Sunday, January 18, 2015



So we visit the Bendigo Gallery again. Ben Quilty of course but much pleasure, as always, from the permanent collection. Len French's Journey of the Sun mural (ex State Bank in the City), the Brett Whiteleys (especially that dot of a child in the washbowl, Arkie, its poignancy undeflected by cheeky dadaist plug on chain hanging from the canvas)…

The 2014 Paul Guest Prize for drawing had a few works to satisfy my evidently conservative taste given incredulity at Heather Swann's winning 'You Are a Balloon'  adjudged by Ian Potter's Kelly Gellatly to have "creat[ed] both a space & mood that continues to sustain the viewer" (NOT); for example Debra Goldsmith's 'Barry Tuckwell at home in Taradale', Pei Pei He's 'Life on Flinders', Adriane Strampp's 'Echo', Jeff Makin's 'Storm over Govetts Leap', Bruno Leti's 'These Trees (Lake Mokoan)', Simon Finn's 'Collision'…  Ah well, prizewinners neither here nor there for aesthetes; first & last it's the work & the worlds thus made intersecting with one's own.

Beautiful things in the dedicated ceramics section, the Rod Fyffe collection, including old favourites Victor Greenaway, Shiga Shigeo, Peter Rushforth, Owen Rye...

Ben Quilty, how & what to say? There's an irritation to deal with but don't want it to dominate. Unless it does, is the entire point of it? Reading curator's note for (the centre-piece?) 'Evening Shadows, Rorshack After Johnstone', settle on "artist interrogates colonialism" et cetera, and an almost overwhelming fatigue sets in! Suffer this allergy for many years now, yet necessarily risk its debilitation for certain insight. Most copied Australian painting, three Aboriginal men on bank of Murray river, one with a blanket (colonisers' gift, nudge nudge)… : an historical document therefore, the history for the political consciousness still in the making, the history reverberating, ever ready for the taking. Joke/quip rising in me : would that one could reverse Marcel Duchamp's assertion, "no longer will they be able to say 'as stupid as a painter'". That is, theoretical flags OK as captions, but captaining the ship, the whole bloody fleet? Hmm.

Quilty is surely one of the generations of Van Gogh's wild children : he's a painter whose impasto is matter enough to maul the popinjay academic mind, thinking & feeling with paint : paint, paint, paint… Is the 'political' similar popinjay swank? God how I long for the stupidity (contra Duchamp) of the magical materials per se… yes, "Whatever you have to say, leave / The roots on, let them / Dangle // And the dirt // Just to make clear / Where they come from" (per Charles Olson). Innocence as the unconstrained (by would-be sophistication including every pc regimen); innocence as stupid vitality, sheer stupid ability…

Quilty's gift is to impose the pleasure as part of the question; that is, he makes the utmost of his means, accepts metaphor for the manna it is. Leaves me with the problem! As should be the case. The Rorshack mirror… more to eye than meets the binary… and that's it, perhaps, --it's the binary (false or not) which bugs me, especially in "art" which doesn't, of course, deal with my misgivings regarding 'the political'… Blinded by brilliance, blinking within the double bind!

(6 January,'15)



En Route Melbourne

Old train, front carriages reserved, ex- Echuca, Ararat? --I'd found a seat, threw down bag, but then p.a. directed Bendigo passengers move to the back unreserved carriages --Happily & amusingly find the latter are high class V-Line air-con, whereas the first were dusty, cramped "red rattler" variety! --Here I be then, in my compleat comfort heading through the railway's granite & clay canyon beneath the pale & vast blue sky, through forest the peopled plain hasnt yet gobbled...

Out of Castlemaine, parallel old road, bleached grasslands, patrolled by solitary cattle, dotted with small farms, last legs sheds & homesteads. In my mind D H Lawrence's perception from Kangaroo of the flimsiness of the entire idea of settlement, doubting the efficacy of a European transposition especially as its suburban English form, --as haunting as the scene from the carriage window. "As though the next gust of wind might blow everything away..." How does it go? Look it up : reading as ever the other dimension of Journey...

Cant find it! Two days, four times speed reading front to back my 394 page Penguin paperback, once in reverse. As though I dreamed it...

(7/9 January, '15)

