Sunday, December 29, 2013


4th Day, Sunday January 29th, 2013, at the MCG

I was listening to the crackly radio commentary at the Shop when I clearly heard Aggers announce there'd be free entry at the MCG after the lunch interval. Nothing doing at the Shop so come 1-15 I decided to close up and hurry to the ground!
I'd enjoyed the stimulating morning session : breakfasting outdoors at cafe on Fed Square with perfect view of the Big Screen. Amusing pre-match (featuring Bret Lee's chart-busting Indian music clip) and then half an hour of the match. Two great dropped catches by Alistair Cook at first slip says it all. First faux pas was diving across the wickie (as he did in Perth), second was a dolly in & out of what the commentator called hard hands. Both drops off Broad's bowling who looked pissed off & when next ball Rogers lifted him for a boundary, defeated. Couldn't happen to a nicer chap.
Jumped onto MCG special on Flinders Street which took me to the Tennis Centre end quick smart. Up the stairs & over the bridge, walking fast so as not to miss anything of the precious little time left. Found a seat slightly to the left of the Southern Stand end though at first difficult to see exactly where I was. I used to watch my cricket from the Northern Stand, uncovered in those days, to the left  of the Members. It's a total make-over!
Enough for me to sit down & absorb the atmosphere. Streams of cricket(ing) memories upon me. Realized I was sat next to four English gents, northern accents, subdued as they came to grips with their inevitable defeat.
The scene unfroze with crashing boundaries from Chris Rogers for his ton followed by Shane Watson for his fifty! Got to my feet to applaud with 35,000 others (40 thousand with the free entrants)… Barmy Army to the right of me, quiet all of a sudden. Forty-odd to win, not too much to shout about for the English now. Taciturn English follower's voice : "hope that'll shut them up for good now!"
Mexican wave surges around the ground, and --like the old days --the Members stand is booed for non-participation though a few of them had joined in!
Ben Stokes to Rogers --effortless cut for 4. Wayward heave by Rogers, makes no contact. It's as if he wouldn't mind going out right then to give Clarke a knock. And why not? Clarke's been the little general throughout.
Monty Panesar on from the Members End. As he prepares I recall sitting in the Southern Stand watching Steve Waugh batting against the West Indies --his wonderful steadying innings, so strong & straight.
Panesar bowls a gentle over, just turning his arm. And then it happens as I predicted --Rogers snicks to the wickie and Clarke's in! Rogers clapped all the way off. Wonderful innings, ironically an English innings...
Clarke & Watson approach one another as they do a little gardening, prodding bats into the wicket, basically sharing the joy of their triumphant situation…
Clarke is simply keeping the ball out, content to be there in the middle. (And how weird is the spider-cam, crazy sci-fi interjection in this ultimately traditional sport.)
Clarke demonstrates the most delicate of glances for a single. Watson repeats the
shot but with
power. A boundary, followed with full flowing straight heave. And then a great straight drive which Pietersen (looks like) fails to stop. As though he didn't really try (the story of his game)?
At the drinks break Australia have 16 runs to win. Opportunity to survey the ground --only by being here does one actually appreciate the colosseum it's become, which doesn't for one second diminish the electrifying atmospheres of Tests in the '70s when I was a regular at the MCG (Sheffield Shield & Tests)…
Stokes bowling to Clarke. A flashing cut for 4 which one applauds for its artistry, and then the big screen announces his 8000th Test run. Standing ovation only slightly less than those for Rogers' century & Watson's fifty. Something about the moment's excellence as compared to the greater statistics.
Twelve runs to win! Panesar to bowl what could be the final over!
After lusty hit by Watson, Clarke defends. He hasn't been in long enough to get away with anything. Clarke thinks : leave it to Watson…
Bresnan replaces Stokes at the Southern stand end. Watson hooks it high but two Englishmen contrive to mess up the catch. The cricket gods are smiling : it would have been an inglorious end to a good innings. Now Watson repeats the hit but straight this time. 4. Then a silly shot with 5 to win as though a 6 were desired! No need, no need! Another silly shot for a single.
Clarke requires a 4. He defends. Over!
Watson wants the big boundary --cant help himself!
Panesar fields badly off his own bowling --it's the story of the match. A single stolen. Another single through the fielder's hands.
Two runs to win.
Watson's hefty sweep for 4 and it's done.
All stand again, including the four elderly Englishmen inside of my row. Win lose or draw it's the way it's done. Around us the stands erupt. A chant of "4 Nil" starts up. When the Sydney Test starts the chant will be "5 Nil".
Walked around from the Southern to the Northern stand soaking it up.
Outside in the sunshine, welcome after the cool of the covered sections of the MCG, stop before the evocative bowling Shane Warne statue. Visitors posing for photos. Then join the crowds streaming out of the Park, --to Jolimont Station and, standing-room-only, home...

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

JOHN KINSELLA'S "THE VISION OF ERROR : A Sextet of Activist Poems"

LAUNCH SPEECH for John Kinsella's THE VISION OF ERROR : A Sextet of Activist Poems (Five Islands Press, Melbourne), given November 20th, 2013, Visual Cultures Resources Centre, John Medley Building, University of Melbourne

[The italicised section below was conceived &/or drafted but omitted from the speech


The words & thoughts in my head, when I began this take on John Kinsella's new collection, The Vision of Error : A Sextet of Activist Poems (Five Islands Press),  included such things as a line by Jack Clarke (one of Olson's students & friends, from the Institute of Further Studies in upstate New York) : "I want all my learning to go into this one" --a classic temptation!
[And I thought of Kinsella as similar to Richard Grossinger, introduced as prodigy to the yet kicking New American Poetry by Robert Duncan ca 1970, and whose one man band attracted & awed 40 years ago as he virtually created his own curriculum…
And thinking of JK as an international poet/figure, I serendipitously came upon the references to him from Harold Bloom & Paul Kane in Cassandra Atherton's In So Many Words : Interviews with Writers, Scholars and Intellectuals (ASP, '13); one of only a handful of Australian writers recognised overseas…
The Political Imagination issue of Southerly magazine (Vol 73, #1, '13), which had already fired me up, seemed a relevant context for JK; paradoxically, given my objections to the former how explain my accepting the brief to usher into the world his new collection? Incidentally, despite appearing to be a prime candidate for such a context, Kinsella's not included in that symposium...
Shirley Clarke's portrait of Robert Frost, made in 1962, seen during the Shirley Clarke season of documentaries at ACMI in Melbourne, October '13, was also strongly in mind regarding the discussion of the public if not political role of the poet in, more or less, our time…]
And from a first flick through the book in hand, p114, in the Hero section,

Our four-year-old, in the delirium
of fever, said: 'Dad, write a poem
to make them stop, to stop
them tearing down the tree'.
He has more faith in poetry

and people than I have,
though I'd like to honour his wish.

Finally, regarding his version of Milton's Comus, JK offered that this work is "tormented by its own celebration --the tension is in the need for constraint, a fear that the darkness of humanity will overwhelm the telling of the tale." --ditto, this collection too (perhaps). ]

So I started doodling, noodling, reading here & there--for example, Harsh Hakea (p9) --

This morning, to fire the day, a large golden fox
sprinted the fenceline along the reserve. Watched
by me, perched on the largest granites. Left be.

Instead of the natural or conventional observational authority, whereby "I" would have watched the fox --how would it go? -- : "This morning, to fire the day, a large golden fox / sprinted the fenceline along the reserve. Perched / on the largest granites, I watched it. Left it be." --And nothing wrong with that at all as poem. But instead of that, Kinsella has it : "Watched / by me, perched on the largest granites. Left be." --which maintains fox as arbiter --after all it is the golden fox that 'fires the day' --even though one understands the human watcher mediates it, --but so gently --sublimates normal authority to the fox's activity, as though fox & day is the superior relationship. The syntax facilitates the lovely rhyme (as rhyme can be lovely) --"by me" at the beginning of the line & "left be" at the end. Given Kinsella's philosophy, this begs the question as to whether "watching" isn't of the same terrible order of things an anarchist (& poet as natural anarchist) could also indict. And this is a book of many indictments.

Change tack.

I recall a conversation with Tasmanian poet James Charlton at Collected Works Bookshop, in the '90s. We were discussing other poets, as poets always do. It transpired neither of us were, or were any longer, ruffled by the supposed sins attributed to our more newsworthy friends & colleagues, and didn't particularly care for the kind of mischievous commentary that does the rounds --knocking off the 'tall poppies', older figures like Murray, Tranter, Gray, Adamson & younger ones --John Kinsella criticised for prolific writing & publishing --too young, too much, that sort of thing --And Anthony Lawrence for something or other --swank & swagger? --I cant remember. And after we'd shared memories of meetings &/or dealings with either of them, James said : Well, you look after John & I'll look after Anthony! Heaven forbid gross patronage & egotism be attributed since we only meant that we, who'd come of age in the '60s & '70s, could hold & critically embrace those young tyros only born around that time. (Such 'looking after' relates to one's sense of nurturing in the literary culture; a nurturing which of course includes resistance…)

Now it is true that John Kinsella has published forty-odd books --indeed it would have been perfect if this collection from Five islands Press, The Vision of Error : A Sextet of Activist Poems were his fiftieth --his fiftieth book in his fiftieth year! Even greater symmetry : Englishman in Australia launches Australian in England's fiftieth book in the poet's fiftieth year! But further to the 'writing too much' problem : I remember how screamingly funny we found Gilbert Sorrentino's  description, in his novel The Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things, of the  rampantly fecund Robert Kelly writing a novel in his bath before breakfast! --funny because without wanting to side with Blake's 'destroyers' one's beholden to the restrained if not repressed psychology &, therefore, culture, which many of us were schooled in, thus the occurrence of over-careful & even timid attitude & style. Yet most creative practitioners would love to have the publishers queuing up, as indeed they seem to do for JK's writings. If it was a single & simply defined audience, there'd be more point to the criticism Kinsella receives. But that's not, or is no longer, the case. John Kinsella's publishers & publications are literally all over the place --different types of writing, different kinds of publication.

