Monday, February 22, 2010

Dispatch From The Front: Day 1

When the helicopter landed, Nigel Roberts leapt out wearing an All Blacks rugby jumper and went straight for the first Waggaist he saw: a man wearing an oxblood sports coat, his face pitted and scarred, one hand gripping a briefcase, the other outstretched in welcome. Nigel went in swinging and knocked out three of W. H. Auden’s teeth. “Sorry mate, I didn’t know you were coming.” Auden spat a line of blood. “That’s alright young man. I needed it. Let’s go fuck a few Waggaists.”
On the beach, James Dickey had organised a mine-sweeping party. The metal-detectors were relics from WW2 with huge discs and wires twisting around the handles like liana vine. He was on his haunches, shouting directions at the crew who were standing around dodging ampules of exploding wheatgrass and breast-feeding their detectors. “Get to work! Start sweeping”, he shouted, but they stood their ground. Dickey got to his feet. “You! What’s your name?” Dickey pointed to a sweating poet at the back of the group. “Jamie Grant,” the man said. “Grant? He was a Yankee dog, but I’ll tell you something son, he wouldn’t have trembled like a wallflower getting sunburned while the enemy was surrounding him. Now put the face of that dish where it belongs and find some mines! And you! You there with the face! Who are you?” “Brendan”. “Brendan what?” “If I tell you, you’ll make a joke.” “Listen boy, this whole trip has been a riot. Don’t keep me in suspense.” “It’s Ryan.” “You mean as in: trying-to-storm-the-beachhead-in-the-opening-scenes-of-Saving Private Ryan, Ryan? Right. Now listen, these ampules have a three to four second delay between volleys. You duck, lift your head, sweep, then duck. Got it?” 
As they shimmied down the ropes from the kookaburra balloon, the Symbolists found themselves being dragged to and fro as the balloon rose and fell, despite it's being held in place by Kris Hemensley. Kris was on the wharf, wrapping the guy rope around his waist and trying to find a tie-point. "Can you give me a hand?" he yelled at Gig Ryan, but she was applying sun-burn cream after being roasted while water-skiing. Rimbaud, his hands raw with friction burns, jumped the last five metres and landed beside a channel marker bouy. The water around him lit up and fizzed as an electric eel bit into his thigh. He cursed, then dived under. Surfacing, his hands throwing lavender sparks, he wrestled the eel to his mouth and bit it clean in half. Mallarme, who had belly-flopped from the rope and torn all but his boots off, tried to rip the eel from Rimbaud's hands and stepped on a stonefish. Its spine went straight through the sole of his leather boot. Screaming indigo murder, he managed to get to the sand, and sat down. Baudelaire was already staggering up the beach, oblivious of the mines. He raised his bottle of absinthe to the hill and shouted "Live riddles for a baited heart!" 

On the main wharf, Tom Raworth was telling Les Murray he was a bad poet and a fuck-witted trouble maker. Les was giggling and almost gagging, pretending to ignore the fierce Raworthian invective. Rod Millikan came strolling across the wharf and walked up to Murray. “I’ve always wanted to sing to you. How about one from the Lucinda Williams songbook?” Murray was cross-eyed by now. Raworth turned around and king hit Murray in the head. “Fucking hell,” said Millikan, “Les is not the enemy, I love his work. He is a master of cowboy poetry!” Then it was on. Max Williams and Bill Wisley turned up with planks. Bill said “What the fuck’s going on, save it for the wagga-cunts. Les is meant to be on our side." “Our Side?” said David Brooks. “Our wretched side? What’s a Side? Who can tell? Everyone is totally corrupt and you are talking about sides!” This was too much for Max. He broke his plank in two making, as it were, a sawn-off plank. He shoved it with a jab into Les Murray’s side. Les went down and Brooks started sobbing. “Like Wilding I’m a vegetarian, a man of peace, a lover. I hate violence.” “Where’s Rimbaud and the French Symbolists now Les really needs them?” asked Millikan. “The French are swine” Les replied as he struggled to his feet. “We have taken all the symbols. “We’ve got them up at Bunyah. They’ve been locked away for good. “Is redness a symbol?” Max Williams enquired as he sharpened the end of his sawn-off plank with a pen-knife.
Charles Olson and Blodgett arrived on Rudi Krausman’s yacht. They were roaring drunk at 10am and wanted to know directions to the nearest whisky bar. “Irresponsible yanks” said Les. Blodgett looked down on Les and said “One word old fellow, one complex and desireable word: “slit”. “What?” “You heard,” said Olson, “the man comes from the North, there’s a lot of that sort of dark music up there. “What do you want from me?” said Les, getting very red and angry. “I’ll tell you,” said Olson. “I’ll godamn tell you. What do I want? I’m looking for Dulcy Deamer. I’m looking for the music. I want the sound of a Waggafish as it munches on the tip of the Red K’s nose. “Okay," said Brooks, "count me in. I want a plank, a donger, a huge weapon. Screw eating vegetables and magic realism. I want action.” “Who gives a fuck what you want," Olson said as he swallowed a triple Irish Whiskey from a tumbler.
The only Waggaists I saw were up on the hill, using sling-shots to fire vials of noxious liquid at the landing parties and yelling lame abuse. This was clearly a ruse to entice the poets further up the hill. The morning passed without further incident except for the sounds of poets fighting amongst themselves. 

I had skirted the edge of the main beach, which Dickey and his crew had managed to render safe, when I came upon A. A. Ammons and Nils Lofgren. They told me they had been walking after lunch, looking around, taking it all in: the flocks of rainbow lorikeets, the half-dingo yellow dog curled up on a mesh net, the unusual native flowers and the seeming absence of Waggaists. Archie was cunning, he had seen too many scars on the face of the earth, too many wounded humans. Then the smoke of the cooking fires, the left-over bones jutting from the sand. Now the redness flaring along the horizon although it was hours since dawn. On the Island the wild grass had been pecked to death by machines, the landscape seemed curiously hand-made, and although there was vegetation, birds and animals, it all seemed artificial. Nils said, “I truly didn’t think these so-called Waggaists existed. I thought maybe they had become merely an extension of Shelby’s imagination.” Then he doubled over and began howling. Archie held Nils in his arms and noticed the reason for the collapse - there was a red dart embedded in his neck. In a flash a group of Waggaists surrounded them. Archie pulled a can from his shoulder bag: a highly distilled essence of zest loaded with immense pressure. He swung around like a powerful owl in a complete circle, spaying at head level. The mist of zest hit the Waggaists full in the face. They went zigzagging in every direction, blinded and suffering the effects of the spray. Archie and Nils walked off calmly towards a boat that had been pulled up on the beach. “Shelby,” Archie said bitterly. Before they could step aboard the boat, a classic 1966 red Mustang came roaring up the beach. Behind the wheel was Shelby, and standing clutching a pair of old-fashioned wool shears was the Red K’s brother. The rag-top was down and they were jeering loudly like hoons. Archie and Nils hid behind the boat as the Mustang spat sand and slime. Nils was still bleeding from the neck so Archie pulled out the dart and dressed the wound with his new silk shirt. This was war. Archie’s eyes narrowed. He flipped open his cell-phone and rang the Symbolists.  
K. Slessor, at The Front

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