JPR01 Kris Hemensley
Notes and Comments
number two, 1974
— PDF: You can read the A5-sized PDF format of this article here.
— Provenance: First published in Notes and Comments, New Poetry magazine No. 5/6 1974, pp. 107-112
Paragraph 1 follows:
What is a Poetry magazine and what is it supposed to do? William Carlos Williams referred to it as a street, along which one might meet friends, old and new. Certainly, when poets find themselves a magazine, ‘a scene’. They make it their promenade, banking upon ‘chance’ rendezvous. It is a place where, as poets, they are at home, pleased with the company and (hopefully) the magnificent view. This domesticity (nest-building) is implicit in such terms as ‘homogenous’ and ‘cohesive’, is the reason for the ‘group’ and ‘diary’ magazine. The various streets are paved with the poetics conducive to the various poets.
Charles Olson’s Letters to Origin (1950–55), Cape Goliard, 1969, is a marvellous description of the dynamism imposed upon the relationship between a correspondent-contributor, Olson, and the editor, of Origin magazine, Cid Gorman; the propositions he made, demanded, the Push to which he was committed, to take poetry out of the hands of magazines which made him weep, Hudson, Kenyon, PNY, even Nine, totally into the demesne of the NOW and the NEW (a local apperception of that to be sure, and for sure the proper beginning of any original culture). His criticisms were as extreme as his praises, something picked out by Williams in his review of the second book of Maximus in 1950 — ‘Olson’s prose-passages among his verse are often wrongheaded, full of jealousies and vicious appraisals of his friends’ — referring to Vincent Ferrini, whose editorship also irked him. As Williams says of his poem, ‘an essentially American poem with no apologies to China, Russia or the rest of the world or antiquity’, was how Olson imagined the magazine of the time.
Today, Origin is the most respected avant-garde magazine. After three series, each of 20 odd issues, spanning two decades, comprising a featured poet with contexting caravan, Origin is in the hands of the reprint industry. Specifically, Grossman (625 Madison Avenue, New York), are to publish a best-of-Origin, presumably along the lines of the Doubleday Caterpillar anthology (from numbers 1–12); and Krauss have reprinted the 1st and 2nd series.
That news was culled from Second Aeon magazine, edited by Peter Finch, 3 Maplewood Court, Maplewood Avenue, Llandaf North, Cardiff, CF4 2NB, Wales, #18, 1973, from its small-press round-up which Finch claims is ‘the most comprehensive of its kind being published anywhere in the world’ since ‘the demise of the American magazine Trace and the restrictive size of other publications in the field’; To say that street has become field is fair comment. The last decade especially has seen an amazing proliferation of small-press publishing. In the quarter since its last issue, Second Aeon lists upward of 500 magazines, books, booklets, sheets, cards, etc. received from Britain, America, Europe, Asia and the Antipodes.
The magazine itself is at pains to proclaim its opposition to ‘polarisation, basing its eclecticism on the belief that the larger the picture the better, bearing in mind of course, that some pictures are better than others.’ However certain trends are identifiable with Second Aeon over the years: its patronage of Anglo-Welsh poets, of the concrete and other new poetries (e.g. the feature in an earlier issue of the Signalist group in Yugoslavia), and the Cleveland and associated ‘hard-mouth’ or ‘Meat’ poets. Number 16/17 is most useful for a definitive bio-bibliography of the concrete and sound poet (called simply by Scandinavian critics, composer) Bob Cobbing, by the rejuvenating editor of Poetry Review, London, Eric Mottram. This giant issue features the artist John Furnival, close- ups of recent work and notes, In America; and a translation section including Celan, Mallarme, Tzara and Pavese. The rest of the magazine offers a poem a page from such American poets as Berge, Bly, Corman, Plymell and Fowler; and British poets from Ewart, Redgrove and D. M. Thomas to John Wain and the standard mini- mag contributors. The cover is by Tom Phillips, an echo of his Humument, and his collaboration with Andrew Crozier and John James, In One Ear and Out the Other (Ferry Press, U.K., 1971), the art of tastefully rubbing-out by the phantom eraser of British art. It is an anthological magazine, with something for everyone, which offers hope to established as well as newcomers, good and bad alike.
