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]