Thursday, May 29, 2008

THE MERRI CREEK : POEMS & PIECES, #2, May/June, 2008



Everything is ominous.


Another ordered loneliness.


The future is fatal.


Even the open field, a labyrinth.


The afternoon idly flicks through the pages of itself.


A list of names : good news, or bad?


The long silence of rooms.


History with its morphine headache.


The anonymous rain falling on motels.


The atrocities played under flickering streetlights.


The cars parked under melodramatic weather.


Finally, every future is fatal.




Was reading Robert Adamson's autobiog. A friend of mine, Johnny Goodall, is on the back cover, wearing a black cowboy hat. He bought a silver dobro, a National, off an old lady in an old folks home, and he really got into that sort of music. Had a sort of country music band in Sydney. Lovely gentle guy, but when he got drinking... I met Mr Adamson once, when Johnny moved back to Balmain, we were all tripping, and Bob said I was the devil, that sort of poetic bullshit fancy stuff. Nigel Roberts, whom I met again at Raff's, a year ago, said Johnny was now re-parked on the North Island, Nzed, drinking the homebrew. He was very influential on me, tho it took me generational change to get around to it.

Too weak and confused and stupid. But I loved that guy. Staying up all night and going round to the early opener, on one of the side streets of the spine of Balmain, alkies hopping up and down, and the wharfies coming in, and by eight o'clock in the morning, smoke in the bar, hey, it's a party! Meeting Vicki Viidikas and Michael Wilding. Ridiculous really. But that can be Sydney for you, going down a lane, a sandstone fence, a jacaranda tree, and over the fence, an ocean-liner sailing stately, blue water. Like sinking your teeth into a mango, soft and pulpy, and warm, and a stone you can't swallow.

But Mr Adamson. A mythologiser perhaps, like Shelton Lea. But what a story. The more I read it, the more I thought it could make a good movie. The dyslexic guy who's into fishing, cars, and getting into trouble. The trip north with his under-age girlfriend, stealing petrol, starving, trying to catch fish, kill a sheep. Back in gaol, raped, turning into a girl for a while, finding Rimbaud. The guy's a pastry cook, winning a prize at the Sydney Show, for his decorated cake, tiny threads of blue against the white. Writing his stuff out over and over. The bravery, the obsession, trying out drugs almost against the grain, like taking a boat out to get fish to sell, and almost drowning. Stabbing against the dark, not like the stylistic youth bo ho, de rigueur, industries sprung up to support it, we get these days.

And then the sidling, wheedling, into the polite, nice poetry twiddley-dee, and taking it over. Palace revolutions. Photos with Brett Whitely. Bad boys made good. What the fuck are you on mate? Prove it. Beautiful women. There's a movie to be made, busting out of this story.

Of course he's mythologising, but still and all, a fantastic fucking story. We don't get enough stories about the Blueys and Joe-Blows remaking themselves. Now we're ordinary intermediate international. Media fills up our mouths before we learn to breathe. We're self-conscious as fuck. Are our poetry heroes capable of kicking a footy, able to make a quid? Can they rebuild an engine, buy a block of land, plant something that grows? I can't, so maybe I'm wailing in a desert of attenuation. But the populace is out there, waiting. There's a movie in there, somewhere.

What sort of person makes a poetry hero?





Writing is neither vibrant life nor docile artifact but a text that would put all its money on the hope of suggestion. Come with me into the field of sunflowers is a better line than anything you will find here, and the sunflowers themselves are more wonderful than any words about them.
(Mary Oliver)

This statement by Mary Oliver might sound like an admission of defeat, emphasising the limits of what poetry can ever hope to say and do. Mary Oliver is not about to lay down her pen, though, and I am not suggesting that you should either! In my reading, what she does here is actually to provide in a nutshell a theory of ecopoetry. I stress that this is A theory : over the past ten years or so, various theories of ecopoetics have been hotly debated among the growing band of ecocritics (ecologically oriented literary critics) around the world, and I can't possibly cover the whole discussion here. What i should like to do, though, is to share with you my own understanding of ecopoetry as exemplified in the work of some of my favourite writers. In the case of Oliver, I think that much of her poetry does in fact say in a whole host of different ways precisely what she says here it can't say : that is to say, her poetry invites the reader, again and again, to come with her "into the field of sunflowers" (or into the woods, or down to the lake, or just along the road under the open sky...). Oliver knows that we can't take up that invitation literally : writing is "not vibrant life" and the very fact that we are reading it implies that she's not with us in person to take us for a stroll. But neither is it a "docile artifact". For better or for worse, writing has force, inflecting our perceptions and deflecting our attention away from some things and towards others. To the extent that it does not hold us spellbound by its own verbal constructions, luring us into the belief that "vibrant life" really does lurk right there in the text, poetic language has the capacity to turn our gaze to the world beyond the page : and if the world to which it urges us to attend is a more-than-human one of Earth and Sky, then this, I believe, is what qualifies it as properly "ecopoetic".

Having spent several years hunkered down with the Romantics (ok, just their writing), I find Oliver's mini-theory of ecopoetry strongly reminiscent of that articulated by Wordsworth in "The Tables Turned", in which the poet exhorts his bookish friend to "come forth into the light of things". This is an extraordinary line, because you're led to expect the cliched "light of day", but instead Wordsworth (characteristically) trips you up with this utterly unconventional and really quite mysterious image : the light of things. What on earth can this mean? In what sense do things have their own light, as distinct from being illuminated from the outside? I think that the poet gives us a clue later on when he asserts that :

Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous form of things :-
We murder to dissect.

Approaching things as objects of scientific enquiry, with a view to finding out merely how they function (and thereby also how they might be altered and utilized) prevents us from entering into the "light of things", namely by allowing them to disclose themselves to us in a situation of open-minded and non-utilitarian embodied encounter :

Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves :
Come forth and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.

Note the irony here, though : it is precisely by means of such "barren leaves" that Wordsworth issues his invitation to us! Wordsworth knows that in modernizing societies such as his own, it would be necessary to use writing, ironically, for the express purpose of urging readers to lift their eyes from the page.

Poets in many times and places have celebrated their more-than-human earthly environs as a locus of meaning and value. In Western literature, for example, this, in part, is what the pastoral tradition that reaches right back to Ancient Greece has been about. As Raymond Williams argued in The Country and the City, Romantic writers like Wordsworth link up with this tradition, but take it in a new direction : Romantic neo- or counter-pastoral has an oppositional edge to it, in that it is self-consciously pitched against the increasing objectification, instrumentalisation and commodification of the Earth. Sometimes this manifests as outright protest poetry , as in the case of John Clare's "Lamentations of Round Oak Waters". This begins in the mode of a conventional pastoral elegy with the poet bewailing his personal woes by Round Oak Waters. But his lament is interrupted by the "genius of the brook", who turns his attention to the way in which this place, formerly common land, has been denuded of vegetation following its enclosure as private land destined to produce cash crops : this, then, truly is the lament of Round Oak waters. The poet is also reminded that in his recently deceased friend the brook too had lost a champion, so it is now up to him to take up her cause : not against the "sweating slaves" who did the physical damage, but against the wealthy land-owners and parliamentarians who commanded it. Environmental destruction, Clare reminds us here, is nearly always co-ordinate with social injustice. Not only is human labour regularly exploited in the process : it is generally the poor who first suffer the consequences, without enjoying benefits to the same degree, if at all. In "The Mores", moreover, he suggests that the reduction of the earth to mere private property amounts to the profanation of creation :

Fence now meets fence in little bounds
Of field and meadow large as garden grounds
In little parcels little minds to please [...]
Each little tyrant with his little sign
Shows where man claims earth glows no more divine.

The voice of ecopolitical protest remains an important one in contemporary ecopoetry. As Jonathan Bate observes in The Song of the Earth with regard to Gary Snyder's "Mother Earth: Her Whales", though, the overt didacticism of some protest poetry risks preaching to the converted. By contrast, Bate points to Elizabeth Bishop's "The Moose" as exemplifying an ecopoetics that shows why we might want to defend the existence of wild animals rather than simply telling us that we ought to do so. Bate theorises this through Martin Heidegger's late philosophy of dwelling, in which the poetic word is conceived as giving voice to the self-disclosure of things in a non-objectifying way. The problem here, in my view, is that if human language is assumed to be a wholly adequate means of responding to the call of Being, as Heidegger puts it, the poet becomes a kind of ventriloquist. Rather than speaking for the Earth, the ecopoet might instead be seen as singing along with it, as Robert Gray suggests at the end of his lyric retracing of a meditative walk along a forestry trail, in which the poet discovers that "all of us are a choir" ("On a Forestry Trail"). For Canadian poet, Tim Lilburn, too, ecopoetry encompasses the acknowledgment that words are only one way of speaking, and that "everything exceeds its name". Lilburn calls for a form of poetic attention that seeks not to appropriate the world, but to stand alongside it, knowing that you are never going to see all that is there or say all that you can see. It is because both our perceptions and our representations fall short of ever perfectly corresponding with reality that, as he puts it in the title of his recent collection, "desire never ends". Ecopoetry can only be effective in putting us back in touch with the more-than-human, glowing, singing --and increasingly imperiled --Earth, if it alerts us to its own inadequacy in mediating "vibrant life" even while seeking out words to speak of it : writing, as Lilburn puts it, is like carrying water in a sieve.

