JB: Censorship is alive and well in Australia, especially self-censorship or ‘getting in first before the authorities do’. Just recently, a play in Queensland had to have its premier written out (an innocuous mention) for it to be performed, and in Melbourne a photographer had her show cancelled because some of her portraits ‘might offend’ (some of her subjects wore a veil or mask). The Australia Council rewrote its rules for the depiction of children when giving grants to artists following the Henson furore a few years back. Is this any different from the police removing a small copy of the statue of David from a Melbourne clothing store in the 1970s? Or banning ‘Lola’ by The Kinks? It is fear. Fear of change. The French say that the more things change, the more they stay the same (plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose). How true, even if it’s a cliché! Values, like fashion, are cyclical. Meanjin refused to publish my homoerotic poems in the 1980s for they feared offending the majority of their subscribers, Catholic Schools. Even the 1991 ‘Return to Oz’ edition featuring L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets such as Lyn Hejinian, Michele Leggott and Jackson Mac Low, mixed in with local content from Berni Janssen, Chris Mann, Charles Roberts, Pete Spence and Nicholas Zurbrugg (may I recommend his Parameters of Postmodernism?) was controversial. Having said that, Meanjin has changed for the better over the years, especially under the stewardship of Ian Britain. Nevertheless, conformism and peer pressure today are greater than at any time in my life. No one cared I didn’t drive or own a television set in the 1970s, but some people take it as a personal slight that I don’t own a mobile phone or have the Internet at home.
CW: Decadence and libertinism as a subject matter and aesthetic modality are a preoccupation from the beginning of your oeuvre, it seems. Again, in a way that shirks the alignment of your work with one particular poetic tradition or trajectory, we move ahistorically in this work. You could even say history itself is treated decadently! The Carrionflower Writ, the journal you edited and published between 1985 and 1990, published an array of poetic styles and whose editorship you could articulate as decadent as well as experimental language writing. These classifications carry little intrinsic weight for me but have meaning rather as a certain kind of encounter, some kind of curious synthesis that I wonder whether was an aspect of an editorial sensibility you hoped to pursue.
JB: The Carrionflower Writ was a ten-issue set of an art and literary broadsheet issued on an irregular basis. (Still, it meant to go longer, but the lack of resources put paid to that and the conservative Australia Council wouldn’t have funded it anyway, even if we were desperate enough to go down that route.) It was printed on A2 cotton-rag paper and showcased a variety of writers and artists from all over the world, including Charles Bernstein, Crag Hill and Scott Helmes (USA), Kamala Das (India), Kris Hemensley, Berni Janssen and John Jenkins (Australia) and Shigyoku (Japan). My other magazine, taboo jadoo, was one where I could indulge my literary passions in a ‘journal for multilinguistics amphigory interlinguistics écriture d’ombres langue close lettrisme zaum kubofuturizm (both written in Cyrillic) jasyan [&] kachathatapagajadhadaba’. Jasyan is straight from my langue close, defined as a kind of poetry characterised by ‘ploys/plays of amphigory, paronomasia, mistranslation, dislocation, collage, etymology and ‘extravagation’ (i.e., wandering beyond proper bounds)’ (I said as much in my Note on the Text that prefaced my 2002 collection of poems, Calques. By the way, I calqued langue close, a closed language, on maison close, French for brothel!) Kachathatapagajadhadaba is a Sanskrit word written in devanagari, defined by lexicographer Arthur Anthony MacDonnell as ‘an example of a meaningless word’. I don’t believe there is such a thing as meaninglessness. No matter how meaningless someone will find your work, someone else will find meaning there.
A wonderful Australian example of ‘meaninglessness’ (amphigory, interlinguistics, écriture d’ombres, lettrisme, etc. is Chris Edwards’s Fluke: A mistranslation of Stéphane Mallarmé’s ‘Un coup de dés’, a masterpiece in my book and no less wonderful than his most recent People of Earth. Spence’s photocopy magazine ETZ has published some pretty impressive work by Edwards as well as Jessica Wilkinson, Sheila E. Murphy, Mark Young, Francesca Sasnaitis (whom we published as Jurate Sasnaitis), Cecilia White, Nicola Themistes (a pseudonym, the editor tells me), Toby Fitch, Michael Farrell, Chris Mann – and yourself, I might add.
CW:You have mentioned to me before that readers will seem to miss the intentional errors in your work. This resonates with me as a curious contention with the critical impetus to read poetry epistemologically rather than as, if it must have a relation to knowledge, an epistemic activity, a way of knowing which is an ‘extravagation’ of the known. ‘Extravagation’ – I love this word! Flaws in the Glass, ‘levity to levitation’, the fallacy of meaninglessness – your thoughts seem to congeal into a very interesting discourse regarding poetry and memoir, between truth and fiction. Error appears to me to have a particular relationship to these, and to impose important questions on them.
JB: People don’t look anything up on the Net, let alone in reference books, any more; they ‘research’ it. But do they take such ‘research’ on face value? The Internet is full of hoaxes, though often not as witty or sophisticated as the Ern Malley one, where no material gain was the object. How many of us swallow without thinking what biographers may say about their subject? In my own case, for example, in the Ghost Who Writes, Martin Edmond did a profile on Pessoa, but because of my own fallibilities, I could not accept what he had written until I had it confirmed by another source. I’m not interested in the fictional per se. I don’t read many novels. I don’t like making things up – I don’t find it enjoyable. I could easily have created a false persona to go with my name but I didn’t. I could have lied about – or at least exaggerated – my own importance in the scheme of things. (All is vanity!) I’m not an I-poet as such – you won’t find any autobiography there. Facts, perhaps, but I advise you to check them for accuracy.
I apologise if I don’t sound like my poetry in my speech. I don’t see myself as a work of art, which by definition is finished (pace Valéry); I am fallible, naïve, sometimes mistaken, indiscreet, often ignorant; ‘human’, as they say. I don’t pretend to be a seer or even an arbiter of any kind. For some people, all they can talk about is art (often their own, jargonistically referred to as ‘self-referential’), but I’m not like this. Consistency may be a virtue, but I’m not afraid of contradiction.