Will Druce Reviews Jake Goetz and Michael Farrell

By | 30 April 2024

Unplanned Encounters by Jake Goetz
Apothecary Archive, 2023

Googlecholia by Michael Farrell
Giramondo, 2022

Saturated in a droll but kind and sparkly ennui, Jake Goetz’s volume, Unplanned Encounters (2023) reaches out a cigarette-butt holding, soil and spider-web covered hand and invites readers to confront dislocation, catastrophe, doom, ecocide, and the deeply unsettling mutilations/morphology of post-colonial settlement. Spanning the colonised lands of several continents, composed over a five-year period (2015-2020), Unplanned Encounters brims with flippant yet mournful observations of the so-called ‘Anthropocene.’ Goetz challenges the authenticity of our relationship to landscapes that have been settled, reshaped, concreted-over, and terra-morphologically face-lifted. The erasure of ecological harmony in the face of settlement and urbanisation leaves but traces of a now-displaced balance, so what is it that we encounter when we look at these landscapes and cities, and who is reflected back at us when we do? Goetz quotes a translation of the late Argentine magical realist, Julio Cortázar, in an epigraph to the third section of his book:

I’m looking for a poetic ecology, to observe myself and at times recognise myself
in different worlds, in things that only the poems haven’t forgotten and have
saved for me like faithful old photographs


The “apocalypse from a distance” imagery of Goetz’s poems suggest that the truly unplanned encounter may therefore be the one in which we recognise ourselves in a world without concrete, without “BOOMING 747s” and expanding airports, without lakes of industrially produced chemical excrement, or continental land-clearing, or mass extinction, as “another object held in the hand” (‘Slippery-wind,’ 40; 40; 40). Self-recognition in a world without us. Following Cortázar, these poems are then an aloof collection of vessels chronicling encounters with ecologies that – within the context of where they have been composed – have been violently displaced.

Goetz is acutely aware of the plastic flavour that the word ‘ecology’ has taken on and has a keen interest in the construct of the ‘eco.’ The mutilation of this prefix, which has been well under way for many decades, is therefore a site of strangely attractive doom that Goetz is drawn to. In ‘eco de la historia’ (which can be translated as ‘the echo of history,’ from Spanish) Goetz plays with the notion of eco as repetition, or ‘echo’ (38). Both words repeat each other, wrap around each other, like:

              […] cars

               on the Princes
circling around this city
       like bees to the hills hoist

               or drones over Syria
bound to the echo of history
       the ability to think   yet repeat 

(‘eco de la historia,’ 38)

The last couple of stanzas of this poem (those shown above) tie a neat little bow around the notion that cognition is not an advantage. Instead, cognition is perhaps more like an unlearning, a cyclic doom that transforms the fluidity and porousness of the eco (the home/abode) into a concrete, hard-cased echo-chamber of repetition.

While doom underpins them, there is also an ode-like quality to many of these poems, with the first third of them written either toward or out of the urban terra/terror-scape of Sydney. The celebratory aspect of Goetz’s poems is ironic but also sincere, a trait his work shares with Michael Farrell’s. Goetz spectates as “a pigeon / pecks a banh mi outside Centrelink / where we stand and stare at scaffolding,” illustrating a sentimentality sandbagged with fatigue (‘Marrickville Rd sonnet,’ 41). Goetz’s tone conveys a kind of affection for the disaffecting force of everyday urbanity – a knowledge-through-intimacy of the mundane objects we have substituted for natural objects and beings. Goetz’s poetics inherits its disaffected lilt from John Forbes, and Goetz occasionally nods his cap to Forbes in more direct ways. The poem ‘Four plants (and doing them),’ which is a re-writing of Forbes’ ‘Four heads & how to do them,’ admits in Forbesian register:

                         that perhaps the problem here 
of ‘history’   is simply the authenticity it proclaims
through something as brief and arbitrary as centuries

(‘Four plants (and doing them),’ 18)

Goetz is particularly interested in “encountering” the cost of this kind of disaffection where “people drift like plastic bags” and “when the world / has become an escape from the world” (‘Slippery-wind,’ 40; 40; 40). Poems such as ‘Slippery-wind’ draw together the immense globality of everyday urban life in Sydney suburbs. The interconnected web of death, dissociation, and ecological collapse shows how interconnection is a vulnerability as much as a strength:

                Air China cuts the camembert sky blue
and ‘a politician will always be a politician’
          he tells me    as smoke billows

                from a Marrickville biscuit factory
and an industrial warehouse lets waste slip
         into the Yangtze […]

(‘Slippery-wind,’ 40)

If a river is polluted on the other side of the earth, the ramifications are felt everywhere.
Featured in this book is the connection Goetz has with the Maiwar/Brisbane river which he explored in depth in his first poetry volume Meditations with Passing Water, published by Rabbit Poetry Journal in 2018. Goetz takes pleasure in contrasting embodied notions of place within these poems. For example, in ‘Work Poem (2),’ the “vascularity of the city” of the urban terror-space of Brisbane is contorted, on the next page, around the alluvial vascularity of:

the Maiwar dark   almost black
twisting like a body wrung out
after washing and draped over a hills hoist


These glimpses of land and of terror are mediated through the alienating “loading bar of another Monday” – another mechanism of dissociation, detachment – and the decoupling of lived experience from the ecological space in which it is lived (‘Work Poem (2),’ 44). The distinction between the natural and the anthropogenic are deliberately confusing within many of these poems which celebrate the paradox of nature’s artificiality. Only by inventing the notion of ‘nature’ could we separate out from it into a world where “kangaroos kick tourists / hopped-up on carrots / they’ve become / addicted to” (44). The cities Goetz writes toward and out of are mutilations of landscape indeed, but self-mutilating ones which we are part of, which form us as we form them, oozing oil and sugar and piss and sugarcane champagne and “sparkling mirvac blue in winter sun” (41).

Published in March 2023, Unplanned Encounters is currently available through Apothecary Archive. Jake Goetz’s upcoming volume, Holocene Pointbreaks, will be released by Puncher & Wattman with publication expected in mid-2024.

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