[photograph by Colin Still of John Hall, David Chaloner, Kris Hemensley; Totnes, UK; March, 1972]
A SNAPSHOT : REMEMBERING DAVID CHALONER AND THE EARLY SEVENTIES ON THE ENGLISH POETRY SCENE
As curious a set of signs as one might imagine has led me to the sad news of David Chaloner's death. He'd popped up on Facebook some months ago. He was in Amsterdam --I cant recall whether he said living there or on business. (This has been a period for me in which some of the English poets of my time on the Small Press scene, 1969-72, have come back into my life. Having maintained an at best intermittent correspondence with them over the years, I've been feeling my way back to something more substantial.)
A recent Thursday, day off from the Shop, my mess finally got to me --time to forgo the writing & begin sorting & labeling years of journals, papers, & photographs. And out of a particular folder I pulled a large format, black & white, head & shoulders portrait of an hirsute, smiling trio of poets --John Hall, David Chaloner & myself, in what I recall was a long, upstairs room of John's flat in Totnes, South Devon, invited there by John for the Totnes Arts Festival in March, 1972.
In addition to ourselves there was Bernie O'Regan (photographer & filmmaker, who died in Melbourne in 1996), & Colin Still (a photographer, creator of the photo I've described). David & I gave a poetry reading & also conducted a writing workshop; Bernie showed some short, 8 mm, silent movies (& I have a memory that he baked bread &/or cooked for us, a la Alice's Restaurant), Colin's photos were on show, &, the creme de la creme, John Dankworth's jazz orchestra with Cleo Laine, capped off the festival.**[[see correction]]
Rather like our friend Opal L Nations' fancy of a man "who entered pictures" (--I like these without reservation, Andrew Crozier reportedly told Opal after reading the prose pieces; what have you got against Red Indians? Opal responded), I enter the room in Colin's photograph. Like a friendly ghost I encircle the figures, peering into their faces (our faces)... Most of all, I seeking to enter the moment the photograph captures & forever enacts --that moment which is the world as was configured, right there & then...
Colin's probably said, & I can hear him : keep talking, I want you natural not posed! Possibly the camera's clicked as we've been talking, causing us to pause... John, gripping mug of tea, holds me in a friendly & amused contemplation; David's downward gaze neither here nor there, a chap who's happy in language's air; I'm probably flying, eyes bright with laughter & chat. John's solidly moored by Arran jumper's cable-stitch; David's in sharp jacket, hands in loose-change pockets; yours truly's arms folded across chest, in Indian braided crimson cotton shirt, least prepared for March shivers...
John's jumper catches most of the light that Colin imagined available to his contrasting black & white, anticipated as atmospheric... Did he also have a sense of the drama 'posterity' would inevitably bestow? Could he frame a future's retrospectivity? And what history pulses there (such matter of fact not requiring ramification)?
Holding that photograph for minutes on end, understanding that each one of the trio is who they are, aware there was no situation better than where they were right then. Amen.
Slept on it. Friday morning broke on Facebook 'friend request' from Lucy Chaloner. I couldnt remember if I knew her or not; I imagined she was David's daughter & perhaps he'd referred her to me. I was running late for the train to the City, so postponed opening the email until the evening's return. Thought of David, particularly, during the day. Around closing time Alan Pose says, No doubt you're aware that one of your English poet friends has died? I'm taken aback : Who? David Chaloner, he says, it's on Silliman's Blog & Alan Baker's Leafe site, probably all over Google...
Back home I open Lucy's email. She's inviting me in a general communique to join family & friends at David's funeral, Thursday, 20th May at 1pm, St Peter's Church, Belsize Square in London; "readings by friends & family will be followed by drinks & food in the church (he would have loved that) then on to a nearby pub, details of which will be confirmed. Please come along & be there for him." Later I find on Ken Edwards' blog that David's death follows an 18month battle with cancer.
