This morning's daybreak was like a massive, collective haemorrhage at a stigmata convention. From hill to horizon, the sky grafted itself to the ocean: a twinned and bloody visage that caused everyone on the island to stand in silence and stare. Even the Waggaists, who had emerged from the citadel in darkness to arrange their ampules were sitting around, too amazed to move or talk.
At Church Point, Ron Silliman was roaring off toward the Island. He was late for the Poetry War, but he wasn’t taking chances. He knew he couldn't afford to miss out on the action. He was flanked by Epigoni and Ed Dorn under the centre consul of a Boston Whaler Outrage. The bimini top’s canvas was imprinted with an American Flag and on the port side of the boat was the name ‘The Armatrout’.
Ron was red as a beetroot from the southern sun, an iphone in one hand and a BlackBerry in the other. “This is the new frontier, the last refuge of the Quietists. This Island is the place where Devin Johnston winters. He visits Ronald Johnson here, (who was reported dead, but was hidden away in a chicken-proof cabana by the O’Leary Brothers, an operation of the Next New Thing from Chicago). “Ron Johnson’s plan is complicated and abstract, ahistorical, very positivistic and Ron-centred, though it just might work,” Dorn said as the Whaler’s three black 300 horse Mercs roared and threw plumes of water. He shuffled through his ipad, reading pages from The Dark-Side of Being a Regulatory Star. “I’m right onto this set-up of Devin and Ronald’s, they’ve been brewing this up for years. I’m here to review it, to count the dead, to record the trends and if necessary I am willing to fight.” Silliman stood at the wheel and muttered these words: “I want to confront Shelby, I want to see the look on the Red K’s face when I tell him that we are here to bring him the Good News of his salvation. He must feast on zest and write Flarf for a month, and then beg at the feet of Dulcy Deamer for forgiveness and Mercy.”
Devin and Ronald Johnson heard the roar of Ron’s E-tech Mercs and walked out onto the jetty. They wanted to revive the old English tradition of heads on pikes. “Let’s start with that poor eel that met its death between Rimbaud’s teeth,” said Devin. “Let’s pike it straight away to show what a Symbolist is capable of when taken by surprise." As they started whittling a plank into a pike, the atmosphere was filled with the sound of deep thrumming. A customized 1948 Chevie came over the hill. ZZ Top were sitting in the front seat and the tangerine, wool-covered speakers on the roof were blaring out ‘La Grange Boogie’. In the rear dickie-seat there was a dapper gentleman, dressed in a dark suit with a dust coat as a protective garment. It was Piet Mondrian, grooving to ZZ’s music and holding a sign: NO GREEN EXPERIMENTATION! He was after Dr Greene, the fishing geneticist. Devin turned to Ron Johnson and said. “Let’s call up Ezra and Bunting, they’ll know how to deal with this new development, I’m sure it’s some kind of post-avant bluff.”
I made some quick entries into my notebook and left Devin and Ronald to welcome ZZ Top and Mondrian. Sensing swift developments, I headed back to the wharf.
Amanda Joy and Claire Potter, who had been at sea for over two months on the scallop boat they’d brought down from Carnarvon, had arrived and were looking like ocean road kill. I took them aside and made them pink gins with an extra splash of bitters. They couldn’t understand why it was so quiet. “We were expecting to see red flares, smoke, the sound of fury,” Amanda said as she plaited snares from palm fibre. Claire was studying the screen of a hand-held GPS unit. “One hot still night in the Arafura Sea, we heard and felt this terrible thumping and moaning and then, in the halogen decklights, we saw the water turn bright pink, then quickly bloom into red. I went for a swim this morning and found that great chunks had been torn from the hull. The Waggas seemed to know where we were going.” I asked Amanda why she was plaiting snares. She smiled and said, from the deep shade under her hat, “Let’s just say I’ve been working on my line-breaks. I’m going to give the Waggaists a lesson in surprise and enjambment.”
The trance-like scene was soon interrupted though when a red Mustang thundered up the main approach road below the hill. Wearing mirror sunglasses and sporting a red bandana, Shelby threw the Mustang into a tyre-smoking, hand-breaking broadside, opened the door and got out. The Red K’s brother was not with him. He stretched, picked up a stone and tossed it from hand to hand. Archie Ammons, who’d climbed to the crow’s nest on the tall ship, muttered and cursed as Shelby walked slowly, back and forth above the beach. Nils Lofgren, a bandage around his neck, was sitting on the wharf eating sashimi whiting.
“I want you to know that coming here was a huge mistake!” Shelby shouted. He made a sweeping gesture that took in the hill behind him. “Up to this point we have been kind. We have been understanding. Mercy is a word that comes to mind.”
