2/12/08 — A Poem for Philip Whalen
(dated 2 December, 2008)
Monday 27:IX:67’ (dated 27 September, 1967)
Here it comes again, imagination of myself:
I sit, in the harsh light, in a study
It’s the light I like,
& it’s late.
“In a study” always suggests “He was in
a bad mood, tense with it” — not that —
reading Whalen, a book of drawings by Kirchner,
the Berlin Street Scenes — in an attempt
to gain some purchase, kick off
from something different — thinking
of Yuri, a bit, Cath’s eldest son, the one
I know least but like & like his difficult life
& how he’s dealt with it. “Yuri — I will speak
with you later!” My friends the poets, famous,
in their way — in the not very satisfying way available
to them (some) — large in my mind at any rate —
& another, rather foolish, at the same time as
rather good — well, alternately, from poem to poem —
something of a comeback. Another friend, ill
seriously mortally time running out. How quickly? How
quickly for all of us, the question. (‘A’ question.) Anna, &
boyfriend Chris, on their anger at / fascination with
The Howard Years documentary a
self-serving account but, as they say, so far
the major & lone political fact of their lives
It will be their early history: yech — Reith,
Howard himself (whom I never expected
in the 80s I would have to hate — what future
did he have?). The rest.
‘Consigned’ now ‘to oblivion’ — to echo & re-echo
in succeeding waves
of revision, counter-construal,
like analyses of the Third Republic, the French
Second Empire. Where are we now? Even ‘interesting times’
seem to follow a pattern — the bangs & whimpers
louder, more ironically conventional for their
inadequacy to the occasion. Will America go under
because of Bush? how appropriate
But was that my point? Late at night,
not even worrying. Whalen … the Kirchner drawings.
Go under? What,
“It may never happen!” Isn’t that the joke?
If it takes ten years, if it takes twenty,
it will be cataclysmic. Tho — (20 years) —
I might be out of the way — or less concerned by then.
If curious as to the outcomes. For
twenty years — for thirty — amused
— “amused at best” —
by Whalen’s politics — when I thought of them —
the raves & rants, observations,
of a hippy dropout. Well, a Beat
the one I like best. What did Whalen change?
He was sane, he set an example. Now,
as I read the poems, I find those same politics
both nostalgic & to the point.
What will I change —
if I put my crazy-arse shoulder to the wheel?
Is the answer: “In this vassal state?”
“You should have thought of this earlier”?
Leave a record, like Whalen did,
of clear perceptions. The avowedly
political — Naomi Klein, Tony Negri — seem no
nearer the mark, tho fun to think about, think
with. Negri, so systematic, abstract, & wishful.
(The ‘Multitude’ — what a category! How do I join, ha ha.)
The overweening confidence & blindness of
think-tank America: the End of History.?
Self-deluded — & the rest of the world knew.
(Cheney, Rumsfeld, the others — Pal,
we make history!)
of Interesting Times. More. Beginning when?
The innocence, & the percipience,
of my artistic heroes seems so touching,
even their blindness. Manet O’Hara Coltrane
— loons like de Chirico, the Germans, Kirchner
Kokoschka, Adorno — Christa Wolf. Did they each sit up,
as I do, in bed — a sleeping other at their side —
writing, nodding off… ?
The fan is going & blows my page occasionally,
though I have weighted it now with Heavy Breathing,
Whalen’s orange-covered volume,
with its wonderful drawing … that is too smart
to date much, really. Then one day it will date
suddenly — the ironies, the humour, the seriousness
will cease to register — a fallen, a trashed
civilization. I hope not. Tho Whalen of course
could live with it. Less tied to this world than me.
I like life. I like ‘the continuing story’, anyway,
& will be unhappy about it, the rupture. Will
the rest of my life prepare me? (“Check the serenity!”
Ha ha ha. Dreaming?)
My body, turning, in some future.
Now I read this 24 hours later, & rub Cath’s
beautiful shoulder. If I “love life”
why haven’t I had one — like Whalen did?
Tho I must’ve — mine’s all GONE, right?
In fact I don’t know much about what Whalen did.
I seem to have spent mine day-dreaming — or thinking ‘hard’
about music, blues & jazz, & art — & making jokes & quipping
& making poems out of it. The women
I’ve hung around have kept me sane. (A few were
‘nuts’ — but I was nuttier.)
People just want to be happy? The big,
exist, it sometimes seems, as ‘a caution’, to ‘ennoble’
with their ‘perspectives’. Rembrandt, for example,
those terrific self-portraits — pathos, self-knowledge … the rest.
