reading revival: a poetry book blog

reading revival is devoted to promoting australian poetry books and related discussion through reading one book - firstly, duty by geraldine mckenzie. i will choose a new book roughly every 3 months

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

perhaps im concentrating too much on adenfreude/adenfruede fragments - but it seems an exemplary beginning to the book (though perverse - to begin a book of verse with an etymological presentation in prose.. & yet reasonable enough too) - duty opens out from these two poems. i can imagine the book opening with the following poem 'after ritsos' which would have been more neutral, less a statement of intent.

there are 12 adenfrorde-fragments p12-17 (13 if u count the pierre martory epigraph: 'inutile de s'inquiter/ impossible de de perdre/ on peut toujours se promener si on le desire/ aussi lontemps qu'on le desire...'[translation anyone?]); the number suggests a rough correspondence with the 11 versions/definitions of adenfrorde on p11. various phrases suggest a poetics: 'humans/shape a weakness' 'the wood of/ perceived connections' 'pallid gums / bind up their skins/ and raise their clumsy/roots in dance'.'pallid gums' suggests a collapse of white with indigenous; if you grant the yeatsian then roots become strands of history in the dance of poetry. [the dance isnt a figure im fond of. evokes something pervy-romantic to me.] '' is followed by 'are you familiar/with this --' .. the necessary estrangement in order to write? the question of who her audience is? it leads into fragment 3: 'a green horse/prised from meticulous/ forest': encapsulates surrealist, lyric, collage & eco poetics in one phrase. 'a cold eden'(i.e. edenfreude)? (4) 'say spirit brown-breasted the/casual mountains of circumference/wend to lake/illumination by water/ vicarious dugong flaunting paps/ haunched in dreamt fluidity' this could be '[mentally] illuminated by water-as-agent/oracle,' '[physically] illuminated by water-as-site'] or 'illumination [spiritual/intellectual/corporal..] by [the side of] water'. is 'illumination' 'a state of mind rather than a location or concept'(edenfreude again)? ['illuminations' will recur only two poems later: as the title of the sonnet sequence.] fragment 5, the first part of which reads 'burnt the fathers/black in the synagogue/make it holy, for Christ's/sake--make it/holy total power/now as they take over/ the language/who writes the book/won't need to burn' puts us where? in a sarcastic edenforward? edenflawed or edenfraud? these are the christian/jewish roots which had people dancing in fires. who wrote the book.. the monks? the scribes? but 'writes' could be whoever controls the interpretation of the book. 'burnt the fathers/black in the synagogue..' im probably missing a historical reference here, but australian/eden-wise what strikes me as being burnt black are: the gums [in the church of the forest]; the kelly gang [by police at the seige of glenrowan .. & by extension ned (who wasnt in the fire but) was presented as black by nolan .. to extend even further .. if billycans can be fathers (expecting them to boil - but they famously dont, not quickly enough in 'waltzing matilda' nor in barbara baynton's 'scrammy 'and'. in the case of indigenous burning, it suggests the power of white [print] culture with its unburnable book that writes the very meaning of burning; in the kelly/matilda examples the police write the book; & in the baynton it is death... more anon...

Monday, May 29, 2006

links to poems in duty in jacket 9; jacket 11and samizdat. respectively: exorcising p66 in duty, and full bore p92; using it p63; and after ritsos p18. i meant to post these a while back.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

yesterday we held the book group. 6 attended + me. i thought duty might prove hard to get into but i was wrong. st kilda library - thanks nick- provided technical support & provisions. id envisioned a 'bad class' where id have to extract comments from people & lead all the way .. the opposite happened - everyone had things to say - they started before i sat down - & i learnt from everyone. there was a depth of reading that i dont possess - i cant recognise allusions to yeats or hopkins - ive read them but im not familiar enough - i didnt get the king lear reference either - we were fortunate in having a native french speaker who could both read & interpret the 'adenfrorde fragments' epigraph from pierre martory. some of the group were familiar with french & irish history which also supplemented the readings of some references. mckenzies use of open field composition (in "snare the heart-footed man" & its facing poem "no.8"p50-51) & olson were mentioned. the acknowledgment of war culture - its permutations, pervasion. tho the blog was available to look at on a big screen (id thought of using it as support, or even writing live comments - but there was too much, conversationally going on) we didnt use it further. theres a possibility of writeups from one or two people. if anyone from the group wants to add anything please do so at the space for comments below.

