David Malouf: Typewriter Music

St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 2007, 82pp.

Reviewers of this new book of poems by David Malouf have spoken of the gap of twenty-seven years between it and the earlier First Things Last, as though Malouf had been in a kind of poetic wilderness and had, now an old man, returned to his first love. In doing so they have, of course, neatly omitted the thirty-odd poems that come at the end of the 1992 Selected Poems (UQP). But that doesn’t stop a reader still going looking for continuities between Typewriter Music and First Things Last. And we should expect continuities given Malouf’s insistence on seeing the phenomena of existence (including, presumably, poems) more as parts of a continuum than in self-contained species (or genres).

Initially we want to say, of course, that all these poems inhabit the same universe: the universe of dream-realities, music, breath, transformation and mysterious and often homely angels who slide from one world to the next with equivocal annunciations: a universe that we need, increasingly, to call Maloufian. We meet different aspects of it in almost all of Malouf’s poems, of course, but from this new book a little poem,“Ombrone”, will serve as an example:

Of trees their lucent shadow
on water, each leaf

remade, tumultuous drops
of light coalescing.

To be at once
in two minds and the crossing

made without breaking
borders, this

the one true baptism, flames
by water

undoused, and sound by silence,
each rinsed leaf stirred

by a giant’s
breathing, deep underground.

Watching the reflection of leaves in the river provokes a meditation about living in two worlds and the crossing is made by immersion (baptism) rather than opening a door. It is an effortless crossing that celebrates the act rather than focusing on the existence of a threshold. A magical state is reached in which the water does not douse the flames of the autumnal leaves and the underwater silence does not quiet the rustling that the air version of the leaves has. The work of a great many poets is built around two-world binaries: life and art, experiment and tradition, free verse and formal verse, and so on, but Malouf is consistently concerned with the interpenetration of these binaries, the kind of effect we get when we look out of a window and see our own image interpenetrate the landscape. “Ombrone” isn’t, however, an entirely comfortable poem (at least in my reading) because it goes on to ask what, in the reflected world, causes the movement of the leaves. The final stanza provides a kind of answer perhaps by deduction or even by intuition. This introduction isn’t really the place to go hammering out whether the giant is simply a more sinister inhabitant of the other world or whether he represents a kind of geological underlay for the culture of the region, seen in what Malouf calls “the long view” of history, a perspective that drastically foreshortens evolutionary time. I simply want to make the point that we ourselves, reading Malouf’s poetry, re-enter a familiar though mysterious world.

This raises the first of a series of questions that, regrettably, I’m not really able to answer. Is the Maloufian universe present in the first poems of his first book? If we asked the author this, I suspect he would say that the seed of this view of the world is present in “Interiors” and Bicycle and that the later books should be seen not as a detailing and exploiting this world but rather discovering what is happening as it evolves. At any rate, one possibly minor but still intriguing continuity between First Things Last and Typewriter Music can be found in a sense of syntactic play. For all the splendour of those late odes in First Things Last, (“Ode One”, “An Die Musik”, “Ode”) there is just the slightest touch of flaccidity about them. They give the impression that they draw the energy that sustains them from an implicit and friendly nod of agreement from the reader – they deploy the word, “we”, in a way that suggests this. But the final poem, “Ode: Stravinsky’s Grave”, is really rather different, not least in the way, when it speaks of “we”, it means two precise individuals: the poet and his companion. Above all, it is full of puns and sly jokes which rely on syntax and enjambment. Unlike the other odes, which seem to be aspiring to “the longer breath / of late works”, here the lines are short and choppy and hence play against the syntax in a quite dissonant way – recalling Stravinsky himself, I suppose, who is, musically, a long way from late Schubert. Take the poem’s middle section:

                    We stay among the dead,
observing how the twentieth century
favours the odd
conjunction and has made

strange bedfellows. (Not all of us
would rejoice at the last trump
to discover we’d been laid
by Diaghilev). The parting

bell tolls over us,
and those who can, and we
among them, re-embark.
The weather’s shifted

ground so many times
in minutes, it might be
magic or miracle and you the day’s
composer as you are

the century’s, though at home among
immortals. We go back
the long way via the dead
silence of the Arsenal, its boom

raised, its big guns open
-mouthed before the town
.       . . . . .

Of course there is nothing worse than explaining jokes but “laid” and “boom” are punned on and the line break after “dead” means we temporarily read the sentence wrongly but in a way that makes sense: we go back past the dead. Since a double meaning of sorts is created this too is a pun. You don’t meet much of this playfulness in the poems at the end of the two selected poems of 1991 (A&R) and 1992 (UQP), perhaps because they are very much poems about local places: Campagnatico and Brisbane, but you do meet some very odd syntax that would repay careful studying. How, for example, could a great poet like Malouf tolerate a piece of stuffy neo-classicism like “as a spyglass finds when sun with dry thatch meddles” – not apparently intended as comic pastiche? And what on earth do these lines from “A Place in Tuscany” mean:

                between deaths

the coffin-maker croons,
from the same plank fashions
beds; in time these few
unchanging things assume
a village street is peopled,
as year after year and down through
the same names called

as night comes on and planets
hang  . . . . .

Our knowledge of Malouf’s poetry enables us to see that the word “assume” is used not as a synonym for “presume” but in the meaning of “take on” so that the recurring bedrock experiences of Tuscan life are – when seen from that foreshortened perspective that Malouf loves – gradually covered in progressively more civilized forms. But it is not a sentence that I could parse with any confidence.

The first poem of Typewriter Music, “Revolving Days”, is playful but not especially unusual syntactically. Recalling a lover of his youth, Malouf hastens to assure him No, don’t worry, I won’t appear out of that old time to discomfort you. And no, at this distance, I’m not holding my breath for a reply. All readers of Malouf will know of his obsession with the contiguity between different worlds. In itself this is not an uncommon idea – it may well the basis of most modern science-fiction – but Malouf is distinctive in his attempts to reduce the significance of the threshold, to argue that a spectrum of worlds exists and the act of crossing is not in itself especially important. Generally he is not a “dramatic” writer in that he doesn’t exploit the uncanny effect of sudden appearances from another dimension – such as happens in the first book of the Iliad when Athene appears behind Achilles, unseen by everyone else, and grasps him by the hair (surely a reference to the spine-tingling effects either of the numinous or, in my reading, the existence of a creature from the different dimension). And yet there are great dramatic moments in An Imaginary Life, especially when the centaurs appear in a dream, demanding to be let into Ovid’s life. In “Revolving Days” Malouf is visited by an image of himself from the past and knows that his lover of that period must be in the next room. It is a wittier and much more sophisticated poem than it would be if the lover stepped through a door to the past and confronted him: instead Malouf assures the lover that he will not be making any sudden incursions into the lover’s current world “to discomfort you”, Malouf himself will not act the part of one of the homely angels that we meet so often in Malouf’s world. I think this is a quite brilliant and unexpected inversion.

