Sunday, August 30, 2009

THE MERRI CREEK : POEMS & PIECES, #12, August, 2009


MAINLINE TO THE HEART AND OTHER POEMS by Clive Matson, published by Regent Press (Berkeley, California), 2009


Before the reader can get to Clive Matson's poems, Mainline to the Heart (which first saw light of day in 1966 & is republished now by Regent Press, Berkeley, with as many more poems of the period as the original collection contained), there are several bridges (hurdles?) to be crossed.
Firstly, Erin Matson's cover drawing (--and she's the lover named in the poems, e.g. in Talk About Love, "she rings my neck using / fingers she oints with
arsenic"; stereotypical femme fatale/object of desire) which departs from the Indianised, Beardsley figures within the book to a cartoon of male devil, assisted by female angel, impaling the hapless, falling man with bayonet-like needle. So the stage is set, the drama proclaimed. Secondly, the five pages of praises for the book from such supporters of his work as Al Young, Jack Foley, Steve Kowit, whose testimonials comprise a psychological & cultural as well as literary purview. And thirdly, the late John Wieners' original introduction.


Diane di Prima & Alan Marlowe published Mainline to the Heart in '66 with their Poets Press in the Bowery. Di Prima recalls in her afterward, A Few Words (written in 2004) that it was the 6th book they'd produced --previous publications included her own Seven Love Poems from the Middle Latin, a bilingual edition of a poem by Jean Genet, & Herbert Huncke's Journal. "It was an enchanted time," she says.
History doesnt always oblige one that way, but poetry scene, printing press & happy family just before Vietnam really cranked up, & a full twenty years before Gay Sunshine became the nightmare of AIDS; that period when heroin was cool enough to know its casualties as martyrs to mission & muse, & before the addiction & ODs became commonplace as the carnage on the roads; I guess it might well qualify as enchantment!
The poet whom Clive Matson was in the Sixties cant help himself : "I love drugs : / cocaine and heroin today for speed and warmth, / grass for spice." Why not? Spirituality can be just as amenable, & sex (--sex, junk, God : three-headed version of one Beat deity) --no fuss, & no mess until much later...


In terms of reclamation, then, Mainline to the Heart presents Clive Matson in full flight, as Sixties as they come, that is to say sex to jazz's backbeat, guys & gals, drugs, the Beat merging with the Hippy thing. It contains or assumes the bits of attitude which'd one day declare as Punk --if the love/hate ambivalence defines something of it, not to mention the explicit sexual narrative of one poem & the peppering of its detail elsewhere. No doubt the era's Liberation spiel, before & after Ginsberg, informed him, as it did everyone, though reading him out of context his text also resounds the male chauvenism the squares would always have judged it to be. And not because of the sexual subject-matter but the gluttonous objectification of the body & the act. But if sex --sexual love one should say --is merely "one more war" (& I'm quoting Tim Hemensley's refrain, exorcised as one of the Powder Monkeys songs in the '90s), even male chauvenism is beside the point --and Matson's lovers more like warriors. Probably, also, as John Wieners explains, drugs, & heroin in particular, has everything to do with it : "One wonders about the nature of love in these poems. Are they vicious or not? Has the author sacrificed anything or everything to arrive at the toughness he celebrates. It seems he has. It is not angelhood any longer. It is not nature, springing up in the woods at twilight. It is heroin and the blood he draws. It is not peace."
Wieners' introduction cues in his own gift --and one doesnt require the younger man's gaucherie for the elder to shine. Reminds one too of the remorseless passing of time. Isnt Wieners one of the new poets (as of Donald Allen's "new")?! New, young. . . as he was, of course, in 1966, in his early 30s, seven years older than Clive Matson. The New in these recent decades hardly settles before other species arise. 'Forever young' indeed...
Wieners' An Introduction to Clive Matson's Poems sitting with Diane di Prima in the twilight on a country road, diverts me to his own books... Rereading him I'm even moved to prefer him, of the poets in the eddies of Pound & William Carlos Williams, to both Olson & Creeley, his great friends, mentors, companions. Prefer him this minute, that is, given that he's a poet of the minute, a poet of presence par excellence. Certainly one might now differentiate his originality from theirs. No matter the angle or, later, the circumlocution, Wieners invariably turns towards the world (& the worldly) and is actually the opposite of Olson, the sum of whose voluminous parts suggests a mind continually courting the abstraction one assumed he opposed. J H Prynne once offered that Olson's poetry pursued the 'condition of the whole'; if it does it seems too often in flight from that palpable world celebrated by his erstwhile student. Wieners' elicitation from turn of phrase of something like a revelation is also, ultimately, not Creeley's way, as though the latter's nuancing of squint & quip guaranteed the wisdom of the everyday... Not for a moment would I avoid Olson & Creeley, but now Wieners is restored!


The introductions for di Prima's series "were meant to introduce a new poet by someone from his own lineage -- to 'locate' him or her for the reader." The Wieners of this role is strung between The Hotel Wentley Poems & Pressed Wafer, his 4th & 5th collections. By then he's made it sufficiently to perform at Spoleto with Olson & meet Ezra Pound ("I felt I was in the presence of a Chinese mandarin."). Up the (Black) mountain but never left the (Beat) street. Where's an even younger poet in that? 'Post' & 'neo' this & that (--recall Pete Spence's small Melbourne press of the mid-80s, hilariously tagged Post Neo, implying every year of the Late Age's style but another inflection of belatedness) --so, Matson's neo- or post-Beat epistles & communiques... A natural reporter, and the cliches (represented in the book's testimonials) are true : raw, naked, honest etc.
Matson implies a certain reserve about republication. "Many of the poet's friends, especially Gail Ford, offered patient understanding while the poet struggled to accept the value of the persona expressed in these poems." A reluctant second coming? What's at stake in this reclamation (to republish one's first book)? Try to imagine myself here : I couldnt, wouldnt publish mine --lacking the commitment to my first collection though sometimes imagining a current selection of early poems, the forty, fifty years old young-writing. Perhaps it's the ageless character of such poems, that is, that they are young forever; lyrics that they are, song & dance of the diary of those nights & days --available still, elixir of youth for youth-prolonging seniors! On the other hand, very little of my early 20s poetry is as fulfilled as Matson's confessions. Where he trusts his own experience & language, & pushes right on through his confidence, I would allow fancy & style (aka other poets' voices) to waylay me.
First I heard of Clive Matson since the late '60s/'70s was in a poem in Nigel Roberts' collection Steps for Astaire (Hale & Iremonger, Sydney, 1983), which good-naturedly satirised American culture. "Clive Matson's Poetry Workshop shares verse / of all kinds with appreciation & insight / providing the feedback you want, whether it be / tough criticism or careful encouragement.." I'm not sure that Roberts was gunning for the poet so much as the stereotypical creative-writing tutor, worthy therefore of the general contempt our Sydney troubadour leveled at all "shortcuts to enlightenment" (to quote one of the "New Age Listings" in Steps...), all & any duping of the muse... I recall wondering at the time how Matson regarded his own journey --from dope- & sex-fiend to creative writing tutor, desperado to counselor...


