Saturday, March 13, 2010

Dispatch From The Front: Day 16

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

Simon The Hook.

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

T.S. Eliot under the influence of LIMP.

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

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

Friday, March 12, 2010

Dispatch From The Front: Day 15

Philip Larkin and Ted Hughes with two reformed Waggaists outside the Citadel.

Manly ferry.

The morning after the end of the war began with a sky castover and cold. The air was still. I woke early and went for a walk. Miles down the beach, I found the Waggaist’s duck-and-swan paddle-boats hidden among the mangroves under a large red canopy. Camouflage was clearly not one of their talents. I took a duck for a spin but the current was too strong. Sitting on the beach, I tried to make headway on a new poem, but it ended badly. Since accepting the job as war correspondent, my own writing had jumped bail. The muse had been, in Claire Gaskin’s words, “Spectored.”

Returning to the wharf, only one poet was up. Mark Strand was sitting on a cray trap, looking for all the world as though he’d just lost a loved one. I asked him what was wrong, and he said “I’ve just lost a loved one.” His top lip was doing a soft-shoe over his teeth. I offered what comfort I could from a rising tide of exhaustion and despair. “My dog is missing,” he said. I was about to tell him there’s often a big difference between dead and missing, when I heard a siren wail.

Out on the river, a 1950s Austin Sheerline ambulance on tapering pontoons was ploughing slowly through the slate-grey water. As it got closer I could see two men up front, waving and smiling. When it pulled into the wharf, a door opened and Ted Hughes stepped out. He was holding a badger in a leather vest, a plaited leather leash attached to its collar. He put the creature down onto the wharf and came to greet me. I wanted to tell him it was the first time I’d ever seen him smile, when the driver’s door opened and Philip Larkin jumped down. He was shielding his eyes, even though there was no sun. “We are here,” he said.

Bukowski came out of his cruiser wearing a souvenired Waggaist bandana. When he saw Hughes and Larkin, he said “Oh fuck, as if we didn’t have enough trouble on this goddam island.” Then he cracked open a beer and went off into the trees.

A loud banging was coming from the ambulance. “Phil, better let Possum out,” Hughes said. Larkin went to the big rear doors and pulled them open. T.S. Eliot stepped out and fell head-first into the river. He thrashed and cursed then, finding himself in less than two feet of water, stood wiping his face. “Are we there yet?” he asked. Larkin looked around. He saw the citadel. He pondered the many different kinds of craft at anchor. When he saw the large crowd of Waggaists inside the chicken wire cage, all wearing wire-mesh mouth guards, he said “I guess we’re a little late for the war.” Then he walked over to the ambulance and ran a hand over its roof. With an equal measure of menace and wonder, he said “All islands, in time, are visited.”

Hughes and Larkin had been visiting Brendan Behan in prison. Behan had heard that Samuel Beckett was in Australia, trying to find an island somewhere north of Sydney, and that a poetry war was about to take place. Behan said he was he was going to break out and travel to Australia to lend a hand. “He was pacing behind the table in the visiting room, cursing us,” Larkin said, the thick lenses of his glasses flashing. “He was convinced we were holding out on him.” Hughes picked up the badger and stroked its head. He spoke quietly: “At one point he came close and put his ear to my mouth. In his darkest Dublin accent, he told me it wasn’t the Liverpool docks he’d been intending to blow up when he was arrested - he’d only gone there to collect more explosives from a container - it was my study in Devon. ‘I’ll bomb you and your feckin crows, he said.’” The memory of the meeting was clearly too much for Larkin - a nerve below his left eye had started twitching, and it looked as though he were winking at me. “We told him we’d heard nothing, and the situation got worse,” Phil said, with a rising inflection. “I was on the verge of calling the guards.” “Eventually he calmed down,” said Hughes, “but only after we’d promised to let him know as soon as we heard anything.” “I emailed Beckett from the Hull library next day,” Larkin said. “I told him about Behan’s reaction, about what he’d whispered to Ted. Sam’s email came back immediately: ‘They court-martialed Behan in his absence, sentenced him in his absence, and no doubt they’ll execute him in his absence as well. Beware the cunning of the drinker with a writing problem.’” Larkin then explained how Sam had been delayed in Sydney after accepting an invitation to read at a private function at David Williamson’s house. He’d then given detailed directions to The Island, and said he’d be getting a water taxi as soon as the gig at Williamson’s was over. “He should be here soon,” Larkin said. Ted Hughes clicked his tongue at the badger, who looked at him through the twin stripes of shadow on its head, and clicked back. “Not the paradise I was expecting,” Hughes said, hands on his hips as he studied the beach and hill. “But we’ll make do.”

T.S. Eliot had wandered off. He was half-way up the hill towards the citadel, swatting at insects or invisible critics with his walking cane. I was tempted to call out to him, but let him go. There was no longer any hint of danger. The citadel was benign.

Larkin and Hughes were unpacking the ambulance. Blodgett and Stevens had emerged from the tall-ship and were blinking and stretching. The LIMP had well and truly worn off. Graham Nunn had caught a pardalote, and was showing Lisa Gorton the white tips on the ends of its wings. Eric Beach was trying to tell Hughes the difference between a little raven and a crow. The scene was calm. It was much like the first few days after our arrival: poets wandering around doing fuck-all, the smell of alcohol and hashish on the breeze, the Waggaists out of sight...

