Launch speech for Pete Spence's PERRIER FEVER (Grand Parade, '11)
Here is a poem of mine, written by Pete Spence; it is also a poem in the Ashbery / O'Hara / Schuyler mode written by a generation of English poets & their American cousins... It is a Pete Spence poem & an Australian poem, and I think it is a beautiful poem : "there is a mountain of solitude on the hill / occasionally it comes to us in a moment of eagerness / we find little peace under the avalanche / and would like to push it all upward / away from the pressing urgency of noise / the grit we bathe in // and then one day perhaps / through pumice suds / frosted obsidian windows ajar / the panel of sky / the chalky turmoil / we call "the light of day" / we see / THIS WAY UP / stenciled / near the summit of the hill!" [p68, PF]
Pete Spence is an old friend & colleague; a member of our Collected Works Bookshop collective in the mid to late '80s, (which included such luminaries as Robert Kenny, Jurate Sasnaitis, Des Cowley, Ted Hopkins, Rob Finlayson, amongst many others); a fellow little mag editor (who'll ever forget Post Neo?), gallery buff, international traveller.
He was first mentioned to me by the late Geoff Eggleston as a poet friend he'd like me to meet --circa '82, '83... Ah Geoff : author of this memorable couplet, "No man is an island / and no woman is a clipper-ship" -- I still dont quite know what it means! Likewise, Pete's line always in my head : "relaxing on a Li-Lo reading Li Po" --the entire verse is, "a parenthesis ladles the tune / relaxing on a Li-Lo reading Li Po / under some amended weather / tumbling sunshine"...
James Schuyler said you'd never get New York poetry until you realized the gallons of paint flowing through it --painting & painters. Following that thought, Pete's book abounds in names (Pam, Ken, John, Corny et al), references to painting, to poetry & to poets, & to music, composers --as though a record is always playing --a symphony, perhaps, he shares with Alan Wearne, his friend & publisher.
Spence is a poet of fraternity --which includes conviviality & melancholy... No wonder his recent poem in progress is called The Kynetonbury Tales, and a delight it's been to read via e-mail.
And, therefore, what a coup that Alan Wearne has pinned this pilgrim down long enough to make a cohesive book out of a vast & errant production --this book out of many possible compilations.
And Alan is to be heartily congratulated on his Grand Parade Poets publishing project, & this particular volume.
It's such a good looker... Designed & set by Christopher Edwards, -- who shares with Pete similar 'adventures in poetry', --the chance & play --the relishing of words as though a different species of artist --painter, sculptor, composer.
And Alan himself along this track, whose Otis Redding poem way back in Public Relations (published by Gargoyle Poets in 1973), advances his share of Pete's kind of fun : "Redding, Redding, remorse will smash any epilogue chance, / any sweat-liturgy you sang and I might have attempted / once I walked in the rain until one once / to shout O, 'tis (forever!) Redding" ...
So, a poet of fraternity --which tag can deal with correspondence & address (the given social world a poet inhabits) and the matter of influence. And if I can use the French 'chez', thus "with" (which Paul Buck gave me decades ago) : "with" in preference to "after" with its misleading implication of "imitation" --, then we can say Pete Spence's poems stay with the effects of his long lasting affections... He revisits them, he calls upon them --they are become motifs --they are his muses, they are his amusements --elegy, ode, sonnet, City, Landscape, Weather, the Sun, the Sky...
I opened his book at random the other day, on page 105, --the poem entitled Shop : "i thought the shop / was called SLIDE / until i walked into the door!"
I'm still visualizing a kind of Jacques Tati cartoon, or Charlie Chaplin, or Rowan Atkinson. The jokeyness transmutes or elevates from ha-ha to Surrealist smile in the poem Drawing : "i muscled in / all the angles / crosshatched in / the shadows / only to realise / i'd drawn / a horse without / neck or head / and its tail / was a cloud / in the sky" --
Perhaps this collection, Perrier Fever (and I reiterate, one possible selection of many --notwithstanding the attrition, the loss & destruction of poems along the way, allusion to which I recall from conversation 25 or 30 years ago), perhaps it is his humourous selected poems (different kinds of humour)... But even so it's informed by the totality of his poetry. Remember, Pete is no Spring-chicken. A different personality would have seen him vying for volumes & anthologies many times over.
