Monday, October 3, 2011

THE MERRI CREEK : POEMS & PIECES, # 25;October, 2011


Launch speech for Pete Spence's PERRIER FEVER (Grand Parade, '11)

Here is a poem of mine, written by Pete Spence; it is also a poem in the Ashbery / O'Hara / Schuyler mode written by a generation of English poets & their American cousins... It is a Pete Spence poem & an Australian poem, and I think it is a beautiful poem : "there is a mountain of solitude on the hill / occasionally it comes to us in a moment of eagerness / we find little peace under the avalanche / and would like to push it all upward / away from the pressing urgency of noise / the grit we bathe in // and then one day perhaps / through pumice suds / frosted obsidian windows ajar / the panel of sky / the chalky turmoil / we call "the light of day" / we see / THIS WAY UP / stenciled / near the summit of the hill!" [p68, PF]


Pete Spence is an old friend & colleague; a member of our Collected Works Bookshop collective in the mid to late '80s, (which included such luminaries as Robert Kenny, Jurate Sasnaitis, Des Cowley, Ted Hopkins, Rob Finlayson, amongst many others); a fellow little mag editor (who'll ever forget Post Neo?), gallery buff, international traveller.
He was first mentioned to me by the late Geoff Eggleston as a poet friend he'd like me to meet --circa '82, '83... Ah Geoff : author of this memorable couplet, "No man is an island / and no woman is a clipper-ship" -- I still dont quite know what it means! Likewise, Pete's line always in my head : "relaxing on a Li-Lo reading Li Po" --the entire verse is, "a parenthesis ladles the tune / relaxing on a Li-Lo reading Li Po / under some amended weather / tumbling sunshine"...


James Schuyler said you'd never get New York poetry until you realized the gallons of paint flowing through it --painting & painters. Following that thought, Pete's book abounds in names (Pam, Ken, John, Corny et al), references to painting, to poetry & to poets, & to music, composers --as though a record is always playing --a symphony, perhaps, he shares with Alan Wearne, his friend & publisher.
Spence is a poet of fraternity --which includes conviviality & melancholy... No wonder his recent poem in progress is called The Kynetonbury Tales, and a delight it's been to read via e-mail.
And, therefore, what a coup that Alan Wearne has pinned this pilgrim down long enough to make a cohesive book out of a vast & errant production --this book out of many possible compilations.
And Alan is to be heartily congratulated on his Grand Parade Poets publishing project, & this particular volume.
It's such a good looker... Designed & set by Christopher Edwards, -- who shares with Pete similar 'adventures in poetry', --the chance & play --the relishing of words as though a different species of artist --painter, sculptor, composer.
And Alan himself along this track, whose Otis Redding poem way back in Public Relations (published by Gargoyle Poets in 1973), advances his share of Pete's kind of fun : "Redding, Redding, remorse will smash any epilogue chance, / any sweat-liturgy you sang and I might have attempted / once I walked in the rain until one once / to shout O, 'tis (forever!) Redding" ...


So, a poet of fraternity --which tag can deal with correspondence & address (the given social world a poet inhabits) and the matter of influence. And if I can use the French 'chez', thus "with" (which Paul Buck gave me decades ago) : "with" in preference to "after" with its misleading implication of "imitation" --, then we can say Pete Spence's poems stay with the effects of his long lasting affections... He revisits them, he calls upon them --they are become motifs --they are his muses, they are his amusements --elegy, ode, sonnet, City, Landscape, Weather, the Sun, the Sky...


I opened his book at random the other day, on page 105, --the poem entitled Shop : "i thought the shop / was called SLIDE / until i walked into the door!"
I'm still visualizing a kind of Jacques Tati cartoon, or Charlie Chaplin, or Rowan Atkinson. The jokeyness transmutes or elevates from ha-ha to Surrealist smile in the poem Drawing : "i muscled in / all the angles / crosshatched in / the shadows / only to realise / i'd drawn / a horse without / neck or head / and its tail / was a cloud / in the sky" --


Perhaps this collection, Perrier Fever (and I reiterate, one possible selection of many --notwithstanding the attrition, the loss & destruction of poems along the way, allusion to which I recall from conversation 25 or 30 years ago), perhaps it is his humourous selected poems (different kinds of humour)... But even so it's informed by the totality of his poetry. Remember, Pete is no Spring-chicken. A different personality would have seen him vying for volumes & anthologies many times over.


Pete Spence's poetry has all the exclamations of the New Yorkers, all the happenstance & hutzpah --which is another way of saying all the spontaneity & presence --which is another way of saying that more often than not the Pete Spence poem is both written in an ideal space, called the poem, and enacts the ideal poem, a doing that's simultaneously done --which is another way of saying that whatever happens in the poem is the poem, informed or inspired by the insight that anything might enter the poem --because it can and because it is the poem... What does your poem mean, Mr Stevens? asks the earnest correspondent. Stevens replies : Mean? Mean? The poem means nothing more than the (--and we can interpolate, nothing less) than the heavens full of colours & the constellations of sound! Which is another way of saying that Spence, like Wallace Stevens, can be poet as painter, poet as musician, poet as inventor & conjurer of effects --of sensations which course the mind, tickle the tongue...


But who is Pete Spence?
As scholarship, let alone the insatiable curiosity of the reader like Pete himself, as it expands its purview, so outsiders are claimed for the vast continuum; so peripherals are identified, brought in from the cold, --not that the cold isnt a legitimate or even desirable place to be.
Alan's told us a little about Pete. Pete's written a little about himself here in his book. I'd like to add one story to the biography.
It's the story of a possible history, had a manuscript for an anthology around 1971, actually transpired. In 1973 I was given custody of the mss. of Dark Ages Journal. In 1984, in my H/EAR magazine, dedicated to a '40s/'60s/'80s chronicle of the 'New', I described that anthology's perspective. It was a Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, New Zealand compendium. Its editors had included Charles Buckmaster, probably Garrie Hutchinson & either Richard Tipping or Rob Tillett.
Students of the '68-'71 or so period will recognize many of the names --Michael Dransfield, Charles Buckmaster, Terry Gillmore, John Jenkins, Vicki Viidikas, Garrie Hutchinson, Frances Yule, Ian Robertson; New Zealanders like Alan Brunton, Murray Edmond, Gary Langford. But the unusual Melbourne names are Walter Billeter, Robert Kenny, David Miller, Robert Harris & Pete Spence.
I licked my lips relishing the different history this coincidence promoted back then. The La Mama [Poets Workshop] '60s style become conventional even as it was being hailed in the anthology edited by Tom Shapcott, Australian Poetry Now, suddenly had the possibility of rejuvination! I like it very much that Spence is part of that potential history. As he is now in the present day.
Without further ado, in launching Perrier Fever, may I introduce to you : Pete Spence...


[delivered at the "Poetry and the Contemporary Symposium", at the Bella Union, 54 Victoria Street, Carlton; part of the Grand Parade launch; Thursday, 7th July, 2011]



Two Poems + Haiku



I could hear their voices from where I sat
drinking by myself on a cold night
"forget it, it's your shot"
"it doesnt bother me"
"just leave it, OK?"
"dont do it"

he walked over to the jukebox
and reached behind it
the sound disappeared
he turned around, the smile
dying on his lips as the
knife went into his heart
he fell to the floor his
pool cue falling beside him

they carried him out
covered by a sheet
his killer stumbled behind him
handcuffed to a couple of cops
who took him away in the wagon

I put my beer down on the bar
and walked out into the
prussian blue night
that sure killed the albion for me
I never drank there again
I dont think anybody else did it either.




in lygon street carlton dreamscape
i'm stuck in past loneliness of memories
over there coffee on saturday mornings at tamanis
john deep in the australian with a flat white
now gone to a fast lane end in a thai bamboo compound
mary gone too bottle of pills & no goodbye
lennie still around making the world safe for crime
what hope for him in a new world order?
tony could be anywhere maybe making moomba floats
and still pursuing the red revolution
dave now has new wife, new allegiances, new house with lawn
same face though, same laugh, same glass
where is the bus to take me away from all this?
ghosts gather in my thoughts
the dead fight with the living for space and time
hold me to your heart sweet yesterday
tomorrow just lost another traveller




franklin cafe

8.30 a.m.

hot flat white

spoonful of sugar



boy in blue

muddy fake reboks

freckled face

falls off chair



man with tongs

iced apple cake

brown paper bag

ringer on register



franklin cafe

9.05 a.m.

hand on briefcase

its late must







sleeping in new york

to the sound of falling rain -



manhattan subway

every race in the world

going home


why new york is the

centre of the universe -



the subway busker

plays boogie-woogie piano -

the trains run all night







Leora Bell broke her wrist
last week when the rain was here.
She was drunk again with Blake Fielder
and fell off a swing.
At first she didn't even realize
it was broken.
She just said, 'my wrist feels kinda
and laughed like a strange bird.



