Monday, 31 March 2008


Derek Jarman chose Dungeness as a place to establish his garden. It is a singular environment. Everything you come across here (including the decommissioned nuclear power plant) seems to have been abandoned. The garden of the house neighbouring Jarman’s is composed mainly of flotsam, though various domestic items, like clothes-pegs have been used as well. Turning from this landscape of stones, ropes, winches and decaying sheds and vessels to look at the work artists like Paul Nash, Edward Wadsworth and others were doing in the 1930s, I sense that this is how Surrealism arrived in England: it floated across the Channel.

Surrealism reached Australia in a different manner entirely (though an early painting by Donald Friend shares similarities with the English works, making use of the marine landscape near Robe, South Australia). It makes sense that an art as aware of publicity as Surrealism should arrive at a distant place through the media of publicity. By the time it made an impact in the Australian cities it had already been co-opted by the advertising and fashion worlds (the earliest surreal ‘installations’ were made by window-dressers, and Sydney’s first major exhibition of modernist art including Surrealism took place in a department store). It is worth remembering that a good deal of anti-modernist rhetoric in Australia in the thirties and forties (particularly that of the left) was based on a belief that modernism itself was high fashion and that it was typically the pursuit of middle-class women with time and money.

It’s also true that when a culture is exported strange things can happen in transit. The Australian Surrealists often took Salvador DalĂ­ as their departure point with the result that their work seems at times to be programmatically Freudian. The desire to do it right, even in the realm of the classics could wrap things in a surreal mantle. This photograph (taken in the early 1920s) of my father and another boy dressed for a Shakespeare play at a small school in country Victoria takes on the strangeness of a photomontage.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Marcus Valerius Martialis

The need to define misericord brought back to me the whole problem of translation and the linguistic skills (or otherwise) of the translator. In 1989 I published (with the journal Scripsi) a small book entitled The Epigrams of Martial. I am not a Latinist, and these poems were as much exercises in contemporary satire as they were 'translations' (even if some of them are surprisingly close to the originals). I had made use of the prose versions in the Loeb Classical Library edition and I had the additional advice of Michael Heyward, one of Scripsi's editors and a teacher of Latin himself. The project had come about through a suggestion of Michael's that I try and do a couple of Martial poems for the magazine but once I started, something in the tone of these works made me want to continue. I had, some years earlier, read a book of Martial translations by Peter Porter but I deliberately avoided going back to Porter's book while I was working on my own versions. When I did return to it it was interesting to note that we had barely coincided in our choices. This was largely because Peter was more interested in the general social mores while I largely wanted to make use of the ad hominem elements, to 'make new' the vitriol. I was encouraged by someone who had made fine translations of Catullus, Peter Whigham. The editors had shown him some of the poems, but he was killed in a motor accident before I could get back to him. Generally the book was well received though it did occasion one amusing moment of confusion. The journalist John Flaus was standing in for a talk-show presenter at a commercial radio station in Melbourne. He phoned to invite me onto the program. When I arrived in the studio he relaxed, turned on the mikes, and said: 'Ah . . . Marcus Valerius Martialis'. I soon realised that he was indulging a favourite personal topic: the teaching of Latin in Catholic schools. He had assumed that with a name like Duggan I had also been charmed, cajoled and perhaps beaten by one of the Brothers. But I am not a Catholic, nor had I ever studied the subject. I'm not Irish either, as far as I know (my name is as much an accident as it is a reliable indicator of provenance). I fear that Flaus was bitterly disappointed though we made light of it and I was given the taxi fare home afterwards.

small mercies

Yesterday we drove to Minster on the Isle of Thanet. This map, dating from the 14th-15th century, shows Thanet as an actual island (with Minster highlighted). You can just make out Margate in the top left corner. In the church of St Mary the Virgin, Minster, there are misericords that date from the 15th century. Here are two of them:

The first shows the demon of fashion between the horns of a woman's headdress. On either side of her are slanderers with protruding tongues. The second shows a preacher flanked by a pair of ancient Britons. A leaflet suggests that they have 'manes like lions to indicate courage, snouts like pigs to convey ignorance and large ears to show that they listened'. Despite the second image, misericords tend to depict secular rather than religious themes and often show pagan figures like the green man.

