John Tranter — Senior Fellowship, 1984
Report to the
of the Australia Council
Items in [square brackets] are
later interpolations, from 2017.
Items in [[double square brackets]] are
from my diaries of that time, via the
‘Aeon Timeline’ Mac OS X program. J.T.
Paragraph One follows — 1:
[Once upon a time
the Literature Board of the Australia Council
was staffed with eager and professional
people keen to do good.
Read this and weep for what might have been.
This report was handed to that Board in 1985.]
During 1984 I wrote poems, travelled to the United States of America, England and Europe, worked for a short time part-time as an editor and as a teacher, moved house, and generally involved myself in the literary life of Sydney. After 1983, which was a low point for me in many ways, 1984 was a good year, made better by the free time and relative peace of mind that my Fellowship allowed. My trip overseas (which I paid for myself) bore fruit: I have been asked to read this April  at eight venues in the United States, and have made many helpful contacts. My stay in Venice (accommodation courtesy of the Literature Board and Professor Hickey) coincided with the revival of my active interest in writing poetry, and I have been working well ever since.
A report of my overseas tour is attached at the end of this document. In more detail:
Poems: I enclose copies of the successful poems written during 1984. Drafts of less successful and failed poems have been consigned to the wastebasket.
Report: In late April I forwarded copies of an informal report of my overseas trip to the Board. I enclose another copy of that document with this report: it outlines in detail the contacts I made and includes general notes and observations.
Article for Swedish Magazine: I contributed a short introduction to the special Australian poetry issue of the Swedish magazine Tarningskastet, guest-edited by Heidi von Born.
Work at Channel 0/28: During a staff shortage I worked for three months part-time at Channel 0/28 as a casual sub-editor (see the poem ‘Channel Nothing’, included in the list of attached poems.)
Prize-Winning Poem: My poem ‘Lufthansa’ (also attached), which was largely composed on a Lufthansa flight between Venice and Munich in March, won the Australian newspaper’s twentieth birthday celebration poetry prize, and was widely noticed. The local office of Lufthansa bought me lunch on the strength of it.[Alas: lunch, and nothing more. ‘Didn’t you even get a First Class shaving kit, or something?’ my wife Lyn asked.] [Attached, a photo taken from the plane from Venice to Munich showing the showdrifts on the ground; ‘the snow-drifts on the north side / of the woods and model villages’ is a phrase in the poem.]
Interviews: An interview I did in February with David Shapiro, co-editor of An Anthology of New York Poets, was published in Meanjin No. 4 for 1984. An interview with Hans Magnus Enzensberger, German poet and political essayist, has been accepted for publication in 1985 by Scripsi magazine.
Social Contact: During 1984 I met and discussed literary topics with John A.Scott, Tom Shapcott, Mark O’Connor (the real Mark O’Connor), John Forbes, Laurie Duggan, Martin Harrison, Stephen Murray-Smith, Pat Woolley, Carl Harrison-Ford, Martin Johnston, Sasha Soldatow, Adam Aitken, Jan and Kirsten Garrett, Robert Adamson, Bruce Beaver, Phillip Benham, Nicholas Pounder, Dorothy Hewett, Nigel Roberts, Kate Llewellyn, Beatte Josephi, Steve J.Spears, Craig Powell, David Brooks, Elizabeth Webbey, Barry Oakley, Geoffrey Dutton, Andrew McDonald, Drusilla Modjeska, Martin Duwell, Jean Bedford, and Pam Brown.
6 January 1984: Resign permanent full-time position as Editor, Educational Resources Branch, Department of TAFE.
17 January: Depart Sydney for Los Angeles (Report enclosed).
2 April: Arrive Sydney.
3 June to 8 June: visit various writers etc. in Canberra.
10 June: Attend launching of Poetry Australia Young Poets Issue edited by Phillip Benham.
15 July: Read poems on 2SER-FM.
15 July: Read poems at Woolley Building, Sydney University, as part of Sydney University Open Day.
29 July: Meet New Zealand poet Lauris Edmonds at a lunch organised by Nigel Roberts. See photos below.
3 August: Dinner with Lauris Edmond, Jan and Kirsten Garrett.
21 August: Attend Launching of Gig Ryan’s book Manners of an Astronaut.
24 August: Attend book launching: Craig Powell.
30 August: Interview at ABC studios for ABC-FM.
1 September to 5 September: attend SPACLALS Conference at Macquarie University.
1 September: Read my poems at Macquarie University Conference.
7 September: Attend poetry reading at the Performance Space, Redfern.
27 October: Attend book launching: Andrew McDonald, poems.
1 November: Read and discuss my poetry for two separate classes at Macquarie University.
13 November: Attend interview at ABC for their Education Dept.
24 November: Attend poetry reading at the Performance Space: Ken Taylor and Kris Hemensley.
27 November: Dinner at Geoffrey Lehmann’s to meet Scots poet Douglas Dunn.
7 December: Attend poetry reading at the Performance Space: Pam Brown, Sasha Soldatow, Amanda Stewart, Alan Jefferies, et alia.
John Tranter — List of Poems, 1984
The Winds *
The Creature From the Black Lagoon
High School Confidential
Cruising Height *
Fine Arts *
Letter to America (in 4 parts)
Red Cruise *
Two Short Poems, after Li Po *
Shadow Boxing *
Found Poem (“The stabiliser… “) *
The Subtitles (prose poem) *
( * An asterisk indicates publication)
Report on overseas tour follows.
Report: Overseas Tour January-April 1984
A stay in the writer’s studio in Venice was combined with a familiarisation trip through the US and to Europe and England (Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Munich, London, Oxford, Cambridge, and Venice.)
The total travel time was around eleven weeks, with a little over two weeks spent in Venice writing.
The trip was made at my own expense, except for the rent of the Venice flat which was kindly provided by the Literature Board.
1. An Australian Writing Directory is needed, particularly at universities and study centres overseas. It should contain as well as lists of writers’ names and addresses, an extensive bibliography and address list of magazines and book publishers, and writing organisations and sponsoring groups. The material would best be stored in typeset form on a flexible computer database to facilitate updating on a day-to-day and yearly basis. This is a project of general benefit to the writing community, and should be funded directly by the Board.
2. The Board should act positively to facilitate tax-exempt donations to a wide range of small and medium size writers’ groups and organisations and magazines. It should be made part of the duties of the Board’s Project Officers to seek out potential donors and connect them with needy groups, as members of most such groups often lack the time, money, confidence and administrative skill to do so themselves. Tax laws should be changed.
3. American poets of a standard comparable to the average Australian poet expect and get around US$200 per reading. Well-known writers get much more. Our fees ($25 if you’re lucky) are shamefully low. This is not a matter of budgets, or population size, but a matter of priorities.
4. There is a climate of interest in Australian culture in the United States of America now. It won’t last forever, and should be exploited for all it’s worth by writers, magazine editors, publishers, arts administrators and anyone concerned with the future of Australian writing.
Overseas Tour: Diary Outline
Tuesday 17 January. Depart Sydney, accompanied by my wife Lyn and our two children [Leon, aged nine, b. 1975, and Kirsten, aged twelve, b. 1972.].
