20180807

Peter Bakowski & Ken Bolton

ELSEWHERE VARIATIONS


THE SPANNERS

Sixpack 1: SOME LINES

Some lines are straight, some bend a little

It’s 6.24 p.m. in Melbourne and I’m not wearing a shirt with cufflinks.
To the best of my knowledge not one pair of cufflinks has been left by
astronauts on the moon.
While driving the car of this poem I’ll let go of the steering wheel 
in homage to poets, Ron Padgett and Ken Bolton. 
I’m waving to them now but there’s not enough time for them to wave back
as this a sonnet. 
To my left, there’s a muddy ditch. In it are two crocodiles.  
One of them I name “Allen”, the other “Unwin”. They’re fighting over a 
manuscript, a posthumous short story collection by Salinger.
A road sign warns me of cartoonists crossing. 
I apply the brakes. Don’t want to hit one. Could lose a typing finger.
The motel has a neon sign—Reasonable Rates. I turn into a vacant margin. 
Sit there. Listen to the crickets, the road trains hauling epic poems interstate.



Phew

I stumble up the embankment—can you do that, stumble,
Up?—anyway, and when I get there I step out of the grass, onto
The ‘verge’ (a word I’ve always loved: like a familiar term
For someone called Virgil), and I’m almost knocked down—
By this nut, who drives past fooling around with his sleeves
Or his wrist, and then he lets go of the wheel!  I look back over
My shoulder—the grass, the lantana and whatever else—
Don’t want to fall down there again.  (As well there’s a snuffling sound 
Coming from the undergrowth.  ‘Critters’, another word I love.)
There are trucks roaring by.  I read their containers
As they pass.  Like an awful painting by Jeffrey Smart.  Or
A good one by Stewart MacFarlane.  Truck after truck.  Tranter
Parisian, says one.  Murray: Australian Product, says another.
There’s one says mysteriously Kelen Bros.  Another says Ryan Gig.  I decide to   
                hitch, keeping an eye out — for the return of that nut.


 
Roadtrain

The containers thunder by—two or three, sometimes, 
of the same one
and I read them: Tranter Parisian, Murray
Australian Pie, Viidikas Spliff, Maiden something—
Maiden Digest News?  Indyk Mogul.  Wearne, Wearne and
Wearne.  Duggan Laconic, Brown Riposte, Sarah Holland-
Batt Chaste, Adamson and Fish, Adamson and Fish, Adamson
Vatic Incorporated, Bakowski New Ones, Petra Sonorous,
Salom Creative, Murray Bumf, Dobson Retrospect, Judith
Beverage, Bolton Drivel Drivel and Drivel
What a lot of containers—who can need this stuff?
Tranter Duwell and Mead, Martin Johnston Last Drinks, Adamson
and Fish—again—Brown Laconic, Duggan Riposte
There’s almost a rhythm to it—this is meta poetry.
Hang on—Tranter Droll, Adamson Vatic, Farrell Critique and Cosh
 


Subject Matter Sonnet

I’m reading the anthology Haiku in English – The First Hundred Years.
The moon and flies appear, perhaps too often. 
I’m yet to come across a haiku about a shipping container. There are several
about bowls, rain, snow, the stars, but none about droughts, although
loneliness and other erosions are there in some of the kitchens and relationships
sketched in the haiku. To write a credible haiku about a koala would be a challenge
but I’d rather write a haiku about sweat on a drummer’s forehead or traces of saliva on a
saxophone reed. I can imagine writing haiku about Australian roadhouses. Already 
I can see a wilted lettuce leaf on a last illuminated cheese roll as a metaphor for time.

The styrofoam coffee cup remains, I think, mistreated. Lacking a handle, often victim 
to a sudden gust of wind, sometimes stabbed in its curved flank with a cheap Officeworks 
pen by an unhappy teenager, tossed into a roadhouse ditch without ceremony or respect, 
it’s ripe for deft portraiture in haiku, 
perhaps complete reappraisal via the verse novel.   
 


Report from the Napoémien Valley, New Caledonia, 3 October 2017

I’m neither a saint nor a shipping container, wear shorts, thus exposing my varicose veins.  
The local youths are yet to spit at my shadow. Rather they wave, sing song their morning 
hellos, wear T-shirts of Che Guevara and Bob Marley. Helen is learning Bob’s song Three 
Little Birds with its chorus of “Don’t worry about a thing, cause every little thing is gonna 
be alright.” Optimistic lyrics for these times. Here the ongoing wish is for rain. The river 
level is low. On many of the hills the grasses are a dead yellow, not green. 
My wristwatch lies facedown most of the day on the bedside chair. Time, for Helen and me, 
measured in naps, the leisurely eating of apples, reading, writing postcards and poems, 
the morning and dusk ritual of long walks into the village or away from the village.
Roosters and dogs announce our unhurried passing. 