Many of the poems in the first dozen pages of the book are about love. “Moonflowers” is a good example and could, conceivably be a gloss on “Revolving Doors”

Gone and not gone. Is this
garden the one
we walked in hand in hand
watching the moon
-flower at the gate

climb back into our lives
out of winter bones - decades
of round crimped candescent
origami satellite-dishes
all cocked towards Venus?

One garden opens
to let another through, the green
heart-shapes a new season holds
our hearts to like the old.
The moonflower lingers

in its fat scent. We move
in and in and out of
each other’s warmed spaces -
there is
no single narrative.

And we like it that way,
if we like it at all, this
tender conceptual
blue net that holds, and holds us
so lightly against fall.

It is a small, wonderful poem and very enjoyable to get to know. It is not at all portentous but says a lot. And one could speak at great length about the syntactical playfulness that is going on inside it. I don’t want to state the obvious here but at the end of the first stanza it is only the hyphen on the next line that prevents us reading that the moon (noun) flowered (verb) at the gate. Similarly the word “climb” at the opening of the second stanza shows us that “at the gate” is a prepositional phrase modifying the noun “moon-flower” rather than the verb “flower” ie is adjectival not adverbial. And then there is the third stanza which is, initially, quite disorienting because the syntactic shape is not immediately obvious: it is the new season which, like the old, holds our hearts to the green heart-shaped buds that come with the season’s new incarnation. And then there are the little games: in the first stanza the first “in” modifies “walked” and the second is part of the phrase “hand in hand” but, put together, it enables the writer to write “in hand” twice. You get the same effect in the fourth stanza were, although it is perfectly good English, Malouf can write a line made up of minuscule words: “in and in and out of”.

There are two issues here. The first is the question of whether this is new in Malouf’s work. I think it is, although it is possible that there are some less well-known poems from earlier books that do something similar. The second is the question of why it is being done. This is a bit harder but my own feeling is that this play is a way of generating energy for the poem. We are not in the mimetic free-verse tradition where the shape of the poem, in ways either sophisticated or banal, mimics something in the subject. I think we are in a world where the poem derives energy from this play – but it is a much more sophisticated energy than the kick-along given verse by regular enjambment. Conceivably there are more sophisticated answers: Perhaps the solution is a superior kind of mimesis in that in a universe where borders are less significant than a process of continuous transformation, the objects too should be slightly ambiguous, as though they were seen simultaneously from different perspectives or as though they could be verbs as well as nouns. Criticism of Malouf’s body of poetry will have to get a long way along before we can really be sure what is going on here.

In these first poems, “Typewriter Music” introduces us to the typewriter which, like the bicycle of Malouf’s first full book, is an angel in the form of a strange and spidery machine and “First Night” is a love poem about the morning after. It comes with a theatrical reference in the title and a strong focus on continuity:

. . . . .
                                                  It is always
                    a high room we climb to. The pears
might be garden tools, the laundry hay, the ironing board an angel
     disguised by birthday wrappings; the same
          breath goes out, not always visible,
to join them.

It also reminds us that the most commonly repeated significant word in this collection is “breath”, a concept that needs quite a bit of analysis. “First Night” is not unlike “Recalled” in that both deal with the moment of wakening with the lover in the morning – the middle ages devoted an entire genre, the aubade or morgenlied, to this. And there is an echo of Tristan here, and in an odd poem, “As It Comes”, in the sense that day is a rather brusque (oede) affair compared with the experiences (and perspectives) of the night. Again, there is a “joke” in the syntax of the last stanza of “Recalled”:

. . . . .
We move towards waking,
break clear of the spell
whose moonlit skin contained us
sleeping, love-making,
into stretch, into flow again,

reincarnate, as shy
by day, the rare night creatures
we turned to in each other’s
arms go padding
away in our blood.

That they turn “to in” is the inverse of what we want or expect to read – “into in”. One boundary has been broken – each turns into a night creature – but the poem is written so that the individuals experienced their new identity as they see it in the other. Not a funny joke but, like the inversion of “Revolving Days” an enriching and complexifying piece of play.

In my reading of Typewriter Days, this first section of the book concludes with two poems that are about flying. One, “Flights”, tells us as much in its title, and is made up of a poem about taking off, a poem about going for a joyflight and a poem about arriving. If one wanted to enter full, speculative hermeneutical mode, one might guess that the state of the joyflight, that of spinning but not necessarily getting anywhere spatially, is a symbol of the kind of playful elements in the poetry that I have been speaking of. Fittingly the poem is one sentence, full of syntactic swoops and swirls with a trick enjambment at the end of the second last stanza:

A light plane loop-the-looping
over sallow hills, all
its rivets snugged in

and singing; its beaten thin
quicksilver skin beaded
with cloud-lick, its hollow

spaces a brimful hum,
the pressure inside
and out in an equilibrium

true as the laws
of this world allow, a new
nature in the nerve-ends

reached or recovered, in
the shallows of the skull,
and the tilt, as they right themselves,

of road, fence, powerline,
horizon, a draft
of the way things are and were

to be, the long view still
breathtaking as earth
bumped in after the spin.

The second poem, “Millenium”, is about the planes launched into the twin towers and seeks to balance despair with “the ordinary comfort // of loaves / and a rising”. This public subject is coated in obliquity (including an allusion to Eliot’s “Little Gidding”) so dense that it takes the reader a while to orient himself, to realize that the “dusty text” is a copy of the Qur’an somewhere in a madrasseh in Pakistan and the shoe is that of the “shoe-bomber”:

The fire that starts in a dusty text in one part of the globe
is a shoe that flies to pieces in another

The angel’s song caught like a wish-bone in the throat

Unspooled and spilling
in the dark, quicksilver jump-cuts tilt and scurry

Hands folded in prayer

Wings of the metal dove that without preamble slides its thunder
into head after glassy head

Four of the next five poems, “Like Our First Paintbox”, “”˜Poetry Makes Nothing Happen’”, “Reading Late at Campagnatico” and “Making” are about creativity and the status of the created object, a thing “which Nature had not thought / to add but once / there cannot do without”. At the centre of this group is an odd poem, “At The Ferry”. The poet, accompanied by sinister voice comes to the end of the ramp to the ferry:

. . . . .
Close by, either
behind or close ahead,
damped in the dampened air,
music. “This is
the last thing you will hear,” the stranger
whispers. His last word.

