Monday, October 31, 2005

The poet's inspiration

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Poetry by Geoff Fox




YA AHAD (invoking The Only One)

In these hills
the soft light fills
my skin & pulls
me into All
the world
as old & loved
as God:

one
by one
by night
& day
in these hills.

- Geoff Fox 2004

SUBMISSIONS

BLUEPEPPER is currently seeking submissions of poetry, reviews and essays on a wide range of literary and cultural topics. Previously published work is acceptable as long as due acknowledgments are made. 3-4 poems per submission and articles no longer than 1500 words. To submit click on the email me icon to the right of this page and paste work in the body of the email. Attachments will not be opened. Payment is a little bluepepper beside your name. Copyright remains with the author.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Oh so very Sydney

Below is the full and original version of the poem "God Drinks at the Sandringham", a piece I penned in late 1995 as the unstoppable tide of gentrification was sweeping over our beloved Newtown. Now, there seems to be some confusion as to the authorship of the above, following on from yet another article in a Sydney paper regarding the song inspired by the poem. The facts are these: in 1998 Tim Freedman of The Whitlams asked if I would consent to him using the poem (or at least the body of it) as the lyrics for a song on his upcoming album. I was more than happy, especially once I had signed the contract and seen the changes he had made to the text. I liked the tune and still do. I was not shafted, but in answer to some people's concerns, yes, it would be nice to see my original inspiration given credit in the mainstream press. However as we all know, at least in Australia, and especially Sydney, our august rags are not exactly poetry-friendly.

God Drinks at the Sandringham

He usually comes to sit by me
in the grainy light of 4 o clock

He will often sit on His hands
He is kind but nervous

I don't think He has very much money
His conversation is minimal

He likes to sit like pity
in the crook of my arm

He watches people come in
smiles, they are of Him somehow

they nod and pat His back
He is what we call in our sinecure way "alright"

He has time for everyone
He drinks slowly, deliberately

from a schooner
that always looks half full

what He does for a living
is anyone's guess

and needless to say everyone
has their own version of how He came to be here

walk down King street any day
and you will find Him waving at you

it is utterly spontaneous
a simple gesture of recognition

at certain times on certain days
He could almost be a white flag in a brisk wind

- Justin Lowe 1995

Friday, October 28, 2005

LULU DOT COM

Is this in effect the Google of publishing? This no-obligation print-on-demand web-based publisher has taken the world by storm and pretty much cut the industry clean down the middle. There is the reaonable argument against Lulu that it lacks any sort of filtering process, that there are already more than enough bad books being published. But the counter argument would be, well yes, there are a lot of bad books being published already and not enough good ones, so who's fault is that? Some people see a crime on every street corner, others a sweet kid with a glint in his eye. If anyone out there has published or purchased books through Lulu.com. I'd be interested to hear from them. In fact, I'd very much like to start a regular review of poetry works published through Lulu. So if anyone has one available, feel free to let me know.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Extract 2. from The Wordman

James Titch. A small, stooped, carrot-topped little man with a big idea of himself. An idea so big, in fact, it kept his face a permanent beetroot colour, as though slowly crushing all the capillaries.

James was a singer/songwriter with the tiny handicap of having absolutely nothing to say. So I said it for him. His tunes were largely incoherent snatches of melody lazily pasted together. In fact, they complemented him perfectly – small creatures with big ideas of themselves. Maybe that’s why he struck a note with some. To be honest, I could never see the appeal, and I worked around him as much as with him struggling to piece together something plausible and engaging from the tuneless morass.

I stuck to my guns on the James Titch assignment, because I saw the potential, not of James Titch, but of the job itself. I think for the first time in my short life I suffered a surge of ambition, and I’m glad that I did. Until the very day he died, my father loved doing jigsaw puzzles, and maybe I inherited that from him. Piecing something together from the shards.

That James Titch imploded within days of the record’s release is about the only thing people remember about him, therefore I won’t trawl through the sordid facts again. Needless to say, it was an unpleasant assignment and one few people would have taken, but maybe the Fab Four recognised me as a fellow hard-nosed bastard and reckoned my lap was as good a place as any to dump last week’s baby. They were renowned for picking things up and then just as quickly putting them down again, and James Titch was just another toady they were desperate to get rid of.

His whole short, pathetic life, James Titch’s one and only dream was to have people adulate him. He had no great love or flair for music, but it was the meal ticket of the time, and as the album slowly came together I could tell he was having second thoughts about the whole thing. But by then, of course, it was too late. The tragedy of James Titch was that he couldn’t really stand being stared at. He was a remarkably unattractive man (perhaps the only remarkable thing about him) who could neither walk the walk or talk the talk. In fact, he moved just as clumsily as his songs, without rhythm or any sense that he knew where he was going. But he was not an easy man to like, let alone pity.

By then, as most of us know or perhaps even remember, “happenings” had become de rigeur. No-one who wanted to be anyone in London at the time could hope to get anywhere without having a happening. This was partly due to the disparate nature of the scene by then, and the consequent need of people to draw attention to themselves through any and all means possible. Ego, though, was becoming endemic. People despised themselves as a collective, but nothing seemed more important or immediate than each other’s inner workings.

It is probably no coincidence that 1969 proved to be the apotheosis of not only the avant-garde, but of the band that had embraced it so wholeheartedly in Hamburg almost a decade earlier, and that had by now raised the individual to a whole new pinnacle of success and significance. James Titch may not have known much, but he knew he had to have a happening.

It was held at a new club just off the Grays Inn Road called the Angelsea. The whole London scene had got pretty dark by then, dense and unyielding, subterranean and gothic, and the Angelsea captured the mood perfectly. It was owned and operated by a chatty pasty-faced Welshman of indeterminate age called simply Iain. He had some tenuous and widely broadcast connection to the musician John Cale. And he had a habit of regaling everyone he met with stories of his latest piercings, by which I mean literal piercings, someone sticking needles through his rolls of abdominal lard, large 6 inch needles that made a clang when you dropped them on the floor.

Iain, as was his wont, set the tone for the evening by barging across the room making wild flourishing gestures with his hands and effecting a parting of the sea between himself and me.

“Adrian Strachan!” he bellowed. “Adrian bloody Strachan.”

I should probably point out that we barely knew each other, in fact we had only met once before in Nigel’s office and neither took much of a shine to the other. I noticed a lot of people stopped talking and turned to look at me with that vague sense of wry amusement as though I were a burning effigy. A couple of girls even fell in behind Iain as he shouldered his way towards me like they were queuing up for ice cream.

I didn’t intentionally set out to steal the show. I was just the wordman, after all. The silent partner. James Titch was already in the building somewhere, but no-one was quite sure where. His stage consisted of a foot-high trellised wedge squeezed into the farthest, dingiest corner, and there was no PA, no sound guy, just a Fender amp, a guitar, a stool, and a microphone gaffer-taped to a battered old stand. James Titch was already a dog ear in the annals of rock n’ roll before he’d even sung a note.

I suppose in hindsight my behaviour that night was a little less than honourable, but my story was interesting to the type of celebrity junkie the London clubs have always attracted (although these days they’re usually left stranded the other side of the silk rope). I had just enough trouble about me, so that I didn’t have to do anything. One of these days I’ll come up with the formula, that certain ratio that lights up a woman’s face. All I know from experience is that it exists and that night I had it.

Nigel was another story altogether. He had too much trouble. He hadn’t even been invited to the party that night, but he turned up anyway looking as sick and forlorn as I’d ever seen him. After half-an-hour of being shunned at the bar and booed by most of the guests, he left, once again with that odd look of relish on his face as though he couldn’t get enough of those turds in the mail.


Note: Although still living under a cloud after Nicola Fielding's tragic death, Adrian Strachan has become something of a cause celebre in the fickle London scene. He has picked up a job as lyricist for an ill-starred singer James Titch, who manages to sell alot of albums despite, or perhaps because of, his much-publicised implosion.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Extract 1. from The Wordman

In the meantime Nicola had arrived, all tanned and trim, her hair back to its natural sheeny raven shoulder-length bob that framed her deep round hazel eyes in a kind of Bauhaus egg cup. I called it the "peering through a window" look and stood to attention the second she walked in the room. Since I arrived in Sevilla ten days prior, I had only been with one girl, and that was cut painfully short by some prick posting up flyers in the Murillo. Nicola must have smelt the pheromones on me.

“Don’t even think about it,” she said by way of greeting, pushing me away and flopping down on the enormous spongy iron poster bed. “I suppose you know why I’m here.”

“I can guess.”

“The coast is crawling with uniforms. There are roadblocks every ten miles. I took the back way through the Sierra Nevada and I still managed to run into one.”

“Did they find anything?”

“I don’t have anything, that’s my point. The bastards didn’t show. Nigel says they’re holed up on Minorca and they’re not budging. But they still want their money.”

“Who’s they?”

“Some Morrocans Nigel knows, don’t ask me. The thing is Franco’s got the country under quarantine.”

“Why Minorca?’

“Franco and Minorca have never got on. He refuses to give them any money and they refuse to play his game. It’s been going on for thirty years.”

“So?”

“So, we go to Minorca.”

“Are you nuts?”

“Not really. That’s why I came here first. I thought you might have some advice.”

“Jesus, just drop it. Too hard basket. I’ve only just got out of the clink.”

Nicola’s left eyebrow arched deliciously. I had an overwhelming need to run my hand the length of her smooth tanned calves.

“Yes, Nigel told me all about it. Are you taking anything for that bruised ego?”

I passed her a whisky from the bottle Juan Carlos had bought me and slumped into a chair.

“Ha ha.”

The sound of children playing in the tiny park across the square wafted in on the musty river breeze.

“Actually, there’s another reason I came to see you.”

I took a sip of my whisky. The doorbell to civilisation, my father called it.
“Ah.”

Nicola suddenly sprang up and sat cross-legged on the bed, sipping her whisky like a truant schoolgirl.

“That money Nigel wired you, what happened to it.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I gather you didn’t need it.”

“No.”

“Perfect! Where is it?”

“I assume it’s still sitting in a vault at Pons’ office. Why?”

In her excitement, Nicola had somehow managed to spill whisky down her front and she started dabbing at it with her finger. I wished she wouldn’t.

“We’ll use it to pay off the Moroccans. My idea. You see, this way there’s no paper trail.”

She studied me over the rim of her glass. I had to admit it was a brilliant idea, but what to tell Pons?

“You could tell him we’re getting married.”

“Something tells me he’ll have trouble buying that.”

Nicola pulled a face. “Oh sorry, I was forgetting your global reputation. Tell me, do all the men in this town think you’re a god the way Nigel’s friends do?”

I took her glass for a refill.

“It’ll just strike him as a bit sudden, that’s all.”

“Nigel said he’d give you a cut.”

But she knew as well as Nigel that my reluctance had nothing to do with money. There were rumours going around that the Basques were financing their campaign with drug money. The radicals of Madrid certainly had easy access to everything from dope to smack. All of which brought possession within spitting distance of espionage and treason. I informed Nicola of all this without trying to sound too edgy, too much prey to the rumours.

“I read the papers, Adrian. That’s why I need your help.”

For a long time I tried deluding myself about the type of man I was working for, but the longer I knew Nigel, witnessed his passion and dedication, and continued to be the recipient of his unflinching affection and loyalty, the less his nefarious dealings seemed to matter. Nicola knew this, we had talked about it when she was struggling with her own misgivings about her doting, slightly dotty, cousin. To refuse to help her now would be as good as going back on my word, as she well knew.

“So you’ll help me?”

She didn’t even look at me when she asked, just threw back her whisky and sprung up to help herself to another one, as though the issue was already settled.

“Well I can’t very well say no.”

I lurched over onto the now empty bed and kicked off my shoes, perched my whisky on my stomach and lay there watching it rise and fall, the ice tinkling gently against the glass. It occurred to me for the first time how much I relished that sound, like a song from my childhood.

The doorbell to civilisation.

We left Sevilla with a trunk full of money and Signor Pons’ heartfelt blessing the next afternoon. His brother was a little more reticent, but news of my engagement softened his heart a little. “Moy grandes,” he whispered into my ear after combing Nicola with his grey lecher’s eyes. “Gracioso!”

It was hard to believe I had only known him for three days. I left Sevilla as though a great chunk had been torn out of me. Who would ever have thought it?

