new zealand electronic poetry centre

k a   m a t e   k a   o r a  

a new zealand journal of poetry and poetics
issue 4,  september 2007

 

The Duck At The Top Of The Stairs 

Or, How I Remember Writing Some Of My Books—Why, Even

 

 

Ken Bolton

 

 

Time I suppose to see

just what I’ve been doing

writing poems—lost, in the

middle of a dark wood

or whatever—at any rate fifty,

and enrolled, for this degree.  (For why?

you ask, as in fact I ask myself.)  I know

what I think I’ve been doing

but these things will have

changed, over time.  Changes I sometimes

will have ‘noticed’ merely,

other times willed.  But sometimes

I will have noticed nothing

or stopped, after a time, noticing.

 

And I will have changed—my ideas

(though ideas were not important to me—

in the sense of themes to ‘pursue'—

only that there should be some), my

style and conception of form—as

one gambit after another

ruled itself out, through repetition,

or my glands and reflexes grew                 (I'm not sure what I mean here

gaining wisdom and sclerosis.                     or how best to say it:

                                                                     the ideas seemed extra-literary:

                                                                     that is, good ideas

                                                                     were better than bad

Those things together                                  and made the poem better—

constituting ‘change’, development             but the test of them as ideas was not literary.)

or something more in the nature

of contradiction—discrepancies to be

explained, or shrugged away,

concerns or habits that like

a shirt have worked their way

low in the drawer and you say Oh,

I don’t wear that anymore—

it’s hard to say why.

                                    Or it’s obvious. 

The process poem, for example,                                                                                  1

that strikes me as such a seventies thing:

 This coffee shop—I won’t eat here again!

Though in fact I will, despite the

fluctuating price, the mathematical

inadvertance that accompanies

lunch each day—the sensitivity

of the teenage girl who administers it

precluding objection. 

                                    Not that she is aware of this.

 

I have only ever used the conventions

of that sort of poem, not been bound

by them as rigor: a device

for changing the subject.  Though ‘subjects’,

like ideas, were not the point exactly—

 

or were the point … of the self that

entertained them, were just the figure or

‘theme’ on the other hand

of the one writing the poem—

and you were both these people, and you

might not have to decide between them—

unless the power of one called

for its being overruled and

even then it may have been a matter

of ceding ground, regrouping

redefining the goal or conception,

the ambition or gestalt:

 

two people

endlessly moving the goalposts

to gain advantage.

 

Or an impossible coalition—

say, the Labor Caucus.

 

                          (Prospective Content

                          and Vague Form, aligned

                          provisionally. 

                                                    Though conceptually

                          they are of different order:

                          more Incommensurable than Opposed

                                        — incommensurable and opposed? —

 

                                                    and, really,

                          fictive entities.)

 

The Labor Caucus.

(Or something more cooperative.)  In

any case the tension between the two—

form and content—being productive,

and the poem side brought off best with no

one pole too long dominant.  Though this

 

is to offer a generalization, not a memory.

What poem do I remember this way?  Well,

‘A Terrible Attitude, Based on Mourning’ might                                     2   

be a candidate— is one,

so perhaps there were others. 

 

Having something that must be satisfied,

that might even ‘drive’ the poem—besides ‘art’—

was necessary.  An impulse or orientation

I think of as Protestant or Puritan—though

what thing Catholic—if that is its opposite—

is it distinguished from, the Baroque?

 

(Why did I say I wouldn’t eat ‘here’, any more—

and then admit I would?

 

The effect is to change the subject

—but, more interestingly—since or if or

to the degree that ‘subjects

are not the point’—a level of sincerity

is introduced, or introduced

critically:

                          an ‘earnest’ of it—

a marker—introduced

as, simultaneously,

it is undermined—

a promise

of unreliability

 

and a foregrounding of artifice

—or, more correctly, of the form

of some sort of

bond with the reader.  I hope it did all that 

 

—because as illustration of

a ‘worn out form’—the shirt

never to be worn again

it backfires: there I am

using it/wearing it. 

                             The failure

set up here, maybe 'demonstrates'

continuity? 

                               Or is this a moved

goal-post? 

                           In some ways good if it is.

 

 

The Baroque I have some tolerance for

and it would mean in this context

the excessively, or entertainingly conventional

and artificial.  Certain kinds of

postmodernism favor it.  I like it

where it is comedic

but find it tiresome otherwise, time-

wasting, fake, not credible.  I guess

the rigor of some higher aim

(by the logic of the binaries

I seem to think in, shuffle between) 

—that eschews the Baroque and the

conventions—I associate

with Modernism (which seems to me

Protestant, puritan, functional 

—where “ornament is crime”                                                                             3

—Adolf Loos, where function is ethical

—Reyner Banham, where “form                                                                       4

follows function” (though I can’t think

who said that—Gropius, Mies

van der Rohe?  Or was it Olson?).                                                                                5

 

 

Being virtuous, chaste even, 

I associate with Creeley—

and don’t like it, much, in him—

though where he has a virtue

that is it, often.  Though I don’t

wish, often, to concede it.  Well,

there was The Purity Of Diction

In English Verse,                                                                                                           7

                                   which I liked too—

without liking, much,

the contemporary poems

it ‘spoke to’.  Or liking them

but not feeling them ‘contemporary’. 

I mean Davie and Larkin.  'Chastity' in verse

was a concept I might have first

met here.  I had

better ideas—I thought—enthusiasms—

than being virtuous:                 

the more positively exhilarating pleasures—

of Thought-that-moved-swiftly and was not ‘poetic’

that was amusing, that had the formal excitement

of collage, its disjunctions: Ted Berrigan, O’Hara.

 

Where I liked, or ‘employed’, conventions

I wanted them laid bare. 

 

#

 

There seems so much to say

about the early poems.  I cared

about them at the time.  But what

they didn’t do

meant so much more

than what they did: a series—

or simple instances of—

exemplary avoidances

of what I considered then

to be error

and which added up

to a style of subtractions.  I guess

‘cool’ is always a matter of ‘less

is more’.  Maybe I thought the poems

exciting in their severity?  The audience

whipped—and a little shocked

but liking it, or lapping it up?

Maybe I didn’t think this—

as I read mostly to friends, the

like-minded or moderately rivalrous ‘peers’

of similar or different persuasion.

 

 

#

 

Learn To Stutter — Scenes

From Damaged Life!

Is that the true title

of this apologia?!

 

A traditional path

to aesthetic

seriousness

has been

"the pursuit

of the direct and the difficult"                                                                             59

(Lucy Lippard).  As

writer and art critic

Gary Catalano once said—

 

of artist Ken Whisson—

 

(that) (he) "resists

all facility". 

