at poeticsresearch.com: all aspects of poetics: Image, above: Penn Station, NYC, Escalator. Photo by John Tranter.
Issue: JPR01, September 2014
The Journal of Poetics Research is an international, generally peer-reviewed, online journal of research in a wide range of disciplines concerned with the theory and practice of literary discourse in culture, media and the arts broadly conceived.
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— Provenance: Original data provided by the main organiser of the Loft readings, Lyn Tranter. Edited by John Tranter, 2014.
This page presents the dates, personnel and some photos relating to twelve poetry readings from late 1982 until early 1984, organised by Lyn Tranter in collaboration with Arnie Goldman, then teaching at NSWIT (now called UTS); about thirty hours of readings by 76 Australian poets in all held on Friday nights at The Loft reading space, NSW Institute of Technology, now the University of Technology, Sydney.
In a letter from Lyn Tranter (then of Lyn Tranter Promotions at Broadway in Sydney) to Paul Brunton of the State Library of NSW (on 17 October, 1991) offering to deposit at the Library a set of flyers and brochures for poetry readings at The Loft at the NSW Institute of Technology (now UTS), Lyn outlined the reading series thus:
‘The Loft’ readings I organised in conjunction with Arnie Goldman in 1982-1984. First I’ll place ‘The Loft’ readings in an historical perspective. I organised the first reading on 29th October 1982. They were held monthly and readers were paid by splitting the door take. In May of 1983 I received a grant from the Literature Board of the Australia Council which enabled me to pay the writers a fee of $25 plus any travel expenses. The last reading was held on the 24th February 1984.
Photo, left: Lyn Tranter, 17 December 1983, at the launch at the Courthouse Hotel, Newtown, Sydney, for Martin Johnston’s book of poetry The Typewriter Considered as a Bee-Trap, photo by Trish Davies.
Photo: Toni Hope-Caten, Annandale, July 1984, photo by John Tranter.
At the time of organising these readings I was in partnership with Toni Hope-Caten and Jenny Doyle in a graphic business called Rat Graffix [in Glebe Point Road, in Glebe, Sydney]. All the art work for the flyers was done at the premises of that business, until I started up a new business on my own – Pavilion Press Set [in Parramatta Road, Broadway, Sydney] – in early 1983.
Please find attached [a summary of] what ‘The Loft’ files consist of. There is a complete set of flyers that were either mailed to people or placed on bulletin boards, in foyers etc. One of the flyers is not an original but a photocopy – [the last reading, on] 24th February 1984.
Thinking of the photos on this page, from the early 1980s, I’m reminded of Proust: ‘A photograph acquires something of the dignity which it ordinarily lacks when it ceases to be a reproduction of reality and shews us things that no longer exist.’ From the mouth of Baron Charlus, from Proust’s great novel. Proust is always much smarter than you think. JT.
Friday 29th October 1982: 5 Readers:
Sasha Soldatow, Alan Jefferies, Geoffrey Lehmann, Joanne Burns, Pamela Brown Photo left: Alan Jefferies, Annandale, July 1984, photo by John Tranter.
Photo below: Sasha Soldatow, Annandale, late 1983, photo by John Tranter.
Photo left, joanne burns
Friday 26th November 1982: 5 Readers:
Mark Young, Gig Ryan, Les Murray, Martin Johnston, Barbara Brooks
John Tranter published Gig Ryan’s first book, The Division of Anger, in 1980. He took the cover photo and designed and typeset the text of the book.
Friday 18th March 1983: 6 Readers:
John Tranter, Joanne Burns, Susan Hampton, Martin Johnston, Meredith Quinn, Derek Strahan
Friday 15th April 1983: 4 Readers:
Robert Adamson, Kate Llewellyn, Tim Thorne, Billy Marshall-Stoneking
Friday 29th April 1983: 6 Readers:
Cliff Smythe, Lyndon Walker, Jenny Boult, Lee Stokes, Dorothy Swoope, Geoff Shera
Friday 27th May 1983: 4 Readers:
John Scott, Laurie Duggan, Chris Mansell, Anna Couani
Friday 24th June 1983: 4 Readers:
Andrew McDonald, Dorothy Porter, Adam Aitken, Neil Murray Note on audio cassette: Edited by Bill Turner for Inprint mag.
Friday 29th July 1983: 4 Readers:
Terry Gillmore, Dîpti Sara (Saravanamuttu), Martin Harrison, Geoff Page
Friday 26th August 1983: 4 Readers:
Vicki Viidikas, Grant Caldwell, Luke Davies, Danny Gardner
Friday 28th October 1983: 4 Readers:
Nicholas Pounder, Donna Maegraith, Mary Fallon, Jeremy Nelson
Friday 25th November 1983: 26 Readers:
Open Reading, 26 people read.
Friday 24th Feb. 1984: 4 Readers:
Nigel Roberts, Jill Farrar, Rudi Krausmann, Gary Dunne
(Photocopy of flyer supplied by Gary Dunne)
Gashed with pocks, scabby — their eyes encircled with green
bags, chubby fingers gripping their
thighs, skulls plated with haughtiness, vague
like the leprous flowerings of old walls —
They are grafted into epileptic loves — fantastic
ossatures fixed to the black skeletons
of the chairs, their feet to the rachitic crossings
of the chairs! They crook there, morning and night!
Old men entwined with their seats — the
vitamin sun makes burlap of their skin,
and, with eyes turned toward winter’s falling snow,
they tremble there, like pinched toads.
But the seats are good to them: shit
brown, old straw yields to their neglected hinds.
Dying suns — swaddled in stalks
of the corn they once fermented — shine for them.
Question marks, knees in teeth — green
pianists — ten fingers rapping a tambourine under
their seats… They sway to sad barcaroles
— their scissored scalps float on these motions of love.
Oh, but what is it that makes them get up? What a clowder
of scolded cats! Whining, stretching
— arise more slowly, Olympic champs!
The trousers puff around their bloated thighs.
And you can hear them: their bald heads
knock the dark walls… They stamp torqued feet
again and again! Their buttons? the eyes of crouched beasts
leering from down salty corridors.
Then they own that invisible hand
that murders — filters black poisons — cursing
the cadaverous eye of the pitiful dog,
so you choke. You are stuffed in obnoxious funnels.
Relaxed, fists plunged
in coarse cuffs — they’ve forgotten what made them get up!
From morning’s aurora to evening, tonsils bunched
in miniature chins — nearly burst with agitations!
When a sleep lowers their eyelids…
they dream of their seats made fecund — petite
lovers waiting in droves! They frisk among chairs to be born
amidst these proud bureaus.
Flowers of ink spit their pollen in commas
and comfort them… the length of crouched calyxes,
the flight of dragonflies by a file of gladioli
— and the barbed ears of corn arouse their penises.
Noirs de loupes, grêlés, les yeux cerclés de bagues
Vertes, leurs doigts boulus crispés à leurs fémurs
Le sinciput plaqué de hargnosités vagues
Comme les floraisons lépreuses des vieux murs ;
Ils ont greffé dans des amours épileptiques
Leur fantasque ossature aux grands squelettes noirs
De leurs chaises ; leurs pieds aux barreaux rachitiques
S’entrelacent pour les matins et pour les soirs !
Ces vieillards ont toujours fait tresse avec leurs sièges,
Sentant les soleils vifs percaliser leur peau,
Ou, les yeux à la vitre où se fanent les neiges,
Tremblant du tremblement douloureux du crapaud
Et les Sièges leur ont des bontés : culottée
De brun, la paille cède aux angles de leurs reins ;
L’âme des vieux soleils s’allume emmaillotée
Dans ces tresses d’épis où fermentaient les grains
Et les Assis, genoux aux dents, verts pianistes
Les dix doigts sous leur siège aux rumeurs de tambour,
S’écoutent clapoter des barcarolles tristes,
Et leurs caboches vont dans des roulis d’amour.
– Oh, ne les faites pas lever ! C’est le naufrage…
Ils surgissent, grondant comme des chats giflés,
Ouvrant lentement leurs omoplates, ô rage !
Tout leur pantalon bouffe à leurs reins boursouflés
Et vous les écoutez, cognant leurs têtes chauves
Aux murs sombres, plaquant et plaquant leurs pieds tors
Et leurs boutons d’habit sont des prunelles fauves
Qui vous accrochent l’oeil du fond des corridors !
Puis ils ont une main invisible qui tue :
Au retour, leur regard filtre ce venin noir
Qui charge l’oeil souffrant de la chienne battue
Et vous suez pris dans un atroce entonnoir
Rassis, les poings noyés dans des manchettes sales
Ils songent à ceux-là qui les ont fait lever
Et, de l’aurore au soir, des grappes d’amygdales
Sous leurs mentons chétifs s’agitent à crever
Quand l’austère sommeil a baissé leurs visières
Ils rêvent sur leur bras de sièges fécondés,
De vrais petits amours de chaises en lisière
Par lesquelles de fiers bureaux seront bordés ;
Des fleurs d’encre crachant des pollens en virgule
Les bercent, le long des calices accroupis
Tels qu’au fil des glaïeuls le vol des libellules
– Et leur membre s’agace à des barbes d’épis
– Texte de la copie de Verlaine (Bibliothèque Nationale, ancienne collection Barthou).
– Première publication parue dans “Lutèce”, 12-19 octobre 1883, avec quelques variantes.
Author’s note: I made three translations from Rimbaud around 1991. One of them, ‘Seven Year Old Poets,’ appeared in my book Angry Penguins in 2000. I’ve only brought this translation to a satisfactory form earlier this year (2014). The third poem, ‘Sisters of Charity,’ still eludes me in English. — B.K.S. 2014.
— Notes, image credits and a bio note are given at the end of this file. Click on the note number to go to the endnote, likewise to return to the note in the text.
— This piece is 9,500 words or about nineteen printed pages long.
— See also Brian Kim Stefans translation of Rimbaud’s ‘Les Assis (The Men Who Sit)’ here.
Paragraph 1 follows:
Author’s Note: This essay was first written in 1996 and updated for its present publication. Special thanks to Ann Lauterbach for her comments on the essay’s first draft back in the 1990s.
Editor note: Notes, Photo credits and bio note at the end.
Walter Benjamin records, in his ‘Conversations with Brecht: Svendborg Notes,’ the playwright’s interpretation of Arthur Rimbaud’s ‘The Drunken Boat’:
[Brecht] compares [Johannes R.] Becher’s poem to Rimbaud’s. In the latter, he thought, Marx and Lenin, too — had they read it — would have detected the great historical movement of which it is an expression. They would have recognized very clearly that it does not describe the perambulations of an eccentric stroller, but the vagabond flight of a person who can no longer endure the limits of his class, which — with the Crimean War, the Mexican adventure — was beginning to open up exotic parts of the world to mercantile interests. To assimilate the gesture of the unfettered vagabond, putting his affairs in the hands of chance and turning his back on society, was patently impossible for the stereotype of the proletarian fighter. [See Note 1]
The ‘stereotype’ Brecht was attacking was that of Becher himself — ‘When Becher says “I”, he believes himself — as president of the Union of Proletarian-Revolutionary Writers in Germany — to be exemplary. Only no one wants to follow the example.’ Brecht had just been explaining to Benjamin how the writer becomes ‘proletarianized, and utterly so’ when ‘the development of his own means of production are concerned.’  Though it is not clear in these notes what Brecht meant by ‘his own means of production’ — is this self-education? the tools of publishing? — Brecht implies that the writer, when writing, developing skills and even publishing, moves from the position of being a consumer to a producer, thus transcending an early class identification. Benjamin himself clarifies this position through an analysis of the newspaper, film and Brecht’s Versuche in ‘The Author as Producer’ (a paper Benjamin Brecht presented at The Institute for the Study of Fascism in April 1934, a few months before this passage of the ‘Svendborg Notes’ was written).
Brecht understands Rimbaud to have been the chronicler of this peculiar class mobility of the artist, though the poet is not engaged in the sort of collective, non-individualistic world struggle of, say, later poets such as the British Christopher Caudwell, Louis Aragon during the French Resistance, or the American George Oppen. That Rimbaud may have been overwhelmed but delighted by the contingencies of this historical movement is apparent in the poem’s most famous quatrain: ‘And from then on I bathed in the Poem / of the Sea, infused with stars and lactescent, / devouring the green azure where, pale / and elated, a thoughtful drowned figure sometimes sinks.  The repetitions in the next group of quatrains, which all begin with the word ‘Je’ — Je sais, J’ai vu, J’ai reve, J’ai suivi — indicate more than the poet’s youthful pride in having ‘seen it all’ but also his experience of ‘the game of possibilities’ (to borrow Baudrillard’s phrase). The poet is in the center of language, at the nexus of the various exchanges that comprise the process of communication, and — in Brecht’s interpretation — is also a symptom of Capitalism’s internal contradictions.
In his short essay ‘Rimbaud as Capitalist Adventurer,’ Kenneth Rexroth records a similar interpretation of the poem, but he is not quite so impressed with the goals of the young poet. Rexroth writes:
He applied to literature, and to litterateurs, the minute he laid eyes on them, the devastating methods of total exploitation described so graphically in the Communist Manifesto. Some of them were not very applicable. He ‘ran’ the vowels like he later ran guns to the Abyssinians, with dubious results. Usually, however, he was very successful — in the same way his contemporaries Jim Fiske and P.T. Barnum were successful. He did things to literature that had never been done to it before, and they were things which literature badly needed done to it… just like the world needed the railroads the Robber Barons did manage to provide. 
Though Rexroth does have kinder things to say about Rimbaud’s poetry — ‘Rimbaud [is] a sort of magician of the sensibility — of that specifically modern sensibility invented by Blake and Hölderlin and Baudelaire — and an innovator in syntax, the first thoroughly radical revealer of the poetic metalogic which is the universal characteristic of twentieth-century verse.’ — the implication is that Rimbaud’s poetic adventure was motivated by a similar sort of avidity that drove him as a trader.
Rexroth concludes: ‘The old monument to Rimbaud in Charleville ignores his poetry and memorializes him as the local boy who made good as a merchant and hero of French imperialism in the Africa where the aesthetes who were never good at business think he went to die unknown, holding the Ultimate Mystery at bay.’ This puts Rimbaud at an even greater distance from the image of the ‘eccentric stroller’ that Brecht was negating; furthermore, it places him on the other side of the Marxist-Leninist imperialist equation.
Brecht saw the poet’s exploitation of the materials of language as necessary for the expression of the movement of history by a poet who is only a small part, a subject, of it (perhaps even as a member of the proletariat), but Rexroth, keeping in mind Rimbaud’s later career as a gunrunner and colonizer of Africa, sees the opportunist.
Rexroth also takes pains to refute the understanding of Rimbaud as ‘a sort of combination of Bakunin and St. John of the Cross’; this is in contrast to Brecht’s appreciation of Rimbaud’s anarchist (‘putting his affairs in the hands of chance’) aesthetic as the toppler of class and cultural hierarchies. Rimbaud fortified hierarchies in Rexroth’s view — he did not describe or experience a ‘derangement’ of language — ‘dérèglement de tous les sens’ in the original — that would eventually collapse bourgeois values and result in the more liberating forms of Modernism, but rather trapped and hoarded language in poems that would later be understood by the authorities — as well as the poets who would benefit from his formal innovations — as ‘Art.’
The poem, in this sense, became another coin for the piggy-banks of nationalists, who never understand art as anything more than the proof of a superior culture, symbolized by Rexroth by the statue of the young poet in Charleville.
While Rexroth’s misgivings — written in the heat of the Beat moment in 1957 — offer a valuable demystification of the life and work of the poet, Brecht’s earlier assessment provides rich ground for a consideration of Rimbaud’s work in relation to political thought. This essay compares Rimbaud’s conception of the ‘alchemy of the word’ with Veronica Forrest-Thomson’s idea of the ‘image-complex’ as she describes it in her 1978 study Poetic Artifice. Forrest-Thomson’s book provides a critical language for much of what is only implied in Rimbaud’s poem, in that it describes in semi-technical language the space of ‘non-meaning’ in a poem in which the worlds inside and outside a poem meet, while at the same time maintaining these dichotomies of ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ — here and there — necessary for a theory of literary ‘alchemy.’ The work of American ‘language’ poets Charles Bernstein and Bruce Andrews is central to this argument, since their work is most singularly and directly concerned with the role the poet plays as arbiter of cultural values — whether as creator, destroyer, animator or aggravator.
A basic understanding of the Romantic concept of history can be gleaned from Shelley’s essay ‘A Defense of Poetry,’ in which civilization is understood to have had an ‘infancy’ from which the present civilization — through revolution and a progressive democratic liberation from tyranny — has derived. Shelley writes: ‘The poems of Homer and his contemporaries were the delight of infant Greece; they were the elements of that social system which is the column upon which all succeeding civilization has reposed.’  The culture of Greece is understood as the foundation of all cultures following it — a sort of Platonic ideal of which later generations were merely flawed copies.
As Shelley implies here and elsewhere, the poet stood at the center of this culture, having illuminated the way that the more active agents in culture — the politicians, the warriors, the social architects — would take in shaping it. Shelley’s claim is that the poet is indistinguishable from the motion of history; earlier, he compares the work of poets to ‘the alternations of an ever-changing wind over an Aeolian lyre,’ as if the poet were the mere plaything of the ‘gods,’ who, in a materialist view, are really just historical forces.
