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.]

Sunday, June 17, 2007


Melbourne, May 9-12,'07

Dear Bernard, My month came & went --April "with his schowres sweete" etc., "Thanne longen folk to gon on pilgrimages" as Chaucer says --but Taurus, my constellation, has a little way to go yet. English Spring, or how it used to be pre-Climate Change, and Melbourne Autumn have some similarities. The sunshine in the backgarden, where I sat for an hour before the breeze sent me back indoors, is blissful after the burn of Summer, just like sunshine in England after Winter cold.
I'm rereading that part of TDB before Ray's stint with the Fire service --when the trio have returned from their first trip. Japhy & Smith have been joined by Alvah (Ginsberg) & Coughlin (Philip Whalen) for talk & wine. Coughlin urges his fellow devotee recite the Buddhist stories. They're drinking and Japhy, inspired, lays down his vision, the vision, his social programme if you like. And it truly is the vision of our time, you & me in the middle of it.
'"Give me another slug of that jug. How! Ho! Hoo!' Japhy leaping up : 'I've been reading Whitman, know what he says, Cheer up slaves, and horrify foreign despots, he means that's the attitude for the Bard, the Zen lunacy bard of old desert paths, see the whole thing is a world full of rucksack wanderers, Dharma Bums refusing to subscribe to the general demand that they consume production and therefore have to work for the privilege of consuming, all that crap they didn't really want anyway such as refridgerators, tv sets, cars, at least new fancy cars, certain hair oils and deoderants and general junk you finally always see a week later in the garbage anyway, all of them imprisoned in a system of work, produce, consume, work, produce, consume, I see a vision of a great rucksack revolution thousands or even millions of young Americans wandering around with rucksacks, going up to mountains to pray, making children laugh and old men glad, making young girls happy and old girls happier, all of 'em zen lunatics who go about writing poems that happen to appear in their heads for no reason and also by being kind and also by strange unexpected acts keep giving visions of eternal freedom to everybody and to all living creatures...'" (pp76-77)
The argument, of course, is between those who do & do not "subscribe to the general demand". If there were millions of "rucksack revolutionaries" (and maybe there were, from the Sixties to the present?) would the general condition have been transformed? Japhy's wish for "a floating zendo, where an old Bodhisattva can wander from place to place and always be sure to find a spot to sleep in among friends and cook up mush" (p77) is closer to the reality I suspect. Thus the Counter Culture : alternative societies within the general subscription society. So Japhy's the social revolutionary and Smith sympathizes but contributes the compassion (as the good conservative should) : "Only one thing I'll say for the people watching television, the millions and millions of the One Eye : they're not hurting anyone while they're sitting in front of the One Eye. But neither was Japhy..." (p82)
Smith's narrative swings harmoniously between Zen Lunatics on their dharma bum and the world as it is (as it always was and will be). Recall the start of chapter (actually, more like rave or riff) 24, p125 : "If the Dharma Bums ever get lay brothers in America who live normal lives with wives and children and homes, they will be like Sean Monahan [Locke McCorkle in real life](...) a young carpenter who lived in an old wooden house far up a country road from the huddled cottages of Corte Madera(...)[living] the joyous life in America without much money(...)" (Kerouac's sexism reflects that time's conventional paradigm; women were part of the equation then but generally lacked their narrators. Impossible not to think of men & women now since the upheaval of the Sixties & the Feminism of the Seventies. "Lay brothers & sisters" everywhere...) Who would have believed, though, that in the West, in our time, Buddhism, for one example of an alternative perspective, would become mainstream?
The closing paragraph of the book has Ray offering a prayer to his fire-watching mountain-shack before he "turned and went on down the trail back to this world." Where we are --having our cake and eating it too! --in this world.


