Saturday, April 30, 2005

those were the days, my friend

ah, nostalgia, when democracy took 2nd place to oil
 Posted by Hello
Some new poems at Series Magritte.

lists & such

After reading Eileen's new shopping blog, I remembered this poem from around 1974 & decided it might be an appropriate post.

for Nigel Roberts

Searching through the chest of drawers
for a map of australia / for jon silkin
i have so far discovered, in just one drawer,

assorted hare krishna & divine light fliers,
a railway timetable, photos of terence stamp
& dostoievsky, photos of myself at various ages
between seventeen & thirtythree, catalogues
of pornography from the netherlands (visual) & from
france (verbal), eighteen months of rolling stone
that have gathered some mould though no moss,
lost poems, found poems, rejection slips & letters
of acceptance, a thousand letters from my mother
ninehundred & ninetynine of which say 'please write'
& the other saying 'thankyou for writing', &
several foolscap notebooks, amongst which is a

forgotten journal dating back two years that contains
quotes from j.g.ballard, rider haggard, cocteau,
h.p. lovecraft, charles olson, etc., together with
the beginnings of five s.f. novels & three plays,
captions for obscene cartoons, thoughts for poems,
poems, words to look up & meanings of those already
looked up, bibliographies & lists of books to buy,
ideas for movies, images from movies that moved me,
ideas, images, entries of the 'dear diary' variety,
&, in extremely small letters on an otherwise empty page,
an anonymous note that says
                                 there is a poem           
                                 in everything.

california pelican dreaming

I got down to Montemar Vista as the light began to fade, but there was still a fine sparkle on the water and the surf was breaking far out in long smooth curves. A group of pelicans was flying bomber formation just under the creaming lip of the waves. A lonely yacht was tacking in toward the yacht harbour at Bay City. Beyond it the huge emptiness of the Pacific was purple-grey.

Raymond Chandler: Farewell, My Lovely

Friday, April 29, 2005

tranquility - a small
space that
just above
the alligator pool

on the Muppet Show tonight

Leevi Lehto always manages to discover strange things. Now it's his blog translated into "swedish chef" dialect. A sample:
Epreel 26, 2005 8:32 EM Noo in Guugle-a Puem Unthulugy: Serepheem cunnecteefity , a feene-a (und tupeecel!) puem by Merk Yuoong, ooff Oostreleea & Noo Zeelund. Bork bork bork!
&, of course, thoughts about the Muppet/Sesame Street interface with blogland rose unbidden.

There are several strong contenders for the old guys in the balcony. I'm sure we could find an Oscar & a Cookie Monster if all blogs had photos of their owners - do owners come to look like their blogs after time?. I know of a drummer out there who would probably act like Animal if his leg was chained to a post. There are a couple of Bert & Ernie blogs. Tom Beckett, at 6' 7", would make a wonderful Big Bird - Big Squirrel? & then there's the most famous Moi in the universe - despite the chateau connection, I don't think her use of the phrase derives from Louis Quatorze - who could also play the Count.

& Kermit? The line forms on the right. We take that in turns.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Fugacity 05, a final update

There are only about a dozen poems still to go up at the nzepc's on-line anthology Fugacity 05 which was built over the last few days. A tremendous response, over 100 poets, amongst whom I'm extremely pleased to see a number of fellow bloggers, plus a lot of poets I met for the first time when I was in N.Z. last year plus many other names that are new to me. There's also a marvellous collective writing exercise, everybody's autobiography to the bird sound of rain.

Monday, April 25, 2005

The Ten Nein Commandments of ex-Cardinal RatFink

the former head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (which was once known as The Inquisition), now known as Pope Interdict XIV.
1. Ordered the Sisters of Charity who were just about to open Australia's first medically supervised injecting room in Sydney with support from the local Cardinal, most of the press including The Catholic Weekly – they described it as a "great step forward for human dignity" - & the State Government, to cease & desist. (The Inquisition) ".. is deeply disturbed...that such an initiative is proposed by members of a religious congregation, to whom they look for good example.")

