Ern Malley: Prospect Of The Young KB As A Critic

26 November 2005
                     “For a long time I stayed in bed very late.”
                         — Marcel Proust

I remember with a kind of spiritual / intellectual
‘wince’ the boredom of the papers on Sunday. The comics.
The last page, if you still hoped
for some relief (it was, after all, ‘the last page’), featured Val
(Prince Valiant), Radish, Laredo Crocket & maybe
The Potts … (& some puzzles, Chucklers, I never did).

Radish I remember with some affection. Though did
I feel it then? Rarely. In it a couple — or a threesome? — engaged in 
                   intellectual
problems thought to typify their late-middle-aged, maybe
almost ‘battler’ status. There was no action in these comics —
& in this instance, invariably, the old lady, her hair worn (like Val
‘s) in a bun (Val sported, when I think about it, a curious Cleopatra cut), 
                   dried a dish or waved an admonishing finger—& hoped

or worried that — say — money, which she hoped
would arrive, would arrive — & pay their bills. The bloke, though he did
hardly anything (& nothing that didn’t go wrong) — read the paper, bottled
                   beer — or carried his device, a manly hammer — tightened a val-
ve that needed loosening — & while he talked over his shoulder she wiped
                   up & talked back. (As fair to call this “intellectual”
as “abstract”, I think.) Maybe it would happen, maybe it wouldn’t, whatever
                    ‘it’ was & one rarely knew. In these comics
long-foreshadowed action — maybe

because it took so long & was uneventful — like tension ‘going away’ rather
                   than definitively ending — did not seem like action, & maybe
Radish held some microscopic fascination — how I think of it now — because,
                   in a pasture out the window he grazed, the ‘wild’ or trump card we 
                   hoped
might one day be played — in a rescue of narrativity, surreal but 
                   consequential. Radish, the last of the comics
on this last page, took its name from the badly drawn, sway-backed horse
                   suspended leit motif, incendiary loose-cannon narrative device —
                   available, should its creators feel (as I did)
the need for it. In fact weeks would go by in which we did not catch sight
                   of the beast — & then we did — leading his contemplative (not to say 
                   intellectual)
life, truly a Life of Riley, munching, chewing, raising his tail. Was he their
                   unconscious? their libido? The Potts’ id? “Val,”

Prince Valiant’s flaxen-haired betrothed would say, “Val,
stick it to me.” But she never did — though she admired him, as I never 
                   could, while he practised his archery, sharpened his sword, ‘had 
                   moods’. Was this maybe
muscular Christianity avant la lettre? or a puritan paganism? Val never 
                   promised the violently insurrectionary the way Radish did, or even
                   the intellectual
far-fetchedness & ‘possibility’ of the horse — who had a rumoured history as
                   a one-time winner: hopes hoped
of him had some basis. Val on the other hand, had done nothing — text-
                   book stuff, dutifully, text-book battles, text-book dispensing of 
                   justice, text-book falconry. There was no melodrama. Val did
everything in orderly fashion. He would never even grow bored with 
                   himself, bored enough to come bursting through the door, cigar in
                   his mouth, gun in improbable hoof, announcing He-haww! The 
                   Drinks are on me, as the horse would … or would in the comics

I desired. Was the strip named after the horse, as I imagined? Then who
                   were The Potts? Or Wally & the Major? Why, of the comics
on the other page, was the one I understood least the most intriguing — the
                   modern one, temporal miles from Val
but geographic miles from me (I assumed it was America, though almost too
                   literate — which made it, then, socio-economic miles from me, too)?
                   where what they did
was sit, & amble around, in an airy open-planned lounge or den — & maybe
read the comix, or Sunday papers or a magazine. The heroine hoped
she would not be bored, & father — handsome, quizzical, sporty dresser —
                   made dry remarks — as did mom — another intellectual?

The young girl (eighteen? twenty-two?) wore Prince Val’s hair-do, better 
                   than Val did,
& torreador pants & maybe lounged on her spine, oblique & petulant — & 
                   hoped
her boredom would end: like me she hated the comics … & Sundays … an
                   attractive young bourgeoise — while I remained, like Radish before me,
                   a ‘dark horse’ — yet, like the girl, soon to grow fiercely intellectual.

A gay, light-hearted bastard, ERN MALLEY cuts a moodily romantic figure within the dun Australian literary scene, his name inevitably conjuring perhaps that best known image of him, bow-tie askew, grinning cheerfully, at the wheel of his 1958 Jaguar sports car, El Cid. It is this image that also carries in its train the stories of later suffering-the affairs, the women, the bad teeth-and, speaking of teeth, the beautiful poems wrenched from the teeth of despair & written on the wrist of happiness “where happiness happens to like its poems written best” (in his inordinate phrase).

REVEALED!
As reported on Cordite News Explosion: “… despite our initial glee at receiving ten new poems by Ern Malley himself, we are humbled and disappointed to announce that three of these poems – namely Escape Clause, A Fool To Care and Prospect of KB as a Young Critic – were in fact written by Ken Bolton. .”

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Ken Bolton

About Ken Bolton


A gay, light-hearted bastard, Ken Bolton cuts a moodily romantic figure within the dun Australian literary landscape, his name inevitably conjuring perhaps that best known image of him, bow-tie askew, lipstick-smudged, grinning cheerfully, at the wheel of his 1958 Jaguar D-type, El Cid. Bolton, a poet & art critic-a 'Sydney' poet living in Adelaide, & working there at the Australian Experimental Art Foundation-is editor of Little Esther books and at one time edited the magazines Magic Sam & Otis Rush. Major publications include Untimely Meditations and At The Flash & At The Baci - and, more recently, The Circus, A Whistled Bit of Bop and Sly Mongoose. Ken also edited Homage to John Forbes, and wrote the monograph on artist Michelle Nikou. A selection of his art criticism appeared in 2009 as Art Writing.

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