(14/3/07) The Governor's sketch of Han Shan & Shih-te, laughing loudly, Ho! & Ha-ha! (in Snyder's preface to Cold Mountain Poems) is the template for Kerouac's TDB. All there in the ancient Chinese pair's fleeing society the moment freedom was felt to be threatened --hiding in the mountains, disappearing into the cave of the remotest world as well as the world at large) --exactly how Japhy & Ray Smith are meant to be in the novel. Hoo! shouts Japhy. Ray adopts the exclamation. "Hoo" announces & punctuates --the glee of being in the world. The scholarship, the wandering, the drinking & partying , the confrontation with ultimate questions in the silence of the mountains --Japhy as Han Shan, Smith as Shih-te. Plain as plain can be!
Yet although Smith/Kerouac could imagine himself the senior partner, especially as Americana Catholicism brushes off that old Dharma --echo of Alvah earlier in the book, dismissing what real-life Ginsberg will clasp full-on in years to come --it's a conceit. More likely the older amigo's life-experience inflecting whatever can be said of Mahayanna versus Zen for example. Undoubtedly, in terms of Buddhist story rather than natural mysticism, Japhy appears to be Smith's master in the book.

(19/3/07) Pound's superiority as translator according to Hugh Kenner, introducing the Collected Translations, is the ability to transpose his own voice upon the ancient text : "Pound after twenty-four centuries lends Confucius his voice." Indeed --and that is the signature of our time. Yet what emerges as a danger after only a few decades of the Poundian influence is the flattening of topical langauge (that is, of expression specific to its time) in favour of what is recognizably "our own". No historical personality, simply our own reflection. The example Kenner offers to advantage Pound over Waley sems to me defficient if only for one crucial word, namely the "way". Referring to the way, Pound reports : "He said : The way out is via the door, how is it that no one will use this method." Method? What happened to The Way, one of the world's most poetic cosmologies? Method? The word reeks of the mechanical, the systematic, the utilitarian. Who couldnt prefer Waley then : "The Master said, who expects to be able to go out of a house except by the door? How is it then no one follows this Way of ours?"
Kenner's put-down requires him to caricature : "Arthur Waley sensed a sage embroidered on tapestry expounding the Way." After reading John Walter de Gruchy's Orienting Arthur Waley : Japanism, Orientalism, and the Creation of Japanese Literature in English (Hawaii,'03), I think I sense the Modernist reflex against the aestheticism of the late 19thCentury & Bloomsbury in Kenner's representation. And I naturally hope it isnt also bullish sneer at whatever's less than red-blooded vernacular --queer & Jewish, look out!
De Gruchy's contrast of Waley's criticism of Japan, informed by superior scholarship & linguistic acumen, with the Japonism of so many Western literati between the World Wars, is salutary. How blinded one can be by partisan enthusiasm in poetry as in politics, and be led past the pretty flowers sure enough but ultimately right up the garden path!
This isnt a belated denigration of Modernism --our times' great adventure after all --but merely a questioning of some of its idiom & its disguised prejudices. Thanks to de Gruchy, Waley's back on my desk, squarely, as are (wait for it!) Laurence Binyon & other earlier translators so temptingly cited!

