LAUNCHING SPEECH IN FAVOUR OF TREMORS : NEW & SELECTED POEMS BY ANDREW SANT (published by Black Pepper Press, Melbourne); August 30th, 2004
Andrew asked Kevin [Pearson, of BPP] to ask me to launch his NEW & SELECTED POEMS. . . Sure, it's been a busy week, what with the bookshop [Collected Works], & helping a friend pack up a house & fly to Laos, and then there's the Melbourne Writer's Festival, two events for which I had to prepare... So I felt tentative about accepting... The real reason, of course, was defensive --because I suddenly realised Andrew was getting his own back on this review --published 15 years ago to the month, --in the August,1989 issue of the Australian Book Review --a review of his 3rd collection, Brushing the Dark...
I didnt meet Andrew until recent years --maybe late '90s, certainly before 2001 which is the date of another of our auspicious connections... But it was a Melbourne Writers Festival and our mutual friend, now American friend, Kevin Hart, introduced us. Oh, hello, I said, we havent met but I did review you once! Andrew shook my hand and said yes, you gave me a bollucking! He laughed, I think... I was genuinely surprised --I dont recall it that way, I said. Andrew insisted. I said I thought I was making a discussion or receiving his book into a discussion. If there was an error --I say tonight, with the proverbial benefit of hindsight --it was to treat books as representatives of poetry in general, that is, the Australian poetry being written now vis a vis an idea of poetry, an ambition for poetry... Certainly, the editor who'd asked me to review poetry for ABR in that period, was aware of the discourse I'd probably instigate; that was why she'd appointed me --but it wouldnt have been clear to either the readership or the authors... Ah well... Water under the bridge! But at that same meeting Andrew & I bonded... Humid weather, alcohol, the company of poets, what else would one expect?!
Andrew told me --and I'd only just met him remember --that he knew my brother...
I have two brothers & a sister --and the brother with whom I've shared a life-time love of poetry & small press & so on, Bernard Hemensley, is agoraphobic and never been to Australia...
You must have got him mixed up with someone else, I stammered... You couldnt have met my brother... There arent any other Hemensleys in Australia (which is not quite true)...
Yes I did, Andrew said, Robin, Robin Hemensley!
Robin? I said --but he's never been here either --are you sure?
Yes, he said --he's a red-head, like me, and it wasnt here --it was at a party in Kingston-on-Thames --the girls we were with knew each other!
Anyway, I felt it was incredible --Andrew Sant had met my baby brother! They'd partied together! In Surrey! I've felt we were family ever since --especially when, in 2001 I think it was, Andrew has told me he saw me walking along a street in Dorchester when he was travelling in a coach. I was utterly amazed when he told me! Where will we two meet again?!
So much for frivolity! Now we get serious... Now we have the bollucking!
When Kevin Pearson delivered this New & Selected to me the other day, my first response was "wow! it's big" --my second was "what a great cover, it looks like a thriller, a crime book!"
Kevin said that was an interesting reaction, one which Andrew would probably be tickled by, and for obvious reasons, he said. Perhaps the most obvious reason I've now discovered is one of the longest poems in the book, called "Crime Fiction" --it's in the new poems section of the book, which we'll get to in a minute...
It is a big fat book, and published by a small press... And all one can say (to quote a friend of Andrew's & mine, the little chap on the Guinness ad. some of you may have seen on t.v.) is "Brilliant! Brilliant!"
Small presses dont usually publish 258 page books of poetry --although with proper support they could... Tim Thorne's Cornford Press[Tasmania] published Selwyn Pritchard's Letters & Characters, about 200 pages; Pi O's Collective Effort Press did the monumental 24 Hours and a couple of Jas Duke tomes... But these are honourable exceptions.
I have to confess to a surge of optimism holding this book in the aftermath of the Overload Poetry Festival, pleasantly tired by the Writers' Festival & the poetry events I attended or participated in --a surge of optimism for poetry, for the lives of poets -- and this notwithstanding Barry Hill's "salt versus sugar" admonition on Saturday at the Malthouse, in fact including that spirited (& inspiring) ethical & political discussion of the poetry scene --I feel an optimism that the concentric rings of poetry's various life in the world are turning --things are moving --gently! Readers & writers are enthusiastic! But maybe this is all the fantasy which festival frisson inspires?!
