Friday, December 31, 2010



On the 31st October I posted the following email on the Overloadnation site:

"My Fellow Australians... We will fight them on the beaches... no, start again! Dear Overload friends, We've had to consider out future in light of the expected rent rise for our bookshop, to take effect 1st January 11... And, though it may be an extension of the same folly which had us open up in the first place, we will continue! The prospect of moving elsewhere was as awful as that of closing! But the price of the new 4 year lease will hurt, unless I can generate more sales and support. The point about the Shop is that though it is a little company, in the market place, it's never been profit oriented. Most of the receipts go into stock. The wages are minimal. Rent and stock are the major outgoings. The purpose of the Shop has always been to support writing, especially poetry, --Australian Poetry and literature within an international literary context. That's the rationale which makes the bookshop unique (certainly in Australia and New Zealand, possibly further afield). We obviously have sufficient support to be mentioned in the City of Literature document, but for all sorts of reasons support through the bead curtain is less than it might be. The recent rent hike squeezes us even more! The question remains, is there a place for an actual bookshop in this time of online purchasing, the ebook and other new technologies? A rhetorical question for me : the bookshop is a home for readers and writers of poetry and prose, a home for little presses, a venue for launches and readings, as it has been for 25 years or so. In a word, we're there for cultural as well as bookselling reasons. Our acceptance of the new lease will probably be sent this week! It will be a great encouragement to know if you support us! Perhaps a start might be making a new "friends of Collected Works" address list (email), for Melbourne and Australia generally. If you're interested please do write or phone or visit us! Cheers, Kris Hemensley"

The response was immediate & I can now say continuous. Invidious to recall some & not all but as a very partial index of the initial response, simply reading off the names of authors of emails, the list includes Michelle Leber, John Kinsella, Earl Livings, Patricia Sykes, Lyndon Walker, Melissa Watts, Leah Kaminsky, Josephine Rowe, Andrew Lindsay, Chris Grierson, Penny Gibson, Bron Thomasson, Kerryn Tredrea, Joan Kerr, Lyn Chatham, Anthony Lynch, Gregory Day, Ted Reilly, Paul Ashton, Caroline Williamson, Libby Hart, Ray Liversidge, Cyril Wong, Jennifer Harrison, Geelong Writers group, the VWC, Steve Grimwade, Mike Ladd, the APC, Paul Kane, Walter Struve...

Then we come to Facebook... The following is copied from the initial message :

"• Kris Hemensley • Time to grasp the nettle! Will we/wont we stay in business at present address as rent is considerably raised and receipts dwindle? After a week of deliberation & advice from friends we've just about decided to sign up for another 4 years! Any constructive thoughts are welcome! An exquisite moment : status of the book, the bookshop, the booktrade. All up for grabs! • October 29 at 10:35pm · LikeUnlike · Comment · Share

Jen Jewel Brown, Jennifer Compton, Nici Lindsay and 2 others like this.

Kris Hemensley I might need to sell a couple of valuable things to raise some security kitty! And wd love to know abt the on-line caper. Masterclasses gratefully received! • October 29 at 10:39pm · LikeUnlike

Nicholas Pounder Kris, it is probably folly, but I would do the same if I had your reputation and record. And let's face it, a tradition to defend. • October 29 at 10:44pm · LikeUnlike · 1 personLoading...

Pamela Robertson-Pearce Kris I am with you in this. I was so inspired by your place/space that I opened up a bookshop/art gallery upon my return from OZ in the Northeast of the UK and it is not easy. I never thought it would be...however. I have planned more events, serve tea, regular sales...I knew a bookshop alone could not make it here and an art gallery alone could not either so I combined them. I will keep you updated AND I wish you all the best! Diversify is my two cents. • October 29 at 10:45pm · LikeUnlike

Kris Hemensley If you cld give me a clue abt the couple of books we discussed before wd be good Nick; and i DIDNT know Pamela abt your enterprise! What's it called ? Open All Hours? It was great having you & neil visit but wdnt have guessed i was sowing seeds! Thanks for morale boost! I guess ive sat on hands a little bit. Time to get up going again. Reinvest the 'business'... etc... • October 29 at 10:52pm · LikeUnlike

Pamela Robertson-Pearce Mine is called DJANG the art of life! Djang being an aboriginal word which you probably know already. Open all hours indeed!!! Ha ha almost impossible to do. No I bring work to do so I can use the time better at DJANG when it is slow. I am glad to hear you persevere! You are a beacon Kris! • October 29 at 11:15pm · LikeUnlike

John Fox Agree about the record and tradition, but feel v selfish about it; great for the rest of us to have Collected Works still there, but I hope it isn't at the cost of your approaching retirement in penury. • October 29 at 11:37pm · LikeUnlike · 2 peopleLoading...

Justin Clemens Yes best bookstore in Australia. • October 30 at 12:46am · LikeUnlike

Jennifer Compton i must visit more often and i must buy more often • October 30 at 1:11am · LikeUnlike

Cassie Lewis-Getman Thank you for keeping up the wonderful work, Kris, but do take care of yourself too! Online sales seem like a good way to go as a supplement, or even email sales- Ken Bolton sends out an email newsletter of books recently in at the EAF, something like this would be a cheap and immediate way to go. A facebook page talking about the history and purpose of the store is another idea that is low cost. For ideas you could look at the City Lights page see • October 30 at 1:15am · LikeUnlike · 1 personLoading...

Kris Hemensley hey justin! good luck for yr crack of dawn seminar tomorrow! Tina alerted me. And youll be pleased to know the college came good with their cheque yday! see you soon, K • October 30 at 1:36am · LikeUnlike

Catherine O'Brien • What to say Kris; take the risk and don't count the money each day....remember one time you had a fund raiser reading. Maybe that is a great idea to bring the situation to the attention of those who would support you but don't know. Online ...cannot work for you as you have no computer at the shop so you would be doubling your work by having to transcribe the books at the shop and then spend time at home on the computer. • Funny my 'hardly ever open" i:cat gallery in Vientianne has now more books than art and it is not really a bookshop...i feel like I am an out post of collected to support you from here??????See More • October 30 at 2:30am · LikeUnlike

Judith Buckrich I am delighted that you've decided to stay and will make more of an effort to send people your way - maybe PEN can do something with you - I will ask at the next meeting • October 30 at 7:12am · LikeUnlike

Kris Hemensley • Thank you cathy and judith --'counting the money...", come on, that's not my style! I think it's the gradual switch to new technology, new cultural orientation etc --The city, the society more in flux now than when we started --But if i can... have a $$safety net then we can still be the meeting place, the news exchange, the infinite forum on poetry and ideas that is really our stock in trade --The equation of altruism & survival, the esoteric & the commercial --as ever! As i sd to Chrissie & Michael a year ago, after Dylan, you can be in our loop if i can be in your loop! So your thought, j, is pertinent... Now let's enjoy the races and the rain!!!See More • October 30 at 9:47am · LikeUnlike

Elizabeth Campbell Kris, I know you don't like gimmicks, but have you ever thought of a fundraiser/mailing list campaign like Salt did - buy one book to save the shop. I know so many people who would respond ps will be in today for two books! • October 30 at 9:57am · LikeUnlike · 1 personLoading...