Later that day, this calm atmosphere would break open. The scene would be transformed into something dark and troubling. But right then The Island was a paradise.

I went to the Halvorsen and made a pink gin. I opened my notebook. Having left an open invitation on the deck for the muse to join me, I started writing. One uncertain stanza later, she came below like the stirrings of a zephyr, unpinned her hair and guided me into the poem.

I was incredibly weary. Reporting from the front was hard work and I needed to a break. I went back to my flat in Billyard Avenue Elizabeth Bay and slept for 15 hours. I woke to a breakfast of grapefruit and marmalade toast. Reluctantly I packed my Olivetti and set off for Brooklyn, where I'd lined up an interview with Berryman and Geoffrey Hill. I’d parked my convertible Jag outside my flat. Brett Whiteley saw my car and came over to say hello. He invited me around to his studio to see his new paintings. The jacarandas were in flower, the rainbow lorikeets flew noisily from tree to tree, and the ibis walked in a single file down the gutter towards where the Australian Navy moored its battleships.

It was a beautiful blue day and Brett was in a charming mood. I mentioned the poetry war on the Island. To my surprise, Whiteley said “Poetry war? What poetry war man?” I decided not to go into it. He would find out about the war and the Waggas before long. It was just a matter of time. Brett had been up the Cross looking for a friend, Michael Driscoll, who was a singer and an expert on the Symbolists. It turned out he couldn’t find this fellow - there’d been talk of smack and dealers, charcoal and Jean  Genet. Seeing that Whiteley had come by ferry, I suggested he come along with me. I was going over through the North side anyway.

I’d been at Whiteley’s studio for an hour or so, surrounded by his new paintings of the harbour. There was music playing and spirits were flowing. Brett’s wife Wendy said Driscoll had called on the phone and was on his way. “He’s been on his way for days. “He seems to vanish into the abyss without warning, then just appears as if no time at all has gone by. He’s drifting too far from the shore.” Brett offered some lunch - avocados and salad with tiger prawns. It was delicious. There was a knock on the door and a dishevelled young man with a guitar came into the studio. It was Michael Driscoll. “You’re two days late,” said Brett. Driscoll didn’t seem to hear and just put down his guitar and launched into an explanation of what had just happened to him on his way to Lavender Bay. He spoke in a casual tone of voice. “I was coming to see you. Catching public transport is such a drag, I missed two buses and a ferry. I was down at Circular Quay an hour ago, and the Manly Ferry was about to pull out. I looked up, and there in the bow section was a man who looked a bit odd. I looked again and realised it was William Blake. He was dressed in the same clothes he used to wear in London, the same apparel he wears in the portraits and etchings. This blew my mind! William Blake, standing there with the other commuters as if it were completely normal. I decided I had to talk to him. I ran down the gangplank and rushed over to the other wharf where William’s ferry was pulling out, but it was too late. The ferry churned the dirty waters of the Quay until they turned white and pulled out. William Blake was standing up on the deck looking over towards Fairy Bower. It was incredible. I was so bitterly disappointed. Oh man, I’m still freaked out. I need a hit to get over it, really Brett. Have you got a hit? I mean, fuck man, William Blake on the Manly Ferry, you wouldn’t fucking believe it. I mean if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes...”

I decided to leave before the needles came out. I drove off through the narrow streets draped with honeysuckle and jasmine, up the steep avenues of jacaranda trees, heading for the Pacific Highway. On the way I amused myself, thinking what was in store for the young Driscoll when W.B.Yeats hit Sydney Harbour fishing for Waggas with his gang of Immortals. It surprised me that the crew at Lavender Bay had been so cut off from the poetry war. They mustn’t have read the Sydney Morning Herald, as there’d  been a front page story. If Driscoll really was an expert on the Symbolists as Brett claimed, it would be interesting to see what happened when he came face to face with Mallarme and the rest of the poets recovering in the Anglers Rest.

At Brooklyn things were back to normal. I dropped into Ian’s bait shop before I went into the pub. Ian makes the best coffee in Brooklyn, and besides he always knows the latest news. He writes the fishing report for the Bush Telegraph and is plugged into all the fact and gossip. There’s usually a mixed crew in Ian’s shop. Today there was J.S. Harry, Vicki Viidikas and Gig Ryan. They were all talking about the way David Brooks was writing reviews of their latest books and using a vegan’s measure to judge them - every time the word meat was used he deducted a point; each time a pumpkin came up there was an extra point. David Brooks was getting the reputation as the man who was most against live-bait fishing,  against fishing in every aspect. Vicki said to Gig “It’s ridiculous. Who cares what David Brooks says anyway? Who cares what any critic says in some academic journal? It’s not much different with vampires. They suck the blood out of the poetry.” Jan Harry said “But he’s a vegan, he can’t stand blood.” “Exactly,” said Gig.

Jack Spicer walked in: "Well, what’s happening? I want some live bloodworms.” “I don’t sell them,” said Ian. “There’s no call for them in Brooklyn, they’re all Jewie-mad around here. Mulloway Madness. They only want live squid. “Well, then,” said Spicer “I’ll have to open my own baitshop. I’ll sell bait and listen to the game on the radio as the worms crawl out the door. I’ll sell live prawns, poddy mullet, blood worms, squirt worms, pink nippers, green nippers, crabs, green weed, anything that moves.