That massive across-the-board acceptance is of course preferable to the pretence of Transatlantic Review, London Magazine, Ambit and other British glossies, of being open and with it.
Modern Poetry in Translation (10 Compayne Gardens, London, NW6, SDH) #16, 1973, is a special French issue edited by Anthony Rudolf. This is a movement anthology. Acknowledgements are made to Rimbaud (‘whose prose, with Mallarme’s, announced modern poetry in the original’), Giacometti and Yves Bonnefoy (‘for his 50th birthday’). Rudolf’s introduction claims (via hustings-invective and evidence from Pound and Aldington) that it is to French Poetry that English Poetry (with the exceptions of David Jones, Hugh MacDiarmid, Charles Tomlinson, Jon Silkin, Laura Riding, Geoffrey Hill and others) must turn for a lesson in the modern craft. ‘France can supply poetic replenishment, confronting us with all that we are not, and from a live and twofold source: that dislectical circuit of metaphysics and materialism, culminating in the poetics of ‘writing’, which without a home-based Hegelian and Marxist tradition impinging on the non-existent poetics of poets, must be imported.’ The anthology is founded on Edmund Jabes (‘of whom Jacques Derrida has said, ‘Nothing has been created since… 1963 … that did not have its precedent in the text of Jabes’, i.e. the first volume of Le Livres des questions, pub. in 1963’), Bonnefoy, Du Bouchet, Jaccottet and Dupin, ascending to the poets born in the 1940s. Paul Buck has commented that if his generation do not translate their immediate contemporaries (the mid-60s poets and after), the same omissions as affect Ponge. Perse, Jouve, on down, will be recreated. To know our peers at the time of our mutual experimentation would seem to be a commendable duty. The most interesting contemporaries here include Guglielmi, Deguy, Pleynet, Coutourier, Risset, Albiach, Daive, Royet-Journoud and Remila.
Paul Buck’s own magazine, Curtains’ French issue, included a riposte to Rudolf’s dogmatic burst from Peter Riley, which is well worth tabling here: —
I translate Claude Royet-Journoud because he is a friend of a friend and because I believe he is a very dedicated and intelligent practitioner of writing. I wish expressly to dissociate myself from the polemic of French translation as recently evinced in the introduction to MPT, 16 — that arrogant Francophilism which cannot perform a simple cross-cultural act without assuming the mantle of didactic mission, and in order to present a handful of French poets of extremely varied tendencies (many of them completely romantic) must assume to attack the thriving currents of English poetry, of which it is pitifully ignorant.
Peter Riley was co-editor of Olson’s Archaeologist of Morning, Cape 1970; translator of the Ponge Sun in the Abyss, in Ear. #2, Melbourne, and other texts; editor of Collection in England and Denmark; and one of the most serious and interesting of the contemporary British poets, none of whom are remotely connected with the incredible company named by Antony Rudolf in MPT.
Incidentally, Modern Poetry in Translation and Edge magazine of New Zealand (P.O. Box 25042, Victoria Street, Christchurch, New Zealand), are to co-publish an issue devoted to ‘poetry in translation from Australasia and the South Pacific’, and to compile a list of all Australasian and South Pacific literary magazines. The only translators I have heard of in the area, are Geoffrey Dutton and his Yevtushenko, David Campbell and Rosemary Dobson with their Mandelshtaam and Walter Billeter’s Celan. Or maybe MPT imagine Australian — and New Zealand — English as translatable
Walter Billeter’s first book, SEDIMENTS OF SECLUSION (published by Contempa, P.O. Box 115, Armadale, Victoria, 3143, @ $1, $5 signed), obviously springs from his love for, and work on, Paul Celan.