David Wheatley I'd support that. Remember Chris Hamilton-Emery's 'just one book' campaign (though why stop at just the one). PS Elizabeth -- I owe you a book! • October 30 at 9:59am · LikeUnlike

• Susan Fealy Dear Kris • Four more years of Collected Works would be four more years of soft sunshine for the soul. • XSusan • October 30 at 10:09am · LikeUnlike

Viki Mealings that's terrible that they've hiked up the rent so much • October 30 at 11:23am · LikeUnlike

Kris Hemensley Oh dear, what hath thou unleashed upon thy head and those of thine... um... I think it's much more a matter of getting with it in terms of the on-line biz, events, and reminding institutions who're in need of let's say australian poetry (but hey! the world's our oyster) that we can supply! The rent is inevitable, the commercial reality when i look at it calmly... After yday's excellent discussion with Ellen i feel heartened & resolved! Thanks everybody! • October 30 at 11:35am · LikeUnlike

Susan Hawthorne The book business is a tricky one right now. Like you Kris we halve trembled on the edge several times. But we're still here and I have some optimism for the future. • October 30 at 12:40pm · LikeUnlike

Philip Salom Kris, I have to agree with Elizabeth. There are multitudes of us and if we want you to stay on (and we do) we should (yes, I'm happy with should) do something to contribute. One book each? Easy. Maybe even have annual subscriptions of some sort? Many of us would be in it. • October 30 at 12:44pm · LikeUnlike

Elizabeth Gertsakis Hard one Kris; you represent a special place, but also need to take care of yourself. I would support the idea of all supporters/readers coming in to buy a book. Will come in to see you soon. • October 30 at 3:11pm · LikeUnlike

Brendan Ryan Kris, • I'd be happy to buy a poetry book as well. Collected Works is a special place. • October 30 at 3:34pm · LikeUnlike

Catherine Bateson I really like Philip's idea of an annual subscription - like a poetry club. In knitting circles there are indie spinners and dyers offering three month/six month sock clubs - you sign up and receive fibre/yarn, a sock pattern and often a small treat....fair trade coffee beans, a stitch counter. Six random months of poetry books - sounds great! • October 30 at 4:21pm · LikeUnlike

Kris Hemensley Thank you everybody... As it happens, this half day session at the Shop was reasonable what with races and rain... Carol Jenkins was visiting and also people from Perth and the continental perspective/reach of the Shop was so apparent... Interested in Philip's & Batherine B's club suggestion. I can be quite dense abt things so do email me for tips on how this cd work! • October 30 at 6:46pm · LikeUnlike

Kris Hemensley Batherine B? who she? I mean catherine Bateson of course! • October 30 at 6:47pm · LikeUnlike

Philip Salom Some sub. your customers - call us fans! - are happy to pay out each year. Maybe some discount deal as Catherine suggested, and/or just some 'privilege' from the shop. It can guarantee a sum each year for your budget, but on top of our and everybody else's purchases. We are direct beneficiaries of CW and this shouldn't be at your expense.
• October 30 at 7:55pm · LikeUnlike

Catherine Bateson • No, I didn't mean at Collected Works expense - you'd sign up for three months - a book a month - what would that be? Average it out at $30.00 a book + postage - say $100.00, or $200.00 for six months and then Kris would choose three or six ...books to send out to the lucky person. These might come with a special subscribers newsletter - maybe with a couple of poetry reviews. It's actually not a discount deal at all - the sock clubs are part of how indie dyers/spinners make an artisan living out of pursuing their craft. The point is really in the element of surprise - you don't know what yarn you'll receive. Ditto with the books. But CW would be guaranteed of how many sales for that period. Naturally, being greedy little consumers we'd want to feel special - hence the newsletter or whatever it was - maybe an exclusive invite to a poetry club party....obviously you'd need to do the figures - and equally obviously this would be evened out - a $20.00 book one month, a $35.00 the next...I have no idea if it would work for books, but I've joined sock clubs! (Oh, and the other thing that the sock clubs often do is work around a theme - which would be possible for poetry, too.See More • October 30 at 8:28pm · LikeUnlike

Leah Kaminsky Sign me up for a subscription Kris! I also like the idea of all us poets getting together for a fundraiser for Collected Works, which is truly a Melbourne icon... it could be a HUGE event!! • October 30 at 9:11pm · UnlikeLike · 2 peopleLoading...

Sam Byfield I'd be up for a subscription Kris and for attending/participating in a fundraising event- anything to help out. I also wouldn't mind getting occasional emails with updates- recent books, things that have caught your attention, events coming up at the bookstore and poems on the blog- all things i'm interested in (and other people) but don't always have the chance to be as engaged and up to date as i'd like to be. • October 30 at 9:24pm · UnlikeLike · 1 personLoading...

Philip Salom Sorry, Catherine, I wasn't suggesting you meant that. Just that _whatever_ scheme comes up should have the balance of expenses in mind. I would be quite happy to pay a sub (with no special return, or maybe just a piss-up and reading get-together!) just to know that CW was safe. • October 30 at 9:51pm · LikeUnlike

Tina Giannoukos Any way I can help with will do; the shop is a community: refuge; ideas centre; meeting place; singular in every way yet plural. • October 30 at 11:20pm · UnlikeLike · 1 personLoading...

Jen Jewel Brown • dear Kris, you and R run a precious and highly respected resource. Wonder if you could link onto/affiliate with APC so that they publicise every book launch going on at Collected Works with their website, and in rerturn you cross-promote th...eir books and events on your blog by providing links and blurbs about their writers/events from time to time. As the sole bookshop in Melbourne which specialises in and stocks large amounts of poetry, especially Australian poetry, it's vital for Australian poets that you can go on, and your presence benefits the APC by helping poetry remain on sale. I also support the idea of buy one book.See More • October 30 at 11:53pm · UnlikeLike · 1 personLoading...

Rosemary Nissen-Wade Now that I live elsewhere, I would love it if you had an online list of your stock to help me shop there! • October 31 at 1:41am · LikeUnlike

Christopher Barnett kris & retta • wish you both & the bookshop only the best but we live in a age of great barbarism • avec force et tendresse • October 31 at 10:27am · LikeUnlike

Jennifer Compton a fundraiser - great idea - with a raffle etc • October 31 at 11:50am · LikeUnlike

Jennifer Compton • can i suggest a (small) book crossing shelf I saw this at a bookshop in rome and was delighted! when peop[le come in to liberate their books into the wild and see if there is anything they want on the shelf - then because they have a free b...ook they look about me and think, well i have saved money, i will buy a book too • at least that is the way i think it could workSee More • October 31 at 12:55pm · LikeUnlike

Rosemary Nissen-Wade The 'buy one book' idea is a real winner, too. • October 31 at 8:13pm · LikeUnlike

Natalie Davey Just have to add my note of deep support for what ever you do!! Plan to be in more often to allow my lovely shelves to groan with the delight of your Collected Works amore amore books! • Natalie xx • November 1 at 11:10pm


I dont think I'm exaggerating to describe this as an avalanche of support! John Hunter conjured up the Collected Works Facebook Page one day. "What you need..." he said. I'm eternally grateful. This page has become the prime distributor of bookshop information. Early November, the following message from Robyn Rowland appeared :

"Dear Book Lovers
As you can see from Kris Hemensley’s public letter below, this icon of Australian Literature is struggling a bit in this climate. Remember the Salt appeal a couple of years ago, when Salt decided to ask every supporter to buy a book? It saved the press ...for now. Please do all you can to support Kris and Retta to keep this wonderful and rich bookshop going. It is a cultural landmark and deserves our wholehearted loving kindness ... And cash!! Over the years we have all benefited from the books we can peruse there and buy, but also for the support K and R have given through conversations and knowledge. Just passing on this info which you can find also on overloadnation.
All the best

This also elicited many responses including a suggestion from Alan Loney for a meeting at earliest opportunity. On the 12th November, Jenny Harrison wrote the following letter on the Overload site:

"Dear Friends of Collected Works
We've recently (and belatedly) become aware that the most significant poetry bookshop in Australia needs our support. We are forming a Friends of Collected Works, and we invite you to the inaugural meeting to discuss collaborative plans to support the bookshop (whose current directors are Catherine O'Brien, Kris Hemensley and Retta Hemensley) in its iconic literary vision. Many of us have already offered our support and we are interested in planning a series of events into the future. We intend to meet several times until we're assured that Collected Works continues the sure footing the principals have maintained alone for twenty years in the stead of the inaugural group of 1985. I imagine that future meetings would best be sited at a central point such as at the APC or VWC, but you are all invited to join us at Jennifer Harrison's place at 36 Upton Road, Prahran, on Sunday 21st November from 2 pm to 4 pm, to begin planning.
Warm regards
Jennifer Harrison"

