Laurie Duggan 1
The Monash Years, 1968–1972
Notes from a Journal
[Editorial note: To avoid ambiguity, dates are given in the ISO 8601 date format: year, month, day. For example, the fourth of March, 1968, is given as 1968-Mar-04.]
Paragraph 1 follows:
The following are extracts from the journals of an alarmingly young person: myself.
Monash University was established less than a decade before I began my Arts degree there. It was a ‘red brick university’ in spirit, though the building material of choice had become, by the early 60s, glass. From the ninth floor of the Menzies Building (Department of Philosophy) you could see for miles out over the flat south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne. The university was within walking distance of my parents’ place where I lived for all but a few months (in 1970) of my attendance. The suburb, Clayton, was twelve miles out from the city. It’s hard to comprehend now but a journey by train of that distance was not something one undertook lightly. Twelve miles was far enough for different subcultures to function. At Monash we had to ‘make our own fun’ rather than rely on the inner city playhouses and cafés where poetry might be presented.
I had begun university with little sense of what the institution might mean. Having grown up without any notion of attending a tertiary institution it took me some time to adjust. A lower-middle/upper working – class background meant that I had an overly strong sense of correct form. It took me two years to learn to ‘dress down’ and I had a priggish attitude towards the process of literary education. I was by no means a natural rebel though fortuitously I gravitated towards those who were. At the same time, as some of the later entries testify, I was only too ready to accept rules if I felt they were handed down from the right sources, so for some years I became a ‘Poundian’ and for quite a while remained suspicious of poetries that I would end up admiring, particularly the work of the New Yorkers. I guess I was just a slow developer.
1968-Mar-14: [Poetry reading – Bruce Dawe (missed it)]
1968-Apr-09: [Meeting about a new literary mag. to replace Lachesis & Orpheus]
1968-Apr-18: Went to poetry reading in bookshop. Guest reader was Philip Martin of the English Dept. whose poems I thought were quite good. Others were invited to read poems if they wished (haven’t the guts or talent yet – though of the latter I am no judge). Among them there were three at least who were worthy of memory – [John] Romeril, [John] Scott, & another [?] who read extracts from a long unfinished poem. Bruce Dawe was there, but didn’t read any of his poems.
1968-May-16: Dennis Douglas read a delightful (!) poem about Crucifixion and Sir H [Henry Bolte] [Premier of the state of Victoria at that time] of the red stamp (censored) and his (and his followers’) qualifications to decide a morality. Then the guest Russell Deeble read a large no. of poems mostly from his projected book ‘A trip to light blue’. I enjoyed most of them. There was a short one on Vietnam which showed a man looking through a dirty window watching distortions, compared with the tinted glasses of the bomber crews.
After the reading he spoke and answered questions about new poetry in Australia. He is in his early or mid-20’s. One particular comment struck me – so appropriate – it hurts when a young poet is told that his poetry is ‘rather obvious isn’t it’ and that never should one be discouraged.
1968-Jun-19: After lunch called on Patrick McCaughey [then my English tutor – I’d given him some of my poems]. Some tough criticism – this is what a real critic is like. 19th Century poems? Yes – they are all shot through with Keatsian imagery without any structure. The last lines of ‘Railway Stations’ began to get somewhere but even these fell flat. Advice – rather than being so ambitious with my subject matter, I should be choosing simple subjects and really getting into the language – cutting and shaping; economising and rejecting; gathering and forming.
1968-Jun-25: Poetry reading – Rodney Hall the guest. ( I borrowed, or rather asked McC after the tutorial today whether William Carlos Williams would be a desirable influence – whereupon he reached out – got W.C.W.’s early poems from the shelf and loaned them to me). Back to the subject – G, the second year scientist-poet. He was not at the reading later, because he is in ‘1066 & all that’, but he left some poems to be read. I thought the audience treated these rather unfairly. The main fault of G’s poems is the dislocation which sometimes occurs between lines – a fault in connecting images, or rather, descriptions. Although there is no overt mention of sadness in his poems, there seems to be a particularly melancholy ring through the verse – I found the same ring to occur in G himself. Rodney Hall spoke on his ideas about the aim of poetry. 1) A poem, he says, should be brutal with language; should be an uncomfortable experience. 2) poetry & religion are not alike, rather poetry is like magic – whereas in religion a person acknowledges indebtance to a greater power, a poet or magician should assume the role of a great power himself. Hall is poetry ed. of The Australian.
1968-Jun-27: Meeting of the Lit. Club at noon – to elect a new council – moves to tighten club up. Improvements to be made. I am hoping that dissemination of ideas; creative writing seminars & discussion groups will be organised. Lachesis seems a bit of a mess to me – there’s only been one this year. I think a better idea would be smaller, but more regular publications – thick leaflet style poetry editions. Might put the idea forward at a later date.
1968-Jul-22: At the bookshop sale [Rob Smyth] of the Literature Club asked if I had anything worth depositing across the pages of a broadsheet. I replied negatively but said I would hand some in anyway. So this evening I finalised the ones I’m putting into the club letterbox. I saw Liz O’Brien in the English lecture & suggested that she put some of her pieces (none of which I have as yet seen). She said, with modesty, that she would put in one or two. I said that I had thought of putting in ten or so, but each time I looked, the number worth printing diminished, and now it was four. She mentioned that G is now writing short ‘haiku’ type gems which is strange, as this is just what I aim to do with my projected Merzpoems [Short poems about thrown away things, the title derived from the collages of Kurt Schwitters].
1968-Jul-24: Met up with the Wednesday lunchtime crowd – Liz O’B & the others. Liz had five or six of G’s recent ‘Haiku’ poems. A couple of them move away from his ‘meteorological’ oeuvre. I copied three down, the best of which is
Trunks of burnt matches
A charred forest tumbled down
Felled in an ashtray
In others though, it is apparent that his faults remain with him – some of the longer ones fall away in quality towards the end as the image is sustained for longer than it will hold. A related problem is the fault he has of drawing an analogy which is too strained to succeed. For example, the ‘Moon’ poem in Lachesis where the poem breaks up as soon as he likens the moon to his mind. I saw [Rob Smyth] and the two other members of the new pamphlet committee [Colin McDowell & Robert King]. Some pamphlet – it is to be 20 or so pages. They didn’t know me by name but mentioned that a good deal of the poems submitted were rubbishy, and asked if I had yet submitted any. Yes. And who? ‘Laurence Duggan’. Whereupon they replied ‘Writer of the “Nonsensonnet”’ (this is a rather dramatised recollection) – one of the poems that made all the dull collating seem worthwhile. They thought someone about 22 or 23 must have written the poems!!
