Andrew Burke reviews Pam Brown’s ‘click here for what we do’ & Ken Bolton’s ‘Starting at Basheer’s’

“One can only write if one arrives at the instant towards which one can only move through space opened up by the movement of writing.” Maurice Blanchot

These two books sit on my desk with my favourite pages marked like kite feathers: Pam Brown’s click here for what we do and Ken Bolton’s Starting At Basheer’s, both published by VAGABOND PRESS in 2018.

These two poets have been publishing through many different publishers at regular intervals since the Sixties, both with titles numbering in their twenties. The world around them has changed markedly and yet their creative personalities still shine through these new collections as it did in yesteryear. And their secondary creators in this creative stream are their readers – an ever expanding coterie who delight in the seeming simplicity of these pages and enjoy the cumulative effect of their collections one after the other. They write in the moment without conclusion in mind.

‘The means is as much part of the truth as the result … the true quest is the unfurling of a truth whose different parts combine in the truth.’  Karl Marx (quoted in Georges Perec’s THINGS: A Story of the Sixties)

Pam Brown’s title – click here for what we do – is illustrative of her use of today’s language and her sense of humour. The ‘here’ is highlighted as if you could get into the text by pressing it. With a smile I’m tempted to try it. And the ‘we’ is plural – maybe speaking for contemporary poets? And readers? Or simply her urban colloquial clique (including Ken Bolton)?

Pamela Brown was born in Victoria, grew up in Queensland and now lives in Sydney.

I have read many of Brown’s collections: over 20 since her first publication in 1971, including French, Italian, Irish and Vietnamese editions. The advances I notice here are not so much content – her everyday world, including world news and the local arts and environment– but the sharpening of her style. Example: as she reads an essayist:

muttering irritations

irritated by the essayist –

I’d say ‘second last’

                        rather than ‘penultimate’

maybe ‘brokered’ or even ‘supervised’

                                    for ‘proctored’

(context depending’)

                        (when did ‘proctoring’ begin?)


I don’t like the ‘pur’ in ‘purview’

– ‘scope’ would be fine –

there are

lots of these –

             Oh well                                   my slip of flair

(ipse dixit)

It’s a style thing


        from Left Wondering

Here we are focused sharply on language, down to the syllables themselves.

Reading her intimate musings is highly entertaining, as are the various registers of her language, all enriched by narrative streams as cross currents in the journal-like entries. At one stage Brown is …

saving for a spoiler

& sheer line

panel design


cool rooms

to make the money


It follows on from this a page before –

sold to a wrecker

   for a speck

   carless in car city


Robert Graves said, a long time ago, that there’s ‘no money in poetry’ – so like many Australian poets not caught up in academic limitations, Pam Brown has had many jobs, from teaching English in Vietnam to stacking shelves in supermarkets. All these life experiences have found their way into her poems, delighting readers with many environments (exotic and local) and a gallery of characters. Illuminating little snatches of autobiography are woven in to the fabric of this rich language, with allusions to all avenues of culture – television, film, literature and alternative music.

Here she personalises her reaction to a TV documentary on Chomsky, a contemporary American linguist, and philosopher –

documentary –

  the teabag tag

  jiggler dangling


Noam Chomsky’s



Brown’s understandable language sings in a gentle way about life – its many moods, its paradoxes and surprises – people’s actions, her reactions.

The best definition of her poetic comes from an interview published by International Poetry Web in 2011

‘I hope to ‘BE poetic’ without being ‘rarefied’; that is, to say what I mean rather than obfuscate with some over-embellished line or phrase. I expect a critical engagement that even while using apparently fairly straightforward words,  doesn’t exclude language play or surprising, unexpected use of language, or,  say, the elision of odd and exciting concepts and images, and digressions from the general drift in a poem. I guess, like my early influence, Mayakovsky, I’m not ‘TIED’ to it but I can’t deny that the poetic is very much a part of social and cultural critique.’ *

* Quoted from


There are not many collections of poetry that echo in today’s supermarket aisles, but Brown’s lines leapt out at me as I shopped yesterday afternoon:

lonely bowl

of tom yum goong



makes your life




steepening chicken

with spicy slaw

steamy          yet



Depending on the order in which it is put/read, the previous verse can be seen as a great metaphor or a jump-cut narrative: I read it as consecutively both. This is one of the ‘poetic’ tricks in Brown’s toolbox.

