Can Poetry Be Happy?

By | 1 September 2023

In any case, somewhat new or out of joint we reach the apex, no more poetry. CW’s final punishment relaxes into a lovely reward: real sentences, the motherfucking drop, into a nice clean pool. What pool? Of memory? Of fictionality? Is this the drop? Lucy Van writes in her essay ‘Waterslides’:

The long [lines] for waterslides teach children something about the value of time, but also time’s nature: the way horizons of waiting rupture and break, the way certain moments accumulate and addict. Children often reiterate the same trope when evaluating waterslides: the drop. The drop, originally a dubstep measure, is currently the best metric for a waterslide’s fun. When ‘good Cooper’ finally returns to diegetic reality in the new Twin Peaks, this is David Lynch trying out the drop.

Van’s essay, crucially, is about time travel. So is mine. Coincidentally, Lucy Van is from WA. I’ve still never been. When I am channelling CW/CW, I am going back in time … When I am writing this essay I am dropping into The Lucky Country. I am trying to see what’s there, through the eyes or behinds of two Coreys. Who is the boy, Corey? Brief online research into the meaning of the name suggests two threads: one of strength and fieriness (seething pool, ravine), one of round gentleness (hollow, hill). It is hard to say if water is involved, or just cool, dank darkness. Is Corey in the fire or the water? The drop is the ‘best metric for fun’. CW’s is a hefty drop, due at least partially to the severity of the wait / wade. If I am right to read for waterslide-ness, in what ways does the trial of the book, pre-drop, illuminate the nostalgia and serenity of the ‘Afterword’? The drop is the moment in EDM where we all fall in together. When I was sixteen I went with a friend to the music festival Stereosonic with a fake ID and flask of vodka in my underpants. We saw Bloody Beetroots and everyone jumped at the exact same time.

[If we are to read Worthington’s legendary party as a waterslide, which part is the drop? The pinger or the Afterparty/Afterword on A Current Affair? Or is it that he is a happy homeowner himself now, since cashing in to his fifteen minutes of fame?]

* * *

The ‘Afterword’ contains several ‘images of Australia’ given more power by their radically different stylistic representation in the context of The Alarming Conservatory. A boy ‘strangely cocooned’ in a car, about whose internal world ‘no one really cared’; ‘Bundies as they explode against the fibreglass of a friend’s carport’; ‘neighbourly banter’ that a suburban couple ‘seemed neither for nor against’; dad ‘listening to Nirvana on Sundays […] in the chair in the corner of the front room with those huge, world-cancelling black headphones, hands in lap or biting his nails, absorbed’. Images of idleness, of dead ends, of great feeling produced and subsumed by the languid and the everyday. People strapping in for the ride, both searching and ‘smiling the world away’. Not so much enjoying an ice cream, as Horne writes, but having one nonetheless, to prove a point, or to get something you thought you really wanted but finding some curious ‘nothing’ on the other side. These images are presented in the slipstream logic of reverie. They arrive at the final image of the mug, which seems actually to be the catalyst for the poem. ‘Smiling the world away’ is the clearest expression of anxiety in The Alarming Conservatory, where anxiety’s innate ‘critique’ is cashed in for momentary relief. Like dad listening to Nirvana – do not disturb his peace, do not break his headphones.

* * *

I am in the Kathleen Syme Library NOT reading The Lucky Country. I have picked up a book of essays by the American poet and friend – I think – of Wakeling’s American blurber, Kevin Killian, Robert Glück. The book is Communal Nude. In ‘The Charm of Difficulty’, Glück goes to a poetry reading by Robert Creeley. He’s confused by the older poet’s experimentation: ‘Shouldn’t I, a poet, be able to understand any poet writing in the present time? Yet here was an aesthetic that did not admit me …’

So, what? ‘Innovative writing wants to keep me in the present which can be experienced as a kind of DIFFICULTY… the present of reading instead of the present of a story’. CW gives me a headache then – splash, we land in the present of the past. I’m lost in it. I am, you are, we are admitted to this artificial realm: the past, WA, Australia. No anxiety, no worries.

