Journal: Percutio

Cover: S. Bianciardi

An annual published in hard copy in New Zealand and France paying special attention to the creative process and issues relating to translation.


Percutio is dedicated primarily to reflections upon the creative process, particularly in relation to work that bridges cultures.

Cover: N. Bunn

Percutio may, therefore, feature poetry, essays, extracts from novels, choreography, approaches to composition and journal entries in English and the language of creation.

Cover:A. Loeffler

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The Poet as Fraud: A Composite by Stephen Oliver. (added 6.8.05)

The Poet as Fraud: A Composite

by Stephen Oliver 6 August, 2005.

(Part One) (Part Two)


Contempt in courts and cities dwell,

No critic haunts the poor mans cell

- Robert Herrick


You must first recognise your man. I say man because the poet is emotionally an androgyne, and I nominate the male gender because, traditionally, this is where the greater number of poetasters, poseurs and confidence tricksters prevail. A circumstance that has something to do with the amorphous nature of poetry, especially when one departs from traditional forms. Any attempt to employ these structures by the uninitiated too quickly exposes those selfsame practitioners as either provincial typing instructor, school mistress, or bookish academic intent upon building verbal monuments to him or herself, contradicting Johnstons homage to Shakespeare Thou art a monument without a tomb - by paying dues to a moribund Augustan age and writing endless screeds in the manner of Alexander Pope along the lines of, As I gazed on the Palladian hill / My thoughts toward Horace, Virgil, and Bill / or scanning and attempting to emulate the classical stylistics of someone like A. E. Housman, and his A Shropshire Lad. For such a person, The Great War happened in someone elses backyard and time stopped with Rupert Brooke - though not because Brooke was [in essence] a comic poet. This he fails to see.


No, our man is the quintessential modern man and is, quick as a jack rabbit, already up and running. The best thing that might come his way is the middle class expectation of measurable success, prestige and political opportunity offered him by an Arts degree and appointment to an English department in a leading city university, - election to the editorial ranks of the University Press and Art Funding bodies. He doesnt consider himself a seer, but instead - something of a missionary, his dutiful obligation to impart knowledge and learning to the undergraduate - and in some politically incorrect instances, to the female undergraduate. There are to be observed, therefore, innumerable variations on a theme.


The composite poet in his academic incarnation plans well in advance; he establishes his own Creative Writing School affiliated to the English Department of a leading university in one of the capital cities. This allows him to clone a beehive of disciples created in his stylistic image, whom he can then relocate strategically around the country in positions of political influence; readers of poetry manuscripts in leading university publishing houses, book reviewers for leading metropolitan dailies, and literary magazines and other organs of persuasion.


He must conserve his energies in order to impress on a long-term basis. For charlatanism to be successful, it can only operate under a guarded and inner watchfulness well hidden from ones opponent. And almost everyone is an opponent unless they have otherwise declared themselves a disciple or by constant example, acted in a manner conspiratorially sympathetic with his more sinister side. An exchange of negative insecurities, a shared hatred, a sleazy conspiracy, is collateral enough. This is his inner sanctum which must remain hidden from view at all costs. He adopts a mask that appears to be passive, non-threatening - but it is little more than a screen over a churning anger at the very core of his being which nevertheless continues to feed upon itself. In order to maintain this cloaked and true personality, he must assume an act or persona that he can sustain with minimal effort; he must to all outward appearances seem the very picture of laid back elan and cool - an act which must go the distance if he is to be successful in his predatoriness.


Yet it did not take him long to discover that he was not in fact a visual artist, no matter how many times he mentioned Francis Bacon or Diego Rivera at dinner parties. Monumental sculpture was something he associated with boisterous women in boiler suits, armed with raucous voices and hairy legs - and if the occasion so much as smelt of challenge - that wasnt for him. At any rate, if Jack Kerouac could get down a few syncopated words to jazz rhythms, [Marlon Brando had pretty much cornered the market on a brand of feminine/macho sexuality which appealed strongly to his deep-seated bi-sexuality] then, so too could he. All he had to do was get the hip dialogue down pat and act the part. The benefits of this were principally that you didnt actually have to read or study the relevant literature to any great extent, you just had to know about it (a touch of Charles Bukowski was a sure bet) and thats about as much as most of the social set were doing anyway.


