Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Ear in a Wheatfield

Kris Hemensley moved to Australia in the mid-1960s though he has spent extended periods back in the UK over the years. On one of these sojourns he started a magazine called Earthship. Back in Melbourne its second series became Ear in a Wheatfield. This ran for some twenty issues through the mid-1970s before transforming into a further series concerned largely with poetics. In the late 60s Kris had become involved with a loose group of poets in Melbourne centred on the inner suburb of Carlton, the location of La Mama theatre where many readings were held. The poets included Charles Buckmaster, Ian Robertson Geoff Egglestone and Bill Beard among others. At that time I was studying at Monash University out in the south-eastern suburbs. Our own scene and theirs were mutually mistrustful. We were ‘too academic’ for them; they were too ‘anything goes’ for us. Of course both of these assumed positions were not really the case: Kris and the others were enthusiastic readers of Olson and other theorists while our own readings owed much to visual culture and dada performance. All of us were interested in modern European work in translation. By 1974 I had made contact with Kris and Robert Kenny (who published my first book) and my work duly appeared in a couple of issues of The Ear. Kris encouraged my efforts with a poem called 'Melbourne Notebook', a very early take on the kind of journal poem I would later write. This didn’t appear in The Ear (my decision, not his) but early drafts of the subsequent Under the Weather did. The magazine itself was a classic example of 60s/70s DIY: low-tech in the years before the computer. It was of foolscap dimension and stapled at the side. Some covers had individually pasted on images (such as #17 above). This was a way of doing magazines without committees, the low budget ensuring editorial control. The results varied hugely in visual sophistication from Ken Bolton’s art-savvy Magic Sam through to Paul Buck’s often ratty Curtains and Rae Jones' deliberately shambolic Your Friendly Fascist. The importance of The Ear from my perspective was that it alerted me to the kinds of innovative writing taking place in Britain. I had been aware enough of the Americans. Their books were relatively easy to come by (thanks to import stores like the Whole Earth bookshop, not then entirely given over to ‘alternative lifestyles’) but the small presses in the UK were often fugitive and certainly less given to display. I found out about writers like John Riley (the Mandelstam translations among other things) and many other London and Cambridge writers in particular. Kris was subsequently involved in starting up a bookshop where it became possible to obtain some of these titles. The more visible work of Fulcrum authors like Lee Harwood and Roy Fisher had been (miraculously) available at a general bookshop or two but until Collected Works began it was difficult to obtain Andrew Crozier, Peter Riley, Wendy Mulford and others. The bookshop, now run entirely by Kris and Retta Hemensley is still up and running. Long may it survive.

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