About fifty years after the ‘A Defense of Poetry’ was written, Rimbaud wrote ‘A Season In Hell,’ in which he expresses his disillusionment with this Romantic ideal. In ‘Season,’ the image of the poet is no longer that of a healthy, integrated individual, but is rather the opposite — the criminal, the sick man. Poets are no longer lighting the path that ‘everyone’ will take in the march of civilization, but are merely inventors of monstrosities, isolated orphans on the sidelines. Rather than being the ‘nightingale’ of Shelley’s ‘Defense,’ the poet (as Rimbaud writes in his famous ‘Letter of the Seer’ [’Lettre du Voyant’, to his teacher Paul Demeny, written on 15 May 1871]) is comparable to the ‘camprachico’ — the mythical mutilators of children who later displays them for money created by Victor Hugo in his 1869 novel The Man Who Laughs — or a ‘man implanting and cultivating warts on his face.’  The language of Romanticism is acidly deformed in the poetry of Rimbaud:
Work of man! This is the explosion which lights up my abyss from time to time. ‘Nothing is vanity; science and onward!’ cries the modem Ecclesiastes, namely Everyone. And yet the bodies of the wicked and the slothful fall on the hearts of others. Ah! come quickly! out there, beyond the night… shall we miss those eternal rewards?
— What can I do? I understand what work is, and science moves too slowly. I see clearly that prayer gallops and light thunders. This is too simple. And it is too hot. People will get along without me. I have my duty. I will be proud of it in the fashion of several others, by putting it aside.
My life is worn out. Come! let’s pretend, let’s be idle, O pity! We will exist by amusing ourselves, by dreaming of monstrous loves and fantastic universes… 
Rimbaud pens an anthem for the radical nature of Modernist individuality, which involves, among other things, a courting of perversions, a precise but arbitrary overturning of cultural values, and a total refusal to engage in the most minute aspect of practical daily living. This is Goethe’s laconic Werther taken to a new extreme — blue jackets replaced by ‘fists in torn pockets’ (‘Ma Bohème’) — for the (male) poet does not even idolize (feminine) beauty any longer, but rather the ‘monstrous’ and ‘fantastic’ — suicide won’t be his end, but idleness. The Romantic’s belief in history as the march of democratic liberation is contaminated by the oppression that the leveling aspects of bourgeois society exerts on the artist — a common theme of adolescent rebellion, here raised to the level of ethics.
Democracy and eternal ‘brotherhood’ may have arrived, but so has stagnation. Rimbaud writes: ‘Work seems too slight for my pride.’  Rimbaud is unable to conform to history’s slowness; history simply cannot keep up with the explosive illuminations to which he felt subjected.
The result is that the poet, who was once permitted to warble ‘in darkness, singing to cheer its own solitude with sweet sounds’  (Shelley) and yet remain society’s ‘unacknowledged legislator,’ is now exiled from the mainstream of history’s march. The poet’s imagination takes on a new importance — neither God nor Necessity governs its machinations. The deranged imagination becomes, itself, governor, and discovers that there is freedom in disorder, and beauty in chaos. Rimbaud describes this new understanding in a section called ‘Alchemy of the Word’:
It is my turn. The story of one of my follies.
For a long time I had boasted of having every possible landscape, and found laughable the celebrated names of painting and modern poetry.
I liked stupid paintings, door panels, stage sets, back-drops for acrobats, signs, popular engravings, old-fashioned literature, church Latin, erotic books with bad spelling, novels of our grandmothers, fairy tales, little books from childhood, old operas, ridiculous refrains, naive rhythms.
I dreamed of crusades, of unrecorded voyages of discovery, of republics with no history, of hushed-up religious wars, revolutions in customs, displacements of races and continents: I believed in every kind of witchcraft. 
Rimbaud overturns, in a catalogue of artistic ‘monstrosities’ — his own island of misfit toys  — a series of cultural assumptions regarding beauty and success; in this way, he anticipates the twentieth century attraction to readymades, ‘outsider art’ and kitsch. Utopian ideals are both embodied and destroyed; the knowableness of the scientific universe is sacrificed to the preference for ‘unrecorded voyages of discovery’ and ‘every kind of witchcraft.’ Only Blake and perhaps Yeats and Dickinson, among English-language poets, seems to have had the power to make the great substitutions — an imaginative universe in place of the ‘rational’ one — that Rimbaud describes here. (French writers, from Lautréamont, Jarry and Roussel to Genet, Queneau and Debord would make a tradition of it.)
However, it is the adolescent Rimbaud, then on the verge of terminating his writing career, who speaks of these imaginative escapades, these substitutions, in the past tense, as his ‘follies.’ He continues:
I invented the color of the vowels! — A black, E white, I red, O blue, U green. — I regulated the form and movement of each consonant, and, with instinctive rhythms, I prided myself on inventing a poetic language accessible some day to all the senses. I reserved translation rights.
It was at first a study. I wrote out silences and the nights. I recorded the inexpressible. I described frenzies.
It is the dual nature of letters — their role as mere elements in a word, and the role they can play in the evocation of colors and meaning — that best describes the synthesis that occurs in the ‘alchemy of the word.’ Rimbaud’s synaesthetic sense permitted him to see the transformative power of even the naked vowel. What is most important, for now, is that Rimbaud sees himself as possessing the power to regulate a total artwork — a Gesamtkunstwerk for the page — one that will be ‘accessible someday to all the senses.’
Rimbaud conjures the phantasmagoria of history in the ‘Season In Hell.’ The most famous use of this word in poetry is in Pound’s Hugh Selwyn Mauberley — ‘He had moved amid her phantasmagoria, / Amid her galaxies’ — but this ‘phantasmagoria’ might be better compared to the state of being the ‘still center’ of the ‘turning world’ as described in Eliot’s Four Quartets, and involves a sense of divorce from, but power over, the ghostly movement of objects through time. In this Cartesian point beyond the flux of immanence — an imagined stasis — things become plastic and malleable, subject to a form of ‘alchemy,’ not so much in themselves — the poet doesn’t turn lead into gold — but in the way one perceives them, this latter function dissolving the necessity of the former.
It is best expressed by Rimbaud’s catalogue — church Latin, erotic books with bad spelling, novels of our grandmothers — but also in his hallucinogenic perception of a ‘virtual’ or alternative world of ‘hushed-up religious wars.’ Rimbaud finds himself able to go backwards in time, to reverse history’s motion, having discovered that one need only look the other way, and in the folds of this turbulence he upsets cultural values. Significantly, Rimbaud rejects the power that has been granted him by this new understanding of the imagination; its power is one of the many veils of illusion that he discards — in his total thrust for demystification — in ‘Season.’
The Art of Politics
The sentiments of Rimbaud’s poem, which recorded the ‘folly’ of one person’s experience of the historical phantasmagoria, began to be put to political purposes by Modernist artists. A major early Modernist manifesto, written by F. T. Marinetti and published in 1909 in the French newspaper Le Figaro, is one of the more extreme of these statements. He lists the aims of the Futurist program:
1. We intend to sing the love of danger, the habit of energy and fearlessness.
2. Courage, audacity, and revolt will be essential elements of our poetry.
3. Up to now literature has exalted a pensive immobility, ecstasy, and sleep. We intend to exalt aggressive action, a feverish insomnia, the racer’s stride, the mortal leap, the punch and slap.
4. We say the world’s magnificence has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing car whose hood is adorned with great pipes, like serpents of explosive breath — a roaring car that seems to ride on grapeshot — is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace. 
This type of outrageousness — not to mention the garrulous optimism — had been already both celebrated and disavowed by Rimbaud; furthermore, the element of youthful joy and personal submission, as expressed in the ‘The Drunken Boat,’ has been lost or suppressed. Marinetti adds the metaphor of the machine to the equation, but otherwise the intoxication with transformative power is intact. The Manifesto continues, more ominously:
8. We stand on the promontory of the centuries! … Why should we look back, when what we want is to break down the mysterious doors of the Impossible? Time and Space died yesterday. We already live in the absolute, because we have created the eternal, omnipresent speed.
9. We will glorify war — the world’s only hygiene — militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of freedom-bringers, beautiful ideas worth dying for, and scorn for women.
10. We will destroy the museums, libraries, academies of every kind, will fight moralism, feminism, every opportunistic or utilitarian cowardice.
‘Time and Space died yesterday’ seems particularly Rimbaudian — compare this line to his short poem beginning ‘Elle est retrouvée!/ Quoi? L’Éternité.’ However, the tone of ironical self-condemnation that permeates ‘Season’ is lacking in Marinetti’s manifesto; in fact, the Manifesto rearticulates many of the Utopian ideals, with the same sort of visionary confidence, that were expressed by Shelley in the ‘Defense.’
Marinetti has done away with history — he later declares we should fill ‘that a great sewer of traditionalism,’ the canals of Venice, ‘with the rubble of the tottering infected old palaces’  — thus taking advantage of that state of ‘phantasmagoria,’ the freedom to stand apart, that Rimbaud describes. He expresses the aesthetics of speed, which leads to his many metaphors of violence — not the ‘tohu-bohu’ that Rimbaud describes in the ‘Drunken Boat,’ but the later programmed violence of Fascism.
What Marinetti doesn’t take from Rimbaud is an understanding of the divorce between the ‘folly’ of a total art and the possibility for a total, transformative politics. This exaggerated sense of determinacy is expressed by his unwitting caricature of a ‘masculine’ ethic. There are no gaps or hesitations — signs of ‘feminine’ doubt — in the Futurist manifesto, only the pure determination for change, often in the name of cathartic spectacle. This absence becomes more apparent when one realize that ‘Season,’ in which Rimbaud’s most violent refutations of the past are expressed, is a poem primarily concerned with his love affair with Paul Verlaine.
Marinetti takes advantage of the many permissions that arose out of Rimbaud’s understanding of imagination, but in a major push to transcend the decadence of Symbolist writers like D’Annunzio, he doesn’t temper it with the humility of having to permit the presence of conflicting voices or anything close to sentiment. The poet thus regains that image of health and centrality that had been characteristic of the Romantic ideal, but at the same time loses the power to understand sickness, since this new ‘health’ is that of the machine.
This completely avoids the more revolutionary aspect of the Modernist configuration, since it maintains and indeed exaggerates the societal hierarchies that, one can argue, Rimbaud felt himself compelled to destroy. The poet doesn’t step to the side to create his ‘monstrosities’ in rebellion against the bourgeois world, but instead becomes its acknowledged legislator and also its worst sort of tyrant — an exaggerated bureaucrat, a bookkeeper.
Walter Benjamin’s analysis, in ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,’ of the link between Fascism and aesthetics is worth quoting at length, since he introduces the vocabulary that will become instrumental in determining the new relationship that the post-Romantic political poet will have with society.
Fascism attempts to organize the newly created proletarian masses without affecting the property structure which the masses strive to eliminate. Fascism sees its salvation in giving these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves. The masses have a right to change property relations; Fascism seeks to give them an expression while preserving property. The logical result of Fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into public life.
All efforts to make politics aesthetic culminate in one thing: war. War and only war can set a goal for mass movements on the largest scale while respecting the traditional property system. Fiat ars — pereat mundus, says Fascism, and, as Marinetti admits, expects war to supply the artistic gratification of a sense of perception that has been changed by technology. This is evidently the consummation of ‘l’art pour l’art.’ Mankind, which in Homer’s time was an object of contemplation for the Olympian gods, now is one for itself. Its self-alienation has reached such a point that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order. This is the situation of politics which Fascism is rendering aesthetic. Communism responds by politicizing art. 
Fascism, with its heavy-handed symbolism, uniforms, flags and public displays of might, was a large-scale cathartic experience for the masses. Politics thus became a way for the public to ‘express themselves,’ patterned on Nietzsche’s dialectic of the Dionysian and Apollonian in Greek theater described in The Birth of Tragedy. Continuing the descent from service-to-God to service-to-the-democratic-will, the poet exceeds the service of the people and knows what’s better for them, hence compelled to take the reins of cultural arbitration. The poet attempts to revive the ancient line, to create the ‘New Rome,’ aware of its artifice but believing in its mechanical efficiency, regardless of the global historical forces that continually argue against its exclusive, singular narrative.
Much French Symbolist theory that was the result of the movement of ‘l’art pour l’art’ finds its origins in Rimbaud — i.e. his ‘poetic language accessible to all the senses’ and a theory of correspondences derived from Baudelaire — and yet it is Rimbaud who saw art as existing in a direct engagement with society, despite his own refusal of positive assertions. Benjamin understands ‘l’art pour l’art’ as an attempt at a total art form, and Fascism an attempt at total politics; he introduces, in opposition, the concept of property transfer, or the dissolution of private property, that communism advocates.
Though Benjamin doesn’t pursue the aesthetic implications of this policy in this brief excerpt, his intentions are clear when he writes that ‘communism responds by politicizing art’: poems can no longer be self-contained, closed structures divorced from the traffic of history, of ‘life,’ but must be permeable, both in sense and structure. This guarantees that art will never be in the service of an oppressive institution or of nationalism, but rather will always be in motion, moving towards and away at the same time.
Fascism is the aestheticization of politics in that it offers politics a sense of determinacy — even of God-like overdeterminacy — which it stole from the artist. ‘Politicized art’ operates in the opposite direction, by emphasizing the gaps, hesitations and inconsistencies of language — the anomalies, to use Thomas Kuhn’s term in his 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, that operate against the hegemonic epic narrative of Fascism. Rimbaud maintained an awareness of these exceptions; he reveled in the imperfect, the ridiculous, the sick and the criminal. The failure of Fascism, and artists in its service such as Pound and Marinetti, was to attempt to destroy anomalies in an effort to institute an overdetermined universe, the inevitable result of which was war.
The Politicization of Artifice
Even if one agrees with Rexroth’s conclusion that Rimbaud was merely a ‘capitalist adventurer,’ one cannot deny that the poet was trading in something impressive. Rimbaud writes later in ‘Season’: ‘I grew accustomed to pure hallucination: I saw quite frankly a mosque in place of a factory, a school of drummers made up of angels, carriages on roads in the sky, a parlor at the bottom of the lake; monsters, mysteries. The title of a vaudeville show conjured up horrors before me … At the end I looked on the disorder of my mind as sacred.’  The Surrealists, fortified by Freudian theory, would adopt this sort of associative imagery for similar aesthetic ends, aiming to break down the barriers between the waking and dreaming states.
However, whereas Breton did not equate his literary productions with art but rather saw them as most valuable politically — he and later the Situationists both sought to equate imaginative, ‘convulsive’ acts with societal transformation — Rimbaud is aware of the artifice of his fantastic perceptions and of the ‘folly’ of his politics. He continues, for example, to write in the past tense in this excerpt, and he is very much aware of the ‘disorder’ of his mind, never advocating it as a higher state of consciousness. This sort of skepticism is symptomatic of his awareness of the mechanics of his ‘alchemy of the word,’ which he unable to consider anything more than a delusion (at least in ‘Season’).
Veronica Forrest-Thomson in Poetic Artifice may shed some light on how this ‘alchemy’ works. Her book is concerned with establishing a critical language that is able to discuss a poem through attention to its artifice as she feels that the focus of critics has been too much on a poem’s meaning in the ‘external’ world. She calls the critical process to which she is opposed ‘Naturalization,’ which she describes in her introduction as
an attempt to reduce the strangeness of poetic language and poetic organization by making it intelligible, by translating it into a statement about the non-verbal external world, by making the Artifice appear natural. Critical reading cannot, of course, avoid Naturalization altogether. Criticism is committed, after all, to helping us to understand both poetry as an institution and individual poems as significant utterances. But it must ensure that in its desire to produce ultimate meaning it does not purchase intelligibility at the cost of blindness: blindness to the complexity of those non-meaningful features which differentiate poetry from everyday language and make it something other than an external thematic statement about an already-known world. 
Critics, in Forrest-Thomson’s view, often rush to ‘produce ultimate meaning’ for the poem, ultimately paying the price of blindness. Critics attempt a total statement about a poem, regardless of those elements of the poem that resist that statement — the exceptions or anomalies that argue against the paradigmatic narrative that the critic is employing. She is describing, in essence, the battle against an overdetermined, ‘fascistic’ interpretation of a poem. She continues:
There would be no point in writing poetry unless poetry were different from everyday language, and any attempt to analyse poetry should cherish that difference and seek to remain within its bounds for as long as possible rather than ignore the difference in an unseemly rush from world to world. Good naturalization dwells on the non-meaningful levels of poetic language, such as phonetic and prosodic patterns and spatial organization, and tries to state their relation to other levels of organization rather than set them aside in an attempt to produce a statement about the world.
Forrest-Thomson assumes, for the sake of her argument (which, for the sake of the present argument, is here being dramatically schematized), that there are two ‘worlds,’ one which is within the poem and the other ‘external.’ A poem has an essence which we can never truly know or think; we only have access — as we do to all objects — to its accidental properties. In the area between these two worlds occurs ‘thematic synthesis,’ which is when the ‘non-meaningful’ levels of the poem which resist Naturalization synthesize with often-inchoate elements of the ‘external’ world, the cultural, semantic elements which must impose themselves upon a poem in order for it to be intelligible at all. ‘Thematic synthesis’ is how the reader experiences the poem, where she engages in that complex relationship between the singularity — the unreachable essence of the poem — and the unit of language (words themselves being mere accidents) called ‘a poem.’ This is Rimbaud’s ‘alchemy’ translated into a critical vocabulary, for it is the area within a poem where the ‘external’ world — the stuff that Rimbaud steals, hoards, exploits, trades, etc. — is transformed into the poetic, but without the total eradication of its existence as ‘material.’ It is because history is able to be alchemized, to synthesize with non-narrative elements, and to be translated from the mundane to the artifice of meaning, that Rimbaud is able, for Brecht, to provide a lens on the motion of history.