2. Ordered nursing orders & public hospitals run by the church that they should draw back from 'harm minimisation' schemes. The same line for AIDS as for drugs: abstain or die.

3. Ordered American Catholic bishops to deny John Kerry Holy Communion because Kerry was in an "objective situation of sin" for being pro-abortion & pro-euthanasia.

4. Ordered safe-sex education be stopped.

5. Ordered people with AIDS never to wear condoms, even when sleeping with their wives.

6. Declared homosexuality an 'intrinsic moral evil" & devised an argument whereby homosexuals themselves were to blame for homophobic violence. "When civil legislation is introduced to protect behaviour to which no-one has any conceivable right, neither the church nor society at large should be surprised when other distorted notions & practices gain ground, & irrational violent reactions increase."

7. Declared the church had an obligation to tell its adherents how to vote "when this is required by faith or the moral law".

8. Instructed any Catholic lawmaker that it was his (RatFink's word) to expression his (ditto) moral opposition, & publicly to vote against anti-gay discrimination laws.

9. Instructed Catholic politicians to oppose any type of recognition for same-sex couples.

10. Instructed Catholics to uphold the church's dogma of sex & family: no divorce, no contraception, no sex outside marriage, no homosexuality, no IVF, no stem cell research, no drugs.
(with heavy achnowledgments to an article by David Marr in The Sydney Morning Herald)

Sunday, April 24, 2005

A Magritte poem

There is a wonderful - & an equally wonderful reading of it - poem named after Magritte's painting The Betrayal of Images by Jeffery Bahr on one of the pages of his poetry website.

I'd be safe

& warm
 Posted by Hello

Puffing away

I am rapidly approaching a major crisis in my life. The variety of cigarettes I have smoked regularly for fifty years are no longer being made, & I am down to my last few packets of untipped – no filter - Rothmans KING SIZE, 16 mg of tar per cigarette. & in looking for alternatives, I have discovered that the only untipped cigarettes left on the market are Camels, a brand that I remember hearing referred to as the only cigarette that has a picture of the factory on the packet.

In a recent post at really bad movies Richard Lopez, a former smoker, writes of having been enamoured of the accessories of smoking such as Zippo lighters. Not for me, though when young I used specific, obvious, cigarettes – Gauloises, Sobranie Black Russian – to accessorize a particular image I was trying to present.

I came to smoking through my family though no-one in it smoked apart from my father who smoked a pipe. But in one of those small rituals that families have to accompany certain celebrations, he would be given two cigars in metal cases at Xmas, one of which he would smoke after lunch. & I would be given a puff. Which, I'm fairly sure, I didn't inhale.

From there it was buying cigarettes loose from the tobacconist. Five for threepence, about 2½ cents. Always for one of your parents, a transparent lie but acceptable then though now that sale would be a criminal offence. I didn't smoke much, though enough to later be able to joke that I did give up smoking for a time, for a year between the ages of eight & nine.

At high school it was a packet of 20 a day. At university it went up to three packets, a rate I kept up until I was fifty when the firm for which I worked banned smoking in the office, & I went back to a daily packet. Also, L. gave up smoking around ten years ago, so since then I've never smoked in the car or inside the house – I have been fortunate in that we've always had pleasant outside areas. That latter act has drifted into my poetry, to the extent that sometimes I think of writing a macro so that with one keystroke I can insert the lines "I go outside / for a cigarette."

I am paranoid about running out of cigarettes, once thought of committing air piracy on a flight to Perth – airline schedules say it's a four-hour flight, but because of the prevailing winds it tends to be a five-hour flight there, three hours back - & forcing the pilot to set down in the Nullarbor so I could have a cigarette. I cough continuously, am short of breath, have a raspy voice that replaced the more mellifluous one I used to have. When I went back to New Zealand last year, those of my previous compatriots that were still around all seemed to have emphysema. I have overcome other addictions that are popularly supposed to be more difficult to do so. But never smoking, though I can now go for much longer without a cigarette than I previously could.

