Under the Counter: Interview with Ken Bolton

ken bolton at club foote
[Ken Bolton at Club Foote, year unknown…]

Earlier this year, I came across a very enjoyable interview between Ken Bolton and Robert Cook. I have long enjoyed the writing of both gentlemen: Bolton a poet, publisher and the man behind the counter at Adelaide’s Dark Horsey Bookshop, who had just put out a collection of his writing on art; and Cook, a curator whose essays are always a great pleasure to read.

One of the things I liked about this interview is that the interviewer does not attempt to hide behind a curtain of anonymity, trying to absent himself in order to ‘get to the facts’. Rather, he puts himself in the picture. Both authors are self deprecating, amusing and intelligent.

I approached Cook and Bolton after I saw the interview, and asked if they wouldn’t mind me cross-publishing it here, in the hope that it will have a bonus life, augmenting its tenancy as a PDF on the Broadsheet website. Many thanks to both (the below is a slightly tweaked version of the one published in Broadsheet). Thanks to Peter and Alan over at Broadsheet for permission to cross-publish.

For the record, the bibliographic details for the original interview are:

Robert Cook, “Under the Counter: Interview with Ken Bolton”, in Contemporary Visual Art + Culture Broadsheet, 39.1, 2010.

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Under the Counter: Interview with Ken Bolton
by Robert Cook

Here’s where I interview Ken Bolton. In July last year Art Writing was published, a paperback compilation of Bolton’s critical writing on art in Adelaide in the 1990s and 2000s. The cover is (process) yellow with a black and white of Bolton holding a wine glass close to his chest, his thumb at that soft bit where neck turns to breastbone. Maybe he’s at an opening. He’s smiling. He has big hair, looks like he could be someone from The Models. What else is cool about the cover is that whoever did the design made “art” part of the title small and white and “writing” big and black. The small white “art” almost disappears against the yellow background. It is there as a ghost. To me this forces attention upon the writing before the art that is being written about. Process precedes subject.

Now of course, this cannot happen – we all know (sarcasm) that the art kicks the writing into motion. I’ve always been curious how far written discourse permeates making, how it shapes it, how the desire of the artist is shaped by the desire of the critic (fake Lacanian theorising!). And now, this stuff that can’t be known, this precious unknowningness, is right there on the cover! However, on another level Bolton’s writing really does precede the art in the title. He is, after all, one of Australia’s foremost poets (I can’t say famous because, Les Murray aside, “famous poet” is an oxymoron here), making work alongside the late John Forbes, and the living Laurie Duggan, John Tranter et al.

He is a writer therefore, and then he is an art writer (though his editorship of Otis Rush brought the two together). So the fact that an entire book of art writing had been put out interested me – how was the art to be fashioned in the writing, how was it to follow, how was it to lead? Plus, more generally, I’m always interested in what poets have to say about art and the how of their saying it. I’m far more interested in them than novelists on the subject. When novelists encounter visual art they too often strain for literary effect. Poets don’t seem to; they are more pragmatic and searching, less in love with the idea of art to put it on the novelists’ pedastal. In doing so, their writing generates thought, doesn’t shut it down with fancy phrasing. Plus, there’s a neat lineage of poets on art that includes Frank O’Hara, also a curator, and John Ashbery as the most obvious. But the younger American poet Jeremy Sigler writes about art too, and makes it; he’s amazing. It’s an interesting field.

Happily, there’s nothing overly literary about Ken’s writing on art. And this makes sense because there’s nothing overly literary about his poetry either. In fact, he refers to it as nothing but thinking; it is collagey and philosophical instead. His art writing is similarly open. It sprawls, lurches. It doesn’t seem to know the destination. And to me at least, there’s a resulting refusal to polish. I do not get the sense that once he’s found where he is wanting to go with a piece that he starts again and sets up the flagposts, makes it all coherent as a whole (that’s the way I try to operate). I get the sense that he leaves it alone because the steps are essential to conveying the activity of finding an idea. The result is that we don’t really know which trip he’s on when we start reading. I might be romantic about it all but that’s the poet thing at play, the wanting to find the new thing. Here’s where I interview Ken Bolton.

