Warrick Wynne’s Poetry Pages

reading, writing and the connections

Diane Fahey Launch

Diane Fahey reads from her new collection at the launch on November 27, 2006. Photo: Warrick Wynne

It’s a pleasure to be here to launch Diane’s latest book…here in the place that spawned these poems, in the late autumn/early summer time that Diane describes so evocatively in this book of place and book of time.
For it is firmly in that lineage. A book of time. A poetry annual. A seasonal journey in the tradition of Thoreau or books like The Natural History of Selborne, Henry Beston’s The Outermost House, books of place, of coming to know a place intimately, of books that take us through a single place drenched in time, books that I love.
In fact, the concept of this book, and even its title, reminded me of Bruce Beaver’s 1964 collection, ‘Seawall and Shoreline’, another evocative book of another body of water, Sydney Harbor, and of another book of his too, ‘Odes and Days’ (and its similar progression through the year)
This is an even more local book and compressed one than that. Almost all the poems are set in the immediacy of this place; the river, the shoreline, the sea, the air; the littoral zone.
But in this locality and compression are ideas and questions that are as big as any raised in philosophy: what does it mean? What is my relationship to that? How do I know? What have I just seen? This beautiful place contains some big challenges.
Or as Thoreau himself wrote, ‘I have travelled a good deal in Concord’
I like that this is a walking book. In the tradition of Wordsworth and Coleridge and others, full of lines like:
‘I trudge south’
‘I walk on’

And I also hear something akin to Gwen Harwood’s voice in poems like her ‘Sea Anenomes’ in a poem like ‘To the Estuary’, the opening poem of the collection.
At the mouth
I step on rock after rock to where
A channel of chassed steel cuts to a crumbling edge
The further shore

Robert Graves said that ‘an author’s ever constants were love, death and the changing of the seasons’. That is this book too, or as Diane puts it: ‘drowning/spawning’, the cyclical processes of life and death that are mirrored in the very structure of the book.
In these poems Diane is also charting this place, mapping it in poetry, ‘I have tracked the river’ she says, and the manta that slips away up the river. As she writes: ‘each sighting must be recorded’. There’s a consciousness and a conscious understanding, or perhaps more accurately a consciousness that is attempting to understand what is happening here, and sometimes failing as the world is complex

It was Auden who said that a good poet must be like the best cheese; distinctively local but valued elsewhere. And this is of that quality of poems like ‘Winter Sunset’, which value the local; indeed wonder at the local,
‘What is it about two fishermen
in a flat-bottomed boat at rest upon
crushed petals of pink, sky-blue, crimson?’

And Diane is valued…an important poet, with a wonderful track record, and eight books.
An earlier book Metamorphoses was short-listed for the Victorian, and N.S.W., Premier’s Awards in 1988, and another, Mayflies in Amber, was short-listed for the John Bray Poetry Award at the Adelaide Festival of Arts in 1994. Listening to a Far Sea was short-listed for the ‘Age’ Book of the Year Award, Poetry Section, in 1998.

She’s been a poet I’ve admired enormously over the years though it’s probably not until this book that our poetic paths have crossed in terms of this writing about place, nature, time, and our place in all that.
I met Diane many years ago at a writer’s residence in the Blue Mountains, ‘Varuna’, when I was trying to write landscape poetry. There were three of us, me, an anarchist feminist poet and Diane who was exploring the world of Jungian psychotherapy and me! It made for some interestinc conversations around the dinner table. I learned a lot!! and have followed her poetry closely ever since.
For me Diane’s work has always been characterized by an intensity of thought and feeling; a richly refined and highly distilled sensibility, a critical intelligence, a fine eye and ear, and those qualities are all evident in this beautiful new book too.
This is a book of sonnets, but it’s not something you are prodded to notice, which I think is a strength. The sonnet structure adds a pattern and a shape to the other shapes here; the days, the seasons, the shape of the river and the sea but the form doesn’t draw attention to itself, doesn’t try to trick us with its cleverness.
Indeed, it’s quite the opposite sensibility at work here; a humbler, more tentative, searching for meaning, an attempt to unravel the mysteries and puzzles of the unknowable other.
What I like most about this work I think, and there’s a lot to like, is that these are speculative poems, uncertain even, aware of the infinite, the unknown, the untranslatable. They are ‘probings’.
In ‘Sunday Walk’ this place ‘offers it puzzle’
In ‘Starfish’ we ‘ponder the enigma’
At the end of ‘April’, the moon ‘sets its cryptic seal on the world’
Or the surprise of a stingray
And sometimes there are moments of illumination and clarity too, like in the poem ‘Easter’
The attention to detail we’ve seen in earlier books, sometimes too the same kind of almost microscopic understanding of the word we saw in books like in Mayflies in Amber, Diane’s poems of the insect world, remain here too, like Blake’s ‘universe in a grain of sand’ in moments like this from ‘Eye’

Lashes are thorn – sharp reeds rimming a pool
the eye’s white has become a tiny beach (13)

But this is also the big picture, the poet out and about, walking, wading, the solitary observer, exploring ‘my place’
These poems are full of birds, and light. The book could have been called …sonnets and seasons but light is everywhere in this collection too, illuminating the moment or its elusiveness.
Connected to this elusiveness, there is a thread about the poetry-making itself that also permeates this collection; reflection on the nature of the creative act, the failure at times to hold the moment, so in this sense some of this book is about the nature of capturing and understanding, of trying to ‘hold the moment in focus’ or the deliberateness of the opening of ‘High Summer’

The weekends drone of launches, light aircraft.
In the stream’s tumult, I trawl for images.

It’s beautifully put in ‘Storm at Low Tide’
READ p. 73 – Storm at Low Tide (I didn’t read this; it didn’t feel right on the day)
It’s a beautiful day outside, and summer is coming. It seems apt to finish with a poem that explores that time of the year. Sometimes, you aren’t looking for tracks and marks and signs of life, but for something ‘unprinted’

Read p. 59 – Sea Change

I am glad to be here, in the landscape that has ‘summoned’ these poems, and am delighted to announce Sea Wall and River Light launched into the light and air of this place.

Warrick Wynne


Written by warrick

July 11, 2011 at 3:09 pm

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