Melbourne: Collective Effort, 1989. Chapbook, 62pp., stapled card covers. Fine. Item #117
In March 2018 Archives Fine Books acquired the better portion of the personal library of Queensland-based poet and artist Billy Jones (1935 – 2012). Upward of 400 (mostly) poetry volumes, many of the books are heavily underlined and bear notes at the beginning and end. These appear in Jones’s distinctive block capitals, often in felt tipped pen and bleeding through the page. From amusing confessions of book theft, to notes about meeting publishers and selling artworks, to carnal post-coital reflections and attempts to touch the ineffable, the marks and marginalia in Jones’s personal library seem to catch the overflow of his 167 journals. Many first edition volumes of poetry and chapbooks in the collection are largely unmarked but bear affectionate inscriptions to “Billy”, “B.J.” and “Billy Bones” by well known Australian and American poets of the 1970s through to the naughties. Variously mundane, poetic, and cryptic, these inscriptions give a sense that despite leaving behind an enormous collection of unpublished work Jones was deeply respected and beloved of his contemporaries. Taken together with his marginalia and underlining the impression is given of a large and incandescent life lived on the margins: outside the mainstream, outside the cultural centres and sometimes literally ‘outside’ - in a tent on the banks of Mary Smokes Creek.
Jones named Dostoevsky, Van Gogh, Whitman, Hokusai, Blake, Hamsun, Hesse, Kerouac and Bukowski as his influences. His library suggests further engagements with the work of Artaud, Thoreau, Zukovsky, Brabazon, Sanford, and Ferlinghetti. Seminal experiences included service in the military in post-war Japan, a long cold winter in Sweden, five days penniless in Paris in 1966 where he had hitch-hiked to see an exhibition of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, and tragically the death of his girlfriend Diane Kelly in a drunken car crash in 1975. Diane is present in his marginalia throughout his life and later so was Kathy with whom he had a long relationship and a daughter, Chloe.
Some of his books bear mass-produced bookmarks, always either a picture of The Great Wave off Hanagawa or one of an owl under which he would write either his name Bill Jones or where he lived, Mary Smokes.