(8/5/07) Re- the revised/expanded edition of Red Pine's Collected Songs of Cold Mountain (Copper Canyon, 2000), I enjoyed the confirmation contained in Bill Porter (Red Pine)'s introduction : "If China's literary critics were put in charge of organizing a tea for their country's greatest poets of the past, Cold Mountain [Han Shan] would not be on many invitation lists. Yet no other poet occupies the altars of China's temples and shrines, where his statue often stands alongside immortals and bodhisattvas. He is equally revered in Korea and Japan. And when Jack Kerouac dedicated The Dharma Bums to him in 1958, Cold Mountain became the guardian angel of a generation of Westerners as well."
John Blofeld's description, in his introduction, of the Taoist feeling for & about life is surely written with a wide grin --it tickles my heart as I read. The relational people most of us are, living in the pragmatic world as we do, arent entirely lost when we're charmed by truths & tropes of the absolute! "You are going to give me a 32-course (plus side-dishes) Chinese banquet? Thanks, I'll enjoy that. We have only a bowl or two of inferior-quality boiled rice for dinner? That will go down very nicely. We have nothing on which to dine? Splendid, we shall have more time to sit outside and enjoy the moonlight, with music provided by the wind in the pines."
(9/5/07) I'm rereading, after many years, David Young's Five T'ang Poets (Oberlin/Field, 1990), especially his little introductions to each poet (Wang Wei, Li Po, Tu Fu, Li Ho, Li Shang-Yin) which describe their lives and discusses the rationale of the translation within the context of the history of each poet's translation. His courtesy is gratifying. Distinguishing "accuracy and scholarship" from poetry in his criticism of another anthology and promising to "rescue my four poets [five in the 2nd edition] from the often wooden & dogged versions of the scholars", Young hopes he might "take my place with other poets -- Ezra Pound, Kenneth Rexroth and Gary Snyder, in particular, along with Arthur Waley, the scholar who translated like a poet -- who have worked in Chinese translation."
A nonsense to talk of rehabilitation with respect to Waley but necessary --and I'm regailing myself as much as anyone else --to maintain the whole field of reference against the distractions of fashion.

(15/5/07) Regarding your closing remark, "But the spirit is there". I'm sure that it is. When mobility has been restricted, as it actually has for you, then spirit is almost everything. It would be trivialising for me to say that "everyone's restricted" in the face of your circumscription. But you are the Abbot of Goldy, you have your library of literature, poetry, philosophy not to mention your music collection. You have the run of the kitchen and you must know your Radipole & Chafey's walks like their official warden (or poet)! Thing is to sow the seed, grow the dream, keep your spirits up!

Love, Kris


Weymouth / England
May 2007

Dear Kris, I'm anticipating a letter from you soon. Your last got to me in four days. That's some speedy snail! I still prefer this form. No PC, e-mail, etc, for me thus far. I've said it before --I'm not convinced -- which irked you. But maybe I'll go electronic sometime. Anyway, there's no substitute for the books you consistently send. Keep 'em coming.
Talking of which, Zaza [Monique, sister] visited and brought me a couple of presents today (13th May) -- a jar of amazake (made from millet, which I prefer to the brown rice variety) and a book from Waterstone's bookshop in Dorchester. She said she just had to buy it for me. Whilst looking for something else she saw Poems of Thomas Hardy (selected and introduced by Claire Tomalin, Hardy's biographer). I was very pleased to receive it. Do you know it's the first book of his poems that I've ever had in my possession? I've been meaning to get into Hardy since I moved to Dorset twenty-two years ago. Maybe now I'll make a start. But he's not thus far moved me the way the Powyses have. And he's not moved me the way Kerouac and TDB etc has. But he is someone with whom I'd like to feel more at home. By the way, printed on the bag in which the Hardy book came was a quote from Hemingway -- "There is no friend as loyal as a book!" And books sure are amongst my best friends.

Re- Dogen / Shobogenzo
"People have sometimes regarded 'Uji' as his unique discourse on the theory of time. Theory of time, my foot! It is his trying to explain reality in a way that people could understand. As Koho Zenji said to me, Dogen was no more interested in time, as such, than the next man. He was trying to point out that everything which is present is part of a flow, and everything which is in the future is part of a flow. And, he was telling us not to get caught up in periods of time, not to get caught up in appearances, not to get caught up in anything -- just be one with the flow that comprises all of existence."
This is what Jiyu Kennett says in Roar of the Tigress, vol 2. She goes on to say that unless you discover this for yourself you'll have a hard time understanding what Dogen is going on about. It was a great relief for me to read this as I was teetering on the brink of giving Dogen a wide berth, giving up on him. But I'm restored.

