie camera. Hopes to make his Old Man Poem a total environmental soil sculpture called a garden."

How brilliant were these? I for one was home at last and it was paradise after all! A secret sign in them thar dark ages --viz., Al Alvarez to the Melbourne University extension lecture audience one night, 1967, "W C Williams is a blind spot of mine!" : our esteemed English visitor, champion of the trans-atlantic confessionals & the Iron Curtain poets, lecturing on Robert Lowell, discounting his valorised subject's own appreciations. Worse than Alvarez's peremptory dispatch of Williams & the allied poetics was the (self)congratulatory chuckle from the lecture theatre's front row! Bill muttered that this disdain was just what one would expect of the English Department! Ah well, so much water under the bridge though this retrospect momentarily renews my interest : the know-what-you-mean'ers sharing Alvarez's not-getting Lowell's regard for the Doc presumably including poets & academics one's since met halfway in this city. Who knows... Many moods in the department since, and what was the department almost gone... Bill Beard, AWOL from the RAAF, an actor at the New Theatre in Melbourne with Retta Garvey, introduced by me to the genuinely new theatre possibilities of Betti Burstall's just-beginning La Mama cafe-theatre was, as far as the University knew, a cleaner then, who occasionally sat in, illicitly, on classes. He'd interjected comments about Olson & the Black Mountain poets & John Cage, et al, on one occasion, much to the puzzlement of the lecturer, so extra-curricular were these references --where are you getting this stuff? he enquired. At La Mama, Bill apparently replied --as though it were the only real university in town!

A simple example of the younger poets' sensibility which the older generation's authorities seemed not to get, is a little thing by Terry Gillmore. The Sydney poet Gillmore's poems, recruited by Geoff Eggleston for the early issues of Crosscurrents, whilst resembling William Carlos Williams, are something else again. Like WCW, the visual observations & spoken thoughts appear as objects, found or chiseled. They're also like some of the ancient Chinese, infused with or informed by day's & world's god-givenness. For example, one of his untitled poems from the 60s : "people do stare / for long periods / of / time / resisting / the orange white / rose"... [collected in Further, Poems 1966-1976, published New Poetry, '77] When one reads the Sixties back into Williams and then moves the whole thing forward again, the way any era encounters &/or creates its lineage, there's a sense of each word's loading, psychedelic perhaps, comporting the poem as tho' it's rune read as writ. I think this is an extension of the Williams' jewel! I'm wont to say that with the Sixties any such poem was also beneficiary of a glorious eclecticism in which the works of prophets & poets effected the same resonance. The Gita & Blake, Hafiz & Yeats and et cetera, now appeared to be the natural threshold of this fraction of the New. One of that poetry's, not to say sensibility's, numerous Melbourne successors is Dave Ellison; for glorious example, "Raindrops / In sunlight / Hang the bare tree / With jewels / Brighter / Than diamonds" [from the chapbook, Full Moon, King Tide, 1997]...

To return to Paul Smith & the 'bookseller-poet' ascription : there's a fascinating Melbourne bookshop history could be told, if only in terms of bookshop as workplace of poets & artists, another surrogate college... Before ever I arrived in Melbourne, the legendary bookseller Jack Bradstreet was at Hall's in Prahran, with James Crouch, Robert Rooney & others, including the young poet David Miller (in England for many decades), working there under his wing. Michael Dugan, in 1968 my guide to the local history, putting names to the faces I'd seen at Cheshires basement bookshop, amongst whom were Paul Smith & James Crouch (--whose sister Margaret I'd met during 1966, my first winter Down Under, at Lorin Ford's father's terrace boarding-house in South Yarra, a writer herself who leant me her typewriter for the days & hours she was at her job whilst I was once more happily unemployed in my room, compiling the story of my up & down days, and never knew of her brother til the La Mama times --in fact she brought him, or he brought her? to the Marcel Duchamp Memorial Event I'd organized at La Mama, October '67, the posters for which Paul & James displayed at Cheshires for me --saw them sitting there, the years since I'd seen her might as well have been an aeon in experience & consciousness!)... But this isnt even a footnote to that bookseller history, just a context for Paul... A more crucial encounter with him was at a La Mama poetry reading, sometime before or after the Duchamp event, perhaps before, when he objected, and properly tho' it wasnt clear to me then, to one of my poems, received by the 'committed' audience with approval I recall, in which I portrayed the Buddhist prayer-wheel as impersonal, escapist, pseudo-practice and the self-immolations of monks as hollow gestures in the face of such a crisis as the war in Vietnam. Paul strenuously contradicted me : the monks, he said, were in the forefront of resistance, the fiery immolations were the ultimate personal sacrifice. Indeed, indeed. But this was the thick of Sixties' radical political activism, which one's come to see is the literal at the complete expense of the symbolic, necessarily an obliteration of the subtlety you'd expect a poet to respect as well as of the spiritual plane upon which the other life plays out. One can only now plead teens & twenties, not yet learnt in the Sixties to bite tongue on words better thought through than expressed, to say nothing of acts...

