Sunday, May 23, 2010

In Memorium, DAVID CHALONER, 1944-May 10th, 2010

[photograph by Colin Still of John Hall, David Chaloner, Kris Hemensley; Totnes, UK; March, 1972]


As curious a set of signs as one might imagine has led me to the sad news of David Chaloner's death. He'd popped up on Facebook some months ago. He was in Amsterdam --I cant recall whether he said living there or on business. (This has been a period for me in which some of the English poets of my time on the Small Press scene, 1969-72, have come back into my life. Having maintained an at best intermittent correspondence with them over the years, I've been feeling my way back to something more substantial.)
A recent Thursday, day off from the Shop, my mess finally got to me --time to forgo the writing & begin sorting & labeling years of journals, papers, & photographs. And out of a particular folder I pulled a large format, black & white, head & shoulders portrait of an hirsute, smiling trio of poets --John Hall, David Chaloner & myself, in what I recall was a long, upstairs room of John's flat in Totnes, South Devon, invited there by John for the Totnes Arts Festival in March, 1972.
In addition to ourselves there was Bernie O'Regan (photographer & filmmaker, who died in Melbourne in 1996), & Colin Still (a photographer, creator of the photo I've described). David & I gave a poetry reading & also conducted a writing workshop; Bernie showed some short, 8 mm, silent movies (& I have a memory that he baked bread &/or cooked for us, a la Alice's Restaurant), Colin's photos were on show, &, the creme de la creme, John Dankworth's jazz orchestra with Cleo Laine, capped off the festival.**[[see correction]]

Rather like our friend Opal L Nations' fancy of a man "who entered pictures" (--I like these without reservation, Andrew Crozier reportedly told Opal after reading the prose pieces; what have you got against Red Indians? Opal responded), I enter the room in Colin's photograph. Like a friendly ghost I encircle the figures, peering into their faces (our faces)... Most of all, I seeking to enter the moment the photograph captures & forever enacts --that moment which is the world as was configured, right there & then...
Colin's probably said, & I can hear him : keep talking, I want you natural not posed! Possibly the camera's clicked as we've been talking, causing us to pause... John, gripping mug of tea, holds me in a friendly & amused contemplation; David's downward gaze neither here nor there, a chap who's happy in language's air; I'm probably flying, eyes bright with laughter & chat. John's solidly moored by Arran jumper's cable-stitch; David's in sharp jacket, hands in loose-change pockets; yours truly's arms folded across chest, in Indian braided crimson cotton shirt, least prepared for March shivers...
John's jumper catches most of the light that Colin imagined available to his contrasting black & white, anticipated as atmospheric... Did he also have a sense of the drama 'posterity' would inevitably bestow? Could he frame a future's retrospectivity? And what history pulses there (such matter of fact not requiring ramification)?
Holding that photograph for minutes on end, understanding that each one of the trio is who they are, aware there was no situation better than where they were right then. Amen.

Slept on it. Friday morning broke on Facebook 'friend request' from Lucy Chaloner. I couldnt remember if I knew her or not; I imagined she was David's daughter & perhaps he'd referred her to me. I was running late for the train to the City, so postponed opening the email until the evening's return. Thought of David, particularly, during the day. Around closing time Alan Pose says, No doubt you're aware that one of your English poet friends has died? I'm taken aback : Who? David Chaloner, he says, it's on Silliman's Blog & Alan Baker's Leafe site, probably all over Google...
Back home I open Lucy's email. She's inviting me in a general communique to join family & friends at David's funeral, Thursday, 20th May at 1pm, St Peter's Church, Belsize Square in London; "readings by friends & family will be followed by drinks & food in the church (he would have loved that) then on to a nearby pub, details of which will be confirmed. Please come along & be there for him." Later I find on Ken Edwards' blog that David's death follows an 18month battle with cancer.


Journal, 18 May, 2010
As one's own generation dies -- each time a member of the generation dies --one also grieves for the person one was within that confluence, also gone -- But 'now' & 'then' is congealed by emotion -- As each member dies i realize that part of my sadness is for the life i contributed & was given, the spirit that enlivened me as it coursed through us all -- Crystal identity of the generation -- day, month, year, decade -- And in my case it is the "unfinished business" i have with England --
Brian Marley responded to my Facebook email -- The loss not only for family & friends, he says -- it's for readers also -- DC's poetry is something to cherish -- Let the cherishing begin i agreed --
To Brian this morning i said that like me, at that time, 1970/71/72, David wasnt in a particular groove -- i mean of course, as i added, he grooved a variety of tunes -- This is seen by the different kinds of poet he published in One -- Peter Hoida & Alistair Wisker e.g., --or was Wisker in Hoida's magazine [Inherited Magazine] alongside David? -- which points back to the (Cambridge) maligned Children of Albion anthology [which actually included poets like Andrew Crozier, John James, Tom Pickard, Tom Raworth & others alongside the disparaged motley] -- which disappointed me too for wanting something it couldnt, & probably now i would say shouldnt, have been -- but the kind of New American poetry we'd have imagined in Melbourne -- something to sit up on same shelf as New Writing USA -- But that anthology represented a lot of what England was & not only according to Michael Horowitz -- If England wasnt, --the New England that is, --if it wasnt the jazzy & performance antidotes to the Movement, & the Pop poets reflecting Pop art & music, it would have been a concoction --another academic formulation albeit non-mainstream -- i guess the Cambridge poets hated the Beat/Hippie/Jazzer image -- I should have been braver & kinder to Horowitz & his anthology -- but i was on a Serious Mission with the American secret service! -- I should say all this somewhere --
[ May 30, 2010. Flicking through some old mags, I find in Poetry London Newsletter (#29, Spring, 1998), in John Welch's review of Barry MacSweeney's The Book of Demons (publ. Bloodaxe), a line to that earlier mentioned antipathy or at least dichotomy. Referring to MacSweeney's first collection, The Boy from the Green Cabaret Tells of His Mother (1968), Welch observes, "There were obvious echoes of the Sixties popular music scene in this debut, and the beginnings of a new sense of poetry as performance. A closer inspection of the landscape of attempted poetic renewal at that time might suggest there was a soft-centred and a hard-centred version." Welch's quoting of John Wilkinson (from Angel Exhaust, #11, '94), --"MacSweeney possessed from the start a restless intelligence which alienated him from both the gelatinous culture of the prevalent mainstream verse, and from writers of a lazily sentimental counter-culture who offered direct and untroubled access to a repertoire of self-patented feeling"-- indicates the continuous whetting of the prim & proper brigade's ideological hatchet down through the decades! Even Welch's concluding congratulation of MacSweeney's long line continues the carp, thus the 'voice' MacSweeney 'constructed', "makes use of some of the more positive aspects of the Sixties, its music as well as the very real sense of new possibilities in poetry"! One wonders what a half-decade has to do before it's wholly accepted as birthright! That is to say, ultimately indisputable --and soft centre / hard centre, pah! --we are all made of the time of Our Time!] (...)

[Facebook to Brian Marley : "I'm reordering his Collected (publ. by Salt) for the Shop.. rereading his many little collections last few days... a self-reflexivity wch doesnt exempt the lyrical... and especially rereading letters in which he thinks & rethinks his process & the wherewithal of the poets/poems he's reading... instructive & moving... like me he was not settled into a groove at that time (early 70s); i mean, he grooved a variety of tunes! imagine David on Olson's Archaeologist of Morning (a chalonerish phrase when i think of it!) side by side with his K. Elmslie! Yes, Brian, let the cherishing begin!"]

Wednesday, 19th May, 2010
Facebook message from Philip Jenkins this morning -- I found him on either Brian Marley's or David C's list of Friends -- Astonishingly he hadnt heard of David's demise -- (...) He said he realized now how important it was to maintain contact -- & a macabre thought, /most of us facing our last years! -- I said that the poet has always known the 'last days' --(it's the condition of the poet's vision) -- I told him everyone is held in one another's memory (he was castigating himself for infidelity)--


After three & a half years in Melbourne, I returned, with Retta, to England in September, 1969. Not long back before I was writing to the English poets & little magazine editors I'd discovered on expeditions from Southampton to Indica Bookshop in London where Nick Kimberley was working prior to managing the upstairs poetry department at Compendium Books in Camden Town. Retta recalls to me one of the legendary names of the era. He was Indica's co-owner John Dunbar, and Marianne Faithful's autobiography, Faithful (Penguin, 1994), confirms, "Very shortly after I met John, it was Peter Asher who put the money up for Indica, the art gallery and bookstore John ran together with Barry Miles."
I'd already been in contact with Jim Burns & George Dowden, whose addresses I found in Mike Dugan's great trove of English mags the year before in Melbourne; and I'd begun corresponding with Nathaniel Tarn, whose book, The Beautiful Contradictions, excited both Ken Taylor & myself (--I'd previously known him from his World Wide Open essay/manifesto, published in Miles' International Times counter-culture tabloid, sweet music to my ears). My redrawn map of England included Gordon Jackson & Tim Longville's Grosseteste books & journal, Andrew Crozier's Ferry Press & The Park, Peter Riley's Collection, Peter Finch's Second Aeon, Franklin & Williams' Cyclops, --oh so many mags & numerous poets, willy-nilly across the board... (No wonder F T Prince attributed 'colonial energy' to me, a la Pound, when we met in Southampton via Lee Harwood's direction (--an energy locals didnt normally display, he said; your Australian like Pound's American)-- I was happily but conscientiously all over the place!)

In February, 1970, David responded to my "letter of October", which confirms that he must have been amongst the first of the new correspondents. Poor David explained that his magazine, One, "is hung up... the first plates failed + we are faced with having to type the entire thing + get it back to the printers! ONE/2 is also ready to be put out + I'm sad because of broken promises abt appearance date etc." --the usual et cetera well known to poet-editor-publishers since time immemorial!
"God! Breakthru seems a long way off now! as it must to you with those thousands of miles behind you!" he exclaims. I'm presuming David must have been published in Ken Geering's archetypal & monumental full-scap, mimeod mag of the 60s --and I had left for Australia in April '66 before I knew the fate of the poems I'd submitted, though most probably didnt make the grade! The idea if not the physical form of Breakthru influenced my own early editorial & curatorial endeavours in Melbourne between 1967 & '69. My mag, Our Glass & the La Mama poetry readings (both '68-9) were just such 'breakthrough' manifestations.
Invited by Betty Burstall on my return to Melbourne, '72/3, to revive the La Mama readings, I declined, explaining that I was now committed to an 'internationalist' project, connecting new Australians, for example, with new British & N. Americans just as in the U.K., with my Earth Ship magazine (Southampton, 1970-72), I'd made a place for Australians & N. Americans amongst the new British. I could no longer dedicate myself to grassroots & 'breakthrough' activities --not that they were redundant, but simply someone else would have to take them on. Valery Kirwan enrolled me in one revival around 1981, but it wasnt until Mal Morgan, himself one of the original La Mama Poetry Workshop poets, took it up in 1985, under the name La Mama Poetica, that it was restored. And so it prospers to this day. I suppose the Dan O'Connell & other 'open-mic' readings are the closest to that inaugural come all ye philosophy & format currently.

A letter from John Hall (to whom I'd been referred by Tim Longville as another local poet I might like to meet), in April 1970, attempted to put me right regarding my understanding of Chaloner & Crozier. I dont have my side of the correspondence but can guess that I was after a poetry of statement & larger moves than I was encountering in the English poets.
'Critic' in any sense would be disowned by John, but often he was right on the button where his own poetical companie was involved. For example, regarding David he wrote : "I always read his things hopefully. I take them to be marginal notes on various life processes, simple and obvious, and each one, if it works as song, an analogy or type for other sources of life or energy -- the register of surprise, wonder and therefore love. Very conservative; that is he observes as though there had been no great change in the relation (gravitation) between any objects (living or dead), and I cant see that he's wrong there. His best poems are and will be domestic, his politics is the music that takes place /inside the skull."
Obviously this isnt all that could be said, but sometimes first thought is truly best, and when poets find their work, first wrought's rationale is often still standing at the end. John Hall didnt need to speculate about Andrew Crozier's workings --at times he might well have been his closest relative.
"He's a fastidious poet who works out from an ordinary conversational or meditative cadence, which to a lazy reading [--that's me folks! --though it's less to do with 'laziness' (unless a certain English quality is being ranked here above & against others within the kingdom & certainly amongst the dominions) than it is the estrangement of an unexpected sound, & quite probably what was disadvantaged in the vernacular rampage on both sides of the Atlantic, that exclamatory modernism drowning out most of everything else] can easily disguise the care for the texture and sound of the line. If you take it slowly it's like coming indoors to a darkened room; it's only slowly yr eyes pick out the shapes and colours taht do still gleam there. He eschews false lighting and surface glitter(...)."
Yes indeed; and the case for that kind of English poetry, exemplified by Crozier but shared with others, including David Chaloner, must even now be made, though there may be a greater receptivity at last. What's 40 years in the centuries' old battle of taste? But it goes on --these poetry (fashion) wars --and rereading Robert Hampson & Peter Barry's New British Poetries : The scope of the possible (Manchester Univ. Press, 1993), ostensibly for references to Chaloner, I found in R.J.Ellis's chapter, Mapping the U.K. Little Magazine field, a fair representation of this argument's clash & clamour.
According to Ellis, "Robert Sheppard's defence of The New British Poetry [Paladin, '88] against a Peter Porter attack, clarifies well the discouraging gulf that still exists : "So many aggressive terms in Peter Porter's review for The Observer could be translated from the sneering of the well-anthologised into the language of the neglected. For 'whingeing' read 'angry'; for 'Sixties Old Boys' Society' read 'poets who, since the flash of publicity in the 1960s, have been forced further underground than the 'Underground' ever was; for 'ageing experimentalist' read 'senior formalists'; for 'self-refering hagiography' read 'axiomatic reference points not normally associated with British poetry'."
Hopefully, 21st Century blues contain different orders of distinction & complaint!


Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire 26th August, 1970

Dear Kris -- thanks for yr long letter -- hope yr sojourn with John Hall is pleasant -- he lives in a beautiful place!
I'm enclosing some poems [for Earth Ship magazine] -- + a sort of commentary rushed off last night in abt 1 1/2 hours -- I don't know what you feel abt it -- they're only notes of urgency really, are they not? anyway do as you wish with it -- if you decide not to use it will you return it as I've not kept a copy -- just rattled it straight off / OK?
love to you both from us [David & Mary]


Last night, resting, I noted on the back of an envelope, "the sky so neutral, so pale, it seems hardly to exist". Looking back, 24 hours later, those words seem a suitable description of poetry publishing ventures at the moment.
It occurs to me that somewhere there must be a vast stockpile of poetry, waiting for a new magazine, a new front at which to assemble. Where will it be, in which direction, who will be in command, & with what preconceived notions?

The English Intelligencer, Move, The Park, Broadsheet, Resuscitator, Solstice, Tzarad & Collection (as separate publications & as an amalgamation) have seen their time come & go & have conceded to hang-ups such as financial difficulties, physical & mental factors that can, & do, so easily interfere with an editor's freedom of choice/mind & movement (the latter being an assumption that, more often than not, editors tend to lead a rather nomadic existence), & all the need for them to concentrate on their own work & its development; all of which combines to freeze the urge that motivates their productions.

We are, though, left with one or two magazines that may well help to become the necessary prime movers & foundations for a desperately required resurgence & display of strength: The Curiously Strong - changing hands from Fred Buck who is returning to the US, to Ian Patterson; The Blacksuede Boot - that Barry MacSweeney is to put out; Grosseteste Review - which may well disappear soon, after its time under the editorship of Tim Longville, who controlled its high & refreshing standard of presentation; & Big Venus/Queen Camel - from Nick Kimberley, based at Compendium bookshop in Camden High Street, that should rock the becalmed ship & agitate the passengers!
& of course I have my own little contribution to the list of failures....back in 1967 Barry Dixon, Robert Powell and myself decided to establish our own total revolution. Working from Manchester, a common base, we met & discussed & made plans & got smashed & fell about & finally fell apart. Barry & I gathered the pieces & set to work contacting poets & other editors & contributors & interested people & established our "arts" magazine ONE. Plates for the first issue were typed out, & art-work prepared for Barry's cover design, all of which went to the printer who had promised a cheap, to the point of being almost free, run off of the first issue. 4 weeks later I was informed that of the 250 copies run off, about 3 had been successful. The calamity resulted in despair, & loss of interest, for several months, during which time work for the second issue started to arrive through my letter box.

My own work took precedence, & the lack of action gave me time to regather my dissipated spiritual forces. Barry moved from Manchester work in London, & domestic problems & crises served to hold me away from the next, and overdue, advance. Well, the plates have been re-typed; again, they are ready to be run off: BUT! we're too late, the age of the work in this issue renders it invalid. Now I can only think to include the older work as a supplement to something that will smell of fresh air, & be contemporary to the existing situation; & less tainted with the marks of editorial incompetence. And what may help is a letter I received some weeks back from a guy, Peter Baker, who wishes to get something going, & really sounds like he will. Barry may then get his batch of magazines one fine morning to hawk over the streets, & into the bookshops of London. So in many ways this has a confessional air about it, with the hint of a general apology for all the broken promises, re-promises, capitulations & reassurances through the last few, dragging, fruitless months. So it looks like we may be getting somewhere.... which is the most recent edition of my Collected promises that has not met its deadline. Where is the thing moving again? I'd like to do it, but lack the determination, perhaps; I don't feel qualified to judge this aspect of my life, my poems stand, instead, as the result of the labours the time of the editor. I don't think that being a poet/editor is a bad thing, but from my experience one tends to become subservient to the other, & I know how I prefer to channel my efforts at the moment.

[published in Earth Ship, #1, October,1970.]


As it happens, the issue also contained correspondence & poetry from Ian Robertson, whom I considered the closest to my own vision of the (Melbourne) La Mama poets' perspective.The little poems, two of three dedicated to Kenneth Patchen & Robert Duncan, are mystical with a political pulse. It's instructive & poignant to read Robertson's confession of September 24th, 1970, and its dovetail with David Chaloner's missive astonishes me all over again.
"dear Kris & Retta -- the sky is so very high over Burwood tonight -- so very high over Melbourne over Australia & it is so comforting to know that it is the same sky over us three, us ALL, that seems, that /is, to me right now, so very comforting. (...)
Flagstones no. 5 was the final edition of the magazine... I just cannot do another one (....) I received yr aerogram on Tuesday Kris -- to read of Dave Chaloner wanting to send me poems -- & of you -- how do i feel! or, how i do feel! it makes me feel as tho' i have let you down at this end of the world(...)"
If one could reach back through time, as hopefully one did through space back then, & say there, there, it's OK, that's life -- 'life' that things end (that is, /things end) and guilt isnt appropriate where harm wasnt intended... If one could know, body & soul, how life's wheels turn, however long they take --the magic of this kind of life-view --and that nothing actually stopped when a /magazine terminated. It had done its job, representing poets & poetry of feeling & spirit; a magazine amenable to vision, embodying community. Well, that was the Sixties & some of the Seventies, & not at all 'academic'!
In the footnote to Ian's contribution, I summarised Flagstones (5 issues, July '69 to April '70) as having "published the best of the New Australian Poetry including Buckmaster / Ken Taylor / Beard / Hutchinson / [John] Jenkins / Adler / [Stephen] Gray / Radzyner / [Lorin] Ford / Costelloe / Egglestone / Kinnaird / [Graeme] Smith / [Alison] Hill / Goodall / Terry Gillmore / Robertson / Dugan & others. Also : [George] Dowden / Margaret Randall / [Jim] Burns / [Tim] Longville / K[ris] & B[ernard] Hemensley."


Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire 8 April '71

Dear Kris, how many million words do I owe you both
been pretty pissed off of late and the cap came to fit the whole show with a letter from Barry MacSweeney abt that article of mine in ES1 which he's really taken exception to ( / ) I think that he's misread lot of what I was trying to say in those moments of despair when I praised the ones who can admitting that perhaps I am one who can not ( / ) that in his eyes appears to be criminal ( / ) (....)
Yes I've now got me a copy of [Olson's] Archaeologist of the Morning ( / ) not fully into it but getting there ( / ) I mean time rather than understanding ( / ) I get into that man's music from the first pages on in ( / ) have a copy of Distances in the Grove edition from many moons ago ( / ) so know some of the poems of old but the majority are new to me ( / ) & it's really something to have a hold of ( / ) the physical properties of the volume are so related to the man as a poet person ( / ) one wonders if that was considered ( / ) can we trust a publisher to do that with his people ( / ) to get that far into something ( / ) one doubts it ( / ) no, perhaps a happy accident


One of the first reviews I wrote in England was of David Chaloner's dark pages slow turns brief salves (Ferry Press, '69). Tim Longville published it in Grosseteste Review (vol. 4, #1), Spring, 1971. I'd written it mid-year 1970. In his letter of 16 August, '70, David disclosed, "Tim tells me that you've written a review of dark pages which he praises highly, & i look forward to seeing yr reactions especially from this distance from the collection in time, looking back etc."
Poet & poem were oracles for me then, literally psychological & political guides for the perplexed. I quite probably assumed the art as given, seeming to overlook the writing itself, keen to suss the ideas. I should say that although intensely caught up in politics, I read massively more poetry than politics. Poets brought the news /not politicians though I respected the charismatic activists.

from "Words for the Lady"

In the very first poem in his book Chaloner writes: "it is / a landscape / I cannot explain / the colours / assail my / eyes" -- this is the problem he seeks to answer thruout the book.
Here is the poet in great doubt of his role -- "I have / named it & / admit to its existence" in this way "the 4 winds rampage / the white chairs / leap" -- (Schwitters wrote that a door didnt slam by accident but by its own will & was himself the best example of an artist who treated all objects as equal in the sense that a zen artist wd have afforded the painting of a human figure the same consideration as a tree which is to say that animate & inanimate objects were of the same magnitude.) By doubt i mean that tho he writes of components he hankers after the whole:
"that speech gags the mouth & words sleep / lightly on the page (what matter) / that windows reflect a passing moon offers / only a factor of the nights motion"
"speech" & "sleep" are synonymous - becos the poem can never record the total picture (with Chaloner reality is always exterior) - the poem is only a reflection - altho later lines show him to grant: "that page that window they are alive" but only in as much "a dark page / slowly turns". His poems have no innate luminous quality - they have no energy of their own except for the inherent energy of the objects they carry. "He offers "discreet comment - / this as token of my / response" & another poem describes his design:
"an exorcism / (of sorts) / a putting into place / writing down / a rearrangement / of said things / there is a calculated / objectivism / a notion of final assembly."
But compare Chaloner's sense of "calculated objectivism" with that of Reznikoff (whose Domestic Scenes are as objective as court logs) or Rakosi -- for in these poems that "final asembly" is far away even tho it intends that state -- the poems are of /intentions rather than /finalities."
(David reminded me of Larry Eigner, although, "Generally Eigner is more assured than Chaloner". But no hint then of his New Yorkers, especially of that English appreciation one only came to know later. )
In the final poem of the book Chaloner furthers the equation: "did I say from here we can hear / trains the swish of lorries one / road away spasmodic voices cleaving / the night / our speech / a cross-reference / codification of events we / redestroy with words / a necessary conflict // as the poem / becomes the precise act / of volition / an obligation / structure which takes the voice to / speech with / words for the lady & / the location"
The book thus 'ends' - Chaloner has travelled from the assertion of words which inadequately reflect to a precise act of volition... During its course i was reminded of a phrase of Louis Zukofsky: "To see is to re-form all speech". Struggles are seldom speedily resolved. Chaloner mentions the "necessary conflict" between speech & words" -- i wd venture the belief that the total man will ultimately record the total picture - will realize himself even as fragment to be par to the whole thing - will unify those departments of vision language & speech -- such is the anticipatory unity of this book.


Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire 25 June 1971

Dear Kris, this must be the hundredth time I have set-to to write this letter in answer to yours (the very long one!) [indeed! And I'm still amused by Ken Bolton's comment that my book, ThePoem of the Clear Eye (1975, reissued '82) should have been called The Poem of the Big Mouth! As Ken Taylor observed after a particularly long launching-speech I gave : Well, you obviously had something to say, & you said it! But letters are something else --or once they were, before email, before cheap telephone calls damn it!] It's just not been right, that is, what I was about to say each time!
So I will once more begin. Please give Retta our good wishes, its fine about the new Hemensley!
You know I've not even got into the ARCHAEOLOGIST yet, let alone come to a decision on writing on it -- let that fall as it will. Your review of my book didn't come over as presumptious in the least -- far from it, you opened up a lot for me, things that I had not perhaps realized, certainly it was illuminating in the true sense of the word, and something I was pleased to see in such a place, only sad thing is that it will be on no use to anyone who hasn't already got a copy of the book as its out of print, except for those copies still lying in dusty bookshops on dustier book shelves!
This thing about poetry, I don't even know how to categorize my own reactions. I know what you're saying and appreciate your saying it, but I cant get into Kelly, Eshleman et al as I can get into Ashbery, O'Hara, Koch et al and derivations by the company. But I'm truly troubled by Ashbery, in the sense that some of his poems I find so beautiful and lyrical, others so obscure they lose me instantly. I've read his work over and over - intend to continue doing just that until I break through. O'Hara has been on my list for years, and he's OK down the line for me. it occurs to me to wonder what connections this might have with 'painting' -- this will go some of the way, maybe all, to answering your question about the authenticity of the poems - PAINTING, "tomorrow i'll be going out into march", "sunlight slants in", and SWIRL -- God yes they ARE my concerns, and come from very direct experiences, MINE, and recent to the date on the page. They are different because they have to be -- I am unable not to to let my poems move of the same 'ground' as myself, mentally, physically etc etc. I paint. In the 'sunlight' poem I am the protagonist, I /have to be, thats how I work, write, live (I hope!) (How pompous!) (but you'll know what I mean) Only on those occasions when i am moved by my personal mythologies do I 'invent', but again, it's me at the helm, "land ho!", I see the magic island; I suppose its my substitute for drugs, no loner using them, or feeling the need, particularly. I get so 'stoned' on other things (sky, clouds, friends, buildings, pictures, books, possibilities, being)! (....)
Now we're getting to music (all music, as it must be), witness my poem for Maxwell Davies, a superb composer! Its the music of some of these poets, the audacity,put some strange group of words onto a page and Lord you have to work like fuck, or perhaps give up wondering -- I cannot condemn until I am COMPLETELY sure. The reaction in paris to Stravinsky's 'Rites' was a picture of "We don't understand, we will not be troubled, after all there is NO TUNE!"
You see Elmslie has done a considerable amount of work as a librettist. He's into music, therefore, to me, he comes over with a kind of verbal timefulness, a phonetic effect as well as the poem being 'a poem'. Although he is included in the New York Anthology, I think that is a quite loose definition (as far as most of them are concerned!), I would say he might even be closer to Koch than any of the others, an interesting guy altogether.


14 September 1971 Dear Kris,
what occurs in poetry for me has to appeal to the inner whatsit and make me restless, I think, and aware. also, of possibility, and further, so that I am directly affected. Now this maybe because i also write! I don't know? Yes I do, thats true! Anyway language and painting if we're going to use these 2 (and why not?) should contain, (for me), similar elements of structuring. One applies a colour ((or line) or shape) but, need these be related in any other way than being united by the 'frame' (extent of the poem) which after all does provide its own 'significance' and 'meaning'. do you see what I'm getting at. Angela and John Hall spent the weekend up here recently, and a lot of this was worked through at that time, particularly as I have been doing battle for the last year! with my own work, and now, I think, getting somewhere.... And its not to say that the 'frame' takes on the responsibility of a detention centre either, rather it should offer no restriction at all so that all that is around us gets itself included as well, and in no uncertain terms.
(17 September)
Your poems now Kris! ---
What really worries me is this Eshleman/Kelly influence. I have tried to get into what they're doing and trying to say and I'm just left cold -- their stuff seems / sounds (when read aloud) /so archaic, + I can't get its relevance, not to /me anyway. Caterpillar i've gotten a copy of # 14 with some Michael Palmer poems in it and they're about all I can get to -- I pick the thing up continually, its always lying around, but have yet to come into the crystal dawn of its /meaning beyond occult mystery + religious innuendo.
In the Miro sequence the poems that really actually take my eye for more reading (several times in TOTAL) are the "reverie before Jealousy", 1 + 2 of "Photos" and probably "Portrait 1 - 1938". these seem to have a greater sense of control and a density (to use a Hallism) that the rest seem, for me at least, to miss out on a bit.
This criticism applies also to CONSIDERATIONS -- Satyricon 2 is really getting towards the kind of feeling about an event that /I imagine O'Hara used to have (you mention ODES in the 'previous-but--one' poem). How do you feel about him? Those beautiful ODES and The Lunch Poems and the rest. I would see, do see, far more to what he did than I get from the mystics -- and going further to Ashbery, I think what I can best do is quote from the back of "The Double Dream of Spring":
"consciously or not, he has realized that work of the complexity to which he has aspired demands placement against a background fully documenting his wrestlings with problems of scale, syntactical limitations, dislocation and organization.... The chances are very good that he will come to dominate the last third of the century as Yeats, also afflicted with this madness to explain, dominated the first" Howard Wamsley (Poetry)
Elmslie + Koch also do what Ashbery does; but in totally unique and individual ways, creating whole new worlds+ places out of the langauge -- and using a language that is so often underworked and ignored and grey + boring, to build poems of rich multi-coloured multi-directional-dimensional possibilities. (...)
I knew John James and Jeremy Prynne had been at The SONNETS for a long time and I do feel that has percolated through, most certainly as those 2 gentlemen are very much on the MacSweeney hero list to all intents and purposes. I think that Berrigan can do some good things out of that hip posturing (which is only to say, he belongs to a tradition we do not belong to, a cultural background undiluted by the Atlantic. Like the old days when to hitch [? was to hitch] lorries to our California / Cornwall, But lets face it, it's not like the New York / San Francisco thing is it?


Cheadle Hulme 14 January 1972
Dear Kris

(....) its some time since I ;ast wrote and this is really related more to a lack of pressure 'outwards' on my part than being 'too busy'! But i have been wooed back, as it were, with a burst of necessary response to various letters; one being John[Hall]'s request to read in Totnes at the end of March. Which I've accepted...... and I'll look forward to seeing you if you do the same..... if all goes to plan etc.
Congratulations on Timothy to you + Retta (who after all, did the real work of bearing and giving birth) How soon will he set up his own magazine to blast us all apart !?*@@!@
Who exactly is Jacquie Benson? John Robinson mentions her as also being in the first issue of his magazine JOE DIMAGGIO (I've some poems there and CURTAINS/2 (Paul Buck) and Sesheta 2)
Right then - as soon as i have some poems I'll send them on --
Goodwishes + love to the 3 of you from Mary + me


High Street, Totnes, S,Devon 20th February 1972

Dear Kris, thanks for the two letters, yours and your alter ego's. The latter I passed on to the Arts Fest. committee who okayed it. So 5Pounds plus travelling expenses will be yours. The date of the reading (morning) and workshop (afternoon) will be Monday 27th March. We'll be expecting you on the Satyrday or Nereidday. David [Chaloner] /will becoming, so will Bernie [O'Regan]. I've told Tim [Longville] and John [Riley] about it, so they may be able to come up and see us all some time during your stay.
About poems for Earthship - will try to have a sort out and disentangle what hasnt been either sent or accepted by another mag. The last few months have left me a little confused. I cant remember what I sent to David. Also I dont know yet whether or not Andrew [Crozier] intends to use Week's Bad Groan. I'll have to write and ask him to say finally yes or no. I'd like that to appear somewhere very soon. Meanwhile I have to stockpile fragments and ideas, and wait for the time when I can sort through them and put an unhurried ear to them.
There are two I know are free, because Dave didnt want them for last One. Will enclose them, tho i doubt your interest.
Spent a few hours last Tuesday writing out a little poem 105 times for DAYS.

John [Hall]


High Street, Totnes 16th March 1972

Dear Kris,
Thanks. See you on Saturday. If you let me know what time your train arrives I'll meet you. If not, ask the quickest way to the top of the High Street & you'll find that we're above a shop called the Emily Whitby Gallery. Purple.
Look forward to seeing you. Can't promise you a very restful time. by the e nd o fthe term we aren't either rested or restful. And there will be altogether too much happening for comfort.
The reading is scheduled for about 11.00 a.m. on Monday 27th, due to break at 12.30. It's time-tabled against a concert by the school's Pop Group, so all the heads will probably be at that instead. No idea yet how many will be likely to come.
See you, pere de famille. Love to the rest.

London. [May or June, 1972?]

dear Kris & Retta,
news came today (via david chaloner) of Mark Hyatt's death. its probable you already know, it came as a terrible & unexpected shock to me - mainly because we had exchanged a few letters back in march, at the time of his failed suicide attempt & he did seem a little depressed & was let out of hospital. his manuscripts are being gathered by Donald Haworth [Blackburn, Lancashire]. I'm going to get intouch with Donald Haworth about the poems mark sent to me, ie what to use, whether to use at all . . . .
John [Robinson]


Dartmouth Park Road, London NW5 3rd July 1972

Dear Kris, What an age I've taken getting these pictures together! Do forgive me. I only hope you think they were worth waiting for.
Actually I quite like one or two of them. I think the 'trio' shot is quite nice. For me it seems to encapsulate what I thought was a very good weekend. That's a very pretentious thing to say! What I really mean is that you're all smiling, and that despite the most appallingly low light level there's some nice texture on John's sweater and on your embroidered shoulder. Whenever I look at that picture I find my eye drawn back and forth from face to face, from John's self-conscious grin to your own leonine smile. I can't help wondering what the conversation was about!
I also like the very black side-lit one. This is the one that reminds me a bit of Michael McClure. (Did you see, by the way, the Peter Fonda film 'The Hired Hand'? - McClure acted in it, playing a poker-playing heavy in the saloon scene!) It might look better with the white border trimmed off.
the three-quarter shot is a bit disappointing, though I'm sure I can do a much better print. I'll have another go next time I'm round Bernie's. I'd like to try a couple of experiments with it: I'd like to print it in sepia to enhance that primitive 'Buffalo Bill' feeling, and I'd also like to try double-printing it with a textured surface, like a rough wall or the bark of a tree. Hopefully the hair, the eyes and the heavy shadow would go black, and the now textureless face would be full of rather bizarre detail, like crumbling brickwork for example.
The fourth picture I don't really care for. the only bit I like is John's out-of-focus head, which I blew up to 10" x 8". It looks quite good. The grain is very crisp and sharp, and it has a nice pointillist texture; and at that size is almost abstract.
Enough about these pictures. Next time I see you I'll do some good ones.
Thank you very, very much for letting me have those Earthships. They gave me a lot of pleasure, and I'm really looking forward to the next one.
Oh, I have a question: what was the source of Prynne's letter to Olson quoted by John Thorpe in 4/5? Has it ever been published?
I'm was sorry to miss you and your wife when you came up to London. Drop a line next time you're coming. Bernie says you're planning to go back to Australia. When will that be?
I hope you 'll get a chance to come up to London a few times before you go. As I'm sure you will have read, the Barnett Newman exhibition opened last week at the Tate, and from all accounts it is very good.
I may be moving in the near future, to a huge flat I've found in Blackheath. It's about two minutes from Greenwich Park, and about five minutes from the Thames. Right on the Meridian. If I move in before you go, (if you go), you must come down.
I'm sorry it's taken me such an age to write. I hope you like the pictures. to stop them going frilly at the ages, stick them on card with Cow gum.

my best to you,
Colin [Still]


Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire 8 July 1972

Dear Kris, thankyou for the John Thorpe issue -- I've been interested in the odd things he's been doing that have appeared sparsely before and I'm going to give this body of work some attention to determine exactly how and if he's going to meet my expectations.
I appreciate your comment about Mark Hyatt but his "problem" was not in any way a pose (as I see it) but related to the confusing psychological sociological /facts of his life. I know exactly what you're getting at with "the cul-de-sac of personal determinism" but that was not a chosen stance, it was imposed by external factors on a mind unable to cope totally with their damning consequences.
I'm working on your cover for ARC [Tony Ward's press, Todmorden, Lancashire]. (I've just completed + sent off the artwork for ROLLING UP HILL / used to be GAINING MOMENTUM, Nick [Kimberley] has started to run that book off--) I'll be writing to Tony in the next few days ---
I think as you said to him that we ought to stick to a typographical cover -- the time + energy in getting permission from publisher + owner for use of THE FARM as a cover illustration may prove to be rather extended -- but if you'd like me to try I will! My idea is to use a type-face that "suggest" some of the character of Miro's paintings, a difficult task but not insurmountable! you'll see soon anyway ---

Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire 23 October 1972

Dear Kris,
we had hoped to be in London this weekend, as, I believe, you and Retta intend to be, but it now looks quite doubtful, which is very sad. Our trip to Southampton, in fact many planned visits had to be cancelled because I got a part-time job teaching students at Bolton College of Art and Design how to approach their design problems in a way that would suit the world of commerce, where, god help them, they are soon to make the essential bread and butter monies. Anyway, that absorbs the thursday and friday I was normally able to use for travel visits and extended run arounds. The pressures and responsibility of teaching are quite extreme, and very exhausting, at least right now while its all relatively new to me. And of course time is used outside of college hours to prepare, familiarise, and think about whats to come.
With this letter our goodbyes, our love, our good wishes and all other offerings are yours, Retta's and Timothy's for the voyage south and away. It all begins to sound like a nineteenth century novel, certainly some of that "adventure" will be present for you, even though you have been there before, and Retta belongs there etc.
Mary is working on the final skins of ONE/2, but its not likely to be run off and finished until mid-november so it'll be essential for you to let me have a forwarding address as soon as convenient or possible. Time is short, and of course you'll be totally involved in packing, so if you can't spare time or energy to reply before you leave, thats OK.
Eric Mottram has asked for, and accepted, six poems for the winter '72 issue of Poetry Review, he says that he is rather surprised that those gods of literature who make up the [Poetry] society gang have not told him to piss off, or offered some crippling ultimatum. I often wonder what it must cost in the way of integrity, and all such heady notions, to mix with those ageing (and young) academic leeches, whose one desire seems to [be to?] determine the limits of what they feel is their domain by inheritance, and paid up dues, and friends with "influence".
Andrew [Crozier] will have the copy for CHOCOLATE SAUCE with the printers by now, and Nick is working on the last bits of "putting together" on ROLLING UP HILL. I'm working quite well on my prose pieces, and am half way through the B section. As more get written down the principles and notions become that much clearer in that the pieces themselves are often about writing them. Narrative is the medium used to express this. And the characters who involve themselves through me to abstract from the process some part for their own adventures. I mean, essentially the whole exercise /is an adventure, right through from me to the reader, that is if all the clues and various devices act, react and interact as they should. It won't be until the whole "group" has been completed that the "feeling" will project as an advance from point A to point B, and indicate some idea of movement, growth, maturity etc.

Mary's love to all, and mine - good wishes, Bon voyage
David + Mary


[finished typing June 3,2010, in Westgarth, Melbourne;
this hommage dedicated to Mary & Lucy Chaloner]

[Many thanks to Vera Di Campli San Vito for uploading Colin Still's original photograph]

[[July 28/10, ** see correction in July,10 Poems & Pieces]]

Sunday, May 9, 2010



Regarding Bertram Higgins (1901-1974)


[Recently, Gerald Fitzgerald became interested in Bertram Higgins. He popped into Collected Works bookshop one day & asked if I had anything by Higgins or if I'd even heard of him. Much laughter when I said that indeed I had heard of him, in fact I'd dealt with him at some time when I was poetry editor at Meanjin Quarterly (1976 to '78 inclusive). I believe I was sent a batch of his poems by a friend or relative (perhaps his son) or it could even have been A.R. Chisholm... I've searched for my Meanjin era correspondences but turned up nothing; I cant find my diaries for that period either. If Meanjin retain records of correspondence between editors & contributors then perhaps the original submission & my response might turn up. My memory is that I was singularly unimpressed by the poems & probably said so. One must recall that I was the poetry editor newly appointed by Jim Davidson (Clem Christesen's successor), specifically to bring the 'new poetry' to the magazine --and mine was a particular 1960s'/'70s modernist perspective tempered only by a brief which required me to select from the best of the in-tray in addition to soliciting from the poetry world, local & overseas, I inhabited. Today I'm embarrassed by the memory of that rejection note. Had I been responding to Bertram Higgins at almost any other time in the last 30 years I would at least have been interested in his historical position. Melbourne cultural history wasnt the same type of preoccupation for me in the mid '70s as it was to become. Actually, I dont think it was until the Mallarme in Australia conference in Melbourne, September/October, 1998, curated by Michael Graf & Jill Anderson, that I was reminded of Chisholm, of course via Christopher Brennan's centrality to the theme. This doesnt mean I'd have necessarily accepted Higgins' poetry for publication back then, but would certainly have welcomed the figure he was. Today I'm sure I'd have found something in his manuscript to publish if only because of the importance I now attribute the byways, the undergrowth, the 'secret history' of this (& any) place. Naturally, I asked Gerald to write me a resume of his investigations...
Kris Hemensley]


April 30th, '10


This is purely to keep you up to date with my Higgins news. Unsurprisingly the 'subject' burgeons, due almost entirely to his being forgotten more or less totally for a few decades. I'm not all sure anyone has had a go at surveying his multiple activities: poetry, literary reviewing, and editing avant-garde journals devoted to literature and the arts. One problem has been that so much of this activity occurred in UK, roughly between 1921-1939.
But unlike numerous expatriates he returned, twice; firstly between c.1931-33 and then c.1946 till his death in 1974.

On the bits and pieces I've so far garnered, I don't think there's any doubt he's at least a most interesting figure in the story of Australian letters, and most certainly so with regard to the era of modernism.

The following are some of these garnered bits:

- 1925-1927. Asst Editor, Calendar of Modern Letters. Higgins was a friend of Edgell Rickward (ed of CML) at Oxford. There they seemed to have initiated the idea for the Calendar. Higgins was a frequent contributor of poetry and reviews.This journal was highly esteemed by FR Leavis, and (in The London Magazine Oct 1961, 37-47) by Malcolm Bradbury who declared it in 'many ways the best' of the 'three great literary reviews of the 1920s' (the others being The Criterion and The Adelphi). In 1986 a further substantial review of the CSM appeared in the Yearbook of English Studies, V.16, 150-163, by Bernard Bergonzi.
- 1933. FR Leavis. Towards Standards of Criticism. Selections from the Calendar of Modern Letters (1925-27). Numerous of Higgins's contributions appear in Leavis's selection.
- 1931. Stream. Higgins edited (and founded!) this Melbourne journal upon avant-garde Art and Poetry. It lasted for three editions (July- September, 1931).
- 1981. Bertram Higgins, The Haunted Rendezvous: Selected Poems.

As well, there are numerous biographical bits and pieces (many culled from a biographical reminiscence by AR Chisholm in The Haunted Rendezvous):
- After one year (1920) at Melb Uni., Higgins left Australia to continue his studies at Oxford. There he became friends with Roy Campbell and Robert Graves. The former, according to HM Green (A History of Australian Literature 1920-1953) declared Higgins 'the most interesting of all the poets at Oxford'. On his appointment to the chair of English at the University of Cairo during the '30s Graves arranged for Higgins to accompany him as asst lecturer in English. However, Graves didn't take up the appointment, so Higgins's job there fell through too.
- '20/30s. Higgins does much literary reviewing in UK papers and journals. He also becomes the first cinema critic for The Spectator.

- c.1974. Thesis. The Nature of Bertram Higgins' Poetry. Copy in State Lib of NSW.
- 1968-1974. Correspondence between James McAuley and Bertram Higgins. Held in the McAuley collection. State Lib of NSW.

These details are still a mishmash. Bits and pieces. I'm trying to track down Robert J King, and Higgins's children (who are proving difficult to find). Still far too early to put together a coherent survey. Higgins spent the final 30 years of his life in Melbourne. What in the heck was he up to then? Jim Griffin, the historian, ran into him in the Beehive Hotel in Kew sometime during this period, noted what an interesting character he seemed to be, but (being an historian!) didn't pursue this 'literary' figure. That was a missed opportunity.

Cheers, Gerald


May 3


The Selected Poems were published in 1981, almost certainly therefore at the instigation of someone(s) else - maybe Chisholm, or Michael Parer, or one of Higgins's children. At this stage I have no idea how representative of his work this collection is. The poems that I would like to see are those of the '20s, which clearly impressed people such as Campbell and Graves.

The Robert J King I refer to in my previous email is the author of the thesis now held in the SLNSW. I'm also trying to contact Ken Hince. One of Hince's colleagues whilst they were teachers at Xavier (where Higgins also went to school) I know did make contact with Higgins.

Chisholm seems to have been alive at the time (1981) of the publication of the Selected Poems.



May 3

Chisholm died in 1981, at 93. He was always interested in contemporary Australian poetry, as you probably know.
His major (publication) interest was in the French Symbolists. Both of these strands would have readily lead him to Higgins.



Two poems from GRAVELLY VIEWS



The sun kissed my cheek

And inspired the chant.



