Sunday, September 27, 2009

THE MERRI CREEK : POEMS & PIECES, # 13, September, 2009




He makes no man his enemy.
he is not many men.
he is himself.
he helps himself.
his enemy is not many men.
he stands amongst many men.
he is himself amongst many men.


He comes from nowhere & says something.
he goes somewhere with nothing.
he says somewhere is nowhere & nothing is something.
he comes & goes.
he says he is somewhere you havent been.
he says you are somewhere else.
he is something for nothing.


He is never seen.
he is still away.
he is sometimes very still.
he arrived unannounced.
he is still unannounced.
he is never far away from stillness.
he sees the announcer.


He is the man who knows who sd it.
he is the man who says he knows.
he is the man who stays awake.
he knows the man.
he says the man doesnt know.
he is the man who does.
he is the man who doesnt.


He is the stranger who smiles.
he smiles at strangers.
he is strangely strong.
he has the strangest of smiles.
he has found a string.
he smells a rat.
he strings along.

[Southampton/UK, 1971;
first published in Mal Morgan's Parachute Poems, Melbourne, 1972]

The portraits are of Michael Dugan, Geoffrey Eggleston, Terry Gillmore, Nigel Roberts & Bill Beard.




Dear Kris

I guess this is the ‘unutterable news that comes out of silence’ – the dead and the dying – Geoffrey is dead/Alison is dead; there is a meaningless private synchronicity in this coupling, for me.

Yesterday, I spent my lunchtime in a bookshop and sped-read Shelton’s biography, and afterwards searched his name in Google, and found your archive; I can’t bring myself to use the ‘b’ word. I am out-of-date since poetry in my poor fella country turned into a farce, or just seemed that way to me.

I thought I should write to you because I have always been ‘soft’ for you, and I think you are, and have always appeared to be, so non-judgemental, so inclusive.

Beyond that, you are spot-on about ‘The Crimson Jargon’. It was such a labour of love for Alison and even though I don’t have a copy, her images and Baldessin’s are inscribed in my neurons – nearly 40 years later. Also inscribed is the confrontation with the executive of RMIT that were trying to censor the publication. The only good thing about that is George Orwell’s (I am reading the thousand pages of his Essays etc in the ‘Everyman’ edition) central thesis that the only thing that separates the capitalist democracies from the totalitarian states is the principle, and passage, of free speech. The word, the word…

I still write poetry, and write (supposedly) for a living; although it’s time I was on the road again.

Anyway as Alison was dying I was writing this – I sent it to our son, that night. So for the record this is what was happening with me.

"Dearest Jerome

After four stubbies of Cooper's Pale Ale, I'm moved to send you what I wrote around 10am this morning. I know that it is not, expressly, particular to your mother but I was writing it at the time of her passing.

It is relevant because of her quality of soul. She perceived so much, as you know, through this opening. I should hope that we could speak more about this when we next meet.

Forgive the tone of what follows but I was writing it for common debate in a 'style' that I hoped could be in the public domain.

My son I cannot touch your grief or that of Ian and his sisters. However, I sincerely believe, that the sentiments expressed are something that she would have had 'some' sympathy for.

Your father


Whatever happened to the Holy Ghost?
In my lifetime, which takes in more than half of last century, Jesus Christ and, to a lesser extent, God have had their names in 12pt. While the 'Ghost' seems to have been lurking, slinking in the footnotes, at best masquerading as the glue that holds that Trinity together. Why this pecking order when the Trinity is paradoxically and theologically inseparably separable? Is it because that now ‘science’ and ‘philosophy’ and the sneerers etc have decided for eternity that the soul does not exist, that God is dead even though the sun shines most days in this drought riven land. It appears that Jesus Christ is certainly dead despite resurrection rumours that he is cohabiting with Osiris in another universe. But is he really dead – I cannot resile from the reality that in the beginning there was the ‘word’, and in the end there will be the death of the ‘word’, and we’re not there, yet, even though we’re moving toward it with unseemly haste. I remember that my paternal grandmother had an embroidered plaque on her lounge room wall that said ‘God is Love’. At four, just able to read, it seemed so simple that I dared not ask what it meant and because, as I know now, it was of that class of knowledge that once known, seems to have been always known. I knew what it meant but cannot, even now, begin to articulate the full meaning of this artless, Blake-like profundity. It was as if its meaning was inscribed in its simplicity. What is this Ghost? On my reckoning it is love, is compassion, is the 2nd commandment which more than complements the 1st. It is what speaks to our poor lonely souls which do exist – it is a question of thirst, of listening, of being able to hear and feel, and be overcome and comforted.


And Jerome here is a little poem I wrote two days ago:

‘the Holy Ghost draweth with His love’[1]

I faced the full moon rising in the east
And the Ghost was in me.

I know that this was the ‘love’
I sought in the wasted years.