Journal, 18 May, 2010
As one's own generation dies -- each time a member of the generation dies --one also grieves for the person one was within that confluence, also gone -- But 'now' & 'then' is congealed by emotion -- As each member dies i realize that part of my sadness is for the life i contributed & was given, the spirit that enlivened me as it coursed through us all -- Crystal identity of the generation -- day, month, year, decade -- And in my case it is the "unfinished business" i have with England --
Brian Marley responded to my Facebook email -- The loss not only for family & friends, he says -- it's for readers also -- DC's poetry is something to cherish -- Let the cherishing begin i agreed --
To Brian this morning i said that like me, at that time, 1970/71/72, David wasnt in a particular groove -- i mean of course, as i added, he grooved a variety of tunes -- This is seen by the different kinds of poet he published in One -- Peter Hoida & Alistair Wisker e.g., --or was Wisker in Hoida's magazine [Inherited Magazine] alongside David? -- which points back to the (Cambridge) maligned Children of Albion anthology [which actually included poets like Andrew Crozier, John James, Tom Pickard, Tom Raworth & others alongside the disparaged motley] -- which disappointed me too for wanting something it couldnt, & probably now i would say shouldnt, have been -- but the kind of New American poetry we'd have imagined in Melbourne -- something to sit up on same shelf as New Writing USA -- But that anthology represented a lot of what England was & not only according to Michael Horowitz -- If England wasnt, --the New England that is, --if it wasnt the jazzy & performance antidotes to the Movement, & the Pop poets reflecting Pop art & music, it would have been a concoction --another academic formulation albeit non-mainstream -- i guess the Cambridge poets hated the Beat/Hippie/Jazzer image -- I should have been braver & kinder to Horowitz & his anthology -- but i was on a Serious Mission with the American secret service! -- I should say all this somewhere --
[ May 30, 2010. Flicking through some old mags, I find in Poetry London Newsletter (#29, Spring, 1998), in John Welch's review of Barry MacSweeney's The Book of Demons (publ. Bloodaxe), a line to that earlier mentioned antipathy or at least dichotomy. Referring to MacSweeney's first collection, The Boy from the Green Cabaret Tells of His Mother (1968), Welch observes, "There were obvious echoes of the Sixties popular music scene in this debut, and the beginnings of a new sense of poetry as performance. A closer inspection of the landscape of attempted poetic renewal at that time might suggest there was a soft-centred and a hard-centred version." Welch's quoting of John Wilkinson (from Angel Exhaust, #11, '94), --"MacSweeney possessed from the start a restless intelligence which alienated him from both the gelatinous culture of the prevalent mainstream verse, and from writers of a lazily sentimental counter-culture who offered direct and untroubled access to a repertoire of self-patented feeling"-- indicates the continuous whetting of the prim & proper brigade's ideological hatchet down through the decades! Even Welch's concluding congratulation of MacSweeney's long line continues the carp, thus the 'voice' MacSweeney 'constructed', "makes use of some of the more positive aspects of the Sixties, its music as well as the very real sense of new possibilities in poetry"! One wonders what a half-decade has to do before it's wholly accepted as birthright! That is to say, ultimately indisputable --and soft centre / hard centre, pah! --we are all made of the time of Our Time!] (...)
[Facebook to Brian Marley : "I'm reordering his Collected (publ. by Salt) for the Shop.. rereading his many little collections last few days... a self-reflexivity wch doesnt exempt the lyrical... and especially rereading letters in which he thinks & rethinks his process & the wherewithal of the poets/poems he's reading... instructive & moving... like me he was not settled into a groove at that time (early 70s); i mean, he grooved a variety of tunes! imagine David on Olson's Archaeologist of Morning (a chalonerish phrase when i think of it!) side by side with his K. Elmslie! Yes, Brian, let the cherishing begin!"]
Wednesday, 19th May, 2010
Facebook message from Philip Jenkins this morning -- I found him on either Brian Marley's or David C's list of Friends -- Astonishingly he hadnt heard of David's demise -- (...) He said he realized now how important it was to maintain contact -- & a macabre thought, /most of us facing our last years! -- I said that the poet has always known the 'last days' --(it's the condition of the poet's vision) -- I told him everyone is held in one another's memory (he was castigating himself for infidelity)--
After three & a half years in Melbourne, I returned, with Retta, to England in September, 1969. Not long back before I was writing to the English poets & little magazine editors I'd discovered on expeditions from Southampton to Indica Bookshop in London where Nick Kimberley was working prior to managing the upstairs poetry department at Compendium Books in Camden Town. Retta recalls to me one of the legendary names of the era. He was Indica's co-owner John Dunbar, and Marianne Faithful's autobiography, Faithful (Penguin, 1994), confirms, "Very shortly after I met John, it was Peter Asher who put the money up for Indica, the art gallery and bookstore John ran together with Barry Miles."
I'd already been in contact with Jim Burns & George Dowden, whose addresses I found in Mike Dugan's great trove of English mags the year before in Melbourne; and I'd begun corresponding with Nathaniel Tarn, whose book, The Beautiful Contradictions, excited both Ken Taylor & myself (--I'd previously known him from his World Wide Open essay/manifesto, published in Miles' International Times counter-culture tabloid, sweet music to my ears). My redrawn map of England included Gordon Jackson & Tim Longville's Grosseteste books & journal, Andrew Crozier's Ferry Press & The Park, Peter Riley's Collection, Peter Finch's Second Aeon, Franklin & Williams' Cyclops, --oh so many mags & numerous poets, willy-nilly across the board... (No wonder F T Prince attributed 'colonial energy' to me, a la Pound, when we met in Southampton via Lee Harwood's direction (--an energy locals didnt normally display, he said; your Australian like Pound's American)-- I was happily but conscientiously all over the place!)
In February, 1970, David responded to my "letter of October", which confirms that he must have been amongst the first of the new correspondents. Poor David explained that his magazine, One, "is hung up... the first plates failed + we are faced with having to type the entire thing + get it back to the printers! ONE/2 is also ready to be put out + I'm sad because of broken promises abt appearance date etc." --the usual et cetera well known to poet-editor-publishers since time immemorial!
