Thursday, May 29, 2008


MICHAEL FARRELL'S a raiders guide (Giramondo, '08), LAUNCHED BY JUSTIN CLEMENS; 1st of May, '08

A relief to have such a good house for the launch of Michael Farrell's a raiders guide. Extending the image of "overflow", the consumption of 17 bottles of red and 6 of white, courtesy of the publisher's catering account, might have contributed something to the general bonhomie though, we note, not at all to the inimitable performances of our ascetic men of the moment.

A pleasure, as always, to listen to Justin Clemens' entertaining harangue whether or not it truly spoke for Michael Farrell's attitude to poetry. Whilst Justin's Joyce/Derrida logorrhea tweaked laughter explicating Michael's ode ode (Salt,'02), --for example, repeating "ode ode" until it ran off his tongue as "dodo" inspiring the inevitable "as dead as" to charge the tradition for failings only the avant-garde perceive-- his conclusions, both curious & spurious regarding the lyric & its forms, instantly question-marked his seriousness. And since Michael, in exemplary Andy Warhol mode, keeps his critical commentary to the minimum, allowing his art to speak for itself I suppose he'd say, one could fall into the error of mistaking Justin's revolutionary bravado for Michael's own rationale. One simply doesnt know! It was the 1st of May after all, the 40th anniversary of the student/worker uprisings in Paris, eventually subdued, we recall, by the best efforts of the French Communist Party & the General President. How better to celebrate that anarchist interregnum than as a provocateur at an elite poetry event! As I said to Justin on the night, I enjoyed the show but opposed his basic principals --the formalism & the progressivism, not to mention the radical flourishes. His philosophy might well follow the same course, but whatever the purchase of such critique in philosophy & politics and apart from my feeling that the concepts of one domain dont automatically or simply obtain in another, I contend that poetry (art etcetera) enjoys its own occasion and isnt any theory's deposit : it posits, one might say. Whilst reflecting history, along with everything else the cat brings in, neither is poetry (art) a teleological datum...

I suppose what I most lament of this particular avant-garde critique is the absence of value, lost as it is in the enthusiasm for the flat canvas & the equality of its objects (democracy misperceived as that idea's logical & mechanical fulfillment) --and here I think Farrell's work does speak for itself... Then there's Justin's linear view of time, with concomitant implications for notions of currency & contemporaneity, promoted in his statement, "Poet of Today : you cannot go back!" Is the "today" of 2008 different from the "today" of any other period? Surely, for the poet, time is fluid and tradition a constant flowing-through in which one's immersed by definition as poet? For the poet, "today" implies the urgency & immediacy galvanising the whole field of attention. Unless there's a quibble between "today" & "now", I'd say the poet's "now" is found wherever attention is sharpest. No poet is really writing out of time even if that's the formal intention. (Remember Heraclitus & the aphorism about the river!) Justin was on a roll : spluttering aside what could one could do with his dismissal of most poetry (in Australia? the English language? the whole world?) as "weak Romanticism", from which denigration, needless to say, Michael Farrell was approvingly exempt? Curious that what's good for the reader isnt proper for the writer in Justin Clemens' perspective, that is to say, if all literature previous to & including the current is assumed to be the reader/critic's field, why is it not the poet's site of interaction also? But of course it is; preposterous to maintain the opposite! As though this really were a '68 hommage, Clemens' banishment of the traditional palate (lyric & its accoutrements) contra, one hastens to say, the actual tide of contemporary poets' practice, effectively clears the field for Farrell's valorisation as the most out there, the most cutting edge... A mistake...

Whereas Justin cited Rimbaud, Mallarme & Stevens as prime explicative references, suggesting that Michael Farrell travels within a modern tradition of the marvellous (the conscious disordering of the senses and submission to the effects of chance, perhaps), I'd say the more obvious lineage was "Language Poetry" via New York School, subsuming the technical repertoire of Stein, Cummings, Cage & McLow --which makes of him an experimentalist whose modus-operandi is cut-up, jump-cut, run-on & elision, typography & score, and everything his book's blurb admits of sampling & mixing --certainly no visionary or philosopher a la Rimbaud, Mallarme & Stevens, or existentially on-the-line like Stein & Cummings.