The rest could be filled in with a close network of associates who were trying to pitch a similar thing - usually with concrete, found and colloquial, or open-form poetry backed up with a few screen printing techniques, and by paying close attention to current fads and viewpoints expressed by the leaders of any one or other artistic movement. Poetry under these conditions is seen as something akin to a brand name or fashion statement. To anybody entertaining such a career path, a few helpful hints may be in order: if you live in New Zealand, a smattering of pacific island culture (especially, if you live in Auckland) and a passing knowledge of Maori etiquette helps a great deal, especially if you can correctly pronounce place names - start with Maori streets names and work you way through to the small towns and local landmarks. Name drop a few up and coming indigenous artists to adequately display your current interest and ethnographic sympathy.


To sound a cautionary note though, what ever you do, dont write as an authority on Maoritanga. This defies all current politically correct notions dealing with cultural appropriation. You run the risk of having your house burnt down by marauding activists. It is advisable under these strict cultural conditions - not to mention the clear threat to your personal safety - to write only about your own domestic comedy; drinking, mind games, dope-smoking, careerist ambitions, and inter-sexual politics: to preside as the somewhat removed voyeur, in other words. If you live in Australia, show empathy for indigenous land rights in a non-demonstrative way, especially at generic art functions - if possible, formulate a working interest in aboriginal culture, especially, the art schools associated with the various nations of that continent. A scorched earth, Garden of Eden. The advantages here of such smart moves are that you may secure funding from Arts and film institutions to make a short film on the subject Desert Art at City Prices.


This opens up all sorts of remunerative possibilities (keep an eye to the video market) for long term tenures and residencies, plus travel opportunities and, maybe, a showing at the Sundance Festival. If you can pull this off - it wont be long before you are awarded your first bottle of Grange Hermitage from appreciative Paddington Gallery owners and collectors; indeed, if you play your cards right, you might even procure an original and signed limited edition print from a leading and authenticated aboriginal artist, which you can then hang prominently to view over your rustic, whole-earth-wooden dinner table.


But our man, the public servant, must like every true bureaucrat, have a hobby - must act true to type; it could be building valve radios or vintage car-spotting. His well-publicized artistic pursuits on the indigenous front has nothing whatsoever to do with cultural preservation - only the preservation of his continuing employment prospects. The entire thing is a deep charade. It is his attempt to secure a retirement package - the fabled superannuation, and nothing more save a little self-aggrandizing along the way. Oh, the biting fear of discovery!


And so by degrees he fails into meanness. He achieves optimum ordinariness. As an Australian, you will be aware that Sydney is the best place to set up such a rort. Sydney is a town where people can freely believe in their own bullshit, and everyone is prepared to believe it along with you, this mutual acknowlegement demands a fine balancing act, a peculiar generosity. To not play this game, that is, to be honest in a supplicating way, is to be made anathema - become social outcast as opposed to an acceptable social pariah. Once youve got that procedure under control, from thereon in social success is a summertime breeze, a mere formality.


This ensures the survival his poetic blood line (his clones are rewarded with publication, residencies and grants) and kills off at root any counter-force or creative individualism which may, if allowed free rein, contest his position in the public arena - his stranglehold on the countrys poetic future. Again, he might have found that the freedoms of the 60s gave him his head, as it were, and his early twenties afforded him innumerable roles and guises in which to ply his trade as narcissist and arch sexual opportunist. The British novelist, Jeanette Winterson, is quoted in the Times as saying: As far as books are concerned, creative writing courses have done to new writing what slugs do to lettuce eaten it alive. Young writers now produce the same kind of books in the same kind of way. They have found a formula and it works. Of course it works, it has been done a million times before. Poetry and the song lyric; poetry as infotainment. Take your pick, slam poetry dumbed down for the masses. A sustained narrative of fashionable, sexual cliché and gender politics at worst.


So, our composite poet probably went to training college and got a diploma to teach in secondary schools, but only in the capacity of an Arts teacher - an indeterminate role set up in the mid-sixties because the climate allowed for such things; for instance, open-plan and experimental modes of teaching. So many individuals with questionable credentials secured these positions by strategically befriending certain poet-teachers located within the administration centres of capital cities. At the right time, and in Australia - this was during the Whitlam era - you could slip through the mesh without offering, one way or another, any defined syllabus or tried and tested knowledge on the subject. The visual and Creative Arts as a subject was as vague as you could possibly hope for. Anyway, once safely ensconced within the bureaucratic system, and registered as a permanent teacher on art subjects, his career and superannuation entitlements were secured for life:- he could now cruise on a sinecure. He would risk nothing.


