Way for­ward on roads that are less than con­crete

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

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.

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