We crossed the Guadalquivir into Triana and then east through the wasteland of new suburbs and rusting factories and a forest of high tensile cable. Where would a twentieth century dictator be, I thought, without his factories and utilities? Was it that easy to bribe people into acquiescence? Judging by recent events, perhaps not. Still, naked power was cutting an ugly swathe across old Espana, literally casting its long busy shadow over the castles, those symbols of an older, equally stringent theocracy. As we sped out into the countryside along the sleek new freeway (Spain in those days had some of the best and safest roads in the world), I wondered how many Spaniards still looked longingly at the castles.


Note:

The narrator is Adrian Strachan, a 25 year old Aussie ex-pat photo-journalist covering the troubles in Spain in 1969. Nicola is Nicola Fielding, an old girlfriend of Adrian's, and both PA and first cousin to his boss, Nigel, editor of "Garbled" magazine run on a shoe-string out of some Soho attic. Nigel funds the magazine through a series of nefarious contacts, one of which is a couple of Morrocans who ship hash into Europe for which he has a ready market in London. Adrian is not sure at first why Nicola needs him along, but during the trip she reveals that Nigel has hatched a crazy plan to do an expose on the Moroccans. Adrian is suitably unimpressed, and when the Moroccans failed to show up at the Minorcan rendevouz, he decided to leave her to it and treks across the island on his own. A few weeks later Nicola's body is found drifting on the currents off the south coast of Portugal and Adrian becomes suspect number one in the London tabloids, a tag that ironically launches him into full-blown celebrity and ultimate wealth (and dubious cred) as "The Wordman". Best to keep in mind this man is an ambulance-chaser.He has acute powers of observation but no real sense of right and wrong, or at least no real faith in tradtional morality, and a growing impatience with the grinding ideological endgame between left and right, east and west. In other words, a vanguard of the jaded hippy. For all that, Adrian was very successful at what he did, and I imagine the average Fleet Street hack in 1969 loathed him with a vengeance.It didn't help matters none that our hero was an Aussie, good with the ladies, and generally pretty pleased with himself. Some of you may recognise the prototype. Now get to it!

Your piece of The Wordman

In an utterly shameless piece of self-promotion, I have decided to put a call out to all you budding journalists in blog land to compose mock articles for inclusion in the endnotes of my latest novel, The Wordman. The relavent incidents in the life of the main protagonist, Adrian Strachan, will be posted with accompanying notes so you get an idea, but let your imaginations run wild people. I'm sure that's what the Fleet Street hacks of 1968-74 were doing when they penned their scurrilous articles about people like Adrian, or "Mr Strachan, press photographer", as he was probably dubbed in the media at the time(before he became The Wordman, of course). Check back for the post with all the info you'll need to start scurrilising.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Aunt Mabel

I was just about weaned on red wine during my childhood in Spain, but since moving from Newtown to the mountains the best part of four years ago, I've gone all bucolic and taken to growing my own vegetables and brewing my own beer. By the time the bird flu hits I'll be just about sorted! Anyway, here's a particularly delicious brew I downloaded off the net some time ago (the link appears to be dead now, sadly). More of a winter beer, but the longer it is stored the better it will be.

1. Aunt Mabel's Blueberry Ale
A fresh amber ale with an unquestionable blueberry flavour.

Beer Category: NOVELTY
OG: 1048 FG: 1018

Ingredients:
1.5kg Morgan's Pale Unhopped Extract
1kg Morgan's Caramalt Master Blend
1kg Morgan's Beer Enhancer Master Blend
40g Northern Brewer Hops (hops1)
15g Fuggles Hops (hops 2)
1kg Fresh Frozen Blueberries or
60ml Blueberry Fruit Extract
1 Sachet Morgan's ale yeast
Sugar for bottling


Method:
Add around 500g of Pale Unhopped Extract to 4 litres of boiling water. Boil with hops 1 in a bag for 45 minutes. Switch off heat, add hops 2 and frozen blueberries or fruit extract and allow to stand for 10 minutes.Note, if using frozen fruit it is wise to neutralize fruit pectins by preheating mashed berries with a pectic enzyme to prevent a possible haze.

Strain off fruit and hops and add remaining malt and stir to dissolve. Pour into fermenter and make up to 23 litres with cold water. once temperature is below 30C, add yeast and allow to ferment between 22 and 30C.