Sunday, December 28, 2014


To be an innocent just hit town, walking down Flinders Lane from the Nicholas Building toward Elizabeth Street, and cross paths with loping, lunging, grimacing, gesturing man, waving bleeding hand & shouting This is Hell, demanding of the figures to the left & right of him or even in the air since his gaze is there, Cant you see? ---Imagine dreamy kid, any summer since "Flowers In Our Hair" but haywire Spring 2014 which one day'll have that handle to it, as beginnings are memorialised as must be, the mystical angle anyone brings to the resonant years ---Innocent as Charles Buckmaster summoned from tunnel of 42 years only yesterday by Barry Dickins who puffed out relief & smile that at last he'd found the Bookshop & myself in residence, a long time he'd been looking for or thinking of or wishing it ---I met Charles Buckmaster once, he said, at his bookshop, The Source, & invited him to come to my show of paintings at the Athenaeum, and took him there right then & opened up the gallery for him, put the lights on, and he looked at the paintings but didn't say much ---Barry says Charles' father was a painter, beautiful chocolate-box landscapist, Ernest Buckmaster---Um, uncle I say, ---and we drank some wine, and I liked him Barry says ---and saw him another time ---and then heard he'd shot himself --same as his brother, same gun I say ---same as Hemingway he says ---Barry right then eyes lowered from the postered wall and my face, down to the counter level, stopped in his tracks by our naming of suicide ---And I'm not sure whether Barry isn't the more likely figure of the innocence I've retained for Charles via memory of the knowing of him in 1968-'69, corresponding with the schoolboy for weeks before we physically met, and then after leaving Melbourne for England '69-'72 receiving his hopeful epistles, returning to Melbourne then but not to see him, put off by mutual friends that he was in a deeply anti-social phase ---Could be that I was being protected by them from the total deshabille of a fallen angel given my language had fashioned a Melbourne family of poets, Melbourne's Black Mountain (& read commune for college) if you will, whose collective love & genius was poetry's carapace, impregnable whatever politics' & personalities' tumult ---And they'd known of our correspondence, the teaching & nurturing, the expectation of most joyous restoration upon long awaited return ---as Black Mountain's mysterium had transferred to the West's hinterland & coast so now, after England, the bush & beach, mountains & sea of Australia promised similar extension---partly fulfilled but maintained thereafter in & as the Dream ---To be protected from the reality of  addiction & its degradation, similarly depression, the dissolution of dreams, the letting it all go, everyone's failing? ---Ken Taylor's Nothing Could Be Done echoed by the others, Michael, John, Ian, Garrie et al ---so strong the investment in 'our' & 'us', poetry scene & poem-making as togetherness, Charles' death was a mortal blow ---Despite the three years of Whitlam-Cairns Australia, hippiedom's Indian Summer, whatever-it-was was over ---Innocent as I seem to have been, innocent as Barry himself appreciating the humour & absurdity of our daily lives but constantly amazed by the cruelties, incredulous that the heaven on earth should or could be undermined, each long sentence of his stories ending with a sigh ---A long long lane it is though, irregularly spaced by drops of the troubled soul's blood upon the pavement, like tears or big raindrops on hot dusty road, tracking his lurch all the way back to the Elizabeth Street crossing ---Innocent at start of this tale would have passed the man who crouches in the alley, eyes averted, chain-smoking, all day every day, burrowing into the flagstones from which he may have emerged  --And the Middle-eastern belly-dancer whom I've picked for an exhibitionist, arms above his close-cropped head, revolving pelvis to the music percolating from his little amp, but then brings hand to face & produces impish peek-a-boo, and suddenly it's a performance, his nasty grin, tiny steps, abdominal gyration a species of theatre, sacred transvestite albeit unshaven in couldnt-care-less grey trackies & sandals ---My point is that it's all to be interpreted as Amazing World ---Now innocent's all eyes for queues outside of new coffee-shop (which once housed ancestor bookseller Ross Reading's final store), & tourist group following guide's description of historic architecture, & buskers in-between sets sitting on milk-crates, & students of all ages in & out the CAE,  & hairdressing trainees in white uniforms lighting-up, & lame & elderly's discombombulated snail-pace overtaken by the determined blind, & skateboarders, & young corporates without ties, & travellers carrying mountains of equipment departing backpacker hostel for airport Skybus, & slow prams, & fast pushchairs, & bikes ridden or wheeled or padlocked to racks, knocked flat by passers by or awkwardly parking truck ---And within the innocence described another feeling or gleaning which makes of this present cavalcade a match for the culture's previous great change ---It's as if we've returned to the Sixties or that the Sixties never disappeared, that is to say on this particular strip & on this day, its signature is reinstated in the strolling, ambling, eating, drinking, everyday Sunday Market's perpetual pedestrian traffic surrounded by the city's music, daily festival of Flinders Lane including though not every day Ross Hannaford's quintessential jazz & blues, every whichway guitar with tablas mate alongside, scruffly toughly duo,  real class for not so fast passers by, remembering something? ---Same flowers & hair of once-upon-a-time Right Here…

[November, 2014]

3 QUICKIES : in lieu of The Beach Report (numero uno, Melbourne summer 2014-15)


Everyone & everything connected yet one's been unaware that James Koller actually died on the 10th December, three weeks ago, on the heel must have been of Bob Arnold's first posting of Koller junior's news of his father's stroke. The notes I've been making over the period are all, therefore, after the fact. Man alive : celebratory; passed : memorial.


Shouldn't have been a surprise but off sparse Clifton Hill platform onto packed City train, any observation to accurately contain the word 'abuzz'! Carriage full of cricketers, all Australian & male supporters, day-after-Xmas casual style, except for two younger Indian men, orange T, floral shirt, sunglasses… And here we are, Jolimont-MCG where the carriage almost totally clears --platform bulges, the Test begins… Naturally I'd like to be amongst them despite colosseum style cricketing not my style even when i was a regular in the '70s relishing the density & atmosphere… If carriage's buzz is notable then the Melbourne Cricket Ground's is incredible; and once bitten, the bug is forever!

