Anna Kerdijk Nicholson: Possession

Parkville: Five Islands Press, 2010, 63pp.

It is almost exactly fifty years ago that Douglas Stewart wrote, in the preface to his collection of “Voyager” poems, that “any Australian should be able to read a poem about Captain Cook or Leichhardt”. He saw these explorer narratives as both myths of origins and resonant tales that might bridge the gap between the crude but reader-attracting bush ballads of Lawson, Paterson et al and the increasingly hermetic and abstruse modern lyric. Anna Kerdijk Nicholson’s version of the Captain Cook narrative is certainly readable and probably more approachable than Slessor’s great poem (which it inevitably confronts) but it is a complicated work nevertheless.

“Five Visions of Captain Cook” was structured by a system of refractions and so, interestingly, is Possession. Instead of a simple, chronological engagement with Cook in the form of third person narrative or dramatic monologue, Kerdijk Nicholson’s work has, instead, three imagined books, interwoven so that they reflect on each other. Fourteen poems are about Cook at various stages of his career: they are second person lyrics and the fact that they continuously address Cook (“You’ve ordered the deadlights / be kept open . . .”, “You imagine the scent of South Sea fruit on your fingers”) means that they highlight the interaction between the poet and her subject, leaving us to wonder who possesses whom (for just as Slessor’s poem is moored alongside, A.S. Byatt’s novel is also in the offing). Six poems are imagined to be “Notes extracted from a lost manuscript”: these are lyric poems, meditating on what I might, if I was jaundiced enough, call post-colonial pieties and look as though, in conception, they might have been inspired by Peter Boyle’s Apocrypha. Finally, there are nine poems about the poet’s own life. These recall, to some extent, the poems of Kerdijk Nicholson’s first book, The Bundanon Cantos (another work which thinks about its structure very carefully) and, as I’ll say later, far from being intrusions of authorial egotism into the life of a distinguished subject, are actually a crucial part of the book’s structure.

The lost manuscript poems begin with an imagined definition of that problematic word “explore” suggesting that its derivation from the Latin “ex plorare” (literally “to cry outwards”) is occasioned not by the calls of a hunter, as is commonly assumed, but “possibly from the shouts of those who are objecting to being examined or investigated, whether in organised scientific manner or otherwise”. And they finish with a fine poem, “Today the distance between the threads of the net”, which concerns itself with the net – both conceptual and mensurational but also imperial – that the great voyages of discovery throw across parts of the world. These lyrics, as lyrics appended to narrative tend to, derive a lot of their power from the interesting points at which they stand: they are very oblique. “What was lost” is a list poem, looking back at Cook from the position of a more recent Polynesia, stripped of much of its culture. “Ambition is such a small thing” goes back to look at the forces that drive a man like Cook, using the language of hawthorns and hedgerows as a metaphor for the net and concentrating on issues of dimension so that the world-changing comes from the small:

It is like the pip in the haw, hard
nor is there much flesh on it.
How is it that such a small thing
once it takes hold, hedges acres in?
If hacked at the base, slit
and laid, it still binds on,
thorny, covetous bugger.

And “You, the one who stands for us” focuses on dreams which perhaps lie (the poem questions whether “desire makes dreams”) behind ambitions:

. . . . .
What you started to measure,
we have measured.
We have counted the words 
of the world.
We have catalogued ourselves,
the outcomes of your dreams.

The poems devoted to the narrative of Cook’s voyage share something of this lyric refraction in that there is very little of the continuous about them. They do not, even, as lyric versions of narrative tend to do, locate themselves around dramatic highpoints. We see Cook, in Queen Charlotte Sound, watching a shooting star or considering one of Banks’s preserved heads. The opening poem, focussing on his childhood in Yorkshire, is an extended attempt to give some kind of character portrait and focuses on Cook as someone who responds to the mysteries of the wind and sea, especially the former:

. . . . . 
wings cannot contain it, it is the science of blessings,
it comes, or not at all. It is the only thing that knows us,
all the crannies, the secret places where the caulkers
have not reached, where the weevils hide; it sees all. Changeable
as it is, it is the truth. Measure it as you will, it cannot be over-
thrown, only managed, never mastered; and it will never be told
or embraced: it will be a relentless taskmaster and will never love.

The Cook we see here is one who struggles for some kind of control – over lands, names, words and fate – but who recognises that one must, literally, “go with the flow”. To fight against the often vicious demands of this particular deity means only that you go under. It’s tempting to see, in the way the wind and the ocean are described, something of the Old Testament Jehovah and to see in Cook something of a figure like Abraham or David who is not above exploiting any gaps left between the commandments of God. But there is also the question of whether the arbitrary rule of the winds and waves is not a metaphor for greater changes in human consciousness – in this case the Enlightenment demand for knowledge and measurement. Cook might conceivably be being described here as a man who becomes great by riding, rather than fighting, great imperatives in human history – though that might make Kerdijk Nicholson’s position seem closer to that of the Tolstoy of War and Peace than she might want it to be.

Finally, there are the poems which are about the poet’s own life. I have left these till last because, in a way, they are the most interesting. They are certainly the bravest because if they were not well and cleverly done we would have the impression of a poet shoving her head into great events in history. And it would not be once (like an artist basing a minor character on himself) but continuously: “Captain Cook: My part in his story”. The issue, as it so often is, is the author’s stake in the narrative. To make a narrative really live, to become literature, the writer has to have some connection with it, long and lovingly explored. It’s one of the essential differences between literature – something which has a chance (at least while the aesthetic effect lasts) of engaging a reader’s deepest self – and mere genre fiction (skilfully written to a template) or a Writing School project. Slessor’s poem announces at least one of these connections in its famous, though perhaps throwaway, lines, “So Cook made choice, so Cook sailed westabout, / So men write poems in Australia”. Cook is the point of origin, this says, for a country which, a hundred years later, produces the poet at his desk. And though there may be a wince at the gap between the great voyager and the petty scribbler, there is also the recognition that, as Cook was a mage figure, “beating krakens off / And casting nativities of ships” so is the poet, too, a magus, a bearer of whatever magic still lives in the world.

So the essence of these poems is connectivity and resonance. The first connection that appears – though I’m not sure any of the poems exploit it – is that Nicholson was born and grew up in Cook territory: Yorkshire. When she calls him “Nuncle” in one of the lyric poems, there is an assertion of kinship and thus to be searching for the essence of Cook’s character is also to be searching for the essence of the poet’s own. Again, though it is not a connection exploited, we could say that poets are at the mercy of not winds and tides but the vagaries of words and inspiration. Perhaps, since every poet is a voyager of either the inner self or the conceptual world, this is a connection present in all poems about voyagers: it certainly appears in Stow’s wonderful poem, “The Singing Bones”, where it is the poets who understand the explorers, “They were all poets, so the poets said / Who kept their end in mind in all they wrote”. These personal poems also refer to the death of the poet’s father and the sense that the parent always lives on in the child. Many modern narratives have begun with the death of the father symbolising (as in, say, Carpentier’s Explosion in a Cathedral) the death of an ancien regime, or, quite commonly, the death of faith or of childhood. In Possession the emphasis seems to be on connections and the way in which lines of descent mean that the past (Cook) is embodied in the present. True origin narratives establish the foundational figure as a blood-relative rather than merely the origin of a culture.

At a less general level, it is clear that the poems are shaped by the connections between Cook’s world and the author’s. The earliest of these describes cleaning up after a violent storm where “entire masts of forests” have been blown down. Banks’s dogs, which make numerous appearances from the wings, connect up with the poet’s dog. “Stars, unbroken code” is a long poem built around issues of mapping and living:

. . . . . 
The wind forbids as much as rain, unlike words
it does not discriminate; whatever the syntax or
the architecture, it wants it down. In this bright
spring blue, wattle-lashing sky, its hot violent
air rotates on the ecliptic, part of some zodiac
unable to be named and I have a cartographic urge
to transect the celestial equator, to contradict the wind.

