Laurie Duggan 3
The ‘Poetry Wars’, 1979-1986
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:
It’s hard to recapture the feeling of embattlement that pervades these entries; a sense of betrayal and misalliance that seems strangely absent from the poetry scene these days. Perhaps poetry counted for more than it does now? Or perhaps I’m just older and less prone to excitement. The arguments also sound, from this distance, purely national, a scrabbling for audience in a limited space. Since then, new media (like this website) have rendered many of these disputes irrelevant. Still, the lines seemed drawn in the early 80s and the locations and allegiances sorted out. You could be a Canberra Poet or you could be an inner-city Sydney or Melbourne Poet with all (or none) of the attributes these locations signified. For a year or two I might have thought of myself as a Coalcliff Poet. I didn’t live there but often stayed with Ken Bolton and Sal Brereton in their house with its sloping floor on the cliffs near the station. There seemed to be events going on in Wollongong (via Coalcliff) as often as in Sydney itself. In 1983 I even lived in Canberra for a few months while teaching Media at the College of Advanced Education (now the University of Canberra).
Paragraph 2 follows:
Embroiled as I was in The Poetry Wars, I had unwittingly engineered an escape. The title poem in my first book, East (1976), had dealt in part with the region in eastern Victoria called Gippsland. In the mid-to-late-70s I had decided there was more to be written and in 1984 a Victorian Government grant allowed me to begin research. The resulting book, The Ash Range (1987), would take me out of the high-pressure zone. I spent part of 1984 and 1985 in Melbourne as a result of this project and my years in Sydney came to an end late that year when, due to my father’s illness, I moved back to my home city.
1979-Mar-18: My poetry — a life watching curtains flutter — & what kind of story is that?
[For some months I was uncertain of the wisdom involved in continuing scriptwriting (taken up in 1978). I gave it up for a few months and Terry Larsen and I dissolved our original partnership. I had to be sure that whatever I was involved with wouldn’t stop me from writing my own things. In April, after months of not writing poems, I put together an article on modern American poetry which I called ‘A Perlustration’ — it was never published, but its real purpose was to get me writing again. It probably reflects the last moments of my infatuation with American writing. Though there are numerous poets whose work I continue to admire (or, indeed, discover), my work since the 1980s has been less directly influenced by the Americans.]
1979-Apr-10: A couple of weeks ago I sent Surfers’ Paradise #2, Under The Weather, & East with accompanying letter to Philip Whalen via the S.F. Zen Center [Whalen was head monk at the Zen mountain centre at the time.]
Figured out the other day that Under The Weather was Purgatory (& then the coincidence of having quoted Pound on Mt Purgatory at the beginning!) but then maybe it’s Hell & the ‘New England Ode’ is Purgatory? (& East is some kind of prologue) So I’ve got to write Paradise.
1979-Apr-18: & now here I am stuck in the universe. The things that most people have to accept & do accept without too much complaint, I seem to always baulk at. e.g. getting and holding jobs, routines.
My vices — cowardice
lack of attention (to people, things)
How am I to keep the roof over my head?
— a lot of this is due to realizing and understanding the implications — that the scriptwriting venture was about the last stand — where I felt I would be able to go at things on my own terms (even that was a lie — the terms were never mine) & that now, nearing 30, I will probably have to spend the rest of my life hustling dollars and cents in fugitive, unsatisfactory, and hindering manners.
But this has always been the case. I can’t forfeit an independence I’ve never had. If it weren’t for my parents and friends giving and loaning me money from time to time I’d be even worse off.
Maybe all I can do is try to live up to some of their expectations — don’t know that I’ll ever be able to live up to my own. So these good people don’t feel their time & money has been wasted.
For some odd reason I feel calmer as I write this. After tea visit John Forbes — there are so many dwellers in these circles.
1979-Apr-22: Checked my postbox & found an aerogram from Philip Whalen, written at the Tassajara mountain center. Came home from shopping a little scared to open it — had been going through all sorts of reasons in my head as to why I shouldn’t have sent the material over & not knowing if I’d get a reply or what he’d think. But the letter was a lovely polite & considerate writing [in his amazing Reed College calligraphy] which made me feel like I’d taken 300mgs of pure LSD — or like a six year old at the Easter show. He was appreciative but not uncritical of the work but this he couched in old world politeness & also offered to send me material of his I hadn’t seen if I write him a list of the stuff I’ve got.
1979-Apr-28: Yesterday a strange letter full of anti-semitic refs. for me (at Wild & Woolley) from John Montgomery [who appears as a character in Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums]. Wilding had apparently sent him a copy of Under The W, & on the basis of its Kerouac references. J.M. writes to ask if I’d do a ‘popular-oriented’ article on Kerouac in Australia for the book he’s editing. Adds that he’s thinking of showing it to Whalen & Ferlinghetti — I’ve written a fairly curt refusal.
1979-May-25: Poetry Conference at Macquarie Uni — disappointing — as expected. No belief that literature can flourish outside the university. The one stimulating paper — Tranter’s cf. Robert Gray’s — no time for discussion of — this almost an avoidance of even polite controversy. Gray’s lukewarm humanism (Adamson walking off amazed afterwards: ‘Shelley?! Shelley was an animal!’). The whole thing defeated by air-conditioning.
Meanwhile went to Mudgee on the 15th (& looks like I’m going again on the 29th) & made notes for a loose series of poems & pieces ‘(Across) the (Great) Divide’, or ‘On the Western Slopes’ or some similar title [‘Over The Divide’].
Gig [Ryan] looked through the folder & said ‘are you trying to write a sort of a long poem/ book about Australia?’ I’d just read through Ginsberg’s Fall of America.
1979-May-5: Last night the Adamson/ Hewett book launching — lots of people in weird clothes & Peter Coleman of Quadrant & Liberal Party fame. The launching the usual high event. An actor reading Adamson’s poems in a terribly portentous ABC/ NIDA. voice. Bob said ‘if I’d read that, people would have been laughing’. No chance. Left early before the glass started to break.
Reading Whitman (‘A Backward Glance’) in bed this morning & thinking of the direction of all the new poems. I’m always afraid of awareness of a large possible canvas (is this my ambition). The feeling is that I have only begun — ‘In the midst of life’ (Lindy Abrahams said last night about Dante taking age 33 as starting point & the numerical design behind the Commedia — when she met Nick [Pounder] & I at the pub & I told her Dante, Louise [Nick’s daughter b. 1979] & me had the same birthday) — & that Under The Weather is still, like East, a beginners book. Maybe I’ll always be a beginner (‘your poems all get started wonderfully’ P[hilip] W[halen]) & maybe I should always be a beginner — I think I’ll always feel like one. But it’s as though the task only opens out with the ‘New England Ode’. To bring the argument back, I noticed, first time this morning, where Whalen’s influence is apparent in that particular poem — it’s a sort of antipodean (in both senses) Scenes of Life at the Capital executed on a small scale. Then I think maybe I’m working on a kind of black Leaves Of Grass with Adventures In Paradise [Here and for a while the title of a folder of poems — much larger than the eventual book A.I.P. and not containing the poem which later received that title (it was written in 1980). Most of this original manuscript ended up in The Great Divide (1985)]. Ginsberg’s Fall of America is the 20th C’s Leaves (but so is Kenneth Koch’s The Art of Love).
1979-Jun-6: Notes on exhibition of Albert Tucker’s works on paper 1930s-70s (c. f. Sections of Melb. ‘Elegy’ 1972)
1930s — early stuff
1940s social realism
Images of Modern Evil
early 50s School of Europe [Paris]
imitations (esp. Dubuffet)
50s & 60s Antipodean Heads
(not represented extensively)
1970s Trying out the old images again
(Night Images &c)
1970s paintings & selfportraits — bad — sort of Don Quixote knocking about all the old clothes horses. Sad to look at the 70s ‘Night Images’ which are literally nowhere paintings & suffer from intrusion of the merely decorative & skilful. There’s a horrible one with all the images mixed — the mouth & eye torso, the tram, the street signs (found in European works) & antipodean parrots. He’s even doing 70s versions of 40s beach scenes! Best stuff — the 40s & 30s originals (& he seems to be sadly realising this). He should never have paid any attention to Europe. A real sense in the ‘Night Images’ of someone cut off & only having the local to work with — so go on yr nerve — how was he to know that things wd ever be any different. (Some of the early 40s & 30s watercolours — road to F/ tree gully &c & the 40s portraits good also. But late 40s on — swamped by the School of Paris (whose works now look sugary & slight themselves) then the idiotic image manipulation of the heads (Nolan got stuck at the same time with the Ned Kelly works).
1979-Jun-13: Second aerogram from Philip Whalen arr. yesterday. He’s still at the Tassajara centre. The letter polite, friendly, but get the feel he’s pretty busy at the moment. Says he’ll hunt up copies of books of his I haven’t got when he returns to S.F. in few months. Also not to worry about the John Montgomery note. J.M. a harmless crank — a ‘perennial problem’.
Last couple of days (full moon?) have been a bit down — I didn’t take up the chance to go with Stuart [Rogers] up to Mudgee again yesterday — & read the letter from P.W. in depressed state (I read it again later & this morning & can see how much mood colours perception). Figured though it is wrong for me to expect great things from American writers (apart, that is, from reading their work) — they have enough on their own hands. We really have enough here to handle ourselves — I mean, a situation to face up to. John Tranter & John Forbes yesterday afternoon working on a satirical poem in pentameters in reply to the Canberra Mark O’Connor’s article in Overland 74. Don’t know that it isn’t a waste of time. (The only people worth satirizing are ones you respect & then the impulse fades). So apart from a few close contemporaries I’m really alone as a writer (maybe that’s the way it should be?). Maybe also I should return to the present moment (i.e. still job hunting, broke) instead of investing hopes in the future (money falling from heaven, trips to America & Japan).
1979-Jun-16: A reading last night in the basement of the old Union, Syd. U. — an attempt by Steve Kelen to recreate the atmosphere of the crazed reading they had there about two years ago with the amazing Spastic Mumble Band [Chris Kelen’s group]. Result — an audience too doped out to be interested in anything. I didn’t read but showed my new stuff to John F. who, as I’d feared, confirmed suspicions it’s not much good [poems included ‘Notes on the New Romanticism’, published in Magic Sam then dropped]. I think I’ve headed into self-parody somewhat & have to admit that I have been affected by the 100% thumbs down to Under The W. & that even without being aware of it the bitterness comes out in the things I’m writing now. Last night’s reading demonstrated how few people there are who really want to listen to anything & then how easily distracted they are. Having some kind of audience & some kind of response is important & lack of it shows in the poems I’ve been writing since the ‘N.E. Ode’.
1979-Jun-19: Further reading yesterday afternoon at Exiles bookshop. Finally got a chance to read the ‘Ode’ — which was probably too long & incomprehensible. During a beer-forage break Andrew McDonald asked if I was writing a kind of mixture of ‘belles lettres’ & gonzo journalism.
1979-Jun-29: Couple of days ago I wrote a few satires which I’m typing up for Southerly. Wrote one abt. Π O & 925 magazine but scrapped this as it’s too laboured — ended up with 3 called ‘Three Bulls’ (china shop/ targets/ papal/ -shit) one of which seems pretty good. Strangely, once I’d gotten into practice at churning out rhyme & metre it just turned itself on & off at will & became a rather boring achievement. Don’t know how Murray & Hope can handle it day in & out!?