(Elwood Beach kiosque, 28-12-14)

Loretta says all the beach cliches are here like a Jacques Tati film! Large woman squeezed into tiny bikini with little dog on lead; vain old health-fanatic joggers; fast-walking middle-aged keep-fit duos etc… I wonder where we might fit in that scenario? L. in blouse, shoulder shawl, earrings, bead necklaces, bangles, straw hat, shades,  rather like my mother when she was younger --but 'sempl',  my mother's French pronunciation, with 'chic' never too far away! And moi : beach bum, stained old cap, pen & notebook, seamless alternation between the words & the world --thinking & watching… On the bus ride thinking of the local poets of the sea(side) --inevitably, then, Tsaloumas, not too far a stretch to add 'with whom we swam'. Second degree familiarity with Bob Morrow & Brook Emery as per their reports of ocean swimming & surfing. A bay dip or two shared with Claire Gaskin, Susan Fealy… --How far back does one want to go? History is a companion whenever & wherever one travels --perhaps I live here after all, sea soused & sun bathed senses warming the mutually excluding Northern imagination, softening the heart to acceptance of nearly fifty years of the Great Southern's actual life…  

Thursday, December 11, 2014





On outset (see how I avoid 'get go') Robert Lloyd excuses his representation of Dylan Thomas from the "academic", by which one understands he wont be critically analysing the poetry but intersecting with it as an enthusiast. No slight at all to call Robert Lloyd a fan, after all he recognises Thomas as first pop-star, fore-runner of British Invasion, taking New York a decade before the Beatles. And it's true --Thomas's concerts were sell-outs --and at the end the poets of the day kept his hospital room pretty busy too…

Robert Lloyd has listened to the recordings, read all the biographies, seen all the movies, and made his Welsh & NYC pilgrimages. Personality, therefore --charisma, reputation, image, legend, & all fulfilled as myth -- defines this Dylan Thomas. One thing the academic approach doesn't do is elevate the artist above the work. For example, "the kinds of things artists have to do to survive" (RL) neither here nor there when the composition is the only essential. Except that in our age, where biography is the most popular form of history (as history itself collapses into a continuous present), familiarity & personal identification are imperative as the virtual reality is achieved.  "At his best between the third & eighth drinks", according to the Richard Burton anecdote RL quotes, indicates for him the liberated tongue, delighting in word play, performing the self, as it were, amid social cacophony, the broth & froth of the everyday. All of which one can go along with given that the Thomas oeuvre, in verse & prose, original & interpretive, has long been absorbed.

"For many people these days poetry is song lyrics" is Robert Lloyd's grafting of the other Dylan & Mr Cohen & Nick Cave, Lou Reed, John Cale et al, to the body poetic, which nicely begs the question. I remember exemplary practitioner of poetry as art, John Tranter, saying as much over the radio years ago in response to the habitual question that assumes poetry's decay if not disappearance. It's alive & well (as popular form) in rock & pop lyrics, he said. He may have mentioned rap but needn't for the point to be made. Which isn't at all to posit equivalence but, in my mind, to imply the multiplicity of poetry, poetry in all of its genres, as complex ecriture & instantly available song, & all points in between.

Instructive when Lloyd described the difficulty of setting Dylan Thomas when, necessarily, the poem's formal scheme collides with the form the composer/musician is constructing for it. That tricky shit (as RL would say), & I'd contend, and probably for the benefit of poetry virgins, is at least as important as the verities of the drunken poet. Scholarly diligence & critical insight cannot be mutually exclusive of the ecstatic. With Thomas, language playfulness & profound thought & emotion co-inhere.

No review of the Holy Trinity gig this jumping out-take, which would would otherwise include description of the vaulting that a cello (Adi Sapir Cohen's) creates about a guitar, filling the sails of the songs --it's simply the after-taste of that  Saturday late morning in East Melbourne, at the church's anniversary arts festival, celebrating Dylan Thomas, as one trammed happily back to the commerce of the City.



As native as a nearly five decades Melburnian endows, and to that extent aware of Australian anniversaries including Collected Works Bookshop's 30 years or  the La Mama Poets' Workshop's 46th (--the original La Mama one must stress, which isn't to detract from La Mama Poetica which the late Mal Morgan inaugurated in 1985 after Val Kirwan's short-lived attempt earlier in the '80s to re-establish the September '68 incarnation --and Poetica is still going) --one's more than happy to leave mainstream majors to the official calendar, --the Henry Lawson, for example, now in Tony Lambides' hands --Ken Trimble part of that too?-- while rising to the fanfare (pun intended) of Dylan Thomas's centenary which enjoyed three previews all involving Robert Lloyd, plus the Melbourne Writers Festival's own session, before the official date of October 27th '14 was reached, unleashing the world-wide centenary celebration…

Happy memories persist from last year's event (the Dylan Thomas [99th] Birthday Celebration) at Collected Works Bookshop, led by Robert Lloyd & myself, --the programme comprising R L's song-settings of Thomas poems, play (Caroline Williamson, John Flaus, Patrick Boyle memorably reading from Under Milkwood), and poetry & commentary featuring Ray Liversidge, George Genovese, Ken Trimble, Valli Poole, Michael Reynolds, Earl Livings… Add to this Lloyd's presentation of Dylan Thomas at Holy Trinity's arts festival on August 16th, accompanied by Adi Sappir Cohen who brought her sublime cello to the show, and once again at the World Poetry gig at Federation Square a week ahead of the birthday. World Poetry's run these days by Dimitris Trioditis in the wake of founder Lella Carridi's coordination. Quite a detonation to hear the Greek translations of Dylan Thomas which Trioditis rattled off at the conclusion of the Lloyd/Sapir set, and definitely needed if only to offset the rising clamour from the bar below's amplified muzak!