With a warm beer
beneath the setting sun
I overhear a man say
to his wife :

'There's a palace of ice
south of Tasmania
that no one has ever seen.

I can take you there,
I have a map.

It's bigger than Uluru.'



In the twilight of a love song
amorous Europeans descend staircases,

legless, and blowing
invisible kisses to impossible suitors

down the hall, where memories
can be found

turning endlessly in on themselves
like whirlpools on holiday.



I see you by the water.

Your name is not Bravado,
Jane, or Solitude.

There is nothing in the distance
except a space reserved
for ghost ships.

Your face is turned away
from a great number
of things.

Your hair is nearly down
to your hips.

There is no telling how far back
a story goes.

I see you by the water.

Your name is not Momentum,
Eliza, or Sleep.





A SHADOW LEAVING It won’t be the right thing for you: there is
the circular plot, and one or other leaving – some bloody battle. But I
wish you safe road, I wish that to you. Trundle the gods from their
museums, stand with them at crossroads and they’ll be freed from
obligations to warn of death, though not of how close others will come
to us. Them in a Limbo of not arriving, a nowhere advanced by
technology and our tiredness. And all the while the money sparks,
still sparks, changes hands. It makes us close-touched, adorned,
volatile, with our stepped hands, our stepped words. What is it to be
intact? Ignore it, don’t fret it back, we have the gods! Shadows hold
us with unremembered promises that we are tranced by: while
yesterday’s tomorrows pile up all tarnished and unaccountable. The
gods try comfort, warn of emptiness without them. I want to turn on my
borrowed heel, though then I’ll never know what I did, or what is sold
on the streets until each exhausted dawn. The unsheathed flesh of
flowers pours from glassy throats. I’m moved, truly. Slowed to silence
in the physical downpour of the morning rain, the fabric of the sky.
It frees me. The gods gave little comfort. They were crudely fashioned.
I may travel. There are many directions, a border country where words
change in meaning. Should we blame the gods. Or angels? We were
defiant, and wanton, worked to free ourselves from our desire for their
monstrous shadows, their mechanical animals. We had believed the
shadow-play but insisted they leave the shelter we found for them.
Stood by at the crossroads. No question, I’m pared back without them.
I am like something else...


TRANCE Primitive fairground amusements judder around us under
human force and disco. Unskilled in the ways of petrol: flame
throws out its spurts. He rolls his eyes and wipes his mouth on an old
cloth, while the women sing, or fail to, telling us nothing as it happens.
Our ring of faces is merely curious. Arse in a barrel straining to get away
from whip lashes that are aimed from the cruelty of youth. Who can we
blame for this? We are rumour and shadow, as he spits unburnt petrol
into the not yet midnight. We breathe like him through shallow shoals
of traffic and a pall of cardboard cinders that fall from fireworks.
Masked, old rope tail, tee-shirt stained with petrol dribbles as music
with uneven lyrics, many parts despair some joy, plays over us like
pollution. And all the while the puppet master jokes with the orchestra.



Amed! Ah!

I have been covered in black sand,
the fine ground progeny of laval rock and glittering mica,
the work of millennial waves and winds
beating beating at these wasted cliffs,
dust dry on this island once haled a tropical paradise.

I have swum with schools of darting fishes
the speed and green of lightning bolts,
fish the colour of sun playing in wavelets over rocks
and fish the black of the shadows underneath.
I have seen fish striped the yellow of young leaves.

I have tasted of paradise, and reek of it—
pungent garlic and slivers of onion fried,
the leaf of the blingbing tree, turmeric, chilli,
red red rice, green papaya and galangal—
the poetry of flavour.

I have developed a taste for Arak.
Kue dadar pisang! pancake wrapped
and spidered in coconut, the red banana . . .
my mouth aches in anticipation!
A frangipani graces every dish.

[Bali, 2011]



-------------------------shooting at the sky

...the way I ride my bike along a lane that takes me by
one of the many temples in Vientiane...plaster casts on
the wall depict a young boy with his bow and arrow...
shooting at the sky...angels hover above they
ascend wings detach and float on the white...feathers
fall...embedded into the wall memory shadows where once
there were more boys with arrows...shooting at angels...
floating wings...falling feathers...the symmetry undisturbed
by the erosion of time...daily I ride again into this story and
see it unfold...every day the lane and the wall divide my day into
remembered and forgotten...pierced by shooting arrows!



David N Pepperell was co-proprietor of legendary Melbourne record shop, Archie & Jughead back in the day. In the mid '90s he ran Dr. Pepper's Jazz Junction in the Port Philip Arcade ("from trad to bop - from free to acid - all the jazz that's fit to stock!"). Song-writer & music journalist. Books include Raphael Alias (1976), East Gate, West Gate (1991), Letters to a Friend [correspondence with Anais Nin] ('92), both from Nosukumo press.

Grant Caldwell edited the now defunct Blue Dog magazine (from the Australian Poetry Centre, Melbourne). Of his 7 collections to date his most recent are Dreaming of Robert de Niro (2003) & Glass Clouds (2010), both from Five Islands Press. His novel Malabata ('91) is something of a classic.

Jake Core is an itinerant poet & musician. The poems here are published in his little book, The Goose Puddle (Brierfield Flood Press, 2010).

Angela Gardner, poet & artist. Edits poetry e-zine, foam:e. see, Her collection, Parts of Speech (UQP, 2007), was the winner of the Arts Queensland Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize. Views of the Hudson was published by Shearsman, UK, in 2009.

Francesca Jurate Sasnaitis, an original member of Collected Works bookshop, ran the distinguished independent store, Greville Street Bookstore for 20 years. Nosukumo published her prose-pieces, Sketches, in 1989. In the last year she's published 2 exquisite chapbooks, Gravelly Views & Thirteen Seasons (in one day) with her own imprint, Ratas.

Cathy O'Brien lives & works in Vientiane, where her little i:cat gallery stages art & photography exhibitions, poetry readings, & film showings. Her most recent publications are the card book Word Sculptures, and a poem card collaboration with Kris & Bernard Hemensley (published by Stingy Artist, UK, 2011).

Pete Spence's Perrier Fever is published by Alan Wearne's Grand Parade, & is available at all good bookstores including Collected Works Bookshop.

