Ken Bolton: Happy Accidents

  Ken Bolton

  Happy Accidents

  A work of bibliography       — for Gary Oliver

D.U.I. in the 1970s

Are you, perhaps, a
‘Reader of Books’?
— John Jenkins



I had been reading some poets before,

who were supposed to be good


And I suppose they were

but it was on


first reading John Forbes’

‘To The Bobbydazzlers’


my eyes opened.


There did I breathe John’s

‘intense inane’


& the way you felt for them

I felt for you, John: as though


I sat, saluting — & stonkered —



an horizon — blue sky,

blue sea —



of all but admiration,



in-touch at last, silent,


on a kitchen chair, in Glebe,

upon a beach, in my imagination.


Another time, I was sitting

On a firm kitchen chair. And the poems

Were Laurie Duggan’s. Then did I breathe in

A speck of muesli I was having.

But did I choke? I didn’t — these poems

Gave much to live for,

In particular a sort of infinite ‘Quiet Moment’

In which things were ‘in their place’,

‘Attended to’… Etcetera. I cleared my throat, vowing

To continue in this knowledge.


I think I stood up. It seemed too odd

To be sitting, the poem was so great.

Yet, a short one, it was over. In this instance I moved

From the brown, cracked, wood table I was reading at


& walked to the door, Pam Brown’s poems

Still in my hand — & stood a while,

Reading them in the doorway,

Breathing in, breathing out, looking


At the view, that you saw — if you

Stood straight — just above the tin.

The cat used to hang about me when I stood there

 — Pots of mint & things, at my feet —


On the step, looking over the fence — the Iron Bridge,

And the city with its back to you


One of the first poems that did it for me

Was ‘Tricks For Danko’. By Robyn Ravlich.

Graceful, & clear, and actual.

Another was O’Hara’s ‘For Grace,

After A Party’. And there were Berrigan’s ‘The Sonnets’,


the poem where ‘Terry’s spit

Narrowly missed the Prime Minister,’ leaving a mark

On the TV. (A poem of Laurie’s.) Later

a poem I loved was Anna Couani’s

‘The Bomb Plot’. John was writing poems


That pretended to be advertising. A different

John. Who became a best friend.


Remember Rae — reading ‘The Deadshits’?


The way we used to shout various lines

From various poets, over & over, for being

Too ridiculously full of portent? ‘Head first

Into the beautiful accident!’ ‘White horses.

White horses.’


Things we said: ‘Ah, Bin 33!’ ‘Je suis

Mr Tarzan!’ This is the life. Crash or crash thru.

‘Grandmother divided by monkey… (equals “Outer Space”!)’ Is that

a baby or a shirt factory — (No one can tell

In this weather). One false moof and I die you! There’s no

accounting for taste. I em, a sophiss-ticated

Euro-Pean! (slight Austrian accent) This is the life.

Head first into the beautiful accident. Ah, Bin 33! Another

Bin 33?

Then we said them all again.


No one said It’s a great life if you don’t

weaken or Get this into you, though we must’ve urged

something similar. I can remember the songs we danced to —

but that is life, which is the important thing —

but not important here.


      I first saw Alan Wearne coming down

the banister at a party singing a methodist hymn

wearing a little conical hat or something suggesting deshabille.

I met him first actually at the Adelaide Festival

in seventy-six — he told me something weird about another poet.


Carol Novack had big eyes & beautiful hair & when

she played pool her hands shook almost mesmerizingly.

Sometimes the balls went in. Anna’s pool was better —

& her writing, for a kind of intelligent mobility.

Carol took up Law. The party I saw Alan at

was for Brandon Cavalier, a person I have never heard of

or seen since. His shirt had full sleeves

like a pirate’s. (He was a poet.)