Two small Melbourne publications have been the direct product of the original event and all the talk around it. Shall God Be Said To Thump The Clouds : Poets Celebrate Dylan Thomas, is published by Valli Poole with her Blank Rune Press, & sports a great cover portrait by Karl Gallagher of the tousle-haired boyo, cigarette held spivilly between sensual lips. It features American poets Alexis Rhone Fancher, Bryn Fortey & Catfish McDaris, and locals Gallagher, Poole & Ben John Smith. There's also Ken Trimble's The Ghost To His Green : A Tribute to Dylan Thomas, published by Christine Mathieu's Little Fox Press, which was spoken of as a Blank Rune Press chapbook until a classic change of plan (ah, poets). Significantly, the covers of both books disport with green, befitting the age's greenest poet. Who could forget Thomas's  poignant double edge : "The force that through the green fuse drives the flower / Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees / Is my destroyer."  If not for its Red Dragon, Wales would be green all over too.

The thirteen poems of The Ghost To His Green are elegiac transpositions of Ken Trimble's life upon Thomas's --in October Children for example, "We are / October children / yet as different and distant as Mercury's sun / and those visits though not Fernhill were filled / with innocence now / gone". It's a passionate identification with another of his exemplary poets, just as the Beats have been in his reading & roaming life. Thomas is the figure which the biography's cut for him, amplifying the famous poems. In this regard not unlike Robert Lloyd & the poets of the Blank Rune anthology, intersecting & interacting first & foremost with the legend. In Valli Poole's  & several of her contributors' cases, Caitlin has joint billing. Irrelevant to poetry, which is Dylan's first to last, but everything to do with a feminist rebalancing of the history book. No doubting the document of Caitlin's story, so what's important is the quality of the particular prism --who or what distinguishes the biography or poetry when the tag of this time is the 'bright star'.

Robert Lloyd's poignant & amusing description of his journey to Dylan Thomas country,  is, for mine, always part of an attempt to redeem true poetry & feeling from the show-biz & commerce in the poet's name. Yet I have a measure of 'why not?' even to that aspect now. Springing James Joyce from Bloomsday, similarly, has its point, yet this is the age of elitist & popular culture's convergence. Postmodernism anyone? 'Here Comes Everybody'? So why not enjoy the best of both worlds and accept the versions not as trivializations but as enlightening riffs & translations as happens with the great Indian classics and wherever in the world poetry appears at the heart of the culture.

Robert Lloyd is a storyteller for whom even the day's doings are potentially edged with mystery if not the mystical (--remember Robert Kenny's memorable lines, "Everything mystiqual, enveloped by a lovely intelligence / that seduces the rigmarole of the hours" , from his 'Poem' (Poem in inverted Commas), 1975)…  Chutzpah & charm is endearing and practice makes perfect but simplest to say that Robert Lloyd addresses the audience not as a poet with a guitar or a guitarist with his poems but as a performer of the poems & songs of his personal Dylan Thomas journey. Allegories, parables, revelations along the way, all along this green year…

[23-30/10 (11-12/14]

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


[From Stuart Pearce, Melbourne]

Hi Kris

I only just got this. I’m extremely upset. I only communicated with him a few weeks ago. To think that was the last…
Please remember to add me to your list of events at the bookshop.
Keep in touch



[From: Jay Livernois []
Sent: Thursday, 20 November 2014 3:32 AM

Dear Friends,

I just learned from The Overlook Hospice that Charles Boer died last night in his apartment in Southbridge, Massachusetts, peacefully, at about 10pm. April (his caregiver) was with him, he had his supper, was just getting ready for bed, went unconscious, and passed. He lived much longer than the 3 months he was originally told that he had and got to see the Red Sox go from last (2012) to first (won World Series 2013) to last (2014), have another season eating his beloved Morse Farm corn, finally got to see all the episodes of The Sopranos (whom he called the personification of Bronze Age Man and ethics), and enjoyed another year or so of seasons when he thought he wasn't going to have any. I know that I am not the only one to greatly miss his genius, friendship, wit, humor, and generosity.
I plan on having a funeral service, burial, and a noon-time memorial meal for him in Southbridge on a Saturday in the near future. It will be private, so if you would like to attend, please email me.

Yours sadly,



[From Kris Hemensley, email]

Dear Stuart, Just looking at my emails and find your sad news... Deep condolences to you... Shocking despite the length of Charles Boer's illness, especially to the intimates of whom you are one...

I had the barest connection as you know --I read him of course and we exchanged letters in '72 --but since our own serendipitous meeting at the bookshop & much talking with you this last year or so I've felt closer. Charles Boer for me was a part of the Olson family; family for all of its divergences. Which is another way of saying he was a contributor to that most fantastic 20th/21st Century scholarship & imagination channeled through a very particular Anglo-American poetry in which the classics appeared as contemporary as anything of the present day. I especially liked the suggestivity & adjacency of the Olson/Black Mountain and Jung/Hillman/Eranos/Spring projects.

