Can Poetry Be Happy?

By | 1 September 2023

Mimicking a friend’s tic, I have started to respond to mildly and severely baffling things with the blanket phrase: ‘I’m so confused’. I like it because it doesn’t try to stake a claim on the world, but lets the world simply be. I’m so confused = giving in to the day’s hecticness … admitting the world into you, ecstatic no? Hal Foster writes that Hirschorn’s work ‘looks dumb’, that is, ‘[allows] that we are often ‘dumbstruck’ by the outrageous events of the world, such as mass murder of innocent citizens during the Iraq War’. ‘I’m so confused’ is sort of a lie, but then … is it? Isn’t this so confusing? So fucking random? Even if we know what to say about it, if we have the tools provided by Marxism or Psychoanalysis or God or Something Else to make things less confusing, still we are confused …

I am becoming obsessed with this word. Random. I am using it all the time. Well, where I am sitting is indeed so random, and I am outraged. I am in it, I am being random too. Randomness is similar but different to weirdness. Both are connected to the 2008s, but in that time randomness held more favour (Free Hugs = very random, and also randomly started in Pitt St Mall, Sydney by Juan Mann). Corey Worthington is random; Corey Wakeling, qua John Ashbery, is weird. Qua? Random. I probably used it incorrectly. Corey Worthington is powerful because he has no shame, because he is abject, because he lives in and is of the randomness of the internet and outer suburbia and the violence of everyday life and he lets things happen and then they happen and he shrugs and says ‘I guess I’m a legend’. Why so random? Worthington gets rewarded; being random pays, at least in 2008. Corey Wakeling is weird because he refuses to slip down forever into the nihility of stomach-churning nonsense; his work obliquely begs to be understood, or he sets us free (apologises?) in his ‘Afterword’.

To call something ‘random’ is superficially lazy but in essence an ecstatic turn of phrase, both always true and so not … The party rages beyond Corey Worthington’s control. The poem rages beyond Corey Wakeling’s control. Revelling in randomness holds the potential for ecstatic experience. Writing almost unbearable poetry of anxiety is a form of power, a power that lives partly in the possibility of its randomness. On the one hand, being random is nihilistic and evacuated of meaning (cynical). On the other hand, it is open to possibility, it lets the world in (mystic?). Which is it? Can it be both? Can you pull it back just a little bit and it’ll all be OK?

Ceding some ground to the adults in the room, but ceding no power, I can imagine Corey saying: ‘I guess it was kinda random that I did that …’ I can imagine the outrage of Leila McKinnon hearing this imagined speech, steam pissing out of her ears. Ceding some ground to his reader’s poor stomach, Wakeling writes an ‘Afterword’ and I feel safe/saved.

* * *

I’m reading The Lucky Country across the road from my house at the baseball field. I’m on the grass in the sun – I used to play cricket here. Our house is on the corner, number one. On both street-facing edges of the house are parks. The two parks plus my house are a triangle. A triangle is a strong shape. The park I’m sitting in is called K C White Reserve and the other is called Quarry Reserve. Quarry Reserve used to be a quarry, then it was a meat-works. The runoff from the meat-works means, or meant, that you can’t build on the land. Now it’s a square park used for horse riding. Maybe ten years ago they added a smaller square inside it, filled with sand and bordered by pale wood and hundreds of agapanthus. The horse people bring their horses and things to jump over some weekends. When I look up K C White, I get a Jamaican reggae singer, songwriter and producer.

I am half-heartedly planning a somatic ritual a la (qua?) American poet C A Conrad in which I channel Corey Worthington circa 2008. It’s been 15 years. I will get my left nipple pierced and wear sunglasses and travel from my parents’ house in Williamstown to the street on which CW threw his legendary party. I will carry one whole nutmeg in each of my pant pockets. I will drink either a Dare iced coffee or a Monster energy drink. I will meditate on what I felt like partying as a teenager. One of my favourite mornings ever, waking up on a friend’s couch, walking out into the day with the clear light of a hangover. I remember feeling so powerful. I didn’t feel any anxiety, my nerves dulled to a haze, and I was moving freely through the world on a cold sunny Melbourne day like today.

I am lucky to have grown up in this house on the corner. The greatest ever season of my cricket career was U13s, when our home ground was K C White Reserve. My brother and I would wander over in our whites, dragging our cricket bags behind us around eight in the morning. My brother would bowl bamboozling, loopy slow mediums (no spin), and I was the wicket keeper. We would often ‘stump’ the batsmen. Writing this now I am seeing in it a metaphor (cheap perhaps) for poetry, especially difficult poetry (happy-difficult?): as in, the beauty of not making sense, the humour, the ecstasy, the annoyingness … and finally the use-value. It worked. He bowled absolute pies and won the bowling average across the whole competition.

* * *

I’m in The Lucky Country reading Corey Wakeling; his poetry makes me anxious. I’m reading the penultimate poem in The Alarming Conservatory, ‘Solo’, a real punisher. It’s five stanzas long, two and a half pages. I’m half-trying to make sense of the first stanza then realise every stanza is the same, but the pronouns change. Somehow the repetition of the lines with these minor alterations makes the original stanza less illuminating. What is the significance of the pronouns changing? Just for fun, or just to irritate? In any case it is uncomfortable, and you do feel ‘Solo’, alone at sea in the muggy cryptic wordplay of CW at his most annoying.

I leave the poem behind. I arrive again at the ‘Afterword’.

What if we refigure the ‘Afterword’ as the entire purpose of reading The Alarming Conservatory? What if we posit this, if only just for fun? In this scenario, first, what is the purpose or result of the difficult poems so far? ‘[P]erhaps intended to jolt one out of complacency’ says Ella Skilbeck-Porter in her Cordite Poetry Review review – out of complacency, but into … something new yes, a thicker skin or perhaps a skin chemically peeled, like people use to grow a new and better layer back. Or is a better metaphor hole-in-the-ozone sunburn, the poems evil yet somehow instructive suns …?

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