An Overview of Visual Poetry & Mail Art in Australia by Julie Clarke

Prior to the Internet and its potential for enabling networking and exchange of information between individuals, Mail Art provided a direct manner for some poets to distribute their ideas through a rarefied form.

While there is much debate around the history and origins of mail art, it is probably safe to quote the description in the catelogue for the Museum of Contemporary Art’s (Los Angeles) First Thirty Years exhibition:

“Mail art—along with the synonymous terms Postal art and Correspondence art—refers to small-scale works that utilize the mail as a distribution system. These terms have also come to refer to related formats, including artist-designed “postage stamps,” postcards, and even impressions from rubber stamps”.

http://www.moca.org/pc/viewArtTerm.php?id=22 Collection: MOCA’s First Thirty Years

The rise of Mail Art in the USA during the 1950s provided a forum for a number of unusual visual and poetic mediums. One of these was Concrete Poetry which emphasized a poetic through concrete forms derived from letters of the alphabet. The use of the alphabet as a potent visual medium can be traced to medieval times, however, the international Concrete Poetry movement may be said to have began with Stéphane Mallarmé’s (1897) Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’abolira Le Hasard (A throw of the dice will never abolish chance) – a typographic poem that challenged established presentations of texts in books and ways of seeing and reading texts. The unusual use of typography, page space, letter forms and chance play of meaning initiated by Mallarmé continued in the early twentieth century with the Fluxus Group, Dada telegraphy, Futurists correspondence and in particular Marcel Duchamp’s Rendez-vous du Dimanche 6 fevrier 1916 ~ a set of postcards, which he posted to other artists. John Cage’s mesostic texts, in which he used the throw of a dice to determine font types, also exerted an influence on the presentation of poems and methodology of production. Poems were produced on paper by artists in small editions or photocopied so that they could be distributed inexpensively through the postal system.

David Powell 1989

David Powell 1989, Convolusions Volume #1, Issue #5, September 1989

Although this activity had been prevalent internationally since the first decade of the twentieth century, Concrete Poetry began in Australia in the 1960s. Whilst Concrete Poetry continued, there was a departure from its traditional forms in the early 1980s by Visual Poets who included collaged images as well as text in their poems. This use of collage created unusual juxtapositions and meanings. Most, if not all Concrete and Visual poets in Australia were also Mail Artists since they posted their poems to others around the world, often contributing to a call for works sent out by international small press Concrete and Visual Poetry magazines.

Concrete and visual poets in Melbourne have produced a number of small print publications since the 1970s. ΠO produced Fitzroy No. 4 in the 1970s and David Powell and Pete Spence produced Ligne magazine in the 1980s. Cerebral Shorts (Charles Roberts, now Charles Strebor) produced Convolusions: Of the Irregular Brain Post in the late 80s and early 90s. Before he passed away, Jas Duke worked closely with Peter Lysiottis to produce a small book, which is still in Peter’s possession. Tony Figalo and Pete Spence published Axle Concrete Poetry, a small press magazine in Richmond, Victoria, which included concrete and visual poems from Australian and international artists for nearly two decades. Collective Effort Press produced Missing Form: concrete, visual and experimental poems in 1981 and in the same year a facsimile edition of Christopher Brennan’s hand written Musicopoematographoscopes was published by Hale and Iremonger.

Linge

Cover of Ligne 3 edited by David Powell and Pete Spence

Several major exhibitions of concrete and visual poetry have been staged since the late nineteen eighties. In 1987 a group of visual poets (Julie Clarke, David Powell, Pete Spence, Thalia, Alex Selenitsch, Peter Murphy) exhibited their work in JustWot?, at Artist Space Gallery, Park Street, Fitzroy. Barry Reid at Heide Gallery was the curator of Words on Walls: a survey of contemporary visual poetry in 1989. Pete Spence was the curator of an International Mail Art Show at The Writers Centre in Melbourne in 1990 ~ Visual Poetry Outdoor Show at St. Kilda Festival in 1990 ~ an exhibition at Linden Gallery, St. Kilda in 1991 ~ Visual and Concrete Poetry at Trades Hall, Melbourne as well as Mallarme: Visual Poetry in 1998. Raimondo Cortese (playwright) was the curator of the Third International Visual Poetry Exhibition in 1992 and Griffith University in Queensland organized Essence: International Networking Culture in 1995. Dale Chapman curated Tongue – Artists using text, at Spencer Street Platform Project, in Melbourne in 1992. Linda Michael with Peter Tyndall curated Word: artists explore the power of the single word at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney in 1999.