I am mutable and infinite, I reflect exactly
Whatever it is you want to be. I show you.
My slippery tongue between your words,
I might trip you up, but never myself.
I cannot lie. I do. Lately more and more.
You are pompous and pigheaded, arrogant
And vain. I cannot help you. The truth alternates
---yours and mine---yours and mine---
I am not here to show you up. I am here to plump.
Now I am a cat. My tail twists between your legs,
A tickle up the trousers, and you splutter, utterly charmed
By your own wit and wisdom and superior intellect.
Gosh you're attractive! As if it matters what I think
When you're here to tell me what that is.
I want to please. I do. Most of the time.
I hold you in my eyes and wonder what you see.
It only happened once that someone noticed
My eyes are green. But so were his.






Ancestors on show

Bleeding in the corner

A troubled


Met by loathing

And selfish love

A cruel joke


Second cremation

His death was


Predictably so

Giving time for her

To run the lines

And find her own



Someone to trust

When she's gone

The world will


And become like a


Perhaps trust is


Blood and bones


Trotting pages

A clever collection

Full of life

Incinerators and


Lasting years as

Chronicles of fun





Born from the edge of the water
Diving at the end of the stream
Life in the city would mean
just a picture of one world to me
that says something else
Keep me alive dear Sir,
Keep me alive dear Sir
Give me memories of love I hold in my mind
as sacred.
Because just a picture of the one world
to me that says
I'm there
and you're here
is alive.
Keep me alive dear Sir
Keep me alive.






[from the Introduction : "The title of this collection comes from the first line of a Lennon and McCartney song "Blackbird". It's not that I particularly like the song; it's nice enough. But I am intrigued by the image of a blackbird singing in the dead of night and by the realisation that unless the blackbird is singing no one would know that it existed. these poems are my attempt to acknowledge my own existence.
The technical name for a blackbird is Turdus merula hence the title of this collection.
--Melbourne, 2010.]


[The Seed: My wife's family had a painting with a life of its own until my wife killed it after her brother had killed himself.]


Ah that big brown painting.
Painted by an ancestor.
Painted 150 years ago, or so Ma said.
Big, dark and poorly executed.
Wrongly shaped bodies with pin sized heads.
Bodies in stiff unnatural postures in some bucolic Victorian landscape.
A family legend went with the scene.
The painting even had a name:
"Lord Somers negotiating with brigands in Italy to secure the release of his beloved."
A big, brown ugly painting that seemed to say:
"I've earned my right to be ugly and revered - I've been around for ever."
that painting hung in your bedroom.
It must have witnessed your youthful lust and your experiments.
Seen you when your head was bent at your desk.
Seen you when dozed off at your studies.
Or when you roasted your legs with the blower heater.
The painting moved when you moved.
It even followed you when you married.
Finally in the interest of tasteful decor it went.
You couldn't bring yourself to dispose it for ever more
So you gave it to your brother.
At least it's still in the family you said.
At least it suits his style of home you said.
Exiled, it stayed with him.

It was hanging there the night he did the same.
He had thought you liked it so he left it to you in his will.
The day we cleared his house you took a knife to that painting.
The exhilaration as the knife sliced at the brittle canvas.
The joy of ripping strips just like lifting tops off scabs.
In the end it was easy.
In the end it was just a pile of little brown stiff rags.
In the end it was nothing.


[The Seed: After 60 years I hunted out the Paris apartment block where I had spent my first three years.]


In my first three years
I lived in an apartment.
On the Rue de Vinaigriers.
A street linking Boulevard de Magenta to the canal.
Over the years
I believed it was a grand apartment.
Like those in films set in Paris.
A half a dozen decades later I returned.
But it was not what I remembered.
Surely I had never lived in an ugly concrete block.
In my memory my block echoed La belle Epoch.
In my memory my block complimented Haussmann's grand plan.
In my memory my block had charming wrought iron balconies.
Balconies forbidden to any bebe choux lest he should fall.
I didn't remember this featureless building.
Mine could not have been a between-the-wars concrete block
I never gazed out of mean little windows.
In its best years this building could never have been hospitable.
The building across the street was more like the sort
I thought I lived in - typically Parisian.
Surely that was the one - that was my building.
But the block number in notes from impeccable sources
Said: "No".
Mine was the ugly block with the mean windows
And I had spent my first three years gazing at that Parisian beauty opposite.




writing face down
the only sense is collage

praying for approval in front of a statue
god-mother telling mother to tell you off for idolatry

leave me alone on the page
I can feel the capillaries breaking in my legs
and my pen running out of ink

I am up to my knees in the story of :
we are only doing this because we love you

slashing tyres
cutting poems

when beliefs are more important than people
we are beetles on our backs

children in strollers holding dolls on nooses

prostitution doesn't stop rape
a child holding a bunch of daisies bigger than her face
it exists because of rape

footsteps in the cemetery
I will dye my hair in Autumn
control being a response to loss

a belief you can't be wrong
while the leaves loosen like promises

a belief you can't control your urges
bubble wrap between stacked marble at the masons

both beliefs that you can't
and here in the story up to my hips




I was still laughing from the world's last joke
when the chicken farmer came into the co-op.
I straightened as they strined some nonsense
about oysters pleasing the missus.
Common enough joke in a fish co-op
but that wasn't what disappointed me.
I knew from their downbeaten colonial drawl,
not to mention the younger one's hairlip,
that they weren't your off-the-shelf yobbos
on a lark or a bender, but rather
deeply outcasted, outlasted hicks.

Why should they have to pretend otherwise
in a time that already wished them dead, buried
or at best composted? And with that barbed thought
I heard a keening right there across the counter :
A weird enough gift to right the broken world.

'Have you heard, the chicken farmer's fecund lament
Made of pullets and stink, insignificance, vile roughage
And oh such a relief? A whole town has been healed
From that one frankly extravagant outburst
Sung with an eye turned-in to the heavens
And with sorrow's tears falling out into joy.'

But nup, a fly buzzed, their orders ensued typically.
The hairlip bit and with his downturn of phrase
merely handed me the dosh. It was a fair exchange:
One dozen oysters for a sweet dream short of a quid.




Viewing and reviewing my stay is an art formed in simple words of surviving, growing old, doing a good job necklaced like the world that can change from one day to the next and hangs on. And I stand by the rose without clean hands although summer is over and passages of melancholy loss recess in dreams that curl like the bannister or a squirrel's tail, squeaking, shivering with possibility for the right moment. all the while dewy mornings, azure skies, pussy willow trees---kit, caboodle of dreams' stocks-in-trade---confront the knife, a tiny blade that conspires like needles, stars, explosions and yet are still not night but light on light: the lake. Between past and future is now, no hands in the stone although breath has many doors to mix retrospect with apprehension, maybe told, forgotten, lost, found this morning.


for Thom Gunn

as we rose, we changed---birthslug, toddler,

kiddo, preteen brainiac out through serious
awkwardness, bootielateral-liciously present

into some normatively developed willfulness
termed 'translucent' 'conduit'---symbols for such

flowering forms transversing to any seedy end.

the who we were and are will swell, seek, range,
swim within the scale our mature notions permit

wading through them conducting translucent lives



I honor the Peace Corps and those who brought it into being.
I honor the dedication of its Volunteers and staff.

Before it began, as a WGBH-TV (then located on the MIT campus) as a lowell fellow (lowell institute for cooperative broadcasting) intern in 1960-61, I met (as switcher/technical assistant director) candidate John Kennedy, Eleanor Roosevelt, Hubert Humphrey, Harold Stassen, Adlai Stevenson and others who discussed (on Nieman Foundation curator Louis Lyons' thrice weekly 14 minute 25 second shows on WGBH-TV the then New England Television-NET that preceded PBS) its establishment; and also worked on putting together at WGBH-TV the announcement program that aired on all major commercial networks in the Spring 1961 under the direction of the cameraman and director from our station who gone and gotten the footage in Washington, D.C.

Then when the test was given at Harvard yard, I took it. I got and accepted the call to go to U.C.-Berkeley for training for the Ghana 1 contingent (the first of several that went out then); in due course, after meeting the President in the Rose Garden and in his White House Oval Office, we left for Accra from Washington, D.C. in late August 1961 in a two engine prop Convair across the Atlantic stopping for refueling in the Azores, and again in Dakar, Senegal rearing up above the Ocean before coming down over the beaches of Ghana.

So it is with sorrow that I feel the Pace Corps has been dishonored and irrevocably tainted by the Bush and Cheney administration who for a time gathered it into the American military's house. I, after consultation with others, began to compose a draft, a protest. I sent the completed 'draft' to the Poets Against The War protest site:


today as we look forward now let us say
goodbye to our hopeful good past and not
let it stink and fray along with the misdeeds
we have recently been made party to, for

by including the Peace Corps as a career path
of military service under the guise of
some "national service" rubric, the great
ideas has been fatally compromised, dissembling

the intent in John F. Kennedy's creation
of the Peace Corps by a sneaky reformulation
the substance gone, what's left is a shadow
of a dream now morphed into the nightmare.

the ethical and criminal, even treasonous
contempt toward the American people by the
Bush-Cheyney administration stains even our
history. Peace Corps in practice is now dead.

[Forward email Peace Corps Response / 1111 20th Street NW / Washington, D.C. / 20526]



GERALD FITZGERALD, ex Classics at Monash University, well-known Proustian, & now for something completely different!
JURATE SASNAITIS, artist, bookseller colleague at the Greville Street Bookshop (Prahran, Victoria). These poems from Gravelly Views (Ratas Editions, February 2010). Her book of prose pieces, Sketches, published by Nosukumo (Melbourne, 1989). Contact,
LAURIE FERDINANDS, Melbourne librarian, previously in Poems & Pieces #1
GEORGE LEVANTAKIS, one of Melbourne's Nicholas Building poets, via Button Mania. Working on a first collection to be published in Greece.
ALBERT TRAJSTMAN, once a mathematician now a poet on Melbourne's spoken word scene, e.g, the Dan, Passionate Tongues.
CLAIRE GASKIN, Melbourne writer & writing teacher around town. Anthologised in the Puncher & Wattmann Anthology of Australian Poetry, & Motherlode (both 2009). Previously in Poems & Pieces #6
GREGORY DAY's two novels with Picador are Patron Saint of Eels (2005), Ron McCoy'sSea of Diamonds (2007). Various limited edition books with his Merrijig Word & Sound Company, including Where Darkness Never Seeps : Poems of the CBD (featuring M Farrell, C Grierson, K Hemensley, A Stewart, J Taylor) (1999). Previously in Poems & Pieces #3
ED MYCUE lives in San Francisco. Seventeen collections of poetry, most recently Mindwalking, 1937-2007 (Philo Press, 2008). Longstanding Australian (via K Hemensley's H/EAR, W Billeter's Paper Castle) & English (via B Hemensley's Stingy Artist, & P Green's Spectacular Diseases) connections. Aka, The Chronicler. Previously in Poems & Pieces #13

--A couple of months in the gathering, finally done this day, 9th May, 2010

Sunday, May 2, 2010



Confession as preamble

I've been sitting on what I intended to be a review of the recent swag of Australian poetry anthologies for two months or so! I've accumulated notes, discussed the topic with fellow poets & readers (including a frolic on Facebook), yet I've clearly dragged the chain, feeling more daunted by the day. It wasnt going to be an exhaustive review, more a kind of 'thoughts arising' on the subject. But even skirting these anthologies' rationales -- and I should clarify that I principally had in mind The Penguin Anthology of Australian Poetry, edited by John Kinsella (2009) & The Puncher & Wattmann Anthology of Australian Poetry, edited by John Leonard (2009), although David McCooey's post-1950 poetry selection within the humungus Macquarie Pen Anthology of Australian Literature (general editor, Nicholas Jose,A & U, 2009) & the genre anthologies, if that isnt a loaded or misleading term (Martin Langford's Harbour City Poems : Sydney in Verse, 1788-2008 (P&W, '09) ; Jenny Harrison & Kate Waterhouse's Motherlode : Australian Women's Poetry, 1986-2008 (P&W,'09); Michael Farrell & Jill Jones', Out of the Box : Contemporary Australian Gay & Lesbian Poets (P&W,'09)), are obviously apropos -- I'm reminded, forcibly, that the anthologies' historical & cultural references are not, or only superficially, mine. I should say, 'reminded of this yet again', --in the course of which I'm confronted with the perennial problems of identity & representation. Oh dear! Angst & ennui! I tire myself out & probably bore silly all my chums of the dinky-di!