Recapitulate then : Reading Matson I'm hearing & remembering the Sixties. I sympathize, identify with aspects of his testimony even as I squirm! Alive in that Peace & Love time it's obvious, as Wieners cant fail to state, that Clive Matson doesnt sing its song. In a way he's old fashioned --e.g., "jealousy is a function of love and / so is possessiveness" --but laying it out there so graphically is Sixties too. "Why does fucking mean so much?" he asks --no pose; plain prose of that cocksman tradition, Miller to Cassady spiced by Sixties' promiscuity, gay laced. And it's there that a bluer quality occurs, a quality of pain to off-set the young male & often het boasting. With heroin in the mix one can say that in Matson's poems, love is subsumed within the longueurs of mutual dependence : "I'm addicted to heroin and want a habit / so bad it'll break the deathgrip / of love's terminal habit..." (Talk About Love.) Forget about 'sedative' in the light of that...
Attempting longer poems, the young Matson continues howling long after the authentic poem's done --lyric dissipates into un-poem/note-to-self. That's my serious formal gripe. However, shorter poems and those others' better halves contain the riffs & insights this genre's meant to deliver.
The first poem in the book, Teardrop In My Eye, is addressed to Herbert Huncke who, as any Beat & Counter-Culture freak knows, needs no introduction. "Fuck you, Huncke" it begins, dead giveaway for love's infernal minstrelsy --same particulars as Wieners' life & line had marked earlier ("Knowing no other god than this: / the man who places on your mouth / a kiss. Keep no mystery / but his who whispers memory...", For Huncke). Matson reaches through Huncke to all the company of that anti-bourgeois syncopation... "Fuck you, Huncke. / Leave me / hung up for junk, waiting // alone in a dark room candles / you lit burn down in. / They unwind curls of smoke / like incense I remember we offered / weeks ago. / It is Nostalgia. // I treat you mean / and I get what's coming / down on lonely Street. / I walk amid cold winds, / leaves / rustle / while I blow. / No one to hold my hand."
I think that's the kind of 'talent' Corso had in mind praising Kerouac while keeping the 'divine' for Shelley!


John Wieners introduction to Matson's poems seems to want to distinguish between transcendence & realism, & worries for both poet & poem to this conclusion : "Form is not of the question here. // Jazz, and its mainline to the heart. // Is it worth it, when the furry head is lost beside on the pillow? // When deaths congregate and nothing else. // Death is part of nature sure and something else in the spring. / Spirit. And yellow flowers on the mountainside. Opium? yes."
My Love Returned begins beautifully (& another echo of Wieners) : "The Moon rises / ass heavy: on the wane. / Wish it was full." Then the poem begins to swing : "I dream & / a huge bat wing arcs over skeleton buildings / and dips to touch ruby pinprick traffic lights / on the street's horizon in mute salute, // when I take in another block / the black wing blacks out the lights / and I know it is the Vampire, / my love returned / in the city calling me to bed / with faint irresistible siren / over the cool line of telepathic desire / or echoing 'could be' to my need..."
The poem's conjuring of vampire imagery is perfect patch for junky lyricist's emotional & conceptual chaos. "How the seasons change / and my veins hold new blood for her to suck now, / new blood I can bleed // over the white untried bed / and my teeth are white and sharp to eat with. / Now I brim over with come to shoot in her. / I flap my jaw / and smile goofy at strangers / in the fullness of it." Yes, I wince at the scatological & Burroughsian excess, so bare as it is in a poem, yet it's clear that the lyric shapes it, in a sense saves the soul within the poem, saves the soul of the poet too.

(July 27/August 30, 2009)

[Regent Press, 2747 Regent Street, Berkeley, Cal. 94705]




Kris Hemensley : It felt like synchronicity when you plonked the John Wieners poems down on the Collected Works counter the other day. My head has been jumping with Wieners this last little while on account of a review I'm writing of the re-publication of '60s poet Clive Matson's Mainline to the Heart, which includes Wieners' original introduction... that is to say, reading the introduction had me return to his books on my own shelf and to relish his cadence, whatever his themes, all over again... And you have me intrigued with your reference to Jeremy Prynne to whom you referred as giving a great reading of Wieners' poem, Cocaine, on You Tube. Tell me more! What is your connection to or interest in Wieners, Prynne, English poetry, poetry in Melbourne?

Michael Tencer
: Right! I'd better clear up the howler first, before your readers go searching for Prynne videos...

J.H. Prynne read John Wieners' poem 'Cocaine' in a short (1 minute 40 second) sound recording in 2004. The poem itself was originally in the book Ace of Pentacles, published by James F. Carr & Robert A. Wilson in 1964, & currently is collected in Wieners' Selected Poems 1958-1984, published by Black Sparrow Press. Prynne's recording appears on the CD-R 'Low Bleb Score', the third of four poetry-related CD-R's produced by Quid magazine, compiled, edited & distributed by Keston Sutherland & Andrea Brady through their brilliant Barque Press ( Prynne's recording is also available for free on Andrea Brady's website .

For those readers unfamiliar with Prynne, & hence wondering what all the fuss is about over a short sound recording, let me briefly sum up the situation by saying that Prynne has been the most influential, intelligently experimental & reclusive British poet, bar none, for the past 40-plus years. In that time, he has done ONE public interview for radio (which has all but vanished), & has allowed his picture to be printed on perhaps three or four occasions. The fact that he was throughout that time College Lecturer & Director of Studies in English at Cambridge's Gonville & Caius College, as well as the College Librarian at Cambridge's Cockerell Library (as well as at the previous library, & during the Cockerell construction), made his reclusiveness all the more notable. His early studies with American poets during his travels included friendships with Charles Olson & Ed Dorn (Prynne's contribution to Dorn's 1976 Bean News, as 'Erasmus W. Darwin', is a particularly wild read -- the full issue of Bean News has been reprinted & is included as a supplement to Vol 15 Number 3 of Sagetrieb (Winter 1996)); & his generosity with his time & criticism for students & other poets, most clearly exhibited in his critical essays & copious letters, is legendary. All of this is quite beside the point that the actual poetry, now widely available in-near-toto in the Bloodaxe Press Poems book, has set the new standard for English poets of high modernism.

My association with Prynne is slight, though treasured. I first learned of his work through the Zappologist critic & poet Ben Watson (aka Out to Lunch), who attended Prynne's lectures at Cambridge & maintained contact with him, mentor-to-student-like, ever since. Through Ben I also met Keston Sutherland, editor/publisher/poet of Barque Press & the editor of Prynne's forthcoming & much-anticipated Complete Critical Prose. With Prynne I have had e-mail & postal contact, securing permission to publish his letter/critique of our shared friend Stuart Calton's poetry in the perennially-forthcoming Gruntwork magazine (Gruntwork or Dogfood, as the first issue shall catchily be called, is to be edited & published by Ben Watson & me). Quite generously, Prynne has sent along several books gratis, including his extraordinary full-length studies of a single Shakespeare sonnet (They That Haue Powre to Hurt; A Specimen of a Commentary on Shake-speares Sonnets, 94), & Wordsworth's 'The Solitary Reaper' (Field Notes: 'The Solitary Reaper' and others); & an extended telephone conversation with Prynne, touching on poetically peripheral points -- linguistics, other languages, word-processing & libraries -- proved inordinately delightful.

