St C Reverend a vessel for ghosts

“A Vessel for Ghosts”

Some thoughts on performing the poetry of Jas Duke


As a performing artist I feel the need to be totally convinced by the material I present, so mostly I read my own words, but I enjoy occasionally incorporating various bits and pieces of others’ work. Lately I’ve been including in my repertoire a long forgotten poem from the late anarcho-dadaist poet Jas Duke, a poem entitled,

I Remember the War in Vietnam“.

IRTWIV is a demanding poem for the performer, in part because of its apparent extreme simplicity. But it is also a chance for the Performance Poet to demonstrate both their command of their Craft AND the ability of Performance itself to transcend and translate the written text.

For it’s a sad fact but true, oh brothers and sisters, that there are some people in the Literature scene today who denigrate the noble Art of Performance Poetry.

Strangely, these stick-in-the-mud dullards allege that the act of delivering your words as part of a performance piece somehow cheapens and degrades the Sacred and Solemn Art of Poetry.

“Tsk”, I’ve heard them tut-tutting, “It’s just Vaudeville..mere Burlesque. It can’t be taken seriously! Its not real poetry!”

Thats right folks.

According to this school of thought, a poetry reading should be a solemn, academic affair. It should ideally only happen in a Library or a bookshop where the audience is suitably hushed and respectful. The select audience itself should be composed of academics, “published” authors and a sprinkling of students taking earnest notes. The poet must read from the printed page, never meeting the audience’s eyes. Preferably the poet should speak in a dry monotone and limit arm movements.The only prop allowed is a lectern.

You may think I’m exaggerating here but I have it on good authority that a few years back the oh-so-alternative Byron Writers Festival went so far as to ban “performance” from their poetry sessions. And then they wonder why no-one turns up.


Try and limit arm movements

St C Reverend Marching Try and limit arm movements

Luckily for me, as a young poet in living Melbourne, I had the good fortune, through my involvement with the Anarchist community, to come into contact with such fine anarcho-poet types as Pi-O, Thalia and Jas Duke.

Pi-O of course edited the ground-breaking 925 magazine, and Thalia was a Force of Nature in her own right, but it was perhaps Jas Duke, the mild-mannered Anarchist, stuttering Surrealist & tram-driving Dadaist who had the strongest influence on my work.

A tall, somewhat portly man with a waist-length beard, he capped his appearance by wearing a full-length leopard-print coat and a tiny red fez perched on the top of his shiny, shaven skull. His mere presence was a performance.

As luck would have it, we were both on the bill at the 1981 Melbourne Surrealist Festival and watching Jas perform his “Vietnam” piece and other poems that night really opened the box for me.

He made me realise how far you could take the Arts of Poetry and Performance, that there were no limits to what you could do with the Word, the Voice and the Body working together.

In later years there were other lessons and techniques which I learnt while training with Butoh Group Zen Zen Zoh which helped me to fully develop my Performance Style, but it was Jas who first pointed the way.

So I’m glad now to incorporate ‘Vietnam’ into my sets and consider it a tribute to his influence and I hope it helps keep the memory of this unique individual alive.

St C Reverend salutes


Many of his poems were composed of a single phrase which had caught his attention, which he then explored (de-constructed if you will) by repeating that same phrase over and over again until he felt he had fully explored all its possible permutations.

I remember the War in Vietnam” belongs to this genre. There is no more to it than that phrase.

Now the task of a performance poet generally is to find each poem’s “voice”, and allow it to speak through you. The challenge for the poet performing IRTWIV is thus to become a Vessel thru which the Ghosts of that long gone war can speak again.

This poem in fact is a kind of ritual Necromancy.

So thus I repeat the mantra and up they come bubbling through my mouth,

all the dead voices,

all the squabble and babble of that time,

arguing, explaining,

apologising, complaining,

crawling up out of the shadows and blood,

their voices emerging from the screaming of jets, the explosions, the gunfire, the anthems, the slogans, Jimi Hendrix playing star-spangled banner..

St C Reverend invokes Vietnam

It reminds me of that episode in the Odyssey (Book 11) where, hoping to learn the future, Odysseus fills a trench with blood to summon the Spirits of the Dead. Around him they come crowding, greedily hoping to lap some of the still hot liquid whose magical Life-giving Power will give them for a short while once more the power to speak. They jostle each other aside, hungry to communicate with the Living World, for each has only a brief turn to speak, time enough perhaps for a single sentence

before the hot blood cools

and they fade once more back into the mists.

And what does each of them say?

The same thing ghosts always say,

the only thing they can say,

I remember..”

And they want us to remember too.


– Reverend Hellfire Aug 2013

St C Reverend Knife in hand viet backdropCrop 

PS. Thanks to the young lady in the first row at St Columbans who took these photos. Sorry I forgot to ask your name. Mea Culpa.


poem Jpig



The Reverend Hellfire is a practising Performance Poet and an ordained Minister of the Church of Spiritual Humanists AND the Church of the Universe. Lately he has become President of the Kurilpa Institute of Creativity Inc.

Kisses sweeter than swine.



~ by reverendhellfire on August 18, 2013.

3 Responses to “A VESSEL FOR GHOSTS”

  1. I’ve never read any but my own work in performance. I was in the RAAF during the Korean War.

  2. […] https://reverendhellfire.wordpress.com/2013/08/18/a-vessel-for-ghosts/ […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: