Laurie Duggan 2
The Sydney Years, 1972-1978
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:
I had visited Sydney at the end of 1970 and not far into the following year I decided I would move there when I could. I felt that I had been typecast by most of the people in my Monash milieu (with the notable exceptions of John Scott and Alan Wearne) and I wanted to escape the tag of idiot savant. Sydney seemed central then to what was going on in poetry, with the Poetry Society and their recently renamed magazine New Poetry, and with individuals like John Tranter, Martin Johnston and John Forbes in circulation. The Sydney Push were still an active force though I was too young to participate, too attuned to pop culture and, in any case (coming from Melbourne) not a libertarian. I gradually lost track of Pam Brown in the early seventies but later, through Ken Bolton, we converged again. Alongside John Forbes, Pam and Ken became my closest writing companions
When I published a series of extracts from these journals in Meanjin in 1994, some of my friends were startled by their serious tone. It seemed so unlike the person they’d dealt with from day to day. I found their reactions mildly alarming at the time, though I’m beginning to come round to their way of seeing things as I write this. What I find interesting about these entries now are my attempts to conceptualise what I was doing with an inadequate or at least unsophisticated critical language (at least what I was actually attempting in the poems preceded theorisation, which is the way it should be).
1972-Feb-20: Third floor, Flat 2, 348 Crown St., Surry Hills, at last having contacted a no. of people. This afternoon at Ken Quinnell’s to discover I have won the annual Poetry Society prize. A sudden & brief thunderstorm over the house, the harbour. Copy of a new roneoed magazine Leatherjacket. Otis Spann on piano.
[The Crown Street flat where I stayed while looking for a place was rented by Pam Brown and Cynthia Dyer-Bennett. After my cocooned life in Melbourne it seemed almost symbolic of Sydney that another guest during my stay was John Paul Jones, Led Zeppelin’s bassist. The Poetry Society award ($100!) was judged by Martin Johnston & Terry Sturm.]
1972-Mar-01: Read to a minimal audience — Sydney Uni Orientation week (with Andrew Huntley — with whom & Karen, I afterwards saw [the movie] Bullitt — Martin Johnston & Terry Larsen, who had only just arr. back from David Campbell’s farm).
Today at the Brett Whiteley exhibition, Bonython’s, Paddington — aware of this — a Zen stance is the easiest stance one can adopt if one is an artist in capitalist society. Yet one feels that Whiteley has arrived at his Zen by a logical means. In a painting like the ‘Rimbaud’ piece — all the detail is peripheral — the central panels contain very little. From an inability (non-evaluative sense) to focus W has formed a style. It was a comparatively easy step to bore a hole in a central panel & install a light behind it. Rimbaud is the poet who stopped writing for reasons largely left to conjecture. The light implies a source — it becomes a central point in the ‘Van Gogh’ paintings & W says of these — ‘V.G. knew there was no point of focus’.
1972-Mar-18: Since Monday 13th — residing at 25A Shaw St., Petersham — with Terry Larsen, Steve Hooper & Robin Treloar — numerous details — a first dole cheque. Attended the Voznesensky poetry reading — Sydney Uni — Thurs — met Bob [Adamson], who had frightening tales of the Adelaide Festival [?]
1972-Mar-21: Ginsberg & Ferlinghetti at the conservatorium (plus Voznesensky) — about the most depressing event imaginable [though Ferlinghetti managed to stare down a drunken and noisy Brett Whiteley]. I attended with Diana [Fuller], Netta [Perrett] & Pam, afterwards going back to Maria [Szechow’s] place with Terry and a few others to drink & talk until five-thirty.
Met John Forbes back at the Sydney Uni poetry reading early this month. He visited & I went around to his & Mark O’Connor’s place in Newtown — about 100 yds from Martin’s [Enmore Rd], on Friday night. If he told M ‘you are a hopeless romantic’, what must he think of me?
1972-Apr-02: I have translated ‘At the Green Cabaret’ [‘Au Cabaret Vert’ — finally becoming ‘Roadhouse Blues’ — title from a Doors’ song] & am hopefully at work on three other Rimbaud poems. — the thought of ‘making new’ as Bunting does with Villon. Noted yesterday that John Tranter uses a phrase from ‘Mauberley’ (‘Mr Nixon’) in ‘Conversations’ changed (significantly) from ‘Give up verse my boy, there’s nothing in it’, to ‘Give up life my boy’ &c — used by Cronstadt, the old poet.
1972-Apr-18: A further polishing off, brushing up, of ‘The Letter’, now a full-fledged parody of such poems as ‘Go on, tell me the season is over’ [by Alan Wearne. I wrote a lot of my own poems when I was really trying to parody other peoples. More often than not the ‘parody’ looked nothing like the work it was supposed to ape].What I want to write at present are poems like the ones in Lustra — the witty pieces of observation; perhaps something like ‘Mauberley’ as a result.
1972-Apr-22: I have tended to heavily disguise what I initially wanted to say in my work; treated the reader as a potential enemy — particularly in the ‘Golden Flower’ sequence; in ‘East’ it is rather diversion which acts as camouflage, pretending to be the structure itself, hence the similarity to New York frivolity (I noticed that even in John Forbes’ ‘Here’, there are the elements of a social critique — though he would probably deny its influence in his work, as I would affirm it in ‘East’).
[‘A section from the Golden Flower’, ‘The Passage’, & ‘Triad’ were pieces written in 1971 and early 1972 and subsequently dropped. I’d now see these poems as ‘academic’ — attempts to manufacture the kind of experience which, if it had to arrive at all, should have been whispered in my ear by an angel rather than précised itself from the pages of the textbooks of mythology.]
1972-Apr-29: Two telegrams:
GIGGLES LAUGHTER SMILES AND JOY IT COULDN’T
HAVE HAPPENED TO A NICER BOY LOVE ROS AND GARY
HAIL TO LAURIE THE SOLUTION TO HIS OWN CRYPTIC CROSSWORD BOY GIVEN LEAF TO BARK AND WHO MAY BE SWUNG BETTER THAN ANYONE YOU HAVE AMAZED YOUR FRIENDS DEEPEST LOVE DRIFTER FOR THE MANY SHAPES OF YOUR SOLITUDE YOU TOOK ME FAR FROM THE TWISTED REACH OF CRAZY SORROW WHEN MY FRIENDS THEY CAME AROUND YOU ARE A MAD MAGICIAN LAURIE AND YOUR WORDS ARE THE COOL SEA SPECTRUM OF YOUR SANITY SHIVA DANCES AND YOU ARE THE RIPPLE OF MALLARME OF RIMBAUD OF ELIOT OF DYLAN OF BUNTING OF MCDOWELL BUT FINALLY YOU’RE JUST LAURIE DUGGAN AND THAT’S WHAT WE CARE ABOUT THO THE ACADEMY AWARD STUFF IS THE OCCASION FOR SAYING SO DON’T ABDICATE THE ECSTASY PACE MI PERDONA MATEUR FRERE AMI. PETE (CRAVEN)
[Amaze Your Friends was an early title for the East MS. ‘The twisted reach…’ & ‘My friends they came around’ are from Bob Dylan. ‘Leaf to bark’ was from a poem — unpublished — by Colin McDowell. I was a bit scared by Peter’s possibly expensive telegram and made a note hoping he wasn’t serious.]
1972-May-07: The Melbourne poem [‘Elegy’] is finished and yesterday I went across to Balmain. I visited Edna Wilson [Poetry Society treasurer] in Darling St and sat in the sun discussing the vicissitudes of poets and drinking coffee. I mentioned that I’d try and get on the Poetry Society’s committee this year, adding that I was quite prepared to do mundane tasks. I later walked up the road to visit Terry Smith [the Fine Arts academic] who was, I discovered, in a bit of a quandary, talking to a friend whose husband had left suddenly, so I accompanied him to the nearby milkbar near the Rowntree/ Darling St intersection, followed by Colin Talbot, one of the Carlton magazine people. We ran into Mia Pithie who took C.T. & me to Robyn Ravlich’s place, and, when R.R. proved to be absent, to The Anchorage which has unfortunately been sold. I gave Talbot a couple of sections from ‘Crossroads’ for his 30 Days magazine [which subsequently folded].
1972-May-24: A letter from Scott yesterday, with numerous details. John gave me free reign [rein] to choose poems for Harrison-Ford’s school (A & R) anthology, which so far may or may not include John Forbes, Martin [Johnston], Terry [Larsen], & if he has sent anything, Alan Wearne, and myself [this anthology failed to materialize].
1972-May-26: Yesterday: — HIGHWAY 31 / HOMAGE TO GARY SNYDER
(4 a.m. — 11 p.m.)