Julie Clarke

Julie Clarke-Powell, 1989, Convolusions, Volume #1, Issue #6, November 1989

Works produced by concrete and visual poets initially stood outside traditional poetry and ‘High Art’ expectations; however the techniques have influenced the development of text-based art adopted by many international and Australian artists. Indeed it has become interdisciplinary practice for the past five decades. Poems produced in small format, were originally intended to be posted and maintained a sense of intimacy. Australian writers/artists I am aware of who have been active visual poets over he last decade include: Bev Aisbett, Javant Biarujia, Mike Brown, Alex Danko, Jas Duke, Tony Figalo, Peter Lysiottis, Finola Morehead, Peter Murphy, David Powell, Leonie and Frank Osowski, ΠO, Rose Nolan, Alex Selenitsch, Pete Spence, Stelarc, thalia. Richard Tipping, Peter Tindall, Cornelius Vleeskins, Nicholas Zurbrugg, and myself.

– Julie Clarke

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Dr Julie Clarke is a writer and exhibiting artist with a PhD in Cinema Studies from the University of Melbourne. She has exhibited her artwork in Australia and has had her visual poems published in Australia, Italy, Egypt and Russia. Her academic writing and poetic prose has been published widely in Australia and Internationally. She has been the primary author of the Anything But Human blog (http://juliejoyclarke.blogspot.com.au/), which has had over 150,000 page views since 2009.

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The cover of ah! by Cornelis Vleeskens, Redfox Press, Ireland 2011. (http://www.redfoxpress.com/)

The return of the Gestetner Revolution……sort of…. The double launch of: THE SELECTED YOUR FRIENDLY FASCIST edited by Rae Desmond Jones & P76 Issue 6 (The Lost Issue)

The return of the Gestetner Revolution……sort of….Rochford Street Press is proud and slightly surprised to announce the double launch of: THE SELECTED YOUR FRIENDLY FASCIST edited by Rae Desmond Jones (to be launched by Alan Wearne) & P76 Issue 6 (The Lost Issue)

SUNDAY 21 OCTOBER 2.30PM FRIEND IN HAND HOTEL GLEBE

Your Friendly Fascist was a poetry magazine so deep underground that it caused tremors among persons of a pious literary persuasion on the dread occasions of its appearance. The magazine served as an outlet for views and feelings which are not expressed in polite company. Your Friendly Fascist was not the only outrageous small literary publication of its time, but it took pleasure in divergent views. Poetry can tend to sombre pomposity, or the self –consciously polite. If there is a secret to the Fascist’s modest success, it is in the energy with which it rode on the un-ironed coat tails of unruly expression. Rae Desmond Jones and John Edwards remained at the helm of the magazine despite frequent inebriation, from the magazine’s beginnings in 1971 to its final burial with absolutely no honours at all in 1986. Rae Desmond Jones has made a selection of material that appeared in YFF and pulled together an creation that sits well with the ratbaggery tradition that was Your Friendly Fascist.”

The Selected Your Friendly Fascist contains work by John Jenkins, Mike Lenihan, Rob Andrew, Denis Gallagher, Adrian Flavell, Peter Brown, Debbie Westbury, Carol White, Billy Ah Lun, Peter Brown, Lis Aroney, Patrick Alexander, Steve Sneyd, Ken Bolton, Nigel Saad, John Edwards, Robert C. Boyce, Rae Desmond Jones, Trevor Corliss, Kit Kelen, Rob Andrew, Jean Rhodes, Larry Buttrose, Joseph Chetcuti, Alamgir Hashmi, Anne Wilkinson, Jenny Boult (aka MML Bliss), George Cairncross (UK), John Peter Horsam, Steven K. Kelen, Irene Wettenhall, Chris Mansell, Robert Carter, Anne Davies, Nicholas Pounder, Cornelis Vleeskens, Andrew Rose, Joanne Burns, Les Wicks, Eric Beach, Ian, Gig Ryan, П. O., Barry Edgar Pilcher, Andrew Darlington, Dorothy Porter, Gary Oliver, Richard Tipping, Micah, Carol Novack, Peter Finch, Evan Rainer, Graham Rowlands, Christopher Pollnitz, Robert Carter, Philip Neilsen, Andrew  Chadwick, Stephan Williams, Rollin Schlicht, Philip Hammial, John Peter Horsam, Peter Murphy, Karen Ellis, Richard James Allen, Rudi Krausmann, Paul “Shakey” Brown, Michael Sharkey, Karen Hughes, Susan Hampton, Rory Harris, Pie Corbett and Billy Marshall Stoneking.

Your Friendly Fascist will be available for purchase from the Rochford Street Press On-Line Shop from 17 October: http://members.optusnet.com.au/rochfordstpress/.

Facebook invite for the launch http://www.facebook.com/events/419856534730684/

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Rochford Street Press in the publisher of Rochford Street review

Why Dransfield…Why now?

One of the things I want to do with Rochford Street Review is to make sure writers receive the recognition I feel they deserve. I can think of a number of writers straight away which I think should be front and centre….creative writers who we should all know about, writers who should be cast in bronze, like footballers and cricketers around the gardens of the SCG or MCG…..Poets such as Vicki Viidikas, Kerry Leaves, Jennifer Rankin, Charles Buckmaster and many others.