At the meeting, attended by Elaine Lewis & Judith Buckrich (in their own right & representing PEN), Libby Hart, Ray Liversidge, Heather Clarke, Jennifer Harrison, Bob Morrow & Philip Salom, various questions were discussed. I quote the Aims & Objectives (discussion of ideas) from the agenda : "Why do we need a Friends of Collected Works? What do we want to achieve? Wider perspective : what kind of arts scene do we want to see? Short term: what help does Collected Works need now? Long term: imagining Collected Works in 5 years/ 10 years. How will we know we have been successful? (NB we need to remain sensitive to the boundary between Collected Works business practice and the role of Friends of Collected Works)"

As it transpired it was agreed that a formally constituted body wasnt the way to go, after all Collected Works is anti-bureaucratic & informal in its nature & modus-operandi. However a 'reference group' was happily accepted.
In my report to the meeting I mentioned an important earlier meeting with Ellen Koshland who counseled against approaches to the well known trusts & agencies, encouraging us to promote the Shop as the service provider it has always been in respect of poetry in Melbourne &, indeed, Australia, --thus the relevance of subscriptions, mail-order & web-site, & more in-house literary activities...
I pointed to the spontaneous action of 'friends', endorsed by the Bookshop (e.g. the jig-sawing of Libby Hart's twilight shopping event + raffle with Heather Clarke's idea of a promoted pre-Xmas shopping week), as the natural way of proceeding.
At this stage initiatives & ideas were flowing from all directions! Collaborations mooted between Collected Works & organizations like Australian Poetry, the VWC, the MWF, the MPU, PEN et al were especially encouraging.
What it all represented was a reactivation of the community support the Shop enjoyed back in 1985. It felt like a rebirth (a second honeymoon?)!
I did also say to the group that of itself none of this remarkable response had changed the fragile commercial reality but it had changed my attitude to it.

The event of December 8th at the Shop was astonishing ("historic" as Alex Skovron suggested).
There must have been in the vicinity of 150 people over the space of 4 or so hours in & out of the Shop. Many stayed for the duration despite the sauna type conditions! This event contributed significantly to the Shop enjoying its best trading month ever in 25 years...

And the rest is history!

[finished! New Year's Eve, 2010]

Sunday, December 5, 2010

THE MERRI CREEK : POEMS & PIECES, # 20, December, 2010




lichen on headstones

even the marking

of death

makes life possible



the sky can kill you

laugh back


irony is lost

on the iron



brave new word


[reprinted from MINIKINS, 2010 (PO Box 1497, East Victoria Park, WA 6981)]




Remembering Jerry Hall in Brian Ferry’s Let’s Stick Together Video Clip
(after Paulus Silentiarius)

I was eight years old in 1976.
I had never seen lips
so plump and red,
eyes so inviting,
hair so
lustrous. The way
she moved, cat-like
and purring, sashaying
across the stage …
If she had plucked
just one strand
of that golden hair
and tied my wrists
with it, even at such
a tender age,
I’d have pleaded
with her
never to release me.



In the second hand record store I sift
through row after row of dusty LPs,
pausing from time to time to consider
a name scrawled lazily in blue ink,
a coffee cup stain, a trace of ancient
lipstick smeared across a dog-eared
copy of Fleetwood Mac’s Greatest Hits.
It is in these places we discover the
true history of the world, of ourselves,
the way things were and in some fashion
will always be, though the discs
of plastic have now turned to metal,
and the people with whom we shared
these songs are vanished or
changed, our emotional landscape
often untended, like scratched vinyl, hissy
and unlistenable, as we ride the eternal
turntable on its circular orbit
into the dust of all our tomorrows.



The house grown quiet and still,
a single butt of a cigarette now rests
in the smooth rut of a glass ashtray
filled with dozens of other such butts,
this one still smoldering, sending
its tiny but significant plumes
into the atmosphere already heavy
with loss and departure, like a wispy
trail of vapor behind a jet aircraft
high overhead, its occupants weary
with thoughts of arrival and destination.


After The Power Has Gone Out
(for Ronald Baatz)

Huddled under
the avalanche of covers
he reads by flashlight
in a storm of ice and wind,
the electricity gone
the same way
as his dear old Dad –
still with us somehow
but no longer visible
as photons or
however it is light
appears to us as
we go about our sad
and inexorable ways,
our days habitual
like the seasons,
the earth turning slowly
in its starry grave.



A Quadraphonic Whisper

Inside the inside, the world flutters, and eyes close.
Each search is an appeal to mindfulness.

Browning and Patmore walk arm in arm from the earth.
All the flowering plants speak purely, gracefully.

Our genes carry our imagination along the long diagonals.
The unreal duties lovers assume for a while develop, then fade.

It is in the smaller things – governments, wars, religions –
we get lost. Let the promise of a single fleeting breaker

dying in the shallows be reason enough.


“An instant of pure love is more precious to God and the soul, and more profitable to the Church than all other good works together, though it may seem as if nothing were done.”
-- St. John of the Cross

Her soul is engaged to the highest cloud, and when
she moves, its aimlessness becomes otherworldly.

How do we salute the inspired upper reaches?
Surely, as the sun drops from the afternoon,

nothing is more precious than our umbilical thread
to voice, to words that pass through walls

and give images of those walls, for, little by little,
shapes of life compose, troubling a soil

in the throes of divorcing bedrock for the sky.


“No great art, no really effective ethical teaching can come from any but such as know immeasurably more than they will attempt to communicate.”
-- Coventry Patmore

I know an instant, then I am gone.
I learn from the coldness of fires.

I am an animal, and I am the flame of the sun.
I take the air, and fashion it.

I use opium, and marijuana, and prepare for sailing.
I peel the arms and legs from my body.

I own knives and sexual desires.
I beg for the status of language.

Ask me, and I will courteously reduce these things.


The lovers are gentle. Goodbye, friend,
the plane is on the tarmac. Watch the seas below,

and believe. Believe in the driftwood and shells,
believe in change, growth, the poor courageous holiness

we all somehow sense through computer and TV screens.
In the hall are all the shoes ever worn.

The accompanying souls say what they said before:
be aware, tolerate, give each special situation a value.

Why are we so occluded we starve our insight?




Galileo says people are like paper;
would I dispense with 'are' or 'like'?

Last life I was a silver fish
this time I took to ink,

and when the post floats in
with a letter, an elegant sketch -

simple paper, complex idea, Oh I
praise reading's merit, to deliver

an afterlife, a parallel, a re-incarnation
a vicarious sense of being someone &

somewhere else, in here and now
while holding nothing but cellulose

perhaps a gram of ink, a slip of graphite,
a lined page, headed 'Dear Carol'.





I soar on paper wings

it was never
about your sister!!

I shuffle my feet
on the doorstep
of the Julian Ashton
School of Art

it is 1968

your lines are smooth



is the feast of All Saints

it's a Lavazza torino
and a walk
up the deserted main street

I'm visiting
the 18th century
with Schmitt
Fodor Meder and Wilms

fried chicken
choy sum on rice

during a break in the music
Sri Lanka demolish Australia

marinated feta
kalamata olives
sundried tomatoes

a fine
Boorolong Road
2006 Shiraz



linen wash
never smelled so sweet:
hung on bamboo poles
high above
this polluted Kowloon street

congee in the alley
for a hearty breakfast

Ezra loved the intricacy
of the Chinese character
almost as much as Michaux
but I still
can't make out the signs

avoid the snakes
on Fuk Wa
and settle for roast duck

Kwan Yin
the Goddess of Mercy
smiles from her niche

I leave Bronwyn
to her family on the island:
it'd never come to anything anyhow

out on the harbour
a junk passes
red and orange painted prow



Dopper and Vermeulen
resume their stoush

a bit like Mondriaan
employing a Toorop
to block the draught
from a broken window

the public
is momentarily bemused
then walks on

Kronos ticks time
the rain (as always) the rain
lightning on the ridge
a black Opel cruises by

always shop at Ivens
for your photographic needs

Piet Hein sets out
to capture the Silver Fleet:
the cupboard is bare
and energy costs are on the rise

taptap tap



MAR BUCKNELL; Perth spoken-word poet. His inter-media performance includes The History of Glass (in 2008) featuring his poems, Alan Boyd's soundscapes & Stuart Reid's live drawing. This was the sequel to Unawares, performed in 2000 at the Artrage festival. Minikins & other chapbooks available from the author at P O Box, 1497; East Victoria Park, W A,, 6981. Contact :
GLEN COOPER, MICHAEL FITZGERALD-CLARKE, CAROL JENKINS & CORNELIS VLEESKENS have all appeared in Poems & Pieces previously. These are all recent writings.
Long may their poetry prosper!