Five Islands Press's author's bio notes Armour (published by Picador) & Jam Tree Gully (Norton) as recent publications. But as or more recent is his collaboration with Niall Lucy (the co-dedicatee, with Tracy Ryan, of this book) in The Ballad of Moon Dyne Joe (FACP), & the collaboration with Forest Gander, Redstart : An Ecological Poetics (published by University of Iowa Press). Now, Redstart is particularly apropos for both essayistic style & content & for its caveats, for example from Kinsella's Note on Ecopoetics (which might yet characterise The Vision of Error) : "I have grave doubts that an 'ecopoetics' can be anything but personal. And a luxury that few have…" / "In reaching a desire to record one's own coordinates in a damaged ecology, an ecology trying to cope, I realise how much of the data of background is contrary to any idea of 'nature'. There's some grim stuff in there. Most of our own biographies have grim stuff. Place is about event as much as location. place is interstice. Place is also a reckoning of intrusion and damage and the labeling of forces (greed, security, self and communal empowerment, spiritual materialism) that seem adverse to the health of a biodiversity…" Redstart in its register might be the reflective half of the project which bursts into the rattier, testier, aktion of The Vision of Error ("activist poems" after all)!

Thinking all this or about this, I was suddenly reminded of Olson's Projective Verse essay, which one read in the '60s, in Melbourne, before the super highway to Buffalo or San Francisco or Cambridge,UK for that matter --and not the typewriter as stave or the head, ear, syllable / heart, breath, line passages but this from the essay's second part, how the human "conceives his relation to nature, that force to which he owes his somewhat small existence. If he sprawl he shall find little to sing but himself [we understand : nudge, nudge Walt Whitman]… But if he stays within himself, if he is contained within his nature as he is participant in the larger force, he will be able to listen, and his hearing through himself will give him secrets objects share [this is predicated upon Olson's understanding of objectivism, "the getting rid of the lyrical interference of the individual as ego, of the 'subject' and his 'soul'" etc] --Olson continues, "For a man's problem the moment he takes speech up in all its fullness is to give his work his seriousness, a seriousness sufficient to cause the thing he makes to try to take its place alongside the things of nature…"

An aside : that the basic difference between the Olson poetic & Kinsella, or between Kinsella & any number of others, is political, philosophical, and might all reduce to the fact that War is not his father (after Heraclitus) --he doesn't seem to politically accept the life & death cycle he's caught in for he suffers for want of equanimity but will not, like Robinson Jeffers, "go down the dinosaurs' way" before trying all possible alternatives…

Addressing The Vision of Error one cant help but address the poet as per his accumulated production, his massive & multivalent project, and his international reputation current as he is in Australia, the British Isles & the USA. Do we read it or read John Kinsella in it? --tracking him, as apparently one can do with a wrist-banded felon, a micro-chipped dolphin or Tasmanian devil or an English badger?

The Vision of Error may have begun its adventure as the inversion, The Error of Vision --second-guessing the common assumption that 'seeing' is most of the poet's calling --from Whitmanesque journalism to anything from the portmanteau of soothsaying, that which'll always 'walk beside you'… And 'seeing' might be named the apparent --the 'apparent' only ever what seems to be so --and the real, the harder quality which coagulates as quantity… Poet in this space (this head-space &/or physical environment) committed to a speaking which flies in the face of the assumptions. But The Vision of Error it is, and poet here will call the shots --will catalogue crime & calumny --weave it into a hair-shirt, knot it into a cat o'nine tails…

On p19, state-of-the-world diatribe, "Try living / here, you collaborating wankers / who vox populi niche markets, / stereotypical beatings of prisoners, / the bullies who make / semi-useful foot soldiers." is juxtaposed (grand simile) with esoteric lit-crit cum biog : "Please place on my grave, "he resisted , / and wasn't hoodwinked by the lyric or its digressions, remouthings / or retextings. Not by epics, / nor damned elegies." --Kinsella here, the postmodernist hussar whose juxtaposition clearly elides all human acts within the pessimistic register of the Fall. Poet therefore (& there's poetry aplenty in these poems --beautiful alliterative & onomatopoeic runs, wild & wacky imagery) --whose ability to articulate outrage cannot for a second earn favour or furlough. Po-mo mix & match : bellicose pamphleteering and exquisite permutating of sound & sense --same difference within world's valedictory. No wonder James Joyce is inscribed very early in the piece : (p11) "HARSH hake // what blossom coveted by spikes / whose calling? Flower/blossoms, / I know no Anna nor fallings into line / cause precedent matters sublime river pocks / bonding drain and gutter, though round rain sounds / anna anna anna falling into a bright new tank, we / will drink a river, we will gurgle our puns, / giraffe;…"  Again on p61, "And so, I turn to St Augustine's Confessions / and the isles of the I declaimed through ontology / and a singular perfection manifest as core / of Western self-narrative, as Baby Tuckoo / or the resplendent self-damnation of Rousseau…"

What we read in The Vision of Error is the eternal if not infernal battle of the citizen, advocate, political-activist and the witness, artist, poet --and their ameliorations understood; the eternal battle between the urges of graffiti and the surges of literature --and their ameliorations understood; the eternal battle of action & reflection, of mortal living & immortal art, of infinite imagination & limited body-world --and their ameliorations understood…

I declare The Vison of Error : A Sextet of Activist Poems hereby launched!



*The mesostic, a la John Cage, on p31, spelling SOLVENCY IS MUTE, probably not the poet's/poem's secret habitat or even the secret to habitat, though it could be!
I recently heard 'solvent' mentioned on a news report about a variety of the drug GBH, and also know it as a term in the world of corporate finance. But the book does carry secrets if one accepts FIP's promo that "John Kinsella lays down his vision of an urgent and uncompromising poetics and politics of land…" 

For instance, let's follow his God trail :

(p17) "maybe it's only the shape, choreography / of praying we're interested in;"
(pp35) "I need to participate, / I need the risk of being struck, / burnt to a crisp / by lightning, this devotion that forgets God / in the rush…"
(p36) "I pray compulsively, / always just before sleep and again if I wake during the night / in case I forgot before sleep"
(p65) "God is fable is duty"
(p75) "Religion is a technology"

And family :

several invocations of his son Tim;
wife (p37) "it's not order I look for in Tracy's eyes"
brother Stephen (p54);
(pp55/56) "Tracy locates the vanquished house's ache / by the fruit tree stubs, introduced like water towers, / tarred seams opening - Gleneagle, alongside / Kinsella Road, where sixty-year-old pines / were recently harvested and new plantings inculcated"

And language :

(p9) Jumping from died-and-reborn York gums to "The dead have been gathering. / And, to be frank, accruing. / They are phenomenally heavy, / like self-doubt or self-belief "
(p14) another grand simile : "Mispronunciation is a joy as great as fog / and fog lifting in tears…"
(p19) "You see, there's no getting away from sentences / all places visited, been, occupied, / even / passed /thru. // Says something about reading. / Maps and diaries not kept. / / Artifacts are not something / I need to create."
(p22) "Psychedelia is my trap. I watched wooden / finches fly and hid from spiders in a nun's / closet --that's my biography told by the / outside myself self."

--diaristic, solipsistic (not that there's anything wrong with that), poet talking to himself…

(p89) "Maybe you need to know [Paul] Goodman precedes with 'Language /
is behaviour' …


Regarding headspace & physical environment : Imagine Husserl ("perception is environment") & Jung ("mind is matter"), tapping their white canes around the poet's tripping feet…


(p17) "I will learn to block out my shifts in body chemistry and reception theory / that undo the way I see" : as if natural seeing & telling were his standpoint rather than political shirt-fronting finessed with science --'objectivity' sufficient to render the lyrical porous if not specious. But I'm not convinced --undoing seeing, a la John Berger, is the blinder Kinsella seeks to play here, despite categorical anxieties, --politics & philosophy's tectonic plates squeezing, squashing, ructioning poetry…