Aside from Prynne's aforementioned John Wieners reading, it's worth noting that Prynne seems to have become more comfortable with public appearances in recent years. He has, in his capacities as Visiting Foreign Expert & Guest Professor in the People's Republic of China, even gone so far as to read his own poetry on camera (available on the DVD River Pearls, from Barque Press); & his recent lectures & readings in England & the States have, I understand from word of mouth, been warmly received.

Unfortunately, word of mouth is all I can tell you as an American living in Melbourne, having been perplexingly refused entry to England on two separate occasions! Should it prove feasible in the next several years, my fiancée & I hope to travel there & gain some firsthand experience of the British poetic universe beyond the e-mails & postal dispatches, but until then I remain regrettably peripheral & decidedly blog-gossipy round that particular hub.

For those who wish to know, there's an excellent, albeit incomplete, bibliography of Prynne online at , compiled by Nate Dorward. It misses out on the reprint of The Oval Window, designed by Ian Friend & published in Brisbane, Australia, as well as some more obscure older texts & some not-so-obscure recent texts, but it remains the touchstone of Prynniana at the present.

Regarding my own poetry & associations, very little of what I do could be recognisably linked to Prynne's work, or to any of the American poets, John Wieners included. My work comes from primarily musical influences -- Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, Edgard Varèse, Anton Webern, Conlon Nancarrow, Howlin' Wolf -- all of whom had far more impact on my concept of poetry than any on-the-page poets. The international poetic worlds that matter to me tend to be, at least on the surface, impossibly varied: Prynne & the Cambridge school, jwcurry's Canadian concrete poetry & environs (for a good time write to: ROOM 302 BOOKS, #302 – 880 Somerset Street West, Ottawa, Canada K1R 6R7), the still-active Surrealist Group led by the Rosemonts in Chicago ( -- though any reader of this blog should already have this site bookmarked!). I am directly part of the movement initiated by Ben Watson, known as the Esemplasm, from a coinage by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (see for more info), &, on learning of the death of the great Chicago Surrealist Franklin Rosemont, I co-initiated the New Zealand Surrealist Group in Wellington, for the continuing production & dissemination of freedom through desire.

My pursuit of knowledge with regard to poetic traditions has been a posteriori rather than imposed; having avoided creative writing & poetry classes like the plague, my poetic ideas & my tactile sense of what constitutes good poetry were formed outside the influence of poets-on-the-page almost entirely, with the possible exceptions of cummings, Pound & Joyce. This has proven, as we discussed in the store, a great boon to me, as I've been able to learn & decide for myself poetic traditions of my choice without feeling beholden to any particular pre-made path. Thus, I greatly admire Prynne's work, though I'm clearly out of place among his epigones; I savour the works of William Burroughs but care little for Jack Kerouac & the verbal diarrhoea school of Beat production; I devour anything of Surrealism & dada, anything revolutionary & modernist, & remain open to anything truly alive, but, while reading & learning as much as I can about as much as I can, I remain critical, exert the primacy of my own taste & subjectivity, & stand firmly against the anything goes, everything-is-relative ideology of post-modernism & its -ism ilk.

I can't say much about Melbourne poetry, since all I've experienced here so far was the Doris Leadbetter Melbourne Poetry Cup on Saturday, & that was drop dead dreadful. Then again, it's a rare performance poetry event that's any different, whether in New York, London, Brisbane or Wellington, so for now I won't judge the bubbly by the dregs. The only Australian poet I've read with pleasure so far is Nathan Shepherdson: I like his rubble-in-the-silence lyricism, it has some of the twisted alchemy & weighted space of Paul Celan or Malcolm de Chazal.

With that, I think I'll wrap up the rant -- what kind of desperate reader would possibly devote this much time & interest to an unknown seppo? I do recommend, though, for anyone who can appreciate the seemingly effortless work of John Wieners, his unerring ability to capture thought in motion & what his urban ballads have done to the poète maudit lyric, the British poet Sean Bonney is an excellent extension & distillation of this impulse into the 21st century. From his typographic 'translations' of Baudelaire to his orgone-popping poetry readings, Bonney takes all the sharpest edges & gooiest innards of Bob Cobbing, Tom Raworth & Barry MacSweeney & agglutinates them into a pulsing anti-capitalist subjectivity shorn of sentiment. Sean Bonney gets my vote for the best performing poet alive today (though perhaps if J.H. Prynne let out a few more recordings, he might indeed put up some competition...)
Thanks a million, Kris!
Keep up the good word work.

K H : OK, You Tube's been spared! When I mentioned it yesterday to
Alan Pose, who'd come in to the Shop as we were talking the other day, he suggested I'd got that wrong...! Of course, 'getting it wrong' is how I suspect my radical colleagues characterise me, and for many years now. Keeping the conversation going, though, is what I've set out to do, probably
since I edited my mag Earth Ship in Southampton, 1970-72, and all its Australian incarnations til 1985 when I stopped --my hands had fallen off! Remember, roneo stencils and manual typewriters?! I'm usually square peg in round hole of whatever conversation I find myself in. The English poets I was friends with in the UK at that time included Colin & Frances Symes, John Hall, John Riley & Tim Longville, Allen Fisher, Paul Buck, John Robinson, Jacqui Benson, Lee Harwood, Frank Prince, Andrew Crozier, John Freeman, Jeremy Hilton, Martin Wright, David Chaloner,Gael Turnbull,George Dowden, Nathanial Tarn, David Tipton et al...and by correspondence Peter Riley, Douglas Oliver, Peter Finch,Veronica Forrest-Thomson & many, many more. All over the shot! Deliberately. Driven by curiosity I suppose and incredibly contradictory literary fancies. And so it has been all the way. Nowadays I'm picking up all the loose ends --in fact they're all loose ends! And I must be the "happy man" I once wrote to ask Peter Riley about ... I'm not sure Peter quite understood the nature of my enquiry ('happiness' to mean ease with the human life that has death all about it and inevitably at the end of it whenever that happens! Is there a way to be, a way out of mortal fear etc? --could have been that kind of 20 year old's question)! Peter said I should ask John Zorn**, "he seems to be a happy man!" Hmm. I dont know Sean Bonney. I must investigate; though "anti-capitalist subjectivity shorn of sentiment" has me staggering in search of a stiff drink! Mention of Barry MacSweeney recalls the sadness of his recent death --I've always enjoyed some of his poetry (tho' it's also true that I didnt understand what either he or Elaine Randell were writing in 1972 when I wrote to them --I rejected their submissions, and ditto, in another direction, Penelope Shuttle --of course I know better now!) --I maintain an as yet unfulfilled pledge to read him in toto, for myself. As for 'sentiment' --the word's probably closer to me than it is to you and your circle! As Kerouac is --you'll detect from the Dharma Bum(s) correspondence with my brother Bernard on the blog... On which note, I'll close and with much pleasure and many thanks for your sparkling, brilliant response!