All best wishes, and through you to Charles Boer's family & friends. Chin up & cheers,

Kris Hemensley

Sunday, November 9, 2014



Ive signed & inscribed it "from Retta, Myer's sale, Feb. 68" --amazement & glee when she presented Gary Snyder's little book, Myths & Texts, to me. Avant-garde hunter gatherers in them thar days. The shining lights of the New Writing ever in our sights. Golden season of Franklin's bookshop in Russell Street throughout '66, first year of my emigration, when every visit turned up something --a paperback Kerouac, Holmes or Brossard, Broyard, Cassil, Mandel (a hardback), Salinger, Mailer et al… And continued after I met Loretta, --through '67, '68, all & any of the many Melbourne bookshops --Gaston Renard, the Russian Bookshop, Cheshires, the Anchorage, --but Franklin's by far the best 2nd hander…

In February '68 I'm in the lap of luxury having been let go by the Education Department (Technical Division), advised before end of term, December '67, that I wouldn't be re-employed at Williamstown Tech after the summer holiday, yet fully paid for the entire period! Friends told me to go to the Teachers Union and fight it. The Union said it was a strange case since a sacking before end of school year normally meant no holiday wages at all. Unless I seriously wanted a teaching career they advised me to take the money & run!  I'd known from the moment I set foot at Williamstown Tech that the Principal couldn't handle my looks or my books --long hair in a pony tail, poetry anthologies & anarchist tracts --and the Teachers Union anti-conscription petition I pinned up on the staff notice-board the last straw --unless it was the cricket match I unilaterally abandoned (defacto sports master & umpire in addition to my English & Social Studies brief) when one team's Anglo-Australian boys and the Greeks & others of the opposition attacked each other with bats & stumps --'race riot' as I declared it, occasioned by the Greeks belting the Aussies around the park, wielding cricket bats as though baseball clubs, not guarding their wicket, no technique, solely eye & instinct… Next day at the staff meeting, a more liberal minded teacher than most, a literary man, Tennessee Williams enthusiast, interceded in my castigation. If Mr H agreed, he said, he'd gladly cane the perpetrators, beat some respect into them! Culture & race had nothing to do with it, discipline was the key, he said!

Another teacher I occasionally spoke to, Mrs Brass, sympathised with me about the incident. Over the years I've thought her husband was the journalist Douglas Brass because of their shared name and memory of her reading & discussing articles in The Australian for which he was a columnist, but it isn't so.  Additionally Ive found her on the Web described as teaching at Williamstown High, so perhaps she was only temporarily at the Tech school. Like me she wasn't trained but hired on interview in that uncredentialed era. Ruth Brass was from Germany and if we spoke in the staff-room I'm sure my friendship with Inge Timm & visiting her in Soest, Westphalia in '65 would have cropped up. She was connected with the Goethe Institute in Melbourne and the thought begins to percolate that late '70s, when Walter Billeter introduced me to its splendid library, I may have talked to her there and perhaps brought up our earlier Williamstown connection!

Peter Norman was my head of humanities, an athlete, to whom I told the story of visiting the great Percy Cerutty at his famous Portsea training camp, under the wing of my friend Kelvin Bowers, British middle-distance junior champion, whom I'd met on the migrant boat in '66, & who'd been invited to train there. I remember Peter as often around the corridor in track suit as in shirt & tie. I probably thought he was quicker on his feet than tongue. I'd picked up he was Christian and though he generally agreed with my anti-war politics, didn't sign the anti-conscription petition. I was appalled. Only a year later imagine the surprise when I saw my regular-guy colleague in the Black Power protest on the hundred metres medal podium at the Mexico City Olympics?  A la Spike Milligan, had I played a part in the Aussie sprinter's radicalisation? Nah!  That was the era and zeitgeist impossible to buck, or what?

I'd've been home in my tiny rented terrace cottage in Canning Street, Carlton, next to the all-night thumping of the bakery and its permanent bread-dough aroma, almost suffocating in mid-summer, the bread smells trapped in the airless heat. I'm typing poems or letters, being paid by the Education Department essentially to sit on my arse, read, study, be a poet, when Loretta came in with her prize! Perhaps I'm psyching myself up to fulfil the curtain-raiser for Michael Hudson's production of Peter Schumann's Bread & Puppet Theatre at the La Mama cafe-theatre around the corner in Faraday Street, Betty Burstall's good idea to justify the night's billing of such a short play, and redeemed she was when our poetry began pulling an audience in its own right. It  grew another leg when Bill Beard joined me, so that Mike's Bread & Puppet appeared to be supporting us!  But here it is, my God, Gary Snyder's Myths & Texts, published by Corinth Books, "in conjunction with Totem Press/Le Roi Jones" --wow-ee! What on earth was it doing, engulfed by bad popular fiction, romance, thrillers, on a sale table in the book department of Melbourne's flagship department store? The only copy, the only poetry book! What were the odds that Retta should find it? Incredible!