* * *

What’s wrong with a little Beautiful World, a little Lucky Country, as a treat? What does such a treat DO to us? What does it do somatically, to use CA Conrad’s phrase? I am reading Sally Rooney at Mr Tulk waiting for a friend. I am ordering a cappuccino, thinking of an interview by Eva Birch with the artist Katherine Botten where she Botten about ordering a flat white:

Cafés are escapism for me and they’re like medicine, they’re soothing, it’s like buying into a lifestyle that I otherwise cannot afford … [It] makes me feel safe and secure for the duration of the coffee. And that’s a feeling I can’t find anywhere else …

I’m sitting in the sun looking at the RMIT Green Brain Building, Building 22. I’ve never been inside. The male character, Felix, in Beautiful World says to the other male character, Simon, while they’re standing in the water at the beach: ‘just be a dickhead and enjoy your life.’ Is reading The Alarming Conservatoryfor the ‘Afterword’ and casting away the anxious rest to ‘just be a dickhead and enjoy your life’? What is it that makes some of us not want to enjoy our lives, but rather to read poetry that makes our guts sick?

There’s something about Rooney’s prose: it’s cinematically beautiful, it’s crisp. My secret: I want my life to feel like a Sally Rooney novel. I want my memories of boyhood to be as clean as those in Wakeling’s ‘Afterword’. What is this feeling I’m desiring? Why and how is it so calm? Is it through its oppositionality to the true weirdness/randomness, the baroqueness, of actually lived everyday life, which is both registered and scrambled by the poetry which precedes the ‘Afterword’, or the real world buzzing by me as I order a coffee like I’m in Gay Paris (i.e. like in a movie, I’ve never been!), plus brought further into focus in the anxious moment of READING, which Rob Glück talks about? Sally Rooney is a walk on a cold beach in the sun. CW’s ‘Afterword’ is a flat white. I am talking about prose: crisp, clear and thoughtful prose.

It’s this fantasy of being calm, like my favourite hangovers. I want to be a Sally Rooney novel and never be anxious again, never do a ‘poetry ritual’ again. I could just put my feet up and ride the waterslide forever. But this avoidance is fake; the anxiety is still there – at the beach, buzzing around you. Isn’t it? I only ever half-understand. I want to walk to the beach and look at the sun set on the water. So, I do.

* * *

When I think about this essay, and this somatic ritual, I think about war, the sign of which arrived at the start in the form of my uncle and his van. His van, obviously, is about time travel, nostalgia. I don’t have my driver’s licence (I am a poet …). I have decided against the nipple piercing – too violent. I want to let in CW’s softer side. I have bought a pair of bug-eyed glasses from Magic Dollar, and have been wearing them occasionally to warm up.

When I think about somatic rituals, I wonder what their place is in Australia. They seem un-Australian. That is, we don’t need magic here, this is The Lucky Country, my kiddie is beside me, we are eating ice-cream. Of course, eating ice-cream is a kind of somatic ritual. I will not pierce my skin for art. What do I believe in?

* * *

Last night I met a man who went to Corey Worthington’s party in 2008. He had been working that night at the cigarette counter at Casey Central Woolies, the midnight shift they gave to the sixteen-year-olds to save on wages. While at work, he caught wind of a big party nearby, and so he went – ‘lots of bongs’, a repeated detail when describing the scene as we sat in a beer garden in Carlton. And pingers, and obviously alcohol. He stayed for an hour. It was too much.

* * *

Mon 5 June 2023 (My afterword?)

I’m doing the somatic ritual. Woke up from a dream in which I threw a tantrum after spilling this glass of red wine. I was upset because I was tired. My friends were shaming me for my excesses. I yelled: ‘GO TO FUCKING BED!!’ at the top of my lungs then went to mine, a narrow bench barely the width of my body. I woke up thinking: Corey Worthington.

I have a nutmeg in each pocket of my Adidas track pants, and a third in my mouth. It’s barely softening, gross but not a strong taste, just weird. A bit bigger than I’d like it to be. Tastes like fragrant dirt. I push it into my cheek like a gobstopper to drink my Dare. I’m eating beige and brown foods today: meat pie, vegemite toast, custard donut, spinach and feta twist.

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