Monday, December 10, 2007


6th December,'07
Hi Kris,
I'm trying to get hold of a rare poetry book titled Bellyfulls by Nanao Sakaki, translated by Neale Hunter with an introductory note by Gary Snyder, published by Eugene Toad Press, 1966.
Could you let me know if by any chance you have a copy or can track one down for me.
Much appreciated,
Steve Brock


[I replied commenting upon the apparent coincidence of his enquiry for Sakaki and Bernard Hemensley & I referring to Sakaki in our OTDB correspondence.]


7th December,'07
hi kris,
this is a coincidence --i hadnt seen the reference to sakaki on your blog.
the dharma bums is one of my favourite kerouac books, though i read it some time ago.
my interest in sakaki is actually via neale hunter, who was a close friend of my father's.
i only recently stumbled across bellyfulls online, quite by accident, as neale never mentioned the book (he died about 3 years ago).
neale published a couple of books on the cultural revolution, including shanghai journal, and at one stage travelled through south-east asia with gary snyder.
he spoke a number of languages and was fluent in chinese, however i wasn't aware that he also knew japanese.
his friendship with snyder must have led to collaboration on bellyfulls.
neale also kept up a correspondence with snyder, and sent him a series of self-published poetry books in the last few years of his life that he produced on a photocopier.
you may not recall this, but i came by your bookshop a year or so ago and picked up a copy of edward field's count myself lucky, and we had a brief chat.
since then i've published a short collection, the night is a dying dog, in the friendly st new poets (12) series.
let me know if you can locate a copy of bellyfulls, and in the meantime i'll read up on sakaki.


10th December,'07
hi kris
(....) i've enjoyed reading the dharma bums letters.
i picked up a copy of lonesome traveller when i was nineteen or twenty, circa 1990, and read howl around the same time.
the beats were a seminal influence on myself and other friends who wrote, even though we werent "first generation" readers.
neale was lucky enough to meet ginsberg, on a beach in india.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


ROGER HILTON'S SUGAR, Kelvin Corcoran (Leafe Press, Nottingham, UK), 2005.

What does the poet want of the painting? A poem; the absolute given ("world", "language") such as poetry would die for (though the good chance the painter's done just that is temporarily forgotten).
To the poet, the painting is already part of the world --a step or a word away from the impenetrability one might also call nothing (as in how & what to say anything); a speaking not merely audible but coherent.
The poet in the wake of the painting joins a conversation, answers because spoken to, enrolls the painting in the ventriloquy that's largely the art. To the poet the articulate painter is the painting(s) speaking. The oracle. To the poet , painter is often who one would like to be, doing, naturally, what one would like to do.
Kelvin Corcoran's Roger Hilton's Sugar (Leafe Press, UK, 2005) is as candle to moth for me if only because Hilton's one of the St Ives school, the most personal artist of that distinctively English modernism flowering at mid-century. He's one of mine, as it were, since in addition to assuaging my ex-pat's nativist fascination, he fields the formal contradiction of contemporary painting, dealing both abstractly & figuratively with the challenges of representation & feeling.
Hilton's line-drawing, Seated Nude 1972, is wonderful on the cover & also heads the sequence of poems. It's similar to the many female nudes in Night Letters and selected drawings (selected by Rosemary Hilton, produced by Newlyn Orion Galleries Ltd., 1980), those he confesses to becoming bored with in that remarkable tragi-comic testimony. The title of Corcoran's book refers to Hilton's great word-painting, Fuck You Wheres My Sugar (gouache, 1973), which I've only ever seen in reproduction in Adrian Lewis's The Last Days of Hilton (Sansom & Company, UK, 1996).
So what does Corcoran want of Roger Hilton? In his chapbook, the painter's words, often drawn from Night Letters, & the poet's words, evoking the painter & his works, convulse --sudden image in my head of the moment, in all its film versions, that Dr Frankenstein's creature spasms into life!-- and Roger Hilton appears to be up & about & all around one. My experience of Kelvin Corcoran's poetry is much the same --as though literary culture is the ground, received, mediated --not done to death though, since he tills this particular earth wholeheartedly, his head a pair of hands & no lump of stone --and disport he will, with & upon it (--the problem, if I may say, of intellect in the equation with song (that is, the sound of it, voice defined as subject's truest quiver that'll shake & fork poem (& painting come to that) to disorder's most perfect pitch) --likewise the problem of historian, political analyst, propounding critic --welcoming --could that be true? would that it were! --whatever contradiction, expressed as text, which love exacts. Love? Well of course, love : the body that doesnt mind, the body unbound --"My mind empties around the tower / of Kapetanios Christeas and into the sea", Ino in Against Purity, from New & Selected Poems (Shearsman, 2004) --the sensually responding, data dissolving, feeling, desiring poet come through all-knowing's blaze, relatively unscathed!
Corcoran's a dissenter whose poetics & politics snuggle up cuddly as these times' rad rap expects them to (--his "English Bores", in one poem, who've "co-opted Ashbery", probably line up with his Blair, Bush, Sharon, Milosevic in another poem, "those who are wired to the world, who cannot set ambition aside." --and not much of a charge, really --I mean, any four nobs would do, surely? -Mandela, Arafat, Mugabe, the Pope --but I suspect his foursome are code for "Fascists" or some such, with the despicable Milosevic there to anchor the calumny --Blair & Bush the patsies for the relativist political equation that makes nothing very much of the profound distinction between megalomaniac, racist dictatorship & liberal-democratic society; Sharon included not only as the legendary butcher but cypher for Israel in the Left's lunatic repudiation of her sovereignty (--as though poetry could be "reactionary" in such raw political terms --as though political terms served poetry's definition at all? --but, to be fair, Corcoran is a poet of history who, of course, uses the materials according to his own interest)... And he enrolls Roger Hilton in the same disaffection, disaffiliation... The famous incident of Hilton trying to give away his own CBE -- poignantly in Roger Hilton's Sugar : "I am lying under a bus in St Just / -who wants this fucking medal? / It's a curse on me for staleness, / I could use this gravel, textured to my face, / fairer far than palace walls." -- is more complicated in Jeremy Le Grice as quoted by Adrian Lewis, the contradictory psychology of the anarchist who keeps an eye on career... For Corcoran a feature of his quixotic conjuration, a Hilton whose "Stick it in your pipe" is an inflection of the "brand to stick in the eye of state"...
Probably Hilton's greater role for Corcoran is that of index of Englishness --of England & the English --from out of geology, topography, climate, culture, aesthetics, politics --exemplar of what I think of, from so far away in Australia, as the quirkiness of that marvelous place, not just St Ives but all of England as that magical "secret island". And that's Corcoran himself, hiltoned thus :


My discontinuous line is sexual, intimate, savage.
your fantastic anatomy my vehicle;
this is what they say - beast, charming I'm sure,
show the whole world, why don't you?

As is your life, so is your line,
a fragment made abstract and broadcast;
the human sensation we die for;
my nudes and other animals dancing.

My horses, carts, boats and flowers
such earthly bodies in motion overlap,
run into one another the quick sensation
behind the big secret behind all thought.

Bow down you Greeks, you ghosts;
I am on the last run, with no feeling in my feet.

So much more one could say... Corcoran's domestication of Pound's dictum in the opening of the second stanza above (& Pound surely inferred in the coupling of the misquotation with giveaway word "broadcast"? --and Jack Spicer's moniker "radio" quite a motif in Corcoran's work generally)... Corcoran's lifting from WS Graham's poem, Lines On Roger Hilton's Watch, the image of Hilton's gaze, "Nothing can replace the long, steady gaze, / face to face with the picture." (Seeing Hilton), against the artist's teasing instruction, from Night Letters, "Never confront either a painting or your wife face to face. They are better seen out of the corner of your eye, while you are entertaining yourself with other things."
(These are observations, not quibbles, about the use a poet makes of historical material --all grist, yes, but something closer to metaphysics emerges than history supposes --or is it simply the natural waywardness of the lyric & what happens to history when it's caught in lyric's throat, tuned on poetry's tongue?)
My heart goes out to Kelvin Corcoran for his English project which is far from simplified in an artist like Hilton, however poetically configured --Hilton & that entire St Ives, & further, neo-Romantic, crew --before, during & after abstract-expressionism; before, during & after postmodernism...

--Kris Hemensley--
November 12-18, 2007

Wednesday, November 7, 2007


[KRIS COAD : "WAITING..." , at Diane Tanzer Gallery, Gertrude Street, Fitzroy
October 20-November 17,2007]