There may be traditionally coherent social & personal strings to Michael Farrell's writing bow, which might cut the same kind of deals with traditional address as achieved by the Howe sisters, Leslie Scalapino & other "languageas" (as Nat Tarn once called them, quipping testily of the avant-garde's (well)read brigades)... But, again, I'm not convinced this "serious" side exists at all. Michael Farrell is probably happy as Larry playing with typography & creating a kind of language-music-theatre, traditions of which inter-media have long existed & continue to expand -- and happy, as he has been over the past decade, to create texts which are collages in which bits of himself combine with bits of whatever, witty as personal & social commentary however disposed as meta-fiction or criticism. At the moment I think he's pursuing his penchant for deconstruction at the expense of narrative, a deconstruction that is at best a kind of comedy salvaged from the fashionable pessimism regarding the world as the given & experiential whole. Yet, for how long can a joke, made in & of a very particular time's cultural textures, remain funny? How quickly is the topical dated? How au courant can anything dated be? A joke's over when people stop laughing I suppose, though many are still chuckling with Michael it's fair to say...

Against all of this, I'll continue contending that poem acting chiefly as analysis of speech & its parts & occasions, relying upon unfamiliar enjambments & other deformations, is hardly challenging at all in comparison to the project one might call the renewal of the whole --the whole line, sentence, thought, poem -- the renewal of the whole and not its demolition or exile to the un-funniest provinces of pastiche & supposed po-mo irony...



[from Diary, 24/25 May, '08]
Discussed Sydney/Melbourne poetics differences with David Musgrave, also with friend of Simon West's -- The way I characterised it years ago : Honest Joe (Melbourne) vs. City Slicker (Sydney) -- Now I'd say Sydney's sophistication is based in its language -- the attitude or sensibility is expressed from within the trope (Tranter fine example) -- In Melbourne it's always been a poetics of sincerity (poetry of statement, comment, history), cut more with satire than genuine irony -- I should say, always has been since nothing stands still & changes are evident, making inter-city comparisons less striking though assuredly they remain if only on the evidence of the Puncher & Wattmann reading -- Last night what I heard was the Sydney wit in which the whole person is found, bold imagery (not shy of adjectives, unusual & pleasurable coinage), and a plethora of things named suggesting to me poets happily at home in the world -- poetry, then, as a dictionary for confident subjectivity's parallel universe! -- Eliot's "objective correlative" roosted in Sydney and the welter of romanticisms in Melbourne -- Ah, so -- broad brush I know but if I dont tickle out such inklings I contribute to unconsciousness! [P.S., 26/5, the group's different species of humour, from David's "oh Sting, where is thy death?", through Carol's surreal conjectures (her "Fishing on the Devonian" poem for prime instance) to Greg McLaren's "zen" humour... Regarding Meredith Wattison, her delivery style misleads one into hearing straightforward narrative whereas on later reading the page grants a palimpsest, for instance, "A Lampshade Skin" in Basket of Sunlight. This experience implies for all of them that there's more in the poetry than meets the eye...]
Passed some of this by Andrea Goldsmith this morning before she took up her Saturday writing workshop at the Victorian Writers Centre -- The urbanity etc. I attribute to Sydney she pooh-poohed in favour of Melbourne! --but that's Melbourne, she exclaimed -- But arent these the major departments of contemporary poetry's great oscillation? --neither all here nor all there --
Maybe a thread of the above is caught in yet another discussion, as I'm wont to call it, but probably better to say play -- and I remember clearly the actual occasion, the launch of Best Australian Poems, 2007 , at the Shop, February '08, and I'm on my side of the counter (referred to as "the bar" in my bookshop-as-tavern slip of the tongue that's sustained me since I was a teenager in Southampton, sensing in Durrell & Miller's Greece & Paris a way out of what Malcolm McLaren too late for me in the '70s Punk jumping-ship dubbed England's dirty little puddle), and Philip Salom & Gig Ryan are on the other side -- and the formalities are over & the fun's begun (if only!) -- and so many in the room might have read but that's not how the launch was arranged this year -- and I congratulated Gig on a great line, the weirdest in the book, "and lobbed day's pell of suns and blue accounts", how it had caught my eye and was my example, this day, of excitement where this was crucial -- words, words, words or as the young Forbes complained early '70s, "talented earache", (which I'm recalling as proper ginger for rejuvination but not, tho' youth loves it, annihilation) -- where nothing said is saving your soul so the words as effects become the issue and you turn the pages, page after page after page, God help us, no! no! no! no! until something jumps up out of the black & white -- so it was with Gig's poem -- to which she objected only one line? and Philip said he's praising you! -- didnt have to know what the line or the poem meant at that moment -- the frisson! was sufficient -- which is how I described my imperfect reading of Lucy Holt's poems to her face at Elizabeth Campbell's birthday bash on top of the Northcote Hill a month ago -- something happening in the language, Lucy, which at this level of encounter is both a mercy & a blast! -- recalled again in quick exchange with Justin Clemens the morning of the day he'd be launching Michael Farrell's a raiders guide, extolling at least this as a virtue in so much that's glum but only because "so much" has become the norm -- so much pushed into contention when less or less visibility or the imperative to hold the same stage which homogenizes, makes an illusory standard upon which pseudo-gradation some live, some die -- and forgets that each to their own was also a dignity -- and yet, and yet -- but the deciding difference between the one attitude and the other, regarding effects (and what else is experiment, that urge to create propelled by revolt against whatever decorum, but the foregrounding of effects?), is that poem is not ultimately strategy -- it has to be read back from its effects or read forward from its effects into its story or song -- and isnt partial however minimal -- is all that can be told or sung of all that compels one, now -- now -- which is why I speak against formalism as the arbiter, and against any determinism including that verdict of history, thus my disdain for progressivism as another linearity though most of all for those who would shove it about as tho' the perfect paradigm -- to whom I would say, accord in discord, where value is variously struck & realized --