       "Risible?  You bet.

but all that I'll soon forget                                                                                   60

with my man

ner of working" (Billie Holiday).              (‘My Man’)

 

Rhetorical facility

(especially of the

readily available 'going kinds')

must be resisted.

 

At the same time

"all is rhetoric"

(Johnny Mercer)—                                                                                            61

 

so what to do about that? 

That's the bind,

"and yet

 

the bind is the point"
(Bobby 'The Brain' Heenan).                  (World Wrestling Federation)

                                                                                                                            62

A purchase on interest—on

'authenticity'

even—is gained

through involvement

with the form

and the medium,

 

with tools

of artlessness and irony,

parody, resistance and the rest.

 

"Damaged life"—I've not

read all of Adorno by a long shot

and don't know

where the phrase occurs—

 

but Bogart/Sam Spade

utters his lines

in reply to Elisha Cook's

observation

that Spade talks easily,

confidently:

 

"What should I do—

learn to stutter?"                          (‘Scenes from Damaged Life’

                                                       is the subtitle to Adorno's

                                                       Minima Moralia.)  (The Spade character                63

In the case of Poetry                     "utters these lines" in

the answer is, maybe,                   The Maltese Falcon.)

Yes.  One of the kinds                                

of resistance

I want to posit

—have I posited it already—

if not, maybe, discuss

is the resistance

to a too easy rhetoric,

at least when spoken

from a subject-position

that can be construed

as the poet's.

 

                                    But I

will discuss it!  Give me

one more cup of coffee!

 

                        One effect

of a poet's sensitivity to words

—even one such as mine—

will be

a difficulty

and self-consciousness

about utterance—

    and about banality,

        seeming importance, por-

            tentousness of tone

                or cloying sincerity—

 

and a consequent

deal of difficulty

about where to begin,

and a resultant silence.

 

       This

self-censure will be—

by means of projection—

experienced

as the medium's resistance. 

                                                  I.

      E. — you

don't know

how hard this is.

 

The obvious way

round it is

parody or genre,

where the model chosen

can be both object

and vehicle of your

analysis.

 

Adorno's sense—

that the luxury required

to have complex, analytical

or speculative thought

is incriminating—

is another sense of resistance

in (or to) the very

occasion  of writing.

And you trick yourself

out of it,

or around it or plow

on occasion directly over it

but accord it a degree

varying degrees

of difficulty, surely.

                                    The equation

       of civilization with barbarism

       is Benjamin's formulation

       originally, but elaborated by Adorno

       in Minima Moralia and elsewhere.

 

Billie Holiday, here,

backs Adorno—

and Johnny Mercer…

and even Bobbie 'The Brain'

Heenan, from International

World Wrestling!  That makes this

Cultural Studies practically.

Doesn't it?  "We have no culture

just aerials"?  Isn't that                                                                                       64

what the bohemian young

eminence grise said?

                                    Or as one

Justin Clemens has it,

"All Cultural Studies

Aspires to the Condition

of bad rock journalism."              (a variation on Walter Pater)                          65

Good to say that somewhere.

 

Yes, Poetry must 'defeat'          

Cultural Studies.  They have

the same job description:

'Intellectual-

Without-Portfolio'.

 

                 ("(D)efeat"—that is, as in Harold Bloom,

                 The Anxiety Of Influence.)                                                                            66

                 And maybe we don't

                 have to defeat it.

 

Back to the poems!

                     Time for a coffee?
Yoiks—time for work!

 

#

 

So—

‘Notes For Poems’ (early 80s)                                                              

was a deliberate choice

of a more flowery diction

and an alternately hysterical and                                                          

rhapsodic discursive manner.

Capital 'P' poetry.  Chosen

as a way out of the dead-end

that degree zero and the process poem                                                                        67

had—temporarily? permanently?

necessarily?—brought me to. 

US poet Tony Towle

was probably the main influence,

though the poem bears little resemblance

to his productions.  (Actually

‘Notes For Poems’ took off

from the opening paragraph of

some old-fashioned Guide

To Classical Music I had found.

I think it had the phrase

"species of fine frenzy                                

descend from the sky"—and I was away.)

The signs of Towle's presence                                                                          68

are apparent to me though—

in the deliberate artificiality,

the persona (to a degree),

the linked, extended, 'classical' similes, metaphors,

and rhetorical patterns or schema,                      

the great show of their 'deployment'.

 

At various times I wrote poems as letters

(instead of letters even

in most cases) and the first published of them                         

I think were three from France and Italy

(appearing in Untimely Meditations). 

These allow an intimacy of address and tone

and make plausible a greater freedom of association.

I suppose they also involve

a degree of self-representation and

representation of the addressee (their

expectations, background, opinions).  A kind of

negotiated relationship.

 

Their attraction for me

as letters or surrogates for letters

was that they gave me

access I normally don't have

when writing letters

to areas of free association. 

One should have access

to this in letter writing 

but I don't normally seem to.

 

Almost none of these poems

did I conceive of

in the terms I have used.  I conceived of them

pretty much wordlessly and intuitively.

Involving a recognition

perhaps readied by these kinds of thinking.

 

But it’s not really all that difficult a notion.  Is it?

 

#

 

(As to the ‘letter poems' making plausible

"greater freedom of association")

 

"Make more plausible"?  I mean

that they are

conventionally more plausible—

or expected—because they are poetry

and have less of the utilitarian tone

of contemporary, debased, truncated, not-very-well-mannered

communications.  The poems

signal that they are Poetry

by convention

and that their humor                                                                              

consists partly of the ill fit

of their notions (the notions they express

thereby) with 'Poetry'.

 

(Not that these poems set up to demolish

that idea of Poetry—considering it demolished already—

but invoke it to bounce off,

an orientating straw man,

the only fixture standing in the wide, open field

modernism has laid waste.)

 

       & I should have said  (?)

                            bounce off of.)

What sort of ill-fit?  The usual: the everyday, but also

the more abrasive and, if not shocking, impolite:

watching a big Frenchman's little dog

cower under his chair, small, leonine and cowardly;

watching cars park; remarks on the disappeared

mosques of the Jewish Quarter; jokes about Australian

War artists; anti-clerical sentiments;

quick artistic judgements on the French Baroque's

taste in Italian art; a drawing of the Siena square

done as if lying drunk in the middle of it.  And so on.

These things fill out the 'letter poems'.

 

 

On this tour of the various formal gambits,

or moves, I've made—"formal/attitudinal"

might have been the more

circumspect phrasing there—

their motivations, their characteristics,

I'm left with a small bunch of poems

with traditional form: some sestinas

and a moderately long poem called

‘Traffic Noises, Cups, Voices’.