As one artist to another : our currency is response. Being a friend of the artist exacerbates the obligation (Robert Duncan : responsibility is the ability to respond), & propels the urgency.
I assume, now, exquisite ceramics from Kris Coad, and the chamotte clay tiles & stools & the bone-china shoes in her new exhibition, Waiting..., reward that expectation. One must constantly remind oneself of the sophistication of her work lest familiarity blunts ones appreciation of her true & tried craft nous. Her piece in the Contamination group-exhibition at the Gasworks, Albert Park (18/10 -28/10/07), is yet another example of her ability to make exquisite ceramic art of simple themes & familiar objects : viewed from the notional front, pillow-cases on a clothes-line; from the back, the garments within the translucent pillow-cases; on the near wall, a product of the entire exhibition's theatre-lighting, the clothes'-like shadows, a wonderful bonus for the particular work.
It's an irony, though, that the deliberate theatrical staging of the Gasworks show, the Gasworks' house-style I think (individually lit pieces within the large darkened area), fully expresses the innate drama of the work itself --a work (Washing Day) which probably wouldnt demand an entire show's focus as does Waiting...'s clearly connected tableaux at Tanzer's. But what the room at Tanzer's required, in my opinion, was a gradation of light appropriate to the different tableaux, especially for one I initially thought was the single piece but as the price-list clearly indicates is in fact three! And, in my mind, those three of seven tableaux do create an installation of their own, utterly different in its suggestivity to the remainder of the room. The expectedly exquisite smaller pieces --e.g., stool, tile, shoes --are disarmingly elegant, but the largest tableaux, the intended work or my fabrication, is something else again!
A week or so ago, on first visiting Kris's exhibition, I assumed that the entire room was an installation, an unfolding though mysterious narrative. And I wasnt going to be diverted by the artist's title or, paradoxically, by the beauty of her tiles, stools, & shoes. I was consumed by the riddle also appreciated, I realized, in the penultimate sentences of Sarah Bond's catalogue-note --"Is there another room to enter and should I remove my own shoes out of respect? Have they been collected here for another purpose?"
Remove my own shoes? O God, I thought, remove myself; so difficult to be there as the awful feeling grew in me & around me that Kris Coad's largest tableaux was no homage to an Asian temple but the ante-room of something like a dungeon of no return, even one of the death camps' ghastly ovens.
Waiting? Of course, objects always await their narrators. They are, if you like, referred subjects themselves --perfect in themselves but inanimate. It is human presence/absence (Buddhist living/dying?) which dynamises them. Whatever they are is not narrative. But mercy : mercy, mercy, mercy : the owners of these shoes werent ever coming back...
One of Kris Coad's signatures is the illuminated object (electric light artfully deployed upon the unique texture of her pieces). So possessed was I by the macabre stillness of the large tableaux that I saw candles within the shoes, little shoe candles, little flickerings for the departed souls, diminutive sepulchres. I wished then for muted lighting or darkness except for the few lit shoes & whatever filtered in from outside the gallery. However, I completely accept the comment made to me by Ursula Dutkiewicz, when we discussed these issues at the Gasworks last week, that there is a world of difference between a commercial gallery & something like the Gasworks, a space given over to its artists. So, of course, one understands & accepts the definitive tension in a commercial gallery between commercial & aesthetic imperatives. Tanzer's does well in this context : the grey wall at right angles to one tableaux, the large white screen contextualising the largest work, are crucial theatrical props. Priceless, as it were.
This is Kris Coad's first large room : her work deserved it! She filled it! No waiting for Kris Coad! The artist's arrived!

--Kris Hemensley
October 28-November 7,2007

Saturday, November 3, 2007


Regarding John Hubbard (in Dorset)

from the Journal[English], Journey 07
Tuesday, 9th October (...) Abed,11-05pm. Nothing much doing in Dorchester -- For a start the spitting rain of Weymouth had become heavy downpour in Dorchester --no chance, therefore, of following the stream into the countryside abutting the town but hidden from it (in the sense of this countryside surprising one when one comes upon it so close to the town centre) -- We visited the Museum wch. was showing paintings by John Hubbard but the thought of 6 Pounds entry x 2 for an exhibition of aerial views of Dorset several of which we could see through the entrance of the gallery room put Naad [Bernard Hemensley] off & therefore me too -- But cards & catalogue of earlier show were inviting --
At Library later on I researched [Googled] John Hubbard and was happy to find his story : from Connecticut, came to UK in 1961. . .He's in his late 60s [70s actually]. . .When I saw Naad again I told him JH was one of ours. . .references to Peter Lanyon, Mark Tobey, Maurice Graves, Zen & Taoism, Chinese poetry. . .Mentioned in dispatches by Peter Fuller. Say no more. The unexpected gift of this Journey. I have his e/mail and will probably follow up.

from little jottings notebook, at the Blue Raddle, Dorchester
Wednesday, 10th October. As luck wd have it (luck? --this is synchronicity, non?) I met the artist, John Hubbard, and only could have done so had we not attended the show y'day and only didnt because we thought entry was 6 Pounds and the view from the doorway was of aerial views which we thought would amount to a couple of paintings on each wall of a type that might not not detain us --
Spoke to JH
tall man, green jumper, runners, corduroys, angular face, distant american tinge to accent -- I'd been aware of him & a woman he'd greeted with hug & kiss -- That's not Dorchester, I thought : he might be the artist! -- When they came alongside (I was riveted by a charcoal of Dartmoor, intrigued by sub-title "The Inland Sea") I listened a while to their conversation then when he caught my eye (and the term "psychogeography" ascribed to Iain Sinclair tickles me again --that intersection of energies wch. can be mapped, wch. actualises what we call synchronicity --& how appealing is that?!)(and isnt that already available --the principle established by Konrad Bayer "map of his head"?) I smiled & sd I apologised for "eavesdropping his conversation" (he was telling his friend that the small oils on paper were done in Sutherland --in Scotland? or did he say that friends of his or children had become fascinated by Sutherland wch. I took to be Graham Sutherland), and sd how much I liked the charcoal -- He said it was alright to eavesdrop : he was "talking for me as well" -- It's always nice to meet new people, he said --I said I'd looked him up on the internet, loved the Rubens detail wch. I'd magnified to the maximum --loved the shape & flow of the tree in the foreground -- Also said I'd picked up on a reviewer's ref. to Peter Lanyon --he was a friend of mine, he said -- With that ref. in mind I'd wondered if I was looking at aerial views? -- He said people often sd. that but he "most strenuously rejected [he] was doing that" -- "Mine arent aerial --they're from the ground up!" -- I told him I was from Oz -- He said he had a picture in Australia -- in Ballarat? I asked [according to internet] -- He thought about it -- yes, there, he said, but s/where else, at the gallery in Melbourne -- I said I'd look out for it -- I congratulated him on his show, left him to his principal admirer and said to a woman who'd approached him same time as I did : sorry for stealing your conversation! Not at all, she laughed, I can talk to him now! -- Sense then of a local art scene --

from the Journal
Thursday, 11-10-07, in the conservatory, 5pm (...) Re- John Hubbard -- It was flicking thru catalogue of charcoal drawings in the Museum foyer that caught me -- Naad thought we'd seen his work years ago -- and knew s/thing of him, e.g. Abbotsbury Gardens, designing a garden -- And when I looked him up on the internet I had all the confirmation I needed. It's always been an imperative to connect with &/or contact the local [Dorset] scene -- [Jack] Clemo back in '87 or '90, the Powys family, the Portland gallery/Margaret Somerville, Anne Axenskold, the Canadian painter [Marie Laywine Cooper, in Abbotsbury] et al -- John Hubbard is part of that home-making for me and by extension for Naad also -- I found an e/ contact for him on his web-site wch. decided the issue : I now had to see the latest show, aerial views or not!
Couldnt believe that the show was free entry --what a faux-pas previous day -- And then deducing the older, tall, grey-haired chap in green jumper & runners was him --darting around the gallery, greeting a woman admirer & guiding her from one painting to the next -- Had to be him! --
A chap in waistcoat over white shirt, a moustachio Bootsy & Snudge character, was the first to introduce himself --a fan evidently who referred to previous [of JH's] shows -- And so when JH & woman friend came alongside I just had to say s/thing!--
I like the Dartmoor charcoal very much, I said, and also the 4 small works adjacent -- "From memory" or "from my head" he'd told his friend -- & "Sutherland" wch. cd have been the region of Scotland or the esteemed painter!
I mentioned the ref. to P. Lanyon in review on internet --wondered if I was looking at aerial views? Lanyon a great friend but no, he "strenuously" denied that his pictures are aerial -- my look up not down! he said -- For example, the large cliff & sea & sky painting I heard him describing to his friend -- I mentioned Lanyon's Mullion Bay in Melbourne --he seemed to know it and agreed people looking at Lanyon could interpret his own work in similar fashion --
I told him how taken I'd been by the Rubens (detail) on the internet --the sensuous foreground tree -- I'm sure we'll talk anon. . .

Sunday, 21-10-07 [Melbourne] (...) I've enjoyed reading & re-reading John Hubbard's catalogue note for his Spanish paintings & drawings (Peter Scott Gallery, Lancaster) earlier this year. I'm particularly touched by the reference to Dorset & Cornish locations juxtaposed with the 20thCentury painting references one accepts as the major tradition & also those refs. to the Ancient Chinese & the Tao --for example, on the subject of the artificiality of horizons, "While I have only been to Tresco [Scilly Isles] twice (and you can't see the horizon within that garden), I have known both Porthmeor & Chesil for over 40 years. I used to divide my paintings into introspective (woodlands) & extrovert (open landscapes) but for some years that has ceased to apply. There is the endless fascination of water, its movement & shifting light is the essence of life itself, as the Chinese realised long ago. it is an important part of the Tao."

