Saturday, February 27, 2010

Dispatch From The Front: Day 4

My sympathy is always with the shark. At least the shark is sincere and honest with its intentions, whereas Homo Sap conceals himself behind veils of evasion, as he or she dances an unsightly can-can. ~ William S. Burroughs ~ Last Words

William S. Burroughs walked out onto the beach at dawn. He was in no mood for small talk, having only just arrived on the Catalina flying boat. He hadn’t slept in thirty hours, and as soon as he'd stepped onto the wharf, a poet walked up and demanded to know what he was doing on The Island. “You’re not a poet, you’re just a washed-up junkie living on the title of one book.” Jamie Grant didn’t even see Bill’s beloved .45 Colt long pistol leave the shoulder holster. The bullet whizzed by Grant's left ear, at least an inch clear of his pale lobe, but the shock of actually being shot at was too much for Jamie, and he passed out. After they’d restrained him, affixed a wire mesh mouth-guard and thrown him into a cage, they went through his pockets. Along with a vial of wheatgrass juice they found a note: Your Red Work will be rewarded. Alerting the poets to my appointment as commander of the Waggaists was a stroke of genius. Frederick Seidel. As well as having to deal with Grant, William S. Burroughs had been using Shelby’s boathouse and was pissed off because the Beluga Caviar had run out. He saw me writing in my notebook and said: “When a man is on Beluga there’s nothing he won't do to satisfy his cravings. He’ll lie, cheat, steal, even kill for a spoonful.” He looked over at the boathouse. “That Shelby has completely vaporised, he’s slippery as an eel. I know he’s made the Devil’s Bargain.” Old Bill was going to be a formidable enemy. He knew Shelby had the only supply of Beluga and he needed a fix.  
The sun was up. First light had revealed ZZ Top’s Chevy coasting silently down the road. William S. Burroughs fired off a few rounds. “Those guys are evil idiots.” The candy-coloured Chev ran straight into the wall that surrounds the citadel. The impact wasn’t too serious but it made a racket. It was then we noticed there was still somebody in the rumble-seat, this time a bulky figure, almost too large and tall to be occupying such a tiny space. As difficult as it was to make out the figure’s identity, this time it was not Mondrian.
Rimbaud and Baudelaire were out and about, walking off whatever they had been drinking the night before—they saw the Chevy coming and were about to run over to say hello when it crashed into the wall. Rimbaud unsleeved a small brass telescope he’d taken from a dead trader on the Ivory Coast. “It’s certainly not Piet in the back.” “Give me that glass” said Baudelaire, grabbing the telescope.” “Well fuck me, it’s Gerard de Nerval” “How can you tell?” “I can’t, but I love the sound of his name. Just to mouth those syllables gives me such relief.” Rimbaud shivered. “Well whoever it is, I don’t like the look of it." Baudelaire took a few steps, leaned forward, visored his eyes with the blade of his hand and peered into the hard, oncoming light. “Charles, do you always have to be so theatrical?” “Yes, actually, I do.” “Come on” said Rimbaud “I think we should go and offer our services.”
The stagers and pagers had the celebrations out of the way. A war-council meeting had taken place, the anti-waggaist troops were ready. Neither Bukowski or Dorn had attended. They’d gone off on Silliman’s Boston Whaler, trolling for Waggas using lures made from the tail-feathers of water-hens. They’d caught a couple of cobia on the downriggers, and were now cooking them on a beach-fire. The aroma of charcoal-seared fillets, the strolling poets and an ozone breeze layered with brine and wildflowers had created an atmosphere of calm. But it was an illusion, a balmy trick of the senses. A false calm had settled on The Island which had drugged many of the poets.
Rodney Hall had been diving. He’d salvaged both halves of his recorder and had dried them out and sanded each half, patching them back together with super-glue and rod-binding thread. He’d spent the morning trying to get some chamber music out of his sorry-looking instrument, but the broken music resembled a cowbird regurgitating a jar of Beluga Caviar. Luckily, this distinctive sound was beyond the hearing of William S. Burroughs, who was off with Rimbaud and Baudelaire, hiding in a scribble of scarlet bougainvillea. Baudelaire wanted to know what they were going to do about ZZ Top and the crashed Chevy. “How about I just walk up the road rolling a joint and go over and tap on the window and ask Billy for a light,” he suggested. “And thus we’d blow our cover” said Burroughs out of the side of his mouth. “Besides, ZZ have swallowed the cunning propaganda that smoking-dope will turn a human brain into a bowl of pythonic chowder. The whole music industry has been sanitised, sucked dry of the creative virus itself, and they can’t even have a drink to forget their past glory.” Baudelaire raised his hand and put a finger to his lips. ZZ Top and their passenger still hadn’t moved, though he’d seen something move behind the retaining wall. “What is Shelby doing there? And for Christ’s sake, who else is in there with him?”