1968-Aug-08: The poetry reading was in the committee room. The room was small and crowded; the former fact I was thankful for, the latter – ? Rob Smyth asked me to read mine immediately after the guest’s first batch. Down one sherry. I read (nervous as hell – so nervous that at least, I couldn’t see the audience). I read (in this order) a revised ‘Don’t Look Now’, ‘Dear Mr Pound’, ‘Fishing in the Inlet’ and finally ‘Nonsensonnet’. According to G, I didn’t blunder and was quite clear. Anyway I received a fair applause. Down another sherry. There were about ten readers in all – a very good evening with good poems from John Romeril and a friend of G’s and bad (junk poem) poetry from Robert King (the coming thing) who stripped to the waist before embarking on a bongo accompanied recital. Rob Smyth delivered a brief lecture advocating more gum trees and bush flies in our poetry. The reading was my debut as a reader of poetry and I’m glad I had guts enough to do it. It will be easier next time. Walked home in the rain.
1968-Aug-14: My ‘success’ so far amounts to having one poem (my first) published in the 1966 H.H.S. [Huntingdale High School] magazine, and four in the ’67 volume (without the spaces left between the stanzas – a fact about which I am still annoyed!?). While I have one or two to be printed in Mirabeau Goats which comes out next term, and will probably put a couple more in a further edition, I am not so sure that publication (in whatever form) is what I want; whether it will harm or improve my output. For the present, I have decided to give it a burst, but not to put anything in that does not approach the best I can do. There will, therefore, be few earlier poems which I can draw upon; enough perhaps to see print in M.G. Nos 1 & 2 and (with luck) Lachesis 1968/2, and (an even greater height) – Orpheus 1968.
[Mirabeau Goat Poems only ran to two issues, the second coming out early in 1969. Lachesis and Orpheus never made an appearance, though a couple of standard university magazines, Ancora and Fuse appeared over the next couple of years, containing poems by Scott, Wearne, Romeril, John Westcott and others.]
1968-Aug-30: Mirabeau Goat Poems Aug 68 came out resplendent with my two masterpieces. There are only ten contributors and one is a translation [Apollinaire tr. Smyth] while two others are prose; in other words I am one of seven ‘poets’. Liz O’Brien’s are interesting and fresh, although they have a tendency of slightness. Poems which I like are Ian Robertson’s ‘Beware of Pictures’ [Robertson connected with the La Mama writers and later moved into visual art], Colin McDowell’s ‘Encounter’, Bob Upfold’s ‘Ahriman comes with his mighty sword’ [a great parody of Bob Dylan] and Alan Wearne’s ‘Into the Park’. [based on the opening scenes of Antonioni’s film Blow Up]
1968-Sep-05: Poetry reading – Chris Wallace-Crabbe, some of whose poems I liked and some I disliked. I didn’t read any of mine. I took along a few but developed an inferiority complex listening to the others, whom, the almighty knows, were far from perfect. There weren’t many at the reading this time [and it was unfortunately held next door to the Union Billiard Room].
1968-Sep-20: At 2.30 I went across to the English Faculty Library to hear the Canadian poet Earle Birney. He is apparently Canada’s establishment poet; as A.D. Hope is Australia’s, but there the resemblance ends.
1968-Sep-24: McCaughey asked me what I thought of Earle Birney. I said that some of the poems were rather obvious. McC said that he felt that Birney was unsure and that he did in consequence, read only the lighter stuff. John McL entered and was asked the same question – replied that he didn’t think much of Birney. Whereon Pat McC replied that he thought none of the ‘Monash poets’ (accent on the quotation marks) did. This, because the ‘Monash poets’ and a good deal of recent poetry mistrusts the use of irony. I objected that I didn’t find him so disagreeable. McC then replied, yes but then there are elements of irony in your work.
1968-Oct-01: Monash Daily News Sheet:
AND THEY’RE READING AT MANANGATANG.
THEY’LL BE READING HERE ON THURSDAY.
R. A. SIMPSON, JOHN SCOTT, ALAN WEARNE,
LAURENCE DUGGAN AND MANY MORE. HEAR
ORIGINAL MUSIC ALSO. COMMITTEE ROOM, 7.30 p.m.
It seems that I have joined the ranks of the immortal. R.A. Simpson is, of course, the guest; a published established poet. John Scott has been the winner several years running of some inter-university poetry prize. Alan Wearne has been published in The Age. And I have made the pages of such illustrious publications as the Huntingdale High School magazine and Mirabeau Goats No 1.
1968-Oct-03: The final poetry reading for the year. R.A. Simpson, the guest, seemed to me unimpressive. He was a poor reader but if some of the poems had been read by somebody else they sounded as though they might possibly be all right. There was a particularly biting one about the Australian literary scene ‘Geoffrey, Les and Nan and Max’ putting out their annual efforts – applauded in the newspaper columns by ‘Max and Les and Nan and Geoffrey’ – an indictment with which I am in full agreement. Geoffrey Dutton was on T.V. the other night advertising what seems to be another ‘ex R.A.A.F. boy remembers’ novel. He is quite a personality, but it is such a pity he holds such a dominant position in the literary field (and his compatriots in crime, Max Harris, James McAuley, and that younger but also promising strangler, Rodney Hall).
Meanwhile, back at the poetry reading. John Hooke’s ‘three pieces for string trio’ were very good indeed. And I thought he was fooling me when he said he was a composer a week or two ago. There were the usual junk-poem readings and some good poems also, particularly the long one by John Scott, Alan Wearne’s unfinished new poem (plus his one about the 1936 Olympics which he re-read). G, who chaired the reading, took the opportunity to read the reams of poems written over the last month. He is off the Haiku and onto the Sonnet at present, and soon, no doubt, will make Shakespeare’s 152-4 seem a small quantity by comparison. I read six poems, beginning with a sonnet, then I read five of the Merzpoems. After the reading I spoke to the Mirabeau Goat herders Rob King & Rob Smyth. Rob Smyth showed me a new poem; it is a great improvement on those obscure pieces in M.G. 1. M.G. 2. is going to be a bigger, better one apparently. It will have several Scott’s in it (and I am hoping, blast my vanity, several Duggans).
1968-Oct-17: ‘Russell Deeble has made it’ – consequently ‘I met a super poet’ this evening. T.V. cameraman got his worn looking unit rigged. Strong lights beamed within the bookshop. A crowd of irreverent yet incredulous characters – mainly from the Literature Club gathered. And then – enter R.D. (who has made it) yellow betrousered and plastic smiled plus. Two women straight out of Myers ‘In–Gear’ department 1969 (Or a San Franciscan equivalent of a year ago) – resplendent in Indian outfits and bare feet. An introduction was made by Dennis Douglas and since the cameraman was still putting 2 & 2 together members of the Lit Club were invited to read. Step forth G to read a further string of sonnets. Smile Mr Deeble – which he did; proceeding to read some old poems and some new ones from his forthcoming bestseller A Horse on Wax Wings. Deeble is a definite improvement on the Jindyworobaks and the rest of the backwoods bores of Australian poetry yet there is a certain element in his poetry which I cannot stomach.
[This extraordinary occurrence more or less ended the poetry year at Monash for someone who hadn’t yet got to know any of the writers very well. Russell Deeble was accompanied by his manager Sweeney Reed. I don’t know that High on a Horse with Wax Wings was exactly a bestseller. Not long after this event Deeble left the poetry world and became an advertising executive.]
1969-Feb-02: Went into the city on the 7.12 train. Caught a tram up to Victoria St. Walked along it then up Cardigan St. Saw a lot of people outside the back of Gallery 99. One of them was Bruce Dawe – the guest reader. Apparently someone had forgotten the key. The woman conducting the reading suggested we go around to the ‘Muse’. Some of us got into a panel van and a message was left on the gate of ‘99’. ‘The Muse’ – an all-night coffee house [in Grattan St near the corner of Swanston] was a revolutionary experience (for suburbanised me, at any rate). The reading was held upstairs in a room which had been used as a stage for drama. The cracked plaster walls and ceiling were painted bright red and a dark blue. Bruce Dawe read his poems – an hour, then a coffee interval, then five pieces of American blues sung by one of the locals. After the reading, I caught the same tram and train as Bruce Dawe – who lives in Noble Park, and discussed poetry with him.
1969-Feb-17: Went to the library, out The New American Poetry 1945-60 and oths. p.m. up to Monash. In the bookshop I met Rob Smyth & Colin McDowell. Smyth has stopped writing poetry, having lost interest – now intends to become an academic or else throw himself into successively larger paintings. Mirabeau Goats this year will undergo a face lift, starting with the name [none of these things happened]. I doubt that the next issue will contain articles on bushflies or ‘the curious splendour of old age pensioners eating’ (M.G. 1.). Never mind. I am interested in attracting a wider range of writing – particularly poetry, and think the best way to do this would be to write, requesting diverse poets such as Scott & Wearne to submit poems.
1969-Mar-02: Went to Gallery 99. Three poets. Philip Martin from Monash, Anne Chloe Elder, and Frank Kellaway. After, a Yugoslav (born Hungary) poet began a discussion about public vs. private poetry, into which entered the poets, one named Bill Beard & some others. The problem interests me, as I have often wanted to write a poetry that is more ‘public’.
1969-Mar-03: Moomba [Festival] poetry reading. [Melbourne] Lower town hall 7.45 – 10.00 p.m. Met the Monash crowd: McDowell, Scott, Wearne, Hooke, [Robin] Rattray-Wood. Reading began. About 20 read. Included Vincent Buckley, Corinne Kerby, Bruce Dawe, R. Deeble, Evan Jones, Barry Breen, Sweeney Reed, Anne Chloe Elder, Wilma Hedley, Jennifer Strauss, Bill Beard, Adrian Rawlings, John Scott, Alan Wearne, Michael Dugan, Mark Radznyer, Phillip Martin, Geoffrey Dutton etc. Buckley – 1st impression – a hack Shakespearian actor making a comeback. Beard – Public. Involving. Good reading. Gesture. Flourish. Lousy poetry. Lastly anybody who wished fervently to do so was invited to read. Somebody read – another aggressive one [Geoff Eggleston ?]. Then finally John Hooke – his poem about the little birdie [‘NEIN!’, a performance piece]. Hooke is an amazing character, with no fear of large masses whatsoever. The Monash poets Scott & Wearne were both very good.
1969-Mar-13: 1.00 – 2.15 p.m. Lit Club Committee meeting. John McL., G. Mark Newstead is now publications officer & the M.G. editorial board consists of McLennan, G, Newstead & Duggan. p.m. Had my evening meal at Monash then – the poetry reading. Evan Jones read – the lousiest reader I’ve ever heard – unfortunately he wasn’t given a fair go by the mob. John Scott had all his [high school] pupils there: grog ran out & I only had 2 glasses to prime myself. Oth readers Scott, Wearne, Hooke, King, Smyth, McLennan, Upfold, Duggan & c. I read ‘Merz 5’, ‘Sea Wall’, ‘Dichotomy’, ‘Encounter’, & ‘Merz 4’.
1969-Apr-03: It seems as though I have been appointed the new readings officer for the Lit. Club. (Earlier I noticed there was mail for me in the club letterbox, but I couldn’t find anyone with a key – I saw a message to that effect signed G on the club notice board). Phone call from Alan Wearne [the previous organiser]. He had sent a letter to me – the one in the club box, which, I told him, I had been unable to get. Apparently he thought I had already taken the job over as readings officer. Consequently I must get a poet to read Thursday week. Alan offered to help if I ever find need of it and I suggested that if he had any ideas he could phone me [In 1969 Alan had gone to Latrobe Uni. John Scott was by then on teaching rounds. I continued to organize the readings until the Literature Club folded late that year].
1969-Apr-10: [Mirabeau Goats No 2. came out] John Scott: Poetry reading last night at Latrobe was flat [I hadn’t gone to it]. I had rang Alan Wearne about the finalising of arrangements for the [Monash] reading yesterday afternoon and he had mentioned the [Latrobe] reading; also that they [Wearne & Scott] had visited R.A. Simpson [poetry editor for The Age] who had turned their poems down saying that Alan’s were too traditional and too romantic. As for M.G. it is larger, and the selection wider than last issue. However many of the poems fall below last issue’s standards. The poems I can safely say I like are Ian Robertson’s ‘We have wondered within rooms’, L. Villiers’ ‘Virginity’, John Hooke’s famous ‘Nein!’ and last but not least Colin McDowell’s sordid fairy tale ‘The Prince and the Swineherd’.
1969-Apr-17: The poetry reading – my first piece of organisation. Committee room 8.00 p.m. Frank Kellaway read, first of all his two longer poems ‘Smiler won’t pay’ and ‘Laying Lino in the Parthenon’ both of which I like, followed by groups of shorter poems of which I liked ‘Getting a ride from here to there’, the poem about ‘Meditations on nine/seven (?) shells’, ‘Paradise Lost’, and a couple of others. The readings by audience members were of a very high standard. Ian Robertson read ‘a very long poem about being depressed’ (quote Rob Smyth – who also read a few), E read three or four (and didn’t regard any of the poets including Frank K. as approaching his own standard of uniqueness), John Scott & Alan Wearne read again, G read two morbid pieces etc.
1969-May-01: Poetry reading without guest, in Eng Dept Library. John Scott, John Westcott, E – (who has written some of the best stuff written at Monash – and will tell you so), and David Dunstan read an excellent poem (& read it well) by someone else [Geoff King, later involved with 3RRR, who was too nervous]. I re-read pieces from the ‘august publication’.
[At this point, entries on specific events thin out. There are only brief notices or nothing at all for the rest of 1969.]
1969-May-15 [Poetry reading. Guest Barry (BA) Breen.]
[An Inter-University Arts Festival took place at Melbourne University between the 23rd and 31st of May. My first encounter with the La Mama poets en masse occurred over this period. I knew several of the people involved with Tribe the underground theatre group (I had been at school with Amanda Pearce), and went to La Mama often to see plays, but not, significantly, to hear poetry.]
1969-May-23: [2.30 p.m. A talk with the amazing title ‘Confrontation: The abuse of Australian Literature’ delivered by Patrick Morgan & R.F. Brissenden] 6.30 p.m. La Mama – ‘Who’ by Jack Hibberd.
1969-May-28: 10.30 p.m. Poetry reading [at La Mama]. Romeril, Scott, Wearne, G etc.
1969-May-29: 6.30 p.m. La Mama – ‘Calm Down Mother’ by Megan Terry. 8.30 p.m. Poetry/Music Bill Beard, Mark Radznyer etc. 11.00 p.m. La Mama – Improvisations
1969-May-30 [My 20th birthday] 6.30 p.m. La Mama – ‘O’ by Jack Hibberd.
1969-Jun-03: [Went to another La Mama reading with Amanda Pearce. Read some poems]
[Sometime late in 1969, Brian Medlin read in the English Dept. Library. The Monash poets were unimpressed by this hip Marxist academic]
[In August the Literature Club organised a camp at Mt Martha. The previous year there had been one at Marysville which I hadn’t attended. Details of this one gleaned from a 1973 recollection]:
That room in the dilapidated hotel, the iron bed & the torn blind – the poems I wrote. Walking along the rock, wrack covered beach in the morning, thinking in circles; Rob Smyth talking about the Lovin Spoonful – I first heard ‘Coconut Grove’ – and Rob King on Procol Harum: ‘Shine on Brightly’ – and John McLennan – whatever could he be doing now.
[Over September and November I wrote ‘Jalsaghar’, my first ‘long’ poem — title taken from the film by Satyajit Ray.]
[Again, notes for 1970 are scant. I became a part-time student that year, the Literature Club no longer existed, and the general scene was beginning to disperse. Probably because of this, I began to pay more attention to what was going on in distant Carlton, but by then things would probably have been on the wane there too.]
1970-Feb-23: Last night was at Eva St. [My parents’ place in Clayton – I’d just moved out of home to a place behind the back of a mower repair shop in Malvern and was spending a night with my parents]. Went to bed early then John Scott & Alan Wearne arrived. I now like very much Alan’s ‘Otis Redding’ sonnets. When I first heard them (in 1968) I didn’t. Times have changed. John also read some good stuff [‘Theatre of the Dead Starling’]. A reading at La Mama Tuesday night (tomorrow).
1970-Feb-24: [Monash poets take over La Mama reading. There was a degree of hostility in the air. I wrote an instant parody of Geoff Eggleston & read it. Sometime in 1970 or so I think I also wrote one of Michael Dransfield which I called ‘Acid Fuck Raga’. These early parodies are all lost.]
1970-May-22: E appeared. He talked to me about readings & just how bad the Monash poetry scene is/was. J a write off (I agreed). Wearne nearly as bad. Scott mannered – he has stopped thinking. This group, said E, is a clique with the tendency to crush with feathers weight. They needed someone to tell them what shit they were writing. I produced ‘Edge’, which, to my amazement E actually liked. Beware, he continued, of criticisms or indifference of people like the Monash circle. He believed in the importance of simplicity (c.f. John Scott’s ‘eccentricity of subject matter’). I had always been afraid that my poems were obvious. Yet despite my fears, it is true, that, perhaps owing to my own large ego, I could never quite believe that my poems were as bad as some seemed to imply they were. Colin [McDowell] is a different matter. It seems to me, that his total rejection of my poetry is not related to what he really thinks. Occasionally he makes useful criticism of minor points. E also liked Alistair Spate, whom I think is a real poet in the social sense, as is Pete Brown. Few people can galvanise a reading with their obvious enthusiasm as A.S. can. [How ‘indifferent’ the Monash circle were may be gauged from the fact that when ‘Crossroads’ (Jan 1971) and ‘East’ (March-Apr. 1971) appeared, John & Alan both affirmed ‘we’ve been waiting for you to do something like this’.]
1970-Jun-14: I have had ideas for a while now about writing a part poem based on the development within Gauguin’s paintings.
1970 [In September I went to the first Vietnam Moratorium.]
1970-Oct-20: Wake up at 6.00. Brood over fact that ‘Gauguin’ is just another rationalisation of my own despisal of the flesh. My room a walnut cabinet. [This sentence turns up in ‘East’.]
1970-Nov-17: Have had the idea for the last month or so of (after leaving uni.) getting a printing press (hand variety) (from the railways or s/t) & publishing poets. Setting up some (intelligent) opposition to Still Birth Inc. [Still Earth – operated by Sweeney Reed] & the undergrrd. (ground or grad) mags)
Get out yr grad mags baby!
(to the tune of Hi-heeled Sneakers)
would (seriously) like to publish John Scott, Alan Wearne & Michael Craig. Colin would almost certainly not wish to publish (& I can feel if not see his reasons – reason is the wrong word). I don’t know whether I would print any of my own or not.
Tonight a reading at 321 Nicholson St. (‘In God is thy eternal refuge’ – ‘In God is thy eternal refuse’) [The Carlton Arts Co-op a.k.a. Let It Be had readings in an old church building]. [Michael] Dugan, [Garrie] Hutchinson, [Robert] Kenny & c. Hitched into the city – got a lift with Chain going to the ‘Tum’ [the blues-rock group Chain & the Thumping Tum – an inner-city ‘disco’] – the driver later took me up to Carlton. 132 Rathdowne St. The reading, abysmal. Wet dreams & c. One girl looked really good until she opened her mouth, then it was plathese & ‘I’ve drop’t a lotta acid’. Michael Dugan (who read first) – truly appalling. In the words of one, Alan Wearne – ‘the Carlton school of chopped up prose’ [the Melbourne Uni. academics were referred to as ‘the Parkville school of dulled anguish’]. I had my poems with me but decided against reading. The atmosphere of the reading was rather like a late funeral service. ‘In God thy eternal refuge’. The large church should have had a microphone or at least good, clear speech. There were only about 15-20 there anyway. It’s hard to keep in with the ‘Let It Be’ (a good name) crowd without wanting to drop a mallet on someone’s toes.
1970-Nov-21: Sue [Lane]’s house-warming last night. Went with Colin, Ros [Short], Lyn [Harwood] & Lyn [?]. Spoke to Michael Dugan & Sally [Smith], Geoff King & oths. M.D. not so much a fool (which makes his taste & poetic even less easy to comprehend). I feel like the treader of tightrope – having either to fabricate a second level social-night poetic, or considerably disarm my own. I would like to be honest without alienating (‘I like you, yr poems are shithouse’) etc.
1970-Nov-27: Last night at the Arts Co-Op. One moment wished I lived in Carlton [I was back at my parents’ place], the next the full impact of the isolation; in Carlton too, I would be isolated. At times I wish it were not so i.e. that I could be part of the Co-Op crowd. But their inadequacy is only too apparent to me. I am alone because most of the people/institutions I could (in an outsiders eyes) fall back upon, I see as trivial. Stuck up on some Parnassus with Ezra and the gang; & while sneering at the sub-Parnassian cultures, feeling a lackey, bootblack & nothing more to E.P. & Co.
1970-Nov-29: Last night at Scott’s after Roz’s 21st party. John won the Poetry Magazine competition – prize $100. [The Sydney-based Poetry Magazine (later New Poetry), had been taken over late in 1969 by Carl Harrison-Ford, Robert Adamson, and Ken Quinnell.]
1970-Dec-02: Went up to Melb. Uni and later to the Co-Op where I read poems, nervous as hell, and aware, not that nobody listened but that I read to no-one, and probably no-one understood. Apart from a few revisions I may stop writing for a while, unless I come up with something entirely different. I certainly will not read my poems, and may not attend poetry readings, the effectiveness of which I doubt seriously anyway.
1970-Dec [In December I started to jot down ideas that eventually (1972) resulted in the ‘Melbourne Elegy’ – called ‘Elegy’ & printed in East (1976).]
1970-Dec-13: Finished the final ‘Gauguin’. Thursday afternoon John Scott & Alan arrived back from Sydney at Monash. J & A had a full week – went to John’s after picking Margot [Scott] up & heard anecdote after anecdote.
To speak of an Australian cultural explosion, for no reason but that a lot of Australians are painting is meaningless. Australia also has a knitting explosion and a cooking explosion. (Robert Hughes: Art of Australia).
Apply this to Australian Poetry Now [the anthology edited by Thomas Shapcott] – an obvious knitting explosion has taken place.
1970-Dec-27 [Left on my first trip (since childhood) to Sydney.]
1971 [I was in Sydney for a month from 28th December till January 28th. In January 1972 I noted:
I have amazingly clear images of 76 Barcom Ave. [Darlinghurst]. Looking out from the back verandah over the tiny tropical-looking garden with the curious umbrella & cardboard Dada structure. Kitchen & corner stove. Burnt toast. The disused copper & mug rack. The wood table & orange dresser beneath the window with the bowl of often rotten fruit above it. Tea-towels behind the back door. Living room – opened window above the record-player, the wooden case with records from Gene Autry through Big Mama Thornton, Monk, Quicksilver (‘Happy Trails’), ‘Sweet Baby James’ & c. Purple & yellow hessian covered cushions on the floor. A tapestry on the wall. The tile-fireplace & mirror. The long passage with its long bookshelves, door open to the street. Bathroom with walls inscribed with numerous existential statements & drawings in texta- colour. Pam [Brown]’s room – tidy with typewriter & pop artish columns of blue with red stars. Netta [Perrett]’s room – a curious mixture of discipline & unconcern – the viola in one corner, cardboard boxes. & Di [Fuller]’s room the culmination. A large black shop dummy replete with gas mask, beads & a cape. A painted bull’s head on the wall – Taurus – above the pillows of the bed, playing cards pasted on the wall. Books & various items on the floor. A guitar painted pink & mauve. The bed under the front window with its painted designs – orange, red, yellow, blue. Then the small tiled front porch with its inverse arch brick wall, tiny grass patch & wire & wood fence with gate. The street full of high terraces (we were on the low side). I particularly remember my arrival in Sydney walking past Central Station & park for an unknown destination, Oxford St., Taylor Square, drab in the rain. Then the mouth & long oesophagus of Barcom Avenue downhill & downhill yet further through the terraces: to knock on the door, answered by Pam in a blue windcheater with red star on it. Later seeing Diana emerge from the bathroom, her hair held wet in a towel – 29 December1970.
Diana Fuller had been a member of Tribe theatre, and I was given her address by Amanda Pearce. Pam Brown had already written a considerable body of poems. During my stay in Sydney I wrote ‘Crossroads’. Met Bob Adamson, John Tranter and Michael Dransfield. John Scott & Alan Wearne came to Sydney again briefly in late January and we visited Dransfield in his loft in Brown Lane, Paddington. Dransfield showed us some new poems which had the times of writing on them (i.e. 10.15 a.m., 10.30 a.m., 11.05 a.m. & c, ten or so a day). He played an album by Pip Proud which I thought was so funny-bad I had to go to the toilet so the chain-flush would camouflage my laughter. Proud lived downstairs from M.D. and the pair were living with two sisters. At one point, Dransfield said ‘I’m sending a manuscript to Sun Books man. I’m gonna call it Drug Poems. I think they’ll take it.’ At the time none of us liked Dransfield’s work, but I think it was largely a resentment that he had been ‘taken up’ by the old poets. I felt that one of the problems in Australian writing was that every time something exciting seemed to be happening, the older and uninteresting poets would find someone to pull out of the hat who could be called ‘modern’ but seen as adhering basically to the ‘Great Tradition’.]
1971-Apr-07: Finished (probably, except for minor alterations) ‘East’ which I dedicate to John & Margot [Scott]. Without whose… [This was earliest of my poems to see print in a book].
1971-May [In the latter half of May, I went to Canberra to the Inter-Uni. Arts Festival. This followed on from the one in Melbourne in 1969 and was the predecessor of the Nimbin festival held two years later. Alan had been invited to go but couldn’t make it so he’d sent my name to the poetry organizer – Kathy Bosser. [In Canberra] Saw John Tranter again and met Martin Johnston, Terry Larsen and Andrew Huntley. Apart from reading my own work I remember an outdoor reading (at Yarralumla?) where poets read the work of overseas writers they admired. I read some Gary Snyder poems from Regarding Wave. I can remember wearing two scarves and three sets of beads. After Canberra I continued up to Sydney for a week. Wrote notes for ‘A Section From the Golden Flower’ which I finished in June, back in Melbourne.]
1971-Jun-24: Co-editorship of the projected Leaves with Phil Chubb [later a journalist with The Bulletin].
1971-Jun-30: [The second Moratorium]
1971-Jul-02: 4.30 p.m. Just finished reading aloud to myself Ginsberg’s ‘Kaddish’, of which I heard the record in Sydney at Michael Dransfield’s Brown Lane. Yesterday morning, read aloud all of Bruce Beaver’s Letters to Live Poets & learning to like it more. Am into the writing of an anthology cum essay abt. Australian Poetry Now in which I hope to mention that book’s name only once, at the beginning & to follow up with a discussion & quotations from twelve (perhaps) poets, concluding with a plea & sermon [this was written for Dennis Douglas who took an Aust. Lit. option in English 3 Hons., Monash]. Poets will be Bruce Beaver, Bruce Dawe, Rodney Hall, Norman Talbot, John Tranter, Bob Adamson, Tim Thorne, John Scott, Alan Wearne, Martin Johnston, Jan [J.S.] Harry & Charles Buckmaster.
1971-Jul-16: Finished this week a poem, ‘The Letter’, which I shall probably either scrap, or recast in a different mould. It begins with lines from a Pound translation:
‘How shall we know all the friends / Whom we meet on strange roadways?’
[I rewrote it in 1972 & dedicated it to Alan Wearne]
1971-Jul-23: Burning up old philosophy & english lecture-notes. Finding the newspaper photo/article on John Scott & taping it to the wall [a hilarious piece by Geraldine Pascall from the Sydney Morning Herald on the occasion of John’s winning the Poetry Society’s annual award. The journalist tried to make the author appear as much like a social deviant as possible]. By mail – the first book in the Poetry Soc’s Prism Poets series – The What of Sane – Tim Thorne. Cover & layout were not as good as I expected after seeing the design in Sydney. Couple of days ago the June issue of New Poetry – also long overdue – containing Alan’s ‘Poem Beginning & Working with a Line from Frank O’Hara’ – one of his best.
1971-Aug-03: Yesterday afternoon Dennis Douglas’ lecture on the ‘movement’ in Melb. 1968-70 [the writers associated with La Mama]. [Kris] Hemensley, [Michael] Dugan, [Charles] Buckmaster, [Bill] Beard & c. Rather comic listening to my contemporaries vaunted as though dead. Realised however that the crowd did produce something of worth – a widening of outlets & a relaxing of control within the established magazines & circles. None of the poets mentioned, to my mind, have produced anything of merit, with the borderline case perhaps of Chas. Buckmaster. Of the ‘real’ poets, only John Tranter was mentioned – his Free Grass parody magazine. D.D. briefly mentioned Michael Dransfield whom he said was writing some really good poetry. I’ve decided that perhaps the only Australian poet with whom I have a good deal in common is my contemporary Martin Johnston. I read the ‘Blood Aquarium’ in the train this morning – impressive. The first criticism wd. be that M.J. is often more precious than he need be. He is sometimes apparently unaware of the comic nature of the complex words he uses.
Walking from Flinders St northward, I thought I saw Ian Robertson (one of the discussed poets in the D.D. lecture) but by the time I decided I would like to have spoken to him he was a block behind me.
That was one of the strange things about Melbourne: people of similar interests didn’t necessarily gravitate towards one another. (Vance Palmer: ‘Frank Wilmot’)
In the Melb. [Uni.] library glanced at Hope’s Dunciad Minor (looks terrible) & some essays of Slessor (on 5 Bells, Brennan & Sydney) & bits about Wilmot (Furnley Maurice). Will probably read the ‘Melbourne Odes’ for fun, & probably see how little is revolutionary about the new underground – D.D. mentioned as background W.C. Williams, Olson, & Bunting – but it wd. probably be true to say, or at least suppose that none of the poets mentioned had read any of the 3 poets work (except probably Kris Hemensley). D.D. himself has probably not seen Bunting’s work at all. He mentioned the young poets’ revulsions from Eliot & the Austn. Establishment – I fail to see any connection b/n these two & further believe that if the ‘underground’ co/op crowd had any ability they wd. find much to learn from in Eliot. Nonetheless will probably solicit the D.D. lecture for Leaves – at least it is wary about praising these writers overmuch. [The article appeared in Leaves: ‘to be a poet amongst poets/not to be THE poet’. Rob Smyth laid it out, with the result that the section ‘Some theoretical pronouncements’ had, between the statements of Hemensley, Buckmaster & the American poets, stills taken from Polanski’s ‘Fearless Vampire Killers’. A trace of the attitudes of the Monash poets may be detected here.]
