Andrew Carruthers Reviews Jessica Wilkinson

11 January 2013

Given that Wilkinson’s historical archive is filmic, that ‘your’ is split. In the cinematographic poem the spectator/reader is as much at work as the director/poet. In what serves as a preface we are presented with some lines about cinematic truth:

I do not care for facts—
I care for truth 

‘The cinema is truth twenty-four
times per second’ (Godard)

marionette is montage, in which film reels are presented in the form of what Garrett Stewart calls the photogrammatic freeze-frame. On another page, the impossibility of knowing the full detail of the scandalous events on The Oneida (Hearst’s ship which saw the mysterious death of Thomas Ince) is punned (shooting/shooting) with the citation and pictographic illustration of Étienne-Jules Marey’s ‘chronophotographic gun’ of 1882. What often gets mistaken for truth (mere facts, factoids or opinions on facts) is supplanted by the truth-making procedures of Marey’s technological innovation. Elsewhere the cinematic freeze-frame is poeticised:


a single image on the strip of film
an illusion of movement is created
by the spectator
plot frames

The repetition ‘ve…ve…’ (echoing the spoken ‘I…I…I…I’) functions here as the cut of the reel, or Real, the hum of the frames clicking over. Repetition is also emptying out. Trails may turn to dust and voices withdraw:

I quaver on light
and you say
   you haven’t 
   lost your voice, have
at which point the reel unwinds
without conclusion
for the rest has turned to dust

canonical accounts cannot cannot

At the end of the reel, canonical accounts are doubly refused. The double negation mirrors the previous understanding of voice as assigned by the writerly. Davies’s own stammer is written into some of the more visually complex works in the book. In marionette the page is a palimsestual territory, a land of erasure, deletion, stringing, emboldening and receding visibility, pictorial and photogrammatic comings and goings, mishearings and stammers. Like the act, the stammer covers its own missteps, pointing up the deep pathological layers it reveals and englyphing the surface of its own half-articulation. Operating at the micro-cinematic level of the archive, marionette generates its own extracanonical account of the past, and through such engagement new truths emerge.

Media Convergence, Technique

Even if marionette does not say it is a poem, we consider it a poem, and hence we use names like ‘poetic biography’ or ‘feminist documentary poetics’ to describe it. In it we find the operations of other media, converged and remodulated. marionette is not conceptual, strictly speaking, but the media it subsumes (from a courtroom playscript to collage art to photography and an rich array of incorporated visual material) are notably at a stage of convergence (like ekphrasis) that leaves the ‘hangovers’ from each media liable to spatial and temporal disjunction. ‘Chinese Whispers’ references W.J.T. Mitchell’s three stages of ekphrasis, in Picture Theory (1994):

Ekphrasis, then, is a curiosity
as eye and ear lie down

and fornicate for triplets
fear, hope, indifference

‘SHOW PEOPLE: a metapicture’ gives further evidence of this critical engagement with Mitchell. For readers of marionette, the ekphrastic paradigm is a paradigm for Davies’s love life. The triplet here may be Tristanesque or Oedipal, with Ince or Ince-cum-Chaplin as the third party. Staying true to odd numbers, one memorable moment of working-through moves along a five-line staving-off. Its notational configuration is intercalated with letters, with vertical lineation spelling ‘face’ backwards and ‘rule’:

Stave off
Stave off
Stave off
Stave off
Stave off

Stave off                   r Stave off                   u Stave off                   l Stave off                   e Stave off
the noise the madness
the words the language
the communication the confusion
the mastery the illusion
all emotive misunderstandings

the stutter the colour   the music the mood   the notion the presence   the re-use the non-sense   all economies of love and hatred

Like many in the book, this is a complex page and takes time: a poetics of the Real frees itself from the stave-line’s vertical rule and turns out to be emancipatory. Is poetry is a law unto itself? Unable to be mastered, marionette inaugurates a poetics of the Real where writing happens around a void, the void of the Subject: the split ‘I’ who does not write the poem but who is the poem. Marion Davies, the poem. Marion Davies, also, the cut of the reel, who escapes the poem (and perhaps even language). Yet, this specific attention to historical particulars has universal address. We can all sympathize with/immerse ourselves in Marion’s world. In this sense, marionette, a masterwork of unrivalled technique, intensive labor and creative novelty, is one of the most unruly and truth-making long poems in the recent history of Australian poetry.

This entry was posted in BOOK REVIEWS and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

About A J Carruthers

a j carruthers is a poet, performer, critic. Recent works are Axis Book 2, the recorded sound-poem Consonata, and visual works all published in Canada: MS Word Variations 1-11, EPSON L4168 consonant studies (Banff: no press) and The Blazar Axes (Calgary: Spacecraft). Is working as Assoc. Prof. at Nanjing University, in China.

Further reading:

Related work: