Rae Desmond Jones
Rae Desmond Jones was a friend and a mentor. He was one of the first contemporary Australian poets I read as a teenager and my fascination with him only increased following the controversy over the inclusion of ‘The deadshits’ on Robyn Archer’s 1978 LP The Wild Girl in the Heart.
I then meet Rae in person when I started hanging around NSW Poets Union events. Over the following years we worked together in various capacities in the Poets Union and I got to know him quite well. I also came across his “legendary” publication Your Friendly Fascist, a journal which he ran with John Edwards. The Fascist, as one could tell from its title, was not a normal literary journal. If you work appeared in it, for example, it was not always clear if it had been selected on “literary merits” or if it was so bad the editors couldn’t resist taking the piss…..
In the early 1980s I decided I wanted to start publishing and, taking the lead from magazines like Magic Sam and Your Friendly Fascist I found a gestetner machine and started learning how to use it. Rae heard about my new machine and, in need of a way of printing the final issue of the Fascist, offered to come round and show me how to print a magazine. That issue of Your Friendly Fascist was, in fact, the first publication to emerge from Rochford Street (from my second floor bedroom in fact).
Over the years Rae was always happy to provide advice on poetry and publishing and, during his years in local government (he was Mayor of Ashfield for a number of years), he feed me a number of stories when I was working as journalist for the Communist Party newspaper Tribune. After I set up Rochford Street Review in 2011 Rae was a regular contributor, at first reviews, and then longer articles about the history of Your Friendly Fascist. In one article, “Lots of energy here, not much control”: Your Friendly Fascist – 1970 – 1984. Rae Desmond Jones remembers…..” (April 2012), Jones walked through a history of the magazine and highlighted a history of poetic “rattbaggery” hitherto hidden from polite society. Shortly after we got the idea to do a selected Your Friendly Fascist, and Rae pulled together this selection shortly after being released from hospital for the first time.
During the production of The Selected Your Friendly Fascist I had many long chats with Rae. We talked of his childhood in Broken Hill, the various jobs he held after leaving Broken Hill and of course poetry. One story he told was of arriving in a country town in NSW and buying a second had typewriter at a second hand shop. He spent a week using the typewriter to write poems and cutting stencils. When he was leaving he took it back to the second hand shop and sold it back to them at a profit.
Rae was an important poet and critical to the development of the vibrant poetry scene of the last fifty years. He embraced change, moving from typewriters, stencils and gestetner machines to computers and the internet. But he also knew that there were important things that we needed to hang onto and preserve and this, perhaps, is what drove him to become active in his local community, being elected to local council and serving as Major of Ashfield from 2004 to 2006.
Among the books he published over the years are:
Orpheus With A Tuba, Makar Press, 1973.
The Mad Vibe, Saturday Centre, 1975.
Shakti, Makar Press, 1977.
The Palace of Art, Makar Press, 1981.
Blow Out, Island Press, 2008.
Baygone and other poems, Picaro Press, 2011.
Decline and Fall, Flying Islands Press, 2011.
Thirteen Poems from the Dead, Polar Bear Press 2011.
The Selected Your Friendly Fascist, (as editor), Rochford Press, 2012.
It comes from all directions, Grand Parade Poets, 2013.
A Caterpillar on a Leaf, Puncher & Wattmann, 2016.
The End of the Line, Rochford Press, 2019
The Lemon Tree, (novel), Angus & Robertson, 1990.
Wisdom, (novel), Blackwattle Press, 1995.
Walking The Line, (short stories), Red Press, 1979.
Rae is often included as one of the ‘Generation of 68’ poets, but throughout his life he denied categorisation. Rae carved his own path through Australian poetry, purposely sitting outside the academy and letting his poetry do the talking.
Rae died after a long illness on 27 June 2017. During the last year of his life he worked on his final manuscript of poems, The End of the Line, it was one of the greatest privileges of my life to be involved, along with Linda Adair, Rae’s family and his close friend, John Edwards, in publishing and launching Rae’s final book.
Written by Mark Roberts
I am ready
I am ready now it is over
To return to that weightless place
I suddenly remember
I am grateful for the great honour
I have been given to live
Such a life
My years remain a source of joy
& I wish to take them
As an offering to
The great throne of light
I sense beginning to rise from darkness
I do not know what I have done
To deserve such joy
From The End of the Line (Rochford Press, 2019)