New Year Poetry Mash Up
Here it is again -
the book I recommended on this blog in October 2009 as an instance of lyrical poetic writing that might be of some reflective and stimulating use to Australian poets interested in lyrical writing. I've since removed that blog. Even though some contributors did actually address the topic of current lyric poetry in Australia in what became a mostly dire, befuddled mish mash of comments, I’m pretty certain that no one who participated has bothered to read this book.
Here is a very recent post about the book from Tinfish editor, poet, critic and academic Susan Schultz’s blog :
The other book that launches me from one "low, dishonest decade" into this next (if you think the decade has, in fact, ended) is Claudia Rankine's DON'T LET ME BE LONELY. While the book was published in 2004 (by Graywolf), it reads as an elegy to the aughts, whose tone was set early. Y2K was the false, comedic crisis that 9/11 became, and 9/11 has stayed with us for a long decade. Rankine's "lyric" is, in fact, a book of prose. The back cover calls it "lyric essay/poetry," which reminds me how much I prefer the term "meditation." "Lyric essay" seems another marker of the selling of genres as teachable units; it's a subset of "creative non-fiction," after all. But that's enough complaining. Rankine's work is forensic, getting at our most public moments by way of her most private ones. Not only does she share family stories with her reader, some of them tragic, but she also examines the effects of American life on the inner organs--the brain, the breast, the liver. Medicine is part of this narrative, though any link between medicine and healing is not as neat as one might hope (against hope). The link between human value and that assigned by the insurance industry is even more troubling. The book is held together by the ever-symbolic television screen, that place where our private and public lives most often meet, as we sit (mostly) passively to receive them. Our passivity is what makes us most ill. To meditate upon the public event and the poet's private (very physical) reponses to it is to re-take some notion of agency (though that word loses agency as I type).
DON'T LET ME BE LONELY appears as a billboard in a field of sunflowers on the cover of Rankine's book. It's an unlikely billboard, this private call of anguish set beside a main road (which is empty, save for a thicket of signs.) There's a sense of public obscurity about the clear, private anguish that is the book's subject. While Rankine quotes Levinas on "being for the other," she frames that quotation with assertions of loneliness. And so, on page 120, she begins, "Then all life is a form of waiting, but it is the waiting of loneliness. One waits to recognize the other, to see the other as one sees the self." Then, she quotes the other, Levinas:
"The subject who speaks is situated in relation to the other. This privilege of the other ceases to be incomprehensible once we admit that the first fact of existence is neither being in itself nor being for itself but being for the other, in other words, that human existence is a creature. By offering a word, the subject putting himself forward lays himself open and, in a sense, prays." (120)
I am reminded just now of the hilltops of Rwanda in the mid-90s, during the genocide, when thousands of people milled about, stunned, hungry, and the eye of the media turned itself on them. There was a correspondent for ABC news whose face was narrow, hair gray, voice melancholy. I sat and cried at the images as he spoke into the camera's eye, which mediated between me and him, him and the story he was paid to tell us. Over the course of days, weeks, the correspondent's face fell, his voice began to quiver. I don't remember which gave way first, the correspondent's psyche or the short attention span of the media. But one day they were both gone from my screen. I was alone again, without him, without them. Levinas is surely right about self and other, the word, the prayer that links us. But what if we are all behind television (or computer) screens and our words are spoken only to ourselves? That kind of privacy is hellish. [I google Rwanda and eventually come up with the name of that correspondent, Jim Wooten.]
But Rankine turns away from the screen to face an audience of readers. That act of turning towards us, whoever we may be, does not close the loop that makes her body suffer, but it does invite in the "impossible community" of readers and writers. Our relation may not be "lyrical," but it can be close-knit, our own secret incantatory (from "cant," surely) calling out. That, in any case, is how I want to begin the 2010s, with that hope. And then action?
Book Info Here
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A new collection of beautiful, playful, contemplative poems that follow the lines of flight of poetic possibilities as they crop up. Poems that sometimes trace the colour and ephemerality of flowers like bees trace pollen. Poems that happily accept foibles and failures as rich aspects of how we live. Also clever. Also intelligent. Humming from Dubliner Maurice Scully. Lightly elegiac, the collection is dedicated to the poet’s late brother.
Further information about the book HERE
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Why do nice, quiet Australian poets have to push an extraneous agenda rather than write straightforward reviews of foreign poetry books?
The metre man : A review of Rain By Don Paterson (Faber And Faber) by Robert Gray (from The Australian Newspaper January 02, 2010)
(caps below are mine - reviewer's text coloured green for emphasis - PB)
DON Paterson is the most accomplished mid-career poet in Britain. He has published three books of poetry previously and twice won the T. S. Eliot Award, the highest recognition for this medium in Britain. It is no diminishment of him to say that he has not much competition at present. [THERE ARE HUNDREDS OF POETS IN THE UK WHO MIGHT NOT AGREE, NOR HOLD THE TS ELIOT AWARD AS MUCH OF A CRITERION.]
Paterson is a Scot who lives and teaches at St Andrews. As well as being a writer and anthologist, he is well-known in his country as a musician with a jazz-folk group. His career is unusual, in that he avoided a university education to play music, and his position as an academic - he teaches writing - is based entirely on recognition of his poetic gift, not on formal qualifications.
[ARBITRARY DIG - AN AGENDA? :
This wafer of a book is almost entirely in metre and rhyme, which would be a scandalous situation, for many, in a poet of his prominence in the US. There, with the programmatically avant-gardist poet John Ashbery embodying in himself the poetry establishment, there is a sense that now nothing is too experimental to be accepted; there is nothing any longer that one can't do as a writer ... except write like Paterson.
