Big Bridge #9

Poets of Australia


Ken Bolton

American Friends

                                                                    "I am ashamed of my century
                                                                    for being so entertaining
                                                                    but I have to smile" - Frank O'Hara

Ah nuts! It's boring reading English newspapers
in Adelaide as if I were a Colonial waiting for my gin
somewhere beyond this roof a jet is making a sketch of the sky
where is Laurie Duggan I wonder if he's reading under a dwarf pine
stretched out so his book & his head fit under the lowest branch
while the great southland sun rolls calmly not getting thru to him
not caring particularly tho the light in Sydney does not get

to see so many poets, while in Blackheath or Marrickville
Pam - particle or wave theory? - divides her time
between them, reads Eileen Myles or Susan Schultz
(American friends) everybody here is running around or sitting tight &
being grim I once saw Laurie swim 'backstroke' - so he motored
feet first around a pool I dreamed I saw Pam
in a play I never wrote - wave theory
might explain this, crazy, intense, the picture ghosting

inexplicable Steve Kelen where is he, et famille? In Viet Nam?
Adam, where him? I emailed but did not look
to see where. Back soon. Alan is in Honkers
Dipti in Melbourne Richard & Suzy are in New York
buying the CDs that will fill out his collection - that is culture
right? & maybe making art did I see Jenny Watson's painting of herself
sleeping in New York in New York? If I did will Suzy see it? a
bed in Central Park. Susan Hiller calls & sees them
who would be so New York, wouldn't she, in New York? the way
she didn't seem in Adelaide tho exotic, sure, an

American friend - Dennis Hopper was the American Friend
when I first saw it a washed-up American almost,
a mercenary, like the character, an American 'for hire' which made it seem
subversive or sophisticated, the use of him. My American Friend here
is O'Hara so I expect that I am subverted
I expect the charge - in any case - I deal with him again
to see can I gain advantage poetically Surely if I get
out of my depth Frank who was by many accounts
quite a swimmer can come powering thru the surf
to save me as the life saver does now for a little kid
'in difficulties' amongst the many bods & standing figures & figures swimming
round her - like me, with Laurie, Pam, Adam
(who lives by a beach). Horseshoe Bay, Pt Eliot is where I am,

whereas Adam when he gets back gets back to Bondi,
a real beach. The lifesaver carries the curly headed girl -
aged 8, aged 5? - to the very edge of the sand, under one arm,
above his hip, jokingly & places her in the wet sand
where the surf just reaches as she runs away from him
& up the beach no doubt relieved or filled with an
             to tell
                           where are my friends -
                                                                having adventures?
they picture me, & as I am, writing this, sitting
in the shade at a beach, the cries of kids, mild,
thinking of them?
                                        I can't help noticing
how wrong
                        O'Hara's opinions about this
American Century
                                     have turned out to be
& remembering
                                how much I liked them
tho they were wrong then
                                          they were wrong
even when he wrote them - like Dennis Hopper in the film
wishing it were not so

                                                             So here I am,
protective of these opinions for being even
as blithe as they are but you are the American, wrong -
even here, in this client state, my hero


                                                                    "In this dawn as in the first
                                                                    it's the Homeric rose, its scent
                                                                    that leads on"
                                                                            - Frank O'Hara, Ode to Willem de Kooning

                                                                    "As a people we are now called Australians because
                                                                    a vast & lonely land has touched us with her differences"
                                                                            - George Ivan Smith, 1953 preface to
                                                                              For The Term Of His Natural Life

                                                                    "it's noble to refuse to be added up or divided"
                                                                            - Frank O'Hara

"Beyond the sunrise
where the black begins" -

& the lights of the city, we
imagine, twinkle or blaze …

the horizon line here
a curve of butter yellow,
slightly oxidized - lined,
at its rim, by olive-green 'natives' -
hides a city that if I am
facing the right way
must be doing its afternoon trade
relaxed this last few days after December 25th
but ready nonetheless for the big push
at night, the raid on
fun desire release -
selling mostly coffee, wine,
Michael / rolls a joint has one
then rolls several others children
contemplate navels - the girls their own
with quiet pride, the boys the girls'
with longing puzzling as it is strong
Mary paints her nails, reads, Cuban music
playing. What of Margaret, of Crab? they do
those things normative in a utopia
a cork is popped, Marg plays
fado, the soulful music of Portugal
or Crab practises on sax
reads some politics, some mayhem, reads
the poems I gave him. I
try to seize upon that greatness
which is available to me
if it is available at all
(am I facing the right way?)
thru art.
                        The view is
quintessentially Australian, which is its
problem - for me - tho not classical
& in its particulars
is information (where the classic typically presents
only sign). The essays of
Meaghan are to hand which might
stiffen my resolve or form it: not to be
inimitably weak & picturesque myself
but standing forth a subject not a spectacle.