A misericord is a shelf on a choir stall seat to support the occupant while standing (according to Simon Jenkins). My lack of Latin meant that I looked up the term in a couple of places. It has several related meanings: (1) an amercement, which is a penalty or fine at the mercy of the inflictor, (2) a thin-bladed dagger used to give the coup-de-grace or mercy stroke, (3) an indulgence granted to a member of a religious order, and (4) compassion, pity. In the case of these shelves the term would more or less mean a 'small mercy'.

Friday, 28 March 2008

The scream

Here's another odd graphic from the files. I must have cut out the newspaper photograph of Lyndon B Johnson when I was at high-school in 1967 and placed it carefully in Herbert Read's Concise History of Modern Painting.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Breathing in Kent

This afternoon Jean Fraser spoke at the University of Kent Centre for Law, Gender and Sexuality about her ongoing project called Drawing Breath. It's an expanding investigation that began as a bicycle ride around the Kent and East Sussex coasts. Jean is a photographer and has worked in various areas involving psychology and visual art. The project title reflects her life with emphysemia but the website (including a blog of the journey) meditates on a range of interrelated subjects. In it she has created something that contains but is not contained by its preliminary thesis. Like all art it escapes from circumstance while swimming right through it.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Two exhibitions, or When Squares Were Cool

Over the last few days I have been to the Royal Academy exhibition ‘From Russia: French and Russian Master Paintings, 1870-1925, from Moscow and St Petersburg’ and to an exhibition of Alexander Rodchenko’s photographs and photo-based collages at the Hayward Gallery. The first of these shows has received mixed reviews. But while it’s certainly true that some of the earlier Russian work and, among the French, that of Maurice Denis, is somewhat lacklustre there are more than enough hits to make the visit worthwhile. The paintings that suffer most are the symbolist and some of the sub-cubist pieces. The light in Levitan’s landscapes, along with that of some other earlier Russians makes them attractive pieces that only a time lag and the tendency of modernist histories to ignore the supposedly superseded has relegated to the back room. There are many more great works then the big Matisse (‘Dance II’) to take in: his ‘Harmony in Red’, a wall of Cezanne (including a terrific early double portrait), a wall of Gauguin (great artist, terrible influence), a big Bonnard too.

The stars of the final part of the show (from 1910 on) are the Russians themselves (whether expatriate, like Kandinsky, or otherwise). Three great women painters – Natalia Goncharova, Alexandra Exter and Liubov Popova - are well represented. Exter’s work, while clearly deriving from cubism, makes something of her borrowing (or theft, in the sense that ‘good poets steal, bad ones borrow’). Then there’s Mikhail Larionov, the portraits of N. Altman, including one of Anna Akhmatova. Finally there are works by Vladimir Tatlin, Rodchenko and Malevich. Tatlin’s amazing suspended construction is wonderful to see. Photographs of this piece don’t give any sense of how rough-edged the object is, not a sense of its weight, suspended as it is in a corner on taut ropes. Malevich’s squares, circles and crosses hint that so much mid-century American art owes him. A photograph of Malevich on his death bed surrounds him with these works which assume the status of earlier ikons.