Pete Spence's poetry has all the exclamations of the New Yorkers, all the happenstance & hutzpah --which is another way of saying all the spontaneity & presence --which is another way of saying that more often than not the Pete Spence poem is both written in an ideal space, called the poem, and enacts the ideal poem, a doing that's simultaneously done --which is another way of saying that whatever happens in the poem is the poem, informed or inspired by the insight that anything might enter the poem --because it can and because it is the poem... What does your poem mean, Mr Stevens? asks the earnest correspondent. Stevens replies : Mean? Mean? The poem means nothing more than the (--and we can interpolate, nothing less) than the heavens full of colours & the constellations of sound! Which is another way of saying that Spence, like Wallace Stevens, can be poet as painter, poet as musician, poet as inventor & conjurer of effects --of sensations which course the mind, tickle the tongue...
But who is Pete Spence?
As scholarship, let alone the insatiable curiosity of the reader like Pete himself, as it expands its purview, so outsiders are claimed for the vast continuum; so peripherals are identified, brought in from the cold, --not that the cold isnt a legitimate or even desirable place to be.
Alan's told us a little about Pete. Pete's written a little about himself here in his book. I'd like to add one story to the biography.
It's the story of a possible history, had a manuscript for an anthology around 1971, actually transpired. In 1973 I was given custody of the mss. of Dark Ages Journal. In 1984, in my H/EAR magazine, dedicated to a '40s/'60s/'80s chronicle of the 'New', I described that anthology's perspective. It was a Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, New Zealand compendium. Its editors had included Charles Buckmaster, probably Garrie Hutchinson & either Richard Tipping or Rob Tillett.
Students of the '68-'71 or so period will recognize many of the names --Michael Dransfield, Charles Buckmaster, Terry Gillmore, John Jenkins, Vicki Viidikas, Garrie Hutchinson, Frances Yule, Ian Robertson; New Zealanders like Alan Brunton, Murray Edmond, Gary Langford. But the unusual Melbourne names are Walter Billeter, Robert Kenny, David Miller, Robert Harris & Pete Spence.
I licked my lips relishing the different history this coincidence promoted back then. The La Mama [Poets Workshop] '60s style become conventional even as it was being hailed in the anthology edited by Tom Shapcott, Australian Poetry Now, suddenly had the possibility of rejuvination! I like it very much that Spence is part of that potential history. As he is now in the present day.
Without further ado, in launching Perrier Fever, may I introduce to you : Pete Spence...
[delivered at the "Poetry and the Contemporary Symposium", at the Bella Union, 54 Victoria Street, Carlton; part of the Grand Parade launch; Thursday, 7th July, 2011]
DAVID N. PEPPERELL
Two Poems + Haiku
THE ALBION JUKEBOX MURDER 1972
I could hear their voices from where I sat
drinking by myself on a cold night
"THAT FUCKING MUSIC'S DRIVING ME NUTS!"
"forget it, it's your shot"
"I CANT PLAY WITH THAT FUCKING NOISE!"
"it doesnt bother me"
"WHO GIVES A FUCK WHAT BOTHERS YOU?"
"just leave it, OK?"
"GET FUCKED, I'M TURNING IT OFF!"
"dont do it"
"JUST WATCH ME, DICKHEAD!"
he walked over to the jukebox
and reached behind it
the sound disappeared
he turned around, the smile
dying on his lips as the
knife went into his heart
he fell to the floor his
pool cue falling beside him
they carried him out
covered by a sheet
his killer stumbled behind him
handcuffed to a couple of cops
who took him away in the wagon
I put my beer down on the bar
and walked out into the
prussian blue night
that sure killed the albion for me
I never drank there again
I dont think anybody else did it either.