November 3rd, 2007, Melbourne

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


A visitor tells me he's a poet, from China, and asks about Chinese poets in Melbourne. He also tells me, casually, there are a million (did he really say a million?) poets in China. Incredible, though given a population of a billion (more?) a million is only a millionth! No --a customer looking for Robert Burns corrects me --it's a thousandth! But a million practicing poets --publishing, partying (I'm thinking drinking here, not toeing the line), in print and on the internet --astonishing to contemplate!
I offer Ouyang Yu as the most visible Chinese poet in Melbourne if not Australia. He doesnt know him (one in a million?) but as he glances at the books I show him he thinks he may have encountered him before. His opinion of our man is less interesting to me than the image he's sown in my imagination of the million poets, which shivers me in delight as well as dread as images of vastness always do.
Ouyang Yu has been visiting me at the Shop for years --late 80s, early 90s --ever since Alex Miller introduced us. Heaps of sympathy for this poet/translator post-Tianamin Square, but I had to smile when I read Kerry Leves in Overland a year or so ago, describing his annoyance with the poet whose signature style often includes insult & recrimination, albeit as exemplary post-colonial, anti-racist, post-modernist, militant non-Anglo-Australian --though, who or what is he in China? --one of the million among the millions, home away from home?
What's good for the goose is good for the gander seemed to be Kerry Leves's attitude : he accepted Ouyang's proffered mutual exclusivity. End of story. Ouyang does a good line in vitriol,invective, upsetting the bourgeois, but that's hardly unique in poetry throughout the ages (the Catullan spirit as it were). For my part, I confess that the same type of delight & dread, curiousity & discomfort as informs one's "Australian" take on "China" obtains in Ouyang Yu's regard.
It is the 5,000 year sweep of Chinese poetry, especially the T'ang & Sung periods to which English-language translators have paid particular attention, that amazes one. Its sheer length & breadth. In poetry there is no past which has passed forever; all poetry is constantly contemporary in the purview of translator & reader. As reader-poets we are constantly bearing up the past, bringing it through. Ouyang Yu knows that --and he also knows what's going down now : the complete opposition in China to any sense of tradition, and he seems happy to represent it, to practice it himself. However, he didnt demur when I said that reading several anthologies of contemporary Chinese poetry in 2003/04, as research, if you like, for the Dear Takamura poems I was writing then (for which, obviously, I was also exploring the Japanese poet Takamura & his ill-fated artist wife Chieko), I was, rightly or wrongly, struck by a continuity of that clarity & directness, that world-as-it-is-ness, that occupation of the present (ramifying as either timeless or momentary)... Of course there's a difference between wistful equanimity and in-your-face Punk anti-literature, but even so...
To Ouyang's "mildly & sensitively anti-Western" attitude, as I say to him, "mildly & sensitively" (the phrase he uses in the introduction to his anthology, In Your Face : Contemporary Chinese Poetry in English Translation, pub. Otherland, 2000), I am as Western as he is not, as English as he is Chinese, as Australian as he is. That is, I come to poetry as a person of place & time --perhaps I can also say that I come to language in this way --and the poems I write or have written both represent that historical situation and find (however conscious the seeking) a something-else, a somewhere-else.
Perhaps our biggest difference relates to the part of "offense" in our attitude & work --practically non-existent in mine, almost a raison d'etre for Ouyang (see Bias : Offensively Chinese/Australian, pub. Otherland, 2007). Some contend quietly, others noisily with the ruling culture or the culture's current pleasure. John Kinsella tangentially fields Ouyang's figure of "paradise"; he translates it politically : "(...)there is no paradise in Australia, at least for the majority, but there is certainly a worse "no paradise" for some more than others, and certainly for some 'ethnicities' more than others." --Letter to Ouyang Yu, p10, Bias. However imposing the political is, it's only & always a partial truth; in this case "a worse 'no paradise'" is politically cute but ultimately a semantic tease.
Paradise is the central metaphor for the countries & cultures of emigration, the migrant's metaphor, the metaphor of migrant spirit, per se. And "no paradise" is its definitive & therefore indispensable corollary. Yes, it is the political & so too the psychological modus operandi; and it is the metaphor, the myth & archetype. And the poet is to know this and write to & from this knowledge. I've probably said all this before, "mildly & sensitively", in conversation with Ouyang Yu. The "angry poet" has been equally civil!
I'm moved by the complaint that it's "so difficult in this time for Chinese intellectuals to live intellectually in Australia." (A Tree That Hit The Granite Ceiling; Bias, p162.) But that, apparently, was how Australian intellectuals felt about Australia from the 30s to the Whitlam era, when the intellectual emigration was said to have reversed, and every few years the same sentiment is annunciated by someone or other --for example,the possibly paranoid & certainly hyperbolic Left-identifying intelligentsia during the Howard years. Periodically, those of British-extraction author the same eruptions of bitterness & nostalgia; European-originating, ditto; Middle-Eastern, Latin-American...
Perhaps migrants expect to find Paradise while the natives expect for it to be created? The migrant country is always under construction and tension between later & existing attitudes describes the country's dynamic. And what is the cultural difference between Australia and the USA in this regard? Is the answer 200 or so years? It's only 40 years, more or less, since the first Asian-American anthologies hit the scene, 20 years since the emergence of the so-called Asian-American first generation writers (denoting "widespread literary recognition"; Victoria Chang, Asian-American Poetry :The Next Generation, Illinois,2004)...
So I continue mulling the "million poets", and the one in a million, Ouyang Yu's works in one hand, the T'ang in the other, Australia all around...

(September 10-12, 2007)

The review of Ouyang Yu I had in mind was actually by Richard King, published in Overland magazine, #179/Winter, 2005, to which the poet responded in Overland, #180/Spring,'05. The short review ran as follows :
"It becomes apparent, reading Ouyang Yu, that not many people return his calls. It also becomes apparent why : he doesnt appear to like his friends. "I'd be so angry", he says at one point, "i'd just dial a familiar number / and hiss into the phone / wordlessly" . And that's not all. Ouyang Yu hopes that, one day, "a wireless telephone gun" will be invented, so he can not only hiss but shoot at you, too.
Ouyang Yu's contempt for humanity (especially Australian humanity) is, in the end, his own affair, and as long as he doesnt make good on the threat that the tone of his poems implicitly makes, I dont supose anyone really cares. As for the quality of Ouyang Yu's poems : suffice it to say, I disliked this book (New & Selected Poems) as much as I felt it disliked me."
Ouyang Yu responded thus :
"I thoroughly enjoyed the Mabel Lee interview by Vin D'Cruz in Overland #179, but was totally unimpressed by the Richard King poetry review, not only because it was presented without offering useful or helpful critical insight, but also because of its unfounded and untrue accusation of my "contempt for humanity". If Richard King has any knowledge of poetry at all, he should know better than to mix the poet-person in the book with the person-pen who wrote it. Unfortunately, his failure to recognize this leads to his dislike for my poetry and to my dislike for his review."
My apologies to Kerry Leves. Please read his correction below which also includes his review of Ouyang Yu's anthology, In Your Face.
--Kris Hemensley, October 18th, 2007

Sunday, September 9, 2007



NO MAN IS AN ISLAND; Thomas Merton (Shambhala, '05), hb, $35-95
COLD WAR LETTERS; Merton (Orbis, '06), [111 letters written between 1961 & 2, around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis] $26-95
John Geiger, NOTHING IS TRUE : EVERYTHING IS PERMITTED : THE LIFE OF BRION GYSIN (Disinformation,'05), hb, $49-95
DYLAN REMEMBERED, volume 1, 1914-1934 (interviews by Colin Edwards; ed by David N. Thomas), (Seren,'03), $45
DYLAN REMEMBERED, volume 2, 1935-1953 (Edwards/Thomas), (Seren,04), $45[Dylan Thomas of course, not Bob!]
KENNETH TYNAN : THEATRE WRITINGS (sel & ed D Shellard; fwd by Tom Stoppard); (Nick Hern Books, '07), hb, $65
KENNETH TYNAN : PROFILES (sel & ed by Kathleen Tynan & E Eban; fwd by Simon Callow); (Nick Hern Books, '07), $49-95
POETS AGAINST THE WAR, ed Sam Hamill with Sally Anderson et al; (Thunders Mouth Press, '03); [selection of the best of the 13,000 poems submitted by 11,000 poets to protest the Iraq war, from Virginia Adair, Julia Alvarez, the Roberts Bly & Creeley to Chaise Twichell, AnneWaldman, CK WIlliams] $24-95
T.S.ELIOT; Craig Raine (Oxford University Press,'06), hb, $55 [in OUP's Lives & Legacies series]
HOWL ON TRIAL : THE BATTLE FOR FREE EXPRESSION, ed Bill Morgan & Nancy J Peters;(City Lights,'06), $32-95 [contains transcript of the court case, the poem Howl, & correspondence surrounding it]



Kevin Gillam, PERMITTED TO FALL (Sunline Press, '07), hb, $30
M T C Cronin, NOTEBOOK OF SIGNS (Shearsman, 07), $24-95
M T C Cronin, OUR LIFE IS A BOX / PRAYERS WITHOUT A GOD (Soi 3,'07), $23-95
Barry Hill, NECESSITY, POEMS 1996-2006 (Soi 3, '07), $25-95
David Prater, WE WILL DISAPPEAR (Soi 3, '07), $21-95
Paul Hardacre, LOVE IN THE PLACE OF RATS (Transit Lounge, '07), $22-95
Ali Alizadeh, EYES IN TIMES OF WAR (Salt,'07), $29-95
FIFTY POEMS OF ATTAR, trsl & analysis by K Avery & Ali Alizadeh (,'07), $25
Justin Clemens / Helen Johnson, BLACK RIVER (,'07), $19-95
Caroline Caddy, ESPERANCE : NEW & SELECTED POEMS (FACP,'07), $24-95
Mike Ladd, TRANSIT (+ CD) (Five Islands Press,'07), $21-95
Kathryn Lomer, TWO KINDS OF SILENCE (UQP,'07), $21-95
Alan Loney, NOWHERE TO GO & OTHER POEMS (Five Islands Press,'07), $21-95
Peter Skrzynecki, OLD / NEW WORLD : NEW & SELECTED POEMS (UQP, '07), $26-95


Lyn Boughton, TINDERBOX (SkecText Press,'04), $10
John Forbes, COLLECTED POEMS (Brandl & Schlesinger,'04), $24-95
John Kinsella, FAST, LOOSE BEGINNINGS : A MEMOIR OF INTOXICATIONS (Melbourne University Press, '06), $27-95 [prose-memoir]

Wednesday, September 5, 2007



Readers of Ray Liversidge's The Barrier Range are in for a merry ride.
Reading the book-poem & the poems in the book over the past month has provided me with a kind of nostalgia for a time in my own literary life, the 1970s, when the poets I spent time with, Robert Kenny, Walter Billeter, John Jenkins, Finola Moorhead, John Anderson, Clive Faust, Bernie O'Regan, others, like Ken Taylor, around the edges, mischievously named the Rushall Crescent Avant-Garde, also disported with history, or the idea of history, in various writing --poetry, prose-fiction...

A small poem such as B is for Burke, from the section, The Aussie Oregon Trail, reminds me of the way poets extract from document those language elements which engage us as poets on the level of very serious play. Thus :

B is for Burke
"Have any of you blokes seen my cup?

(--and can I interject here : "Have any of you blokes seen my cup?" could so easily substitute for the major questions at the heart of the multi-faceted book's expedition--)

"Have any of you blokes seen my cup?
It's white with a black B on it."

(--which immediately throws up another Australian narrative --"white with a black B on it" --but that'll have to be someone else's paper!)

