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Forbeserama : The Virtual Arcade of John Forbes

(Status : Public)
Coordinated by Duncan Hose
  • John Forbes to Mark O'Connor UQFL 148

  • John Forbes to Mark O'Connor UQFL 148

    Dear Mark,

    Well I haven’t stayed “just 4 days”* in Dublin. I should have left today but by hassling the bank in London (& being treated very well by a young lady at the Bank of Ireland) I got an extra £50 (or 63 punt as the pound is known here) & I’m going to stay a few days more. This is because I looked up Noel Sheridan a former director of the Adelaide Experimental art Centre & friend of Kens. He is now director of the Dublin Art College and a power in the land (he & Liz, his wife, are family friends of Charlie and the Lin’s & what we’ve heard about him is all the grossest slander as Britain controls the Irish media. He’s put me up in the guest rooms at the college, an improvement on the Youth Hostel, although I liked the pub opposite same – the first night I went in a mumbling seeming derelict bought me – in one go – 3 pints of beer. Turned out, people tell me he was a FAMOUS ACTOR, only a demon for the piss. Giggled like a child when at his prompting I recited some of our national epics. I laughed a bit too.

    Dublin is like a large scale Newtown, Erko, Darlinghurst and St. Peters, though with more churches; the architecture is about the same date. There’s lots of bad poverty, huge indirect taxes and a flashy comprador bourgeoisie with a state structure encased in a crumbling nationalist ideology, reinforced by, although not identical with – especially now as the bourgeoisie would “objectively” prefer a secularised & contracepted society – the CHURCH. A hundred yards from where I’m writing this two little gypsy (actually ‘traveller’) girls in amazingly filthy cowboy suits are begging outside a huge Augustine Church that advertises group trips to see that dago priest with the stigmata- I forget his name but I’m sure I could find out all about him! At the gate of the arts college there’s a guard. Heroin is sweeping Dublin. Last week a punter (had ½ kilo) got 14 years. They haven’t a clue what to do about it. There are no drug referral clinics (‘Good’ says Mark). But I’m assured the Guarda is not corrupt nor are the politicians in it. “You’ll catch up” I say condescendingly.

    Now the good aspect. No, not yet. There is no free tertiary education. Fees here are Irish 1200 a year. (Naturally I’m aware I’m a momentary beneficiary of all the above but I had my powers of Marxist gobbledegook talking to a Jordanian on the ferry who was very amusing about the world, especially the Middle-East and the U.S elections. We were talking to an enthusiastic young Irish-American Hart supporter. I explained to the Jordanian that in American politics ‘left’ didn’t mean what it means in the rest of the world. I wonder what other country could be described as having a ‘flashy, comprador bourgeoisie’? Hmm? Will Nev get back a few slogans. ‘What’s good for Kevin Waterhouse is good for N.S.W.’ Get Debby Harry’s endorsement ‘Vote for the party that puts your health before profits’ or simply ‘Light the cuts’. Yes, them. I’ve just been reading about about* Edie Sedgewick. It’s great (*funny mistake considering the book’s about speed. I’m not on drugs myself).

    Yes. The good aspects. Very friendly. Noel Sheridan used to know Edwin Denby really well. He lived in the same building when Noel & Liz were poor struggling artists in NY. Denby used to leave loaves of white sliced bread outside their door, which being health freaks they threw away, until opening one, one day, they found $20 bills between the slices. Dublin is a very walkable city with lots of interesting things; for instance in the courtyards of the grimmest blocks of commission flats you ever saw there are glass cases with life-size statues of the Sacred Heart & Our Lady. The people are not exactly friendly – the English are – by & large that – but, how can I say? more like Australians , those paragons of social virtue. The phrase ‘she’ll be right’ is understood here – in England it would only be satirical. I’m going to send a St Pat’s ‘Peace’ card to Gig. She’d love Dublin if she hit it at the right level: i.e. middle-class arty. They’d be gratifyingly shocked but at the same time recognize and applaud the style. I wonder is she is still in Georgina St? Mary-Ann Johnston is. Also I discovered Noel Sheridan’s eldest daughter lives in No 9 Georgina St with the lead singer of The Best Detective. She’s a trainee accountant and does the books for ……..? Bank Hotel. More about Dublin? You could imagine it. There’s a great Pre-Raphaelite show opening at the Tate on the 7th, after that I’ll be on my way to Melb. Hmm. Er. I may need a small subscription to return I can imagine the reaction can you spread this news among the possible subscribers, I’ll stop this letter here and start looking for a niche in the local artistic milieu. Perhaps, as the years go on, I’ll even get to like Guinness. Hope you like the book.

    Yrs John.

  • This letter from John Forbes to his friend Mark O’Connor is a condensed index of the poet’s habits of perception and style of humour, playing the strains of the repartee and cult associations of friendship that touches on the political, the philosophical, the ethical and the economic, whose distinction or difference as types of discourse is shown to be artificial. O’Connor is a Forbes co-conspirator, credited as a collaborator in an early poem ‘Admonitions’ but also present in Forbes’s writings as ‘the Real Mark O’Connor,’ this appellation a running joke working at the expense of a Canberra poet of the same name. The Forbes-O’Connor axis is one diagram in the poet’s life that reminds us that the living practice of an ethos and its aesthetic trace is always developed in community with others, whether they are old friends or selected allies from the hauntologue of literary tradition. In this receipt of a personal mythology Edwin Denby is tied to Noel Sheridan, Gig Ryan is already famous in Dublin, Dublin is a hopeful copy of Sydney’s inner west, international socialism between a Jordanian, an American and an Australian is alive and well on the Holyhead ferry

    The figure of the younger travelling poet styled here is worldly-wise yet heroically naïve: alive to the corruption of human power relations in both the personal and national spheres while admitting a little shiftiness of their own. The ‘letter home’ always has the delicate structure of Nostos, having discovered a fuller presence amongst one’s familiars through absence while reporting adventures that increase the prestige of the one who had travelled over the horizon.

    The sketching of ourselves through a sketch of our international counterparts is a classic Forbes tactic: here we are presented with the idea of Australian being largely run by a ‘comprador bourgeoisie’: an administrative class who oversee the dismantling and distribution of the common wealth on behalf of foreign interests. Yet in the tone of the delivery we hear the ‘unamused, unimpressed’ ethos of the laconic Aussie- the one who faces the arduous or absurd without complaint and with a strict measure of ironic humour. Still, Forbes is alive to the Ginger Meggs-y, sentimental bloke-y bronzed digger as a slippery caricature in its own right, gently mocked by his Irish drinking counterpart who knows all about professional dissembling.

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