There was a disturbance at the door. “Adamson keeps saying he’s going to give up fishing for Jewies and take up fishing for whiting and bone fish. What the fuck is a bone-fish?” It was Bill Wisley, and he was reaching for a plank. Vicki said “You’re all mad, stark raving mad.”

K. Slessor, at the Front.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Dispatch From The Front: Day 14

A Waggaist badge

Frederick Seidel’s tattoo

Blodgett and Stevens were in a bad way. After being bound and gagged, they’d been given a long-lasting hit of LIMP (Language-Intensified Monosyllabic Poetry), a drug the Red K had invented and developed in one of the science labs at Oxford. Seidel had been given a huge supply of the drug, which he’d brought with him to The Island to keep the Waggaists in line.

Behind their gags, the two poets had been spewing forth an unintelligible, seamless stream of verse that contained no similes, metaphors or internal rhyme. It was, as Wilding would say later, “a vile sound, stripped of all emotion, like hearing a conference paper on Language Poetry through a box of sand.”

Blodgett and Stevens had managed to crab and crawl their way to a dark corner of the Main Hall, and there they had remained, speaking garbage for days. As Wilding and Wallace-Crabbe emerged from the tunnel, they’d heard the confused, gnarled voices and had gone to investigate. After cutting the ropes and removing the gags, the horror of what they were hearing only intensified. Wilding was about to replace the gags, when Wallace-Crabbe threw himself over the poets and started sobbing. He was in the final stage of his trip, and through his exhaustion and hot-wired imagination, he began counseling Blodgett and Stevens, telling them that “nothing decays, life is not tragic.” When Wallace-Crabbe had finished, Wilding helped him and the other poets to their feet. It had worked. They’d stopped the rank onslaught of words. Then, like figures awakened from a Goya painting, they walked quietly out of the hall.

Bukowski had heard and seen enough. He tore down the chicken wire cage and hurled the rolls of hexagons away. He grabbed Dorn and lifted him from the Drunken Boat. Dorn tried to hit him, but his wild swings went over Hank’s head. Rimbaud started swearing and hurled a copy of Enid Starkey’s biography. “Lies! He screamed. “Ugly lies! My life was much darker and more violent that what’s in there!” Billy, Dusty and Frank came quietly. They knew a finishing-line when they saw one. Baudelaire had already left the cage and was standing in the shadows, smoking and drinking. Bukowski saw the red glow and the faint gleam of his absinthe bottle. “Get your Symbolist ass over here now, Charles!”

When they were standing in a tight, sorry group, Hank began telling them of his plan. Then he stopped. He’d never had a plan in his life and wasn’t about to start making one now. “Ah fuck it,” he said. “Let’s just get out of here.” As they were leaving the room, Billy Gibbons came up to Bukowski and said “What about Burroughs? He’ll come in handy. We need a good road manager.” Hank cursed. He’d forgotten about Bill. This tripping bunch of madmen had demanded all his attention. He asked Billy to take the others down to the wharf, and went to get Bill.

Entering the Beluga Vault, he found Bill asleep on a huge mound of empty jars. The room, once stained and littered, was now akin to a crime scene in a caviar-processing factory. The walls were completely black. Burroughs himself was a wet, dark figure, barely discernible among the wreckage. He might have been a huge sturgeon, gasping for air on black sand by the Caspian Sea. Bukowski tried waking him. He took him by the shoulders and shook him violently. He even tried quoting a line from the Red K’s Salt in the Wound, knowing how much it irritated Bill, but he would not stir. In desperation, he took Bill’s Colt .45 from its holster and fired off four quick rounds. Bill leapt to his feet and reached for his gun. Seeing the Colt in Bukowski’s hand, he narrowed his eyes until they were slits and said “Relinquish that weapon or eat dust like an extra in Gunsmoke.“Welcome back, Bill,” Hank said, and handed the revolver over.

John Berryman had taken Geoffrey Hill into the oldest bar in the Angler’s Rest. The decor was just as it was in the 1950’s, with formica tables, hard-backed wooden chairs, and an old-fashioned cash register that chimed with each sale. Few people used the room now. Berryman wanted Hill’s full attention.

Sitting in the corner, a small lamp casting a pool of light upon his dark coat and weaving hands, Berryman was animated and theatrical, embuing each word with loving detail. He began by commenting on the red flying fox attack at the citadel: “Bats have no bankers and they do not drink and cannot be arrested and pay no tax and, in general, bats have it made.” He then moved swiftly into new, serious territory. He read DREAM SONG 29: There Sat Down, Once, a Thing On Henry’s Heart - a poem Geoffrey Hill knew well. He had used it many times with his students at the University of Leeds.