And with the fact that I've written

a lot of poems in unrhymed couplets and triplets—

since the mid 80s I think.  I think the latter

were an attempt

at a less obtrusively ("ostensively" used to be

Donald Brook's great phrase—as in

"look there", "it's obvious")—um,

less obtrusively apparent Subjectivity—

through a greater regularity of look,

but also (as it transpired, but not

of necessity) greater regularity of tone—and argument.

 

Not really a category, these, as the manner

is adopted in works already categorized: ‘Dazed’ for example.

 

The sestinas were written mostly

in the 80s when I finally realized

that some poems I liked had that form

and that it explained part of their mystery

and appeal.  (Ashbery's ‘Faust’                                                                          71

being one.  It recalls mostly the Claude Raines                         Tennis Court Oath 47

Phantom Of The Opera movie of the 40s.)

I used them in the spirit

of the Ou Li Po (of whom                                                                                  72

I knew nothing at the time)—

as productively restrictive form.

The sestina formula

was a machine you strapped to your brain

and the product was something

you could not have produced

otherwise.  ‘Bunny Melody’                                               

is one I think is successful.  My first, ‘Funny Ideas’,        Sestina Centre Brain  1

I began by choosing the amusingly nutty blurb                                           

from The Fontana Dictionary Of

Modern Knowledge and making it

the middle stanza of the six                                                                  

and plotting the determining end-words

for the other stanzas                              

from that mid-point—and 'writing'. 

 

Limited returns set in, I've found,

after a time

and I don't revisit the form very often.

 

The other poem ‘Traffic Noises…’

—but that is to jump ahead, to poems that are 'current'—

the destination in a way

of this whole exercise.  We must be nearly there. 

Word Count could tell me

exactly how far away it is.

Exciting?  And just

as I've got the hang of this—

got it, lost it a few times,

but basically …  

                                   So, later.

 

                     Finally,

I've done more in the collage line, too.

Not so much—and this time not because

Diminishing Returns threatened,

but because I feared

that the more purely 'aesthetic' determination

—’aestheticist’ even—

would come to govern,

that I would have to think of myself

producing 'confections',

the verbal equivalent

of the Lyrical Abstraction paintings that,

though I could like them, seemed to trade

on the look of daring abstraction

(daring accident, risk and etcetera), and which

controlled that look pretty perfectly,

orchestrated their colors, their

randomness, their accident—

too conveniently, whose daring was in fact

already and long ago acceptable.

 

            So, to avoid this embarrassment.

 

As well I had mostly turned this process

upon a quite large mass of well digested

and abandoned material, usually a good while

abandoned.  I was producing less of this

(fewer fragments of unfinished poems)—

was less of a bower bird of others' fragments—

or of 'fragments' of my own.  The discursive and flat manner

I had been maintaining

did not generate these nuggets.  So,

few examples: ‘Blazing Shoes’,

‘August 6th’.  The latter, because it is later,                                                      

shows the effects I have been describing.

It is made up

much less of small verbal, linguistic

units.  It is itself (consequently?) larger

and cloudier—whole discursive chains are set up

and run for a page, or pages.

 

I like the poem very much—

but it is commodious, capacious

and stands at different sorts of angle to

—different sorts of distance from—

its material.  It is their voice

more often: more often close                         

to first person Subject-position—

though it is more openly and more quizzically

ironic about the voices it mimics, voices it quotes and 'affects'.

But voice and subject

are a more determining principle

with it than with ‘Terrific Days’—

which could be regarded

as having no Subject position.  So,

a difference. 

 

There are a few shorter poems

done this way: ‘Italian Drink’,

‘Life Your Weight’—and a number of poems                                       

that begin with the method or incorporate it

at some stage (‘Double Trouble’, ‘How I'm Feeling’)—

and maybe it is almost a habit of thought

or attention I now bring to writing.  This, though,

would be less 'collage'

than free association.  ("Free", what a nutty idea.)

 

#

 

(I think we're there.)

 

#

 

                          Well here I am,

in The Flash Café, having

shocked the woman behind the counter

by ordering tea:

she likes to guess, long black?

latté?  But my throat is sore—

coffee would hurt.

I'm about to embark now

on the exegesis

of the new poems

that have been collecting under the title

At The Flash & At The Baci

poems written here, written

or revised here.  Or at the Baci

down the street.  A few weren't.

Or, if they were, I associate them

with the desk at home: one of

the John Forbes poems                                  

              (the second, ‘Hi, John’ the title)                    

looks out that window                                 

at a plant outside—                                            

and another was written      

late at night

("People Passing Time")

and depended on pictures I had

taped or blu-tacked to the wall.

Similarly the poem for Kurt:    

("Catching Up With Kurt Brereton")—

I was doing a drawing or had

just done.  A few others—

the 'Manet' one—I was with                        (‘A Picture’ is the title)

Anna and Cath, another I was

watching television while Anna slept

in front of it or—no I wasn't—

I wrote it the next night

while alone—watching Mouchette.                 

 

            (The poem is ‘Amaze Your Friends’

            Mouchette is a 60s French film.)                                                           73

 

Because I'm writing this here

at The Flash in a poem with

the waitress in it—looking at

poems I wrote here too—will she

be able to see them—by some

weird sort of Being John Malkovich logic?                                            74

If she could

she would like her appearances                                                           

I hope—though I can imagine

Whadya mean 'Gothic'?                                                                                     75
And who's this stylish bitch

you work with that knows so much?                            

Would she like the poems—um—

on 'purely aesthetic grounds'?

No one else does—ha ha ha.

 

The best poems in the book

are not necessarily the ones to talk about

I guess, though it might turn out

they get covered.  The newest poems

at the back

are to do with Italy, in part,

where I was last year                                  (in the first half of 2000)

—and the coffee shops

Flash and Baci

are Italian—the poems

consider frameworks, locales

perspectives

from which experiences can be seen

or my thinking can.

Nervously relative.  In fact my

trip to Italy to another perspective

was the seemingly longed-for,

or wondered-at, coming true—

disconcertingly, as

might be expected.

Anyway, I am not

a markedly 'centered' poet

though I live with that

happily enough: tethered

here—but lightly, barely.

The constants might be friends,

relationships—and a mix of

culture, in which I'm at home,

(though it's partial, not 'adequate',

in various ways—but then I'd

'have all the answers' if it were,

which would be boring

or boring because  'not me'.  Who knows?)

(“Who knows?” a recurrent phrase,

somebody once said,

in my poems.)

 

                                    I seem

To have talked myself

into a curious mood.  Maybe

I should write a real poem

instead of 'this' then?  (A

joke I like, which I've made

a number of times

not being sure what its import is

or caring to decide.)

 

The whole relativism 'thing'

I would like to bracket out

—like my ideas—as non literary.