I am thinking about patches, or cold turkey. But next week I will probably go into town & buy a single packet of each of about ten varieties, try them out & then make my decision.

(Whilst writing this, I have worked out that, at their present cost, I have spent around $250,000 on cigarettes over the years. Yep, around quarter of a million dollars. Think how my life might have changed with that sort of money.)

Only one thing to do about it.

{insert macro}

Saturday, April 23, 2005

I went for a walk......

On a Winter's day

John Kane's A Winter's DayPosted by Hello

an update on FUGACITY 05

The first poems are online. The official launch is in 45 minutes. They have been swamped by poems, so it may be some time before they're all up.

Rimbaud's Baedeker?

"The following pages contain the writer's diary, kept during his march to and from Harar. It must be borne in mind that the region traversed on this occasion was previously known only by the vague reports of native travellers. All the Abyssinian discoverers had traversed the Dankali and other northern tribes: the land of the Somal was still a terra incognita. Harar, moreover, had never been visited, and few are the cities of the world which in the present age, when men hurry about the earth, have not opened their gates to European adventure. The ancient metropolis of a once mighty race, the only permanent settlement in Eastern Africa, the reported seat of Moslem learning, a walled city of stone houses, possessing its independent chief, its peculiar population, its unknown language, and its own coinage, the emporium of the coffee trade, the head-quarters of slavery, the birth-place of the Kat plant, and the great manufactory of cotton-cloths, amply, it appeared, deserved the trouble of exploration."

Richard F. Burton: First Footsteps in East Africa

Friday, April 22, 2005

The Veronica Ficcione

It is said of Septimus
Veronicus, the last but
one Praetor appointed
to the province of
Camargua, that his
initial infatuation
with this land of bulls
& flamingoes was
gradually augmented by
an anger at its
continued oppression.

So much so that
two years into his term
he renounced his
citizenship & declared
the province independent.
Rome responded. Four
hundred soldiers & another
praetor. A short battle
on the riverbank ended
when Septimus caught
a passing flamingo &
held it out at his side
distracting the newly-
appointed official so
that he attacked the
bird, not the man.

Bullfighting aficionados
regard this move with
awe, now honour
the initiator by calling
it a veronica. History
says little else about
the time. Rome's attention
was taken up by
The Triumveral Wars that
came soon after. The man
that Septimus killed
is known only as
the last Praetor. Capes
have replaced flamingoes.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

to catch
the outline, &

the space
within with music


FUGACITY, the on-line anthology from the New Zealand electronic poetry centre – details here (though if you're lazy the details & an email address for submissions are given several posts below) - has opened for submissions & will continue to build for the next two days. Why don't you send them a poem. Think what it will do for your future bionotes. "Has had poetry published in New Zealand...."

A temporal point of reference. Thursday Noon in N.Z. is Wednesday 6 p.m. in California.

An emotional point of reference. "All the leaves are brown...."

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Cardinals to win

It's great to see the Roman Catholic Church has accepted the modern age by electing a non-European Pope sympathetic to women priests, contraception, freedom of choice & homosexuality instead of going for some 78 year old conservative fart from somewhere in Europe. Oops, they did what? Shit, that's the problem when you leave it to men to make the important decisions. Welcome Pope Interdict XIV.

What'd I say

Watched / listened to a Ray Charles concert on tv last night. Recorded in 2000 at the Olympia Theatre. With a guitar / bass / drums trio backing him. At first a little disappointing, even though he started with A Song For You, that marvelous piece by Leon Russell, & went through all the songs the audience had come to hear, & which I, also, sang along with. But then I thought what am I on about? The guy's 70, he can still sing, & if I was hearing him for the first time instead of fifty years after I first heard that fantastic r&b band & the Raelettes backing him, I'd be jumping out of my seat. Thought, look at yourself, old man. We can't all be like Miles Davis.

a small note for Tom Beckett

I am
most frightened of

the shadows
within without shadows

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Have added

to the sidebar links to Eileen Tabios' poetry blog gasps (about bloody time growls Galatea), & to Jill Jones' new translation blog latitudes.

