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

Thursday, August 14, 2008


(continued from BTDNSTN, #1)
[RUSKIN SPEAR, Mervyn Levy; Academy Chicago Publishers, 1986]

The pictures are a right & proper distraction from the text... Hard to resist the temptations of the drawing of his old man; the oil of Muriel Belcher (--I assume is the subject of A Night Out for Muriel, tho maybe not at all); the somehow obscene & fantastic Strawberry Mousse; the Barnett Newman satire ("Vermillion is a very expensive colour --the painting is seven feet high and four feet wide --and if it had not been for a friend who provided me with some large cans of Painters & Decorators red, the picture would have cost me a fortune! Curiously, poor old Newman died soon after I completed the painting, and I was warmly complimented by one or two protagonists of the great man [whose work Spear considered ludicrous] for my alacrity in producing such a speedy tribute!"); the curiously two-dimensioned & imposing Carel Weight (classically precise head & shoulders against the cartoony fluidity of a peopled park, which may of course be one of his sitter's own paintings); and so many more.
Levy's opening remark that "English painters have a distinct flair for descriptive art (...) ranging from the satire and humour of Hogarth and Gillray to the frankly eccentric vision of LS Lowry", situates Spear appropriately. The Seventeenth-Century Dutch as well as Sickert & the Camden Town Group, expands the reference.
Levy/Spear resumes a discussion which has always interested me, about the verity of a work whether realism or satire, portrait or cartoon. One's talking about a represented object, that is an object vis a vis both subject & manner of representation. Mulling this over here, images of Anthony Green's family chronicle occur to me. My main reference, in the absence of having seen much of his work in galleries, is (good & obvious pun) a green part of the world (Thames & Hudson, 1984), an illustrated memoir by this, supposedly, very private person. In my mind is not one of the mister & missus cameos, in flagrante, love-making around their well appointed house, with supporting cast of family members occasionally in the wings, but Pictures of Our Garden (1979), Lucy's Artichoke Patch (1978), & The Enchanted Garden : Twentieth Wedding Anniversary (1981)... In my mind, over the years, they've collapsed into a kaleidoscope, and so prosperous is it that I think it supports every aspect of the nostalgia securing for me an English village- or suburban-childhood, all of it devolved upon the bonfire & its plume & drift of smoke, the borders of lavender, rows of lettuces, cabbages, small sheds, beens on their poles, the swing, the lawn, paving, shrubs, flowers.. It is literally! symbolically! the truth! It's a quality of truth I invest in the painting(s), and correspondence with the painting dynamises that truth!
To return to Ruskin Spear, for example his picture of Betjeman. If it's satire then it's of an entirely different order to his Barnett Newman where that painting is nothing more than cheeky conjunction of artist & signature style. The Betjeman, though, tells a story which may or may not have occurred (the poet rowing a boat on the river) but casts a cultural clothing about the historical person that's composed of the very Englishness the man would have identified & celebrated, that has become synonymous over the decades with his name. It's also a pun : Betjeman, as ever, rowing his own boat...
Levy describes Ruskin Spear as "one of England's most influential teachers. At the RCA, between 1947 & '75, his colleagues included Carel Weight, Rodrigo Moynihan, Robert Buhler, Johnny Minton, Leonard Rosoman. regarding his association there with Weight, Levy writes, "These two remarkable men --both highly distinctive artists -- fostered the generation of Peter Blake, Frank Auerbach, David Hockney, Ron Kitaj and Allen Jones (...) It is unlikely that the system of art teaching which operated in Britain before the 1960s could have actively participated in the fostering of such rare talents." And regarding the freeing up of the system, under the RCA's principal, Robert Darwin, Levy notes, "Ruskin Spear was perfectly in accord with the mood of the early Sixties : partly iconoclastic, partly seeking the security of new directions." Of course, the emancipating tutors had come up through the old school now criticised as mechanistic, and perhaps that's the paradoxical lesson; no liberation without tradition. Except that Spear appears dramatically arse-about as quoted by Levy (p106), "Since [the students] usually arrived at the College well satisfied with their ability to produce proficient drawings of the figure,I argued that painting should come first and that one should learn to draw by exploring and resolving some of the problems of painting. After all, painting is drawing, if not in the linear sense..."
To me, Ruskin Spear's strength & charm lies in his adoption of the local, whether following Sickert's Camden with his own Hammersmith or making art of the nominally accessible &/or popular subject. Mervyn Levy could have sub-titled his monograph, From Sickert to Pop-Art. The Sixties' egalitarianism didnt cancel the erstwhile elite patronage (Sutherland's upper-crust commissions for example) but the celebrities of several social domains were now simultaneously acceptable. Almost beside the point from the Australian viewpoint but significant in Britain still. Spear's portraits --for example, Harold Wilson the pipe-smoking PM, George Brown & Barbara Castle from his cabinet, Sid James on the telly (on top of everyone's cabinet), Fred Trueman, sartorially challenged, on the cricket field --and his r&r snaps make him the perfect generational bridge & chronicler of the time.
Needless to say, a valuable addition to this sentimental reader's modern British art shelf.

--July/August, 14,'08

Sunday, August 10, 2008


2007 National Literary Awards, conducted by the Fellowship of Australian Writers (Victoria), announced March, 2008

Congratulations, of course, to every prize winner, including Marjorie Ward (for the John Shaw Neilson, sponsored by Collected Works Bookshop), but pride of place, here, to Judith Bishop (for the Anne Elder [first book award], sponsored by the Anne Elder Trust ), & John Kinsella (for the Christopher Brennan, honouring "work of sustained quality & distinction", sponsored by Sally Dugan). The awards were announced in Melbourne in March, 2008.

The FAW's arms-length policy ensures secrecy of the winning work in respect of the various award sponsors, thus the winners of the John Shaw Neilson were unknown to me until I saw the Results programme well after the event. I havent read the poems either, but at least recognized Anne Gleeson's & Leah Kaminsky's names in the commendeds. Marjorie Ward wrote to say she used to frequent the Shop years ago, during what must have been our Flinders Lane era (1987-99). Our judge, Garth Madsen, noted it had taken him several readings of her poem, The Last Picnic, "to trace how the poet traveled from one [gentility] to the other [brutality] through a succession of perspectives on death - the cosmic, the divine, the economic and the ecological..."

