Saturday, March 6, 2010

Dispatch From The Front: Day 9

Above: Phil Spector. Centre and Below: Basil Bunting and W.B. Yeats

Richard Tipping was beside himself with excitement. He grabbed his sign-writing gear, ripped a few planks from the wharf, and jumped into a tinny. “I’m going to make a sign and put it out on the Pacific Highway,” he shouted. “I want the Saint’s visit to The Island to be a memorial.” He pulled on the outboard rope and roared away up river.

Billy Gibbons looked out through the zinc hexagons that made up the walls of his new home and placed another little square of castle-printed blotting paper onto his tongue. He flicked one over to Wilding, who had made a suspension bridge out of his thoughts and was now trying to jump off them. He sent a couple through a hexagon window into the waiting mouths of Rimbaud and Baudelaire, whose empty absinthe bottles had been lovingly arranged into a portrait of K.D. Lang. Plumping his embroidered, emerald cushions, Billy then took of his ZZ Top-embossed leather boots and stretched out on the king-size bed. Gazing up at the sky, he watched a blue crane sail over, trailing a banner with semi-quavers printed on it. “Oh, Lord,” he sighed, and closed his eyes. “Yes? What is it?” asked Wallace Crabbe, who then dived fully-clothed into the deep end of a sonnet.

As Wallace Stevens walked past the prostrate figure of Blodgett, his leg was pulled away from under him. He went down heavily, the scattergun flying. Blodgett leapt to his feet and was about to retrieve the gun when a Waggaist reached out from under the net, took the gun into his hands and pointed it at Blodgett’s head. “This ends now. Remove the net.”

Blodgett and Stevens walked around the net, lifting and pulling it over the heads of the Waggaists. Most had woken from their zest-induced comas. Others were shifting around and waking slowly. The Waggaist followed them with the scattergun. He’d reloaded with cartridges of Doom: essential, pure black Thai chili oil. One drop in the eye would inflict hours of agony. A full blast would be fatal.

When the net had been removed, the Waggaists got to their feet, helping each other and assessing the scene before them. The rope Bukowski and Dorn had used to abseil into the Main Hall was still hanging down from the tower ledge. “Someone cut a length from that rope and tie these two clowns together. Make it tight and make it last.” He walked over to Stevens and Blodgett. “Gentleman, it’s been a complete fucking nightmare,” he said. A Waggaist got some rope, and the two poets were hog-tied, gagged, blindfolded with red cloth and turned onto their sides.  Then the huge crowd of Waggaists walked, crawled and stumbled from the Main Hall and out into the night.

When Bukowski and Dorn entered the Red Cell, the air had a faint metallic edge to it. They saw the poets and musicians lying back on the cold cement. Bukowski pulled a pair of pliers from his belt and was about to go in and cut them free, when Dorn pulled him back. “Mines,” he said. He recognised them as the same Jumping-Jack antipersonnel mines he’d encountered while fighting with the Nicaraguan Poets Army - he’d been a mercenary in a short-lived but successful war against the Language Poetry Police in the capital. “Jumping-Jacks spring up behind you once you’ve walked over them. They discharge at waist or head-level. I’d say these little fuckers would contain enough wheatgrass juice and black chili oil to burn a hole right through your aura.”

Billy Gibbons had been composing a song in his head when Bukowski and Dorn walked into the room. He looked up from his armchair and waved. “Almost ready, darlings. You look gorgeous.” Rimbaud was sketching diagrams for a new model of the Drunken Boat. Baudelaire was off snorkeling with Lou Reed in the Bahamas. Wallace-Crabbe was being given mouth-to-mouth by a naked pool inspector after swallowing too much internal rhyme.

Seidel and Shelby were sitting forward on the edges of their seats. They’d cheered with delight as the Waggaists had gained their freedom but now, as they watched things unfold in the Red Bunker and Cell, their mood had changed. “This is bullshit,” Seidel said. “Dorothy Hewett will pay for this outrage, and that Dorn is a thorn in the palm of our plan.” Shelby looked at Seidel. “In future, keep your poetry out of it. That was rubbish.”

Rodney Hall and Dorothy Hewett had led the poets, along with their Waggaist converts, out of the Red Bunker and down onto the wharf. They’d had to step over the limbs and shredded clothing of those who’d been monstered by the Waggas. On the wharf, Michael Dransfield was drying himself with pages torn from the Immigrant Chronicles. He smiled as the poets reached him. “At first, I thought being eaten alive by a giant Waggafish was like an amusement park ride gone terribly wrong. Next thing I knew, I’d surfaced in a red glow - I assumed I was bleeding out until I saw the red pulse of a channel marker.”

That afternoon, just before dark, everyone on the beach and wharf heard a strange sound, a high whirring jet-stream noise. A huge vessel came into view. It was an amphibious craft powered by great twin fans on the stern. As it swept in over the ocean and down into the river, it scattered oystermen’s racks and punts and washed houseboats onto the rocks with its turbulent wake lines. It was called the Red Shana-Na and it belonged to Phil Spector.

On deck was a Shelby Mustang, gleaming in the late sun, it’s well-tuned V8 already burbling. Phil was behind the wheel. He rolled down onto the wharf and opened the door. Jumping out he opened the boot, revealing the million dollar B&W stereo system he’d had installed by experts at Abbey Road studios. Phil looked around and then cranked up the volume. The first sonic wave of Be My Baby blew a few performance poets off the wharf and into the river. Phil had simply stood his ground as the aural blast left the Mustang. He was used to violence. He looked up at the citadel. The poets had been shouting at him to get in his car and chase down the escaping Waggaists. “Tonight we drink and smoke,” he said, his mirror shades filled with smoky light. “Tomorrow we go hunting.”

