Saturday, October 9, 2010

THE MERRI CREEK : POEMS & PIECES, # 19, October, 2010



August 31, 2010

Hi Kris!

My cousin Wilbur has been doing genealogical research, and although he's found some interesting stuff in the past (we're very distant relations with both Walt Whitman (yay!) and Dick Cheney (boo!)) he's finally struck gold. My grandfather's grandfather John Burt had a brother, Foght Burt, and Foght had a son Richard, who became a civil war hero and a poet. Had quite a few things published too. You'll be happy to know that the stuff is pretty amazing doggerel - William McGonagal comes to mind. Here's a sample:

We did a bicentennial piece, of course, in 88. Richard beat us to it by 112 years. I've only read the first page, and I have no doubt that that's all you'll read as well. However, out of misplaced family loyalty, I think I'll try to make it through all 20 pages. I might even have some computer voices speak parts of it - although I don't know how far I'll get with that. Read it and weep! Tears of hilarity, I hope.




I have read the dialog with you and Cathy [Kris Hemensley & Catherine O'Brien, Art & About in Vientiane, #2, August, 2010, re- Hans Georg Berger's photography & etc.], and found it fascinating. That the abbot had a huge photography collection is not surprising in one
sense, but a delightful surprise in another.

There are a lot of amazing stories of East West contact. One of my favorite is about the Japanese composer of the 30s and 40s - Mr Ozawa (I forget his first name). He studied with Schoenberg in Berlin, then went back to Japan, and wrote orchestral music in a style very similar to the French neo-classicist Francis Poulenc. Things like the Kamikaze Piano Concerto (not related to WWII suicide bombers, but the experimental fighter plane of the 1930s, which was quite an innovation when it happened, apparently). These days, my Japanese composer friends are more than faintly embarrassed by the renewed interest in him in the West...but it is pretty amazing - the unknown "Sept" of "Les Six" and he lived in obscurity in Tokyo......





Space Pen

The manufacturer informs us:

So tell me, my friend —
where do you plan to use it?


Perfective II

EMPTY fur-flesh
skin-fear uneffaced;
even meat there found
its letter-plug
litter of silenced earth.


Oh to hello ago I go agogo

The more I know his trumpet ‘tis truly so
me trumpet’s trumpet pinned his pegs akimbo,
clyster-pipes and organs humpherumphing happily
hanging a tail by many a wind instrument that blew
the bag-men’s big cheeks pup-puffing up to kiss
the equipment of their pleasures — reserve
this vessel for my lord! they insinuate,
as if they’d walk to Palestine for a touch
of his nether lips and a long hard look down the gyrating barrel
of the biggest revulva youse or I’s has ever seens.





When you touch me it is the hand of God.
I agree to restrain the gravity of this emotion.
I begin the long march in death's dominion.
I bear the thought imperfectly that I'm alone.

Mona Lisa's smile remains enigmatic.
This is the only wisdom I possess:
They marked you. They marked you all your life.
Moonlight still shines on what you left behind.

The will is muscular. Like muscle, it tears.
You sentence me to hard labour. Once,
I was beautiful but that was rapture.
The tongue of love tastes tough in these bull days.

This is the conspiracy of the figure two:
the flowers in the garden grow mottled.



When the time comes, whenever that be,
I shall look back to my ancestors,
seafarers all, gliding over oceans,
now coming into ports. This earth,
this blue planet, will not circumscribe me.
I will sail across the empty doom searching
for cyclopean marvels; a half-horse, half-man
figure will appear from behind that band
of stars beyond the edge of the Milky Way.
The astrophysics of our encounter,
this dark energy of love, are unknown.
In a singular moment the explosion
that drove all things apart drove us too.
In space I hold the horn of plenty.