Woken by the shouting and wearing a brutal hangover, Bukowski staggered on deck from the cabin of his Halvorsen cruiser. He squinted at this pacing, raving figure below the hill. “Someone get me a form guide and a gun,” he snarled. He stepped onto the wharf, took a long hit from a bottle of Red Mill rum, and walked up the beach. An ampule of wheatgrass and cayenne pepper hit him in the face and he dropped to the sand, coughing and hacking.
“You see, we mean business,” Shelby said. “Any and every attempt you make to disrupt our plans will be met by a force so red and brutal you will all wish you were doing a fifty-day Vipassana course, composing villanelles in your heads and lying beside the horror you call an imagination!”
“I do that every day,” Rimbaud shouted. “Yeah, so what’s new, fuckwit!” Raworth screamed. The wharf and beach were thick with poets, most of whom had been up before dawn, sharpening their planks. Customs had confiscated most of their weapons and they were making do with whatever they could find around the island: bits of wire, driftwood, iron bolts and hinges, bones and razor shells. Chris Wallace-Crabbe, who had seen his fair share of poetry wars, stepped to the front of the crowd. “Your words are wasted on us. Collectively, we are a sociopathalogically unified core of ego-driven fools and lovers who scoff at bad reviews and sobriety.” “I’m not like that!” said Clive James, who was wrestled to the ground and gagged with a wire-mesh mouth guard and gull feathers. Wallace-Crabbe waited for the commotion on the wharf to subside, then concluded: “We have come to put an end to these grotesque Waggafish experiments and end the Red K’s line.”
Shelby laughed as he opened the door of the Mustang and fired it up. “Then you will be writing your own epitaphs in the sand,” he shouted over the raw pulsing of the engine. He fishtailed up the road and was gone from sight.
“Has anyone seen Wallace-Crabbe?” Rodney hall was hurrying from boat to boat, looking down into hatches, hammering on portholes. “I saw him last night,” Bronwyn Lea said as she came down the wharf. “Who was he with?” “Bruce Beaver, Richard Hugo, Faye Zwicky and Michael Dransfield. Oh, wait, Bill Beard was with them too. I overheard Bill say that he was going to build a fire watch-tower at the top of the tallest tree on the island so he could report on Waggaist activity.” Rodney looked into the huge cane basket Bronwyn was carrying. It contained pinecones, snake skins, buttercup daisies, fencing wire, a bird’s nest, the collapsed marionette of a dead tern, a Santana album cover, a necklace of bladderwrack, a fob watch rust-welded to a clam, a gutted cunjevoi, nine miniature bourbon bottles, a spool of magnetic tape, a New South Wales Fisheries tag, a tailor skeleton, a red bible, Geoff Wilson’s Waterproof Book of Knots, a dog collar, a whistling kite claw, a Fuji rod guide, a tiny cabin bell, a drinking straw, Phil Atkinson’s Live Baiting For Dummies, a red-bellied black snake fang, a pencil, a plastic bag full of Monopoly money, and a coin. “Why are you carrying all this stuff?” Rodney asked, poking about in the basket. Luke Davies, who was sitting on the roof of one of the cod boats working on a screenplay of the Island War, called out “She’s been up all night reading Jack Gilbert's Collected Poems, she doesn’t need a reason!” Rodney hurried off to speak with the other members of the scouting party. He found them drinking under a torn, faded awning. Beaver & Hugo were in stitches, talking about the time James Wright was clawed by a man with a hook for a hand. Zwicky and Dransfield were more circumspect, studying their glasses and whispering in code. “Has anyone seen Wallace-Crabbe?” Rodney asked, and by way of reply was handed a bottle of Redback beer. “I refuse to drink this wheatlands dugite piss,” he said. “Now. Wallace-Crabbe. Where is he?” Bruce Beaver pointed south. “We left him about two miles down that way. We’d been looking for stray Waggaists, but there were none. This war is a joke.” “Not a red prick in sight,” said Hugo. Rodney turned to Dransfield. “Michael? Do you have anything to say?” Dransfield nodded and smiled. “I do, yes, but it will have to wait until you’ve explained the red flowers on the cover of The Second Month of Spring.” “Sentimental rubbish,” Zwicky said. “I hate that cover.” “Look, that’s all well and good, but Wallace-Crabbe is missing and we need to do something about it!” “Have a beer, Rod. Relax,” Hugo said. “When I was a bombardier, flying missions and belting the Christ out of the Danube, do you think we let a little strife get in the way of a good piss-up?” Rodney sighed and looked away down the coast. The seas were rising, and thunderheads were massing on the horizon. “I’ll go by myself then. Fine." Then he went off at a brisk clip. Dransfield pinched out his rollie and lay back in the shade. “Memoirs of a Red Memorial”, now there’s a good title.”
K. Slessor, the Front
K. Slessor, the Front