Ken Bolton


off to pick up Noah

a lift?    No

I walk, hands in pockets, shoulders hunched

            in the sun

            made to feel   like James Dean
                                                in a famous picture

                        consequently, handsomer, too
                                                            tho I don't imagine
I really am

I'm whistling
                              a tune I whistle a lot

                              tho what is it exactly

                        early Wayne Shorter

I say hullo  to an old lady coming my way
                               80 maybe

then what was I thinking about? —

              of Midwinter Day?

                                                                I read it in 1982

imported direct from Small Press Distribution

tall & blue—dark blue—& the format a little big
so I have always to find a place for it
                                             or forget
& think, "Must've lent it to someone"
                                                                   —  "And I know
just whom."
                      Then months later see it again
or 'years later' it seems

                                    had I given it to Ann
in a fit of niceness
                                                            Not me,
as it turns out
                                 There it is.    Have I ever

actually, finished it?

I know the first pages well,
                                                               but I 
no memory of its end

                                            Bits of Alice's podcast
make it seem unfamiliar

                                    So maybe not.

Up on the main road, across from the school
it's mostly guys—usually plenty of mums—to
pick up the kids
                                   who mass soon, at the lights
in small groups of twenty or so—on foot, on
bikes—& a mum or dad or two between.  Noah
is always in the third batch.

                    The tune is
               'Moon of Manakoora'

I walk a street or two & turn, where the new place is going up
enormous slab, piles & racks of wood, ready, waiting, ready to go

then up Cumberland beside the oval to the main road, & left
to the traffic lights—offered a lift by another parent starting out
but I prefer to walk
as I said, unaccountably jaunty

     — (the song) —

tho no red jacket
or Jimmy's face so photogenic 
Turns out I don't know the beginning either—
but the section further on where she talks about
people, the others all about her, I know.

And later there's that good patch
where she lists everything—every thing
she does, incidents, chores, difficulties,
interruptions—memories—then every business or building
in the small American town, a tour.

Large parts of the poem are on target
Larger parts are not.  The dreams, the default
reliance on beads & feathers & mythology
that isn't hers.  Midwinter Day makes its point,
signals its type well—but muffs the execution.
Making Mayer exemplary as an experimentalist,
she proves her point: 'This could be done.'
but not such a good poet: large parts are dull—
the standard American regard for dreams and 
analysis—as in "Georgette's analyst says…" —to
no real end.  Almost like superstition.  The archetypes.

"Hullo, Noah.  How was it today?"


                                        "Dark grey, diminished, chipped, and soiled, 
                                          the city seemed a scale model of its former self, 
                                          a wintry film in black-and-white."

The mist hangs outside at a height of
six to ten feet, prettily blanketing houses & trees.

The streets around vaguely story-book, wistful, enchanting: 
grey, blue-grey—how lyrical can this be, 

a grey day?  

Paris: a down-at-heel intersection, of two 
small streets—

unpeopled footpaths.  Cobblestones;

the back mudguard of a Citroen, departing.  ('WWII'—
packaging, signage, conceding no date.)   A photo,


Adelaide, people seem 
cautious, cautioning—

but aware—the common 
plight acknowledged—

nicer to each other. 
My mind moves
to the fog in Maigret.

I like them, people are less 
interesting to watch so self-aware.  

Observing them one sees only

the same thing:  a narrowed range
of behaviours.

                                                    The mist 
is slightly spooky—or 'quotes' it.  
There is no threat: before the fences 

are trees the wisps of mist furl
& twist around—suggesting 'follow'

more than 'beware'.  Some enchantment.

You couldn't see across the oval, says Cath
who has disappeared into it—a walk—

& returned, hair a little damp.

Noah's birthday.  Seven.  We take presents across 
(& one for younger brother, Arlo—a

'bee' suit—so he will not feel left out).

Later, Max & Finn call in—tea & scones
with their mum, while they play.  Finn,

one-&-a-half, offers me a drink in my absence—
lifts a toasting glass to Michael's portrait of me

that hangs in the hall.  It doesn't 'look' like me
& yet it does—every kid has recognised it 

instantly.  Can I look as mean as that
& yet be loved?  (Those poor children.)

                                   Months ago I wondered 
whether this would seem a big event

& now it seems it is
& that it will seem so

                                               & might see me off


Conventionally people are thought 
unable to imagine that they might die

tho they'd concede that they will—
but 'notionally'.     Why


is my vocabulary so small?
The tiny patterns of my thought


All the 'awareness' —(a long, lengthening phase 
of 'psychic surplus', says a journalist)—