Down on the beach the poets were ready, and soon the Symbolists would be missed, the alarm raised. Rimbaud picked up a stone and threw it hard and high. It hit the Chevy’s windscreen and an orb spider cast the white net of its web across the glass. Burroughs pulled out his Colt and fired off a few— a line of tiny full stops ripped along the bonnet. “O my, we are in Bad Company,” said Baudelaire. William S Burroughs narrowed his already narrow eyes and brushed fallen bougainvillea petals from his freshly pressed pin-stripped suit.
Rodney Hall had given up on the recorder and was now sitting in a folding chair playing an Appalachian dulcimer. He saw Bukowski and threw himself over the instrument. “Relax, man,” Chuck said as he walked past. “The currawongs are safe and so is your zither.” “It’s a dulcimer,” Rodney said. “Well whatever it is, don’t let Dickey hear it. You’ll end up in the hillbilly scene from Deliverance.” Rodney was about to play again when he heard shouting from the southern end of the beach. He stood up and saw someone running towards the wharf. 
Philip Levine was first on the scene. He caught Mallarme as he collapsed from exhaustion. Rodney knelt in the sand. “Stephane, what’s happened?” “Gone,” Mallarme said. “That’s not a bad start,” Levine said. “And then?” “Arthur. Charles. Gone.” Levine let Mallarme fall to the sand and walked off in disgust. Rodney knelt over him: “Where have they gone? Have they left the Island?” Mallarme reached into the pocket of his trousers and lifted out a  small bottle. Rodney sniffed the bottlemouth and a green ghostprint of absinthe cleared his head. 
“ZZ Top,” Mallarme said with deliberation, “are dummies.” Rodney turned to the poets who were watching from the wharf. “It’s time to go!” He shouted. “Get into your platoons. Remember your plans and do not deviate from them. As the poets rushed about gathering supplies, filling backpacks with planks, fibre snares, zest spray-cans and throw-nets, Bukowski and Dorn were under the canopy of the Boston Whaler, drinking bourbon and betting on the outcome of the war. “The Waggaists are all talk,” Dorn was saying. “Ten to one there’s only a handful of ‘em and they’ve called our bluff.” Bukowski rubbed his chin and looked down on the frenetic activity. “There’s something wrong with this picture. There’s someone we’ve all passed over in our hurry to storm the citadel.” Dorn’s bottle of Maker’s Mark was stalled halfway to his mouth. Bukowski tipped his bottle, drank, swallowed and sighed. “Shelby,” he said.

K. Slessor, at the Front

Waggafish: A psychological Profile

  • Retains the finest details from every experience.
  • Even in the laboratory breeding tanks, its solitary, mercenary nature is evident.
  • When cornered, excited, enraged, aroused or hungry, will emit a low, guttural, extended moan.
  • Maintains a pathological hatred of fishermen.
  • Has been known to torture water hens by repeatedly dragging them underwater until their cobs turn blue.
  • Can do tricks with bones.
  • Will attempt to murder anything green.
  • Swims into a rage at the vaguest scent of zest and will die from prolonged exposure to it.
  • Has full-colour and infra-red vision.
  • Does not have a liability to panic.
  • When held to the light, scales of the oldest Waggafish reveal a complex network of Australia’s inland waterways.
  • Will return to the scene of a kill many years later, having travelled thousands of miles through major rivers, bays, harbours, creeks and minor tributaries. Will wait for floods to create connecting passages. Once at the scene, will call and often ritually harm itself on submerged branches or lost fishing hooks.
  • Regurgitates seagulls as a red, feathered sludge.
  • Has rows of serrated teeth which replace each other immediately after being lost or broken.
  • Can merge perfectly with cloud and willow-shadow.
  • Has an ability to out-stare sharks.
  • Tracks down manta-rays and snaps off their caudal appendage, which it then carries for days. These can sometimes be seen off Rowley Shoals - black aerials cutting through the sea away from the aimless black cape of a wounded ray. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Dispatch From The Front: Day 3