A regal prepuce-cision

The King of Morocco has granted pardons to 7179 prisoners to celebrate the circumcision of his son. I suppose that's one way to keep the piece.

Sunday, April 17, 2005


is the title of the New Zealand electronic poetry centre's online poetry anthology, building 21 – 23 April 2005 as part of the FUGACITY 05 poetry symposium at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch.

Bring a poem on a disk to any of the symposium events OR email your contribution (Word or RTF attachment, or in the body of the email) to between 21 – 23 April. (ballpark 20 - 22 April in the U.S. & Europe)

They aim to build a local and international poetry anthology over three days, launching Saturday 23 April at New Brighton beach. They'd welcome your poem. They'd like it to engage with time and place, transience and duration, memory and forgetting, coming and going – any or all of the FUGACITY (to use Canterbury poet Ursula Bethell's fine word) of planetary life.
"Lives there still a Japanese artist
Who, with his paint brush, could make us tremble
To see those lines, those tenuous colours
Spring again vibrant as I now see them springing
in their fugacity?"

Ursula Bethell
Anthology compilers: Brian Flaherty, Bernadette Hall, Claire Hero, Michele Leggott, Graham Lindsay and John Newton

Submission guidelines
o work should be your original composition
o if it has been published elsewhere, please include acknowledgement and publication details
o the compilers reserve the right to copy-edit submissions before uploading
o copyright for individual contributions to the online anthology remains with the author
I am fugitive, I am very fugitive
Ursula Bethell
University of Canterbury English and the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre(nzepc).

More information available from the Fugacity page at the nzepc.

a is for absinthe

ambition is the cruellest month
bravado comes creeping on little cat feet
courage & the slithy toves did gyre & gimble
death spreadeagled in the empty air of existence
ethics has a man in it. he is transparent
fame is glazed by rain water
greed considered as a
hunger of semi-precious stones
inventiveness we trust
justice comme je suis
karma just happened to come along
liberty at five in the afternoon
minestrone wears a glove on which his crimes cannot be read
nature died in the church & was buried along with her name. nobody came
optimism loses all the time
prejudice is poisonous but pretty in autumn
quietness bent over a blue guitar
rapaciousness is no country for old men
sleep in whom I dream angels
tension was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair
unhappiness saw him disembark in the unanimous night
vanishing species on the left hand side of the beach like a motorcycle club
water was ours before we were the land's
xenophobia breaks where no sun shines
youth your rooster crows at the break of dawn
zodiac signs with few friends & no ambitions

originally published in Tin Lustre Mobile

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Karri Kokko in The City of Light

April in Paris
chestnuts in blossom
holiday tables
under the trees.
Yip Harburg's lyrics to the wonderful Vernon Duke thirties ballad "April in Paris" (favourite version Ella Fitzgerald with Count Basie's Band). A brilliant composer - the fact that Ira Gershwin wrote lyrics for him is indicative of that - Duke also wrote another great 'seasonal' song "Autumn in New York" (favourite version a fifty-year old recording by the Modern Jazz Quartet).

One of the drawbacks to living at the bottom of the globe is the distances. I would love to be in either place, in any month, in any season. But so far, so far....

Though L. is going to a conference in South Carolina next year. Perhaps then.
Posted by Hello

36 views of Lion Mountain #2

does not

on Lion
Mountain -

it wraps
around it.