Judges Connie Barber & Phil Ilton noted the high quality of writing in this year's Anne Elder. The winner, Judith Bishop (Event, published by Salt , UK) and the two commendeds I'm most familiar with, Elizabeth Campbell (Letters to the Tremulous Hand, pub. John Leonard Press) & Petra White (The Incoming Tide, also John Leonard Press) --the other collections mentioned were Sarah French's (Songs Orphans Sing, Five Islands Press, & Hal Judge's Someone Forgot To Tell the Fish (Interactive Publications)-- certainly resonate with that description. Strikes me that it'll be seen as a rather special year in retrospect,at least in Melbourne circles, with Bishop pipping Campbell & White, three exponents of a fastidiously constructed & polished lyricism current now in new Australian poetry (Lucy Holt undoubtedly another). Although there's just a smidgin of the a la mode to Judith Bishop's collection --the concrete proposition leading into the tantalisingly oblique elaboration-- it cannot, at this stage be read as anything but her own conceptually & verbally exciting way, an original poet's signature. Event is a great choice! For the others, specifically Campbell & White, disappointment must have been tempered by appreciation of commensurate brilliance.

Event opens with After the Elements, a valedictory for Gustaf Sobin (d 2005), which immediately signals the particular American orientation of a new Australian poet --a new Australian poetics one might also say, confirming the whole world which nowadays constitutes a locale : the several-ways' traffic of poets, Australia, Europe, the States, via research, travel, internet. Judith Bishop has Jordie Albiston's gift for redeeming contemporaneity for something as antique as incantation or spell. "You and I, we are too far / from fire now: the chimney-pots / have driven out their smoke, / and stood alert for its return" the poem begins, cueing the reader for the alchemical order, fire, water, earth, air, whose predictability affords renewed pleasure in the old wonder. A marvellous construction, sensuous in its metaphysics. This applies to much of the rest of the book.
The Dona Marina first-person character poems (she was the indispensable translator, interpreter & mistress of Cortez we're told) beg performance. Of course, poetry always is theatre for the inner ear but in a formal sense the sequence is drama, a choral work. In my opinion they're taxed as poems when spliced into the collection. The best of Event are stand-alone poems where Bishop's almost Hopkins'-like anthropomorphism facilitates highly lyrical investigations of being & perception, of human being via nature. I couldnt help reading the poems against a memory of Hopkins in general, D H Lawrence (following her apt quotation, "Not I, but the wind that blows through me! " --which has spoken for my life & writing too as it happens), and serendipitously, Edwin Muir's The Animals.
Muir's poem turns upon a definition of world as the humanly known & therefore named, and consequential upon the conditioning of time & space. Animals or the non-human are otherwise : "From birth to death hurled / no word do they have, not one / were never in any place." They are beyond language's salvation, then, and cannot be "Snatched from deceiving death / by the articulate breath." But Muir's conventional dualism was already overridden by Lawrence's time, and Bishop's co-originary impulse, probably found in pantheism, noted by Peter Porter in his blurb, as in today's Buddhistic ecologism & Bachelardian phenomenology, applies the coup de grace. Her rejoinder to Muir might be this immaculate passage : "The heart, arrested muscle, is the end and in each. Birds / articulate death better, // worlded by their wings and song. They never see death coming : / it observes from their eyes // as they knit, faultlessly, the cumulus to mud."
Her question from von Herder --"Even the most delicate chords of animal feeling...are aligned in their entire performance for a giving out toward other creatures." --perfectly describes the empathy compelling anthropomorphism to the extent that reading Bishop the language coined seems to be that in which all nature is found!
The many superb poems in Event confirm the honour of her Anne Elder. Three cheers!