I bought a beaut of a book recently on handbuilt shelters called Home Work, by Lloyd Kahn. It's published by his own press, Shelter Publications, out of Bolinas, California. And I was most pleased to see in it the house of one of his neighbours -- you'll be delighted as well -- Joanne Kyger. Them Dharma Bums and their friends and neighbours get everywhere dont they? Kahn writes -- "Joanne Kyger is my neighbour, a poet, and an elegant lady. Her house, an old cottage she bought in 1970, reflects her travels to various parts of the world and has a wonderful feeling inside. Everywhere you look are things of beauty : a Tibetan tanka, a Balinese painted calendar, lots of paintings, dozens of baskets, healthy green plants, Japanese vases and laquered plates. There's a mirror from Guatemala, the smell of incense, and a book-shelf with hundreds of books. The old water-stained shingles on the roof show through in the living room, and there's a woodstove for heat."
Is that a bit like your cottage in Melbourne? Poet's hideaway? Tin roof. Bookshelves and paintings. Taoist/Zen Lunatic's retreat? We need such places.
Home Work contains "100 photos and over 300 drawings, all illustrating buildings assembled with human hands -- a Japanese-style stilt house accessible only by going on a cable 500 feet across a river; tree houses, bottle houses, bamboo, yurts etc." Fantastic. A book to get me thinking and dreaming. As I said -- books are amongst my best friends! And these places are what you mention in your last letter (20th May) -- Japhy's "floating zendo".
Pleased that your letter came eventually and at the same time as the Five T'ang Poets which you sent separately. Two packets on the same day. It beats anything by contemporary poets I might read. This is what does it for me. Thanks so very much. I enjoyed Clive Faust's poems you photocopied for me, one for Cid Corman and one for Philip Whalen. Exemplary construction. And of course I appreciated the cutting from The Age on Bill Mollison.
I don't have the new edition of Red Pine's Collected Songs of Cold Mountain, but I do have three copies of the original first edition (1983). I will get the new one, complete with photos. I must mention David Budbill whom Copper Canyon publishes -- an American modern-day equivalent of our favourite T'ang poets. The New York Times Book Review said, "When Budbill's on his mountain, he longs for the city, and vice versa. Fame, wealth, and sex are false gods, he insists, but he hastens to add that he still, at times, craves all three. These are not new ideas -- a list of references in the book shows how strongly he's influenced by the classical Chinese poets -- but they find fresh expression here, thanks to Budbill's good humour and gusto. " (Copper Canyon 2006-07, Fall/Winter catalogue.)

(25th May) I have just two books bedside at present -- Five T'ang Poets and The way of a Pilgrim. I've taken to reading them aloud to mama. Poor thing, she's not at all well and rests and sleeps a lot. But I try to keep her interest alive by reading to her. Kerouac would've loved the latter (as well as the T'ang poets of course). He did have his Bible which he read -- "I took out the Bible and read a little Saint Paul by the warm stove and the light of the tree. 'Let him become a fool, that he may become wise,' and I thought of dear Japhy and wished he was enjoying the Christmas eve with me. 'Already are ye filled,' says Saint Paul, 'already are ye become rich. The saints shall judge the world.'" (TDB, p99.) Yup, Ray Smith would've loved The Way of a Pilgrim -- the Pilgrim is a sort of Dharma Bum.
Christian? Buddhist? Buddhist and Christian? Ray has doubts but ultimately transcends everything. "Then suddenly one night after supper as I was pacing in the cold windy darkness of the yard I felt tremendously depressed and threw myself right on the ground and cried 'I'm gonna die!' because there was nothing else to do in the cold loneliness of this harsh inhospitable earth, and instantly the tender bliss of enlightenment was like milk in my eyelids and I was warm. And I realized that this was the truth Rosie knew now, and all the dead, my dead father and dead brother and dead uncles and cousins and aunts, the truth that is realizable in a dead man's bones and is beyond the Tree of Buddha as well as the Cross of Jesus. Believe that the world is an etherial flower, and ye live. I knew that I also knew that I was the worst bum in the world. The diamond light was in my eyes." (TDB, p100.)