I'm sure Paul Smith would say his major work was his translation/edition of the complete ghazals of Hafiz (central to the Baba ethos & mythos), and I wouldnt disagree; but a monument to that time's spiritually invested poetry & art and to his own place within it, is the massive compendium PIE (Whole Earth Catalogue Publications, '74). One can still find the odd copy in a second-hander on a shelf designed for outsized books. It's a gem --in terms of small-press & counter-culture book production and as a cross-section of the life of an era, for some contributors their first-stirrings, for others as articulate as they & their concerns would ever be. The 628 page anthology (configured alphabetically as a divan), with covers by Dale Hickey & John Adam, Oswald Hall's broad-brush swirling "Aum" visual introduction to the book, and drawings by artists including Mirka Mora, Karl Gallagher, Andre Sollier (sumi-e), also features an issue of Mal Morgan's Parachute Poems, the editorial of which perfectly dovetails with PIE's forward. Paul Smith's paraphrase of the philosophia perennis would have it that, "Art, when inspired with love leads to higher realms. When the artist is involved in the act of painting, poetry, dance etc... his ego diminishes, Love appears... and when love appears... God is approached. Art is divine. Through it... the artist meets God within himself, mankind sees God within itself." Mal Morgan's poet "is the waking Prophet in this cities concrete that I address -- the Burning Phoenix, Christ, Clown, Anarchist, Egocentric, Buffoon -- all of these and more(.....)Through him is the Returning. He gives back to you that which is yours. He bears that which you were forced to relinquish, your sacrifice on his shoulders -- his shoulders pinned, hinged to the door of a gaping dream..."

A mystical rather than political appreciation of the Tradition contextualizes PIE, and thirty-five years on holds more life for me, even as fascination, than the progressive precepts & politics of the time now do... Rosemary Adam's interpretation of Fabre D'Olivet's Cosmogony of Moses; Meher Baba's & Dr Munsiff's versions & commentaries on Hafiz; Paul Smith's article on Baba, Hafiz & others; Oswald Hall's poems including The Brood of Exile (written in 1951) & his essay The Source of Styles (A Primer on the Soul of Western Culture) which wouldnt have been out of place in Temenos, Kathleen Raine & friends' magazine in the UK, a decade or so later; Francis Brabazon's A Dream of Wet Pavements; Leo Kelly (--one of Geoff Eggleston's heroes from the realm of the great unsung, ultimately what all of this is about : his claims for Kelly corroborated years later when Carmel Kelly, whom we'd known via Anna Couani's Sea Cruise Books (Sydney), which published her prose-pieces The Waters of Vanuatu (1985), visited the Bookshop and related a daughter's version of Geoffrey's legendary man & poet), whose long poem In Memorium addresses Danillo Vassilief (--typical invocation of the perspective PIE illustrates --Melbourne's Russian as easily missed when all the lights are on Nolan & Boyd, which isnt to doubt their genius at all, as proletarians are when it's all la-dee-da, or mystics when realism rules the roost, or the real & true when textuality's the thing --from the fashionable point of view may as well have never existed); --all these comprise an older arc of the New Age prospectus against which a portion of the variety of the counter-culture, alive & well in the mid '70s, abuts.