Becker : "No."
Beckler : "No."
Brahe : "No."
Bowman : "No."
Belooch : "No."
Boocha : "Phhhhtt."


Whose cup hasnt got a B on it?!
Recall James McAulay's Terra Australis, the opening verse (before the poem becomes an extension of sentimental description) :

"Voyage within you, on the fabled ocean,
And you will find that Southern Continent,
Quiros' vision -- his hidalgo heart
And mythical Australia, where reside
All things in their imagined counterpart."

Australian poetry has always looked for the cup with B on it!
At the beginning of my reading of the book another B occurred to me --it belongs to Richard Brautigan in The Confederate General from Big Sur, another fantastical play with history or elements thereof, where civil-war guns are lined up & trained upon the advancing enemy and the bullets pierce the dear human flesh and proceed to chip the statues which, in the apparently concurrent future, memorialize this terrible event.
Although Ray Liverside's book contains history it isnt straight --so though it might sit alongside Jordie Albiston's or Susan Kruss's documentaries, e.g., The Barrier Range is something else again.

Here's another B for you --John Barth in his rolicking 17thCentury frolic, The Sot-Weed Factor : "Lest it be objected by a certain stodgy variety of squint-minded antiquarians that he has in this lengthy history played fast & loose(....) the Author here posits in advance(....)we all invent our pasts, more or less, as we go, at the dictates of Whim & Interest; the happenings of former times are a clay in the present moment that, will-we, nill-we, the lot of us must sculpt..."

Preceding The Barrier Range is Ray's first published collection, Obeying the Call. The Barrier Range is a project, a whole book, a novel if you like, whose many headed narrative proceeds in verse & prose more or less cohesively, whereas Obeying the Call is the proverbial slim collection whose thematic segments dont discourage its miscellaneous feel.
The title, however, is a significant lead for the reading of The Barrier Range. (I say the reading and not necessarily the composition, because the order in which books are published doesnt always reflect their chronology.)
In the first book's title poem, the call is found in "a ritual forged / By four generations of men // and borne by every father's son." It's a genetic call --farming, in the detail of the poem, is almost by the by. Forming is what's essential. For Ray Liversidge, this forming, this shaping is all bound up with the will of men. In The Barrier Range, the external journeying leads to nowhere & nothing, no inland sea, no Edenic prosperity --but it bequeaths a language, a psychology, a culture, a myth.
An adjacent poem, in Obeying the Call, actually invokes "Sturt's inland sea" and has a mother figure "defying myth" / "she turns and looks out to sea, desert at her back." As benevolent recipient of male correspondence and, in an incredible sequence in his book, as malevolent counterpoint, she exists, but She is neither the issue nor the tissue of The Barrier Range.
The Barrier Range is where Ray Liversidge will do his duty --the most primitive of all for a male poet --he'll tell the originary story --it will be his story --it will be an originary Australian story --it will be a founding myth --(in this case, Burke & Wills with Sturt's expedition thrown in for good measure)... He will inscribe himself there, a living ghost, a time-traveller. He will situate his family there, especially the uncle to whom the book is dedicated --the uncle of mystery as the poet is the son of history. This history, the poet will contend, is my story --so history & mystery, my-story & his-story, will meld in this poetry, this experimental autobiography, The Barrier Range.


As may be obvious from my accent, I was never a school-child in Australia! I didnt, therefore, grow up with Burke & Wills! But I might be the only person in this room to have stood beside the statue raised in honour of Tom Wills in Totnes, South Devon --a son of Devon who perished on the famous Australian expedition... Bethatasitmay, Ray Liversidge's book is the only history I've read of Burke & Wills --Ray of course --and a quick glance at the bibliography will confirm it --has read everything ever written on Burke & Wills and Sturt & co!
So, what do we have to consider? Poetry & history?
Charles Olson, whose Maximus Poems revolves about the history, backwards & forwards, of Gloucester, Massachusetts, famously said "It is a difficult thing to both poet & historian"... Olson taught his students & fellow poets to begin with what they knew, where they were, to place themselves at the centre of knowledge --of which the poem was an investigation. Of course this human subject was a spiritual & imaginative proposition and not simply the weight of a particular proportion of skin & bones!
But --whoahhhhh! --let me put the brakes on here! --pull this history wagon up to a grinding halt! Burke & Wills & co, Sturt & etc & etc... Yes -- but to quote Little Britain, yes but/no but...
For all the historical documentation --the quotes from Burke & Wills, from Becker & Beckler, from Sturt, from Ernest Giles & so on, for all of that primary material there is another strand of documentation, a parallel text as it were --drawn from the poets & writers, Australian & otherwise --and so impressive is this text that the notion of The Barrier Range as a journey through a literary idea and not only an historical one, begins to grow upon one. Burke & Wills, Becker & all the heroic dramatis personae, are joined, mirrored perhaps, in the world of this book, in the world made by this book, this literary construction. They are joined by an equally heroic company --and I'm happy to call them and to obey their call :
There is Patrick White & Voss, of course;
Gerald Murnane & The Plains --"I've spent my life trying to see my own place as the end of a journey I never made."
There's Ron Simpson;
T.S.Eliot several times, e.g., "the river is within us / the sea is all about us";
John Shaw Neilson, that "Mallarme of the Mallee";
Martin Johnston --and what a line from The Blood Aquarium does Liversidge enroll : "even your compassion stinks of libraries"...
(It's a paradox, which that precocious book-worm knew very well, --do poets really want to pretend that books arent part of the matter they dig daily?)
There's Coleridge's "water, water, everywhere / nor any drop to drink";
Peter Porter courting sun,
Philip Salom courting sky.
There's Howard Nemerov on landscape & language;
Cornelis Vleeskins;
C. J. Dennis;
Ian McBryde courting desert;
and Philip Hodgins from The Dispossessed in a quote that could be both epigraph & epitath,
"The sun was almost sitting on the road
ahead of them, like some apocalypse
they'd soon be coming to";
though it's Eliot, again, who probably takes the laurel :
"we shall not cease from explorations
And the end of our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time"


So, let me try to make something of this structural & thematic juxtaposition...
Ray Liversidge has a family story to tell --he's an ancestral poet, a poet of historical time & place. He is a poet who reads, who is inspired by literature, for whom literature is a fund of ideas as much as it is of imagery. He is a poet on a mission, and I dont want to describe what should keep for your reading as an intriguing & perhaps black sheep mystery, but it is this poet's mission to memorialise the uncle just as his book adds a sheen to Australian myth's existing statuary.
I give you, then, Ray Liversidge's The Barrier Range, wonderfully published by Flat Chat Press through Fee Sievers' excellent eye for unique & deserving poetry projects... I've said nothing of John Olsen & his image for the cover, but that's another tale...
I have great pleasure in declaring this book launched!
[Launching held at the Artery, Fitzroy; Sunday, July 30th, 2006.]

Saturday, September 1, 2007


LAUNCHING SPEECH IN FAVOUR OF TREMORS : NEW & SELECTED POEMS BY ANDREW SANT (published by Black Pepper Press, Melbourne); August 30th, 2004

Andrew asked Kevin [Pearson, of BPP] to ask me to launch his NEW & SELECTED POEMS. . . Sure, it's been a busy week, what with the bookshop [Collected Works], & helping a friend pack up a house & fly to Laos, and then there's the Melbourne Writer's Festival, two events for which I had to prepare... So I felt tentative about accepting... The real reason, of course, was defensive --because I suddenly realised Andrew was getting his own back on this review --published 15 years ago to the month, --in the August,1989 issue of the Australian Book Review --a review of his 3rd collection, Brushing the Dark...
I didnt meet Andrew until recent years --maybe late '90s, certainly before 2001 which is the date of another of our auspicious connections... But it was a Melbourne Writers Festival and our mutual friend, now American friend, Kevin Hart, introduced us. Oh, hello, I said, we havent met but I did review you once! Andrew shook my hand and said yes, you gave me a bollucking! He laughed, I think... I was genuinely surprised --I dont recall it that way, I said. Andrew insisted. I said I thought I was making a discussion or receiving his book into a discussion. If there was an error --I say tonight, with the proverbial benefit of hindsight --it was to treat books as representatives of poetry in general, that is, the Australian poetry being written now vis a vis an idea of poetry, an ambition for poetry... Certainly, the editor who'd asked me to review poetry for ABR in that period, was aware of the discourse I'd probably instigate; that was why she'd appointed me --but it wouldnt have been clear to either the readership or the authors... Ah well... Water under the bridge! But at that same meeting Andrew & I bonded... Humid weather, alcohol, the company of poets, what else would one expect?!
Andrew told me --and I'd only just met him remember --that he knew my brother...
I have two brothers & a sister --and the brother with whom I've shared a life-time love of poetry & small press & so on, Bernard Hemensley, is agoraphobic and never been to Australia...
You must have got him mixed up with someone else, I stammered... You couldnt have met my brother... There arent any other Hemensleys in Australia (which is not quite true)...
Yes I did, Andrew said, Robin, Robin Hemensley!
Robin? I said --but he's never been here either --are you sure?
Yes, he said --he's a red-head, like me, and it wasnt here --it was at a party in Kingston-on-Thames --the girls we were with knew each other!
Anyway, I felt it was incredible --Andrew Sant had met my baby brother! They'd partied together! In Surrey! I've felt we were family ever since --especially when, in 2001 I think it was, Andrew has told me he saw me walking along a street in Dorchester when he was travelling in a coach. I was utterly amazed when he told me! Where will we two meet again?!
So much for frivolity! Now we get serious... Now we have the bollucking!
When Kevin Pearson delivered this New & Selected to me the other day, my first response was "wow! it's big" --my second was "what a great cover, it looks like a thriller, a crime book!"
Kevin said that was an interesting reaction, one which Andrew would probably be tickled by, and for obvious reasons, he said. Perhaps the most obvious reason I've now discovered is one of the longest poems in the book, called "Crime Fiction" --it's in the new poems section of the book, which we'll get to in a minute...
It is a big fat book, and published by a small press... And all one can say (to quote a friend of Andrew's & mine, the little chap on the Guinness ad. some of you may have seen on t.v.) is "Brilliant! Brilliant!"
Small presses dont usually publish 258 page books of poetry --although with proper support they could... Tim Thorne's Cornford Press[Tasmania] published Selwyn Pritchard's Letters & Characters, about 200 pages; Pi O's Collective Effort Press did the monumental 24 Hours and a couple of Jas Duke tomes... But these are honourable exceptions.
I have to confess to a surge of optimism holding this book in the aftermath of the Overload Poetry Festival, pleasantly tired by the Writers' Festival & the poetry events I attended or participated in --a surge of optimism for poetry, for the lives of poets -- and this notwithstanding Barry Hill's "salt versus sugar" admonition on Saturday at the Malthouse, in fact including that spirited (& inspiring) ethical & political discussion of the poetry scene --I feel an optimism that the concentric rings of poetry's various life in the world are turning --things are moving --gently! Readers & writers are enthusiastic! But maybe this is all the fantasy which festival frisson inspires?!

