Robbie Coburn reviews Bluewren Cantos by Mark Tredinnick

Mark Tredinnick, Bluewren Cantos. Sydney, NSW: Pitt Street Poetry, 2013. ISBN 9781922080325.

 

Robbie Coburn

 

Whether you’re a fan of his work or not, it is impossible to accuse Mark Tredinnick of creating art for art’s sake. He writes a poetry that is personal without becoming confessional, analytical in its use of introspect, seemingly cathartic but still delicately developed, unreserved yet gentle, perfectly balanced, and always deeply philosophical; and in his second collection Bluewren Cantos, Tredinnick masterfully straddles a difficult line between life and art.

For Tredinnick, poetry demands to be written and can’t be lived without. Take “Black Market”, where poetry’s place within the world is explored:

… Art, like love, wants to be

Made; poetry aches to be written.  (54)

This approach, this appreciation for poetry, for the sacredness of art, undeniably yields results: Mark Tredinnick creates art that is important and without surprise, his work is celebrated both here in Australia and abroad.

It has been several years since the publication of his impressive debut Fire Diary, and this book finds Tredinnick breaking new ground and further developing his signature voice and style in order to reach new heights. Like its predecessor, Bluewren Cantos explores shades of light and dark and writes of an existence where both Heaven and Hell are never far away from each other, and both have a place:

                                                        Perhaps these two days were

A night I had to die in, and now I’ve come back plural—

A hundred secrets made one flesh

(“Hell and Back [Again]”, 86)

The lines in Bluewren Cantos are long, as is the poet’s preference, filled with powerful natural imagery and personal reflections. The majority of these poems are based in Tredinnick’s home along the Wingecarribee River, southwest of Sydney, filled with birds and wild weather. The poet is a constant presence in the poems, and the place of the individual in the landscape is frequently explored and is one of the strongest aspects of his work. One of the most stunning places, handed to the reader through the use of beautiful imagery, is Hammock Hill, a place the poet visits often and loses himself in the depths of thought, going out and “hoping for the rest of me”:

This is my devotion, then: to walk sometimes

with the dog through the sclerophyll

Cathedral of morning.

(“On Hammock Hill”, 116)

Here the land and soul blend into one another and become the poetry’s music. By walking the land, Tredinnick finds his heart walking within it.

The fantastic opener “With Emily in the Garden” addresses the passing of a friend and the solitude of simply being, throughout the unpredictable day:

The morning is a soul admitted to itself,

And the room makes a perfect blind: I sit

At the window, neither in the world nor out

And watch rain fall through the anchorite

(“With Emily in the Garden”, 1)

The subtle balance of the lines creates a lovely music, where imagery can exist on the page beside experience. There is a sense of peace to be found in the silence between each line. Faith is a theme explored in the poem, as Tredinnick asks “how a god can flame/ with such temperate heat in the rain” (2), as light and dark coincide and beauty can exist beside pain, and the poet’s perception becomes vital in the course of mourning and memory, with a “darkness we grow accustomed to” (3).

Throughout the book there is that recurrent, age old questioning of understanding how good and bad can exist together if there is a divine world beyond us. Although this question is unanswerable in most regards, a poetry as deeply embedded in desire and passion as this, creates a more than adequate discussion.

The collection’s title poem is the epitome of the strength of Tredinnick’s work, creating a vivid exploration of the self and human emotion, progress and very existence. One gets the sense that he is delving deeply into himself as he constructs his verse, pulling out a hard-won beauty. Even through darkness, through the difficulties and loneliness of existence, the poet finds light and a further appreciation for the natural world.

I find myself reaching, these days,

towards everything, as if at once confessing love

And taking leave. The older I grow the more I seem

To live as if each moment were a subject

and my body were a brush; as if each day were

paper

And I were ink.

(“Bluewren Cantos”, 82)

Quoting Rumi several times throughout, Tredinnick explores his own world, his surroundings and his philosophy, where “living is longing” (82). The most powerful line, one which encapsulates his work, states that he writes “to make desire a practice” and “free [himself] inside time’s tough love” (82). This level of self-analysis does not stray from the dark, with the poet exploring the shadows of his own life, almost becoming lost, conscious of time and mortality, and allowing all feeling to seep fearlessly into his syntax. There is resolution however, or at least a sense of personal resilience, where art, namely poetry, creates a function for survival as “In art, as in love and weather, one’s mind is (in) one’s body again” and “all one’s longing a nest made empty by song” (83). With “Bluewren Cantos” being the beautiful and affecting poem that it is, and such a fine single example of his work, Tredinnick has chosen the perfect title for his second collection. It is a poem that demands revisiting and certainly one that lives in heart and mind long after.

Tredinnick’s poetry is important also, as his philosophy is universal; although the world is uncertain and filled with darkness, both internally and indeed externally, there is beauty and hope in that which we are willing to notice. There is an exquisite complexity to his work that is conveyed with deceiving simplicity, and the vast possibilities of poetic imagination are given full flight.

One cannot forget that Tredinnick was an established and respected writer and academic long before he was an award-winning poet. The eye of the academic is present in Bluewren Cantos, with each poem carefully formed and each line and phrase considered, but the poet’s sensibility and the voice of the naturalist always stands most prominent. This combination, one few have achieved, creates a wonderful and significant poetic achievement on both a critical and personal level.

Without any real question, poetry will always be a niche art form, and it will not ever be read as widely as, say, prose. But Mark Tredinnick, through his words and light, gives us the sense that for those who feel close to verse, who live their lives with and within the margins of books like Bluewren Cantos, poetry does and forever will matter.

 

Robbie Coburn is a Victorian poet. His latest chapbook Before Bone and Viscera was recently published by Rochford Street Press. His website is robbiecoburn.com.au

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