Liverpool 6.15 ADDENDA: Cabramatta/ light
(cerulean might be the
Warwick Farm: Vulcan’s forges
(‘who doesn’t give a tinker’s damn’)
Liverpool: a rush at the kiosk for Daily Telegraph (give us this day)
Flags, petrol pumps KENTUCKY/ HENNY PENNY/ &c
7.15 Cathy (Scorpio) & Pauline (Sagittarius/ Gemini?)
in the back cases & cushions ‘Guide to your horoscope & dreams’
: — Med students (Cathy at least) ( — Canberra)
wrong turn thru Campbelltown
then back on 31 at Picton
Morning Hot Chocolate
Berrima (?) Beer at oldest continually
licensed pub. in Aust.
Pauline gets coasters/ Cathy
plays sentimental record
of me, arm around Pauline
to make the guy jealous
Outskirts of Goulburn / Service station
‘might be better to abandon it lady’
(cracked bearing probly.)
Back on Hi-way 31
Goulburn-Canberra turn off (5 mi?)
— guy in white ute
‘used to work 7 days a week
have 4-5 months holiday
blow it all’
occasional WHIRR of car
singing ‘Ballad of Joe Leonski’ c.f.
chorus of ‘Flash Jack from Gundagai’
Two trainee army officers
back from footy (Rugby league) Sydney — to Wagga
‘not much fuckin doin this
(Psych/ German/ & French: Sydney
1 Beer & 2 Lemon Squash: Yass
car horn like a calf’s cry
lured cows from fields (father
of one, a farmer)
Outskirts of Gundagai
Walking thru Gundagai
a piss near the scout hall
main st. passing in the opp direction
a moustached american-looking
A: ‘Weather in Melb is awful’
B: ‘Weather in Sydney is awful’
A: ‘Best stick in the middle
somewhere (where can I
have a piss around here?)
Telegram from P.O. Gundagai:
GUNDAGAI — ARRIVING TONIGHT. (3.30 p.m.)
before the bridge, G
lift in small yellow sports
Monash Anthropology student/ long beard
Golden sunset b/ n ? & Holbrook
1/ 2 an apple.
dark & cold.
Wangaratta: Coffee & chiko roll
Fire glow on a log
smoke-like car light over the rise
tantalised by Melb lights.
Flinders St 10.15.
Suburbs (the ‘Malvern house’)
Oakleigh & Huntingdale — the dreariest suburbs in the world.
Clayton BRASS MONKEYS 28 Eva St.
ADDENDA: Allan Petersen & dog met in
the dark, Gentle St.
1972-May-28: [Melbourne:] The Review with a long article on Vincent Buckley’s ‘Golden Builders’ a poem I must read — I imagine it’s one my work might in future be unfavourably compared with — out of a total lack of understanding I suspect — i.e. my intentions wd. be entirely different, perhaps even the antithesis of Buckley’s. Alan Wearne came around — he hasn’t written a great deal since the ‘End of Evensong’, which he produced me a photocopy of. One of the two new pieces, ‘St Kilda’ was rather good. ‘The End of Evensong’ wd. probably be grouped with my stuff in order to be unfavourably compared [with Buckley et. al.] (in fact it was rejected in no uncertain manner by Meanjin) [The ‘Elegy’ was rejected by Overland not long after this]. A.W. is also getting a small book through a little press at Queensland Uni — date uncertain [the press was Makar & the book, Public Relations. John Scott was finally able to publish The Barbarous Sideshow with Makar in 1975].
What annoys me about Australian letters & criticism in general, is its tendency to regard writing as a sort of competition. This, no doubt, actually leads back to the writers themselves, creating the tensions, & the useless antagonisms which push the whole thing back through crits. in a vicious circle. More than ever there is a need for an Australian Paul Carroll [who wrote The Poem in its Skin] to show the common concern of all poets despite their superficial and deeper differences, and for some godlike Poundian anthologist to make a fearless choice and produce the country’s first worthwhile and meaningful anthology.
1972-Jun-24: Thinking of articles in Bernard Smith & Robert Hughes about Mike Brown & the always tentative Dada position — to be a practising dada-ist is the most difficult thing in the world because once the ‘ist’ becomes ever so slightly pronounced; once the verb becomes a noun, it means you are absorbed. No-one is allowed to piss in ‘Duchamp’s’ urinal. I’m thinking about this in a series of tenuous arguments in relation to my poems. I just said to Terry ‘it’s all just a string of drawn out attempts’, to which he replied ‘stop being a poet (capital P) — you’ve written well — don’t read it for six months — put it under the pillow and practise self-discipline.’
1972-Jul-01: Across the Domain to the Gallery where I saw an old poet — who must have been either R.D. Fitzgerald or some similar person, sitting before the plate-glass windows between the three Passmore paintings, taking notes.
1972-Jul-17: The streets outside filled with sirens. Tonight my copy of Alan’s Public Relations has arrived. I think of a possible Gargoyle Poets size Mss (containing ‘East’, ‘Crossroads’ (pts 3, 4 & 5), ‘Gauguin’, ‘The Fool’, ‘Rhymes’ [‘Rimbaud’], ‘Roadhouse Blues’, ‘The Letter’, and ‘Elegy’) but choose to leave it as a possibility. I’ve still not sent ‘Elegy’ off to any publisher — I’ve been thinking about Overland or Meanjin.
1972-Jul-30: Visited Bruce Beaver at Manly, with John Forbes. Beaver very gentle, widely read in recent poetry — noted the lack of reciprocation b/ n Aust. & N.Z. over poets from our direction e.g. people like James Baxter — B rather like the animal from which his name is taken. Top floor of a modern block of flats: the rooms austerely white and empty, yet somehow, in a strange way, attractive. Norfolk pines outside the window. Beaver’s speech very much like the voice of Letters to Live Poets.
1972-Aug-03: Last night, the second committee meeting of the Poetry Society, the Feb/ April magazine finally out. I saw some of Bob’s new poems which seem strangely distant. This morning picked up Albert Tucker [by Ann Galbally] at the Co-op, & a new and terrible Penguin Book of Australian Verse [ed. Heseltine]: still that wilful confusion of ‘history’ (whatever that means) and ‘literary merit’ as deciding factors, along with the lowest of all denominators ‘critical popularity’ (Michael Dransfield, ‘of the many young people writing verse in Australia speaks with perhaps the greatest assurance and individuality’).
1972-Aug-08: I finally merge into an understanding of the position of poets like Ashbery, Berrigan & Padgett through an exploration of nostalgia. There are alternatives of nostalgia (this year witnesses a frightening retreat into nostalgia over a whole culture) and a kind of neo-existentialism which shows up in many of the New York poets’ works, and in John Forbes’ poems also. Language is captured in a process — in comic poems this means that the words should do ridiculous things — deflating themselves at each turn; with Ashbery it means that a poem quite comprehensible in lines or phrases, becomes totally puzzling — because we are trying to see in it a moment. Ashbery has thus, in a way, redefined the scope/ matter of poetry by breaking down the notion that the poem should be static as a painting in a frame (even as a ‘futurist’ painting in a frame).
1972-Aug-13: I keep finding excuse after excuse for not writing, though I feel a need to write something. This over-awareness makes it impossible for me to write a poem. Instead I hedge about, glance at segments I have written over the last year; at sections and pages of books by other poets. The problem is of course of raison d’être for a poem. As John Forbes has said there seem to be innumerable poets (Malouf, occasional R.A. Simpson) who can write well-made traditional ‘modern’ poems (as opposed to A.D. Hope — ‘modern’, that is), yet in the end, for all the obvious skill, these works are largely boring. Far better to work at the limits and edges of verbal experience and lie prone to the obvious dangers of ephemerality, triteness etc.
1972-Aug-18: At present I’m in a curious unresolved position regarding writing. Reading John Berger’s essays on Leger & Cubism in The Look of Things and at the same time interested in the New York scene. How can one reconcile what seems to be a total subjectivism (in e.g. Berrigan’s Sonnets) with the sort of ‘epic’ lucidity of Leger, or the group concern at the ‘moment of Cubism’? The reason I pose such a question is because to a large extent, my next piece of writing must either be or already assume an answer to it. The best of my uneven output has shown an increasing movement away from the self as subject and is to some extent political, though all my poems in themselves are uneven. In some way which I can’t approach as yet, their unevenness is essential; they are not works of museum art.
Perhaps a way into the seeming contradiction of my interests is the one I have already noted: what is to be commended in the best writing of the New York people, particularly Ashbery (and the Berrigan of the Sonnets) is its complete avoidance or rejection of nostalgia. And perhaps this rejection may serve to link the poetry with the work of the Cubists (at the ‘moment’), with Apollinaire, and with Leger — Ashbery’s non-sequential writing, and the curious recognisability of Berrigan’s apparently quite subjective sonnets: a familiarity probably due to the availability of modern apparati which can be used harmoniously (in Leger), or serve as amusement to be discarded (in Berrigan) where there is no socio-political reciprocity — both implicitly locate themselves here/ now.
1972-Aug-24: The idea of ‘field’ or ‘projective’ verse may well link up with ‘the moment of Cubism’: the link apparent in the work of Ed Dorn & Olson — an awareness of simultaneity — nothing can exist in or for itself, statically, to be possessed as such, without repercussion elsewhere: ‘Wilberforce a standard trick/ of conscience, what i.e./ can be thought of man/ as he ventures/ part of Bristol is still rich’ (Dorn: ‘The North Atlantic Turbine’).
1972-Sep-24: On Friday Bob Adamson visited me in my dinner hour at work — he claimed not to have slept since last Saturday when Forbes and I had visited. After we left, Bob says he began a long poem entitled ‘The Armory Show’ (originally the title for his present book) and he wants to show me the draft (together with a few other people) [I never saw this poem. Nor have I ever been certain that it existed]. He said he’d be around today, which just might mean today, with a photocopy of the poem in its present state. He also suggested the idea of a ‘higher-level’ writers’ workshop in which we (himself, Tranter, Forbes, and I) could run off copies of poems & submit them to the others for scrutiny [this didn’t happen either]. To this I feel again hopelessly inadequate. All the time it seems people judge me on a higher level than I really am — even these people who know nothing of, and cannot be deceived by my past, seem to place a faith in me which I really do not warrant.
1972-Oct-06: A possible explanation of some differences b/ n U.S. East Coast (N.Y.) & West Coast (S.F.) poetry:
and I walked back with crazy Dean, he was telling me about the inscriptions carved on toilet walls in the East and in the West. “They’re entirely different; in the East they make cracks and corny jokes and obvious references, scatological bits of data and drawings; in the West they just write their names, Red O’Hara, Blufftown Montana, came by here, date, real solemn, like, say, Ed Dunkel, the reason being the enormous loneliness that differs just a shade and cut hair as you move across the Mississippi.”
— Jack Kerouac: On the Road
1972-Nov-02: Ezra Pound is dead. The Cantos lie on the table next to my bed, largely unopened, like a family bible.
[Most of the early entries for 1973 seem concerned with the writing of a ‘big poem’. The ‘big poem’ may now be seen as a special phenomenon of the early seventies, and The New Australian Poetry as its resting place. Alongside this concern there are observations about the growth of what would begin to call itself ‘New Romanticism’ in the mid seventies, and a movement away from this in my own work and thought. Of all years, 1973 and 1974 were for me particularly indecisive and frustrating.]
1973-Feb-20: Gradually the idea of a long work in the form perhaps of a livre composé comes to light. I am beginning with the facsimile edition of Brennan’s Poems (1913) — perhaps a kind of coming to terms with an Australian tradition.
A rejection slip & a rather pleasing note from Barrie Reid of Overland (for the ‘Elegy’). If I write the livre composé it will place the ‘Elegy’ in a proper relation alongside everything else. Reid commented on the poem’s lack of linguistic ‘originality’, yet paradoxically praised it for its strong visual sense (if this doesn’t come through the language, what does it come through?). But probably the whole effort of 20th C poetry (what counts of it) has been to get away from the stunning line (which I suspect Reid of secretly wanting).
1973-Mar-01: Nevertheless ‘The Voyage’. The livre composé fades into the background and Baudelaire steps forward — If there’s anything I ought to translate it’s ‘Le Voyage’.
1973-Mar-07: My ‘Voyage’ becomes a ‘Mauberley’.
1973-Mar-13: Yesterday I had a long conversation on poetics with Paul Desney & Bob, over in Curtis Rd. At least I can suppose I’m a trier, even if a hack. Fragments, fragments, thefts and blunders.
1973-Mar-28: The sections of the poem cohered yesterday as some kind of criticism with a number of satirical fragments, and now I feel so arrogant; I satirize yet I know so little. I won’t destroy the poem, yet I’m not certain that it should be preserved. The satirical fragments are all the more arrogant because they serve to swell the importance of the rest of the poem — an exploration of my own poetics. But isn’t ‘Mauberley’ like this?
1973-Apr-01: The first draft of the poem finished on Friday: today (Sunday), at least 1/3 of it scrapped. Part One — the satirical fragments — relates poorly to Pt Two which seems a little overblown. Several of the Pt One fragments don’t even justify inclusion if that part is taken in isolation. There appeared to be a possibility of reconciling the two once more through Baudelaire’s ‘Voyage’ via Bunting’s ‘Villon’ — but the poetry couldn’t take such an overload unless it were considerably better — esp. the satire. A small section about Adamson which was intended to offset the other fairly vicious sections in Pt One probably contributes to the lack of direction.
At present I’m also reading, with a great deal of difficulty but a certain amount of pleasure, The Cantos. From items clarified in Mary de Rachwiltz’s Discretions it is clear that a large body of passages in The Cantos are totally inaccessible as reference, and yet Bunting: The Cantos ‘refer’ rather than ‘present’ — a difficulty in this poem not encountered in Browning’s ‘Sordello’.
1973-Apr-08: The poem given up as a botch [I did eventually rescue a fragment, on Michael Dransfield, which became, in 1983, a section of ‘Pastoral Poems’.] Here, for the record, are some further extracts from ‘The Big Poem’: (attached poem follows)
Fragments from The Big Poem
What passes for comedy
is a sizeable gap in the structure
a rhythm at fault. there is only
time enough to place words
side by side on the page
a meretricious business,
and gaps, gaps,
holes in the paper
scoriae, crumpled pages
take their place
in the same room
the paper crabs the intellect
and the hand writes
though itself says nothing
the density of sounds
from the volume of which
emerge no set meanings
the spaces unsettled yet
always in the process
this language decrees its own
raison d’etre apart from truth to nature
as accurate observation, somehow
belying the concept out of which
its constructs were drawn
it always exists apart from the everyday world
in a finely drawn vacuum, without
displacing anything else from
it was written to keep
others entertained the rudiments
of its existence are unimpeachable
it has a habit
of flying into the sun without
it exists because of an absence
it never quite fills out the space
from which it was taken
it is insubstantial
it could be described
in other terms only
if it were
something entirely different
it is unfinished
this may be (a) part of its nature
At John Forbes’ place this evening I heard that Michael Dransfield is dying. Death, more than anything will enshrine him — even if his writing wasn’t all that good, just think of what he could have done if he had lived. From a purely strategic viewpoint, death would appear an admirable ruse to hide a total bankruptcy. All these, seemingly hard words, but they are uttered from a distance; for the actual person death is regrettable, but for the figure it matters neither way.
1973-Apr-29: The February New Poetry is out with my 3 poems contained. Michael Dransfield is dead — the funeral, which Bob attended, took place on the 24th. The Feb. issue contains some good stuff — Adamson’s ‘The Fire Master’ (the best poem in the issue), his ‘Apres Moi Le Sommeil’ — both of a much higher standard than a lot of the things he has been writing lately — this is also the case with Tim Thorne’s ‘The Holy Game’, also poems by Paul Desney & Norman Talbot. I notice a strong preponderance of almost mystical poetry in this issue — the trend through Adamson of Robt. Duncan & through Desney & Adamson of the White Goddess theory.
1973-May-08: Looked last night at an Australian Weekend Magazine of a couple of weeks back & discovered a Michael Dransfield poem ‘I tell myself I’m through with Love’ with the information underneath: ‘Michael Dransfield, whose poetry has already won widespread admiration, died in Sydney on Good Friday, April 20, aged 24’ — Good Friday — underlining the myth.
1973-May-11: Again at work on what might hopefully become a new poem (Moments/Realism/1919 [‘Post-War’]) I discover (aware all the time that I’m indebted strongly to John Scott) that I’m merely repeating the themes, or some of them, in the Melbourne ‘Elegy’ — namely the themes in the sections: St Kilda 1944, Notebook 1954, and Coda 1971. The parenthesised awareness of John Scott’s position is probably a more interesting correlate. Reaching into the subject matter he was preoccupied with himself, I became aware of the element which does in fact link our work — the concern with a certain promise which has not yet been fulfilled & which was implicit in the work of so many artists until about 1925 or so.
