Saturday, March 13, 2010

Dispatch From The Front: Day 16

A man is arrested while live-baiting for Waggafish fingerlings in the sewers under Sydney.

Simon The Hook.

Terry Hack’s son showing off his new line of wedding dresses made from fishing nets.

T.S. Eliot under the influence of LIMP.

Being with Whitely and hearing the Irish minstrel Driscoll raving about his vision of Blake on the Manly ferry had unsettled me, but witnessing the fanaticism of river fishermen had rattled me to the core. It was clear that live-baiting was a secret society. Ian the bait-man, while being a source of local information, was keen to flog his frozen prawns and squid to kids and tourists. The pilchard-tossers would wander in, get an earful of lies about where to wet a line, and leave smiling with their freezer-blackened bait. All that Adamson, Bill Wisely, Simon the Hook, Moose, Terry Hack and others had to do was look in through the windows of his shop, and Ian would be off to lift live squid from his huge aquarium out the back. These cephalopods were perfect mulloway bait: between four and six inches long, their eyes lit up with blue and green, their bodies changing colour with shifting orange and nutmeg pixelations.
I overheard conversations between these men that were beyond comprehension. They were speaking in Live Code: a combination of meteorological jargon, Department of Fisheries statistics, poetry, and the lyrics of a number of obscure alternative country artists. 
My interview with John Berryman and Geoffrey Hill had been a disaster. Every question I put to Hill had been met with random quotes from the DREAM SONGS, underscored by references to Henry being a yellowtail in deep psychic distress. Berryman had proven to be even more difficult. Each question was countered with rapid-fire instructions on how to live-bait for mulloway off Catherine Hill Bay, or where best to pin a squid while fishing in a strong current. He sounded like a cattle auctioneer on high on LIMP. 
I returned to The Island for some much-needed sanity. I hadn’t used my tape-recorder once.
As I pulled into the wharf, there was a curious absence of poets. I looked around, called out, checked boats. It was just after dusk. The red light on the needle tower was glowing. As I wandered around, a Waggaist shouted from the cage: “Is the possum up a tree? Is the possum all-at-sea? Where's the possum? It's a mystery.” 
I could hear voices before I reached the big main doors. As I turned the corner and looked in, the Main Hall was filled with poets. They were agitated and calling out. Entering, I saw Shelby and Seidel on the small stage. Between them, looking pale and ragged, was T.S. Eliot. His walking cane lay broken at his feet. His coat was torn. And he was raving. Lines from The Wasteland had been reduced to a garbled conglomerate of names and dates. He was glass-eyed and dribbling. Whole passages from Ron Silliman’s The New Sentence were flying from his mouth in even more obscure arrangements. He was reshuffling David Bowie’s Life on Mars and filtering the lines through Gordon Lightfoot’s Canadian Railroad Trilogy. Shelby stood with a huge syringe poised at Eliot’s neck. “One more hit of LIMP will turn his brain into red mush,” he shouted.
T.S. had wandered into the Main Hall and looked around. He’d been delighted by the vast, austere interior. He was rapping on the floor and sandstone walls with his cane when he hit the button for the secret panel, and had gone into the tunnels. He’d wandered for hours, making notes for a new poem from the curious things he’d seen: a room with loose coils of chicken wire on the floor, a vault strewn with opened jars and whose ceilings, floor and walls were covered with a fish-reeking black substance. Eventually he’d pushed open the door to a room high in the citadel. Entering, he saw two men in various stages of undress. Torn pages from a stack of books lay everywhere. As he was about to excuse himself and leave, he was tackled to the ground and injected with LIMP. 
Shelby had wanted to alert the poets to Eliot’s capture by taking him out of the citadel and shouting down to the wharf, but Seidel had other plans. He’d gone up into the belfry just under the needle-tower’s tip, and had opened the main window. The red bats had swarmed, winging and screaming their way down to the wharf, where they attacked the poets before returning again to the tower. The poets had regrouped immediately and had gone to investigate. Seidel, Shelby and T.S. Eliot were waiting for them when they arrived.
Ted Hughes was standing in the front row, holding his badger, and Seidel was staring at him. Eliot’s rave was now completely monotone: a raw, seamless tirade against language itself. And then he stopped talking. He looked at his hands. He smiled. He angled his head, cracking the bones in his neck, and then he said: “Ingiusto fece me contra giusto” (“it made me unjust against my just self.”) Seidel gave the syringe to Shelby, who repositioned it at Eliot’s neck. He came forward a couple of paces. Rather than addressing the crowd of poets, he spoke directly to Ted Hughes. “As you can see, we are holding a major card here. I believe you would not wish to see the possum come to harm. He has stepped into a trap and only we can free him.” Ted Hughes was shuffling uneasily. Rodney Hall whispered “What the hell is going on here, Ted?” Seidel continued. “We are going to leave The Island, but you are the one we’ll be leaving with.” Philip Larkin shouted: “It’s my ambulance. I decide who travels in it.” Seidel ignored him. “And so now, if you’re ready, Mr Hughes. We’d like to get going.” The poets moved forward as one, shouting abuse at Seidel and threatening him. Michael Farrell let fly with a lemon, which bounced off Seidel’s head. Kate Fagan sang Caleb Meyer - it’s story of violence, self-defence and revenge wasn’t lost on Seidel. “This is your final warning!” he shouted. “Hindering our escape will lead to Possum being given an overdose of LIMP.” The poets stepped back.
Supporting the now silent Eliot by his arms, Shelby and Seidel stepped slowly down the hill towards the wharf, needle at the ready. Ted Hughes walked in front of them, the badger scooting along at the end of its lead. When they reached the wharf, Shelby opened the rear doors of the ambulance and he and Eliot stepped inside. Hughes and the badger and Seidel got in the front. Larkin was beside, under and over himself with outrage. “You put one scratch on that ambulance and you’re fucked!” he shouted.

As the poets watched, the big propeller under the chrome bumper bar started turning and the water churned and bubbled. The ambulance pulled away from the wharf. The last thing the poets saw, as it headed out into open water, were the big, blacked-out rear windows gleaming as bits of cloud passed over them.
K. Slessor, the Front.

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