"God! Breakthru seems a long way off now! as it must to you with those thousands of miles behind you!" he exclaims. I'm presuming David must have been published in Ken Geering's archetypal & monumental full-scap, mimeod mag of the 60s --and I had left for Australia in April '66 before I knew the fate of the poems I'd submitted, though most probably didnt make the grade! The idea if not the physical form of Breakthru influenced my own early editorial & curatorial endeavours in Melbourne between 1967 & '69. My mag, Our Glass & the La Mama poetry readings (both '68-9) were just such 'breakthrough' manifestations.
Invited by Betty Burstall on my return to Melbourne, '72/3, to revive the La Mama readings, I declined, explaining that I was now committed to an 'internationalist' project, connecting new Australians, for example, with new British & N. Americans just as in the U.K., with my Earth Ship magazine (Southampton, 1970-72), I'd made a place for Australians & N. Americans amongst the new British. I could no longer dedicate myself to grassroots & 'breakthrough' activities --not that they were redundant, but simply someone else would have to take them on. Valery Kirwan enrolled me in one revival around 1981, but it wasnt until Mal Morgan, himself one of the original La Mama Poetry Workshop poets, took it up in 1985, under the name La Mama Poetica, that it was restored. And so it prospers to this day. I suppose the Dan O'Connell & other 'open-mic' readings are the closest to that inaugural come all ye philosophy & format currently.
A letter from John Hall (to whom I'd been referred by Tim Longville as another local poet I might like to meet), in April 1970, attempted to put me right regarding my understanding of Chaloner & Crozier. I dont have my side of the correspondence but can guess that I was after a poetry of statement & larger moves than I was encountering in the English poets.
'Critic' in any sense would be disowned by John, but often he was right on the button where his own poetical companie was involved. For example, regarding David he wrote : "I always read his things hopefully. I take them to be marginal notes on various life processes, simple and obvious, and each one, if it works as song, an analogy or type for other sources of life or energy -- the register of surprise, wonder and therefore love. Very conservative; that is he observes as though there had been no great change in the relation (gravitation) between any objects (living or dead), and I cant see that he's wrong there. His best poems are and will be domestic, his politics is the music that takes place /inside the skull."
Obviously this isnt all that could be said, but sometimes first thought is truly best, and when poets find their work, first wrought's rationale is often still standing at the end. John Hall didnt need to speculate about Andrew Crozier's workings --at times he might well have been his closest relative.
"He's a fastidious poet who works out from an ordinary conversational or meditative cadence, which to a lazy reading [--that's me folks! --though it's less to do with 'laziness' (unless a certain English quality is being ranked here above & against others within the kingdom & certainly amongst the dominions) than it is the estrangement of an unexpected sound, & quite probably what was disadvantaged in the vernacular rampage on both sides of the Atlantic, that exclamatory modernism drowning out most of everything else] can easily disguise the care for the texture and sound of the line. If you take it slowly it's like coming indoors to a darkened room; it's only slowly yr eyes pick out the shapes and colours taht do still gleam there. He eschews false lighting and surface glitter(...)."
Yes indeed; and the case for that kind of English poetry, exemplified by Crozier but shared with others, including David Chaloner, must even now be made, though there may be a greater receptivity at last. What's 40 years in the centuries' old battle of taste? But it goes on --these poetry (fashion) wars --and rereading Robert Hampson & Peter Barry's New British Poetries : The scope of the possible (Manchester Univ. Press, 1993), ostensibly for references to Chaloner, I found in R.J.Ellis's chapter, Mapping the U.K. Little Magazine field, a fair representation of this argument's clash & clamour.
According to Ellis, "Robert Sheppard's defence of The New British Poetry [Paladin, '88] against a Peter Porter attack, clarifies well the discouraging gulf that still exists : "So many aggressive terms in Peter Porter's review for The Observer could be translated from the sneering of the well-anthologised into the language of the neglected. For 'whingeing' read 'angry'; for 'Sixties Old Boys' Society' read 'poets who, since the flash of publicity in the 1960s, have been forced further underground than the 'Underground' ever was; for 'ageing experimentalist' read 'senior formalists'; for 'self-refering hagiography' read 'axiomatic reference points not normally associated with British poetry'."
Hopefully, 21st Century blues contain different orders of distinction & complaint!
Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire 26th August, 1970
Dear Kris -- thanks for yr long letter -- hope yr sojourn with John Hall is pleasant -- he lives in a beautiful place!
I'm enclosing some poems [for Earth Ship magazine] -- + a sort of commentary rushed off last night in abt 1 1/2 hours -- I don't know what you feel abt it -- they're only notes of urgency really, are they not? anyway do as you wish with it -- if you decide not to use it will you return it as I've not kept a copy -- just rattled it straight off / OK?
love to you both from us [David & Mary]
Last night, resting, I noted on the back of an envelope, "the sky so neutral, so pale, it seems hardly to exist". Looking back, 24 hours later, those words seem a suitable description of poetry publishing ventures at the moment.
It occurs to me that somewhere there must be a vast stockpile of poetry, waiting for a new magazine, a new front at which to assemble. Where will it be, in which direction, who will be in command, & with what preconceived notions?
