Various lockdown hacks and escapes — 66 — Glebe, Neos, John Hawke: poet

In 2005 I posted this:

Twenty years ago Neos came to an end…

16 JUNE

In September 1981 Rob Duffy (19), John Hawke (15), Michael Stevenson (16) and I (age indeterminate) started Neos Young Writers, a magazine for — you guessed it — young writers. Raina MacIntyre (17) provided some spectacular art-work based on Eliot’s “Gerontion”.

In time other editors joined us: for issue 2 (February 1982) the team was the same. The magazine continued until 1985, published by Gleebooks. Later editors included Gavin Murrell, Richard Allen, Hung Nguyen and Lyneve Rappell. We won a Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Award for service to young Australians, and a Literature Board Grant. We had the odd subscriber in England, Ireland, Italy and the USA! We even score a little entry in The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature (ed.2)….

The link takes you to WordPress, where I have just republished some highlights from the first two issues. This is just a sample. And keep in mind that John Hawke was still 15 when Neos 1 was published!

And in 2011:

Speaking of Neos, I see that old copies go for $15 a pop now! Shame I no longer have any…

John Hawke went on to academia, including a time at the University of Wollongong where he published Australian literature and the symbolist movement in 2009. There have also been poems, but so far no collected work. I wonder if there will be? There was this poem in Jacket, December 2001:

Reliquary

“This ‘peace on earth’ has seen headier days when the sealers and whalers came with their aboriginal women they had torn from their tribes and slaughtered relentlessly the beautiful creatures of the deep.”

— Touring Tasmania, vol.XI.

The lake of charity, the ice-cream sandwiches,
the moulting lagoon: it is all falling
into the past inevitably, like the last
pack of cigarettes you’ll ever buy —
the barbershop reek of the cardboard,
a black metal comb in its milky glass,
the colour that bleaches a neglected letter
dated to the final day. Then the baby is born,
a new calendar of life commences,
yet somewhere it is September 1986,
a white car speeds endlessly through the spinning
night of ragged coastline sea-towns,
past Murder Creek, over Bust-Me-Up Hill,
to the no-time of the eternal casino,
into those infinite bunkered weeks, that basement dark,
the merz that goes without a name.
And I’m feeling sorry for all the noise
beautiful poems will never contain,
because I am ‘modern’ but want to go back
for a few words, not many — that’s selfish,
but when things seem desperate you have to act
some way, and I don’t believe it’s late.
Remember: this is how your parents were
before you were born  —   nostalgia for her
golden body a charm against death,
and too much emotion ever to adequately
deal with or ignore. This makes it
history, but how did we ever get that old,
answering bitterness with tenderness.
In the hamburger warmth of the pinball joint
we shared our flippers, made out
on a midnight slippery-dip, on a Disney ride,
in a maze of mirrors, on a ladder,
by the verdant banks of a tea-coloured river.

Matt da Silva  published some archival photos a while back.

neos_young_writers_editorial_meeting_02
That’s Gavin Murrell and Richard Allen and ?Lyneve around 1982-3.

I met John Hawke at Fort Street High in 1981. Interesting place and time — there was for example a very active underground student paper, The Liberator, with which John was involved. In fact I suspect John and his friends were The Liberator!

I became aware of John’s poetry quite early and was amazed by what I read. I felt it needed to be published somewhere, but where? The ultimate answer was: start our own magazine. Neos 1 came out in September 1981. I wrote the following in the early 2000s.

In September 1981 Rob Duffy (19), John Hawke (15), Michael Stevenson (16) and I (age indeterminate) started Neos Young Writers, a magazine for — you guessed it — young writers. Raina MacIntyre (17) provided some spectacular art-work based on Eliot’s “Gerontion”.In time other editors joined us: for issue 2 (February 1982) the team was the same. The magazine continued until 1985, published by Gleebooks. Later editors included Gavin Murrell, Richard Allen, Hung Nguyen, Matt Da Silva and Lyneve Rappell. We won a Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Award for service to young Australians, and a Literature Board Grant. We had the odd subscriber in England, Ireland, Italy and the USA! We even score a little entry in The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature (ed.2).

John Hawke has continued to write and publish poetry, but has not yet had a book published (aside from editing a number of issues of the Newcastle Poetry Prize anthologies). He studied at the University of Sydney where he tutored for a while in the English Department. The last I heard he was working in the Creative Writing Department at Wollongong University. Richard Allen (with his wife Karen Pearlman, whom he met in New York where he lived for some time) is very active, with several books published, dance works performed, and multi-media dance/poetry/video works achieving some success.

Richard’s career has continued with much success, and Raina MacIntyre is now at the University of New South Wales and a much quoted expert: she heads the Biosecurity Program at the Kirby Institute, which conducts research in epidemiology, vaccinology, bioterrorism prevention, mathematical modelling, genetic epidemiology, public health and clinical trials in infectious diseases.