[1] Meister Eckhart's Sermons / translated into English by Claud Field


Anyway dear Kris, I will send this in all its callow crassness, already regretting it. We rarely speak as we would like, and mostly hold our silence with the dead. The above stems from being swept away recently by Marilynne Robinson’s ‘Home’ and ‘Gilead’. She is a ‘great’ writer, if there is such a beast.




Dear Terry, heart felt condolences regarding Alison... A shock and continuing sadness... Ironic for me that I was reading all around her as I wrote that piece (The Divine Issue followed up with the Addendum, wch you saw)... And we spoke after I'd published the first piece. She said she too had been thinking of those times & people and wd look the piece up & read it & get back to me... Life so relentlessly busy that tho I knew she hadnt been back in a while it was as it always was... often months if not a year will go by between her visits to the bookshop... Ah well... As you say, Geoffrey, Alison, too many... Shelton, Michael Dugan... THANK YOU though for sending me your message to Jerome and the poem... It wd be good to catch up, as of course youve begun here... Re- my "b." --it's an archive/running commentary/magazine, obviously not the 'hi ya' kind of caper... Here in the old Melbourne I run the Bookshop with Retta's help... she's receiving radiation treatment at moment for breast cancer... After our son's death Retta's attitude and mine has been that the worst that cd happen HAS we get on with it, and happily...All very best to you, with good thoughts for the old days and now, and blessings for Alison,
As ever, Kris


Dear Kris

Thanks for your reply and your thoughts. It seems of late that I am surrounded by death - well, I am 65. I didn't know about your son's death or Michael's. As you probably know, I know about children dying before their time, and your's and Retta's response that the worst that could happen - has happened, however after thirty years, new but unwanted things subsume the grief, and the butter falling out of the fridge does drive you crazy. Give Retta my regards and my deep wish for her recovery. I am so sorry about your son, don't let me pick at the wound. You're right as Dylan said 'keep on keeping on / like a bird that flew / tangled up in blue (blew). It is a miracle, the whole shebang...I am frequently reminded of Afterman's poem - I think it was called Pieta - the essence that I took from it was that it is a wonder that we are not daily on our knees praying at the pity, the sadness of it all. On the other hand why are we not dancing daily at the miracle, the wonder and beauty of it all on this remote outpost/backwater of the multiverses?

with affection



Going inside

What is inside

Is not as temporary

As what is outside.

My being’s soul

Is that of my child


Essentially, eternally

I am you, am him.

Your birth my birth

Everything is born.





Dave Ellison et al; are without any pretension beat, among other things,

and in an un self-conscious way as writers, not in a negative way,

but simply being oneself in a creative way naturally; culturally influenced by diverse

streams of humanity and themselves as historical players, with identity;

that I am somehow or other out of touch with modern times and the younger generation is probably due to age difference and experience and memories of times gone by

and as an old man remembering those who are gone

now I am looking at modern times through bifocals, deaf in right ear, hearing aid in the left, chronic back and neck pain et al, looking at seventy I’m 66, part time socially active, still smoke .

I always find that a book of poems will never let me down no matter what -- poetry a spiritual world that anyone can enter and that I enter – the beauty of modern times -- I can get that way. The knowing that it can happen, is that memory, of an identity from an old dream? of ghosts Neal and Jack and the women that they, and that we all knew, in many ways a more innocent time amidst post war changes.

I don’t recall Kerouac ever express anything political, I mean, he said almost nothing of world war two yet he was a merchant seaman – when much later, as an alcoholic he appeared on a now infamous televised debate with a student activist –

he was focussed only on the cultural and liberating, I mean how clean is politics – no dharma there.

He said he was a ’yes’ man, being for and not a ‘no’ man and being against, anyway he had said the same thing years before in ‘On the Road

it was what attracted him to Neal and vice versa, they were young and crazy to burn to talk to talk, to go somewhere to Harlem or Birdland to hear Miles or someone else on Bleaker St or the Cedar Bar where Pollock and others be there, and those musicians all knew him and liked and respected him and had a drink or chat with him, they dug him, they knew that he dug and knew their art, like Neal he understood and loved the music, Kerouac personally knew a lot of jazz/ bop players.

Dave Ellison and the others are prime examples of the living spirit of the hip dharma bums of modern times, in any location in the world – the planetary village’s writers and the normalising globalising of beat - and other influences, past present cultural and spiritual influences, that are always part of who we are, how ever we are,

as writers and of course as human individuals with a personal social life. To write is to dream.




did you ever come across a book called ‘The Holy Barbarians’ Published 1959? I was given a throw away copy in early 1965 and it put me ‘on to’ all that followed regarding the beats, voluntary poverty, Buddhism, etc. it made a major impact on me and what happened thereafter. At the time I was an art student, nights, at RMIT and just meeting some of the local beat types, i.e. Alison Hill, and Nigel Roberts among others on a visit from Syd at Maisy’s hotel in South Yarra, one of the hangouts, a 100metres from ‘The Fat Black Pussycat’. It’s been out of print for years. It was one of the first books that I asked Geoff Eggleston ‘have you read this book?’ the Holy Barbarians was my measure, if you had read that one, then ok lets talk. And of course the title is very suggestive. Lipton spelled it out clearly, that is was a spiritual awakening - (just preceding the explosion of the counter culture). That was just what I was looking for – a major change of attitude and lifestyle, spiritual in character – as a way out of gang culture.