In the Hayward exhibition Rodchenko takes the time-line beyond 1925, into a period where there’s a sense of how much of the promise of Russian modernism failed to materialize. Varvara Stepanova worked with him on many of the photo-collages and magazine and book designs represented here in one of the rooms. Rodchenko virtually invented the striking angle in photography and this would keep him working in a period when ‘formalism’ had become a suspect, bourgeois approach. Like so many great Russian twentieth-century artists (I think here of Shostakovich), Rodchenko turned a limitation to advantage. By concentrating on sports photography he was able to put his formal originality to striking use, since it was the Soviet body that was ostensibly the subject. Still, it occasions sadness that so many good intentions, so many great makers, should have seen the (perhaps imaginary) promises of 1917 fade from view. Rodchenko’s post 1945 diaries are painful reading, referring as they do to physical ailments and to his fight to maintain the rights of a professor, even to keep the gas heating going.

Monday, 24 March 2008

The Amazing Adventures of Dick Dada

These little images are from a booklet (edition of one) that I amused myself with during a dry spell in 1984. The Dick Dada character spent an earlier incarnation as Uncle Dick, the constantly inebriated character in an Australian newspaper cartoon called The Potts

Sunday, 23 March 2008


In a dry break in an otherwise drizzly Easter Saturday we walked down the road to Ospringe, a former village, now a suburb of Faversham. Just outside the town, past a car yard on the south side of the A2, excavations were under way. The site is quite close to the road and at the bottom of Judd's Hill. The A2 follows the route of Watling Street, the Roman road, and what is possibly being dug up are foundations of part of Durolevum, a road station first noted late in the second century. For a while its location was nebulous: somewhere between Canterbury and Rochester. Then estimates placed it closer to Teynham. But recent surveys have located it either beneath or close to parts of Ospringe, so this is perhaps what's being carefully sifted and mapped at the moment. Further up the road, in the direction of London, is a ruined chapel in a field to the north, barely visible if you're driving and noticable from the railway only during the winter when the trees sheltering it aren't in leaf. The chapel has varied stone layers with some Roman work around the base. Here it is, on a clearer day:

Saturday, 22 March 2008

1968 etcetera

For the last week or so BBC Radio 4 and some of the papers have been demythologising and remythologising the year 1968, prompting some reflections. 1968 was my first year of tertiary education and Monash University, in my home city of Melbourne, happened to be one of the hotbeds of Australian student radicalism. Monash was then a new institution (it was founded in the early sixties). Left-wing activities there had begun probably in late 1966 and gradually faded out in the early seventies, peaking in the years 1968 to 1970. The Vietnam War had ensured that in my last years of high-school I had begun to be politically aware. In 1967 I had written an essay on the Watts riots in the USA. So when I arrived at Monash I assumed I would become involved in political activities. I attached myself to the Labor Club as a ‘fellow-traveller’ (I wouldn’t become a member until 1970 and I had ceased to be one by the following year, my last at the institution). The Monash Labor Club tended to align itself with the Maoists though it would be wrong to say that this was a generally agreed upon position. There was much internal debate and members and friends occupied a range of positions from slightly left of the Australian Labor Party through Trotskyism to Maoism. It would also be wrong to suggest that members of the Club took no notice of the events of the Prague Spring. There were very few Russian-liners and although there was also a New Left Club at Monash, many of the Labor Club regulars were equally appalled by the events in Czechoslovakia.

I was the first member of my family to go to university and was, from the beginning bemused by the earnestness of some of these mostly middle-class people. One of the things I found very strange was the way everyone seemed to understand how meetings were to be run. ‘Procedural motions’ and ‘gags’ were ruses that seemed to me to proceed from the same system that ran the state we lived in (they had in fact emanated from the debating clubs at the private schools that some of these people had attended). The mores of the more active members were alien to my other life as a lover of pop music (decidedly not ‘folk’) and a nascent hippy. When I was still at high school, my mother, of all people, brought home from work some issues of the San Francisco Oracle that a young woman had loaned to her. The swirling, almost unreadable texts and the uses of vibrating colour hinted at possibilities that Marxist-Leninist thought had never countenanced. In 1968 at the same time as I was attending meetings and demonstrations and occupying administration buildings, I was visiting the inner city suburb of Carlton to see radical theatre at Melbourne’s La Mama and the Pram Factory. Groups like Tribe, whose work was almost entirely improvised fascinated and, at times, scared the daylights out of me (if you went to see them in the tiny space of La Mama there was every chance in the world that you would become part of the performance). Many of the people in this performance group, including a woman who had been at my high school, lived in a large house in an otherwise staid inner suburb and regularly consumed various substances that I wouldn’t touch for a few more years.

I had begun writing poems in 1966, though I would not write anything that would be published in a book until 1971. My poetry world at university was a different world again: one that would be informed by early twentieth-century European modernism, by notions of collage, and by books like Ted Berrigan’s The Sonnets. I travelled to Sydney over the New Year of 1970-71 and, on the advice of one of the members of Tribe, knocked on a door in Darlinghurst and told the women there ‘my friends said it would be ok to crash at your place’. I stayed there, sleeping on the couch, for a month. One of the women was Pam Brown, a friend and an essential poet for these last thirty-something years.

Friday, 21 March 2008

Lee Harwood at The Lamb

Last night at The Lamb in Lamb's Conduit: a launch for the Salt Companion to Lee Harwood, with Lee (above) and editor Robert Sheppard reading. It was a respectable gathering of somewhere between twenty and twenty-five; a quorum anyway. Lee read a number of pieces from the 'Dream Quilt' sequence and two further poems, one of these from the 'Take a Card, Any Card' series. Shearsman, who released the Collected Poems in 2004 are soon to publish a Selected Poems and a book of interviews.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Jonathan Williams 1929-2008

In late August 1992 we visited Jonathan Williams and Tom Meyer (above) in the Yorkshire Dales. We were met at Dentdale station and taken back to Corn Close via a restaurant (JW paid for everything for our whole visit: it was what a Southerner would do). At Corn Close we were installed in the ‘barn’, a rebuilt interior used as a studio and living quarters during the winter months. Up the hill, the sitting room of Jonathan and Tom’s cottage contained a large cutout of Colonel Sanders, and a work and living area set up with computers and books. From a high window in the rear wall you looked up a steep fell. He played us recordings of Debussy and Vaughan Williams and rummaged for books of interest including a great pair of volumes inscribed by various artists, writers and musicians including Pound, David Hockney, Zukofsky, Hugh Kenner, Guy Davenport and many of the great dead. He gave us several books including Tom’s Sappho and his own great collection of Portrait Photographs. Earlier he’d written to us in Manchester: ‘I like reading the Independent every morning and love watching “Coronation Street”: almost better than real life and it only takes 90 minutes a week.’

Monday, 17 March 2008


Defoe describes much of this better than I can:

From hence following the coast, and the great road together, for they are still within view of one another, we come to Feversham, a large populous, and as some say, a rich town: Tho' here is no particular remarkable trade, either for manufacture or navigation; the principal business we found among them, was fishing for oysters, which the Dutch fetch hence in such extraordinary quantities, that when I was there, we found twelve large Dutch hoys and doggers lying there to load oysters; and some times, as they told us, there are many more: This is greatly to the advantage of the place, as it employs abundance of men and boats in drudging for the oysters, which they catch in great plenty, in the mouth of the East-Swale; which, as I said above, enters in this part of the country into the sea, and opens very wide.

It was at the mouth of this Swale, namely, at Shell-Ness, so call'd from the abundance of oyster-shells always lying there, that the smack in which the late King James II. was embark'd for his escape into France, ran on shoar, and being boarded by the fishermen, the king was taken prisoner; and I must mention it to the reproach of the people of Feversham, let the conduct of that unfortunate prince be what it will, that the fishermen and rabble can never be excus'd, who treated the king, even after they were told who he was, with the utmost indecency, using his majesty; (for he was then their sovereign, even in the acknowledged sense of his enemies) I say, using him with such indignity in his person, such insolence in their behaviour, and giving him such opprobrious and abusive language, and searching him in the rudest and most indecent manner, and indeed rifling him; that the king himself said, he was never more apprehensive of his life than at that time. He was afterwards carry'd by them up to the town, where he was not much better treated for some time, till some neighbouring gentlemen hi the county came in, who understood their duty better, by whom he was at least preserv'd from farther violence, till coaches and a guard came from London, by the Prince of Orange's order, to bring him with safety and freedom to London; where he was at least for the present much better received, as in the history of those times is to be seen.