Ian McBryde’s The Adoption Order
(published by 5 Islands Press 2009)

[Launch Speech presented at Collected Works 15.10.09]

Rapture be pure
Take a tour, through the sewer
(Rapture, lyric by Blondie)

It’s a privilege to launch Ian McBryde’s sixth major collection of poetry, The Adoption Order, here at Collected Works by grace of Kris and Retta Hemensley. Thanks to Ian and 5 Islands Press for the honour. I hadn’t actually seen the book until tonight but I can see the fine publishing job accomplished by Kevin Brophy, Dan Disney and Lyn Hatherly at 5 Islands Press. When I was reading Ian’s book in manuscript form, as I have several times over the last few weeks, I began to think about the light and dark, the beauty and horror, that makes Ian’s poetry so wild and impressively individual. The French poet René Char once said (quote taken from The Poet’s Work):

‘behind the poet’s shutter of blood burns the cry of a force that will destroy itself
because it abhors force . . . Read me. Read me again. He (the poet) does not always come
away unscathed from his page, but like the poor, he knows how to make use of the
olive’s eternity.’

Or as Blondie expressed it in a lyric from her 1981 single Rapture:

Rapture, be pure
Take a tour, through the sewer.

In The Adoption Order Ian does not flinch from the dark and desolate places of the heart. From the dystopian palace in the poem ‘News from the Palace’ to the abandoned landscape of ‘Tunnel 3’ with its nameless station, its unknown slope, its unreadable lights, its rusted, unused rails, its uncertain carriages and clammy track to nowhere, we enter an imagination that is surreal, tender and savage. Take, for example, these memorable lines from the poem ‘A Second Lake’ (the quote is the entire poem):

Deep in the interior water has cut stone open, filled in
the scar, iced over. No fish swim beneath this seal,
and no animals venture down to test the edge
of this ripped shore, this brittle lace,
this ghost of gauze over the old
and frozen wound.

Take note of the arrangement of the words on the page, the inexorable tightening of skin over that strange and frosty wound. An Ian McBryde poem is never un-imperilled. Words are never wasted. His imagery is both elemental, often of the sea, the dream, the cave, the animal - and his imagery is sharper than the sound of the words that make the image—by which I mean it is the visual elements of Ian’s imagery that etch themselves so sharply on the mind. Whether this particular talent comes from Ian’s drawing and illustrative abilities I’m not sure. It is a talent.

Blondie’s Deborah Harry, was also adopted and although many of the poems in Ian’s The Adoption Order do touch on that theme, the poems seems less interested in recording or evoking confessional feelings about adoption or loss and more concerned with embodying the ongoing struggle of words to ground themselves in a world where loss, separation and grief happen. I spent some time thinking about why these poems, despite their sometimes bleak imagery, are so moving, so emotionally chiselled and fulfilling to read. I did not experience them as nihilistic, but as generous. I think it has something to do with what, again, the French lyricist poet René Char (1907-1988)[1] said (as reported by Edward Hirsch in How To Fall in Love with Poetry): that ‘the poem is the realised love of desire still desiring’. The Russian poet Tsvetaeva asks ‘what shall I do as I go over the bridge of my enchanted visions that cannot be weighed in a world that deals only in weights and measure?’

Whether it is the child who desires a mother or father they might never know, or a lover who desires the one they might never attain or keep, or the adult who desires a childhood that continues to mesmerise time, Ian is exploring marooned desire, a grief that somehow becomes a wound of history because we are always losing the present and never in perfect harmony with the world. Perhaps love and loss are the Castor and Pollux of poetry, the twinned forces which poetry attempts to reconcile yet ultimately fails because the past, the beloved are beyond the temporality of language. As Ian says in the last stanza of the villanelle ‘We Touch On and are Lifted from the Earth’:

All our art is the murmuring of surf
Love is where the sea spray meets and marries.
We touch on and are lifted from the earth.
We now are past the moment of our birth.

and later in ‘38th Parallel’: ‘ I have learned nothing but thirst, the only truth of the marooned’.

And later, still, in ‘A Silhouette on Water’:

The image quivers, disperses, splits into

patterns of shadow and elusive light which
never really finish, never really begin.