Saturday, October 9, 2010

THE MERRI CREEK : POEMS & PIECES, # 19, October, 2010



August 31, 2010

Hi Kris!

My cousin Wilbur has been doing genealogical research, and although he's found some interesting stuff in the past (we're very distant relations with both Walt Whitman (yay!) and Dick Cheney (boo!)) he's finally struck gold. My grandfather's grandfather John Burt had a brother, Foght Burt, and Foght had a son Richard, who became a civil war hero and a poet. Had quite a few things published too. You'll be happy to know that the stuff is pretty amazing doggerel - William McGonagal comes to mind. Here's a sample:

We did a bicentennial piece, of course, in 88. Richard beat us to it by 112 years. I've only read the first page, and I have no doubt that that's all you'll read as well. However, out of misplaced family loyalty, I think I'll try to make it through all 20 pages. I might even have some computer voices speak parts of it - although I don't know how far I'll get with that. Read it and weep! Tears of hilarity, I hope.




I have read the dialog with you and Cathy [Kris Hemensley & Catherine O'Brien, Art & About in Vientiane, #2, August, 2010, re- Hans Georg Berger's photography & etc.], and found it fascinating. That the abbot had a huge photography collection is not surprising in one
sense, but a delightful surprise in another.

There are a lot of amazing stories of East West contact. One of my favorite is about the Japanese composer of the 30s and 40s - Mr Ozawa (I forget his first name). He studied with Schoenberg in Berlin, then went back to Japan, and wrote orchestral music in a style very similar to the French neo-classicist Francis Poulenc. Things like the Kamikaze Piano Concerto (not related to WWII suicide bombers, but the experimental fighter plane of the 1930s, which was quite an innovation when it happened, apparently). These days, my Japanese composer friends are more than faintly embarrassed by the renewed interest in him in the West...but it is pretty amazing - the unknown "Sept" of "Les Six" and he lived in obscurity in Tokyo......





Space Pen

The manufacturer informs us:

So tell me, my friend —
where do you plan to use it?


Perfective II

EMPTY fur-flesh
skin-fear uneffaced;
even meat there found
its letter-plug
litter of silenced earth.


Oh to hello ago I go agogo

The more I know his trumpet ‘tis truly so
me trumpet’s trumpet pinned his pegs akimbo,
clyster-pipes and organs humpherumphing happily
hanging a tail by many a wind instrument that blew
the bag-men’s big cheeks pup-puffing up to kiss
the equipment of their pleasures — reserve
this vessel for my lord! they insinuate,
as if they’d walk to Palestine for a touch
of his nether lips and a long hard look down the gyrating barrel
of the biggest revulva youse or I’s has ever seens.





When you touch me it is the hand of God.
I agree to restrain the gravity of this emotion.
I begin the long march in death's dominion.
I bear the thought imperfectly that I'm alone.

Mona Lisa's smile remains enigmatic.
This is the only wisdom I possess:
They marked you. They marked you all your life.
Moonlight still shines on what you left behind.

The will is muscular. Like muscle, it tears.
You sentence me to hard labour. Once,
I was beautiful but that was rapture.
The tongue of love tastes tough in these bull days.

This is the conspiracy of the figure two:
the flowers in the garden grow mottled.



When the time comes, whenever that be,
I shall look back to my ancestors,
seafarers all, gliding over oceans,
now coming into ports. This earth,
this blue planet, will not circumscribe me.
I will sail across the empty doom searching
for cyclopean marvels; a half-horse, half-man
figure will appear from behind that band
of stars beyond the edge of the Milky Way.
The astrophysics of our encounter,
this dark energy of love, are unknown.
In a singular moment the explosion
that drove all things apart drove us too.
In space I hold the horn of plenty.



Ian McBryde’s The Adoption Order
(published by 5 Islands Press 2009)

[Launch Speech presented at Collected Works 15.10.09]

Rapture be pure
Take a tour, through the sewer
(Rapture, lyric by Blondie)

It’s a privilege to launch Ian McBryde’s sixth major collection of poetry, The Adoption Order, here at Collected Works by grace of Kris and Retta Hemensley. Thanks to Ian and 5 Islands Press for the honour. I hadn’t actually seen the book until tonight but I can see the fine publishing job accomplished by Kevin Brophy, Dan Disney and Lyn Hatherly at 5 Islands Press. When I was reading Ian’s book in manuscript form, as I have several times over the last few weeks, I began to think about the light and dark, the beauty and horror, that makes Ian’s poetry so wild and impressively individual. The French poet René Char once said (quote taken from The Poet’s Work):

‘behind the poet’s shutter of blood burns the cry of a force that will destroy itself
because it abhors force . . . Read me. Read me again. He (the poet) does not always come
away unscathed from his page, but like the poor, he knows how to make use of the
olive’s eternity.’

Or as Blondie expressed it in a lyric from her 1981 single Rapture:

Rapture, be pure
Take a tour, through the sewer.

In The Adoption Order Ian does not flinch from the dark and desolate places of the heart. From the dystopian palace in the poem ‘News from the Palace’ to the abandoned landscape of ‘Tunnel 3’ with its nameless station, its unknown slope, its unreadable lights, its rusted, unused rails, its uncertain carriages and clammy track to nowhere, we enter an imagination that is surreal, tender and savage. Take, for example, these memorable lines from the poem ‘A Second Lake’ (the quote is the entire poem):

Deep in the interior water has cut stone open, filled in
the scar, iced over. No fish swim beneath this seal,
and no animals venture down to test the edge
of this ripped shore, this brittle lace,
this ghost of gauze over the old
and frozen wound.

Take note of the arrangement of the words on the page, the inexorable tightening of skin over that strange and frosty wound. An Ian McBryde poem is never un-imperilled. Words are never wasted. His imagery is both elemental, often of the sea, the dream, the cave, the animal - and his imagery is sharper than the sound of the words that make the image—by which I mean it is the visual elements of Ian’s imagery that etch themselves so sharply on the mind. Whether this particular talent comes from Ian’s drawing and illustrative abilities I’m not sure. It is a talent.

Blondie’s Deborah Harry, was also adopted and although many of the poems in Ian’s The Adoption Order do touch on that theme, the poems seems less interested in recording or evoking confessional feelings about adoption or loss and more concerned with embodying the ongoing struggle of words to ground themselves in a world where loss, separation and grief happen. I spent some time thinking about why these poems, despite their sometimes bleak imagery, are so moving, so emotionally chiselled and fulfilling to read. I did not experience them as nihilistic, but as generous. I think it has something to do with what, again, the French lyricist poet René Char (1907-1988)[1] said (as reported by Edward Hirsch in How To Fall in Love with Poetry): that ‘the poem is the realised love of desire still desiring’. The Russian poet Tsvetaeva asks ‘what shall I do as I go over the bridge of my enchanted visions that cannot be weighed in a world that deals only in weights and measure?’

Whether it is the child who desires a mother or father they might never know, or a lover who desires the one they might never attain or keep, or the adult who desires a childhood that continues to mesmerise time, Ian is exploring marooned desire, a grief that somehow becomes a wound of history because we are always losing the present and never in perfect harmony with the world. Perhaps love and loss are the Castor and Pollux of poetry, the twinned forces which poetry attempts to reconcile yet ultimately fails because the past, the beloved are beyond the temporality of language. As Ian says in the last stanza of the villanelle ‘We Touch On and are Lifted from the Earth’:

All our art is the murmuring of surf
Love is where the sea spray meets and marries.
We touch on and are lifted from the earth.
We now are past the moment of our birth.

and later in ‘38th Parallel’: ‘ I have learned nothing but thirst, the only truth of the marooned’.

