Michael Brown Reviews Paul Hardacre

7 December 2004

The Year Nothing by Paul Hardacre
HeadworX, 2003

If one name stands out as a hero and influence among the present generation of Australian poets it's Michael Dransfield. B. R. Dionysius has dedicated a poem to him. Jayne Fenton Keane has penned an adequate parody of one of his most recognisable works and Jaya Savige claims that discovering Dransfield's work prompted him to pursue writing instead of law. There is also John Kinsella's recent retrospective of Dransfield's work. However, Paul Hardacre in his first volume The Year Nothing, is perhaps closest not only in style but also in intent.

A quick flick through Hardacre's book is enough for the reader to spot the visual parallels with Dransfield's work. Then you begin noticing the titles and finally the poems in full. Dransfield is everywhere in these pieces. The epigraph for the second section of poems comes from him. The poem ‘6 Minutes of Spring' is a throwback to Dransfield's ‘A waste of time/A time of waste'.

Equally striking is ‘Paper Object Town' as an imitation of ‘to Charles Buckmaster'. Hardacre even courageously includes ‘Bum's Rush III' as a sequel in answer to Dransfield. But there is something more than just impersonation and hero worship at play here. It feels more like a continuation or a solidarity of purpose. For instance these lines from ‘Hotel Room, Scara Brae':

fill a shoe-box with the necessary
paraphernalia: candles, redheads, spike, fix
— take one last breath
close the door don't look back

appear as the second poem in the collection and could have been written by Dransfield himself. A little further on, in ‘A Fall Through the Ground', Hardacre responds to an overdose with these lines:

tangle ourselves in telephone cords and blankets
and watch as you decompose into our dark green carpet
along with the cake and popcorn and roaches

Hardacre, it seems, is sharing the lessons of the ‘school of junk'; that is, he is using drug poetry in the same way Dransfield did to illuminate a kind of bruised humanity. Whereas Dransfield played up to the romantic image of the drug-using poet, Hardacre approaches the material from the vantage point of having worked for the needle exchange program on the streets of Brisbane's Fortitude Valley. But this is just one of Hardacre's devices.

Hardacre takes us out of the localised into a kind of globe-trekking, third-world post-modernism where ‘drinking 7-UP' while viewing ‘MTV Asia' in ‘Palace Hotel' occurs on the same temporal plane as the rape, torture and beheading of 140 children by a Columbian serial killer as in ‘The Young Corn God'. This is history, Hardacre seems to be telling us, these ordinary atrocities that pile up like bodies, like centuries.

It is not surprising then that about midway through the book we come across the poem ‘Centuries'. Divided into seven sections each beginning with ‘in the' as a lead in, ‘Centuries' illustrates Hardacre's intent at its most bare and identifiable. History is a repetition of horror involving wholesale rape, priestly paedophilia and child massacres. He refuses to be overcome, nonetheless. The final section of the poem consists entirely of the lines:

in these Byzantine flowers
I see hope, flickering.

Much of the success of the book comes from the arrangement of the poems and Hardacre rounds off his first collection with a poem entitled ‘Edit', suggestive of his belief that change is still possible against the backdrop of the history he has helped us visualise. Hardacre even places an epigraph at the end from Pankaj Mishra's The Romantics in case we missed the point, reconfirming that his task is ‘creat[ing] new hopes in order to offset the destruction of the old ones'.

Unfortunately at times, Hardacre's approach is a little too didactic and his desire for ‘new hopes' tends to fall a little flat when delivered in a not-so-new style. It only serves to undo his good work. Even so, Hardacre is a lyrical romantic and a full-time ‘disciple of the bone machine'. The Year Nothing is about renewal and beginning afresh and that can't help but be exciting.

Michael Brown is a poet and writer based in Brisbane.

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