Sil­very re­spon­si­bil­ity of know­ing ev­ery­thing

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Peter Ken­neally

Six Dif­fer­ent Win­dows By Paul Hether­ing­ton UWAP, 112pp, $24.99 Avail­able Light: New Po­ems By Graeme Kin­ross-Smith Whit­more Press, 115pp, $24.95 AT some point in many Aus­tralian po­etry col­lec­tions, whether the poet is young or old, feted or ob­scure, the reader may feel a sense of deja vu. Here we are again in Europe, in an old cathe­dral, or look­ing at an old mas­ter, or some an­cient ru­ins, imag­i­na­tion go­ing full bore. Aus­tralian po­etry loves to travel, feel­ing, de­spite it­self, that there’s some­thing over there that’s some­how lack­ing here. It likes to look at art, lis­ten to mu­sic, mull over its child­hood, and wan­der the by­ways of his­tory, es­pe­cially the

March 22-23, 2014 clas­si­cal world. But it al­ways comes home. Oh, and it likes to show you pic­tures of its fam­ily. In other words, it’s very Aus­tralian.

Paul Hether­ing­ton’s new collection, Six Dif­fer­ent Win­dows, brings all this to mind, as we move from a clas­sic rope swing boy­hood to Lon­don and Spain, Mi­noan Crete, Pom­peii, or me­dieval Green­land, with art and its tra­vails wor­ry­ing at us through­out. There is a painstak­ing, in­struc­tive tenor to most of the po­etry, as if he has taken great pains to re­mem­ber, or find out, ex­actly what went on, or what might have. He seems on first glance to be sell­ing the reader short, re­plac­ing imag­i­na­tion with in­for­ma­tion.

There is no short­age of drama, with his­tory of­fer­ing hu­man sac­ri­fice, vol­canic erup­tion and slow star­va­tion, and mod­ern life a cock­fight or even an artist’s de­struc­tion of his work; yet at times it is as if he is show­ing us all his “work­ings out’’ as well, like an as­sid­u­ous stu­dent in an exam. For in­stance, in that cock­fight, 16 lines of mod­est ex­po­si­tion, and then “some­thing that was beau­ti­ful lies down / and crowds dis­perse’’. Hether­ing­ton pre­sents as a care­ful ex­pli­ca­tor, but has an oblique way, as here, of hid­ing the ques­tion in the an­swer, and then hid­ing the an­swer. It’s more play­ful than you ex­pect, given that he doesn’t of­fer treats to en­tice the eye.

Some­times the heart sinks: Th­e­seus and Ari­adne, the Mino­taur, what more could any­one pos­si­bly have to say about them? Not much, it turns out. But then there is A Mod­ern Icarus: again, one of the usual sus­pects, but here Daedalus and son seem to have some­thing much more sin­is­ter than hubris­tic flight in mind. “On the fifth day he looked nei­ther left nor right. / On the sixth day a po­lice­man glanced to­wards him. / On the sev­enth day / he knew there’d be no other days.” This poem whis­pers some­thing in the reader’s ear so that af­ter­wards, look­ing again at Hether­ing­ton’s po­ems, with­out search­ing for de­lights, the sheets of rough paper be­gin to mur­mur. It is un­set­tling and com­pelling — but I’m not sure I want to know what’s be­neath.

Icarus has a walk-on part in Graeme Kin­ross-Smith’s new collection Avail­able Light, but in a much more play­ful reg­is­ter: “I will stand again be­fore Breughel’s Land­scape with the Fall of Icarus — that beau­ti­ful ring­ing, soil-dark, sea-green, sail-white joke. I will be warm with af­fir­ma­tion. I will be purring with joy. Per­haps for a brief time I will feel the sil­very re­spon­si­bil­ity of know­ing nearly ev­ery­thing.” Au­den, dis­com­fited, hovers in the mar­gins. Un­like Hether­ing­ton, who is, you feel, de­ter­mined to ad­vance me­thod­i­cally, Kin­ross-Smith will try any­thing: prose poem, stream-of-con­scious­ness, vis­ual va­ri­ety, sheer silli­ness, to see how it will serve his wit. There are treats every­where.

Al­though many artists and com­posers get a guernsey in his po­ems, his work re­minded me most of David Hock­ney, in its “I can make art with that!” in­ven­tive­ness, and in its soft tones. Kin­ross-Smith is a sea­soned pho­tog­ra­pher, and the jacket photo shows him, cam­era in hand, shoot­ing him­self. The gist, as­sisted by the

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