1973-May-30: Last night, sitting over vegetable soup (with peppercorns) & pumpkin pie at Gypsy Rose & thinking about my total lack of religious & philosophical support — all things having finally dropped away a few months ago after all the turmoil — I stare in front of me at a sheet advertising a further cosmic something journal, self-satisfied that what at present enters my stomach is ‘organic’. A whole ‘subculture’ is arrayed as a quite respectable (though it is largely unaware) & necessary deviant group. My age is passing into history whether I like it or not.
1973-Jun-03: The ‘Post-War’ poem leaves me a little uncomfortable for, as it seems to work, it still has about it an air of deja-vu, an ‘easiness’ of execution which makes it seem like yet another drawn out aspect of what has preceded it. On the other hand the element which could remain interesting is the tension of an unwillingness to ‘integrate’ ‘materials’ into poetry.
1973-Jun-14: Looking over all my discarded drafts — showing a few to Pam. The big dilemma in writing is to remain concerned or involved in social issues without lapsing into ‘humanism’. The ‘Cockatoo Draft’ I still like, because it is an open process of thought. If it is compressed into a ‘poem’ it loses point; becomes decorative. In the ‘Draft’, landscape description isn’t metaphorical: the landscape and the thoughts about writing and Sydney exist alongside each other; they can in turn become the field and foreground, and they do somehow relate, though Terry has been the only person who believes the ‘Draft’ works as a poem.
1973-Jun-29: Wednesday night a poetry reading at 31 Bay St — the C.A.S. Read with John Forbes, Ranald Allen, Michael Wilding, Bob Adamson, & later drank imported cognac in Wilding’s living room. Last night, visited Adamson’s & capitulated to run again for the Poetry Soc. [I remember at the Bay St reading, standing at the top of the stairs & menacing the arriving audience with a facsimile submachinegun. This was done in all innocence. I later found out that several people were terrified.]
1973-Sep-08: A quiet Saturday morning, after innumerable incoherent events — the shake up, followed by the disintegration of the Poetry Society, the possibility of my co-editing the magazine (not at all a happy prospect) and a total inability to write which I’m trying to analyse at the moment. Beside me are thirteen loose pages of jottings made over the last three or four weeks, all with an almost deadening lack of usefulness — if I were like Michael Dransfield or _________ — people who believe(d) implicitly in their own images of self — I might be able to pass some of this hack work off as poetry — most of the people who ‘matter’ wouldn’t know the difference. But my whole attitude becomes more and more at odds with the prevailing climate. These people write worthless poems, others like Paul Desney & Adamson write a lot of bad poems because they aren’t aware enough of the worthlessness of poetry. ‘A kettle is not as fine a thing as a man. This is a challenge to the kettles.’ (Wyndham Lewis).
1973-Oct-28: I find myself looking again at the December 1971 draft [‘Cockatoo Draft’] & trying to type it out for Steve [Hooper] to read. I explain my hesitant view of the draft, which will probably remain unpublished. Yet I can’t help but feel that all of my good writing has evolved out of moments when I dropped self-consciousness and wrote on, not caring whether the thing was a ‘poem’. Yesterday, a letter from John Scott — ‘writ this rainy October day — Scott — his shakey (sic.) beer sodden hand.’ ‘The Shields’ is to be published in Meanjin. I have got [via Wilding] ‘Theatre of the Dead Starling’ into Stand.
1974-Jun-02: [Melbourne:] Tossed between over-consciousness — the ‘talented earache [of modern poetry]’ in John Forbes’ [Frank O’Hara’s] words, & sheer unawareness — viz. the notebook. Meeting Kris Hemensley & reading copies of the Ear In A Wheatfield, I’m most aware of the essential meanness (or at least ungenerosity) of my own work. There is a good feeling in many of these poets of give & take — which, though it doesn’t always produce good work — renders this even a little beside the point. There is a great mulch, a great compost — something out of which good work can come.
[The ‘notebook’ here referred to is the ‘Melbourne Notebook’ — a series of jottings kept on the Melbourne visit in a manner anticipating the Under The Weather poems, though as yet too scrappy — though Kris Hemensley wanted to publish it and kept asking me about it for a couple of years.]
1974-Jun-14: Earlier in the week picked up a copy of Bob Adamson’s new book Swamp Riddles — have since found it an extreme disappointment — there are a few good small poems, but the effect of the book as livre composé is lost when it is read through — particularly the last section with the overwrought sequence from which the book presumably derives its title. Strangely, perhaps ironically, the best part of the work seems to be the section of elegies (including one to Michael Dransfield which is at least heavily ironic). I get no pleasure from finding the book of such poor quality, but even worse is the sense of delusion when the earlier books are considered in its light. At the same time I’m aware that I can write much better poems (& possibly have) than the ones in S.R., yet find this no cause for celebration.
1974-Aug-08: I try to patch up my volume in the hope of reaching some submittable core. Several recent poems obviously belong in another book. What isn’t so obvious is what should belong in the first or whether it warrants the Amaze Your Friends title. I shall probably scrap the ‘Golden Flower’ sequence at long last, but even after that, my problems aren’t quite over. A few poems, especially ‘Post-War’ don’t fit very easily anywhere, yet are not bad enough to leave out without regrets. The one consolation is that my first book is finished, hidden in there somewhere as it is.
The problem with my poems now is that they come out stale — full of regurgitated lines — they lack that freshness which a scene like the one outside now has — I’m not drawing a phoney art-nature romantic analogy. But to be able to write! Just what is involved — energy, a ‘clear eye’, as few preconceptions as possible, and the ability to seize on things or at least the patience to wait.
1974-Aug-09: In order to write, I have to have a ‘subject’ of some kind. This is not because subject matter is finally so all important (though it may be), but because without the distraction of subject, poems degenerate into verbal wizardries; tired playing about with phrases in too self-conscious a manner (which is what happens most of the time when ‘I want to write a poem’). The subject must come as a ‘surprise’, and here I’d say that the initiation of any of my poems is due to ‘surprise’ rather than ‘inspiration’. Clearing up distinctions here, basically the difference is between the vague sense of ‘inspiration’ coming ‘from nowhere’ or ‘out of the air’, and ‘surprise’ which is brought about by objects & ones relation to them. Travelling about or doing new things is more conducive to writing than a stable situation not because there are any more objects but because one is more likely to be suddenly confronted with something which gets the writing going before it has a chance to turn self-conscious; aware of ‘art’.
1974-Sep-05: At long last a prose poem finished last week [‘No Shit’], which, so far Forbes, Terry, Julie [Rose], Tranter & Rudi Krausmann seem to like. New Poetry/Ear 8 [a collaborative issue which finally split the ‘modernist’ poetry scene in half & launched New Poetry into its ever-increasing preoccupation with the romantic myth] arrived.
1974-Sep-09: John [Forbes] is to come around early this week to glance through the Melbourne section of drafts, apropos of Kris’s suggestion that I print them despite all reluctance. Perhaps he could annotate or adapt them in some way or other. This was partly the substance of Kris’s letter — he’ll be staying here probably with Walter Billeter around the 20th or so for two readings, one in the Opera House with Shapcott, Beaver & Malouf , the other (the real stuff) in the tin shed [Sydney U’s fine arts workshops] with Kate Jennings, John, Tranter (?), Martin (?), Phillip Hammial (?), myself & others.
1974-Sep-15: I’m lined up with John [Forbes], Nigel Roberts & Tom Shapcott as the subject of a poetry seminar the Sydney U. English Dept. are holding on Tuesday — I feel curious & interested but am at the same time much unsure. As John said — how do you not [so much as] explain, but even communicate the importance of pop music in your work? [This seminar must have just about marked the last interest Syd. U’s Eng Dept had in anything current, though of course it was the usual ludicrous mess of bright young postgraduates attempting to apply their antique theoretical schemes to matter which would have generated theory — for what it’s worth — elsewhere. I don’t think I fulfilled my young examiner’s prescriptive criteria very well.]
1974-Nov-17: I grow steadily more tired of my poems. Ear 10 arrived with seven pieces in it, plus one each by Terry & John, several by Tranter & a story of Ranald’s. John’s, Terry’s (except for the stray line) & 3 or 4 of Tranter’s pieces seem really excellent (& the Moorhouse short story & Kris & a few others). Meanwhile I toy with ideas for a second Surfers’ Paradise & come up with the prospect of writing some sort of indefinable piece about the proposed Hernani-Dalmorton [north-eastern N.S.W.] trip (Terry’s comment: ‘If you can’t get something out of that you’re really fucked!’). [What I got out of it was the beginning of Under The Weather.]