From that book, I bought The Way of Zen, On the Road, Howl, Henry Miller, et al. And I picked up in a second-hand bookstore in Russell St two LPs one Kerouac reading with sax backing, and Dylan Thomas recorded in NY (on his 33rd or 34th birthday) he was dead a month later. Both LPs went missing early. I had new friends. Some who didn’t have the same standards regarding stealing from friends as my previous network - the Melbourne docks and underworld.

If you don’t know the book, or haven’t had a copy in years then:

The full text is available here:

or here too:




[local pieces part history and part gratitude]


she was from bingham canyon and salt lake city in utah & she loved the name (of a younger cousin) jersey justine, justine being the name given to girls all down the generations. her

mom's & dad's folks were breakaway mormans. a justine said to be the youngest of joseph smith's “six” wives taken in by brigham young to the Promised Land of utah when smith was

murdered in illinois . justine came to san francisco at 21 with a b.a. from the catholic women's college in salt lake city .. her dad had a bar in bingham canyon (that city no longer exists because of the copper mines tunnelled underneath) & later in salt lake city and there would be poker games in their salt lake city house late into the night. her brother kendell jones ten years older had come earlier to the university in berkeley . justine went into social work, but i don't recall it

that was her first job. when the war began she became a WAVE and lived with 3 others—jean broadbent, winifred lair, cecelia hurwich (“92 stairs”, says cecel, to get to their apt penthouse at 1230B washington st bet. jones & taylor in ‘the casbah” on telegraph hill). farwell taylor (for

whom mingus wrote “farewell, farewell”) also lived in the casbah and did that painting of justine & cecel the lifetime best pals. her palship w/ bari rolfe, mime and mime teacher, goes back to bari’s & marcel marceau years together (in the 50’s or 60’s). & warren anderson who played a beautiful piano and became kendell’s lifelong partner. after the war following an interval of modeling & partying & before getting her masters from the social welfare school, uc-berkeley,

justine was a social worker, & around that time worked for Canon Kip program, still going, of the Episcopal church (canon kip was a san francisco hero of 1906 earthquake days). i recall her stories of spending nights with kids rescued, & before they were able to be placed, in the loft of the old bldg on l9th avenue and ortega that later became for decades the san francisco music conservatory (before its recent move to oak/van ness/market). therapist wings. academic articles.

met larry by or in 1950's. they'd been married before (she to keith). (larry a daughter kate frankel in los angeles--granddaughter adrian & grandson joshua.). stayed married. larry died in 2003.

justine got a fulbright to italy to consult on changing their social work system at univ level etc, had extensions twice—rare, 3 years in rome 1960-63. while larry wrote. came back a year &

headed for mexico for another year (looking for george price larry's best bud, & to see if they could find a way to support/live there. later learned they'd crossed w/george returning to sf where

george a writing professor at sf state had returned via los angeles where he met zdena berger (price). zdena wrote TELL ME ANOTHER MORNING publ 1961 recently 2007 republd by

paris press as a refound woman hero writer--abt surviving camps --she was from prague &

of her wide family she, an aunt, a cousin survived world war 2.). justine when i first knew her in

1970 was teaching at uc-berkeley in the school of social work and practicing as a founding member of the family therapy center in sf (then a pioneering approach). she had a long productive life. larry used to complain that justine was a great source of misinformation, which

mostly amused her because maybe only larry could be teased that way and i heard it as

"mixedinformation". in her practice, justine’s “sand tray” therapy, its development and her

teaching its use lead back to her work as a painter of oil on canvas to her incorporations, assemblings, environments with miniature figures, furniture, the natural world & symbols

including her last great achievement “the white house”, her Venetian paintings, a series of frieze-like sculptures suffused with Jungian themes, & household objects combined into a mixed conglomeration arranged into painted autobiography and family history (much of this documented on film by al leveton). memories of justine, of larry, names that drift up, constellate

& swim, a history, pantheon, honorable people. I thought of ruth witt-diamant again last night (justine & larry’s neighbor and friend who began the poetry center as san francisco state) & thanked her for all her kindnesses; oldest friend george & mary oppen through whom I met lawrence & justine fixel in 1970; of florence hegi, oldest of the family therapy group of friends

