The title of ‘the neverending poem’ suggests its relation to πO’s ‘Everything Poem’. It collects found moments of text, facts and observations. It is not that long, ending with a shudder-making quote from Margaret Thatcher. Its overall tone might be described as rueful. Another found poem, ‘amerika’ is like a dub version of Allen Ginsberg’s ‘America’, with the tone and apostrophe stripped from it. A collage drawn from a 1960s textbook, it is revealing of sexual and economic oppression:
sue is more attractive than ann jean is more attractive than sue […] i will have steak but sue will not she will have lobster […] if you left your jobs you would look for other jobs
Caldwell brings the two aspects together in the couplet, ‘it is time you bought a new car/it is time sue got married’.
Apart from the typos, there’s a rough and ready feel to this selection, resulting in the inclusion of some poems that do no more than those before them (sequentially if not chronologically), and in some wonky enjambments (‘you have control now’), but these can also have a payoff. Caldwell’s line breaks replicate, at least some of the time, an idiosyncratic verbal style that speeds up and slows down, and can make lines seem strained or truncated on the page. But not all of them; and the style can turn up a great line like ‘there to back him mainly’: ‘him’ being the poem’s titular horse, ‘tobin bronze’. The story of the race is strung out a bit long (if you don’t define being an adult as the ability to defer gratification) before finally arriving at the end’s kicker: no spoilers from me.
Caldwell, as someone who has been teaching creative writing for some time, is under the radar in terms of his influence on thousands of young readers and writers of poetry. Teaching, however, can sideline a poet’s own work. Reflections of a Temporary Self might seem as necessary as a white pepper milkshake, but taste is produced by reading, not by not reading: and besides, conventional poetry readers are the last thing a various place like Australia needs.