following the meeting we went to chronicles/cafe 97 for a reading by geraldine & justin clemens (who read the opening to his book the mundiad & a couple of other poems). geraldine (i realise ive slipped into calling her by her first name) read from duty, including '5 simplicities'& 'this doesnt have a name' - & also a long & interesting new poem called 'folksinging(?)'. it was a small audience - about 12 - i think 3 copies were sold - not bad considering most of us already had copies - at least i did - i dont seem to have come home with it -

listening to geraldine & justin i thought what a difference it is hearing a rhythmic poetry - its a pleasure & the time goes quickly - not like readings where the reader has a prosaic style, & however interesting they may be yr relieved when theyve finished.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

a letter from kris hemensley, of collected works bookshop

Dear Michael, This is from a draft of a letter I wrote to Geraldine McKenzie dated 23/9/98. I've searched in my journals & notebooks for commentary on her book launching (DUTY) in 2001 at the Shop but can't find very much at all. The book was launched by Gig Ryan and there was some discussion later commented upon by people including John Leonard. Small gathering but in this case quality compensating for quantity was correct verdict! Retta H. recalls universal surprise and wonder at Geraldine's ability to recite her poems from memory. A contemporary oral poetry : I believe she forms the poems in her mind before writing them. Anyway, for its worth and as a contribution to the blog discussion :

"Dear Geraldine, On storm-threatening Melbourne spring day, riding the trams from one end of town to the other, I reread your sonnets and say again what a pleasure it is to hear you. Please excuse me for not answering sooner. The usual schedule of days at work, more or less with it, then evenings in which I gradually yield to fatigue. Some poems along the way (....)
Monday, I should tell you, young woman came to the Shop asking if I had your address since you'd been recommended by Mike Shuttleworth, of the Victorian Writers Centre, as a poet to be invited to read at every opportunity. The young woman was arranging a poetry reading in support of literacy project --something like that. I confirmed Mike's opinion of you but said it might be difficult to get you down from NSW for a gig. She hadnt realized you werent local --
local to me though --maybe it is the Shakespeare then? --tho' I can tell you're steeped in it whereas I've merely been a kind of sneak in & around the edges-- But you remind me so much of English poets I associated with in the 70s --tho' the sex is something they rarely treated but which you do sort of mockingly or in a self-implicating mockery which yet works sexually --
The layering or fretwork --neo-classical, arts/muses/fates --is dense & suggestive as Peter Greenaway's bucolic deconstruction (Drowning by Numbers I'm thinking of)--
And then the spanner-in-the-works of III & IV --well, certainly III -- If III bore a reference to Wilfred Owen at your reading then I'm allowed to think of WW1 --if not, then I confess WW1 is a lot on my mind these days, mixed in with Georgians and despite DH Lawrence & Pound, the Bloomsburys (as pre-Raphaelitism's other side?)-- But maybe it's WW2, --"reading the S.S. paper" throws me -- But, whatever the case may be, your music plays on --and has me all ears, sighs, some tears.
Thank you for sending to me,
How can I reciprocate, --apart from telling you how relieved I was to have done a good job launching (phantom) BOXKITE [at the Melbourne Writers Festival] and to have as chorus Hibberd, Hart, Ryan, Elizov, and you, minstrel? too!
Actually I could send you a copy of one of my "mirror sonnet" narratives, -- a book about love & friendship --autobiographical by way of history, art & literature -- the first sequence written a few years ago (& the book's got a couple more narratives to write)--. Awkward, I think, compared to yours, but how I'd hope it stood "as those who are themselves, a kind of light." [McKenzie]
With all best wishes,
Kris Hemensley

Thursday, May 25, 2006

reminder: book group at 2pm saturday may 27 at st kilda library (carlisle st) & mckenzie reading at chronicles bookshop 91 fitzroy st, st kilda 4.30pm same day. all welcome/free. books available at both library & bookshop.

its my impression prose poems had something of a heyday in the 80s - particularly in womens/feminist/lesbian writing - ania walwicz, anna couani, joanne burns are some of the names .. theres been a quiet resurgence in the last few years but i havent seen anything written about it - if anyone else has let me know - theres noone i think known as a or the prose poet in australia but many have included prose in their poetic repertoire eg kate fagan, laurie duggan, john tranter, robert gray, jill jones, cassie lewis, judith bishop, martin harrison, chris wallace-crabbe, kevin hart: quite a various list in terms of poetics.

mckenzie uses prose in a number of poems (eg after ritsos p18-24, iconoclasty p81-83, "text/book/work..." p72-5,this doesnt have a name p84-5 & "it could be a forest..." p49). in writing about prose poetry the convention is to talk about the prose poem as a form somewhere between a poem & a story. whats more interesting to me is the ground between the poem & the prose poem.