CARLTON BUSTOP INCIDENT
in lygon street carlton dreamscape
i'm stuck in past loneliness of memories
over there coffee on saturday mornings at tamanis
john deep in the australian with a flat white
now gone to a fast lane end in a thai bamboo compound
mary gone too bottle of pills & no goodbye
lennie still around making the world safe for crime
what hope for him in a new world order?
tony could be anywhere maybe making moomba floats
and still pursuing the red revolution
dave now has new wife, new allegiances, new house with lawn
same face though, same laugh, same glass
where is the bus to take me away from all this?
ghosts gather in my thoughts
the dead fight with the living for space and time
hold me to your heart sweet yesterday
tomorrow just lost another traveller
MORNING COFFEE HAIKU
hot flat white
spoonful of sugar
boy in blue
muddy fake reboks
falls off chair
man with tongs
iced apple cake
brown paper bag
ringer on register
hand on briefcase
its late must
4 NEW YORK HAIKU
sleeping in new york
to the sound of falling rain -
every race in the world
why new york is the
centre of the universe -
the subway busker
plays boogie-woogie piano -
the trains run all night
Leora Bell broke her wrist
last week when the rain was here.
She was drunk again with Blake Fielder
and fell off a swing.
At first she didn't even realize
it was broken.
She just said, 'my wrist feels kinda
and laughed like a strange bird.
With a warm beer
beneath the setting sun
I overhear a man say
to his wife :
'There's a palace of ice
south of Tasmania
that no one has ever seen.
I can take you there,
I have a map.
It's bigger than Uluru.'
In the twilight of a love song
amorous Europeans descend staircases,
legless, and blowing
invisible kisses to impossible suitors
down the hall, where memories
can be found
turning endlessly in on themselves
like whirlpools on holiday.
TELEPHONE SHADOWS, LEAN AGAINST THE FRUIT BOWL
I see you by the water.
Your name is not Bravado,
Jane, or Solitude.
There is nothing in the distance
except a space reserved
for ghost ships.
Your face is turned away
from a great number
Your hair is nearly down
to your hips.
There is no telling how far back
a story goes.
I see you by the water.
Your name is not Momentum,
Eliza, or Sleep.
TWO PROSE PIECES
A SHADOW LEAVING It won’t be the right thing for you: there is
the circular plot, and one or other leaving – some bloody battle. But I
wish you safe road, I wish that to you. Trundle the gods from their
museums, stand with them at crossroads and they’ll be freed from
obligations to warn of death, though not of how close others will come
to us. Them in a Limbo of not arriving, a nowhere advanced by
technology and our tiredness. And all the while the money sparks,
still sparks, changes hands. It makes us close-touched, adorned,
volatile, with our stepped hands, our stepped words. What is it to be
intact? Ignore it, don’t fret it back, we have the gods! Shadows hold
us with unremembered promises that we are tranced by: while
yesterday’s tomorrows pile up all tarnished and unaccountable. The
gods try comfort, warn of emptiness without them. I want to turn on my
borrowed heel, though then I’ll never know what I did, or what is sold
on the streets until each exhausted dawn. The unsheathed flesh of
flowers pours from glassy throats. I’m moved, truly. Slowed to silence
in the physical downpour of the morning rain, the fabric of the sky.
It frees me. The gods gave little comfort. They were crudely fashioned.
I may travel. There are many directions, a border country where words
change in meaning. Should we blame the gods. Or angels? We were
defiant, and wanton, worked to free ourselves from our desire for their
monstrous shadows, their mechanical animals. We had believed the
shadow-play but insisted they leave the shelter we found for them.
Stood by at the crossroads. No question, I’m pared back without them.
I am like something else...
TRANCE Primitive fairground amusements judder around us under
human force and disco. Unskilled in the ways of petrol: flame
throws out its spurts. He rolls his eyes and wipes his mouth on an old
cloth, while the women sing, or fail to, telling us nothing as it happens.