Having a cold shave, my mirror a sheet of tin foil wrapped around a copy of The Dream Songs, my face was distorted and pale. I thought back over the last two days. I had witnessed the best and worst of what poetry can do, when it’s taken seriously; when it’s lived: the elation, passionate discussion, language torn apart and reassembled, the brilliant exchange of ideas, the inspired moments between young and old. Then there is the resentment, ego, fierce competition, jealous carping, depression. It was all on show at The Island. There was nowhere to hide. Every style and genre, every age and range of experience. 
It’s been a privilege and a curse to be reporting from the front line. But what is the front line? The Waggaists are either holed up in the citadel, planning and scheming for a massive showdown, or they consist of many smaller units, scattered over The Island. There is no warfare. The Waggaists are mostly invisible and silent, and the poets are having a great time - swimming, fishing, drinking, brawling. Having overheard many conversations as I walk around the shore, it’s obvious that the Red K and the Waggaists are not being taken seriously. “The Red K has already been beaten,” one poet said. “This is great! Why go to Greece when you can go to war,” said another. And this from Sam Coleridge: “Redness will not prevail. I have entered that barren landscape and found no fine passage. Emotion has fled. The lyrical heart has been drained of blood. It is over.” 
Rodney Hall had gathered the poets together by the wharf. They were such a ragged looking bunch. Sitting on the canopies of boats, standing in the tall ship’s rigging, asleep in deck chairs, astride jet-skis, in trees, on the sand... a huge, restless crowd, shouting abuse and heckling Hall who was doing his best to find some order. Emily Dickinson spoke “Who said you could be the headmaster?” Ed Dorn, watching the proceedings through a porthole he'd cut in the side of the cardboard box he’d slept in, shouted “Oh shut up, dasher! I should have sorted you out at the airport!” Other poets joined in. “Where’s Wallace-Crabbe?” yelled Ron Simpson. “It’s his shout.” Then Imre Salusinszky stepped onto the wharf and raised his hands. “As your chair, I feel it’s only proper that I take command.” “Piss off, Imre,” a poet yelled from the back of the crowd. “Every one of my six hundred grant applications were euthanased while you were at the helm!” Rodney climbed onto a palette of Immigrant Chronicles. “Some decorum, please! I have crucial news.” The heckling and jostling for position continued. The Symbolists were waving banners with shooting stars and scorpions painted on them. The Deep Imagists were quoting each other. The Vitalists were pointing out those whose work they had influenced. The scene was moving rapidly from chaos to melt-down. Rodney grabbed a flare gun, held it over his head and fired. At the end of its trajectory, a red sphere floated and smoked. “The next poet to speak out of line gets a flare in the face.” The crowd settled, then fell silent. Rodney cleared his throat. “Wallace-Crabbe has been taken hostage by the Waggaists. He is alright. I saw him last night while in hiding, though obviously he’s been shaken by the ordeal. I don’t know where they are keeping him, but I suspect he’s in the citadel. We need to do something and we need to do it soon. Up to this point we’ve all been guilty of sitting on our hands while waiting for things to happen. Mostly it’s been like a beach scene from Apocalypse Now. The time for action has arrived. The waiting room needs to be cleared.” Just then a book came flapping through the air and landed on the wharf. Imre picked it up. It was a copy of Ooga-Booga, by Frederick Seidel. Inside was a letter, which Imre read aloud “Seidel is with the Waggaists. He is their newly-appointed general.” Rodney stepped down and addressed the crowd, making eye-contact with everyone but Bukowski, who had his head in a form-guide. “Who threw that book?” John Berryman pointed at Philip Hodgins who pointed at Lauren Williams who nodded at Jaya Savige who winked at Robert Frost. Rodney spoke carefully, “Only a traitor would know these red details. Whoever threw this book will be forced to wear a wire-mesh mouth guard and spend the rest of the war in a cage.” Jamie Grant spoke up: “I saw Nigel Roberts reading a book after breakfast and I know it was poetry because he was laughing out the sides of his eyes and he had a look like solitude and when I walked past he slipped it into his leather jacket.” Auden got to his feet. “Lithe!" he yelled - he had developed a lisp since losing his teeth - and launched himself at Grant. They went off the end of the wharf and plunged into the river. It was like watching a herringboned scarecrow belt the Christ out of an altar-boy. The poets soon tired of the thrashing Auden was handing out and turned their attention back to Rodney, who hadn’t stopped talking. “.... been saying for days, so in the light of all that, I’d like to suggest we meet back here on the wharf after lunch for a war-council meeting. We will spread our maps. We will put our heads and hearts on the line and draw up a plan of attack. We must put aside our differences, ambitions and grudges. We must join together to bring Wallace-Crabbe home and end this tyranny forever!” “What about Wilding?” someone shouted. “Oh, yes, of course, Wilding,” Rodney said. “We’ll rescue him as well. Now, are you with me?” “I am,” said Imre. “Are you with me?” Rodney asked, pacing back and forth along the wharf. 