ROBERT COOK: Okay, to begin, thanks for agreeing to chat. I was interested in speaking with you for a couple of reasons. One is that your book is Adelaide-specific, and it opens up a range of cultural centre/periphery type questions that for those of us working in far flung locales remain as relevant as they are desperately unfashionable.  The other was that you are a ‘proper writer’ who writes about art.  You write, and this is evident in the writing, out of curiosity not ambition. This makes your writing on art I think different from criticism and art writing as we typically know it.  It makes it, also, kinda unique, especially in this country.

KEN BOLTON: I’ve probably seemed all of those things at various times, to people here: dour, foppish, mean-minded, show-off etcetera.  I don’t mind showing off, to stay amused, but you are right, none of it was done for professional advancement.  I’ve somehow never been on that ladder.

The centre/periphery thing-yes, it’ s not fashionable: Are we whinging too much?  Can it possibly look good?  What will change, anyway?  Those are the things you think-or that ‘Adelaide’ thinks.  Not me.  I’m ambivalent about Adelaide, maybe-or is it that my loyalty is just not that deep-rooted?  I’m ‘Sydney’, I just happen to be living here. But it’s gone on for a long while now, surely. Perth sometimes seems to me saved by its relative isolation: forced to make greater efforts.  But this is maybe conjecture.

ROBERT: To start, maybe fill us in on the KB narrative arc.  I mean, what took you to Adelaide, and why did you stay?  What did it offer you as a writer?

KEN: I was given a residency at the Experimental Art Foundation in late 1981.  After the residency-part of which involved designing & printing a series of books-the EAF offered me a job as their printer.  So, I left Sydney for good.  (At the time I was living in Coalcliff, a little north of Wollongong. I was squatting.  I had no prospects much, unless I started teaching).  There was not a lot keeping me in Sydney-or so I thought-& I made the move, thinking Funding will flow my way: there are no good poets in Adelaide.

I stayed because I made friends here very quickly & found a place for myself embedded in the art world. My academic background had been Sydney University’s Art History-under Donald Brook, Bernard Smith & others.  I even knew Noel Sheridan a little: so I was ‘connected’ with the EAF in any case. (That is, Noel was its first director & Donald, with Noel, was associated with the ideas & attitudes the EAF was built around.)

Adelaide is an easily negotiated town & I liked it.  I took almost no part in its literary life, but the art scene was genuinely interesting.  What Adelaide offered me as a writer was anonymity.  It was great at that stage of my life to be operating at a distance from the world of real writing, like a poet in a small country town.  Not that Adelaide was that. But, as I say, I didn’t persevere with the local writing.  And in a contrasting parallel world I was at the centre of a lot of activity-not ‘small town’ at all-mostly talking & watching & listening.  I could be a critical voice in a bubbling art world &, as a writer, be an isolated punter at a long remove from literary centres & from my writer friends.

ROBERT: It’s a dumb way of saying this, but Adelaide is a character in your book.  What characterises him for you?  What kinda shoes would she wear to an opening?  Or better, do you have an ‘Adelaide of the mind’ that shapes things for you as you write as you walk as you talk?

KEN: I hadn’t thought of Adelaide’s figuring in my critical writing.  I suppose it’s an entity that one berates, or talks up, or occasionally tries to reassure or to characterize for it to see itself.  But I don’t have that much leverage here.  I don’t have a role via which I can speak to Adelaide.  I don’t want to, either.  I write for an ideal. ‘notional’ reader, to amuse & interest them & to do it by finding out what I think myself.