--that's all folks!--
October 4th, 2011

Friday, August 5, 2011

THE BIG READ : August 19th,'11

Dear Friends, A year ago Collected Works Bookshop was faced with an uncertain future as we digested implication of the large rent rise (unforeseen as we sought new 4 year lease). The support we received from our poetry community (writers & readers) was fantastic! The Christmas Benefit (December, '10), organized by Friends of Collected Works, was a huge & positive interjection (dollars & cents, morale, energy). Our programme of book launchings + readings have sustained this momentum. But a new problem, or a new context for the problem, has emerged. Turning around the public perception of the collapse of bricks & mortar book trade in the wake of the Borders/A & R crash is the new challenge. It is fortuitous, therefore, that the McBryde/Harrison/Smeaton "BIG READ" is just around the corner. Please see here first announcement of the programme:

You are Cordially Invited to

A Poets’ Benefit Event for Collected Works Bookshop


eddyBURGER, m.a.CARTER, jenniferCOMPTON, alisonCROGGON, danDISNEY, megDUNN, michaelFARRELL, susanFEALY, wendyFLEMING, leeFUHLER, claireGASKIN,
LISH, rayLIVERSIDGE, earlLIVINGS, kerryLOUGHREY, myronLYSENKO, bronwynMANGER, emilyMANGER, felixNOBIS, anthonyO’SULLIVAN, k.f.PEARSON, PI O, judithRODRIGUEZ, josephineROWE, robynROWLAND, gigRYAN, kerrySCUFFINS, tomSHAPCOTT, steveSMART, jennySTRAUSS, fionaSTUART, peterTIERNAN, lyndonWALKER, chrisWALLACE-CRABBE, ceciliaWHITE, petraWHITE, laurenWILLIAMS


jenniferHARRISON (reading dorothyPORTER)
kenSMEATON (reading malMORGAN)
ianMcBRYDE (reading barbaraGILES)

FRIDAY, AUGUST 19th, 6:30 for 7 pm

at Collected Works Bookshop,

1st Floor, The Nicholas Building, 37 Swanston St., Melbourne
(corner Swanston St. and Flinders Lane)

Free Admission for all, the only prerequisite asked is to please buy a book or three to keep Collected Works thriving and alive!

Complimentary Wine & Nibbles Provided Inquiries : Collected Works 9654 8873


Sunday, July 3, 2011



The Uncool Eloquence Of Mark Tredinnick
(Address given at the Melbourne Launch of Fire Diary
at Collected Works Bookshop on May 27, 2011.)

I always think that a good book is not one which you necessarily enjoy but one that you remember. Likewise, the test of a poem for me is often something similar – not necessarily a matter of subject or style, nor metrical pyrotechnics or even the cleverness of its intellectual riffing, and definitely not its erudition or intertextuality, which too often are worn like the watch on a busy man’s wrist, or the mobile phone that goes off in a movie. The question for me, the measure of these things, is somehow about about the ear and the tongue - has the poet a capacity to make a line, or even an image or a joke, that I want to say again, that resounds in the ear and is pleasurable well afterwards, even becoming necessary to repeat. By heart, as the saying goes. By heart.

This very requirement points to the unusual, and probably unfashionable quality in Fire Diary, the eloquence of Mark Tredinnick. Fire Diary is full of memorable image, joke and line. As Pound would say, perhaps a bit disingenuously for him, it has ‘a quality of affection that carves the trace in the mind’. No mean feat. This is the first thing that struck me about the book, and soon I found myself thinking of it in geological terms as some kind of magnetic anomaly in the poetry world. Or in ecological terms, as charismatic fauna. It was the nature of its cadence. Its ability to be poetry with all the rigour that that implies, and to communicate vocally from the page. It was its preparedness to take on the mantle, the reality of its voice.

The narrowness of my view, and I do admit it’s narrow, is such that whenever I read an Australian writer, poet, novelist or otherwise, there is a way in which I am looking for the role he or she might play, not so much in the national conversation, but in a kind of parallel national constellation of artists. I think I listen out for a pitch with something unusually real about it, something inexplicable too that I can’t trace through the grids of reason and therefore something symbolic of the mysteries of existence. Something both of, and beyond, the muck and verbiage, the bowel movements of the consumerist media. I need to situate the voice too in relation to what for me remains an unfederated landscape – this still moving continent.

It’s because this country we’re on is such an old distillery, such a strong and, in terms of biodiversity, such a copious drop, that I’m always fascinated to observe the ways in which we’re still getting to know it, even those whose families have lived here for thousands of years. To me Mark’s particular talent, and a very distinct one I see it as in the Australian context, is his ability to write from a fair dinkum knowledge of that landscape, a micro to macro understanding of it, and then to transform that experience of the world into a properly epigrammatic line, such as – ‘who we are is who we’re not. Whatever it is we’re part of’ - or, ‘The night smells like any one of a dozen childhood camps/in which the present has pitched her tent’ or ‘mortality is the price we pay for form’, or ‘the world is a mystery occluded by reality’ or, the soul will always choose a holy mess above a tidy fraud’, or even, referring no doubt in this case to the ignorance of those who can’t distinguish symbolism from historical fact in the Book of Genesis, – ‘seven days is all eternity for a people with no memory’. In this ability to harness aphorism and resonators Mark blends a great gift for listening with lyrical ears to the outdoor tunings of existence. He does it with a defiant neo-romantic belief, it’s a kind of heroic dare I’d say, a belief, or at least, in his words, a ‘trying to believe’, in a world intact, in the beauty of the processes of the universe, the brokenness of wholeness, as opposed to dogmas of wholesomeness, the world both violent, rapid and glacial, and sweet.

Now coming from a man literate in geology, in astronomy, in ornithology and meteorology – which he would call the study of ‘blue machinery’ - but also in the death of species and the self generating masochism of post industrial capitalism - ‘there aren’t many wild places left: death is one’ -, this belief in the sanctity of nature, which is everywhere implied in these poems, this almost boyish heartfeltness integrated with the grown-up accomplishment of his poetic craft, is quite special. With these talents converging Mark becomes a singer, motivated by, and loyal to, the impulse of beauty in the world, because, once again in the words of his book: ‘no-one reads poetry to learn how to vote. Verse can’t change/the future’s mind. You write it like rain; you enter it like nightfall’.

And here’s another one – ‘Let your mind be like the fox you caught earlier eating pizza from a box/on the porch in the dark: go hungry, but not too hungry. Know a gift/ when you see one. Take it but leave the box. Turn but don’t run’. Again, a quality I’d like to re-emphasise about Fire Diary, beyond its pretty uncool delivery of wisdom into the ironic heart of contemporary poetry, - is how well Mark knows the world of which he speaks. He lives in the NSW southern highlands, closer to the sunrise than where I live on Victoria’s southwest coast, and there’s obviously more European trees, but nevertheless there is sometimes a unifying sense amongst those of us who live outside the urban areas of Australia that the very nomenclature of the landscapes we inhabit make some of our work seem a little intransigent or even obscure to editors living in the big cities. Sometimes when urban editors see bluestone laneways we see the basalt the lanes were cut from. There are many things in the daily life of the natural world which don’t make the news or the cultural tourism brochures, nor David Attenborough or even YouTube – and which, when described and reembodied in words and then sent away to town, can seem just like a sword stroke in the water.

But here in Mark’s book is not only an overcoming of that difficult translation, but also an exactness about the phenomenological experience of the emotionally struck human figure in the massive midst of stars, birds, storms, dawns, trees both European and Indigenous and rivers both fucked up and restored. That’s another dubious view I personally suffer from – I squint at nature poems sometimes, seeking out, with an initial lack of trust I must admit, the proof that the poet is not just some subjective romantic, that the poet truly knows the hill of which he or she speaks, not just as fodder and not just as an artefact, as a living hill that I might know too, experientially, not only by the digestion of Common and Latin names, not by a grasp even of geomorphology or the igneous past, but as a personal witness in time, a witness to the particular music of wind amongst its trees, the emotional feel of a possum landing, as Mark writes – ‘like ordinance on the roof’, the leadlighting of cicada wings, the mad scale of plovers, - all these things are in Fire Diary - Mark captures the sound of plovers so surprisingly with the question that I’ll always ask now when the plover calls - ‘why will a river not stay in the ground?’

Fire Diary is in this sense the real deal, the craft-quality of it is a given in Mark’s case and of course there’s not too many first books of poetry of which you could say that - this book has, both superficially and profoundly too, been a long time coming.