Rodney Hall was hoping for the kind of response a Roman general would inspire as he walked the front lines prior to battle: the raising of spears, the banging of shields, the deep roar of blood-lust and anticipation. But there on the wharf, as a light rain began to fall, the poets simply nodded, speaking in tones both bright and dark, and drifted away. To be openly enthusiastic; to be, as John Forbes might have said, “Too Hollywood for the ABC”, wasn’t their style or in their nature.
At the meeting, the poets were placed into platoons, each with a leader elected by secret ballot. Poets who had no obvious affiliations with a movement or school were assigned one. David Brooks was in a rage. “Forget it. I’m not going with the Vitalists.” Ron Silliman got him in a headlock and wrestled him into submission. Myron Lysenko went from group to group, scribbling notes. He finally settled on The Wayfaring Sons of Bedlam, a school cobbled together by Rae Desmond-Jones. Bukowski and Ed Dorn were at the end of the jetty, playing darts with garfish and a foam esky lid with a target drawn onto it. They had formed their own platoon, and were going to storm the barricades. When it suited them.
By mid afternoon the platoons and their leaders had gathered on the beach. Rodney inspected each unit, offering encouragement and advice. Every poet had been given special orders. The main thrust of Operation Red was to send splinter groups to different parts of The Island, taking down Waggaists where they found them and eventually reforming on the beach before the hill. It was there they planned to make a final stand. How they were going to breach the fortifications of the citadel, no-one knew. But they were primed for battle. The in-fighting was over. Keats and Tipping were in the same platoon, standing side by side. Murray and Tranter were showing each other their planks. Nigel Roberts and Auden were shadow boxing and laughing. Vicki Viidikas was showing Gwen Harwood how to throw a prawn net over a life-size cut-out of Seidel. Amanda Joy was instructing James K. Baxter in the art of setting fibre snares.
Rodney was about to give the order to move out, when a great commotion could be heard in the distance. The poets broke rank and ran down to the wharf. Coming around the point was a paddle steamer, its wheel throwing fantails of water. Music was blaring and on deck, men and women were waving and blowing whistles. Some were hanging from the ornate fret-worked railings, others were on the bow, their feet over the sides. A huge banner was flying: THE  STAGE  IS  OUR  PAGE. When the steamer had docked, Jayne Fenton Keane stepped forward and said “Surely you didn’t think we were going to let you do this on your own!” Rodney looked horrified. A lace monitor might have just clawed up his trouser leg. “But we were getting ready to leave! Plans have been drawn up, we're primed for battle!” PiO spoke: “You're going to have to wait. I’ve been in the bush beside the Murray river for days after I fell off Adamson’s boat. I’m knackered.” Rodney was about to complain, when all the poets got together and started talking and shouting, opening bottles of wine, rolling joints, sharing stories and going off to party. The pagers were inviting the stagers to join their platoons. Keats was chatting up Edwina Blush. Amanda Stewart kissed Shelley. James Dickey took Miles Merrill up the beach and set up a target range. Tug Dumley took Elizabeth Bishop by the hand and said “This is a great country! I love Horsetrailer,” to which Bishop replied “Your fingers will be Waggabait if you don’t let go.” John Berryman swept Alicia Sometimes off her feet, twirled her around, lowered her to the wharf, and together they did a slapstick ballroom routine. Ed Dorn told Emilie Zoey Baker that he was a fan. “You’ve heard me perform?” she asked. “No little darlin’, I just think you’re hot.” David Musgrave was handing out copies of the new Punchout and Waterwheel anthology. Ezra Pound walked up, grabbed a copy, and said “What page am I on?” Judith Beveridge was on the beach with Richard Hugo and William Stafford. Stafford picked up a bleached sea-horse and held it aloft, which inspired animated, lengthy discussion. Philip Norton took a white dove out of his hat and turned it into a sestina, which he gave to Felicity Plunkett who turned it into a black villanelle. When Sean M. Whelan started singing a cowboy ballad to Anne Sexton, Rodney Hall stormed off on his own. He went into his cabin, grabbed his hand-crafted, two hundred year-old recorder, then sat against a capstan and started playing. An oystercatcher answered him. He played another lilting run. A sand piper returned his call. The he went back and forth through the chromatic scale, going faster and faster until an entire family of currawongs went out of their heads and kamikaze’d into the steamer. Bukowski came stomping out of his Halvorsen cruiser, grabbed the recorder, broke it over his knee and threw the pieces into the river. “That’s all we need. A smart ass.”

