MAINLINE TO THE HEART AND OTHER POEMS by Clive Matson, published by Regent Press (Berkeley, California), 2009
Before the reader can get to Clive Matson's poems, Mainline to the Heart (which first saw light of day in 1966 & is republished now by Regent Press, Berkeley, with as many more poems of the period as the original collection contained), there are several bridges (hurdles?) to be crossed.
Firstly, Erin Matson's cover drawing (--and she's the lover named in the poems, e.g. in Talk About Love, "she rings my neck using / fingers she oints with
arsenic"; stereotypical femme fatale/object of desire) which departs from the Indianised, Beardsley figures within the book to a cartoon of male devil, assisted by female angel, impaling the hapless, falling man with bayonet-like needle. So the stage is set, the drama proclaimed. Secondly, the five pages of praises for the book from such supporters of his work as Al Young, Jack Foley, Steve Kowit, whose testimonials comprise a psychological & cultural as well as literary purview. And thirdly, the late John Wieners' original introduction.
Diane di Prima & Alan Marlowe published Mainline to the Heart in '66 with their Poets Press in the Bowery. Di Prima recalls in her afterward, A Few Words (written in 2004) that it was the 6th book they'd produced --previous publications included her own Seven Love Poems from the Middle Latin, a bilingual edition of a poem by Jean Genet, & Herbert Huncke's Journal. "It was an enchanted time," she says.
History doesnt always oblige one that way, but poetry scene, printing press & happy family just before Vietnam really cranked up, & a full twenty years before Gay Sunshine became the nightmare of AIDS; that period when heroin was cool enough to know its casualties as martyrs to mission & muse, & before the addiction & ODs became commonplace as the carnage on the roads; I guess it might well qualify as enchantment!
The poet whom Clive Matson was in the Sixties cant help himself : "I love drugs : / cocaine and heroin today for speed and warmth, / grass for spice." Why not? Spirituality can be just as amenable, & sex (--sex, junk, God : three-headed version of one Beat deity) --no fuss, & no mess until much later...
In terms of reclamation, then, Mainline to the Heart presents Clive Matson in full flight, as Sixties as they come, that is to say sex to jazz's backbeat, guys & gals, drugs, the Beat merging with the Hippy thing. It contains or assumes the bits of attitude which'd one day declare as Punk --if the love/hate ambivalence defines something of it, not to mention the explicit sexual narrative of one poem & the peppering of its detail elsewhere. No doubt the era's Liberation spiel, before & after Ginsberg, informed him, as it did everyone, though reading him out of context his text also resounds the male chauvenism the squares would always have judged it to be. And not because of the sexual subject-matter but the gluttonous objectification of the body & the act. But if sex --sexual love one should say --is merely "one more war" (& I'm quoting Tim Hemensley's refrain, exorcised as one of the Powder Monkeys songs in the '90s), even male chauvenism is beside the point --and Matson's lovers more like warriors. Probably, also, as John Wieners explains, drugs, & heroin in particular, has everything to do with it : "One wonders about the nature of love in these poems. Are they vicious or not? Has the author sacrificed anything or everything to arrive at the toughness he celebrates. It seems he has. It is not angelhood any longer. It is not nature, springing up in the woods at twilight. It is heroin and the blood he draws. It is not peace."
Wieners' introduction cues in his own gift --and one doesnt require the younger man's gaucherie for the elder to shine. Reminds one too of the remorseless passing of time. Isnt Wieners one of the new poets (as of Donald Allen's "new")?! New, young. . . as he was, of course, in 1966, in his early 30s, seven years older than Clive Matson. The New in these recent decades hardly settles before other species arise. 'Forever young' indeed...
Wieners' An Introduction to Clive Matson's Poems sitting with Diane di Prima in the twilight on a country road, diverts me to his own books... Rereading him I'm even moved to prefer him, of the poets in the eddies of Pound & William Carlos Williams, to both Olson & Creeley, his great friends, mentors, companions. Prefer him this minute, that is, given that he's a poet of the minute, a poet of presence par excellence. Certainly one might now differentiate his originality from theirs. No matter the angle or, later, the circumlocution, Wieners invariably turns towards the world (& the worldly) and is actually the opposite of Olson, the sum of whose voluminous parts suggests a mind continually courting the abstraction one assumed he opposed. J H Prynne once offered that Olson's poetry pursued the 'condition of the whole'; if it does it seems too often in flight from that palpable world celebrated by his erstwhile student. Wieners' elicitation from turn of phrase of something like a revelation is also, ultimately, not Creeley's way, as though the latter's nuancing of squint & quip guaranteed the wisdom of the everyday... Not for a moment would I avoid Olson & Creeley, but now Wieners is restored!