& colleagues (al, eva, bob hovering over her to the very end) that justine belonged to: eva & al leveton w/ ben handleman the prime founders,& virginia belfort, sue eldredge; roz parenti, bob

cantor, michael geis. neighbors too in those early days: lois and roy steinberg & julian, then 5, now a photographer; mark citret (ansel adams’ last student, then 22-- eminent now); of al and minnie (a founding member of the california communist party, related to my sister jane by marriage) and daughter laura bock down high willard street; judy pollatsek and her kids josh & jessica; the wolfe’s on farnsworth steps; al palavin; the jaeks, a nice couple w/ kids goldsworths

(he at uc-sf & judy) next to ruth witt’s; & memories of anais nin when she was lodged uphill in a cottage ruth found for her; the then taos-bound dorothy kethler; & in taos, bob eliot, who built

said justine the ideal house; jo lander; florida & angela who worked for the un’s fao in rome; bill

minshew first met in rome; george hitchcock; cass humble; edouard roditi who often returned from france--an old schoolmate of ruth’s at uc berkeley in the 30’s; james broughton; justine van gundy who taught at sf state; her san diego cousin dianne cawood, soprano; diane scott her therapist; tom, stephanie, dante sanchez; always cecelia (“cecel”, “cese”) & b.j., lynn, rudy

hurwich; larry’s nephew robbie berkelman; & “old jack” (w.w.. lyman, jr.) of bayles mill—born there in napa valley 1885--ruth brought me over to meet (‘the oldest living poet’ she’d drive up to bring down to san francisco . i was her gardener & the then young poet, 35, she wanted him to connect with, his wife helen hoyt an esteemed poet who’d been asst editor to harriet monroe at poetry magazine in chicago dead a decade or more by then)(his three volumes of typed memoirs--he lived to1983 leaving a son amos hoyt at bayles mill--are in st. helena, ca public library’s

locked room); & others who make their entries but who’s names now escape me but will possibly come tomorrow; folks we met, knew together--panjandrum press & poetry flash crowds & dennis

koran; richard steger; lennart & sonia bruce; exemplary pals william dickey & adrianne marcus ;shirley kaufman & jack gilbert; laura ulewicz; anthony rudolf; jo-anne rosen; laura beausoleil; david & judy gascoyne ; sybil wood/cooper; sharon coleman; gerald fleming; carl rakosi & marilyn kane. many gone before justine & so many more left because this was a woman

who knew people & was interested in them: remembering her is to consider friends you make in life, who contributed to who you became, you’ve helped, who’ve helped you. final days,weeks, months, years, close were naomi schwartz , josephine moore, gail lubin, christina fisher, toby damon, andrea rubin, marsha trainer, al & eva leveton, ken meacham & pearl, wendy rosado-

berkelman (larry’s sister pearl fixel berkelman’s daughter), her daughter sunya; tom sanchez; cecilia london (justine’s student at uc-berkeley who who returned to justine in those four years after larry’s death as justine’s guide/ social worker), & always stephanie sanchez, bob cantor, naomi, al & eva, george & zdena, cecel & don (ross)—friends, colleagues, confidantes.

accretion. attrition. vale.

[11 OCTOBER 2007]


[for Justine Jones Fixel (Sept. 5, 1920-Aug. 5, 2007)


Fish in a net, old salts,

as the wheels keep turning,

a spinning plate half-dipping

into the Pacific Ocean here

you and I are at Land’s End

on this tilting/raked stage

where great ships foundered.

Their sentences of life, death

are unfinished symphonies;

a future out there our audience

who’ve sailed-in to watch

a sea change, diminishing star

dust a gusher pinkening milky

sunrise, sunset in the gloaming

thickening light a sea scar as

roses silt down the sea to sleep.

The wheel is round; life pushes;

photography winds over time,

westering, voicing the mind’s

brown shale for it will take, it

took a lifetime to flower, to fly,

to sail this sea this widening

light where I hear voices under

the surface of consciousness:

harmony’s memory rising up.



when justine jones fixel died aug 5, 2007 just one month short of her 87th birthday. i was brokenhearted. her husband lawrence fixel had been my best friend from the time i came back to san francisco to live. george oppen had introduced us. he was sure we would be great for each other. and justine also became a great friend, and mentor. larry died 4 years ago. she had been very ill, but i just didn't want to have her forgotten. she was at the center of the cultural/literary life of this san francisco area. and she was a great and professional jungian therapist & teacher who also was a painter and artist of assembleges. after she died, i wrote and expanded and corrected the piece on her, the one you have being the one beginning the growing versions that ended with the nov.5 piece of now 4 pages titled GROUP PORTRAIT WITH LADY: JUSTINE JONES FIXEL AND HER KIND SAN FRANCISCO.

