Laurie Duggan 8: England and elsewhere, 2006-2011

  Laurie Duggan 8

  England and elsewhere, 2006-2011

  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.]

Introduction [2014]

Paragraph 1 follows:

Rosemary Hunter had applied for a position at two British law schools and had been accepted by both. We chose the University of Kent in Canterbury. For the first five months or so we lived on campus in a less than wonderful residence: a Tudor farmhouse that had been subdivided into postgraduate flats in the 1970s. Over the winter we had to plug holes in the walls with toilet paper. In 2007 we moved to a house in Faversham, some eight miles away on the London side of Canterbury. The house dated from 1600 and was situated on a pedestrianized street near the middle of the town. I made contact with some of the London reading scenes. The University of Kent also took off as a venue for poetry around the turn of the new decade. In 2008 I began a blog: The actual Graveney Marsh is only a mile or so from here (once out of town only the marshes separate Faversham from the North Sea). Ham Marsh is closer but wasn’t as appealing a title.

Laurie Duggan, 2009, London. Photo by Rosemary Hunter.
Laurie Duggan, 2009, London. Photo by Rosemary Hunter.



2006-Oct-14: [Canterbury, England:] In the Guardian an item on bushfires & drought in SE Australia. Another season’s stock lost. The Darling River almost dry.


So much is still ‘up in the air’. Our possible residence a tangle of legalities. We have the contents of four suitcases plus a small pile of books.


2006-Nov-20: For the peripatetic writer perhaps the journal is the only workable form.



2007-Mar-14: At the British Library, a display of Gael Turnbull’s Migrant Press work (among the work of other small presses). Strange to see early Fulcrums behind glass (Roy’s The Ship’s Orchestra). Then the collaborations, Gael’s later work, the Mallarmé dice, the folded Inscriptions.


2007-May-17: The mystery of Larkin is like the mystery of Les Murray: why, despite their mean-spiritedness, they were clasped to the bosom of the general public? It’s understandable that Whitman and Ginsberg are popular, Yeats and Auden even, but why these two. Do the ‘public’, on the whole, really like these writers? Or do they just buy their books?


2007-Sep-11: I’m reading a biography of Yeats – the recent one by RF Foster – figuring it might make me more sympathetic towards his poetry. If anything it makes me even less interested. What an operator! All that hokey Irishness. I sense that he condemned Irish poetry to its grim (public) present. A bunch of bardic blokes (I use the term for what it implies: an extraordinarily masculinist poetry that makes the Australian version seem liberal – but then how many women poets has Les Murray anointed? Les, who once said he was the greatest poet since Yeats).


2007-Sep-17: Virginia Woolf thought Katherine Mansfield ‘brash’. Mansfield thought the Woolfs (wolves?) smelly.


2007-Oct-01: Ken Bolton and Cath Kenneally are due here any day and are reading Wednesday and Friday nights. I’ve just sent off the MS of ‘The Skies Over Thanet’ to UQP, aware it’s probably too big for them as well as too soon after The Passenger. The title is from JMW Turner and fortuitously there’s an item in today’s Guardian about meteorologists taking note of Turner’s sunsets. Apparently, as JMWT was painting, the atmosphere was affected by eruptions in Indonesia, half a world away. [This manuscript subsequently became Crab & Winkle and was published by Shearsman in 2009.]


2007-Oct-08: Rosemary suggested that the main difference between Ken’s work and mine (though ‘September song’ may be an exception – and it’s the most Ken-like thing I’ve done) is that I seem to work in smaller units of attention. I seldom exceed a paragraph or two without going somewhere else.


John Tranter asks if I want to review Philip Whalen’s Collected. Do I have much more to say? At least I won’t feel the same pressure as I did in reviewing Gael Turnbull. I wanted that one to be good – well I’d want anything to be good, but with Gael I felt even more of a moral responsibility: to him, because I knew him, and to his survivors. It may be harder to revisit Whalen because his example was so important to me for many years. It isn’t so much now, but that’s no reflection on his work (neither is Ezra Pound or Charles Olson). Writing these essays is a strange task coming from Australia, a place where people’s essays are never collected.


2007-Oct-15: Virginia Woolf was in Rough Common [a suburb of Canterbury] – at ‘Moat House’, addressed as Blean, but just off the Rough Common road, in 1910, one of her early breakdowns. The house was rented by Clive and Vanessa Bell. The ‘rest cure’ didn’t work and she went into hospital, but she did write a nice paragraph about the surrounds.


2007-Oct-29: In Saturday’s news magazine, a picture of Gertrude Stein appears the spitting image of Pam (Jane however does not look like Alice B Toklas).


2007-Nov-02: En route to a reading near London Bridge Station I visit a Chinese restaurant in which a well-dressed middle-class black couple get into a screaming match with the staff over something or other. This goes on for a long time as I eat my meal. The police come, but things still seem unresolved. Eventually the couple leave, having paid or not paid, half a meal and half a bottle of wine on the table. This was (for them) to have been a ‘romantic dinner’. At 6pm in a Chinese restaurant?!


2007-Nov-06: At this time of year you always seem to be looking into the sun (if there is any), driving with the visor down or unable to take photographs because of light reflected from water or a building being in complete shadow due to the light behind it.