The invariable outcome of Rimbaud’s project as it is outlined in the ‘Letter of the Seer’ then becomes clear: if language and history are Artifice, then the poet him/herself can be Artifice. This possibility finds expression in such writers as Wyndham Lewis, for example, who eventually transformed himself from a writer of ‘Vorticist’ literature to a living vortex, which he named the ‘Tyro’ (and depicted in a self-portrait), or the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven who transformed herself from a 90s-style Decadent to the queen of Dada upon moving to New York in the 1910s where her disparate, often spontaneous activities anticipated Fluxus, Happenings and Performance Art.
The Futurists, in their political statements in the early part of the century, attempted to impose with military efficiency the Artifice of a historical narrative of Italy (which had been deteriorating for a variety reasons) onto the nation. The paradox is that Forrest-Thomson’s theory suggests that this fake, spectacular history is part of the ‘external’ force that critics abuse, an engine for the ‘bad Naturalization’ of every element of the poem.
That is, for the poem that is read or written within the situation of Fascism, nationalist Artifice (that of an artificial, often racial lineage conjured by the Fascists) is being positioned against Poetic Artifice (that of the poem itself in its resistance to ‘Naturalization’). The implications of this understanding become important when considering some of the theories of ‘non-absorption’ as posited by the contemporary poet and theorist Charles Bernstein, who is concerned with bringing the reader to a heightened attention of this political and poetical artifice.
Before departing from Forrest-Thomson’s critical vocabulary, it is worth considering her estimation of a poem in which she feels ‘thematic synthesis’ failed to occur. The poem is by the late British surrealist David Gascoyne and is called ‘The Rites of Hysteria’:
A cluster of insane massacres turns green upon the highroad
Green as the nadir of a mystery in the closet of a dream
And wild growth of lascivious pamphlets became a beehive
The afternoon scrambles like an asylum out of its hovel
The afternoon swallows a bucketful of chemical sorrows
And the owners of rubber pitchforks bake all their illusions
In an oven of dirty globes and weedgrown stupors. 
Forrest-Thomson, ever handy with terms, calls this an example of ‘irrational obscurity,’ in which ‘the formal levels exercise no control, so that one cannot tell how the external world is filtered through the language of the poem.’  These ‘formal levels’ would include shifts in tone, alliterative clusters (so expressively put to use by initially ‘obscure’ poets such as Gerard Manley Hopkins), rhythmic and affective variation (is it song, rant, insanity or data dump?) or clusters of coherent imagery from the ‘external’ world which might help enliven a reading. She writes:
At first sight we might hope to find significance in the way the level of meaning relates to both the level of image-complex and the level of formal pattern. Afternoons, vegetation, lunacy, and destruction are all dominant, and they provide several external contexts which might be fictionalized. But the agents of fictionalising are not working. The level of convention suggests nothing except that these lines ought to interact in some way, so we are left with the levels of formal pattern and of image-complex. 
Forrest-Thomson attempts to discover what the poem is telling her by observing its ‘level of convention’; had there been anything unusual, such as dramatic spacing and lineation, the number ‘16’ printed before each line, or bold face words, she would have been able — with her understanding of Artifice — to have pursued that lead. Her initial criticism of the imagery is that it is all operating on the same level; one could simply say that the imagery is flat and predictable, and yet one would be hard pressed to explain how ‘a bucketful of chemical sorrows’ is not, in itself, modestly ‘convulsive.’
For this reason, Forrest-Thomson’s language of ‘image-synthesis’ is important, since it describes not the failure to create provocative images — which any inebriated poet can do — but the failure of the entire superstructure of the poem (which she equates with the ‘image’ of the poem) to animate a field of meanings. She continues:
Nevertheless, fighting one-handed, let us see what may be done with these. All the vowels in the alphabet and many of the consonants are present but we have no way of telling which are important and which are not, since the conventional level — rhyme, rhythm, line-endings are all inert — does not help. If ‘hovel’, ‘sorrows’, ‘stupors’, or any other word that ends a line were to feed back its sound/look into the rest of the lines — which would be indicated by metre and rhythm — we might find glimmerings of formal pattern, but they do not do so. There is as much case for claiming that l is prominent as there is for s, for e as for o or i. And as little, for in the absence of metre and rhythm the reader cannot tell which sounds come to the surface in the poem’s movement.
Forrest-Thomson’s criticisms concern the unwitting democracy of the poem: ‘many of the consonants are present but we have no way of telling which are important and which are not.’ The poem could then be considered the opposite extreme, one feels, of a ‘fascistic’ total choreography of meanings, since every element in it resists assimilation into any sort of narrative. Yet, the price is still blindness; lacking ‘thematic synthesis,’ the poem’s accidents fail to point toward, or create tensions with, its essence (which it, like any object no matter how trivial, possesses), hence abandoning the poem to its own solipsism, not to mention a lack of dedicated readers.
The poetry and poetics of the Language school often emphasizes a practice that both imposes and withdraws a strong, authoritative voice, with the ultimate aim to create an awareness in the reader of the nature of authorial — which is inherently political — control. The violence, but not the overdetermined consistency, of an aesthetic like Marinetti’s, for example, is apparent in the following excerpt from Bruce Andrews’ book-length poem from 1992, I Don’t Have Any Paper So Shut Up (Or, Social Romanticism):
Labial pesto — popeye less of a man
lizards better-equipped beefcake phosphated determinism carries to the Nth degree: how many of them are junkies? — aristocrats in pampers
voodooized hit list, preppies sink. Intellectuals learn to make their own beds; dent of insolvency
as a debris aficionado, plump unionism to advertise toy airplanes hanging from the ceiling — this is not the poetry project, wheelchair backpedaling into our prehistory as a drain — the lips will have to work over time. Did you get sanctified enough? Gabby drool how it’s effective, this grotesque totalitarian mediocrity: probate courtroom be so brief, sterile spinsters are making us clean our plates in a pieta position. A saint
that wets its turnkey; putting things in your mouth is postmodern? 
This excerpt demonstrates the level of assault that is sustained for the entire three hundred pages of the poem. The question, of course, is: Why is this apparently arbitrary assemblage of words and phrases — no more or less ‘irrational’ than the pastel of ‘The Rites of Hysteria’ — meaningful to a reader?
On its lowest level, the poem brings to the reader’s attention the volatile nature that single vocabulary words — ‘junkies’, ‘sanctified’, ‘aristocrats’, ‘determinism’ — can possess, even when outside a narrative context or syllogistic argument. When an author writes the word ‘junkies,’ for example, one assumes he has some sort of insider’s knowledge of a subject that is culturally taboo. The reader then inquires what sort of authority the author has in approaching this specialized, and emotionally charged, subject.
But word phrases are far more meaningful than single words; there are a plethora of provocative combinations: ‘aristocrats in pampers’, ‘beefcake phosphated determinism,’ and ‘sterile spinsters are making us clean our plates in a pieta position’ are three examples. Each of these phrases implies a highly determined opinion of the author concerning some very important issues, often of a social nature, and there is, consequently, simply no way to be lulled into forgetting about the violence of competing ideologies and society’s abysmal failures.
Though the tone is urgent and abrasive, or at least expressive of a consuming dissatisfaction, at no point is the reader assured of the author’s opinion of these matters, since the author never explicitly despises or condones any of them. The cards are merely put on the table — they are burning, but the poet leaves it up to you to decide what to do. The implication is that one must act, but there is no specific coercion.
The primary mode of the aesthetic of Andrews’ project is the complete opposite of what occurs in, for example, Ezra Pound’s Canto XLV, in which the poet provides an equally cumulative view of the materials of culture, but with an attention primarily to ‘high’ elements, while employing a controversial refrain:
Usura is a murrain, usura
blunteth the needle in the maid’s hand
and stoppeth the spinner’s cunning. Pietro Lombardo
came not by usura
Duccio came not by usura
nor Pier della Francesca; Zuan Bellin’
not by usura nor was ‘La Calunnia’ painted.
Came not by usura Angelico; came not Ambrogio Praedis,
Came no church of cut stone signed: Adamo me fecit.
Not by usura St Trophime
Not by usura Saint Hilaire … 
Very different from the artistic productions of Marinetti and Futurists, this is nonetheless the Fascist cultural program put to a particularly baroque form of music. Pound’s intention is to lull one into conformity with the dominant narrative of history as he sees it; worse, his rabid anti-Semitism, not actually a strong feature of the Italian Fascist program before the intervention of the Nazis, is embedded in one of the most effective linguistic performances of his middle career. Though a reader might not be entirely knowledgeable of the work of this group of artists or works, at no point in this Canto is one not sure of Pound’s opinion on the matters he raises. In contrast to Pound’s melody — the ‘great bass’ in his term — one can understand the noisy, even grating sound of Andrews’ work as an effort at ‘turning the reader off’’ to the poem. Whereas Pound’s poem has the grandiosity and focus (at least in the excerpt) of Wagnerian opera, Andrews’ poem is granular and unfocused, like a chord played on an electric guitar with high distortion.
Andrews’ certainly has the ‘love of speed,’ the ‘love of danger, the habit of energy and fearlessness,’ the ‘aggressive action, the feverish insomnia’ that Marinetti advocates in the Futurist Manifesto. Comparisons between Rimbaud’s ‘The Drunken Boat’ and the poems of Shut Up can also be drawn, as both works enact the phantasmagoria of history, setting its objects and events in motion with an unpremeditated, associative violence.
But Andrews is careful not to impose a historical narrative (despite what is very apparently a leftist, even libertarian, tone); rather, he repels the reader periodically in order to exaggerate the textual imposition of poems.
Charles Bernstein’s reference to the Brecht’s theory of the Verfremden-Effekt (alienation-affect) — the counter-naturalistic practices in Brechtian theater such as affectless acting and cue cards announcing the plot twists that destroy the seductions of plot and suspense — helps one understand the connection between Brecht’s aesthetic and Andrews’, which seem initially dissimilar.
Bernstein also shows how the ‘alchemy of the word,’ and the concept of ‘image-synthesis,’ play a large role in creating this effect, since it is only through these means that the poem is able to make any sort of impression on the reader, and by extension the world of the reader. Bernstein writes in ‘Artifice of Absorption’ (it is in ‘verse’):
is a well-tried
this as its goal. But
Brecht uses his techniques
in conjunction with a
& this subject
to be in
the form of
a form which
absorptive dynamics. 
Bernstein is essentially stating that Brecht was aware of the role ‘melodrama’ — the ‘bracketed’ subject matter in which a basic ‘Naturalization’ can occur — plays in his theater. Melodrama, not to mention the conventions of street and cabaret theater that Brecht also employed (Kurt Weill being a key collaborator) — is the level at which the audience can become engaged in the performance with little struggle, though Brecht is always sure that the engagement is never seductive or intoxicating. Though Shut Up avoids melodrama, it does have an element of spectacle in its very display of cultural accumulation: the billboards of Times Square, channel-switching on cable television, the rapid fire images of the music video, the static of radio — and it has an impressive sort of clang that is comparable to the meeting of No Wave and avant-garde jazz in the music of John Zorn.
Andrews takes advantage of the conventions of both the ‘confessional’ poem in its most shocking guises and the stand-up comedy routine of the likes of Bruce and Pryor, in that there is an unavoidable connection to be made between the voice of Shut Up and a persona; the poem is one long soliloquy, of sorts, though with a continually self-annihilating (social) actor. Despite these aspects, the poem is never ‘easy’; Andrews, like Brecht, repels the reader/viewer into a position that is somewhat‘outside’ the poem/play, though never so far as to become disengaged with it. Bernstein continues:
In effect, Brecht doubles
of the spectator
in his hyperabsorptive
that the most
from the veridicality
of what it
rather than being
has something to do
& so can become
The ‘doubling’ Bernstein describes, and which Brecht and Andrews exploit, is the same sort of doubling represented in the split interpretations of Rimbaud. Rimbaud’s poem was seen by Brecht as a description (as one of his plays) of the material dialectic, and hence useful in a revolutionary struggle; Rexroth saw it merely as the product of a precocious boy’s enthusiasms and the harbinger of his later ‘imperialist’ activities. The aesthetic of ‘alienation,’ as initially explored by Brecht, exaggerates the paradoxes of this split interpretation by reminding the reader at all points of the false authority and permeability of the text, while at the same time keeping him/her ‘maximally engaged.’
Aesthetic control is exerted — Brecht was no Allan Kaprow, the audience was never invited to write their own play — but authority over the space ‘outside’ the poem is not, though it is certainly illuminated. In fact, it is the falseness, or Artifice, of both this external and internal cultural authority that is the subject of the work.
Brecht was, of course, didactic — his plays were intended to produce specific conclusions in his audience even as he gave them freedom to find them. But Brecht’s plays were often as unsuitable to the government of East Berlin as they had previously been to the Fascists (not to mention the Americans). Brecht’s plays, which struggled with a series of complex problems rather than supplied ready-made solutions, were understood to contain doubt about the inevitability of communism, even after a form of it had been put in place.
Doubt is what is decidedly lacking in the overdetermined narratives of Marinetti and the ‘New Rome’ Fascists and in the political statements of Pound — it was associated with feminine weakness, or the much loathed Decadence of the late 19th century.
But doubt is what the ‘non-meaningful’ elements of the poem provide in Forrest-Thomson’s theory of artifice (though she doesn’t use the term in her theory), since they remind the reader that there are elements — of truth, or essence — of the poem and of the world that can never be known. For this reason, art can never be politically programmatic; it always hides too much while advertising a fathomless, fascinating interior — and so maintains a relationship with the ‘magical’ and the potential for social alchemy that Rimbaud explored.
1 Walter Benjamin, Reflections (Schocken Books, 1978), p.204.
20 Bruce Andrews, I Don’t Have Any Paper So Shut Up (Or, Social Romanticism) (Los Angeles: Sun & Moon, 1992), p.40.
21 Ezra Pound, The Cantos (New York: New Directions, 1966), p.230.
22 Charles Bernstein, A Poetics (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992), p.66.
1 Brecht and Helene Weigel, Berlin, May Day 1954.
2 Contemporary sketch of poet Arthur Rimbaud by Parisian artist Cazals.
3 Cover image, graphic comic version of Victor Hugo’s 1869 novel ‘The Man Who Laughs’.
4 Futurist art: Tato, ‘Flying over the Coliseum in a Spiral’, 1930. Ventura Collection, Rome. Photo: Corrado De Grazia.
5 British poet and critic Veronica Forrest-Thomson 1947-75, Cambridge, England, 1972, photo courtesy Jonathan Culler.
6 US poet Charles Bernstein, NYC, late 1979, photo John Tranter.
Brian Kim Stefans is an American poet. His books of poetry include “Viva Miscegenation” (MakeNow Books, 2013), Kluge: A Meditation (Roof Books, 2007) and What Is Said to the Poet Concerning Flowers (Heretical Texts, 2006). His other books include Before Starting Over: Selected Interviews and Essays 1994-2005 (Salt Publishing, 2006) and Fashionable Noise: On Digital Poetics (Atelos, 2003) which includes experimental essays on the role of algorithm in poetry and culture. Among other web activities, he created arras.net in 1998, a site devoted to new media poetry and poetics. He lives in Hollywood and teaches poetry, new media and screenplay studies in the English department of UCLA.
Chapter One: Poetics of Funk Trumpet
(and Leonard Cohen)
— PDF: You can read the A5-sized PDF format of this article here.
— Provenance: Submitted by the author, scanned and edited by John Tranter in 2014.
— Endnote links: If you click on the number that identifies the endnote, you will be taken back to the point in the text where the endnote anchor occurs; and vice versa.
Paragraph 01 follows:
Summer 2012: I turn on the radio and KPOO is playing Say It Live And Loud, a live recording of a James Brown show in Dallas, TX on August 26, 1968. I pick up the trumpet and start blowing. You could call it my own private trumpet karaoke, but it’s also practice, and getting my chops up.
Cover of James Brown LP, 1968
The lip is a muscle that atrophies if you don’t get into a habit of practicing daily, and I’m trying to get back in that habit because there’s a couple gigs coming up, and I’m finally feeling up to it for the first time since the concussion, and minor stroke, I suffered at the beginning of the year.
The propulsive groove keeps me company. I’ve never tried to play along with ‘Cold Sweat’’ or ‘Licking Stick’ before, and need to hear them more to get the exact horn lines the band is playing. But, for my purposes now, it doesn’t matter; what matters is locking into the pocket, the magical pocket that is established by this rhythm section, and improvising my own lines that fit the groove.
Whether the bassist is Bernard Odum, Fred Thomas, Tim Drummond, Bootsy Collins or the others, this is the kind of music I most aspire to, the kind of music that makes me perspire and is most inspiring. I do not use the word ‘inspire’ accidentally; the root of that word is spirit, which one breathes in and out. And trumpet is a breath instrument (wind and brass); a metal extension of the hand held tight against the lips to amplify a buzzing sound. The music unlocks the spirit and lets it flow, even if I was feeling tired and weak just a minute ago.
My instrument is rusty, but if the breath I blow through it is strong, it can house the spirit roused by the music, it can free the ass so the mind may follow, and rescue me from Sir Nose D’Voidoffunk’s prison [Endnote 1] that has made me lose my grounding, my center. I can’t do it alone; I need a bassist and/or a drummer at the very least, but for now I do not feel alone because the radio is playing this music; I’m part of it and it’s part of me, blowing, breathing.