Dignity & failure — etcetera. Yes,
but let fifteen minutes pass,
& he’s having a banana.
Or is that me?
A rollmop, then.
Cath reads an old favourite, laughs occasionally,
reads me bits. The fan churns,
noisily. Tho we don’t notice. The night cooling
after a day of 42 & another of 37. Cool tomorrow,
at 27? 24? A small list of things-to-do builds.
My first week back at work.
Write to Sal, draw my hand
or wrist-&-watch, stuff to edit, CDs to copy
for Michael. I recommend to him
Floyd Jones: ‘Tore Your Playhouse Down’
how the song rolls so casually — solid, unfussed
the solos played on top of each other
a wonderful cacophony (Fred Below, Otis …)
The drawing — for Nick — illustration to something
he’ll print. Sal — after 20 years — to be
evicted from her flat. A view I love. She must, too.
‘Sydney’. Sydney as an idea. Slessor, Cossington-
Smith. Not that I care much about them: it is
Sal’s harbour view suggests them.
At last someone wants to charge real rent.
(The old owners must have died? — or sold up?)
It will be weird if she moves somewhere I don’t know.
West, I guess.
A week later I have edited things,
Photocopied my arm — preparatory to drawing —
these are the easy things. Not written to Sal.
Tho what’s to say? You have to say something of course.
Very likely she is ready for change. Regretting
the view she will lose — but impatient with the place
now the move is on. She was always something
of a Futurist. One pictures her beautiful, goggled head
hunched forward to the sights of a WWI Fokker,
or leaning low & forward on a 1930s motorbike. Laurie jokes
that I should send the T-shirts to Les Murray,
they are so big. On different sides of the planet
we smile at the idea of Les — wearing the Brainard
T-shirt, a graphic proclaiming a reading. For Ted Berrigan,
for Joe Brainard & Anne Waldman. (“Oh, boy!”
says Nancy on one, “a Poetry Reading!”) Laurie’s
new book is out. Fingers bent,
curled over, relaxed, I draw my left hand, held
palm upward, & the wrist. My plan is to get it right
then copy it quickly with a firmer pen
& add the watch-band. Nick requires an image
— with which to feature a particular
bright red — & a poem, against which the drawing will be
set. (A poem I wrote years ago —
that Nick found & likes. I like it, too,
so why not?) Weeks have gone past. Unchanged, the world
continues — tho shifts occur, indeterminate. The
one stability is a US stalled, awaiting the appointment
of the next incumbent. Moves will begin
when he is sworn in — the slide, the counter-measures,
the moves of Russia, India, China, Europe.
Though it’s been non-stop ‘interesting times’,
most of it, in my life, has been going on elsewhere,
a pointy end far from here. For me,
no military service, no economic disaster.
My luck runs out?
‘Blues For The Girls’, ‘All Blues’, ‘Mary’s Blues’ —
names I consider
for a new book, ‘Mary’ being Mary Christie —
but it’s also an early Coltrane tune — & really
I would like it dedicated to Cath & Anna, the women
in my real life. Mary,
an old friend — in India now — in Japan for
the last seven years. More. I lived in her house
in Westbury Street. The Westbury Street Poems —
once a title I hoped to publish.
I’m sitting here in Cork — the bar, not the town.
(Write to my Irish friends.) Joyce, or Joyce’s father, was
pleased to have
a painting of Cork, painted on cork, apparently.
Amused, I guess, at the finality & nominal closure
of the pun:
What’s that? ‘Cork.’
I find most puns shit boring, but still more so
the declaredly learned — discoursing
on their own ‘delight’ in them,
as if puns were naughty, & daring, & confirmed
their membership of some club — a kind of unofficial
High Culture Mensa. By the same token, I hate intellectuals
going on about Sport.
Why am I talking of this?
I don’t know.
So, here I sit in Cork, time running out, luck running out —
thinking about titles — tho I can’t make up my mind, &
writing them down means I can forget again for a while —
& think about art criticism — write some at any rate.
That is what someone wants me to do. And I’m ‘on to it’ —
I tell them. (I’ve done the drawing, meanwhile, & sent it off —
my wrist & hand — looking not too deformed — tho not
resembling exactly mine — which could be really satisfying.
Like ‘Cork’. My own hand by my own hand. Is that it?)