It is a 5-part book-length poem, the first part of which is no more than a nod to Billeter’s work of 1969 and before, and the remainder composed in 1973 when ‘inspiration’ and the proposal of a book by one of Contempa’s editors, Robert Kenny, provided the impetus for the poem’s completion.
It is a poem going nowhere, lines starting out again and again, making a section, by accumulation rather than by intention, that thoughts are ‘stalagmitic’, words ‘belated arrows’, the poet a ‘wordsmith’. Billeter makes no bones about the debt to Celan and neither should we fuss over-much about so obvious a possession:
as English poets are said to work the iambic-pentameter so is ‘Celan’ this poem’s tradition — ‘particular narrowness’ as opposed to the expansive, is Celan’s order.
The poet’s actual experiences can be read into the poem, although it is certainly no simple autobiography. Walter Billeter, a Swiss- German, emigrated to Australia in 1966. The phenomena of the well-read and sensitive European migrant exiled in foreign climes, culture and language (and it is important to remember that Billeter had no more than school-room English when he landed, and even English ears have to learn the Australian accent and patoise), is not unusual. That the alien becomes active in the new culture (Billeter was anthologised in Shapcott’s Australian Poetry Now, at a time when he was still acquiring English) isn’t unusual either but continues to amaze us; the work of survival compounded with acculturation.
The poem’s talking to itself occurs parallel with that most private dialogue, the poet’s inner voices. The places named in the poem are not metaphors of ‘reality’, they correspond to reality inasmuch as they are the pre-eminent habitat of the poet. The poem is place’s recognition. The poem is poet’s place. The ‘word-rich rivers / a few miles south of yesterday’ are the poet’s ex-Australian life and language, Australia: south of Europe, yesterday, as much as they are rivers of words, south of yesterday.
The innocence of ‘the word that I heard ‘breath… it even rhymes with death’)’ is moving. When you consider it literally, the ear in its apprenticeship, the translator of e… xperience-giving words, and word-giving experience, it is staggering. Part 3, Breath, is almost religious. It celebrates the mystery of language, poems —
I am, as I write it, the fire whose breath, thousand-limbed flamelette, dancer and mother of smoke-souls,
gives birth to the names
(the scars, the sores of earlier days, half-healed, the scars)
of loves unremembered
— and accidentally discovers there is fire in the etymology of ‘breath’ and soul. Poetry is the religion.
Being pursued in the presence of fire, breath will — such are my ambitions, my hopes — rise by its warmth to collide with the compact coldness of night and then fall on this paper as glyph-crystal-snow.
Breath, and breath’s memory. Each transcription is different.
TO REMEMBER, just once, the
word that drowned
in the springflood of language:
a whiff from the past tickles your eye-ball,
you too have missed the ark.
Such is the nature of this poem’s territory (is ‘alien’, ‘erratic’, ‘vacant’, ‘petrified’, ‘retching’, ‘unspeakable’, ‘unknowable’, ‘unexplained’, ‘uncharted’, ‘disowned’, ‘dead’ and ‘stillborn’; it ‘shrieked’, ‘screamed’, ‘dreamed’, ‘stumbled’; is ‘unfulfilled wishes’, ‘no mercy’, ‘whispering darkness’, ‘storm’, ‘black snow’, ‘black earth’, ‘silent anger’, ‘listless comfort’, ‘complacent politics’, ‘pseudo-heart’, ‘sham world’; in short, the ‘affliction’, ‘mourning’, ‘dirge’, ‘wounds and sores’, the ‘sediments of seclusion’) that there is no simple praise. Despite the entreaty at the beginning to ‘Drink, / drink you are home’, the tenure is tortured.‘
The poem is a construction of no mean care. The device of recollection, bringing back key words and lines, is instructive. Some of the units are memorable, most are meaningful within the structure and philosophy of the poem. To ‘like’ the poem is to walk a little way with masochism: ‘on the bank I lay then / of a creek stagnant with word-muck’, how beautiful the words, how terrible that meaning; and is also to be persuaded of the possibility of a correspondence between the abstract and the representational: ‘you spoke / on the day the almond tree blossomed / and land took me
in / with its breath, / its colours, its odours, its sounds,’ no less severe than Celan’s demanded narrowness, but another, and of other, circle(s).