We often talk about the strength of image in this or that poetry or in this or that poem, as though it is in opposition to weaknesses of image. In Ian’s poetry imagery isn’t a strength, it is the essence of the poetry. The book is a beautiful imagining of imagery. And so beautiful. Here in the poem ‘Before Waking’: ‘I dreamt rain on slate. I dreamt fine china carefully arranged on the floors of caves.’ When I read these images, these lines, I think of carefully arranged words in the darkness of the poem’s cave, I think of all the cultural history of civilisation from the cave to Doulton’s fine bone china factories and I think of human skulls, Pompeii and the fragility of bones. Every poem in The Adoption Order is a scene of spare, concentrated imagery, a dramatic distillation of the lyric’s power and each poem is a play where the self takes centre stage as landscape, as divided mirror or as a numbed survivor on a raft drifting.

The whispering of the poems is intimate as though it’s assumed that you, too, are familiar with the longhouse, the disintegrating palace, the old and frozen scar and the faces of the other children of the raft. The language is very precise and the choice of a particular word often startling. For example, consider the final lines from ‘Instead of Your Breast’ (again reproduced here in its entirety):

Instead of your breast
a ghost treasure,
an alarm sent out.
Instead of your voice
the locked wing,
the lightning shield.
Instead of your breath
a jungle of drums
and the gathering dusk.
Instead of your hands
the terminal, the stretched
mile and instead of your
presence, the faces of
other children of the raft.

Instead of other possibilities (other children on the raft) these are the children of the raft: children who are perhaps destined for dangerous sadness, adventure and drifting. When I read these lines I think of Klaus Kinski in the Werner Herzog film Aguirre, The Wrath of God, (the final scenes of the film when monkeys overcome the raft); I think of asylum seekers adrift, I think of the literature of shipwreck and of the often vulnerable children I work with as a child psychiatrist. This power of imagery does not open a small niche in experience – this imagery opens a tender Pandora’s box of history, both personal and shared, both particular and ethereal.

The Adoption Order is about the power of families. It begins with a poem called ‘Genealogy’ and ends with a poem called ‘Motherlode’. In between are poems about the loneliness of childhood, about the pain of adoption, about the Irish diaspora. And there are magnificent elegies for lost parents. The poem ‘Satellite’ from Ian’s first book The Shade of Angels (1990) re-appears and Ian and has given us another poem/chapter from the ongoing sequence ‘Reports from the Palace’ a sequence which threads through his earlier published works, with versions appearing in The Familiar (1994), Flank (1998) and Equatorial (2001). Thus, in terms of the process of the book, poems can be traced back to past collections as one might also trace the genealogy of a family (or be unable to do so, at least in the past, if adopted). The Adoption Order is the fruit of many generations of poems, not only Ian’s. McBryde’s ‘Icarus’ joins a long tradition of Icarus poems including those of Auden and William Carlos Williams to name just two. This is one of my favourite poems in the book, although to say so feels a little unfair to myself as I value so many. In this Icarus tale, the son’s fiery death is the final triumph which frees him from family and, strangely, this poem seems to capture the actual moment a real event becomes myth.

Icarus (Last Words)

As I fall I watch
my father float
to safety on less
rapid atmosphere

His wings intact,
he hovers high above
me as I plummet.

And yet long after
he lands, long after he
is held in my mother’s

grieving arms it is not
his wisdom but
my bright death that will
be celebrated.

My ribbons of wax.
My shout in the clouds.

A glassy sea beneath
me as I melt and am
finally unfeathered.

At last I have
honoured my island.
I have passed beyond
family. I will be

Falling for centuries,
suspended forever
in the rich, dense air
of legend.

This is a classy, humane book. It deserves great respect and recognition. Although working at an interface that is almost pre-speech, pre-definition these poems are paradoxical artworks of precise speech, chiselled lyricism, formal refrain and earthy textures carved into the cave wall of a page. The Adoption Order is a book of dreams, a book of riddles and a book which fears the end of dreams. René Char said in ‘The Formal Share’: ‘It is from a lack of inner justice that the poet suffers most in his relations with the world. Caliban’s sewer window, behind which Ariel’s powerful and sensitive eyes are angry.’; Ian McBryde says:

I bit the rain.