Spector had brought Frank Webb, who was in the front seat. In the back was a splendidly red-robed figure. At first, the Imagists who were grouped around Robert Gray thought it was Dransfield in yet another costume, but Gray’s sharp imagist eye identified the figure in the robe. It was Saint Augustine. He was going along for the ride. Richard Tipping was beside himself with excitement. He grabbed his sign-writing gear, ripped a few planks from the wharf, and jumped into a tinny. “I’m going to make a sign and put it out on the Pacific Highway,” he shouted. “I want the Saint’s visit to The Island to be a memorial.” He pulled on the outboard rope and roared away up river.

Later that night, Devin Johnston had a chance to question The Saint about his mission. Augustine told Devin he wanted to be there if Phil ever felt like confessing. He also told him that Spector had a studio somewhere in the underground complex of the Red Bunker, and his plan was to make a Wall of Sound recording of Basil Bunting and Francis Webb simultaneously reading their greatest hits, Briggflats and Ward Five.

Devin Johnston had been with W. B. Yeats on Silliman’s Boston Whaler. Ron had been looking all around the Island, and he wanted his boat back. His face was red, and he was speaking in Language into the small end of a petrol funnel. Of course, no-one could understand a word of it, except Tom Raworth, and Tom told Devin that what was being uttered was not worth the translation into projective verse.

The night before, Bob Creeley had turned up with Jim Harnwell on the Fishing World Bar-Crusher. Jim had to go out to Brown’s Mountain, where he’d been listening on the short-wave to reports of Waggas feeding on a school of rat-kingfish. Creeley had been dropped off on the wharf, where he’d teamed up with the brilliant fisherman Terry Hack. Together they’d decided to ‘confiscate’ the Boston Whaler. So now Bob Creeley was the captain of the soul of language poetry, and immediately recruited a team of wise heads to have a brain-storming session under the canopy of the Boston Whaler Outrage. Devin emailed Silliman and told him to forget the boat and to just keep blogging.

Hack was ready for business, and told Creeley and Yeats of the days when the kingfish traps were legal; when he’d set the traps at dawn and pick them up at dusk, chock-full of fish. Though one day the kingies went off in the sun. They were floating traps, and the fish had feasted on the chicken gut bait, then drowned in their sun-weakened condition. The chicken gut in their bellies had sent them off. Terry Hack told of how he devised a way to trap them without bait. He strung a red KonaHead lure at the centre of the trap, and when it was lowered down the tide made the lure vibrate so well the kingies would just climb into the traps. “So, we’ll make platinum KonaHeads so the Waggas can’t tear them apart. We’ll catch tons of the red bastards each day,” said Hack. “In a year or so they’ll be wiped out.”

Creeley smiled and looked towards Yeats. “The worst are filled with passionate intensity” said Willy. “And I love it.” He bowed and took off his Panama hat in a tribute to Terry Hack. “And the fishermen hold flowers,” said Devin, quoting Dylan.

Bob Creeley got behind the wheel of the Whaler and gunned the twin motors. “We’re going for a run up the river to collect Bill Wisely. He’ll know who can hand-craft the titanium KonaHeads.” The Whaler sat low a minute, then shuddered like a huge tuna hovering above a yakka. Then it stood up on the plane and shot off towards Brooklyn. Passing Jim Harnwell’s Bar-Crusher on the way in, they almost swamped it with their wake.

K. Slessor, at the Front.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Dispatch From The Front: Day 8

Above: Wallace Stevens. Below: Michael Dransfield and Dorothy Hewett.

Wallace Stevens was busy with the scattergun. At first he was far more liberal with the zest than his thoughts on writing poetry, but soon he warmed to his role and began reading poems - his own and others’ - and the Waggaists were being given highly toxic doses. Rodney Hall wanted them alive. Blodgett wanted them for Wagga food. W. B. Yeats was pushing to have them recruited into his new Waggafishing program. 

Wallace was aware of the conflicting demands and desires regarding the prisoners, but for now he was in charge. He walked around the net, talking to those still conscious and kicking the boots of anyone who’d stopped moving. An hour later, those Waggaists that hadn’t garroted themselves on mullet mesh or overdosed on zest were calling out for mercy. They had never heard anything like these poems - crazy, long-lined things where theory was married to fancy and history to a manifesto on mental illness. 

He had just begun a long, sweeping sequence on the dangers of hunting down symbolism in the early work of Dylan Thomas when Blodgett strode into the hall. “Excuse me, Mr Stevens. I need to speak to the prisoners.” Wallace didn’t miss a beat. “The bell tower of palladium in the eyeline of the head...” “Mr Stevens, please, I...” “Starlight in the antler velvet of a gaming man...” “I must insist that you stop talking and listen to me,” Blodgett said, pacing up and down and flinging his hands into the air. “Listen to him, please!” a Waggaist implored. “Yeah, shut up!” yelled another. Wallace stopped talking. Blodgett’s face was a study in anguish and apology. “I need to escort the prisoners down to the wharf,” he whimpered. Wallace Stevens turned around slowly. “I have never been interrupted,” he said. Blodgett held his breath. “Who are you?” “Blodgett,” said Blodgett. "Are you a reader of ambitious British verse?” “Look, I love Thomas. And George Mackay Brown and MacCaig. All that shit” “Ah, Mackay Brown, the Orkney ornithologist, yes...” “So can I have the prisoners? Please?” Wallace Stevens looked around at the tangled sea of netted, red bodies. “No,” he said. “They are mine.” Blodgett snapped. “Now look here, you insurance fraud! These prisoners are...” Wallace fired the scattergun. The blast of zest hit Blodgett full in the face and he went down stinging. “Good shot!” a Waggaist yelled. Others applauded with meshed hands.