1974-Nov-22: [Melbourne:] Visit to the Whole Earth Bookshop: H.D., Williams, Blackburn, Sorrentino, then to Rushall. Kris Hemensley not in but Finola [Morehead] arrived & we visited Walter Billeter where I stayed for dinner. Probably Billeter’s most important point (after stopping translation of ‘The Rumour’ into German): What is there that merits translation into, say, German? ‘The Rumour’ isn’t really needed in translation c.f. Pound’s advocacies & translations of numerous writers whom he felt were pivotal. This wd. probably be a new context to many people (one I’ve not been unaware of but haven’t seen in as clear a light) & a ripe point of judgement.
1974-Nov-26: Reading bits of O’Hara & discovering in long retrospect some of John Forbes’ acknowledged sources. Reading and discovering again my ignorance of writing. Next to this the greatness of Kris’ Poem of the Clear Eye & of some work of Tranter’s. Beside which most of us are beginners or third-raters. Some can give a variety of pleasure like Les Murray. Some are caught in attempts which are at least real: Beaver, Forbes, (me?), to lose the unaware imposition of external forms.
Seeing Scott in his shared office at Swinburne Institute, tea & a view of the city. Scott’s anti ‘counter-culture’ drawing half-complete. Then a drive out to the school where Rod Moss teaches. R.M. not around, we wander around the government-run but free-in-principle school, its walls painted over with symbols and slogans of ‘youth culture’, the near religious system of beliefs. Some students painting erratically in the art room. Scott’s drawings on the wall among others. Back at Bentleigh, John Hughes [the filmmaker] calls in & we discuss Scott’s thesis work on Eugene Lee-Hamilton [a nineteenth century English sonneteer], the relativity of access to primary sources. Small-town American universities with rare editions protected by intricate bureaucracies. I show Scott the three last pieces which he has difficulty comprehending. I understand but have not yet seen the way out of my increasing non-referential mode i.e. they’ve gotta be about something (they are but it’s confused & buried), they’ve gotta have meaning [I don’t remember anything about these poems now]. Dinner at a local ‘Chinese & Australian’ cafe & a modicum of beer. Then the bus home figuring out how many of my poems are or were initially parodies.
1974-Dec-22: [Sydney:] Alan [Wearne] & Greg St John [who died in a bizarre circumstance in the later 1970’s — struck by lightning near the summit of Mt Vesuvius] arrived yesterday for the weekend. I had dropped an acid trip about 2 p.m. which didn’t take effect till four or so, then the Surfers’ Paradise reading took place [at the Tin Sheds]. After listening to Alan I absented myself until the party began, feeling largely quite distant from the writers present but later drinking an improvised cup of tea with Adamson, Cheryl [Adamson], Chris Edwards & John Jenkins (whom I have yet to meet in a sober state [me, not him]). [This was the first issue of Surfers’ Paradise, ed. John Forbes & myself. The second, ed. by John, appeared in 1979. There were four issues in all. It was, as they say in the business, an irregular publication.]
[I stopped keeping a diary at the end of 1974, and apart from a short note or two in the books where I drafted my poems, didn’t resume till November 1977. The decision wasn’t really a conscious one. It coincided with the writing of Under The Weather which I began on my first New England bushwalk, January 1975 — though I didn’t even realize I was writing this poem until late 1976 or so (halfway through). I kept trying to write more orthodox poems in the meantime, but these were all really unsuccessful continuations of the dabblings of 1973 & 1974.]
1975-Feb-06: Times when you feel you can’t even write a simple sentence about something not particularly difficult which just happened.
1975-Feb-20: With the night another person examines these photographs, taken months back.
[John Forbes was in Britain, Europe & N.Y. over 1975 on a Lit. Board grant. The following is the draft of an unsent letter:]
I hope this one makes it to you — I thought of the possibility of the last going astray. Let me know if it has & I’ll give you a breakdown of the New Year trip.
At present things are pretty grim. I still haven’t written anything and also am on the brink of total bankruptcy which severely restricts my mobility. In order to overcome this I’ve done & am doing a couple of odd jobs to supplement the dole which is often late in arriving & somewhat spasmodic. One of these odd pieces was a one-and-a-half- hour lesson I took at East Sydney Tech — one class’s first Communications (equivalent or hyped up version of the old English course) lesson. I raved for the duration on poetry & its relation to language usage culling examples from O’Hara, [Lew] Welch, J[onathan] Williams, Tranter, Ginsberg & me (the found poem [‘Evening of Enchantment’: the blurb of a Mills & Boon romance]) & surprisingly the class (aged 19-50) quite enjoyed & got into it. I’ve never done anything like it before & got the odd job almost accidentally when I was very stoned at a party the night before.
I haven’t forgotten the magazines but still have no money to send them with (literally — I live on about $3.00 a week after rent & food kitty — which doesn’t cover much at all).
During the last week I met Ranald [Allen] at the pub & he appears in fine sorts at present. He’s solved the finance problem by opting to do a Dip. Ed.! A house in the country may spell death, but at the moment I contemplate semi-permanent removal from the city with some degree of seriousness & Ranald seems of similar mind [he eventually made it to the Northern Territory. I got no further than a six-month stay in Melbourne in late 1976]. After you’ve seen the country I hiked through you’ve gotta steel yourself to live back here.
1975-Feb-25: Copies of the latest issues of New Poetry, particularly Vol 22, No 4 with Adamson’s almost unreadable ‘Editorial’. A vast number of poems which one turns away from in disgust — almost parodic overlay of Duncan mish-mash-mythology, campy muses & phoney theorisings.
1975-Mar-01: Glancing back at areas on maps (the Dorrigo 1:100,000 or else the Jacobs River/Numbla maps — same scale) [The latter maps were of the border area of NSW and eastern Victoria.]
1976-Jan-09: [The following notes relate to the ‘More North’ section of Under The Weather. Interestingly the hidden diary jottings sorted themselves out & separated clearly from the pieces which became the poem when it got typed out, though I wasn’t aware of any such distinction while writing.]
Sugarloaf Ck (1976-Jan-03)
rocks under the surface again
& the attempt to distance actual
experience from fantasised & poetic
alchemy — rendering these rocks & stones
into verbal co-existents
(e.g. a piece of music entitled
‘Quite early one morning’)
how is it that these building blocks acquire
any loaned significance
(the old problem of
discrimination — how does an ‘object’
become notable — why separate a tree
from the air around it &c)
Sugarloaf Ck poems as an
equivalence to Cold Mountain — this is a literary way of giving form
— but how true is it to its subject.
A purist wd disagree with me here saying this sort of truth doesn’t make any difference finally. But I don’t wish to betray my subject —
hence this is probably a different sort of writing to poetry.
It’s a kind of notation which may or may not have value
which in the end gets caught up because it can’t escape being transmutation, using words as its medium.
how do you discipline words
how is nature disciplined —
simply by being what it is — a continuing process (careful here not to introduce the causation syndrome discredited by Hume)
why do you cut then
— because the only seeming criteria is the capacity of any writing to continue to interest an imaginary reader — ultimately the writer’s own self.
& then a thing published becomes a leaf in the wind, its being not necessarily dependant on being noticed, but its value totally dependant
& so Han Shan writing on anything
— only the being of interest to him
a life spent dealing with such basic things leaving no room for the development of such sophistications as the short story or novel.
how can you write when you don’t understand what it means to utter a single word?
& yesterday’s ride through heavy rain
till it cleared at Armidale
hanging round waiting for a wheel balance
drinking espresso coffee in the Nectar milk bar
& then driving through a warmer interior, Tamworth
Lesley unable to decide whether or not to go back or stay with us
& the long cloud bank stretching up & down the coast
snacks at Golden Fleece roadhouses
the Putty road — an area of land
enveloped in a deadness
& Colo, Windsor, Ryde
the scene at Stuart’s house
some dope in the car &
a french restaurant
the house seeming so large
& this a.m. a bath washing a day’s fast (broken)
& a letter from John Forbes in London
1976-Jan-14: Kris’d have to be mad to want to publish my journal [the Melbourne piece] — but I’ll go on ‘Nth-Sth & after that’ as a test case [i.e. an earlier draft of the sections of Under The Weather, published in Ear 17, which are now simply ‘North’ and ‘South’].
Yesterday at work [UNSW. Physical Sciences Library] I wrote out a list of things I would like to be doing. The list was totally different to an unwritten compilation of the things I happened to be doing.
[In the second half of 1976 I was living back in Melbourne and working with John Scott in the Swinburne Institute Media Studies Dept.]
