Kent MacCarter, 20 Poets. Carlton South: Cordite Publishing, 2017. Ebook. ISBN 978-0-6480568-6-7
Thriveni C Mysore
Zoë Sadokierski has not just designed cover page for 20 Poets, she has effectively made a creative statement of the subject, of what to expect, of how to approach the subject and of new age vehemence, of communicating ideas beyond words.
During the last decade, changes in the poetic world have occurred at such a rapid pace that it can be almost called revolutionary. It has swung from traditional to modern in a single stroke. Now is the age of new poetry, new poetic devices, and new assertions unmindful of criticism. There was a day in literary world where a writer could be written off in a single sentence by an established critic. The present is different. It is challenging and is here to stay with a stance, like it or not, believe it or not, agree with it or not.
It is quite demanding for the language to fulfil the needs of modern, experimental, creative writing and be equally enterprising to the reader as well. Recognising the importance of this new poetic wisdom that is unmindful of structural perfection or pleasing, realising its ever inventive sanity and grounded techniques, the literary world turns a new page inviting with appreciation, and with openness. Symbolically represented, ‘TWENTY POETS CORDITE 17’ is all about intellectual new-age poetry. Editor Kent MacCarter stops the reader, clears off convictions, activates intellectually, loosens the grip of reality, making one incapable of idealisation, and then allows the reader to enter Twenty Poets.
The reader is then picked up in turns by 20 Poets, taking full control of senses to the fault. The end-result for the reader is invigorating. Stimulated to the core of one’s mental capacity, the collection of poems finds a way to one’s heart. There lies the success of any writing, any book, any form of human communication – a way to one’s heart.
Poetry, now a form of deductive science in which truth reigns, challenges the reader to inductive discovery, argumentation and participation is progressive. The capacity and ability of the reader is measured not by their ability to solve or understand but by their ability to experience and explore.
It is expected that the poet supports this experimentation and engages the reader thoroughly till a conclusion fits the situation or idea, logically.
With a crisp introduction by Bonny Cassidy – actually accelerating the interest of the reader – activity begins with John Hawke. Editorial cleverness is further revealed by the brief write-up of each poet before their poetry which actually enhances the understanding of their thought process. Hence when Hawke says:
… When Nerval writes that dreams are a second life, he not only refers to the dreams we experience in sleep, but also to the dreams that arise as a consequence of lost desires, dreams perhaps thwarted by chance: of lives once meant, but never lived. … then to write is to desire something that continually slips away, and must once again be invoked in a series of repetitions and beginnings that both conjure and obscure. (1)
this provides the reader a good tool to understand the sensitivity of the poetry:
In grey wind where snow turns to ice, leaving no shelter,
you are murdering the woman who made you feel guilty,
who called you a fascista.
This skilfully portrays the mental state of the poet, grey-thinking converting from solid to liquid state before being let out to vaporise in poetic lines. When the reader comes across the lines describing autumn colours, half-formed mountains at the edge of the world, the Amazon running to rock and vast crowds resisting the pressure to meld or mesh, a stark reality of the world takes form and the fact that the poet says, ‘you are outside time, awaiting the moment of ignition’, takes one through a hairpin bend, not knowing if it is addressing the poet or the reader or the world.
You wanted to capture precision,
the insides of things, but each new word
dazzles you, is a prism of caught light,
and you are frozen in captivation.
What was the use of all the lost time
learning that you could no longer lie?
These conceal more riddles, revealing less at the first read but, again one begins to read the poem from the beginning to understand better, now that something else has flashed in the mind. ‘Make up a story’, words that bring the poem to an end reverberates again for a considerable time dragging the reader to read the poem once again from the beginning to the end.
Poet Tony Birch says:
Any dictatorship worth its violent salt executes the poets first. It is the way it should be, as a great poem cuts through the crap and goes for the heart and heat like a double-barrelled shotgun.