Friday 20 January. Contact poet Denise Levertov, in San Francisco. Denise was in Australia some years ago [I met her at Bruce Beaver’s place], and is now teaching the winter semester at Stanford University near San Francisco.
Same Date. Contact Albert Gelpi, Coe Professor of American Literature, Stanford University; who visited Australia for a conference in Queensland in 1983. As he was busy and my time was short, we arranged to meet on my return through the west coast (see Friday 30 March).
Saturday 21 January. Meet Leonard Brill, a teacher of English and a friend of Arnie Goldman, of the NSW Institute of Technology [now UTS]. Mr Brill was reading the work of Australian poet Rosemary Dobson at the time. [See photo.]
Sunday 22 January. Visited Carmel, a coastal town with literary connections in the late 1940s and 1950s. Noted large number of interior decorators and real estate agents. No current literary value apparent.
Tuesday 24 January. To New York, then to Easton, Pennsylvania to stay with friends.
Tuesday 31 January. Attended Guggenheim Museum auditorium to hear a talk on Russian prose by Joseph Brodsky, a Russian poet living in exile in the United States. He was introduced by Susan Sontag. The talk was not particularly successful, as Mr Brodsky is apparently not entirely comfortable speaking in public in English, and he was also exercised by the success of two translators from Russian I had not heard of. [He spilled his glass of water over himself twice.] I made informal contact with the sponsoring organisation, the Academy of American Poets.
Wednesday 1 February. Lunch with Academy of American Poets executive director Henri Cole [whom I met later in 2009 at the Civitella Ranieri in Italy] and associate director Nancy Schoenberger. They were more or less new to the job, and had no previous contact with Australian poets, though they had a good knowledge of current Australian film. Discussion about funding, among other things. Visited their offices and library: a small organisation, but an impressively dedicated and professional one.
Same date, evening. Attended a poetry reading at the St Mark’s in the Bowery Poetry Project. Eileen Myles and an amusing Richard Bandanza (a.k.a. Richard Nassau) read. [Some were astonished that I had read ‘uptown’, for the Academy, and now visited ‘downtown’, i.e. St Mark’s in the Bowery [Which meant ‘Bouverie’ once, the Dutch word for Farm.] (Many) drinks afterwards at the nearby Ukrainian Bar. Contact with Bob Holman and Bernadette Mayer, current directors of the Wednesday night and Monday night readings respectively. Useful general discussion; arranged to interview Bob Holman later. About 100 people seems to be the average audience at this kind of reading (compared to say 40 to 50 in Sydney and Melbourne); the fees (for each of the usually two poets) are always around US$200 (compared to say A$25); there are around twenty readings of this type in New York each month (compared to say three in Sydney or Melbourne). The St. Mark’s budget of around US$150,000 per year allows $90,000 for readers’ fees. The rest goes to the wages of two part-time administrators and other expenses. Around half the total budget comes from private donors, and is tax exempt (Australia, please note!) The rest comes from a mix of local, state and federal funding agencies. The same seems to be true of the‘ Academy of American Poets’, and of ‘Poets and Writers Inc.’ (see Friday 17 February).
Thursday 2 February. Lunch with Professor Herbert Jaffa, author of the Gale standard American bibliographical text and reference book Modern Australian Poetry 1920-1970. He teaches at New York University (NYU, not to be confused with SUNY, the State University of New York, or CUNY, the City University of New York, nor with any of the two or three other universities in the New York area.) I gave him copies of the work of various Australian poets and contact addresses.
Monday 13 February. Interview with Bob Holman, from the St Mark’s in the Bowery Poetry Project. Mr Holman has compiled an oral history of the Project, and had many useful and informative things to say about how the Project has changed over the years, how it is funded, how it depends on a sense of community, and so forth. Tape for Martin Harrison at the ABC. [See http://poeticsresearch.com/article/larissa-shmailo-bob-holman-and-metre/ for his recent incarnation, in 2016.]
Tuesday 14 February.My wife Lyn and children left New York to return to Australia via Hawaii. As a result of her contacts in the United States, Lyn has organised a tour of the States by four Australian poets in November 1985, supported by the Literature Board and the Department of Foreign Affairs. [See http://poeticsresearch.com/article/1985-booklet-and-tour-of-usa/. The poets were Geoff Page, joanne burns (standing in for Dorothy Hewett, who had planned to go but who couldn’t make it), John A. Scott and Pi O (Peter Oustabasides).
Wednesday 15 February. Interview with David Shapiro, poet, art critic, editor (with Ron Padgett) of An Anthology of New York Poets (Random House, 1970) and teacher at Columbia University, New York. Mr Shapiro commended the poetry of Jeremy Prynne to me (see Thursday 1 March); they had known one another at Cambridge. [Mr Shapiro later taught at the Cooper Union, where he once invited me to address a class.]
Same date. Interview with expatriate Australian feminist poet Kate (Catherine) Jennings, who is on the editorial board of the little magazine The Little Magazine. [It seems she mainly wanted to know why I had not included her work in an anthology I had edited.]
Thursday 16 February. Interview Nancy Schoenberger of the ‘Academy of American Poets’. Their budget and functions resemble those of the St Mark’s Project, though the Academy is seen as ‘uptown’(classy, expensive, conservative) while St Mark’s is perceived as ‘downtown’(slummy, beatnik). Needless to say these are good-humoured and mainly imaginary divisions.[ho, ho.]
Friday 17 February. Interview with Brad Clompus, of ‘Poets & Writers Inc.’, which acts as a clearing-house and contact point between poets and writers, on the one hand, and sponsors and audiences on the other. They publish several Guides for writers, a list of sponsors of readings for the whole USA, a newsletter (Coda) and a 232-page Directory of American Poets and Fiction Writers; they need their recently-installed Wang computer with its 90-megabyte memory. Their budget is similar to that of the Academy or St Mark’s; they have a staff of say ten, and small offices in central Manhattan. Again, half their budget is from a mix of local, state and federal funding agencies, and half from private donors. Better tax-deductibility laws here would help us achieve similar things! A useful practical discussion; tape for the ABC. The ABC New York office was extremely helpful in getting tapes and book material back to Australia.
Same date: Visit ABC offices, whose staff were extremely helpful, then depart New York, to London via Munich.
Monday 20 February. Visit and stay with Peter Porter in London. Peter’s knowledge of the English literary scene is exhaustive, and his hospitality was invaluable. [I wrote to Jeremy Prynne in Cambridge in the morning of my stay at Peter Porter’s; Mr Prynne relied that evening by mail. Australians can only weep.]
Tuesday 21 February. Dinner with Drusilla Modjeska, lecturer at the NSW Institute of Technology [now UTS]. Discuss a poetry course which I designed for the Institute, due to start in 1985.
