SILENCE Editorial

By | 1 February 2014

One pleasure for me as a reader and editor lay not only in the variety of interpretations and moods but in the span of geographical and social terrain, from the Southern Highlands in ‘Essentially human’, to Lake Titicaca in ‘The navel of the world’. These are both prose poems, as is ‘Alone in the Woods’, a convincing example of the wonderfully weird psychological hinterland of the form. ‘Diary Poem: Uses of Silence’ ranges widely over politics, poetry, asylum seekers, meditation, film, football, and more, and suggests that ‘Perhaps we should explore / if all silences are tactile with what / I’ve called ‘the violence of waiting’’. Silence speaks to the writer as a seer and lover in ‘Silence: an Anatomy’: ‘And should you lose your way / banish the old conceit of sound / and I will guide you home’.

We also have a creaturely listening – ‘from Zoo Birds’: macaws, the rufous owl, the heron practising stillness and the mute swan. Other lyrical poems include the purely resigned ‘Swan Song’, and a finely poised composition ‘The Art of Fugue.’ Song is celebrated con brio in ‘A Capella’, that ‘crafted / ship of sound, / its promise of quiet water.’ The earnest breath of children blends with time past in ‘The Torpey spoon’, while in ‘Termites in Spring’ another domestic setting is threatened by the unheard and unseen insect ‘whose entire body is devoted to language.’ I realised as I read that I warm to poems about rooms – ‘Inside Quietness (Söderlund)’ for instance, and the late-night, atmospheric poem for voices ‘Sinking into Silence.’

‘Snow from Hakuba to Nagoya’ takes image proliferation to ingenious lengths. Not surprisingly, writers tend to perceive silence as white: snow was general over a number of poems and drifted into others. (I wonder what colour musicians hear when the music dies.) The silence of grief after 9/11, however, is cold stone-black in ‘The Pool’. Another poem on the aftermath of disaster, ‘Nagasaki Rain’, ends poignantly with the serene moments just before the blast. ‘Twelve Sights of the Sea’ braids visual images with mind play, sound being kept low-key as wind and wave; and the long wave of history is surfed in ‘A History of Australian Silences’ with its eerie conclusion. How much the understanding and literary expression of silence and absence differs according to the culture, and how closely it seems linked to landscape and the use of space. A number of the poems were welcome inclusions as being somewhat marginal to the theme yet subtly aligned or stylishly tangential.

Choosing the poems for this issue has been a journey of journeys, all with surprise destinations: the best sort of armchair travel. There is the added pleasure of knowing that many of the poems submitted came into existence because of Cordite 45, and of guessing that others already in process were ingeniously adapted. I like to think that more will eventuate as a result of reading the issue; the theme offers so many possibilities, from algebra and aphasia to witches and whistle-blowers, from the moment of birth to the night silence, galaxies deep. How privileged we are as poets; for writing, as Paul Kane says, ‘is giving voice to silence.’ And silence giving voice to us.

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