The introductions for di Prima's series "were meant to introduce a new poet by someone from his own lineage -- to 'locate' him or her for the reader." The Wieners of this role is strung between The Hotel Wentley Poems & Pressed Wafer, his 4th & 5th collections. By then he's made it sufficiently to perform at Spoleto with Olson & meet Ezra Pound ("I felt I was in the presence of a Chinese mandarin."). Up the (Black) mountain but never left the (Beat) street. Where's an even younger poet in that? 'Post' & 'neo' this & that (--recall Pete Spence's small Melbourne press of the mid-80s, hilariously tagged Post Neo, implying every year of the Late Age's style but another inflection of belatedness) --so, Matson's neo- or post-Beat epistles & communiques... A natural reporter, and the cliches (represented in the book's testimonials) are true : raw, naked, honest etc.
Matson implies a certain reserve about republication. "Many of the poet's friends, especially Gail Ford, offered patient understanding while the poet struggled to accept the value of the persona expressed in these poems." A reluctant second coming? What's at stake in this reclamation (to republish one's first book)? Try to imagine myself here : I couldnt, wouldnt publish mine --lacking the commitment to my first collection though sometimes imagining a current selection of early poems, the forty, fifty years old young-writing. Perhaps it's the ageless character of such poems, that is, that they are young forever; lyrics that they are, song & dance of the diary of those nights & days --available still, elixir of youth for youth-prolonging seniors! On the other hand, very little of my early 20s poetry is as fulfilled as Matson's confessions. Where he trusts his own experience & language, & pushes right on through his confidence, I would allow fancy & style (aka other poets' voices) to waylay me.
First I heard of Clive Matson since the late '60s/'70s was in a poem in Nigel Roberts' collection Steps for Astaire (Hale & Iremonger, Sydney, 1983), which good-naturedly satirised American culture. "Clive Matson's Poetry Workshop shares verse / of all kinds with appreciation & insight / providing the feedback you want, whether it be / tough criticism or careful encouragement.." I'm not sure that Roberts was gunning for the poet so much as the stereotypical creative-writing tutor, worthy therefore of the general contempt our Sydney troubadour leveled at all "shortcuts to enlightenment" (to quote one of the "New Age Listings" in Steps...), all & any duping of the muse... I recall wondering at the time how Matson regarded his own journey --from dope- & sex-fiend to creative writing tutor, desperado to counselor...
Recapitulate then : Reading Matson I'm hearing & remembering the Sixties. I sympathize, identify with aspects of his testimony even as I squirm! Alive in that Peace & Love time it's obvious, as Wieners cant fail to state, that Clive Matson doesnt sing its song. In a way he's old fashioned --e.g., "jealousy is a function of love and / so is possessiveness" --but laying it out there so graphically is Sixties too. "Why does fucking mean so much?" he asks --no pose; plain prose of that cocksman tradition, Miller to Cassady spiced by Sixties' promiscuity, gay laced. And it's there that a bluer quality occurs, a quality of pain to off-set the young male & often het boasting. With heroin in the mix one can say that in Matson's poems, love is subsumed within the longueurs of mutual dependence : "I'm addicted to heroin and want a habit / so bad it'll break the deathgrip / of love's terminal habit..." (Talk About Love.) Forget about 'sedative' in the light of that...
Attempting longer poems, the young Matson continues howling long after the authentic poem's done --lyric dissipates into un-poem/note-to-self. That's my serious formal gripe. However, shorter poems and those others' better halves contain the riffs & insights this genre's meant to deliver.
The first poem in the book, Teardrop In My Eye, is addressed to Herbert Huncke who, as any Beat & Counter-Culture freak knows, needs no introduction. "Fuck you, Huncke" it begins, dead giveaway for love's infernal minstrelsy --same particulars as Wieners' life & line had marked earlier ("Knowing no other god than this: / the man who places on your mouth / a kiss. Keep no mystery / but his who whispers memory...", For Huncke). Matson reaches through Huncke to all the company of that anti-bourgeois syncopation... "Fuck you, Huncke. / Leave me / hung up for junk, waiting // alone in a dark room candles / you lit burn down in. / They unwind curls of smoke / like incense I remember we offered / weeks ago. / It is Nostalgia. // I treat you mean / and I get what's coming / down on lonely Street. / I walk amid cold winds, / leaves / rustle / while I blow. / No one to hold my hand."