"text/book/work", which has a subtitle(?) of Using the Rules is structured as a series of 8 headings (surtitles?) in prose (descriptions of praying mantis coupling). beneath each heading is a list of fragments/phrases which relate more or less to the heading - if only because theyre there. theres a sense of a larger (?) story in the fragments. but this is mere reading. the headings control what could be read as anguish in the phrases. "t/b/w" could be an agonised poetics, the mating of the mantis as allegory for the muse & poet. the death radio (to bring in spicer). "t/b/w" functions similarly to the 2 parts of adenfrorde - the prose section (p11) of varying derivations, & afenfrorde - fragments (p12-17) - portraits of rational vs poetic mind (tho adenfrorde the prose could be seen as parodying the etymological).

after ritsos could be a 'text/book/work' itself: ie mckenzie could be writing with ritsos in hand. the 90 lines of images in one, two or three sentences function paratactically, are not subordinate to one another. they are not building towards anything - anti-rhetorical - there is no fantasy of time progressing but the poem is 'ever-renewed' (fredman). the lines rely on the title & their allusive value to cohere. each sentence relates back to the title (the images are mainly one sentence, those with more than one do relate to each other - but not the preceding or following image). after ritsos: the poem as a list of responses, they could be stimulated by mckenzies memories or sense of ritsos, or more closely - textually - linked to actual poems or lines in ritsos. or not; after ritsos could be an analogy; it could be read literally in a different way; this poem this way of writing poetry is possible, possibly necessary after ritsos.

for more on parataxis see 'poets prose: the crisis in american verse' stephen fredman, its around secondhand & probably in some uni libraries. it is a thorough account of the american prose poem in the 20th century from stein through williams, ashbery, creeley to antin, bromige, silliman and others. also see ron silliman's essay 'the new sentence' in his book 'the new sentence' and steins lecture 'poetry & grammar' in 'look at me now & here i am', & her 'how to write'.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

more on the sonnet: the sonnet continues both in conventional & experimental versions - at least here in australia. its derivation suggests a reason for this, why it wont die (wc williams dismissed it & then recanted in favour of merrill moore- & that was pre-berrigan) - tho i have thought it had to do with song, & was a convenient measure for a song-poem, cod gives a derivation from the italian sonetto - sonetto being a diminutive of suono, or sound, which suggests - to me - new possibilities for the sonnet - (& theres something of the sonnet - it seems to me - in clark coolidge)

a model of a review blog is offered by galatea resurrects

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

the first poem 'adenfrorde' offers a postcolonial critique of australia. the definitions of adenfrorde are apt even if ironically applied ('a paradise of the intellect'). australia - aka australia felix - was repeatedly described by poets & colonial marketing people as a new eden. mckenzie uses the history, derivations, definitions, applications of the word adenfrorde to create a prose poem that has a strong cohesiveness, but is still very flexible, & describes colonial folly in terms of language itself. language processes become a metonym for those of colonisation. 'the extreme unlikeliness of a given situation to produce any form of satisfaction'; 'one experiences sensations of joyousness and epiphany in the naive belief that the natural world is beautiful and that one is a part of it'; 'Eden forward!' 'dispute whether Eden is flawed or Eden is the flaw'; 'an individual who is perceived to be somewhat foolish but harmless'- all have (post)colonial resonance.

Friday, May 19, 2006

the convenience of labelling - a book or a poet - as experimental often means that theyre not seen as innovative at all. as if theyre operating in the morass of non-poetry. as if innovation is really only metrical tricks or daring to write in prose. the little risks that a more mor poet takes are much commented on. its a question of being within the pale. critics love forms that have names. o/wise its like walking into a signless zoo. that an experimental poet may be trying to achieve all sorts of different things is subsumed in some vague idea that they just get their computer to do it, or its just some version of free verse. it would be meaningless to describe duty as free verse.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

blogs i think we need 1:

