Warrick Wynne’s Poetry Pages

reading, writing and the connections

New Voices

Facing the Moon – Andy Kissane
SCARP Productions / Five Island Press Associates 1993
(ISBN 1 875604 10 3, pb, 32 pp. $)

From the Other Woman – Jennifer Compton
SCARP Productions / Five Island Press Associates 1993
ISBN 1 875604 09, pb, 32 pp. $)

To Die of Desire – Nick Mansfield
SCARP Productions / Five Island Press Associates 1993
ISBN 1 875604 13 8 , pb, 32 pp. $)

The Sailor on the Point of Going Overboard – Ian Saw
SCARP Productions / Five Island Press Associates 1993
ISBN 1 875604 14 6, pb, 32 pp. $)

The Ground Slides Away – Carolyn Gerrish
SCARP Productions / Five Island Press Associates 1993
ISBN 1 875604 12, pb, 32 pp. $)

The Long Drowning – Melissa Curran
SCARP Productions / Five Island Press Associates 1993
ISBN 1 875604 11 1, pb, 32 pp. $)

When the going gets tough, the tough get inventive, and Five Islands Press are to be congratulated on managing to get six new poets into the marketplace at a time when poetry publishing seems on shaky ground. Their response is the release of a series of thirty-two page poetry ‘pamphlets’ in conjunction with Scarp magazine.

One of the things I liked about these attractive looking ‘pamphlets’ or poetry booklets was the variety of voices produced and promoted. There is no sense here of a ‘line’ to be adhered to and thirty-two pages was enough to create a sense of a voice, and do justice to a new poet. Here I hope to give something of the flavour of these voices, all of which have something to offer.

Melissa Curran’s ‘The Long Drowning’ contains a number of inward looking poems, taut and unsentimental of love and lust, with a certain vulnerability always apparent. Her women seem injured, with ‘bruised legs’, broken and broken-hearted. Some of these poems are set in Europe but the real subject is the heart, blood, death and love mixed in a cold cocktail of loss and parting. There is a restless anxiety in these urgent offerings, nerves jangling, jerkily alive; ‘i can hear the brittle pitch of my skin’. Often Curran’s subject is addictive destructive relationships about to end. She can also be incisive and self-perceptive, though rarely as light or as distanced as this:

i crawled in through her bathroom window:
it’s me or her, i said to him, and he chose her.
it was difficult to make a dignified retreat.

More often Curran’s poems are strong and bleak and hurt, full of images of blood and water and the physical body:

my body is a town; it is occupied
elle est collaboratrice!
shave my head, call in the americans
to liberate the town. october ends
like this: with a terrible smile
and a clean womb.

There is more variety though perhaps less intensity in the voices Carolyn Gerrish creates in ‘The Ground Slides Away’. She is also more likely to speak of the things we encounter outside the self: the city, movies, encounters with others. She creates powerful images at times, often of disease or injuries or a lack of completeness, ‘guilt following / like a club foot’ or ‘out on Macquarie / Street where people bolt out of buildings / clasping their x-rays.’ There is a lack of communication at the heart of this world and loss, loneliness and pain are always possible. As in Curran’s work, women seem in danger: ‘you hear a scream over the water’ and ‘a woman cries for help / wrists running’. There is a sense of edgy vulnerability created in these thirty-two pages an awareness of pain and of our prickly existence: ‘being watched makes me nervous’ There is a also a dream-like quality at times so that the poems often work as metaphors as well as having a nightmarish reality:
you open the back door
a black mastiff
(the hounds of hell aren’t quiet in the south)

leaps –
framing your door
like an illustration from Grimm.’

If there is a certain unease in both Gerrish and Curran’s worlds, then Nick Mansfield’s ‘To Die of Desire’ may explain something of that feeling. I found these meditations upon violence and desire from a male perspective disturbing and unlikeable. Still, there is a kind of awful power in the spooky, unsettling voice that Mansfield creates. Death and desire co-exist in uneasy images of violence occurring just off the page, ‘And something floating to the top of the tank’. Several long poems here introduce something of a narrative element with internal monologues exploring disturbed minds, dreams and the ‘perfect form of the eleventh commandment – / “Thou Shalt be Cruel.” ‘ Through the effective use of repetition Mansfield creates a frightening world of violence and obsession and a voice that moves and worries, desire and death too closely connected for any comfort:

Yes, there was something in the water.
There she was, lying in the water, her
swimming costume all torn, her big breasts
hanging out, just like in the picture –

I found Ian Saw’s more discursive and colloquial, ‘The Sailor on the Point of Going Overboard’ a welcome relief from Mansfield’s dark and obsessive world though few of Saw’s poems are so confronting. Saw’s is a more relaxed voice, observing and commenting on contemporary events as different as the death of Fred Hollows, ‘This is to say / goodbye / to a rough diamond’ to war trials, ‘It is something more / than vengeance / this / search for proof’ This is often episodic poetry, slightly romantic and traditional in perspective, like ‘The Man in the Yard-wide Hat’ where a farmer is described trying to save his dying sheep:

Is he thinking of his sheep?
Is he thinking of his lost cheque?
these questions are too harsh
he is just a man under his hat
in a landscape
too large with mud
and sagging sheep.

Saw brings a distance and wit to his thirty-two pages, avoiding the politically correct, and somehow managing to defend both men and foxes! There is some ‘men’s talk’ here, images of cricket and ‘blondes’ and women with ‘perfect legs’ but beyond that there is an almost elegaic sense of loss in poems on ageing and on slipping beyond love that make this a very readable selection.

Andy Kissane is another confident poet delighting in love and the senses and the words to describe them. ‘Facing the Moon’ is an lively book too, of people and episodes and travel with the poet most often the observer: ‘I keep to myself. I watch the funny looking / squirrels and the bats hanging in their tar coats.’ Kissane is more than capable of recording the arresting moment. Like the Irish drummer boy whose ‘stare has the intensity of a drinker / who lines up beers before closing / and the veiled innocence of a pressurized can.’ Kissane is good on memories too, especially of childhood and adolescence, ballroom dancing at school for example, or from the title poem of love on the cricket pitch:

The smell of damp grass, the Saucepan like a halo,
the sense of place and timing I had then,
kissing my love on the school yard cricket pitch
as the Moon bowled unchanged from the Nursery end.

Jennifer Compton’s background is in play writing and her talkative, expansive poems in ‘From the Other Woman’ are evidence of these skills. Many of the successes here are poems that create voice and personae quickly and effectively. Some speak too of writing plays: ‘I only feel alive in rehearsal / sitting at the back of the front / watching the actors my actors breathing moving speaking’, while others create situations and episodes, like the memorable title poem with its scene-setting and stage directions, ‘from the other woman left under the pillow’:

…he is a lovely man has a lovely thing smiles with his eyes & mouth
you saw him first but I would have if I’d been there
he is a lovely man sweet as honey his thing is plums & rose petals
I know all their is, you know, about him, know about you

This is a book with speaking voices trying to make contact, speaking to others or capturing the moment of apartness, always aware of the difficulties, and falling back sometimes to tears and grief but never doubting the communal nature of the problem: ‘We are all people who have been to the moon / & back again – now we can’t work, or talk / to a world that slowly goes nowhere’.

Six new poetry pamphlets, six new voices. All with something to say. I remember someone saying recently that the house of poetry has many rooms. Well, Five Islands Press have just put on an extension. We’ll here more from some of these poets I’m sure.

Copyright – Warrick Wynne

This review originally appeared in The Australian Book Review.


Written by warrick

July 11, 2011 at 3:44 pm

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