The New & Selected gives everyone the chance of a second bite --the reader & the author --especially if the collection is the author's choice. Readers can then enjoy the variants --and so long as there are libraries, can prefer an earlier version over a later, or vice-versa... But the notion of a New & Selected is an interesting one : it suggests that whether published or not the writing is a work-in-progress --and that the poetry selected for the edition is considered a manuscript, and that the changes are made according to the author's current poetic-linguistic position...
In my 20s & 30s, when friends were publishing their selecteds --several with University of Queensland Press --it struck me that a selected was a kind of premature burial. But I think early 50s is a good age for it --and the additional "new poems" shows there's life yet...
I suppose the Collected is the next rite of passage... When my late friend Frank Prince published his Collected in England & the US in 1993, he told me that was it --here it all was --no more. He was 80, but strong faced, alert, so one didnt think of him as an aged man. Anyway, he sounded just a bit resigned --and I suggested to him that he'd surely "trump" his collected with at least another substantial poem . He didnt think so --but inevitably he did, a poem of a couple of hundred lines on the occasion of Keats' bicentenary...
So, there's always life for the poem! --after a selected and even after a collected!

Proper or not to look for key words, essential motifs, across such a book?
There's a poem, "Wren", from Andrew's first collection, The Caught Sky, p15 here, which seems to me exemplary of Andrew's way of connecting observation or perception to an aspect of representation... It's a beautiful poem, suggestive of its particular subject-matter and, in the same breath or the same mode, of the writerly aspect also. The very first poem of the book performs the same act, but here's "Wren":

"A wren appears on the branch like an asterisk -

I refer back through
memory to a time of more constant
immersion of self in details -
once this would have been complete experience,
the wren offering itself
for my abandonment in detail,
landing on the fuchsia,
shaking the million purple bells
of my delight.
The wren flies off.
I'm left with a footnote of detail
towards an imminent theme."

So, and maybe you're alongside my thinking here, is this the poet's project? --ever apprehending the imminent theme which can only arise from the particularity of detail...

One observes the shorter & longer sequences coursing Andrew's work --especially the last decade or so. They're topographical ("Mt Wellington", "A Vineyard Quartet", "A Shower Medley", "The Sunlight Inland"), autobiographical (maybe "Voyage", "Stories of my Father"), occasionally historical. Perhaps this is the novelist poet's rehearsal, the poet who one day will produce his verse-novel...
And in this book, sequences like "Summertime : A Holiday Chronicle" and "Crime Fiction", which, to quote our friend from the Guinness ad again, are just brilliant!, these definitely augur an Oneigin or Golden Gate or something like it...
"Crime Fiction", of these new poems, is something else. It reminds me of John Tranter's great but short fictions in his book Ultra --the language is canny, it's quick, it's hard --it's like crime fiction whatever the subject... It's very knowing of popular culture, commercial culture, political culture --or it's political (discerning & disarming) of cultures & languages left & right of poetry's.
Let me say something about "Stanzas" (p219)--the first poem and a sequence from the new poems section --it too is brilliant! --a tour de force! The stanzas, isolated as they are --their natural procession broken by the titular number despite their momentum --arouse in me both a technical & a narrative excitement. The poem reminds me of one of Steven Edgar's baroque tales, so meticulously constructed that it might be misapprehended for a bloodless exercise. I appreciate the ingenuity --something ingenious & mellifluous, well-made yet still surprising --like a "but, hey" colloquialism thrown into a line --which breaks the spell of the written text, returns us to or reminds us of the palpable, present-time language...

And now I think it's time to hear some of it from Andrew himself... So, with great pleasure, I declare this book launched!

[Launched at the Purple Turtle pub in Johnston Street, Fitzroy; August 30, 2004.]

Wednesday, August 29, 2007



In the closing bars of the Great Rock'N'Roll Swindle's title track, Ten Pole Tudor (a welcome addition to the film, tho' a less than adequate replacement for Johnny Rotten, a position he was touted to be filling at the time - '79) shouts, "Sid Vicious - a rock'n'roll cliche," a slogan that came to pass as a summation &/or condemnation &/or epitath for the man, and stands (along with two posthumous tributes : "Sad Vacation" by Johnny Thunders & "Love Kills" by The Ramones) as the only musical acknowledgment of John Beverley's short existence on this wretched mortal coil. As for Sid's own musical legacy, apart from his few "contributions" to the above mentioned double sound-track L.P. (pedants will note that I'm including amongst these the live version of "Belsen was a gas" on which he indisputably plays bass - altho' credited on "Never Mind the Bollocks", it's commonly known that Sid's bass parts were played by Steve Jones or Glen Matlock on all Pistols recordings issued during his tenure with the band) & a handful of live bootlegs recorded from '77 to'78 with the Pistols, we're left with "Sid Sings" - a live L.P. of dubious quality issued by Virgin to cash in on his death in '79. Slim pickings, indeed, & not much to base a legend (even a "rock'n'roll cliche") on. Huh? Well, I'm here to tell you that that aint so, & that in my view "Sid Sings" (much derided in its day & almost universally forgotten/ignored now) is a fucking gas, if you'll pardon my French! In fact it's one of my favourite & most played records, from the time I had my Dad purchase it at Gaslight Records on the way home from his work in 1981 to the present day, & it's this very same scratchy, well-loved copy that I drag out to liven up every party I have & is in fact playing on my scratchy, well-loved stereo as I write this (at the god-forsaken hour of 2 in the morning, no less!). Due to its lack of credits, it's virtually impossible to know who the musicians on the L.P. are, tho' I've read numerous suppositions over the years. My own theory is, as the L.P. is culled from one (or more) of the four Max's Kansas City gigs (booked by Sid's "manager" of the period, Nancy Spungen) Sid played in late '78, early '79, the rhythm section is (definitely) Jerry Nolan, of Dolls/Heartbreakers infamy, on drums, Arthur Kane (ex-Dolls) on bass (I'm guessing here - photos exist of the "Killer" on stage with Sid at Max's) & as for the guitar - someone who does a very good Johnny Thunders impersonation - I've heard Clash's Mick Jones mentioned, but I'm placing my bets on Walter Lure - surely Jones would've been too busy w/ the Clash's own vigorous touring & recording schedule in 1979 to be bothered slumming it with the cream of N.Y.'s junk-rock crop at this stage of the game. As you'd guess from the players on the L.P., the set-list leans very heavily towards Dolls' & Heartbreakers' songs, but who's complaining? Some of these uppity & straight-arse contemporary punkers should take notice of this L.P., 'cos in my humble opinion, this is a close to unbeatable selection of bona-fide punk rock classics, which raises another important issue. "Sid Sings" single-handedly introduced me to the work of some of the genre's pioneers & is still seen by me as a virtual "classic" punk text-book. This was the place I first heard "Born to Lose", "Chinese Rocks" & "Take a Chance on Me" by the Heartbreakers; these were the first versions of "Search & Destroy" & "I Wanna Be Your Dog" by the Stooges I ever heard. It was this version of the Dolls' "Chatterbox" that I transcribed (I'd assumed Thunders' own version on the 2nd Dolls L.P., "Too Much Too Soon", was sung by a female vocalist, making it (perversely) unintelligible to my untrained, male-dominated 9 year old ears!)(side note : I'd read that female singing group The Stillettos backed up the Dolls, so at this point in my life I imagined it was Debbie Harry singing "Chatterbox"! or maybe that was just wishful thinking : remember, that was the era of "Heart of Glass" & "Rapture", & it wasnt easy getting my primary school chums to tune into this punk rock garbage I was getting into... Perhaps if that spunk Blondie was in on this racket I'd gain some schoolyard cred!!). The album's only dud moment, to my ears, is the studio out-take of "My way" - presented in this setting minus Steve Jones' ripping guitar track, & Sid's greatest Rotten-inspired vocal of the more commonly known version (off, once again, "Swindle"). The one original, perhaps the only song Vicious actually wrote, "Belsen Was a Gas" (& introduced fittingly by the man himself as "Belsen Was a Gas - By Sid Vicious", making a mockery of the bogus label-credits, which suggest the rest of the Pistols to 've been co-writers of the track... Anyone who's read Jon Savage's exhaustive book, "England's Dreaming", will no doubt have noticed the original lyric sheet of the song, originally composed for Sid's 1st band, Flowers of Romance, in Sid's handwriting, reproduced within) is presented in the Ramones/Heartbreakers style one imagines Sid originally conceived the song to be &, as such, rocks along very nicely indeed. As does the entire album by the way. Not convinced? Here's some other reasons why Hemensley considers "Sid Sings!" to be such a clas-sick : great RAW AS SHIT low-fi sound quality, with loud guitars, & a primal rhythm section BIG BEAT that cuts thru the NOISE like a hot knife thru stubble. So, what have we got? Exciting, fun versions of GREAT rock'n'roll songs ("Something Else" shits on the "Swindle" studio version, & "I Wanna Be Your Dog" rocks with the kinda conviction only somebody with Sid's total lack of self-esteem & extreme nihilism could muster - not to mention a genuinely PROPULSIVE & gut-thudding bass performance : one note has never sounded so good!) by the Stooges, Dolls, Pistols, Heartbreakers, Eddie Cochran & The Monkees (a version of "Stepping-stone" every bit as good as the Pistols & better than the Heartbreakers in my estimation); oh, and one other important factor that used to be a prime consideration in this type of rock'n'roll - ATTITUDE. The type of attitude that may've made Sid "a rock'n'roll cliche", but a hell of a more entertaining one than some of those alleged "survivors" of the same era, who got out of their lives minus their integrity. "Sid Sings" is everything a live rock'n'roll record should be : raw, trashy, powerful, dirty-mouthed FUN. Turn it on, turn it up, TURN IT OUT!