I had been lying down, but now I’m sitting. The music sweeps me off my feet, but actually onto my feet. I slowly try out standing. I need to stand more and not worry about falling again. I’ve fallen too many times since the accident, and it’s made me afraid of standing and walking on solid ground (to say nothing of dancing). Yet, I can do this, even if I need to lean against a wall or a four-foot-tall bass amplifier.
Yes, I need to stand! I need to take Sly Stone’s words to heart: ‘Stand! You’ve been sitting far too long/ there’s a permanent crease in your right and wrong!’ Yes, I’ve been sitting far too long; it’s been years. Homo Erectus has turned into Homo Sit-At-A-Computerus, or sit a-at-a-piano (it’s also often better to stand while playing the keyboards). I know that standing, taking a stand, can heal…
I need to be vertical, to stretch my legs, my limbs, to unknot my abdomen muscles, what physical therapists and yoga trainers call one’s ‘Core.’ The health benefits far surpass any prescribed medication, especially for a disabled person. At the very least, it can help me quit smoking. Yet, it’s not just therapy. I (re) discover that this is the best way I can contribute to a collective musical experience.
I know my trumpet (a cornet, actually) is adding to the groove, because a housemate has just knocked on my door and wants to listen. Ah, if only she played bass. But she’s dancing and clapping and her spirit is being exhaled in the form of phonemes — tentative little shouts but yet adding to the beat. I need to find a way to honor this gift, to translate it into sharing creation with others.
It’s impossible to put into words unless you view the words as directions that are supposed to help you figure out how to work an iPhone, for instance, but don’t make sense until you figure out how to make it work on your own (or with someone else’s help). Then, and only then, can you look at the directions, and they make sense.
Describing it doesn’t help in part because as I write this I have to assume the posture of sitting to do so. Writing about dancing is like sitting about standing: an alienated activity. Yet, I write to advertise the gift, to sell this activity (which is more important than selling ‘myself’ or ‘mice elf’), selling it, at the very least to myself, giving myself permission to remember this is the closest to God I’ve become, good god!
James Brown convinced his parole officer that he was going to sing for the lord when released — and despite the fact that people often refer to him as a ‘secular’ musician, that’s exactly what he did. He worked for the people. There’s a reason it’s called soul music, but it’s also called rhythm and blues, or funk — or even, through sampling, hip hop, if you can dig that.
In most cases it cuts deeper than rock and roll; which is a mutant form of it. It’s adult music (that kids of all ages can feel). It’s got rules! First, and foremost, honor the groove. If you’re a trumpet player, don’t play too busy. You don’t need to. Use the sound to create space! Less is more. Play rhythmic melodic hooks, lines, riffs that can cut through the melody. Play one note over and over again with different rhythms; play octaves, fifths, fourths or seconds. Melodic complexity could be interesting, but is not essential.
Cover of James Brown LP, Night Train
As JB put it, the trumpet is a drum. In ‘Night Train,’ for instance, short staccato notes help buttress a driving beat, help amplify the bass, point to (and provide counterpoint for) the drums, adding to polyrhythms conventional rock and roll is more queasy about. They can also be a ‘response’ to the ‘call’ of the voice or other instruments.
Long sustained notes work great on ballads (as in many Stax/Volt tracks like ‘That’s How Strong My Love Is’). Smooth, yet warm and forceful. A simple two-piece tandem, a trumpet and a saxophone (preferably a tenor rather than an alto), can do the trick, but adding a trombone and bass saxophone can help, playing in unison or harmonic intervals. ‘Brassy’ often means aggressive, and to some ears apparently such sounds are grating, but many others have found in this sound the perfect coming together of a ‘European’ musical and African musical sensibility: a distinctly American music (like jazz) at its finest; it’s the main reason to be patriotic to this country’s culture.
Yes, such music breaks many of Goebbel’s Nazi Music Regulations (from his mandate against ‘negroid excesses in tempo’ to melodies that are ‘too Jewish and gloomy’ that corrupt the ‘noble strains of wind instruments’ as Wagner understood them). Today, soul music is theoretically acceptable, but often consigned to the status of ‘oldies’ or ‘classics.’ It’s history, as if that means it’s finished.
These days, the dominant culture industry pushes a music that smoothes out the edges. As Kodwo Eshun puts it, ‘Traditionally, the music of the future is always beatless. Holst’s Planet Suite (2001: A Space Odyssey), Eno’s Apollo, and Vangelis’ Blade Runner — sonically — are as futuristic as the Titanic, nothing but updated examples of an 18th century sublime… By frustrating the funk and impeding the groove, clever music amputates the distributed mind, locks you back in the prisonhouse of your head. Far from being futuristic, cerebral music therefore retards you by reimposing a pre-industrial sensory hierarchy that shut up your sense in a Cartesian positivism… in which the mind is bizarrely superior to the body.’ (More Brillant Than the Sun, 22, 67). In short, it’s a sneaky way to bring in Nazi Music Regulations without the uniforms and blatant government imposition.
I not only have to stand to play the funk, I have to stand up for the funk soul brother, as if it’s our inalienable rights, the freedom that requires discipline and submergence of isolated ego in collective creation. Of course, since I’m just practicing along with the radio right now, I can take up more space and play too busy. When working alone, I’ve often held the belief that, aesthetically speaking, you have to blow the vault up first in order to stack the bills — better than erring on the side of timidity. As long as I keep my ear on the prize, the groove, I can fumble around for different notes that will later be shaped into a recognizable ‘theme.’ Let Maceo Parker on saxophone improvise a lead part (a so-called ‘solo’), and I can either hold down a repetitive riff, or make variations on it, like a second soloist weaving in and out of the sonic background behind the ‘front and center’ sax.
I love jazz at least as much as R&B, but would not presume to call myself a jazz trumpeter, and have little aspirations to be one. I am in awe of them, but an R&B/ Soul trumpeter is not necessarily a lesser role to play, even if their names are less known and spotlighted in this hierarchical, individualistic image-based society. This is the musical role I’ve always needed to play to create a well-rounded show or recording project. I still haven’t gotten close enough to finding a regular ritual or relatively stable institution that encourages this. It’s been a history of baby steps, more due to my social shyness and ‘prior genre associations’ (commitments) or institutional racism than any lack of chops. But it’s the root and ground of my mission on this planet, and if I fail to embody it, I can at least point the way for others.
A Leonard Cohen Detour
Yet, right now Greg Ashley wants me to be part of a horn tandem for an album and one-off live show that comes closer to this sound. It’s a far cry from James Brown, but a little closer to soul tracks like ‘Tell Mama’ by Etta James. It’s only one song on an album on which most songs are less grooving than even Sir Nose D’Voiddofunk is: Death of a Ladies’ Man by Leonard Cohen and Phil Spector. In many ways, Leonard Cohen is the polar opposite of James Brown. He’s the heady, singer/songwriter and author of books of literature. This has much more in common with the social roles I’ve played in public (under the name ‘Chris Stroffolino’) for over 20 years. And, yes, I have been spellbound at times with his music as well as his books (especially the Death of a Lady’s Man [Note 2] book, a strange companion piece to the album Greg is covering) over the years, but I’ve never really considered Leonard Cohen a musician the way I consider James Brown, Sly Stone or even Steven Malkmus. Yet this one song, ‘Don’t Go Home With Your Hard On,’ is the rocking exception in Leonard Cohen’s oeuvre.
‘Hard On’ is the closest to a Stax/Volt horn romp that Cohen ever achieved, in part because Phil Spector wrote the melody and musical arrangement (the line is blurred between these roles just as it often is with James Brown). In the context of Leonard Cohen, it’s radical, or as Phil Spector put it at the time, ‘punk rock’ – at the time a very fashionable, if misunderstood, word in American white pop/rock music industry. But, musically, it’s funk/soul (with verses that are more like disco). It’s the closest Cohen gets to a dance track.
In the context of James Brown, or The Ohio Players, however, it’s a feeble, lame piece of music; Phil Spector is straining to achieve earlier glories (like perhaps Ike and Tina Turner’s ‘River Deep, Mountain High’) and update his style that has become obsolete, and Cohen is straining to go along with it.
So, musically, it doesn’t hold that much intrinsic worth for me (since so many other songs do what it tries to do better), but being offered this opportunity to play this song live at the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur for a book release party for a new biography of Leonard Cohen by Sylvie Simmons (by far the best writing on Cohen to date) fascinated me musically, literarily, culturally and professionally.
This event brought together two ‘extreme’ social roles I’ve always been trying to de-specialize, or at least balance and accommodate. It was like an art gallery ‘variety show’ in the best possible sense, and would allow me to reveal a core aspect of my true musical self that could provide a service to those who love literature, and Leonard Cohen’s oeuvre in particular. In my case, it is not playing the role of ‘singer songwriter,’ but rather helping give embodiment to the singer/songwriter, if s/he needs that. If I couldn’t dance so much since the accident, I could at least help others dance. This is the core reason I got into music, but it got lost because, like Cohen, I was known as a published writer first; then a session man in a band lead by a great singer/songwriter (who some called the Leonard Cohen of Generation X — and there are certainly some similarities), who generally grooved less than even ‘Hard On’ does (though Death of a Ladies’ Man was one of David Berman’s favorite albums).
While David Berman or Leonard Cohen may have achieved a balance between music and writing in their songs, I achieved a balance by writing abstract, metaphysical (often non-rhyming) ‘free verse’ poetry on one hand, and dancing my ass off on the other. Because of overspecialization, the two rarely met — but there are ways to change this. This is why I was so fascinated with these liminal artists. Yet, if Gil Scott Heron, Cohen, Dylan and even Ginsberg (the last three, by the way all sang together on ‘Hard On,’ albeit only as a drunken party joke, since none of them had soul trumpet ambitions!) were like a bridge between the specialized disciplines of music and literature, I was looking for a more primal unity, and James Brown and other dance music was like a subterranean tunnel beneath the walls you don’t have to explode to unify.
By the aesthetic standards of the social worlds I was mostly known in, rarely, if ever, was anything judged by James Brown standards. If anything, James Brown would more likely be judged by Leonard Cohen expectations. Musically, I was not meant to be judged by those expectations. I’d rather be judged by James Brown musical standards and get a C or B than by Leonard Cohen standards and get an A.
Yet, I had to make space for evangelize for the funk, in hopes of bringing others along with me (at least as well as I could when I could dance more). It’s become a matter of increasing urgency to make this truth more public to anyone willing to listen. I need to be part of an artifact that could at least serve as a calling card for what I saw as my mission, and ‘Don’t Go Home With Your Hard On’ could serve this function.
I soon found myself standing on a beautiful outdoor stage on a dark night where we could see stars sparkle above the redwoods at The Henry Miller Library, leaning against a tall amplifier playing trumpet to an audience of Leonard Cohen fans, most of whom consider this to be one of his slightest, and most embarrassing, songs from his worst album (while childhood videos of young Leonard playing ice hockey with his family in the 1940s in Quebec were projected above our heads). Indeed, this could be seen as a ‘punk rock’ gesture of defiance, or, pedagogically speaking, ‘teaching the conflicts’ with a collective sly wink on the part of Greg Ashley’s conceptual bar band. Certainly, this was a factor in Greg’s choice to record the album in the first place (see my liner notes to Greg’s album released on the Oakland label, Guitar and Bongos, in 2013).
Yet, for me it was also something else; it was a bridge between the largely white social scenes (‘indie rock’ or the ‘literary world’) and the African American popular art form of R&B. It was a way to comfortably signify, and ease a transition into soul and funk and cathartic healing without turning my back entirely on the ‘white lie’ which seemed to be a necessary fiction for survival in this culture.
So, if ‘Hard On’ represented an edge, an extreme pole, of Cohen’s art, for me playing trumpet on it could represent a new beginning – not a culmination, but a watershed chapter in the conceptual art project of my narrative development, or spiritual journey from the Euro/Western standards of art I had to pretend to embrace in Academia (and even in the Silver Jews) toward the higher standards of The Black Art Aesthetic: a poetics of funk trumpet. In the art gallery retrospective of my art vision I imagined happening before I died, this moment should be given at least a hallway (and maybe a room even if it runs the risk of seeming fetishized).
I had also created a little sloppy/charming demo using the melody and chords of ‘Hard On’ with Apple Garage Band beats over which I rhythmically read one of the prose poems from the Death of a Lady’s Man book (‘It’s Probably Spring’) to supplement what Greg was doing. Since I always loved the book as much as the album (albeit for different reasons; read the book alongside of other post-modern literature of the same time such as ‘L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry,’ and you may realize, as I did, how this book is severely underrated, in both literary circles and among the quasi-literary devotees of Leonard Cohen’s songwriting).
My little experiment to set the words of the book to expansive, grooving, musical structures that contrast with most of Cohen’s own music worked well enough that I considered asking Greg if we could use his instrumental track to ‘Hard On’ and read one of the pieces from it as an alternate version. But it might be even better to set this writing to music that comes much closer to a groove that goes beyond the Spector-produced album, a groove that seems to ‘go with’ the over-the-top tensions of that book. I began to work on an album of noise rock musical settings of other pieces in this book that would be a fitting companion piece to Greg’s cover album.
I rehearsed some of these with an amazing psych/punk rhythm section led by Rachel Thoele, who performed with such bass-heavy groove bands as Flipper, Frightwig, and Mudwimmin. What we began creating was like a cross between the kind of symbiotic mesh The Fall achieves between Steve Hanley’s basslines and Mark E. Smith’s vocals and the literary noise rock of The Velvet Underground’s ‘The Gift.’ It may not be James Brown funk, but it’s more danceable than most of the Death of a Ladies’ Man album.
Due to unforeseen economic and health circumstances, I was never able to record the album, but it could increase appreciation for the art of Cohen’s book. It could help bring two or three different kind of audiences in closer contact with each other, which at the very least is a worthwhile cultural endeavor even if it rankles the feathers of some purists.
Yet, all of these activities, are still putting myself in relationship to the standards of the alienated white Euro-American culture industry, and are nothing but a footnote to an audience who judges from the perspective of The Black Art Aesthetic (whether they call it that or not): a more holistic mass popular, political, even revolutionary, art. So I still have a long way to go on my journey to have an intimate creative relationship with a rhythm section that aspires to ‘Papa Don’t Take No Mess’ or ‘Funky President’ for instance: music that is grounded in the body and spirit that you can get lost and found in.
So when I became homeless almost immediately after performing Death of a Ladies’ Man with Greg at Big Sur, I made sure to load up my trumpet along with a piano and a computer into a van so at the very least I could practice every day to keep my lip in shape and contribute to my anti-smoking ritual. This is why the ‘piano van’ was as, in truth, as much of a ‘trumpet van’: to call it a ‘piano van’ was a half-truth at best. It was never intended to be a self-contained enterprise, but a way to meet people who would help me help them create something bigger (a movement, a community center) in which music and the living word could play a vital part — at least as much as I achieved professionally in the 1990s
For the first several months I was in LA (surviving on the dole), I began to find some musicians who let me join them on stage playing trumpet, most notably a young blues band called The Downtown Train, who had a great bassist that knew how to get people dancing. There wasn’t a lot of room for trumpet because they had a harmonica player, and we never had any practice sessions in which I could learn definite parts and develop dynamics with the harmonica player. But as long as they told me the key, I could lock in with the bass and improvise with the groove, and people responded.
My lip was stronger than ever, and these guys kept on inviting me back to join them for selected gigs, as did the great young Tijuana-based mod/psych band, San Pedro El Cortez, who I had performed with at Burger Records.
I also rejoined Sweatlodge, with my dissonant noise punk trumpet when they played in the LA area on tour. This punk band, fronted by a full-blooded Navajo named Rocky, may have played too loud live for my aging ears, but working with them had the advantage of being able to play really ‘free’ (like Don Cherry at his most screaming on Ornette Coleman albums) and it worked just as well if I was playing bad notes. The ‘dissonance’ added much to the experience for their fans. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NicdKk_Mi-4&
The trumpet was becoming my primary musical vehicle, and the piano was put in its proper place as a ‘sideshow,’ a side dish, something to do after working out the demon in a more healthy way by playing trumpet. I was coming closer to achieving that musical balance than ever before, yet things would change shortly as my role as piano player became emphasized after becoming homeless by the mere fact that I was sleeping in one.
 ‘Sir Nose D’Voidoffunk’ is a fictional character created by Parliament / Funkadelic (George Clinton et alia) who ‘attempts to end the Funk because he is too cool to dance,’ according to the dialogue of many of these musical acts’ albums and live shows during the late 1970s and early 80s. Wikipedia provides a good introduction and summary: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P-Funk_mythology.
 Spelling is correct; titles are different for the book and the audio.
Chris Stroffolino is an American poet, writer, musician, critic, performer, author of twelve books of poetry and prose, and probably best known to the general populace for working alongside Steve Malkmus and David Berman on The Silver Jews American Water album (1998 Drag City). Stroffolino, (born in Reading, Pennsylvania) attended Albright College, Temple University and Bard College, The University of Massachusetts Amherst, before receiving a PhD at Suny-Albany with a dissertation on William Shakespeare in 1998. See Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chris_Stroffolino.
This section shows the cover of the February 1970 issue of «Poetry Australia», the front matter, and the Contents page. Published here under the Creative Commons licence Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivatives: CC BY-NC-ND
— PDF: You can read the A5 format PDF version of this article here.
— Provenance: Printed in 1970, and scanned and edited by John Tranter in 2014.