The English Intelligencer, Move, The Park, Broadsheet, Resuscitator, Solstice, Tzarad & Collection (as separate publications & as an amalgamation) have seen their time come & go & have conceded to hang-ups such as financial difficulties, physical & mental factors that can, & do, so easily interfere with an editor's freedom of choice/mind & movement (the latter being an assumption that, more often than not, editors tend to lead a rather nomadic existence), & all the need for them to concentrate on their own work & its development; all of which combines to freeze the urge that motivates their productions.
We are, though, left with one or two magazines that may well help to become the necessary prime movers & foundations for a desperately required resurgence & display of strength: The Curiously Strong - changing hands from Fred Buck who is returning to the US, to Ian Patterson; The Blacksuede Boot - that Barry MacSweeney is to put out; Grosseteste Review - which may well disappear soon, after its time under the editorship of Tim Longville, who controlled its high & refreshing standard of presentation; & Big Venus/Queen Camel - from Nick Kimberley, based at Compendium bookshop in Camden High Street, that should rock the becalmed ship & agitate the passengers!
& of course I have my own little contribution to the list of failures....back in 1967 Barry Dixon, Robert Powell and myself decided to establish our own total revolution. Working from Manchester, a common base, we met & discussed & made plans & got smashed & fell about & finally fell apart. Barry & I gathered the pieces & set to work contacting poets & other editors & contributors & interested people & established our "arts" magazine ONE. Plates for the first issue were typed out, & art-work prepared for Barry's cover design, all of which went to the printer who had promised a cheap, to the point of being almost free, run off of the first issue. 4 weeks later I was informed that of the 250 copies run off, about 3 had been successful. The calamity resulted in despair, & loss of interest, for several months, during which time work for the second issue started to arrive through my letter box.
My own work took precedence, & the lack of action gave me time to regather my dissipated spiritual forces. Barry moved from Manchester work in London, & domestic problems & crises served to hold me away from the next, and overdue, advance. Well, the plates have been re-typed; again, they are ready to be run off: BUT! we're too late, the age of the work in this issue renders it invalid. Now I can only think to include the older work as a supplement to something that will smell of fresh air, & be contemporary to the existing situation; & less tainted with the marks of editorial incompetence. And what may help is a letter I received some weeks back from a guy, Peter Baker, who wishes to get something going, & really sounds like he will. Barry may then get his batch of magazines one fine morning to hawk over the streets, & into the bookshops of London. So in many ways this has a confessional air about it, with the hint of a general apology for all the broken promises, re-promises, capitulations & reassurances through the last few, dragging, fruitless months. So it looks like we may be getting somewhere.... which is the most recent edition of my Collected promises that has not met its deadline. Where is the thing moving again? I'd like to do it, but lack the determination, perhaps; I don't feel qualified to judge this aspect of my life, my poems stand, instead, as the result of the labours the time of the editor. I don't think that being a poet/editor is a bad thing, but from my experience one tends to become subservient to the other, & I know how I prefer to channel my efforts at the moment.
[published in Earth Ship, #1, October,1970.]
As it happens, the issue also contained correspondence & poetry from Ian Robertson, whom I considered the closest to my own vision of the (Melbourne) La Mama poets' perspective.The little poems, two of three dedicated to Kenneth Patchen & Robert Duncan, are mystical with a political pulse. It's instructive & poignant to read Robertson's confession of September 24th, 1970, and its dovetail with David Chaloner's missive astonishes me all over again.
"dear Kris & Retta -- the sky is so very high over Burwood tonight -- so very high over Melbourne over Australia & it is so comforting to know that it is the same sky over us three, us ALL, that seems, that /is, to me right now, so very comforting. (...)
Flagstones no. 5 was the final edition of the magazine... I just cannot do another one (....) I received yr aerogram on Tuesday Kris -- to read of Dave Chaloner wanting to send me poems -- & of you -- how do i feel! or, how i do feel! it makes me feel as tho' i have let you down at this end of the world(...)"
If one could reach back through time, as hopefully one did through space back then, & say there, there, it's OK, that's life -- 'life' that things end (that is, /things end) and guilt isnt appropriate where harm wasnt intended... If one could know, body & soul, how life's wheels turn, however long they take --the magic of this kind of life-view --and that nothing actually stopped when a /magazine terminated. It had done its job, representing poets & poetry of feeling & spirit; a magazine amenable to vision, embodying community. Well, that was the Sixties & some of the Seventies, & not at all 'academic'!
In the footnote to Ian's contribution, I summarised Flagstones (5 issues, July '69 to April '70) as having "published the best of the New Australian Poetry including Buckmaster / Ken Taylor / Beard / Hutchinson / [John] Jenkins / Adler / [Stephen] Gray / Radzyner / [Lorin] Ford / Costelloe / Egglestone / Kinnaird / [Graeme] Smith / [Alison] Hill / Goodall / Terry Gillmore / Robertson / Dugan & others. Also : [George] Dowden / Margaret Randall / [Jim] Burns / [Tim] Longville / K[ris] & B[ernard] Hemensley."
Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire 8 April '71
Dear Kris, how many million words do I owe you both
been pretty pissed off of late and the cap came to fit the whole show with a letter from Barry MacSweeney abt that article of mine in ES1 which he's really taken exception to ( / ) I think that he's misread lot of what I was trying to say in those moments of despair when I praised the ones who can admitting that perhaps I am one who can not ( / ) that in his eyes appears to be criminal ( / ) (....)
Yes I've now got me a copy of [Olson's] Archaeologist of the Morning ( / ) not fully into it but getting there ( / ) I mean time rather than understanding ( / ) I get into that man's music from the first pages on in ( / ) have a copy of Distances in the Grove edition from many moons ago ( / ) so know some of the poems of old but the majority are new to me ( / ) & it's really something to have a hold of ( / ) the physical properties of the volume are so related to the man as a poet person ( / ) one wonders if that was considered ( / ) can we trust a publisher to do that with his people ( / ) to get that far into something ( / ) one doubts it ( / ) no, perhaps a happy accident
One of the first reviews I wrote in England was of David Chaloner's dark pages slow turns brief salves (Ferry Press, '69). Tim Longville published it in Grosseteste Review (vol. 4, #1), Spring, 1971. I'd written it mid-year 1970. In his letter of 16 August, '70, David disclosed, "Tim tells me that you've written a review of dark pages which he praises highly, & i look forward to seeing yr reactions especially from this distance from the collection in time, looking back etc."
Poet & poem were oracles for me then, literally psychological & political guides for the perplexed. I quite probably assumed the art as given, seeming to overlook the writing itself, keen to suss the ideas. I should say that although intensely caught up in politics, I read massively more poetry than politics. Poets brought the news /not politicians though I respected the charismatic activists.
from "Words for the Lady"
In the very first poem in his book Chaloner writes: "it is / a landscape / I cannot explain / the colours / assail my / eyes" -- this is the problem he seeks to answer thruout the book.
Here is the poet in great doubt of his role -- "I have / named it & / admit to its existence" in this way "the 4 winds rampage / the white chairs / leap" -- (Schwitters wrote that a door didnt slam by accident but by its own will & was himself the best example of an artist who treated all objects as equal in the sense that a zen artist wd have afforded the painting of a human figure the same consideration as a tree which is to say that animate & inanimate objects were of the same magnitude.) By doubt i mean that tho he writes of components he hankers after the whole:
"that speech gags the mouth & words sleep / lightly on the page (what matter) / that windows reflect a passing moon offers / only a factor of the nights motion"
"speech" & "sleep" are synonymous - becos the poem can never record the total picture (with Chaloner reality is always exterior) - the poem is only a reflection - altho later lines show him to grant: "that page that window they are alive" but only in as much "a dark page / slowly turns". His poems have no innate luminous quality - they have no energy of their own except for the inherent energy of the objects they carry. "He offers "discreet comment - / this as token of my / response" & another poem describes his design:
"an exorcism / (of sorts) / a putting into place / writing down / a rearrangement / of said things / there is a calculated / objectivism / a notion of final assembly."
But compare Chaloner's sense of "calculated objectivism" with that of Reznikoff (whose Domestic Scenes are as objective as court logs) or Rakosi -- for in these poems that "final asembly" is far away even tho it intends that state -- the poems are of /intentions rather than /finalities."
(David reminded me of Larry Eigner, although, "Generally Eigner is more assured than Chaloner". But no hint then of his New Yorkers, especially of that English appreciation one only came to know later. )
In the final poem of the book Chaloner furthers the equation: "did I say from here we can hear / trains the swish of lorries one / road away spasmodic voices cleaving / the night / our speech / a cross-reference / codification of events we / redestroy with words / a necessary conflict // as the poem / becomes the precise act / of volition / an obligation / structure which takes the voice to / speech with / words for the lady & / the location"
The book thus 'ends' - Chaloner has travelled from the assertion of words which inadequately reflect to a precise act of volition... During its course i was reminded of a phrase of Louis Zukofsky: "To see is to re-form all speech". Struggles are seldom speedily resolved. Chaloner mentions the "necessary conflict" between speech & words" -- i wd venture the belief that the total man will ultimately record the total picture - will realize himself even as fragment to be par to the whole thing - will unify those departments of vision language & speech -- such is the anticipatory unity of this book.
Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire 25 June 1971
Dear Kris, this must be the hundredth time I have set-to to write this letter in answer to yours (the very long one!) [indeed! And I'm still amused by Ken Bolton's comment that my book, ThePoem of the Clear Eye (1975, reissued '82) should have been called The Poem of the Big Mouth! As Ken Taylor observed after a particularly long launching-speech I gave : Well, you obviously had something to say, & you said it! But letters are something else --or once they were, before email, before cheap telephone calls damn it!] It's just not been right, that is, what I was about to say each time!
So I will once more begin. Please give Retta our good wishes, its fine about the new Hemensley!
You know I've not even got into the ARCHAEOLOGIST yet, let alone come to a decision on writing on it -- let that fall as it will. Your review of my book didn't come over as presumptious in the least -- far from it, you opened up a lot for me, things that I had not perhaps realized, certainly it was illuminating in the true sense of the word, and something I was pleased to see in such a place, only sad thing is that it will be on no use to anyone who hasn't already got a copy of the book as its out of print, except for those copies still lying in dusty bookshops on dustier book shelves!