There are daisies nearby & a shin-high wall
of loose but flat-laid shale or slate twelve feet
beyond - a standard country wire fence; the
field of grass; on the horizon a distinct
curve of hill three hundred yards away, a
water tank nestles in to the furthest reach
of the olive 'natives' -
can I drop the scare marks from
that word now, hasn't it
done enough? &
I rest their case
                             "for now
a long history slinks
over the sill",
                       & with it history's ironies, reversals
sarcasms so de rigueur. I never wanted to be postcolonial
or colonial just modern which is
the joke on me - but who wants to be a category?
Many would be right - it will do me to be interested - &
one accepts the truth like a tired disguise handed out
for the party - is this me? - & joins the crowd
as the brave must always ascend, always the musts:
the Eiffel tower, the flight over London, the café
table - in Rundle Street or rue de la Rocquette
where Lorraine lived & we stayed tho for me, today,
this hill is my focus, the clouds - (for I must ascend) -
are beautiful & white & echoing fluidly the hills'
shape, the splotches of green that mottle the yellow
& remind of ‘Minor Moderns of South Australia'
a line I join of precursors - Horace Trennery,
Dorritt Black - pondering a relation
to the minor English, Europe, the
universal - & its status as 'the wrong question'
which strolls now & then into a field
& sits down like a forgotten rock
while 'we' walk on
to an horizon line, that's beautiful, keen,
precarious, & doesn't tug - not 'rose', but
serene, & melancholy, & joyous, all at the same time, a kind
of benediction that says, I'm free & I'm gratuitous
why not feel better? & since you do you do
return: into that inanimate world of voices cross-
questioning you, no longer like your father, a man
in an open necked shirt eating an icecream (& just,
perhaps, 'going for a walk'), but in a shirt I bought in Melbourne
made by migrant Vietnamese late at night, yet in which
I feel Australian, whatever that is
                                                - a point mapped by coordinates
you momentarily 'keep your eye on', or don't, being
yourself or a moving target (do the hills you climb as
no one count? The hostess explains,
As we leave administered life
there is a slight discomfort - the tug of
gravity on re-entry returns, you may
feel tired. Where, the open neck shirted men, women in
thongs & sandals, ask is our shimmering ideal? If O'Hara
had such timing John his last move suggests he blew it
Tho exits are notoriously hard to make. "I live above a
dyke bar & I'm happy" - I might too for all I know.
Am I? Occasionally, occasionally very. The female
of the tiny blue jay or 'wren' appears, bouncing,
across the grass outside then some of the 'men' &
move across my field of view from left to right …

Some Thinking

Does all art aspire to the condition
of music? - While someone

is always prepared to say so I put on
a tape, a CD, instead of writing

or put it on to write to.
As far as the art gets.

A tape rolls quietly - "Light Blue",
"Soul Eyes" - to which I've done

a lot of reading, a lot
of pottering about, a few drawings -

& to which I’ve ‘cleaned house’ -

& a lot of writing - or of 'trying to write',
which comes to the same thing. Mal Waldron

wrote both these tunes.
                                     I first heard of him
in the poem for Billie Holiday - "The Day

Lady Died", with the great last lines
where she whispers to him across the keyboard

"& everyone & I stopped breathing."
The great thing

about the line is the uncertainty: is it "everyone
& I stopped breathing"? or that Holiday whispers the song

"to Mal Waldron & everyone" - & it is then O'Hara
"stopped breathing"?

It makes for a pause, a hesitation, a number of them -
that evokes the magic & tension

of her timing. And there's Frank, leaning there
- near the door to the toilets? The 'john',

which always suggests the hard American 50s -
& ensures I think of him in a white shirt & narrow tie,

suited. Already the texture of life is disappearing
- exactly how it felt, to be in those suits, in that time, at a nightclub

how anxious or not, how preoccupied & with what -
how people held themselves - is gone. Well,

it survives somehow, unverifiably, hard to quantify,
in poetry … we still have the music, films -

but films lie. Cassavetes suggests the era to me -
was he ‘the type’ of the hipster - cool, up tight, hip, witty?

suited, a drinker, free, & maybe more exploratory -
within limits more circumscribed than now?

Or do we always see ourselves as more free -
& get it wrong? Did he

& O'Hara meet ever?
Different worlds.

The thing I was going to say about nightclubs
was that maybe how people feel & act in them

never changes. (I heard some magical things
at Lark & Tina's, for example. I've been as tense

as anyone, at the Cargo Club - & wore suits there.)
But night clubs themselves might've changed - with the music:

amplified is different? the fashion for recorded
dance music, or for dee-jays, might have altered them.

On tape one of the moments I like best is the voice -
a little shakey, a little spaced - Jim Carroll's by repute,

asking for tuinols, in the space between songs, at a great
Patti Smith gig. Or Velvet Underground -

they’re both on that tape. There's some great
& wonderfully casual, relaxed things said, over the music

at a late 50's date that features Miles Davis
guesting with local hero Jimmy Forrest: a type of music, & experience,

continuous with the live recordings of Charlie Parker -
the same carefree ambience & same reason to pay attention

whereas Patti's music gets to you pretty much
whether you listen or not. You don't have to choose of course.

"Jesus died for somebody's sins but not mine"
is always great to hear said. This track,

the badly named "Soul Eyes" (how can you not roll it
into one word?), is not live but so sad & so unhurried

it makes time, development, almost its subject. John
Coltrane. Well within his limits - as

somehow imagined - & great the way conservative paintings
by great artists often are - a Gauguin still-life

that looks as though it wants to be Manet, or Fantin-Latour.

Ken Bolton was born in Sydney in 1949. Since 1982 he has lived and worked in Adelaide, South Australia, where he is associated with the Experimental Art Foundation. His art criticism appears regularly in Australia, his poems too. His Selected Poems appeared in 1992 from Penguin. A more recent collection, Untimely Meditations, comes from Wakefield Press.

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