Johanna Featherstone Reviews History and the Poet

25 May 2018

Wood is unabashedly political. He never accepts payment for his poetry. He argues for a gift economy in which the market doesn’t get to value what is ultimately beyond value – the poem, the writing down of and exchanging of spirit. Wood is admirable in practicing what he preaches, but it’s naïve to champion writing for free when people need money to survive. Is there evidence for a better or more subversive poem being written because the poet wasn’t paid for it? Wood makes us think about the activist poet, the role that politics has in the life of a good poet, about poetry as citizenry.

History and the Poet is an idiomatic mosaic, a collection that tries to challenge the reader to constantly question identity and tradition. Wood uses poetry as an ethical framework with which to live, and to live as a good person, someone fully alive to and engaged with history and the unseen. There is so much to like in Wood’s passionate, political, personal offerings and his ambition to re-think and re-write what an Australian poetics may be. This is fresh and playful but it is not transgressive or revolutionary. The last three chapters in the book are personal letters to the reader and perhaps to the poet himself, which try to articulate what a poetic life is and why Wood writes poetry. His words are reminiscent of teenage confessions or conversations with the subconscious. There is nothing new in asking what a poet’s calling is but Wood asks poets to be defenders of language, for the body to be infused with history. And as if there is no way to end Wood’s wide ruminations on poetry and poetics, he closes his collection with a sort of elongated koan that in many ways defines both Wood’s writing style and his preoccupations: ‘history is a spade to the goldmine that is poetry, which is a bridge over the river that is life itself’.

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