Kevin Killian

6 am in the Universe Selected Poems by Benjamin Frater

I know little about the Australian poet Benjamin Frater (1979-2007) but you don’t have to be good at maths to see that there’s something off with those dates. Twenty-eight when he died? Far too young. His was a poetry exploding in every direction, a minefield of words scattering into the air at the provocation of a breath or a birdsong, and when the confetti drifts to the streets it often leaves its mark; it is ours to figure out how responsible Frater was for his effects and how much is the beautiful charm of excess and youthful energy. But I suspect he deserves much of the credit, I suspect his was a shaping, cultivated mind, elegant even in debauchery.

 

Poems from Bughouse Meat, his first (and only published) book, open up his selected poems, and already even as a very young man you can smell Frater’s accomplishment. They’re set in the doom-laden surreal atmosphere of postwar politics and despair that Bob Dylan mined so effectively in “Desolation Row” and “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues.” And like Dylan, he mined his William Blake too. “Smoke flies/ blood walks/ capillaries crawl/ and muscle gains intellect.” And Australian twists appear on every page: “My forearm is my brother./ My forearm is a Kangaroo Blood Cult./ My forearm is a mad hairless dog.” Bughouse Meat was just the beginning, and the poems that make up the bulk of 6 A.M. in the Universe are of a larger order, with complicated poetic structures and religious symbolism—tweaked, often enough, in a way that blows the cover off conventional religion while leaving behind the mystic and the charged—the “duende,” as Lorca referred to it.

I knew little of Ben Frater before his family reached out to me some years after his death. They had hatched a plan in honor of their late brother, to bring his book to America, to the San Francisco bookstore City Lights. It was the place, they told me, that haunted his dreams, with its cunning little poetry room upstairs, at which he aspired to read someday. But depression took him away and left his dream unfulfilled. They asked me, a stranger, for help in my capacity as a City Lights author, and something in me responded. Poor Frater had many heroes, but among them the Beats reigned above all the rest—from Kerouac to Kaufman, Di Prima to Corso to Ginsberg—and all had read their work at City Lights. What could I do? They had only a day in San Francisco. I met them at the store and introduced them to the clerks and editors and described their plight. A sister, a brother, and the stalwart husband of the sister. They had brought copies of 6 A.M. in the Universe with them and we put them out on the poetry table; we put them in the “F” shelf between Forche and Frost; we commandeered the little room and told shoppers we were going to make an Aussie intervention, and they videotaped me reading from the most scabrous of the poems. When I had done everyone clapped, and one lady bought a copy of Ben’s book for her daughter, also a young poet, just as he had been. The Fraters gave a copy each to the clerks who had been so nice to them, perhaps not realizing what an honor they had given to City Lights, with their presence and their belief in their brother’s wishes, and their long pilgrimage through all the time zones and languages and sea storms to little, old, North Beach.

Kevin Killian is a writer and artist, whose books include Argento Series (2001), Action Kylie (2008), Tweaky Village (2014), and Tony Greene Era (2017); three novels, Shy (1989),  Arctic Summer (1997) and Spreadeagle (2012); the collection, Bedrooms Have Windows (1989); and the short storiy collections Little Men (1996, winner of the PEN Oakland award for fiction), I Cry Like a Baby (2001), and Impossible Princess (2009).

To Kill the Prime Minister - Benjamin Frater

 

To kill the Prime Minister, organise a group of angry poets,

dress up in green rags and hover over his body.

 

To kill the Prime Minister, show him the wall crawling up a bug,

put him in a bright den to watch the lamb devour a lion -

he will require a change of clothes.

 

To kill the Prime Minister, rouse and provoke angry hermit farmers

to brandish ram-horn revolvers at the sky,

ready to take the sun!

To kill the Prime Minister,

 hit him with the shell-less tortoise of your mother’s dream.

 

To kill the Prime Minister,

intolerably amplify through a wine bottle

the sound of your forbidden woman when you touched her starfish.

Tell the Prime Minister that you have also touched the starfish of his mistress.

 

To kill the Prime Minister, arrange a mafia in lime cheesecloth suits

to sing the national anthem sideways and kick the temples in.

 

To kill the Prime Minister,

bunch and present him with the terrorist flowers

forensics plucked from bombs delivered in antique suitcases.

 

To kill the Prime Minister, tell Wollongong University students

to slide into salamander skins and take to the trees!

With or without the wind, we will soar, saw and soar again.

 

To kill the Prime Minister,

lock him in the cupboard with the ravenous Moses.

To kill the Prime Minister, throw him headfirst into the moth pit.

 

To kill the Prime Minister, send him the eels of your bed

and gift box the bird that stung your eye as the sun rose.

A Sun Rose is a very beautiful animal.

I would scale and eat you for it.

 

To kill the Prime Minister, 

let him know that black-suited baboons

have deciphered the cabinet and escaped.

Let him know also that at old man with a long white beard

waits under a newspaper, prepared to eat his children

if he fails to deliver that Rubens painting to my caravan door by 3am.

 

To kill the Prime Minister,

tie him up naked with seaweed to the apex of a driftwood triangle,

flog him with eel spines, slap him with stingray,

unzip and unleash the 50-year plague of hermit crabs.

 

To kill the Prime Minister, I will push my arm through the keyhole

and transmute from fist, to dove, to spider.

Reprinted from 6 AM in the Universe, by Benjamin Frater (Grand Parade Press, Melbourne) with the kind permission of Alan Wearne of Grand Parade and Nicole Frater, the author’s sister.  http://grandparadepoets.com/products-page-2/products/6am-in-the-universe/

© 2018 Colin Herd and all the individual poets

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