What Fire Diary has above all, what I admire about it so much, and why I’m so glad to help launch it here in the south, is its personal vulnerability - Mark himself I think calls it a ‘confessional ecology’. For me it’s a capacity, simultaneous with his geomorphological understanding, astute metrics and attention to imagistic detail, to love and cry on the page, to be embarrassed on the page, to be clearsighted on the page about danger and risk, but to include wist and sentiment and the plangent among its palette, to invoke Gaia in full lament of our destructive idiocy, and to hell with the consequences. For me this makes Fire Diary not only the work of a wordsmith I admire but of a mature person, someone who’s lived and decided to live on. It is a mature book, not only in this personal sense but I think its intellectually grown-up as well because it is such an emotionally intelligent collection. I sense a lack of fear behind the writing of these poems that perhaps, amongst other things, a musical ear and private suffering can give you - it gives Mark access to his art, and a sense in it of him living his own dedicated life, perhaps not his first life, perhaps even his second or third, - ‘Your new life’s just your old life with a book in its hand’ - but a life therefore he has made himself, a poetry he has both chosen and laid himself open to, with the inspiration of the earth, I must say, like olivine-rich basalt at its core.

In these poems there are the strains of making a living – ‘writing 50 dollar poems at a 1000 dollar desk’ - a hint of Francis Webb’s idea of the poet as Franciscan jongleur or fool, as he struggles to write in his home shed which once housed the fundamental productivity of cows; the primary relief and joy he finds in his wife and children, in sex and fatherhood; and also the preternatural him, in the midst of writing the poems. Of course there is literary lineage, there are in these poems what George Steiner would call ‘real presences’, or what Jed Rasula in his recent groundbreaking study of ecological imperatives in American poetry, would call ‘compost’ – there’s Robert Frost and Robert Gray, Walt Whitman and Rumi and Charles Wright, there’s an enormous North American influence actually, a deciduousness you could say - he’s at his most vernacular in his wit but quite trans-Pacific in his cadence - and there’s always an Asiatic spareness, which at least implies the minimal – he’s too loquacious to be a minimalist proper, but there are the open empty spaces on the page winking at the reader…….

And there’s also GS, the writer and academic George Seddon, who Mark has spoken to me about in our conversations, a huge figure I know in his coming-into-a-voice, a mentor of landprints, and who is mentioned here in the fifteenth Eclogue – ‘The places don’t sing,/ GS said to me once; in particular they don’t sing you-/ George, a father to me, who died in his garden last week/a man with a river in him when we met, until we fished it out, and I’m still in it/They don’t sing, GS; they just are, That’s how they sing, and that’s what they teach’

That is a lesson which is perhaps never fully learnt but which speaks of a rich bequest, a basically Copernican lesson so crucial in the current plight of nature that we trash. And a lesson recast here by the poet, in homage and well aware of its lyric lineage – Wallace Stevens’ Idea of Order At Key West, Robert Duncan’s Often I Am Permitted To Return To A Meadow, to name just two.

So Fire Diary is a moment I think, at the risk of coming on too grand, a distinct moment in the timeline of our poetry here, where the astringent drywitted truth of this worn-back place comes together with the succulent riparian eloquence of a man prepared not just to quip or allude or re-arrange or meditate, but to openly sing and cry. There’s a lot of people who have been waiting for this book to appear for years. I know Mark has. But good things take time. As a man in Borneo said to me once – the good life moves at the pace of the river.

Lastly, I want to say that the title piece, Fire Diary, a talismanic poem I think which may well grace poetry anthologies for years to come, demonstrates best the value at the heart of this collection – in short, Fire Diary, the poem and the book, shows us exactly how much we have to fear, and why we should not fear it. Quite an achievement really, the achievement of a poet. It’s cause for celebration tonight. Well done Mark. Thanks, and congratulations.




KH : Congratulations on your new book! As my own publishing reduces so my admiration for other writers who continue to publish & perform increases. It even excites my curiosity for reentering the fray myself!
In your written inscription in my comp of This Floating World (Five Islands Press, '11) , you thank me for "agreeing to take the journey" with you... 'Journey''s a good word... a journey, like this conversation... We can never assume we've begun at the same place though we may hope, eventually, to find ourselves on the same page! And being writers as well as readers we're even more eccentric in our disposition than the impartial reader. Our partiality is formed by our own journeys (--suddenly remember here Pound's great word "hewn", from Whitman's wood?)...

LH : I think every book is a journey the author/poet takes. It starts at that most embryonic stage where a few words begin to form and continues on until these and many other words are polished, printed and then bound, until it is officially called “a book”. Interwoven in all of this are the many footsteps, forward marches, U-turns, compass readings and standing-still moments taken to produce the work. Then a “reading” journey begins when it becomes independent and exposed in the world. But This Floating World is also a journey in itself because the songline of the same name, which makes up most of the book, is an aural map of the island of Ireland...

KH : And Poetry forces one to agree to yet another embarkation --more than a nibble & a taste since this book isnt a miscellany but a sequence... I'd love to hear you read How Like --it's a poem outside of the central sequence, --and maybe those first poems are the proem?-- And it's simultaneously physical & mental --palpable (of the real world) & poetical --it contains the beautiful, it alludes to properties of language --it usefully leads one's reading in different directions...

LH : I find it interesting that you selected How Like for me to read from the individual poems at the beginning of the book. This poem actually has nothing to do with Ireland, but it does contain similar themes the songline encapsulates. The poem was written for Bob Dylan and it is included in The Captain's Tower: Poems for Bob Dylan at 70 (published by Seren Books, Wales). The premise of the anthology is basically 70 poems by 70 poets to celebrate Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday last month.

How like

And I am wondering about your face,

how it alters when a mood takes hold.

Such a changeling

like a sparrow, like a burning flutter,

higher and higher up into the tree.

Like a breath by cold night,

the crispest revelation breaking ice.

What is left is the warmest sensation at the pit of stomach.

How like a stretched metaphor you are,

how like broken branches from an apple tree.

Like its fallen fruit half-eaten by animals.

How like a mystery,

entangled by the twang of a country that can’t own you.

How like an endless path of thought.

How like a mesmeriser

with the power of foresight.

How like his instruments buzzing blackly across my mind.

How like the concept of the wheel,

of the science of silence.

How like etcetera in the tall, green grasses.

How like a slipperiness of truth slithering by and by.

How like the moon in all of its tiredness,

of the river who waits for the clearest direction to your door.


During the editing process, Lyn Hatherly (of Five Islands Press) chose a very small handful of poems to be included at the beginning of the book. I was interested to see that she had selected this poem because it goes very well with the themes of the songline as it reiterates the idea that ‘we are all made of stars’, that we are connected to all things and to each other. My main aim for this poem was to say that although we are flesh and blood we are also the trees, the moon, the river, the birds and so on.

KH : I love "like a sparrow, like a burning flutter", and "like a stretched metaphor", and "like etcetera in the tall green grasses", and "like a slipperiness of truth slithering by and by"...
Can I share with you my stance at the beginning of my own serious writing, in the 1960s, when I would have been appalled by such a poem! I'd decided I was against metaphor, eschewing its obvious vehicle 'like'. I was for the concrete & against the poetical. In the '70s I wrote a prose-piece for the poet Alexandra Seddon, called The Danger of Like. I feared the trap of endless analogy, of the poetic cliche. I much preferred the idea of an equation or relation...
Of course I must remind myself that the literal subject of the poem is, as you say in the opening couplet, "And I am wondering about your face, / how it alters when a mood takes hold..."
And this combination of the literal, natural subject & cadence, and the metaphorical/analogical is probably your 'crucial contradiction' (as I call it), --essential to the edge or frisson of your poems...
As I say, I gradually yielded! Twenty or so years ago the lid came off & I became a poet --as you've always been!

I read your first book, Fresh News From the Arctic, when it was published by David Reiter's Interactive Publications in 2006, and then forgot about it until late last year when we were reintroduced at that most dramatic time in the life of this bookshop... And I couldnt help misreading the title as French News From the Arctic because of the way we could use 'French' as the particular sensibility it is --symbolistic, aware of language as its material, as its terrain, unlike our time's empirical, naturalistic style --unlike so much English-language poetry, despite the centrality of such wondrously 'French' (metaphorical, adjectival, analogical) writing --Shakespeare to Hopkins --Shakespeare, who is at the heart of English poetry, or let's say British poetry, so we could include the 19th Century's great gift of Gerald Manley Hopkins...
I think there are clues in Fresh News to the journey, the different kind of journey of This Floating World --or does a line like "I was leaving the known" speak to both books?
So, do you have a 'French' attitude rather than 'English/Australian'?

