Monday, December 8, 2008


Shocked to find in Saturday's Age the following death notice :

EGGLESTON, Geoffrey Charles
15.01.1944 - 02.12.2008
Loved father of Nathaniel and Niniane. Father-in-law of Lucy and Richard. Grandad of Dexter.
Forever in our hearts.
A Memorial service to celebrate Geoffrey's life will be held at Montsalvat, Eltham on Sunday (December 21) at 3.00 pm

I'm embarrassed I havent known all week. I havent found notices anywhere else on the web. I'm sure I'm not the first messenger of these sad tidings, but add here our own condolences to family & mutual friends.
Kris & Retta Hemensley

Thursday, December 4, 2008



An Open Letter to Corinne Cantrill, in the aftermath of her 80th Birthday Celebration, at La Mama Theatre, Carlton, November 9th, 2008

Dear Corinne,
We came to praise you --and do. The strains of the traditional "Happy Birthday" & "For she's a jolly good fellow" and the cheers raised in your honour as you hovered over the cake, still ring in our ears... I anticipated bumping into so many people associated with you (--and in this instance, 'you' includes Arthur &, of course, Ivor, as well as your magazine, Cantrill's Filmnotes, & your events & programmes principally at La Mama & your former home in Brunswick Road) --and I did meet a few of these erstwhile supporters, like Michael Lee, John Flaus, Jude Telford (who was also representing the late Bernie O'Regan), and didnt I hear Solrun Hoaas's name spoken as we took our seats?

You said that one of the reasons for closing your magazine, apart from loss of AFC funding, was the burden of recording the seemingly endless succession of deaths of friends & colleagues. Yet, I must say, given relatively long & stable life, doesnt one become a memorialist, a custodian of at least the memories of our friends' works & lives? But the magazine wasnt, to my mind, burdened by that aspect. It brimmed with filmmakers' contributions & critical commentary; it brought all the news a little mag, profuse with colour & b & w reproductions, could hold. Of course, the deaths of friends is always sad, but death itself is the tragic penumbra of all human life & endeavour and the definitive element of the wonderful cycle we express & project ourselves within... So when you then disparaged your work as a filmmaker because, you said, of its inconsequentiality in this doomed world --the end of life as we know it, global warning, climate change, environmental destruction, et al --I have to disagree.

You wouldnt have seen me shaking my head in the audience but hear me now. Calamity is what it is but surely cant be a conceptual surprise; it's the proverbial wake-up call and only ever unseats illusion. One year, five, ten? --you predicted the time-frame for this end of the world. Who knows? Whoever did? People drop off the perch anytime, anywhen --and the perch itself drops off some time (the natural process or a cataclysm). Not knowing when was always the situation. That's what highlights the beauty of our art & craft, since nothing produced lasts forever. Whatever the degree of human responsibility for climate change (--and lately I've been rereading Welsh poet & environmentalist, John Barnie, on this theme, in his book No Hiding Place : Essays on the new nature and poetry (University of Wales Press, 1996), which confirms me in a kind of cheerful fatalism, encouraging my amused wonderment at the miraculous place of human life within the deepest workings of geological time), I'd have to ask you Corinne, when was your film work ever political in that literal sense? How & when did you conceive of your extensive colour-separation experiments, for example, or your major landscape works ("film-form/land-form" as you called them), as politically effective statements? Or, to put it another way, what was your political conception of these consummately visual experiences, perceptional analyses if you like, often meditative in the way they induced a state of mind akin to wide-awake dreaming? How could your films have been 'all for nothing' when the something your statement supposes has more to do with social-political documentary than anything seen in your work?

Perhaps you were teasing us into consideration of the art & politics question (which never goes away & perhaps shouldnt for the clarification that attending to it always brings)? I've been there myself recently, responding to comments by John Berger, extracted from his essay, The Hour of Poetry, by Robyn Rowland for the on-line magazine, Zest, she edits for the Australian Poetry Centre. Hard to decipher exactly what Berger was calling for in his 1982 piece : an art of witness & testimony yet somehow not guaranteed by individuality, which is how I understood his valorisation of 'totality' and relegation of the 'sentimental' in his quip, "sentimentality always pleads for an exemption, for something which is divisible". For Berger it seems it isnt the individual & the complex of eccentricity realized as such but "poetry that makes language care because it renders everything intimate." It's as though poetry, per se, is intimate (and other forms not?), when the fact surely is that the art is made intimate by the poet's particularity & insistence on peculiarity (that is, detail & angle) whereby poem, in this case, rises to the ineffable, if that be the statement of the whole (--i cant bear to use the term 'totality' after Berger's political tar-&-feathering!), but only & always through the only-ness of an individual accent, and not the general. We're talking about that partiality which is voice and has to be to break through what every poet under the sun hears as hubub ( Berger's undifferentiated 'language') before experiencing the poem's rising up into song, as though the striving voice in each poem recognizes the chorus to which it belongs! The personal is always the pitch of it, never the general!

I remember the late John Anderson, to whom I introduced you Corinne as I did your work to him, confessing his confusion as to whether he could achieve more as an environmental activist than a poet. His poetry, he implied, was written to raise awareness of the sacred beauty & ecological importance of, say, the eucalypts; but, he anguished, could his time & energy be better spent physically preventing their destruction? I didnt understand the mutual exclusivity within his question. What prevents the poet from also being an activist? But neither did I accept the implication that art, whatever its literal subject, was subordinate to political action.

In 1979-80, I broadcast a series of Melbourne letters for ABC radio's Books & Writing programme. On one of these I announced "the end of the world, the new world" (which sounds a bit Orson Welles-ish now)... I remember being misunderstood, as though I were nihilistically clamouring for the end or giving up the good fight. Tom Shapcott & I think Dorothy Green, wrote to encourage me away from what they assumed was my defeatism & depression in the face of that time's political crisis. I probably contributed to the misconception because my sense then of the condition of the poet, let alone of the world, was undeveloped --like many of my friends & colleagues, I spoke out of the tension between the aesthetics garnered by an avant-gardist & the politics my left-wingism proposed; though acquainted with it, I hadnt yet recovered the religious or philosophical perspective I enjoy now. At that time --and it's thirty years ago already!-- I felt that because of the threat of nuclear war (recall Carl Sagan & the acceptance by both the American & Soviet sides of his 'nuclear winter' thesis?), the condition of the world we lived & made art in had changed : the ability to think the unthinkable, that is the end of the world, had created a new condition. Whatever happened, we now lived in a new world. I have come to think, though, that this was always so : crisis is the fact of it, masked for many years sometimes, and then painfully revealed again for what it is. For the apocalypse was always adjacent. No life without a death might be the moral to assuage personal grief but speaks also for the vast non-human time described by geologists of this earth & astronomers & physicists of the universe. It's all there, isnt it, in the ancient Chinese, from Arthur Waley's translation : "Yung-men said to Meng Ch'ang-chun (d 279 BC), 'Does it not grieve you to think that a hundred years hence this terrace will be cast down?' Ch'ang-chun wept."

Though I doubt your maths, Corinne, regarding the time-line of the beginning of the end (one year, five, ten, before we suffocate on the stench of the dead krill, rising from the dead oceans to the centre of the Australian desert), how is this supposed to invalidate art & artist? The noble krill notwithstanding, when wasnt the apocalypse upon us? Poet, novelist, artist, filmmaker as historian, witness, chronicler, singer of what-is, protester of what shouldnt-be : such roles are well known. But let's not neglect or disqualify the art of the art, of the poem, of the film. Dont sacrifice it to the anxiety to which activism responds. Dont lose heart! Believe with Wallace Stevens in "the heavens full of colours and the constellations of sound", whatever the semantic content! Believe in your life, believe in your life's work. Believe like your teacher, Harry Hooton, in this great adventure of life!

Happy birthday, and may there be many more!

All best wishes, Kris Hemensley

(11-17th, November,'08)



Mark Zenner passed away today after illness. A great reader of literature (poetry & prose), and a keen eye on contemporary cinema. He made short films and was a contributor to Senses of Cinema. We mourn him.
R.I.P. 3rd September, '08

[According to Bill Mousoulis, Mark Zenner had serious health problems in recent years. He was hospitalized in February, '08, recovered, then returned to hospital in August. He was being looked after by Sam Pupillo assisted by Daron Davies. As Bill says, "He was quite a character, fierce & unique."
At Collected Works Bookshop, I thought of him as the Russian-American, because of his accent and his literary taste. He valued Nabokov as much as Robert Lowell. He was erudite, opinionated & passionate. He coughed, smoked, spat contempt, chuckled with deep literary pleasure. He loved the art of cinema and hated the industry. His voluminous essay on Bresson is published on-line in Senses of Cinema; footage from unfinished films of his own (including a moth being eaten by ants) have been incorporated in films of Bill Mousoulis. We hope for a fuller biography of this enigmatic man in due course.]