Monday 27 February 1984. Read at poetry reading organised by John Forbes at the Australian Studies Institute, Russell Square, London. Readers: John Forbes, John Tranter, Chris Wallace-Crabbe. Professor Bolton [of the Institute] informed me that the Institute had redecorated the two rooms they occupy in the Commonwealth Centre using a substantial part of a forty thousand pound gift from the Menzies Trust. [Jolly good.] The rooms certainly looked impressive. The audience for the reading was small, despite good leg-work by John Forbes; I felt that the Institute hadn’t quite plugged itself into the English non-academic scene at that stage. Dinner afterwards with Peter Porter and Gavin Ewart. The Institute is to be commended into letting themselves be talked into putting on a poetry reading at short notice; more such events, planned regularly and in advance, would help raise Australia’s woefully dim visibility in the country that invented the word ‘insular’.
NOTE: books of Australian poetry are almost impossible to obtain in London; what can the Board do to ‘exploit the growing international interest in Australia’and to ‘promote the development of Australian creative writing and its recognition and appreciation in Australia and overseas’? (To quote from the Board’s booklet ‘Programs of Assistance’.)
Thursday 1 March. Visit English poet Jeremy Prynne at Cambridge, where he teaches [At Gonville and Caius College, pronounced “gonville and keys”]; he entertained me with a generous expenditure of courtesy, time and enthusiasm. He had been trying to find certain Australian books; I directed him to Gleebooks, and I believe a useful contact developed.
Friday 2 March. Dinner with the Scottish poet Douglas Dunne, who planned to visit Australia in September 1984. (He did; we met again at Geoffrey Lehmann’s.)
Monday 5 March. Leave England for Germany.
Same date. Visit poet and essayist Hans Magnus Enzensberger, whom I first met at the Kallista conference [in Victoria, see photos] (part-funded by the Literature Board) in 1981. Enzensberger had recently resigned from the editorial board of the magazine Transatlantik, which he had founded with Gaston Salvatore some few years before.
Tuesday 6 March. Dinner with Ulrich Enzensberger, brother of Hans Magnus [whom he referred to as ‘Der Teufel’, German for ‘The Devil’.]. He was writing an article on the concept of ‘parasitism’as a legal and social category in contemporary West Germany and Russia. It is interesting to note here that the poet Joseph Brodsky (see Tuesday 31 January) was convicted of this ‘crime’before being exiled from Russia. Later attended ‘Fasching’, the local pre-Lenten carnival, and widely sampled the wines of the region.
Thursday 8 March. Interview Hans Magnus Enzensberger; his development as a writer, socialism, 1968, his stay in Cuba, the writing of the long poem ‘The Sinking of the Titanic’. Tape for ABC; later to be used in Scripsi [magazine]. Mr Enzensberger showed me a translation he had made into German of my long poem ‘The False Atlas’(from Dazed in the Ladies Lounge.) (Which has since appeared [as ‘Der Falsche Atlas’] in Akzente, a German literary magazine edited by Michael Krueger, who may visit Adelaide in 1986.) [He did visit Kallista in 1981, see photo.]
Friday 9 March. To Venice. Meet Professor Bernard Hickey (Venice University) and Maria Theresa Bindella, who teaches Commonwealth Literature at the University of Udine. Later to dinner at Dr Francesca Bisutti’s; meet various academics from Italy, France and the US.
Saturday 10 March. Attend a screening of ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’and a lecture (in Italian) by Professor Luigi Sampietro of the University of Milan.
Sunday 11 March. Meet with Prof. Hickey and Gaston Salvatore, the co-founder of Transatlantik magazine. Mr Salvatore is currently at work on a new play. He makes his living as a journalist, having gone to Germany from his native Chile in the early 1960s. [Professor Hickey astonished me by asking, en route to M Salvatore’s flat, whether he was a ‘gentleman’s gentleman’ As I know that M Salvatore was neither a butler or a valet (A valet or “gentleman’s gentleman” is a gentleman’s male servant; the closest female equivalent is a lady’s maid; Wikipedia) I hardly know how to answer; evidently he meant to enquire whether M Salvatore was a male homosexual, the simple answer to which was ‘probably not’.] [M Salvatore astonished me by his large comfortable armchairs in his comfortable flat by the Lido: they were four in number, seemingly made of fawn-coloured leather. One of them was of sandstone, I discovered, in which was burning a fire. Very clever: very Venetian!]
Monday 12 March. Meet with a student of Prof. Hickey’s, Ms Viviana Gaballo, who is writing a short thesis on my work. As she had only two of my seven books to work from, with minimal secondary material, I spent some time sketching in the background of my writing and the context of contemporary Australian poetry[, trying to play down the cynical humour which seemed not to please the Italian sensibility when assessing poetry.] I assisted as best I could her valiant efforts to translate a dozen or so of my poems into Italian. Further meetings on 19 March, 20 March and 22 March.
Same date, evening. Meeting with members of the ‘Circolo Inglese’, an informal group of mainly English visitors and residents in Venice. General discussion with Dr Felix Arnott, late Anglican Bishop of Brisbane.
Monday 19 March. Meet with Dr Daniella Ciani, who is studying among other things the work of Vicki Viidikas. Dr Ciani did post-graduate work at Berkeley, and is conversant with some currents in contemporary American poetry, particularly Ginsberg et alia.
Same date. Meet with Ms Geraldine Ludbrook, an Australian who teaches English language at Venice University, and who has been of great assistance to Prof. Hickey. (For instance, she obtained from Australia the videotape of ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’mentioned earlier.)
Wednesday 21 March. The New Zealand Ambassador addressed Professor Hickey’s class.
Saturday 24 March. Depart Venice for New York, via Munich. During my stay in Venice I was subjected to a homosexual advance by Professor Hickey which was successfully rebuffed. I also spent time with various of Prof. Hickey’s students; I haven’t detailed these essentially incidental meetings here. I also spent a great deal of effort kick-starting my own poetry writing, which had been on blocks for some time; I’m pleased with the results, and commend the studio to anyone wishing to work alone in Italy for a time. I believe there is vital need for another such studio in New York, where accommodation is impossibly expensive and where Australian writers stand a good chance of connecting usefully with the American scene, and in London, where the Australian literary presence has almost disappeared. [Note: both of these wishes remain unfulfilled at 2016. JT]
Monday 26 March. New York. Talk by Judith Thurman, whose biography of Isak Dinesen was such a hit last year, at the Donnell Library section of the City Library of New York, organised by the ‘Academy of American Poets’. Sharp, witty discussion. Met the gracious Mrs Hugh Bullock, a committed patron and long time President of the Academy. Mr Henri Cole, Executive Director, invited me to read at the Donnell under the auspices of the Academy in 1985; I agreed provided fares could be found; the Literature Board has kindly provided funds for that purpose, and ten other US venues have agreed to have me read during that tour. The Academy has a good name and carries weight. Dinner afterwards with Judith Thurman, Nancy Schoenberger, Henri Cole and others.
Monday 26 March, late evening. Telephoned Greg Gatenby, Toronto; he wanted me to read at the Harbourfront venue in a week’s time. I had to decline. By that stage I was too tired and too broke to stay another week and a half in New York. [Note: after staying in cheap New York hotels twice in two months, I estimate the minimum cost of a week’s stay at around $500.] [Note, 2016: ha ha.] We arranged to keep up contact. [Arranged to read at Toronto in 1985.]