2007-Nov-20: Spent part of the afternoon reading through the December and January sections of ‘Thanet’ making preliminary edits for Thursday’s reading. I’m really going out without a safety net for this one. Once I start reading these sections I’ll have to continue, regardless of any perceived audience response. I fear the work may be too slight to carry me through. In a month or so I should go over the whole thing again and edit it down further, perhaps 10-20pp even. After that it will have to survive on its own.


2007-Nov-24: London on Thursday: the bare minimum of an audience. Lee Harwood not feeling well and two women nattering behind the bar as he read (Rosemary went over and quietened them). A few more people turn up around nine when the reading is over. Friday’s reading at the University of Kent is better. Rod Edmond and David Herd turn up though the audience is mostly from the Law School.


The big news: Labor has won in Australia and John Howard might be voted out of Bennelong. Kirribili house can revert to customary usage. I have long thought it an amazingly uncommented-upon aspect of the Howard government: that he could live at Kirribili. He initially excused himself with the lame – for a PM – reason that ‘the children were still at school’ … but now they’re all investment bankers, so what’s the current excuse? What would the Australian public have thought if Kim Beasley had become PM and decided to govern from a mansion in Cottlesloe?


2007-Nov-26: The later Ashbery seems like an interrupted conversation, a kind of tic, the narrative refusing to go further. It’s a redoubling through amnesia, a ‘book of forgettings’, of forged things on repeat like a chain of musicals coming to somewhere near you.


2007-Dec-12: What do I retain of my country? Will I ever return? What purchase do I have on this place? Basil King seems to pick up on it – he has his own purchase on England and recognises bits of it in mine. But at the moment I wonder if the Thanet book will see print at all (and can I edit it satisfactorily)?


2007-Dec-23: The English Surrealist painters invariably dealt with the seaside. Surrealism was almost washed ashore from France.



2008-Jan-01: Recovering from New Year’s Eve at Wade [Mansell] and Sarah’s. A gift: a 1947 Australian promotional ‘coffee-table’ book, modernist design in the style of Douglas Annand – though not by him – marginal drawings, photomontages. Aborigines photographed ‘in their natural setting’. What, I wonder, was the ‘natural setting’ of white people?


2008-Jan-15: A moment on the bus where the streaks of green and brown and the rain across the windows becomes the one and only moment. A strange happiness. Then I have to get off and walk through Canterbury. Collapsed umbrellas in bins.


2008-Jan-19: JH Prynne seminar on translation. Prynne is late, spotted on a Liverpool St train (the stopping one) at Cambridge. The other speaker notes the curiosity of the expression ‘in its own right’ (as in ‘this translation is a poem in its own right’) – it ends up meaning the opposite of what it intends. Prynne talks of how modern Chinese poets have internalised Ezra Pound’s mistakes. He says his French translator refused a visit – ‘if we meet our acquaintance will become anecdotal’.


2008-Feb-12: A great furore erupts over John Kinsella’s scheduled Penguin anthology. Alan Wearne, Adamson and Anthony Lawrence among supposed others are refusing to give permissions. JK wants only one poem of mine – and that a translation. But, being here, it’s a bit foolish to refuse – it would be easy enough for editors to forget me altogether. At least Pi O will be in it.


2008-Mar-03: The ‘Blue Hills’ poems went down well at the Swedenborg Institute. I’d tended not to read them in Australia: they seemed too ‘slight’ or too undemonstrative for audiences there.


2008-Mar-12: These days I can see the young people in older people. Only occasionally can I see the old in the young (and that’s usually a bad thing).


2008-Oct-21: In Berlin sales of Das Kapital are up by 300%. In Faversham, five closed shopfronts.


2008-Nov-19: What troubles me about Jackson Mac Low’s methods is the mere thought of method. It seems essential that these works enunciate their principles of construction i.e. primary text, letter selection & secondary text. But is the knowledge of this supposed to bolster our appreciation of the result? If so are we admiring it because it fills the brief or are we admiring it for what it is? The two things are not necessarily compatible. Mac Low realised at a certain point that there was no such thing as the purely aleatory, that the first principle of chance was already an aesthetic decision.


2008-Dec-02: Francis Bacon became fixated. There’s something wrong too in Lucian Freud being the Grand Old Man of British art. He ought to be a peripheral figure (& so should Hockney).


Charlie Watts, dapper in Hatchards bookshop,
a South London accent that may have been worked on.


2008-Dec-18: Pint of porter. A mild night, still 11° on the street. We will be picked up tomorrow by an ex-SAS man who runs a valet service. What will heat be like? What will the geography be like? The feeling of the natives under their new-ish government? Optimism? Pessimism? How much longer, I wonder, will it be possible to traverse the hemispheres? Will it become like it was for the 1950s expats: a long boat trip, not to be done with any frequency?


2008-Dec-20: Amid the muzak in Hong Kong airport, a tepid version of ‘The Red Flag’. [I was informed later that it was probably O Tannenbaum, but that spoils a good story.]


2008-Dec-24: [Melbourne:]

Wattle birds barking in Williamstown.
A crested pigeon.
The newsagent sells bait.


2008-Dec-26: The question of how I relate to Australia, not in any nostalgic sense (missing the weather, the beach &c) but in the sense of what I intellectually take from t/here. Is it a kind of grounding that makes everything I write relate back? If so, it means that my work may be ‘exotic’ in the UK, that people may like it even, but that it can never really be ‘essential’ for anyone else.