I had thought Jack Clarke's line [quoted in launch speech above] was "I want all my knowledge to go into this one" and that it occurred in one of the sonnets, The End of This Side (Black Book, Ohio, 1979). However, I've found it isnt one of the sonnets at all but the poem The Stance We Inhabit Predisposes Our Dimension, published in the John Clarke issue of Duncan McNaughton's Fathar magazine (Buffalo, NY, June '71). And the key word is 'learning' not 'knowledge', notwithstanding a certain convergence of the reader & doer, library & world within that practice. And so it all comes back --the era of poetry & research on the wing of Olson, --and Olson dying in 1970, then George Butterick in '88, five months after Robert Duncan, & then Jack Clarke himself (1992) --of which I heard with a shock, ditto Butterick --poets I'd corresponded with, published --felt all over again as I googled for information… And what then of John Thorpe & Duncan McNaughton? Where are they now? Too many years spent in other circles, I'm embarrassed by my absence but, because of the focus upon John Kinsella, am serendipitously returned!
I quote Jack's poem here :


as the sun coincides with the heart
I want all my learning to go into
this one & leaps across the Pacific
at a known spot just North of the
Solomons I am reminded it was I who
refused to believe you would join
me in the Rose garden & was wanting
proof of that Future which never
thus comes being thrust deeper into
the past which is its burden to
overcome the moment I saw that I'd
never be a True Scientist until
I believed absolutely you had not gone over
to the King of Death but had stayed
to feed me raisons and grains and
black strap molasses for iron for
energy to combat Depression so that
the only cold I had all winter was
this one from Friday to Sunday the
Day of the Equinox



[Typed up 21/27 November, '13
Kris Hemensley]

Sunday, November 10, 2013


Much to thank Michael Farrell for in his article, An 'Infinitely Flexible' Space; Reading Michael Dransfield's 'Courland Penders' poems through the New Baroque and Dobrez's theory of 'the Pouch',  published in The Political Imagination issue of Southerly (2013), and not least for what seems to me a rare acknowledgement of the approach & research of Livio & Patricia Dobrez. Why LD's Parnassus Mad Ward : Michael Dransfield & the New Australian Poetry (UQP, 1990) & PD's Michael Dransfield's Lives : A Sixties' Biography (Melbourne University Press, 1999) aren't  better known & utilised beats me. One might also add, similarly, that after years of not so much neglect as disdain, Michael Dransfield, the true subject of Farrell's article, is circulating again as poetry & reference. I note the online appearance of the Dransfield Appreciation Society [] over the past year and the recent daily publications on Facebook of Dransfield poems (Justin Lowe's month long homage & Michael Fitzgerald-Clarke's seven days) which, in a perfect world, with readers constantly requesting Dransfield's poetry, might just affect the weather around St Lucia where UQP has obstinately refused to return to print its Dransfield editions, including John Kinsella's selection of 2002. Farrell's foundational debt is to Martin Harrison (after Edward Said)'s 'affiliative' approach which opposed Oz Lit's predictable 'genetic' procedures; however they're not necessarily mutually exclusive (mutual exclusivity itself a conventional deadweight trapping both traditional & apparently radical modes). The Harrison 'affiliative'/Farrell 'neobaroque' ought definitely not be regarded as antithetical to the historical-cultural-biographical strand of understandings.

I say Dransfield is the true subject of Farrell's article because, due to what I assume is his obligation to the theoretical imperatives of his profession, Dransfield as poet & oeuvre is crabbed here by emphasis upon the 'neobaroque' as a stratagem in competition with the postcolonial, colonial, avant-garde, neoromantic, postmodern & others as the most efficacious critical tool. I'm obviously not saying that Farrell's neobaroque, drafted from Latin American criticism as he describes, isn't a nifty explicator for Michael Dransfield & contemporary Australian poetry; and of course one understands the context of the article, originally presented as a paper at the Political Imagination : Postcolonialism & Diaspora in Contemporary Australian Poetry conference at Deakin University, April 2012, --but thank heavens one's beyond the academy's reach in one's own discourses.

(Oh brothers & sisters of the 'political imagination', having ploughed through your expositions in that there journal, all I can say is come away, come away! Come away! Come back to poetry, warts & all! Come back to poets, warts & all!  Be humble before the wartish facts! Warts so much better agents of understanding & liberation than the contorted vocabularies advancing or within the categories of perfection you have invented in your lofty, lefty follies! And hey! How's this for synchronicity? Flicking at Cassandra Atherton's eminently readable book of interviews, In So Many Words : Interviews with Writers, Scholars and Intellectuals (Arcadia/ASP, 2013), I find Camille Paglia, ca 2005. From that first "slap in the face [Paglia's defending her book Break, Blow, Burn] of the current poetry establishment and academic circles", fulminating against the idea "that people write poetry to do philosophy", --to which she says "Don't treat poetry as if it was a servant of some other form", thus her criticism of Ashbery (or the way that he is read) & of Jorie Graham, indeed the entire po mo shebang, -- from the first & throughout her interview I'm attracted. I realise Paglia's brush is pretty broad --for example, "Postmodernism has marginalised poetry because postmodernism is a type of cynical nihilism… it defines any reference to the sacred as sentimental. There is a kind of sanctimonious superiority that many postmodernist scholars have, regarding what people believe", & et cetera --And one has to get a handle on her prime belief in a bodily, sensual & sensory poetry against "academic sterility", --And though, as I read & think her propositions through, there are as many nays as yays, and greys in amongst the black & whites, at least I can join her discussion --that is, I care to (a version, as it happens, of the one I have with all my colleagues here, off the cuff more than in print, and over many years), whereas I'm completely disinclined & disenchanted by Southerly's politicos…)

Bethatasitmay; Michael Farrell's most suggestive device, is the pouch, borrowed from the Dobrezes, & not only as supremely subverted Aussie kitsch. He explains "we can see that through the pouch-consciousness of Dransfield's 'infinitely flexible' poetics, of which the Courland Penders poems are exemplary if not unique, Dransfield can "experience reality" without leaving the womb or house…" It seems to me this might, in another paper and from the psycho-literary or, in my terms, the fantastical or dream approach, progress to actually crossing eyes with Michael Dransfield. An encounter, it occurs to me, after Charles Buckmaster via Christopher Brennan, within th' real

[9/10 November, '13]

Saturday, November 2, 2013

I.M. DEREK BEAN, 1924-2013

Kris Hemensley


in in-between world
toes point to the sun
as head is drawn to the sea-bed

off Elwood Beach
I float in a dream
of two families of uncles
inspired by the sight of
three strolling Mediterranean men
in togs without bellies
tanned brown with glinting silver hair
profuse on chest sparse on top
clad in their natures like shimmering fish

another film rewinds then
of English summer-holiday
where ever-the-world's host my father
invites his brothers for a picnic
on the beach and whatever
parents kids nephews uncles play
postponing boredom sadness end-of-holiday

like frisky bachelors
they fetch & carry for my mother
joke swim produce sixpences for ice-creams
smoke cigarettes languorous as the officers
they'd endured all their war years in North Africa

looking back at the shore
the purpose of the world seems first & last
appeasement of the senses

self & world-knowledge
gained by simply gliding body
through water or air enveloped in sunlight
anticipating the trajectories of bathers & walkers
merging with or diverging from them
as if we're all summer's melting marionettes
absolved from guilt excused consequences

but fifty years back
i was sacked for acceding to impulse
an hilarious image ballooned in my mind
demanding an hilarious act to fulfill it

i raced the yards from soft sand
to the puddled ribbed flat
exposed by outgoing tide
where my mother stood girlishly entertaining
my father & uncles
i slapped her blooming blue-costumed behind
so perfectly my right-hand stung and the
whack's echo
startled seagulls and her cry was a pure pain
encapsulating my little devil's jubilation

i ran on & on
and would have cartwheeled if i'd known how
expecting our party to laugh & applaud

instead one uncle chased me down
lectured me like a policeman
marched me back to my tearful mother
& her angry retinue

i prickled red with embarrassment
was made to stew
until awarded the cold blue mercy of banishment

in in-between world
there is no nymph called Thetis
no son Achilles dipped by the heel
into magic waters

there's only ever sea & sea
no other mother's bequest
could so nearly offer immortality

those three manicured Mediterranean men
those look-alikes aliases surrogates
those also-known-as Egyptian uncles
approach the water dainty as penguins
upon the ice-flow
attracted by the laziness of my swim
which tempts their machismo

suddenly one charges & plunges in
calling his partners to join him
then my dream pops into place
and once more real world roars around me

[from DEAR TAKAMURA, 2002-03.
The English uncles are Derek & Dennis Bean; the Egyptian uncles, Gaby & Cesar Tawa. It was the gallant Uncle Derek who ran me down]


Kris Hemensley

What curious symmetry brings bad news from either side of the family within an hour  of each other? English uncle, Egyptian cousin --though, as my brother elaborates, Pierre was only a couple of years younger than our mother, his aunt, who better related to him as her cousin.

An old man, tanned Mediterranean to oblige this recitation, grey hair, open necked white shirt, brown jacket & trousers, deliberates for half a minute before continuing his shuffle along the pavement. I'm reminded of my cousin but the dawdler's probably a closer resemblance to my Uncle Cesar, thirty years passed.

After my son died, his doppelgangers appeared and for several years following --jumping out of the pages of the music papers, occasionally & startlingly in the flesh. The hesitating Mediterranean is my cousin Pierre's first posthumous herald.

In England, Uncle Derek is apparently dying --the nuance or substance of the epithet 'terminal'. The age he's achieved doesn't diminish one's shock. He's always been a figure of energy & creativity. Walking, climbing, making or teaching music, driving, travelling, socialising --Derek appeared to guarantee the promise of ebullient longevity on our paternal side.

Suing for immortality was Dad's conceit, somehow hobbled by abstraction & timidity; fortunately for Derek it's his character. Perhaps because he never harped upon age, Derek's ageless. The man of wit we've always known --at home with himself --identical with his language --pilgrim's miles in his legs --newspaper beneath arm --tree, shrub or flower in his eye --a piano in his head.