--Tim Hemensley
[This piece written on front & back of a Commonwealth Employment Service letter to Tim, dated 27th February, 1997, advising him of changed date of appointment with the department's psychologist... I imagine Tim's "re-examination & review" of Sid Vicious as preempting the CES's own examination of himself!]

Sunday, August 26, 2007


From Tim Hemensley Diary, c December, 2000 / June, 2001

the biggest regret of my life --
in 1986, Johnny Thunders played at
Melbourne University & i couldnt go
(i had school the next day) --
echoes still through the fog
of memory & across the years;
16 years since then -- i've
lived my life around this event,
& even now the memory strikes me
as (blackly) humorous : i missed seeing
Johnny Thunders & his band (included
Jerry Nolan & Glen Matlock on bass, too)
'cos it was a sunday nite & my
folks figured i'd had plenty of
nites out lately & in my case
it was a sunday nite & i had school
the following day -- school that i
ultimately failed every subject
in & left as soon as i turned 17!
school that i have virtually
no memory of now -- nearly no GOOD
ones, anyway! yet i still kick
myself EVERY DAY for missing out
on seeing Johnny Thunders (& Band)
that nite 16 YEARS AGO.
& my recall of that nite comes
back as vividly as if it were
yesterday :
while Johnny Thunders & Band
played at Melbourne University,
i sat at home in my bedroom
(downstairs in the bungalow)
& played my New York Dolls tape
("too much, too soon") whilst smoking
a pack of cigarettes (a rarity for
me at that stage -- i neither enjoyed
cigarettes nor wanted to learn how to enjoy
them -- at 14 i considered tobacco to
be worth smoking only when mixed
w/ marijuana); my only consolation
on that crap evening was the vague
thought in the back of my mind -- "NEXT
BE THERE" & we all know how that little
hope ends up!
no, i NEVER got to see Johnny Thunders --
not that nite or any other;
& tho' it is my "biggest regret in life",
it's also one of my most vivid teenage
memories -- a nite when i stared
disappointment in the face & attempted
to make do w/ the next best things
at hand! -- & as such
it brings a smile to my face as well
as a frown to my forehead! --
the eternal duality of existence
expressed in one fell swoop!! --
& i cherish it, this memory of
a gig NOT SEEN OR HEARD, in fact
i cherish it -- as my memory,
& they can't take that away from me.



Goldy Hermitage
Weymouth, UK
5 th January,2005
Dear Kris, Here's some of the latest. Little poems written in the last 12 months or so...


tearing down the road
at break-neck speed
a blackbird

must be getting old
even in a dream
couldn't stiffen
for the girl

starlings gathered
on the railway sidings
dried grass seeds

weathered garden shed
looks so right
no need to paint anew

sitting zazen
mouth waters at
thought of smoked tofu

[The Bernard Hemensley Archive will gather poems & other writings scattered through the past few decades. Not sure whether to refer to the demise of B.H.'s little press, Stingy Artist, or merely its long hibernation, but whilst his press was active in England (from Alverstoke, Hampshire in the late 70s, Weymouth,Dorset in the 80s) there was every hope he'd make his own work available in the small editions he favoured. This archive intends to gradually reverse the hiatus.]

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


For Kris Hemensley : remembering John Steinbeck

The memory
of reading
John Steinbeck
is the feeling of a Wright Morris
shred of dusty lace
shadow drapes across
the muted glass...
peeling flaking paint dresser
bundled cutlery wrapped
in motley cloth
rusty old tobacco tin
lid slightly ajar
weathered tracery disintegrating...

Light and shade sepia
Beyond the open doorway
A hope and despair...

[Wright Morris in Laos]

(February, 2007)

Dear Kris,
After I said the opening lines to you, on the phone, I did sit down and try and make a poem, which is something I seldom do...I find it difficult to catch the sentence...eluding me like a fleeting brushstroke across my thoughts...(or a reflection of the moon, rippling, in the sake, in the bowl, held in the hand of a wandering poet, sitting out on a frosty night, of a full moon, drinking from a fine porcelain bowl...) then it's gone...later I found Cannery Row in Isabel's bookshop in Luang Prabung (L'etranger) and reading the introduction I thought I did remember John Steinbeck...after all, I could have made up what I remembered...and I had taken out the word "splintered" !!! I write this to you, for your birthday, listening to Issan music falling glass through my ears with the split on split sound of the rain on the tin roof outside my window...the rainy season prelude...

Cannery Row, Introduction
"Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream. Cannery Row is the gathered and scattered, tin and iron and rust and splintered wood....."

Why write when you can gather these wonderful pieces of text from here and there...

Catherine O'Brien
(April, 2007)

Friday, August 10, 2007


Back-cover blurb for Ahmed Hashim's BAGHDAD IN HAIKU'S EYES : Only the Donkey Knew the Truth

In a sense the poet is forever at war though Heraclitus isnt my only reference; moreso that vestige of Romanticism where poet exhorts of his own condition in the less than wonderful world. So here is the horror of life in war-torn Baghdad, rendered diaristically in a kind of sad amusement; tender, intimate, tragic. Here is Baghdad between the bombs & clandestine bottles of wine, hospitable despite its ruin. And here is Ahmed Hashim, poet in Melbourne, poet in Baghdad, the poet at war defending his vocation with haiku.

[Baghdad in Haiku's Eyes , Ahmed Hashim's 36 page chapbook of haiku-like poems, written in Baghdad between 7/2/06 & 26/4/06, was published in Melbourne, July 2006. A second edition has recently appeared which includes colour photos of everyday life taken by Ahmed on a recent trip home. The poems are translated from the Arabic by Ahmed Hashim & Susan Manton. The following examples express the flavour which attracted me :

check point on every road
looking for bombs and alcohol
alcohol can't explode mosques

looking for terrorists and drunks
the drunk can't fight -
because he's drunk

they say they defend God
God doesn't need defending
that's what he said to the drunk

(Kris Hemensley, August 10th, 2007)

Sunday, August 5, 2007


LAUNCH SPEECH for SALT-LICK QUARTERLY, volume 4; 13th March,2004 at Dante's Restaurant, Fitzroy, Melbourne.

I dedicate my comments this evening to the memory of Cid Corman. Paul Croucher, one of the founders of Salt-Lick, rang me this afternoon with the sad news that Corman died on 12th March, 6 a.m., Japanese time. For several weeks he's been in & out of coma.

"Death always
us - a breath

is a breath

The sound and
spirit of
a poet."

Corman was one of the great editors. When the best of his magazine,Origin, was published about 30 years ago as The Gist of Origin, everyone could see what a grand job it had done --providing a platform for the inheritors of the Pound-Williams-Zukofsky tendency --chiefly Olson & Creeley, the Black Mountain poets --and their colleagues & successors --all the way down to [contemporary] San Francisco poets like George Evans & our own Clive Faust, who lives quietly in Bendigo...

Corman also published important translations, ancient & modern, from the European languages & Japanese, Chinese. Whilst he supported Olson & co., he stuck by his own tastes & values against their hectoring & egotism --a bit of both of which rubbed off on me!

These days, with my bookseller's hat on, I will say that Salt-Lick is the best purely poetry magazine in Australia. But what would I have said thirty years ago? A magazine which just published poems without a literary or linguistic [poetic] programme? Wasnt that what the "new poetry" & the "new poets" wanted to transcend? Didnt we think of that sort of thing as the merely literary, the journeyman mainstream? I remember --at least I think I do --arguing the point with Michael Dugan in 1969, but I wouldnt these days --not since the '90s! Forgive me Michael...!

A whole lot of water under the bridge since the '60s & '70s. (In 1968 Michael & I published magazines, Our Glass & Crosscurrents, on different sides of the city, and until Ken Taylor told me, ignorant of one another! This event was the beginning of the "mini-mag explosion" --the rest is history!)

What I've learnt, since the '60s, is the limitation of any ideology --or certainly, the limited tenure of any ideology. In my own case, as editor/publisher & poet, I realised that the pursuit of a poetical-aesthetical & literary-political line eventually ran me into a massive cul-de-sac. I needed, personally, to re-think & re-read. I was never happier than in the late '80s, critiquing my philosophical & literary position. I felt re-born in the '90s, and I'm still reaping the benefits.

As far as I was concerned [after that re-think], postmodernism (the catch-cry of the '70s & '80s) meant, at the very least, the re-admission of all the types of poetry which had been reduced or thought to be debased & therefore excluded in the time of the ascendancy of Modernism. This meant my experiments as a poet could now also include the traditional forms & privileges of poetry in addition to all of the gifts of the wonderful adventure of free-verse from Whitman & Rimbaud to the present.

Salt-Lick is a magazine whose take on poetry & poetics is pluralist. Whatever is meant by that blurb I've read which describes Salt-Lick as "favouring Australian free-verse", it's clear Salt-Lick actually publishes poets of most tendencies writing today --it publishes poems which stand up as poems in themselves (in the very way Jenny Harrison discussed in her judge's report for the [Melbourne Poets' Union] National Poetry Prize earlier this year), poems which are self-sufficient whatever their formal or experimental entry-point.

Salt-Lick is a magazine whose production values are those of the finely printed poetry-book. Poets & poems are treated to elegant design --readers are given the best chance to enjoy the work.