[1] Rene Char’s mature poetry was published in the aftermath of the Nazi occupation of France; his poetry is at once a lyrical summoning of natural correspondences and a meditation on poetry itself; his single line famous poem To the Health of the Serpent’—published in Fureur etmystère, Éditions Gallimard, 1962—for me has a kinship with Ian’s fabulous one-line poems published in Slivers, Flat Chat Poets, 2005.




I am hung
next to paintings
about the same size -
an unorthodox
nailed into place

One precise metre
from the curlicues of
my frame
a landscape with tower
is abstracted into
vertical planes
defying depth

From the other side
florid dahlias
in their crystal vase
suggest a tasteful encounter
with the zig-zag
rhythm of my
portrait's scarf

These companions
are unknown to me
(and I to them)
though we are linked
capriciously for a month
as intimates
on public display




That ain't no monkey on my back
It's a gorilla

That insidious old ape
Still crouches on my shoulder
He's perched up there
Like Goya's grinning ghoul

He just climbed up
My skyscraper spine
You can still see
The marks he made

He razed my city
To the ground
And stole my loved one
With his gnarled hand

He's too big
And heavy
To stay up there for long
One good bi-plane
To the back of the head
He'll fall a hundred stories
And crush everything

Then I'll be rid of him

Until the next organ grinder
Comes to town
And his simian side kick
Casts his dark shadow
Down my long haul
Every man is a Manhattan




Bellows black
Bluffing its way
Into innocent clouds.

Turner's torrid trowel
The bloody sunset


Broken winged duck
Last spastic dance
On dim mirror plate.

Chimney vomit
Turns white
Near night.

Atomic bomb crucifix
Smites the sun
Of man.

Burning tonsure.

Cold halo.

[Winter, 2010]


WARREN BURT prolific composer & performer, for many years on the Melbourne scene, currently in Wollongong. His website is

JUSTIN CLEMENS active in literature, philosophy, psychoanalytic theory, art criticism, & is the author of several books including The Mundiad (Black Inc, '04), Black River (, '07), Villain (Hunter Publishers, 2009). Phew! He teaches at the University of Melbourne.

TINA GIANNOUKOS has published In A Bigger City (Five Islands Press, '05). She teaches at University of Melbourne where she is completing her PHD. In 2010 addressed a conference in Shanghai, read at the Beijing Bookworm & gave lecture in Beijing. Link to the review of In a Bigger City
Her review of Angela Gardner's Views of the Hudson in Jacket 40:

JENNIFER HARRISON has published several collections including Michaelangelo's Prisoners ('95), which won that year's Anne Elder Award; & most recently Folly & Grief (Black Pepper, '06), & Colombine : New & Selected Poems (Black Pepper, Melbourne, '10). Co-edited with Kate Waterhouse, Motherlode : Australian Women's Poetry, 1986-2008 (Puncher & Wattmann, '09).

ANNE KIRKER, well known as a curator of modern & contemporary painting in New Zealand & Australia; appears in Poems & Pieces, # 1, & #8. Her website is,

DAVID SHEPHERD's website is which contains extensive biography. Similarly see for recent feature with Dave Ellison on Karl Gallagher's illustrious site.


Anonymous said...

nice to see the sonnet traveling well
pete spence

Arash said...

"Chimney vomit!" Wow, that's something. I love abstract poetry.

I am an amateur Canadian poet by the way, and found your blog through google. If you like to read some of my awful poetry, I am here:

If you so desire, I look forward to collaborating, exchanging links, contributing, posting the poetry of visitors, reading commentary/criticism, etc.

Visit me sometime. Thank you.