I wonder if the definition of the Christopher Brennan needs to be tweaked? Some of us have always taken it to be a lifetime achievement award. Perhaps "writing of sustained quality & distinction" opens too much of a door to the shorter-term success (how define 'sustained'?) --whatever, John Kinsella has been an enlivener of debate in Australia, Britain & the USA; a proselytiser for Australian poetry in amongst contemporary poetry & poetics around the world, never more so than as the publisher of Salt Books (Cambridge,UK); and a prolific poet in his own right across a range of styles whose subject is almost always post-Edenic calamity.
Reviewing his latest collection, Shades of the Sublime & Beautiful (FACP, '08), in Australian Book Review (number 302, June, 2008), Nicholas Birns spurns the shenanigans recently embroiling Kinsella --it's the poetry he wants not the celebrity & notoriety, though JK might not himself so clearly distinguish one persona from another given his volition as a militant for causes (--as he also says of biography in Fast, Loose Beginnings, "I am not really interested in biography, but in the residual nature of friendship and even indifference." --by which he might mean he's interested in dynamics, interactions, contexts of engagement rather than relationship as certain or settled, thus drama & not history, episodes not epics, reports & reportage not judgments & the sagely).
Whereas the brilliant raves in Shades (the long breath single sentence poems of Textures of the Wheatbelt, Sounds of the Wheatbelt, & Smells of the Wheatbelt, for example, ironically recalling for me some of the memorable, & formally composed poems in The Silo from ten or so years ago) amply demonstrate Kinsella's poetic gift for me rather than his rangier pastoral/anti-pastoral sorties, Birns is convinced of the latter's verity.Though he has his finger right where mine is regarding "sketchiness", his has the positive conclusion.
I'll quote the final paragraph of the ABR review : "In the soaring 'Lover's Leap', Kinsella quotes [Edmund] Burke as finding, in unfinished sketches, 'something which pleased me beyond the best finishing'. Kinsella's poems are not incomplete because of their sketchiness but because of their plurality, yet they also shimmer with unfinished potential. They demonstrate how poetry can parade a lack of plenitude, how privation can nonetheless 'fixate' transcendence." Marvelous ideas! I'd love to say I was similarly moved but that wasnt my first impression; however, Birns does cause me to think long & hard about the form & nature of poetry (he describes the hinge, really, of a discussion about contemporary 'open' & 'closed' poetries) and has cued me to return to JK's latest excursus.
Birns' favourable review & David Caddy's posting on Kinsella in his encyclopaedic British poetry blog (, which includes a potted history of the pastoral from Virgilian antiquity to the postmodernist reformulation, retrieve JK from scuttlebutt for serious consideration.
The revelations & confessions, particularly concerning Bob Adamson & Anthony Lawrence, in Kinsella's Fast, Loose Beginnings : A Memoir of Intoxications (Melbourne University Press, 2006) are hardly great scandals --diverting, amusing yet neither here nor there in this big, bad & wonderful world! But one passage stuck in my head. Almost in passing (pp. 70-71) JK observed, "Anthony [Lawrence] loves the sound of words and is really a shamanic bard. In his work, Dylan Thomas, G M Hopkins, and other musical poets, blur with contemporary songsters like Leonard Cohen (a romantic seduction device), Billy Bragg (an absorbable social commentary), and Van Morrison ... There's an obviousness, a romanticism, in all this, but the 'warp' in Anthony makes him unique and possibly a great poet." He refers then to Lawrence's disregard for Language Poetry & his depoliticised relation to language : "Even when he 'says' something political, the language seems separated off from a consciousness of its potential cause and effect. On the surface, he is entirely composed of stock epithets (like, 'at the height of his powers'), but underneath he is full of fear and predation -- the combination drives a socio-pathology in his poetry that makes it get under the skin." The passage hooked me even as it begged important questions.
I wondered if JK's somewhat parodic description of Lawrence mightnt describe a line in the sand concerning contemporary poetics. I sensed something there of Justin Clemens' pejorative use of 'romanticism' in support of Michael Farrell & a self-consciously new writing, against all the rest, in his a raider's guide launching speech a couple of months ago. I really should have read JK's text closer & earlier than I had and maybe heard then JC echoing JK that night! Not that JC has necessarily read Fast, Loose Beginnings, but perhaps there's a Kinsellian position more or less predicated upon Language School which Clemens & others share? And yes I know, it's postmodernism, postcolonialism, the political versus the literary --and eek! wasnt that a disposition circa late Sixties, early Seventies I'd also picked up?! --the radical disavowal of Art & Literature in favour of various species of The Real? --only resumed when the 'political', including the repositionings of the 'avant-garde', predominately presented itself as the figure of estrangement, out of sorts with most of the forms of the world, thus reducing the ambit of its address & correspondence --the previous contradiction, therefore, ameliorating in the Tradition's necessary renovation...
I'm certain Kinsella's book isnt written in anticipation of substantial debate --I even feel my objections are beside the point because of the book's running-commentary style obliged by racy reportage & celeb portraiture. Be-that-as-it-may... In my book a poet's love of the sound of words is definitive; sound & sense are the prerequisites of poetry even as each property is transmuted by the other; "sound & sense" is the essential equation of poetry. Yet the tone of JK's reference to sound & music followed by his italicising of 'says', has me doubting we're on the same page!
I guess 'musical poet' is one for whom sound is foregrounded at the cost of sense and where the composition is an artifice far from speech, yet even Louis Zukofsky (I'm thinking of the influential poets of our own era, though why not quote Shakespeare & classics before & after the Elizabethans?) with his wonderfully crazy Latin derivations, for example, which dont diverge much from his general practice, is teeming with 'sense' & saying --and Bunting ditto, the famous opening of Briggflats for example, "Brag sweet tenor bull / Sing descant on Rawthey's madrigal", is the most perfect Northumbrian trill & steeped in meaning! In the Poundian provenance, music is both a particular quality & the whole biz. Olson's "like, tune into the music!" might well dub the Sixties --acid, New Age & all --but also represents a political & ecstatic construction upon music's traditional trope.
In Kinsella's critique of Anthony Lawrence, the coupling of 'sound of words' & 'shamanic bard' is probably shorthand but could be a misleading instruction. The point about the shamanic is its belief in the co-origination of words & things, thus every thing has its word & every word its thing (in nature, in the world). The bard is historian & magician and not merely, though also importantly, songster. The shamanic legacy, therefore, even to this day, resides in the 'magic' of word combinations, which is to say the describing & making of worlds. Anthony Lawrence, like Adamson, Beveridge, Murray, Anderson, Judith Bishop now, amongst many, many Australians, are poets of revelation via identification & invention, and share the magical legacy with all original coiners.
Regarding Language Poetry (as though it were homogenous, which it isnt) : I always agreed with David Bromige's distinction between the tendency & the party! --the potential of the former always preferable to the latter's template for us (--the "us" Bromige recruited me into in his recapitulation to me, late 80s of where & what Poetry was at, although I hazard to say that for many years now my experimentation hasnt sounded within his cooee!). Language Poetry's aesthetical & political connection is of two domains and in full regard, it seems to me, a poet or reader can disport in one or the other, in one & the other.
"All poetry is political" is more significant for the poet for whom political action is imperative but a bland generalisation otherwise. Ducking the difference between the application of politics to almost anything and the inherently political, one reiterates the obvious : Kinsella is a politically radical poet who can turn the lyrical on (can turn on to the lyrical), & Lawrence, more Kinsella's contrary than bete noir, is a traditional poet within contemporary lyricism. The former's practice summons the post-literary; the latter's carries its literary inheritance through whatever & wherever the radicals say we are. Ironically, Language Poetry isnt the last word for Kinsella as it never was or could be for Lawrence.
Regarding "warp" : good word for what defines the poet's individual signature, attached, therefore, as far as poet is concerned, to how the poem ultimately comes out. "Sociopathology" (as per JK's charge) isnt warp's distinction, rather warp is that accent which is languaged as voice. Warp is voice, original & inimitable; it is the life as spoken & sung.
How does this relate to what I suspect is JK's distinction between singing & saying? In the midst of Shades of the Sublime & Beautiful, in a poem written as though dead, Kinsella confides, "I am thinking on the run here", which I translate as thinking aloud, trusting to the run of thought (expression) without any other measure of composition --a writing that resembles transcription, hoping it will be trusted as these days' oral history --problematic though piquant investment such as that form is. I'm reminded of the late John Clarke, of Buffalo, & his confiding in his poem The Stance We Inhabit Predisposes Our Dimension (March, 1971), "I want all of my learning to go into / this one" : a poetry of knowledge, of reading as saying... Olsonish this poetry then? Olsonish, Whitmanish --but the leaking of biography is a kind of short to the system --JK's saying, in my opinion, sputtering, a discount on poetry's flare. The more I think on it, the 'saying' worth distinguishing from 'singing' is declamatory, & what Adamson decades ago, from out of his bower of song, called 'subject-dominated' (consistent with the conversation we were all having early '70s, Melbourne & Sydney, that time's eclectic anti-literalist perspective, intuitively hybridizing pure poetry's axioms & modernism's naturalist or objectivist overcoming of symbolism); otherwise it collapses into the purported opposite.
So, all in all, what can one say but, in praising his energies, following his project(s), joining the myriad discussion he invites, warmly congratulate John Kinsella on his Christopher Brennan Award.

