Way forward on roads that are less than concrete
of a guided tour through the home of a great — and fictional — Australian poet, complete with biographical snippets (‘‘That’s where/ his third wife died when the set of shelves collapsed’’) and an on-site lunch break.
The sequence begins with a quote from Pablo Neruda, a clear model for the poem’s fictional writer, who also became a diplomat in later life, and whose home is now memorialised for tourists. While the poem is at times a little obvious, with jokes about constipation and creativity, it is an energetic play on the ideas of literary fame and literary tourism, as well as their impossibility in Australia.
But this sequence also illustrates another interest element to many of the poems in this collection: an awareness and manipulation of length, and slower rhythms. Musgrave’s sentences are often long, and slip over the boundaries of individual poems (as in this sequence), stanzas, or the title and text itself. Many poems, such as The River and Ancestral Homes are built from one extended sentence; others draw out one thought or a single image along the length of the poem. It brings some sense of recursion, or spiralling to the poems, of a single point that is looped back to and around, even as the poem progresses.
It’s a model of memory and of time — complex and coiled in its forward movement — that is also at the thematic heart of many of the poems towards the end of Concrete Tuesday. Nostalgia Addict, for example, portrays a poet whose obsessive work with memory is a destructive addiction (‘‘She used to say/ reverse is the only gear he knows’’.) More surprisingly, the final poem of the collection, Grace, operates backwards, ending with falling into sleep, and beginning with an awakening at the start of the day, bookmark- ing action-packed drama that unfolds in reverse. Again, this is not always successful, with repeated images of throwing up food or strippers putting on their clothes quickly wearing thin, but the slow development of the backward narrative is very skilful, and satisfying for the reader to unfold.
But for all of the skill and good humour evident in the individual poems, Concrete Tuesday is somewhat shapeless as a collection, with few common threads weaving the pieces together. The longer poems almost operate as discrete entities, so tightly contained that they hardly relate to the other pieces in the book. While this itself is no criticism, the detachment of these poems is also caused by a lack of specificity behind the concern with memory and nostalgia that drives them. There are no individual memories or histories to give body to memory as a concept here, and so little to cement the collection together. Instead, this volume is liquid, fluid; and where it does find coherence it is in poems about water: rivers, weather, ripples and bores.
There’s a lyricism and delicacy to these poems, a gentle melancholy that unravels in small details and surprising verbs, as in this from Fog: ‘‘ fog// lures me outside and stumps trees,/ prunes headlights, dampens/ everything in woollen/ silence. The earth lurches.’’
Again, it is difficult to reconcile these quiet moments with the bombast and brash energy of some of the other poems. But despite the lack of cohesion within Concrete Tuesday as a whole, it is a fresh and playful collection that will reward its readers. Fiona Wright’s debut poetry collection, Knuckled, is published by Giramondo.