An Australian Suburban Garden
For various movie directors
This piece is about 33 printed pages long.
An Australian Suburban Garden
I am sitting in the front yard
the enclosing high walls,
stand of bamboo,
green hose snaking
from the far
corner to the foot of the gum, across the carpet of twisted
Pola sits, tiny, in the sun—normally
quite a big dog,
but curled, so that I see only
a profile that looks hilariously innocent
like a deer’s: ‘good’, ‘fond’. The breeze,
the best part—plane tree, gum,
vine leaves, bamboo—moves
or storms occasionally about,
quietens. I’ve had
a better time of it than Leopardi
whom I read now
In good health—a number of
more or less
—questions he asked I never would
... (in this ‘secular’ age).
I have perhaps worked
no ideas out myself, taking them
‘from the shelf’, merely
of the Ancients.
Who did I raid?
(”Baby, I just
Though more sentimental
Pola now lies flat in the sun
depression she must once have dug
—a Siberian husky, her
gleaming in the light—
before I finish that line,
she has moved from sun to shade. I hear her head
hit the concrete as she flops down, invisible now
on the other side of
I am not going to appear in another poem,
A review I read recently
of Italian Poetry
remarked their tradition
of addressing each other, something British poets, it said,
”rarely did”. British poets, it seemed to me,
rarely addressed anybody
but spoke as if they weren’t being heard,
as if it were impolite
to break any reigning silence —
especially in view of their having
’nothing to say’.
Me, I am given to the utterance in full voice.
Can I steal anything
a note to myself,
for the future,
or later tonight.
On my left the enormous fallen statue
of the robot
for a year or two
after Craige Andrae
installed it, a bizarre
in the garden.
Et in Arcadia
it seems to parody,
selflessly, the Romantic-ruin-&-vista, with
No Care For Its Own Dignity —
as if to say Hey, look at me—I’m making a joke:
‘Look upon my
works, o, man’ etcetera.
One leg remains upright, cut off
where Cath delved,
looking for the honey the bees had left behind
&, undermined, Ro-bo
fell some time later.
And has lain there
for a year or so now.
Once or twice we cut the long grass
around him. Beside, an olive tree grows
in a terracotta pot
near the wall—& near the meter the utilities man can never find,
unless we point to it—
& a vine creeps up the wall
that I planted
maybe eight years ago,
making slow progress but adding charm
& outrunning the parti-coloured ivy
that sets out after it
& makes a pleasant, never-used cavern
in the left hand corner of the yard
then the liquid amber (also looking quite classical ...
if Salvator Rosa, or the lost Titian—Death of Peter Martyr—
It’s an ‘Australian’ perspective.
If not, maybe,
Though most I’m sure, would know what I mean.)
They’d know, too,
it was crepe myrtle.
Why do I always call it
liquid amber? — because of the liquid smoothness
of its trunk,
like the underside of forearms. I love the downhome,
on Europe—old Europe
anything before the nineteenth century—where they refer
as ‘England times’.
I saw a comedian do it once
repeatedly, to stupid, Anglophile
his assent to the view
that England’s time had passed.
After A While’ —
the great Buddy Guy tune. Am I
I wonder if this poem
will once again attack England—
The phone rings—but every time I go to answer it
at the other end of the house
gets there first. Which is great—I get
but no distractions. Cath is at work—or out to lunch
with her friend George (Georgina).
The boys are in England.
I sent them photos,
of this bougainvillea —
in full flower. Its green covers the salmon-pink
of the wall, beyond the delicious
of the gum—
angled skyward, vast & smooth, spotted, in just
a few places, by bits of bark that hang on—
flecks of grey-pink still clinging
& that can remind though they don’t today,
of the occasional
large pale slug
(that I see, about every three—or five?—years, somewhere)
as they spot the trunk
Is the colour puce? A word I associate
with ecclesiasticism somehow
(Ronald Firbank, a pulp novel I read
as a teenager
—The Odour of Sanctity?)
fleas, after all: the Black Plague, dirt & darkness:
not the full sunny glare of classicism
—by which I mean,
Heaven Knows, Mr Allison—
what do you mean?