--Kris Hemensley,
4th June-10th August 2008

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


LAUNCHING OF LORIN FORD'S A WATTLE SEEDPOD (published by POSTPRESSED, Queensland, 2008), at Collected Works Bookshop, 25th July, 2008

Thank you Lorin for asking me to launch your little book tonight. Poetry & the little book, poetry & the small press, are inseparable. At Collected Works Bookshop we're partial to little books -- although I do recall Bill Butler, ex-pat American poet, replying to the very excited George Dowden, ditto, in Bill's celebrated Unicorn Bookshop in Brighton, UK --and it was the day that Jack Kerouac's death was reported in the New York Herald Tribune, October,1969, and a shocked Bill Butler had pointed it out to us --and George showed off his new pocket-sized note-book and said he'd write a poem in it, straightaway, about Kerouac's death --Bill said, coldly, I've always thought only small poems get written in small books! George was Ginsberg's bibliographer at the time and even more earnest & expansive in his confessions than his master --but that's another story entirely!
Lorin's isnt a small book in that sense, but perfectly efficacious & elegant within the constraints of its production --and the moments it contains are infinite in their extent.


As ever, an occasion like this book-launching is an intersection of lives & stories. I hope you'll permit me to range around & about book, person & poetry.


We do go back a long way, as they say. Lorin was the daughter of the house I boarded in, back in 1966, in Park Street, South Yarra, around the corner from the Botanical Gardens which she may know I called The Gardens of Sunlight in my personal myth & writings of that first Melbourne winter of my Australian emigration. We became acquainted in the pre-hippy Bohemian Melbourne and from there the trail takes in the La Mama poetry scene of the late '60s, and the counter-culture '70s, and our respective baby sons & their irregular schooling, and our different vantages in the education system... From youth's dream of poets & poetry to the grim & glorious actuality! -- of which A Wattle Seedpod is a shining example... And so into the dream once again...


Thirty-odd years ago, Jim Davidson asked me to write a survey of the new Australian poetry, to introduce my poetry editorship of Meanjin Quarterly. Every few years I have a peek at it as I did the other day. On this occasion I've been embarrassed by my carping & cleaving & general belabouring! I sound like the "wrathful deity", which is how my Buddhist & haiku enthusiast brother Bernard characterizes me when I'm aroused!
In retrospect I've come to realize that militantly pushing a literary programme, a la Pound & Wyndham Lewis, Olson, the Language School et cetera, as I did myself in the '60s & '70s & into the '80s, doesnt necessarily serve poetry well, if at all.
The reason I'm mentioning this is because included in my poetry review of 1976 was comment on some Australian haiku, which might be interesting to recall now.
Having earlier in the article berated Peter Porter & Graham Rowlands, and railed at Richard Tipping & Tom Shapcott, I turned to, or upon, Robert Gray's Creekwater Journal. To quote, "Though the direction is valid [by which I meant the embrace of Japanese but in Robert's case also a Chinese sensibility concerning human affairs & landscape] the contents are lacklustre." I continued, "The motor of the collection is three sets of three-liners [I dont even call them haiku] (...) which instead of firing rather enervate the entire book, ranging in tone from soft to silly, so cliched are some of the subjects and surrounding sentiments. It is these wee ones' failings that explains the demise of the long poems."
Next, I approvingly held up the "meagrely published Gerard Smith" for comparison; and then commented on Janice Bostok's haiku collection, Walking Into the Sun : "though naive and nowhere near as loaded as Gray or Smith," I wrote, "[it] is palpable : 'in summer meadow / this bird silence' is its most exciting and resonant instance. Six words with which to launch a world. Which is the requirement of the forms Gray attempts. Even when you have enough words, they must be the right words" I finger-wagged..
In the years since 1976, I've re-thought & revised my general literary position. I realize, for example, how wrong i was about Robert Gray's haiku & certainly the longer poems. He's said to me that I probably had a point back then, but I think he's being gracious (as befits his name), & possibly facetious too!
Gerard Smith died young, without a book as such. His friend Janice Bostok, who's especially thanked by Lorin in her book, is now a major force in the Australian haiku world.
By 1976, the Sixties' generation of La Mama poets, amongst whom Lorin once numbered, had long dispersed, but their individual paths continued & the spirit carried over elsewhere.


For all this time we've lived in the magnitude of modern poetry. Even in its provinces, ancient Chinese & Japanese approaches (for example, the representation of nature to include human lives, particularly manifest as haiku) have never been too far away. And that's because it was brought out of the exoticised, but crucial, 19th Century interest & into our time by moderns like Englishman Arthur Waley & American Ezra Pound. And so it flows through the Poundian practice, particularly in the US --and it underscores the Objectivists (think of Oppen, Lorine Niedecker), Cid Corman, so also the Beats, Robert Creeley, Larry Eigner, and then the contemporary legions.
And translation of the ancients continues in the wake of Pound by numerous hands --Bill Porter & Sam Hamill amongst the best today. And then there's the Formalist revival, or revival of forms, from the '80s to the present. And coincident with this new formalism, haiku has proliferated as an English-language form. Poetry schools have aided & abetted the process. If pantoums, sestinas, sonnets & villanelles why not haiku, tanka & et cetera? Anyone for ghazals?!


Lorin has been an astonishingly active poet in the past few years of the English-language haiku phenomenon. It's rare not to see her haiku published somewhere in Melbourne, in Australia. She's equally well published in overseas' haiku magazines & anthologies. There seems to me to be something of the Welsh Eistedfott about the haiku scene if only in their competition for prizes & titles..! Lorin's been in the thick of that! She's published a couple of hundred haiku in print & internet magazines, and that spells tenacity & possibly addiction for the form & perhaps the comraderie too!
And at last she has a book! I am surprised something didnt come out earlier --but that's life, as many of us will attest...
A Wattle Seedpod is published by PostPressed in Queensland. John Bird, one of Australian haiku's stalwarts, contributes an instructive forward which contains Lorin's thoughts on haiku, describing her progress from the "so what?" we've all experienced to the "ah ha!" we long for. She refers to the "physical quiver of recognition" upon hearing a particular haiku : "It made me realize," she writes, "that haiku are meant to be 'seen through' by us as readers, to our own experiences in the world."
You'll observe with me that this transparency is in direct contradiction to the Western literary attitude, whether or not fully born out in practice. Poem as existential mirror is a wonderful challenge to the self-conscious postmodern manner, for instance. Of course, in practice, things are never so black & white, but the dichotomy bears thinking about.