Number Thirty-Two: February 1970
Editor: Grace Perry
Ralph W. V. Elliott
Derick R. C. Marsh
Preface to the Seventies
Guest Editor: John E. Tranter
Published by SOUTH HEAD PRESS
with the assistance of the Commonwealth Literary Fund
and the N.S.W. Government Advisory Committee
on Cultural Grants
COPYRIGHT 1970 SOUTH HEAD PRESS
REGISTERED IN AUSTRALIA FOR TRANSMISSION THROUGH THE POST AS A BOOK
WHOLLY SET UP AND PRINTED IN AUSTRALIA
BY EDWARDS & SHAW PTY LTD 171 SUSSEX STREET SYDNEY NSW 2000
SOUTH HEAD PRESS 350 LYONS ROAD FIVE DOCK NSW 2046
SBN 901760 02 1
5 Walter Billeter
6 J. S. Harry
8 Nicholas Hasluck
9 Michael Dransfield
11 Dennis Davidson
12 Alan Wearne
13 David Rankin
14 Leon Slade
15 Philip Roberts
16 Ian Lightfoot
17 R. J. Deeble
18 J. Frow
20 John E. Tranter
22 Mark Radvan
23 Nick Battye
24 John Blay
25 Roger McDonald
26 Nick Battye
27 P. A. Pilgrim
30 Wilhelm Hiener
32 Suzanne Hunt
34 Franco Paisio
35 Michael Dugan
36 Frederick C. Parmee
38 Jennifer Maiden
39 Kerry Leves
40 Robert Adamson
42 Robyn Ravlich
43 Peter Skrzynecki
44 Rodney Hall Attitudes to Tradition in Contemporary Australian Poetry
46 Thomas Shapcott Hold Onto Your Crystal Balls
48 James Tulip The Australian-American Connection
50 Ronald Dunlop Recent Australian Poetry
58 Donald Gallup T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound: Collaborators in Letters
— PDF: There is no A5-sized PDF version
of this article.
— Provenance: Printed in 1970,
and scanned and edited
by John Tranter in 2014.
Preface to the Seventies
There are no links on this page.
This section features parts of the February 1970 issue of Poetry Australia, the ‘Preface to the Seventies’ issue, guest-edited by John Tranter, who was 26 at the time. He persuaded Grace Perry, the general editor of the magazine, to allow him to collect a group of poems and essays that reflected the newer currents in Australian poetry. Not long after the issue was published he left for two years in Singapore. It was his first of many anthologies of poetry. See the Contents Page of this issue of JPR for other sections relating to Poetry Australia; most of issue 32 of the magazine is reproduced here.
Published here under the Creative Commons licence Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivatives: CC BY-NC-ND
PDF: You can view the A5-sized PDF format of this article here.
Provenance: First published in Notes and Comments, in New Poetry magazine, volume 22, number 4, 1974.
Paragraph 1 follows:
Enquiries addressed to Jack Shoemaker at the Serendipity Bookshop, 1790 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, Cal. 94709, will be diverted but not disappointed. He has set up his own mailorder service in addition to his press. Sand Dollar, at 650, Colusa Avenue, Berkeley, Cal. 94707. ‘A primary joy in bookselling is responding to specific needs of readers, & we intend to focus our energies toward that service.’ New lists will appear every 6 weeks or so. The most interesting titles on Shoemaker’s July list include
— The Poetics of the New American Poetry (Grove, 1974, p/b, $3.95), essays from Whitman to Dorn, the companion to the New American Poetry anthology.
— Samuel Beckett, First Love & Other Shorts (Grove, 1974, p/b, $1.95).
— Bill Berkson & Frank O’Hara, Hymns of St Bridget (Adventures in Poetry, NY, 1974, $2), collaborations & reactions.
— Ted Berrigan, The Drunken Boat (Adventures in Poetry, NY, 1974, $1.50).
— David Bromige, Tight Corners & What’s Around Them (Black Sparrow, LA, 1974, p/b, $4).
— Eugenio Montale, The Butterfly of Dinard (U of Kentucky Press, 1971, $5.95), translations by G. Singh of Montale’s prose-pieces.
— Jack Spicer, Admonitions (Adventures in Poetry, 1974, $2) .
— George Stanley, You, poems 1957-67 (New Star Books, 1974, $3.95).
— Edwin Denby, Looking at the Dance (Curtis, 1974, $1.65), & Dancers, Buildings and People in the Streets (Curtis, $1.50).
Of the international magazines offered (Io, Is, Paideuma, etc) Paul Auster’s Living Hand, containing translations of Celan & Jabes, looks likeliest, $2.50.
Jack Shoemaker is sure that there is enough business for both shops, & undoubtedly Peter Howard will still offer a prodigious & efficient service at Serendipity.
Photo: Edwin Denby on the roof of the world, photo by Rudy Burckhardt.
The latest issue of Big Sky, edited by Bill Berkson (Box 272, Bolinas, California, 94924) is a double issue, #6, & includes the whole of New York, that is Greenwald, Brownstein, Tony Towle, Gallup, Schuyler, Padgett, Edwin Denby, Kenward Elmslie, Waldman, Fielding Dawson, Warsh, Obenzinger, Fagin, Clark Coolidge, Veitch, Saroyan, Berkson, & others. In addition there is a superb series of photographs by Rudy Burckhardt, including one of Denby on the roof of the world, introduced by Ron Padgett. Elmslie’s sequence gives the lie of the land, ‘from crazy brat reading Krazy Kat / to Kafaesque this, Kafkaesque that’ and ‘never saw ‘action’ ransacked my dance act / came up with a nance act’ but is by no means its definition. Anne Waldman’s lovely incantation ‘She’ is again notable but not typical of the mag — ‘She / not to be confused with she, a dog / she, not to be confused with she, liberty / she a waif / she a wastrel / she, a little birdie / she, not to be confused with pliable / she in plethoria / she in blue’ etc. Send $3 incl. p&p.
Bill Berkson’s own Recent Visitors (Adventures in Poetry, NY, 1973, $2) extends generously the procedures of his own familiarities, a luxurious itinerary of ease which prescription for poetry is fraught with deceptive simplicity. Try writing ‘I’d go now too but I’ve been already but I’ll go again / too / & walking along on straight, starlit roads: Brighton, Terrace, Ocean Parkway, Grove & Juniper, Kale, Laurel, Maple, & on down Cherry, a little ways up Nymph / here to there/
(from Twilight Time), — its just as hard to read it without being lulled into service of there’s magic!
Edwin Denby’s first book of poems for ages is Snoring in New York (Angel Hair, Box 257, Peter Stuyvesant Station, NY, NY 10009 / Adventures in Poetry, 437 East 12th Street, NY, NY 10009, 1974, $2.50), & comprises 36 sonnets, & the title-poem, an elegy — ‘Summer, New York, friends tonight at cottages / I lie motionless, a single retired man / White-haired, ferrity, religious / I look like a priest, a detective, a con / Nervously I step among the city crowd / My private life of no interest’ — which reminds just a little of Frank Prince’s Memoirs in Oxford (Fulcrum Press, London), more than a hint of sad retrospection. Denby’s private life embraces art as we embrace the thought of heat. He is immensely civilised, as dance is, as his observations on dance indicate. Writing in Evergreen Review (Winter, 1959), on Stravinsky’s Agon, he wrote thus: ‘The action has had no end in view — it did not look for security, nor did it make any pitiful appeal for that. At the end, the imaginary contestants froze, toughly confident. The company seems to have figured jointly as the off-beat hero, and the risk as the menacing antagonist. The subject of Agon, as the poet Frank O’Hara said, is pride. The graceful image it offers is a buoyance that mystifies and attracts.’ An epithet for his own work.
James Schuyler’s Hymn to Life (Random House, NY, 1973, $1.95) contains the expected diaryea (Japanese is the affectionate adjective for most of it) & some memorable sections, ‘Evenings in Vermont’, ‘The Fauré Ballade’ (‘an anthology of quotes, misquotes, and no doubt / misremembered remarks’), and the long title-poem. The way in is via the Ballade. It is such an intelligence as embraces Thomas Browne, Delacroixe, numerous O’Hara, Adrien Stokes, Matthew Arnold, Wallace Stevens, & the regular company of physical & spiritual New Yorkers, that meditates on flowers, love, the daily routine, walks’ eye-spy’s — ‘That bluet breaks / me up, tiny spring flower / late, late in dour October.’ The view is filmic, which is to say not what Lewis Warsh records, but is selected & edited, thats how it is you swear you know the man, the place, the view.
Crystal Lithium (Random House, 1972, $1.95) is a better book, in the sense that there are fewer explanations for liking it than the other! The poems are mostly hung on snow, wind & rain. Poems gleam above the shroud of the literal descriptiveness, the shrouds that usually encase usual reportage. ‘Look,’ the ocean said (it was tumbled, like our sheets), ‘look in my eyes.’
Alice Notley succeeds in separating herself from her famous spouse (though Philip Guston’s cover details a few of Ted’s things) with every set she publishes. Incidentals in the Day World (Angel Hair, NY, 1973, $1.50), is her first, & a large, collection. There are probably more extraordinary images in the poems than there are extraordinary poems — ‘one steps / on a rusty nail, disbelieves / in lockjaw’; ‘inchoate, I’m still always choken with bells’; & from one of the best poems in the book — ‘What one wants of course is the clothes to contain one which / are one, / flexibly enough for the breasts’ ease, / somehow / aesthetically accomodating to the elbow’s awkwardness, / if one stoops as a heron might it smacks — of truly amazing grace, / grace that’s a tender smack in the face: / one wants one’s own form of clothes.’
Antlers in the Treetops, a novel by Ron Padgett & Tom Veitch (Coach House Press, Toronto, 1973, $2.45), is another hilarious addition to the contemporary mountain of New York humour. Its easy to understand how the British stopped patronizing the Monty Python Show, & buying reproduction Magritte’s, after reading this book. Their blurb asks the reader to ‘imagine an almost complete trace of meaning.’ which fully prepares one for the hee-haw & hoo-ha within.
Much later we were riding down the mesa, reminiscing over pipes of fresh tobacco. The image of my Uncle Dudley suddenly flashed to mind, and of a time much earlier, when the plains Indians were ravaging every mail train and stagecoach that passed through buffalo territory… It seems that one day in an overland train the porter, while cleaning out the smoking compartment, stopped over and dropped a derringer from his hind pocket. My uncle, darting upon it, had traded a ten dollar bill for the privilege of throwing the filthy thing out the window. Suddenly the painted face of terror appeared outside… a noble savage riding his war pony, brandishing a bloody spear. Without hesitating Uncle Dud flung the derringer with all his might. The gun struck the Indian full in the face and went off, wounding my uncle mortally in the left eye… He died there, clutching the hand of the Russian lady who had been sitting next to him.
Jack Shoemaker’s latest offering from Sand Dollar is a beautifully made booklet of poems by Michael Davidson, Two Views of Pears ($2.25). It follows a collection of prose-pieces Exchanges (published by Prose & Verses, LA) which are as magical, or let’s call it writerly, as his poems. They are so moving that they stave off reasonable tribute. There is the clear lyric of Williams & Creeley — ‘He looks back / over his shoulder / to where she looks // beyond him, / beyond us, it seems, / as though the room held // memories their in-between / had overruled, / and now this place // had framed them once again.’ — which proceed to something else — ‘the house / is not my eye, you are / not the bone, / there are strange bodies / between us, incurred in sleep, / the earth wants to wake us / in shakings / from deep need a music / most our own.’ — something that matters no matter how hard it is to describe — ‘The lack of something needed, / heeded where three roads cross / when you’re already blind before you know it.’ & ‘This is the one / call the bright sea / and you are in the teeth a breath / a good looking emptiness circled by shells.’ — tender buttons if there were, some place you’d very much like to be in too — ‘Given a world the various flowers / inhabit strange areas, rooms, aromas / or without one one invents vases / and places to hold them, the ghosts / and their brilliant center of our lives.’
Davidson has other work in David Bromige’s Open Reading, #2 (C/o Division of Humanities, California State College of Sonoma, Rohnert Park, Cal. 9492), & in Duncan MacNaughton’s Fathar # 5 (Box 355, Bolinas, Cal. 94924). A fruitful context for Michael Davidson is provided by the work of Michael Palmer (whose books include Blake’s Newton, 1972, $4, & The Circular Gates, 1974, $4, both from Black Sparrow, L.A.; David Chaloner (Year of Meteors, Arc Press, 11 Byron Rd., Gillingham, Kent, UK, 1972, & Chocolate Sauce, Ferry Press, 177 Green Lane, London, SE9, $2.50); Paul Gogarty (Snap Box, Trigram Press, London, 1972, & How Much Do Toads Eat, Joe DiMaggio, 6 Knowle Avenue, Bexley Heath, Kent, UK).
Brian Marley is another English poet who adds to that discussion. He edits Breakfast, at the Laundering Room Press, 38 Rokeby Terrace, Heaton, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, NE6 5ST, UK. He has 2 small collections of poems, The Second Before You Hit the Sidewalk (from John Robinson’s Joe Di Maggio Press), & The Sons & Daughters of the Lawnmower (from his own press, 1974). His method of composition is a clue to the world of writing he inhabits. Beginning with a key line he then provides himself with a page of prose (‘writing in a semi-automatic way’), which he then edits, ‘cutting out lines lacking the tone of the key line,’ & ‘then, given a number of lines with similar feeling and relationship to each other, i cut out unnecessary words’, & then & then until he has a poem which ‘usually looks to have developed from the first line to last. I’m always surprised at the elliptical content my poems have, considering their solid approach.’
Breakfast #1 (1st Quarter, 1974), includes Marley, Raworth, Benvineste, Jackson, Hawkins, Crozier, MacSweeny, Gogarty, Elaine Randell, David Miller (who will be bringing back to Melbourne a pretty box of tricks before he’s done with globetrotting!) & others. The poems live as fictions, achieved artificially but with the conventional tones of poetical truth. If they’re not easily obtained they’re no easier to read. They’re engaged to a complicated world whose layers are further spliced & inlaid. ‘To fly throughout the body of information’ I steal from Asa Benvineste (who runs Trigram Press in London). Its much better to quote than to comment — ‘enter & ride this particular poem for example / inevitably turning left round the railway junction’ (Benvineste); ‘LOCKED // over a turning / the key is agreed’ (Hawkins); ‘Frantic collision into last weeks / observation — you / th and the heath air — it’s so close / it cannot be seen’ (Randell); ‘sorry to have missed some of your mind’ (Raworth, more cynic than surrealist these days); — A dollar or two will make sure of it for you.
Stuart Montgomery wryly notes that ‘The Arts Council helped the author complete this book with a Writer’s Award but ironically delayed its appearance by cutting away the grant from Fulcrum Press’, which he publishes. To compound his misfortune the press has been bankrupted by renegade debtors. The book in question is Montgomery’s second, Shabby Sunshine (1973, £1.50). His first, Circe, was also from Fulcrum. The poems are well wrought observations, songs, & celebrations, including portraits of family, friends, & mentors Creeley, Lorine Niedecker & Ezra Pound. The stance is objective, if not objectivist. The overall impression is quiet, sombre, though not shabby.
Fulcrum Press has been responsible for a magnificent programme of modern English & American poetry over the last ten or so years. Bunting, Niedecker, Fisher, Oppen, Middleton, Duncan & Dorn have all had Collected Poems or considerable selections published, as well as books by Snyder, Brown, Eigner, Evans, Finlay, Gardner, Ginsberg, Hamburger, Harwood, Hawkins, Jackson, Jones, MacSweeny, Nuttall, Pickard, Prince, Raworth, Rothenberg & Shayer. Lists are available from the press, at 20, Fitzroy Square, London, Wl. Raworth, Prince, & maybe others, have had books forthcoming from Fulcrum for a while, prevented by the British Arts Council’s reactionary & inconsistent attitude to patronage.
George Oppen’s Collected Poems (1973, £3.25) is typical of Fulcrum’s production excellence. The poems are typical of what is excellent in modern poetry. Oppen is a peer of Bunting, Rakosi, Reznikoff, & Zukofsky. They survive Pound, Williams, & Niedecker. Whilst Bunting & Zukofsky relinquish the reins Oppen, at least, adds to his oeuvre. Maybe he’s served his silence in advance, the years between 1934 & 1962 when he didn’t write poetry. His later poems are runic, ultra-pithy & pared, & make some of his first work almost expansive in comparison, Eg, The Song — ‘when the words would with not but / Take on substantial meaning // It is a poem // The hand still holds the footholds / To dig in one’s heels // which may be sung / May well be sung’ — one of his later poems, compared to the first poem from Discreet Spoils (1929-33) — ‘The knowledge not of sorrow, you were / saying but of boredom /Is — aside from reading speaking / smoking — /Of what, Maude Blessingbourne it was, / wished to know when, having risen, / ‘approached the window as if to see / what really was going on” — which suggests in its use of ‘is’ & ‘was’, & its stern chewing-over, William Bronk.
In the Grosseteste Review (1973) Carl Rakosi wrote that ‘He’s the only man I know who can get away with the curious notion that feelings don’t have to be expressed in poetry; they can be assumed from the situation. He gets away with it because he’s patient and his eye will not let itself be distracted from its object.’
The two most recent books from Grosseteste Review (10, Consort Crescent, Commonside, Pensnett, Staffs., UK) are Peter Riley’s The Linear Journal & Franco Beltrametti’s Face to Face.
