Friday, February 19, 2016

This compost

I turned the compost heap over yesterday. It was beautiful, dark and rich and as sweet as a good fruit cake. Full of life, too, earthworms and slaters, which scurried away from the  light( sorry, little slater). It was a slow, quiet, meditative job for me.

And as  I do, I thought of the great compost poem by Walt Whitman, and went to seek it out.

Now I am terrified at the Earth, it is that calm and patient,
It grows such sweet things out of such corruptions,
It turns harmless and stainless on its axis, with such endless successions of diseas'd corpses,
It distils such  exquisite winds out of such infused fetor,
It renews with such unwitting looks its prodigal,annual, sumptuous crops,
It gives such divine materials to men, and accepts such leavings from them at last.

' this compost' by Walt Whitman, from Leaves of Grass, the 1892 deathbed edition

A tale of black turtle beans:

A week or two ago I went  to buy black turtle beans from the food co op. At the cashier, I said, why do I feel no confidence when  these organic beans are from China.

He agreed.

 Not even the Chinese want to eat food from China, I went on. Look at baby formula.

He explained that the supplier had changed the source, and they were stuck with them. If I were you, he said, I'd buy the regular ones from the USA.  A lot of customers weren't happy with the Chinese ones.

Oh. I hadn't seen them, I said, so he showed me where they were, and I changed them.
On the way home I reflected that there wasn't much of the earth left where the soil was untainted. I even have doubts about the soil in Australia ( and in truth I'm not that fussed on buying organic food anyway).

Whitman's poem is about how the earth takes all our sickness and corpses, and corruption, and cleanses  them. It's a feeling  you could only have in the nineteenth century. Now, I feel we are overwhelming the world, burdening it with so much that it can't recover.

Anyway, today

Today I put the compost around the the strawberries, and the raspberry bush, and the blackberry. I gave  some to the chard, and the lemon and lime trees. Everything likes compost.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

One dragon's dream

What to give a new grandchild?

New copies of books his father liked was my decision.

One dragon had a dream
That two turkeys teased him,
Three tigers told him off
And four frogs seized him.
Five cranky kangaroos hopped around and fenced him in
Six stern storks tried him and sentenced him
Seven slippery seals off to jail they juggled him
Eight great elephants in balloons they smuggled him
Nine nimble numbats sewed him up with three
Then a team of ten turtles towed him home to bed.

The entire text of ' One Dragon's Dream', by Peter Pavey

Even almost thirty years later, I can still recite the whole text, though for some reasons seals have been changed to 'sea lions'.

The illustrations are baroque in their detail, and, as a counting book, you have to search for a number of objects that accord with the number of animals. This becomes delightfully complicated. Where is that last platypus? Or button.

This Australian book is subtly Australian in its content. Certainly, there are kangaroos and numbats, but there are also tigers and storks, and a dragon.

I think most book creators insert personal references for their own entertainment. In this case, on the page with three tigers, there are three signposts pointing to Kooweerup, Mount Eccles, and another place in Victoria whose name I can't remember, as I am writing this without the book to hand, sitting in the shade in a park in Blackheath, with the smell of spring blossom all around.

Peter Pavey, the author information tells us, is now a walnut farmer in Victoria. I think it perfectly reasonable that after writing one brilliant book, and another one or two, one should retire and do something else entirely.

Also for the as yet unnamed little boy:

Each Peach Pear Plum, By Janet and and Alan Ahlberg, which is a favourite of his cousin Ellie

The elephant and the Bad baby, by Elfrida Vipont, with illustrations by Raymond Briggs

Mr Gumpy's Outing, by John Burningham

And for Ellie, just because it it nice to send a new book, The Terrible Plop, by Ursula Dubosarsky, illustrated by Andrew Joyner.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

My place

Today's the first day of spring. I've just spent my first full winter in the Blue Mountains. In our garden the first bulbs are already out, muscari, or grape hyacinth, a couple of jonquils, and a little blue flower I can't identify. None of these were planted by us; they are the legacy of a ninety year old house.
There is a huge old Japanese maple in the back yard, with the smallest of budding leaves.