On misty, damp, after-rain morning, writing as I stand in doorway section of smooth-running stop-all-stations train from the 'Garth & Creek's quasi rurality into the Big Smoke, surrounded by pleasant hum of commuter small-talk --like I'm Walt & not Gary Snyder, subject of the memorandum I'm heading to, --Walt & not Gary, definitively, because in Gary's poetry the daily milieu is foil or natural context but its candour never so grown & substantially remarked as in Walt's inexhaustible ledger, small glint of which is mine here --and plainly isn't the point of it, isn't his ideology,  like Walt's Song of this and Song of that, determined to include everyone & everything within the call's special ring, like an auctioneer in Kentucky or, nodding back through the years to my sister Monique who sent me its postcard, the Appleby Horse Fair, long long ways as these may be from Camden, New Jersey --hoo! Gary, hoo!


And chatting with Chris Wallace-Crabbe one morning in the Shop, on his way over the river to the William Blake exhibition at the NGV, --bright as a button, dapper as Barry Humphries --in response to his polite question about reading &/or writing, --Snyder I said, and searched for the right word to describe him --irony? no, --separateness? exclusivity?  --And though we're all carried by Walt's democratic ebullience, this civic ecstasy not expected in Snyder contrary to an image perhaps preceding him? --because Snyder is found in singleness, singularity, singing also but to distinguish not occlude --each natural jewel of rain sun forest (--this is some conversation! ) --I just happen to be supervising a student in Snyder at the moment he says --laugh : let's tutor him/her together, I say! -- What I like, I say, is the simultaneity of American & Japanese --Chinese, Californian, Chris adds laughing --

But stay with the double outline, the casual slippage of ancient & modern, registered as here & now --no more arcane than acorns are --seamless  collage --logger, Marxist, Wobbly, hitch-hiker. folklorist, Native-American, Chinese, Japanese, Buddhist, lover, shaman --

"Bodhidharma sailing the Yangtze on a reed
Lenin in a sealed train through Germany
Hsuan Tsang, crossing the Pamires
Joseph, Crazy Horse, living the last free
starving high-country winter of their tribes.
Surrender into freedom, revolt into slavery--
Confucius no better--
(with Lao-tzu to keep him in check)
"Walking about the countryside
all one fall
To a heart's content beating on stumps
." [from part 6, Burning; Myths & Texts, 1952-56]---

Snyder, --like at Collingwood Farm I told Chris, drawing the cabbage with two pencils in my hand, the blurs outlining instant contradiction, adding dimension, so is our subject all-over, all-around, always, expressed as the simultaneity of alternating here & now -- 


1968 reading Myths & Texts same age as when Snyder began writing it. What accomplishment, teens & twenties! --especially as the post WW2 generations become younger, suspended by personal prosperity/social welfare in new norm cotton wool adolescence. Reading Snyder, there's no discount for youth -- realise Snyder is as Snyder does, was ever who he is --which is how one appreciates all notable & memorable writing in the retrospect one never thought twice about at the start of it. Not that '60s reading was at the beginning of anything other than that season of English & Australian youth's education. But if only for Myths & Texts, Snyder could uncontroversially have qualified for Robert Duncan's class-roll, The Lasting Contribution of Ezra Pound (Agenda vol 4, no 2, 1965), wonderful to read in Melbourne in '68 --describing the importance in the late '40s, early '50s, of Pound & Williams in opening "the way for a group of younger writers --Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, Denise Levertov, Larry Eigner, Paul Blackburn, Gael Turnbull, Theodore Enslin, Cid Corman and myself --who were concerned with immediacy and process in the development of their poetics." Pound & Williams are unambiguously sounded by Snyder --and the only magpie would be seen & heard along what's become his very own way, killing the Buddha at every bend.


Walking/working backwards from his influence --on Franco Beltrametti's Nadamas for instance --I cant put my hand on the chapter he published (his own & Judith Danciger's translation) in the Grosseteste Review, '72, so refer to the section I published in Earth Ship #10/11 (Southampton, August, '72, just prior to returning to Melbourne), summed up in this sentence : "Here we are again in the  swing of the events following each other always more rapidly so that you don't have to be interested if they overlap or ride over one another." As Beltrametti so Snyder --the absolute presence of the narrative, no progression only what's current, and time passing's subsumed within the concurrence or simultaneity. Beltrametti's 'additional handwritten poem' in the signed edition of Face to Face (Grosseteste Review Books, 1973) makes the same call :

"reckonings don't come even
roughly on the same latitude as
Seville / Richmond / Wichita / Nigata /
Seoul / Askhabad
from one carob tree
to the next"


And though Snyder's Myths & Texts does 'contain history' after Pound, Williams' grafting (for example the young feller Ginsberg's correspondence included in  Paterson, which serves to bless the incidental with the historical) is a propos --real bits of world, documents, quotation, letters as they come, as world comes, observed, overheard, perceived. (No reason to be peeved, if he really was, when his own stuff landed up in Kerouac's Dharma Bums. Material is material and the private subordinate to a larger literary good?) All of which suggests the fluidity or openness of the poem as the measure of experience yet the Snyder poem is also composed --much more of a made poem, confirmed by standard capitalisation & lineation, than the rangy field-work of the first poems of Mountains & Rivers Without End which chronologically follow Myths & Texts.