As Berryman read, a chill went up Hill’s spine and into his neck. He was overcome with vertigo. Leaning forward, captivated and in complete disarray, it dawned on him that Berryman’s poem - indeed the entire DREAM SONG sequence - was about a live-bait called Henry. 
There sat down, once, a thing on Henry’s heart
so heavy, if he had a hundred years
& more, & weeping, sleepless, in all them time
Henry could not make good.
Starts again always in Henry’s ears
the little cough somewhere, an odour, a chime.
Clearly this was a reference to reincarnation - the endless life-cycle of the live-bait. The little cough of an approaching mulloway, and its sweet, predatory odour. The chime of a chemically-sharpened hook on a harbour stone...
Berryman continued:
And there is another thing he has in mind
like a grave Sienese face a thousand years
would fail to blur the still profiled reproach of. Ghastly,
with open eyes, he attends, blind.
All the bells say: too late. This is not for tears;
Geoffrey felt the room bend and shake. The reference to a Waggafish was unmistakable. He was finding it hard to breathe. He couldn’t take much more. And finally this:
But never did Henry, as he thought he did,
end anyone and hacks her body up
and hide the pieces, where they may be found.
He knows: he went over everyone, & nobody’s missing.
Often he reckons, in the dawn, them up.
Nobody is ever missing.
Geoffrey Hill’s heart was racing. His mouth was dry. Berryman was detailing the secret nature, thoughts and fears of a live-bait: a slimy mackerel or yellowtail. It was about the guilt Henry endures and subsequently conceals after witnessing the murder, by a pelagic hunter, of the bait-school.

When John Berryman had finished reading, Geoffrey Hill excused himself and went into the bathroom. He stood leaning on the basin, looking at himself in the mirror. “Brilliant,” he said to his reflection. “Brilliant and dangerous,” his reflection replied. When he went back to the bar, Berryman was gone. On the table he found a napkin with a drawing, in red ink, of a small fish. Beside the fish, Berryman had written: “Henry is a survivor. His wounds grow over. It is the endless cycle, Mr Hill.”

High in the citadel, Shelby was now into his fifth copy of The Immigrant Chronicles. He’d tried eating the poems in strips, in crunched-up balls and as neatly-folded pages. They all tasted the same: like passport-control at the border between Sentiment and Longing. Seidel was in the corner, spitting out lines of vacuous rubbish. He’d taken off his shirt, revealing the tattoo he’d had done on his chest to celebrate becoming commander of the Waggiasts: a black swan against a red background. To take his mind off the hunger and thirst, he’d injected himself with LIMP. He knew his mouth would be off and running for at least five hours, but it was better than listening to Shelby complain.

The Waggaists had thrown down their weapons and were sitting in the grass. Having collected the wheat-grass guns and thrown the mortar canon into the lake, Rodney Hall and the poets walked among the beaten crowd. Seeing them up close was both a shock and revelation. They were nothing special. Men and women in red coats, their badges declaring allegiance to the Red K.

Rodney walked up the hill and turned to address them: “The war is over. The Red K’s work on The Island has come to an end. If you choose to surrender quietly and with dignity, you will not be harmed. Good work awaits you. As I speak, W.B. Yeats is gathering a vast team to patrol the waters of Australia to bring an end to this Waggafish scourge once and for all. He needs deck-hands, cooks, publicity people, craftsmen and women, guides... If you choose to accept these conditions, you must also promise to abandon all study and interest in Red Language. It must be obvious to you now, that this heinous form of so-called poetry has done nothing but lead you astray. It has crippled your lyrical tendencies and infected your heads and hearts. It has hollowed you out and turned you into followers, not original thinkers.” A Waggaist raised his hand. “Can I keep my copy of The Silo Manifesto? The Red K signed it for me.” Rodney nodded to Richard Hugo, who walked over to the Waggaist, picked him up, carried him down to the lake and threw him in. The Waggaist waded back to shore, but was once again hurled out into the deep. There was a loud, mournful moaning as the lake’s surface trembled, bubbled, then shattered. The dissenter was taken down.

When the red water had settled, Rodney continued. “Any other requests?” he asked. A Waggaist stood up. “We’ll need to go into rehab,” she said. “We are all addicted to LIMP.” Rodney motioned for Judith Beveridge to join him on the hill. Judith smiled and walked over. “I will be taking you to Mangrove Mountain,” she said. “There we will embark on a two-week meditation course and read William Stafford, Sharon Olds, Mary Oliver and Li-Young Lee. By the end of this course, LIMP will no longer be a problem.” Mary Oliver spoke up. “I’d like to thank you for suggesting my work. In Boston, people can’t find my books in the poetry section, they’ve all been shelved under Self-Help and Spiritual Growth.” Mary looked around. “Have you noticed how the bullrushes shed their velvet when we look at them, how the lakeside grass demands nothing from the wind? Why even the Waggafish are beautiful in their raw desire. This morning, as I...” “Thankyou Mary,” Rodney said loudly. “Now, I’d like the prisoners to form two orderly lines and walk slowly back to the wharf. We will be following and watching you closely.”

Bill beard had returned to the watchtower after seeing Phil Spector’s violent end. He was drinking a beer when something caught his eye. Glassing the hill, he saw two red lines coming over the crest. The Waggaists were walking slowly, heads down, hands by their sides. Their red coats and hats were gone. Behind them, the pagers and stagers were strolling along, some with mounds of red fabric in their arms, others carrying guns and sling-shots.

Bill finished his beer and climbed down from the tower. At the base he took an axe and started chopping. Each swing took a white wedge from the ancient wood. Soon he heard the tree creaking and cracking. After one more mighty blow, the tree trembled, cracked loudly, and began to fall. Bill ran back and watched. It leaned and toppled, throwing branches and clumps of leaves. The small shelter that had been his home came crashing down with the canopy and disappeared into the surrounding trees. He took a deep breath. He didn’t look back as he walked off in the direction of the wharf.