There are roadside stalls, offering humble pyramids of tomatoes or a single papaya, the prices 
written on thumbtacked squares of cardboard. You place your coins in the small plastic 
Tupperware container left there by the stallholder who is elsewhere—
at church or sitting in the shade by the riverside, braiding the hair of her shy daughter.


 
Hullo As Goodbye

The rooster fixes me with its eye. As if it had said 'hullo'.
Did it?  The dog wags its tail—sensing my confusion.
Perhaps it did.  'Hi,' I say, and saying this breaks the spell—
the rooster reduced, its eye less arresting, and the dog's tail seems to applaud 
          a correct move.  
Hi, pal, I say to it too—and hi to one of the guys in the village.  I still can't find 
          my shirt, my cufflinks—
so I am dressed something like Mike Cooper—Hawaiian—
appropriately.  Mike is right in most things and this is 'just the weather'.
In the village I pick up the Guardian, return my copy of the book on 
          haiku.

The cufflinks have pieces of moonstone set in them—my favourite 
          stone, if I had to name it—moody but untroubled, the pale, 
grey-blue light.  Small, like haiku—and with the same sort of leverage, 
          or perspective, on the big themes, time, the human condition.  

Not much prospect of plot—'the styrofoam cup via the verse novel'—and 
          a lot of research: a history of the twentieth century, 
via design? via scenes in offices, conferences, cafeterias, kitchens? 
          the cup showing up incidentally, a Zelig 
among items  …  on a desk, a table, near a water cooler? its tiny face 
          among the crowd—of scientists, politicians, delegates, activists, 
          secretaries.  Like that documentary series on the railroad 
          crossing Canada, but not as boring.
'Hi!'
 