"This poet," John Bird says, "does not live in Haikuland. She may well become a haijin who helps move English-langauge haiku closer to poetry." John Bird seems to be suggesting that there's a deficit between Haikuland practitioners & Poetry...
To be sure, Lorin is an otherwise formed poet who has taken up & taken to the haiku. And yet she does endorse haiku's traditional imperatives & their Western evolution.


I'll bring my remarks to a close by opening Lorin's little book upon a couple of my favourites in this first collection.
How poignant is this, for example :

"River sunrise
a girl's shadow
swims from my ankles"

What a beautiful allusion to the 'consciousness of the passing of time' (if I might misquote Gertrude Stein) --the chaste expression grants equanimity even as wistfulness presses on the heart...
Then there's the synaesthesia of :

"clear water --
a magpie's song drops
into the pond"

Simultaneously one sees, hears & feels the event.
And then there's the perfect one-liner :

"on a bare twig rain beads what light there is"

which is, I think, in the vicinity of what Judith Bishop often attains --not Nature Poetry pure & simple but how phenomena is apprehended; a poetry, therefore, of conscious & perceiving being.


And so, I'm pleased to declare this little book published, and now invite Lorin to speak to us &, hopefully, read.


Kris Hemensley, July, 2008.

Monday, August 4, 2008

THE MERRI CREEK : POEMS & PIECES, #4, July/August, 2008



A man and woman disappear
where the light flows up hill
where an archetypal table has unlaid
its cutlery, emptied the decanters

and seated an absent guest at the head
of the country's upturned table.
We've drawn new flags of crayoned dunes
and bothered the stars with deeper blues.

A rear-vision mirror distracts those
who gaze amazed at the shadows, yet scalded
by our lack of rain, farms lie in the dust
thirsting towards an unguent sun.

Our Tarot cards, transparent,
predict we are unchanged in our changing.
The future is cracked porcelain.
And tea cups, if left to tell their fable

might speak of black stars in a white night,
carcasses scattered across salt pan draught,
snow melting from Antarctic rock,
words disorganising into fear & flight.




There is a weariness that finds a home at last
Inside your bones as winter bites its third thin month,
As though a death were leaning on you all the day
And weighed a shadow more than any man, two men,

Your father's death perhaps that must come very soon,
Grandfather's death that's been and gone yet hangs around;
And then there's a weariness older than the dust,
That spinifex will tell you all about, and more,

One quite at home inside those shattered, simple rocks
You find out west in Queensland when old roads give out,
And in those words you whisper to yourself at night,
Words with dark rooms that open onto darker rooms;

And there's a weariness that's vaguely young, that runs
Its bony fingers through the fringes of your thoughts
And blunts their edge : louche angel of death, your own
Perhaps, though one still hanging loose and at a loss.




No longer am I your poem, your breath has left me,
I am grafted to this page. Go, from now on I keep
verbs to myself, you can no longer tamper
with my pronouns. Punctuate someone else.
I divorce myself from you, disown you
and your pencil thin prerogatives.
I am a postulate, traveling, camping out,
a poem of independent memes.
You remember me as this static page,
your lazy snapshot memory that erases
my early life, my permutations, and later travels.
Are we each a single dose to each other?
I am no longer yours, it is my breath
that holds up the spaces on this page.
I keep your word? You do not.
I am now thou to thee.



Two sequences of cinquain*

and weasel words
crank tangent creeds
a welter of display performs

flight paths
and soft landings
dad brings his trade song....
Valderie, echoes down Collins
and home

and festivals
Japan tailors English
with blossoms springing liaisons
take out

and avenues
connive books and burnings
spirit barrels hunger incense
and thirst

endure rebuke
table grace pots the word
mum rattles kids scolding water


cool eyes
and assignments
jostle lovers drabness
mistaken paring off hones lost

and rotten flicks
turns tolerant offense
to advents bending in takeoff

stun tarred silence
goading egotists spray
while camber tarps the revelry

the scrub
after the fires
cools earthen ceramics
ravages putter turning points
in kiln

film scores
and pot boilers
ghostly lairs surrender
crisp flavors succeed shared outlook


[Note : Cinquain, a five line stanza that can simply be a 2-4-6-8-2 syllable pattern. In the first sequence, Valderie is the famous song, "I love to go a-wandering along a mountain track"; Collins is Collins Street in Melbourne; Gusto is the name of a restaurant in Fukuoka, Japan. ]




from In the Cemetery of a Castilian Place

Flocks of the dead, among poor walls
are shifting to their common clay.
Poor flocks - the scythe has been put down.
This cross above an empty field
is your only emblem now.

By these walls the sheep have shelter
from the shocks of northern wind,
while history's vain rumours
break up these walls like waves.

Shining like an island in June,
you swim amid a windy sea
of golden grain, while over you
the lark sings its harvester's song.

[The word "barro'' means "clay" in Spanish, but is sometimes used in biblical translation rather than "polvo", "dust". It carries the same biblical associations that "dust" carries in English.]




Cordoba is distant.
And lonely.

Black nag, big moon,
and olives in my saddle bag.
And though I know these roads
I shall not make Cordoba.

Over the plain and through the wind,
black nag, blood moon.
And death is watching me
from the towers of Cordoba.




