Warrick Wynne’s Poetry Pages

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An Introduction to Lost Things

An introduction to ‘Lost Things & Other Poems’ by Warrick Wynne (Butterfly Books 1992)

WHEN I WAS younger and more romantic I always wanted to find a book called ‘Atlantis’. I had an imaginary book in mind. It would be neither a novel nor a book of archaeology. It would be more than both of those. It would be an adventure and an exploration, a rediscovery of a lost thing. I did not find that book but I ended up writing a series of poems that tried in some small way, and such ways are nearly always small, to measure up to the book of my imagination.

One of those poems I called ‘Atlantis’, partly inspired by photographs scientists took of the sunken ‘Titanic’ and partly by colourful drawings I saw once in a book, of divers drifting past very Greek looking, very intact columns. The interest for me was in the existence of something below the surface, not that the surface wasn’t important, but aware too of something, literally, deeper. Perhaps my interest was also the result of too much childhood reading of science-fiction writers like Jules Verne combined with a fascination for the past, for the transience of things; their watery quality perhaps. My hope is that, for some readers at least, the book will have the same kind of satisfaction and delight, surprise and pleasure, that my imaginary book would have given me.

Lost Things is not always about ideas like Atlantis. But there are enough poems like ‘Lost Things’, ‘Atlantis’, ‘Historic Church’ and others to say that the idea of something lost, and waiting to be found, forms one of the major concerns of this collection. Many things are lost in these poems, not just a diver’s watch or even a ruined, submerged city, but ideas and beliefs, ways of doing things, ways of thinking and believing: my own past. Probably few people have failed to feel that sometimes oppressive weight of the past that is apparent in significant places. In some of these poems I have tried to recreate that sense of another level or kind of meaning inherent in such places. In some of these poems there is a desire to recapture something lost, not merely to evoke it afresh but to re-examine it, and hopefully to see it for the first time. In some poems the sense of loss is evident in historical terms. In a poem like ‘Orchard’, inspired by the sight of the resting hulk of a boat visible beyond the rows of trees in an apple orchard, the thing that is lost is not as clear.

A related concern of these poems is my childhood and the rather fresher images of my children’s lives. The two are connected. Children have a disarming way of seeing through pretences while, at the same time, being intimately involved in their own ‘pretendings’. Watching the development of my children has often brought me back to my own childhood and those important early images that persist into adult-hood. What is it especially about the brick city my brothers and I built under our house or the house of the European immigrants two doors away that makes them enduring images; among the only things I can recall of own pre-school life? Poems like ‘Antecedents’ attempt to bring an order and coherence to my past; to explain a set of beliefs, while at the same time a poem such as ‘Immigrant House’ is, I hope, aware of a muckless ordered and rational set of early images.

In the poems inspired by watching my own children’s childhood, there is often a set of contradictory impulses. In ‘Nana’ I tried to write of the contrast between my young daughter asleep in her carry-basket and my grandmother pouring tea as well as something of the rituals that characterised my grandmother’s life. She died the week that poem was published and I read it at her funeral. Even in more celebratory poems like ‘A Prayer for My Daughter’ and ‘Being Brides’ there is, with the recognition-and appreciation of the inventiveness and exuberance of the small child, also an awareness of the somewhat temporary nature of such states of existence. That such states do in fact end is also evident in ‘The Pram in the Roof’. Here, in the story of a couple who stored everything away in a secret attic, I found in the deliberate putting away of a pram an ideal image for the temporary nature of such stages in life and, incidentally, another ‘lost’ thing.

Much of the poetry is also ‘about’ the landscape I inhabit or might inhabit. For poems like ‘Travelling North’, inspired by a newspaper account of a man who forced his way off a tour bus in the Northern Territory and was found dead days later, and ‘Travelling West’, about one of those ideal trips you never make, are both journeys I have never undertaken. When I lived in Sydney briefly I wrote bright and somewhat flashy poems about the harbour. Like most southerners who come to that beautiful city, I was seduced by the surface brilliance, the colours and smells, the surf against sea walls and sea baths, the harbour and the city; Ken Slessor country. But I didn’t know Sydney and most of the poems written then have been discarded. The problem was that I didn’t come from them and as James McAuley wrote, ‘Poetry can only be written out of what you really are, and where you really live’ (1967).

Closer to my self certainly is the landscape of the Mornington Peninsula, an hour and a half south of Melbourne where I have lived since I was sixteen and holidayed as a child. This landscape is of a much more sombre kind. Like Sydney, there is water, and the existence of Western Port and Port Phillip Bays is essential to many of the poems. Port Phillip Bay lies at the end of my street and that closeness has resulted in such poems as ‘Bird Rock’ and ‘Third Windy Night’. Western Port Bay, twenty kilometres away on the other other side of the Peninsula, is a different thing. Flat and sandclogged, full of estuaries and mangroves and subject to vast tidal changes, it wraps around French and Phillip Island in the distance, disappearing around comers and inlets. It is confusing and narrow and for a long time I found it difficult to write anything about this strange environment and indeed it was only when a friend began taking me sailing out there, that I began to see how it should look and something of what it was really like. I have a feeling there is still more poetic material out there for me. I hope so.

Between the bays is the diversity of the Peninsula landscape itself. Sometimes low and swampy as in ‘The Wetlands’, sometimes more settled in its farming; cattle, apple, chicken sheds and, more recently, vineyards. Often the poems begin with things in this landscape. The sight of a fire. burning untended in the middle of a paddock began ‘Cows’, the line of nails in the shape of a fox on an old dairy door began ‘The Shape of a Fox’.

And at the borderline of the sea and the land are the beaches, the littoral zone, another constant interest. The beaches on the Peninsula are rich with history. Sorrento, at the southern tip, was the site of Victoria’s first settlement, later abandoned. When Matthew Flinders first explored Port Philip Bay he clambered ashore somewhere near my house for his first good look inland. ‘Fossil Beach’ speaks of a much earlier kind of history, oozing out of the rocks. The beaches on the Peninsula range from the fiat, mangrove–riddled tidal expanses of Western Port Bay to the vast cliffs at Cape Schanck, strangely more difficult for me to write about. I was surprised to find a poet of the last century had already attempted it:

Over the minors of azure
The purple shadows crept,
League upon league of rollers
Landward evermore swept,

And burst upon gleaming basalt,
And foamed in cranny and crack,
And mounted in sheets of silver,
And hurried reluctant back.

J.J. Cuthbertson

For me it was strange and somewhat discomforting to think of someone poetizing this landscape before me, because in a sense that is what I thought I was doing. Making my landscape into something interpretable, preserving the past and reinterpreting the present. Seeing someone had tried a similar thing before made my aims seem too self-important. Put more modestly, poetry is merely a way of seeing your world, but for the poet, it is the only way.

Warrick Wynne – 1991

Written by warrick

December 24, 2007 at 3:26 pm

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