Tuesday 27 March. Coffee with Brad Clompus, of ‘Poets & Writers Inc’. (see Friday 17 February.) He gave me reams of material relating to the wide-ranging program he help administer, and showed me his new computer, a large and daunting 90 Megabyte Wang.
Same date. Lunch with David Shapiro (see Wednesday 15 February.) Long discussion about current American poetry, from which emerged the point that to attract reputable American writer-academics (and most are both) as visiting writers-in-residence, Australian institutions must be prepared to pay a realistic fee, and offer shorter residencies (say 4 to 6 weeks) during the slack summer season from late May through to late August. A similar point had been made to me in a letter from James Grauerholz, on behalf of William Burroughs, who had been invited to Griffith University, and would perhaps have gone there had the terms been more realistic in an American context.
Wednesday 28 March. Attend reading at St Mark’s in the Bowery Poetry Project, mentioned earlier. Blizzard conditions at night would spell the ruin of a mid-week poetry reading, I thought. Not so. More than a hundred people turned up to hear Fay Chiang, John Godfrey and Fanny Howe read. The commitment and loyalty of New York poets, organisers and audiences are remarkable, and make their Sydney counterparts look lazy and selfish.
Friday 30 March. San Francisco. Dinner with Albert Gelpi, Professor of American Literature at Stanford University, and his wife Barbara. (See Friday 20 January.) Professor Gelpi is sympathetic to Australian writing, and is a friend of many San Francisco poets including Robert Duncan. He expressed a general wish to organise a reading of Australian poetry for Stanford staff and students. [I will read there in April 1985.] [Prof Gelpi showed me a book printed by San Francisco printer Brother Antoninous (poet William Everson, 1912-1994) which consisted of a wooden case shaped like an American mesa mountain, and a book printed with dark blue ink in sixteen-point Centaur metal type so heavily impressed into the damp paper that only one side of each sheet was able to be printed.]
Monday 2 April. Arrive at home in Sydney, tired but happy.
List of poems attached
The Winds *
The Creature From the Black Lagoon
High School Confidential
Cruising Height *
Fine Arts *
Letter to America (in 4 parts)
Red Cruise *
Two Short Poems, after Li Po *
Shadow Boxing *
Found Poem (“The stabiliser… “) *
The Subtitles (prose poem) *
( * An asterisk indicates publication)
The TV’s full of Norwegian banter
like a soundtrack going backwards and just
off-screen a drunk falls into the cake
but nobody moves:
that is, they move from the Nordic
state of doubt to the Arabic then
back again via Disneyland and if you
blink you miss it
like the quote you thought you saw:
‘I couldn’t help giving birth to a Negro!’
or the landscape painting titled
‘Bruce Buys a Truck’ —
you’re there at the edge of the frame
wearing a smile and waving. Things look
odd from the top of a truck — lurid, somehow,
blurred by speed
and badly out of focus like the alcoholic
sliding down the screen through the subtitle
that brands his forehead with the
odd marriage customs
of the Norsemen and their tawny guests.
Is that a lion? Or a Bantu ‘being’ a lion?
Come out, Simba! Bruce the White Hunter sleeps
under the table tonight.
First published in The Weekend Australian Magazine 16-17 February 1985, p.11
(from the Arabic)
At fifty, the Khamsin can ruin your day
and the foul Simoon poison
a week of revelry. When you were young,
your garments loose, with a curved sword
and a town girl in a swirl of perfume
hanging on each arm, you’d laugh at the wind.
Now, rising from the arms of the rosy-fingered
Goddess of the Egg, the Sirocco
reminds you that here under the dusty sun
in the tent of one you despise
you’re missing out on the Föhn.
Oh, that the Bora, Master of Migraine,
might sweep down from the north
and clear the air. The Mistral is the master here
on this bitter coast, and speaks of yachts
as fodder. But when the sky holds its breath
and a French eucalypt drowsing in the heat
decorates the surf with a fringe of scent
a young man, too long expatriate, dreams
of a Southerly Buster and a cold Australian beer.
First published in the Sydney Morning Herald, 2 February, 1985
The Creature From the Black Lagoon
Sunbathing on deck’s the done thing
but it makes the Brylcreem run
and stain the collar of your poplin
beach shirt. Palm trees drift by
as though your sins had turned vegetable
and semaphore. Sins of the laboratory, I mean,
not the confessional… yes, the engine room
looks suitable, and through the porthole
a wise old man waiting patiently
in the wavering water — that’s no priest!
Captain! But the Captain’s a gutless
foreigner, drinks gin, and never shaves.
You pity the girl in the bathing suit —
she may be a palaeontologist, but
sure as eggs she’s going to get
a terrible fright. And the ethnic extras,
they have to die on our journey
towards the knowledge that shimmers behind
the South American façade.
turns his scaly back: that creature,
rising like a new disease from the gene pool,
why should we pity him? Deracinated,
maybe, but what a guy! No, it’s wrong,
don’t kiss him! I can feel it,
soaking through the blood-brain barrier…
he’s never known the touch of a woman’s… whoops!
Here’s the nut with the speargun on a hunting
spree — Duck, Tabby! Duck and cover! Here comes
the bolt from the blue, to shut up sorrow,
to stop up the barrel of fun like a dead
And what colour’s the blood, Doctor? Red?
Can you explain that? And what of the offspring?
Before that war we lost, our obligations
were enamelled around the inside-out horizon
of a Boy Scout biscuit tin, and Dad
deciphered them by pointing with his pipe.
‘Boarding school ruined their manhood,’ he grunted.
‘Look at Suez, look at the King who stuttered!
We took the Costa del Dago from the grip of Foreigners,
now sit on it!’ I will, I am. ‘Write The rose gardens
full of bank managers, write The bodies
of collaborators piled high against the wall.’
Drop a German bomber from a wreath of secrets
in the boiling purple cloud, Father. Can do.
‘The boffins here are Sympathisers — faggots —
watch me quaff a beaker foaming with a yellow
poison gas I knocked up this morning! But
I’m wearing out a welcome,’ Dad said, peering
at the blue spark chasing itself around the rim
of the charge accumulator. ‘Killer voltage, what!’
I’m spelling out a halo, or a counterfeit thanks
tossed on the zinc to blink and catch the sun.
I scribble ‘Pissed on Spanish plonk!’
I inscribe ‘Cable lots of money, soonest,
dearest!’ and chuckle. Oh the flesh, so pallid,
of the clerks from Bognor Regis! The negro
sailors strolling languidly under the trees,
their kisses like the touch of burning metal!
‘A spin in the dented Bentley with the chap from MI5
and the war was practically over. Dead Jerries,’
Dad ventured, ‘Damn their sick and heady music!
Roses blooming all the summer long. Write!’ Will do.
Flying up a valley in the Alps where the rock
rushes past like a broken diorama
I’m struck by an acute feeling of precision —
the way the wing-tips flex, just a little
as the German crew adjust the tilt of the sky and
bank us all into a minor course correction
while the turbo-props gulp at the mist
with their old-fashioned thirsty thunder — or
you notice how the hostess, perfecting a smile
as she offers you a dozen drinks, enacts what is
almost a craft: Technical Drawing, for example,
a subject where desire and function, in the hands
of a Dürer, can force a thousand fine ink lines
to bite into the doubts of an epoch, spelling
Humanism. Those ice reefs repeat the motto
whispered by the snow-drifts on the north side
of the woods and model villages: the sun
has a favourite leaning, and the Nordic flaw
is a glow alcohol can fan into a flame.
And what is this truth that holds the grey
shaking metal whole while we believe in it?
The radar keeps its sweeping intermittent promises
speaking metaphysics on the phosphor screen;
our faith is sad and practical, and leads back
to our bodies, to the smile behind the drink
trolley and her white knuckles as the plane drops
a hundred feet. The sun slanting through a porthole
blitzes the ice-blocks in my glass of lemonade
and splinters light across the cabin ceiling.
No, two drinks — one for me, one for Katharina
sleeping somewhere — suddenly the Captain
lifts us up and over the final wall
explaining roads, a town, a distant lake
as a dictionary of s‘helter — sleeping
elsewhere, under a night sky growing bright with stars.
Four a.m. At the reactor an alarm begins
howling. The core’s full of shit: get out
the gloves, the phosphorescent rakes.
A burnt-out star hangs low on the horizon.
The Harrisburg glow-boys knuckle down
to work, poking around in the ashes.
They gaze out through glitter: behind the visor
putty imitates a human face, the lips
gritty, frayed, as they reach for speech
across the static field. Now a bell rings
and they wade thigh-deep into the muck,
their eyes the colour of lightning.
Five years of that and they’re
too hot to touch; they wake screaming
before dawn, the pillow soaked.
What have they seen: their children’s future
flare and crackle, a vast Christmas tree
flashing up from the skyline?
Rake it up, Ratshit! In a month
vacation in the Rockies, drinking rye and
blowing rattlesnakes away with a shotgun.
Now, like any cleaners, they go to work
deft and grumbling, their wives awake
in nylon nighties staring at the ceiling
and the glow of the luminous clock.
The pot of coffee popping on the stove.
The kids asleep, dreaming fitfully.
High School Confidential
Remember blotting paper? The Year of the Pen?
Pen, I mean, not roller-ball. Come on, gang —
you guys — applied to girls — those teenagers,
they seem to have disappeared, behind
a fit of the giggles, or a hot flush.
One minute they’re practising the drawback,
confusing innocence with ignorance, then
you look into the glass and they’re all gone.
Did they just fade out, bathed in the glow
from a fifties movie? Did the girls all wear
plaid? And pony-tails? Hey Butch,
let’s have a pillow fight… outside,
a snowfall blankets the small town.
The crew-cuts, the red and green
chequered shirts adorn Dad’s jalopy
bumping away from the zone of focus
like insignia stencilling a boundary
around their tribe and epoch.
TV holds some fascinating specimens, sure thing,
an endless museum that seems stranger and less
human the more we gaze at it through the faint
reflection, glazed on the screen,
that reminds us of someone important,
though it seems to play possum: one face
layered on the other, related somehow,
across a mysterious dimension that never moves
yet through which all things move
towards a common grave.
She leaves the Marriage Lecture, shaking, late
one Friday afternoon and hits the street
with her lipstick and her plastic mask intact.
I’m in a rock band, a midget shrieks
from his playpen, but she’s cruising by now
out past the limits of Disprin and domestic trauma.
A coffee with a stranger, and her mind snaps.
The mongol population of the cheap bar smile
in a chorus, smiling to themselves,
listening to Satan as a talkback announcer
who really cares. You undead, about to die badly,
don’t bother me now with your rotten proverbs.I’m engaged in a group healing seminar
that runs till dawn, recycling dreams
that nobody wants. I’ll cry if I want to,
won’t I? Under the lights?
And be a total person with a tic,
collecting dollars in the parking lot.
There’s my Mom, years back, washing up,
imagining the fifties will go on forever.
One day, in the desert, a swarm of awful
things will take place, one after the other,
and I can feel the damage coming, a train
crashing through an empty station
that was left to the weather long ago.
The broken cup, why not smash it?
It’s a painful journey down the brain-stem
but over the horizon something ultimate awaits me:
the Devil, a Chinaman with acne
or a family kidnapping.
God has his plans.
The party’s empty —
furnished with enough drunks,
maybe, but Dick’s in a pressure chamber
surfacing from some private trench: train-sick,
bombed out, he hears the sound of a crowd
raving around its lack of focus.
Now he tips backwards through layers
of some muscle-paralysing gas that causes
sweating, as the girl gets a drink —
a fuel tank,
vodka and ice —
then warm, technicolored,
more keenly balanced than an autopilot
switching back to manual she gives him
the perfect present of a smile.
As the random
self-absorption of a tranquilliser acts like
the secret paint that soaks up Russian radar,
so, locked in this casual chat, he becomes
invisible, and tracks her monologue the way
petrol-scented dawn hunts down a westbound jet,
the molten gold reluctant to unpaint the fuselage
as they lift, sun and craft together — reading
the way her smile clicks on a fraction too eagerly
to mean a downtown version of the rocket shot
group grin as the green lights blink awake
and in slow motion the launch window
tumbles up to the horizon.
in the front seat and Richard retranslates
the four seasons: Autumn, refrigerator
pump repair, a Winter of television interference,
Spring as a blizzard of hormones and Summer
sliding across the surface of our discourse
with ourselves like a Lounge Lizard.
Dick, are you okay? No, he’s still submerged,
but struggling heartily, and as he reaches for
a fresh emotion he sees the school of years
drifting backwards and the night sky
like a blanket lit with glow-worms.
Beam me up, Scottie! He’s a jet
jockey. Switching on, he hears the engine
kick into life, and feels the planet turning
imperceptibly beneath an orange moon.
Beyond their exhausting vanity and their hatreds
the Old Masters agreed in the small hours:
a work of art, they said, collectively,
lies in a kind of mud:
gossip, bad faith, someone else’s
wife, phone bills, a little happiness. And so we
go on, they said, doing what we can; while
across a horizon full of exasperating detail
a headache piles up.
And yet the swimming pools are full of children
laughing in that deafening sun, and the barbecue
gets assembled. In the long afternoon one marries,
one plans a divorce.
Are the Old Men right to maunder, taking young love
as a sketch for heaven on earth? The hot spring
fevers burn away the bossy mannerisms, bringing
complex couplings: some in beds, some on the telephone,
Is that right?
An emotion as perfect as a painting hangs over Sydney.
In the shadowy cave an apprentice, humming
quietly, colours in a background of traffic
while the Master stares through the bright doorway
lost in the visible world.
Letter to America
1. Hot Air
Those guys cranking up the price
of admission to Paradise,
they’re soap powder, all froth and bubble,
or a hair dryer, hot air.
