Laurie Duggan 6
Manchester & Washington,
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:
In the second half of 1992 Rosemary Hunter had study leave and we were based for three months each at Manchester (UK) and Georgetown (Washington DC) Universities. These were great months for gallery going and for catching up with writers whose work I admired.
1992-Jun-30: [Manchester: ] The airport is full of people from Islamabad. After the Europeans race through their passport checks others, not from the subcontinent, are whisked through this barrier in an unimpressive act of racial stereotyping. Collect baggage. It’s intact, but we get pursued all the way to customs by a crazed old Pakistani, convinced that our suitcase is his (waving a set of keys which, even on sight, obviously don’t fit). Met by Richard Ingleby. Driven in via our accommodation (an initially depressing sight) at Oak House student residences [University of Manchester, Owens Park] – also a detour through Hulme: acres of boarded up housing high rises, & Moss Side, most of its shops shuttered and derelict since riots a while back.
1992-Jul-01: Walk up to Rushholme & buy a tiny Chinese radio.
1992-Jul-02: Lunch at the University Staff Club with Margaret Brazier & Mary Childs (I’m to get a library card via the English Dept.). Mary comes from Cumbria (Broughton) & says there’s an exhibition at the John Rylands Library in town on a little known local poet – who turns out to be Norman Nicholson. She’s surprised I know much about him.
1992-Jul-04: We go out. First to Victoria Station to check timetables, then through the market in the Corn Exchange Building (home also of Carcanet Press). I’ve never seen so many occult stalls at a market anywhere. What they say about English hippies is true. Then we go up Deansgate to the John Rylands Library. Built in the 1890s like a cathedral, now it is the MU Library’s rare book branch. A couple of cases of Norman Nicholson memorabilia include a letter from NN to Brian Cox, the English Dept academic who’s to get me inducted into the library. Back at Owens Park, lament the fact that the heating system is probably turned off for the summer.
1992-Jul-05: The refrigerator which managed to freeze the vegetables has now half-frozen the milk. But at a lower setting it seems to defrost. The weather report suggests there’ll be ‘some bright intervals’ today. And sunlight hits the brown carpet for about the first time.
I phone Tony Baker in Winster to make contact. He gives me Gael’s phone number [Gael Turnbull had by this time retired from medical practice and moved to Edinburgh] & also the no. of a guy in London, Harry Gilonis, who may call me – interested in my books.
At a railway station under repair, a sign reads: MIND HOW YOU GO
1992-Jul-07: The Laundromat costs £5 – that’s about $12.50 Australian – the price of one of my books. When you consider that the Unemployment Benefit here is about £47 for a single person it becomes a cause of wonder. I walk down to Didsbury, checking out a bookshop in Warburton St where I put aside some items – a book on LS Lowry, Lee Harwood’s selected, & Geoffrey Grigson’s Enlightenment anthology.
1992-Jul-08: So far we have bought:
A split chopping board
A radio which doesn’t receive BBC 1-4
A lopsided coffee pot
Day trip to Coventry. The art gallery seems to have its permanent collection under lock & key, but there is a temporary show about local life which includes a showcase featuring the Specials & the Selecter – handwritten lyrics to several Specials’ songs. Pick up a book (England’s Dreaming by Jon Savage) & two cheap CDs. I find Spon St – Coventry’s surviving medieval street (which comes to a dead end at a ring road – a pedestrian tunnel underneath to a public housing area).
1992-Jul-09: In the afternoon men come and re-carpet the living room. The same institutional brown but minus the iron burns and cigarette holes. In the mail – our first cheque from Australia saves us from possible penury. In the evening we go to the neighbouring (and altogether classier) college to a Law School farewell dinner in the college library (as the speaker says, it’s the realization of an illicit pleasure to drink, eat, and smoke in a library). We get a table with Margaret, a young guy in practice, and another couple. The man (Michael?) teaches at Keele and on discovering my occupation asks if I know Roy Fisher. He’s apparently retired now but works as a jazz pianist frequently.
1992-Jul-10: Salford. A note beside one of Lowry’s paintings featuring cripples tells how he convinced a friend who thought the painting exaggerated that there were a lot of armless, legless people around. And shortly after I look at this a party of intellectually disabled people comes through. Looking around the gallery the viewers become Lowry types.
Earlier – finally got onto Michael Schmidt at Carcanet and have arranged to have lunch with him in a couple of weeks. Then, in the afternoon, Brian Cox phones and arranges to meet me next week.
1992-Jul-12: The Manchester Gallery also has a (small) Lowry exhibition. Then there’s an interesting display of decorative arts (including a bizarre 1930s Russian chess set with ‘whites’ and ‘reds’ – the white king has a skull & the pawns are bound in chains. But the overall style wouldn’t have been out of place in a Louis XVI setting). The painting section is overburdened with bathetic Victorian pieces, but there are some good things – a large C17 (?) bereavement painting, a little Samuel Palmer, a Canaletto (& a couple by his nephew), and Madox Brown’s ‘Work’ (featuring Carlyle not doing any).
1992-Jul-14: Go to the English Dept. to meet Brian Cox. He is a nervously pleasant sixty-something academic who writes poems (book published by Carcarnet) & who used to edit Critical Quarterly & its poetry supplements. He offhandedly gives me one from the early sixties edited by Sylvia Plath – ‘a collector’s item’. Cox went to school with Ted Hughes and is very much of that generation – suspicious of the current London Mafiosi and curious to know if there are any poets under 40. He furnishes me with a letter which gets me a card for the University Library.
1992-Jul-15: The poetry collection at Manchester University library is, like that of a lot of university libraries, o.k. until about 1975 after which there’s only a trickle of academic favourites (this in ref. to American poetry. The English poetry section imperialistically absorbs Aust, NZ & Canadian poets. There’s no trace of Les Murray and his minions. Australian poetry seems to consist (after Judith Wright) of Chris Wallace-Crabbe and Evan Jones.
1992-Jul-16: At Lime St, Liverpool, buy a map & head straight for the Walker Gallery. A lot of Stubbs & a Richard Wilson I’d not seen reproduced. Some interesting borderline Pre-Raphaelite work (local). A good Poussin. Lots of Lord Leighton pornography. And lastly – almost missed it – Paul Nash, one of the ‘solstice’ paintings (another is in the NGV Melbourne). It doesn’t take a lot of detective work to pick up on the Beatle trail. It’s signposted all over.
1992-Jul-18: At Matlock Liz meets us with a shopping trolley and two children in tow. We cram into the car and drive up what was the original road, steep and narrow with broad views back over the valley and into Winster. No 1, The Flat is a tiny two-storey plus attic bedroom cottage built sometime in the eighteenth century. Tony Baker is out when we arrive, but appears shortly with vegetables from the allotment. He’s a bit different from what I’d imagined: slight build, mostly bald with a pigtail, fair skin & gold rimmed glasses. After lunch drop our clothing bag at a woman called Caroline’s place – large with several spare bedrooms – and drive to Clough Wood. We take a circular walk along a muddy track into the wood, past the stonework of an old lead mine. Winster was originally a mining village, like many of the places in the Peak District. The terms White Peak and Dark Peak are, as we’d figured from the maps, general rather than references to specific outcrops. They refer to areas which are either generally limestone or gritstone. Tony points out small white flowers which appreciate soil with a high lead content (apparently the lead here is not so dangerous as it isn’t very soluble). The track descends through thicker wood before rising to meet a road that goes back to where we’ve parked the car. There are a few varieties of mushroom about (Tony is an amateur mycologist; his doctorate is from work at Cambridge on WCW).
Back at the cottage we look at an oral history project T worked on with old people in a suburb of Nottingham. He gives me a copy and I later dig out three copies of The Home Paddock for him and whoever. He shows me a new book by Peter Makin on Basil Bunting – v. good & the first lengthy survey, but it’s a prohibitive £40. Note also that the Uncollected Bunting is also out (edited by Ric Caddel, whose address I obtain along with Roy Fisher’s). T cooks us (vegetarian) dinner and we drink some homemade elderberry wine which is like a port and strong. R & I head off down into the village in the stillness to Caroline’s place where we put ourselves to bed – We still haven’t met Caroline, she’s out at a concert, but the door of the house, on the main street, is open, and our bag has been taken up to a designated room.
1992-Jul-19: We meet Caroline for breakfast which she has lavishly prepared. She is a social worker who operates out of Matlock in the Bakewell area and often rents out rooms for B & B, but puts up friends and visitors to other people in the village gratis, as her house has some four bedrooms. We lug our gear back up the hill (with a jar of homemade jam added). Then Peter Riley arrives with a friend called Ewan in tow and we bumble about, ending up going on a shorter local walk above the village. The day turns out magnificently and I even get a little sunburnt, but we end up having to forego the moors. Up the hill there are more plants pointed out [passive construction!] – pineapple weed, which, when crushed, emits a distinct pineapple smell, and sweet cicely, which has an aniseed aroma. Peter Riley (who deals in second hand books) thinks he’s come across my work, though it turns out he was thinking of Lauris Edmond.
1992-Jul-21: Letters from [Christopher] Logue & Jonathan Williams (& it looks like we’ll get up to Dentdale post 10th Aug). Jonathan concludes: ‘I like reading the Independent every morning and love watching “Coronation Street”: almost better than real life and it only takes 90 minutes a week.’
1992-Jul-23: The sex scandal continues. An academic says ‘It’s a pretty pass when the Sun is telling the truth and 22 members of the government aren’t.’
Lunch with Michael Schmidt. The Carcanet office occupies a few poky rooms in the Corn Exchange Building, near Victoria Station, which houses on its ground floor a kind of hippy market. We go to an Italian restaurant for Peroni, pasta & coffee and talk about Les Murray, Peter Porter, publishing &c. He gives me a copy of Paul Carter’s new collection of essays (Faber) to review for PN and we arrange to meet again in a couple of weeks. I’m – as usual – level headed about Murray in this context & Schmidt mischievously suggests that he’ll write to Les saying I’d spoken well of him. Also – no surprise – the great man has pulled out of the BASA conference.
1992-Jul-25: Train to Edinburgh through Preston & Lancaster and by Morecombe Bay, then through Oxenholme, the Lakes District Station, then Penrith and Carlisle with its pink stone. A glimpse of Solway Firth and the vicinity of Solway Moss where the road map notes a battle c1542, then gradually up the dales through Lockerbie to a divide where the country is altogether bleaker: wet, scant vegetation and the wakes of trucks on the A74. Split from the Glasgow line at Carstairs Junction where there is a large fenced-off establishment which could be either a prison or the kind of medical research institution which appeared in ‘O Lucky Man’. Down gradually into Edinburgh, the Pentland Hills to the east. Edinburgh’s outskirts – brand new blocks of horror apartments – then the grey stone of the city. Gael [Turnbull] greets us at the station and we drive back to Strathearn Place, where Jill waits in the driveway. We have late lunch, soup and bread and cheese, then G & J walk with us back into the city, across the meadows (small children playing golf). Walk back down High St in the drizzle and look into Lady Stair’s House – a museum to Scott, Burns & Stevenson.
