Justin Lowe Reviews Michael Farrell

13 August 2003

ode ode by Michael Farrell
Salt, 2002

I've never been prone to brand loyalty (no sniggers from the comfy chairs, please), but recently, the merest glimpse of the Salt Publishing logo has me reaching for my wallet. I love a challenge, and Michael Farrell's second verse collection ode ode continues that publishing house's burgeoning tradition of pulling the rug from under my snug size 12s.

How best to describe Farrell's poetry? Well, the blurbies fail miserably with the usual patter&#151'edgy', 'loquacious speed', blah blah blah. I'll be tentative and pit it against a tradition of Pound, Celan, Berryman, Ashberry, Forbes&#151even a little Adam Aitken when he's all 'get out of bed!'&#151except Farrell is more intuitive and less lyrical because he's far less insightful than most, if not all of these.

You probably think I am messing with the established corollary of intuition and insight: I'm not. By intuition, I mean that little voice running on a continuous loop in our heads, the cause of great fury, madness and much invention, and progenitor of those little blue pills. Farrell's poetry is a tender celebration of this voice. If not exactly the soundtrack to a generation, then at least it is the low background whir as we do the dishes (or deliver pizzas in Blackheath), or wake up with the speed shivers on a stranger's couch. It is fickle, self-proclaiming, and knowing in that insidious po-mo sort of way, a voice that speaks as though it had outlived everything. The static of a generation forever plugged in. A voice that is infantile and yet already exhausted by life. In other words, bored. Bored, however, not jaded. Bored, looking around for something to do. Not the boredom of defeat, but the boredom of the foot-soldier waiting, waiting with gritted teeth for the next big thing.

I havent killed myself after all
the notes & poems drift into rhe
toric into pleas for reform be
fore christ showed up again
have you looked at the old pho
to enclosed the boys missing
presumed sinning I forgive him
but ive an investment forgive
ness im blessed they wanted to
help me seeing my ego was set
on ruin the christian calendars
in my system but I cant pretend
nostalgia for the old gods &
their mayhem ads losing my
attention let me draw you a
diagram of an asylum with
lightbulbs candles hope all
these are not permitted out
side art & with good reason


Forbesian, of course. Very Forbesian. But does that make Michael Farrell a disciple? Perhaps. Then again, to say so would be pejorative and Farrell's mastery of the form deserves better treatment. I know. I don't relish reviewers incessantly contrasting one poet's work with another, either, but this is still new ground (strangely so, considering the length and stature of the pedigree&#151Pound's Cantos, Berryman's Dream Songs, Celan, Ashberry, our own MTC Cronin's more recent work to name but a few) and, admittedly, not exactly this reviewer's backyard (although as a reader, as a care-worn member of Farrell's generation, I am swinging from the hills hoist with the volume up to 11:

sometimes we sleep with a colleague & wake up with
friend whose jokes are chisels at our ankles my
laughs something that wreathes me calls out
to the passing day
but each acknowledgements glue for later funerals occasional

                            ('view with a thiefs hand')

And, almost inevitably (I can hear some of you yawning already!), there's a touch of the Dransfield here, although the romantic in Farrell is not at all the visceral element he is in Dransfield, more like a target you only feign to hit.

In a roundabout way, this brings me back to my point about insight. If I have one problem with Michael Farrell's poetry, it is its unpreparedness (not incapacity) to broaden its horizons, to acquiesce to the historical perspective at least a few inches and, in so doing, learn a few of the old rope tricks, untie a few of those knots. This is not a poetic gripe but a philosophical one. Farrell's imagery is stark at the cost of clarity, by which I mean sonics, measure, perspective.

It is intentional, of course. We are a semantic species and for most of our time on this planet, poetry has been life for us, but Farrell's voice has outlived that and the realisation is like an amphetamine rush filling the room with punishing light and disparate voices. Such is the world as he and I found it&#151a creche without a minder:

you me our relationship a stone
that we accept in order to stand
forever the waters heavy &
my white arms reach for brisbane its heat
shes here the fear that tingles going
deeper were happy eating our cheese
& butter running through mazes to
locate our lost tails everythings
nicer out of the lab lets drink in case
we die or something you confuse me
run loose in the kangaroo court I
wait for the pat for the custody
battle what id like whats filling my
wallet with the quiet the dim lights
the patrons deserting the soft seats
the actors could be anyone with loud
ideas underneath the lino a child
hums & finds their own way to the clouds

                            ('music by elton john')

Once again, thank you, John Kinsella and thank you, Salt Publications. It has been a bumper crop. There is a fresh wind blowing.

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Justin Lowe

About Justin Lowe

Justin Lowe is the author of six books of poetry, two verse novels and a work of fantasy fiction. He also edits the poetry blog Bluepepper. His sixth collection, "Nightswim, has just been released.

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