Ken Bolton: 3 poems

  Ken Bolton


  JPR 07

This text contains Endnotes: in the Endnotes, if you click on the number that identifies the endnote, you will be taken back to the point in the text where the endnote anchor occurs; and vice versa.

Hard Pressed

[Endnote 1] [Endnote 4]

We do a good job, Fulvia & I
for the students,

a large group whose flustered teachers
ask us to
                ‘say a few words’


we bat back & forth, introduce
the current show — its glamour
its sad feeling for the world etc


then I’m out :        pause,
                                                    at the lights
in the sun,
& walk, on the sunny side,
up the street
                                taking in the heat,
after the cool of the air-conditioning, the gallery —

fourteen-year old
                                                    skateboards past
in noble wise
                                    a boy    a girl following
more diffidently
                                but still with confidence
the town lively today
                                                what with
all the art
                        tho yesterday a guy died
‘under a garbage truck’: Gini witnessed it
an old man, she said —
on her way to the coffee shop where she works.
She was upset & had
to tell me.
                                    I think she had not
spoken to anyone
& needed to talk.
                                                    I read, again,
Laurie’s thing from the 80s: funny
& doomy & teenage like a graphic novel.
The young protagonist
                                                     — down, alone,
beset by a problem or problems,
His a joke version of himself —
the unhappy unrecognised author
bitter at his reception: when,
when will fame, a ‘just appreciation’,
                His objections
to the work of others — dark
asseverations — are funny —
& amusing because intelligent.
                                                                (I suppose
it was always possible those things
would never follow.
                                                Why did I think
the future would take care of itself?

Actually my own situation then
was exactly his … tho I wasn’t so much
funny about it — as depressed.
And now I ain’t.
                                        Tho I’m approaching
that age…
                            where…    but not yet.

Gini’s not here today — it’s Ally.
I feel the urge to be kind, solicitous, anyway —
because I was here yesterday —
                                                            but it’s
not needed.
Solicitous a day late.
                                Something like the 80s —
no, exactly unlike that, somehow the
opposite, but symmetrical ‘to it’, ‘with it’ —
when Laurie was cranky but I didn’t notice,
being depressed myself (& trying, mostly,
to ignore that).
                                I remember it now as
peaking one afternoon:
                                                    a year or two
of gloom now distilled & fixed in an image.
                                                    I picture me
walking across the small parking area
of the nearby pub — almost a sob
escaping from me but suppressed.
I had been writing a skinny, ineffectual poem
about a lost Titian painting, a martyrdom
of St Peter — not the usual St Peter, another one —
‘The Death of Peter Martyr’ — (or maybe
‘The death of Peter, martyr’)
& considering an ironic identification,
with the stricken figure, its
                                                alone in an Italianate landscape
nature ‘looking on’,
                                        wild but benign enough.
Pity poor Peter Martyr, pity poor Ken.
About mid afternoon, time passing slowly.
The traffic thundering, no doubt, nearby.
I wonder when this would have been. ’84,
more or less? Later?
                                    I’m in a sunny mood now,
this day — tho a little subdued, thinking of Gini —
(who’s not on today) — ‘aware’
of Ally, tho to no purpose.
Aware of Laurie:
I think I thought then things were
going well for him —
                                                tho not as fast
as he’d desired:
                                    part of my ‘belief’
in a future … that I could envisage
might not look after me, or did for a while,
& after a while it did.
The Peter Martyr poem should stay buried,
but Laurie’s thing is good —
                                                            A Journal of
The Plague Year
. So, subdued
I walk back to work — from lunch —
a coffee, a bit of a read — in my pocket
the criticism of Wystan Curnow.

[1] In ‘Hard Pressed’, Gini & Ally are women serving coffee where I am a regular customer. The poem mentions Laurie (Duggan) a UK-based Australian poet and refers to an early but, at the time of writing, unpublished poem of his, ‘Journal Of The Plague Year’. Wystan Curnow is a New Zealand writer and art critic.

(Spot Check)

[Endnote 2]

                                ‘Too many
… of the people I know about,
care about
                        are dying’
                        more than a thought

                                                        books of
last works,
                        books of late recognition

Jane Freilicher, Peter Campbell
                                                                            no one
I know personally
                                                     — still,

I feel like an insect on a twig
floating down stream.

I check Slaven & Leadbitter :    who’s
playing the piano
                                                on these Nighthawk

(Bob Call)

                                read Gig’s article
Vicki V
                        Nighthawk playing quietly
in the background
                                    a CD

                                                        look at a map of Rome

gauging the parts I never went to

parts that join up as, at the time, I never knew they did

a detective novel, The Fatal Touch, has
me doing this
                                                read Augie again

on Lee Harwood
                                         —    his Collected
on sale at work  —
                                        I should let the punters
have a go
                            but then it’s mine
                                                                            or I
order another one

                        the guy who wrote Eternity
                                                                                on Sydney
when I was a kid
                                                    the shock they gave
of quiet wistfulness
                                                    & admonition,
                                                                            & that they
made the day seem more vivid
registered for a moment
                                                        in its meanness
its noise & beauty

                                                the innocence of another

(the guy who used to wheel the coffin about

 — ‘out of Gogol’ —
                                                    (the guy
with the Mexican hat    & (toy) horse around
                                                                his middle

 — beaten up, they say
                                                    by the police

I screenprinted that word
in gold leaf for its appearance in
                                                    Laurie’s poem

‘Psychiatry is an evil & must be banned’

That guy.
                                    ( Beaten up, they say,
by the police    )

                                                Actually, I
have never been beaten up by the police —

& may not be, now, …

                                        I suppose that is a hope

Probably a certainty.

Read Adorno again?


Too smart for me,

                        but sometimes very funny.

The moon is rising

                                                        Crying won’t help you

                        the moon is long risen.

                                                                            Cath & I
looked at it earlier, high, surrounded by

a soft, dissolving look
                                a ball or shield
                                                                        We check the house
Anna is interested in
                                                            Take it easy, baby

Maggie Campbell
                                                The moon is rising, again.

                                Nighthawk Boogie

                                                                                    He played
at Muddy Waters’ first wedding

                                                                        I was there

                                                        And I knew Vicki,
a little
                        a share house with her
                                                                            ‘The beautiful
trembling Irene
                                    is taking another pill’

Gig quotes her.

                                And again

where Vicki has the city
& sledging its iron name into the ground’

                                                                Actually (!)
‘At East Balmain’    is a terrific poem
                                                                            more real
than anything I will ever write

                                                                I listen
to Robert Nighthawk again

                                                    Nighthawk Boogie

[2] In ‘(Spot Check)’ — Freilicher & Campbell are artists: Jane Freilicher, famously, a friend of Frank O’Hara’s; Peter Campbell, a New Zealander admired for his London Review Of Books covers. Neil Slaven and Mike Leadbitter compiled Blues Records, 1943-1966, a complete guide to twenty years of recorded blues: which says that Bob Call and Curtis Jones were on piano on some Robert Nighthawk recordings. Some Australian poets are cited: the late Vicki Viidikas and (currently alive) Gig Elizabeth Ryan. The Fatal Touch — is a novel by Conor Fitzgerald. ‘Augie’, whom I don’t know well enough to call that, is American poet August Kleinzahler. Lee Harwood was an English poet who died around the time of writing. Sloterdijk (like Adorno) a German philosopher. Cath (Kenneally) is a poet and my partner — & Anna is her daughter. ‘Maggie May’ is a Robert Nighthawk song title, as are others in the text, all deliberately not signalled as titles.