I stand and listen.
approaches. A silence approaching music.

It is really hard to get a grip on the situation here. On the surface it reads like an invitation to suicide, a kind of rewriting of “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”. The point would then be that the refusal to suicide is based not on the call of “promises to keep”, that is, of the social world which words deal with, but of the world of artistic creativity. I think an early line “I come with empty pockets” could be read as a warning that this is not the intended meaning – “I don’t come, like Virginia Woolf, with pockets filled with stones.” And the poem’s setting amongst this group of poems about creativity suggests that we should read it as one of those liminal experiences – land projects into water, silence meets music – from which poems arise. But I can’t help being struck by the last two lines – they use the kind of playfulness I find throughout this book to do something sophisticated. “A silence approaching music” means, first, that there is a silence which is almost musical in its intensity (an echo of the opening of “Ode: Stravinsky’s Grave”), but since the silence also approaches the speaker, it can suggest that music (whose location the poem keeps deliberately vague) is present in the speaker. It is not unlike that clever ambiguity in Wordsworth’s The Prelude, where the “solemn imagery” of the mountains is received “into the bosom of the steady lake”. On the surface, “bosom” is metaphorical but there is an implied second meaning where “lake” is metaphorical: the landscape is taken in, simultaneously, by both boy and lake and thus, by implication, the location they share is each other.

The next six poems also make a little structured group. A translation from Latin is followed by a translation from Rimbaud and is followed by a poem with a medieval setting and then the trio is repeated. The first is a set of seven translations of Hadrian’s “Animula vagula blandula” called “Seven Last Words of the Emperor Hadrian”. Of course it is seven versions of Hadrian’s last words (which is a nineteen word poem) rather than his seven last words. It is a small joke but it does make us look for the actual last word of Hadrian which turns out to be “iocus” – joke. The last of these poems, “Psalter”, is about the way in which a text has a complicated history – of invasion and then settlement – behind it. It represents a kind of door to an historical world but it also enables Malouf to do here what he does in the next poem – the eight part “The Long View” – which is to take a compressed view of history. Seen from an almost infinite distance, history gets squashed so that we can discern its outlines better. And these outlines can be patterns of repetition as well as evolution. The first of these is “Straw”:

To be spun out of gold
into gold. In summer fields
temples, pyramids,

in the swallow’s bill mud-makings
of empire. A flute
for the god’s mouth leading

bare feet down
from trampled light to chambers
centuries underground.

The process whereby seeds produce plants which produce more seeds as well as straw is, in the “long view” no more than straw producing straw, though the allusion to Rumpelstiltskin ensures that we find the connection between straw and gold to be not unexpected. And in these fields buildings blossom in fast motion as do religious beliefs.

This long view of history can produce evolutions which become so quick that they are not far from being doors in their own right. In “Moment: Dutch Interior” seven brief stanzas delineate that distinctive world of apparently solitary and absorbed subjects that marks out classic Dutch painting. It is full of “the specific / gravity of the moment” – that is both specificity and gravitas – and the

          radiance with which
she fills it.

The absence
of another. Of others.

But the final stanza, unusually dramatic for Malouf, reminds us that, in the long view, this quintessentially Western civilized interiority has evolved from a world of hunting:

Thin as
a sliver of glass
a shriek from an animal-trap sprung in the grass.

The long view may also be the perspective behind “Allemande” where civilization is represented as a dance but it is a dance in which the reflection of the dancers in the floor becomes an image of the “ghost legions / of the dead they will one day // augment”. So the present is seen as a version of the past from which it has evolved.

The last thirty or so pages of Typewriter Days is introduced by an imaginary eleven-page letter from Mozart to his librettist da Ponte. It is structured as a kind of cantata with three poems interspersed throughout the prose passages. The letter is a meditation on music and language cast as a defence of the music of Don Giovanni, Mozart and da Ponte’s “dramatic joke”, in which, at the climax, a semi-human angel of death appears to invite Giovanni to join him in his, the angel’s, world. Opera is a Maloufian obsession (he has been a librettist four times himself) and so the coat of an imaginary letter from Mozart to da Ponte is lightly worn: early on it speaks of the ordinary world as being made up of such distractions as “cats, clouds, cars, tears, opinions”. It begins by differentiating between music and words: the former an abstract, self-referential language but also an innocent one, the language of Eden before the fall; the latter the language of temporality and the world of things, events and narratives. But music, like the Gods, longs to enter the contingent world of humanity and out of this marriage of the two languages, opera is born. But Don Giovanni is not any old opera and Mozart’s letter goes on to speak of his desire to allow a third language to emerge, the language of a reality that pre-exists both music and words, the pitch “at which most of the universe exists, but I had to lower it a little, tease it out, translate it back into what is accessible to our human ears”. There is a wonderful description of Mozart’s pinching of the singer of Zerlina’s part (a moment in which this other “music” is heard) when the Don (a modern version of a roving-eyed Jupiter) is described as being shocked, as though a god “out of an older opera had cut in and stolen a march on him”. The work’s three poems are not easy but seem to represent, successively, the human desire to reach up to a transcendent world (our falling can be graceful); the desire of the natural world to become part of our “game”; and the way in which, in opera, the fictional and the real meet (or at least approach each other) on the stage leaving us with “news of transformation / – our own, and a tune to whistle / in the dark of the tomb.”

The other two poems of this last part of the book that call for some comment are the sequences “An Essay on Angels – the short version” and “Into the Blue”, the former made up of six poems and the latter, four. “An Essay on Angels” begins with first apprehensions and progresses chronologically from there. The first poem which begins:

Have never seen one but being
curious am always
on the lookout, as I was
in childhood for white horses. Those

I did see . . .

And logic tells us that the “those” can only refer to white horses while the poetic logic of the passage desperately wants us to equate it with angels. Even here we meet the playful syntax that is such a feature of this book when the third verse says:

Do I recall
the first, and having
before that none
to go by, how I knew it? Will I again?