Had he come from an earlier generation, say the 50s, then a career bureaucrat would have been one of the few options open to him in New Zealand; the Education Dept in an administrative capacity, or some other government appointment, maybe even a role in the Ministry of Energy - formulating educational programmes for trainees. Years of writing inter-departmental memos would equip him with a prose style ready-made for book reviews and little critiques on current literary theory. This is a man (or woman) who runs with the hounds and always backs what he considers a winner in the literary stakes. He will take few risks and will guard against jeopardising his standing which on most things is ambivalent. He promotes the young, up and coming writer, the leaders of the new and emerging generation.


In this way, he invests in his own literary career by shoring up support amongst the young, and against those in the establishment institutions who regard him with happy indifference. If the emerging writer doesnt show [in due time] signs of fulfilling his or her promise as a person with literary and political clout, and who doesnt appear to have been accepted by the leading clique of the day - then that person is just as quickly abandoned for one who does. Our man cannot afford to be seen compromising his public face by supporting anyone other than those who are seen as gaining positions of political leverage at speed. This is done in the sure knowledge that his literary endeavours are far from laudatory, having remained on a plateau of mild but ineffectual achievement for decades. His prose style is at once positive but non-committal, underplaying the salient points of the authors strengths by patronizing his agreeability within the existing pantheon of writers; a style in which he appears to say something, but in effect, is giving away nothing. This man has all the nonce of a well seasoned old campaigner and knows how to hedge his bets with the best of them. His weekend hobby is restoring old valve radios.


Nonetheless, at this point he has discovered that an act or image is pretty much the order of the day. But which one - who is the best role model? He tries a couple of combos; beat and/or beatnik, pipe and horn-rimmed specks, frantic artist - huge canvases sprayed with paint pots - and for a while its fun riding a bicycle over them, and selling them off a la Pollock as bona fide works of neo-abstraction: Cyclical Series Nos: 1 Reclining, and Cyclical Series No 2 Awakening. Henry Miller (he has read the Tropic of Cancer) is invoked as his sexual guru and liberator. He buries himself in the grid system as a cage for the tortured soul, but this form demands true vision which obviously he does not possess - despises, in fact.


Finally, as he does not suffer from either a bi-polar or schizoid disorder, and isnt on the requisite medication which he believes is integral to this role, he feels that there is little advantage to himself in continuing with that particular charade, and so abandons it. Besides, the huge quantities of alcohol that must accompany this stance are by far too ruinous and would soon blunt his opportunistic edge. The one thing that demands consistency is great cunning and an unflagging vigilance. After all, emptiness is a very big thing to hide. And never let a chance go by babe,- especially where women are concerned.


The object lesson here is: seen to be seen. Especially with women, [again] women as sexual object. Women as acquisition. Any woman is fair game; no mercy need be shown to other peoples wives - when we first met on the bus, man, it was good morning - and wasnt long before it was - good morning darling - and, unhesitatingly, anybody elses girlfriend. Women are paramount in all these social manoeuvres, they belonged to that social code of prestige by which our composite poet measured others, and in this light he regards women as trophies, as living endorsements of his own self-gratifying ego, while the business man by contrast, not quite as enlightened, would regard them in similar circumstances as mere ornaments, or personal servants.


As to the teaching profession, students saw through his act in an instant, and realized that he was simply out to impress with image sans substance. But then, secrecy and duplicity were important weapons in maintaining the illusion of the hip and the cool designed at least to give the impression that he was actually someone. This had the effect of compounding his authoritarian personality in the work place and, especially, at dinner parties around his 'rustic' table, and these literary gatherings he invariably orchestrated on his own turf. He therefore became the control freak - put-downs and power plays were the one sole currency. On those few occasions when he had to attend various other social gatherings - writers centres, or the obligatory literary function, he would act the flaneur (let the chicks come to him) be noticed by all means, but never appear to be the slightest bit ruffled, or at least, not in public. His androgynous disposition displayed itself in a bitchy undermining of other peoples achievements (which he obviously felt threatened by) and in unaccountable eruptions of anger - like sun spots from the core hatred of his being - especially as he got older, but only in a one-on-one basis, that is, if he thought he could get away with it without witness. The school-yard bully in his element.


The truly gifted, who refused to present a mask to the world, he loathed like no other. By way of a counterweight, he was regarded in the school staff room with intense distaste - especially by the up-and-coming (very PC) young gay and progressive teachers, well informed and out to make a name for themselves. Usually distinguished by either red or blue rimmed designer spectacles. Nonetheless, careerist to their bootstraps. He was as relevant to them as an outdated combine harvester - something left over from another age; an irrelevancy - a free loader from the Whitlam era, when funding was thrown at anybody who cared to call him or herself an artist, which launched the careers of many a successful and mediocre talent.