Thich Nhat Hanh is very keen on practicing with both traditions, Christian and Buddhist -- "(...) parents should encourage their children to have two roots and to have both the Buddha and Jesus within their life. Why not? (...) It is just like cooking. If you love French cooking, it does not mean that you are forbidden to love Chinese cooking (...) You love the apple, yes, you are authorised to love the apple, but no one prevents you from also loving the mango." (Going Home : Jesus and Buddha as Brothers, Riverhead,1999; p202.)
Me? I've got plenty of time for all of it. Everything. Multitrack. Not single track!

Love, Bernard

Monday, June 11, 2007



To Sheila, John's mother, & to his father; to his sisters & other members of John's family; and to his closest friends, especially Emma Lew; my deepest sympathy to you at this time. My love & strength to you as you live with & without John forever after.
I've been asked to speak into our memorial service for John the sorrows & kindest thoughts from several poets & writers whom I contacted last week, namely from Robert Gray in Sydney, Alexandra Seddon in Candelo, from Anna Couani in Sydney, & Alex Miller locally. All were shocked at the suddenness of his illness & death, and spoke fondly & appreciatively of John as a person & a poet.
Another of our mutual colleagues, Javant Biarujia, dedicated the poetry reading which he was mc-ing on the night of that awful Tuesday to John.
For the poets, the words are almost all-important.
This totally consuming labour extracting poetic harmony, poetic truth, poetic meaning, poetic value even poetic justice & poetic consolation from the language in which & by which we know the world. These are the accents & complexions of the world the poet makes --and of the life the poet makes --of the reason for it & the sense of it --its poetic sound & sense.
And all of it made by the poet with eyes & ears, mind, tongue, senses ever sensitive to what is given --to make something of what is given even as it presents itself complete.
John was part of my extended domestic & literary family since the early 1970s; intensely in earlier times, less so recently. He brought his friends & references into the conversation, as it were, and went away with mine.
Important as traditional British & Australian & modern European poetry were to him, so would become certain contemporary American poetry or at least certain of its poetic precepts.
His landscape poetry , which I persist in thinking of as cosmological, issues in his work as the product of that great Twentieth Century contradiction, the wonderfully artificial & the wonderfully real.
John was perplexed to find, one day, that a photograph for which he'd been very carefully posed by our late friend Bernie O'Regan, no longer included him. There was the Merri Creek & a particularly dramatic section of rock, but he'd been literally cut out of the picture! I'm moved & amused by that tale, for though John has been cut out, the landscape that remains bears him faithfully, for, as far as the poets are concerned, he also named the place and shaped it forever for us to see & to hear & to read.
As follows [from THE BLUEGUM SMOKES A LONG CIGAR, Rigmarole Books, 1978] : THE BRACHYCHITON (Kurrajong)

Study the leaves of the Brachychiton
And you will be ready for any turn in the conversation

What holds true in a grove of Brachychitons
Holds true in wheatfields and oaks

The kind of thought that I aspire to
Would not disturb one leaf of Brachychiton

I am not self conscious in the Brachychiton
Some are afraid in the Brachychiton
Brachychiton Brachychiton
Enter the Brachychiton

After a while my thoughts fly
When I chant "The Brachychiton"
They sit down and most move around in the Brachychitons
I thought my jeans were Brachychitons
Nirvana Brachychiton. Brachychiton Das Cyclamens.
It is different each time in the Brachychitons

The Service of Thanksgiving for the Life of John Douglas Anderson, 1948-97, was held at St Mary's Church, North Melbourne, 5th November,1997. Celebrant, Father Jim Brady. Tributes were made by friends & family including Ned Johnson, Paul Poernomo, Elizabeth Connell, Kevin Pearson, Roger Smith, Cassie Lewis, Kris Hemensley, Peter Freckleton, Christopher Mariolle, Geoffrey Egglestone.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007



