Thursday, January 10, 2013

What Happened to Bill Beard?

In the course of my research for the PhD I've looked through literally hundreds of poetry magazines from 1968 to 1979 that "generation of 68" poets published in and edited. A name, slightly outside my area of study kept cropping up: Bill Beard. Beard published in a large number of new Australian poetry magazines in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s including: Cat, Contempa, Crosscurrents, Dodo, Free Poetry, Flagstones, Leatherjacket, Leaves, Magic Sam, Mok, Our Glass, The Great Auk,  and The Ear in the Wheatfield. He was also a regular contributor to New Poetry. In fact, Robert Adamson referred to him in an issue of New Poetry (23.1 [1974]: 4) as "Australia's most expansive and at the same time singular poet." Just pick up a small press poetry magazine from Sydney or Melbourne in the 1970s and you'll probably find Bill Beard in it. But who was he? What do we know about him? There is no Wikipedia page, no literary biography available, no critical writing on his work, and so on. Just a Bill Beard sized gap.

In the "Notes on Contributors" section in Kris Hemensley's The Best of the Ear: The Ear in the Wheatfield 1973-76, A Portrait of a Magazine (Melbourne: Rigmarole Books, 1985) it states:

BILL BEARD (Australian). Involved in poetry & performance all over Australia since the late ‘60s. With Hemensley and Ken Taylor, one of the original “La Mama” poets (pre-Poetry Workshop). Published in numerous magazines, but no book yet.

Not much to go on is it? He was a La Mama poet in Melbourne in the late 1960s, there is mention elsewhere of him writing poetry in a fire-tower on the New South Wales and Victorian border in the 1970s, and that is about it. I looked him up on the AustLit database (a database of Australian writers and publications) and it said he died in 1970. That seemed strange considering all of his publications in the 1970s. The National Library record for William Beard aka Bill Beard said the same - d.1970.  I posted a comment on Facebook and Robert Adamson and Pam Brown assured me he was still alive. So I emailed a number of poets I've been in contact with during the course of the thesis to find out more about him, and one of them passed on a mobile number.

Wow. Bill Beard had gone from d.1970 to a person with a mobile phone. So I rang him. Turns out there are two Australian writers named William Beard, and one of them was publishing novels in the 1940s and one of them has been publishing poems since the 1960s. It seems that the entries on the database somehow got merged. Mystery solved, in part (I still don't know a hell of a lot about him other than that he published poems in magazines). Beard said he is still writing and performing poetry, he has never published a book of poems and has never wanted to, and he prefers not being part of any scene. He doesn't even want a biography on AustLit that lists his year of birth. He said he would rather "cast no shadow." I respect that. 
Then again, having published over the decades in at least twenty magazines, a shadow remains.

N.B. The AustLit entries have been corrected to reflect two William Beards - thanks Carol. 


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