1971-Sep-20: Note a curious resemblance between Alan Wearne & Coventry Patmore viz:
THE MARRIED LOVER (Patmore)
Why, having won her, do I woo?
Because her spirit’s vestal grace
Provokes me always to pursue,
But, spirit-like, eludes embrace;
Because her womanhood is such
That, as on court–days subjects kiss
The Queen’s hand, yet so near a touch
Affirms no mean familiarness
[But this is the A.W. of ‘Buttons’ & ‘Remembering Margery’ – not the A.W. of ‘Otis Redding’ or ‘Out Here’]
In the mail the August New Poetry. A long section Early Poems (some) of Thomas W. Shapcott in which we are revelated: T.W.S. having written free verse as early as 1954.
The usual mash of New York School plus a couple of good things – Tranter’s ‘conversations’, a Peter Skrzynecki poem, Rodney Hall. A poem by a Thomas Wheeler which aptly parodies most of the other poems [this was in fact written by Carl Harrison-Ford]. A Donald Davie poem & article [on him, by C. H-F]. John Scott’s ‘Sonnet (Long Balconies)’, ‘The Performance: Edith Piaf’ neither of which approach his best.
1971-Oct-01 Wrote a brief review for Lot’s Wife [Monash’s student newspaper] of 12 Poets 1950-70 [ed. Alex Craig] after picking up the book from the office this morning.
1971-Oct-24: John Scott has confirmed his decision to stop writing poems. He is working on ideas for a film script. When he told Alan of his decision (he has only written one somewhat unsatisfactory poem over the last year) Alan revealed his own reason for writing – a rather curious one – there is so much bad stuff around he wishes to show he can write better than. I told John, my reason was almost the antithesis – I feel more and more, that the idea of competition is alien – my reason, the extra-poetic one of wanting love/not knowing what love is. John went off for beer. I mentioned to John, that if I didn’t write poems I could practically throw all my poetry volumes out – except five or six – most of them are on the shelf as kinds of company reports & year books.
1971-Nov [Around early November Tribe drama group decided to split up. Through 1971 there was a general feeling that something was ending. Most of the impetus that carried through from 1966 or so had petered out & at the same time many of the writers were finding publication outlets outside the gestetner belt. But the feeling was more uncertain than these facts would indicate.]
1971-Nov-13: Leaves came out Thurs. night. Looks really bad except for one or two pages of Rob’s [layout]. Some new poems I hadn’t seen were in it – all bad – spurious zen & wet dreams. To boot we don’t get a cent to pay contributors with – only a load of ratshit adverts (& the publisher makes abt. $7000 out of us – after printing costs). Strangely I feel like doing another magazine & laying it out myself. The inconsistency of typeface for headings, index & c is appalling – this plus poems coupled with illustrations – a practice I detest.
1971-Nov-30: It takes a while to wash poetry off one’s hands. Garrie Hutchinson rings to ask me if I could contact Scott & Wearne about the poetry reading to save the Pram Factory [home of the Australian Performing Group] Dec 10th – the messy bits still cling to ones fingers.
1971-Dec-06: I am committed to the poetry reading – SAVE THE PRAM FACTORY – Friday night. An ad. in the Review – Charles Buckmaster, Garrie Hutchinson, Chris Wallace-Crabbe, Russell Deeble, King Hippo poetry bank (sic.) & others. I despair that anyone would listen & fear that I will have lost all the courage I had in Canberra and Sydney in May. [The misprint should have read ‘King Hippo poetry band’, an outfit put together by Michael Dugan. I remember them on one occasion playing a folk-rock version of Keats’ ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ before an audience of septuagenarians at a P.E.N. Club gathering.]
1971-Dec-07: Things come out of nothing. I re-read Robert Hughes’ Art of Australia, fascinated with ‘The angry decade 1937–47’ – Vasillieff, Tucker’s ‘Night Images’ & Melbourne (all this alongside the ludicrous poems & novel of Max Harris & the Ern Malley episode). Last night I typed out some impressions of the St Kilda, Carlton–Fitzroy syndrome, & today intend to visit the newspaper section of Monash library to find out a bit about the U.S. soldier, rapist & murderer, Leonski & perhaps popular opinions of the art scene. Also examine Angry Penguins if I can get my hands on copies. [Material from these & contemporary newspapers was used in constructing the Melbourne ‘Elegy’ in 1972.]
1971-Dec-10: I phone with a phoney excuse the Pram Factory & Garrie Hutchinson. Morning in the city & back here – to receive a reply, very prompt, from John Tranter in Singapore [J.T. was working there for a year]. J.T. actually likes some of the ‘Rite of Passage/Golden Flower’ sequence [this consisted of three poems – later abandoned because, in a way, it was an academic exercise influenced by a reading of Robert Graves’ White Goddess]. Tonight I will visit the Scotts – it is likely John Westcott will be there – on holiday from Uni. of N.S.W. which he is trying to transfer out of.
One thing I notice now, looking at the poetry shelf of the Source Bookshop – how little I want to buy any of it. Wads of U.S. anthologies, tomes of Ginsberg & Patchen – too much has been written. This is what makes the poetry reading scene what it is. A brace of enervated Rimbauds & Ginsbergs – wash upon wash of vapidity, to notice which means noticing the vapidity of much of your own writing as well, & noticing the flecks in others. It’s no good to pretend anything good can come out of the Arts Co-Op/Carlton crowd, merely an insincere liberalism which can only, in the end, be damaging – it’s no good increasing by one the kind of audience which will safely give the mediocre pretence to view themselves as they wish – though decreasing it by one won’t have any effect either. It amounts to having the guts to know when to shut-up & the insight where to begin.
