By | 1 August 2015

what does it sound like?

Discussing the issue’s brief, neither Kent MacCarter nor I were particularly interested in setting boundaries to form and content. The issue’s definition of transtasman poetics is constituted by the characters and concerns of the poetry contained – in part and in sum – and it is of course a failure, in the sense of definition. Its origins create a massively diverse sample of contemporary work, one that exceeds a governing or common tradition and ethos.

That said, looking over a crowd of poems I find that I intuitively search for patterns. Becoming immersed in the contents of the issue, I noticed motifs of wind, night, rain, and soil; as well as the recurrent figure of the domestic garden. So already, these two casual observations suggest a provocative tension between signifiers of elemental and cultivated/pastoral living. Maybe I just imagined them, or willed them to be there; but equally they might be seen to demonstrate Jack Ross’s observation of ‘the new pastoral, together with its theoretical branch of eco-poetics’ in contemporary Aotearoa New Zealand poetry; fields that have their correlatives in Australia, too.1

Across this issue there seems to be a conceptual and vocal tension between history and speaker, where the poet’s present up pushes against public or collective constructions of the past. This tension engenders violence, such as Hinemoana Baker’s ‘Harbour’; mounting frustration in Murray Edmond’s ‘In the Purple Mists of Last Evening’; smiling impatience in Marty Smith’s ‘Bloody well doing’; and critical yielding in Hoang Tien Nguyen’s ‘On the site of the old YMCA’. Among others, Leggott, Bolton and Perez find that this postcolonial state of tension demands long narrative forms; and there are also excerpts from longer sequences, such as the sonnet by Mateer (to another of our contributors, Singaporean writer Cyril Wong) and Ian Wedde’s ‘The Little Ache: A German Notebook’.

Then again, numerous of the poems dwell in a poetic country far less explicit. Indeed, there may be nothing geographically or culturally specific about them that says ‘transtasman poem’ or ‘transtasman poet’. Is Liam Ferney’s ‘63 no’ indicative of anything but itself? Moreover, each line of Peter O’Mara’s ‘you’ is the body of an iceberg – no tip to be seen.

I’d be interested to learn whether or not readers of this selection perceive other poetic gusts in its voices, imagery and affects. What is the radio hearing? What fears and phonemes falling down from that invisible transtasman sky?

  1. Interview with Jack Ross, Booknotes, 23 October 2014.
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