Compared to other Australian cities Adelaide is a little older & greyer, a little more Anglo, a little less Irish, a little less Labor & so on.  Its art scene is a microcosm-that I hardly leave.  I don’t have much perspective on it, or distance.  In fact I’m in one faction of it, though it sometimes seems a faction of one.  I doubt that the art scene (the ‘faction’, whatever)  reflects the city as a whole.  The scene here is less pretentious than the art scenes of Melbourne or Sydney-but that is purely a function of money. (The more pie there is to divide up the more sniffiness is used to police exclusivities.)  And in that respect-the pretention factor-it is interestingly the opposite of the East Coast’s image of Adelaide-which is usually personified as a chardonay-quaffing & fluted-toned chatterer.  Its art scene is not like that.  It does lack argument, I think.  Things should be contested more, here, or more openly.  But small scenes feel they can’t afford it, I guess.

Adelaide art tends to be a little cool & is usually thoughtful.  There’s a whole range of course.  But it doesn’t often extend to the brashness Brisbane allows or, unfortunately, the unselfconsciousness that Sydney permits. I think.

Australians generally, don’t vary that much across the continent.  Not the way Americans or Brits do.  The vowels change a little.  But our art is not markedly different from city to city.  Anyway, my point is that these attempts to generalize about city cultures are not that interesting.  Adelaide’s main problem, culturally, is that it doesn’t take itself seriously because Melbourne & Sydney don’t attend to it at all-& they constitute ‘the national’.  Adelaide’s own media tend to echo (& thereby internalize) the national media’s low opinion of South Australian cultural production.  That way their ability to analyse & criticize it remains untested.  The main print media here are determinedly parochial & anti-intellectual.  National issues & international issues are usually kept well off the front pages in favour of mind-numbing, infantalising dullness.

ROBERT: The decision not to use pictures illustrating the artworks you’re discussing in the book is brilliant I think.  It makes one consider the prose as prose.  It also reverses the usual dynamic of art writing somehow deferring to the artwork, only existing as a shadow of it in some ways.  What was it like for you considering your own writing in this way?  Related, I suppose, are your thoughts on art prose as prose?  Do you read much of it?  Is it high or low on the genre scale?

KEN: You either need a lot of pictures or none.  I can read Peter Schjeldahl, say, on art I have little idea about & still enjoy it.  So I didn’t mind the ‘no illustrations’ option.  But these were the publisher’s decisions & dictated by cost alone.  As was the decision to focus on just Adelaide art.

ROBERT: And do you read art writing much?

KEN: Not a lot anymore.  Peter Schjeldahl I like, especially his writing of the 80s & 90s.  George Alexander.  And I liked reading T.J. Clark, & Greenberg & Fried, Lucy Lippard & early Rosalind Krauss.  Paul Taylor was good. Most current writing seems too dutiful & industry-respectful to be much fun.  But these opinions are excusing my real laziness, I think.  I should read more current art-writing than I do.  Time is a factor.

ROBERT: I wonder though, if there was really great stuff to read, you’d read it right? It may be that once you get a sense of the lie of the discourse, it is not that important to read critics as such, but more interesting to read widely, to read history, literature, sociology whathaveyou that informs and opens out your approach to life that will filter in through the art writing and make it more human, more engaged in real matters. Is that how you see it? I mean the sense of this in your work is what makes your writing interesting to me, and its lack in others is what makes their stuff boring and unnecessary.

KEN: Well, I’m glad you like the stuff. I think I read whatever will make me more interested in – well – things generally. Which sounds admirably open-minded: but I’m not all that adventurously omnivorous. I was reading some Donald Kuspit just last night, so I do still read the stuff- a book I hadn’t finished & have owned for a while (quite a while), I liked it. I must have stopped (back in last century) because I’d got too used to his mind & pre-occupations. I’d had enough for just that moment. But I suspect that with my art reading if someone is offering a perspective I already have under my belt via a terminology that I prefer, derived from sixties/seventies thinking & Wolheim & Nelson Goodman & Donald Brook, & from attitudes formed in literary writing & my thinking about it – then I don’t read on, out of plain “Yeah yeah” I know this stuff. A kind of impatience.

ROBERT: you have mentioned Brook twice now. I always had him pinned, maybe wrongly as a systematiser, which I don’t think you are so much. What has been his influence on your approach?