I sent many copies of each developing version w/some as submissions and some probably just information copies to spread the work about the end of a time when justine and larry and their friends george oppen, rosalie moore, carl rakosi, josephine miles, and a zillion others lent their intellects and sound moral floor to so many of us then and now so many less alive now. the coda poem "fish in a net" that ended the first group. with george price's help (larry's oldest friend--he was writing professor at sf state) i cut the poem by a third and retitled it "a sea change" from the shakespeare line already in the first poem. in the beginning the piece was more memoir/biography. then i began to see it at cultural history and thus appropriated heinrich boll's GROUP PORTRAIT WITH LADY a novel of 40 years ago and that for me referenced his THE CLOWN as well (portrait of the artist) and also reference to christopher isherwood's CHRISTOPHER AND HIS KIND.

i worked on it 4 months never needing to thinking of publication because i continually corrected it and altered it. no doubt some of this might come under a rubric of "grieving".

at 70 i have lost many kin and many more kith, especially during the aids crisis in the 1980's up through the 1990's primarily. now they are almost all gone.

i just call it cultural history. i am no sociologist, no intellectual, no historian. it hasn't pleased me as writing but it has given me relief to write it--to write it and honor my friends seeing them in such a rosy glow again as if from the beginning.


TERRY GILLMORE, part of the Free Poetry (Sydney) crew of the late '60s (with Nigel Roberts, Johnny Goodall & co). Two published collections, Further, Poems 1966-76 (New Poetry, Sydney, 1977), Surviving the Shadow (Paper Bark Press, Sydney, 1990). Robert Harris wrote of the latter poems, "Love, friendship and poetry have each become more, rather than less, substantial to Terry Gillmore, but differently contoured and wracked on human realities...[he] is, in our time, an Australian Orpheus, and like Orpheus, he is the singer of urgent and neglected knowledge."
KARL GALLAGHER see previous numbers of Poems & Pieces for bio; most recently is represented on the new Meher Baba poets & artists website,
EDWARD MYCUE, San Francisco poet, goes back a long time and with the Australian & English connection (which includes The Merri Creek Or Nero & H/EAR magazines). Has published around 17 books & chapbooks, most recently his selected poems, Mindwalking, 1937-2007 (Philos Press, '08). Other books include Damage Within the Community (Panjandrum, '73), Route, Route & Range : The Song Returns (published by Walter Billeter's Paper Castle, Melbourne, '79), The Singing Man My Father Gave Me (Menard Press,UK, '80), Pink Gardens/Brown Trees (Bernard Hemensley's Stingy Artist/Last Straw Press, UK, '90). Forthcoming is The San Francisco Poems, from Paul Green's Spectacular Diseases Press,UK.


-That's all folks! -done on a wet & blustery Melbourne Sunday afternoon, 27th September, 2009-
Kris Hemensley

Sunday, September 20, 2009


Should you come up to the Shop today you'll be in for a big surprise... and for certain because : charcoals by Raffaella Torresan on the high windows at the far end of the room, portraits of seven Melbourne worthies, drawn at different times in the Nineties, four of whom, sad to say, have died. The upper 4 & lower 3 sequence I've arranged in the window frames features Adrian Rawlins, Shelton Lea, Geoffrey Eggleston & Myron Lysenko, followed by Ted Lord, Colin Talbot & Patrick McCauley. Legends is a better description. Incidentally, I wonder who has drawn the women poets over the years --which isnt to join the "it's all blokes" chorus, since one's a poet ahead or despite of gender (& 'because of' would surely now apply equally)... And, another thought, is it usually women making portraits of men?

The first portrait we acquired was Nancy Buller's water-colour of Peter Bakowksi, mid-'90s. He'd sat for a St Kilda elderly women's art group I seem to recall. A chance purchase --there it was one Sunday, in a church hall or a temporary gallery at the Bowling Club --perhaps it was a St Kilda arts festival. Retta thinks she, Catherine & myself all saw it together. I bought it & someone from their group delivered it to the Shop... Next in the collection was Ashley Higgs' silk-screen of Pi O, which I saw at a Council of Adult Education exhibition in Flinders Street --more a glimpse than a study but the profile's unmistakable in its white on yellow cartoon. Its success depends upon the speed of one's look! Then, Javant Biarujia's hand-coloured photo-montage, Frank Hardy (Brushing Up On A Fallen Hero In An Era of Abstraction And Angst), featuring the laureate of Carringbush & his glowering dog in gentling yellow & sepia. It might be a surprise to many that once upon a time --this work is from 1982, acquired a couple of years ago --Javant was as serious about art-photography as writing. About the same time I bought Grant MacCracken's fiercely funny oil of the busking poet (himself as Sham Cabaret, all black shades & leathers) outside of Paul Elliott's Polyester Books & Music in Brunswick Street, Fitzroy. It was in the window of the Smith Street, Collingwood picture-framers during an exhibition of his signature moonlit grey & white narratives a few years ago. Next, two pen & inks, drawn from photographs I believe, Judy Johnson by Erin Hunting, & John Tranter by Tim Bruce, both from a 2007 Victorian Writers' Centre exhibition of prize-winning authors, curated by Pam Davison. I'm constantly amused when people mistake the Tranter portrait for me! Of course it's not me, I exclaim --it's obviously Tranter! But I do confess the jolly, full cheeks' expression, could be me in a certain frame of mind (probably full of wine)!