1979-Jul-2: Going through the folder it seems ‘Adventures In Paradise’ can hardly be anything but an ironic title so far since everything in it — except for the ‘Over The Divide’ section is either satirical, parodic, or in some degree critical of kinds of writing around at the moment. This is probably what several people like about it. Sometimes I feel maybe my true path is as a satirist — a skill I’ve preferred to ignore. Under the W largely did without it (& look how acclaimed it is!) — it seems in a curious way to connect with my inability to use verbs — I use them when I criticise, but elsewhere have trouble. I don’t like to be so involved in a writing which — however enjoyable it is — is of its nature parasitic. All poetry shows ‘influence’ to some degree but these forms rely more heavily on models in what is often the reverse manner — the models are taken down rather than utilised. And what happens if the models sink without trace?!
1979-Jul-10: Had spent the last fortnight scatteredly & the last few days intensely working on this selection of things [the ‘Bulls’] I’d tentatively called ‘The Great Tradition’. John F. suggested I scrap them — borrowed style. A constant problem — writing abt. what I already know.
It’s 1979, the age of the computer is only just beginning & I’m 30 years old, the punk bands move into psychedelia.
1979-Jul-26: Tranter’s introduction to The New Australian Poetry completed on the weekend or so. I read it briefly at the pub Tues. night, then closely on Wednesday morning. John F. crashed here Tues. night — having forgotten his key & so Wed. a. m. discussed the intro. Both agree the explications are totally unnecessary & perhaps damaging. The general intro (what happened in the late 60s, where did it happen & what availed it?) is o. k., as is the concluding bit (why did I choose this lot & not X, Y & Z?). But when J.T. goes into an in-depth explanation of the rise of ‘Modernism’ (a phenomenon I’m not sure I understand) & the anthologised poets’ place in the scheme of things, then I’m uneasy. If the intro is factually correct, it’s an admission that the work of all the poets contained is second-hand — everything residing in the genes of Darwinian predecessors & therefore demonstrations of the obvious. What the intro does is of no interest to the sympathetic reader & gives a handle to the moderately smart unsympathetic critic with which to put down the whole assembly without looking further at their work — it limits.
1979-Jul-29: Sometimes I find everything written since the eighteenth century distressing — Romanticism, ‘modernism’, the lot — & this includes A.D. Hope & Alan Gould and all the antiquarians who want to pretend their work is somehow authorized by the past. And curiously enough this is just what John is doing with his introduction. Why not move beyond ‘influence’ and ‘authority’. What good’s the past if it isn’t ‘a good read’?
1979-Sep-4: Barbara [Brooks] brought to work a magazine via Ken Bolton Boulder Monthly March 1979 (emanating from Colorado) with lengthy articles ‘Behind the veil of Boulder Buddhism’ by Ed Sanders & an interview with Ginsberg all over some allegedly crazy episode in a seminary involving Trungpa [the resident Tibetan, subsequently denounced by the Dalai Lama, who headed the Naropa Institute, at which Ginsberg & a number of poets taught] & W.S. Merwin — From a distance it’s like an exploding molecule, where every tangential particle becomes ominous or meaningful & yet amounts to nothing. The whole thing is very American.
1979-Sep-18: I come home to find a third letter from the crazed H________ who’s been in Melbourne, seen the two books & disliked (as I’d expect) Under The Weather, intensely disparaging it in his letter as: ‘a complete failure as poetry and I don’t think it was wise to have it published. I’m afraid a dopy excursion up and down the N.S.W. coast doesn’t impress me, and the excuse for poetry doesn’t display any artistic merit, or any psychological merit for that matter either’. & the other weekend I open the S.M.H. to find the heading ‘All the dope’s gone up river’ & a lengthy, disapproving review.
It seems as though everyone wants the poems to do something else, all criticisms (even formalist ones) having some vaguely ethical overtone — the formalists don’t want the poetry spoilt by excessive ‘undigested’ experiences; the humanists, radical feminists, marxists, &c all want it spelt out for them — for the poems (mine, anyone’s) to wear heart-on-sleeve — the kind of heart varying with the critic’s particular dogma.
1979-Sep-27: Last night The New Australian Poetry was launched. Finished work at 4.15. Sat & talked briefly to Barbara — who was going to the launching of the No Regrets anthology. Went to the Malaya & ate a Sing Chow Chow Mai. Went to the Criterion pub to have a beer before the event, met Nadia there & took a poster & leaflets for the Dole Bludgers Picnic. Wild & Woolley crowded with librarians, Arts Council people & assorted personalities. The anthology with a cover like a Technical College annual course list. Π O telling me how terrific 925 magazine is & how dead the anthology is. A librarian telling me she really thought poetry was nonsense & me agreeing with her. Nigel trying to get a video of me reading & I’m not able to seriously front a camera in the middle of a cocktail party. It looks like there’s going to be blood (& later apparently there is) so after Andrew Taylor launches the book with an inaudible speech I coax Trish & Carl to head off early to the Forest Lodge. Everyone later turns up there. John F. pissed after an alleged punch up with Michael Wilding. People from the No Regrets launching — Barbara, Pam, Micky [Allan], Anna, Ken, Sal [Brereton], Nick, Dennis [Gallagher]. The pub closes & everyone’s gone. Gig wants to party on — fills her car with people — me included — to go to Martin [Johnston]’s flat — but I realize, squashed into the car, that I don’t want to go anywhere but home.
1979-Oct-2: [The Wollongong Poetry Festival:] Train down early Sunday morning to Coalcliff & a walk by myself down to the beach while Ken & Sal put together posters & magazines for the evening. I have a calm & generally gregarious weekend. By 2 p.m. a lot of people have arrived at Coalcliff — the Hammials, Denis Gallagher, Π O, Nigel, Phil Roberts & others. We head in to the Gong but the Al Monte reception room isn’t open. Check out the station & streets then back to Al Monte’s to shift tables & chairs & wait over a beer or two. Phil Roberts delivers a paper called ‘Death of the poet’ (rather melodramatically) then there’s a break & the W’Gong writers read. Ken & Sal first, then some unbelievable local writers [probably including Leigh Stokes], then another break & the Sydney contingent read. Phil R. is interrupted by the response of some Pyrmont anarchist whose kid is playing with a soccer ball during the proceedings. There’s a shouting match with quite a few having a say till Claire gets the reading going again. Others read — Denis, Π O (Mayakovsky & Nelson Algren & the fuck poems shouted from a tabletop), Tranter finally (performing his ‘Foucault at the Forest Lodge’ series in a totally unsuitable dramatic manner). Then another break & a band play lounge lizard music (‘Girl from Ipanema’) while everyone drinks on & eats lukewarm lasagne &c. Three carloads of us go to a coffee house & ruminate over the proceedings.
I sleep in the pantry & wake early, the sun up over the ocean. A morning long breakfast turns into a picnic lunch in the back yard, then in the afternoon with Kurt [Brereton] & Anna we go back into Wollongong to look at the Art Gallery (2 coloured photos of Micky’s on display) & walk down to the beach — barbed wire & factories — tankers out on the Pacific — ought to be mines on the beach. It’s grey & there are only a handful of people out down that end of town.
1979-Oct-6: Borrowed from Ken — the Naropa Institute lectures — largely not very interesting, but one of the 3 or 4 good ones by Diane Di Prima quotes Keats’ diaries. The Keats passages I haven’t looked at since I did a paper on Negative Capability at Monash in 1971 & remembered the incredible identification I felt also — the annihilation in even a room full of children (the N.A.P. launching e.g.) & particularly on being the least poetic thing in existence. & so the dissatisfactions of being a poet — that I should be expected to be strange or exciting but am in fact very ordinary — or extraordinary only in the lack of excitement (apparent) in my life. There are people like W________ who will destroy themselves trying to be poets — poverty, drugs, & all kinds of unhappiness — because they build a false character around their pretensions. & they will destroy themselves because they can’t really write anything good (though this isn’t saying anything against them as people — nor is it entirely their own fault — it’s the world which has created all of the phoney and dumb expectations a writer like this is supposed to fulfil).
1979-Oct-7: I’m not a ‘modernist’. I don’t like fake technology. Poetry has more order & less neatness than science.
1979-Nov-3: Robert Gray & Ken Goodwin in the Herald & Australian & more details from Tranter last night re. the Robert Gray, Martin Harrison & J.T. radio talk (taped a week ago & scheduled for the air next month sometime) — I’m continually amazed by the capacity Australia seems to have to produce year after year just enough stodginess to hold a ramshackle court over ‘The Arts’, ‘Australian Culture’ or whatever the greasy mechanism is known as. Maybe this is why Philip Whalen wants to be known as a great big vegetable. The worst part of it all is that the stodges are always (initially) so god-fucking liberal (just enough of the moderne to appear to be carrying on the baggage of ‘Australian Culture’; safe and mildly ‘experimental’ enough to send out as representatives to some assumed all-nations expo 79 or whatever. & as they get older the liberalism evaporates & we’re left with Malcolm Muggeridges.
1979-Dec-24: Just read Robert Gray’s ‘Dharma Vehicle’. What’s wrong with his work is it’s too aesthetic. Too many of the poems (esp. the haiku) are spoiled by ‘startling images’, ‘striking lines’ &c — just the kinds of thing critics like about his work. They claim he is good at observing things — ‘seeing’. Seeing things like the chair ‘like a working man’; the sea — like foil that’s been crumpled & flattened out; clouds — like ‘quilting’; the city — ‘driven like stakes into the earth’, &c &c. But all this seems to me no more than arcane decoration.
1980-Feb-3: The Adventures in Paradise M.S. [still not the final one — see note, 5th June 1979] is finished — no new poems added since ‘Crawling From the Wreckage’ — only that poem & the ‘Ode to Disco’ [since thrown out] need any fiddling with, then the whole thing can be typed up (& ‘Wreckage’ typeset with notes on the same page) & submitted to whoever will publish it. The publishing scene has shrunk considerably since a few years back & the climate for writing of this nature is pretty tepid.
1980-Feb-27: Peter Craven up for a week — left a few days ago — first time I’ve seen him since 1976. He’s written a ‘tortuously indecisive & personally disappointing thesis on Joyce’ & is off hopefully into an M.A. this year. Visited a few local lights — incl. J.F. who is now working in the Fountain Gift Shop(pe), Kings X, selling Koala bears.
1980-Mar-17: Through a concern with documents, with the ‘impersonal’ & distrust of the voyeurist self-consciousness, I’ve gradually come round to an endorsement of the imagination (I guess in Williams’ sense). As a kind of non-professional historian, I’ve developed more & more of a distrust of the ‘oral history’ craze — that what should be the most real turns out to be the shakiest foundation of truth — And that to write a history will require some imaginative formal depth.
At the same time, noticing J.D. Pringle reviewing Les Murray’s new book — and thinking about how off-beam Murray is & how his writing gets worse & more predictable as he gets older. It’s not that he’s become a right-wing Catholic — it’s his becoming a right-wing Catholic with ideas. The ideas themselves were, I suppose, initially a kind of timid self-justification (maybe he feels guilty about being a writer?) — but they’ve taken a hold of him & turned him into a public figure — a kind of paper monster. He’s endeared himself to the range of people he purports to despise — the whole thing’s even more hollow when, as John F. said the other day, while baiting the trendy left-liberals he owes his position entirely to them. So — social security (with & without capitals), a home in Chatswood, the occasional world trip, and a populism without roots, an imagined history which is used to deny the present.