[from DELPHI]


Kris Hemensley JOURNAL + Notebook
23/24 April, '13

[re Ringwood/Fordingbridge visit]

(…) Big hiccup at Ringwood --I realised too late after alighting from the National Express coach & mooching about in search of Pam, that I wasn't supposed to be meeting her in Ringwood at all but Fordingbridge, a short hop away on another bus. I'd attempted several calls to Bernard but for once he wasn't home --I thought he'd be able to phone Pam & tell her I was still in Ringwood. However once I did realise the mistake I caught next local bus to Fordingbridge! And there she was, at the bus-stop, waiting for me.
We drove fast, first leg to a local store to pick up newspaper for Derek & beer & cheese for lunch, & then on to their home.

Uncle Derek in red checked shirt (or pyjama top?), fawn slacks, blanket around middle down to his feet --blue socks, one of which loosened & after an hour or so Pam pulled it up for him.
Uncle Derek's familiar smile & soft, smooth-skin handshake, more hand hold than grip.
"I bring greetings from [siblings] Bernard & Monique & Robin!" Later on I repeat Monique's best wishes. Derek says, And mine to her.
How are you? I ask --Very well, & yourself?
He alternates attention between the television & The Times crossword. Pam tells him it was my idea to get the paper (""you've got Kris to thank for it"). Derek smiles & keeps working. He's watching Question Time from Parliament. Looks fascinating. I asked him what he thought of the prime minister, David Cameron. He ponders before replying. I think he's doing a pretty good job, he says.
Was the answer contained or encouraged in the question? Pam told me she's learned to conduct just that kind of conversation with him --confusion is not what she wants to foment.
Derek enjoyed (or at least he chuckled) when I referred to Uncle Dennis's appreciation of Ray Monk's biography Wittgenstein. Oh yes, Derek said, Dennis did like Wittgenstein.
Pam had brought out ham for our lunch, the traditional English fare. When I declined she laughed it off. Salad & a chunk of cheese will be fine, I said. I don't know how much a chunk is, she said. Lunch was good, accompanied by several glasses of ale.
Pam showed me WW2 snaps of Derek --Rodger [Derek's son, my cousin] had brought them to show her and in the 45 minutes before he departed for the airport & the flight back to Australia she had them copied. Northern Germany, Hamburg for example. Very interesting was a Forces bulletin advertising a piano recital to be given by Derek Bean --Schubert & Schumann. Signalman Derek Bean.
Pam described Derek watching the broadcast of Mrs Thatcher's state funeral, and how he was impressed by the choir. I sang in St Paul's Cathedral, he said. Hmm. When footage of the Falklands War was shown he remarked he'd fought in that war. You weren't in the Falklands, derek, she laughed. Yes I was, he insisted. So what did you do in the Falklands then? I carried a rifle, he said.
Signalman Derek Bean, holding his rifle, World War 1, World War 2, the Falklands...
Uncle Derek, indomitable, incorrigible…



Pam Adams :
Email / July 25, '13

Dear Kris,

Preparations for Derek's service on the 31st... I am typing up the order of the service for the printer and have reached an impasse - I am wondering if you can make a beautiful translation of this - am I correct in thinking you know German? - I think I am...
Der Abend dammert, das Mondlicht scheint,
              Da sind zwei Herzen in Liebe vereint,
              Und halten sich selig umfangen. 


This excerpt was included in the score by Brahms to accompany or throw light (mondlicht?) on the second movement of his Sonata in f minor, which Derek loved and played magnificently, and which will be played in his service by Gwenneth Pryor.  Derek loved languages, Derek loved German literature, and I just thought it would be nice to include the excerpt in the order of service, that he would appreciate that, but I would like to add a translation as well.  I can make out the words, but I can't put them beautifully - help?

               Dawn of the evening, the moonlight glistens (?), the moon shines (I'm no good at this!)
               Two hearts united in love (
there are two hearts?)
                stand in blessed embrace 
  HELP!!!  (stand?  stop? stay? Aaaargh!)


Kris Hemensley :
Email / 26 July, '13

Hi Pam, I sent two urgent messages to 'my people' with German language : poets Cecilia White & Petra White. Cecilia, Sydney based poet, often in Europe, has responded with this 'translation' which she says is also an interpretation. She thinks it might have the musical feel you need.

Evening arrives softly
Moonlight appearing
In love, two hearts united
Holding each other in blessed embrace

I hope this either assists you in yr translation or does the job entirely...
All best, in haste, Kris


Pam Adams:
Email/  27 July, '13

Hello Kris,

Thank you so much for throwing yourself into the task at hand!  Urgent!  I like it.  And thank your people!  Amazingly, I needn't have worried, the printer had a translation in her vast store of everything she's ever printed, and apparently that excerpt has come up on many an occasion!  Here's what she printed and I said, okay -

Through evening's shade,
The pale moon gleams
While rapt in love's ecstatic dreams
Two hearts are fondly beating.

Okay.  Somebody took tremendous liberties, but whatever.... gleams and dreams rhyme so okay.

The Order of Service looks good, I'm happy.  Now I have the weekend to do the outer cover.
Found some very interesting things!  A box of pictures - one of you and Derek - do you have a copy of it? from his visit [to Melbourne] at Christmastime 1997, I believe, in your shop.  Will send that if you don't have it.  (There were two copies of most of the pictures in that set, but only one of that photo, so you may already have it.)  Also the sweetest picture - which will go on the inside back cover, along with a couple of pictures of young Derek, soldier - of Derek crouching opposite, and feeding/petting a baby kangaroo.  Sweet.  Also found a letter I had written him while he was in Australia, detailing what he was missing in a particular class at Morley College.  He was class secretary, and in his absence it was quite chaotic - and someone turned to me and asked when Derek would be back.  "Morley doesn't stand if Derek isn't here," he said.  "It's like the ravens in the Tower."


Petra White :
Email, July 28, '13

Evening grows dark, the moonlight shines, two hearts are made one in love, holding each other in happiness.


Wednesday, October 9, 2013



Christopher Heathcote popped in to the Bookshop recently, as he does, with photo-copies of his latest articles for Quadrant magazine, namely 'How Ingmar Bergman Filmed Munch' (April,'13) & 'Kenneth Clark and the Exodus of the Modernists' (June, '13).   Previously I've read & enjoyed 'Did Grace Cossington Smith Read Virginia Woolf' (November, '11), 'When Antonioni Met Rothko' (January/February, '12), 'John Brack & the Allegorical Still Life' (April, '12), 'Albert Tucker and Existentialist Paris' (July/August, '12),  & 'When Beckett Commissioned Giacometti' (January/February, 13). His penchant for quirky equations, as these titles demonstrate, proclaims the lively mind of a raconteur, which is precisely why I welcome his visits & commend his articles to readers at large. 

Not the first place one would look for art commentary but, as I understand it, author & editor have struck a chord and so the articles flow. The opening paragraph of the Cossington Smith piece might offer a clue to Christopher Heathcote's & Les Murray's accord. "Did Cossington Smith read Virginia Woolf? It's a question that has niggled me for years. The art history profession tends to tackle visual art as if it is an insular, self-absorbed activity with only direct creative influences coming from other visual works. Paintings are shown to beget more paintings. But artists not only go to exhibitions. They listen to music, they watch movies and television, they attend various forms of theatre performance, and they read magazines and books, sometimes even novels touching on art."  Indeed : art & artists not in the ivory tower but necessarily the swim of life, the informal song & dance. By the way, the Cossington Smith article is informed by an artist's practical facility; Heathcote's erudition regarding implements & application enhances the critique.

I should have anticipated the disappointment I otherwise keep at bay while reading Heathcote's account of my favourite period of modern British art, after all the "exodus of the modernists" refers to the idea that Britain via Kenneth Clark, as champion of the provincialism (read philistinism) underscoring its mid-century production, "had just had its chance to embrace the international vanguard. There had been a genuine opportunity to establish London as the artistic capital following the fall of Paris : Paris was no longer the centre. But the innovators [C H mainly refers to Mondrian though the innovation of the locals is his more substantial issue] had been repelled. So they went to New York, taking the prospects for modern art with them." Heathcote's analysis of Ben Nicholson's fraught relationship with Kenneth Clark is disturbing in terms of patronage & the potential for tyranny, even so it's unfortunate that he's so amenable to the conspiratorial reading : Clark as malevolent influence upon English art which, but for him --oh yes, he admits there was also the Blitz --would have followed the International Style down to the last Modernist letter…

For my part I'll always contend that Modernism's glorious adventure is misrepresented if denigration of the contraries manifests as the attempt to expunge from any of its territories a national accent or locality (either as idiom or character after Paul Nash's famous  quip, quite properly quoted by C H, "whether it's possible to 'go modern' and still 'be British' is a question vexing quite a few people today"). Besides being a doomed project (as though, for example, modernist art in France & the USA isn't also French or American respectively), where else but the local does Australian art (of which Heathcote is a keen supporter) reside? And why should Australian or British art, under consideration here, be exempt from the respect each deserves & the pleasure & inspiration each confers? No doubt at all in my mind that the relationship of local & international (or global as that conglomerate's currently appreciated) is the all pervasive cultural & economic & political discussion of the day.