2008-Dec-27: Is there really any need for us to trudge through 19th century colonial poetry anymore? As a child I was punished by these endless ballads and clunky verses. I didn’t get an inkling of what poetry was until years later with Keats and TS Eliot. Henry Lawson was a good prose writer, but I can’t see how he, ‘Banjo’ Patterson and the rest of these poets can be resuscitated, ever. I would much rather read the diaries of the 19th century colonists than the poems.


All week, no movement
in the army depot.
Exotic birds over khaki trucks,
yellow boats on their trailers
ready for what?


The containers have left the Bay.
The Bellarine’s a smudge, past the
wartime bunkers.


Ships move through the trees



2009-Jan-04 (or 05) [Sydney:] Earlier: the mountains. Crimson rosellas. The rooms of Pam and Jane’s house. Today: yum cha. A drive around the coast.


2009-Jan-07: [Faversham:] The snow from two nights back hasn’t melted. Interesting to see what plants seem to have survived well – lavender, thyme, oregano. Tarragon dies naturally in winter.


2009-Feb-05: A blog entry on Kinsella’s Australian anthology brings forth a series of responses from a mad anon. person who has done this before, months back. I halt the exchange at a certain point and ‘he’ (it has to be a he) writes a final (unpublished) response:


Yes i do have a name, and no i’m not going to be revealing it – yet. You know how it is- speak your mind in the poetry world and risk having your head blown clean off – such are the fragile egos we are dealing with.


That in itself is a sad comment on the state of poetry in Australia.


So i guess that’s the end of our conversation such as it was.
I respect your openness – a lot more than i can say for others in the clique.

Thanks also for your concern for my mental health but I can assure you- i’m far crazier than you could ever give me credit for.


2009-Feb-11: If I have always envisaged work as music why do I still fear abandoning a patina of sense? The poems on the surface are ‘documentary’, but documents themselves don’t ‘last’. We don’t read the poets (for the most part) for insights into the contemporary (though they ignore the present at their own peril).


2009-Feb-19: I’m lined up to write for festschrifts on Roy Fisher (November) and Gavin Selerie and Alan Halsey (end of March). Wish I could do the latter but doubt I’m up to it. The feeling of being a foreigner is beginning to seep back. [The volumes were: Peter Robinson (ed), An Unofficial Roy Fisher, Exeter, Shearsman, 2010; and David Annwn (ed), Salamanders & Mandrake: Alan Halsey & Gavin Selerie at Sixty, Wakefield, IS Press, 2009.]


2009-Mar-03: Now, I suppose, is the moment I stop being an observant tourist and become an ignorant local.


2009-Mar-23: David Miller’s DVD interview with Ken White [Melbourne based jazz guitarist and singer]: a good two hours covering much ground. He is very generous to me in it and I don’t know that I deserve it really. His own history has parallels but it is also a singular one. Though he doesn’t labour it you feel he hasn’t had the easiest existence (compared, for example, to my own charmed life). It’s good background too for an understanding of ‘Spiritual Exercises’ [Miller’s ongoing series of prose-poems]. His move from Buddhism to the Lutheran Church (the latter choice partly because of the particular musical policy of a church near St Pauls).


2009-Apr-02: At the National Portrait Gallery a room labelled simply ‘contemporary poets’ consists entirely of Faber authors.


2009-Apr-08: Today’s Guardian reports on what is ‘allegedly’ a police killing with its abundance of filmed and photographed evidence in the face of an early cover-up is a depressing and, one suspects, soon to be familiar by-product of the ‘war on terror’. It brings back the memory of what I thought was a very Australian attitude to the police within my own family. A cousin had joined the force and, at the wake after my mother’s funeral, my uncles made jokes about the ‘copper’ in their midst. This may well have been a product of the ‘convict stain’. By then my consciousness had also taken aboard Marxist notions of the police as ‘class traitors’, the ‘lumpenproletariat’ if you like. Still I fantasised – imagined at least – that the police in Britain occupied a different imaginary world. Imported children’s literature provided images of the ‘bobby’, a kindly fellow in a strange hat who would help you if you were lost. This image, I later realised, was a middle-class one, devised by people for whom the police were allies, and that for the working class these same figures may just as well have been malign ones. Nonetheless, even on visiting Britain for the first couple of times there seemed a significant difference in reciprocal attitudes from and toward ‘the force’. New Labour’s war on terror put an end to any such thoughts. Since then the image of the police officer has become inseparably related to helmets, shields and body armour; to belts laden with various anti-personnel devices. I keep thinking back to Australian police-speak too (the argot of a particular subculture where men and women became for no ascertainable reason ‘male and female persons’ or worse, just ‘males’ and ‘females’. ‘Female what’, as a friend once said).


2009-Apr-16: The black poplar’s leaves start as reddish-brown then become green. The trees seem luminous at a distance. The dark green leaves on the forest floor are dog’s mercury.


I’ve been reading – skimming in places – Andrew Duncan’s most recent critical book [The Failure of Conservatism in Modern British Poetry, Salt, 2003]. Duncan’s argument tends to start at a base rather than develop from existing arguments. He returns to first principles in a manner foreign to the academic critic. This can reveal contradictions the more ‘sophisticated’ take on things might not do. He’s also an often slapdash prose writer, a product I suspect of haste. Alongside the autodidactic virtue of explaining things run poor referencing skills (for instance introducing a critic as in ‘as Smith’s book said…’ (Who is Smith? What book?) as though the reader is already aware of all this. Sometimes he’s just nuts!


