In the wake of the publication of The Divine Issue & Dave Ellison's spreading the word, I've enjoyed a wave of correspondence with some of the figures recalled there, one email leading to another --Karl Gallagher, Frances Yule & Paul Smith.
The characters & poets of that time are living treasures, gold mines of the history they embody, further chapters of our story. I'm heartened --not that I thought or think it'll all be lost, for there'll always be a younger & later generation with a yen for research & the inkling of vital connection & the ability to bring it to life once more. Rather, I'm heartened that some figures of the time we're calling ours, are as charmed as I am, tickled from normal inertia back into the quick of it as the wheel turns again (I'm anticipating Frances Yule whose poem/riposte appears anon).
Bringing me up to date with his own activities, Paul Smith has reminded me of his large 2nd hand book-store, Book Heaven, at Campbells Creek outside of Castlemaine at 47, Main Road, and refers us to his web-site which fully describes his prolific writing, translation & scholarship. (See www.shirazbooks.com .)
Out of the blue, a week or so ago, Ross Keating popped in. I told him we'd been in touch with Paul Smith recently & restocked some of his New Humanity publications, for example translations of Hafiz, Omar Khayam, Kabir, & Francis Brabazon's Stay With God. We got talking about Brabazon. He asked me if I shared his good opinion of the poet. I said I remembered thinking how like Allen Ginsberg & Bob Dylan I thought some of Brabazon's poetry was when I first read it : surprisingly hip, for an Australian back in the 50s! Ah, he said : the Beats! And he wondered whether Australia ever had a Beat generation? I said that although it had never been formalised or announced, there definitely was a body of work which qualified as Beat, attending to the same variety of subject & style as distinguished the North Americans. Oh what a project that would be for a young scholar! No wonder I'm feeling the house is jumpin'!
I want to think aloud around & about Alison Hill, who was much more than an en passant name in TDI's roll call. For many of us who encountered her in the late 60s, early 70s scene, she was one of the stars, if only for the effect of her first riveting reading of a poem/manifesto, Reach Out (eventually published in the first number of Mal Morgan's mag, Parachute Poems, c 1972) --something of its charge is there on the page but truly you had to have been there as they say!
She was rightly included in Thomas Shapcott's anthology, Australian Poetry Now (Sun Books, Melbourne, 1970), alongside other La Mama/Melbourne 'new poetry' luminaries such as Geoff Eggleston, Michael Dugan, Garrie Hutchinson, John Jenkins, Ian Robertson & Charles Buckmaster. Her biographical statement notes marriage to Terry Gillmore as his includes her. I thought of it then as a Melbourne/Sydney union, as though we really were making a family! La Mama's Sydney confreres included Nigel Roberts, John Tranter, Bob Adamson, Michael Dransfield & Vicki Viidikas; from Adelaide Frank Starrs, Rob Tillett & Richard Tipping, & American-Queenslander Billy Jones.
Shapcott noted in his preface that, "There are a few omissions which I regret : a few writers actively involved in the Melbourne experimental scene either did not reply to personal invitations to contribute, or advised that they were suspicious of the validity of anthologies." (p xi) Those writers were myself, Ken Taylor & Bill Beard. Only Bill has continued to absent himself from anthologies & publishing per se. Taylor & I have been in a couple of others but in recent years I seem to have reverted to that original reluctant type!
Having been invited by John Hooker at Penguin Books to edit an anthology of new Australian poetry in '69 and rejected the proposal, Ken & I were in no frame of mind to contribute to Tom's anthology. If as editors we feared impossible compromises in selection or packaging for our own anthology, we were hardly going to be acquiescent contributors for someone else's.
I was living in England when Mike Dugan sent me a copy of the anthology early in 1971. Distance hadnt made me regret my decision though it did soften my opinions. In my U.K. mag, Earth Ship (#4/5 September,'71), I wrote that Australian Poetry Now, "includes good work from some of the new poets (ie post-68 Australian poetry 'renaissance') whose activity was the reason for the book tho their subsequent placement in the anthology & the editorial qualifications render them harmless -- their own innocent vanities painfully bared! Ce la vie! However -- notwithstanding the omissions of certain poets (on ideological grounds!) from the anthology & the excesses of many who were included there is still the work of eg. Nigel Roberts Terry Gillmore & Garrie Hutchinson to savour."
