Tuesday, May 12, 2015


This tickler notwithstanding, the 56th Venice Biennale seems much like the last one, in which case I'm recycling my poem about that too.


A boa of serious gaiety settles upon the shoulders of the island
As the artists of the world convene for the Biennale,
Suited, pashmina-ed, be-holy-jeaned,
Pink mohawk punks wheeling Gucci luggage,
All a world apart from the common or garden tourist
If by the trim of their beard or the cut of their jibe,
Striding atop high-horse heels from Prada to Prado,
Hastening o'er the cobblestones towards importance.

They convene at certain outdoor tables
In a certain jigsaw of piazzas,
To drink down their spirits and suck on their fags,
Discourse with a weary intensity
On the weary world in all its woes
Quoting tracts which might or might not
Be their own, and so of themselves connote
Self-conscious quotations of quotations,
In an argot that gyres towards dizziness,
When I say art I mean business.

Over the bridges the hordes come and go,
Behold the canals of Canaletto!

Over Campari sodas and ten euro cognacs
They may denounce racism and sexism,
Injustice, imperialism, post-colonialism,
To the last dwindling penny of their per diems,
The last soup├žon of their gauche caviar,
Then retreat, all too often alone, to their hotel,
Its star rating an exact and authentic reflection
Of their place in the firmament of art.

In the morning they will recall few if any
Of their ejaculations of the night before,
Not that it matters so very much, and work
On their bowel, and a polite avoidance of breakfast.
Aboard the vaporetto down to Giardini
They may strike up a conversation with a critic
Whom they suddenly hope some day just may
Smooth their path a tad, if not invite them
One sweet summer for a stay in their villa
In an unpronounceable corner of Sardinia.

The afternoon is a Sargasso Sea drift from pavilion
To pavilion of this Olympics cum trade fair of art
Through the heaving chest and scolding tears
Of another performance giving voice to the voiceless,
Another stupendously expensive, purpose-made,
Site-specific installation decrying greed,
Another panel discussion on capitalism and its evils,
Denouncing history, denouncing meaning
And meaninglessness, again, and yet again.

They may saunter past a massive mound of rubble,
Squint at a squid of tree trunks and rope,
A squall of words down a long white wall,
A bird of prey with a royal Land Rover
Tight in its claws, and be left to wonder,
Helplessly, angrily, poignantly, tragically
Why again, again, their own work is not quite
Among these select, this creme that floats so easily
Atop the creme de la creme like an outrageous
Vienna coffee, a Liberace of floss,
To wit, an entire building, and not just any building,
But a building with their nation's flag aloft,
The national pavilion of their own people,
Given over to them, and them above all others:
All this - and the Biennale of Venice!

When the rain comes it is perfect rain, expensive rain,
Venetian rain, and it patters down exclusively
Upon the heads of the artists of the world,
And their relatives, spouses and partners
Under common law, their friends, foes,
And rivals alike, critics, students and theoreticians,
Enthusiasts and hobbyists, television presenters
Who pronounce their ars as doubleyous,
Camp followers, dilettantes and dandy poseurs,
Idle gawkers, stray tourists grouped and ungrouped,
And the lone model in the mini skirt who steps
Like a Bond Girl from an idealised water taxi,
As if her arrival were itself a catalogue performance,
But who is instead taken aside and politely asked
For the ticket of admission she does not have;

The rain falls and falls yet, upon all equally now,
Just as gently, as insistently, just as wet,
Flecking scarves, miring boot heels in cobbled mud;
Umbrellas of varying qualities are hoisted
Against the heavens, and the queues at pavilions
May dramatically shorten, or suddenly lengthen
Outside the pavilion that is the momentary buzz,
In dogged defiance of the nagging elements
That have always been the enemy of art.

Over the bridges the art lovers come and go,
Hungry for a naughty Hirst or Serrano show.

They may linger in the cafe in careless conversation
With a Roman gamin who hates Rome because nothing works,
Overhearing the tidal rise and fall of the singsong likes
Of the endless Americans, and the Dutch
In their Double Dutch, idly remarking
The French in their heroic pessimism,
The Brits in all their bravura,
The Spanish in their melancholia,
The Italians in all their cigarettes,
Note the nod, the shrug, the derisive snicker
As works are deconstructed over fat brioches,
And marvel that none of all of any of this
Means the merest thing, other than that
Everything was forever until it was no more,
That this moment as lived now
Will never come again, but sink irrevocably
Into the eternal murk, like Venice.

With the fall of evening they may repair to the Via Garibaldi
Another night in the bar, the ristorante, trattoria, bistro,
Where they cash their chips for grilled Venetian fish,
Rendering unto the Doge that which is the Doge's,
Glimpsing again the gamin holding court
A Madonna on the rocks and such too is her drink,
A vast parabolic sweep of her cigarette in hand,
The artists of the world at her lovely sullied feet
All of them masterfully assembled by a despised old master
Into a loving canvas of all that is vanity and frailty,
In all their human stain, and smoke-smudged beauty.