1992-Jul-26: Drive to the Forthside suburb of Portobello and eat lunch in the car as it clears, then walk along the beach – a view across to Inchcape & the villages on the far side. We head back into the city and park near the walls of Holyrood which R suggests we go through. It’s worth it, though the guide – a grey-beard in tartan trews booms the facts of each chamber in a series of oracular descants. The portrait of the Royal incumbent is particularly bad, though much else here is stunning. The portrait room is strange – Charles II (who never visited the place) had Holyrood repaired and redecorated after the revolution and decided on a set of portraits of his royal ancestors. Unfortunately there was no visual record so a set of models substituted and in deference to Charles himself the portraitist gave each of these phoney family members a large nose. Once this is pointed out the room becomes a wonderful exercise in the ridiculous.
We drive back to G & J’s place for more books (Pig Press have done a Lorine Niedecker & a Guy Birchard). Gael brings out some newer short poems – a group called ‘Dusters’ – which I begin to read after dinner (haggis – very good too). I note that there is Scottish money, printed by the Bank of Scotland, which loses its efficacy somewhere south of the Tweed and is completely useless in London.
1992-Jul-29: A card from Ric Caddel, who sounds good, though there’s no mention of reading possibilities (I’d sounded him out on Morden Tower). Waterstones bookshop has an unfortunately large poetry section. I satisfy myself with the Uncollected Bunting (ed. Caddel) and, at last, the collected George Barker & his single posthumous volume. After this it’s HMSO to pick up some maps and a couple of books on the British Ordnance Survey.
1992-Jul-30: Logue rings from London & we arrange to have dinner. His three day ‘Kings’ production sold out almost immediately (it’s on mid-September) and has been extended to six with the possibility of it being slotted into the company’s season if successful.
As it’s going to be fine & 24º I decide to do a country walk. I get a train through Rochdale – the moors ahead – to Hebden Bridge. Walk away from the town, south from the RS up a steep track to a group of buildings marked ‘Old Chamber’. As far as I can gather this is an old building which combines the features of barn and chapel. I follow a farm road west – views out over Hebden Bridge and Heptonstall – then southerly, into cropped areas. Cut down into a wooded valley on a footpath, cross the stream then climb across more farmland (‘Edge End Farm’). It’s an unusual pleasure (for an Australian) to be able to walk across someone’s paddock without Mr Brown appearing with shotgun and dogs. The track skirts Edge End Moor looking down & across Calderdale. I can feel my skin getting more sunburnt in the open. Ahead there’s Stoodley Pike monument – like an Anzac pillar from an Australian country town, but it must be huge. I turn off down a road that the map is partially unaware of in the vicinity of ‘Eastwood’. This takes me down across the canal, river, main road, and, via a footbridge, the railway line. There’s a track leading upwards through the woods, steep, but refreshing after the sun. The track becomes overgrown at the top of the wood so I cut across a paddock to the farm road and follow it around uphill to Great Rock. From here there’s a sealed road which is level for a bit before descending to a stream – the water and rocks reddish. Uphill is Blackshaw Head and a pub where I order a mild and lemonade and have a hamburger beef meal, a decent salad and properly cooked chips. Follow a road and footpath from Blackshaw Head to Jack Bridge, then turn east down a bridle path on the Calderdale Way. Cross the stream and climb up along a stone footpath towards Heptonstall. Views south, of the Pike, and across the stream, a heath hillside. Heptonstall is mostly 16th century; a medieval church in ruins alongside its mid-19th century replacement. When the road enters the town, asphalt is replaced by stones – ‘setts’ in the narrower village streets. The main road descends steeply to Hebden Bridge – still a functioning mill town. The pubs stay open all day. Washing is hung at street level – on footpaths and even across the end of a cul-de-sac.
1992-Jul-31: Figure that in the present age – not a great one for poetry – the poets either pretend to be popular (like Les Murray) or pretend to be unpopular (like the inhabitants of A Various Art). Both these moves are bad ones.
1992-Aug-01: The Whitworth Gallery. Many good things here but a slight tendency to curatorial excesses such as (a) an exhibition of fakes & misattributions which we largely leave alone. I’ll go back and have a look maybe, but if I like the paintings I’m not bothered about who did them. (b) the ‘guess the woman’ sequence where paired works – one by a woman, one by a man – have the attributions concealed, which you then discover by pulling a plastic sheet out of an envelope. As it is, I do alright, but it seems the variables at play have been tampered with a little by the curators. There are I think, features of women’s and men’s art which can distinguish them, though these are complex & subtle. But the show seems to operate on the premise that there aren’t any. (c) an archaeology & art exhibition which I’d expected to be subtler than it was – basically there were a couple of cup & ring stones, a few shots of the White Horse, Cerne Abbas &c and some recent artists’ works which ‘owed’ something to the prehistoric. But it was the usual facile attempt to gain ‘mystery’ by mimicking the old works without any sense of their science i.e. that they were mostlikely done for a purpose other than appealing to an international art market. Nearly all of the modern works were totally empty and indeed visually boring.
There was a 1960s-&-on show – in which much of the English ‘pop’ had dated badly (& there was a large empty Bratby – who just died last week). Good works though by John Piper, Ceri Richards & John Lanyon. Upstairs, a small group of watercolours including Samuel Palmer, Turner & Blake, and a drawing show – good pieces by Constable, Ben Nicholson, Ginner & David Jones.
1992-Aug-02: The North Welsh coast seems an unending caravan park with the atmosphere of a huge refugee village rather than a pleasure spot (things to do: look at the sea, take a roller-coaster ride, fish in a canal – the English will fish anywhere – look at the sea again, take a walk in the narrow strip between the caravans and the concrete). The Bangor train skirts mountains and the sea’s edge. Rocks show through the very green and the reddish (gorse) vegetation. Anglesea & Puffin Island off to the right. The bus winds out of Bangor through the Welsh Hills to Caernarfon, the terminus just outside the castle. We walk around in the castle and climb a few of the circular steps to walk along ramparts and across bridged crevasses out of Piranesi, but the steps make me feel ill with vertigo. I hadn’t been aware that so many people actually spoke Welsh – thought it more a formal, nationalist thing. And it sounds stranger than I’d imagined. It has more of a southern European rhythm about it.
1992-Aug-04: Continue with my August piece of writing (begun yesterday) which so far is looking a bit more political than its two predecessors [this was ‘Irwell & Medlock’, the third part of Memorials. I wrote the first four parts to plan – one each season of the year from wherever I was – Melbourne for 1 & 2, Manchester for 3, Washington for 4. Later I added a brief prefatory poem and six months later did a final long Melbourne piece, ‘Ornithology’.]
1992-Aug-06: I walk up Ducie St to Jutland, a steep cobbled street Lowry drew (called Junction St before 1939). Then on into Ancoats though most of the area now seems to be commission homes with kids in the streets looking just like the ones that used to appear in old photographs of ‘slum life’. I cut across to Collyhurst to look for the site of the Electric Circus – a ballroom where a lot of the Manchester punk scene generated in 1977. There’s no sign it was ever there and the houses on the spot appear derelict already.
Visit the Manchester Gallery again for another look at Samuel Palmer & John Linnell. The Pre-Raphaelite pieces don’t stand up to scrutiny very well – and among them there’s Holman Hunt’s particularly nasty ‘Stages of Cruelty’. Then next door, a temporary exhibition which is a grab bag of 20th C work from the local galleries. The really recent work is mostly bad – skilful but devoid of any other interest. Good things include a Wyndham Lewis self-portrait, a very abstract John Lanyon, Nash, Leger, Bonnard, Lowry, Barbara Hepworth & Henry Moore, and a Nevinson painting of footballers, circa 1930. None of the good ones seem to make it to postcards.
I walk back to the Whitworth and photograph the statue of Edward VII which has a pink witch’s hat and a modern crook (instead of scepter?) added, giving him the benign expression of a benevolent wizard.
Note with the writing – ‘Irwell & Medlock’ being the probable title – I do it all the time with the creeping fear of failure; that it’s a total botch. But I suppose it’s difficult to escape any such fear unless you want to subscribe completely to a patented poetry method. I’m sure the Faber & Oxford gents never doubt themselves. Why should they, after all they’re Faber/Oxford poets.
1992-Aug-07: My library borrowings have at least served to convince me that John Heath-Stubbs isn’t worth buying a book of (Carcanet). George Barker’s essays are good in parts, but his aphorisms are pretty ordinary.
1992-Aug-08: Oxford. As we arrive we see Michelle [O’Callaghan] waiting for us, looking from an upstairs window. She & current boyfriend Matthew are staying in a large and rambling house owned by Bill & Ag – two lefties of a slightly older vintage than me, with 3 children. Matthew prepares the evening’s food. The party (M’s 30th) begins – people turning up from all over – Australia, Canada, Taiwan, USA – a generally congenial gathering.
1992-Aug-09: Downstairs there’s a visitor for Bill, an old (German/mitteleuropean?) called Eric(h). Bill says later that E. belonged to a socialist group who had organized camps for kids called the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry – a group which actually predates the scouts and may have – I suggest – come from William Morris socialism (though there doesn’t seem to be much evidence that Morris was interested in kids). We go with Michelle and Matthew down the road to The Fish, a pub where we lunch outside. Then a short walk past a building which Ruskin admired (M & M seem under the impression that this thoroughly suburban scene is rural).
1992-Aug-10: To Hunt’s Cross, 29 Boundary Drive, to visit Matt Simpson, a friend of Gael’s who writes mostly first person and family type poems. He’s a Liverpudlian, though now living on the opposite side of the city. His wife Monika grew up in Germany during the war and the partition. She was in or around Hamburg and heard of the Beatles there; Matt used to go to the Cavern Club, but on the nights when they had modern jazz, and never saw the Beatles. Gael had written him a letter partially explaining the kind of poetry I wrote and mentioning Ted Berrigan. Matt hasn’t heard of Berrigan so to try and signpost things a bit for him I mention Frank O’Hara, but he hasn’t heard of him either.
We have lunch & some German wine and talk till four or so. There are many things we can agree about or find common ground in – attitude to ‘performance’ is one; the fact that Matt is a CD junkie, another. And he likes Stanley Spencer. We swap books (Blue Notes for An Elegy for the Galosherman) and I show him the Martial stuff which he laughs through. We also talk a bit about Norman Nicholson with whom M had also had contact. There’s a prose selection around of NN’s writing about the Lakes District. But Matt says it seems Fabers have lost interest in him and do not wish to bring out a Collected Poems [they did eventually]. Note, via Matt: Heptonstall churchyard has, improbably, but characteristically, the grave of Sylvia Plath.