[August 18/19, 2009]


[**CORRECTION! Just now discovered! In midst of conversation with Warren Burt & Alan Pose at ye olde shoppe this afternoon, Warren mentioned Jon Rose, and suddenly I realized my mistake. The "happy man" suggested to me by Peter Riley was not John Zorn (hardly out of high school, Alan had remarked at the time of my reminiscence) but Jon Rose. Most appropriate that it was another composer who invoked Jon Rose. Apologies in case I've misled any reader. --Kris Hemensley. September 8th, '09] ________________________________________________________________



Dharma for Joan Sedorkin

Five years ago she came to the art class I ran

with five different groups over four years

Joan came to the first and stayed till the last

it was two years before she told me she’d read

‘On The Road’ in 1958 and with a girlfriend hitched

north from Sydney stopped at Cairns

met and married a Russian fisherman

made a home raised a family buried a husband.

Then aged seventy-eight she left Cairns

with two suitcases to get away

from demands of family ‘to find her self’

moved into a rooming-house in Brisbane

started to paint and write haiku.

We had both lived a life knee-capped

by low self-esteem non existent self confidence

but over the years I’d learned how

to change that handicap learned how to dismantle

its power

bit by bit I showed her how to do it.

Later I found out she was blind

in one eye sight failing in the other

no wonder she couldn’t draw details

then an Indian doctor and laser surgery

restored the sight in her good eye

enter a king-tide of colour like a sudden burst

of wild parrots among a crush of blossoms.

I watched her discover a sense of her Self

And become a terrific painter

she drew with an intoxicating fragile line


admiring of her own work

no longer putting it down.

Her death a few months ago affected me

more than I would have thought.

Dharma Bums was her favourite Kerouac book

for her I later wrote of the silent encounter

I’d had with Gary Snyder

her favourite poet

in a bar in Melbourne

in the later years of my alcoholism.


Going Home to Ballachulish

Someone passed him a joint

'No thanks, not something I do much these days.

I can't handle it anymore, it takes me apart

and any sense of what's left of my identity.'

said to Stanley who may or may not have been

the one passing the joint.

'It gets me like a death-adder fanging into me

feel like I'm walking around sort of queer

legs rubbery dragging a serpent attached to my ankle

and I have to keep on functioning in company

as if nothing is out of the ordinary.'

'Oh is that so' he heard Stanley say

looking at him with those bug eyes

his lips moving speaking who knew what

as nothing filled the air.

Then he felt himself going under

looking over at Guido their eyes connected

as Guido's face began to fade

felt himself going down - as if tied to weights

a thickness closed over him

cutting off what moments ago he could see

in the dusk and soft night and last light of the day

taking him back to his childhood in Scotland

its long summer twilight bird calls

smell of coal smoke the scent of pine

he knew then that he was dying.




Geoffrey Eggleston,

Memorial, Sunday 21 December 2008

This is a personal tribute of my friendship with Geoffrey.

Geoffrey Eggleston was an enigma who not only touched many people’s lives but influenced them deeply. On reflecting upon Geoffrey I realised he had been in my life for over thirty years in varying degrees. I first him when Siri Omberg was renting my old cottage in Fordhams road, a stone's throw down the hill from Montsalvat. At the time I was working with computers in the city and spending weekends in Eltham prior to travelling overseas. Geoffrey would turn up any time of the day or night. When I returned from my year overseas I stayed in Eltham and renovated my father’s shed on the same property and Siri stayed in the house. Later, when Siri left and I moved back into my cottage, Geoffrey continued to visit stating ‘he came with the house’. And so he did for the next thirty odd years – even when we pulled down the old cottage and built a mud brick house on the site. He was extraordinary - not in the ‘extra ordinary’ sense but in being connected to a multi dimensional world. I would sense his imminent arrival by an image of a serpent in my mind – and sooner or later he would appear; via my mother’s garden facing the main road which he would say was a short cut to Montsalvat from the station or a lift he had hitched from the city. I failed to understand how our hill was shorter.

Geoffrey was the greatest of net workers; a walking hub and repository for artists, musicians, poets, performers and 'want ta bees’ He connected people and brought artists and writers to the dinner table. He created circles of like minded people and loved nothing more than to be amidst a group of his creative friends eating, drinking and smoking his small pipe. His talents and interests were many and included his work as a poet, musician, painter, printmaker and philosopher. I spent many days with Geoffrey painting around Christmas Hills and for a short time we shared a studio near Greensborough at Green Hills.

As I was saying earlier – Geoffrey not only touched lives but influenced them too. I don’t know how my life would be shaped if it were not for knowing Geoffrey. It was Geoffrey who first introduced me to poetry all those years ago when he began running the Montsalvat poetry festival. My cottage down the hill was perfect for Geoffrey to billet poets out from interstate. I didn’t have to have much say at the time – he would ‘send’ me poets to house for the weekend (or week) and bring a box of food to turn into soup. We would have a stream of poets walking down the hill from Montsalvat, through the cemetery fence and up the gravel road to my cottage. Poets would sleep on the floors around the cottage and even in the bathroom! Every festival was Geoffrey’s party.

That was in the early 1980s. The portrait under glass of Geoffrey was the beginning of my series of poets’ portraits. Today there are 118 paintings of more than 100 poets and the collection continues to grow. Along with my landscape and ice paintings and photographs the poets' portraits have become one of my life projects. The second portrait of Geoffrey was painted after he had commented that Nigel Roberts' and Terry Gillmore’s portraits being on canvas and larger than his... and my final portrait of Geoffrey was painted recently during his illness.

In 1982 Alec Hope was invited to the Montsalvat Poetry Festival as Feature Poet – and I was asked to put him up for a few days. Alec by now was an old man and had had enough of festivals and didn’t feel up to ‘hanging’ around Montsalvat for what was then a three day event. Not knowing what to do with him I asked him to sit for a portrait in my studio and began what became three portraits and an important life friendship. Alec subsequently introduced me to the poets in Canberra including Judith Wright, Mark O’Connor, Rosemary Dobson and Alan Gould; all of whom sat for a portrait. Through this project I came to know and make friendships with many famous and less known poets and each year Montsalvat was the perfect event to invite an interstate poet to spend a day or two in my studio sitting for a portrait. Among those who came to sit in my studio were Gwen Harwood and Tim Thorne from Tasmania, Rebecca Edwards from Queensland and Fay Zwicky from Western Australia and Les Murray, Chris Mansell and Cornelis Vleeskens from New South Wales. As the series grew began to travel interstate to paint the poets who did not make it to Montsalvat. I am grateful to Geoffrey for the introduction to poetry and some of the best minds our country has produced.

That was the thing about Geoffrey – his web spread across Australia with threads linking every state and he was proud of the fact he could travel between Melbourne and Sydney, Brisbane or Adelaide and get a bed for the night at someone’s place. He even managed to bring Gary Snyder from the United States to a Montsalvat Poetry festival one year and we had Gary and entourage planting trees in Wingrove Park.