This is a bit like Henry James with enjambments. But the crucial feature of this sequence is the way that these mystical annunciations of the ordinary extraordinary evoke sexuality. We begin to think, allowing our own thoughts to run along their rails, that you can’t really talk about other worlds, entering other universes, meeting angelic messengers and so on without talking about the erotic. The angel of the cryptic second poem could come from a renaissance painting but could also be a lover:

Restless. A haystack
of jubilant straws, muscle,
wingtip the fools

of flight. Restless. Eyelid
and nerve, all quick flame, curl,
ear-whorl, heel uplifted.

Stillness only
in the eye of this storm, as
subdued by gravity,

it weighs
the flesh and its surprises.
Attending on the world.

And the meeting with the angel in the fourth poem – no matter how uplifting the intention – is couched in the language of being picked-up:

half-kneeling to unlatch

his shoe, not even needing
to smile for you to get
the message, and no exchange
of names, just This

 is for you, I think . . .

Typewriter Music is disarmingly frank about love as experience (the fact that it opens with “Revolving Days” establishes this), but here eroticism is reduced to a kind of undercurrent as though it is yet another joke which po-faced readers may miss.

There is not much eroticism in “Into the Blue”, but it is about undercurrents, being one of those Malouf poems set in Deception Bay. In fact it recalls “Asphodel” from Neighbours in a Thicket in it’s desire to enter the water and experience the other which eventually became us. When it says of the bay, “Our limbs / emerged out of its salt”, there is an important meaning beyond the superficial one of finishing one’s swim:

. . . . .
When the moon blazed a track
     across it we were tempted. Only
our breath, only our need

for the next breath constrained us.
     It was our other selves
that tried it,

in sleep. And arrived
     safely. And never did
get back.

The second poem is a beautiful description of the perception of distance (between the local and the stars) simultaneously established and then dissolved when the speaker stamps on the wet sand and produces galaxies and the third poem, about rock pools, speaks the same language of the effortless and non-destructive crossing of a threshold that recalls “Ombrone” when it describes the surface as “glass you could put a fist through / unbloodied”.

Malouf is a great poet and Typewriter Music is a book worthy of his genius. Reading him is a potent and distinctive experience which can, oddly enough – and I doubt that I am the first to say this – mimic the very experiences that Malouf describes. For example we feel ourselves to be in a world which is familiar and distinctive but we are not confident that we know it exhaustively. There are always areas that we don’t feel entirely comfortable about – I could construct, for example, a nightmare in which I was faced with an examination question which said: “Describe the role played by, and evaluate the significance of, breath in Typewriter Music”. Sorry – the best I could do would be some incoherent notes delivered with a false show of confidence. There are also plenty of doors that lead to logical extensions of the ground plan of this world. At the same time we feel that the author is such a friendly and inclusive voice that his arm is always around our shoulders and he can’t really understand our problems: like someone trying to show you the face of Christ in a drawing of the clouds: since your incomprehension is incomprehensible all he can do is keep saying “Look, look.” But, whatever the difficulties and uncertainties, learning how to walk, no matter how unsteadily, in the Maloufian world, is a vital and essential experience for any reader.

Dimitris Tsaloumas: Helen of Troy

St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 2007, 99pp.

In Falcon Drinking (1988) and The Barge (1993), Dimitris Tsaloumas produced two of the most remarkable books in Australian poetry. He had arrived in Australia in 1952 at the age of thirty-one and settled in Melbourne. After a career as a Greek-Australian poet writing in Australia in Greek and publishing in Athens, he switched languages and began to write in his second language, Australian. The full effect of these first two books is hard to detail but has at least two components. Firstly there is a sensibility that is simply not Australian (at least not in any normative sense: since Tsaloumas is an Australian how can his sensibility be anything but Australian?).

It is not merely a matter of cultural references, or of the density and allusiveness of the Greek literary tradition that stands behind Tsaloumas and is imported willy-nilly into the poems, it is also a certain personal stance towards the world that seems if not “unAustralian” at least very unusual in Australia. Prickly, aristocratic (in the looser, not “class” sense), exiled, inclined to nostalgia (though resistant to it), contemptuous of much of the present, often unremittingly bleak, sometimes lavish – especially when celebrating the erotic or the onset of creativity – hieratic, formal etc etc are all valid components of this stance and yet don’t describe it fully.

The second component relates to language. Tsaloumas’ English has the sensitivity and fluency that is needed before anyone can write in a second language. That goes without saying – his work is that of a major poet. But it is a slightly unusual English as is, I suppose, that of Conrad and Nabokov. Take, for example, the opening of the first poem in the final section of this new book, Helen of Troy:

In childhood’s long-drawn days
I conceived ambitious schemes
soon lost, meshed with the night’s
general dreaming.

I love this idiom, but it is the slight strangeness of it that gives it much of its magic. What are “long-drawn” days? Are they days which are “long drawn out” or days in which the child spent his time drawing rather than making boats or days that the poet has often returned to and hence “drawn” regularly in his art? It is probably the first of these, at least as the initial meaning, but “long-drawn-out” is a pretty grotesque phrase ending in an unsatisfactory preposition and I like the verbal adjustment that most English language poets would not make – not because they don’t dare but because it would never have occurred to them. And then there are the ordinary ho-hum dreams that fill much of the theatre of our heads at night. Who would have thought of referring to this as “the night’s / general dreaming” where the power is not in the expressiveness or vividness of a metaphor so much as the unexpected quality of simple words? Tsaloumas’ English poetry is full of such surprises. The effect is like seeing one’s language from a slight angle and the results – if you are open-minded enough – are exciting.

Helen of Troy is Tsaloumas’ seventh book in English. It has much of the character of the earlier books, though I don’t think it reaches their heights. Falcon Drinking and The Barge were animated by two quite separate modes: the celebratory (lush) and the bleak (stony). In the poems the latter probably worked best because it seemed to fit into English language idioms more easily. After all

Winter was late in coming this year
but now he’s here, for good.

He’s settled in the lounge and rocks
like a Talmud scholar in his chair

legs wrapped in a blanket, stern.

was easier for someone new to Tsaloumas’ poetry to assimilate than was

Swan-tough, like a ship’s bow-scroll
heaving through saga mists
she came this autumn morning.

These two modes (and it would take a lot of work to determine exactly how themes were divided between them) no longer seems the generative core by the time of Helen of Troy. In the earlier books the lush was generally used in moments of genuine celebration of everything enjoyed in God’s creation. It was also used in the important Tsaloumas trope of the entrance (as in the three lines quoted above) but though there are plenty of entrances in Helen of Troy they are rarely unequivocally joyous events. True “A Song of Welcome” celebrates a new season but it is significant that the season is not spring but autumn. “Hung-Over” is more typical. Here we have a typical Tsaloumas entrance complete with inverted syntax so that the simile precedes the announcement of the identity of the visitor:

Walking gingerly like a girl
barefoot along the stony path
of vaulting withies and rank weeds,
I saw from my kitchen window
Hope coming.

