Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Dispatch From The Front: Day 12

The interior of Phil Spector’s customised Shelby Mustang

Propaganda is the use of magic by those who no longer believe in it against those who still do. W.H. Auden

The poets were bored. Bukowski and Dorn were off on a rescue mission, Spector and Dickey didn’t want company, Blodgett and Stevens were missing, Bill Burroughs was deep into a three-day Beluga binge, Creeley had taken a boat-load of fishing-mad writers upriver, and Shelby and Seidel had vanished. The Island had lost its edge.

Jamie Grant was still in his cage. They’d had to relocate him as he wouldn’t stop talking about how Auden’s reputation was based solely on a flamboyant lifestyle and not the quality of his work. “Overblown and over-written!” he’d screamed. “Formal formaldehyde!” Auden had gone into the cage a number of times, first with a headful of expletives, then with a plank. Finally he’d ripped off Grant’s wire-mesh mouthguard and replaced it with one he’d fashioned from old fountain pen nibs and paper clips. “Lookin’ good, stationery mouth,” Faye Zwicky said as she walked past the cage. Auden left a cassette player with a rare recording of a J.H. Prynne poetry reading just outside the cage. “Thith will thort you out, you theptic huthy.” “Blesiloquent wanker,” Grant had muttered.

With the dull drone of the Prynne reading and Grant’s cries for mercy in the background, the poets tried to entertain themselves. The stagers played beach cricket using a microphone-head for a ball. The pagers knuckled down to workshop everything they’d heard and seen over the last couple of weeks. It was a circus.

Dorn had long since disarmed and removed the last of the mines. Despite Bukowski’s warnings, he’d accepted the tab of acid Billy Gibbons had offered him, and was now in Rimbaud’s Drunken Boat, trolling for metaphors up and down the length of the pool. Baudelaire was coming down. He was on the bank of the East River, looking through a wall of hexagons that had mysteriously appeared before him. Frank and Dusty, too, were out of the chemical line-of-fire, and were sleeping. Wilding had left the cage as soon as Dorn had cut his way through, taking Wallace-Crabbe with him. “Is end-word a good battologist?” he asked, from the frayed, knotted rope of his distress.

The Waggaists had regrouped and had managed to form some kind of red counter-attack. Some were using their sling-shots, though most of the ampules of wheatgrass juice and chili oil were falling well short of the hill’s crest. One had hit Spector in the face as he jived and shouted abuse down into the valley. “What was that! he’d yelled, wiping his face. “A fucking mosquito?” He turned to James Dickey. “Get in the car, Jim. We’re going to finish this redness once and for all!”

The poets had listened to the distant blasts of music long enough. The sport and workshops had been a frail distraction. All the while they’d been looking in the direction of the valley. They were full of restless, wild energy, and they needed to use it.

Charles Simic took Rodney Hall aside. “This is ridiculous. I didn’t come all the way from New Hampshire to hold poetry workshops on a wharf. There’s a war going on and we need to be there.” Rodney looked over at the poets. “I know,” he said. “But Spector is unpredictable. He could turn on us if we went against him.” “Screw Phil Spector,” Richard Hugo said. He’d walked over to eavesdrop. “Charles, I bombed the Danube when you were a boy. I was fighting a war I didn’t believe in. But this is different. I’m seeing red. Let’s get go get some Waggaists.” Rodney studied his hands. “You’re right,” he said. He turned away and shouted to the poets. “Meeting on the wharf, now!” “Fuck off, Rodney!” Vincent Buckley said as he ran in to bowl. “Yeah, we’ve had enough meetings,” shouted Gwen Harwood, her pen poised over an Island memoir.

Rodney walked over, picked up the microphone-head that Philip Hodgins had cover-driven onto the sand, and tossed it into the river. He addressed the poets: “You were brilliant when it came to storming the citadel and the Red Bunker. You showed great courage and determination. Because of you, Shelby and Seidel have fled The Island.” The poets were listening intently. Then Robert Frost got to his feet. “But what did it achieve?” he asked. “Many of us have come out of retirement to be here. We have sacrificed much: leaving our families, travelling many thousands of miles, and what was supposed to be a war has turned out to be a minor scrap with a bunch of damn pansies.” Rodney nodded. “Well for that I’m sorry,” he said. “But now we need to regroup. Phil Spector has no right to outrank or intimidate us. I say we go to join them now. The time has come to show him that poets are as tough as any Wall of Sound. What do you say?” Judith Beveridge put down her new fishing poem and stood up. “Alright,” she said, “as long as the prisoners agree to a three hundred day meditation retreat up at Mangrove Mountain.” Maria Takolander joined her. “But this is the last time. I’m due at the Iowa Writers workshop in five days.” The poets erupted. They ran to get their planks and spray-cans. The air was alive with excitement. Richard Hugo turned to Rodney Hall and Charles Simic: “I’ve got that maniac Spector in my cross-hairs and the bomb-bay is full.”

Phil and Jim were in the car. The Door’s LA Woman was thundering out in all directions. Phil had his foot to the floor but the Mustang was shuddering and lurching, going nowhere. Phil slammed the steering wheel and climbed out. The rear wheels were buried to the rims in soft black earth. “Oh that’s just fucking great!” he screamed. “Get your ass out here Dickey and start digging. You too Bill. Get on your knees.” Bill hesitated. He wasn’t sure what Spector was asking him to do.

The Waggaists, aware of that something had happened on the hill, seized on the moment and set up their mortar launcher. A handful of others ran around the side of the lake, keeping low behind a screen of bullrushes. 

Bill saw the incoming mortar shell and shouted for Phil and Jim to take cover, but the music killed his warning. The shell hit the Mustang’s bonnet and burst, sending wheatgrass juice and thick black chili oil in a wide arc. The oil burned into Bill’s neck and face and he fell to the ground, writhing in agony. Phil Spector wiped his face and swore. When he saw a great dent in his Mustang, he went into a complete rage. He tore at his hair. He ripped off his jacket. “A man touches me at his own peril,” he spat. “He touches my car, he dies!” “Settle down, Phil” Dickey said. He’d been digging a tyre out and had avoided the blast. “Settle down?” Phil screamed. “Eat my disc!” he screamed and grabbed a jousting lance. 

As L.A. Woman finished, Bill Beard heard a commotion. Through burning eyes, he looked in the direction of the beach and saw a huge crowd running towards the hill. He lifted his binoculars. The glass was filled with frenzied expressions, raised planks, flying hair. Rodney Hall, Charles Simic and Richard Hugo were leading the charge.

Spector was swearing and getting ready to storm the valley with his lance. “Phil,” Bill Beard said. “The poets are coming.”

K. Slessor, the Front.

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