READING MICHAEL FARRELL
"Reading Michael Farrell" isnt really a review of his collection of poems ode ode, published recently by Salt (WA & UK). If you want a review then read Chris Edwards in the June/July,'o3 issue of ABR[Australian Book Review]. (My first version of this piece was in lower case to acknowledge Farrell's signature style, but I didnt like the way ABR looked in small letters. Simple as that, which, I suppose, is an example of favouring impulse over choice, the naturalism of the-way-it-is over construction --Farrell's own practice I think.)
Reading Michael Farrell I cant help thinking of my dear old friend John Robinson who makes a mansion of a small bed-sit, as people in London have always done though none quite so elegantly. This has something to do with humility and a great deal to do with our world, as I'm sure Michael Farrell would agree. I think of how John, even less inclined towards e-mail than me, will send me cassette-tape letters in which he'll read favourite poets and play me his best-loved music.
Reading Michael Farrell I think of John Robinson reading John Ashbery & John Wieners to me, and Paul Celan or one of the French surrealists. I think of his baritone voice which never yields its gravity to either a poem's humour or its unhappiness. I'm sure John Robinson would enjoy the mirthful melancholy, as it were, of Michael Farrell. They share a seriousness about art, by which I mean the manner in which the world has been framed by other people --as movies, music, literature. This implies a certain sublimation of self in art, in the lives of others, in the world around themselves.
It teaches & reminds me of several great lessons : that insight can arise from myriad juxtapositions as from singular propositions; that tenderness is a tone and not necessarily a statement; that the rhythm of any saying is as emotional as emotion's standard repertoire; that autobiography isnt necessarily absent when the continuous narrative is; that funny weird can also be funny ha-ha and that funny ha-ha can be very sad.
Romanticism's stranger isnt the hero of Michael Farrell's poetry but its music might be the mood suffusing his book, to which he quietly hums along. If the poet felt that he owed an ode it's because he's in love with the idea of poetry. His interlinear sorties are felicitous and not destructive of derivation or inspiration.
I'm often nostalgic for something before it's happened, far less over, John Robinson told me. I felt I knew exactly what he meant and suspect Michael Farrell would too.
[A typo-ridden version of this piece was published by POAM (the Museletter of the Melbourne Poets Union inc.), #278, July/August, 2003. This version corrects those typos and makes some slight changes to the original mss. Paul Skec, the editor of POAM at the time, asked me for the piece as accompanying material for the MPU event on July 25,'03, 21st Century Poetries, moderated by Kevin Brophy and featuring Michael Farrell, Claire Gaskin & Dominique Hecq.]