Friday, April 15, 2005

An ephemeral collage

Jukka tears into Das Kapital at Nonlinear Poetry & puts the pieces back together in his own inimitable way.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

The Mail Poem

Bill Allegrezza's Mail Poems are a wonderful act of anarchy.
".....the idea behind the mail poem is that i write them to send to people who happen to have the same names as poets. i randomnly choose them and then write a poem dedicated to them, which i then send through the mail without my return address. i keep no record of the poems besides occasionally recording myself reading one before i send it out. at this point, i've written about a hundred of them."
He has links to some of those readings at p-ramblings.

I wonder if he's ever accidently sent one to the actual poet...

sharing my table at yesterday's lunch

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Wednesday, April 13, 2005

not my normal lunchtime fare

Potemkin passing
through the squadron,

of freedom
fluttering over her.

new at e-x-c-h-a-n-g-e-v-a-l-u-e-s

I admire many, many things about Eileen Tabios. & one of the reasons for the "many, many" is that I'm convinced that she lives in a parallel universe where the days are 30 hours long. She has to to be able to do as much as she does, in so many fields. & I may have to revise that hour figure - not to be confused with her hourglass figure - upwards, because here she is at e-x-c-h-a-n-g-e-v-a-l-u-e-s being interviewed by Tom Beckett.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

La dolce vita, Pt 1 - Seagulling in New Zealand

I was born during the Second World War, a few weeks before Pearl Harbour was bombed, although for many of those weeks reports of the war in Europe were carried in the inside pages of the local paper. The small town of Hokitika – about 5000 people, isolated by its geographical location on the west coast of the South Island of New Zealand, was still enmeshed in the recent pursuit of Stanley Graham, who eventually became a local folk hero, & who, before being fatally injured by the search party, killed seven people beginning with a local policeman who had been called out to investigate an armed threat by Graham against his next door neighbours.

I obviously have no memory of that, nor of the war. So distant, & only my uncles there. But I do have memories of the ration coupons that were issued during & for the few years after the war so that purchases of imported foodstuffs such as tea & oil & sugar could be made. A treat for me in those days was drinking a cup of Bushell's Coffee & Chicory Essence, though as my taste buds developed & I was exposed to unadulterated – not too much anyway – coffee, I gradually realised it was a foul brew. But still available on the local supermarket shelves, though Christ knows who would want to drink it in this day & age.

Sugar, although refined in N.Z., was imported from plantations in Fiji, worked by the descendants of indentured labour brought in from India & whose presence & eventual ownership of much of the commerical wealth of the Islands, is the root cause of the ethnic tensions that have lead to a couple of recent coups & uprisings.

We didn't use much sugar, mainly for cooking, never in coffee & tea, though whether this was because of the rationing or my parents' upbringing I have no knowledge. But I had two memorable experiences connected with Sugar during my time in N.Z.

The first was when I worked on the wharves in Wellington during my school holidays. Changing my birthdate on some documentation meant that I could get an identity card to work as casual non-Union labour, seagulling as it was known after the manner of the distribution of work, everybody clustering around in a hiring hall & hoping that some scrap of employment would be thrown their way. It was well-paid work; the basic rate was good, but on top of that were the penalty rates that the Union had negotiated – dirt money, danger money, freezer money, scrap metal money. Handling scrap metal sounds both dirty & dangerous: it was neither. The wharf crane would bring up a skipful of scrap, attached by a hook at each corner. The hold gang had twelve people in it, six pairs. In turn, each pair would unhook two of the corners, the hatchman would wave at the crane-driver, & then the crane would draw the skip up again, but hooked only at the one end, so that all the metal would come sliding out & into the hold. Six pairs, six skips an hour. Do the maths.

On top of the basic rate & the penalty rates, you'd also get bonuses for turning the ship around in quick time. Sometimes these bonuses were as high as three times the basic hourly rate. Well-paid. Easy work.

Most days anyway. The two bad days I had in what probably amounted to six months cumulative work both involved 140lb sacks. Both were cargoes that the permanent workforce stayed away from – nothing to pilfer, & continuous & hard. The first day was coal, packed manually into the holds of a coaster. No such thing as pallets, or safe-working weights in those days. Grab it out with your fingers, drag it to a rope sling, stack it with maybe 20 sacks & then whistle for the crane to lower its hook. Coal dust everywhere, broken fingernails, shithouse work.