‘Poetry — it’ll be bigger than tennis,’

was a line already part of poetry folklore

when I joined the team. I never saw or met the man

who uttered it. (Similarly, when I came to Adelaide,

I was introduced to Ian de Gruchy — & well after

I’d heard his ‘The ambience is all around us’ — as either

forewarning, or characterization. He was an

artist, not a poet.) At some level, I think, young poets know

what they let themselves in for — an economic &

social reality they allude to with crossed fingers &

humour. Some of course get real jobs or train properly

for something. My friend John lucked his way into journalism

hardly expecting his charade to work. The profession

took him to its bosom, suffocatingly, tho not too

      suffocatingly. None I knew

became doctors. Laurie’s made a late well-timed run

at academia. Most of us have shit jobs. ‘Headfirst

into the beautiful accident.’ (Tranter must have

come in to some money. The line works differently for him.)


Kris Hemensley’s poems — ‘Rocky Mountains & Tired Indians’

& one about some biscuits — I liked a lot, though

I couldn’t emulate them. Their domesticity reminded me

of a happy little band of Melbourne poets whom I

assumed mirrored ours in Glebe, Newtown & Balmain — the

Westgarth/Merri Creek/Brunswick gang: Kris, Robert,

Walter, Retta. Letters from them were cheering & I

wrote back on happenings here — one, in which Adders

attacked everybody at a reading, casting aspersions on the Soul,

Potency, Alcoholism of his major rival (also on the bill), who did

his own equivalent of the same, while a performance-artist friend

tried to stage her nervous breakdown (over her husband’s

infidelity) — & which intuited the Interest

& Coming Intervention

of David Bowie into her life. She made a lot of repeated noise —

to the puzzlement of the audience,

who did not realize its import

and anyway, had the poets’ dark mutterings to work on.

We took her away, sedated or placated her (I

can’t remember). John & Laurie read, finally,

attacking no one just reading great poems: it was a total

fucking gas, Terry’s spit narrowly missing the Prime Minister



I wrote some poems just by going through my

note books circling all the good bits still

unused — from poems, letters, notes & quotations —

& typing them up in the order they came

adding new stuff wherever I felt like it. I still

do these occasionally. People don’t understand them

but I feel exhilarated. Laurie’s poems

had introduced me to Philip Whalen’s (& these

I liked). Philip Hammial introduced me to the poems

of Tony Towle — whom I knew & liked

only by one or two things

in anthologies. Autobiography & other poems

was a great book.

                                Years later

my inexpert emulation of it

enabled me to write Notes For Poems — a book

critics at the time ignored, or disliked.

As they do still, for all I know.

I remember the early Alan Wearne poem I liked

had Jesus Christ or John the Baptist running up

some stairs.


      That’s how it was when I started.

Earlier I’d read Creeley & Olson &

earlier still Larkin & Davie. But really

what I found exciting were the ideas I entertained

about Johns & Rauschenberg & the aesthetic

jockeying for ideological position

of Greenberg, Fried, Stella & the Minimalists,

the ideas of Kuhn, the dreaminess of Marguerite Duras

& the steel & irony of Robbe-Grillet, the look

of ‘key works’ by Rivers (‘key works’?) & the erased

de Kooning,

the nerviness of Gorky; Tony Tuckson; Joan Mitchell.

‘Bean Spasms’, when I read it, & ‘Tambourine Life’,

fell on fertile ground. Apart from the R n B

I played mostly, I also played John Coltrane —

all of this a cliche or at any rate ‘of its time’.

The sober brain of Donald Brook, internalized

in mine — where it nowhere resembled very closely

Brook’s big brain — looked on. The English Department

was dull. Anna introduced me to my own mind as

‘Curious Stranger’ — (to be ‘analysed’). It has grown

curiouser & curiouser, & I have learned to watch it

closely. Watch it, watch it! A favourite phrase —

spoken as by a removalist backing up a piano *

or something large. I was never a removalist like

other poets. I became a poet when a flatmate

kept showing me his poems, for evaluation, &

any demurral of mine met with Well,

you wouldn’t know — as you’re not a poet.

I could do better, I thought, & so I began — doing

better, if not doing actually ‘well’, till around

1976, the point at which this tale began.


When I first met Johnny J his grant

had run out. He used describe himself as a

grifter — which word he enjoyed for its hokey, 1930s

arcane quality. If it was a specific job description

it might well have been John’s: for example, Colin, another friend,

claimed the shoes John wore were his. John

had had them for a year but, caught out, handed them over

(fairly cheerfully). Colin shook his head. I loaned John my thongs

& he walked home. Those days I was on a higher degree scholarship,

though I did nothing but read & write poetry —

more intensely than anyone ever did an M.A. Laurie for a time

wrote movies, though he did not earn a lot by it.