The Beltrametti is a selection of poems (printed with facing English & Italian texts) from his 4 published collections. He has commuted between the continents fairly regularly, & now after a while in Switzerland (where he edited Montagna Rossa which collected Japanese, Chinese, American, Italian, French & German poetry, in what Beltrametti called ‘news from this other world, an inventory in 9 languages’) is settling in California, neighbour to Gary Snyder with whom he is associated, as well as Corman, Whalen, Welch, the Italian Tam-Tam group & the Grosseteste Review mob. The collection is unified by the poet’s insistence on the luminousity of the present moment: the language is never other than the active-colloquial — ‘Don’t lose even a / minute. Relentless facts. I greet you.’ — which is practically the antithesis of Peter Riley’s book.
Retrieved from small-circulation magazines of up to five years’ vintage, The Linear Journal annotates a root from Tarascon (‘trees green brown’), thru terrain distinguished by ‘Porpheus?’ & ‘art’ & ‘pathos’, Andorra to Barcelona, Madrid, The Alps, Rome, to home. Its hardly linear at all! Nothing simply speaks for itself because nothing is simple representation. It is witty, multi-dimensionally allusive. It is the journey thru the making of a poem — ‘then back to the mainland and all the usual / clatter, omit? / nasty little snapshots of / each man his memories, omit?’.
Both books designed, set, folded & stitched by Tim Longville, published in editions of 350, & available for $2.50 each.
Franco Beltrametti is part of the international gathering in the 2nd number of Walter Billeter’s & John Jenkins’ Etymspheres (7 Palm Court, Balaclava, Victoria, 3183). It is a crossing of published & unpublished Australian writing (Tranter, Adamson, Miller, Jenkins, Harrington, Kraussmann, Billeter, Kenny, Moorhead & others) with Beltrametti, Christopher Middleton, & translation of Ludwig Tiek by Billeter, & other material still en route. If the preview is anything to go by the final line-up will be spectacular. This issue benefits from an Australian Arts Council grant, & will be printed, & double its first run. Copies of # 1 are available (12.50), & subscription-enquiries from individuals & institutions are welcomed.
Melbourne’s other imminent new magazine is Rob Kenny’s Rigmarole. Kenny co-edited & introduced the Outback Press poetry anthology, Applestealers, & formerly co-edited Contempa magazine (Melbourne). He intends for Rigmarole various & individual activity. Like The Ear in a Wheatfield, Etymspheres, & the new-look New Poetry, he’s had enough of the consensus attitude to publishing. The first issue includes poetry & prose from Tranter, Billeter, Jenkins, Moorhead, Harris, Talbot & others, & a series of graphics from the editor. Subscription enquiries to 178 A, Upper Heidelberg Road, Ivanhoe, Victoria.
Ted Berrigan & Alice Notley have been teaching at Essex University, England, for the past year or so. Completing a doctorate there is Douglas Oliver, Oppo Heptic, poems, Ferry Press, 1969, & The Harmless Building, prose, Ferry/Grosseteste, 1973). Gordon Brotherston, who co-edited an anthology of Latin-American guerilla poetry with Ed Dorn (who used to teach there) a few years ago, is also there. It is a lively university as far as living poetry & live poets goes.
Chicago is the European series of Alice Notley’s magazine (c/o 29 Belle Vue, Wivenhoe, Essex, UK), patronized by the University’s English Department. Its second number includes work by Tom Clark, Joe Ceravolo, Notley, Berrigan, Ron Padgett’s translation of Oppolinaire’s Zone, Waldman, Saroyan, Clark Coolidge, & others.
The Human Handkerchief is also aided by the English Department, co-edited by Doug Oliver, & publishes the work of Essex student poets set amongst the liveliest English & American poets, including (in its 2nd number) Peter Baker, Brotherston, Ceravolo, Chaloner, Coolidge, Michael Edwards, & Lewis Warsh.
Two avant-garde publications issuing from an English Department! O when will they ever learn (Australia), when will they ever learn.
When Eric Mottram took on the job as editor of Poetry Review, the magazine of the Poetry Society, London, in 1971, he planned to publish a programme of about fifty English & American poets to show the Establishment what it was all about. It was never a secure or an easy job. There was all of the conservative tradition against him. The amateurs, social-realists, the regionalists, the beggars & blind babies, & company, against him. Today he is still there after ten issues. What is more the governing council, presided over by Basil Bunting, contains more allies today than enemies.
Amongst Americans pitted against the tide were, Duncan, McClure, Rukeyser, Sorrentino, Snyder, Ashbery, Jn Williams, Bromige, Rothenberg, Enslin, Ginsberg, Corman, Levertov, Wieners, de Loach, Hirschman, Saroyan, Antin, Butler, Eshle-man, MacAdams, Koch, Roller, Padgett, Berrigan, Notley, Schjeldahl, di Palma, Waldman; amongst more established British moderns, Harwood, Montgomery, Nuttall, Evans, Turnbull, Feinstein, Guest, FT Prince, Macdiarmid, Garioch, Pickard, Tarn, Horowitz, Roy Fisher, Finlay, Tipton, Middleton, Hollo, Burns, Torrence; with the addition of the emerging newer & younger local scene, Miller, Allen Fisher, Hilton, Chaloner, Hemensley, Gogarty, Buck, McCarthy, & others.
The magazine maintained, if not established, links between the emerging & established moderns on either side of the Atlantic. It isn’t central or even crucial to writing in either place, but it is the most important of the commercially viable literary magazines, & represents its national poetry society to much better effect than any other in the world (Poetry Chicago included) . As a source for new publications it is indispensable, cataloguing (with the assistance of London’s most conscientious poetry bookseller, editor of Big Venus magazine & publications, c/o Britain’s best poetry shop, Compendium, 240 Camden High Street, London Wl, Nick Kimberley) recent British, American, & Other Poetry (which in Poetry Review, #4,1973-4, included some U of Queensland paperback/poets), Concrete/ Sound Texts, Records, Translations, Anthologies, Prose/& Criticism, & English & American magazines. Poetry Review costs $1, & is quarterly, from the Poetry Society, 21 Earls Court Square, London, SW5.
The final item in this list is a prospective journel reviewing small-presses, little magazines, & ‘alternative’ publications not normally reviewed in the press & other journals — The Australian Small Press Review, who request copies of such publications to be sent to Second Back Row Press, 4/8 Victoria Parade, Manly, NSW, 2095. ‘The journal is directed particularly at libraries, schools, & universities’ The press is already responsible for Inside Melbourne Bookshops, by Tom & Wendy Whitton (|1.75 including p&p).
An information journal of the calibre of Peter Hodgkiss’ Poetry Information (17 Carlingford Rd., London NW3 1RY) is sorely needed in Australia. Apart from the catalogue of poetry information, the magazine researches a specific area in each issue, eg, the comprehensive South American supplement in #9/10, & forthcoming in # 11, an ethnopoetics issue (Eshleman & Guedella on Rothenberg & Co). A future issue of Poetry Information will feature an article on current Australian activities, by, of course, your own correspondent.
Kris Alan Hemensley (born 26 April 1946) is a poet who has published around 20 collections of poetry. Through the late 1960s and 1970s he was involved in poetry workshops at La Mama, and edited the literary magazines Our Glass, The Ear in a Wheatfield, and others. The Ear played an important role in providing a place where poets writing outside what was then the mainstream (such as Jennifer Maiden) could publish their work. In 1969 and 1970 he presented the program Kris Hemensley’s Melbourne on ABC Radio. In the 1970s he was poetry editor for Meanjin magazine. The son of an Egyptian mother and an English father who was stationed in Egypt with the Royal Air Force, Hemensley was born on The Isle of Wight, and spent his early childhood in Alexandria. He visited Australia at the age of 18, and emigrated there in 1966. He was awarded the Christopher Brennan Award in 2005, which recognizes poetry of ‘sustained quality and distinction’. He currently manages Collected Works, a specialist poetry bookshop in Melbourne, Australia.
Photo: Kris Hemensley, Collected Works Bookshop, Melbourne, 12 May 2014, photo by John Tranter.
— PDF: You can read the A5-sized PDF format of this article here.
— Provenance: First published in Notes and Comments,New Poetry magazine No. 5/6 1974, pp. 107-112
Paragraph 1 follows:
What is a Poetry magazine and what is it supposed to do? William Carlos Williams referred to it as a street, along which one might meet friends, old and new. Certainly, when poets find themselves a magazine, ‘a scene’. They make it their promenade, banking upon ‘chance’ rendezvous. It is a place where, as poets, they are at home, pleased with the company and (hopefully) the magnificent view. This domesticity (nest-building) is implicit in such terms as ‘homogenous’ and ‘cohesive’, is the reason for the ‘group’ and ‘diary’ magazine. The various streets are paved with the poetics conducive to the various poets.
Charles Olson’s Letters to Origin (1950–55), Cape Goliard, 1969, is a marvellous description of the dynamism imposed upon the relationship between a correspondent-contributor, Olson, and the editor, of Origin magazine, Cid Gorman; the propositions he made, demanded, the Push to which he was committed, to take poetry out of the hands of magazines which made him weep, Hudson, Kenyon, PNY, even Nine, totally into the demesne of the NOW and the NEW (a local apperception of that to be sure, and for sure the proper beginning of any original culture). His criticisms were as extreme as his praises, something picked out by Williams in his review of the second book of Maximus in 1950 — ‘Olson’s prose-passages among his verse are often wrongheaded, full of jealousies and vicious appraisals of his friends’ — referring to Vincent Ferrini, whose editorship also irked him. As Williams says of his poem, ‘an essentially American poem with no apologies to China, Russia or the rest of the world or antiquity’, was how Olson imagined the magazine of the time.
Today, Origin is the most respected avant-garde magazine. After three series, each of 20 odd issues, spanning two decades, comprising a featured poet with contexting caravan, Origin is in the hands of the reprint industry. Specifically, Grossman (625 Madison Avenue, New York), are to publish a best-of-Origin, presumably along the lines of the Doubleday Caterpillar anthology (from numbers 1–12); and Krauss have reprinted the 1st and 2nd series.
That news was culled from Second Aeon magazine, edited by Peter Finch, 3 Maplewood Court, Maplewood Avenue, Llandaf North, Cardiff, CF4 2NB, Wales, #18, 1973, from its small-press round-up which Finch claims is ‘the most comprehensive of its kind being published anywhere in the world’ since ‘the demise of the American magazine Trace and the restrictive size of other publications in the field’; To say that street has become field is fair comment. The last decade especially has seen an amazing proliferation of small-press publishing. In the quarter since its last issue, Second Aeon lists upward of 500 magazines, books, booklets, sheets, cards, etc. received from Britain, America, Europe, Asia and the Antipodes.
The magazine itself is at pains to proclaim its opposition to ‘polarisation, basing its eclecticism on the belief that the larger the picture the better, bearing in mind of course, that some pictures are better than others.’ However certain trends are identifiable with Second Aeon over the years: its patronage of Anglo-Welsh poets, of the concrete and other new poetries (e.g. the feature in an earlier issue of the Signalist group in Yugoslavia), and the Cleveland and associated ‘hard-mouth’ or ‘Meat’ poets. Number 16/17 is most useful for a definitive bio-bibliography of the concrete and sound poet (called simply by Scandinavian critics, composer) Bob Cobbing, by the rejuvenating editor of Poetry Review, London, Eric Mottram. This giant issue features the artist John Furnival, close- ups of recent work and notes, In America; and a translation section including Celan, Mallarme, Tzara and Pavese. The rest of the magazine offers a poem a page from such American poets as Berge, Bly, Corman, Plymell and Fowler; and British poets from Ewart, Redgrove and D. M. Thomas to John Wain and the standard mini- mag contributors. The cover is by Tom Phillips, an echo of his Humument, and his collaboration with Andrew Crozier and John James, In One Ear and Out the Other (Ferry Press, U.K., 1971), the art of tastefully rubbing-out by the phantom eraser of British art. It is an anthological magazine, with something for everyone, which offers hope to established as well as newcomers, good and bad alike.
That massive across-the-board acceptance is of course preferable to the pretence of Transatlantic Review, London Magazine, Ambit and other British glossies, of being open and with it.
Modern Poetry in Translation (10 Compayne Gardens, London, NW6, SDH) #16, 1973, is a special French issue edited by Anthony Rudolf. This is a movement anthology. Acknowledgements are made to Rimbaud (‘whose prose, with Mallarme’s, announced modern poetry in the original’), Giacometti and Yves Bonnefoy (‘for his 50th birthday’). Rudolf’s introduction claims (via hustings-invective and evidence from Pound and Aldington) that it is to French Poetry that English Poetry (with the exceptions of David Jones, Hugh MacDiarmid, Charles Tomlinson, Jon Silkin, Laura Riding, Geoffrey Hill and others) must turn for a lesson in the modern craft. ‘France can supply poetic replenishment, confronting us with all that we are not, and from a live and twofold source: that dislectical circuit of metaphysics and materialism, culminating in the poetics of ‘writing’, which without a home-based Hegelian and Marxist tradition impinging on the non-existent poetics of poets, must be imported.’ The anthology is founded on Edmund Jabes (‘of whom Jacques Derrida has said, ‘Nothing has been created since… 1963 … that did not have its precedent in the text of Jabes’, i.e. the first volume of Le Livres des questions, pub. in 1963’), Bonnefoy, Du Bouchet, Jaccottet and Dupin, ascending to the poets born in the 1940s. Paul Buck has commented that if his generation do not translate their immediate contemporaries (the mid-60s poets and after), the same omissions as affect Ponge. Perse, Jouve, on down, will be recreated. To know our peers at the time of our mutual experimentation would seem to be a commendable duty. The most interesting contemporaries here include Guglielmi, Deguy, Pleynet, Coutourier, Risset, Albiach, Daive, Royet-Journoud and Remila.
Paul Buck’s own magazine, Curtains’ French issue, included a riposte to Rudolf’s dogmatic burst from Peter Riley, which is well worth tabling here: —
I translate Claude Royet-Journoud because he is a friend of a friend and because I believe he is a very dedicated and intelligent practitioner of writing. I wish expressly to dissociate myself from the polemic of French translation as recently evinced in the introduction to MPT, 16 — that arrogant Francophilism which cannot perform a simple cross-cultural act without assuming the mantle of didactic mission, and in order to present a handful of French poets of extremely varied tendencies (many of them completely romantic) must assume to attack the thriving currents of English poetry, of which it is pitifully ignorant.
Peter Riley was co-editor of Olson’s Archaeologist of Morning, Cape 1970; translator of the Ponge Sun in the Abyss, in Ear. #2, Melbourne, and other texts; editor of Collection in England and Denmark; and one of the most serious and interesting of the contemporary British poets, none of whom are remotely connected with the incredible company named by Antony Rudolf in MPT.
Incidentally, Modern Poetry in Translation and Edge magazine of New Zealand (P.O. Box 25042, Victoria Street, Christchurch, New Zealand), are to co-publish an issue devoted to ‘poetry in translation from Australasia and the South Pacific’, and to compile a list of all Australasian and South Pacific literary magazines. The only translators I have heard of in the area, are Geoffrey Dutton and his Yevtushenko, David Campbell and Rosemary Dobson with their Mandelshtaam and Walter Billeter’s Celan. Or maybe MPT imagine Australian — and New Zealand — English as translatable
Walter Billeter’s first book, SEDIMENTS OF SECLUSION (published by Contempa, P.O. Box 115, Armadale, Victoria, 3143, @ $1, $5 signed), obviously springs from his love for, and work on, Paul Celan.
It is a 5-part book-length poem, the first part of which is no more than a nod to Billeter’s work of 1969 and before, and the remainder composed in 1973 when ‘inspiration’ and the proposal of a book by one of Contempa’s editors, Robert Kenny, provided the impetus for the poem’s completion.
It is a poem going nowhere, lines starting out again and again, making a section, by accumulation rather than by intention, that thoughts are ‘stalagmitic’, words ‘belated arrows’, the poet a ‘wordsmith’. Billeter makes no bones about the debt to Celan and neither should we fuss over-much about so obvious a possession:
as English poets are said to work the iambic-pentameter so is ‘Celan’ this poem’s tradition — ‘particular narrowness’ as opposed to the expansive, is Celan’s order.
The poet’s actual experiences can be read into the poem, although it is certainly no simple autobiography. Walter Billeter, a Swiss- German, emigrated to Australia in 1966. The phenomena of the well-read and sensitive European migrant exiled in foreign climes, culture and language (and it is important to remember that Billeter had no more than school-room English when he landed, and even English ears have to learn the Australian accent and patoise), is not unusual. That the alien becomes active in the new culture (Billeter was anthologised in Shapcott’s Australian Poetry Now, at a time when he was still acquiring English) isn’t unusual either but continues to amaze us; the work of survival compounded with acculturation.
The poem’s talking to itself occurs parallel with that most private dialogue, the poet’s inner voices. The places named in the poem are not metaphors of ‘reality’, they correspond to reality inasmuch as they are the pre-eminent habitat of the poet. The poem is place’s recognition. The poem is poet’s place. The ‘word-rich rivers / a few miles south of yesterday’ are the poet’s ex-Australian life and language, Australia: south of Europe, yesterday, as much as they are rivers of words, south of yesterday.
The innocence of ‘the word that I heard ‘breath… it even rhymes with death’)’ is moving. When you consider it literally, the ear in its apprenticeship, the translator of e… xperience-giving words, and word-giving experience, it is staggering. Part 3, Breath, is almost religious. It celebrates the mystery of language, poems —
I am, as I write it, the fire whose breath, thousand-limbed flamelette, dancer and mother of smoke-souls,
gives birth to the names
(the scars, the sores of earlier days, half-healed, the scars)
of loves unremembered
— and accidentally discovers there is fire in the etymology of ‘breath’ and soul. Poetry is the religion.