background to my thinking but arriving at the point eventually: its considered a foolish thing to do to reply to a negative review - even to correct facts - if the writers reply is published they look resentful, petty, oversensitive etc. if not published they probably get even more so. everyone thinks this (?) tho they make exceptions for themselves when they do it .. but i think theres a problem here aside from issues of critical value(s), poets psyche: & its this: that regardless of the tone & the un/favourable character of the review - it is a pronouncement: a judgment. there is no intention of creating dialogue - so when a poet replies they cant look anything rather than powerless, pathetic, uncool .. does it have to be this way? what about a review culture where those reviewed were encouraged to reply - & the reviewers to respond to the reply etc? so we dont have to 'sit in silence ... live in fear' etc. this wd be easier, more dynamic in a blog - assuming the age isnt going to adopt something like this. how much more interesting reviews would be then.. i like to read them, but theyre usually dissatisfying. in this scenario the reviewed poet wd be less defensive, able to ask questions of the reviewer - or perhaps better - reviewers - yes im 'talkin bout a conversation' .. ive been thinking about a blog that only publishes reviews for a while.. & blogstyle ud normally expect comments - but perhaps the reviews & reviewed/reviewer responses cd both be posted by the blogmaster, with comments reserved for the readers .. (reviewer & reviewed cd respond to these as well). would they do it? reviews themselves wd change, wd be less judgmental - & inconclusiveness/ambiguity wd no longer seem a weakness, but an opening for dialogue ..

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

nonsense ... the line singled out in the geoff page review below: 'flap dang bamm boozled right rort write' (from 'next dance--' pp 88-9) raises questions about nonsense .. something kids are brought up on in nursery rhymes & some folk songs .. nonsense is integral to lear, hamlet and macbeth (tragedies more than comedies??) both as practice & theme .. & it comes out in rock 'n roll eg tutti frutti which this line reminds me of .. its in stein & joyce .. cummings ginsberg et al (pull my daisy) & lisa jarnot .. nonsense relies on puns .. shakespeare liked puns .. stein & joyce are the big modernist punters in my head .. the nme (new musical express) is exemplary in its use of puns in article & review headlines .. but is the pun like metaphor a conservative form? that elides difference? where does langpo sit with this? is klupzy a pun or only to me? the shakespeare, joyce, stein revel in punning; ashbery, bruce andrews, coolidge seem to me to be more .. post-pun: the pun suppressed. hejinian tho steinian is more austere i think. i expect some poets use puns as a structural device & then strip the poem of evidence. less adventurous poets only use puns very obviously & badly: this is known as academic humour.

mckenzies book is clearly a musical text - this element of experimental poetry generally ignored by mainstream reviewers - music is a notion privileged in poetry crit - yet the closer language gets to music the more its derided by the mainstream - esp if it cant be put in a sound poetry box - which box can be put on the doorstep or left somewhere -

Sunday, May 14, 2006

geraldine mckenzie will read at chronicles (91 fitzroy st, st kilda) on may 27 at 4.30 pm - with justin clemens. a rare opportunity for melbournites. the reading follows immediately the book group meeting at 2pm at st kilda library, carlisle st. all are welcome to both; both are free - but if attending book group be ready to talk/listen (ie have read at least some of the book).

Friday, May 12, 2006

Reading Duty in Rwanda, by Jeff S

I bought Geraldine McKenzie’s ‘Duty’ from Kris at Collected Works and didn’t begin to read the poems until I was in Rwanda. There was initially a parallel sensation of being out of place there and the apparent out-of-placeness of thinking of reading this text in this place. Both perceptions altered as I gradually explored my room, the building I was in, the streets surrounding the building and the long walk into Kigali (the capital of Rwanda) that took about an hour. I traveled to sites (I was in Rwanda to witness memorial sites to the 1994 genocide) in the east, west and south of the country, covering many kilometers. What I noticed first from Duty was the dedication:

to write without betrayal,
to write what will inevitably be partial
but with as great a fullness as possible

There was an accord between this sentiment and what I hoped would be possible in the journal and subsequent writing that I would be doing in Rwanda. There was also a resonance with being in Rwanda and how I also wished to be able to conduct myself in this place. This introduction ‘permitted’ me to continue reading in a spirit that now seemed linked to my room and the surrounding country, however tenuously. I made a note on three poems, Illuminations, Another Nature Poem and Beloved: A Miscellany because I could hug them to my own tenuous being here. These three poems seemed to speak of the place most obviously, literally.

Illuminations: The brush and typewriter become the knives of the gentle tyrant’s kisses. The tit-bits for the dog while I am siting back here in Australia become body parts; not while in Rwanda however. There it was the gentle kiss and the grand children, the duplicity, the humanness of touch that can also supply a militia, the Interahamwe, with machetes to hack their neighbours to death.

