Ken Bolton


So here I am,
                               Adorno in hand
going to be a tough day—

                                                   Ready, in case.

And a list building, of things to do
                                                              (Make a copy
—not just by hand—of the passages from Aira
                    his agreement, with Donald Brook,
                                                                                    and me,
& Clement Greenberg

                                                and Thomas—that 'individual
talent'—Stearns Eliot)

                                            In a cafe
                          if you don't count Adorno
                                                                              or John

              whom I mean to address.

                                                               "Hullo, John."

"I think we can all agree—to disagree"
                                                                        I say to the
                             since we always did.
                                                                         And they
No longer expectant
                                           and look   in different directions

Donald looks
                                 out of the corner of his eye
at Adorno

                          Clement wanders outside,
lights a cigar

                                    Eliot greens
& fades away
                                        bilious?  'Cheshire cat'?

                               —in an
                               early tute—

Donald: "You are not going to defend
the Expression Theory, are you?"

                                                              "Yes.  I think
                                                                         I am"

                                             my reply.

And with a panoply of epicycles,
                                                           demurrals, riders
—& acknowledgement
                                  that 'all is reading' and
                                                              'learned response'—

                    Tho could you call that 'consistently'?

John's poems might be apropos
                                                             and a 'test case'

                     because tact might be their
Tact that is his
                                 —not even a strategy
(an ethic ?
                        a private code)

invisibly in play with FULL DISCLOSURE
& invention

The poems allow us to bring feeling to them—

washes and touches of colour, that the pictures
drawn allow —'elicit'?— support anyway.


                                                              I think you see
                                                                    my point.

Ha ha.
                  "But anyway" !
                                                         (a turn of
                             rhetorical move
                                            tactical move
can't be solely Australian, can it?)

                                                        (Beginning a
poem with "so"
                                       an own goal) …

is going to stomp back in—
                                                    "So let's see these
—or maybe, true to form—
                                                    "You stink!"
and punch me.
                                 "Punch Donald," I say,
                                                                           "I never
abandoned you!
are so full of shit.
                                    I watch the handsome
                                                    young man
address a small table of women & 'graciously'
take his leave
                                            Of course, what should he do?

                          Be graceless?


—Too blandly confident: a gift to the ladies—


The gender balance
                                      is all wrong here—I should introduce
Pam Brown, Lucy Lippard
                                                    a few of whose
—the merest phrases—
                                          have been touchstones

"visual muzak" (Jules Olitski), 
                                                            "the cult of
the direct and the difficult"
for firmness, position
                                              & where's Laurie
ruin the gender balance again) ?
                                                            Poems "that
look too much like poetry now
may look a lot less like it in the future"

                                                                  [Laurie Duggan]
which returns me to Aira
                                                    on 'Creation' versus
'mere production',
                                      and Most art
                                                                 (it being the latter)
as 'craft'.
                    That distinction.  (Hullo, Donald.)

Or 'as kitsch',  I offer Greenberg,
                                                              at that moment
grinding his cigar underfoot
                                  He stands and looks out at a bus
that passes us
                            outside the Middle Store coffee shop.
The bus stops
                                            & off gets Rosalind Krauss
Very swish clothing

                                         An art-world princess
"from New York"

                                     or, by now, dowager warrior.


Greenberg  —(I look)—   has disappeared

                                                                                A small
Cheshire cat smells the remains of his cigar


                                                                        This poem
shows no tact
                                                         Except where
grace might be particularly required

                                                    or out of cowardice.

Yes, it's true—this is the self with whom I
'must abide' —
                                                  ("I'll get that—
I pay the bills"),

                                          And this bozo here
—who thinks
                        (holds the pen)—
                                                                    ( "I pay the bills" )

John —
               John's new book—
                                                      could teach a few

                         that I'll probably never learn


"… tact as the saving accommodation between alienated human beings … seemed to him [Goethe] 
inseparable from renunciation, the relinquishment of total contact, passion, unalloyed happiness.    
But what has happened since makes Goethean renunciation look like fulfilment.  Tact and humanity—
for him the same thing—have in the meantime gone exactly the way from which they were to save us.  
For tact, we now know, has its precise historical hour.  Now it lives on only in the parody of forms, 
and in arbitrarily devised or recollected etiquette for the ignorant, of the kind preached by unsolicited 
advisers in newspapers, while the basis of agreement that carried those conventions has given way to 
the blind conformity of car-owners and radio-listeners.     Other than convention there was nothing 
by which tact could be measured. 
"... The question as to someone's health, required by and expected by upbringing, becomes inquisitive
or injurious; silence on sensitive subjects empty indifference—as soon as there is no rule to indicate
what is and what is not to be discussed. Thus individuals begin, not without reason, to react antagon-
  istically to tact: a certain kind of politeness, for example, gives them less the feeling of being addressed
as human beings, than an inkling of their inhuman conditions, and the polite run the risk of seeming
impolite by continuing to exercise politeness."

pages 36—37, Minima Moralia, 'On the dialectic of tact'

I played with the word 'tact' last
night, reading Levy's book

                                                               SILENCE LIKE
                                                                               ANOTHER NAME

toyed with using it in my commentary.