Our gang’s a laundromat, doing things
at regular intervals.
And soon we sketch the circuit board the ideal
mind dreams of —
chatty, smooth, like a template of a
stunning quiz show,
or a wheel spinning, the way the spokes
almost meet at the hub,
that’s good, each conscious of his own job, then
they rush out to the rim
where they flash and glitter, kiss
the speeding dirt. Almost
2. Letter to America
3. Letter to America
Those robot ants are building a language
with a rapid assembly overlay — it might be tight
and vicious, but it fits the bill. Ah,
beyond the acres of hatred there’s a map
that gives you nearly everything!
There’s a good degree, there’s a photograph
of naked women eating money, there’s
a bomb designer who could be a close
friend, given the time and the motive.
Looking west from New York you can see
a glow on the horizon: it’s NORAD
gearing up for the night shift, a shuffling
under the Rockies as the workers wake up
and start packing lunches. Up above, the radar
nets rotate, catching star whispers and planes
packed with drugs flaking up from Mexico.
Down the rough, uneven slope to the Pacific
the dialects break in through the static —
threats, promises, the sound of dollar bills.
Kids wake up in small towns wide-eyed
and stare out at the pools of lamplight
on the grass — they feel a shudder in the stomach,
something tugs at them, a hypnosis ray
out of Popular Mechanix, but an alien
hand’s on the throttle. Sex, and killing people,
they didn’t teach this in the gym, and so their
tomboy dreams are troubled by the sound of distant
engines coughing into life. Further west,
the reaches of the ocean. Then the moon
4. Letter to America
The Daily Planet
A house hidden behind a screen of brush
at the end of the Korean War and the
dawn of rock’n’roll plays host to a feast
of sick movies that he calls The Daily Planet.
The computer gives him light in the darkened
kitchen; with a faint whining noise a flash unit
recycles beside the folding camera.
He pads through the house, gathering evidence.
He had four good wheels, he had
gasoline singing in back of his head.
Hey Harry, how do you stop this thing?
He still ached from the divorce.
Park and Lock your ethics here,
a sign on his retina said, beneath this
building that’s a mirror for the wreckage.
Fear sketching in the blank faces as the diary
fills up with missed business opportunities.
How come their lies are rewarded with a
gift of strength that doubles on itself?
Knock a few wetbacks into the gutter
that runs the length of Sunset to the sea.
Then a piña colada in Rudi’s: after
the spilling glare of the Strip
it was a relief to come across a lobby
filled with geriatrics doing nothing.
In the ideal ecological niche, he realised,
everybody has a bolt-hole, or a buddy
in adversity. Was that right?
Then a take-away in a motel room, watching
the Table Talk Chicken Thighs
cool at the side of the bed.
Then the bad dreams.
Red Cruise (1982)
The Captain nods off in a deck chair
behind a copy of the Workers’ News.
You lot, playing deck tennis,
had your injections yet?
‘They were drinking gin in the journo’s bar,’
said Major Wilson, ‘when a MiG
jumped the hill, guns blazing,
and shot a rocket through the plate glass.
Gone in a flash, it was!’ I say, Major,
isn’t that a naked sailor in the pool?
Spearing up from the unconscious,
ploughing through the amourplate
of a thousand Marxist preconceptions
such a vision can deconstruct a whole epoch,
as it were. To jettison your spouse,
sink your memories in Nembutal, these
soft options get you nowhere,
said the Captain, grinning cruelly, poking
at the underbelly of capitalism.
That old rat with the twitch fought
bravely at Kokoda, the blue rinse wimp
is an entertainment executive.
Plus ça change, old boy. Who’s that
who dares to tango with the Captain?
Flirting with the Mystic East:
‘You Westerners, you’re all the same.’
P-76 number 4, page 37. Date? Say 1982?
Two Short Poems, after Li Po
I should laugh silently. My heart is serene.
The peach blossom follows the moving water.
There is another heaven and earth beyond this world of men.
— Li Po
In a small town in the Southern Hemisphere
a booze-up gets rolling at the R.S.L.
Why do I live here, in the Blue Mountains?
Ho hum, another Valium.
A disc jockey follows the moving waiter.
There is another cocktail bar outside
the liquor limits, and an American actor
asleep in the projection room.
Why do I think of Li Po staring
at the moon’s reflection in the stream?
I’m laughing behind the plate glass,
quite sedated. Look, the shaving lather
follows the moving water.
Here, in Dullsville, New South Wales,
there is a heaven like a movie palace
and an academic asleep in the foyer.
On his lap, What Bird Is That?
(Scripsi, Vol 3 No 1, April 1985)
Behind the canvas, see the mad painter
sparring in the cul-de-sac of his
self-regard. See the glib professor
weeping in the square.
We ruin the tourist ruins, eroding their
attack by the way we stare through them, or
the faster we drive the younger we grow
until the fuel boils,
clearing the sky completely. So this is
happiness, our double greed burning the edge
of someone else’s longing. Sweetheart,
book me a couple of tickets,
I want to be elsewhere tomorrow, on a veranda
with you, thunder brilliant in the heavens,
our gentlest movements universally valid
and the envy of angels.
A double shunt in the Mille Miglia acts like a cramp,
forcing history into a kind of binding machine,
a backbone supplied where none was intended,
but the backup driver — the girl,
the gasoline addict — sleeps on the moonlit desk
uncomfortably, dreaming of those three
pointless emotions nobody wanted —
did they ask you to feel this; to suffer that?
So, perfecting the calculus of sorrow,
you hit on a zany idea and when you
explain it to the lady at the wheel
she laughs and laughs, and the others join in
asking where have you been all my life, my drongo,
my caballero of the blue lagoon, my pretty beast?
Agenda UK, p.135; Date? say 1984?
Found Poem (‘The stabiliser…’)
The stabiliser is a small neat box
containing lots of gleaming wires,
that appear to be miniature cuff links
of various sizes and colours, delicate
blobs of candle wax,
tiny striped candy canes, worm trails, et cetera.
It looks wonderful. There is a wire that goes
from the box to the enlarger light source,
and, looking in at the light, there is an eye,
a little electric eye. It
watches the light.
P-76, No 4, 1986? (A found poem — Fred Picker, from an article on ‘Stabilised Photographic Enlarger Light Sources’, in Darkroom Techniques Vol 5, No 2, p.24)
Looking at her now, in the singles bar,
you’d say she was just a drunk, nothing more:
her make-up slipping, wrinkles under the chin,
the crooked and vacant smile.
She drops in every now and again
to check out the local talent, pick up a number,
drag him home and have a little fun. Or,
what the hell, drink too much, why not?
But the men are not so young, frequent or easy
and somehow the more she drinks the more
she remembers it all, blurred and bright
as though seen through a kind of fever:
The flat by the water, the sun glowing through
the glass, the little drunken kindnesses,
how could she forget that? The delirium…
and the harbour sparkling like a blue diamond.
It lasted through the summer, then faded,
then, one day, it was finished. When she rang him
he was too busy, working back
at his father’s garage, growing angry,
shouting down the phone in a foreign tongue.
