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, June 20, 2006

for current book 'ngarla songs' go to reading revival 2. the blog you are reading now contains 3 months of commentary & discussion relating to 'duty' by geraldine mckenzie. post any comments on 'duty' or reading revival 1 here. its also fine to add comments to previous threads - theyll contribute to the archive & also go to my inbox - they will still be read & responded to.

Friday, June 16, 2006

2 new poems by geraldine mckenzie: Behind the lines and babble.

Behind the lines

. What changes.

. Shut in her room.

. Every weather in a day, drops down.

. Fires through summer, some see.

. Wanting to be useful.

. Green’s grace. Misgivings.

. Too much counting. On. Upon.

. The bad bargain. The risky purchase. The sly customer.

. Grunt gravel and grope, more master more.

. What’ll the sky look like?

. Imagining, a big mistake.

. Barely beauty.

. Private drought repays election.

. All around the world.

. Come home, the stones return.

. Others’ sons.

. Rot, boss. Feed flame a vicious life.

. Dull rooms, child wane, paying.

. Empty, will empire.

. It’s never enough.

. The future chunders down the street. A decision.

. Your arm brushes mine in passing, hairs bright the new.

. In this shelter, none.

. News knots, nausea, nervous historic. More of the same.

. Fair word, be word and held to.

. Writing small, we should be saving up.

. What shape, war forming.

. Blue tile replace, blue tile.

. Songs that have settle into sorrow, old pool, seems like shared.

. My hand.

. Children. Concentrate.

. Coming too soon.

. Mixed messages. A prohibition against a view. Their bodies.

. Fire works. The loop. Howl down moon for mad upon us.

. Eyes moving, one side, other. Says Texas. What could be the right answer.

. All of a sudden everything seems so important. Who’s good at this.

. The garden, the revelation. Come again.

. Nothing new.

. They ran out of anaesthetics and had to use a local, injected every 5 minutes.

. Wanton gone. With the wind. Some cowboy courtesy.

. Over and over again.

. He said, brandishing his weapon.

. Not so newsy now.

. Appreciation for services rendered. Parades parameters of theatre. Encore, encore.

. One up.



the motor hums

bleat tunes awry

herd at windows in the city
streets shuddering under
the weight of melancholy white folk
earnestly metaphorical
living in tyrantslation

the summer clips and strokes
broaching the surface
too far out to sea to save

destination’s moot

they return to their desks
brown heart adrift between us
statement stultifies
but stakes out, fakes outrage at the appropriate moment

belief’s a long stretch
life sentence and they’re turned away at the gates

fuckinawful fabuloso
nothing seems
quite right

our portion title place
history and repeating

clip and stagger
good for a shout
shoulders a world well off

mired in the clog the necessary
punishment squared and in detail

for singing
for talking back
for failing in the exercise of a realistic appraisal of one’s position

crumbling sandstone
under the overseer’s whip
a dog licks the smeary stand, ants
carrying off shreds of flesh

looking up
you can’t see past the dazzle

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

feedback from the book group (via email):

Hi Michael,

I wanted to add a comment to your blog but so far my attempts have not been successful. So this is what I wrote:

Not long ago I discovered that I had a new, and neglected duty, to add to my maternal, domestic,pedagogical, civic and caninical obligations. According to Gilbert Ryle it seems that I have also the 'cognitive duty to perceive the world as clearly as possible'. Coincidentally I friend gave me a copy of 'Duty' which I received gratefully as who better than a poet to assist in carrying out my cognitive responsibilities. Geraldine McKenzie brought clarity to my understanding of the world in two particular ways. First, she the admirable exactness with which she used use particular words to illuminate a scene. For instance, in 'gaudy rills of white/
and blue/untrammelled/onto beach',(p 15) 'gaudy' is just such a word. It taps into the anxiety I feel in looking at paintings of beach scenes, an anxiety created by having seen a retinue of postcard reproductions of such scenes, asking myself whether there is any point in such paintings now. What could it have been like to see the shores of an only Aboriginal untrammelled Australia? This is the same, probably, as never hearing the songs the sirens sang (p 56). The aptly chosen 'rills' of 'blue and white' effectively undercut 'untrammelled' as I feel already the presence of striped and frilled umbrellas and other imprisonments of genteel society. The idea of the unreality of the 'real world' for contemporary western people is picked up later in snare the heart-footed man (p 50) as countryside (perhaps real) is transformed into landscape (representation) by even the act of observing it. Others hearts have trodden all over it long before and left footprints. Writing it is at a further remove again. While the lines 'shades of green & white/do not/submit to language' (p 11) may well describe the English reaction to the Australian landscape, they also express a certain dissatisfaction with words in themselves in the present, the sense I have in using them that they feel so used, and somehow inadequate, or lacking.I feel beset by these 'things' (p 82) and this besetness is wonderfully summed up for me in 'O throw me an orange/anyone' (p 62).