LH : I don’t see my work as being influenced by French poetry, although I am an admirer of it. If anything I have a European focus to my work. I guess that’s an unfashionable thing to say, but Europe is where my head is most of the time. I have to be open about that. And because of this I am drawn to European writers and to an overall sensibility that could be defined as European.
In terms of mainland Europe I would say that Russia has been a profound influence on me. And obviously I am drawn to Irish poetry and also to Scottish poetry. I think the key for me is I love colder weather. If you give me plenty of sunshine on a calm and pleasant day it’s not going to do a thing for me. What I love most is drama in the landscape – raging winds, a roaring sea and buckets of rain. I love the commotion of it and its mystery. I am most happy with all of this whirling around me and perhaps that is why I am so drawn to places like Russia and the Arctic, as well as Ireland. And obviously the Russian and Celtic psyches are things I can relate to very much, so these elements help me to connect to these landscapes and their people.

KH : Tell me about the Irish journey now, the language & the subject... In my head are other Australian-Irish poets, Robyn Rowland, obviously, Colleen Burke, Buckley, of course. (This is the third time I've formally addressed the subject : the Irish- Australian symposium at Queens College/University of Melbourne late 90s; and the examiner's report I wrote on Maria Hyland for Marion Campbell; and now today.) And would you read Wind-bent grasses...

LH : Regarding Wind-bent grasses, Figure at window, Dog : the songline (This Floating World) was born from an extensive road trip I undertook when I first visited Ireland in 2005. Wind-bent grasses and Figure at window, as well as Dog were things I witnessed and interpreted on my first day. And I must say that the majority of the journey the songline takes is part of the road trip’s route undertaken at that time. We began our journey in Belfast and moved west and down through much of the Republic.

The wind-bent grasses at Ballintoy are long and uncut by human or sheep. On the day I visited Ballintoy there was also a wild and whistle-soaked wind that made their plight in the world so much more dramatic and forsaken. Additionally the Portrush voice conveys what I saw from my hotel window that evening. I think this part of the songline is not complete unless I can also read Dog for you this afternoon.


Wind-bent grasses – Ballintoy

I’ve been sweating and weeping

against the bridge of days like a mute,

singing only to dogs.

If nothing else, they come to me

with their wet noses

snorting around,

digging up my very soul.

Let me speak

for it has been so long

since I’ve let my voice shine.

Give no mind to that mad wind

too full of itself. Listen only to me.

Catch my intentions in your hands,

grab them from that whistle-soaked air.

Don’t move away

let my words be heard,

it’s been too long in the waiting.


Figure at window – Portrush

The red tail lights of cars

move away from the town.

They leave in twos like devils’ eyes

down and down the cliff.

Looking north,

all this allegorical darkness.

It’s full and full-blown,

hiding those Portrush clouds.

What is it that the old man said?

That the north is where the devil lurks

catching the unwary in their tracks.

The small door in the church

was kept open for him.

It swung with a groan so fresh

like a child just home from school.

And now the legs of small dogs skedaddle

black and white in their pairs

with only the street light to guide them.

Small animated bodies

windblown by the Atlantic

with their man hunched over,

a cigarette in hand.

They’re going against the wind now, deep into it,

with those devils’ eyes so close behind.



I look up

at the nostrils of him,

wide with in-breathing.

His Irish legs keep walking him and walking me.

An Irishman needs his shoulders to walk.

Hunched over, it’s a process of swinging the arms,

swingin’ until the only thing that’s real is going forward.

Hard and soft, and hard again,

pressed flatly into wind like it’s a tug at something real.

It’s the black night we’re fighting, that we press through.


KH : Aware of the Irishness now --the oral oomph of the Irish (& the Scottish & the Welsh), which English poets of those British Isles find amazing & imposing whilst holding it slightly away --their continuing suspicion of everything from Yeats to Dylan Thomas... Specifically Irish in you... Remember Heaney on the Gaelic : I dont write in Gaelic, he says, but if it wasnt for the Gaelic my English would be different...

The songline, as you call it, which I've always associated with terra firma, is water-bound, all the way through --right from your quotation of Leanne O'Sullivan, "The ocean itself is flesh / and the delicate psalm of the heart is / beating somewhere in the core"... Your songline reminds me of both mysticism's songs to the beloved, and of actual flesh & blood's relations...
It's ghostly & physical simultaneously... And the Irish landscapes echo the speaker as her, his, their voices echo it... "The Floating World : earthly plane of death & rebirth"...
I've thought of this poem as water-bound but it's just as much wind-blown isnt it?

LH : I thought long and hard about publically describing This Floating World as a songline because of the associations the term holds within Australia, however after much deliberation I decided to proceed for two reasons. This work travels through the landscape identifying place through the voices that speak; therefore readers are able to interpret and trace locations accordingly. The other and more personal reason is that I respond much more to the Irish landscape than I do to Australia. In fact I take great spiritual solace from it and if we must get into specifics I consider Ireland as “Country”. It is a very special place for me.
Australia was experiencing severe drought the first few times I travelled to Ireland. Ireland in contrast is so full of water. There is a great deal of seepage through its bogs, loughs, waterfalls, holy wells and so on. And it is a relatively small island with shoreline wrapped in waves. Rain and mist are also never too far away. Given this I created a songline that follows the direction of the wind or rain. If a reader were ever to follow the narrative with a map they’d probably ask, ‘What on earth is she doing?’ because in some areas the voices go back and forth due to these elemental forces. The wind is a faithful presence in Ireland, especially in the west, and I wanted to address both this and the mutability of the island.

The other woman

The weather is like a ghost tonight

embracing all things,

yet our breath covers distance.

And breath is touch.

It comes like storm, full with lightning

full with high cloud cramming the sky.

And this breath comes like wave,

rolling over and into this room

like a king tide sinking the night.

This breath is like moonlight,

falling across my cheek, and then onto lips

in all its elucidation.

And this breath speaks,

this breath that finds me in the darkness.

This breath that falls and is fallen.


Man in Pub and Woman Responds : yes, there are different tones of voice in the work to suit each occasion or place. Man in pub is based in Strabane, a border town where not a lot happens. The only thing really to do in a place like this is to go to the pub for a drink and this invariably means there might be a bit of flirting going on as well.


Man in pub – Strabane

These are love’s borders.

And here is a hand.

It becomes a thought

too full of going forward.


Woman responds

Desire is on his mind

when these fingers talk.

Love is on my mind

when I reach out to hold their words.

I become a murmur

not meant for translation

as his fingers curl

into the very heart of things.

As with many voices in the work the Tourist in Limerick is actually my own voice speaking. I have visited Limerick a couple of times since but my first visit was especially fraught because we had pre-booked hotel rooms in the wrong side of town. I have since learnt that this particular pub has a notorious reputation – and you have to remember also that Limerick’s nickname is Stab City. In all my years of travelling it was the first time I ever seriously considered leaving to find other accommodation, but I persevered. Even so there was a point where I went up to my room and looked down at what was happening on the street. After that it was all I could do to lie down on the bed and write out my frustrations.


Tourist – Limerick

The cry of a gull from God-knows-where

And the church bells

And the cars forever passing

And the girl screaming at the stopped car

And the horns tooting

And the girl saying: That’s crap, that is

And the little man in the passenger seat laughing his head off

And the lights of Paddy Power, all bright and shiny

And the smell of coal-smoke

And the cheap hotel room

where 1,000 other people have rested their sorry souls

And the broken tiles in the shower

And the chenille bedspreads

And the lace curtains that embrace the smell of cigarette smoke

And the red-emblazoned newsagent across the way

And the slick of the road as cars drive by like one endless engine

And the L-plate drivers who park their cars like dodgems

And the presence of a lack of presence

(and all that is left is desperation)

Here, a young girl scurries with a 12-pack of toilet rolls

against the roof of a pram

There, an old man sways in a gale all of his own making


Going back to our words on Ireland and Irish “seepage”, it is interesting to note that Australia and Ireland share a serpent mythology. The serpent of the Dreaming is masculine, however the serpent in Ireland is representative of the mother goddess. It is said that she went underground with the introduction of Catholicism and the late poet Michael Hartnett explained once that only a select few can feel her vibrations. I think this is very interesting on many levels and obviously it helps to reiterate my creative notion that Ireland is unanchored, that it sways in its sleep and so on. I must also say that in ancient times Ireland was referred to as the far island of the ocean. Something, I think, that is still fitting in many ways. Given this I will finish up with a poem that illustrates this:

Woman drawing the curtains of her bedroom– Carrick-on-Shannon

My thoughts are with you tonight,

they belong where your feet walk.

