Jack Ross, ed.: brief 28 (October 2003)
In the Spirit of Crazy Horse
i.m. Alan Brunton (14 October 1946 – 27 June 2002)
Drama is two people talking. That’s how Red Mole began. And a few years later we did the desert, a show called The Excursion, shadows and masks on Second Avenue in New York. I took it from Flaubert’s letters from Egypt, and we projected Maxime du Camp’s photos …. And from The Excursion, I went into Moonshine, ‘thinketh she of Egypt, always Egypt’ and so on; the physics of the contraction and expansion of the heart. I guess it’s no wonder nobody got it.
– Alan Brunton, “Questions & Answers,” brief.19 (2001): 52-64 (62).
It seems to complete the circle somehow that we should be able to reproduce the text of The Excursion – albeit in a revised version – in this special issue of brief, twenty years after it was first performed (we’ve also put in some of those photos of Maxime du Camp’s, along with images of the original production from the Red Mole archives). If nobody got Moonshine when it came out, they’ll have less excuse after reading Martin Edmond’s magisterial “Lighting Out for the Territory.” (Richard Taylor also contributes an expansion of his Pander review – the one write-up it received at the time).
“Why do you continue to be involved in a magazine like brief? What do you think it contributes – or should contribute – and to whom?” continues John Geraets in the email interview quoted above. Alan’s reply seems even more pertinent and prescient now:
… maybe you’re asking why keep your magazine going. It’s a witness to faith, faith is a total thing. In the midst of all this sleaziness, corruption, theft, bankruptcy - you have to have that faith, that you’re engaged in something absolutely incorruptible. Because there’s no money in it. Brief opens onto an area that is parasite-free – how’s that? (60).
Keeping the faith – that is what it’s all about. In this case, our faith in the continuing life and value of Alan Brunton’s work.
Leonard Peltier, the Native-American Lakota activist framed by the FBI for murders he didn’t commit in the mid-seventies, used to close his letters with the phrase : “In the spirit of Crazy Horse.” Looking at Peter Matthiessen’s book on the case, I think of Brunton: that same crazed integrity, the almost barbaric sense of cultural richness and excess … I hope this issue will serve to make that spirit more accessible. Now, above all, when we need it most, when our idealists are dying off and a “tawdry cheapness” once more threatens to “outlive our days” (Pound, “Hugh Selwyn Mauberley”).
I should really move on to my thank-yous, though. Again, to Alan Brunton’s literary executors: Martin Edmond, Michele Leggott, and Sally Rodwell. The first half of this issue is almost entirely their work. Archives were scoured in Wellington, texts collated in Auckland, and a constant stream of helpful comment came from New South Wales. Michele Leggott, in particular, provided the impetus without which this project could never have come into being.
There are other names listed in the acknowledgements section opposite. It would be invidious to try to thank all of them appropriately here, so instead I’ve chosen to provide a brief breakdown of the contents, with comments where they seem required.
We begin with a dossier of works grouped around the The Excursion, a play mixing the iconography of The Egyptian Book of the Dead with details from Flaubert’s 1849-50 tour:
- Michele Leggott introduces and contextualises the play
- Murray Edmond provides an extract from his thesis on NZ alternative theatre
- Sally Rodwell lends illustrations from the original production in New York
- We reprint Brunton’s poem “Their Diet Consists of Carrion,” written to explain to an obtuse local critic exactly what “Flaubert was doing there in the first place”
Moving on to poems, tributes and critical pieces:
- Lesley Kaiser and John Barnett give some background to their projected edition of the Gnostic poem “Know-So” (1994)
- Michael O’Leary, Mark Pirie, & Brunton’s executors provide materials on Bumper Books
- Chris Bourke has allowed us to use a hitherto unpublished interview, compiled at the time of the release of Big Smoke (2000)
- We reprint four early Brunton poems from Raucous, the official journal of Auckland University’s O’Rorke Hall of Residence (“One day, one hopes that people will read Raucous for something more than their own particular quote,” said the 1966 editors. Little did they know!)
- Martin Edmond & Richard Taylor elucidate Moonshine (1998)
- Peter Simpson & I try to do the same for Fq (2002)
- Scott H. & Claudia W. rap about Brunton’s counterculture roots
- Stephen Oliver & Mark Pirie give a context to Bumper’s Brian Bell Reader (2001)
- Steve Dean, Ron Riddell, Mark Young & Michele Leggott all contribute poems
Finally, we present the first fruits of Richard von Sturmer’s two months residency on Great Barrier Island as the holder of the inaugural brief writers award. Enjoy.