20180807

Peter Bakowski & Ken Bolton

ELSEWHERE VARIATIONS


THE SPANNERS

Sixpack 3: PERSUASIVE

Persuasive

Melbourne poets. There remains a variety—from scholarly to slam, 
from medicated to mercurial, some capable of nailing a subject, crucifying 
          themselves 
and others while singing “If I Had a Hammer”.

Clive Zoty and his poems remain inimitable. Labels don’t stick. They 
become an underfoot mush of autumn leaves. The critics—Craven, 
Rose, Page—remain sleepless. They ping-pong emails back and forth, 
to Bloom, to Hirsch, trying to thrash home what Clive does with the
English language, knowing they may never ace him. 

Richmond footballer, Dusty Martin, known for his reticence with the 
media, was sent to interview Clive. All he came back with was a one 
sentence quote—“I sculpt fog with a steak knife.”

Clive changes habitats frequently. Regionally he’s been sighted in 
Nhill, Nar Nar Goon, Boho, Tallarook and Warracknabeal,
sometimes suavely dinner-jacketed, as per Bryan Ferry on the cover 
of Another Time, Another Place,
sometimes grease-stained in mechanic’s overalls.   

Clive’s first chapbook Panel Beater Paint Fumes made several 
Melbourne poets switch to playwriting or positions in hospitality.

When Clive is in Melbourne, scouring its bookshops, looking for 
certain Tartan Noir paperbacks that he may have missed, his readers 
are advised to not approach him unless they have a dachshund on hand.

Clive reveres the dachshund, sees that low-slung breed as the
rightful inheritors of the earth. That’s his prophecy and Peter Rose, for 
one, seems to be coming around to Clive’s impeccably-researched 
point of view. 



Nutbush

I think continually of those who were truly great.
Tu Fu and Li Po, Nuvolari and Fangio, and Dion
diMucci—tho was he great really?   It seemed so.
Byron and Shelley—Marguerite Duras—tho nutty,
a bit?  On the other hand, Fangio aside, 
weren't they all?  And is a distinction being made
that will not hold—craziness and greatness being
two sides of one coin?  You see that coin
spinning in the air in a small roadhouse
where Billy 'Red' Love is singing 'Gee I Wish' 
on a stage above drinkers and talkers, gamblers and dancers, 
slam poets, critics, and you—and is (is it for seconds only?) 
great—or Tina Turner, 
whose recorded oeuvre does not support the contention, 'great'
(that at any rate is the intimation from Martin, Dusty Martin,
standing calmly (tho with Martin who knows?) holding a can—of Reschs 
Pilsener: you hear his mumbled remark and turn around.  Martin smiles
and nods—and points to the expiry date on the can—best before
October, 1978.  It is 'live' at that same roadhouse decades later
and Tina is really letting it rip.
Great.  That is what I think.
I ask Martin what he thinks of the beer 
and he asks "What's with all the surnames? Call me Dusty."  
It sounds like a threat. So I muster a smile, a very 
broad smile (think 'Peter Craven') and say "Sure—Dusty.
So what's it like?"  "Great," he says,
"that's what I think."


 
The next move

"Dear Mina," you read for a second time—
down to, and including, the important bit—and stare out the small doors 
that open onto the balcony, to a view of rooftops and watertanks and firescapes, 
a faded advertisment on the side of one building, hard at times of the day
to make out, depending on the light. The sign recommends a drink no one now 
buys. Is it even available? The radio is on—long, slow notes. The oboe, 
the presenter has said, is only good for mourning. You sit. 
If you move, the cat—who has installed herself, unusually, in a loose circle
on your lap—digs her claws in. You are constrained.  A one-time Futurist. 
You reflect on how you might be seen—partly so as to gauge 
any next move that is 'indicated': vaguely Virginia-Woolfy, as per 
Vanessa Bell? or like the woman—Boccioni's mother?—in the painting
Street Noises Invade the Room?—passive, but alert maybe to simultaneity. 
                                                                                                                    
Now you hear the noise—'sounds'—that rise querulosly, imploringly, as of
conflict, from down below—'rumori'—the word comes back in Italian. 
You remember similar but less settled moments in Florence—your energy very 
different, the sounds sharper and louder (you lived 
four floors up), remember Arthur for a minute, Herbert Bayer 
and your daughter. Will the Baedeker be enough? You rise, the cat jumps off.
You light a cigarette.
 


Down to a stub

The smoking of cigarettes. The tapping of the ash into a 
Bundaberg Rum ashtray. Flies—annoying but part of the 
food chain—torn from the summer air by algae-draped frogs.