They go down to the river

its bend, the curve of serpent

slunk beneath.

Body of water,

a wetness, sucking. A splash, a drop.

Her belly swollen and swallowing,

sinking down with a swish of tail.

Blubbing and lugging

this weighted island-world,

a push of girth

netting our own wet bodies

of muscle and tide,

the heart-thump of land

unanchored below feet.

This island of the ocean,

how it sways us to sleep

with its breath of undertow,

its guardians of storm above our heads.

Their hint of speech falls on sodden ground,

near-words reach me.


The acknowledgements at the back of This Floating World are extensive, but I’d just like to take this opportunity to thank Lyn Hatherly for putting up with me. I think we worked really well together and it was a pleasure to work so closely. Thank you also to Katia Ariel and Kevin Brophy, and to Susan Fealy who had input during the early stages of the editing process.

I’d also like to thank Samantha Everton whose wonderful photograph, Solitude, graces the cover of This Floating World. When I came upon this photograph I actually lost my breath and hoped upon hope that Samantha would agree for us to reproduce it for the book. Thankfully she did and I will be forever grateful to her for that because it is a bright ruby jewel of a thing that has become a wonderful talisman for the next journey this little book will take.

Thank you Kris for launching This Floating World today and for Lyn Hatherly for introducing us. Thank you also to Sean Kenan and Graeme Newell for their wonderful music and to everyone for being here today. Thank you.


[*The Conversation is a recreation from notes, memory & afterthoughts of the event at Collected Works Bookshop, June 18th, 2011.]


GREGORY DAY lives in Aireys Inlet, country Victoria. Several novels including The Patron Saint of Eels, & The Grand Hotel. His website is,
[MARK TREDINNICK, author of The Blue Plateau : A Landscape Memoir (UQP, '09), Fire Diary (Puncher & Wattmann, '10), The Little Red Writing Book ('06) amongst others. See,
LIBBY HART edits an international online mag, 5 Poetry Journal, wch can be viewed via her blog,

Thursday, June 9, 2011


[Top, K H at Wattay International Airport, Vientiane; April 8th, '11; second, KH perusing Rasi's photographs at French Centre, Vientiane; third, KH at the Living Museum, Vientiane. Snaps by Cathy O'Brien.]


April 7,'11

Approaching departure. The aisle seat chosen at STA this morning has mysteriously become a window seat. This is OK as long as no one takes the middle of the 3 seats. (I'm praying!)
Neatly attired businessman (from the look of his newspaper, Vietnamese) installed in my aisle seat. Stiff neck installed like a javelin down my right shoulder. I've struggled with it for two weeks and though i enjoyed my sessions with the osteo, it's distressingly present.


The flight begins. Suddenly remember i was writing The ABC Book [prose pieces] back in '75, to & fro London. Day-time flight window-seat view revealing plains of cloud -- frozen seas -- glaciers -- fantastic. Discover head-phones. Select 'Western Classical' : Chopin, Mazurka in C Sharp Minor, Op 63 # 3. No such facility 36 years ago. Allowed to be a 29 year old 'student' one enjoyed the modest service -- sometimes, for example, when menu didnt facilitate, cheese sandwiches etc brought by hostess angels.
Can i revive one of the characters of my book back then? Minovlar Ed? -- my hommage to John Riley (he was alive then).

Dinner is served! Potato salad thank you! Perceptively the hot meat dish is removed by the hostess. Wine sir? I'd like a red wine too (like my neighbour, the Vietnamese businessman, who fell asleep as he read his newspaper -- would that that was a dream! -- i mean, what sleep wld follow Ho Chi Minh City stock-exchange?) -- Ed says, I never had kids myself but... He's moved --not "to tears" but an absolutely sympathetic amusement. The baby (he's a toddler, son of Indian couple) has the widest brown eyes -- Ed wld talk to him with extended blinks & smiles, on the edge of telepathy -- but the toddler has other thoughts -- I wanted to call him Sachim -- a compliment, madame -- no, thought as much, wldnt know Tendulkar from Boycott -- But, not so fast Ed, --Tendulkar is a national hero, more than --& i loved him too --our Geoffrey, -- especially as a commentator let alone man in boater in South of France, notorious romance? -- someone (Melbourne poet Nick Whittock perhaps) will know.

Steal another red wine. Present the G & T plastic cup wch is twice as big as the little glass the first one came in. Chopin's Largo in C Minor through the headphones. Ed says i'm walking on those pompety-poms -- left leg, right leg. But now it's Trois Ecoissaises # 2, G M Op 72 # 4 -- Ah, trippity, trippity. Listen up : he was never a hippy. Who we talkin abaat? (is that Eliot enough for you?) Ed or meself, Christy?

Dark -- lights out -- I can see by the light of the tiny screen -- Ah, Fantasie Impromptu in C -- all my life -- whenever i hear it, "all my life" --
Anthony Bourdain's in me now. I want cognac! The perfect nightcap -- & cheese & biscuits -- NOW!

What's the difference? Nocturne in E Flat very similar to which track?
Ed's been to the galley -- brandy? -- cognac? -- Cheeky hostess asks wld you like them mixed together? --
Last time i fly so high, Ed thinks whilst smiling enigmatically --

Oooh he's got a nerve -- he can hold a note -- Nocturne in C, Op Posthume -- an insult to say 'trill'? --
Thin arms hidden in big jacket -- fingers with long nails poking out of sleeves --
Chopin for a day & a night --

But where are we now? Which jet-liner captain's porthole of the Earth?

Eine Kleine Nachtmusik -- we've changed (Karajan : Romance) -- The concert's only in my ears -- You can la-la-la to Eine Kleine, but... An adamant Ed : Whatabout Thais? Sacrilege! --

Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok

What else but Thai massage -- head & shoulders, 400 baht or $US18. Not the severe work-out of 2009 but recalcitrant muscles required some punishment. Foot massage beside me was in dreamland as the masseuse stroked & kneaded his feet & calves. Clients three times as many women as men, & only one male masseur.

Hmong woman in turban-hat & something like a dreadlock marks out her territory, walks around like a rooster or the vainest sentry -- walks in & out of other people's conversations, participates in their hilarity but finally sits by herself, laughing at a joke that's on the rest of the world.
Years pass. Little whore in zebra-stripe one piece, silver heels, lies across two chairs, thighs parted, & the unsuspecting Frenchman, content to watch BBC World News, is suddenly aware of the gesture meant for whomever is sitting where he does. He turns away, drinks from water-bottle. The little whore sits up, looks around, lies down again, peekaboo -- perhaps catch a fallang in Bangkok, albeit at the airport. A touch of Steinbeck's Sweet Thursday in the apparent naturalness of this theatre. She's doin what she's doin & everyone's just getting on with it...

WW2. The propellors of Lao Air are giving the blitzed Englanders another shiver. Third World patch-up is the rare contradiction to contemporary western-style slick. The propellors are like hornets at the edge of my eye, window-side. Plane taxis forever around immense Suvarnabhuni. The little plane shudders like a bomber. Ho Chi Minh trail here we come.
Canals? Paddies? Wonderful waterlogged segmented farmland. Above the clouds. City's radial design. The Infinite City.