Lou Reed’s song ‘Some Kinda Love’ has a pertinent lyric: “between thought and expression lies a lifetime.”

I can see Brown smile as she edits, adding little witticisms to spice the text:


there’s a saying in russia –

  the past

  is unpredictable


click here for what we do displays such moments of laughter, moments of joy and sorrow, and flashes of experience mixed with unpretentious intellectual asides – it’s a rich and lively collection , poetic without stylistic scaffolding and poetic flourishes. It is a further Brown gallery of wit and life, extending a 47 year writing career.

Now, let Pam Brown introduce Ken Bolton. In the blurb of Bolton’s ‘Selected Poems: 1975-1990’ (Penguin), Brown wrote “a personal examination of poetry as a process, as a habit, as a problem, as a joke – and written about with ease.”

Ken Bolton was born in Sydney in 1949. Since 1982 he has lived and worked in Adelaide where he runs Dark Horsey Books for the Experimental Art Foundation. He also runs a regular poetry reading called the Lee Marvin Readings, one of the longest running poetry readings in Australia featuring poets from interstate and local, plus the occasional drop-in overseas guest.

It is wonderful to scan the internet for interviews with both poets from various stages in their careers. Here’s Ken Bolton from

”The thing I was drawn to was that thinking should come with its context and provisionality evident and attached. Cards on the table. I was interested in a poetry that could think and employ the language of thought, but not the bullying certainty of discursive prose, nor the bardic insistence of ‘poetic’ language with its intimation of heightened perception, stronger and finer feeling. ”

From Peter Minter’s interview in Jacket2

Thinking should come with its context – Bolton writes what he is dealt on a daily basis, then notes the action, its time and place, and in editing puts the thinking into its context to make these heightened yet conversational poems. Many times he is writing his primary notes in a café – hence the title STARTING AT BASHEER’S – or at work at Dark Horsey Bookshop.

this notebook’s

beginning to fill up –

hard to find a run

of empty pages on

which to write.

from POEM (this notebook’s)

Oh to see that notebook! Those notebooks of Bolton’s long career would make a scintillating read. Someone once said, All good writing is re-writing. In Bolton’s case, all these good poems are enhanced from good editing. His lines about writing in these poems – most of them self-referential – are stated in straight-ahead language without the intellectual smokescreen of literary theory.

I have found some links in the earlier and continuing influences of both Brown and Bolton – Catullus, Appolinaire, Ted Berrigan and the New York Poets – and no doubt their concentrated influence on each other – and find it illuminating to quote from a couple of poets’ Statements of Poetics in the influential anthology The New American Poetry 1945-1960.

First, Frank O’Hara:

I am mainly preoccupied with the world as I experience it … I don’t think my experiences are clarified or made beautiful for myself or anyone else, they are just there in whatever form I can find them.

Followed by the thoughtful, at times jovial, Philip Whalen;

This poetry is a graph of a mind moving, which is a world body being here and now which is history

To close, on behalf of both these poets, I will present a Bolton poem, uncharacteristicly short, Each With Their Own:


episodes in the history

of one’s attitudes.


Pam Brown, click here for what we do, Vagabond Press, 2018, 148pp pb, ISBN 978-1-922181-34-3, RRP $24.95

Ken Bolton, Starting at Basheer’s, Vagabond Press, 2018, 146pp pb, ISBN 978-1-922181-88-6, RRP $24.95

Andrew Burke is a widely published Australian poet with a baker’s dozen collections to his credit, plus a novel and short stories, and a string of book reviews and literary articles sprinkled over fifty years. He lives in Western Australia.