Silvery responsibility of knowing everything
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