Justin Lowe reviews Alison Croggon

13 May 2003

Attempts at Being by Alison Croggon
Salt, 2002

Early last year, John Kinsella, man of letters and chief editor of Salt Publication, published his selection of Michael Dransfield's poetry through UQP, simply titled Retrospective. This old Dransfield acolyte couldn't fault it, and I have been waiting for an opportunity to proclaim that for six long months. So what's the occasion, Justin? I think I have just stumbled across Dransfield's successor:

relearning how to be still, that is the difficulty.
blinder and more coldly clouds race
far above the pious stone, which has nothing to do with you.
spring is more than a melting place in the mind
or new kinds of blossom reckoning futures
past your dissolving hands:
perhaps you can forgive the longings for solace
which damage you, the brilliant promise of water,
enough to endure a gentleness that wakes
the million eyelids sleeping in your skin

                            ('Owl Songs')

Alison Croggon is a poet as surely as rain falls and leaves scatter (the weather and cycles of nature being her two favourite poetic props in this collection a la Dransfield); even her emails sing like epistles worthy of St Paul. She first caught my eye in the June 2002 issue of Famous Reporter, and I must confess my first hasty perusal of this collection left me a little cold. But that's usually the way of meetings between dull minds and exceptional works of art. I didn't like the fact that a long poem opens the book (the poem in question, by the way, is a masterpiece packing the same sort of punch as Dransfield's 'Chopin Ballade'.) I didn't like the presence of those Joycean monologues (until I bothered to read them out loud). I didn't like the fact (when all our skins are bared) that she got in first with lines like these:

Tomorrow's grass will be yellow and voiceless
apart from the small green spear in its heart
shouting tomorrow and tomorrow

                            ('Songs of Grass')

I also recoiled from the voices that first reading evoked until there were so many bouncing around my empty head, I realised all I was hearing was the Muse herself. I don't often get to see this side of her. The Dransfield connection holds if for no other reason than the intensity of both poets' experience:

I am done with everything but this business
of recalling what is human –
faint letterings in sand, this burning leaf
or a curtain blooming in a still room –
all I know of eternity. How it burns me,
how borderless I become in the wind

                            ('The Wind')

This is grand stuff, jagged as a sweep of the hand in a crowded room, emphatic wise and whimsical (a little like the times if you decided to turn off the TV and go for a walk). Thank you.

And thank you for having the courage to extol those beautiful Poundian phrasings, those visceral Joycean leaps of fancy while never losing sight of yourself or your times. Thank you too, John Kinsella, for delivering two marvelous titles to my many doorsteps in an otherwise barren year. All I recall of my spell in Cambridge were pubs and winds, but after gorging myself on your recent editorial fare, maybe I'll give the place another try (aren't Radiohead from there?).

Nevertheless I will not write the lines which are so requested
I will not stroke the coiffures of the well-satisfied

                            ('Amplitudes')

Nor should you, Alison. This book will dictate what many of us do as poets in the unfolding decade, mark my words.

In a previous review, I expressed my complete abhorrence of performance poetry. I advise all those pouring battery acid through my letterbox to read the dramatic pieces in this collection out loud. If that doesn't work for you, then give up now. This book should pull the rug out from under a few people's feet, my own included.

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