But, as the title suggests, there is no epiphany that will result from this visitation and the poem ends in bathos by returning to the dreary and corrupt world of the everyday:

Buttering toast, I scanned
the day’s black-banner news and spread
the purple plum jam.

In this book the entrances are often made by the dead. I suppose that when you have reached your mid-eighties it is the dead who, by their number and insistence, you are most likely to find talking to you. In “A Noonday Visit” the old man coming to sip coffee and seek advice from Tsaloumas’ father is, like the father himself, long dead. In “In the Well” a voice “like a father’s”, (perhaps, but probably not, that of Tsaloumas’ actual father) penetrates a siesta with interesting advice:

“There’s no point in reaching out
for a horizon that shifts with you.

Nor is it profitable to sit
under the vine in the cicada’s noon

and wait for the breeze to stir,
up from the sea below.

Go down and clean the well.
It’s cool down there and not so dark.”

The descent into the well in Tsaloumas is either a descent into the stored memories of the past or into the unconscious world of dreams (in this poetry the two are not so different and the complex idea of “nostalgia” could be seen as a way in which these two, usually very different activities of the mind, can become very close). In “Solicitude” the poet’s fair-weather friends continually advise him to “stop going down to the mine” and wells, like the spring of the title poem of Falcon Drinking, are also symbolic sources of inspiration. “In the Well”, however, ends in nothing but despair for irretrievable rhythms:

                                   The other day,
maybe long ago, I heard a lute there,

a tune sprung like a rose from fat soil -
the death fields of holy wars,

and a sob rises in my throat as I grope
seeking the plucking hand,

the old nostalgic tune sunk since
in the stormy dimness of the mind.

In “Incubus” it is the dead mother’s voice that oppresses the sleeper like the weight of a stone when it speaks from what she calls “this side of the dark river” and in “The Unrepentant Dead” (translated by the author from one of his much earlier Greek poems) a dead neighbour confronts the speaker, presumably in a dream.

The two most interesting visitation poems are “Watching the Rain” and “An April Night’s Progress”. The former begins with the distinctive Tsaloumas inversion:

Swaying drunkenly in water-haze
like stormy cypress shadows
over a country churchyard’s flags
on wintry full-moon nights, they came.

The “they” of course are the dead and the poet watches through a window as they sit in the rain, thus emphasizing that the living and the dead inhabit different, even if contiguous, worlds. We don’t know how specific the identity of these five dead are but, since one of them is “very young”, one suspects that the poet is thinking of family or close friends rather than a more generalized group of representative dead. This is significant as the poem concludes not on the bathetic note we have come to expect from the poems of Helen of Troy, but with a joyous transformation:

I tap again. But they rise
and go, not as they came, but shaped,
bodied in recognition.
And I see our lemon tree now shine
with golden fruit by the steps
as they go, the vine with grapes.

Playful screams and words
struggle to my ears from the shore
through a cicada noonday storm -
the hiss of rain on our terrace flags,
on the waterlogged garden.

Recognition (if I read the poem correctly) is a way we can speak to the dead through the impenetrable windows and it not only transforms them but us as well. The way the sound of rain transmutes into the sound of summer cicadas is a subtle and clever one because we are not exactly sure which one is reality and which is dream-metaphor. Did all this take place as a siesta dream by the seaside with the sound of the cicadas prompting a dream involving rain?

Finally, in this survey of “visitation-poems”, there is “An April Night’s Progress”. Here the full panoply of Tsaloumas’ “lush” effects are deployed to introduce Night herself. She walks

into the garden
where the Persian rose blooms
and nightingales wait polishing their song.

The ambience is Middle-Eastern because the poem goes on to arrive at the Gulf War in which

two ancient rivers, she lends majesty
to a righteous thunder of guns
and vast illuminations where pyres consume
a city of tale.

Here is a Tsaloumas poem which is about the contemporary political events that he is so scornful of but which is couched in the mode of one of his romantic visitation poems. The picture of Night, trapped between “latticed balconies by raging flames” is the poet’s contribution to the Thousand and One Nights. Technically it is an example of bathos, but is not a verbal or tonal bathos so much as a modal one.

The overwhelming tone of Helen of Troy is valedictory and the characteristic move is one of making final journeys. There is no doubt that we are to read “Old Man’s Last Pilgrimage” as, if not precisely point-to-point allegorical, at least a transposition of the poet’s own experience:

On this my last pilgrimage
I travel by what light and signs
the sky affords. I do no penance
seek no remission of sins.
. . . . .
On this my last pilgrimage
I seek no evidence of fact
but firmer certainties, not hope
but truth of nobler substance
where, in secret folds, the mind
still dreams of wings.

This movement forwards counteracts the way in which memory and its partner, nostalgia, move backwards. It is significant, though, that “Old Man’s Last Pilgrimage” is not the last but the second-last poem in the book. The final poem, “Objection”, is entirely one of summation and justification. Don’t advise me as to how I should live, it says, unless you have heard the boots of the occupying forces coming to your house to arrest you and don’t tell me how to die unless you are one of those

who knew no excess of happiness
when on the crest of fortune
nor bitter grief in its deep troughs;
who from the crow’s-nest
spied the last meridian and tacked about
lest he should rob of its dark fire
the truth of his living.

These final words are not entirely unequivocal but I read the description of tacking in the face of the last meridian as being a refusal to suicide in the deepest “troughs” of despair.

The most ambitious poem in Helen of Troy is the fourteen part narrative, “A Winter Journey”. It is an account of an allegorical pilgrimage, against the speaker’s will, summoned by “unknown spirits” to a place “beyond the range / of my tutelar gods”. Interestingly the sequence describes the wait for the kind of visitation that so many of the book’s other poems are structured around. In this wait for a message from the spirits, the speaker is visited instead by wolves (who wait for spring to reveal where the dead bodies are buried so that they can be eaten). He is also visited by his dead mother and others “from albums / of yellowing years” – an experience I take to be essentially nostalgic. In the thirteenth poem the spirits eventually speak to the solitary and their message is that “the wolves won’t have their dead / the spring shall fail for ever”. It is a very difficult, spare sequence which I might be guilty of misreading but I see the spring as the arrival of that poetic ability which enables the figures of the past to be buried properly, by being “dealt with” (an unpleasant metaphor) in poetry. In Tsaloumas’ earlier poetry the arrival of spring and creativity was celebrated in a lush and rather exotic poetic idiom. Here, in a much stonier poem, the protagonist learns that, eventually, such renewals will cease.