K. Slessor, at the Front.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Dispatch From The Front: Day 13

Bill Beard’s watchtower

The University of Sydney's Robert Fowler (Dean of Genetics) awarded Geoffrey Hill his honorary degree, Doctor of Live Bait,  March 9 2010.

John Berryman

The Waggaists who’d been trying to flank Spector and Dickey had skirted the northern base of the hill and had come face to face with the kind of poetry they most feared: conviction fuelled by attention to technique and craft. They weren’t used to it. It disturbed them. Under the leadership of the Red K, they’d come to understand and develop a deep appreciation of his motto: Write, Self-Promote, Publish Everything, Repeat. Yet here, out of control and out of their comfort zone, they were slammed by the stagers and book-ended by the pagers. They were printed in limited editions by the grains of planks and distributed to all parts of the valley by Zest. Jayne Fenton Keane took out three red fools with a stream-of-consciousness rave about beer bottles. Peter Boyle translated a wayward ampule of wheatgrass juice and chili oil into a glass of Spanish wine, then drank it.
Spector and Dickey were dodging mortar shells and trying to get the Mustang clear of the mud. They’d jammed a few lance-ends and cross-bow bolts under the tyres. Phil had seen the poets coming, but concern for his battered car had taken all his attention. Death of a Lady’s Man was on the stereo. When Memories came on, Phil climbed in, cranked up the volume and kicked the big V8 into life. It growled and spat as the tyres found purchase, and slowly the Mustang emerged from the deep twin grooves in the grass. “Almost clear!” Dickey shouted.
Bill Beard had grabbed a jousting lance when he saw that the poets and Waggaists were about to met head-on. He mimed snapping shut the perforated metal visor on a helmet. He whispered into the ear of an armoured, stamping stallion. He lifted the heavy, candy-striped lance and tucked the handle under his arm. He wanted to scream something memorable as he ran down the hill into battle. He wanted to make a real impression with his arrival. But as he stumbled down the bank, his lance dug into the earth and he was levered high, kicking and flailing. He came down on the head of a Waggaist who thought that standing your ground and reciting the Red K’s poems was a good tactic in a time of war. Bill flattened him, then got to his feet to cheering and clapping. “Do that again!” said Peter Rose as he ran past, his spray-can at the ready.
“Get out of my fucking way!” Phil Spector yelled as the Mustang roared down the hill. Everyone but Richard Hugo did as they were told. As the Mustang leapt and rumbled over the grass, Hugo sidestepped at the last moment and tossed a smoke grenade through the open window. Dickey climbed out through the sun-roof and dived clear. When the grenade went off, the Mustang started swerving. Spector was losing control. Blinded by smoke and shaken by the blast, he tried wrestling the car back into line but it was useless. He went sideways with smoke pouring from the windows and sun-roof, and then he over-corrected. The Mustang went into a fatal broadside, then flipped. It went into the air and landed on its side in the lake. “Play Smoke on the Water, Phil!” Nigel Roberts shouted.
The Waggaists and poets had stopped fighting. Philip Levine stood with his plank raised, open-mouthed and breathing heavily. J.S. Harry released her grip on the red collar of the Waggaist she’d felled with a talking rabbit. David McCooey gave his beaten adversary a shove, and the weeping Waggaist went down.
Phil Spector climbed from the smoking wreck. The muted, bubbling strains of Romance in Durango drifted up from the dying stereo. As he waded to the bank, a pair of black swans went for him, honking and thrusting their long necks, their red beaks tearing at his clothes and hands. Phil was fending them off, waist-deep in the muddy water, when a loud, low moaning sound filled the air. The swans retreated, flying off towards the river. Phil looked around. The water began to ripple and swirl, then erupted. A Waggafish in excess of eighty kilos came crashing through the surface and took hold of Spector’s head. It clamped its terrible jaws together, buckled sideways, and dragged Phil down. As it went deep, Spector’s black shoes cut a ragged V in the surface. The water had turned a deep, turbulent red. 
When the lake was calm and the music had stopped, no-one spoke or moved. It was Rodney Hall that broke the silence. “Now, where were we?” he asked, and looked around, a faint smile playing over his lips.
I’d had enough violence for one day. I needed a pink gin, and wanted nothing more than to drop anchor in Jerusalem Bay for the night, sit out on the deck, drink gin and listen to mullet slapping the surface. I climbed aboard Wallace-Crabbe’s Halvorsen cruiser and headed to Brooklyn for supplies.
