The more perceptive among you (perhaps, given my endless complaints, even the terminally woolly-minded) will have noticed that Ms TN has been a little ragged lately. In an attempt to untangle the mental threads, I'm flying to London tonight; perhaps mainly to remind myself that while, for good or ill, I may be many things, one of them is supposed to be a poet.
The putative occasion for my visit is the release of my new collection of poems, Theatre, which is out this month from Salt Publishing in a handsome hardback edition (full advertisement below). So while I'm in the UK, I'm going to hang out as a writer: I'll be discussing human beings and nature with JM Coetzee and other luminaries at New Writing Worlds at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, and mainlining poetry at my favourite festival, Soundeye, in Cork, Ireland. In between, I'll spend a weekend in Cambridge, where - continuing the poetry/theatre nexus - I'll witness John Kinsella's version of Milton's masque Comus, and then a bit of time in London, where I'm planning to see ...Sisters, poet/theatre maker Chris Goode's take on Chekhov, at the Gate Theatre. Fortuitously, a retrospective of Cy Twombly's work opens next week at the Tate Modern, and I will so be there. Ever since I rounded a corner in the Tate and felt my jaw clang on the floor at the impact of Quattro Stagioni, I've been a Twombly fangirl. The poetry theme certainly extends to Twombly: he hung out in his younger days with Charles Olson and the gang at the famous Black Mountain College. And you can see it in his paintings.
And yes, I plan to blog some of this. In, of course, a leisurely and poetic fashion.
Meanwhile, in between packing and other miscellaneous duties, yesterday I managed to heave myself into Melbourne Festival HQ to hear the media briefing on Kristy Edmunds' final festival, MIAF 2008. I am not, alas, permitted to tell you anything until the program is officially launched next month: but I will say that I am already pondering whether it's possible not to sleep for three weeks. And that I suspect that this festival might be seen in retrospect as one of the high points of Melbourne culture: it is packed with local artists.
At the other end of the scale, last night I saw David Williamson's new play, Scarlett O'Hara at the Crimson Parrot, at the MTC. More on that when I can upload my Australian review.
And lastly, the promised advertisement:
Alison Croggon has from the beginning of her career demanded attention (gaining an entry in The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature, 1994, on the strength of one book). She is one of the most powerful lyric poets writing today.
Praise for Theatre:
Alison Croggon's poetry is distinguished by passion, intelligence and an intense moral honesty that does not consist of statements about things, or a drawing up of attitudes to this or that, but of a commitment to understanding the ways poetry - the language of poetry - enables us to understand. We have, as she says, "perfected the technologies of harm" and will most likely carry on doing so. But the same prose poem, History, goes on: "In unguarded moments I found myself longing for the dazzling conceits of civilisation to be actual, for the profound and bloody pleasures which underlay them." The marvellous sequence that ends the book, Translations from Nowhere, itself ends with "an eyelid / snapping open, dazzled, full". That fullness and that dazzling characterise all work.
Theatre is the apt title for such poems. Alison Croggon is gifted with a rare capacity, negative capability: not so much, as for Keats, one that allows the poet into the life of the sparrow on the gravel, but a capacity to feel her way into the voices of others, from Iseult or Sor Juana to the uncanny, unhomed voices of Translations from Nowhere. But as with the best theatre, it is Croggon's care for language, its singularities and its musics, that makes these poems inimitable. Through it all, an ummistakeable note is sounded, wrapping through the many voices the tones of joy and desolation, water and wind on stone.
To the mere spectator, it might appear that in this Theatre the poet is delivering her lines. She is not! This is a theatre in which there is no script, no actors, no representation. It is a place of first principles, born from, and belonging to, the poet. From her stage there come no answers, indeed, no questions. The latter are for you to ask yourself when you realize and understand the complete lack of pretence in her words – “if I have been asleep” –
And like Alison Croggon, responsibly, I also want to wake up, remove my masks, my costumes, and step out into the generative presence of real life. Clearly, it is the poet’s language that allows this. She knows that the spotlight is never on the stage but, rather, on the audience: Her art’s only illumination is what it illuminates in you.
Personally, I think this is the best book I've done. And if moved by my colleagues' exhortations, you can order it online from Salt Publishing.