In choosing to highlight Dransfield in this first feature I am accurately aware of the comment Laurie Duggan made in foam:e Issue 8 when he commented on Louise Waller’s review of Vicki Viidikas’ New and Rediscovered:

“I’ve read Louise’s review of Vicki Viidikas. It’s right on the money. A whole book could be written about why a male poet like Michael Dransfield (who died of drug use) could be continuously lauded and republished while a woman like VV was largely forgotten If you don’t want a whole book, then one word might do: Romanticism.”

But despite Duggan’s comment I don’t believe Dransfield’s reputation is as secure as he suggests. My understanding is that only the Kinsella edited Selected Poems is still in print and much has been made of Dransfield’s exclusion from the Lehmann/Gray anthology.

For me Dransfield remains an illusive figure. He wrote some wonderfully lyric poems, some other poems (particular some that were published after his death) were not so good. All the time, however, there is the image of the ‘poet’. the romanticism (real or created) which has threatened to swamp his poems.

And I want to get to those other poets, Viidikas, Leaves, Buckmaster and, in particular Rankin who, I believe is one of the most under-rated Australian poets of the last 40 years.

When I started thinking about pulling this piece on Dransfield together I asked various people for their views on Dransfield. There were some interesting replies, many of which were pasted on various pages on Facebook.

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Chris Mansell remembered: “First reading I ever went to was: David Campbell, Martin Johnston, and Michael Dransfield. What a reading. I still remember it v vividly. Bought his book later but was too shy to ask for him to sign it”.

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Richard James Allen wrote: “I wish I had met him. His iconoclastic spirit seemed to haunt the corridors of his old school, Sydney Grammar, which I also attended, in liberating way – a nice antidote to the more traditional Banjo Paterson, also an alumni. I always recall, “a moving target is harder to hit”: http://www.poetrylibrary.edu.au/poets/dransfield-michael/ground-zero-0712045

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Richard Tipping recalls: “Michael and I were the youngsters in an anthology Twelve Poets in 1971, when I was 21 and living in Adelaide. Michael was a year older. We never met, though I lived in Sydney for two years (1969 and 1973) and we had friends in common. One of my favourite Dransfield poems is which I sometimes recite by heart – begins: “in the forest / in unexplored valleys of the sky / are chapels of pure vision” and includes ‎”i dream of the lucidity of the vacuum / orders of saints consisting of parts of a rainbow / identities of wild things / of what the stars are saying to each other up there / above idols and wars and caring … ” Apologies for ragged quoting. Just to say that Michael words remain an important part of the experience of Australian poetry.

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Juno Gemes recalls “My Aunt was Chief Librarian at Sydney Grammar for 40 years…apparently the library has strong holdings in Michael Dransfield’s papers…”

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Christopher Barnett writes “michael was a great lyric poet with a connection to the lyricism of js neilson, christopher brennan, james tulip & a parallel connection with robert (adamson). it does not surprise me that minor poets have tried to aggrandize their own reputations by excluding him & the little we have from charles buckmaster. what defined them was their generosity & a very real connection to people poetry had ignored”.

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Rosemary Nissen-Wade “I’ve been introducing Australian poets to an international online audience unfamiliar with them. All have been well received; Dransfield was the one whose poetry most overwhelmed them. They thought his writing beautiful, brilliant, and extraordinary. So do I.”

Philip Rees - This is a painting i did in Febuary-March last year ..it is inspired by the poem Bums' rush..its called ''out...to where the ice is thinnest'',acrylics,textas,pencils,house paint,dirt on wood, 1.2mtrsx 1.2 mtrs,
For me Dransfield poems have always since i first read him in the early 1970's invoked images in my mind's eye.

“Lots of energy here, not much control”: Your Friendly Fascist – 1970 – 1984. Rae Desmond Jones remembers…..

Cover of Your Friendly Fascist Issue 2.

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:

today

……….a young californian

alone

………climbed into a Cessna

took off

………aimed the plane pacificwards

& flew

……..till he ran out of

tears &

……..fuel

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

DELICIOUS

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:

Cover of Your Friendly Fascist Issue 12

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:

Cover of Your Friendly Fascist Issue 11

From there, ken practiced further, editing his own edition of Your Friendly Fascist:

Cover of Your Friendly Fascist Issue 23

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:

DAKOTA 1966

Written on a rock /

,,,,,,,,,,,,,,In the indian reservation /

Colonel Custer / was

…………..Here / & still

Could be.

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.

Your Friendly Fascist Issue 4. Front and back cover design by Peter Brown.

Your Friendly Fascist cover design by Rae Desmond Jones. ". I was fresh out of ideas, but I had a post office date stamp & a stack of airmail stickers. I put one of each on every copy, while my ex-spouse and the gay person from down the road put on lip stick & kissed each one. "

Your Friendly Fascist. Issue 21

Your Friendly Fascist. Issue 16.

Your Friendly Fascist. Issue 17 - with a Queensland feel......

Your Friendly fascist Issue 24. The last issue.

Rae Desmond Jones

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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.