Polski Ogorki (An Historical Dog)

[Endnote 3]

Otto von Bismarck        (‘The tired colossus’)

                                                                                ( I see I have made
a beginning here before
                                                                             — that went ‘nowhere’ —

                                                                a lone quote
adorns the first page )


                                                                        I start out
in the crisp cool air
                                                        launch in,    to
‘We’re Having A Party’,
                                                            as I pedal into
William Street

                                                        by a sense of loss

                                                                        I sang it for her
many times
                                                late at night
as she trotted ahead    or beside    or lagged behind


                            songs I sang for Pola


                                Sad Mood
                                You Send Me
                                You Look Good To Me

                                There Is Something On Your Mind

                                I Didn’t Know    (Howlin’ Wolf)
                                I Want To Know    (Magic Sam)

                                Sweet Sue

                                Don’t Worry About Me    (Lyn Hope)
                                Honest I Do


                                many more


                                                        Vale, my little poltergeist

                                                                                my little poindexter

                                                                                ‘my little Montegolfino,
                                                                                my little Montgolfier
                                                                                my little girl
                                                                                my little darling dog’

A handsome, blue-eyed

I get to work, check the mail on the way.
London Review of Books
                                                                go & read Barbara Pym
                                                                                    for a while
over coffee
                                that Gini makes, always with a perfect


                ‘You Done Lost Your Good Thing Now’

                                                                                ((B.B. King dies, too))


                                                    ‘Must have been the rising wind rose,

rose up & taken my baby away’

‘Welfare Store’
                                I wonder if she liked any of these?

or thought it was just me banging on?
                                                                                                    The Sam Cooke
used to calm her down

                                                                just as they do
                                                                grandchild Noah


A thought —


I probably don’t remember either
                                                                            well enough

I met Robert a few times
                                                                            Tho not the Iron

                                                                            the ‘iron duke’
                                                                            was before my time


I remember Robert’s moustache
                                                                            ageing him —

probably as he desired


                            Poem, Ending with a line by Ron Padgett

I bought The Collected
Ron Padgett & as I did so
thought, This book
is about as fat as
as the Ron Padgett section
of my shelf — I
have all these poems,
I even like them best
in their different colours
& type-faces — but no,
at the end of the book
are ninety pages of
un-collected poems
‘uncollected’! — worth
One I find amusing ends, busily,
‘I have work to do’!

                                                                                & so do I.


Cath & I watch a serial killer series
                                                                        on TV

Serial killers are inherently a little
                                                                & this guy
 — always shown as
                                        ‘abstracted’  —
                                                                is extremely boring

very concentrated on his methodical, silent

tho Gillian Anderson is good to watch
                                                & some of the other actors  — the

            child star, the cops, the women

                                                                                maybe Gillian
is too mannered
                                                            but that’s the story
& the direction    ((she, too, is ‘fixated’


Alec Blume, Roman detective
                                                                that’s what I want to


I wonder if Bismarck walked his dog,
the streets of Berlin
                                                    Of course it would have been
                                    was the dog old,
                                                                                big-&-old, like him?

or a little one?    Either way,
                                                                ‘with all Berlin


At home we both read a bit,
                                                                then I read Cath
some Padgett poems

some are quite terrific —
enforcing unity & sequence
upon parts that are disparate
& it works — Ron, you have
done it again! Like an
                                                    knowing Magoo

                                                                I remember being amazed
On First Reading ‘Arrive By Pullman’
ha ha ha
                                    Jimmy Forrest is playing
‘All The Things You Are’
                                                                or he is
if this CD I burned has accurately noted
what track in what order, it has
my favourite drawing on the cover

glass    ash tray    flower    cigarette

black on orange paper

I read some O’Hara, but not to the usual effect

                                                                                                    Or is
this the effect?

                                Miles is playing too
on these recordings,
                                Live at the Barrel, 1952

quite some time ago

                                                    I was three at the time

hardly in to Miles Davis

                                                                I remember the yard

a bear I used to set up, to take a dive as I
came past. I would throw a stone I suppose —
as I came, on imaginary horseback,
down the side of the house — & he would tumble
in his hat & black vest    gratifyingly slowly
from the porch

                                                my parents were not happy

                so I suppose I wasn’t
                                                                tho I don’t remember

I must have been 5 or 6 or 8? At what age
do you play these games?