In their hotel room again, alone yet again,
Encrypted in its Woolworth rococo,
Trying not to picture the gamin atremble in the arms
Of him or hersoever, they may shower meditatively,
A little tipsily, perchance a little drunkenly,
And for the most fleeting of moments feel almost happy,
And wonder, again most fleetingly, is that not the project of life,
And, too, the purpose of art, that is, if it has one at all,
Be it an attempt to shock the bourgeois from their seats,
Or decorate their houses, offices and city squares,
A passing pleasure for the eye and mind, if that is a question at all,
Critically defensibly worth even two minutes at a panel forum,
A question so narratively grand and historically conditional,
Fluted and curlicued, that it is not worth the asking.

Though they may then consider further, even more leisurely,
Whether they are content in this life they have made,
And conclude that the question has no rational answer,
Before retiring to the salad crisp sheets,
Where before switching out the bedside lamp
They may observe a peeling of paint in the ceiling,
And how it almost constitutes a shape, or pattern,
So that they spend some moments breaking out the camera
To photograph it, their Venetian ready-made:
The last thing before closing their eyes, they delete
The photographs, and eye the glass of water
 One night table, wondering if their wish is to drink it.

Over the empty bridges the rats now come and go,
Squeaking of Michelangelo.

At last, even artists sleep. As night settles
On Cimitero di San Michele, the isle of the dead,
The cypress groves recede an ever deeper green
And the forest of crosses grows;
The waters of the archipelago lap at the island's hem
Oblivious to the heeled whore of Venice
Across the lagoon, murmuring a prayer for all
Who sail within, a sigh for their nighted souls,
Murmuring of the gentle deliverance of oblivion
For all, from the hard mystery of art.


Thursday, May 7, 2015


With the shocking discovery of the Long Ear Nebula,
The Sagging Eyelid Galaxy and the Double Chin Globular Cluster,
Astronomers were forced to concede
That the heavens indeed constituted the face of God,
Even if religious leaders for their part then
Had to concede the divine visage was not as they had foreseen,
And that given its age already, and the time taken for light
To reach the Earth, the deity in question 
Was most likely not merely old 
And decrepit, but very long dead,
Thus scoring a cosmic win-win and lose-lose all in one,
And leaving all in the dark, and rather alone.

- Larry Buttrose

Monday, March 30, 2015


Soon after they met
He dubbed her Sponge Cake,
Saying she could absorb his bodily fluids
And only ever taste better.

Later, it was his frustration and fury,
His fists and blows and god only knows
That she suffered, and tried to absorb,

Silently sponging the hurt
While keeping the smile taut
In a crusting of sugar icing,

Which only cracked, so bewilderingly,
When she was a thousand miles gone
And left him to lie to no-one else
But police, and himself.

- Larry Buttrose

Sunday, March 8, 2015


"Greene's 'ways of escape' included opium dens, whorehouses and the Catholic Church. ('I had to find religion', said Greene to a friend who asked him about his well publicised conversion, 'to measure my evil against.')… in November 1957, Greene and his married mistress Catherine Walston went on holiday in Havana. 'We had been to the Shanghai, we had watched without much interest Superman's performance with a mulatto girl (as uninspiring as a dutiful husband's), we had lost a little at roulette, we had fed at the Floridita, smoked marijuana, and seen a lesbian performance at the Blue Moon', recounted Greene in his memoirs. 'So now we asked our driver if he could provide us with a little cocaine.' All the while Greene gathered intel on the Fidelistas for his SIS [Secret Intelligence Service] contacts in Her Majesty's government, which was supplying arms to Batista." From Potions of the Caribbean by Beachbum Berry.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

19 THINKS I think I thought

1. I am alive, a member of a species we call humanity, and living on a planet we call Earth.

2. This planet is in a system orbiting around a star we call the Sun, and part of a galaxy or system of stars we call the Milky Way. According to human science, there are some hundred billion galaxies in the totality of heavenly bodies we call the Universe, although this is presumably largely an approximation.

3. Until recently the theory of the Big Bang had become the orthodox explanation for the creation of the Universe. But this always seemed a rather “beginning-middle-and end” human-styled story, and now this is being questioned by others of multiple universes or multiverses, and of an “eternal universe”.

4. While an “eternal universe” is possibly more comforting to our minds, we have no way of comprehending “eternal”, either in temporal or spatial terms: merely trying to imagine it gives us a headache. In the end, though, be it Big Bang, Multiverse or Eternal Universe, or (most likely) Other, it will probably have precious little bearing upon our own individual existence(s).

5. One thing we do know is that all of us will die, and all too soon as well.

6. What death will mean for each of us, however, is impossible to know before it happens, and very possibly not after it either.

7. We do know that once dead, our bodies will eventually break down into the atoms of which they were composed, said to have originated from the deaths of stars we call supernovas.