K. Slessor, at the Front

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Dispatch From The Front: Day 2 (continued)

Dusk fell like a purse-seine net over The Island. Most of the fighting, as usual, had been among the poets themselves. 
Richard Tipping had been lecturing Keats, insisting that many of John’s poems would have been better understood and more universally celebrated had they been carved into soapstone or Tasmanian blackwood and displayed in corporate board rooms. Keats listened patiently for awhile, taking nips from a bottle of laudanum and nodding. Yet when Tipping suggested that Fanny Brawne was more millstone than muse, Keats sprung into action. He didn’t even shape-up. He hit Tipping with a savage right cross that sent him sprawling into a stack of Immigrant Chronicles, dragged him to his feet, then delivered an uppercut of such ferocity, the percussive waves from the blow sent a flock of oystercatchers wheeling from a sand spit. Bill Wisely, collecting beer glasses from the bows and deck boards of boats, yelled “Good shot!” “That wasn’t a fight,” Olson said. “It was an assassination.” 
Rodney Hall had spent much of the evening in the mangroves, having blood samples taken by mosquitoes the size of dragonflies. He’d gone, by his reckoning, the two miles south looking for Wallace-Crabbe, when he saw a huge platoon of Waggaists coming upriver, each one peddling furiously inside a bright red duck or swan. He ran into the mangroves and watched them through binoculars. The full moon had turned its security porch light on, and he could see them clearly. This was the first time he’d been this close, and he was amazed at their ages. Most were in their early to mid twenties. They all wore homespun cotton garments, dyed red, and some had tattoos of the Red K’s face on their forearms or necks. Others had what seemed to be lines of poetry inked into their shoulders. They looked like novitiate members of some religious sect on a social outing. As they paddled past, he could hear their conversation. It was odd, stilted and half-formed, like lines from a Pinter play being married to the pillow talk of an off-duty detective. Then, as the last Waggaist in the group came past he saw Wallace-Crabbe. He was bound and gagged in a small dinghy being towed behind a red swan. He thought of throwing a stick or shell to get his attention, but the man in the swan was looking around carefully. “Nothing here. Return. This way. Tomorrow there will. Oh yes, oh you.” Rodney waited. He assumed they’d be going further around the island, but they came ashore, stepped into the shallows and dragged their birds onto the sand. There they made a fire, and sat in a tight circle drinking wheatgrass juice, eating radishes and reciting the Red K’s poems. Wallace-Crabbe was given a bowl of rocket and a glass of water. Rodney took off his coat, made a pillow of sorts on a mangrove root, and lay down among the suckers and crab holes. Then the tide came in. He climbed carefully into a thick, low branch, which cracked and settled. The Waggaists stood up and stared at the mangroves. They angled their heads like listening kelpies and waited. “That heron.” “Old scarer.” “Yes, and all the night dreaming.” They sat down again. Rodney knelt in crabbing water, his clothes drinking the river, his syphoned blood flying off with a drone in all directions.

