Friday, 31 October 2008

Thursday, 30 October 2008

author author revisited

Pam Brown has commented on my piece on collaboration in her blog The Deletions. She notes that Correspondences wasn't really collaborative, rather it was a shared book, then continues with details of actual collaborative practises she has been involved in. It's an extensive subset of her work and her account is of great interest for the light it sheds on 1970s feminist interventions in the arts as well as for what it tells us about her own development as a writer. I'd see the sharing of a book as a kind of collaboration, though that might say more about my own practice than Pam's.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

on Red Lion Square

On Friday and Saturday the Small Publishers’ Book Fair was held in Conway Hall on Red Lion Square in Holborn. The dozens of stalls included regulars like West House Books, Reality Street Editions, Veer Books, Moschatel Press and so many others. Some, like that of Colin Sackett (whose work was included in the V&A exhibition ‘Certain Trees’ – see my entry for July 24) featured the book as an art object in itself. There were several readings on Saturday including a launch for The Reality Street Book of Sonnets. Over the space of an hour the participants read one to three sonnets each. The readers, give or take the odd trick of memory, were Tim Atkins, Adrian Clarke, Laurie Duggan (I also read a piece each by John Scott and Pam Brown), Ken Edwards, Harry Gilonis (who also read Maurice Scully), Alan Halsey, Jeff Hilson, Elizabeth James, Keith Jebb, Chris McCabe, Richard Makin, Geraldine Monk, Frances Presley, Sophie Robinson, Gavin Selerie, Robert Sheppard, Simon Smith, John Welch, Johan de Wit. The sheer breadth and richness of the anthology was well in evidence. Alan Halsey, for example, vocalised his contributions, such as this one (slightly clipped at the left edge):

I picked up a few volumes: some more of Thomas A Clark’s Moschatel Press work (I’d bought some of these at last year’s Fair) and Sean Bonney’s new book from Veer, Baudelaire in English. Clark’s work is quiet (one little book is called in defence of quiet). It is unshowy, but often granite-like. Ron Silliman once commented astutely, that this writer was ‘the closest thing Scotland has ever had to a true Objectivist’. Sean Bonney’s work couldn’t be more different. The double page spread I’ve reproduced below gives some idea of his processes. The poems appear as palimpsests of typewritten lines that you can read enough of to get a strong sense of a poetry that is and is not the translator’s own. Bonney’s fondness for the typewriter is, in a way, a kind of punk nostalgia (he’d probably quite like it that my reproduction includes the shadow at the book’s spine), but it works well in his hands. Anyone interested should also check out the poems in his now complete series The 'Commons' on his website abandonedbuildings. These are, as it happens, sonnets. Jeff Hilson’s own sequence ‘Assarts’ is well worth perusing too.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Monday, 20 October 2008

author author

It occurred to me after writing the post on ‘doubt’ that one way out of the problem of culturally ingrained romanticism in writing classes is to consider collaborative work. It’s paradoxical in a way since Wordsworth and Coleridge are among the earliest public collaborators with their jointly authored Lyrical Ballads (even though in their case the poems are still clearly by one or the other of the pair). Later in the nineteenth century ‘Michael Field’ furnishes a different kind of example: two authors (Katherine Brindley and her neice Edith Cooper) posing as one. Their project with its single male pseudonym has much to do with a desire to have the work taken seriously. They are erecting their author just as, decades later, the surrealists are dismantling theirs. Andre Breton and Philippe Soupault’s text The Magnetic Fields is an exercise in automatic writing with the added feature of voices that intercut and undermine the unconscious as a kind of lode of personality. It is this kind of writing that the authors of ‘Ern Malley’ emulate in an attempt to discredit it. Through the twentieth century numerous examples of collaboration on all sorts of levels occur, from Pound’s famous edit of 'The Waste Land' through Auden and MacNeice’s lighter pieces in Letters from Iceland to the poet-to-poet and the poet-to-artist works of the New Yorkers. In Britain examples range from the artist-writer work of, say, Kelvin Corcoran and Alan Halsey, to Ric Caddel and Lee Harwood’s Wine Tales, a work that uses the illustrated labels of French vintages as starting points for jointly written narratives. There are dozens more examples of varying degrees of collaboration, one of the most recent American items being the Grand Piano project (subtitled ‘an essay in collective autobiography’). The items I note here barely make up a Cook’s Tour of the genre. I want though to focus on some Australian instances among my immediate peers. John Forbes co-wrote poems with both Mark O’Connor (aka John Nash) and Chris Burns, taking his cue from Ted Berrigan and Frank O’Hara. Pam Brown collaborated with Joanne Burns on their book Correspondences (Sydney, Red Press, 1979), with Ken Bolton and myself with Let’s Get Lost (Sydney, Vagabond, 2005) and most recently with American resident Maged Zaher in farout_library_software (Tinfish, 2007).