1992-Aug-14: Not much over the last days to report, save a little dispiritedness. And the poem has come to a halt – though I’ve typed it up & R is going to print up a copy today.
Later: I read it through. There are a few obvious things to fix and a couple of places where it might not be fitting together so well, but I’ll need to let it settle a bit before doing anything drastic.
1992-Aug-15: Radio 4 is a bit like an amateur station with ideas – full of programs I can’t imagine anyone wanting to listen to. In the afternoon we visit two bookshops. The first, Frontline, a left bookshop, has a number of good things though I find the atmosphere of feminist folk music hard to take. I wish they’d play some real trash like the Monkees.
1992-Aug-16: Finish reading Paul Carter whom I find alternately very good and dispiriting. I can see why he wouldn’t have liked The Ash Range, so maybe there’s a bit of mutual incomprehension going on. Figured I’ll stick with the original title for the first of the four long poems & find a new one for the second. ‘As told to’ can then become the general or book title for all four pieces. Still need to add something to ‘Irwell & Medlock’ just to get the pace right (& for a bit more Mancunian particularity).
1992-Aug-17: At last – mail. One from Tony Baker – he’s back from Scotland and likes Martial a lot. A letter from Ken [Bolton] with a new poem, a critique of ‘& furthermore’ (to be retitled ‘News of the world’) & John Forbes’ review of his [Ken’s] Selected Poems from The Age. And our National Health numbers arrive. I begin to feel like a real person. In the evening type up a second draft of ‘I & M’ with some additional bits inserted & a lot of the political ranting taken out.
1992-Aug-18: At Leeds City Gallery there’s an Ian Hamilton Finlay show. While some of the pieces individually seem trivial (& only a few of them), as a whole it’s impressive. I liked the little wooden diptych/tryptich pieces and just the way Finlay can do good things with three or four words. The gallery is good on British art from 1910-1960. There were several Gaudier-Brzeska pieces as well as Moore & Epstein. Paintings I particularly liked were by Ivon Hitchens, Frances Hodgkins, Paul Nash, Matthew Smith, Stanley Spencer, a Mark Gertler self-portrait, Harold Gilman, Vuillard, Derain’s ‘Port of London’, a weird and funny painting ‘Three men of exactly the same size in an unequal room’ by Steven Campbell, Jack Yeats (terrific), Peter Lanyon, John Minton and more. There was a good Whiteley and a Frank Auerbach work that showed just why he reproduces so badly. You’d really need to take a photograph of his paintings from an angle in sunlight and juxtapose that with the usual frontal shot. On my way home – a factory in Dewsbury owned by a firm called Shoddy. Then, near Staithwaite, a yard full of red telephone boxes.
1992-Aug-22: Old Amersham [Buckinghamshire] is full of old pubs, expensive boutiques and Jaguars. There’s a very unused Baptist church building dating from the 18th C and up the hill a Quaker meeting house. The workhouse has become an antique shop. This part of the Chilterns has many relics of religious intolerance. There’s a martyrs memorial up the hill where the footpath runs down to the old village (for burnt Lollards early 17th C?). And the area was largely pro-Cromwell during the civil war period. On the way back [from Iver] we stop at Chalfont St Giles and look at Milton’s cottage. It has two rooms open to the public – one with local memorabilia, the other with the usual (for writers) collection of tenuously related materials. We’re greeted by a garrulous antiquarian – no doubt bored, close to closing time on a long wet day. On a hunch of R’s we drive down side roads to a place called Jordans. It’s a Quaker village with a green surrounded by red brick houses. Although it is close to 6pm, wet, and bad light, the local cricketers are still playing. Along the road a bit further is a Quaker conference centre and barn, which we find out later is the source of some of the Mayflower’s timber – & Jordans is, I guess, a pilgrimage site for American Quakers. We drive back to Chalfont St Giles, part way along a very narrow road which is like a tunnel with overhanging trees, back to Amersham.
1992-Aug-25: In the evening Susie Ingleby takes me to her writing group meeting at the Chorlton library. Abt 6-7 women, a good crew. And a disabled woman has a good poem about being asked to mind a handbag.
1992-Aug-27: Phone call from Chris Wallace-Crabbe in the morning. He had just received my letter in Oxford (posted yesterday afternoon). Looks like there’s been another lot of literature from the BASA conference omitting my name. I go in to R’s office at the university and ring them to straighten things out. Then to the library where I get a couple of Ronald Duncan books and read some back copies of PN Review. Walk into town – it’s raining again – and do some shopping, then go up to the Carcanet office to meet Michael Schmidt. We lunch at a nearby pub with good & cheap food. I hand in my Paul Carter review and a couple of poems. M.S. advises me to send a couple of books to Michael Hulse (in Germany) who has been getting a reviewing (& publishing) interest in Aust & NZ poetry going. He’s about to review – among others – Robt. Gray & Mark O’Connor, but also John Forbes & Steve Kelen. Wonder who gets the rough end of the stick? [I sent books to Hulse and received acknowledgement of receipt but nothing further].
1992-Aug-28: Dentdale. The station is way up above the valley and the rain at this point holds off. At the station gate we see Jonathan Williams and Tom Meyer. JW waves to us to assure us we’re in the right place. He’s as tall and as large as I’d figured. Tom is slight beside him, but on closer view is a muscular and consciously fit person. As we drive back to Dent itself the talk in both seats of the car indicates this visit is going to be a good one.
We have a drink at Dent’s local. Then across the road we eat at a very reasonable country-cooking tea house. JW pays for all of this (as he does for our whole visit). We drive back to Corn Close and are installed in the ‘barn’. This is a wonderfully rebuilt interior which is used as a studio and living quarters by Donald B Anderson during the winter months. It is a beautifully open piece of architecture on two levels. We have a large main bedroom on the mezzanine with an opening folding door looking down over the living area. Both the barn and the house above are convection heated but the barn also has a slow combustion stove in the living area. The walls of this building carry many of Anderson’s paintings which are good to look at over time (at first I didn’t particularly like them but it was good to have a large number to examine. They are simple but exact landscapes which catch the light of this place – and the geology – very well). DA I gather owns an oil company and was responsible for most of the restoration.
Up the hill a few yards is the cottage (which does have a sauna in the shed – as Gael had told me in 1987). Out front is a little plant identification tag – ‘pompous grass’, and behind the house a small court dug into the hill’s steep slope houses an altered road sign, where a branching side road has become an erect penis. This, says Jonathan, is the priapic garden. Inside, the cottage is very comfortable – workable kitchen and light eating area, a sitting room with a large cutout of Colonel Sanders, and a work and living area set up with computers and books. The living area has a high window in the rear wall so you can look up the steep fell. Jonathan has to go to Sedbergh for an X-ray, so we amuse ourselves in the afternoon as Tom prepares the dinner. We walk up the slope as far as we can before the bracken gets too thick. Look back out over the Dale and down towards Sedbergh. The rivers are high with all the recent rain and this one, the Dee, takes a meander down below Corn close.
After Jonathan gets back the bar is opened. We adjourn to the living room where he plays Debussy, Vaughan Williams & other things and shows us various books – including a great couple of volumes in which various artists, writers, musicians &c have written messages – there’s material by Pound, David Hockney, Zukofsky, Kenner, Davenport and very many others (& so many of the great dead). I say that my generation are the ones who didn’t get to meet EP (though I have just scraped in by meeting Carl Rakosi).
1992-Aug-29: Jonathan rummages through a cupboard and the pile on his desk as we proof-read a trailer for a show he’s having (photographs) down at Derby. He gives us several books including Tom’s Sappho and his own collection of polaroids – Portrait Photographs. I’d brought up a Home Paddock, but discover I hadn’t sent him a Blue Notes so will put one in the mail.
1992-Sep-01: On the station, Buxton, Roy & Joyce Fisher (Roy had described himself as large i.e. wide, but I would have recognized his face anyway. He had seen a photo of me in Scripsi). We have coffee near the roundabout and Roy takes me to see the interior of the Devonshire Hospital. The building was originally an equestrian venue with an underground entrance for the horses, but in the post-Paxton period, after it had been donated by the Duke of Devonshire, it was roofed with an iron dome. It’s a huge structure with an amazing doubling of your voice if you stand in the middle. The floor is wooden – dance floor material – and around and about are odd therapy-related items like a pool table. As we walk back to the car Roy points out that a large section of the Crescent’s roof has been stolen recently (for lead) by people posing as workmen. We join Joyce in the supermarket and wheel the trolley around talking poetry and employment. Roy glad to get out of teaching (he left Keele ten years ago).
Driving back to Earl Sterndale (sounds like a blues pianist) we pass the large limestone quarry – everything is white (& Joyce says it is luminous at night). It is invisible from the village over the hill – and the National Trust won’t let them quarry across the skyline (though within an inch of that the quarry drops away) so the beautiful landscape is rather like a cardboard cutout. Roy & Joyce’s house is only a few hundred yards above the village. It’s white with triple-glazed windows and a vegetable garden. The stone walls and fields around are intact from hundreds of years back. A fault runs across the property and there are some sharp peaks. The triangle of a ridge ends beyond the village. We eat a large bread & salad & quiche lunch with a pint of bitter and talk about the state of the nation, education, economics &c. The way so many academics spend as long as they can in London then whip out to ‘the provinces’ for a couple of days intensive tutorials. The duplicity of government having to pour money into whatever they’re about to sell off to make it a good deal for their purchasing friends. Strangeways [the prison] ‘burnt down’ 18 months ago, was rebuilt & now is on the market. I give Roy copies of some of the books (and will get him one of the remaining Martials later).
Roy explained how Jonathan survives – combination of family money, Jargon advances & Yale U., who have bought the Jargon archive and who now pay JW a kind of stipend for life in exchange for the rest of his files).
1992-Sep-03: The [Liverpool] Tate is entirely given over to long and short-term exhibitions (no permanent collection). There are four shows on at the moment: a recent sculpture show, which I don’t bother about; a European art 1945-68 exhibition which I look through quickly. There are a few good things – Dubuffet, Jorn, Alan Davie, but it’s mostly the sort of work that American art made seem kitschy and twee. Then there’s a small show of abstract expressionism with particularly good work by Gorky, Newman, Reinhardt, Still & Lee Krasner (and not least, Kline). Finally a largeish Stanley Spencer show. I particularly like ‘Rickett’s farm, Cookham Dean’ among many others – the resurrection paintings & the war one with the wounded on stretchers. And the three remarkable nudes with Patricia Preece. At the bookshop I’m able to get a copy of the revised Ian Hamilton Finlay book as well as a Wyndham Lewis catalogue (for the War Museum show I’ll see in London) & a little Spencer catalogue.