1980-Apr-8: Back from an Easter weekend with Morgan [Smith] spent at Coalcliff — helping with Magic Sam #5.
1980-Apr-22: After Adventures in Paradise I’d like to write a quiet book (the closest thing to it I’ve done before would be the ‘Over The Divide’ poems). I don’t imagine I’ll write for some time though. The Gippsland work [a recurring preoccupation] seems more & more distant. I’d sooner write directly out of where I am now. The trouble seems to be that anyone who writes with the kind of consistency I’m thinking about has some belief behind them. I’ve never been able to believe in anything (including poetry) so in effect each writing must be a kind of re-creation of the world (or of a world in which the existence of that particular poem isn’t an anomaly?). Sentiment is a substitute for belief — & this is what motivates the Gippsland, South Melbourne concerns. Turning a past into a kind of monument to itself. (Maybe even constructing a present which will last?) (e.g. Under The Weather).
1980-Apr-27: It’s grey out over the park (Anthropomorphism).
8.15 a.m.: didn’t sleep much last night. How all these things come at once — winter, bad colds, the end of love — would delight a Canberra poet.
1980-May-8: Three days ago, wrote an almost 200 line piece (Monday afternoon at the library) — a kind of mock-epic autobiography in six-line stanzas with a rhythm that occasionally goes into auto-destruct, corny rhymes (some internal) as well. It needs a bit of work.
1980-May-12: Showed the M.S. of the autobiographical poem to John F. Tuesday night, & on Wednesday to Gig & John Tranter, later to Morgan, & yesterday Carl [Harrison-Ford]. J.F. thought there were 50 good lines, 50 bad ones & 100 indifferent & it would need a lot of work. Carl didn’t think so — he felt it possibly stood very much as it was (a bit closer to my own feeling — I need to tidy up a few things but no major change). So I’m getting him a photocopy today for further comment.
It occurred to me that the piece itself ought to be called ‘Adventures in Paradise’. Carl thought this made it seem even more sad in a way (but I had the ‘Petit Testament’, ‘Mauberley’ &c in the back of my mind — strange how these unfulfilled obsessions surface & complete themselves years later). He also figured that it would be lost in the current MS which finally appears to be transitional work. I’m not sure. The poem also wd. seem to be a oncer. Carl added that the poem would be largely misunderstood (‘There are a few good lines’ ‘striking images’ &c) but I suppose I’ve been courting misunderstanding from the beginning.
1980-May-14: A day spent in the city, Melbourne, feeling pretty much an alien. Coffee in Genevieve’s, Carlton, feeling alone, after seeing in Reading’s, a review by the Ambrose Phillips of Aust. letters, Graham Rowlands, which tackles the New Australian Poetry, in which I actually get a mention — a one-liner calling me ‘John Forbes II’.
1980-May-17: It was unusual to see Kris Hemensley after such a long break. Looked at a big project-book of parallel texts he is working on & listened to a tape of a Books & Ideas program he did on the 10th anniversary of the deaths of Olson & Kerouac. Kris explained: ‘I’m not a critic. I’m an enthusiast.’
Saturday night, 9.30. Very quiet — faint occasional distant car sound. I feel a little anxious — I’m crossing some kind of meridian and I don’t know what. Phillip Adams in the Age writes an article praising Π O’s 925 magazine. I feel I’m going to have to be content with an audience of twenty people for some time. That bit in Williams’ ‘Descent of Winter’ where his pants feel ‘strange upon a strange thigh’. I don’t want to be part of anyone’s movement, or demonstration of anyone’s thesis.
1980-May-26: A letter from Prof. Wilkes says he will publish the later versions of ‘The Great Tradition’ but without the notes if that’s O.K. I’ll let him have them like that — better for it to appear in Southerly than anywhere else, even without the notes.
1980-May-30: A strong cup of percolated coffee & I read Ted Berrigan ‘Sonnet LXXVI’ (‘It’s my birthday’). Yesterday I filled in the 1981 Literature Board form in a manner which will be taken as facetious but which is totally true — except maybe the promise to write a string of poems about the life & times of the great anarchists! Then I went to the Forest Lodge for a beer in the evening & saw John, John, Greg, Michael Witts (who is working as a builders labourer), Mark, Ranald, Damien, John & oths. The band began a reasonable imitation of the Blue Horizon catalogue.
1980-Jun-13: Had dinner at Fort St. last night — walked home in a break in the rain thinking grandiose thoughts about my poems.
1980-Jun-20: Badly hung over, but the reading [at Exiles] went well & I was drunk enough to do probably the best job I’ve done or will do on ‘Adventures in Paradise’. Tom Shapcott was there and at one point I expounded the virtues of my forthcoming manuscript & I think impressed on him my confidence. Morgan thought I read well. Readers included J.T. & J.F., Martin, Bob, Dorothy Hewett, Bob Harris, Lily Brett-Lovett (?), & Tom Shapcott. Afterwards Tranter, Forbes, Dorothy, Merv [Lilley], Rose [Lilley], Morgan & myself adjourned to Martin’s place & then I remember getting a lift home with Tranter, J.F. & Morgan in the car, raving depressively about the state of the world.
[I was approached at the reading by Hazel de Berg who asked me about the Mudgee poems and if she could interview me for the Australian National Archives.]
1980-Oct-24: Received the transcript of the Hazel De Berg interview from the National Library. It reads like a John Giorno poem! There are several nice phonetic inventions like Alan Wern, Philip Wayland, & the best, Anna Killarney — and a new word to describe my literary political position: ‘monanarchist’.
1980-Nov-1: Recipients of the Aust. C. grants include Robert Gray (‘one of the half-dozen finest poets writing in English today’ — Dennis Haskell) & Peter Kocan. Maybe J.F. is right about us having to start ironing our shirts!
Last night at the Criterion — the inhabitants of the bar ought to be pickled & stuck in a museum (‘The 1960s’); the Café L’Absurd in Balmain for a poetry reading — the inhabitants of this place cd. have been cast in amber as relics of the ‘early 1970s’; & this afternoon I visit Nick Pounder at Exiles, but avoid staying for the ‘late 1970s’ exhibit there. I imagine Damien Prentice saying: ‘Look, it’s 1980 man, where are these people?’ It’s nearly 1981.
1980-Nov-3: I like the idea of doing a few little books after (if & when) Adventures in Paradise gets published — maybe even pamphlet size ones in small editions — to get a lot of different directions out — quickly. In a way, after A.I.P. I’m through with the ‘big’ magazines. It does seem very much that the kind of writing I want to do will not exactly be high fashion for some time, so there’s no point in pushing it as such.
1980-Nov-5: 8.16 a.m. Second (and a half) day in bed with virus. Seem to have partially lost track of time — reading the 3rd vol. of the Enderby books [Anthony Burgess] & writing parodies of Aust. poets (largely not very good — but, confined to bed, better than playing cards).
1980-Nov-11: John Forbes drops into the [W.E.A.] library with M.S. of new poems, ‘The Poem on its Sleeve’ (corrected since last version) & the ‘monkey’ poem [‘Monkey’s Pride’], which I hadn’t seen — looks good. He read through the ‘Blue Hills’ M.S. & reckoned there were two-three poems in it — particularly no 24 ‘a big football full of air’ [these poems have since been renumbered]. He talked about the big split that’s been going on in U.S. poetry documented by Tom Clark in a bk. at Gleebooks which I’m hopefully going to pick up tomorrow morning. It’s over the Naropa Inst. poetry scene & the situation of Chogyam Trungpa (Rimpoche?) the presiding Tibetan who seems to be turning the place into a kind of moonie freak centre & pocketing the cash. I’d read Ed Sanders’ account in Boulder mag. Apparently Allen Ginsberg remains very pro-Chog — as do Anne Waldman, Michael Brownstein. Gary Snyder & McClure are on the fence (largely, I’d suspect, out of friendship with A.G.), & the poets with brains (& politics) — Sanders, Clark & Ed Dorn, are anti-Chog. But, John says, it’s really a bigger split than its petty origin — it’s like — this is the result of the silicon chip bohemia — its final petering out (lifestyle poetry?) in the face of a political reality. Then on the bus home John talked abt. his dissatisfaction with all Aust. poetry — that it all (Murray stuff & Tranter modernism) wd. always be behind the current because no-one is specific/ particular enough. What happens is, because it’s a kind of factional free for all, everyone operates as though it were through the big gesture, the generalisation, that they wd. establish Australian Writing & what he liked abt. one poem of mine (no 24/ ’Blue Hills’) was that it wasn’t carrying this overlay of shifting the modern Aust. Tradn. along.
1980-Nov-20: Carl went over the M.S. on Saturday — some suggestions — I retyped & revised — then J.F. looked through it yesterday & changed his mind — cd. see structure of the whole thing — complete 1-25. So I made a few more emendations & ‘Blue Hills’ is a finished MS — & a long poem. I seem to be the last of the writers of long poems. [The 25 pieces were eventually weeded down to 16, appearing in The Great Divide (1985). I’d now consider them a set of individual poems — still in progress — rather than a ‘long poem’. I continued to write Blue Hills poems intermittently and they appeared over several books. Finally they were published as a collection by Puncher & Wattman in 2012.]
1980-Dec-25: In the front bedroom, Coalcliff, considerably stoned. Exquisite corpses [later published as Xmas Corpses — my title but my only contribution to the book] continue in the living room after a long day of food & drink — picnic in the National Park with Sal, Ken, Pam, Micky [Allan], Erica [Callan], Kurt [Brereton].
1981-Jan-8: This morning Sal’s at work in W’Gong & Ken has gone to Sydney to the arts workshop [tin sheds] to get photo done for poster. I’m listening to early Coltrane (with Miles) & then the ‘Giant Steps’ album, trying to write a parody of Les Murray.
1981-Jan-11: Making plans for the two books, Blue Hills & (now) The New Australian Poetry, Now which should get done in the next couple of months [They didn’t. ‘The New Australian Poetry, Now’ — the fake anthology — finally got printed in Adventures in Paradise (1982). The ‘Blue Hills’ poems first appeared in The Great Divide.].
1981-Jan-25: Peter [Craven] & Michael [Heyward] (young Bunting scholar who has met Basil B.) over yesterday — drinks in the White Horse beer garden then a meal at the Malaya — discussion of aesthetics & Charles Olson — I say read The Post Office.
1981-Feb-3: This morning went to a semiotics conference in the Women’s College Syd U. co-run by Chris Burns, at which J.F. gave paper on Aust. Poetry [published in Foreign Bodies Papers #1. This conference, which featured Meaghan Morris, Paul Foss, Ted Colless and George Alexander among others was a founding event in Australian poststructural and postcolonial critical theory].
1981-Mar-30: Noticed last night Compass mag. had a critical article on Oriental influences in Aust. poetry in which I get a (disparaging of course) mention — I think the point was that I didn’t take Buddhism seriously.
1981-Apr-7: Incapacitated on and off for the last week or so by unspecified stress-related disease which I’m trying to scare away with yeast, kelp & vitamin C tablets. Blistered & painful gums which I knock out with SM-33 fluid & warm salt water. The night before last, a nightmare in which I am beaten up by a gang of unspecified hoods who climb in through the window of an unidentifiable bedroom.
[Overall, 1981 was a stressful year. For the first few months I was homeless with goods stored in a garage at Dulwich Hill. Then I moved into a Dulwich Hill house by myself for a few months. The poetry world seemed on its last legs, despite the timely appearance of a number of new and good writers.]