It occurs to me that Christopher Heathcote writes as a modernist partisan, thus the palpability of his evocations & cited history; but I wonder why he doesn't avail himself of a typical post-modernist second look. How about a reconsideration of "sentimental figuration" & narrative, even that which he derides as "illustrative, cheerful and quaint"? And where to now the notion "progressive"?

That said, his suggestive & instructive details & sub-plots, elicited from exemplary wide reading, confirm what I call scholarship. These rich details both stem from insight & facilitate it. Take, for example, his superb paragraph about Henry Moore's drawings of the people in the war-time London tube. "What his abstract drawings were about was the pity of war. And he conveyed what no photograph could by using the organicist forms of biomorphic surrealism. Building up the weird bodies from clusters of undulating lines upon darkened grounds, Moore suggested several things at once. His cocooned figures are civilians sheltering in tunnels, and corpses laid out in murky catacombs, as well as worm-beings in a stifling burrow : they are the vulnerable living, yet also potentially the massed dead, and creatures of a ghastly underworld."

It's commendable that he's a readable critic & commentator, eschewing jargon, using the intellect & senses possessed by anyone willing to contemplate a subject. I imagine his Quadrant articles one day making an excellent book. With the greatest respect, then, two & a half cheers for Christopher Heathcote!

[13/7 - 12/8/13]

Sunday, September 29, 2013



June 30

Tom the Street Poet in my mind (aka Poor Tom & then Tom the World Poet, as he is now, based in Austin, Texas), early 1980s, Swanston Street, centre of Melbourne, the old City Square, --he's pointing out passers by, seemingly plucking poems out of the air --rhymes, riddles, sooth-sayings --a kind of thespian rap, well ahead of the game that's even playing now, & even then its possible origin as Beat poetry long forgotten. I'm reminded of Tom as I skim Ken Trimble's The Barking Mad Poems (published this year, 2013, by Christine Mathieu's Little Fox Press, hidden away in Fitzroy), some of which I've previously read on Facebook --direct action I thought --apparently written straight to screen, thus instantly 'published' --something I daren't do myself though many do including my brother Bernard ("Stingy Artist") Hemensley, at least as far as blog & Facebook publishing is concerned-- for me, even when it's simple, the poem's worked, and publication always feels premature or a put on, but that's my problem which I'm sidling up to here!

I wondered years ago how spontaneous were Keith Jarrett's concert pieces --surely he had entire tunes at his finger-tips & ingeniously led into or found them as he improvised? The old question of the original & unrevised --Zen's suggestive yet problematic "first thought, best thought" proposition --more a question for poetry than jazz, say. All this a long or probably unnecessary bow, though Ken's a jazzer and so already on this page.

One's come to say of Ken Trimble that he's the Real Deal (I can hear our mutual friend Robert Lloyd in this chorus) --which, of course, begs the question of the literary scene's status ('real deal' where the rest of it aint?) and of the literary stance, the literary per se (notwithstanding Literature's insatiable absorption of all that's written irrespective of writer's & writing's disposition). One could say that the anti-literary is spoken in Ken's poem, One Word. It is a 'skinny poem' par excellence : the mostly one word per line of it's 27 illustrates & dramatises its particular emphases : "One day / I will / find / simple / words / to tell / you / how / I feel / so / you / can / know / in your / heart / the / clarity / of / my / seeing / and / the / truth / of / my / knowing."

It's a communique since "you" is the poem's reader, the reader or hearer without whom the poem has no point. The 'literary', in comparison, is in & of its own art, which is chipped off the old block of valorised form & content. (This is not a complaint but a description.) As I write this the example of another Ken, namely Ken Taylor, occurs to me as similarly oriented. I'm sure he'd append his name to Trimble's petition ("simple words to tell you how I feel"); for example, "As I came up from Binghamton / snow joined the / black road to night, in spindrifts / and / I dreamed again of coming out of the mountains / four of us / over the ton at / five in the morning. / Frosted cows / hedgerows and bands of / fog, / night again, / night after night of / lights brakes belts and / blinding day, / over the ton in hedgerows." (Over the Ton in Hedgerows (for Jack Ellis --who drove), from At Valentines, originally Contempa Publications, 1975, most recently Picaro Press (Art Box Series), 2010.) Taylor's poem is intimate, confidential, urgent; owing its existence to solo mulling or scatting, & it's luminosity to the telling.

Although anything might enter the poem in such a mode, there's no discounting its directness. The impulse to speak (utterance) & the drive to tell (story) are as much the attributes of the literary poem as the spontaneous, except for the obligation in the spontaneous poem to the unadorned, the naked truth (however problematic that is) : truth against art or even beauty except if & where truth is beauty! Now who & what is barking mad?

[23/30 June, 2013]


August 25

 Besides the impressive ornithological & topographical chronicle [see], I'm touched by the fact of Harry Saddler walking with his old man and also by his comments on wildness/wilderness. I never experienced anything like Harry's long walk, but am reminded by his reference to their conversation & mutual excitements of the inevitable talking accompanying such walking. To an extent, the walking liberated one from talking's house-bound conventions; the out-of-doors place always larger than oneself and, therefore, the philosophical or reflective mind triggered alongside the observational. I remember Dad once taking my arm on a particularly steep & tricky pathway in Devon I think it was, early '90s --I'd offered a steadying hand --and he accepting with the comment, You realize I wont be able to return the favour! A unique happening all bound up with his sense of absolute self-reliance... Another occasion, walking up & up from Porlock, through wind-echoing woods, he joined me where I'd gone ahead (leaving him to his own pace); first thing he said : You almost killed me! He laughed, and we rested ten minutes before the far easier return walk...

 The other thought then, compelled by this of Harry's : "More, though, the search for wilderness misses the point: we learn most not in those few places where humans are absent but in those places – temporal and physical, psychological and concrete – where humans have touched the landscape, or where the landscape has touched them; where the boundaries between human and non-human, more tenuous than we usually care to admit, come closest to dissolving." Now. I dont necessarily agree that there is less to learn in 'real' wilderness, but do entirely agree with the rest of his proposition. I'd add this : the physical dimension for 'real' encounter (for encounter with the Real) doesnt have to be very large at all! Nor of very long duration. Exquisite moments...



Homeward bound from Leon Shann's posthumous book launch --"in his absence or presence" Kevin Brophy said, exemplary mc for half-&-half memorial & literary event at the Fitzroy Library, Sunday, 26th May --I drop into what was the Birmingham on the corner of Johnstone & Smith, unprepared for the OMG make-over. Recall drinking there one late evening after a gig at the Tote, friends & family in all directions except mine, hopeless compass at best of times --and a wunnerful Twilight Zone occasion was that, sir! --buying drinks for some out-of-work guy whose gripe camouflaged me in that no-hoper hospice --short-circuited the post-industrial lament trading labourer's stories from the not so distant past, my railway labourer's experiences, his the automotive industry, though my walking out of jobs the opposite of his near fatal redundancy…

I'm in-between trams from Smith Street to Northcote, Chuck Berry's honky-tonk in the air --"c'est la vie say the old folks you know you never can tell!" (--you may also need to know that the inching of grey clouds only a metre or two above the balcony facade of the shopping-strip terrace opposite me is faster than my brother Bernard's Canaletto effects on Facebook) --it had truly been the dive of dives unless you accept the Hopetoun in Mitchell Street, Bendigo as the very worst, where I spent an hour one hundred-degrees afternoon --the convenience of that watering-hole enlisting me amongst Bendigo's least respectable according to the oracle, Mrs O'Brien, had there been any other patrons that day, only leather jacketed, knuckle-dustered vibrations & shadows --though how was Iain Sinclair's or Anthony Bourdain's cousin to realise? --following nose, up for anything, destiny claiming serendipity till the cows come home…

I look out the ultra-clean window onto Smith Street's motley and think of Leon Shann --always an English friend, Melbourne Poets Union loyalist. Pimpernell isnt the description --actually, Garth Madsen, taking the launcher's baton from Brophy, had it, not so much Leon's suitability as a spy, but that "some people reveal it all in their conversation; Leon retained it for his poems". I guess I'm in the former camp --depends of course on what "it" represents, or "all" for that matter…

Hold that earlier thought : 'English friend' …and the Englishman abroad as only a member of the same species recognises --Leon forever "coming home to somewhere else" --home & away as exotic as each other with the passing of time, not that this man's poetry sports with time. Sport it is though, putting on funny voices --the lad the vocative employs. Theatre --for theatre it was --but pulpit never.

R.I.P. Leon Shann

[26-30/5/13; ed 8/9/13]

[ps : Leon's friend & supporter Marietta Elliott-Kleerkoper wrote, "Many of you will be familiar with Leon's work, which he regularly performed in his fruity baritone. He was a keen observer of even the smallest details, which he would present with his characteristic self-deprecating irony. He travelled not only around the world, but into his own spirit and emotions."]