And later, still, in ‘A Silhouette on Water’:

The image quivers, disperses, splits into

patterns of shadow and elusive light which
never really finish, never really begin.

We often talk about the strength of image in this or that poetry or in this or that poem, as though it is in opposition to weaknesses of image. In Ian’s poetry imagery isn’t a strength, it is the essence of the poetry. The book is a beautiful imagining of imagery. And so beautiful. Here in the poem ‘Before Waking’: ‘I dreamt rain on slate. I dreamt fine china carefully arranged on the floors of caves.’ When I read these images, these lines, I think of carefully arranged words in the darkness of the poem’s cave, I think of all the cultural history of civilisation from the cave to Doulton’s fine bone china factories and I think of human skulls, Pompeii and the fragility of bones. Every poem in The Adoption Order is a scene of spare, concentrated imagery, a dramatic distillation of the lyric’s power and each poem is a play where the self takes centre stage as landscape, as divided mirror or as a numbed survivor on a raft drifting.

The whispering of the poems is intimate as though it’s assumed that you, too, are familiar with the longhouse, the disintegrating palace, the old and frozen scar and the faces of the other children of the raft. The language is very precise and the choice of a particular word often startling. For example, consider the final lines from ‘Instead of Your Breast’ (again reproduced here in its entirety):

Instead of your breast
a ghost treasure,
an alarm sent out.
Instead of your voice
the locked wing,
the lightning shield.
Instead of your breath
a jungle of drums
and the gathering dusk.
Instead of your hands
the terminal, the stretched
mile and instead of your
presence, the faces of
other children of the raft.

Instead of other possibilities (other children on the raft) these are the children of the raft: children who are perhaps destined for dangerous sadness, adventure and drifting. When I read these lines I think of Klaus Kinski in the Werner Herzog film Aguirre, The Wrath of God, (the final scenes of the film when monkeys overcome the raft); I think of asylum seekers adrift, I think of the literature of shipwreck and of the often vulnerable children I work with as a child psychiatrist. This power of imagery does not open a small niche in experience – this imagery opens a tender Pandora’s box of history, both personal and shared, both particular and ethereal.

The Adoption Order is about the power of families. It begins with a poem called ‘Genealogy’ and ends with a poem called ‘Motherlode’. In between are poems about the loneliness of childhood, about the pain of adoption, about the Irish diaspora. And there are magnificent elegies for lost parents. The poem ‘Satellite’ from Ian’s first book The Shade of Angels (1990) re-appears and Ian and has given us another poem/chapter from the ongoing sequence ‘Reports from the Palace’ a sequence which threads through his earlier published works, with versions appearing in The Familiar (1994), Flank (1998) and Equatorial (2001). Thus, in terms of the process of the book, poems can be traced back to past collections as one might also trace the genealogy of a family (or be unable to do so, at least in the past, if adopted). The Adoption Order is the fruit of many generations of poems, not only Ian’s. McBryde’s ‘Icarus’ joins a long tradition of Icarus poems including those of Auden and William Carlos Williams to name just two. This is one of my favourite poems in the book, although to say so feels a little unfair to myself as I value so many. In this Icarus tale, the son’s fiery death is the final triumph which frees him from family and, strangely, this poem seems to capture the actual moment a real event becomes myth.

Icarus (Last Words)

As I fall I watch
my father float
to safety on less
rapid atmosphere

His wings intact,
he hovers high above
me as I plummet.

And yet long after
he lands, long after he
is held in my mother’s

grieving arms it is not
his wisdom but
my bright death that will
be celebrated.

My ribbons of wax.
My shout in the clouds.

A glassy sea beneath
me as I melt and am
finally unfeathered.

At last I have
honoured my island.
I have passed beyond
family. I will be

Falling for centuries,
suspended forever
in the rich, dense air
of legend.

This is a classy, humane book. It deserves great respect and recognition. Although working at an interface that is almost pre-speech, pre-definition these poems are paradoxical artworks of precise speech, chiselled lyricism, formal refrain and earthy textures carved into the cave wall of a page. The Adoption Order is a book of dreams, a book of riddles and a book which fears the end of dreams. René Char said in ‘The Formal Share’: ‘It is from a lack of inner justice that the poet suffers most in his relations with the world. Caliban’s sewer window, behind which Ariel’s powerful and sensitive eyes are angry.’; Ian McBryde says:

I bit the rain.



[1] Rene Char’s mature poetry was published in the aftermath of the Nazi occupation of France; his poetry is at once a lyrical summoning of natural correspondences and a meditation on poetry itself; his single line famous poem To the Health of the Serpent’—published in Fureur etmystère, Éditions Gallimard, 1962—for me has a kinship with Ian’s fabulous one-line poems published in Slivers, Flat Chat Poets, 2005.




I am hung
next to paintings
about the same size -
an unorthodox
nailed into place

One precise metre
from the curlicues of
my frame
a landscape with tower
is abstracted into
vertical planes
defying depth

From the other side
florid dahlias
in their crystal vase
suggest a tasteful encounter
with the zig-zag
rhythm of my
portrait's scarf

These companions
are unknown to me
(and I to them)
though we are linked
capriciously for a month
as intimates
on public display




That ain't no monkey on my back
It's a gorilla

That insidious old ape
Still crouches on my shoulder
He's perched up there
Like Goya's grinning ghoul

He just climbed up
My skyscraper spine
You can still see
The marks he made

He razed my city
To the ground
And stole my loved one
With his gnarled hand

He's too big
And heavy
To stay up there for long
One good bi-plane
To the back of the head
He'll fall a hundred stories
And crush everything

Then I'll be rid of him

Until the next organ grinder
Comes to town
And his simian side kick
Casts his dark shadow
Down my long haul
Every man is a Manhattan




Bellows black
Bluffing its way
Into innocent clouds.

Turner's torrid trowel
The bloody sunset


Broken winged duck
Last spastic dance
On dim mirror plate.

Chimney vomit
Turns white
Near night.

Atomic bomb crucifix
Smites the sun
Of man.

Burning tonsure.

Cold halo.

[Winter, 2010]


WARREN BURT prolific composer & performer, for many years on the Melbourne scene, currently in Wollongong. His website is

JUSTIN CLEMENS active in literature, philosophy, psychoanalytic theory, art criticism, & is the author of several books including The Mundiad (Black Inc, '04), Black River (, '07), Villain (Hunter Publishers, 2009). Phew! He teaches at the University of Melbourne.

TINA GIANNOUKOS has published In A Bigger City (Five Islands Press, '05). She teaches at University of Melbourne where she is completing her PHD. In 2010 addressed a conference in Shanghai, read at the Beijing Bookworm & gave lecture in Beijing. Link to the review of In a Bigger City
Her review of Angela Gardner's Views of the Hudson in Jacket 40:

JENNIFER HARRISON has published several collections including Michaelangelo's Prisoners ('95), which won that year's Anne Elder Award; & most recently Folly & Grief (Black Pepper, '06), & Colombine : New & Selected Poems (Black Pepper, Melbourne, '10). Co-edited with Kate Waterhouse, Motherlode : Australian Women's Poetry, 1986-2008 (Puncher & Wattmann, '09).

ANNE KIRKER, well known as a curator of modern & contemporary painting in New Zealand & Australia; appears in Poems & Pieces, # 1, & #8. Her website is,

DAVID SHEPHERD's website is which contains extensive biography. Similarly see for recent feature with Dave Ellison on Karl Gallagher's illustrious site.