We mourn Don Grant, a friend of this bookshop, a Scot & great enthusiast for Scottish poetry,Gaelic music & poetry, who was an artist & printmaker, a friend of artists & lover of the arts, passed away October 21st,'08 in Tatura, Victoria.

[from an e-mail to Clinton Cook, October 23rd, '08 : "As I'd already shared with Julia [Harman] a couple of weeks or so ago, my anxiety for him whenever he climbed the creaking metal ladder to reach the highest shelf of the Scottish section of the bookshop. Happily never an accident. [In her email of 30th September, Julia wrote, "I can imagine Don searching in the heights for hidden treasures! I vaguely remember him climbing the ladder to the top of his own bookshelves when he knew there was something which would be of particular interest to me!"] He'd be looking for Iain Crichton Smith or Sorley Maclean, one or other of the Gaelic poets, of whom we spoke, especially after I'd begun revisiting Britain, late '80s, through the '90s. He presented me once with tapes, he'd made from his own collection of records, of such Scottish poets as Hugh McDiarmid, Sorley Maclean, Norman McCaig, & Irish poets Austin Clarke, Louis MacNeice, Seamus Heaney, & also the wonderful pipes of Seumus MacNeill & John MacFadyen. He may have first met Retta & I at Collected Works Bookshop via Julia, though intrepid bookman that he was, may also have simply discovered us on his city rounds. We were always aware of Julia's regard for him &, of course, of his championing of her as artist, printmaker let alone friend. John Ryrie was another mutual acquaintance for whom Don had great regard. After our boy Tim had visited Berlin, in the mid '90s, once with the Powder Monkeys, once solo, Don gave us a map-book of Berlin to pass on for what he assumed would be Tim's further visits. Retta & I remember him as a softly spoken gentleman, a lover of poetry, music, art, who brought his own stillness into the increasingly busy & noisy city world. Retta & I hope you can give him a great send off. Best wishes, condolences, Kris."]



Jacob Rosenberg has died. His funeral today, 31st October,'08, at Springvale. Poet, story-teller, memoirist; accomplished in Yiddish & English.


"Arm in arm we walk, but we walk apart
Will the horizon ever let us be?
Can we expel the ruins of our heart?"

(from My Father's Silence)

[The article on Jacob Rosenberg by Jason Steiger and the obituary by Jacob's editor & dear friend, Alex Skovron, both published in recent weeks in The Age newspaper, comprehensively describe his life & work. Having only recently viewed him on television appearing in a documentary about the international project to translate a particular Holocaust survivor's chronicle, written in Yiddish, of which he was one of the willing translators, it was a surprise then to hear of his death. I only have a few personal memories... The new & self-publishing author trying to flog us his wares back in the late 80s, early 90s, when the Shop was on the first floor of Flinders Way Arcade. He was persistent in the initial placement and the follow-up! Late 90s I remember discussing with him a new & younger poet's contention that poetry didnt or didnt have to mean anything (Wallace Stevens would have concurred), but what got up his nose was her example of Paul Celan. No meaning in Celan? Jacob was horrified. There are a thousand articles on Celan's Death Fugue alone! he said, shaking his head in exasperation. I reviewed his collection, Behind the Moon (Five Islands Press), in ABR, #237 (Dec.01/Jan.02), and quote here the opening & concluding lines. "Seamless with his two previous collections, Behind the Moon is Jacob Rosenberg's potted autobiography of a survivor of Lodz and Auschwitz, delivered from the hell, of which he writes with the kindness of an angel, into the heaven that Melbourne must then logically be. To be the poet of reality and not self-delusion is his commission. The trouble he contends with is that his present is posthumous, for the contemporary world could never be charged with such reality. Heaven doesn't exist. (....) Simplicity, concision, so as not to offend the subject with anything remotely resembling ornament : Rosenberg's poetry of the place and the condition 'where language died for very fear of words'."
R. I. P.]

4th December, 2008


Sunday, November 23, 2008



Monday, 29/11/99

...So, me Birthday's been & gone --much w/out incident, really... i spose by one's 28th, 'specially after going thru' all the shit-ups, downs & in-betweenies --that i have over the last few years in partic., but over my entire life-span in general, just the mere fact of having SURVIVED to 'nother year is cause enough for celebration, making the actual Birthday itself kinda insignificant... not to say that celebrating yer actual day-of-entree to this here planet & life is necessarily something one "gets over" (cue that hideous contempo trendy turn of phrase -- used for everything from train rides to rock gigs --"i'm over it now"... kee-rist!! Hearing folks say that makes me wanna PUKE!), rather that, at least This Year -- & this time 'round, i was content enough to not feel TOO let-down or disappointed or distracted by not celebrating in "traditional" B-day mode (e.g. : party('s), or other such type o'stuff). Main reason for this, me-thinks, is the fact that (as i briefly alluded to on the preceding page) for the first time since i became addicted in '96 & entered the slow-but-steady down-ward spiral of vicious circles & catch 22's that that particular situation necessitates by its v. nature (& it is INEVITABLE i now realise -- once you invite the Devil in, you gotta pay his dues -- as cliched as that may be, it's the only truth there is -- to use is, actually, to lose, & there's no other way it possibly can be, don't matter who you are or how "strong" ya fancy yourself to be mentally : once the monkey bites, it bites darn deep-ly... end of story)...

But i've digressed a little here... i believe what i was about to say was this : The main reason for my feelings of "contentment" as opposed to my usual state of frustration/dissatisfaction on turning another year older is that for the First time in years, my battle 'gainst the heroin monster has drawn to a temporary halt, due to my afore-mentioned joining up to the methadone program; it's still somewhat surprising to me that events progressed to the point that my only course of salvation should be via the methadone "avenue" -- so to speak --, a substance and system i've always been suspicious of & -- in theory at least -- opposed to (the concept of being a "state controlled junkie", addicted insidiously to a government sanctioned & administered drug no better than smack (in some scenarios, quite arguably WORSE, as a matter of fact) being a situation my determinedly Anarchistic nature has always found to be hypocritical & mebbe even EVIL...) , & one that even a matter of weeks ago i was in stern opposition to, but THERE YA GO; part of my problem, i've in fact come to appreciate, & part of the reason for the LONGEVITY of said problem, is the fact that i never realised -- nor would allow myself to accept -- how seriously i was actually ADDICTED... in the back of my mind lingered always -- even in the midst of the most glaringly obvious DESOLATION (: of mind, of spirit, of body) & physical DETERIORATION -- the almost Nietzsche-ian, self-serving logic that when all was said & done, i could just DUMP this DOPE-thingy & simply walk away unharmed... 'f course, THIS WAS NOT TO BE. But then, IS IT EVER? i mean, ol' W'm S. Burroughs --icon of JUNKIES thru'out the universe -- certainly didn't do any of his prodigious output of writing / thinking / creating during his first 15 years of smack-addlement, despite the myths (of his own making) that his classic NAKED LUNCH was written whilst addicted (it wasn't -- in fact, 'twas written/compiled under the influence of MAJOUN -- a pot/hash like substance) --&, "EXILE ON MAIN STREET" besides, Keith -- also a great myth-maker 'bout his own ability to create &/or FUNCTION even, under the most chemically adverse conditions, -- didn't produce anything of any comparable worth during his wasted years, either ... bringing me to my main point -- that Dope addiction equals naught but the DESTRUCTION, or at least the putting-on-ice, of one's creative faculties. ANYWAY -- we'll see how successful this 'done program is in terms of helping kick smack & the associated lifestyle (or LACK OF LIFE-style, as the case may be...) in the long term, but the initial results are something i feel very satisfied with -- so far, i feel my life is in a better state than ever -- already feeling better & more positive than i've felt in LONG TIME. & that can't be nothin' but a GOOD thing!

O.K. -- "W.C.W. MONDAY NITE NITRO" is on, so my attention's required ELSEWHERE!

More later! ...


[Posted today, 23rd November, 2008, on what would have been Tim's 37th birthday. "At the age of 37...", yeah yeah, sweet tune, sweet thought, and, regarding Tim, sad & happy memories.
Kris Hemensley.]