Geoffrey spent many Christmas dinners with us – he admired my mother Grace’s organic garden and wonderful cooking. Sometimes we would have an array of poets still here as an overflow from the festival. Geoffrey was at home wherever he went.

Geoffrey was a passionate, compulsive, obsessive person who felt deeply and was terrier like in his pursuit of projects. He did so much with so little. If not for his at times infuriating demanding and aggressive manner any events and festivals may not have happened. He did not take no lightly for an answer. In fact the word NO was a red rag to this bull who would then pursue whatever it was with words and letters and banter until he got his own way. We can only wonder what he could have achieved if he had had the grants and assistance he so wanted and was denied so often.

Geoffrey was particularly proud of his two children Ninianne and Nathanial; they were quite young when he first brought them to visit. I haven’t seen much of them these past years but would hear about the wonderful things they were doing and the creative careers they are perusing. Three weeks ago when Nathanial came to let us know that Geoffrey had died he stayed for dinner and I could not help but notice how much he has become his father's son – his passionate talk of organising festivals of musicians and the use of the internet to achieve his networking. Geoffrey lives on through Nathaniel.

Bringing people together was his passion and I thank him for being Geoffrey and an influence in part of my world.



, currently residing & studying in Melbourne. Other bio in his comments on Prynne & et cetera above.
KARL GALLAGHER, has poems & correspondence in previous issues of The Merri Creek : Poems & Pieces. See #11; & Addendum to The Divine Issue.
JENNI MITCHELL, artist up Eltham way. Edited with Cornelis Vleeskens the poetry mag, Fling, in the '80s. Other bio contained in her eulogy for Geoff Eggleston, above and on


[-- Phew! All done this Sunday, 30th August, 2009, at the desk in the little Westgarth weatherboard, which Jeff Nuttall called a 'cottage' back in the early 80s when he visited though I didnt know then that it was!--
Kris Hemensley]

Saturday, August 15, 2009


[Literary Creatures : Drawings, Poetry, Group Terms : A book of animals in alphabet; edited & drawn by Raffaella Torresan; published August, 2009, by Hybrid Publishers, PO Box 52, Ormond, Vic. 3204]
+ Raffaella Torresan's exhibition, Book Animals (8-19 August,'09)]
Saturday 8th August,'09 at the Victorian Artists Society, 430 Albert Street, East Melbourne.


[Not all of the following notes were used in the speech, nor do some of the spoken comments appear in these notes, as is the way of speeches!]


Congratulations to Hybrid Publishers on the publication...
And congratulations to Raffaella on bringing her idea for the book through to this gorgeous fruition!

I was explaining to a colleague recently my continuing reticence to publish in what can be called authorised anthologies, but had to say I did have a couple of poems in an animal anthology... The 'Contemporary Australian Poetry' perspective gives me problems but 'Animal Poetry' evidently doesnt! There are reasons for this, which I'll touch upon in a moment...

All of us grew up with 'literary creatures' in the poems we encountered at primary & secondary school... For me it was the likes of Shelley's Skylark --"Hail to thee, blithe spirit! / Bird thou never wert...".
And D H Lawrence's Snake, which I'll always remember for giving me the word 'expiate'; that final stanza --"And so, I missed my chance with one of the lords / Of Life. / And I have something to expiate : / A pettiness."
And, of course, G M Hopkins' The Windhover --"I caught this morning morning's minion, king- / dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon..." --Hopkins whom I didnt understand at the tender age but in my young 30s finally got!


The poets in Raff's book are mostly not the Australian canon --apart, say, from Bruce Dawe & Les Murray... And there's Bernard Smith from the highest echelon of Australian art --his Place, Taste & Tradition written when he was 21 or 22 years old, published 65 or so years ago? --as legendary, I suppose, as Phar Lap, the subject of his own poem in the book... But no Judith Wright & co., or what the wider Aussie net could catch.
Literary Creatures is Raffaella's own anthology, a personal anthology of predominately Melbourne & Victorian poets, invited by Raff... As Alan Wearne says in his introduction, "What really grabs me about this book is the wonderful off-the-wall combination of contributors she has been able to assemble; from Les Murray to the late Geoffrey Eggleston via Robyn Rowland and Lynn Hard is quite an accomplishment."
Alan distinguishes between 'big survey' or 'state of the art' anthologies & such a collection as Raff's, the genre collection...
Well, it's the season of the big numbers --the Nicholas Jose Macquarrie, the John Kinsella Penguin, Jamie Grant's 100 Australian Poems, Geoff Page's 60 Classics, but the genre anthology is something else...
I've been thinking about this recently, in another context, & came up with the notion of the affection for the subject propelling the work (the poem, the painting) into whatever expression... As Alan says of the genre collection, "that's when we really get to discover plenty [of works] that are refreshingly different, be they naive or sophisticated... a lot like discovering a new species"...
Readers are in for a treat...


At the risk of offending by omission I'd like to mention some of the poetry to delight me...
No better place than here to quote from Jen Jewel Brown's Nest of Vipers, beginning "Like a hiss of poets snaky at being overlooked / their unpaid brilliance rears / Glittering scales of justice rattling inflate / bare fangs spit venom angst ennui" etc
Becca Kellaway's Ode to a Wombat had me in fits, especially "O! for a cool slab of VB, that hath soaketh / In an esky, chilled by its icy embrace / tasting of angels' piss; but it so inebriateth / Mine mind, that I no longer see her face. / Instead tis thee, Wombat...."
A different kind of poignancy with Kerry Scuffins' Totem Horse, especially the last line, "Let her run, let her think she's free." --which raises enormous & philosophical issues, & the relation of reality & conceit in which we humans hold all animals...
Bruce Dawe's "This dog and this cat / weave their lives / within our own..." ; "we have by now been thoroughly integrated / into their mutual strangeness / (as they into ours)" might extend Kerry's thought...
I liked two kinds of beautiful poem --Eric Beach's wonderful vernacular ear, rhythmic & tonally perfect --"they would've laughed marco polo out of town / if he'd tried to describe a flock of emus / as busy as a fat lady's bum in a tight pair of slacks / in an egg & spoon race..." ; "larrikin bird, disdaining fines, eating fences / strange to see you smoke through an exercise yard / wheeling in humped, broken ranks, one eye cocked / to a sun drilled like a rifle bore..." --And Lorin Ford's courtly, romantic pantoum, Like Bees in the Lamplight, "Too beautiful to put away in the wardrobe, / the Chinese silk dress on the wooden hanger / caresses the mind as water soothes the skin. / Gold butterflies swarm like bees in the lamplight." etc
Many, many others... Robyn Rowland's cuttlefish & sea-horses, Les Murray's Two Dogs, Jenny Harrison's Showering Together, Aileen Kelly's Domestic Geese, Jenny Compton's hens, Phil Motherwell's Cuckoo-bugger sitting in his gum tree, Alex Skovron's possums, Patrick McCauley's platypus, Jordie Albiston's Whale Song...
Some of which we'll hear very soon from the poets themselves, though most are for the readers of the book to discover...


So, let me repeat my congratulations to Hybrid Press, to Raphaella, & to all the poets for a lovely book --which I hereby declare launched!