In the forest they give chase to Jesus and to elks
With dark sweet diamonds with lilies in their mouths
Silence the steps of Autumn in the villages
Heaven like a name pronounced in a low voice
Jesus Jesus the rifles sounding through Spring
The belly of a naked girl over the sea petal and cloud
The belly of a girl torn open by mastiffs
o my God


[ Note : I have tried to make versions that are readable as English poems, and to this end have taken many liberties with the literal texts. Lorca's Cancion de Jinette is rightly famous. Pedro Gimferrer is a prominent Spanish poet born in 1945 who has translated widely from the French & English, including TS Eliot, Beckett & de Sade. De Unamuno, b 1864, was a leading member of the 'Generation of '98'; revered as sage, essayist & novelist who explored existential themes, & also wrote a considerable body of poetry. ]



Ian Campbell
lives in Sydney. Biographical information contained within his detailed correspondence published in this issue.
Jennifer Harrison [Sydney's loss & Melbourne's gain] is the author of four collections, the most recent of which, Folly & Grief, was published by Black Pepper Press (Melbourne) in 2oo6. A volume of New & Selected Poems is forthcoming from Black Pepper in 2009. She is currently co-editing an anthology of Australian women's poetry. Her contact is
Kevin Hart [Australia's loss & America's gain] left Melbourne in 2001 to take up a position at University of Notre Dame and is currently teaching at the University of Virginia. He has eleven poetry collections (books & chapbooks) including Wicked Heat ('99) & Flame Tree ('02). His several books of literary & philosophical criticism include The Trespass of the Sign; Postmodernism : A Beginner's Guide; The Dark Gaze : Maurice Blanchot and the Sacred. A new collection, Young Rain, is due soon from Giramondo (Sydney).
Carol Jenkins continues to record & publish the River Road CD series of Australian poets from her Sydney pad. See Poems & Pieces #1 for more bio. Her first collection of poems is due soon from Puncher & Wattman.
Robert Jordan after a sojourn in Japan, lives in Melbourne's West, thus a Bulldogs supporter. A Guinness & green tea drinker. Once upon a time a painter of icons within the Orthodox community, an exhibiting artist, a tram-conductor, ESL teacher, & always a note-taker. Now, a writer of cinquain. His contact is
Alex Lewis lives in Melbourne. Published a collection of prose fiction in 2007 in the wake of his winning the Somerset National Novella Writing Competition. Recently returned from his Grand Tour which included Spain.
Earl Livings lives in Melbourne, heading up the Box Hill creative writing programme and editing Divan, which was Australia's first on-line poetry journal. His collection, Further than Night (Bystander Press) published in 2000. His contact is

POEMS & PIECES, #4, July/August, 2008 : Correspondence


Notes from Sydney

I returned to Sydney after attending most of the splendid 'Poetry and the Trace' conference, convened by Monash University, and involving the School of English, Communications and Performance Studies together with the Centre for Women's Studies and Gender Research. It was a pioneering conference, in so many ways, and all credit is due to the convenors, and more generally, Monash University, for sponsoring it. As one who takes a keen interest in aspects of 20th century English modernist poetry, as well as our own 'Australian story', it nevertheless did highlight for me the relative lack of knowledge amongst our younger generation of poets about developments in our Asia-Pacific region. Perhaps this could be the focus of another conference at a later time.
As one who has followed some of these developments in recent years, it may interest readers to learn of some of my recent publications in the field of contemporary Indonesian poetry, following research at Sydney University. The book Contemporary Indonesian Language Poetry from West Java: National Literature, Regional Manifestations (VDM-Verlag, Germany, May 2008, ISBN: 978-3-639-00952-1) maps out aspects of developments in contemporary Indonesian language poetry in West Java. While there have been various studies undertaken concerning the development of modern Indonesian literature, paradoxically relatively few have focused on the regional setting of the modern Indonesian literature story. Those that have taken account of regional developments have tended to examine literature in the Indonesian regional languages themselves, such as Javanese and Sundanese. Following research over the years 2002-2006, I show how a number of contemporary poets in West Java have considered their local environmental settings and developed creative literary responses that cross boundaries into the realms of mystery and the mystical, of allusion or hard-edged realism. A feature of this book is the large number of English language translations of work of some prominent poets from West Java. A national literature, in its regional manifestations, explained in English, with Indonesian language original and source material. For those not wishing to source the work in book form, most of the material covered can also be accessed at:
I have also completed two self-standing journal articles which explore the work of two poets from West Java - Nenden Lilis Aisyah and Acep Zamzam Noor. In 'Mystery, Allusion and Realism: Beyond the Local in the Indonesian language poetry of Nenden Lilis Aisyah' (Orientierungen - Zeitschrift zur Kultur Asiens, Bonn, Vol. 19, No 1, 1/2007, pp. 47-83), I suggest that one of the challenges facing contemporary 'regional' poets writing in Indonesian today is how to achieve a balance between poetry that draws upon the strengths engendered by allusions to aspects of the local, often rural, environment whilst at the same time producing a poetry that has potentially universal appeal beyong the local geographical context.That article examined some of the dominant characteristics and themes taken up in her Indonesian language poetry by Nenden Lilis Aisyah, born in Malangbong, Garut, West Java in 1971. I also suggest that Nenden's approach to poetry writing represents a distinctive style of verse in the Indonesian pantheon of contemporary writing by women - the balance between 'mystery' and 'exploitation' which is at the heart of her poetry.
In 'Mysticism, aestheticism and activism : Towards the universal in the Indonesian language poetry of Acep Zamzam Noor', in Orientierungen - Zeitschrift zur Kultur Asiens, Bonn, Vol. 20, No. 1, 1/2008, pp. 109-147, I refer to Secrets Need Words, the landmark 2001 survey by Harry Aveling of Indonesian language poetry written between 1966 and 1998.Aveling employed the term 'new Sufism' to describe the emergence onto the Indonesian literary scene of a number of pesantren-linked poets, such as Emha Ainun Nadjib, Ahmadun Yosi Herfanda and Acep Zamzam Noor. This article examines some of the Indonesian language poetry of Acep Zamzam Noor, born in Tasikmalaya, West Java, in 1960. It explores some of the poems described by Aveling under the 'new Sufist' rubric, but suggests that there are a number of additional characteristics in Acep's verse. Poetry written by Acep whilst in Europe in the 1990s can also be considered as evidencing the centrality of the poet's ideas about the 'aesthetic experience', even if many of the poems from this period also bear traces of what might be termed a 'Sufist imprint'. Such poems also seem to be greatly influenced by the fact that Acep is not solely a poet but a painter of some note too. In other more localised poetry, aspects of the environment in rural West Java enter into his poetry as metaphors for life and existence, per se. Yet there is also a sharp satirical edge to range of poems written by this poet-activist as he grapples with ideas about the responsibilities of the artist in contemporary Indonesia. In addition to the many translations into English of a selection of Acep's poetry within the journal article, the article (in English) is also accompanied by a series of translations of Acep's poems into German by German Indonesianist and literary translator, Berthold Damshauser.
Quite apart from my literary research, in recent years I have been writing poetry in Indonesian and in 2004 and 2007 I undertook a series of literary visits to Indonesia with readings of my Indonesian language poetry in West Java and Bali (2004) and West Java (2007) in conjunction with local literary and other associations. Some background information on my interest in writing in Indonesian is set out at: A collection of twenty five of these poems was published in February 2008 at: (Indonesian)
and ) (English). In the collection, titled Selatan-Sur-South and published in Indonesian in the UTS ejournal, PORTAL, in February 2008, I traverse sites in Australia, Indonesia and Latin America from the standpoint of one interested in exploring what it means to be ' a poet from the South'.