Salt-Lick is a magazine with a Melbourne address. It's our magazine! Melbourne poets or Melbourne-gravitating poets regularly get into it; poets of every type, including the no-type-at-all (who seem to me to be finding form for their spoken, spieling poems)!

Salt-Lick has an e-mail address & a website. Overseas poets, presumably correspondents of the magazine, also publish in Salt-Lick. This throws up another interesting discussion. When I was actively publishing & reviewing, between the late'60s & mid-'80s, I was described as an internationalist. But it's apparent that in the age of the World Wide Web, "international" either goes without saying or "local" includes the www potential wherever one happens to be. Perhaps international, in the sense of anti-parochial, trans-national, is almost beside the point nowadays?

Salt-Lick, then, is quite obviously a Melbourne-based magazine, featuring a great range of the elite, the up & coming and the quite new poets & poetry in Australia. It is local, but it is also in the world --it receives the world into its Melbourne & Australian hospitality.

This fourth issue has changed the colour of its cover, from different shades of grey to bright red, but not the colour of its generous project. The contents page reveals the proverbial embarrassment of riches : Douglas Barbour, Peter Rose, Adrienne Eberhard, Jane Gibian, Peter Boyle, Earl Livings...Lorin Ford again!...Myron Lysenko ("biggest storm / in a hundred years - / i sleep through it" ; "too much beer / i lie in bed / & almost see something") --ah, divine!

We have four contributors to this fourth issue to read today --John Mateer, Sandra Hill [now Fitts], Ross Donlon & Danny Huppatz.

We dont have with us either Margie Cronin or Rae Desmond Jones --amongst many others --who are interstate, overseas, otherwise engaged. I'd like to offer something of these. MTC Cronin's poem, "Inviting Rain, after Tu Fu, for Kris Hemensley", includes words of mine from an e-mail exchange between us : "The man said / he is wearing his dead son / like a cloak of air"... Notwithstanding that [the sad & awful reference as well as the kind acknowledgment to myself], it's an intriguingly complex poem from a prolific & ingenious poet... Rae Desmond Jones' poem has a wonderful colloquial purr, like its subject, Dean Martin. ['"i can stay for one song" he murmurs "then i gotta go." / he turns & crosses lackey street but the kids on their skateboards don't know him. / as he passes the dribbling fountain the drunk on the bench opens one eye & watches / him wander out among the cars whispering inaudible as angels in the darkness."] His contribution allows us to recall his place in the 1970s little-magazine culture, care of the inimitable Your Friendly Fascist [the magazine he edited in Sydney], but that's yet another story...

[This launching-speech was published in Ralph Wessman et al's Famous Reporter, #29 (June 2004). It caught a few typos, subsequently attended to with elegant correction slip.]

Wednesday, July 25, 2007



"Reading Michael Farrell" isnt really a review of his collection of poems ode ode, published recently by Salt (WA & UK). If you want a review then read Chris Edwards in the June/July,'o3 issue of ABR[Australian Book Review]. (My first version of this piece was in lower case to acknowledge Farrell's signature style, but I didnt like the way ABR looked in small letters. Simple as that, which, I suppose, is an example of favouring impulse over choice, the naturalism of the-way-it-is over construction --Farrell's own practice I think.)
Reading Michael Farrell I cant help thinking of my dear old friend John Robinson who makes a mansion of a small bed-sit, as people in London have always done though none quite so elegantly. This has something to do with humility and a great deal to do with our world, as I'm sure Michael Farrell would agree. I think of how John, even less inclined towards e-mail than me, will send me cassette-tape letters in which he'll read favourite poets and play me his best-loved music.
Reading Michael Farrell I think of John Robinson reading John Ashbery & John Wieners to me, and Paul Celan or one of the French surrealists. I think of his baritone voice which never yields its gravity to either a poem's humour or its unhappiness. I'm sure John Robinson would enjoy the mirthful melancholy, as it were, of Michael Farrell. They share a seriousness about art, by which I mean the manner in which the world has been framed by other people --as movies, music, literature. This implies a certain sublimation of self in art, in the lives of others, in the world around themselves.
It teaches & reminds me of several great lessons : that insight can arise from myriad juxtapositions as from singular propositions; that tenderness is a tone and not necessarily a statement; that the rhythm of any saying is as emotional as emotion's standard repertoire; that autobiography isnt necessarily absent when the continuous narrative is; that funny weird can also be funny ha-ha and that funny ha-ha can be very sad.
Romanticism's stranger isnt the hero of Michael Farrell's poetry but its music might be the mood suffusing his book, to which he quietly hums along. If the poet felt that he owed an ode it's because he's in love with the idea of poetry. His interlinear sorties are felicitous and not destructive of derivation or inspiration.
I'm often nostalgic for something before it's happened, far less over, John Robinson told me. I felt I knew exactly what he meant and suspect Michael Farrell would too.

(July 2003)

[A typo-ridden version of this piece was published by POAM (the Museletter of the Melbourne Poets Union inc.), #278, July/August, 2003. This version corrects those typos and makes some slight changes to the original mss. Paul Skec, the editor of POAM at the time, asked me for the piece as accompanying material for the MPU event on July 25,'03, 21st Century Poetries, moderated by Kevin Brophy and featuring Michael Farrell, Claire Gaskin & Dominique Hecq.]

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

ALL THE GOSS (July 12, 2007)

Down at the Basement one day, during our time in the Flinders Street shop, Kevin Hart greeted me with the wry comment, so who's died today? The Shop's a veritable mausoleum, he chuckled. Surrounded by the great Dead, difficult to avoid --but Kevin meant my habit of writing a R.I.P. for the local & overseas poets as news of their demise occurred. Joking aside, I suppose I could be accused of morbidity were it not for the celebration the Shop is supposed to be --celebration of the world of poetry & poets, of today & throughout the ages. The R.I.P., then, is a version of that celebration. For readers & lovers of poetry, Kevin might have been inferring, it doesnt really matter whether the poet is alive or dead --it's the poem that counts. Quite so. But in the community poets make, the poet is a social person to whom one is personally, professionally, emotionally connected and so the matter of being alive or dead is important!
In recent years I've realized that with my aging, funerals & memorials will increase as the generation of my elders passes on. It's an inevitability one accepts. A little harder are the premature deaths --illness, accident, perils of the world. Even so, shock is tempered by the overall inevitability --never if, but when (thus Donne, Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee).
Three recent memorials in my mind now --for Joyce Lee, Amanda Wilson & Ted Lord. 93, 45, 65...
Different kinds of parties, but parties all the same --readings/launchings, funerals/memorials. Spirit of "despite it all" & "against oblivion" --here we are, together, holding together, hearing one another, persevering, continuing, alive & dead, for ever & ever...
Words of Amanda Wilson, read by Patrick Boyle at the La Mama memorial, "I believe in the life everlasting" --confident that she's carried by her children, requiring her larger family to carry them on, carry her on... Which of course is the obligation one rises to, expressing it or not, --one knows that's the truth of the words one trots out, "connection", "connectivity"... No better bunch, I've always thought, than the poets to prove memory's palpable, and no better way to do it than by living to the fullest of whatever one's desire & prospect may be..
All the emotions, then --triggers, too, whether it be the language of remembrance or surge of sadness on one's own behalf or for one's own.The contradictions --diminished, replenished...


EXHIBITION NOTE ON & FOR STAN FARLEY's HAIRST, SCULPTURE; 1-16 February, 2006; at Gallery 101, Collins Street, Melbourne.

Mention humour in our time and you evoke Duchamp & Beckett & their legion of subordinates whose trajectories too often intersect the banal & puerile for any distinction to remain. Stan Farley's work gurgles with humour though it may well be the philosophical chuckle on the other side of political tears. Arguably he's possessed of Nietzsche's "golden laughter", described as the philosophers' peak grade. The gods also laughed, Nietzsche speculated; "they cannot refrain from laughter even in the presence of holy acts."
Moving from canvas painting to sculpture, from poetic painter (I'm thinking of Farley's show at Tolarno's, twenty-odd years ago, for which William Blake & Samuel Palmer remains my abiding sense & feel of it : golden wheatfields over looked by the angels) to painter poet, isn't an art-world strategy but a life-world imperative.
"What's the world without words worth?" one of his plaques proclaims. The sentence, recalling Ian Hamilton-Finlay's stone carvings & gnomic humour, isn't required to substantiate his poetic thought but does so anyway. The pun redeems Wordsworth as Nature Poet, spiritual seeker in times of upheaval, within a question about language & ultimate meaning. I feel Stan Farley's actually proposing that without words (poetry), life is worthless; additionally that meaning is garnered from speech & text, not from materials per se.
An exquisite paradox is that his work is hardly immaterial, for it's as much an expression of the materials as a use of them. Wood, for example, demands its outgrowth as though the sculpture were foliage of an essential idea.
Stan Farley's work abounds in personality. No self-portrait as such but a diffusion of identity & necessity as natural as his dearest Australian, European & British landscapes --those one imagines him recognizing as the contours of earthly bliss.
Somehow, the more personal & particular the practice the more redolent of the universal it seems to be.
His art is to successfully encourage a sense of familiarity; to make guests of strangers, shepherding us through the palimpsest he can't help but recover of the daily straight & narrow.

[This version of the Note contains the slightest corrections to that printed for Stan Farley's exhibition. On the night, John Wolseley launched the exhibition and the Note was available to be read.]