1992-Sep-05: [Southhampton: ] After dinner we drive to an obscure suburban location on the northern outskirts to a party – a 40th – for three people, held in a community hall with a DJ whose notion of ‘sixties’ is fairly elastic (Dire Straits & Abba). The beer is dishwasherlike, but the white wine which Rosemary samples is positively poisonous. The Bulgarian red is an improvement. The party-boys are, as R observes, typical male mid-career solicitors – genial but wooden, their self-image as pillars of the community leaches them of anything approaching spontaneity. In the last hour or so we dance (& the DJ digs up for me Smokey Robinson’s ‘Tears of a Clown’).
1992-Sep-07: Seal up a box of books to send back to Australia. Unfortunately I find at the P.O. that I’d been given completely false information when I’d asked about parcel rates previously. Book rates only apply up to 5kgs – and at 8kgs at normal parcel rate my load would have cost £37! I listen to a tape of Norman Nicholson at the old Rylands library. His condition – gasps of breath – and his theatrical training are apparent. But he comes over well – a deep and husky voice with a slight inability to pronounce Rs. Back at Owen’s Park there’s mail. Letter from John Forbes with an address which should have got it truly lost. He missed out yet again on a NSW Premier’s award (third time) & is obviously still scraping for cash.
1992-Sep-08: In the evening we go out to an Indian restaurant with Kaz Mazel & Bob. She teaches in American Studies and has somehow wangled an Australian/Canadian comparative course. He does part time teaching in Anglo-Saxon & medieval literature. Kaz asks me to list some recent Australian poetry. My list is acknowledgedly partisan, but that’s what she wants. When they come back to Owen’s Park for coffee I note that her copy of Blue Notes – obtained here – is one of the duds [the book was printed without being proofed then subsequently recalled and reprinted. I still come across people today with these grossly re-lineated copies].
1992-Sep-10: I catch the ‘Manchester Pullman’ for London Euston. My bag is impossibly heavy – hernia-inducing – but I get to Canterbury Hall in Cartwright Gardens. Typical student residence, but I have a quiet room on the courtyard side. Walk to Turret Books in Lamb’s Conduit Street. It’s relatively warm & sunny even. At Turret I find a collected Veronica Forrest-Thompson and books by Guy Birchard, Kelvin Corcoran and Alan Halsey. Wander around Russell Square and down a side street to a pub for a couple of pints. Then to the Russell Sq. office for the conference reception. Chris [Wallace-Crabbe] is there – also Kate Darien-Smith, George Seddon & others. More beer. Then Geoff Page and I go back with Chris to his flat in the Gloucester Rd vicinity. We buy some red wine. Marianne serves corn on the cob with cheese, meat & salad. When the wine goes we start on Chris’s duty free Irish Whisky.
1992-Sep-11: Consequently I’m not a well person. Big breakfast downstairs then, rather than go immediately to the conference, I walk to the National Gallery via a coffee shop. The coffee is actually ok. At the Gallery I visit the Manet exhibition. It’s about the circumstances & process of ‘The execution of Maximillian’. Buy postcards and walk back via Covent Garden to Mecklenburg Sq and the conference. Listen to papers by Kay Ferres & Kay Schaffer before lunch, then three further papers on ‘travel’ and half a session on the Australian War Memorial and Gulf War art. Then cut back to Canterbury Hall for a short rest before getting a hair of the dog at the Sir John Russell and another couple across in Soho: the Duke of York & the Marquis of Granby. The conference dinner at the Villa Carlotta is ok. I sit at a table with Kate D-S, Nick, Kay Ferres, Richard Nile & a couple of others. Michael Wilding appears for the dinner & reads with Geoff Page.
1992-Sep-12: Catch Stephen Knight’s session then after lunch Chris W-C & I read in the foyer – a marblish hall where you’d look better nude in a fig leaf. I do ‘Modernism’, ‘BH 22’ & ‘24’, ‘Adelaide Festival’, some ‘Dogs’ & ‘Adventures’ & finish with the ‘Square Dance’. After the final session I catch a tube to Piccadilly and Peter St where I meet Harry Gilonis at an Indonesian restaurant – the Melati. Prawn laksa for the first time in months. We walk afterwards up to the Fitzroy Tavern and discuss over a couple of pints people & books.
1992-Sep-13: Last conference breakfast – and I’m set to move across the road to the Avalon Hotel. Leave the bags & take the tube to Lambeth North & walk to the Imperial War Museum. The Wyndham Lewis show is good, though some of the work was obviously produced in a spirit of compromise (the war work that is). I wander around the Museum’s exhibits – the basement, full of mazes of war memorabilia and ‘experiences’ (the WW1 trench experience & the blitz experience) like a Disneyland manqué. Upstairs are galleries of art from the two wars, with a lot of good Paul Nash work but also some surprising pieces which never seem to make it into reproduction – this includes some of the more academic work in which the strangeness of subject matter compensates for the patina (e.g. Laura Knight’s ‘Balloon site, Coventry’). There is a very strange Mervyn Peake painting about the development of the cathode ray tube. I stay in the Museum for longer than anticipated because it begins to rain outside and I’m umbrella-less. And I can still feel the fascination of these war toys (as David Carter commented it’s a very easy place to regress in).
R arrives in the evening. We catch a bus to Logue’s – crossing Waterloo Bridge we see his name in flashing lights over the National theatre. Get off at Camberwell Green but have trouble relating my sketch map to the geography. Realize I haven’t brought CL’s phone number to check up – then realize I haven’t got his street number either. We decide to ask in a pub for a telephone directory. The first pub we enter has one from A-K. The second pub claims not to have a telephone directory. We find the street and I redeem myself by working out which house it is – near the middle, set back a bit, door on r.h.s., a church spire just behind – and getting it right first time (I’d seen the place five years back when Logue had just moved in). Logue asks after various people – Peter [Craven] &c and says he’s hoping to get to the 1994 Adelaide Festival & perhaps tour round with ‘Kings’. He’s at work on further Homer at the moment. Rosemary [his partner] is writing a book on Pugin.
1992-Sep-15: I walk down to Charing Cross Rd to look in the bookshops (though I don’t buy anything). In Foyles two shop assistants in the poetry section talk.
Man to woman: ‘Do you like any poets?’
W: ‘William Blake.’
M: ‘What about Sir Philip Sydney?’
M: ‘What about Shakespeare?’
W: ‘Nuh — he wrote too much.’
I meet Peter Porter at the Villa Carlotta around one. We discuss the usual round of things – art & galleries, what’s happening to Scripsi (a constant topic).
1992-Sep-23: A letter from Gig [Ryan] & one from Ken with a very funny poem ‘Dazed’ enclosed (after John Forbes’ ‘History of Nostalgia’ which K kindly enclosed a copy of). Then there’s a parcel from Ric Caddel – several Pig Press books including a couple I already have but also the new Guy Birchard book and a couple of 80s vols by authors I’d not known: Alisdair Patterson & Pete Laver.
1992-Sep-24: Into the Peaks it gets foggy and at Buxton itself it’s pretty dark. Roy Fisher meets me at the station and we drive back to Earl Sterndale and drink coffee while Joyce finishes work on a radio play. I show Roy passages from ‘The Front’ which put into practice things picked up while reading ‘A furnace’ – that kinetic feel to observation in particular (& the influence of film – as an editorial practice not as ‘film culture’). We drive to Winster for lunch with Tony & Liz. In the afternoon it clears outside. The four of us walk above and through the town. The line separating gritstone from limestone landscapes is marked by patches of dying bracken. Back at the house Roy plays the piano, running through various passages for Tony’s benefit. He’s really good though unused to this particular keyboard and ‘a bit rusty’. Plays intricate bits of Jelly Roll Morton & shows some of the [Albert] Ammons runs (though he claims he can’t keep that complexity up at such a pace for several minutes as AA did).
1992-Sep-25: I phone Michael Schmidt who is happy with the Paul Carter review but sounds like he’ll probably reject the poems. Then I’m ready to go to Durham. But when I leave the flat & the door is locked behind me (R on the way to Liverpool with the only key) I realize I haven’t put my decent shoes on and have an old pair of sneakers with holes in them instead. Then as I’m walking towards Oxford Rd station I realize I haven’t packed any underpants!
I walk into Durham up to the University library under the castle. One of the librarians contacts Ric & I speak to him on the phone (he’s at the other University library). Cross the road for a cup of tea then look around Durham Cathedral. It is much more impressive than Winchester or Canterbury. The stonework is rougher surfaced here, plainer and not much like cake icing, and the decoration there is – cross-hatched columns &c – is spare and effective. There’s Bede’s tomb, St Cuthbert memoria and a great deal else. Back at the library I’m met by Ric. He’s about 5’6”, asthmatic, and very gnome like. We drive back to Neville’s Cross. Ann Caddel is v. 60s English folk. Their two children Tom (16) & Lucy (13) are much larger. Tom is in a band (& we talk about the Velvet Underground – I tell him to listen to ‘1969’). The house is two storeyed and small. I’m in a single bed in the Pig Press storeroom – a cupboard like space containing also the laundry. Comfortable though. We drink, eat & talk. The Cs are terrific people. Ann comes from a Yorkshire family but moved around a lot as a child because her father was RAF. Ric moved north from Kent when he was 20 (& met Bunting et. al.). He shows me an old book – a translation of Don Quixote by Smollett, where one of the book’s printers is a Cadell (one ‘d’ two ‘l’s).
1992-Sep-26: After breakfast it’s still foggy outside but Ric and I decide to drive out to the Wall anyway. On the road up from Durham a pheasant struts in the mist. We reach the wall where it is no more than a couple of ridges of grass and a ditch, and follow it along to Crag Lough. Here we park and walk in the drizzle up beside what is now wall as such. Ric says the Wall was actually designed in Rome and erected much as a modern prefabricated building would be – with no regard for particular terrain. So that the mile forts have front and rear doors even when the front door opens onto a sheer drop. If the ‘Romans’ at Hard Knott were from the Dalmatian coast, most of those stationed along the Wall were from Spain or North Africa (at one stage there was a theory with racist overtones that the inhabitants of Newcastle were descended in part from these Africans).
As we walk towards a lake, the drizzle clears, though it remains foggy and no clear view emerges in the Pictish direction. But the Wall was never actually used as a defence line, it was more a kind of customs barrier controlling what went in either direction.
1992-Sep-27: It’s foggy again. Ric & I drive into town, walk around the bend of the Wear and up across the square outside the Cathedral. The city has a curious history. The old part of the Cathedral was completed within 20 years or so of the Norman invasion. The Normans actually set out to wipe out most of the population north of the Humber in a slash and burn exercise. The Domesday Book doesn’t record anything in this area because it wasn’t supposed to exist. Later, the Revolution had trouble with Durham too. Oliver Cromwell wanted to push it as a seat of learning to combat the effects of the other, Royalist, centres. He died before plans could be put into action, but his ideas, like so many later southern pictures of the north, did not bear much relation to its actualities. Cromwell was seemingly unaware that the bulk of the population were Catholics. We have a beer in a pub at Shincliffe, an outlying village with mining origins (like most of the places here) but which had been too snobbish to embrace unionism like all the other villages and which had separate miner’s guilds for a while.