What to say of his Jewish joke not quite lost in the anti-Christian jibe :

"Them Xtians out to save souls and grab land
'They'd steal Christ off the cross
if he wasn't nailed on'
The last decent carpentry
Ever done by Jews."
[from Logging, section 10, Myths & Texts]?

Sure, Snyder's target is both bible-bashing colonialism and the theologically guaranteed human dominion over nature, the bete noire of the ecological philosophy & politics he champions. An example of casual anti-semitism maybe, and only funny within it.  Sure, hearsay, quoted speech, but seamless in Snyder's drawl-scrawl, his droll-scroll…


P. S. : Rip Rap

Permit mind blown in the fatal collision of wilderness & industrial civilisation --"I cannot remember things I once read / A few friends, but they are in cities." Consider the few days between worlds, and all gone that other one --and what another one "Drinking cold snow-water from a tin cup / Looking down for miles / Through high still air."  --what room for anything else when this other imposes such permanence that the very notion of contrast shrivels, no register except "caught on a snow peak / between heaven and earth" --except the lad is a scientist, can unsentimentally state "in ten thousand years the Sierras / will be dry and dead, home of the scorpion." And the Milton he's pulled out of his ruck-sack's (as last of August light extended by camp-fire's) "Too dark to read". Hah! --pun into blackguard Milton aka Western dramaturgy, --but as though autobiography, Cold Mountain's just the place to slough off "Damn me a fool last night in port drunk on the floor & damn / this cheap trash we read. Hawaiian workers shared us / beer in the long wood dredgemen's steel-men's girl-less / night drunk and gambling hall, called us strange sea- / men blala and clasped our arms and sang real Hawaiian songs " ---Ah, right royal navvy's days & nights…


In Rip Rap's 50th Anniversary edition there's long footnote apology for a phrase in the poem, For A Far-Out Friend. He confesses it's earned him flack over the years but now it's time to clarify. "Because once I beat you up / Drunk, stung with weeks of torment / And saw you no more", was an untruth right from the start he explains. She was the violent one, not he. "She started beating on me in some anger and I let her whack me (protesting) till I got her into the car. (….) I thought that saying I'd hit her was the more manly, or even gentlemanly, thing to say, an idea that comes from chivalry, perhaps. I never laid an ungentle hand on her. My critics, especially my colleague Sandra Gilbert, have said that there is no excuse for treating violence against women casually, and they are absolutely right. This note seems the best way to deal with the problem rather eliminate the poem or change the line in silence." Hmmm. Didn't want to change the original poem he says but bows now to feminist pressure and seeks to 'explain'…There you go. But surely, what's good for the goose is good for the gander? Snyder evidently doesn't blush for the "kulak" reference describing farmers & landowners in one of his much admired Han Shan translations, Cold Mountain poem # 16.

"Cold Mountain is a house / Without beams or walls. / The six doors left and right are open / The hall is blue sky. / The rooms are all vacant and vague / The east wall beats on the west wall / At the centre nothing. // Borrowers don't bother me / In the cold I build a little fire / When I'm hungry I boil up some greens. / I've got not use for the kulak / With his big barn and pasture - / He just sets up a prison for himself. / Once in he cant get out. / Think it over -- / You know it might happen to you."

'Kulak's traditional meaning is "a tight-fisted person"; "a peasant wealthy enough to own farm and hire labour" (Concise Oxford). But it's inextricable from the vicious Soviet connotation. This term from the Stalinist lexicon refers to as wicked a pogrom as any in the USSR, its horror & madness if anything magnified when the attitude was inherited by Maoist China. What did Snyder intend? "You know it might  happen to you" a little more sinister than a comment on personal salvation? Simplest & kindest to say that in the '50s, as a young man of the left, revolting against the American way, he's amenable & acquiescent to leftist gloat and a say-what-I-like macho glib… Fiftieth anniversary or not, time's ripe, methinks, for more clarification of such hot & cold war attitudes & language… The Right is unfailingly called to proper account for its reflections of Fascism & Naziism, but the Left hardly at all for its toeing the line of iron fist Communism, Stalinism, Maoism and whatever flows on through contemporary Socialist reflexes & assumptions…

The older & younger survivors of the ideological storms are we, especially as the poets we're able to be… Time to be poets & not suckers & saps… hoo! hoo! hoo!

[7/10-10-14 (4-11-14)]


P-P. S

The issue of what is or isn't 'politically correct' is prickly enough in the present day. And there's a greater problem with the retrospective judgement of previous generations, earlier societies & epochs, according to contemporary attitude & belief, and not least because the legitimation of such attribution implies a standard set, unchanging through time. This installs the progressivist depiction of human affairs as the only one, coacervate, indeed, with history itself. On the other hand, reform & repudiation of atrocious acts is generally laudable & necessary. I guess expression, whether or not literary or artistic, being what is held, spoken, depicted, is rightly personal --eccentrically formed, not legislative whatever its aspiration. So the  question I ask of Gary Snyder is as reader-writer of a colleague poet, though he be exemplary, & one who hasn't confined his work to the literary domain. If you like, when reader-writer addresses another it's poetry & literature of which the question is asked, asked whatismore within & behalf of poetry & literature.