But not as bad as sugar which came the same way. Bags would burst & grains of sugar would rain down on you, mix with the sweat, get in your hair, your eyes. An hour or so, & if heat had been applied, you'd turn into a toffee apple.

My second dealing with Sugar came in Auckland in 1969, my last year in New Zealand. To add to the many bits & pieces I was doing to support myself, I decided to bring out some small / thin books of poetry.

The first two came out without hassle, sold well enough at a $1 a pop. Collectors' items now. The third was to be a poem by James K. Baxter, probably the best-known N.Z. poet of the time & still revered. It was called Ballad of the Stonegut Sugar Factory, was a none-too-complimentary account of JKB's days working there, & had a cover done by one of the local painters – Pat Hanly possibly – that had the title replacing the normal text of the 1 kg bag of sugar produced by the monopoly sugar refinery.

I got a proof copy in the morning, read it through at the printers – yes, they were thin books – told them to go ahead & do the run & went off, taking the proof copy with me. I went back in the afternoon & discovered that they'd pulped the entire run. Apparently the owner had come back, seen the book, recognised the usurped design on the cover, read the poem, freaked out, contacted his lawyer who in turn contacted the lawyers for the sugar company – now known as CSR, then known as Colonial Sugar Refineries which says it all – who threatened to sue the printer if the book came out. I was told never to darken his doorstep again, a pity, because he was a good printer, & who knows what other books might have followed.

I went off with my copy to see my lawyer – don't ask why I had legal representation – who read it & said there was not much he could do because even though there wasn't much in the claim, there was an awful lot of money & power behind it. Fool that I was, I left that single copy with him when I left to consider my options.

The Ballad came out some months later, not through me, but published anonymously as a broadside without any cover. I left the country for other reasons about the same time. Occasionally I wonder where that single copy, which would truly be a collector's item, ended up.

The Cicerone - an extended version

Just out from Jukka's xPress(ed), The Cicerone is a sequence of poems, an extended narrative, that wraps around a piece of the same name that was posted to Series Magritte.

The dance mix & an instrumental version will be released soon.
 Posted by Hello

Sunday, April 10, 2005

The hawk's
shadow -
more frightening
than the

Saturday, April 09, 2005

It's a long time since I've driven distances in the dark. But yesterday we left in the afternoon & headed north, towards the shorter days in the year, towards the tropics where night falls early anyway.

So the last few hundred kilometres through dusk & dark. A couple of fresh-killed kangaroos, one in the centre, one on the side of the road. Always a hazard in the dawn & dusk when they come out searching for water, for fresh grass. But of more concern the smaller things, the plethora of insects & moths that emerge in the twilight, smashing & smearing against the windscreen. & with wipers perished from the sun & not previously noticed from lack of use, a white film gradually coated the whole of the glass, so that we arrived with a windscreen blinded as if with cataracts.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

The object of desire worship

There are many of us who are fans of the work of Sheila Murphy. & then there is The Fan. Polite, respectful, but with just a hint of stalking in there. This site has the beginnings of the blog equivalent of a room full of photos.

Waiting for Jodie

Martin Edmond, after a year as writer in residence at Auckland University in New Zealand, is back in Sydney & working as a taxi driver. His recent posts at Luca Antara are as wide & diverse as the stochastic process of his fare existence.

A spellcheck glitch? Or subtle racism?

From a local paper, in an article on precursors to the Michael Jackson trial, basically a quick précis of Kenneth Anger's Hollywood Babylon with a couple of more contemporary trials added.
"Jackson already has some of the big gums from the black community behind him."