I think that's the kind of 'talent' Corso had in mind praising Kerouac while keeping the 'divine' for Shelley!
John Wieners introduction to Matson's poems seems to want to distinguish between transcendence & realism, & worries for both poet & poem to this conclusion : "Form is not of the question here. // Jazz, and its mainline to the heart. // Is it worth it, when the furry head is lost beside on the pillow? // When deaths congregate and nothing else. // Death is part of nature sure and something else in the spring. / Spirit. And yellow flowers on the mountainside. Opium? yes."
My Love Returned begins beautifully (& another echo of Wieners) : "The Moon rises / ass heavy: on the wane. / Wish it was full." Then the poem begins to swing : "I dream & / a huge bat wing arcs over skeleton buildings / and dips to touch ruby pinprick traffic lights / on the street's horizon in mute salute, // when I take in another block / the black wing blacks out the lights / and I know it is the Vampire, / my love returned / in the city calling me to bed / with faint irresistible siren / over the cool line of telepathic desire / or echoing 'could be' to my need..."
The poem's conjuring of vampire imagery is perfect patch for junky lyricist's emotional & conceptual chaos. "How the seasons change / and my veins hold new blood for her to suck now, / new blood I can bleed // over the white untried bed / and my teeth are white and sharp to eat with. / Now I brim over with come to shoot in her. / I flap my jaw / and smile goofy at strangers / in the fullness of it." Yes, I wince at the scatological & Burroughsian excess, so bare as it is in a poem, yet it's clear that the lyric shapes it, in a sense saves the soul within the poem, saves the soul of the poet too.
(July 27/August 30, 2009)
[Regent Press, 2747 Regent Street, Berkeley, Cal. 94705]
KRIS HEMENSLEY & MICHAEL TENCER
WIENERS & CO
Kris Hemensley : It felt like synchronicity when you plonked the John Wieners poems down on the Collected Works counter the other day. My head has been jumping with Wieners this last little while on account of a review I'm writing of the re-publication of '60s poet Clive Matson's Mainline to the Heart, which includes Wieners' original introduction... that is to say, reading the introduction had me return to his books on my own shelf and to relish his cadence, whatever his themes, all over again... And you have me intrigued with your reference to Jeremy Prynne to whom you referred as giving a great reading of Wieners' poem, Cocaine, on You Tube. Tell me more! What is your connection to or interest in Wieners, Prynne, English poetry, poetry in Melbourne?
Michael Tencer : Right! I'd better clear up the howler first, before your readers go searching for Prynne videos...
J.H. Prynne read John Wieners' poem 'Cocaine' in a short (1 minute 40 second) sound recording in 2004. The poem itself was originally in the book Ace of Pentacles, published by James F. Carr & Robert A. Wilson in 1964, & currently is collected in Wieners' Selected Poems 1958-1984, published by Black Sparrow Press. Prynne's recording appears on the CD-R 'Low Bleb Score', the third of four poetry-related CD-R's produced by Quid magazine, compiled, edited & distributed by Keston Sutherland & Andrea Brady through their brilliant Barque Press (www.barquepress.com). Prynne's recording is also available for free on Andrea Brady's website www.archiveofthenow.org .
For those readers unfamiliar with Prynne, & hence wondering what all the fuss is about over a short sound recording, let me briefly sum up the situation by saying that Prynne has been the most influential, intelligently experimental & reclusive British poet, bar none, for the past 40-plus years. In that time, he has done ONE public interview for radio (which has all but vanished), & has allowed his picture to be printed on perhaps three or four occasions. The fact that he was throughout that time College Lecturer & Director of Studies in English at Cambridge's Gonville & Caius College, as well as the College Librarian at Cambridge's Cockerell Library (as well as at the previous library, & during the Cockerell construction), made his reclusiveness all the more notable. His early studies with American poets during his travels included friendships with Charles Olson & Ed Dorn (Prynne's contribution to Dorn's 1976 Bean News, as 'Erasmus W. Darwin', is a particularly wild read -- the full issue of Bean News has been reprinted & is included as a supplement to Vol 15 Number 3 of Sagetrieb (Winter 1996)); & his generosity with his time & criticism for students & other poets, most clearly exhibited in his critical essays & copious letters, is legendary. All of this is quite beside the point that the actual poetry, now widely available in-near-toto in the Bloodaxe Press Poems book, has set the new standard for English poets of high modernism.