Bottle as normal once fully fermented after first priming bottles with sugar.
WARNING - Do not bottle until fermentation is complete ( SG 1005 or below) adding only the correct amount of sugar to bottles otherwise, over gassed bottles could explode.

Poetry on TV

'The Wordshed' will be broadcast on the new community television channel TV Sydney. It is a half-hour poetic program composed of poems, interviews with writers, readings and performances, dramatic sequences, mini-lectures, and critical discussion.

‘The Wordshed’ will be presented by Johanna Featherstone, from The Red Room Company, (www.redroomorganisation.org) on behalf of the Writing and Society Research Group in the College of Arts, Education and Social Sciences at the University of Western Sydney.

Six half-hour episodes will be produced in the first instance, to be broadcast between the startup of TV Sydney in November and December 2005.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Blanc Mange

Reuters reports that the UN, in the face of strong US objections, has approved the first international treaty designed to protect movies, music and other cultural treasures from foreign competition. The vote was 148 for, 2 against. French President Jacques Chirac was quoted as saying: "This is major progress in a world which must protect cultural diversity and organise a dialogue of cultures that respects all." What affect (if any) this will have on our FTA with Uncle Sam only time will tell. Maybe the UN could inaugurate an International Out-of-Work Actor's Day?

ninety-nine names

Apropros the visit of Indonesian poet, Rendra, here is a link to an interesting poetry site http://www.ninety-ninenames.com. The name refers to the ninety-nine Arabic names for God, Allah being the one most of us are familiar with. The site has a pretty simple layout, but you can sense the care and devotion put into it. The beautiful sufi texts are a collaboration between Indonesian sufi legend Mustofa Bisri and Australian Geoff Fox and come in both English and Indonesian. They should move even the most stone-hearted among us.

Friday, October 21, 2005

The Long Bow

Poetry is in many respects the art form of the "long bow". Hence the expression "poetic licence". And that's what this little blog is going to be all about - the breathless leap into the abyss, the "big call" - anything but the "well-that's what the computer is telling me" 21st century drone.

On the subject of which, I saw an article in the Sydney Morning Herald today headed "Schools failing to pass on values." There seems to be an entire industry based around stating the BLEEDING OBVIOUS. A lot of grant money goes into uncovering the link between ADD and 16 hours of television viewing a day from the age of 3, etc, and the Herald has taken it upon itself to be the purveyor of such moribund fare. According to Professor Brian Hill, branded in the Herald article as "a Christian", "we are producing young people focused on the immediate satisfaction of needs..." He makes a valid point, of course, but it just strikes me as a little late, by about a generation, if my arithmetic can be trusted. What I gather the good Professor would like to see is a more holistic approach to secondary schooling, with a more cohesive (read traditional)humanities-based syllabus,and less stress on the vocational as it currently stands. What he sees at the moment is "students surrendering to the dominant value system peddled by the media, which is instant gratification and do your own thing." Here, here Professor! But where were you and your Christian buddies twenty years ago when modernism (the last great positive/alternative "ism")was being wheeled in for its lingering post mortem? If memory serves me right, the church and the mainstream media couldn't wait to see the entire movement dead and buried. If the ensuing cultural trend has proved more enervating than edifying, more industry than individual, then who's fault is that exactly? George Bush is as much a product of post-modernism as he is of the Christian Right, ersatz BIG BROTHER and ADD. There's my big leap for the day.

Poetry by Coral Hull

From: The Sorrowing Harp Sequence

1. Anniversary Ghost


I. Celebrations

My sister, my mother, my father, my brother,
you were strong as a group, I was outnumbered
and your killing hands were upon my throat,
but still I flowed like a river and I did not die.

My heartbeat pounded like wings into the dawn,
as the plunging water filled my lungs,
when I left myself, to be taken away by calm.

I entered a world of profound strangeness,
where no tree grew and no bird sang.

It was dim and old and unbecoming,
like an unseen dream behind all of civilsation.

At first there was a black dog,
troubled and racing across the long lost scent
and a thousand howling hills in the night,
as if drawn from old memory.

Somewhere, I sensed the heartbeat of the cosmos,
but it was just a play of moonlight upon still waters,
where the storm of betrayal and the chill of deceit
within my heart, had sank forever from your sight.

Or so you thought --- but I did not die.