To open up—today—on this page in Adorno is surprising.


                                                                                  I expect to find
                                                                                                           ( 'exactly' )
dated this makes me


                                                But I always find the
Negative Verdict
                               of an earlier age
Salient, valuable
                                    to exactly the degree
it is chastening
                                         Hold that bus, conductor!
Chase that train, Coltrane!  etcetera.

I change the subject.

                                                                   (a kind of
                             the ellipses stretching out
                                      from the phrase

an atoll, a diaspora, a line of Pacific islands

                                                              Where to now?


[Near Shepherdess's Walk, and Adrian's, Chiswick]

Across the way the kids play & I watch them.
On the roof, down a level & two levels further—
chasings, desultory cycling, one pretends
to shoot people—the others—'pretends'—
I mean, he does but a toy gun that
can do no physical harm.  Our building—taller,
so I can see them …  or look

at the sky: London's many shades of grey
the softnesses of clouds, the
buildings in the distance; a
mostly low horizon line   of dark
(the odd very new build with colour in it)
reflecting late afternoon sun. 
dove grey
flecks & hints
of mackerel, pitch
The sound is the key—I can hardly hear them,
the occasional shout,
the pellet he shoots, one time, goes clack against a door


I pass & look in
& see Cath asleep on the bed—

a horizontal—echoed above
by wall, window—the framing de stijl

of the iron, & the colour of the frame:
sky, curtains, screen partially drawn

It reminds me of a like scene
more than twenty years ago,
a wondrous room—the Hotel Andrea.
Florence, 1997.
Umbrous—creams—& biscuit tans—
a soft dark room, generous proportions.

We're in Allan & Linda's temporary flat.
Small.  But canny, hip, efficient design. 
London 2019. 
                                We're 'old' …

Tho not dying—not any more
than anybody else is.  The kids opposite are living tho—

faster than us.  Collaborating, cooperating, laughing,
                                                      shooting & hiding,
the human stuff.


I read Kleinzahler who is worrying
about death a lot
Well, who isn't?  Ken, Ken
the young they don't worry
Life, this
is Augie's
                     getting the best of it—

                                            sounds, mostly—
& scenes

                       And a melancholy that
attaches & he refuses

So a rueful beauty glows,
a nimbus around each vignette—

as trucks roar by
stirring dust & chemicals,

a stiffening the character needed.

have I got it right?"


A young woman passes the
window of my coffee shop
hair a frosted silver pink I'm sure
not currently fashionable.  Tho just right.
She is beautiful.
Gone in seconds—I will
remember her, now —will I?— remember
the fact of her—
because I've written.  Someone else
will remember exactly how beautiful—
pale, pale, pale—
as they do in England


Kleinzahler: slightly bluff,
concerned to be authoritative—

but why not—should he be
uncertain, indecisive?


An old lady ('little'—the
full complement—but tough
in dark brown weather gear)

rides her bicycle
gestures remonstratively
to a motorist

—a beemer—
who has not given way

as she rides on, a moderate pace,
& is gone too


A very tiny, slightly older
woman I nursed when I was
young.  A nursing home:
I would regularly fall asleep
—two long, back-to-back weekend shifts—
in the first lecture Monday

The guy who explained the Baroque
mystified, that this happened
every week.  He gave me
high marks.  I never came
to tutes, he never knew my
name, tho I knew his, once.
Of couse I did.  I mean
I knew it, even, ten years ago.
German, a crazy accent I
still remember  "per-soock-er-

logical."   Small older women
their fierceness,  fragility. 

His name.  Hers, I think, was Maudie


Durer's mother
      —not quite so old, so gnarled

I see her appear left
      shake her hand, reprovingly,

at a motorist

                                who fails
to give way.

                         She pedals on,
on the footpath, her hand held up tellingly—

in the right

The beemer goes past
& out of the picture

do they use that term here?

&, as I'm in London,
             must I use their terminology?—
                        She rides on,
                                      a moderate pace
                  remonstration made.


Maudie: carolling, light,
bird-like conversation, wordless

Her very tight grip



Fluted tones ('birdlike') rise & fall

Richard cooks
                                        a complicated but
promising dish

                                  Suzy moves around
rearranging the kitchen,
things are put away — we read,
guests, a little guiltily 'off duty'

Emails I send to Anna
of today's journey — French towns
their windows shuttered, their
pleasantly-coloured facades, trees,

a picture of us all at a table in a square
with some expatriates


The radio—the 'fluted tones'—
provides comforting filler
for this quiet time
                                    of 'work'
                                                            an inane
Lord Peter Whimsey

                                            first broadcast in 1959
the accents showily civilized

London, when we get home to Chiswick
is hard work    but livelier.
                                                      Beautiful at
dusk & at night
                                The Chiswick shops lit up, the
                        the trees, the traffic
                                                               High-ceilinged rooms
of restaurants
                                              brightly lit,
enshrine those dining, advertise their
enclosing, caring, privileging function

                                      The Thames is high,
& coming away from the Carpenter's Arms
we find a street partially flooded.  An
expensive car attempts to pass thinks better & reverses.

