Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Michael Dransfield - drugs and poetry

I had a mate, a better man than I am, lived opposite me at No. 57.  He died a little over twelve months ago now, still in his early fifties.  His name was Keith.  It was the way in which he lived during his youth that caught up and killed him prematurely, hepatitis and liver cancer.  Keith got involved with mind altering shit coming out of the drug culture of the late sixties, early seventies – weed, heroin, smack, psychedelic stuff.  As older dudes, he would come over to my place and have beers, and when the alcohol blurred suburban Sunday afternoon Keith would talk like he was stoned, or maybe I heard like we were both stoned.  If Keith ever wrote poetry I reckon he would have written like Michael Dransfield.  Dransfield was a promising young Australian poet from the same drug era who tragically died at just 24 years old.  In his short working life Michael Dransfield wrote hundreds of poems, published three or four books of poetry.  He lived as a full time poet (“in Australia, the ultimate sacrifice” – his words).  Critique comments on his work often ponder how great he might have become if he had lived, as compared to how good he was in his lifetime.  For me, Dransfield provides typical creativity, art, and insights that drugs and alcohol seem to inspire (Bukowski, for instance).  Can’t say I’ve ever tried to connect with substance and creativity myself – therefore the reason for ever remaining a cautious amateur.  Maybe one day, maybe ……
I usually provide only one poem in a post, but for Michael Dransfield I’ve selected three.  The first is titled, For Charles Blackman.  I’ve selected this poem and I like it because for me, it’s the rambling, short, sharp punctuated points, the inspiration from hazed mind; it’s the box of words tossed in the air to come down random and fall into place to form a poem; it’s the flickering figure slowed to projector feed, the disconnected, but connected thoughts.
The second poem I’ve selected from Dransfield is titled, Hands. This is a poem I keep coming back to.  It is an example of keen observation, interested observation, personal, intimate observation, observation of the figure, but also what lies behind the figure.  I’ve selected the third poem to try and give a representation of the many poignant and sad poems Michael wrote describing the drug scene.  The poem is titled, The bi kid.  This is what captured and took a promising poet.

For Charles Blackman
Michael Dransfield (1948 -1973)
by itself on
a grey embankment
with handfuls of grass
the telephone box
is very red.
presently while a
black kitten stalks
mysteriously through
hill weeds
a girl comes
in a blue dress.
the shape of
her legs in
black stockings
excels the sky.
she talks to
someone distant
who has a white yacht
and takes her
on the green harbour
the wind filling
sails and her clothes
with the same

Charles Blackman is a famous Australian artist (getting on in age) who was prominent around Michael Dransfield’s time.  If you are familiar with any of Blackman’s painting style then you will instantly recognise it in this poem.  In fact I reckon you could read the poem, immerse yourself a little, and then be shown a random selection of paintings from various artists and you would easily find yourself saying, “Yes, that’s the Blackman”!  I can picture Michael having just discovered this particular painting and the artist, Charles Blackman, and he’s blown away by what it speaks, the colours sensual vibration, what it is, what it is, the emotions, touched, movement, expressions of …….  I’ve tried to identify the particular painting that Michael is referring to in the poem, but I haven’t found it yet.  I know from published interviews that Blackman did drawings of a telephone box around 1952/53 following a time in the UK and then incorporated it into paintings some 15 years later.  That does put it in Michael Dransfield’s time – early 1960’s.

Michael Dransfield (1948 -1973)
they are like sparrows, her small
hands, darting about, making empty
gestures in the air
when she touches the keyboard
notes drop like insects at the end of autumn
his nervous hands dangle, nothing to
hold, reach for someone who passes,
who does not stop, and the claws return
with a thread caught in them
she sits bulkily on a dwarfed
chair, and in the sweating
hugeness of her fingers,
even a goblet disappears
they stand in a corner
they think they are in love
many drinks have drained into them
she leans on a wall as he caresses her
his hands as busy as maggots on a dead bird
the host, with his
remora wife,
shakes hands with their departing guests.
he is neither large nor old.
his handshake leaves an impression of both.
dry weightless touching
as the wind would feel
in curtains of loose skin

I love how Dransfield taps the thoughts and emotion he obviously experiences as he observes each different encounter of people’s hands, “as busy as maggots on a dead bird”!  Oh yeah!  Remora’ in the last verse – a sucker fish, an obstruction, an impediment …….

The bi kid
Michael Dransfield (1948 -1973)
paul the bi kid
wants a hand to shoot some
up in his jugular
nothing wrong with his arms
but he’s after a flash
you’ll get it paul
with citric acid added
for a base
a 25 gauge pick
a ripped off ‘fit
a stolen spoon & my candle
john from upstairs is here
his kidneys are clapped out he’s been
pissing blood
leave them to their own
mainly literary devices
i don’t believe in violence
the pigs were here today
to freak out john
they’re coming every day
the rot’s set in
and the depressive silence

My link to Dransfield is via a couple of short poems I wrote as a memory and tribute to Keith – the messed up days, the craziness of simply living not to be anything but to live.  If only it didn’t need drugs.

2010.   My friend Keith’s planned quite a few spiritual escapes (just you and me) over a few beers on a week-end.  Luckily none of them have come off.

you and me
should go up to Arnhem Land
and go with the fella
out in the bush
and get our own didg’s,
one each
from the hollowed out trees,
we’ll stay out there
until we find the right didg,
we might get circumcised
and get scars on our bodies
and all that good stuff.

2011.  This one’s for my ex-friend Keith who sometimes didn’t know when to give.

Forgotten Already
some people got to have it all,
be it fame,
fortune, popularity,
knowledge, information, gossip,
and they don’t really care,
or try to understand,
how much more,
you might be in need of it,
than them
                                                              J. O. White