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I Wonder If He Has Ever Spoken to Bees: Sentiments to M. Harrison

by Clare Cholerton and Justin Wolfers


Justin Wolfers: Want to do an email interview “Justin Wolfers and Clare Cholerton” in which we talk about Martin and then submit it to that journal? We can talk back and forth for two weeks and then edit?

Clare Cholerton: Yes let’s do it! I had started writing an essay about Martin but it’s missing something, the voice of you or your memory of him. I’ve started thinking that I see him walking down the streets disappearing into cafes or in the faces of people I just met. But I can’t find him in the words I read or write.

JW: Yeah I couldn’t decide what mode to enter with – something poetic, something hybrid, something alert, but I didn’t want it to be mournful, or exacting. Much prefer a dialogue with lots of dashes in it for continuing thoughts.

I remember half-open blinds in his corner office, him asking me to fetch a juice, our whole class being ordered to read Flaubert. Once during a meeting, his incredulity at humanity’s tendency to view the mutual orgasm as the pinnacle of physical intimacy.

It’s hard to not be reflective about it. Also to write verbatim without thinking about submitting it, so it’s necessarily affected. But maybe we’ll cut through that. Does he come up for you when you write, these days?

In that last lecture he gave I’d never seen him quite so unabashedly romantic or eco-poetical. He talked about writing “shimmer” with Deborah Bird Rose. Which I’ve been reading of recently referred to as “shards” (Walter Benjamin) or as a “glimmer” of the possibility of alterity (Ben Lerner). We were discussing it as a poetic possibility that one could find in the natural environment, but Astrid Lorange suggested a flippage, that a plant might do X thing before rain falls that, to us, seems aesthetically pleasing – oh it’s so beautiful – but is actually a scientific or functional act with a biological imperative, and the poetry of it is incidental, a bonus.

CC: We can cut through the knowledge of submission: our distance acts as negation. I can’t help always thinking of you in context of Martin. If we had both not been pupils under his tutelage, would we have been able to have this dialogue, or any of our other dialogues for that matter? You sent me a message once, while we were both knee deep in thesis, saying that Martin wanted you to clarify a footnote. I like to think that this is the way we should be: enigmatic in our presence, clear in our footnotes. Maybe the footnotes is where our voice lies … Do you agree?

Martin’s office provided an annex of intimacy: the essence of the room mathematical in possibility. I would catch myself smiling as I watched cars reflect light onto Bon Marche and Martin would sit, inquisitive, that look of wisdom dangling. You know the one Justin, the one with the twinkle. Always a chess master of conversation, yet I wonder if he had ever spoken to bees.

He would start to make a cup of tea and never finish making the cup of tea, too distracted by, for example, what “blue” is. Blue only becomes blue, within an assigned frame e.g. the sky, once it has reflected other colours first. But then he would go from the window to the piece of paper I had given him, written in blue pen. The blue of the words, the only consistency from the beginning and the end of the page, other than the overarching voice of language.

Like Mallarmé’s poem “L’Azur”, 1894, which exploits the analogy of allowing disembodied voices to speak through poetry while remaining threatened by the ruthless passing on time: the blue timbre, the blue in the poem, the blue in the room after reading the poem aloud proffers that it is language itself that remains in the voice of poetry, beyond the voice of the poet, beyond any disembodied voice or voices and once it has been stripped back the blue, the refracted shimmer is what remains, even if you are not sure who it belongs to. (Martin is our disembodied voice).

En vain! L’Azur triomphe, et je l’entends qui chante

Dans les cloches. Mon âme, il se fait voix pour plus

Nous faire peur avec sa victoire méchante,

Et du métal vivant sort en bleus angelus!

Il roule par la brume, ancien et traverse

Ta native agonie ainsi qu’un glaive sûr

Où fuir dans la révolte inutile et perverse?

Je suis hanté. L’Azur! L’Azur! L’Azur! I’Azur!

But vainly! The Azure triumphs and I hear it sing

In bells.  Dear Soul, it turns into a voice the more

To fright us by its winged victory, and springs

Blue Angelus, out of the living metal core.

It travels ancient through the fog, and penetrates

Like an unerring blade your native agony;

Where flee in my revolt so useless and depraved?

For I am haunted! The Sky! The Sky! The Sky! The Sky!

I think Martin knew that he shimmered: but had only shimmered through first being in and out of pursuits, physical, conceptual, but all residual: he had learned the futility of self-destruction.