& we go up over
the edge of basalt
Malcolm Day says
the street widened before
Bend straws in the Chinese Cafe
Eat in the cold wind
on the divide
1976-Oct-08: Alan [Wearne] rings with polemical scherzo from Meredithian sequence
October after Midnight
phenomenology of objects
nuttin but woids
Where does it finish
moving away from enclosed objecthood of poem/artefact
maybe movt. of a political nature
how much is the enclosed self-contained poem like an art object —
defined to fit into a system tho not marketable in the same obvious sense
but what happens to poems
— shown to writer’s friends
read at a couple of readings
published in magazine/paper
(collected in anthology)
(published in book form)
(becomes a subj. of Tertiary course)
& for what fucking reason?
trying to achieve capacity for some kind of apprehension of (things) processes
or maybe just apprehension
Where do [Philip] Whalen, [Lew] Welch &c fit in here?
— poems as tolerated eccentricities
(in ‘art’ you can take your clothes off without being arrested)
parallel of those who (1) believe or condition themselves to believe (a) art has no political dimension & can be engaged in separately
(b) art can change things in a never clearly stated way
(2) notion that art can only be politically counter-productive in this structured society
1976-Dec-02: & this morning Dave Kelly, I discover, is in Australia (wrote to Kris from Alice Springs discovering his name in ‘Nth/Sth’ (late of Bob Connery & the Raiders, Murwillumbah) [Dave Kelly, sinologist and keyboard player extordinaire had just arrived back after several months to a year in China. Somehow he got Kris H’s address & wrote asking him about new writing in Aust. Kris sent him Ear 17 which contained my poem in which he gets a mention — he had played with an assembled band in a Murwillumbah pub. He wrote back to Kris, startled that his name should appear in a poem by an (unknown) author in the first lot of new poems he looked at.]
— Philip Whalen On Bear’s Head arrives, after 3 yr wait.
‘Freud? Goodbye! Hello crazy old-time China!’
1976-Dec-14: Aching legs, a thunderstorm outside. My grandmother getting up & down, pottering, turning lights on & off and shutting & locking doors. I’m contemplating what I’ll be doing once settled in Sydney again & it’s totally unclear. My book’s due out any day [East: Poems 1970-74] (rain heavier, lightning more distant — in the single bed at 28 Eva St with the louvres partially open).
1977-Jan-06: Worry abt. the Journal [Under The Weather] not ending & if I wd. ever write anything else, in retrospect was unnecessary — seeing as the J incorporates anything might this be the dimwit realization that my works relate as they must — as an oeuvre? [The poem did end, midway through 1977, but just as I didn’t know I’d started it, I didn’t know I’d finished either & wrote lots of odd bits for another few months. U.T.W. doesn’t really incorporate ‘anything’ & that the 1975-7 diary notes didn’t become part of the poem is sure evidence of this.]
1977-Apr-25: a note
for writing poems — necessities?
It’s not even essential to read a lot (since in my own exp. at least 90% of my poetic reading matter has been crap) & in any case poetry isn’t the distilled product of literature
most important — a capacity to distinguish the true & the false
I’m not advocating a folk-art type concept here. If enough shit is cleared from the perceptions & the real stuff is seen, that’s what’s important.
& I guess also an ability to engage & disengage freely with & from things is useful.
Frank O’Hara’s arrogance easy to understand: Come on I’m not trying to write that kid stuff (re. academically approved modes)
I’m not interested in shunting stuff around in boxes (again re. Modern Australian Literature)
1977-May: [At Denis Gallagher’s place, Garfield, near Bega]
& Shapcott’s anthology [of Australian and American poetry]
wd. that more Australian Poets
had booked the Titanic
drysdale’s ruddy mannekins
their native plants carefully arranged
a strange mania for the authentic
Alpert, Cohen, Schiller
(N.A.L. 1966): —
‘he sat alone with his cat for
over an hour’
‘wearing a dress she had chosen carefully
for the occasion she stares at a
gold light globe’
June too much instant coffee, too many ideas
1977-Jun-21: Definitions: Philistine: someone who doesn’t appreciate the relationship between scarcity & value.
walking with Ken [Bolton] down Glebe Pt Rd.
a piece of paper blows towards us
& it’s part of the surfers’ paradise
poetry reading poster
— a lower part with feet of the surfer
K: ‘Will our shit return to us in paperback’
S.U. library 6th fl. stack.
Julie [Rose] working on French M.A. thesis
me reading Unspeakable Visions of The Individual #4/74
THE BEAT BOOK
on review for Magic Sam #3.
it’s dull & cold
out over Victoria Park mowing lines
swimming pool 1/2 full of dirty water
heavy traffic City Rd & Cleveland Sts.
sky a medium high grey clear strip to Nth West.
finished reading M. Conrad Hyers
Zen & the Comic Spirit here
coffee in the old union with Nelse, Neal [Moore] & Julie
then discussion with Julie about
gave a copy of East to Terry Sturm & returned here
Denise [Hare] & Angela [Korvisianos] in the
someone passes a hash joint
& then I’m reading the last third of
Whitman’s 1855 preface
Dave K[elly] is downstairs in the library foyer
home. finish off a loaf of bread
glance through Rolling Stone cover to cover
drink four cups of English Breakfast Tea
wash the dishes
& now slumped in the back living room
— I gotta get outa here
Australia — a postcard from John [Forbes]
& its iconography — all the Aborigines
pushed into the middle
Sarah [Ahern]: In Brisbane you can still get
tribal dance postcards
a piss & coffee
everyone’s in the kitchen
I want a blank cheque from heaven
a window for Caspar David F. to look out of
a kerosene heater to keep me warm
some ‘real’ coffee
1977-Jul-15: [From unknown source:] ‘Symbols, images, rhythmical perfection [have] never been considered as of primary importance by the great poets, since refinement of form has often ended in triviality.’
[The last notes incorporated in Under The Weather appear in early July.]
1977-Jul-31: Dada — carrying riding one’s hobbyhorse through to its extreme.
— that art (aesthetics) shd. have nix to do w. morality = itself a moral stance —
1977-Aug-02: ‘Kids get yr Davy Crockett bed with scenes of Davy Crockett in action on the mattress’
1977-Aug-10: a period of transition 1977
what’s going on?
pres. situation: unemployed for 8 months
but chances of work:
(1) public service — unwanted
(2) New Edition Bookshop — haven’t heard yet [didn’t]
(3) Poetry Society — unlikely [a library was mooted once]
(4) Script Development Grant — still no sign
(5) 1978 Literary grant — don’t know [No]
— nothing is either certain or desirable
(1) not particularly good
but (2) chance of one which may not be much better around Oct.
1977-Aug-15: Notes on ‘New Romanticism’
the problem with any pure art type theory is that it always degenerates — the writer always ends up tacitly wanting to be something else
& as regards imagination read W.C.W. I can’t understand why anyone should prefer hippogryphs to cows — the thought that something is purer because it isn’t real.
1977-Aug-17: Faced with the problem (again) of ‘where you write from’ ‘what out of’ &c. and the notions of tradition. there’s no In The Australian Grain, no W.C.W. for that matter, no Olson either; none of the charts are remotely reliable, the text book Literary Histories still follow the same basic pattern & maybe more importantly work out of the same conception of what ‘literature’ basically is. — suppose a wider & yet more selective view were taken — if Olson’s hunting out of exactitudes of the kind found more often in the work of geographers (Sauer) than in poets were applied.
the point is — that living here in Australia there are certain kinds of experience we can relate to in a special way. the experience itself may be an extra-literary thing — I mean you can read O’Hara, Shakespeare &c without needing to visit N.Y. or Stratford but there is a kind of special relationship you can have with a writer who describes your hometown or rather who writes out of a shared experience (& language is also an experience)
that said — where to start. the usual textbook Hist. of Aust. Lit. isn’t really of much use. instead of looking for a string of writer/heroes to parade as a national literature what’s needed are seminal experiences — & who has/can provide these. there are books which are widely read (though in some cases not generally considered works of literary genius) which do contain the home grown experience, by writers of what’s generally considered literature, yes, but also by journalists, historians & people who never even considered themselves ‘artists’.
where to begin is the next qn. from the historians? from a region? linguistics? what about my own writing is particularly local for example? & what about say Tranter, Forbes, Nigel Roberts, Alan Wearne?
Syd. Uni. library e.g.; its shelves full of old out-of-print books by Aust. authors many of whom I’ve never heard [of] — some of these doubtlessly extremely readable. (not to mention books I’ve never seen by authors whose work I know a little of e.g. a George Johnston book abt. New York called Skyscrapers in the Mist written while G.J. was a war correspondent & pub. by A&R in 1946)
partly it’s not as easy as the American scene because there’s no clearly defined idealistic political tradition or at least that weird combo of idealism & materialism or at least anything that leads to an easier grasp of something you could call a tradition. & meanwhile most of the established pantheon have never realized that in literature there are no rules. that what’s of primary importance is readability & even this is not obligatory (by this I mean the production of something which isn’t ultimately boring). it’s totally fanciful for an academy to believe in the necessity of certain imposed forms — where does this necessity arrive from? what’s true in degrees though is that writing is shaped by environment, but even this is perverted by Aust. Lit. departments into a wallpaper view of literature — another variant on the writing-by-numbers attitude which clogs the universities with creeps who see themselves as guardians of the faith.
