Sunday, 9 April 2006

Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month in the United States. Lucky United States! Do we have a Poetry Month? I don't believe so. (Maybe every month is poetry month in Australia?) Anyway, American bloggers take advantage of their extreme good April fortune by posting favourite poems on their blogs. I shall emulate them, and post some of my favourite Australian poetry.

Here is a good poem for a cold dark Sunday evening with dew spreading on the ground. Imagine yourself walking across grassy plains in the dark with your breath making steam trails and the low yellow moon pushing through clouds and bare branches, walking until it gets gradually light, walking alone through the cold day until nightfall.

Christopher Brennan is the poet. It's really a piece of a longer poem called "The Wanderer" but it is sometimes independently anthologised ; for convenience's sake it's called "No ending of the way."

The land I came thro' last was dumb with night,
a limbo of defeated glory, a ghost:
for wreck of constellations flicker'd perishing
scarce sustain'd in the mortuary air,
and on the ground and out of livid pools
wreck of old swords and crowns glimmer'd at whiles;
I seem'd at home in some old dream of kingship:
now it is clear grey day and the road is plain,
I am the wanderer of many years
who cannot tell if ever he was king
or if ever kingdoms were: I know I am
the wanderer of the ways of all the worlds,
to whom the sunshine and the rain are one
and one to stay or hasten, because he knows
no ending of the way, no home, no goal,
and phantom night and the grey day alike
withhold the heart where all my dreams and days
might faint in soft fire and delicious death:
and saying this to myself as a simple thing
I feel a peace fall in the heart of the winds
and a clear dusk settle, somewhere, far in me.

(Picture by Ron Brooks, from The Bunyip of Berkeley's Creek)


Ampersand Duck said...

We only get a week in Australia! it was the first week of September last year.

Nice use of poem & illustration (love The Bunyip!)

Did you see The Australian on the weekend? Two articles on Les Murray (written by the same person, admittedly), both of which started with the line 'Australia's Greatest Living Poet'... I like his poetry, and I'm not saying he's not good and prolific, but the hubris of such a statement makes my scalp creep.

R H said...

I like Robert Browning. But his poems are too long.

Here's a bit from My Last Duchess:

She had a heart
- how shall I say -
Too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed;
She liked whate'er she looked on,
And her looks went everywhere.

It's more prose than that; I've had to chop it up a bit (capitalise letters).

Anyway the whole poem is good. So is Childe Roland.
I like the drama.

Helen said...

Yes, every month in Australia is poetry month, because we have Royalauto magazine. And Dolly. (The magazine, not the foreign minister, although I wouldn't mind betting he likes to whip up a poem or two in between embarrassing the government.)
It keeps the poetry comin'.

R H said...

This might interest you, I got a secondhand paperback from Savers: The Australian Book of Lists. (Published 1980)

It's enormously interesting. For instance, there's the Ten Most Famous Australian Crimes. Gough Whitlam's Ten Australian Politicians Who Have Had Most Effect Upon The Country (eight of whom happen to be Labor)
And I like this one: The Ten Most Common Reasons Given For Being Jobless.

And there's this: David Stratton's List Of The Worst Australian Movies Of All Time.

Here's Number 2:

Journey out of Darkness. 1967
Starred Ed Devereux and Kamal.

"A turgid drama that would have been offensive were it not absurd to see Ed Devereux and Kamal playing aborigines."

That's what he said. But I get the feeling teenage girl Pomeranz would be a little more POSITIVE!

But anyway it's something I'd definitely go and see.
You don't get many laughs nowadays.

Lucy Tartan said...

I'd go see it too, and then I'd write a poem about it and send it to Dolly. Helen, do you mean there is poetry in Royalauto (not of the Surrealist aleatory variety)? All those years I've been throwing it straight in the recycling. I like Robert Browning too, though I'm surprised that "Porphyria's Lover" isn't more your cup of tea, RH.

I don't often read the weekend Australian, Duck, but I've seen some of the press about Les Murray's new book. It must place him in a slightly difficult position to be always introduced as Australia's top poet. If it meant in an evaluative way, ie that Murray is Australia's BEST poet, then it's obviously just foolish (and skin crawly, yes.) But don't you think there is a kind of justice in acknowledging the significance of his career? Not many Australian writers manage to do what he's done, let alone poets....I guess I'm saying it's just journalese, not to be taken to heart.

Lucy Tartan said...

Ampersand, did The Bunyip of Berkeley's Creek figure in your childhood?

And what about Bumblebee's? - is it still a book that children like?

Hil said...

