Ferney is at his best when he evaluates this structural interconnectedness and attacks the ideology that underpins it. Some of my favourite lines from Boom includes this from the poem, ‘Cheese and Crackers after the Law Suit’: ‘barnaby oh barnaby the electorate bleats / while the oilslicked seagulls / and sodden seals / flap against a skeleton coast’. Given Boom was published in 2013, four years prior to the Barnaby Joyce blow-up, these lines signalled to me Ferney’s uncanny antenna for bullshit. So, when Ferney writes ‘a sock falls from the line / like the market / responding to rumours of Grexit’, I can’t help but think that a catastrophic Greek withdrawal from the Eurozone is imminent. Ferney always grounds the political in the quotidian making complicated political theory seem ‘as familiar as political tactics.’ On a broader level, this mixture of high and low theory is inviting and invigorating as it makes the poem both accessible and worthy of re-reading.
Scattered amongst these cyber-punk grunge poems are shorter love poems. Ferney thankfully avoids grand protestations of love, instead opting to communicate intimacy using enigmatic snatches. The poems addressed to ‘G’ are some of my favourites and I particularly enjoyed tracking them throughout the collection. The poem ‘#sotheresthat’ is an open-when-you’re-on-the-plane love-letter to ‘G’ who is en route to Beijing. The poem ‘Woman in transit’ seems like it was quickly typed up in the poet’s iNotes before being screenshotted and sent to ‘g’ in ‘beijing’:
& you’re the royal flush splayed triumphantly over my book review intentions
But in the poem ‘Apology’, the poet reminds us that ‘words have limits’ as, although the poet wants to ‘tardis… back / to before japan beat iraq’, all he can do is text couplets, ‘gifts crafted from my regrets’. The enigmatic quality of these poems is what makes them intimate. I have no idea what the poet is referring to when he writes to ‘G’ that, ‘your garden was missing / like my Cathay Cathy protecting // responsibility in the smog again.’ Similar to the appeal of O’Hara’s poems dedicated to Vincent Warren, these poems ignite everyone’s low-key voyeuristic tendencies as they operate like intimate conversations we are allowed to eavesdrop.
The fluctuation between Ferney’s eclectic subject matter is enhanced by the poet’s ear for the word’s percussive effect. Often when reading Hot Take I would be aware of the sound of a poem well before I was anywhere near registering its ‘meaning’. For instance, the poem ‘A Georgian Ode’ opens with the lines: ‘Stoned on Vladikavkaz copper’s spliff / Drunk on Tbilisi dentist’s vodka’. As tempting as it is to skip over these unfamiliar nouns, sounding them out heightened my awareness for the nuances in the poem. Bouncing these foreign syllables around your mouth before letting them seep into your consciousness is the perfect accompaniment to the words’ semantic. Ferney often stitches together desperate images using unsettling staccato sound patterns:
Not up to snuff, we replace Dostoyevsky with an app and clap enthusiastically at the dud soundtrack’s tub.
Sounds bounce and echo off one-another, creating a strangely rhythmic cacophony that captures and maintains your attention like a few light slaps to the cheek. Ferney is also capable of a more sustained prosody. Lines like ‘a sly Sunday night ciggy drag / on a foggy AFL oval’ and ‘a shimmying stainless steel Cyberwoman / throws her fists into the jam’s abyss & stirs the pot’ display Ferney’s ability to phonically elevate erratic images into a harmonious arrangement. These lines are indeed emblematic of Hot Take itself: wildly eclectic subject matter bound together by a strong control of technique and craft.
Hot Take crosses every ontological boundary in the way only poetry can. Like a twitter-literate Ashbery, Ferney’s poetry reflects the modern world as it is filtered through the modern consciousness. This poetry is timestamped by our current moment. Ironically, though, this is what makes Ferney memorable. The irrational relationships forged by ‘the minotaur at the centre // of this maze’ are confronting, disorienting, and even upsetting. Such is the furiousness of this poetry ‘we come to expect calamities, / like Lions fans during Leppa’s reign’. Before turning each page, I wondered whether the next poem would be the one that stretches too far and fails to resonate. But Ferney has ‘mastered the art of falling gracefully’ and packs every poem with an ‘essential giddiness’.