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."