These thoughts are nicely executed in his poem, ‘Visiting’:
… The river’s edge is beautified now, bridges caged in safety, Deep Rock lies drowned beneath a strip of freeway and long-abandoned sweat shops dazzle with the cheapness of glass in steel. Sitting at the falls I skip stones to conjure a memory of you and see us here on summer nights. Together we carried the river home with us, in our hair and on our skin. (14)
Mez Breeze’s delectable poetry brings surprising cheerfulness through digital fomentation. The poet says:
The codeword contents do fragmentally fold poetic conventions. These microtexts do presentation-lap gently at the cusp of code and poiesis. It employs mezangelle – a type of quasi-cobbled convention-set born from 90s digital fomentation – to form packets of code-laced and culturally inflected output. (19)
If ‘We cry and sob for visual innocence but are happy to bomb and drone or jail (WeCryAndSobForVisualInnocenceButAreHappyToBombAndDrone[orJail])’ is the password for the user ‘celebrity gloss and spit polish’ (20), could be noted by the reader, then one won’t fail to recognise ‘she one lacking slash queen too’ and ‘gapped and greased’ (20).
Playing again with letters and words in the poem, ‘SLaughter | Cauter[DownS]ize’: ‘Affectivity / affeativity / areativity / creativity’ brings out ‘laughter’ in the ‘slaughter’ and downsizing (20).
The idle speaking babble, confused and unintelligible talk of gabble turns to technology and it is all now about Babbaging (Charles Babbage!). Coding continues in the lines ‘]#1nce this would have been. Ex[x]plainable. DesIR[L]able. #Now, it r[ gl] ot-stews. Abortive. C[G]lean[ed]. T[M]imed.#’ (21). Outward bracket with a dash ends the poem. The punctuations and symbols that are used to bring about clarity in written language are well employed to punctuate thoughts too. This advances the poet’s skill putting the reader in a tight-spot, making one read carefully, creatively over and over again.
Exploring unfamiliar paths of perception and philosophy, poet Claire Nashar leads the reader excellently sure of self towards cryptic admiration. The poet says:
The poems … do not always start and end on discrete pages, and none have titles, although sometimes the index points a way. Muddle-headed pronouns, tenses and other grammatical disagree-ments reflect the porousness of subjecthood, action and time. Such disagree-ments are always fluoresced by subjects like love, death and life. Where there is blank space in the poems, as with most blank things, it is not empty. (61)
A photograph speaks for a thousand words, but the poem ‘from Lake’, speaks for a thousand thoughts. This rectangle lake is filled to the brim with ‘garfish’, ‘sea mullet’, ‘luderick’, ‘silver biddy’, ‘black fish’, ‘school prawn’, ‘river garfish’, ‘king prawn’, and much more, but you hide to ‘fish the most beautiful fish’. (62-63) Thoughts just like this variety of fishes from one’s mind-lake swim in all eagerness and happiness, all lively up through to the brim, wisely ducking from being caught by the fishing line, till being picked up and thrown out. Luck in fishing is not to catch one suddenly, luck is all about sitting patiently appreciating every ripple of water, every trail of witty fishes, and their beauty in eager-living and such lofty thoughts that Nature whispers only to those with sensitive senses.
Another poem without title has fine distinction, irradiated irony and rich substance:
and if a
to be easy
Earth asking ‘come easy at me’ churns the reader’s guts. Death-Burial equation expands to and towards ecology. Filling up the pregnant blanks, ‘when interred in plastic, this box does not begin now to be easy’, is banefully correct, for the work of Earth begins at the death of some living being. This would signify the emotional call of Mother Earth to humans, humankind – the only natural animal persistent in oblong search of unnatural means to live in life–during life–after life. This poem arrests one’s thoughts magnetically steering to drive home a point of immense importance. It is all about humankind–our way of living–our doing–our death–our way of dealing after-death.
Invoking Nietzsche, poet Javant Bairujia writes:
I have written elsewhere that we need the transformative power of art, any art, in order for life to be endurable … The conceptual poems here ‘forget the currents’, whatever the vogue is nowadays, instead finding their ‘own level, above and below consciousness’. Being is its own reward. Words are empty vessels for the reader to fill. We do not need (auto)biography. Is not poetry a journey, an odyssey or an exploration of sorts? I end (my poem) by saying [w]ithout poetry, we are deluded; we should surely grow older earlier.