From this memo's perspective, the sets of poems by Paul Smith, Geoff Eggleston & Mal Morgan are as priceless as the company they keep. Of names we'd recall today one might list Alan Afterman (who returned to the US, achieving acclaim for his studies in the kabbalah, alas dead now), Eric Beach, Charles Buckmaster (whose chapbook Deep Blue & Green, published by Crosscurrents, is reproduced, perhaps as memorial to Charles, three years gone by PIE's publication), Mike Dugan, Jas Duke, Billy Jones, Phil Motherwell, Ian Mudie, Peter Murphy, Pi O, Shelton Lea, Terry Harrington, John Jenkins, Barbara Giles, Poor Tom, Andrew Donald, David Pepperell. Less heard of on these days' poetry scene would be Alison Hill,Ross Bennett, Ron Eden, Gundel (apparently a niece of Herman Hesse I seem to remember?), Ian Hill, John Levy, Marc Radzyner, Tim Doyle, Karl Gallagher, Frances Yule... As David Pepperell recalls Paul Smith spruiking : send me something, all of Melbourne's in it! Even a single entry like John Tranter's Aum poem, whether it's parody or an instructive peculiarity (--whose last two enigmatic lines are "From darkness God is born the Word / And as the Word I greet it."), speaks the reams jumping around my head, which could & should be written sometime by someone, somewhere!

Reminded by Ross Keating in his book Francis Brabazon : Poet of the Silent Word -- A Modern Hafiz (World Axis Press,NSW, '02), that Brabazon was invited to read at the Montsalvat Poetry Festival by Eggleston & friends in 1979, which would have been the 10th anniversary of Meher Baba's death as it happens. Keating describes Brabazon's reaction : "In a letter to the organizers he wrote, in part, that he was very pleased to receive the invitation, that he would like to attend, but he would not be able to personally read his poetry. It seems, by this stage, that Brabazon had lost confidence in his ability to speak in public : '...I am an old man with forty years of work behind me; and although still intensely creative cuts a rather foolish figure when he takes to the platform. (The old man for reflection, the young men for battle.)' "

The old men & women were, of course, essential to Geoffrey's scheme. No matter the irreverent language at times, he honoured what he regarded as theTradition & its exemplars --his old men included Alec Hope & Frank Kellaway, his old women Barbara Giles, Joyce Lea, Connie Barber, Gwen Harwood... For Geoff, such people had both survived the years & carried its history and were poets besides. Into this company Ken Taylor eventually stepped (--tho' Geoff had dubbed Ken & I the elder brothers in his early-70s Whole Earth Catalogue piece recapitulating on beginnings & directions), and, it must be said, Geoff did too, as our entire generation ticked off the epochal numbers --into our sixties, the Sixties in its sixties, our seventies beckoning...





March 28th, '09

Dear John,

In the course of a comprehensive rereading of the new poetry mags of the 1960s & '70s --a historically informed nostalgia should the latter occur to you as my sole motivation! --I've been impressed by the strong devotional current running through what was, definitively, that counter-culture era, and nowhere so strongly as in Paul Smith's gi-normous compendium, PIE (from 1974). As would be expected with any of Paul's projects, Meher Baba is a major presence there, in amongst that new age's psychedelic evangelism. And there you are too, represented by your poem Aum, the most formal poem in the 628 page anthology, and even if there's some literary mischief afoot, seems to me, in retrospect, to achieve a little magic. Paul, of course, you published in your own mag of the '60s, Transit... You once joked that your mag was the missing end of the Melbourne/Sydney axis : did you also share in any of the devotions?

Best wishes,


March 29th, '09

Hi, Kris.

I had forgotten that poem: could you send me a copy?

I was interested in Chinese poetry and Buddhist philosophy from the age of about seventeen to about twenty-six, and did quite a lot of reading in Zen, the Tao Te Ching, and some meditating during those years. I did write one or two poems along these lines in those early days, but dualism (in the illusory and beautiful and horrible world of Maya), where the energies of dualist conflict got the poem moving. ("Without contraries is no progression..." Blake.) A truly enlightened poem would be silent.