Thursday, November 6, 2008

THE MERRI CREEK : POEMS & PIECES, #7, October/November, 2008


Two Poems


we are all pushed along by books, dragged by boxes
counted by other peoples numbers, silenced by a roller
coaster, driven by the vision of the other and how bout

the mask that only seems to cover half the face these days.
most i's are in capitals yet this eye turns lines and graphs
into curves of water that drip fluidly into the place where

your most cherished dreams live. It's love in shades of blue.
It's life that equates meaning. It's an x with kisses and a y can't
we all just stop for a minute. It's clusters of memory that knead

us into recognition of self and plead with you to come to your
senses and cherish the colour of the sky. there is a loss of visible
markers, the blurs always make new scuffs into the streaming

voice of your body. dripping with sensibility are the hands shaken,
recording the unknown possibility. arrows are coordinates
for how we measure our life. they form stairways that lead into

a supermarket where we buy our daily needs. remote control
us. scratch raw figures. create formulas that socially collide,
make form blush with embarrassment, stretching for numbers.



You walk through layers of dust
then climb into a bed made of
clean sheets that don't even
smell like you.

Glasses of unknown redness
clink lightly in the background,
our minds are entwined
with fragments of amber
filled nostalgia while our
bodies simply go along
for the ride.

We grow vines of Grenache
on arid land (with our bar talk,
small sighs and transparent

You don't want a lover yet
somehow this drink of rusty wine
is cleansing and keeps the
dread and doubt filtered
through the eyes of
thoughtfully painted
glass windows.



Two Poems

-William Henry Johnson (1957-1926) a.k.a. 'Zip'

From P.T. Barnum to the X-Files
it is clear we love to be humbugged.
So a young black man with a tiny skull
spent life exhibited in a gorilla costume
earning an extra dollar on days he did not speak.

Today how many grandparents
look back with half-averted eye
to a still clear image of him in his cage,
the indelible mark of a summer outing,
firm emblem of fears that cannot be classified?



There's something sparse
about the way he lived, at least
seen through the lens of what remains:
the little metal coffee cup,
plain bed, religious texts.

Outside another doomed project
grew around him like a garden,
the playground mosaics accreted
month by month, marine deposits.

Out towards the calm sea the imagined
vista of a cathedral's towers one day
high above the sprawling city,
the terrain so flat, yet life
one steep long homeward climb.



Two Poems


Now Atlantis. Beneath the flood sleeps the collective exhalation of those
submerged early, those who entwined ride this breathless city.

Trapped between pews at the sodden tops of naves, the peeling hands
brushing algaed glass. Bumping roughly together in halls, in common rooms,
or puffed up and alone in long-drowned attics, wrapped in unravelled clothing.

If you take any words with you make them the opposite of these:
Edge out into the shoals. Leave no last note. Point away from the lake.



Each afternoon and the day's expected
rain lets itself gently down. From under

the ivy's hiss and drip, the pigeons are
cautiously calling to each other.

The north wind. You choose. No, you.
Soft walls, the torn broken covers

of our world. You choose. Bluefruit,
new schools, the roof of gloom.

The pigeons stop just after the rain does.
I hear them mutter, flick the water off

their wings, and then silence until dawn.
Torn corners, the north wind. You choose.




Kris, I read Petra White's article, Placing Poetry, in the Victorian Writer, June 2008 [it brought back memories of Petra's recent readings at Ruffy store and the 'particular placeness' in her poems] and your blog, Placing Petra White, with great interest. How good it is to find a conversation exploring the compelling --and vexed --issue of 'place'. As you imply, Petra is to be congratulated for tackling such an elusive topic in such a small piece.

As a refugee from the Wimmera plains, addicted ever since to wide open spaces with spare topography, I have been particularly interested in the concepts or genres of Place / Sense of Place / Landscape / Ecopoetry / Nature Writing and in recent years I have spent a lot of time reading and trying to write myself into both real and imaginary places. I really like your term 'topographical' writing. It invites a range of metaphors and carries so far no hint of cliche.

Is part of the problem, in tackling the issue of 'place', the term itself? My recent ventures into the field of Ecopoetry [see August blog, Mary Oliver's Sunflowers on
/The Edge_Collective/edge_pages/edge_blog11.html] have me questioning the whole process of labeling. Of course many poems labeled as eco or nature poetry have been wonderful explorations of ecology/nature, but then so have many others. As Susan Fealy's comments suggest [see Placing Petra White, "comments"], don't all poems assume the existence of a place created by the poet?

There may well be a gender aspect to consider here too in relation to outwardness/interiority, but there certainly are male poets who tend towards interiority on occasions. For example, in Songs My Mother Taught Me by John Koethe, are the lines :

"The place endures, unmindful and unseen / Until its very absence comes to seem a shape / That seems to stand for something // Why can't the unseen world - the real world - / Be like the aspects of a place that one remembers? / (....) why can't we believe in some imaginary realm / beyond belief, in which all time seems equal / and without the space between the way things are / and how they merely seem? In which the minor, / incidental shapes that meant the world to me - are real too? / Suppose that time were nothing but erasure / And that years were just whatever one had lost."

Each section of T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets is named for a particular place; also, at the beginning of Chris Wallace-Crabbe's wonderful, unsettling poem, The Rescue Will Not Take Place, are these lines :

"What do we live for? / We sort of know but / Can't quite put a name to the something which is / slipping away beneath us more - or maybe / Less - all the time, like a dream which won't / Disclose what it's deeply about but / Permeates a ripe summer day with / Its pauses and precedents..."

Finally, where would I be without the Web? Without blogs? Like many others, I visit more virtual places than any other these days, as a tourist, traveler, dreamer and even poet. My sense of space would be diminished without my virtual journeying. I should add too that I often find the idea of resorting to 'language' unhelpful : what does it really mean when you say that you like 'the language' of some writing? Surely it means the writing evokes something - a particular place or an idea or something else? Actually, I could go on talking about this all day. Maybe is the best place for this... And I haven't even started to discuss the women : my current favourites are Joy Harjo and Paula Gunn Allen - and of course there's Mary Oliver...



KLARE LANSON works with poetry, sound and live art performance, fusing her words with electronic music, moving imagery, mobile film and voice effecting technology. Has released an album, Every Third Breath, completed an artist's residency at FRUC in France, and performed in London, Berlin, New York, New Zealand. Co-editor for Going Down Swinging (Melbourne). Contact,
DAVID LUMSDEN lives once again in Melbourne after a prolonged stay in Warsaw, Poland. His poems have appeared literary magazines including P. N. Review (UK) and Fulcrum (USA). His blog of poetry commentary can be found at
IAN McBRYDE is a Canadian born, Melbourne poet, widely published and anthologised nationally and overseas. He has published 8 collections of poetry and released 2 CDs of spoken-word. He has performed his work at many venues and festivals across Australia, as well as in England, Canada & the USA. His next collection, The Adoption Order, will be published by Five Islands Press (Melbourne), in 2009.
SARI WAWN is a member of The Edge Art Collective, based at Terip Terip in Victoria. The group's projects include a book, Palimpsests of Gooram Gooram Gong, and quiet but persistent music [the title is from Jonathon Bate's The Song of the Earth], --a celebration of all unsung places where the voices of the natural world hold sway over their human occupants.