Sitting still here in my Ptolemaic universe writing text
on text . . .

Both this poem and a later one concern themselves with the poet’s essential material, words. And it is something that Cook worries about too, finding them shifting and unreliable compared with charts. The final poem about Cook, “These few words I saved for a child’s mouth”, begins with a death, goes on to deal with the gap between reality and a verbal version of reality and concludes by making Cook think about a word which is crucial to modern Australians who have inherited a situation which was begun with his voyage:

You buried Young Buchan, epileptic,
landscape artist, in the deep:
Banks moaned I must submit
to the irretrievable loss . . .
no more of Buchan’s scenes of arcadia
of which we were going to be kings.
You rage. Indeed! Boswell says
Hawkesworth brewed your journals,
published journalistic lies -
you would rather a map any day,
where truth and beauty reconcile.
You like that word reconcile:
meaning “compute”, “make amends”
and “bring together as friends”.

Though it is probably not an intended meaning here, it is hard not to imagine the author reconciling with her subject throughout this book. Possession (very beautifully produced, as are all the new books from Five Islands) is quite a triumph against the odds. It ought to be no better than the kind of thing a new enrollee in a writing course dreams up, a project needing a convenient amount of research and producing a coherent, booklength work. But actually it’s a book of true poetic engagement, a worthy modern descendant of its hoary Voyager ancestors collected fifty years ago by Douglas Stewart.

The Wagtail Series, Nos 62 – 72

Warners Bay: Picaro Press

Chris Wallace-Crabbe: The Thing Itself. Wagtail 62 (Warners Bay, NSW: Picaro)
Robyn Rowland: This Road. Wagtail 63
Philip Salom: The Family Fig Trees. Wagtail 64
Anna Kerdijk Nicholson: What was lost. Wagtail 65
Michael Sariban: The Riddle of Perfection. Wagtail 66
Anne Edgeworth: Purdie’s Meditation. Wagtail 67
David Malouf: Guide to the Perplexed. Wagtail 68
Judith Rodriguez: Manatee. Wagtail 69
Bruce Beaver: The Flautist in the Laundry (selected by Craig Powell). Wagtail 70
Lee Knowles: Lucretia. Wagtail 71
Richard Deutch: Floating the Woman. Wagtail 72

The Wagtail series comprises monthly issues of a selection of a poets’ work. Each pamphlet is exactly sixteen pages, attractively designed and uses print-on-demand technology. Unlike your reviewer, the editors allow themselves one month a year off – so eleven issues are released annually. And this series is not the limit of Picaro’s activities: they do a chapbook series and are also beginning to release reprints of books of poetry which have, in that odd phrase, fallen out of print. The sixteen-page Wagtail series can be looked at in two different ways. At the atomistic level, each little pamphlet is an introduction, successful or not, to an individual poet’s work. At the holistic level, the series makes up a kind of giant, evolving anthology of contemporary Australian poetry where everybody gets sixteen pages in the spotlight.

To take the first, first. How good an introduction to these poet’s works are these little books? It’s not always an easy question to answer. Some poets are, for example, more easily introduced in sixteen pages than others. Generally, the more multifaceted your poetry is and the longer you have been writing then the less likely it is that sixteen pages is going to be enough. And there are different types of introduction: there are those that are a sort of sampler and there are those that aspire to be a “Greatest Hits” – though I can’t think of any living poets for whom that would be a good strategy – you need to wait till the band has broken up.

Take the case, first, of Bruce Beaver. This is poetry I know well so I feel fairly confident in my judgements though, it has to be admitted, Craig Powell – who selected these poems – knows the late poet’s life and work far better than I do. In The Flautist in the Laundry (70) I miss both Beaver’s brilliant portraiture and his sense of himself as enmeshed in the creative lives of others, as part of some overall human creativity. Powell’s selection is made up of:

“Harbour Sonnet V” (from Seawall and Shoreline)
“The Flautist in the Laundry” (from Open at Random)
Letters to Live Poets V
Lauds and Plaints I
Lauds and Plaints XII
Day 7 (from Odes and Days)
Death’s Directives II
“Lady Made for Love” (from Poets and Others)
“Quiet Companion” (from Poets and Others)
“Vespers” (from Poets and Others)

I’ve bitten the bullet and constructed my own counter Beaver collection, making sure that it will fit within the confines of the Wagtail booklet:

“Under the Bridge” (from Under the Bridge)
“’Remembering Golden Bells’ and Po Chu-i” (from Under the Bridge)
“Impresario” (from Open at Random)
Letters to Live Poets XII
Lauds and Plaints XII
Ode VII (from Odes and Days)
Day 38 (from Odes and Days)
“R.M.R. Muzot 1921-1926” (from Charmed Lives)
“Late Afternoon” (from The Long Game)

Photocopying these and making up my own imitation booklet and then reading it alongside the Powell selection was revealing. Of course I think mine is the better introduction (it would be perverse if I didn’t) but my Beaver comes across as a rather “heavier” figure and my collection does miss the light but serious charm of the title poem of the Wagtail collection. Also I see that I have shamefully omitted the poet’s wife who is the subject of the first and second-last poems. My group begins (well, nearly) and ends with Po Chu-i. All told it is less domestic, a bit less human, a bit more literary. And yet there is so much Beaver that both selections are forced to omit: above all the Beaver of As It Was – surely one of the great Australian autobiographies – but also the Beaver of sexual mythology and psychology.

Philip Salom and Chris Wallace-Crabbe are difficult poets to introduce in sixteen pages. In Salom’s case this is because the best of his poems occur in a distinctive matrix. An early book like Sky Poems, for example, was made up of poems that either existed in an alternative world of the sky or involved sky in some other, less radical way. When two poems are removed from this mesh, as “Smithy’s Dream” and “Being There Perhaps, Or Not Quite” are here, the reader is left without a lot of context to help in making sense of them. Even poems which make perfect sense on their own – like the one about finding a Buddha statue in Singapore:

. . . . .
Not the knot-haired door-knocker brassy kind
or the pissy-nosed, prefect and perfect.
And never the sleek reclining Buddhas like clones
dumb on opium in Penang, counting the tiles
on the walls opposite, each tile the wise
ceramic face – of Buddha.
. . . . .

lose a lot when they lose their context: in this case an enormous, multi-faceted poem about living in Singapore.

The same could be said of “Feng / Abundance (Fullness)” a tart political poem which concludes: “when / abundance is over, auditors arrive”. This is one of a sequence of brilliant poems in A Cretive Life based on the I Ching. Somehow it looks more whimsical alone than it does in context. Perhaps the most intriguing poem is the title poem, “The Family Fig Trees”. Salom has a powerful imaginative drive that almost needs a conceptualised matrix in order to express itself as something more than just hectic rhetoric and it is almost a disorienting shock to encounter as conventional a poem as this. Salom is brilliant with the dead – “Seeing Gallipoli From the Sky” is one of the best poems in Sky Poems – and in “The Family Fig Trees” dead ancestors make a dignified appearance prepared for by a long meditation deriving from the intersection of the fig trees of the farm of his boyhood and the metaphorical idea of “family trees”.