Paterson shows a Scottish attraction to philosophy in poetry; although that is an ancient and worthy relationship, long predating Scottish culture. I call it a Scottish proclivity because two of the most extreme exemplars of the mode are from the Scots tradition: John Davidson and Hugh MacDiarmid have had a wide influence there.
In the introduction to his translations of Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus, a book called simply Orpheus, published in 2006, Paterson describes himself as a scientific materialist. He opens his mind and work further to the reverberations of that attitude in this book. He proposes there is an impetus, a drive, within the material world, that comes to self-consciousness through us; a decidedly German romantic and Rilkean philosophy. This finds its best expression in the major poem of the book, "Phantom", about the suicide of a friend. In section V, particularly, he produces some fine, blank verse rhetoric:
We come from nothing and return to it.
It lends us out to time, and when we lie
in silent contemplation of the void
they say we feel it contemplating us.
This is wrong, but who could bear the truth.
We are ourselves the void in contemplation.
We are its only nerve and hand and eye.
There is something vast and distant and enthroned
with which you are one and continuous,
staring through your mind, staring and staring
like a black sun, constant, silent, radiant
with neither love nor hate nor apathy
as we have no human name for its regard
Elsewhere in this collection, Paterson writes:
Something hurries on its course
outside every human head
and no one knows its shape or force
but the unborn and the dead
[CLICHED & COMICAL, in my opinion]
Again contentiously; seemingly led by his music into saying something philosophically irresponsible, that is not logical within the terms of his own position. Paterson has published books of aphorisms; the lyric poet turns to aphorism when he feels his lyricism restricts the intellectual content of his work.
W.H. Auden is an exemplar: he was able to deal with ideas directly in the series of poems he called "Shorts", while maintaining concision and lapidary finish. In this book, Paterson has poems in a haiku-like form, rhymed, mainly to do with mortality:
It wasn't death
fogging the window;
it was my breath.
In a poem referring to Basho's famous haiku, about the sound of a frog leaping into a dark pond, usually taken to be his
enlightenment poem, Paterson writes:
Nothing stirs the old millpond.
The frog slips in without a sound.
One other, from this impressive group:
Repeat, now: nought plus one is all;
but all less one, nothing at all.
[CONTRADICTION : PO-MO CREEPS : SOUNDS LIKE ... a little like ... John Ashbery ?
There is a marvellous poem in free verse in this book, "Song for Natalie 'Tusja' Beridze", which is bound to become an anthology piece, about the underworld of avant-garde electronic music, found on the Web, with its weird acronyms and manipulated software. It is also about a beautiful princess of this region, with whom the poet falls in love. It is worth owning the book, for this alone.
. . . Though I should confess that at times I find your habit of maxxing
the range with those bat-scaring ring-modulated
sine-bursts and the more distressing psychoacoustic properties of phase-inversion in the sub-base frequencies somewhat
taxing . . .
Other poems, such as the tender pieces to his sons, and the title poem, also add to his achievements, and to our reward. Every poem here is whittled to the core, and that core polished; [HERE'S THAT GNARLY OL’ 'CRAFT VS AVANT GARDE' AGENDA AGAIN] the craftsmanship is admirable, a great satisfaction which avant-gardism seldom provides. . (The painter John Olsen, who is not unadventurous, once told me that the more interested in craft one becomes, the more interested in tradition.)
For poems in pre-ordained forms on often extreme and subtle experiences, there is very little obscurity. "The Rain at Sea" seems an interesting poem, perhaps on Paterson's intuitions about an atheistic mysticism; perhaps about a relationship: it is unnecessarily elusive. Still, this is small complaint.
My major dissatisfaction is that there just isn't enough of the book. Seven of its pages are given over to translations, or versions; others are taken up with slight epigrams. [ARBITRARY DIG : AGENDA ROMANTIC : TEACHING IS NO WAY FOR POETS TO EARN A LIVING] It is a pity that Paterson, a person of such gifts, should be caught in the teaching mill: which has become a cliche, restrictive of experience, that a poet should try, as much as any of those on his page, to avoid.
However, the teacher that Paterson must be is indicated by the notes to his 1999 anthology, 101 Sonnets. While regretting the poems he perhaps hasn't had time to write, one has to envy his students. [HUH?]
Is Robert Gray trying to revive some old poetry war? Any contention here? Maybe a few Scots will be RILED UP? (hang on - I'm a Scot myself - och aye! THAT explains all that philosophising then, nae doot)
For further reading - See Laurie Duggan’s 2009 blog note from the UK on Official Verse Culture HERE and a remark on Faber & Faber HERE
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New Project scheduled for The NSW South Coast's Wollongong City Art Gallery for 2011 - 'Coalcliff Days'
Visit the blog about the project HERE
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Since when did one-off workshops in poetry writing at regional poetry festivals become Masterclasses? Since now, that's when. One of these 'Masters' has only recently published a first book of poems. Misleading? False advertising? Or just good old-fashioned pretentiousness?
Here are the Masters and their Topics :
Poetry and the Importance of the Local with Robert Minhinnick (Wales) : Put Yourself Out There with Arianna Pozzuoli (Canada via Singapore) : The Irrational Image with Emma Jones (Australia via England) : What the hell would he know, anyway? with Glenn Colquhoun (New Zealand) : Writing Poems from Nature with Elizabeth Smither (New Zealand)