But up north, where I lived almost forty years, I know the magnolia in our previous garden will be gloriously flowering. Here, our newly planted magnolia is only showing the smallest of new buds, leaf or flower I can't tell. In the north, the irises will be already in full flower, while the ones I brought with me have not even budded. The hippeastrum will have produced enormous bright red blooms. We have different flowers here. The English violets I brought with me have never looked so good.

Spring comes later here, where it is further south, and higher up.

When I first arrived here, everything seemed strange. I read an interview with the American poet Gary Snyder, and wondered where my place was.

Interviewer: you think that sense of place is primary for the poetry?

Not  in any simple or literal way. More properly I would say it's a sense of what grounding means. But place has an infinite scale of expansion or contraction. In fact, if somebody asks me now, " what do you consider to be your place?" My larger scale answer is, " my place on earth is where I know most of the birds and the trees and where I know what the climate will be right now, and where I have spent enough time to know it intimately and personally."  So that place for me goes from around Big Sur on the California coast all the way up the pacific coast through British Columbia, through southeast Alaska, out through southwest Alaska, out onto the Aleutian chain, and then comes down into Hokkaido and the Japanese islands, and goes down through Taiwan. Now that's the territory I have moved and lived in and that I sort of know. So that's my place.

Gary Snyder, from ' Beat Writers at Work' edited by George Plimpton. The Harvill Press, 1999

More recently since coming here, I realised that though the cold climate gardens favoured by Blackheatheans are foreign to me, the plants of the native bushland are not.

I spent my youth in Sydney, which begins at the foot of the mountains where I'm now living. Then, I was very familiar with the Sydney sandstone heath country that surrounds the city in the National Parks, and the bushland where I live now is almost identical. So that when I go into the bush ( as we in Australia like to call our wild country) , only a stroll really from where I live, I meet many of my old friends and I know them by name. There I can meet dampiera stricta, a shy wild flower dwelling close to the ground, and the various acacias, or wattle trees, and banksias, and eriostamen, and epacris. A new friend is epacris reclinata, which reclines over rocks, with its small, red tube shaped flowers. Almost all the flowers in the Australian bush are small and non spectacular, so knowing them is good training for noticing the beauty in small things.

I think now that this is also my place.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Sylvia Plath

There hasn't been much music in the attic lately. Hasn't been much of anything, though I'm still reading and listening. (The attic is now, strictly speaking, a library. I've become a Luddite, and my only access to the net is now an iPad, which I take to the library for their wi fi. I sit here scribbling away privately like some latter day Jane Austin, with people coming in and out. It's a small library, just two small rooms, here at Blackheath.)

This week I went to see Ryan Adams at the Sydney Opera House, and the experience was sublime. Two hours of rapture. I have his latest album, 'Live at Carnegie Hall', and I suspected that at one point he would sit down at the piano and sing 'Sylvia Plath.'

I wish I had a Sylvia Plath
Busted tooth and a smile
And cigarette ashes in her drink
The kind that goes out and then sleeps
for a week
The kind that goes out on her
To give me a reason, for well, I dunno

And maybe she'd take me to France
Or maybe to Spain and she'd ask me to
In a mansion on the top of a hill
She'd ash on the carpets
And slip me a pill
Then she'd get me pretty loaded on gin
And maybe she'd give me a bath
How I wish I had a Sylvia Plath

And she and I would sleep on a boat
And swim in the sea without clothes
With rain falling fast on the sea
While she was swimming she'd be
winking at me
Telling me it would be okay
Out on the horizon and fading away
And I'd swim to the boat and I'd laugh
I gotta get me a Sylvia Plath.

(Repeat chorus)

I wish I had a Sylvia Plath

It's better with the music ...

You'll find it on the album titled 'gold' and other of his albums

Friday, June 19, 2015

The poetry of kitchens

I'm trying to love my new kitchen.
It has a wobbly floor, an old hopper window, the brown painted frame all scratched and worn, and mouldy in parts. The view is of a straggly, almost leafless fuchsia, and our neighbour Bill's tall green colourbond fence. I stoop there at the ancient kitchen sink, my hands sunk in suds.

The walls are an unattractive yellowy browny pale green. There is an old brick chimney, in which sits our brand- new stove. We have put up makeshift open shelves for cups and herbs, and have an old tall bookshelf  along one wall for putting kitchen things. There are some saucepans and plastic things in three cardboard boxes atop a card table jammed in one corner.

The only nice feature is the pressed-metal ceiling. When we tear this kitchen down, after all danger of a late spring snow has passed, this is the only part we will salvage, perhaps using part of it as a splash back above the benches. It will be a quotation from the old kitchen, a nod towards its history in this 1920s house.
I've been trying to see the beauty in this kitchen, because after all, most of my favourite poems are about things that people would find unremarkable, or ugly. I'm thinking about the white chickens and the red wheelbarrow of William Carlos Williams,  and his broken green glass between the walls of the hospital. I'm thinking of my own Sophie, from My Candlelight Novel, who wanted a poetry of kitchens. I can't quote from her as the book is still packed away somewhere in our recently- moved-into house, but I remember she wanted a poem about the squalor of  under-the-sink.

Ah, the squalor of under the sink! I know it well. The only thing I will put there are  a few cleaning things, ironic, as I regard it as too squalid for anything else.

But we have put up posters to cheer the place up. A Chagall, ('Paris through the Window')',  a dance poster from Sydney in the 1970s( a parody taken from Delacroix 's Liberty leading the masses), one for the Ray Price Quintet, and one of our own ( in my period as a member of the Without Authority poster group) urging people to deface tobacco billboards.

And I  have my life size chook made by our friend John Waters on the mantelpiece, my collection of old China Easter egg cups,  and my collection of tiny cats. And of course, some cat bowls for my real cat, Louis.

So it is quite a homely kitchen, despite its inconvenience and dilapidation,  and one day perhaps I will write a poem to it.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

His vine-covered printing house worked overtime

You know how it is when you like a book so much  that you don't want to finish it.
This is how I felt about Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation, by Noel Riley Finch. I it has taken me weeks to read it,  an almost deliberate policy of slow reading.

Sylvia Beach, as many of you will know, was an American woman who lived all her adult life in Paris, and who founded the bookshop Shakespeare and Company in 1919.

She is also known as the publisher of James Joyce's Ulysses, in 1922, when no American or English publisher was willing to do so. Parts of the book had been published in a little magazine in America, and the publishers were charged with obscenity. In England, Joyce's patron, Harriet Shaw Weaver, was willing to publish it, but could not find a printer, because they would also be charged with obscenity.

So Sylvia took it on. She wasn't a publisher as such, but ran a bookshop and lending library. But she was the perfect person to publish Ulysses. She's believed that Joyce should be free to complete the book in the way he wanted to, and to is end allowed him an infinite number of proofs. In all, about a third of the length of the book was written on the page proofs, as Joyce improvised and elaborated on what he had already written.

The printer was M Maurice Darantiere, situated in Dijon, a town 150 miles southeast of Paris, known for mustard, and now, Ulysses.

When he received proofs, Joyce gave them to various literary friends, asking for suggestions and associations to keep his text growing:

No book has ever been written in this way. His encyclopaedic expansion sometimes took him through six or eight galleys. His appetite for proofs was insatiable, Sylvia thought. ' Every proof was covered with additional text... Adorned with Joycean rockets and myriads of stars guiding the printers to words and phrases and lists of names, all around the margins.'

.... At first Darantiere cautioned Sylvia: " M Darantiere warned me that I was going to have a lot of extra expense with those proofs. He suggested I call Joyce's attention  to the danger of going beyond my depth, perhaps his appetite for proofs might be curbed. But no, I wouldn't hear of such a thing. Ulysses was to be as Joyce wished, in every aspect." If 'real' publishers followers did her example, she says later, " kit would be the death of publishing. My case was different,"
.... And so.  " his vine-covered printing house worked overtime."

That Ulysses is the kind of book it is is down to Sylvia Beach. No other publisher would have allowed Joyce that kind of freedom. Just as well she wasn't a 'real' publisher.