1977-Aug-19: A footnote: why the soul search? because tho given the Aust. ‘tradition’ as such hasn’t produced anyone who’d be missed, there are certain kinds of relationship you can have with e.g. Mr Slessor who writes about Sydney Harbour — he ain’t poifect but he’s all we got.
1977-Aug-29: Some questions & tasks:
(1) When did Australia cease to be a nation centred basically round the small man? Was it ever one? c.f. J.F.’s comments on Murray’s ‘Vernacular Republicanism’ — that the dailies of 1945 showed some evidence of a common tongue which has since been lost
(2) Pursue details — when (during war periods maybe?) did monopoly capital cement its present structures?
— the banks in wartime?
— the rise of narrowly controlled media?
1977-Sep-03: Pound (re. the Oztralian litterateurs): ‘When it comes to the question of poetry, a great many people don’t want to know that their own country does not occupy ALL the available surface of the planet.’
1977-Sep-13: Evening — some notes for There & Back [I should note here that the original book Under The Weather contains two errors in section titling — due to my absence when page proofs appeared — The title-less section beginning on p51 should be ‘Sydney Notes’, & the section on p54, wrongly titled ‘Railway Notes’ should be ‘Number Nine’. East & Under The Weather (Puncher & Wattman, 2014) corrects these errors and is the preferred text]
— is the book finished?
1977-Sep-25: Nigel’s with J.F.
Ideas for new magazine & summer readings
‘Unchained Koala’ [my idea — cover: a King Kong Empire State Building with a koala instead of an ape. It didn’t happen]
& the ‘Flying Pig’ readings
to be held above the compendium bkshp, summer period [I think these metamorphosed into the Exiles readings].
1977-Oct-01: Title for Sturt piece
‘The Riddle of the Rivers’
cover — from junior H.S. history book illustration.
[This was a prose collage partly made of passages from works of popular history, printed in Nicholas Pounder’s one-off magazine Polar Bear and subsequently discarded.]
1977-Oct-03: East — sorts of formal discipline coexisting alongside other writings
— the nature of ‘Crossroads’, the ‘Cockatoo’ & Melbourne notebooks where style less impt. but the closer focus on the self & its impinging environment of ideas, things &c (‘ideas’ are ‘things’ in this context
There & Back — this loose writing finds its form in a book
& the control of that kind of limitation.
‘Riddle of the Rivers’ — work in progress is getting out of the ego & back into history/ geography & at the same time subsuming these to a form where the h/ g aren’t really the most impt. thing. — the design contains.
& projected — the East Gippsland History — personal relativist approach
where do you start — environment
Questions: why was the area explored. McMillan & co — because of economic failure further north &c
Numbla Munjie — a possible title [this is the germ of The Ash Range which was written between 1984 & 86]
[Separate diary entries resumed in early November 1977.]
1977-Nov-30: Most of the things I figure as childhood memories are in fact not so but based on photographs in the family album (e.g. sitting in a box in the backyard of 195 Beaconsfield Parade with the aged Sandy). This is proven when I try to animate the scenes & they don’t go beyond the series of flat images. If the memories are not memories of photographs they are memories of stories told to me at a later date by Mother, Father, or Grandmother. Even the movies my uncle took — a period when, in Aust. anyway, home movies were still novel — don’t generate any memories outward from their own short dimension.
Late evening, still sticky from a hot day at W & W [Wild & Woolley, where I worked as a storeman/ packer/ driver]. 14 mail bags of American books, sorting & pricing. There are a few books I’ve been waiting a while for (W.C.W. Later Poems — 8 years!). Michael [Wilding], seeing me sweating up the stairs says it’s rather like paying off slogging natives with alcohol.
1977-Dec-03: Williams is about the closest the 20th C. will get to Shakespeare. In Pound there is too much self; too much opinion. Interesting what Carl said a few days ago, that surprisingly there’s no good writing about sport in Australia. How come _____ hasn’t produced the great cricket poem? Well for starters _____’s commitment to a kind of one language of writers. & the romantics? The problem with them is that their language doesn’t exist as shared at all. All of them too full of themselves to be interested in a common speech. The Canberra crew — god those bad versifiers. & Les Murray has too many fixed ideas to write any better [this was I think, my earliest mention of the ‘Canberra poets’].
1977-Dec-05: In Charles Olson The Post Office, the whole slide from quality to efficiency presented so clearly. & re. Robert Kelly’s edition of Paul Blackburn’s Journal & the criticism of Lee Harwood (Poetry Info. #17) I would rather err on the side of generosity than the side of meanness.
1977-Dec-14: Been reading Tranter’s new book which he inscribed for me yesterday [Crying In Early Infancy] & more of [Hal] Porter’s Bairnsdale.
1977-Dec-23: Visiting Tranters’ a couple of days back. Nigel there also. After N. left & Lyn on the phone John spoke about his drug experiences. Red Movie written on mandrax & alcohol. Tranter said he gave up drugs because they’d taken him to a region where anything he saw became incommunicable, taking him too far away from the customary — or from any contact. Rimbaud’s work — not really poems as much as pieces of writing which almost succeed in the impossible task of rendering such an experience in language. This seen, the reasons R. had for abandoning poetry are clear.
1978-Jan-06: Left the manuscript of There & Back at the office for Michael [Wilding] to look over — still haven’t got any other copies. Not knowing about the title’s pictorial connotations, Pat [Woolley] said There & Back didn’t sound as good as the earlier alternative scribbled in the folder cardboard: High on a Ridgetop — & in view of the difficulty of doing the cover as originally intended [the 36 Squadron emblem — I was going to get the book printed myself & only intended to ask Michael & Pat for advice — they ended up publishing it]. I may revert to the old title unless I can find a better one. High on a Ridgetop comes from an album of the same name by the Youngbloods (1972). I’d like to have a map portion on the cover but feel that ‘geography’ type covers have been done to death by the academic Olsonites (particularly the British ones) — so maybe another photo by Ros [Morey] or Lesley [Gilette]?
1978-Jan-07: This afternoon (Tin Sheds) 1st Sydney meeting of the mooted Poets Union — many there incl. Rae Jones, Ken [Bolton], Anna [Couani], Keith Shadwick, Tom Thompson, Steve Kelen, John Jenkins, Alan Jefferies, Nigel, Adrian Rawlins (briefly!), Geoff Eggleston (briefly!), Te-Rea Nolan (someone else I’d thought, like Melodie Unthank, invented by Bob & Cheryl [Adamson]). Initial ideas about the constitution &c. Tho initially cynical I feel it might be worth something. A[drian] R[awlins] censured on poetry organization for the Festival of Sydney. Advocacy of $20 reading fee through the union who receive, say, 10% &c.
1978-Jan-09: I feel like I’m still living a primitive life in the city. I know people who can wheel & deal — do amazing things with taxation forms. I seem to simply barter my body for money in terms of labour & make forays into the jungle to buy trinkets & food.
1978-Jan-10: A big colour poster of Johnny Rotten and above it in Steve Kelen’s writing ‘Annette Funicello’s curse still grips Sydney’.
1978-Jan-18: News of the day. Wild & Woolley will do my second book; not for a while yet so time to touch it up & find a title.
1978-Jan-21: Poets Union again an interesting meeting. Called in on Anna [Couani] first then afterwards went back there and left with Keith Shadwick to visit Carl — no one in — so went to Leichhardt to eat. Copies of Anna’s book [Italy] out now & also traded one of mine for K.S.’s Island Press book. Michael Witts is collecting my revised piece [No. 3 of ‘Various Places’ in Under The Weather] for Dodo in a week or so from Leichhardt St [Dodo Vol 3, No 2 ].
1978-Jan-22: Just thought of another title: Under The Weather.
1978-Jan-30: Maybe I should visit Forbes today, but he’s so hard to get to sit in the one place these days.