Whilst in Melbourne in July I also attended two other conferences, also sponsored by Monash University!! For these conferences I did present session papers. The theme of the 17th Biennial Conference of the Asian Studies Association of Australia, convened by Dr Marika Vicziany, Director, Monash Asia Institute, with others at Monash, was the question: 'Is this the Asian Century', with keynote speakers from the People's Republic of China, with various perspectives, and other speakers from the Indian Subcontinent. Lively discussion ensued derived from the current focus in Australian public affairs on the roles of China and also India and Pakistan, in particular, with the issues of human rights always a recurring theme. Given my academic background in the literature of contemporary Indonesia, especially contemporary Indonesian language poetry, a session strand of particular interest to me at the conference was that organized by Dr Julian Millie, Monash Asia Institute, on 'Reading Nusantara Writing'. Sixteen session papers explored aspects of the texts and writings of the Malay world, of contemporary Indonesian poetry and of Javanese, Buginese and Balinese texts and performance genres. My own paper: 'Neruda's Asia: Interpreting aspects of the life and poetry of Chilean Poet, Pablo Neruda (1904-1973), and the reception of his poetry into contemporary Indonesian literature' represents, in part, an attempt to look at new material - about Neruda's life in Burma, Ceylon and the Dutch East Indies from 1927-1931. Much useful information is now becoming available from works in Spanish, such as Hernan Loyola's 2006 book Neruda: La biografia literaria, which covers the period 1904-1932 of Neruda's life. A highlight of the session was a first-ever reading I did of Harry Aveling's English language co-translation of a poem by contemporary Indonesian poet, Cecep Syamsul Hari, titled "Molto Allegro", which takes Neruda's 1933 poem, "Walking Around", as a point of departure. It was pleasing that the co-translator was able to hear a rendering of the English translation of one of the very fine poems from this contemporary Indonesian poet whose work has recently been included in the new (April 2008) Norton anthology of poetry, Language for a new Century: Contemporary poetry from the Middle East, Asia and beyond(ed.Tina Chang et al.)

The theme of the Biennial Association of Iberian and Latin American Studies of Australasia convened by Stewart King and others at Monash University was: 'The Popular in Spain, Portugal and Latin America'. In my session paper: 'Popular reactions to the death of Augusto Pinochet (1915-2006): Aspects of the Chilean experience of 2006', I looked at the events that occurred in Santiago de Chile in December 2006 when Pinochet died, and drew upon some of the satirical coverage which appeared in December 2006 in the Chilean broadsheet review, The Clinic. This Spanish language bi-weekly, established in 1998, has set new standards in satire and topical cultural comment and is a part of the 'new wave' of Chilean writing and publishing that has emerged in Chile since 1998 when Pinochet finally left the post of Armed Forces Commander. As one with an academic specialisation in Indonesian Studies - who just happened to be in Chile in December 2006 when Pinochet died - I was struck by the many similarities between the Chilean experiences (with Pinochet), and those in Indonesia (with Soeharto).

POEMS & PIECES, #4, July/August,2008 : In Memorium, Kathleen Raine



This year marks the centenary of the birth of Kathleen Raine, the English visionary poet and scholar. In 1991 Britain’s Royal Society of Literature named Raine one of the 10 greatest living writers and the following year she received the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry. Raine’s reputation extended beyond her native country, with her poetry, autobiographies and studies of William Blake and W B Yeats read from Sweden to Spain to India and the USA. In 2000 she was awarded the Commandeur de L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and was honoured as a Commander of the British Empire. Raine died in London in July 2003, having seen a new Collected Poems published in 2000 and her 1968 classic study of William Blake, Blake and Tradition, reprinted in 2002. She was a remarkable woman who devoted her life to poetry.
Kathleen Raine was born 14 June 1908 in Ilford, Essex, to a Scottish mother who sang border ballads to her and a Durham father who was an English teacher and a Methodist lay preacher. From an early age Raine was convinced she would be a poet and this led to her to Cambridge, where she trained in the Natural Sciences and Psychology. This conviction also led her to a lifelong exploration of the Romantic poets and the Platonic and Neoplatonic traditions, as well as Gnosticsm, Hermeticism, Alchemy and the Kabbala. Nurtured in memory and imagination by her childhood Northumbrian countryside, Raine constantly followed what she called her Daimon, her creative and intuitive principle, to the point she decided she would never engage in paid work unless the activity was one she would gladly do for free. Raine’s life became a vigorous exploration of poetry as ‘the language of the human soul, through which the spirit speaks’.
In a letter to the Indian poet and Aurobindo devotee K D Sethna, Raine stated that the task of the visionary poet is to reveal the ‘daily miracle and mystery’ of Being. She worked at this task, producing, what Philip Larkin noted in his review of her 1956 Collected Poems, poetry of the ‘vatic and the universal’. Here are some sample lines:
From ‘The Hyacinth’:

Time opens in a flower of bells
The mysteries of its hidden bed,
The altar of the ageless cells
Whose generations never have been dead.
And from ‘The Poet Answers the Accuser’:
A note struck from the stars I am,
A memory-trace of sun and moon and moving waters,
A voice of the unnumbered dead, fleeting as they—
What matter who I am?

In her autobiographies she gave an account of who she was and had become, and of her growth towards the perennial tradition that would inform her writing and her activities for many decades. As a scholar she wrote a large number of books tracing the ‘golden string’ of that tradition and exploring its manifestations in the works of Yeats and her acknowledged master, William Blake. And as a champion for this tradition during its conflict, its Great Battle, with a secular materialist age, she helped establish the Temenos Academy of Integral Studies and edited the journals Temenos and Temenos Academy Review, the goals of these institutions being the preservation and presentation of what she came to call ‘the learning of the Imagination’. The following lines can be seen as a summation of her life and the theme of her writings:
From ‘Soliloquies’

To make the imperfect perfect
It is enough to love it.

