KRIS & BERNARD HEMENSLEY
[20 April, 2011]
K.H. : So what is the 'Abbey' part of 'Goldy Abbey'?
B.H. : It's gone... it's the 'Hermitage' now.
K.H. : 'Goldy' of course is self-explanatory...
B.H. : From 'Goldcroft Road', plus 'gold' is a nice metaphor.
K.H. : What is the hermitage?
B.H. : It's just my place... people always equated my place with wherever I was working...
K.H. : Is this where the hermit lives?
B.H. : it's where a hermit lives, where he would like to live, he's still on the path –maybe he's an Anchorite! --I've always thought of that –I don't think it'll ever happen now : a self-limiting definition which suited the agoraphobic I was –just practice & meditate & see where that led...
K.H. : I always liked the conceit of the 'Abbot of Goldy'... I was interested in the possibilities of a certain kind of fantasy... like, to take on a role or image which did express a sense of who one was or would like to be?
B.H. : Yes, of course. You & Robin [Hemensley] dubbed me the Abbot because of my meditation practice –at one time it was three hours a day –on & off since 1970. You grow into who you're meant to be, both by the way people see you & how you see yourself. And now I feel I've got the life I always wanted & dreamt about. I'm 'busy' for up to 20 hours every day.
K.H. : So, what is this house?
B.H. : One concept derived from Robin's description of 'art houses' in Belgium, when he lived there in recent years : people would visit a house, the whole of which was an exhibition. My idea was that anything & everything in the house was for sale, including the house! Apart from that it's a place for quietness & contemplation, no longer following any one tradition but with its roots in Buddhism & Zen.
K.H. : The whole house is a living gallery –no dedicated exhibition or shop space?
B.H. : Yes, the whole house as home & studio...
K.H. : Regarding the Buddhism & et cetera : from the look of it –the vast library of contemporary & mostly American & Japanese literature –the tradition you refer to must also be based in the themes & practice of the poets, I suppose the West Coast poets?
B.H. : Not totally –I'm still interested in the New Englanders : Ted Enslin, William Bronk, Cid Corman, Larry Eigner, Wendell Berry. Otherwise it was West Coast, Japanese. The first book to get me going was Paul Reps' Zen Flesh, Zen Bones –my copy is the 1961 Anchor Books p/b edition –bought in the mid to late '60s. The reason for getting it was probably the influence of Dad's collection of of Yoga & esoteric books –also the Master Theiron magazines!
K.H. : Yes, and that's a whole other story!
B.H. : Yes, still very interesting. Dad was ahead of his time –auras, colours, diet –all of the New Age interests predated by Master Theiron!
K.H. : What would you like to happen in this house?
B.H. : I'd like it to bring into focus my interests, in the company of other people.
K.H. : So, is it a kind of b & b for esoterics?
B.H. : Only in a very private way –not open slather. It's not business! By invitation only --via family or my own connections...
K.H. : The obvious connections between literature –or let's say poetry --& Buddhism, say, appear to me, as I look around the house, to be Gary Snyder, the Beats –which aint exactly what you'd expect in an English country garden?!
B.H. : It's not what any other local expects either. My nearest English 'collaborator' is Owen Davis, who lives in Bournemouth, 30 miles away, who's into Bukowski, Kerouac, Patchen, Snyder, jazz... He seems to be following another direction now though these are still references in his head.
K.H. : Yes, I remember interviewing Owen in 1987, at Cemetery Lodge just down the road when you lived there. I had an old tape-recorder & a kind of commission from John Tranter, then with the ABC, to record some interviews with English poets to offer a picture of the contemporary situation in the UK. Pretty eccentric though : Owen Davis, Paul Buck, F.T. Prince! Nothing came of it! Actually, I'm a bit confused about the date, because I also interviewed Nicholas Johnson. Perhaps it was Owen & Paul in '87, and Frank & Nicholas in 1990? We sold a copy of Owen's Che Hamzah's Monkey, which you published (Stingy Artist, '88), at Collected Works recently-- nice poems –
B.H. : Yes, Catherine [O'Brien] thought so too –she bought some copies for I : Cat Gallery (in Vientiane). Also Cralan Kelder, on the phone recently from Amsterdam, said he was very taken by those poems...
K.H. : Ah yes, Cralan Kelder [his collection Give Some Word, from Shearsman, UK, 2010] –he'd contacted me via email having found the Poetry & Ideas blog –he's interested in Franco Beltrametti and read references to Franco in my article on Cornelis Vleeskens. And I put him in touch with you as immense stockist of Black Sparrow / Bukowski titles & everything else. And so you were able to send him the two publications of Franco you've produced...
