Spontaneous Poetics – (Australia – 2)

Tutuma Tjapangati (19o9-1987) – One Old Man’s Dreaming (1971)

Student: Did the Aborigine’s have, (as) a Creation Myth, that they originally came from New Guinea, or is New Guinea just a h(e)aven [sic] for hearts and souls ?

AG: Well, this is Northern Australia. There were about, I think I read somewhere, three-thousand different Aboriginal languages spoken. So each tribe had its own dialect, some of them completely different so that one tribe couldn’t understand another. Originally (before Englishmen came to Australia), they lived in the lusher parts of (the country). It wasn’t total desert. But Australia is a vast continent (larger than the U(nited) S(tates)). So that the geographical instructions would be different for every part. Where I attended a funeral ceremony was in Arnhem Land, which is Northern Australia, which is only a few hundred miles south of New Guinea.

The Creation Myth, I don’t think involved New Guinea. I don’t know enough about it to say so. But mostly it was (that) they had a conception of an eternal Dreamtime (otherwise known as “the Dreaming”), which is where their tribe was formed, (not necessarily according to our sense of time). Large rocks or trees or natural features of the landscape are connected with the sleepy lizard or the (witchetty) slugs, or with people north of Ayers Rock, or south of Ayers Rock (two distinct classifications of humanoids!)

Dreamtime Aboriginal Painting circa 1992 by Norbett Lynch Kngwarreye

There are legends about how Sleepy Lizard decided to stop there and stay there and that’s why the rock looks like a lizard, but, at the same time, it’s continuous.. it’s a continuous present. Their eternal Dreamtime seems to be some sort of Continuous Present, which fits in with their migration cycle (in the sense that some animals mentioned in the migration songs are known to have been extinct(ed) twelve or fourteen thousand years ago). Which means that they have the oldest culture, the oldest viable human culture on the planet that we know of (because) I don’t think that there are any other poetry (that) has survived that long. If you want to (as Thomas Merton once did) measure the validity or viability of a culture by its stability, its long-lasting-ness, (then) they have the most viable culture of all (or they had, until we began destroying it!)

Ancient Petroglyphs, Ancient Rock Art at Uluru (Ayers Rock) Australia, depicting Dreamtime myths, inscription and imagery from “the Dreaming”

Student [pointing to Aboriginal inscription]: What animals are those?

AG: Oh, I don’t know. Large bears or mammoths..

Student: It’s the geographical migration (depicted here), or is it the soul migration?

AG: Geographic. The tribes moving around in a several-hundred-mile journey (that might take a couple of years), or (around a) larger perimeter (that might take forty or fifty..fifty, years to go around). That is, in other words, eating up all the foodstuffs on the way, and then having to move on to another camp, maybe twenty or thirty miles off, then staying there several weeks, or a month or as long as the foodstuff would last, before having to move on further. Those are the Central Australian desert tribes, anyway.

Tom [sic], I’ve forgotten what your actual question was, though..

Student: Oh, I was just wondering.. the Aborigines.. I was under the impression that they were very isolated people and they didn’t know about other lands besides Australia, (because they lived in one place and had for a thousand years), so I was wondering…

AG: Yeah..

Student: …why they..

AG: Except that, remember, their oral traditions are as old as twelve thousand years!

– So in that time they picked up an awful lot of experience. There are individuals who did take migrations outward and there are presumably some tribes that wandered off for a long time (and met other tribes), but, basically they.. in a sense, like some animals, they had their own space, their own territory, their own cycle – their own (space to return to)

Student: So they would have some (interaction with outside) people, or visitors from..?

AG: Some. Actually, (frankly), I don’t know what the history is..but there is some story that they migrated down, actually – through Africa, through Asia, and then down into Australia – and there are all sorts of theories that the continents (are) slowly moving around anyway – it might have originally started out as one single continent (what’s (Charles) Olson‘s name for the single continent?

Student: Gondwanaland

AG: Gondwanaland? Yeah. So they may have known something about it from their residence in Gondwanaland, but that was probably a lot earlier.


Ancient division of the land masses – Triassic Period

The first songs I heard were children’s songs –

Wappenka Jarparma Nyanna Nalalee,/ Wappenka Jarparma Nyanna, Nalalee,/ Wappenka Jarparma Nyanna Nalalee,/ Wappenka Jarparma Nyanna Nalalee,

Eurocomena Eurocomena, Nyanna Nalalee,/Eurocomena Eurocomena, Nyanna Nalalee/Eurocomena Eurocomena, Nyanna Nalalee/ Eurocomena Eurocomena, Nyanna Nalalee

Tununu Eurocomena, Nyanna, Nalalee,/Tununu Eurocomena, Nyanna, Nalalee,/Tununu Eurocomena, Nyanna, Nalalee,/Tununu Eurocomena, Nyanna, Nalalee [somewhat crude phonetic transcription, confessedly, here]

Those are “Jumping into the willy-nilly, one by one,/Jumping into the willy-nilly, one by one,/ Jumping into the willy-nilly, one by one” (“willy-nilly”, being a little red sandstorm, dust-storm, a little wind, tiny child-sized tornado that the kids are jumping out of,) or “Tossing the cricket-stone one to ‘nother,/”Tossing the cricket-stone one to ‘nother,/”Tossing the cricket-stone one to ‘nother” that’s obviously a British (English) translation – “Cricket-stone”? – (cricket) – some form of ball-game they played with – (Well, you could say “tossing the baseball”, except they didn’t have the bat (that) they needed for cricket – cricket has a bat too)… and..

A cricket bat, photographed in a horizontal position against a plain white background. Its handle is to the left of the photo. The back of the bat is visible. The handle has a black rubber cover on it. The rubber has a small split in it at the end of the handle. There are signatures on the back of the bat. A circular red mark is visible near the upper right corner of the bat's back. The grain of the bat's timber can be seen running along the length of the bat.

