The latest news that an Australian poet has won the $50,000 Montreal Poetry Prize only adds to the puzzle that is Mark Treddinick.
At the risk of Bluepepper going the same way as Foetry (which appeared to court its own destruction by raising the topic of nepotism in the North American poetry awards community), here is a poet with an unremarkable palate, whose similes make up for a paucity of ideas, with an ear that tends toward the same flat-line urbanity as Queenslander Kevin Hart (or, for that matter, his look-alike John Kinsella), and yet who continues to win prizes, and I mean BIG prizes, the Montreal thing being merely the last in a long line.
I have no doubt Treddinick deserves to win such awards. If nothing else, he has the chalky, chiseled, breeze-ruffled face of a prize-winning poet, and that is no mean thing in these straitened times in which mere photogenic competence may very well be the new Gold standard.
Here, for instance, are the opening few lines of the award-winning poet's Walking Underwater, winner of the afore-mentioned 50 big ones.
There is this quietness that hangs over North America.
As if all the days were double-glazed against themselves.
It’s uncanny. Tectonic. A kind of grief, a kind of pain
In waiting. Some sort of business unfinished.
And so the similes roll on….
That clunk of a first line is redeemed somewhat by that lovely second, only to be landed like a stiletto in the pig shit with that “It’s uncanny. Tectonic”, the music strangled at birth, not even a staccato, as though Cicero were dictating one of his epistles to a cloth-eared slave. Which is what Treddinick’s poetry most resembles to this cloth-eared ranter - the essays of a man trained in law who appreciates that the force of language lies in precision and yet who cannot even clap in time to the mulatto girl on the corner.
The way the trees—that sclerophyll fraternity on the mountain—swarm
like Dante’s shades as you drive among them in the rain on the way down
to Bridget’s place, as though you were the only still thing left on earth?
The way the trees in their cardboard orders, their five or six slim, avuncular
throngs, orbit in eccentric circles of disbelief about you. And till then you
had thought that the woods stood still. But even the mountains move.
Treddinick does love his nature, perhaps because it can't answer back. Narcissists and nature have a long and strangely seamless history. Not that I am accusing one of the most lavished Australian poets since Les Murray of being a narcissist. But he is earnest. Lavishly, sonorously earnest. Kinsella-earnest. In other words, humourless. And that is like cooking without salt where Bluepepper is concerned.
However, a certain law of entropy to which we are all bound appears to dictate that humour is banished from the committee room, home of the mean, as in the nearest point to all corners of the box. Andrew Motion, the presiding judge in this particular instance, will doubtless abjure from my rather graceless verdict on this latest celebration of the word, but then he is perhaps a little occluded by his many broad-rimmed hats.