1. The "small press" is an umbrella. You put up an umbrella when there's a storm. But it's a distraction , if not a grievous mistake, to confuse the umbrella with the storm. The storm is always the literary crucible of personal & social questions.
Ivor Indyk's Heat magazine enters the fray, declaring its intention to cut through mediocrity & cowardice... Years ago, Jack Shoemaker turned the curriculum of his Sand Dollar mail-order bookstore into the innovative literary publisher North Point to immediately take the honours at the fine quality end of the American small press...
The various histories which today aggregate as the small press explain its cultural & aesthetical values. We can describe longer or shorter histories according to knowledge, personal experience & disposition.
History was neither here nor there in Melbourne amongst poets in 1967/68 when that era 's small or little press was born. Michael Dugan could & would talk about the Angry Penguins & of Barratt Reid's Barjai & of the beginnings of Meanjin & Overland --in short, the '40s & post WW2 new Australian literary scene. And Michael was a subscriber to several English little mags of the '60s --a Sixties which was not yet definable except as the notion & imperative "new" & "now". (It's ironic & instructive that I could come from the English provinces to Melbourne,Australia and be closer to the international action than if I'd stayed at home, 100 miles from London!) It's vital to insert the idea of "underground" into this definition --because "small press" & "little magazine", then as now, are relative terms, --are relative to the mainstream examples. Outside of mainstream journals (& journalism) & large publishing houses, everything else is the small press! Especially today!
Michael Dugan's & my idea in the '60s was to reflect or represent the alternative for all of the alternative scenes, --thus, the underground.

2. If I'm to retrieve some meaning from the oxymoron of Ken Smeaton's title for this forum, --since "great success" & "small press" seem to me to derive from opposing cultural notions --I'd say that a great success of small press is its simultaneous granting of the freedom of expression (which is a political act) & the sustenance of new & original literary work. I should add that since the '60s, the parallel development of the reading aloud of poetry (mostly) & prose has, locally, greatly expanded the crucial community aspect of the small press, whether "underground" or "non-mainstream".

3. "Great success", of course, begs the question. "Great success" suggests quantifiable measure, it suggests quantity. "Small press" is small --its values are not, esentially, those of the mainstream. A recent great success was Chris Grierson's launching of five titles from his imprint, Soup. Both Chris & his friend Kieran Carroll refer to the '60s mimeograph revolution. The Soup booklets or pamphlets are in editions of 100. Their authors --Grierson, Carroll, Cassie Lewis, James Lee, Brendan Ryan --are in their 20s or only recently left those "beautiful years"! For those of us who are no longer the younger generation or the new generation, who are older or more published, these five represent the emerging literature.
For those who havent yet published, they represent a kind of establishment, that is of poets & writers who have broken through, who're writing, publishing & reading their work around the traps.
The great success of Soup is in its accessability. The work exists; here it is published; here it is being read; here it is in its first edition, distributed. Whether or not Penguin Books or Angus & Robertson or, dare I say, Black Pepper, are available to publish it, here is Soup ready to publish NOW!

4. To return to my figure of speech, "small press as umbrella" and my proposition that "the umbrella isnt the storm" : the "storm" is always the authorised condition as perceived by those outside of the exercise of that authority. The "umbrella" is always what those people put up as protection, defence, shelter for their own literary & political dignity.
Never is it really a mutually exclusive situation --though it may suit people to beleive & behave as if it were --for a while at least.
But though it isnt mutually exclusive, it is a mistake to regard the literature & the production of the small press as simply a stepping stone, a credit on the way to "success".
"Success" itself is ever changing --world market would seem now to be the index of success. And the technologies of that potential appear to be the new scene of the action.
"Small press", then, may insist on notions of limitation --of locality, of personality --may insist its traditional reality against the invitation of infinite growth & relevance & popularity.
And these political & philosophical issues have always been reflected in the aesthetical values of the small press journal & book.
I might close with the examples of two beautifully made literary journals, Heat (edited by Ivor Indyk) & Boxkite (edited by James Taylor), --which are considerable statements of the state of the small press in Australia as well as instantly being participants on the international scene --contributing Australian perspectives on & to Anglo-American & European literary writing. And they represent the contemporary paradox of the "small press"...