I thought space was at a premium so I squeezed up the quotations. Anyhow, I just wanted you to know I did enjoy the discussion and the reading very much.

Warm regards,and thank you,
Minnie S

Monday, June 12, 2006

one aspect of the laziness of the attribution 'experimental' is that whatever challenges or experiments are being made are not looked at specifically. though rhythm, language, typography, syntax, semantics, diction may all be up for grabs - it is often a number of these things being challenged - but not all. convention takes a route through all poetry. but today im not interested in what convention gets overlooked but in the challenges. think of language poetry, for example. because of its name, the main arena of challenge is considered to be - & often is - language itself, also syntax, semantics, & poetic form get guernseys. its greatest challenge is perhaps to the cliche - & this is related to image. pound defined the image as "that which presents an intellectual & emotional complex in an instant of time" (quoted in charles hartman's 'free verse'). he evolves this def. over time into what kenner (bid) descibes as 'an imitation of an action'. ill disregard the time bit. poets like bruce andrews, lyn hejinian, susan howe, clark coolidge and charles bernstein have affected what an image is / can be. as have people like cage & maclow. ok i wont totally disregard the time factor: the disregarding of time within a poem affects how a poem is read, how images are read as being connected, related - or not - to each other. this is not peculiar to language poetry - it comes out of any poetry influenced by collage. (hejinian's 'my life' is interesting in this context because though her images do not appear to be sequential in time - & they recur throughout the book - the concept she is working through is time-based: ie the years of her life.)

consider these images from mckenzie's 'iconoclasty'p 81-3: 'It was music. It had no father.' 'This is the rock. Thwart or grounding'. 'Blood as conversation.' or '30. Slick idol, I ken your parts and pronto.' from 'After Ritsos'. langpo by way of gig ryan? from the same poem: '26. Hard slog down trodden more up ahead.': rhythmic, ambiguous, evocative - not obscure it seems to me tho lacking referent. the absence of punctuation provides music. punctuation would pin it down, but would only enforce its abstraction i think. if, by way of beckett & barthes, any thought can be an image, cant we think anything in language? whether its 'I ken your parts' or 'Hard slog down trodden more up ahead'.

obscurity .. the very word suggests imagery: an obscure phrase or line must be hiding the image it refers to..? language poetry attempts to establish language as an image in itself. i think this is its great legacy, (that & the demonstration that 'it hasnt all been written before' - that on the level of language at least- its easy to avoid cliche - not that this doesnt create more problems - cliches of tone - new cliches of word arrangement & affect -). that poets who reacted against langpo in favour of a more flexible & popular form still benefit from what langpo did for the image ..

this is not to deny the work of concrete poets who established language as an image also - but in the visual sense. what langpo does is take back ground for poetry as written & sounded .. ok im getting stuck as i always remember that concrete or visual poetry often employs the sound of words too .. but there is a distinction to be made: between visual form & poetic form. either could demonstrate pounds definition - tho of course the 'intellectual & emotional' elements are problematic, supplementary .. perhaps concrete poems could be said to be an image, however large & complex, whereas a language poem - like the mainstream of poems - is made up of images ..

im getting out now while i can

Sunday, June 11, 2006

a quote: 'I dedicate this book to the angels of Clinton Prison who, in my 17th year, handed me, from all the cells around me, books of illumination.' gregory corso, 'gasoline'.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

what do the 'illuminations' p25-29 illuminate? rimbaud? i dont think so, tho i think theres a strong resemblance in tone between rimbaud & mckenzie - but less in the 'illuminations' than in the other poems. the tone here seems milder - the content isnt: 'He saw his sergeant drown in shit' ('III' p26). Later in that stanza: 'The painter didn't make it--...his groom/ holds fast as he dies in brutal crimson'. i suppose theres an ambiguity there in the word groom: groom for his horse/ bridegroom. but how much more is the word bridegroom applicable/available to 2 men in 2006 than it was in 2001 when duty was published. 'III''s conclusion: 'I draw no conclusions--they stand /as those that are themselves, a kind of light.' illuminations of integrity? how much accent is on the word 'themselves'?