2009-Apr-21: At Wilgate Green, between Throwley and Painter’s Forstal: small white butterfly with bright yellow wing-tips (m. orange tip, the f. has grey tips).


2009-Apr-22: The Guardian has an article about trade agreements debasing Australian literature (everything to go through American spell and consciousness check).


Modern pop: you won’t recognise the artist, but you will the genre.


2009-Apr-23: [St Ives:] St George’s Day (start of the asparagus season).


The Tate: Ben Nicholson: broad work with precisionist detail. From the café the rooftops become Nicholson-like with the flat peninsula to the north and Godrevy lighthouse behind. Everybody is overlooked.


2009-Apr-25: St Ives grows on me (the light and colour mostly) as it did on the artists.


2009-Apr-29: One suit to another on the tube, London: ‘are they sending you anywhere good or to Eastern Europe?’


2009-May-12: Noted (to Ken) the obverse of the feeling that my writing is from a space other than here: that in England I feel happier about reading ‘Blue Hills’ poems which always seemed too undemonstrative for the boisterous Australian reading scene. I keep note of what’s going on in Australia but I don’t identify with it to any extent. It’s ‘where I come from’, which is important, but it’s not a continuing ‘major influence’. My influences, apart from my friends, have always been from elsewhere.


2009-May-15: A Way of Life: Kettle’s Yard (Jim Ede) (that I visited in 2006, months before moving here). It occurs that the principle behind a lot of my writing is not unlike the principle behind this museum. [The book, dealing with the house and collection of Ede, was published by University of Cambridge, 2007.]


Gavin [Selerie] notes that Ron Silliman told the audience at Birkbeck he’d read with Simon Armitage (no sense that the Birkbeck crowd mightn’t be impressed by this). It seems to mean either that he thinks all Brits are the same (unlikely), or that they all collude in some way (unlike himself) with the ‘School of Quietude’. Will Rowe had problems with Silliman’s injection of the personal into everything. Maybe, like Robert Lowell (a comparison S would detest), he feels himself, through nationality perhaps rather than (in Lowell’s case) family, to be at the centre of all things?


2009-May-18: The death recently of Robin Blaser. All I remember of him is a goodish small book, Cups, and a dreadful and interminable essay appended to the old Black Sparrow Collected Books of Jack Spicer (one of the virtues of the new collected Spicer is that it doesn’t include this piece). The Spicer-Duncan group must have taken some navigational skills. You can only respect Joanne Kyger for negotiating this often gynophobic set. I’m still suspicious of ‘magic’ though I’m prepared again and again to give RD and JS a chance (‘magic’ in retrospect seems more a device of nascent gay culture than a practice of any importance for poetry).


Could there be a philosophy centred on this kind of writing: that it is a kind of recycling, making use of observational and conversational detritus? ‘The poetry of lists’ as Kate Lilley said [reviewing Under the Weather]. A poetry some people might throw away.


2009-May-21: National Gallery. Corot’s ‘Four times of day’. ‘The bent tree’ (Corot) was a family favourite. We had a reproduction. At that time I’m sure I didn’t know that there was ‘real’ art out there and thought the reproduction was art itself. And seen (as well as close-up) Seurat’s ‘Bathers at Asnieres’ at a great distance down corridors.


2009-Aug-21: Tate Modern. The Italian Futurists are the ones whose work links back more obviously to the past; at least the immediate past of symbolism (which to Marinetti would have been an anathema). The big Léger (‘La Noce’) is far bolder than most of the Futurist work and there’s more humour in Malevich’s canvasses. Note that the energy in Boccioni’s ‘The city rises’ emanates from horses, not machines. For the Cubists: the point of rest amid the turmoil of shapes is the important thing (though for Jacques Villon the facets become splinters of light). David Bomberg’s ‘In the hold’ could have been done in the 1970s.


2009-Aug-27: It may be that the Italian Futurists’ greatest achievement was in typography. There’s still a charge in seeing these transgressive texts.


2009-Sep-02: All my books about Australia are up in the attic (with the novels). There’s a sense that I can’t consult them; that I can’t, as yet, write anything reflective about my birthplace. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Moving elsewhere is supposed to stimulate memory, to allow fresh perspectives. In my case it’s as though a door has slammed shut. So a whole resource (my country) or what I thought was a resource turns out to be unavailable.


Paradoxically perhaps, I find myself the inhabitant of Kent, a county no-one I’ve met knows a lot about. A ‘home county’ but off the radar of many British writers despite its history (Ford, Conrad &c). History asserts itself in one particular: the Kent coast was for years accessible more by sea than by land. Hence association with smugglers, escaping Kings &c. And only an hour and a bit out of London, where they seem to know more about Yorkshire.