This thing about poetry, I don't even know how to categorize my own reactions. I know what you're saying and appreciate your saying it, but I cant get into Kelly, Eshleman et al as I can get into Ashbery, O'Hara, Koch et al and derivations by the company. But I'm truly troubled by Ashbery, in the sense that some of his poems I find so beautiful and lyrical, others so obscure they lose me instantly. I've read his work over and over - intend to continue doing just that until I break through. O'Hara has been on my list for years, and he's OK down the line for me. it occurs to me to wonder what connections this might have with 'painting' -- this will go some of the way, maybe all, to answering your question about the authenticity of the poems - PAINTING, "tomorrow i'll be going out into march", "sunlight slants in", and SWIRL -- God yes they ARE my concerns, and come from very direct experiences, MINE, and recent to the date on the page. They are different because they have to be -- I am unable not to to let my poems move of the same 'ground' as myself, mentally, physically etc etc. I paint. In the 'sunlight' poem I am the protagonist, I /have to be, thats how I work, write, live (I hope!) (How pompous!) (but you'll know what I mean) Only on those occasions when i am moved by my personal mythologies do I 'invent', but again, it's me at the helm, "land ho!", I see the magic island; I suppose its my substitute for drugs, no loner using them, or feeling the need, particularly. I get so 'stoned' on other things (sky, clouds, friends, buildings, pictures, books, possibilities, being)! (....)
Now we're getting to music (all music, as it must be), witness my poem for Maxwell Davies, a superb composer! Its the music of some of these poets, the audacity,put some strange group of words onto a page and Lord you have to work like fuck, or perhaps give up wondering -- I cannot condemn until I am COMPLETELY sure. The reaction in paris to Stravinsky's 'Rites' was a picture of "We don't understand, we will not be troubled, after all there is NO TUNE!"
You see Elmslie has done a considerable amount of work as a librettist. He's into music, therefore, to me, he comes over with a kind of verbal timefulness, a phonetic effect as well as the poem being 'a poem'. Although he is included in the New York Anthology, I think that is a quite loose definition (as far as most of them are concerned!), I would say he might even be closer to Koch than any of the others, an interesting guy altogether.
14 September 1971 Dear Kris,
what occurs in poetry for me has to appeal to the inner whatsit and make me restless, I think, and aware. also, of possibility, and further, so that I am directly affected. Now this maybe because i also write! I don't know? Yes I do, thats true! Anyway language and painting if we're going to use these 2 (and why not?) should contain, (for me), similar elements of structuring. One applies a colour ((or line) or shape) but, need these be related in any other way than being united by the 'frame' (extent of the poem) which after all does provide its own 'significance' and 'meaning'. do you see what I'm getting at. Angela and John Hall spent the weekend up here recently, and a lot of this was worked through at that time, particularly as I have been doing battle for the last year! with my own work, and now, I think, getting somewhere.... And its not to say that the 'frame' takes on the responsibility of a detention centre either, rather it should offer no restriction at all so that all that is around us gets itself included as well, and in no uncertain terms.
Your poems now Kris! ---
What really worries me is this Eshleman/Kelly influence. I have tried to get into what they're doing and trying to say and I'm just left cold -- their stuff seems / sounds (when read aloud) /so archaic, + I can't get its relevance, not to /me anyway. Caterpillar i've gotten a copy of # 14 with some Michael Palmer poems in it and they're about all I can get to -- I pick the thing up continually, its always lying around, but have yet to come into the crystal dawn of its /meaning beyond occult mystery + religious innuendo.
In the Miro sequence the poems that really actually take my eye for more reading (several times in TOTAL) are the "reverie before Jealousy", 1 + 2 of "Photos" and probably "Portrait 1 - 1938". these seem to have a greater sense of control and a density (to use a Hallism) that the rest seem, for me at least, to miss out on a bit.
This criticism applies also to CONSIDERATIONS -- Satyricon 2 is really getting towards the kind of feeling about an event that /I imagine O'Hara used to have (you mention ODES in the 'previous-but--one' poem). How do you feel about him? Those beautiful ODES and The Lunch Poems and the rest. I would see, do see, far more to what he did than I get from the mystics -- and going further to Ashbery, I think what I can best do is quote from the back of "The Double Dream of Spring":
"consciously or not, he has realized that work of the complexity to which he has aspired demands placement against a background fully documenting his wrestlings with problems of scale, syntactical limitations, dislocation and organization.... The chances are very good that he will come to dominate the last third of the century as Yeats, also afflicted with this madness to explain, dominated the first" Howard Wamsley (Poetry)
Elmslie + Koch also do what Ashbery does; but in totally unique and individual ways, creating whole new worlds+ places out of the langauge -- and using a language that is so often underworked and ignored and grey + boring, to build poems of rich multi-coloured multi-directional-dimensional possibilities. (...)