Our ring of faces is merely curious. Arse in a barrel straining to get away
from whip lashes that are aimed from the cruelty of youth. Who can we
blame for this? We are rumour and shadow, as he spits unburnt petrol
into the not yet midnight. We breathe like him through shallow shoals
of traffic and a pall of cardboard cinders that fall from fireworks.
Masked, old rope tail, tee-shirt stained with petrol dribbles as music
with uneven lyrics, many parts despair some joy, plays over us like
pollution. And all the while the puppet master jokes with the orchestra.
FRANCESCA JURATE SASNAITIS
I have been covered in black sand,
the fine ground progeny of laval rock and glittering mica,
the work of millennial waves and winds
beating beating at these wasted cliffs,
dust dry on this island once haled a tropical paradise.
I have swum with schools of darting fishes
the speed and green of lightning bolts,
fish the colour of sun playing in wavelets over rocks
and fish the black of the shadows underneath.
I have seen fish striped the yellow of young leaves.
I have tasted of paradise, and reek of it—
pungent garlic and slivers of onion fried,
the leaf of the blingbing tree, turmeric, chilli,
red red rice, green papaya and galangal—
the poetry of flavour.
I have developed a taste for Arak.
Kue dadar pisang! pancake wrapped
and spidered in coconut, the red banana . . .
my mouth aches in anticipation!
A frangipani graces every dish.
-------------------------shooting at the sky
...the way I ride my bike along a lane that takes me by
one of the many temples in Vientiane...plaster casts on
the wall depict a young boy with his bow and arrow...
shooting at the sky...angels hover above him...as they
ascend wings detach and float on the white...feathers
fall...embedded into the wall memory shadows where once
there were more boys with arrows...shooting at angels...
floating wings...falling feathers...the symmetry undisturbed
by the erosion of time...daily I ride again into this story and
see it unfold...every day the lane and the wall divide my day into
remembered and forgotten...pierced by shooting arrows!
David N Pepperell was co-proprietor of legendary Melbourne record shop, Archie & Jughead back in the day. In the mid '90s he ran Dr. Pepper's Jazz Junction in the Port Philip Arcade ("from trad to bop - from free to acid - all the jazz that's fit to stock!"). Song-writer & music journalist. Books include Raphael Alias (1976), East Gate, West Gate (1991), Letters to a Friend [correspondence with Anais Nin] ('92), both from Nosukumo press.
Grant Caldwell edited the now defunct Blue Dog magazine (from the Australian Poetry Centre, Melbourne). Of his 7 collections to date his most recent are Dreaming of Robert de Niro (2003) & Glass Clouds (2010), both from Five Islands Press. His novel Malabata ('91) is something of a classic.
Jake Core is an itinerant poet & musician. The poems here are published in his little book, The Goose Puddle (Brierfield Flood Press, 2010).
Angela Gardner, poet & artist. Edits poetry e-zine, foam:e. see, http://www.foame.org Her collection, Parts of Speech (UQP, 2007), was the winner of the Arts Queensland Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize. Views of the Hudson was published by Shearsman, UK, in 2009.
Francesca Jurate Sasnaitis, an original member of Collected Works bookshop, ran the distinguished independent store, Greville Street Bookstore for 20 years. Nosukumo published her prose-pieces, Sketches, in 1989. In the last year she's published 2 exquisite chapbooks, Gravelly Views & Thirteen Seasons (in one day) with her own imprint, Ratas.
Cathy O'Brien lives & works in Vientiane, where her little i:cat gallery stages art & photography exhibitions, poetry readings, & film showings. Her most recent publications are the card book Word Sculptures, and a poem card collaboration with Kris & Bernard Hemensley (published by Stingy Artist, UK, 2011).
Pete Spence's Perrier Fever is published by Alan Wearne's Grand Parade, & is available at all good bookstores including Collected Works Bookshop.
--that's all folks!--
October 4th, 2011