Contrary to Raine, I came to the vocation of poetry quite late. Before this, I had studied higher order mathematics at university, played guitar in a band, and practised martial arts. I was looking for my authentic creative outlet, and I eventually discovered a direction when I started writing speculative fiction, which I had been reading since a child. I had also dabbled in teenage love poetry and song lyrics, but had never thought of poetry as a way of life until I met a practising poet. I fell in love with poetry and went back to university to study English Literature. One day I was walking down an aisle of the Borchardt Library at La Trobe University, idly running my fingers along the spines of books, when the gold lettering on burgundy background of a title caught me: Defending Ancient Springs. The book, published by Raine in 1967, was a collection of essays about symbols, the Beautiful, the mythological, about the influence of Blake on Yeats, and about the life and works of poets such as Edwin Muir and Vernon Watkins. I took it home and read it non-stop. Here was what I was looking for, the poetics I needed for my true work.
When Raine mentions in her essay ‘On the Symbol’ that ‘poetry in the full sense is symbolic discourse’ and that the symbol has ‘as its primary purpose the evocation of one plane in terms of another’, that one plane being of a reality and consciousness ‘other than that of the sensible world’, then, even though I had once been a scientist of sorts, with interests in the laws of the physical universe and in the power of reason, I took notice. I too felt that poetry was more than, as she said, the ‘description of sense impressions or personal emotions, or the evocation of group emotions’. I could understand the assessment given in her essay ‘The Use of the Beautiful’:

Imaginative poetry alone has a real function to perform; for the pseudo-arts of realism perform no function beyond that of endlessly reporting on the physical world...true poetry has the power of transforming consciousness itself by holding before us icons, images of forms only partially and superficially realized in ‘ordinary life’.

Raine’s book was a revelation. It was as if I had suddenly found the overlapping terrain of all my experiences in mathematics, music and the martial arts, of my reading of Eastern philosophies and the practice of meditation, and of my shift in interests from the rational to the emotional to the spiritual. I had found a tradition in which I could feel comfortable, enthused and inspired, that of the Perennial Philosophy, which holds ‘that not matter but mind—consciousness—is the ground of reality as we experience it’. Here was a tradition that had an enabling power for my poetry writing and for my quest for wisdom:

Imaginative knowledge is immediate knowledge, like a tree, or a rose or a waterfall or sun or stars…Imagination as understood by the Romantic poets is nothing less than the fundamental ground of knowledge.

I read everything of Raine’s I could find, and was led to many poets, philosophers and practitioners for whom ‘True imaginative learning is a search for truth and reality, not for information as such or in the service of some theory or ideology’. My poetry became even more metaphysical and mythological. I was able to complete a book project I had been contemplating for almost 20 years, a metaphysical verse novel of over 8,000 lines, which formed the major part of my PhD. I joined the Temenos Academy and appeared in the journal.
After I published my first book of poetry, I sent a copy to Kathleen Raine, along with my thanks for her influence and inspiration. Her reply I will always cherish. In it she said:
It seems to me that Australia is experiencing a renaissance—or perhaps a naissance—of the arts of the Imagination. You have already produced Patrick White and Sydney Nolan, and the fine poetry of Judith Wright...I also think of your musician Nigel Butterley...Not to mention the wonderful art of your Aboriginal people...It is a spirit that moves through many...
This spirit she invoked and expressed in numerous poems, for example, ‘Storm-Stayed’:

Holy, holy, holy is the light of day
The grey cloud, the storm wind, the cold sea,
Holy, holy the snow in the mountain,
Holy the stone, the dry heather, the stunted tree,
Holy the heron and the hoodie, holy
The leaf and the rain,
The cold wind and the cold wave, cold light of day
And the turning of earth from night into morning,
Holy this place where I am,
The last house, it may be,
Before the wind, the shelterless sky, the unbounded sea.

And this spirit that moved through her moved others. Because of her I found a tradition and a community. Because of her I found a framework for my own intuitions and experiences of the sacred. Because of her I came to understand a little of that dynamic she calls, following AE (George Russell, that mystic friend of Yeats), the politics of Time and the politics of Eternity. Because of her I began to understand the power of such images and symbols as the ‘world-tree and its fruits, the birds of the soul, sun, moon, river, loom, dragon, gate, and dark tower’. Because of her I became more acquainted with Imagination, with Divine Vision, that power, that one thing, as Blake says, that makes a poet. Through her I found my place in the thread that unites the entire European tradition of imaginative poetry:

Yeats and Shelley, Blake and Milton, Dante, Virgil, Ovid, Spenser, and Coleridge all speak with the same symbolic language and discourse of the immemorial world of the imagination.

And, like her, I am content to play my part in keeping, as she once said, quoting Blake, ‘the Divine Vision in time of trouble’.
In the Forward to her Collected Poems, Kathleen Raine stated she wished her work to be judged in the light of the perennial wisdom she had discovered through the works of Blake and Yeats: ‘Better to be a little fish in the great ocean than to be a big fish in some literary rock pool’. She may have thought of herself as a little fish, but the significance of her works and endeavours are considerable. Even in Australia there is much interest in her activities, as shown by the establishment in 1997 of The Barbara Blackman Temenos Foundation, which annually brings Temenos speakers on a lecture tour of Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne. And of course there are those poets and scholars who continue to explore and express ‘the learning of the Imagination’, that ‘great ocean’ of the soul.
Below is a poem I wrote after her death. It is called, naturally enough,

Defending Ancient Springs
i.m. Kathleen Raine

If she had never crossed
From Eternity through water

With ache to reveal our Eden
Always everywhere, in storm,

Colour of wild hills, skeins
Of bird song, each flower’s

Benediction to sun, the genius
Of spirals in rock pools.

If she had never explored
The learning of the Imagination

Through vision, through rendition
Of other pioneers of presence

And return, cave, loom, tiger,
Rose and gyre, fourfold holy cities,

Open secret to all who listen
Past the mechanics of bird’s flight.

And if I like others had never
Stopped in a library aisle, fingers

Tracing her defence of symbol
And light upon the spine—

No deep recall of kinship,
No wisdom fountaining of grace.

[An earlier version of this paper formed the basis of a talk given to celebrate the life and works of Kathleen Raine, at Evensong, Christ Church Anglican Church, Castlemaine, Victoria, Australia, 2 March 2008.]