POEMS OF LIFE & DEATH with hypertext
the collected works of jas h duke
An appreciation by Billy Marshall Stoneking
“When the axe first came into the forest
the trees said ‘The handle is one of us’.”
– jas h duke
The collected works of jas h. duke has long been published in Eternity which is where the reader/listener will have to go if he/she hopes to purview the full eclectic genius of the man. However, the current tome – poems of life & death, edited by Pi O – will more than suffice for those who are not up to that arduous journey.
“Suffice” is not quite the right word, for the current collection is a veritable smorgasbord, and one that cannot be fully consumed in one or even ten sittings. From Jas’ poetic “scores” and sound poems, to his “concretes” and recorded readings and raves about any number of pet obsessions, one begins to decipher the very heart and mind of this thoroughly original and disarming poet; and the on-going discovery is truly delicious.
Make no mistake about it, this is not your mere book of scribbles, your usual thin volume of poetry. The photographs, ephemeria, “conversations” and audio performances (e.g.: “Stalin”), the plays, and the lovingly researched and written biography by Jas’ friend and fellow poet, Pi O, make this a much more substantial and eccentric book than you have held in your hands for a long long time, if indeed you have ever held such a book in your hands! It is as much history as it is poetry – a record of the times through which – and inspite of which – Jas lived his extraordinary life.
Track 6 on the audio CD (selected and produced by jeltje, and included with the book) captures beautifully the inspired presence of the man, as manifested in his voice as well as in his preoccupations… during the rave, which lasts for less than five minutes, Jas traverses a wild range of subjects, from Atlantis to Shakespeare and Frank Zappa, to Australian Aboriginal cave paintings, all spoken in his inimitable voice. It is mesmerising. As is the scope of Jas’ mind and interests. Whether it be one of his sound poems, or plays, or a concrete poem, Jas’ artifacts are the sorts of things one imagines one hears in a surreal pub, or what one might pick up and turn over in one’s hands after a strange night in a place one cannot fully remember. To hear Jas speak, and to hear and see his world, is to believe in miracles, or at least in the possibility that art and inspiration are as natural to every day life as this week’s AFL footy match.
Jas was particularly astute when it came to laying bare the pretensions and false respectability of modern life, and he frequently did so, even when it came at the expense of himself. His sense of humour and wry insight into human nature made his critiques of modern society both incisive and often brutally funny. One of his greatest “performance” poems – “Shit Poem” – which is included in this volume – is an example of his scathing sense of the absurd, and remains a tour de force more than twenty years after it was written. Other poems which appear in this book can be found here and there on the net -for example, “Alekhine and Junge at Prague”. But for the full dinner, one that will continually fill, satisfy, and sustain, the discriminating reader/listener should grab, steal or buy a copy of this book at the soonest possible opportunity.
Click below to hear Dada (from I/V Surrealist Festival 4, Bill Marshall PBS-FM, 1980) (2:03)
Click below to hear A Dream (from I/V Surrealist Festival 4, Bill Marshall PBS-FM, 1980) (3:59)
Click below to hear Mirror Man (I/V Niagara Galleries, Jeff Herbert, 3CR No Limits, 1981) (0:39)
for copies of
Poems of Life & Death
Collective Effort Press
P.O. Box 2430V
G.P.O. Melbourne 3001