Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Ear in a Wheatfield

Kris Hemensley moved to Australia in the mid-1960s though he has spent extended periods back in the UK over the years. On one of these sojourns he started a magazine called Earthship. Back in Melbourne its second series became Ear in a Wheatfield. This ran for some twenty issues through the mid-1970s before transforming into a further series concerned largely with poetics. In the late 60s Kris had become involved with a loose group of poets in Melbourne centred on the inner suburb of Carlton, the location of La Mama theatre where many readings were held. The poets included Charles Buckmaster, Ian Robertson Geoff Egglestone and Bill Beard among others. At that time I was studying at Monash University out in the south-eastern suburbs. Our own scene and theirs were mutually mistrustful. We were ‘too academic’ for them; they were too ‘anything goes’ for us. Of course both of these assumed positions were not really the case: Kris and the others were enthusiastic readers of Olson and other theorists while our own readings owed much to visual culture and dada performance. All of us were interested in modern European work in translation. By 1974 I had made contact with Kris and Robert Kenny (who published my first book) and my work duly appeared in a couple of issues of The Ear. Kris encouraged my efforts with a poem called 'Melbourne Notebook', a very early take on the kind of journal poem I would later write. This didn’t appear in The Ear (my decision, not his) but early drafts of the subsequent Under the Weather did. The magazine itself was a classic example of 60s/70s DIY: low-tech in the years before the computer. It was of foolscap dimension and stapled at the side. Some covers had individually pasted on images (such as #17 above). This was a way of doing magazines without committees, the low budget ensuring editorial control. The results varied hugely in visual sophistication from Ken Bolton’s art-savvy Magic Sam through to Paul Buck’s often ratty Curtains and Rae Jones' deliberately shambolic Your Friendly Fascist. The importance of The Ear from my perspective was that it alerted me to the kinds of innovative writing taking place in Britain. I had been aware enough of the Americans. Their books were relatively easy to come by (thanks to import stores like the Whole Earth bookshop, not then entirely given over to ‘alternative lifestyles’) but the small presses in the UK were often fugitive and certainly less given to display. I found out about writers like John Riley (the Mandelstam translations among other things) and many other London and Cambridge writers in particular. Kris was subsequently involved in starting up a bookshop where it became possible to obtain some of these titles. The more visible work of Fulcrum authors like Lee Harwood and Roy Fisher had been (miraculously) available at a general bookshop or two but until Collected Works began it was difficult to obtain Andrew Crozier, Peter Riley, Wendy Mulford and others. The bookshop, now run entirely by Kris and Retta Hemensley is still up and running. Long may it survive.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

pop tones

1. 1990s – My Bloody Valentine, ‘Come in alone’, from Loveless (1991). Bilinda Butcher’s voice is almost buried by the wall of sound on this track, but it’s still, in the paradoxical nature of this kind of music, the centre of attention. What I particularly like about this song I don’t know how to describe except by saying that the lines are very long. Each time there’s a rise or fall of tone you expect the line is about to end but instead you are in a further part of the sentence. It’s a bit like expecting Ernest Hemingway and getting Henry James.

2. 1980s – Laughing Clowns, ‘Eternally Yours’, originally 12” single (1984), collected on Cruel, But Fair: the complete Clowns recordings (2005). I’m partial to the drone. I like walls of sound out of which strands can appear and disappear. This piece has to be one of the Clowns’ greatest moments. Ed Kuepper’s voice with its characteristically wavering pitch is right on the money. What makes the track a special one though is Louise Elliott’s sax. The band was originally going to use an organ. It surely wouldn’t have been as good.

3. 1970s – Chris Spedding, ‘Hurt by love’, originally on Hurt LP (1977), collected on The very best of Chris Spedding (2005). This track is the maverick of the bunch. It’s probably more ‘mainstream’ as far as rock goes, but it’s one of those pieces that simply knock you over with their pure drive. Spedding, as the photograph indicates, doesn’t take all of this too seriously. As a guitarist who hates guitar solos he is mainly interested in moving things along. The backup are no slouches either: the great Clem Cattini on drums, Herbie Flowers on the most propulsive bass you’ll have heard for a while, and a certain Ms Chrissie Hynde on backing vocals. Nice!

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

shelf space

Alan Baker's blog Litterbug noted one of the problems faced by poets in PODworld: that the ideal MS for this kind of printing turns out to be somewhat larger than the ones the old-style publishing houses required. He notes a couple of ways around this problem. You can simply wait longer till the requisite manuscript is assembled. Or you can bring out very small books and pamphlets with presses who are not vying for the wider market, later collecting their contents in a larger volume. Last Wednesday at the Lamb, John Welch read from a new 24 page volume from Oystercatcher Press, Untold Wealth. At the same reading, Simon Smith read from various volumes including his two most recent from Salt, Reverdy Road and Mercury. Both of these books (230 and 160 pp respectively) feel like they contain a sequence of smaller books and there's certainly no sense here of padding to make up a marketable object. I'd assume from the acknowledgements pages in these books that Smith has produced them through patient accumulation. In both authors' cases the results were timely and consequential. Last weekend, up in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney, Pam Brown's new volume, True Thoughts (also Salt), was launched. Her practice is to assemble a full-size book from various smaller, road-tested productions. I'll be as glad to own this new assemblage as I have been to receive the instalments.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Friday, 19 September 2008