1981-May-6: Due to read in Canberra [where John Scott had moved to work in the Canberra C.A.E. Media Studies department] with Alan Gould, (the Canberra) Mark O’Connor, & J.F. — a sort of ecumenical reading — on the 19th this month.
1981-May-19: The poetry reading is terrific. We all get pissed. Readers included Mark O’Connor (A.C.T.) — the only dull one [who read a ‘parody’ of Gerard Manley Hopkins], John Forbes (great), Alan Gould, (interval), Me, John Garnett, (interval), John Scott, Mark O’Connor (real & great), the organiser, a young Christian punk from the audience, & a demented (really demented) haiku writer.
Back to Bob [Angel] & Angela [Korvisianos]’s place where Bob & the young punk engage in (sic.) theological debate. John Forbes goes to bed. Mark O’C (real) lies on the couch. Mark O’C (A.C.T.) leaves when Bob turns on a faulty oil heater & appears to be about to blow the house up. I think the Canberra poets were a bit stunned by the strength of the Sydney contingent — anyway we more than stole the show.
1981-May-25: I head in to the college & procure typewriter to do the Go-poet interviews (original idea of John Forbes — to do a series of interviews in the one-line format of 1960’s teeny magazines — favourite colour, star-sign &c).
1981-May-26: Still drizzling but I decide to get out of the house. Walk through city & onto A.N.U. campus — wander about Union building & grounds until I bump into John Tranter & go back to his office [he was writer-in-residence at the time], off plush Eng. Dept. common room in the A.D. Hope Building (A.D. Hope building with big pictures of Hope inside the entrance. It’s a bit sad — like a mausoleum in which the man still has an office).
7.30 p.m. Scott gives me a lift to Mark O’Connor & Alan Gould’s place where I attempt to get a bit drunk as quick as possible. M. O’C. hesitant to do Go-poet questionnaire, but A.G. goes ahead with his so he hasn’t got much choice. Objects to answering Star sign. We eat when (O’C’s girlfriend?) comes home & O’C & her converse in Italian over the dinner table — curious [she wasn’t Italian]. A.G. & I hedge about with ‘what poets do you like’ tactics then we go back to living room. O’C buys my two books & they look at the parodies. O’C about the most pompous person imaginable — like a stuffy high-school teacher looking at kids essays. Has to admit that the parodies are ‘assured’. Alan Gould seems like a nice guy — gives me a lift back on his motorbike.
1981-May-28: Tranter, Scott & I go into A.N.U. to make tapes in the A.V. section. Tranter interviews Scott, then me (I bumble my way along). Then Scott reads his poems for 25 mins, then Scott interviews Tranter. Break for lunch in Union — pass A.D. Hope with a tray of salads — meet Dave Kelly & Kim Sanders [saxophonist] (down from Sydney). Back in the studio I record 25 mins. of poems & then Tranter does the same. I read (in order): ‘Blue Hills’ [six sections], ‘South Coast Haiku’, ‘Voss’, ‘Beyond the Gentility Principle’, ‘Peasant Mandarin’, ‘Do the Right Thing’, ‘What I Came Onto’, ‘Lost in the Men’s Room’, & (a totally unflawed) ‘Adventures in Paradise’. When J.T. read sections from Dazed in the Ladies’ Lounge I was amazed at how much of his style my parody encapsulated.
1981-May-31: David Brooks calls over to give Scott a poster for visiting Canadian poet called Michael Ondaatje — sounds like a hustler — but then I guess any poet who is a world traveller must be. D.B. came across a copy of East in a Canberra bookshop. I gave him U.T.W. to dampen his enthusiasms a little.
[For the next few months I planned constantly to move to Canberra. It gave some direction to my doings, kept me in my job &c for a while, until my Mother’s death, and my move to Fort Street Petersham.]
1981-Jun-7: J.T. picks me up in the rain — then to Exiles. _______ reading as we enter, an interminable story followed by several poems. Several oth. readers. Martin, Michael Witts, Les Wicks, Steve Kelen, Martin Harrison, turn up. I read a couple of short newer pieces (‘Voss’, ‘Academic Poem’) & some of the parodies & talk back to female interjector. Poems go over well. Then Tranter reads & later Steve K. reads his ‘Swoon Harbour’ poem, too fast. Tranter, Martin J. & I go back to M’s place for glass of wine & Martin fills out Go-poet interview. Then back to Tranters’ for kids cracker-night & dinner party with Carl, Trish, Axel Clark & [Alison Clark] & a woman I only find out later is Helen Garner the famous author (who doesn’t understand Go-poet interviews).
1981-Jun-15: Arr. Coalcliff yesterday 3 p.m. No-one about. I hide bag & walk down to beach via milkshake. Back up to house — enter spare room window & hang around for evening train. Find The Diamond Noodle with great picture on back — [Philip] Whalen looking like a delicate version of Donald Sutherland. Ken & Sal arrive abt. 1/ 2 hour before the train. I stick around — produce bottle of Riesling & eat with K, S & [I think Jean Bedford the fiction writer]. Get very stoned on one joint. Silly movies. Up this morning to hang about kitchen table. K & S do Go-poet interviews.
1981-Jun-22: [Reading at Watters’ Gallery (a Canadian writer advertised):]
another one of those scenes where all the boilers from the Artworld/ Artscouncils turn up for the prestige event (the same people who wd. never go anywhere to hear ‘unknown’ writers). The ‘Canadian’ turned out to be an Australian expatriate called K_____ — as far as I could see, utterly devoid of talent & possessing that extreme assurance that only the worthless seem to be able to do. Moorhouse read another Moorhouse-a-clef story which was funny but a bit drawn out. Tranter read well. I was surprised by Barry Oakley who read an autobiographical story which sounded fresh & clear & funny. Saw Gig Ryan for the first time in ages at interval & sat with her through second bracket which finished with K_____ reading an interminable story about the [1950’s] Royal Tour.
‘Idly I read the legends of King Chou
And glance at a map of the strange places.
In a moment I am flying through the universe.
How could such a man ever be unhappy’
— Tao Yuan-Ming (365-427 A.D.)
‘The place of honour is — outside’
— Wyndham Lewis
1981-Jul-28: The A.N.U. tape arrived today — John Tranter interviewing me on one side/ me reading poems on the other — not as disjointed (the interview) as I’d imagined it would sound. Over the whole tape — particularly the reading, there’s a kind of venomousness I’ve generally kept under cover, in the tone of the readings & some of the statements towards the end of the interview — particularly re. my attitude to current establishment poetry & its categorization of me as a kind of 1960s relic. I’m generally pleased with this. I could never be as venomous with an audience — who are innocent — but here in the privacy of the studio I read and spoke to ‘the great tradition’ which has largely ignored me & gave out what I felt about it (I couldn’t have done this with Hazel De Berg either, because she also was innocent — how could I fire off her the same way as I could off J.T.).
1981-Aug-9: When I get to Coalcliff it’s in time to help Ken re-affix the posts of the front verandah (which blew away a week ago). Ken says he & Sal have split up. Ken as expected a bit in need of activity. We walk halfway up the mountain round the old track & then cutting up the side to a dip just before the final ascending stretch. Then walk down past the cows. I think of title for Canberra poetry book – Cows & Vikings – & Ken thinks of a good cover design. Back to the house at dusk & a hot meal & listen to records. Look at Steve K’s ‘Swoon Harbour’ poem – great work. Both agree that we couldn’t write like that & don’t know how it’s done – but I say I wd. like to have written it. I go to sleep in the living room. Strong winds sound like they’ll blow the roof off.
1981-Aug-10: Think about Bill Beard — he might finally be getting a book together, which is good — I’d like to have his poems accessible. But think about his attitudes & ways of writing cf. mine. Still feel I’d like not to write the sort of intellectual (parodies &c) poems I write — only the simple ones — but realize it’s just part of my nature to want to be clever from time to time & that maybe that’s not so bad — so long as I don’t let it dominate the side that just wants to describe trees & beer cans.
[Bill Beard was one of the Melbourne ‘underground’ poets in the late 1960s. He spent many years working as a firewatch near the Victorian and NSW state border. The proposed book didn’t, as far as I know, happen.]
1981-Aug-19: Spoke to John Forbes on the weekend about the continuing ‘Canberra poets’ Vs ‘Modernist push’ business as exemplified in the Age Monthly Review — that pallid T.L.S./ Listener clone. & my being stuck — unable to write because of such controversy — & wanting to get away from all that hyper-consciousness. John said perhaps because he could regard the poets concerned as cartoon characters it didn’t affect or upset the way he wrote, whereas I — esp. after meeting some of them — keep thinking of it as a kind of personal feud & this limits both my response & my capacity to do anything of my own. I also think, in relation to poems like ‘Swoon Harbour’ [Steve Kelen] & most of Forbes’ work I’m really a kind of dumb journalist — these are the great art works of our time. Meanwhile the first issue of Peter Craven & Michael Heyward’s Scripsi magazine arrives, with poems by Scott, Alan W., a Wearne interview, reviews of Gig & J.F., & my bunch of parodies. For once I feel there’s a magazine coming out of my bunch — or at least a magazine that my bunch are allowed to feel comfortable in.
1981-Sep-6: There are a whole lot of good younger poets around who aren’t caught up in the ‘modernist/ traditionalist’ bullshit. Also there seem to be a whole lot of magazines coming out again which, regardless of quality, is a good thing — Scripsi, Final Taxi [one issue only], Going Down Swinging, another Meuse.
‘In the preface to the collection Saikaku mentioned his disgust with the poetry being written in his day — “most of the verses sound like the foolish pastimes of old men”’
— Donald Keene: World Within Walls
‘there is no such thing as distinguishing which style is the correct one; the best thing is to amuse oneself by writing what one likes; it is a joke within a fantasy’
— Nishiyama Sôin (aged 69, 1674)
1981-Sep-14: 7.20 a.m. In the house by myself at Blackheath [Carl Harrison-Ford & Trish Davies place] & due to go back in an hour or so. Chilly. Sit in shearer’s coat in the dining room with view back over Blackheath. Read John Forbes’ funny poem on livingroom mantel & clipping from some social page abt. Allbooks party — ‘the writers in their rumpled & uninteresting clothes’ &c. Suffering from a wicked hangover. Discover ingredients for cup of coffee.
Blackheath local history has a picture of Anna Couani in it.
Clouds lifting outside dining room window. Through my head Les Paul & Mary Ford: ‘Waiting for the Sunrise’
1981-Sep-17: Tonight Gary Snyder & (Nanao Sakaki?) are appearing at Exiles Bookshop. It would be nice to be able to talk to G.S. at length but I imagine he will be surrounded by Australia Council types.
10.15 p.m. Alas &c. Unable to even see the man because of heavy crowds. Got drunk instead & sat downstairs in the shop talking to Dorothy Hewett & (briefly) Steve Kelen — who also seemed pretty pissed off. The poets — other than hustler varieties — notably absent.
1981-Oct-3: [In Melbourne from 29 Sep to 6 Oct for my Mother’s funeral:] Walk through town to Margarita Webber’s bookshop where I eye off Gavin Ewart’s Collected Poems but have to buy the Richard Haese Rebels & Precursors book if only for the illustrations & the fact that ten years ago I’d thought of writing a book on the same subject — the Aust writing & painting scene & its politics in the 1930s-40s period & the implications of the late 40s & 50s decline into Great Aussie Art which has remained with us pretty much since then. Tram up to Carlton figuring on looking in Readings & getting a cup of coffee somewhere. In readings, pick up James Schuyler: Freely Espousing — I shouldn’t really be buying books at all — & meet with pleasant surprise Alan Wearne. We cross the road to the coffee house & talk on then get lift back to his new place in Abbotsford by the Collingwood ground.