This prologue holds the reader to visualise and feel the upcoming poetic vision and signals the subconscious to wake up to delirious experience and hence the poem ‘from Spelter to Pewter’ pops with force. This chemical journey of naturally available, Zinc (Spelter) to the forced combination of Zinc and Lead (Pewter), bonds strongly with the reader, as Chemistry cuts through the poem lying conspicuously to catch the fancy of being discovered again as elemental as natural Potassium, Cobalt, Gallium, Barium, Platinum, Iridium, Oxygen, Calcium, Nickel, Germanium and Lanthanum, and Thgallium and Rutherfordium (synthetic chemical elements not found in Nature).
It is delightful to read: ‘recoded speech rewritten lab an[n]otation (or Laban [n]otation) radial verbal text remitted bemused Noh meant you are remixed’. (75)
Poet Derek Motion says:
The Only White Landscape is an assembly point. Past instances of thought and memory have come together as directed when under threat. The swells of real-life changes underpinning the poetry are physical, social, geographic and romantic. But, that’s so usual: the attempt to find singularity in the ruptures – not meaning, not really. From loneliness to only-ness. (85)
Only a poet can add, ‘romantic’ to an otherwise familiar list; physical, social, geographic. The poem ‘density’ begins with an accurate ordinary fact, ‘in long grass everything is a cushion’ (86), and progresses towards something static, changing course towards materialistic minimal and again towards a re-take of subtle thoughts:
the ambient potential of a startled wallaby equates
legs, specifically, the hemline to sock gap in your context
a fine massage ascending the calf muscle, everything
staggered, incremental just another word for hand-spans
i wish i was an escaped horse, a bolting solo in reverse
until time pops: i’ll think of places i’ve been now,
filter shit times around formal logic –
It is such observation of surrounding Nature be-little-ing self that is sought after by a reader because it indulges and immerses soul in a refreshing spring of memories both lived and unlived. The poet’s wish mirrors as reader’s wish, to be an escaped horse, to bolt solo until time pops. This logic of making a reader partake in poet’s fantasies is what poetry is about. This makes the reader agree with the lines:
born & bred & unshod out back, the passing smell of rain
gums, muscles loose under thumb & it’s another
pointless week spent strategising / wood gathering
Picking up images en route to later burn them down as memories or thoughts is a day-to-day phenomenon for all of us, poet or otherwise, but to call it a pointless way of spending is stimulating. The rate of success in life depends on the rate of strategising; it is a unique ratio. Again the ratio equates to one; now, that is pointless as gently suggested by the poet. Such thoughts gets carried in the folds of once-read-code and stay there to be relished again when needed.
Another galvanising poet Anne Elvey says: ‘What is it I take for granted? Skin.’ (91) This alone sends a fresh burst of air filling up the reader’s lungs, catching unaware, and leaves one gasping at the myriad complexities that have arisen around us, around the world, around human existence. Bonny Cassidy’s introductory words reverberate:
Elvey’s White on White marks a turn: mid-career, Elvey’s style begins anew in this collection, which goes deeper into her sustained concerns with ecology, theology and kinship … In Elvey’s poem ‘Prelude to a Voice’, the text is rotated 180 degrees. While this bucks the reader’s optics, it also reflects the conceptual work of this collection: comfort is not sought in the so-called landscape format. Rather Elvey redacts words and lines, corroding an imaginary poem until it gains weathering and porosity. (xvii-xviii)
The poem, ‘On All Souls’ Eve ^’ (92), promises exponential quality aptly taking on the ‘caret’ in its title and delivers it with all significance all through the poem giving it up to the reader to defragment the much intertwined logical conjunction and propositional logic of the poet. Illogical elegance is in the blanks, lands, lines and dots. ‘Sir Douglas Nicholls Reserve had borders’ pauses the reader through a measured line space. Given that the poet is living up to a cause and ‘joining a small and growing throng of writers questioning whiteness’ (91), makes this line space even more deliberate and meaningfully pregnant. Propositional logic rules now as the poet says, ‘Stones marked each massacre site’ (92) and fills it up not with letters or words but with cartographic carets, sealing the projected meaning with more earth than could be ever sealed with words. The poet continues:
Late evening, we came, stood
placed candles in clay pots
while the stories were told until day.