There's a suggestion of the curled lip & raised eyebrow in Raffaella's Adrian Rawlins (1990), a touch of Frank Thring or as David Pepperell called him, Dr Nosh --perhaps thinking of the cheese-platter reward after the artist has finished! Shelton Lea (1998) combines street-wise & imperious but vulnerable too. A difficult face to capture because so well known. Geoffrey Eggleston (1994) she entitles 'Geo Egg' ("Come on the Egg!" one of his old mates yelled across the slope at Montsalvat as son, Nathaniel, buried the casket of ashes, reminding me that was the nickname we'd learned from Mike Dugan in the '60s). Flamboyant in cravat, he also wears that wonderfully stoned expression one recalls over the decades, beady-eyed, mirthful yet serene. Myron Lysenko (1995) is boyish, & there's a kind of blur as though the spectacles are necessary to clarify things. Ted Lord (1998), 'Teddy', seems to float out of a long history; he swims in mortal tenderness. Colin Talbot (1995) has a youthful, handsome athlete's face with a hint of smile he's stringing out like a kite. Patrick McCauley (1998), rugged, windblown, the patina left by a harder life, shared in the visages of Shelton & Ted.

Raffaella Torresan literally sees the best in her sitters, the best & not the beast. Her charcoal portraits are affectionate. The affection attracts & communicates life as well as likeness. It's a truism that drawings are more like living things than any photograph can be, and I swear another species of life is enacted here.

--Kris Hemensley
fin, 20th September,'09--

Thursday, September 17, 2009

DAVID BROMIGE, 1933-2009; R.I.P.

Shocked & saddened since scrolling the Poetry Flash (San Francisco) site a few days ago, to find the announcement of David Bromige's death back in June. I was unsuspectingly responding to the suggestion that I become a Face Book Friend of Poetry Flash, with which I'd corresponded in the late '70s, when Steve Abbott was its editor & I was publishing my mag-in-an-envelope, The Merri Creek or Nero. I wonder now how I've missed this bad news --perhaps I had come across it at the time & promptly forgot? Which would be sad in itself, --a comment on the level of distraction which is the contemporary world and one's own complicity or failing within it. (Face Book? Ah, but that's another interesting story.) And then, looking for Steve Abbott's present whereabouts, I find he died in the early '90s. Same wondering --had I known? have I forgotten? Oh dear.
I realize years have passed since David & I last exchanged letters or publications, and I dont remember ever emailing, but he was one of the writers with whom I assumed the kind of relationship which might be resumed at any time. I'm also astonished that David was 76 --of course I'd read his dates, but for some reason I had him younger : older than me but not by thirteen years... And yet, what's thirteen years in a lifetime or, as one gets to think, in eternity?
What a curious thing it all is --how one perceives age, especially one's own in relation to others. If David Bromige was 76 then I'm no Spring chicken myself --and yet, within the Shangri-la of the poetry scene, one enjoys a kind of agelessness, a time out of time in which even the ancients seem like contemporaries (--the figure of Keats in my mind now because of the pulse it is within David's own recapitulation of the history his own life as poet galvanized), and the passing years of our time on earth like a continuous present. What's past, & who have passed, held in the mind as though just yesterday, just yesterday, just yesterday...

