On an evening in 1970 my friend John Edwards and I were lamenting our fate. The literary revolution of 1968/9 had happened, and we had been passed by and pissed on, left in the wash as the great ship of poetic modernism steamed further into the distance. We complained and felt sorry for ourselves. I wrote a really bad play full of pretentious bullshit: the only good thing about it was the acting, especially by John and Patrick Alexander. I learned from this invaluable experience that I had been writing crap. All young writers would benefit from such an experience. I learned what I had been doing wrong: I was just starting to do a few things right. I was 29. John was 25. The first poem in which my voice came through was published that year by Nigel Roberts. From memory, it was all about Mother fucking and drugs and truck drivers who wanted to get fellated in return for a lift. The future was rolling out before me, but I didn’t know it. We decided to publish a magazine. Neither of us had much money. Finding poets wasn’t hard. Finding good ones was difficult.
We trawled. What we got was, mostly, terrible. We looked at it, and thought deep about not doing anything. After smoking something illegal, we came up with some incoherent inspiration: take bad poetry and make it an assault on the bland and the comfortable. What could be more in your face in 1970 than Fascism? The first issue was so badly printed on a gestetner that it is impossible to copy. It was cheap, and it was fun. John Tranter gazed thoughtfully at it and pronounced “mmm. Lots of energy here, not much control …” He was right. We were making a virtue out of energy taking us … well, where ever. It was about 5 years before punk.
Despite all of our worst efforts some interesting poetry came out of the bubbling sink of Your Friendly Fascist. Andy Rose, a young man of Jewish extraction, wrote for the magazine for several years before going around Australian with Allen Ginsberg: he died of dysentery in India a few years later. He became a friend, and his poetry has a lyric quality rare in the pages of YFF:
……….a young californian
………climbed into a Cessna
………aimed the plane pacificwards
……..till he ran out of
crashed into the sea /
It reflects something of the deliberate naivety of the time. Andy had the intensity of an early Bob Dylan. It would become cliché quickly, but he wrote well, with more control than most.
Some of those who appeared in the grimy early pages of Your Friendly Fascist went on to establish themselves as respectable poets: Joanne Burns, who adapted her comic sensibility to the self- mockery of the magazine:
lonely galleries / i aspire
clay models of desire
i’ll huff and i’ll puff
…………kick their roofs in
(YFF 11th issue)
In the same issue, Graham Rowlands was a pupil who
.. later … knew why
he threw palm tree nuts at God …
Carol Novack, who published in the fascist, eventually went back to the USA to become a lawyer in New York. After several years, disillusioned with the Democratic Party she returned to poetry and began the Mad Hatter’s Review, and the Mad Hatter’s Press. Her literary career was just beginning after the publication of Giraffes in Hiding (Spuyten Duyvil, published September 15, 2010), when she passed away in December 2011. In the Fascist she wrote as
the last of the sirens
she was born too evolved
the monster genes had receded
into memory with her mother’s death …
The young Debbie Westbury put her head above the sand dunes of the South Coast to confess all:
……….We were making love, / or something, / when his name escaped / from my mouth / open against your throat //you chose to ignore it / my love faltered / but you never missed a beat / that’s the way we are / these days.
The Fascist had a serious side. Patrick Alexander (who passed away in 2005, and is much remembered) tended to write with a sonorous rhetoric distinct from the robust outpourings elsewhere:
And for the presentee this trivial
Screeding on the glass has a trite importance …
In YFF 6, Patrick did find himself in curious company:
Peter Brown was a dope smoking colleague of mine on the night shift at the then international telephone exchange. Brown’s creativity was stimulated by the shrieks of transvestite telephonists who congregated in the exchange after closing time. His cartoons found their natural place in Your Friendly Fascist.
Michael Sharkey put in an early appearance:
Jack be nimble
Jack be weird
Jack hides roaches in his beard
As did Gig Ryan:
See, in my head, the hole they’re shooting?
What happened to those buildings, that maze?
Does everything crumble, or hurt?