That old joke. (That old
Paddo comes in, Anna’s boyfriend, yells How’s it going?
The day before Xmas.
Leopardi would be—a century or
shivering in his father’s library,
blanket over his knees, cloak about his shoulders,
—something improving or curious—
snow falling outside, maybe.
Here it is mild. I’ll be reading Leopardi,
or John Forbes!—I found his old
‘In Memory of My Feelings’,
which I’ll look at tonight.
—to return to it? or is that Leopardi? is my poem
moonless until just now?—
the moon approaching full.
the moon in daylight—
but, looking about, I can’t see it.
is cloudless & beautifully blue. The green
of all the trees across the street—
visible from here, above the copse of bamboo—
with the hint
of red & brown
in their leaves—
makes the blue vibrate about them. And, near,
the glowing parallel bars of the white garden seat opposite,
quietly, E. Phillips Fox, divisionism, Bonnard
... other names from Painting
—though, hitherto ,
it had simply been a chair & I
The light changed? Must have.
Suburban Garden—was written Xmas eve 2004. Another catalogue of unreasonable opinion. Leopardi: congenitally ill and much suffering Italian poet of the absolute & ideal. Actor Robert Mitchum shows up, I don’t know why (to lower the tone?)—twice maybe: he starred in Heaven Knows Mister Allison. Australian painter E. Phillips Fox typically painted finery, flowers, gardens etc in a very high-keyed and dappled light that went some way to ‘making strange’ the subject matter — most famously some women in ornate dresses & with parasols descending steps to board a boat in bright sun. The poem wrongs a great many English poets: I was thinking of circumspect verse favoured by the TLS probably and harking back to opinions I held years ago.
“Neo-classicism? Chiefly I like its bric-à-brac.”
Time to make a start
The ODE TO WINCKELMANN
(Is this an ‘Ode to Winckelmann’?)
“I saw a photo of the monument to you / him — “
“Hi, Joe,” I begin —
searched for it in fact!
I think you’re
with boredom these days
of Anton Raphael Mengs
but in other respects
it was insufficient, too
— the monument, the plaque —
boring, as I’ve said —
(Not quite direct enough
Or very antique)
— you’ll have come by boat
not train or, heaven forbid,
I caught a bus in to the town
& kept my ‘archaeologist’s’
’eye’ out —
scare quotes will this poem
under the weight of its ‘irony’ so cheap?
the allegories ‘aboard’ Trieste’s architecture ‘abound’,
inviting it —
— there are some ‘fine figures of girls’
in stone or plaster somewhere representing
the ‘figures’ of
clean & brackish water (!)
— par example.
archaeologist’s eye though
spotted only Original Joe’s
a coffee shop. The name in English
would likely be the intended resonance
not London — & not, Johannes, German.
for 100 years now
& America — which in your day
existed, yes, but as pure horizon
( & for the futuristically
(the Wright Brothers ...
whereas you kept your eye
on the past, is that true?.
What do I know?
Would I even like to find out?
You were probably not a democrat.
An Open Letter to you
would seem to set you up as a kind of
Rip Van Winkle figure
in any case, not interesting
I have some time for
Even nutty old Mengs is sometimes
And David — were you around
for that? — while sometimes drily preposterous
well, often dry, more often preposterous
really, on many occasions
— And I liked the idea of seeing your tomb,
for this reason.
You’re still, you see — if just marginally —
in the cultural DNA or whatever that gets passed down.
Am I any sample ? representative ?
by a long shot than you
— a minor poet conscious
of the irony
that inhere, around
the practitioner of one marginal form
dead, forgotten great of another.
I didn’t find the tomb or memorial. Tho
I ‘attained’ to within
200 metres, a few times, I’m sure
You got killed here — probably by rough trade
you’d picked up ...
‘& all intelligent Europe
Is that the phrase?
I like the place —
The Triestine mix
Italian, German, Austrian, & Czech & Slovak & Slovene
has made for greater restraint
than you meet
elsewhere in Italy
Cath & I left Rome
home of the ever-
car horn & imperilled pedestrian
for Austria, &
were amazed & amused:
walk too close to the footpath edge
& cars slowed — in case you meant to cross in front of them —
police cars put their sirens on
But only briefly:
when approaching an intersection, say
— turned it off
when they were through
In Rome, the importance of a
Racing Home For Lunch
‘required’ a siren.