1981-Oct-5: Scripsi don’t want to print my ‘Adventures in Paradise’ poem — so much for the magazine I could ‘feel comfortable’ in. This in itself wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the fact that such markedly inferior material was printed in the last issue without hesitation. But I’m just getting bitter here. I wonder sometimes whether or not I’m just living a great delusion — but I know I’m not — not that my work is so good but it’s got to be better than a lot of the rubbish that gets all the kudos. Oth. news — Robert Kenny doesn’t want to publish my A.I.P. book [not the present book of that title] so it looks unlikely that it will find a publisher at all. Apparently though — as I’d expect — the parodies have received good feedback. A.D. Hope is said to have liked them — for that sort of poem, a pleasing response. But I come home after a walk across Royal Park, feeling pretty discouraged. How much longer can I go on feeling peripheral & getting knocked back without wanting to burn the MSS & take up butterfly collecting? It is close to madness knowing I’m worth more than anyone seems to realize — dangerous having to think this, but necessary if I’m to keep writing. But I do need some kind of positive response to what I’m doing. Peter’s O.K but the position of Scripsi itself is a bit ridiculous — starting a magazine & wanting it to be filled with work of or about already famous overseas writers seems to me to be starting a magazine for no reason at all.
1981-Oct-16: Ken Bolton rings last night — he’s due to go to Adelaide for a few weeks [he’s still there, 2014] on some kind of grant from an art institution & intends to produce pamphlets on the equipment down there. Asks for a 20 page booklet. I figure on maybe ‘Adventures in Paradise’ & ‘The Great Tradition’ (with notes) — Ken’s idea, and, in addition, the fake anthology. Looks like the A.I.P. book will have to appear in pieces [this book, the present A.I.P. appeared early 1982].
[Late in October I stopped keeping the diary (not resumed for over a year), decided not to move to Canberra, and shifted from Dulwich Hill into No 9 Fort St. Petersham and a household (Jann Chambers, Greg Maguire and a changing cast of others) with whom I was to stay until my move to Melbourne in 1985.]
1982-Dec-3: John [Forbes] gets $18,000 grant — goes to bank to borrow money in advance & is given a Bankcard [I don’t think John had had a bank account for years] — within 2 weeks is $1000 overdrawn (& is now walking somewhere in Les Murray country).
1982-Dec-12: It seems like I’m constantly on some dividing line — calm enough, but with no real idea of where I’m going. Poetry seems finished (funnily — not just mine) though I suppose I’ll still have it expected of me for some time.
1983-Mar-23: A week ago I went to the launching for Surfers’ Paradise #3 — Met Peter Porter & gave him a copy of Adventures. Today rec. a postcard — J.W. Waterhouse painting of ‘The Lady of Shallott’. P.P. enjoyed the book, particularly the title poem, which is more than gratifying. I expect though he’d be a bit disappointed with Under The Weather — having expressed interest in obtaining the other books when he gets back to Australia later in the year.
1983-Apr-10: A night train booked for Canberra — tomorrow 6.20 p.m. Fairly broke after yesterday afternoon book launch (Barbara [Brooks] & Anna Couani) but have large jar of 1 & 2 cent pieces to cash & books to sell at the reading. Then in about a week, Martin Johnston’s class on poetry at the Institute [NSWIT]. Spend my time writing lists.
1983-Apr-14: Visited War Memorial — the most moving things, objects made by concentration camp internees. Photograph of man (footless?) on a trolley with a ventriloquist’s dummy, and, next to it in the display, the actual dummy.
1983-Apr-19: Back in Sydney — my arse hanging out. John Forbes comes over with the dire Lehmann & Gray anthology [The Younger Australian Poets] — its main fault: pleasure is never mentioned. The cover seems to depict (Jeffrey Smart painting) a woman soliciting, and a right turn for Australian poetry!
1983-Apr-25: Over to Tranters’ this evening to look, among other things, at (the false) Mark O’Connor’s book of literary criticism — essay on the ‘bubble poets’ &c. He is due to deliver a lecture on the same (courtesy Dennis Haskell) at Sydney Uni on Wednesday.
To me the whole modernist/ traditionalist dispute is a dead duck. Both ‘sides’ believe in their uniforms. I’d see the uniforms as outfits that can be changed at any time — pure whimsies which tell us more about how somebody wants to look than about how (or who) they are. The battle of the anthologies comes down to this. For the so-called ‘humanists’ the stance is one of appearance only. The ‘humanist’ uniform masks a self-importance which finally isn’t particularly humane.
1983-Apr-27: O’Connor unbelievably self-inflating. Introduced by Jim Tulip as the author of ‘one of the liveliest pieces of criticism of the last 20 years’, O’C announced that he had tried ‘to devise a school — or a style — of poetry’ which would combat the 20th C ‘highbrow poetry’ initiated by T.S. Eliot. Great Literature consisted of ‘original ideas or sensibility in arresting language’ and he (O’C) was ‘the first white Australian poet to write about Australia’s largest national monument’ [the Great Barrier Reef]. He prefaced his European poems with the announcement that, in the mid 70s when all the ‘bubble poets’ had the money ‘the only way I could survive as a poet was to take a Martin Bequest scholarship’. He added ‘I, of course, was brought up in another world and studied Latin’ and read a poem about ‘the Avernus Riding School and Bar, and the Stygian tomato co-op’. His only critical recourse appeared to be his own authority and he felt the size of his audience (certainly not the Eng. dept. audience) authenticated his poetry. Language ‘is a lens’ he said, ‘and some lenses are ground in a superior fashion to others.’ Tulip diverted the argument (John Forbes & Chris Burns being somewhat vociferous) to O’C’s essay on [David] Williamson and the Australian sex-problem, then steered it back into poetry. ‘And what about Les Murray?’ Murray, O’C said, had ‘no coherent policy for keeping Australia small and rural’ (earlier he had claimed that the problem with Europe & Britain was that there were too many people there). O’C concluded that ‘poetry is on the way up at present’; that the mid 70s witnessed a ‘flooding of the bookshops’ with the small self-published works of inferior writers; and that what people really wanted from poetry was ‘a memorable phrase’ (like a desk calendar?).
1983-Apr-29: I’ve been looking at books — articles (Frank O’Hara) about the painters in 40s-50s America. Kinds of monumentality currently out of fashion (& which never existed in Australia in other than chocolate-box form). That I should (sometimes despite appearance) be still trying to do this sort of thing in an atmosphere more attuned to the ‘well-honed lyric’ is evidence of my ‘wrong-headedness’. Went across to Pam [Brown]’s place where Elizabeth showed us how to operate the drum-machine & we did a tape of ‘(Do) The Modernism’, followed by a drum-machine only track to be used as a backing for live performance [this was replaced later in the year by a synthesiser bass line, though the poem usually gets performed a cappella].
1983-May-2: Thinking about how I’d see my writing (or how I’d want it to be) compared with how it gets viewed (if at all). It tends to be categorized with the ‘formalists’ & seen consequently as ‘flippant’ &c. If I tried to draw a parallel with a visual art form I think I’d like it to be with someone like Walker Evans where you can’t make dumb separations between ‘formalism’ & ‘social content’. I’d like poems to have a ‘documentary’ quality; to be structured in a late-20th century way; to be as accessible — and as difficult — as a movie. (John Scott said that my poems were cinematically becoming more ‘long takes’ i.e. in that case, a single sentence extending just about all the way through the piece.)
1983-May-5: In America they’ve got Walt Whitman; in Australia there’s Les Murray. i.e. there’s no grand sweep. There’s a possessiveness instead which vitiates things. A certain cynicism ensures protection from the dumber forms of Americana (though the ad. world are trying hard to get us thinking that way), but it’s not in itself totally praiseworthy. I’m not, and hope I never will be, a nationalist — region si; washing whiter for Australia no — however there’s the pinching kind of nationalism which Murray anyway is part of. The Boys Who Stole The Funeral is a gross example of this with its crass stereotypes and cardboard devils. But Whitman’s sweep is beyond nationalism (Olson, Crane, Williams as well).
1983-May-14” [Canberra:] Chilly morning in the Capital. Dropped off [on] top of Mt Ainslie & walked down N.E. side back to Watson. Paused across saddle on a smaller rise looking out towards the Mts near Lake George — thinking it strange that so little of this landscape should appear in/ inform the work of the Canb. crew — that a bunch who lit on ‘regionalism’ were in the end, right to turn their mag. into a ‘national’ publication (i.e. to go for abstraction and the main chance). The Capital was no more than a symbolic environment for their ideas about art, history & human endeavour [these concerns reappear in the ‘Pastoral Poems’].
Had written a parody the afternoon before, of an article by A_____ concerning the history of the Canberra poetry scene — what a tedious bunch these lads were with their talk of ‘achievement’.
We examine O’C’s latest The Fiesta of Men — full of the usual bizarre similes (mts like Gruyere cheese covered with maggots (cows)) & incompetent rhymes & metres (& a list on the back cover of the prizes O’C has won — and, even worse, in the acknowledgements ‘“Two Shores” (was first presented) at the 1980 Westminster Abbey poetry reading & thanks to the Martin Bequest for support during ‘the lean years’ of 1978-80. Why couldn’t the bastard get a job?!).
1983-May-21: Poems shouldn’t have to carry the burden of journalism — what abt. Ian Hamilton-Finlay: why can’t we just enjoy a bunch of letters invested with grace? The Canberra Times this morning comes with an article by some professor of journalism [Maurice Dunleavy] writing off the poetry of the 70s & the Lit. board’s spendings on unknowns. All this goes towards reinforcing a self-image & this is bad for poetry. More important — to write; not to write what you’re supposed to — trapped in a style in reaction to a dumb critique.
1983-Jun-1: [Sydney:] NSWIT poetry reading (Couani, Scott, me, Chris Mansell). Successful night. Read or rather sang the new (synthesised) ‘Modernism’, wearing dark glasses — a hit. [This reading was organized by Lyn Tranter as part of a series – the ‘Loft’ readings.]
‘Loaf & invite the soul’ — Walt Whitman
‘Duggan somehow, with a few setbacks, manages to make it all jell, as if this land was made for loafers’
— Peter Monoghan (Canberra Times, 1978).
1983-Jul-6: Phone call from Sylvia Hale to say the Literature Board have rejected my manuscript [The Great Divide]. She’s going to try again next time. Later, John Forbes rings up offering to pay Hale & Iremonger $950 to do the book & saying the Lit. Board gave him the money to ‘promote Aust. Literature’. I try to dissuade him saying he’ll need it in Europe. Lyn Tranter tells me the Board refused money for Alan Jefferies’ book & the Tranters come over in the evening with a bottle of champagne to celebrate our non-funding.
