Famous Reporter #29: Launch of Salt-Lick 4 by Kris Hemensley

July 2004

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LAUNCH SPEECH (Kris Hemensley)

SALT-LICK, Volume 4 Launch; 13 March 04 at Dante’s Restaurant, Fitzroy, Melbourne

I dedicate my comments this evening to the memory of Cid Corman. Paul Croucher, one of the founders of SALT-LICK, rang me this afternoon with the sad news that Corman died on 12 March, 6 am, Japanese time. For several weeks he’s been in and out of coma.

Death always
us – a breath

is a breath

The sound and
spirit of
a poet.

Corman was one of the great editors. When the best of his magazine Origin was published about 30 years ago as The Gist of Origin, everyone could see what a grand job it had done – providing a platform for the inheritors of the Pound-Williams-Zukofsky tendency – chiefly Olson and Creeley, the Black Mountain Poets – and their colleagues and successors – all the way down to the San Francisco poets like George Evans and our own Clive Faust, who lives quietly in Bendigo . . .

Corman also published important translations, ancient and modern, from the European languages and Japanese, Chinese. While he supported Olson and Co., he stuck by his own tastes and values against their hectoring and egotism – a bit of both of which rubbed off on me!

These days, with my bookseller’s hat on, I will say that SALT-LICK is the best purely poetry magazine in Australia. But what would I have said thirty years ago? A magazine which just published poems without a literary or linguistic [poetic] programme? Wasn’t that what the “new poetry” and the “new poets” wanted to transcend? Didn’t we think of that sort of thing as the merely literary, the journeyman mainstream? I remember – at least I think I do – arguing the point with Michael Dugan in 1969, but I wouldn’t these days – not since the 90s! Forgive me Michael . . .!

A whole lot of water under the bridge since the 60s and 70s. [In 1968 Michael and I published magazines, Our Glass and Crosscurrents, on different sides of the city, within a fortnight of one another, and until Ken Taylor told me, ignorant of one another! This event was the beginning of the “mini-mag explosion” – the rest is history!]

What I’ve learnt, since the 60s, is the limitation of any ideology – or certainly, the limited tenure of any ideology. In my own case, as editor/ publisher and poet, I realised that the pursuit of a poetical-aesthetical and literary-political line eventually ran me into a massive cul-de-sac. I needed, personally, to rethink and re-read. I was never happier than in the late 80s, critiquing my philosophical and literary position. I felt re-born in the 90s, and I’m still reaping the benefits.

As far as I was concerned, postmodernism (the catch-cry of the 70s and 80s) meant, at the very least, the re-admission of all the types of poetry which had been reduced or thought to be debased and therefore excluded in the time of the ascendancy of Modernism. This meant my experiments as a poet could now also include the traditional forms and privileges of poetry in addition to all of the gifts of the wonderful adventure of free-verse from Whitman and Rimbaud to the present.

SALT-LICK is a magazine whose take on poetry and poetics is pluralist. Whatever is meant by that blurb I’ve read which describes SALT-LICK as “favouring Australian free verse”, it’s clear SALT-LICK actually publishes poets of most tendencies writing today – it publishes poems which stand up as poems in themselves (in the very way Jenny Harrison discussed in her judges report for the National Poetry Prize earlier this year), poems which are self-sufficient whatever their formal or experimental entry-point.

SALT-LICK is a magazine whose production values are those of the finely printed poetry-book. Poets and poems are treated to elegant design – readers are given the best chance to enjoy the work.

SALT-LICK is a magazine with a Melbourne address. It’s our magazine! Melbourne poets or Melbourne-gravitating poets regularly get into it; poets of every type, including the no-type-at-all (who seem to me to be finding form for their spoken, spieling poems)!

SALT-LICK has an email address and a website. Overseas poets, presumably correspondents of the magazine, also publish in SALT-LICK. This throws up another interesting discussion. When I was actively publishing and reviewing, between the late 60s and mid 80s, I was described as an internationalist. But it’s apparent that in the age of the World Wide Web, “international” either goes without saying or “local” includes the www potential wherever one happens to be. Perhaps international, in the sense of anti-parochial, trans-national, is almost beside the point nowadays.

SALT-LICK, then, is quite obviously a Melbourne-based magazine, featuring a great range of the elite, the up and coming and the quite new poets and poetry in Australia. It is local, but it is also in the world – it receives the world into its Melbourne and Australian hospitality.

This fourth issue has changed the colour of its cover, from different shades of grey to bright red, but not the colour of its generous project. The contents page reveals the proverbial embarrassment of riches – Douglas Barbour, Peter Rose, Adrienne Eberhard, Jane Gibian, Peter Boyle, Earl Livings – Lorin Ford again! – Myron Lysenko (“biggest storm/ in a hundred years –/ i sleep through it”; “too much beer/ i lie in bed/ & almost see something”) – ah, divine!

We have four contributors to this fourth issue to read today – John Mateer, Sandra Hill, Ross Donlon and Danny Huppatz.

We don’t have with us either Margie Cronin or Rae Desmond Jones – amongst many others – who are interstate, overseas, otherwise engaged. I’d like to offer something of these. MTC Cronin’s poem, “Inviting Rain”, after Tu Fu, for Kris Hemensley, includes words of mine from an email exchange between us – “The man said/ he is wearing his dead son/ like a cloak of air”. Notwithstanding that, it’s an intriguingly complex poem from a prolific and ingenious poet. Rae Desmond Jones’s poem has a wonderful colloquial purr, like its subject, Dean Martin. His contribution allows us to recall his place in the 1970s little magazine culture, care of the inimitable Your Friendly Fascist, but that’s yet another story . . .