While I was near this town some years ago, a most surprising accident happen'd, namely, the blowing up of a powder-mill, which stood upon the river, close to the town; the blast was not only frightful, but it shatter'd the whole town, broke the windows, blew down chimneys, and gable-ends not a few; also several people were kill'd at the powder-house it self, tho' not any, as I remember, in the town: but what was most remarkable in it all, was, that the eldest son of the master of the powder-mill, a youth of about fifteen years of age, who was not in the mill, or near it, when it blew up; but in a boat upon the river, rowing cross for his diversion, was kill'd by a piece of the building of the mill, which blew up into the air by the force of the powder, and fell down upon him in the boat: I know nothing else this town is remarkable for, except the most notorious smuggling trade, carry'd on partly by the assistance of the Dutch, in their oyster-boats, and partly by other arts, in which they say, the people hereabouts are arriv'd to such a proficiency, that they are grown monstrous rich by that wicked trade; nay, even the owling trade (so they call the clandestine exporting of wool) has seem'd to be transposed from Rumney Marsh to this coast, and a great deal of it had been carry'd on between the mouth of the East-Swale and the North-Foreland.


Faversham is a market town: it's so big and no bigger. It probably takes thirty minutes or so to walk from one side to the other. It is situated a mile or less inland on the north side of Kent and is (mostly) elevated a little above a flood plain. Where the buildings thin out to the north there's a shipyard and, beyond that, the Oare, Ham, Nagden and Graveney marshes. When you reach the coast you look across the eastern end of the Swale, a channel running between the mainland and the conjoined isles of Sheppey and Harty. Just near where the combined Faversham and Oare creeks enter the Swale is the remnant of an old ferry. Around here, and where the road rises from the water on Harty is a conservation area on which, at the right time of year, birdwatchers gather, seemingly trying to outdo each other in a contest over who has the biggest telephoto lens. Birds nest in protected areas of the foreshore and on the mud and grass islands in the middle of ponds. Driving on Harty I once saw a barn owl, flying in broad daylight, parallel to the car.

The Swale runs into the North Sea and on a clear night you can see across as far as Southend in Essex. On the coast facing the sea a few miles east is Whitstable.

Faversham itself has markets in the town square three times a week. There are over twenty pubs (I've stopped counting) but also an unusually high quotient of hairdressers and charity shops. There's a cinema: a curious blend of faux medieval and art deco.

Most of the buildings in the town centre date from the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries. Further out are Victorian and late-twentieth century suburbs. Like most of Kent's councils, ours is dominated by Tories. This singularly inept bunch recently rolled out blue bins for recyclables before figuring out that most people in the middle of town had nowhere to put them. The local newspapers, like local papers everywhere, are morally outraged by the behaviour of 'youths' (see my earlier post for headlines).

Historically Faversham has been a farming and a fishing town. It was also, for a long time, a centre for the manufacture of explosives. A large tomb in the town cemetery commemorates some 150 or so people who died in an accident in 1916. The main industry in the centre of town is the brewery (Shepherd Neame) which has been in operation since 1698. The play 'Arden of Faversham' (1592) relates the murder of an unpopular official arranged by his wife.