1983-Jul-11: A visit to the Literature Board office where I was allowed to look at but not copy (even by hand) the assessor’s report [I was the first person to invoke the F.O.I. act on the Board and heard later that it caused them some distress. Sasha Soldatow later invoked the act — shortly after that he finally gained some recognition]. I examined the document which (roughly):
(1) called the Ms ‘stale, flat & unprofitable’
(2) corrected two spelling mistakes (a wrong accent on misère, and the anthologist Mackenness’ name spelt wrongly)
(3) spoke about references leading nowhere — e.g. the ‘death with a pack of cards’ bit of ‘Blue Hills’
(4) said that part 3 (the satires) attacked (a list of the worthies — Les Murray, Jamie Grant &c)
(5) said the satire was inept
(6) said that the footnotes were more interesting — with a smirk:
‘we are informed that On The Beach was the title of a record by Cliff Richard as well as a bk. by John Forbes’
1983-Jul-23: I’m letting ‘The Great Divide’ slide. Several people have made suggestions, but I don’t want to be personally involved in what would be a drawn out and possibly worthless exercise. In a way the Board were right to reject funding. I haven’t really an audience beyond a handful of people — and really, even ones friends only read a poem once or twice and that’s it.
[In the second half of the year I worked as a Lecturer in Media with John Scott at the Canberra C.A.E. — a considerable improvement in fortune. Visited Melbourne in the mid-semester break.]
1983-Sep-20: [Clayton, Melbourne:] Starting to write again after months — two years — of near silence — a series of kind-of-meta-pastorals, and maybe something about the Angliss Meatworks which I visited the shell of on Sunday with Chris [McConville], Cath and a number of re-unioning meatworkers. Today I visited Monash Uni, checking out who’s who in the English department now (for future reference — John Scott & I hoping to convince Alan W. & the department to be in on a 1984 15th anniversary of the Monash readings).
1983-Sep-24: Out on Friday night to Fitzroy & the Standard Hotel to meet Margot [Scott]. At an opposite table Kevin Mackey, junkie & ex-Sydney writer [author of The Cure] reads passages from a story to a friend. Margot arrives around 6.30, then Robert Kenny & oths (John Anderson & Ania Walwicz & Marcus Breen in hat). I get a taxi back to Flinders St and as we approach the Southern Cross the driver motions me to look behind. In a government car Bob Hawke tries to slump behind a newspaper.
Today, coffee lounge of the Arts Centre for late breakfast [with Chris & Cath McConville], then walked to the M.C.G. for the grand final. A rather uninspiring match in which Hawthorn do Essendon like a dinner. Walk back to the car to get circulation going and drive to the Cricketers Arms Hotel in Port Melbourne to further the process drinking stout in front of a gas heater. Drive to Williamstown & eat fish & chips then cruise back to Auburn to a ‘folk’ scene at a ‘coffee house art gallery’ called the ‘Piaf’, meet Alan Wearne as arranged, listen to two lacklustre ‘folkies’ then Simon & another guy from Attila & the Panelbeaters appear as the ‘Ken Brothers (‘Ken Oath & ‘Ken something else) and play a set (with electric guitar) of songs about football (‘Bruce Dool’s got a new pair of shoes’ & ‘The day the flick pass died’). Apart from this and our [parodic] collection of protest buttons, the place is deathly.
1983-Nov-15: Alan Jefferies’ book High Jinx (Transit — another book produced without the official Literature Board imprimatur) launched on Saturday at the Court House. Spoke to Sal Brereton whom I haven’t seen for a couple of years, and, briefly, Denis Gallagher. Sylvia Hale & Roger Barnes still want to do The Great Divide.
1983-Dec-3: Three copies of the new manuscript now typed up & bound. Tinkerings with new, slight pieces — further bits of the mysterious ‘Blue Hills’ sequence. Later, in the evening, John [Scott] rings from Melbourne. Apparently Michael Palmer liked Smoking & wrote Scripsi a letter about it & Gael Turnbull said he liked my ‘Academic Poem’. [Thus began a regular correspondence with Gael Turnbull which lasted until his death in 2004.]
1984-Jan-9: Yesterday — Sally [Mair] & Ken [Searle] and I go to the Art Gallery to look at the Archibald Prize paintings. I like the one of Thomas Kenneally by Frank Hodgkinson. In the other sections there are a few more things I like — a couple of paintings of a corrugated tin building, a painting (watercolour) of a swimming pool, a painting of a woman on a horse with a VW Kombi where the horse’s body is huge and the legs are tiny, and a half 3-D painting of a man in a room taken over by cats which is very funny. The Archibald displayed its usual contradictions — those bad semi-abstract paintings from which a naturalistic figure or head emerges — it’s ‘modern’ but it’s a ‘portrait’. A painting of Les Murray — another typical Archibald effort, the figure looking straight ahead, isolated on a blank background. On the ground floor there was an exhibition by Eric Wilson including a very good painting of Dobell in his studio, a couple of good Australian landscapes — one with a fire in the distance, and his cubist paintings — the sketches for these I especially liked, and a painting of a hot & cold food/ drink machine. He died in his mid-30s (1946) but the catalogue doesn’t say how. Then upstairs another good exhibition by Robert Klippel — mainly his sketches and collages from the late 40s up to the present. Some amazingly minute constructions and lots of notebooks of compulsive (but fascinating) doodling.
On T.V. — a terrible 1/ 2 hour of John Betjeman poems with totally parallel visual images — when the lines say someone says something you see their lips move; if a face were ‘like a rose’ you would see the two images together &c.
‘by the end of this century the movement to which, historically, I belong will be as remote as predynastic Egyptian statuary.’
— Wyndham Lewis (1937)
— hence the present Guggenheim exhibition (AGNSW) which I saw yesterday morning. The oldness of these works — or rather, their remoteness. I have to work hard to keep away a kind of Golden Age belief (which usually leads into slating of the present). Not that the exhibition was entirely impressive. The surrealists’ stuff looked pretty dull, as did all the works of sub-cubists. The things I liked: Arshile Gorky, Matisse, mid-period Kandinsky, a late Marc, Beckmann, early Mondrian, Gris, Schwitters.
Today I worked on yet another submission to the Literature Board for a special purpose grant to do the Numblamunjie [Gippsland] book — a book I’ll never write unless I can afford the research time and in fact have the pressure of a contract on me to do (I’d write it very much in the spirit I’d do a movie script in — though I think I could produce something good under those commercial constraints — that bad art and commerce are linked so closely seems more a reflection on the age than a mark of positive incompatibility — there is always Shakespeare [The submission was never sent.].
1984-Feb-20: Re-reading Ed Dorn interviews — he still comes pretty close to my way of approaching things, though wonder now, post La Jolla [Hello La Jolla], what he will be up to.
1984-Mar-19: John Forbes is back in Australia — in Melbourne after a gruelling two-day trip on a Garuda flight (to save $50).
1984-Mar-20: After dinner I go over to visit Lyn Tranter & listen to a tape John sent from London (he is now in Venice & feeling miserable). He talks about a visit to Jeremy Prynne at Cambridge — & there’s a possibility I might be able to get hold of J.P’s books after all — via Peter Porter. There are photographs — of P.P., of John Forbes in front of 42 Cleveland Sq. [Porter’s address], of John looking jetlagged & of a place called Swiss Cottage.
1984-Apr-3: Sorting through the draft books for any material relating to Numblamunjie I came across a number of detachable bits & pieces written from 1978-79 with a certain amusing didactic tone. I retyped them & assembled the results at the front of the Dogs Playing Cards MS. It would be good to finish a small book quickly & get it out soon after The Great Divide (I titled the section of small pieces ‘Made for Television’). [Dogs Playing Cards was the working title for all the material postdating or not included in The Great Divide MS. I’d taken it from the series of paintings which often appear in pubs. I hadn’t, at that stage, written the poem — ‘Obit. Marvin Gaye’ — containing the line ‘dogs play cards’ The long title for this material was dropped, ‘Dogs’ became the general title for the pieces previously called ‘Made for Television’, and these pieces were incorporated in Blue Notes (1990).]
1984-May-31: Yesterday, my 35th birthday. Up at 5.30 a.m. (woken by Aboriginal country singer on 2SER) & up the street in the dark & into Glebe on the 459 with shift workers. Up the road to Gleebooks, a cup of tea and a read in the office before beginning to clean. 8 a.m. finish cleaning, begin pricing second-hand records. Cathy comes in at 9, Roger shortly after. Finish with coffee at 11 & catch the bus home. Eat breakfast. Lie down for a while. Sudden heavy rain & a sharp thunderstorm outside. Phone calls. Go for a beer at the Carrington with Greg. Later Nicky [Ellis] and John [Forbes] call over for a couple of drinks. After they go others arrive and we go to Diogenis restaurant in Dulwich Hill — Sally, Morgan, Erica, Liz [Dempsey], Athena, Mick [Forbes], Kerry [O’Donnell], Jann, Greg, Geoffrey [Robertson] & a friend of his and me. Drink lots of retsina and a bit of port. I’m wearing my silver jacket and the purple socks Erica gave me. Mick hands me a framed photograph he took in England a few years ago.
Other occurrences: Letter from Dad. Package from Alan Wearne with a chapter of The Nightmarkets (‘The Bistro Variations’). News that the Literature Board will fund The Great Divide.
1984-Jun-3” I now have copies of the entire Pt’s 2 (‘B.V.’s’) & 5 (‘You can dine out forever’) of The Nightmarkets & this afternoon will hunt through magazines &c to see if there are any other bits. Pt 2 is very impressive — though I imagine the ‘striking image’ gang will find it ‘prosaic’.
At the moment I’m having doubts about the Gippsland poem — not that I don’t think I’ll complete it, but that maybe it won’t cohere all that well — and yet I’m loath to abandon catholicity for the moment. So I’m having a holiday from research until I get a bit more feedback. But the idea of constructing a real epic appeals to me. I read a few bits of A.D. Hope’s Cave & the Spring and found lots of curious points of agreement while finding his whole anti-modernist argument specious — the false analogy with evolution, that everything is being reduced to desert, I mean, what about the dinosaurs? — but his points about the use of common speech — what must he think of The Peoples’ Otherworld?!
1984-Jun-21: Reading about the mid-18th century — the failings of writers like Collins, Gray &c, note a similarity to the new conservatives — their attempt to ‘revive’ (the Scots, Irish, First World War, Icelandic &c) is essentially incestuous — as incestuous as they feel ‘writing poems about writing poems’ is. It would be very easy to invent one of these poets.
1984-Jun-28: In the mailbox, with no further explanations, a cheque for $3000 from the Victorian Ministry for the Arts. At last, somebody believes me! I have a celebratory cup of coffee in the Riviera with Greg after handing in my dole form, and then, back here, I finish a little book of collages (in response to John Scott phoning to ask if there was an Australian dadaist) The Amazing Adventures of Dick Dada — in which the hero — Uncle Dick from ‘The Potts’ appears in a number of great paintings voicing Lacan, Picabia, Magritte &c.
1984-Aug-21: Gig Ryan’s book launching (Manners of an Astronaut). I arrive at the Rose of Australia early & see Denise Reid at a table with local friends, and Tony Press [singer of the Ratbags of Rhythm. Ken Searle did a painting of the ‘Ratbags at the Rose’] playing pool. It doesn’t look like anything is happening — is it the right pub? I always feel aware in these places of being part of a trendy subcultural group taking over from the locals. Slowly people arrive — the Newtown fairy-floss set with their gypsy earrings and Boy George hats, the bald women, the stray comments that make you want to dive into your beerglass. Eventually John Forbes launches the book (appallingly), Gig reads (inaudibly) and everything returns to near normal. I circulate a little and talk to a few people & walk off for a bus a little before closing, feeling immeasurably ancient.
1984-Sep-17: After work & breakfast, a decadent day. Got into a bubble bath with cassette recorder playing Stan Getz & Astrid Gilberto; later bought two pairs of shoes.