2009-Sep-06: [Prato:] 6.50pm, the streets towards the Duomo are starting to fill. ‘Libandi’ (the bar) equals what? Is it a personal name – no, it’s ‘ars’ not ‘bar’. I made a really dumb mistake the first night here saying ‘Mi chiamo fusilli’ instead of ‘vorrei . . .’. That’s how much Italian I have forgotten. This street is about as quiet as it is possible to be in a town like this (though this town IS quiet c.f. Firenze. It’s Monday, the night before Prato’s big annual event centred round the Virgin’s girdle, supposedly deposited here. It’s strange being in a town that houses the European branch of my alma mater, Monash. But here I am, sitting at a table in this quiet street, the Centre’s cocktail party on just around the corner. Pigeons circle above the eaves (eavesdropping: I hope not). What would it be like living in a place like this? I sense that it would be no more difficult than living in England where I am possibly distanced by a shared language. Here language would be a different problem (would I be thus able to think like an Australian? Would I feel closer to an imagined Australia?). A poodle passes: an animal manufactured with black pipe-cleaners. I’m still the only person here at 7.25. Tomorrow, the day of the girdle (‘so why am I shaking?’). 7.40. The bells ring out. A man staggers out of an alley (seemingly). The pigeons continue their racket. The night of the girdle (though some commentaries call it a ‘belt’ which is slightly less glamorous). You cannot enter a church with bare shoulders (so the guides say).


2009-Sep-09: What hope is there for the kind of post-Poundian writing that I do (PP with a dash of O’Hara perhaps)? The writing schools that dominate the scene tend towards either old-school confessionalism crossbred with new formalism, or with Language inflected work or ‘flarf’ even. Sometimes there is a catholic yet unholy mess of all of these things. They are the kinds of writing that can be taught of course. My own kind doesn’t lend itself to the contemporary academy and I’m sure there are many younger people out there for whom it draws a complete blank.


Earlier, in the Duomo (Prato): the brilliance of Lippi’s chapel, the curious stiltedness of Ucello – who was not good at depicting people. Pisano and Gaddi’s great Chapel of the Sacred Belt, with a view of Prato.


2009-Sep-23: [Faversham:] Greg O’Brien & Jen Bornholdt & Felix & Carlo to appear tomorrow. I looked at Felix’s blog on their trip and fear we may not have anything very interesting to show them. I think of all the local walks I love and they seem shabby now (though I still love them: but that’s because I know what they’re like in different seasons). I realise that all walks are like those Jocelyn Brooke must have ventured on. The telling is a large part of the experience (and he could make the very ordinary sound enthralling). [Brooke was the author of The Orchid Trilogy, a semi-autobiographical work set in southeast Kent and published in the late 1940s-early 1950s. Lee Harwood had put me on to this book.]


The worst commandment of Capitalism: Look busy.


2009-Sep-28: Kurt Brereton has got underway a possible exhibition of ‘the Coalcliff years’ at the Woollongong Art Gallery. I sent Ken diary extracts plus bits of ‘Blue Hills’ and Memorials that deal with that period. It was a brief thing really, though it seemed long at the time. [The exhibition was held in 2011.]


Don’t sleep with a drip


Almost two months ago my Aunt died, so I hear today via my cousins. They’d lost my address and only found it among her effects. Christine’s letter has exhaustive details about the state of her mother’s bowels and there is a DVD of the funeral service included. I doubt that I will watch this though it’s thoughtful for her to have included it. The parcel arrived this afternoon and when I glanced at the handwriting I initially thought it was something from Ken Bolton. When I was young my Aunt was my favourite correspondent. We would shuttle parodies, drawings, jokes, all sorts of things backwards and forwards. Then I lost contact altogether (with a brief encounter at my mother’s funeral) until we moved to Brisbane in 2000 and I got in touch. I’d remained so, very intermittently, since. Esma’s e-mail would never work and I am a terrible letter writer and telephone conversationalist. I imagined when we moved to Britain that hordes of my cousins would descend but this didn’t happen. E is/was the last of my aunts/uncles. She was one of four. My father was one of ten. My aunt was no saint – or maybe she was (just not on my terms). She was attracted to fundamentalist Christianity (the move to Brisbane from Hobart was not totally unrelated to this). Her husband John (who predeceased her by decades) delighted in my father’s arrival in Brisbane because it meant he could have more than one drink and would indeed have to keep Dad supplied. Her daughter ended up being a barmaid for at least a small part of her life. So I drink to my Aunt.


2009-Oct-14: The big Macquarie Pen anthology turns up. I can’t quite figure the reason for its existence, as flattering as it is to be included in quantity in this slab of a book.


A diatribe on ‘the new lyric’ in Pam’s blog. And Mr Anon appears here with his bile. Why does he read all these things if he hates them? He always takes something benign that you’ve written and tries to turn it into something it isn’t (an instance of evil).


2009-Oct-22: A poetry questionnaire from Michael Brennan [for Poetry International Web]. I’m worried again about the absence of poems and my interview reflects this. Partly there’s the feeling of not having an audience (though this isn’t entirely true). Perhaps it’s got more to do with the sense of my own relevance or otherwise. I spent Tuesday in London. Lunch with David Miller and a stroll with him through the Cork St galleries and Foyle’s bookshop. Then later, meet August Kleinzahler, Lee Harwood and Michael Carlson at the Plough and progress to A’s reading at the London Review bookshop. David M commented earlier that the ‘young poets’ seem not interested in any older poets. In my own time I hated the ‘establishment’ (still do to some extent) but I did make room for older living poets, even ones with very different poetics (like Peter Porter or James Merrill) whom I had some respect for. I think David’s mostly right, and reading the UK Poetry list it often seems as though the old, while occasionally making interventions, are not included in the conversation. [UKPoetry was an online discussion list moderated from the US by Keith Tuma]. August’s reading was good (can he do otherwise?). Michael Carlson I hadn’t seen since 1987 (he published a broadsheet of mine in his Northern Lights series). It’s always good to catch up with Lee who I think often has the same kinds of doubt that I do. At the LRB shop a guy approached Lee, seeming like an operator (‘I also write poems’). It turned out to be the person who is supposed to be reviewing my book for Jacket [he didn’t].