The difficulty in the case of Chris Wallace-Crabbe derives mainly from the extent of his writing life. His first book was published nearly fifty years ago and by the time of his Selected Poems of 1995 there is only room for a handful of poems from each book. The tactic here, faced with this fecundity (and a concomitant level of variety) is to select from late in the career. The earliest poem in The Thing Itself is “The Amorous Cannibal”, the title poem of a book published when its author was over fifty. But late Wallace-Crabbe can be an exhilarating country and a small selection could do worse than act as a guide for readers venturing into it for the first time. What you get here is a small, self-contained and self-consistent little group of poems. The themes are God (the first poem describes a mobile phone ringing in a cemetery and the second is a dramatic monologue in which God thinks about his creation), reality, the dead (“Trace Elements” is a wonderful poem from the early nineties beginning “. . . but surely the dead must walk again. / They stroll most oddly in and out of / small corners of your being, optical [b]lips.”), consciousness and language, love and the self. The final poem is not “Afternoon in the Central Nervous System” with its wonderful conclusion:

. . . . .
                                        The dumb gene
says nothing at all, but sits at home in my soul
writing me still across its illiterate plan:
a singular man chewing some general cabbage,
looking out across the second millennium
and feeling as fit as a trout.

but the much more circumscribed “At the Clothesline” which in a highly formal style (that recalls early Wallace-Crabbe) faces extinction with a slightly unconvincing image of hope:

What I’d thought a fallen shirt
Under the lines, flat on the grass
Was nothing but my shadow there,
Hinting that all things pass:

That many we loved or used to know
Are dragged already out of sight,
Vanished fast, though stepping slow,
Folded into remorseless night.

My dark trace now has quit the lawn.
Everything slips away too soon,
Yet something leaves its mark here like
A rainbow ring around the moon.

David Malouf’s Guide to the Perplexed (68) is a selection whose coherence indicates that it offers one view of the poet’s work. It is an introduction to one side which, perhaps at the moment, its author feels to be the most valuable side. Here, we are generally in the world of the domestic and the unflamboyant erotic. The wildest perspectives tend to end up with a solitary individual, or a couple, in bed. The book begins with “The Comforters” – a poem which announces the transition to the adult world in which dolls are replaced by partners who feel real pain, but which also records the tendency of the childhood world to remain. And it ends with “Stars”:

. . . . .
                    From centuries

off, out of the reign
of one of nineteen pharaohs,
a planet’s dust, metallic,

alive, is sifted down,
hovers in a bright
arc upon your cheek.

Miraculous! I lean
across the dark and touch it,
you smile in your sleep.

How far, how far we’ve come
together, tumbling like stars
in harness or alone.

What is omitted are examples of Malouf in the grand manner: “Bad Dreams in Vienna”, “Report from Champagne Country”, “ A Poet among others”, “At Ravenna”, the suite “A Little Panopticon” and so on. As a sampler it is not entirely satisfactory but it is a coherent collection and does give us some sense of what must be Malouf’s judgements on his own poetry. Significantly, his most recent book, Typewriter Music, is consistent with the poems of Guide to the Perplexed though no poems from it are included.

Robyn Rowland’s This Road seems to me to be an excellent introduction to her work though it may be that the reasons behind this response are not good ones. Taken in bulk, Rowland’s work can be oppressive with its endless fixation on the history of the poet’s self. This is just my reaction of course and there are, I know, readers who find this personal nakedness brave and stimulating. But I still feel that her second book, Perverse Serenity, is no more than poetry as soap-opera or, more generically accurately (since it involves two competing loves) poetry as romance. The best of her later poetry has been a climbing out of this pit and a looking at the world which is inflected by the self but never wholly and solipsistically dominated by it. I really like the title poem about a meaningless road built by the starving Irish during the famine so that the “frugal English” could “avoid feeding the starving for nothing”, though this liking probably comes from the stony impersonality of the poem. The fury is there, as it should be. So is the wry response to the symbolic potential of a directionless road. But they seem so much more potent when the poet isn’t standing in the picture as well. There is also a wonderful poem called “Young Men” where a whole set of generalisations are made about the creatures of the title. You read it, first amazed and then outraged that anyone should make such crass (even if benevolent) statements:

. . . . .
The hearts of young men are patient and calm
not furtive or selfish as the middle aged tell us,
they share, they say “wait for me to help
I’m here and not hurrying away,
with me the job takes half the time and is half as heavy”.
. . . . .