1984-Sep-20: A clarification: (re. Miles Davis’ & Coltrane’s refusal to indulge in organized ‘jam’ sessions in the late 50s):
‘Their battle was not an external one with other instrumentalists, but an internal affair against old, received ideas and old habits of thought’
— Ian Carr: Miles Davis
1984-Sep-26: Hear through three different sources the highly classified information that it’s extremely likely that I’ll be getting a certain sum of money from a certain Government agency later this year. The drought has certainly broken. [I received a Special Purpose grant from the Literature Board at the beginning of 1985.]
1984-Oct-13: Heading south on the Southern Aurora in my sleeping compartment; the cassette deck playing Al Green’s ‘Take me to the river’, a can of beer on the floor, somewhere between Campbelltown and Goulburn.
1984-Oct-21: The real problem lies in producing something which isn’t sentimentally nostalgic, but which isn’t too clever or sneering; something which displays affection for its subject while maintaining a degree of objectivity; something which is readable but not facile — these balancing acts are essential if the poem (or whatever the hell it is) is to succeed.
1984-Oct-22: At the Ensay Hotel. A new Irish publican who shouts me a beer when I’ve only been in the bar for 20 minutes. Down at the P.O. the postmistress introduced me to Bernie Duggan [my father’s cousin] who happened to be in on a mail delivery. A baker from Swift’s Creek in the bar wore a BURY A GREENIE T-shirt.
1984-Oct-24: Last night there were about twenty vehicles outside; a number of shearers (season runs until Christmas), painters (house painters, including ex-publican Dick Savage), and a sprightly sixty-five year old man (Randy Bill [Bill Goudie — who lives in Auntie Lil’s old house — now called ‘Ionit’]) and his wife [de facto] who stayed late. He was dressed up in a pale blue zippered jacket, a white v-neck t-shirt and blue shorts with white walk socks. A harmonica was produced from behind the bar and he played a string of tunes from waltzes and jigs to the bossa nova [I think he even managed a Culture Club number. Some of these details and some below from this date & the first few lines of the 25th’s entry reappear in The Ash Range].
Headed out to Swift’s Creek via the back road. Picked up supplies then went out through Brookville & amid the hippy hilltop fire-hazard housing past the home of Crazy Lucy & up past the Angora Range turnoff & onto the Baldhead-Bullumwaal Rd. Missed the Baldhead turnoff but stopped in a clearing Nth of Seldom Seen & progressed Sth to Bullumwaal, Mt Taylor & Wy Yung. Cruised back up the Omeo Hwy listening to the ubiquitous Miles tape. Drank & ate in the pub (after writing prospective opening lines for the epic) with Peter Prendergast — shearer & truck driver from Benambra, then drove off to sink 20c pieces into a phone booth & ring John Scott.
1984-Oct-25: A late breakfast, during which Frank the baker & Patrick arrive to fire up the old Metters Samson. Grey weather has set in. I cruise to the store, buy a couple of maps and a new Keith Fairweather book on mining in the Omeo & Glen Wills districts, then drive on to photograph the old Duggan house. Drop in on Eileen [my aunt] & walk up the back paddock in drizzle. As I get back to the house, Phillip Cook & a bloke from Dookie (who’s getting work experience over with the Cooks) turn up wondering who the stranger in the back paddocks is. Back here & up the North Ensay road in the wet & return listening to the Temptations singing ‘Papa was a rolling stone’ — a song which seems to fit the bleakness of the day. Have a couple of drinks in the bar with Frank & Patrick who offers me a loan of his fishing line and explains the best way to prepare eels: Use a swivel with snap connection on the line and have a couple spare so when the eel gets hooked you can just unclip the end of the line & clip on a new one. Drop the eel into a deep bucket of cooking salt and cover for a few minutes — this gets rid of the slime & kills the eel quickly (& saves boiling). Then, with a sharp knife make an incision all the way round below the gills — hold the eel with a cloth and just pull the skin off (like reversing a sleeping bag). It’s then ready for grilling.
1984-Oct-28: Feeling a little better about work. Had a quiet day here and sorted out a few details — though nearly in panic state this morning when I thought I’d broken my Aunt’s washing machine while she was at church. I now have my notebooks of photocopied passages from various writers indexed to sections of the poem they could possibly appear in, and it looks like there are a couple of paragraphs of my own which will work — this doesn’t sound promising, but something is happening at least.
1984-Dec-4: Cleared my cheque this morning with the difficulty usually attendant on my dealings with banks. Celebrated this afternoon by buying a five album set of Ray Charles and [another] pair of shoes.
1985-Jan-13: Up at Ebor [Northern NSW]. Have spent the last few days erecting fences and mowing in the heat. This morning before dawn, Lorraine and Terry headed off for Sydney, so I’m here at the farmhouse with a dog and cat for company till next Saturday. I glance at the National Times and notice that Don Anderson has quoted a couple of stanzas from ‘Peasant Mandarin’. It seems that Geoffrey Lehmann is including it in the latest incarnation of the A & R ‘comic’ or light verse (Light Horse?) anthology. This is the first I hear of it.
[I did eventually receive release forms for the use of a few poems. I tried to contact Lehmann both by mail and by phone (he was ‘out’ at the time), but he never replied. After a couple of years I phoned A & R — yes, they said, the anthology was still on the way, but due to escalating layout & printing costs it had to be completely reset. That was the last I heard of it for a while. Then, in 1990 it appeared as The Flight of the Emu, including my poem ‘Peasant Mandarin’. I was none the wiser until I discovered, in Peter Alexander’s biography of Les Murray, that Les had attempted to stop publication of the entire anthology because it contained my poem.]
1985-Jan-31: [Melbourne:] Drove in to Carlton & dropped off Gippsland newspaper material to Rosemary [Hunter] for typing [Rosemary was at the time studying and working in administration in the Melbourne University English Department]. Looked around Carlton, the bookshops, Tiamo’s, then returned & caught Peter Craven in the English Dept. Drove out to Mentone & saw John Scott briefly. He’s working on about five different things, including translations of a contemporary French poet [Emmanuel Hocquard] which look and sound pretty good [Shearsman press in the UK later published these].
1985-Feb-16: [Sydney:] I’ve read & corrected the page proofs of The Great Divide & it looks like it will be launched with Martin Johnston’s book [The Typewriter Considered as a Bee Trap] around about March 30th. Meanwhile it seems I’m set to appear in:
An anthology of light Aust. verse (ed. Lehmann) [Eventually, yes, see above.]
an anthology (Penguin) (ed. Π O) [Yes.]
a dictionary of Aust Quotations (maybe) (ed. Murray-Smith) [No.]
some kind of catalogue (ed. Peter Pierce, Melb. Uni.) [Yes. The Oxford Literary Guide to Aust. Lit. Rosemary Hunter was the Assistant Editor.]
& Kris Hemensley’s ‘Ear’ anthology [Yes.]
& an A.B.C. program which I’m supposed to be rung up about this week.
In addition I’d hope Dogs wd. be finished & published this year [No] & the Gippsland book completed.
& in addition to all this, the possibility of a book on the Guy Fawkes National Park to co-author with Terry [No].
1985-Feb-26: Letters from Ken Bolton and Peter Porter. Sounds like P.P. will be in Sydney around about launching time. I hope he can make the launching. Britain is at the moment ‘being ruled by Mafiozi disguised as English Gentlemen from Clubland. Makes Bob Hawke seem like Lorenzo the Magnificent crossed with Erasmus. And it’s sub Siberian in temperature.’ Ken seems — as he has in all his Adelaide correspondence — a bit depressed, though he is working on a big poem now. I keep feeling he’d be a lot happier in Sydney though he shows no sign of wishing to come back.
1985-Mar-7: I’m reading about Louis MacNeice’s B.B.C. work — an interruption in reading Defoe’s Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain. Will I ever get to go overseas? Looks like my book may be postponed up to two months. So I have a general sense of marking time. I should get further work done on the Gippsland book but don’t feel sufficiently impelled.
1985-Mar-21: Went in to the Gallery yesterday to look at the Pop Art exhibition. The paintings and objects look immeasurably ancient. Often what once looked ‘artless’ now looks ‘arty’. Things like Ray Johnson’s ‘James Dean’ look hopelessly precious compared to an Andy Warhol portrait, and much of Rauchenberg’s work looks as sweet to me as School of Paris must have looked to him. Surprisingly Lichtenstein still holds up pretty well, as does Warhol — those artists who would have seemed, at least in their techniques, the most ‘commercial’ at the time. In exhibitions like this, the Gallery can’t fail to be caught up in the humour — a uniformed guard sitting just around the corner from Duane Hanson’s hard-hatted construction worker or those little humidity-measuring boxes which sit in curious relationships with the paintings (like the one just near the big box of metal dog combs: ‘The Gorgon’s Shield’). Who else looks good — Oldenberg, his little confections in a glass case & the soft toilet. I wish he could get New York to erect his huge melting ice-cream on a stick in Park Avenue. And Larry Rivers who seems a maverick in this bunch. Jasper Johns is up and down — but he seems uncompromising and this comes across as a virtue. Jim Dine loses out a bit here. Richard Hamilton is much more interesting than David Hockney.
1985-Apr-6: Reading Constant Lambert’s Music Ho! picked up at a second hand bookshop last week. His comments on post (1st) war pastiche & style are still of interest. I suspect I’d be regarded as a pasticheur while those who feebly inherit the Humanist Tradition would be seen (not by Lambert) as ‘fresh voices’.
1985-Apr-9: Plans: to finish, this year, the Gippsland Book (& keep the Dogs under the table). Then, if it’s financially possible, next year a trip to Britain with the intention of travelling round the country & assembling another book — a combination of prose, verse (& quotation) which would be structurally quite unlike the Gippsland book — in that the G book’s movement is generally historical & vertical (& has a number of other shaping devices to be taken into account) whereas the British book would be geographical & picaresque, not so formally rigid (A Tour Through the Whole Island) [The long British poem would have to wait until Crab & Winkle, published in 2009].
1985-Apr-19: In the paper this morning:
Poet Basil Bunting dies
LONDON, Thursday: Basil Bunting, the Northumberland poet considered by some to be among the greatest English poets of the century and once described as ‘spectacularly undervalued’, died in Hexham General Hospital tonight after a sudden illness. He was 85. Mr Bunting
spent nearly half his life abroad, living in Paris in the 1920s where he was in an artistic circle which included Hemingway and in Italy in the 1930s where he became a friend of Yeats and Ezra Pound. — PA
I phone Melbourne Uni and leave a message for Michael Heyward & Peter (M.H. had met and talked to B.B. a short few years ago — He rang back later in the day & said it seemed then that B wd. see 100). & in consequence I should try and write something — so I make a simple acrostic — for the next Scripsi — seeing as how so few around here would seem to have read his work. [The acrostic was not really any great shakes, just something written quickly as a gesture. For the record:]
Blackness north of the Humber;
A curve in the ear
Silent at Hexham, he whom
I found in Melbourne
Late sixty-nine, a Fulcrum.
Burned or buried, a strong song tows
Us; we follow, blind,
Not conspicuously dishonest behind.
Talk’s cheap, a straight word
North Sea oil and fish flap leaven
Great Ezra’s renovated heaven.