Here's a more recent meeting with Aum:

Keep well,


March 29th, '09

Dear John,

Here is the poem from PIE (p561).


"...in the beginning
was the Word..."

Break your neck you see
The blood that's in it, otherwise unseen.
Crack the apple's heart the seed
Drops to earth to break it,
Grows down, thinks, and comes up green.
Thus does death forsake it.

Plant the pulsing deep
And light that's on it deep within the sea's
Echo in the eye. The sleeping
Bone shall then awaken,
Grow up, burst, become a tree.
Thus is death forsaken.

Sing your song you hear
The death that made it, otherwise unheard.
Cry the dying sun the air
Leaps the heart to meet it.
From darkness God is born the Word
and as the Word I greet it.


March 29th, '09

Thanks for that poem, Kris. Jesus Christ! What was I trying to do...impress James McAuley? Outdo Les Murray in devotional verse?

That's what reading Dylan Thomas does to you: turns you into a babbling, rhyming rhetorician. Oh, well, I wrote it, so I can't really disown it, though I don't have any idea what I meant by the word "God" in that poem. I mean, I had no idea then, and less today.




as I observed my son's heartbreak
as his sweetheart
sailed away.

And I remember
the amazing sadness
poignancy of
love flowering,
the garden of
innocence fades
and 17 years
of age loses
its charm.

devotions to Isis or Kali

Be patient my son
There is much terror
In this place terra firma.

How firm is this earth
Once a ball of fire?
Its shadow is still with us:
All things in flux.

Let me say to you
Who believe your mother's words,
The sea is of our blood
And there is little treasure
Found beneath the waves,
The pearls of the teeth, the storm.

The mother I know is fierce
As a wolf and as beautiful
As the sunrise.

She nourishes me with her songs of pain and birth
And she is the mother we share as all women.

I have watched too many put all aside
And embrace ignorance like a coat of night.

I have known others
Who have climbed on their own pedestals
And postured as they teetered.

Transfixed on their own reflection
In the mundane mirror of everyday
They fake a melodramatic death,
Angry as she whose obituary reads:
"Perished by her own hand"

Or they slowly retire
To the sanatorium of dulled fantasies
The place where impossible dreams
Are cut from the heart and left to shrink
Like bloodclots in the infernal trashcans.

Discursive is not beating around the bush
But proceeding with a logic
Of rambling doom on the installment plan
as human ecology collapses
as we seek the integrals or archetype
In complexity and chaos.

Only fools perceive profundity as turgid
As they pack like little hens
In the garden of Eden
As what they miss sprouts
To regenerate new flowerings.


Confusing simple with simplicity
They value their dread of life beyond life
As their sad lights dim,
Bitter in their worship of what is younger than them
The welts of self flagellation
The only roses perceived
Continually crucified by self doubt
Without redemption.

Plundering the monuments of the past
Without oblations due
Is as grotesque as neglecting today for the future
Which is always today.

But remember as the scenery
Is being changed in the global theatre
the scenario or choreography is charted
As a map of the mind's continent
in this fiery dance.

To the Hindu
The Lord Shiva
Dances the world pulse
And times change.

The belle of the masque ball
Is encouraged not to swap her insouciance
For a tea towel and the frump pumps
So stimulation vicarious or actual
Is weighed against the thrill of guilt.


The leaden gravity dulls
And again though the judgement
Is like a bowl of blood
For Kali's exquisite thirst
All is possible when done with love,
The only absolution.

Legends are legend
For when a leitmotiv is discovered
Its key opens more than one door.

Fantasy in the playgrounds
And pleasure gardens of love
A folderol of memory
That decorates those raiments
Worn for the streets of desire
Like the crazes and mischief of children
That spread like an epidemic
Desire thrills and chills
as it kisses my earlobe like a butterfly.

Again the wanderer is betrayed
By the confused breath of desire
And the famine that takes life from the bones
Arises fierce and vicious.