The praises beckon burial. After this travaille the reader will expect a nachral Billeter, or turn down the next ride. This poem undoubtedly puts Walter Billeter on the ark; his work now is to leave it.
Contempa 6 was certainly a step in the direction of ‘seriousness’ for the leading Melbourne little-press. It has always aspired to a discriminating, open-poetry, magazine, with highspots in previous issues in the prose of John Jenkins, and Billeter; and odd poems, or odd lines in poems by Linda Robertshaw, Robert Hughes, Richard Tipping, Katherine Gallagher, and others. The forthcoming double-issue 7/8 will feature poems by Ken Taylor, a return of the prophet after 3 years in the bush!, which will also appear in a selection of his work to be published by Contempa in 1974. (Taylor is an important Melbourne poet, a strong influence behind the initial work of such 68ers as myself, Bill Beard, Charles Buckmaster, Ian Robertson and John Jenkins.) Other features of the double-issue, will be Jenkins’ long poem Street Music, Billeter’s unique translation-work on Arno Schmidt (who is acquiring a reputation as solid as his books, 16 lbs of genius no less!, the German prose- theoretician and experimentalist, ‘my heart is in my head’ quoth he); and expatriate David Miller.
Contempa editor Kenny is also involved with Colin Talbot, editing an anthology of the modern stuff, for Outback Press (c/o 22 Canning St., Carlton, Victoria), to be published in 1974. This will probably be as Melbourne-orientated as Bob Adamson’s and Richard Tipping’s anthology for Macmillan’s-Australia will be Sydney-orientated. These will be the first collections since Tom Shapcott’s Australian Poetry Now, Sun Books, 1970, and will undoubtedly point to a consolidation not to say development of the revolutionary poetics of them far off days. It is a fact that the New’s infectious Spirit has permeated everywhere (except Meanjin, three cheers for Clem and St. George) and that having no obstacles to buck now but itself, is embarked upon the most important time of its life, its own education, refinement and cultivation. A little booklet that came to my attention a year ago, with poems by Terry Gillmore, Robyn Ravlich, Vicki Viidikas, Kerry Levels, Alan Wearne, John Scott, Colleen Burke and Jennifer Maiden, entitled The Poems Again, crediting no publisher, date or biographical details, merely poet and poems, is as good a banner as any for these times. If the two anthologies can avoid unnecessary overlapping and needless omissions, then new poetry will be roundly served.
Visualize an amalgamation of all that is serious, imaginative and informed, from the prose publication Tabloid Story (co-edited by Michael Wilding, Brian Kiernan, Frank Moorhouse and Carmel Kelly, Box 4430, G.P.O., Sydney, N.S.W. 2001) and New Poetry; plus a critical content which would focus the otherwise dispersed good works and comments across the continent, able to bring the work to the bar, demanding responsibility to craft above factional and generational allegiances. Add to that a section where specialities usefully and meaningfully cross, the literary influences joined by those of art, music and film; a graphics series per issue; and a full notes and publications received section; and you have my own vision of a magazine of writing and the arts. It wouldn’t, in any way, affect the little magazines, the guerrillas, the walter-mittys, the breakthrough mags, the academic magazines, and so on, except to provide a body of work and comment to which the rest would individualistically respond. A large, meaty quarterly to serve the issues pertaining to writing in the 70s. A proper parliament, recalling Perspectives (U.S., early 50s), and the beautiful Art and Literature (edited by John Ashbery and others, Paris, mid-60s).