The poets had left the wretched scene down at the moat, and were now using one of the masts they’d chopped from the tall-ship as a battering ram to gain access to the Red Bunker. Stephen Edgar was urging them on, speaking in tight, lyrical three line sentences. Philip Levine was combing his mustache with a bream’s dorsal spines and shouting about Detroit automative sweatshops. Mallarme was still in mourning for the lost Symbolists, but was holding it together and lifting up score cards each time the battering ram hit the door.

Bukowski and Dorn had doubled back into the network of tunnels and had found themselves at a crossroads. There were red signs on each of the passageway walls. To Bedlam and All the Way Back, The Red Cell, Strife Studies, and The Law at Hurt’s Desire. Dorn suggested they take the road to Bedlam, as they’d been more or less living in one since arriving on The Island. Bukowski insisted on The Red Cell. He was in a black mood, so Dorn didn’t argue. As they walked off they could hear the sounds of glass jars breaking and uncontrollable laughter.

The poets came running at the Red Bunker from a long way back, chanting and swearing as they ran. The masthead smashed into the buckled red door and it gave way, its hinges flying off. They stormed through the opening and ran down the narrow, ill-lit passage, but another door was blocking their way. Two Waggaists had been standing guard. When they saw the poets they threw their wheatgrass guns to the ground and raised their hands. “Open this door,” Rodney Hall demanded. “We can’t. It’s on a timer mechanism,” one of the Waggaists said. “It only opens at feeding time, and there’s still two hours to go.” “Then we’ll wait,” said Rodney, and sprayed them with his zest can. They fell to the floor, writhing and moaning. “We wait here,” he shouted to the crowd of poets behind him. “So this is where the Waggafish are. Let’s give them the kind of food they deserve!”

Shelby and Seidel were in a secret compound, high in the roof of the citadel. It was a small room, fortified with six inch steel walls and fed with air from a pipe inside the mouth of one of the Waggafish gargoyles. They were watching the action on a series of small CCT screens. When they saw Bukowski and Dorn take The Red Cell corridor, Seidel cursed. “One in four. A lucky guess,” he said. Shelby looked at the two poets stepping carefully behind the beams of their head lanterns. “The Red Cell will be a test of their courage and endurance,” he said, smiling. “I’ve added a little surprise at that bleak destination.” The concealed micro-cameras in the Red Bunker tunnel showed a tightly-packed crowd of poets. “They are about to taste the true meaning of fury,” he said, and looked over at the Feeding Time switch on the wall. “This will be better than a front-row seat at the Colosseum.”

Blodgett opened his eyes and raised himself up on his elbows. He saw Wallace Stevens patrolling the net, firing zest and reciting poetry. He knew that Stevens would be a difficult proposition, yet a plan was forming inside his throbbing head. He lay down again and waited for him to pass by.

The Red Cell was at the very centre of the citadel. It was empty but for a large chicken-wire enclosure, divided into sections. Razor wire had been spooled around the outside of the cage, and the floor leading up to it had been mined. Inside the cage, Wilding, Wallace-Crabbe, Rimbaud, Baudelaire and ZZ Top were sitting down. Torn and shredded pages of The Immigrant Chronicles were all over the floor. Wilding had stopped talking, and was chewing on a chronicle. Wallace-Crabbe, who’d been working on a poem scratched into the earthen floor, was whispering to himself, crossing out lines and rewriting them. ZZ Top were staring wildly around the enclosure. They might have given up dope and cigarettes, but Billy had handed out four-way English trips to everyone: squares of blotting paper with purple castles stamped into them. They’d all been tripping out of their heads for twelve hours, and the acid was not about to loosen its grip.

A siren sounded in short, loud bursts inside the Red Bunker, and a revolving red light began throwing oblongs around the walls and over the faces of the poets. The second door slid open. Rodney turned to the crowd behind him. “We proceed with extreme caution,” he said. “No shit, Sherlock,” Kevin Brophy yelled.

I was exhausted. I’d been running around, scribbling notes and trying to keep up with the action. I had Leonard Cohen’s The Future on my iPod, which seemed the perfect soundtrack to all this insanity. The Island Wars had become a complete farce, which I’d always suspected they would be, but now I was losing heart. Along with Jennifer Maiden, other poets had abandoned the War and returned to the mainland. John Forbes, having worked himself into a frenzy trying to write a poem about what he’d seen, had stormed off and hauled on the kookaburra balloon rope, bringing the great bird down to the wharf. Once inside the basket, he hit the burner, inflated the balloon to its full capacity, and then cut the tie-rope. I watched him sail away, hanging over the edge, waving. Geoffrey Lehmann had stripped off and dived into the river. Last I saw he was stroking out into open water, a few gulls circling over his head, a lone gannet eyeing him from a bait-school-finding height.

I knew that things were about to come to a head, though I had no idea how it would all transpire. Poetry and war. Not since hearing a young soldier reciting Wilfred Owen in a mountainside cave in Crete had I felt so forlorn, so hopeless. I’d been keeping my thoughts and opinions to myself, recording what I saw with a cold eye. That changed dramatically when Michael Dransfield’s vision was played out in amazing circumstances, deep within the Red Bunker.