Saturday, 15 March 2008


I don't suppose many people talk about hegemony these days. But here in the UK, right before my eyes, is a perfect example of what Gramsci meant in his use of this term: the construction of a set of beliefs held by a particular interest group as a generally accepted norm. Last Saturday the Guardian announced that seven booklets under the moniker 'Great Poets of the 20th Century' would appear through the week. Many people have commented on this in chatrooms and elsewhere. I sent an email to the paper noting that these poets all wrote in the English language, that they had all spent a considerable part of their lives in the UK, and thirdly and perhaps more significantly, they were all published by Faber and Faber (the initial ads obscured this). I noted also that the photograph of a Writer's Room in that Saturday's Review section featured Simon Armitage another Faber author's workspace. Perhaps brashly I added 'don't worry Simon old son, you'll be in next year's edition'. I wasn't surprised when my letter didn't appear in the paper. I was surprised however at the blatancy of the exercise when the first booklet appeared emblazoned with the Faber logo. This whole thing is so clearly an exercise in marketing disguised as an educational initiative. I remembered the story told some years back by John Matthias, an American poet who had spent some time teaching in England and who had edited Faber's Introducing David Jones volume. He had revisited the company's offices in the mid-eighties and had observed the new management in action. Along with the new ff logo (as circled above), a brochure appeared with photographs of the twelve living Faber poets entitled 'The best of poetry today'. Several of these poets were flown around the country in helicopters in a sort of poetry blitzkreig. 'Dump bins' in front of shops were crammed with Faber titles. All this had become possible through the success of the musical 'Cats' and the subsequent money accumulated through the Eliot franchise. But what happened to poetry amid all of this? Craig Raine and the 'Martians' were the self-proclaimed future of English writing at the time, though Matthias elsewhere notes that their work is 'the thinnest and most foppish poetry in England since the Sitwells' (note here that Raine introduces Eliot in the Guardian's series and uses his brief space for a gratuitous swipe at JH Prynne). Faber have undoubtedly published 'great' poetry in their time, though it could, amusingly, be argued that each generation of Faber poets is worse than the previous one. The Guardian's editors ought to be ashamed of themselves.

Friday, 14 March 2008

Bysing Wood

A couple of days ago heavy storms hit the west coast. We only got the tail end of it here in Kent, but I was nearly blown off my feet on a hillside near Teynham and you could hear the wind howl in Bysing Wood. Now it's muggy almost.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

the ghost who walks

After a long hiatus caused by the New Orleans floods, Andrei Codrescu's journal Exquisite Corpse is running again. The current issue has a gruesome piece by the founder-editor on the smell of the city, weeks and months after the floods, caused by unrecovered bodies and by rotting foodstuff in powerless refrigerators. These white boxes became primed canvasses for comment on Washington's negligence.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Surfers' Paradise

While I'm on the subject of stapled magazines, here are the four issues of the Sydney production, Surfers' Paradise. This was John Forbes' project. I co-edited #1 with him in 1974, he did the other three by himself in 1978, 1983 and 1986, so you could say it was an irregular publication. The first issue didn't have an address or the editors' names for that matter. The cover, by Colin Little from the Tin Sheds features beer cans floating on a green sea. The belt surrounding the cameo was based on the extra long one John used to wear. #2 was the Steve McGarrett (of Hawaii Five-O) issue featuring a photo of McGarrett on TV by Mick Forbes. #4 had on its cover an old cartoon from Punch which, John said, 'only I seem to find amusing'. The print run for these would have mostly hovered around 100 copies.