Friday, October 8, 2010


ISLE OF WIGHT DREAMING : Robin Ford's On the Brink (Cinnamon Press, Wales, 2010)

Leaping out of a catalogue description of Robin Ford's new book of poems, On the Brink, from Cinnamon Press, his third, was the reference to the Isle of Wight. I didnt know his name but instantly he was my man! --the open sesame for the Island of which my own dream has always been waiting. (Long gone, I readily confess, my younger shrinking, taught by betters, from any such affiliation. The notion of poets representing this or that geographic region considered an utter joke --as though poetry was separated from the poets' own places or rather, ought to be, for the language's sake. Another of my generation's exciting but specious mutual-exclusivities which provided for the beauty of the autonomous object whilst undermining the truth of description & evocation.)
My brother Bernard, reviving as a small publisher with a renewed interest in the local via his Stingy Artist press in Weymouth, is keen now to foster my Dorset connection, as though I really were a 'Dorset poet'! --after all, I've been visiting Dorset since 1987, a few years after my younger siblings moved there from neighbouring Hampshire, followed by my parents. And Dorset's inner & outer landscapes have certainly inspired me in ways that Hampshire, apart from the New Forest, never did. However, because of what the catalogue had aroused in me, I suddenly rankled at Dorset's definitive claim! At least, I thought, if Dorset then Hampshire & the Isle of Wight too! Southampton & environs is something else : it was where I grew up, my home, the place from where one dreamt the future and opposed the small town tyrannies. But Ryde, Isle of Wight, was my birthplace, where my grandmother lived for decades (at Tangley Lodge, Salisbury Road) and where we holidayed through childhood & teens. The last time as a family was in 1965, the summer before my emigration to Australia, a brief sojourn sandwiched between clerking on British Railways in London, travelling on the Continent, & sailing on the Fairstar (I was a one-voyage mariner, jettisoned just as I was getting the hang of my hold & shop duties, worst luck).
My father, who grew up on the Island, suggested to me that perhaps we'd make a trip there, walk around his childhood haunts (Ryde, Bembridge), but it never happened. Instead I went myself, visiting my uncle Dennis there in 1996, accomplishing the reorientation Dad & I had planned. He, of course, was all ears for my report. In retrospect, lack of sleep & jet-lag from the Melbourne flight was the perfect preparation for the encounter --and my uncle's no show at both Waterloo & Portsmouth just another share of transcontinental displacement. But he was waiting at Ryde, --and all over the place in Ryde as that & succeeding days arranged themselves around his peripateticism & the wild oscillation of his sleeping & waking. Four a.m. kettle-boiling & cups of tea ushering in conversations to last the day about literature & philosophy (he was full of Ray Monk's biography of Bertrand Russell I recall) & music; walking miles around town & into the country; drinking with his young & old cronies at the London-style pub (captured for me now from memory of Graham Greene's novel or the film of Brighton Rock) --where 'London style' implicates all Southern England, transcending rural society's cap-doffing hierarchy --wherever found & whomever has the readies uncoupling ease from class --the comfortable shabbiness of carpet & furniture, and much the same for the patrons whether or not of the spiv & toff, flit & bot segment of Uncle Dennis's society.

I imagined Robin Ford's poems delivering me a version of my dream, but I should have known that dreams arent ever on tap to one's bidding! The cover of On the Brink (& that title should have been a warning) is an Isle of Wight view --cliffs, shale, white-tipped incoming seas, the dark-blue depths, the fast clouds in a sun-washed sky. And there in the centre of the book the sequence Wight.
Instantly he's given it to me, for example, At Dimbola in Freshwater (which is all about the famous Julia Margaret Cameron) : "Tennyson of course, a private path and gate for him / from Farringford, all the fashionable and great / who take up Freshwater : Browning, Darwin, Millais, / happy to pose as kings and mythic figures, Dodson's / Alice, staying up the road, whole lot fixed for us / by silver nitrate..." Or, In Clerken Lane : "Fooled by nostalgia I leave the main way, totter / on a muddy tightrope of a track, ridged high, slippery / with autumn, find it now cut short mid-way, mid-air."
There's a lovely thing apparently derived from a 1930s IOW memoir by wonderfully named Fred Mew -- A Glorious Morning 1913 : "I sit by Blackgang Chine / four hundred feet above a sea / that's brilliant, blue, / a thin, white line of foam / kissing at red shingle beach / which stretches from / St. Catherine's Point up to / the dreaded ledge at Atherfield, / graveyard of many fine ships ..." --a precious postcard.
From On Chalk, last verse : "and in an abandoned marlpit / when I brush againt / bramble dock coltsfoot / where it's claggy / thistle spring and anthill tussocked / I turn child again" -- more or less the idyll's caption.
Contrast the 2nd verse of the scene-setting Flotsam : "We walk the low tide shore; a cloudy day, storm passed, / sand dull and flat. Lugworm casts like walnuts, / knot and dunlin feeding at the water's curl. / Above sea's usual reach a mesh of blowsy rubbish: / cans, plastic, oil, tar-clogged garments, rope. / There's been a wreck along the coast, cargo flicked / off decks, tossed from holds and split containers. / Round the bay a line of heavy duty rubber gloves / gagged up by sea, orange as funeral garlands on the Ganges, / fingers splayed as if cold hands, at last gasp reach, lay dead in them: / Albatross, Sirenia, Irex, Clarendon." Of course it's an elegy, governed by essential pathos, but the utterly particular vocabulary is indispensable.
Juxtaposition elsewhere of "in summer sweet, by autumn treacherous" speaks to our Isle of Wight poet's internal & external weathers...

Let's suppose one hadnt gone instantly to the Wight section; instead read first the Asyla & Faustus poems. Then one would have begun with terror ("that haunted wing, my mind") & been riveted by the collection's major poem, Audrey at Whitecroft (--"the former county lunatic asylum on the Isle of Wight" , Ford notes, "later the psychiatric hospital until it closed in the 1980s" --where, indeed, he was too (Whitecroft Revisited 30 Years On), "The old wards named for poets: Shakespeare, Browning, T.S. Eliot. / Gascoyne had his time here. "). This memorable dramatic monologue features a female persona ("They called me Screamer. I do not think I screamed / but it was better not to question them. "), whose testimonial, ameliorative of what in other hands would be diatribe, reminds me just a little of James Dickey's May Day Sermon to the Women of Gilmer County, Georgia, by a Woman Preacher Leaving the Baptist Church --it is transported, heightened, & similarly transgressive god-talk.
"My world seemed right for me alone, when I felt sad or down / and violence came my way, I could enter it to blessed peace, // a meadow filled with ox-eye daisies, quaking grass and sorrel / with fairies fine as dragon flies. I quickly learned it was unwise to tell / the doctors of this special place because, in envy (their own hell), / they turned the taps on me, brought out syringes, wet towels, // said I was away with birds and so I was and that is how I wished to stay / but even birdsong turned to screams which seemed inside of me; then I / was sent into the cells for days, where peepholes watched me, demon's eyes. / I wrestled myself quiet, ate filth they pushed at me through long, bad days // of stinking rain, carbolic soap and loneliness..."
A lifetime of institutional degradation passes followed by the advent of mental health's 'Community' solution. And then, one late day, "a nurse, a good one, best of seven, / taught me embroidery. My world lit up. I saw my brilliant heaven / through her, for God has many means to show Himself to us, the open eyed. // Suddenly I found my voice. // (....) Silks, wools, cottons, they worked with me as if the linen wed the thread. / I grew well, though old. One day they said, You have your own home now. /Shocked I left the ward in fear, bid farewell to every flower, / walked down the drive. Then God said, Audrey, come. And I was glad."

Audrey cant help but be a kind of surrogate, genuine creation though she also is --it's more to the point that Robin Ford's own experience of illness ("my storm of sickness"; "How to still a mind that pours / unstoppable as water over weir") & institution --that is, the ability to absorb & transform what any life throws at one --conflates exquisitely with the fiction : if not the character's doings then the atmospheres inhabited & projected.
Treacherous to take any work of art literally, as though it were an affidavit, yet feeling (pitch, ambit, tone) always attracts narrative. Why, for example, in The Oxus, the Indus and the Aral Sea, doubt this poet's confidence :

When I am well again I will lie on a chalk hillside,
breathe calmly, turn my head to see sunset fall

on sedge, burnet, harebells, float on scent of thyme
and marjoram; spring will warm my bones and over me

crossbow swifts will wheel and tumble. My eyes
will rejoice with hawkbit, speedwell, scabious,

bloodspot orchids will be the only stain the world knows,
my mind will be a new hatched butterfly

testing unexpected wings(...)