K. Slessor, at the Front

Monday, February 22, 2010

Fishing World Music

Came So Far From Beauty - SMH review - 
Bernard Zuel reviews the show that never was.
Shortly before the Island Wars began, I attended a music promotion hosted by Fishing World magazine.
Gig Ryan and Lucinda Williams' band Hex & Gone, were about to play for the troops, but then pulled the plug, knowing the Waggaists would also benefit from the concert. “We’re not performing while the war rages’ said Ryan. “We’re a band who plays when and where we want, we play for the money and the fame, but also for revenge. We don't want to entertain rednecks and sycophantic wankers. Williams responded: “Revenge for the red hex of it all. We are out to balance the gender books. We want Dr Greene’s guts for our guitar strings.”
This was happening in the basement of AC/DC’s mansion near Church Point. The green-room had been set up by the good doctor and under the sponsorship of Fishing World. Jim Harnwell, the magazine's editor, was handing out issues of the April issue. “This is only February,” said someone making coffee. “Well that’s why the April issue’s out,” Harnwell said.
Ezra Pound and Bunting walked in. Ezra said, “Why aren’t the goddamn poetry magazines published with the same knifed-edged efficiency? This is True Enterprise! Here we have an an example of how it’s done. We have ‘permission’ from goddamn sportswriters! What kind of a world have we created?!”
The green room went quiet, Bunting was trying to chat up Lucinda, but Gig was pointing to the cover photo on the April issue. “This must have something to do with Creeley,” she said. Everyone crowded in and focussed on the cover. “Remember Creeley’s pigeon fancier journal when he was in Majorca?” They all looked at the new issue again. The subject of the cover photo was a chicken. 
“Well, he’s done it again! This man is a blight upon the world” It was Mondrian. “Greene has created a land-dwelling Wagga” Tom Raworth picked up the magazine and said. “It’s a chook pecking at the feet of the Red K! A Rhode Island Wagga-Fowl!" Gig put her guitar down and walked off. “It’s all fucked,” she said.

The concert is being postponed and will take place on The Island as part of the victory celebrations.

Dispatch From The Front: Day 2

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

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

The Fleet

From the air, this was a sight to behold. At first, from a distance, I thought I could see a thunderhead that had slipped its moorings from a storm to the south. And then I thought the genetic engineering that had made the Waggas so huge had afflicted a kookaburra. It was massive: ten storeys high with beams of light shooting out from its eyes and beak. Yet when I angled my glider closer, riding the thermals that spiral off Box Head, I could see that it was a hot-air balloon, with the Symbolists hanging over the edge of the basket. They raved at me as I sailed past, holding up signs and throwing items of clothing and sheets of paper.
Below them, white lines were cutting the surface of Broken Bay. About two miles out from Lion Island, a diverse and bizarre fleet was ploughing its way north. There were, as I said in my earlier report, tall ships, canoes, kayaks, jet skis and game fishing boats. But now other craft had joined them. Amid the whitewaterlines and rooster-tails of spray, I could see a periscope cutting a thin line through the waves. And out behind it a pale, angular shape emerged through veils of spindrift. It was a pyramid of naked poets, water-skiing in the wash of an oyster punt. To the left of this insane apparition, a Maori war canoe was ratcheting its bladed way into the morning. Even from within my streamlined, wind-lifted glider I could hear the drums and singing as I went over. There were dinghies, bass boats and gin-palaces with poets falling over themselves on deck. There were cabin cruisers and long-liners up from Bermagui, pontoons, Scandinavian and Nova Scotian cod boats. A single helicopter clattered back and forth like a desert drover, keeping things in order.
I left them to make their way to The Island and banked south. I think just the sight of this madness might be enough to make the Waggaists turn and run!
Your friend in the air
David W. Foster