I confess : not that I actually 'follow' Hawthorn but it has been the favourite of my teams and that's been constant since I first emigrated. In fact, not long after Kelvin Bowers & I disembarked (& I joined him at Mrs Crispin's boarding house in Burwood Road, Hawthorn, opposite the station wch was very handy for me, a notorious oversleeper at that time, so I cld leap out of bed, throw on clothes, race across the road to my job at the station, booking clerk for Vic Rail!)-- it was late May or in June '66 --we attended an Australian Rules game at the Glenferrie Oval, just down the road, --Hawthorn vs St Kilda. A bizarre experience for English football fans --the colossal score, the waving of streamers behind the goal as the kicks were taken, the game itself like rugby & basketball but with the atmosphere around the ground of soccer. Ive always remembered, though, that Peter Hudson & Daryl Baldock were the respective champions for Hawthorn & St Kilda. So, not entirely dispassionately, I listened to some of yday's Grand Final on the radio as I munched in the kitchen, home from Collected Works half-day session, and then ten minutes before end of 3rd quarter turned on the telly, and watched it to the end. Ah yes, we're a happy team at Hawthorn....


Sunday, September 15, 2013

I.M. BETTY BURSTALL, 1926-2013

I'm looking at Nicole Emanuel's photograph of Betty Burstall from 2005, reproduced for Sonia Harford's valedictory article in The Age (June 18, '13), "Melbourne mourns 'La Mama' of contemporary theatre scene". The photo's taken from low down, looking up into Betty's sunny face, artfully juxtaposed with a Charles Blackman girl on the nearside wall, suggesting perhaps that Child is judge of Age, its grave beauty, coursing the years, secure finally in the septuagenarian bloom. Inset in the frame is a pic of Betty sitting at one of the original La Mama cafe-theatre's signature small  tables, candle in bottle & steaming coffee before her, this from the first flush of La Mama news worthiness…

Another : Betty in her twenties, sitting on bush grass & wild flowers beside sprawled Tim in the cover-photograph of Memoirs of a Young Bastard : The Diaries of Tim Burstall, November 1953 to December 1954, the superbly produced Miegunyah Press volume, published in 2012 ('introduced & annotated by Hilary McPhee with Ann Standish'), and though it's a mid '50s pic I'm struck  that she looks exactly as I remember her in the '60s --same curly brown hair, head-scarf, bursting with vitality, and a mixture of querulousness & determination in her eye --that thinking, critical, intelligent eye on the world. Ditto the '70s when we met up again after the Hemensleys' years in England, --& the '80s when she was en route to Greece or returning, trading in Greek textiles. A painter now, the artist she'd probably always been --recall the set of earthenware mugs she presented to us for our wedding in '68 (included in the huge trunk of mostly poetry books we took to England with us, on the long voyage late '69 on the French cargo-boat through New Caledonia, Tahiti, the Marquesas, Panama, Martinique, Madeira, to Marseilles & home)-- supplying us, at Collected Works bookshop, with postcard reproductions of her own town & country Australian & Greek-island paintings…

One day at the Shop (in Smith Street, Collingwood), mid '80s, catching sight of an issue of my mag, H/EAR, Betty asked about its production (silk-screen cover, mimeographed A-4 pages, filled with poetry, commentary, correspondence) & straightaway decided it was important & required sponsorship! She invited me to her Palmerston Street, Carlton  house for breakfast with Arthur Boyd. Evidently in the interim she'd shown him the mag. When I called on her, a little coyly I must say, Arthur was already there & casting his eye over Betty's paintings, praising & encouraging. I told him I'd been to his house in Highgate around 1970/71, invited by Garrie Hutchinson, one of the 1969 La Mama alumni, who'd house-sat while Arthur was in Portugal overseeing the production of tapestries based on his paintings. I vividly remembered the tapestries hanging over the bannister all the way upstairs. Fifteen years later here we were meeting! Arthur asked me about my magazine's form & direction, particularly interested in the art & poetry interaction and the historical chronicling. Reaching into his jacket pocket he peeled off a wad of notes & pressed them into my hand, wishing the mag & I the best of luck. The arrival of Betty's daughter-in-law, Sigrid Thornton, signalled the end of breakfast.

The particular issue of the mag enabled by his patronage happened to contain my interview with Pete Spence mainly about art, particularly Pete's hostility to what he contended was Nolan, Boyd & co's monopoly of Australian critical attention -- Pete's critique was consistent with the opinion & interest of many of us in favour of the marginalised practice in all the arts. Although aware I was biting the hand that feeds, I couldn't censor the interview. Dutifully I sent copies of the issue to Betty & Arthur but never heard back from either… Apart from passing in the street, perhaps the last time I saw Betty was with Tim Burstall (and of course we'd met Tim & their boys back in the day) at Collected Works for the launching of Rudi Krausmann & Andrew Sibley's (poems & drawings) collaboration, ca 2003 --the smallest return for her unrivalled hospitality at La Mama…

Memories of Betty Burstall are inseparable from the La Mama cafe-theatre on Faraday Street in Carlton where we met around about this time 46 years ago. Winter 1967 : small tables & chairs downstairs, bric-a-brac, junk/furniture upstairs. One-act plays performed beside & amongst the coffee-drinkers. Log fire in wall grate; coffee urn bubbling. A poetry reading organised by the folk-singer Glen Thomasetti, well-known from the anti-Vietnam War protest movement, that featured or happened to include a poet, in his late thirties (being 21 or so an older poet one had to have perceived), leg in plaster &/or balancing on crutches, jacket, shirt, beard trimmed to cheek : Charles Kenneth Taylor (called Ken by some, Charles by others), working in the talks department at the ABC. As far as I was concerned, the reading was momentous. His reading voice accurately describing his poems' pace & lineation, and his references to Ashbery & Snyder sheer music to my ears for though well acquainted with such poetry I hadn't yet heard it even cited in Melbourne. All this is inscribed in other histories or should be! Suffice to say here that I celebrated Ken Taylor's reading with a poem, Poem For Ken Taylor (first published in the 1968 chapbook, Two Poets [Ken Taylor & Kris Hemensley], with its our glass motif silk-screen cover by Mike Hudson), which I read later in '67 at one of Glen's readings, word of which got back to Ken --probably Betty told him (the Burstalls & the Taylors & the Wallace-Crabbes had all been in New York around 1965/6 via Harkness Fellowships). She introduced us, and that was the origin of the Melbourne chapter of the New Australian Poetry (as I conceived it) --true to say, and I say it as I think it, the contemporary continues its particular & timely articulation in & from that occasion's significant swing…

Betty Burstall had returned to Melbourne from New York inspired by alternative theatre in the Village, especially Ellen Stewart's La Ma Ma Experimental Theatre Club (founded in 1961).  Just as Ken Taylor returned on a mission --to establish the Australian extension to John Gill & Earle Birney's New American & Canadian Poetry (magazine & books), out of Trumansburg in up-state New York , so Betty sought to emulate New York's La Ma Ma : theatre presented outside of the normal performance settings in Melbourne, amateur or commercial. Betty's vision was for a space  to hold all the arts --theatre, poetry, music, film. Upstairs & downstairs it became a regular hang-out for some of us in 67/8 --Frank Bren, Bill Beard, Michael Hudson, Gary Petersen, Elaine Rushbrooke, Sid Clayton et al… Having experienced the productions of Jack Hibberd's playlets, I'd reported back to the New Theatre, of which Loretta Garvey, Frank & Bill were younger stalwarts, that the real new theatre, innovative & politically aware, was occurring at La Mama :  if we really believed New Theatre's manifestos then La Mama was where we should also be. Minus the Communist Party bit of course --easier to negotiate in 67/8 with the alternative presence of the New Left than before I suspect. And so we came across the road to Betty Burstall's La Mama without abandoning the New Theatre although, naturally, that was how our expedition was viewed by some…

Betty & theatre : The New Australian Theatre, in its Melbourne manifestation, depends upon the particular place & space of La Mama for its origin & subsequent development…

Betty & the poets : The New Australian Poetry, in its Melbourne manifestation, depends upon that particular place & space for its origin & subsequent development…

Betty the hostess of fabulous dinners in the cafe-theatre where she conscientiously set about bridging the personalities & generations, the different tribes & their territories via Bohemian bonhomie & a wholesome menu of wine, platters of hard & soft cheeses, bread, olives, sausage, salad… I see Betty setting me down at a table with Keith Harrison, the Australian poet visiting from the States, & Philip Martin, poet & younger academic from Monash. Perfect example of her mix & match, not that she foresaw Philip taking the liberty of introducing me to Keith & describing me as a representative of the new Melbourne poetry's Wordsworthian tendency! I hit the roof : Wordsworth? Our poets were Pound, Williams, the Beats, Olson, Creeley, Duncan, Levertov, Black Mountain, San Francisco, New York et al with Liverpool Scene, Tarn, MacDiarmid, Bunting, Turnbull & other British thrown in. Our politics collaged Berkeley, Paris, Berlin, London, Che & Ho Chi Minh! Betty flew to my side to tamp down the anger! Amazing to me, Keith knew my poetry references & pouring out the good wine ameliorated the argument : it was Wordsworth the erstwhile sympathiser of the French Revolution whom Philip had in mind he interceded, while Olson & Co & all the bards of hippiedom were a rather different kettle of fish, ill-fitting Philip's equation. I left La Mama that night excited by the older generation ex-pat's broad mindedness, wishing he lived & taught in Melbourne instead of the US, wishing Australia could have held him and, despite the rising of the New, already suspecting why it mightnt… At another dinner, recall being called over by John Perceval, whom I'd already met in out-of-the-city, leafy Canterbury, introduced by Mike Dugan whose neighbour he was, to join him in polishing off a carafe… Tony Murphett, wearing ostentatious necklace-broach he claimed once belonged to the Austro-Hungarian empress, careered  around the tables… The wonder of being an English immigrant youth, plucked out of the obscurity of nowhere Southampton & sub-Bohemian Melbourne, into proximity of the locally celebrated art & literature, still tickles me nearly half a century on… I think Betty understood her role as medium, moderator, provider, proselytiser : I wouldn't be alone in saying she was La Mama… 