Laurie Duggan: The Passenger

St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 2006, 89pp.

Even a poetry as distinctive as Laurie Duggan’s is not easy to describe without being reductive. Crudely put, we are operating in a poetic world that is, to most readers of Australian poetry at least, surprisingly dispassionate. This is not the world of expressive effects running the usual danger of deteriorating into a rhetoric. Yes, the tone is wry but tone is not really what the poems are about: it is simply an adjunct. There is nothing confessional and in the occasional poem about the self (like the earlier “Adventures in Paradise”) the self seems to be examined as a kind of comic, almost fictional, device in a poetic experiment. Duggan’s poetry is not sui generis though and a lot of time and labour could be spent sketching in his poetic forebears, mentors and “classmates”: Jonathan Williams, Ed Dorn, Roy Fisher and an almost unlistable cast. Among Australian poets he is closest to Ken Bolton and Pam Brown but I have never felt that any of these three are at all interchangeable. And there is no secret about Duggan’s literary references: they appear constantly as references and dedicatees throughout the body of his work.

The Passenger is Duggan’s latest book. It is his second (after Mangroves) since an extended poetic silence although those wanting a sampling of early and new work might well consult the new selected poems wonderfully titled, Compared to What (Shearsman, 2005). The first poem is a good introduction to Duggan’s poetry though it should not be seen as typical since, as I will say later, the essential stance manifests itself as a wide variety of poems. It is a seven page, fourteen poem sequence, “British Columbia Field Notes”. The title is a useful cross-genre joke because it invokes anthropology, a discipline that Duggan’s poetics often brings him close to. The poem has that typical quality of “Here I am. This is what I see and hear. Why is it like this, what does it mean and what lies beneath it?” and it is the last question which usually produces the challenging part of the poem. The very first stanza derives from watching a Japanese wedding at the University of British Columbia:

Japanese brides drink red wine in the rose garden;
patches of snow (all the way from here to Hokkaido).

It seems at first no more than an odd conjunction that any culturally-oriented poet might use as symptomatic of the bricolage quality of an ex-colony. But more striking and less obvious is the fact that it points to a connection rather than a disjunction: Japan is just across the north Pacific and may well share much of the weather patterns of western Canada. From an Australian’s perspective, these places are comparatively close. Other parts of the sequence, such as the ninth, link history, ecology and a visual image to reflect on the way that a timber-based community destroyed its timber housing and reduced wood to comfort stations for the affluent:

Apartments date mainly from the 1950s,
an erasure of wooden housing from the city to Stanley Park.

Burrard Inlet is still a working harbour
(containers, sulphur and woodchips)

logs chained, floating downstream
the odd escapee beached and weathered

fit for sunbathers to shelter, leeward from ocean wind
or rest a bicycle against.

Another poem (the fourth) is museum-based placing events next to each other so that they go backwards in time: the suppression of potlatch in the 1890s, introduction of Christianity, the smallpox epidemics and, in the final line, the arrival of the whites. It will come as no surprise that the museum is a crucial site for Duggan and the assumptions behind its choice of exhibits and the patterning of the display is one of his obsessions. But he is equally obsessed by the art gallery. This can be because in a sense a gallery is a kind of museum reflecting the assumptions of its culture, but it is also likely to be because it houses the work of local artists (in the case of British Columbia, Emily Carr and Bill Reid) and Duggan generally trusts their view of things – they are the equivalents of the anthropologist’s trustable intepreters).

There are two poles to the various ways in which this poetic anthropology can work: the world can reveal itself or the poet can analyze. “British Columbia Field Notes” is balanced in the structure of the book by “Ten Days”, a record of Greece made before the Athens Olympics, and here the method is generally to allow the landscape to speak to the antipodean traveller:

                            40 degrees
a cool wind under the awning
and a late lunch

                       were cicadas the sirens?

Cape Sounion
plays over the beach
under the temple of Poseidon

One wouldn’t want to over-emphasise the difference between the poems though. The third section of “Ten Days” gets us into a museum and the kind of editorializing we meet in “British Columbia Field Notes” emerges almost immediately:

The English and the Germans
furnished a Greece of their own:
the eminence denuded by accretions
(Byzantine chapels, a small mosque)

Schliemann edited the layers,
Elgin robbed the grave
(a diagram shows which caryatids went where):

casts substituted keep the Erechtheion upright.

“Things to do in Perth” (recalling that wonderful title “Things to do in Denver When You’re Dead”) is largely made up of propositions (“aspects of natural vegetation may be the same as Sydney (ref. Seddon) but the foccacia are entirely different”) but it, too, has examples of those moments when the world reveals itself without any analytical help from the poet: as in the “stanza” “CHURCH OF CHRIS”.

Duggan has always been especially good at recording those moments when the world seems miraculously to reveal itself without anybody’s assistance. “Animal Farm” – itself a mixture of found statements and poet’s comments – contains a wonderful definition of poetry produced entirely accidentally:

A Near Perfect Definition Of Poetry Supplied by a Queensland Police Traffic Officer
Describing with a Double Negative a Major Cause of the Christmas Road Toll

"momentary lapses of inattention"

Two kinds of Duggan poem are extended exercises in letting the world speak for itself. The first of these is, rather surprisingly, those poems like “A Conscious Citizen” and “September Song” which are, in a way, autobiographical in that they have an “I do this: I do that” structure. But these poems use the self and its experiences as a way of focusing on the latter rather than the former. There is a sense that the poet, for all his strong tastes and opinions, is a vehicle whereby the truth of how we live in the world can be explored. Perhaps this derives from the fact that the self is seen as an unpretentious but complex phenomenon filled to the brim with knowledge about music, writing, friends, the visual arts etc but no more outstanding than any other self, filled to the brim with other things. This self is complex but not necessarily important or “poetic” because of this – the pleasantly egalitarian assumption may be that all selves are complex. The experiences, day to day, of this self are, thus, ordinarily unique and the task of the poetry is to record them. One could imagine Duggan being very impatient about poets with vatic assumptions. “A Conscious Citizen” is very much about poetry and how larger structures can be made out of the recording of material of a life lived. The great Americans from Pound to Ashbery are good here and a long passage deals with Williams’ Paterson:

I open the revised Paterson
for clues
                             (the older cover was better:
a painting by Earl Horter
of the Passaic falls,
                                                 but don't think
the river here is usable
as mythic connection.
                                                 It wasn't
for Williams either
                                the poem written in its spite
(what is the meaning of a route
between the University and the container docks?
not, certainly the "life of man".
Williams wanted to continue
beyond the frame Book 5
jumped out of.
                                                And that's just it.
We all want the poem to escape
from our lives
on the bathroom wall;
news on the radio
                                        or at least
our lives to escape from the poem

(Help! I'm trapped . . .
                                                          in a barrel
passing over the Prosaic falls
butcher birds, resonant
all morning
                                     the bougainvillea
bursting out.

