Poems by Ken Bolton
for Alan Wearne, whom “at my back I always hear”
Reading in the dust jacket I see James Schuyler
Retsina is my drink
sitting at my desk 2 am
the morning of the day to come
the cool change having arrived
after temperatures of 39 and 43. I slept
early tonight. I slept at work today —
& at work last night.
I go there for the cool:
— It’s closed: there’s no work ‘on’ —
& use the computer. This year
Rae will be fifty-one.
(Alan told me.) I’ll be 42.
Other people’s years surprise me more.
I know my own.
Though I forgot — thought I was forty
for quite some time. I must
(What for, to ask my age? No,
to say hullo.)
All of this unhurried — I
sense no ticking.
The poems of Schuyler catch time as movement, as
fluid, graceful, beautiful —
They don’t suggest much agency I guess.
I am not going to judge him.
My mother. I wonder how
she is. We are not close.
I have not seen her much since I was eleven.
Probably I love her anyway. (Surprise, surprise.)
She is light, & blonde, & physically maybe
not tenacious. I don’t want her
to be ill. She dresses in beige, & nougat,
I wonder if she is an Air sign?
I could go & find
one of the women’s magazines around the house
& see what sign
I want her to live forever.
My dad is more substantial. I don’t
want him to die either —
but because I see him more,
I can see it coming. My body,
perhaps, is more like his. There is
no basis in this.
One time I sat behind her in the car.
An extraordinary number of facial gestures
& things she did to her
face, with her hands,
were mine exactly.
I hear Michael come down the hall
& out the front door.
This means he is standing, looking
across the road — where I see
only dark, an indistinct road sign, the sense of leaves,
& some gleam from a car. I say
in case he is there — & he comes round to my window,
naked, his body warm & brown
holding a towel & a glass of water.
He is nice.
We say some usual things, & he goes back to bed. “Having a bit of a write?” he asks.
I say, “Yep.
Nice when it comes.”
The expression theory of art.
No comment. Or, that was a comment.
And comment enough.
I am glad to be doing it.
is ill. And James Schuyler’s mother
died, in one of the later poems.
‘of that age’.
I guess. Though
I have always been interested in time. The time
is now — I look over my shoulder, at the
Public Service clock, stolen for me
by Gary Oliver all those years back — I just
put batteries in it this morning — it’s said nine
o’clock for months now — 2.30.
“A Few Days
Are all we have. So count them as they pass.
They pass too quickly,”
says Jimmy Schuyler.
Today began not so well,
but at first I think of Anna tonight humming at
ten years of age
a Sonny Boy Williamson song — that she has
picked up from me — I’m so proud ‘!’ Well, ‘amused’ —
I hum it too & we dance for a bit. Earlier,
Cath, Anna & I go out for coffee — something
Sweet — & meet, fortuitously, George & Carlo —
George (Georgina) with her second son
at the coffee shop of tout
le monde — ‘tout’,
anyway, of this part of the world. Not like
Rundle Street, where the action
really is. King William Road — Hyde Park — is for the
stiffer gentry — &,
for their rich children, a near-enough-to-home
amenity. Well, it
does for us. Before that Anna & Cath played
Thinking back, I realize,
the day started with a ride into town, the paper,
then the attempt to use the bromide machine, whose
complexities, now, no one understands —
& nor did I. Old technology. A skill
I had once, forgotten.
After that I came home, showered, calmed down
& set to some final odds & ends —
a date with the printers, some time —
the next few weeks — details of design: that I love.
I worry: the imagery is
too American — tho it’s not exclusively — & I
shuffle images around.
As I work I listen to Crab’s band,
The Cocktail Hour they were called — or
more precisely Crab’s Cocktail Hour circa 1985
with its endless, demented patter between every
song, that reaches high points of cynicism,
frankness, disinterested bile, disinterested
curiosity even — & surprised-by-joy discovery, where
Crab & Arnold say things that surprise even them
& are amused. As well, the band are at cross purposes
never has the word “shutup” been so much used. It
‘all works out for the best’ in a terrific finale
where Crab makes a speech that parodies
an impromptu MC at a bingo party thanking
all for coming & putting
the ‘best face on things’. Nights at Lark & Tina's
really were — to quote one of the band's
chosen preoccupations for the night —
A Long Day’s Journey Into Night.
Really a long night working to dawn — rapport
between band & audience
(like the love between Liz & Richard
in Virginia Woolf) acknowledged finally with the
last two songs & the encore.
we’d lived another day &, en route, had seen some Real Life.
Nightclubs made me uncomfortable — they still do —
I’m was lucky to be introduced
by Mary & Micky & Crab
to that particular scene. My friends in
Sydney & Melbourne never saw it. And it was only that
one club, that one band. (Speedboat
was musically superior, yes, but was much less about values.