Monday, 10 March 2008

Mirabeau Goat Poems

A chance mail from Rob Smyth brought to mind this decidedly low tech stapled and gestetnered magazine from 1968 called Mirabeau Goat Poems. It appeared from Monash University, Melbourne, Australia, and Rob and, I think, Colin McDowell were the editors. Its title came partly from Apollinaire, partly from some other source lost in the mists &c. There was only one further issue with different editors in 1969. I had poems in both of these productions emanating from our 'Literature Club' (which folded after 69 when many of the people who read at our monthly sessions were no longer around). Monash was a little hothouse in the late 60s in an otherwise unfriendly environment. John Scott and Alan Wearne were both participants in the readings though John's work doesn't, if I remember rightly, appear in the journal. Elsewhere in Melbourne were the poets centred around La Mama theatre in Carlton who, at that stage, were more interested in beatdom and performance, and there was an established school of 'academic' poets centred largely around the University of Melbourne's English Department. We were too 'intellectual' for one lot, not witty or knowing enough for the other. In those years the poetry world seemed tied up in one way or another and it was impossible to get your work published unless you went and did it yourself. In 1971, my last year at Monash, I co-edited a one-issue mag called Leaves with Philip Chubb, later to become a journalist. I wouldn't urge anyone to hunt for these publications though they are not without their charms. They are snapshots, I guess, of a moment.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

I'm Not There

I've just come back from watching Todd Haynes' Dylan biopic at the Gulbenkian Theatre on campus at the University of Kent. The movie was preceded by eight ads. Five of them were for cars, one was for men's deodorant, one (a public service job) was for condoms, and one for the British Marines. I guess they were aimed at a student audience but the last was especially amusing seeing as how the average age of the audience would have been around fifty (and I'm being generous).

The movie was great, I thought, and, to my delight, completely unlinear. I'm someone who has trouble following regular plotlines where you have to remember details of character and even (in extreme cases) what individuals actually look like. Cate Blanchett has been, rightly, praised for her role in 'I'm Not There' (has there ever been a movie that she's acted badly in? She's good even in the otherwise excruciating second 'Elizabeth' job), but I felt that all the Dylans were good. Some reviewers have had problems with certain things, notably the scenes featuring Richard Gere and the Basement Tape characters, but I felt it all held together pretty well. The film didn't dodge Dylan's gender politics either (the 'early seventies' Dylan doesn't think women can write poetry, even if they 'rule the world' - maybe he'd read too much Robert Graves . . .). Where another film might have failed dismally this one grasps the whole mythic thing with an agility matched only by Greil Marcus' criticism.

It occurred to me that my own desires to change tack, to shift from one kind of poetry to another, has its roots in those especially sixties moments when you expected each album by major groups like the Beatles to be different. I've often spoken of the love that John Forbes and myself had for popular music but I'd never seen this direct influence on my own work as clearly as I now do after watching 'I'm Not There'. With Dylan I was a relatively late starter. True perhaps to my immediate demographic I didn't latch on to the 'folk' Dylan. My English teacher in year five - the first person I showed my work to - was probably more interested in Dylan Thomas than in Bob, though he was a 'folkie' and he would certainly have identified with the famous 'Judas' caller. But I came to Dylan through the Byrds and couldn't have been more delighted than when he left Pete Seeger and Joan Baez (phoney Joney as a friend once said) well behind. The booth photos at the top of this entry, by the way, are of me in 1967, the year of Dylan's basement sabbatical.

John Forbes

Just over a month ago, on February 2nd, Gleebooks in Sydney held a reading in memory of John Forbes, who died aged forty-seven at the beginning of 1998 (details of this event, along with other material on John Forbes, are available on the APRIL website). The image above, taken sometime in 1972 or 73 by an unidentified photographer shows John and the fiction writer Ranald Allen standing on either side of a self-portrait by George Washington Lambert in the Art Gallery of New South Wales (Lambert's is another story - father of Constant, the composer; grandfather of Kit, manager of The Who). John's poetry was central to that being written in Australia from the seventies through into the nineties. The Collected Poems is still available, as is a festschrift entitled Homage to John Forbes and edited by Ken Bolton. Both of these books are published by Brandl & Schlesinger, Sydney.

Friday, 7 March 2008

Welcome to Sunny Sands

Our friend Larry Stillman was mildly alarmed by the proliferation of signs in England warning people of danger and prohibiting them from certain activities. He was even questioned when taking photographs of a security-related sign at one of London's stations. I think he found the killjoy element almost as alarming as the security one. I sent him this image:

the white cliffs . . .