Lilburn's ecopoetics is often rapturous, unsentimentally evincing a sense of ecstatic delight in earthly existence.In the current moment of unprecedented (because humanly engendered) global environmental peril, though, I believe that songs of praise need to be complemented by words of warning. In Australian poetry, some of the most powerful were spoken by Judith Wright in her apocalyptic poem, "Dust". Written in the war-torn, drought-ridden summer of 1943, this is early Wright in full-blown prophetic mode. The idiom might be outdated, but her exhortation remains cogent:

O sighing at the blistered door, darkening the evening star,
the dust accuses. Our dream was the wrong dream,
our strength was the wrong strength.
Weary as we are, we must make a new choice,
a choice more difficult than resignation,
more urgent than our desire of rest at the end of the day.

Today, globally, it is wild weather that accuses, and nevermore so than when the storms cooked up by we who feed on fossil fuels are visited on the poor of other climes. If ecopoetry can awaken us from that old dream in which the other-than-human world figured solely as a means of wealth-creation, if it can inspire us to make a tough "new choice", then it might yet help to keep open the possibility of a just and sustainable future. As the witness of Wright also reminds us, though, realizing that possibility will require the backing of an effective global ecopolitics : words might open a world, as Heidegger puts it, but it will take more than words to save Earth's vibrant life.

[A talk delivered to the Melbourne Poets' Union, April 24th, 2008.]




Peter Downton, who is one of a limited circle of my friends who makes things and thinks about these same things, reported on a conversation he had had with another colleague, Andrea Mina. Andrea wondered out loud whether using two hands, as you do when making something, whether two hands in consort create a different kind of thinking to the kind that is produced while you are using one hand when writing.

I mentioned this to Alan recently, and he told me that he once asked Oliver Sachs whether typing with two hands would ultimately produce something different to the single-handed pen. Sachs thought no -- the brain's language centres are the same no matter how many hands you use. I take this to mean that Sachs thinks of language as a function of brain activity (and that he doesn't use his hands to make things) because the issue is not just a question of the brain, or even language.

One of the best books -- in my opinion, of course, which is the opinion of some-one who makes things so that he can think about them -- one of the best books about this has been Socrates' Ancestor, by Indra Kagis McEwen. This book elaborates a pre-Socratic position in Greek culture: if you make any kind of object, you make a model, which is then a cosmos. You can hear a faint reverberation of this when you speak of making a composition, or claim to have organised something. So some-one who makes a boat makes a cosmos. The same applies for a house, for a garment, for a vase, for a saddle, for a city. And the same applies for a book.

Making a book is not like writing one. It involves both hands, both handsand head, and both hands and head, and heart. In The Printing of a Masterpiece -- and what a modest title that is -- Alan just tells it like it is. Or rather like it was. First he did this, then he did that, then it was time to fix this and so on. From a stack of paper, a tray of type and a tin of ink to a compact, tactile wad of data, to something that speaks to the hands and feels marvellous to the mind.

But, of course, writing a book is also what Alan has done. And it is the contemplation of the technical context, the design and decision-making procedures that, almost by a sleight of hand, turn what could be just a report into the unfolding of a cosmos. Because any book is a complex object, and making it even more so, it is an organization in the sense of an organism with integrated sub-systems. It easily becomes a model, where the decisions and values embodied in its form and materials exhibit relationships than can be applied elsewhere. For instance, Alan writes about "going in from the outside", that is, making decisions based on a teleological vision and contrasts it with his own procedure which is "goes out from the inside", where you proceed with action before all conditions are planned, in faith, and knowing that while creative problems may be ahead, there may be better outcomes later than anything that can be predicted now. This is an old dispute in architecture, pitting the Italians against the English. You might recognize it in politics as the argument between ends and means.