2009-Oct-28: ‘What would I be if I weren’t a writer?’ (Robin Blaser’s question, via his poems which look a lot better to me now (after my jaded reception of his essay on Spicer in the Collected Books of JS). This would be a good question to follow on from. What were the options (once, now, whenever)? I don’t think I had the faintest idea by the time I went to university. I wouldn’t have even seen ‘writer’ as a profession then. I once wanted to be a veterinary surgeon, once a cartographer. A rock musician (bad choice seeing as how I don’t stay up late). A recording engineer (possible once, given my uncle’s profession). I don’t think I ever really wanted to be any of the things I ended up doing apart from the writing. My attempts to become an academic were half-hearted at best, though I did feel for a while that this is what would happen. I don’t think potential employers saw the academic in me or were maybe only too aware that for me it would only be a day job.


2009-Nov-03: A further browse at recent entries on the UK Poetry site is cause for depression. The central crew on this list (though it’s moderated from the States) are the younger Cambridge cadre, unrelentingly knowing. Keston Sutherland reminds me of an ageing Harry Potter (Harry Potter & the Temple of Smugness).


2009-Nov-30: The backyard soil hasn’t dried out for weeks – it’s all sodden, though the primulas and various other plants seem to like it. The Xmas lights are on. The town adolescents are slightly mad. I actually welcome the darkness, the season. It makes sense of everything else.


2009-Dec-16: [ Paphos, Cyprus:]. My theory about this place: the original inhabitants have been sucked up into space and replaced by pod people (the English). Only a few natives have been retained to run the bars, restaurants and other services. The food, all else, is designed for pod tastes.



2010-Jan-28: Finally the old manuscript (One-Way ticket) is divided into publishable (?) segments. ‘Angles’ is still sitting with Sam Ward in Nottingham; three others are under consideration with Angela Gardner (she’ll do one of them). Apart from these there are loose poems, ‘Letter to John Forbes’ and the Jonathan Williams piece plus the two lots of short pieces, ‘Loony Tunes’ and ‘Bin Ends’. There’s some five years of stuff in there, some of it Australian, some English.[The Jonathan Williams piece was ‘Written in a Kentish Pub on Hearing of the Death of Jonathan Williams’. All the mentioned pieces appeared in The Pursuit of Happiness, Shearsman, 2012.]


2010-Feb-02: Yesterday, sunlight, a walk. Bitten by a dog near Monkshill.


plant snowdrops


snowdrops eaten by pheasant (partly)


Population of UK c. 60 mill (Scotland 5. something; Wales 2. something; northern Ireland less than a mill – though they make a lot of noise. All this, among other details, to be learned for the citizenship test. Pity I can’t just submit Crab & Winkle. [I became a dual citizen in 2010. At the ceremony in Maidstone the local government people seemed more interested in one’s becoming a citizen of Kent. A rotund gent leaned over to me and said ‘we’ve got a bloody good cricket team’.]


2010-Mar-08: I should try to get back to Australia for the Coalcliff exhibition in Wollongong 2011. We are ‘famous’. Ken and Sal’s house, long demolished, that looked like it would slip into the sea at any moment. Our stoned exercises are now authenticated art works. I can’t imagine a gallery would want to do an exhibition based on the ‘Canberra Poets’. Is this ‘romanticism’? Are we, simply, more ‘picturesque’ than the Canberra crew? No, we were (and are) more interesting (and intelligent) than them.


2010-Mar-30: Bill Corbett is to do a new edition of The Epigrams of Martial at Pressed Wafer, Boston. This, the work of August Kleinzahler, who only contacted me about it a week ago. Angela Gardner and Kerry Kilner are going to do Leaving Here, a small book consisting of ‘Thirty Pieces’, ‘One-way ticket’ and ‘The London Road’ (their selection and a good one). Then, items in Southerly (poetry issue) and Chris Kelen’s anthology of Chinese translations (Fires Rumoured About the City).


2010-Apr-01: Method is what unites the work of the Language Poets with that of the Writing School psychobiographers. These are both ‘teaching’ poetries. The Grand Piano project [a collective autobiography] is Langpo’s attempt to have it both ways. The ego returns through the back door.


2010-Apr-08: A bad movie about Keats (Bright Star, directed by Gillian Armstrong): the poets, a mumbling society of greeting card authors. So much is implied by Fanny’s stitching but nothing is done with it. The flowers bloom out of season and the young girl doesn’t grow up. Bright Star indeed.


2010-May-13: We are governed by an unholy alliance. Foreign Affairs: a Eurosceptic who looks like a jockey but sounds like a horse (William Hague); a Prime Minister of whom a cartoonist said: draw a large face, then rub out the features and make them smaller.


2010-Jun-22: In London the underground swelters (though the ‘very-fast’ train freezes).


Henry Moore at the Tate: I always felt he veered between the very good indeed and the mediocre. He was always a ‘thigh’ man rather than a ‘tit’ man, though for a sculptor this is probably not unusual (unless you’re Giacometti). His attraction to the ‘mother and child’ theme he suggested himself was because it meant you had to deal with a large and a small figure and their relationship. It is also the closest you get to something that is inside something else until the ‘helmet’ image came along. The holes in figures served a similar purpose: interpenetration, form and void &c. His early work may well be his best though it’s the later work that distinguishes him from sculptors like Gaudier and Laurens. They are the Henry Moore ‘signature works’ (his use of pen, wash and crayon is also pretty distinctive).