The letter to Sal is written, posted. I think it felt
too weird — shifty, dishonorable — to write here about
maybe writing — & then not get it done. I tell her
about my picture of her as a Futurist. The
close-helmeted figure, in goggles — coming from
a Lina Wertmuller film — tho which one? In it
the joke Fascist — lantern-jawed — dumb machismo type —
speeds about, aerodynamic —
acting out his picture of himself as he does.
Tho who am I to talk? (Not exactly lantern-jawed,
not exactly machismo — tho — like a Fascist — seemingly
a little down on intellectuals: When I hear the word “pun”
I reach for my revolver! Yike!)
Mimi The Metal-Worker.
My father’s war — the second, ‘world’ war — was an odd one —
significant in his life — along the Some Came Running lines:
he was young, free (single, at least), he joined up
not to fight so much as to travel —
waiting for call-up would mean permanent duties
in Australia, & call-up seemed inevitable. My father
joined, hoping to see the world. He would have, too —
except he & his friend proved such a combination
on the 25 pounder the generals kept them home,
for permanent display. (See that tree on that hill,
says one general to another. I have a pair here
who can take it out first shot! Bolton! Nicholls! Load up!)
(Or so I imagine.)
Dad was stuck here
as his regiment — regiments — would ship out …
to New Guinea, Africa, the Middle East. My father
took increasingly long vacations AWOL & was
regularly punished. Why did you do this, Private Bolton?
Because I could. I see. From that period of his life,
a kind of paradisal time of boredom, fun, cameraderie,
he had endless stories, that I heard endless times
& can remember & would like to hear again,
hear my father tell them. Tho he’s gone. Time
having run out. (Me, my
watch, & I.)
Cath will show up soon, any minute, & we’ll
cross the street & shop in the markets, buying
fruit & vegetables, bread — for the weekend & the Monday,
which is Australia Day & a public holiday.
(Public Holidays, unfortunately,
mean nothing to me — as I don’t work Mondays —
& nobody cares about Australia Day — this is Australia!
Altho, increasingly, people seem to. Well, count me out.)
Whoa! Close call. The girl taking coffee outside
is nearly collected by a young guy on a skateboard going by.
Luckily she pauses on the doorstep just in time.
Cath’s arrived. (Sal,
I was going to say, liked my father,
& his stories.) My time
would have been different — Vietnam.
(Which I am grateful to have missed. Demonstrating against it
was bad enough — the real thing would have been awful.
My father told me — I remember — not to go if I was called up:
‘Disappear,’ he said.
But it didn’t eventuate.
It did for others.)
at Margaret & Crab’s. We sit out on their
verandah, in the dusk & then the dark, talking,
catching up, watching the street lights & moonlight
thru the leaves, listening to parties up & down,
watching young people visit. The dog, Molly,
excited & attentive, yapping occasionally,
at other times absorbed, silent.
It’s hot, tho cool by now. Marg’s hair,
cut shorter than usual — like a Cleopatra cut
but abbreviated, sharp. It resembles the haircuts of the girls
in Kirchner’s & Heckel’s paintings — & Schmidt-Rottluff’s —
so severe & modern.
These models were the women Kirchner hung about with.
Girlfriends. I saw a photo of one recently — Nina Hardt — & was
Amazed at how modern the haircut seemed
Severe & sure, ‘Bauhaus’: the woman looked independent
& unfaked. Though this was before WWI — before
the Bauhaus, the Tingle-Tangle Girls, Dada.
It is a shock to see in the photo the real life
the painting depicted — suddenly actual,
a moment — not bent to a purpose.
Some of the Berlin scenes are pretty good.
But it’s the scenes of bathing at the lake I like
& cabaret girls dancing — where Kirchner,
as well as being suckered by the women’s beauty,
depicts their friendship & humour: in the chorus line
there are always two shown in conversation.
Crab points out the perfect sweetness & beauty,
of a Little Walter solo behind Muddy.
Etta James is dead. I hadn’t realized.
Perfect in her own way, a few times. An
She will be remembered longer than me.
Unless, in the library, in the Himalayas, in 2333,
some monk decides the poetry of Australia 300 years earlier
really was interesting — & allows himself a footnote.
“Ken Bolton answered phones in an art gallery, ran a bookshop,
& wrote poems of wistful humour.”
I see it in a small hand on an index card —
“a provincial poet in the era
of Late High Capitalism —
not much regarded,”
I have to laugh. What’s that great line
about tossing your life off like a drink?
I finish my coffee up. (I expect
this looks like decision. Tho in fact it means
Time for work. I go there.)