‘Private self-doubt is a weapon against stupid public certainty’
— Peter Makin: Pound’s Cantos
1985-Apr-28: The poem (now called The Ash Range) is really underway — a basic plan (which will mainly have to be revised in the middle sections) & a better feel of the method of construction. It should balance out between sections which are mainly blocks of prose — the second (Explorers) section & the penultimate (1939 fires) — & ones which have more of a ‘poem’ shape — the first (Collision of Texts) & last (1984/ 5 Coda). At present there are nine sections with the middle one entirely taken up with Howitt, but it may be that the 1880-1939 material breaks up into as many as three sections & Howitt might be absorbed into surrounding sections. I’ve now got all of the 1939 Fire materials typed out, so that section — which won’t include any original material — only needs to be edited & composed.
1985-Jun-2: Finished yesterday (for the moment) sections one and eleven of The Ash Range and now have them typed and in readable form in a folder. Still not happy with the very beginning — parallel texts of seasonal astronomy (the sky peopled with classical figures) and Aboriginal myth — but don’t know at the moment how else to do it. When I get to Angus McMillan I think I’ll have to use four parallel texts for some parts (!), but elsewhere will try to avoid this.
1985-Jun-18: The launching went well [for The Great Divide and Martin Johnston’s The Typewriter Considered as a Bee-Trap, both Hale & Iremonger]. A good though not huge number of people turned up [to the Court House Hotel, Newtown]. Jim Tulip launched Martin, Martin reading ‘Micromicturatography’ [my parody of him]; John Scott launching me & me reading ‘History’ and ‘Voss’.
1985-Jun-25: Monday morning at Gleebooks, copies of Allen Ginsberg’s Collected Poems. I buy one — good to see the Fall of America sequence in its entirety and correct order & interesting the Empty Mirror & Gates of Wrath now interspersed chronologically. This is one of those collections which is something above and beyond its component books. Realise looking through how much I owe to Ginsberg despite many minor irritations.
1985-Jul-2: At the Sunday party [post Gleebooks stocktake], Sandy arrives from the bookshop with the message ‘you’re on the radio’. So a few of us go inside and my SER interview is on — all the usual long pauses between words, but my voice surprisingly deeper than I imagined. Morgan, as usual, seems to indicate it’s ridiculous, Erica says it’s sexy. I find it a bit embarrassing to be sitting with an audience listening to myself.
1985-Aug-4: Friday — my first review — a slippery piece in the N.R. in which, ostensibly praising the book, [the reviewer] manages to accuse me of both the bogeys that have usually been flung at me from different directions: hippy and academic. Let the flood begin!
1985-Aug-13: Once, reporters would be flat out trying to make some artist look like a ponce; now it appears they’ll accept anyone who poses as a renaissance man.
1985-Aug-18: Friday night went across to Newtown for the first of the Gungho readings [these metamorphosed into the Harold Park Hotel readings]. Read second, after Joanne Burns (‘Blue Hills 14’, ‘Pastoral Poems’ & nine of the short ‘Dogs’ pieces). After me were Sasha Soldatow (taking his clothes off, putting them on again and tearing his shirt accompanied by doctored slides in a piece about Percy Grainger), then a break, then Carol Christie (the co-organizer), Amanda Stewart & Pam Brown.
1985-Sep-10: Tranter came over last night with three immense ring-bound slabs of ‘The Nightmarkets’ which Alan left for the Sydney contingent to read — its publication still eight months away. This morning I’ve begun reading it, still in bed. Look on my works ye mortals and despair.
Lou perused its Weekend Review with, still,
‘Ho-hum’, she sighed, ‘yet another
Rock profile’, and snorted at The Poem:
this numb civilization as dull streetscape
1985-Sep-14: Deeply impressed by Alan’s ‘Nightmarkets’, which I must read again in the next fortnight. If for nothing else — and this is a base-line — the poem would be, to someone, say, in 2085, about as intricate a description available of the life of disaffected young middle-class persons in Melbourne circa 1965-1982. But the whole world of emotion it creates, and the sense it gives of the tenuousness of things, set me back. The praise which this poem deserves is not something quantifiable, and not something which Alan will have the pleasure of experiencing. So it must be strange for him, now that this white whale is loose — and he has to know himself how good it is — to be met with the excited, though maybe not well communicated, reactions of a few, a few more undoubtedly when the book appears, then a great silence. But then silence is probably about the most authentic reaction a great art work can receive.
1985-Sep-29: Eve [Jennings] called over after eleven and drove Landon Watts (staying here a few days) & me to the Gallery & the Turner exhibition. The things I liked most were the ones so frail it was as though a painting were coming from nothing — a slight blur, a castle; a smudge, a fall of rain from an isolated cloud. A party of (mainly) women were being addressed by a gallery official — told of the ‘vortex’ in the paintings; of how Turner felt the insignificance of man; of how ‘pessimistic’ his vision was. A man in the group threatened anarchy by saying ‘this doesn’t look pessimistic to me — where’s the pessimism?’
[In October I took part in the Tasmanian Poetry Festival with readings in Launceston and Hobart.]
1985-Oct-05: Arrive a little late at the [Launceston] reading as Mollie Hillyard, a woman in her 70s reads rhyming (good rhymes) poems about trips to Europe. Joy Driscoll reads poems about motherhood and child molesters, then Kominos (book title: The Kominos Manifesto) reads some performance poems — he’s O.K. After interval Bruce Penn reads a few funny short poems then Margaret Scott. I read several ‘Dogs’ pieces, the ‘Sth Coast Haiku’, the ‘Pastoral Poems’ (a bit out of place here) and ‘Adventures in Paradise’. The audience of 50 in the Matriculation College Auditorium (a kind of curtained off hallway) are decidedly cool. I look up occasionally at some very stony faces. Even the line about Harold Holt in ‘A.I.P.’ fails to get a laugh. I struggle on manfully and retreat to my seat as Tim Thorne winds up what is described on posters as ‘The Event of the Year’. Nobody buys any of my books or approaches me to talk. Mark [Ray], Margaret, Gig [Ryan], another Examiner reporter [Mark Ray was working for the paper as a reporter and photographer] and I walk to a hotel in Brisbane St for a couple of drinks. In contrast to the atmosphere at the reading, the pub is lively and human. Then we drive to Tim Thorne’s place for a post-reading party. Even at this, only one person talks to me.
1985-Oct-06: The [second] reading begins around 2 p.m. Marilyn Arnold is nervous but some stuff o.k. Michael Watson, who spoke to me at the party, reads — a kind of counter-cultural version of John Laws. Jenny Boult reads very well (poems that go on for too long). Tim Thorne declaims somewhat theatrically but reads some good poems — including the old one I always liked about listening to Stan the Man on 3AK. There’s also a good one set in America. But he also reads for too long. Gig reads well, but too long. Geoff Goodfellow reads kind of Bukowski-like jail stuff quite well.
1985-Oct-07: I’m interviewed by Yasmin Boland and a few photos are taken. Gig & I leave with the address of the St Ives motel [Hobart] — Gig having earlier intimated to M_______ that she didn’t want to stay in a cottage with a whole bunch of writers (neither did I). So I’m at present in Rm 204 of the motel (G. upstairs in Rm 301 with a view of the water). Across the road Z.Z. Top blast out ‘La Grange’ from a flat. Well it feels less parochial than Launceston but what’s the underlying character? Too early to tell.
At 5 p.m or so, M_______ arrives. We walk down Battery Point to a hotel and have a drink before he goes off to fetch the others. Then there’s a heated moment when the fee for the reading is announced as $20. Geoff Goodfellow and Jenny Boult are incensed & talk about earning their living through poetry. Anna Ward does a bit of diplomacy and settles things down (we get $30). The reading looks like it’s off to a good start. It’s held in another college building and there are about 20 people — but the atmosphere is a lot better than the Saturday night reading’s. Kominos reads first — a slight falter here and there. Then I read — ‘Sth Coast Haiku’, ‘Book of Changes’, ‘Greenies’, ‘In Memory of Kenneth Slessor’, ‘Beyond the Gentility Principle’, ‘Do the Right Thing’, and for the first time a section — Ten (‘Stirling’) — from The Ash Range — I feel a lot better about this performance. Then B_______ reads and it occurs to me that she’s rather like a kind of new-wave Edna Everage. During interval a couple of people talk to me. Back upstairs, Gig reads, then Geoff G., then we head across town to a pub.
1985-Oct-12: [Exeter, Tasmania] Procure an Examiner, to find the article on me under the headline: POETRY INSPIRES THE MIND BUT CLEANING PAYS THE BILLS.
1985-Oct-16: In the afternoon, Sydney is sticky — looks like a thunderstorm. In my mail there’s a copy of the Π O Off The Record anthology. It’s a strange collection — looks great & there are plenty of good things in it: but still, the contradictions of ‘performance poetry’ are very apparent — that the poetry which claims to be the most ‘public’ is so often a vehicle for individual ego. Never have I met people with so much consciousness of being ‘poets’. And, of course, there’s the obvious one — that this book is, yes, a text for performance — but why in this case be so antagonistic re. the printed word as so many of the contributors seem to be. The printed word becomes for them like a prostitute to the Victorians: someone carrying out a necessary function of which one wouldn’t speak [these lines became ‘Performance’ — one of the ‘Dogs’ poems]. Because for the most egotistic of the performers — if they were honest about it — the only unhypocritical way their work could survive would be through oral transmission — through people thinking the poems were so good that they would (hearing them often) memorize and repeat them themselves. But unfortunately, listeners at readings have no greater attention span for what is heard than for what’s in print, and the poets go on for too long, in love with the sound of their own voices.
1985-Oct-31: [Melbourne:] Michael [Heyward] thinks The Ash Range hangs together well, which is a good sign, and Vincent Buckley wants to read it, and to have lunch at some stage (Peter says he’s blissfully unaware of his reputation as a ‘grey eminence’).
1985-Nov-8: Had forwarded from Sydney, a parcel from August Kleinzahler — his book Storm Over Hackensack, and a short note. Sounds like a very approachable guy: ‘If the poetry world is as grotesque and stultified in Australia as it is here, you’ve got your work cut out for you. That fatso bag of gas M_____ is your sole “official” export; which must give the forces of light the creeps.’
1985-Nov-16: Michael is going to get me to translate Martial — reckons I’d be an ideal candidate. Spoke of my ‘purity of diction’.
1985-Nov-23: Saturday [night]. Walked across to Lygon St for caffé latté at Tiamo’s before returning to Clayton, in a train full of 15 year old lovers, reading Martial [me, not them]. At home Dad, deaf with earwax, had the bedside radio blasting beyond distortion level Aretha Franklin singing ‘Freeway of Love’.
1985-Dec-07: Strange to be in such a situation: in all ways, finances, the immediate future seems unpromising. But in my writing I feel stronger than ever. I mean I’m still getting there; I haven’t expended my energies, talents by any means. I could surprise shit out of a lot of people — not that there are that many in the immediate vicinity it wd. matter to do this to. And that’s part of the problem. Michael has selected quite a substantial amount of stuff from The Ash Range for the Scripsi after next.
[The journal peters out in mid-January. During the rest of the year, Pan/ Picador took up The Ash Range, which was published in May 1987. I wrote more Martial poems — these were published as a book (1989) by Scripsi. I sold my father’s house midway through 1986, and in September/ October moved into a flat in St Kilda, bought with the proceeds. Later in the year the first Melbourne Spoleto Festival was held and I met Christopher Logue and August Kleinzahler there (Kleinzahler was a more than happy substitute for an ill John Ashbery). At the end of the year, Rosemary Hunter moved in with me and we were married in June 1987. And at last, in 1987, I received a Writer’s Fellowship from the Australia Council.]