1971-Dec-12: I can now see a strong provincial element in my poems – even ‘Rite’. It consists in a kind of belief or half–belief that I was at the cutting front, or meaningful point of poetry – I can’t really explain – but it was that intangible thing which made me believe, not just that I wrote better than some people, but that my writing was in another class altogether.
1971-Dec-18: Since Monday night I’ve been at John & Lyn Hughes’ place at Cockatoo, picking strawberries & am just back for a couple of days to go to Lynne Berry’s 21st birthday (at Roz & Garry’s–Eltham). 3 more vols of Prism Poets arrived – Robyn Ravlich, Bob Adamson & Chas. Buckmaster. 3 more acres of print – the Adamson an exception. Also the October New Poetry. At Cockatoo I’ve cleared my mind still further in regard to writing. When I want to write a poem what I jot down is usually someone else’s voice. I have written, by choice, in the shadow of Eliot, Bunting & c – I now realise this. What I am as yet unable to do is write something in a language which is distinctly my own. This is not only a personal point – most of the New Poetry/Prism/Carlton & c poetry, is written in borrowed language, whether it be Hip Zen or New York/Paris Review dialect e.g. Chas. B, Martyn Sanderson. Even Bob A. is at times in danger of succumbing (‘Wow, those Symbolists’). One person who hasn’t – & this has probably led to much maligning from others & a sort of coupled retirement from the ‘scene’–is John Tranter. Adamson can live in the scene – he is strong enough to do so.
1971-Dec-26: A poem is in typescript – nine whole pages improvised today and now in the process of organisation [the ‘Cockatoo Draft’].
[The entries for early 1972 show me working on the ‘Cockatoo Draft’. I didn’t know what was happening with this piece until I took up similar forms three years later, early 1975, beginning Under The Weather. Consequently I kept ‘condensing’ the poem as though it were a draft – but ended up with just another piece of cryptic mythology which had none of the energy of the original. I had seen plenty of open form work at this stage, but hadn’t struck anything that showed me how to let my own shapes out. Locally I felt the only writers who’d been able to use lines like that were Charles Buckmaster & Nigel Roberts – the others were unsatisfactory – there seemed to be no reason for the poem to spread all over the page save the purely visual. This is what Alan meant by ‘the Carlton school of chopped up prose’. The first writer to give me any satisfactory inkling here was Philip Whalen. I bought Severance Pay in 1973. I keep thinking about the ‘graph of a mind moving’ & ‘continuous nerve movie’.]
1972-Jan-02: The poem, retitled ‘On the Road Again’ [after Canned Heat, not Jack Kerouac], was completed Friday evening – the 31st – at Cockatoo – before we left for Scott’s party – ending in a vastly different state but still a strange poem – even elements of New York intrude. Surprisingly Colin, to whom I showed it today, was appreciative, but then said on my noting his reaction unexpected, ‘but I like anything these days’. Tomorrow I show it to Scott & Wearne. I’ve just read John’s script for Part 1. of ‘Rudolph & Miranda’.
1972-Jan-03: To Noble Park & Nth Dandenong to see John Westcott before he & Janine return to Sydney. Took John Scott’s filmscript & afterwards borrowed Alan’s book [folder] of poems, particularly to read ‘For the End of Evensong’.
1972-Jan-05: ‘On the Road Again’ gives me a great amount of worry & uncertainty. If I hack away any further I fear it will fragment completely, but as yet it is uneasy & unresolved. John Scott thought (probably rightly) that it was the beginning of something – the ‘moving in’, as his ‘Horror trial to rival Crippens’ (which led to the Hancock poems) was. My immediate reaction is to let it lie unread for a while & fumble around in the meantime.
1972-Jan-12: Yesterday afternoon at the Scotts’ listening to their new stereogram. Took Alan’s poems back, which had given me great enjoyment (& more. I know the ‘encroach of caution; mushrooming at four’). Outside it is finally raining. John confirmed my suppressed suspicions of ‘On the Road’. On returning home I cancelled a further twenty lines & now it is as hopeless as ever. I’ve withdrawn it from the folder.
‘Classical poetic form is nowadays used only by variety singers’ (Kurt Schwitters).
1972-Jan-25 KUAN (20) KEN (52)
20. Kuan – JUDGMENT – Kuan shows the worshipper who has washed his hands, but not (yet) presented his offerings with sincerity and an appearance of dignity.
THE GREAT SYMBOLISM
the earth, & wind moving above it. The ancient kings, in accordance with this examined regions to see the (ways of the) people & set forth their instructions.
The third line divided, shows one looking at (the course of) his own life, to advance or recede (accordingly) – he will not err in the path to be pursued.
52. Ken – JUDGMENT – When one’s resting is like that of the back, and he loses all consciousness of self; when he walks in the courtyard and does not see any (of the persons) in it – there will be no error – the backbone has nothing to do with anything beyond itself
Amidst society, he who realises the idea of the hexagram is still alone, and does not allow himself to be distracted from the contemplation & following of principle. He is not a recluse, however, who keeps aloof from social life; but his distinction is that he maintains a supreme regard to principle when alone, and when mingling with others.
1972-Feb-05: A letter to Tranters [in Singapore] mailed. Saw in the Australian an ad for nursing training at Balmain Hospital – applied for the 12 month nursing-aide course – beginning Feb 24th – fairly certain now I will go up on Friday 18th – less than a fortnight.
1972-Feb-06: A little drunk, I look at the edge of a book & read ‘Sigmund Freud ON DREAMS’ as though Freud were a verb. Have just been glancing at Martin Johnston’s Shadowmass thinking he’s so bloody good – though an uneven producer – he’s got a ‘voice’ which is more than most of them/us have [the whole idea of ‘voice’ was something that bothered me for a while, until I gave up the search].
1972-Feb-09: Pam [Brown] sent a card & note – arr. yesterday – She liked the ‘On the road/Solstice’ change & was wondering when & if I’d be up. I replied – mailed this morning.
1972-Feb-17: John phoned last night to say that the special Poetry Aust is not coming out – they returned ‘Crossroads’. [Around this period there seemed to be many attempts to bring out special issues of magazines or anthologies, most of which – like this one – fell through. I used to joke that my poems were the kiss of death – any little mag or anthology I sent them to mysteriously folded overnight!]
1972-Feb-18: [I moved to Sydney.]