In my book it's the chalk hillside, the herbs, flowers, grasses, the birds of any season that constitutes the restorative. Indubitably, no dream, even of the Isle of Wight, without shadows, but Dream & dreaming nonetheless.

Kris Hemensley
September 2nd-October 8th, 2010

Sunday, October 3, 2010


Collected Works Bookshop's first poetry event of Spring is on Monday, 4th October, when we host Robert Gray & Petra White. It's an honest to goodness reading not a launching but hopefully a swag of Robert's older title, New & Selected Poems, will arrive in time to supplement his most recent, the prose memoir, The Land I Came Through Last (Giramondo, 2008). We will also have copies of Petra's second & recent collection, The Simplified World (John Leonard Press, 2010).
Let's fill the Shop!

time : 6 for 6.30
wine & nibbles : YES!
address : level 1, Nicholas Building, 37 Swanston Street, City
enquiries : tel 9654 8873


Ray Liversidge's reading/launching advertized in the M P U newsletter, POAM, for October 14th at Collected Works, has been postponed until November 11th. More information closer to the date.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


Why wouldnt I admit it? Bored, irritated, enervated by the whole biz --what John Forbes, amplifying the Sydney/Melbourne, 1970s, 'new poetry' discussion about the mainstream, called "talented earache"! Then again, as one good poem doesnt make a summer so one bad poem doesnt herald winter. Yet it speaks volumes of one's expectation for poetry that bad writing (and I hasten to qualify : in one's own opinion, thus disposition as well as the particular education undertaken in service of the art) can cause more misery than an inadequate menu or perpetually late train.
The more important complaint is not being able to see the poems for the poetics (or less --for the method of their construction). In my head I sound-off like that 70s discussion & rail against the sound of squeaky clean construction & its inevitable decorum, regardless that some of my own (particularly '90s) production is pronged on the same indictment!
And then, out of the blue, the universe deals a delightful hand --Grant Caldwell's glass clouds, Michelle Leber's The Weeping Grass, Pete Spence's Sonnets, Cornelis Vleeskens' divertimenti. Or do I simply wake up on the correct side of the bed? (Surely I dont have to explain that!)

A first impression of clarity of thought & expression, as I skimmed Caldwell's new collection, had me imagining a poetry of wisdom. And the image (or proposition) was still in my mind as I read Leber's poems, that they were knowing & wise. For example, regarding the latter, the gleaming blade of the line which introduces her poem, The Boonwurrung Coast, located at Cape Paterson (coincidentally where Cornelis Vleeskens hung out for many years) --"We let all things take form in the morning light."-- is capable of cutting through anything, including the taxonomy & imagery of sea-birds & flora let alone hints of initiation into shamanistic mysteries. And the triple repetition of the pregnant phrase "In the best part of May" (in the poem of that name), is similarly almost independent of the narrative (however brilliantly inhabited by the anthropomorphised persona telling its creation tale).
In Leber, the gainliness of that combination of scientific & perceptional language evokes authority. Local Barometer, for example : "Port Philip Bay is quicksilver in a glass. / Grey beryllium dust and copper sun-shards rise above waves. / A wind-whip of a baton conducts in tricky 7/8 time. / Ordinarily, a sea-gust's libretto is sung from a silver gull, / and now a gannets' gale-force chorus carves sandstone. / Within this capsule - held up by vertical cliffs / - an interior spring prevents a cloud's collapse. / The weight of water once floating in Torricelli's tube, / now scummed on a pollution-meniscus. / As a desert licks a city's hem-line, / fever rises in pacific oceans, shifts moisture to the equator; / flash-flooding in the north, yet our backyard is cinder / - tomorrow, horizon's axe will swing at noon."
No doubt these are crafted poems --they had to have been carved & chivvied to make their particular density, and a long way from what I'm going to say about Cornelis Vleeskens... But I'm being led to contradictory propositions : firstly, that what she has to say calls the tune; secondly, that her keen observation imposes veracity regardless of subject-matter. One thing for sure : no ho-hum in Michelle Leber's Weeping Grass (Australian Poetry Centre, 2010)...

As I've flagged, something of the same's entailed in Grant Caldwell's glass clouds (Five Islands Press, 2010). The tone of 'something being said' emanates from sufficient poems to impress authority. Not the old literary gravitas (no matter 'made new') but the conjunction of writing and spoken-word's well oiled tongue. From the outset let's insist Caldwell isnt casual however relaxed --the relaxation with syntax, that is, which is the crux of modern English-language poetry, --allowing then its objectors to be eccentric rather than reactionary (except for the vanguard camp, censorial to the last). Plain-speaking, however, is only one of the founding twins; the other never ditched the richer dictionary. Thus the double spring & thrust of 20thCentury & on's poetry. Caldwell's stepping-off from that rung doesnt yet qualify as construction --it's still utterance, more or less (the how it is, the what happened). And maybe it is 'irony' which distinguishes him from numerous other common speakers, and most of them unheralded --as Vleeskens is, for example --not that he's bitching : equanimity rhymes in divertimenti with wine & good music, and what more would one want?
Further to 'wise' : as though ancient Chinese hermit or mendicant poet...! Maybe it was the haiku-like poems in the centre of glass clouds (though that's 'Japanese') as well as his serious meditations on perception (necessarily equating phenomenal experience & language representation --"the window of the past is complete / but you are blind, or a blind") --which compelled the impression. Not to say subsequent reading disabused it --more, that the amount of distress also gathered there revoked the semblance of resolution. In Melbourne, though, as any capital of the Western world, where else does wisdom lie than in the tension of normal attachment & its desired opposite? Caldwell's erstwhile persona of the wry humorist (open his last book, Dreaming of Robert de Niro (FIP, '03), at random for any example) is perhaps succeeded here by the poet following doubt's philosophical trail to a halfway house of serenity (if one accepts as influence two of these poems' dedicatees, Derrida & Claire Gaskin).
Caldwell's tour de force is the hypnotic across the sea, which begins "the sea comes / across itself / here it comes / across itself / see it coming / it comes and comes / across itself / it keeps coming / it never stops", continuing in like fashion for a further 35 lines. It is a reiteration of the fact of sea --of 'the sea' as an event --which succeeds in summoning sea's ceaseless movement whilst rendering each wave's singularity, and the poet's observation of it a definitive exhileration!

Reading Cornelis Vleeskens' divertimenti on random days (Earthdance, 2010), has me thinking of Franco Beltrametti, as occasionally I do : almost met, courtesy of Tim Longville & John Riley, who'd advised that Franco, our fellow Grosseteste Review contributor, would be visiting London in '71 --or was it shortly before the Hemensleys returned to Melbourne in '72? --but that was cancelled. Any meeting in the flesh was forever thwarted by his sudden death in 1995. He remains an exotic correspondent, then, from the golden age of hand & typewritten letters, always missed now as though a friend.
And Vleeskens' book instantly recalls Sperlonga Manhattan Express, an international anthology edited by Beltrametti (Scorribanda Productions, San Vitale, Switzerland, 1980), because of the A-4 / 210-297mm page size & the visual content --Franco's pics from all hands & lands (e.g, P. Gigli's photo of the Berrigans, poems by Koller, Raworth, Gysin, Whalen postcard/cartoon, J Blaine, G D'Agostino, et al); Cornelis' own montage, drawings, calligraphy, typography --the same mail-art internationale, Fluxus, neo-Dada style more readily recognized from Pete Spence's affiliations & practice --particularly relevant here because of the latter's regular appearance in the divertimenti.
Vleeskens & Beltrametti are both Europeans who've crucially intersected with the anti-formal (looser, casual) English-language poetry (are they 'casualties' then!), especially the post WW2 Americans, progeny of Pound & Williams, New York, San Francisco, the West Coast, at a time when Europe was reaffirming its own liberatory tradition (Dada, Surrealism & on) &, similarly, opening to new worlds. And because they're not British or North American or Australian, except by adoption, their European origins & references are never out of mind.
Not an exact match, by any means --but somewhere along the line they've both decided to riff on life & not on literature, though there is a literature of just that sort of thing, and a life that contains literature, music, painting, etc. But theirs is another reminder of the efficacy of the un-made, journal-esque writing, --as clear & direct as we reconstruct the Ancient Chinese & Japanese to be, and whose transparency doesnt necessarily prefer the naive to the esoteric or the well-known to the uncommon (take the music Vleeskens listens to daily &, therefore, records in his communiques --or his philately habit or the breadth of his correspondence, all noted).
Beltrametti's poem The Key might be credo for Vleeskens too :

What was well started shall be finished. / What was not, should be thrown away.
Lew Welch, Hermit Poems.