[Bernard Smith spoke about poetry & painting, & read from memory some of his poem, followed by Jordie Albiston, Kevin Brophy, Barry Dickins, Jennifer Harrison, Marietta Elliott-Kleerkoper, Ian McBryde, Patrick McCauley, Grant Caldwell & Kerry Scuffins. Raffaella Torresan's thank yous closed the formalities.]

[Extras :
*One Summer holiday, when I was about 10 years old, my father & brother Bernard & I, visited Sandown Zoo on the Isle of Wight (then part of Hampshire, in the UK). Mum must have been with the babies. Dad was a fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan stories, which enthusiasm Bernard & I inherited. I had learnt the word 'kadoga', which was how the great apes demanded surrender when they fought their enemies. As we walked around the zoo we passed a pen of llamas. I cant remember whether we were talking about Tarzan, but I looked over the fence and caught the eye of one of the llamas. "Kadoga!" I said threateningly. The response was swift & violent. The llama spat at me full in the face. My hair was matted in llama vomit! My father & brother fell about laughing. We returned to the chalet for me to wash & change my clothes! What is the moral of this story and how does it relate to the relationship of poets & animals?

*The Victorian Artists Society is situated in Albert Street not far from where the offices of the AEU (the Amalgamated Engineering Union) used to be on a terrace in Victoria Parade. I would visit the gallery in 1967 in the company of Loretta Garvey & sometimes Peg Cregan, who worked in the office at the AEU and needed such a place as the VAS to repair their spirits at lunch-time! A particular painter impressed me greatly with his water-colours --wet looking earthy landscapes. McAlpine?

* With Raff's anthology in mind I looked at the beautiful edition of Judith Wright's collection of poems, Birds, republished by the National Library of Australia, illustrated by historic paintings from their own natural history collection. Judith Wright & her lorrikeets... "On the bough of blue summer / hangs one crimson berry. / Like the blood of a lover / is the breast of a lory." Once upon a time when I was a poet, I read on a bill with Chris Wallace-Crabbe & Judith Wright at the May Daze poetry festival at the University of Melbourne, 1974. Her poetry-speaking voice that day reminded me of a crow. She wore a hearing-aid of course but I didnt immediately think of deafness, rather, my English ear registered Judith's caw-caw as essentially Australian --as (Anglo) Australian as the long, long faces of the figures in Drysdale's paintings. "But 'The heart's red is my reward,' / the old crow cries / 'I'll wear his colour on my black / the day the lory dies.'"


-Kris Hemensley,
August 7/8th, 2009-

Sunday, August 9, 2009





[Ever since Cathy mentioned Mr Patrick [Dr Patrick Gay] to me --in 2003? --I've created an image of him in my mind. Sometimes he's a French Rumpole, his equivalent of a Pommeroy's --anise?-- perpetually on the go! Or he's a Somerset Maugham or one of his characters, or even Malcolm Lowry's vice-consul from Under the Volcano --a mature-aged man who loved Laos as he'd been educated to do by French colonialism though not at all a lording-it colonial. Indeed, I imagined his Frenchness had given him the character to recognize the necessity of a local painting which could take its place in at least Asia's contemporary art, a contemporary art which was recognizably Lao though no longer traditional, all of which is probably true. I was crestfallen, however, when Catherine described him as younger & slimmer & hipper than me --no tropical white jacket & pants or cigarette in holder & et cetera! Even so, perhaps he nurtures such a character within his jeans & t-shirt facade?]


Kris Hemensley : At last I've been to Mr Patrick's Treasures of Asia Gallery [on Setthathiroth Street], except that he's not there!
Catherine O'Brien : He's in Singapore, & he does seem to go there at this time of year...
KH : Yes, but didn't you say you noticed a different director's name on his card?
COB : No, it was when I entered the gallery I felt it wasn't a gallery anymore. It was an art shop. There were Hmong textile bags readily available at the market, containing buffalo horns or maybe goat, and the girls hammering the frames on the floor seemed incongruous. Another thing : I noticed piles of Vietnamese art (water-colours, tourist paintings), not that there's anything wrong with Vietnamese paintings but a whole pile of them, also effigies you can see at the Talet Sau market... and then, most surprising of all were the dolls--
KH : The faceless dolls?
COB : No, they're not faceless... they're made by a Hmong lady at the Night Market in Luang Prabang... my friend Daniel, who's now returned to Canada, first told me about them, and then Kris Coad & I collected them...
KH : Don't I recall you describing them as magical or shamanic?
COB : They're spirit dolls, some had two heads-- They're a folk art coming from somewhere we didn't know, nothing like the stuffed animals also sold there-- These were naively made, badly stitched-- And I was surprised to see them in the gallery because obviously someone thought they were sellable in a gallery context--
KH : Do you think Mr Patrick...?
COB : I don't think so... Previously he's promoted a certain kind of Lao artist & the occasional passing Frenchmen...
KH : Do you think Patrick isn't the director anymore?
COB : Well, why is another name [Phimphone Vilaydeth] on the card? ...Patrick was the first one to tell me of a French artist, Marc Leguay, who lived in Lao & probably Thailand as well -- The Lao artists copied his style --red flowers from the flame tree, beautiful Lao women bringing offerings to the monks... It was a style from which the young artists got the idea of painting traditional subjects. But now it's what we saw there today--
KH : The Delaunay, Cubist kind of thing --which I quite liked--

COB : Patrick also showed the older painters --the academy professors --art only came from the art schools.
KH : Do you think an era has ended?
COB : I think Patrick was the first person to have the idea of bringing all the Lao artists together in a gallery. Some of these artists were hanging at the gallery today.


[The paintings to catch my eye were, firstly, Cubist style, in which the figures rise from ornate surfaces or are one element of the ornate swirl, &, secondly, the depictions of monks. I suppose the latter puts me right in the post-colonialist gunsight! The exoticised subject, integral to our orientalist repertoire, they'd jeer. Except that the monks are at the heart of these societies too. The monks chanting & eyes-closed praying --simultaneously realistic & idealized as the monks are in the everyday. Another painting, same artist, has them in rows --a phalanx of backs of heads, each figure emerging from the golden brown --the geometry, perhaps, met before their identities.
The series of monks juxtaposed with Buddhas is obviously devotional, symbolic, but given a certain sensibility or ideology not fanciful. (I remember my first time in Glastonbury, UK encountering numerous paintings & prints of Arthurian & British mythological subjects, sometimes in the recognizable Somerset or Cornwall landscape, and I would also have ignored it all as kitsch except for the emotional, aesthetic & cultural investment I'd latterly made in those subjects & landscapes!)
A third category were the flower paintings --not botanical studies, though they owned that genre's veracity, but floral tributes (as it were), something of the French Impressionists &, of course, Georgia O'Keeffe.
Thinking then, after Catherine's reminder of the existence of censorship in Laos, it's probable that such subject-matter is also opportunity for painting pure & (not so) simple. The genre's main exponent, at least in Mr Patrick's stable, is Keomany, the painter Cathy's bought, and it doesn't detract from our proposition that her current work is a series of children studies. Perhaps it's similar to Chinese folk or genre painting, although the examples I have in mind, from the 1970s, had that heroic aura in which stylization cancels personality & transparency is the stamp of official approval. And its naivety reflects the affection for the subject & precedes its expression.
Where Modernism isnt the gauge it doesnt mean there isnt a gauge. But even when there are modernist forays, genre resumes its traditional or pre-modernist importance --that is to say, painting is propelled by the subject into whatever expression & modernism isnt wholly characterised by the dominant expressionism or abstraction.]