I knew John James and Jeremy Prynne had been at The SONNETS for a long time and I do feel that has percolated through, most certainly as those 2 gentlemen are very much on the MacSweeney hero list to all intents and purposes. I think that Berrigan can do some good things out of that hip posturing (which is only to say, he belongs to a tradition we do not belong to, a cultural background undiluted by the Atlantic. Like the old days when to hitch [? was to hitch] lorries to our California / Cornwall, But lets face it, it's not like the New York / San Francisco thing is it?
I've had much joy from the SONNETS and MANY HAPPY RETURNS and IN THE EARLY MORNING RAIN.
Cheadle Hulme 14 January 1972
(....) its some time since I ;ast wrote and this is really related more to a lack of pressure 'outwards' on my part than being 'too busy'! But i have been wooed back, as it were, with a burst of necessary response to various letters; one being John[Hall]'s request to read in Totnes at the end of March. Which I've accepted...... and I'll look forward to seeing you if you do the same..... if all goes to plan etc.
Congratulations on Timothy to you + Retta (who after all, did the real work of bearing and giving birth) How soon will he set up his own magazine to blast us all apart !?*@@!@
Who exactly is Jacquie Benson? John Robinson mentions her as also being in the first issue of his magazine JOE DIMAGGIO (I've some poems there and CURTAINS/2 (Paul Buck) and Sesheta 2)
Right then - as soon as i have some poems I'll send them on --
Goodwishes + love to the 3 of you from Mary + me
High Street, Totnes, S,Devon 20th February 1972
Dear Kris, thanks for the two letters, yours and your alter ego's. The latter I passed on to the Arts Fest. committee who okayed it. So 5Pounds plus travelling expenses will be yours. The date of the reading (morning) and workshop (afternoon) will be Monday 27th March. We'll be expecting you on the Satyrday or Nereidday. David [Chaloner] /will becoming, so will Bernie [O'Regan]. I've told Tim [Longville] and John [Riley] about it, so they may be able to come up and see us all some time during your stay.
About poems for Earthship - will try to have a sort out and disentangle what hasnt been either sent or accepted by another mag. The last few months have left me a little confused. I cant remember what I sent to David. Also I dont know yet whether or not Andrew [Crozier] intends to use Week's Bad Groan. I'll have to write and ask him to say finally yes or no. I'd like that to appear somewhere very soon. Meanwhile I have to stockpile fragments and ideas, and wait for the time when I can sort through them and put an unhurried ear to them.
There are two I know are free, because Dave didnt want them for last One. Will enclose them, tho i doubt your interest.
Spent a few hours last Tuesday writing out a little poem 105 times for DAYS.
High Street, Totnes 16th March 1972
Thanks. See you on Saturday. If you let me know what time your train arrives I'll meet you. If not, ask the quickest way to the top of the High Street & you'll find that we're above a shop called the Emily Whitby Gallery. Purple.
Look forward to seeing you. Can't promise you a very restful time. by the e nd o fthe term we aren't either rested or restful. And there will be altogether too much happening for comfort.
The reading is scheduled for about 11.00 a.m. on Monday 27th, due to break at 12.30. It's time-tabled against a concert by the school's Pop Group, so all the heads will probably be at that instead. No idea yet how many will be likely to come.
See you, pere de famille. Love to the rest.
London. [May or June, 1972?]
dear Kris & Retta,
news came today (via david chaloner) of Mark Hyatt's death. its probable you already know, it came as a terrible & unexpected shock to me - mainly because we had exchanged a few letters back in march, at the time of his failed suicide attempt & he did seem a little depressed & was let out of hospital. his manuscripts are being gathered by Donald Haworth [Blackburn, Lancashire]. I'm going to get intouch with Donald Haworth about the poems mark sent to me, ie what to use, whether to use at all . . . .
Dartmouth Park Road, London NW5 3rd July 1972
Dear Kris, What an age I've taken getting these pictures together! Do forgive me. I only hope you think they were worth waiting for.
Actually I quite like one or two of them. I think the 'trio' shot is quite nice. For me it seems to encapsulate what I thought was a very good weekend. That's a very pretentious thing to say! What I really mean is that you're all smiling, and that despite the most appallingly low light level there's some nice texture on John's sweater and on your embroidered shoulder. Whenever I look at that picture I find my eye drawn back and forth from face to face, from John's self-conscious grin to your own leonine smile. I can't help wondering what the conversation was about!
I also like the very black side-lit one. This is the one that reminds me a bit of Michael McClure. (Did you see, by the way, the Peter Fonda film 'The Hired Hand'? - McClure acted in it, playing a poker-playing heavy in the saloon scene!) It might look better with the white border trimmed off.
the three-quarter shot is a bit disappointing, though I'm sure I can do a much better print. I'll have another go next time I'm round Bernie's. I'd like to try a couple of experiments with it: I'd like to print it in sepia to enhance that primitive 'Buffalo Bill' feeling, and I'd also like to try double-printing it with a textured surface, like a rough wall or the bark of a tree. Hopefully the hair, the eyes and the heavy shadow would go black, and the now textureless face would be full of rather bizarre detail, like crumbling brickwork for example.