B.H. : Yes –Three for Nado (Stingy Artist / Last Straw Press, UK, 1992) & Two Letters to Nado (Stingy Artist Editions, 2010). Nado was my nickname and in Japanese means “et cetera, et cetera” (as described in one of the Franco letters.
K.H. : It doesnt refer at all, then, to Franco's character Nadamas, in his novel of that name, a section of which I published in my mag, Earth Ship, back in '71 or '72?
B.H. : I didnt think of that --I dont know...
[Break for lunch : bottle of Old Thumper, Bernard's home baked bread, spring onions, cheddar cheese, hommous.
Bread : organic almost 100% wholemeal flours consisting of kamut, wheat, barley, molasses, barley malt, sunflower seeds, fennel seeds, salt, dried yeast, warm water, olive-oil, oat flakes decoration.
Beer : Ringwood Brewery's Old Thumper --”A Beast of a beer” --wonderful picture of boar on label, full frontal & tusked. Alc., 5.6% vol.
“Hampshire's New Forest was historically the hunting ground of legendary fierce wild boar, the prize kill of many an English king. Ringwood Brewery celebrated this heritage with a real beast of a beer in 'Old Thumper'. It delivers a deep brown strong ale with a spicy fruity hop aroma and a warming nutty finish. The distinctive taste has made it a champion Beer of Britain, popular at home and abroad.”]
[via telephone & email, 1st of May, 2011]
B.H. : Coming from a background of residential social care-work, I naturally tend towards providing a nurturing environment at Goldy. How necessary do you think that might be for writers & artists?
K.H. : I'd like to pull your question into a slightly different discussion, namely the kind of therapeutic occasion such a residence might enhance and whether the making of art, the writing of poetry, benefits from nurture! The thing is, you are making an environment at Goldy, which includes its whole house library of poetry & related literature, and, importantly, or important to you, the food you provide & its informing philosophy. You are simply but thoroughly the host. The environment itself is what will or wont nurture your guest or guests. Being a host to such visitors is not social work in the way your professional background understood it. As you say, the house is where you'll “bring into focus [my] interests, in the company of other people.”
B.H. : It's a resource for writers & artists containing an extensive Zen & Buddhist library. And I'd like to offer a healthy, mainly plant based diet. I have also imagined a Zen sitting group. And do you think a structured environment is necessary?
K.H. : Your artist & writer guests (I'm sure you include readers in that swag) might not of course be Zennists or Buddhists, but they'd be accepting of such as the accent of the place. Fundamentally for visitors it'll be a rather special pied a terre. I wonder if you ever came across the term “eco-monastery”? It was used by John Martin & others in the early '80s here, to describe places which tried to live up to (Deep) ecological principals and to be a combination of retreat & sanctuary. The structure youre wondering about is surely more a general environment or ambiance than a workshop with curriculum!
I actually feel there's a connection between your place in Weymouth, Catherine [O'Brien]'s I : Cat Gallery in Vientiane, Laos, and our Collected Works Bookshop in Melbourne. Cathy told me today that she's been congratulated on her gallery's “independence”. I think that means she just gets on with it : providing a space for poetry, art, film events, and a guest-room, for which she takes the responsibility. She's not waiting on other people or organizations' say-so. I:Cat is becoming known in Vientiane but not at the cost of her personal freedom. This her life, her contribution to the creative life where she lives & works. As you say for Goldy, it's not a business! The same at Collected Works : we are a bookshop in the marketplace, but our economics are about surviving & maintaining a particular kind of creative, literary space, not being a commercial success per se.
B.H. : Based on what youve seen of Goldy on your visit, do you think rapprochement between local & international is possible?
K.H. : Well, without being cute, the existence of your house in Weymouth is that rapprochement in practice! And the contradiction of terms, local & international, is only formal; that is to say, it's not mutually exclusive, nor ever was (as if, as said elsewhere, the Ecole du Paris wasnt local)! If you mean, how will you connect with the local when what you've experienced of the local (Weymouth, Dorset, England et al) doesnt connect with you? --then you have to expand your physical/social ambit as well as your definition, otherwise wither on the vine of mutual exclusivity!
When I've asked the question, most recently in context of our Dharma Bum correspondence (elsewhere in this blog), I only ever thought in terms of connections. At the same time, Weymouth isnt Melbourne, Vientiane, California or Japan in its external forms & expressions, but must be connected as yet another place in the world with the potential for authentic encounter & practice!
[Stop, for walking in one hemisphere, sleeping in the other.]
(edited Kris Hemensley, Melbourne)