[This seminar moderated by Ken Smeaton and featuring Geoffrey Dutton, Gail Hannah & Kevin Pearson, Kris Hemensley, Mark Rubbo.]

Sunday, June 3, 2007


LAUNCHING SPEECH FOR BECOMING BUDDHA : THE STORY OF SIDDHARTHA, BY WHITNEY STEWART & SALLY RIPPIN; 4th May, 2005, at the Greville Street Bookstore, Greville Street, Prahran [Melbourne].

It's a great pleasure for me to be launching Sally Rippin's book tonight. I've got to know Sally as a neighbour at the Writers' Centre where she occupies a studio adjacent to Collected Works Bookshop on the 1st floor of the Nicholas Building. I'm aware of her working away next door and always look forward to our conversations & green teas!
I'm dedicating my remarks tonight to my brother Bernard, who I've recently visited in Weymouth,UK --Bernard and his long struggle with agoraphobia and, of a more positive kind, with Buddhism's precepts & practices, its Asian traditions & its manifestations over the past century in the West... And to my dear friend Cathy O'Brien who presently lives & works in Laos, and apart from teaching English to everyone in Vientiane she's up to her ever widening eyes in that fantastic amalgamation of animist & Buddhist ceremony & practice... I dedicate it also to the continuing conversation between Cathy, myself & Kris Coad, the ceramic artist, around & about Indian, Chinese, Japanese & SE Asian aesthetics & themes...
It's also very nice to reacquaint with Jurate [Sasnaitis] in her shop [Greville Street Bookstore], and with [co proprietor] Des Cowley, who were friends & colleagues for many years at Collected Works...
This launching gives me the opportunity to tie together several strands of my life & my loves!
I was in Bangkok recently, to meet Cathy and to attend the wonderful retrospective exhibition of the Thai artist,the late Montian Boonma... It was impressive to say the least... He is one of Asia's preeminent contemporary artists [sculpture & installation] whose modern art practice is also perfectly explicable as Buddhist art --as his catalogue noted, "Boonma returned to local wisdom due to his consciousness of traditional society and his appreciation of Thai art"...
Cathy took me to the King's Palace temple complex, and I realised what an important place it was in the Buddhist world... And I was overwhelmed by the temples, the statuary, the sense of 'living temple' or church --and by the magnificent murals, hundreds of yards of the Ramayana story...
It so happens I'm a reader of Thomas Merton, who died tragically in Bangkok in 1968 --so when I arrived in England [the next leg of my '05 journey] I raided my brother Bernard's extensive library for his Mertons and found the Asian Journal...[I feel very much like Thomas Merton who on the occasion he was asked to lead a prayer confessed, "I have no idea what I am going to say." He then spoke profoundly about openness... "I am going to be silent a minute, then I will say something... 'O God we are one with you, you have made us one with you, you have taught us if we are open to one another You dwell in us. Help us to preserve this openness and to fight for it with all our hearts.' ]
This is Thomas Merton at the King's Palace : "There are of course Disneyland tendencies in all these Thai wats and I suppose at times they go over the line... As for the frescos, yes they were good too, in their way, so close to a comic strip; this is not meant to imply a judgement good or bad, after all I think the murals are perhaps the best thing in the whole temple. Hanuman has a prominent place in all this --he is at once a monkey, god and successful fighter and I think this says much that illumines the whole comic book and pre comic book tradition." --which takes me to illustration and specifically this book by Whitney Stewart & Sally Rippin.
My only personal experience of such a project has been working with Jiri Tibor Novak twenty years ago on my book, our book, Christopher... But I've always loved the pictures accompanying text, for prime example the Universal Comics era of literary classics --Mort D'Arthur, especially the Holy Grail chapter when Galahad lays eyes on the challice...
Let us open the book, Becoming Buddha... On the title page Sally's wild goose... In the book-trade I came to know it as the logo of Scottish press, Floris, publisher mostly of Rudolph Steiner titles but also Celtic & Scottish Gaelic works of literature & spirituality... I visited the abbey at Iona in the west of Scotland in 1990, whose symbol is the wild goose...