My association with Prynne is slight, though treasured. I first learned of his work through the Zappologist critic & poet Ben Watson (aka Out to Lunch), who attended Prynne's lectures at Cambridge & maintained contact with him, mentor-to-student-like, ever since. Through Ben I also met Keston Sutherland, editor/publisher/poet of Barque Press & the editor of Prynne's forthcoming & much-anticipated Complete Critical Prose. With Prynne I have had e-mail & postal contact, securing permission to publish his letter/critique of our shared friend Stuart Calton's poetry in the perennially-forthcoming Gruntwork magazine (Gruntwork or Dogfood, as the first issue shall catchily be called, is to be edited & published by Ben Watson & me). Quite generously, Prynne has sent along several books gratis, including his extraordinary full-length studies of a single Shakespeare sonnet (They That Haue Powre to Hurt; A Specimen of a Commentary on Shake-speares Sonnets, 94), & Wordsworth's 'The Solitary Reaper' (Field Notes: 'The Solitary Reaper' and others); & an extended telephone conversation with Prynne, touching on poetically peripheral points -- linguistics, other languages, word-processing & libraries -- proved inordinately delightful.
Aside from Prynne's aforementioned John Wieners reading, it's worth noting that Prynne seems to have become more comfortable with public appearances in recent years. He has, in his capacities as Visiting Foreign Expert & Guest Professor in the People's Republic of China, even gone so far as to read his own poetry on camera (available on the DVD River Pearls, from Barque Press); & his recent lectures & readings in England & the States have, I understand from word of mouth, been warmly received.
Unfortunately, word of mouth is all I can tell you as an American living in Melbourne, having been perplexingly refused entry to England on two separate occasions! Should it prove feasible in the next several years, my fiancée & I hope to travel there & gain some firsthand experience of the British poetic universe beyond the e-mails & postal dispatches, but until then I remain regrettably peripheral & decidedly blog-gossipy round that particular hub.
For those who wish to know, there's an excellent, albeit incomplete, bibliography of Prynne online at
www.ndorward.com/poetry/articles_etc/prynne_checklist.htm , compiled by Nate Dorward. It misses out on the reprint of The Oval Window, designed by Ian Friend & published in Brisbane, Australia, as well as some more obscure older texts & some not-so-obscure recent texts, but it remains the touchstone of Prynniana at the present.
Regarding my own poetry & associations, very little of what I do could be recognisably linked to Prynne's work, or to any of the American poets, John Wieners included. My work comes from primarily musical influences -- Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, Edgard Varèse, Anton Webern, Conlon Nancarrow, Howlin' Wolf -- all of whom had far more impact on my concept of poetry than any on-the-page poets. The international poetic worlds that matter to me tend to be, at least on the surface, impossibly varied: Prynne & the Cambridge school, jwcurry's Canadian concrete poetry & environs (for a good time write to: ROOM 302 BOOKS, #302 – 880 Somerset Street West, Ottawa, Canada K1R 6R7), the still-active Surrealist Group led by the Rosemonts in Chicago (www.surrealistmovement-usa.org -- though any reader of this blog should already have this site bookmarked!). I am directly part of the movement initiated by Ben Watson, known as the Esemplasm, from a coinage by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (see www.militantesthetix.co.uk for more info), &, on learning of the death of the great Chicago Surrealist Franklin Rosemont, I co-initiated the New Zealand Surrealist Group in Wellington, for the continuing production & dissemination of freedom through desire.
My pursuit of knowledge with regard to poetic traditions has been a posteriori rather than imposed; having avoided creative writing & poetry classes like the plague, my poetic ideas & my tactile sense of what constitutes good poetry were formed outside the influence of poets-on-the-page almost entirely, with the possible exceptions of cummings, Pound & Joyce. This has proven, as we discussed in the store, a great boon to me, as I've been able to learn & decide for myself poetic traditions of my choice without feeling beholden to any particular pre-made path. Thus, I greatly admire Prynne's work, though I'm clearly out of place among his epigones; I savour the works of William Burroughs but care little for Jack Kerouac & the verbal diarrhoea school of Beat production; I devour anything of Surrealism & dada, anything revolutionary & modernist, & remain open to anything truly alive, but, while reading & learning as much as I can about as much as I can, I remain critical, exert the primacy of my own taste & subjectivity, & stand firmly against the anything goes, everything-is-relative ideology of post-modernism & its -ism ilk.