Back at Neville’s Cross for a bread and cheese lunch then Ric takes me to the railway station. The rail passes over a high viaduct just south of the station over which – at 1.30 every night – nuclear waste is trucked to Cumbria. The IRA (a number of members in the Durham prison) had planned to blow the bridge up as the train went across. For nearly all the trip back to Manchester visibility is poor. Then, out of the last tunnel at Staleybridge, sunlight.
1992-Sep-28: R’s mother phones. Dad’s not in a good state & will need morphine, and they need my decision on whether or not to try and resuscitate if heart failure occurs. I say no, as there’s a high chance he’d not regain consciousness or else lose his faculties altogether. I’d just written him another card.
1992-Sep-30: Last wash at Mr Bubbles down in Owen’s Park. R comes home for lunch with the message from Australia – Dad has died. In the circumstances I won’t go back for the funeral and believe and hope it will be understood. Strangely it’s not so much Dad as a person – I’ve seen him grow weaker and have expected this for so long a time – but it’s as though a whole large piece of history has gone irrevocably. And the way things go in this occasionally strange life, the news comes (on the same phone call) that I’ve got a Category A (one year) Fellowship from the Literature Board.
* * *
1992-Oct-02: Washington looks unexpectedly beautiful. Phone our landlord Emanuel Silberstein & catch a cab to his gallery in Georgetown. He drives us up to the basement apartment in R St. It’s dark but comfortable – more than adequate c.f. Manchester student housing. The climate is relatively balmy. [The main problem with being on R St was pronouncing it in such a way that an American cab driver could understand.]
1992-Oct-03: On M St we find a lunch place – a bagel bar which turns out great – real bacon for the first time in months. Walk around Georgetown University. It is of course, fabulously rich. The bookstore & the union building testify to this. Then back to the apartment (which has as we discover earlier its own entrance to the building’s laundromat [through a door in the back of our bedroom cupboard]).
1992-Oct-04: The scale of things here is very Empire, very French. Talk abt. differences in Constitutions – the US is an Enlightenment document full of clauses about abstract things, values &c (and readable as literature); ours is very much the product of Victorian empiricism – head-measuring, legalese &c (and utterly unreadable).
1992-Oct-05: Note how the things which seem impossible in Britain (like having the woman as primary account holder, or the use of ‘Ms’) are just basics here. Phone August [Kleinzahler] – the Melbourne Festival [which August attended] in its usual panelomania got John Ashbery to Melbourne but failed to program a poetry reading for him. A’s book (Picador) is out & he seems happy about it. Washington’s weather is a change from Manchester. Everything seems just that more alive (though the TV news is full of non-news & is 99% American. I don’t think we’ll hear much more about the outside world till we get back to Melbourne).
1992-Oct-07: Corcoran Gallery. The current display – 19th century French anecdotal painting – wd. probably intrigue diehard postmodernists but it’s rather boring at length. The permanent collection spans US art from colonial to very recent. There’s a note on Thomas Cole which says he grew up in ‘the bleak north of England’ (hence prepared for Arcadia here). A very good painting by Martin Johnson Heade.
1992-Oct-09: The Washington Post’s weekend supplement doesn’t carry anything about poetry readings at all, so I may be having a quiet time in the capital. I got onto Hoyt Edge in Florida this morning & confirmed my [reading] dates for the end of the month.
1992-Oct-10: Arriving in the Mall, looking west, the hill around the monument is crowded. As we approach the crest, along with streams of other people, we see the full extent of the crowd. Plenty of videos, cameras, recording equipment in evidence. From speakers the far side of the crowd before a backdrop mapping all continents, a series of voices read out names of the dead. Only aircraft taking off from National, or perhaps, if the angle of vision were right, visitors to the top of the Washington Monument, would be capable of seeing as a unit the AIDS quilt. On the ground it’s spread in squares of about 10 or 12 feet with walkways between them. The crowds file down these walkways. It’s a picture of middle America only a few hundred yards from the White House. There are people of all persuasions, colours and ages here (the TV news we watch later characteristically shows a mother – no gays, no weeping men). So much had been apparent to me about this planned unfolding of the quilt. I knew that it would cover a very large area of ground; had heard that it weighed 16 tons &c. But the experience itself was something very different. Walking down these aisles, seeing people with lists and map references looking for particular squares, particular names; seeing people in wheelchairs, men in tears, men hugging in consolation, and seeing all this against the quilt itself, very much reduced me to tears. There had been arguments in the papers about whether or not the quilt had effectively served its purpose and whether or not it had become simply a self-generating project taking up energies better used elsewhere. Maybe it was becoming so apparently an art object that some people felt it might be creating the distance an artefact can create, removing itself from its place as an act of sorrow and an act of protest. Today’s event (Columbus Day Weekend) was its fifth unrolling in the Capital. I think the event itself would have dispersed any such perspectives. The quilt is an art object, but it’s an art object focusing on the death of many people in immediate memory. Within the squares, each fragment of the quilt is different – pieces vary from a simple spray can name on a plain sheet to very professionally designed and executed segments. It’s very American, very much of our time in this combination of individual and mass. Many of the segments incorporate items of clothing, ID cards, plastic covered photographs, names of favourite records, movies, T-shirt logos &c, even brands of breakfast cereal and favourite foods (a Jello packet). The wording varies from simply a first name to name and dates, message from a lover, pieces of quoted or original poetry, card & calendar type wordings. Visually the quilt is a feast. The hill was bright in sunlight with these colourful squares and the white T-shirts of many of the viewers. The scene was far from mortuary. Yet it was a scene of grief on a scale I’d never personally witnessed.
1992-Oct-12: Strangely, it occurs to me for the first time that I’ve had an interest in at least three civil wars (English, Spanish, American) without thinking about any connections. Maybe some interest in the points at which relationships b/n individual (or party) and state break down, alongside a feeling long held about the phoniness of the ‘social contract’. And this may go right back to the vague notion, when at school, that there was something false in headmasters’ arguments about ‘loyalty’; the assumption that you had actually entered into an ‘agreement’. The feeling was brought home all the more when I came up for the conscription ballot aged 20: what arrangement had I personally entered into; had I made any decision which led to our involvement in Vietnam? There’s also, I guess, the anarchic streak here making me interested in social breakdown and how far things can go before a people feel they have been conned.
1992-Oct-14: To the Australian Embassy for an appointment with Penny Amberg, cultural attaché. It’s mostly a chat and an opportunity for us (esp. R) to write down some addresses. PA has a collection of snow domes in a glass case and is organising a showing of Australian examples in the Embassy Gallery. She is very tall (a bit taller than me) and stylish. We’re able to ascertain there’s been no major upheaval at home in the last few weeks.
1992-Oct-16: Emmanuel arrives with the plumber to fix the leaky toilet. As E speaks to the plumber & to Gerald, the maintenance man his accent becomes notably more southern. The plumber & G talk about the sad state of business then without a blink the plumber says he’s voting for George Bush. It’s apparent that a lot of people have become simply scared of change even though they’re just staying afloat in the status quo.
1992-Oct-17: Dunbarton House museum. The Byzantine collection includes items which predate the Empire – a handful of small Greek & Roman things – but consists mainly of fifth to thirteenth century objects from all over (items from Egypt, particularly woven cloths from the early period). This art is more detail than form – an art of inlays & patternings – like a lot of the chalices & Christian accoutrements. I liked the very late pieces of pottery the best because they were simpler and more colourful, though some of the miniature items were interesting. The Pre-Columbian collection is reached through a corridor which opens into a more recent (1963) extension by Philip Johnson. This takes the form of a series of glass-walled octagons around a central fountain. The light is perfect for these items – from several Pre-Columbian cultures and regions stretching from Mexico to Peru. The hall connecting this collection to the main building houses more of the fabrics. After the fussiness of the Byzantine works these ceramics, items in beaten gold and carved stone, are fresh and sharp. Though our ideas of what culture must have been like are unclear the imagery itself seems direct and brilliant (the opposite of the Byz. material and our notions of that culture).
1992-Oct-20: The Freer Gallery is still closed (renovations commenced in 1988) so I look at the Museum of African Art & the Sackler (connected underground). Both these museums are mainly below ground level – only the foyers & information desks are on the surface. The African Art museum has a compact collection of work up to 20th C – and a show of current work by some African artists downstairs. I walk through to the Sackler and pass through a couple of exhibits. One, of Indian Moghul art, which produced some curiosities – a copy of a European Madonna & Child with an Indian poem attached. The shop here has lots of p/c’s – many from the inaccessible Freer collection. I walk through a large Chinese exhibit, then go downstairs for something which really makes me look – a show of ancient Japanese art (palaeolithic through to the Nara period AD794). Most startling of all is the work from the Jômon period (a startling 10,500-400BC) which includes the earliest examples found of ceramic work – pots with a characteristic coiled rope pattern.
1992-Oct-25: Read in Tom Clark’s Olson biography that JA Rice – founder of Black Mountain College – had gone there from Rollins, my destination on Thursday, with a whole bunch of ‘disaffected scholars’.
1992-Oct-29: At Orlando airport it’s some 85° and humid. Hoyt Edge waits at the foot of the baggage elevator in an Akubra hat. We drive back to Rollins College where he has a meeting and I wander around the campus & admire the Spanish mission architecture. The campus is on the edge of Lake Virginia & surrounded by trees hung with moss. We drive back to Hoyt and Jeani’s house where I’m put up in a very thoroughly converted garage. I make a cup of tea and scan the things to do in Winter Park. Rollins was founded as a progressive institution, but after the Black Mt. breakaway and during the war with its fund starving it lost momentum and credibility and became for a while an easy place for rich but not too bright kids to hang around, go to frat parties, and get a degree. It’s been fighting for some time to dispel all that. I read in a room that’s like a kind of hacienda lounge. There are around 15 or so people and the reading goes well (though I notice one woman wince when I say ‘piss’. She turns out to be the poet-in-residence).
1992-Oct-30: I find the Morse gallery which mainly shows glass and pottery work by Tiffany (turn of the century work that doesn’t reproduce well – the colours are too delicate). There are also a few paintings including an Inness, an Arthur B Davies and some icy Maxfield Parrish pieces. The curator’s notes on the paintings are oddly moralistic (very anti-modern) but one note next to a Tiffany lamp wins any prize. It reads: ‘Our director lifts this lamp with ease. It takes two of our staff. They will not do their pushups’.
