Catherine Noske Reviews Alison Croggon

20 April 2018

Pointing to this aspect of the work, the collection is bookended by two markedly metapoetic pieces: it opens with ‘The poet has no identity’, and closes with poems 1-11 from ‘On lyric’. (The latter works, taken from Attempts at Being (2002), were originally grouped there with four other poems under a section of that title. The other four poems all appear scattered through the collection, and along with various works in different ways carry the attention to the meta-poetic through the wider whole.) The opening piece, a prose poem, speaks to the ambiguity of the poetic ‘I’, the tension between presence and absence which continues as a question throughout the collected work:

She writes her body with the tips of her fingers but it is no longer her body.
The words are not her they belong to nobody. She writes to slough off her name.
She speaks to become invisible. She desires to become what she is.

Poetic being straddles self-reflection and self-dissolution. As an opening, the poem makes clear the complexity of poetry as an act, and contextualises the work which follows. Playing on the standard metaphor, the poem sets the collection as a ‘body’ which no longer belongs to the poet, which becomes metaphysical even while it reconfirms the poet’s existence.

This dual effect is emphasised by the reciprocity of ‘On lyric’ at the other end of the collection, its eleven parts coming together to reprise and expand on the theme. Parts one and eleven function telescopically in the same manoeuvre as the poem’s placement, to read:

1.
The poet asserts

[…]

11. 
Nevertheless

As an ending, this poem acts as a response to the dilemma of the opening, supported by the experience of the collection as a whole. Part 2-10, in between, probe at the movement of poetry, its capacities and limitations. Shifting from ‘the poem’ to ‘lyric’, it complicates the relation between the self and the text both in reading and writing. The parts each extend the ones which precede it, to create a manifesto on the potentialities of poetic engagement with the world. Built primarily in monochords, this is not definite but characterised both by desire and ambiguity:

lyric is the same question as ‘I am’
	
[…]

the I of a lyric is neither self nor a not-self

the I is lyric’s protection against totalities for the I is aware of its
incompletion

Touching on an array of images and themes (love, reality, the politics and violence of invisibility), the poem, as a whole, reaches back through the collection to speak to the experience of its creation. The question implied in ‘nevertheless’ is an uneasy note on which to close the collection, and yet it is also a fitting end to a work which pushes ceaselessly at poetic being.

The scope of this collection – and it is impressively large – makes reviewing seem in many ways a trite and inappropriately restrictive response to the work. I have not done justice in this reading to the individual power of many of the works, which merit attention in their own right. But given its status as a selected, I found the collection most remarkable in the manner in which it has made these works new, or brought them into new relevance with the larger conversation of a poetic life. Speaking in two ways, both through the poems and through the act of their collection, it offers something intense, difficult and fragile, but simultaneously intimate and hugely rewarding in the reading.

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