It's not a conscious theme, or

—and this is literary, I guess—

is boring for its repetition

and embarrassing: like

some other themes—Who wants

to seem this sook                                                           though one is

who always needs his friends?                                  and does

Similarly poems looking out

a window, or up late at night

thinking.  'Thinking'?

"Thinking—but never making up

his mind!"

 

                                    Not

that I mind repetition

in the poets I admire.

(But I'm not one of them.)

 

So what's in this putative book then—

 

apart from the issues above

which indicate 'more of the same'—

 

anything good?

 

                     The first poem in the book,

‘Home Town’, is okay.

It could be characterized                                                                      

as an 'I-do-this, I-do-that' poem

James Schuyler-style.                               

I do this I do that                           

is associated with particular

O'Hara poems.  If it's ‘James

Schuylery’ it is in being,

initially, a narrow column                                                                                  

and in being less jumpy—

in the ordering and kind

of events and ideas, than F. O'H.

Not that this is 'true' exactly

or that I thought about it

that way then.  But as shorthand.

The poem breaks up into

staggered lines after a while

—as concepts and moods

begin to dictate its pace

rather than the more ('telegraphic'?)

actions and events.  It begins—

 

Driving into work while

Cath reads about driving around London

& wondering when will I next write a poem

or whether to just work on Gwendolyn

a poem of John's & mine   & maybe I should

it is half mine, I drop Cath off, do a

U-turn & scoot down to the EAF, park, go inside

check the mail empty my bag a little

lock up again & set off for the coffee shop

where I'll read or write a poem or a

review—or work on Gwendolyn, I suppose, is

a possibility . . .

 

 

                                    and later goes on

to become a series of thoughts

about my 'place' in the world                                                                

how it feels etc and the insubstantiality

evanescence

of the terms                                

in which I think these things.

The poem affects a wistfulness

that it mocks—though to which

it resigns itself finally (if

'formally' only) at the end

in ruefully examining the lines

on O'Hara John Forbes communicated

to me:  about timing, grace.                       

 

                               "Frank O'Hara never went skating

                               but he liked to dance," Forbes tells me

                               in ‘Thin Ice’, finding O'Hara                        

                               an acceptable link between us.                                                      76

 

Two other poems early in the MS

would seem comparable—‘Walk

On The Wild Side’ and ‘poem (“walking

down from the Star Grocery”)’.

Both feature walking, obviously,

as does much of ‘Home Town’

but actually ‘Wild Side’ contemplates

future daily events

                                        —"Tomorrow:

shop, bank, wash hair" —

and, still more banal, "put prices

on books arrived at the EAF"

(my job) "have coffee".

"An eventful day?" the poem asks.                                                       

The poem then goes on                             

to calibrate loyalties

to various 'heroes'

Little Walter, Lou Reed

James Schuyler—then ponders

further nebulous things

pleased to be making no

firm decisions.  It is

a far more measured poem

than ‘Home Town’, biting off

almost less than it can chew.

‘Home Town’ takes a number

of big bites.  The

'Star Grocery' poem

has some of the same

measured quality and is

in relatively grave

three-line stanzas.

But it is midway between,

or somewhere between—or

            a provisional plural

            "somewhere(s) between"?

            Is it a literary convention,

            or realism, that academic jokes are dull?

between

the contentedeness of ‘Wild Side’

(the contrast with its title

is its joke) and the anxiety

              of ‘Home Town’.  ‘Star Grocery’                        (‘Walking Down from the Star

runs unfavorable or slightly down                              Grocery’ is its full title.)

and crestfallen comparisons                                                                 

of oneself (me, not you)

with the major players of

cosmopolitan centres

and sort of decides to take them

on the chin which it 'bravely'                           

holds up in its                                                                                         

last lines—contemplating

total annihilation.  In fact.  (!)                           
A bit histrionic.                                    (Just 'Death'.)

 

Other poems in the book

treat 'the street'—

this same street, Hindley Street.

 

‘Mostly Hindley Street’ does so—

but more in the framework

of the process poem: cursorily

diaristic, sketching shops and sites

and characters of the street

and thoughts produced that way.

 

It happens upon

a kind of thesis or question—

Is my 'compass' any broader than

Thomas Gray's—whom I rather thoughtlessly

deride.  ‘Halogen Pam’ is a more circumspect

account of my life in urban Adelaide

contrasting it with those of friends—

contrasting their imagined attitudes, too,

to mine.  It is in three-line stanzas

and does a fair bit of thinking.  Is its tone

too heavy? Unrelieved?  Later poems,

like ‘Hindley Street (with

a prospect of Michael Grimm)’ and

‘Amaze Your Friends’, seem not similar.

Their mood is less self-critical.

‘Amaze Your Friends’, anyway, is not

about the street but was simply written

about the same time.  ‘Prospect’ begins

in emulation of some lines and the feel

of Ted Berrigan, his poems like                                                            

‘Ann Arbor Elegy’ or (particularly) ‘Peace’.                                            77

But readers won't notice.  And it                        

doesn't matter—it got me started—

and its‚ or similar—repetitions                                                               

are what ‘Prospect’ seeks for, overreach

being its intent though hoping to 'save'

or 'recoup' it.

      

 

Interesting, I hope, is a satirical poem

‘Giles Auty Furioso’ which

starts sort of scrappily

—like a comedian at half pace,                           

(maybe rehearsing a show,

it occurs to me now)—then clicks

into gear: the supposed

voice of mad Giles Auty

bemoaning the state

of Australian Art Today, of

art today generally.  It's

funny, if it is funny,

because of the extremity                                

of its views—but also

because of their similarity to his.                                                           

In my view, at any rate.

The notes to the poem

are amusing in something like

the same way, if maybe

more slyly.

 

A poem called ‘A Picture’ but which

I think of usually as

The 'Manet' poem is I suppose

'ekphrasis' which, if

this weren't a process poem

and I was going to revise even a line,

is a word I'd drop (usually

I cannot remember it—it

seems to mask the ordinariness

of an ordinary enough

concept).  Describing a picture.

This poem describes a painting                         

by Manet that, it becomes apparent                                                     

quickly enough, is imaginary.

My partner Cath, her daughter Anna

and I are in it, sitting in bed

reading—they are, and I am

or I might almost be

but I'm writing the poem in question.

I describe our respective books

and the appearance of mother and

daughter.  Cath's description is mediated

through characterizations of

Monet and Berthe Morisot

and a bit of pondering

on Manet's likely attitude

to detail—that is, is the anachronistic

wrist-watch I'm wearing

likely to show up in the painting                      

recognisably?  We all look up

for the last line of the poem—                                                               

and say 'Hi'—a reason why

for a long while I used to toy

with the idea of calling it

‘Polaroid’.  The poem is moderately

columnar, ranged from

the left margin in one version—

in another in longer-lined couplets.