Vientiane notes

Friday, 8th April, '11
At I:Cat Gallery. Five oclock pm. Cat excuses herself to ride bike to pharmacy 10 minutes away. I'm left 'in charge' of the Gallery. I will take my job very seriously. When we arrived here by taxi from the airport around midday (--wonderful to be met : Catherine waving from upper level window as i looked up instinctively, on my stroll from runway to airport building --i waved, continued walking with red backpack & brown shoulder-bag, suddenly normal as off the train from Melbourne to Bendigo) --fatigued as i was from the flight & the frustrations in transit at Bangkok & again at Vientiane, couldnt resist inspecting everything she had up on the walls not to mention the tables & shelves of publications (books, cards including Bernard [Hemensley]'s Stingy Artist ephemera) --"Somerset Maugham, eat yr heart out!" i exclaimed --perhaps Mr Patrick not Somerset Maugham -- : an art gallery wch has its own integrity (well, art & literature's), but situated here in up-market (?) area of quintessential ex-colony --bustling & post-colonial but not sufficient to alter the basic vibe. Even now, with the home-time traffic --mostly motorbikes, old cars, small trucks-- one's able to take it easy --the warm temperature, the country-town atmosphere.


Saturday, 9th April, '11

C O'B : The temptation of a breeze... but then it withdrew...
K H : The Church of Latter Day Somerset Maughams...
[Late morning drink at the French bar whose reputation is for dinner but not lunch, tho' the young manager wearing Ramones t-shirt, offered us 'le snack' of crab sandwiches. We declined, explaining that for us snack would be bowl of peanuts to accompany the beer. He was somewhat miffed which we attempted to mollify by enthusing about his non-stop playing of The Doors in the bar!]

2pm. At I:Cat. Already a busy day. First stop, the French doctor --but the famous physio, Max, renowned for his sore-spot patches, wasnt there. In Thailand for the weekend. When he returns i'll be in the air again! The very nice Lao doctor gave me her opinion (muscular rather than malignant) but stressed she wasnt a physio. She offered a steroid which i superstitiously declined. She didnt charge me a fee though i offered. Conclusion : suffer until England (and it is pinging!) & consult doctor there.
Visited the "Living Museum"/ temple. Cathy tells me that a colleague recently claimed the normal temple protocols didnt apply, but she contradicted her : this museum still facilitates worship, it's a living museum. When the official at gift table roared at visitors one of whom was flashing her camera, scaring them out of the prayer area beside the magnificent buddha (where i'd awkwardly followed Cathy in her oblations, stiff legged, sore backed, even dropping my candle at the alter), the point was proven!
The only exhibition we saw today was by Lao photographer Rasi, at the French Centre. I thought the images were aerial shots --motorway, landscape, at night from aeroplane window. But Cathy laughed at me : they are lotus plants, without flower, modelled on Monet's water-lillies! Hmmm --of course!

Sunday, 10th April, '11

Sitting up in bed within the mosquito net pyramid (remembered from my '09 stay). Two comfortable nights so far except last night for maybe an hour, awoken by the loud drone & roar of --what? --low flying aeroplane? trucks? I imagined army trucks racing through Si Meung, which is Cathy's district, to the airport or the border --a war or coup or crack-down! --perhaps inspired by conversation with Cathy's German friend, writer & photographer Martina Sylvia Khamphasith, about the world political situation and her estimation of Laos "open hand" strategy --taking something from everybody so that nobody takes precedence thus keeping them all at bay.
Not long after we'd returned from morning walk, yesterday, in search of galleries, none of which were open just like '09, including what used to be Mr Patrick's gallery, now even more of a joke than it was becoming then (says Cath) --we'd sat down at I:Cat for a little peck of bread, olives, fetta, the large pot of Vegemite i'd brought her from Melbourne, & the inevitable pot of tea, when we had a visitor. Second of the day --Cath's gallery is open between 4 & 6 this weekend, as it was on Friday --(first visitor was Kate who'd picked book up from Collected Works for Cathy a year ago) -- Martina, who stayed for the rest of the day.
They had their photos (haiku-photos for postcards) to discuss, and Cat showed her the new phone recently purchased in Bangkok. Martina wanted our photo then modeled Cat's blue sun hat -- G & T, snack, photos & laughter.
We decided on Martina's recommendation to eat at French place she knew well. Lao & S.E. Asian has been her daily fare for twenty years so European at every other opportunity! Villa-style --veranda, where we sat, + inside restaurant. Pleasant if not sensual humidity; sandles, t-shirt, three-quarter pants; palms, bamboo, cigars : introduction to the Indo-Chinese novella... Cathy & Martina ordered pumpkin & cheese souffle respectively; i had mushroom & garlic pasta. We shared 2 tall bottles of Beer Lao. Gregarious & voluble French, British, Indian, Lao diners around us. Teachers, families, NGOs. Beautiful service from local kids learning the haute-cuisine restaurant ropes.
On long walk back to Si Meung --more or less in straight line with the French consulate dominating the streetscape, Cathy darting in & out of illumination & darkness with her camera like a rudder or persicope while Martina & i walked slowly beneath the rain trees. I asked Martina if she thought she'd ever return to Europe. She described the same dilemma as i've experienced : one could never afford such a lifestyle back home, not in Europe, not in England. Although Oz far dearer than S E Asia, it's also cheaper than Northern Europe. And Cathy confirms it for Laos vis-a-vis Australia : on less pay than a beginner Australian teacher she can afford her palatial apartment-gallery in Vientiane which would be impossible in Melbourne. Are we fortunate or doomed?!

Monday, 11th April, '11

Cat & i had recouperative day yesterday on eve of journey to Europe. One outing & that was to Qung's around the corner for a late lunch (declined invitation for breakfast there with Mai & friends, whom i first met here in '09 & saw last night at the French restaurant). Cathy's well known there of course. The old owner, "J.B.", Vietnamese, sat with us, told us his life story & also a prophecy perhaps from our lady of Lourdes --the Earth will almost be destroyed by another planet in 2013. Other elements of the prophecy have already ensued, e.g. catastrophes, wars, diseases. A complex man tho' perhaps similar contradictions are the rule here. In '09, Cathy showed me the free school he had for local kids, at the back of the laneway cafe, which he's given up now. He hasnt been well --heart did he say? Worked for the Americans, & the British (& the French?), speaks five languages in addition to ("my native tongue") Vietnamese. Invaluable.
Superb food. I had noodles & veg; Cathy, the sticky-rice she adores & veg. Shared. Another tall bottle of Beer Lao, two glasses. Changed places around little table --J.B. brought us special chairs --Cat didnt want the full blast of air from fan but no worries for me! In fact, the temp. around 30C throughout my stay has been perfect. I experienced the heat once, the day of the visit to the Living Museum/Temple (Wat Phrokeo) --the sudden sting after hours of exposure. But next day i didnt show any sign of burning, though yesterday i had less energy (pun : burnt out). Dragged myself around. Content to be in the I:Cat gallery most of the day.


Pleasant flight in the little plane from Vientiane. Apparently Australian Embassy would once advise against travelling on Air Lao. But it's OK now, Cathy adds. Hostess forgot my breakfast box & obviously didnt hear or rejected my request for cup of tea. Very Lao.
We werent confident of finding a tuk-tuk so early in the morning but there they were --walked around the corner from I:Cat, past the temple (the first Cathy took me to in June '09). Brief exchange with workers she knew then a tuk tuk found us. Cat bargains dramatically --the fare is agreed. A long drive to the Airport. Early morning Vientiane --many people walking, exercising --unheard of a few years ago Cat says --health-conscious Western model (or Chinese?) amusing to us obviously in need of same!
No one in the airport concourse --graciously received & ushered through the immigration & embarkation controls --kop jai & Happy New Year! --Pi Mi Lao has begun --everyone in good mood. Before we left I:Cat the monks walked past on their alms trail. Auspicious.