                                                                Had I seen Shane ?
                                                                                                     — no, no TV —

was the bear
Lee Van Cleef?    No, no TV

                                                he was old & beaten, more like
Chill Wills or Walter Brennan …

                                                                or Andy Devine!

all of whom have died

                                                                along with my parents

                                                                                                    & you, Pol

What a life!

                                        Laforgue was there when
Bismarck was
                                & hated Berlin
                                                                for reasons we can
            & understand
                                                            It was a raw, new,
                                                                                    ‘frontier’ town

with little history

                                                    not as pretty nor as sophisticated
as Paris

                                & Germany had triumphed over France

what an insult

                                    he did not record seeing Bismarck with his

Many years, this, before the Iron Duke had reached
his ‘weary’ stage.
                                                                Laforgue affected to be weary
himself —
            with the devotion of all Berlin for Bismarck

his every appearance at a palace window remarked

(Bismarck mightn’t have liked it much either —
                                                                or his rival, Metternich)

Laforgue died not too many years after,
                                                                                                    still young
promising  —
                                his English wife following him

                                                                            both of tuberculosis

Her brother
                                was the grandfather, or great grandfather

            of the poet Lee Harwood

                                                                ((himself a friend of Tristan Tzara))


                                                                                I met him
at a pretty awful reading
                                                                        (Lee, not T.T.)
                                                                that no doubt he thought
was pretty awful too
                                                                He seemed a nice guy
Laurie introduced us.


was very, very small
                                                                                                    so he could not
                                                                                                            have had

a very big dog
                                         — how to control it?  —
                                                                                                        & one
                                                                                                        very small

might look equally comic

                                                                            look at the tiny man, the
                                                                                                    tiny dog!)

(I probably stand midway between Metternich & Bismarck

as Laforgue may have

                                                                                a pretty average height

But dogless.

                                                                ‘Dogless, Pol.’

[3] In ‘Polski Ogorki’ — there are variations on the name Pola: the poem is an elegy for our dog of that name. The title — well, for one thing it is a brand of pickled cucumbers. Barbara Mary Crampton Pym (2 June 1913-11 January 1980) was an English novelist. In the 1950s she published a series of social comedies, of which the best known are Excellent Women (1952) and A Glass of Blessings (1958). In 1977 her career was revived when the critic Lord David Cecil and the poet Philip Larkin both nominated her as the most under-rated writer of the century. Her novel Quartet in Autumn (1977) was nominated for the Booker Prize that year, and she was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Robert Harris was a poet I met only a few times, a Melbourner who came to Sydney, now long deceased (dying of a heart attack at a relatively early age). [Robert Harris was born in Melbourne. He was educated in Dovetown High School. He enlisted in the Australian Navy in 1968 during the Vietnam War. During the 1970s he spent time in a commune. He was married but separated from his wife in the 1980s with no children. He lived in Sydney in the later part of his life. Harris died in 1993 of a heart attack or influenza. His obituary in The Sydney Morning Herald stated that ‘he followed his own poetic path with little regard for the niceties of a literary career.’ A friend wrote ‘Robert Harris had only known two things in his short life: poverty and poetry. He knew poetry would get him, and it did.’ Harris was involved in literary magazines as an author and as an editor. He worked as an editor for New Poetry magazine and for Overland magazine. Five books of his poetry were published.] Ron Padgett — American poet. Mr Magoo — a long-running one-joke cartoon, he regularly got into fixes due to his blindness, but usually triumphed anyway. ‘Oh, Magoo — you’ve done it again!’ was the phrase. Many actors are named (and singers and songs), and nineteenth-century German politicians and diplomats — and French poet Jules Laforgue, distantly related to Lee Harwood, as the poem, not entirely successfully, explains.

[4] The poems mention various people whom it is not always important that the reader knows: some you might intuit to be artists, poets, or friends — or to have some degree of fame without your knowing what degree that is. Others are pretty clearly work colleagues or people I deal with in an ordinary day. But the editor has invited me to offer enlightenment and this can’t positively hurt the poems though such news is not their point. An endnote follows each of the three poems.


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