The second kind of poem which eschews editorializing in favour of allowing the world to speak for itself are the Blue Hills poems. This series began as long ago as 1980 and the current volume contains numbers 52 to 60. One way of describing them would be to say that they are largely visual and usually impersonal and are often almost verbal sketches for imaginary paintings. A better way, though, might be to think of them in terms of the structural issues of recording the world. These are self-contained “capturings”, part of an infinitely extendable series. They are one stage up from the kind of brief squibs to be found in this book in the “Animal Farm” sequence. They are not blocks which will require a complex structure to support them. But if they are treated as imaginary paintings, then the Blue Hills poems in The Passenger are decidedly minimalist with an oriental quality – as can be seen in No. 54:

lit clouds
electrical storm
over Moreton Bay
later, the moon
yellow on
Bulimba reach

Duggan is a fascinating poet and by now has clearly joined the ranks of major Australian poets (a crude working definition of which might be “people a serious poetry reader has to read whether you like what they do or not”). His (in Australia) unusual poetic practice raises a lot of questions. He makes you think carefully about the pretensions that often come as a necessary part of being a poet: pretensions about the relative significance of what poets do and the status of their notion of the self. But the same applies to Duggan in reverse. If we ask “Why is this stuff so good? What exact pleasure does it give me?” the answers can become very complicated. For minor poets, it is enough to say that they do something other poets don’t do and thus challenge us to widen our notion of the possibilities of poetry. But a major poet has a kind of stand-alone capacity. Why, in Duggan’s case, does a dispassionate intelligence, hyper-aware of the visual and of cultural implications make for such a compelling poet? Would one want all poets to be like this? I don’t know the answers to these questions but I do note that there is no nationalist dimension to Duggan though his landscapes are often wonderfully Australian – especially from the South-East corner. Perhaps he represents an Australian implementation of ideas of poetry generated elsewhere, perhaps overseas readers can detect something uniquely Australian in his responses to environments (both Australian and non-Australian). Perhaps it doesn’t matter: perhaps poets should be a caste of individuals sensitive to environment and its cultural underpinnings and should be part of a pan-nationalist project.

These issues will concern writers about poetry in the future. For the present it is enough to affirm that The Passenger is a wonderful book profound and entertaining in equal parts. It is graced by a stunning cover reproducing a photograph by Jack Cato in which a vaguely sinister 1930s car pulls away from the curb in front of a formal colonnaded building. Without wanting to play with the core of the picture in a trivial way, it is tempting to read the slight angle which the car makes with the curb as a reference to Duggan’s own slight angle to Australian poetic practice.

MTC Cronin: The Flower, The Thing

St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 2006, 122pp.

At first sight a book of one hundred and twenty poems each devoted to a single flower and each exactly the same length looks like an attempt to expand (by half), or even to answer, Louis Zukofsky’s 80 Flowers. At second view however The Flower, The Thing is a long way from inhabiting Zukofsky’s weirdly hermetic universe being, in most respects, a talkative and engaging book.

The book’s final poem – a kind of addendum – suggests, at least on a superficial reading, that the book might be an attempt to capture the “thisness” of each individual flower:

Urgently, now,  before us, the flower, the thing,
entered before any window would allow it,
always living, always posthumous, breached
by the world and unabstracted.

Again, this seems an error. Many of the poems glance only superficially at their flower which acts as little more than a host. Of course the poetic function of “capturing” essences is one that involves complex questions about the status of the world, the status of the mind and the status of poetry and these turn out to be major Cronin themes throughout her extensive and prolific career.

Complicating the issue is the fact that this is a book of dedications as much as it is a book of flowers. Each poem has a dedicatee: some are dead poets, some currently alive poets, some family members, some friends, one is a fictional character (Peter Henry Lepus) and one is the kind of philosopher (Descartes) who might have been alarmed to find himself in a book of poems. Indeed the essential structure of this book, as so often is the case in highly formal constructions, is the variety of the ways poems of the same length can be constructed bringing in both title-flower and dedicatee. It is a great pleasure to read it in this way and it reveals much of its undeniable charm but it does mean, of course, that a review of it is likely to be taxonomic. Bear with me.

Some poems are fairly straightforward narratives, very often based on stories which, one presumes, the dedicatees have provided. “Strawberry”, dedicated to Christine Hearty, tells the story of children in Ireland thinking that they were picking strawberries only to discover, after the uncle’s death, that he bought the fruit and, during the night, scattered it over the ground for them to “find” the next day. Yes, it is about the unexpected and often inauthentic origins of revelation (it would have appealed to Patrick White) but the pleasure of reading it arises to a large extent from the often much more intractable meditations in which it nestles. “Leis”, dedicated to Stuart and Vivian Saunders, describes a lei-decorated pair of octogenarians falling backwards into a flower patch while having their photographs taken and, essentially, laughing until their death and burial:

and what a wonderful way
to die on a day completely
devoid of good sense (thrown into the water &
goodbye ha ha hello drifting back to land)

Some of these narratives are family based anecdotes. In “Stone Flower” the breaking of a stone ball during a game (I think this is what happens) provokes the poem to deal with the theme of worlds inside worlds (flowers hidden inside the stone matching flowers in the outside world) and the image of stone which regularly recurs in this book:

Their game has caused
the flower to bloom
at the heart of the stone

. . . . .

