Douglas Clark: Waffle -- 4

The young Australian poet John Kinsella (born in Perth, Western Australia, in 1963) has burst on the scene in the UK in the past couple of years. The Undertow: New & Selected Poems came from Arc in 1996, followed by The Silo: A Pastoral Symphony from Arc in 1997. The first book contained `Syzygy' which is his venture into postmodernism in the form of the long fragmental poem. He has a great interest in this direction of poetry. Being instrumental in persuading Neil Astley at Bloodaxe to publish J.H.Prynne's Poems, in cooperation with Folio (Salt) and Fremantle Arts Centre, which are due later this year. But currently Kinsella's reputation is really built on his pastoral poems of Australian farmland, where he grew up. Such are the poems in `The Silo' which are demanding and require work to appreciate them properly.

This summer Bloodaxe have brought out his Poems 1980-1994 which includes `Syzygy'. This is a good entertaining read which is not too long at over 300 pages. And now a book of new pastoral poems The Hunt & other poems where he moves up a gear. The best of these poems have an extra dimension on anything he has done before. There is a breathtaking imaginative leap as the poem enters the reader's mind which only the highest quality poets can achieve. And he has learnt to handle this trick using the simplest language. All the promise of the last fifteen years comes to fruition in a little group of poems, which is as it should be. It is now possible to look at `Syzygy' and `The Silo' as laying a solid foundation for future work with the fine lean sinewy poems of `The Hunt' being an indicator that success is being achieved.

My heroes of thirty years ago have their lustre fading. Hölderlin, Rilke, and now Lorca. I got hold of the two Lorca selections from Penguin and Anvil recently edited by Christopher Maurer. I was surprised to find that the translations didn't have the usual familiar effect upon me. The poetry seemed uninspiring. I preferred my ancient Penguin prose crib. Perhaps I have grown too familiar with Lorca's tricks. The poetry seemed all surface with the underlying emotional tension failing to communicate. At first I thought it must be the fault of the translators then I realised the problem lay with me. Previously I have had similar experiences with Hölderlin and Rilke. Except for their greatest poems, as for Lorca. I think it is a matter that the myth of the poet obscures weaknesses in the poetry that only emerge with the emotional distancing that comes from age. The early enthusiasm flags and is not replaced. And, of course, the poems are being read in translation and at one remove from the original urgency of the language.

There has been conversation in rab on USENET by Francis Muir about female logic, inquiring as to whether it differs from male logic. I would say that there was no difference but that women have a different agenda, being inward-looking whereas men are outward-looking. Perhaps this restricts women's imagination and is the reason for the paucity of major women poets. But what this is leading to is the outwardness of Australian poets such as Anthony Lawrence compared to the neurotic inward-looking typical British poet. There is an external vigour in the poems of Anthony Lawrence's book `New and Selected Poems' (University of Queensland, 1998) which is refreshing. They are very lively. The two poems that stick in the memory are `Blood Oath' with its simple language and the complex dexterity of `The Grim Periphery'. An entertaining read.

Alison Croggon's `This is the stone' (Penguin Australia, 1991) hits you initially with the early poems where the language fits her like a glove. In the more important sequence `Quickening' she adapts to a more mundane language and tells her story. It should be read.

Barry MacSweeney's `Postcards from Hitler' (Writers Forum, 1998) should be read for the expansive poem `I am Lucifer' where his openness reveals itself in the long lines. It is not vintage MacSweeney but well worth reading.