This last gives more control

but slows the overall poem.

A nice poem—but with

very much the air of a set piece.

A nice poem I don't care about.

Far more interesting—but

does it work?—the poem

‘Double Portrait’.  Not conceived

as 'ekphrasis'.  It's a kind of

doubled sestina, linking a second

to the first—at the 'copula'

to call it that, of

the first envoi or

final three lines (that is,

the envoi that would end—

be the final three lines of—

an ordinary sestina).  (That’s where

I make the join.) It's

the product of fabulous New York:

the sight of a New York artist—portraitist

mainly—one whom I've never liked

 

                     (Chuck Close: he was

                     sometimes included

                     under the rubric 'Pop Art' and also

                     as a New Photographic Realist,

                     though their subject matter (not his)

                     was usually pick-up trucks and

                     chrome-and-glass Americana. 

                     These latter artists

                     have now mostly been forgotten. 

 

                     Close's paintings are enormous. 

                     He has lately been

                     confined to a wheelchair

                     and with very little motor control

                     of his muscles

                     yet has devised a way to continue.)

 

"… one whom I've never liked"

or thought much of.  He is contrasted

in all his art-world success (a

second-stringer's degree of it)

with the comparative and undeserved obscurity

of poet Tony Towle—whose

work I like.  I discuss

a Chuck Close self-portrait

and a series

of photographic portraits

of Towle.  My ambivalence

about Close—who has

risen above adversity

in recent years—and about

my opinion of him, and of                          

other artists, is discussed.

It's all complicated enough

and I like it as a kind of

ruminative thinking that                                                                         

might belong in an essay

in some people's view but

is less usual and stronger too

in a poem. The form

might be the fault in the poem, or

cause of its faults, but

it also gives the ideas' expression

some strength.  It was absorbing fun

to write a serious—seriously toned—                 i.e., the other sestinas were comic:

poem in the sestina form.                                     there is one of these in

                                                    Which              the book too—’Prospect

links it, though at some months' remove,             of the Young KB

with ‘Traffic Noises, Cups, Voices’.                    As A Critic’

This poem, too, and unusually for me,

takes a 'tight' form—the

stanza pattern of FT Prince's poem                                                                                                     

‘Memoirs in Oxford’.  These few                                               78

months' removal is not much,

‘Double Portrait’ being examined

two or three times a week most weeks

for the next three or four months, given a rest

and subjected to it all again—

minor revisions being made

or visited upon it, the poem

gradually obscured, cleared

and obscured again but fixed

I think finally:  over

longer and longer periods left

in the dark (to be read

freshly).  I decided

it was complete

about the time I finished

‘Traffic Noises’.

 

It is a more serious or

heavier-toned poem than ‘Traffic’.

And interesting, more interesting—

if in fact it retains the reader's

attention: it is less comfortable

with its own thoughts—their status

as reasonable opinion, mere opinion

capricious opinion, unjust even. 

As well, I like ‘Double Portrait’

for the manner                              

of its thinking about art—which is

usually done with an eye to History.

In fact poems usually discuss work whose

status is, or seems, decided.

‘Portrait’ discusses mere taste and

fallible judgement—and error’s giving

some works a special longevity

for me.

 

(That is, a kind of 'critic's guilt'

at having got the work wrong:

there are subsequently

works I remember especially—                                       

and disproportionately—

having originally underestimated them.)

 

                     ‘Traffic Noises’ is much

lighter in tone.  It anticipates

a trip to Rome, bemused                            

to run through its file of information:

knowledge of Rome generally, of

the studio in which I would be staying

etc—the point / points being

contrasts of notional Italy

and the 'Italian' coffee shop in

which I write—and Adelaide.

The poem is 'a bit civilized'

in my judgement—'polite'

in a way I find diminishes any

urgency or immediacy…  into an

entertainment.

                                    But still,

something to have done.

                                        Maybe

each poem is calisthenics, training

for the next, or 'a' next.  The same moves

get made in more pressing contexts

or avoided, topped. Modified

as they approach again.  Like

philosophy, I think.  (Would like

to think.)  Or do I mean

‘thinking’ rather than philosophy?

 

The three poems for John Forbes

are a response to his death

and explain themselves that way:

in summary, they recount

the following: that John

was a kind of point-of-reference

a constant in my thinking—

intermittently invoked for

purposes of comparison (my writing,

my life, attitudes …

compared to his) and as

a kind of bench-mark

I could apply.  He had

stayed with us shortly before

his death—not in good health

but maybe prepared

to 'look after' himself.  In

the second poem I reprise

much of this.                                                                                                     

Both poems begin with,

and mix in, everyday occurrences

and return to John.  The third

is less anchored to the everyday—

partly it is that it is written at night

in a 'study'—work room—so that

intrusions are less random, more

chosen, and partake more of the subjective—

maybe it is somatic, too (the

body late at night): the poem

as it turns out is a bit more

'about' death as well as being

—well, mostly—about John.

It looks at three images—

on my walls as I wrote—

a large A3 photocopy photograph

of ‘Muddy Waters playing cards                                                            79

between sets’, a photo

(photocopy again) of New York migrant kids,

girls mostly (or all)

by Weegee from the 40s,

and a photocopy reproduction

of a Philip Guston painting

Smoking I.

 

This last I have had on my walls

for years—a photocopy actually

of the picture torn from a page

of newspaper so it consists

of the rectangular image, the titling

underneath and a triangular fragment

of newspaper type still further below.

I like it as black and white graphic

more than as colored painting, I think.

I can kick on with it all night

to any accompaniment—Velvet Underground,

jazz, anything.  It is 'about'

staying up late.  Though for Guston—

I know this—it is

also about insomnia, its

worries and bad conscience and hopelessness.

This is the reason it reminds me

of John.  As the poem/s say or said

—we had John resting down the back

exactly like that, a waking, un-

blinking head contemplating                           

the warnings he had received

about his health.  Plainly

I didn't know what was going on.

Maybe he did.  (Maybe not.)

He was frightened, surely,

to a degree.

                          Anyway,

the poem considers the images:

the young girls, shown together

watching a movie, a crowded

afternoon matinee session with

other kids—all now, probably, aged

or dead; Muddy (in

the pic John had liked and

wrote about a few years before

when he'd stayed another time and seen it on my wall)

dead too; Philip Guston, dead.

And maybe I was listening to Joe Turner

(dead—do I say that, in the poem?)

or was it just the repetitions

reminded me of him (‘On My Way

To Denver’—It's too late—

too late, too late, too late:

Too late, too late too late, too late.

Says the woman, whose speech Joe reports in the song:

she's on my way to Denver—tomorrow

It will be too late.

She is dying of TB.

 

Anyway, for an overdetermined number of

reasons, given my aurally spurred

memory, I mention Joe Turner.