But you finally get the point that all this derives from one young man. The leap from one young man to the whole crowd of them is an example of benevolently judging the group by the best. I may have read this wrongly but it works by injecting the self into the poem in a puzzling and fascinating way. I know that this can look like bad criticism: judging a poet’s work by what is atypical rather than facing up to what the poet chooses to do (like preferring all the Yeats poems that don’t involve Ireland) but it derives from the immediate response that This Road is a really good little book and a really good way into the poetry of Robyn Rowland.

Judith Rodriguez’ Manatee is also a good introduction. You get examples of her in her distinctive riddling mode at the beginning and end in “Is it Poetry? They Ask” and “The Line Always There”. Poems like these (one could add dozens of others) remind one how underestimatedly difficult a poet Rodriguez is, but they work poetically because of the tension between their forthright, almost bluff, tone and the slippery possible meanings that make the reader bracingly unsure of his footing. There are two examples of her slyer indirections (what I call her “this poem is not about houses” style) in “The Mahogany Ship” and “Manatee” both of which are really about poetry despite the tug of their solid, significant “topics”. And there is the much admired “Eskimo Occasion” a cross-genre piece where bringing up children in Australia is conceived as an Eskimo poem. One of the reasons Manatee is a good introduction to Rodriguez’ poetry is that it reminds us that it is still there and still demands the kind of detailed critical engagement it has never received. I always go away from her work slightly breathless with the sense that this is far more difficult (because more complex) than I had imagined.

Michael Sariban probably deserves to be better-known than he is. The blurb of his most recent book, Luxuries, is written by Philip Salom and is, unlike most blurbs, really accurate. It speaks of the poems’ “surreal epiphanies” and the way that they tend to move from inquiry through perception to “a kind of acceptance”. His best book is probably Facing the Pacific whose three sections are, more or less, built out of encounters with the sea, with the land and with darkness. And these are distinctive encounters because the slightly bluff, confident tone of the poems is always being compromised by the outside world. So “Remembering the Southern Sky”, the last poem of this Wagtail and selected from the first section of Facing the Pacific, begins:

Of course, of course it’s not the same sky
I saw with the uncluttered eyes of the young
that midsummer night I decided to sleep

alone on an empty beach . . .

but concludes:

                    And ghosts of stars still hang
frozen like spray from a cosmic speedboat;
Republican gum trees fly the Cross with no

sign of a Union Jack; and the moon keeps
ageing at the same rate as us, though we
cannot be sure of the stars.

That is a wonderful finish and exactly captures the movement from certainty to a kind of nervous acceptance that is common in Sariban.

Although many Sariban poems begin with a meeting between the poet and some aspect of the natural world, there are, in The Riddle of Perfection, two wonderful poems about the animal world. Here the confrontation is (literally) of a different order. In “Close Encounters” we are the devils in the lives of the animals who “hurl / their whatever package of fur / across our dazzling path”. In “I Hate to See Their Eyes” there are three stanzas of a kind of superior, pitying lament for the apes whose eyes express their anxiety “the brows / knitted as if over a crossword”. It is all caused by a “tiny shortfall of DNA”

that has them leaping from tree
to tree, a leopard at their heels,
falling at times like Lucifer,
but never into our dim

There is a lot of complexity here in the comparison with Lucifer and in the word “dim”. Sariban deserves, as I have said, to be better-known and he certainly deserves to be carefully read. The Riddle of Perfection contains only one poem written since the 2001 publication of Luxuries and one wishes there were more. He is the kind of poet who might well benefit from a New and Selected poems.