It's clear that anything & everything I think & say about Australian poetry is skewed by an ultimate foreignness. This wasnt always the case although some may have long suspected it, for example, Tom Shapcott, back in '75/'76, when he was compiling the Contemporary American & Australian Poetry anthology (UQP, '76). It was a collection I felt I should have been in but even more, a connection I believed I could countersign! (If that doesnt ring with 'entitlement' nothing does! And I say that now with no little embarrassment, notwithstanding the reality of my involvement, as colleague & editor, with American poetry at that time.) Shapcott said he wondered about my longer term affiliation to Australian poetry. I evidently convinced him that I qualified. I showed my gratitude by curating a symposium on the anthology in Meanjin Quarterly, for which I was then poetry editor. It was probably put to me that since the opinions of my four contributors (messers Tranter, Reid, Faust & Duncan) were more or less critical, I ought to invite someone else, Peter Porter for instance, to provide balance. Balance, of course, isnt a word in a radical's lexicon. I fancy the fall-out from that episode hung around me for quite a while. At that time I abstracted the literary or poetic values I held from any set of social relationships it might seem I inhabited. I suppose this is the form absolute commitment to one's beliefs might take, but it's also the stuff of elitism & social alienation...

Even though it's been 44 years since I emigrated to Australia, I couldnt swear the customary allegiance. Today I would say I am an English visitor in Australia, albeit since 1989 with a certificate of Australian citizenship, who retains his British passport; a dual citizen with the classic divided loyalties. My commuting since 1987, Melbourne to Dorset & back, returned a home to me that I'd all but lost (except in vivid dreams). 'Internationalism' saved my bacon hitherto : Melbourne as a city in the world, and the world calling the shots. 1987 was my first trip back to the UK since 1975, the year I'd attended the inaugural Cambridge Poetry Festival (reading there with fellow poets published by Grosseteste Books), reconnected with family, colleagues & friends, and flirted with the tenuous possibility of remaining in England. For some of the '70s & '80s in Melbourne I was an exile, soothed somewhat by a philosophy of belatedness. But a 'turn' in the mid '80s provided for both a break with radical politics & avant-garde art & literature, & a re-embrace of a traditional & sacramental life. This still pertains, but now the sacrament has an English accent and is in need of regular succour! Yet I pulled out of a collection with Salt a few years ago --a publisher situated in England, with Australian interests close to its heart. Strategically what could have been better? Writing about it in Island magazine, I offered that I was afraid the selection of poems didnt represent me & that they wouldnt survive their (necessary) encounter with the world. Plainly I no longer had the courage of my own convictions. The longer the project took to materialize, the more I agonised. Pulling the rug ("to save us both embarrassment," as I emailed Chris Hamilton-Emery) was the solution. Though offered collections since then by Australian publishers or invited to be in anthologies, the best I can think to do is decline. I'd feel a fraud & counterfeit otherwise. (I should declare, though, that I'm in Raffaella Torresan's illustrated anthology Literary Creatures : A book of animals in alphabet, Hybrid Publishers, '09 --perhaps because I'd rather 'talk to the animals'! And my CD selection, My Life in Theatre, with River Road Press, '09, partially avoids the questions that a book would present me with --it's in the listener's ear & not a reader's eye after all, so I can represent myself...)

No amount of 'post-colonial' critiquing & redefining of the Australian situation & condition attracts me or assuages my disinclination to accept the tag for myself. At the same time I do feel I am a Melbournean without identifying as Australian.This is much the same, I think, as my dear maman being Alexandrian without identifying as Egyptian or at least, less & less, after the ousting of the monarchy & the ascendancy of the new nationalist order : her family's cultural viability depended upon the multi-ethnic cosmopolitanism necessarily jettisoned by the revolution & that revolution's enrollment in the anti-Western side of the Cold War argument... I was never entirely sure whether my mother was anguished or profoundly amused that her papers, upon departing Alexandria for the UK, were marked "stateless". I wonder if some of that rubbed off on me... Additionally, although my father may have presented as a typical Englishman, he apparently hankered after a reconnection with his Huguenot mother's South African home (where he was conceived), who'd been robbed of it by an English settler husband's dispatch of her to England while he (my grandfather) remained with a bigamous consort... My parents were happy where they lived when they were, dispirited & displaced when they werent --Mum referring to Alexandria or the fantasy of a French life (on the wing of an Alexandrian Lycee Francaise upbringing); Dad desiring greener fields, briefly experienced on European & West Country holidays, but staying put to dig his Hampshire then Dorset garden, dutifully sacrificing himself on Esso BP's altar for the family's provision...

I enjoy the memory of my connection with pre-nationalist Egypt, having lived several pre-school years in Alexandria & Suez (it's an Egypt of the mind, sustained by literature) but mostly & crucially identify with England. I am, therefore, an English man in Australia, & a Melbournean whose qualities I carry with me in England! Declining to be an Australian (poet) is one thing; having next to no credibility as a writer in England is another, yet I feel 'unfinished business' on many levels with the Old Dart! It's the expat's double-bind, I guess. But an obvious contradiction to all of this is the greater affinity I've felt for Australian sport (cricket, tennis, rugby, swimming) than English; frankly, the games I follow are better expressed in & by Australia than England! And because I've lived here so long, I have a 'local' connection with contemporary Australian art. Flicking through a recent issue of Meanjin Quarterly devoted to 'the British question', I've found the phrase "British roots, Australian fruits" which might explain some of the anomaly, though I'm well aware how anachronistic, even reactionary, that can be read today. I havent said much about my earlier American connections, but suffice to say they continue, --Whitman, Pound, Williams, the Beats, Black Mountain, San Francisco, New York, Deep Image et al, & whole worlds of literary fiction, art, music-- & have expanded in the same way as my appreciation of the British & Australians (thus old & new formalists, & numerous independents).

Regarding the "New"

It was the 'new' part of the term "New Australian Poetry" with which I identified in the late '60s. (I believe I coined the term in an article, Towards a New Australian Poetry, commissioned for Meanjin Quarterly; written in '69, published in 1970 when I was back in England.) My 'new' was inspired by Donald Allen's New American Poetry, 1945-60 & later by Penguin's 'New Writing' series of anthologies (British, American, German, French et al) rather than Al Alvarez's The New Poetry, with its dramatic Jackson Pollock cover (which disappointed me when I read it in 1966; it seemed like the old poetry to me then, a dichotomy, I hasten to say, I'd finally rescinded by the late '80s, early '90s).

In 1969, Ken Taylor & I had been asked by John Hooker at Penguin Books to edit an Australian New Writing, but after much consideration we declined, certain that inevitable compromises would distort if not destroy the project. (Charles Buckmaster, around 1970-71, took up a similar commission, but nothing came of that either.) Taylor's acquaintance John Gill, whom he'd met in New York in 1965 whilst on a Harkness Fellowship to Columbia University, edited with Earl Birney the magazine New : American & Canadian Poetry (Trumansburg, New York). They published Ken Taylor & then myself there, and suggested that Ken start an Australian wing of the magazine. But this idea was jumped by Melbourne's ''mini-mag explosion" (as the Monash academic Dennis Douglas described it) of '68, '69...

This idea of 'new' melded with a sense or imperative of 'now' --it was urgent & actual, resonating the uniqueness of the time & place... The world of the New was both intensely local & promiscuously international. Its sources were as inter-disciplinary as literary. Fondness for the appellation 'experimental' had more to do with accommodating & shaping the floods of new concepts & forms of expression flowing through the as-perceived Sleepy Hollow than any Poundian renovation of Tradition. Naturally, practice makes perfect : we learnt on the job, but without "the license from the English Department" as per Ken Taylor's brag. We were, as I've written before, the illiterati!

Of course, Pound's perspectives were important, so too Williams' & Olson's. For our Melbourne generation, the American take on almost everything hitherto pronounced upon by the British was an opportunity for what today's lingo calls the post-colonial. American literary perspectives & practice were preferred to the British, and provided the means for an independent Aussie articulation, --independent but seeking equivalence.
It might be of interest to note that at the very time I was possessed by Olson, whom I saw as expressing the very opposite of the academic attitude & epitomising the 'new', John Gill railed against him as its apotheosis! He held up the new vernacular Americans, as the true poets of the democratic idiom, against the high falutin' Black Mountain academicians. (Echoes of Williams' criticism of Eliot!) I was astonished. Black Mountain, New York, San Francisco were on the street in Oz & not in the academy! Similarly surprised when I returned to the UK, in 1969/70, to find our 'underground' exemplars taught in some universities!

In retrospect, I realize that the 'new' of my young time was situational (new in one place, passe in another) & its absolutes only temporary. I wonder, though, if one can say that the ambitions of the New, which transcended the conventional categories in every respect, were diverted by the temptation of respectability (grants, status) &, paradoxically, education, back into the mainstream? However, 'mainstream' itself changes &/or is redefined. I would like to believe that writers of my generation, whether from experimental or traditional roots, now have a nuanced sense of 'mainstream'. Our experience would surely have taught that it is the statement of deep rapprochement and not one side of an eternal mutual exclusivity. It is also what the 'canon' might now be --where history's products rest within their tested differences, the propositional best of an era's diverse bunch... During the same period, erstwhile stuffy institutions came to embrace the openness we might ourselves have once advanced & benefited from. For a start, 'Creative writing' on the higher education syllabus, --but if poetry & fiction were solely a product of study instead of also a political & emotional necessity's expression --if these factors didnt both comprise our practice's equation-- the entire game would be lost! New poets, in the sense of theoretical & expressive innovators, were now, more often than not, the products of universities. Astonishing, really, to the '60s generation, that formal study might relate itself to the formerly radically independent modes of thought & practice, so much so that the avant-garde's viability is currently vouchsafed by the academy!

Regarding my abandonment of 'career', it's the business of it, the 'publish or perish', the industry which most put me off, especially when elevated from a necessary evil to the essence of the enterprise. Back in the '70s, when my late friend, the English poet John Riley, approvingly quoted Anna Akhmatova's contention that Literature was a dung hill on top of which the poet crowed, I didnt quite get it. And though by now I do understand both Akhmatova's & Riley's positions, I dont want to appear precious about it all. Mine's more a love/hate relationship than a complete disavowal. Best to say, I'm an amateur who's deadly serious about a vocation & its practice but cavalier about the profession --who'd rather sit in the shade of a tree, munching a crust of bread & cheese, vino or ale in my hand, with my head in a book, writing or reading, than attend a festival or conference, or would work forever on a poem rather than seeking to publish or perform it!

