Introduction, by John Kinsella
The ‘Malley’ poems that come via John Ashbery, John Tranter and myself, in this selection, were planned to appear as part of a longer work-in-progress to be released in book form. My texts derive from ‘starting points’ within Malley poems and / or the original texts that the duo — McAuley and Stewart — ravaged for words / ideas, their own ‘starting points’. Various living authors are alluded to or sublimated.
At the time of writing one or two of these, John Ashbery had faxed through to me a couple of his pieces — there may consequently be a sense of ‘response’ in one or two of my poems included here. There is most certainly a dialogue in all of the pieces with John Ashbery's ‘voice’. I also have a number of letters and emails from that inception period (a couple of years ago) to ‘deflect’ from John’s take on this discovery that Ern sought to speak through us. I am not sure why this happened, but maybe we’re both receptive to Ern-like poets struggling to be heard from across the great divide. I know I spend my time listening closely for such voices from limbo.
John Ashbery has been working within his own time frame and space on these / ‘his’ texts. However, we did discuss via email the sense of Ern speaking ‘via’ us (I think this was John’s expression) — maybe a bit like Merrill’s ouija board approach! (my expression).
John Tranter’s two poems are part of a ten-poem sequence of votive verses written in or through the ‘voice’ of Ern Malley, speaking in turn thought the voices of other writers, in a kind of double ventriloquy. In ‘Transatlantic’ Ern is joined by the Gertrude Stein of The Autobiography of Alice B.Toklas; in ‘The Urn of Loneliness’ he is accompanied by Radclyffe Hall, author of the 1928 self-published novel on Sapphic themes, The Well of Loneliness.
— John Kinsella
‘But what you in compassion ought
Shall now by my revenge be wrought.’
— Andrew Marvell
Like the child-hero of the fable,
You compute an ergonomics
Concise as history, and complete.
Grabbing at balls suspended
Above the pawnshop’s squalid lintel
You have estranged the author inmates, content
To tilt at Siamese parasols
Or bathe your feet in the wine-coolers.
Know then that the emperor is translucent, his edicts
mere paraphs, his son a scum. Pawnbrokers waltz in an early evening
that could be Nile’s; the mammoth’s heresy hinges on a tusk,
And all will be gone by morning,
Save for one shuffling museum guard
Skimming pebbles across the Great Lawn:
Pink ones, licorice ones, or that one that is the color
Of dried snow beyond the snow-fence
On a morning in late March.
Truncated, I switch a lock of grass
against the dominant posterior,
I twitch beneath a sun dark with smog
and pixels, I incite art-attacks in monument parks,
and make selection when squatters
turn their backs; understand this
my crepuscular love, as if I might
get your mood just right, these blowsy
gardens, transposed avenues. In tight pants —
stovepipes — you angle towards
my aural palette, and I hear your yelp,
cur-like, choked with crows and light.
Paris was not a place, it was the event,
and in that event the great writer
wrote about her grand obsession: herself.
Remember that the great writer liked
the evening telephone. The fade of age.
She said; snob strongly and snob often,
that was what she wanted.
If you go to the reading-rooms
as a result of smoking the herb of contempt
nothing you read will do you any good.
Why am I talking to you?
We received at least the evening sky
which was hers to inherit; that,
and a few thousand dollars.
My friendships after all, Helene said,
were based on direct emotion.
She did not stifle the great writer,
rather the work of the great writer
stifled others, a known council of vulgarisers.
You are journalists, Helene said,
you are all mechanical men.
Helene would be more inclined to violence, and
these femmes de ménage stumbled into
a life filled with permanent anger.
Naturally it is a big explosion,
she yelled. You remember emotions.
The great writer had a mystic in to teach us
mysticism. He was attracted by Janet.
Drop dead, Janet said. So he taught
moral tales, how ambition clogs the career.
Discretion is a kid of dilution, courtesy a limp.
O far shore, wrote the voice.
They met in the Luxembourg Gardens and
paperback in hand, turned to rend
what was left of my love story —
those dark intellectual comments,
later printed in the Moral Tales.
There were traces in the enormous room
of what had made them.
Just stay here. We spent hours there.
To have lain with a little book.
O drink, bring peace to the flesh.
What logorrhea could contain
The buses in their valley,
Or bargain with snot-nose urchins
For tambourine-gut in a night alley?
Once there were providences, sheaves
of nightingales to penetrate the anus
Of a heresy. Now, only a few sad leaves
Clipped from the toque of Janus
Rattle. The task force was put on hold;
The first wave of defenders
Mowed down in the pinfold.
Brigid prefers chicken tenders.
We had travelled only as far as the nearest
City, which lay collapsed
In smoking ruin. The gunmen were the queerest
We’d yet come upon, straight out of Pabst
In his post-Hollywood lethargy —
Lacking, in any case, the ‘Lubitsch touch.’
Must we then croak a liturgy
Spooled from wan Caesar’s flowering crutch?
Yes, in the night were many
Who came at you like a dog
Still I can hardly remember any
Terror as I rolled off the log.
Rigid inspector of my colossal yearnings:
winged building — my soul — set free
of its lamentable architecture,
withering sails or shells skipping
across the break. They leap here, and there,
and it’s just newsprint in the local paper,
all doused in the weedy depths your hair:
kri kri kri, where nobody will hear.
“That tawny desert,” the poet crooned,
encomiums of global geistig,
protean tears in personae: Villon
and Beatrice, “totalmente,” the Spaniard
says, thinking in Italian.
Morton opened the diary: ‘The hot flush of Angela’s lips
tasted of her dual nature, when she kissed me...’
Mary was mooning over her, but this loose dance
had awakened a desire for a sterile kiss —
now starting to kiss her, meeting
in the physical pain, the focus of a strong drug
and her voice not giving out its meaning
for Angela, for the men crowded at the bar,
those whom ‘Lesley’ adored, Mary’s fierce look
gathering in chairs, pictures,
the metal birds looking on, their
mocking chided her, and would distract her,
so she shook her head — she felt
bruised, bitterly helpless. And ‘Lesley’ —
she found herself staring at ‘Lesley’!’
She had an ugly red scar down the skull
and a wart on her dark lids, those eyes
that would gaze with repugnance on Mary.
Was ‘Lesley’ loving Mary, or placidly grazing?
‘Lesley’ was no more the restrained person.
She must stop kissing this little marred face...
Her voice had brought the jungle — lions
are their emotions. ‘Yes, those emotions.
They were not divine that night,’ said Morton.
They had lived in their green descant of love
for months, but now, sainted with contempt,
she must lift her attentions to that purpose
of a dark eclipse, failing in spite of her cunning
to see the gush of ancestral duty.
Because she was so like a beast, she felt,
she had put out her hand to ‘Lesley’
who was still forgiving an endless cruelty.
Mary would clutch her coat, moist yet tawdry,
timid yet dissident. She recoiled at Morton’s touch.
She looked over these sunken sodden wretches,
saying ‘The terror, why can’t they understand?’ —
‘Lesley’ rushed in to talk to her once more
in the long night, these were torments to Morton.
‘Is it my fault,’ he cried, ‘that the sad autumn of Mary
turned into hate? That Mary’s anger
gave way to shame?’ ‘Don’t look,’
Mary stammered. She knew she had a shame,
called ‘normal’. Why had she let ‘Lesley’ mutter
‘I want to arrive at the so-called normal,’
and not curtail that gaffe? Morton closed the book.
It all started with uprightness,
this tendency to startle despite
a drift to the left: I waggle
in surplice schematics
criss-crossing the circuit boards
declaring diodes reborn,
come again in a silicon world.
Don’t you want me
for my Gary Cooper nose?
Ah, Lilies of the Valley
that draw me up
by the short and curlies, popeye muscles
Scipio once admired, before some ol’ bloke
retired. Spittle of Apollo, Maevius’s scriptic tune,
a bloodtest pushed through the maiden’s drawers.
I read him like a book on the smooth beach.
I betray not, the glory of unsettled usage,
the quatch-buttock. Suffer my command
in this, your period of duty — dressed up
in hose and flaunting imperial shoes.
Thrust in these damned wound-holes,
counteract my guest-host:
Ah, what’s chivalry come to? Stop start,
gone to wars: attacking Frederick the Great.
The regular exception of night surprise:
mall survey, that propitious ray,
proximity of fame and name.
I was here, looking for you,
wind-thrummelled and all at sea
in my heavily starched sailor suit.
The heckles crowed on the beach
Sauntering about like haphazard amorists,
Stylish flotsam and jetsam, having
None of the perpetrators’ emotion.
Human condition, cymbals
And Golden Fleece service stations,
M’dear surfing those breakers,
The silly sirens, as bright as the zodiacs
Rushing in behind bright lights.
Whipping up projects like grains of sand,
Befuddling colloquial rhetoricians
And humdingers from Melbourne:
The brass, the polish, exhaust from hotdoggers.
Commodious hosiery, that I tie
my white lies by, that I graft
to the bee with its pollen-shedding
undergarments; ah, flower farm
and laced integer, that by quotidians
of ten I mark profit, industry
I faithfully subscribe as Valhalla,
the hidden signature, the miracle
of the hole in the wall,
the popular art of thrust and shell-holes,
not scattered to industry. I love,
love out of reservoirs of ruby
and cybernauts, superculture
hand-held like the (s)trumpet-
attested waves of quietness,
that I — in my lair — hold out
against, auxiliary hairs
gibbets, labial undertakings.
John Tranter’s poem ‘Transatlantic’ was first published in Meanjin and Poetry Review (UK). ‘The Urn of Loneliness’ first appeared in Meanjin magazine.
Window of Publication: John Ashbery’s poems are copyright, and remain available in this issue of Jacket only until mid-2003. They may make an ectoplasmic reappearance for a few days each year around the anniversary of Ern Malley’s death, the 23rd of July, should the spirits be willing.