'V' p 27 begins: 'Put out the light--the green men come to dance/ their wildness in the chambers of the king' - I'm not sure whose light is being put out in this poem but the end suggests the king: 'we, baseborn, cry good riddance/ and cheer the days the bastard takes in dying'. ('VI' begins 'Tyrants can be gentle ...')

the sequence ends with poem or sonnet 'IX' -- suggesting more 'baseborn' activity, rimbaud amidst revolution:

'That there are connections, that the massed wall
can come down and fine grass issue summons
to delight -- strummed leaf, wind shiver, bird call--
that some obscure and lovely spirit runs
like ink each sparse page illuminating
treasure in the margin, that we can sing --'

illumination(s) - a poetics - and angelic cycle?

more on synthesis (see may 27: a letter from kris hemensley)

'If the Image consists (as it frequently does) of a collection of objects, the "poetic fact" [pound] is not the objects themselves but the relations that bind them into a whole. Eliot describes how the poet discovers his images: "When a poet's mind is perfectly equipped for its work, it is constantly amalgamating disparate experience; the ordinary man's experience is chaotic, irregular, fragmentary. The latter falls in love, or reads Spinoza, and these two experiences have nothing to do with each other, or with the noise of the typewriter or the smell of the cooking; in the mind of the poet these experiences are always forming new wholes"'. charles hartman 'free verse' p132.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

a free copy of duty has gone to danielb of toronto (and editor/host) of fhole who was the first to respond.

also, diana at famouspoetsandpoems kindly let me post her email response to reading revival:

I'm Diana Collins, I'm a poetry fan.

I've visited your blog and I liked it very much.

I would like to thank you for your blog and for the time you spent creating it.

It's wonderful that there are such blogs, where people can learn something new and useful about poetry.
It would be great to have such blogs as many as possible!

Wish you good luck and success in your occupation!

Hats off,

Diana Collins

Sunday, June 04, 2006

‘after ritsos’ p18-24 (to read online try samzidat link on posting for may 29). the title, by claiming inheritance from a major greek poet, makes a move toward tradition. the poem itself is of the tradition of poems in one line sentences (occasionally varied by a line made of 2 or 3 sentences). apparently (cf book group member) this was a form used by yannis ritsos. they make careful, concise images: '25. A small fish. A silver fork. The moon.' '15. A poem using the word salamander.' '23. Evening, we listen.''11. Not far off, currawongs.' '54. I'll eat this mango slowly.' care of the sentence, the tradition of the sentence. they are paratactic, none is subordinate to another as lines; in those lines made up of more than one sentence, most sentences though often seemingly narratively linked are of equal worth, some lines however contain/suggest hypotactic sentences: '49. Cats! The place is full of them.' '31. You want a subject? I'll give you a subject.' yet a line like '17. The final snake has found its space. Let the pipes begin.' challenge a narrative reading. the poem as a whole challenges not just a narrative reading but also a reading the poem as a whole, or consecutively. we may read the poem's lines at random -- we might do this with any poem of course -- but the form of 'after ritsos' offers more encouragement than most. '83. Horde the beaten musntn't grumble polity knackered. Falls due.' challenges the sentence itself - the first sentence alerts us to the precedent of langpo. the poem continues the opening of the book started by adenfrorde/adenfrorde fragments - meanings, tones proliferate - but then we head straight - if straight is how were heading - to the sonnets: 'illuminations'.

(the last line '90. I placed that slice of melon on the wet sand.' corresponds fruitfully with the end of 'counting coup' p62: 'O throw me an orange/anyone'.)

i have discovered a new place to buy duty online: booktopia. $22.46 + $6.50 postage = $28.96, meaning u pay $4.01 over retail. if you buy more though its the same postage up to 100 books - unless im misunderstanding. it seems like a good option if u live in australia but not close to a decent bookshop - or if its incovenient to go shopping for something u might have to order & go back & collect, all the while paying for yr travel etc. if anyone tries this option, feedback on timeliness wd be great.

giveaway - the first reader to email me - readingrevival at gmail dot com - will receive a free copy of duty - courtesy of st kilda library (left over from book group) - o/s ok. i have given one to davidp also for his help in setting up this blog - thanks david. please state in yr email whether u want to be named as the recipient of the book - i will only use firstname & initial - eg michaelf.