The New & Selected gives everyone the chance of a second bite --the reader & the author --especially if the collection is the author's choice. Readers can then enjoy the variants --and so long as there are libraries, can prefer an earlier version over a later, or vice-versa... But the notion of a New & Selected is an interesting one : it suggests that whether published or not the writing is a work-in-progress --and that the poetry selected for the edition is considered a manuscript, and that the changes are made according to the author's current poetic-linguistic position...
In my 20s & 30s, when friends were publishing their selecteds --several with University of Queensland Press --it struck me that a selected was a kind of premature burial. But I think early 50s is a good age for it --and the additional "new poems" shows there's life yet...
I suppose the Collected is the next rite of passage... When my late friend Frank Prince published his Collected in England & the US in 1993, he told me that was it --here it all was --no more. He was 80, but strong faced, alert, so one didnt think of him as an aged man. Anyway, he sounded just a bit resigned --and I suggested to him that he'd surely "trump" his collected with at least another substantial poem . He didnt think so --but inevitably he did, a poem of a couple of hundred lines on the occasion of Keats' bicentenary...
So, there's always life for the poem! --after a selected and even after a collected!
Proper or not to look for key words, essential motifs, across such a book?
There's a poem, "Wren", from Andrew's first collection, The Caught Sky, p15 here, which seems to me exemplary of Andrew's way of connecting observation or perception to an aspect of representation... It's a beautiful poem, suggestive of its particular subject-matter and, in the same breath or the same mode, of the writerly aspect also. The very first poem of the book performs the same act, but here's "Wren":
"A wren appears on the branch like an asterisk -
I refer back through
memory to a time of more constant
immersion of self in details -
once this would have been complete experience,
the wren offering itself
for my abandonment in detail,
landing on the fuchsia,
shaking the million purple bells
of my delight.
The wren flies off.
I'm left with a footnote of detail
towards an imminent theme."
So, and maybe you're alongside my thinking here, is this the poet's project? --ever apprehending the imminent theme which can only arise from the particularity of detail...
One observes the shorter & longer sequences coursing Andrew's work --especially the last decade or so. They're topographical ("Mt Wellington", "A Vineyard Quartet", "A Shower Medley", "The Sunlight Inland"), autobiographical (maybe "Voyage", "Stories of my Father"), occasionally historical. Perhaps this is the novelist poet's rehearsal, the poet who one day will produce his verse-novel...
And in this book, sequences like "Summertime : A Holiday Chronicle" and "Crime Fiction", which, to quote our friend from the Guinness ad again, are just brilliant!, these definitely augur an Oneigin or Golden Gate or something like it...
"Crime Fiction", of these new poems, is something else. It reminds me of John Tranter's great but short fictions in his book Ultra --the language is canny, it's quick, it's hard --it's like crime fiction whatever the subject... It's very knowing of popular culture, commercial culture, political culture --or it's political (discerning & disarming) of cultures & languages left & right of poetry's.
Let me say something about "Stanzas" (p219)--the first poem and a sequence from the new poems section --it too is brilliant! --a tour de force! The stanzas, isolated as they are --their natural procession broken by the titular number despite their momentum --arouse in me both a technical & a narrative excitement. The poem reminds me of one of Steven Edgar's baroque tales, so meticulously constructed that it might be misapprehended for a bloodless exercise. I appreciate the ingenuity --something ingenious & mellifluous, well-made yet still surprising --like a "but, hey" colloquialism thrown into a line --which breaks the spell of the written text, returns us to or reminds us of the palpable, present-time language...
And now I think it's time to hear some of it from Andrew himself... So, with great pleasure, I declare this book launched!
[Launched at the Purple Turtle pub in Johnston Street, Fitzroy; August 30, 2004.]