But the stone cracks and releases
a world to orbit the sun
The green grass grows greener
and rushes to the drop of rain
that contains the day
The jeroboam tips night to the lawn

Other family-based poems like “Blackberry”, Sweet Violet”, and “Calendula, Like Cleopatra” tend to focus on the child-parent bond and the inevitable and necessary future separations. The last of these (dedicated to the poet’s daughter, Agnes Mohan) is interesting in that, in recalling Cleopatra’s dissolving of the pearl for Mark Antony, it repeats the image of “Stone Flower” in that the frozen world of the pearl is released:

Like Cleopatra,
I dissolve my pearl for you.
I take the flower
from the earth
and make it happy
in your hair.
Everything has a life.
The rock wakes from darkness
and turns its heart
to fire.
Colliding planets
enter a new age of faith.
I hold the serpent
daily to my breast and daily
I die.
Life is a wound
made by your love
tunnelling to my heart . . .

Sometimes the interactions of narrative, flower and dedicatee get quite complex. Following “Calendula, Like Cleopatra”, for example, is “Calla Lily” dedicated to the Cuban poet, Dionisio D Martinez. On the surface it is a simple enough poem about a friend suffering from breast cancer and the complex effect of this on their relationship:

. . . it is not your teeth I fear
when you part your lips but that you
might speak a fact we would be
demanded by instinct to dispute
past midnight to four a.m. and then fall
asleep upon as if it’s both death
and life that support the breathing
unconscious head for the eternal
moment of its vulnerability.
then at tomorrow there will be a point
like a small smile where the mouth
does not open where unspokenly
we choose to go on with the cancer
between us like a new garden
we have stumbled into and must tend.

This is a terrific poem as it is but why the Cuban poet and why Calla lilies? It turns out that Martinez is the author of a poem, “In a Duplex Near the San Andreas Fault”, in which a woman tells her partner that she has a lump in her breast and, in the background ,“Calla lilies bloom / like some glorious, abandoned music out on the lawn” (this knowledge derives not from my own wide reading but from Google, I’m afraid!). The poem either alludes to this in its title and dedicatee or, conceivably (though it is unlikely), invents a scenario which is an extension of the Cuban poem.

A number of the poems whose dedicatees are poets could be described as homages. Even within such a tight subgroup, however, there is a lot of variety. “Afton Blommor” is dedicated to the Swedish poet, Par Lagerkvist, and praises the man who

. . . asked our questions
When we could not have asked them
Because we did not know what would fulfil us
Because we did not know what to ask . . .

“Reed” recalls Rumi’s great poem but is not an imitation of it and “Midsummer Flowers”, while very Rilkean in its interests, is not at all a poem one could imagine Rilke writing with its assertive opening:

I am too young to die
yet have set my foot
on the journey that goes
deep in the soil of fact
and condition to find
the jewel to arrest me!

The only time these homage poems seem to come close to the style of the dedicatee is in “Mayflowers, Hyacinth & Dead Anemone” which is very much in the mode of Gatsos’ “Amorgos”. I think this is because the style of that poem is closest to Cronin’s own preferred utterance. It is a kind of rhapsodic, Spanish (as opposed to French) surrealism focussing either on love or on social justice. We can see this style at its best in a section from “Late Rose 2″ the second poem dedicated to Judith Beveridge (each of which, by the way, has a very difficult tone to grasp – I’m not at all sure what the poetic and personal relationship between these poets is):

There are new words for happiness.
Have you heard them?
They sound like the snapping of a stem
or the silences here and there
in crowds which have become too great
for even the cities’ shoulders.

We also hear this style in the single-sentence-per-line poems like “Dead Fuchsia” (for the Lithuanian writer, Oscar Milosz), “Fifteen Chrysanthemums” (Proust), “Three Pear Trees” (John Berger) and, perhaps best of all, in “Blue Flower Second Version” (for Trakl):

Landscapes occur as if they were limits.
Repentance seeps from the body in breath.
Winds have speech with shadows.
Paths break into infinity along their sides.
Autumn again after the last autumn.
Beyond, a man’s back.
He is always walking away.
He turns many times to glimpse his executions.

Essentially the structure of this book involves a continuous set of variations playing with flower, dedicatee, tone and theme. The Cronin themes are not so different from those of her earlier work. The first of these is the sense of there being a language of muteness in which the great truths (necessary for true justice) can be spoken. Parallel to this is a distrust of conventional poetic styles and a preference for surreal utterance. This extends to narrative and when, in “Impatiens”, she says:

But do not search in what this story
is about for what it is about, for those
thoughts that slip cleanly and smoothly
from one to the next are for stories
themselves. Life is not a novel; life is like poetry!
Tight and ready, like the ripe capsules of the impatiens,
to burst at a touch. Completed and completely
out of practise with time!

she is echoing sentiments found in most of her books but especially in Bestseller – which still remains, in its focus on the nature of language and poetry – the most accessible of her earlier books. It is also there in the opening poems of Beautiful, Unfinished:

There is not one thing I will say
outside of parable
For in the mind is another mind
one as far back
as you have not yet reached
It chuckles like the one who
invented laughter

and in a little poem, “Searching” from Bestseller:

Too many times
I find myself searching my poems
To see if they make sense

When will I learn
That joy has its own logic
Shaped like a sunburst!

Combined with this view that language and narrative must be disguised and apparently meaningless to speak true meaning is the sense of the true world as a closed phenomenon which it is very difficult to break open. The dominant images here are of irruption and breaking into. The flowers of stone need to be released to match the flowers of the world and “Saxifrage” begins by asking:

What breaks the rock
with such delicate insistence,
moves the stone to open its silent dwelling
to the universe of melodious worlds?

Perhaps a recent poem says it most clearly:

The Law of Wine

Is not in the grape
or the earth
in the nose or time
or beauty of words
unable to describe the wine
but in cracking the heart loose
at its edges
just enough to let sunlight
beneath its serious face
to illuminate the smile within
the glass’s umbrous curve
the little bit of rest
that moves us towards chaos
and acceptance
towards the slight opening
in the clenched world.

In this poetry, the inner world, though infinite in its possibilities, needs to have its heart cracked if it too is to effect a similar breach in the hard, permanently “clenched” external world. This is probably the significance of the conclusion of the final poem, “The Flower, the Thing”, in which the world asks us for commitment before it reveals itself as a seemingly endless set of individual items:

. . . The flower says
I have believed enormously, have you? And so,
the vulture, the hat, the hand, the cobra, the dog,
the sand, the arm, the trail, the reed, the two reeds,
the foot, the bone, the leaving, the basket, the back,
the folded cloth, the jar, the stand, the gold, the rope,
the tether, the sound, the viper with horns and the
sound of these like pins in the throat which are eased
by water . . . and always now, before us, the thing . . .