Dear Robert and Anthony,
Tom Raworth sent me the link to your Wagga Letters. After reading a few of them I realised the Red K is the poet who read for 20 minutes over time at our reading at Cae Mabon. Andrew Motion mentioned this Red K person attended a reading at Oxford. I am not sure why he even attended because he showed no interest in any of the poets . This K fellow wasn’t invited to read, and as soon as he realised this he began howling at the back of the room. He refused to clap, even after Geoffrey Hill read a magnificent new poem. We were all disturbed by his glittering eye, white clown hair and black clothes. He spoke like an Australian fisherman yet claimed to be a vegan.
Yesterday he turned up here at the Round House at Cae Mabon again and his presence is starting to unsettle the druids. Who wants to bother them? Is it true that this Red K has published 2,372 chapbooks and 75 volumes of collected works? Is it true that his ex-students were so unsettled by his teaching they are still out there in the Western Australian desert, searching for parrots every night? Night Parrots, good grief. I’m beginning to wonder, has he created this persona as some kind of act; although the consequences are real and we are fed up. We need to know what the other poets in Australia think of him, who are his peers, do they ever review his endless publications?
Great blog by the way,
I’ll respond first. I know Robert will want to add his thoughts soon. He’s out fishing tonight on what’s left of the Murray River. I just received a static-riddled message saying that he’s on a houseboat with PiO, who is a keen lure-maker and swoffer - makes his own rods from Rangoon cane. They’re after Murray cod, but I know Bob’s secretly hoping to hear the gill-raking mouth-music of a Waggafish through the fog.
The Red K has carved a career from being where he can be seen and heard.
For years he slept on a camp bed between his computer, his fax machine and printer, and even as he slept (which wasn’t often) he could touch-type and leave frenetic voice messages on the machines and mobile phones of every academic and language poet from Buffalo to Margaret River. The Red K has spent many years cultivating and grooming the image of Major Poet. I must say, for awhile readers and academics were taken in. But then they started to focus their critical attention on the poetry, not the man. The music was slowing down and readers, like the marathon dancers in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They - began to fall away. Time blows the dust from every veneer.
Yes, he has published many books, although you are incorrect when you say it is 2, 372 chapbooks. It is 3, 200. And as for those students, I’ve heard they’ve taken to carving poems about moths and dugites into the tan vellum of termite mounds and chanting Ron Silliman’s mathematical codes in dead creek beds. I’m sure there are a few Australian poets who still believe the hype, but they need to be careful. Any mention of the Red K’s name in certain parts lead to trouble. I know for a fact that the entire population of Alice Springs is now as gun-shy as the Kennedy’s after what happened when the Red K visited the Pink Parrot hotel last year.
Anthony emailed your post to my BlackBerry (unlike the Red K, who claims to have given up the internet, I love gadgets) and this news of yours doesn’t surprise me at all. I am no longer with PiO on the Murray. PiO fell in and the last I saw of him he was back-stroking through the brine of that sad and cursed river. A small owl was fluting a baritone note on the far bank and a night-swift was darting around PiO’s head as he disappeared onto the land.
However Neil Astley and Pamela Robertson-Pearce are still on board. As your publishers they were concerned to hear that the Red K has been bothering you and the druids. Every time I mention the Red K’s name, Neil starts coughing, his face goes red, and when the coughing subsides all that remains is a look that could kill. Pamela tells me the Red K’s name is not to be uttered around their house or the office at Bloodaxe. I was feeling brave so I mentioned the publication of a certain title. This was met by dark silence and a suggestion that I might want to follow PiO across the waste of the salt-drenched tide.
I am now up on the deck so that Neil can’t see that I am emailing, god knows what would happen if he glanced over and saw the letter ‘K’ glowing on my little screen like a chemical hairtail stick. I’ll finish by saying that most Australian poets, well, the ones I know, think the Red K was running a sideshow, a noisy one for sure, with many touches stolen from Max William’s poem ‘The Way of The Showie’. I asked Rodney Hall once if he’d heard of the Red K and he replied ‘Why, should I know him?’ This zen answer says it all.
Then the K loomed out of the woodwork and we all know what happened.
Max Williams still sits in his flat by Wallaga Lake, NSW, studying a photograph of the Red K. I once asked him why he was always staring at that face, the K’s bloated countenance, the mad eyes, the craven mouth, the pinkish glow in his floating white hair... “Why am I studying the red K’s face? ‘I’ll tell you Robert, I want to remember this face just in case I ever come across it when I’m out there on the lake with my lamp and my net, scooping up prawns on the dark of the moon.’
Well, Penelope does this ring a bell? All I can say is stay tuned, some poets here are still deluded by the K’s self-promotional abilities. The fishers and the birders have never heard of him but he is making a bid, he wants to write language post-introspectional essays for Fishing World, he wants to write deconstructionist film reviews for the Monthly. He is going around saying that Luke Davies, the Monthly's film critic, has lost his grip. Who do you believe?
Maybe Jamie Grant or Gig Ryan, maybe Alan Wearne may respond and defend this lanky walking red letter K. He's counting on Les Murray to appear but don't hold your breath. And don’t be fooled if you see a man in black casting pilchards into the sea at Cornwall. He has been a shape-changer too. Even though he emailed Peter Redgrove twenty times in a day, and we know what Peter did about that.
It was great to meet you in London at the Festival Hall and I didn’t get the chance to tell you how much I loved your book ‘Alchemy for Women’. It’s a classic.