Her will like the hounds of hell
Must be felt by the vital breath
Of the hero battling ghosts.

Her smile is death
And as fetid as any monster
Atavistic and regressive
Out of the primordial swamp of revenge
She is as eons of clashing swords.

Some heroes die on her altar
And some she will love insanely
And tell all of the knots
Of sinew and womanly music
For she is the only measure of heroes.


All those bloody poems
About fear and lost love
Easy notes plucked
From the pages of others' songs
Urban blues spoken patois
Dumb as a lamp-post
Prosaic as a journalist's perception.

Without lyrics on our lips
We devour the crumbs of a meagre repast
Not the last supper but leftovers
As if two eggs are tits on a plate.

The bare page is no nude descending a staircase
But some sacred cow who ate all the grass and went home.

So we imprint our grubby minds
Our machine is greased
Our palms are sweaty
as the keys fall away from our fingers
the exactitude of ideas and symbols
Merge into infrasound
And reverence flies over the moon.

Is it only the tears of virgins and whores
That purify the tiresome streets of everyday?

But don't weep for me.

I have learnt much
From Her
The Queen of the starry vault of heaven,
And stand inviolate
For my laurels are many
And all the old gods
Metamorphose into the one.

Written by Geoff mid to late 80s? Given to me late 80s, 90s in envelope marked "for your perusal (keep it for archives)"... No better archive at present than here...KH]



To the Dreamer of our dreams



Within the sands of time
My heart continued on
Across those rolling fields
For though I love the earth
A sailor needs the sea

I tramped through welcome towns
Oases in the heat
And never wished to stay

The journey wore me down
Till fevers cleared away
Before a sparkling beach

I danced among the waves
But know my destiny
Is with the deepest calm
For though I love the earth
A sailor needs the sea


High Summer
The heat-haze
To levitate
Our town



Unseen hand
Here at home
Flowers pressed in books

Hint of your perfume

Wind-chimes ring
In this love
Keen to be and breathe

Hint of your perfume

Living room
Daydream blue
Closer to the heart


The wind
Boxes your ears
For heading
That way
And that way
Was chosen



Earth is veiled in static
Planes circle the avalanche
Sounds of crowded islands
Tears flood the telegraph
Then silence
Come the hush of love

News of unseen planets
Hope drums out on ticker-tape
Young blood prowls the desert
Blues echo a lonely place
Then silence
Come the hush of love

Vows made over wireless
Souls wail through megaphones
Make the talking picture
Read the script where all time unfolds
Then silence
Come the hush of love





1. Pii Mai Lao : Plain of Jars, Phonsavan

the bombing of heaven

waves sweeping the sky
falling into jars
a silence
of air
and small
this far up...
mist white
into evening
peering into
of water,
deep inside

abundance of offerings
the magnetic plains

I can walk
into the Plain of Jars
trench line
on the
where bombs

Shall i tell you the story of the jars?

2. Pii Mai Lao : Luang Prabung

...into the house of red cloth

the young man carries
a crystal bowl...
white leaves
on yellow
sweet water
his ancestors....

...window I pray....
mist wrapped
the sacred....

pouring the
white stones
bled red...

3. Pii Mao Lau : Um Muang, Champassak

....once there was a forest
now a circle
of trees' bones
someone has
left for the spirits
leaf and twig.
one red thread
from a branch.
shadow and skies
in black water
within the rock...
face pasted
white on stone

I place
a fallen

Touch forever... .
Sitting with the clouds... .
Night bats... .
Fireflies... .
Cicadas... .
Darkness... .
Ghosts... .
In and out of the stars... .