II. Generations

My glass eye opened from beneath the lake,
as shoulder to shoulder you lumbered away.

You were the last and first landscape.

You are the murdering tool for generations.
A beast of fear who follows instructions.
The curse was passed down like a stone,
into lives who had forgotten, so long ago.

I saw your back, as you left the water's edge.
Your face was turned away from the moon.
You were just like a cold and lonely planet,
a shadow to the galaxies, moving, unlit.


III. Questions

How must I sing to the stars with the voice of a lake?
How must I express to a night, the crime of this act?

I might have drifted away like river weed,
or leaves across the water's silver surface.
It would have been easier, had I vanished.

But I howled like a wolf,
until the moon blooded over with tiny bats
and the landscape of your many departures
turned to violet infra red.

Did you hear that mournful dog? Was one tear shed?


IV. Traditions

I saw two old eyes glittering, your lips as a grimace
that bordered an envious smile.

In this hungry way, you seemed to eat yourself alive,
at the time of my unbecoming.

The cruel lifeless gaze was like a faceted gem.
I searched for a soul, but there was no essence

I stepped right through you, to the other side.
For the corpse you had killed was left behind.

What has this sorrowing world brought upon itself?
How must I sing to those who feel the same way?

Where is the heart within, or must I abandon hope?
What is there left to tell, that is not already known?

Coral Hull 2005

Rendra

Arguably Indonesia's most influential poet is visiting Sydney this week to conduct workshops. Jailed by the Soekarno and Soeharto governments for his revolutionary poetry and plays, Rendra described the most recent Bali bombings with just one word: "kejam". Cruel.

"Those who have ethics are regarded as a stupid person, a weak person, a loser," he says. "Why must I be a winner? Must I win at all costs, even if it's not ethical?"

Rendra has been a regular visitor to Australian shores since 1972, and his Bengkel Theatre in Jakarta often hosts young Australian playwrights.

"By tradition a poet is an interpreter of life. Not just an entertainer.....The Government might try to make the students organisations weak, the women's organisations weak, workers' organisations weak - but it seems typical of the Australian people always to resist."

Here's hoping.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Poets in Need

America, for all its obvious flaws, has always treated the poet with a strange kind of reverence only occasionally glimpsed in the long history of humanity (the country they recently invaded being another obvious example). I have always found this somewhat curious, and as an antipodean, something to aspire to. One of the links on this blog is Big Bridge, an American site I highly recommend for its vigour and diversity in all things poetic. And it also has a link to a page entitled PIN (Poets in Need), where visitors can make donations for poets who have fallen on hard times (defined as misfortune through flood, fire, eviction, etc). I don't know how successful the program is, but to me the very concept is like a warm breath on a frozen ear. I hope I don't have to explain the metaphor. Will Howard's Australia reduce us to such measures? The polemic stops here.

Poetry dot com

Poetry dot com. Most of us have surfed right into it at one time or another, maybe even been seduced into surrendering up a precious sample or two of our verse with the promise of those big CASH PRIZES. I used to deliver pizza with a kid who gushed that he had been published in America, only to find that this wasn't quite true. As far as I can tell, this organisation operates something like the Borg in the later Star Trek series, assimilating all the verse they can get their hands on in some enormous database only to sell it back to its original owners in the form of placemats, tea towels, etc. Sound like any economic regime you know? Has anyone out there got any stories they want to share about the august troop at Poetry dot com?

more or less than

1-100
MTC Cronin
Shearsman Books
UK 2004


I have followed Margie Cronin’s career closely over the past decade or so. It was an interesting time, and I like to think that in our Newtown days we struck up a friendship, a fellowship, however tangential our lifestyles were.

Cronin has published nine collections in that time, a prodigious output by any standards, but through it all I believe I have witnessed a great poet constantly at war with her strengths and seduced by her weaknesses.

