Sunday, October 08, 2006

reading as pleasure again

Sometimes favourite poets change, the poetry dries up, or I dry up. Or I take a break from them for a while and go back. Sometimes a surprise and I love them again or I don't. One poet who is always fresh, offers me something new and something the same, each time I read his work, is Martin Johnston (1947-1990). Reading from Martin Johnston Selected Poems & Prose Edited by John Tranter (UQP 1993) - there is some great work here. I wonder what it is about his work that sustains my interest over so many repeated readings. His unique voice, is difficult and demanding. His Greek/Australian background, his natural intelligence and playfulness, his willingness to engage with a personal or mythic interpretation of ordinary and not so ordinary events. His vulnerability and his mystery. Lots of stuff going on and the amazing language use.

extracts from THE BLOOD AQUARIUM (poems in the collection The Sea-Cucumber)

Flux is a nounless language. Thinking "it moons",
"it saffrons", words caper down the nerves
to burst in aureoles at the fingertips.
Lights out and the room swims.
Angler fish, Roman candle,
immortal crepuscular verb.

Curtained in claret hessian
my window is usually open.
I tend to wake up late, and sometimes people
throw peaches or grapefruit through the window.

Tonight the air is delicate
like those tremulous aquatints
in the better Victorian chronicles of travel.
One would expect it to lisp.

Shut down shop, hang the willow-pattern,
cage its bouncing monks with rough slats.
Put your head on a potter's wheel,
spin life backwards in clay rivulets,
sink into fine china. Grass grows
pale blue, the colour of baptism:
shuffle the hill people, strung on a stalk:
press them into the clay as the wheel whirls faster,
until all the figures coalesce
at the consistency of a cooked eye;
this is what is known as the science of optics.

The statues in the Parthenon used to be painted.
Painter and painting move
from jewelled ikons to sketches in wash and pen.
Brush myself in
I try, still, not to tear the paper;
eating oneself is unseemly
and all these words have teeth like hungry rivers.


Comma (from the collection Shadowmass)

silence being plural, last and
best communion, bread
marble / dry drinking

stone ledges' silence, gasping
upon starred and oily water, dark enamel birds
dropping acanthus / houses
are eggshells / what we might have said now
because of water

or where dead flagons go
where morning
creeps from to meet us crawling out of night
cheap carpets littered with used music
that wove burgundy pleiades through smoke
in a different room

bus stops where another and another
night's needle split its pomegranate sun /
a raindrop hanging on a ladder
brighter than words or wine

because a comma can't be spoken
I present you silence
a million translucent cigarettes
someone's sweet-smelling tree with moons among its branches


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