Perhaps the most interesting Australian collaboration (and certainly one of the most persistent) has been that of Ken Bolton and John Jenkins. They have now jointly authored six books: Airborne Dogs (Brunswick Hills Press, 1988), The Ferrara Poems (Adelaide, Experimental Art Foundation, 1989), The Gutman Variations (Adelaide, Little Esther, 1993), The Wallah Group (Little Esther, 2001), Nutters Without Fetters (Berry, PressPress, 2002) and Poems of Relative Unlikelihood (Little Esther, 2005). These works are all collaborations in the strict sense of the term: they are jointly authored pieces rather than grouped works by one or the other authors. And they are not like the earlier work of either of their progenitors. Ken Bolton has said that he has trouble working out who wrote what in these broadly narrative poems. The writers literally abandoned themselves to the task (I’m pulled up here by the vision of a drawing Ken might do of an author abandoning himself) and the results were, like the Malley poems, something else entirely. In Ken’s case the collaboration fed into later poems of his own (presumably the idea of narrative structure) just as in my own case work as a screenwriter fed into a (very unfilmable) poem, The Ash Range, which is, in an odd way, a collaboration with hundreds of dead diarists and journalists).

It was Pam Brown who was responsible for getting together Let’s Get Lost, the book jointly authored by herself, Ken Bolton and me. This was a collaboration of the ‘soft’ variety. The three of us had for some years fired off each other and so the work already had connections. With Pam then based in Rome, Ken in Adelaide, and myself in Brisbane the book functions much as an exchange of letters might do. The names of individual authors are left off the poems though it’s not too difficult to work out who wrote what. The work was something assembled after the fact and this is the case too with my only other collaboration, the poem ‘Breath’, written with John Scott in the early 1980s. John had asked me for any unused drafts that he could then use as the basis for a new poem. The result looks much more like his work than it does like mine, yet so many of the phrases in it are mine. I enjoyed the fact that we could both place the poem in our own respective collections. Here it is:

XXXXXXIn windows he sees
women comb their hair: light failing
in distance, horizon light.
Women combing hair against the light.
XXXXXXAnd 'against' might mean
'they fight the darkness' or 'provide
a counter motion to the darkness'
or 'their bodies lean out from
darkness'; there is no way to be sure.
Only that he sees their hair spiral
from the clouds; the faces of visitors
caught in the light, vague as lost sailors,
and the light trailing like
XXXXXXwomen's hair.


XXXXXXand now rain.
And now rain ceasing.
He sits in a room. He feels that gentleness
has been lost from the circumstances
of his life. He wonders at its 'peculiar lack'.
He wonders how it is that things change
unaccountably. 'Change' meaning
'to grow different' or 'to take another
instead of'. What he feels
compressed to this word. What
he sees compressed to the contents
of this room. What he hears.
Outside, a road already half-dry
XXXXXXwith traffic.


XXXXXXHe hears her breath.
This trace of presence: air rustling
distance, horizon air,
the faintest assertion of being.
XXXXXXOnce he heard
her fight for that same air
against the rush of former lives
and saw her come to life.
XXXXXXNow he lies awake,
the closest he will ever be to her.
And from the sounds that might
name this place, or give it shape
and sense when all is dark, there is
XXXXXXonly her, breathing.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Friday, 17 October 2008

re Morley

As far as I can ascertain, Hilda Morley published some six books (though the fifth listed here is a pamphlet included in the sixth as respondent Sam noted): A Blessing Outside Us (1975), To Hold in my Hand (1983), What Are Winds and What Are Waters (1983), Cloudless at First (1988), Between the Rocks (1992), and the posthumous The Turning (1998). As far as publishing goes she was a late starter (b 1916, d 1998). Some accounts note that her queries about DH Lawrence made HD feel like an historical figure. The books I have on Black Mountain characteristically don't say a lot, though Creeley was obviously supportive. It's good to know a few others out there are as keen as I am to see more of the work in print. This, after all, is an age of Collected Works (according to the booksellers).