Suffering’s an easy slide, typewriter
riddling the neat ranks of obedient
men, paint brush sticky with slaughter,
cameras knives carving pale faces, decent
overcoats, trains ebbing out of life, meant
cruelties – the screws, knout, lash, rack – it’s all
at my fingertips – sober rumours sent
of death – or life, in truth, after the fall

My reading searched out associations, perhaps to embed me deeper in place, to make clearer what I was witnessing. My ‘typewriter’ or brush could easily have been complicit in this genocide. At one site, Murambi where hundreds of the actual bodies of victims are displayed in the technical school in which 50,000 people were killed, I recognized myself in both victim and ‘genocidaire’. “No one escapes…not even the newly-born babies…the victims are pursued to their very last refuge and killed there.” Committee on Human Rights. The closeness to this death, the witnessing of the people who were killed, their smell of decay and lime covered bodies sucks you into the act of killing. There is no escaping. There is a bodily sensation of falling into the racks of dead, of recognizing that you too are this person, you too are the one who killed. The experience of alterity, that complete and unmistakable absolute separateness of the other, who you face as Levinas has said, exposes with a shock of recognition ones responsibility. The red steel door to the small room is unlocked, as are the next ten along the length of two of the many buildings making up the Murambi technical school. Inside there are bodies of adults, adolescents, children. Some still wear clothing, a blue dress on an adult woman or a faded red top with a yellow border around the neck and sleeves on an infant probably two years old. Gradually each body separates from the many that first confront you. They are individual people, who have been killed, and this is what is repeated, and this is who has been exhumed, and this is who are repeated underground 45,000 time. So 50,000 is not abstract, it is lived here in this place, it is smelt and witnessed. Each person is here, as am I and the guide relating how he managed to hide in the bush while all his family members, fourteen people, were massacred here. Beside one of the bodies is a recently laid rose. It is the month of April, the month the genocide began and the time of remembrance across Rwanda.

another nature poem: because of the First World War, that red rose and my return to Australia on Anzac Day. It does not take much to read the names engraved on the cenotaph in my hometown as victims.
B. S. Johnson in See The Old Lady Decently his last novel, the first of a projected three, whose combined titles would have read, See The Old lady Decently Buried Although Amongst Those Left Are You, writes:

“…then years after he had had to give up killing others, Lord (as he had been gratefully prompted) Haig himself succumbed. He was a mere sixty-six, and his funeral procession more than a mile long. Marshal Foch led most of the other Field Marshals available…Unnumbered must have been the dead men’s maledictions following that blind little man’s last putrefying, rotting corpse, so many had he sent to their deaths. And for what? So many dead there could never be an exact count. And was there any sign he had ever felt his conscience troubling him?
It was far more than the men he killed, than the widows and orphans down to him…
During the whole five months of the Passchendaele campaign Haig never once visted the battlefield, never ever saw the conditions under which his men were fighting for him.

Foch off.

Haig. Should his name be remembered? Try this for another mnemonic:

Somme, Fricourt, Delville Wood, Thiepval, Mametz: these and hundreds of other names stink in our nostrils because of the saprophytic criminal Haig.
And especially Ypres.
What scum! His name should never be mentioned but with execrations, with infinitudes of contempt, vials of loathing.
What kind of patriotism could it possibly be for him to thrust deep mourning onto a quarter of his people?
They should have massed to shit onto his grave that year.”

another nature poem:
……every ant
and pebble, every rustle flaring
into moments of distinction

The vortex that was initially the first room I entered at Murambi focussed quickly, in flashes, onto tufts of hair still attached to skulls, those personal items of clothing, crushed skulls and a small child. Each detail still present. Unlike Johnson however those Rwandans I met, I know these are only those that I met, but every one spoke of forgiveness and the possibility of reconciliation. This of course implies confession, which is being made possible through the Gacaca courts, grassroots trials at a community level as part of a national system of trials for those who partook in the genocide. A talking and listening between two.

And in Beloved: A Miscellany McKenzie writes ‘I’ll give what’s my gift”. What else can one offer?