She cried, begged, shamed herself — lust or love,
she couldn’t tell, and didn’t care. But it was over.
So she takes a bottle home, and a man,
if she can find one, and sits up late, drinking,
sinking back into that calendar of summer days…
and at last the smile returns, the smile of an angel
waking: generous, beautiful, surprised.
The Australian Literary Magazine, 6-7 April 1985, p.3
The Subtitles (prose poem)
The program begins with a scene of a man, alone in a room, reading what is written on a piece of paper. The television glows in a corner. He is smoking. He looks out through a shaded balcony to a harbour. We see the harbour, the boats.
In another room, a room without a view, a woman is packing. Then she answers the telephone. Then we see a European city, from the air. The film appears grainy, the colours bleached. She waits at an airport departure lounge. We see the word ‘Departures’ in blue on a white background. The signs are in English.
He is leaning over the balcony rail, still smoking a cigarette. We see a telephone on a small white table beside him, an open book, and a tall glass half full of drink.
She is on board a plane. She looks out the window. We see cloud, layers of white cloud. We see her face in profile. It appears to have no expression. The make-up has been skilfully applied.
A long plume of smoke issues from his mouth. He wishes for certainty, but as his wish is a general one — he doesn’t wish to be certain about any particular thing or emotion — as his wish is a general one, it will be denied by the transactions of his daily life.
He is absorbed by what is passing through his mind: letters, snatches of conversation, moving coloured images with no sound that must be fragments from a television documentary. These things find themselves transfigured — dignified, perhaps — by the context of a love affair.
She may be going to leave. She is going to leave. She will leave. She will have left by now. She left. She has left.
Sitting in the aircraft she is surrounded by noise, and a vast relief. And a vast anxiety. What if she has done the wrong thing? What if she has done the right thing, but only on her own terms, the right thing by herself as it were? What if she has done the right thing by him, but damaged him all the same? Who will forgive her? She will be forgiven, she will have been forgiven, by time, by the passage of time, and that is enough. She would like a drink. She has a drink. She has had a drink.
He sits in a rented room, his father’s son, staring at the television. What is he watching? He couldn’t say. When he feels that life is too much for him he becomes agitated. He picks things up, fiddles with them, and puts them down again, misplacing them. His face goes pale and he knows he looks unwell. ‘You don’t look so good,’ his friends remark. ‘Is anything the matter?’ He doesn’t know how to answer them. He tries to relax, breathing deeply, but it only gets worse. The problem is, he thinks, he doesn’t exercise enough. And yet he seems quite healthy. At least he seldom gets sick. Though he seldom looks one hundred per cent fit. He should exercise more.
He should go out more. When he left his wife and child — for reasons we won’t go into here — he thought he’d be out all the time, having endless sexual adventures. But adventures are full of danger, aren’t they? And now he’s afraid.
She remembers the way her mother used to wait for the bus to the hospital, always knitting, surrounded by parcels — food, a flask of hot water, a magazine, the pink wool. Her eyes bewildered. Afraid of things about to go out of control. Her daughter waits for a flight call, but there are no flight calls any more. The baggage clerk told her that, but she didn’t want to believe him. When she gets angry, her face flushes red and her fingers work themselves into fists, claws, fists, claws. Then she relaxes herself with a visible effort.
She is clean in her personal habits. She showers twice a day — once in the morning, after her run; once after work, before the night’s adventures. She uses perfume sparingly, her hair is clean, she exercises often, she believes that frequent sexual adventure is the spice of life and good for the complexion. She seldom reads books as she has quite enough reading to get through at work, thank you, or so she says. She fears she has cancer, and that her friends have cancer. She has believed this for years, despite evidence to the contrary.
Sure, I’d like a drink. Just a beer. Thank you. Are you a nurse? Oh, I don’t know, I just thought… Yes, I like those prints. Paintings, yes. they look great. No thanks, I think I’ll just have a coffee. Oh, all right. Yes, make it a strong one. No, I’m fine. I love your hair, the way it smells. It smells good. I left them. I don’t want to go into the reasons. I worry about the boy. He’s only four. Growing up without a father. I’d rather not talk about that. Can I see you Thursday? Friday, then? We could go sailing, I have a friend with a boat. Well, would you like to go to a nightclub? I didn’t mean to get angry. I’m sorry. I think I love you. Sure, I suppose that’s a bit heavy, but I can’t help the way I feel. Sure. Okay, sure. Why did you hang up when I rang before? Was it something I said? I just like you, that’s it, I mean I like you a lot.
According to the subtitles at the bottom of the screen, he is trying to improve his state of mind. Rule number one. He should stop believing that he must feel loved or accepted by everybody for everything he does. He drinks too much, and too often. Doesn’t he? He smokes incessantly. No, he never counts the cigarettes. He tries to be kind, to hold back the quick sarcastic comment. He is a grown man, his music is respected, such as it is. In the matter of close personal relations, he has made the break. He doesn’t need his father’s forgiveness any more. Forgiveness for what? What failure, what betrayal?
And that woman, now somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, he can find another one, can’t he? There are plenty more where that one, that beautiful one, came from. Aren’t there? He is a man, isn’t he? He is free, isn’t he? Free of what? He believes that he must feel loved or accepted by everybody for almost everything he does.
What’s wrong with you? You look dreadful. Can I get you a drink? God it’s dark in here, isn’t it? You look lonely. Hey, would you like to come to my place and have sex? All right, don’t faint, would you like to come to my place and make love?
I like you running your fingers down my back. You look worried, are you okay? You sure? Listen, I’m sleepy, I’ve got a hell of a day coming up at work. I always get up at this time. Sure, you can use the shower. I’ll have one when I get back from my run. No, not Thursday, I’m going out. With this athlete, he’s a long distance runner. Oh, I’ll make the distance, don’t you worry. Listen, sweetheart, I don’t want you getting too wrapped up in this thing, okay? No, Friday’s out. Maybe a nightclub or something Saturday night. No, I’ll be in San Francisco next week. There’s a big convention coming up. Why, are you interested in cosmetics? It’s a real growth area. Oh, you’re into music, I forgot. Rock music? Oh, I see. No, I don’t get to concerts that often. Listen, sweetheart, I’m really busy at work. You could phone me at home, that would be better. Sure, any time between six and seven. Yes, I like you. San Francisco, maybe a month.
He is still trying to improve his state of mind, it appears from the evidence of the subtitles. But his actions — smoking, drinking, groaning on that exposed balcony — his actions indicate he is having difficulties, to say the least. Rule number two. He should give up the notion that he must act competently, adequately and achievingly. Well, he thinks, I will practise failure. I will fail at this and that, I will go on, nothing so terrible will happen, I’ll learn to live with failure. Failing to hold down a decent job, failing to make a marriage work, failing as a father, he has done all these things. They are painful and embarrassing. These failures are the reason for the drink, the fumbling lifestyle, the sexual adventures he is damaged by. The way he lives with his failures is the reason he can’t give up the notion that he must act competently, adequately, achievingly and so on and so forth.