In short, our man seen as a dinosaur. Such a charge he would readily admit to - if for no other reason than to give himself the air of the misunderstood working class hero. Still boasting the alternative outsider he never in fact was. Although his presence in the teaching profession was detested by student and teacher alike, much as one would an abandoned corpse in a hospital corridor, the sentimentalist in him (such is the emotional fascist at heart) wished it were otherwise.


Next, he must choose the correct location to live in and to give credence to his image. Gentrified working class inner-city suburbs meant that you sided with the lumpen proletariat, the working class bloke and the working class ethic. Your brand of coffee and choice of wine might suggest to the reader of Village Voice - or even the New York Review of Books the consummate host and connoisseur. This could be forgiven (understandably, not every one could successfully aspire to the lofty heights of a Robert Hughes) under the guise of bohemian generosity, and in establishing a reputation within your small neighbourhood as an hospitable, though not recognizably sartorial host.


Our poet had to remember that contrivance must appear haphazard, casual. He dressed down. As to the suburbs and environs, the choice came down to:- in Sydney, Rozelle, Balmain and the Blue Mountains - or he may even consider a house-boat on an unpolluted waterway, (the arch sentimentalist disguised as the arch lyricist) if indeed hecan find both, which would set him up nicely with a title for his first volume of memoirs; in Melbourne, Clifton Hills, Brunswick and Apollo Bay - yet the migratory paths along the east coast of Australia is a two way flight path - and he might decide (use-by date: mid-30s) to head toward Byron bay, or up to Mullimbimby to nurture sweaty dreams of breeding and/or leaping upon the nearest politically correct eco-bandwagon; in Wellington, Mt. Victoria, Newtown, Island Bay and Paekakariki; in Auckland, Ponsonby, Grey Lynn and Piha, and extending as far as the Coromandel [home of the legendary, albino possum] peninsular.


He did not consider himself a prolific writer, producing just enough cut & paste and collage verse to maintain a social profile. His first book titled, Getting It Up For You, was published in the late 60s through the Woof & Weft Press who then put out regular small print runs of poetry to an even smaller readership. This book celebrated the sexual game playing associated with the woolly idealism of that era, and served as a record of his real and imagined conquests within a radius of, maybe, five kilometres. Sort of a dirty bomb poetic. Strategies, parties and rouses planned before the narcissistic backward looking gaze of his bathroom mirror. One poem from this collection will serve as a fairly typical example of the style:




Anyway, no way

so I said to Nicole

Stay! dont go (for the day)

oh, what a night

let me take you down to the river

between your thighs

babe, let my love flow

& do you see stars in your eyes (ha)



(Yeah) so dont go

help me up by your love handles

cause love is in the air

& cous cous on the menu

so I said to Nicole

Stay! dont go (for the day)

oh, what a night

but by then she had split.


This is perhaps his most anthologized piece and contains about all anyone needs to know about his philosophy on life, such as can be deduced. Rarely would he submit a poem to the small literary magazines because such an attitude he considered too demeaning - unless of course he was approached by the editors - and this remained the state of things. At any rate, his work appeared in very few literary magazines during the intervening periods between publishing two or three books with titles like (aside from the one already mentioned) Bird Dog Man, Bad Bitch Poems and, maybe, I Dreamed I Was A Jazz Giant published over a period of about 30 years.

Anthologies were the prestige publications he sought, believing that this provided irrefutable evidence of his prominent contribution to generations of hip poets, and the legacy of literature generally. The fact that anthologies paid a bare minimum to poets for their inclusions, and served as a ready made money spinner for large publishing houses who might be fortunate enough to market through the education and library systems - with an outside chance of international distribution - didnt particularly phase him in the least. Given his narrow-band view of life - anthologies represented acceptance by an upbeat clique, and something he elevated in his own mind to the status of privilege. As the author of this essay has written:




I am you see the anthology man,

very much the fashion, and so today,

I will let you into my little plan.


I adopt a style to seduce the fan;

(one feels freed in a familiar way)

I am you see the anthology man.


I shift with fashion, a chameleon,

the man for all seasons, and so today,

I will let you into my little plan.


I am a poseur but of marked élan;

(as the ego-gathering tides hold sway)

I am you see the anthology man.


A solipsist does whatever he can,

the devil take the rest, and so today,

I will let you into my little plan.


Any talent challenging me I ban;

(mine is an exclusive brand of poesy)

am I you see the anthology man?

I will let you into my little plan.



Stephen Oliver

End of Part One

The Poet as Fraud Part Two

©Stephen OIiver

The Poet As Fraud: A Composite first published in this revised version, June 2005 issue

of Antipodes: A North American Journal of Australian Literature.