Monday, April 04, 2005

This week, I keep thinking about this poem

by Robert Creeley

The church is a business, and the rich
are the business men.
                                      When they pull on the bells, the
poor come piling in and when a poor man dies, he has a wooden
cross, and they rush through the ceremony.

But when a rich man dies, they
drag out the Sacrament
and a golden Cross, and go doucementdoucement
to the cemetery.

And the poor love it
and think it's crazy.

the thame thinger, another thong

shuck their
skins in Summer.

where squirrels
get their thongs.

can't keep
a good man

Tom Beckett
reappears in blogland.
Continuing Difficulties
Vanishing Points of Resemblance
Unprotected Texts
Vaudeville without Organs
Shadows within Shadows

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Meanwhile, in Australia, in 2005

"(Australian Prime Minister) John Howard may be shocked by what he sees in Wadeye next week during a rare visit to a remote Aboriginal community.

The town with the biggest Aboriginal population in the Northern Territory, 270 kilometres south-west of Darwin, looks like a refugee camp in a Third World country.

An average 17 people are cramped into each sweltering, graffiti-covered house. Almost half the population is under 15; most of the children have had no formal education and cannot speak English; many grow up not knowing their fathers who are dead or in jail; infant mortality is four times the national average; life expectancy is 20 years less than that of non-indigenous Australians; and only 4 per cent of people of working age have mainstream jobs.

Unlike southern towns of comparable size - Picton, Bellingen or Bourke, for example - Wadeye has no mobile phone coverage and its landline phone service is outdated and unreliable, making a mockery of Telstra's claims that its services in the bush are "world class".

The town, which is cut off by road for five months each year during the wet season, is still waiting for a doctor, funding for which was promised last month.

The town, built at the edge of mangroves, has no commercial businesses such as banks, cafes, restaurants, hotels or motels. And a new study of the community, which will have implications for other Aboriginal communities, finds that governments are spending far less on its residents than on an average Territorian child.

The report finds that for every dollar spent educating the average child in the territory, only 26 cents is spent on an Aboriginal child in Wadeye."
Lindsay Murdoch: The Sydney Morning Herald, 4/2/2005

Saturday, April 02, 2005

now be clay in the ground

My first fulltime job, more than four decades ago, was as a member of the consular staff of the Embassy of Japan in New Zealand. The Japanese Foreign Ministry had a policy of employing two local staff for every diplomat, in order to draw on local knowledge and also provide something of a buffer. Anti-Japanese sentiment was nowhere near as strong as it was in Australia, but memories of the Second World War were not too distant.

I will never forget my interview. It was in November, the end of spring, almost summer, but the day was cold & wet. Wellington is in the path of the winds that come up from Antartica, such unseasonal days are quite common, & the Norfolk pines around Oriental Bay where the Embassy was situated bent & complained, threatening to blow away. I was wearing an overcoat, suit, jersey. Outside I was barely warm. Inside, in the central heating, even without the overcoat, I sweltered & sweated.

There were three people interviewing me. The Counsellor with not much English, an Assistant Attaché who said almost nothing, & a New Zealander who, I discovered later, was an ex-Army Colonel whose final military job had been interviewing officer candidates. (& who, a career military man, started to become disenchanted by war during the Korean War & now, ten years later, was a pacifist who, a few years on, when conscription by ballot was introduced for Vietnam, assured me that the Embassy would raise an official protest should my birthday be drawn.)

I sat across the desk from the Counsellor. The Colonel on my right a metre or so back from the side of the desk, the Attaché also to my right but behind me. I felt like a windscreen wiper answering their questions. The Colonel's interviewing technique was to ask non-sequential questions. We talked about sport, & then, from out of left field, I was asked what religion I was. Although by now I had moved away from the beliefs of my parents, they were still close enough, & I was intent on coming across as a proper young man, so I answered that I was Church of England. "Practising or non-practising?" "Non-practising." At which point the Counsellor let out a great guffaw, beat his fists on the desk & chortled "Me Buddhist. But me non-practising Buddhist. Have paid for my shrine for when I die, but I never go to the temple." It was at that point that I knew I had the job.