One day, summer '68, she asked me to go around the corner from the cafe-theatre to a terrace house in Elgin Street and, virtually, save a poet! His name is Shelton Lea, she said, --he needs to know about La Mama, he needs to meet other poets, he's isolated, desperate, in need of nurture, connection et cetera. So I strolled around. Shelton was tall, slender, high cheeked, Roman-like, trembling with intensity. He immediately stated his contempt for that modern poetry which eschewed regular rhyme & metre & demanded from me the rationale for free verse. He enthused about Countee Cullen (whom I misheard as Cunty Cullen), unknown to me but evidently Shelton's example of a great poet. I spoke about the emergent new Melbourne poetry and our, mostly, American references. I remember saying that poems don't have to rhyme though the rhythm of speech & mind was a given. In my mind he's smoking, juggling a baby, another tripping around his feet, with his dark eyed, long haired, similarly slender actress wife in & out of the room with coffee. He said he'd try to come to La Mama but was flat out struggling to exist…

Around this time, impressed by the popularity of the curtain-raiser poetry performances I provided for Mike Hudson's versions of Peter Schumann's Bread & Puppet Theatre, Betty invited me to take on a regular poetry evening. She proposed we go 50/50 on the door, and so long as I could pay the rent would be part of La Mama's permanent programme. We planned but didn't bite the bullet until September '68 when the inaugural reading of what I named the La Mama Poets Workshop began with its boast "Tuesday nights forever!" By August '69 the Hemensleys were off to Europe, leaving the Workshop in the hands of Mike Dugan, Charles Buckmaster, Bill Beard, Ian Robertson, Geoff Eggleston, Garrie Hutchinson & others, until sometime in 1970 they moved on to the Melbourne Arts Co-Op (another history yet to be analysed & written). Betty threw a going-away party for us in her Eltham house, wished us all the best but insisted we return to Melbourne & La Mama. Late '72 we did, but though she invited me start up poetry at La Mama again one had obviously moved on. 'Breakthrough' politics & poetics had grown, after the 1970-72 English infusion, into the 'international' perspective --that is, Melbourne & Australian poetry in the world of poetry. Ten years later Val Kirwin had a go, on Betty's successors, Maureen Hartley & Liz Jones' instigation, & invited me to read with her at the well-attended first salon, but it wasn't until Mal Morgan, whom I'd put on the bill back in 68/9, began his La Mama Poetica a few years later that the La Mama tradition resumed. It continues to this day…

Betty's generosity to the new playwrights & actors (Hibberd, Blundell, Davies, Romeril & co) is legend, to the extent of warping the actual history of performance (of new music & film as well as theatre) at La Mama, especially in the first couple of years. After the resident group suddenly abandoned La Mama, hurting & shocking her to the core, she came to see it as an opportunity for ever greater variety of the new & experimental.  Her devotion to the theatre was equalled by her support of the poets. Tim Burstall, in contrast, could be critical & dismissive of the La Mama poets. I recall Betty once more keeping the peace & explaining that Tim was a poet himself once. Her own children also had inclinations to write --I think it was young Tom who hung around the barely older Charles Buckmaster, which may have exacerbated Burstall senior's inter-generational irritation… 

In the three years I was away ('69-'72), Betty had me sending her playscripts for which she found directors, mounting a succession of productions of my plays at La Mama. From the day in late '67 when she recruited Malcolm Robertson (moonlighting from the MTC under the pseudonym 'Garibaldi') to direct my first La Mama play, The Blind, she was my greatest advocate. Our last collaboration was in 1973 when she invited me to join herself & Wilfrid Last as the La Mama/Australian Performance Group's contribution to the Independent Schools' Drama Conference in Canberra. Among the other presenters were Roger Pulvers & (the late) Solrun Haas. The play I wrote for the event, The Grand Centenary Cricket Match, was performed by dozens of students & directed (choreographed) by Wilfrid. Betty & I led discussion of contemporary theatre, critiquing short plays by the school groups. Unqualified academically, we'd become a reference for Australian theatre through experience & enthusiasm. Precisely what Ken Taylor meant when he said that with the inception of the La Mama poetry readings, a poet no longer required a license from the English department of Melbourne University!

If Betty Burstall's Memorial in the forecourt of La Mama in Faraday Street, Carlton was her final performance, where she was hailed by friends & colleagues traversing the 46 years since her creation of that theatre --with mostly theatre people speaking, which both Ken Taylor, down from Mount Macedon for the event, & I anticipated --La Mama's poets & poetry sidelined by the actors (--we're here for Betty & that's all that matters, he said --this is where she introduced us & how it all began) -- it's another performance, in which she serendipitously featured, which  leaps out of my memory… Sometime in 1969, one of Sid Clayton's marvellous & inscrutable events --that poet-composer's magical theatre, part meticulous composition, part happening --for the crux of which he'd directed the audience to become participants in a ritual procession around a table, onto which Betty had unexpectedly hopped up & now lay supine! We were to circle clock-wise --though I remember rebelling against that  expectation, circling the other way. Ironically, Sid attempted to shepherd me back into the orthodox circle. Betty was taken over by the 'ceremony'. Bill Beard equally enthusiastic (as was his nature). Recorded music or percussion played ever louder around us. It was dark apart from candle-light. And it only finished when we left off. Betty was the last. From the sidelines we saw her slide off the table, flushed cheeks, exhilarated…

[18/19-6 // 27-7  // 15-9-2013] 

Friday, September 6, 2013


[21-8-2013; journal ++]

Visited the Facebook page of Lyme Regis artist & designer Hugh Dunford-Wood, after he'd accepted my friendship request, and found he'd posted images of his recent cushion covers. There they were : badger, squirrel, fox, cat, all beautiful in that very English style exemplified by Gibbings, Parker, Leighton & others. I shared it to my own page and thought to append my poem, The Badger : Along a Line of Seamus Heaney's, for Peter Gebhardt when I got back to it in the evening. I don't know where to lay hand on the mss at home but remembered it's included in the booklet accompanying My Life in Theatre, my CD published by Carol Jenkins' River Road Press.

It was pleasant copying it out --reinhabiting the poem, remembering the incident described in the poem, resuming the perception. Evidently, then, some of my things still measure up. Or they do for me : I cant imagine how they might come across to a reader and, frankly, disbelieve that they do. This wasn't always the case , though perhaps this pessimism has been with me for 20 or 25 years. The last time I tested my cold feet was when I accepted the offer for a book by Salt (UK), via John Kinsella & Chris Emery, but then at the eleventh hour withdrew the mss (which mostly comprised '80s & 90's poems). And though I recorded with River Road Press (Sydney) in 2009 and published a 12 page chapbook, Exile Triptych, with Vagabond (Sydney) in 2011, I feel awkward around & about them --perhaps not the poems but the collections they are… It feels as if vain author is always opposed subsequently by a recondite governor, by which time it's too late...

Somehow my writing is mainly, perhaps solely, for me. Words are so different, I think, to a drawing or painting or photograph. To my mind, these others don't cry out for mediation in the way a poem does. A poem --my poem that is --written for myself as it is --written out of myself, constituted of myself --takes along a great reluctance, a kind of forbidding --perhaps an essential 'intractability' (as Judith Rodriguez described my sequence The Last Gardens and her culminating reason for rejecting my submission of the mss for publication at Penguin Books back in the late '80s).

So it is I've been thinking of the paradox of poet who epitomises self-ishness & secrecy (within the larger perspective, for example the translation of Romanticism as Modernism's schizoid text : expressionist & hermetic simultaneously) --this kind of poet obfuscating (involuntarily often as not) within the very marrow of correspondence & communication…


THE BADGER : Along a Line of Seamus Heaney's. for Peter Gebhardt

O what was that? I said    My God! I thought--
Was that a    was that a badger?   Yes
John Batten said    Havent you ever seen one before?
Never I said    He laughed
steering us down Somerset's hollowest lane
beneath the steepest red-earth banks
bursting with the roots
of the West Country's oldest trees. It's my privilege
then to have brought you your first
he said. His smile wouldnt have been wider
were he an intermediary for fairies & unicorns.
My legendary creature    I suppose something between
fox & sheep    trundled in the headlights the other side
of the road and suddenly glimmered away
as Seamus Heaney would say    into the hedgerow
disappearing so completely one could doubt
it had ever been.    This is what I meant I said
when I spoke of my painters    Nash & Jones &
Sutherland    rising above English sleep
into the deep & beautiful dream. John Batten
watched the road    affixed the English seal
said yes    yes I know what you mean.