I can't say much about Melbourne poetry, since all I've experienced here so far was the Doris Leadbetter Melbourne Poetry Cup on Saturday, & that was drop dead dreadful. Then again, it's a rare performance poetry event that's any different, whether in New York, London, Brisbane or Wellington, so for now I won't judge the bubbly by the dregs. The only Australian poet I've read with pleasure so far is Nathan Shepherdson: I like his rubble-in-the-silence lyricism, it has some of the twisted alchemy & weighted space of Paul Celan or Malcolm de Chazal.
With that, I think I'll wrap up the rant -- what kind of desperate reader would possibly devote this much time & interest to an unknown seppo? I do recommend, though, for anyone who can appreciate the seemingly effortless work of John Wieners, his unerring ability to capture thought in motion & what his urban ballads have done to the poète maudit lyric, the British poet Sean Bonney is an excellent extension & distillation of this impulse into the 21st century. From his typographic 'translations' of Baudelaire to his orgone-popping poetry readings, Bonney takes all the sharpest edges & gooiest innards of Bob Cobbing, Tom Raworth & Barry MacSweeney & agglutinates them into a pulsing anti-capitalist subjectivity shorn of sentiment. Sean Bonney gets my vote for the best performing poet alive today (though perhaps if J.H. Prynne let out a few more recordings, he might indeed put up some competition...)
Thanks a million, Kris!
Keep up the good word work.
K H : OK, You Tube's been spared! When I mentioned it yesterday to
Alan Pose, who'd come in to the Shop as we were talking the other day, he suggested I'd got that wrong...! Of course, 'getting it wrong' is how I suspect my radical colleagues characterise me, and for many years now. Keeping the conversation going, though, is what I've set out to do, probably
since I edited my mag Earth Ship in Southampton, 1970-72, and all its Australian incarnations til 1985 when I stopped --my hands had fallen off! Remember, roneo stencils and manual typewriters?! I'm usually square peg in round hole of whatever conversation I find myself in. The English poets I was friends with in the UK at that time included Colin & Frances Symes, John Hall, John Riley & Tim Longville, Allen Fisher, Paul Buck, John Robinson, Jacqui Benson, Lee Harwood, Frank Prince, Andrew Crozier, John Freeman, Jeremy Hilton, Martin Wright, David Chaloner,Gael Turnbull,George Dowden, Nathanial Tarn, David Tipton et al...and by correspondence Peter Riley, Douglas Oliver, Peter Finch,Veronica Forrest-Thomson & many, many more. All over the shot! Deliberately. Driven by curiosity I suppose and incredibly contradictory literary fancies. And so it has been all the way. Nowadays I'm picking up all the loose ends --in fact they're all loose ends! And I must be the "happy man" I once wrote to ask Peter Riley about ... I'm not sure Peter quite understood the nature of my enquiry ('happiness' to mean ease with the human life that has death all about it and inevitably at the end of it whenever that happens! Is there a way to be, a way out of mortal fear etc? --could have been that kind of 20 year old's question)! Peter said I should ask John Zorn**, "he seems to be a happy man!" Hmm. I dont know Sean Bonney. I must investigate; though "anti-capitalist subjectivity shorn of sentiment" has me staggering in search of a stiff drink! Mention of Barry MacSweeney recalls the sadness of his recent death --I've always enjoyed some of his poetry (tho' it's also true that I didnt understand what either he or Elaine Randell were writing in 1972 when I wrote to them --I rejected their submissions, and ditto, in another direction, Penelope Shuttle --of course I know better now!) --I maintain an as yet unfulfilled pledge to read him in toto, for myself. As for 'sentiment' --the word's probably closer to me than it is to you and your circle! As Kerouac is --you'll detect from the Dharma Bum(s) correspondence with my brother Bernard on the blog... On which note, I'll close and with much pleasure and many thanks for your sparkling, brilliant response!