Anonymous said...

i'm just at a wonder about
what is so abstract about
the line "chimney vomit"
seems almost biological
to me

pete spence

collectedworks said...

you took the words right out of my mouth, pete! From where we're looking at things 'chimney vomit' is abt as literal as it comes!

Anonymous said...

yeah its just a reduct of "a chimney spewing
smoke" maybe for abstract in poetry
we should hark back to Ashbery in
a poem like "leaving Atocha station"
from The Tennis Court Oath book
his second book i think though
my unnerstanding is Ashbery
has thrown it out of his works
which is sad!

Anonymous said...

re the abstract in poems here's part of something i'm working on. i wanted to work towards the abstract but its just plain descriptive to my annoyance!

sporadically sunlight echoes
the form of sound as shade the wind
in excursion stalls the light
piling up like grains of steam
eating away at the one cloud
to stick around oh homeless day
dust gathers in short clusters

and so on just a bit of pastoral
it seems to me!

pete spence

collectedworks said...

Tina Giannoukos asked about Pete Spence the other day. I described you as a poet interested in the notion of time and with the kind of space(s) a symphonist creates. Something like that! This new poem --but many others too --reminds me of our late friend David Chaloner. 'Abstract', 'pastoral' --maybe --but descriptive (of what though?) perhaps the best!

Anonymous said...

Descriptive! of the world perhaps

i can't do

"blue skies over
my white motor mower"

even when i get it going
in a cloud of two stroke

old mowers should be put
to rest!

pete spence

snodgrass said...

How bizarre to think Chimney Vomit is abstact! It's as real as one can get. Atomic Bomb Crucifix is my kinda abstract

Anonymous said...

A B Crucifix!!! its a point of view
a good point of view! but
its not an abstraction
this abstraction in writing
seems elusive!!!

snodgrass said...

Dear Pete, I don't quite latch on to your "abstraction in writing'comment. All writing is abstraction - just depends on who's reading it and what school they went to. Our Canadian friend probably wished he had never mentioned it now!

Anonymous said...

each to his own.
still unless you trot with language as far
as Wittgenstein etc then language
is a set of agreements to describe
the world around you
that said poetry does try
to make new those agreements
i wasn't trying to get up
the Canadians nose
its just good clean comment

collectedworks said...

i note the equine vocab. ('trot', 'nose') and take it as cosmic hint! To the races we go, heigh (hay) ho, heigh ho, heigh nonny nonny (whoa)! Go both you good things, david & pete!

Anonymous said...

well we are off to Trentham
might do a spot of prospecting
good saphires around and gold

i'm not going to buy into
none discussion on the comments
pages...thats what they are there for
the Canadian is as free as anyone
to take it or leave it
the comment page is a great learning curve
for both myself and hopefully

Snodgrass said...

Well said Pete. It's ALL abstract. That's what art is - the objectification of subjectivity (abstract thought). It's all illusion!

collectedworks said...

well said everybody! Just to say tho that twenty+ years ago, reading in and around 20C japanese philosophers, budhist/western philos. intersection, found something by one of them, Nishitani or Nishida or another, on the nature of 'true subjectivity' wch i understood as a subjectivity wch isnt the simple opposite of the commonly defined 'objectivity'... I liked that a lot, thought abt it for years...

Old Fitzroy - - Dreaming blues, karlos? said...

‘Absence Of Mind.’
by Marilynne Robinson, 2010

Essays on Modernist/Post Modernism: the flaws and contradictions of its (writers) arguments. A critical analysis of modernism's systematic destruction of the subjective - and its replacement with the rationalist objective view of human experience. Cutting edge thinking -she stands out as one of the most progressive thinkers/writers around today – if not the best. If you value the subjective experience and the power of its creative reality then this book is a must read.

Anonymous said...

as the philosopher commented
"no matter never mind"


Anonymous said...

i don't know if Wallace Stevens is IN these days
but two poems "The Man with the Blue Guitar"
& "Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction"
are an excellent place to start re the recent
poetics/philosophical comments here