As I was about to walk into the general store, Geoffrey Hill walked down the stairs of the Angler’s Rest. He said he wanted breakfast, and was about to ask Griffo where the best place would be. The Rest’s cook didn’t clock-on until lunch. Before Hill could find the publican he ran into a man sitting on the stairs. This fellow had a long beard and was stooped over, muttering “Life friends is boring but we must not say so,” along with phrases of disjointed syntax that nevertheless impressed Hill with haunting implications. The man was John Berryman. He had been with the poets on The Island, but found the war, like life, to be boring. He was drinking straight from a bottle of vodka. “Are you a swoffer or a live bait man?” he asked Hill. “Neither. When I fish I always use a spinner-bait. I learnt to fish for sea-bass in Dublin when I was running a poetry workshop with  Seamus Heaney ” Berryman ignored this. “But do you think the live bait feels pain as it swims against the tide with a chemically sharpened hook pierced through its shoulder?” he asked. “Of course it feels pain,” said Hill. “Not only does it feel pain, it prays to the Lord of Fishes.” “Remarkable,” said Berryman. “That’s a loaded sidewinder of a sentence. So the fish is capable of thought, then?” “I didn’t say that at all,” Hill insisted. “Yet I do believe the live-bait is a survivor. These fish are sacrificed and are reincarnated as live-bait again. They may go down the throat of a blue-nosed whiting as a blood worm, only to return as a poddy mullet, to be swallowed in turn by a huge dusky flathead, & so on.” “Well, my new friend, that’s a damn bad thought.” Berryman was becoming agitated: “Bait-fish: survivors of the food chain. Perhaps God ought to be curbed. God sounds like a slob, playful, rough-hewn. The oceans are one vast Martini without an olive or a twist of zest. And besides you’re playing around with words again.” At this Hill growled and spluttered. “Look here. It’s the moral copula, it takes the accidentality from history, the fatalism from science. The moral copula’s not just grammatical, it’s attuned to the minute particulars of grammar and etymology.” “Well, my friend, that sounds like something to do with old Sam Coleridge,” replied Berryman, plucking broken strands from his long greying beard. “And as I said before you started me on all this stuff of despair: “Life friends is boring.”
Hill shook his head like a prize fighter, he wasn’t going to let Berryman fob him off with that stale old line. He gathered his thoughts, but Geoffrey Hill  was so agitated he forgot his high moral stance and let go with one below the belt: “Is life also boring to a live-bait—for instance: does a live-bait know that it is a live-bait?” “Oh yes, yes, yes’ Berryman shuddered, coughed in a hacking spasm and went red, he’d been caught out. “Yes, yes, I have been a live-bait man since my time in Florida, I learned how to live-bait from Wallace Stevens. He used to fish with me when he came over on his holidays. Wally was a gun bone-fish man, when the others were swoffing Wally was using blood-worms, when the others were casting their artificial crab-flies for permit Wally was using live-manna crabs.  He taught me everything I know, he blooded me on the sandflats of Florida Keys. We were silent killers, live-baiting by sight, polaroiding in the early mornings and late sunsets.” Hill’s eyes were opening wider as Berryman raved about live-bait: “And how do you feel about it now?” Berryman shook his head sadly. “That’s where I get this heaviness of soul: the pleasure and the guilt.”
The hunt with its twin-kill, the live-bait eaten by the catch, the catch eaten by the hunter. Wally taught me that too, if we have to exist in a goddamn food chain, then it’s best to exist at the top. “The imagination, the one reality in this imagined world” is how he put it, to imagine the bone-fish hovering like a blonde shadow over the blonde sand. The live crab descending through the water column, its legs sending the vibrations out to the receptors along the side of the bonefish; then the crushing jaws, the death strike.” Hill was shaking with anticipation. “So you want to know if the live bait knows it is in fact a live-bait?” Hill nodded gravely, “ Totally, they have souls like gentle honey-eaters. They hover in the tide with a great red hook through their shoulder, they see the shadow of the bone-fish, the mulloway, the stingray or the shark. They are super aware, they have the sensitivity of an ancient job fish, they know their fate and they never accept it until the jaws of a predator close around their heads.” “My God,” said, Hill “You are a monster, a cold-hearted remorseless killer.”  Berryman, opened his arms and wiped the air with his right hand “O ho alas when will indifference come, I moan and rave, and I spit upon this dreadful banker’s grave who shot his heart out in a Florida dawn.” But Geoffrey Hill was a harder man,  he caught Berryman’s attention, fixed him with a raptor’s eye and slowly said: “A beast is slain, a beast thrives. Fat blood squeaks on the sand. A blinded god believes that he is not blind.”
K. Slessor, the Front.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Dispatch From The Front: Day 12