I wonder what gave him the most pleasure? What gives you the most pleasure Justin? I enjoy being “close”.

D. Miller and I argued with Martin that one time regarding Dan’s and my predilection for painful imagery. We left Martin frustrated, Dan and I sharing quizzical looks that didn’t want to admit our sadomasochistic tendencies. After class I approached Martin and he smiled at me and asked: “Do you always want to walk on thorns Clare? Who will heal your feet?”.

At the time, I always thought that pain ties into pleasure, but I now realise that one should not seek out pain to feel pleasure: it is more destructive for those around you, than yourself, if you seek out pain. Pain is a by-product of miscommunication.

If I am asked “If you could go back in time, where would you go?”, one of my many answers, but close to the top, would be “to go to Martin’s last lecture”.

JW: If you’re looking at a face you now know is capable of killing you in a second – Viggo Mortensen in A History of Violence – you haven’t seen this side of him before, are surprised by it but mostly afraid – and then he grotesquely impedes you, fucks you on the staircase, envelopes you in his vulnerability, openness; this is more beautiful or hotter than any tender gesture. I get that. Or I think of A., who used to have such violent, biting sex, but is that the foundation for a loving relationship, even if it is better than sex every once in a while but mostly cuddles? But in agreeing with Martin on it, I remember – Daniel ordering large triple shot lattes, deleting and then re-adding me on Facebook depending on whether he enjoyed my performance in tutorials – there was a slight difference between understanding that part of love is pain, and seeking out pain as a signifier of love.

The shimmer, being a word I cannot take seriously, slightly passes me by. But a word like glimmer, and other kinds of light-play, seem alright. Or perhaps the pure kitsch of shimmer is why we should use it. Ecopoetics as the inextricability of having empathy as a poet and the fuckedness of the planet. Trying to somehow undo the extreme human-centric relation to the planet with some trans-species gestures. Or as Ben Lerner says, “You can’t use the planet and expect to end up with a planet.” So we owe the planet something and start to look at it with bruised apologetic eyes, and look at all this shimmering, light on water, refracted light, glaring light.

I like being close. I like being close and silent. I like letting go.

JW: Martin’s last recording:

CC: You ended it so well:

“I like being close. I like being close and silent. I like letting go.”

The penultimate before the real end. The deus ex machina where you or I or both you or I imagine the return of Martin. Not in o

JW: pposition, just trying to stress less, and change the notion of “I need to do work” to “I need to write this line”

or “l need to read this page, thumb over the page numbe”

Crate on desk = standing desk

Somewhere between Harrison and Hemingway in the active writing process short of brutishness, the importance of attention, a slight tremor in my hand I become ununderstandable, sexually oblique, poetic

I think thumbing iPhone is now my most natural writing mode

Talking to Tegan, the task for my first conference paper (UNSW) is to enact rather than exact the material

CC: Thumbing a page number. Do we do it as a method of reading or out of the habit of reminding ourselves to remember or so that others see a constructed idea of what we want then to see what we are learning.

Need and wanting are two very different things; one requires it to become a part of the respiratory system. The other are cinders of desire.

JW: I hold my thumb over the page number to shield myself from thinking about how far through the book I am, to try and read presently, rather than thinking about endings, about being at some future point where I’ve finished it.

Received an email about an experimental workshop on writing with the body; yoga and Alexander technique are mentioned, but not Cixous. Writing as need, you sense the wholeness of her endeavour: 14 different pens of different inks, hundreds of pieces of paper of all different sizes on the table, 10 hour writing stints – writer as marathon runner.

CC: A marathon continues until the person can no longer run. The length is tireless. But some can persist. The same applies for writers.

I walked home tonight. Danced to Craig David and old hip-hop that make the hips quiver in familiarity. I walk home, watch Lucy, the staffy, be watched by inebriated couples, until, when all are asleep except you and me and two others, I am asked about the poetics of closeness. I tell them jeans are the most familiar, accessible. Then watercolour. Then oil. The words. Words can translate. Visuals can. And I have always wondered what Martin would think of the value of the image. Instant grams.

JW: Or in a wintry week in Sydney wearing the nostalgic-for-Europe UniQlo thermals under the jeans – it hides the skin showing from the rip in the thigh of my jeans – very authentic rip, from barbed wire while picking apples with L – but yes, provides closeness. Yesterday S & I went to L & N’s house and got caught in the hailstorm. Their house must have been the lowest point on the street because we were literally inundated with ice, it flooded the whole street and came up from the gutter, past the fence, into the yard – instagram was going crazy – we were stuck there into the late evening, played 500, ordered Turkish pizza, watched Wake In Fright for Anzac day. (Note from checking corrections of the Australian War Memorial Book: use of “Anzac” refers to the day, the tradition, the collectivity, Anzac Cove, so on; use of “ANZAC” refers only specifically to the army corps.) When we got in the car to go home, there was ice-cold water ankle-deep in the passenger seat.