On the next page [the foreward by Tenzin Gyatso, the Dalai Lama] the lotus flower & the leaf of the Bodhi tree --beautiful marginal decoration... This is, of course, a book dedicated to the Tibetan cause & its form of Buddhist practice. It is blessed by the Dalai Lama. It is a picture book of one of the great stories of the world...
The writer's sentence, "At a time when the oldest bodhi trees in Asia were still in youthfull bloom..." is juxtaposed on this page with Sally's dance of leaves. Of course, the branch is assumed --literally, the leaves hang --but without the branch the leaves are miraculously suspended... The child is looking out of the pouch of the mother --with them there eyes!
[And so we follow the story of Siddhartha from baby to boy to youth to marriage to his life outside the palace.] Here Siddartha & his friend meet the monk... Sally's picture of Siddhartha's face is, I think, deliberately unformed --that is, it has less delineation than the monk's. But, one anticipates Siddhartha's progress in the beatific expression of the monk who meditates --in the story an as yet unknown practice. The face of the Buddha, as we would recognize it from its thousands of images in the great Asian traditions, is more that of the monk than Siddhartha...
The picture of Siddhartha as an experienced meditator yields, I think, to a kind of androgeny in its representation... Neither male nor female --maybe like one of the sacred transvestites of India, male & female simultaneously --the shaven dome of both baby & old one --the closed lids of an inner-seeing & not-sleeping person. And note the brilliant touch of the blue ribbon of thought/non-thought, the ribbon or vibration, the invisible thread which illustrates a transportation, a beyond-oneself, a transpersonality... The lumpyness of it is so much to the point of the realness of meditation --it's great that we dont have some wafting airy-fairy emanation! And the lumps perhaps contain monkey feet & tails! The figures work as decoration & the imagery suggested by the text...
In all the pictures thus far, black is border & background, positively or implied. But in this picture, which illustrates a scene prior to Siddhartha's enlightenment, --we could call it the Temptation and accept the Christian significance of that term --Sally has bordered the dramatic event with blue. I think the blue is the prelude to the golden orange of the magnificent next chapter/next page... Blue is a transcending colour, the colour of sky, of air (if it could be coloured) --it's the colour of the sea as well but that's the reflection of the sky!
The image of Siddhartha, on this orange & gold page, touching the earth with the fingertips of his right hand as his left hand rests across his thigh, is absolutely at one with Whitney Stewart's text... "Siddhartha's mind was steady. No trace of inner darkness blinded him. Free from pride, doubt and fear, from anger, excitement and sorrow. Siddhartha had clear vision..."
Here is Buddhism's figure of the enlightened person --here is the continuum of earth, nature, mind, and one thinks of Romanticism's legacy to modernity, including environmentalism's mystical aura & etc...
In her 'Illustrator's Note', Sally states she's not a Buddhist, "but have a great respect for Buddhism and the Dalai Lama. I knew that in illustrating this book, the challenge for me would be to work with historical images of Siddhartha already created by many wonderful artists over hundreds of years , but also to bring to each picture my own interpretation of Whitney's text. I began by collecting together as many beautiful materials and images of Siddhartha as I could find to inspire me. From there I began to paint Siddhartha the way that he appeared to me in my mind. While I painted each illustration, I practised the Dalai Lama's meditation exercises in this book and worked to create the most peaceful and beautiful image I could, all the while aiming to represent the light and compassion that Siddhartha, and now the Dalai Lama, bring to this world."
For those wishing to explore further I'd recommend, in addition to the multitudinous classical Buddhist literature, Herman Hesse's wonderful Siddhartha, which many people here would already know, and Thich Nhat Hanh's recent 600 page life of the Buddha, Old Path White Clouds, which draws on 24 Pali, Sanskrit & Chinese sources...
So, without further ado, I declare Sally's book, Sally & Whitney's book, launched!

Becoming Buddha : the story of Siddhartha, published by Lothian Books , Melbourne, 2005.