1 ) the place & the season : winter
2 ) somebody (myself) right here : real & unreal
3 ) what is he doing & what's going on in his head
4 ) how & why is he saying it
5 ) to somebody else (you) elsewhere
something happens?
the circle (real & unreal)
isnt closed


--published in Face to Face (Grosseteste Review Books, 1973), the blurbs for which by Gary Snyder, Cid Corman, Claude Pelieu, Adriano Spatola, Giulia Niccolai & Guillaume Chpaltine are fair snap of his American/European compass.
Context & correspondence, as in O'Hara, Berrigan, Phil Whalen of course, are vital here in distinguishing such notes & exclamations from the bagatelle they might otherwise be --and Jeremy Prynne's terrific comment on O'Hara jumps to mind, that unlike New York's "art gallery nympholepts", he "always has that pail of serpents in view" --: the poet's obligation, as felt, to be right here, to tell how & what it is without literary diversion, the further extent of which is selling-out, blunting if not losing the existential point. (Echoing Olson's Human Universe suit for the poem as 'one of Nature's things', Ray Di Palma hazards, "a poem is one of the almost successful / forces of nature", --in the 3rd of one of Language Poetry's more beautiful sequences, Territory (from Numbers & Tempers, Selected Early Poems, 1966-86; Sun & Moon, '93), which begins, "the desperado / and his abacus / in utopia" --the perfect cartoon for what I'm getting at?! --but that project was performed within /refined writing, albeit a stepping-up of the casual, and isnt the minstrelsy of the memorandum with which I'm ever besotted!)

Divertimenti : to amuse himself & his friends --to divert & be diverted... Diverted from what? Old cliche : the bind of daily life. But hardly, since it's all this poetry's made of. His note : "These divertimenti originally appeared as individual leaflets and were written for the poet's own amusement and that of the handful of friends who were lucky enough to receive the odd one in the mail or at a poetry reading during the last two years of his life on the Victorian coast... he now lives a totally different existence on the NSW Northern Tablelands."
How would you know? His latest Earthdance chapbook, Sandals in camel (drawings & poems), is surreal as narrative & peppered with elsewhere's place names & distinctions (New York, Parisian, Berlin, Belgian, Catalan, Japanese, Thai, Italian etc), persuading one of his long assumed cosmopolitan ambit. Interesting inference though --'texts' of the life as lived versus 'poems' (importantly, formed in the cross-wires of Dutch & English).
An earlier collection, Ochre Dancer (Earthdance, '99), has the same atmosphere & tone of divertimenti or better said, the divertimenti are cut from his familiar cloth differing only in the attitude of making or framing.

That's the discussion then, in the blur of any such distinction these days... Bits of life (titles & notes of musical recordings, books, lists of food & drink bought & consumed, incoming mail) intersect with thoughts, observations, conversation.
Recalling Kath Walker (Oodgeroo of Noonucull)'s admonition not to appear like a preacher or a politician, Cornelis muses, "Sometimes I wanted to PREACH // But now I just want to share / some of the ordinary things / in the days of a retired poet..."
Diversions from the notion of retirement? Retirement from poetic ambition (craft & career)? I'd identify with that myself. Breaking the cast but keeping one's hand in, and surprising oneself when something more poem than antidote happens along. The list/letter/journal poetry of our time makes it harder to distinguish source from artefact, but found or made they provide as many pleasures as there are days.

"Ah! a new month!
So I turn the calendar to March
A Corneille arial landscape
looking like a cross between
Mondriaan's sketch of a jetty
jutting into North Sea waves
and Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri

The calendar was published
for Corneille's 70th birthday
11 years ago but I still
flip over each month
to show that not all days are the same"

Divertimenti is a book which can be taken up anywhere. It invites flicking because of the open-endedness of its narrative.

"Find an image
of the sun's atmosphere
in The Nature of the Universe
by Fred Hoyle (1950)
so reach for Catherine de Zegher
Untitled Passages by Henri Michaux
hardback catalogue
of the exhibition at
The Drawing Center, New York, 2000

& put on an old vinyl recording
of Peter Sculthorpe's Sun Music #1
for Orchestra (1965)

The sun sets at 5-58

Broodje haring
broodje kaas
en 'n zure bon

Enjoy a glass or two of red
& the clear sound of Marion Verbruggen
playing airs from van Eyck's
Der Fluyten Lust-Hof "

So many dates & times of day, month, year, but the book is always written in present tense, and a sense of the present, in which historical time is subsumed, pervades. All times in diverimenti are concurrent; even the different places defer to the here of Vleeskens' whereabouts.
Despite it being a kind of 'in-lieu of writing' (an 'in-lieu-of-writing writing'?), possessing the light touch of genial conversation & a journal's talking-to-oneself, it also teases one as a discourse on time & place, & of poem as its own place where, paradoxically, its own mercuriality might be traced.

Unsurprisingly, much of this has been the preoccupation of divertimenti's fellow classical & modern music afficianado Pete Spence --typically recalled by Vleeskens at one point, "I think up these lines / while walking home / after putting Katherine / on the 6.37 a.m. bus for Melbourne / but have to wait to write them / till the telephone wakes Pete at 10.35 // My pen & paper are on the desk / in the guestroom where he snores on"...
Spence's Sonnets (a co-production of Karl-Friedrich Hacker's Footura Black Edition, Germany & New South Press, Kyneton, Australia; limited edition of 50, 2009) have been with me throughout these reflections. Sonnet 9 is a good example:

" walking Planck's constant in a red shift?
great day! upwind the day winds down
squares of light are thrown about
should i feel ok now that yesterday
is the subject of these poems? better
to be quick about it like a shadow
taking shade from today's sun! when
will i have room where there's room
where i can roam variously & hang
my tantrums & other guests?
the pushbike's 15 minutes in the frame!
its the end of the terror of Perrier fever!
a mullet sidles through the air
& i'm stunned by its flight! "

Riffing off life or literature? Seems to me it's a perfect blend of voice & reference, where perfection refers to an individual's inimitable register, in this case Spence's naturalization of reference, the opposite of ornamentation, of literary embellishment. It's all become as particular as experience, and 'all' are the prime sources he's so kind to append : Ted Berrigan, Laurie Duggan, Peter Schjeldahl, plus Forbes, Satie, Beckett, Shakespeare... All adds up to "Spence"!

Looking now for the perfect conclusion I find this from near to the 'end' of divertimenti :

" That photo of Peter-Jan Wagemans
makes him look like
a well-fed Vinkenoog from the sixties
In his liner notes
he comes across
as didactic & conceited

I pull on my walking-boots
& listen to Het Landschap (1990)
played by Tomoko Mukaiyama on piano
It is not the landscape I see around me
It is not any dutch landscape I recall

He states it is the landscape
of his music - but he is wrong

It is the landscape of my writing"


[16-8-10 / 18-9-10]
Kris Hemensley