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                Lee Marvin - "you can relax outside with a smoke during the break"

If you haven't heard the resounding clamour of brou ha ha over the Australian photographer Bill Henson's censorship by the New South Wales police force then you won't know why I'm putting this poem on the deletions. You might enjoy reading it anyway. I wrote the poem five years ago, in 2003 in Rome, Italy, when I was living in the Australian poets' studio. Although by no means an extensive analysis, the 'problem' considering Bill Henson's photos and advertising comes quite late in the poem, so, if you're interested, bear with it. The poem, No action, first appeared in Let's Get Lost published by Vagabond Press in May 2005 and will be included in my Salt book True Thoughts, forthcoming in August this year. To see some of Bill Henson's recent photos click here.
I am opposed to censorship.

No action

humidity’s lassitude
makes me feel
that I should
return immediately
to Sydney
& join a group to
combat complacency,
BE political, be GREEN,
remembering all that
-rhetoric ;
what did
the Prime Minister think
he was doing
when he began to preface
everything he said
‘generically speaking’ ?


but here am I
for half a year,
(only five months to go)
inactive, remote,
in touch ! via
BBC World Service
short-wave radio,
France 2 TV (tv we can
the well-known-to-be-loony-cliché
of Italian tv).
on BBC World Service World Today
I hear how
‘walks on water’
for the ‘Australian public’
despite ‘many cock-ups’,
and then ..

begin this poem
“I’ve been reading
a biography of
Samuel B. Beckett”
(his ‘B’
being for ‘Barclay’
being my ‘B’ too,
maternally, Scottish) (this is
incidental, but, incidentally,
Beckett is (was) & I am
also Huguenot )

he says ( in 1940) that he lives
that politics is useless,
& talking politics, worse.
he’s right,
I drop my fervour.


I have taped
a photo up -
early C20, earlyish -
a man in a suit
and hat
(that dates him)
frozen mid-air
like his dark reflection,
in a huge lakelike puddle,
a wooden ladder,
three metal barrel hoops,
a pile of other stuff, lumps of dirt
or coal, maybe,
left lying there,
and a pile of stone
arranged in a corner
of the tall wrought iron fence –
near a huge wallposter
of Baltic dancers or acrobats,
where another man, in an overcoat,
figures and is reflected
passing beyond the fence
in black & white
or selenium.
I think it’s Gare St Lazare


‘around the corner’
sings Willy de Ville,
still hoping to meet an angel
around the corner
in 1983 – (retro even then) -
I listen to him, one of my favourite
in the poets’ flat in Rome
in 2003
around the
oath dreaming,
I swear to you
like Al Martino,
but I think
I missed Mars’
60,000th year return,
that light in the night sky
may have been it or a satellite
or media craft,
and now
there’s too much helium
in the big U.K. balloon
and its rising’s
a little blue hot-air balloon
rises daily
over Villa Borghese
or thereabouts,
from the kitchen window


Ken has sent
a poem-as-catalogue-essay
Peter Black,
a New Zealand photographer,
where he compares Bill Henson ,
loosely, or, indirectly -
yesterday, I read
(someone called) Andy Grundberg’s
of Lux et Nox ( and there
I can hear
Les Patterson & like-voices,
- lucks ett nocks),
the coffee table
Bill Henson.
Andy says Bill’s pictures
set up a narrative
that fails,
the ‘haunting quality’ (heard that
expression ?)
of the pics
isn’t ‘dimmed’ but the ‘viewer’
is ‘left’
‘a nagging sense of having revisited
an old Calvin Klein ad campaign’

– this in Bookforum,
Artforum’s book quarterly.
(not that I’ve ‘visited’
too many Calvin Klein ads -
except on the railway station
waiting for the train
to take me in my job’s direction,
and the billboard
the bus passes
at the top of
William Street, King’s Cross)

I’ve never
enjoyed ‘haunting qualities’
and I’ve never liked the pictures –
Bill Henson’s
nor the Calvin Kleins.
you can buy
those CK underwear copies
in the nightmarish
Sunday flea market
here on via Portuense,
one of the oldest roads,
imperial 1st century A.D.,
entering Rome. it’s like
Parramatta Road - only narrower -
for the tumbrils, chariots
& Smart Cars

but there’s also
a vicarious
nothingness -is-commerce
in that soft-focus slickery
in the Hensons.
Calvin Klein ads
are overtly
to-be-expected -
gym & anorexia combo


then Samuel B. Beckett
the apolitical and became active,
dangerously, in
the resistance &, later, in the maquis
against the Nazis.
not fighting for ‘France’,
fighting for his friends’ liberty

a person,
any artist or poet
could only hope
to be as
courageous as
or, at most, as definite


Anonymous said...

You are opposed to censorship, but are you also opposed to exploitation? Personally I've always found Henson's photos to be pretty creepy.
I see what as happened recently as integral to his art: it's an extension of the "making" - the reactions now were built in to it from the beginning.

pb said...

It's interesting that David Marr's original use of 'creepy' to describe Bill Henson's photographs(in the Sydney morning Herald early this past week) has become the current descriptor for almost every commentator.

I don't want to discuss the content of Bill Henson's pictures - I see them as looking pretty much like fashion shots. It's simple for me - I don't think the police can replace art critics or vice versa.

'The Deletions' is an open blog but I'm disappointed by receiving comments from 'anonymous', he/she always seems cowardly.

There's an interesting article on literary anonymity by Terry Eagleton in the 22nd May edition of the London Review of Books. Perhaps 'anonymous' would care to read it ?


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