[August 18/19, 2009]
[**CORRECTION! Just now discovered! In midst of conversation with Warren Burt & Alan Pose at ye olde shoppe this afternoon, Warren mentioned Jon Rose, and suddenly I realized my mistake. The "happy man" suggested to me by Peter Riley was not John Zorn (hardly out of high school, Alan had remarked at the time of my reminiscence) but Jon Rose. Most appropriate that it was another composer who invoked Jon Rose. Apologies in case I've misled any reader. --Kris Hemensley. September 8th, '09] ________________________________________________________________
Dharma for Joan Sedorkin
Five years ago she came to the art class I ran
with five different groups over four years
Joan came to the first and stayed till the last
it was two years before she told me she’d read
‘On The Road’ in 1958 and with a girlfriend hitched
north from Sydney stopped at Cairns
met and married a Russian fisherman
made a home raised a family buried a husband.
Then aged seventy-eight she left Cairns
with two suitcases to get away
from demands of family ‘to find her self’
moved into a rooming-house in Brisbane
started to paint and write haiku.
We had both lived a life knee-capped
by low self-esteem non existent self confidence
but over the years I’d learned how
to change that handicap learned how to dismantle
bit by bit I showed her how to do it.
Later I found out she was blind
in one eye sight failing in the other
no wonder she couldn’t draw details
then an Indian doctor and laser surgery
restored the sight in her good eye
enter a king-tide of colour like a sudden burst
of wild parrots among a crush of blossoms.
I watched her discover a sense of her Self
And become a terrific painter
she drew with an intoxicating fragile line
admiring of her own work
no longer putting it down.
Her death a few months ago affected me
more than I would have thought.
Dharma Bums was her favourite Kerouac book
for her I later wrote of the silent encounter
I’d had with Gary Snyder
her favourite poet
in a bar in Melbourne
in the later years of my alcoholism.
Going Home to Ballachulish
Someone passed him a joint
'No thanks, not something I do much these days.
I can't handle it anymore, it takes me apart
and any sense of what's left of my identity.'
said to Stanley who may or may not have been
the one passing the joint.
'It gets me like a death-adder fanging into me
feel like I'm walking around sort of queer
legs rubbery dragging a serpent attached to my ankle
and I have to keep on functioning in company
as if nothing is out of the ordinary.'
'Oh is that so' he heard Stanley say
looking at him with those bug eyes
his lips moving speaking who knew what
as nothing filled the air.
Then he felt himself going under
looking over at Guido their eyes connected
as Guido's face began to fade
felt himself going down - as if tied to weights
a thickness closed over him
cutting off what moments ago he could see
in the dusk and soft night and last light of the day
taking him back to his childhood in Scotland
its long summer twilight bird calls
smell of coal smoke the scent of pine
he knew then that he was dying.
Memorial, Sunday 21 December 2008
This is a personal tribute of my friendship with Geoffrey.
Geoffrey Eggleston was an enigma who not only touched many people’s lives but influenced them deeply. On reflecting upon Geoffrey I realised he had been in my life for over thirty years in varying degrees. I first him when Siri Omberg was renting my old cottage in Fordhams road, a stone's throw down the hill from Montsalvat. At the time I was working with computers in the city and spending weekends in Eltham prior to travelling overseas. Geoffrey would turn up any time of the day or night. When I returned from my year overseas I stayed in Eltham and renovated my father’s shed on the same property and Siri stayed in the house. Later, when Siri left and I moved back into my cottage, Geoffrey continued to visit stating ‘he came with the house’. And so he did for the next thirty odd years – even when we pulled down the old cottage and built a mud brick house on the site. He was extraordinary - not in the ‘extra ordinary’ sense but in being connected to a multi dimensional world. I would sense his imminent arrival by an image of a serpent in my mind – and sooner or later he would appear; via my mother’s garden facing the main road which he would say was a short cut to Montsalvat from the station or a lift he had hitched from the city. I failed to understand how our hill was shorter.
Geoffrey was the greatest of net workers; a walking hub and repository for artists, musicians, poets, performers and 'want ta bees’ He connected people and brought artists and writers to the dinner table. He created circles of like minded people and loved nothing more than to be amidst a group of his creative friends eating, drinking and smoking his small pipe. His talents and interests were many and included his work as a poet, musician, painter, printmaker and philosopher. I spent many days with Geoffrey painting around Christmas Hills and for a short time we shared a studio near Greensborough at Green Hills.