KH : Reading La Peinture Contemporaine Lao (2007), I see that art & artists runs in families?
COB : Yes --for example, P. Noy's husband is an artist --specialises in ethnic women --Isabelle showed Noy at L'etranger in Luang Prabang... Vilay, untrained, amateur, P. Noy's brother-in-law... I met him at the Art School exhibition --I leant him a book on S.E. Asian art. He came round to get it --I was going to buy one of his paintings --one of his first... But I returned to Australia, didn't get my book back, haven't seen him around since, though his paintings are at Patrick's... Patrick used to buy most of the paintings --
KH : Is Mr Patrick's interest aesthetic? commercial? personal?
COB : He told me he did his PHD on Lao history. He helped set up an ethnic museum in Phonsilly-- I told him that's funny --every time I've been there it's shut! He bought a huge number of historical photographs of Asian people & places including many Lao subjects ["The gallery also owns the most important collections of iconographic reproductions from Asian countries dating from 1860 to 1940...", p14, La Peinture...] -- he obviously has an interest in preserving the culture-- He's more than a collector--
KH : Where was the gallery to which you took me where your Keomany painting is still waiting for you?
COB : Five Arts Gallery in central Vientiane--
KH : It was funny when the guy, one of the artists looking after the gallery that night, didn't understand that you'd already purchased her Golden Lotus! It was wrapped in newspaper, upstairs, --you showed him & apologised for not yet picking it up & he was saying that of course you could buy it if you wanted to! What attracts you to her flower paintings? (I note that, according to La Peinture..., her husband, Bounepol, a graduate from the same Faculty of Fine arts in Vientiane, similarly paints in the 'hyperreal' manner --the monograph describes them as forming 'a couple in the same artistic domain' & Keomany's style as 'vegetal hyperrealism'...
COB : I first saw them at the International Women's Day Exhibition in Vientiane, in 2006 --a big show of women artists... Looking at such an exhibition you have to set aside all your modern art preconceptions but you're hoping to find something really fine --It's an old building, unfortunately it's going to be turfed --It's a building with a history --Behind a curtain there's a painting by Leguay, I think --At the counter, a group of women, smiling, happy for anyone to come --None of the shows I've attended there get much attention --You know these women are the artists --Looking around I saw very large canvases of flowers --the dok chompa (frangipani), the national flower --huge close-ups, glistening with dew --sensual -- They reminded me of Georgia O'Keeffe but I doubt these artists have encountered Georgia O'Keeffe --I'm not a lover of flower paintings per se --It's the form, the colour I like --The painting I've bought is quite different to the others --the Golden Lotus --Because it's set on a black background it has an abstract quality --At Five Arts, next to her new children studies, were one or two brown flowers studies --like seaweed --which are even less naturalistic...
A lot of the pictures in La Peinture Contemporaine Lao belong to Patrick. They form the basis of the collection represented there. Perhaps because they were reflecting what I'd been seeing in Laos, I responded to pictures of women going to the temple --for example, by Anoulom, one in particular, Women Going to the Temple in Phon Si (which means 'colour mountain') --and one by Chandavong, Procession in Luang Prabang. Anoulom's painting has the Marc Leguay red flower motif in the corner; you can see the influence through Leguay of Gauguin --the romantic figures of women, bathed in soft light...
I like Monkan... I talked to him one day... the thickness of the paint, the colours...
KH : Yes, they're both stylized & fluid, energetic --
COB : Mick Saylom perhaps hasn't found his style yet --a young painter --I'm not into his string paintings --he traces the figures with string, perhaps jute, builds the painting around the outlines --The catalogue calls it 'vegetal string'...
KH : They're keen on the 'vegetal' aren't they?!
COB : I liked Chandavong's blue hues --in particular one portrait, a face, at Patrick's gallery for ages but surprisingly not in the book --I feel very affectionate to the group of paintings & painters I saw at Patrick's gallery which coincided with my first years in Vientiane --I'd also seen them at the National Faculty of Fine Arts collection --I got to meet some of the painters & to match the paintings with the painters-- I could then identify them in cafes or hotel foyers, knew who they were by, where they came from --For example, once at the Spirit House, the hotel restaurant on the road by the Mekong, as I was walking home by the river, I saw an exhibition of paintings by Monkham --So I recognized that period --There's a particular Lao cafe which had somehow collected paintings --At the Lan Xane Hotel there is a collection of an earlier period of paintings --Those two places have very interesting collections --Now, when you see the Five Arts paintings at the "M" Gallery, and the perhaps changed scene at Patrick's gallery, there's a sense of new artists, different styles --There seems to be an increasing romanticism --temples, Buddhas, gods, stars!
KH : Are they creating a mythology?
COB : I don't know --maybe --and maybe they know those subjects will sell!
KH : So the door is well & truly opening but onto what one's not really sure...?
COB : Yes!
One painter, Mr Vithaya came round to see me --His brother is Anousa & his sister-in-law is P. Noy --He's self-taught --I saw these wonderful paintings of monks carrying umbrellas shaped like discs --You could say comics style painting --very unusual perspectives--
KH : Like a camera, filmic?
COB : Yes --and he makes the characters from geometrical shapes --for example, seven monks, a parabola --I almost bought it --lost his phone number. As a naive painter with an unusual perspective on traditional subjects, pethaps he's one of the new wave...
The Maison de la Culture exhibition was a big one --I saw the group of painters I'd discovered at Mr Patrick's in a larger context of contemporary Lao art --Their themes were similar but they had their own styles --as if they were a development from the larger, traditional painting...
Mr Vithaya also made the Dreaming About a Departure ('07) --
KH : That painting struck me looking at the book --It had that Casper David Friedrich feel of the individual facing the Absolute --
COB : I was surprised, but then not because he's such a thoughtful person --I had an interesting conversation with him about Lao cosmology, so why should I be surprised by this strongly symbolist picture? The figure has left his thongs under an umbrella, so I imagine he is still beneath the umbrella while his dreaming self walks into the clouds carrying his tong pai (his travelling bag)...


[The traveller's experience of censorship is muted by the general absence of signs of authority. One's ready to observe the local requirement for modesty in dress & the sanction upon affectionate or sexual expression, not because of statute but in accordance with the gentle nature & rhythm of that society. Although the term 'open door' doesn't appear in the pages of the widely distributed La Peinture Contemporaine Lao, it occurs to me that the art represented there is its official confirmation. Thus the importance of Mr Patrick's gallery & vision.
Coincident with or perhaps part & parcel of the phenomenon is the cultural activity of the foreigners in Laos. I'm intrigued by the potential for interaction, on the level of both non-Lao representation of indigenous subjects and of the continuation in Laos of the work of foreign artists. Parallel reality, world within world, collaboration. The foreign art isn't only European (French of course, German, British etc.) or North American but also Asian (Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese etc.) &, dare one say, Australian.]