[received via email from the author]

Thursday, May 11, 2006

when i say something about poetry to strangers - inevitable if they want to know 'what i do' - & i might mention teaching ('how can u teach poetry?!') - a view recurs: isnt it all about taste? ie isnt what my child writes as good as shakespeare? what does 'good' mean here? the judgment, valid enough at first glance, is based on the fact that my childs writing gives me more pleasure than shakespeare's. this i think is based on a different notion to reading than mine. you read something in the way you might scratch something or clean something. i am thinking rather of reading as a practice, that doesnt have distinct temporal boundaries (well god knows cleaning exists forever) - it doesnt stop really - i am always reading - i dont mean i have the words ive read that day present in my mind, but the books are present to me - can my childs writing sustain my interest on a daily lifelong basis? maybe it can. again it comes back to conversation, what i read expands in different directions, circulates .. something my childs & other great writing have in common is the element of surprise - if we are ready to admit it - if we love the writer, think we know them - but then they write something unexpected - even if its an unexpected word.

the taste attitude: it assumes were all educated cultured beings already, that theres no skill required in reading - & by extension writing - its the democratic experience - someone who never reads poetry (has in fact no taste for poetry) - reads some doggerel somewhere & likes it - isnt their experience as valid as the parents/ reader of shakespeare / duty? but what were talking about isnt experience as sensation - the verb version - but experience as knowledge & skill - the noun version - there are two versions of this attitude - the postmodern & the reactionary
- perhaps both think my childs take on a text is as valid as derridas/baudrillards/barthes' - its the word valid that bothers me - its like a licence, that has nothing to do with the real experience of reading - am i sounding very oldfashioned? or merely traditional? opinions arent conversation any more than remarks are literature. if anyone has another take on my child vs shakespeare im interested.

the question of how we write about poetry is related to how we talk about poetry. do we talk about poetry as such? many times ive met poets whose work interests me, & realised later that we didnt talk of poetry at all - but the poetry world. critical articles seem to generate more discussion than poems. its not the age of criticism any longer, but its still easier to talk about criticism. randall jarrell goes into this in some detail. i think this is partly because i mostly read critical pieces in journals, & though i read poems in journals too, i dont appreciate them there as much as i do in books (i think?) in a book i am taking time - if not with a particular poem, with a poet & its rare to find someone reading the same books of poetry at the same time as me .. i am reading duty now with all of you! .. & yet theres a tendency (on this blog) for me to write more about the criticism of duty than duty itself. i havent really learned how to talk about poetry. when offered the opportunity by someone who can, i falter, i have no memory, i dont have depth, i have perhaps a perfunctory judgment to make. i am fascinated by the poetry world but i do read poetry all the time. i mean several times a day. at the moment im actively reading about 15 different books, & maybe i should stick to duty a bit more. wouldnt critical writing be so much easier if it came out of our conversation? another factor is that i talk obsessively about aspects of poetry with poets because it seems difficult to do so with others - people who are happy to talk about many other different arts - were back at jarrells cocktail parties here - blogs of course create a conversation - & people are interested in blogs as a conversation topic - well some people - i guess im more the obsessive rather than objective cultural type - which is dying out faster? - the blog generation - in at least 2 senses of 'generation' is an effect of a lack - but could be a parallel action - im interested to read about others experiences of & thoughts on talking about poetry (with non-tax people).

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

3 copies of duty now ready to use at st kilda library. also: new comments below.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

duty is the title of duty. there are various duties approached - fulfilled - here. there is the duty of writing about what you see / hear / know to be true. the duty to language - to respect it - by not using it complacently (& thereby being used by it). the duty - the tax - on us as human beings - on mckenzie as a writer, a poet, a western citizen & the implications & responsibilities that brings up - a tax on the gift of poetry - a tax on the priveleged - a tax on the war mongers .. (a tax enacted by mckenzie as well as paid). duty as anachronism. duty (the book) as an elegy to duty (the concept, the ethical practice) - or blueprint for a future duty.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

i was just looking at rimbauds 'les illuminations' - thinking there was a correspondence with 'this doesnt have a name': the energy, the sarcasm, the matter-of-factness too. the energy of duty is unlike the 4 poets mckenzie mentioned: celan, bernstein, niedecker, oppen. mckenzies 'illuminations' are sonnets; still a popular form in these post-metrical (& post-berrigan) days: dorothy porter, jill jones, peter minter, brett dionysius have all been writing sonnets lately. the range of 'ear' of a writer & reader .. i think i probably incline to reading in one way - certainly within one book .. i have to consciously listen for the metrics of illuminations - i just wasnt brought up with iambs .. some readers were .. can they read postmetrical verse..? im avoiding the term free, because many poets use constraints other than metre to give their poems form/tension/control.. we hear music differently i think post-cage - post-hiphop & electronica - post-collage .. concrete poetry is interesting here: sometimes it seems purely visual, without sound, but other times its insistently rhythmic - rock'n roll - basic beats -

from an email correspondent: i've now read quite a bit of duty. i find it is a bit like visual art - something that is not about understanding or recognition but rather about immersion in words. i'm still further down the poetry reading evolutionary
scale and wanting more immediate meaning! but still find myself going back
to pick it up again to float in the word pool...