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

another side of Black Mountain

In 1991, most probably in Collected Works bookshop, I picked up two volumes by Hilda Morley. A Blessing Outside Us was her first book published by a small press (Pourboire) in 1975 with a preface by Robert Creeley. Cloudless at First was her fourth, a substantial volume published by Moyer Bell in 1988 with a cover image by Elaine de Kooning. Morley taught Literature and Hebrew at Black Mountain College during the Olson years. Unsurprisingly she found the College a chauvinistic environment, remarking at one point that ‘faculty wives tended to fall into a background position, like a minor women’s chorus voicing the spirit of a limited consciousness in a Greek play’ (She was writing a dissertation on TS Eliot too, which would have won her few friends at that institution). Creeley describes her as ‘one of those insistent sisters who invite the world with seemingly innocent provocation of its own dumb vulnerabilities’. I took these books down from the shelves again recently and partook of the ‘physical clarity’ and ‘sensual dimension’ of the work at a time when this was much needed. Here is the poem ‘Paris’, from Cloudless at First:

That world where no one
is other than what
he emerges as XX(from the vibration
& is what he is to himself because of
a juncture of moving causes XXis
as the streets of Paris unfold out of
other streets (Rue Jacob from Rue de Seine and it
XXXXXXXXfrom St. Germain
and remove their other skins (the bulbs of tulips, irises
out of one distinct form into
another, where by the spark circling (a word, a tone
the mind is filed down XX(fined) into a
plunging will of itself driving
through tunnels (waves)
that world where no one
lets the window swing to
or light blur on the shield XXso an edge of the mind
XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXsharpens (to impulse
when laughter reaches a pitch XXwhen it brims over
into intelligence

Sunday, 12 October 2008


Here's an anonymous comment I received on the Issue 1 piece a few days back:

You pussies jst can't take a trick.For all your anti-poet/poetry rants you and the rest of the avant-guard fall apart the minute someone disturbs your carefully manicured image of yourselves.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Voices of a Nomadic Soul

Aldous Eveleigh drew this image of Fernando Pessoa. It's one among many that were on display last night when Shearsman launched a new edition of Voices of a Nomadic Soul, Zbigniew Kotowicz's excellent book on the poet, first published by the Menard Press in 1996. This book, together with a recently unearthed guide to Lisbon written in English, continues Tony Frazer's project to present the work of Pessoa to an anglophone audience. My first experience of the poet's work came with the publication of Edwin Honig and Susan M Brown's translations in 1986 (or possibly earlier in the Penguin Modern European Poets series). Pessoa is renowned for having created four poets (including 'himself'). Actually he created some seventy authors but these four were the ones who produced sizeable bodies of work (Alvaro de Campos's poems alone run to two volumes in the Shearsman edition). And Lisbon is to Pessoa what Dublin is for Joyce or Berlin and Paris for Walter Benjamin, hence the importance of the tour guide for his readers.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008


The general morbid state occurring in inhabitants of marshy districts.
(OED, 1881)

all or nothing at all is
everything you are
(ask me how I knew
all I’ve grown accustomed to
as Gyro Gearlooose
loses the plot
(what’s good for the goose
is not to forget) the where-
withal of knowledge
stands on its head
in the bathroom mirror
marking time with what it can
to sunlight and
distant radios

encroaching shade
or pink light
up against the trellis
a fortune lost weekly
astumble between chimneys
it takes a season to angle
eaten or half-eaten
a wardrobe away
we make our shifts
as best, as worst,
as worsted, what’s left
guttering in the bowl
as morning puts the stars
wound up for today

‘idiot light’ and now
hiss of water
as the room leans
to infinity, a brow
(or prow) over the street
named what? marshes
low and distant
a catalogue of beasts
line up to be milked
and all the air quiet
as gradients fall away
the Swale invades
sensibility, a sky
at best marginal

a black painting
passages in dark red
reflect a room back
at its beholder
somewhere a zither
a movie, substance
the sky, the sea, inert
a gas, behind all this
tangle of apostrophes
outlaws appropriate
imagery, a quiz show
for those in the know
who harvest before it ends
traces of the bends

go book, be
a blight in
what’s around
entombed in air
your staircase stretches
towards the stars
as hope is kindling
aspiring to nought
a pitch, a kind of sale
as markets crash
a bubble, perfect
of its kind
rests in a space
above the heart

two thousand year old
tree in Eastling
a road to nowhere
falls off the back
of the Downs, a tunnel
once been through
takes its shape then
collapses. you do not read
these letters at peril
taking sights on flowers
that light up finally
turning mulch, a bead
on what’s ahead,
a head, a light

enough covenants
save these cushions
it’s all enacted here
in this room the
dull curtains frame
take from books
what we can, isolate
instances, white walls
thick with ideograms
only the sound booms
across streets
where poetry and the risible
coexist, a sparkleof departing tides

the triumph of neoconservatism

The CEOs of five major banking corporations plead for the return of socialism.