‘Is it cliché to say what is true / that the rain that night came soft and silent?’ the poet asks. For the ‘now’ immersed reader it is affirmative. It is not about the weather outside that the poet is noticing, it is about the past history and the sudden change thereafter till the present. After a pause the rain that came soft and dotted in silence, washes away all the pains of the massacred and sins of doers evenly, dulled by an excellent eraser-time. Silence is what is left at last, after passing through unrelenting complexities, to just the prime-two, male and female, done and undone, bordered and un-bordered, the one who lets others live and the other who doesn’t. The reader takes a lot more un-intended time to turn the page and lingers-on for longer cryptic moments than the poet expects one to stay in her pages. Yet, as if on cue, this poem plays like silken background music in Jeanine Leane’s poem, ‘Colour of massacre’.
Aboriginal women are the great gatherers of many things – food, of course, but also stores and inner strength. The women … taught me to listen to the past as it speaks in the present.
This work is about listening to the past and walking back over it, step after step, to see what you missed the first time. It speaks to what has been left out of official records, recordings and documents – the emotions, the other sides of paper – and what is not said … Writing is an act of remembering a dismembered past. (109)
The poem begins:
A new century dawned and white Australians got urged
to feel comfortable and relaxed about their history.
Stating that, ‘we all have blood / on our hands. We’ve got a new song / to sing now!’ the poet whips the deluded mind by saying, ‘Right-wing historians hummed this new tune / set about to write Aboriginal massacres clean / out of the record, history books, out / of the classroom.’ (110)
Extending the same thought the poetry flows gently:
…The rest is hearsay – oral history’s
words in the air!
Nothing on paper – so who remembers?
The Aborigines didn’t count in numbers –
why bother now?
Nobody recorded those other syllables in time,
full of sound, fury, punctuation
of blows, blood and screams.
It is this historic unforeseen emergency that has made the poet write exceptionally with a principal fact – knowing that the subject is dealt with delegation. But, the maxim ‘A person who is a delegate cannot delegate one’s own powers’ applied to poet reaches out to the readers thus: a poet cannot assume that all and every reader has poetic sensibilities, is well understood by the poet of ‘Colour of massacre’. Thus the poetic thoughts switch to universal application:
But, wasn’t their blood red too?
Didn’t their loved ones wail?
What is the colour of massacre?
A reader is compelled to apply these to situations of gigantic histories that have left a trail of blood, deceit, betrayal, dishonesty behind a façade of sacrifice, patriotism, lineage and leadership. Such powerful lines leave the reader fumbling and fuming with inevitable rage. The poetry reaches its destination – reader’s subconscious.
With clear indication, 20 Poets is an open walk-through discovery of poetic excellence. Poets have not submitted their poetry for this collection; they have performed on the stage of agreement. An agreement with humane consideration manifests at the end of each performance.
It is neither a collection of poetry nor a free book to be read for fun, it is an opportunity for aesthetic enjoyment and enhances the power of logical thinking.
20 Poets showcases not just the talent of twenty calibrated poets but also highlights the ability to analyse and estimate performance-accuracy by the editor, Kent MacCarter. Kudos.
Thriveni C Mysore is a science teacher from Karnataka, India. She is locally acknowledged for her critical essays and articles on Philosophy and Education. Her books in Kannada on Philosophy and Science have won State awards. Being actively involved in Environmental Awareness Programs, she holds lectures and presentations for students. Amidst life’s complexities, she finds divine-solace in reading Nature poems.