I have left the other booklets of this year – those by Anna Kerdijk Nicholson, Anne Edgeworth, Lee Knowles and Richard Deutch – till last not to belittle their authors but because they are poets whose work I do not know. Thus these are introductions of a quite different kind (at least for me). I had never read a word of the late Richard Deutch and I’m mildly disappointed that all the poems from his Floating the Woman come from only one of his four books – I would have liked to have had the chance to see a more representative overview. The energy of these poems seems to come out of autobiographical reminiscence – shoring fragments against ruins, perhaps. There are poems about what seems to have been a generally dysfunctional childhood in country USA and others about a cast of equally dysfunctional characters. But all this is prefaced by the fine title poem which uses the metaphor of a conjuror’s act to talk about poetry:

. . . . .
Trying to do one thing, I usually
end up doing something utterly
different, like floating a woman

or making the sentence as simple
as I can, pretending insouciance
later . . .

One would like to know more about how this plays out in the poems of this book which seem to know exactly where they are going and, though powerful, don’t have any obvious surprises either for reader or poet.

Anna Kerdijk Nicholson’s What Was Lost is made up of poems from two sequences. The first are from The Bundanon Cantos and the second from a manuscript about Cook’s voyage in the Endeavour. It is a nice balance: poems about a creative couple (even a creative site) juxtaposed with poems about a great public figure: the great navigator of the south. The cantos devoted to the Boyds are part of a complex matrix – they are introduced by pungent little statements which are put together to form the classic, thirty-six verse renga that is the opening poem. The world of art weighs heavily on this set of poems and you feel a sense of making, constructing, collaging seeping through into the poems in a way which is rare in poetry. James Cook is an altogether more difficult subject for poetry because he exists as icon of human seeking (or cipher of colonialist rapaciousness, depending on your position) and icons can only ever be seen from the outside. This leads to an inert poetry: the history of Australia’s voyager poems is an attempt to overcome this (Slessor’s “Five Visions of Captain Cook” explicitly announces that its character is an object and only the responses of others can be recorded). Cook’s interior is especially hard to penetrate both because we lack contemporary biographical material and the man himself has a bluff, none of your business, Yorkshire quality about him. Nicholson makes a good attempt, in these few poems at least, to allow the interior of Cook to be what lights up the verse, but I’m nervous about the hearty tone and the fact that the poems are written to Cook, “You feel you’re falling and jolt awake . . .”

Anne Edgeworth’s Purdie’s Meditation begins and ends with poems of travel but the real subject is the passage of time – something which, if you are (as this poet is) so old that you were a child in the depression, you would be especially sensitive to. But passing through time is a form of travelling and as the end of “Nomad” (a comic recital of the rooms the poet has slept in) says “Although journeying / continue when one can raise energy and the fare / I suspect I’m there”. Lee Knowles is also an inveterate traveller and the poems of Lucretia contain poems about the places and about the experience, especially of travel by sea. Much of this is hard-won wisdom: “it’s sometimes worthwhile going too far, too late” and “Leave / your old ways behind. / Not your old self, / you’ll need that”, but I really like the poem which contrasts the world of starched white clothes above the waterline and the more relaxed goings on that happen below the waist lines of the yachts and their owners:

. . . . .
The pens of control have the wind
by the collar tucked away
in official notes. But below
jetties these yachts tug as
they please and their owners
sleep long and late in and out
of dreaming. Their stories go
uncensored. No one can stop
too much love or murder in these
all too human vessels . . .

As I’ve said, these comprise eleven interesting introductions to a suite of very different poets. And as I’ve also said, the entire series can also be looked at as a kind of egalitarian, continually-growing portrait of what is happening in Australian poetry. Looked at from this perspective, there are, however, some notable omissions: Murray, Tranter, Adamson, Maiden, Kinsella, Wearne to list the first that come to mind. It may be that some of these poets don’t want to be part of the project or it may be that the series editors want to space the larger-calibre cannons out a little. And what about periodicity? When is it safe (and desirable) to “redo” certain poets. Eleven poets a year makes well over a hundred poets every ten years and that seems about the right number for the kind of virtual anthology I am thinking of. Perhaps after ten years, poets can be revisited and their number of poems, consequently, doubled. But by then, if everything goes well in Australian poetry, there will be so many young poets anxious to get elbow-room among what they consider to be their dreary elders that there won’t be any chance of repeat visits to these individual poets.