COB : There's a Lao artist who has his own 'shop', full of paintings & drawings --he told me he'd trained in China. What I liked were large charcoal drawings of figures influenced, I think, by Chinese calligraphy. His other work was of Lao subjects.
KH : Once again this reminds us that influence isn't always the big, bad West. For Laos there's also the not insignificant links with the old Communist states of Europe & current Communist regimes in Asia.
COB : Yes... earlier on there was the influence of Vietnam --Lao artists studying there --but not so much now, although there is still official cultural exchange between Laos & Vietnam. In Luang Prabang there's probably more inter-relationship & exposure than in Vientiane...
The Quiet of the Land exhibition, curated by France Moran --which included film by British-Lao installation artist, textiles by French-Lao & European anthropologist, painting, photography, very significant installation work (e.g., Anne Hamilton) --has to have been tremendously significant...


COB : I have to say I'm not involved in the wider circle of Lao art & artists... What I'm interested in is the Vientiane art as I came across it in town --in galleries but also in shops & cafes (cafes which show certain periods of painting)... There is a gallery, relatively recently opened, Maison de la Culture de Ban Naxai, like an 'approved' gallery, whose opening I attended, which shows the work of many of the artists I've seen at Mr Patrick's gallery. He actually gave me the invitation! I didn't see him there... I looked at all the work & saw the artists sitting together at a table, but I didn't stay...

[June/July/August, 2009


Thursday, August 6, 2009



Two Pieces, 2008


……."at the gates of a labyrinth, ready to lose myself in the city and this story."
Sophie Calle.

Back in VienChan red leaves falling, falling through the shadow’s night… into the everlasting season… riding my bicycle along the dusty streets; the poetry book in my basket is a tenuous thread which connects me to that other city, another home: Melbourne… MAKING LISTS FOR FRANCES HODGKINS (Aukland University Press, 2007) by Paula Green; placed in my hand when I leave Collected Works Bookshop. I am inspired by this New Zealand poet who names artists I have been reading about (and sometimes viewing their work) while I have been in Victoria….. Frances Hodgkins, painter ( at Modern Britain, NGV) Sophie Calle, performance photographer, Anne Hamilton, installation artist. Reading REPOSITIONINGS by Frederick Garber, the essay on Sophie Calle. The title of her photographic, performance piece, Suite Vienna, I read as Suite Vientienne… Who is following who? ...I imagine Sophie Calle following me about the quiet, and at night the very quiet, streets of Vientienne…..clicking her camera……
I ride down and around a lane to locate an art gallery after I see a new sign. Houses enclose the narrow dirt path. Children play. People watch me from their doorways. Saturday afternoon clear sky blue quiet. Khamsouk Gallery 1; the work of one “Senior Artist”, Khamsouk Keomingmuang. The subject, Lao people, Lao culture, in a style best described as impressionist, a popular form here. A gallery for one artist; a life time of paintings, sketches, hand held images on mulberry paper. I am the only visitor. Lone Gallery hideaway …riding away, retracing my path I meet another cyclist where the lane turns….I wonder if he is the senior artist! Late afternoon dreamy light reflects back the rust red colours of the laneway houses……the cyclist turns his head to watch me disappear as I ride out of the lane.
Early morning light I notice a wall graffiti, the first I have ever seen other cities called Graffiti Art! I stop and try to read the muted text of green and yellow embellishments on peeling plaster over brick. The artists sign off in a blue cloud….floating away… Mack, Rip, Abfa, Awnsk…is crew; Toronto , Canada..from the rose, red, white, blue I can only decipher ASK THE QUESTION. So silent in this morning air, clear white, writing in my notebook, I am aware someone is standing by Ong Teu Temple wall, watching.
The thread unwinding all the way from Melbourne to riding around wondering about the interconnectedness of cultures...looking for connections… Paula Green writes for Anne Hamilton, "the words that wound off as a continuous line to be rewound"….. the more I unwind………another new sign : prefaced with the phrase, oriental bookshop…a Lao bookshop appropriating the language of the colonialists.
The old police station I liked as it always was from when I first arrived in this city; a shutter- windowed, faded curtained, faded charm has succumbed to the Vientienne building construction site mania... now reduced to a rubble of concrete blocks…sculptural blocks... a Rachel Whitehead building imprint….
At the Monument Bookshop yet another photographer portraying another version of “ethnic" adhering to the exotic…. I have tried to take in all these exhibitions...recording the photographers' names in my note book...but this day when I see yet again the nameless portraits of faces staring out...I decide to not even register the photographer’s name…..(in taking time to photograph these portraits why do they not ask for the subject's name?)... the photographers mesh into one...the faces into one.... Walking away...behind me the camera clicks....
Riding on into the sunlit colours of the dust, walls….absorbing the sun…age old sun on age old doors, windows, bricks and palm trees near the temple….. My head in Victoria, Melbourne…I make the threads as I wind back into this place.....….


The art of luminous night fire flying fairy lights along the Mekong….
I live on the last stretch of bumpy, pot-holed, muddy, dirt, dark at night road along the Mekong River, which is only a fast twelve minute walk from the ‘city centre’ of Vientienne. A rare patch of riverside vegetation it is also one of the remaining habitats (endangered) for fireflies. When I step out of my gate in the evening, the nearby Mongol Riverside Hotel and restaurant, beyond my patch of dark, seems to be even more festooned with tiny fairy lights, and the acoustic singing, coming from the restaurant balancing over the river, seems even more romantic …being some type of off shoot of the local Issan/Mor lan music which can be narrative, fast, at times almost hysterical but more than often a romantic, lilting, longing song from far away in time as voices across water…. Before I reach the corner where the Mongol is and all the fairy lights, I pass through the darkness by the vegetation on one side which skirts the river's edge and the other side a silent, empty house with a scrambled abandoned garden and an even more abandoned spirit house. It is while walking through this dark patch, dodging pot holes and bumps, and sometimes stepping into a muddy puddle, in the midst of this darkness, I see the first firefly...then another...and and out of the abandoned garden, along the river's edge… The fairy lights form a beacon towards which I walk... One night, walking along this stretch, I heard a most exquisite voice coming from the blackness of that garden. A voice that seemed to have fallen out of a Mor lan music song, a lost voice…but in that moment an ancient song from across the water. Once I heard a recording of Lao voices, songs which had been collected in the 60’s by David Fanshawe; he had heard these voices singing one night down by the river… It was a faraway sound…and here was this one opera voice, Mor lan style…with the fireflies… When I later described the voice to my Lao neighbours they said they were feeling shivers down their spine and assured me that it could only be a ghost.....

"Mor lan music is essentially flexible melodies tailored to the tones of words. Traditionally the tone was developed by the performer as an interpretation of poems and accompanied by Khaen instruments (bamboo pipes)." from article in The Vientiane Times, August, 2009.]