Further, the book Alan has written is about making a book, which could be seen as a microcosmic bit of behaviour. Does the book which is the main character of this narrative actually exist? If it does,I will be disappointed to hear of it; I prefer to think of it as an imaginary object into which all of Alan's printing experience has gone. It's an imaginary book, but not the ethereal "book" of the French School, of Jabes, Blanchot and Derrida, people who separate themselves from matter; people who think with only one hand. This imaginary black book of Alan's is a curious thing when you think about it. Problematic gold ink on black paper, a too-short text about the philosophical issue of "nothing" by Leonardo da Vinci. It's a conglomerate of problems and perhaps deliberately so. What could be more boring than a report on things that have been effortless and smooth? I'm reminded of Maurice Ravel's idea for a book on orchestration, which he was going to fill with examples of faulty orchestration : all the better to learn from than perfections. This is not exactly what Alan has done, but his self-imposed difficulties allow him to branch out from the technical diary, to history, and to the problems of creativity, and art and craft.

The English crafter David Pye, wrote a wonderful book called The Nature of Design. One of its chapters dealt with the uselessness of workmanship. Pye later extended this idea into two other books, but the essence of his argument is that workmanship is unnecessary work for function to be fulfilled, but nevertheless we treasure it. Uselessness, in fact, is a value that allows some overlap between art and craft. Generally, these disciplines are separated by us. The difference between art and craft is that the former gets matter to ask questions by rendering everything semantic, while the latter takes matter and gets it to behave, to keep quiet. In art, function is taken away by mislabelling, alteration, interference -- in my case, for example, by cutting away parts of a book -- but in craft, workmanship removes all traces of faulty human endeavour, and matter becomes eloquent and assertive, outside convention.

Karl Krauss once wrote that no matter how hard you look at language, it always stares back. It's that moment when the book asserts itself as an independent object, which Alan describes in the last chapter of this book under the title of The nonchalance of the master craftsman. In this case, the black book is dazzling to its maker. As a flicker, you can see Adam attracting God's attention. If you make things, you know the feeling : you stand there and wonder whether this object in front of you came through your hands, from you imagination, or were you just the medium IT used so that it could come into existence. At such moments, we are flummoxed and charmed, and often want to do the whole thing over again; this effect is the source of Marcel Duchamp's famous quip that art is a habit-forming drug.

Well, here I am adding to the nothing that Leonardo observed, and I should stop so that something can happen. This something is to announce that The Printing of a Masterpiece has moved from Alan Loney's private imagination to our social imaginary world. I always like to find a material analogue of the imaginary, but I don't believe the windows open in this room and somehow throwing a copy out into the outside space would just mean throwing it onto the footpath -- SO, imagine me throwing a copy into your imagination. I'm sure that the publisher would like you to convert that imaginary event into a material one by buying the book and reading it. I think you should.

[launch speech delivered at the Leigh Scott Room, Baillieu Library, University of Melbourne,
13th May,'08]




I'd always thought that a noise in the ear
would manifest itself as constant ringing

but the noise my mother hears,
she says, is more like an orchestra

or even a string quartet, I ask her if she recognises
the melody but she says, no it's too faint, too far

in the background, like an ocean liner on the horizon
or the ship that brought them here, an ocean liner

with a dining room and a band playing music
at night, my mother, not yet my mother,

twenty-six, and not in the dining room
but below the deck, an uncomprehending

refugee, with my father whose heart beats
like clockwork which is not yet unwound,

(that is five years hence)
refugees with all that word

connotes and there on board
the future looks hopeful

like a distant light across the ocean
there's even a band playing.




David McCooey is the author of Blister Pack (Salt), which won the 2006 Mary Gilmore Award and was shortlisted for 4 other major awards. He lives in Geelong, where he works at Deakin University.
Maurice McNamara lives in Melbourne. Performer & organiser at many live poetry occasions including Melbourne Poets Union, the Celtic Club, the Overload Poetry Festival. Recently published in Swings & Roundabouts : Poems on Parenthood (ed E. Neale, Godwit/Random House, New Zealand, '08).
Kate Rigby works at Monash University in German Studies, Comparative Literature & Critical Theory. Co-edits PAN (Philosophy Activism Nature) magazine. Most recent book is Topographies of the Sacred : The Poetics of Place in European Romanticism (University of Virginia Press, '04). Contact is,
Alex Selenitsch is a Melbourne-based poet and architect, and a senior lecturer in architecture at the University of Melbourne. Contact is,
Ann Shenfield lives in Melbourne and apart from her life in animation-film is a poet who has won the Rosemary Dobson Poetry Prize in 2007, also that year receiving commendation in the Alec Bolton Manuscript Prize and 2nd prize in the John Shaw Nielson Award. Her children's book, Scribble Sunset, was published by Lothian ('08).


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