Wednesday, July 4, 2007


INTRODUCTION TO THE ARCHIVE OF ENIGMA screening of BERNIE O'REGAN'S FILMS; at the Dancehouse, Melbourne, June 15th, 1998

I like the title of tonight's presentation of the late Bernie O'Regan's films.
It's an "archive of enigma" because he didnt, apparently, leave his work in any discernible order --that is, apart from his work-books, which would have to be as important a legacy of his work as his completed artefacts & recent projects.
He's an enigma in himself and, dare I say it, to himself. Of course that's true in varying extent for anyone, --so it's the extent of mystery, of doubt, in respect of origin, derivation, prospect, perspective, attitude, direction, accent & subject that makes Bernie O'Regan so much more of an enigma as person & poet-photographer.
As Jude Telford states in her perfect & poignant reminiscence, Memories of London, (that is, the London of 1971), "for some of us poetry was in film"...
Important to establish this right from the start --Bernie O'Regan was a film-maker/photographer in an environment whose crucial language was poetry. For some film-makers this is a boon, for others a deadweight. Some of that is covered by Stan Brakhage, who deals with it problematically though of course so very interestingly. Bernie would have found in Brakhage the inspiration for an instinctual or natural film-making, just as he would have found in Frederick Sommer a yielding to the given --the given image as a meeting of internal & external nature perhaps.
Bernie's first poet friend was the English poet, John Hall --John had been a student at Cambridge [in the mid 1960s], where everyone's a poet and has been forever --and John was publishing poetry within what came to be known as the Cambridge School fraction of the New British Poetry.
John had the English tradition in him --Chaucer, Shakespeare, Wyatt, et al --but I think only as established by Ezra Pound's canon. He had encountered Charles Olson & Robert Duncan through his teacher Jeremy Prynne's influence. He read his Black Mountain school and also his New York school...
Bernie got that much closer to whatever of the New Poetry he'd read through knowing John Hall.
I met Bernie at the Totnes Arts Festival in South Devon in 1972 . I'd met John Hall in 1970 [in Southampton] and we'd corresponded --he was the first of my blue-pencil critics on the English scene --poets whose criticism I trusted. He'd invited Bernie O'Regan as the film-maker for the festival. I was one of the poets [David Chaloner was the other]. And a friendship & colleagueship began.
I remember that the movie Bernie showed at the Festival was silent , accompanied by a tape of rock music --I seem to recall the Rolling Stones. I dont think any of his films had sound aside of music.
I also think that words, especially poetical conceptions/poetry, surround his photographs --and that the photo sequences he produced later in his life are like films...
Certainly, our unfinished photo & text collaboration, which I called BIOAUTOGRAPHY, was a kind of film which would have been seen as a book as well as an exhibition.
I want to suggest that as a film-maker/photographer among poets, Bernie constructed a poetics which derived at least equally from poets as from film-makers & photographers.
Part of a poem by John Hall called European History, is a chronology --"the chronology," says the poet, "is that of poignant grief." "The story begins / with wonder and pilfering just like poetry."
The last 3 items are :
"(24) history is bigger than any of us, hence 'tragedy' or, if the doomed aren't
(25) despair
there is no direct mention of war, partly because the astute always see it
coming and partly because I understand it as little as I do peace or poetry
(26) pastime
this history is about daily life : the details fill themselves in."

Another book [of poems] by John Hall, Meaning Insomnia [Grosseteste,UK, 1978], is dedicated to Bernie. It was published 20 years ago. It contains a prose-piece, The Field in Bernie's Photograph, and I'll quote : " If it is the first or second day of 1970 and you are walking towards Toby's Point, there is snow on the ground in the fields that you pass. (...) Bernie, who makes photographs, passed by this field during the two days in which, according to our hypothesis, you may also have been there. The snow is not the whitest thing in his photograph; there is whiter in the sky...."
In 1983 I published [in H/EAR magazine, #4, Melbourne] a sequence of poems by Bernie entitled "1981 : A series of Photographs in the manner of one of my poems?" I quote :

"a man is walking
he is carrying something yellow
we can not see that it is yellow because this is black and white photography
however it has yellow written on it.
he is out of doors.
he is resting
the yellow thing he is carrying is like a flag
we cannot read the word yellow completely because it hangs down half furled"

I can imagine them with a title not mentioning photographs --and a poetry reader being quite satisfied with them as poems...
I'll close by quoting Bernie's poem in which he records his debt to [Melbourne poet] Ken Taylor, and some of the poem he refers to by Ken Taylor :

"(...)I have heard Ken Taylor / read Maurie speaks of a secret Australia / while in Iceland/ it is changed / or a rechanged / or recharged / it can save your life / literally / or at least my life / Frank O'Hara / you will know / I do not often speak of ten pin bowling / I said to Finola, with respect / after this I can become an Australian artist / with respect (...)"

"(...)Maurie told me of / a secret Australia, / of nurses and wood-cutters, / farmers, a young man / with cancer, / isolated behind the / cast-iron fence, / a Base Hospital in / a country town, / mid-week races on / a radio somewhere, / men in dressing gowns / to stop other men / in the street / to buy bottles of beer / through the cast-iron fence..." And from the end, "(...)Death in a cicada / summer and / everywhere / a sense of life / as cold / and as still / as that swing, said Maurie, / pointing."

Sunday, June 24, 2007


WORDS FOR BERNIE : An eulogy on the occasion of Bernie O'Regan's Funeral, 15th November, 1996

I'm here to bury a friend and inaugurate a remembering of him which I hope I'll attend to henceforth. Life is so ruthless in the service of the living; and the dead disappear so quickly...

I've lived with Bernie O'Regan's photographs for the 25 years, more or less, that I've known him --his portraits of the family dominate our notice-board and can be found scattered throughout the house. He's been an important family documentor!
The last photos he took of me were in the Collected Works Bookshop a few months ago. On the Bookshop wall is a photo he took of Collected Works' predecessor, Nick Kimberley's poetry department of Compendium Bookshop in Camden Town, London, around 1972. Nick sits at his table just as I stand at my counter now. Both pictures own that rich congestion of old-fashioned kitchens! I think Bernie would be very much at home with that analogy.

Although Bernie's always been around me with his photographs, he hasnt been as present for me for years as in the last couple of weeks of his life & death.
I thank John Anderson for keeping me informed over a long time of the ups & downs of Bernie's condition --and commend him for his good companionship to Bernie during this remarkable period of almost spectacular well-being as well as illness.
What ironies to contemplate : that one's life, sometimes, diverts one from old friends, develops one in different directions in which friendships are tested, and wax & wane; and that the shadow of death sometimes heightens one's sense of life and makes one live at one's very best.
Quality of life is one of those phrases one would love to abolish because of its over-use --yet Bernie seemed to have exemplified it at this end of his life, as though all the years of his restlessness, nervousness & anxiety had been worked through to both best & worst conclusions --as though Bernie really was fulfilled in his contradictions at the last.

I met Bernie in 1972, at the Totnes Arts Festival in South Devon in England. I was one of the poets and Bernie was the experimental filmmaker, both of us invited by our mutual friend, the poet John Hall. Cleo Laine & the Johnny Dankworth Orchestra was the other act!
It was a crucial meeting for both of us. Retta & I were preparing to return to Melbourne after three years in England, and Bernie was beginning to question his life in London after a decade away [from Melbourne]. As it transpired, our enthusiastic reports of life & art in contemporary Melbourne persuaded Bernie & Jude [Telford] to follow us back. I have to say that as often as I remember Bernie I think of Bernie & Jude. Dinners, outings, great raves, films, photographs shared together. I also think of their dog Bobby, but that's another story.

Bernie was a film-maker but more importantly a photographer among the poets, a photographer for whom poetry & the optic which poets have of the world was of major importance. In the '70s, in both England & Australia, this relationship was socially realized --but thereafter, as the visionary spirit of the '60s finally evaporated, it was internalised, adhered to as practice without expectation of social reflection.

I'd like to think that we were both becoming other kinds of person & artist in the last ten years --and that if & when our time-tables coincided we'd have been able to share & explore our new thoughts & works. I certainly agree with something Jude Telford said when Bernie died, that it was a terrible shame he wouldnt be taking any more photographs. Whatever his achievement is, I feel he was still working something out in his Letters to Friends project --involving a wonderful distillation or crystalization of intuition & collage, in which reality not only could be said to have "adhered to the photographic surface" [F. Sommer] but was created.

I'll read a couple of poems or parts of poems that touched &/or reflected Bernie, plus a couple of Bernie's own poems, which reveal him, poignantly...

When I ask Kris
should I be flattered or amazed
when he says he will publish my poems
he says
be amazed,
I am amazed
I guess I am often amazed
in a soporific sort of way,
I am certainly not certain
of the reason why I am here
and here, for now is
Albion St.
number 213


At the Dental Hospital

there are 2 reasons, at least,
for not killing myself.
Gilbert Sorrentino is only 45
and just thinking what is to come
before he is dead.
Frank O'Hara is dead
but he has left 500 pages
of poems to be read before
I am dead


(by John Hall)

the things wrong with my car
are easier to talk about
than the things wrong with me, less
intimate perhaps, but more intimate
than other people's cars. the things
wrong with other people is
the best subject of all but needs always
the right audience, easy enough to gain
where we are all intimate
with each other's defects. the audience
for the conversation about the
things wrong with me
must think about it as I would like to
as offering grounds for a more intimate
& flattering interpretation. so the surroundings
must be quiet & the converation
not overheard the which conditions
are not at all necessary
for the things wrong with my car.

(by Ted Berrigan)

III (Sonnet)

Stronger than alcohol, more great than song,
deep in whose reeds great elephants decay;
I, an island, sail, and my shores toss
on a fragrant evening, fraught with sadness
bristling hate.
It's true, I weep too much. Dawns break
slow kisses on the eyelids of the sea,
what other men sometimes have thought they've seen.
And since then I've been bathing in the poem
lifting her shadowy flowers up for me,
and hurled by hurricanes to a birdless place
the waving flags, nor pass by prison ships
O let me burst, and I will be lost at sea!
and fall on my knees then womanly.


(by Robert Duncan)

Often I am permitted to return to a meadow

as if it were a scene made-up by the mind,
that is not mine, but is a made place,

that is mine, it is so near to the heart,
an eternal pasture folded in all thought
so that there is a hall therein

that is a made place, created by light
wherefrom the shadows that are forms fall.
Often I am permitted to return to a meadow
as if it were a given property of the mind
that certain bounds hold against chaos,

that is a place of first permission,
everlasting omen of what is.

[Bernie O'Regan (21/6/38-9/11/96), buried at Arthur's Creek, outer Melbourne, 15th November,1996.]