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« Interview with Tzimon Barto: Languages, Poetry and Education [by Lera Auerbach] | Main | Frank, Fred, and Elvis »

February 25, 2022


Fascinating! I think "infinitive."


I don't suppose O'Hara was referring to this in his Personism Manifesto -- "the nostalgia of the infinite" vs. "the nostalgia for the infinite"?

David, magnifico!

Thank you, Stephanie, and you, Bob. So far the vote is going 50-50.

Leaping Lehman! Thanks for this. Here's another vote for "infinitive."

I vote infinite. Great to encounter Malley once again.

The influence of Ern Malley on Australian Poetry had to wait a generation or so before it fully bloomed. Meanwhile the legend has it that the conservative forces represented by Messrs McAuley & Stewart had won, and no-one dared to write in the tradition that Ern represented. Few wanted to run the laughing stock risk. True to a point, but this doesn't take into account the visionary works of Francis Webb [who can more than hold his own with the Robert Lowell of the 40s & early 50s] and the fact that many emerging poets throughout English such Bishop, Wilbur and Larkin were returning to 'basics'.

Still by the time the counter-acting influence of the Beats, the New York School, the Black Mountaineers etc had crossed the Pacific a new breed of younger poets were willing to follow in Ern's footsteps. Among these was that very fine poet New Zealand born Nigel Roberts who established his own roneo'd little magazine Free Poetry, based in the inner-Sydney suburb of Balmain. And it was free being handed out in bars and at readings for nothing. Doubtless similar was occurring throughout our language from Merseyside to the Bay Area via the Lower Eastside.

And then following in the Malley tradition came the ultimate one-off, a similar publication entitled Free Grass, featuring a number of young men [and one young woman] none had heard of before, writing hyper-expressive young folk poetry with manifestos & bio-notes to match. And who could have guessed that the poet John Tranter had, utilising the spirit of Ern, in somewhat reverse, concocted Free Grass one Saturday afternoon.

Around this time of course there had to be the Anthology representing the above poetry explosion and in 1970 Australian Poetry Now edited by Tom Shapcott fitted that bill perfectly, completed with not just poems but biographical notes and statements of poetics, both of which at times outdid the poems for sheer druggy-madness. Among many new poets was a Tasmanian, Timothy Kline, writer of witty, pithy verse with witty pithy Bio and statement to match. You bet they were since they were written by the much older Gwen Harwood a poet who had a reputation for inventing poets and sending forth poems under their name, just like McAuley and Stewart.

And then there was Your Friendly Fascist edited by the late [and amazing] Rae Desmond Jones [Rae was male & spelt his name that way]. This Free Poetry style magazine often contained weird and wonderful verse from the bi-sexual, Chinese-Malay, Billy Ah-Lun, whose life and career Rae would delight in expounding at dinner-parties and the like for decades. A strange little man who may or may not be living in Sydney...he just sent these great, sniggeringly provocative poems. Of course years later Rae admitted that he indeed was Billy.

As in the days of Ern the times demanded such poets, for there was the tragic hippy-poet Toby Nicholson, though his life, career and a few poems thereof could only be found years later in my verse novel The Lovemakers.

During my time at the University of Wollongong I would give a lecture on Ern, the Free Grass crowd, Timothy Kline, Billy Ah-Lun and Toby Nicholson only exposing them at the end as inventions, though let's face no more 'inventions' than the heteronyms of Fernando Pessoa! Then I'd challenge the students to invent their own poet and write his/her poems together with bio-notes and statement of poetics.

I also had a scheme whereby I had the classes write Group Sestinas and Group Villanelles. When after many years I decided to publish these in book form I asked Billy and Timothy to supply blurb-quotes. In the Spirit of Ern to was the least I could do.

1070...not quite...1970!

INFINITIVE, no contest.

Thanks to all for their comments -- and special thanks to Alan for his info-packed post.

Timothy Kline's blurb quote for 'With the Youngsters' my collection of Group Sestinas & Group Villanelles reads: "Why didn't we know this would be the future: the disciplined anarchy of poetry at its most democratic, everything James McAuley feared and Ern Malley worshipped."
The volume's title comes from Art Blakey.

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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


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