Officially my work mainly entailed ensuring that visa documentation was in order. Fairly straightforward though there were moments. I remember a wrestler, Bulgarian-born but now stateless with identity papers rather than a passport, the hairiest man I have ever seen, who, because he was carrying out his profession in Japan needed a special visa & with whom, through his bad English, my bad German & a surfeit of gestures, we managed to get all the appropriate paperwork together. & the one truly "Ugly American" I have ever come across, who insisted on calling me "Boy" until I lost my cool & told him to "Sit fucking down & stop calling me Boy or you'll be blacklisted from ever going to Japan."

But mainly what I got out of my time at the Embassy was a preparedness to be surprised by nothing, to think on my feet, to handle whatever was put before you. You dealt with people of many nationalities, many stations in life. The Japanese Prime Minister paid a visit to New Zealand; in a hierarchal society the place went crazy for a month before & for the duration of his visit. Painters, musicians, practioners of religion, business people, the flow going both ways.

& then there were the benefits, some official, some not so. The Embassy had a collection of 16mm films, a lot of tourist stuff but mixed in amongst them were films on woodblock prints – ukiyo-e, ikebana, the tea ceremony, Zen monastries, stone gardens, castles, ryokan. I watched them & wrote articles for the monthly Embassy newsletter. I acquired prints of Utamaro & Hiroshige, calendars from a shipyard whose owner had the greatest collection in Japan of sumi-e, black ink drawings, by Sengai. I discovered the novels of Junichiro Tanizaki & Yukio Mishima. The Embassy brought out new Japanese feature films each year, but never Kurosawa because he was "too Western".

& then the unofficial benefits. Duty-free cigarettes, crates of Kirin & Sapporo beer which were shipped out from Japan every three months & which nobdy but myself drank. &, most importantly of all, the books.

My first venture was through official channels. Courtesy of the diplomatic bag I got pirated editions, printed in Taiwan, of Henry Miller's great early trilogy – the two Tropics & Black Spring. & then, because the Embassy could access foreign currency easily & because diplomatic mail was never opened, I acquired a significant part of the Olympia Press catalogue, all of which was banned in those days of censorship in nearly all English-speaking countries. I brought in Genet's Our Lady of the Flowers & The Thief's Journal, Burroughs' Naked Lunch & The Soft Machine, Durrell's Black Book, Lolita by Nabokov, Miller's Sexus & Nexus - I already had Plexus, bought from the greatest second-hand bookstore I've ever come across, but that's another story -Trocchi's Cain's Book, Candy & many others. Because of the foreign currency I could take out a subscription to Evergreen Review & buy books from most of the small poetry presses in the U.S. My cup ranneth over.

I left after three years, to move north to Auckland. Things had changed somewhat. The Ambassador when I joined was on his last posting, & took things reasonably easily, delegating a lot. He was replaced by a career diplomat, young enough to have the major posts of Washington or London or Paris in his sights. We agreed to disagree, though a year or so later we met again in Auckland & embraced warmly, as friends, although such shows of emotion are rare amongst the public Japanese persona.

All this brought back to me through re-reading a book of poems written in Japan by an American, in which is a poem about an English potter who was killed in a motorcycle crash in Sydney. Whose visit in company with the great Japanese potter Shoji Hamada I had helped prepare for. Who came close to New Zealand, but never arrived.

The potter, John Chappell. The book, The Back Country. The poet, Gary Snyder. The poem, For John Chappell.
"Over the Arafura Sea, the China Sea,
      Coral Sea, Pacific
chains of volcanoes in the dark—
you in Sydney where it's summer;
I imagine that last ride outward
late at night………"

Friday, April 01, 2005

Robert Creeley in New Zealand.

Robert Creeley visited New Zealand a couple of times. The New Zealand electronic poetry centre has records of these visits including audio, video, poems, posters & photos.