Here at Suvarnabhum went straightaway to Thai International desk --got our boarding passes and then Cathy had her return flight times (Heathrow to Bangkok) changed. No fuss. She has a certain way & the luck goes with her! The later flight means we have all of next Saturday to get to London from Weymouth-on-the-Nod!
Last night Cath insisted we go to the temple to have the buddha we bought for Bernard [Hemensley] blessed. Initially thought we'd missed the opportunity for a blessing --the temple proper had closed --but then we saw the old monk (large man, abbot-like) sitting in his pavilion to the side of the temple in the forecourt. Cathy knows exactly what to do --exemplary courageous!
She steps up into the small pavilion facing the decorated or covered Buddhas alongside the temple wall. Drops to her knees, bows head, gives the sleeping buddha statue, which we bought at the Living Museum/Temple previous day, to the monk, an old Buddha himself. She makes her request or it is implicit in her actions. He examines the statue, turns it over, then launches into talking/singing chant. Halfway through the ceremony a Lao family joins her, --they pray, make their offering to the monk. He takes their gift, continues chanting over the buddha statue. Cathy comes away happy at task acquitted. She's scrupulous about custom/tradition. Lao convention that artefacts must be blessed to retain significance. My understanding is that the statue is an icon, a reflection of God, a palpable connection to the divine. We feel blessed too for our journey to England. Actually, the wish or prayer I made at the Living Museum (Cathy prompted me) was that our visit to Bernard in his house would be a happy one.

Sunday, May 22, 2011






history teaches us
to walk to paris on a fishing boat
with mercury retrograde

recipes for ice so rarely include
a detailed analysis of the advantages
to miniscule machines in bike path gridlock
or descriptions of that hill
where morning is first measured
& any linkage to rachmaninovs recent status
is to our minds self evidently spurious

we suggest a working party
a petition
an online survey
at very least a stern letter to the editor

perhaps a new chef

perhaps sunset over the oasis

idols revelling in the luxuriant garlands
of arrested early childhood development


local or general

we will always have the irreducible complexity
of weddings on a paddle steamer
the interminable wait for a new suit
beneath the glistening slate roof of the fossilised house

the ironing

the unclaimed spliff in the breast pocket of a blue shirt

discussion of bourgeois economics insinuating itself into a gleaming
aluminium egg
a sculpture partially eclipsed by snow from a mind known for its disinterest
not only in central european but also & perhaps particularly
alpine democracy

we will always have the emergent properties
of one day cricket in a convent
the rush of late wickets
the terror of a lost limb
the night out that ends with poetry
our backs toward the ocean in a hermit kingdom

little red riding hood botoxed for the mysterious woodsman

enthusiasts trusting a high school crush on the girl who can tie herself
through a wall with her own golden tresses
is based at least in part on the benevolent fallacy her blue echo
arrives last monday


another day on earth

venture with us to a land of sunshine
behind the waterfalls sparkling curtain

a simple rope trick
& we leave that sheepish mask
at the bottom of the stairs
in a drear grotto
with as much time as we need
to find that bowl
of very specific
if unspecified shape

in some quarters this is known as keeping a lid on things

in others two chairs
or mountains mountains mountains

before the space race
it was not uncommon to flit from one thing to the other
scanners riled parlours & dinner parties
with their erudite contributions






Talking about the immense scope of the universe
And the length and depth of the world
Of the lifespan of huge trees,
And typically apologising profusely -
I told Virginia about the ants by the freeway
She had seen the dying bees
And how the ants were acknowledged
As being , as entities
Rare living things
Beautiful cosmos
She agreed
And said , write a poem , we'll talk about it.

It was Christmas time and everyone was thinking deeply
The weather was warm and people were celebrating
Virginia was playing the temptress in a passion play
In front of 3000 people
And taking counselling, sorting out experiences.
Virginia , tall as the sky
Unique , bold and valiant
Infinitely worldly and wise
A modern day Saint with long brown hair and jeans
On a personal quest
Dealing with contradictions
Guided by the deep impulse of light
Steadfast in her pursuit of well being
Who does not suffer fools , let alone me
And she passionately strums her guitar
Singing songs of hope and inspiration
Let it be better , in the future
It can only get better , once the plan is in place.

In the city somewhere , Lee was sleeping on cardboard
Barefoot with rags over her head
Drinking cheap wine and thinking sad stories
With 20 dollars in her pocket , a gift from a friend
Whom she hugged and kissed in desperation.

I confirmed Alex's deep strong aura
Almost an overpowering silent presence
And likened hers to sea currents

I was concerned for all , hoping for individual success en masse
In a determined attempt for psychic alignment
For a better domination and overall effect
Where emotions are thoughts
And atomic molecules can be volitionally directed
When white matter expands and flowers
With wishful evolving neuroplasticity
Aiming for holistic geometrical harmony
Against all odds , trauma and despair
Without losing any sleep
Where some parts of the world were collapsing
While in others there was hope
And some special places were mysteriously shining
With an inspired contentment aglow with warm brilliance and peace

My legs were stronger but I was going in for the chop
Another one of those guided near death experiences
"You're shouting into the phone...", Virginia said quietly , wary of my excess
I tried to control my nervous volume
And gulped for breath.



On Christmas Eve , the gargoyle busker acting like a stone sculpture
Entranced a crowd with his antics on Swanston Street.
I rolled by and caught his still eye and tipped my hat
He acknowledged with a wry smile and salute.
On Christmas Day
Mum found a small brown bird in the yard
Its leg was injured , and couldn't fly
Others birds were picking at it.
She took it in and fed it porridge
Put it in a basket to rest
And later put it outside again,
But it kept coming to her,
From around the front
Onto her shoulder.
Mum saved it
She said , "I am its mother."



On the day before New Year's Eve
When it was bright and hot
I got off the bus
With a rolled up film poster of Enter The Void in my bag
And went by the path next to the freeway.
A large, scrawny , scraggly rat
Came out of the long grass and followed the footpath
At a leisurely pace in front of me
To the ramp road
It waited for traffic to pass
Then crossed onto a grassy patch on a traffic island.
I followed , on my way home.
The rat was wobbling sideways but kept up pace
I followed it around the grass
then it impatiently crossed the busy wide road
I was concerned for this wily rat
As it made its way across three lanes of tarmac
But in the last dreadful lane
Got clipped by the spinning wheel of an accelerating car
And lay there writhing , tail flickering
This was the worst I could imagine
I was helpless
then another car suddenly squashed it completely
that was the end of the adventurous grey rat
Who had travelled so far
Where was it going?
There was still another four lanes of traffic to go
And beyond that more concrete.
I was sad for this unlikely little creature
Though bush rats in the city are out of favour

I considered an untimely fatal accident
Of one of the smaller things
And the terrible road

What a way to see out the end of the year
With a poor squashed rodent
Amongst the merciless turning
Relentless charging noisy traffic

An unforeseen death one day before New Year
The word rat in Greek is arooraeo





Three Poems


yellow pollen edges the spring pools
enjoying the interval
unravelling theandric threads

the universe's great joke;
hey you!
can you hold this for a minute?

ah the poignancy of failure
a bitter little dessert
with a twist of Rumi

but to linger a while longer
in your fine company
o press me closer

to your voice
to hear again
your rippling arpeggios

and relieve this hard rock
that weighs on my tongue


snaking home

the well chronicled
minutiae of addiction
in the usual font

dream hands reach out
but my attentive heart advises
you've been gone now
a tidy week

across the doona
a harvest moon
drapes its casual arm
tomorrow you'll be here
avoiding heart-spaces
our life slipping
with every relocation.

under a black hill
the future leans
precariously skyward
plunged deep in arrhythmia

I lurch around this broken mind
another skulking fox night to endure
wide awake imagining your headlights
snaking through the pines.


the tangled orchard

coffee-pot, pain-cracked enamel
shadows dance the river stones

in the tangled orchard
a woman scatters grain

the hens scratch and scrabble
stepping backward for a look

worlds fall from her skin
a twinkle still in the ashen sky

knowing attachment
will inevitably bring loss

storm birds rise -- wheeling south
over Black Hill.


[these poems are from the collection New Skin (Greendoor Publishing), 2010]



PAUL HARPER's poems appeared in Poems & Pieces # 21
PHILLIP KANLIDIS is a visual artist & filmmaker, lives in Melbourne.
FRASER MACKAY lives in Central Victoria; a music/spoken-word performer. Link to See Published by Deakin Literary Society, Going Down Swinging.