8. While we know we will die and our bodies break down, what we do not know is what will happen to our consciousness upon death. Most human religions or faiths are predicated on some version of “life after death”, an immortal part or “soul” living on, this holding out the prospect of “resurrection” of some kind, usually of the individual, and presumably with their own consciousness and memories intact.

9. Religions generally centre upon an all powerful Creator, who made our world and all things in it, and the Universe itself, who would oversee our destiny beyond the grave, in eternal life. Given an eternity of time as we humans (fail to) comprehend it, this state of being is usually reduced to our clean-scrubbed and robed selves strolling peacefully down well-lit avenues, with much benign mist and the playing of harps.

10. That we have no human means of imagining eternity, much less comprehending what we would actually do with it if it became ours to live, could potentially be a barrier to an acceptance of religious belief, though for many people this does not appear to be the case, their apparent solution being not to think about it. In that regard, religious believers would appear to go to their graves very much like non-believers, and those who hold that in the end we are all compost anyway.

11. Those who do not subscribe to religious views may believe that Creator-centred religions are little more than a fond hope of deliverance by the theistic equivalent of our children’s Santa Claus, and hold that upon death there is nothing, and that our consciousness, memories and personality are all extinguished with our bodily life.

12. If there is nothing after death, which we could imagine as a darkness (or possibly light) going on “forever”, then it would seem to many people that their lives are futile, a few decades of eating and defecating, having sex, fretting over sex, fretting over love and love not had, worrying about money, moving the furniture around the living room and stacking and unstacking the dishwasher, bounded on either side by a nothingness beyond comprehension.

13. The 8th Century English monk, the Venerable Bede, put this eloquently as our mere moment of life being akin to a sparrow flitting from the night into a lit hall and then straight out another window on the far side, back out into the night. Thus this life can be seen as a painfully brief moment of illumination, stark and dazzling. But, if there is an illumination, then of what, and about what?

14. The existentialism of Sartre and Beckett confronts human existence as being pointless, and all our often hard wrought choices, individual, moral and ethical, being essentially meaningless too. But what then motivates us, and particularly those drawn to such views, to get up each day, and go on with their life, trying to be a “good person”, when their existence will end all too soon and “mean” nothing anyway?

15. We may seek, and find, meaning in love, in our children, in family, or in creative pursuits such as art, writing, music. Some may find it in playing sport or barracking for a sports team, or even writing plays about the meaninglessness of life.

16. Whatever the case, all must find meaning in some form somewhere, somehow, or else the dark matter of pointlessness will weigh down on us, and depression, nihilistic disengagement, even suicide may be the result.

17. But what is that meaning? If we are dead in a few decades and our having existed at all almost certainly entirely forgotten within a generation or two, what is the point, indeed? Even the celebrated are forgotten, unless they are as renowned as Shakespeare and Beethoven. But what is 500 years, even, in the time of the Earth, and much less the stars, than the merest blink, less than a single wingbeat of the sparrow of the Venerable Bede? And does the memory of their name and work mean anything to them now, returned as they are to dust, to atoms?

18. In his classic novel of 1930, Last and First Men, English philosopher and author Olaf Stapledon fictionally surveyed the coming two billion years of human history.  In it, humans evolve through 18 different species, of which we are the sadly all-too-primitive First. There is no god nor gods behind the creation of the universe in this account, and the highest aspirations for us as humans are not worship nor ritual, but ever remain the creative arts, literature, music and art, and what he calls “Racial Awakening” the telepathic psychic communion of all living humans (the Internet might perhaps be seen as a very primitive precursor of this). As well as finding meaning through creativity, in personal terms we may find it in love and sex, family and friendship, and charitable acts of altruism. This, it could be noted, is similar to the ending of Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, in which it is suggested that the meaning is: "Try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations."

19. At the conclusion of Last And First Men – humanity it seems is doomed when the Sun becomes a Red Giant, and the solar system faces incineration – the ultimate human species, the Eighteenth, possesses the ability to live forever, and is effectively immortal. But, after a long lifespan, typically of some hundreds of thousands of years, nearly all choose to die. Presumably, then, the beautiful and hideous wilds of eternity are still too much even for humans of such evolutionary advancement. And, at the very end, with the solar system and the entire human race doomed, we close the two billion year human story with the simple statement: “It is good to have been Man.”

20. In my beginning is my end - Drive your cart and plough over the bones of the dead – I am here, Or there, or elsewhere. In my beginning.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


Oh the poignancy!
Oh the bitter-sweet and sour!
Measured out by the spoonful,
The minute, to the dread hour.

In the window,
Working, scheming,
In the pub,
Joking, screeching,

In the bed,
Snorting, dreaming,
And all of it so very swell,
It fills the time so well.

Now the faces have faded,
All the eyes are dead,
The feet are gone
That here did tread,

Fresh faces pace the streets,
The halls of the same houses,
Take out the approximate garbage
For their approximate spouses.

Larry Buttrose