The poem says John's dead

and I'm alive, and doesn't know

what to say or 'know' further.

Some elements—my doing a drawing,

friend Micky Allan, just things

'on my desk' (pencils, jars, the

curtain closing out the window I face)—

are allowed in, partly because

the curve of the poem is so powerful

it will bend anything to its purpose,

the concentration on its theme.

 

Technically—though as O'Hara says,

"you just go on your nerve",                                                                               80

(that caveat)—I guess the poems

do the 'I do this / I do that'

thing, but also allow themselves

or the third poem does

the freedom of the collage style

(not collage, but similar randomness).

And I think they shift gears

often enough in terms of

different registers of  …  cultural reference,

tones and dictions.  Not that,

in this circumstance, this was planned.

Training, you see.  Habit.

 

Is this the place to say:

John was not—in terms

of style or technique—

an influence for me:

too different temperamentally,

too big in the front brain department,

more interested in compression

than I am.

But he represented a position

I spoke to occasionally,

addressed explicitly, or

undisclosedly on occasion,
and he represented a finger-wagging

critical presence—in my imagination—

though amusing, a kind of

comic 'ravishing super-ego'.

 

Also influences, in

variations of the same way,

were Pam Brown and Laurie Duggan.                                                              81

—Less comically different

from me, but different enough.

 

John's early death

has made him more central

to my poems recently.  I don't know

whether permanently or as

a blip.                                                       A spike?  John was

                                                                a friendly acquaintance.

                                                                Laurie & Pam are friends.

                                                                Their styles are—if not

                                                                “more within my reach”, then

                                                                tempting because temperamentally

                                                                compatible or ‘near’ to me.

                                                                Levels of irony (kinds even)

                                                                & pointed, drier intelligence(s)

                                                                separate us: but they are

                                                                influences—it’s a gulf I try to

                                                                bridge or cross often enough.

                                                                Be like Pam!

                                                                Be like Laurie!

 

 

The Italian poems—’Traffic Noises’

was one in anticipation,

and we've dealt with it (on other grounds—

not as anticipation, but

because it was in a somehow

'fixed' form, a

stanza pattern)—what to say of them?

 

There were three basically: ‘Rumori’,

‘Long Distance Information’,

and ‘Tiepolo’.  ‘Tiepolo’ is

very much, and inevitably, in the shadow

of John Forbes's ‘On Tiepolo's

Banquet of Antony & Cleopatra’—

which is a better poem—

though about a painting I

don't much like.  I've liked

Tiepolo forever—bought prints

of his drawings from Rowe Street

Art Shop when I was

first a student (finding out

years later that it had once been

importantly a connection with Europe

for Sydney artists.  By the time

I happened upon it it was genteel

and faded).  I've always preferred

Tiepolo's brushier, less formal compositions.

I describe one I saw in Venice,

beginning with a potted history—

 

In the 14, 15th &

16th centuries it was

all happening in Italy

artistically  though by the 17th

other countries had joined in.

By the 18th

Italy was definitely off the pace.

Still, I happen to think Tiepolo

was a major artist

 

and an account of Tiepolo's isolation

within the Fine Arts course

at Sydney Uni—too important                                                   (that is,

not to be included, not central enough                                       Tiepolo wouldn’t feature

to fool the students.  Forbes's influence                                    in the exam)

I think is in the comparison of

the begging saint-figure

with a lonely guy at a disco—                                                                                                              

a comparison John might have made

and would have liked, might even

have identified with.

The poem is something of a 'set piece'

—like the Manet poem—and

for that reason I dislike it.                           

Maybe poems about pictures

are not my thing—or not

where 'Art History' has

already entered its verdict.

                                    ‘Rumori’

is a long poem about daily life in Rome                                                

and my preoccupations there

with 'Australian artistic identity':

Australians' looking to the Larger World

—though there are only powerful centres

that seem to constitute it—this larger world:

London, Rome.  (New York.)  The loss of nerve

and failure of certain Australian art and careers

—Slessor, Crowley—and the pathos                  

that attaches—were difficult in the poem

to verbalize, or prove.  It felt true                                                          

—felt true more than it seemed it—

and seemed and felt hysterical, projection.

This reduces the poem, I think,

to reiteration and shrinking from

conclusion.  Rome's own independence

from these pressures (at least

as a context or working space) is made

absolve the feeling. 

                                    But not logically.                                                

It might as easily be seen

that Rome (cf the Tiepolo poem's

potted history) was no longer competitive.          

Like Sydney—or Slessor's Sydney.

 

Well, there are good things in

It—but propositionally the poem

is weak and uncertain.

 

                                    Written

at the same time is a 'letter poem'

to a friend in Adelaide, ‘Long

Distance Information’.  The phrase

is from Chuck Berry and

‘Long Distance Call’, the Muddy Waters song,

might be hipper as a title (as

a reference, surely) but there

you go: it does purport

to give information—to a friend

back home.  Some of it

is fanciful and some of it is true                                                            

and most of it is humorous.  Good

fun, but no more—in terms

of author satisfaction.

                                        No fun

writing poems is it?  I enjoyed it

at the time and I don't hate the poem.

But it was not the big pay-off                          

and never was going to be.

                                             Similarly

‘Amaze Your Friends’, ‘Hindley Street

with Michael Grimm’ and

‘My Considered Opinion’—all

likeable.  ‘Opinion’ deals notably

—though was that its point?—

with Asian students; ‘Amaze’

with sitting up at night, with rock clips, our

daughter Anna (have I mentioned this?)—

and ‘Michael Grimm’ is another

portrait of Hindley Street

from The Flash—all in stepped,

scattered lines.  I have

talked about this.

 

Some poems that link with ‘Rumori’—

its themes of art-making and identity—

are ‘Horizon’, ‘American Friends’

and ‘Catching Up With Kurt Brereton’.  The last

fits in perhaps because it was

of that time—and it celebrates

a Sydney aesthetic—mostly pretending

my friends and I are having a reunion

aged 50—but 50 years ago,

in the Sydney of then.

‘American Friends’ wonders where                                                      

my writer friends are.  (I'm on

holiday as I write it myself.)                        
The poem expresses ambivalence                   

as to the effect of O'Hara et al

on those so far away.  (The movie,

from a Ripley novel, is about                                    

inadvertent betrayal

of a German by an American.)                                 film title: The American Friend

 

But “those so far away”?

Is this a ‘class action’ I’m proposing—

though I seem, conspicuously, the only victim?

 

US Imperials

New York blend—

it said on the pack

so I knew what I was doing.

 

‘Horizon’ summarizes as similar—

but is higher toned and more                                         

poetically obscure: it too begins with

quotes from O'Hara—

chosen almost at random

but to fit my situation

of looking out a country window.

