Collected Works – marching to the Beat of a (jazz) drum

Collected Works - the Beats and Co and Jazz shelf
Collected Works - the Beats and Co and Jazz shelf

Collected Works bookshop in the Nicholas Building in Swanston Street in Melbourne was the venue for our first jazz poetry reading this year. The bookshop is a haven and a natural choice for the event; we’d begun to realise that many of the jazz-loving writers and poets we’d encountered during the journal’s life could be found lurking among the bookshop’s shelves. On the first floor of this unique, layered building with its floor upon floor of artisan workshops, craft showrooms, artist studios and treasures, Collected Works welcomes you in through a bamboo curtain into a room with worn rugs, comfortable chairs and thousands of books – in a collection that we can call eclectic with no fear that we’re overstating the facts. Poetry, music, philosophy… and recently Kris Hemensley noted on Facebook that he’d set aside some space on one of his shelves for a new category. In a short post he told us, ‘Building the Jazz section along the Beats & Co shelf… ‘

We simply couldn’t resist finding out more, and Kris agreed to tell us more in this short lunchtime interview…

Miriam Zolin: What inspired you to create this category of jazz biographies and jazz writing at Collected Works?


MacCarter reading Helen Lambert's poem 'Flat Jazz'
MacCarter reading Helen Lambert's poem 'Flat Jazz' at our January reading at Collected Works

Kris Hemensley: We’d always had a music section so it was always a (smallish) category and it contained bits of popular music as well as 19th and 20th century classics. And there was always a Beats section. I suppose the category was something one had always assumed but had never named. And so various things… just before the extempore jazz reading event we had in January, I had got in a Clark Coolidge book. He’s a jazz man; a jazz enthusiast – his book is Now it’s Jazz: writings on Kerouac and the sounds. So that book comes in, I start reading it and thinking ‘yes, yes, yes!’ and then the extempore night happened and we’re all saying ‘yeah, yeah, yeah’ [laughs] and then I go straight to my catalogue and start looking to see what there is, what I can start putting up initially in a category of jazz and music. I already had things like a critique, say a life of [Charlie] Parker and one on Thelonius Monk. .. And then I started to say well, I’m going to have to get books on all the bop and be-bop era. I had also had for a while, Nicholas Gebhart’s book on jazz. Nicholas is the son of poet and judge Peter Gebhardt and a friend of Seamus Heaney. He brought Seamus Heaney into see us some years ago, in the nineties. But anyway, so I’d always had that book and then I started to fill the shelf out. This is very early days—it’s just begun.

Miriam: Yes, but you have a label up there – it’s real! And I guess it will depend a little on whether your customers show an interest…

Kris: [laughs] Well, someone said to me the other night ‘No-one listens to jazz, and no-one reads poetry. So, you’ve got a jazz section in a poetry shop. How much more esoteric can you get!?’

We thought that was very funny. He was tongue in cheek. But of course yes, there’s as much truth in what he said as in your suggestion that cash flow or customer interest has something to do with it. On the other hand, this whole bookshop—if it were based on that—wouldn’t still be here. So I do it for the love of it, and for the honour of it. It should be there.

Miriam: And it’s a natural proximity, even for the tongue in cheek reason that no-one listens to jazz and no-one reads poetry. I’m interested to hear more about that Clark Coolidge book now…

Kris: I thought it was nice – one because of the Kerouac two because he knows about jazz and he’s interested in that period, and he points us again to some parts of Kerouac, where not only is he talking about jazz people… like in Visions of Cody he sees Lee Konitz walking up the street and he follows him along and somewhere else he says about the music, ‘I would like to write like that; that’s how I would like to write’.

Miriam: And The Subterraneans is full of jazz too.

Kris: Yes, indeed, all of them. All, all. Another thing that was in my head. We used to make jokes years ago, we thought it was very funny as an answer to who we thought were academics and Barnett Newman said something like aesthetics is for artists what ornithology is for birds. Now the thing is… just twisting or turning that comment around a little bit, what does it say then for the readers of books on jazz. I mean we know that this is not the music on the shelf. This is kind of in the area of critical lives, fan enthusiasm, subjective explorations of another art form, but we love it.

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Melbourne, Australia, 3000