Clive’s essay 'The Flugelhorn In Jazz' sits, far from finished,
on his Ikea writing desk. Another cigarette is lit. He's a
Redheads matches guy. Cupping a match against the wind,
the flame's brief heat, then a vigorous shake of the match
to ensure it’s extinguished. These flourishes, these rituals, 
put Clive in his own movie where he's in a residential hotel, 
waiting again for Esther.

But that was 38 years ago. The thousands of cigarettes Clive 
has smoked since then, the hundreds of haiku Clive’s written
since then. Tonight, a no longer patient loan shark with a cosh 
in his jacket pocket, underlines Clive’s name on his notepad, 
tells the taxi driver to turn left.
 


Perseverance

Nhill. One of Clive’s favourite country towns. The envy-inducing Hawaiian shirts
bought there at Lola’s Garage Vintage Shop, the price bargained down,  
smirking in the changing room mirror at how cool he looks: pinstripe vest with 
a silver fob watch and chain, remembering Saturday nights out with Esther.
Nostalgia—that distorting mirror. Times weren’t that good, Esther’s fidelity always
in question. If Clive had the money the summer of ‘72, he’d have hired a detective.
That haiku poet, Noel, seemed to be there too, at every St Kilda and Prahran party, 
always at Esther’s elbow, ready with his fancy Zippo lighter. 
Esther—Clive started to call her Miss Missed Engagements. One Saturday night, 
Clive waiting on the steps of the Tivoli Theatre. Three cigarettes smoked, 
then giving away the dress circle tickets to a passing couple. 
Some Sunday mornings, Clive would wake, face down, fully dressed, on his 
living room floor, a dozen empty cans of Reschs Pilsener, splayed across the carpet. 
New Year’s Day 1973, Clive made a vow of celibacy, became a hermit. The critics—
Craven, Rose, Page—still agree that Clive’s Our Love is now an Empty Matchbox 
is yet to be equalled. 
Late night and early morning dog walkers, passing Clive’s first storey flat, confirm that 
he’s there—ageing but focused, bent over his Ikea writing desk. 
A haiku poet nearing his goals—sobriety, satori, sixty haiku about sushi.  
 


The cityscape

Your skin tingles. It is the silence—the
relative silence—induces wonder, the sound of the wind
thru the ropes and wires, Paris drifting.  Everyone else
in period costume, long, full-skirted dresses, bonnets,
one of the men in a top hat (tails)—two, in bundled rags—
scarves, mittens—in the corner. "There," says the woman beside you, 
"is the Lapin Agile." She points a gloved finger. "The Bateau Lavoir," 
says the man beside her, indicating with his stomach. I respond, of course,
look over the side.
But my response sounds lame. They turn on one, the young woman,
the man who spoke, and another just beyond him. "I am," he says
"Apollinaire," and he introduces Laurencin, Cendrars (who laughs
when I go to shake his hand). The small (pissed, I think) chap—whom I thought
might just be Ronnie Corbett—turns out to be …  