Being pursued in the presence of fire, breath will — such are my ambitions, my hopes — rise by its warmth to collide with the compact coldness of night and then fall on this paper as glyph-crystal-snow.
Breath, and breath’s memory. Each transcription is different.
TO REMEMBER, just once, the
word that drowned
in the springflood of language:
a whiff from the past tickles your eye-ball,
you too have missed the ark.
Such is the nature of this poem’s territory (is ‘alien’, ‘erratic’, ‘vacant’, ‘petrified’, ‘retching’, ‘unspeakable’, ‘unknowable’, ‘unexplained’, ‘uncharted’, ‘disowned’, ‘dead’ and ‘stillborn’; it ‘shrieked’, ‘screamed’, ‘dreamed’, ‘stumbled’; is ‘unfulfilled wishes’, ‘no mercy’, ‘whispering darkness’, ‘storm’, ‘black snow’, ‘black earth’, ‘silent anger’, ‘listless comfort’, ‘complacent politics’, ‘pseudo-heart’, ‘sham world’; in short, the ‘affliction’, ‘mourning’, ‘dirge’, ‘wounds and sores’, the ‘sediments of seclusion’) that there is no simple praise. Despite the entreaty at the beginning to ‘Drink, / drink you are home’, the tenure is tortured.‘
The poem is a construction of no mean care. The device of recollection, bringing back key words and lines, is instructive. Some of the units are memorable, most are meaningful within the structure and philosophy of the poem. To ‘like’ the poem is to walk a little way with masochism: ‘on the bank I lay then / of a creek stagnant with word-muck’, how beautiful the words, how terrible that meaning; and is also to be persuaded of the possibility of a correspondence between the abstract and the representational: ‘you spoke / on the day the almond tree blossomed / and land took me
in / with its breath, / its colours, its odours, its sounds,’ no less severe than Celan’s demanded narrowness, but another, and of other, circle(s).
The praises beckon burial. After this travaille the reader will expect a nachral Billeter, or turn down the next ride. This poem undoubtedly puts Walter Billeter on the ark; his work now is to leave it.
Contempa 6 was certainly a step in the direction of ‘seriousness’ for the leading Melbourne little-press. It has always aspired to a discriminating, open-poetry, magazine, with highspots in previous issues in the prose of John Jenkins, and Billeter; and odd poems, or odd lines in poems by Linda Robertshaw, Robert Hughes, Richard Tipping, Katherine Gallagher, and others. The forthcoming double-issue 7/8 will feature poems by Ken Taylor, a return of the prophet after 3 years in the bush!, which will also appear in a selection of his work to be published by Contempa in 1974. (Taylor is an important Melbourne poet, a strong influence behind the initial work of such 68ers as myself, Bill Beard, Charles Buckmaster, Ian Robertson and John Jenkins.) Other features of the double-issue, will be Jenkins’ long poem Street Music, Billeter’s unique translation-work on Arno Schmidt (who is acquiring a reputation as solid as his books, 16 lbs of genius no less!, the German prose- theoretician and experimentalist, ‘my heart is in my head’ quoth he); and expatriate David Miller.
Contempa editor Kenny is also involved with Colin Talbot, editing an anthology of the modern stuff, for Outback Press (c/o 22 Canning St., Carlton, Victoria), to be published in 1974. This will probably be as Melbourne-orientated as Bob Adamson’s and Richard Tipping’s anthology for Macmillan’s-Australia will be Sydney-orientated. These will be the first collections since Tom Shapcott’s Australian Poetry Now, Sun Books, 1970, and will undoubtedly point to a consolidation not to say development of the revolutionary poetics of them far off days. It is a fact that the New’s infectious Spirit has permeated everywhere (except Meanjin, three cheers for Clem and St. George) and that having no obstacles to buck now but itself, is embarked upon the most important time of its life, its own education, refinement and cultivation. A little booklet that came to my attention a year ago, with poems by Terry Gillmore, Robyn Ravlich, Vicki Viidikas, Kerry Levels, Alan Wearne, John Scott, Colleen Burke and Jennifer Maiden, entitled The Poems Again, crediting no publisher, date or biographical details, merely poet and poems, is as good a banner as any for these times. If the two anthologies can avoid unnecessary overlapping and needless omissions, then new poetry will be roundly served.
Visualize an amalgamation of all that is serious, imaginative and informed, from the prose publication Tabloid Story (co-edited by Michael Wilding, Brian Kiernan, Frank Moorhouse and Carmel Kelly, Box 4430, G.P.O., Sydney, N.S.W. 2001) and New Poetry; plus a critical content which would focus the otherwise dispersed good works and comments across the continent, able to bring the work to the bar, demanding responsibility to craft above factional and generational allegiances. Add to that a section where specialities usefully and meaningfully cross, the literary influences joined by those of art, music and film; a graphics series per issue; and a full notes and publications received section; and you have my own vision of a magazine of writing and the arts. It wouldn’t, in any way, affect the little magazines, the guerrillas, the walter-mittys, the breakthrough mags, the academic magazines, and so on, except to provide a body of work and comment to which the rest would individualistically respond. A large, meaty quarterly to serve the issues pertaining to writing in the 70s. A proper parliament, recalling Perspectives (U.S., early 50s), and the beautiful Art and Literature (edited by John Ashbery and others, Paris, mid-60s).
David Chaloner’s ONE magazine (8, Granville Rd., Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire, SK8 5QL, England, @ $1 plus postage), achieves with its second number, 1972, an Anglo-American anthology, a mapping of attitudes and places, without loss of real difference to any of its contributors. It is no glotmog but a real breathing space. Of course Americans are Americans, and British, British, and recent word from ex-Buffalo, New York poet (editor of Fathar, an Olsenist magazine, publishing such poets as Albert Glover, John Clarke, Robert Duncan, John Wieners, Ed Sanders and Colin Stuart), Duncan MacNaughton, now of Bolinas, shows this is respected without abandoning what Bruce Beaver dubs ‘equivalence’ — :
Increasingly there is, thanks to you and your pals, and Andrew Crozier and his, an accumulation of British writing which starts to come dear to me and for which I am grateful… as, I’ve never been fortunate enough to visit the U.K. or anywhere away from this North America, etc., and Andrew Crozier, and now you, have by ongoing courtesy allowed me the spirit.
Now, that’s what is to be hoped will be the degree of correspondence between Australians and other writers in the English language. And that is why the face and form of Australian magazines and anthologies must be considered deeply.
To return to ONE. Its contributors are mindful of the mysterious day in which the demystified post-modern poet is occupied. They recognize their own work in the words of the past, and pay respects; they are wary of imitations. This is not a street, but an arcade, a ‘New York’ of the mind, or a Newark, or a New Ark. Peter Riley, Tim Longville and John James are sore bears in comparison with Larry Fagin, Lewis Warsh, Lee Harwood, Anne Waldman and Peter Schjeldahl, flutterbyes. There seem to be affinities between John Hall and Michael Palmer, and between the prose of Kenward Elmslie and Douglas Oliver. The teasing gravity of Andrew Crozier (involuntary in his line about mucous, ‘a hankie / full of moist sentiments’) in the review of Jim Burns’ (‘the Catullus of Preston’) A Single Flower, is irresistible — ‘Various forms of easiness are the danger which this poetry characteristically risks.’ — a remark Crozier knows is applicable to most of the poets whom readers of my inclination feed on — ‘a kind of knowingness which strikes the ear as a voice without resonance’ but is in fact, a poetry of ‘real and unobtrusive qualities’. Such reasonable advocacy and philanthropic consideration of the range of possible tastes, is part and parcel of the poetry which has for the moment turned its back on rant, rhetoric and reader-directed rime and reason.
Chaloner’s recent collection, Chocolate Sauce, from Crozier’s Ferry Press (177 Green Lane, London SE9), is very much of the ouvre he patronizes as an editor. The poems travel around a ‘year’, reflecting upon themselves and their mover as from a film’s remove from the experience. It is yet true that this book, printed in a run of 300, bearing Patric Caulfield’s cover as appropriately as its title, is concerned with ‘communication’ and not of message but degree.
Sparrow is the monthly issue of the Black Sparrow Press (P.O. Box 25603, L.A., California 90025) and publishes ‘poetry, fiction, essays, criticism commentaries and reviews. Each issue will present the work of a single author. The poet is prophet.’ The series is now in its 14th number, including Robert Kelly, Clayton Eshleman, Diane Wakoski, David Bromige, Sherille Jaffe. Fielding Dawson and Larry Eigner. Each number is 50 cents.
Current publications of Black Sparrow include a screenplay, Minnie and Moskowitz, by John Cassavetes; The Greatest Story Ever Told, a novella by Fielding Dawson; New Work, by the New York poet-painter Joe Brainard, and Early Selected Y Mas, a collection of his poems made by Paul Blackburn, just prior to his untimely death
a year ago.
A bulwark against death is Philip Whalen’s On Bears Head, an interim collected poems, from 1950 to 1966, published by Harcourt, Brace and World and Coyote Books, in 1970. Since then he has published Scenes of Life at the Capital (Bolinas, 1971), and Imaginary Speeches for a Brazen Head, Black Sparrow, 72, his second novel. Readers of Berrigan and Warsh and Waldmen and everyone else (it sometimes seems!) in New York, their thought scatterings, minutae tediously compiled, ought to read Whalen, whose ‘graph of the mind’ set the pattern for their work surely and marvel at the skill, the wit, the elegant sculpturing of his poems. ‘What are you
doing? / I am coldly calculating. / I didn’t ask for a
characterization. / Tell me what we’re going to do. / That’s what I’m calculating. / You had better say ‘plotting’ or ‘scheming’. / You never could calculate without a machine. / Then I’m brooding. Presently / A plot will hatch. / Who are you trying to kid? / Be
nice. / (SILENCE)’, etc. ‘Plus ça Change’ from 1953. Whalen’s considerations recall Jonathon Williams and Frank O’Hara, but who don’t they recall? — our favourite poets recall all our favourites! Whalen’s enthusiasm for literally everything (‘My real trouble is / People keep mistaking me / for a human being / Olson (being a great poet) says / ‘Whalen! — that Whalen is a — a — / That Whalen is a great big vegetable’ / He’s guessing exactly in the right direction.’, 1964) and his perfect ear, his voice and gait exactly portrayed, is one of the joys of this (my) life. As journalism, gossip, zen-ism, gastronomy and bibliographia, the 400 pages delight and entertain; and as writing, they instruct, instruct, instruct.
The Ring of Bone (Grey Fox Press, Bolinas, 1973) is the Collected Poems of Lew Welch, who killed himself in 1971. Superficially Welch is similar to Whalen and Gary Snyder, but essentially he is a pessimist, as if searching amongst the bricolage for reasons to exit, resign. ‘NOT THE BRONZE CASKET BUT THE BRAZING WING / SOARING FOREVER ABOVE THEE O PERFECT / O SWEETEST WATER O GLORIOUS / WHEELING / BIRD’: that song from The Song Mt Tamalpais Sings (69–71), reaching up towards the pendulum and scythe, leaving the pit (sung also, in Frozen Pigeons, of the uncollected poems, and a number of the early ones, wit-pitted, not as cavernous as later) forever.
Sad that the slanging between one possible guide, Olson, and the guidance-seeking Welch, at the Berkeley Conference, 1965, that ‘you don’t know how to live in that cabin’, is a surviving definition, whereas, to be ‘a great big vegetable’ is to survive definition. Both books are good to have, two halves of the same house.
After this amount of hike and ramble, the street leads us to a comfort-station, one of the premier poetry bookshops in the world which should be added to the list in the previous issue of New Poetry and patronized forthwith, Serendipity Books, run by Jack Shoemaker (who also publishes Sand Dollar Press), 1790 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, California 94709, U.S. Its 1973 catalogue listed 3,622 items, ‘of modern poetry, published chiefly since the war, focusing on small-press material’. In addition, Shoemaker issues a list of new titles every 6 weeks. In the October, 13th, 1973 list, I picked out new books by Bill Berkson, Joe Brainard, Robert Creeley (His Idea, Coach House, 73), Stephen Jonas (Selected Poems, Boston, 73), ignoring for the time (at what peril) Corman’s translations of Rene Char, another tome by Richard Grossinger, The Pound Era by Hugh Kenner, a John Giorno volume and a Ken Patchen L.P. On November 16 — Matthew Mead, Jeremy Prynne, Paul Violi (In Baltic Circles, Kulchur, 73) and the virtuoso prose-work of Gilbert Sorrentino (Splendide-Hotel, New Directions, 73), allowing ‘a photographic and typographic facsimile’ of The Notebook of William Blake (O.U.P., 73), with Gertrude Stein and Carl Ortwin Sauer, sit undisturbed on Serendipity’s shelves!
Bless you, Mr. Shoemaker, balsa across oceans, feathers from beyond, you keep us in touch.
And that is what a poetry magazine should do.
FRANCIS WEBB — COMMEMORATION
A SEMINAR / CONFERENCE
UNIVERSITY OF SYDNEY
Papers, readings, seminars, meetings
Inquiries: JAMES TULIP, English Department
University of Sydney
PDF: You can view the A5-sized PDF format of this article here.
Provenance: First appeared in New Poetry magazine, Volume 21 number 4, 1973, pp. 59-63. Scanned and edited by John Tranter, 2014.
Paragraph 1 follows:
Communities are born, live a while then die, sad and necessary movements flourish, undergrounds emerge to eventually consume the decaying old structure, resuscitating Poetry’s spirit, and, finally invite new rebellions. C’est la vie! It is interesting to quote Peter Schjeldahl (interviewed by Victor Bokris in Sesheta, Winter 72/3, 32 Pinfold Lane, Skerton, Lanes., UK) on this cycle of change. He says, of New York — “…Certainly its importance is less now because there’s been enough of a gap between the generations, so that if I were a young poet starting right now being terribly ambitious, I think I would be terribly resistant to the idea of St. Marks… It becomes a kind of establishment. I don’t know whether it will or not, but I’ve heard enough young poets saying things resenting this older congress in their thirties, and that’s as it should be… The New York School came into being because several poets like Ashbery, Koch, Schuyler, Guest were fleeing from the literary scene… they found some painters and some jazz musicians and some choreographers… they set down stakes and made their work there. The intervening territory still hasn’t been crossed, 20 years later. But that’s been a source of vitality I think, though that vitality is waning now… The same thing happened in Art. I mean the energy of abstract expressionism, you know, playing itself out in an incredible number of forms. And now that energy is practically spent. Which if you’re a young artist is a big relief.”
One reason for the sophistication in Sydney and the apparent lack of it in Melbourne poetry circles is that Sydney retains the same complement of practising poets as five years ago, whereas Melbourne is really a new scene. The change is marked not only by death (Charles Buckmaster and Maurice Benton), but the retirement of Ken Taylor and Ian Robertson, the dispersal of Bill Beard, Allison Gilmore and others. The drama of the community of 1968–69 (with its attendant magazines and readings) was succeeded by just as dramatic a disintegration. However, on the fifth anniversary of the first La Mama Poets’ Workshop, a new fraternity is forming.
Key to this is CONTEMPA magazine (edited by Robert Kenny and Phillip Edmonds, P.O. Box 113, Armadale, Vic. 3143), although both PARACHUTE (ed. Mai Morgan, 513 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne) and FITZROT (ed. Peter Oustabasides, 489 George Street, Fitzroy, Vic.) claim the contributions of the new Melbourne poets. In fact all three magazines, plus Robert Hughes (whose magazine POETRY is closer to myth than imminence), co-produce a broadsheet, FREE, which is pressed upon the innocent public on publication day, a display of their engagement and democracy. Aside of “veterans” (e.g. Dugan, Lea, Morgan, Egglestone, Jenkins), the new poets include Billeter, Kenny, Edmonds, Hughes, Oustabasides, Harris, Talbot, Dickens and Yeomans, with as many knocking at the door. Generally speaking, FITZROT is an engaged magazine, an explosion from a depressed inner-suburb of the city, whose editor is very much heir to the poet-as-prophet/the pariah as the blessed, politics, whose poetics is better summed up by the exclamation “pow” than anything else. PARACHUTE is more ecstatic and mystical, and is as important a breakthrough magazine as FITZROT, featuring the old grouping with the new.
CONTEMPA is a magazine that in its 6th number (August, 73) has found a direction and selected a focus. It has a desire to move Australian forms towards the Outside World. Two of its most regularly featured poets, Walter Billeter and John Jenkins, are about to embark upon a new journal, a successor to Jenkins’ one-off AARDVARK (1970), and hope to solicit work internationally with an emphasis on longer experimental writing and essays on poetics. CONTEMPA, six most interesting contributions are Jenkins’ enigmatic ‘Open Sequence’, a poem by Katherine Gallagher (living in Paris), and an introduction to Paul Celan by Billeter. Taken with his long look at Celan in THE EAR IN A WHEATFIELD, 2, August 1973 (ed. Hemensley, 44 Grove Road, Hawthorn, Vic. 3122), Billeter has offered this community a sizeable invitation to marvellously new procedures, an entree to a scheme of poetry rarely encountered locally. As Bruce Beaver has commented, Billeter’s essay, poems and translations in EAR, 2, are the centre-piece of a useful amalgamation of English and Australian poets (Hall, Buck, Chamberlain, Jenkins, Billeter, Beaver) whose examination of process is yet expressed within the ambit of the lyric, the poem’s own song indeed.
