Fiona Hile Reviews Lionel Fogarty

By | 10 March 2015

Fogarty’s poetry is politically and aesthetically divisive and it is in part because of these qualities that it is at times conscripted in the service of ancillary debates. This conscription can sometimes come across as an attempt to shut down what might turn out to be new ways of thinking through language. In his review of Black Inc’s Best Australian Poems 2013 for the Age, the Herald’s chief book reviewer Andrew Reimer quoted from Lionel Fogarty’s poem ‘Induct True Legendary Thrills Bravery’. For Reimer, the lines served to demonstrate his perception that ‘some of these poets seem to cultivate obscurity for its own sake’, they are ‘the opening lines of a vivid, unsettling but, in the strictest sense of the term, meaningless poem’.1 The poet and critic Bonny Cassidy went on to interrogate Reimer’s claim in two online essays published on the website of Australian poetry publishers, Puncher and Wattmann. Cassidy’s objections circulate around Reimer’s use of the word ‘meaningless’ and draw on observations from articles on Fogarty’s poetry by Paula Hopfer and Tim Wright. She concludes, along with Wright, that, whilst Fogarty’s use of language can be viewed as ‘crushing’ and even alienating (as Hopfer argues), ultimately it induces the reader to ‘emphasise the potential dialogic space that is created’ by its complexity.2

In June 2013, Fogarty attended the apoetic Festival of Innovative Australian Poetry at the NSW Writing Centre, partly in order to participate in a tribute to the poetry of Noonuccal and Gilbert. One of the panels featured three young white male poets reading from and talking about the influences on their own poetics. During question time, Fogarty wanted to know why all three were writing on and through European poetic traditions. Why weren’t they writing about what was going on in Australia? Fogarty’s question illuminates what is at the heart of his poetics – that is, an urgent desire to render the invisible aspects of cultures as visible, the ‘meaningless’ as meaningful. In the preface to his New and Selected Poems (1995), he writes ‘I want to give everybody my understanding so that they can understand what the reality is in my community; the dreaming and the need for a revival of my language and connection to the land. When people read my poetry I want them to feel the spirit that is in me and in the people of my community.’3

Because Fogarty’s work is linguistically, formally and thematically complex, he also writes this: ‘You have to understand all the poetry I write in order to get the message. It’s a performance in literary oral tradition, of even using their English against the English. The way they write and talk is ungrammatical, because it doesn’t have any meanings in their spirit.’ Here, Fogarty charges English-speaking white Australians to reconsider their positions with regard to the language that, as Wright notes, may work not only ‘as an exclusive challenge to the non-Indigenous reader but (also) to the relics of colonialism that Anglophones feel and find in the language.’4.

Fogarty’s poetics has important implications for how we will conceive of an Australian poetry and how we will make meaning from the silences and omissions inherent in the language we use to produce it. This position is made even more complex – and, potentially, more universal – in ‘ADVANCE THOSE ASIAN AND PACIFIC WRITERS POETS’ in which he writes, ‘We need to unite for rights in all writing powers’. The poem is rightly, I think, the centrepiece of a book whose title incorporates an indigenous and anglophile language and sets out to bind historically informed presentations of the future.

For Agamben, messianic time is ‘the time it takes for time to come to an end, to accomplish itself. Or, more exactly, the time we need in order to accomplish, to bring to an end our representation of time.’ It is concerned neither with chronologies nor endings. For Paul, the summoning of the messianic will imbue the community with an operational time that is ‘the time that we are’ and in which ‘we grasp and accomplish’5 This time, for Agamben, is the time of the poem, and we can see the Pauline operations from which his observations derive at work in Fogarty’s gradual summoning of various community groups – ‘Come Brothers of the Asian Pacific writers pleasant our price for a truce in a thousand devour years, no colony can con.’ In ‘A Philosophical Task: To Be Contemporaries of Pessoa’, Badiou argues that ‘the singular line of thought deployed by Pessoa is such that none of the established figures of philosophical modernity is capable of sustaining its tension.’6 Philosophy has a close relationship with poetry, he argues, because it finds in literature ‘some examples of completely new forms of the destiny of the human subject.’7 Badiou finds these examples in such figures as, amongst others, Beckett, Pessoa and, here from a different perspective, Paul whose writings he reads as ‘something like a testimony about a new conception of truth’.8 The poems in Fogarty’s new collection are testimonials that propose new ways of thinking about old problems and in their urgency they concern us all – ‘the words are mine, now you’re for worlds to share’ (‘PLANNING WITH MY FLIGHT’).

  1. Andrew Reimer, ‘State of the national mind’, Sydney Morning Herald, accessed 16 Feb 2015
  2. Bonny Cassidy, ‘On not knowing’, accessed 16 Feb 2015
  3. Lionel Fogarty, New and Selected Poems: Munaldjali, Mutuerjaraera, Melbourne, Hyland House, 1995.
  4. Tim Wright, “Tim Wright reviews Mogwie-Idan Stories of the Land by Lionel Fogarty”, Mascara Literary Review, Nov 2013
  5. Agamben, “The Time That Is Left”, pp. 1-14.
  6. Badiou, Handbook of Inaesthetics, p. 37.
  7. Alain Badiou, ‘Figures of Subjective Destiny: Samuel Beckett’, accessed 16 Feb 2015
  8. Adam S Miller, “An Interview with Alain Badiou: Universal Truths and the Question of Religion”, Journal of Philosophy and Scripture Issue 3.1. See also Alain Badiou, Saint Paul: The Foundations of Universalism, trans. Ray Brassier, Stanford: Stanford UP, 2003.
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