A beautiful girl on the train who has ruined her face
with subtle but too overall surgery: she keeps her face
covered with her cap's visor, attends to her dog, a
white French bulldog.  Her clothes—leggings,
expensive trainers, a funky cotton or denim jacket—
very stylish. She looks up & her face is alien,
'beautiful' but frightening.  She looks down, attends
to her dog.

Amongst the hipsters, & ordinary workers, customers
I watch a man—seventy?—in cardigan, T-shirt, rumpled
cargo pants—attend closely to the columned figures
of the financial pages, occasionally he marks things
with his pen.  He finishes his coffee up & lights
a cigar, finances done, sets off.

The girl at Artisan has a fabulous, scornful pout, lips
in dark red, dark hair tied back & up: she does the job
well, is good with customers, in repose her face says,
How many more years will I have to serve shitty coffee
to shitty customers before I can go back to Poland?

As we walk Suzy produces a squeaking, high-pitched toot
through a plastic straw—funny—mosquito-like—but it is a
reparative vocal exercise, she says.  She does some
histrionic Edith Piaf song and an old man, at the
rural French market we are walking through, applauds
as he passes.  Then a devilish 'Tomorrow Belongs To Me'.
No takers.  I get her to try the theme from The Untouchables
(Eliot Ness)  & The Perry Mason Show.  Everything—anything—
sounds amazing.  'I See The Bad Moon Rising'.

The Carpenter's Arms, out the back, where a woman
tells us of her mother's teenage love of 'Sydney-in-the-sixties'—
her dream of going back there.  Her father's making
'the most expensive' (the longest ever) 'phonecall of his life'—
so as to persuade her to return & marry him

Lars en Vercors where the Jewish kids were protected in WWII
                                                                         (under the Italians, who—at least
                                                                           until the fall of Mussolini—
                                                                           that part of occupied France)

Perec was there.

Richard's taste in music
chosen, valued—always, I think, for the significance
of the lyrics
                         their aptness to the age      David Bowie
Johnny Cash
                                                where I go
for expression

                                                My ludicrous suggestion

                                                'No One Knows'
                                                       by Dion

(the 'Italian'

& Adorno
                                                also Italian
                                                                             (a little)

What?! I hear the world protesting
                                                                    Well, German

                             "Well, for a while there I thought
                                                                        I was,"
'for a little bit,'
                                  says Adorno 'ruefully',


                                                The desire to wear
                             two hats

Or design the new, 'composite' headgear

                                                                    What am I?

                        What kind of man are you?
                                              ask the Raelettes

                                                       Jewish, I sometimes think?
                                                       No I don't.
                                                       Western, I guess,
                                                       An atheist, an
                                                       'Australian' —
                                                       who writes quietly in a
                                                       Anglo sort-of

            if Adorno says, 'It's all shit' (not to
quote him directly: a paraphrase)  who's

to disagree ?

                                       "For this I fight!" I say
(a joke I haven't tried in a long time) —

                                                  & to Adorno — "are
you with me?"
                                  Ha ha.
                                                     He gets up from
                                                                the table
pushes back his chair
                                                grabs a weapon  (a
            & we exit onto Winston Avenue
(the Winston Avenue   
                            of the 'Mind'?)

                      to solve this problem.

             ( 'to mess up a hair of the night' ?)

                               to solve every problem

I look to Abstract Painting —
                                                          "Abstract Painting,
can you help?"
                              Lucy Lippard, "Maybe.
I think not."

                        "Christopher Wool?
                                   can he?"

                                                             "I doubt it."

Suzy's art, Richard's, might be more to
                                                               the point.

                                 "Just maybe" — Patti Smith.

Pam Brown: "I doubt it. I'd like it to—
but I doubt it."
                                       Rosalind Krauss
says nothing,
                             has ordered an affogato.


                     John, where do I go from here?


                                             An expensive car
attempts to pass thinks better & reverses.  Why

are we here?  In fact to see all this—
life, normalcy, 'conditions elsewhere'—
to return & live our own.
The many, very various, faces of London.
Wendy tomorrow, for tea or lunch, & then we are in the air.

Ken Bolton lives in Adelaide where for a long time he ran the Experimental Art Foundation’s Dark Horsey bookshop and the Lee Marvin reading series. Recent collections are Starting at Basheer's (Vagabond) and Species of Spaces (Shearsman, UK)—and in 2020 Salute (from Puncher & Wattmann). Shearsman issued his Selected Poems in 2013. In 2019 Wakefield Press published Elsewhere Variations, a book co-authored with Peter Bakowski, and which first appeared in Otoliths.
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