Kris Hemensley, 29th May, '08, David Musgrave, Gig Ryan, Greg McLaren, Justin Clemens, Michael Farrell, Philip Salom


jfw said...

thanks Kris,

although beautifully and clearly argued, your case against Farrell/Clemens seems to read a little defensive. i wonder why you struggle conceptually with the point that poetry is made by people living and dying in environments, and favour instead the myth that poetry is written by poets who are living in cerebral isolation courting transformation? i don't read Farrell's work as particularly experimental, jokish or avant-garde, rather kind-of naturalistic to the city, thus to the centralised, like much art of industrial civilisation, it relies upon the importation of its resources.

i look forward to reading more of your posts, cheers patrick

collectedworks said...

Thank you Patrick for your comment. I'm not trying to evade the discussion about Michael Farrell's poetry/poetics by re-stating that in the first instance I'm responding to what clearly seemed to me to be Justin Clemens' vanguardist commentary on Farrell's behalf. That aside, I agree entirely that "poetry is made by people living and dying in environments" and disagree that I'm advocating a poetry "written by poets in cerebral isolation courting transformation"! I also refute the "defensiveness" you attribute to my critique --I feel strongly & positively & not defensively about "wholeness" (as intent) versus "partiality" & what I've called the "strategic". But it might only be a matter of tone; i.e., you'll call it as you hear it. I actually agree with you about the naturalism (if I understand you correctly) of Michael : it's something I offered to him in conversation some years ago --another hole in the vanguard claim, though, for since when was the naturalistic an avant-garde verity (--not your point, I know, but something else for the vanguard to chew on)? I confess I am a sucker for "transformation"! But contest it's necessarily cerebral! That is to say, it's as likely to be the moment's product, actual & palpable, as the topicality you, properly, adduce of Michael's writing. I realize I'm liable to conflate the transformative & transportative here : the former (and I could have in mind particular poems by such poets as James Wright & Robert Gray) requires an eruption or blooming of a poem's otherwise consistent subject-matter, whereas the latter is more likely defined by its unpredictable conclusion. Surrealist poetry comes to mind too (poems by Andre Breton for example) : where the sense is obscure, the grammar is a semantic surrogate; the aggregating imagery rewards one as though explicable narrative... And haiku, at its classical best, is simultaneously occasional & extraordinary, which probably defines the experience of the form... It might be that what informs our discussion here is informed by the difference between religious and secular dispositions? Might I curry the pot then by stating the illumination I'm still possessed, since first coming upon it as a teen or twenty, by Meister Eckhardt's proposition : "The eye through which I see God is the same eye through God sees me." Thank you again for responding! Best wishes, Kris Hemensley

collectedworks said...

That last sentence a bit rough : Correct it to read : "the illumination I'm still possessed by, since first coming upon it as a teen or twenty, in Meister Eckhardt's proposition..." That's better!

collectedworks said...

Still not right! So much for writing late at night! In cold light of day I see that I mucked up the Meister Eickhardt quote! And I'm prob misspelling his name too! OK, : he said, "The eye through which I see God is the same eye as that through which God sees me!" And what I've always derived from that was the simultaneity of meaning & mystery, occasioned by a human being in a particular time & place, the excess or expression of whose wonderment suggests a contract in consciousness, perception, presence, being. And this, dear Patrick,occurs in the flux, in the middle of anywhere! Best wishes, Kris Hemensley