Geography is not the point (as I said, whether Young is a New Zealand poet or an Australian poet is irrelevant): ‘to / provide a few moments of human amusement / is the core of the tourism industry’ (BH, 38). But geography is conjured up by the plethora of place names (Berlin, Côte d’Ivoire, Dar-es-Salaam, Denver, Hawaii, Madagascar, Siem Reap, Tombstone, Troy, Yeppoon), while motion is thematic in LT (‘The rebellion of the trains’, p. 20, ‘The atrium is / full of lust but / otherwise is over- / flowing. / Trains leave beyond the / hour’, p. 29, ‘The measure of / the ‘iron horse’ is how many / missives it drags behind’, p. 49, ‘We // need to vary our pace’, p. 52).
Australia has not shaped Young as an artist. Like me, he does not believe in its myths and legends (mateship, ‘fair go’, the beach, sport). You will not find its vernacular, and Young seems uncomfortable among its pastimes and preoccupations (it would seem that he is indifferent to sport, what Australians call a national religion). For my part, I am repelled by convict history, the squattocracy, the massacres, the ‘taming’ of the land. I eschew beer culture, masculinist poses and violence. I find the vastness of the continent oppressive; the climate, uncomfortable. I am sickened by the moral abjectness of its political and industry leaders. I feel trapped in a land without any clear identity (no true head of state, no consensus on the flag, national anthem) and with policies of appeasement (cf., East Timor, Pine Gap, Australian involvement in the wars in Vietnam, Iraq; even Canberra was created to appease the citizens of Sydney and Melbourne, both cities of which believed should be the capital). While I cannot read the signs of this country, cannot judge its pulse, cannot discern its heart, I suspect that Young simply ignores them. The absence of identity, however, carries within it a contagion, infecting all its inhabitants, including its poets. For me, and I suspect Young, along with Kinsella and others, parts of the continent we call Australia can only be a spiritual home to its Aboriginal peoples.
I’ve written three stories for Sonic the Hedgehog. Most of my work is kept as digital files. (LT, 65)
Young plays with postmodernist ‘borrowing’ (bricolage, another buzzword) in ‘Three from Florence Foucault’ (LT, 49–51), which three poems he tells us come from This Is Not a Pipe by Michel Foucault and The Ladies’ Book of Etiquette (1860) by Florence Hartley. He is improvising, repeating, ‘recycling’, working with what is at hand, like the Internet, enhanced by ‘stochastic acts’, to discover a semiotics, Saussurian signs, Linnaean categories (which he points out have been largely superseded by cladistics). In ‘Stochastic Acts’, he speaks of a ‘virtual bricolage’, ‘reconstituted realities’, ‘alternative pasts’.
Often, questions of language are merely questions of perception. Boredom is often a correlative of creativity. From a model of grammar to the academic, or a person’s literature, poets are being symbolic, homonymous. Of course, modernists were installing the simile as much as postmodernists were withdrawing it. They were being specific, rather than generalising, as when Young wondered what would Aristotle do: ‘Suppose tomorrow / I wake up & find / that, in the street, / there are fireworks & / dancing but, overnight, / I have lost all of my / natural teeth & my / investments now have / negative carry’ (BH, 7). Poetry had an interior, dissimulating, reconstituting: the condition of language itself, and its space, before it could recontextualise itself as a perspective, a perception of boredom and creativity setting in – the two, of course, being symmetrical with and essential to each other.
Hypothetically, the remains of poets’ reality herald the destruction of the archive, as Derrida would say, more than the future to be prophesied (‘How will future & / futuristic advances / in technology in- / fluence lunchtime / cyclists in lycra or / score points?’ (LT, 39)).