Sixpack 4: TURNS OUT The pills: turns out to be … Marguerite Duras "I am a fan," I tell her and we discuss her books—L'Amante Anglaise, The Little Horses of Tarquinia, and my 'first'—Moderato Cantabile. "May-be it's be-cause I'm a Mod-ernist," sings Apollinaire, "I like to Watch the World go by." He indicates with a nod Duras, seated at a table, quietly scoff at the opinions (and person) of Marguerite Yourcenar—opinions in Paris Match. Yourcenar is a few tables down. It is a creditable impersonation of Sid James—cockney at any rate—and Apollinaire smiles, triumphant. I seem to go to sleep. At least, I seem to wake up. We are looking at an apothecary's—the two Eastern Europen-looking guys on either side. Those fingerless mittens 'proclaim' waif ancien. Turns out they are Australian, local. "Dralex Markou," says one, indicating his name on the window. It sounds rather voodoo. The other says his name is Sado Grescu. "Et vous?" I tell them my name. It surely lacks resonance, adequacy of some kind, for a meeting with the 'heavy culture' crowd. I am hardly real. Sado and Dralex seem unperturbed. Sado fishes in his pocket: hands me a gun. We get in the car, drive—to Clive's place (I just know), a long drive across the Hay Plain. The screech of tyres The nineteenth arrondissement. Unfashionable but still affordable. Sado likes L’arlequin Café, its Algerian owner, Farid. They discuss Camus, his handsomeness, how in harmony with himself he sometimes looked, a cigarette nailed into the corner of his mouth, the ensuing tuberculosis. Sado and Farid often talk about “the prime of life”, how it isn’t reached or survived by everyone. Camus had risen from odd jobs such as car parts clerk to win the Nobel Prize, only to die in a car accident, aged 46. Fate – what a four letter word. Cars. Sado stole them, but had yet to own one. He was a walker—that’s how you learnt Paris. Walking, smoking, thinking. Working out your next move. Whether to dial a certain phone number or lay low under an alias in a favourite three star hotel down in Menton, order up room service, while reading Katherine Mansfield, get fully immersed in that bygone world. Maybe in that hotel, Sado would finally read some Françoise Sagan, who believed that it was a greater adventure to write a novel than to leave Paris for Chile. He had seen Sagan tearing around the streets of the Left Bank in her Jaguar convertible. That girl-woman behind the wheel, who didn’t really know what she wanted, who she wanted, why she craved every sensation. Where Sagan was headed wasn’t good. Fate – what a four letter word. Behind the wheel but ahead of the game Boredom. Dralex knew all about it. At the age of 45 he’d reached the limit of managing his workaholic father’s apothecary. He wanted danger, kicks, oblivion—anything but pharmacy and lab coats. One night, hitting the whisky at L’arlequin, he met Sado, who needed a driver, late night, often all through the night. Destinations—sometimes kept secret, sometimes Cherbourg or Nantes. Dralex was made for driving. He had the stamina. Found on the car radio, stations beaming out of Marseille, that played revered and rare recordings—Coltrane, Kuti and Zaïko Langa Langa. Slowly Sado loosened up to Dralex. Names were brokered—Dostoevsky, Hammett, Carson McCullers, William Golding, Kenneth Cook, Elizabeth Harrower. They agreed on most. Dralex admitted to having read To Kill a Mockingbird four times. Sado admitted to never having read Proust or Melville. Literature was a smorgasbord—some people didn’t like capers or gherkins. Dralex walked back from the American Express Office, his pocket full of lire. Sado had telephoned at 8 a.m. The plan was to winter in Rome. Rest. Recruit. Retire certain players. Besides, he knew a cafe there that Dralex would like. Salvatore, one of the waiters, had known Alberto Moravia. Indeed Salvatore, he had a lot to say about tuberculosis, creativity and other dream states. Dralex was smitten by Rome – the light, the raucous traffic, the stray cats. He ordered another double espresso, started writing a sestina, a poetic form that challenged him now, when he burned for such challenges in his life.



Small-town rally


Glenn Johns—is that him? it must be—shoots past, driving an old, beaten, bleached and mottled two-door car with, behind, a short tray-back. It is a 1940s Willys, somebody says. Another claims that was last year, this year Johns is driving a 1950 Jowett. Somebody else says that it wasn't Glenn Johns and it was a Javelin. A young woman says a Javelin is a Jowett and the car belongs to her father—who wouldn't let Glenn Johns drive it in a fit, unless they've got over their argument. Which they may have done, because just at that moment Glenn Johns pulls out of the bottle shop (in a Jowett Javelin) and out on to the track. He has parked the Willys behind the pub and joined the race—a little late but what-the-hey?—and a small cohort of locals cheers. His entry throws up a good deal of dust and gravel.



Out of the past

Glenn admits, "Yes, I was once. I don't use that name anymore." Further, he says, "Sure I remember that night—fourteen years ago, about? 'Clive?' I said. 'I don't know any Clive.' Rose knew me of course, but the stooges with him didn't. He didn't let on. Esther, to her credit, came through for once. She rang, warned me they'd be coming. I had about twenty minutes warning. And twenty minutes after they'd gone … I was driving out of Nhill. Say hullo to Peter Rose from me. I don't write poetry any more. People like me round here, more or less. I coach the fourteen year olds footy team—my main thing. What's Esther up to, these days?



Portrait of Esther Vallan

Dusty, bundled postcards adorned with Philippe’s
handwriting, deft sketches of palm trees,
outrigger canoes. Plans had blossomed out of his
mouth. Valueless as smoke rings.

Self-sufficient, making and bottling jam, Esther
moves barefoot amongst the plum trees.
On her agenda—buying some chickens. Esther’s
neighbour Martine has twenty. The yellow of her
omelettes would make Van Gogh eat his straw hat.

Most pass through Nhill but this is Esther’s twenty-
second year. Spade, hoe, trowel and prayers
for rain. Routine. Focus. The reverent tilt of the
watering can.

Fallen days, and leaves and men—perhaps
Nigel Westlake could compose a requiem for them
or a waltz for the women still alive.



 
 
previous page     contents     next page
 





0 Comments:

Post a Comment

<< Home

Powered by Blogger