I do this and think of                               

what my friends are doing—

it is Xmas time—                                                                                   

and wonder at the country / city divide,

the Australian landscape tradition,

Australia—which, I would like, or

had wanted, to think of

as modern—in this post-modern

'age' is 'post-colonial', is it (?):

how diminishing that is.
The poem

considers Meaghan Morris's contrast                       (Morris, ‘On The Beach’, Too

of Les Murray's                                                                          Late Too Soon)

"ordinary man with an icecream"

(Les's, or Donald Horne's?)                                                                   82

and John Forbes'                     

different take on things.  I think

the poem addresses John again

near the end.  The poem concludes                                                     

but is not conclusive.

                                    It's good,

I think—and was different for me

in its manner—of looking for a

new piece of text to push off from

whenever it stalled.  I chose

fragments from the less well-thumbed

O'Hara poems—not always signalling this

with quote marks—and kicking off

from them.  Choosing O'Hara,

while contemplating the Australian countryside,

was a deliberate or perverse ploy, a

self-incrimination, since the poem

is about cultural imperialism

to some extent.

 

            The poem affixes my

            usual declarative style

            to a structure jointed at

            or powered from (in part)

            images, passages …  that are

            less 'transparent' than that style—

            but are poetically weighted or resonant.

            These are the O'Hara lines—

            quoted before the poem and, italicized,

            at its beginning—

            and again some pages further in, more—

            (italicized: "not to be / inimitably

            weak & picturesque myself /

            but standing forth a subject

            not a spectacle");

                                    later, un-marked:

            "as the brave must always ascend,

            always the musts" and

            "which strolls now & then

            into a field / & sits down like

            a forgotten rock". 

            The next O'Hara quote is signalled

            (by quote marks)

            and is from memory and

            meant to be recognized: "I live

            above a / dyke bar & I'm happy". 

            "I might too, for all I know.  / 

            Am I?" the poem asks.

 

 

                                    I have

a more detailed and critical

view of O'Hara than I did

in the 70s.  I didn't read him

a lot in the 80s—and use him now

partly as emblematic—not just

out of enthusiasm.  ("Emblematic":

'my' America—or

an early, important

enthusiasm.)  I still                                                                                             83

like his work immensely,

but see it more clearly.  (Does this

sound like 'knowledge'?  Then

I mean "clear-eyed".)  (And it may be

that I see it

no more accurately.) 

                                    Not that

I think the story of my poetry

is of a relation to O'Hara's poetry

—is it?!  Is Dick Watkins

about Picasso? Or Tuckson

about Pollock?  Should they

not be? Anyway, if it were so

that it could be seen that way

it would be news to me.

A possibility of course.   

 

Or is it not news:

exactly what I expect?

 

The smart thing for this book

would be a blurb that directs attention

this way—since it will be inevitable—

and seeks to control it.  Something along the lines of

"re-examines the place of O'Hara and others

in an Australian poetic."

 

                               If it does, still, that

                     is not my point at all.

                     Thinking is, then?

                               or poetry

                               (form, art,

                                        the aesthetic)?

 

Poet considers a shirt he used to wear—

why did he do it? how could he? would

he do it again?  Should this shirt be destroyed

forever—is it a museum piece, tragic

—or empowering—handy for someone else?  Is this, in fact,

the same shirt?

                          The Op Shop of the poetic heart:

                 What a lovely shirt.  Somebody should wear it!

                 Not me. 

                 No, you've got too many like that already.

                 Really? 

                 It's very like what you're wearing.

 

 

 

 


Notes

 

1        The phrase means—or I took it to mean—a poem that documents the real time of its writing.  Typically such poems refer to passing time, the place of the writing/thinking situation and its self-reflexivity.  These poems tend to run to some length.

 

2        The correct title ends ‘Based On Suffering’.  (Ken Bolton,  ‘A Terrible Attitude, Based On Suffering’.  Selected Poems, 1975 - 1990.  Ringwood: Penguin, 1992.  172).

 

3        Adolf Loos (1870 - 1933) was a Viennese architect at the turn of the century, representing a purist form of early modernism developing out of and ‘against’ Art Nouveau and anticipating De Stijl.

 

4        Reyner Banham is an architectural critic who championed the ‘functionalist’ 1950s/60s English architects who often followed loosely Bauhaus principles but tended to foreground the functional: exposed pipes and ducting and the perfunctorily (sometimes perversely) awkward staircase etc.  See his New Brutalism.  London: Architect Press, 1966.

 

5        Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe (1886 - 1969) and Hans Gropius (1883 - 1969) were German Bauhaus architects, later working in the US.  Mies said ‘less is more’ and Gropius said ‘form follows function’—among many other dicta.

 

6        Charles Olson proposed most clearly in his essays on Projective verse a kind of kinetic/organic theory relating the poem’s form to interconnected impulses of thought, breath and emotion.  See Olson, ‘Projective Verse’. Human Universe and Other Essays. NY: Grove Press, 1967.  51.

 

7        Donald Davie. The Purity of Diction in English Verse. London: Chatto & Windus, 1952.  Enjoyably prissy and severe.

 

59     Lucy Lippard.  ‘The Cult Of The Direct and The Difficult’.  Changing and Other Essays. NY: E.P. Dutton, 1971.  64 - 75.

 

60    “Tired, you bet.  But all that I’ll soon forget / with my man”. Billie Holiday. ‘My Man’.  Rec. 1956.  The Essential Billie Holiday: Carnegie Hall Concert Recorded Live. Verve/HMV, 1961.

 

61     Johnny Mercer was a popular song-writer in the 1930s and 40s.

 

62      Bobby ‘The Brain’ Heenan was a wrestling manager on American TV wrestling in the 1980s.

 

63      T.W. Adorno.  Minima Moralia.  Trans. E.F.N. Jephcott. 1951.  London: Verso, 1978.

 

64      McKenzie Wark's remark was more an objection and joke about the phrase 'cultural roots (“we don't have roots we have aerials”) made at a conference or arts festival, but undoubtedly in print somewhere.

 

65      Justin Clemens. ‘A Report to an Academy’.  UTS Review 4.1 (1998): 107 - 122. The article contains Clemens's variation on Walter Pater's phrase about "all art" and "music".

 

66      Harold Bloom.  The Anxiety of Influence.  New York: Oxford UP, 1973.

 

67      See also Ken Bolton. Two Poems: A Drawing of the Sky.  Adelaide: Experimental Art Foundation, 1990.  The main influence that I am aware of behind this book-length process poem and its debriefing coda is James Schuyler’s ‘The Morning of the Poem’.

