Duncan Hose Reviews Nick Whittock

6 February 2017

‘Watson in arsetralias’ is a long anti-apocalyptic chant that takes the form of the manifesto. The idea of ‘Australia’ is given the arse, being affectionately displaced through a willful remodeling of the present as ‘watsonia.’ It does not have the Zarathrustrian pomposity of ‘thus it shall be’; its pure prankishness lay in its insistence that a more lovely version of this place is already in operation and that it may be utterly inclusive. There are no subjects of this manifesto of potential republicans: everyone and everything is granted the weird sovereignty of being objects:

the objects of watsonia get the feeling before the night is through
the objects of watsonia dance the sarsaparilla!
the objects of watsonia generously share advantage
the objects of watsonia breeding like thylacines!

This is one of several poems written outside the grid of the scorecard in a more traditional lyrical sortie, but it changes its terms so rapidly it is like being a kid on a beach in a swarm of crabs, where you have to surrender the desire of holding on to one specimen and simply admire in terror the hustling mass crabbiness. Having said that, if you do manage to crack the shell on one, the grey matter inside is loaded with peculiarly rich speculative matter: ‘in watsonia neds a threshold between analogue and poetic violence …’ Ned being Edward Kelly I suppose. This sorts well with another line shortly after: ‘1 enemy of the state the duchess identifies the morals in every act n every bit of speech.’ Now who is revolutionary and who is reactionary? The poem presents a personal rewriting of a whole cultural ethos, and the cosmos of watsonia seems to have evolved through working the philosophical traction of figures as various as Charles Fourier and Cathy Freeman, Shane Watson and Louise Michel.

Whittock’s particular collecting of fetishes operates at both exhilarating speed and a slowness which is tragic. What this means I think is that he busies himself with the modernists rewriting the conditions of the heroic for the contemporary era (the Watson Era) up to, including and bowling through the limits of what is possibly expressible. The works are collectively goading their contestants to change the ways they compose their living jiggery: an awareness of the body as the sensual and extensive earth, the beauty and pathos of movement, the sometimes sharp pleasure of pissing, mob operations, hot plastic appreciations of swarm activity, intercourse with bush birdies on the physical plane, and vectors, trajectories, eschatologies, fates, vendettas in the metaphysical, which turns out to be the same plane.

What in all the discombobulated earth is a metaphor? The act of substituting or super-producing one abstracted object with another. Language is not an object in the world, it is a physical and metaphysical sign system of a terrible superfluity. By jealously standing in for the world, all language is conceivably metaphoric. ‘Bull’ is a bugger. I have admired bulls all through Gippsland and obediently reproduced their signature code in my head (hey, ‘bull’). I have been charged by a bull and I remember having whatever no need for its metaphor nor any regret for the split infinitive. I had instead the need for a big stone and a less theatrical roar. Treating with any literary work or other cultural artefact seems to require the resolution of a cogent (nifty?) system of metaphors or set of rhetorical rope-tricks, but facing up to Nick Whittock’s The Watson Era, one is facing the charging bull, and one must become the matador. This does not preclude a dandified virtuosity and the tight pants, but it does require an absolute and energised collection of one’s animal wits.

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About Duncan Hose

Duncan Hose is a poet, painter and academic scholar. His latest book of poems, One Under Bacchus, was published in 2011 by Inken Publisch, who also released his first collection, Rathaus, in 2007. He has published poems in Cordite, Steamer, 543, Jacket, Jacket 2, Island, Southerly, Overland, and The Sun Herald. His work is anthologised in Outcrop: radical Australian poetry of land (Black Rider Press 2013). In 2010 he was the recipient of the Newcastle Poetry Prize.


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