The fourth picture I don't really care for. the only bit I like is John's out-of-focus head, which I blew up to 10" x 8". It looks quite good. The grain is very crisp and sharp, and it has a nice pointillist texture; and at that size is almost abstract.
Enough about these pictures. Next time I see you I'll do some good ones.
Thank you very, very much for letting me have those Earthships. They gave me a lot of pleasure, and I'm really looking forward to the next one.
Oh, I have a question: what was the source of Prynne's letter to Olson quoted by John Thorpe in 4/5? Has it ever been published?
I'm was sorry to miss you and your wife when you came up to London. Drop a line next time you're coming. Bernie says you're planning to go back to Australia. When will that be?
I hope you 'll get a chance to come up to London a few times before you go. As I'm sure you will have read, the Barnett Newman exhibition opened last week at the Tate, and from all accounts it is very good.
I may be moving in the near future, to a huge flat I've found in Blackheath. It's about two minutes from Greenwich Park, and about five minutes from the Thames. Right on the Meridian. If I move in before you go, (if you go), you must come down.
I'm sorry it's taken me such an age to write. I hope you like the pictures. to stop them going frilly at the ages, stick them on card with Cow gum.
my best to you,
Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire 8 July 1972
Dear Kris, thankyou for the John Thorpe issue -- I've been interested in the odd things he's been doing that have appeared sparsely before and I'm going to give this body of work some attention to determine exactly how and if he's going to meet my expectations.
I appreciate your comment about Mark Hyatt but his "problem" was not in any way a pose (as I see it) but related to the confusing psychological sociological /facts of his life. I know exactly what you're getting at with "the cul-de-sac of personal determinism" but that was not a chosen stance, it was imposed by external factors on a mind unable to cope totally with their damning consequences.
I'm working on your cover for ARC [Tony Ward's press, Todmorden, Lancashire]. (I've just completed + sent off the artwork for ROLLING UP HILL / used to be GAINING MOMENTUM, Nick [Kimberley] has started to run that book off--) I'll be writing to Tony in the next few days ---
I think as you said to him that we ought to stick to a typographical cover -- the time + energy in getting permission from publisher + owner for use of THE FARM as a cover illustration may prove to be rather extended -- but if you'd like me to try I will! My idea is to use a type-face that "suggest" some of the character of Miro's paintings, a difficult task but not insurmountable! you'll see soon anyway ---
Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire 23 October 1972
we had hoped to be in London this weekend, as, I believe, you and Retta intend to be, but it now looks quite doubtful, which is very sad. Our trip to Southampton, in fact many planned visits had to be cancelled because I got a part-time job teaching students at Bolton College of Art and Design how to approach their design problems in a way that would suit the world of commerce, where, god help them, they are soon to make the essential bread and butter monies. Anyway, that absorbs the thursday and friday I was normally able to use for travel visits and extended run arounds. The pressures and responsibility of teaching are quite extreme, and very exhausting, at least right now while its all relatively new to me. And of course time is used outside of college hours to prepare, familiarise, and think about whats to come.
With this letter our goodbyes, our love, our good wishes and all other offerings are yours, Retta's and Timothy's for the voyage south and away. It all begins to sound like a nineteenth century novel, certainly some of that "adventure" will be present for you, even though you have been there before, and Retta belongs there etc.
Mary is working on the final skins of ONE/2, but its not likely to be run off and finished until mid-november so it'll be essential for you to let me have a forwarding address as soon as convenient or possible. Time is short, and of course you'll be totally involved in packing, so if you can't spare time or energy to reply before you leave, thats OK.
Eric Mottram has asked for, and accepted, six poems for the winter '72 issue of Poetry Review, he says that he is rather surprised that those gods of literature who make up the [Poetry] society gang have not told him to piss off, or offered some crippling ultimatum. I often wonder what it must cost in the way of integrity, and all such heady notions, to mix with those ageing (and young) academic leeches, whose one desire seems to [be to?] determine the limits of what they feel is their domain by inheritance, and paid up dues, and friends with "influence".
Andrew [Crozier] will have the copy for CHOCOLATE SAUCE with the printers by now, and Nick is working on the last bits of "putting together" on ROLLING UP HILL. I'm working quite well on my prose pieces, and am half way through the B section. As more get written down the principles and notions become that much clearer in that the pieces themselves are often about writing them. Narrative is the medium used to express this. And the characters who involve themselves through me to abstract from the process some part for their own adventures. I mean, essentially the whole exercise /is an adventure, right through from me to the reader, that is if all the clues and various devices act, react and interact as they should. It won't be until the whole "group" has been completed that the "feeling" will project as an advance from point A to point B, and indicate some idea of movement, growth, maturity etc.
Mary's love to all, and mine - good wishes, Bon voyage
David + Mary
[finished typing June 3,2010, in Westgarth, Melbourne;
this hommage dedicated to Mary & Lucy Chaloner]
[Many thanks to Vera Di Campli San Vito for uploading Colin Still's original photograph]
[[July 28/10, ** see correction in July,10 Poems & Pieces]]