'this doesnt have a name' seems a key point/poem in the book. weve had argument & elegant statement - but now mckenzies letting it all out: a rant - in a sense - but a complexly managed one - 'before the wall came down how pleasant on the beaches' - this is the wall coming down & the voices pouring over/out. the poem offers an alternative to speaking for suffering multitudes by giving a range of tones & perspectives & changing tack/rhythm. 'la plus ca change the more it fucking doesnt'- more anger than suffering - but the anger is relieved (or accentuated?) by the breaks into other kinds of phrasing - its like the news .. an unpappified news ..

Friday, May 05, 2006

please ignore the $30 in post below - the price of duty is $24.95 AUS

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Duty. By Geraldine McKenzie. Paper Bark Press. 100pp. $30.00

Reviewed by Geoff Page

Duty is very much a first book, not through any lack of sophistication but from its sense of the different directions its author might take from here. It is a book marked by wit, ingenuity (conceptual and verbal), humour, pathos, technical assurance and self-conscious experimentalism.

In the more experimental poems, which make up a substantial proportion, McKenzie bends her syntax to the point where, probably under the influence of the American L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets, she makes it disappear altogether. In ‘next dance’, for instance, the last line reads ‘flap dang bamm boozled right rort write’. I’m not sure that even Noam Chomsky could parse that. There’s a noun and a verb in there somewhere but just what the signifiers are signifying is none too clear. Words, as James Joyce found, are marvellous, resonant things, full of textures and associations but to throw away the syntax that normally holds them together is a risk rarely worth taking. ‘A poem should at least be as well-written as prose,’ said Ezra Pound, referring, I think, to excessive syntactical liberties being taken way back in 1910.

That being said, however, it’s important to note that Duty does contain some poems that are outstanding by any criterion – including that of the ‘well-made poem’. McKenzie’s sequence of nine sonnets, ‘Illuminations’, is very assured technically and full of verbal élan. The final couplet of #II is typical: ‘as we undress, lie down and slowly visit / love, he preens before his new exhibit.’ There are echoes of Wallace Stevens’ imagery throughout (‘no pianissimo distracts / those minor lovers counterpointing sighs …’) as well as a tone that goes right back to sixteenth century love poetry.

But McKenzie is not all verbal highjinks. Her ‘another nature poem’ does a strange, almost surreal justice to the trench grotesqueries of World War 1.Her image of ‘a pair of rats …/ too busy fretting as they / nurse a nibbled hand over / gravelled slopes …’ is just one arresting detail. The last stanza, by contrast, has a different, rather languid mood: ‘leaning back, one offers me a cigarette -- / we smoke and chase its random issue / into blue, offering our softness to / the sun, the guns a natural mutter / as a small plane flits above us’.

The poem, ‘Testament’, set in World War 2, is similarly convincing. So too is the erotic ‘Scenes from an imaginary romance’ and the successfully experimental ‘text/book/work’ about the well-known mating habits of the praying mantis.

In the face of such unarguable successes it seems a pity that so much of Duty is taken up with a sort of youthful experimentalism where the author seems to be glancing over her shoulder for the approval of her American mentors or her European antecedents -- and perhaps their local disciples. In this first book the highly talented McKenzie is at a kind of crossroads. I hope she takes the right one from here.

any readers in the st kilda area? st kilda library are buying 3 extra copies of duty to be used in the library to ensure the reading group (may 27, 2pm at the library) is accessible to all. (there is one borrowable copy.)

brunswick st bookstore have 1 copy as of 4 may.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

buying online is a new fish. theres a different pleasure to it - & it has its oldfashioned aspect: parcels in the mail. it expands your options in terms of what books are available. it saves time. & can save money. its cheaper to get duty in a shop in australia, but if yr in the outback or another country online's a reasonable option. future reading revival books might be easier to get online. best to keep our options open. we can all be nervous about what we're spending. reading revival books are easily budgetable: 4 per year, all under $30 (australian dollars).