David Chaloner’s ONE magazine (8, Granville Rd., Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire, SK8 5QL, England, @ $1 plus postage), achieves with its second number, 1972, an Anglo-American anthology, a mapping of attitudes and places, without loss of real difference to any of its contributors. It is no glotmog but a real breathing space. Of course Americans are Americans, and British, British, and recent word from ex-Buffalo, New York poet (editor of Fathar, an Olsenist magazine, publishing such poets as Albert Glover, John Clarke, Robert Duncan, John Wieners, Ed Sanders and Colin Stuart), Duncan MacNaughton, now of Bolinas, shows this is respected without abandoning what Bruce Beaver dubs ‘equivalence’ — :
Increasingly there is, thanks to you and your pals, and Andrew Crozier and his, an accumulation of British writing which starts to come dear to me and for which I am grateful… as, I’ve never been fortunate enough to visit the U.K. or anywhere away from this North America, etc., and Andrew Crozier, and now you, have by ongoing courtesy allowed me the spirit.
Now, that’s what is to be hoped will be the degree of correspondence between Australians and other writers in the English language. And that is why the face and form of Australian magazines and anthologies must be considered deeply.
To return to ONE. Its contributors are mindful of the mysterious day in which the demystified post-modern poet is occupied. They recognize their own work in the words of the past, and pay respects; they are wary of imitations. This is not a street, but an arcade, a ‘New York’ of the mind, or a Newark, or a New Ark. Peter Riley, Tim Longville and John James are sore bears in comparison with Larry Fagin, Lewis Warsh, Lee Harwood, Anne Waldman and Peter Schjeldahl, flutterbyes. There seem to be affinities between John Hall and Michael Palmer, and between the prose of Kenward Elmslie and Douglas Oliver. The teasing gravity of Andrew Crozier (involuntary in his line about mucous, ‘a hankie / full of moist sentiments’) in the review of Jim Burns’ (‘the Catullus of Preston’) A Single Flower, is irresistible — ‘Various forms of easiness are the danger which this poetry characteristically risks.’ — a remark Crozier knows is applicable to most of the poets whom readers of my inclination feed on — ‘a kind of knowingness which strikes the ear as a voice without resonance’ but is in fact, a poetry of ‘real and unobtrusive qualities’. Such reasonable advocacy and philanthropic consideration of the range of possible tastes, is part and parcel of the poetry which has for the moment turned its back on rant, rhetoric and reader-directed rime and reason.
Chaloner’s recent collection, Chocolate Sauce, from Crozier’s Ferry Press (177 Green Lane, London SE9), is very much of the ouvre he patronizes as an editor. The poems travel around a ‘year’, reflecting upon themselves and their mover as from a film’s remove from the experience. It is yet true that this book, printed in a run of 300, bearing Patric Caulfield’s cover as appropriately as its title, is concerned with ‘communication’ and not of message but degree.
Sparrow is the monthly issue of the Black Sparrow Press (P.O. Box 25603, L.A., California 90025) and publishes ‘poetry, fiction, essays, criticism commentaries and reviews. Each issue will present the work of a single author. The poet is prophet.’ The series is now in its 14th number, including Robert Kelly, Clayton Eshleman, Diane Wakoski, David Bromige, Sherille Jaffe. Fielding Dawson and Larry Eigner. Each number is 50 cents.
Current publications of Black Sparrow include a screenplay, Minnie and Moskowitz, by John Cassavetes; The Greatest Story Ever Told, a novella by Fielding Dawson; New Work, by the New York poet-painter Joe Brainard, and Early Selected Y Mas, a collection of his poems made by Paul Blackburn, just prior to his untimely death
a year ago.