KEN: He was an influential teacher when I was at Sydney University. His general outline of the range of definitions or conceptions of what-art-is was very good. At the same time I was excited by art history – or do I mean art? I knew nothing about it until I arrived in the lectures, beyond having looked at various books on art in the library the year before. Donald was not very interested in Art History & now seems to regard it as entirely misguided. I think his then position was almost conflatable with the (Greenbergian) one that holds that true art is the new analysis & distillation of art’s means & that all else was non-art, being kitsch &/or craft because it sought to repeat knowable, reachable goals & to resemble currently acceptable art. Art-properly-so-called (a phrase of his that I love) would of course not resemble known art, in fact it would hardly be recognisable as art. So most of what most of us are calling art is not the real thing, in Donald’s view. I’m sure this would not be Donald’s self-description, of course. Anyway, it’s a line that appeals to me, though I don’t wish to rule out anywhere near so much from consideration.

I was imbibing Donald at the same time as Greenberg, Fried, the Minimalists & Sol Le Witt & Lucy Lippard & others. My thinking (to call it that) has its roots there. I’m not a systematic thinker. I’m not even, primarily, a thinker – except in the more general sense in which artists & writers & critics qualify as that. Everyone does it, surely.

ROBERT: Do you write art prose in a different way from poetry, with a different revision process, a different idea – completion process?  I assume of course the answer is ‘yes’, but still, articulating the difference would be interesting…

KEN: Distraction is often the principle driving my literary writing: I want to follow ideas & associations & verbal textural patterns & contrasts wherever they might lead.  Partly because I’m not that interested in my performance as a ‘thinker’.  But in art critical writing there is something to focus on – I write more denotatively, therefore, a little less connotatively.  I don’t think I write especially good prose.  I mean, I try.  But I don’t write often enough for one thing.  And my poetry is no training for clarity of thought or logically developed argument.  It has some virtues, but not, centrally, those.  Thinking is all my poetry does, pretty much, but it is not concerned to be exactly linear or conclusive.  Linearity is pretty unfashionable, I realise, but not with me.  So it’s not that.

ROBERT: I wonder then, why not combine the two modes, in the factor critical mode? Or are you wanting not to sully your poetry – which I assume is the thing that defines you as an artist with that mongrel genre?

KEN: From a literary point of view I’m all in favour of mongrelising. I think the shifting from register to register is what our minds do all the time. I think handling the high in a low register & the Low in a high register are even better than the constant shifting, that they often present insights where the appropriate register has already delivered all that it can. If one’s emotional verdict is that something is a dud, then one’s high-minded evaluations of it have to take that into account: & they should be able to. If a theorised judgement seems to be forming that something you sort of like is trivial, well, maybe it’s growing up time.

But taking it further, as an artistic principle in the writing of art criticism. Well, almost no one publishing the stuff wants you to do that, or will thank you for doing it. They don’t want you to deliver art: they want writing about art. If no one wants to publish it, it is probably poetry, right? Or it might as well be. (Poets all nod here: we all know how to make this joke. People who read poetry, some of them, will like this sort of stuff. I think.)

ROBERT: I think there is a place for a serious ficto-critical journal in this country, but I should get over that.

KEN: People who like visual art want to read about it (sometimes): they don’t want to find the writer going off on their own jag. But maybe they would if it was marketed to them as just that. I hate the tem “ficto-criticism”. They’re just plain old essays, aren’t they?

ROBERT: Okay, I hate myself for the above question! I wrote it and then unwrote and then put it in to make it seem like I had an agenda. I have been going through a phase of wanting never to write “performative” essays ever again, and then thinking maybe I should but treat them more seriously, like they meant something.

KEN: You should. You can worry later about how they’re categorised.

ROBERT: Yes, I hate the term too, but mostly because it conjures wafty French-sounding fake poetic stuff. The popular American term creative non-fiction is equally silly, though not quite as pretentious.

KEN: “Ficto-criticism” suggests a kind of special pleading: You’ve got to understand, this is “special writing”.