Or they were more purely musically expressed? —
with the same personnel, the Cocktail Hour was a tour of duty,
the whole experience.) Anyway, I experience them again,
two or three times over, in the afternoon, in my room, down the
gluing this, drawing that, looking
for useable images, noting corrections. This magazine
will be ready. Cath comes home
with the Banana, who watches television, demands food,
borrows a pencil for her homework, while Cath sits
reading on the lounge near her, calm. Dinner, &
then the flute thing. The night is nearly over
because we’ve managed all on the same night for a change
to be tired together
& hit the bed early — tho Gabe comes in, lateish,
from the other house (his father’s).
But goes to bed, quickly. Only I
am up late, scribbling. A letter to Pam
to write, maybe, a letter to another poet. James
Schuyler to read. Crab to ring — to-
Mary I should ring or see more often. And
Dave, whose daughter died. I wrote — late enough —
to say I’d visit, & haven’t still.
I live on the other side of what is only a very small city.
Large enough to come between us.
I am going to ease myself
into my usual state of anxiety.
Ah, equilibrium, you have found me! Mildly
Crazed, mildly happy — happier, really, than that.
I turn off the light.
(Monday) Hullo, Pam
"and the arts shall march in the very van" — Saint-Simon
Skinny poem today? — why not,
tho there's nothing in the tank,
I am reading tonight
with the enemy —
the heartless competition
& must read well, give
seem to exist
among other criteria exactly.
But, Pam, dull palookas, mostly —
no trouble. But
now, I must ‘get to work’:
an essay for some artists
describing their show — its necessity,
beauty & weirdness
absolute surprise, etcetera.
They like the draft so far
— they would —
& I do like the show
so I haven't had
to dissimulate too painfully.
Sarah's stuff I know &
Matt's — really
I know them all
have I been
missing him — or seeing
only what is atypical
so it slips from the memory?
And Christian Lock:
I've stared at a few,
very hard —
& liked them
& liked the problematic
they seem to live with,
carelessly. What-me-worry! Carelessness, in-
their quality. Four
hundred dollars —
which I will take to DJ's, buy new shoes.
Shod another year. (Five,
if I get them mended on schedule.)
A firm basis on which
“in the very van”
& write the skinny poem, for Pam
(ha ha) it wouldn't be about
— not that she's against them —
art or art reviews —
but that I never talk about them
with her concentration —
(even more to the point)
as if they're part of real life.
of writing is. The
of the art is. So why?
I'm moving further away from it
like it less often —
it's not my game, my irrelevance to it
something like that,
or like those things —
tho this is to stab at the problem,
without much care for accuracy.
Some I care about a lot:
I never required
that I should count to the artists
(he said nobly)
Nice, tho, when you did.
But I write it less — with less
mission. I like the stuff less often, too.
My ideas were out of fashion
Ten years before I found them
& then I developed them, a little,
with others equally unfashionable
which made for a kind of rigour,
or the ‘feeling’ of it — & a fall-back position
of a more forgiving, but
less approving, accommodation: good
cop, bad cop. Tho I think I avoided
the critic as Police.
The artists began to seem less serious — or
the art ‘world’.
Some of the artists were, of course —
& ‘were’, on levels I wasn't
relaxed about, or attuned to, but came to see, finally.
So, no art criticism. For you, Pam.
The everyday then? Monday
is our most everyday day
one we both have off. So Cath & I
shop, walk the dog, have lunch together
we boiled some artichokes for lunch — something
we first did in Rome. Pietro told us how.
We caught the bus
to the Pasadena Coles (or Big W?)
Did he actually say “You boil the shit out of them”?
He may have, his English was quite Australian.
As a young music student in Rome
he was befriended by an Australian composer.
Meale? The owner of the only Schoenberg records
in the city
& something of an inspiration, or model, for Pietro —
a model for bravery & isolation maybe —
fortitude, anyway, that Pietro evinced
as a more or less black-balled practitioner —
after a university student-occupation.
We took our shopping trolleys — the two-wheel
sort (one folds up & can
go in the other).
Then we caught the bus home again.
I walked the dog earlier,
while Cath slept — as
she hadn't, properly, the night before.
I read at intervals Bolano's book
The Savage Detectives — which I like: it's
So shaggy-dog as a principle
yet, ‘in principle’, so much more serious
or solemn, a solemnity
it pokes fun at — the solemn dignity
of Latin American Literature
the nobility, idealism, corruption, futility
ineffable sweetness etc etc
of its imaginary. (A word
that should be capitalized — but I can't bear
that ‘Theory’ should enter in, be
allowed in, here.