In the evening H & J take me to a very popular eatery: The Outback Steakhouse, where the motifs are, you guessed it, Aussie (even a Halloween pumpkin with a carved out map of Australia and a kangaroo). There are some things on the menu which bear no resemblance to anything I’ve seen – the ‘bushman bread’ which seems very European for example – but they cook a mean steak and the queues are indication enough of the Outback’s popularity. After this I go with Hoyt to a Rollins production of Leonard Bernstein’s ‘Candide’. Note that the original version of this premiered (& bombed) in 1956 and that a good part of it is pointedly anti-inquisition i.e. McCarthy. The lyrics are by Richard Wilbur with additional material for the 1973 version by Sondheim.
1992-Nov-01: I wake up just before daylight. Around nine the radio announces that the Challenger space shuttle is about to land. A few seconds later the sonic boom shakes the garage. Then they switch to a reporter for the landing (Cape Canaveral only 40 or so miles away). [This passage appears in the ‘Bar-Code Ranch’ section of Mangroves.]
Hoyt drives me to the airport – it’s 86 degrees or so – and I fly north, seeing St Augustine (the fort), Charleston, and the river – which I figure later must be the Catawba/Cooper – running south through S. Carolina. It clouds over and I land at Washington National where it’s around 46º & catch the Metro to Foggy Bottom. I’ve just got a T-shirt and the leather jacket, but on the move it’s ok. We watch Saturday Night Live’s election special and worry about finances.
1992-Nov-02: Worry also about running aground with the – just started – November poem. But write a little more. Do however get a call from Penn State University to say the reading is a go-ahead.
1992-Nov-03: Hirshhorn Museum. A show downstairs of Eva Hesse that you have to like – though a lot of the mid-60s pieces beg to be touched. It’s all very intestinal, particularly the later work. Upstairs there are a good couple of Pollock canvasses, some terrific Gorkys & De Koonings, Lee Krasner, a painting by Jess and some small pieces by Cornell. There’s a big Ad Reinhardt which moves in front of you like a TV screen – green through blue to purple. Robert Motherwell & Robert Rauchenberg – whom you can’t help but like though he’s so arty. Some not very good pop stuff like Mel Ramos (though Wesselman is ok, as is Warhol) and a couple of Larry rivers – his great large painting ‘History of the Russian Revolution’. In the inner corridor on both floors are small sculptures. Really good cubist & futurist period pieces by Henri Laurens, Giacomo Balla & Lipchitz, and a great Gaudier of a wrestler. Some Matisse sculptures. Amusingly a small Barlach piece of a begging woman (very art-deco leaning in its earnest expressionism) has in its outstretched palm a dime someone deposited there.
The Museum of Women in the Arts (R went to this on the weekend and found it disappointing): The permanent collection is disappointingly small and also rather thoughtlessly arranged in historical sections (I thought that this was a male hierarchy). But there are many good works – Morisot, Kahlo, Laurencin, and another Krasner on the stairs (with a Frankenthaler and a Grace Hartigan nearby).
In the evening we watch Clinton win on TV. Even with scepticism intact it’s a relief – if only to see a government escape from gerontocracy & what have to be the last vestiges of cold war bullshit [if only!] . My favourite election sticker was BU_ _SH_ _!
1992-Nov-04: I’m still having trouble cranking up the poem. Note in a bookstore [Ron] Padgett has translated the complete Cendrars. Back here – letters & cards from Larry Wieder, Eliot Weinberger & Martha King in NY. The Kings offer a bed.
1992-Nov-05: In the evening I get a train to Union Station then across to the Law School to meet R & dine with the lawyers nearby. Our end of the table is ok but there’s a loud young conservative [a neo-con] down the other who is a pain in the arse. At the Law School we discovered via fax that Jeff Kennett is virtually dismantling the union movement, even retrospectively abolishing some claims and instituting prison sentences for illegal strikes.
1992-Nov-08: Smithsonian Museum of American Art. On the ground floor a large ‘folk art’ collection. ‘Folk art’ is becoming a term used for practically anybody who hasn’t been to art school, but at least it’s an improvement on ‘junk’ (though it would be nice if some of this stuff made it onto museum postcards). There’s work here (a terrific triptych) by Howard Finster, Rev. (who did the cover of a Talking Heads album)., an amazing room constructed (originally in a garage) by a black guy called James Hampton entirely out of foil & silver paper; also a good expressionist version of GW Crossing the Delaware (this theme reappears upstairs in Alex Katz’s stage setting for Kenneth Koch’s play). At the end of the ground floor corridor there are western works – mostly uninteresting except for a couple of items of pottery and a whole room of George Caitlin’s Indian paintings which are so stylistically distinct here. The second floor is given over largely to the nineteenth century and has as its centerpiece three huge Thomas Moran landscapes (Yellowstone & Colorado). The Americans didn’t have to go out of their way (or out of their minds) to find ‘the sublime’. There are good things by George Inness & Winslow Homer, and an African-American artist Henry Ossona Tanner, who worked in Europe in a quasi-symbolist mode of great distinction (there’s a room of his work). Also a room of Albert Pinkham Ryder, but in bulk APR doesn’t benefit much. Late century academic art – why does a ‘classical’ subject painting always look like one has persuaded one’s friends to take their clothes off? Upstairs the early 20th century section is poorly lit in places – an Afro-American colourfield painter is left almost in darkness at one point. The main room with its MC Escher-like arches however is really a treat – two big and one small Kline, a nice Gottlieb, Edward Hopper, Fairfield Porter, a couple of Philip Evergoods and a Jack Levine which look a great deal better than reproductions I’ve seen. Larry Rivers – one with Frank O’Hara as noticeable model, and a wonderful memorial to O’H by Grace Hartigan. The recent work, in common with many galleries these days, looks weak in comparison: paintings either push one idea to an extreme, or ape a style without any real point.
1992-Nov-09: Up Connecticut to the gay bookstore (Lambda Rising) which I check out for poetry. There are some titles (Tom Meyer, Ronald Johnson) which I’ll come back for. To nearby Melody Records where I buy a Lou Reed retrospective set. Note that one of Reed’s mentors was Delmore Schwartz.
1992-Nov-12: Take the 62 bus on P St across and into Shaw, then up 3rd to Howard University. I find the Fine Arts dept and look at their African permanent collection – it’s housed in a corridor but is extensive enough. There’s also a show in the gallery itself of paintings by James B Porter – an ex-Howard Fine Arts professor – dating from the late 1920s till 1970, the year of his death. The work varies from a kind of academic post-impressionism through to some distinctive works painted after a visit to Africa round 1963-4. But even earlier than this there are paintings which show that Porter knew what he was up to and could depart from his customary style to produce work with a sense of movement not usually found in the work of post-impressionist camp-followers.
1992-Nov-13: The yellow leaves on R St & Cambridge Place like the cars have been covered with butter. A Christian Scientist tries to plot my personality on a chart. It doesn’t fit.
1992-Nov-15: The National Gallery’s West Wing. A room full of great paintings by the likes of Sloan & Bellows, incl. ‘The lone tenement’ and one of Bellows’ fight paintings. A Sloan painting showing the El at night. The English collection is not large but there are some interesting items. A Joseph Wright Italian scene with unusual light effects which seem to mimic screen-printing and photography though predating both. Another histrionic Fuseli. Constable’s ‘Wivenhoe Park’. Then some pre-Revolutionary French works. Boucher is terrible, but Fragonard I like a lot. There is a pair of paintings showing aristocrats playing outdoor games where the figures are small beneath towering trees and sky. Across the corridor the 19th century French holdings are good. Some nice Corot. A couple of Fantin-Latour works – much better than anticipated. A Manet I’d never seen reproduced of a crowd in suits at an opera party. Mary Cassatt – several works – very strong composer of pictures (like Manet & Degas). You can see the pull from mid-century to justify painting as painting and the paths taken to do this – the structural (Manet, Degas) and the light/colour breakup (Monet, Seurat) – coming together in a painter like Cézanne (and there’s a magnificent room of his work). Taking Redon and Gauguin into account, the work in this period foreshadows practically everything the twentieth century came up with from Cubism to colour-field & minimalism (a Courbet of all things).
1992-Nov-16: Back in the National Gallery. Duccio & Sasetta stand out among the earliest works. Sasetta reminds me of Ken Searle. Interesting to observe just how different approaches and techniques can be: the surface manner of Signorelli for example. A great Medici bust by Verocchio. Portrait by Giorgione & Titian. The mannerists had to figure on something different – technique (patina) & verisimilitude had been pushed about as far as possible (paintings in which brush strokes don’t even seem to have occurred). So things could be done with lighting (Bronzino – who with his appropriate name created skin which seems metallic); above all Tintoretto – and it’s this dramatic approach which is new. El Greco’s ‘Laocoön’ is pretty impressive though in so much of his work the figures look like melted solder. In the seventeenth century – except for Venice – things seem to lose momentum in Italy. Tiepolo is great. 18th C interesting with Canaletto & Guardi, but in the 19th C Italian art just seems to disappear (I mean there’s none of it here, but who can you think of anyway?). Early Northern art seems to suffer from one major fault: the artists are too often boringly literal in their treatment of biblical stuff – sadistic too. Poussin, whom I love, is still, I’d figure, the first academic painter. For him the problem is not how to make a story from the bible come alive or be an admirable object; it’s just ‘how do I put all these kids (cherubs) around the canvas in an interesting way’.
1992-Nov-17: Crossing the P St bridge this afternoon I felt depressed by the passage of time and the closure of possibility. Also the poem which I’ve now finished part 4 of – a sense here of futility. Late in the evening, while I’m unable to sleep, R comes to a blinding illumination about postmodernism when a news item about the death of Superman is broadcast (apparently S meets his maker in a cartoon).
1992-Nov-19: Museum of American Art. A show of work by Romaire Bearden. It’s good – an artist who developed circuitously from 40s work which is often very good sub-Picasso sub-Gorky, through 50s abstractions (some ok stuff but not particularly distinctive) to the 60s when, re-absorbing black culture, Bearden produced some amazing photo-collages. Collage remained important in his work from then on, but coupled with luscious colour and design. The work is a kind of retrieval of African-ness from modernism, and a tracing of African-Americanness with such images as the train taking a significant role.
This evening we’re sufficiently recovered to watch TV again – more ‘death of Superman’ (& ‘Mickey Mouse’s 64th birthday’ – an aerial shot of cars in a parking lot assembled in a likeness of Mickey mouse).