Presses which might yet establish themselves as running mates to Prism Poets (Sydney) (Buckmaster, Adamson, Thorne, Ravlich) and the two series from the University of Queensland, Paperback Poets and Gargoyle (e.g. Dransfield, Tipping, J. S. Harry, McMaster, A. Taylor, Hall, Slade, Shapcott, Rowlands, Packer, Wearne, Kefala, Jones) is SEAHORSE, edited and published by Robert Harris (P.O. Box 217, Greensborough, Vic. 3088), whose first two titles were his own Localities, an undeniably good first book, and Shelton Lea’s Paradise Poems. Colin Talbot (whose Crystal Brook is Contempa Publications’ most imaginative to date) and partners are beginning a project of prose titles, the first of which will be an anthology of experimental prose edited by Dugan and Jenkins. Two other books which will excite more than a little interest are Billeter’s Sediments of Seclusion (parts of this are anthologised in Australian Poetry Now) forthcoming from Contempa, and a selection of the poetry of Ken Taylor which at last will make up for his neglect over the past few years (incidentally, one of his epic poems Pictures from the Sea, is included in Ends and Beginnings, a primer for secondary students, published by Macmillans).
The linking of poets across national boundaries is of course the feature which separates Australian magazines from English and American. The inclusion of foreigners in Meanjin or Southerly, is more exotic than useful. A special-issue is something else to be sure, as with Poetry Australia’s Canadian issue in 1967. But the presence of Robert Duncan, Charles Tomlinson and others in recent issues of New Poetry, and the critical focus on Olson, Duncan, Ashbery and others, does establish a referencing which must skin the local scene of several layers of naivette. It is exciting that Billeter should be invited to contribute work to Paul Buck’s CURTAINS (12 Foster Clough, Mytholmroyd, Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire HX7 5QR, UK) which is the foremost liaison magazine between contemporary French and English poetries (#5, Spring 73, was an all-French issue with work by Ponge, Jabbes, Royet-Journoud, Guglielmi and others, which should be read in conjunction with MODERN POETRY IN TRANSLATION, #16, French Issue, ed. A. Rudolph, 10 Compayne Gardens, London, NW6 3DH, UK, which presented Bonnefoy, de Bouchet, Jaccottet, Dupin, Deguy, Pleynet, Albiach, Daive and others in addition to those in Curtains). Or that David Miller (ex-Melbourne) has work forthcoming in Agenda magazine and the Enitharmon Press (an essay on Lowry) in UK. Or Bob Adamson be lined up with such living legends as William Bronk, George Oppen and Duncan, in Io magazine, USA.
Tom Shapcott is attempting an anthology of American and Australian poets, Francis Webb meets Frank O’Hara, which, at least locally, should be a break on isolation. As is travel, Vicki Viidikas presently moving amongst various London-based poets, in contact with John Robinson, ed. of JOE DI MAGGIO magazine, the jumbo of the mimeos, whose programme so far includes collections from Raworth, Macsweeny, McCarthy, Gogarty, Marley, Hilton, Temple, Benvineste, as well as two anthological magazine issues covering almost all other new British poets. (JOE, 6 Knowle Avenue, Bexleyheath, Kent, UK.) Shapcott himself, and Tim Thorne and Andrew Taylor, are all recent travellers in the USA. Interchange and cross-fertilisation is surely the mood of the moment.
ORIGIN, edited by Cid Corman, throughout its three great series from the early 50s to the beginning of this decade, was the model of purposeful internationalism, the expression of the community of the word, a place where Americans, Canadians, Italians, Frenchmen, Japanese and even an Englishman (Dennis Goacher), could meet and exchange. Origin and its confreres, e.g. Montagna Rossa, Cayote Review, the, Grosseteste Review, differs from e.g. New Directions Anthology in that its world is a projection of the internationality of the language of poem, the like concerns, whereas ND publishes a Nigerian, an Estonian, Americans, etc., in service to the notion of an international avant-garde.
The GROSSETESTE REVIEW (ed. by Tim Longville, 10 Consort Crescent, Commonside, Pensnett, Staffordshire, UK), is the premier British magazine. It has been publishing books and magazines since 1966. Volume 6, Numbers 1–4, 1973, is an amazing anthology. I find myself published amongst the older Americans Wm Bronk, Cid Corman, Carl Rakosi, Gilbert Sorrentino, Peyton Houston and George Oppen; with contemporary English and Americans Garrison, Bowman, Palmer, Wright, Longville, J. Riley, Oliver, Chamberlain; with critics Hugh Kenner, Donald Davie, Tomlinson, Prynne and O’Brien. There are virtually two special-issues here: devoted to Gilbert Sorrentino, new poems, sections from his new novel Hotel Splendide, and interview and review of his work; the other in honour of George Oppen. Its place is not ‘trans-Atlantic’ or anything as misleading or banal as that. In ‘A Letter to Doug Oliver’, the poet and ideologue (important correspondent of Olson’s and mover of the Cambridge group of poets of the 60s) J .H. Prynne does refer to nationality: “…the Anglo team have their teeth really sunk into pain, great physical gouts of it, as opposed to the water-colour joys of the American art gallery nympholepts. Your novel confirms this; its elegance is much too vorticist for the pre-sexual phenomenology preferred in l’Amerique du Nord. Only Frank O’Hara had that pail of serpents always in view.’ The place on one hand is the editor’s passion, as with any editor, his eccentric encirclement of contemporary poetries, and on the other hand is the demesne of language which is both concrete and domestic and the gorgeous and imaginary, that company Marrianne Moore referred to as ‘the literalists of the imagination’, and Carlos Williams’ line (immortalised by Sorrentino as the title of his beautiful novel) ‘the imaginary qualities of actual things’. It is the place where we do what is to be done with the Modern inheritance of ideas and artifacts. It is an area of no compromise, as Sorrentino says in the Grosseteste interview, ‘there are no lies in art. The only lies in art lie in the falsification of structure. Art selects and orders experience. It is not history. It is not what “really happened” ‘. But of possible worlds, a remarkable and desirable reality.
The American Poetry Conference, held end of May, ’73 in London, was the excuse for every British poet of serious intent to meet together. Tim Longville writes ‘for all the quibbling, backbiting, “mere”-ness of the assembled literary, there’s a sort of cumulative and intensifying bounce to such occasions — interactions of clear and clarifying intention… a cross-cutting of specialists”. For Longville and e.g. John Hall, ‘survival’ is a major care. But where Longville derived comfort from the Conference (Oppen, Duncan, Rothenberg, Berrigan and Bly standing in for Jonathon Williams), Hall commented ‘It’s clear that living in England as an experience gets further and further away from America… for those of us using the English tongue, every poem is like starting from scratch.’
The New American Poetry is now a monument but with a potent shadow. For many English (and elsewhere, Canadians, Australians too) it was The Place. The day before the day which is (as the wit said) the first day of the rest of your life. Schools movements and communities today are more committed to friendliness than the not-so-old sense of The Push. The heart that kills as well as propels. The dark wood becomes the Light Wood becomes the Dark Wood again. ‘Seriousness’, ‘intention’, etc., the dilemmas of purposeful activity, the ways we protect and kill ourselves. The same ways often as not.
Ah but the delight! ay? — ‘the poems again’, just the poems, forget the rest, the poems, they’re what matter! hmmm? Which is the prompting influence on Nigel Roberts and Richard Tipping’s NEWS AND WEATHER magazine (33 Duke Street, Balmain, NSW) eagerly awaited by the hungry ones out there. Here. And for all the analysis and speculation on the origin of energies and diminishing of same, there are poets and magazines in America and England well worth looking up.
The FERRY PRESS in conjunction with Grosseteste Review are to publish Douglas Oliver’s much praised novel The Harmless Building next year. FERRY, published by Andrew Crozier (177 Green Lane, London, SE9, UK), has been publishing since 1964 (without assistance let it be said). Titles include Americans Fielding Dawson, Stephen Jonas, Sam Abrams, Tom Clark, Lewis Warsh and Peter Schjeldahl, and English John James, Crozier, Peter Riley, Prynne, Jim Burns, Chris Torrence, John Temple, Oliver and David Chaloner. Crozier’s magazine THE PARK and especially #4/5 attempted a similar definition of current poetry as the latest G.R. It appeared (Summer, 1969) at about the same time as Horowitz’s The Children of Albion (Penguin), and is infinitely more careful and informative. Apart from those poets already mentioned, it gathered Olson, Borregard, Gallup, Raworth, Tysh, Bronk, Sorrentino, Harwood, Berrigan, Rakosi, Stanley, Heller and Reznikoff between its covers.
Grosseteste Review Books have titles by Longville, John Riley, Burns, Hall, Prynne, Martin Wright, Hemensley, Byrd, Collom, Goacher and the recently published and memorable translation of Holderlin (by Longville and J. Riley) and Goacher’s Transversions (of Aeschylus, Dante, Abelard, Nerval, Rimbaud). Their forthcoming titles are an exciting prospect. Books by John Riley (poems and collected prose), Martin Wright (prose), Peter Riley, Franco Beltrametti, Sean Rafferty, Phil Garrison and Chamberlain are promised. Enquiries will be graciously answered by both presses, especially if accompanied by one commodity in dreadful scarcity in English letters, money.
The counterpart of New Poetry (Sydney) is the Poetry Review, published by the Poetry Society in London, which has been wholly rejuvenated by Eric Mottram since he became editor in 1971. With Presidents and Vice-Presidents of the order of William Plomer, Betjeman, Lords Eccles and Goodman and Sir Eugen Millington-Drake, the degree of orthodoxy at the society can be imagined. But Mottram’s programme since 1971 has been generally in the interests of modern and contemporary poetry. Cobbing, Duncan, Ashbery, Snyder, Ginsberg, Pickard, Chaloner, Williams, Guest are typical of the new roll at Poetry Review. The three major New York magazines are, of course, ADVENTURES IN POETRY, ed. Larry Fagin (No. 18, 437 East 12th Street, New York, NY, 10009); ANGEL HAIR, ed. Anne Waldman and Lewis Warsh (Box 257, Peter Stuyvesant Station, NY, 10009), and ANOTHER WORLD, ed. Anne Waldman (The Poet’s Project, St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery, New York).
Clayton Eshleman’s CATERPILLAR magazine owes to both Origin and The Black Mountain Review. Doubleday published a selection from numbers 1–12 two years ago. Recent numbers (with the exception of 15/16) have tended to narrow upon the editor’s own brand of confession and mysticism, publishing the same, small clique, and the influence of Robert Kelly is abundant, loose and rambling, knowledge for its own sake, gross. But the first numbers were magnificent, the Don Allen Anthology in current motion.
Jo magazine, R.F.D. No. 2, Box 135, Creamery Road, Plainfield, Vermont, 05667, USA, seems to command the attention of poets that Caterpillar once had. Its editor, Richard Grossinger, was hailed by Robert Duncan in a preface to Solar Journal (Black Sparrow, 1970) as a seer, an example of the new man. Io combines poem, speculative philosophy, science, science-fiction, interview, story, journal, in giant issues (alchemies) entitled variously Ethnoastronomy, Oecology, Dreams, Earth Geography, Baseball and so on. It enables the most diverse and diverting intelligences to be grouped. In Io, 16, e.g. there are sequences of poems from John Wieners and Joanne Kyger, a collaboration-story by John Clark and Albert Glover (with reference to James Fenimore Cooper), line drawings by Joe Brainard, poem and pollemic by Olson, reminiscence of Lew Welch, oh so much else! The accompaniment of the wide range is its tendency to over-projection, claiming value for everything sensed or seen, voluminous crapping. But the openness is its salvation.
Even if for Grossinger the Universe is home, manifestations emitting from Balmain or Melbourne, Vancouver, Stoke-on-Trent or Bolinas, are as valid as ever they were. Michael Palmer writes that there used to be a law in San Francisco in the 50s and 60s that no publication extended further than the city limits! The sanctity of locale. Valid when as citizens of the world we sing out of our home patch. The Canadian scene is most interesting for that. Its situation has parallels with Australia. The enormous injection of money into the arts established twenty-odd years ago coincides with the revolution in Canadian arts, whereby despite the enormous pull of the USA, poets and artists are now remaining in Canada and returning from New York to live and work in Canada. Three worthwhile presses are TUATARA (ed. Mike Doyle, 759 Helvetia Crescent, Victoria, British Columbia); OPEN LETTER (ed. Frank Davey, 395 Elm Road, Toronto, 320, Ontario), and the GEORGIA STRAIGHT WRITING SUPPLEMENT (from 56a Powell, Vancouver 4, B.C.). The Community Press project associated with the GSWS and published by Stan Persky (the San Francisco poet now living in Vancouver, as do also George Stanley and Robin Blaser), announces ‘the Vancouver Series, inexpensive ($1) books by local writers, bringing together the poetry of this place, 1960–1970 and beyond’. Australian ‘local’ writing begins in the late 60s of course, but even now there is plenty of evidence of community, common principals. The critique George Bowering brings to bear in his introduction to a prose anthology is worthy of recall: ‘Most anthologies of Canadian stories seek to present names having to do with the success of familiarity… this book is not interested in a package of what has been done with the genre in this country. Its gathering is of voices that have seriously attempted to find words to present their singular senses of their various places… So I look not for masterpieces because we have no more masterpieces. The pieces you may now read are not rescues from the world; they are the words of men and women turning the middle of its storm.’ The point of it is ‘trying to find something rather than trying to pretend they understand something’. And for ‘Canadian’ read whatever you like, Australian in this case.
Presses and magazines who know their direction are a great help in these days of glut. Take Jonathon Williams press JARGON, which for 20-odd years has been a major publisher of the avant-garde. Current titles include Paul Metcalfe (who is Melville’s great-grandson by the way), James Broughton, William Bronk, Herlihy, Mina Loy, Mason, Meyer, Hamilton Finlay, Oppenheimer, Douglas Woolf. A catalogue is available from the distributor of the Jargon Society, The Book Organisation, Elm Street, Millerton, New York, 12546, USA.
BLACK SPARROW is on that par. Its list covers most of the writing that is post-Allen Anthology,, e.g. Antin, Bromige, Bukowski, Clark, Economou, Elmslie, Eshleman, Irby, Kelly, Malanga, Marlatt, Owens, Palmer, Schwerner, Brainard, plus some of the originals, Eigner, Duncan, Dawson, Creeley, Roller, Blackburn, Kyger, Loewinsohn, Meltzer, Sorrentino, Wakoski, Whalen; also older spirits, Paul Goodman, Parker Tyler, Wright Morris, Charles Henri Ford and Gertrude Stein. A list can be had from P.O. Box 25603, Los Angeles, California, 90025, USA.
Australia is not endowed with specialist poetry bookshops, although Paul Smith’s new store, THE WHOLE EARTH BOOKSHOP, 81 Bourke Street, Melbourne, has a range of titles at least reminiscent of better bookshops elsewhere. Some of the best bookshops in the world would include the following:
ASPHODEL BOOKSHOP, 17192 Ravenna Road, Route 44, Burton, Ohio, 44021, USA.
GOTHAM BOOK MART, 41 West 47th Street, N.Y.C., 10036, USA.
COMPENDIUM BOOKSHOP, 240 Camden High Street, London, NW1, UK.
Really there is so much! F. T. Prince (see Penguin Poets, 20), especially Epistle To a Patron, the most gorgeous poem by this forgotten poet, who returned to something of a readership in England only by way of New York whose major poets have followed and fêted him since the 50s) recalls how previously life was simpler. In the 30s London was the place, the capital. It was where Eliot lived. Others would claim Pound and Rappallo, or St. Elizabeth’s and so on. But nowadays this cannot be said. Prince despairs at the ‘fragmentation’. Others are moved by it. The different interpretations of Babel. All of this might be summed up by the Bolinas poet, John Thorpe (see ON THE MESA Anthology, or Earth Ship special-issue, April, ‘72, Ed Hemensley) who commented:
What’s going on here is, that in the act of reading each other’s things, we hear the limitation of person. Like what’s possible is the wind, and here is this man, who is particularly HUNG, in the wind, in a shape. It’s not the wind, but the human sound of it, the real — emphatically not art or talk alone. It’s like the wind, it’s its own answer… The limitation that kicks off a life — we see that it has to be carried every second.
That articulation in Bolinas by John Thorpe is not so distant from a recent missive from Bill Beard, in Bega, NSW.
I care and I don’t! I don’t know and I do. I go on having fantasies and seem to walk around with my mouth open in awe: but sometimes I find myself crying in the middle of the day. So what? Let’s sing a song, eat a few more chiko rolls in fond memory and have a drink: the heavens will endure our indulgences as well as they endure our personal tragedies. We all live under the one enduring sky.
Kris Alan Hemensley (born 26 April 1946) is a poet who has published around 20 collections of poetry. Through the late 1960s and 1970s he was involved in poetry workshops at La Mama, and edited the literary magazines Our Glass, The Ear in a Wheatfield, and others. The Ear played an important role in providing a place where poets writing outside what was then the mainstream (such as Jennifer Maiden) could publish their work. In 1969 and 1970 he presented the program Kris Hemensley’s Melbourne on ABC Radio. In the 1970s he was poetry editor for Meanjin magazine. The son of an Egyptian mother and an English father who was stationed in Egypt with the Royal Air Force, Hemensley was born on The Isle of Wight, and spent his early childhood in Alexandria. He visited Australia at the age of 18, and emigrated there in 1966. He was awarded the Christopher Brennan Award in 2005, which recognizes poetry of ‘sustained quality and distinction’. He currently manages Collected Works, a specialist poetry bookshop in Melbourne, Australia.
Photo: Kris Hemensley, Collected Works Bookshop, Melbourne, 12 May 2014, photo by John Tranter.