Fanny Howe and Tom Raworth read at the Lamb. There must be 80 people in there: a room not much bigger than our living room. Stifling. I have some copies of Martial to give away though I suspect some of the English poets find the encomium from Peter Whigham hard to take. One isn’t supposed to trumpet one’s virtues in such an arrant manner. In Australia (and America) if someone says you’re shit hot you put it on the cover of your book regardless.


2010-Jun-25: I’m just seated in the quiet bar of my local when the madwoman of Faversham enters. She has a stock set of shouted phrases, usually animus toward a (long dead) partner, his drinking, being thrown out of the house. She repeats: ‘any more of that and we’re not coming for Christmas’. Further: ‘she’s a very good willing girl which you’re not Elizabeth’; ‘actually I’ve got some quite nice jewellery at home and I don’t give a damn’; ‘turn on her husband – right old cow he was’. Etcetera for however long.


2010-Jul-07: Nick Pounder’s Catalogue has copies of the first edition of Adventures in Paradise going for some $80. I’ve still got a bunch of them. Steve Kelen’s Final Taxi Review goes for a phenomenal sum. ‘Will our shit return to us in paperback?’


2010-Jul-09: Last night – three ducklings in the yard. Today – eight, plus the duck. With the aid of neighbours the chicks are boxed (to take down to the lake) but the duck is uncatchable. It hangs around at a distance then (worryingly) disappears. I release the ducklings and luckily the duck returns. The pond will have to suffer.


2010-Jul-11: [Paris:] Along the Quai past the Hôtel de Ville to St Germain. Most of the stained glass has been replaced by modern designs since the church was hit directly by a German shell in 1918 (160 people were killed: it was Good Friday). Then via Rue François Miron and Rue de Rivoli to the Hôtel de Sully. Through the archways and courtyards and we are unexpectedly in the Place de Vosges. It is a stinkingly humid 28 degrees. In the evening, R and I look for a bar to eat in but they’re all full, or about to be, for the World Cup Final.


2010-Jul-12: An exhibition in the permanent collection of the Pompidou Centre ‘elles@centrepompidou’ claims not to be specifically feminist though the placements and the categories seem to indicate otherwise. R notes the absence of non-European work (there is some middle-eastern work but most of this re-figures western perspectives). I think the categories and subdivisions work against any surprises the art might offer (a practice redolent of over-curation).


2010-Jul-13: In this street the noise is constant from around nine in the morning until two or three the following morning: vegetable carts along the cobbles, building work, children, drunks and junkies, all more or less following a schedule.


2010-Jul-14: Bastille Day. Tuileries metro is closed and the next stop, Concorde, has several exits blocked. It’s impossible to get to L’Orangerie or the gardens as a police barrage is in the way, in preparation for the end of a military parade. We are funnelled up a side street till we find the metro again at Madeleine, luckily on the line we’d planned to use next. Get to Eglise d’Auteuil and stop for coffee, after which it starts to rain. Stand around in the markets at the Place Jean Lorrain until it lightens enough to move on. Spend the next hour or so viewing buildings by Guimard and others, Art Nouveau, Deco and early modern.


Later it clears. There is still a strong police presence around the Tuileries. Then a number of commandos parachute into the gardens. Behave yourselves citizens, or watch out! Several are seen folding their chutes (with some difficulty).


2010-Jul-23: Big-small press Salt appears to be in financial trouble again and is asking all of us to buy a book or two to put it back in the black. I happily did this in the previous round and will possibly do it again despite reservations. There’s no doubt that Salt has done important work, publishing attractive editions of some very good books that wouldn’t have had much of a chance with the big three or four poetry publishing houses though it has also published a great deal of indifferent work. I wonder whether or not others have had the same feelings as I have when I peruse their list. I know that poetry books can’t be compared strictly with jars of jam but the psychological effect of so much choice together with a limited budget tends to make me avoid rather than regularly peruse the online catalogue. The fact that there are more things I’d like to have than I can reasonably afford means that I buy fewer things than I might do from a shorter list. I know too that Salt has set out to be successful as a capital venture, unlike most little presses which expect at most to cover costs. Perhaps in making this plea for support it is nonetheless operating along lines favoured in the late capitalist world: socialise your losses, privatise your gains.


2010-Jul-31: This morning I had a dream in which I was at a conference in a hotel. I was leaving with another participant when I realised I had left my suitcase behind. I went back but there was no suitcase, only a small backpack. And lots of things that were ‘mine’ that needed to be packed into it. I would miss the train. There were objects that were part of my ‘research’ though these were unwieldy. There were also things like items of food that could be disposed of. But there were so many things. I was sorting these in panic when I woke up, still feeling that there were impossible tasks I had to do.


2010-Sep-27: Editing foam:e [I guest-edited issue 8] I notice a certain kind of American poem, very prosy looking with longish uneven lines. Then there are all those neat post-Williams couplets and triplets, and the usual submission of immense manuscripts. One American said he had published 15 novels and 93 books of poems. He probably paid for all of them from the look of his work. I send emails to friends asking for work and embark on a brutal regime of rejections.


