intimacy with nature jack a gander me, leafy big purple tree. flower high a canopy. truncate & twig, branch barked claws to stem blooming . mad botany seeds a need , long for light & lots of water water water water water . root out an undergrowth where compositions have a musical bouquet. smell the atonal . shrub to rope & sway, then flitter twitter swirl curl , hurl green stuff that grows for we, you, him, me .
This could be Dylan Thomas after Gertrude Stein or John Shaw Neilson as a sound poet; either way, it’s a new kind of ecopoetic – it manages to allude to science and culture as well as propose universality without sounding sentimental. The literally central repeated line of ‘water’ attempts a Steinian take on Samuel Coleridge. I imagine Mitchell’s poetry might sound contrived to some – it does to me at times – but it’s through his warping of syntax and what used to be called attitude that he is able to create poems like this. Which is a ditty that does little to prepare us for the ars poetica of ‘poem’ that concludes this section: three and a bit pages of sophisticated poetic (still flower-inflected) that I’d prefer to call geopoetic – that knows where it is – and yet is somehow like Black Mountain as a dance video.
The second section ‘_urture’ shifts to a more personal poetry that is often about two. These poems are effervescences that are more likely to mention pop (music) than flowers. Yet they are not like pop lyrics: there is also a conceptual, three-dimensional aspect, where topography and cartography function as metaphors of representation. Mitchell emphasises words as words (‘i have a mouth /. it bleeds word/.’), but they always bring sound, image and affect in train. Abstractions do not go unsexed (see the erotic trilogy of ‘avianthropy’, ‘hot m’ and ‘? is tHIS desire ?’). Nor do they pretend to take place in a vacuum: ‘on my / back i am a referenced collection” (‘as meal’).
J.P. Quinton marks his similarity and difference to Mitchell by also beginning Little River with a flower haiku:
Field Inversion All of our vases Struggle to keep the flowers; So we invent fields.
Which seems, to an American-influenced reader like me, an Olsonion motto that conveniently forgets Whitman. It seems also to mock – and expand – the possibilities of the preoccupation with land in Australia. The poem is itself a kind of inversion, a queering of expectation, as just three lines from the following ‘Epistemology’ show:
Plastic novelty-sized blow-up hammers Tributary their way Meta discourse entered:
As Quinton writes, ‘Any deviation may spell ocean’. There’s a sense of WTFness, of poetry being up for grabs: a good thing in a ‘new poet’. Quinton opposes two poems ‘Moving Powerlines’ and ‘The Opposite of Spring’. They are both four stanzas of four lines each. ‘Moving Powerlines’ on the left is conventionally punctuated and each line begins with a capital. ‘The Opposite of Spring’ on the right page is all in lowercase, uses mainly forward slashes for punctuation and eschews the spaces between words several times: ‘makenosense’, ‘itglistensharshlikestrobe”. ‘Fate is the Past of Destiny’ is a short serious joke: ‘That is, I sat down & / accidentally slipped / into a recycling bin”; this is followed by the three-page ‘Choices: with a William Carlos Williams quote’ which mimes Williams’s paste-up quotidian.
There is plenty of traditional swearing and aggressive expression, yet the ‘ass’ is American in ‘Stonewall’: ‘We all know what happens when you / Fuck a stranger in the ass’. Do we?
My favourite poem refers back to ‘Choices …’ and its found encounters with strangers. ‘A Rainbow Like You’ is a one-off vernacular poem that perfectly balances banality and awkwardness and comes up sweet:
I’m eating vanilla ice-cream In the mall of the Freo Markets When two big guys Park themselves either side of me. “Gotta dolla there brother” ‘Ummm, if you tell me your names.’ I give Brian and Simon all the money I have, $2.80. “We just come up From Narrogin” says Brian. “Have you got family there?” I ask. “We got family everywhere brother, We all family, even you.” “See that woman over there staring at us?” Asks Simon, “I fucking hate that.” He gets up, goes over to where she’s Sitting, I can’t hear what they’re saying But her body language spells denial. I’m feeling pretty uncomfortable when Simon comes back and says: “A horse walks Into a bar, and the barman asks, why The long face?” Then Brian says “Ya know they say jail changes a man; I used to be white.” We stop laughing When Brian says: “Yeah, well, I’m rainbow.”
Swallowing is something of a theme in Little River, whether it’s icecream, Adorno or something worse, like gas. Ryan points out in her introduction that the closing poems of Little River ‘deal … with the aftermath of a brother’s suicide’. There are about a dozen towards the end that refer to suicide as an explicit theme. They are varied, but not as varied as the poems we’ve read so far. ‘All the Albums We Listened to Together’ is a nice idea, but comes off flat. In others he gets away with a range of endings: quoting T.S. Eliot (‘The Greats’), and John Forbes (‘The Lookout’ – ‘a total, fucking, gas’ – altering that phrase for me forever) and ends ‘Tailpiece: Bathos’, with the lines ‘I will not run for the train /or fall in love again’ without sounding self-pitying.
The best for me are ‘A Prick of a Fortnight’, expressing in the poem the same tone as the title: ‘Everyone’s time is brief, why cash it early / we got an economy / to the country to fuck it, to fuck it all’ and ‘Bees’, another dialogue scene where the narrator encounters his brother’s friend at a funeral smoking a joint (‘his flower’) at the grave. The friend ‘flick[s] the roach’ in.