Thoughts arising...

# A stampede of anthologies? An avalanche? An armchair? A hedge-fund?

# There was a time when locals would envy Scribners' annual Best American & wish we had something similar. Eventually we did --we have two Best Australian (the Black Inc & the UQP) anthologies in addition to the Newcastle Prize. Evidently we dont do things by halves! Six Aussie anthologies --seven if one includes the little Shoestring Press (UK) compilation edited by Adrian Caesar --and another, the Gray/Lehmann, in the wings! One could be forgiven for thinking a new bout of national definition is occurring; present territories being staked out, the future up for grabs! ('Ruddist' perhaps? All the swish & swagger of the new broom, the new deal, but when the dust has cleared it's more or less how it always was?!)

# In the late '70s, John Tranter invited me to be in the New Australian Poetry anthology he was editing for Martin Duwell's Makar Press (Brisbane). I accepted but was shocked that a poet like Ken Taylor, possibly the same kind of elder sibling for the 'new' Melbourne poets as Bruce Beaver in Sydney, hadnt been considered. After all, poets like Charles Buckmaster, John Jenkins & Garrie Hutchinson from the same Melbourne scene, & a little later on Robert Kenny, were represented, each of whom owed something to Taylor or were better understood in relation to him. Additionally I felt Walter Billeter's work was part of Jenkins', Kenny's & my own explication, & that Clive Faust, who'd come to us via Cid Corman's American/Japanese circuit, was an important ally. I also proposed that Ken Bolton & Anna Couani deserved guernseys. John accepted most of this; but Bolton & Couani were too recent to be included he felt. Some years later, having drinks with Michael Ondaatje in Carlton in the company of Judith Rodriguez, Tom Shapcott, Jenny Strauss & others, I described for the visitor's benefit, how what he'd extolled as an excellent anthology had come about. Judith Rodriguez took me to task : it wasnt my place to have second-guessed Tranter, she argued, far less to use one's own invitation as a bargaining chip. But, I did, & had. At that time I felt representation was a political issue, and considered I was arguing for poetics which would otherwise be ignored or demeaned. I thought too that I was supporting poets who'd fallen under the radar. I assumed every poet had a duty to advocate in this way. I thought this constituted 'the discussion'. Not to be in an anthology was always one's final card, and the making of another or counter anthology always an option. This paragraph could lead me into an analysis of "the poetry wars" of the 1970s & '80s, --friction within the avant-garde, opposition to it from without, ameliorations, divergences -- but though instructive it would be a distraction here. Another time... Suffice to say, principal ought always have been the point & not personality; years later there was poetical rapprochement (the Mead/Tranter Penguin Book of Modern Australian Poetry, for example, which revised & resituated the original New Australian Poetry as part of a continuum, Slessor to Kinsella, largely transcending the Generation of '68/Younger Australian Poets divide) &, hopefully, personal injury recognized & repaired. But even so, contemporary pluralism doesnt nullify difference & opposition even though radicals & conservatives occasionally seek to discredit it. These days I wouldnt want to influence an editor unless consulted but neither am I seeking publication...

# Whilst particular absences are notable in one compilation (for example, & as they come, no Buckmaster, Maiden, Bolton, Brown, Duggan, Jill Jones, Cronin, Farrell or Bishop in Leonard), they're usually rectified in one or more of the others. But some arent in any at all. No Nigel Roberts (though he deservedly scores in Harbour City Poems), Tim Thorne, Eric Beach, Grant Caldwell, Myron Lysenko, Lauren Williams, Shelton Lea (which sounds like a school reeled off like that); no Mal Morgan, Ian McBryde, Jennifer Compton, Selwyn Pritchard, Robyn Rowland, Peter Bakowski, Andy Kissane, Jane Williams, Joel Deane, Louise Crisp, John West; no John Anderson, Ken Taylor; no Gary Catalano. (The women here are all in Motherlode.) Invidious to call a roll in this way, for this salon de refusers could contain as many poets & more again as were published in the anthologies... And I'm well aware that I'm looking out of Melbourne eyes : assuredly lists could be compiled reflecting the perspective of every city/state of the commonwealth. It might be argued that patterns of omission are the more interesting to consider, in which the contradiction of po-mo unmade & lyrical well-made, though that's only one broad brush beginning to debate, appears to identify John Leonard's with the mutually-exclusive point of view.

# Where the canonical anthology is concerned, I think it's probably editorially risky to consider young first bookers. It's not those particular poets' fault that equally talented first timers are excluded. It's for the editors to justify. But when, in the case of the Leonard anthology, every debutante published by the John Leonard Press appears ahead of a list which could include Chris Andrews, Judith Bishop, Nathan Shepherdson, Greg McLaren, Lisa Gorton, Ali Cobby Eckermann, Carol Jenkins, David McCooey, Angela Gardner,Tina Giannoukos, Kate Middleton, Mal McKimmie, to name some at random, one must wonder how & why. Indeed, every John Leonard Press author appears in his Puncher & Wattmann anthology, so where space is, apparently, a consideration, --in Leonard's own words, "a judgement of preferences given limited space", --a larger conflict of interest might be argued! (I should say, though, that several of those poets were included in pre-JLP era compilations. I guess it's just 'not a good look' in this time of 'perception' politics.) By the same token, Kinsella omits most of the JLP authors whilst his own Salt press is the publisher of a very large number in the Penguin. Regrettable, to say the least, if the editors felt their credibility as publishers was at stake!

# Every reason then to have Younger Poets anthologies, however arbitrary the qualification age, or Introductions --anthologies of every sort --'genre' as opposed to the 'canonical' or even to oppose it. Academic imprimatur can be the kiss of death, and with the best will in the world, the majors are all tinged with it. Interestingly, the blurb for the (125-poets, 175 poems) Motherlode anthology includes a canonical accent : "Judith Wright, Gwen Harwood, Dorothy Hewett, and Oodgeroo Noonuccal appear alongside the major poets of today, including Judith Beveridge, Jan Owen, MTC Cronin, JS Harry, joanne burns and Tracy Ryan..." But there's no consensus on that claim in the majors, thus the rationale for the women's anthology! No joke of course : the motivations for Kate Jennings' mid-'70s anthology are probably as relevant today as then, although Jenny Harrison & Kate Waterhouse concentrate upon the sub-divisions of their female & feminist narrative and bridle at the mainstream only in passing in their lucid introduction.

# Kerry Scuffins' poem, Bear's air, in Motherlode, is as tender a poem as one would want to read of a very particular experience, one which is only incidental in the poetry of purportedly larger thematic & expressive schemes (the whole point of genre let alone gender specificity). When 'woman' is the paradigm, every incident speaks the reams now available to it. With all respect to the poem's original publication, in this anthology it becomes memorable. Inflation's slain by the small words, the little rhymes of the infinite world of mother & child, for which the toy bear is both witness to & alter-ego of the naturally suffering mother. Scuffins' poem is memorable because it isnt exasperation's reportage; something else happens --"she looks into the eyes of Bear. // She touches noses / with Bear. / She puts her head on the head of Bear / and sighs, and tiredly, dog-gedly, / breathes Bear's air."

# It's often said that context is all --so how distinguish the poems in Out of the Box, remembering that it's subtitled Gay & Lesbian Poets & not poems, implying that the G & L status is crucial to the work? Could it solely be a matter of the content --poems about relationships, lovers; poems of the momentary, of what remorselessly passing time makes ephemeral --the poetry that dares to speak its name, as it were? How distinguish poets in this context from any other they may inhabit? I remember Paul Knobel, when visiting Collected Works from Sydney, maybe 20 years ago, challenging me on the absence of a Gay poetry section in the bookshop. The first thought in my head was, What would we do with the American section then? I was thinking specifically of numerous poets who are better (& self) identified with the school of New York, say, more than their sexual preference; ditto San Francisco Renaissance poets, the Beats & etc --& so many others who're only defined as Gay by their biography rather than poetry. At the same time, the hilarious flippancy & the mercuriality of tone & image, which is a hallmark of much New York poetry, obviously corresponds to what one would generally assume today as a Gay style, one which now actually transcends sexual distinction. An answer, maybe, in Jill Jones' comment that "Words operate in relationships, grammars, that readers make meanings from" --therefore the availability of the Gay & Lesbian meaning, & this anthology's suit for its relevance. Among poets in Out of the Box one would not encounter elsewhere are Terry Jaensch (especially his poem Mouse), Nandi Channa (King Brown), Stephen Williams (Cathedrals in their middle age), Maria Zajkowski (Colour), Kerry Leves, Denis Gallagher... One strength of Out of the Box (& it's the smallest of the anthologies) is the variety of the poems and the dispersal of the several poems per poet throughout the collection --it's made to be read rather than consulted. Although I'm not sure that a Pam Brown or David Malouf or Peter Rose or Martin Harrison or Dipti Saravanamutu or even Javant Biarujia poem differs in this context from elsewhere, even spread throughout the collection they do represent their authors & the anthology with unusual frisson! Much to savour in this anthology; Chris Edwards, joanne burns, Angela Gardner, Susan Hawthorne amongst others... Harrison's Aubade, beginning "If an extremely blue, misty, angular winter early morning / left its traces, its minnows and shimmers, in your eyes", ably extends grammar to hold a thought/conceit without strain. It's an elegant & mellifluous composition that denies the usual mushiness of romantic poems & speaks for the best of the anthology.

# The academic (traditional or avant-garde) imprimatur should be as incidental as popularity, one factor among several reckonings. In the '70s, the Melbourne/Sydney avant-garde discussion, in which I participated, mocked poetry's 'subject-matter domination', valorising 'the poem itself'. It probably needed to given the erstwhile conventional concentration upon 'communication' wherein 'themes' were 'effectively' expressed. But the wheels of practice & fashion turn, so direct or plain speaking returns. And even the conventional dichotomies dissolve, thus today there's a concurrence of realists & surrealists, Language poets & New Formalists, & all their hybrids. So it is and will always be, again & again & again! The moral? No more dogmas! Everything & nothing; everything or nothing!

# The canonical is central to both the Kinsella & the Leonard no matter either editor's provisos. Given my own reservations about the 'Australian' definition, I suppose I should be sympathetic to Kinsella's escape-clause that as an anti-nationalist he's an unlikely compiler of an Australian anthology. Naturally he's a coloniser too, albeit in the name of the transgressive & subversive. Although his redefinition of Australia doesnt do much more than add black, green & red stars to the national constellation, it's probably worthwhile. Not being (not being allowed, --after all it is the Penguin anthology & the widest readership is presumed) a fully fledged experimental anthology (in which his interesting but dubious notion that 'Australian' poetry is historically 'experimental', conflating with the formally experimental), it has a bitsy feel (a bit of this, a bit of that, & with some obvious exceptions, a little bit from everyone). Its success would be as the necessary complement to any standard anthology, providing the antithetical coda. The fashion of the day might describe it as an Eco-Poetical anthology...

# John Leonard's anthology probably began life as one thing (an update of his 1998 AustralianVerse : An Oxford Anthology, but with another publisher now since OUP abandoned the field) and became something else as it responded to the influence of a decade of new poets & new poetry. The two Johns concur that contemporary poetry is booming & may well represent the brightest it's ever been. Leonard calls the period from 1998 to the present, "unusually rich"; furthermore, " the number of poets writing original and high-quality work is larger than at any time in this country's history." Kinsella chimes, "It will probably strike readers of this anthology that it is unusual for so many contemporary writers to be represented in an historical anthology. I have done this because I feel that the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries have proven and are proving to be fertile periods for poetry."