[1994, ed 2008]


Sunday, July 21, 2013

THE MERRY CREAK : POEMS & PIECES, #27, July 21st, 2013



  The Eternal Body of Man is The Imagination

We may already be there …
imagination breeds us faster than we know …
the hyperdelphi has us streaming over
democratic pebbles to where
clod love and the shekhinah
call to us like ancient birds

The vapours seem so clear now
we lift devices to our ears
& click our fingers faster
to make more frenzy
of the numen-night

But that fellow selling ethylene
bottles it so sweet
with a label reading Real-time …
we willingly take a shot …
for the maban is taciturn
and sleeps in his cave

I can't remember your name
names change so fast these days
i've given up on them ...
now Beulah's moony shades are strangling
where her eyes sprout figs


'the delphi method' is a communication system developed in europe mainly in 70's around an idea of forecasting/e-democracy with the emphasis on structure in decision making but with anonymity of participants important (to minimise "bandwagon effect")   - Realtime Delphi is an online project of 100 experts worldwide to forecast breakthroughs in science and technology
Maurizio Bolognini - particularly of interest in this … he was asked to work on delphi method - his installation work partic. interactive v. interesting  - studio
hyperdelphi is Bolognini's website name .. From interactivity to democracy Towards a post-digital generative art   Ethics, Aesthetics & Techno-communication:  The Future of Meaning   (symposium  @ Bibliotheque Nationale de France 2008) MB in manifesto says he's interested in post-digital artistic practices  At the symposium MB quotes NAUM GABO'S Manifesto of Realism (1920)  "Above the tempest of our Weekdays" etc. Public generative art: from interactivity to democracy  (wonder where Stephen Jones is?)
the poem is caught in time warp between what's now and what prophecy was   the prophetic blake   the maban aboriginal wizard   the orig. greek delphi   merge and are available and unavailable  commercialisation/  politicisation   in a way none of it new   and effective?   do we believe in it?   blake hopefully holds it together  (remember his painting of virgil & history @ Tate 2000 …. deep u'standing of history)




The revolution, this time, was 'to actualise the marvellous'.
   The gunslinger

enlisted, far from sure of his part, for his weapons fired only
   common lead,

not multicoloured lights or waves of kundalini. But he had,
   in his dreams,

dived to the bottom of the ocean and seen the carcass of a
   whale, with hagfish

at it all around like mad sperm around a dead egg, devouring
   the infertile germ,

and felt his private share of responsibility, like a new organ
   in his body, a harmonica,

maybe. He had always been around the edges, among the
   listeners, tapping a foot,

but if he really was a boar leaping out of the sea, he wanted
   to know that furious joy.

There was no commander as such to give orders, so he found
   a place on the left flank

with the giraffes, and an old woman who had a tray of
   buttons and a thermos

of black coffee, infinitely replenishing, which she shared
   around like a suave host.

With gratitude he drank the unsweet brew in the tin cup and
   remembered how, as a boy,

he'd loved the tubes of buttons in the haberdasher's shop,
   like lasting candy,

kaleidoscopes, or magic money for buying magic things
   from magicians.

Perhaps, he mused, that was where his longtime love of
   finery budded in tulip-stripes.

Looking back, said the woman, it's all ravines and tempests.
   You're cold, have my coat,

he said, stripping down to waistcoat and watch-chain. It's
   bulletproof, and keeps the rain out.

Well, I like rain, but thank you, and here, choose some
   buttons, son. The pearl is smart,

but please yourself. Thank you, ma'am, and in the yellow
   dawn he chose plastic sections of Jupiter

and brass wafers for the charity of the poor, and pearl for the
   whale and the egg,

and fake tortoiseshell for the giraffes, and fuchsia velvet
   domes for sex and love

and loaded them in his old shotgun, and grinned like a fox
   sucking shit through a sieve

because that's how it's done, and he followed the old woman,
   who followed no one,

cocking her leg at every pillar, eating out of garbage cans,
   sniffing bums in trousers,

her jubilant howl assuring him this wasn't desertion at all.

[Note : The quote in The Crone Meet Her Son is from Franklin Rosemont's text 'Freedom of the Marvelous' (Catalogue of the World Surrealist Exhibition, 1976); "To overcome the contradiction between these marvellous moments and the everyday, to actualise the Marvelous in everyday life - that is the surrealist project."
First published in Electric Velocopede, 3 13, 2007, ]




with the truth of pablo cycling as sky & water produce a mutual
disappearing trick in an accidental marathon with local thespians
pablo turns a sly profit of five dollars thirty pamela fainting pamela
preparing to go home pamela greets her father pamela & lady
devers pablo in a green room with a diva of inscrutable countenance
bus blocked by fire engine bus blocked by fire engine pablo pamela
& the leader of her majesties loyal opposition pablo a rubbish bin
full of snails & a flash of positive thinking pamela loves her ute serenity
pools is quite a promise a mechanism or vat or a head or everyones
with tubes ballooooooooooooons then slowly slowly novel furniture
knitting is scrupulously avoided & lived in shiny rectangles like stand
with babies in front of weatherboard boxes ahead of their time & drove
vehicles with sodden carpets in a shoebox proved surprisingly
problematic & driving daddies nice new car up the fairway proved no
cure for somehow peace happened & had a beer with a celebrity
acquaintance & embraced their inner geek & the season celebrated
with sunshine had a beer with their nemesis & walked home to various
players gradually deflates it earlier still a new housemate test cricket
in the other shoebox receding in the wake of an invisible glacier reveals
eighteen cakes of used soap but rare & unexpected sightings of embroidered
merop & spinifex grass wren we find to be what little we know of the epistle
persuades us two tubs of powdered chemicals a kitchen during a party
a trick knee tiny policeman a single highly polished green apple
& problems with a procedure known only as a drop are in the category
quite likely while overstated seems too weak or carbon group seventeen
seems unaware of the others existence but both believe a symphony
of uncertainty necessary yet somehow problematic with the eyes
of the ruling class fixed on them they did strange things many years ago
amid streams of & mountains in the forest of violins & their incompatible
yet finely articulated theories concerning flight they have an office to run
mail to sort people & things to administer & a seemingly permanent
vacancy next door in a house too ghastly to describe includes a gold
rush re-enactment village the phrase history a drift of pollen the usual
suspects in the hallway & a plastic bucket approaching egg yolk we
expect the mountain with a mouthful of base metals to sail through
with flying colours & with any luck that small room behind the walk
in pantry will remain firmly locked at the derelict science park we fail
to anticipate they wait we wait they leave shoeless in a blue bus



Ten years listening to the rain . Twenty years hard candy .
Eighteen months tying shoe laces . 700 reasons .  A very
good 5 minutes . If you ' re delusional press 7 . [ ] 3 visits
to the thatched hut . The crying room . Mateship with birds .
An insult to puddles . [ Gold stars for breathing . 130 hours
of I told you so . 33 sec [ ] onds of excellence . Pot 8 O ' s .
105 % of the vote . My meta data is clean . 304 [ ] [ ] ways
[ ] to subvert the bourgeoisie & feel sexy . Clive & let Clive .
Four weeks in the chim [ ] ney . 293 fun sexy ways to urge
Capitalism towards a classless utopia . 10 ways to pleas [  e
the urban proletariat . Complete your Five Year Plan [ ] [ ] [
in thirty m [ inutes or less . Why multiverse ? My life as milk
carton . Can you ever have to [ ] [ o many butterflies ? One
unicorn [ ] [ ] [ is five Sistine Chapels . 3 quarks a day . 138
kilowatts of sportiness . Delete [ ] stimming . From yello [ w
to [ ] [ ] [ fuck off . God ' s chosen puppet . The rhythm fish .
Groovin ' the moo . With lard the possibilities are endless . [
Cherry uses her body to fight the Mafia . [ Lisa likes to open
the vortex . [ ] [ ] [ Ok Josephine back into the time machine .
Two ate nine . Irrevocably twen [ ] [ ty seven . Your I - thing .
A 1 . C 620 . Sitting [ ] in Broadcast House in 1 [735 . Sturm
[ ] & dialysis . Show me a s [ ane man & I will cure him . Nine
alpha . A light year of lead . The seve [ ] n forty ones . Let ' s
try to be the biggest [ possible hat . 640 nano metres orange .




Seven miles north from the Seven Mile House
Into San Francisco to the Ferry Building while
East a central California valley morning Tule fog
Burned-off into a sun's golden angel rushing over
The clown face remembered as history westering
Above the City and out over the Pacific Ocean's
Far scattered Island kingdoms into the Asian Orient.

But first come back to San Francisco's Bay edge
To those flats where a pony express stopped and
Might have stayed overnight at seven Mile House.
It's still there since 1853 on Bayshore still a lonely
Boulevard at San Francisco's southern end where
Today Brisbane begins at Geneva Avenue. Go north
Seven Miles to the Ferry Building and Mission street.

Then go west up a mile to the Old San Francisco Mint
Where Wells-Fargo stagecoaches changed the payloads
Having first pawed and paused at seven Mile House
Maybe stayed the night, delivered the mail, exchanged
Passengers, fed and watered the hard-pressed horses
Setting-out again into a night or dawn hooves pounding
On that still lonely Bayshore road to San Francisco.



The only contributor not to have appeared in previous issues is K J Bishop. She has two books published; The Etched City (2003), and That Book Your Mad Ancestor Wrote (2013), from which the poem, The Crone Meets Her Son, is taken. Her web site is,

Paul Harper's continue to be seen in Rumours magazine; Chris Barron, Phillip Kanlidis read &  write voraciously, like many of us beneath the mainstream radar; Ed Mycue's latest publication is Song of San Francisco : Ten Poems (Spectacular Diseases, UK, 2012). You can see & hear Ed reading on


Edited & finally typed by Kris Hemensley on the little Apple this Sunday, 21st July, 2013.