ROBERT: Hmm, I do want my writing to occupy that space. I want it to be “special”. Now, can you clarify what you mean when you say a theorised judgement seems to be forming that something you sort of like is trivial, well, maybe it’s growing up time? Does this mean we are to somehow cede our desire (which Lacan said was a no-no!), to bend us into some kind of rational shape?

KEN: Lacan? That fruit-loop? (Danielle Freakley, The Legendary Short Session, & other crimes against the client, The Freakley Omnibus, 2002) It’s not a no-no, it’s an option: I’m not talking about (D)esire: I’m talking about acknowledging that some things are worth less time than others. A choice you make. If you’re big enough to live with Infantile-but-I-love-it, go ahead. I like Hitchcock & Mel Brooks movies – some of them. For example. How does Lacan feel about High Anxiety?

ROBERT: I will call S.Z., he’s sure to know. But surely, there is something to be gained by considering why one is drawn to the infantile? Ruling it out, seems to perhaps fall into the trap of repression for the sake of what the theorized field constitutes to be as sound and reasonable. That strikes me as frightening though I find it very interesting then that you are indicating that your critical work puts you on the line as much as the art. Have any works or art situations maybe ever actually made this shift occur for you, where your outlook has evolved in a definite, discernable way from an encounter?

KEN: I see your point. I’m not advocating life under the lash of the Lacerating Super-ego. I like a lot of stuff I don’t think is real good. Sometimes that realisation can make you like it less. Sometimes your desire-driven tastes re-assert themselves & say, No, this has to be accommodated, maybe accommodated within your working notions of “Art”. I mean, I really do mean it’s a choice. Writing about art – because it makes you try to arrive at evaluations that are sufficiently articulated – does lead you to affirm, re-affirm, reconsider, abandon or modify judgements & criteria.

ROBERT: What internal forces drove you to start writing about art?  Related to this, do you also write about writing?  If not, what is specific about visual art that intrigues in distinction to writing?

KEN: I’m not sure how ‘driven’ my writing on art is. Aesthetic issues seem to me inherently interesting: I like thinking about them. That they’re ‘located’, so to speak, in visual art, means I can examine them with more disinterest than I could or can when it’s literary work, say.  Because, within literature, I have much more of an axe to grind, a personal investment in the critical fortunes of certain styles & lineages.  I’m part of it.  But visual art is another world-where the problems appear to me, a poet, in the abstract as it were, out of my own sphere.  I do write literary criticism occasionally, but don’t do it as sharply as I do with visual art: I’m less happy, less adroit, often feel more compromised or constrained.  It tends not to pay well, either.  That’s another factor. Not that art-writing has made me rich.

ROBERT: How do you see the two worlds comparing, art and poetry, in this country. Art must seem more central more acceptable, more mainstream right? Is it therefore amusing to you to hear artists complain of their status here, especially from the poet’s perspective? I mean it must be a million times easier to get a show than to publish a book of poems? The audiences, though small for contemporary art probably dwarf poetry’s.

KEN: I don’t mind artists making those kinds of complaint. (I do hear them all the time, yes.) Artists have to put a lot of money into making & storing, framing & transporting etcetera. Some of this is a fetishising that must bore even them. At other times it is exciting. Yes, it is easier, I think, to get a show than have a book put out. And the money surrounding art means it pays for the attention it gets: it buys press, & tries to ensure good press. And then it basks in that press. Novels get a similar treatment. But poetry, no. Visual art audiences make themselves visible: they turn up to these (highly subsidised) openings & drink & talk to each other, & go home. Poetry’s audience, big or small, is less visible. It’s probably voluntary though, uncoerced. The art crowd certainly look cooler. Not meeting the audience is great though. Not meeting the poet probably is, too.

ROBERT: The idea of the constructed, if not exactly coerced, audience is interesting. But, I’m interested, how do the scenes work differently to your mind. I know nothing of the poetry scene, but from the outside it seems incredibly intense – maybe all I have in my head is the John Forbes vibe as presented in a doco I once saw. It is probably impossible to generalize across time and place but is one more constructive than the other?