Monday, 6 October 2008

fake patio

I think it’s true that hoaxes have a habit of achieving goals other than the ones they set for themselves. Ern Malley is as shining an example as any: initiated as an attempt to discredit modernism the poems ended up outliving their authors’ own works and inspiring further generations of writers. It’s an example that Ron Silliman might find amusing in that the Malley poems in turn illuminate the poems of their authors as merely (for the most part) well-wrought containers of meaning. Harold Stewart wasn’t very good at it; James McAuley was a lot better (though even he succumbed to the tedious affliction that led Australian poets in the 1950s to write long and turgid works about explorers). Every hoax has its unintended consequences and I’m sure the author of Issue 1 wouldn’t have been expecting his own mailbox to crash with irate responses . . . or would he? In my own case I let ‘Skull’ Murphy respond for me and he’s a little more hot-headed than I am (years of TV wrestling ensure this). I’d agree with Jill Jones that Issue 1 is a harmless exercise though I don’t know that I’d want to claim ‘my’ particular poem. I doubt that financial gain is involved (though someone ought to be paid perhaps for all that cut and pasting). As for 'identity theft'? That’s something for the graduates of ‘professional’ writing schools to worry about.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

issue 1

'Skull' Murphy says (to the editor/s of Issue 1): Lucky you live in New Jersey or I might be breaking your legs. [For further illumination of this possibly obscure item, view Silliman's Blog, Oct 5]

Saturday, 4 October 2008

shadow of a doubt

or Why I am not a Creative Writing teacher . . . I was some time ago when I worked part-time for a year at the brand-new outer suburban campus of a recently constituted university in Melbourne. At the time Creative (or ‘Professional’ or whatever) Writing had only been taught in Australia for a few years and the Universities and Colleges were straining to catch up with the American proliferation of such courses. Changes to funding mechanisms had meant that it was now feasible to institute subjects for which there was a demand. This was not altogether a bad thing. It broke down conservative opposition to feminist and gender studies as well as entrenched resistance to film and media as fruitful areas of research in institutes of higher learning. With writing however, the Universities realised they were sitting on a gold mine. At a time of pinched budgets here was an area of study for which people were prepared to pay. The overheads were minimal (compared, say, to those of media) and you could even bring in outside guests with little or no idea of themselves as valuable commodities. The results of all this have been mixed. There are many institutions with fine writing teachers that produce an admirable quantity of talented students. There are also places where it is doubtful that any graduate will become a ‘successful author’. Teaching methods vary enormously. When John Forbes taught writing, his classes were an almost casual mix of reading and discussion (so casual that sometimes he wouldn’t turn up). He happened to be a very good teacher and there are several people out there now writing poems who mightn’t have got so far without him. I encountered an entirely different teaching method when I filled in for someone else one day. There was no time at all for chatter in this class. Everything was mapped out with rules and regulations as to who could speak and who couldn’t and when they should do so and the structure of these lessons bore an alarming resemblance to the ‘encounter group’. The regular teacher had herself studied under a (very) famous American writing academic and there was more than a faint whiff of psychobabble in the course description. When I taught in Melbourne I was aware that something was needed to undermine the attitude many people bring to writing classes. I even alarmed some of my students by asking that if they didn’t want to read other people’s work then who did they think would want to read theirs. The class were all nice people but only one of them appeared likely to pursue writing as a vocation and he was very much into ‘performance’ (i.e. not books). To counter these tendencies I took photocopies to the class every week of many vastly different kinds of poems and we discussed this work for half of each session (this was in itself a task since the new University had almost paralysed itself with copyright concerns and I had to fill in multiple forms for every week’s productions). I like to think that at least my students came out of all this as better readers if not writers. Despite these concerns my main reason for not taking up teaching was a less ideological one. Confronting a class each week made me aware that my own method of writing was predicated on doubt. I could never be totally confident about what to say to students when in my own experience such certainties threatened to harden into unusable practices. At a micro level I’m happy enough to suggest losing an adjective, changing a line break, compressing or expanding something, but I can’t, other than through my own enthusiasm, communicate why anyone should want to involve themselves in this often crazy vocation and thus, as a result, I’m not so good at instilling confidence in others.

Friday, 3 October 2008