I really liked The Bunyip of Berkley's Creek when I read it to my kids, probably more for the drawings than the story. It must have been a mammoth task to do all the tiny lines that make up those illustrations. I think it was Ron Brooks that did Aranea (the one about a spider) in much the same style, except in black and white - quite arresting when picture books are so colourful usually. And did he also do the illustrations for John Brown, Rose, and the Midnight Cat? I always liked that because it was a bit mysterious, not spelt out.

I thought I commented on the purple vegetable earlier today, but can't see it now - maybe I was dreaming!

R H said...

Thank you Miss Laura. I had to look that poem up.
And I'll tell you this, it is not Browning at all - it is Edgar Allan Poe! Okay? So there's some controversy for you! Tell your professors.


And Miss Laura, I haven't been to see Capote yet, but I'm trying very hard.

-And Miss Laura, Jack the Ripper's letters to the London Metropolitan Police are my cup of tea.

-With two sugars and a twist of lemon.



Lucy Tartan said...

I pulled Aranea out of the bookshelf last night, and it is by the same people as the Bunyip - Jenny Wagner wrote, and Ron Brooks illustrated.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Laura, do you mean you have other candidates for 'best poet', or just that you think any such judgement is silly? I'm guessing the latter, but If the former, who would your contenders be?

Thanks for reminding me of that Christopher Brennan. Those last two lines have always had roughly the same effect as a double Laphroiag (no ice or water) in the middle of a crisis. Not that Brennan would've countenanced Scottish single malt for a nanosecond.

Lucy Tartan said...

Not to make heavy work of this but I don't have a candidate for No. 1 best Australian poetry. I do think making that kind of call is utterly pointless, and my acquaintance with Australian poetry is really shallow anyway, so I wouldn't even say I had a personal favourite Asutralian poet. Just favourite poems.

From a slightly different perspective I think it's good to give public recognition to poets who plug away at their poetry for decades on end, and who do it in public, vernacular sort of way - not all poets want to write for the community at large. Sort of distinguished public service type stuff. I don't know if that's what the writer who Duck was referring to had in mind, though.

Lucy Tartan said...

And about Brennan: the Clive James article linked to under Brennan's name (it's a review of Axel Clar's biography of Brennan) is quite snarky about the poetry. I felt a bit ashamed of my lack of discernment when I read it. The poems of his I've read I never suspected of being obscure, or overdecorated, or a bit inauthentic, pseudo romantic or any of those things. The Wanderer is perfectly understandable and not phoney. What more to say?

Anonymous said...

That James piece is a good illustration of the fact that he is a brilliant popular culture witmonger, but badly constipated when he tries to be serious. He is like a huge undercooked Mittel-European dumpling when it comes to opera.

Interesting that he still retains that Brennan article, written nearly a quarter of a century ago. I think it reflects a time in his life when he was having difficulty reconciling the academic and populist parts of his nature.

Since then he has created a much sweeter combination; I think this is a function of practice, cut with the middle way of his autobiographical books. That essay, its paragraphs all crumpled and doughy inside, predates all his books.

In about the same year he came up with one of the best descriptions I have ever heard. Talking of the theme music for some mock-Greek series, he said it "sounded like the theme to Star Wars played through a washing machine backwards." So much better than anything in that article.

Lucy Tartan said...

Anon, that's very interesting! Thank you.

My take on the article is: it's prose is frighteningly stylish and accomplished, but the criticisms it makes of Brennan's poetry are not adequately moored in that mellifluous language. It is criticism that sounds good. The thing is sometimes this sort of criticism is actually defensible and accurate and well-founded, but the critic hasn't showed how they worked it out, so you can't follow their reasoning. You're asked to trust their intelligence alone.

All this is a bit by the bye maybe since he's actually reviewing a biographyin that linked article, not exactly talking directly about Brennan's poetry.

Like you say, when the issue is balancing popular and scholarly impulses sometimes it's hard to know how much demonstration is needed. I would hope though that a better solution is to try for demonstrations that aren't plodding and lifeless. Maybe that's where he's got to now, if I follow you rightly. I'm a bit curious about his current book because the idea of Recognition figures fairly largely in my research - I borrowed it from the philosopher Stanley Cavell.

I like James's immortal phrase about the Governor of California - like a condom full of walnuts. That's a gorgeous, gorgeous image.

genevieve said...

Clive's own poetry isn't that bad either. So he has something to write from which doesn't necessarily involve criticism.
Brennan is a tad flowery, but he is still remarked upon because there were hardly any other Symbolists on the ground in Australia at the time, and he and Prof Chisholm were the Mallarmé fan club of the time.(I have some fragments of Mallarmé shored against my ruins, but I like Richard E.Grant as well. Go figure.)