buying poetry; a thorny topic. (a rosy topic). though my intention is not too get too general about poetry, poetry criticism, but to keep focus on the book (duty, at present) - the question of book sales is one that brought reading revival into existence. the common complaint is lots of poets - why arent there more book sales? i am encouraging book sales through the site, &, i know that ive succeeded in selling a small number of copies. what are the factors involved? i buy poetry books quite often, but i didnt when i first started writing. money. poets are often poor. when i started writing poetry seriously i was on the dole. i didnt have much money of course, but i bought cds & went to movies. i bought interesting secondhand books. this wasnt purely about pleasure, but about meaning. the australian poetry scene was relatively invisible to me. its not that different from being gay if you dont know where the clubs are & dont have any gay friends.

it was a very gradual process. somehow i found out about & went to open readings. i slowly made occasional connections with someone i saw reading & their poems in an anthology. i learned about the existence of the melbourne writers festival (i came from country nsw via canberra). i went to book launches. i still wasnt buying new books. though i spent quite a bit on secondhand ones and was reading more poetry from the library. i read early to midcentury american poets: plath, lowell, ginsberg, berryman, cummings. i read their bios. in a sense these were metaphors or movies of the real thing. which did exist right here. but i couldnt get into it. i hadnt studied poetry since high school - the only modern was eliot; noone contemporary. i read frank o'hara & ashbery - but did anyone else have their humour & warmth? i was interested in lowell, but it was a bit of a duty; ditto williams - but easier. wallace stevens was a new adventure in pleasure, emily dickinson. (ok im getting off the path of buying factors here perhaps into a fairly generic sounding reading trajectory - i wont go on about how i went down the path of stein -- langpo -- ). i published a few poems, i read the other poems in the journals. i read a few anthologies. i am slow to learn most things. plaths collected is probably one of the first new poetry books i bought. i got to know some poets. generally they didnt have books. i read john forbes library copies. gig ryan. secondhand pam brown. (one factor is i didnt see the poets i was becoming interested in 2nd hand).

i am trying to remember what got me buying new poetry. finding collected works bookshop. cant remember how. part of the pleasure of a bookshop is buying; i did/do feel guilty if i go in too often without buying anything. i bought books as presents: wallace stevens, robert adamson. a vague constellation of aust. po. was forming in my head. i submitted mss to publishers. i was included in an anthology. i got a job (this was earlier); my pay went up; i went part-time: it went down. i got a grant. i was attracted to more avantgarde books: surrealist books, novels etc. things that werent in the library. books with inviting covers (oh dear). i started to know the people whose launches i went to. there was an element of obligation in buying - if i had the cash - tho i still felt guilty if i didnt. poetry gradually meant more to me than other forms or writing. i was becoming interested in new australian poetry (i still knew little about colonial or pre-1960s poetry). i felt desire when a new book by someone i knew came out (poetry publishing is so slow - or has been since the 90s - that it can seem static - books were always already published). i began to think about reviewing. i bought chapbooks (cheaper). i think part of it was there was little publishing by poets in their twenties - the way there had been in the 70s - so it was harder to get a handle on the poets' culture(s). even now i find the culture of many poets a million miles from mine - but im more interested, able to find meaning in their language use, their tone, how they keep it all together.

what im trying to do is to find the block that i had about buying poetry to see if it will help others with their blocks... its hard to break habits - even negative ones: like the habit of not buying things we arent already familiar with .. i used to buy cds based on nme reviews - a rating of 7+ out of ten was enough. john peel said when asked what his favourite music was said he was always more excited by the records in the boot of his car (that he hadnt listened to). im trying to make a habit out of not behaving habitually. does duty seem strange? are the writers mckenzie mentioned: niedecker, berstein, oppen, celan, strange? the whole world was strange when we were born. do we feel locked out of the culture? it sounds like a capitalist cliche to say we become part of the culture by consuming it .. but poetrys not coke. do you want poetry to continue: 'always' like coke? this is not a moral question, nor a rhetorical one. are u ambitious or unambitious for your own poetry? (if you dont write poetry & have read this far -- i salute you!). readers are the vital element of poetry culture (obviously) - give yourself credit as a reader. read strange things. why be comforted all the time? you can always sell them secondhand if you hate them. what books do you buy? are they the kind easily accessible in libraries? you can lend your new poetry books to friends: more value for money. you can buy them as presents now youve read them & can be confident theyre good. you know whats going on right now - this is the other side of going to readings or reading magazines - those poems can be fresher than those in books - but heres an art to poetry in books thats separate .. if you dont read individual volumes you wont get to learn this pleasure. the entering a world, the breathing in of a poets work. it opens to you - in your space - in a way no other form of poetry does: in the book, the new book.

tell me your own stories relating to mine ...

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