Caitlin Maling reviews click here for what we do by Pam Brown

Pam Brown, click here for what we do. Vagabond Press, 2018. ISBN 978-1-922181-34-3

 

Caitlin Maling

 

Sticking through the trouble

 

In a 2011 interview with Michael Brennan, Pam Brown describes how she often has ‘three of four poems on the go simultaneously’. The four poems comprising her latest award-nominated collection click here for what we do reflect that simultaneity. Brown ends ‘left wondering’, the second of the four long poems, with an extended meditation on the work, politics, and life of the American abstract expressionist Agnes Martin that extends beyond the asterisks Brown uses to indicate potential section breaks:

‘no halfway with art’

 

lone     sole      singular

 

*

 

you’ll never know

what

abstraction

is

 

unless

you ask

the women

 

*

 

to dream another grid

(75)

Brown’s poems register as an attempt at this grid – individual moments flow into the next but speak as easily to other sections, addressing how, as she states in a foam:e interview, ‘nothing in my books is chronological’. There is a consistent plurality to both the interconnectedness of the sequences, but also the voice within them. As in the sections quoted above, a digression on the ‘lone’ is answered by asking ‘the women’ plural. It’s a complicated and rewarding poetic intersubjectivity.

Hence, although it is tempting to discuss click here for what we do in terms of its everydayness as the poems traverse the mundane months between, ‘october already / * / the last night / of september’ and ‘almost february again / (I’m not ready)’, I am conscious of how Brown describes being ‘tired of “the quotidian” as both a descriptor and a topic’ (9; 143; poetry international). Instead she says she is ‘interested in “the poetic” – that is, in language play, in unpredictable word use and in the eccentric use of text on the page’ (poetry international). Even the seemingly ordinary language of the opening and closing lines quoted above, when placed side by side register a complicated (but playful) connectivity.

Brown starts working from a ‘pile of linguistic debris’ (foam:e). From the title onwards, click here for what we do displays a pleasing ambivalence towards the linguistic overabundance of contemporary life, one that Brown renders both a thing of joy and complication. Memory – always a fertile ground for poetry – is particularly slippery here, moving between an understanding of individual reflection and memory in all its technological and cybernetic forms. In ‘susceptibility song’, the third poem, we come to see how:

the past

is stifling

 

I was susceptible

to it

 

until now

(82–83)

The linguistic detritus Brown uses to piece together her poems reflects the sheer accumulation of data associated with the cyber age, under which the past is subsumed by a flat horizontal present where we are:

adrift

 

in technology’s

 

excess of memory

 

so

take a walk

 

wet weather

(97–98)

As the sequence of poems moves forwards, the reference to weather becomes imbued with concerns about climate crisis, in ‘A mockery’ she writes:

we’re talking

about the past

having no influence

 

like some disastrous

Great Leap Forward

(126)

And later:

the modem’s

in the wardrobe

 

 

the memory is full

 

 

what is to be done?

(130)

When asked how she came first to poetry, Brown mentions lists and a continuous fascination with them has dominated her work (poetry international). Lists, of course, suggest incompleteness, an infiniteness without defined beginning and end – much the same issues as Brown wrestles with regarding the intersection of memory and technology.

In a 2003 conversation at Balmain with John Kinsella (recorded in Jacket magazine), Brown states that ‘we’re all “made” things, we’re all becoming cyborgs’. Kinsella then raises Donna Haraway’s 1991 book Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, theorising that ‘apart from an obvious concern about ethics’ in Brown’s work, ‘the text itself becomes cyborgian, becomes genetically modified’. One type of cyborgian genetic intersubjectivity Brown has long practiced, and continues to practice in click here for what we do, is the recycling and repurposing of other writers and theorists into her own poetry. Donna Haraway specifically gets a shout-out in click here for what we do (additional eclectic references include Rosemary Waldrop, Justin Clemens, Ellen Van Neerven, Walter Benjamin, Yothu Yindi, Samuel Beckett, and Kim Hyeesoon among others):

in the lane

everyday

casual anthropocentrism

 

should scare quote that

 

& then declare

resistance

to the term

 

(donna haraway’s trouble)

(84)

In her 2016 Staying with the Trouble, Donna Haraway expands on her neologism ‘Cthulucene’. ‘It is a simple word’, she writes, ‘a compound of two Greek roots … that together name a kind of timeplace for learning to stay with the trouble of living and dying in response-ability on a damaged earth’ (2). The lists in click here for what we do are key means by which Brown confronts the seeming excess of tragedy in an age of constant witness to political and environmental crisis. After listing the events association with a ‘cycle of terror’, Brown wonders:

does

a list

like that

do any work?

 

*

 

that’s a question

you’ve been asking

for half a century

 

 

(wondering

who’ll be swift

to chide)

(100–1)

By constantly refusing a singular linear poetics and insisting on togetherness and plurality as an ethical and poetic stance, Brown models a way of ‘learning to stay with the trouble’, of continuing to question that is simultaneously joyful and mournful for both writer and reader in collaboration.

 

Works cited

Brown, Pam. ‘Interview with Pam Brown.’ Interview by Michael Brennan, Poetry International, 1st July 2011

—. ‘Interview with Pam Brown.’ Interview by Angela Gardner, foam:e, March 2015

—. ‘Pam Brown in Conversation with John Kinsella.’ Interview by John Kinsella, Jacket Magazine, 5th July 2003

Haraway, Donna. Simian, Cyborgs and Women: Reinvention of Nature. Routledge, 1991.

—. Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Duke UP, 2016.

 

Caitlin Maling is a poet, ecocritical researcher and critic from Fremantle, Western Australia. Publications include Fish Song (Fremantle Press, 2019), Border Crossing (Fremantle Press, 2017) and Conversations I’ve Never Had (Fremantle Press, 2015).

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