Friday, October 31, 2014



'In the midst of' though not quite, for instance walk to Clifton Hill station to catch train to the City, quick smart through waiting-room, past groups of Cats supporters, bedecked in blue & white scarves & bonnets, onto train to sit a few seats behind black & yellow swathed Tigers fans, and reminded instantly of growing up in England, die hard follower of the Saints in football & speedway, qualified thus as a local, at last graduating from a kind of emigre family's uninvolvement, yet no more connected than that… All the fans alight at Jolimont-MCG for their big game. Saw the huge flood-lights from a station or two before the famous destination, as ever outside looking in…

Similarly in England, first years of home visits after the Exile which twelve continuous years in Oz created… Vicarious for want of belonging, the experience defined as "Ghost" --an invisible man in the middle of jumpin' seaside town. Tried on Dorset accent once as I intersected transaction between gypsy posy vendor & holiday-maker, yet remained unremarked as though unheard, unseen… But it's the writing which delivers me from the nebulous arrangement. In Melbourne I become poet of the Delphi cafe or the Elwood Beach kiosk, in Weymouth poet of the Old Harbour or Radipole Lake --poet of the place the writing makes. Become person --feet on solid ground, head rocking through a very particular air --why wouldn't it riffle reeds, bobble viscous water, prick hot cheeks emerging from The Boot's close atmosphere --loaded with one or another of Ringwood Brewery's traditional beers, primarily Old Thumper but nothing wrong with Fortyniner, even the Best Bitter or, for a complete change of taste, the Guinness…

[4th May,'14 (July, '14)]


Take your chances in Young & Jackson's main bar since this time the side bar's too cramped & Twilight Zone-ish, if you know what I mean, like the one arm bandits bar at the Clocks on Princes Bridge, last section of which overlooks the river, not only society's flotsam & jetsam but Time's. In the main bar, plenty of room by the taps to order & peaceably wait. It's Guinness so that's hardly loose talk. Young Gurkha who serves me is yet to acclimatise. It won't be long he says. But at Y & J' s you pays your money & happily wait.

NRL on the big screen, Rugby League's halftime rap, which then reverts to Aussie Rules, Gold Coast Suns vs Sydney Swans. The camera only has eyes for Ablett, class act of the competition, picked out for merely breathing, gold dusted, shimmering in the winter sunshine, like the woman suddenly alongside me, not drinking but studying the screen, in her own space, and truth is I'd noticed her when I bought my Guinness, sitting high on a stool she was, at the long table at the top of the bar, distinctive blond hair escaping brown cowboy hat. Then I'm aware of brown coat long to her ankle boots & her unflinching self-containedness. And at last the Guinness has risen, the beautiful long drop, full bodied, cream on top.

In a way this fraction of a session is compensation for not finding either Michael Hartnett's or Peter Fallon's poems on the Irish shelves at the Shop, urged on me by Libby Hart one Thursday afternoon which was confirmation of the feeling growing in me for Irish writing but also Scottish, anything not English, which comes upon me from time to time, the marvellous resource it is, like Guinness. I'd come in, extra-mural, for the Gary Snyder I'd forgotten there & needed at home to work with. Found the Snyder at once but wandered over to the Irish section like a kid in a  candy store, alone among the books. No individual collection, as I say, but some Hartnett translation of Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, yet enough of an eyeful to boost the image of the impending drink at Y & J's! Hurried down the stairs of the Nicholas building, onto the chocka Swanston Street, through the blue sky chill which may as well be the same cut piercing t-shirt & jumper as accosts you in the England I remember or the Ireland Libby had talked about.

Entered the bar with the Hartnett translations from the Gaelic in my shoulder bag and straight into the pint thought of all the way into town. And suddenly popping into my head the actual comment I wanted to make to the man requesting the new Gerald Murnane back in the Shop recently, instead of the small talk, though accurate, around a flicked upon upon sentence which grew into several pages, a section I could have followed forever, with which I entertained the both of us. And now I realise it was the first paragraph of the promotional sheet accompanying A Million Windows, "Gerald Murnane, from a letter to Teju Cole, April 2013", as follows : "I hardly needed to remind you that I think of mind as space. I long ago rejected the popular theories of the mind advanced in the Twentieth century. For me, mind is extent and, quite possibly, endless, that is to say, infinite. This would entail, I suppose, the belief that all minds are one or even that everything is mind, but that sort of speculation is not for me. I have enough to do during my lifetime with uncovering the patterns of imagery in my corner of mind without seeking further." All of which is to say that whatever's in mind, or what's in place or in train, in or as mind, enjoys coalescence, seamless adhesion, of time & space, known as the incidents & objects thereof.

All of that, all of this, the public bar's voluminous etcetera --and why not stand on ceremony --of Melbourne itself, ancestor felons, free or freed settlers (though no one like me can talk credibly of 'ancestors' --our account's dribbled out in & as generations on no parchment but the black ink entries of births, deaths & marriages in cased municipal Domesday registers)-- I am johnny-come-lately in what pundits of every complexion call the end of time. And all of this the only Australia I stand up in, leaning on an Ireland, so it seems, compacted in poetry & stout, for as long as fate's deemed I'm removed from fatherland, compromised as that may be for the both of us, Dad & I, our mothers protractored either pole of the immense & pink blushed continent of Africa…

[8-19/6/14 (October, '14)]