It's obvious to me now that the efficacy of Tom Shapcott's anthology was determined across much wider perspectives than my localist, avant-gardist, counter-cultural imperatives allowed me to see then. Though it might be true that one of the editor's objectives was amelioration in which a slightly older generation, only recently projected as the New Impulses poets (1967), would redeem its share of the spirit of the 'new' raucously claimed by a slightly younger generation as its own, a move that could justifiably be politically critiqued as I for one did, it's also true that the anthology achieved what the little mags couldnt, and that is the distribution to the poetry readership of a large swathe of Australian poetry rising to the time's acute sense of contemporaneity irrespective of age or publishing history.
Apropos The Divine Issue, it's Alison Hill's edition of Jargon, the 32nd annual of the RMIT student body, Summer 1968/69, which she entitled A Crimson Jargon (the cover tells why), that demands attention here.
Designed as a double-header, it contains the student/tutor writings & articles the journal would ordinarily have been defined by (articles on marijuana, Jean Luc Godard, writings by Jeff Edmunds & Damian Coleridge, whom I specifically name for also participating in the La Mama readings, & et cetera), but, like the Trojan Horse, it also carries the cohort of the out-of-school alternative. For instance, the virtuoso rave by Adrian Rawlins, Image & Entity : J.S. Ostoja Kotkowski's electronic images in the micro macrocosmic field of the Now Culture Situation, in which he cartwheels from one high art reference to another, apparently celebrating the liberation of consciousness from culture's old categories...
Alison's edition promotes the emerging new poets (Buckmaster, Beard, Gillmore, Roberts, Tranter, herself) and also showcases Meher Baba & some of his 'lovers'. Adrian Rawlins, Jim Miskias & Denis Smith constructed a portrait of Baba from his published words, and David Pepperell, whom I assume was a Baba-lover then, published a surrealist tour de force, For All My Seasons. The entire issue of Jargon may well be dedicated to Meher Baba : "Postscript : Present Indicative" describes his death, more or less coinciding with the journal's publication --"On Friday, 31 January, 1969, Merwan Sheriar Irani called 'Meher Baba' and revered by millions as a Divine Incarnation or Avatar, shed his physical body to 'live eternally in the hearts of His lovers everywhere'.'"
The journal included graphics by George Baldessin who taught at the RMIT, which reminds me that Baldessin created the original La Mama poster template for Betti Burstall's cafe-theatre & designed the poster for my play Stephany (at La Mama, September,'68). Looking at his "personages"(heads) in A Crimson Jargon, I'm struck again by the floating finesse which distinguished his style as well as shock for his early death --of which I was blissfully unaware until a Hemensley family trip to the NGV happened upon the large & brilliant retrospective of the apparently recently deceased artist. Where was I to have missed it?
1972/73, out of the country for three years, I experienced a second migration rather than a simple return. There was no picking up where I had left off. I was now beholden to an internationalism garnered from the English perspective; I was involved in Anglo-American new poetry on which I grafted the new Australian work. Notwithstanding the Australian push at that time for the international context, to which I naturally contributed, I was diverted from the depth & breadth of the local (as though 'elsewhere' is always ultimately abstract, when abstraction is not what one thinks one's about). So, by the beginning of the new decade I wanted to recommit myself to a 'being here' in which the local would not be waylaid by the international. I wanted to be present in & to the life of the time, here & there. I entitled a new series of my Earth Ship mag, H/EAR --deriving a double plea from its pun : "us here now / hear us now". I stuck "1980" postcards received from Paul Vangelisti (editor of Invisible City, San Francisco) on my walls. In that era of the Super-powers' stand off & of nuclear war fears, I felt a new urgency to attend to what was literally at hand --in amongst the international correspondence, a recommitment to the local, to Melbourne. I described my project then as an "active archive", as good a tag as any for the immanence it's probably always about, dependent upon the flash one causes as active principal, flesh & blood, here & now : history with a palpable halo!