Published November 6th, 2008

Sunday, October 12, 2008


In the eternal conversation in my head, I continue to worry at the theme of --and here I'm struggling to find the words-- 'person & place', 'representation', 'the traditional address'-- all or any of these as they fold in on one another, even as I try to clarify my thoughts! --and in particular, the value of such tropes within the ramification of postmodernism. So, in this foray, augmenting the crumbs I've already salvaged from memory of my brief exchange about poetry & place with Andrew Zawacki & others during a reading at Collected Works, ca '99 or so [see Vive la Connections, September blog, poetry & ideas], is the stimulation of Petra White's article in the Victorian Writer of June, '08, entitled Placing poetry (in which, according to the sub-heading, she "considers the role of 'place' in poetry").
The theme of that issue of the Victorian Writers Centre magazine is A sense of place, and besides PW's piece there are contributions from Alex Miller, Betty Pike/Charles Balnaves, & Julie Gittus, about political & spiritual identity, & what might be called the authenticating relation of literary character to place.
Often agreeing with her I still find myself raising objections, and vice-versa! For example, and right at the start of her article, no reason at all why she shouldnt declare she's "not altogether sure what is meant by 'a sense of place' in poetry", but to follow with, "for me, what makes a poem viable - gives it a reality - is its language", suggesting the opposition of 'sense of place' & 'language', has me jumping!
Referring to poems in her collection, The Incoming Tide (John Leonard Press, 2007), she explains that "place is not the focus of these poems so much as the site for them..." I wonder how 'focus' really differs from 'site'? Ultimately it's an individual taste & purpose that distinguishes the poem in which place is an effect from that in which it is the crux, and no bigger deal than the poem makes for itself...
Her key paragraph might be the following : "Writing about place for its own sake is quite difficult: the danger, particularly from a travel perspective, is of producing something like the doddery jottings of a detached, interested [is this a typo? 'disinterested' intended?] observer; a dreary parade of random otherness. How do you make the otherness part of you, so that it matters? Can we write about the effect a place has on us, avoiding Baedecker poetry?"
This is the quizzical point of her piece, though what an example of that error might be is left to one's own prejudice (assuming it's shared with her). When I think of what I've always called 'topographical writing' , which I realize has become a major part of my own project through the years, the concept 'spirit of place' comes to mind as its herald. Now, how adjacent is that to White's 'Baedecker poetry'?
It occurs to me that a fear of the obvious may underscore her objection, but even the baldest inventory differs according to poet & poem. Perhaps it's an attitude that's being impugned here --a suspicion of what I'm sure is variously decried as literal, naive, transparent and whatever else is jettisoned from the postmodernist bag. Not that Petra White is necessarily a subscriber but there's no doubting that the mood of this time, informed as it is by a supposedly new science of life, encourages a range of pseudo-sophistication of which the pejorative 'Baedecker poetry' might be one!
Assuming one's not referring to doggerel & deliberately light verse, like Dorothea McKeller's My Country perhaps, which are the Baedecker poems? William Blake's London? Wordsworth? Whitman? Brooke's Grantchester? Lowell's sumptuous family catalogue? Betjeman I suppose, but isnt he indelibly true to period & place, isnt the persona(lity) point perfect? Who else? The New Yorkers I guess, O'Hara, Denby, Schuyler, Berrigan et al.
At the same time, PW's appreciation of Wallace Stevens is commendable, as she writes, "Consider Wallace Stevens' famous poem, The Idea of Order at Key West, which has nothing to say about Key West, but is entirely concerned with the mystery of a woman singing to an audience. Key West remains in the reader's awareness throughout the poem as the site, and possible source, of an opening into imagination, and a place to return to." And what she discerns is probably typical of the behaviour of poets & poems vis a vis place most of the time.
Alternatively, from the ancient Chinese & Japanese (& that magnificent influence in their contemporary poetry) to the city & bush Beats (--though that tradition's created back to front in actual fact; the moderns' embrace of the concrete & colloquially concise against the loftily metaphorical, leading to what the holos-bolus translation of Eastern poetry & philosophy has made contemporary), there is an attempt to be so grounded in 'place' as for it to resound without interlocutor, or at least for poet to be the 'jotter' Petra White maligns. Of our era, consider the Objectivists (with Pound & Williams in the wings), Rakosi & Niedecker for example, and then Ginsberg & Snyder et al, and in our neck of the woods Ken Taylor, John Anderson, Robert Gray, or from another & somewhat dissimilar angle, Laurie Duggan, Pam Brown, Ken Bolton... I have to say I dont mind the jotters at all! 'Random', she says, 'dreary' --but too much in the eye or ear of the beholder for any general rule.
With reference to one of her own poems, she closes thus, "If there is a sense of vividness in Munich, it is not the result of description alone, but of finding the purpose of the poem and the significance of the places [Munich, Adelaide, Stoke-on-Trent], and charging them with the lightning thread of the movement of mind through language and the world."
It occurs to me that there may well be a gender aspect to the discussion : masculine outwardness, feminine interiority. Discussed by many, including Elizabeth Janeway whom I recall quoting in my book discussion services notes for On The Road (Council of Adult Education, c 1981). She described women writers who "seem to be putting themselves at risk purposively, in order to penetrate to the heart of the mystery of being(...)It is possible to see this kind of journey interior, as a counterpoint to the masculine drive to physical journeying, to 'the road' of Kerouac and the Beats." (Harvard Guide to Contemporary American Writing, 1979.) The point here being that recording, transcribing, notating & even jotting down the world's particulars, as given, without author's 'charging', might reflect gender as much as stylistic difference or preference.
My other objection in this instance revolves around PW's term 'description alone', for the question is surely begged as to whether 'description' is ever alone, that is without authorial distinction ('voice' at its most basic). It also invites discussion of the contrast between pictorial & conceptual (the limitations of the former, the limits to the latter), representational & abstract and even the true poem versus the strategic...


Kris Hemensley
25th September/12th October, '08

Thursday, October 9, 2008

THE MERRI CREEK : POEMS & PIECES, #6, September/October, 2008



the tibetan monk makes the world out of sand
(it takes him seven slow days)
the tibetan monk sculpts the world out of butter
(to balance our unbalanced ways)

the tibetan monk sings the world in harmonics
(to synchronise the spheres)
the tibetan monk half closes his eyes
(to allay the world's worst fears)

the tibetan monk knows the world is ending
(it's always been like this)
the tibetan monk knows the world is ending
(& that it won't be missed)

the tibetan monk makes the world out of sand
(he sweeps it away with his hand



everything's so fragile but it's a beautiful!
night everything's so beautiful but fragile
I am ( / ) sitting on the spot marked x & the
eyes look up whilst the soul stares down
at those dumb happy ones all a-drowning
quite happily in their 'happiness' ( / ) with e
e cummings & torch in hand I stay awhile
beneath the gums & stand like the dutiful
daughter (I was) to forgive them all their
incomprehensible state/s of bliss ( / ) I think
I recall being 'happy' myself? ( / ) in bathers
in shallows with dad calling out he'd rather
I smiled for the photo: I didn't & I blinked
(I was only 3) but I think I was happy there



"looking into the eye of my addiction"

looking into the eye of my addiction
he, shaking a doll's house above his head
the blue sheets' white clouds of masturbation
debt to the blind-taste of licking an egg
I climbed up a tree with a flightless hen
the wingspan of his bed's tightening sky
the sitting is done mainly for the hen
I saw the doorway and let out a cry
he will spear a fish far too heavy to lift
under water and drowned hooked to his prey
sacrifice, sometimes given as a gift
famous for his fishing skills the osprey
only ever anger or lust he speaks
a bird of prey grasping at what he seeks


"the breeze lifts the fabric of solitude"

the breeze lifts the fabric of solitude
spinal staircase to a balcony brow
bats blacken the flawless sky's magnitude
at the mouth saying give me your breath now
Ficus Macrophylla folding us in
pressing, revealing one breast to your lips
mozzies as close as you and you on skin
saying my head on your chest your soul trips
I pass my heart through my mouth to escape
the ideas more important to survive
breaking concrete with roots is no mistake
I'm existing to see you I'm alive
rivers go to the sea with ambition
the sea knows nothing of competition




There is a bay inside her, where the
long-shadowed palms darken the waves.

A place where ships are whimsy
and a night heron creaks on the white sand.

She spends all time there, reading
the isobars of absence to a hiding crab.

Under a broad-leaf canopy, sheltering
from the sun's burning kiss --

the only kiss that seeks her true brow.




I've been ill because the railway station was so bleak; black and grey tones weighing into twilight. A splash of red fabric through the tunnels. Nirvana! I follow the woman in red out into the street. She flags down a rickshaw and glides through the city, past the city walls and park, circles the Bell Tower, heads out for the Big Goose pagoda. She buys a ticket for the tiny Tang Dynasty painting gallery. I follow her. It is dark inside; the light comes from the warm reds and ochres of the partially restored paintings of singers and musicians. In the gallery's dark tunnels, I saw her fold into the painting of entertainers; I saw her luminous skin, her gown of red silk. Her lowered eyelids raced into my bloodstream; a nausea of silk, powder and inviting flesh. I calmed, and remembered her eyes. In my hotel foyer, I saw her again, accompanying an official from the capital. In the sauna, she was there again, in the company of another beauty who was small and fair, and whose lips were pressed between her thighs. A large, massively built man, the Party official, sipped tea and barked out orders as he watched them. He remained wrapped in a towel; his eyes never left them.

I went to the massage room. The masseuse rubbed almond oil into my limbs, then climbed on top of me. When she was satisfied, she turned me over and rubbed her sex over my back. I finished with my hands being plunged into liquid-paraffin wax, then massaged and oiled. I walked to the foyer, and saw a tall woman, with black hair down to her waist, walk to the entrance with a dozen red roses. My head exploded, I was adrift in this floating world. I looked out on the grey city in winter, its purple and ashen sky, its doorways without doors, its kettles on ancient stoves. from the outlying villages the cold night of hunger fed into my delirium. Hunger, hard labour, and a wind from hell.