Don Bradman’s Cricket Bat in the National Museum of Australia

“Jumping over the windbreak, one by one,/ Jumping over the windbreak, one by one/Jumping over the windbreak, one by one”.

So I guess the migration songs involving the dead that I heard, I don’t remember. I recorded a lot of them but I didn’t memorize any of them. (They) would be like, I don’t know what kind of birds they have there (gulls, I suppose, because of the ocean)

Student: Lyrebirds?

AG: Pardon me?

Student: Lyrebirds?

AG: Lyrebirds, ok (probably some) lyrebirds, out toward New Guinea. I mean, like – “Sunrise, cloud of lyrebirds./ Sunrise, cloud of lyrebirds./ Sunrise, cloud of lyrebirds./ Sun over horizon, silver fish./ Sun over horizon, silver fish./ Sun over horizon, silver fish.”

It’s simply a description of the fish and animals they’d meet in the ocean, or what kind of weather (they’d be) likely to expect, depending on the season. And I think these soul migration songs were also involved with seasons, because they’d have to have specific seasonal information.

Student: Does it include something to the effect of “don’t come back!” ?

AG: I don’t know, actually. I don’t know the metaphysical structure. I just was astounded by the fact that it was a geographic structure, to begin with, guiding the soul, like in William Carlos Williams‘ physical world. I don’t think they’d be able to get back fromNew Guinea once they got there (if they were flying with their souls, that is).

Student: Allen?

AG: Yeah

Student: I don’t know much about this at all, but either this weekend or next weekend [here at Naropa] there’s this Monkey Chant..

(Another) Student: It’s tonight.. tonight at 6.30, outside the Boulder library. (It’s) going to be led by a Javanese dance master. They want to assemble 300 people to do the monkey chant…

AG: Great!

Student: Allen?

AG: Yeah

Student: In the United States, there are rhythmic children’s songs, like (these), no?

AG: Yeah (turns to Philip Whalen) – Did you get into any of those (in the classes you taught)? Were you going to.?

Philip Whalen: No, but there are various manifestations…

AG: Yeah. That’s what’s sort of curious..(that) it’s basically the same thing (except that they’re using songsticks and there’s an old formalized pattern. I tried adapting that to my own use after a while… So, in Central Australia.. in (19)72.. in the center of Australia, there’s Ayers Rock, which is a large red sandstone monolith, (porous, and so it collects water over the years, and water is continually dripping through the center of it down to pools around the edge, in the shady side and the sunny side). It’s become sort of a sacred place for Central Australian tribes to do ceremonies at, and to stop over at, because there’s always water there. It’s called Uluruor Ayers Rock. This is written in a plane approaching Ayers Rock – [Allen reads in its entirety “Ayers Rock/Uluru Song” – “When the red pond fills, fish appear”…”One raindrop begins the universe”…”When the raindrop dries, worlds come to their end.”]

Uluru (Ayers Rock) – Aboriginal Sacred Site (Australia)

And I tried applying that to the Vietnam war, thinking that it was such a basic form [simple repetition] that it would be interesting (as a means) to get attention in large rallies involving thousands and thousands of people, and also get across a very simple message. I was thinking in terms of stopping the bombs, stopping the (bombing) in Vietnam, and, wandering around in peace rallies, over a two-year period, I evolved a chant, which I used, with aboriginal songsticks (varying with the locality, actually). So I’ll try some of it, see how far it goes. It’s repetitive, naturally, but
[Allen proceeds next to perform a (highly-improvised) unique early version (with songsticks) of Hum Bom! -“Stop Your Bomb” – “Stop Your Bomb” …”and so forth” – (And) there’s one other funny stanza – “Soldier man, don’t bare your arms/ for dirty dope and dirty bombs/Soldier boy, your natural charms/don’t include you shooting bombs/Air-force boy, don’t bare your arms/high in the sky/dumb and calm/heaven’s gate/quit kicking the gong/earth quakes when you drop your bomb..”]
[Audio from the above may be heard here – starting at approximately eleven-and-three-quarter minutes in, (Children’s Songs begin approximately seventeen minutes in, Uluru, begins approximately twenty-two minutes in, Hum Bom improvisation begins approximately twenty-five-and-three-quarter minutes in) audio runs through to approximately twenty-nine-and-a-half minutes in]


AG: There was one thing I forgot to get into while we were on Australian Aborigine matters. There was one other chant I worked on for songsticks (which I’ve recorded, using those songsticks) – an anti-smoking commercial. I recorded it in a studio on June 2nd, June 1st [1976], about a month ago, and, on the playback, I suddenly realized (that) it really sounded… what we did is we got a lot of musicians together.. it’s just one chord, so it’s a single rhythm, but, actually, it sounds like an Australian Aborigine village! (I didn’t realize it until I heard it back on the tape-recorder) – [Allen then plays a recording of “Put Down Yr Cigarette Rag” – “Don’t smoke, don’t smoke, don’t smoke, don’t smoke….”….”Dope Dope Dope Dope”] – I had been working with songsticks with the idea of trying to adapt Aboriginal style to some modern situation, to a modern poem, and, actually, it just came out accidentally that way. The whole point being that you can’t plan it, but you can absorb it, or, you can’t plan to take a literary form necessarily, and manipulate it consciously, but if you absorb it into your body, it comes out, sooner or later, in one use-able form or (an)other, whatever forms you use.

[the audio for this addenda can be found seven-and-a-half minutes in (and concluding approximately twelve-minutes in), here]

Aboriginal Rock Art, Anbangbang Rock Shelter, Kakadu National Park, Australia

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