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Nepean River

Dear Dulcie
I remember you speaking of these attacks. At the time, knowing how you are prone to wonderful, spontaneous flights of fancy, I accepted your descriptions as I would a line from one of your poems. But now I know you were telling the truth. 
Last week, walking by the Nepean River, I heard a terrible low moaning sound coming from near a stand of willows on the far bank. It was dreadful, like a beast being slaughtered. A family of water hens were paddling close to shore when a giant red fish came clear of the water and engulfed them. It thrashed on the surface, shaking its head this way and that. Pieces of water hen were flying in all directions, and the water was turning a dark red. I thought: no amount of bird blood could stain a river like that. It was a much deeper red than the flames from when they destroyed my paintings in America! 
I have been driven to paint the scene. Please visit soon. We need to talk.
Your friend
Norman Lindsay


Dear Ken,
My God. When I read your report of the wild and vicious red-fish I was both appalled and relieved. (Relieved that I have not been hallucinating!) You see I have been witnessing similar attacks at Balmoral Beach now for a couple years. They have increased in the last month. It happens usually at dawn when there are hardly any people about, just the odd jogger and a lone swimmer. The swimmer suddenly starts bobbing, and is then surrounded by a great boil in the water which turns pink at first and then red within about a minute or two. Then it is over. The swimmer completely disappears, there is nothing left, maybe a floating piece of cloth, a pair of goggles, a snorkel, then that hideous call you described rolling in on the gentle waves. I have reported these attacks to the police, but they simply refuse to believe me. They are blaming these disappearances and others on Grey Nurse sharks, which is ridiculous. They are not killers! 
Your Great Friend, 

Dulcy Deamer

Jerusalem Bay

Dear Waggafish Letters,
I have just now arrived home from a weekend at Jerusalem Bay on a Halvorsen cruiser with Douglas Stewart. I was told to pass on this item of news to you by Geoffrey Lehmann and Robert Gray. As the last of the Vitalists we want to strike a blow against the new red menace. Let me tell you what happened on our weekend. 
We have been visiting Jerusalem Bay for many years. We were hoping for a quiet weekend after three weeks of rejecting thousands of poems and writing letters to poets telling them to forget poetry and take up swoffing. Doug is a snapper man and also fishes in New Zealand. He is in touch with Nigel Roberts and is trying to convince him to come over to the Vitalists. We are a splinter group now, and as Norman Lindsay keeps reminding us, ‘We need people with good red blood.’ Norman is into breeding the pure line. Doug wants Nigel to pick us up at our mooring at Church Point and row us to The Island.  But I digress. At Jerusalem Bay we sat up drinking pink gins all friday night and went to sleep about 3am. When we woke we could hear this odd noise. It sounded like ‘narr  naaar  anaar’ and then there was a huge splashing noise. We rushed on deck, and in the glow of Doug’s hurricane lantern we saw a huge red fish with a pelican in its mouth. The fish was half out of the water, trying to sound back into the deep, but the bulk of the pelican with all its feathers stained red stopped it from diving. It was an awful sight. I don’t want to describe it further because I don’t want the revolting fish to remain in my memory. Doug wanted to dive in the save the bird but there was a great patch of redness surrounding the boat and I held him back. We gazed in horror as a vast school of these vile creatures swarmed around the boat - a seething mass of ugly red fish with gnashing teeth and worst of all, they were actually calling out like a swarm of rainbow lorikeets, except instead of the harsh creaking parrot talk, it was a ‘nnnaaar, naaar,  aaaahnaaara’ on and on, drowning out Doug’s protestations.
I have to go get a gin. I’m back at Elizabeth Bay now. If you need a correspondent to cover the war on The Island, please let me know. 
Back soon
Kenneth Slessor 

The Red Temptation

Dear Anthony & Bob
I circled the Red K's house in my ultralight at dusk yesterday. He came outside to investigate looking like a spook wearing a wheatbag. I buzzed him as he ran through a maze of miniature silos in the garden. When he went back inside, a panel of light came on in a window at the side of the house. Using my telescope, I could clearly see that he was sitting before his computer, and on the screen was the glow of the Waggafish Letters. Of course, everyone knew that he would cave in and betray himself by going back online. The Red Temptation was too great.
The poets are fast approaching The Island. It's not only boats though. It's a spectacle the likes of which I've never seen. Truly amazing! A full report soon. I'm concerned for their safety, as the Waggaists have fortified the place and they are ready. 
Yours in close investigation
David W.  Foster