Two Poems from The Keepers


J had overdosed. He's only a friend but they called anyone who knew him
so I went. The front door was open, people were pissed under the [overhang
brashly lighting the column of blood, low drumbeats in a back room.

I was too well-dressed for this. I pushed through to the main bedroom
where they'd dragged him out from under everyone's bare feet.
He might have been a bomb, someone said: once people saw

that he'd OD'd they ran as far from the room as possible
then carried on as if he'd already blown. He was gaunt and bare-chested
like Christ taken down from the cross in those classical paintings.

We held him up in a death position Carravagio would have loved
though lit better. We shook him as he drooled and foamed and finally
vomited down his ribs. It was repulsive. It turned me cold.

I stood feeling out of it, clean where everybody else seemed rubbed
in some more urgent substance. I thought how if I had words for it,
words that used up lines of breath not coke, words kept me safe...

The ambulance saved me. My words told me to drive home. I did what
they said. But then they said I was a health-and-safety novelist. Unable or
unwilling, devastated. Something without words had OD'd in me.



Tiled rooves in Orange miraging around you, the nerving
home above the park, the mad and ordinary moments
washed by the common soap. From this battered linoleum

ordinary you founded intensity and God. The poems
rhymed into the past with grace and violence, your pure impure
directions, your long wires, your inner Spinning Jenny.

Inside the pyjamas, the drugs, the chance, a teleology
was rolling through the 50s television screen, its vertical hold
there and nowhere as you sat around chomping apples,

the ones you didn't drop, alone in the rising gravity
you heard equally in Jussi Bjorling or in the mad-for-God
supplicants you saw wandering your imagination, or eating

from refectory plates on Sunday evenings, or smudging
through letters to the godofnoaddress by the poor unfamilied
schizophrenics. The after-life for itinerants.

The fruit-pickers have come to pick and the garden's
full of secateurs, like sanity, so sharp you shrink back into poetry,
or should those clarities be reversed?

God's the trick. Not the skin, the blight, the dapple and myrrh,
the impure pure and cortex-firing ecstasies we might call God
but the dogma of God. Like Beaver, the under-terror. All.

The black hole. The rifling of chalices, Eucharists, the closed
text pretending it was open. Your own, thankfully, the open
text hoping it was closed. You let God in. You let us in.




I'd rather have been a plant, you bet,
and spent my life guarding a piece of shit.

I'd like to devour my fellow man
less for the pleasure of eating than
of vomiting him back up again.

All the philosophers combined
dissolve in the tears of just one saint.

Approach each day as a Rubicon
not to cross but to jump in and drown.

My thoughts are only of God
since but for him I might
have to think about man instead
and could I sink lower than that?

Preposterous thought:
an impotent rat.

Epicurus, the sage I need most,
wrote three hundred books. Thank God they're all lost!

Not even a killer, I make no sense:
the Rasholnikov of innocence.

Never to sleep, the insomniac's curse:
heroic agonies flat on my arse!

Will-to-die that I eat, sleep and breathe,
you've stolen it from me, stolen my death.

No sleep as tight
after decades without
as the sleep of the man
they'll shoot at dawn.

Who more than I has embraced his fate?
At birth I was offered the world on a plate
and screamed at them, Sorry, too late, too late!


after Pierre Reverdy

a little light
you see a rushlight
descend to light up your stomach
a woman is a rocket's arc
down there a shadow is a reader
her bare feet couldn't be prettier

cardiac short-circuit
flames leap from the bonnet
what magnet keeps me stuck on
this wrong turn my eyes and my love have taken

a nothing a fire we light that dies
enough of the breeze
enough of heaven
all in the end's a phantasm even
your mouth and yet
where your hand falls I race with heat
you open the door and I don't go through

I see your face and can't believe it's you
pale one the vigil we kept
that night we lay on a suitcase and wept
to the sound of men laughing
have-naked urchins stravaguing
the water was transparent
a red copper wire bled radiance
the sun and your heart are one substance



JORDIE ALBISTON lives in Melbourne, where she was born in 1961. Has published 5 poetry collections. Australian composer Andree Greenwell has adapted two of her books (Botany Bay Document, retitled Dreaming Transportation, and The Hanging of Jean Lee) for music-theatre; both enjoyed recent seasons at the Sydney Opera House. Nervous Arcs won the Mary Gilmore Award for a first book of Australian poetry in 1995. Her 4th book, The Fall, was shortlisted for Premier's Prizes in Victoria, NSW & Queensland. Her most recent collection is Vertigo : A Cantata (John Leonard Press, 2007).
CLAIRE GASKIN's book of poems, A Bud (John Leonard Press, 2006) was shortlisted for the John Bray Award for Poetry in 2008. She is Victorian editor for the literary journal, Blue Dog. Contact;
MICHELLE LEBER has a history as a spoken word poet at many venues around Melbourne. Won the Poetry Slam at the St Kilda Writers Festival in 2006. One of her poems is traveling on Melbourne trains as part of the Moving Galleries Autumn series, 2008.
JENNIFER MACKENZIE studied at the University of Melbourne in the early 70s, where she began writing & publishing. Long standing interest in Asia, traveling to India, Indonesia, Cambodia and China. A fascination with Old Asia led to her Borobudur project, to be published by Transit Lounge (Melbourne) in 2009. Contact;
PHILIP SALOM's most recent book, The Well Mouth, a collection of voices from the underworld, was named as a Sydney Morning Herald Book of the Year. It is now in its 3rd printing. His collections & novels have won many awards, including two Commonwealth Poetry Prizes. In 2006/07, during an Australian Council fellowship, he completed The Keepers, due to be published by Giramondo (Sydney) in 2009.
DAVID WHEATLEY recently visited Australia c/o the 2008 Vincent Buckley Prize. He has published several books & chapbooks, including Thirst, Misery Hill, & Mocker (all with Gallery Press, Ireland). He edited James Clarence Mangan's Poems (Gallery Press,'03). Included in New Irish Poets (Bloodaxe Books,UK, '05). Currently teaching at the University of Hull's Philip Larkin Centre.


Thursday, September 4, 2008


Much recommended is David Caddy's voluminous "So Here We Are" commentaries on contemporary English poets & poetry. Recent portraits include John Riley, Jeremy Prynne, Andrew Crozier.
David Lumsden's "Sparks from stones" is a credit to his close & ever sprightly reading of poetry. Recent posts concern the 'burnt bird' image in Neruda & Z. Herbert, review of the younger critic & poet Adam Kirsch, and reviews of new English poets including Simon Turner, Jane Holland. Resembles David Caddy in his wide range of reference & connection.
Alan Baker's "Litterbug" is his editor's blog at the exemplary English small press, Leafe. His recent postings discuss Lee Harwood (via Kevin Corcoran's interviews), J H Prynne, recent Shearsman Books titles including Mal Goodwin & John Welch. Also on site is "Litter Magazine" which has been accumulating regularly since January,'05; current contributors include John Welch, Todd Swift, Andrea Brady, Peter Riley, Rupert Loydell & John Bloomberg-Rissman.
Out of the blue is David Wheatley's weird & wonderful blog,
--just received from our recent visitor, this year's recipient of the Vincent Buckley Prize, awarded in alternate years to Australian & Irish poets in honour of the late Melbourne poet & critic.
I havent been keeping the Links up to date because of (1) distractions & (2) I forgot how to do it! Hopefully I'll remember from now on! Readers are invited to kindly prompt me on glaring omissions. Thank you.

-Kris Hemensley; September 4th, 2008

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

THE MERRI CREEK : POEMS & PIECES, #5, August/September, 2008


Three Poems from HIGH KEY
After White Light, paintings by Owen Piggott


If I walked this land
I would walk
With all the ones
Who accompany my journey :
Thin pillars of light
Crossing in front of distant
Purple swamps
Walking sideways
In search of a river
In the desert
Or due north
To face the region
Of emptiness and water
The sifting place of being
Where endless stories are told
Of the hardest places to encounter.


Land offers the illusion
Of water
As light recedes
From the darkened plains.
The night-land speaks
Only to itself of darkness
Which light can not assuage.


Light encounters the land.
It breathes
It knows no other way.
In another time
Light destroyed the land
But today
It calls to the land
Whispers and speaks
Of its longing
And joy :
Land, dark one
let me be
And land responds
Across the borders
Of its horizon
And touches the sky.




The trees are bottom heavy.
Each leaf, a clay gourd, streaked
in silver, steeped in wet light.