I think words can be incredibly specific, potent; stimulate the imagination hugely – but offsetting the text with images throughout is interesting too (Ben Lerner comes up again).

Syntax and specificity: there’s a lot there. The end of that Martin poem, the crystal image:

Suddenly you realise

you’re hearing a night-time forest floor, a twig snapped

not this last light with its thin, gold trees and ragged openness

but a moment’s hesitation one night in a foreign country:

I was in up-state New York, there was a house in the woods,

there was indoor light of a dinner party, good people, drinks.

I’d stepped outside to get a sense of things, their loitering depth.

Earlier I’d seen startled deer leap a stone wall tumbled into bracken.

Ben Lerner, from Leaving the Atocha Station:

Although I claimed to be a poet, although my supposed talent as a writer had earned me my fellowship in Spain, I tended to find lines of poetry beautiful only when I encountered them quoted in prose, in the essays my professors had assigned in college, where the line breaks were replaced with slashes, so that what was communicated was less a particular poem than the echo of poetic possibility. Insofar as I was interested in the arts, I was interested in the disconnect between my experience of actual artworks and the claims made on their behalf; the closest I’d come to having a profound experience of art was probably the experience of this distance, a profound experience of the absence of profundity.

That of course, does not so much apply here, where the roots of poetic possibility run deep, for many reasons, and yet still.

CC: ANZAC to Anzac changes – I like the difference in connotation yet I think of them, still, the same. Patriotism created out of death: they shot him dead in no-mans-land (he was only 19), the box truck hit his motorcycle; his last lecture was about the shimmer.

So much hail! They say that no two snowflakes are the same, but that’s not mathematically possible, which is comforting because then at least we know individuality is just pure discourse and the poetics of nature provide a guttural human instinct that makes us same.

Mon amour à moi n’aime pas qu’on l’aime

Tristan Corbière

JW: My love for me does not like love – google translate

Getting stressed thinking about academic papers, when I try to explain it to D, the blurring of author and narrator, auto-fiction, etc., he says, “But don’t all good novels do that?” Makes me learn to say less, keep it small and direct, don’t go for sweeping overviews on how the book you like changes the world:

True, abandoning the figure won’t change the world.

But then again, neither will changing the world

Lerner, Lichtenberg Figures

CC: Don’t write to change the world.

Write to provide alternate auto realities. (I wanted to add in a collective we there, I’m on the tube, sleepers dozing)

Martin would have enjoyed, I think, the ability to write for a virtual world, where all viewpoints are considered, all pixels

JW: Yes, to write something eminently fast-moving, multisensory, vibrant, like watching sports on TV, yet the flurry of coloured bodies is the text across the page

CC: “It stays like this / until you understand it / as light, unconscious flesh; and it / becomes you, as you it.” (Martin Harrison)

Reference List

Corbière, T. Wry-Blue Loves: Les Amours Jaunes and Other Poems, trans. P. Dale. London: Anvil Press Poetry, 2005.

Harrison, M. “White Tailed Deer”,  in  Living Things: five poems (2013) available online at:

Lerner, B.  The Lichtenberg Figures. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2004.

—. Leaving the Atocha Station. London: Granta, 2011.

Lerner, B. and P. Holdengräber. “Live from the NYPL: Ben Lerner” (interview), New York Public Library (2014), available online at

Mallarmé, S.  Stéphane Mallarmé: The Poems in Verse, trans. P. Manson. Miami: Miami University Press, 2012.

Published: September 2015
Clare Cholerton

In 2013 Clare Cholerton was titled Sydney’s New Voice by the Ian Potter Foundation and her first collection Missive, was published by Poetry Australia in the same year. She has written for The Lifted Brow, Seizure and The Bohemyth among others. She lives in London.

Justin Wolfers

is a Sydney-based writer, researcher and editor. He has written for The Lifted Brow, Seizure, Kill Your Darlings, and The Australian among others. He is a doctoral candidate in contemporary fiction at the University of Western Sydney, and was a friend and Undergraduate and Honours student of Martin’s in Writing at the University of Technology Sydney in 2011-2012.

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