KEN: There’s almost no pie to share apart from the gaining of critical attention. And the latter is hard to quantify. A large part of the readership is made up of other writers & happens on-line. I doubt that very much of that attention is very close, or sustained: it’s more a kind of monitoring. When someone begins to get some buzz around their work then it attracts greater focus & maybe hard copy sale books. But not enough for the major publishers & their publicity budgets to fund newspaper column-inches of attention. So no one’s head is likely to be turned much by that attention. It’s evanescent. Uncorrupting but unsatisfying. The intensity is around poets’ commitment to particular kinds of intelligence & kinds of knowledge (or whatever apprehension) that particular literary orientations make available. There’s always a poetry war going on, declared or not, about what kind (or kinds) of writing is good (or are good). Often one sort is anathema to another – for a practitioner, if not for a general reader. In that regard poetry resembles philosophy, I think – which is full of camps that cannot bear to recognise each other. Well, so it seems to me. Think of Picasso’s distaste for Bonnard, or the Minimalists’ & Conceptualists’ hostility to Post-painterly Abstraction – which was returned, of course. They probably shared an identical kind of annoyance at Pop Art, which was their contemporary. I’m not saying there isn’t the occasional generous spirit about.

ROBERT: In a way you couldn’t have constructed a more marginal position for yourself. Is that something you cherish, or consider much?

KEN: I’ve been able to generate just enough recognition to console myself, if I need to, that I really do exist. Only just enough, it’s true. I’m not so bothered by it. Currently I’m not so bothered. There’ll come a day when I’m more properly bitter, maybe. I hope not.

ROBERT: There is a sense in which you treat Adelaide very seriously and with a touch of mockery. It’s a nice twinning. By serious I mean you don’t spend too much time connecting out when you write about an artist. You keep it contained in what they are doing. By this you imply I believe, that making art in Adelaide is like making it anywhere else. It is an end in itself, not a step somewhere else. It totally, therefore, gets over the cringe thing. And by mockery, you mention The Big Three etc, and seems to poke fun at a jockeying for position in the art world. So you both inflate and deflate, is that how you see it?

KEN: All true. As regards “centrality”, it probably reflects my own ambivalence. Otherwise, people will jockey for position: it’s not all that unforgiveable. It’s partly a legitimate (certainly “natural”) attempt to get proper attention for their work. You might feel they “owe” it to the work. To a degree. Totally cut-throat networking can look pretty creepy though. I like Sydney & Melbourne, & their art, I think. And I don’t have any special brief for Adelaide. The need to ignore Adelaide reflects a political economy of prestige that is being protected, that is all that is going on. It’s a reflex move.

ROBERT: I think most people are interested in how people sustain practices, and you do so, I gather from working at Dark Horsey. Has this been a nice substitute to working at a Uni as it keeps you intimately connected to ideas and writing and art?

KEN: Dark Horsey is the Australian Experimental Art Foundation’s bookshop but the job also involves my being the general meet-&-greet, information-desk person for most visitors. I answer a lot of phones & all that. The pay is arts-industry level. That is, not good. The hours are short, so I have time to use that I wouldn’t have doing a 40 or 50 hour week.

ROBERT: Is it a context that is necessary in some way for you to do what you do as a critic and as a poet?

KEN: I don’t read in the shop, & very rarely try to write there. So, it’s been a job that has turned out to be more secure than it might have. I do like being somehow (imaginatively, maybe?) in the art scene here: ideas regularly sluice thru it & that is about my speed. I pick up ideas without being such a great or deep reader. Barthes & Foucault I’ve read a lot, & some Kristeva, but not much Derrida or Deleuze. Some Baudrillard. Adorno & Benjamin I’ve read a good deal – Adorno is not an art-world favourite. I might not have read these things in another climate.
Actually, I think this gives a false impression.

ROBERT: Heavy thinker?