The poets had reached the Waggafish breeding area. As they came pouring through the doors into a warm, blood-and-offal-reeking red light, the Waggaists on feeding duty ran for cover and hit behind the tanks, the control panel, anywhere they could find. Rodney addressed them: “You will not be harmed if you do as you are told. We are here to deal with these fish, not to inflict violence.” “Speak for yourself, Hall!” Geoff Goodfellow shouted. “There will be no blood-shed here,” Rodney said, his voice echoing around the stainless steel tanks.

The Waggaists emerged from their hiding places. There were nine of them. All were dressed in red feeding robes, their faces in shadow beneath large hoods. Michael Dransfield stepped to the front of the crowd and turned to face the others. “I know you are angry,” he said softly. “I understand that many of us have been traumatised by what has happened on The Island. Some of you are at the end of your tether, and want to see justice done, no matter what the outcome. But I need to tell you this: last night I had a dream in which these great red fish lost all desire to kill and maim. They were, like any other species, essentially shy and simply wanted to co-exist in the rivers and oceans, producing offspring, living in harmony within the complex layers of that curious world. “Give us a break,” Gig Ryan yelled. “Go back to Courland Penders and take a few Waggas with you,” Sam Wagan Watson said. The poets started heckling Michael relentlessly. “Wagga lover!” “Judas!” “Streets of the Red Voyage!” Michael lowered his head. For a moment I thought he was about to cry. When he looked up again, he said “Then I will prove my vision to be true.” He removed his coat, his shirt, trousers and shoes. Rodney put a hand on his shoulder. “You don’t have to do this,” he said. Michael looked at Rodney for a long time, then said “The red roses on the cover of Second Month of Spring should have been a warning. You have edited your way into misery.” And with that he leapt up onto the rim of one of the large stainless steel tanks and pulled the kevlar cover away. “Waggafish just need our love and understanding,” he said, and dropped into the tank.

There was a loud humming sound, a metallic clang, then silence. The poets waited. Rodney Hall was white and pulling at his hair. The water in the tank bubbled from the aerators. There was no thrashing, so fountains of blood hitting the roof. The poets rushed forward and looked into the tank. It was empty. The lit, swirling water contained the bones of kangaroos and water hens, nothing more. Then one of the Waggaists came forward from behind the big control panel. It was a woman. Her long white hair was plaited in a thick rope that hung down from under her hood. When she lifted the hood back, there was an audible, collective gasp. It was Dorothy Hewett. “I knew you’d come,” she said.

As Dransfield was about to enter the tank, Dorothy had hit the switch that opens the main sluice-gates to the tanks. The giant Waggas had been sucked out through the exit pipe. When Michael had gone in, she had redirected the flow so that he would be sent hurtling underground through a diversion pipe that surfaces just beyond the wharf. “Michael Dransfield believes in justice and fair play,” Dorothy said. “I was not about to let that kind of love be taken down. I’d say he’d be climbing up onto the wharf about now, wondering what the hell just happened.” The other Waggaists came forward. Silently, they removed their red cloaks. They took their Waggafish Research Program badges and threw them into the tank. “We are with you,” a young woman said. “Yes, we’ve had enough,” a man said. “This is not surrender, this is reason,” a woman said. “Let us know what you’d like us to do.”

On hearing about the red activities on The Island, Dorothy had arrived two weeks before the poets. She had come by raft one night on the dark of the moon. Merv Lilley was on the long oar, standing at the stern and cutting a steady passage through the river’s phosphorescence. The firewater was turning the blade of his oar into a magnified, burning leaf. He rowed in silence. Dorothy sat up front, watching the Island grow towards her. On the top of the needle-tower, the citadel’s red lamp glowed and bled. On the wharf, she said “If anything happens, tell them I’ve gone to ask Alice a couple of questions and won’t be back for awhile.” As she walked up the hill, she turned to look at Merv, who was watching her go. An Archie Ammons poem came to mind, and he recited it out load: I found a weed that had a mirror in it, and that mirror looked in at a mirror in me that had a weed in it.

K. Slessor, at the Front

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Dispatch From The Front: Day 7

I know human beings and fish can co-exist peacefully. George W. Bush 

When the doors flew open, Wallace Stevens fell forward onto his face. He’d been standing with his ear pressed to the wood. The poets rushed around and over him. “There they are!” Rodney Hall shouted.
When he’d seen the great doors fly open, Shelby had pressed a secret panel on the wall. It had opened with a loud hydraulic hiss, and he’d grabbed Seidel and stepped into the dark. The panel hissed shut behind them. 

Wallace Stevens was on his feet. He dusted himself off and ran into the citadel, where Blodgett intercepted him, got him in a bear-hug and said “I love your work, Mr Stevens. You mean more to me than mukluks, Moose lager, Neil Young, huskies, ice-fishing, goldfish shot-glasses, the Iroquois Nation and George Bowering.” Wallace stepped away from Blodgett’s embrace. “We do not speak of such things here”, he said. “Look to the net.” Blodgett turned and saw that a number of Waggaists had cut themselves free and were escaping through a small side window. As he sprinted after them, Wallace lifted a sawn-off scattergun from his bag and walked around the net, firing and reloading cartridges of zest until the remaining Waggaists were silent and still.

The poets were searching the grounds of the citadel, but Shelby and Seidel were nowhere to be seen. Amanda Joy had gone off with Alan Wearne to set fibre snares, but only after Wearne had promised not to recite a word of his Waggafish ballad.
Bukowski and Dorn had finally made it down from inside the tower. They’d had to lower Bill Burroughs in a sling they’d improvised from their backpacks and a piece of the mullet net. Bill was comatose. The Beluga withdrawals had taken their toll.
As the main group of poets were scouting the beachside wall of the citadel, they heard a series of muffled explosions and ran towards the beach. Blodgett was standing on the side of the hill, a red switch in his hand. All along the moat there were small eruptions of flame and flying dirt. Blodgett had timed it perfectly. As the fleeing Waggaists reached the moat, he had triggered the charges. Twenty five red-coated men and women had fallen into the water. He’d been hoping for carnage on a much greater scale. He’d wanted to see the entire red regiment stumble head-first into Waggadom. He’d wanted to watch as they were decimated by their own out-of-control invention. Still, the sight of these giant fish having their way with their breeders and tormentors gave him great satisfaction. As the poets watched, red surges of water bloomed and fell around the moat, followed by articles of clothing, slingshots and bits of metal from the monstered wheatgrass guns - all this to a soundtrack of Wagga-calls and horrific screams. 
Jennifer Maiden looked on as a massive concave tail came clear of the water and then slammed down, cracking the surface. She stood under the cold red rain the tail had made, remembering the time she’d been whale-watching off Hervey Bay with Rudi Krausman. A humpback and her calf had breached and were cruising calmly near Rudi’s yacht. Rudi steered towards them. “I think that’s close enough,” Jennifer had said. “These creatures want us to be intimate. They travel here to commune with us. They want to learn,” said Rudi as he tacked over to where the whales had surfaced. The mother looked at him. Her huge, upturned eye was a dark globe filled with Go Away You Are Not Welcome Here My Child is Being Threatened Back Off Now Or You Will Die. Rudi saw Thankyou for Coming, We Love You. They managed to reach Fraser Island by clinging to one of the yacht’s shattered timber beams. Jennifer looked on as the last of the Waggaists were shredded and eaten. She walked down to the wharf and hopped onto Faye Zwicky’s jet-ski. She wasn’t just leaving The Island. She was turning away from the sickness of poetry forever.
In the citadel’s Main Hall, Bukowski and Dorn were running their hands over the wall behind the lectern. They’d seen Shelby and Seidel enter the secret passageway. “Try to find any inconsistency in the stonework,” Chuck said. Bill was slumped in his makeshift sling. He was awake, though still traumatised. He’d woken suddenly, the sharp scent of zest attacking his senses. Dorn looked over at the Waggaists. They were in a deep, zest-induced sleep. He wanted to whack a few of them with his plank, and was about to walk over and start swinging when Bill Burroughs tripped while trying to stand. He fell sideways into the wall, which made an unzipping sound as a panel slid back, revealing a dark cavity. “Good work,” Chuck said. “Put your head lanterns on and stay close.”
Amanda Joy and Wearne had set snares around the entrance to the Red Bunker and part of the citadel wall. When they returned to check them they found a couple of seagulls rising and falling loudly, a wharf rat running in circles, pinned by its tail, and Peter Skrzynecki, trying to cut through the fibres with the spine of a hardcover copy of The Immigrant Chronicles
Bukowski and Dorn were following the yellow beams of their head lanterns down a dark passage. They had come to dead ends, retraced their way back from false-trails, and were stumbling and cursing as they went. Bill was behind them, waving his Colt .45 and firing at shadows. When they came to a wide, lit section of the passage, they stopped and listened. “I’ll go ahead and make sure it’s safe,” Dorn said. Chuck and Bill watched him go, his can of zest-spray held out before him. When he reached the end of the passage, he turned around. “You’d better come take a look at this, Bill.” Bill holstered his Colt and staggered down the passage. He stepped into a room whose light was muted and blue. He dropped to his knees and wept. Before him was Shelby’s Beluga caviar vault. The entire space was stacked from floor to ceiling with hundreds of thousands of jars of caviar. A wall-to-wall montage of sturgeon eggs and obsession. Bill was shaking. He approached the stacks as if he were flanking a convention of Language Poets, his hands opening and closing. He reached out, took hold of a jar, and lifted it away. The entire stack came crashing down around him. He sat down among them and screwed off the lid. He lifted the jar and tipped the contents into his mouth. He chewed, swallowed, and reached for another. His feeding frenzy became faster and more out of control. Caviar was flying around the room. Empty jars were being hurled in all directions. The air was a detail from an ocean-reeking pointillist painting. Chuck wiped caviar from his face and turned to Dorn, who had become catatonic from watching Bill eat. “Let’s leave him to it and go find those red bastards,” he said.

K. Slessor, the Front     

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Dispatch From the Front: Day 6

The fishers also shall mourn, and all they that cast angle into the brooks shall lament, and they that spread nets upon the waters shall languish. Isaiah (ch. XIX, v. 8)