I saw ‘a very Italian thing’
or so it seemed
& not un-classical, either
though of course,
true to your
you could be supposed not to approve
I was walking ice cream in hand between various
small restaurants & pavilions set up on the town docks.
Saturday night I think. A sort of family day had been taking
place all afternoon and evening — blaring pop songs, a semi
professional girl group singing, a hot-air balloon rising and
falling, rising and falling constantly, lots of food on grills
As I passed the enclosed courtyard of one
restaurant I saw some teenage girls somehow milling about.
There were assorted adults among them, but a dominant factor
was these fifteen year old girls, ‘swanning’, threading their way
through and between the others — all walking as on a fashion-
shoot, languidly spinning and turning, crisscrossing the space,
quoting, performing gracefulness and the designated disaffected
pout—and boredom or detachment—high fashion often uses. It
was very odd, because there was no evident audience, unless it
was the no doubt slightly bemused or exasperated parents —
there seemed to be no young men about. Maybe the girls were
‘playing’ — the last form play took before you, too, were free to
escape — like the boys were — family occasions?
It bore a little resemblance to the classical frieze
a la Flaxman or Poussin.
you’d have liked it?
It occurs to me that nothing in
real life resembles more the work of Raymond Roussel
than a truly high fashion parade.
The old buildings of Trieste
— nineteenth-century mostly, so they show your influence
but you never saw them — reminded me somehow
of Margaret Dumont : gently, amusingly, pompous —
& a little faded
slightly ‘comic opera’
in fact the Paris Opera
came to mind
though it is a little busy,
& coloured ‘Northern’ & ‘gallic’
Trieste was more comfortably confectionery.
The gallery had Von Stuck, Marées & Bocklin
(no Bunny, no Lindsay)
amongst a collection otherwise thoroughly Italian.
The girl group ‘were quite Italian’ —
heavily & rhetorically
resembling but in no way suggesting
A little like neo classicism?
Air force jets performed
in the sky —
finally trailing the Italian colours behind them
And on late night television back in my room,
Aerosmith : career highlights & a career salute
this too seemed Italian
— The best part — in its own terms — was Shakira
doing “Dude Looks Like A Lady”
with great energy
Sort of a ‘dude’ herself
A healthy girl —
I might care about you more than any poet in Australia.
(You, Winckelmann — not Shakira.)
More than Paul Keating?
Now there’s a thought.
( I keep thinking to call you ‘Henry’
‘The Fonz’ )
Would my caring be any consolation I wonder —
rather idly, I’ll admit — ?
All the paraphernalia
is used by the Italians as just
symbols no one attempts to believe in, or consider.
Whereas Aerosmith’s lead singer is a symbol
who could hardly ‘argue’ for meaning, except by
more strenuously enacting it
As a professional he really
in being in the business of
value-judgements being the concern of those consuming
/using these meanings
(In fact maybe he’s an adverb —
more than any particular passion)
usually it’s just “freedom”
or freedom by association with
functions to furnish all areas
with a thoroughly humanized
—that is, colonizing —
Italians who emigrated
must’ve wondered what they’d
— bullshit ? or paradise ?
Australia might have seemed,
whether cruelly or refreshingly,
a little barren.
The Little King
I remember him —
a comic strip
to a ten year old .
— He looked like a
and another cartoon near to him
I don’t remember
seemed to be about ineffable banality
& as these concepts were beyond me
at least conceptually
I found this one intriguing
typically two matrons
smothered in furs & pearls & opera glasses
whose tone was considered ‘risible’
Dad preferred Boofhead
— the true archaic
& the action took place on a plane that
paralleled that of the picture
Winckelmann & Lichtenstein
would’ve loved it
Which is great — cause I love you guys!