A colony of quiet ears
listens to damp air and spill of sky.

Stilled moths, their wings
are tilted to earth, and memory
of cool, dark waiting.



It was that time before dawn, and the words
were flapping again. They hung on black wings.
They gazed at him, waiting. He shut his eyes.
He glimpsed a swarm of shadows like a silence
before a hammering of bees. They massed now
a tumult of black, a writhing meniscus of wings.
They stormed at him. He flung his arms out.
His body slowed to sculpture on his bed.










munificent mark, miracle manna,
medusa mary, maenad maelstrom,
mariner's mainstay, madmen's madonna,
muse misremembered, myth metronome,

mend me magnetically, mine my marrow,
make my macula manifest mirror;
map mind's masquerade, mete me my morrow;
maim me mortally, meeken me, mentor.

maladies maggot me,mammon mauls me,
my mephitic metamorphosis mass;
murdered millions, mourning, mill memory.

master my minotaur, midnight matador;
marry me mild, my magdelene mistress;
mantle merciful, matrix, my metre.



She dies. Her poor but secretly loved body
Cracking open like a pod ready with seeds.
But there are none: her afterlife has been
Spent fully in this life -- she is empty.

Her light has been shed fully, deed by deed.
Nothing happens because there is nothing
Left to happen. Our prayers remain unanswered,
So we believe. And we still, of course, believe.



Smell is the sharpest of the senses and Memory's servant.

The flesh of the child that is now never-to-be-born
decomposes in your corporeal future.

This wind upon your face is necessary.




Before we made love we forgot our way. Before us
the way was dark and twisted. Before we could fall
we had to rise, but our wings were folded in the night. Damp
and filled with promise.

Down was a long way, and fall was the new rise. You held me.
That night in the forest, before sailing, before the fires.
You sent long, scorched letters, scented of vinyl
and ammonium nitrate. I struggled to reply.

Before this, there was nothing.



The exterior

is insignificant, barely perceptible
among the creeping vines.
You would think perhaps
a burial mound, if you thought about it
at all, speculating on symmetry
as you wait for your exhaustion
to lift, or the spongy leaf litter to swallow you
traceless, as you've feared it would
since you entered this jungle.

The interior

is vast, and cannot be crossed
in a single day's horse ride. So it is said.
Nobody has attempted it. A day's ride
would be hard to judge, in any case.
There is no surprise or sunset in the city,
simply a uniform, sourceless glow.
Slightly orange tinted, as though the sun
were forever incipient. The inhabitants move
at a constant pace.

In public

there are Sun cults. Prophets of dawn
in ecstatic masks, whose talk of the morning sun
is contagious. Once taken in
they have their eyes put out for seeing
what is not there; their tongues removed
for the spreading of lies. And then
their hearts crushed between stones
for giving false hope.

In private

there is a story that survives,
giving secret comfort as it is handed along.
It is not of Sun this story speaks, but of Darkness.
Night and sleep and untouched dreams,
the welling up of cellars and the cloaking of the sky.
The dark. The endless, depthless dark.



LOUISE CRISP's latest collection is Uplands (Five Island Press, 2007).
SUSAN FEALY grasped the concept that a poem is not completed after a first draft about twelve months ago and has been writing poetry often since then. Accepted for publication in Verandah, Page Seventeen, Mollusca and the anthology Melbourne Reflections. She lives in Melbourne where she works as a clinical psychologist. Contact,
MAL McKIMMIE born in Perth, WA & currently lives in Melbourne. Published in numerous Australian journals including Salt, Westerly, Blue Dog & in Best Australian Poems 2006 (Black Inc). His first volume of poems, Poetileptic, published by Five Islands Press (2005). Included in Take Five (Shoestring Press, UK), anthology of five Australian poets f'coming in 2009. Contact,
TIM SINCLAIR mainly writes poetry. It's a strange curse to have been afflicted with. His verse novel Nine Hours North published by Penguin in 2006. Here be more :

Sunday, August 31, 2008





amid its quiverings
the note
silver and black
wherein the white stars


light streamed
some little distance
leaf adhering
at the horizon


roughened bloom
its whiteness
letting fall
in tints
by a garden wall


white shoulders
turned up
to the sky


expectant stillness
made itself
for an instant
a young girl


variation upon
firelight shadows
crystal drop


the eyes --
Her dark eyes --
two slurs in music


towards incandescence
Love's hand
in a dream
beating the air


the blooming
figure stood revealed




faintly showing
true feeling


brightly illuminated
the eyes


a smile of
new moon
God bless thee


This dignity
surging higher


all through it




burst from
tender grass


in the light
an echo of




liquid colour
temporary flush


extended further
quivering light


lingering dews
threads of


like a
in flower




leaning upon


the hills


her heart
dreamt of
the rosy hues of


in the garden


as delightfully as
the first
love course


the rain
the rain
young heart


at ease
at the end


A Note on The Thomas Hardy Poems

These poems were 'found' one summer, sitting under a tree in my parents' back-garden, over three or four afternoons, late Eighties.
The words are all Hardy's, from Under The Greenwood Tree. One poem per chapter. All words are taken in sequence. No back-tracking. I continued until I found the right words and had a poem.

Bernard Hemensley
Weymouth, Dorset; 2008

Saturday, August 30, 2008


Melbourne, Oz

Dear Bernard, Your winter birthday approaches (--do you think in terms of particular months, seasons, constellations?) as here in Melbourne summer's hottest days (& nights) seem to be passing. Impossible sometimes for me to concentrate on reading & writing --mind you, I dont make it easy for myself in my non-aircon, tin-roofed, weatherboard! Even so, the journey continues... Richer --e.g., the fascinating 'Bob Dylan' movie, I'm Not There, seen recently --and poorer --e.g., Norman Mailer's death late last year. (And no sooner said than one of I'm Not There's stars, Heath Ledger, has reportedly died in L.A. --tragically young, 29. My sadness at that news undoubtedly fueled by the parallels with our Timmy's death five years ago... Ledger's art & young-man's emotions irrevocably entwined (--a once-in-a-generation talent, like James Dean, according to Travolta)... Found dying, if not already dead, in his L. A. apartment --'accidental death' almost worse than intentional or expected. What a waste --and waste there is & always has been among our 'best & brightest' --war, illness, drugs --whatever, & forever... Of course, "he leaves a legacy"... Dont they all? Do we need reminding of Kerouac, 47, robbed of his three score & ten...)

(February.) You've been with Dylan from the beginning... 1965 when you bought the first vinyl? I thoroughly recommend I'm Not there, though is it showing outside the art-house circuit? If nothing else you'll enjoy the sound-track (there's also a covers' CD). Dylan's a fascinating subject for a bio-flick, as this film is misleadingly described --actually, it's a series of interwoven fictions at the centre of each of which is a surrogate or pseudo Dylan. The film's thesis, & possibly Dylan's, is that authenticity or the real is gained & maintained by an aware subject's mercuriality, and the evasion of stable bureaucratic identity is how it's achieved. The film's fictions are projections of Dylan's media persona, illustrations of themes from his songs, & biographical snippets. Consummate artist that he's been, Art & Life equally represent him. It's the fate of celebrity --Kerouac, unsurprisingly also mentioned in the film, a casualty of the phenomenon (too literal a believer perhaps).
Cate Blanchett's Dylan, aka Jude Quinn, is superlative mimicry --cheeky & also poignantly instructive. She perfectly reproduces the Dylan from David Pennebaker's historical footage of the early 1960s British tour --her acting is almost like channeling! From the signature Dylan hairstyle & chainsmoking to speed-king foot-tapping & pot-head sniggering, she has the character down pat. The portrait careers through naturalism, farce & satire in its astonishing facsimile. For my money, Cate Blanchett's Jude Quinn is the drawstring of the entire ensemble --for the fictions to work, the facsimile was essential. Her casting is a canny director(Todd Haynes)'s coup de grace! And just as fellow Aussie Heath Ledger's film-star character Robbie Clark, hated, as it happens, by the folk-singer he plays on screen, slides calamitously between relationships, so does I'm Not There slip between fiction & history, fulfilling that experience of the Real required of 'the Dylan film' by those who feel they 'understand' him!
Now here's the neatest connection to Norman Mailer : given that Mailer was in my mind & often popping into conversation during this period, it felt like a synchronicity when, in the middle of I'm Not There, Robbie Clarke, at the big Hollywood party, identifies him through the throng, across the room. There's Mailer, he says. For the life of me I thought the constantly thwarted wife was about to seek him out --maybe she was, but the camera finds husband & girlfriend first and Mailer is lost in the Hollywood night.