1992-Nov-20: The National Building Museum was formerly the military pensions office (post-Civil War) & has a cavernous interior with coated brick columns. There’s a reasonably interesting permanent exhibition on the planning & construction of the city. A model of the Mall circa 1900 shows how a lot of the main features of Washington only came to be built in the 20th century. In 1900 houses took the Mall down to a bottleneck near the Capitol and there was even a railroad terminus with lines south right in the Mall on 7th St. There were also a few more old buildings south of the Mall of which the Smithsonian Castle is the sole survivor. To the north the only building predating 1900 in what’s now the Federal Triangle area is the old Post Office. The houses at the bottleneck tended to be poorer neighbourhoods – not so good an image for the 20th C empire.
The National Museum East Wing has a nice open feel & there’s a whole little chapel of Rothkos. But I’m there for the screening of a documentary about Ezra Pound (‘E.P.: American Odyssey’). There’s some good footage in this 1983 effort, and interviews mainly with Laughlin, Kenner, Mary de Rachwiltz, Olga Rudge & Basil Bunting. BB is good on the middle Cantos: Jefferson, interesting and amusing, Adams, less so, the Chinese Emperors, tedious enough to stop you reading on.
1992-Nov-21: [Brooklyn: ] Basil King was born in Britain in 1935, experienced the Blitz, and moved with his mother to the States. Martha is from Virginia/Nth Carolina. B walks with a stoop and a compensating limp in his left leg because he was a caesarian, his shoulder nerves pinched by the doctor. The Kings are great people – they’ve been together for thirty years or so and shout at or over each other constantly. After dinner look at books, issues of Giants Play Well In The Drizzle [edited by Martha] &c talk on till late. It’s refreshing to hear B’s take on the Poundian thing; that, in a sense, it’s over; that we really are left to our own devices & responsibilities. It’s not that EP was anti-Semitic, it’s more that his whole program, the idea of setting out reading lists, orders to the troops was, like the approach of a number of the great modernists, fascistic. He’s good on Olson too (they met at Black Mountain – B & M that is – in its failing years).
1992-Nov-22: Leave phone messages for Michael Heller and Larry Weider (who may well have left town for the holiday). Then I walk up 7th Ave in the increasing rain and along Vernon St to the Brooklyn Museum. All around this part of town there are signs for fallout shelters – these date from the 1950s & most of the shelters aren’t there anymore. There’s a Max Weber show – his cubist years – which is interesting, the best things being the later (1915-19) work where the moves were no longer exercises in a style. Upstairs there’s an interesting show of the work of Bazille (who died young in the Paris 1870 fighting). Some very good work amid things a bit too academic in tone. Things that might have led who knows where – like the works where he picks up on Delacroix (as did Cézanne) – would he have pushed this further?
I read out the first two sections of the new work [Memorials]. The Kings like what it’s doing and think it’s ok, though Basil notes that ‘you’re not there — there’s no “call me Ishmael”’ anywhere in the poem’. Before going to the Museum I’d looked at some of Basil’s art – a series of self-portraits which he’s working on along with a long poem which he’ll copy for me to take to August and read myself, and some small works he’s hoping to do in a book by themselves. He hasn’t even got a gallery or dealer – nobody much buys his work because it doesn’t fit the current gallery styles.
1992-Nov-23: Basil stopped painting for a while – destroyed a lot of his abstract expressionist canvasses, partly to get away from them, partly because he couldn’t afford to store them. Finally he took off from some pre-Columbian art he saw – not in the sense of Picasso appropriation – the works were too remote for that – and from a culture which saw holiness in downs syndrome children and painted their images. Through this he returned slowly to figuration and stepped out of the SoHo art registers. A baseball painting was exhibited in a show of art, literature and baseball, and by the end of its two-year tour, the ex-Pro who had accompanied it to talk about baseball bought B’s painting.
Late in the morning I catch an F train to midtown. Walk up to W44th and eat at the diner just along from the Iroquois where I had breakfast in 1987. Then further to W47th where I buy a couple of books at the Gotham Book Mart. Then I take the F back all the way to Coney Island. In the evening I phone back Michael Heller and arrange a meeting. Then B reads all he has written of his long poem (‘Mirages’). He has spoken a lot about moving away from collage (& this is the Pound/modernist legacy), and they see my poem doing this as well, though in a very different way. Also the possibility that mine will keep going; that I’ve gotten deep into something. It’s encouragement and maybe there’s some seed in this of what alienated John F & Scripsi from the work.
1992-Nov-24: On East 57th see a small show of Morandi works – a couple of the late still lifes and a very minimal pencil sketch are really good. In the same building there’s a show by George Tooker whom B had mentioned: ‘Tooker’s Women’, with work stretching from around 1946 to 1992. These are weird pictures – mostly reddish tones, but even the exteriors have the quality of artificial lighting. ‘Toilette’ from 1962 is positively spooky. It’s like a modern Susannah and the Elders. ‘Odalisque’ – beautifully painted with the textured cloth around the woman’s half-figure like something out of Vermeer. ‘Dance’ from 1946 is a night scene with a death figure, but what makes it interesting is its local feel (big city America) with women in decidedly forties fashions and upswept hairstyles, and the stasis of blown bits of paper hanging in the foreground: death-in-the-midst-of-life. Figures of dancers from the early fifties have that strangeness as though Ingres had painted the high-school hop. It’s a great show though not without its failures: paintings which are overwhelmed by social conscience and which become simply exercises in melodrama.
I meet Michael Heller at his workplace, the American Language Institute (NYU) on Washington Sq. we go to the new Cedar Bar and acquaint ourselves. He’ll send me some things – a book of essays he’s about to get reprinted [Conviction’s Net of Branches – on the Objectivists. Heller had included a piece of mine in his edited collection of essays on Carl Rakosi: Man & Poet].
1992-Nov-27: A letter out of the blue from Ed Dorn saying nice things about my work and asking for some ‘Roman’ type things for a new magazine.
1992-Nov-29: Further investigation of the East Wing of the National Gallery makes me tend to agree with Basil: that IM Pei who designed it meant it more as a monument to himself & his architecture than as a functioning gallery. Despite the cavernous – Piranesi-like – interior, or perhaps because of it, there’s not actually that much gallery space. The bridges and balconies also have the disconcerting feel of having been designed for people to look at other people rather than at art (to look at people looking at art). An exhibition on the Indian Frontier has been somewhat mis-curated. The advertising and even the initial information boards give the impression it’s going to be about the European/Indian conflict. But it’s really a collection of Indian artefacts and not a particularly large one. Having said that, there are items here of great interest. R noted the size of most of the moccasins, then some of the clothes – male & female. The traditional movie western image of Indians was that they were at least no bigger than the white men, but these items (c.f. the usual smallness of European garments from the period) would tend to belie that. They tell us of a tall, broad-shouldered people. The most fascinating object was a kind of calendar. A seasonal record, year by year, of what happened in a particular place to a tribe. Each year was denoted by one illustration (of a key event). From the borders of a rectangular sheet the illustrations took a clockwise spiral. A shower of stars correlates to the year of a comet or astronomical phenomenon observed also by western scientists. Further along, two spotted figures show the incidence of smallpox. Later, when the tribe had been settled on a reservation, the illustrations incorporate the monotonous cabin symbol with unusual weather phenomena or more usually the death of an important person.
I’m still stunned by what took place between say a 1903 Picasso figure painting and Kandinsky’s 1913 abstractions. I love it (the move) but don’t understand it. R likes the wonderful Miros. There are a couple of terrific reliefs by Arp. A series of Cornell boxes. And fabulous Gorky. Also early Rothko works which I’d never seen before – not even in reproduction. Back in the basement are the more recent (50s on) works. The Rothko room glows. The Barnett Newman ‘Stations of the Cross’, also in one room, are good. There’s a nice Pollock paint sketch, a Joan Mitchell. Big late Matisse cutouts are a bit potato-print for me – just a bit too rigid c.f. his ‘Jazz’ works. It’s interesting to see a Kline and a Motherwell on one wall, showing just how different temperament can make a painting. Both are good, but while you feel the Kline was the product of decision and was probably executed quickly, the Motherwell is deliberate, as though he splashed some paint down first, then took a long time, spreading and manipulating it (pushing).
Back in Georgetown I finish retyping the corrected 3rd & 4th sections of the poem for, I hope, the last time till we get home.
1992-Nov-30: The Dog takes me up through Silver Springs and Baltimore into Pennsylvania, York, a depressed looking mill town, then Harrisburg, the state capital. Change buses & follow the Susquehanna. Cross it and proceed up the Juniata which, this time of year, is not blue (a la Malcolm Cowley) but somewhat grey. The road cuts with the river through a series of parallel ranges – rocky and steep slopes with patches of scree and signs of geological upheaval. Strange that the river should cut through the ridges rather than run between them. The road climbs across a divide near Juniata’s source, then down into a broader valley before the Appalachians proper, where State College is situated. I’m famished, but no sooner have I stepped off the bus than I’m met by a student who takes me to the campus newspaper office for an interview. The woman who conducts this has four written down questions e.g. What inspires you to write? What do you expect to gain from your visit to State College? – which I answer in roundabout but hopefully paraphrasable fashion (if I’d been of a more Wildean streak I’d have said ‘My dear woman, what does State College expect to gain from me?’).
After another breathless walk I’m deposited in the office of Charles Mann, the rare books librarian, where I manage to get a cup of tea. Charles immediately shows me lots of different pieces of paper detailing the College’s Australian involvements. The library has – remarkably – four of my books (I later add a Home Paddock and an All Blues pamphlet to the holdings). After five he takes me back to his house, not far from campus. It’s a bit musty, full of books and subsiding furniture. I show Charles the Martial and East. Instead of looking at them as examples of the genre ‘book’, he reads them cover to cover. We drive out to a newer area of housing for the reception at John Keller’s place. Elaine Barry who taught American literature at Monash is there. Other Australians, Maree Coleman and a guy (& his partner) from the ACTU (all of these, nice people). Then there’s the English Dept head who proves good value and another Dept academic who is less so. The atmosphere seems a bit stilted though and while it’s good to drink some wine and have a very passable chili bean dish I’m glad to eventually get back to Charles’ place and go to bed. During the course of all this I sense that Charles is going to be good value in this university town.
1992-Dec-01: I have several appointments for the day which I hope to dispense with for a free afternoon. One – which is ominous – is a meeting with Bruce Wiegl, MFA academic and poet who writes, as I note from a review, rather butch (and bad) poems about being in Vietnam. First I check out the Australian & NZ centre. Then John K takes Elaine and I to the library via the old hall which has a WPA period mural inside. Charles will get out their Paul Blackburn materials for me to examine later. But the Wiegl appointment is due and John takes me over to meet him. As it turns out he’s not around and no firm appointment has been made. I wait in the office as a secretary out of American Gothic phones his home and gets him to call back. When he does it’s clear no arrangement was made so I excuse myself but mention the evening’s reading (which he doesn’t get to).
Back in the library I look at the Blackburn materials. There are copies of the early books – The Nets & Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit and a series of letters relating to the Black Sparrow collection Early Selected Y Mas. There’s also a copy of Olson’s Y & X.