In a little less than ten years she was to publish eleven editions of Ulysses,  until the book was able to be published in America and Britain. Not only that, she acted as Joyce's agent and banker, found the family accommodation, carried out the large number of tasks Joyce suggested to promote the book, and generally assisted in his life.

After a decade, the association and friendship faded. Sylvia's suffered various setbacks and did not change the energy to keep the Joyce machine going.

But her bookshop continued as a centre of the literary arts in Paris, along with Sylvia's friend and partner Adrienne Monnier's own French language bookshop across the way. She did much  to promote American literature in France, and the writers who became members of her bookshop and friends include Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams. Even Emma Goldman  called in on her way through Paris.

The heyday of the shop was in the twenties. Then came the great crash, and the Second World War. Through the hard times friends rallied round and kept the bookshop afloat, but in 1941, when Paris as occupied by he Nazis and he shop was to be imminently raided, Sylvia closed the shop and hid all the books.

The shop never opened again. But Sylvia Beach continued to enjoy writing and writers, continuing to promote literature. She die at the age of 75 in 1962.

And so my time with this energetic, witty woman, who did so much for writers and writing has come to an end. Before I finished it, I began that sad task of finding another book to read. I have plenty to read, but what?

I drew from the bookshelf The Vivisector, by Patrick White, and the Uncollected writings of Stevie Smith ( now presumably collected in this volume). But my heart and mind as still with Sylvia beac, in Paris in he 20s and 30s.

Of course, there is still re- reading ....

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Leaving the attic

Of Emma Goldman I have only the slightest memory. To me, she was just a dowdy woman who did not know how to get along with children. She loved them and wanted to make friends, but like people who spook horses she had the wrong sort of aura.

Kenneth Rexroth, An Autobiographical Novel

(Rexroth had met Emma Goldman when he was a child.)

I bought this book in Wentworth Falls in January this year and am only just getting round to reading it.
It's enlightening, reading snippets about people from other people's books. I re-read Goldman's two volume Living My Life about a year ago, and my biggest regret is that she missed out on meeting Oscar Wilde in Paris in the final years of his life.  She went to a meeting instead!!!
It would have been nice to get her impression of him.

I'm nursing a bung ankle and packing up my house. There are no longer any books or shelves in the attic, and this book by Rexroth is one of a few left in the remaining un-packed bookshelf. You need to leave yourself something to read. I spend my time packing up crockery, lying on an unmade bed reading, and generally enjoying the squalor of a house being dismantled to go elsewhere.

The bung ankle comes, I think, (for I don't remember doing it) from stumbling on a walk around town with my friend Faye, who wanted to do the walks that Sophie did in My Candlelight Novel.

So we started at the house I called Samarkand in that book, and went down the path under the tunnel of figs and then to the bridge with Planet Music on the corner, and across the river to the Winsome and down Wotherspoon street.  It was Faye who first introduced me to Wotherspoon Street, a shabby, treed, wonderful enclave of old houses. We went to the park where Sophie slept the night, and Faye quoted me bits of the book I'd forgotten because she'd just been reading it in preparation for our walk.

After a rest at a cafe we did another of Sophie's walks, on the day she was feeling grumpy and disgruntled, and Faye saw the stone lions at the entrance to the park near the railway station, because she'd never been there before on foot, only passed it in a car.

Faye was the person who took me up the tower of the Catholic Cathedral in Lismore, which I later put into Mahalia, and when I needed to look at things  through a microscope (for A Charm of Powerful trouble) she set it all up and showed me pond water and potato starch and other ordinary extraordinary things. She's one of those people who often say things that go into one of my books.

I don't know when I'll get to the attic again. I mean this virtual attic. And in a little over two weeks I'll be leaving this attic too, where I wrote some of my books (the others written in a room overlooking the creek.) End of an era.

Moving house for the first time in 25 years is stressful. Friends keep ringing me to see how I'm doing (because Underground Man is currently 700 km or so away looking for a place for us to rent), and calming me down, telling me to drink wine in the evenings, take valium when necessary, clear my head of negative thoughts and think of the long view.

Maybe I'll be back after I move. Or maybe not.  But for the moment, the madwoman is definitely in the attic, and she is as mad as all get out, and that's the way things should be.