Friday, June 02, 2006

traditional/ism ... justin c, who read with mckenzie on saturday, commented to me that he liked mckenzie because she was 'traditional'. there is something of a continuing battle for ownership of this word (see for example john ashbery's 'the other tradition'.) the term traditional is often opposed to terms such as modern(ist), postmodern, avant garde, experimental - & the poets identifying with these terms regularly distance themselves from the term 'traditional'. yet often these very poets are more explicit in their use of tradition than those who think of themselves as inheritors of 'the tradition'. see for example john tranter's new 'new & selected poems' for his use of pastiche & tribute; or ron silliman's blog, to a great extent concerned with forebears. it all seems to turn on the definite article: 'the' tradition. (even ashbery concedes that his tradition is other (however ironically)). its all very genesis: 'in the beginning was the word'. - not even 'word', but 'the' word (typically its the anti-postmodernists who behave in the most postmodern fashion) . all very christian -- & despite the claim to tradition, obsessed with the notion of originality. whenever i hear a word i reach for a dictionary.

cod: 'traditional: of or based on or obtained by tradition'; 'tradition' 1. opinion or belief or custom handed down, handing down of these, from ancestors to posterity esp. orally or by practice.

2. (Theol) doctrine etc supposed to have divine authority but not committed to writing, esp (1) laws held by pharisees to have been delivered by god to moses (2) oral teaching of christ and apostles not recorded in writing by immediate disciples (3) words & deeds of muhammad not in koran &

3. artistic or literary principle(s) based on accumulated experience or continuous usage. (intriguingly derivation is given as L. traditio /f. tradere: hand on, betray. very harold bloom!?). again ashbery's title seems apt in raising the notion of there being more than one tradition as there are quite different strands in the definition, suggesting different kinds of tradition.

def. 1 'opinion or belief or custom handed down' suggests: approaches to poetry or poetics (ie anti-manifesto; anti-new); inherited forms such as the sonnet.'esp. orally' suggests the tradition of aboriginal songs - (making all non-indigenous poets of australia non-traditional/new/modern); also the transfer of poetry culture to friends/peers/mentees via conversation as opposed to criticism; or, performance poetry.

def 2. 'supposed to have divine authority'/'oral teaching': suggest the classroom, what is communicated from teacher to students (this might be extended to blogs?); indigenous storytelling; muslim culture -- & by extension other religions, or the words/deeds of myths in other communities. the word 'supposed' can be read sarcastically, hinting at pretension to an unjustified authority ..

def 3. 'artistic or literary principle(s) based on accumulated experience or continuous usage' suggests both that experience is culturally cumulative, & also, that tradition may reside in (begin with?) the practitioner: tradition as becoming, or apprenticeship.

to me this opens up the concept of 'traditional' .. it no longer seems something moribund or (narrowly) rhetorical or respectable (i mean this word (un)ironically) or conservative (ditto) but something that is alive, moving from context to context, work to work .. ie is contingent ..

one last definition: 'traditionalism': '(excessive) respect for tradition esp in religion; philosophical system referring all religious knowledge to divine revelation & tradition' . '(excessive)' suggests both pathology on those that subscribe to traditionalism & revolt/heresy by those who would term them 'excessive'. the second part suggests that definitions/ownership of tradition are not open to discussion, but merely received by gods rep.

a lot to sink in/ leave in the sink ..

more on the traditional aspects of duty anon ..

for another example of a blog reviewing a poetry book (hds 'trilogy'), see rebel without a clause. posts 'hdblog 13,' 'hd blog 10,'and 'hd blog 8' are pertinent to poetry & war.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

this post is a continuation of my comment on the post of may 27 (kris hemensleys letter). theres something relentless about duty: a workers work is never done/ theres a war on. theres a strong sense that mckenzies/our culture is a war culture. just try 'another nature poem' p36 which begins with pebbles & ants & ends with wilfred owen & ypres: 'offering our softness to/ the sun, the guns a natural mutter..'. these are poems before september 11 & iraq, using wwi & wwii as contemporary themes. (compare jorie grahams more recent use of wwii in 'never') these are intellectual-felt protest poems not dont do it protest poems. this is the world they say. from "into the throttled wood..." p52 'blood like blood. I have found my/ life in/ such rubble... rosa luxembourg in prison was/extraordinarily happy./lived to a deep river. applecored...' & from "who dares..." p53 'who dares. names ... sorting corpses, she still can't find her son./the village chants/mountains ... in an irrelevant room in a partial city/bombs//may or may not be falling...i know birds in that rich tree...' (the design of these two (facing) poems suggest very different human figures - or urns.) 'II' of 'I-V' (p76-7) suggests ecosexuality - could this be the same irrelevant room from "who dares.."?: 'plucking apples/stumbling on/peaches this is/earth with its soft/mouth passing through/windows onto darkening/bodies the a declaration of scarlet/ these fields/these fields' (the last '/' is mckenzies, not a linebreak). the earths soft mouth seems vigorously romantic until it it occurs to me to take it literally..

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