are we all getting 'too sensitive'?
I remember that was a joke once—

unwanted, unrequired—there is 
no new data to warrant it
"They have Australian or possibly New Zealand accents & they talk to each other in a speedy technical patois. They tell me to collect my things & come down to the ambulance. I put on my scarf & jacket, check that I have money, pick up the suitcase, & follow them downstairs. At the open door L & I embrace hurriedly & with a certain agitation. On the pavement, I look back at her, standing in the doorway, half silhouetted against the hall light. As I wave goodbye, it occurs to me that this is the moment when I am to have the thought 'This may be the last time I see her'; so, I have that thought, & then, like a shadow, it crosses my mind that, if I do die, the sharpest poignancy of this moment will be lost on me. I walk to the ambulance & get in."
("lost on me" or "lost to me"?) Nicholas Spice in the LRB—an account of corona virus— on-top-of-it, unflappable … 'going quietly'? pretending never to have 'been' flapped. Null. # the poem written to accompany Eleanor's art work 'has its moments'—tho it's too much like a review (my writing I notice here, now, taking on the civilised all-knowingness of the LRB writers—all shock 'absorbed', more filed than registered, or do they register it at some 'human' level they then suppress? everything, always (pre-) dealt with. "Always already" was a phrase irritating in the 90s, where it seemed too frequently used 1), too knowing 2), and 3) an unearned, self-awarded "I'm smart" badge. A tic, almost, for the Art & Text crew, the catalogue essayists, others. 'Crying out' for inverted commas. The poem begins, wondering, at the change in her art—from slightly jokey minimalist conceptualism (meaning, for me, Andre, LeWitt, & others Concrete blocks, variously assembled)—to a duelling sword, a fencing foil—& a piece of lightly hanging draped cloth (a fine silk, probably) She sends a drawing; & I like it, & like it for being what it is, referring 'elsewhere' ( # Bronia Iwanczak, & Bronwyn Platten # ) I always like artists' drawings—of works, of ideas for work— style sacrificed—it is not the point # a drawing of a work of art not a drawing as a work of art # yet they have style anyhow, while pointing entirely to idea. Bronny & Bron—the Brons' Age—1988? into the 2000s Gone. Bronia, trying to make it in the UK—or Europe & Bron, in the UK also, but for now, dormant. ('Bronwyn' was always too hard to say—or got, anyway, inevitably shortened. Bronny, Bron, 'the Beeper' 'BP' — the Australian shortening of names Bronia was always referred to as Bronia, I think tho face to face she may have been 'Bron'—strange that I 'don't remember'. Tho it can hardly matter I've seen Bron every year or so, in London, in Adelaide, at airports, in Manchester. Cath saw her in Scotland. Bronia I haven't seen in a while # how lyric can this get? can it get anywhere at all? # On the sound system, in the car, whenever a certain song comes up there is the image of Rae Jones, a photo I took nearly 50 years ago I don't know how it got there. No other image has. Or how to take it down tho why would I? A beautiful picture for a prospective book, in the alley behind our share house, in Glebe. We were friends … & rivals. But friends. The leader of our gang, a gang I no longer wanted to be part of, had never signed up for—so we drifted … but friends. "Hullo, Rae." (Or—"You?" I say—surprised.) It is not even Rae's sort of song—tho did he like songs anyway? Not pop or rock as I recall. Not blues. Ghostly. ('Pleasantly ghostly') I sent the photos to him again before he died I didn't acknowledge that I knew he was (I was not— especially—supposed to know.) It would have been a while, I said, since he'd seen them, if he ever had— since 1974—& that his wife, his daughter would be pleased to see them. He said Hi & thanks & sent a drawing. We started the plague on Bruny Island & the movie it felt like then was On The Beach now it feels like WWII—France, Nazis, the German Occupation. (Occupied Paris, or Rennes—or Rue de la Rennes? — a dispirited, embittered populace.) Or Maigret. Black-and-white? Colourized: grey; blue. I. e., 'French'— while Foyle's War was grey merely (London), & The Sullivans was a 'healthy' brown-grey: indicating 'historical' & 'Australia'—their skin pale, unhealthy, but 'meaty' in the father's case (him whom I loathed). "The Sullivans"—became appropriately, a name for Australians or Anglo types, … as used by indigenous Aussies … or Greeks & Italians (?) Or did the latter use "Skips"? They did. I suppose I am one of them & must die a Sullivan (a Skip). True. But must I die — must I die yet? & now I say, Rick, Rick, you've got to save me (Peter Lorre) Camus' The Plague has been selling well, since the pandemic got started, (or got started 'in a big way'). And—since then—I think 'Mediterranean France', 'Nice', 'Marseilles' (& see images of sweeping, empty coastal roads curving round a bay) (Matisse might have worked here) An image based on a mixture of … what towns? — Trieste, Wellington, the Cannes of To Catch A Thief, Hvar — an atmosphere, a scenario —where a killer might've killed someone, where women wore high shoulders & calf-length dresses # These will be common references—(The Plague, the old movie)—but unavoidable # There's a drawing I must fix, to send to Mill— & one to Mary, why not? tiny pictures of a fictional tourist town—harbour, palms, buildings in pastel grey, & pinks & yellows; blue sea, a sail-boat, fishing craft drawn up on the sand I've to frame them, in tiny pieces of spliced bamboo vapid, serene, sunny # & one day will # Dufy, an artist for our time—?—or Oehlen, more defeated, braver (?) a more determined, hardened worker, tho seeking pleasure just the same. The West has invented some great glass-bead games & I have been a sucker for all of them
Ken Bolton worked for a long time at the Experimental Art Foundation in Adelaide and edits Little Esther books. A selection of his art criticism is collected in Art Writing (CACSA, Adelaide, 2009). He edited the magazines Magic Sam and Otis Rush, the book Homage To John Forbes and wrote the artist's monograph Michelle Nikou.

He has published numerous books of poetry: most recently, A Pirate Life (Cordite books), Fantastic Day, and (with John Jenkins) A Double Act—selected collaborations (both with Puncher & Wattmann press).
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Blogger John said...

Such a pleasure, or, rather, almost countless pleasures. Covering so much ground and seemingly effortlessly.

John Levy

10:41 AM  

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