He used don his dark glasses & say emphatically

Think ‘Mogul’. Mostly he did the dole — as we were

all about to do — or worked in the library

setting out to prove, I think, just how many sick days

could be achieved before redundancy. Pam worked

screenprinting for an American hippie employer

who turned gradually straight capitalist exploiter. Pam

had once been a nurse. Now she did the dole, taught film.

And works now in a library — taking probably the maximum number

of sick days (that ‘envelope’ first tested by Laurie).

John Forbes worked in a tinsel factory, &, one time, I was

surprised to see him in a lottery ticket-&-snacks type booth,

like a large Punch & Judy, outside Museum railway station;

then he went in for removing, which built him up

considerably. Big, but never boofy. Most of the poets I knew in the late 70s

worked briefly sorting mail — at Redfern Mail Exchange,

constituting a militant facet of its productivity problem:

Steve took a large supply of dope that he & others smoked

on the roof at lunchtime & on numerous breaks after

& before. In toilets, wash rooms, stairwells & broom cupboards.

Anna worked with him, & Alan Jefferies. (‘Good-o

Steve became a public servant eventually & wrote

speeches for Keating, but took so much time off

he returned at last from the U.S. to find himself

in charge of the photocopy paper, with a lone desk

 — alone — in the storeroom. He resigned.

His great book then was To The Heart Of The World’s Electricity

which I loved: intemperate — exasperated — lush.

Sal, with whom I lived in Redfern,

would catch the bus down Chalmers Street,

past the exchange, to the station —

a book rep, a job she was good at but hated.

Anna & Rae became teachers. (In fact Rae became mayor

of a difficult inner city council.) Nigel, also a teacher. Denis Gallagher

a captain of industry. Did he ever sort mail?

I don’t remember.


‘The European Shoe’ by Michael Benedikt I liked a lot

though not so much his other poems & I wrote a poem,

‘The Mysteries’, because of it, with other influences in there too: quo-

tations, bits ‘in the manner of’ & ‘reminiscent of’. (Of

whom? O’Hara, Ashbery, Robbe-Grillet.) Kenneth Koch

I read a lot then. (‘The Circus’, ‘The Departure From Hydra’,

‘The Railway Stationery’, ‘Fresh Air’, & later

The Art Of Love & other poems). Alan Wearne early recommended to me

Schuyler’s poem about a man mowing the lawn, in which,

I think, Hugo Winterhalter & other composers & conductors

are in the sky. Or are those two poems? It was very good

but I did not begin reading Schuyler as a fan until later —

& it was his later poems, too. John Tranter’s ‘Rimbaud

& the Pursuit of the Modernist Heresy’ in an early form I liked

though it puzzled me, but I liked its sense of a determined ambition —

a major work, like an Historical Painting. Ron Padgett’s poem,

in which God ‘runs off giggling’ I liked, for the graceful mystery

of its perfection — ‘Some Things For Anne’, was it called?

‘Ruth Etting’s Tears’ I liked but that was later —

there were other Schjeldahl poems I liked then — his version

of ‘Life Studies’, & ‘Hullo

America’ — the attack on Robert Lowell &

Bob Dylan. There were fabulous poems in Strange Days Ahead,

too. John liked Kenward Elmslie as I remember.

Anne Waldman’s first book, Giant Night, I liked. I also liked

Great Balls Of Fire, I Remember, Edwin Denby… &

Lewis Warsh I found curiously comforting. (Long Distance, & one

that was a diary.) Pam liked Tom Clark & various Frenchmen

and Patti Smith. (Others liked Duncan — but I couldn’t see it.)

Some German poets I liked — Bisinger et al — but

I have not kept up, & then it was the 80s

& another poem.


  notes, & names of those not fully identified

Gary Oliver, poet & carouser. We drank the mythical Bin 33.