    Sixpack 2: THE ENCOUNTERS Encounter Dense—and unexpected—sitting there like a brick or small shipping container (and now my stubbed toe)—and—vengeful, sullen, smirking?—Haiku In English—the first hundred years, in plain sight—its smug or moronic combinations of imagism, aphorism, fatalistic wisdom. Outside, the moon rides high—above dense, vaguely purple cloud and an industrial landscape—sides a little with the haiku, its old employer, and a little with, too, the haiku's air of I-told-you-so—a product, in the moon's case, of height. I hop about and when my foot permits consider the anthology again, open it and read. I would prefer Li Po and Tu Fu and sad, wine-drinking sages, contemplating that same moon, same rivers, same blossoms to ironically sentimental effect. Less conceptualism, more concept. Like-Minded 8 p.m. Monday night. There are three drunk haiku poets in the car park behind the Coles supermarket in Swan Street. One of them says he’s drained more cups of wine than Li Po. Another claims he’s got married four times to the same woman, he loves his Veronica that much. The third haiku poet takes a brick out of his hessian satchel, has a go at throwing it at the full moon. The brick falls short, lands on his sandalled right foot, which starts bleeding. The other two haiku poets begin to recite poems that include copious blood references. Three cops arrive. They recognize the haiku poets. One of the cops shyly admits that since his girlfriend left him for a plumber he’s started writing haiku, proceeds to pull a creased A4 page from his back pocket, illuminates the neat handwritten words with his torch. The three haiku poets react ecstatically to the cop’s poems, urge him to submit them to the poetry editor at Meanjin. The cop blushes then grins. The other two cops know of a new wine bar in Church Street. They shepherd the three haiku poets into the back of the police van, adjust the police siren to full volume. The haiku poet, whose sandalled foot has stopped bleeding, insists on paying for the first two bottles of beaujolais. Thrust Someone’s hurled a brick through the front window of the Trophy Wife Hairdressing Salon in Bridge Road. The likely culprit is Noel Plad. Prickly, malnourished, outraged that Clive Zoty’s latest volume, Sixty Ways of Looking at a Dachshund, has won the Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry. Regarded as Australia’s premier haiku love poet, Noel’s emotional health has declined since the death of his muse, Verna Thorngold, who established the Trophy Wife Salon in 2014. The household brick continues to appear as object and metaphor in numerous of Noel’s haiku, as door-stopper, wonky table leg prop, surrealist hat, Cupid’s arrow. The cops find Noel slumped in the beer garden of The All Nations Hotel. Slapped awake he confesses to throwing a brick through the front window of the Trophy Wife Salon, claims it was a spontaneous three-dimensional sound poem which he’s recorded, videoed and submitted to Going Down Swinging magazine. Noel sees it as a pivotal career move away from haiku, integral to his next poetry collection, Sixty Reasons For Throwing a Brick. Poise and Counter-Poise This physically slighter anthology Poets Of Melbourne's Hipper and Less Hip Alleyways hoves—or is it 'hives'?—to a terribly strict, even re-stricted, idea of the haiku: a kind of regimented boho life-style is imagined—even recommended. Even—but I have said "even" too often … I am just walking out to the car park, to put the volume in the garbage skip there. Same purple-grey sky, and clouds, same not exactly 'industrial' landscape… but "why bandy words?" as the poet said—one of Melbourne's less hip, true—when I meet this guy who has dropped a brick on his foot, a haiku poet, he says, and adds that he is in that book I have and am about to dump. "Don't throw it," he says, "I'm in that." The inference—and I do not resist it, is that I should hand it to him. I do. "Thanks, man. I was implying," he says, "rather than inferring. But, as you said…" I give a show of cheer and nod. "What kind of poet do you write?" he asks, employing an odd construction, but inferring— correctly this time—that I must write if I have such a book in my hand, a pretty true but dismal correlation. But perhaps he is a realist. "Cheers," he says, and I'm dismissed. You can picture him, he was wearing white jeans, white shirt and a mostly red bandana. Like Peter FitzSimons. Swaying slightly— maybe trying to read the text in the moonlight. The Veronicas. Those Haiku-Writing Cops are those my moonstone cufflinks? my good shirt? am I 'become' the drunken haiku poet? I thought I was something more like the DA in an American TV program—beautifully dressed, in an 'understated way' (tho nothing else is understated), possibly, 'even', Afro-American, as so many in the legal profession are, in America, on television. But I need a drink—so I am that haiku poet, standing, swaying slightly out the back of the All Nations Hotel. The Veronicas are playing, on a jukebox somewhere, their greatest hit whatever that was, that I love I think, in this life, or do I just love them? Hand on the dumpster for support, I breathe in, shake my head—"the Question, we all should ask," I hear myself propose, "would reconcile" (a word choice I am momentarily pleased with and from which I draw confidence) "these things, if we are to call ourselves Australians,"—maybe I am Peter FitzSimons?— I stare now at my hessian bag where it lies near my right bleeding foot, sightlessly, wondering whether lexically to go down the path of Australian, and definitions thereof, the haiku, its purchase on social problems, the Veronicas—tho which? both? any Veronica will do?—the surely temporary over-valuing of Zoty's Sixty Ways, the numbing and tedious road train effect of the annual poetry anthologies—against which Australians (if they are true Australians, etc. Thankyou, Fitz) must rise up, vote with their feet? give 'the cold shoulder' to?—whatever— denounce! that would be it—a crowd-funded one-page open letter in the Age—or Going Down Swinging if the funding weren't enough— to that effect—and carrying a swipe at Clive Zoty, a caress to the Veronicas, a reassertion of the values of Tu Fu, Pete Spence, Veronica Forrest-Thomson. Redemption Noel is thinking of hurling a brick. This time, through the front window of The Hill of Content bookshop, stacked with copies of The Best Australian Poems 2017. Noel had submitted a haiku sequence. Knowing that the editor was a Queenslander, he’d included the arresting image of sunlight glinting off an empty bottle of Bundaberg left at a roadside picnic table by a long haul truck driver whose favourite pop duo, The Veronicas, give him reasons to live. Despite such telling references, Noel’s poem hadn’t knocked the editor off her sanitized office chair. Noel sighs, returns the brick to his shopping bag, walks to the Treasury Gardens, sits on a park bench, stares at a possum on the grass, its tail a question mark. The tension in Noel’s shoulders eases. He lights a cigarette. The moon peeks out from the stage curtain clouds. Noel realises once more that part of being a poet is to make your peace with time, mortality and past and present editors of Australian poetry anthologies. Noel reassures himself that he’ll submit a volley of fresh haiku to the annual Bareknuckle Poet Anthology. They’ll encompass rural and urban Australia, from the billabong to the barista, from the mangrove swamp to the mosh pit. Noel walks briskly through the Fitzroy Gardens, whistling “Hey Big Spender”, keen to reach his flat, his Ikea writing desk. Noel writes and writes, thrilled with the range of subject matter and imagery he addresses— a platypus hit by a tourist’s frisbee, Shakespeare at an ATM, The Veronicas out on a double date with Batman and Robin. Morning light graces the spine of Noel’s fountain pen. He’s spent, staggers towards his bedroom, is soon snoring under the cheery snowflake-patterned Ikea doona—a gift from Verna, dead, but her ashes, there, on top of the Ikea bookshelf, reside in a small turquoise urn which doubles as a paperweight for Noel’s latest stack of haiku. Ah, Noel, Noel.

     [Note: Sixpack 1 first appeared in Marrickville Pause]



 
 
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