Yeah. I know enough about these people to sell the books as I do with many other authors. It’s pretty shallow knowledge, if you could call it that. I do do a lot of other reading: mostly history, cultural history & reviews of things, & literary texts, poetry, novels occasionally. Running a bookshop has made it possible to get these things more cheaply at any rate.

Given an initial priming of aesthetics & art history, it is the art itself, accommodating it to one’s ideas, making extensions to fit the new art in, that informs my thinking. (I don’t really feel entitled to that phrase.) The art has thinking of a kind & provokes it (Manet, Picasso, Matisse, Kirchner, Richter & Peyton, Pollock, Rauschenberg, Warhol, Eva Hesse, Smithson). Figurative art, if it’s any good, makes a lot of evaluations, by design & by accident. Abstract art does as well, tho diffferently. And writers I’ve grown up with, my own crowd, Anna Couani, Pam Brown, Laurie Duggan. In a dialogue or dialectic with them, & with phrases & phrasings from Frank O’Hara, Ted Berrigan, James Schuyler, Adorno, Barthes & others – such as Greenberg & Donald Brook – that’s what has informed my thinking. Not methodical, trained reading because I read for pleasure. Some difficult works, sure, but only if I am enjoying the difficulty.

It’s the clash, the argument between them (between O’Hara & Lowell, between Adorno & Heidegger), that produces the moves that you make your own arguments with or around. And this cloud of unknowing & partial knowing & history of opinions is with one as you try to do your own writing: poetry, in my case. And one thinks pretty hard about the art you’re making, while you’re in the process, a kind of deep mulling.

The art-writing has been a way of responding to the world I seem to have embedded myself in. I would possibly not have been engaged with art so much, with particular careers & practices, if I hadn’t been here. Who knows? The assumption that I might – or must necessarily – reflect the EAF critical line is something I have ignored. I don’t & haven’t. Under so many different directors my own take naturally has not always been theirs.

ROBERT: Do you have the dream of writing fulltime or is that kind of hideous to think about?

KEN: I think if I had had a history of long periods in which to think & write, in tandem, I might have produced different things. But I’ve probably adapted so much to writing out of distraction, snatched time, daydream, that I’m not sure I’ll ever find out if that is the case. That said, once I have a larger project begun, I find it no trouble at all to let much of the rest of my life just happen to me – the routine of bookshop hours etceter – & have the periods of writing link up (over weeks, over months even, almost as though there has been no interruption. It’s the regularity of the job’s routine that makes it possible to write. I might not get anything done if I had too much time.

ROBERT: Cool. And hey! we’re almost out of time ourselves. Let’s end this like it’s The 7PM project. What’s coming up next for you Ken Bolton? Oh stuff it, what about the next thirty years? What’s The Plan?

KEN: It is about time I formulated a plan. Travel – but maybe I’m dreaming? This will be a big pubishing year for me: there are two collections of poetry – A Whistled Bit Of Bop, soon from Vagabond Press and Sly Mongoose, late in the year from Puncher & Wattmann. Two Sydney presses. And appearing any minute, a book called The Circus, ‘life in the circus’, in Northern Italy. It’s full of poetic longueurs: the Strong Man ironing his tights, the ballerina wondering whether to leave or not, the ticket seller bored out of his brain, a kid in the ticket line wondering is he really wasting his money, the lion yawning, a death, a comeback, a happy moment. It’s illustrated by Michael Fitzjames, so it looks terrific. The Circus is published here in Adelaide, by Wakefield Press. So, I will seem to have been very busy.

2 thoughts on “Under the Counter: Interview with Ken Bolton

  1. Ken

    Yep, “judgements & criteria”. Robert didn’t seem to want to question any particular ones, or classes of them. Or, at any rate, he didn’t raise any such question in the interview. I don’t know if he had planned to & just ran out of space & time, or whether he thought it best to avoid discussion of detail that the reader mightn’t be privy to. There are plenty of judgements made in the book, of course, & very often the criteria are stated. (I’m not unwilling to discuss them.)


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