‘To The Bobbydazzlers’ — see John Forbes, New & Selected Poems, A & R

Laurie Duggan — see New & Selected Poems, UQP

Pam Brown — see New & Selected Poems, Women’s Redress Press; This World, This Place, UQP & 50-50, Little Esther Books

‘Tricks For Danko’ — Robyn Ravlich, see Applestealers anthology

‘Terry’s spit…’ see Laurie Duggan, ‘Cheerio’ in Selected Poems, UQP

‘The Bomb Plot’ Anna Couani, see Italy, Rigmarole of the Hours Press

‘A different John’ — i.e., John Jenkins — see Blind Spot, Gargoyle

‘The Deadshits’ — see Rae Desmond Jones, Orpheus With A Tuba, Gargoyle Poets

‘White Horses, White Horses’ — actually ‘Wet horses’ was the phrase: see Pie O, Fitzroy Brothel, Fitzrot publications

‘Crash or Crash Through’ — Gough Whitlam

‘Grandmother divided etc’ — Ron Padgett & / or Ted Berrigan

‘Is that a baby…’ — John Forbes

‘One false moof’ — Kenneth Koch

‘Austrian accent’ — indicates Rudi Krausmann

I don’t think it was Bin 33 — I think it was Bin 26!

‘Poetry, it’ll be bigger than tennis!’ — Paul Desney, legend has it.

‘Headfirst into the beautiful accident’ — John Tranter, The Blast Area, Gargoyle Poets

‘Rocky Mountains & Tired Indians’ — a book of the same name from Stingy Artist Press

Robert Kenny, Walter Billeter, Retta Hemensley ‘attacked everybody at a reading’ — supposedly top of the bill was a visiting American poet everyone regarded as dull, a turkey. He never knew what was going on. A domestic argument that was probably not explained to him. [See a note earlier in this Journal: here.]

Autobiography & Other Poems — Tony Towle, Coach House South/Sun Books

Notes For Poems — Ken Bolton, Shocking Looking Books

John the Baptist — see Alan Wearne, Public Relations, Gargoyle

‘Bean Spasms’ & ‘Tambourine Life’ — see Ted Berrigan Selected Poems, Penguin

‘spoken as by a removalist’ — this is an evasion, right?

Johnny J — John Jenkins

Colin Mitchell, bon vivant

Museum Railway Station — maybe, in fact, Kings Cross Railway Station [In fact, in Macleay Street, opposite the Fitzroy Fountain.  — J.T., 2016.]

Steve K Kelen: ‘Good-o-Goodooga’ — a line from one of the mnemonic paragraphs the mail exchange memorized so as to identify postcodes in their mail sorting.

Paul Keating, Prime Minister

To the Heart Of The World’s Electricity — Steve Kelen, Señor Press.

Sal Brereton — Ideal Conditions, Magic Sam/EAF; Otis Rush magazine #12/13

Denis Gallagher — see Country, Country, Island Press & Making Do, Club 80 Press

Nigel Roberts, see In Casablanca For The Waters, Wild & Woolley

Denis Gallagher owned a ladder factory

Michael Benedikt, The Body, Wesleyan Uni Press

‘Rimbaud & the Pursuit of the Modernist Heresy’ — John Tranter: early version in New Poetry magazine; a later version in Selected Poems, Hale & Iremonger

Strange Days Ahead — Michael Brownstein, Z Press

‘John (Forbes) liked Kenward Elmslie’

Giant Night — Anne Waldman, Corinth

Great Balls Of Fire — Ron Padgett, Holt Rinehart & Winston, later reissued by Coffee House

I Remember — Joe Brainard, Full Court Press, later Penguin

Edwin Denby — see Collected Poems, Uni of California

Long Distance — Lewis Warsh, Ferry Press, & Part Of My History, Coachhouse Press

Tom Clark — see When Things Get Tough On Easy Street, Black Sparrow

Patti Smith — Ha Ha Houdini, City Lights

‘others liked Duncan’ — Robert Duncan

Gerard Bisinger


This poem was first published as a booklet
by Little Esther Books in 1999. The back cover read, in part:

What were they thinking in the 70s?
What where they doing?
What were they on?
What did they read?



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