1978-Jan-31: Looking through the illustrations in Timothy Hilton’s Picasso — these amazing continual returns & changes — constant swing from mannerism back again — serves to illustrate again for me the gap between desire & achievement. What I would like to do over a lifetime is produce a body of work as varied & with as many peaks as this. Why stay in the one place too long (& why as I’ve often done, confuse this with staying in the one physical/ living place! as though these sorts of change were more than a crude parody of the type of change I’d like to be capable of). Of course it could be argued re. modernism &c that Picasso’s changes reflect the identity-situation of artists & works generally & are his continuing search for position (not always any internal necessity of the work itself) & then carried from here to suggest P. might have been better (& less everyone’s parody of the ‘modern’ artist) had he lived & worked in a political situation of a less ambiguous nature. But whether or no, his politics come through, gradually identifying selves & then often as not (in slack periods) becoming programmatic like the bad Korean War paintings.
Stylistic change can also be a defence for the artist, & this gets back to my personal motivations, not wanting to be classified & who wants to be numbered at twenty-eight? Actually, it seems, quite a few people. I think here of many of the writers now in their early 20s who mainly want to be counted for pragmatic reasons — grants (acclaim) &c — but the dangers of this are so great — falling into styles that are not worked out or worked into — getting too clear a picture & too many preconceptions about what you’re doing. I don’t think Stephen Kelen has succumbed to this, mainly because he’s (rightly) not desperately trying to get into the poetry scene. I’m not advocating here constant change of style for its own sake — this might be just as externally based & bad as a rush to be classified. Alan Wearne develops in his work without swinging from one thing to another. It’s got as much to do with personality as anything but the main thing here is Alan’s style as such hasn’t arisen out of unclear perceptions & social motivation.
1978-Feb-02: Went into the city to enjoy some of what I live here for — to the art gallery for the first time in many months & saw [Martin] Sharp’s collection of Luna Park fragments, after which the modern Australian section looked dull. Went through the 19th C. European work & down into the Primitive Art section round a semicircular marble flight of steps & into this dungeon (with Guard) of incredible works. There seemed more to unite the New Guinea highlands with the Luna Park pieces in a basic seriousness of intent, leaving most of the other stuff looking like frivolous product scraped off the surface of a culture with which it has few if any deeper links. What struck me about most of the modern paintings was that there was nowhere they ever belonged. The Aboriginal & New Guinean artefacts were plunder gathered together under the name ‘art’ & categorized ‘primitive’ as though this related them somehow to the works of Passmore, Whiteley et al. in some kind of cultural continuum. A continuum does exist between the works of these Aust. artists & the Luna Park artefacts but it is one customarily denied, or stratified into high & low culture. Yet the L.P. work has closer & deeper connections with its surrounding culture than do the works of the self-conscious artists — the works which belong nowhere. The gallery acts here as a kind of storehouse or more correctly a kind of nowhere living-room where grey metal smokers trays sit half lost in white shaggy wool carpet around a chromium glass-topped table which never has anything on it.
Further abt. the Luna Park display — again the populist feel which has completely disappeared today — the feel of a society with a common tongue — a working peoples tongue, the sort of language once used (pre-Menzies) even by the newspapers (e.g. Smith’s Weekly — right-wing basically but still working in a populist tongue). It’s basically a pre-consumer-society language.
1978-Feb-03: A note for me to phone Helen Frizell at the Herald (?) — I phoned back & it was for information re. the poets union. She seemed particularly interested in the Jack Mundey connection (the first meeting where it was suggested J.M. [the trade unionist] be asked not to participate in a reading featuring Leo Port, Peter Coleman & Mark Holden — organized by the Festival of Sydney a.k.a. Adrian Rawlins) which is probably an attempt to find something controversial/ sinister for newsfodder.
1978-Feb-19: Received parcel of few copies of East & with them the collected Nothing Between The Ears & the first Merri Creek. N.B.T.E. has that Melbourne feel about it all the way through — it exemplifies the old joke about differences between the two capitals — where a pub discussion leads in Sydney to a party, in Melbourne to a magazine. I’m aware that those guys will probably despise me for co-writing a film script — dirtying my hands in the world of commerce. [I had in 1978 started to work in a screenwriting partnership with Terry Larsen that continued until 1983.]
1978-March: Why I may not write any more poems. Or a re-phrasing of this. Is it a choice?
Most of the poets around seem to limit themselves & their writing to greater or lesser extent. Adamson is now locked into a world of china ducks & Arthurian parodies. What made his poems interesting once was a kind of tension between the real experience & the imagination. But even here prison was the only substantial experience & it seemed to come largely from a kind of snobbery — the desire not to identify with ‘ordinary’ people.
1978-May: Almost broke, & the weekend after next, a series of poetry readings in Melbourne it looks like I’ll be going to — together with the 1st National Conf. of the Poets’ Union — which I’m beginning to feel is just so much bullshit. The image & the reality. What’s really happening if you want to use political terms is that a bunch of bourgeois opportunists have created the union as a means of draining the Australia Council from its aorta & setting themselves up in the security of another (yet another) bureaucracy — ultimately as far from the needs of poets as the Aust. Council is now.
Back onto old familiar ground. I guess being a poet has stuck me in a peculiar situation, almost Woody Allenish, where the sort of people who’d find me attractive I wouldn’t want to have anything to do with.
Shelve the ‘Riddle of the Rivers’ piece again & try to regain clarity. Mick Forbes read from a novel he is working on [‘The Policeman Wore Clogs’ (unpublished)] — amazing accuracy of his writing — seeing Newtown alive in print for the first time. Then look from this to the woolly stuff that passes as prose-poetry or whatever — ‘art’ they call it.
1978-June: I find myself in profound disagreement with the advocates of performance poetry (ΠO, Eric Beach &c in Melbourne — one of the classic moments of the P[oets] U[nion] readings — Bill Marshall reads Ted Joans ((Ted Joans!?)) — a case where a shit poem becomes a really good performance. O.K. so it’s theatre but where from here?). I think much of the advocacy of P.P. (not pianissimo) is far more easily related to ego than a genuine desire to ‘communicate’. The Poet as public figure. Writer Speaks Out &c. The curious thing though is the creakiness of the arguments involved. The poet is seen as a figure which once commanded greater respect stranded in an age described in naive McLuhanese — the media & all its connected jargon. The poet should adapt, plug-in, we should experience wall-to-wall poetry — poets shd. read over the p. a. at supermarkets. But why operate at all in an area where other media function more efficiently? Why also mystify the history of poetry? Sure there’s always been an oral tradition, but to put most of the stuff that’s been written into that category is a misrepresentation. Poets like Raleigh &c did not have large quantities of books published, nor were they street balladeers, pamphlet writers &c. There may have only been a few people who saw their work in MS form. & what about the Chinese & Japanese poets? In some senses their art is more public than ours in that there were more participants, & the role of poet didn’t have the auteur air about it, but at the same time most of the poets apart from minstrels &c appear to have worked in comparative isolation. A lot of the confusion comes through mixed up notions of voice — what is the voice of the poem cf. the voice of the poet &c &c. Maybe the confusion of voice & mouth which leads into the realm of shouted poetry!
[Nov 16th, the day of the launching of Under The Weather, I flew back to Sydney from Armidale after a week in the bush & in transit — Armidale pubs, aeroplane — wrote my first poem for about 14 months: the ‘New England Ode’.]
The Mona Lisa is no more valuable to me than a toothbrush. I am one of those people who believe in the immanence of everything [ref. Martin Johnston’s ‘Mayakovsky’ poem], meaning there’s nothing left to get overly worked up about. To write poems about civilization is to beg the question. [This seems to have been an ambit claim!]
1978-December: Yet another thing wrong with Canberra-type poetry. There’s nothing delicate — it all thuds — meaning the air as well as the metrics.
[The so-called ‘Canberra poets’ — people like Alan Gould, Kevin Hart, Mark O’Connor, & outliers like Geoff Page, along with the Godfather, Les Murray, were to provide fodder for a lot of invective over the next few years. It seemed as though the brightly festooned stall of ‘Modern Poetry’ had been taken down and replaced with a memorial drinking fountain.]
A NOTE ABOUT THE POSSIBLE/ ACTUAL RECEPTION OF Under The Weather:
I hadn’t managed to do anything in the book which could exist easily within the category ‘great poetry’. Instead I’d put together a jumble of journal-jottings, drug-induced ramblings and geographical musings. I knew those who’d read the thing would come away from it none the wiser. If they believed in god-given forms and ever-recurrent preoccupations they’d retire from this scrap book with nothing more maybe than a freshly felt need to pass legislations. If they believed in the immanence of the toothbrush they’d be back where they started. If they believed in the startling deep image unclouding the mind with its archaic intensity, they’d fall asleep trying to find it.
[This was an accurate prognostication. Under The Weather received uniformly bad reviews. One well known poetry commentator referred to it as ‘an easy, tiny read’. As a result of this I began for a while to write satirical poems using (or misusing) regular forms. The years of the ‘poetry wars’ were upon us.]