Can the fish love the fisherman? Martial, Epigrams (bk. VI, ep. 63, l. 5)
The sight of hundreds of poets charging up a beach would have rated highly among the strangest things I have seen, except this did not happen. Rodney Hall gave the order to move out, and they simply walked off, their torches and head-lanterns wavering, up the beach, over the wall, and then up the hill towards the citadel. They might have been going to hear opera in The Domain. As usual, Bukowski and Dorn were not with them. After downing a six-pack of Boag's, they'd gone off in the Whaler Outrage with the mound of a huge sea-mullet net on the deck. Cutting south around The Island, they dropped anchor and came ashore in a dinghy. Bill Burroughs had gone with them - they were the only poets he could trust to help him find Shelby's stash of Beluga caviar. He was at breaking point and needed a hit. As they splashed through the shallows, he dived on a mullet, ripped it open, and sucked out the orange roe. It only made him mad. He stared up at the back of the citadel and started raving.
When the poets reached the main doors of the citadel, Rodney Hall raised both hands. He looked like a conductor fronting his orchestra. On seeing this, the poets split into groups and went off quickly and quietly. Some of the Deep Imagists went off with Stagers. Ezra Pound and Anne Sexton had teamed up with Jill Jones, Peter Minter and Michael Farrell, who had just published a poem about red fish in The Age. Robert Lowell and Bronwyn Lea stepped off into the shadows. Dante grabbed Sam Wagan Watson and Jennifer Maiden, wrapped them in a huge indigo cloak, and started whispering instructions. In the first grey wash of light, the poets were able to see the citadel up close and in detail. It had been fortified beyond their wildest imaginings. The windows were deeply recessed and had tinted, shatter-proof glass. The main doors were over three meters high, with wide stainless steel hinges and a large red fish for a door knocker. Jas H. Duke grabbed the knocker and lifted it back. He looked at Emily Dickinson who was pale and shaking her head slowly. Jas lowered the knocker and smiled. “I guess you don't have to knock during a war,” he said. Jayne Fenton Keane, Amanda Joy and James Dickey were standing outside the entrance to the Red Bunker. A steady, muted hum was coming from deep underground. Jayne looked up at the roof of the citadel, where the needle-shaped tower was glazed with daybreak. “This place is completely fucked up,” she said. Amanda sought vague comfort by touching the fiber snares in her shoulder bag. Dickey was standing back, his hunting bow strung over his shoulder, the flights of his arrows bristling. “Even flying over the wreckage of some Korean town at dawn, one engine gone, a head wound double-glazing your vision, all hope abandoned... that was preferable to being here,” he said.
Bukowski, Dorn and Burroughs were at the foot of the citadel wall and had taken out their grappling hooks. “You ready?” Chuck was smiling. “Ready,” said Dorn. Bill was rocking back and forth on his heels. “Beluga,” he said, over and over.
The groups of poets had positioned themselves at various points around the citadel when a loudspeaker crackled into life: “Your every move and word has been recorded. It is clear that you are lost.” Bill Wisely tightened his grip on a plank. “You're fucked,” he shouted into the sky. “Now that you have come,” the voice continued, “we have no option but to accommodate you in the manner to which you have been accustomed: with ridicule, abuse and unrelenting pain.” Raymond Carver took out a note pad and pencil. “I'm using that,” he said. Charles Simic, wearing an albatross mask, turned to his platoon. “That sentence was too loaded. Remember, less is more.” The voice went on: “From the outset we have been understanding. We have allowed you to remain, hoping you would tire of this futile mission and return to your lives and deaths. Now you are going to pay for your bleak determination.” As the loudspeaker popped and fell silent, the poets looked around uneasily, planks and zest-spray cans at the ready. James Dickey picked an arrow from its quiver and lovingly placed it onto the bowstring. “We are waiting,” he said. 
Bukowski, Dorn and Burroughs had made it to the first level of the citadel roof. It was tough going as the massive mullet net kept snagging on the sandstone wall. As they pulled up their grappling hooks, Dorn motioned for them to be quiet. They'd heard the loudspoken voice, and now there was something else in the air. A whirring, wild sound. Bill Burroughs looked up at the needle-tower. “Fuck me,” he said. “Flying Beluga!”
A dark red cloud descended on the poets from the high window in the tower. Bukowski took aim and fired. The arrow came tumbling to earth, a red fruit bat skewered half-way up its shaft. The bat was twitching and spitting, its lips curled back revealing razor-sharp teeth. As he stepped on the bat and removed the arrow, the red winged cloud went over and through the groups of poets, snapping and hissing. “Hold your ground!” Rodney shouted, and found three bats in his face, tearing at his eyes and skin. He ripped them away. “Cover your faces and lie down,” he screamed. The poets hit the deck as the bats whipped over, screeching. 
Bill Burroughs watched in horror from where they'd sought refuge under the overhang of a huge Waggafish gargoyle. The bats had reformed and were now ascending in a bloody column to the tower window. As they streamed through the high opening, the poets got to their feet. Wiping blood from his brow and lips, Rodney went among them, assessing the damage. Alica Sometimes had lost an earring, Ron Silliman part of his nose. John Berryman had gone into Henry mode: “A closer call he'd not tasted. Life, friends, was red. Say it with me, Mr Ozone.” Adam Aitken pulled a batwing from his mouth. “Tastes a bit like Mekong catfish,” he said. Rodney walked among them with a fierce resolve. “I might have given up poetry to write fiction, but I will not give up on you,” he shouted. “So what's next?” Peter Skrzynecki asked from behind the shield he'd made from copies of The Immigrant Chronicles. “Yeah, what's the plan?” someone else called out. When Rodney spoke, it seemed as though the ghost of Field Commander Cohen had just stepped into his head: “We circle the citadel/we circumnavigate/fire with fire and hate with hate.” “I think we should just storm the place, take a few prisoners, execute them to show we mean business, then feed Shelby and Seidel to the Waggas,” Dickey said, which was met by a rousing chorus of approval. 
Deep inside the citadel, Shelby and Seidel were pushing miniature caricatures of the poets around a large map of The Island. “We have them where we want them,” Seidel said, looking even weirder than on the cover of Ooga-Booga. He was dressed in full Waggaist military kit, and had pinned a badge to his lapel, which read Misogyny is a State of Mine.
In the citadel's clinic, Dr Greene was giving a last minute lecture to a hand-picked group of Waggaist medical students. “In the case of acute zest poisoning, you must quickly make an incision here,” he said, pointing to the throat of a red silicone dummy. “Go in through the trachea and insert the vial of Wagga blood. Recovery takes less than a minute.”
In the Main Hall, a huge crowd of Waggaists were watching the poets on a CCT screen. They were laughing at Robert Lowell, who had gone into an S.S. routine and was frog-marching Sylvia Plath up and down the wall. They were shouting and asking J.S. Harry to pull another rabbit out of her book. “Ten-bob tourist,” they yelled, whenever Skrzynecki's face appeared above his shield. They were restless and ready for action. The magazines of their wheatgrass and chili guns were primed, their slingshots gleaming. 
Bukowski's grappling hook had found purchase inside the tower window. Using the sliding-knot technique he'd been shown by W.S. Merwin when they'd crashed a Black Mountain poetry festival, he started up the steel and glass tower. Dorn was threading a rope through the clamps on William S. Burroughs' belt. Bill was in a bad way. If he didn't get some Beluga caviar soon, he was going to fall apart. He'd already started waving his Colt .45 around and talking nonsense.
“It is time,” Seidel said, and then he and Shelby marched into the Main Hall. Once inside, they were met by Dr Greene. The Waggaists stood to attention. Seidel motioned for them to be seated. “Your dedication to our cause, your self-discipline and endless hours of hard work have lead to this moment. The Red K will go down in history as The Master of Form and The Father of Craft. It is because of you that his poetry, his leadership, his unwavering belief in The Red Sentence will flourish and benefit generations to come!” “Well, he could have made an effort to be here,” someone called out from the back of the crowd. “Yeah, at the very least he could have travelled!” yelled another. The dissenting Waggaists were tackled to the ground and removed. Seidel pointed to the giant CCT screen, where the traitors were being dragged down a tunnel towards the Waggafish breeding tanks. “This is what awaits all doubters and fools,” he shouted. “Does anyone else have anything to say?” Screams could be heard from the breeding area. No-one in the crowd moved or spoke. “Good, then all is in readiness.” Seidel beckoned Blodgett to take the floor. The big man stepped onto the stage. He looked around at the sea of red before him. He saw the faces of the redneck live-baiters disguised as Wagga Feeders. When he looked up into the hollow needle-point of the glass tower, he saw Bukowski and Dorn on a narrow ledge. Behind them was Bill Burroughs, gagged with electrical tape, his eyes rolling. Blodgett coughed. “Well done, all of you,” he said. “I, er, I would like...” Bukowski and Dorn were gathering up the mullet net. “I have been impressed with all of you,” Blodgett said. “The time has come to complete our work.” His heart was hammering. He fingered the moat detonator switch in his pocket. “Today we fight, tomorrow we celebrate,” he said, then leapt away as Bukowski and Dorn threw the net far and wide. It came down fast at the edges, its lead weights flying. Trapped under the vast, silken canopy, the Waggaists thrashed and flailed, making their situation worse. Blodgett strode to the main entrance, where he shot the locks and threw open the great red doors. 