The local paper reports that several restaurants in this town, mainly Indian, were raided by police looking for illegal immigrants in the last few days. Those discovered will be deported though first they will probably have to spend time in the big detention centre on the Western Heights at Dover. I feel pretty ambivalent about this. Possibly these people were underpaid and exploited but aren't there other ways the system can deal with this? Of course the whole Iraq debacle has propelled governments like Britain's into more and more draconian emphases on 'homeland security'. They haven't been as bad perhaps as the former Australian government under John Howard which actually invented scenarios ('children thrown overboard') to fool and scare the general public into supporting their often racist policies. But Britain does seem to have a lot of trouble with the concept of multiculturalism and, as a result, veers more and more to a notion of 'assimilation' that should give grave misgivings to anyone with any knowledge of what this term meant to Australian Aborigines for much of the last century.

The detention centre at Dover uses a former prison and not-so-new maps still mark it as such. The site is spectacular. I wonder if the inhabitants have windows they can see out of. If they did they would, on clear days, make out the French coast.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Some signs

And here are some more images: a batch of signs from various places. Is this 'looking writing' as opposed to 'writing writing'? Is it turning the visual back into the verbal, or is it suggesting there's no difference, that it's all 'language' because language is the act of distinguishing things?


Having started a blog the first question becomes: how do you sustain it? You may have to decide on some tack fairly early on, some idea, perhaps, about tone, about content. Will you be personal, theoretical, advocative? Will you write reviews? How do visuals tie in with the written content? Aaargh! There are, of course, models, and some appear in my sidebar. David Caddy and Ron Silliman for theory, Pam Brown and Silliman as advocates and news sources. Someone in Sydney whose tag I can't remember wrote a 'personal' blog in which he'd talk about brushing his teeth and washing stains out of his underpants. This was in the early days of blogging where the whole thing seemed as unusual as a funny answerphone message. Martin Edmond is probably one of the few whose blog is an art form itself (and it's significant that a publisher took up Luca Antara as a print prospect). I would aspire to art maybe, though I know I'll fall short of this. I like the idea of miscellany, of being able to drop in and out of various tones. Then the question arises: how to separate this from whatever I do that could be termed a 'poetic journal' - is there some cut-off point? For blogs in general the idea of an overall form is of no account.

Of course it's just like me to get reflexive.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Meanwhile here are some items from the local press . . .

More on readings . . .

Tonight's reading is, I should have said, in Shearsman's monthly series. Anamaria Crowe-Serrano will be launching a new book and I'll be reading mostly from my Shearsman selected: Compared to What. Quite possibly I'll do poems from the Blue Hills series.

Further London readings: On Friday night upstairs at The Leather Exchange on Leathermarket St, London Bridge, Rob Holloway and Jow Lindsay will be reading from 8.00 in the Crossing the Line series. Then on Thursday 20th March, Lee Harwood and Robert Sheppard will read in the Blue Bus series upstairs at The Lamb pub in Lamb's Conduit at 7.30pm.

Monday, 3 March 2008

Late notice I realise, but if anyone is going to be in London tomorrow night (Tuesday 4th) I will be reading together with Anamaria Crowe-Serrano at the Swedenborg Hall, 20-21 Bloomsbury Way at 7.30pm. We will be observed by the man himself (as pictured). As Jack Little used to say on Channel Nine Wrestling back in the sixties: Be there!

graveney marsh

Early March. The promise of hail, though it's sunny out there. Where else to begin but with something as mundane as this? Graveney Marsh is some few hundred metres away from the front window of my office. To the left of the sea wall is the Swale, a body of water separating mainland Kent from the Isle of Sheppey.

I was originally going to call this blog The Dugout, an obscure enough reference to a roadhouse run by my second cousins back in the 1960s in a place called Ensay South in an area known as Gippsland in the southeast corner of Australia.
I post this table napkin as evidence (no use trying the number, the building probably doesn't exist anymore):