It is not much to ask, he thinks, to live well, surely, it isn’t too much to ask.
When things don’t go the way she wants, she starts to believe that everything is awful. It’s irrational, she knows that. But a black mist rises, the world goes dim, and her body fills with fear. It’s all mental, and she should push the bad pictures away. She knows that. But do things ever go the way she wants? That man she met in the bar, that musician she picked up, did he have to turn out so unsatisfactory? He seemed so right, sitting there. All he needed was a woman’s touch to bring him out of that awful sadness and back to the urbane, self-confident man he must have been before his… crisis. So… unsatisfactory. And so demanding, not like a man at all. More like a boy.
And then missing the flight. Two days late for the conference, now. No chance to catch up. All that money wasted. What would her father have thought of her? She was always so good at things. She had once been on top of things. When she was young and bright. Now look at her, drunk at thirty thousand feet, late again. She felt that everything — absolutely everything — was terrible, horrible, awful, and so on and so forth.
He knew that it would be better for him if he gave up the idea that certain people are bad, wicked or villainous and that they deserve severe blame or punishment. The way he purses his lips, you can tell what he’s thinking. The way he frowns and shakes his head. The way his hands grip the balcony rail, the knuckles going white. He doesn’t notice the boats, but we can see the boats on the water in the centre of the screen.
But Carol shouldn’t have said that, he thinks. What right did she have to say that, the bitch? And why did she do those things? That was simply cruel. Not just to me — look what’s happened to the boy. His little boy. Cruelty of that sort should be punished. She doesn’t deserve to be happy. I deserve to be happy, after what I’ve gone through. She is bad, wicked, villainous, she deserves to be punished. Is that so unreasonable? Is that so unnatural, to feel like this?
At last he notices the boats, on the blue water. The television stammers in the room behind him, jerking from channel to channel, unattended.
She has gotten somewhere, she thinks. She has rid herself of the idea that human misery is externally caused, and that she has little or no ability to control her depression or self-pity. She has been there, she has gotten rid of that.
She has never tried to run away from life difficulties and responsibilities. Well, responsibilities… she has run away from several personal relationships, to be honest, at some cost to herself and others. Is that true? She has another drink, enjoying the flavour. A drink in a plastic airlines cup. They will soon land in San Francisco, coming in from the south-east over Silicon Valley. She has a woman friend there, and the two of them will have a good time. She turns the thought over in her mind. Rehearsing the erotic possibilities. It is wrong to believe that the past remains all-important.
One more drink, she thinks to herself. She will be waiting for me. She turns that thought over slowly in her mind. Outside, the cloud, arranged in layers.
He is trying to give up the idea that people should be different from the way they are. It’s just a thing he wants to do. Going back into the empty room. Pouring himself a glass of milk. Staring at the television at last.
On the screen an old man — very like his father, though with a stubble of beard — an old man is patiently explaining something to a young boy. The boy is sulking, and tugging at a chain. A small angry monkey is tugging at the other end. They are speaking Spanish.
He waits for the subtitles. Standing in the dimly-lit room, in his socks, holding a cigarette in one hand and a glass of cold milk in the other. The subtitles flash onto the screen, flicker, and disappear. They have said: ‘Give up the idea, my boy, that life’s problems can be solved quickly. After all, you have a lifetime ahead of you.’
He turns the television off. He turns out the light.
(First published in Under Berlin, Poems 1988 (UQP) and first broadcast as a two-hander radio feature for the ABC Radio National by Producer Jane Ulman [née Howard] in 1989.)
♦ Urban Myths — New and Selected
Printed copies of the entire book can be purchased from the publisher’s website:
♦ Starlight — 150 Poems
The poems in Starlight derive from two main sources.
Poems in the first half of the book, up to page 134, began as material written for a doctoral thesis in Creative Arts at the University of Wollongong, titled Distant Voices (2008). The thesis consists of two parts: a collection of poems and a thirty-thousand word exegesis. The poems were presented in three groups. In Vocoder four long poems explore, in different ways, the idea of displacing the authorial ego with a kind of writing at one or two removes, through the process of translation, ventriloquy, mask or disguise. Speaking French presents 101 deliberate mistranslations of some of Rimbaud’s ‘Illuminations’ and poems by Baudelaire, Mallarmé and Verlaine. At the Movies is a group of narrative, discursive and reflective poems that speak about various movies and their cultural settings.
♦ Starlight is available from Blazevox Books in Buffalo USA, at http://www.blazevox.org/index.php/Shop/: or from the UQP website. Most of the poems in the thesis have been revised and rewritten, some drastically. The four Vocoder poems have been reduced to three, and notes below describe these three very different works.
The 101 fourteen-line poems that made up Speaking French have here been reduced to a group of 83. These poems, from «Hôtel de Ville» to «Hair of the Dog», present deliberate mistranslations, involving multilingual dealings with most of Rimbaud’s «Illuminations» and poems by Baudelaire, Mallarmé and Verlaine, spoken in French into an English-only speech-to-text computer program. The resulting drafts have been reworked extensively. As well, a line or phrase from various poems by John Ashbery (from Selected Poems, Penguin, 1985) has been inserted into the fabric of each of these poems, though in a few cases these lines have been lost when the poems were revised. Seventeen of these poems, each in an earlier and different form, appeared in my collection Urban Myths in 2006.
Some of the movie poems from the thesis have been deleted and other new poems written. The group of eight poems from «Caliban» to «The Cedar Bar, NYC, 1957» speak about various movies and their cultural settings, as detailed in the notes.
The 56 poems in the second half of the book under the group title Contre-Baudelaire — from «Albatross» to «Seven Old Men» — were written during a six-week Fellowship at the Civitella Ranieri centre in Umbria, Italy, in 2009. These poems began as loose and radical revisions (definitely not ‘translations’) of about a third of the poems in Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal (second edition, 1861). I should add that in the poems that appear here, the apparent obsession with sex, drugs, betrayal, bodily decay, death and graveyards is mainly Baudelaire’s, and that when its presence in various of his poems became too rich for my taste I left them by the wayside.
Heart Starter available from http://www.puncherandwattmann.com (firstname.lastname@example.org), P.O. Box 441, Glebe NSW 2037, phone 0438 002 513.
The poems in Section One, from ‘Algernon Limattsia’ (p.13) to ‘That GreenishFlower’ (p.72), are loosely derived from some poems in The Best of the Best American Poetry (BBAP), 25th Anniversary Edition, Robert Pinsky, Editor; David Lehman, Series Editor. Scribner: New York, 2013.
The poems in Section Two, from ‘Variations on a Theme of E.P. (Elias Pfenning)’ (p.75) to ‘Fly’ (p.97), are loosely derived from some poems in The Open Door: One Hundred Poems, One Hundred Years of ‘Poetry’ Magazine (TOD). Don Share and Christian Wiman, Eds. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012.
The poems from ‘Abjure’ (p.122) to ‘The Consonants’ (p.136) are sonnets, mostly though not always rhymed.
The early poems are Terminals, that is, they take the end words from the earlier poems, and play around with them, sometimes using them as the end words of the new poems.