Owen Bullock Reviews Murray Edmond

By | 12 October 2016

There are many poems to sit with over time, and unpack. The particular use of lineation in ‘The Poet in Hamilton’ is intriguing: Edmond uses a prose-like structure (not unlike Ginsberg’s prose poetry) with surprising enjambment across ‘stanzas’. The poem is in the form of a letter to an old friend (perhaps a collaborator) and the unbalancing strategy of the writing accords with the understated, ironic and belated self-discoveries that the voice of the poem makes:

that was the moment I realised one always says this afterwards but it was that
moment I knew it was

over whatever we had had between us was lost lost so dear John for once you were
dear to me I am

writing what I should have said then but didn’t you will tell me this and I agree
even before you have spoken

but I didn’t so now I am writing but it’s almost as if I were singing a song

singing it perfectly

singing along with myself as it were it gives me such pleasure to do it epic is
the word that I would use

to describe myself I feel epic I could write the letter over and over and over
and over simply to say

it’s over

if there were paradise once it is now lost and make of that what you will it’s

letter not mine now to do with as you will till some greater power restore us

In general, the poems play with a variety of concluding tones. They resist the epiphany, sometimes approach mock-epiphany, and make consistent use of the ordinary sublime to take us out. Of course, there is a sense in which any poetry reconsiders the possibility of the epiphany and whether some more juice can’t be milked from it. In this case, one wonders if the ending is too throwaway, or whether the ‘etcetera’ sums up our predicament in some way. Even though some last lines do seem a little too flat, for instance, ‘and Tennessee has bought us tickets to the Bahamas’ (‘The Poet Returns to New York’) – a kind of imaginative going through the motions – I’m happy to sit with the question which this particular ending generates. There’s also an analogy in the poem to the role and function of writing per se, in an epistle to a specific reader at the mercy of that individual. The reader addressed, if real, is in a special position, though perhaps no more so than any of us with whom the work has been ‘shared’, whether one believes the author is dead or still in transaction with the reader.

The surreal element of the writing provides a sense of worlds meeting and situations juxtaposed; they might move backwards or forwards in time. They shed light on each other but not by reaching resolution; it’s more that these meeting places are illustrative of the contemporary world’s overlaps of dimensions and postmodern fragments, sometimes with attendant feelings of disconnection. The confusion and symbolic truth of a real situation that merely seems surreal is also powerful, as the narrative in ‘Digging for Kitchener’ attests.

The idea of disconnection pertains to the self. The voice of ‘In the Purple Mists of Last Evening’ writes in a notebook:

hastily scrawled and awkwardly formed words
the nature of which I found hard to connect
with the evening itself

It seems as though even separation is integrated as part of the reality of the world, as Debord writes in Society of the Spectacle. What works so well in Shaggy Magpie Songs is the relaxed tone behind such examples of acceptance; rarely do I feel the poet trying too hard, or that the language has become opaque, as I did with Edmond’s 2004 collection, Fool Moon. The problems of language surface whenever we speak and write. The structural dimensions of this collection help to bring those problems of language, and the wider issues they foreground and interact with, to a head, especially in a piece like ‘The Poet in Hamilton’. The poems are a bit shaggy; now and then, one wonders if lines might be clipped or preened, but the hand that reaches in gets snapped by the magpie. This poetry has found its exuberantly loose shape and is happy like that, no need to meddle. It has something like the energy of Edmond’s Laminations (2000), but with an even more confident resonance. At the same time, it preserves the explorative and experimental drive of his earlier poetry which I associate with End Wall (1981). This is an entertaining collection and one which has kept me wondering and often laughing aloud whilst re-reading its pages.

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