Through the day I’ve gotten bits of Penn state’s literary-historical connections. Teachers here have included Roethke, Barth, Heller (Catch-22 originated here). Kenneth Burke had read here after consuming a whole bottle of vodka. It is indeed the kind of locale I can imagine some nervy poet-academic drinking themselves to death in (though I gather Burke is still alive). I walk back to Australian Studies where the ACTU guy has dug out some Aust. news reports for me to look at. Mostly the news is bad – Kennett retaining govt. popularity (though Hewson has slumped & Keating risen somewhat). The High Court declaring Phil Cleary’s status as MP invalid (& throwing in for good measure the invalidity of any candidate with dual nationality). Hewson’s statement that he wants all migrants to be able to recite the national anthem (though Paul Lineham got him on this one: he couldn’t remember the first two verses himself).
Back in the rare book room I finalise my rough reading plan. At 7.30 there’s a reasonable audience. John Keller & Charles introduce me and I run through a couple of ‘Blue Hills’ pieces, some Martial, some short pieces from ‘Puppies’ and ‘Dogs’, sections from The Ash Range, and debut selected passages from ‘At the Bar-Code Ranch’ (which work ‘live’) before winding up with ‘Modernism’ and ‘Square Dance’. A lot of people approach me afterwards. A guy from the Spanish Dept. gives me a mysterious envelope (which contains a book of poems – not bad either). The woman who has been taking photographs says she’d only intended to take a few shots and leave but had gotten interested. A couple of other people who didn’t think they liked poetry are thinking twice about it. The English Dept. head has enjoyed it. All things to all people.
1992-Dec-02: The Vietnamese newsagent here is a former ambassador to Burma. He has appeared as a character in a John Barth novel. The campus is extensive and it has a huge football stadium which apparently is only used for 3 or 4 big games per year. Out further are high-tech parks and housing estates that no academic could afford to live in. Charles drives me out further into the country and through some small settlements, then up one of the ridges into State Forest area. There are guys about in vermilion tiger suits carrying rifles (the brief deer-hunting season is on: later I see a deer tied to the back of a pickup).
On the road to Harrisburg the ski resort seems to have a little snow but I think it’s artificial. I have an hour and a half or so to kill in the state capital but I settle for eats in a diner with bottle blonde waitresses and guys talking in Arabic, then buy a copy of Rolling Stone (a foolish move I make every five to ten years). In the bus terminal a group of Amish people talk Moravian.
1992-Dec-05: Out on the street it’s bracing – my face is still partly numb as I write this. If there were sufficient cloud out there, there would be snow for sure. Tentatively broached in a p/c to John Forbes that I may in a sense be out from under Ezra & that tribe. Basil King’s reception of the poem in process was a great help. But it’s funny feeling like everything I’ve written up to this is still in some way apprentice work. And psychologically, it strikes me that this coincides with the death of my father – though again, this may be pure coincidence – the writing thing was happening anyway. Basil’s take on Pound was good to hear though – that EP never got out of the instructor mode (& that Olson, though he did throw off some aspects of the Pound thing remained a guru figure – this is where Creeley’s importance is clear: he’d shaken all that stuff from the beginning). [Michael Davidson is indirectly good on all of this when he writes about masculinities in American poetry of the late 20th C.] Pound was good enough to grow up with in any case: I could have fallen into far worse traps of influence than his, which at least enabled me to keep what I had intact. Bunting’s perspective (in the EP documentary I saw) was a healthy one – and people like Carl Rakosi and Ed Dorn have all let themselves out from the post-Poundian rock drill.
1992-Dec-07: Read through Basil’s ‘Mirages’ poem and discover a detail I’d missed on his reading: that we share a May 30th birthday. Phone the Kings to recount this and other things & say accidentally (to the answering machine, before B picks it up): ‘This is Laurie Duggan calling from Canberra’.
– Though this turns later, with rain, to slush. Which I walk through, up to Adams-Morgan for my last Washington bookstore – Bick’s on 18th. Pick up the latest Bill Corbett & a collection of essays by James Laughlin. Mail off work for Ed Dorn’s magazine plus a copy of ‘West’. Stay indoors for the rest of the day.
1992-Dec-12: The Phillips Collection. There’s a special show on Georgia O’Keefe & Alfred Steiglitz. It’s good but the leaflets and information on the gallery walls are strangely coy about O’K & S’s relationship; particularly when both artists are so explicitly erotic. The collection as a whole is pretty good. There are several paintings by Marsden Hartley, some Stuart Davis, a room of John Marin and Arthur Dove, including a lot of watercolour sketches. John Sloan’s ‘Wake of the Ferry II’. a group of paintings by Jacob Lawrence from the series ‘Migration of the Negro’ done around 1940-41 (there’s to be a show of this series next year). Miro, Klee, v. good. A couple of big Mediterranean paintings by Puvis de Chavannes which are great. One of them contains sketchy figures and looks just like something Larry Rivers might have painted a century later. There’s a vivid Gauguin of a table with a cut of meat on it. The collection includes the famous Renoir ‘Boating Party’, but in the adjacent room there’s a fantastic big picture by Bonnard. In the same room are some good Vuillard pieces, in particular one of a woman cleaning the floor. A small room of Rothko paintings makes it clear once more that these works are not just for viewing from directly in front. It’s good to have others you can see peripherally, emanating their glow. A Pollock which shows him excavating rather than superimposing paint.
1992-Dec-13: I’m [back in the apartment] with a stomach bug watching the Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys with half a mind.
1992-Dec-20: It’s grey and drizzly but we see a bit of DC on take-off – including our Georgetown block. Also a stretch of foothills but not the Appalachians proper. It’s cloudy all the way to Houston. R has an incessant talker to deal with. I sleep and stare at the clouds. In Houston there’s a quick transfer to the SF-bound flight. Gaps in the clouds somewhere over New Mexico and Arizona (before Flagstaff anyway) enable a view of snow down this end of the Rockies. Snow and Desert. A section of the Colorado River near Las Vegas. Then, really spectacular, the Sierras. Frozen lakes like cups of milk. Cloud over the San Fernando valley, then we’re coming in over the weird coloured salt pans and lakes near Palo Alto. We’re the only passengers on the transit bus and the driver takes us to Pacific Heights, not hearing us saying Frederick instead of Broderick Street. August and I sit up late and drink rather too much.
1992-Dec-21: August receives a card from Helen Garner who’ll be between flights for a few hours in SF on Xmas Day. She mentions the weather in Melbourne being ‘hot — all dry and blue and golden’.
1992-Dec-22: In the evening August has finished annotating the long MS. The first two sections he’s cut by about 80-90%. I can’t really come back with any kind of defence – just that I wanted to write a poem with all the asides & personal bits, not more Blue Hills pieces [August and John Forbes later changed their opinions about this work].
1992-Dec-23: Carl Rakosi looks pretty good. We talk about various things. He’d been back, three years ago, to the Hungarian village where he’d been born & left at age 6 and had remembered various things (all still there and undisturbed).
1992-Dec-25: We get a trolley car to the beach and walk back through Golden Gate Park. At the beach end there’s a gay beat, but only a few guys with aimless airs walking around. We have hot dogs at one of the artificial lakes served by a guy with a big beat-up car, then circle another lake with an island peak in the middle – very oriental – and cut across to the botanic gardens. Here there are sections for SE Asian, S American, Australian, African & Californian plants, including a grove of coastal redwoods which has a beautiful reddish light (from dead leaves), and a scented garden with shrubs you can touch and pick. The Australian boronia smells like air-freshener. The park has a lot of eucalypts and it’s a pleasure to breathe in the smell of oil. We walk out around the weird pink columned Kazar Stadium and back down Frederick St. I prepare a curry with yellow paste, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, beef and snowpeas. Around five, Helen Garner arrives and we talk and eat and pick up the stories on Melbourne’s weather &c. August has meanwhile gone to a dinner at Bill Corbett’s daughter’s place. H gets her shuttle. A is back soon after and he and I return to the party at the Corbett’s briefly. I meet Bill C and also Frances Phillips who’d organized our trip to the USF Poetry Center in 1987.
1992-Dec-26: Bill Corbett comes over – give him some books. After lunch we head for the De Young Museum. There’s a substantial collection of early American art here and a small show of Picasso drawings (this museum has a great room of 19th century US trompe d’oeil works). A quick traverse of the ground floor of the Asian collection (a beautiful white Korean jar) before closing time. When we get back to 325A August and Deborah are out, but the cheeses & biscuits for the party are laid out, and Patrick the cat is asleep in our room with its blasting heater on a towel on top of the suitcase. A & D return then the guests arrive. Talk to a woman from U Cal Press – an editor and a poet who is about to go freelance; another woman, Ann Weber, who’s an artist; Bill Corbett (who extends an invite to Boston if we’re around that way); Thom Gunn, who remembers meeting me in Cole St back in 1987; and William Talcott – editor of Carbuncle.
1992-Dec-27: The Museum of Modern Art is housed in an old civic building (the Veteran’s Building) and is somewhat cramped (it’s to move into new quarters in 1995). There are also signs of quake damage here – a few cracked walls and fallen areas of plaster. Upstairs there are two shows: Jeff Koons, which we don’t look at – what’s visible looks pretty bad – and Diebenkorn which is a good show. You can see how he moved from being an ok abstract expressionist to something of his own. After the fifties he shifts back to the figurative but it’s as though he’s sorting out what it is he wants to concentrate on. Then he brings it back together in the Ocean Park paintings – a kind of concern with delimitation with a colour that washes over things while remaining local. He’s much more interested in form than Rothko who paints as though he wants colour to exist independent of surface. Diebenkorn’s paintings are like tech drawings for a philosophy (rather than a building).
1992-Dec-28: Around 5.30 we head for George Evans & Lissa’s place out in Sunset. After about two blocks a woman rushes to the front of the crowded trolley car saying there’s a fire back in the cabin in one of the destination units. Everyone has to get off. We wait for a little then walk up to Parnassus to try for a cab. No deal. Walk along Parnassus to 9th where the trolleys are back in action. George And Lissa are in good form. Lissa talks about teaching. Crack babies apparently are sensitive to bright colours & stimuli and can go haywire occasionally – not an argument for turning primary schools into dungeons though. George’s Vietnam book is finished but, he says, unpublishable for political reasons. Art talk. A book by a Sth American photographer. And the new series of ‘Streetfare Journal’ [George’s poetry on public transport posters]. Apparently Carl thinks highly of my poems & the commendation from Peter Whigham is amplified.
1992-Dec-29: The slightly extraplanetary air of departure.
Odd things about the US: (1) decorative cabbages (Washington); (2) ‘morning breath’ (ads all over the place)
Lights of Honolulu through cloud. Better than the in-flight movie.