K. Slessor, the Front

Monday, March 1, 2010

Dispatch From the Front: Day 5

Deep beneath the Red Bunker: new, rapid-fire weapons capable of delivering 500 ampules of wheatgrass juice and red chili paste per minute; the red cloak of a Waggaist, killed during a feeding accident.
Waggafish-protecting swans on The Island's only lake.

The Citadel was an interesting building, its history both colourful and dark. Originally there’d been a tower, a broad verandah and various outhouses. In the 1950s the tower collapsed, and in the 60's two outhouses burned down when an experiment in brewing opium-based cough drops failed. The walls were local sandstone and all the beams were crafted from the tall turpentine trees that once grew in the area. There was even a chapel with stained glass windows depicting holy scenes, fishermen hauling in their nets, and the centre-piece: a figure, presumably St Peter, holding up a red-fish.

All this was before the massive renovations that were undertaken after an anonymous person, some say an American, poured vast sums of money into the Waggafish Research Program. WRP.  The plans were kept secret, the local council bribed, and the design was said to be the work of Frank Gehry (with advice on the WRP’s requirements taken from Ayn Rand.) The original owners were the Darrel Leighway family, the nationally famous candy-makers, who formed a company to make and market the Black Drops in Tasmania. These days, especially at night, one can hear, even from the beach, a mechanical pecking noise and strange thudding sounds. There were local rumours of a private zoo, and the residents at Church Point swear the noise comes from deep within the Citadel.

Many stories had been told about The Island and its curious inhabitants. That it was a CSIRO Ocean Breeding Facility was widely accepted. Though other stories began to circulate. One involved a description of a woman with wild flowing white hair dressed in a red velvet gown. Some say she could be seen at night on a full moon at the window below the new needle-shaped glass tower, letting down a massive white rope onto the lawn. Blodgett claims he was this woman’s driver, and when questioned, told a reporter who had travelled in from Edmonton, Canada, that the woman was an incarnation of Alice. When questioned further, he said: "Seek her not in the valleys of excess, but where the falcon rides her outstretched hand." In the trees next to the citadel there were once thousands of flying foxes that would hang upside down all day, then just on twilight would take off, stroking their way in a great airborne squadron heading for fruit trees in the gardens and orchards from the mountains to the sea. Late at night, this red-cloaked woman could sometimes be seen and heard, reading poetry to the moon in the absence of bats. Nothing was known for certain. Information was a brew of gossip and half-baked press reports and a few letters that surfaced in the National Library mentioning dark Island occurrences. Was it a product of the terror-tactics produced by WRP itself, or did it all add up to something more than rumour? According to Blodgett it was all based on a lost poem by Alan Wearne and Ken Bolton, a long rambling post-modern ballad without a central story or any real persona. The poem had a deep, insistent drone that produced hallucinations when read aloud. The subject of the poem was the denial of the existence of Waggas.