We got in touch with one another after Eric Mottram published us both in Poetry Review (London) [Vol 61, #4], Winter 1971/72. I promptly solicited something for my Earth Ship magazine; he accepted & made comment that one of my poems in the issue, Castles (written to my brother Bernard), was a welcome criticism & advance upon a poetics still bound up with Stephen Spender! In retrospect, I wonder if he thought that he'd observed in my minor effort an attempt to marry traditional music with something cannier; whatever, the imperative for sophistication or improvement isnt one I hold these days, --certainly meta-poetry is even less my metier than it was then, after all it led me into a cul-de-sac from which it took me the best part of two decades to escape! Not so David Bromige, I hazard the guess.
David was an obvious candidate for the Writing Writing issue of the Melbourne successor to Earth Ship, The Ear In A Wheatfield, in 1975. The line-up is worth recording : Anthony Barnett, Colin Symes, Clark Coolidge, Michael Palmer, Michael Davidson, David Bromige, Edmond Jabes translated by Rosmary Waldrop, Victoria Rathbun on Walter Billeter's translation of Paul Celan's Breath Crystal. In my mind, then, there was a connection between the writing of Celan & Jabes and the Anglo-American inheritors of Joyce & Stein, importantly Robert Duncan (one specifically recalls his Stein Variations & the Writing Writing sequence in the Derivations volume of his British Selected Poems [Fulcrum Press, 1968]) via whom the younger generation poets such as Palmer & Bromige. Olson is there too, of course --in the mutation I want to say, the spelling out of which enjoys its own rich domain.
Writing 'writing' was my erstwhile co-conspiritor Colin Symes' correction to the title : the single inverted commas "draws attention to the character of writing 'writing'." he suggested. "In this genre it is the writing that is all important. Unless such a punctuative insertion is made it gives the impression that the genre is principally concerned with so much calligraphic exercise. Which it is most certainly not."
Writing writing was a version of what I thought the whole biz was about from my desk (the very same one at which I sit now, tapping away on the computer- keyboard instead of the manual Olympia typewriter I had then) in Melbourne, Australia in 1975 --part of an experimental welter to eventually include Bernstein, Silliman, Watten, Hejinian & co's L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E project. Though it couldnt have been the whole biz, after all in '74 I was excited to publish a supplement devoted to the Bolinas poets, whom I imagined as New York going West & meeting the sons & daughters of Black Mountain & the Beats, and certainly didnt think was surpassed by Writing Writing! Holding it all is ever the challenge!
When we met in September,1987, in London, --my first trip home since 1975, & David showing Cecilia where once he was from-- he characterised us as supporters of L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E as a tendency but not of the Party it seemed to have become! Quite so, --we were all for experimentation's balloons but not for any Commissariat! However, years later, rereading such books as My Poetry & the issue of The Difficulties devoted to him, I recognized myself in the kind of thing he both cheerfully lampooned & vehemently opposed! Bromige's cut-up & pastiche notwithstanding, since his techniques surely permitted truth, and though I agreed with his (persona's) Romantic proposition of poetry's realness, I felt my own writing fell within his definition of "a stupid & stupefying occupation for zombies" (My Poetry, p18)!
Today I would like to have argued the toss with him over any number of his pronouncements occurring, for example, in the interview with Tom Beckett (The Difficulties, vol 3 #1, '87). Let's take one : "I am interested in a present writing, and find the pretext of presence counter-productive. The present for either writer-reader or reader-writer involves a text, and the attempts to make this vanish beneath a 'voice' insisting on its presence strike me as peurile. Too, 'voice' (= person) invariably is the hypostatization of one or two aspects of self, thenceforth taken as the entirety of that highly elusive, allusive, various and questionable construct, in the interests of a commodity society...."
I think I recall from our correspondence, David working through Michael Polanyi & Merleau-Ponty. Evidently he ended up with a rather serious Frankfurt Marxism. He had the gift of the gab though! It would have been a good conversation... I realize now he was one of the bona fide fractions of the revolution whereas I had merely crossed its path; he'd mistakenly accepted me as another shade of red when I was actually one of the whites!

Contrary to his own supposed antipathy for the 'e.y.e.s', the aspect I've liked best of David Bromige's writing is the dialogue or sport between the autobiographer & the subject arising from its avoidance (--& I mean subject as in subject-matter as well as the veiled narrator), my favourite example of which, from his published work, is the haibun-like Six of One, Half-a-Dozen of the Other. I quote from the first piece, A Defect --the short poem & the first lines of the prose :

The doctors doubted any cause for it
since birth or even conception

but he finds a way to suffer it.
Couldn't it have been something

I did? Long ago, some blow struck
for meaning.


"A defect" takes me back to the time I met Freud. The year was 1939, the day, a Sunday, & my father was taking me for a walk across Hampstead heath. this cottage was where John Keats wrote 'Ode to a Nightingale,' this patch of gorse was where Eeyore lost his tail, this pub was where Jack Straw roused the rabble a scant 600 years before, this small hollow in the crotch of a tree, filled with rainwater, beside the dark duckpond, was Pooh's Cup. This was all too much, I had to run in widening spirals or pee my pants, so he gave me my head, my foot snagged in a gnarled tree-root & my knees skidded in the gravel. Someone like my grandfather was bending over me, though at first I hardly noticed him, for I'd glimpsed my own blood & was howling in panic. Taking out his hankie, he dipped it in Pooh's Cup, & then applied it to my wounds. When my father came up he thanked the old man, giving him a rather stiff grin. Facing my father he said, Not to worry. Then, patting my head, he added: Later, he vill remember zis differently.

The dialogue implies, if it doesnt also actually involve, a jig-saw of fiction & history, though exactly which is the other's coda may have contributed to the amusement of his lengthening days. I wonder if David produced or was working towards a definitive rapprochement of the issues he fielded in statements & writings over the years, not only the standard binaries (lyric, intellectual, musical, reflexive) but the meaning of history, self, poetry, the social, the political, you name it --& the status of poet & poem within that.