A youthful Richard Tipping wrote especially for the magazine, a poem titled FASCIST COOKING (a recipe for violence) :
SHARPEN YOUR BLADE, ADJUST THE GAS…..
GRIND THE PEPPER, SQUEEZE THAT LEMON DRY.
THE OVEN IS NOW BLOODY HOT AND YOUR SIMMERING.
ENJOY AS YOU DESTROY. OUT OF THE FRYING PAN SOMETHING
SLOUCHES TOWARD BETHLEHEM TO BE BORN. BON APETIT!
Joseph Chetcutti forcefully made the case for gay seduction:
Distraught, I told him / we had to stop seeing each other // he, in turn, / switched off the bedside lamp.
There are lots more, but I’d better stop before accumulating too much kharma from furious poets regretting their youthful fascist follies.
When my first marriage failed, Your Friendly Fascist found itself in situ in a downstairs room at 9 Arcadia Rd, Glebe, where mushrooms grew through the wall in wet weather. Ken Bolton was artist in residence, along with Denis Gallagher and sundry others. Ken’s career was in its infancy and he needed a publication to practice on. While Ken understood very well the proto- punk seditious humour of Friendly Fascism, he brought a different sensibility to the process. This is most easily seen in a comparison between the cover of Number 2 (the one at the beginning with the eggbeater … ) and Ken’s covers:
The brutalist Brown-inspired drawings are by me. The layout is Ken’s: despite my best efforts he achieved just a touch of … elegance. Ken continued to refine his own interpretation of Fascist left wing anarchy:
From there, ken practiced further, editing his own edition of Your Friendly Fascist:
Voila! The most beautiful Fascist of them all.
Your Friendly Fascist survived a long time for such a magazine. It’s heyday was the age of the gestetner, but it continued even when the short, glorious gestetner spring was over. Most of the time the gestetner was borrowed through obligingly tolerant literary circles or marginal Trotskyite left wing groups. When photocopiers became available, graphix and layout become – well almost – sort of, professional:
By Number 17 we were publishing respectable poets, who wanted to be published there, with certain humourless exceptions: there was enough fun to go around. Or was it time when the kissing had to stop? John was an active overseas editor vigorously spreading Fascist propaganda during the years he was in England, and we published a lot of capable poms.
Andrew Darlington was one who is still around on facebook, but this was in YFF:
“at last,” she said newbridely,
“Our very own television set.”
So they poured themselves into it
And lived happily ever after,
Until the epilogue.
George Cairncross was another (are you on Facebook, George?)
………Summer just fell through / the grate / into the ashes of winter … even the breakfast flakes are frosted…
Steve Sneyd interviewed Genghiz Khan “to give his ‘tartar land investment & / securities’ latest near monopoly / take over bid /able paid for write up …”
We even had our own Ern Malley affair, in the form of Billy Ah-Lun of Kuala Lumpur:
Written on a rock /
,,,,,,,,,,,,,,In the indian reservation /
Colonel Custer / was
…………..Here / & still
Like Ern, there were many who felt that his productions were infinitely preferable to the more serious literary efforts of his creator.
It wasn’t such fun when nobody much got pissed off and disgusted with us. I wrote a novel, then got into strife with my local Council: John returned from England with a most charming partner and became an extremely capable Historian. I enjoy poetry still, but this little kid inside me wants to take the piss. Your Friendly Fascist was great, and it stimulated even as it irritated and outraged. There’s nothing much in poetry long term, except for the prospect of boring the crap out of kids in school two hundred years from now, so why not? Poetry should be mocking, chaotic, satirical. it should give the upright middle finger to convention. There’s no such thing as immortality. That’s the serious lesson of Your Friendly Fascist. Just do it, be crazy. Like a kid.
Rae Desmond Jones
Rae Desmond Jones is a major Australian poet. His first book was Orpheus With A Tuba, Makar Press, 1973. His latest books are Thirteen Poems from the Dead, Polar Bear Press 2011 and Decline and Fall, Flying Island Books 2011.There has been lots of poetry in between.