# Comments in their introductions suggest that both editors plot their poetry as parallel to the national history & responsive to the country's geophysical stereotypes. Apart from more or less passing remarks, neither editor really describes or analyses the aesthetical/poetical distinctions & directions of their anthology --not because they cant but wont. For Kinsella I suppose it's largely due to his sense of poetry's political imperative (at least, the transferability &, in his eye, the impossibility of distinguishing such categories). For Leonard it's as though the beans arent his to spill --either the 'delight', which he'd say is always the arbiter of a poem's worth, is for the reader to explicate, or it's all been done to excess previously. He explains, "I will refrain from giving a version of the usual story of the evolution of Australian poetry in terms of influence, movements in poetics, and sheer personal alliances. A reader can easily search for this elsewhere. The ghost of its scaffolding is discernible here, but my instinct is not to trammel the poems. Poems can interestingly outgrow their first labels." I wish our editor had provided & discussed an example of this tantalising statement --such poetical analysis would hardly be 'trammeling' but a demonstration of the very reading he urges in his introduction. In short, I'd love to know how our editors understand the (language) 'riches' of their selections. (Repeating the tale of free verse's historical ascendancy over the metrical, albeit allowing for free verse's ever greater complexity &, indeed, for the new career of formal composition during the post-modern, is the barest beginning, and left at that might thoroughly mislead an innocent reader as to the nature of the art & craft!)

# Because, in the Macquarie, David McCooey is placing (I almost write 'insinuating') poetry into the entire Australian literary frame, one that's politically responsive to the current historical register (as no better displayed than in the holus-bolus inclusion of what had been the self-contained & previously published volume of indigenous literature, edited by Anita Heiss & Peter Minter), the poetry (which includes examples of comedians' Barry Humphreys, John Clark & Michael Leunig, as well as a song by Nick Cave) might be expected to represent more than its intrinsic effects. And although the largest poem in his selection is by his own slim volume's publisher, John Kinsella, --a sprawling spiel, a signature aspect of his writing but not a patch, I'd hazard, on his W.A. situated & elegant magical-realisms that achieve all he'd ever want to bang on about --McCooey's selection doesnt follow his champ's 'experimental' (didactic & oppositional) line. For all the cultural-studies predilection, McCooey honours both po-mo & trad, equally aware of lyric & gravitas, irony & humour. He's an ammeliorist. Couldnt help feeling, though, how much like filler the poetry appeared, & the category itself so fragile in the Big Mac, heavied by the tome's portentious seeming prose!

# At random : open the Leonard & let the eye fall upon whatever it finds there. Page 140 : Geoffrey Lehmann's The Two Travellers. (I'm thinking it's what a disinterested reader would do : open a book & flick. I dont mean disinterested; I mean an interested reader, without axe to grind.) I like it! Immediate Laurentian asociations (that river-side taverna in the first part of Aaron's Rod, perhaps) arise-- but that's me -- impressions & sensations of young men's joi-de-vivre offset by nostalgia & mystery. The rhyming couplets are a delight. Several stories implied, as in the closing lines : "A parsley field and church shone in the sun, / The girl was there. We diced and my friend won." --the apposition of the girl & the friends' dicing may or not be consequential. I'm impressed by the poem being no more than the telling of a story in almost guileless couplets --no breast-beating or tub-thumping --simply a poem. And this day that is a great pleasure to me! It was written in 1972. I dont remember reading it then, & if I had probably wouldnt have appreciated it. What can I say : I inhabited a set of angles then which no longer dominate! Thank God for long reading lives & the chance for second bites & opinions!

# Caught by Lehmann I look for him in the other anthologies. Suddenly he's everywhere! That is to say, suddenly I'm aware of his centrality! In the Kinsella, his Pear Days in Queensland, probably botanically, agriculturally & historically accurate, is a tour de force : bourgeoning like creation myth, enveloping one like a Weird Tales fantasy. I wonder again about a DHL connection ('gentian violet' in the first stanza); his repetition of "pear" throughout the poem is rousing & hypnotic. It also recalls to me Ken Taylor's At Valentines (part 1) for the way a poem might insist its particulars --an oral gambit, I suppose, but so disposed as to transform the lists of items into richly layered narrative. In the Sydney anthology, Lehmann's to be found again with another big hit. Also from '72, Elegy for Jan is memorable as elegy & also litmus of an early '60s city of the young. And in the Macquarie, 13 long playing haiku, with its obvious reference to Stevens' Blackbird, is a musical tour from Debussy & Ravel to John Lee Hooker & Lou Reed; poignant, comic, deft & direct.

# Open the Kinsella at random : p.331, Jill Jones' The 7.17 Silver Machine, & in particular, "(...)we are racing time and track work / as the splayed out, the curved and embryonic lurch / towards dark Sydney - the dome, the nipple / the snow white breasts of midnight / waiting till we step down in the light " --not quite as speedy as a jump-cut Farrell or Gig Ryan but pretty fast &, like Ryan, atmospheric & beautiful!

# Something which has bugged me for a while is the status accorded the Ern Malley phenomenon. To wit : Why does the 'Ern Malley' confabulation of James McAuley & Harold Stewart have its own moniker without also bearing the names of its authors? Did proponents of new & innovative poetry understand the 'Ern Malley' hoax as a victory for their own poetic principals or was it a joke at the expense of the perpetrators, a bit of anti-conservative pay-back? And for how long can the joke remain funny? If the McAuley & Stewart 'Malley' poems stand up, why is there no attention paid to the original Apocalyptic & Surrealist poets of the '40s, even from the standpoint of historical representation? Judith Wright's negative judgements in her '50s Oxford appear to have become the orthodoxy. Even the Jindyworabaks seem to have had a better run, as evidenced by John Kinsella's remarks & inclusions in his anthology. It's long been time for serious reassessment, especially since the '60s & '70s' restoration of surrealism & etc as legitimate practice in Oz.

# Only one poet is in everything; Dorothy Porter. No more fitting memorial for a beloved late colleague. Many others are in the Big Three (several additionally in one or more of the Genres). Were it not for their much publicised spat with Kinsella (leading to withdrawal from the Penguin), Robert Adamson & Anthony Lawrence would have joined that company which includes Adam Aitken, Jordi Albiston, Bruce Beaver, Judy Beveridge, Vincent Buckley, Bruce Dawe, Sarah Day, Rosemary Dobson, Michael Dransfield, Jack Davis, Stephen Edgar, John Forbes, Peter Goldsworthy, Alan Gould, Robert Gray, J S Harry, Kevin Hart, Gwen Harwood, Dorothy Hewett, Philip Hodgins, A D Hope, Martin Johnston, John Kinsella, Geoffrey Lehmann, Emma Lew, Roger MacDonald, James McAuley, 'Ern Malley', David Malouf, Les Murray, Oodgeroo, Geoff Page, Peter Porter, Peter Rose, Gig Ryan, Philip Salom, John Scott, Tom Shapcott, Vivien Smith, Jennifer Strauss, John Tranter, Chris Wallace-Crabbe, Ania Walwicz, Francis Webb, Judith Wright, Fay Zwicky.
In two or more : Lisa Bellear, Ken Bolton, Kevin Brophy, Pam Brown, Luke Davies, Laurie Duggan, Lionel Fogarty, Rodney Hall, Jill Jones, Jennifer Maiden, Mudrooroo, Ouyang Yu, Jennifer Rankin, Tracy Ryan, Craig Sherbourne, R A Simpson, Peter Sryznecki, Peter Steele, Roberta Sykes, Andrew Taylor, Alan Wearne, John Blight, Peter Boyle, Caroline Caddy, Alison Croggon, Jane Gibbian, Kevin Gilbert, Jennifer Harrison, Bill Hart-Smith, Coral Hull, John Jenkins, Bronwyn Lea, John Mateer, Pi O, Elizabeth Riddell, Judith Rodriguez, Alex Skovron, Dimitris Tsaloumas, Vicki Viidikas.
And numerous one-offs including Muk Muk Burke, Barry Hill, Catherine Bateson, Elizabeth Campbell, Julian Croft, Lidija Cvetkovic, Rebecca Edwards, Anne Elder, Brook Emery, Diane Fahey, Claire Gaskin, Barbara Giles, Martin Harrison, Jill Hellyer, Sophie Holland-Batt, L K Holt, Yvette Holt, Emma Jones, Evan Jones, Peter Kirkpatrick, Tony Lintermans, Kathryn Lomer, Paul Magee, Philip Martin, Geraldine Mckenzie, Graeme Miles, David Musgrave, Mark O'Connor, Marcella Pollain, Dipti Saravanamatu, Morgan Yasbincek, Simon West, Petra White, John Watson, Ali Alizadeh, Javant Biarujia, Judith Bishop, Merlinda Bobis, Charles Buckmaster, Michael Brennan, David Brooks, MTC Cronin, JH Duke, Geoofrey Dutton, Michael Farell, Geoff Goodfellow, Philip Hammial, Dennis Haskell, Anita Heiss, Paul Hetherington, Antigone Kefala, SK Kelen, Mike Ladd, Kate Lilley, Kate Llewellyn, Miriam Wei-Wei Lo, Rhyl McMaster, Chris Mansell, Miles Merrill, Peter Minter, Phillip Neilsen, Grace Perry, Glen Phillips, Andrew Sant, Jaya Savige, Randolph Stow, Harold Stewart, Norman Talbot, Richard Tipping.

# Recurring poems include Slessor's Five Bells, & Beach Burial, Peter Porter's An Exequy, Beveridge's The Domesticity of Giraffes, Croggon's The Elwood Organic Fruit and Vegetable Shop, Strauss's Tending the Graves, Murray's The Quality of Sprawl, Forbes' Love Poem, & Speed : A Pastoral... Classics major & minor. If poems rather than poets were school texts (and I think they should be) these might lead the way...

# Based on the Big Three & the Twos, convergence of taste seems more the stamp of the anthologies than divergence, but for all that there are numerous memorable poems. Add to the previously named the likes of Zwicky's Makasser, 1956, Lucy Holt's Waking : for Kafka, Wagan-Watson's Skeleton Dance, Albiston's The Fall, Pi O's Yoori, Gray's In Departing Light, Salom's The Composer Shostakovich Orders His Funeral, Adamson's The Language of Oysters, Dobson's Folding the Sheets, Gig Ryan's Swoons, Sherbourne's Strapper, Cronin's The Floor, The Thing, Kinsella's Drowning in Wheat, Bishop's Rabbit, Robert Harris's They Assume... Again, far too many to mention... Duggan's, Buckley's, Owen's, Gaskin's... Unfair to have begun...

# All in all, happy days for so many contemporary Australian poets represented in this swag of anthologies. I congratulate them & share in their pleasure. I almost wish that I could join them!


(February/May, 2010)

Kris Hemensley


I'm grateful to Jan Owen who has informed me that she is included in 3 of the 6 recent Australian anthologies; 4 of 7 if one includes Take Five (edited by Adrian Caesar, Shoestring Press,UK) which I havent discussed. Somehow in my long trails of paper with biro tabulations her name must have fallen off ! Belatedly, & for the record, she features in Kinsella/Penguin, Leonard/P & W, Harrison & Waterhouse/Motherload. So she ought to have been in my "two or more" majors.
I do apologise for this carelessness; in my head she was never an omission!
Thursday, 18th November,'10]