Tony Page, Dawn the Proof. Ormond, VIC: Hybrid Publishers, 2016. ISBN 9781925272239.
Thriveni C. Mysore
There are certain absolute and immutable laws in poetics which are intuitively known to every successful poet as an inner consciousness. These laws need not be necessarily known to the reader of poetry. The beauty of these poetic laws is that even if not understood, it can be ‘felt’ by the reader. Even when these immutable laws are disobeyed, as is often and common, it won’t be perfunctoriness, rather it opens up a new dimension of interest.
Hence, Dawn the Proof authored by Tony Page is in an enviable position of creating a new sociological interest. The exact way in which the concrete modern life is handled by the poet, by itself is of sociological interest.
No poem in this collection runs in a usual blind tendency towards a particular end, but it does run, exerting pressure on the reader’s consciousness and waits not for an answer-as consciously willed by the poet. As the reader progresses from one poem to another, this effect becomes less of an isolated phenomenon and more of a part of a system, part of poetry, part of poet himself.
Dawn the Proof begins with ‘Midnight Messages’ (pun intended) where the poet, starting with in lower case, says,
after years of muteness
the lighthouse flashes
midnight flickers over
imagery’s pirate hoard …
The poem concludes by blessing the reader with a tongue twister.
In the poem, ‘The Vanishing Traveller’ the poet places space between two stanzas enhancing the effect threefold:
Now invisible, drowning in a sea
Of unknown tongues, does he
have a future in his own speech?
Is the ticket he clutches refuge enough?
When the poem ends, a question mark raises in the consciousness of the reader as to the probability of return of the traveller, as to the remoteness, as to the traveller’s success in work and the traveller’s reasoning capacity itself.
Just like the children going ‘holiday wild’, ‘Cambodian New Year at the Killing Fields’ takes the reader on a roller coaster ride, showing the competition between Pepsi and Coke, disco and garden and finally plays ‘statue’ with the reader’s senses by turning towards a tree. Near the tree, the poet says,
Look, that tree, so graceful –
against which babies’ heads
were bashed, saving bullets.
I check for red-handed stains
but they have long since
dissolved into complicity.
The poet then asks the reader, ‘how to sever this branch / [of inhumanity] if it grows inside us all?’
The force of societal systems is shown in the contrast of ‘As I dream’ and ‘As I wake’ in the poem, ‘The Wall’. The poet presents a wonderful dream of no government, no name and no laws to a wakeful world of politics, hypocrisy and hopelessness. He concludes strongly:
while laws grow mountainous
on the judges’ bench. Each day
begins by swearing the oath.
From the birth of humanity, humankind has always stood on guard against all sorts of dominance, never giving up the pursuit of the best. This subconscious wish is explored best in this collection through ‘Thai Worker Sonnets’ where, in the first poem of the sequence, the poet says:
When the traffic’s jammed for an hour
in forty-degree heat, please forgive
us if we disappear and drink
to your health with whisky instead.
(‘1. Traffic’, 16)
In the second, he writes:
Another thing, everyone’s always in a hurry –
pressuring me because they have no time.
They complain if I stop to wash some bowls.
Did I get enough water this morning?
I can’t take Lek so often from school
she deserves a better life than this.
(‘2. Street-Stall Cook’, 17)
The third and final poem of the sequence concludes:
Nothing to do for the rest of the day,
except sweep up leaves in the garden
if the abbot’s out on the prowl. Otherwise –
play with my iPhone when the coast is clear.
(‘3. Novice Monk’, 18)
The inclination of the human mind to go against all odds to conquer odd wishes and to seek riches, leaving behind lessons well-taught by Nature in order to fend for themselves, is not a new finding of psychology. It has become a way of life, with a name ‘purpose’. Yet, ‘Nature too can feign the same ignorance’ is a different recognition, reflected in the poem ‘Evidence’, giving its location ‘tsunami coast, southern Thailand’. The poet says:
With tourist wonder we ask
what force can toss such
giants like playthings,
how can the placid Andaman Sea
disgorge such monsters?
The beach is at a loss
to explain, pretending it has
no knowledge of the Titan
nestled beneath these waves;
Had the poem stopped at ‘testify to its troubled sleep’ (21), it would have had an epigrammatic whip-impact on the reader. A casual assemblage of snapping photos and then closing with ‘the world to silhouette’ (21) lessens the strike of the lash though.
The poet’s excellent knowledge and expertise in music is explored and hummed in harmonic poems such as ‘Behind the Colosseum’ (41), ‘Maestro’ (47-49) and ‘A Language by any other Name’ (50-51).
There is a saying, ‘A poet visualises that which is unseen by The Sun’. Instead of child-like, appealing, mirthful, playing of Nature’s beauty, the poet of Dawn the Proof stares at Nature in a strong gaze appreciating Nature’s blemishes, and evidencing care in this way.
In the first section of ‘Snapshots of the Mekong’, ‘1. Zhongdiang, China’, counting the distance in hours and thereby showing the enormity of the situation, the poet says:
Five hours from your source,
the craters crawl with workers.
Your valleys stripped to the bone –
sacrificed for a future dam.
In the third section, ‘3. Phnom Penh, Cambodia’, he says to the Mekong at sunrise:
Ignoring all with squalid flow,
you outflank the killing fields –
wide and blameless as the sea.
In the final section, ‘4. Delta, Vietnam’, the poet questions the river:
Fertilised by history and greed
beyond counting. How much
longer can you tough it out?
‘The longer we slumber, the deeper / we sink into earth’s cradle’ is like a new reflective, pragmatic utterance. This comes in the poem, ‘Uluru’, where the poet writes:
Sandstone supine for millions of years
poses today at a picturesque angle;
or- because the gods rolled
in their dreamtime sleep.
‘Dawn the Proof’, is the celebration of a blaze of heavenly glory, dawn at the Himalayas. The actual living of Dawn is to witness it by rising before the Sun and see that:
Far-flung peaks are the first
to be tested by light.
As the poem proceeds and Dawn itself is ‘the magnifier’ and ‘the proof of global curve’, so that:
weighs anchor and sails
across the world’s mind.
Strikingly, the poet catches humanity under his thumb in the poem, ‘A Geographer Takes Stock of the Terrain’ saying:
Let’s reduce to scale: 1 in 7 –
no, worlds steeper, 1 in 3. What?
The poet brings out the conflict of humaneness, humanity and human frailty. The anthology ends with the poem, ‘Hour Glass’, where the poet ponders:
how to seize
the grains of now
Dawn the Proof, is not a book of poetry to be carried in pocket to be read along. It is a book of poetry to be carried to one’s study and read without distraction, for, it makes world and imagination larger than before with its rich imagery, play of words, structures, pauses and intentional space patterns.
A reader of a collection of poems such as this may wish for a preface, just as a firm-warm shaking of hands with the host of a delightful party brings immeasurable cheer to the one invited. The reader of Dawn the Proof does miss the magical handshake with the poet who has created inspirational poetry.
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 Program, she holds lectures and presentations for students. Amidst life’s complexities, she finds divine-solace in reading Nature poems.