 

68      Tony Towle.  ‘Autobiography’ and Other Poems.  NY: Sun/Coach House South, 1977.

 

71             John Ashbery.  ‘Faust’.  The Tennis Court Oath.  Hanover, CT: Wesleyan UP, 1962.  47.

 

72             Oulipo, short for Ouvroir de littérature potentielle.  To become a member one has to invent a new form with strict rules.  Some simple ones are Perec’s novel without the letter ‘e’, La Disparation, Harry Mathews’ stories written using only the vocabulary of a particular, simple text.  ‘Restrictive form’ is held to be liberating and productive, hence the Ou Li Po’s liking for the sestina and forms like it.  See Ou Li Po Compendium.  Eds. Harry Mathews and Alastair Brotchie.  London: Atlas Press, 1998.

 

73             Mouchette. Dir. Robert Bresson.  With Nadine Nortier.  Argos/Parc Film, 1966.

 

74             Being John Malkovich is a movie with an amusing logic that allows people to 'be' John Malkovich for a short time by climbing through a hole. Dir. Spike Jonze.  Gramercy/Single Cell, 1999.

 

75             These are allusions to remarks mildly critical of the waitress which appear in ‘Traffic Noises’ and ‘Hindley Street with a prospect of Michael Grimm’.  Ken Bolton.  At The Flash & At The Baci.  Adelaide: Wakefield Press, 2006.

 

76             John Forbes. ‘Thin Ice’.  Collected Poems.  Sydney: Brandl & Schlesinger, 2001.  145.  Thin Ice was the title poem of a pamphlet Forbes printed privately in the late 1980s.

 

77             Ted Berrigan. ‘Ann Arbor Elegy’, ‘Peace’.  So Going Around Cities, New and Selected Poems, 1958 - 79. Berkeley, CA: Blue Wind, 1980.  219, 223.

 

78             F.T. Prince.  ‘Memoirs in Oxford’.  Collected Poems.  New York: Sheeps Meadow, 1979.  121.

 

79             Correct title of the photograph is ‘Muddy Waters relaxing between gigs’ by Val Wilmer.  My copy is from an unsourced newspaper.  See John Forbes.  ‘Muddy Waters Relaxing Between Gigs’. Collected Poems.  188.  The photo is reproduced in Otis Rush 12/13, 1996.  96.

 

80             Frank O’Hara.  ‘Personism’.  Collected Poems. New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1971.  498 - 499.

 

81             Pam Brown, Laurie Duggan, and John Forbes are the main local influences in my writing career: they are philosophical or aesthetic or political ‘stiffeners’ (as I have allowed them to be) as much as, or more than, they have been directly poetic influences.

 

      John Jenkins and I have collaborated on a great deal of work since the mid 1980s.  I do not think we have been much influence on each other's solo work: our ideas and interests are antithetical. The poems we write together come mostly out of our amusement at this: many of them are dialogic.  Most of them neither of us would work up the volition to write alone. 

 

      Laurie Duggan's poetry I find extraordinarily impressive.  Under The Weather, which has in parts lost some of its charm for me, I was very impressed with at the time of its writing, for its form and its ellipses, its overall musicality, and for being a poem of that kind: where else was there one?  (There were many, probably, stemming from Bunting, Pound and maybe Olson, in the US and the UK.  I didn't see many though, and liked fewer.)  I read Under The Weather as it was being written.  Laurie's next books were very good (The Great Divide—with poems in it like ‘The New England Ode’—and Adventures In Paradise which I published).

 

      Blue Notes was a miscellany, with very good things in it.  The Ash Range was so much less personable and was different.  It was not what I wanted to write though impressive and ambitious.  I published Laurie's Memorials—which I like immensely.  If some of my more scattered, staggered, processual (!) poems approach this I would be very happy.  Laurie's work pointed me to Philip Whalen's—if I needed another source and originating personality and temperament for writing like this. 

 

      Laurie and Pam are both readers whom I imagine writing my work for.  So their respective writings temper my work.  Not that they are severe as people, but that what they see as bullshit counts.

 

      I wrote numerous letters to the addresses given in Pam Brown's early books.  To no avail for years—she had ‘always already’ moved on.  Her work interested me from the mid 1970s onwards, at first intermittently.  It was very different from my own.  Since meeting in the late 70s our work has grown closer—what a phrase—and apart again, in various ways (formally).  But we share a great many attitudes.  I think her influences are less narrow than mine, but we want our poetry to do many of the same things.  My work sometimes takes off from lines of hers, often takes off from the imagined attitude 'Pam Brown' would evince. 

 

      John Tranter has been for me impressive without his work having any siren pull.  I was fascinated by early versions of ‘Rimbaud and the Pursuit of the Modernist Heresy’, I remember, in the mid 1970s.  I read him mostly in magazines then.  His early books, Parallax and Red Movie, already seemed old compared to his current work.

 

      I suppose I should acknowledge that my influences are mostly male.  But then they are also fairly few—amongst contemporary Australians they are three, of whom one, of course, is a woman.  I lived with writers, Anna Couani and later Sal Brereton.  Both are prose writers and I think for that reason less influential.

 

      The US anthologies and movements we encountered as young writers were pretty exclusively male:  One woman (Bernadette Mayer) in the NY School anthology, two or three in Donald Allen's effort (Helen Adam, Denise Levertov, Barbara Guest).  Guest seems alternately inert and diaphanous-and-wafty to me.  Her critical rehabilitation is being organized but I am not a subscriber.  Bernadette Mayer I've read a fair bit of and liked.  Anne Waldman; I liked only her first book, Giant Night.  Adrienne Rich's later, 1980s work I read in the mid and late 80s and liked, but aside from its seriousness, its 'techniques' were those I already used.  (I had read her Diving Into The Wreck in the 70s.)

 

      I now read Eileen Myles and some Alice Notley, also Susan Schultz.  The Howes, Hejinian, I read a little of.  I find the former solemn.  Lyn Hejinian I'll read with interest.

 

      So, I liked only a small percentage of what was available.  Should I explain why I ignored so many male writers?  Influence is a matter of enthusiasms and compatibilities—and timing and availability.  Within the narrowness of my tastes I don't think I was culpably blind to others' talents, male or female.  Still, I doubt that my social attitudes were way ahead of their time either.

 

82             Meaghan Morris.  ‘On The Beach’.  Too Soon Too Late.  Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1998.

 

83             The recurrence of O'Hara references in my poetry of the 1990s is maybe overdetermined: my work has been to some extent in intermittent dialogue with that of (or with the figure of) John Forbes, for whom O'Hara was important.  John's death in early 1998 brought him still more to the fore of my thinking—and possibly more present than might have been the case as I began to edit Homage to John Forbes, a book of appreciation, memoir and criticism—published by Brandl & Schlesinger in 2002.

 

 

 


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Last updated 10 October, 2007