What has been discovered today is tomorrow’s bromide. A possible effacement becomes common enough through repetition and confirms the cliché (a cliché in French is a photographic negative); it loses its mojo by degrees. The multiplication of displacement, disjunction or the retraced self are no longer perceived to be ineffable: The trace, once divided, contextualises both identity and destiny; there is no juxtaposition (Kinsella wrote: ‘It’s easy all this juxtaposition, this raising / of feathers into a belief system, the spiritual / (…). All those Makars out there’1). Ontologically, binarism has been converted into associative structures (‘River sedi- / ment. Opposable / thumbs. Only / in a poem / would they not / be either/or / but and’ (LT, 12)). Young’s representation derives from an invisible operation (‘The sorcery / lies in an operation rendered / invisible by the simplicity / of its result’ (LT, 51)). He must turn to something new to relieve the boredom: experimental schema, a form of automatic writing, post-truth avant-gardism, japonaiserie, such as Kabuki theatre, music, Williams, mythology, the Internet; a presence which problematises the infinitesimal contract, to question imagination in order to disconnect the sense of the absurd.
I put on a bowler hat take an apple for lunch & head for la plage at Yeppoon where I en- gage in a bit of plagiarism by purloining the i- mages of Magritte & putting them forward as my own. (LT, 26) I have been reading (LT, 43) To reproduce & to articulate; to imitate & to signify; to look & to read (LT, 50) Parents spend more time reading with their kids than doing numeracy activities (LT, 55).
The environment is ripe for play (‘My only / experience in using biofuels / from land-rich / / tropical countries to help / displace foreign petroleum / imports was a major bath- / room renovation’ (EW, 24)). Next to ‘No clean water’, hands are ‘soft as silk’; we might have ‘poor sanitary / facilities’, but we have ‘glimmering nails / that don’t chip’ (EW, 34). Young says that the environment ‘is neither / metaphysical nor political’ (EW, 41):
An upcoming tragedy often described as serving the best burgers in Brickell will get the juices flowing. It illustrates how pesticide pollution from intensive tobacco cultivation causes physical deformities; & even though the stumps may offer a selection of cereals, fresh fruit, yoghurts & fruit juice they will never grow into real wings. (EW, 48)
Minamata (Japan), the byword of industrial disasters, perhaps ‘updated’ by Bhopal, is mentioned in a list in ‘schemata’ (BH, 11), but Young is no Kinsella (the former, always ironic; the latter, only sometimes ironic: ‘Samson attempting / to force apart / the Alaskan pipeline / that pollutes the / continent’ (BH, 9); ‘environmentally omnivorous / scavengers’ (BH, 22); ‘Exxon turns to paper towels for oil spill clean-up’ (BH, 36). Both are sincere; it is just that their approaches are very different, with Kinsella surprisingly often being the linguistically more experimental of the two (for Young, it is form, but not here).
The title Bandicoot habitat (BH) itself suggests an awareness of the environment, perhaps even endangered species. We have already seen the Domestic Animals Act in ‘candy & nuts’ (LT, 60). Fish are mentioned in ‘A great storm devastated the fitness instructor’ (EW, 10), ‘What a cabdriver told me’ (‘When fish turn / blue’, BH, 55) and the ‘Sorry’ poem that ends EW. (They are not mentioned at all in LT.) Fish are not transformative, in a Christian sense; Young does not mention any miracle, such as the loaves and fishes in Ern Malley’s Darkening Ecliptic; instead, he is secular, down-to-earth, if not downright informative (‘There are 68 calories in 1 slice of Sprouted Wheat Bread. // Sprouted wheat bread is an ancient food’, EW, 11).2
Nevertheless, a marine or riverain habitat is never far away: ‘A littoral reading’ and ‘A littoral translation’ (LT, 26–27), in one of Young’s few puns, creatively combine environment and language. (‘The first building with an elevator in Kaposvár’ ends on the stand-alone line, ‘It was on the island.’ (BH, 34)). Delocalisation and spoliation through human activity is never far away, either (in ‘pristine embankment’ (the word ‘embankment’ conjures up London), he says ‘the tide pools are a / publicized piece of / toxic waste’ (LT, 63)), and we have just seen Exxon. Rarely, he does mention a name (‘The River Thames’ (LT, 62, London again))). Even more rarely, he romanticises the environment, as in ‘Utamaro in The Everglades’ (BH, 17). The island as sanctuary (‘The / animals found their way // to the island’ (EW, 28)). The river as a locus of transference (‘River sedi- / ment’ (LT, 7; hyphened enjambment is often employed by Young)). While, of course, the sea has traditionally been a theme for poets.