— The artist who drew it could not handle three-quarter views
or foreshortening —
Nadi & Pinko
one of the stores I pass
to get to Divo Antonio Thaumaturgio —
or the temple-fronted cathedral of that saint —
a nutty neo-classical unit, like a bit of de Chirico,
situated, Taj Mahal-like, at the head of what once was
the Grand Canal. The church is massive, but, except
close up, looks too small ... & amusing, & sort of
crooked in relation to things — it needs
a big armchair to sit beside it, and a
Trojan-scaled horse or blow-up castle — companions.
Giorgio would’ve loved it.
Which is great —
“because I love (both you ... “
Complacency & comfort are Trieste style.
And you say, Winckelmann: “Which is great — because
I love both you guys!”
And I say Point taken,
where is the rigour (in this, this poem) ?
When you visited this place
(“All of civilized society in Europe
felt your death” weeks later)
what did you
Did you just like to see the few ideas
— elements of classicism, combined,
in standard order?
Like Divo Antonio —
four good pillars, the triangular pediment above,
the right volumes within?
Now the TV screen is filled by an ancient sailing ship
from which is thrown to the Italian viewer
bloke presumably, but what sort of bloke? —
in kit form : hours of fun
After the ad the program continues
of the competition, Miss Italy.
as a rule she is never as good looking as
the girls around her
& usually she doesn’t look Italian
: they go for ‘California’
never a hint of, say, Algeria.
The judges: politicians & mayor look-alikes.
: thoroughly respectable —
clean & almost earnest
& therefore thoroughly an idiot :
cliché & classicism
part of the
I’m working on
Hard to fool yourself poetry is much loved
— for me
to come & spit on
... “Schadenfreude —
a newsboy’s shout proclaiming.
”One of these days, Alice — Pow! Right to the moon!”
Is that what it means
— ‘seeing stars’ ?
Banjaxed, my favourite —
Mary hadn’t heard it
& was impressed
The simple things, right,
the small things
takes a simple man
to sing a simple song
”I’m worried now”
But I won’t be
— or even vaguer —
don’t you find?
Or are we Not Speaking
finally any longer?
Maybe it is “pole star”, polvere de’estelle ?
Joe raises an eye, but remains silent.
Would “August 16th” be a good title for this?
Or “Europe” ?
I see on August 14th
I was considering
Is an Italian a happier person ?
how would an Italian know ?
You get to Heaven, after a life of depression —
& find out you were happy all the time,
to a German,
someone from Dublin, Dusseldorf,
On the other hand, you were never
it turns out
(like someone from Dusseldorf ...
Cork ... Duluth ... )
I read the not very
Poem — from Edinburgh —
about ancient China
Second Best Moments in Chinese History
& like it.
As I sum up on Europe
while flying, in fact, to China
where I never
meant to be
( & find I like it )
meeting Niu Baoguo
& Yu Hua
James Joyce appears in Trieste as he does all over Dublin
in that silly hat
Was it an affectation at the time ?
(In that silly hat & cross-eyed.)
On the other hand
He is remembered for a great work
— merely recognised
(not reduced ‘to’)
the familiar outline.
When I was young it was the legs-akimbo shot —
of him in cloth cap, chin up, head on one side
“Wondering,” he said
or is said to have said “if the photographer
could lend him
Makes me think I
‘should get a haircut’
Is that the allegorical figure of Fame
It’s a wedding-cake aesthetic almost, this
— This 19th century
style of eclectic classicism —
but better than that,
because more modest
or more quietly confident? —
than Rome’s Victor Emmanuel monument?
is perhaps hysterically assertive
... as some weddings no doubt are.
’False teeth’ they are called in Rome — the world’s biggest
— with their little winged victories
or whoever they are
(flanking in chariots)
dark angels & horses — & a spear? a standard ?
And the Irish
— what is the point? —
except to wonder
at the answer to the question ?
“Ah, colourful people
Of the world” ?
I wonder how it turned out, Anna’s first coffee
With the parents of her boyfriend ?
Anglo Saxon stock,
Italian coffee ...
when I get home
unless an email remembers to tell me.
a little woman, one foot in the road,
is not waving to me
but to someone further behind
& she isn’t Fame, either
because the person
looks sort of ordinary.
A big pumping cloud configuration
Dufy with nobility
(Like drunk with love
sick with lust)
Time to get a haircut
my Ode to Europe
(my ode to Europe)
begins, begins finally, with the little lady
red linen suit, red linen pants
who brings to her table
a reddish drink
tea, I think.
I forebear to remark.
(We are in an airport terminal)
In any case, Farewell, Trieste!
The Italian girl
On the train from Stansted
: her joyous delight on seeing so soon
— in a field, playing golf! —
pointing it out
to her father
She is 15
Her mixed horror & raised
As the grubby, crowded, cheerless
English inner city begins to appear
The reggae from Gabe’s flat —
domesticating the city noise of traffic
the industrial sound of buses’ brakes
a faint clatter of plates from next door —
“we live in Brooklyn, baby”
not I don’t
is my response
or do I ?
that is one view, I know.
Well, importantly, mine
On a bad day for my conscience
The Colonized Mind
tomorrow I find, & buy, by chance Second Best Moments in Chinese
By the author of A Bad Day For The Sung Dynasty
Immobilized white steam
— soft, large, silver-lined —
against the blue
the usual repertoire
cite them here? Tiepolo, Dufy, Guardi, de Pisis
in the Trieste Museum is it Savinio or Carra
’the usual repertoire’ — nude armchair classical column
stylized, wavy water
(all within a room) !
cynical, tired ? but it was hard not to like —
on de Chirico’s vocabulary —
“iconography”, I should say —
rehearsed one more time, recombined
to see what they will throw up
in this new configuration
A helicopter beating at the sky overhead
returns, like a wasp at a pane of glass
Europe — it’s a continent, mate! It is also an idea. Paul Keating was Australian Prime Minister. There are art references—to Winckelmann, Mengs, Jacques-Louis David—but, as the joke is that they are so little thought of now, it would be perverse to explain them here. Margaret Dumont was the central female role in many Marx Brothers films; Garnier is, here, an architect, not a perfume. I was in Trieste—& Dublin, London & China—courtesy of The James Joyce Foundation’s travelling prize. “Bonjour Trieste”—my joke with the title of Francoise Sagan’s novel, Bonjour, Tristesse. “Europe” was written as I bounced to & fro between London, Trieste, London again (& Gabe’s flat there), & thence to China on my way home to Australia.
Back to list of poems
For various movie directors
I come this way
for the ‘S’ bends
Driving alone at
night I feel
like Paul Douglas in a
movie the kind
I loved—still do—
when I was young
adulthood seem so
love, & guilt
& betrayal, unspoken
forgiveness: Paul always
loved her though she was
no good—though she wasn’t
so bad—he was no
great shakes himself the
besides, he had cancer,
his partner was out
to blackmail him
the business could go downhill
any moment—she’d given up a lot
to marry him. Paul wore
big coats, over big suits, &
sported a muffler he had
dumb, intelligent eyes. I
come home on just
one glass of wine, to play
an obscure record, write
a poem—obscure too probably—
write a letter
& maybe call Cath, in Italy—
on her holiday. Soon to return—
to her palooka, deeply worried
today, about Manet,
deeply worried about nothing—
a palooka in 1992 Australia
in a small yellow Mazda
moving carefully through the
Ken Bolton; photo by Bianca Barling
Ken Bolton: A gay, light-hearted bastard, Ken Bolton cuts a moodily romantic figure within the dun Australian literary landscape, his name inevitably conjuring perhaps that best known image of him, bow-tie askew, grinning cheerfully, at the wheel of his 1958 Jaguar sports car, El Cid. It is this image that also carries in its train the stories of later suffering—the affairs, the women, the bad teeth—and, speaking of teeth, the beautiful poems wrenched from the teeth of despair & written on the wrist of happiness “where happiness happens to like its poems written best” (in his inordinate phrase). (“Inordinate”?—can you use inordinate like that?)
Penguin published an early Selected Poems; more recently Wakefield Press have published Bolton’s ‘Untimely Meditations’ & other poems (1997) and At The Flash & At The Baci (2006) and a monograph on sculptor Michele Nikou.
For further information see Australian Literary Resources site http://www.austlit.com/a/bolton-k/index.html