[Muong Noi.... June, 2006]


Pii Mai Lao is the Lao New Year festival in April
Rudani is the consort of Shiva
The poems are written in notebooks while walking]




you are given over sometimes
to what perhaps you should admit is your element
the chalky soup of hotel sheets
the stale air forced from a tyre
poet because you have no time
because you were not intended
lately it seems to be this alone that drives you
that wakes you bright and early with the last dying stars
milky as your reckonings, your flaky tablature of slights
what you could not fit quite so snugly into verse
a flint that burns like dying inside you
an arresting but not unpleasant smell
of one who sighs obliquely in supermarket lines
whose eyes are the first to well up in the wind
God, if there is any chance you'll listen still
grant me the strength to outlive this man
to forgive all slights that bind me to him
unwrite the poems that show his hand
kiss the woman goodnight who shuddered at his sense
undo his doings everywhere
like your son with the pungent lepers
so that I too may touch without flinching
without thinking always how pure am I



she is the promise of Marlowe
that I will rise tomorrow
a whisper of sweet parting and coffee on the stove
her lipstick kiss on the bathroom mirror
dust motes giggling in the winter sun

the house seems cleaner for her
as though some brick had broken wind
the catches have give again
the rust has left the pipes
my home has grown wings, stone angel

she is that mirror draws men's stomachs in
since she cupped her hands on my kidneys
I have begun catching doors in the wind
traversing lost years with a wink
qualifying no more

for she leaves these bushfire mornings
as though returning were neither
an option or an answer
but as though to a man nursing a riddle
a cat turned ginger in the sun

The Who was published in Justin Lowe's collection, Mistaken for Strangers (Bluepepper, 2008)... These poems are copyright, 2008, 2009.]






Hanging about in Grenoble
Eyeing off the chocolates
Not 'till you've eaten lunch
Riled Dr. Gagnon
I mean it!

Blah thought Henri
Eyeing further delights
You go on and on!
Like it or not I'll keep
Eyeing off the chocolates



Louvers of square light
Over jet black panels
Usurp daylight through
Insets of space
See how it runs over
Everything in sight

Nowhere is as how
Ever that might be again
Verges that sit
Etched in air
Leanings that trace
Solids that fall
Over space made spare
Never it seems too soon



Klash! the blue goat turns
Apricot and like a green
Rebus with an orange wing
Escapes time
Leaping over a camel

Air black and swept
Pours out of the wind
Porcupine yellow
Elopes with the sun
Late in the skin of night



Pared Down the line is still
Ample and clear
Meandering around space

Beauty attests
Retrogradually itself
Or i am
What i am
No poem sans question!



Jokingly Balmain falls
On its feet
Hurries off sporadically
Nikes aware!

Folderols are for the effete
Or anyone with poetic
Rickets or into sun
Bastes! oven fresh
Energy everywhere
Stuns the pullets!



Relish on the blue
Entertainment bubbly
Effervescent and folding
Down along the table

Black coffee after
Your platter of words
Everything is turning to sky



Kallamity with an
Ice-cap equals
Life so it
Goes like an
Orderly diaspora
Reclining before

Terra! Terror!
Rampantly in
Orbit on skis
Utterly homesick but
Traveling on!


GREGORY CORSO (1930-2001)
for Norma

Gregarious might be a sandwich
Resisting hunger...
Each to their own i say
Grinning like a door
Over the skylight
Right above that cloud
Yesterday or the moment before!

Crowds continue to grow
On the shore watching the water
Rise and fall while you snore in
Sync as the tide gathers sand
Over the preceding!



Tentatively vitality
Emerges in the odd
Nuance of complete
Zeal noisy like an
Inept parrot at
Night (Gottschalk)

Go there and
You stay
Arriving for once
Twice if you try
So many times
Over & over it's ne'er done


Re- Henri Beyle : Stendahl spent his childhood winking in Grenoble
Louise Nevelson : high falutin sculptor lady from New York
Kilgore Trout : Kurt Vonnegut
Reed Bye's book is Join the Planets; blue is perhaps a reference to Wallace Stevens' Blue Guitar]



