In the second part of our two-part series on Collected Works Bookshop, we look at the future of the iconic Shop – the heart of independent bookselling in Melbourne, and Kris Hemensley, one of the few Shop volunteers left, tells us (a little reluctantly, but wonderful effusively) about his life.
Currently located on the first floor of the historic Nicolas Building, Collected Works Bookshop has been run by a small group of volunteers since its inception, which has shrunk to three, Kris and Loretta Hemensley, and Cathy O’Brien (who has run her unique i:cat gallery in Vientiane, Laos since 2009).
With 2018 fast approaching, the Bookhop is contemplating a move out of the city beginning in 2019.
For many of us, this is heart-breaking news, so if you’ve been meaning to visit, or you haven’t dropped in for a while, take the time to wander in. Chat with Kris or Loretta, browse the treasures that populate the many bookshelves, and marvel at the rare ephemera – posters, newspaper clippings, handwritten notes, signed scraps of paper – each offering visual cues into the long, rich history of our arts and literary culture.
Outside, Melbourne is being reconstructed. Inside, people sit quietly reading, exploring, ruminating… they're a little wild sometimes too!
* * * in the other room so often close to me… (HE) Kris by Kris…
I was born in 1946 on the Isle of Wight, UK. My father was English, my mother from the illustrious Tawa Family of Alexandria. Our family lived in Egypt between 1949-52, returning to Southampton where I completed my schooling. Dropping out of full-time education in 1964, I had a succession of jobs (dustman, encyclopaedia salesman, railwayman) before working on the Fairstar in 1965, during which voyage I first saw Australia, immigrating to Melbourne in 1966.
I met Loretta Garvey in 1967 who introduced me to the New Theatre (Melbourne), where I edited some issues of the newsletter, Spotlight, and had my first play, The Soul Seekers, produced. I became a friend and ally of Betti Burstall and her La Mama Cafe Theatre in 1967; several of my plays were produced at La Mama between 1967 and 1989, and I directed the influential weekly poetry reading aka the La Mama Poetry Workshop, 1968-9.
I met Ken Taylor at La Mama in 1967 and we collaborated with poetry readings, a book (Two Poets, 1968), and several radio programmes including "Kris Hemensley's Melbourne" on the ABC in '69. Between 1969 and 1972 I lived in Southampton, UK, where my son, the rock-n-roll musician Tim Hemensley, was born. (Tim played with such bands as God, Bored, & The Powder Monkeys; died 2003.)
I threw myself into the English small-press poetry scene, publishing widely and editing the magazine Earth Ship (1970-72). My other magazines include Our Glass (1968-69), The Ear in a Wheatfield (1973-76), The Merri Creek Or Nero (1978-80), H/EAR (1981-85), a selection from The Ear in a Wheatfield, "The Best of The Ear", was published by Robert Kenny's Rigmarole Books in 1985. Rigmarole also published several collections of my poetry (e.g., Sulking in the Seventies, 1978) and prose (e.g. Down Under, and Games, both in 1975).
My English collections include the prose No Word No Worry (Grosseteste, 1970), and Dreams (Aloes/Edible Magazine, 1971). Other Australian collections include The Going (Crosscurrents, 1969), Domestications (Sun/Macmillan, 1974), The Poem of the Clear Eye (Paper Castle, 1975), A Mile from Poetry (Island Press, 1979), Christopher (Swamp Press, 1987). Other publications include Montale's Typos (1978), The Miro Poems (1979), and SIT[E] (1987), all with my brother Bernard Hemensley's Stingy Artist press. In 2009 I published the cd + booklet, My Life in Theatre (River Road Press), and in 2011 the chapbook Exile Triptych with Vagabond Press.
In 2016 I published my first full collection of poetry since 1979, Your Scratch Entourage (Cordite).
I was briefly a co-editor of New Poetry magazine for Bob Adamson (1973-4), poetry editor of Meanjin Quarterly (1976-1978), and a contributing editor for Hobo in the early 1990s. I also contributed some Melbourne commentary for Michael Schmidt's PN Review (UK) in the ‘90s. Late '70s, early '80s I was Melbourne commentator for ABC radio's Books & Writing programme.
While I continued to write poetry, and works for theatre (e.g. European Features, 1989, whose cast included the young Cate Blanchett) and for radio (eg, The Mysterious Baths), I began withdrawing from publishing in the late '80s. Apart from the mixed prose and poetry work, TRACE (Alex Miller's Ingle Publications in 1986), I didn’t publish another collection in Australia until 2016.
* * *
In her 2016 review of Your Scratch Entourage, Gig Ryan aptly wrote: “...although there is a looking back over time, there is more a re-inhabiting of time, a sense that all times exist at once, that all we experience is forever in us and with us, with all those colleagues who have died still being present in our poems.”
I travel the trains as tho’ in a stagecoach or on the back of a recalcitrant angel who can’t yet dispose of his love of the earth
Bloomsday 2016, Collected Works Bookshop (photograph: Richard Mudford)
Kris Hemensley's book launch, 2016 (photograph: Richard Mudford)
Vali Myers in her studio in the Nicholas Building, 1997 (photograph: Liz Ham)
In the first part of our two-part series on Collected Works Bookshop, Kris Hemensley writes about the Shop’s inception, its early history and the Vali Myers connection.
A meeting place for writers and readers, Collected Works Bookshop is one of Melbourne's favourite independent bookstores currently located in the historic Nicholas Building on Swanston Street. In fact, writes Kris Hemensley, the bookstore's current location was "an idea promoted by the late Vali Myers”.
Collected Works Bookshop was the natural issue of the Small Publishers Collective of 1984, the most important literary press among which was Robert Kenny's Rigmarole Books. It was Robert's brain-wave to create a bookshop dedicated to small press literature, run by a voluntary roster of writers and publishers. Some of the better known members were Jurate Sasnaitis, Des Cowley, Pete Spence, Nan McNab, Rob Finlayson.
Vali Myers began visiting the Shop when it was situated in the Flinders Lane Arcade building on Flinders Lane (our home from 1987-99), opposite Ross House. It would have been into the ‘90s when she first came in. Vali and friends, kind of Pied Piper-ish. She found us again in the 99-02 when we were down in the basement at 254 Flinders Street, a tenant of the CAE. As it became increasingly uncomfortable down there (CAE plans to sell that part of their property) we began sussing out other locations. And Vali’s famous comment was, ‘What are you doing in this dungeon, darling? Come up to my building [the Nicholas]’ …which in fact is what transpired, but at the eleventh hour, last days of December 02, receiving the keys the day before Gross Waddell (the agents at that time) closed their office for the holiday! I love the thought of the connection with Vali… several visits and conversations over a period… When we got into the Nicholas I sent her a card to tell her we’d made it to her building. Very sadly she was in the Epworth Hospital at that time… I’d seen a piece on her in The Melbourne Times, and photographed in her hospital bed… looking forward to her next journey she said… She died shortly after. Would have been wonderful had she been able to visit us there… Hers, of course, is an important spirit of the Nicholas Building…