The interior of Phil Spector’s customised Shelby Mustang

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

K. Slessor, the Front.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Dispatch From The Front: Day 11

James Dickey in his cabin on the shores of Lake Marie.
He is writing a letter to Phil Spector, detailing directions to The Island.

The KonaHead Live-Bait lure, designed by W.B. Yeats.

Phil Spector’s badge.

Sign on the wall of the Angler’s Rest hotel.

Bill Beard reached the top of the hill and looked down into the valley. The lake was a compact mirror dusted with changing light. The surrounding trees and low shrubs were a watercolour bleed on textured, beige paper. Bill glassed the scene. The Waggaists had gathered at the lake’s far edge, and were standing in the water, reaching into bullrushes and retrieving what seemed to be small red packets, which they then placed into backpacks and shoulder bags. They looked like a mass baptismal congregation, their reflection a red algal bloom. Many had the new, heavy-duty, rapid-fire guns slung over their shoulders. On the bank was a wheat-grass mortar canon. He’d heard of this. It could fling a one kilo cartridge of wheatgrass juice and black chili oil almost a kilometer, and was extremely accurate.

Having taken what they needed from the rushes, they stood in a tight, animated and agitated group. The wind changed direction, and Bill heard a few words and phrases: “Shelby and Seidel” “Forsaken” “Ruthless” “Intentions” “Final stand” “the Red K wanted.” Bill spoke into the two-way. “Bill to Rodney, over.” Nothing. “Bill Beard to Rodney Hall, come in, over.” Bill stood up and considered his options. It was an hour’s walk to the wharf, and quite frankly he couldn’t be bothered. Rodney Hall rarely contacted him, and the other poets couldn’t give a flying fox. Up until now he hadn’t worried about his isolation. He’d had much to reflect upon, and was filling notebooks with poems. But now he’d had enough. He glassed the citadel. The needle-tower and Waggafish gargoyles; the high, fortified windows and ornate carved panels on the sandstone walls. What did it mean? Poetry had always been a simple affair. You read it, wrote it, talked about it and, if it was good enough it, you published it. There’d always been a bit of in-flighting. It went with the territory. But this was insane. Who was the Red K? He thought he knew, yet now it seemed this figure might well be mythical, a name invented by charismatic leaders who had conned a large group into following their Language-driven scheme. And what the fuck was the scheme? His head was reeling.
Looking down to the lake, he saw that the Waggaists were on the move. They were coming around the left side of the lake. The mortar canon was being wheeled on its carriage. He lay down on his stomach in the grass and watched them. He tried calling Rodney again. He was about to retreat down the hill and return to the watchtower, when he heard a great thundering roar. He lifted the binoculars and scanned the beach and plain leading up to the hill. In the far distance, a Shelby Mustang was fish-tailing and ripping up grass and throwing clods of mud in its wake. As it got nearer, The Stone’s Gimme Shelter was blasting from the car. He’d never heard anything like it. He might have been standing close to the stage at an open-air Stones concert, except this was even louder. Birds had taken flight. The black swans on the lake were rising and flapping their wings in terror. The combination of the growling V8 and stereo was overwhelming. At the wheel, Phil Spector was a study in manic concentration. He was hunched forward, his black hair combed perfectly into place, his mirror shades shining. Standing up, his upper body through the sun roof and dressed in jungle fatigues, James Dickey was holding a jousting lance. His hair was blown back and he was smiling broadly, a flare gun clamped in his teeth.
Back at Brooklyn, in the Angler’s Rest, the atmosphere was a mix of the fumes from roll-yr-owns and drafts of passionate intensity. On the wall was a series of photos, trophy fish: huge mulloway, great broad-backed flathead with heads like shovels, huge blue-nosed bream and even a massive hammerhead. There was a vintage photo of the wharf at Mooney - along the side of a boat-shed, the heads of flathead were nailed up, forty or so, then right at the end, like an intimation of things to come, a very strange and freaky head indeed.  The jaws of this creature were similar to a the jaws of a rabbit-trap, its teeth were still firmly implanted, the plated skull bones were like the ghost of static electricity, translucent and almost red in colour, even though it was a sepia photograph. This room had been the meeting place of the Mooney Mooney Fishing Club. Members met here to talk of their catches and also to organize the seasonal fishing competitions, and after the meetings, a floating poker-game moved in.
Willie Yeats was winding up his lecture. His voice was an incantation, and he moved his hands to conduct his pace, which was measured and slow. He explained the new Wagga-rod, embellishing the finer points. By the time he was finished, quiet a crowd gathered in the small room. Even the sons of old Zebedee were standing at the door, smoking, pretending not to listen. Jim and Jack were now standing with their old mate from way up the river, Simon the Hook. Yeats was about to make a point, when he was interrupted by a chain of coughing spasms. The pungent fumes of White Ox were heavy in the air, and even as Simon coughed his lungs up, Jack was lighting another smoke. From the jukebox in the main bar the strains of The Streets Of Baltimore could be heard;  there were more oystermen moving towards the back room, not certain if they should heckle or listen in to W. B. Yeats’ hypnotic voice mingling with the delicate country music of Gram Parsons.
Willie seized the opportunity the moment created. He stood there completely silent for a few minutes until the sounds in the room gradually fell away. He then opened a long velvet box. His timing was perfect. Inside was the new Konahead experimental Waggafish live-bait lure. “This magnificent artificial was designed for one thing,” he said, holding the sleek lure by its skirts above his head. “A projectile to carry live bait through the air in a long cast. The head of the livie is threaded through the skirt of the lure and two chemically sharpened hooks are threaded through the bait. This new Waggafish Konahead can be used for beach fishing as well as trolling.”
“All this comprises the Waggafish specific gear - the rod, the reel, the special Irish 200lb braid. There is only one hard and fast rule: live bait must be used at all times.” Simon the Hook cheered. Devin Johnston looked nervously at Creeley who was smiling broadly. “Just listen to Willie’s cadences: the line breaks, enjambments, breath... listen to his beautiful chanting accent. You’d think he was back at the Lake Isle of Innisfree about to cast for a silver trout.” Creeley poured another Jim Beam for himself and Devin. “This is useful gear,” he said, raising his glass. “We’ll take a couple of rods and when the show on the Island is over, we’ll go to town and fish for Waggas under the Harbour Bridge at midnight. We’ll fish the Opera House at dawn. The city Waggas wont be expecting anything like this. They might remember Dickey’s cross-bow, and there’s bound to be a few with his arrows dangling from their sides - that might turn out to be Dickey’s method of tagging!” 
Creeley stopped talking as Frank Webb walked into the back room and caught sight of the sons of Zebedee. Frank went into a rage and started clearing the room. “All out!” he shouted. “Move it now, you useless red bastards!” Frank though it was a meeting of communists. He couldn’t bear the thought of the Sons of Zebedee setting eyes upon this meeting of red agents against Christ the Lord. Devin rushed over to Frank and handed him a copy of Robert Duncan’s book Letters, and quoted a few lines. It calmed Webb down straight away. Devin said “Come on, Frank, let’s go out and look for Basil and Ezra, they'll  know what to do.” Then Vickie Viidikas burst into the Angler’s. “No dancing on the dance floor! What kind of shitty dump is this? I thought there’d be poetry workshops, dancing words and spirits dancing with ice and fire. I thought it would be all condition red: passion and eloquence. And what have we got? Retarded killjoys, Symbolists lecturing Symbolists. Where’s the reality? Get a grip.  Forget the hunt, killing, the live-bait. Where’s the perfect line, the zest for life, the passion?” “Zest for life,” repeated Creeley. “What an unfortunate choice of words.” 
Just then I became aware of a glowering presence somewhere in the room. One could feel the atmosphere being squeezed into a glad-bag - some silence vacuum cleaner sucking the essence out of the crowd. People starting stubbing out their butts, fishermen shuffled and looked about uneasily. Even Yeats looked unsettled - this new, harsh atmosphere reminded him of a seance, of the transmigration of a soul, something eerie.  
Griffo, always the publican with a weather-eye for trouble, came into the room and turned on the big flood lights. Over in the far corner, crouched in a chair with his back to the wall, was a gnarled and conservatively dressed figure. Even in the full blaze of Griffo's floodlight, this figure was actually glowing, his face radiating an intense haze of inner light. The hunched figure muttered a few tightly rhymed words that were incomprehensible to the men and women of the Angler's Rest. “Who the fuck is that clown?” asked Bill Wisely. “I'm afraid to say,” Creeley replied, “that it's Geoffrey Hill!” “Barry fucking Hill? I've sold him squid,” said Ian, the squid man.  “The Red Hill,” said Peter Minter. “The curse of Castlemaine.” “No, not Barry Hill,” Creeley said, taking up the bottle of Jim Beam and having a decent slug. I said, “Geoffrey Hill. That man sitting there like the shadow of doubt, is Geoffrey Hill."    
At this stage, for some reason only known only to them, the sons of old Zebedee unleashed a box of big mud crabs that went scuttling across the floor, their great mottled claws snapping the air. “If I were a pair of ragged claws,” Webb started to quote, but before he could finish the line Bill Wisely had whipped the muddies into his airline bags and rushed off towards the Fisherman's Co Op. 
“This meeting was over before it began,” said Basil Bunting on his late arrival at the door. “What the heck does that mean?” asked Jack Zeb?” “It means,” said Basil, that “the spuggies are fledged.”
Out in the Angler’s Rest beer-garden, people had stopped talking and were staring off into the distance, their faces upturned. A series of red flares had gone up, followed by a ragged, loud music arriving on a warm tide of wind. Creeley walked outside. He saw the flares, heard the music. “The  Island is about to blow,” he said “Spector is hunting.”
Having heard the music, the Waggaists started running over the field next to the lake. They were trying to reach a small stand of swamp gums about five hundred yards away. When the Shelby Mustang reached the crest of the hill, Spector threw it into a sideways swerve and the gleaming, thundering machine came to a standstill. Bill Beard had to dig in to the earth and lean forward to keep from being blown off the hill. He had his hands clapped to his ears. Spector was shouting and waving his arms. Dickey was grinning. Bill staggered to keep his balance and pointed down to the lake. Phil got out, grabbed Bill’s binoculars and glassed the valley. Then he turned to Dickey and made a series of angular sweeps with his arms. Dickey nodded, threw down the lance, ran to the side of the car and unclipped a massive cross-bow bolt. It’s explosive zest-head was the size of a grapefruit. He put the bolt into the groove of the mounted cross-bow. Spector turned down the volume and yelled at Dickey. “Make this count,” he yelled and positioned the Mustang. Dickey looked through the cross-bow sights and raised the weapon slightly. “Okay!” he shouted. Spector put the car into neutral and slammed his foot on the accelerator. There was a loud crack and the bolt flew high and fast. In their panic, the Waggaists began running into each other. The bolt hit one of them in he chest and exploded. A great shower of zest went flying in all directions. They were screaming and falling to the ground, covering their faces. “Another!” Spector yelled. Dickey reloaded and positioned the cross-bow, the car engine roared, and another bolt went out into the field. Three Waggaists who’d had a rush of blood to the head and who were running towards the hill, were obliterated. The explosion ripped off their red coats and blinded them instantly. 
Bill was in shock. He was torn between running for cover himself, and sprinting back to the watchtower, where he could witness the slaughter in safety. “Where are the rest of the poets?” he shouted. Dickey was reloading the cross-bow. “They wanted to come, but I told them to forget it. They’d only get in the way and besides,” he said, positioning the weapon, “we want the glory, don’t we Phil!” Spector was laughing insanely. “We want the glory and the money, Jim. I told them I don’t play well with others, and I fucking mean it. Dickey’s the exception.” Phil cranked the stereo up again, and Blue Oyster Cult’s Don’t Fear The Reaper shredded the air.

K. Slessor, the Front