Tho in principle
(what a principled poem!), you know, like
Let the discourses mingle…
Let the flowers bloom, etcetera
I sort of don't like a word with a limited life
to crawl in, … presuming, I guess,
my poem will outlive it. Fat chance? May be.
The other days are ‘everyday’ — in the sense
that they are unvarying —
but have less individuality about them:
I ride to work, have time to think & read or write,
before work. Then I work — & ride home.
Things happen. Sure. And I have the odd idea —
or plenty of ideas —
because people think
& at work I'm alone most of the day, so my head
is where I'm at.
The same head every day. Monday
I get off that loop. I chopped wood a bit
today, which was fun &
Moved washing around
In an attempt to get it dry. A CIA man says
the war in Iraq is lost. Has
been lost for some time
was never going to be won with so few troops deployed
etcetera. Which the world has known
for a few years now. When did
the CIA find out, I wonder? A free & frank
disclosure from the CIA — or even Bush —
what a funny idea! I don't want to talk this crap, either
— here —
or use the word “crap” much, if it comes to that.
Ah, The Purity Of Diction
In English Verse — is that where I'm headed?
The day was clear, “beautiful” (in
inverted commas, but really, too)
We were happy. Cath swam, the dog barked
(asked me to play with it, & I did —
she ran & hid for a second, then remembered
she liked to be chased & came out)
& I chased her, cut the wood, read
Outdoor Pig-keeping, 1954 & My Other Books on Pigs
Pig Farming. Methods Of
was a book I wrote in 1945
tho what I knew then of
pig farming you may wonder. It is
a human enough activity.
I mean ‘universal’ — did they have
pigs on Easter Island, the New Guinea
highlands, did the Maori? Virgil
knew about pigs, tho I associate him, more,
with bees, my Latin education centering
on a limited number of texts —
bits of Caesar’s Gallic Wars
or Punic Wars (“Carthago delenda est”?)—
& not much else. Virgil. Ideas of
pig farming might be innate. (?)
Where do correct ideas come from?
“The head, boss.” Pigs pretty much
know what they want (isn’t that
often thought to be the problem,
the thing held against them?),
give it to them. “Long pig” was somehow
special dark knowledge when I was
a schoolboy, I mean the term.
A human dish. (No one else ate it,
except the odd lion or tiger —
as a one-off: humans also
protect their own — better probably not
to eat them too often.) But, to return
to the term, “long pig” implies knowledge
of “pig plain” sure enough. It seemed
insulting, to me, back then — to the idea
of the human & humanity & I didn’t like
to utter it. I remember once
someone telling me of an abandoned
hippy farm where they’d been producing
heroin. The pigs were fed
on scraps & excrement
& were squealing. Addicted.
Apparently the noise was horrible. I did,
at some time, sleep near where a pig
— or pigs — squealed all night. I can’t remember
now whether it was simply very affecting
or whether it was specifically because it sounded
human. It was loud, incessant & frightened.
I can’t remember where or when. An
abattoir. In 1945
I had not read Virgil. I do know that.
It seems we’ve passed this way before. In
‘another life’ I may have been a pig farmer:
I see me, late at night at a plain kitchen table
writing Pig Farming, Methods Of. It’s
electric light — tho it could do with a stronger
bulb. I write it in a child’s school exercise book.
My only daughter has died? It’s hers, hardly used,
& I turn it round & start at the back? — or maybe
continue right on from where she left off.
She had been studying & had written amo, amas,
amat etc. The vocabulary list begins with
“agricola” — farmer. As I see it the farmer
does not become especially sentimental about
the exercise book. He may have done, must
have done, at some time since his daughter’s death,
but now he writes. Perhaps he writes with
extra care because it is her book. Perhaps he writes
because it is her book. He has not written
anything else before. He writes now
because she is gone. She was the future
& he was content to work to see her through —
to her adult life. But now she is gone
he must make something else. He is a widower.
I was brought up by my own father,
alone, me & my sister. We kept dogs & cats
& pigeons, a horse. No pigs. Anyway,
there it is, & it has my name on it, 1945 — Pig Farming,
Some nights & days
I can hear
rain on the roof
scattered windy gusts
of it, till it becomes
This means I cannot go
& look at the moon —
which I saw
as I rode home,
the same day I had read
in the Larkin biography
something about how, older,
you look at it & it means
much less than it did
it still means
to someone, somewhere. To me
it can always look any of — great
sharp, pitiless, hard, rocky,
soft — piercingly sad, charmingly —
butteredly — cheering & optimistic
sometimes at the same time
sometimes not — but the repertoire
of identifications comes up
none have ceased
to be available
or to take their turn.