The title of Baldessin's wonderful sculpture, Banquet For No Eating, perfect metaphor for the above. What a feast was that exhibition of George Baldessin's graphics & sculpture, but posthumous, posthumous : 'Art' now when I'd love to have had Baldessin himself alive at the table, indeed the whole city would. Thirty years on and still an awful loss...
It's been an even longer mourning for Charles Buckmaster who perished in 1972, aged 21. The publication in A Crimson Jargon of his long poem all up along 1984 times, gave him a lay-out no mimeographed mag of the period could have matched. There it was, poem-as-score, poem as graph-of-the-mind, poem as spontaneous but accurate apprehension of the moment. Whatismore, photos of the poet with partying friends are superimposed on the poem. How strange & consoling to have his image, play-acting in the Melbourne Cemetery for Robert Adai Westfield's camera --chess & tea-party on a grave-stone, cups & saucers spread over the Australian flag, Charles & friends sprawled around. --and one of Charles by himself, standing tall in sun-haze beside an obelisk, as though peering through the mist of eternity... Incidentally, I assume the photographer is same man whose Web reference as Robert Adair Westfield records a year's study at the RMIT before training with Newton & Talbot? If so, he's a commercial photographer himself now, currently living at & serving the Shiva Ashram in Mount Eliza (founded by Shankarananda, an initiate of the Saraswati order of Kashmir Shaivism)...
Forty years on, attrition's to be expected --Buckmaster, Baldessin, Rawlins, Eggleston, all gone; "shed their bodies"...
Alison Hill is still around. Late 80s, I think it was, South Yarra library, she greeted me at an evening dedicated to Charles Buckmaster & Jennifer Rankin, upon whom Judith Rodriguez & I gave lectures. First time I'd seen her in years. In the 90s she was contributing to the anthologies produced by the Aardvarkers poetry group (the most recent of which, Melting Clocks, published in 2000, has her Dali-esque painting on its cover). Last time I saw her we talked about the rereading I'd undertaken of the 60s, 70s poets, and hoped to keep that conversation going.
The poets of our time, "eternally in our hearts"...
23 May/8 June,2009
A GHOST BETWEEN US (for Joan Sedorkin)
Around 1980, aged 37 I was standing
at the bar of the Albion in Carlton
taking notice of nobody
watching life passing by the window
in the early afternoon drinking alone
although several friends were around
I was away with my own thoughts
so long as I had a drink in front of me
and one on the way
that's all i really cared about.
Jukebox sounds came from the back bar
I was lightly swaying to the music
friends passed by saying hallo
smiling generously I replied
feeling good man feeling good
but I was disinterested
interested only in myself
listening to some hidden beat
some universal soul
alone in a crowded bar.
A voice I hadn't heard in years said
'Hey Karlos how are you man.'
I turn and face Nigel a sydney poet who's
grinning grabbing my arm telling me he's
here for the poetry festival
talking loud he says
'Why don't you say hallo to Gary Snyder, over there.'
which I don't believe but look anyway
I see two guys nearby leaning against the wall
drinks in hand watching me
one I recognise from photos as Snyder
it dawns on me that
they have been there for some time
have they been watching me, for how long?
I've been at the bar for maybe an hour and half.
We are about eight feet apart
and for a few seconds our eyes lock
and suddenly I feel ashamed to be seen
alone in a crowded bar
oblivious of the company of others.
I felt the ghost of Kerouac pass between us
Snyder takes it all in
sees a well liked energised guy
sees that I am on the same greased slide
that took Jack down
the path of bitter loneliness
the scrambled brains
the mindless bad mouth
the deep disconnection
I didn't go over and say hallo
we both knew what we had seen
I turned back to the bar
picked up my drink, downed it
and ordered another.
in between the passing
talking about God
eating Turkish, Greek, Italian
moving from one house to another
working briefly in shit jobs
popping pills at parties
and hallucinogenic experiences
we were the nuts and bolts
the spokes the oil
of the 60s revolution
we were cogs in the wheel
of the revolving wheel
the wheel still turning
[May 19, 2009]