2010-Dec-09: This will be the first time I’ve travelled with a British passport. I’ve acclimatised to some degree and am beginning to feel ‘at home’ (insofar as this is possible). It was always geography that held me. I didn’t feel the pull of nationalism in any other way. This is another of ‘my’ places.


2010-Dec-14: [Brisbane:] R notices the amount of space in this city taken up by roads, interchanges &c. There are innumerable bridges, even, apparently, a tunnel under the river (that nobody uses). But Vida Lahey’s paintings show that Brisbane was always a construction site (the town hall, the William Jolley Bridge – the latter now hemmed in by the Go-Between bridge and a pedestrian bridge to the Gallery of Modern Art [note here it’s Go Between’ not ‘Go Betweens’… and what of the Saints?]).


2010-Dec-15: David Herd’s comments on Ashbery and ‘postmodernism’: that poetry is renewed through community. Hence the personal address and the inclusion of real people the reader mightn’t be expected to know. The ‘occasional’ separates the work from the ‘mythological’ which loses itself in technique. Also, via Pasternak, the idea of poetry as a sponge rather than a fountain. Some of this comes from Paul Goodman’s comments too (in the Kenyon Review of all places). This is the point (late 1940s) where Lowell &c went wrong.



2011-Jan-05: [Melbourne:] An omission from Philip Mead’s account of the Angry Penguins trial (in Networked Language) is the anti-Semitic element coming from the court and from McAuley and Stewart (‘Maxie’, the bright Jewish boy).


2011-Jan-07: Noted, over India, somewhere north of Bangalore: It seems at first as though the plane is flying at an unusually low altitude – but the things that look like buildings are actually large transparent balloons reflecting light from below.


There’s a clear patch of sky over our part of the East Kent coast. The Faversham and Oare Creeks are visible at high tide in from the eastern end of Sheppey.


2011-Jan-10: How do I feel about Oulipian practices, methodologies? All these I know are meant to rescue us from formulae that we don’t even know exist (our preconceptions). But shouldn’t we all be aware of this and trying to escape it. An artificial formula is no defence against the formulaic.


2011-Jan-24: The technique of Tranter’s ‘Baudelaire Variations’ is pretty much Oulipian by regulation, where a set of arbitrary instructions rescues you from the vagaries of psychology. The trouble is that psychology can’t be avoided so easily. At least what these techniques illustrate is a kind of psychology at work. These are the poems of a person who likes systems. But I speak as someone who doesn’t ‘read the instructions’.


2011-Mar-01: South African wine at Gourmet Burger Kitchen in the heart of the neoconservative apocalypse. An article in the Guardian about the impoverishing middle-class where education leads to nothing – maybe a job in a place like this, the sort of thing you would do while studying except now this is it – a doctorate in a burger joint (albeit an ‘upmarket’ one).


2011-Mar-13: Roy Fisher’s ‘City’ when it appeared was an early exploration of ‘edgelands’. Birmingham: a destroyed city either by the blitz or by the roundabouts and dual carriageways. It’s a dream city, if your dreams take that path.


2011-Mar-14: Fisher’s ‘City’ was itself a collaboration, assembled from his materials by Michael Shayer, published in this form, then revised again for book publication by Fisher (and cut down considerably). The prose pieces were once part of a journal.


2011-Mar-28: Poets can do what they like with Collected volumes, but as a reader I’d prefer it if they left things chronological (c.f. Fisher and Rakosi). That is, unless they see their whole work as a kind of epic (like Whitman maybe, though even he should have left it alone).


2011-Apr-04: Alistair Spate [another of my Monash contemporaries] appears from nowhere. Well, Sydney. He claims to have been drunk at all the Monash readings. But he was impressive. I was a plodder.


2011-Apr-05: In The Plough, after seeing the British Watercolour and Susan Hillier shows at Tate Britain. The latter seemed like yet more primarily conceptual work illustrating itself, though in her case the results were a bit better than usual. The watercolour show was large and impressive. Oddities: Daryl Lindsay’s portraits of facially damaged people, Burra’s large interior with figures in masks c. 1941 (it could have been 1970s US pop, in particular Rosenquist).


Someone was taken off the preceding train ‘sick’ at Covent Garden. My train didn’t stop there. Later, as I walked past, the station was closed.


[I travelled to Australia in April for the Coalcliff Days exhibition at the Wollongong City Gallery. An interview conducted by Fiona Bell in August 2011 dealing with my part in the Coalcliff Days appears in Australian Poetry Journal, Feb 02, 2012.]

Left to right: Adam Aitken, Tom Thompson, Pam Brown, Micky Allan, Kurt Brereton, Ken Bolton, Laurie Duggan. Photo Denis Gallagher.
Left to right: Adam Aitken, Tom Thompson, Pam Brown, Micky Allan, Kurt Brereton, Ken Bolton, Laurie Duggan. Photo Denis Gallagher.


2011-Apr-12: [Singapore:] Note that the Qantas sign for the toilets looks startlingly like the Australian coat-of-arms, except it’s a man and woman instead of kangaroo and emu and the shield is a washbasin. The aircraft profile below is the scroll.


2011-Apr-17: [Bulli:] After the readings. A cold night, heavy rain on the roof of the Jehovah’s Witness hall next door. Kurt Brereton’s various ‘rhizomatic’ paintings (like the way I would switch ‘styles’ earlier on). How young we looked in the films and images. But Ken, Pam and I were at least 30.

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