What the locals don't know, is that deep below the Red Bunker, a non-descript building outside the citadel, is the new Aquatic Cellar - the heartbeat of The Island's secret activities. Everything in the Waggafish Research Program is state of the art: four 10,000 litre stainless steel tanks house younger fish ranging from fingerlings to specimens up to three years old. Three 80,000 litre enclosures contain the adult Waggafish. These tanks are covered by transparent kevlar screens due to the violent manner in which the Waggas feed. In the early days of The Island's breeding program, two scientists were dragged in and mauled to death.The tanks are filled with temperature-controlled brackish water fed through live carbon-fibre pipes. Special aerators imported from Sweden keep the water oxygenated to simulate an exposed ocean reef. Waggafish are fed only at night, when the fish are most active and ravenous. Fingerlings - pink, slender fish - are given a timer-regulated mix of pellets made from blood and bone. Large adult fish are supplied with the hearts of bullocks and water buffalo, and when these are in short supply, wild boar and kangaroo meat shot by unlicensed sportsmen. As the adult fish are being fed, Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music plays at a deafening volume through wall-mounted B&W speakers. In Japan, this music is played in the many Red Bars, where raw Wagga meat has taken over from Fugu - the deadly puffer fish - as the prized seafood. Throughout the Aquatic Centre, large posters showing Waggafish attacking red-coated scientists cover the walls. Those who work in the undergound breeding facility must go through extensive, harrowing "training". Workers are subjected to such things as sleep-deprivation and swimming in known bull shark territory with fresh lacerations to the arms and thighs. The main reason Waggafish are kept in the RWP well into adulthood is that by this time they have become completely insane, and they patrol the tanks with murderous intent. Release takes place via a remote-control sluice-gate which leads to a massive pipe that surfaces in Broken Bay. The sound of huge Waggas being released has long been mistaken for inconsolable grief and rage, arriving downwind from the local Psychiatric hospital.

Well before the poets arrived on The Island, Blodgett had consulted a leading Australian engineer and organised a team of workers - red-necked youths from Bundaberg - whom he supplied with hip flasks of rum and haversacks of zest in case of a red attack, to construct a moat around the base of the citadel. These angry young men were once live-bait suppliers, but were now out of work because of Steve Starling's rubber bait Squidgies. There is hardy any call for live bait suppliers now because the live-bait men catch their own.

Digging the moat was a massive undertaking, and could only take place in the dead of night, when Metal Machine Music was being played during feeding times. The workers would wear the same halogen head-lanterns they once wore while live-baiting from the rocks. It was at these times that one of the young discontents would patrol the moat in an old Shelby Mustang without a muffler that sounded like a machine gun when it accelerated. On hearing of the Mustang, William S. Burroughs insisted on being given the keys. Being a lover of this kind of rude noise, he spent hours roaring back and forth, throwing great clods of earth and leering from the window, a cigarette hanging from the side of his grin.

To disguise the moat, workers placed a thin veneer of kevlar, earth and grass over the channel, which was strong enough to withstand the pressure of anyone walking over it. Finally they set charges at hundreds of intervals alongside the moat, in readiness for when Blodgett would hit the switch, setting off the explosions and exposing the water and its vicious, red inhabitants. The moat's exit point, near the wharf, had been blocked and set with charges. The other young thugs would often practice stoning the crested doves that pecked for seed around the moat. Whenever they'd knock one out, they'd cheer and pounce on the wretched bird, then take it to the only access point to the water in the moat - a red hatch - which they'd lift, throwing the crestfallen bird into a boil of red water as the Waggas tore it apart. Once, when Blodgett had witnessed the end of one of these episodes he shuddered, as he used to write sonnets wherein crested pigeons pecked adjectives to death in the dead of a Canadian night. Blodgett grabbed the rednecked youth responsible and head-butted him with once precise jab of that broad forehead, his great height adding to the swing of his neck. The sound of the two heads coming together was sickening. The youth tumbled into the open hatch and was instantly engulfed. ‘Goddamn good burley’ Blodgett told Dr Greene on his red cell phone. Blodgett was playing Greene, and had convinced him that he had converted to Waggaism.

The last thing worth reporting here occurred in the late afternoon. Just on twilight there was a disturbance on the beach. A green helicopter was hovering above the wharf, looking for a suitable landing spot. Seagulls wheeled around, then scattered out onto the bay where a school of whitebait, escaping marauding Waggas, rippled like a circle of heavy rain and disappeared. The helicopter landed. All eyes were on the door as the apparatus that lowered the stairs hummed and zipped until the ladder reached the ground. The door opened and Devin Johnston appeared, escorting the great Irish poet W.B. Yeats. They were both dressed in cream suits and Panama hats. Devin had connections in Dublin and had arranged for WB to come to the Island. Yeats walked straight up to a group of young poets who’d been mesmerized by the sudden appearance of the helicopter. "This is where we draw the line," Willy said. "Take me to Shelby and Frederick Seidel. I want them to know the consequences of their continuing loyalty to the Red K." Then Yeats straightened to his full height, adjusted his sunglasses, and concluded: "Their red days are numbered." Devin winced, knowing the implications of these measured words.

K. Slessor, the Front