As I was saying earlier – Geoffrey not only touched lives but influenced them too. I don’t know how my life would be shaped if it were not for knowing Geoffrey. It was Geoffrey who first introduced me to poetry all those years ago when he began running the Montsalvat poetry festival. My cottage down the hill was perfect for Geoffrey to billet poets out from interstate. I didn’t have to have much say at the time – he would ‘send’ me poets to house for the weekend (or week) and bring a box of food to turn into soup. We would have a stream of poets walking down the hill from Montsalvat, through the cemetery fence and up the gravel road to my cottage. Poets would sleep on the floors around the cottage and even in the bathroom! Every festival was Geoffrey’s party.
That was in the early 1980s. The portrait under glass of Geoffrey was the beginning of my series of poets’ portraits. Today there are 118 paintings of more than 100 poets and the collection continues to grow. Along with my landscape and ice paintings and photographs the poets' portraits have become one of my life projects. The second portrait of Geoffrey was painted after he had commented that Nigel Roberts' and Terry Gillmore’s portraits being on canvas and larger than his... and my final portrait of Geoffrey was painted recently during his illness.
In 1982 Alec Hope was invited to the Montsalvat Poetry Festival as Feature Poet – and I was asked to put him up for a few days. Alec by now was an old man and had had enough of festivals and didn’t feel up to ‘hanging’ around Montsalvat for what was then a three day event. Not knowing what to do with him I asked him to sit for a portrait in my studio and began what became three portraits and an important life friendship. Alec subsequently introduced me to the poets in Canberra including Judith Wright, Mark O’Connor, Rosemary Dobson and Alan Gould; all of whom sat for a portrait. Through this project I came to know and make friendships with many famous and less known poets and each year Montsalvat was the perfect event to invite an interstate poet to spend a day or two in my studio sitting for a portrait. Among those who came to sit in my studio were Gwen Harwood and Tim Thorne from Tasmania, Rebecca Edwards from Queensland and Fay Zwicky from Western Australia and Les Murray, Chris Mansell and Cornelis Vleeskens from New South Wales. As the series grew began to travel interstate to paint the poets who did not make it to Montsalvat. I am grateful to Geoffrey for the introduction to poetry and some of the best minds our country has produced.
That was the thing about Geoffrey – his web spread across Australia with threads linking every state and he was proud of the fact he could travel between Melbourne and Sydney, Brisbane or Adelaide and get a bed for the night at someone’s place. He even managed to bring Gary Snyder from the United States to a Montsalvat Poetry festival one year and we had Gary and entourage planting trees in Wingrove Park.
Geoffrey spent many Christmas dinners with us – he admired my mother Grace’s organic garden and wonderful cooking. Sometimes we would have an array of poets still here as an overflow from the festival. Geoffrey was at home wherever he went.
Geoffrey was a passionate, compulsive, obsessive person who felt deeply and was terrier like in his pursuit of projects. He did so much with so little. If not for his at times infuriating demanding and aggressive manner any events and festivals may not have happened. He did not take no lightly for an answer. In fact the word NO was a red rag to this bull who would then pursue whatever it was with words and letters and banter until he got his own way. We can only wonder what he could have achieved if he had had the grants and assistance he so wanted and was denied so often.
Geoffrey was particularly proud of his two children Ninianne and Nathanial; they were quite young when he first brought them to visit. I haven’t seen much of them these past years but would hear about the wonderful things they were doing and the creative careers they are perusing. Three weeks ago when Nathanial came to let us know that Geoffrey had died he stayed for dinner and I could not help but notice how much he has become his father's son – his passionate talk of organising festivals of musicians and the use of the internet to achieve his networking. Geoffrey lives on through Nathaniel.
Bringing people together was his passion and I thank him for being Geoffrey and an influence in part of my world.
MICHAEL TENCER, currently residing & studying in Melbourne. Other bio in his comments on Prynne & et cetera above.
KARL GALLAGHER, has poems & correspondence in previous issues of The Merri Creek : Poems & Pieces. See #11; & Addendum to The Divine Issue.
JENNI MITCHELL, artist up Eltham way. Edited with Cornelis Vleeskens the poetry mag, Fling, in the '80s. Other bio contained in her eulogy for Geoff Eggleston, above and on www.jennimitchell.com.au
[-- Phew! All done this Sunday, 30th August, 2009, at the desk in the little Westgarth weatherboard, which Jeff Nuttall called a 'cottage' back in the early 80s when he visited though I didnt know then that it was!--