John now has two published books of poems. He is at Monash University.

But back to Glebe at the time Neos was flourishing. In some ways I was not, experiencing what could be called burnout. I have posted about this several times, especially In 1983 I learned more than I knew I was learning…

At that time I lived in Glebe and was in some ways at a rather low ebb, in hiatus from teaching but still editing Neos. I lived for a while in a boarding house in Boyce Street with assorted students, crims and schizos and one or two ordinary folk. It was an education. Among my neighbours was a schizophrenic Aboriginal woman whom I call “Marie”.  As I listened to Marie, who was also kind of concierge to the house, I found a story emerging amid the apparent randomness and even craziness. I tried to capture that in a poem at the time. Every word in the poem she actually said, though not all at once, and I have structured it so that her story emerges, as it did for me over a much longer time. An artist who lived upstairs read it and said I had captured her exactly.

10166946_01_x
59 Boyce Street. At the time I occupied the front room. “Marie” was on the second floor at the landing. The artist had the balcony room. By 1983 the artist had moved on and I had the balcony room.
This is the very room!
The view from that balcony.

You can read my poem here. But back to John. He (and at times others on Neos) would often visit as we went through the poems and stories that had arrived for the magazine, These sessions could last all day, and I do remember one with John where we sat on that balcony and talked until dawn! My burnout was not all bad!

And from Neos 1 or 2 here is a poem from the teenage John Hawke. It is a prose poem. He still writes them, I notice. This one was singled out for praise by Patrick White!

OBITUARY

John Hawke

Fifteen years spent in a small flat on Parramatta Road with his mother and two brothers (his father died in 1975) the second son John killed by a car to become the hundred and first road accident victim of 1981 (15 up on the same time last year) chewed on asphalt as sharp steel sheared his skin and tore him on the edges of concrete he had walked for fifteen years sucking at the same grey air to find breath for screaming through a mouth full of tar screams bouncing off ugly bricks a hot moist panting into his brother’s lungs helpless on the sidewalk and his mother who saw the crumpled white body and dropped her groceries he spent fifteen years in a small flat on Parramatta Road lived Parramatta Road until Parramatta Road chewed him up sucked between its teeth like wet cement until an iron girder scraped him away from Parramatta Road though the rest of the world passed him by.

Just a bit later:

See Gig Ryan’s Introduction to that 2015 book.

John Hawke’s forensic inquiries in this book are layered with casual erudition – Diderot, Czech poet Vladimir Holan – and locate the poem as transformative state. Many of these poems conclude with a mystical ascent into nature, reminiscent of Patrick White scenes in which the division between consciousness and the universe wavers, signifying that any reconciliation is epiphanic, claimed by art or religion. Yet nature belittles human effort – ‘The path to the point is marked by a scattering / of impermanent hand-made memorials’ – that is, the poet’s endeavours are precariously, though heroically, makeshift, overlaid; but nature is also that which threatens or devours, ‘digesting light’.

And now in 2021 we have John Hawke: Whirlwind Duststorm. Critic Martin Duwell begins:

Poems come claiming many different identities. There are those that aspire to be no more than songs, those that exemplify a previously worked out aesthetic theory, those that worry at an aspect of their author’s inner life, those (“I do this, I do that” poems) that want to take a slice of random individual experience of the world, those that are slabs of discourse engaged with issues of the world, and so on. The feeling I have about the fine and rather unsettling poems of John Hawke’s second book is that they aspire to be strong, free-standing objects. And I don’t mean by this that they are just tightly structured well-made pieces – though they are that – rather that they shun being dependent on meaning for their strength and stability. At the same time, they don’t seem to relate to the generative imperatives of Surrealist poetry where, in that deeply French way, unity derives from development out of a single unified process.

The title poem appeared in Overland February 2021. It is not an easy read, but it repays spending time with it. There are depths there, but also notes that surfaced even in the work John was doing when he was 15 or 16! At least, I think I can see them.

John Hawke today

One more from Neos, 1981.

JERUSALEM 1918

John Hawke

The wind was always dry and hot,
sweaty and dusty and we were always squinting:
the sun would bounce off the white baked roads
straight into your eyes; I felt so dark–
probably just the dust, but it never seemed right, it seemed
so empty and inhuman.

I don’t know if I saw a leaf all the time I was there:
the trees all stunted and bare and twisted;
never many animals: the occasional snake,
and sometimes those long-necked birds, graceful,
but brown and dappled so that
they were never very beautiful.

You couldn’t say the country was either,
but there was something about it–
a sort of majestic calm, lifeless and menacing,
as if it were the starkness of the earth itself
that could suck you dry, twist you like the trees
and leave you as colourless as everything else.