Ken Bolton: poem: Perugia to John Forbes

Perugia to John Forbes

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Dear John,
                          I thought it would be nice
to send you a postcard
                                                -  after all,
I’ve had them from you while you were o/seas  –

the postcard, I imagine, says
                                                          “& get on with the
really serious business
                                                of being an Australian”  –
after discussing Europe, the Louvre, the French
the British, the Italians,
my appreciation,
                                  enthusiasm even,
                                                                          while trying
to accommodate your stated position on these matters  –
that it is
                          all a theme park
virtue & annoying failing
                                                          is to resemble itself
rather too unfailingly.
                                                              Tho I have never
been able to really credit this, as you keep
                          People always say,
John’s in Rome again  -  imagine!
                                                                  or “in Paris,” “in
                  & one smiles imagining your T-shirted,
Newtown futurism there, a riposte to it.

(But I haven’t written that card.)


                                        I did like it.
                                                                              The Louvre
I loved
              & Paris generally was pretty nice
                                                                                  (I mean,
one felt light
                              & pleasantly transitory
before the endless weight of the buildings on the
                          -  finally one could see
                                                                            ‘where the money
when French history spoke
                                                      of the cruel & crueller
& yet more cruel taxes
                                                the Louies levied.
It all went here:
                                    central government,
outrageous privilege.
                                                I liked the Chardins, the
                  (& much else  -  but is this what you want to
            & was interested in how bad Reni was
with the bit between his teeth  -  i.e.,
                                                                            lots of
commissions  -  & occasionally ‘how good’  -  &
how bad some of the French second stringers
                                                                        (Le  Sueur, Vouet).
& on the ‘street’ … the French were okay  –
                                                                                    & we met
some nice ones
                                      (some very nice).
                                                                                      But how
could one go & live there
                                                        without spending a year
or more
                working thru these pointless
                                  & where you had, who would
you talk to  –

                                in the sense of
                                                                  “writing poetry to /
              what would happen to your language  –
wouldn’t it ‘lose touch’, get
                                                        ‘out of’ touch?
                                                              in fact?
(So I think better to come back & get on
with the really hard work
                                                        of . . .  etc.)

I’ve seen Harry Mathews twice.
                                                                  The only
other literary part of the trip
                                                          -  its rationale
the thing that made it financially possible  –
was Cath’s attendance at the French Poetry in
Translation conference
                                                  where she, & various
poets who spoke French & English    –
                                                                              a Swiss,
a Guadalupian, a Quebecois, an American
an Irish, a Scots & various French  –
discussed the intricacies & otherwise of each
other’s translations (of each other’s work).
Pretty intense.
                                        Harry (who is
                            & rich
                                                -  & entertaining as well)
                                                                                                    told me
among other things
                                        that Joe Brainard was dead
had died just a few weeks back.
                                                              ((He also said
Why don’t Scripsi send him copies
                                                                of that stuff
of his they published  -  as well as money, tho
as I said … ))
                                                I don’t know if you cared
all that much
                                about Joe Brainard,
                                                                                but for me
he was part of the zep
                                          I associated
                                                                            with Berrigan &
                (& the others  -  Warsh, Tom Clark, early
Anne Waldman, Elmslie, Dick Gallup)
I loved & that I
                                  ‘took on board’
                                                                            -  & modified  –
        ‘took on board’, to say the least.
                                                                            I always
think of him as young.
                                                (The photos  -  that
showed him skinny,
                                          with a grin & an Afro, in
jeans & jacket.)
                                  I Remember, as Mathews
was   something to have left behind.
                                                                            (I’d even
started doing one myself a few months back
occasionally adding to it.)
Adventures In Paradise grew out of a similar attempt
on the I Remember model.
                                                        Did you know that?)

                                                            His graphic work,
        was really good.
                                                          I guess he was too nice
to make it in the art world (?)
                                                                can that be
the explanation?
                                Denis Gallagher once sent him
a postcard
                        claiming fan status
                                                                        & got a reply.


We’ve just been walking round Perugia
“for the cool change to come”
                                                              -  as the Weather Girl on
TV said it would
                                    said it so rapidly she
to be a weather girl
                                        We should’ve guessed
she was otherwise bimboish
                                                              to a degree we don’t
associate (in Australia)
                                                  with ‘hard’ information  –
we called in on the church
                                                        of San Philipo Neri  –
beaten, but stand-up Baroque, on the outside,
& inside pretty impressive.
                                                        A mass was
underway, so we didn’t tarry.  Earlier
we called in on one ancient ruin
                                                                inside whose
grand, archaic doorway (columns,
                                                                        capitals etc)
a church the size of a small lounge-room
real, assorted lounge chairs
                                                        & a congregation
of 4 old women.  (Wow.)
                                                        In San Marco
in Florence
                          there was lots of singing
                                                                              a concert
so I went back to see it with maybe more lights
        It was only ok:
                                        & had to restrain myself  –
despite the tourism & tourists
                                                          some silly old stooge
an expression of long-suffering
                                                              & disdain
was waiting to give confessions
                                                                  you kneeled in
front of him & you & he hid, under a bit
                                                                                  of shared cloth  –
very ‘in camera’  –
                                        I wanted
to misunderstand, try to make him sell me
… a bus ticket, a cigarette lighter … .

Siena tho was great  -  beautiful Siena,
              (in Swineburne’s celebrated phrase)
“Siena the terrific”
                                          where, during the promenade,
on the campo,
                                  when you stare directly up,
after a bottle of wine, & a pastis, a Ricard,
a cynar, un radic or whatever
                                                            (not all
of these, as it spoils the view, & in fact
you land on your head
                                                      -  tho where better,
when there are so many people
                                                            to help you up?)  –
you see this:


a fish’s-eye view   of the sky,
all around
                            (in their characteristic colour).
(See, a European experience, an epiphany!
                                                                                  resembling, tho,
a football hooligan’s.
                                          But I thought, even so,
I should tell you.)
                                        I’ve thought of you a lot
over here  -  & Pam & Laurie  –
euro-travelled friends,
                                                thru whom the world
has been so far filtered
                                                (or ‘mediated’)
as well as thru, say, Berrigan, Padgett (the
‘American Express’) & Schuyler.
Robert Culp & Bill Cosby (I Spy)
                                                                        & Roger
Moore (The Saint)
                                        -  no Henry James in sight.

TV is next door.
                                  Something American  –
you can tell by the sparse, sparse dialogue.
What do Italians make
                                                of these movies they
dub & watch, in which, unlike them, the
people are so monosyllabic, constrained,
so grim,
                          where an Italian would be
emoting, gesturing at least,
or desperately
                                    making meaning   –
shoulders, head, eyebrows  ?
It must seem like comic strips to them.



                            “How you gonna
                                                                              keep him
down on the farm,”
                                  you said to Cath when she
          “now that he’s seen Paree?”
is to let you know
                                  I’ll be back at the
pit face
                  light, transitory, but really
        in the hard New World, new Italian
suit to help me.

P.S.  Hi, too, to Dîpti  -  and remember, send Harry copies.

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