A bulwark against death is Philip Whalen’s On Bears Head, an interim collected poems, from 1950 to 1966, published by Harcourt, Brace and World and Coyote Books, in 1970. Since then he has published Scenes of Life at the Capital (Bolinas, 1971), and Imaginary Speeches for a Brazen Head, Black Sparrow, 72, his second novel. Readers of Berrigan and Warsh and Waldmen and everyone else (it sometimes seems!) in New York, their thought scatterings, minutae tediously compiled, ought to read Whalen, whose ‘graph of the mind’ set the pattern for their work surely and marvel at the skill, the wit, the elegant sculpturing of his poems. ‘What are you
doing? / I am coldly calculating. / I didn’t ask for a
characterization. / Tell me what we’re going to do. / That’s what I’m calculating. / You had better say ‘plotting’ or ‘scheming’. / You never could calculate without a machine. / Then I’m brooding. Presently / A plot will hatch. / Who are you trying to kid? / Be
nice. / (SILENCE)’, etc. ‘Plus ça Change’ from 1953. Whalen’s considerations recall Jonathon Williams and Frank O’Hara, but who don’t they recall? — our favourite poets recall all our favourites! Whalen’s enthusiasm for literally everything (‘My real trouble is / People keep mistaking me / for a human being / Olson (being a great poet) says / ‘Whalen! — that Whalen is a — a — / That Whalen is a great big vegetable’ / He’s guessing exactly in the right direction.’, 1964) and his perfect ear, his voice and gait exactly portrayed, is one of the joys of this (my) life. As journalism, gossip, zen-ism, gastronomy and bibliographia, the 400 pages delight and entertain; and as writing, they instruct, instruct, instruct.
The Ring of Bone (Grey Fox Press, Bolinas, 1973) is the Collected Poems of Lew Welch, who killed himself in 1971. Superficially Welch is similar to Whalen and Gary Snyder, but essentially he is a pessimist, as if searching amongst the bricolage for reasons to exit, resign. ‘NOT THE BRONZE CASKET BUT THE BRAZING WING / SOARING FOREVER ABOVE THEE O PERFECT / O SWEETEST WATER O GLORIOUS / WHEELING / BIRD’: that song from The Song Mt Tamalpais Sings (69–71), reaching up towards the pendulum and scythe, leaving the pit (sung also, in Frozen Pigeons, of the uncollected poems, and a number of the early ones, wit-pitted, not as cavernous as later) forever.
Sad that the slanging between one possible guide, Olson, and the guidance-seeking Welch, at the Berkeley Conference, 1965, that ‘you don’t know how to live in that cabin’, is a surviving definition, whereas, to be ‘a great big vegetable’ is to survive definition. Both books are good to have, two halves of the same house.
After this amount of hike and ramble, the street leads us to a comfort-station, one of the premier poetry bookshops in the world which should be added to the list in the previous issue of New Poetry and patronized forthwith, Serendipity Books, run by Jack Shoemaker (who also publishes Sand Dollar Press), 1790 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, California 94709, U.S. Its 1973 catalogue listed 3,622 items, ‘of modern poetry, published chiefly since the war, focusing on small-press material’. In addition, Shoemaker issues a list of new titles every 6 weeks. In the October, 13th, 1973 list, I picked out new books by Bill Berkson, Joe Brainard, Robert Creeley (His Idea, Coach House, 73), Stephen Jonas (Selected Poems, Boston, 73), ignoring for the time (at what peril) Corman’s translations of Rene Char, another tome by Richard Grossinger, The Pound Era by Hugh Kenner, a John Giorno volume and a Ken Patchen L.P. On November 16 — Matthew Mead, Jeremy Prynne, Paul Violi (In Baltic Circles, Kulchur, 73) and the virtuoso prose-work of Gilbert Sorrentino (Splendide-Hotel, New Directions, 73), allowing ‘a photographic and typographic facsimile’ of The Notebook of William Blake (O.U.P., 73), with Gertrude Stein and Carl Ortwin Sauer, sit undisturbed on Serendipity’s shelves!
Bless you, Mr. Shoemaker, balsa across oceans, feathers from beyond, you keep us in touch.
And that is what a poetry magazine should do.
FRANCIS WEBB — COMMEMORATION
A SEMINAR / CONFERENCE
UNIVERSITY OF SYDNEY
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Inquiries: JAMES TULIP, English Department
University of Sydney
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