In Barbara Weber's Annotated Bibliography which appeared in the David Bromige Issue of The Difficulties (& my copy is inscribed, "For Kris in the Notting Hill Cafe Sep. 5 / 87 Love David"), the chapbook my brother Bernard published is described thus :

It's the Same Only Different / The Melancholy Owed Categories. Weymouth, England: Last Straw Press, 1984. 4pp., 200 copies.
3 -- or perhaps 4 -- poems in one: Bromige wrote two poems using the rhyme scheme from Keats' "Ode on Melancholy", and then intercalated these to make a third poem; readers who recognize the rhyme words from Keats will also hear his poem behind the scenes. There is also an extract from a letter written by Bromige to his publisher, Bernard Hemensley, which appropriates a letter Keats wrote to his brother. "Bernard as early as 1981 was in touch with me requesting a small book. I felt this work appropriate for my first publication in the country of my birth, so I sent it to him. A severe flu early in '84 had got me reading Keats, feverishly, and I'd made a number of rime-identity poems from his work. Rime is always a question of identity and non-identity, either of a like and an unlike sound combined, or of two or more (to move a step away) concepts of alleged universal currency, such as 'justice', and speaks to us of how we learn -- and raise the question of how we must apply these to a range of experience. these considerations embodied in the formal aspects of this work thus apply its content as well."

The little blue, square-covered booklet actually carries the address of Stingy Artist, 33 Shelley Road, Thornhill, Southampton, which was the Hemensley family home before the move to Weymouth in the neighboring county of Dorset. The letter extract is as follows :

"... you see, Bernard, the poetical character has no self... and does no harm from its relish of the dark side... or the bright : both end in speculation. The poet has no identity -- he is continually informing and filling some other body.... I deemed it appropriate, this being my first book to be published in England, and my earliest poetic memory, being led by my father over Hampstead Heath to see the cottage where the Nightingale Ode was written (after which we returned to 254A W. End Lane where he read me to sleep from Milne), to use Keats' 'Ode to Melancholy' as armature : the ideas then discovered (to borrow Hejinian's insight) to me by such vocabulary must also be fitting, being such as troubled the imperious syntax of my youthful education.... But not one word I ever utter can be taken for granted as an opinion growing out of my identical nature. Yet I am ambitious of doing the world some good! If only by keeping it in mind of Negative capability.... I chose this particular Ode perhaps because its third stanza celebrates a mode of love-making at once more accurate to the relief of Beauty and less invasive than the missionary inflictions of the Egotistical Sublime. Of course nothing of this remains in the poem I have made, and yet shadows it even as the English English diction colors it...." [letter extract - 9/12/84]

Bernard was expecting David & Cecilia to visit him in Weymouth in September, '87 at about the time I was bound for England. It was then mooted that the Bromiges would travel down with me, but this didnt eventuate. Bernard of course had been excited at the prospect of a visit & was sorry it hadnt occurred. I conveyed David's apologies & love. A few years earlier, David & Larry Eigner had written to Bernard, brought down by agoraphobia, not to worry about their belated books. "He must be exploring the underside of Merry, Hearty, Happy -- a terrible place" David wrote me. As I write this, Bernard is in that same place again, attempting to rise again...
Back in '87, in Weymouth, I began a series of poems, the first of which was Wind in the Trees, an earlier version of which was published by Robert Adamson in Ulitarra magazine (NSW, 1996). Here is what might be the final version.


wind in the trees Alice Notley
wind in the trees of Bernard's cemetery
the way David Bromige pronounced Bernard :
Ber-nard he said as though
another life's confidante :
Ber-nard's cemetery
full of wind & maybe it is rain Bernard says
& Bernard says do you know Alice Notley's
Doctor William' Heiresses? ["Poe was the first one,
he mated with a goddess. His children were
Emily Dickinson & Walt Whitman -- out of wedlock
with a goddess."] -- reading it quickly
with an American accent the lineage
soon yields Alice Notley & Anne Waldman & Bernadette Mayer
& all of us no fuss
& Bernard only plays goddesses on the stereo
Kate Bush & Patti Smith & Stevie Nicks
& the poem threatens to run out as suddenly as it began
but inclusion is this one's device
count us in then
Christopher in Bernard's room at Cemetery Lodge
Christopher with Retta's & Catherine's air-letters
& history is that lace-curtained window
& the cemetery's spruce elms oaks & pines
are something else
& yes i know Alice Notley
yes i know
yes i know

[Weymouth, September '87
rejigged '02; & March 2005]

The poem now seems to me to carry David Bromige as an hommage in the same way as it continues to hold my brother and, indeed, Alice Notley, to whom it was initially addressed, in her own mourning, doubled since.

Dear David, may he rest in peace.


Kris Hemensley, September 4th/17th, 2009
Melbourne, Oz