Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Tuesday Poem - Letter To Ken Bolton by David McCooey

Letter to Ken Bolton

Dear Ken, tonight there was a power blackout
at our place, during which Maria and I watched
Fiona Shaw perform The Waste Land in an app
on our iPad (which was luckily fully charged).
Her performance was electrifying (har har),
changing voices like a dial sweeping across a radio.

Unlike Eliot’s adenoidal readings of the poem, Shaw
treated the poem as theatre. I’d never thought about
how Madame Sosostris would sound with a cold.
So there Maria and I were, with our electronic device
and three candles in a darkened house, like some
eighteenth-century tableau, a fact we both noted

more or less simultaneously, commenting on
the disjunction between the technologies.
‘The domestic postmodern’ one of us called it
(the quote marks inevitably hanging in the air).
Meanwhile, Shaw’s presentation of Eliot’s poem
brought out new shades previously unnoticed:

how ‘Falling towers’ reads post-9/11; how those
‘hooded hordes’ evoke Hollywood Islamophobia; and
how camp (‘queer’ even) the poem could be
(and not just because of the bit about Mr Eugenides).
Shaw made The Waste Land strangely sexy; the
Cockneys in ‘A Game of Chess’ funny and tragic.

Actually, the blackout was a brownout, according
to the man from the power company who I called
on our out-dated Nokia mobile phone. (Students go
into raptures of nostalgia when I look at the phone
in class). But ‘brownout’ doesn’t sound quite
so lyrical, does it? It has an embarrassingly

scatological sound to it (or let’s just say ‘shittiness’,
which is more James Joyce than T.S. Eliot). Or else
it evokes the War, meaning the Second World War,
my parents’ war, my father turning eighteen
years of age in nineteen forty-six. But in the forties
I don’t suppose they had clothes dryers to turn off

during a brownout so as not to burn out the motors.
And our brownout didn’t last long, just enough
to make the night seem strange—reading to my son
by torchlight, boiling water for tea on the stove-top,
peering through the blinds at our darkened street,
the street lights looking uncertain. But by eight-thirty

‘service had returned to normal’. I was answering work
emails, and thinking about writing this letter
(this ‘verse epistle’) to you, who I don’t know well
but whose voices (those that occupy your books)
have kept me amused and aglow, like a boy with
his ear against a radio in the war, valves warm

in the night, the room filled with interesting
and recondite thoughts. P.S. By coincidence,
I have a copy of BolaƱo’s The Savage Detectives
on my bedside table, a novel which features in
one of your verse letters. All of your writing shows
that such coincidences are the stuff of art (where are

those quote marks?), every thought and every action
jostling together like bumper cars or comedians or
paratroopers, drifting down from the sky like beautiful
mushrooms and being fired upon by grim-faced Nazis below,
their automatic weapons ripping through the delicate night,
all a diversion for the Resistance to blow up the power station.

What a marvellously interesting poem this is, by Geelong poet, David McCooey. I know Ken Bolton's work quite well, and can really relish the synchronicities that David plays with. But I don't think, I hope, that you need to know KB (or Fiona Shaw or even T.S.) to 'get it'. I find it holds, I opine it holds on to the reader tenaciously. David's most recent book of poetry is Outside by Salt Publishing, which I haven't read yet, but which I will be reading soon.


The Weekend Australian 25-26 August 2012, Review p. 20
The Best Australian Poems 2012, ed. John Tranter, Black Inc., Melbourne, 2012, pp. 80-82.


  1. Agree - marvellous! it takes the reader in so many interesting and cerebral directions ... thanks Jen, another gem! Hey and good luck for your tour. X

  2. a beauty indeed...love the image of the candle and the ipad ...keep em coming Jen

  3. A fantastic poem, Jennifer. Thanks for posting it. It's wonderful throughout, but those closing lines with that great image:
    "paratroopers, drifting down from the sky like beautiful/
    mushrooms and being fired upon by grim-faced Nazis below,/
    their automatic weapons ripping through the delicate night,/
    all a diversion for the Resistance to blow up the power station."

    Anyone who has ever watched an old war movie could visualise this so powerfully. I've often thought how vulnerable and exposed those paratroopers must have felt as they neared ground and the range of the enemy's weapons.

  4. Delicious, delightful - all that weft and weave of story, thought, metaphor, imagery. I want more! Thanks Jen.