JOHN TRANTER edited Transit magazine in Sydney in the late 1960s; thirty years later began the on-line magazine, Jacket, http://jacketmagazine.com/. Numerous publications, including his most recent selection, Urban Myths : 210 Poems : New & Selected (pub, UQP, 'o6). Co-edited the Penguin Book of Modern Australian Poetry (1991) which extended from his seminal anthology, The New Australian Poetry (Makar Press, 1979). Website, http://johntranter.com/
GEOFF EGGLESTON (1944-2008), great stalwart of poetry in Melbourne. Directed the Montsalvat Festival of Poetry & Music (Eltham, Vic) for many years. His books first announced in the '70s are still forthcoming. He is mourned.
'DEVA' DAVE ELLISON thanks Kris Hemensley and Vera Di Campli San Vito for bringing light to his contribution here. Dave has lived near the Maribyrnong Rivers since he was newborn in 1953. He's more mystic than poet. Poetry is a shining trail, left by the snail. Francis Brabazon, close personal disciple of Meher Baba, was more poet than mystic. Deva Dave ruminates on this. He is grateful to the devotional poets of Melbourne. They were his real education.
CATHERINE O'BRIEN lives & works in Vientiane (Lao PDR) when she's not in Melbourne or Bendigo. Occasionally publishes poetry (H/ear, Hobo, Small Packages) and shows visual poems, photographs, & textile installations since the '80s. See Catherine O'Brien Archive for more.
JUSTIN LOWE has published 6 books including The Glass Poems, The Great Big Show, Magellenica, & his new collection Mistaken for Strangers (all from Bluepepper Press).[see www.bluepepper.blogspot.com] As well as writing he collaborates with some of Sydney's finest songwriters. Lives in the Blue Mountains, NSW.
PETE SPENCE first published in the late '60s,early '70s, eg Makar. After a decade's hiatus edited Post Neo magazine and publications in the '80s and began contributing collages & visual poetry in Australia & overseas. More recently has had poems & visual poems published in New London (USA),by Tom Weigel, & in Germany by Karl-Friedrich Hacker. Included in his umpteenth group exhibition in Naples, Futurismo, a homage to Italian Futurism presently touring Italy.


Finished typing April, '09
[many thanks to Donal Ellis for creating the picture file for Cathy O'Brien's red pillow, and to Carol Jenkins for finally placing it in the text!]
Kris Hemensley

1 comment:

Warren Burt said...

Hi Kris!

Enjoyed reading your long piece on the blog, ruminating about 60s poet friends and spirituality, etc links. Up here in the 'Gong, I continue to unpack boxes and build bookshelves (we had to move in early Feb when our ex-landlady went broke and had to sell her properties - we found a much better place, fortunately, so maybe the 2 months lost in moving, setting up, etc will be worth it. For now though, we're subjected to one of the horror-phrases of suburbia - "some assembly required!!!!!!"), but between all that, continue my sporadic explorations of Hindu mythology and writing. We're very near the Sri Venkataswara Temple in Helensburgh (biggest Hindu temple in the Southern Hemisphere) and culinary interests (the cook in the temple canteen is definitely an avatar, if not a deity in training) and art history interests (what a collection of statues!) aside, I keep being curious as to who all these characters ARE. I mean, 32 manifestations of Ganesha? Details details! We've been to a number of ceremonies - and I especially find those which feature Sahasranama (recitations of the 1000 names of the particular deity in question) in Sanskrit quite engaging. I think it's probably affected my music - "Proliferating Infinities" (2006) (13 hours of music for sampled harp to be mounted as an installation), "Mantrae" (2007) (flutist whose movement between music stands controls the electronic modification of the flute), and others. All this while enjoying immensely the current crop of pop-philopsophy atheism - Dawkins, Hitchens, etc....no contradiction there, I think.
I think I expressed it nicely to someone a while ago - when asked about theology and atheism and mysticism, etc. I said something like "Oh, I'm sure there is no God. There is SO MUCH no God that a great cozmik void is continually set up. Such a strong void of SO MUCH NO GOD that in reaction to it, deities explode into the universe all over the place! There are so many Gods in the universe that there are enough for each atheist to not believe in each of them!" Or something like that. Negative theology ala the Cloud of Unknowing as expressed by Bill Griffith's Zippy the Pinhead.....and throw in the influence of my quantum physicist father-in-law, whose just published book on Quantum Non-Linear Dynamics has a last chapter on the physics of Black Holes which a) seems like the next stage in the understanding of that topic, and b) reads like latter day mysticism....