Perhaps this is a risk poets run more than most, I honestly don’t know. But because Cronin is so assured and so prodigious in her chosen craft, this ongoing tussle has become quite compelling for yours truly, almost an epic in itself. I wouldn’t even be prepared to call it a failing, because at times this abandonment of the poet’s trademark staccato for a rather more somnolent andante really pays dividends, as though she were being given singing lessons by the ghost of Ezra Pound

if it finds a hand, it says to behold is god
if a mouth, it says the word is god
if a foot, the way is god
this is how their shadow was thrown
both ways
and they found themselves pursued by memory
unnarating grief and hope
with death following, not waiting ahead

The above passage is lifted from midway through poem 29 of one of the most audacious poetry collections to have ever been published in this country. I will happily admit that slightly clunky “unnarrating” to further scrutiny, but I adamantly refuse to denote themes or the like, for to my mind Cronin’s poetry in general (and this collection most acutely) is all about nuances, the creeping shadows of these autumn days.

Cronin’s jauntiness is the product of a particular time and place (where X marks the spot, apparently), but like a great Pixies’ song, it alludes to ancient roots, something as old as beer and heartache.

I could easily damn this collection forever as a poetic representation of the linear view of time, where poem 1 is a deceptively (linear) allusion

not simply the stream but they who thought of following

One simple brushstroke of yearning and memory, at which point a lesser poet would have run with this ball until both she and the spectators were bored out of their minds. But Cronin lives too much inside her poems for that. By poem 5 she is already delving deep into the murky currents of our special autism

the tongue, the tongue, steps backwards into a web
respun daily by an appetite that thinks never of holiness
the tongue makes them miniature and blind
the tongue caresses and ruins their splendour
in its own land it speaks the language of stones

I think were Margie Cronin an artist she would work mainly in either oils or bric a brac, her great flourishes at first appearing a tad clumsy until the eye has had a chance to range over the whole (the mind, as always, slow to catch up like my dog barking at a skipping stone). As I say, this is a poet who lives very much inside her poems

this was their magnifying glass, and not just glass,
but the metaphors, what they see what they see through



Cronin, for all her flurry, is not a peripatetic thinker. Like Ariosto, skipping along in his deceptively plain pentameter, the religiously free-verse Cronin dances around a room crowded with ideas and startling imagery that can often seem wantonly disjointed, although on a second read you begin to enter into the mind of the poet. It is both exhilarating and exhausting, especially for those critics who have deemed this rather oblique and chancy calibration as the poet’s fatal flaw running through all her work. But to me their rather waspish tone suggests a sleeper awoken rudely in the night.

There is rarely a dominant narrative thread in Cronin’s poetry, although there is often the suggestion of one in the dominant tone, usually a vaguely confessional tone that quickly loses patience with itself and breaks out to lead us on a merry dance.

a way to lose myself away from death
a way to be dying so that I cannot feel the dying at all times
more, and not quite that,
a winter-asleep
a spring-wins
an ongoing not even ordinariness
but just what might be enough to keep the moment
cradled within its own worn hands
the breath clean in its perfect dress of flesh
more, more-or-lessness,
the whole of the body bathed in sun
or what might be like it
this is not cliché but simply simple
the moment is warm

(poems 82)

As the collection climbs jauntily towards its apex, the monumental poem 50, I realise what I am witnessing is not so much the poet grappling with her strengths, as the eternal child inside the mother grappling with the enduring miracle of life itself, the lottery of both our fortunes and misfortunes. A lesser poet would have reduced this to a series of snapshots, but in Cronin’s world there are no givens, which is why in her poetry each moment shines with such jaunty radiance

for example
they claimed to understand planets
how opals grow
when in fact what they knew
was the art of cutting and polishing
and the sorts of things that might happen
sand would forever elude them
and libraries become full
with the paper clot
of their denial

(poem 47)

I could live my life by the tenet of these last three lines (and maybe I have). Be that as it may, there are many in this country of infinite promise and incessant self-abnegation who deny Margie Cronin her due. They are legion but they are aging and their voice is croaky.
Were they to take the tapering structure of this collection to heart, they may very well stamp their feet and decry the incessant playfulness of a world that may in fact survive them.

- Justin Lowe

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

WELCOME TO BLUE PEPPER

Welcome to Justin Lowe's poetry blog BLUE PEPPER. Some of you in the Oz poetry scene may remember my previously colourful and short-lived creation, HOMEBREW magazine run out of my bedroom in Newtown NSW during the late 90's. Well, this is the on-line version, open to submissions of poetry, reviews and articles of all manner and style within the shrinking confines of public taste. Remember, keeping safe doesn't have to mean playing it safe.
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