Like a favourite record, or CD.
if I am the first
to compare the moon to a CD. Hm.
In a minute I will make a
cup of tea & banana sandwich.
The moon looks far better
than a CD, of course. Another pioneering
phrase! I am not so young that they
have, for me, much emotional impact — the sight
of them, I mean — like records have — tho that too
has begun to drain away, with the knowledge
they will disappear — Sand collapsing down
the neck of an hourglass.
— As the time for vinyl
starts running out, the black disks
begin to look like old technology,
less like miracles.
a way to spell “miracles”! (Fixes
now I can go & look at the moon. (The
rain has stopped.) — Though, I guess I won’t.
I once wrote a poem about
smoke? cloud? fog?
pressing against my windows
as it began to grow light: I don’t think
I was ever sure what the phenomenon was.
And I wrote the poem in stanzas of
three lines the second of each
being the second line of one of
the poems I had chosen randomly
from a poet I liked. It was
a loopy procedure — a ‘mediating device’ —
thru which to apprehend the reality
outside, though I liked the result. I remember
the room I wrote it in —
or the two rooms — the kitchen & lounge room —
in one of which I wrote it — the latter,
I’m sure. “Just write great first lines — an
endless rolling, of smoke across my window”
was how it began. I think. First lines
never were my specialty. Though one more
good line wouldn’t hurt — & why not
the first? The newspaper TV program
across which is the pad I’m writing on
features the by-line photograph of a columnist —
taken from below, so he stares out
above one, over one’s head, with ‘far-seeing eyes’
the whacker — he must’ve done it deliberately
as no other columnist would, certainly
none of the women, & the guy across from him,
Errol Simper, seems simply concerned
the associations of his name (he looks
a Hollywood Nazi — grim, grim, grim).
The other (the ‘idiot’)
is Phillip Adams.
I read the column: it
is idiotic too — anything but visionary
or even thoughtful — about pirates! I decide
to read the Simper. From experience (I occasionally
do read him) I know it will be more densely argued.
(Again, the problem — the spur of the name.) I wonder
what he says? I read it — or begin — & realize
I did read it,
just a few minutes previously.
The wind is blowing outside now
hard & rainless — a door or window
rattles occasionally, & a piece of tin makes that
‘billowing’ sound. The trees register the wind
constantly, as if, beyond the glass,
they are under water: shrubs the light from
this room catches bend & rock in a way
that seems ‘troubled’ — like autistic rocking — though
with plants we don’t mind we can enjoy
our attributions, or give in to them —
feel sorry for ourselves, fretful & worried
or simply safe to be indoors. (That’s something
I did right — stayed inside!) There is a letter
to Miriel to write, letters to others, too. There is
the Journal, of this nut, Allen Ginsberg. I tried
to ring Sal this morning — got Jane
instead — Pam & Jane’s number just below hers
in my address book — I couldn’t tell what was
happening. Luckily Jane knew my voice, so
we talked. Then I rang Sal:
& talked to her answering machine.
Pam rang earlier tonight.
of working so full time is
that hours of work-time go past & I can
hardly remember them, even 15 minutes after
Instead, my life seems to consist only of those
moments ‘outside’ — so, recalling the last few days
I can remember the fact that I went to work —
& mostly writing these letters, & thinking while I write
them — brief moments at the coffee shop
before work or at lunch hour (half-hour) — &
drinks with Crab tonight. Is this the Life Of The
Is it, huh?
Crab is told by
John McConchie “not to be Utopian” in response
to his complaint about ... his work situation (what
is it? — don't ask) as if to complain
signals complicity with something
worse than what one complains against. Mc
Conchie / is / “Wrong Again”. So the space between
writing to Becky, the calls to Pam, the letter to Pam,
Kurt’s arrival (I speak to his answering machine, too)
& this morning — where in 20 minutes at the coffee shop
I look at mail: poems sent (& stories)
& make my editor’s note on their envelopes “No,
merely” & “No, but
read again” — is telescoped: is my life being freezedried
by one in another Universe,
is this how you feel
as a coffee bean
becoming Instant Coffee?
I am so drunk, from drinking with Crabby,
to stop writing.
Now, I read the Robert Pincus-Witten
Review, a reprise of his 'time' at Artforum.
— With different allegiances, with a different
version of his allegiances (only the names
have been changed), I would feel I was portrayed — I say Yes,
“in a way. Yes.” But, I dislike, or am already distanced
from, some of his evaluations — Yes, I am similarly
vis a vis similarly placed oppositions (tho something is
forgotten . . .
Apparently I am not
Anyway, I don’t write to Miriel,
I write to Becky, or try to. I am too tired. Tonight
I am too pissed. I write this instead.
Edited by David Kaufmann