Friday, 12 September 2008

Blue Hills

When I started to write the things I did were all more or less ‘lyric’ poems. It wasn’t long though before the zeitgeist or whatever found me writing longer pieces as well as writing in series. ‘Under the Weather’, a long poem written in the mid 1970s, more or less got me into a kind of writing that I’ve continued to do. It was published as a book in 1978 to almost uniformly hostile reviews (one critic who changed her mind about my later work called it ‘an easy, tiny read’). I reacted to this reception by turning to satire but though this occupied my attentions for a while it wasn’t what I really wanted to be doing. Starting late in 1980 I began writing some poems varying in length from a few lines to three pages that shared a common impulse even if they were distinct pieces. I entitled this series ‘Blue Hills’ as a kind of joke. ‘Blue Hills’ was a famous Australian radio serial about rural life (not dissimilar to Britain’s ‘The Archers’) broadcast nationally from 1949 until 1976. My ‘Blue Hills’ was indeed a ‘serial’ poem. Sections of it thread through most of my books since The Great Divide (1985) with the last section (#75) completed in 2006, not long before I left for England. I’d always liked the way that Robert Duncan had run series like ‘Structure of rime’ through his own books as a particular concern or set of concerns that would resurface from time to time and this initially influenced the way the poems were presented. ‘Blue Hills’ is too intermittent to be considered as a long poem. Its parameters are too wide. All that can be said is that it ‘happens’ in Australia (even if some of the things that happen involve looking at art and listening to music made elsewhere). The cover reproduced above is of my sole ‘homemade’ book, a portion of this series called The Home Paddock (1991). I’d arrived at the design by progressively magnifying portions of survey maps until the inky shapes lost much of their definition. The good news is that in a few months time The Complete Blue Hills is to appear with the press Puncher & Wattman in Sydney. In the meantime the curious can check out a selection of the poems that Jacket published a few issues back.

Monday, 8 September 2008

a late postcard

Pam Brown has just posted the cover of her first book, Sureblock, on her blog. My first book came out four years later, in 1976, with Robert Kenny's press Rigmarole of the Hours. The year before Rigmarole did a series of 'Antipodean Summer Postcards'. Here is mine:

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

scribble scribble scribble

A late visit to the National Gallery exhibition, Radical Light: Italy’s divisionist painters 1891-1910. This (quite small) show repositions the Futurists in a continuum including an odd mix of symbolists, social realists and sub-Seurat post impressionists. There is a credible argument made here in this gathering of works it might be difficult to see outside of Italy. Umberto Boccioni’s trajectory becomes clearer within the few works of his on display and it’s amusing to note that for all Marinetti’s talk about machines the prime foci of energy in Boccioni’s The City Rises (1910) are the horses. Though the placards themselves talk of ‘divisionism’ as an Italian thing, it is clear enough that the source was Seurat’s pointillism. The Italians, as the introductory film notes, did tend to make longer, finer brushstrokes more like filaments and these in turn added an incandescence to their images of energy.

At Tate Modern the Cy Twombly show, also closing soon, was a revelation. It is the first major retrospective of his work for twenty years or so. Twelve rooms take the work from Black Mountain College in the early fifties into the new century, each room focussing on a major sequence or a group of works sharing concerns. Prominent among these are Poems to the Sea, a suite of twenty-four small works (1959), the Ferragosto series (1961), the Bolsena paintings with their sums and calculations (1969), the two large versions of Treatise on the Veil (1968/1970), the paintings for the wife of Twombly’s Roman gallery director, ‘Nini’, who had died suddenly (1971), the Hero and Leandro works (1981-4), the ‘green paintings’ (1988), two versions of Le Quattro Stagioni (1993/1993-5), and the Bacchus paintings (2005). Together with the three dimensional works, mainly of assembled white painted wood, and numerous single paintings and preparatory pieces, this exhibition covers a great deal of ground and a wealth of emotions, moods and concerns. The scratchy works of the early fifties (occasioning Ken Bolton’s appropriated line ‘scribble scribble scribble, eh Mr Twombly’) become something else in the ‘Nini’ paintings, almost unbearable yet necessary inscriptions. While some of Twombly’s work seems almost brutal, delicacy is never far away. Near the Ferragosto paintings with their graffiti-like elements of erect and flaccid penises and red testicles a work like the School of Athens (also 1961) evokes with its curved lines and touches of pink and china blue the art of Tiepolo (returned to with the ‘green paintings’ some twenty-five years later). The broad red loops of the very recent Bacchus paintings reminded my partner of the Australian artist Emily Kngwarreye’s last work. There is a sense in the later work of both of these painters so unlike each other in most respects and working from vastly different situations of the need to pare things down to the essential, of the shortage of time with so much left to do.

Monday, 1 September 2008