In the poems ‘twelve surfaces’ and ‘ten maladies’, Abbott riffs on the metaphoric and semantic possibilities of the words ‘surface’ and ‘malady’ respectively, two key words to think about in his poetics – ‘surface’ representing the abstractions of language, the 2-D-ness of it; and ‘malady’, representing the anxiety and melancholy in his poetry, and a pun on ‘m’lady’ to boot. Throughout these two playful list poems, he gives these words new meanings while, at the same time, rendering them meaningless. Unfortunately, ‘ten maladies’ has a formatting issue, which shouldn’t be attributed to the poet, but issues like this can often attenuate the poetry. The last lines of the poem clearly end up adjacent to the page number at the bottom of the third page, breaching the page margins, instead of going over on to a fourth. This might sound picky in this case, but there are conventions1 when it comes to book production – including a legible font size – and these conventions are there for a reason: to present the written word as suitably and transparently as possible, so that a reader just reads it.
In any event, most all the poems in wild inaudible come down to language and how it restricts or expands experience. The word ‘wild’ comes to represent something that is silent, unencumbered by language. At the same time, by abstracting this word, there is a distinct awareness from the poet that we are never fully devoid of language – again, that Stevensian tension between imagination and reality.
As a collection, the poems are neatly arranged, some speaking to each other purely by their placement. As the book progresses, it becomes more tender, the self unravelling –becoming, revealing. The final poem, ‘cusp’, is the most intimate and spare of the book: ‘i wake to the good / of the small of your back / heat at the skin’s hand…’ (39).
At times, the gravitas of Abbott’s philosophical mode strikes an overly earnest tone, but Abbott alleviates the pressure with a self-reflexive humour, such as in the aforementioned ‘twelve surfaces’ and ‘ten maladies’, and then in this moment in ‘new mexico’:
the moon is a ping pong death star bright eye blind and arnica sure of itself it deadpans what goes on (18)
In the poem ‘theoria’, the title giving us the Greek word for the English ‘theory’, but also related to the Greek word for ‘spectator’, Abbott writes with a keen feel for punk aesthetic, tongue planted in cheek:
we talk around when weather is here the raincloud gets amongst it o gaudy geed up bringer of ruckus ... (12)
And to finish the poem:
... liberal piety so puzzled coming in for cosmic latte the picture true as we are starry creatures the round world glittering exitless (13)
Abbott has the ability to move in scale from large to small and back out again, reflecting how a mind might move and focus, often using an entire poem to dwell on a small but significant moment or observation. Take the poem ‘wild’, which acts as the title-poem. After a short but wide-lens opening (‘if we are unaffected // pinned by wild / at the wing of us’ (24)), the speaker of the poem zooms in on a puddle with oil in it. The thought, the sensation, and the conscious perception of this image translates a sense of awe, touching on something inexplicable but essential about existence:
rain was oil last night remnants still as rainbows on the deck the splitting of the spectrum to relieve our living slightly lifted here we are bone hollow as flightless with wing the wild inaudible wild makes no demand (24)
Australian Poetry Ltd has published a strong voice in Mathew Abbott, as they have with Eileen Chong in her first collection burning rice. What Australian Poetry Ltd should focus on in their next series of emerging poets, however, is the production of the books that poetry like Abbott’s deserves to be read from. While the small dimensions of these stapled books is a welcome format, the font size chosen is too small. And, as mentioned earlier, for some reason (maybe cost-cutting?) there are a couple of poems in Abbott’s collection which breach the page margins. Attention to detail is important when producing books of poetry. Thrifty production runs the risk of misrepresenting the poets’ work when published. Thankfully, the poems in Mathew Abbott’s wild inaudible manage to rise above any production inadequacies.
- Unless, of course, the brief for a book’s production and layout is to deliberately circumvent said conventions, of which wild inaudible is not an example of ↩