Speed-reading Advertisements for Myself (my first & probably most influential Mailer --five shillings Corgi paperback bought 42 years from the great little Paperback Parade in Southampton), I'm impressed all over again. Part of the reason for that is his intention & ability to impress --one feels his fire and his texts are firing : those 1940s pieces, the war-stories, & the 1951 Man Who Studied Yoga... what am I trying to say here? --something about energy, creating an equation for egotism where egotism is the energised individual's antenna to the world, which characterised poets & novelists of that period, including the Beats --and Mailer's delightfully pugilistic yet confidential & charming Evaluations - Quick and Expensive Comments on the Talent in the Room (p339) is a register of that...
For example, of Jack Jones; "Like Styron, like myself, like Kerouac, he has been running for President as well as sticking at his work, and it was near tragic to watch the process as he imprisoned anger, and dwindled without it."
Of Capote; "He is tart as a grand aunt, but in his way he is a ballsy little guy, and he is the most perfect writer of my generation, he writes the best sentences word for word, rhythm for rhythm."
And of our man; "Kerouac lacks discipline, intelligence, honesty and a sense of the novel. His rhythms are erratic, his sense of character is nil, and he is a pretentious as a rich whore, as sentimental as a lollypop. Yet I think he has a large talent. His literary energy is enormous, and he had enough of a wild eye to go along with his instincts and so become the first figure for a new generation. (...) For a while I worried about him as a force from the political right which could lead Hip into a hole, but I liked him when I met him, more than I would have thought, and felt he was tired, as indeed why should he not be for he has travelled in a world where the adrenalin devours the blood."
And so on; Mailer's perspicacity arraigning Bellow, Algren, Salinger, Bowles, Bourjaily, Brossard, Vidal, Broyard, Willingham, Ellison, Baldwin. Scandalously, no women in his text but Mccarthy, Stafford & McCullers in the footnote along with Burroughs, then unknown, wagered by Mailer to "rank as one of the most important novelists in America and may prove comparable in his impact to Jean Genet."

(March.) I think Advertisements for Myself is where I first read the names of Brossard, Broyard & co., before I scored the Protest anthology... The book is also the home of his White Negro piece, his Reflections on Hip & the famous The Hip & the Square (a forefunner of Susan Sontag's Notes on Camp?) --the fifty page section, Hipsters, should always have been part of the unfolding Beat story : psychologically acute, sociologically & politically resourceful.
I was ten-thousand miles from Home but with my Kerouacs & Advertisements for Myself, deep into the freedom of the poet-artist-Beat-adventurer's world. Melbourne was my 1966-67 Beat heaven!
What is it now, do you ask? It's where I am & able to catch my breath (my life) in retrospect -- to see those seasons again; survey the writings, the diaries, the books in the way I've been promising myself for years.

One of several references I discovered I shared with Retta, when I met her in 1967, was The Village Voice Reader : A Mixed Bag from the Greenwich Village Newspaper (Grove Press, 1963). We both had copies bought in Melbourne the preceding year. Daniel Wolf was its editor & Mailer partly financed & wrote for it. Did you know it? I didnt see a copy of the actual newspaper until Betty Burstall placed copies on the tables of her Cafe La Mama in Carlton, Melbourne, 1967/68.
The Reader puts me right into the middle of a world, vibrations of which were everywhere by the mid Sixties; it's still hilarious, and its history haunts. Though I would be leftism's first fellow-traveller for years to come, the particular clarification of that anthology (for example, Mailer's "Hip is an American existentialism, profoundly different from French existentialism because Hip is based on a mysticism of the flesh", pp49/50) was in terms of its alternative to communism's alternative, producing a phoenix out of the post-war angst & alienation. Even today I think it's an alternative to Corporate man & woman as zenith of success!
Kenneth Tynan hoped, in a brilliant contribution, ostensibly reviewing Advertisements for Myself, that some day Mailer would resume his socialist faith (p124) --fat chance if "community" now declares for middle-class respectability & prissyness instead of embracing the dangers the collective of true individuals will always present to the political status-quo!
Tynan's quote from Mailer actually doesnt reflect what socialism would be for an English intellectual, then or now --it's excitingly contradictory or enigmatic : "As socialists, we want a Socialist world not because we have the conceit that men would therefore be more happy... but because we feel the moral imperative in life itself to raise the human condition, even if this should ultimately mean no more than that man's suffering has been lifted to a higher level." Hmm --suck on that, corporatists of left & right!)

It's fair to say that Janine Pommy Vega, to whom you referred in your last letter, is Old Guard by the above standard! Her beat-wandering seems eventually to have led to the anti-American world-view (minus the USSR, pro-what one wonders? : the Hugo Chavez-Mahmoud Ahmadinejad world-view?) if her contribution to a particular on-line web-site means anything, keeping company with 9/11 conspiratorialism & the rabid rest of it. Summarising her trip in an essay, Revelations of Companionate Love (published in Johnson & Grace's Girls Who wore Black, Rutgers, 2000), Mary Damon notes, "Since her return to the US (punctuated by long periods of travel in the interest of mountain climbing and spiritual pilgrimage/tourism), Pommy Vega has lived in rural upstate New york. She has continued her devotional practice by teaching writing workshops in the prison system. While her work and life no longer manifest a belief in the redemptive possibilities of romantically loving one man [her essay focusses upon Poems to Fernando (City Lights, 1968) in which SPV addressed the grievous loss of her husband, the Peruvian painter Fernando] but rather in being of service to incarcerated people generally (...) she practices a "poetics of service" through a continued contact with the abject, the outcast, and the poetic(...)"
Damon finds parallels between this Beat Generation woman and certain medieval mystics. Any critique of modern times would probably describe the increasing popular interest in every alternative to spiritually deficient & creatively shackled materialism, including, of course, the medieval ascetics & mystics whose example may well be reanimating contemporary monasticism & asceticism in all faiths. After all, our own delight in Buddhism & Taoism & contemporary alternative lifestyles has rather a lot to do with the dancing figures of the Han Shans, Issas, Bashos et al --thus Kerouac, Snyder, Ginsberg, Whalen, Kyger & all!

I'll leave it there for now.
Love as ever,


Weymouth, UK

Dear Kris, Good to get your latest. You're in fine form, as usual. I must tell you I've never read Norman Mailer. Is that a big omission? I'm sure there are many others. Where you went in your reading, I usually followed --Emile Zola, D.H. Lawrence, Henry Miller, W.C. Williams etc... I think when you were reading Mailer I was veering towards Europe --nouveau roman... I've never read anything when i should have done! And now, living in the desert that is Weymouth, I'm right out of things.
Talking of being out of things : today I find myself thinking I'm turning into Dad --I've been gardening. First I was pruning the hydrangea in the front garden, cutting out last year's dead blooms --now there's no chance of frost burning the stems. I did it in the morning sun. Then, in the afternoon, I followed the sun around to the back and mowed the lawn. I know it's too soon to say but I think I've got the gardening bug and found the merit of work! I'm getting to know why Dad enjoyed it so much. The only mystery being that for someone who spent so much time in the garden why it wasn't a more wonderful place & space? Anyway, I've found that I'm able to garden. Never thought I would. I've passed through a barrier. To spur me on I have a few new books on gardening. Stanley Kunitz says in The Wild Braid (Norton, 2005), when asked what was happening in his garden at the end of March, "All is stirring. Hope is stirring." (p113) Kunitz who, at a hundred, has forty years on me, gives me hope! Wonderful.
I've been reading Wendy Johnson on gardening in Tricycle magazine for a number of years. Buddhists make wonderful commentators, and now I have her book, touted as forthcoming for ages --Gardening at the Dragon's Gate (Bantam, 2008). I would've liked more about Suzuki and Buddhism interspersed, as Ed Brown did in his Tomato Blessings and Radish Teachings (Riverhead Books, 1997), but it's still a great book. I was hoping Wendy Johnson would do an Ed Brown in my imagination. Both are students of Sunryu Suzuki, one a cook, one a gardener.


Funny how some dreams stick and others don't. Lately I can remember a dream of the Dalai Lama --we were playing fruit-machines together! I also dreamed of Gary Snyder --he was hanging out with Joanne Kyger. Just glimpses. The most memorable, tho', was a dream in which I was living at a Zen monastery type of place. I had my own rooms there. All my books were there, shelves and shelves of them, of which the other monks were jealous. So, one night, to bring them down a peg or two, I urinated over their collection of books and paintings. In the morning, as you can imagine, they were pissed off and wanted to punish and harm me in some way. But some Theravada monks arrived just then to save me. I seemed to recognize one of them, but back when I knew him he was a Korean Zen monk. "You've joined the Theravada monks now, have you?" I said to him. He just smiled and nodded, eyes knowing and twinkling. I felt saved. On waking, and for the next day, I felt well-disposed toward the Theravada. But soon after I was pleased to still be in the fold of Soto Zen!
Reading To Meet the Real Dragon by Gudo Wafu Nishijima (Windbell Publications, '92) and Dogen Zen (Kyoto Soto Zen Center, 1988), particularly the essay Dogen Zen as Religion by Uchiyama Roshi, have helped me keep on track. I've also been watching a DVD, Zen Meditation, from Throssel Hole Buddhist Monastery --very helpful.
Recently received a stash of DVD's from Wisdom Books, the pick of which was Zen Buddhism : In Search of Self. Filmed at a Zen temple in Korea, following a 90 day retreat by two dozen nuns. Love their grey robes! I know that's shallow but I've always loved that grey colour. And their socks! Korean Zen is softer, or should I say not as harsh as Japanese Zen. But the Soto Zen of Throssel Hole and Roshi Jiyu Kennett seems especially right and sane to me. So much for my current direction. Don't think I have time for other stuff, Christianity, Bede Griffiths. yoga etc. Life is short. Need to get a grip and be more focussed. I know you always say 'one doesnt preclude the other', but....... I know also that Kerouac went from one to the other and had a strong feeling for both. But I aint he. I'll be on the train to Hexham. And maybe stretch the Buddhism to include the Taoist trail...




Following the launches, in late July, of Famous Reporter magazine (#37,'08) & Lorin Ford's A Wattle Seedpod [see the blog posting for the launch-speech on this site], Collected Works Bookshop hosted two events on Friday, 8th of August, in the Overload Poetry Festival, namely, a lunch-time reading by Pi O from his new book, Big Numbers (Collective Effort, '08), & a reading to show-case three books from Small Change Press (Queensland), featuring Matt Hetherington (I think We Have), David Stavanger (And the Ringmaster Said) & Nathan Shepherdson (What Marian Drew Never Told Me About the Light).

Crowded itineraries, Melbourne's late-winter cold snap, who knows what explains small attendances? No shortage of interest & (poetical) issues-arising though. For example, Pi O's work (& reading) in the continuing echo of the brief exchange we had years ago, down in our Flinders Street basement-shop, late 90s, early 2000s --at a reading by one of the American visitors of that year, Andrew Zawacki, which I think did attract a decent crowd (--and I recall objecting to Zawacki's statement that although the poems, of a particular sequence he was reading to us, referred to 'Scotland' --written there perhaps-- they told us nothing, he said, of 'Scotland'... At the very least I heard this as a pooh-poohing of the particularities of place and a begging the question of 'place' where 'particularity' per se might be just such a defining impress as will register 'place'... "Of course, that's the postmodernist heresy!" I interjected, having in mind the spurning of the Real in the fashionable name of the 'construct', as though the ever more sophisticated apprehension of 'representation' had excused one's existential burden & expression, rendered it passe --and I said something about 'voice' & its duel with 'text', their essential & complimentary parts in writing, and emphasised the eccentric aspect of 'voice' as the vital motor of poetry! Sounds like a speech in retrospect! --it wasnt, just the interjection & a blurted version of the foregoing --to which, I'm always amused to remember, Kevin Hart, beside me, observed genially, "that's a bold call, Kris!" He quoted some Blanchot on the relation of & distinction between Art & World; I responded saying it was never mutually exclusive; and Andrew Zawacki resumed his reading!) --At the end of formalities, Pi O told me he'd disagreed with my comments, contending that poetry depended upon 'editing', not 'voice'. I think he quoted Olson's practice, his interpretation of which I then disputed. I remain unconvinced, or rather I remain convinced of 'voice'! At some stage I'd like to think this through again, --and my thoughts on the 'saying' / 'singing' distinction offered in my recent discussion of John Kinsella [see my blog, John Kinsella & Judith Bishop's Glittering Prizes], might be a start...
The lunchtime reading confirmed for me that Pi O's 'voice' is both distinctive & essential in for, example, his Fitzroy local-history poems; no matter that he's quoting the speech around him, it's the wonderful unpredictability of voice, making & residing in very particular narratives, that informs, sustains & distinguishes his poetry. His penchant for absurd &/or ironic juxtaposition of newspaper reports & gathered statistics might be his idea of 'editing', but they're hardly unspoken, that is to say, there is a pattern to the humour or chagrin or whatever the aggregate effect might be, and in pattern there is identity, and in identity there is voice! The collage is shaped by the pattern of its elements; its shape is its voice!

Connections, coincidences, acausal parallelisms, are, if not the stuff of life then its efflorescence.The other day, for instance, about to take up pen to write a note on the Small Change Press reading --specifically to mention one or two people in the room who added an international dimension to the event (--there were the Italians, about whom something anon, & Ahmed Hashim, the first of the Iraqui poets we've come to meet in Melbourne over the past few years), in fact, Ahmed was in my head (--perhaps because I'd recently managed to open the file he'd sent me with the latest epistle in our letter-poem exchange and told him at the reading how I had it now & liked it, especially the bit about Henry Miller : "suddenly, Henry Miller knocks on my door / he was surprised, couldn't believe modern life in 2008 / doesn't respect millionaires, must be a billionaire!") when Cathy O'Brien rang me from Vientiane, not with an update about the Mekong's flooding, which had been worrying me despite her typically stoical & amused attitude to her own security, sand-bagging with her community as the river's level rose just across the street from their homes, but to tell me that the husband of one of her teacher colleagues (they'd lived in New Zealand & were now in Lao PDR) was an Iraqui poet with several books published, --Mr Furat! Cathy hasnt met a poet there in five years so she was tickled pink at the prospect!
A quick Google gave me a potted biography & an essay by Mark Pirrie (editor of Headworx, published by Salt & various NZ presses, also met some years ago in the Shop), available at Basim Furat, born in 1967, had escaped from Iraq in '96, under threat from the Saddam regime for certain poems he'd written; came to New Zealand via Jordan in '97 and "has emerged as one of his adopted country's most gifted new poets," according to Pirrie --two books in translation, Here and There, & The Moon that Excels in Nothing but Waiting...
Next link in the chain, I thought, will be to ask Ahmed if he knows Basim! But then it dawned on me : I've actually met Basim Furat! Perhaps even introduced by Ahmed! I looked in my library and found that indeed I do have his miniature book, The Moon..., which he signed for me in the Shop in January, 2006! What a small world!
Regarding the Italians, two Maxes as it happens, one, Massimiliano Mandorlo, had found the Shop earlier in the week & so learnt of the reading. The Melbourne literary scene couldnt have been a total mystery since Simon West, whom I mentioned to Max as a reader of Zanzotto, was also known to him. On the night, Matt Hetherington, having been introduced, welcomed them to the reading with his recitation, in Italian, & from memory, of an exquisite little poem by Ungaretti, corrected for pronunciation only once by the visitors! Mandorlo had given us copies of the Italian literary journal, clanDestino (from Rimini), now in its 21st year, of which he told us he was a current collaborator. Pleasant to talk to him as the first Italian poet to visit home or shop since Adriano Spatola & Giulia Niccolai thirty years ago (--I'd described the occasion in a swan-song piece for Meanjin Quarterly that year)... Spatola, I prompted him, youngest of the Novissimi, oldest of the Gruppo 63 --and yes, he knew of him but not well. I said he had died, and remembered Adriano & Giulia as big smokers & drinkers. They were friends of the Swiss-Italian poet & artist, Franco Beltrametti, also dead now, with whom we'd corresponded in the'70s --the great connection between the experimental American & European poets of that era, perfectly reflected in the title of his anthology, The Sperlonga Manhattan Express... Mandorlo was travelling soon to Brisbane so it was especially fortuitous for him to attend the Queensland press's reading and make the aquaintance of Nathan Shepherdson & David Stavanger! I believe he's also interested in translating Shepherdson into Italian...
All of this, of course, in the wings of the Small Change poets' reading : Hetherington's aphoristic poems nailing what sounds like traditional wisdom to surrealistic masts; Stavanger's hilarious & surreal narratives, for example Letters to Your Anus & the delightfully ironic & instructive Old Poet to Young Poet; Shepherdson's unravellings of perception's daily register (in this sequence interacting with photography), lyrical & poignant in their search for meaning...

Vive le connections!

--Kris Hemensley