Gre­gory Day

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

In the re­gional town where I live al­most no one reads won­der­ful con­tem­po­rary Aus­tralian po­ets such as Jen­nifer Maiden, Ali Cobby Eck­er­mann, or even Les Mur­ray for that mat­ter. Men­tion poetry and, at a pinch, the lo­cal pun­ters might re­call the bloke named af­ter the blue­grass in­stru­ment. Or per­haps TS Eliot, who prob­a­bly still looms as a ghoul-like fig­ure lay­ing waste to their school years with his grave tone and dark suit.

That’s a shame, of course, for apart from the purely sen­sory plea­sures poetry af­fords us — the feel of words on the tongue, the pat­tern of sound and rhythm in our ears — it places us in an un­usu­ally trans­par­ent re­la­tion­ship to the very lan­guage with which our cul­ture is made.

This is partly to do with a sim­ple fact of poetry’s modus operandi, that of lines which ter­mi­nate through the poet’s in­ter­ven­tion rather than be­cause they have come to the right hand side of the page. Thus the very act of com­po­si­tion can of­ten seem more de­lib­er­ate and re­veal­ing than in prose.

The work of the much lauded South Aus­tralian writer Peter Goldswor­thy is a case in point. For al­though his nov­els and short sto­ries have been widely read, stud­ied and much loved over many decades, it is per­haps in the per­sonal in­ter­ro­ga­tions of his lean po­ems that we see him grap­pling with the prob­lems of self-ex­pres­sion in the most po­tent man­ner.

On the one hand there is his un­abashed joy in liv­ing and the buoy­ant hu­mour that comes from it. On the other, there is the tension be­tween what he feels he is and isn’t al­lowed to say. This sec­ond prob­lem, a com­plex mo­tif of our era and re­cently a se­ri­ous de­bat­ing point in our po­lit­i­cal sphere un­der the for­mer Ab­bott gov­ern­ment, looms as both a strength and a stick­ing point in The Rise of the Goldswor­thy’s first col­lec­tion of new verse this cen­tury.

In this con­text the first poem in the col­lec­tion, Aus­tralia, is worth look­ing at closely. Es­sen­tially a light­hearted spoof, the ti­tle nev­er­the­less prom­ises na­tional com­men­tary of one sort or an­other, as well as hav­ing the trac­tion of lin­eage. Thus it be­gins with the aerial per­spec­tive of AD Hope’s poem of the same name. This time, how­ever, we are look­ing not just at Aus­tralia but at the whole planet, as if from space.

The poem be­gins: ‘‘Our Earth­ern Dish is seven parts wa­ter, / one part China, and a tiny bit ja­panned’’, be­fore listing the joys of the earth The Rise of the Ma­chines and Other Love Po­ems By Peter Goldswor­thy Pitt Street Poetry, 64pp, $28

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